The Elusive Reader By M.J. Rose

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Once upon a time authors did not have to work to find readers. Readers found authors. And we all lived happily ever after.

But these days the real story is that there are over 75,000 books published a year and less than ten percent of them get serious marketing budgets or promotional dollars. Many do not earn out their advances. And far too many get remaindered.

We could conjecture about what’s wrong and wonder what publishers might do better or we can take our books into our own hands and go in search of our readers.

And in this article I’ll be reporting on how some very creative writers are doing just that.

One such author is Alma Marceau who’s first erotic novel, Lofting, was Amazon’s number one selling title in its category for several months and was picked by Susie Bright for inclusion in Best American Fiction 2002.

Like many first timers – especially those published by smaller houses – Marceau’s book had no marketing budget and she wasn’t given an author tour. Instead Marceau took to the web where smart marketing takes more creative thinking than big time financing.

One of the first things Marceau points out is how the Net is redefining so many old time publishing rules that regulate and restrict the traditional triangle of establishment publisher/establishment reviewer/establishment retailer.

First, we can now ignore the “three month window” for publicizing a new book, which had to do with the amount of co-op time a publisher typically bought for a book in the stores.

Lofting only started to sell six months after publication.

Second, forget about the adage that print reviewers for newspapers and magazines only consider hard-bound books from large publishers for review, chucking trade-paper and independent press titles into the dumpster.

Lofting was reviewed by several important review sources including bookreporter.com.

And third, prominent shelf space or table space in superstores and in the independents is not the only way to sell books.

Lofting has sold over 3000 books in the first six months – all online.

The strategy with “Lofting” was to get the book into Amazon.com, then get the book reviewed and mentioned or linked everywhere Marceau’s potential customer might go.

“We targeted relevant sites only, and this is key. You have only so much energy and time,” said Marceau. “So focus your efforts accordingly. Use the search engines; follow up on promising links.”

As for obstacles, the biggest one for Marceau was the beginner’s dilemma: you want to generate buzz through publicity; but no one wants to give your book publicity until there’s buzz.

“I wish I could say there was a quick fix for this, but I can’t. The solution is prosaic: just keep hacking at it. Eventually, if your book is good–and you shouldn’t even be trying this if you aren’t convinced in your bones that it’s really good–someone will take a chance; someone will actually take the time to read it and have the courage to form an independent opinion, and have the courage further to be the first to review it,” said Marceau.

After being rejected again and again by various sites (and ignored by even more) an editor at the Erotica Readers’ Association read the review copy, wrote a very laudatory review, and then went on to recommend the novel to the Venus Book Club division of Bookspan, which led eventually to a book club deal.

That was the push Lofting needed.

In the meantime, having gotten that one positive notice, the author approached other review sites for a legitimate review: someone who wasn’t a relative had loved the book!

“At the beginning, you go through a lot of feelings of self-doubt, and a lot of frustration with what seems like a very hostile world. But once you have a few allies, the process of driving publicity gets somewhat more routine. You get rejections, but at least you get answers to emails and queries, instead of simply being ignored,” said Marceau.

Like many, the author had discovered the secret of the web: online you can find your reader directly. And unlike professional reviewers, readers don’t give a fig if your book was published in the previous calendar year, or whether it originally came out in hardback.

As Marceau points out, one of the benefits of viewing book marketing as an ongoing and evolving process, rather than a time critical blitz, is that you have a chance to develop relationships and to tailor each letter, each phone call and fax to the situation and personality at hand.

“And this is what Netiquette really is: treating your correspondent–whether she’s an editor, a vendor, a reviewer or a reader–as an individual. It’s about respect—for the other person’s time, for his or her set of priorities and values, and, in the case of bulletin boards, newsgroups and chatrooms, it’s about respect for the culture of the community,” said Marceau.

There’s nothing wrong with publicity and nothing wrong with trying to make people aware of your book but before you start selling your opus find out what people are interested in, get a feel for what rubs people the wrong way, and for what they find acceptable.

It’s important thing to note that Marceau didn’t get buzz for her book by touting it, nor even mentioning it, unless specifically asked about it.

She did append a tag line to her name in emails, which is a discreet and perfectly acceptable way to advertise. But, other than that, she sought to establish a “presence” online, on lists, and on sites such as Readerville.com by doing exactly what was encouraged of every member: involvement and participation in discussions of interest and respectful attention to the contributions, questions and successes of others.

“In a way, this is merely confirmation of the wisdom of Dale Carnegie: the best way to sell something isn’t to feign interest in other people, but to genuinely cultivate it. By being a good conversationalist, by making interesting or entertaining contributions, while recognizing the worth of others and honoring their desire to participate in lively discussion, you inspire interest in yourself and your book,” said Marceau.

Writers might do well to remember what the Marceau has learned – that people are predisposed to view most published authors with some degree of awe or fascination; you’re already in the spotlight, so act accordingly, with intelligence and restraint, and your reputation will grow along with your book sales.

M.J. Rose (www.mjrose.com) is the author Lip Service, In Fidelity and Flesh Tones and two books about marketing. She also teaches at Writers Weekly University. MJ’s classes at WritersWeekly University include:

~ Create a Buzz Plan Without the Guesswork – Marketing for Authors
~ Procrastinate Your Way Into Writing a Novel
~ Start Your Novel Today!

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