Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Sell Books

Last week I went to my local Farmer’s Market and nosed around a local nursery’s booth full of really wonderful looking herbs in pots. I’d never been to the nursery itself—never even heard of it despite it being in my town, so the booth was a nice introduction. They had fetching little tubs of thyme, basil, Thai basil, oregano. It was all lush and gorgeous. I really wanted some spearmint – for some reason I’ve had a hard time finding spearmint in stores to grow. Spearmint is best in cooking and baking.

They were out of spearmint. I asked after it and the lady said. “Oh, yeah, shoot, we didn’t bring the spearmint today.”

The Farmer’s Market is only once a week and I go every week because it gets the kiddos out of the house. “If you bring it next week, I will buy it,” I said. 

“Oh, sorry. We’re not coming next week. We’re done until August or so.” 

Wow, I thought. Okay, bummer. 

Then a second lady in the booth said, “Yeah, and my back hurts.” 

Woah, I thought. TMI. I’m just trying to buy some spearmint! 

I shrugged. The ladies shrugged (I hope it didn’t hurt the one lady’s back to do so). I left without purchasing anything. I also left without: 
  • An invitation to come visit their nursery and buy spearmint there
  • Enticement to visit them online or keep their name in mind
  • A personal connection
  • Incentive to ever buy anything from them again 

These ladies missed so much opportunity. Bottom line: they missed out on sales. So when you’re marketing anything, whether books or herbs, there are some simple follow up actions to take. Blasting your product out there and hoping you catch some customers like chickens pecking corn kernels amounts to spam and little else. 

Here’s what the ladies should have done: 

  • Not mentioned the aching back as a reason to not provide me with product –very sad but I don’t care, nor should I care
  • Offered to have me come to their nursery where they would set aside spearmint for me or even give me a tour
  • Taken my name or number 
  • Given me a business card
  • Introduced themselves by name 

Now let’s imagine you’ve published a book. You’re talking to someone somewhere who asks about it. You give then the finely-honed pitch – a logline even—and the person, let’s call them Bob, says, “God I would love to read that! That sounds awesome!” 

You: “Yeah, great, thanks.” 

Bob: “Can I get it on Amazon? Is it in bookstores?” 

You: “Sure.” 

Bob scratches head and smiles. “Okay.” 

You: “Great.” 

Bob: “Okay, then, thanks. Nice to meet you.” 

You: “You too.” 

Bob walks away and forgets the name of your book because Bob has a baby at home and hasn't slept in two years and can’t remember anything. Later, he gets home and he’s talking to his wife and says “Oh, man I met this great author, she was so nice! And her book sounded amazing!” 

Bob’s wife: “Really? What was it?” 

Bob: “Um….can’t remember the title, but it sounded good.” 

Bob’s wife: “Well who was the author?” 

Bob: “Can’t remember the name.” 

Bob’s wife: “Is it Jodi Picoult?” 

Bob: “No. Some author. Anyway, I’m in the middle of the latest James Patterson, I want to go read that.” 

Bob’s Wife “Okay.” (She thinks this is good news because then she won’t have to put out, and she’s exhausted from the baby to put out.)

So if you haven’t guessed already, here’s what you, the author should have done: 
  • Had business cards on hand, maybe even a small printed postcard for the book with the book’s cover 
  • Offered to take Bob’s name and email and then sign the book when he gets a copy
  • Said to him, “Yeah, it’s in local bookstores! In fact it’s in the [insert local bookstore here] – I know because I signed a pile of copies for them! And if you can’t find it or want it on your eReader, just do a search for my name at Amazon or B&N—here, let me write it down for you.” 
  • Thanked Bob, made sure he knew your name. 
  • Maybe even made a jokey joke about the book title. 

Does that seem like a lot of work? Maybe. But you’re selling books. That’s what you do. 


Monday, June 25, 2012

4 Query Resources

There is a ton--a ton!--of information out there on how to write a good query. Writers are lucky today! I thought I'd present a few of the more informative or helpful places I found. I hope these help someone! Of course, there are a ton of wonderful, well presented posts out there on writing queries--many of them written by agents. Do a Google search for "writing query letters." Here are just a few other resources that may help.

1. General Advice - stuff I've gleaned over the years
  • Keep the pitch portion of the query to 250 words.
  • Try writing the query in first person as your main character in order to inject your voice
  • Write the query about the first third of the book only
  • Don't wear pants while writing your query. "Pants" here is defined as restrictive bits of cloth that make you feel uncomfortable. Take those off! Wear happy, loose fitting pants and then tackle that query. (Fine, I made this one up. But I feel passionately about not wearing pants.)
2. A Few Query Collections

  • Ugliest Tattoos. Not technically a query site, but we all need a break now and then from query instruction--and staring at the screen with your mouth hanging open at these atrocious tattoos is a good diversion.

3. Query Deconstructions
  • Lauren Ruth is a Bookends agent and she does query critiques called Query Dice

4. Twitter Query Rejects or Accepts
The following agents do live query responses on Twitter.

and the following hashtags: #query and #10queriesin10tweets (typically done on Thursdays)

For a look at rejections from editors, follow @AngelaJames who does the popular Edit Report, which details the weekly reports from her editors and why they ended up rejecting.

If you have any to add let me know in the comments and I will update the post! And let me know if you wear pants!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Conferences...Women writers...wait. What?

I had a boring post all prepared about how I wished I could have been at last week's Book Expo America, or BEA, conference but then I re-read it before scheduling it, and fell asleep.

When I woke up, I rubbed the imprints of the letters P, O, L, and K off my cheek and decided that instead of asking you all which conferences you've been or not been to (thereby ensuring a mass click-away from the blog and zero comments), I should instead tell you what stuck in my mind last week as I watched all the BEA news.

Okay, I didn't watch a lot of BEA news. But I did hear about Jennifer Weiner's keynote speech at the BEA Blogger mini conference. In fact, I read it (Here's the text of her speech) AND I watched it (here's the You Tube video.) By the way, Jennifer Weiner is married to a lawyer who represents the husband of a lovely woman in my former writer's group; I'd like to say the girl and I really good friends but in fact we never did get together as promised--but the intent was there--anyway this connection obviously makes me Jennifer's BFF. Jen, as I like to call her in our BFF moments (shopping, pedicures, you know--actually I don't do shopping and pedicures with my BFFs, but sitting on my ass and gabbing, with a drinky drink in hand does feature highly), gave a great keynote and made many points, but one in particular stuck out more than any other. She said things are stacked against women writers when they publish. "Things" can include reviews, fair coverage and promotion in comparison with men and other genres, and really anything you want "things" to be if you're feeling feisty.

I did not know this. It makes sense, since so much else is stacked against women, like fair pay and maternity leave and respect and the right to birth control and the right not to have forced vaginal probe ultrasounds in Virginia. You know, "things."

Look, I'm not trying to sit here and say "poor women," but a few weeks ago on my RWA women's fiction loop, members of the group were outraged that women's fiction as a genre should be slagged off as being lesser fiction. I'm outraged, too, but I'm not surprised, I guess. Still, Jennifer's comments were a surprise because she said she knew what to expect, and it still surprised her.

I didn't want this post to be one that gives you tons of evidence for or against the case, but rather a discussion. If you're a female writer, have you experienced "things" -- and what are they? Have you, in fact, expected certain "things" or not expected them?

Monday, June 4, 2012

5 Etiquette Rules for Writer Friends

First, I just wanted to say: I'm giving away a copy of the yummy cookbook Home Baked Comfort by Kim Laidlaw over at my cooking blog, so check it out and enter a comment to win by June 8, 2012!

5 Etiquette Rules for Writer Friends

If you're an unpublished writer busy learning and honing your craft, via writing a lot, reading books on craft, and staying plugged into the writing and publishing social media scene, then you're in a good place when it comes time to presenting your work to the world. And if you're particularly keen, you've developed friendships or at least solid associations with other writers--especially published ones.

We've all heard dream stories of how an unpublished, unrepresented writer was given his or her big break from a friend who referred them to an agent or editor. Seems like half the debut stories in Writer's Digest got agents this way. And that's good. Referrals are gold. But there's definitely an etiquette to your relationships with pubbed writers.

Because let's face it: when you're unpublished, they've got something you need. So do make sure you're polite about it.

1. Be gracious for any help you get. This is a no-brainer, but plenty of people aren't gracious--especially when they get negative feedback. Big-time Author Friend didn't like your book, and tells you what's wrong with it? Thank them anyway. Do not throw a strop and get angry. They did you a favor and you forgot--forgot-- that they are in a place of knowledge about this stuff. If you get feedback and it's clear you have  a lot of work to do, do you want that author friend to give you advice or read your stuff in the future? If so, be professional. No further beseeching on your part is acceptable.Which leads me to #2...

2. Don't abuse their good will. If you have an author friend, they might be willing to read your query or first chapter or if you're super lucky, your manuscript. But you are not to abuse this privilege. If they review it and the comments aren't along the lines of ecstatic monkey joy, then you will not write a diatribe in response, asking for another look, berating the author for not understanding you. Nor will you vomit repeated drafts their way unless they are a very good friend indeed and they said you could.

3. Don't assume the author has time for you. Authors have reams of things to do, usually on a deadline. In addition to actually writing, they have to read loads of stuff, sometimes as part of their contract. They have to socialize online and they have to be nice when they don't want to, because authors are very public. When you ask for help and they give it to you, you've encroached on that time. Be respectful of it.

4. Don't assume every author friend will help you. You might think you're being polite by not asking for help from a published author friend. Here's you, just sitting there nicely with your hands folded in your lap, not asking for anything. The nerve of your author friend for not noticing your non-neediness and offering to help because you've been a good boy or girl!

The unpublished think authors are oracles of wisdom, but every published author was once an unpublished one. They don't have all the answers, especially not for your situation. If you have an author friend, you will not assume he or she will offer to help--and if they don't, it usually isn't anything to do with you.

5. If the author helps out and gives you feedback and it's terrible, it doesn't mean they're right. This isn't exactly etiquette, but the result is: not every published author has all the answers, and sometimes the feedback they give you just isn't quite right for you or your book. All the same, you'll weigh their opinion carefully and thank them for their time.

What do you think? Have you experienced any of the above on either side of the fence?

For more very good information on this topic, check out this post from Warrior Poet Blog called 5 undying myths about published writers and their eerie powers.