Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Golden Rule

Doing unto others —

There's something about interaction with other people that a lot of people don't seem to understand. And I think it's something that any author who intends to use any of the various media forms for publicity should consider. It's the principle of treating others as you would like to be treated.

Let's use an example that has been extremely vexsome to me. If I read a column either in the newspaper or on the Internet, and I think it deserves a response, I'll take the time to formulate a thoughtful note and send it off to the author. If I don't get a reply, even a perfunctory one-word "Thanks," I simply stop reading that columnist. My reasoning is this: It takes but a few seconds to respond to eMail, and if the subject columnist is so exalted that he/she is too busy to read my note, or hit Reply, then I'm too busy to read his/her work. This rule has greatly simplified my reading list.

Some may think this harsh so let me explain. Authors who make their living using the media depend on having a sufficient number of readers/viewers to attract subscribers/advertisers, which in turn pays the bills. Ergo they should be attuned to attracting and sustaining ever larger audiences so they can continue their pontification from on high. Apparently some of these commentators get so filled with hubris they place themselves above the fray. In fact, I believe this was but one of the factors contributing to the demise of newspapers in this country—these folks never asked themselves what their customers wanted, decided they knew what was best for them, and ignored their queries. Ignoring your customers is a form of disrespect and the only recourse they have is to stop patronizing your business. If enough people do this, then you're out of business.

I was an Internet columnist for a few years and developed a fairly significant readership. The eMails I received numbered in the thousands—and I answered every one, even those from name-calling bigots. Many were actually surprised to hear from me and said they looked forward to my next column.

I've had other experiences with several organizations that continually send me fund raising appeals. Some of these are the same people who never answered my notes to them. Do you think I heeded their appeal?

I know from experience that a kind response to a reader has yielded many referral sales. The lesson here is if you are trying to attract more customers, treat them as if they are important and they will repay you with loyalty—even when other options become available to them.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Speaking as an author, I'm unabashedly interested in generating buzz about my work—after all, it's validation in the marketplace that helps keep my writing enthusiasm up and creative juices flowing. To that end, I've developed hundreds of Internet relationships with people that I'll never meet in person in this lifetime. I've also subscribed, and contributed, to other newsletters and web sites, and those that respond or appreciate my input get to occupy a higher ranking in my reading/referral lists.

The number of people servicing the writing industry has exploded due largely to the pervasiveness of the Internet. Authors are continually besieged by publishers, publicists, editors, coaches, and various others, all wanting to help the increasingly vast pool of fledgling writers attain their goals. There are also a number of newsletters, written by and aimed at authors, some local and others national in scope. I'd like to mention a few that I subscribe to—principally because they are informative, responsive, and attentive to their subscribers.

The first is the newsletter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, the author of the Frugal series of books about writing, editing, and publicizing your work. Carolyn seems to have the time to answer every inquiry even though she has a heavy schedule of writing, lecturing, and consulting. To subscribe go to:

Locally in Florida I subscribe to Lou Belcher's, Darlyn Finch's Scribblers' newsletter at:, and Mary Ann de Stefano's MAD about words at:

I recommend that authors, if they haven't already done so, search the Internet for writers' groups in their area. Most of these newsletters will carry useful information about book and author happenings, including tips about writing and promotion. I operate on the theory that one is never too smart, too old, or too successful to learn from others, and recommend this approach to everyone.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Marketing Books—Successes & Failures IV

Trying Risky Strategies—

One thing I'm sure of is that you can't really know in advance which marketing ploy will work—or how well. There just aren't any surefire gimicks in business because if there were everybody would be using them.

As I have mentioned, I thought I was armed with all the marketing experience I needed to make a success of selling my book Kisses from a Distance. I talked about finding market niches in the last post, and having observed first-hand how markets continually divide and specialize, I realized that although the book was having success among various ethnicities, there was an opportunity to go after one ethnic group in particular. The book chronicles the experiences of three families who happen to be Lebanese belonging to the Maronite religion. Surely I would be remiss if I didn't try to address that group in my marketing strategy.

I did a little research and found a person who was the director of the National Apostolate of Maronites (NAM), and whom I contacted. I told him what I was about and asked if he'd like a book. We were in touch after he received the book and he thought this was a good thing to mention to his organization. He sent me the mailing list for all 80 Maronite Churches in the US and I decided to make a bold investment and send a complimentary copy to the pastors of each church. In a personalized letter, I asked if each church might mention my book in the their Sunday bulletin.

For a lot of authors this might be a prohibitive expense—the postage and padded envelopes alone totaled nearly $300. When you add in the cost of the books, it comes to a tidy sum that would take quite a few sales to cover.

What I thought was a brilliant strategy fell with a thud when I received only three letters thanking me for the book. I was a bit downcast to say the least. A couple of months later I got a surprise phone call from a lady in Birmingham, AL, who said she had read the book notice in her church's Sunday bulletin and had asked her priest about it. He hadn't read the book but loaned it to her. She said she loved it, and would I consider coming to Birmingham to be the speaker at their annual banquet, to be attended by 350 people. Long story short, they put me up, paid me a very nice stipend, and I sold 100 books to boot. That weekend recovered my entire cost for the promotion three times over!

But that wasn't all! One of the priests who read the book, wrote a nice review that was published in the organization's national publication. In addition, I was invited to the NAM convention two years in a row and to another speaking gig in Austin, TX— where a total of 140 more books were sold! There were also many uncounted orders from the word of mouth buzz that those sales generated.

So, what I thought was an abject failure turned into a big success.

To be continued--

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Marketing Books—Success & Failures—III

Looking for market niches—

Filled with hubris because of my past marketing experience, I surveyed all the marketing niches that my book, Kisses, might fit. I, like most authors, thought I was writing for a general audience but, as mentioned before, it’s a very crowded marketplace and every author should try to find a niche where a focused strategy will yield better results than a general marketing approach.

As an example, Kisses could be broadly classified as history, or more specifically Middle Eastern history. It also fit as a general immigration study, travel book, or even, as I accidentally discovered, the world of genealogy. The narrower the field you can identify, the more apt you are to find venues to the target market. You should always be on the lookout for markets that might not have been apparent at the outset.

One day, I received a call from the program chairman of the local genealogy society asking if I would be interested in speaking at one of their meetings. He’d heard about me at the library where I had given a talk (one where I sold three books). As a result, I ginned up a presentation, which was well received and sold eight books. I decided that this was a bona fide niche that I should explore.

I searched the Internet for genealogy societies in the state of Florida and sent off eMails to all of them. I soon began receiving replies, asking how much I charged, etc. The lead times were lengthy because most of these associations schedule talks a year in advance. Nonetheless, I have now appeared at six different genealogy associations and have not only sold 85 books, but also received several hundred dollars in speaking fees, plus travel. And I have several more such events on my calendar.

The bottom line here is that this was an unexpected marketing thrust that dropped into my lap—because of another event that I had considered a failure. So, the lesson I learned was that lemons can be turned into lemonade. You just have to be ready to squeeze them!

To be continued—

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Marketing Books—Success & Failures—II

Following conventional strategies such as bookstore or library signings is something that is recommended by just about everyone in the know about bookselling. Other than my first bookstore experience (mentioned in my previous post), this strategy has not worked for me.

An author who reviewed my book on public radio, recommended I have a book signing at Busboys & Poets Bookstore in Washington, DC. "It's a prestigious place," I was told. The manager of the bookstore was quite cordial but told me that success was dependent on getting “sponsors” for my appearance. Since my book was about Lebanese people and culture, he suggested  I contact Arab American organizations in the area to see if they would oblige me, as sponsorship would cost them nothing. Their names would be put on the program and all they had to do was notify their membership of my appearance.

With high hopes I contacted four such organizations, explained that my book was pegged as a cultural statement that would interest their membership, and had been well received by members of their communities. Would they consent to sponsor me, I asked? One never answered; another said they’d think about it and never got back; and a third said it was against their policy (this was one I had just given a substantial contribution to). The fourth was a magazine with a Middle Eastern focus and they agreed to be a sponsor.

I tried to arrange ancillary events around the date but no one responded to my inquiries (this included other bookstores and churches). The cost of lodging in the DC area is quite expensive, between $200-$300 a night, so I decided to make it a one day trip. Airfare was $300, and counting the costs of local transportation and a meal, it was a fairly expensive outing. About a dozen people showed up for my talk (including a reporter from the sponsoring magazine who wrote a nice review) and the bookstore sold a grand total of three books.

It was then that I began to look with a jaundiced eye at just how many of these expeditions I could justify in the pursuit of moving my book off the store shelves. I definitely needed to refine my strategy.

In the same time period I did two signings at local libraries where I gave PowerPoint presentations—result, sold three books at each. It was then I decided to give up on the bookstore/library scene and began to formulate other plans that would be more cost effective.

To be continued—

Friday, October 1, 2010

Marketing Books—Success & Failures

Ok, you’ve written a book and got it published one way or another. Now what?

When Kisses from a Distance finally came out, I had already been planning book signings and was looking for more. The self-help manuals I read pointed out traditional venues such as bookstores and libraries, so I plunged into arranging such events.

At about the same time, a family social obligation in my hometown of Carthage, NY appeared on my calendar. Aha, said I, perhaps I can turn this trip into a signing event at multiple venues. I called Borders in nearby Watertown (a city much larger than Carthage) and spoke to the manager. Although lukewarm at first, I convinced her that I was a local boy, would be in the area, had written a memoir, etc. She reluctantly agreed, as long as I brought books. She didn't want to be bothered ordering them.

Next, I called the pastor of the church where the social event was to be held and asked if I could piggyback a book signing at the breakfast after the church service. He agreed and said he would even announce it at the conclusion of the mass. The next thing I did was to contact the newspapers in the area to tell them that I, a local author, would be in the area promoting my book and could they mention it in the paper’s coming events. They asked for more details and I eMailed them an abbreviated press kit, which I had already prepared. As a result, I got a nice write-up, including a 4-color picture, that appeared in the paper before the scheduled Borders signing.

When I got up home the day before the events were to take place, I took a walk around town and stumbled across the local farmers market. The fellow in charge had seen the newspaper article about the book and asked why I didn’t sell books there? Why not, said I. For a fee of $5 he set up a table and I started buttonholing vegetable shoppers to interest them in the book. I was there about three hours and sold twelve books. Totally unplanned and unexpected.

When I arrived at Borders, the manager told me not to expect too much because they had three or four signings a year and sold at most eight or ten books. I was there for three hours and sold twenty-one books, much to Borders’ surprise. One of the people who came in to buy a book was a local TV personality who had seen the newspaper article. I engaged her in cordial conversation and as a result she asked if I’d be interested in a TV interview. Would I! So, two days later I appeared on the local evening news and many people who saw the clip went to Borders to buy the book. The bad news is Borders had run out! Not only that, they told people they wouldn’t be reordering either.

The good news is—on that first weekend, I sold 98 books. Because of my lack of experience, I didn’t actually know if that was good or not. I soon would learn that was excellent! The lesson here is, you never know what will work until you try—and when unexpected things pop up. Be ready to take advantage.

To be continued—