Thursday, August 30, 2007


Maven Lacey KayeOh, publicity. If you get five authors in a room and ask their thoughts on publicity you’ll get six opinions. At least. Everyone’s trying to find the magic formula that will turn their publicity efforts into guaranteed sales of books. The problem is, there’s simply no concrete way to tell if publicity works. At all. Rarely does a reader come up to an author and say, “Great glo-in-the-dark pen! It’s the reason I bought your book!” And yet most authors feel they need to do some kind of publicity for their books.

So here are my rules for publicity. It’s extremely personal, it reflects my own narrow experience, and it may not be of any help to you at all. Take it with a grain—or pound—of salt.

Rule 1: Sell Your Book to a Good Publisher

Not only do you usually get a better advance and sales distribution from a major publisher, you also get in-house publicists. They’ll be doing a whole lot of behind the scenes stuff that you’ll never see and won’t properly appreciate until much, much later. Some examples:

  • Ads in Romantic Times Book Reviews Magazine. Most major NY houses do this even for newbie authors.
  • Sending out advance reading copies of your book to reviewers. Lots of reviewers.
  • Angling for article and interview opportunities for the author.

Rule 2: Get a Professional Website

This means a professional website designer. Really. The type of readers who will be visiting your website will also be visiting other author websites. You don’t want to look bad in comparison.

You could stop right here with your publicity efforts and I’m not sure it would make a speck of difference in your book sales. But most authors are much more paranoid than that, including me. Which brings me to . . .

Rule 3: It’s About the Book, Dummy

Whatever you do, whatever fun, strange, expensive, or it’s-so-cheap-you’d-be-a-fool-to-miss-it publicity ideas come your way, remember this: the book is the product. Everything you do, think: will this get someone to read my book? If you’re going to spend money on give-aways, why not give away your book? That’s what you’re selling, right? Not T-shirts, not mugs, not even glo-in-the-dark pens. You’re selling your writing.

Recently I was reading the comment trail on a popular blog that had asked for publicity ideas (*cough* Smart Bitches, Trashy Books *cough*). Somebody wrote in saying they’d got the niftiest reading light from an author. The commenter loved it! She still used it! She just couldn’t remember the author’s name . . .

Rule 4: Do What You Like to Do

A writer’s job is stressful enough. If you don’t like doing a certain kind of publicity, then don’t. If you don’t like public speaking, then for God’s sake, don’t give workshops. It’s just not worth it. The inverse of this is, of course, do what you like to do. If you love signings even if you only sell one book, then you go, girl! Forget the people who say signings aren’t worth it. To you they are. Personally, I have a thing about sending letters. I have a form on my website so readers can order bookmarks for free. Every time my critique partner sees it, she thinks I’m insane. Answering that much mail would just be another stress for her. For me, though, it’s kind of relaxing and I enjoy it. Do what you like to do.

Rule 5: Spend Your Money Up Front

Now, I don’t mean break the bank or go into debt, but think about it. When is your publicity money going to be worth the most? Answer: when nobody knows you. Which, unfortunately, is at the beginning when you have the smallest advance of your career (we hope, anyway!) Suck it up and if you can afford it, spend now. Writing is a business and all small business owners turn their profits back into their business for the first couple of years. Invest in yourself.

Elizabeth Hoyt

Note: Elizabeth will be bopping in to comment when available, so if you have a pressing EH question, please ask it!

Note II: Elizabeth's fabulous new book is out Tuesday! For those of you living under a rock, The Serpent Prince is the third eagerly awaited book in her Prince series. Order it now! (Then come back and leave a comment.)

Note III: Maven Lacey's reviews of The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince can be found on Romantic Sadly, she has not yet read The Serpent Prince, but her fingers and toes are crossed in the hopes it will materialize soon...


Tessa Dare said...

Yay! First to comment!

Welcome, Elizabeth Hoyt! I just got to the bookstore yesterday to buy TSP and it has me longing for the days of my youth, when I could stay up all night and finish a book. My sleep-deprived, parent-of-small-children self unfortunately could not make it past 1 AM. I'm looking forward to finishing it today.

And um, far be it from me to correct you or anything, but it seems to me point 0.5 on that list for promotional success would have to be "Write Insanely Fabulous Books." I'm wondering, how do you balance time between writing and promoting? Do you ever feel like one has to come at the expense of the other?

From a reader's standpoint, I can tell you what in your list has made me your loyal fan. It all starts with 0.5, of course. But the way you keep a constant presence online, with Amazon updates and e-newsletters and updates on your own website, guestblogs and interviews ... It isn't any one thing, but with all that taken together, I feel like I 'know' you a bit, and I just want to see you succeed. That's why I'll make a special trip to the bookstore for TSP and rearrange the shelves while I'm there to face out the remaining copies (am I the only one who does this for her favorite authors?).

And speaking of that, I'm curious, as a corollary to point one... How much of bookstore placement, face-outs, print runs, publicity efforts, etc. is laid out in your contract with the publisher?

And I'll go get back to Simon now. Thanks for sharing!

lacey kaye said...

/seconds Tessa's fangirl ra-ra

Anonymous said...

Great post, Elizabeth!! =)

I'll make a special trip to the bookstore for TSP and rearrange the shelves while I'm there to face out the remaining copies (am I the only one who does this for her favorite authors?).

LOL, I do this too! Can't wait to read TSP. =)

Anonymous said...

Good morning--er, afternoon--everyone! So glad you found The Serpent Prince already, Tessa! I hope you find a moment to enjoy it.

Yah, I agree with your point 0.5. I didn't include it simply because I assumed everyone reading the post would be an insanely fabulous writer. ;-)

Balancing writing and promo is a pain in the patootie, which is why I advocate only doing the stuff you like doing. In the best of all worlds, the writing would absolutely come first and you'd do the promo in your abundant spare time. Alas, this is not the best of all worlds and I don't seem to have any spare time. I end up doing a lot of the promo stuff at night and on weekends.

As for your Q about contracts and bookstore placement, etc., that's not in my contract, actually. (I don't have experience with other houses, so it may be in their contracts. I have a feeling that if you're a NYT bestseller bookstore placement, etc. may very well start showing up in the contract.) BUT I do write for a major house (Grand Central Publishing) and as such, they see to it that ALL of their authors get front of the store placement, etc. This would be another point under Rule # 1.

Hi, Lacey and Erica! I have to confess to compulsively re-shelving books that get left out of place in the romance section of bookstores.


Elizabeth Hoyt

lacey kaye said...

There you go, people! PROOF she's stopping by.

And we should probably plug TSP. Duh.

Tessa Dare said...

Heh. I just realized TSP's release date isn't until tomorrow! Well, I can't pretend to be upset that my Borders goofed. I just assumed it was out, since I'd seen so many (glowing) reviews already, and there it was!

Thanks for your answers, Elizabeth!

Unknown said...

I, too, thought I was going to score TSP early, but then Amazon woke up to the release date and reneged on the shipment. I have been tapping my toes impatiently ever since.

As the proud owner of your previous books (and your bookmarks!), I wonder what you have lined up next. More Georgian-era? What made you decide on that time as opposed to Regency or Victorian? Will you continue that fairytale hook that's become kind of a trademark? Your success truly is inspiring and well-deserved.

Hellie Sinclair said...

I got TSP last night!!! I cannot wait until this weekend when I can devour it. In fact, that's my plan for Saturday--TSP. Okay, so it's tonight's plan as well.

I think authors blogging as guests is a big coup...or whatever you want to call it. I hadn't even heard of Elizabeth Hoyt before you blogged at The Romance Vagabonds--but you were funny and insightful....and everyone raved...and I went to check out one of the books. Then I was all: Where have I been?

Word of Mouth. Best publicity.

Tessa Dare said...

OMG. I just finished TSP. It's amazing - the best of the three, and that's saying something. Hellion, you're going to have a lovely Saturday. Have some chocolate nearby.

Jackie Barbosa said...

Today has been one of complete and utter insanity as I juggle work, kids, and trying to get ready for a weekend camping trip.

Buuuuuut, I still managed to find time to hit Borders to pick up my copy of TSP (which I've heard has been available in some stores since sometimes LAST week) because, ya know, I have to have something to READ whilst camping.

Thanks for blogging, Elizabeth. I love your advice about doing the kinds of promo you like and skipping the stuff you don't. Very wise.

I do think step #1 is the hardest (after Tessa's 0.5). Because let's face it, even if you write a kick-ass book, you can't control which publishing houses will be willing to buy it.

There is a question coming out of this for you, Elizabeth, and that is: If you (or your agent) shops your book to the major houses and none of them wants it, do you think it's better to try again with another book or go down the food chain, so to speak, to small print and other publishers?

Anonymous said...

Whoops! My kids wrestled me to the ground and made me watch ANGEL reruns with them...

Yeah, as many of you commented, my book release dates are, um, ragged. Some people have been getting TSP from Amazon since almost the beginning of August.

Maggie, my next book is To Taste Temptation, which is tentatively scheduled for a May 2008 release. It's set in the Georgian period and is the first of a four-book series, The Legend of the Four Soldiers. The series will be about four guys who are veterans of the French and Indian war and are trying to find the man who betrayed their regiment. I do intend to continue the fairytales in my books. Hope they don't get old, but I like how they can mirror the main storyline.

I agree that word of mouth is the best possible publicity, mshellion! It's nice to know that you found my books through the Vagabonds.

Glad you found time to finish TSP, Tessa--and even more glad you enjoyed it! ;-)

You bring up a really good point, Jacqueline about deciding what publisher you go with. I thought long and hard about this before Warner made me an offer, because I was getting close to the position that you describe: all the major publishers turning the manuscript down.

This is a deeply personal decision for an author, so I'm going to just tell you what my thoughts were. I don't judge other authors on their publishing decisions.

I had already decided that if every house I was interested in rejected The Raven Prince, I would pull the book, put it on a shelf, and start over with something else. Why? Because I'd read an article by Madeline Hunter that talked about holding out for what you're worth. She said a writer should decide where she's going to draw the line and stick to it. My line was 8% royalties and a minimum $5,000 advance. I wasn't going to submit to a house that paid less than that. (And remember this was 2 years ago now. Adjust for inflation accordingly.)

Look, beginning writers are paid a pittance anyway, even at the big houses. Why settle for an advance or royalties that are simply insulting? I was better than that, YOU all are better than that.

I believe you do control which house you're published by. Do not sell yourself short.

So there!

G'night and I'll check in again tomorrow morning if anyone else has follow up comments.

Elizabeth Hoyt

lacey kaye said...

Once again, wow. I am blown away by the advice.

I wish I had more to offer, but you all seem to be doing really well on your own!

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, what great advice!! So glad you joined us.

Isabel said...

Thanks you Ms. Hoyt for all the wonderful advice. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Elizabeth. Your words echo how I feel about getting published. If my MS doesn't get picked up by one of the major houses then it's back to the board. I thought I was being snobby but you stated it perfectly. It's what I'm worth. I won't sell myself short.

I don't know if Darcy remembers this, but when we went to Julia Quinn's book signing a few weeks ago someone asked her who she likes to read and she mentioned YOU.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Kendra! How nice to hear that JQ likes reading me, 'cause I certainly love reading her books!

And you're not being snobby to figure out ahead of time what publishers you'll accept. This is a business and you're being business-smart.

Thank you all for letting me blog and chat with you. And good luck to everyone with their own writing!

Elizabeth Hoyt

Darcy Burke said...

Hi Elizabeth!! I'm sorry I missed the fun Friday and over the weekend, but we were out of town (our annual trek to see the Dave Matthews Band in central Washington). I'm off in search of TSP today! I actually bought TRP at my local grocery store because the cover was really pretty and it had a JQ quote (Kendra, I recall JQ's funny story about reading Elizbeth's ms!). I had plenty of stuff to read at home, but something about this book grabbed me. This was Thanksgiving weekend. I was immediately hooked and went about hooking all of my friends! Word of mouth is priceless!!

Very interesting industry feedback, Elizabeth. Good for you regarding publishers and contracts. I'm absolutely stunned anyone passed on TRP (morons!).

No questions, since it's Monday already, but I'll be keeping your post for future reference. Thanks again for stopping by!

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