Thursday, November 16, 2006

For authors, writing's just half the job
In today's multimedia world, authors must leave no stone unturned in marketing their books.
Special to The Miami Herald

It's not enough to write a great book. Authors are now expected to play an active role in book marketing and promotion. In this brave new world of always-on media, scribes are expected to either pursue or make themselves available to every potential reader.

Though there have always been opportunities for interviews, reviews, in-store signings, book fairs, seminars and broadcast appearances, now publishers want to make sure no avenue for multimedia exposure is overlooked as a book competes with every other form of entertainment.

Most book companies have full-time staff devoted to pursuing publicity for their books and authors, but nothing is guaranteed.

''Publicity departments are too small and stretched too thin,'' author Joseph Finder (High Crimes, Company Man, Paranoia) said in a telephone interview from his Boston office. ``They do their best, but there's always another book coming out and I want to make sure that mine gets the attention it deserves before they move on to the next one.''

But he notes his publisher, St. Martin's Press, ''was extremely cooperative when I came up with the idea of including an audio CD'' to promote his current book, Killer Instinct. ''From the CEO on down, they're totally behind my books. In fact, the marketing director is a fan,'' he said.

Still, Finder felt the need to do more.

''I paid for my website [], hired someone to design it and someone else to run it. It's impossible to gauge, but I see more and more response from reviewers, journalists and booksellers, and readers communicate with me, too,'' he said. ``Everyone likes to get inside information and have a connection.''

Making that connection also includes putting up special websites in countries where his books sell especially well, such as the Netherlands.

Edna Buchanan, a Miami Beach novelist and one-time Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for The Miami Herald, said she works closely with her publisher's publicity department and will do book tours and almost anything else they suggest to sell her books.

''But I hate to leave Miami,'' said Buchanan. ``I'm basically a shy person but also I don't want to miss anything if I'm out on the road. Plus I don't like to go anyplace where they only speak one language and don't have Cuban coffee.''

But with her new book, Love Kills, which brings her recurring character Britt Montero together with the Cold Case Squad, due out in June, she expects to hit the road again if that's what her publisher wants.

Lissa Warren, senior director of publicity for Da Capo Books, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., said authors should first try to figure out how much of a priority their book is to the publisher. ''Is it in their catalog, and if so, how does it compare to other books? Is there a two-page spread? Is there a large print run? A big advance? A tour? Have they sent out galleys to reviewers?'' are the questions that should be asked, she said.


'They should at least be able to secure reviews from the Big Four trade publications -- Publishers' Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist and Library Journal -- too,'' said Warren, a poet herself and author of The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity: A Comprehensive Resource: From Building the Buzz to Pitching the Press.

''Some authors may initiate their own campaigns, often with the knowledge and blessings of their publisher, but sometimes without,'' Warren said, adding that independent public relations firms may also be hired to work on a project.

''It's big bucks,'' said Les Standiford, author of the series of novels featuring South Florida-based sleuth John Deal, as well as several historical works, including Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America.

''The plain fact is that in an industry where $25,000 is a substantial advance, after your agent's commission, taxes and a little money to live on, how much is left? My publishers have always been collaborative and like to see me tour and do signings, but do you know how many books you usually sell at a signing?'' he asked. ``Six to eight.''

``So if you do a 10-city tour with average expense of a thousand dollars a day, how much does that work out to be, per copy?''

Standiford, who heads the creative writing program at Florida International University, chuckled and added, ``But the publisher thinks it's worth it and that it helps with word of mouth, which is how most books sell anyway. I'm fine with that, because it's the most valuable and effective thing I can do to help sell my books.''

Does Standiford teach his FIU students how to promote their work? ''No.'' he said. ``That would be more of a business course, I'd imagine, but we do cover how to present material to an agent, which is an important step in the process.''


Investigative author Edwin Black, who wrote IBM and the Holocaust, War on the Weak, and Banking on Baghdad, is a skilled and tireless promoter for his books.

After conducting the substantial research behind his current book, Internal Combustion -- which chronicles the history of the energy industry and the suppression of alternate technologies, Black became a road warrior.

''Publishers know that in addition to getting a book, they're getting me,'' he said several weeks ago while in Broward County to launch the campaign for Internal Combustion. ``I'm out there, meeting with people at schools, organizations and other places that make sense.''

Black, who lives in Washington, D.C., wrote and helped produce a video trailer for his book that was completed with the assistance of volunteers, packaged on DVD and distributed online through YouTube. He also works with his publisher to secure reviews in print publications, as many authors do.

Major online booksellers such as and Bar also get into the act by inviting customers to contribute reviews and some have become quite prolific, with devoted followings.

But there are no editors or gatekeepers to ensure the authenticity of the reviews and the legitimacy of the reviewers. Political books, for example, are often critiqued on the basis of the author's personality or party affiliation rather than the content of the work in question.


By far the most influential television venue for books is Oprah Winfrey's syndicated weekday show. Her mere mention of a title sends thousands to bookstores.

''When that happens, publishers have to make sure that there are books in shops to capitalize on it,'' said Da Capo's Warren.

Some authors are particularly savvy about using the electronic media to promote their work.

Prolific British fantasy writer Warren Ellis (Planetary, Transmetropolitan, Fell), sends short e-mail messages several times a week, under the heading ''Bad Signal,'' to fans and others who sign up to receive them. He comments on life, asks questions that come up as he writes his stories and scripts, and announces upcoming projects as well as on-sale dates of books. He even mentions quantities of distributor stock since a number of retailers and other professionals are also on his list.

Ellis rarely makes personal appearances, but his postings to his own website and on other online venues project a presence well beyond his British home base.

Writer and marketing guru Seth Godin's books are often accompanied with clever marketing campaigns. A colorful cereal box, boldly announcing, Free Prize Inside, contained not a decoder ring or tiny plastic soldier, but a copy of Godin's book of the same name.


Each of his books is foreshadowed and accompanied by a flurry of online promotions, special offers, podcasts, and blog postings from myriad websites. Godin, who lives outside New York City, is also a frequent speaker at seminars and conferences and has deftly managed to keep his message consistent while offering fresh nuances and new insights to cultivate and retain a devoted following.

In response to an e-mail asking about how he markets his books, Godin wrote: ``The unspoken truth is that except for perhaps 250 giant books every year [out of 75,000 published], the publisher is expecting the author to do 100 percent of the sales and promotion. Because authors don't understand that, they end up bitter, angry and perhaps destitute.


''The most successful authors drive from store to store in a sort of perma-tour, selling books out of the back of their car or just working with individual stores to make their titles stand out,'' he wrote. ``Oliver North made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling his remaindered autobiography at speeches to right-wing groups. This approach is antediluvian and time-consuming, but it works.''


Godin said he works closely with his publisher, Portfolio, to create and market his books. ''Once we hammer out a plan, they do a terrific job in supporting it. There are other publishers who are far more conservative, far more certain that the tried and true is the only path. The problem with that approach is that it is wrong,'' he wrote.

Godin said he doesn't have a blog to sell books -- but rather to spread ideas. ''I don't flog the blog that hard, which certainly costs me short-term book sales. But that's OK, because the point is to keep the ideas moving around. I think it's pretty safe to say that the investment in the blog has certainly paid off in increased book sales over time,'' he wrote.

His advice to authors is to get out and really work for their books: ``You need a platform to make a published book work. If you don't have a platform yet, you should self-publish your first book and give away enough copies to get a platform, and then use that platform to engage your readers so that you can sell the second one to a publisher and quit your day job.''

Richard Pachter is the Business Monday book critic. For more business book columns by Pachter, go to and click on Columnists. Or go to | 11/13/2006 | For authors, writing's just half the job

National Book Awards Winners

Fiction: The Echo Maker by Richard Powers (FSG)

Nonfiction: The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin)

Poetry: Splay Anthem by Nathaniel Mackey (New Directions)

Young People's Literature: The Pox Party: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pynchon fans eager to feast on new novel
By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer
Sat Nov 11, 1:56 PM ET

Zak Smith is a painter, a rebel and an Ivy Leaguer, a Yale University graduate with a green mohawk, an apartment of wall-to-wall illustrations and a passion for comics, classic novels — and Thomas Pynchon.

About 10 years ago, Smith had a feeling that he should try Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," an instinct confirmed from the very first page. Smith didn't just read the book, he reread it, marked it up and went back to it so many times that his paperback copy is held together by duct tape.

He also began seeing the book in pictures, eventually drawing hundreds of mostly expressionist sketches — one for every page of Pynchon's 700-page World War II novel — that were exhibited at the Whitney Museum in 2004, now hang in the permanent collection at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and will come out as a book this fall.

"A lot of the ideas that were in Pynchon were hovering around in my head — technology and the future and the present, true things and science fiction, and making them into pictures was almost a way to exorcise these ideas," says the 30-year-old Smith, a resident of Brooklyn.

Thomas Pynchon doesn't have the readership of Mitch Albom or Danielle Steel, but he is the rare writer who inspires such obsession by words alone. For more than 40 years, he has built and sustained a legend through such encyclopedic novels as "V." and "Gravity's Rainbow," avoiding all media contact or even publicity photos. For his new book, the 1,000-page "Against the Day," publisher Penguin Press didn't even issue a formal announcement, but assumed, correctly, that simply including it in the fall catalog would take care of the job.

"Pynchon fans tend to take his work seriously I think because, beyond the intrinsically interesting subject matter and intriguing stories, his books are so rich and complex, touching on so many topics," says Pynchon fan Doug Millison, a writer, editor and Web design consultant based in El Cerrito, Calif.

Pynchon is now 69, but time, and the Internet, have advanced in his favor. It's been nine years since his previous novel, "Mason & Dixon," came out, and fans have fully digitized their passion, building an online community worthy of an author who as much as anyone brought a high-tech sensibility to literary fiction. Numerous Web sites and a "Pynchon News Service" have been launched, and a team of experts is busy assembling a Wikipedia-like page for "Against the Day."

"It will, I predict, quickly become a focus of the several hundred reader-researchers worldwide who read Pynchon and write about his works in academic and popular media," Millison says. "The Internet has made it easy for Pynchon's academic critics and lay readers to find each other and sustain an online discussion that's continued now for over a decade."

Smith believes that Pynchon readers share a handful of characteristics, presumably not unlike the author's — liberal politics, an interest in technology and a broad and unpredictable range of interests.

Fans, who have gathered to talk Pynchon in London, Malta and elsewhere, all have their stories of conversion. Tim Ware, who runs the Web site from Oakland, Calif., recalls having a hard time getting through "Gravity's Rainbow," at least the first time around.

"I went back and looked again at the first page and everything just sort of snapped into view, and I thought, `This guy is a genius,' like those who walked the Earth in the 19th century," says Ware.

"And I got rather messianic about it, and I wanted my wife to read it. I started creating an index of all the characters, because there were so many and it was so hard to keep track of them."

Millison also was turned on by "Gravity's Rainbow." He was an Army private — a company clerk "just like Radar O'Reilly" — in Korea in the summer of 1973, when he read the novel, which came out that year and won the National Book Award.

"`Gravity's Rainbow' hit me hard, especially the parts set in Europe during and just after World War II. I'd never read a writer whose voice on the page came so close to echoing the sound and feel of the Cold War '50s and '60s, hip and angry and complex," he says.

"I've read each of the novels at least twice, studying the text closely both times. I also collect first editions of Pynchon's novels, and first editions of the novels for which Pynchon has written endorsements, cover blurbs or support quotes that have been used in advertisements."

Charles Hollander, a Baltimore-based "independent scholar" of Pynchon, first read him as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University. It was 1963, the year Pynchon debuted with "V." Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" was becoming a counterculture classic, but Hollander believes that "Catch-22" was more about the veterans of World War II.

"Pynchon was the guy who wrote for my generation, so much so I heard people joke at parties that he had a receiver by which he could read others' late-night falling asleep thoughts," he says. "The reason ... (Pynchon) is important to me and his `fans' is he seems a bit ahead of the curve in seeing what is important, and what will become the important issues we are faced with."

He is as remote from the general public as J.D. Salinger, but Pynchon experts say they care more about his work than about the man himself, who reportedly lives in New York with his wife and agent, Melanie Jackson. Both Hollander and Ware say they know people friendly with Pynchon who insist he is not "some guy squirreling away in his attic," according to Hollander.

"My sources tell me he is pretty social, in his style. I think he avoids the media because he sees the media as an arm of the establishment, a means of social control that he won't be a party to," Hollander says.

"I've stayed away from the cult of personality. I don't play in that zone," Ware says.

"His reluctance to speak with the press or have his photograph taken kind of plays into the style of the novels. There's a lot of mystery and ambiguity in them, and a lot of mystery and ambiguity about the author. When you know things about the author, you begin to insert those feelings into the books. Not having any information makes the reading experience a little purer."

Pynchon fans eager to feast on new novel - Yahoo! News

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