QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Interview & Giveaway with Plug Your Book! Author Steve Weber

Joining us today is Steve Weber, the author of Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors. In the words of one reviewer, Plug Your Book! "reveals the most effective and least expensive [online] tools to promote your titles and to increase your exposure."

Steve was also extremely generous in sharing some Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) with us to give away.  We will be drawing six names from among the people who comment on the interview below and announcing winners next week!

QueryTracker Blog: Could you tell us a bit about Plug Your Book?

Steve Weber: About five years ago I wrote my first book, a how-to book about one of my hobbies, selling used and collectible books online -- The Home-Based Bookstore.

In trying to market that book, I made the same mistakes most first-time authors do, I suppose. First, I thought people would automotically buy it, simply because it was available. When that didn't work, I tried advertising. Google's Adwords was all the rage, so I experimented with those pay-per-click ads and Yahoo Publisher ads also, because I'd heard they were so effective. But after wasting a few thousand dollars, I discovered that paid advertising -- even online advertising for a product that appeals to an online audience -- is not very effective. After about three months I gave up on advertising and, as a last resort, started blogging and participating on MySpace and other social-networking sites. Around the same time, I started recruiting some Amazon Top Reviewers to read and review my book.

That's when my book started selling, and it was such an epiphany: All those things I'd been spending money on to promote my book were basically a waste, while the grassroots techniques that cost nothing were extremely effective. So I thought it would be very helpful for other authors to discover this, too. So I wrote Plug Your Book!

QTB: I had the same experience with AdWords, and I know that some of the other QT Bloggers have had great success using social networking sites. How can joining sites like MySpace or Facebook help a writer’s marketing campaign?

SW: The balance of power is shifting to book readers, and away from traditional gatekeepers like professional critics in newspapers and magazines. As a matter of fact, nearly every stand-alone newspaper book section in the country has been killed off in the past couple of years. Online book reviews by "amateurs" are crucial now, especially for new authors. The word of mouth from Amazon customer reviews can be tremendous. So my book has a whole chapter devoted to getting customer reviews on Amazon and encouraging Amazon "Top Reviewers" to review your book.

I consider Amazon the ultimate social network for authors and readers. And Facebook, MySpace and Twitter can be used the same way, while the techniques you'll use (and the audiences of each) are a bit different. Of course, there's also Shelfari and LibraryThing for serious bibliophiles.

QTB: Agents and publishers are increasingly asking unpublished writers to have a platform, or an established “presence” of some kind. How might writers use some of the techniques you talk about to help get their names out there even before they’re published?

SW: Having a blog -- or a MySpace profile where you post your content or stories -- are great ways to build a platform, and they're essentially free.

QTB: Which of the techniques you talk about in the book do you feel is most underused by writers?

SW: Putting sample chapters or stories out there, so that people who've never read your work before can develop a taste for it. It's much more effective than advertising, and you don't have to spend any money doing it.

QTB: So, does this mean everything about publishing and book marketing has changed?

SW: The main thing hasn't changed at all, it's more important than ever: you must write a good book. Successful book marketing starts with a good book.

The Internet amplifies and accelerates word of mouth. So if you have a good book, people are going to find out, and it will work in your favor. However, if your book is weak, readers will figure that out pretty quickly, too. The Internet makes things very transparent, and it's getting extremely hard to sell books -- or anything else -- that doesn't meet expectations.


Anonymous said...

Great interview. Isn't it amazing how grassroots techniques, appropriately applied, always seem to yield such great results.

Thanks for the post.

Sheryl Dunn said...

Very comforting for me personally since I've only just been asked to write a non-fiction book by a very small and very new publisher.

Steve's comments echo that publisher's sentiments.

QueryTracker is a great site, not only for its query tracking capacity, but also for its newsletters and blogs. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

It all seems so simple, the way Steve described it. I've been holding off on joining MySpace or Facebook until I have a reason, while maintaining a writing blog. Clearly, I should be developing those accounts now, instead of waiting. Thanks for the tips!

Stina said...

Great interview. And if I'm ever offered a contract for a novel, I'll be sure to buy his book.

I, too, have a MySpace and Facebook accounts. Not that I've updated them for a while. Kinda forgot I had them. Ooops! But at least I maintain my blog on a weekly bases, so I'm happy about that. Not that it has anything to do with my book. But at least it was designed with my target audience in mind--teenage girls.

Joe Vigliano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Vigliano said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Vigliano said...

This is the 4th or 5th item pointing in the same direction for marketing books. I'm getting the hint:-)
Can;'t wait to get the book.

Stina said...

Oops! Sorry for the typo. I meant basis not bases. That's what happens when you're writing comments while getting your kids reading for school. ;)

Anonymous said...

It is really refreshing to hear what Steve has to say, and I feel better knowing that I'm doing a lot of these things. Thanks SW.


Unknown said...

This book looks like a fabulous tool for anyone, especially those who have self-published. Thanks for the great post.

theartgirl said...

Great interview. I guess i should be more attentive to my blog.


Anonymous said...

Steve, thanks so much for the information. With the changes in the publishing industry, your interview is timely and valuable. The techniques you describe will help so many. I for one, am grateful!

Danyelle L. said...

Awesome stuff! I like how he pointed out that the product has to be good to begin with, and that there are so many good free resources for writers to take advantage of.

I also like the idea of social networking. Writing can get lonely at times, and it's great to have friends cheering you on. It's also nice to be able to get to know the authors you admire.

Erin Cabatingan said...

Sounds like a great book. Would some of these techniques also apply to promoting a blog? Or do I need to wait until I have a book published to use them?


Stilton Jarlsberg said...

I'm looking forward to reading Steve's book. Back in 2000, I had a book released from a major publisher but they did nothing to promote it (well, they sent out a beyond-lame press release proclaiming that my book contained "an array of chapters") and the book went belly up. With the online tools available now, I'd like to think that authors have more power to help readers find their books!

cttiger said...

Great interview. I'm just starting to get "word of mouth" out there with my website and blog so it was really nice to know I'm headed in the right direction. Thanks for the interview. Keep 'em coming.

Annie Louden said...

Thanks for the interview. That's a great point about making sections or chapters available to read, and Amazon. I have purchased many books on Amazon because of the reviews and the Look Inside! feature.

Anonymous said...

Great article. :)

Hope Clark said...

I never thought a sample chapter would work until I made it to semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Everyone read my opening chapter and emailed me wanting more. I'm convinced now. Some good points in this blog post. Thanks.

lisa and laura said...

This is fantastic. I'll definitely be investing in a copy. Great interview! Thanks!

Amanda Bonilla said...

As usual, a great interview! I'm all fired up and can attest to the benefits of branding. In the early stages of an unpublished author's journey that branding really serves as a networking tool. Just by taking some advice and jumping into the cyber waters I've learned A LOT, made GREAT friends, and eventually, I'm sure I'll also make great contacts!

Weronika Janczuk said...

Fabulous interview. Thank you!

I've been posting snippets on my blog for a while now but I've always doubted the effectiveness of establishing that type of platform. I'll make an attempt to do it more often.

Rod Raglin said...

I've polled the writer's groups I belong to and read articles from agents and publishers and there's a lot of ambivalence out there as to whether any of this stuff works.

Many authors and would-be authors are committed to this form of promotion because it's easy, cheap and less scary but does it actually generate sales?

I can't get past the fact that virtually all bloggers, including Steve, are promoting their own self-interest. What's that say about their credibility?

Margay Leah Justice said...

Thank you for your tips on building an author platform. I think when we first read that phrase - author platform - we tend to freak out a little bit and wonder what the heck it is. It's nice to know that it could be as simple as getting examples of our writing online for readers to see. I know when I first read that term, I thought it would be something more involved and beyond my experience. I would love to read more of the tips in your book and apply them to the marketing of my own.


Deborah Blake said...

I've already had some luck with some of these approaches, and authors I know who are willing to put a lot more time and effort into it than I am have succeeded spectacularly. I believe this really is the wave of the future.

Anonymous said...

How fascinating to watch old ideas become new again! But I wonder about privacy issues and rights issues in posting our work for all to see.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. I'd love to get my hands on your book. Even though I'm not published yet, I actively search for marketing tips and ideas. I know once I do get that contract in hand, it's going to be up to me to get the word out about my book. I need all the help/ideas I can get.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I have this book and absolutely love it.

Lynnette Labelle

Bert Johnston said...

This sounds like a book I need and could profit from. I'd like to know more about the mechanics of making free chapters available. I've published a Kindle book but haven't found a way to do that on Kindle.

Next, I hope, a paperback edition, and a need for more sales savvy.

Steve Weber said...

Thanks, everyone, for all your great comments. And thank you for the privilege of appearing here.

A couple of follow-up points for the people who commented about things I said in the interview or the topics in "Plug Your Book":

Erin asked if some of the promotional techniques I mentioned would apply toward promoting a blog (instead of only a book). Yes, absolutely! Probably about one-third of "Plug Your Book" discusses blogs, how to engage your readers on your blog, how to generate new ideas, etc. Not that I claim it's mandatory for every author to have a blog. However, I think it can be very rewarding if you have the time to do it, and can generate the content that will draw an audience.

So if you're currently working on a manuscript -- or have an idea for one -- writing a blog can help you generate content for the book while you build a fan base. The marketing guru Seth Godin recommends that you start doing this type of networking "at least two years before you write the book." I wouldn't say it's absolutely necessary, but it sure can't hurt. In fact, many writers have gotten serious book contracts simply by writing a blog, and getting noticed that way.

Someone mentioned MySpace. There are many more opportunities now (in big and small social networking arenas). Since I wrote the book, Facebook has been opened up to the general public (instead of only college students) and Twitter has really started to take off. So while the general points I make about MySpace in the book can be applied to almost any of these social networks, MySpace might not be your cup of tea. Doesn't really matter, you can start your own social network (see ning.com) in addition to (or instead of) having a blog. The opportunities are endless. It's not something you have to put a tremendous amount of time into, and I think you should do it only if it's fun and rewarding for you. This stuff is changing very rapidly.

Rod mentioned that agents and publishers don't agree whether these types of promotional techniques work. I would wholeheartedly agree, they don't always work. It depends on whether the writer has the knack for connecting with people this way. It's certainly not the only way to promote a book. But I can say with certainty that it has been more effective for me than traditional book marketing. I have tried it all, from the old-school (library mailings, ARCs, press releases, a PR firm) and the newer techniques like those discussed in "Plug." My impression was that every penny I spent on the traditional marketing techniques was wasted. Of course, that's in retrospect -- I wouldn't have spent the money if I didn't think it was going to work.

As to the point that these social-networking promotional techniques might not work because they're easy and free: I disagree completely. They are free or low-cost, but they're not easy. It takes lots of time and effort.

Actually, that is the whole point of social networking, as I see it. The cost is your time. You can buy all the advertising you want, but free advertising works much better (and, of course, it's cheaper).

So, it's laborious. But if you're connecting with readers, getting feedback on your work, and making a name for yourself, then it's time well spent. In other words, it's much more effective (for your personal and career development, and in resulting book sales) to spend hours of your time interacting with readers, compared to hiring a marketing firm to promote your book. Or doing nothing.

As to the question if bloggers are obviously promoting "their own self-interest," does this diminish their credibility? Perhaps it does with some people. However, if a blogger is willing to churn out free content on a blog, if it's any good it will attract an audience, and the blogger is thus rewarded. If people don't like it or don't think it's credible, they won't pay attention. I think it's OK for an author to engage in some salesmanship. I believe it's necessary -- if you want maximize your sales. And by "sales" I mean, in the broader context, of spreading your work, not necessarily maximizing the financial rewards.

Thanks again for all the great points. Anyone who wants to ask me a question directly via e-mail is welcome -- send to weberbooks at gmail.com



Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Bravo Steve Bravo! Thank you for giving back to the writing community. Many of us are riding on that crazy rollercoaster at Literature World. When I fastened my seatbelt a year ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. The ups and downs, twist and turns made me want to jump off. Platforms are a big deal and to get an agent you need one. Networking is what has brought me this far. “I hope to win a copy and even if I don’t I will buy one.” On hands and knees “Please let me win!”

Anonymous said...

Fantastic information. Does anyone know if "Plug Your Book" gives any credibility to paid advertising campaigns being used to drive traffic to a website, which would then later be translated to a sale by means of the website content? In my line of work, we show that a combination of paid online advertising with organic content (blogs, social networks, etc) help drive the most traffic to a website (where a reader can purchase the book). My wonder then, is there any room for paid advertising?


Anonymous said...

This great information. For a new author such as myself, you need as much good exposure as possible. I plan to give your tips a go. Thank you for this valuable information.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

Thank you so much again to Steve for the interview, and for coming by to respond to comments and questions!

Caleb, yes, the book does address paid online advertising in some detail; Steve makes a pretty strong case against it, arguing that in most cases it yields fewer returns than it does costs. Hence, his emphasis on free methods like social networking.

Lent Man said...

Very interesting. I will definitely check out your book. BTW, I have a blog but I have not discovered how to generate significant traffic to it. Do you have any advice?

Betsy Ashton said...

As a marketing and public relations professional, I love the social networking sites. I advise my clients to use them wisely and have seen great results. As a novelist looking for an agent, I use these sites to promote me as well as my book when it is published. There is no shame in self-promotion. If you don't promote yourself, you have only yourself to blame if no one knows you and your work are out there.

Anonymous said...

I'm very curious about the grassroots technique. I've heard about people using them and have been taking notes, but at this point, I haven't truly 'seen' it in action. My husband has been reading a lot about the net generation and how things are changing. I'm very, very curious. The world is a-changing!

I have joined several online communities, yet I still have so many unanswered questions. This book sounds fantastic and like it will answer a lot of specific questions I have.

Whether I win it or not, I will put it on my wishlist. (Does it help my chances if I offer to review it on my blog?)



Steve Weber said...


Carolyn summed up my view on "paid" advertising very well.

I'd like to add: I have no doubt that online advertising can be an effective and ethical means of promoting many different products. The problem with books, though, is that they are so low-priced, by the time you pay for the advertising...

For example, let's imagine you're selling a book for $20, and your royalty on each copy is $10. You can afford to pay $10 in advertising for each book you sell. Each click with Google Adwords, let's say, costs you 35 cents. You'll need one of every 28 clicks to buy. Not going to happen. No way, not even close.

On the other hand, let's say you've got a whole line of books (or other products -- courses, or consulting services) that you can upsell your buyers to. Or let's say your book is more expensive than the average trade book -- it's a business directory that costs $200. In cases like these, yes, you've got a shot at making paid advertising work. But the typical author with one or two books -- very unlikely.

BookChook said...

As a reader and reviewer, I love that "transparency" the internet has. It enables me to find out whether I'm a match for a book, or a writer's style, when someone requests a review. It IS easy to have a platform, or an online presence at the very least nowadays, yet I'm still approached by writers whose work I can't research. I urge writers to heed Steve's advice.

YukonMike said...

Wow great tips! This is what I've been looking for. Steve has obviously been doing a good job because everywhere I go on the internet, I see his book.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

Great interview. As an aspiring author I think it's smart to know all of these things going into the publishing process, not just after. No surprises...and hopefully more time to institute everything necessary to promote a book.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Thanks for the helpful information.