Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pimp My Monkey (Guest Blogger: Chris Eldin)

Today, please welcome Chris Eldin, who is here to talk about lessons learned from a year of working on internet author publicity.

Old lady underwear.

That’s what current book-marketing efforts look like. One size fits all. Unnoticeable. But a comfortable, feel-good accessory for writers who don’t know what else to do.

What are some examples of overused and tired marketing efforts? Blog tours that attract mainly other writers. Contests and give-aways. Non-stop Twitter and Facebook spam.

Ladies, break out those thongs! Gents, break out those…errr-just do whatever the ladies say.

This post will be a quickie round-up of lessons-learned from the book promotions blog, the Book Roast. The Book Roast was a one year endeavor to market books for authors. Our motto, Serving up authors and books lightly gilled and seasoned with humor, helped entice best-selling authors from a variety of genres to support our site.

Feeling a bit voyeuristic? A Book Roast interview with Writer Unboxed is posted here. Like seeing editors roasted? So did we. We roasted Editorial Anonymous here, Evil Editor here, and Moonrat here. Some agents got pretty toasty too. You can check their links in our sidebar. People like blogging promotions with a humorous bent. We were nominated for a BBAW award. Most things worked (making fun of agents). A few didn’t (charity drives). But in the end, it was a fun and rewarding experience to step out of the box. To shake off that baggy underwear.

**Follow the ten commandments**

**Know your audience**
There’s a reason bookstores don’t mix their entire stock of books and alphabetize. Readers are loyal to their genres. When we (the Book Roast team) developed the Book Roast blog, we aimed to be as inclusive as possible. We had assumed that when Author A was being promoted, some of his/her fan base would continue to stick around for other authors. That our readership would organically grow. This did not happen. We did not get the crossover interest we had hoped for. Romance readers stuck with the romance authors, etc.

**Consider the cost**
How much time and/or money are you willing to invest in your blog development? Are you going to pay a web designer, or do it yourself? There are many sites that offer free templates. But as more and more people are becoming web-savvy, the standards have inched higher and higher.

Also, how much time/money are you going to invest once it’s up and running? It can be time consuming to keep coming up with new and informative content, and to keep the energy level high. Blogs need to have a predictable schedule for readership to stay and grow.

The Book Roast blog was a team effort. Even though the work was spread across several people, we each ended up spending several hours per month with maintenance issues. It was more time consuming than we assumed it would be.

**Develop a brand/theme**
Develop a brand that identifies your content and style, keeping your target audience in mind. Let me repeat for the people who wander around everywhere with no clear focus or goal for their work or their professional image hey get out of the refrigerator and wait til I come to the kitchen I don’t care that your friends can eat chips for dinner where’d I put my drink and damn did I query that agent already I hope she forgot now where was I?

Keep your target audience in mind.

Quiet all that other noise. What does your target audience want? What gets your target audience energized? Create your message based on this, and develop your brand from there.

When developing an online brand, such as a blog or a website, consider your screen real estate. Put all of your important content at the top. This is your “first impression.” Readers should not have to scroll to find out what your blog is about.
The Book Roast team developed a brand based on food—we were all hungry writers and enjoyed eating. Remember our tag line: Serving up a variety of authors and books lightly grilled and seasoned with humor. Our style was casual and humorous, and our blog was designed to reflect this. A blog patron described us as “an online cocktail party.” The Book Roast brand was easily recognizable, and quickly set us apart from other book-related blogs.

**Hook your readership**
Related to your brand/theme is having a hook. Something that keeps your readership coming back for more.
The Book Roast was fortunate to have a publishing insider, Ms. Sally Spitfire, who posted every Monday. A marketing professional, Ms. Spitfire offered insights that other agent/editor blogs did not. She was our hook. That, and our humor.
Hooking your readership should be the focus of your brand. Why should your target audience visit you the first time? Why should they keep coming back? It’s worth it to take your time creating a hook. Something about first impressions…

**Choose an opportune time to launch**
Deciding when to launch your blog depends on your audience. Perhaps you want to launch around the same time as a conference you’re attending. Or if you’re a romance writer, February might be a good month, etc.

After going through a complete one-year cycle, we found that the two months with the highest internet activity (for the Book Roast blog) were February and March. The two worst months were August and December. Your audience may be different, but it’s important to start on a high point.

**Decide on comment moderation**
Blogging is interactive, but you have to decide whether or not you’re going to moderate comments. Weigh the costs/benefits of open comments versus comment moderation.

We decided to leave the comments open on the Book Roast. We had a couple of days where one person came to our blog and posted offensive comments. We decided to delete the comments as they came up, and to ignore the person otherwise. We were lucky. He went away after two days and we didn’t have any problems after that. We wanted to avoid comment moderation because our theme was casual and talksy.

**Get the word out**
The personal touch is time consuming, but effective. Email your friends and blogging acquaintances about your launch. Be positive and upbeat. Don’t spam. Use whatever tools you’re comfortable with to advertise your opening (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc). But don’t overuse these tools—they’ll become white noise and lose their effectiveness.

Visit blogs, book clubs, and other groups who may be interested in what your blog has to offer.

Ask friends to nominate your blog for the various awards that are out there. Moonrat has some very nice aunts who can nominate you if you can’t find anyone else.

**Acknowledge your supporters**
Be polite. Show your readership you care about them. Be nice, yanno. It goes a long way. Plus, it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

**Get reader feedback**
If possible, survey your readership from time to time to see what’s working, and what’s not working.

**Review current trends for your genre**
What’s hot this year? Dedicate some posts to trends. For example, if you’re a children’s book writer, the current hot trend is steam punk. Take some time to research and put together posts about these trends. It adds to your authority and authenticity.

**Review current technology changes**
Stay on top of the latest technologies, and whether or not you can use them to help you market your books. I like this site.

**Keep records**
Keep track of the numbers of visitors, types of feedback, where visitors are clicking in from. Statistics help keep you grounded in reality.

Now, about those thongs…

In addition to branding yourself/your work with an online presence, you can market yourself in many “non-traditional” ways offline.

Brainstorm places in your area you can go to market your book. Remember, it’ll always be a “no” if you don’t ask. But most people are supportive of local authors and talent.

Some possible places may include: local cafes, grocery stores, dinner theaters, bike clubs, hiking groups, PTA fund raisers, or kids’ sporting events (set up a table). Partner with other authors in your area. Hook up with the local universities. Take some professors out to lunch. Offer to be a guest lecturer.

Do you have a budget for premiums? Ask libraries in your area if you could put a basket of free pens/stress balls/magnets/etc on their counter. Fairly cheap and very easy to do.

That’s about all for now.

Perhaps you’re looking at your old lady underwear in a new light. At this point, you may be tempted to take all your underwear and stamp them with your new blog address and ask the librarian if she wants them.

For the love of all that’s good and true in this world, please don’t do this in Baltimore.

Chris Eldin is a native of Baltimore and a collector of elastic waistband thongs. She writes humorous middle-grade books for boys. Her latest marketing blog can be found here: If you’re an agent and would like to query her about her manuscript, she has guidelines posted on her blog.


Chris Eldin said...

Hi Everyone!

*Enthusiastically waving*

I absolutely LOVE this topic! Nathan Bransford recently posted about branding, as did Cynthia Leitich Smith on Cynsations in her post about Dan Kraus.

With the momentum behind e-publishing, I think we're on the verge of discovering new "handheld marketing" techniques. I personally think it's an exciting time, and a great time to explore.

The middle school psychologist told us during our 6th-grader's orientation that parents need to allow room for their children to fail. That middle school years are really the only "safe" years they can "fail" without consequence.

While I may catch flack for this, I think we're in a similar period in regards to internet marketing for books. It's a great time to get creative and explore! (Within limits, of course...I think we need to use common sense when we're talking about what kind of image we want to portray. But most of us are pretty good at that.)

Wow, I'm now thinking I should've added another chapter to this post.

Thanks for reading, for those of you who are around today!

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

"You have official been Pimped"

What a great post, very informative and fun.

Thanks guys.

Monkey Mama said...

Thanks for dropping by, Sherry!!

I see you're a middle-grade writer as well. Lots or room in there to get juvenile.

Chelle Cordero said...

Terrific post - great advice to get us thinking (and since it is still a bit before noon - that's uncommon for me!)

Thanks - and again thanks for roasting me as an author on the Book Roast.

Kimber Chin said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, Chris!
Very generous of you to share your triumphs and lessons!

My advice is for writers not to get discouraged. Readership is an exponential build (liking rolling a snowball). At first it is tough going but it eventually picks up.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Chris, this is fantastic. I'm trying to follow blogs beyond the writing ones. I figure reading librarian reviews and parenting blogs can only help in keeping current with the mid-grade scene.

Also, I love that you parents were told to let your kids have room to fail. Wish every parent understood this. School is the place with the safety net that the real world doesn't guarantee. Getting a poor grade/forgetting an assignment/messing up, all can be fantastic lessons and shouldn't be things a parent fights but sees as part of their child's growth.

Whirlochre said...

Great post — thanks to both.

This certainly is an interesting time to be innovative — before the die is fully cast.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Chelle,
I remember your roast...those were the days. And thanks!

Hi Kimber Chin,
Thanks! Your advice is great advice for anything we want badly enough.

Hi Caroline,
Sounds like you're doing fantastic prep work! It's exactly what I mean when I say target your audience. Too many "children's" sites aren't really for kids at all. They're grown-ups teaching kids lessons, and what a turnoff.
Anyway, glad you could stop by!

Whirly is here! YAY! :-) Not sure how long this window will be "open," but it'll be a fun ride nonetheless.

Laurel said...

Yay, Chris!

Old marketing strategies=old lady underwear. Got it.

Unfortunately, I'd rather wear no underwear at all than a thong. Just sayin'.

Using the internent to brand and market yourself seems so crucial and makes so much sense to me but seems to vastly outstrip my native abilities, interests, and time constraints. Love reading blogs, the community, and the contests. But designing some sort of snazzy promotional strategy eludes me.

Laura Martone has designed a phenomenal website for her WIP, Ruby Hollow. I just wanted to crawl under my laptop and give up. Your blog is great, visually appealing, and fun. Ditto Ello and lots of others..

Did you guys take a class, receive some arcane blessing from the gods of technology, hire a design school student willing to work for peanut butter, or what?

I totally get that this is a useful tool, but holy crap, what do I do?

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hey Chris,

One of the main things I learned as a Roast Master on the Book Roast blog:

The amount of participation in the comments often depended on the amount and frequency of author response. Those authors who commented often, got more comments in return and the number of people commenting increased. Those authors who showed up late or not much at all, got very few comments.

If you get the chance to do a virtual promotion for your book, I encourage you to be there on time and for as long as the promotion lasts to get the best results.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Laurel,

Thanks! I'll have to run over and take a look! But I think just the fact that you're blogging and familiar with these venues puts you yards ahead. And if you're nervous to "put things out there," why not privately prototype? I think it's just as important to draft/sketch marketing plans as it is to draft a novel. Plus, you really do look amazing in that red dress.

Chris Eldin said...

YAY! Hi Sarah!!
Absolutely!! Authors are their own best advocates. It was amazing to see what you just said. Makes sense, too. Who wants to converse when nobody else is talking?
You were a great Roast Master. Reaching out for a hug. sniff, sniff....

Sarah Laurenson said...


*hugs back*

We need to get together and do some serious monkey partying.

Chris Eldin said...

Okay, now that it's lunchtime, and a bit quieter around here, I want to share a secret.


Come closer...


Okay. That's better.

You know those videos on my monkey blog? (If not, put down your sandwich and go look, then come back here.) I did something with one of them.

I sent one to the Ellen DeGeneres show.

I figured, "why the hell not?" It's not exactly like I'm going to be obsessing over it, like I do queries. (Well, okay, it's exactly like that.)

Who knows what will happen (wait, let me check my cell phone to see if she called yet) but it took all of ten minutes to go to her site and fill in the form, and upload the video.

That's a bit of what I mean about going outside of the box.

But wait folks, that's not all!

A mini contest! I'll give a $35 Amazon gift certificate to the first person who guesses which video episode I sent in, and why. I'll announce the winner here in the comments at 10pm NY time.


Sarah Laurenson said...

Awesome job on this post, Chris.

Have to trot off to work, then my critique group meets tonight, so I'm out of blog touch all day.

Have fun with the wonderful Moonie and her mischief!

jjdebenedictis said...

Chris, this is a fantastic post. I've not bookmarked it for future reference, I've also opened a Word file and started a marketing plan just from the ideas I was having while I read your very wise and informative words.

Thanks to both you and Moonie for posting this!

Rebecca Knight said...

Great ideas and advice! I think I might just be bold enough to go marketing commando!

Okay, just kidding ;).

But seriously, thank you for help thinking outside the blog.

Kate said...

Great post and very interesting to read. Even working in Marketing you would be amazed how many senior people can prepare huge campaigns without giving a second thought to the current audience and who they would like to be targetting.
Kate xx

Ann Victor said...

A highly informative post with some great advice. I was pleased to see I'm doing some of the necessary things already (e.g. scheduled blog posts) and equally pleased to be given some new tips for future use.

Many thanks, Chris and Moonrat! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Loved Book Roast. Miss it. *sighs* Actually, it is what started me blogging. I wanted to comment and had to set up a google account and then took the step to start a blog. So a big thank you for that.
Your advice is great here, but I have to say that I'm having trouble with the branding concept. I love so many types of writing. I read across genre and write that way, too. Maybe if I get a book contract I will focus. Then again, Neil Gaiman gets away with many hats, and while I don't expect to be in that league, maybe I can play dress-up and get away with it. :)
Hmm, word verification: buggic
Shouldn't that be in the vocab somewhere?

Chris Eldin said...

Thanks Sarah, have a great day!

JJ, WOW! That's a high compliment, and I appreciate it! Hope you're having fun with it. And remember it's a living document--keep brainstorming and tweaking. You're a creative person, so I imagine your plan is going to be pretty terrific!

Rebecca, LOL! Just for clarification, we're not talking commando. But hey, let us know where and we'll all be behind you. ahem.

Kate, Thanks for stopping by! I guess we all have a tendency to try to be all things to all people, but a lot of energy is wasted like that. Your blog name is intriguing...

Hi Ann, Great going! People are creatures of habit, so there's an element of predictablity that we all crave. Thanks for reading!

Hi Tricia, Thanks for commenting! Yes, you bring up a point that could lead to many discussions. I suggest branding because it's what the 'big boys of business' do. When it's done well, it works. Just something else to think about when you're thinking about your name and your body of work.

Merry Monteleone said...


Fantastic post on marketing. There's the disconnect I'm seeing, authors tend to promote to other writers. And I know that writers do buy more books than the average person (though not always, when we're broke we utilize the library, and many of us are broke), but really, we should be tapping our readership.

My own blog is solely about writing, and mostly frequented by writers. So far, the time I've spent online has been largely about networking and working on craft, and it's a natural fit because I enjoy it... but I know it's not what I need for marketing. My little blog won't really help me promote, especially as I'm working on YA and middle grade, and let's be honest here, my target readership is trying to get out of their English homework, not learn more about writing.

I think a lot of authors link in with other authors because it's comfortable and that's great. But for the marketing portion, they need an entirely new platform that's geared for their own readership... another thing that bugs me a bit, and I think it bugs most people, businesses, entreprenuers, and writers too, have been using old marketing strategies in the new platforms, like twitter, blogs, etc...

Here's the problem, social media is all about being social. It really is. It's about being friendly and genuine as much as it is about offering content. The old marketing approaches come off as sales pitches, because they are. I don't want to 'friend' someone who's only in it to get something out of me... that would be like letting a stranger stand next to you so that it's easier for them to pick your pocket.

Now, blog reviews and blog tours can be excellent, if they really take the time to zero in on blogs that will speak to the key audience for the book. Did you know that there are now a ton of librarians who blog? What a great, and mostly untapped, market for writers. There are also children's librarians who blog - for you middle grade or YA writers, why not offer to guest post on library blogs across the country?

There are new and inventive ways to utilize these platforms. I zone in on middle grade and YA, for obvious reasons, but other venues that I've seen do really well are things like Mother Talk, which sends out books to various bloggers with the right following for the subject matter and schedules a blog tour date. There are a lot of moms who blog, parenting blogs, you name it.

Well, obviously, I can go on and on... but I do think this is an exciting time. A little scary because it's so wide open, but I think the biggest plus you have in this field is creativity. And let's be honest, who's more creative than a fiction writer?

Kayelle Allen said...

I had a post on my site, Marketing for Romance Writers, about this blog. Came over to see what the fuss was about and found out that I need to buy some new underwear. ^_^

Like many authors, I've discovered there are some things that are tried and true; they work, so I won't try to fix them. Other things don't. Responding on blogs is one thing I need to change. I don't do enough of that. I also need to get around to more blogs, which I've actually been doing the last month. I'll also be checking out the other blogs and sites mentioned here.

Thanks for the heads up. And here's to no pantilines!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Yeah, Chris!! Thanks.

This is something I've thought a lot about and you helped my organization immensely.

Chris Eldin said...

I have to run out and collect the Things, but will be back...

Merry, Hi There! Thanks for taking the time to write your comments---lots of good stuff. And I agree with you. But the other part, that we tend to shy away from, is how to attract people/audience? Yes, going out and networking is great, but if you have something of interest, a hook, the flocks will come to you. Such an art, wish I knew more about the science end of it.

Kayelle, Here Here! heheheh!
:-) Thanks for dropping in!

Hi Starbucks! I saw a hilarious clip on the Ellen show yesterday (while I was waiting to see if my video got picked) called "StartleBucks." Good for a few hearty laughs.

Chris Eldin said...

I also did want to point out that my Monkey blog is currently aimed at acquiring an agent. If/when I do find representation, I'm going to tweak it to a children's audience. I'll keep the look and feel, but subtract all the 'agenty' stuff and add kid stuff I have in mind.

Kids are online. Everywhere. Just not where grown-ups want them to be. So the third phase would be attracting them. I have a list of ideas I'm jotting down to "get the word out" to my target audience. But I can't do any of it right now. I have to have an agent, at the least. And preferably a book contract.(to lend some credibility to marketing goals.) So the obvious conundrum is how long I can keep this blog if either of those doesn't happen. Dunno.

It's all great fun though. A terrific learning experience by actually "doing" this rather than thinking about it.

Thanks again to everyone who is dropping by!

sylvia said...

Chris, this is a great post - so informative! I loved Book Roast and it's interesting to hear about the backrooms and the results.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi Sylvia,

Simon Hay said...

Great post Chris. Cool idea to attract an agent. I visited the blog and stepped in something. It smells like success.

Jemi Fraser said...

GREAT post! Thank you so much for all of those insights :)

Anonymous said...

blogs = websites for dummies

Anonymous said...

Holy AmateurLand, batman!

Chris Eldin said...

Simon and Jemi, Thanks for the well wishes and stopping by!!

Well, the answer to the contest was Episode Number 3. Because Monkey Mama is first and foremost a Mama, and it's the only video with both Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Anonymous said...

"The Book Roast was fortunate to have a publishing insider, Ms. Sally Spitfire, who posted every Monday. A marketing professional, Ms. Spitfire offered insights that other agent/editor blogs did not."

I think that's part of my confusion over what to do. You see it over and over-writers blogging for others in the industry. And they write primarily about writing, etc. Great. It drives traffic-but publishing traffic. Not that ever elusive cash-forking-over-avg-joeorjoette-book buyer.

As a published author I want to attract those elusive readers/buyers. They like my book because of the story-they don't particularly want to hear about the industry or what I actually do. They don't care how I feel about agents or if I'm suffering from adverbitis. Hell, most of them don't even know what an agent does. I also fear the avg person might be intimidated or feel excluded by so much "insiderness."

So, I guess the ques I'm always grappling with is more-as much as I love other writers and those in publishing, how does a writer develop a blog or website that attracts the people they really wish to attract, the Avg Book Buying Person? What is it they want to read and see on my site? What will excite them that they'll keep coming back and bring their friends?

I'd love to hear thoughts on that from anyone because I'm stumbling.

Alan B. Steeks said...

I wish I had a book to promote.

Whirlochre said...

Just checking in to say I miss that old Book Roast.

It's like losing a favourite hamster. Only less furry.

Chris Eldin said...

Alan, stick with it. Keep supportive people around you. And go read Jay Asher's post on the Verla Kay boards in the "Preserved Posts" section.

Whirly, Hamsters are bald compared to your legs.:-)

Anon with good question,
I agree, and that was one of the *biggest* lessons learned from the Book Roast venture. Every single blogging tour for authors that I've seen has attracted other writers and authors. But mostly writers who want to break in, and have no real questions for the author except how they themselves can break in.
That's where you have to figure out who your target audience is, where they are, what energizes them, and try to brainstorm ideas on how to hook them.
The Monkey blog I have set up is to help me with Phase 3 of my marketing plan. I know that kids are not bloggers. I have other ideas...

If you email me offline, I would love to brainstorm ideas with you.
:-)Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I've been managing web pages for six years. Site names/URLs are very important for setting the tone of your page even before a person clicks. I wouldn't click on a site link called moneypeemonkeypoo. In this post, I hovered over your name, saw the URL, and moved on with a head shake. But then I guess if your site is aimed at children, that's part of knowing your audience.