Thursday, August 9, 2012

Three Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

Guest post by journalist and novelist Terry Ambrose

Marketing. It’s the job authors dread most right after completing a manuscript. Why so much dread? Beyond the fact that it can be incredibly time-consuming, there’s also the issue of results. What worked? How well did it work? How can I get more people to know about me and my book?

About two years ago, I took on a freelance writing assignment with to write about fiction in San Diego. That assignment later expanded into my National Crime Fiction column. I cover everything in crime fiction from events to author interviews to book reviews. Now that I’ve just released my first mystery novel, I look back on my two years of doing author interviews and book reviews and recognize some common differences between those that make it and those that struggle for any recognition at all. Let’s take a look at those differences.

The first difference is also the biggest cliche around, and the reason many readers consider self-published books “second rate.” Most new authors rush their book to publication. They take the mantra of “write a great book” far too lightly and think that because their best friend or their mom loved it, it’s going to be a bestseller. Overstated, perhaps, but close to true. How does a new writer make sure he’s got a good book? Solving this problem couldn’t be simpler—or harder.

Have. People. Read. It.

If you’re really serious about writing a great book, you’ll spend money on a good editor. If you can’t afford an editor, find more readers. Beta readers, i.e., people who will read and give good feedback, are critical to seeing what works and what doesn’t in a novel. The readers who count are those who are distanced from you or who are practiced in giving writing feedback. Find readers who have a good eye for detail and who are, above all, honest. Do this by widening your circle of readers until you’ve found ten people who have no reason to tell you nice things. In all likelihood, those ten people will give you diverse opinions, but at least you’ll see patterns.

Second, before publishing, think about the very basics of marketing. These basics can be summed up in three little words (sorry, another cliche), “less is more.” A good tag line (or log line) is critical. For me, mine became “Hawaii, mystery, and trouble almost too hot to handle.” That tag line goes on every email I send out. I recently heard from a publisher who said that many of their authors don’t include tag lines in their outgoing emails. Is it any surprise that the publisher was complaining their authors weren’t selling?

An author interview can be a great tool to attract readers. It can also be incredibly boring. Here’s a secret from the other side of the book review fence. Do what you can to make the interviewer’s job easier. I know, this sounds self-serving, but if I interview an author or review their book and the author has taken steps to make my life easier, I’m very willing to cover them again. You can make that interviewer’s life easier simply by providing great answers to questions.

Here are two different answers to the question of “why did you write Photo Finish?” 1) I’ve always enjoyed writing and thought it would be fun to write a mystery about a skip tracer and a con artist. 2) Early in my career I was a skip tracer. I never had to steal a car myself, but came pretty close. I also learned that skip tracers and con artists are very similar—both can be great liars—and can create great stories.

If I’m reading those responses, I’m going to gloss over #1, but give answer #2 serious consideration for a full or partial quote.

When I do author interviews, I always ask for a short summary of the book. This short summary should be 25−50 words. What happens when I get one that’s 100-200 words? I start cutting. Just hope I don’t leave out the important stuff.

Preventing someone else from butchering your summary is to have three versions at the ready. Those summaries, in 25, 50, and 100-word versions, should be strong and to the point. Use powerful verbs, not lots of adjectives and adverbs. There are times when I feel as though I should be writing marketing materials for authors that I interview and, believe me, that does not make me want to deal with them again.

Then there’s the author bio. This should also be written in a couple of different lengths. I’ve had writers send me page long bios telling me more than I ever wanted to know about their history. In one case, I think I pulled one or two sentences, shortened those, and still felt like I had nothing of real importance to tell readers.

The third most basic mistake that I see made is that authors don’t have a website with their own domain name for reviewers or potential readers to go for information about them. Your domain name and website are your online business card. So, buy your domain name, they’re cheap, and make sure it’s easy to say and to remember.

I know, there’s really nothing new in this post. There are no magic solutions to help you skyrocket to the top of the sales charts. Believe me, if I knew those solutions, I’d use them first, share later. But, the problems I’ve mentioned here are not uncommon. Mix and match any way you like and the bottom line is always the same. These things happen far too often.

Every time an author does an interview, or someone offers to write a review of an author’s book, it’s an opportunity to increase that author’s name recognition. So the question becomes, how do you want people to remember you?

What do you think? Have you had a bad interview or review experience either as an author or a reader? Do you think that new authors do a good job of marketing, or not?

Find out more about Terry and his books here. 


  1. Thanks for the post, Terry. I'm still figuring out a lot of this marketing stuff, but what I've learned seems to work the best at the moment is a third party talking about my book, without very much involvement from me at all.

    I've hired someone to design a decent website for me. One morning I tried listing all of the reasons I didn't really need one and ended up proving why having a website was important.

    A new tagline is something I need to work on. I used to use "Don't Close Your Eyes" but I think I'm ready to move on.

    Thanks again for the reminders.

  2. Hi Peg, I agree. People like hearing from someone other than the author about a book.

  3. So far, I've been lucky. No bad interviews and almost no bad reviews. But I have a TV interview (OPB) coming up, and we'll see how I do in front of a camera.

    Yep, Peg, a website is essential. I've had one for years, but I'm finally spending the time and money to optimize it for search engines. A writer's work is never done. :)

  4. Welcome to Crime Fiction Collective, Terry! I look forward to more guest blogs from you.

    These are all excellent tips, and I'll be sending my author clients here to use them as a checklist for their own process to get published and to sell their books.

  5. Thanks Jodie. Sometimes it's the little things that trip us up. And, had I not been on the other side of the aisle for a couple of years now, I might not have given this stuff a second thought. The exposure game, just like everything else in life seems to be a constant learning process!

  6. Good post, Terry and very useful info. Thanks for all the interviews you do on for us authors. Good to know how we can make it easier. By the way, I thoroughly enjoyed your book, Photo Finish. Never knew you had a such a wicked sense of humor.

  7. Thanks Jenny, on both counts. McKenna is that part of me that's snarky on the outside, mushy on the inside. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  8. L.J. said it well--a writer's work is never done!

    Thanks for the article, Terry. Very good points. :-)

  9. It's funny. People often ask me for advice on how to sell books. More often than not, I can see and feel their disappointment when I tell them. The answers are so basic, so simple, and yet they almost act like I'm holding out on them. But I'm not. Get to the basics first before getting creative or elaborate. Without a stable foundation, everything else crumbles.

  10. No magic solutions, Terry? Now I have to seriously whine! (even if Drew's been telling me that for years). Great advice and definitely worth sharing with aspiring authors and established ones as well. You pose some valid points, thought-provoking questions, and "simple" solutions. My favorite: How do you want people to remember you. I think that one's worthy of being placed on a sticky note at the top of my laptop screen. Thanks for a great post.

  11. Drew, your success was earned by hard work and perseverance. I find it funny that people think you're holding out on them. Maybe they expect you to loan out a magic wand? However, let me hedge my bet here, if you do start loaning out a magic wand, I want a place in line! :D

    Linda, I have to constantly remind myself that just because I like something I wrote, it doesn't mean others will. With marketing stuff, I get super-careful because it may be the only time someone sees my name unless they like what they see. As long as I think in those terms, however, at least I have a fighting chance.

  12. Good question, Terry – do you want people to remember you?
    I'm possibly going to fail at marketing because I want people to remember my stories, not me.
    My Vagilantes series is a mission wrapped up in an approachable package of good novels. (Vagilantes – Pedophiles Be Afraid. Very Afraid. – was published this year. I'm working on; Vagilantes – Wrath Rising.)
    As a newbie, my reviews/interviews have been exceptionally good. One fortunate review example is that a graduate student found Vagilantes and selected me as a "local" writer for her course project.
    She examined my work and compared it to the stories of Virginia Woolf and Lenore C. Terr.
    If I were good at marketing, I would have already posted her research paper. (She received an A grade and her professor said the paper would be used as a great example in future classes.)
    Mistake #4: being too shy.
    Thanks, Terry, for listing mistakes #1, #2 and #3.


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