Finding readers where you'd least expect

If you take a look at my Feedly list of blogs, most of them are exactly what you'd expect a writer/agent to have. Lots of writers, reviewers, and industry professionals. But then you'd find a whole slew of other blogs that have nothing to do with any of those topics. Blogs that focus on things like parenting, money saving tips, and home schooling. Not exactly publishing related.

But it may surprise you to know that these are exactly the kinds of blogs you should be on the look out for when it comes time to promoting your work. That's because readers aren't just readers. They are snow skiers, baseball fanatics, quilters, home brewers, and everything in between. So why not target these blogs and publications for a little book promotion.

They key of marketing to these audiences is to remember they aren't looking for marketing. Say what? It's simple, a magazine for knitters isn't going to run a book review or press release style article about your book, even if your main character is an avid knitter. However, let's say you taught yourself how to knit watching internet videos in order to build a life-like character. Now that's a story.

"Woman goes from Nitwit Knitter to Pro-Purler thanks to the Internet". You can talk all about the hours spent browsing the web for videos that made sense and how your character became more lifelike the better you got. Now, you have something a magazine can run with and you've drawn their readers into your story, without any of the traditional marketing copy usually found in blog tours and review sites.

Every story has connections like this, but it might take a bit more digging than a main character who likes to knit. Here's a list to get the brainstorming started:

1. What are your characters hobbies?
2. Do any of your characters have disabilities or diseases?
3. What kind of technology is present in your novel?
4. Are there any landmarks in your book?
5. Do any of your characters own unusual items such as antiques or collectables?
6. What kind of cars do your characters drive?
7. What kind of clothes do your characters wear?
8. Do any of your characters have a dialect?
9. What do your characters do for a living? or what do they want to do for a living?
10. Is there any historical significance in your book?
11. Do you use any mythology or religious themes in your novel?
12. Are there any animals in your book?
13. Does food play a factor in your manuscript?
14. What was the inspiration behind your plot, premise or characters?
15. Is there any symbolism in your book?

Hopefully, that list has your gears turning. I suggest you sit down and make a long list of all the different spider web ties that could be connected to your book. Identify the ones that are most likely to lead to people interested in your book and find a few websites or publications you can contact.

There are plenty of websites and publications dedicated to literature lovers, but most readers will hear about you from somewhere else. By looking where you least expect, you never know where your next fan will come from. 

Agency Lessons: Love the one you're with

Agent preferences are a great way to find your perfect agent, but they aren't the final word.
Have you seen #MSWL over on twitter? If not, and you're a querying writer, it's definitely worth the check. Agents and editors share their own ManuScript Wish List filled with all the things they are looking for right now.

This can be a great way to get a bit more insight into what agents want to see, but it can also be dangerous. #MSWL and preferences aren't the final word. Agents are just like readers. We have our favorites but that doesn't mean something new can't surprise us.

For example, I state in my preferences that contemporary isn't my favorite, but I'd never say not to send it to me. I never know when something is going to surprise me and be exactly what I didn't know I was looking for. Unless an agent specifically states there is a genre or subject they don't want to see, it doesn't hurt to query them.

That said, do keep in mind that you are looking for a business partner. If an agent currently only represents adult romance, it's unlikely they have the connections to the right editors to sell your MG space opera.

Another thing to keep in mind with preferences and wish lists is that agents aren't sending in an order for manuscripts. I'll often hear authors lament that although an agent said they were looking for a YA urban fantasy about monkeys from space, they got a rejection on their space monkey manuscript. Their conclusion being the agent lied.

Remember that there is so much more to a manuscript than it's genre and premise. Things like tone, narrator, voice, pacing and a laundry list of other aspects go into each novel. Way too many descriptions for an agent to put into a bio paragraph or tweet.

So what does this mean for writers still in the query trenches? Don't ignore wish lists as they can be a great way to find agents who might not have normally popped up in your search. But don't rely on matching up with an agents preferences as an automatic in. At the end of the day every agent and editor is looking for the same thing: a fantastic manuscript readers can fall in love with.

Promotion Overload

The online writing community rocks, right? I love how supportive everyone is and the willingness of writers to "share" their online space so other writers can promote their work. We all know how helpful it is to get our work in front of a new audience.
I love writers helping writers!

But is there such a thing as being too helpful?

As a reader of blogs, I have my favorites. Other writers and agents who offer something I find valuable. And I enjoy visiting these blogs to find occasional guest posts, cover reveals and tour stops. But when this "other" content starts to take over a blog, I miss the value that drew me to a blog in the first place. And over the course of time, a favorite blog can become a forgotten blog.

So how do you stay an active, helpful member of the community without alienating your own audience? When it comes to external content, it all comes down to Quantity and Quality.

It's really up to you on how often to include external content on your blog. The key is to decide and make a plan. You might pick a day of the week as open to others. Another option is to set a number of posts per month for promoting others. No matter how you decide it, stick to your guns. There are always going to be writers looking for places to promote their work. Bending the limit can create a landslide that sets your blog on the path of becoming a billboard.

I'm not talking about how good the guest content is written, but how good it is for your readers. Think about the genre and age you focus on, but also on your niche. This means making sure that a guest post of tour stop provides the kind of content your readers are looking for. Don't be afraid to ask guest posters to tailor their topic to your blog. Tweet this!

For example, while I'm happy to let others promote their books here, I ask guests to write content that focuses on their marketing efforts. It allows them to talk about their work and provides my readers with helpful information that can aide in their own marketing efforts. Hello, win-win.

So don't stop being an awesome member of this amazing community. Just know the appropriate quantity and quality to share with your readers.

Five tips for snagging a book review

First, sorry for the sparse posting lately. I'm officially on vacation, but we all know how that really works. I'll be back at the end of July. Until then, expect random posts (or don't, and then it will be a surprise when one pops up).

Today, I want to talk about review bloggers. These fabulous bloggers are at the heartbeat of the writing community. They are avid readers, know what's new, what's hot and what's not and (depending on audience) can have a massive effect on your book sales.

One of the things I hear too often is that it's too hard to get reviewers to pay attention to a new writer. I wish I had a nickle for every time someone said I asked a million reviewers to read my book, but no one did.

And while it's true that reviewers are swamped with requests and many books never get read, there are plenty of things you can do to help your book catch the eye of the ladies and men who have the ear of the book world. Here are my top five tips for snagging a book review. Tweet This!

1. Get Specific
A good reviewer is going to list their genre and age preferences on their site, probably in the same place they list their submission guidelines. I don't need to tell you these guidelines must be followed to perfection, do I? These genre preferences are a great place to start when deciding who to send requests to, but don't stop there. Take a look at what kind of books are popping up the most on the site. A reviewer might list fantasy as an acceptable genre, but if she hasn't reviewed one in the past six months, she's probably not your target anymore.

I can already hear the complaint at this point. But Sarah, I don't have time to sit and read every reviewer's archive. I've got books to write and promote. I hear you, and to that I say, too bad. You are asking a reviewer to donate at least 6 hours of their time to read your book, plus another hour or two to write a thoughtful review. In exchange they get your $9.99 book. That's peasant wages for the work they put in. Reading through six months of archives won't kill you.

Let me add here this means you need to start early, really early. Like, as soon as you know your book is going to be published kinda early. If you give yourself several months to review blog sites, you can spread it out and not feel so rushed.

2. Share the comment love
While you're out there reading through the archives, be sure to leave a comment on some of those reviews. Bloggers love comments. It's how we know someone is listening. We know who our frequent commenters are and consider them our friends. People like to help their friends. Tweet This!

A word of caution here. Do not use a gorilla warfare strategy for commenting. You can't rush to a site, leave a dozen comments on random posts and then send a review request the next day. This isn't making a friend; this is spamming. You need to spread out your comments, become a member of the community, genuinely get to know the reviewer.

Does this mean you'll need to become a repeat visitor to these sites? Yep! But don't you want to do that anyway. After all, you're asking this reviewer to help you promote your work. Don't you want to know what kind of site it is.

3. Spread the word
So you're reading through those archives and come across a review that makes you laugh, stop and think, or nod your head in agreement. Great! Help a reviewer out by sharing the post on your social media sites.

This is the easiest task and takes less than a minute. Most review blogs are already set up with easy share buttons that let you post directly to Twitter, FB, etc without more than a click or two.

Not only does this go a long way toward building a relationship with a reviewer, it helps them to grow their audience. Since you're going to ask them to review your book soon, it's a no-brainer that you want them to have a large audience. Being a friend is a win-win.

4. Start a conversation
When you share someone else's review, don't be surprised if you get a nice thank you in response. This is the perfect opportunity for you to start a conversation without stepping too far out of your comfort zone.

You both love books, so you know right where to start. Ask them if they've read any other books by the author you shared. Ask about other books in that genre they can recommend. Share your favorite scene from the book. Anything can be a great starting place for a conversation. Be careful though, before you know it you might have a real relationship going on. :)

A word of caution, this is not the time to talk about your own book, no even casually. Unless the reviewer specifically asks you if you write, you should keep these early conversations focused on other authors' work. No one wants to be pitched on social media, not even a little. Tweet This!

5. Use your connections
Now that you've left comments, shared reviews and started up a conversation, you have successfully become an online friend (or at least an acquaintance). Now it's okay to ask for help. Go ahead and send that official submission (following the guidelines, but I don't have to tell you that). Don't make the mistake of thinking because you're friends, you can skip the official channels. However, it is okay to send a note to a friend and let them know you sent them a request.

Once your new friend has agreed to read your book, it's also appropriate to ask your new friend if they know of other reviewers who might enjoy your book. This is called networking and can be your best friend.

One last word of caution, once your new friend agrees to review your book, it is NOT okay to ditch them. I should hope you don't want to do this. But even if the thought crossed your mind, forget it. I'm not saying you need to go comment on all their posts, but popping in once a week or so will go a long way. After all, you plan to write more than one book, right?

The Value of Professional Opinions

Right now is a great time to be in the world of publishing. There are a half a gagillion ways to bring your books to readers. And I'm not just talking indie versus traditional. We have a resurgence of episodic novels, blogged novels, graphic novels, and options that are only limited by what creative people can dream. With this massive conglomeration of options comes an exponential amount of professional opinions in how to maximize on all these opportunities. Choosing the right advice can be like picking the shiniest side of a diamond.

Oh! Shiny! source
So here are my two tips for wading through all the roads of paved gold advice.

1. Validate "professional"
The ease of publishing information out there in the wide web is a double edged sword. You can really find anything you might want to know. Someone, somewhere has a site or post sharing exactly what you need. But with that mass of information is the ability for anyone to post anything.

The writing community is amazing and I doubt people would purposely mislead others with bad information. That said, there will be individuals who dispense information without the appropriate experience or knowledge. While shared with the best of intentions, taking advice from someone without the credentials to back it up can lead even the best of us astray.

Let me add here that credentials in the publishing world don't come from fancy degrees or even prestigious titles. In this industry, professionals earn their standing through time, effort, hard work and paying their "dues". An unpublished writer who's spent years in the query trenches can have just as valuable advice to offer as a successful bestseller.

2. There isn't a single right opinion
It wouldn't take you very long to find two conflicting pieces of advice out there from two people who pass the "professional" test from tip #1. It doesn't mean that one opinion is right and one is wrong. It does mean you have multiple options.

Let me be the first to say that it's perfectly okay to disagree with any advice I dispense. The truth is, something I suggest here might be the exact opposite of what you should do. And it might be perfect for someone else. Just like there is no one right way to publish your book, there's no one right way to plan it, write it, edit it, or market it. 

What does this mean for you? On the downside, you can't find a single website and get the perfect formula for everything you need to know about publishing. On the positive, you can pick and choose the best advice that makes sense to you and ignore the rest.

So don't be afraid of disagreeing with someone or carving your own path, even if it takes you in the opposite direction of the norm. Because the "norm" of publishing doesn't exist anymore.

Cover Designs: Is input really a good thing?

If you are a regular reader you know that I exude equal love for traditional, small press and indie publishing. As long as you treat it professionally, I could care less how your book is published. However, one of the arguments I've been seeing lots is that authors would never go traditional because they don't get the final say in their cover design.

Free template from
I enjoyed a recent online conversation about this topic after Polly Courtney announced she would not take another traditional publishing deal. She expressed dissatisfaction about her covers and went so far as to call them "frivolous". I don't know what that means in regards to her covers, but I can only assume she didn't like them.

I completely understand a desire to be a part of the process, but I don't understand a desire to be the decision maker when it comes to something like a cover.

Here's why. I studied marketing in school. Part of my curriculum was visual communication (understanding what the human eye is attracted to and why). And even with this education, I don't know what makes a great book cover. I have ideas and I've certainly seen enough covers to get an idea of what I like and what I don't like. But I don't have the experience, training, or market research to know if a cover should have a blue font or a green font.

That's a dummed down example, but work with me here.

The designers hired by publishers are basing their designs off years of experience designing books AND finding out what works and what doesn't. Is this something you are doing? Are you comparing the purchase data for different types of covers across different genres and age groups? Because, your publisher (if they are doing their job) is. They go to great lengths to market test covers, get feedback and analyze the impact of a cover on reader purchase decisions. While they may not do this for your particular book, they probably have done it with books similar to yours.

The result is that their cover is based, not on just what someone thinks looks nice, but what they believe will get you more readers. After all, that's the point of a cover. If they didn't impact buying decisions, all books would be printed with a plain brown cover.

I'm not saying this to scare anyone off from self-publishing. However, if you are going the indie route I recommend two things when it comes to your cover.

Spend the extra money and make sure you are working with someone who knows what they are doing with books. Any graphic artist can make you a cover. Find someone who specializes in book covers. Make sure they understand the different cover needs for an ebook and paperbook. Ask them if they chart the bestsellers and track current trends in book covers (yes, covers have trends, just like genres). There are some amazing designers out there who know what they are doing. Hire these guys and not just someone who'll slap a CC licensed image on a cloud background and call it a day.

And then, once you've hired this professional, trust them to do their job. Unless you have a degree in visual marketing and/or gathered extensive market research on book covers, you probably aren't the best person to decide on the cover of your book. Provide them with what you visualize, the central themes of your book and anything you definitely want to avoid and then step back.

If you've done your research and hired a professional, you should end up with a cover that does it's job, attracting readers. It may not be exactly what you had in mind, but unless you hate it, trust that you hired a designer that knows what they are doing.

The same reasoning extends to working with a publisher. They aren't going to intentionally tank your book. Remember, they want you book to succeed just as much as you AND they've put their money on the line betting that it will succeed. Part of that means giving your book a cover they think will attract readers. It might not be what you would have picked, but that doesn't mean it isn't the right cover for your book.

As writers, it can be hard to give up control when it comes to any aspect of our babies. But sometimes, that's exactly what we need to do to give our work the chance it needs to be amazing.