Category: <span>book publishing</span>

I’m on the road around southern Idaho this week – visiting Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Boise, Nampa and other assorted locations. The occasion is showing (and giving away some free copies) of the book Crossing the Snake, which is a compilation of my Idaho columns.

Part of the idea too is setting down in places where newspapers are running the column, giving readers a chanc to converse. And me a chance to listen.

Reports from the road will be forthcoming. – rs

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Barring a rough patch of weather, I’m planning to head over to southern Idaho soon – in early February, probably around the week of the 7th.

Plans are still in development (and the dates could be adjusted). If you have any thoughts about what I ought to see and do around that time, shoot me an email.

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The age-old checklist of book marketing tactics always includes this: write a press release and send it to newspapers, broadcasters and others in your region and elsewhere.

But that may be the wrong approach.  I suggest you pitch a news story about your book to the press, rather than send out a conventional press release.

Press releases have long been a standard part of the book marketing process for good reasons.

They can be mass-delivered.  You can collect names and email addresses by scouting around the web – it’s practical, but it takes time – or you can shoot out broader blasts through a press release service.  Some of these services are inexpensive or even free, but others are quite costly.  BusinessWire, for example, considered one of the best in the business and used by many top corporations, will cost you: “US distribution begins as low as $415 for a 400-word press release.”  Many of the free services simply give you placement on the service’s web site, and an RSS feed from it, which may not generate much interest in newsrooms.

Most press releases are never even read by news organizations.  When I worked for newspapers and in television, I tossed out many more than I used, and the volume of releases has increased greatly since then, even as news space has diminished.

On occasion, though only on occasion, they are simply used as is or are slightly rewritten.  Don’t count on that happening.  If there’s much interest in your book, you’ll likely be contacted by someone who wants to write an actual story about it.  And if a release is used mostly as is, it probably will be chopped down to the length of a short news brief, which will do you little good.

If you do decide to write a release, focus on the subject matter of the book – not on the book itself.  The release should only be a single page and any specific references to the book should be made in the lower parts of the release.  News organizations dislike being put in the position of clearly promoting products, but interesting information is more welcome.  Lead with that interesting information about the subject of your book..

What’s the alternative to press releases?

Rather than focus on providing the raw materials for a news story, you might try to tell the news organization why it should take the time and effort to develop a story.  You need to pitch, in the form of a memo, the value of the story you tell in your book as something the news organization – and its audience – would find of interest.  That gets you away from being positioned as a barker for a product and into the role of someone with a newsworthy story.

The English book marketing firm PublishingPush, which reports having worked on 200 book marketing campaigns, strongly advises against press releases.  Instead, it suggests the author pitch them a good story, telling them what the contours of the story would be, what its news appeal is, what materials are available and how to access it (that is, provide contact information).

As PublishingPush put it, “Really dig deep about the newsworthy elements within your book.  What inspired you? What is your personal story?  Sell them on this.  We are all storytellers so sell them a story.”

How do you structure a story pitch?  Start, as you would in a press release, with the date and with contact information so the editor at the news organization can easily reach you.  If you have a web page devoted to your book, add a link to it.

Lead with the most compelling aspect of what your book has to offer, whether that’s a fiction story with an unusual hook, or your personal story, or a striking argument you’re making.  Get their attention with that – and give them, right up front, something they’re going to want to share with their audience.

Then provide more details supporting that first statement.  Tell them briefly how the book came about, and wrap up with a short description about what you can make available (yourself for an interview, video or pictures if you have them, or whatever else may be useful) and how the news organization can get access this information.  Keep it brief; edit your pitch ruthlessly.

What I’ve described is the subtle basis of a good news release anyway.  By converting it into a pitch, you hit the news organization closer to the center of their need for good new material.  And hitting the center of an audience’s needs is what good marketing is all about.

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If you’re like a lot of self-publishers, you’re scrambling – or have been, or will be – to find people to review your book. Reviews are important.  They are critical to sales.

Many traditional mass media outlets have been scaling back their book reviews, and competition for a spot in the places that remain can be fierce.

Worry not.  Many outlets still review books.  Some even specialize in indie books.

These days, many reviewers will accept electronic versions of your book, often including PDF files, and the cost of submitting electronically is much less than the cost sending out print copies.  Try to send your review copies two to three months in advance of your book’s release so you can take best advantage of the reviews you receive.

Publishers Weekly, the trade magazine of the book publishing industry (and our partner in BookWorks), offers scores of book reviews in every weekly issue, in major categories including fiction, nonfiction and children’s.  PW highlights indie books in the recurring section called PW Select, which appears six times a year.  PW Select imposes no fee in submitting a book for review, (but a review is not guaranteed).

Several major review publications, including Kirkus Reviews*, accept indie books for review.  Kirkus is one of the best-known book reviewers, but it reviews indie books only when the publisher pays a $425 fee for the review.  That process takes seven to nine weeks; you can shorten that to four to six weeks for $575.

IndieReader*, specializing in indie books, offers reviews in five to nine weeks for $225, or faster for an additional $75.

Lesser-known free review services are plentiful on the web.

At least a couple of web sites, the Indie Book Reviewer and The Indie Book Reviews List, list scores of book review locations, most of which accept Indie press and self-published books.  They break down reviewers by type of book preferred, from romance, historical and horror to nonfiction, comedy and inspirational.  Both seem to be set up mainly as a help for readers to find reviews and search for something to read, but they’re useful for authors and publishers too.

The quality of these review sites is varied, from haphazard to highly polished, with standards that vary as widely, and your book may get better results on one site than another.  Your best tack is to work your way down the lists, investigating review sites that might match your book’s subject and approach.  At each site, look at both the main review pages and the “about” or “how to submit” sections.

Always check to make sure your book isn’t one of the types – either by publication method or subject matter – the reviewer doesn’t accept.  Most of these review site managers are explicit about where their interests do, and do not, lie.

A review site called Astounding Books, for example, says it “is open to receiving solicited and unsolicited Advance Reading Copies and Review Copies of books from authors and publishers.  Our preferred genres are speculative fiction, which include: fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian and science fiction as well as young adult speculative/dystopian.  We do occasionally review current fiction/literature and will also consider mysteries, true crime and graphic novels if we can convince our part-time reviewer (my wife) to read the novel.  We will accept self-published novels as well.  In fact, we encourage it.”

They add that “Our review copy preference is for eBooks, followed by print copies. Our preferred format is EPUB. If you want to send us a physical copy of your novel, please email us and we will give you the address to mail it to. Novels will not be returned.”  Many other sites have similar policies.


The review sites seem to be weighted a little more heavily toward sci-fi, mystery, romance and horror, but options are available for almost anyone.  Many reviewers focus on fiction, but not all.  McNeil’s Reviews, for example, “is geared toward nonfiction books.  Books must be nonfiction such as how-to, biographies, memoirs, self-help, etc. Indie books are okay but must be free from excessive grammar and spelling errors. Books need to be posted and sold on Amazon.”

Of course, submitting a book for review doesn’t guarantee a good review or guarantee a review at all.  You take your chances.

But if you get a positive review, you can quote from it on the cover of your book and use that to boost your book marketing.  The kind of “validation” you can get from a book review can be invaluable as you send your new book out into the world.

*Kirkus and Indie Reader are affiliate partners of BookWorks, and discounts on their review services are among the perks our premium members enjoy.

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We’ve made a few low-key mentions about it, but now we’re running it out formally – our new eBook, The Stuck Pendulum, about Idaho’s political history over the last quarter-century.

And it’s free, as you can see from this visual. Best place to immediately grab a copy for your e-reader – pretty much any e-reader – is at It’ll be up on too, soon, but Smashwords allows access to all readers. And the book is, for now at least, free.

A quick notes about what it is and isn’t. Although it works as a standalone book, it’s aimed mainly at readers of Paradox Politics by Randy Stapilus, a book about Idaho politics published in 1988 and covering several decades of history leading up to that point. Things have changed a lot since, and copies of Paradox continue to sell, so this book was intended to bring the story up to present. It isn’t hugely detailed or a source for a whole lot of new information for people who have been tracking the state closely in the last couple of decades; for those who have, much of what’s here will be familiar. For those who haven’t, but are interested in the subject, we think it may be helpful.

And it is, after all, free. At least for a while.

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Authors find few pieces of marketing advice repeated more often than this: Get thee to a website!

But once you have a website, what do you do with it?

The primary purpose of your website is to promote yourself and your book. Part of the process of selling your book is in connecting with your reader, and a good author website offers many ways to do that.

The basic components of your website should be:
1. Contact information (if you don’t want to provide an email address, then include a message form)
2. Your social media contact information (to Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or any others you use)
3. Information about your books
4. Biographical information – all about you, your professional background, why you decided to write this book
5. News about your books
6. Events where you will be appearing

Aside from a good photo (a professional shot is recommended), include some memoir material. Kate McMillan, a web designer for many books and authors for more than a decade, advised in a 2012 web article, “frame the content around what led you to writing, and why you write the kinds of books that you do and what you love about it. If you’re also promoting yourself for speaking engagements, or if your book is one aspect of your larger professional career, consider making your photo larger or putting it in a more prominent position on the page.”

This is good, basic advice but not enough to pull lots of people to your site. To do that, remember what the cable television channel AMC does when it promotes the web pages attached to its programs. It points out specific files, video material, games, links of all kinds available only through the website, and uses the tag line, “there’s always more on” It’s an approach worth keeping in mind as you design your site. The more extra information you post, the more traffic you’re likely to get. So as you post it, use the social media to let people know it’s there.

R.C. Butler of Bulldog Press, advised, “The key to a good website or blog, however, is not the information about you or your book. It is the alternative information you post that adds value to the visitor. It is this information that will keep your readers returning to your site which will help to increase your SEO scores, incoming links, and overall presence in the market.”

McMillan suggested that “Depending on the kinds of books you write, you might include a slideshow of photographs, or an audio file, or a YouTube video, or a quiz, or myriad other things that tie into the content of your books. Some authors are experts in their field and their books are an extension of a larger career – this is a great opportunity to include something interesting from the larger context of your career, such as a discount code for signing up for a related service.”

One article from USA Today (January 15, 2015) suggests more possibilities: “leaving their more compelling content on the site longer; creating clutter-free website designs to make it easier to find the best material; posting more quizzes; using prominent “embeds” of videos, links and tweets in stories; assigning long-form articles; creating never-ending pages that just scroll on with more content loads; showcasing photo galleries that stay on one long page rather than flipped pages.”

Dropping by the websites of some of your favorite writers could help too. Observe how bestselling writers, indie and traditional both, use their web space. The site for novelist E.L. James ( includes soundtracks and wine lists – all background material for her novels. The site for Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), has excerpts and useful material for readers’ groups. Blake Crouch (, of the Wayward Pines series, posts videos and a regular weekly show to keep in touch with his readers.

Blogging – if it’s done regularly – can keep the site fresh. Writer and marketer Joanna Penn strongly endorses blogging: “Starting a blog changed my life – seriously. It has freed my writing style up completely, and given me the confidence to get into fiction. Without the millions of words I’ve written on my blog, I would never have been able to write Desecration, my latest crime novel.”

A couple of other points to keep in mind as you pull together material for the site.

Make sure your site is “responsive,” which means smartphones, tablets and other devices will be able to read it easily. That’s a good idea generally, but Google has started to give “responsive” sites an extra push, saying that “non-responsive” websites will be downgraded in search lists. Early in 2015 I threw out a web theme I’d had in place on my site for years and replaced it with another one which, unlike the old one, is fully responsive. Fortunately, the fix for this probably won’t be especially difficult if your website is relatively small and simple: It may only involve changing the design on the web site, which often is just a matter of pushing a few buttons.

Be sure also to incorporate keywords and tags that will make the site more visible to searchers.

Visibility and two-way communication are, after all, the key to any successful wevsite.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.

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