On Marketing

5 April, 2018

Quail Ridge Bookstore launches SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, by Elaine Neil Orr

Over a hundred people attended the book launch for Elaine Orr’s powerful novel about the civil rights era in the 1960s.  For Orr, a professor at North Carolina State University, Quail Ridge Bookstore was the perfect place for a send-off of this long-awaited work of fiction. Here are some images that capture this dynamic event.


6 March, 2018

When your book isn’t selling…what’s an author to do?

There’s the exhilaration when your agent sells your book.  Suddenly, you are real!  You are going to be a published author. The contract comes.  Now it is truly official.  The manuscript is delivered, edited and accepted. Yes!  You send in answers to an exhaustive questionnaire listing every contact you have.  If you are one of the luckier authors, there comes a day when you are put in touch with the in-house publicist, or if you’re really lucky, the marketing and publicity “team.”  A lot of brainstorming ensues.  An early trade review appears.  A few appearances are booked.  Publication is looming.

And then it comes.  The quiet.  OK, there’s  a trickle of communications, but it doesn’t seem to be adding up to a much.  Panic ensues.  What’s an author to do?

This is a challenging moment, one that needs to be navigated with persistence and grace.  Of course, every situation is individual.  But in the moment of reckoning, you may find out that your book is not the most important book on your publisher’s list.  Your publicist is twelve years old and overwhelmed.  Copies of your book that were supposed to show up at a launch event went astray or the number of copies ordered is woefully inadequate.  Your publicist tells you that there the pages of the review media have shrunk.  The budget for sending an author around is nonexistent. The publisher’s response to every idea you have is “Great!” but it seems like you are the one doing all the heavy lifting.  You thought there was a marketing team, but maybe there isn’t?

At this point, if you have an agent, you may want to enlist her support while understanding that your agent really doesn’t hold the cards, but does have insight and should care about the long-term success of your book. Here are a few things to keep in mind.  You want to be smart, but you also want to be an author who is viewed as positive and a pleasure to work with.  Many things that your publisher is doing for you or has done for you are not that visible.  These days, publishers may put a lot of effort into positioning your book, enhancing the searchability of your book online and in-stores.  Your publisher is at the mercy of vendors.  For example, your publisher cannot update your Amazon listing with a new review–Amazon has to do the input–but they can send in that information in a timely manner to Amazon and follow up.  Your publisher cannot schedule a review of your book but they can send your book out for review or pitch a feature or interview with the author, and it is all about follow up.  We’re all screaming in the wilderness, trying to get attention.

So…do what you can.  By studying what other authors you admire, you will have a template of what can work for you and your book.

*Ask your publisher if they have marketing guidelines or a DIY guide to marketing your book.

*Make sure that your website is clearly designed and updated well before pub date and that your book is front and center on it.  Post early endorsements and reviews as they happen.  Inform readers of your upcoming appearances. Ask your publisher to weigh in on your website to make sure that it is effective in supporting you as an author–and focusing on your book.

*Choose one or two social media platforms that have more currency for you and use them wisely. It’s better to be really good at Instagram or Twitter than to try to be all things to all people and not be effective.  Build a community by interacting with others and being generous in your interest in their work.  Keep making noise about your book and your activities but not just in a way that is self-serving.  When using social media, speak often and always in your own voice.  It’s often transparent when a tweet, for example, is written by the actual author or by a proxy.  Ask your publisher for help.  For example, if you’re using Twitter, learn to use hashtags effectively so you are tying into your publisher and other supporters.

*Ensure that your Amazon author page is current.  Having a great author photo is essential.

*Communicate often with your publisher but keep the communications short and to the point.   Do not send long, detailed emails on a daily basis or invite your publisher to “brainstorm” with you.  Do not send these communications on holidays and weekends unless it is absolutely necessary.

*Thank your publishing team for all the good things that they do for you.  It’s easy to focus on what’s not happening and not on what is.  Letting your publisher know that you appreciate them will go a long way.  No one likes a whiny author. As with any relationship, folks at the publishing house will work that much harder for you if they like you and feel appreciated.

*Working in concert with your publisher, reach out to any and all contacts you have. For example, you may have a relationship with a local bookstore or organization that will partner with you to do an event to support your book.

*Take a long view.  Every day, wake up and say: Is there anything I can do today to help sell my book?

–Joelle Delbourgo





8 June, 2016

Writing with a Positive Attitude–It May Get You an Agent or Publisher!

There are many reasons why writers write, but one is that that they wish to be read.  Most writers want to find their audience and connect with their audience.  Whether it is because they have something to say, information to sJoelle portraits0105_001hare, or are creating an experience, through memoir and fiction, most writers–at least those who seek to be published—are looking for someone on the other end to read their words.

Volumes have been written about how hard it is to get published, from the grueling search for an agent to finding a publisher.  And it is all true.  It’s damn hard.  It’s easy to get discouraged as the rejection pile grows higher. Even worse, many queries and efforts appear to go unheard, with writers not even receiving a rejection from which they can glean the reason why they are being passed over.

As a busy publishing professional, I am guilty of doling out rejection and ignoring queries.  This is not because I am an unkind person.  But there are literally not enough hours in the day to fully evaluate unsolicited queries and respond thoughtfully, with sensitivity to each.

Writers should know that we are truly searching for you.  The thrill of discovering new talent never dulls.  One thing that can help is exhibiting a positive attitude despite the discouraging aspects of the quest.  A writer’s personality usually resonates when they make an appeal, and at the end of the day, we’re drawn not only to talent but to a person with a positive spirit.  I don’t mean you should be relentlessly cheerful, but we do tend to work harder for people we actually like.  Not all talented authors are likable, but some are, and I just love working with authors who are professional, kind, respectful, hard-working, listen well, and hungry for true partnership.

So next time you send out a query, let your higher self shine through.  It just may help you get the attention you deserve.

–Joelle Delbourgo

3 December, 2014

How Authors Can Better Use Facebook to Promote

Random House has an excellent newsletter for authors and agents.  Here’s an article from the latest issue that every author who is on Facebook should read:


–Joelle Delbourgo

11 July, 2014

Wrapping Our Heads Around Amazon

If you are a writer, you would have to be living under a rock not to be aware of the David and Goliath battle between Amazon and Hachette.  There has been so much media coverage of this that I don’t need to add my analysis of the situation here, blow by blow. I do need to address the latest twist in this bizarre drama that is playing itself out in full public view.  There is no question in my mind that the “letter” fro4m Amazon to Hachette this past week suggesting that authors receive 100% of e-book revenues, thereby bypassing the publishers, is an extraordinarily manipulative ploy to win “customer” support and turn customers against publishers, once more deriding the roles that publishing professionals and companies play in financing, developing and publishing books.

I have spent more than three decades–my entire working life–in book publishing.  I have worked on both sides of the fence, both as an editor and publisher, and for the past 13 years, as an agent and entrepreneur.  I have helped to shepherd thousands of books through the process in one guise or another.  I am only too intimately aware of the extraordinary care, passion and expertise the best publishing professionals bring to their craft.  If you, as a writer, could sit in on the countless discussions that go on behind-the-scenes that help to shape a book and its message, you might be humbled by the hundreds of decisions/choices that go into birthing a book and bringing it out into the world.  And that doesn’t take into account the years that a writer may have put into writing a proposal and then a book, and the joint efforts of the author and agent to bring it to publishers in the best possible shape to entice the publisher to take it on in the first place.  This is just not an exact science and there is not always one right way to write and publish a book.

We all know advances are down, but we sometimes forget that advances are exactly that–a loan or investment to finance the writing of a book, without which many writers would not be able to write at all.  Those of us who have poured over subsequent profit and loss statements after the book has been published know all to well that many, many books do not make back this money for publishers, although enough do to keep the publishers who are healthy and strong and make wise decisions afloat.  This is a very tough, low-margin business.  If you want to get rich–do something else.  Go work for a hedge fund.

To suggest that publishers should not then share in the revenue produced by that book is an absurd business proposition.

On the other side, I am an agent who has sold books to Amazon, and a reader who owns–among other devices–a Kindle which I love dearly, and scores of books that I’ve bought from Amazon.  I am a customer, a very loyal one actually, who has been with Amazon literally from day one, and I love many things about the site and the service.  Let us remember that Amazon revolutionized bookselling.

There’s no simple way to resolve the conflicts in one’s own mind, as a reader and a publishing professional.  The takeaway here, I hope, is that the battles that are being fought today are complicated, fraught, and the issues are nuanced, not easily reduced to black and white.

This is not just about good guys and bad guys. We all know that there are times when publishers do a poor job and let writers and readers down.  And there are things that companies like Amazon do brilliantly.  I can only hope that there can be at some point a genuine dialogue.  Vendors need books.  Books need distribution. Customers need ease to make the right choices and get great service.  Let’s just keep talking, reading, thinking.  At some point, this too shall pass.

–Joelle Delbourgo


12 March, 2014

From Author to Marketer–the All-Important Query Letter

I invited freelance editor, ghostwriter, and blogger John Paine to contribute advice on how to approach the query letter.  Here he focuses on how to switch hats–from author to marketer–when formulating your pitch to agents.

You feel a tremendous relief when you finish your novel. All those months, all those snatches of stray time you stole to write dowJohn Paine photon a tidbit, have come to an end. You’re ready to send the book out. You know it’s great. An agent only has to read a few pages to discover that.

Before an agent reads the first word of the manuscript, however, she will read  the query letter that pitches the book. The word “pitch” is instructive. A query letter is a different type of document from a novel. The idea that governs it is: marketing. Once you finish the book, you have left the realm of art for art’s sake. A fit analogy can be found inside a publishing house. It has an editorial department and a marketing department. These two departments talk to each other all the time. So on your end, you should consider both of them. You need to be both creative and sales-savvy.

Let’s start with viewing your query letter from the perspective of the person who will be reading it. Agents as a rule receive thousands of submissions every year in a nonstop onslaught. This beleaguered individual will devote only a brief time to your query. She is trying to work through a tall stack that is ever replenished (figuratively: these days most submissions are done online). So you need to get to work fast, to capture her attention right away.

How do you do that? A good place to start is researching what other authors have done. Pick out a book that appeals to the same basic readers that you hope to reach with your manuscript. If it is a hardcover book, read the inside flap copy. If it is a paperback, read the back cover copy. That’s how they sell their books to readers, and you can do the same. Pick out the opening lure in your story to lure them into the letter. Tell a mini story that revolves around your protagonist to make us want to read more. Use subtle embellishment to spice up your adjectives.

That’s your objective with a query letter. You’re using ad copy to sell your manuscript. You want to show the agent you know how to sell your book. In the next post, I’ll address a few pieces that you might want to include in the package.

Check out www.johnpaine.com and follow John’s “Building a Book” blog.





6 March, 2014

The Author Photo

So you’re one of the lucky ones.  You are getting  published!  Your publisher asks you for an author photo.  You get your best friend or yo#1ur son to snap a shot of you on his phone. Voila!

There was a time when publishers would invest in an author photo.  Yes, they would actually hire photographers and set up a shoot.  That’s rare these days, unless you’re a very big deal.

The author photo is incredibly important. It projects your image.  It establishes (yes, I am going to use that over-used term) your brand.  It will not only be used on your book jacket but in publicity, social media, and countless other media impressions.  It needs to be high quality and show you to the best advantage.  Ladies, I hate to say this, but you may need professional make-up and styling.  Bare arms?  Not for everyone.  Men, you may also need help figuring out what to wear and how to get rid of that shine on your nose.  Skin tone needs to be evened out. No fly-away hair.  That’s for everybody.

This may mean hiring a professional, and they don’t come cheap.  There are photographers who specialize in author photos.  (Your publisher or writer friends may be able to make some recommendations.)  Sometimes they actually read your book!  They talk to you. They want to understand who you are and what message your photo needs to send out.  If you’re a romance writer, you don’t want to wear a suit jacket, but you also don’t want to look silly.  You want to be taken seriously. If you’re a serious expert on a topic, you need to project more gravitas, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be smiling.  You also want a photo that will stand the test of time.  So you don’t want to wear something too trendy that will be out of fashion in a year or two.

Of course, not everyone can afford to pay top dollar for the best photographers.  If your budget is tight, try discussing this with the photographer. He or she may cut you a break or suggest a simpler way to set up the shoot (your place?) that will be more cost-effective.  Or hire a local photographer who does standard studio shots, but at least has professional standards and will give you a good, clean image.  Whatever you do, make sure that the final result is one that you are pleased with and that your publisher feels is acceptable.

And who knows?  If your book sells, maybe your publisher will cough up the cash for your author photo for the next book!

–Joelle Delbourgo


11 November, 2013

Has the long novel made a comeback?

Today’s New York Times (November 11, 2013) reports on the recent sale of a 900-page novel, CITY ON FIRE, by Garth Risk Hallberg, for “close to $2 million.”  The article headline grabbed my attention:  “A Long Debut Novel Fetches About $2,200 Per Page.” The article points out several long novels that are currently enjoying strong sales, including Donna Tartt’s GOLDFINCH and Eleanor Catton’s LUMINAIRES, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

Are long novels back in vogue, as the article suggests?  I would argue not.  Perhaps the reason why these three novels sold was not because of their remarkable length in an age of Twitter, but because of their quality.  Each of these novels has received stellar reviews–in the case of 4GOLDFINCH and LUMINARIES, from the review press and literary blogosphere, and in the case of CITY OF FIRE, from the 10 publishers who bid more than $1 million for it.  The acquiring editor at Knopf, the publisher who acquired CITY OF FIRE, calls it “off the charts in its ambitious, its powers of observation, its ability to be at one intellectual and emotionally generous,” while the chairman of the company commented “It has a richness to it, and that was really what I responded to almost immediately.”  While all three of these talented authors clearly had a vision that was incredibly ambitious, they also have the chops to pull it off.

Traditionally, long novels put off publishers.  For one thing, they are very costly to produce–at least in their print incarnations.  But the greater question is if they truly deliver to the reader.

So before writers who are hesitating to cut down their 1,000 page manuscripts rejoice, I’d recommend taking a hard look at your work.  Is your novel brilliant?  Do you give readers enough reason to stay with you on this long journey?  Are you just in love with your own writing, or is the length of your novel truly necessary to its inherent purpose.

–Joelle Delbourgo