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met Deborah LeBlanc at a small writer's conference in Lake Charles Louisiana and soon became a fan. Not only does she write suspense that grabs you from the start and holds you until the very end, she knows the business of self-promotion. And, if you want to make it as a writer, you must get out there and promote. In a direct response to her "getting out there" the print run on her second book was triple that of her first. Not only is Deborah an award-winning author, she is highly sought after as a speaker at writing conferences all across the United States and Canada.

Not long ago, I had the chance to chat with Deborah and learn how she makes self-promotion work. Here's what she shared with me.

 


WOW: It seems most authors believe their job is done once their book is in the hands of the publisher and they leave the selling to others. What prompted you to get so involved in the promotion aspect of being a writer?

DEBORAH: One big mistake new authors make is assuming their publisher will do promotions for them. That just doesn't happen-well, not unless you're James Patterson or Nora Roberts. For the rest of us, we're lucky to get advanced reading copies sent to Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review. I knew about the lack of promotions from the beginning, so I took an aggressive approach to sales when my first book came out. Fortunately, it's paid off. The bottom line is if you want to sell books, you're going to have to put your feet to the street and make it happen.

WOW: There are so many tools out there these days. What works best for you? Business cards, bookmarks, pens, websites?

DEBORAH: I use everything you've mentioned plus-- coffee mugs with my latest book cover on it, postcards, (which I send out to libraries all over the country prior to a new release) book trailers, and audio teasers. I can't really say that one thing works better than another or that one thing works best. I think everything done together helps get the job done.

WOW: Book signings seem to be the most common means of promotion and naturally every author dreams of doing them. Yet I've heard horror stories of low turnout and few sales. What do you do to make them more of a success?

DEBORAH: In my opinion, book signings are tricky little boogers for any author. I attended a Nora Roberts' signing once in Alabama and expected to be standing in a line that stretched around the bookstore. But only 60 or so people showed up. Go figure. I think most authors feel like Wal-Mart greeters at book signings. You smile, say hello, and hope somebody stops by the table to look at your book. I've had folks come up to me and ask where the bathroom was, where such-n-such book was-they think you're an information desk-- even with the huge sign sitting right beside you that shows your picture and states that you'll be signing that day!

For me, what seems to work best as far as signing events go is if I can tie them into another event, like a convention I'm doing in that city. I just tell the folks at the convention where I'll be signing and inevitably a group will show up. If you can get a 'group' (i.e. two or more people) over to your table to chat with you and buy books, other people in the store will come over to see what's going on---and they usually wind up buying a book from you as well.

“All you're really doing is
transferring what you feel.”

WOW: With all your experience in the realm of self-promotion, what do you think is the most important thing an author can do?

DEBORAH: To me, the most important things an author can do when it comes to self-promotion is to be themselves, try not to be shy (Note: not being shy does NOT mean being a prima donna!), be sincerely happy for and interested in the success and new ventures of other authors, and always be grateful for every sale you get.

Don't blast people about buying your book every time you see them (in person or online). If you do, they'll start seeing you like they would a pesky insurance salesperson and not want you around. We're already inundated at every turn with advertising-be a warm-hearted, giving, responsible, grateful person-not a billboard. If you take off the walking cheeseburger sign and do the rest, the sales will take care of themselves.

WOW: I've noticed you spend a lot of time traveling during the year doing signings and speaking engagements. How did you get started speaking at writer events?

DEBORAH: I started speaking at writer events right after my first book was released. All I did was contact convention hosts and conference coordinators, sent them my resume, (granted, it helped that I had odd jobs and unusual interests, like ghost hunting, crime-scene investigation, did embalmings, etc.) and it was off to the races from there. Word of mouth usually does the rest. If you do a decent job at one convention, they'll normally ask you back, plus refer you to other people they know who are looking for speakers.

“You're getting to know the book buyers
and sellers, which is crucial.”

WOW: Have you always enjoyed speaking in public? If not, how did you become so good at it and what tips do you have for those of us who aren't comfortable in the spotlight?

DEBORAH: Oh, heaven's no! I used to be the biggest wallflower on the planet, very shy and quiet. What changed it all was the day I attended a Dale Carnegie program on sales. The man giving the workshop was a dynamic speaker. He commanded a room, kept everyone's attention, and created a lot of terrific interaction between people. I remember watching him and thinking, I want to be able to do that someday. Well, I'm of the opinion that someday will never come unless you take the first step towards it. So, I found a local Toastmasters group, (which helps people learn to speak fluidly in public without all the umm-uhhs we tend to stick in before or after a sentence.) as well as a Dale Carnegie course that specifically taught public speaking. After I had those two experiences under my belt, then I just kind of stepped out there and made it happen.

In my opinion, the key to public speaking is talking about things you're familiar with and passionate about. When you're enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and passionate about something, it's easy to excite and motivate other people. All you're really doing is transferring what you feel.

Three things that might help if you're not comfortable speaking in front of other people-the first is to take the focus off yourself. Think about how the information you're relaying to the group will help them, individually and collectively, then just share it as you would with a close friend. The second is practice. Rehearse what you're going to say and allow for ad-libs until you're comfortable with them and the subject matter. And the third is not to sweat it because you're not alone. For years, national surveys have shown that most people fear public speaking even more than they fear death. I think they're right-I used to be one of them!

WOW: One of the things that stuck with me from when I heard you speak was the "over 270 bookstore stops in 35 states in 3 months" tour for your first book. What tips do you have for those on a small budget and unable to travel extensively?

DEBORAH: Some of the most useful things you can do if you're on a tight budget and can't travel far are set up local signing events, get a presence on the Internet, and do a few mailings. At local signings, you're doing much more than meeting local readers. You're getting to know the book buyers and sellers, which is crucial. They're the ones who'll make sure your books are in stock, and many will even place them in prominent places instead of sticking them on the shelf, spine out.

As for the Internet, get a website developed. There are plenty of design templates out there that are free, so take advantage of them. Along with your website, get yourself hooked into MySpace. It's a huge online community, and many authors swear by it. (For book sales that is!)

Mailings are easy and relatively inexpensive. For each new release, I have a company by the name of Earthly Charms (Terrific company that produces super-quality product at great prices!) design postcards for me. The front of the card is always the book cover, and the back contains a few blurbs, the book cover copy, ISBN, the book's release date, my web address, then a blank space to put a label. These get mailed to libraries and readers whose addresses I've collected over the years.

“...many patrons visited the bookstores
because of the adjoining coffee shop.”

WOW: Speaking of readers, I love the “LeBlanc Literacy Challenge” you sponsor each year. Can you tell us a bit about it, where the idea came from and how it works?

DEBORAH: The idea for the Literacy Challenge came not long after I finished touring for my first book. During the tour, I had the opportunity to visit numerous bookstores around the country and chat with some of their customers. Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to realize that many patrons visited the bookstores because of the adjoining coffee shop. Yes, a few individuals would browse through the bookshelves, maybe flip through a magazine or two, but many of them left empty handed. Whenever I asked one of these coffee-only browsers, “Who's your favorite author?” or “What do you enjoy reading?”, the most common response was “Oh, I don't read much anymore.” Even worse, if the individual was under the age of twenty-five, the response was usually, “I don't like to read.”

To say I was disheartened by this seemingly endless tide of 'non-readers' would be a gross understatement. So I decided to do something about it.

I had an artist create scenes from two of my books, then put those scenes on the challenge website (www.theleblancchallenge.com). Each scene contains 'clickables', and each 'clickable' drops down a list of multiple choice questions. The person who scores the highest in the challenge wins $5000 in cash, plus an additional $1000 for the public school or library of his/her choice. Now, the winner has the right to spend the $5000 anyway he or she chooses, but to further encourage literacy, I added a kicker. For anyone interested in putting the money aside for a college education, (either for themselves or a child) I will personally contact their chosen University about a matching funds program. In essence, a matching funds program can turn that $5000 into $10,000.

The second place winner of the Challenge wins a new desktop computer, and third through tenth place winners get bookstore gift certificates with values up to $175.

Although the Challenge has become an annual event, I plan on making a significant change to it in 2008. Let me preface the news about the change with this..to get the news out about the challenge, I do motivational presentations at public high schools around the country at no cost to the school. In 2008, we'll have corporate sponsors who will be purchasing books needed for the challenge for every student I'll be presenting to in every high school.

WOW: As our time together came to an end, I had to ask... What are you working on and when will your next book be out? Also, where can our readers see you in person?

DEBORAH: My next book, MORBID CURIOSITY, comes out at the end of July 2007. Currently, I'm working on two books for 2008 and some short stories for a large anthology. If anyone is interested in where I'll be, they can visit my website at www.deborahleblanc.com and click on the appearance link-my schedule's updated pretty regularly. Hope to meet some of you soon!

WOW's closing comments: Thank you so much! I've really enjoyed our time together and learned a lot too. Now, I'm off to the bookstore to ask about Morbid Curiosity and make friends with the employees.

***

Deborah LeBlanc is an award-winning author from Lafayette, Louisiana. She is also a business owner, a licensed death scene investigator, and an active member of two national paranormal investigation teams.

She is the president of the Horror Writer's Association, president of the Writer's Guild of Acadiana, and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Women Writer's, and International Thriller Writers, Inc. In 2004, she created the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual, national campaign designed to encourage more people to read. Her most recent novels are: FAMILY INHERITANCE, GRAVE INTENT, and A HOUSE DIVIDED.

Be sure to visit Deborah at www.deborahleblanc.com Her books are available at all the major chain stores and online. I know you will enjoy reading them. You may email Deborah at deborah@deborahleblanc.com

***

Jean Lauzier lives in a small east Texas town where she home schools her three kids and takes care of numerous critters. She also is a writer with a fetish for “how to write” books and chocolate. Her short stories have appeared in several ezines along with the “By the Chimney with Care” anthology.

Jean is also co-founder of www.StoryCrafters.net where everyone is welcome no matter writing level or genre. Stop by Jean's website at www.jeanlauzier.com for the latest news.


 

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