A New Crop of Writers

I’ve been helping a new crop of writers get a toehold in the social networking world, and many are already discouraged because they are not getting immediate results. Social networking is not like advertising. It’s like . . . hmmm, let me think . . . It’s like going to a movie theater and trying to sell your books to the people around you when all they want to do is watch the movie. Even worse, there are other writers in the theater trying to do the same thing you are, so the viewers are not just focused on the movie, they are purposely shutting out everything else. The challenge is to get their attention and make them more interested in you and your book than in the movie.

That’s what I never figured out — how to grab people’s attention online long enough for them to buy a book. Some people have bought my books, of course, and many of these people have become good friends, which has its own rewards. In fact, a couple of years ago when I realized that the vast majority of my almost 5000 Facebook connections had zero interest in me and only wanted to peddle their own books, I culled my list to a more manageable number. I still don’t know most of the people I’m “friends” with, but there is a growing number of people I do know, which makes Facebook seem so much friendlier. But my books are still slowly fading into obscurity.

The problem with using social media for book marketing is that the majority of the people I’m connected to are other authors. Authors do buy books, but mostly, they are trying to sell their own books. Readers buy books, of course, but generally they read the same authors they have always read (don’t get me started on James Patterson!) with a couple of new authors thrown in to season the pot.

Whenever a book goes major big time like 50 Shades of Gray, it goes big because non-readers buy it. Which means we can’t promote to other authors and we can’t promote readers, so we need to promote to non-readers, who, of course, will not pay attention because . . . they don’t read unless a book goes big.

That is the conundrum I have struggled with for seven years. The best thing, of course, would be if I were the first (or even second) to try something new. The first guy who promoted his books on FB sold a lot of books, but he made his fortune with his subsequent book on how to make a fortune selling books via Facebook.

It’s hard to explain all this to newly published authors. And I don’t really want to, anyway. One of the new crop might be able to figure out a fabulous new idea for promoting that I can steal!

Meantime, I’m doing interviews with these authors on my Pat Bertram Introduces . . . blog. Feel free to join the fun!


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What to Charge for Social Networking

Someone just contacted me and asked how much I would charge to promote his books. Funny, that. Because I am so prevalent on the internet (or at least I was; recently, I’ve been curtailing my online activities), people think I know how to market, but I haven’t a clue. If I did, my books wouldn’t still be languishing in unbestsellerdom.

Spending time on the internet — researching, blogging, networking — takes so much time and expertise that there doesn’t seem money enough to charge for all the work and aggravation, and yet, considering my dismal results, any amount I’d charge would be too much.

According to my research, “the biggest factor in how much you can charge is your work experience. If you’re new to the working world, you might want to stick with $15-$40/hour. If you have five years of professional experience under your belt, transition into the $45-$75 range, and if you have more than five years experience, you can usually get away with charging $80-$100 or more.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But getting results is something else entirely. For a business, perhaps a local car repair place, any social networking is good. You find Facebook groups in the town and post occasional updates. You start your own Facebook page, and maybe promote it to people in your area. (FB can target such a localized audience.) You start a blog about car repairs, telling people the sort of thing to look for in a repair shop or giving them hints about troubleshooting and how much certain repairs should cost. You can twitter bits of car information, get people to post reviews on car sites, comment on other car sites, sign up for LinkedIn, perhaps, and try to network with people in your area. Whatever you do online helps because it keeps your name in front of people so they think of you when they need someone to work on their car.

As you can see, if you have a booksspecific business with a specific type of person you need to target, it’s a lot easier to social network than if you are trying to sell one book in a stack of millions of books similar to yours. Writers are always told to find their target audience, but the truth is, novels that go viral sell to people who have seldom bought a book before, so it’s impossible to target them. Targeting readers in your genre (especially if you don’t have a clearly defined genre as I do) is even more difficult. Readers already have piles of books they bought and want to read. They are not necessarily looking for another book to add to their backlog, so targeting such an audience, even if you know where to find it, is hard. (Except perhaps for romance readers. They seem to be voracious consumers of novels, especially titillating stories. Too bad I have no interest in romance.)

Even though I have a lot of experience in blogging and social networking, I wouldn’t hire me, that’s for sure. On the other hand, I know authors who hired an expensive publicist, and they ended up not selling enough books to pay the publicist’s bill, so the high-profile publicist didn’t get any better results than I do.

And if I did know how to get results? I still wouldn’t accept his offer. I’d be so busy banking money from my royalties, I wouldn’t have time to do his work.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Writing, Blogging, Promoting — My Aha Moment

Fellow author Dale Cozort recently returned from agent Donald Maass’s High Tension Workshop. (Okay, it wasn’t recently —  it was back in April, but who’s counting?) Cozort reported that according to Maass, the keys to keeping modern readers’ interest are finding something fresh — a different way of looking at events — and finding ways of getting the reader to identify with the character or with the scene.

According to The Everything Blogging Book by Aliza Sherman Risdahl, the key to keeping blog readers’ interest is “Taking hobbies and interests and finding a different way of looking and talking about them.”

In a recent comment, blogger extraordinaire and my marketing guru Sia McKye wrote, “There’s only so many ways to market things. If you observe, market and promotion tend to follow certain patterns. That’s because those ways work.” This seems a bit depressing to me. If everyone is doing the same things, then how does anyone ever stand out in a crowd?

Then I had my aha moment. If the key to writing is to find a different way of looking at things, and if the key to blogging is to find a different way of looking at things, then obviously, the key to promotion is to find a different way of looking at things. I know this syllogism would never pass muster in a logic class, but there is little logic to be found in writing, blogging, and promotion. Hence, at least in my mind, the conclusion works.

I am aware that those of us who are published by small independent presses are at a disadvantage when it comes to selling books. The publishing corporations and the major independent publishers use resources to which we have no access. Still, I have never been one to let such minor considerations get in the way of my dreams, and I intend to do everything I can to become unobscure.

So the question arises — how does one find a different way of looking at those promotion and marketing patterns? I’m sure you will be as glad as I am when I hit upon the solution. At least you won’t have to listen to my constant yammering about finding ways to promote.

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Catapulting Me Into BetterSellerdom

In the past week, I received a couple of emails from people asking my advice on how to promote various online activities, I received an invitation to host a seminar on promotion, and I received an invitation to participate in a BlogTalkRadio discussion about creating a successful Facebook group. Apparently, I’m making a name for myself, (albeit slowly) but not as an author. Am I doing something right? Am I going about my self-promotion in the wrong way? I don’t know.

The interesting thing — to me, anyway — is that contrary to appearances, I still don’t know much about promotion. Sure, I am creating a presence on Facebook, I’m playing around with GoodReads, I blog and tweet. I’m even going to do a presentation at the local library about the brave new world of publishing. But those are the same things everyone else is doing, and I know that to be effective, promotion has to be creative, unique, and personal.

The odds of selling a truckload of books are miniscule to none, but I have never played the odds. I’m not giving up on my first books — A Spark of Heavenly Fire and More Deaths Than One — but in the next couple of weeks my third book — Daughter Am I — will be released, and I will need to figure out how to promote it. And who to promote it to.

When Mary Stuart, my twenty-five-year-old hero, discovers she inherited a farm from her murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she sets out on a journey to find out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. So is this a book that will appeal to readers in their twenties and thirties? Maybe. Along the way, Mary accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians — former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. So is this a book that will appeal older readers? Perhaps. Mary also meets and falls in love with Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. So is this a book that will appeal to romance readers? Probably not. There is no real romantic conflict in the book. The conflict belongs more in the mystery category, because Mary, Tim, and the octogenarians need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret. So is this a book that will appeal to mystery lovers? Could be.

If I had to do it over again, I would probably be more careful to write books that fit a particular genre to make them easier to promote. Oh, hell, who am I trying to kid. If I had to do it over, I’d write the exact same books. I like telling stories the way they should be told, without adhering to the boundaries of genre or niche marketing.

So, until I come up with a creative, unique, and personal idea of how to catapult me into bestsellerdom (or even bettersellerdom) it’s a matter of continuing to make a name for myself. Even if it is as a promoter.

If you want to know what I know about promotion, check out Book Marketing Floozy. Everything I know about marketing I got from there.

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Puzzling Out Promotion

Writing means many things to many people. It is like a mythic journey into self, other lands, other minds. It is like archeology, like exorcising demons, like channeling, like performance, like a faucet. It is like having an adventure. It is uniquely human, and it brings out the divine in us. It is breathing, a compulsion, a necessity, a reason for living, an obsession, a fun pastime. It is exhilarating and frustrating. It is liberating. And it is like comfort food, chocolate, and cherries. It is like magic.

Because of this mystic connection to their words, other writers don’t seem to understand why I can stop writing to promote my newly published books. For me, writing is like the world’s longest crossword puzzle, one that takes a year to complete. I like playing with words, finding their rhythm, and getting them to behave the way I want. I like being able to take those words and create ideas, characters, and emotions. Amazing when you think about it, how we can juggle twenty-six symbols in different ways to create words, sentences, paragraphs, worlds. And what one person writes, another can read.  (more . . . )

(This article was originally published and is published in full on Vince Gotera’s blog, The Man With the Blue Guitar.)

As a Writer, Where and How Are You Dropping Your Pebbles?

My guest blogger today is marketing consultant Sia McKye. McKye writes:

I’m a reflective person by nature.  I think about many things in life.  Look for lessons and ways to make things better for me and mine.  To me, life is like a giant puzzle made of pebbles.  Sometimes it’s comprised of hard labor.  Other times, the fun is in seeing how to work all the pieces tossed at us, and make a picture of it.  Don’t like those particular pieces? Rearrange them.   I’m also an optimist but with my feet firmly planted in reality.  I know if I work at it hard enough, think it through, I’ll find a way.  And so it is with my writing.

To be a writer is rather solitary.  We pour our hearts and souls into our writing–our characters, our created world.  They’re part of us, aren’t they?  When someone rejects that, of course we feel it AND feel they’re rejecting us. On one level that’s true, but we have to learn to compartmentalize, or we’re dead in the water.  We have to have tough Rhino skin or we’re not going to survive.  And yah, it sucks.

As with most of the entertainment/arts groups, publishing is a tough playing field to break into.  A key element to be a success in any field is to be focused, working at perfecting your skills, and believing in yourself and your abilities.

I think about authors like Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, and Catherine Coulter.  They all started out with Harlequin and or Silhouette.  Many curled their lips at books from Harlequin.   Whether it’s a lightweight romance publisher, or POD and E-book publishers-who cares where you start, so long as you start? I believe these authors honed their story telling skills and learned what readers like and didn’t like, and built a readership base in these forums. And who are we to curl our lips, or diminish the worth of an author that makes those choices? Now, these authors are now regularly on the Best Sellers lists.

Singers start out playing local, market themselves aggressively, and get their names out there.  How?  Singers play for anyone that lets them sing.  Bars, lounges, you name it.  Actors do the same with local theatre, and work their way up. They network like crazy.  Are you doing that as a writer? 

Pebble in the pool effect.   Think about American idol.  These singers are looking for shortcuts and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but even the shortcuts come with fierce competition.  As authors, we do contests too, so we can relate.

What’s important here is: if the pebble isn’t first dropped into a pool of water, no ripples happen.  The pebble has to be dropped more than once. It’s the same with writing.  Every time you write a story, you drop a pebble and every time you query, or enter a contest, you drop another one.  Every blog, writer’s conference, and joining a writing group is another pebble.

 Maybe only a few of us will make it big.  The truth of the matter is; it’s not solely dependent upon talent.   There are lots of talented people.  Sometimes chance or fate or whatever you want to call it, steps in.  But, if we’re not putting forth the effort, and getting our writing, our name out there, it can’t be offered.

There’s a quote I like and I’ll share it with you.  Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.”

 …or dropping the pebbles.

It’s something I think about frequently-what am I doing with my pebbles?

Stacking them in a pile with no work or thought given them?

Am I hoarding them in a drawer where no one can see them?   

Am I allowing fear of success or failure, hold me back?  


By putting our work out there, we’re on the dance floor or to continue the metaphor, dropping our pebbles.

 As a writer, where and how are you dropping your pebbles? Are your pebbles used to the best effect?

What If People Like My Books?

An odd thought struck me this morning: what if people actually like my books? Over the past few years, I’ve racked up hundreds of rejections. I told myself the agents and editors were only rejecting my query letters, because what else could they be rejecting? None of those I sent letters to had ever heard of me, so they could not be rejecting me personally. Nor did most request any part of a manuscript, so they could not be rejecting my novels. But others did request parts of the manuscripts, and found them wanting. Some did not like my characters, my setting, my matter-of-fact style, my inability to sweep them away. Some did not like that the books could not be easily slotted into a genre. The rest simply said the books did not fit with their list. I had a great attitude through all those rejections, and I didn’t think they affected me, but they must have, because I’ve been steeling myself against weak sales and less-than-stellar reviews.

Ever since More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire were accepted by Second Wind Publishing, I’ve been so focused on figuring out how to sell my books (I even started a new blog, Book Marketing Floozy, to share what I learned and will continue to learn) that it never occurred to me people might read my books. Of course, one-fourth to one-half of all purchased books are never read, so perhaps those who buy won’t read, but what if they do?

Now that my publication date is nearing (actually, it’s not a date, more like a time — end of November), and my novels are about to be made available, I’m getting nervous. Only one person (a free lance editor I met in a writing group) read all four of my manuscripts, and she absolutely loved them. And an author I met through my blog read one of my manuscripts, and she thought it was brilliant. Although many people have read excerpts of my novels, no one else has ever read one all the way through. Soon my novels will be published.

And what if people like them?

Writing Discussion With Cliff Burns — Part III

When I asked Cliff Burns, author of So Dark the Night, if he’d like to guest host my blog, he responded that he’d rather have a discussion. I was thrilled. I enjoy talking about writing, but even more than that, I love learning how other writers approach the craft. This is the third and final part of the discussion.

BERTRAM: National Novel Writing Month is coming up, and its adherents are a heated bunch — they don’t seem to like anyone questioning the process. You’re one of the few I’ve come across who speak out against it. 

BURNS: I know people have really taken me to task for lambasting NaNoWriMo and its adherents. To me, the concept is a stupid one — write a novel in a month, give me a break! It devalues the professionalism of the vocation, the enormous amount of time and energy authors put into learning and developing their craft. Anyone can claim to be an “author” or “artist” — the arts seem to condone this sort of thing. I suppose I’m an elitist and a snob. It took me ten years of daily writing and scores of credits before I was able to call myself a writer without feeling self-conscious and phony. As I wrote in a recent post: you’re not a plumber if you unclog a toilet and you’re not an electrician if you screw in a light bulb. Each of those trades requires training, a lengthy apprenticeship period. Why should the arts be any different? 

BERTRAM: I can’t even imagine what it would take to write a novel in a month. The writing of a novel takes me a year, and some of the research I’ve done has taken more than that. But then, I am not an intuitive writer. I have to drag each word out of hiding and find its place in the puzzle that is a novel. I suppose two types could write 50,000 words in a month — the intuitive writers who spew out words, and the logical writers who have the whole thing outlined before they begin. Me? I fall somewhere in the middle. I so hate tossing aside my hard work that I habitually rework my writing as I write. (Though I have rewritten one of my novels four times, and deleted 25,000 words from another..)

BURNS: My first drafts come out in a huge gout of words — I try to get it all down as quickly as I can.   I think I wrote the first draft of one of my novels in 45 days. But . . . then I spend the next eighteen months (or more) revising, editing, polishing, going over each syllable with painstaking care. I outline a little bit, scribble down character names, some ideas for certain scenes, but that first draft usually becomes the outline I work from. It’s incredibly labour-intensive but the only method that works for me.. I would say only a few words or phrases survive from my first draft by the time I’m finished. It’s only a roadmap, nothing more. And I never grow attached to a character or scene — “everything in service to the story”, that’s my motto. All else is expendable.

BERTRAM:  I was going to ask if you push for a daily word count, but you mostly answered that. So how about: do you write at the same time and in the same place and in the same manner (computer, pen/paper) everyday?

BURNS: My office is right across from our bedroom so it’s the first place I visit in the morning. Moving things around on my desk, gearing up for the day. I play lots of music to get warmed up, start the juices flowing. Commence work when my family leaves for school or work, break for lunch, maybe tea later in the day, popping downstairs when my family returns. We have supper together and then often it’s back to the office to square things away, tie off loose ends and set things up for the morrow.

BURNS: First drafts are almost always handwritten (even my 450+ page novel So Dark the Night) and then tapped into my ancient Mac computer with fingers swollen and aching from arthritis or nerve damage.  Twenty-five years or more of three or four-fingered typing has taken its toll. How does that compare to you? I hope you’re a lot saner in your work habits than I am. You strike me as a pretty levelheaded individual . . . or am I wrong?

BERTRAM: You’re not wrong, but when it comes to writing, I’m not so much level-headed as undriven. Each of the words has to be dragged out of me, an act of will. And sometimes the words are not there. But I don’t sweat it; I edit, I blog, I promote. And when the words come, I’m ready. I also write handwrite my first drafts — I think one reason for the crap published today is that authors lack the brain/finger/pencil/paper flow. I read once that the only place other than the brain where gray matter is found is on the fingertips. May or may not be true. But it feels true.

BERTRAM: When does a writer become an author? I used to think it was when a writer got published, but now that anyone can get published, it’s not much of a criterion. Nor does a writer become an author when they can make a living at it; good writers seldom can. The hacks usually do.

BURNS: A writer writes. That’s it. Every single day. Publication credits are meaningless (especially today) and critical acclaim doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Sales figures? Well, Dan Brown sold millions, as did Stephanie Meyer and, in my view, their work is sub-literate.  he way you can tell is read it out loud. Just one page, any page will do. If you’re not crying with laughter after a couple of paragraphs, it’s time to get a funny bone transplant.

BURNS: Aspiring authors: apply yourself to the task of writing with discipline and courage and perseverance. I love the quote from Nabokov about “writing in defiance of all the world’s muteness”. Not just scribbling the same thing, working to the same formula but trying to stretch your talent as far as it will go . . .. and beyond. Working outside your comfort zone, writing prose that scares and intimidates you. But it’s the daily practice that, to me, reveals those who are serious and distinguishes them from the wannabes I loathe.

BERTRAM: is possible to become an author people will read even without the “help” of corporate publishing?
BURNS: I self-published my first book back in 1990 — it sold out its print run in less than 5 months and earned praise from various reviewers, as well as Governor-General Award-winning writer Timothy Findley. I started my blog, “Beautiful Desolation” 18 months ago and since then I have ceased submitting work to other venues — my work (including 2 novels) now goes directly to my blog and I’ve never been happier. Corporate publishing is dying, the profit margins aren’t big enough and soon the Big Boys will be dumping their publishing arms. The new technologies allow writers to have access to readers around the world–I only wish this stuff had been around ten years ago, it would have saved me a lot of frustration and fury. Kindle? E-books? POD? Why not? Anything that allows the writer to get a bigger slice of the pie is all right with me…
BERTRAM: How did you promote your self-published book in 1990? What would you do differently today?

BURNS: That was my book Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination and a lot has changed since then. For one thing there are far fewer independent bookstore and those were the folks who sold the lion’s share of Sex. I took copies with me everywhere I went–Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Toronto–approached every indie bookstore I could and sold them (usually on consignment). The vast majority of those book stores are gone now, sad to say. Sex cost $3000 to publish, my second collection, The Reality Machine, cost $6000 in 1997. Nowadays print-on-demand might save me some money–that’s something I’m looking into, likely using Lulu.com. Can’t quote you any price for that (as yet) but I’ll be using my blog and the vast reach of the internet to spread the word..

BERTRAM: Is there one website more than another that brings you readers? Any suggestions for authors just starting to promote?

BURNS: Hmmm . . . well, I try to reach out to sites that discuss writing and publishing and I have a RedRoom authors page. I comment on a lot of blogs, replying to posts that amuse or annoy me for one reason or another. My blog, Beautiful Desolation, is my primary promotional venue, to tell the truth. I’m also on LibraryThing, a place where bibliophiles can hang out and chat. They don’t encourage “blog-pimping” (a term I loathe, by the way), which is ridiculous because often I’ve written a lengthy post on “Beautiful Desolation” regarding a point under discussion. So I refer people to the post anyway and slap down anyone who dares accuse me of self-promotion.

BERTRAM: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

BURNS: Interesting the similarities and differences in our approaches and processes, our views toward the life and business of writing. Thanks for the discussion, it helped me better define and synthesize my thoughts.

Writing Discussion With Cliff Burns — Part I

Writing Discussion With Cliff Burns — Part II