11 Tips and Insights for Marketing, Publishing (and Selling) Your Memoir in 2011

by Kendra Bonnett on January 10, 2011

Book Business PaperclipPost #63 – Women’s Memoirs, Book Business – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

memoir-book-publishing-and-marketing-1With apologies to Mark Twain, reports of the death of books, traditional publishing and reading have been greatly exaggerated. This is the conclusion I’ve come to after a week of reading, analysis and website browsing.

For the past nine days, Matilda and I–along with our terrific lineup of guest bloggers–have given you lists of tips to inspire, prompt and motivate. Matilda suggested that I post on publishing and book marketing. Well how hard could that be? After all, it’s a topic I write about often enough.

Ha! I started looking for some fresh material to share with you all. And, well, one thing led to another. One website usually took me to three or four more. Next thing I knew, I was using my iPad to sign up for all kinds of services and even downloading ebooks from every service I could find. Imagine a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up speed and more snow along the way. Either the topic or I was out of control…and maybe both.

Originally I was to post this last Friday. But the more I dug into the topic, the more I found to report on. To steal from another favorite author of mine (sorry Charles)…It IS the best of times, it IS the worst of times to be publishing a book. So much in the publishing world is in flux:

  • Greater competition to get a traditional publisher…but more alternatives than ever before
  • More books than ever vying for limited shelf space in bookstores…but more and more people are buying online
  • Independent bookstores continuing to close…but brick and mortar shops are teaming up with online services
  • Declining or, at best, flat book sales…actually that may not be true if you factor in all the alternative resources
  • A dizzying array of technologies (hardware, software, cyberspace)…and a wealth of new categories and concepts in online services popping up everywhere

What’s an aspiring author to do? Start by reading my 11 tips below. I’ve tried to lay out a formula for getting published. Obviously, in the space I have here, I can only touch the surface. So I’ll be following this up with the first in a series of ebooks designed to help you get published, market your book and get sales. We’ll be announcing more about that in the weeks to come. For now…

Let’s get started.

#1 Build a Community–More than a million books were published in 2009…almost double the number from 2008. Sounds good until you realize that the number of books produced by traditional publishers remained flat. Two thirds of the books are self-published. I don’t know how many, but you can be sure that a lot of the authors who eventually self-published first tried to get a traditional publisher. In other words, the competition is fierce. To succeed, you need a superior product–a book manuscript that is well-conceived, well-written and edited. And you need to build a following. Call it a platform or a community, you need an audience of likely readers.

Most people get hung up on the platform building. I say be creative. If your memoir is about being the caregiver to an aging parent, make your blog about resources for caregivers. If your memoir is about the two years you lived in China, build your website around travel tips to China. If you’re writing about surviving spousal abuse, divorce or child abuse, you can turn your site into a forum for these issues. The key is NOT to cannibalize your book content.

#2 Get Your SEO On–It’s not enough to have a blog or website. Your prospective audience must be able to find you. Here’s a statistic from 2007: 62 percent of people searching a topic click on a link on the first page of Google. I know I don’t go much past page two. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical to getting your site to come up on page one. Most important, make sure you are building your search strategy around the words/topics that your prospective readers are actually searching on most often…and that’s probably not your book title.

#3 Build a List of Readers–If you are really trying to dazzle a publisher with your marketing strategy, you need to go beyond a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account and a blog. You need a list of readers who have demonstrated their commitment by giving you their names and email addresses. There are dozens of techniques for building a list, and I’ll cover these in my ebook. For now let me suggest that a list is not some precious thing that you don’t dare touch…for fear the person will ask to be taken off your list. If someone is not willing to receive occasional emails from you, they’re probably not a good prospect to become a paying reader. Let them leave; you don’t need tire kickers taking up room on your list. Keep your list “warm” by mailing to people regularly…clean out the dead wood.

memoir-book-publishing-and-marketing-2#4 Dazzle `em with Your Book Proposal–Just as your manuscript has to be good, so too you need a first-rate book proposal. You can find all sorts of templates and free downloads that will guide you through the proposal process. Of all the sections you need to include, focus on the summary, the marketing plan and your cover letter. The cover letter is the first (and often the only) opportunity you have to sell a publisher on your manuscript. Make it sing. Make it interesting. Prove to the publisher that you know how to write and how to hold a reader’s attention. And if your cover letter gets them to open your proposal, you have one more opportunity to show off your talent…that’s the book summary. This is not the time to be pedestrian. And finally, if you still have the publisher’s attention, he/she is going to turn directly to your marketing plan. She’ll want to know how she’s going to make money with your book.

Here’s something interesting that probably bears watching: R.R. Bowker has a new service called Bowker Manuscript Submissions that allows you to submit your proposal to multiple publishers. I think it’s an interesting concept: For $99, you post your book proposal for up to six months for all subscribing publishers to review. Supposedly, this is something that publishers pressed Bowker to implement, but at the moment only about 30 publishers are using the service.

#5 Look to the Indies–Everyone dreams of a landing a big publisher. But with competition being so fierce, it’s best to create a three-to -five-year plan for yourself. For your first book, find a small, independent publisher that specializes in your subject or genre. You’re going to have to win them over with the quality of your manuscript, a marketing platform and a dazzling proposal and cover letter. Once you get your book published, market it aggressively…rack up some decent sales. Then take your second or third book to a larger publisher. You’ll have a much better chance of landing the big fish once you’ve proven yourself. Here’s a big list of independent publishers that will get you started.

#6 Go Straight to the Publisher–Just as I wouldn’t start by trying to break in with a big publisher, neither would I spend a lot of time trying to get a book agent. Be your own agent. Most small, independent publishers are willing to receive your inquiries directly. You probably won’t be negotiating for much of (if any) advance so you don’t need an agent for that. What you will need is an attorney that specializes in media law. Hire an attorney to read your contract and advise you on potential problems (e.g., electronic rights) and royalty arrangements. I’m not saying agents don’t have their place, but wait until you are ready to go after that large publisher. You’ll have a track record, which gives the agent more to work with. I was doing a little research on agents when I found this page posted by agent Janet Reid. Check out her “Statistics to torture yourself with in 2010.”

#7 Go Slow with the Self-Publishing Plans–Remember, even that most ardent proponent of the Self-Made Man, Horatio Alger, had a publisher (A.K. Loring). I’m not a big fan of self-publishing, and I certainly want to steer you away from vanity presses. If you have to pay to get your manuscript read or printed, you’re talking with either a service provider or vanity press. Now let me qualify that statement. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing if you are going to set up your own small publishing company. If the challenge of marketing and selling your book is going to fall largely on you, you might as well earn the majority of the money too. That said, there is a lot that goes into producing a book. If you go with a small publisher for your first book, you can learn by watching. You’ll see the process, which will help when you decide to go out on your own. Remember two thirds of the books being produced today are self-published. If you’re going to compete, know what you are doing so you’ll come out on top.

#8 Have You Thought of eBooks–I confess that one of the reasons I spent so much time studying the market before writing this post is that I discovered the ebook. Many of us give away “ebooks” on our websites as a way to build our lists. These are different than the book-length ebooks turning up everywhere. And I mean everywhere: If you want to see how big this is, visit  Amazon Kindle ebooks, Apple iBookstore (iTunes), Barnes and Noble NOOKbooks, Google eBookstore, Smashwords, Vook and Project Gutenberg. It is a revolution, and it’s about all that the publishers are talking about. How fast will ebooks replace print books? Do we simply release digital versions of our books or do we create enhanced ebooks with video, audio and interactive elements? How do we price our ebooks? How do we make money on ebooks?

Ebooks are in the process of changing the book forever. How quickly? Most experts say five to ten years. I’m not so sure we have that long. Ebooks were 5 percent of sales in the first quarter of 2010 (Book Industry Study Group) but 9 percent of consumer sales in Fall 2010 (Association of American Publishers). This past July, Amazon shocked everyone when they announced that their ebook sales had outpaced hardcover sales. I have a lot more to say on this subject that I’m reserving for my ebook. I don’t think the first-time author should necessarily be looking to go straight to ebook today. Get established through print first; maybe follow up with a Kindle version. Let the industry coalesce a bit. Use the time to learn what you like and don’t like about different ebook formats.

#9 Look to the Internet for Distribution–As fast as brick and mortar bookstores shutter their doors, new outlets open online. Smashwords and Amazon are huge distributors for ebooks. At the same time, Print on Demand is still alive and well. What this means is that capital investment in inventory is less of a challenge for publishers–large or small. The online model is opening up all manner of alternative bookstores. There’s a trend toward the social bookstore, which combines social networking, peer recommendations and book sales. Goodreads is a social bookshelf site that’s been around for several years. I’ve noticed that they are beginning to build relationships with online book sellers. Another is Copia. We think of reading as a very personal, solitary activity. Will people want to start talking about their reading, comparing notes, and creating some giant online book club? The jury is still out on all this. One thing we do know is that Amazon has been very successful with their peer review process. Maybe it will come down to “whom” rather than “if.”

Then too, here are two sites that have been around for some time. Both have social components and offer interesting ways to promote your work: Scribd and Podiobooks. I’ll have a lot more to say about alternative distribution in my ebook.

#10 Forget About eReaders–What I’m really saying is don’t worry too much about brand. Christmas 2010 was all about eReaders. As many as 5 million eReaders were activated in the days after Christmas. Barnes and Noble reports that it sold 1 million ebooks on Christmas Day. And at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, no fewer than 100 new tablets are being displayed. So what do you buy? iPad, Kindle, Nook? I don’t think it matters because the hardware is fast becoming less important than the software. I have an iPad, but I can buy and download Kindle books and NOOKbooks, to name just two. In fact, over the weekend I downloaded seven different readers to my iPad, including an Audible.com version that manages my audiobook library. The better question is do you want a dedicated reader or a versatile tablet? And be prepared for the prices of these devices to continue to fall.

#11 Build An Online Bookstore–I want to bring these tips full circle…back to my original imperative…to build a community or platform for your book. I encouraged you to be creative with your blog content…to build a site that reaches your prospective audience of readers without cannibalizing your book content. Maybe rather than building a following around content, you decide to reach your market by creating an online bookstore that specializes in a subject or genre that is similar to your own. If you write travel memoirs, could you build an online bookstore of travel memoirs? I think you could provided you take full advantage of social media to market and promote the concept. My advice, however, is start early. Give your community time to grow (at least nine months)…time to get your site on page one of Google…time to win over readers.

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