Thursday, August 11, 2011

Can We Have a Moment, by Steve Piacente & Jenny Milchman

The Help has struck a fat, juicy, chord.

Kathryn Stockett seems accustomed to the idea, but points out that her novel was rejected 60 times by agents before she found one and was awarded a contract by publisher Amy Einhorn. Let’s go back, because the ignition sequence – that period that launches authors from inspired writing into creative marketing – is a witch’s brew of luck, timing, self-promotion, and several more mystery ingredients.

Today’s consumers have a limited amount of intellectual capital to expend each day. Most goes toward the essentials – things like the kids, the jobs, and the bills. Then there’s a small percentage left for leisure; think of it as discretionary intellectual capital.

This is when consumers may be open to suggestions about a good new book. Of course you’re also competing with movies, yoga, restaurants, and, jeez, other good books. How do you fight your way in when the competition already has the door blocked?

The challenge is not much different for self-published authors and those who land deals with a major house, like Jenny Milchman did. Jenny toiled for 11 years before selling her novel, Cover of Snow, to Ballantine.

When it arrives in stores in 2013 – despite the fine crafstmanship that defines the work – the odds are that it will not resonate like “The Help.” So how do you change the odds? (--Steve)

Can We Have an Hour?

Not an hour to present our books—our readers’ eyes would have long glazed over by then, of course.

But I use the word “hour” intentionally to suggest that what an author needs to do in terms of marketing requires lengthy hard work and what I think of as investment building. It takes hours—but most of these come in before you ask the reader for that one minute of his time.

“Permission marketing” is a whole different animal from cold calling. If someone comes to your door with vacuums for sale, that’s a cold call. If your mom’s best friend—who keeps the cleanest house in town—calls up to say she loves her Electrolux but is moving and would like to offer it to you at a good price, that’s permission marketing. You know this woman. And moreover, you trust her level of expertise and knowledge about her product. Just look at her rugs.

(Thank you, Seth Godin, for the concept of permission marketing).

If we translate this to the world of publishing, then a cold call is the 300th Facebook announcement you get from someone you’ve never heard of announcing that his book is number 1,700 on the Amazon bestseller list of mysteries that feature a monkey sleuth.

While permission marketing would be when Steve Piacente, whom I know to be an intrepid explorer in the independent publishing landscape, suggests that I might like to read the book that started it all.

How do you get to permission status? How did Steve ensure that I knew his name so that he wouldn’t just be thumping on my door while I was trying to prepare dinner?

He blogged. He offered substantive content about what he’d learned, some of which might be of use to me and others. He commented on others’ blog posts so that I started seeing his name around, and realized that he had things of value to say. He put himself out there so that by the time he was marketing anything, I was already halfway to yes.

Does this change for an independent author versus someone like Kathryn Stockett, who had the whole Penguin publishing machine behind her debut? I’d say yes and no.

Kathryn was put on people’s radar by Penguin while the indie author has to put him or herself on the radar through efforts like Steve undertook. But once there, the author has to have something of substance to offer no matter what. Tips for creating a book cover or trailer. Reflections on whether big expenditures like Book EXPO really matter.

And of course, a great book.

One that, when they come calling, we already want to buy. (--Jenny)

Steve and Jenny would like to know what you think. If two well-written, engaging novels are released at the same time, what factors will make one succeed and the other fail?

* * *

Steve Piacente has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published Bella ( Steve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as Correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker moved to the Charleston Post & Courier. He is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University.

Jenny Milchman recently received an offer on her debut novel of literary suspense, after eleven years of trying to break in. COVER OF SNOW will be published by Ballantine in early 2013. Jenny teaches for New York Writers Workshop, and co-hosts the series, Writing Matters. Last year she founded Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, a holiday that enlisted over 80 booksellers in thirty states, Canada, and England. This year the Day spread to Australia. She features international bestsellers, Edgar award winners, and independent authors in the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Her short fiction can be found in an e published volume called Lunch Reads and in the forthcoming anthology, ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II. Please visit Jenny at


Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Steve and Jenny,

Thanks so much for joining us today. I think a lot has to do with how much your publisher gets behind the book. Of course, there are exceptions (there always are), but the more your audience sees your book the bigger the buzz. If they love the book, they're going to share that love with their friend and so on.


Steve Piacente said...

Thanks, Tracey, pleasure to be here and congrats on the (awesome) site. I think that one mistake we make is to underestimate the value of small events, like book clubs and readings, where the potential is strong to win rank-and-file supporters who will help spread the word.

jennymilch said...

Hi, from the west coast! (I cannot get used to the time difference--I always feel 3 hours late :) Anyway, thanks so much, Tracey, for putting this together. I agree--with traditional publishing, the push the publisher gives has a huge effect--so much so that when I teach I often advise writers to try and assess that factor right at the outset. In the case of indie publishing, it's interesting--can the author give his or her own push the biggest in the world? After all, s/he only has the one book to launch. Or, are there necessary limitations to this? If so, does Steve's approach of one small move + one small move adding up compensate?

I find it such a fascinating time in publishing. Thanks again for opening up this discussion.

Arthur Levine said...

Hi Jenny, the only limitation is finding time to write while you market. I think you know the story.


Maryann Miller said...

Very helpful post, and I love the term "permission marketing." That really sums up the way people should use social media for effective promoting and marketing.

Rosanne Dingli said...

An indie author with an eBook or POD has a much longer period to determine and manage success or failure. Such editions never go out of print, so can take a long time to gather momentum: as much time as the author has. If the author adds to their personal list of titles, all the better. These days, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint - a book doesn't have to succeed in the first four months or else. Without that time-devil treading on their tails, indie authors have ample time to promote steadily, rather than frantically. They have time to add to their lists, they have time to successfully divide their time between creating and promoting. There need not be an intense 2-month promotion period that makes or breaks. My publishers take this attitude too (I have a foot in both camps, and self-publish some of my titles) and realise there is a shorter run-up, these days, and a much longer shelf-life (interminable, in fact). If a writer is patient and perseveres, the first two years of a book's life can show some measure of success, and with the addition of another title (I do one a year on average) will boost sales with a number of methods. It is much better to space out radio and online interviews, reviews, appearances and signings than to have them in an exhausting two-month period. Producing a good 'next title' is as important (if not more) than pushing the current one. Taking a long view is valuable. I published my first book in 1991, and never foresaw this amazing development, but am now using long-term logic. Because more developments will no doubt arise from the first, it's the sane andsensible way to manage a writer's life and work.

Andrew Peterson said...

Tracey, thank you for the post. And thanks to Steve and Jenny too. If someone posts a "cold call promotion" on my facebook wall, I delete it and the person who posted it. I have zero tolerance for that kind of rude intrusion. Don't get me wrong, self promotion is necessary, even for the big dog authors, it just needs to be done with class.

Carla Buckley said...

Hi Jenny and Steve--thanks for a very interesting article, and I do love the term, "permission marketing." As debut authors, we have a lot to learn about how to support and promote our work effectively without straying into the evils of BSP. Jenny, your point about value-added promotion is right on target. (PS: Andy, I've had writers whom I've never heard of add me to their newsletter mailing list, and then blitz me with weekly updates. It makes me want to go out of my way to avoid reading their work.)

jennymilch said...

Maryann & Carla, I love the term too, and am glad it was helpful to you. I think Seth Godin is a genius because he's really not about marketing: he's about doing what you would do anyway in a way that actually helps other people.

Rosanne, your point is well taken, and I think you've put your finger on exactly the current difference between major houses and small or indie publishers--that big splash versus a long tail. For the big houses there really is an economics of scale that undermines letting a book find its way slowly. These aren't (mostly) digital copies being sold, and no POD. While this approach necessarily has some clunkiness associated with it, I also think it has its benefits.

But the benefit of being able to take as much time as the author has to give any one book is huge, too.

Ultimately I think it comes to a combination of what is right for one particular author and which opportunities present themselves.

There is no one right way, that is for sure.

Andrew, I hear you! It really does feel the same as a telemarketer calling during dinner :)

Thanks for all these great comments!

Tracey Devlyn said...

Steve, you're absolutely right. A big oversight on my part, especially since I'm considering attending several events next year where I can meet readers face-to-face.

Thanks so much for the reminder.

Steve Piacente said...

Hi Tracey, I've run this column by Jenny and myself on my blog as well and was wondering if there's a way to re-post the terrific comments there. This is the link:

Sunny Frazier said...

Folks, I came up with the most basic marketing tool of all: The Posse. I realized that I'd gotten a lot of marketing under my belt so, as acquisitions editor of Oak Tree Press, I felt it was my job to teach these skills to potential authors. When I find info on a site like this one, I round up the Posse and we all ride over to give our input. People in all segments of the industry are sitting up and taking notice.

My question is: why doesn't everybody have a Posse?

Theresa Varela said...

As a posse member and pretty new to the writing scene, as yet unpublished, I am quickly learning about the value of connecting-in person, blogging and cybereverything. I cheered reading about Jennie's soon to be published Cover of Snow. After sitting in her workshop in NYC last November and listening to her tools I see how it happens. Experienced in the reading world, commercial marketing does reach me but nothing evokes my interest like the word from a respected friend, peer bookclub or intriguing first paragraph.

Paula Petty said...

Good question, Sunny. I have learned so much from the Posse about marketing. I didn't realize the role authors have in marketing their work, the opportunities available and how valuable the posse would be. Thank you, Sunny.

What will make one book sell better than the other? Marketing--permission marketing, branding, and taking advantage of opportunities available. We can't wait on marketable opportunities; sometimes we have to make them. The days of relaxing after writing a book and waiting for the royalty checks are gone. We write and market.

Jenny, I look forward to interviewing your cop on "Paula's Coppers."

Kat Hinkson said...

Jenny and Steve,
Wonderful article. I'm part of Sunny's posse. We recieve great sites like this from Sunny. By responding I get my name out there and also I learn from Sunny and the other Posse members about other sites and different ways to my name out there. Yes, a great story and publisher who believes in your story is necessary, but you have to believe in your story and yourself first.
Kat Hinkson

James Callan said...

"Permission marketing." I like that. I have trouble with cold calls. But with permission marketing, I'm ready. (Of course, it helps to be part of Sunny's Posse.) Thanks for a good article. I'm going to work on my permission slips each and every day.
James Callan

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm part of the posse too. The fact is that marketing like everything else keeps changing and having with a lot of people together teaching each other about new methods of marketing is a boon. In fact it might be the only way to keep up. With jobs, families, and life, the job of marketing can seem impossible, but with others helping to guide us as we guide them, it's a doable task.

--John Brantingham

Pamela DuMond, D.C. said...

Thanks Jenny and Steve for an interesting post.

Tracy -

My publisher is tiny, and he really doesn't have time or $ to market my book. It was up to me.

I think Roseanne really hits the nail on the head in her comments. I did spend hours each night for several months after my book first came out, marketing. It was exhausting, but paid off.

I contacted approximately 600 cupcake bakeries (is that cold calling or luke-warm calling?) when I marketed my novel, Cupcakes, Lies, and Dead Guys.

I provide cupcake and baking info every day on my book's page and have fallen in love with the people in the cupcake community. I rarely shout, 'Buy my book!'

Who knows what I'll do with the next book?

Thanks all!


Pam DuMond

Augie said...


Thank you for this timely article, ‘permission marketing’ I love this term, we at the posse call it Sunny. Sunny is so on top of marketing ideas that she brings to us. I really do not know how she has the time as she’s working on her 3rd Novel, (hopefully, that was not cold call). Sunny introduces us to different sites that will help each one of us to become more confident in our approach in marketing and branding. I agree that it is rude for someone to come to your site and promote their work, being new at this I may not have much value in the how to’s, but I am learning. Thank you Augie

Sunny Frazier said...

Posting for Jack from Britain who had trouble getting a comment to take:

I am a member of the ITW as well as being a member of Sunny's posse. People who take the time and trouble to listen to this woman might learn something.

Angela K Roe said...

I agree with Augie, the best tool I have is Sunny Frazier and The Posse. Her guidance and experience is invaluable and that she carves time out to share it with those of us who are less experienced says wonders about her as a person. Finding Sunny and The Posse ranks right up there on the "importance scale" as the day I finished my first book and the day I signed my first contract.

Patricia Gligor said...

Recently, I've had the good fortune to join Sunny Frazier's Posse. Thanks to the Posse, the posts I write for my newly created writers forum receive several comments every day from other writers and even from small press publishers. Thanks, Sunny!

Doug Danielson said...

Thanks to Steve and Jenny for bringing up “Permission Marketing,” and to Sunny for introducing me to this site.

As a nautical mystery writer living in Mexico, the internet is my most effective tool. I use it for research, to find markets, and to introduce myself to potential readers by writing articles about boating in Mexico and Latin America. In order to build a platform that will enable “permission marketing,” the trick is to seek out sites where we can post something that will be useful to readers of the site and will help our name recognition. In my case it is everything nautical because it relates to the mysteries I write. For someone else, it might be craft sites (if your protagonist is a basket weaver), or astrology sites (if your protagonist is an astrologer), or automotive sites (if your protagonist is a race car mechanic). The opportunities for “permission marketing” are endless.

G Thomas Gill said...

Jenny has been a friend for several years, and she is an active marketeer - for many authors. Her Made it Moment blog features authors discussing their personal paths to publication, and it has been an inspiration to many of us struggling with the publication process. BTW, I can personally attest that COVER OF SNOW is a terrific read, can't wait to see it on the shelves.

And Sunny's Posse is a very effective way to pick up the tips and tricks of book marketing. Permission Marketing is an effective technique, and I'm looking forward to deploying similar methods.

Lesley A. Diehl said...

Yes, indeed, Sunny of Oak Tree Books has put together a powerful force with the posse. I'm one of the gals who's been deputized by Sunny. I've learned a lot from Sheriff Sunny about marketing.

Anonymous said...

Adding my comments as another newer posse member who has been actively marketing on the internet for a few years now. It takes time and patience to establish oneself enough that we could ask for time from other authors. Sunny does this by always offering good sites and information. The more I learn about self promotion the more I realize there are many ways to approach marketing. I like this term, permission marketing, but we need to be careful. If we ask others to take a look at something that ends up not being of value to them, they won't trust us next time. This site I found informative and I would recommend it to others. Thanks.

Bill Schweigart said...

Another posse member here. Permission marketing are just another couple of words for relationship building - growing your community of interest by being an active participant and contributing when it's not just about your bottom line....

Gus Cileone said...

Sunny's Posse is growing by the minute. I recently joined, and I have been lucky to find great sites such as this one from which to learn about the publishing world. Since most publishers are leaving promotion to authors, it's a great idea for writers to band together and get the word out about their works.

Clark Lohr said...

Information overload combined with a mainstream publishing industry concentrated in the hands of a few business people spells trouble for any new author. Going with social media marketing, blogging,self-promotion, is mandated, no matter who's backing you. Doing it with a group, a posse,
is the only reasonable alternative. A constellation is easier to see than a single rock, flying through cyberspace.

Bonnie A Kelly said...

I was brought up to believe in, "Listen and Learn".
Since joining Sunny's posse I benefit greatly by following that bit of advice. I listen to Sunny and she turns me on to the many different sites (such as this one)where I can learn ao much about what it takes to succeed in the publishing world of today.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I will definitely be checking Steve's website, especially for book trailer tips. I'm wanting to create one for my upcoming book. Go posse!

Stephen L. Brayton

don helin said...

The Posse is a great organization to facilitate not only marketing but making connections.

marta chausée said...

Thank you, Steve, Jenny and Tracey, for an interesting blog. Marketing is where it is at in just about any business and writing is just a business.

Sunny Frazier is tireless in her marketing and cross-pollination pursuits. The number of connections and successes in the Posse speaks for itself.

Ride on, posse members!

Marta Chausée, author
Resort to Murder mystery series