Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest books has one of the largest blogs in publishing. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is a major hub for writers. He had his 2010 humor book, How to Survive A Garden Gnome Attack, optioned by Sony pictures, edits the Guide to Literary Agents and the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, and has written the writing guides, Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, and Create Your Writer Platform.
I spoke with Chuck Sambuchino at a Platform Building Webinar and was impressed with the vital information he provided to writers about marketing and building their platform.
This is my interview with Chuck via email.
When does an author start promoting themselves and their book?
They should promote themselves immediately, because it will help them make connections, get noticed and build a platform. I would not start heavily promoting the book itself until 1-3 months before it launches.
Should an author give speeches, appearances, attend conferences prior to their book launch?
Sure. Any opportunity you have to build your visibility and network and meet other writers, bloggers and media members is a good thing. If you can public speak anywhere, I recommend it. If you attend an event simply as an attendee, not a speaker, make sure you’re getting what you want out of the engagement — such as learning, and have one-on-one consultations with key people.
What is the right and wrong way about talking about what the author is working on/has written when they haven’t secured an agent or are going the indie route?
It won’t be much different. The main difference is that, with a traditionally published book, it’s understood that this book went through several rounds of tough vetting, and was still good enough to get published and get paid for. So it immediately has credibility. With a self-published book, people may ask themselves “Is this book really good or not?” Anything you can do to get past that step is crucial. If you can share reviews or blurbs or endorsements or media coverage or accolades, that will help put any doubt to rest in people’s minds.
I understand publishers prefer an author to have a platform, but many agents don’t agree with this; how concerned should an author be about having, or not having, a platform?
First, I’m not sure I agree with “Many agents don’t agree that a platform is necessary.” But this is a complicated question in that it’s different for authors of fiction vs. nonfiction. If you’re writing nonfiction, you absolutely must have a platform (and a good one) to sell a book. If you’re writing fiction, platform is not mandatory, but it is desired, as it equals money and more sales.
What is the most vital step an author can take to market her/his book, using the advance?
It totally depends on the needs of the author and the book. For example, you could take some of that advance money and use it as a retainer on a qualified publicist. Or you could take it to a local film company and hire them to do an awesome book trailer. Or you could put the money toward gas and do a book signing tour in several cities. It’s important to use at least some of this advance money to invest in yourself and your career in an effort to sell many books over many years. But HOW you use that money is up to you.
If an author does decide to start a platform, when should they start it? I’ve heard some say than an author should start a platform two to three years prior to book release, do you agree with this? What should that platform consist of?
Yes, building a platform is like building a highway. You need to construct it before you need to use it. The earlier the better. Years before is ideal. A platform should consist of successful ways for the author to reach readers and their target audience. The specifics of a platform are different from person to person, but common ways include social media, blogs, contributions to existing media outlets, group membership, newsletters, public speaking, podcasts, and more.
Most importantly, how should that platform differ from what already exists?
It doesn’t have to differ. It just has to reach people and grow. As long as that happens, the specifics don’t matter.
How do you feel about marketing through Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest and the typical social media channels? Is it worth it for the writer? What are the pros and cons?
Yes, if you use it effectively, social media can be great. The pros are that it’s easy, instant and free. Plus, that’s where a lot of your connections are hanging out. The con is that you will have to build up a following slowly, or else you’ll be marketing to the same people over and over again.
Why is it important to donate a portion of the author’s book to help market it?
It’s not mandatory, but it helps people make a decision if they know some of their money is going toward something noble. I’ve seen people buy books on that factor alone, so it does indeed weigh in to their decision.
What are ways that authors can help each other to market their book?
Great question. First of all, authors can team up to work together on social media before the book is out. For example, if you are starting a blog, why do you have to be the only one to found it? Why can’t you work with several others? You’ll create more content and work together. If you have a book out, joining a writers’ group is great, because you can all promote each other’s books collectively. People are more willing to buy a book when it’s recommended by someone who is not the author himself. That’s why marketing friends are important.
What are the best marketing techniques a writer should use? What valuable resources are there?
Market by not marketing. Don’t say “Buy my book.” That never works. Market by sharing interesting news or reviews of the book. That way, it draws attention to the title, but never asks you specifically to spend money. Something you mentioned earlier — working together with other authors to market — ties nicely into this vein.
Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance book and query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby — yet lovable — dog named Graham. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and check out his editing services.