Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. Her company researched, developed, and implemented the first comprehensive Internet publicity campaign called The Virtual Author Tour™.
Penny successfully marketed her first book, The Cliffhanger, in 2000. After a strategic marketing campaign, it soared up the ranks at Amazon.com and held the number one spot for three months. She eventually signed a three-book deal with a mainstream publisher, Morgan James Publishing, to re-release From Book to Bestseller (January 2006) and Get Published Today! (January 2006) as well as publish her latest book, Red Hot Internet Publicity (June 2007).
1.Thank you for taking time to answer our questions, Penny. How did you become an expert in online book marketing?
Truly, it was through the experience marketing my own book. I had been working in marketing and PR for a corporation, and then I got published and found that the same rules could be applied to book marketing. My first book became an Amazon.com bestseller. The book was self-published, which made this success even more challenging. I decided to leave my day job and forge a path on my own; and so, Author Marketing Experts was born!
2.What types of packages do you offer authors?
Thank you for asking! We have tons of packages ranging from $299 to $3,000—it just depends on what you want to accomplish and, of course, budget. We use both search engine marketing techniques combined with online "buzz" pieces to get the word out about your book. They’re aggressive, effective, and unique in that they are super focused. We don't take chances with the market or direction online. We've had ten books on the bestseller list in the last year—all of them in our programs. Authors can learn more about our packages at http://www.amarketingexpert.com/.
3.What are some tips for writing a must-read release that catches a media outlet's attention?
First off, it’s important to know what problems your reader needs to solve as it relates to your topic. You also need to know what’s hot about your market and topic right now. A press release written about the book won’t garner a ton of attention, but a release written about what the book can do for the audience will.
Second, you need to have a powerful headline. Sometimes (and especially if the release is syndicated online), the headline is the only thing you’ve got to grab the reader and media attention!
Third, keep it short—if you can keep a release to 600 words, you’ll likely get more people to pick it up. Short is best. Cut all the extraneous words that are just page fillers. Keep it tight and on point.
Fourth, make sure you have at least one to three hyperlinks back to your website. This is important because most releases nowadays wind up online, so you want to give readers easy access to your website!
4.Is marketing for a nonfiction book different from marketing for a fiction book, or are they basically the same?
They are the same up to a point; where they differ is that you can’t always and easily find a hook for fiction. With nonfiction, it’s generally self-evident; with fiction, you have to find a hook within the story. (It might be based on: spousal abuse, dating issues, or current books that are in the news.) For example, a few months ago, I taught a webinar, and there was an author who wrote a vampire YA novel. He said that he was not looking forward to competing with Stephanie Meyer, who had just released her book. I told him to pitch himself locally on the topic of YA vampire fiction and see if he could get himself on some shows. He was on three shows in his area, talking about the trend of this type of book; and of course, during the interview, he was able to mention his own title!
“You want people to know who you are months before the book is out.”
5.So many times I've read that you should start marketing for your book before it's even released. How can authors do this?
You can do this by building your platform online. This means having a website and getting to know bloggers and websites in your genre. Once you identify who these people are, visit their sites and get to know them. Comment on their blogs and cyber-schmooze with them, just like you would network at a networking event. The key really is to start getting a foothold into your market and build your exposure there. You want people to know who you are months before the book is out. Then, when it is released and you pitch these same people for a book review, they already know you.
Make sure you have a website long before the book comes out and spend some time blogging on your site. Also, try to collect e-mail addresses so you can announce when your book is out. An e-zine sign-up on your site is a great way to build a mailing list.
6.We've all heard that the industry abandons books if they don't catch fire in the first three months. So on the flip side, is there a time when it's "too late" to start marketing?
Some books do have a timing element to them, specifically books that are tied into fads or hot news topics like the recent death of Michael Jackson. But if you're marketing online, books tends to be evergreen, and the Net doesn't care if your book is old(er). Offline reviewers, however, are very date sensitive.
“If you're marketing online, books tends to be evergreen, and the Net doesn't care if your book is old(er).”
7.An important marketing tool for an author is her own website/blog. What are some essential ingredients for creating an effective web presence?
Ideally, you want to have someone else create your website for you. While there are a lot of tools to help you design your own site, in my view, it's sort of like cutting your own hair. I recommend leaving it to an expert. It doesn't have to cost a fortune; you can get a good site starting at $500, which is an amazing price actually.
Once you have decided whom to go with for your site design, make sure they understand the message of your book. While your site can do a lot of things, your home page should do just one. So one focused goal, which for many of us will be to sell a book.
I also recommend having some sort of newsletter or mailing list sign up. Why? Because you really want to get e-mail addresses of your visitors. Studies show that less than seven percent of first time website visitors are compelled to act the first time. So if you can't re-market to them, you may have lost a sale.
8.How can an author drive traffic to her website?
High traffic, high quality incoming links. You really want to network or "cyber-schmooze"—meaning that you want to get to know blogs and bloggers in your market, offer your book for review. Offer to submit tips for their readers (that the blogger can post to their blog). Incoming links are critical to gaining exposure. You can also get incoming links from your Twitter and social networking accounts!
9.Many authors are short on time—day jobs, writing, family. How can they make the most effective use of their time?
Create a goal list and give yourself five things to do in a week. If you can do more than five—great, but start there. With five goals, at least you're keeping the wheels turning and checking off things you need to do to keep marketing your book. Also, remember to get rid of the stuff that doesn't really make sense. For example, if everyone in your writing group is doing book signings, but you hate them and/or they don't work for you, then don't do them. Do what works for you and your market; this will save you a lot of time.
10.Nowadays, we're all a little short on money, too. When setting a marketing budget, how can an author determine how much money is a good investment and how much is over the top?
That really depends. You want to spend your dollars wisely, so I'd stay away from buying ad space. This is alluring because it's easy to do, but ads don't have the pull they once did. Consumers no longer trust ads; they trust other consumers.
Generally, I find that anything in mass doesn't work. For example, a press release service that sends your release to a thousand outlets is probably worthless. Why? Well, there are several factors involved. First off, how compelling is the press release and how is it being sent? If it's being faxed, you can forget it altogether.
“Consumers no longer trust ads; they trust other consumers.”
11.If your marketing budget is tiny, what’s the one thing you should spend your money on?
A website and make sure it has a blog. If you're tight on funds, don't overlook your 24/7 sales tool.
12.It seems one big chunk of the marketing budget is comp copies to reviewers, interviewers—everyone it seems. How many books should an author plan on giving away—because publishers aren’t giving authors that many anymore?
A lot—as long as it's to the right people. Let's face it, the minute you get published, everyone thinks you're suddenly rich, which as we all know is far from the truth. The only person who should get a free copy of your book is Mom; everyone else should buy one. And as long as the reviewers are legitimate and review for a publication or blog, they should get a copy of your book.
Often, you'll end up buying copies of your book, I'm sorry to say. And I hear you on the review copies, publishers have gotten stingy on them, and this baffles me.
13.So many author websites have entire chapters or sections for you to read. Should authors be giving their writing away?
I have no problem giving away content. I give away pieces of my book all the time. I know this frightens a lot of writers out there; but honestly, with so much shopping online, you really want to give readers a taste of your book. So yes, post a chapter on your website.
14.Is there a marketing tool many authors are overlooking? Or is there anything that lots of authors do or use (I'm thinking the ubiquitous bookmarks) that makes you want to say, "STOP! Don't do that anymore."
Candidly, I think a lot of authors overlook their own website. You know the bookmark thing is funny—those of us in the industry are overloaded with them. (I now have enough bookmarks that even if I read ten books a day for the rest of my life, I'd never need another bookmark.) But the consumer market loves them.
Also, you know there are a lot of ways authors can incorporate book selling that they often overlook. For example, business cards. So many authors I meet don't have these. Get them. You can go through companies like VistaPrint and get them for virtually nothing. Maximize what you have. For example, while we might all be sick of bookmarks, why not use them as tip sheets? So get them printed with handy tips, and you'll be sure that people will keep them. These are the kinds of things that take the ordinary into the extraordinary.
15.“Take the ordinary to the extraordinary.” I love that! It should be every author’s mantra. How can we apply that to book signings—which I’ve found boring both as an author and a potential book buyer.
Yes, book signings are boring. Do talks instead. When you compare a book signing to a "talk" at the same location, you'll find that the turnout is much better; and you also have the opportunity to pull in people who were "just" shopping in the bookstore when you do a talk.
Also, consider doing talks in places other than bookstores. For example, we've done events in video stores (for books with a movie tie-in), restaurants, coffee shops (Helloooo, Starbucks), and other unique places. This is good because then you are offering them something unique that they can promote, and you're not competing with the nine other authors they might have in that month.
Also, local events are great to get local media. Your regional media likes to tie into something that's going on or happening in your area; and an event is a great way to get their attention. I often tell authors that events in and of themselves might seem like a waste if you don't maximize them; but when you do, they can really help you gain some great exposure even if the turnout is low.
16.In your opinion, what makes a blog tour successful?
Well, first off, the word "tour" is a bit deceptive. It infers that there's an end date to the program; and often, I see that these tours run for a week or a few days. This isn't effective. For a tour to be successful, you need more time—a month at the least.
Second, you want to connect with blogs in your market. Don't just take a link from any blog just to get the link; make sure the blog is related to your audience.
17.Social networking. Valuable tool or waste of time?
Valuable, if it's used correctly. By this, I mean that an author should view any of their online work as going to a big networking event. You would never lead a discussion at a networking event by telling someone you had grilled cheese for lunch or just washed your cat. Your social networking presence should be much the same. Lead with helpful information. Don't ask for the buy first. Offer to be helpful; offer guidance tips, insight. Become a funnel of information related to your market. Engage and interact. The first word in social networking is "social," so network with others in your market.
“You should never measure the success of what you're doing in sales alone.”
18.Ditto for Twitter. How can a 140-character message help sell a book?
That's the deceptive part of Twitter. Most people think you are limited to 140 characters. Period. But you're not. When I tweet, I will often link back to the blog on the website or to an article I've written that's posted online. I will also link to other blogs or articles that are of interest to my market. Use a compelling headline; then link. Why do it this way? Because the more you can become a resource for your market, the better you serve them; the more of an expert you'll become; the more followers you will get; and the more traffic you'll get to your site. Sales of my book have quadrupled since I started tweeting as have requests for new business.
19.Finally, someone has explained to me how Twitter can work for authors—I’m a techno dinosaur! What about pursuing being a guest on TV, radio, and online shows. How can authors convince hosts that they would be a good guest?
Develop a hook—the worst thing an author can do is sell the book. No one (except Mom) cares that you wrote a book; they only care about what the book can do for them. This goes for fiction, too.
20.How do we judge a marketing tool? Is there a ruler for measuring success of marketing tools or plans?
Keep in mind that not everything you do will relate in sales; and candidly, you should never measure the success of what you're doing in sales alone. And here's why: traction for a book is cumulative. It's what I call the long runway of publishing success. You have to keep the momentum going for a while before you see results; and often, authors get discouraged at the 90-day point and give up. That's why I suggest keeping a running list of things to do and surround yourself with people who will help you keep the momentum going even when you feel like giving up.
If you're doing the right marketing, you'll see a marked difference—perhaps in web visitors, sign-ups to your social networking page, or a jump in your Twitter followers. Success leaves clues, so does effective marketing; but to measure it by sales is too discouraging. Remember the Rule of Seven—it takes seven impressions to your book, message, or product for the consumer to buy. I almost think that the Rule of Seven is the Rule of Seventy. With so much stuff coming at us at any given time, it's tough to sift through it. That's why consistency of message and consistency of marketing are both important.
Thank you, Penny, for taking the time to chat with us today. What an informative interview!
To find out more about Penny and Author Marketing Experts, Inc., visit her website: http://www.amarketingexpert.com/.
Jodi M. Webb lives in Pottsville, Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. She has written hundreds of articles for publications such as The History Magazine, Pennsylvania Magazine, and Christian Science Monitor. She has also contributed to anthologies on baseball, gardening, pop culture, married life and the military. Pennsylvania Trivia (Blue Bike Books), a book she co-authored, was released in September 2008. In her spare time, she works on her first novel—the story of a group of women on the homefront during World War II.
Jodi is also WOW! Women On Writing’s Blog Tour Manager. You can email her at: jodi[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com.