Thursday, September 02, 2010

Author Robin Spano

 Crime writer Robin Spano’s first book debuted yesterday. Dead Politician Society is now out and Robin is promoting it and also writing the next in the series. As all of you who blog and tweet and facebook and GoodRead, and do everything else that’s out there, know…marketing can suck away your time, even your good intentions and sometimes your sanity. And like everyone else, Robin has a full life in Steveston, BC, with her husband.

She’s here today to tell us how she copes with the stress and the demands. Please welcome Robin Spano.

Promote Your Book With Your Soul Intact

I’ll always remember the day my agent told me that writers have to market their books.

My face fell.

I stared at my hands.

I thought, well, she can’t really mean that. I’m an artist, not an advertiser. How could those two sets of skills go together? Why would I want them to?

“Writers are introverts,” I said, or something like it.

She agreed. It wasn’t ideal. But somewhere in the conversation I decided to make the best of it, consider marketing a challenge. I thought snowboarding was scary before I learned how; now I love it.

She told me to start with two things:

1. Toastmasters (to get over my paralytic fear of public speaking)
2. Web Presence (to reach a wide audience)
Toastmasters rocked. I liked the people right away, and slowly I began to like the stage. I’m still no Tony Robbins, but neither am I crippled for live author events.

Web Presence took longer.

Diving in, I felt like a farm girl arriving at a hip Manhattan school. Everyone knew each other and knew how to network. Most were already published and some had won awards. Why would I presume to join their conversations? I was sure they’d smell my newness a mile away, roll their eyes and wonder when I’d get the drift and drift away.

At first, I hooked up with the wrong crowd—they’re the easiest to find, because they push themselves on you. You know the type: their response to anything you say is “Oh that’s nice. Buy my book,” or “That reminds me of Janie X, my compellingly complicated protagonist with a heart of gold…” I never clicked with them (thank God), but I did start to worry that I was expected to do the same thing.

Thankfully, before I sold my soul, I found Twitter. The great thing about Twitter is you can follow before you participate. I tweeted here and there—random stuff; nothing about my book—but mostly I watched and learned. Eventually, conversations arose—people would comment, I’d comment back. I made Twitter friends; we talked naturally and easily about books, ours and other people’s. Eventually I realized, hey, this is the whole point—you network by being open and present online. Promotional opportunities (like guest blog posts ) arise organically from that.

I got into it. I even liked it.

BUT between Toastmasters and web presence, my writing time was suffering. (This has never happened to anyone else, right?) I wasn’t missing any deadlines—I was even a bit ahead of schedule. But my balance was off.

If I don’t write fiction, I go rangy. That’s what being a writer is. You don’t write because you think it’s an excellent business plan (if you do, please hook me up with your secrets); you write because you have to.

I thought back to the time when I loved writing—before I had a publishing deal. I asked myself what had been different, and came up with two things: I spent more time outside, and more time writing.

So I found a new balance: I write in the morning, or until my juices fade. Then I Rollerblade and grocery shop. I give the rest of the afternoon (if there is any) to promotion and Toastmasters. And I take evenings and weekends for myself. The result: I feel like a creative spirit, a competent business person, and a well-rounded human being.

So here’s my secret on how to market your book and keep your writing soul intact: WRITE first. PROMOTE second. And live a life outside your computer.

Thank you Robin!

 Robin Spano is a crime writer and a motorcycle enthusiast. Her first novel, Dead Politician Society, came out yesterday. She looks forward to interacting with readers as she works on the second book in her series, working titled Death Plays Poker.

You can follow her on her Virtual Book Tour. Check out the variety of topics she’ll be covering on her tour.

Now that you’ve read her ideas on promoting without losing your soul and you know she’s looking forward to talking with readers, what questions do you have for her?

I’ll start things off:
Robin, what advice would you have for writers who work full or part-time (outside of their writing careers) and have children who require attention? How can they still make writing a priority?


  1. Hi Robin. I think twitter's a great place to find sincere people. Amongst the hard sells are wonderful people willing to promote good ideas.

    How much influence does an agent or publisher have on the promotion you do? Do they advise you what to do, or direct you to people that might be able to help. I'm sure every agaent and publisher is different, but is there something you'd be told not to do?

    Thanks, Simon.

  2. I giggled when you said you spent most of your time on Twitter watching. That's how I started too. I don't think I tweeted more than a handful of times my first three months. :)

  3. Robin, you sound like me! Only the online stuff came far easier. (Still working on the physical aspect.) I need to adopt your suggestions, as my writing has suffered these past few months as well.

  4. Like Alex, I felt I was reading about myself in your words. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about balancing your schedule.

    A big thanks to you, Helen, for hosting the tour!

  5. Fantastic essay! I appreciate Robin's perspective. Thanks for sharing this, Hel.

  6. Robin, a lot of us identify with you. Thanks so much for this personal post.

  7. Wait, what!? There's a life outside my computer? Where?

    Oh man, my room has a window. There are cars and people outside. I thought they only existed in my character's world. Boy, I need to get out more.

    I still have fear of promoting but there's hope for me yet!

    Great post, Robin.

  8. Oh, Clarissa, how I identified with that question. My family swears my mac laptop is glued to my thighs, and believe you me, my thighs do not need anything ELSE glued to them!

    I'm maybe a rare bird, I love promoting--but the balance between that and writing makes me a zombie! Right now I'm launching my latest, and have decided I can't do both at the same time--market and work on my WIP. And right now, I'm feeling the stress of what I haven't done to reach a new market rather than the doing of it. I guess I need to make a to-do list for those things too, so I can put it down at night and sleep!

    Sylvia Dickey Smith

    A War of Her Own

  9. Morning, everyone. These are some interesting questions.

    Helen: I've always wondered the same thing. I would love to have children, and I'm actually inspired by Chelsea Cain, who wrote her first book with her daughter in a basin beside her desk, or Lisa Unger, who somehow has a 5-year-old. I think the key is to prioritize it. Sounds insane, but you don't stop buying groceries when you have kids, right? Check back in a couple of years and I'll hopefully have a more solid answer!

    Simon: Great question. Agents might give advice (if you're lucky, it will be good advice) but no, they won't direct you. Publishers take an active promotional role, so it's important to work with them, not against them. If you stay in touch with your publicist (I just have to shout out to my awesome one, Sarah Dunn), and chat about your own ideas, they can help keep you on track.

    Alex (and Clarissa): Toastmasters. You have no idea how much it has helped me. From speaking on stage to being comfortable in a cocktail party...seriously.

  10. Oh yeah, and have you guys tried the Write First challenge? You write a page (250 words; no cheating!) before you turn on your email or Internet. Give it a try!

  11. Very insightful. I'm an introvert at heart, but I grow more and more extroverted as I have no other choice if I want to get my writing out there and sold.

  12. Okay, I've been resisting Twitter, but I'll try it.

  13. The public aspect of book promotion is tough for me, too. So far my only real events have been signings and book clubs, and fortunately they went well. Still, though, the stress turned my face and eyes red, and I KNOW I looked like an axe murderer. Toastmasters might be in my future...

  14. Bodie, Toastmasters would give you opportunity to practice, as well as advice. The more times you speak in public, the easier it will become.

  15. I love the speaking!! For me, it's far easier. (And it's how I earn my living.)
    Still wish I was better with Twitter.

  16. Very insightful post. Like so many others, I really related to what you had to say, Robin. And it doesn't hurt any of us to be reminded of priorities.

  17. The cold hard reality is if you don't find time to write, you'll have nothing to promote! Good for you, Robin, in finding a balance that works for you. The internet, useful as it is for many, many things, can be a huge time drain. I've also found it comforting to 'meet' so many other writers facing the same conundrums as I do.

    Huzzah for Steveston! It must be a busy place right now with all the salmon literally jumping into boats.

  18. Elspeth, I agree. I feel like I've "met" so many fabulous people online, but I'm still struggling with that balance.

  19. great suggestions, great perspective. this essay is an inspiration to me, robin, as i attempt a move into fiction writing

  20. Bodie, Helen's right. Practice takes the fear away, and it also helps make each speaking gig feel less significant. (It's okay to screw up if you know you can learn from it to make your next speech even stronger.)

    Elspeth, the salmon is UNREAL.

    Mark, go for it! I'll see you on the dark side (at Twitter).

  21. These are great tips. Thanks, Robin! I hear you on Twitter - I love it. And I follow a similar pattern to you: I write in the mornings and then do other work and promo etc in the afternoon.

    It's hard to find a balance when things get busy, but I do try to get out of my flat every once in awhile!

  22. This is such wise advice, to write first, promote second. I must switch things around. Thanks for talking about Twitter, too. I've given up on it, but maybe I should give it a second try.

  23. I did Toastmasters years ago and its a real winner. The virtual presence also takes a lot of work. Congrtas! on your milestones. Your hard work is paying off. And best wishes for your continued success.

    Stephen Tremp

  24. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I too have been resisting Twitter but it sounds more and more like it's not an entirely bad place to be.

  25. Thanks for your insight, Robin. I, too, am a huge fan of the Write First challenge. It's worked wonders for me by reinforcing my commitment to writing and by keeping me in the story.

    Twitter is still a mystery to me. Clearly something I need to look into.

  26. That Write First is a great challenge, isn't it, Ilonka? I know a few other people have tried it and loved it. There's nothing better than to start your day off writing. Even if that one page is all you get done all day, it sets the right tone, makes you feel good about yourself and the world.

  27. I'm beginning to think the only way I will get any writing done is to take up the Write First challenge. My day slips by and I've written nothing.

  28. Write on! I have to write first thing or the rest of the world intrudes. Deadlines help in this regard. Best wishes to you!

  29. I like the “live a life outside your computer” advice – although, for me, it’s easier said than done.

  30. Jane, ditto. Even when I walk away from the computer, I find myself right back in my office chair.

  31. Great advice. Summer's over and that means I'm back teaching again so my time is limited. I have to do better at creating a schedule of some kind.

  32. Robin,

    This essay shout out the fact that you are genuine and sincere. In a previous life, I used do stand up training...but somehow I think if the topic every gets to be a book I've written, it might be harder, because I care so much...hmmm, or easier because I care so much. With any luck time will tell. Congratulations on your book. Thank you as always Helen.

  33. Liza, the more you care, the better, when you're making a speech. You don't want nerves to cripple you, but if you're feeling emotion, the audience will feel that, too.

    Which reminds me of point #3 my agent made that day: Always be sincere.

    And thanks to everyone I haven't addressed specifically: your positive reactions mean a lot. I hope you come on the rest of the tour. Tomorrow is an interview with Clare (my protagonist), and she'll be standing by to answer any follow-up questions you have for her.

  34. Robin, sorry I'm late to the party. I enjoyed your article. you nailed it. You have to refresh your soul and living in front of the computer all the time is selling your soul and it does depress the most hardy.

    I've been struggling with balance. I've found through thinking about things that I need breaks away from my computer. I'm working hard at getting back to my computer to write the first few hours of the morning--like I used to BB (Before Blog)and then work on admin stuff. But I need to get outside and walk, go see my critters, feed my horses apples and such.

    I use facebook and twitter, but Twitter not as much. Conversation sound bites are harder there. I'm very much a presence just not as much as on FB.

    BTW, I liked your trailer.

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  36. This is great advice. The writing has to come first (but the talking, the conferences, the interviews are certainly tempting--they are always fun and you meet loads of new people.) I find that very hard to resist! Hard to strike a balance. Luckily these killer deadlines (no pun intended) keep me on track.

  37. " network by being open and present online. Promotional opportunities (like guest blog posts ) arise organically from that."

    Great advice on Day 2, Robin. As for being open and present, that's you to a 'T'.

    I look forward to following the rest of your tour.

  38. Thanks Robin. I'll have to try the write first challenge.


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