The Help has struck a fat, juicy, chord.
Kathryn Stockett seems accustomed to the idea, but points out that her novel was rejected 60 times by agents before she found one and was awarded a contract by publisher Amy Einhorn. Let’s go back, because the ignition sequence – that period that launches authors from inspired writing into creative marketing – is a witch’s brew of luck, timing, self-promotion, and several more mystery ingredients.
Today’s consumers have a limited amount of intellectual capital to expend each day. Most goes toward the essentials – things like the kids, the jobs, and the bills. Then there’s a small percentage left for leisure; think of it as discretionary intellectual capital.
This is when consumers may be open to suggestions about a good new book. Of course you’re also competing with movies, yoga, restaurants, and, jeez, other good books. How do you fight your way in when the competition already has the door blocked?
The challenge is not much different for self-published authors and those who land deals with a major house, like Jenny Milchman did. Jenny toiled for 11 years before selling her novel, Cover of Snow, to Ballantine.
When it arrives in stores in 2013 – despite the fine crafstmanship that defines the work – the odds are that it will not resonate like “The Help.” So how do you change the odds? (--Steve)
Can We Have an Hour?
Not an hour to present our books—our readers’ eyes would have long glazed over by then, of course.
But I use the word “hour” intentionally to suggest that what an author needs to do in terms of marketing requires lengthy hard work and what I think of as investment building. It takes hours—but most of these come in before you ask the reader for that one minute of his time.
“Permission marketing” is a whole different animal from cold calling. If someone comes to your door with vacuums for sale, that’s a cold call. If your mom’s best friend—who keeps the cleanest house in town—calls up to say she loves her Electrolux but is moving and would like to offer it to you at a good price, that’s permission marketing. You know this woman. And moreover, you trust her level of expertise and knowledge about her product. Just look at her rugs.
(Thank you, Seth Godin, for the concept of permission marketing).
If we translate this to the world of publishing, then a cold call is the 300th Facebook announcement you get from someone you’ve never heard of announcing that his book is number 1,700 on the Amazon bestseller list of mysteries that feature a monkey sleuth.
While permission marketing would be when Steve Piacente, whom I know to be an intrepid explorer in the independent publishing landscape, suggests that I might like to read the book that started it all.
How do you get to permission status? How did Steve ensure that I knew his name so that he wouldn’t just be thumping on my door while I was trying to prepare dinner?
He blogged. He offered substantive content about what he’d learned, some of which might be of use to me and others. He commented on others’ blog posts so that I started seeing his name around, and realized that he had things of value to say. He put himself out there so that by the time he was marketing anything, I was already halfway to yes.
Does this change for an independent author versus someone like Kathryn Stockett, who had the whole Penguin publishing machine behind her debut? I’d say yes and no.
Kathryn was put on people’s radar by Penguin while the indie author has to put him or herself on the radar through efforts like Steve undertook. But once there, the author has to have something of substance to offer no matter what. Tips for creating a book cover or trailer. Reflections on whether big expenditures like Book EXPO really matter.
And of course, a great book.
One that, when they come calling, we already want to buy. (--Jenny)
Steve and Jenny would like to know what you think. If two well-written, engaging novels are released at the same time, what factors will make one succeed and the other fail?
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Steve Piacente has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published Bella (www.getbella.com). Steve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as Correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker moved to the Charleston Post & Courier. He is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University.Jenny Milchman recently received an offer on her debut novel of literary suspense, after eleven years of trying to break in. COVER OF SNOW will be published by Ballantine in early 2013. Jenny teaches for New York Writers Workshop, and co-hosts the series, Writing Matters. Last year she founded Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, a holiday that enlisted over 80 booksellers in thirty states, Canada, and England. This year the Day spread to Australia. She features international bestsellers, Edgar award winners, and independent authors in the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Her short fiction can be found in an e published volume called Lunch Reads and in the forthcoming anthology, ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II. Please visit Jenny at http://suspenseyourdisbelief.com.