Have you ever written a book review?

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Right Way to Build a Book to Success

I flew to Texas last week, met Gary Moore (author of Playing with the Enemy), and together we drove into Louisiana to attend a host of events. I posted a short blog during one of them. My days with Gary are always enjoyable, and these in particular confirmed once again what authors must do if they want to be successful.

I know some of you are thinking, "Well, that guy has a movie deal. His book is different than mine." That mindset is so shortsighted it makes a publisher pull his remaining hair out.

The fundamentals for selling any book are essentially the same. Here is the secret: talk about your book as often as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, wherever you can, even if you don't sell a single copy when you do. Oh, and there is a follow up: REPEAT--REPEAT--REPEAT.

A few months ago, Gary ended up in Northern California for a few events that included one book signing (which was moderately successful) and addressing a handful of schools where we did not sell a single book. And we did not think we would. So why bother flying across the country on Southwest Airlines and going through the hassle? Because Gary gets it. He knows what I know, and what I tell all our authors: you never know who is listening, who they know, or what they can do for you.

After a talk in a middle school in Placerville, California, one of the teachers told us she had a niece who teaches in a very poor school in Louisiana where some of the book takes place. On her own, she called her niece and recommended Gary as a speaker. That, in turn, led to the development of a very lucrative three days for not only the author and publisher, but for a lot of kids whose lives were enriched by hearing Gary speak.

Sarah Keeney, our marketing director, worked with the Louisiana teacher, Gary, and other outlets to craft a whirlwind tour that included two paid addresses in front of the Shreveport, Louisiana, Bar Association, a TV interview, two radio interviews, a half-dozen presentations to various schools, a wonderful book signing with other Savas Beatie authors including Gary Joiner (Shiloh and the Western Campaign of 1862) and Terrence Winschel (Triumph & Defeat: The Vicksburg Campaign) at Windows, A Book Shop (in Monroe, LA), and more.

The "and more" included outstanding connections with Louisiana Tech officials interested in bringing his book into the school's curriculum--but only after they came and heard him speak. Sales of Playing with the Enemy--and many other Savas Beatie titles--were exceptional, and the network we developed in Northern Louisiana will be a goldmine for everyone in the future.

None of this would have been possible if Gary had not traveled a long way to gamble on who might be listening as he talked about his book for the 1,000th time to a group of (often) uninterested school kids in Northern California.

And in case some readers are wondering, Gary's book came out in 2006! He is now planning for next week, next month, and for the next three years (no, I am not kidding).

I know many of the readers of this blog have a book (or soon will) with Savas Beatie or another publisher. Do you have copies with you all the time? Have you sent a letter to everyone you know telling them about your book? Are you talking about your book as often as you can, with as many people as you can, for as long as you can, wherever you can, even if you don't sell a single copy when you do? Are you asking people who they know in the media that can help you?

The honest answer to that question will explain a lot the next time you open a royalty statement or read in the news about some author who has a bestseller that is no more interesting than the book you spent years working on. What does he know that you do not? What is he willing to do that you are not?

-- tps


Elisabeth Payne Rosen said...

Dear Ted,

Okay, here I go: My novel, HALLAM'S WAR, will be published by Unbridled Books on May 27, and I will have a four city tour (Memphis, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, somewhere in N.C.) shortly thereafter.

I see that most of the ACW blogs (incredibly, I am only just now waking up to them) discuss only academic history; all I can say is that my novel is the RESULT of reading those same kinds of histories. Early reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal have been good, though it is not the romance they seem to suggest, but a serious book. (Don't get me wrong--I'm incredibly grateful!)

My book--HALLAM'S WAR--imagines the buildup to the war and it's opening campaigns from the P.O.V. of Hugh Hallam, a West Point graduate and Mexican War vet, who leaves his army career (and his wife's established family in Charleston) behind him to take up a land grant in West Tennessee and plant cotton. He owns twenty slaves, several of whom are major characters. John Varick, a reporter writing a series on "the real South" for a NY newspaper, shows up at Palmyra and stays for several weeks, observing Hallam's operations. The two men like each other instinctively, yet part in anger.
Part Two opens in the autumn of 1861, with Hallam now the colonel of a Tennessee CSA regiment, on his way to Nashville. Through an incident they shared in Mexico, he becomes a confidant and sometime emissary of Albert Sidney Johnston. The military aspects (crucial and extensively developed) take us through Grant's move south on the Mississippi and the fall of the inland river forts, culminating in a good thirty pages at Shiloh. (There is more, in Virginia, later.)

That's enough for now. There is also lots about cotton farming; family relationships, including his deep and successful marriage to Serena Hallam (they are equal protagonists), and yes, even a small but serious roles for Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee (and Smith Lee, too, at Drewry's Bluff.) Lots about the morality of slavery. Nathan Bedford Forrest. D.H. Hill. And so on.

Well, you said it: "talk about your book every chance you get!" HALLAM'S WAR! HALLAM'S WAR!! Google it for the great-looking jacket art! and if you really want to be as helpful to a fellow writer as you seem to, I would be most grateful for any tips about the networks you established in Louisiana--I was born and raised in Shreveport, and my mother is from Monroe (father's family from the Delta, outside of Greenville.)

Oh, and I'm a Hollins grad, like Natasha Trethewey. And I live in the S.F. Bay Area.

Thank you very much for allowing me to do just what you suggested!

TPS said...

Dear Ms. Rosen,

Thank you for leaving your insightful comment. Sarah Keeney, our marketing director, will be in touch with you. Please email her at sarahs@savasbeatie.com with your email address.

Good luck with your book. Sounds very interesting.


Eric Wittenberg said...


Unfortunately, it's a trade-off.

My time goes for more than $225 per hour. I'm also self-employed, so if I don't work I don't get paid. It is, therefore, a trade-off between doing things like what you did, on my own ticket, or working and making money at my profession to support my family.

I have to pick and choose wisely. And if that means I sell less books, then that's the price I pay.


Diana Symons said...

I can't believe that I actually have a story of my own here. I had my very first book signing for my children's book last Saturday. It was at a library in a ski resort town and the ski resort won. I got no turnout. I struggled with discouragement watching the clock tick by but fought to keep a good attitude. Training for the next event!

Just before I was ready to walk out, someone came in looking for the book signing. She was a friend of my illustrator and a book reviewer for eleven newspapers! She was intruiged with my book and wants to review the entire series. I was pretty happy with the day after that and couldn't believe how close I was to missing that great contact if I packed up and left when it looked dismal.

TPS said...


Congratulations on your book and that reviewing coup. Yours is a wonderful story--and not an uncommon one. Sometimes you get a lot of traffic, and sometimes very little. But always remember, everyone who attends knows someone who can help you. Just ask.

You might consider reading our marketing director's blog On Marketing. Sarah's link is off my main page and her hard address is http://savasbeatiemarketing.blogspot.com/.


John said...


Wow, what a great story! As I've been working on my book, I've been planning just such a campaign to market and spread the book. I am working on fearlessly spreading the word. It's anecdotes like this that help up-and-coming writers like myself stay focused.



Gary W. Moore said...


It truly was great having the privilege of spending time with you in Louisiana. The support you have provided Playing with the Enemy, and me personally, is more than I could have ever asked. Thank you.

Succeeding at anything in life often requires sacrifice. Eric brings up a good point about priorities. Succeeding big usually requires sacrificing big. I too have a full time career. I spend at least 50 hours a week as CEO of Covenant Air & Water, LLC but also spend a minimum of 15-20 hours a week marketing my book and spreading the word. From September 15, 2006 through September 14, 2007, I took off a total of 7 days (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day). Every other day, including Saturday and Sunday, I was on the road for the book or in my office at Covenant. I am at a stage in my life I can do this. My kids are grown and out of the house. Arlene supports me and rarely misses a book event. I am making huge sacrifices of time and money and am doing so to gain huge success with my book. Arlene and I are getting ready to go on tour again for 3 weeks to launch the paperback and audio book. Books do not sell themselves. Either the author and publisher, in partnership for the same goal, make the effort of time energy and treasure or the book will fail. What else can you expect? I am always amazed to see authors who will make a great sacrifice of time to write a book then spend virtually no time in sales, marketing or promotion. If no one purchases or reads your book, does it really exist?

I have had other authors tell me how lucky I have been. I feel very blessed and fortunate, but not lucky. I have worked night and day for our success and I know my publisher, Savas Beatie has done the same. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to work with Ted, Sarah and team, but what looks like luck to some feels like intense hard work to me.

I guess my point is that it is the responsibility of the author to take the lead and set the pace for the book. If you plan to sell and execute the sales plan … then and only then can you expect to succeed. Books do not sell themselves. Someone sells them and that someone taking the lead and setting the pace should be the author.


L.L. Barkat said...

Finally, my gift for chat is an asset. ;-)