Thursday, March 3, 2011

Guest Post: Rob Tobin!

I want to thank Rex the Robot for letting me guest blog today, it's an honor and I'll try to live up to her high if somewhat digital standard of writing. 

Let me begin by introducing myself and then getting in the obligatory plug. I'm Rob Tobin, Canadian screenwriter, novelist and non-fiction book author living and writing full-time in southern California -- specifically Huntington beach, about 50 miles south of L.A. Now the plug -- this guest blog is part of a blog tour I'm doing to promote my latest book, an urban fantasy e-novel called God Wars: Living With Angels from Echelon Press, available March 1st on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Omnilit.com. It's about a young witch using her powers to battle evil but in the process accidentally opening the gates of Hell and then having to battle a demon she can't defeat, an angel she can't trust and three-foot tall aliens with really bad attitudes, to save the world and her own soul. It's a rollicking, action-packed, sexy, funny look at good and evil and the dangers of vengeance, and I hope that when you download the book in March you'll enjoy the read.

I thought you readers might find it interesting to know what goes into promoting a book these days, as opposed to the "old days." First of all most authors, not just the self-published ones, have to do pretty much everything themselves in terms of promotion and marketing. Publishers are doing less and less and assigning smaller and smaller marketing budgets to titles they publish -- in fact no marketing budget at all is pretty much the norm in the industry these days, unless you're Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer or JK Rowling.

So what does an author do to promote his or her work? Well, part of it depends on whether the book is an e-book which is of course becoming more and more commonplace, or a hard copy, though the only real difference is whether you do book signings and the kind of reviewers you're likely to get. Most "big" reviewers still won't review e-books. It also determines the cost of your promotion and marketing, because of course it's far more expensive to send books or even ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) to reviewers in hard copy than as a pdf.

Besides the review and book signing issue, though, most of the rest of the marketing is the same – it’s almost all virtual with some segues into real-life interviews on radio or television. For God Wars: Living With Angels, for instance, I began by making lists of book clubs and libraries (which almost always have affiliated book clubs) to send promotional emails to. This is a huge job because there are thousands of book clubs and libraries in the country.


Next I made a conscious effort to increase my presence on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads,Bookblogger, Bookbuzzr, etc. For example, I increased my followers on twitter from about 200 to 1700 by searching out and following as many fantasy and urban fantasy readers as I could, knowing that perhaps 30% of them would follow back, giving me a built-in audience to promote my book to. Same thing with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, but I had to be careful, because all these sites are on the lookout for spammers and "extreme networkers" and they will kick your butt out at the slightest provocation. I’ve gotten warnings from at least two of these sites.

Once I'd increased my online presence, then I had to create the best possible promotional email touting my upcoming novel and sending it out to my individual followers, friends and connections on these sites and then also posting on all relevant forums and bulletin boards on each site. So multiply the seemingly endless number of social networking sites by the number of forums on each site and you get an idea of the magnitude of the task.

Next came setting up a blog tour, which consists of guest blogs, blog reviews and/or blog interviews. That was more challenging than I had originally expected and I ended up hiring a wonderful woman to help me, by the name or Roxanne Rhoads and she's done an excellent job of supplementing my own efforts, getting me reviews, interviews and even a couple of radio interviews. You can find Roxanne at bewitchingbooktours.blogspot.com.

Then came the hard copy newspapers and magazines. Very few will touch an ebook, unless you have another angle to go with, so I approached only local papers, including Malibu (where my wife and I have a house) and Huntington Beach where we live, as well as my original hometown of Timmins, Ontario, Canada. The trick is to make sure the interviews and reviews and guest blogs do not come out too early, otherwise readers will have forgotten about the book by the time it actually comes out.

Website and Facebook sites. These are absolutely necessary and they can be expensive if you don't have the skills or the skilled friends to do a good job of the sites. This was one of the most frustrating parts of the process because the company I chose (which I'm soooooooooo tempted to name but won't) is so far doing a crappy job of it. You will be responsible for the text, so make sure you give the web builders all the polished text and high resolution images you want on the web page and if possible a layout of how you want it to look. My mistake was that I left too much up to them. If they say they can get everything they need just by interviewing you, don't believe them.

Be responsible for every word of text, have a hand in selecting every image, and involve yourself in the design and layout as much as possible. And remember: links, keywords, tags, etc. are crucial to the success of the website. Make sure you use a company that does SEO (search engine optimization). Same thing applies to Facebook sites, of course. What I ended up doing that finally seemed to work was I used a Word document and tables (you know the kind with rows, columns and cells) to create a rough approximation of the layout I wanted, including the exact text and images I wanted used. The web building company finally “got” it but still did a sloppy job that I’m having to clean up for them. Very disappointing and expensive, but there you go. If you do have friends who can do this for you who are actually good at it, go that route.

Finally, book trailers. These are like film trailers except they're promoting a book instead of a film, and they're the rage now among book authors. This was one of the most challenging aspects of the marketing campaign because you want your book trailer to look good and be clever enough to possibly go viral, but you don't want to spend too much money on it because chances are your book will not sell enough to make that money back. At the time of writing this guest blog (first day of February), I have not come close to finalizing my book trailer, and I'm just now beginning to panic, lol. By the way, unless you start months and months in advance, I don't think there is a chance in hell that you can do everything you'd like to in order to promote your book -- there's just too much to do in a relatively short period of time. But the good news is that you will have learned a ton about marketing and promoting your book, which you can then apply to your next book and with each book you'll get better at it and hopefully get bigger sales volume out of it.

Back to the book trailer. The way I've chosen to use a user-friendly animation program called xtranormal and to depend on the wit and humor of my text to carry the day. Xtranormal is a simple animation online program that allows you to type in text and have the characters speak that text. You have some control over camera angles, facial expressions, voice, character appearance, background, and character movement and gestures. The medium is so limited that you really do have to depend on your text to make it for you.

A great example of what can be done with these kind of simple animation programs is a real estate animation I saw recently on YouTube that had been done on xtranormal, and it went viral in a hurry, reaching literally millions of people in a relatively short time. By the way, the URL to that real estate animation is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AU-5epjSDE, but be prepared for crude language, even if it is funny. There's no guarantee of course that your book trailer will go viral, especially with the thousands upon thousands of videos on YouTube, but what the real estate animation did right was to not just realize what the limitations of the animation program were, but to actually use them to enhance the humor and thus effectiveness of the animated mini-movie/promotional video. The important thing to remember is this: keep the book trailer short – VERY short.

That's about it. I am under no delusion that what I've done is anywhere near everything that can be done to promote one's book but it's the best I can do with a beginner's limited knowledge of marketing and a limited budget. As a character in one of my book trailers says: "This book trailer is homemade because my cheap-assed publisher has left it to me to market and promote my e-novel it even though I have no f*cking idea what I am doing."

I know most of you may never write much less market and promote your own novel, but I hope that taking a look at what goes into promoting and market the books you read has been of some interest to you. I want to thank, again, Rex the Robot for letting me chat with you today and I hope that some (or hopefully every single one of you, lol) will download God Wars: Living With Angels on March 1st from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com or Omnilit.com. Thanks.


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