Friday, July 30, 2010

Publicity, Promotion and Platforms: Oh, My!

By Kathi Diamant

Before I wrote my book, Kafka’s Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant, and before it was published in 2003, I thought the tough part was writing the book. And, of course, finding an agent and publisher. I’ve learned otherwise.

As one book publishing expert says, writing the book and getting published is about 10 percent of the job. Selling it is 90 percent.

The sad stark truth is that book publicity and promotion is now the author’s job. The good old days of a publisher organized and financed 40-city book tour, appearances on TV and radio talk shows and bookstore signings are over, unless of course you are a very famous person, a celebrity, politician, billionaire or movie star.

I was once a part of the old machine. As the co-host of morning talk shows in the 1980s, I interviewed authors about their books every day; a third to a half of our guests were authors on tour. Authors were flown to cities across America, where they were picked up and chauffeured to their hotels and appointed appearances by a cadre of locals who specialized in escorting authors on tour. At the end of the interview, I would hold the book to the camera, and tell our audience that the author would be signing her book at Warwick’s or BookWorks.

Seven years ago, when Basic Books published Kafka’s Last Love, they did assign a publicist to me. Knowing how the system used to work, I had high hopes. But I soon discovered that the grand publicity plan they presented me was never implemented. Whether hampered by a lack of budget, experience or intelligence, my publicist did produce a nice one-sheet with the quotes from the good reviews, but that was it. She was unable to book me into a single bookstore outside of San Diego for a talk and signing. When I went rogue, and booked myself in Barnes & Noble in Phoenix and Tucson, she went ballistic. My editor called and ordered me to cease and desist. To let the publicist do her job. “But she isn’t doing it!” I wailed. No matter, it was her job for the first hree months following publication. Then, she was done with me, and moved on to other, newer, books. And I was on my own.

The year before, a canny friend published a book with HarperCollins, and she and her co-author took their entire advance of $15,000 and plunked it down on a professional book publicist, who did a credible job of getting them in the newspapers and bookstores and other appropriate venues for their subject. But I didn’t have $15,000, and few authors do.

So I rolled up my proverbial sleeves, and went back to work, calling bookstores, sending copies and tear sheets, asking for a chance to promote my book. I bought copies of my own book to send to reviewers. I made it my goal to have a book talk at least once a month, even after my book had been on the market for a couple of years. I kept it up for years. Now I have discovered that there are other resources available to us, online, and it is very good news.

Today it’s all about platform. Your writing platform is your visibility as a writer or an expert--the way you reach your potential audience. If you are not a celebrity or movie star or politician, who already have followers, fans and publicity machines, your platform is an essential tool, not only to attract readers but also agents and publishers. It’s your website, blog, speaking engagements, email list, FaceBook page, your position as an expert on your subject. It’s the essential tool to promote yourself and sell your writing. Your writing platform now even determines your chances of selling a book proposal or manuscript to a publishing house.

Last year I attended the first 21st Century Book Marketing Conference in San Diego. By the end of the first day, I was deeply depressed. Everything I had learned about publishing was over, done, passé. But by the end of the second and last day, I was encouraged and educated, armed to march forward into the new era of platforms and online marketing. There’s a second conference planned for September 25 & 26 in San Diego, and I highly recommend it.

I learned that my book is my business, and the web is an author's friend. For example, you must own your URLs for the book—it’s internet real estate. As soon as you have a title, register it! Register your own name. A website is essential for your book. Write a blog (finally getting this requirement going, thanks to San Diego Writing Women). Stay on top of your story—have a Google Alert for each topic you are writing about. Pay attention to breaking news. Offer yourself as a media expert. Have an online press kit that you can send in an instant. Create a YouTube video about your book—make a book trailer, like the movies do.

I’ve been following many of the tips I learned, and it’s paying off. My Google Alert keeps me up to the minute on the news around Franz Kafka, and whenever appropriate I respond with a letter to the editor, or a comment to the writer or blogger. It’s paying off: last week I was quoted in TIME magazine, and was interviewed this week for The New York Times Magazine. Look for it this Sunday!

I’m not sure how many books I’m selling this way (although I know that the NYTimes writer bought one for research) but I know it is keeping my book current and in print, and helping to sell it in other countries (just got an offer from Germany for a German translation.)

The good news is that there is a great deal of good advice and support on how to navigate the new realities of book promotion and publicity. The only tough part is doing it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Day in the Life

By Caitlin Rother

People often ask me what my routine is as a full-time author. With six books under my belt and two more in the pipeline, they seemed surprised when I tell them that I have no routine, because every day is different, depending on where I am with my current project and how many other cats I'm juggling -- and trying not to get scratched, let alone drop one of them.

One day, for example, I worked for 15 hours straight on a book proposal that was due the next day, and by 11 p.m., when I checked to see what time my doctor’s appointment was the next morning, I was shocked to realize that I had worked right through it. The doctor wasn't pleased, but at least I made my deadline.

Another day, I worked for 14 hours on a story for The Daily Beast about the John Gardner murder case. It was tough to find a fresh angle on a story that had been so heavily covered by TV and the U-T, which even with its reduced staff, far outmanned me in terms of resources, but I did it. The second post I did for the website took me only seven hours, and I'm happy to say it was all worth it. I saw a pretty compelling book there, and after some more legwork, I ended up with an exclusive story that got me a book deal with Kensington/Pinnacle.

But those days are more the exception than the rule. Most days are quite manageable because after four years of doing this full-time, I have found my rhythm, and although I'm not getting rich, I'm happier professionally now than I think I've ever been. I love what I do and I can't tell you how much I enjoy the freedom of working on what I want when I want and where I want.

I do have some structure to my day. I get out of bed and walk directly to my computer, where I start going through e-mails and catch up on FaceBook. Now, I admit to playing a bit on FaceBook, but I find that it is also an amazingly effective networking tool that has helped me tremendously. Yesterday, for example, I received a friend request from a nice man in the Chicago area and within a couple of hours we were on the phone, talking about having me speak and do a book signing at a huge journalism conference in LA right after my next book, Dead Reckoning, comes out.

Although I've written one thriller, and I'd love to write more fiction, it really doesn't pay well, at least for me, so I focus on the narrative nonfiction books that pay my bills. Each one is different -- some require me to attend out-of-town trials or do research out of state -- but I generally do most of my work from home, conducting interviews by phone with people all over the country. I do face-to-face interviews when I can, but it's not always possible or the most time efficient. So, while I'm in the writing phase of a book, as I am now, I usually schedule a few interviews each week, as I work on one chapter and revise and sketch out several others. My interviews generally last around 1½ to 2 hours, but I've been known to go as long as seven.

One of the best things about my job is that I can do it outside in the sun, generally at my “office” at the Einstein's bagels a few miles from my house. After working at home for a few hours, I like to do my reading or editing there, sipping my Diet Coke and eating my breakfast, red pen in hand. I also teach at UCSD Extension – my writing workshop that starts tomorrow still has some room by the way – so I do my course preparation and grade papers there as well. I also do two other important tasks there that to others may look like I'm just daydreaming: thinking, planning, and setting goals, both grand and small. And, yes, sometimes I'm dreaming and feeling grateful to be doing what I'm doing, most of which I record in a journal.

By this point, it's early afternoon, and I get home to either start or continue writing what I started that morning and just finished editing. I often need to make calls back east before two or three o'clock, so I need to fit those in as well. Depending on what I'm working on, I also may do interviews in the afternoon and spend the whole next day writing. See what I mean about the freedom of it all?

By late afternoon, I go to the gym to stretch, swim laps and take a steam, or I take a walk around the neighborhood to get the blood circulating after all this sitting. Then I usually come home, write some more, answer e-mails, edit or do an interview before I start making dinner.

The fun thing is that some days I do none of these tasks and spend the day doing my other full-time job, and that is promotions and publicity. I can write an entire blog on that topic, and I most likely will, but for now suffice it to say that I do quite a few web radio interviews and am usually talking to one or more TV producers for a show on the Investigation Discovery Channel, bookstores about signings or stock, community groups about giving speeches, and my publishers and agents to make sure that I have my published books in the stores and new book deals going to keep the ball rolling.

Caitlin Rother, a Pulitzer-nominee who worked as a investigative newspaper reporter for nearly 20 years, is the author of five books, Body Parts, Twisted Triangle, Naked Addiction, and Poisoned Love, and is the co-author of Where Hope Begins. Her next book, Dead Reckoning, the story behind the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks by Skylar Deleon and his clan of outlaws, including his wife, Jennifer, will be out in February 2011. For more information about Caitlin Rother, check out her Web site,

Friday, July 16, 2010

Hello to Our Readers from Laurel Corona

I'm really pleased to be part of this group, and to kick off what I hope will be a lively stream of posts of interest to you, our readers. I'm enjoying a wonderful summer, working on my fourth historical novel, tentatively called THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD. It's set in Portugal and Spain at the time of Henry the Navigator and Ferdinand & Isabella. I'm about 350 pages in, so it should be done this fall. At the same time I am working hard to be ready for the release of my second novel, PENELOPE'S DAUGHTER, which is coming out on October 5 from Penguin/Berkley Books, and doing the edits on the manuscript of my third historical novel, THE LAWS OF MOTION, coming out from Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books in April 2011. It's hard to juggle all three, but I'm not complaining. It's a very nice position to be in! If you're interested in more information about the process of writing a book, I've been blogging about it at, and if you're the kind who prefers your information Facebook-sized, I have a page there as well. Look for me as "Laurel Corona, Author." Thought for the day from Goethe: "Nothing is worth more than this day." Use it well!