Monday, February 7, 2011

Connecting With Your Audience: A Blogshop with Lit Agent Laurie Abkemeier

This month we're focusing on Connecting in The Writer's Life. How an author connects with their audience plays a major role in their book's success and their overall success as an author. If you've been following any brand of publishing trade news you already know that the author with the biggest mouth enjoys better sales of their book (in this context, being loud about your book is a good thing). And while I don't feel it's necessary for every author to be a big mouth, to be constantly present and available on Twitter, Facebook, etc., the fact remains that once your book hits the (e)shelves, you have a responsibility to sell it. To a lot of people other than your family and friends.

Nonfiction authors must indicate in their book proposal just how they're going to do this - reach their target audience to sell books. But now fiction authors also must consider how they're going to reach out and connect with their audience as well.

A large part of the effort that goes into to selling your book actually happens before your book launches - it's called building pre-pub buzz. You want people talking about your book before it comes out. You want them anticipating it's arrival. You want pre-orders!

So how do you find your PR voice and connect with your audience before your book launch? Literary Agent, Laurie Abkemeier of Brian DeFiore & Co. shows you:

"During my years as an editor, and now as a literary agent, I’ve seen countless nonfiction books rise out of relative obscurity and become bestsellers. Some rode a trend, while others created their own categories, but in every case, the key ingredient to success was the author’s commitment to promoting the work. Too often, I see authors who are committed to writing the work, but when it comes time to promote, they lose steam or they have better things to do. They are too busy to contact bloggers or put together a mailing list of organizations. They don’t want to get on Twitter or Facebook or build a website or start a blog. They think that writing the book will be enough, and that people will, perhaps by telepathy, sense that the book is available. Or worse, they think that it’s the publisher’s sole job to get the word out to the largest possible audience. While expending time and energy can’t guarantee a successful publication, it is rare that an author can achieve success while also being a recluse. Even publishers know this. When editors get on the phone with authors, they often ask point-blank, “How are you going to sell this book?”

That’s why, when I work with an author to develop a proposal, a lot of work goes into the publicity and promotion sections. My authors detail their social media and online connections, their contacts at magazines and newspapers, and previous experience with radio and television. They list every friend who might endorse their work. They research the membership numbers of relevant organizations and associations. They build new websites, start a blog, and get on Twitter—long before the proposal goes out the door. Part of this is for the benefit of the editor reading the proposal; it’s important that the editor understands an author’s reach and ability to get the word out. But I also require my authors to go into this level of detail so that they can see what is expected of them, that their role in promotion is going to be critical, and that their responsibility to the publication goes far beyond the last word on the page.

Assuming most of you visiting this blog are anticipating the publication of your first book, here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Plan to earmark a certain percentage of your advance for promotion—whether it’s a new website, business cards, a freelance publicist, or ads in specialty publications.

2. Schedule a meeting with your agent, editor, publicist, and the marketing staff to discuss the publisher’s promotion plans. A good time for a meeting is six months before publication, when the publisher has a clear idea of what it will do, and it’s not too later for you to fill in the gaps.

3. Once your manuscript has been sent off to a copy editor, turn your former writing time into promotion time. Reach out to people about endorsing your work, keep lists of bloggers and their contact information, pitch original articles to long-lead magazines, continue to build your social media presence, and revamp your website to launch within four months of publication. (And it goes without saying, discuss your plans with your agent and editor.)

Writing a book is a big commitment, but the bigger challenge for most authors is to do the work to promote the book. Commit yourself to the long haul. Your book needs you more than anyone."

While Laurie's focus is more geared toward nonfiction authors, I would urge fiction authors to take heed and begin considering how they might begin building their author platforms and pre-pub buzz just as a nonfiction author would.

Your action: Yet-to-be-published authors - get organized. Create a budget devoted to your pre-pub buzz efforts, NOW. You'll be glad you did! Then, connect with your audience. Make friends. Collect emails and subscribers to your newsletter, blog posts. Gain followers to your social media accounts. Most of all, understand this takes a lot of time and focus. You're building your foundation a block at a time.

Published authors: Get creative. Get together with other published authors in your area and create an event. Maybe the event has nothing to do about selling a book - maybe it's a charitable effort, a major donation of your time for a good cause. Make sure you send out a press release...then consider holding a book signing/reading event to celebrate with your community. Have fun with it!

You've got a full plate, writers! Have a fruitful week.


About the Contributor:

Originally from California, Laurie Abkemeier began her publishing career in 1992 as an editorial assistant in the Touchstone/Fireside division at Simon & Schuster. In 1994, she moved to Hyperion where she was responsible for five New York Times bestsellers and many other national bestsellers. Since 2003, Laurie has worked as a literary agent, exclusively representing nonfiction. Her talented roster of authors includes journalists, bloggers, poets, academics, and artists. You can find Laurie on Twitter (@LaurieAbkemeier) where she posts her AGENT OBVIOUS TIP OF THE DAY—the inspiration for her app, available as a free download for the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.


  1. Thank you for sharing Erin and Laurie! I am in the early stages of working on my first non-fiction book proposal and found this post very interesting and helpful. :)

  2. So glad, Kathy! Thanks for the nice comment. ( : Let us know how it goes.

  3. This blog post is very helpful and quite reassuring for a non-published non-fiction writer. I've enjoyed networking with other writers on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.

  4. Thanks for the tips! I'm a fiction writer, still unpublished, but I'm already making as many connections as I can. You've given me ideas for more. Thanks again!

  5. I found this through the Writer's Digest community, and was honestly hoping you might give more step-by-step for those of us who don't know what we're doing. Creating a budget is nice, but where to spend it? Where to spend it if we already have a web site and business cards? At least you brought up the issue though. As for Twitter and Facebook, I don't know many authors who have made first sales there.


  6. Thanks Susan and KS - good luck and keep us posted on your progress!

    Chryse- since space and time are limited on this blog (for my contributors and myself), sometimes we're not able to offer step by step instructions, like a magazine article would. But I want to address your questions briefly.

    1. Setting up a savings account before your book launch is crucial. Depending on how much you save, you could spend it on a book publicist, who will handle most your pre-book launch publicity for you (before your book launch is THE prime time to hire PR); or you could use the money to pay for advertisement space in papers you plan to announce your book launch event and other book signing events, etc. You'll use the money for food, gas and lodging if you plan to take your book on the road. You may want promotional materials made for your book author poster, at least, for book signings/events.

    It would also be wise to consider putting aside money for a strong website to support your book - your online business card.

    Do your homework and research how much each piece of your publicity campaign will cost and save aside what you can reasonably afford. Plan your PR efforts accordingly.

    As far as Twitter and Facebook, it's undeniable that using these social media tools allows authors to connect with their readership like never before. While you can't physically buy a book directly from Twitter or Facebook, an author has the ability to connect with their following and talk about their book, events, etc. while making friends. They're building pre-pub buzz, which supports online orders of the book before the book launches (pre-orders on Amazon and B&N), which has been happening for years. Take a look at what author and TLCG contributor Ellen Meister is doing on Facebook and Twitter. She's collecting pre-orders through these sites like a pro. And she is using these tools to connect with her audience in a very sincere way - she's nice. We like that, right?

    Using social media to gain a following (which equals book sales) is pretty much standard practice today. I'd say at least half of my clients have found me through these various resources...the other through referral. Do you need to spend your day glued to your computer? NO. Please don't. It's simply a tool to help you, not a way of life. If you need help understanding Twitter (I'm still learning) and Facebook, there are loads of books on the subject...or ask around to see if anyone you know understands the finer points of connecting via social media.

    I hope that helps clear up a few of your remaining questions, Chryse. Thanks for your question.

  7. Great advice, Erin. But you know ... you CAN sells books via a Twitter tweet. I've previously posted a link to my publisher's site where the book can be ordered online. Not to do it often is key, as you don't want to be seen as a spammer, but making ease of ordering your book is welcome in this fast-paced day and age, and many readers now prefer to do that vs making a physical trip into a bookstore.

    I spend so much time promoting my current and upcoming book(s) online that sometimes my head spins! I hope all the effort will soon equate to a significant financial gain.

  8. Thanks for the clarification, Doreen (wizardofwords). I know your efforts are paying off and will continue to do so! Keep us posted on your publishing successes and adventures.


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