TNB Nonfiction Interviews M.J. Rose & Randy Susan Meyers, Authors of What To Do Before Your Book LaunchesBy TNB Nonfiction
October 11, 2012
M.J.: Not investing enough of the advance back into the book or investing in the wrong things. At least once a week I get a panicked call from an author who spent her whole budget on PR and a website and now has a gorgeous page and no press. No matter how great a publicist is you are still paying for effort. And there’s no guarantee you will get press. Press is about news. Not about quality. My rule of thumb is for every dollar you spend on PR spend $3-$5 on marketing because marketing is guaranteed. If you split the budget and the PR works – great – you got press and marketing. If the PR doesn’t then at least you got your ads. As for the website – no one goes to Google and types in show me a website I’ve never seen for a book I’ve never heard of. Your site is mostly for readers who already love you and want to see what else you’ve written. In the beginning – simple is fine – if they’ve heard about the book and want to know more – a pic of you, a cover, an excerpt, review, buy buttons are great. And please please before you hire anyone – get references.
Randy: Not taking control of their own careers (as much as possible), along with believing that their publisher’s “love them!!” and thus, they don’t have to do anything towards promotion and marketing. When my first novel debuted in 2010, I spent many hours with other debut novelists, often very jealous, as I heard their stories about how much their publishers were doing for them. I felt their palpable pity as they watched me zinging around, spending a serious portion of my advance on a publicist and marketing efforts, writing daily posts for my blog, and spending hours each day researching ways my book could reach readers. One line that stayed with me from well before my book launch was this, said by agent Sorche Fairbanks: “No one will care about your book as much as you, not your agent, not your mother, not the publisher.” My publisher might want to sleep with me, but maybe they weren’t going to put a ring on it. I saw others let starry-eyed infatuation with their own publisher-promulgated dreams get in the way of the business end of a book launch. Sometimes I felt perceived as being too much in the trenches, while they swam with the angels, or as though I were less literary for thinking along Philistine lines – or that I had some intrinsically natural bent towards being practical. In truth, I had to work seven days a week, force myself to learn new skills, and give up all fun that didn’t come in the form of collapsing in front of a new episode of Breaking Bad, recorded the previous week.
Your top social media tip is: “Don’t be mysterious.” Why can’t artists be mysterious anymore?
M.J.: Isn’t it sad? I hope we are just going through a stage. Exposure isn’t good for all of us. Some of us should linger only in the shadows of our books. I’ll gladly join the revolution when it comes. One of my favorite writers lives in my imagination as mysterious and larger than life. Recently she posted pictures of her home on Facebook. I didn’t want to look – but I did. I saw her very ordinary living room, fairly awful curtains and pretty tacky furniture. No! It ruined her mythic status for me. I want to keep reading her fall-down-the-rabbit-hole novels and not think about her coffee table. I really do think there is a backlash coming to this constant accessibility. There are authors who can’t handle the visibility and say and do things that turn off more people that they turn on. But for now – the industry thinks all this exposure is a solution.
Randy: Simplest answer? The web. Longer answer: Expectations from readers, listeners, and viewers is seemingly stronger than ever before. Today I went to a book club, where the members wanted to know everything about the backstory of my novel (The Murderer’s Daughters) from how my sister reacted to my novel, to how my father died, to whether or not I slept with a married man. However, how I choose to answer (and even whether or not I choose to visit book clubs) is in my control. For instance, I am more comfortable answering personal questions about my romantic life, than sharing details of whether or not I struggle with the writing process. It all depends on which part (if any) of the sausage factory one wants to unveil. I reveal what I want to reveal. I never write about my children, and rarely write about my husband (unless I’m teasing or complimenting). Their lives belong to them. Others feel differently. In the end, I believe how much mystery remains or is uncovered is more in the hands of the artist than the public. (Unless of course, one is stupid enough to allow themselves to be filmed while sinning).
How do writers who are socially awkward best market themselves and navigate social media?
M.J.: What makes someone great on social media has nothing to necessarily do with what makes them a great writer. Two hundred tweets at 140 characters each doesn’t mean they can move you to tears and open the world to you in a novel. By all means – if you don’t feel comfortable – don’t do it! I can list many writers who have almost no social media presence who do just fine. They might have a Facebook page where they just list events or upcoming titles and use it as way to answer questions. They probably have a website that lists their books and gives buy buttons. But participation? No. I don’t think that your art is doomed because you aren’t living online. More importantly, I’ve read study after study saying that readers buy less that 1% of their books based on the author’s own social networking. The buzz phenomenon is misunderstood by most in our industry. Social media works when readers talk to other readers about the book they loved. It’s not about the author’s presence. It’s about the book’s presence. It’s about the book’s buzz as it zips around the net and grows. The real goal that everyone should focus on is how to incentivize the readers to talk – to use Goodreads, to post Amazon and BN reviews, to Tweet about books they love, to mention them on Facebook. One active reader is more powerful than an active author.
Randy: If you can’t participate in social media with interest, passion, or, at the very least, comfort, then you are better off not doing it. We all know too many writers who simply scream “me, me, me” into the void, as others watch, cringing on the sidelines. Some feel an irresistible pull to shout out everything from Amazon reviews to visits to each and every book group, and they should step away from the keyboard.
A few tenets I try to follow (having my own bouts of being awkward on a regular basis) are:
* Only participate in the media where you feel a level of comfort and can figure out how to use it easily enough that you don’t drown in tech frustration. Far better take part in one well, than four badly.
* Find a passion you can put forth. If you are brilliant about cleaning products, then write about that. Offer something. Spend time seeing what attracts you online. Deconstruct that attraction and see how you can duplicate that.
*Don’t be publicly snarky unless you have the skill of Kathy Griffin.
* Re-tweet and share other people’s wisdom.
* People don’t buy books because authors beg, wheedle, or whine. Your online presence should show them why they might like to read what you’ve written—this is where you are showcasing your voice.
* Shout out other’s books in at least a 10 to 1 ratio to your own (with allowance made for the week your book launches).
You suggest staying positive. What do you think about authors who post a lot about controversial issues and political opinion?
Randy: When I think of authors being negative, it’s whining about their difficulty in writing each word (showing the sausage-making in too much detail for the reader), sneering at and putting down other writers (either their writing or their beliefs), or just a general world-weary ennui that serves little purpose except to take the starch out of the reader’s desire to join you in the world you’ve built. Political and social beliefs aren’t an example of negativity (to me). They are an example of active engagement in the world. Steve Almond immediately comes to mind as an example of energetic political and/or socio-cultural engagement on social media – as is Elinor Lipman, Elizabeth Benedict, and Jennifer Weiner. Whether or not authors want to take the chance of turning off/away readers who disagree with their politics is a personal decision. Behind doors I’ve heard writers who vow to never show their politics, in fear of losing sales. For me, that would be an impossible stand – I simply don’t have the control or stomach for hiding my strong beliefs. On the other hand, I’ve gotten a bit of hate mail from some readers who feel I have a political agenda. To me, politics are interesting and energizing; whining is enervating. That’s what I mean when I suggest staying away from negativity.
M.J.: Authors can sure tell their friends and followers about their new book – and that’s cool – but social media is for communicating with like-minded interesting people. And it only works when it’s authentic. Follow Jennifer Weiner to see A+ usage that works and blends with her brand and her voice. So if your thing is politics – tweet away.
Teach me how blurbs work.
M.J.: Blurbs are a funny thing. Authors who don’t get good ones say they don’t matter. Readers swear they don’t pay attention to them. But in every single study done – they do matter. People read them. And the more famous the author who gives the blurb, the more valuable it is. It’s one of the fastest ways to position the book after the cover. Play a game: If you see a Lee Child or James Patterson blurb on a book what kind of book is it? If the blurb is from Jennifer Egan or Joyce Carol Oates – what kind of book is it? Conversely, getting someone unexpected to blurb a book can be brilliant. If you’ve written a romantic ghost story and get Doris Kerns Goodwin to blurb it, the reader might be think, if someone like Goodwin thinks the book is great, it must be amazing.
Randy: With my first book, I felt as though the blurbs were a way to let the world know that I (a nobody) had been vetted by these authors. When I pick up a book I usually look at the cover, read the flyleaf, look at who endorsed it, and then read the first page. It’s the first page that’s always the most important – but often it’s the first three (cover, flyleaf, blurbs) that get me there. Is that fair? Probably not – but if an author doesn’t have at least one of those three in good shape chances of getting to the first page is lessened. Ironically, it’s only the first page that is truly in the author’s command.
Your chapter on the difference between being printed and published was a real eye-opener for me. What are your thoughts on the future of self-publishing?
M.J.: That chapter came out of a very bad publishing experience I had. I wanted to figure it out for myself and spent months interviewing authors, editors, agents and examining the process with an eye towards understanding it for myself first. I learned a lot – but most of all I learned how to view the business in a way I could live with. I think as writers we are control freaks. We control the words on the paper. We control the character and their actions. We build buildings and tear them down – we murder and make miracles. And then we give up all that control and our careers become a lottery. It’s not an easy transition. In 2000, when I was the e-publishing reporter for Wired.com, I was asked about the future of self-publishing and at that time said it would become the best test market for publishers to find future superstars – as soon as e-books took off and that wouldn’t happen until the readers dropped to under $100. We’re there – it’s happening. Every week the press reports on two or three major deals with self-pubbed authors who have built up their own fan bases. But notice how those self-pubbed authors are moving to traditional deals. As empowering as self-pubbing is – it’s not easy to go it alone. Most of us writers want to be writers – not have to spend years studying the business of publishing and becoming entrepreneurs. So I think there are going to be more and more creative business models to offer authors trustworthy and creative partnerships as solutions to going it alone. It’s an amazingly exciting time in publishing.
M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of twelve novels (most recently The Book of Lost Fragrances, published in March 2012) and two nonfiction books including Buzz Your Book, co-authored with Douglas Clegg. Her novel The Reincarnationist was the basis for the Fox TV show PAST LIVES. Rose was a founding board member of ITW. She has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, Fox News, and All Things Considered, and published in the NYT, O magazine, The Wall St. Journal and more. Rose was the creative director of a top NYC ad agency and created Authorbuzz.com, the first marketing company for authors. Follow her on Twitter @M.J.Rose.
The drama of Randy Susan Meyers’ novels is informed by her years spent bartending, her work with violent offenders, and her years spent loving bad boys. Raised in Brooklyn, Randy now lives in Boston with her husband and is the mother of two grown daughters. She teaches writing seminars at Boston’s Grub Street Writers’ Center. Her debut novel, The Murderer’s Daughters, an international bestseller, was chosen as a “Target Club Pick,” and a best book choice by Elle France, Daily Candy, Goodreads, The Boston Herald, The Winnipeg Free Press, and Book Reporter, among others. Her new novel, The Comfort of Lies, is to be published by Atria in early 2013.