Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A First-Time Author's Rocky Path

For an entire year as a preschooler, my wife Patty changed her name. Without seeking anyone's blessing, she decided to answer only to "Cecil" (or, more formally, to "Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent," a beloved TV character of the time). When I heard this story, I gasped—not because Patty wanted to reinvent herself while barely invented, but because her choice seemed a trifle whacko for a child battling sibilance (or, as she would have said, thibilanth).

This morning, as I sat to relate my brazen efforts to promote my upcoming book, I recalled Patty's story, and it made me think.

I call myself an author. But, until Lost in the Hive hits shelves in June, I'm really just "Theethil" reborn—a notion of an author, an author-to-be.

The folks at PublishingWorks encourage me to keep up the ruse. For Lost in the Hive to sell, people need to know about the book, even though it's not yet a book—and know about the author, even though I'm not yet officially an author. If nobody knows ... nobody buys.

As a new author, I lack a solid "platform". This is editor-speak for, "You're no David Sedaris." For most authors (and especially for those insane enough to write humorous personal essays, as I do), a lack of platform translates into a lack of a writing future. To survive, I must pull a P.T. Barnum, a Houdini. I need to create buzz based on a promise, to craft clever smoke and mirrors that will draw potential readers to the edge of their seats, yearning for the eventual reveal.

What have I been doing so far to move myself from unknown to ├╝ber-author, from Cecil to Sedaris? Well, I'll tell you. Will these things work? Only time will tell.

1. I flirt with "real" authors

With few exceptions, most writers struggled to get their names and their books known. The more compassionate in this group recall this fresh hell and, like parents (at least those without crack addictions), wish a better life for those who follow. So, before the ink dried on my contract for Lost in the Hive, I started reaching out to other authors (mostly on Twitter and Facebook). Most have been happy to share advice and/or horror stories, will introduce me around and talk me up, and will even find ways to include me in activities and events in which they're participating. These favors come with an unspoken understanding: (a) since they've scratched my back, I may one day be called upon to scratch theirs, and (b) if I'm one of the lucky few to make it big, those backs will itch like a sonofabitch.

2. I make fun of myself

For the past several weeks, I've been directing clips for a YouTube trailer to promote Lost in the Hive. My book is self-deprecating and humorous (I hope), so my angle is to take shots at both the book and myself. I'm opting for a faux-testimonial approach, where "readers" share accounts of how my book changed and/or ruined their lives.

The advantages of a tongue-in-cheek video trailer are: (a) online videos are viral—like STDs and nasty rumors, they get passed around; (b) if you employ friends as "actors" in your video, they want their family, friends and friends-of-friends to see their star turn, so they pass the video around; and (c) even people who aren't avid readers enjoy movies, so they may buy your book on a whim before they realize, "Hey, I never read. He tricked me." Think about it: while most books are better than movies based on those books, a great many books were unknown until the movie version came out.

3. I'm a social media whore

Like iPhones and ill-fitting pants, I'm everywhere. I'm active on my personal Facebook page, and comment on the walls of other authors and comics. I maintain a Facebook fan page for Lost in the Hive. My generous friends use the "suggest to friends" feature on the page to tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on. Some will even post a message on their personal Facebook wall, encouraging others to become fans and to pass the word along. Will all of these visitors and fans buy my book? I don't know. But, at a minimum, they'll know it exists, and that's a start. How did I get friends to do this for me? First, I'm a real friend to them (my backyard is full of bodies). Second, I asked.

I spend a lot of time—too much—on Twitter (omara_croft) and TweetChat. I follow many writers, booksellers, publishers, agents, comics and actors. I retweet their comments (a great way to seem funny or sharp by stealing others' material with their blessing), and reply with comments I hope they too will retweet. Most times, nothing happens; once in a while, something does.

On TweetChat, I participate in various discussion groups, like #bookmarket and #litchat. I make evocative comments, and some participants follow me (not as many as I'd hoped, but I keep plugging away). Most people want to know you if they think you have something to say (especially if it's about Twilight).

4. I steal others' ideas

If you're an author (published or aspiring) who doesn't know me personally, you chose to read this not because you love me or find me especially attractive, unless there's something very wrong with you. You're reading because you hope I'll share something you can use to promote yourself. Please, go ahead; use me. I'd use you. Along the way, I've picked up many good ideas from others.

On Twitter alone, I follow SMforWriters, AuthorTech and bookmarketer, all of whom offer wonderful tips, tricks and links to get your name and work out there. For example, a quick scan of SMforWriters' Twitter page this morning yielded a goldmine:
  • How blogging can help land a book deal

  • How writers can use Twitter to maximize efficiency

  • How to use social networking without losing author mystique (whatever that is)

  • How writers can build a "brand" on search engines
When I can break myself away from Twitter, I Google "author self-promotion", "how to attract Facebook fans", "book marketing" and "quick ways to get absurdly wealthy", just to see what others have tried and tested. All but the last one bear fruit.

5. I seduce readers of my genre

If you're a writer and you haven't joined Shelfari, take a quick break now and join. I mean it. Don't worry…I'll still be here when you get back. Avid readers love talking about what they've read, and also love hearing about good books they might read next.

On the site, I study members' positive reviews of books by authors who write books similar to mine. I then invite the reviewers to be my friends. I include a note like this: "I enjoyed your review of Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs. I, like you, am a fan of his writing. His work inspired me to write my own upcoming collection of humorous essays, LOST IN THE HIVE. I'm hoping to connect with other readers and writers who enjoy this genre. If you're curious about my work, please take a peek at my blog at lostinthehive.blogspot.com. Thanks for being my friend."

This isn't trickery. I believe people who enjoy these authors will also enjoy my book. If they don't, I'll look like an asshole and they'll tell everyone. (Hmm…should I be doing this?)

Within days, I had more than 100 friends. By looking at what they're reading, and studying what they liked and disliked, I learn a lot about what types of stories hold the greatest appeal, and can use this information to improve my own writing. What's more, I can keep my new online friends up-to-date about my upcoming book release.

6. I blog...a lot

I maintain a blog (lostinthehive.blogspot.com) that shares a name, and irreverent style, with my upcoming book. I write as often as I can. On occasion, I post a timely or relevant article on some issue I hope will appeal to a large audience—like, er, this one.

On BlogCatalog.com, I discuss my blog, the issues I explore on my blog, and the process of blogging; if I say the right things, people pop by for a look, and some stay. I re-posted one of my blog stories on Broowaha, an online newspaper made up of blog entries. I let people know, via my Facebook fan page and Twitter, that I've posted a new blog entry. When I send emails to people, I include the information about my blog (and my book) in the signature line. When I visit others' blogs, I leave comments that are outrageous, and drop subtle hints about my blog. Everyone does this; nobody seems to mind.

7. I thrive on symbiosis

I live in a small suburb of Chicago. Oswego is small enough to boast only one independent bookstore, and not big enough to attract a big-box store like Borders. I know Joe and Leah, the owners of Old Towne Books & Tea, quite well. I participate in their Writers' Club. I've been working with Joe on a podcast interview.

I use the skills from my day job—graphic design—to help them out with branding and promotional items. I do this for free—well, almost for free. In exchange for my services, I include a blurb for my book on most materials I create. Joe knows I'm looking out for myself. He's looking out for himself. And if in the process of looking out for ourselves we can look out for each other, even better. If you have a skill outside your writing, think about ways you can apply that skill to help your book promotion efforts.

8. I'm shameless

Yeah, I said it. I'm shameless. This is my dream, and I don't want it to die. I have two other books in the works that yearn for happy futures.

Carol, the VP of marketing at my publisher, told me, "You should be willing to jump through a flaming hoop of dogshit to sell your book." I agree. I would jump through a flaming hoop of gasoline to sell my book. I will blog, tweet, chat, email, perform, debate and proffer sexual favors (okay, maybe not) if it means more people will help my writing journey.

Now that the secret about my shamelessness is out, I would also ask you, as you read this, to "Stumble" this story, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, and tell your friends. All of them.

Oh, one more thing: would you please buy my book?

When it exists, that is.

Note: If you would like a formatted, PDF version of this blog post, please leave a comment or email me at brianomaracroft@yahoo.com. And yes, in case you were wondering, I will be saving your email address so I can let you know when the book comes out. That's just smart promotion.



  1. Great blog today. I would have to agree with you 100%. In looking out for ourselves we look out and help one another. With that said. Lost in the Hive will be available at Old Towne Books & Tea on June 30, 2010. If you would like to reserve your copy and possibly get an autographed copy (if Brian isn't to drunk on joy or to depressed because only one person actually came to the release party that we are throwing him) please check out our website (www.oldtownebooksandtea.com) for more info. Thanks again for our little plug Brian. We'll be sure to continue to beat people over the head with your book until they buy it. I promise. ---Joe---

  2. This is brilliant, honey.


  3. Outstanding blog. THANKS for all the useful tips and information. I went ten years between producing books, and I'm trying to get the hang of all this new media stuff. I'll order your book. It's the least I can do!

    Nadine Feldman

  4. Oh Buddy, do I feel you on every single thing you just said.

    Also, I am related to Leah and Joe. Not like that info means anything to you, but there you are nonetheless.

  5. Good post. Covers the mass of activity an author must perform. To get the word out. On point 2 on this blog, you mention videos. That has been a mainstay of mine since starting my indie pub company and launching books. My first, like yours, was a humor book, concerning self-help -- "How to Find Yourself (or a reasonable facsmile)". The first of a series of five videos launched over a period of weeks, was, much like your idea, "fake" testimonials. Here's the video and how I did it: http://bit.ly/s4wbd
    (Did I "use" you...? I'll stumble you... :-).

  6. You need a video of Thethil the Thee Thick Thee Therpent to go with this...lol

    Great Post.

  7. This is a great post! So much meat in here. You must get exhausted doing all this. I hope it really bears fruit!

    By the way, posted to my own Facebook page now. :-)

  8. Yes, yes, I want a PDF of this post. I’d stumble you, but I have no idea what that means. But I’m stickin’ with you ‘cause I’m sure if I do, one day I’ll know how to stumble, too.


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