Thursday, January 29, 2015

YA Guy Talks about... Book Promotion (What Works and What Doesn't)!

You might be wondering why YA Guy is blogging two straight days, something I almost never do. The answer is weather: it's snowy and yucky here in Pittsburgh--as it is in much of the country--so to entertain myself while I'm cooped up at home, I'm spending my time blogging. I hope you're entertained too!

A while ago, I blogged about what I spent on promotion for SURVIVAL COLONY 9. (You can read that post right here.) Today, I thought I'd break it down in a different way and give you a sense of which promotional efforts worked for me and which didn't. I'm not going to get into the big stuff (such as hiring a freelance publicist); that's a major expenditure that deserves its own discussion. But little things add up quickly, and none of us has unlimited funds. So why not target those funds to the things that work?

One caveat: this advice is of course based on my own experience. Other writers may have had very different experiences, and if so, I urge you to check out their blogs!

1. Swag. With YA, the conventional wisdom is that you need a lot of this stuff to give away at signings, events, and random occasions. It's not super-costly, but when you add up the fee for the designer, the printing fee, and the delivery, it's not super-cheap either. And some of it is a complete waste of whatever it costs. Postcards, for example. Who wants them? No one. Unless you plan to mail them out to every librarian and bookstore in the world--and do you really plan to do that?--don't waste your money. Ditto with bookplates; they're not worth the cardstock they're printed on. (I ordered 1000. I have 975 in a box in my attic.) Unless you have some brilliant item that ties in to your book, stick with good old-fashioned bookmarks: attractive, functional, and in high demand wherever you go.

2. ARCs. This will likely be the first item you have an opportunity to give away to readers, and you might be tempted to give them away to anyone who asks. DON'T. Lots of people are ARC-collectors; they jump on them when they see them, but then they do absolutely nothing with them. Or maybe they do write a review on Goodreads, but only 5 people follow their reviews. Be selective with your ARCs; try to give them away to people who are likeliest to review them in widely-read venues (principally, book reviewers and bloggers with lots of followers).

3. Giveaways. I gave away a ton of books through Goodreads and other online contests. Some copies were supplied by the publisher; the vast majority, however, were supplied by me (which meant I had to cover mailing costs too). As with ARCs, you need to be very careful here; it's easy to lose track of just how many books you've offered as freebies, and it's also very tempting to give things away to just anyone. Again, DON'T. Focus on reviewers and bloggers. Some of them won't review the book either, but they're better bets than random strangers. Of all the books I gave away--and it was quite a few--all I have to show for it is twenty-seven reviews on Amazon and slightly more than twice that on Goodreads. Maybe this means my book bombed, but it definitely means I wasn't careful enough in who I was giving free copies away to.

4. Signings. Great, free publicity, right? Awesome ego-boost, right? Well, not exactly. First of all, you have to figure in travel costs. Second, you have to recognize that not all signings (at bookstores or elsewhere) are created equal. Some venues will promote the heck out of you and line people up outside the door; others will send a tweet or two and then wonder why no one showed up. (Which pretty much destroys the ego-boost.) Don't jump at any signing just because it's a signing. Research the venue, ask tough questions, and get the answers you want. If you don't get good answers, politely tell them you're unavailable.

5. Book fairs. As with signings, I advise being selective and reflective about these. I've gone to library book fairs where all the attendees were parents with toddlers and octogenarians looking for books about relieving back pain--not exactly the audience for YA science fiction. But I've also gone to places where there was a specific YA focus, and the book sold like gangbusters.

6. Conferences. A mixed bag. It really depends on how prominently you're featured and how much you need to shell out for registration, membership, and so on. When I went to New York Comic Con and appeared on the same stage with James Dashner, Pierce Brown, and others--with a roomful of nearly three hundred rabid YA science fiction fans--the Megabus trip to NYC was definitely worth it. Other conferences, not so much. As with everything listed above, don't jump to do it just because it's there.

7. Curriculum guide. All I can say about this is that it's nice to have one; teachers seem to like them. But I'm not yet convinced it's a wise investment. One local school district is talking about incorporating my book into the eighth-grade curriculum--but that's because I know a teacher there, not because of my guide. They're costly, and arguably unnecessary. If you can design one yourself, all to the good. If not, ponder before you pay.

8. Website. You simply have to have this, of course. And it has to look gorgeous and professional, of course. Which means it has to cost you an arm and a leg, of course. Well, maybe. Some authors have nothing but their blog, and they're doing just fine. Others use cheap services ($5 per month or so) to host their site. I went all out, and while I'm certainly pleased with the result, I would not go so far as to say it's sold lots of books or given me name recognition. (Plus I wish I hadn't been talked into using Wordpress, which I absolutely HATE--it's so user-unfriendly and gives the supposed owner so little control.)

9. School and library visits. Unlike book fairs held at similar venues, here I'm talking about invited visits where you're the star, addressing the whole school or select classes. These are lots and lots of fun, and they're a wonderful way to interact with readers, schmooze teachers and librarians, and even sell some copies of your book. They also don't cost anything--except travel expenses--and they're very gratifying. All I would advise here is that you insist on being paid for them. Some writers, especially when they're just starting out, agree to do such visits for free; that's exactly what I did. The result is that you end up looking desperate, devaluing your precious time, and paying for whatever costs are associated with the visit out-of-pocket. Don't do this. Insist on a substantial fee (at least $250 per half-day visit). Many libraries won't have this money, and you can negotiate downward if you choose; most schools that host authors will have this money, but they'll be happy not to pay it if you let them. It's your job not to let them.

The bottom line in all of this is that you have to be smart about your promotional dollars. Most of us, no matter how hard we try, will not be best-sellers. Can you really afford to spend $12,000 (look at my previous marketing post if you don't believe me) on a book that will in all likelihood sell modestly? Wouldn't you rather save part of your advance (assuming you got one) or your retirement savings (assuming you have it) for, like, retirement? (Or a cruise, or a big-screen TV, or whatever?) By all means, go out and promote. But do it wisely.

And if anyone asks, tell 'em YA Guy told ya so.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

YA Guy Has... 5 Requests for Non-Writers!

Like most people who write books, the majority of YA Guy's friends and family aren't writers. This is a very cool thing in at least two ways: first, because the non-writers in my life are genuinely thrilled (or even amazed) that I've published books; and second, because they like to read what I've written. (Maybe third, because they keep me sane and remind me there's more to life than writing.) I pity the writer who's surrounded solely by other writers; that would be hell.

But I have to confess, there are some things I wish my non-writer friends and family understood about writing. I'm sure they wish people understood their professions better too; I'm sure doctors are tired of dispensing free medical advice, plumbers of frantic late-night calls, and so forth. It's hard to understand another's profession, especially when it seems so glamorous and unusual as being an AUTHOR.

That being said, here are five things that I'd like to ask my non-writer friends (but that I'm basically too chicken to say to their faces). If you're a writer, maybe you'll sympathize. If you're not, I hope at least you'll understand.

1. Please stop asking me how my book is doing. This is the number-one question friends and family (as well as casual acquaintances) have been asking me ever since SURVIVAL COLONY 9 was published four months ago. I can't answer it. I probably won't see a royalty statement until March, maybe not until June. Until then, the only numbers I have are pretty much worthless: point-of-sales information that's demonstrably flawed, rankings on Amazon, etc. I wish I knew how my book was doing, but I genuinely don't.

And the other problem with asking this question is: what am I going to say if my book is doing really badly? If it's a best-seller, presumably I'll know that, and I'll tell them. But what about if it's tanking? I know that when people ask this question, they're both interested in the response and hopeful that it'll be a positive one. But it puts me (and all writers) in an uncomfortable position; it's like asking anyone to talk about the success of their fledgling business, and that's a tough thing to talk about.

2. Please review my book where other people will see it. A lot of friends and family members have sent me personal notes or emails telling me they liked my book. Of course that's gratifying, and of course I'm thankful to them. But in terms of improving my book's prospects (see #1 above), it's not helpful. A single line on Amazon--"I loved this book!"--would be greatly appreciated, but it's very difficult to ask for. In fact, I have asked for it, on Facebook and via email and face-to-face, and only a tiny percentage of those I've asked have delivered it. I know it's not anyone else's job to promote my book, and I also know it's hard for non-writers to be asked to write. But it's one of the best ways to make sure that people beyond the writer's immediate circle of friends and family know about the book.

3. Please don't ask me when the next book's coming out. As with #1, this is something I simply don't know and over which I have minimal control. Thus, it's a question that's both difficult and a tad painful to answer. Yes, I've written other books since SURVIVAL COLONY 9; one of them is in an editor's hands, and I hope another will be soon. But I received a single-book offer the first time around, and there's no guarantee I'll receive another. Trust me, if/when I do, the entire universe will know; no need to ask.

4. Please understand that writing takes time and intense concentration. Which means that, sometimes, I'll be very busy and/or distracted. Because, for most writers, writing isn't a 9-to-5 job, it looks rather weird to people who are accustomed to shifting into non-work mode after quitting time. Depending on the phase of a project a writer's involved in, s/he might be completely unavailable for an extended period (for example, when her/his editor allows only a month for major revisions). Other times, it'll be more sporadic and unpredictable. But one way or another, the nature of writing as a profession requires very different rhythms and patterns than most people are accustomed to.

5. Please understand that though I'm a writer, I'm not ONLY a writer. Writing might be the most exciting thing happening in my life right now. (Or then again, it might not be.) And yes, I did just say in #4 that writing does to a large extent shape my life. But being a doctor shapes doctors' lives; being a cosmetician shapes cosmeticians' lives; being an anything shapes anyone's life. There will be times when I simply don't feel like talking about writing. Maybe that'll be because I'm struggling, or I've heard bad news, or whatever; maybe it'll be just because. Let me take a break from being a writer sometimes. Ask me about my children. Or my favorite movie. Or my opinion of fracking. (I think it's a really dangerous substitute for conventional fossil fuels that will lock us into a new fossil-fuel economy for another hundred years and thus forestall indefinitely a sustainable-energy future, thanks for asking.) I'm a writer, sure, but I'm also a person. Treat me like one, just as I treat you like one.

I fear that all of the above sounds whiny and ungrateful; it was merely meant to sound genuine. I hope non-writers don't take offense. And I hope that, the next time I see you, I can happily report on the sale of my next book, the movie option on the first, and the permanent defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Hey, it could happen, right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

YA Guy Says Goodbye... to the Fall Fourteeners!

YA Guy's debut year wouldn't have been half as much fun--or half as bearable--without a writers' group called the Fall Fourteeners.

The brainchild of my agency buddy Sarah J. Schmitt, the group--which included 14 debut YA authors, all of us with books due in or around Fall of this past year--provided opportunities for networking, celebrating, commiserating, brainstorming, back-patting, thumbs-upping, and everything else a debut author needs. (Trust me, we needed it: through Kirkus reviews, the collapse of a couple of our publishers, and other vicissitudes of the writing life, we REALLY needed it.) I also belonged to the much larger debut group OneFourKidLit, which was wonderful too. But the Fourteeners, being small, enabled me to forge even closer relationships with peers embarking on the same journey as I.

It being 2015, we're ringing down the curtain on the Fall Fourteeners as an official entity. If you haven't visited our website, check it out before it goes (sometime later this year). And if you want to track down our books, here's the complete alphabetical roster of our members, with links to their websites:

For anyone who's debuting in the next year or two, I strongly encourage you to join (or, if no existing group is available, create) a writers' group comparable to the Fall Fourteeners.

Though in my mind, of course, no group could ever compare to this one!

Friday, January 2, 2015

YA Guy Looks Forward to... Great Books in 2015!

Well, YA Guy's debut year has come and gone--but that doesn't mean I don't have lots to look forward to in 2015! Let's start with ten YA/MG books I'm super excited about, listed in order of their release!

Tom Isbell, The Prey. Amazing-sounding dystopian novel from one of the nicest guys (and best writers) I know. Release date: January 20.

Dianne Salerni, The Inquisitor's Mark. The sequel to the fantastic Middle Grade novel The Eighth Day. Release date: January 27.

Aisha Saeed, Written in the Stars. A terrific story from one of the leading young voices in the movement to diversify YA. Release date: March 24.

I. W. Gregorio, None of the Above. How many YA novels feature intersex characters? I'm really looking forward to this one! Release date: April 7.

Lynne Matson, Nil Unlocked. The sequel to the hugely entertaining Nil, one of my favorite books of 2014! Release date: May 12. 

Kelly Loy Gilbert, Conviction. One of the finest pure writers I've encountered in YA (or anywhere) with her debut novel about family and faith. Not to be missed. Release date: May 19.

Stephanie Oakes, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. A modern retelling of a Grimm fairy tale. I've been waiting on this one for a while! Release date: June 9.

Austin Aslan, The Girl at the Center of the World. If you loved The Islands at the End of the World (and who didn't?), you'll love this sequel, which I had the good fortune to read in manuscript. Release date: August 4.

Kat Ross, Some Fine Day. An environmental thriller set in a future world of super-storms called hypercanes. The collapse of Strange Chemistry delayed the release of this book in hard copy, but it's already out as an e-book and will be available in paperback February 17!

Sarah J. Schmitt, It's a Wonderful Death. Another near-casualty of Strange Chemistry's demise, this novel about resurrection was resurrected with the help of my agent, Liza Fleissig! I've been dying (no pun intended) to get my hands on this one! Release date: not set.

I've already pre-ordered most of the books on this list, and the first two are due in mere weeks. Ready... set... read!