Tag Archives: marketing

Book Marketing in Train Stations

2 Mar

Free Books Library

I had a nightmarish situation at the train station the other night. I went out to Connecticut to visit a dear friend, and we got so wrapped up in conversation that I almost missed the last train of the night. She rushed me to the train station, where there were several others also waiting for the train.

Sigh of relief. I made it.

I ran to the ticket kiosk and purchased my ticket back to Grand Central. I thought I was just in the nick of time. The train would be pulling into the station any second.

But it didn’t.

Conversations with the several other confused bystanders led to various theories: the train had left early, the train was delayed. An app and the MTA website both said the train was delayed. We waited.

And waited.

No train. Some dude tried to get us to take an uber with him to Stamford. “It’ll get you a little closer,” he said. Not close enough, I thought. He left.

We waited some more.

Still, no train. A couple finally had enough of the waiting and also called an uber. They were going to Washington Heights and offered to split it with us. It was only going to be $80. Between 4 people that would be a bargain–especially considering the fact that I’d spent $22 purchasing the wrong ticket on the way out to Connecticut. My ever-hopeful friend believed that the train was just delayed, though, so we said we’d just wait.

And wait we did.

We waited over an hour for the train. We tried calling several numbers listed, but no one was working those late hours. There were no employees in the station. Was the train delayed over an hour? Was it canceled? Finally, an employee came by. She told us the train had come early and left without us. It was 1:45 in the morning, and the next train would come til 5am.

We tried to find an uber, but suddenly the prices had been raised to close to double of the original amount. That, and we no longer had anyone to split the cost with. The friend we were visiting told us we could crash at her place, but we hadn’t brought toothbrushes and new contacts and makeup. We endeavored to get home. We ubered back to the city, and I took a scary 3am subway ride home. I was the only woman in a train full of men. Not my wisest decisions, but I felt like I’d been leaking money and didn’t want to pay for a taxi home. I finally got in around 3:30am. I watched an episode of Frasier to unwind.

The good news in all of this is that I did a bit of free book marketing. The train station in Connecticut had a kiosk of free books, where straphangers were encouraged to take a book to read on the train. The selection was curious and random and lovely. Something for everyone. Maimonides. Edgar Cayce. Allison Pearson.

I’d heard of this take-a-book and leave-a-book trend before. And I’d experienced it years ago at hostels when I’d gone backpacking through Europe. It’s such a great way to meet new books.

I didn’t have a copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful on me, so I did the next best thing I could think of: I put a few postcards on the kiosk. What better author to read about on the train than Jack Kerouac, who was known for his intrepid travels?


You might also like:::






Shamed for Self-Publishing? Just Tell Them Walt Whitman Did It

2 Jun


The Good Gray Poet in all his glory

Even though many successful — and I mean New York Times best-selling authors — authors have turned to self-publishing, self-publishing today still carries a certain stigma to it. Many readers think that if an author self-publishes, it means he or she failed at landing an agent or a publisher. That may be true for some authors.

However, there’s another truth.

There are some authors who self-publish and then get picked up by major publishers. There are other authors who never bother trying to place their work with so-called traditional publishers at all. Further, some authors have found critical and monetary success in traditional book publishing, and then have turned to self-publishing.

I am an editor at a book publishing house, so I’ll say that I have firsthand experience as to the many benefits of signing with a traditional publisher. That said, there are also benefits to self-publishing. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I think it’s a matter of knowing your strengths and knowing what works best for you and for your book.

There is no shame in making the decision to self-publish. It gives you complete creative control over your words. This includes selecting the title for your book. Many first-time authors don’t realize that, though they submit their book with a title idea, the editors, marketers, and publishers at traditional publishing houses have the final say and may completely alter your title. Same goes for cover. Most authors have little, if any say, as to their cover design. As a self-publisher, you make all the decisions. You also generally have a higher profit margin, though you personally will incur the cost of hiring an editor, hiring a cover designer, hiring someone to layout your interior pages, printing the book, marketing the book, shipping the book to retailers, and so forth. There’s an incredible amount of dedication and work that goes into self-publishing. It’s not the easier route.

And if someone still shames you for self-publishing, just tell them Walt Whitman did it.

Walt Whitman self-published the seminal poetry collection Leaves of Grass in Brooklyn in 1855. Bridges and schools have been named after him. His birth home is a pilgrimage for poets.

For the 150th anniversary of the self-published book, literary critic Harold Bloom said:

If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.

I don’t mind being in the company of Walt Whitman. Do you?

Writing Wednesday: Are Writers Right or Left Brained?

16 Apr

brain_resultvia sommer+sommer

Years ago, I read somewhere that right-brained people are more likely to put their right shoe on first. Since being right-brained is associated with creativity, naturally I began telling myself to put my right shoe on first whenever I left the house.

How left-brained of me!

Using facts — instead of intuiting — is a left-brain trait. My very attempt at subverting my instinct proved just how left-brained I am.

When I came across “Right-brained? Left-brained? Take the brain test!” on sommer+sommer, I had to take it. I’ve always been told I’m “creative” and have been interested in the arts, but I also take things very literally and sometimes veer toward the anal retentive. Perhaps that’s why I’m an editor. My left-brain tendencies to follow rules and look at parts can shine in a right-brained creative field that I enjoy.

I think the same holds true for writers. We tend to think of writers as being right-brained thinkers. Writers embrace fantasy, curiosity, chaos, and intuition. But writing takes a great deal of left-brained work.

Language itself is a left-brain trait. Nonfiction writers in particular deal in research and details, also left-brain traits. Fiction authors and poets also consider rules and details, even if they choose to subvert them. I think of the New York School poets in particular when it comes to writing rules, for their very creative writing experiments were in fact formulaic. For instance, Bernadette Mayer‘s “Writing Experiments“:

  • Make a pattern of repetitions.
  • Explore the possibilities of lists, puzzles, riddles, dictionaries,
    almanacs, etc. Consult the thesaurus where categories for the word "word"
    include: word as news, word as message, word as information, word as story,
    word as order or command, word as vocable, word as instruction, promise,
    vow, contract.
  • Structure a poem or prose writing according to city streets, miles, walks, drives. For example: Take a fourteen-block walk, writing one line per block to create a sonnet; choose a city street familiar to you, walk it, make notes and use them to create a work; take a long walk with a group of writers, observe, make notes and create works, then compare them; take a long walk or drive-write one line or sentence per mile. Variations on this.

Forced creativity! I love it!!

Having a successful writing career also take a great deal of left-brained work. As mentioned in Burning Furiously Beautiful, Jack Kerouac kept a running tally of the number of words he wrote each day. He also kept meticulous records of his work. Writers who seek to be published often create writing schedules and work regardless of whether the “muse” inspires them or not, they have to think analytically about the best market for their work, and they must keep notes on when and where they send work out to literary journals. There’s a lot of business in writing, as there is in many creative endeavors.

So what did the brain test reveal to me?

You use your brain equally.

It said I’m 59% left brained and 41% right brained.

You can take the test here. What did you get?

Find more Writing Wednesday entries here.

Writing Wednesday: Five Tips for How to Promote without Selling Out

6 Nov


One of my anxieties about going to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac this year was that people might think I was there just to hawk my recently published Beat Generation book, Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

That was not the case! Now, I’m not going to lie. Of course I wanted people to find out about the book and purchase it. Not only am I proud of the book, but more so if I were someone interested in Jack Kerouac’s literature and literary development I’d want to know about the book. Therefore, I want people to know about the book because I honestly think they’d actually want to hear about it and get value from it.

But I didn’t go to the festival to push the book on anyone. Truth be told, if I’m not into something, it’s really obvious. Sorry, Lady Gaga, I have no poker face. I would probably turn people off from buying my book, if I went somewhere just to sell it.

I’ve been to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac before I ever had a book deal, and I went again this year because I was excited about the festival. I was excited to attend the events. I was excited to catch up with friends. I was excited to reencounter a town that I’ve been reading about for years and that has come to be familiar to me. I was excited to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City for a long weekend.

At the festival, I was happy to talk about my book when anyone asked, but I didn’t shove postcards for it in people’s faces the way one author did one year I was at the festival.

I’m by no means an expert, but these are my top 5 tips on how to promote your book without selling out:

1. Believe in your product. – If you don’t think your book has worth, you shouldn’t be selling it or even giving it away for free. If you honestly believe your book is great, then it’s only natural that you’ll think others will want to hear about it too. People will hear the excitement in your voice. They’ll want to know more, and you’ll be able to tell people about the book without sounding like you’re giving a sales pitch.

2. Be genuinely interested in others. – One of the great lessons I learned while teaching a writing workshop at the Festival of Faith & Writing is that as much as people pay big bucks to learn, the time they spend actually engaging in conversation and talking about their own work and interests often feels more powerful to them. I’ve gotten to spend some time with some of the people that have “Liked” Burning Furiously Beautiful on Facebook, and it’s been so rewarding hearing their stories.

3. Don’t look at people as if they have dollar signs over their heads. – Not everyone is a potential customer. Some people may not be interested in your subject matter—gasp!—and that’s okay. They’re probably still great people. Engage them about themselves and enjoy the conversation. Maybe you’ll even become friends. It’s good to have friends with varied interests. And who knows, maybe they’ll end up being your biggest promoter simply because they have a large network and are enthusiastic about the conversation they had with you. Even if that’s not the case, there’s more value in relationships than money.

4. Enjoy the event. – If you’re just going to work the room at a festival or conference, you’re not going to have any fun and no one’s going to want to talk to you or buy your book. Don’t bother going to events that you’re not actually interested in. It’s just not worth it. Mingle with people, attend readings and tours, let your guard down.

5. Be prepared. – Don’t feel anxious about promoting your book. If it’s something people are interested in knowing more about, you should be able to talk about it in a natural way without droning on and on. If you don’t have the book on hand to sell, have postcards, flyers, or business cards to give. Nothing’s more annoying that finding out about a great book and then not remembering the name of it later on. Also, some people are prone to losing things or not remembering what the business card is for, so it’s good to also get their contact info and follow up with them.

What are your tips for promoting yourself without selling out?

You may also enjoy:


* * *

Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Writing Wednesday: There Will Be Twerking at Brooklyn Book Festival

4 Sep


It may not be the VMAs, but the Brooklyn Book Festival isn’t your mother’s book club. The festival announced its schedule of events last week, and, yes, there will be twerking … or rather, the author of TwERK, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, will be on the panel Poetry in Performance. Here’s TwERK‘s overview, in case you aren’t familiar with it:

TWERK unveils an identity shaped by popular media and history, code switching and cultural inclusivity. The poems, songs, and myths in this long-awaited first book are as rooted in lyric as in innovation, in Black music as in macaronic satire. TWERK evokes paradox, humor, and vulnerability, and it offers myriad avenues fueled by language, idiom, and vernacular. This book asks only that we imagine America as it has always existed, an Americana beyond the English language.

“Here it is: a dope jam of dictions; a remixed, multicultural, polyphonic dance of vocabularies; a language of high stakes, hi-jinx, and hybridity. TWERK is subversive, vulnerable, and volatile. TwERK twists tongues. TwERK tweaks speech. Reading these amazing poems mostly makes me say, Wow! Open your ears to take this music in, open your mouth to say it out loud. And: Wow!”—Terrance Hayes

The Poetry in Performance panel will also feature Tyehimba Jess (leadbelly), Taylor Mali (The Last Time As We Are), and Quincy Troupe (ErranCities) and is moderated by Mary Gannon of the Academy of American Poets.

Performance has long been an essential part of poetry. The great ancient epics were told through oral storytelling or sung. It’s believed that Homer’s The Odyssey, for example, was brought to life by a professional performer known as a rhapsode, who improvised according to his audience.

Readings expose works to new audiences. They can make the words on a page feel more personal as the audience hears the intonation of the author’s voice and connects with him or her.

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” stands on its own as a great poem, but hearing him read it aloud makes it that much more powerful.

It’s sometimes been said, though, that writers are their own worst readers. This is because writing and performing are two very different skill sets.

Some poets love open mics and performing their works, but not all do. Many introspective writers envisioned a life of sitting alone in a room with a cup of steaming hot coffee as their fingers flew over a typewriter; not a life shuttling from bookstore to coffeehouses to give readings to bored patrons. Yet, many authors today are told to give readings, appear on radio shows, and sell their work.

The blogs have been abuzz about Miley Cyrus’ twerking at the VMAs, and some, like Pakalert Press, have blamed her handlers, like her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, did a few years ago. We like to think of poetry performance as being on a higher plane, but, to play devil’s advocate, is it always so different? Isn’t performance just another form of marketing?

Is the proliferation of burlesque poetry an example of literary twerking? Are these female poets subverting expectations or unwittingly playing into them? Does slam improve one’s improvisation and literary techniques or has it simply become its own cliche style? Must a writer give into the agent/publicist/handler’s pressure to perform his or her work to succeed in today’s literary landscape?


More Writing Wednesday posts here.





Titles Impact Sales: The Many Titles of On the Road

20 Dec

At the premiere reading of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I read a section from a chapter that mentioned that Kerouac titled an early draft of his road trip novel Gone on the Road.  Isn’t it amazing how one word can completely change the perception of a work?

What I didn’t mention at the reading is that this wasn’t the only incarnation of the title.  At another point, Kerouac considered changing the title so that it reflected the rock music that was emerging at the time.  Considering how influential jazz music was on his writing style and on the content of the book, it’s better that the title wasn’t changed just to capture a certain market.  It’s always better to remain true to your voice and vision.

The title On the Road is perfect.  And yet in another way it’s just so … obvious.  So literal.  I wonder if his work were being published for the first time today, if an editor would change the title to something flashier.

Writing Wednesday: Michael Hyatt’s 5 Steps to Building a Platform When You Hate Selling Yourself

27 Jul

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/tap10 / via Michael Hyatt

In a recent blog post, Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, listed the “5 Steps to Building a Platform When You Hate Selling Yourself.”  If you go to the blog post you can read the five steps, but I want to point out one line I especially liked.  In one of the steps Hyatt says that writers should share relevant news about their writing.  For example, we should share if we’re doing a reading or were recently published.  He says:

This isn’t selling; it is informing.

So true.  Self-promotion always feels like bragging, but the way I think of it is that I’d want to know if my favorite writer were doing something cool and wouldn’t think they were showing off if they informed me of their upcoming book or recent clip.

So, what would you like to inform me of?

Biggest Advice for… English Majors

22 Mar


I’ve received a lot of emails lately from students at my alma mater, Scripps College, wanting to know how I got started in book publishing and what advice I have for them.  I’ve been responding to emails individually but I thought it might be helpful to do a series of career-advice posts in addition to my regular Writing Wednesday posts here on the blog.

As with all my posts, this is simply my opinion.  There are a lot of great books, articles, and career counselors who can set you on the path to choosing and establishing your career.  I’m offering my perspective because it’s been requested and because sometimes it’s helpful to hear personal experience, but it’s by no means the only advice and methods available.

First up in this series is my biggest advice for English majors.


Congratulations!  You’ve decided to become an English major.  An English degree is incredibly versatile.  It can be applied to such exciting fields such as book publishing, journalism, teaching, writing, law, and so much more.  You need to know how to write and comprehend the written word in practically every job, whether you’re writing your cover letter for an application or writing a compelling business proposal once you’ve gotten the job of your dreams.

Plus, English majors are just plain cool.  They’re always walking around with dog-eared paperbacks.  They scribble poetry in blue ink on hand-bound journals and think typewriters are still relevant.  They’re in touch with their emotions.  They’re in touch with the emotions of others around them.  They know big words.  They read the book before the movie comes out.  Okay, so maybe I’m stereotyping, but there’s just something so romantic about English majors as opposed to many of the other majors.  I should know.  I was one.

I knew going into college that I wanted to major in English.  I love working with words.  Reading them, writing them, painting them, savoring them.  Though I do wish I’d taken a few more “practical” courses, I don’t regret my decision to major in English.  It’s had a tremendous impact in my career choice as a writer and editor, and I just plain enjoy studying literature on a personal level.

Here are a few tips garnered from my personal experience as an English major that I hope will help those of you pursuing your degree.

  1. Select a wide variety of English courses.  Variety is the spice of life!  Instead of limiting yourself right away to a particular time period in English literature, load up on courses from different time periods and regions.  You’ll gain a more complete awareness of the full history of English literature and learn how they interact and respond to each other.  Remember that in order to fully understand postmodernism, you need to also study modernism.  Take a Southern Gothic class and an Elizabethan Shakespeare class.  Take a women writers course and an Asian American lit course.
  2. Be open-minded.  My undergrad program was heavy on British literature.  At the time I didn’t really appreciate reading books by Samuel Johnson and poetry by Edmund Spenser because I wanted to study the Beats.  Now, while my focus is still on Beat literature, I’m so thankful that I have a wider knowledge of English literature because it informs me of the history and progression of writing.  Plus, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, published in 1759, could give postmodernists a run for their money any day!
  3. Research the authors you read.  A little trick I learned in grad school was to look up information on the author before I came to class.  Knowing the author’s biography and bibliography helps give context to their books.
  4. Take creative courses outside your major.  One of the courses that had the most impact on my writing was not an English literature class; it was Introduction to Film, taught at Pitzer College by Professor Alexandra Juhasz.  Through the jump cuts and camera angles, I learned about craft and point of view in a way I’d never thought about so clearly before then.
  5. Take digital art classes.  I studied digital art under Professor Nancy Macko at Scripps, and having that background opened up opportunities in web design, typesetting and page layout, branding and marketing, and production.  Even though I have a production manager now who deals with printer specifications of my books, it helps that I have an understanding of production issues.  Furthermore, I know how to create logos and manipulate images, which I can use on my personal blog to promote my own writing.
  6. Find a second subject that captivates you.  If you’re planning on becoming a writer of any sort or working at a publication, it will be useful to have specialized knowledge in a subject outside of literature.  Whether it’s classical music or psychology, the subject will inform your style and subject matter.  I took History of New York at CMC and continually find myself drawn back to what I learned in that class.  It gave me a broader scope of the New York lit scene I admire so much, and I’ve since gone on to study writing under one of the authors of the books we read in that class.
  7. Think outside the campus bubble.  While many college campuses lend themselves to picturesque academic landscapes, I have to brag that in 2010 Forbes ranked Scripps’ campus one of the most beautiful in the world.  The campus is so pretty and yet the academics so rigorous that I really didn’t think much beyond Elm Tree lawn while I was there.  Not only is there life after college, there’s life going on while you’re at college.  Try to picture where you want to be after college and look into what options are available.  Schoolwork is invaluable but so is eating, so try to remember that your schoolwork is only a means toward something greater: your career.  One lousy paper isn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of your career.  In fact, seeking help from your professor may foster a mentoring relationship that will help you in the long run.

All of this is what I learned from trial and error.  I’d love to hear from other English majors.  What advice would you give to undergrads?  What would you do differently?

I’d also love to hear why those of you who were or are English majors chose that major.  What career do you have or hope to have?