Writing and marketing your novel: A glimpse from the trenches

August 2, 2010

Day 49 of 365

Books sold so far (as of the end of May 2010, which is my first official month – sales reports in this industry lag big time!): 157

In this issue:


  • Writing topic – Current events = your next plot idea
  • Marketing topic – It’s all about the follow through


Writing topic – Current events = your next plot idea


Since it’s the first of August, my June sales #s should have been in by now. But alas, they aren’t. Something about Ingram not having them out yet. So as I wait on pen caps and pencil tips, let’s just roll right into tonight’s writing topic.


The newspaper, or a publication’s online presence, is a treasure trove for us writers. Here’s a recent example about the billionaire brothers charged with fraud. They are heavily connected in the political world and their alleged scheme had been going on for 13 years. Boom, there’s a political thriller plot just dying to be written using the facts of that case as inspiration.


With a newspaper subscription, an Internet feed, or a trip to your local library, you’ll never have writer’s block again. I tend to think that writer’s block is just an excuse to go get lit at the bar and use some weak pick-up line on the ladies (“Will you help me breakthrough my writer’s block?” Or “I think I’ve found my muse. You must come back to my apartment and inspire me!”). Of course, I once used a version of the first line long ago in college (“Will you help me prove I’m not gay?”), but that’s a story for another time.


Back to the pressing issue at hand.  Newspapers are the Holy Grail for plot ideas. If you’re a novelist and you’re not reading the paper, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Reading the paper not only gives me fresh ideas to kick start the old noodle, but reading it is a good warm up to get my own writing going. Maybe that’s the reason why I’ve never had writer’s block. And, for goodness sake, if you find a good story in your newspaper, highlight the title, circle the article, cut it out and file it where you know where it is, or tape it up next to your monitor and REFER BACK TO IT over the course of your writing. Don’t just glance over the article, think about how good a similar plot could be and keep going. SAVE THE DARN THING! (I’ve just thought of another pick up line – “I’ve got a Washington Post, January 8, 1998 front page section back at my place. Want to see it?” Another winner! And ladies, I know what you’re thinking, but sorry, I’m taken.)


Your thoughts? Newspapers as inspiration? Writer’s block as bogus? Found a cure? Love my awesome pick up lines? Ladies and gentlemen, to the keyboards!


Marketing topic – It’s all about the follow through


So I did my signing at the Allen, Texas Borders book store on Friday night. I did the normal sending a news release to the local paper, I took posters to the store two weeks in advance and gave them 100 bookmarks to help promote the event, but I will tell you that none of the 14 people that bought books during the signing were there because of those promotions. I sold those 14 books because I was constantly walking around the store during the two hours I was there putting bookmarks in people’s hand, telling them where I was in the store and saying, “If you’re into thrillers, or you need a signed book as a gift, come by and check it out.” The gift part, I’ve come to find out, is how I sell about 20% of my books. Many people come to book stores to buy a gift. Some are there for themselves and then those nine words, ‘or you need a signed book as a gift’ trigger their memory (Oh, Uncle Joe’s birthday is coming up and he loves to read political thrillers. And I can get it signed to him!)


I’ve been to signings where the author just sits there, waiting for people to come to him. I’ve done it myself. It ain’t gonna happen. You are the only one who cares as much about your book as you do. No one else does. They will not fawn all over you because you are a writer. You need to sell each copy one at a time, to one reader at a time. George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air refers to people needing to be sharks and always moving, not swans just sitting there in life. I think that’s a great analogy for us writers at book signings. Be a shark. Always be moving and talking to people. Don’t just be a conceited swan sitting there waiting for people to come talk to you. They won’t.


Now, having said that, I also passed out about 100 bookmarks over the course of those two hours, so while most of those folks didn’t buy a book, they have something with my face, name, website, and a description about the book that they will look at every time they open the book they are reading at the moment. That might inspire them to come back at a later time and buy a copy at the store or online, or download the ebook version. Either way, I had an opportunity to get my message to 100 people, for next to nothing (the cost of 100 bookmarks is around $3) And of those 100 people, 14 bought books. So, for $3 I sold 14 books. And that’s if no one else buy a book. Not a bad ROI.   


The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,

rest easy tonight my friends, but stay hungry tomorrow…  



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