Wednesday, November 18, 2009

PROMOTING YOURSELF BEFORE “THE CALL”

PROMOTING YOURSELF BEFORE “THE CALL”

By Marcia James

Think public relations (PR) is something you do after selling your book? Think again. Author promotion can be a daunting task when faced during the hectic days after “The Call”. Don’t make it more difficult on yourself by waiting until you sell to learn all you can about self-promotion.

Nuts and bolts

Prior to publication, there are many things you can do—free and easy things—to become PR savvy.

  • Read those author promotion articles in the Romance Writers of America® (RWA®) Romance Writers Report and your chapter newsletters.
  • Get a subscription to RT Book Reviews to check out author ads and the press releases in the “RT Clubhouse” section.
  • Ask the published authors in your chapter what they do for promotion and take note of their e-mail posts about chats and blogs.
  • Take an online promotion workshop to learn about the available PR options. (I’m presenting two such workshops in 2010. For more information, check my Web site: http://www.MarciaJames.net/Schedule.html)

The more you know about marketing yourself—especially the nuts and bolts of available PR options—the less intimidating it will be. For example, well before I was a featured author-guest in a chat room, I participated in several online chats with other authors to learn the process, the lingo (GA, BTY, TTYL, etc.), and my server’s ability to work with different chat hosts’ software. And before my first guest-blogging opportunity, I set up my blogger profile and figured out how to post comments on blogs.

Brand identity

The most important thing aspiring authors can do to get a jump on PR is to choose a pen name, lock in the corresponding domain name, and design—on paper, at least—a Web site. However, I recommend learning about author branding before spending a lot of time and money on your Web site. Golden Heart winner Jenn Stark has very helpful branding tips on her site (http://www.JennStark.com/). And when picking a pen name and slogan or tag line, remember to Google it to make sure it’s unique.

Modern technology

Exploring PR opportunities on the Internet is another pro-active move. Kensington author Dianne Castell believes in building your name recognition by networking online. “Get on loops and message boards you like and make contacts there,” Castell said. That way, “they care when you sell, and it’s a big deal to them as well because you’re friends. They will spread the word for you.” However, she warns that being friendly and helpful on loops is the key; not just pushing your books.

Social media sites, such as MySpace, offer a chance to start building your brand and your pen name before selling. I’m technically challenged, so I’ve resisted taking the MySpace plunge. But I was able to test the waters by joining a MySpace page for Ohio romance authors (http://MySpace.com/RomanceAuthors), which New York Times bestselling author Lori Foster designed and maintains. By being one of many, I learned to navigate, blog, friend people, etc., before committing to my own site (http://www.MySpace.com/MarciaJames). This co-promotion concept is true for blogs, as well. There are aspiring author group blogs, started by friends, critique groups, and award finalists.

If you’re technically handy, you can experiment with making book videos, which can cost less than $50 if you use stock photos, paid instrumental music, and free software such as Movie Maker. Several authors have become so good at creating these video promos, they’ve started their own companies.

Another helpful skill is podcasting. You don’t have to be published to have your own Internet radio show, although most podcasting is not inexpensive.

Writing and workshops

Penning press releases and articles also provides name recognition. It’s never too early to learn to write a press release, and there are books at your library offering samples of this promotional writing. You can volunteer to write press releases about your local RWA chapter’s conference or contest as a way to hone your skills and make contacts within your local media. And remember, a press release is not just a recitation of facts. It’s important to point out in your cover letter or e-mail why the media person’s audience will care about your press release.

KODer Jacqui Jacoby writes for the RWA Kiss of Death newsletter and other publications. “The first goal I set for myself back in 2002 was to start submitting at least two articles a year,” Jacoby explained. “You can pack a lot of info into that little bio at the end of an article, though I tend to steer clear of the laundry list of awards and accomplishments.” Jacoby’s articles are available on her Web site (http://www.JacquiJacoby.com/), which she considers her “virtual resume.”

In addition, Jacoby teaches both online and onsite workshops, which has the added benefit of getting her name known within the industry. Aspiring author Kellie Finley (http://www.kelliefinley.com/) also presents online workshops, as well as writing articles, volunteering, and using the Internet to promote herself. Since studies show that fear of public speaking is more prevalent than fear of death, presenting workshops isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But aspiring authors can give it a try by participating in (less scary) panel discussions, such as joining with critique partners to do a creative writing presentation at your local library.

Fiction writing requires a great deal of craft and business knowledge, and there are only so many hours in the day. But learning about self-promotion now will save a lot of stress later in your career. As Jacoby said, “We need to be seen and make a little noise. But most important, we have to have fun doing it.”

Marcia James writes hot, humorous romances and finaled in eleven RWA chapter contests before selling her first comic romantic suspense, At Her Command, to Cerridwen Press. In June 2009, her short story, "Rescue Me", appeared in Tails of Love, a Berkley benefit anthology, along with stories by nine other authors. Marcia is an advertising copywriter and marketing consultant, and she presents author promotion workshops. In her eclectic career, she has shot submarine training videos, organized celebrity-filled nonprofit events and had her wedding covered by People Magazine. After years of dealing with such sexy topics as how to safely install traffic lights, Marcia is enjoying “researching” her novels' steamy love scenes with her husband and hero of many years. She offers her 245+ page file of author promotion options to any writer who requests it. Just email her through the “Contact Me” page on her Web site: http://www.marciajames.net/

6 comments:

Kim Watters said...

Good morning Marcia. Thanks for joining us today and for all your wonderful information. You can never have too much. Even though I'm beyond 'The Call', promotion is still a necessary tool every successful author has to have in their bag of tricks.

Marcia James said...

Hi, Kim! Thanks for having me on your blog again! For some authors, promotion is something they dread. But once you know what PR options are available, you can pick those that work with your time, budget, books, and personality. For example, I love guest-blogging, but the regular deadline pressure of having one's own blog wouldn't be a match for my personality. And I enjoy presenting workshops, which other authors might not. It's a lot easier to enjoy self-promotion if we don't force ourselves to do things we dislike.
-- Marcia ;-)

Alexis Walker said...

Hi Marcia,

THANK YOU! I now feel validated. No, I'm not quite that savvy with PR, but I feel this need to set some things in motion before I start having those story deadlines to meet! I don't want to feel overwhelmed after "the call," so I've been slowly putting things into place. I have to admit though, deciding what to put on your website when you're still pre-published is tough. Thank you for making me feel like I HAVEN'T wasted a bunch of valuable time :-)

tonya kappes said...

Marcia as always, great information for aspiring writers! Thanks!!!

Marcia James said...

Hi, Alexis! Thanks for your kind comments. ;-) I think you are being smart to learn the PR side of the business now.

Also, I can see I need to be clearer in my advice about designing a Web site while pre-published. Basically I'm suggesting that writers do research -- e.g., look at a variety of other authors' Web sites and make a list of what you like and don't like about them (the RWA national Web site has a page that includes links to hundreds of published romance author Web sites). Start a Web site design file, and once you get a feel for what you like, you can decide that when you launch a Web site, it will have certain pages (Books, Bio, etc). You can possibly choose the type of tone (light, dark, whimsical, inspirational). If you have favorite colors that go with your desired tone (mine is purple, which I use throughout my site) or images, you can note those in your file on what you'd like your Web site to look like. You can write at least a rough draft of your bio and Home page greeting, and you can get a publicity photo taken. You can do a lot of research and brainstorming before you ever design or hire someone to design your Web site. Waiting until you sell to start this process will add a lot of stress to your life.

-- Marcia ;-)

Marcia James said...

Hi, Tonya! Thanks for the kind words!
-- Marcia ;-)