The Irresistible You: Pitches and Bios


All fiction writers (and most memoirists and journalists) sell fantasies, perhaps none more than erotica writers. Yet, as I stumbled along on my own book promotion journey, I realized how many fantasies I’ve been sold about what it means to be a published author as well. There’s the Oprah fantasy I mentioned last month and plenty of others, one of which I may be perpetuating through this very column. By which I mean the idea that book promotion is indeed some kind of journey along a ribbon of road from The Shire to Mordor and hopefully back again, a trip with more-or-less fixed obstacles you can map out for a fellow traveler.

The truth is, this “journey” I keep referring to felt more like falling into a swamp and floundering around in the muck for as many months as I’ve been promoting my novel. Occasionally I find some treasure, but most of the time I’m spitting out mud and picking marsh grass from my hair. Only as I began putting together this column did anything I’ve done fall into place in an organized way. What I write reflects more the way I wished I’d done it rather than any description of my actual path. However, since my intent is to share what I’ve experienced in the hope that it will help other newbies, I suppose a little bit of aesthetic shaping is not out of order. I just wanted to give you fair warning that the reality is going to be messier.

While I’m on the topic of doing what I say and not what I do, I’d like to suggest the value of organization and record-keeping in the book promotion process. The earlier you start on this, the better. Even as you begin researching agents or publishers, it’s a good idea to keep records of names, useful websites and other information from talking with other writers that will be a good reference for later. Once your book is available and promotion begins in earnest, you’ll need to record all sorts of activities such as expenses and direct sales for your taxes, travel expenses, expenditures on swag, any fees to professionals who help you with websites, book trailers or other services, reminders of when you sent off a book for review or left a book with a bookstore and how many times you’ve already called the store to remind them and have been told to call again.

Admittedly, my book promotion folder on my computer has about 350 files, but I have arranged some of it into categories for interviews, reviews, bookstores, press kits and so forth, which makes things easier to find. My to-do list, which I update and print out periodically and keep by the computer, is also arranged by category: Personal, Bookstores, Radio, Blog Tour, Book Trailer, Reviews, Long Term and New Writing.

Last year my taxes were much more complicated with my book promotion expenditures and again I kept those in relevant categories: Purchases/Costs of Goods (my expenditures on my own books to sell or give as review copies), Office Expenses (including writing reference books), Office Supplies, Travel, Meals and Entertainment, Advertising, Professional Fees (for website help or consultations with publicists), Miscellaneous (postage, bank fees, Paypal fees). Whatever helps you keep track of your activities will do, but you will have many different irons in the fire and it’s easy to lose track. Well-organized recordkeeping will free up more time for actual promotion.

Now that we all have our filing system ready, it’s time to start filling the folders with the good stuff. This month I wanted to focus on the most basic tools I’ve used for my promotion campaign.

The first is the endlessly useful quick description of your book that will sell it to readers in one sentence. You’ll be approaching all kinds of people and publications to get your book noticed and you’ll have limited time to make your case. You want something short and honest, but tantalizing. It’s basically a pitch, the same sort of pitch you may have used to sell your novel to an agent or publisher, although it’s a good idea to give those sexy words a makeover for the general marketplace.

You’ll be using this description in query letters for reviewers, bookstores, radio interviews, guest blog appearances, as well as to people you meet everywhere. I also recommend having a library of several pitches for different situations. In my files I have the one-paragraph blurb for erotica markets and another slightly revised one for literary markets, as well as the two-sentence cover letter version, which also doubles as the face-to-face pitch. It’s always changing slightly depending on my audience and my mood, but the basic information is the same. (See the ERWA blog for samples of my pitches.)

The value of this tool was brought home to me when I went to the West Hollywood Book Fair last September and was confronted with the daunting task of selling my book to browsers who wandered over to our “California Erotica Writers” booth. For the first few encounters I just stood there smiling nervously while the potential buyer glanced at my book, then walked away. Fortunately, my desire to get some reward from my travel investment trumped shyness and when my next victim approached, I started rattling off my prepared elevator pitch. This time the browser raised her eyebrows and I could see the thought forming in her mind: This book sounds interesting.

That’s your goal with your pitch—but why not be insatiable and take it one step further to irresistible?

Now, I know very well it’s difficult enough for an author to condense a long work she’s slaved over into a two-page synopsis, not to mention a one-paragraph overview or a fifteen-second teaser. After all, you’ve spent months or years elaborating a complex story. But overcome that resistance. Nothing screams amateur more than a writer who says “well, my novel is really complicated and I can’t describe it in just a few words.” Professionals take that hurdle and when you have a book to promote you are officially a professional. Even if Oprah hasn’t called yet.Amorous Woman

It took me a while to craft and polish my lines, but with help of fellow writers, friends, and the browsers at the book fair, I finally settled on this: “Amorous Woman is about an American woman’s (steamy) love affair with Japan.” If I have a little more time I mention that the novel was inspired by a 17th century Japanese erotic classic. With another few seconds I add that my novel is like a trip to Japan few tourists ever see for $8. These three little tidbits regularly raise eyebrows in a gratifying way.

My aim in this column is to focus on book promotion activities that don’t cost a lot of money, but I’ll admit I also consulted a few how-to books. Promoters on a budget will find many at your local library, but I wanted to mention one that helped me see the issue in a new way called Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read by Michael Hague. Hague also gives workshops, so he’s definitely part of the machine that profits from the dreams of us writers, so I’m not necessarily telling you to spend your limited funds here. However, because his book is meant mainly for screenplay writers hoping to catch the ear of a Hollywood producer, the extra distance from my own writing helped me focus on the universal wisdom he also provides. Plus I got to feel relieved that at least I didn’t have to deal with the movie business!

But here’s the good news. You can do plenty of research for free by browsing other writers’ websites or even Amazon to see how books are “sold” in a sentence or two. And you can do just as well honing your own sales pitch by asking for feedback from your beta readers—spouses, friends, writing group buddies. Invite them over for freshly baked cookies and ask them if they’ll tell you in just a few sentences what your book is about and what in particular they liked and what makes it special. Write down what they say. Then hand them another cookie and ask them to post these exact sentences in an Amazon review. Meanwhile, as they munch happily, you use their suggestions to help get ever closer to an “irresistible” pitch. Write up a few possibilities and get their feedback. I’ve found it’s usually easier to present two or three choices and allow someone to pick the appealing elements from each.

While you’re reducing complex literary creations to sound bites, you’ll also need to do the same thing to yourself as an author. I’ve heard marketing professionals refer to this as “branding” yourself, and this will also appear in cover letters, press kits, and even e-mail signatures.

What do you offer? What makes you special? The author brings a unique sensibility to her work and the reader will be sharing in your imaginary world for several hundred pages of his time. Why is it worth it for him to give up their time to you? What do readers think of when they think of you? These are the questions your author pitch should answer.

Again you’ll come up with a one-sentence and short one-paragraph descriptions that summarize your special qualifications for writing the book, your best previous publications and another pertinent detail or two that makes you sound fascinating. This could be the bio you’ve used for previous publications, but you’ll definitely want to tweak it with the goal of book sales in mind. Because my book is set in Japan, I always emphasize my background in Japanese literature and the fact I lived in the country for several years. I also mention a selection of my previous publications, although I have two lists, one that emphasizes the literary publications and the other that focuses on erotica. In some cases I add that I’m a cookie-baking soccer mom and/or former college professor to introduce the intriguing contradiction of normal respectability with writing dirty stories. My very quick self-description? “Smart is sexy.” Again you want those eyebrows to shoot up with curiosity.

Yes, for most of us, it’s hard to make yourself sound irresistible. So bake some more cookies or open a nice bottle of Scotch and brainstorm with your fellow writers and readers. It’ll be fun to hear all the praise (don’t invite any “friends” who show their love with insults, playful or not). At the very least, the fact you are a brand-new, smoking hot novelist carries a lot of weight. Everyone’s interested in the new kid on the block.

When you’ve polished up your sales pitches to a shiny gloss, go ahead and help yourself to a cookie.

Next month I’ll talk about two more basic tools of book promotion: targeting your potential audience and reworking your website or blog-site for promotion purposes. Until then, here are two more Shameless Self-Promotion Points to help guide you towards your special Shameless Self-Promotion Badge.

Happy Promoting!

Shameless Self-Promotion Points for March

ONE: Choose your favorite ways to organize information and keep track of your efforts—paper files or a binder, computer files, to-do lists in your weekly calendar, whatever combination of record-keeping works.

TWO: Start developing a fifteen-second, sixty-second and one-paragraph pitch for your book and for yourself. Like any good piece of fiction, they will both probably go through a few drafts, but practice makes perfect.

Donna George Storey
March 2009

“Shameless Self-Promotion” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written.

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