Friday, September 08, 2006

INTERVIEW: Theresa Meyers, Blue Moon Communications, Part 2

Last week, Therese and Kathleen had the great pleasure of interviewing Theresa Meyers, President of Blue Moon Communications. Theresa's firm handles publiciting and promotion for fiction authors. Part One of her interview generated plenty of interest. Below is Part Two of our interview with Theresa.

Q: What can writers on a budget do to promote their books?

TM: It all depends how wisely you spend it and what your expectations are. Again, generally speaking you are either going to save time or money. You're going to spend one or the other. I've had writers with a budget of $500 do mailings out to book clubs and been very happy with it. I've had other authors find ways of getting trips, wine and other goodies donated for contests so they didn't have to spend their own money.

The best use of an author's money is his or her website. Without it, an author isn't considered "real" by the outside world (and perception is everything when it comes to promotion). It can also serve as a place to reach out to readers, via blogs, contests, newsletters etc.

The next best thing they can do is go out and meet all their local booksellers face to face. Become friendly and ask them what works for them, what they like, don't like. Send thank you notes. Really simple things like that make an impression.

Q: Do new authors need a public relations professional in the early stages of their careers?

TM: It totally depends on the author. Some are planning a big launch with that first book and, yes they need the help. Other authors wait until they want to make a shift in their career. In general I tell authors that the time to consider a publicist is when you are spending more than 30% of your time on promotion. Only you can write the books. If it begins to eat away at your productive time, then really, you're only cheating yourself because no one else can bring in the money for you by producing the books.

Q: What kinds of questions should an author ask when searching for a publicist?

TM: Make sure you have a list of questions prepared to see if you are going to be a good fit together. Only you know what is important to you, your budget and how often you need someone to communicate with you to feel comfortable. Know what your goals are ahead of time and be clear in communicating them. If you want to be on your local television show, say so. If it’s more important to build your mailing list, then let him or her know. The best way to get the worst service is to make your publicist guess what you really want. Not every publicist is going to offer the same services or the same personality. Some have special contacts in certain areas and are better at securing different kinds of coverage for you. Don't be shy about using more than one if they are working on separate types of media or specific projects for you. Teamwork is always possible. Be sure to ask them what their background is. What are some of their successes and about some of the things they think might work for you based on the information you provide them. Ask if they will give you a written plan and be sure you both understand what your budget is.

Q: Author A writes well-reviewed books, but can’t seem to break out of the midlist. What can this author do to crack the ceiling and start the climb onto the bestseller lists?

TM: First she could hire a publicist! LOL. Seriously, what she can do would completely depend on the author. It isn't going to do much good for Author A to go out on a book tour if she hates to give interviews and hyperventilates in crowds. The best thing she can probably do is to get real and sit down with her agent and editor and publicist and say, hey, as a team, what can we do to launch this further? It's a blended effort of everyone on the team. Some publishers will release a trilogy back to back to drum up interest, other authors can go out with a smashing platform and generate all kinds of interest on their own because of who they are or what they've done (think The Devil Wears Prada). It's important for any author who wants to break out to start building the number of impressions out there. You want people to recognize your name. Frankly, I've had clients who've written more than 70 books who still weren't a familiar name. The number of books doesn't matter. You need to get people talking about you. How you do it is going to be up to you.

Q: How important is an online presence (blogging, websites) to promotion?

TM: It's an important facet to a complete plan. You need to remember that all of these are tools to build impressions. The more impressions you can get out there, the better. With so many people spending their free time surfing on the Internet, a website is a critical component to an author's presence. Again, it makes you seem like a "real" person to them and to the media. There have been a number of times where I've been pitching a journalist and heard them typing in the author's website to look them up. Blogging is a less valuable tool. It can suck up more time than it returns in benefits, but it can also build a great following for a person if they have the right voice and are religious about maintaining their blog.

Q: Booksignings strike fear into many authors. Are these worth the time and effort? If so, what’s the best way to get the most mileage out of a booksigning?

TM: Part of the fear comes because they are looking at the booksigning from the wrong perspective. Booksignings, in my opinion, are not about selling books. They are a publicity stunt similar to what politicians use when out campaigning for votes. You are there to shake hands and kiss babies. You are there to make friends with the bookseller and as many of his or her staff that hand sell to customers as you can. You are there to make a good impression with them and with your public who wants to see the real you and know that some robot isn't cranking our your books in a dank basement at the Federal building. You do all of this in hopes that the next time someone has a dollar to spend, then vote with their dollar for your book instead of another author's. Make sure you offer to help set up the event, autograph as much stock as they'll let you and send thank you notes afterwards. It also doesn't hurt to have materials written in advance (like a list of ten things aspiring authors can do or a signup sheet for your newsletter) to move a signing along. Above all be your best self and smile. Be someone they'd like to know and you have an opportunity to widen your market. Be a diva and you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Q: Besides writing a great book, what’s the number one thing an author can do to promote their work?

TM: Don't be shy about talking about it! How many bills do you pay in a month? Do you ever send out a bookmark with them? Get your friends and family in on the act. They can act as your own big mouth network. Don't hide your accomplishment. Tell people! This is not a time to be concerned if they think you are bragging. Since I also write, I see so many authors who are petrified of telling people about their books. This is not the time or the place. Shout it out! My first Scottish historical, The Spellbound Bride comes out in May 2007. And you can bet I'll be arranging speaking engagements, setting up contests and interviews. If you can, speak to your local writers group or a school. Ask booksellers if they'll allow you booksignings. Give people a reason to sign up for your mailing list. Look for opportunities to cross promote and get savvy about what works and what doesn't! If you need to take a class to educate yourself, then do it. Remember that all the work you put into writing the book won't amount to much of people don't go buy it and read that wonderful story. Let them know about the opportunity any way you can.

Q: What made you want to take the leap from public relations and into writing fiction? Why historical romance?

TM: Actually the egg came before the chicken, that is to say I was writing fiction way before I went into public relations. I started writing my first novel when I was 17. For a long time I tried to keep the two completely separate. Writing was what I did for me, and the public relations was my day job. So I worked doing corporate and agency public relations for about ten years until my good friend, and brilliant author Cherry Adair asked me for some assistance publicizing her book Hide and Seek. I told her I didn't do book promotion. She laughed and said she wanted my help. And, for those of you who've met Cherry and know she's a force of nature, she told everyone she knew about what I was doing and I had leaped into doing book promotion before I knew what happened. The reason I could do it so easily was because I was already writing. I'd already been a member of RWA for nearly as long as I had been in public relations. Historical romance was what I loved to read at the time and so that was the first and second story that consumed me. From there I branched into contemporary as well. I now write both. My first novel, The Spellbound Bride, was a finalist in the American Title 2 contest sponsored by Dorchester and Romantic Times, under the title The Devil's Maiden and will be coming out in May 2007.

Q: How does promoting your own work differ from promoting a client's? Are you your own 'dream client?'

TM: In a lot of ways it is the same. The challenge is not to short change myself because I'm working on my client's materials. For instance if I have a client that needs an interview a particular month, I usually hand it off to them before I'd consider it for my own work. I'm far from my being my own dream publicist, rather than a dream client. My publicist hasn't even made me a press kit yet! As a client I'm great. I know what to expect, don't chew myself out, and am endlessly patient. I know that might sound a little twisted and a lot of writers wonder how you can have one foot in each role. The truth is I'm a Gemini (the twins). It's like two halves of the same whole. There's a switch that flips on and off between publicist and writer. It took me about three years to be able to develop that switch and use it with ease. Now I easily flip back and forth from one mode to the other. (Which isn't surprising for a Gemini who is used to juggling multiple projects for as many as eight clients at a time in a busy agency). You just learn to juggle more efficiently.

Q: How do you schedule writing fiction with your busy day job?

TM: For a long time I did it with page count. I'd set a goal of so many pages a day and I wouldn't let myself go to sleep until I'd met those pages. That became more difficult as my two children grew to preschool age and their social/schooling commitments grew. Now I do it by sheer force of will. I treat it as my, second, wait, third job. But it's still a job that gets done.

Thanks, Theresa, for an insightful interview! We shall keep readers posted when The Spellbound Bride hits the shelves.

Photo credit: Lee Isbell, Studio 16.


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