Archive for Publicity


Promo Push

Since I don’t know when I’ll be able to get another book published (I’m in the middle of writing), I need to boost the sales of my existing books, and that means doing promo.

I’m afraid I’ve become my own nightmare PR client. In my PR agency days, I used to gripe about the clients who didn’t want to do anything about publicity (in spite of them having hired a firm, but it was usually the company that hired the firm, while the people I actually had to deal with were opposed to publicity) because they thought their work should speak for itself. Or they were willing to try one thing once, but if they didn’t get immediate, obvious results they’d give up. Or they weren’t willing to do what needed to be done to have a good PR campaign. I’ve been doing all those things. I’m especially bad about trying something once or twice and giving up right away when it doesn’t seem to do any good.

So, I’m going to spend the next few months trying to be consistent about my marketing and publicity efforts. I have to do at least one promotional thing a day, and I’ve got a few tasks that I’m going to do consistently and regularly for these three months to see how it all adds up. I can’t just do it once and give up.

I’ve been trying to do some graphics for some of my blog posts, and I’m putting them on Pinterest. If you’re on Pinterest and want to pin or share them, or whatever you do on Pinterest, that would be lovely. I’m also going to get my newsletter going again. I’ve let it fall by the wayside because I couldn’t think of anything to say. I’m working to get my books up on the Google Play store (they’re taking forever to get that up and going). And I think I’m actually going to do that video project I’ve been musing about. I figure if I’m still thinking about it months later, that means it’s something I should do.

I even made a chart and a checklist to keep myself honest. The chart is for tracking those activities that I’m trying to be consistent about and doing at least once a week, and the checklist is all the tasks I need to get done to have my ducks in a row.

Now, will my enthusiasm for this last more than a couple of weeks?


Reading vs. Watching

I’ve been trying to dig more into marketing, since it seems that my books don’t actually sell themselves, and that’s involved a lot of trying to learn more about things to do. So much stuff is out there now, and it seems like everyone’s putting it in videos and podcasts instead of writing articles, which frustrates me because I learn by reading. If I just hear someone say something, it goes in one ear and out the other. I need to see words in print.

But that makes me wonder if videos and podcasts are things I should be doing. Is that how people get information now? I learned something earlier this year, which is that I am not my reader. I held off on doing a newsletter for a long time because I don’t like them and feel overwhelmed by e-mail, but it turns out that about 200 people (so far) want to get a newsletter from me. Could that mean that there are people who want to see videos from me?

And if I did that sort of thing, what would I even talk about? Stuff about my books? Writing tips?

You see why I’ve been holding off. I have the technology and the skill set. I just don’t know what to do with it.

One thing I am noticing is that there’s a proliferation of how-to courses out there about publishing and making big money at it, though at the cost of the courses, I suspect that they’re really making money by selling courses. And there must be a course on how to make money with courses because I’ve run into the same pattern a few times. Someone offers a free “master class” or webinar on a publishing-related topic. Frequently, this gets mentioned in the newsletter of someone who writes about publishing stuff (I do get those newsletters because there’s useful information). The “master class” ends up looking a lot like an infomercial, with the presenter spending a lot of time on their credentials before spending even more time setting up the importance of their topic (getting into how many books are published and how much money can be made), then giving one or two useful (but pretty basic) tips, and leading in to the pitch for the course, with lots of testimonials. I’ve been burned a few times by this, to the point I’m skeptical of any web event now. I’ve taken a couple of free classes, and I’ve even bought books by those people when I thought they might have good info but didn’t do the hard sell. I feel like there’s a bait and switch when the class turns out to just be an ad for a course and a way to harvest e-mail addresses.

I will not be putting together a course because I don’t think I know enough to be able to teach anyone else. But I might have some tips on writing and the writing life. Or I could talk about the background of some of my books — the sort of things I put in blog posts, but with me talking instead of it being in writing. I’d rather just read it, but I am not my readers.

So, any thoughts? If I did something like this, would anyone watch/listen?


Supporting Books You Love

I’ve been asked what my Dumbledore’s Army of Hufflepuffs/Ravenpuffs who like Disney can do to help support me. For the most part, it’s the same things you’d do to help support any author you love, though now that my target reader is clear, you’ll know exactly who to talk to or what selling points you might be able to use (if you like this, you may enjoy this).

The big thing is to tell others about the books you love, in whatever venues you use to talk about books, whether in person or online. Recommend books to your friends. If someone asks for book recommendations that these books would fit, bring them up. Tweet/blog/post about them on Facebook. If you’re a Booktuber, do a video. Put pictures of them on Instagram or Pin pictures. For my books in particular, you could mention that the Enchanted, Inc. books are like Harry Potter for grownups. If you’re active in any kind of related fan groups online, you can bring them up in relevant discussions.

Post reviews of books you love at places like Amazon or Goodreads. In your reviews, mention these connections — “fans of Harry Potter might enjoy these books about a magical corporation.” Also mention the other things you like about them. The most helpful reviews are the ones that can help others decide if these books are for them, so the more non-spoilery specifics about what you like, the better.

You can also amplify things an author you enjoy does — like or repost/retweet/share their posts, post links to blog posts you think a broader audience might find interesting.

If you know of someone who talks a lot about books — Bookstagrammers, book bloggers, Booktubers, etc. — who you think would enjoy the books you enjoy, you can suggest these books to them.

Request that your local library carry the books you like. There may be a form available in the library to fill out, or your library system may have a form on their web site. Mine calls it “add item to collection.” Libraries are great because there are so many of them that an author can make a lot of money just by libraries buying books, plus they’re a great way for readers to discover authors. I know that I found most of my favorite authors through trying their books in the library, but then I ended up buying copies to keep for myself and bought their new books when they came out rather than wait for the library to get them. My library’s form has a spot for explaining why you think the library should add this book, and that’s where you can put stuff like “adult fans of Harry Potter might enjoy this series.” If the librarian is intrigued by your description, she may try the books herself and then recommend them to patrons.

For recent releases that are in bookstores (which mine aren’t right now), talking to booksellers about them might bring the books to their attention so they recommend them to customers. When a new book by a favorite author comes out, I like to go to the store during release week, do the happy dance when I find the book, and gush about the series/author to the person who rings me up. The bookseller may be intrigued enough to take a look at that book. If they don’t have the book in stock, you can ask them to look it up for you in the system. That also brings the book to the bookseller’s attention (and sometimes they may order a couple of copies for the store while they’re at it).

Those are probably the best things a fan can do to support an author or book. Word of mouth is the most effective way to market a book, and it’s one thing that an author or publisher can’t do a lot about. That’s up to readers.


Reaching My Readers

I spent the weekend doing some research and study as I delve into some business planning. I need to get smarter about the way I do things, and I’ve realized that I’m doing for my own books what I complained about publishers doing for my books — just putting them out there and hoping people find them. The trick is to figure out how to get the word out.

One thing everyone suggests is having a mailing list and a newsletter of some sort. I have resisted because that’s something I’m really not into as a reader. I feel like there’s newsletter overload. You can’t visit a web site without getting a “sign up for my newsletter” pop up. On the other hand, that is a list that I would control. Facebook throttles the reach of things on my page, so even people who’ve signed up to get them aren’t seeing them unless I buy ads. There’s a lot of clutter and noise on Twitter. People don’t seem to be reading blogs anymore (though I guess if you’re seeing this, you’re the exception). People may drop out of platforms like Facebook or Twitter for reasons having nothing to do with me — protest against the companies’ policies, taking a break from social media in general. Having a list of people who’ve said they want to receive information from me makes it more likely that these people will get that information.

So, what do you think about author newsletters? Do you sign up for them? Would you sign up for one from me? Do you just want to be notified about releases or do you want other info on things that might relate to the author’s life and work (things like recipes, knitting patterns, book/movie reviews, etc.)?

Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out where to go next after I get the next Rebels book done (don’t worry, that’s at the top of my list). I’m still playing with that idea of a series of holiday-themed fantasy romances, but I also have some other ideas in the works. One is a fantasy series that’s more of a “world” series, in which there’s one world that all these stories take place in, while each story is self-contained (with some overlap). You could read them in any order and still follow the story, but those who’ve read them all might get a little more out of them. Think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The other idea I’ve been playing with is a cozy paranormal mystery series. I’ve noticed that most of the “also boughts” for my books on Amazon are this kind of book, and it’s something I enjoy reading. I have the beginnings of an idea for the characters and setting.

So, what are you most likely to read? Did you come to my books from the paranormal mystery side of things, the fantasy side of things, or the romance side of things?

That’s what makes a lot of this planning difficult. I don’t fall neatly into one area I can really focus on, and my fans seem to be all over the place.


Will I Be in Your Town?

I think one of the questions I’m asked most often by readers, other than “when is the next book coming?” is something along the lines of “will you be coming to my town?” This especially tends to come up when I announce any kind of public appearance.

The answer is usually no, and the reasons apply to other authors, not just me.

For most authors other than big names or those a publisher has decided to really push, we have to pay for our own travel to book events. A few conferences pay travel expenses for speakers, and the guests of honor at conventions have their travel paid by the conventions, but otherwise, we’re on our own. That makes it expensive to travel beyond the immediate area, and few book events pay off well enough to make it worth our while.

For a traditionally published book, the author earns less than a dollar per copy, and most of that will end up going toward the advance that was already paid, so it takes a while before authors will earn extra money by selling more books. A really good booksigning for someone at my level will sell about twenty books. There are indirect benefits, though. Any advance publicity for the signing will help increase awareness, there’s usually a display of the books in the store before and after the signing for more visibility, and once the staff has met an author, they’re more likely to hand-sell and recommend those books. That all might add up to make gas money on a short road trip and a night in a cheap motel worth it.

Conventions may or may not sell a lot of books for an author. It depends on whether booksellers at the con stock your books or are willing to take consignment if you bring books (but then you have to buy those books). There’s potential for good exposure on panels because people come to the panels because of the topic or because of other authors on the panels, and they might be intrigued enough with you to look up your books, even if they don’t buy them at the convention. I have had people make Kindle purchases of my books while I was speaking on a panel. I think attending conventions early in my career did a lot for getting my name out there, so there was some benefit. There’s a little less benefit now that I’m established and people aren’t really discovering me unless I go someplace where I’m still unknown, but those places are farther away and more expensive to get to. That’s one of the downsides to living in Texas. It’s so big that the nearest other conventions in the regional circuit are about a three to four-hour drive away, and anything beyond that usually involves flying. Then there’s the issue of getting on programming at conventions where you’re not known. Some conventions require authors to be invited. Some have an application process, but you have to buy a membership before you can apply to speak, so you don’t even know at the time you plan to attend the con whether you’ll get any visibility out of it.

Most of the book festivals don’t cover any expenses for attending authors. I think some publishers may pay to send some authors, but I had to pay my own way to Louisiana for the one I just went to.

I now make my convention plans based on whether there’s something I get out of the event other than publicity and exposure. I usually attend the Nebula Awards conference because I learn a lot there about writing and the business and it’s a valuable networking opportunity. There’s also a booksigning open to the public, so there’s a potential for meeting fans, but selling books is a bonus at that event. I sometimes travel to go to the World Science Fiction Convention or World Fantasy Convention, but again, that’s more about networking and learning than about promotion or meeting fans, and it depends on a lot of factors whether I decide to go. I’m thinking about doing the WorldCon in New Zealand in a couple of years, mostly because it’s a chance to visit there and take a business write-off for the trip. I probably won’t do World Fantasy next year because it’s in the same city as the Nebulas.

Maybe one day I’ll have a publisher decide to give me a push and send me on a book tour. So far, the biggest push I’ve been given was a $300 budget for travel to booksignings in my region, and I stretched it out by staying at inexpensive hotels (they caught the Austin bomber at the hotel where I stayed for a booksigning on that tour). I’ve been a guest of honor at one convention. I’ve been a speaker at a couple of state library conventions where they covered my travel, and I’ve spoken at a couple of writers’ conferences where they paid for me to travel. Otherwise, everywhere I’ve gone, it’s been on my own dime. It gets expensive, especially when you factor in lost time from work. I’m not someone who manages to write during a convention, and then there are the preparation days before and recovery days after, so I could write about a quarter of a novel (or more) during the time I’d be gone for a big convention, and I could buy a BookBub ad for what it costs to go to a WorldCon, and that would sell thousands of books.

So, if you want to see me (or any other author) in your area and it’s far from where I am, the best way would be to suggest me as a guest of honor at a convention in your area (or toastmaster or writers’ workshop instructor). Or suggest me as a speaker at your local writers’ workshop (if they pay travel). If you’re a librarian, state library association conferences (or the ALA) usually pay for authors to speak, so you can suggest me there. Otherwise, I guess just buy a lot of books and tell a lot of people about my books so I sell enough that a publisher might think it’s worthwhile to send me on tour. I’m unlikely to be doing any bookstore signings until I have a new release that’s in stores.

In the meantime, I’m trying to focus on writing rather than traveling because that seems to be the best use of my time and budget. Maybe if I write something really spectacular, that will catch a publisher’s interest.


Follow Me!

I’m not all that good at social media because I’m not particularly social. Still, I thought it might be a good idea to update all the places you can follow me and what you might find there.

So, there’s this blog, which is crossposted to Goodreads in addition to being on my web site. It’s where you’ll get more in-depth discussions about writing, life, and other things I’m interested in.

Crossposting the blog and responding to comments is about all I do on Goodreads. I might post the occasional review, if I remember. I’ve decided not to accept friends requests on Goodreads, since they’re now owned by Amazon, and Amazon sometimes gets wacky ideas like deleting reviews from people they think are authors’ friends because they’re “friends” on various social media sites. They don’t seem to understand the difference between being a fan who follows the author by becoming a “friend” on social media and who, as a fan, tends to post positive reviews, and a real-life friend who’ll post a five-star review just as a favor. So, it’s not personal if you’ve sent a friends request that I’ve ignored. I’m not active enough on Goodreads for being my “friend” to make any difference.

I’m on Twitter, @ShannaSwendson. I’m not super chatty there, but I might throw out the occasional thought.

I’m also on Instagram, shannaswendson. I’ve really slacked off there, mostly because I’ve been in writing mode, so there’s been nothing to take pictures of. I’d probably be more active if it worked on a computer instead of just mobile devices.

I have a Facebook page for my books, Shanna Swendson Books. I mostly post news announcements there. People are welcome to follow my personal Facebook page, but I’m limiting “friends” to people I’ve actually interacted with. That can include commenting on posts. But if I get a friends request and I don’t know who you are and haven’t seen you commenting (almost all my posts are public), I’ll probably ignore it, especially if your profile is locked down so people who aren’t friends can’t see anything other than your cover photo. I get way too many requests from scammers, and since I mostly use that for staying in touch with friends and family and it’s more personal than business, I had to institute that policy.

Did you know that you can also “follow” authors on Amazon? You’ll get announcements about new releases. To follow me, go to my author page and click the “follow” button. And on Book Bub you can follow authors to get news about new books. Plus, Book Bub allows you to recommend and review books and see books that authors have reviewed and recommended. To follow me on Book Bub, go to my page and click “follow.”

I don’t currently have my own mailing list because I kind of hate newsletters, and it seems like everyone is being bombarded with newsletters. For now, there are enough ways to keep track of what I’m doing. I may reconsider that later, but right now I can’t see that it would be worth the effort.

I do have a YouTube channel, but it’s not very active at the moment. I hope to start doing more with that when I get a couple of more urgent items done and can regroup on the PR side of things.

So, come find me in all these places! My follower count everywhere is rather pathetic right now. I seem to be the Invisible Author.

And while you’re in these places, you can leave your own reviews and recommendations for books you love (mine included, I hope!). Reviews and recommendations are probably the biggest way people learn about books and help keep books from being invisible.


Preparing for the Press

Next week, I’ll be going to the Nebula Awards conference. I’m not up for an award, but the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has turned the awards event into a conference for writers. There is an awards banquet and ceremony, but it’s surrounded by other activities, including workshops for writers.

I’ll be doing a workshop on dealing with the press. This draws upon my pre-writing background. My degree is in journalism, and as a student I worked in radio, television, and print. I ended up getting a job in media relations, where I used my journalism experience to pitch stories to reporters and help doctors prepare for interviews. That then got me a job at a public relations agency, where I was involved with our media training workshops to help our clients get ready for press interviews, and I continued that in my next job, where I traveled around the country doing media training sessions for clients.

Since I became an author, I’ve been on the other side of things, being interviewed by reporters. I’ve even been on a TV studio interview segment.

Now I have to distill all that into a half-hour session. Whew!

But doing that has made me realize how weak my own PR efforts for myself have been. I haven’t been doing the things for myself that I would have advised clients to do. I haven’t thought a lot about my key messages or what I want to say about myself and my books. I haven’t delved into all the opportunities that are now available for promotion, like podcasts, to pitch myself and my books. I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that I really don’t like doing public relations. There’s a reason I write full-time, in spite of the fact that it comes with a lot of financial uncertainty. I hated my old job, and doing it took a lot out of me. I’m great with the strategy and with coaching others in how to do it, but the actual day-to-day activity of implementing a strategy was utterly soul-sucking. My last couple of years were probably my happiest (minus the last few months). After I tried to quit because I was so miserable, my boss helped me essentially create a job that involved the things I liked to do and none of the things I hated, with a flexible schedule and mostly telecommuting. It only fell apart when that boss left. I doubt I’d find that kind of opportunity again.

I guess what I need is a minion to implement a strategy I come up with, but I’d have to do a lot of publicity work to sell enough books to be able to afford a minion. And I’m not sure that really ramping up any publicity I could do for myself without the backing of a publisher’s publicist would actually move the needle all that much in selling books. I’m better off spending my time writing and getting more books out there.

But even if you aren’t pitching yourself for interviews, there may come times when people ask you for interviews, and for that, you need to be prepared. And I need to be prepared. And thus, the workshop.


Encouraging Fandom

I spent Saturday at a local writing conference-type event. I mostly went to force myself out of the house and because I wanted the company of other writers, but I ended up getting something out of the sessions.

One of them really had me thinking about ideas for marketing. It was about creating/encouraging a “fandom” around your books. You look at the kind of activity that happens around big franchises like Harry Potter or Star Wars — there’s fan fiction and fan art, fans form groups to interact and discuss these things, they dress up as characters for conventions, they make or buy props or other items to wear or carry, there’s merchandise, they make fan websites, etc.

What can you do during the process of creation to make it easy for these kinds of things to happen? For instance, concrete descriptions of characters, their clothing, or items they use can make it easier for people to create art or put together costumes. Having some symbol gives people something to wear (or even get as a tattoo) to show their fandom.

Then there’s stuff around marketing, like priming the pump with memes, images, or videos that can be shared by fans.

And then there’s using your own fandom for other things as a way of reaching out to potential fans of your stuff. If you like a thing, then other people who like that thing may like what you create.

I’ve kind of been doing some of these things. When the Enchanted, Inc. series first launched, I initially pitched it as “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter,” and a Harry Potter book came out a couple of months after the first book in my series. I tried to sell my publisher’s publicist on trying to create some trend stories around that, but she was reluctant. She wanted the stories to be about my book, even though that was highly unlikely. I did an end run around that and the name I gave her for the local newspaper wasn’t the books reporter, but rather the one I’d noticed was covering Harry Potter. Sure enough, my book ended up in an article about what moms could read while waiting for their kids to finish reading the new Harry Potter book. I also sent copies to people who ran Harry Potter fan sites that had lists of other books fans might enjoy. I wrote blog posts about the Harry Potter books and movies. Most of this was in the days before social media was really a thing, so it was probably a bit harder to get traction.

Those books do seem to have something of a fandom. There’s fan fiction. I don’t know about art, discussion groups, or people dressing up at conventions, but then there’s not really anything to dress up as, since it’s contemporary, unless someone did something like put fairy wings on a business suit.

With the Rebels series, I hoped from the start that the Rebel Mechanics emblem would become a thing, with people incorporating the gear on a red ribbon into steampunk costumes. I have had readers give me emblems they’ve made, but even though I distributed a lot of gear and ribbon pins at conventions, I haven’t really seen people wearing them. I haven’t noticed it becoming a thing.

But I do have some ideas for things I might be able to do. Now I guess I need to create a comprehensive marketing plan and then actually execute it.


Getting Discovered

As an addendum to yesterday’s post, that “but/and so” thing is a good way to test your book because you can use it to make a kind of outline — the characters want THING, and so they do something, but something else happens, and so they must do something else, etc. It wouldn’t be a pretty synopsis, but if you can’t link the scenes with either “but” or “and so,” you need to rethink the scenes. I managed to fix that problem scene that I needed but that didn’t really fit by making it an “and so” and by having it lead into a “but.” And there was much rejoicing.

Meanwhile, I’m back to pondering publicity. I’ve become increasingly aware that I have an awareness problem. Quite frequently, I’ve noticed people asking for recommendations or making lists where my books would be the perfect fit or where I would think I’d be included, but I’m not mentioned (these tend to be venues where recommending your own works is frowned upon). It seems that people who read my books love them, but there are huge swaths of people, especially within the target markets, who don’t seem to have heard of me at all. And although publicity was my former career, I’m not sure how I can get noticed like that in the book world. The venues I’m able to reach have already been reached. I’m considering trying some new things.

Supposedly, newsletters are a great marketing tool, but to me, that’s preaching to the choir. You’re reaching the people who already care enough to sign up for a newsletter. I don’t subscribe to author newsletters and am swamped with marketing stuff in my in-box. These days, you can’t visit a web site without a pop-up inviting you to sign up for a newsletter, so I suspect the days of effectiveness are at an end. That’s why I don’t do a newsletter. I don’t like them, so I doubt I’d do it well, and there are just so many out there.

I have considered maybe getting into podcasting. I don’t listen to them because I’d rather read information, but statistics are showing that there are a lot of people out there who prefer to get information this way. I have a background in radio news, so I’ve got the skillset. I just wonder what I’d say — the same kind of thing I blog about? Read book snippets? Pop culture discussion? Is that something people would be interested in?

Ditto with videos. Again, within my skillset, but my impulse is that I’d rather read an article with the same info than watch a video, and generally if there is only a video, I’ll ignore it, but I’m probably an outlier there. Would it be kind of like a TV newscast, only about other stuff?

I’m terrible at social media because I tend to treat it like real-world conversations, except it doesn’t work that way. People tend to like those people who sit and listen and nod during conversations, but on social media, no one knows you’re there. I guess the “like” button is the equivalent of the silent nod, but I keep forgetting to use it.

And I’m still not sure how doing these sorts of things would end up spreading the word farther because the only people likely to watch or listen would be those who already know who I am. I must keep pondering the concept of discoverability.


Finding Things to Do

Part of my weekend was spent at a convention planning meeting. I’m part of the group that puts on FenCon, a science fiction convention in the Dallas area. The convention is in September, but we start work on it far earlier than that. My main role is with publicity, and something we’re looking at is how to get information to a broader group of people.

I used to work in public relations, but I haven’t had a job in that field since 2002. I’ve done some marketing communications stuff since then, but that was mostly things like writing sales materials and articles. Social media didn’t exist when I was doing PR. Blogs were just barely getting started. Public relations mostly meant trying to get stories into newspapers and magazines, on television and radio. That’s what I know how to do. But I don’t think a lot of people get their news that way anymore, especially younger people. That means I have no idea how to get information out to people in a way that they’ll see it. I guess that also applies to the way I market my books.

So, how do you find out about events that you might want to go to? Is there a place (online or otherwise) you go to when you’re looking for things to do?

And while I’m at it, have you heard about science fiction conventions? Do you know the difference between the “literary” fan-run conventions and the conventions like ComicCon, where the focus is on actors and autograph/photo opportunities?

When TV series have episodes involving the characters going to a convention, it bears no resemblance to what I’ve actually experienced, which makes me wonder how many people who aren’t already involved in that community have a sense of what it’s really about. Of course, each one is different and has its own character, but the Hollywood image is more of the media conventions, and not even entirely accurate about those.

I have dialed my participation in conventions back lately, mostly because they’re expensive and draining and I’m trying to look at new ways of doing things, but I do want to make the one I help run better and want to help more people learn about it because it is wonderful to find yourself among other people who like the same sort of stuff you do.