Penny C. Sansevieri
Today’s interview is with Penny C. Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., a best-selling author and internationally-recognized book marketing and media relations expert.
Penny began her career in the publicity, book marketing, and literary field over fifteen years ago. During that time she has been an author, freelance writer, publicist, and instructor. Penny’s most recent book, Red Hot Internet Publicity, has been called “an indispensable guide to leveraging the Internet for success.” The second edition is being released soon.
I’ve read a lot about author platform, social media, and other ways to promote authors and their books, but most of the advice seems to refer to writers of non-fiction. Is this because it’s harder to promote authors of fiction? If so, what are the difficulties unique to promoting fiction authors?
It’s tough to promote fiction. That’s always been the case, mostly because fiction authors always try to promote the book, not the message. Remember that it’s never about the book; it’s about what the book can do for the reader. Sometimes you have to get super creative with this, like the marketing team did for My Sister’s Keeper—they incited debate on the very topic that is the arc of the story. That’s really what you want to create. So, for example, if you’ve written a story about spousal abuse, child abuse, etc., there might be some discussion points on those subjects that you can “hook” your message on.
For example, a few months ago I taught a webinar and talked with a participating author who had written 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!
Which would you say is more important—promotion of the author or promotion of the book?
That depends on what the brand is. Generally in fiction the author (at some point) becomes the brand. But let’s say it’s early in your career and you have only published one book. Maybe it’s the story (your story) that is your marketing hook. Maybe you overcame obstacles to do this work. Whatever it is, market the hottest element, either the book or the author, and if it’s tough to determine what this is, then sit down with someone who can be objective and guide you. Spending a couple of hundred dollars to get some focused direction might save you thousands of dollars in the long run on marketing
Are there any staple skills that you require of authors before you take them on as clients?
Not really. Authors come to us in all stages of marketing knowledge and readiness. I must love the book; that’s the first piece of this. I try and get the book (or the manuscript if it’s not published yet) and do a read through. I believe that at the end of the day, I’m selling this book, and I can’t sell something I don’t believe in.
The average reader of this blog is a woman who is between thirty-five and fifty-five. (Yes, I made those ages up in my head based on the profile pictures of fans!) She has written her first novel, edited it to perfection, but could not find an agent or publisher to take her on. Instead, she released it through a reputable print-on-demand company. She has a blog, and she is active on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook; however, her book is not selling. Is she doing something wrong? What can she do?
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. Surround yourself with people who will help you keep the momentum to keep marketing, even when you feel like giving up. If you’re doing the right marketing you’ll see a marked difference—perhaps in web visitors or signups 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 7—it takes seven impressions of your book, message, or product for the consumer to buy it. I almost think that the rule of 7 is not the rule of 70, though. 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. It takes seven consistent impressions.
When you think of the top fiction authors you have helped, what was it that they did (over and above other clients) that sold more books? Alternatively, have fiction authors ever done things that damaged their sales figures?
Let me answer the second question first. The thing that authors do (and this isn’t just limited to fiction) to damage their sales and career is that they give up or switch horses mid-race. By this I mean that they think what they’re doing isn’t working and they switch to doing something completely different. This steals the momentum from their first project, just like you’d lose steam in a race if you switched fuels.
The thing that separates the successful fiction authors from the unsuccessful is the successful ones keep going. As long as the direction is good (and again, if you’re not sure, spend some time and money on a coaching session with a marketing professional) then keep going. Also, often the best way to sell your first book is with your second and so on, so if all else fails, keep writing.
Finally, be open to feedback from reliable people. Your family and friends will all love what you do, so don’t dismiss their feedback, but what you want is someone in the industry to offer you insight and advice. Perhaps that person can even suggest slight improvements to what you’ve written or point out a new, more supportive marketing direction.
You currently have over eleven thousand subscribers to your weekly newsletter. What do you think has made it so successful?
I think the reason for its success is that we always go heavy on the helpful information and light on the self-promotion. So often you read newsletters that are all about “buy this” and “buy that”—I tend to unsubscribe from those very quickly. A good newsletter should be 95 percent helpful and 5 percent self-promotion.