Author and marketing guru (and former WD columnist) MJ Rose capped the day of ThrillerFest sessions off with “Buzz Your Book: And the New Reality.”
… So what’s the new reality?
According to Rose:
- No book ever really dies—they can all live on the internet forever.
- An old book is a new book to anyone who hasn’t read it before.
- No one really cares if a book is new. The key is that it’s good.
So what does all that mean? Rose said that essentially you can promote your book for as long as you want. There will always be new readers out there, and it’s just a matter of reaching them.
With that in mind, here are some marketing essentials from Rose and her co-presenter, publicity expert Meryl Moss. As Rose said, “There’s no one thing you can do to have success, but if you have a plan and you keep doing things, you’ll eventually build to a success.”
A website: But, you just want a simple static page. After all, Rose said, nobody is going to wake up and go on a hunt for an author they don’t know about yet. So save some money on your site so you can spend the rest on other things.
Giveaways: Rose noted that word of mouth is the holy grail of selling books. But, people need to know about your book to spread the word about it. So early on, do some giveaways. Handpick key people who would be good to spread your word to the right readers.
A newsletter list: This is vital. Rose pointed out that people tend to regard collecting email addresses as an antiquated strategy, but they’re wrong. For instance: She collected oodles of MySpace friends, but then MySpace faded into obscurity. Which wouldn’t have happened with email. So collect those addresses, and spread the word when your book is about to debut—after all, she said, presales count toward your first week sales, which publishers have their eye on.
A YouTube channel: Also key nowadays. And, in fact, Rose said there’s talk among marketing circles that YouTube channels will be the next Facebook.
Blogs: Blogs are a simple way to engage with your audience, and anyone can blog. Joint blogs—blogging alongside other authors to expand your collective reach and narrow the workload, also is a great strategy. But, content is key: Rose said you don’t want to have five writers blogging together about “our first novel”—readers don’t want to read about writers writing. Instead, blog on a topical hook that readers care about.
Newsfeeds: Establish yourself as a go-to source on your topic. Rose said to set up a Google Alert (google.com/alerts) so that every time your topic is mentioned, Google will send you an email notification. Then, provide those on your blog. Sooner or later, people will come to you for the info, and moreover, will be led to your book.
Flexing your expertise: Moss said to pitch articles on different topics related to your novel. For instance, if your thriller is about China and you’re well-versed on the subject, pitch a nonfiction article on something that hasn’t been written about before—and, of course, at the end of the piece, include your byline with your name and book. Rose added that for example you could do pieces on how Americans order food in China, or even log into Twitter and do a Chinese Custom of the Day tweet.
Pinterest: Pinterest is a social network based on visuals. People basically post images that they like, and then others repost them on their pages, disseminating the image. But authors can take it a step further (as we covered in the September 2012 issue of WD [LINK]): Rose said she has a Pinterest board for one of her characters, one about roses (given her last name), one illustrating the first chapter of one of her books. “It’s really a fabulous thing to explore, and everybody should be looking into it,” she said. At the end of the day, when
Want to write a thriller, but stuck on the beginning? Novelist Daniel Palmer uses his own experience and that of his father (bestseller Michael Palmer) and lays out the essentials to get you on your way.
1. Choose your rhino.
Michael Palmer once was asked to describe writing a book. His answer? Writing a book is like following a recipe for rhinoceros stew. The first step of which is to find the rhino—which isn’t your plot, character or hook. It’s that huge idea that defines the book, such as a deadly virus. Daniel’s latest rhino was identity theft.
2. Formulate the What-If question.
Daniel said to think of this essentially as your elevator pitch—that pithy, snappy description of your book you should have at the ready should you be stuck in an elevator with an agent or editor. Cap it at two sentences, 25 words. It needs to be as tight as possible, and it shouldn’t delve into things like characters or plot twists. “I spend days doing those two sentences, and I would urge you to do the same with yours,” Daniel said.
One What-If example from Michael’s work: What if everybody involved in a surgery six years ago is being murdered one by one?
3. Answer the What-If question.
The answer to this pivotal question is what’s known as the MacGuffin: the reason people think they’re reading the book. (MacGuffins can be a confusing subject, but they’re key.) Ultimately, Daniel said the answer is that it doesn’t matter—people read to the end of a book for the characters. But you need something to keep them flipping pages. The MacGuffin is simply that tool that gets them to stay with the characters.
Daniel said when you have the answer to your What-If, you should file it away and forget about it for a while. If you focus solely on the MacGuffin, your book will be plot-heavy and bogged down by it, and you’ll have lost your readers.
4. Figure out who you’re going to write about.
“You’re looking for your character who’s got the absolute most at stake, and that’s the person who you want your story to be about.” Daniel said to develop your arc as they go along, chasing the MacGuffin, and they’ll change and grow.
5. Write on.
Daniel likes to think of plot as a “cannibal’s stew”—a simmering cauldron into which you drop your character in. Once he’s inside, it boils. But you don’t have your character simply jump out—you slam a lid on the cauldron and nail it shut so your character has to figure out how to survive the plot.
In her session at ThrillerFest, Catherine Coulter—who has had a stunning 62 New York Times bestsellers—shared her wisdoms on how to “Kill ‘Em Clean: Writing Sharp, Fast and Deadly.” These are the basics, Coulter said, you must master before you worry about finding an agent, or dive too deeply into your book.
“Always kill with lean writing,” she said. “Sloppy writing is not acceptable. … You don’t want to end up being a murder victim in your own book.”
1. Nix the adjectives.
“Treat adverbs like cloves of garlic,” Coulter said. “A few go a long way.” Moreover, listen to the way your prose sounds—“If you wouldn’t say something aloud, then don’t write it. All you’ve got to do is read it aloud, and therein lies the truth.” Coulter added that nothing any of us write is set in stone—you’re allowed to tear up the bad stuff, and start anew.
2. Avoid other words for “said,” and avoid redundancies.
Cut “She joked.” “He quipped.” “Damn you to hell, he yelled furiously.” As Coulter said, it’s like writing, “I’m sorry, he apologized.” You don’t need all the excess word fat. You want to be as straightforward as possible. Coulter said every time you use a substitute for “said,” the reader blinks—and you’ve pulled him out of the scene. Instead, you want constant forward motion. “Never let him escape with weak writing. … You’ve got to trust yourself that what the characters say will indicate clearly what they’re thinking and feeling.”
3. Excise the exclamation marks.
In Coulter’s opinion, you’re allowed three per book. Ditch the rest. Good prose shouldn’t require them, except in rare cases. “Three is all you get, so use them wisely.”
4. Forget the euphemisms.
Blue orbs for eyes? Nope. Coulter said to make your prose nuanced—you want the perfect word to convey your exact meaning, and you don’t want your readers to get stalled out for even a millisecond.
5. Don’t fall into stereotypes.
“Make your characters unique and true to themselves”—especially bad guys. “Make them real.” And concerning physical appearance, make your characters stunning knockouts only if that’s a key factor in how fellow characters see them. Coulter once gave a character a broken nose to prevent him from being too handsome. “Have a very good reason for whatever you do.” And give characters some sort of “tag,” some quirk that will make them real.
6. Use caution in sex scenes.
They’re difficult to pull off. Coulter’s advice: “Do not, on pain of death, do nitty gritty body parts.” “And do not overwrite.” “Don’t use dialogue that would make the reader barf.” Make the scenes funny and fun.
7. Avoid endless introspection.
Pacing is key, Coulter said. And too much introspection kills pacing. Furthermore, she said that if a character can say something aloud instead of think it, then by all means say it aloud.
8. Skip over-the-top violence and language.
Have an intense violent scene that doesn’t actually do anything for the plot of the story? Cut it. “If you’re doing it for shock value, it’s gratuitous and you don’t need it.”
9. “And above all, don’t take yourself too seriously.”