The Rockville Eight is pleased to host 2010 RWA® RITA® Finalist Courtney Milan as our guest blogger for March's Last Monday of the Month.
Courtney earned RITA's nod this year with her novella, "This Wicked Gift," featured in The Heart of Christmas. Her debut historical romance, Proof by Seduction, is in stores now. For more with Courtney, visit her website, www.courtneymilan.com.
Right now, though, she's all ours... and yours. The Heart of Christmas and Proof by Seduction can be yours, too. Courtney will pop in throughout the day to chat – and she'll select one commenter to win a copy of both books – so keep those comments coming!
And now, take it away, Courtney...
PROMOTION BEFORE YOU'RE PUBLISHED by Courtney Milan
We've all heard the horror story about the person who sells and then discovers they are so busy writing books that they don't have time to do promotion. I have to admit, the person who tells this story is usually someone who sells promotional services. But honestly, I think this is an urban legend, and I think that people can focus to much on promotion before publication. I have not met a single published author who discovered that she did not have time to do promotion, if she started taking care of things when her book sold. (Promotion can take lots of time--but the vast majority of it is not things that you can frontload prior to publication. For instance, I spent 5 hours this morning working on new bookmarks--but you can't make bookmarks until you have a book cover.)
I did worry about promotion before publication, though--I worried about it a lot. And in my mind, I spent too much time and money on it.
So, here's how I see things:
1. Do the free stuff now. Start a facebook page (but please, dear God, do not ask all your friends to be fans.) Get a blog--most are free. (And if you enjoy blogging, blogging can be good practice writing on a schedule--just make sure that it's not cutting into book-writing time!) If you want, find a place with cheap hosting and put up a wordpress site, using a free template. When you publish, you can get someone to design it--just make sure that you're on the ball about that, because good web designers have a backlog (this is the only place where people get in trouble, I think: failing to realize that good web designers have 6 month to 1 year backlogs, and so you need to get on their schedule as soon as you've accepted an offer of publication). But don't freak out about any of this. Some bestselling authors use nothing more than a free blog as their entire web presence, even after they are published. See, for instance, Kristin Cashore. Her first two books hit the NYT list in hardcover; her debut novel, now available in paperback, has been sitting on the NYT children's list for 21 weeks. Her web presence is a free blog--and she writes YA books, and young adult readers are more likely to want to interact with the author online.
2. Get cheap business cards. Vistaprint is great for unpublished authors. You'll find that you adjust your card based on the book you're writing, so 100 of them is all you need. I bought business cards in the 1000s, printing my book on the back, and paid lots of money for them. I gave out about 10 of them.
3. The only thing that I think you do have to spend money on now is this: if you know the name you will be using (for instance, because it is your own), or if you think you know the pseudonym you want, buy your own domain name. They are cheap ($9.95 a year) and it's better to have it than not--it sucks to be known on the contest circuit or by your free blog by one name, only to discover that the name is unavailable. You want to be able to get yourname.com, and it's cheap to lock it in.
4. Other than that, I believe in the cheap. Do not buy personalized stationary. You don't need it. Nobody will think less of you for using the regular old letter paper from Office Depot. It's true that you should dress for the job that you have, but authors wear yoga pants. Act professionally, and use clean paper (and don't use blinking graphics on your website) and you will be just fine.So where should you spend your money, if you are burning to spend it? Spend it on conferences--networking and meeting authors who might introduce you to agents and editors will help more than personalized stationary. You'll also get to know people who may one day provide blurbs for your debut novel, and that's always a good thing! I got some great mileage from author critiques that I won from contests, and Brenda Novak's Diabetes Auction has a huge number of author critiques available.
It is really easy to fall prey to the notion of sympathetic magic: that if you spend a lot of time or money on something, that it must help. There is so much uncertainty in the publishing world, and so little that authors can control, that we look for anything to think "if I do that, I will get published." But it is simply not true that a pretty website or personalized professionally printed stationary will help you get published. If you write a good book, and carry yourself as a professional, you're doing enough promotion.
But speaking of promotion: I have a novella that just finaled in the RITA. One commenter will get a copy of both my novella and my debut novel, PROOF BY SEDUCTION. Who wants it?