Book Promotion Tip of the Day: Make me laugh and I’ll follow you anywhere

I’m going to keep it light and simple.  Make me laugh and I’ll follow you anywhere.

In my Pump Up Your Blog e-group last Friday, The Cajun Book Lady was telling us about an author who guest posted at her blog that morning.  His name was Brian O’Mara-Croft, author of Lost in the Hive (PublishingWorks) but before I go any further, I have a thing or two to say about humor.

The way to this woman’s heart is make me laugh.  I don’t care if you have to dig deep within your tough macho exterior to find that little kid you once were, just humor me.  Make me forget the tons of work I have piled up.  Make me forget the deadline for said pile.  Make me believe that there are authors out there who know how to write a damn good guest post.

I believe that when an author is trying to sell his or her book, you’ve got to stand out.  When you’re filling out all those interviews and writing all those guest posts, you don’t want them all to look like one big repetitious blur which you really can’t help.  I suppose there isn’t too many different variations of what is your book about, but it helps to find some way to be unique.  Different.  Nine times out of ten, humor is the ticket which brings me back to Brian.

So I go over and read the guest post he wrote for The Cajun Book Lady and I knew right there this was someone who could sell icicles to the Eskimos.  It. Was. Hilarious.  It was hilarious because of the way he approached his guest post.  Read it here and let me know if you have the same reaction I had.

Did you read it?  Now you see what I mean?

Of course, his book is humor which is great – he uses his genre to his advantage.  And. It. So. Works.

So I left a comment even as busy as I am which is a terrible reason not to leave a comment but at least it’s honest.

Now here’s where the story gets interesting. That very same morning, I get an email from the author of the guest post thanking me.  Thanking me. Why did he thank me?  Because…he knew…this was how to become a networking whore. I say this tongue in cheek because I know Brian would appreciate this cute little nifty phrase.

And to sum things up, the repercussion of his thoughtfulness led him here.  I asked him to guest post for me because I didn’t want The Cajun Book Lady to have all the glory of having the best guest post on the block.

So without further ado, I give you…Brian O’Mara-Croft…with tips on how to really sell books.

A First-Time Author’s Rocky Path

by Brian O’Mara-Croft

For an entire year as a preschooler, my wife Patty changed her name. Without seeking anyone’s blessing, she decided to answer only to “Cecil” (or, more formally, to “Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent,” a beloved TV character of the time). When I heard this story, I gasped—not because Patty wanted to reinvent herself while barely invented, but because her choice seemed a trifle whacko for a child battling sibilance (or, as she would have said, thibilanth).

This morning, as I sat to relate my brazen efforts to promote my upcoming book, I recalled Patty’s story, and it made me think.

I call myself an author. But, until Lost in the Hive hits shelves in June, I’m really just “Theethil” reborn—a notion of an author, an author-to-be.

The folks at PublishingWorks encourage me to keep up the ruse. For Lost in the Hive to sell, people need to know about the book, even though it’s not yet a book—and know about the author, even though I’m not yet officially an author. If nobody knows … nobody buys.

As a new author, I lack a solid “platform”. This is editor-speak for, “You’re no David Sedaris.” For most authors (and especially for those insane enough to write humorous personal essays, as I do), a lack of platform translates into a lack of a writing future. To survive, I must pull a P.T. Barnum, a Houdini. I need to create buzz based on a promise, to craft clever smoke and mirrors that will draw potential readers to the edge of their seats, yearning for the eventual reveal.

What have I been doing so far to move myself from unknown to über-author, from Cecil to Sedaris? Well, I’ll tell you. Will these things work? Only time will tell.

1. I flirt with “real” authors

With few exceptions, most writers struggled to get their names and their books known. The more compassionate in this group recall this fresh hell and, like parents (at least those without crack addictions), wish a better life for those who follow. So, before the ink dried on my contract for Lost in the Hive, I started reaching out to other authors (mostly on Twitter and Facebook). Most have been happy to share advice and/or horror stories, will introduce me around and talk me up, and will even find ways to include me in activities and events in which they’re participating. These favors come with an unspoken understanding: (a) since they’ve scratched my back, I may one day be called upon to scratch theirs, and (b) if I’m one of the lucky few to make it big, those backs will itch like a sonofabitch.

2. I make fun of myself

For the past several weeks, I’ve been directing clips for a YouTube trailer to promote Lost in the Hive. My book is self-deprecating and humorous (I hope), so my angle is to take shots at both the book and myself. I’m opting for a faux-testimonial approach, where “readers” share accounts of how my book changed and/or ruined their lives.

The advantages of a tongue-in-cheek video trailer are: (a) online videos are viral—like STDs and nasty rumors, they get passed around; (b) if you employ friends as “actors” in your video, they want their family, friends and friends-of-friends to see their star turn, so they pass the video around; and (c) even people who aren’t avid readers enjoy movies, so they may buy your book on a whim before they realize, “Hey, I never read. He tricked me.” Think about it: while most books are better than movies based on those books, a great many books were unknown until the movie version came out.

3. I’m a social media whore

Like iPhones and ill-fitting pants, I’m everywhere. I’m active on my personal Facebook page, and comment on the walls of other authors and comics. I maintain a Facebook fan page for Lost in the Hive. My generous friends use the “suggest to friends” feature on the page to tell their friends, who tell their friends, and so on. Some will even post a message on their personal Facebook wall, encouraging others to become fans and to pass the word along. Will all of these visitors and fans buy my book? I don’t know. But, at a minimum, they’ll know it exists, and that’s a start. How did I get friends to do this for me? First, I’m a real friend to them (my backyard is full of bodies). Second, I asked.

I spend a lot of time—too much—on Twitter (omara_croft) and TweetChat. I follow many writers, booksellers, publishers, agents, comics and actors. I retweet their comments (a great way to seem funny or sharp by stealing others’ material with their blessing), and reply with comments I hope they too will retweet. Most times, nothing happens; once in a while, something does.

On TweetChat, I participate in various discussion groups, like #bookmarket and #litchat. I make evocative comments, and some participants follow me (not as many as I’d hoped, but I keep plugging away). Most people want to know you if they think you have something to say (especially if it’s about Twilight).

4. I steal others’ ideas

If you’re an author (published or aspiring) who doesn’t know me personally, you chose to read this not because you love me or find me especially attractive, unless there’s something very wrong with you. You’re reading because you hope I’ll share something you can use to promote yourself. Please, go ahead; use me. I’d use you. Along the way, I’ve picked up many good ideas from others.

On Twitter alone, I follow SMforWriters, AuthorTech and bookmarketer, all of whom offer wonderful tips, tricks and links to get your name and work out there. For example, a quick scan of SMforWriters’ Twitter page this morning yielded a goldmine:

  • How blogging can help land a book deal
  • How writers can use Twitter to maximize efficiency
  • How to use social networking without losing author mystique (whatever that is)
  • How writers can build a “brand” on search engines

When I can break myself away from Twitter, I Google “author self-promotion”, “how to attract Facebook fans”, “book marketing” and “quick ways to get absurdly wealthy”, just to see what others have tried and tested. All but the last one bear fruit.

5. I seduce readers of my genre

If you’re a writer and you haven’t joined Shelfari, take a quick break now and join. I mean it. Don’t worry…I’ll still be here when you get back. Avid readers love talking about what they’ve read, and also love hearing about good books they might read next.

On the site, I study members’ positive reviews of books by authors who write books similar to mine. I then invite the reviewers to be my friends. I include a note like this: “I enjoyed your review of Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs. I, like you, am a fan of his writing. His work inspired me to write my own upcoming collection of humorous essays, LOST IN THE HIVE. I’m hoping to connect with other readers and writers who enjoy this genre. If you’re curious about my work, please take a peek at my blog at lostinthehive.blogspot.com. Thanks for being my friend.”

This isn’t trickery. I believe people who enjoy these authors will also enjoy my book. If they don’t, I’ll look like an asshole and they’ll tell everyone. (Hmm…should I be doing this?)

Within days, I had more than 100 friends. By looking at what they’re reading, and studying what they liked and disliked, I learn a lot about what types of stories hold the greatest appeal, and can use this information to improve my own writing. What’s more, I can keep my new online friends up-to-date about my upcoming book release.

6. I blog…a lot

I maintain a blog (lostinthehive.blogspot.com) that shares a name, and irreverent style, with my upcoming book. I write as often as I can. On occasion, I post a timely or relevant article on some issue I hope will appeal to a large audience—like, er, this one.

On BlogCatalog.com, I discuss my blog, the issues I explore on my blog, and the process of blogging; if I say the right things, people pop by for a look, and some stay. I re-posted one of my blog stories on Broowaha, an online newspaper made up of blog entries. I let people know, via my Facebook fan page and Twitter, that I’ve posted a new blog entry. When I send emails to people, I include the information about my blog (and my book) in the signature line. When I visit others’ blogs, I leave comments that are outrageous, and drop subtle hints about my blog. Everyone does this; nobody seems to mind.

7. I thrive on symbiosis

I live in a small suburb of Chicago. Oswego is small enough to boast only one independent bookstore, and not big enough to attract a big-box store like Borders. I know Joe and Leah, the owners of Old Towne Books & Tea, quite well. I participate in their Writers’ Club. I’ve been working with Joe on a podcast interview.

I use the skills from my day job—graphic design—to help them out with branding and promotional items. I do this for free—well, almost for free. In exchange for my services, I include a blurb for my book on most materials I create. Joe knows I’m looking out for myself. He’s looking out for himself. And if in the process of looking out for ourselves we can look out for each other, even better. If you have a skill outside your writing, think about ways you can apply that skill to help your book promotion efforts.

8. I’m shameless

Yeah, I said it. I’m shameless. This is my dream, and I don’t want it to die. I have two other books in the works that yearn for happy futures.

Carol, the VP of marketing at my publisher, told me, “You should be willing to jump through a flaming hoop of dogshit to sell your book.” I agree. I would jump through a flaming hoop of gasoline to sell my book. I will blog, tweet, chat, email, perform, debate and proffer sexual favors (okay, maybe not) if it means more people will help my writing journey.

Now that the secret about my shamelessness is out, I would also ask you, as you read this, to “Stumble” this story, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, and tell your friends. All of them.

Oh, one more thing: would you please buy my book?

When it exists, that is.

Brian O’Mara-Croft is the author of Lost in the Hive (PublishingWorks, June 2010), a collection of humorous real-life essays. He lives in a suburb of Chicago with his wife Patty, five children and no pets (by his choice and theirs). He also maintains a blog, at http://lostinthehive.blogspot.com, in which he talks too much about the private lives of his family and friends. Lost in the Hive is available for pre-order from publishingworks.com.

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