Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Your Pub Date, Minus Two Weeks

This post was inspired (in fact, suggested and partially drafted) by Bruce Pollock, who thought maybe I could offer an insider's play-by-play to the panicked author two weeks shy of pub date. Thank you, Bruce! An awesome idea. May this post be everything you dreamed of and more.

YOUR PUB DATE, MINUS TWO WEEKS: The many panics of an author on the edge (and my responses)

Oh my dear sweet Lord, I have no reviews! Why don't I have any reviews?
All right, you gotta take a chill pill here--we don't WANT reviews before the pub date. We want reviews *after* the book is available in stores for people to go out and buy--otherwise they don't help your sales significantly (or at all).

There are only four reviews we can possibly get before the book pub date that would help, and these are all industry publications, not consumer ones. The four "pre-pubs" are Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Library Journal. Yes, it's great to have one, some, or (very rarely) all of these, since they help your visibility among booksellers and librarians. But it's too late to worry about them now, since your book was already sold in--either you have them or you don't. Our new focus is post-pub trade reviews that will help get you *consumer* attention.

Ok? So don't worry. Let's talk again in a month.

What if no one comes to my book party/launch event?

Well, they probably won't, unless you invited them and they know you're serious. You can't count on your publishing company to be able to create bodies for any book event--after all, we're begging our same finite posse to come to every event. And the venue may or may not do any advertising at all for you. So three things to remember about book events:

1) Now is not the time to be shy. Start calling in those favors to everyone you know, and doing whatever you can to advertise wisely (handing out flyers is great! so is Facebooking everyone in the region!). Do literally everything you can to get people to come; it's hard on the bookseller and on your publisher as well as on you if the event doesn't go well.

2) Creative schtick will help you bring bodies. Door prizes, booze, and snacks are three pretty fail-proof ways of getting people to show up for things. Depending on what your book is about, you might be able to come up with some clever theming, too.

3) Always be prepared for the absolute worst--expect there to be no one there but yourself. Then be pleasantly and gratefully surprised for each and every body that shows.

Now go out and do the best you can to prevent your fears from coming true.

No one's returning my publicist's calls! There's no TV, no radio, no major reviews lined up! It's all over before it even began, isn't it? I can just tell!!!
Um, alas, this is increasingly the way of book publicity. The poor publicists run themselves ragged and... mostly nothing comes of it because they're all categorically ignored. Naturally my publicists pitch all my books to all the national TV venues that would be a good fit, and pitch them tirelessly. But all my authors who have even been on national TV have been *approached directly by the TV program* after the producers ignored all our sweetest missives. I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth here, but it's a *little* annoying that we don't have more control over the situation than we do.

You just have to have faith that your publicists are doing whatever they can, and do as much as you can on your end to improve your own visibility. Cf point about leaving no stone unturned.

Also, read this article on what an author can do to complement traditional publicity.

No one could get me a book signing for October! Why? What am I going to do?!

Book signings are tough to set up. In order to host your event, a bookstore is giving up the ability to host any other event that night--that means they have to be sure your event is going to sell books, or they might actually not break even for the day. The chains will usually pass on an author who isn't already famous, and indies may want to see invite lists from the author or publisher. So look--it wasn't that we didn't try hard; maybe the cards didn't play out right.

The good news is, it doesn't matter! For the most part, events are only incidental book sales, and not the most important part of a publicity plan. You can set up your own event if you know you have a big invite list that wants to come. Many bookstores are willing to send a bookseller to sell books at venues outside the store--cafes, libraries, even private house parties, as long as the attendance is worth their while. Then you get to have more control over who comes and what the event entails. Think outside the box a little if you're desperate to have an event in a given city/area.

Also, there's nothing preventing you from securing book events in the future, at less competitive times of year.

And a final note--your publisher may be too busy to set up smaller or more private events, or may actually not have as strong a connection with, say, a local indie bookstore or library that you, the author, do. So sometimes you can do the legwork yourself and make better headway. Make sure you talk it through with your publicist first, so you don't step on toes--for example, it's a really bad idea for an author to contact a national chain on his or her own, since it might actually undermine the *publisher's* relationship with that chain as well as the author's. But the author him/herself will probably have better luck on a more personal level setting up events with people s/he knows or with whom there are common ties.

Why aren't there any copies of my book in Rhode Island?
Well, the buyers at the chains must have for some reason decided that their outlets in Rhode Island (or wherever) probably won't sell your book very successfully. They may be wrong, or only have seen a fraction of the factors (they won't know, for example, that you have seventy-five first cousins who live in or around Providence). And that's frustrating, but hard to change.

See, the national chains rank each of their stores based on overall sales as well as on category sales. If your book is about tulips and they've noticed gardening book sales are lowest in Rhode Island, they may decide not to retail your book there based on past title successes or failures. There's also a difference in "top store" or "all store" promotions that a chain may have awarded your publisher for your book, which will determine where and for which demographics your book is being stocked and sold.

Tell your editor your concerns, but be aware it's hard to change weirdness like this. Their sales choices are based on computer data--fallible, but hard to argue. A solution for you? Indies! The buyers there buy on a store-by-store basis. Go make nice with your bookseller friends in Rhode Island.

Why the heck is Amazon already selling used copies?!
Sucks, right? Try not to worry too much about it; they don't have that many. The "used" copies available on Amazon before your pub date are doubtlessly review copies your publicists sent out, hoping to get reviews for you, and which those review copy recipients turned around and threw out, gave away, or let fall into the hands of a wily and impoverished assistant, who turned to the internet for sustenance. Publishers don't like these anymore than you do, I promise. The good news is that when a book first comes out, the "used" copies online are almost never significantly more affordable than new copies. They shouldn't make any real difference in anything.

How many book bloggers does it take to create a buzz?
All of them. Get as many as you can; never stop. They'll be your second wind, and the reason your books stays in print.

But the good news is book bloggers work on their own time, and will always be available to you. You can keep reaching out to them later at less busy times of your life.

Why isn't my editor taking my calls?!
Um, I don't mean to sound heartless, but you're your publicist's problem now. Your editor unfortunately has *other* books to edit now. She still loves you, I'm sure. Don't worry about her right now.

Is it ok for me to beg all my Facebook friends to mention me and buy copies?
Uh, yeah. Cf above--no stone unturned. Just make sure you're not annoying about it.

When will the sales numbers be in? Wait, they're in already, aren't they? You're just avoiding telling me what they are, aren't you?
Well, I know your first printing numbers, and probably your laydown numbers (the sell-in, how many copies went into each chain, etc). But let's give this two weeks before you ask me for sales figures, ok? Consumer sales are much more important than anything else at all in the world.

Did this help you, dear author? Let me know if *I* have left any stones unturned!


Kristan said...

Lol, it helped. But how come everything in this industry is "Don't get your hopes up?" :p

Ironic, considering the only ones who make it must be the ones who hope in spite of all the odds.

Brian F. said...

Bless you. I think I'm putting a link to this post in the signature of my e-mail.

CKHB said...

Awesome! Will there eventually be a "Your Pub Date, Plus 2 Weeks" post?

Alan Orloff said...

You've either helped me greatly, or put me into panic mode. Not sure which yet.

Thanks for the info regardless!

Anita Saxena said...

Wow. Most of us worry about just getting published. This adds to the list on things to worry about =)

Lizzy Mason said...

Thanks for your support for book publicists! We get bummed about the lack of responses too!

JES said...

Priceless, Moonie.

I remember my, uh, flabbergastment when I strolled into a local Books-a-Million to set up a book signing. They peered at me with suspicion. "Who's going to attend?" they asked. "How many copies will we sell?" Of course I had no idea how to answer either question. Grudgingly, they agreed to provide a table if I brought the books and provided signs. (Oh boy did I have a sign I wanted to give them...)

All that was 17, 18 years ago. Maybe things have changed, but back then retailers couldn't return any copies which the author had signed. (Ha ha, probably considered it irreparable defacement.) Is that still true?

(At a couple of signings I can remember taking advantage of being left alone by sneakily putting my John Hancock on, like, 4 or 5 copies in the stack of 12.)

Carleen Brice said...

To Kristan: You are right. The trick is to keep your hopes high, but your expectations of your publisher low.

Sherri said...

I love love love this post!

BTW, this is probably a duh moment, but could somebody tell me what Cf means?

Novice Writer Anonymous said...


Bookmarking for the eventual day that I hopefully hit this point. You made a lot of really great points. It's all very helpful, especially for a novice like me.

RCWriterGirl said...

Great post. Very informative.

Liz Kreger said...

I've been fortunate so far with signings. I'd sent out postcards with the event to every family, friend and casual acquaintance I could think of. My turn out was so good that the bookstore asked me back for a second time. LOL.

Bruce Pollock said...

Thanks Moonie for this additional fifteen seconds of fame! I need all I can get.
Now it's almost a month past my pub date, however, and I've descended into a different circle of Hell.
I did a bunch of radio interviews, including Dennis Miller, got several fine reviews, including The Huffington Post and Pop Matters, spoke in front of a group of 100 people (and sold eight books). I've even got a signing set up at the local Borders with postcards going out, surrounded by more local radio and press.
And I've probably irritated 80% of my 119 friends on Facebook.
So the question is, how long do I have to keep doing this? When can I go back to working on my next book?

Donna Gambale said...

Really, really good post. If only it applied to me! I can hope, right?

Lydia Sharp said...

This is great. You're so awesome, helping us little people in your spare time (spare time? what's that?).

Eileen said...

Other ideas:
- look to do a blog tour, not just on book review sites, but any blog that might be related to your topic.

- the truth is most TV/Radio outlets aren't interested in fiction. See if you can spin your novel into a story for them. For example my first book was about a woman who faked psychic ability to get an ex-boyfriend back. I used the research I did on the book to show people how easy it is to fake psych abilities. That's what helped me get some media coverage.

- If you're doing a signing the only people who will show up are friends and family (and possibly the homeless if you have free food). When was the last time you went to a signing of an author you never heard of? If you want people to show up look to make it event. Can you get a few authors together? If you write women's fiction can you advertise it as "Girl's night out" with chocolate and wine?

- Does your library do bookclubs? If so offer to speak for them.

Then remember the most important thing you can do is write the next book.

joelle said...

I'm adding this to my calendar for May 1st, so I can read it again two weeks before my pub date. Thanks!


Paul Greci said...

Thanks for this blast of information. My book will be out on submission soon. At least now I have a better picture of what to expect later, that is, if my book sells--what comes to mind is what it might be like to be shot out of a cannon. Hopefully it'll be an exciting ride that doesn't end badly.

Saundra Mitchell said...

Re: Signing/events- this is another reason to love your Indies! I'm a debut author- my book came out in February.

I've had *three* signings, because I introduced myself to the local indies, and they invited me in. I sold books at each one, I met a lot of great people, and I had a great time.

My first chain signing comes EIGHT months after my book came out- they wouldn't return my calls before my book came out. Now that I have 8 months of sales, they're willing to give me 2 hours on a Thursday to sign.

My publicist is totally awesome, she works crazy hard, but every single event I've had (including the chain event,) happened because I contacted the bookseller, or the bookseller contacted me. You can do so much for your book if you just put yourself out there!

Ellen said...

Very informative post! But I have one question...

"How many book bloggers does it take to create a buzz?
All of them. Get as many as you can; never stop. They'll be your second wind, and the reason your books stays in print."

Any thoughts on how much the FTC's new guides will effect this area of marketing?

Moonrat said...

Ellen--really good point. I drafted this post a couple weeks ago before they were established.

I think we should open up discussion, because I don't know as much about the FTC guidelines as I should.

s.w. vaughn said...

You meant THIS is what I have to look forward to next spring?


Stress. The other white meat. :-)

Lafreya said...

Thanks for this information!! I will have to remember this in a year and three months.

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said...

Very funny, very true, and some very fine advice. Wish I could have read this before my first book came out!

Robert W. Leonard said...

Nice, I haven't read a really good one of these lately. I think a lot of people ignore how much work they'll have to do. It's good to see reminders about it.

Austin Kleon said...

This is excellent!

WritingNut said...


And here I am just trying to finish the thing. If only it were as easy as writing a book, submitting it, having it published, then simply waiting for all the glory :).

It's funny - not too long ago I was thinking about just how much more is involved when trying to publish/promote a novel. I hope I'm able to get to the point where I can stress about this!

Great, informative post!

Joyce said...

Loved this post. It made me feel not so alone. My debut novel, The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, released Sept. 1 and all of the things you mentioned either happened or worried me. I recieved a starred review in Library Journal, a good review in PW and have been seen all over the place on blog tours. My sales, as far as I can tell are pretty good. Yet I watch that Amazon rating like my husband watched me the day our daughter was born! Yikes. It's so odd. One day I'm way up, the next way down. What does the Amazon rating really mean and should I worry about it? Thanks for a great post. And oh, buy my book! Thank you!

Crystal Posey said...

Fascinating. Loved reading this.

Naseem Rakha said...

Abosolutly right on in every aspect. Looking back, writing the book seems to be the less stressful part of publishing.