Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don’t Drown in Anonymity

Today, I’m happy to host award-winning author Kendra Bonnett on Straight From Hel. Kendra has written more than 150 magazine articles and written, edited or ghostwritten seven books, including An IBM Guide to Doing Business on the Internet (McGraw-Hill, 2000). In addition to being a writer, Kendra is an editor and marketing executive, with over 25 years experience helping to sell books, magazines, hardware, software and business-to-business services. She recently co-authored another award-winning book, Rosie’s Daughters: The “First Woman To” Generation Tells Its Story. A 2008 IPPY Book Award winner, Rosie’s Daughters is a collective memoir of women born during WWII.

Please help me welcome Kendra Bonnett.

You Don’t Have to Drown of Anonymity in a Sea of Memoirs

Helen, Story Circle Network’s conference is fast approaching. In anticipation of that and because I’ll be on your “Getting Published” panel, today I get to appear Straight from Hel. What an honor.

While perusing the Internet last weekend, I came across an article in the Los Angeles Times book section entitled, “Will GOP Race for Governor Kick Off on the Bookshelves?” Apparently both Republican front-runners in the governor’s race, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, have new books out…just in time for Californians to read before they vote in the June primary.

Yes, the memoir (actually Whitman’s book combines elements of memoir with lessons in leadership) is certainly a hot marketing tool for pols these days. But they’re not the only ones cranking out personal stories. Ben Yagoda, author of the new book Memoir: A History, writing for The Daily Beast website, decries the “Celebrity Memoir Glut.” His list of recent and soon-to-be-published memoirs is staggering.

But it is beyond the pale of celebrity-political breast baring where the exciting work is being written. These are the inspiring, insightful, teachable, slice-of-life books that ordinary people are writing about their very real lives and experiences. Through memoirs, they share their horrors, fill us with hope, encourage us to endure and make us think.

Without celebrity status, however, the average memoir writer is challenged to break through all the noise and competition. The question is obvious: How do you get your book noticed when everyone is writing memoirs and publishers lack the promotional budget to give each book a big introduction?

The answer, of course, is marketing. While there isn’t room to create a full marketing strategy here, I’d like to suggest a three-pronged approach that may help you craft your plan.

1) Make a Local Splash
Book tours were once the norm, but today the high cost of travel and the relatively low turnout at most book signings is a formula that doesn’t compute. But that’s not to say that the public forum is gone completely. To borrow from the Green movement, your best bet is to Act Locally.

It’s all about leverage. You have a community network of friends and acquaintances upon which to draw. This should get you coverage in local papers, an opportunity to speak at libraries and schools throughout the county, and a chance to get in front of community groups and local chapters of national organizations. Retailers in your town also might sponsor a book-signing event and promote it to their customers. Let’s say you’ve written a story about your life, and because you love clothes, you decided to organize your chapters around 12 favorite dresses—each with a story to tell. You might get a local women’s clothier to host an evening of reading and shopping.

Whatever opportunity you generate at home, just remember that if you do well, you might just find that your reputation has grown beyond the borders of your city or county. Your grassroots strategy might just earn you national exposure.

2) Create a Joint Venture—the Ultimate Leverage
I’m not talking about a contractual agreement but rather a temporary and informal joining of forces to share expertise and/or assets for mutual benefit. In other words, if you’ve got good content and someone else has access to people who represent your ideal audience (market), then work together and share the profits.

Such relationships will cost you a small percentage of your proceeds but you’re building a reader base, and that’s your real asset. Furthermore, if you take book orders directly through your website, you’ll be building a database. The next time, you can go out to these people directly and keep all the profits.

To give you an idea of how this might work, let’s say you have written a memoir about your Junior Year Abroad experience in Rome that turned into a lifetime love affair with Italy. Talk with your college’s endowment program about promoting your book to alumnae. In exchange for access to the school’s list, you offer to donate $5 for each book purchased through your website.

3) Take Advantage of all That the Internet Has to Offer
When one window is shut, somewhere else a door opens. To many writers, the Internet has been that door just as publishers have been slamming their windows closed. The breeze blowing through that open door is of hurricane proportions. Through the Internet, you have the opportunity to reach readers across the country and around the world.

But where do you start? The truth is, you can spend years trying to figure out how to build a presence online. I’m going to give you strategy and a set of tactics to get you started. It’s far from comprehensive, but I think it will help focus your planning. It’s too long to post here, so follow this link to Women’s Memoirs and the second half of my post.

Thank you Kendra for such an informative post!

Everybody, while you’re over on Women’s Memoirs reading her post on building an online presence, be sure you also read Kendra’s bio. She’s worked with or interviewed everyone from Secretary of the Treasury William E. Simon to President Gerald Ford. Today, though, she’s here, so be sure to say hi or ask questions.
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  1. Awesome. Thank for all the links. I will be clicking over!

  2. Great ideas for promoting...for memoirs and other types of books!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Great promotion ideas, especially the grassroots efforts. I remember, years ago, seeing Larry Kirshbaum former CEO of Warner Books mentioning Nicholas Sparks, who they published. He said something to the effect that Sparks pulled his own wagon for publicity for his early work, working tirelessly. So we never know where that marketing can lead!

  4. Excellent advice!

    The Internet has a vast array of marketing types, we have no excuse for not creating a presence for our work.

    We have to think creatively these days.

  5. Tabitha, Elizabeth, Joanne, Tamika:

    Thank you for your kind remarks and observations. It's a great time to be in charge of your own marketing and promotion. Opportunity abounds...if you use a little creativity and leverage your network of friends and acquaintances. And remember, leverage isn't about taking advantage of. Well done, leverage results in mutual benefit.

  6. Great advice. Sometimes I think authors get so caught up with the big picture of promoting that they don't have a chance to stop and think about what's close at hand. Also, they may not want to impose on their friends and neighbors. But most of the time, I think friends and neighbors would jump at the chance to help, if only asked. Enjoyed the post very much.

  7. Solid, practical advice. Gotta love it!

  8. As always Helen, a great interview providing a wealth of helpful info. Thank you to you and to Kendra.

  9. Kendra, your 3 prong program will work. I've helped a few accomplish that very thing. I do appreciate out you gave examples of how to accomplish it. Nicely done. :-)

  10. That's interesting Sia. I'd love for you to come on SFH and tell us more.

  11. And those are great tips for any genre of book, too!

  12. Hi Helen -- Just dropping by to let you know I've nominated you for the Lesa Holstine award. Please stop by my blog and check it out.

  13. This is great! Thanks so much for all the info.

  14. Things I gotta start working on!

  15. Great thoughts, Kendra. I sell more books by networking locally than I do at bookstore signings where nobody knows me. We can go on selling and promoting our books for years, whereas most bookstores aren't interested after six months. CU in Austin!

  16. Thanks for all of this great advice :) It's much appreciated!

  17. Informative post, great tips! Thanks.

  18. funny- I'm always excited when a local person is published- f/u to read their book... Never thought about applying that idea to anything I do!
    great post- thanks

  19. Thanks to everyone for their kind words. I sincerely believe that generating local activity is the best place to begin when promoting a new book. For one thing, it gives you an opportunity to hone your message and sales strategy. Then when you know exactly what grabs a prospective reader and know that you can close a sale, you are ready to expand to joint ventures and the Internet.

    This strategy is no different from the old theater practice of testing a new play out of town (as in New Haven) before opening on Broadway. It's time tested...we're just giving it a fresh twist.

  20. Thank you, Kendra, for a great post. Very informative with advice that all writers need.

  21. Thanks Kendra for sharing your tips with us. I really appreciate the helpful links.

    In your opinion should a memoir have more of a purpose than just relating historic facts? I'm a little confused as I have just recently started reading memoirs and just got one to review that doesn't seem to have a point.

  22. Wonderful post, Kendra, thank you! I love the combination of personal local promotion and global promotion online.

    Thanks also for sharing Seth's online strategies. (He sent out 3,000 digital copies of his book, right?) I hope he gets 1,000 reviews.

  23. Some excellent advice for promoting any sort of book. Thank you.

  24. Actually, Jenn,

    Seth sent out actual books to requesting reviewers in the United States. Those internationally received digital versions.

  25. Maryann, I believe that everything should have a point. Just related a bunch of events leaves us unsatisfied. Here's a link to an article posted today on Women's Memoirs by our guest blogger Bettyann Schmidt. It addresses your question directly:

  26. Good advice. I always knew authors had to do 99.9% of their own marketing, no matter who publishes their books. So any ideas are welcome in this tough journey!


  27. Wow! That sounds expensive.

  28. Jenn,

    Yes, you're right. What Seth did wasn't cheap. And it's certainly not something every author can do...especially with her first book. But let me try to put this into perspective.

    Seth is a very well established and wildly successful entrepreneur, author and marketer. As such, he's used to spending money to promote his books. He knows how many he can expect to sell and what it will cost him to get books out. That's why he was specific in saying 3000. He knew what that would cost him and knew it was within HIS realm of reasonable. Authors spend anywhere between $10,000 and $150,000 on promotion. Seth would be in the high end. But rather than give that money to a PR/publicity firm, he went straight to the people. I think when viewed that way it's more reasonable.

    Anything you do in marketing must be thoroughly analyzed. You need to know your costs and your potential sales. In this way, you can make smart decisions about how you spend your PR/marketing dollars. Without this analysis it's money poorly matter how small the amount.

  29. Great advice, for any genre. thanks for sharing and for all the great answers to comments, too.

  30. Thanks for expanding, Kendra. At this point, even $10,000 sounds like loads of money to me, but maybe one day it will be nothing!

    Left to my own devices, I would have valued market-strategy analysis equal to the amount of money spent on the marketing. Sounds like that would have been a bad idea.

    I`ll be following you on

  31. Thanks for the amazing guest-posters this week, Helen!


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