Literary Agent Lucienne Diver: It’s All About The Buzz
Lucienne Diver has been an agent with Spectrum Literary Agency for over fifteen years, representing all kinds of commercial fiction, including fantasy, romance, mystery/suspense, science fiction, some mainstream and young adult. Her authors include Marjorie M. Liu, Susan Krinard, Rachel Caine, P.N. Elrod, Roberta Gellis and many others. A complete list can be seen on the website: www.spectrumliteraryagency.com.
She also maintains her own blog of agently, authorial and personal ramblings at http://varkat.livejournal.com. (Since she’s often asked: “varkat” is short for “various Katherines” – Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, Kit from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, etc. – some of her favorite characters from literature.)
It’s all about the Buzz
One of the most constantly asked questions out there is “What can I do to promote my books?” No one seems to have the magical answer, though there are a ton of ideas out there, some of which I’ll get into here. The truth is that the biggest seller of books continues to be word of mouth, so the very most important thing an author can do is write a kick-butt book that will have everyone raving – to their friends, on-line, in reviews on Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com.
Of course, before you can get people raving, you have to get them to pick up the book. There’s a whole lot that the publisher can do for you, like arrange coop advertising, which is basically the publisher paying for placement, whether on shelves or in special display stands in the front of stores. A publisher may also arrange for book tours, radio and television interviews, magazine, newspaper and banner ads to get the word out. Except for the coop advertising, these are things an author can do on his or her own, especially with the help of a publicist, though they can be very costly and must still be coordinated with the publisher to avoid stepping on any toes.
So, how can you get the most bang out of your marketing dollar? It’s pretty commonly accepted that a new author will put the advance for his or her first book back into promotion. It makes sense; it’s an investment in the future. Many established writers also put a lot of time and resources into publicity. One of the most effective means of promotion is the web. However, just having a site isn’t enough these days. It’s great if people already know you and just want to check when your next book is coming out, but to draw readers in, you need good and changing content – contests, a blog, maybe helpful articles and links, book trailers, snippets of fiction or non-fiction free to your readers that they can’t find anywhere else. Invite in guest bloggers. The key is to give something, not just expect to get something with a “Hey, buy my book.” It also helps to reach out rather than wait for folks to come to you. Sites like MySpace, Facebook, Shelfari, Bebo (I could go on all day with the list) will introduce you to other readers and writers. They can be fantastic networking tools, but can also be highly addictive, so be sure not to use the time you should spend writing! The trick is that you get out of these sites what you put into them. Interaction is key.
Another great and relatively inexpensive way to go is to kind of create your own celebrity status. Humbly and informatively (no bragging allowed), let your college, high school or local paper know about your upcoming release or your recent award nomination. Even before your book comes out, you should be working on a list of contacts – places, people, communities to which you have ties and some local or other cachet. Prep your pitch, press release or postcards to go out to these venues. Local book stores, libraries – sure, put them on the mailing list and make sure that it goes out early enough (a few months before publication with maybe a second mailing just as the book hits shelves) for them to place orders. At the very least, it’s not a terribly expensive way to get the word out. At the most, you’ll generate more orders and interest.
Do you go to conventions? Can you think of something beyond the standard bookmarks and postcards to put on the take-tables that people will keep and think of you with each use? Have you come up with an intriguing tagline or catch-phrase? Maybe you can even send your novelty item out with your mailings.
Signings – the trick with signings is that it really helps if you have a) a really strong following or b) a gimmick to bring people over to the table. Otherwise, it might look a lot like that book signing at the beginning of the recent movie National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Maybe give a talk or reading to go along with the signing. Have a friend along, maybe, who’s standing, approachable and shilling (pleasantly and chattily), have a candy dish out and a poster or something else outsized to draw the eye. Try to make it an event rather than just you with the barrier of a table separating you from your target audience. Offer to sign stock of whatever doesn’t sell so the store can put your books up front with “Autographed” stickers attached. In fact, whenever you step into a bookstore and find your books, offer to sign stock. Some bookstores are, surprisingly, less open to this than others, but persevere.
Always, but always, have your business cards with you. You never know when a networking opportunity will arise. I was just on a pub crawl in London and ended up “selling” my books to everyone in sight. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a single card on hand to help folks remember.
In summary – write the best darned book you can and then get the word out. If someone lets you know how much they enjoy your book, ask them to share the excitement. Get a buzz going and then keep up the momentum by writing your next great work!
Tomorrow – Author/former ATF Special Agent Sheila Stephens talks about hidden cameras
I just wanted you to know that I put a link to this post and expanded upon my previous comment about Kemble Scott’s successful video clips of his novel on YouTube.
You can find that post here:
Write on my friend!
Thanks, Linda – I’m just not much of a YouTube person. When people send me clips, it’s rare that I can sit through them. Maybe I’m ‘disciplined’ (HA!) enough to feel like I’m supposed to be working, not surfing. MySpace pages that are full of graphics and take forever to load — and especially the ones with the music that comes blasting out (overriding MY music that I’m listening to) are instant click-aways for me. My Myspace page is about as bare-bones as it can be — and it’s so much more user-unfriendly than my Blogger account, I find all I do at Myspace is copy my regular blog posts over there, and maybe post a comment once in a while. I know the promotion side of things is important, and I’m working on it … but very slowly. And I tend to be of the “if it doesn’t entice me for other people, why do it myself” sort.
In regards to book trailers on YouTube…my writers club had a guest speaker this last Sunday who happened to be the first author to explore that option. That came about because a neighbor of his works for YouTube and made the suggestion to him when they were discussing how to publicize his book.
His name is Kemble Scott and his book is SoMa, a novel about the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco. He’s been a television journalist for years and he was at first stumped by her suggestion of putting something on YouTube. She threw it back in his face as a challenge since he had all that TV experience.
He decided on a series of short promos showing some of the locations mentioned in his book. Along with showing the places, he made reference to some of the shocking behavior that happens there.
At first he had a professional film the spots, but when he viewed it he thought it looked too slick for YouTube. So he bought a $600 video camera and handed it to someone with no experience. He also changed it to black and white to give it a grittier feel which matches the tone of the book.
Scott credits those video clips with propelling his book onto the San Francisco Chronicle’s best seller list the first week it was released.
Those snippets didn’t generate a million hits, like the Drama Squirrel video – but they did help out with WOM.
I checked them out Sunday night after hearing about them and I must say there are well done and it enhances his story.
BTW, the book is a bit blue…laugh out loud funny, but not for those who are easily offended.
Lucienne, thanks, we’ve been discussing this today and I’ll pass on your thoughts. Thanks for being here with us today!
Well, all, I’ll try to check in one more time later tonight, but basically I’m off for the day. Thank you so much for reading and responding. This was a great dialogue!
Donnell, Sorry I missed responding to your comment earlier. For pre-published writers I don’t think it’s as important to join Facebook and MySpace and all the rest of the sites. They can be a big distraction, as you say. Fun though. As for high concept – yes, it’s important to be able to boil your work down to a sound bite that makes people go Ooooh! A sound bite because that’s often how much time you get in a pitch (whether it be you to the publishing professional or the editor to their marketing department) to really catch someone’s attention. Publishers use taglines the way we use pitches and high concept is basically that Ooooh! thing. What makes your work special and intriguing.
I’ve found MySpace to be a great place to network. In addition to connecting with a lot of readers who now have my book cover and trailer on their sites, I’ve been asked to do countless interviews, my book signings are better attended, and I have one MySpace friend who has put me in touch with a hugely popular radio personality that we hope will lead to an interview. MySpace is the best thing I’ve done promotional wise and it’s absolutely free. But as Lucienne cautioned, very addictive. The key, I think, is to not over-promote, but to interact. Become a part of the MySpace scene.
Ah, well that’s the trick – a trailer would have to be put up on YouTube and other venues to encourage the traffic!
While I can’t imagine hanging around for sixty seconds (I don’t YouTube, either), increasing site traffic definitely is a worthwhile goal. The closest I’ve ever come to a ‘trailer’ is just an animated banner for one of my books. Didn’t seem to help much.
Terry, I don’t think book trailers are a necessity…at least not yet. Don’t know what the future will hold, but I’m told the ones that work best are sixty seconds long with live actors instead of stock footage. I’m not sure if they incite purchases all on their own or just increase traffic to a site, which then encourages buying in other ways. They can be very useful for increasing traffic, though.
Virtual blog tours can be wonderful things! I’m fully in favor of them. Group blogs are great too, because you get traffic from people interested in other authors as well and are only expected to blog occasionally (maybe once a week or twice a month). I saw something else interesting on one of my authors’ sites – a round robin contest. An author ran a contest in which she gave away another author’s book and advised readers to check out a different website for the next contest, where a different book was given away and likewise in a round robin. I thought it was brilliant – great for bringing in new readers.
I find the promotion side of things the most daunting. I have a question about book trailers. I have avoided them like the plague, primarily because I can’t grasp how a visual ‘picture’ will entice me to buy a book because there’s absolutely nothing in a trailer to indicate whether the author’s writing is something I want to read. Also, they’re usually a pain to watch if you don’t have much time.
Are they really a valued marketing tool? If I want to buy (or even check out a book from the library), I’m going to read at least the cover copy and preferably an excerpt to see if I’m interested.
I’ve got a blog, a MySpace (hate it), and a website, plus there are the countless Yahoo groups because I have several works with e-publishers. I find all the promotion eats into my writing time, plus it’s a totally different “voice” requirement.
I’ve now heard both ways on the social networking sites. A previous agent blog I read indicated that the MySpaces, etc. were so overwhelming that it’s too hard to get a message across. I agree with you and for me it’s a, Why not?
I do have a MySpace page set up and have accumulated a number of contacts which I plan on using for the upcoming release of my first novel. I figure, what the heck.
Are you familiar with virtual blog tours?
Lucienne, thanks for writing on Graveyard shift. Your comments are thought provoking. I wonder if you’d give us some of your expertise here on two subjects. You touched briefly on My Space, etc. I see value in it when you’re published, but for those of us pre-published authors, do you see any benefit in joining? I’ve been leery because as you said it’s addictive. The second question I have is regarding high concept. Would you advise every author out there to have a high concept idea ready when submitting?
I’m also not as much a fan of business cards as bookmarks that have my book cover, website url, and ISBN numbers included. I’d also say that as opposed to having my own blog, I organized a blog tour where I’ll be visiting 17 well-established blogs during the month my book is released (July). That way I don’t have to spend valuable writing time during the rest of the year maintaining a blog, and I can guest on blogs that are already heavily trafficked. I think these days there are so many author blogs out there, unless you’re already fairly well-established or have come up with a truly unique hook, it’s hard to attract readers. Just my two cents.
Lucienne, that gal sells out all the copies of her book when she brings her posse along.
I also think dish of chocolates is a good idea.
I love the posse idea!
A gal from my RWA chapter brings a posse to her book signings. They wander the store and alert people to the fact that there’s an author in the house. Says she sells more books when her posse helps round up customers.
Another gal I know has a buffet dinner at her house and charges people to attend – part of the money goes to a particular charity and the rest goes to the price of her book, which she gives out to all who attend – an interested way of mixing a charitable fund raiser with book sales.
I think getting out to book stores and introducing yourelf to the staff just before your book comes out might help as well.
I’m with Monty on this one. I think personal contact is best. That’s why I like writers conferences.
As an author in the throes of book deadlines and promotion, your comments have been very helpful. My outlets have been local and off the beaten path – a middle school, a nursing home. Tonight, a gym friend’s book club. I sell copies at each. I’m doing the book stores, too, but I have another book due soon (the third in the series), and I need to write!
Thanks for the reminder that it all starts with a good book. My best promotion has been word of mouth from people who have already read Wild Goose Chase.
Elena – I do know that many authors will print their website address and an email address set up just for this type of contact on the card. Neither is personalized enough for it to allow people to find you in real life, but it makes it a little easier for people to find your web presence if you have one.
Lucienne – Thanks for lots of great ideas!
Elena, I’d have to disagree on the business card. I think if it doesn’t have more information than that, it’s not a useful tool. Minimum, I think the website should be listed, since it will probably have a “Contact Me” button…and business cards are all about making and keeping contact.
I think a publishers efforts depend on a lot of variables – how much they paid for the book, if they pre-empted or won it at auction, the author’s track record and platform, the nature of the book itself. Some books, particularly non-fiction, lend themselves a lot more toward radio and television interviews than fiction. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Basically, a publisher will put more into a book they think will be a blockbuster than one they just hope will sell well. But it does seem to be increasingly important for authors to do their own promotion, particularly in this electronic age.
On the topic of business cards – for both functional and safety reasons I would not recommend using the standard card format.
What I’ve encouraged authors to do is to have their name in large print, the name of the book in larger print, and a line graphic in the background as a visual clue about the book. A police badge, a knife dripping blood, a suitcase, whatever. That’s it. Anything else you can write on the back for the specific situation.
Thanks for taking your time from your schedule to visit with us.
I personally like to talk to people. For example, instead of using the drive-through at the bank, I go inside. I know authors who hate that part (one-on-one) of book promotion. I’ve always enjoyed my signings and writers conferences where new friends and contacts are made.
Lately I’ve heard a lot about publishers doing little or no promotion on a new book. I suppose it depends on the publisher, but what’s your current take on publishers promotional efforts?
Very informative, particularly in addressing how an author can be more accessible at a book signing. That table really does get between people. The author’s sidekick sounds like fun!
I recently attended a small neighborhood party for an author. He lives away, but a mutual friend who loves his work decided to have a very casual get together after his second book came out. She invited 2 dozen or so people, and he sold at least one book to each person there. It was a fun evening, and I bought 2 hardbacks I probably would not have otherwise purchased. Helps to have friends!
Thank you for sharing with us, Lucienne.
I’m so glad you said this: “The key is to give something, not just expect to get something with a “Hey, buy my book.” It also helps to reach out rather than wait for folks to come to you.”
I see so many first time authors doing nothing but BSP on their blogs and comments on other people’s blogs. All they sound like is a broken record.
They don’t get that people read blogs to get fresh, every-changing content that is funny, provacative, entertaining, and informative. Blogging, like writing, is all about voice.
“Buy my book!” or “I have a book coming out” is not what I want to know. What I wantto know is: Are you an interesting person with something interesting to say? That would get me to read your book a lot more effectively than just “buy my book!”
The only problem is that this place keeps me from finishing a novel I should have completed weeks ago.
Lee does do an addictive blog, doesn’t he?
Great advice and information. Though, the promoting part is honestly the most daunting for me. And all the gimmicks I thought of for my novel are, ah, not going to go over well in your neighborhood family bookstore. 😉
Well, finish the book. Which is what I should be doing now, but who can resist a post at Graveyard Shift… not me.
Thanks to Lucienne Diver, and always to Lee Lofland for keeping me from what I should be doing. =)