Monday, July 21, 2008

RNA conference notes--part four: Sunday morning

I've categorised these into their own folder, so if you click the '2008 RNA Conference' link at the bottom of this post, it will bring up all my conference reports for this year.

Kate Walker: Get yourself out there! Internet publicity

Kate gave an entertaining and informative talk on how and why to market yourself online. As Steven Williams of Midas PR noted, the Internet is one of the biggest marketing tools there is, and authors really can’t afford to miss out on it. If you’re not on the Internet, you don’t exist to a lot of readers. They might have heard of you through a different medium, but when they come to look you up online to find out more about you and your books, they’re not going to waste too much time if they can’t find information quickly.

The best way to do this is with your own website. Kate gave a 20 P Guide to getting your website right. Most of these pertain to a website; but could also be relevant to a blog.

1. Popular. Make people come back to your site again and again. If your site is popular, word of it will spread. Get a stat counter so you can find out who is visiting your site, and where from. Google Analytics will do this for you, entirely for free. Tracking information tells you how many visits you’ve had each day, and where they come from. And that ‘where’ is pretty comprehensive. It tells you not only which websites have referred visitors to your site (for instance clicking on the link to on the left would show up on my stat counter as a referral from; which search terms they have typed in to find your site (ie did they Google for Kate Johnson, Sophie Green, Samhain books, ebooks, spy mysteries, mad pink book covers, etc); and even which part of the world they’ve come from (I can even tell which town…apparently I’m popular in Cambridge and Reading).

One word of warning is against visible stat counters (you know, that tell you you’re the 1,684,325th visitor to the site), unless you really do have a lot of visitors. Telling readers that only twelve other people have looked at your site since 2001 isn’t likely to boost your popularity.

2. Pertinent. Make the website directly about you and your books. You can put other stuff on there as well, but make sure that you’ve got the info readers want: what your books are about, where/when they’re available, what they look like, and who you are.

3. Personality (but not Personal). Make the site reflect your personality as a writer. Are your books girlie and fun? Are they dark and serious? Try matching your web design to the designs on your books (Anna Louise Lucia did this to great effect with her website). If you write serious historicals, you probably don’t want a site with orange and green sparkles all over it (if you write sparkling romantic comedy, like Julie Cohen, that’s much more appropriate!). The tone of the website should also match your tone as a writer, perhaps to a lesser extent, ie you could make it more humorous if you write comedy.

Don’t confuse personality with personal. Your website doesn’t need to be cluttered with the details of your daily life—keep this for your blog.

4. Professional. A bad site is worse than no site. Home made sites look home made. And for the love of God, check for spelling errors. If people are coming to you’re website, there going to loose they’re faith in you if your not bothering to check their for bad grammer.

5. Promotion/Promotions. Build an image. Don’t do the hard sell, readers hate it. Don’t forget we’re in the entertainment industry, and while we might not be featured in Heat (thank God), readers still want to know about authors, they’re interested in personality.

Use promotions such as contests and blog parties to build interest. Offer a signed copy to one lucky winner, or a relevant trinket (I made a Christmas ornament featuring the cover of my first Christmas novella, and gave it away as a prize, for instance). But don’t do these too often, and beware professional contest enterers, who are just in it for the prize and not interested at all in you. Oh, and if you’re offering a signed anything, always make it a personal signature—it deters wannabe eBay sellers!

6. Protect yourself. Assert copyright, and never give out personal contact details on your site. Use a different email address than the one you have for personal stuff. There are crazies out there.

7. Purchase. Make it easy for people to buy your books. And I mean really easy. It’s a good idea to have a buy link to your newest book on your homepage (the first page people see when they type in your website address). Link your site to directly to your book’s page at online booksellers like Amazon and Waterstones. A lot of big chains have affiliate programs where if a reader uses the special Amazon link to buy your book, you get commission. Getting paid twice for one book, brilliant!

8. Print. Whatever you print out for promotional purposes—bookmarks, letterheads, business cards, t-shirts—put your website address on it. You don’t even really need to bother with the www bit—every single web address starts with this—but don’t forget the suffix, the .com or or whatever. Make your web address stick in people’s minds. Make it easy for them to look you up. And keep business cards/postcards/whatever with you all the time (I keep business cards in my purse, postcards in my bag, and my mum carries my cards with her everywhere too!).

My own advice for printed materials is to use Vistaprint. Their usual method of charging you for everything, from uploaded images to colour printing, is pretty annoying but there is a brilliant get-out. Sign up for their special offers and, sooner or later, an email will arrive in your inbox offering you stuff for free. Upload an image for free, choose colour printing for free, then order a hundred postcards (the only downside is you'll have to do your own images, but they do give you guidelines and you can probably do them using whatever imaging software came with your computer). You'll pay for postage, nothing more. Order another hundred, and pay the postage there. It's still cheaper than ordering two hundred and paying the full price!

9. Present. As in, not in the past. Keep your website up to date. I’m personally not a fan of those ‘newest updates!’ bits you get on some homepages—they don’t tell me anything useful at all. But make sure your newest book is right there for people to see the minute it’s available. No; before that. The minute you know about it. Get your cover up there ASAP. Release dates. Let people know things in advance.

As before, this isn’t the place to announce every detail. Keep the less relevant details to your blog and just put the concrete details on your homepage: your newest title, its cover and release date, maybe the ISBN and a quick blurb. The wrangles with your editor over said cover and blurb can be detailed on your blog!

10. Past. As in, your backlist. Your website isn’t just to advertise your newest book. It’s to advertise all your books, your entire career. Don’t put all the info on your homepage, but do make it easy to get to. It’s recommended that all important information should be no more than two clicks away—don’t make people load page after page, they’ll get bored and go away.

If, like me, you write in series, then it’s a good idea to post a list of these on your website. If, like me, these are slightly labyrinthine, you might want to put some thought into how you’ll do this! For my Cat Marsters books, which are both novels and novellas, print and e-book, in single- and multi-author series, it took me a while to work this out in a way that made me happy (I divided them into print or ebook, and then series or standalone). A reading order is also a good idea for your series.

11. Project. Figure out what sort of image you want to project. This is tied to your Personality. What sort of colours match your image? Bright, pale, dark? What sort of pictures and logos do you want?

I spent a while coming up with ideas for my two sites. I wanted them to look similar, so you could tell they advertised the same person, but writing two different kinds of books. Kate Johnson got a pink theme to go with the black, and Cat Marsters got purple. Since the books I have as Kate Johnson are spy stories, albeit rather silly ones, I used a black background, blocky fonts and made my header image with a few key elements: the silk background, the gun, the lipstick (I have those two on my business cards too) and the lines of code. To foil the darkness and match the girlieness of the books, I made the main colour pink.

For Cat Marsters, who writes erotic romance, the theme was simpler, although it took me a while to get the image of the naked girl right—didn’t want her to be too naked! I was going for that Sophie Dahl poster—you know the one I mean. To counter the dark sexiness, the titles are all written in a breezy purple font—purple traditionally being a signifier of passion, as well as one of my favourites.

12. People. Who are you aiming at? Will your target audience appreciate black and pink, or will it put them off? Try not to age yourself.

Think of your global audience. One of the massive advantages of the Internet is that it’s not constricted by time or distance…although language can be a barrier. If your books are translated, consider adding a Babelfish widget to your site, which can automatically translate it (although such translations can be a bit comical!).

13. Pictures. These make a site SO much more interesting! And covers of your books are very necessary. You want people to be able to recognise them easily.

Make sure you’re using images with a reasonable resolution, but size them so they’re not overwhelmingly big. Large images take forever to load, and people get bored and give up. Don’t cram a page with too many images, as this also affects the time it takes for a page to load (people on dial-up won’t thank you). That author photo again…it can be a matter of pride! You can always cheat and have an obscured photo—taken from behind, or just showing your hands at the keyboard—if you really don’t want to post your ugly mug on the Internet.

But as mentioned above, readers do want to know about you as a person. There’s a school of thought that says your author photo ought to be appropriate to the kind of books you write—the leather-jacketed mystery writer, the chick-lit author in fabulous heels, etc—but I’m not so sure it’s necessary. Approachability is what you’re aiming for, but perhaps try to keep your writing personality in mind.

14. Promote. If you have a web presence, use it to promote your website. We’ve mentioned including your web address on your printed matter, but don’t forget to include it in your email signature—at least, your professional email—and when you post on forums and message boards. Again, you want people to become familiar with it. More people read forums than post on them—there are a lot of lurkers—and it’s free publicity.

15. Posting. This is simple: post up-to-date-information. Keep updating your site and make sure it’s current.

If you have a blog, keep it current. Don’t let it fester, unloved, for weeks at a time. Some people post to their blogs several a day, some only once or twice a week. Whatever you do, try to maintain consistency, and don’t forget to be professional. Although here, more so than in the body of your website, you can get a lot more personal.

16. Prompt. As soon as you have information, add it to your website. Don’t leave it until the day before publication to show people your book cover!

17. Procrastinate. No, not you. Other people—make your website a procrastination tool! Make people spend ages tootling around finding what you have to offer. Add information that’s relevant to the books: perhaps some details about the research you did; things that didn’t make it into the books; the music that inspired you; explain things that are briefly mentioned in the book—for instance all the movie quotes in Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation are listed on her website.

A blog is a great procrastination tool. If you’re going to have one, make it very easy for people to find from your site. Some people have their blogs integrated to their sites, some have them separate, like mine (I’ve considered integration, but running it on two sites would make it more difficult). But make sure people can find it easily.

18. Purpose. Remember what your purpose is: to sell books. Whatever else you do with your site, make people want to buy your books, and make it easy for them to do so.

19. Presentation. See #4 re: spelling errors! Most programs come with spellcheckers these days (and as for posting on blogs, you can get a spellchecker add-on for Mozilla Firefox that checks your spelling as you type. You can probably get the same for Internet Explorer, but then why would you when Firefox is so much better?).

20. Pretty (and pussy cats). Make your site appealing. Make it pretty, but don’t sacrifice readability.

As for pussy cats, Kate Walker says she often puts pictures and snippets of info about her cats on her website, and has even produced a cat calender of them, but some readers don’t seem to like it. For what it’s worth, my experience has been the opposite: I get more readers and more comments when I post pictures of my furbabies on my blog.

Caroline Sheldon: It’s tough out there—shortening acceptance odds.

Caroline Sheldon, who has run her own literary agency for over twenty years, gave an informative talk on what agents are looking for now in the UK market.

Since the collapse of the net book agreement, big bookselling chains and supermarkets have taken over, and what they’re interested in is bestsellers. This means that independent booksellers and midlist authors are really losing out—nobody can afford to stock books they can’t guarantee will sell, and so fewer and fewer authors are being stocked. Publishers have also conglomerated into supergroups, and are looking for fewer titles and lots of bestsellers.

The minimum sales publishers are looking for are 4-5k hardback, 15k paperback. And yes, hardbacks are still desirable, to publishers at least, because they get onto lists like the Sunday Times bestsellers, which have lots of marketing clout. The midlist has been cut right back, with half the number of books per month. Publisher are always asking for something fresh, new and different…but not too fresh, new and different, or it might not sell.

What seems to be in favour right now are: romantic comedies, chick-lit (despite the doom-and-gloom forecasts. The glut of bandwagon-jumpers seems to be over, and peopke are still buying the good stuff) and its older sister mum-lit. Gothics and weepies are on the rise, and sagas—in the sense of big sweeping stories—are still popular. Quality historicals, like Philippa Gregory’s, are very popular (although Philippa Gregory denies that she writes romance. Despite winning the RNA’s main award!). Caroline accepts fantasy and paranormal books, which she thinks may be about to break through, but isn’t keen on science fiction.

What do you need to catch an agent’s eye? A catchy title helps a lot, and a gripping first line and paragraph. There are more agents than there used to be, but in the current publishing climate, you’re better with one than without one.

Caroline accepts submissions by email and post, but prefers post. She doesn’t print out many of the emails she’s been sent. The query letter is important, and a very short synopsis of one double-spaced page is preferred. She says perhaps one in twenty submissions, or maybe even forty, is re-read. Unusually among agents, she likes submissions in bright coloured folders—it makes them easier to find in the slush pile!

No comments:

Post a Comment