Today we have a special treat. Melissa Marr, Kelley Armstrong, and Alyson Noel are here to talk a little about marketing and their upcoming Smart Chicks Kick it tour (10 authors/8 cities).
First, can each of you tell us a little about your author career.
MM - I taught university lit for a while. In 2003, I switched to part-time teaching and allowed myself 3 years to try writing. In 2004, I wrote the short story that evolved into my first published novel (WICKED LOVELY) in 2005. I wasn't very optimistic - there was no major paranormal YA market yet. (not even Twilight) In 2006, I had just decided to go back to fulltime teaching when WL sold. Harper bought WL and the yet-to-be-written INK in a 3-book deal. Right now, I'm writing the 5th WL novel.
KA - My first adult book (Bitten/Otherworld series) came out in 2001. Book 11 (Waking the Witch) will be released in August. I also have a crime series with 2 books so far. For this tour, though, the focus is my young adult paranormal trilogy. The third book in the Darkest Power series (The Reckoning) comes out in April. Right now I'm editing the first book in the next YA trilogy.
AN - I’m the author of 12 novels for adults and teens, including the bestselling THE IMMORTALS series, and its soon to be released spin-off series, beginning with RADIANCE on 08.31.10. In a nutshell, I talked about writing for years, taking a writing class here and there where I worked on the same short story for about fifteen years. Then when 9/11 hit I was working as a flight attendant in NYC and figured it was as good a time to go after my dream. I expanded the same short story into a novel, and as soon as I typed “The End” I sent it off to a whole slew of publishers, (mistakenly thinking I didn’t need an agent –I can’t even begin to stress how very wrong that is!), and getting a slew of rejections for my efforts. So I took more classes, one of which led me to my then agent, who urged me to revise before he sent it out on submission. Ultimately selling what became my debut novel, FAKING 19, in a two-book deal to St. Martin’s Press, and I’ve been writing for them ever since. Today, I’m busy working on Untitled Immortals #5 (and yes, I’m also working on a better title for it!), and the second book in the spin-off series, as well as a new, exciting, super-sekrit project I’m hoping to reveal very soon . . .
What three things do you feel ever author needs to do to promote their book?
MM - I don't think there is a set list of such things. Each author & each book is individual, so it's really about what works for that author/book. I love Twitter, conferences, & blogging, but some authors love school visits, MySpace, & bookmarks. Others might prefer Skype visits. It's about what is best for YOU, not a "one size fits all" plan.
KA - I think there's only one thing EVERY author needs. A website. Beyond that, authors should be aware of all the various ways they can promote their books, try as many as they can, and stick with the ones they find both effective and enjoyable. For example, I don't blog; Twitter works much better for me. But I'd never say authors must use Twitter, because if they don't like it, their discomfort with the medium will show and leave a negative impression.
AN- While I still think it’s important, I also still believe that you should do only what you enjoy and what you’re comfortable with, saving most of your energy for writing the next book because that’s all your readers truly want from you anyway.
Though I will say that the number one, absolute, must have is a website. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, just a nice, easy to navigate place to showcase you and your books. (Alyson's Twitter, Alyson's Blog)
I know you run contests – how do you feel this helps to connect to readers and promote your book?
MM - I run contests because I like giving away books. Most of the contests are to win books I've enjoyed and think my readers will enjoy. As to giving away my books, I try to give away a few when I get copies because 1) I don't need them all and 2) it's fun. I wish I could tell you I thought it was a clever marketing idea, but it's really just a matter of enjoying sharing.
KA - I use contests in a number of ways. A fan art contest gives me art I can put on my site as extra content for readers. A fan-made trailer contest puts promotional videos on YouTube. Running a contest along with an announcement makes it feel less like "tooting my own horn" (eg. "It's my book's 10th week on the NYT list and I'm celebrating with a contest!") Likewise, contests are a way to gently remind readers of a release (e.g. giving away a book a day in the week leading up to a release) Most often, though, I just run them to say "Thanks for being a reader."
AN-I don’t run many contests anymore because with a deadline schedule like mine I don’t have the time. IN the past, they’ve turned out to be pretty popular . . . which makes me think I should consider starting up again!
What was the goal of starting the Smart Chicks Kick It tour? How did you come up with the authors that would attend?
MM - I'd done a few co-author events with Kelley and other authors, and at them, I'd had a great time. Then, in 2009, Harper set up a group tour. It was fun, but with a publisher driven group tour, the authors are all from ONE house. I talk to my readers a lot, and they aren't buying/reading from just one house. So, I started talking to authors to see if we could set up our own series of events with authors from various houses. Kelley and I started trying to come up with YA that our readers were reading or might like. We sent out a few invitations, including one to Alyson, and it just grew. Of course, it may be a fiasco, but we thought it might be fun to try.
KA - For me, the goal is to create exactly the sort of tour I want to be on. Publishers do a fantastic job, but there are always things I'd do differently. This is my chance to try them. As for choosing authors, when it comes to YA, I'm still a relative newbie. So I let Melissa's experience guide the choices, simply suggesting authors whose work I liked. That's one of the goals of the tour--introducing our readers to our favourite YA authors. Of course, there are many YA authors I like who aren't on the tour (or it would be huge!) but it's a good start.
AN-This was purely the genius of Ms. Melissa Marr and Ms. Kelley Armstrong. I am just thrilled to be along for the ride, so I will turn this one over to them!
What other creative marketing have you or your house done for any of your books?
MM - I'm not sure if it's creative, but I've done temporary tattoos, reminder bands, USB drives with deleted scenes and "extras" pre-loaded. With my publisher's support, I've done book trailers (with the fab Circle of Seven folks; my publisher uploads my playlists onto iTunes. Right now, I'm writing a series of short stories in the WL world that are being made available through retail outlets. The first is free online and as an "extra" in the paperback of FRAGILE ETERNITY in March. I went to Harper and proposed it last summer, and they've supported the idea.
KA - I've run a couple of "release promos," where readers send me the receipt in the first few weeks after a release, and they get something for it (from books to shirts to bookmark sets) I design swag both for giveaways and my CafePress store. My favourite kind of marketing, though, is writing free stories for my readers. Since 2003, I've done an annual e-serial. I solicit ideas from readers, post a poll with ideas I like, then write a novella on their top pick, posting a chapter a month etc. In 2009 and 2010, collections of those stories from my adult series came out in book form, with all my proceeds going to charity (which gave me another promotional push--it's easy to publicize a charitable endeavour!)
AN-The coolest thing my publisher ever did was The Immortals Series website. It’s completely amazing—I was gobsmacked when I first saw it—the graphics are beautiful, and it’s a fun place for readers to visit. They also made some incredibly cool ads that they’ve run on Facebook and other sites, and as for me, well, I’m not sure how “creative” it is but I always make the usual bookmarks, bookplates, trailers, and such.
What do you want authors to know about marketing and publicity?
MM - That it shouldn't be a stressful thing. If it's fun to do, give it a go, but don't let the marketing stuff get in the way (if possible!). It's the writing that matters most. Some authors do no PR/marketing, and they function just fine. There are things I don't do because they're more stress than they're worth for me. Know yourself. Know your strengths. Don't let the not-writing part of this job consume you.
KK - First, it's a necessary part of being an author. I think authors need to know that before they sell. Otherwise, it comes as a huge shock, as it did to me. However, as important as self-promotion is, it should never interfere with the main job of an author: to tell the best story possible. You need a good product to sell. You don't want to reach a point where your promotional efforts for the current release take precedence over writing or editing your next one. The book must come first.
AN - That you should concentrate only on what you enjoy and what you’re comfortable with, and to not worry about what everyone else is doing, or getting from their publisher that you’re not. Put the majority of your efforts into writing your next book—I truly believe it’s the absolute best thing you can do to market yourself. It keeps your readers happy, helps keep your backlist in stock, and helps build your name more than any ad, trailer, or bookmark ever could!
Thank you so much for stopping by today!