Ah, the digital age. Gone are the days of pesky human interaction, reading body language, interpreting facial expressions, and actually putting clothes on in the morning. More and more authors are embracing the advantages and savings that online promotion can bring them. And the hottest way to make yourself known on the web? Blog tours.
Most authors know the hardships of a tour: you travel incessantly, spend hours in the bookstore hoping more than four people show up, and spend thousands of dollars to sell dozens of books. A tour can be beneficial for authors who travel for business, but it doesn’t make sense for everyone, especially with rising fuel prices. Authors are looking for new ways to reach out to a mass audience, and blogging has become a great way to connect with audiences on a personal level without having to travel extensively. You can take it a step further, though, and organize a blog tour to promote yourself, your book, and your message to varied audiences. Bloggers hold an increasing amount of power in today’s market, and with a few simple steps you can be on your way to virtual touring.
The first step is to create your own blog. You can blog about anything you want, and there are certainly some strange ones out there, but the best idea is to write about topics tied to the content of your book—and keep writing about them as often as possible. The most popular blogs tend to include current news in their postings, and if you can tie in your message with those postings, all the better. Joining a blogging network such as BlogHer also helps you connect with other authors and can give you links to future guest spots on other blogs. Many blogging networks also host meet and greets every year, another great way to get in contact with potential reviewers.
Organize a blog tour or host a tour on your own blog. You can build a network of authors and cross-pollinate your audiences to reach readers you might not have access to through your own blog. By hosting a tour, you can bring new traffic to your website. By touring other blogs, you automatically give yourself credibility with that blog's audience through the recommendation of its owner. There are professional tour organizers out there, but you can also do it yourself with a little elbow grease and determination.
Tim Ferriss, author of the bestselling The 4-Hour Work Week, writes about his successes with blog touring in lieu of traditional touring on his own blog. While he is obviously a great example of the extremes that online marketing can bring you, other authors can certainly enjoy various degrees of success with little or no monetary input.
There are many ways to get your message out there, but the key to any good tour is to be inventive and persistent. Consumers are bombarded with advertisements every second of the day, and in order to make your message stand out you’re going to have to think outside of the box. Way, way outside of the box.
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In this day and age of hyperinteractive media and communication, it is essential to maintain routine contact with your readers and clients. There is nothing like personal contact, but let’s face it, communicating via e-mail is often a preferable way to correspond. E-mail allows us to be clear and concise, saving us lots of time. It also lets us edit what we say before sending and customize our message so that it is attractive and attention grabbing. An eNewsletter is just what the doctor ordered!
It’s great to know that your newsletter subscribers actually want to read what you send out. They have chosen to receive your daily, weekly, or monthly updates. So treat them nice and offer them something of value.
Here are some basic things to keep in mind when sending an eNewsletter.
Define your purpose: This should be the first thing you establish before sending. Determine the purpose of the week’s newsletter and then make sure it is clear throughout. The whole point of e-mail marketing is to get an idea across to as many people as possible. Take advantage of this and truly spend time developing the specific idea you want to convey. Then include the most important information at the top of the e-mail. That way, it will appear in the preview pane and catch the attention of the reader.
Let them know it’s you: Always include your name or brand in the “from” and “subject” lines. These are the first things recipients see, and they need to recognize instantly that the e-mail came from a reputable source. Use very specific and consistent language so they know not to delete it or move it to their spam folder.
Follow the rules: Speaking of spam, it is essential that you comply with CAN-SPAM laws. Send your newsletter only to people that have “opted in,” and be sure to include an option for them to “opt out” of receiving future e-mails.
Do some quality control: Make sure you always proofread your text, verify the message of the e-mail, check all links to make sure they work, offer a plain-text version and an html version so that everyone can read it, and send to the correct mailing list. These are some basic quality-control methods to make sure your newsletter is up to standard. It's always a good idea to have another pair of eyes look over the newsletter before you hit “send” to catch anything you might have missed.
Make sure to keep it fresh: People are flooded with e-mails every day, so it’s very important to keep your newsletter interesting. Include links to your corresponding websites and blogs, add multimedia content, and allow readers to give feedback and share your newsletter with others. It is vital that you are not just using your newsletter as a sales pitch for your book. You want to offer useful and interesting content for the subscribers so they know they have something new to view every time they receive your e-mails.
Give it some personality: Determine your newsletter’s personality type. Is your newsletter a straightforward business type or does it have a more easygoing and casual vibe? Once this is established, make sure you stay consistent. Most e-mail marketers will also have corresponding websites. Keep with the look or the “brand” featured on the site so that the newsletter and website match up. This is a great way to build brand recognition. Also include something personal in your newsletter, perhaps some quick background information on yourself or the company. Personalize it so it seems approachable to the reader.
Always be on time: It’s a good idea to set a delivery time you think works best for your readers. What day of week and time of day seem to be most appropriate for them to receive your newsletter? Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday and after 9:00 a.m. PST is normally preferred. You want your readers to get in the office, clean out spam, and start the day before you hit them with an important message. Once you have the time established, stick to it! Your readers should know when to expect your newsletter in their inboxes.
Okay, so now you’re ready to send your newsletter but have no idea how to manage your ever-growing contact list. There are countless e-mail marketing services that can help. Make sure that you research several companies before committing to one to ensure it fits your newsletter needs.
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Thinking back, a bandanna may have helped persuade me to buy Infinite Jest. Had David Foster Wallace not looked so impossibly grungy on his dust jackets and back covers, I may have assumed the book to be the work of a pretentious jerk who was published at an age alarmingly close to mine. But knowing that this heft of footnoted irony came from a long-haired, affable-looking guy gave the book a hard-to-define appeal. (Yeah, I only got to page 37. There are lots of big, big words.)
Ideally, the way an author looks should have no bearing on the content of a book, but it's natural to wonder what someone looks like after becoming wrapped up in the workings of his or her mind—and there's no doubt that a little sex appeal goes a long way when it comes to book promotion. (Some claim that it's not uncommon for big publishers to ask for a headshot before striking a deal; others say this isn't the case.) Fortunately, readers usually size up their authors from little thumbnail-sized windows on back covers and flaps, and—unless you're Thomas Pynchon or something—it's hard to look too bad.
As in the DFW example, one of the best things about author photos is that they give you a chance to give off calculated authorial vibes. Are you a black-turtlenecked poet? A tweedy pipe-smoking professor? A no-nonsense entrepreneur? You can't change the face life dealt you, but you can have a big effect on the way readers perceive you and your work with accoutrements and subtleties of expression: a puppy, horn-rimmed glasses, a slight curl of the lip. Think about the persona you want to develop with your photo, and think about how it relates to the content of your book. You could:
- Cause a furor with the languorous-debut-novelist look like Truman Capote. (Although he claimed to be mortified by the uproar, many report that Capote chose the pose himself. He developed a very different aesthetic later. But this frayed-sweater, please-stop-the-voices-in-my-head look is my favorite.)
- Accentuate your eccentricity with some zany hair, ala Malcolm Gladwell.
- Wear a jean jacket to subtly emphasize your populist message like Stephen King.
- Underscore the vibrant multiculturalism of your work with an ethnic headdress like Zadie Smith. (But watch out for imposters.)
And keep the basics we've already told you in mind. Unless you're a household name, avoid putting yourself on the cover. And hire a professional. It's sad to see nice-looking authors who look like they had their photo shoot done in a Sunday school classroom under florescent lights. Trust us, it's worth it.
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We've told you about sites devoted to tracking Amazon.com sales ranks before, but here's a new one: Ranktracer.com. Tracking only books that have been added by users, the service offers several appealing features, including slick flash graphics, estimates of Amazon's highly guarded sales numbers, and tracking of ranks on international Amazon sites.
Ranktracer also offers promotions on its own site and Amazon's, which you may or may not find useful. Size it up with the other Amazon tracking sites and let us know which one you find most functional. (Ranktracer does charge a small fee, which is, hint, waiveable if you have a blog.)
Ranktracer tells visitors all about Amazon sales ranks and what can be done with them on the front page of its site, and—while much of the information is eerily familiar—it brings up a good point: The rank, although visible to any Joe Schmoe lurking the web, can be a powerful market research tool. The ranks of your niche competitors are available at any time to help feel out what's happening in your genre. It's a good idea to request that a rank-tracking site add competitors to its database early; none of the sites can retrieve data from before tracking on that item was initiated.
Also, if you don't have access to BookScan, but want an idea of whether that promotion did anything at all, check for drops in your rank after marketing or publicity activity. Not incredibly accurate, but it might help you gauge what works and what doesn't.
Alternatively, you could distribute defamatory pamphlets about a close competitor and check their graph for spikes. Either way, comprehensive sales rank data can be very helpful.
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Oprah has been kind to books, and books have been kind to Oprah. The godlike talk show host granted a windfall to bookselling with her famous club (and performed something of a miracle, prompting legions of soccer moms and their ilk to rush to bookstores and ask for the works of William Faulkner). Now, her upcoming weight-loss book, according to UsMagazine.com, has commanded the highest advance ever, besting even Bill Clinton’s My Life. Whether or not you find Oprah a worthy arbiter of culture, there’s no arguing that she resuscitated reading for many a jaded TV watcher.
But as Oprah’s club rose to prominence in the late nineties, the Brits watched and saw room for improvement. In 2004, husband-and-wife talk show hosts Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan launched a book club of their own—but they didn’t want to directly emulate Oprah.
The club’s founder and book selector, Amanda Ross, accuses Ms. Winfrey of being “sugary” and “sycophantic” to her authors. Ross takes pride in the Richard and Judy Book Club’s authenticity; she’ll readily admit that she regrets putting Monica Ali’s Brick Lane on the list, a book that neither she, Judy, or Richard liked. And the show also runs celebrity reviews of the selected books, some of which have been largely negative and ended up hurting sales. Ross claims to resist any influence from eager publishers as well, and insists that she takes her responsibility very seriously. One gets the sense that she hopes to establish an open discourse about the books on the list—a far cry from the suffocating intimacy between Oprah and her chosen few. (Witness her emotional rage at the “betrayal” of James Frey and the spurning of Jonathan Franzen.)
Ross—widely acknowledged as the most powerful person in the UK book world—chose a summer reading list that was unveiled on the Richard and Judy program yesterday. The list is comprised mainly of writers at the beginning of their careers. So, if you already powered through A New Earth and are now just waiting, thumbs twiddling, for the next edict from on high, why not check out a few of these?
Of course, there are problems with the whole TV-book-club thing (narrowing of the market, consolidation of tastemaking, the development of a populace dependent on someone to tell them what to read, to name a few) but here are a few reasons I prefer the Richard-and-Judy model to Oprah’s:
- There are more books. While it may be more climactic and exciting to unveil only a few books a year, and the reading-list format of Richard and Judy is decidedly scholastic, the books get more room to breathe in greater numbers. Oprah says, You GOTTA read this!!! Dick and Judy say, Well hello. Here are some books we think are worth taking a look at . . .
- The selections are diverse, and usually contemporary. Sure it’s cool to see Steinbeck top the bestseller lists, but, man, he already had his chance! And Ross's choices often allow for elbow-rubbing between the literary and the borderline lowbrow, creating an interesting space for the openminded reader.
- There’s no pressure for readers to like the book. As Ross suggests above, Richard and Judy aren’t beholden to the authors, and there’s not the pressure of a heartfelt sit-down with the author to sway readers' interpretation of the book itself.
Oh, Richard and Judy also have a wine club. This makes discussing the books significantly more pleasant.