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Sons of Beaches

Forgot to mention last week that Immaculate Deception was named a reader pick for “great beach reads” in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Summer Reading package from the June 26 edition of the paper. Find the story online here.

Full-Frontal Self-Congratulation

Great news from Codorus Press Central Command in NYC this week – Immaculate Deception was named a July Staff Pick for two of Barnes & Noble’s biggest stores, the Fifth Ave. flagship store and the Union Square location. If you’re in NYC, check it out, buy a copy for yourself and let us know what you think. Since the Nook version when live the B&N page is looking a little bare of reviews, so we’d love to see some up there soon.

Do the Hustle

There are plenty of newbie or wannabe authors roaming around out there that are still under the mistaken impression that a big publishing house will do the work of marketing and promotions for every author it takes on. Every time I come up against this misconception (usually put forth by someone who has rejected independent publishing out of hand as something that “real authors” don’t do), I do my best to correct it.

This week the Philadelphia Inquirer went a long way towards doing that for me with this story on how all authors are now responsible for a good portion of their own marketing, and are forced to be darn creative about it, too. For instance, the author who wrote a book about the New Jersey Shore has done much of her marketing – especially now that summer is here – at the exceptionally busy resort towns along New Jersey’s coast. As a result she targets not only year-round locals, but the year-round residents of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware who flock their in droves as soon as Memorial Day arrives.

I have a colleague and fellow novelist, Bob Yearick, who wrote an excellent novel called Sawyer that is essentially a detective mystery set in the world of professional football, with one of the players serving as the de facto private eye. When we saw each other at a professional event not long ago, he tapped me for a little marketing advice and the first thing I suggested was that he start setting up tables to sell the novel in the dealer rooms at sports memorabelia events, trading card conventions or other sports-related gatherings. It doesn’t matter that you’re selling books and you therefore feel like all your appearances should be at libraries and book stores – the goal is to find where your readers will be and go to them.

That also means going beyond the physical world and deep into the virtual, targeting bloggers that can help spread the word for you in a much quicker, more efficient and, most important of all, less expensive (often free) way.

I’ve seen written a number of places that as much as “launch parties” can stroke an author’s ego, there’s really no payoff for the ordinary – and certainly not for the independently published – author. You’re announcing a party to a public who has no idea who you are and frankly doesn’t really care. Aside from giving friends and family a chance to congratulate you in person, such an event is really pretty useless as far as building the buzz needed for a book to succeed.

For me, the target market  for Immaculate Deception from the very beginning has been split between science fiction fans and folks interested in how we’ve gone about setting up Codorus Press. As side markets, there are the coastal areas of South Carolina, in which the novel is set. The only real “signing” I’ve done was in my home town, where I knew I had a ready base of buyers from my time spent there as a child and as a newspaper reporter during adulthood.

Otherwise, the press itself has done larger events like the Philadelphia Book Festival and other regional book events. This fall we’re shooting for, among other things, the Collingswood Book Festival and the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Book Festival, as well as PhilCon – the Philadelphia area’s huge science fiction convention.

We’ve also made shameless use of our former (and current) newspaper connections. Some of the best traditional press I’ve received so far has been from newspapers I used to work for. We’ve also used the editorial judgement we developed on the desks at a number of papers to craft better and more effective press releases. We know what editors see as a story, and we try to give it to them each time we send out a release.

So in marketing your work, make sure you explore all angles, both the most and least obvious. It’ll result in a better payoff for you all around.

Work That Mojo, Baby

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my career as a journalist, it’s that you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there when it comes to people you don’t know.

In journalism school at the University of South Carolina, one of the first assignments we received during our senior “practicum” semester, was to go somewhere we would otherwise be completely uncomfortable. For instance, the prim and proper middle aged woman from England was sent to a truck stop.

I was sent to a gay bar. I don’t think it was because of an obvious homophobia on my part, but instead because I came off to others as so vigorously heterosexual. Suffice it to say that it was no big whoop (after you see your first guy in assless chaps, the rest don’t really make much of an impact), but it proved to me once again that people were people, even if what they’re up to at a given moment might seem a little out of the ordinary based on your own personal experience.

We weren’t assigned to actually interview anyone, but that would come later. The purpose of the exercise was to get us a little more comfortable with otherwise uncomfortable situations.

As a reporter, those would more often than not be hostile police departments, the offices of less-than-friendly politicians or situations where someone had died in an unpleasant fashion, and rather than just making it through a couple of drinks (and politely refused propositions), I was required to actually speak with those people and extract from them important information they were often reluctant to share.

Now, as I ply the waters of indie publishing, I’m finding those “putting myself out there” skills are coming in handy again. As ID has made its way into Barnes & Noble stores nationwide, we at Codorus Press have mounted a concerted effort to make sure that the other stores where it really should be have them on the shelves. Those include, most importantly, the New York City stores (where big-shot reviewers and tastemakers could stumble across it) and the Southern stores, where readers will recognize the places and characters in the novel most clearly.

That’s involved what most people dread – cold calling. Every day, Codorus shaman Wayne Lockwood and I are on the phone and paying visits to the folks who can make the decisions to get us in front of even more readers. We don’t know these people and they don’t know us. In addition, they’re wary that we are trying to sell them on a product that might somehow be inferior or unprofessional. Not only must we be bold about introducing ourselves, but confident enough in the product we’re pushing to make them take notice.

To paraphrase the Kinko’s guy from Jerry McGuire, sometimes you just have to hang ’em out there. And that’s essentially what aggressive marketing is – hanging them out there and hoping they don’t get cut off.

And speaking of mojo, I just couldn’t help including this. Enjoy.

The Love That is Linkage

I was just tipped off by Wayne Lockwood, the wise and mighty shaman of Codorus Press, that our great neighbors at the Philadelphia Book Festival gave us some link love via their blog Me Want Food.

Leigh Ellwood and Kat Lively had the booth next to us on that particular very rainy day. Leigh writes erotic lesbian fiction and Kat writes rock-themed mysteries. Both of them were very cool ladies and seemed to really appreciate some of our clever little bits of marketing (like the faux Church of the New Revelation religious tracts – specially designed to look cheap and cheesy, just like the real thing!). For our part, we really like their style and the whole vibe of their booth (which featured a sign declaring “Ass Kicking Fairies!”).

A funny story – I realized toward the end of our damp day that I had actually shared some time with their boothmates previously when I appeared at The York Emporium in York, Pa. (birthplace of Codorus Press) at this time last year for their Sci-Fi Saturday event. There’s video of my interview with Jim Lewin, owner of The York Emporium, from that appearance, as well as a reading. Check out the interview below and follow the link for more of the event (thanks to Codorus team member Tom Joyce for shooting).

Speaking of events, I’m looking forward to some other events later in the summer and into the fall, both focusing on ID and Codorus Press. As the marketing word gets out, we’re hoping to get more interest in presenting our indie publishing road-show, The Wandering Heretics Independent Publishing Tent Revival and Old Time Medicine Show, at book stores and other locations. We’re also planning for a couple of book-related events, including the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, N.J., and PhilCon, the annual convention of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.

We love interacting with fans of ID and anyone interested in indie publishing, so we hope to see you out at these and even more events throughout 2011 and into 2012.

The Never-Ending Explanation

I’ve been fortunate over the last few months to have received some great positive response about ID  from Barnes & Noble, probably the largest remaining major retail book store chain now that Borders has gone completely belly up.

As part of that, I and other folks from Codorus Press have been on the phone with customer relations associates at individual stores that don’t already carry the novel to spread the gospel of why they should. One of the nicest bits of feedback we’ve received is, “Wow, you guys really did your homework.”

In other words, the folks in charge of acquiring books at the stores have dealt with a lot of amateurs – self- or vanity-published authors rolling in the doors with a crate full of their books expecting B&N to be obligated to carry their work, and storming out shocked and offended when the store offers to take two or three – on consignment.

As a small press, we at Codorus vowed from the beginning that at every turn, we would make our operation as professional as possible, especially in dealing with the book stores and the distribution networks through which they order their stock.

It was reassuring to hear such nice words from pros in the book biz, and it wasn’t the first time. Repeatedly, we’ve been told that our method is not just revolutionary, but exceptionally forward-thinking in this rapidly changing market.

But we still come up against the stereotypes of the self-publisher again  and again, so it requires constant explanation on why that’s precisely what we are not. I went so far as to put together this YouTube animation explaining the differences.

Still, some folks just don’t get it. Back in the fall, I appeared at a meeting of the National Writers Union. At the meeting was another writer who later blogged about how the Codorus Press model of cooperative publishing sounded like “self-publishing, but as a group.”

Well, yes and no. If it was self-publishing, it would just be me. There is a capable and highly qualified team that makes up Codorus Press, which by the very defnition of self-publishing takes it out of that category.

The proof in the pudding will be this fall, when my talented colleagues at Codorus Press start rolling out their very own novels, guidebooks and children’s literature.

So, so much for that whole “self” thing, and kudos to us for doing our homework.

Another Writer Writing About Writing

Ask any good book marketing person and they’ll tell you that I probably should have started this blog a long, long time ago. That’s because my novel, Immaculate Deception, has been out for more than a year now, and I’m just getting around to this part of the process.

Mom always said I was a procrastinator. I guess she was right.

So first, a little about me. I was writing ID (as we like to call it around here) for a long time beginning in 1989 and ending in 2009. Yes, that’s 20 years, folks. Don’t judge.

Suffice it to say that I was trying to take a number of what I thought were really cool stories and ideas and weave them into a single novel that combined my early upbringing in the South, my later upbringing in the North, religion, aliens, real estate development, global climate change, youth-obsessed baby-boomers, gay Marines, severely underdressed waitresses, sex, drugs, and – if not rock ‘n roll – at least a healthy dose of 1960s R&B.

What I’ll aim to do here is fill you in on what’s going on with the book, appearances and activities related to that book and the ups and downs of writing and promoting the book and others to come.

So, come along for the ride and see if you can hang on for the duration.