Friday, March 30, 2007

Your Trade Show

One of the MWA members dropped an interesting post on the mail loop this week. She noticed that there are two types of authors at book signings: those who sit behind the table and wait and those who work the floor.

I hadn’t thought about that until she mentioned, then realized I’ve seen the same thing. Having never held a book signing, I once again have to revert to my experience in the RV industry. My version of a book signing is the trade show. I live by a few rules at the trade show that I believe are relevant to your book signings.

First, stand, do not sit, at the front of your booth (or table). Greet the customers as they pass or approach. Engage in conversation. It doesn’t matter how great your product is, people won’t beat a path to your booth (unless your selling Play Stations).

Second, tell them the benefits of your product before you discuss price. Now, with books, this isn’t so much an issue. The price is set. But you should expect to have a “pitch” ready for anyone approaching your table. In sales, we use a script. The next time you’re at a trade show, watch the guy selling the salsa makers or automatic melon balers. Really, just stand back and listen to him speak to several customers. He’ll give the same speech over and over, not varying by so much as a single word. I promise you, he’s written that sales spiel out and practiced it to perfection. Do you have to do the same? Not exactly, but you should have your initial pitch ready, just as you did when you chased editors into the men’s room at the last writer’s conference. You may need to tweak the pitch a bit as you learn, but give it a try. You may surprise yourself.

Finally, whether you make a sale or not, get the customer information. How? A drawing for a free book is always good. A gift certificate for the store you’re at is even better. Whatever it takes to get a name and e-mail address. These are solid leads to a salesman, because you’ve met the prospect face to face and he or she has expressed interested in your product. They’re golden. Add them to your database (get that started, too), and send them updates and your e-newsletter.

Remember, if you had to justify a book signing by the number of books you sell there, it’s not worth the time or effort. Your goal is to get your name out and gather readership. It takes time. Be patient. And keep smiling.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing RECLAIMING NICK (Tyndale Fiction, 2007)


Award winning author SUSAN MAY WARREN recently returned home to her native Minnesota after serving for eight years with her husband and four children as missionaries with SEND International in Far East Russia. She now writes full time from Minnesota's north woods. Visit her Web site at

ABOUT THE BOOK: RECLAIMING NICK is the first of The Noble Legacy series. Book Two, Taming Rafe, will be available January 2008.

A Modern Day Prodigal Comes Home...
But when his father dies and leaves half of Silver Buckle--the Noble family ranch--to Nick’s former best friend, he must return home to face his mistakes, and guarantee that the Silver Buckle stays in the Noble family.

Award-winning journalist Piper Sullivan believes Nick framed her brother for murder, and she’s determined to find justice. But following Nick to the Silver Buckle and posing as a ranch cook proves more challenging than she thinks. So does resisting his charming smile.

As Nick seeks to overturn his father’s will--and Piper digs for answers--family secrets surface that send Nick’s life into a tailspin. But there’s someone who’s out to take the Silver Buckle from the Noble family, and he’ll stop at nothing--even murder--to make it happen.

“Susan May Warren once again delivers that perfect combination of heart-pumping suspense and heart-warming romance.”--Tracey Bateman, author of the Claire Everett series
If you would like to hear more about Nick, he has his own blog. Also, the first chapter is there...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mark Terry made some very good points in his comment Monday. My observations in this blog will often be high-altititude. Details are up to you, your agent, and your publisher to hash out. Remember the key word in "Marketing Plan": Plan. If you think selling is easy, give me a call. I'll put you on the phone with your first 100 calls to RV owners with a product that is, without argument, the best and safest trailer hitch on the road. On your first day, 100 people will laugh at you, slam down the phone, and tell you to get lost. On the second day, you'll call in sick. It takes years of training and experience before a salesman becomes really good at his job. Why would you think it'd be any different than writing?

My point is, like Mark says, you're often just saying "I exist" to someone who may never be in a position to buy your books. Then, the next time you call, they won't remember who you are, so you'll say "I still exist" and perhaps find out what the weather is like on their end of the line. You've heard this before in the writing business, and I'll tell you again in the sales business, half of your job is building relationships.

Your first call will likely end with you asking to do a book signing. Remember: start locally. Most beginning authors probably can't make a nationwide tour fit in to the budget, but I'd be willing to bet there's plenty of bookstores within range of your home to keep you occupied for a while.

Let me stress this again: work with your publisher and agent. One or both these people can get you started on the right foot. Show that you are willing to put forth some effort and listen to their advice. They know what they're doing. Really.

Okay, here's another tidbit for today: If you find a published author who's willing to do things like, oh, pop into your blog and give advice, hang on! Make friends with that person. Chances are you'll hit it off anyway. After all, you're both writers. This is also a good reason to join a group like ACFW or MWA. Both of these organizations are full of published writers who enjoy helping out the un-pubbed.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Contact Organization

In the olden days (the 80s), most of us were forced to keep track of our business contacts on anything from 3x5 cards to those little spiral bound address books. The introduction of the Franklin Planner was a major revolution. Now, we have a whole bunch o' neat stuff to choose from.

I mentioned on Friday that part of your marketing plan should include picking up the phone and getting your name out to all those bookstores. Again, coordinate with your publisher on this. First of all, he'll be thrilled that you're willing to take on such a task. Of course, he'll already know it because you included it in your proposal (didn't you?). Second, he'll want to make sure that you understand who you'll be talking to and what you can promise them. Funny thing about sales, often the salesman forgets what a profit is in the excitement of making the sale. Your publisher will not be amused if you do that. That information is between you and the publishing house. I'll leave it at that. Just let them know your intentions.

How many calls can you make? That depends. But an average cold call should last about two minutes. If you get someone willing to chat, by all means, chat. Remember, you're building relationships. It takes time. Be patient. If you spend an hour a day making calls, you should expect to make twenty or thirty per day. That won't even scratch the surface if you want to reach every bookstore in America. Start locally and work your way out. If you're novel is set in another city or region, put that area on your "A" list.

Now, organization. Here's your marketing term for the week: Customer Relationship Management Software or CRM. We use Maximizer where I work. This is how sales companies keep track of you. It's "the list" you always demand to be taken off of. Now you'll be putting people on yours.

I don't expect you to go out and pay thousands of dollars for good CRM software. I'm still looking for a personal version. But for now, Outlook will be fine. You're going to use all those "other" boxes in an Outlook contact. Especially the one titled "Notes." You'll track date and times of your call, what was said, what kind of interest level you received, the booksellers favorite ice cream, his kid's dance recital, anything you can use to grease the conversation the next you call.

You have to THINK LIKE A SALESMAN. I know, it's scary. You'll get people who don't want to talk to you, lie to you and say they're busy, tell you to call back again and again and again, and some who are downright rude. By this point, you've gotten a book contract. I assume you're thick-skinned. Thicken in further.

By the way, those little headsets are great. Get one. Next we'll talk about scripts.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Push and Pull

Marketing in any business is performed via two basic methods: pushing and pulling. What do I mean by that? It's quite simple. When you place an advertisement in a magazine for a product, you're trying to pull customers directly to your product. They see the ad, call you direct or call a retailer, and buy the item.

Pushing is when you try to enlist the retailers to sell your product. It's a subtle difference. When I sell a widget to a customer directly, it's a done deal. When I sell ten widgets to a retailer, my work isn't done yet. Though I'll mark those ten widgets as "sold," they really aren't until they make it into the hands of the final consumer.

Following? Okay, what does this have to do with selling my books?

You probably won't sell books directly to the consumer, but you will market to him or her. We've already discussed how this is done. Blogging, websites, direct mailings, etc. are ways to "pull" the consumer to your product. Now the consumer needs a place to buy it.

"Easy," you say, "Amazon!"

Not quite. The last numbers I saw reported that less than 25% of books are sold online. Those other 75% are picked off the shelf. Someone has to put them on the shelf. In order for that to happen, someone else has to convince that bookstore buyer to put them there.

Don't wait on your publisher. They'll do the usual marketing campaign for a new book. If you're Stephen King, sit back and relax, they'll jump through burning hoops to market your book. For the rest of us, we got calls to make.

Calls? Yes, see that gadget on your desk that you normally use to order pizza because you spent all afternoon looking for the right active verb in the opening of chapter 23? That's your best tool for selling your book. Barbaric, isn't it? In the day of the internet, when you can reach millions of people instantly, why bother with the phone?

Here's a shock for you. And it's like this in my "widget" business as well. Retailers aren't scouring the internet looking for the next great product to put on their shelves. Most likely, the very first time a bookstore buyer hears about Ron Estrada is when I introduce myself over the phone. Today, I will probably call about twenty widget dealers in the hopes they'll carry my product. Maybe one will place an order. The rest are just relationship building. It'll work that way for you, too. A "no" is still contact. You'll be calling again.

Since this is a task I perform daily, I'll pick this up again next week and talk about how to organize your contacts and script your calls. Oh my, it's almost like real selling, isn't it? Don't panic, if I can do it with my widgets, you can do it with those stunning novels.

And remember, make sure your agent or editor knows you're willing to take on this task and, of course, coordinate with your publisher. This is a team effort.

In today's news: James Cameron has announced that he's discovered the lost driver's license of Jesus. In news that will rock the religious world to its core, the birth date on the driver's license is December 26th. While church leaders mourn, retailers rejoice at the added day to the Christmas shopping season. In more news that will rock the religious world to its core, the driver's license is from New Jersey. More on this as it develops.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing THE RELIANCE ( Barbour, January 1, 2007) by Mary Lu Tyndall


M. L. (MARYLU) TYNDALL grew up on the beaches of South Florida loving the sea and the warm tropics. But despite the beauty around her, she always felt an ache in her soul--a longing for something more.

After college, she married and moved to California where she had two children and settled into a job at a local computer company. Although she had done everything the world expected, she was still miserable. She hated her job and her marriage was falling apart.

Still searching for purpose, adventure and true love, she spent her late twenties and early thirties doing all the things the world told her would make her happy, and after years, her children suffered, her second marriage suffered, and she was still miserable.

One day, she picked up her old Bible, dusted it off, and began to read. Somewhere in the middle, God opened her hardened heart to see that He was real, that He still loved her, and that He had a purpose for her life, if she's only give her heart to Him completely.

A YOUNG BRIDE separated from her husband just as a child has been conceived...

A GRIEVING HUSBAND tempted to take his anger out through the vices of his past...

A MARRIAGE AND A SHIP threatenend to be split apart by villainous Caribbean pirates...

In THE RELIANCE, Edmund Merrick tormented by the apparent demise of his pregnant wife Charlisse, sails away to drown his sorrows. He turns his back on God and reverts to a life of villainy, joining forces with the demented French pirate Collier. When his mind clears from its rum-induced haze, will Edmund find the will to escape?

Seemingly abandoned by her new husband, Charlisse battles her own insecurities as she is thrown into the clutches of the vengeful pirate Kent, who holds her and Lady Isabel captive.

Will she be swept away by the undertow of treachery and despair? Can Edmund and Charlisse battle the tempests that threaten to tear them apart and steer their way to the faith-filled haven they so desperately seek? Or will they ultimately lose their love and lives to the whirlpool of treachery and deceit?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fight for the Cure

I'm going to break protocol here and talk about a topic that's taken up a position near the top of my ministry list.

Ten years ago I don't think I could name one person who had cancer. Within the last two years, it seems I hear, on a weekly basis, another name of a friend or relative who's been diagnosed with one form or another of this disease.

This morning in church, I found that the six year-old son of a church member was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery was performed Saturday to remove most of the tumor from his brain. I know this child. I've seen him play, run in the halls, laugh with other children.


At six your biggest concern should be running out of your favorite breakfast cereal.

Friends, I don't know what to write. I don't know how to even deal with something so tragic. Well, that's not exactly true. I can pray. And I will pray. It's moments like this, when we feel the most hopeless, that God uses us to reveal his nature. If you feel inclined to pray, the little boy's name is Jason. His mother's name is Pam. She'll need your prayers, too.

As fate would have it, I've taken on a project this year for my church's representation at the American Cancer Society Relay for Life even here in Oxford. My project? I wanted a prayer tent, to be manned for the entire 24 hours of the event. Right now, I feel like I could man it myself for the entire 24 hours.

I have a link at the top left of this blog. It will stay there until the Relay for Life is done for the year on May 20th. If you feel the need to give, you can make a donation through that link. You'll see my name on the page, I'm one of the team members. Our goal is $200 each. It seems a paltry sum when $200 won't even pay for the five minutes of chemotherapy. But it adds up.

I know many of you are involved in this event in your own towns. God bless you. Let's use the power of prayer and the compassion of Christ to reach out to the millions who suffer from this disease.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What's your title?

One key element for marketing via the internet is this: People who visit a web page are looking for information before they're looking to make a purchase. I know this because it's been a hard lesson at Hensley Mfg., the company where I now work. Hensley makes some high-end products for the RV industry, an industry notorious for being on the super cheap side of things.

We've come to one conclusion at Hensley: we have to give away information before we can expect to sell anything.

And that will need to be your attitude as well.

Let's pick on someone we all know and love: Brandilyn Collins. If you go to her blog, what title to do you see? Brandilyn's Books or the I Love B.C. Blog?

No, you see a very catchy title: Forensics and Faith. Bingo, in three words she's pulled any Christian suspense reader into her little web (pun definitely intended). What has Brandilyn created? Say it with me class:


Oh yes, that again. See how it all fits so nicely. Now I'm going to pick on another (possibly former) friend: Robin (Miller) Caroll.

Robin's well written mysteries are backdropped in the Louisiana Bayou. Maybe we can come up with Robin's empire. She'll surely ignore it and choose her own, but what the heck. Think southern swamp, alligators, cops, gumbo, it's all fair game.

Okay, you can pick on me, too. I don't have a contract yet, but my mysteries are set in Northern Michigan. Think log cabins, diners, trout, rivers.

Get started. I'd play too, but I'm nursing my displaced back.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

This week, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is introducing THE WATCHERS ( Bethany House, March 1, 2007) by MARK ANDREW OLSEN

MARK ANDREW OLSEN whose novel The Assignment was a Christy Award finalist, also collaborated on bestsellers Hadassah (now the major motion picture: One Night With the King), The Hadassah Covenant, and Rescued. The son of missionaries to France, Mark is a graduate of Baylor University. He and his wife, Connie, live in Colorado Springs with their three children.

Just below the surface among the family of God lives another family tree--one traced in spirit, invisible and ageless, known as the Watchers. For two thousand years they've seen beyond the veil separating this world from the next, passing on their gift through a lineage mostly overlooked. Throughout history they've scouted the borders of the supernatural frontier, but now their survival hangs by a thread. And their fate lies in the hands of a young woman, her would-be killer, and a mystery they must solve....

"Congratulations. You just reached my own little corner of cyberspace.

Who am I? Abby Sherman, that's who.

Who are you? And why are you checking me out?

Drop me a few pixels, and let's find out!"

With that innocent invitation, Abby Sherman unwittingly steps in the crosshairs of history, and thus begins her harrowing tale--taking her from ocean-front Malibu to the streets of London, the jungles in West Africa, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, and to the very gates of heaven itself!

A sneak preview of eternity becomes her one-way ticket to danger--and discovery….

Two lives collide in a globe-circling adventure involving both peril and discovery: Abby, a young woman whose visions of heaven turn her into a Web-celebrity; and Dylan, a troubled young man sent by an ancient foe to silence her. From California beachfronts to Nigerian rain forests to Jerusalem and back again, THE WATCHERS is high-octane blends of action, mystery, and spiritual battle spanning centuries.

A woman's awe-inspiring vision launches her on a quest through distant lands and ancient history, face-to-face with eternity and into the arms of a family line on the brink of annihilation...

A man who is hired to exterminate her discovers the folly of blind loyalty, then learns how to wage war in a realm he never believed had existed...

An extraordinary saga of the unseen war against evil, the reality of the supernatural, and the transforming power of forgiveness.

Friday, March 02, 2007

More on Budgeting

Author Mark Terry kindly pointed out that my marketing budget was way too low on Monday. I agree. The point I want to get across is that you cannot put too much into a marketing budget. And here's the really fun part: Most of what you spend on marketing will net you zero sales.

At this point you're wondering if I'm suffering a little cabin fever. Let me illustrate my point with a non-publishing product. How about, oh I don't know, trailer brake controllers. Just so happens I manufacture and sell those things. If you're not an RVer and don't know what a brake controller is, that's fine, just think of it as a widget.

Let's say my widget costs $100 to manufacture. So my minimum cost per unit is $100. That's the easy part. Now I have to estimate my first year's sales, just like I asked you to estimate your first year's advance. Let's shoot for 1000 units. Which means my manufacturing costs will be $100,000. Now overhead-salary, office space, electricity, everything that costs money but doesn't go into the product. Let's say that's $200,000 a year. Now my minimum product cost is $300, at least for the first year. Oh, wait, there's that marketing thing. Here's where that big MBA degree is worth it's weight in Christmas tree tinsel.

It's not a science. Obviously, the more you market, the more you sell. But you just can't take out an ad in every magazine available. That'd cost millions. TV? Forget it. Not for my widget. So you set an advertising budget at $100,000 and carefully select where you'll advertise. For my brake controller, that's RV magazines and websites. For you? Well, you have to figure that out, that's why we're here.

But let me use my brake controller again. I spend about $3000 a month for an ad in a national magazine. Do I sell $3000 worth of brake controllers per month off that ad? Probably not. In fact, there's not one source I can justify based on direct sales. However, and here's the tricky part, I know that a combination of magazine ads, RV shows, web site, etc., will convince enough people to buy to cover my ad costs, and hopefully garner a small profit at the end of the year.

Do you see what I'm getting at? Marketing is like fishing. You'll make 100 casts before hooking a fish. But the 99 were necessary for you to find out where the fish are not. Not Randy Ingermanson, Not Terry Whalin, none of the guys I talk about can give you a magic formula for marketing. They can get you closer, just like a good fishing guide can find the hot spots for you, but it still takes a lot of trial and error, and a lot of money, before you figure out what works.