Monday, February 15, 2010

Interview With Frugal Book Promoter Author Carolyn Howard-Johnson

An instructor for UCLA Extension's world-renowned Writers’ Program, Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s book The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t was named USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book.” The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success, her second book in the How To Do It Frugally series, is also a USA Book News and Reader View's Literary Award winner. She is a popular speaker and actor and indefatigable source of encouragement and information for authors-cum-marketers. For more information about the literature and services she offers writers, visit her website.

AC: What is your background as an author and a marketer? What got you started down the path of frugal self-promotion?

CH-J: I got started in journalism in high school. I associate journalism with advertising. To a great extent one depends on the other—though ethically there should be a good deal of separation between the two. Then I went into publicity—true public relations. And then into retailing which required marketing—lots of it. One piggy-backed on the other. When I came back to being an author for real, it wasn’t much of a jump to realize that those earlier fields were related to that, too. Especially when my novel started falling into oblivion!

AC: If you could start your marketing career over again, what one thing would you do differently?

CH-J: I wouldn’t. I am a great believer that the universe arranges things just as they should be. At least on the finite level. At least for people who listen to its song. If we keep ourselves focused on what we can change (ourselves) and not what we can’t (others), we begin to see that everything—even illness, even accident, even death—can be positive forces.

Having said that, one of the best things I ever did was take Public Relations 101 as a junior at USC. Any field a person goes into—even engineering—can benefit from a few marketing skills. I’m always impressed by the sound bites that the NASA scientists come up with that capture the interest (and support) of the public.

AC: Tell us a little about the products (books, newsletter, etc.) you offer to writers who want to promote their work.

CH-J: Oh, you really don’t want a list. By browsing my website, you can find a bunch of them. But I am excited about Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Booklet for Avoiding Booboos Your Readers and Publishing Professionals Hate. I’m formatting it right now for publication. I haven’t decided how I’m going to market it. I may sell the paperback booklets for the lowest price I can and give away the e-books and Kindle editions.

AC: What’s the single most important thing a writer needs to do to promote his book?

CH-J: Stick with it and don’t try to justify everything by the number of books sold. We are building careers, not selling books. Even when we handle book sales ourselves by taking orders, packing them, and posting them. If we keep our career goal in site, eventually our books will do well. Maybe not the first book. Maybe not the second. But one day. [Alice Sebold’s] The Lovely Bones, now a movie, looked like an overnight success when it first hit bestseller lists, but the author had written several books and studied her craft. She also knows promotion or hired people who do.

AC: Writing and marketing are both full-time jobs by themselves. How is it possible for authors to find time to do both effectively?

CH-J: Ahhh, the old balancing act. It’s like the process of writing. Each of us has to find our own way. I still haven’t gotten good at balancing.

AC: If an author can afford a publicist, do you feel that’s a wise move? Or is the author better off spending his money in self-promotion?

CH-J: Authors—until they have a handle on the profit their book will make—should spend as little as possible on anything. Thus the How To Do It Frugally theme of my series of how-to books for writers. Really, when it gets right down to it, no one else can know your book as you know it, have the same passion for your book as you do. Whether an author publishes traditionally or self-publishes and hires help, the whole process will be more successful if he or she involves herself. I spend a good bit of time on why that is in The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t.

I should add that no one path is right for every title. One should consider the personality of the author, his or her goals, and his or her pocketbook. Oh, yeah. The title itself. In fact, that is one place a new author might spend a little money. That is, to get some good advice about the entire process before he spends any more.

AC: In this digital age, online marketing seems to be taking over. How important are personal appearances (book launches, book signings, etc.) in comparison?

CH-J: I agree. At one time, a book couldn’t make it without great print reviews. Now one can get reviews far more easily on blogs and other review websites. And there are soooo many ways to promote. Authors who say they hate promotion don’t know what promotion is. If they love to write, they can promote. There is a chapter on putting that skill to work for them in The Frugal Book Promoter along with specific ways to do it. The shy among us can promote sitting behind the screen of our computers. You and I are doing that right now.

AC: What’s the first thing an author just entering the battle zone of marketing needs to do?

CH-J: Know it is never too late to start. It’s also never too early. After that, take classes. There are free online seminars like the one I cosponsor with Lea Schizas. Or spend a little at the university level to assure vetted teachers. I’m teaching one for UCLA Writers’ Program this August. Or buy books. Books are bargains when it comes to learning. But then you knew that.

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