23 February 2005

Notes from a Writer: Adam Fawer

One day I got an email from Adam Fawer, introducing himself as the author of the new novel Improbable. I'd never heard of the book, but Adam contacted me right at the time when I was thinking of locating an author who was trying to use the internet as a publicity tool (I'm curious what sort of techniques are proving effective). Perfect timing.

"Want to do an interview with me?" Adam said. "No," I said. "I mean, I'm sure you're a lovely person, but I just don't have time right now, and I haven't read your book. BUT -- I'd love to have you write about how you're working with your publisher on publicity, and how you're trying to reach an audience." (Well, no, actually, I just made all that dialogue up. Adam asked if I'd want to do an interview or have him write a guest post. I said a guest post would be useful right now, and that something about publicity might be interesting. But the dialogue's better than the banal reality. So pretend you didn't read this bit of bald-faced truthfulness.)

Adam liked the idea, and so what follows is what he's trying to do with Improbable, plus a few tips for other writers. I've asked Adam to check in now and then to keep us posted, because I'm curious to see how some of his plans play out.

And with luck I'll even find time to read Improbable before Adam's next novel is published.

Enough from me. Here's Adam Fawer:



After I hung up the phone with my agent, I thought to myself, "Now what?"

It had been a year and a half since I had written the first word of my novel. From that point on, all I could think about was getting it published. I was hopeful, but I knew it was a long shot. So when my agent called to say that HarperCollins wanted to buy it, I didn't know how to feel. Sure, I was happy but I also felt a little lost.

Suddenly I realized that my dream of becoming a fulltime writer was within reach -- assuming my novel did well (a very big assumption). As I have an MBA and a background in marketing, I thought to myself, "I can make it happen."

The next day, I wrote an email to a writing professor I had at Stanford. In the years since I'd taken her class, she'd become a bestselling author, so I figured she could show me the way. A week later, she answered my note. As I read her response, all the proverbial wind sucked out of my sails:

"The publisher will decide whether your novel will be a success or a failure before it's ever released and you have little to no control over the outcome. Good luck."

As I networked into other people who've been published, I heard basically the same thing over and over. It's all up to the publisher. There's nothing you can do.

However, I refused to believe that I wasn't in charge of my own fate. So I thought to myself, well, there is one thing I can do. I can be nice. Sounds trite, I know, but it's true. The fact is I'm not my agent's only client, my publisher's only author or my publicist's only product. Everyone involved with my book has lots of demands on their time. They're constantly being pulled in different directions, often by very demanding people.

So, I decided to be the one person who didn't demand anything. The person in their professional life that was the easiest to work with. Don't get me wrong: this didn't mean that I didn't ask for anything. It just meant that when I did, I did it in a respectful manner. I still had to push to be included in all the decision-making, but because I was an author they liked, they let me in.

Therefore, I had a say on what the cover looked like, how my publicity pieces read, how my website was designed and how my book signing was executed. The thing you have to remember is that even though writing may be an art, publishing is a business. You have to treat the launch of your book like you're launching a product into an incredibly cluttered and competitive marketplace, because that's exactly what you're doing.

So, after sixteen months in the pipeline, Improbable finally hit the stands a few weeks ago. Here's some of the learning I've gained during the process. (NOTE: As the results aren't in as to whether or not my book is a success or failure, take everything I say with a grain of salt.)

Book Cover

1. My agent told me that if you want your book to appeal to women, it's got to have a colorful cover. "It needs more color! Women love color!" she exploded over the phone when were discussing the first version, which was mostly yellow. After a lot of back and forth, HarperCollins injected some more color into it and I think it's much more eye-catching because of it.

2. Another piece of advice from my agent: the title should be big and bold. Bookstore browsers should be able to read the title from across the room. If they've heard of your book but don't see it, they'll buy something else.

Publicity

1. Books live and die by publicity, as literature is a tough segment to do traditional marketing. Therefore, make your publicist's job as easy as possible. Right after I signed my contract, I was asked to complete an "Author Questionnaire" about my background and the story behind my story. I took the questionnaire very seriously and spent a lot of time on it. My publicist was floored when she read the detailed responses to all of her questions. It helped get our relationship off on the right foot and she's been fantastic. Remember: your publicist can't tell people your story unless she knows your story, so don't be shy. This is your time to boast.

2. Publicity is all about contacts and consistency. I've been lucky in that HarperCollins assigned me a great publicist with lots of both. However, I've been able to help her out by mining my own network. If you ask around, more often than not (especially if you live in NYC) you'll find that a friend of a friend works at a magazine or a newspaper. If you've got a compelling story and you're not shy about it, odds are you'll be able to get someone to write about you. This is a story I managed to finagle through a friend at The New York Post.

3. Literary blogs are also a great way to market your book. There are tons of great sites out there and for the most part they're run by booklovers who are more than happy to help an author out. But they won't find you, you've got to find them (hint: I emailed Matt, not vice versa). If you're reading this, you're probably a blog fan like me and already know a bunch that would be interested in helping you get some promotion. Email them.

Book Sales

1. This is a tough one. I'd be lying if I said I had the answer (and if there was one, then everyone would do it and it would immediately cease to work). However, in my very limited experience, I find that the personal appeal works. My network was fantastic in this regard as the first week after publication I sold close to 300 books to friends and family. I did this through two signings (one in NYC where I live and another one in my hometown) and a bunch of mass emails asking (okay, begging) old friends and acquaintances to buy my book.

2. Another tactic I've used is what I call two degrees of separation. Whenever one of my friends emails me that she finished my book and enjoyed it, I ask her to email all of her network to help spread the word. Books are primarily sold through word-of-mouth and nothing is more powerful than a personal recommendation.

Well, I guess that's all I've got. Oh wait, almost forgot to toot my own horn: My book is called Improbable. It's a scientific thriller, with a little something for everyone: action, suspense, history and philosophy. Publisher's Weekly and Booklist both liked it and I hope you will, too. Check out my site: www.improbablebook.com, play the flash game and most importantly, buy the book!

2 comments:

  1. Excellent book,

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  2. I just finished Adam Fawer's most excellent book, 'Improbable'. That's exactly what I thought went I picked it up - that it was improbable that I'd be impressed by it. But I didn't have anything I hadn't already read a dozen times, and expected light reading. Wrong!!
    Not only was the book entertaining and informative, it left me with a few things to mull over.
    I look forward to Adam's next book. Hurry up!

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