By Cindy Hudson
Portland writer Marc Acito is known for his humorous columns, essays and novels. His first novel, How I Paid for College, won the Ken Kesey Award, and his second, Attack of the Theater People,
was voted one of the Seattle Public Library's favorites of the year.
For four years he wrote the humor column, "The Gospel According to
Marc," which was syndicated in nineteen alternative newspapers. He is
now a regular commentator for National Public Radio's "All Things
Considered," and he blogs about his various obsessions at www.MarcAcito.com.
With his trademark humor, Acito shares his advice to authors about promoting their books.
Q. What can authors do before their publication date to make a book launch more successful?
A. Take the author questionnaire you receive from your publisher seriously. It is essentially your business plan. You need to think of yourself as a small business, and your book is your product. You believed in the story enough to write it, you need to believe in it enough to promote it. Once you're published, you have two jobs, writer and author, the latter having little to do with writing. Oh, and get a good haircut.
Q. What do you like best about promoting your books?
A. Since I spend so much time with my characters, I really appreciate the opportunity to connect with real, live people, be they readers, booksellers or the media. They're smart and interesting, the kind of people any lover of literature wants to be around.
Q. What is one mistake you made promoting your first book that you'd recommend others avoid?
A. I thought I was emotionally prepared for it, but I wasn't. The hardest thing to handle is the sense of helplessness. Your publisher will print however many thousands of copies, a fraction of which you personally will be able to push. The rest is out of your hands, but your success is based on the figure they've created for you. Two authors can each sell 15,000 books, but if one author has a print run of 10,000 and the other 30,000, the first author is a success and the second a disappointment. It's maddening.
I'm not sure what I would have done differently-learn Zen Buddhism, go into therapy, tattoo the serenity prayer on my wrist-but you need to know that it's a psychological minefield.
Q. Can you share your top three book promotion tips for first-time authors?
- Develop your own network of media contacts. Build your own empire.
- Find non-bookstore opportunities to speak and sell books. This means creating presentations related to your book, but not about your book. Through my accountant, I ended up on the Rotary circuit, giving a motivational speech about my journey from businessperson to author. And I'm certainly the least likely guy to speak at a Rotary club (each meeting begins with the pledge of allegiance, a prayer to our Lord Jesus Christ followed by me, the wacky gay guy). But I always sell a lot of books. Go figure.
- Take part in the Stock Races. Every city I visit, whether I'm on tour or not, I go to every bookstore and inquire whether my books are in stock. Then I sign them. More importantly, it's a chance to give a quick pitch about my work, BRIEFLY telling the bookseller what he or she needs to know to hand sell the book. Be savvy about this. I usually look around first for the bookseller who most looks like my ideal reader. Sometimes they could care less, but I've also had experiences where we connect so well they put me on the staff recommended shelf without even reading it.
Q. Is there something that is never too late to do when promoting your book?
A. Simply put, it is never too late to do whatever it takes. For instance, I sent out an e-mail blast when I did a commentary on All Things Considered in December, but I forgot to tell my readers to click on the "recommend" button, which is super important. So I sucked it up and, with profuse apologies, sent out a second announcement. A couple of people complained and opted out but, at last count, there were 292 recommends. By way of comparison, the second closest was 50.
Cindy Hudson is currently writing Book After Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press 2010). Her website, and its companion blog, feature reading lists, book reviews, author interviews, book give-aways and other book club resources. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Portland, Oregon, where she writes weekly for The Oregonian and edits the monthly e-zine, Writers on the Rise. Visit her online at www.cindyhudson.com.