San Francisco Writers Conference Feb 18-20, 2011

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The main 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference has already sold out, but you can still put yourself on the waiting list or sign up for one of the extra sessions before or after the conference. (And you’ll be able to buy recordings after the conference is over.)

On Thursday, February 17th, there’s a pre-conference pitch tutorial led by literary agent Katharine Sands. (6 to 9 pm at The Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco) That’s designed to prepare attendees for the Speed Dating with Agents session on Sunday at the main conference, but it should be equally helpful for pitching on any occasion.

Among the full-day and half-day classes on Monday, February 21st, here are a few of note:

Social Media for Authors

This is especially noteworthy because one of the instructors is my friend Tee Morris. I’ve known Tee since I started listening to his “Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy” podcast in 2005. Tee writes both fiction (fantasy adventure, fantasy/mystery, and steampunk) and non-fiction (Podcasting for Dummies, Sam’s Teach Yourself Twitter in Ten Minutes) and has serious social media chops. Plus he’s a really fun guy and a highly entertaining presenter. He’s also leading at least two sessions at the main conference, so he’s going to be a tired puppy by the time he gets back on the plane to Virginia.

Self-Publishing Boot Camp

Carla King, Alan Rinzler, Joel Friedlander, Mark Petrakis, Alexis Masters, Walter Hardy,  Karen Leland, Mark Coker, and Tammy Nam are a lineup guaranteed to leave no stone unturned in mapping out all the details of self-publishing both print books and e-books. Among the topics covered are book design, manuscript editing, marketing and PR, SEO, and e-book formats from Kindle to Smashwords.

How to Write a Book Proposal

Led by literary agent Michael Larsen (one of the conference’s founders) and editor Alan Rinzler, this half-day class is a good pairing with Thursday’s pitch training. If you’ve read Larsen’s book by the same name, you might prefer one of the other classes, but I suspect there’s going to be more in the class than there was in the book, and not just because of Rinzler’s input. In any case, I do recommend the book, particularly if Michael Larsen is one of the agents you want to send your proposal to!

Read the complete conference schedule.

BAEF Panel on Writer/Editor Websites

I’m taking part in a panel on writers and editors with websites for the Bay Area Editors’ Forum tomorrow evening at 6 PM. To quote from the panelist guidelines I received,

The point of this friendly, peer discussion is for you to candidly share whatever you can about your experience related to having your own website, for the benefit of those who are considering launching their own…or those who may be in the middle of it themselves, including:

  • why you decided to establish your own site
  • what preparation was required
  • what initial and ongoing costs to expect
  • how much time/effort it takes to manage your site
  • what you manage yourself and what you hire out
  • what benefits you have realized since you’ve had a site
  • how you may be promoting your site
  • if you have decided to integrate social media
  • what you wish you’d known before you started
  • pitfalls to avoid and lessons learned

If You’re Going

Thursday, April 29, 2010
6:00-8:30 PM

4th Floor
Mechanics Institute
57 Post Street
San Francisco

BART: Montgomery St
Parking: Sutter-Stockton Garage

Free Admission

Why We Won’t See a Publishers’ Bookstore App for the iPad

Len Edgerly interviewed Seth Godin on February 24th for The Reading Edge podcast. (It took me forever to get that pun, for some reason). Though Godin was there ostensibly to talk about his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Amazon affiliate link), the podcast bills itself as “Conversations about the eBook Revolution,” and this proved to be one, taking place as it did right after the great Macmillan-Amazon pricing dispute. (In case you missed that, Macmillan wanted to sell its new Kindle books for $14.99 instead of $9.99. Amazon took all the “buy” buttons off Macmillan’s books in the Kindle store, but then caved in, largely because of Apple’s intention to sell books in its iBook store for the iPad at $14.99.)

Starting about 7 minutes into the episode, Godin explains that instead of creating books for their readers, publishers have gone looking for readers for their books. Publishers are obsessed with moving paper (with what David Mathison called “packaging” in his talk at the 2010 BAIPA conference) around rather than getting attention. What they need is a platform that lets them know who is reading what. When it comes to e-books, they’ve ceded carriage to Amazon, and now to Apple. And because the iBook app doesn’t come pre-installed on the iPad,

That means that carriage is going to be an issue from the first day, because before you can even read a book on the iPad, you’re going to have to go download an app for it. Which is opening a huge door for any publisher with guts, who could, if I were doing it, join up with five other publishers and jointly issue your own app. Because if you issue your own app, then you don’t have to cut Apple in, the way you do in the current system, but most important, the data, the privilege, the ability to find out who needs what and how to get it to them, belongs to the publishers, not to the middleman.

My immediate thought was that it would never happen. Not because the Big Six would never cooperate in such a venture (though they might not). Not even because traditional publishers believe they’re in the business of producing and distributing physical objects rather than words, as Godin claims in the interview.

No, because Apple wouldn’t permit the competition. Back when the iPod Touch and the iPhone first came out, the mobile version of iTunes installed on them didn’t support podcasts. But when someone created a podcatching application, Apple wouldn’t allow it in the App Store because it competed with iTunes. Or would compete with iTunes, once iTunes supported podcasting on the iPhone and iPod touch.

And this was for something that didn’t actually make Apple any money.

So it’s pretty hard for me to believe that they’d allow serious competition for their iBook store.

For a moment, looking at the iPad app store, I thought I might be wrong. After all, there’s not only a Kindle app (the better to keep people from buying a competitor’s device) but a few other e-book applications, at least one of those focuses on free public-domain books. And let’s not forget the comic books and magazines. There are plenty of individual books (and Vooks) for sale as apps, but we had those already on the iPhone, and Apple gets its cut of each of those.

If you have contrary information and can refute me, please do, but I can’t imagine that Apple is letting Amazon sell books through its Kindle app, or Marvel Comics through it’s iPad app, without taking a cut. (It would certainly account for per issue prices that have Marvel’s reviewers complaining). The percentage they take of individual book apps is fair enough, at least by comparison with what an author can expect to get in royalties from a traditional publishing deal, but if anyone else is going to make money off an iPad app, Apple will, too. It beggars belief that they would do it any other way.

Because you can’t get an app into  the App Store without Apple’s permission (and, rumor has it, without designing the thing on Apple-approved tools), there’s no way book publishers could create a platform for recommending, selling, and reading books without cutting Apple in on the profits. Hence Apple would inevitably have a say in the pricing of any Mystery Novel or Science Fiction bookstore app that the publishers got together to produce, and it’s pretty unlikely that they’d stand for anything that seriously undercut the prices in their own iBook store. And that could act as quite a deterrent, not just to the big publishers, who might not be flexible enough to try such a thing anyway, but to smaller publishers, who might.

It could still be worth it for publishers to create their own system, for the sake of that data about who’s reading what. Amazon’s recommendation engine, its ability to say “People who bought this also bought that” is a great tool. So are its reviews, even if not all of them are genuine. There might be something extra that a publisher-created e-book app could offer to readers, and to the publishers, that would make it a worthwhile investment. But it’s not going to be freedom from Apple’s influence, not on Apple’s device.

Apple is the ultimate closed system. If you want to play with their toys, you play by their rules. If book publishers really want an e-book distribution system that they control, they’re going to have to produce their own e-book reader, and it’s going to have to provide a better experience than the Kindle and the iPad put together.

I’m not holding my breath.

Teleseminar:“How to Pitch a Business Book”

SpeakerNet News (part of the National Speakers’ Association) is hosting a teleseminar with Matt Holt from Wiley Publishing on December 16th, 2008.

From the SNN Website:

The Details:

Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern (6 pm Central, 5 pm Mountain, 4 pm Pacific)
Length: ≈ 60 minutes
Cost: $25

The Program:

Matt Holt is one of the top five players in the business publishing world. He knows what sells. He knows what authors need to do to partner with publishers. He knows what annoys him. He will share the straight scoop that will save you lots of time and money from pitching the wrong book to the wrong people.

Many would-be authors think that once their book is in print, the publisher will push it to bestsellerhood. You are smart enough to know that isn’t true. Matt will discuss what you will be expected to do to market your book.

If you’ve considered proposing a business book to a major publisher, this is a must-hear session. Matt will cover what gets his attention and what gets tossed.

You will learn how to:

  • Capture a top publisher’s attention
  • Avoid common mistakes would-be authors make
  • Submit a pithy proposal including key elements
  • Help your book sell big
  • Know when you will be expected to pay for editing, illustrations and promotion
  • Market your book pre-publication

Register or order the CD/MP3 here.

What Good Is a Traditional Publisher?

A colleague recently put this question in the bluntest of terms: “If publishers won’t promote your book and they take a huge percentage, what exactly do they do for the author?”

I wouldn’t say that publishing houses won’t promote your book, but first-time authors get a very small piece of the marketing pie—and publishers have smaller marketing budgets than they used to. They have smaller everything budgets than they used to, which means less personal attention, and that’s one reason someone could legitimately ask “Well, what good are they, then?”

Another reason is the increasing availability of print-on-demand technology and self-publishing resources. No longer does a would-be self publisher have to start a publishing business and spend thousands of dollars to get into print. Authors have more options than they did 20 years ago.

For many non-fiction authors (and even some novelists), self-publishing and POD are valid options. There’s no question that authors who use these methods of publishing get to keep more of the book’s cover price. And there are still a number of small, independent presses out there who provide more support to their authors because they take on only a few books each year. But there are still some advantages to getting your book published by one of the giants.

They Know What Sells

Before you can get your book published, you have to submit a proposal with an outline of your book and a marketing plan. Acquisitions editors at the big houses know what’s selling and what isn’t. If you get repeated rejections that all cite the same problems, it’s a sign that you need to retool your idea before you go to all the trouble of writing the book. And if they accept your proposal, it’s because they believe there’s a large enough market for your book to justify their investment in producing it.

They Pay in Advance

Admittedly, the advance you get for your first book isn’t likely to allow you to quit your day job, since it’s likely to be in the low five figures. And it doesn’t arrive the minute you sign the contract, either. But that money can cover many of the costs associated with writing and marketing the book, such as travel for research, a local direct mail campaign, or the services of a ghostwriter.

They Have More Resources

When you self-publish or use a POD house, you have to locate, and pay for, all kinds of professionals, or spend extra time doing the many jobs of publishing yourself. You may be the top expert in your field and a good writer on top of it, but creating a book also requires copyediting, book design, typesetting (though no actual type is involved anymore), proof reading, and cover art, among other things. Large publishers already have all these people either on staff or working for them as contractors, and they’ve had decades to learn things like which fonts are most readable and how much white space you need on a page.

Many POD houses offer editing, book layout, and cover design services, but they charge you for them. If you’re truly self-publishing, you have to find and pay all these people yourself, in addition to your actual printing and shipping costs. (And much as I admire self-publishing guru Dan Poynter, I don’t hold with his theory that you can use clip art for your book cover and still look professional.)

They Get You into Bookstores

Very few self-published authors can get their books onto the shelves of large chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders. These companies have strict policies about which distributors they deal with and require return policies which no sane person would stand for.

And, of course, if a chain won’t carry your book, it’s not likely you’ll be able to hold an author event there. What’s more, the publisher takes care of shipping extra copies of your book to the store when you do the signing, so you don’t have to drag books around with you. (You do have to notify them that you’re doing the event and ask them to send the books.)

Publishers also have booths at major publishing conventions like Book Expo America. Your book might not get star billing, but they’ll be pushing all their new titles.

So yes, traditional publishers do still provide their authors with valuable services. And the “huge percentage” they take rarely amounts to a huge profit: it goes to covering their very considerable costs in preparing, printing, and distributing your book (not to mention offering those killer return policies to the bookstores). Despite the increasing ease and respectability of self-publishing, pitching your book to Random House or HarperCollins may still be your best option.

Are Book Signings Worthwhile?

Most people who talk about book signings talk about how to attract attention from the venue’s patrons and how to get more people to show up. Authors give consistent recommendations for what to do before, during, and after signings in order to make them more successful. And pretty much everyone agrees that just sitting at a table at the back of a room with a table full of books is unproductive in the extreme, and usually uncomfortable as well.

In a recent invitation to a teleseminar about Virtual Book Tours, Mark Victor Hansen went so far as to say “Book signings STINK.”

If you’re like most authors, you’ll travel the country, doing countless appearances for a couple dozen people at a time. If you have “great” night, you’ll sell a hundred books…but most likely the tally will much smaller.

And I can’t argue with that one. I wouldn’t advise an author to invest a lot of money in going on tour just to sign books in stores. Go on a paid speaking tour instead and sell your books at the back of the room. That way your expenses are covered and your book sales represent actual profits.

But despite the ease and inexpensiveness of doing a Virtual Book Tour (via teleseminar or webinar), live book signings do still have a place. Certainly if you’re going to be visiting a city anyway, whether on business or to see friends and family, there’s no reason not to arrange a book signing.

And as Raleigh Pinskey pointed out in her October 24th, 2006 “How to Promote Your Book by Promoting Yourself” teleseminar with Arielle Ford, it doesn’t actually matter whether anyone comes. A book signing where no one shows up is just fine with her.

Why? Because to Raleigh, the point of having a book signing isn’t the hour or two that you’re in the store. The point is to get the bookstores to help promote your book. If you arrange for a signing, the store will be sure to have your book in stock and display it prominently. If the store produces a newsletter or an online calendar, you get free advertising by doing the event. That means you start selling books before you show up, and for a month or so after the event is over. (And you get a chance to put special “signed by the author” stickers on them to draw the shopper’s eye.)

What’s more, having a signing provides an excuse to contact the local media and get interviewed. (Or, at least, a better excuse than just publishing a book gives you.) And having media clips lets you build a newsroom on your website.

Of course, it could get a trifle embarrassing if one of those local media outlets sent a reporter over to attend the book signing and you were just sitting like a lump at a table. And a bookstore might not invite you back or give your books preferential treatment in the future if you treat the event too casually. So try to schedule the signing for a time when the store is busy, and create some kind of presentation, preferably one involving audience participation.

Even if no one else shows up, it will keep the store’s employees entertained and favorably disposed toward your book. And the action is a lot more likely to attract casual browsers than sitting at a table in a corner will, as well as giving reporters and bloggers something to write about.

Besides, even if you can sell more books with a teleseminar, virtual tours don’t let you see your readers’ faces or shake their hands. Even if you choose to do most of your promoting via the Internet, it’s good to get out there and make live connections.

© 2007 Sallie Goetsch

The Keys to a Barnes & Noble Book Signing

Dan Poynter wrote in Successful Nonfiction that authors should never host autograph parties. Instead of merely signing their books, the thing to do was offer “mini-seminars.” In an August 27th, 2006 interview with Tee Morris for The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy, Annie Hololob, Community Relations Manager for the Harrisonburg, VA Barnes & Noble, confirms the value of making your book signing into an event. (Tee himself apparently has a habit of staging sword fights during his book signings, which definitely livens things up.)If you want to have an event at a Barnes & Noble, the Community Relations Manager is the person to talk to. This is the person who knows whether the store’s customers are the right market for your book, or whether you’d do better at a store in a different city. (My local Barnes & Noble, for instance, doesn’t even have author events, just a children’s story time.) This is the person whose good side you want to get on.

There are two important things you need before you start assembling your press kit and cultivating the CRM at your local Barnes & Noble, however. Without them, there’s no way the store can carry your books. Large chain bookstores have to operate by certain rules in order to stay in business, and those rules may exclude you and your book for reasons that have nothing to do with your merits as a writer.

Distribution

In order for BN to order, stock, and sell your books, they have to be available through a wholesaler or distributor such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor—one BN already has a relationship with. That means BN can buy the book at a wholesale price, usually 40-60% off the cover price, without going to extra trouble to special-order it. If your book is traditionally published, there should be no problem with this. One of the reasons for choosing to go with a major publisher or established small press is that they are already BN Vendors of Record. The traditionally self-published, those like Dan Poynter who start their own publishing companies, can become Vendors of Record by filling out the BN Publisher Information Form.

The authors who run into real trouble in the distribution department are those with POD books. These books may be good-looking and high quality. They may even be available through Baker & Taylor or Ingram. But unless ordered in very high quantities, they are offered only for the retail price. BN’s standard order when dealing with a new publisher is two copies of every title. Even an order of 30-50 books for a signing isn’t going to provide enough of a profit margin to make it worth the bookstore’s while. And because Print on Demand books are literally printed only when ordered, each copy is much more expensive to produce than a comparable mass-produced book.

Returns

The other thing that keeps POD books—and their authors—out of chain stores like Barnes & Noble is the lack of a returns policy. Bookstores expect to be able to return all unsold books to a publisher, and not to pay the publisher for any of the books until after they sell. Unsold books aren’t even returned intact: the covers get ripped off and they’re sent away to be pulped. (I kid you not. I was horrified to learn this, even after reading all those warnings about not buying books without covers.)

POD houses don’t warehouse books and can’t provide that kind of returns policy, and very few self-published authors are going to want to. But no matter how barbaric a practice pulping is, it’s a fact of life at all major book outlets, and Barnes & Noble didn’t invent it. Nor does a Community Relations Manager have the power to bend the rules about this, however flexible s/he may be about the form your signing takes if you can meet the store’s requirements.

Alternatives

If you’re a self-published or POD author and touring the major chain bookstores is something you can’t live without, you can try to interest a traditional publisher in your book, though you need to make sure that you really own the book in its current form before you do this. (Most POD houses lay claim to the final, formatted version of your book, though the content remains yours.)

Or you can skip Barnes & Noble altogether and hold your book events elsewhere. Independent bookstores are often in a better position than large chains to take a chance on an author, though they, too, need to be able to buy the books at a low enough price to make a profit. Public libraries are almost always willing to accept the donation of a book or two and host a reading.

And, of course, if you make your living as a speaker, back-of-room sales may be your best bet and an opportunity to take advantage of the plus side of self-publishing and POD: getting to keep a far greater percentage of the book’s retail price.

Book Signing Resources

Cold Calling Bookstores (SGWF #3) MP3

Interview with Annie Hololob (SGWF #21) MP3

FabJob’s How to Have a Successful Book Signing

Larry James’ Book Signing Tips

Don’t Write for the Royalties

Inspired by RainToday.com’s Business Book Publishing reports.

It should come as no surprise that the more books an author sells, the better the effect on her business, but consultants who are considering writing their first book may not realize how little book sales actually contribute to a business author’s income.

RainToday.com interviewed 200 business book authors to find out whether writing a book was worth the time, effort, and expense involved. The introduction to The Business Impact of Writing a Book describes becoming an author in decidedly unromantic terms:

What conventional wisdom fails to tell you is that the act of writing a book is an enormous investment in blood, sweat, and all too often, tears. Writing and publishing a book is a time-intensive, laborious process that begins well before the actual writing of the book, and continues through the long editing, publishing, and book marketing process. Aspiring authors may have to deal with finding agents, marketers, publishers, negotiating contracts, and, ultimately, the marketing and publicity of the book—all while keeping up with their everyday business activities. (p. 6)

Nevertheless, 96% of the consultants who participated in the study, only a few of whom had written best-sellers, agreed that publishing a book had a positive impact on their business. But it wasn’t fat royalty checks they referred to when asked what publishing had done for them. In order of popularity, the benefits of publishing they cited were:

  1. Improve my brand
  2. Generate more speaking engagements
  3. Generate more clients
  4. Generate more leads
  5. Charge higher fees
  6. Generate more desirable client base
  7. Close more deals

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

A book is a marketing tool for an author. More book sales result in more awareness of and credibility for the author. You have to market the book before the book can market you. The correlation between the number of books sold and the author’s business success was so high that the researchers concluded that marketing the book was the most important part of the entire process.

Part of the reason the author needs to focus on marketing is that publishers have less money and fewer personnel to devote to marketing books than they used to. As a result, even authors who sign with major publishers need to do most of their own marketing. Authors who self-publish need to do all of their own marketing. In general, those authors who put more into marketing got more out of it, and those who hired professionals to help them sold significantly more books than those who did not.

Indirect Revenue

Among the authors surveyed, direct revenue from publishing topped out at about $100,000—still quite a tidy sum and considerably more than most business book authors will ever earn in royalties. Indirect revenues were double the direct revenues in the 25th percentile, triple in the 50th percentile, and quintuple in the 75th percentile (p. 42).

According to Chip Bell, author of Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service, “If you work at it, you can probably make about ten times as much revenue from sources generated through your book than from the royalties themselves” (p. 43). Given that most traditionally published authors make about $1 per book in royalties, it’s easy to see why a book’s greatest value may be as a glorified business card or brochure.

Even authors who sell fewer than a thousand copies of their first book are still in a good position to raise their rates. But the more books you sell, the more you can charge for speaking and consulting. If your book actually makes it onto the best-seller list, you become a hot commodity. (And, conversely, if you’re already a celebrity, your book has a much better chance of becoming a best-seller.)

Most business books sell about 5,000 copies, which means about $5,000 in royalties. In most cases, it will cost the author far more than $5,000 to write, publish, and market the book, even if her only investment is time. To ensure your book is profitable, you need to take a look at the other ways it can increase your income.

How many new clients would you need at your current rates to make your book pay off? How much would you have to be able to raise your rates? How many speaking engagements would it take to balance out the costs involved? What can you up sell most easily? Can you convert the book into a series of spin-off products and capitalize on what you’ve already invested?

Publishing a book is by no means a get-rich-quick scheme. Becoming an author is hard work, even for those who like to write—or those who hire a ghostwriter. But it pays off in many ways over time.

© Sallie Goetsch 2006

Market Your Book with a Movie Trailer

As multimedia comes to dominate the World Wide Web, a simple text blurb may not be enough to grab a prospective reader’s attention. And while actually placing an ad in a movie theater is very expensive, even a low-budget “movie trailer” on your website can increase your sales dramatically.

Animated Trailers

My first encounter with movie trailers for print books—rather than films made from books—was the VidLit for John Warner’s Fondling Your Muse. VidLit produces short (generally under 3 minutes) Flash animations which it showcases on its own website and allows you to e-mail to others. A VidLit may be an excerpt from a book, or a synopsis. In general, they are clever, funny, and put me in mind of more sophisticated animated greeting cards. The VidLit team does a nice job of making nonfiction books seem entertaining as well as edifying. A typical VidLit takes about 200 hours to produce and costs around $10,000, but the one-minute special costs only $3500.

Novelist Jeff Rivera didn’t want to spend that much, so he did some research into what his target market watched, listened to, and talked about, then wrote a half-page script and put an ad on Craigslist for a Flash animator and another ad on Latino message boards to find an appropriate soundtrack. You can see the resulting trailer, which increased his book sales 30%, at www.JeffRivera.com. (For more details, see Jeff’s article in John Kremer’s Book Marketing Tip of the Week newsletter.)

Upping the Ante

The Book Standard enlisted Bantam Dell to fund its 2006 Book Video Awards contest for film students. The winning entries feature live actors and could be mistaken for trailers for Hollywood movies. Each cost the publisher about 30% of the book’s marketing budget to produce. The videos are available on Billboard.com, Bebo.com, and YouTube as well as the Bantam Dell and Book Standard websites. There are even versions available for mobile phones.

Expanded Books makes its trailers available in both audio and video format through iTunes, MySpace, Google Video, YouTube, iFilm, and its own website. Their suggestions for the use of book videos include in-store loops and presale DVDs as well as viral video and old-fashioned TV commercials. Their prices start at a comparatively modest $3,000. Their titles range from nonfiction like 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men and Asthma for Dummies to novels like M.J. Rose’s The Venus Fix.

Beware the Lowest Bidder

If you have a webcam, you can create unlimited 3-minute do-it-yourself web videos for $2.95 a month with Camdeo, a Berkeley-based video service. But although talking-head infomercials can help you sell products, they don’t have the emotional power of something with a soundtrack, interesting visuals, and a tight script. Camdeo sounds like a good option for beginning video podcasters or people who want to communicate with their relatives, but not really a good method for producing something that could properly be described as a “trailer.”

Doing It Yourself

If the likes of VidLit and Expanded Books are out of your range, you’d be better advised to invest a few hundred dollars (or less: Apple’s iLife is only $79 and the Producer plug-in to create Windows Media Video is free for licensed owners of PowerPoint) in software to allow you to convert PowerPoint or Keynote into video and add a soundtrack. You can insert photos of your book cover, graphs and tables from your book, and evocative royalty-free photos and artwork, alternating with short, punchy copy a la Jeff Rivera. The rise of podcasting means there are thousands of “pod-safe” songs to choose from for a soundtrack. Close with appropriate credits and ordering information.

Market Globally, Shop Locally

Finally, if the do-it-yourself route sounds like too much work and you were hoping to keep your outlay in the hundreds, not thousands, see what kind of talent is available in your home town. Does your local community college teach courses on Flash animation or videography? Are you in a position to offer non-cash prizes that film students would value, and hold a contest of your own? While top-quality work doesn’t come cheap anywhere, you may still be able to get a bargain if you can provide something the video producer values—like exposure to a new market.

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that specialists like VidLit and Expanded Books have the experience that less-expensive competitors may lack. Anyone with the appropriate technical skills can create a dramatic trailer for a dramatic book. Authors whose subject matter is considered dry or difficult to understand should go to the experts if they want results that appeal to the mass market.

© 2006 Sallie Goetsch

How to Pitch Podcasters

In my experience, pitching yourself as a podcast interview subject is very different from pitching your book to a publisher or getting on television, with one exception: you have to do your homework.

Pitching your manuscript to a publisher requires a formal proposal containing certain elements, such as a marketing plan and a competing and complementary books section, in addition to sample chapters. Talk-show hosts like Jay Leno have very specific guidelines for would-be guests, along the lines of “You must use our e-mail submission form and you must send video a particular format.” And, of course, for print media coverage, there’s the traditional press release and its social media variants.

Take a Personal Approach

Because most podcasts are a personal and informal medium, most podcasters are suspicious of marketing-speak and press releases, especially if the pitch looks like something that’s been sent out on a massive scale. Most podcasters have small, vocal audiences, people who think of them as friends and who will let them know in no uncertain terms if they don’t like a show. There’s a strong sense of community among podcasters and listeners, and when it comes to doing interviews, podcasters prefer people who are part of that community to people who aren’t, unless the interviewee is extremely well-known.

Like bloggers (and many podcasters are bloggers), podcasters are as likely to lambast a bad pitch to their listeners as to simply trash it and ignore it. To learn what not to do, take a look at the Bad Pitch Blog.

Picking Podcasts to Pitch

In April 2006, FeedBurner reported that it was publishing 44,000 podcast feeds. That’s good news: it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever you’re writing about, someone is podcasting about it. And no, you won’t have to listen to all 44,000 in order to know which ones to pitch.

Remember the audience profile you had to create when you created your book proposal? You want to find podcasters whose audiences are the same as your ideal reader. These are more likely to be podcasters who talk about the same subjects as your book than “book review” or “literary” podcasts, though you shouldn’t overlook those, either.

To find podcasts on the right subject, check out podcast directories like iTunes and Podcast Alley, which allow listeners to rate and review podcasts. Read the descriptions and the reviews and make a shortlist of the most likely candidates.

And, of course, don’t overlook any podcasts you’re already listening to.

Joining the “In” Group

So what do you do after you’ve gone through and found the highest-rated podcasts on subjects related to your book? First, listen to the podcast. Better yet, subscribe to the podcast and listen to several shows. Read the show notes and the comments. Find out whether interviews are a regular part of the show. (Some shows feature interviews every week, others occasionally, and some not at all.)

Next, start commenting. When you leave a comment on the show’s blog, you can enter the URL for your book instead of your home page for some subtle self-promotion, but the important thing is to respond thoughtfully to something in that episode. Write a paragraph or two that continues the conversation and shows that you know what you’re talking about.

Genuine Connections

While podcasters don’t necessarily expect people they’ve interviewed to listen to every show from then on, they’ll shy off anyone whose interest seems too self-serving. Just because a podcast has a lot of listeners doesn’t mean that you’ll like the show or the podcaster. If you don’t, don’t try to fake it in order to reach a potential market for your book. Make sure the podcast and its host(s) are a good fit for your personality before you try to line up an interview.

It’s That Simple

You’ll probably have to do this more than once before the podcaster asks to interview you, but if what you say is interesting enough to the listeners (who will usually hear it read out in the next episode as well as having the opportunity to read it on the show blog), the podcaster may contact you immediately. If not, keep listening and commenting for a few shows, and strike up an e-mail correspondence with the podcaster.

Once you’re sure that the podcaster and the listeners know who you are and find your comments interesting, volunteer yourself as an interviewee. And as long as there’s enough time before the interview date, send the podcaster a copy of your book. Even if the interview isn’t about the book itself (and it probably won’t be), having the book in hand helps the podcaster to come up with interview questions.

Keep the Discussion Going

Naturally you’ll want to listen to the episode with your interview in it, but don’t stop there. Check the show notes to see what listeners have to say about the show. Is there anything you can pick up on and respond to?

It’s also a good idea to listen to the next episode for more feedback, and to send in any answers you have to questions which might have come up. Some questions might come directly to you, but many listeners feel more comfortable dealing with the podcast host(s).

If enough listeners want to know more, you might get invited back for another interview.

Side Benefits

Some podcasters also review books. Indeed, there are book review podcasts out there, and it doesn’t hurt to search for them. A podcaster who likes your book might also write up a short review on the show blog and include an Amazon affiliate link.

One of the nicest things about podcast interviews, though, is that you can link directly to the episode from your own website without having to worry about how to handle the audio file at your end. (Very often, though, podcasters will give you permission to repost the file on your own site if you wish to do so.)

Best of all, though, you don’t have to go through layers of screening to get access to a podcaster—which is part of why podcasters have such dedicated fans.