Eileen Cook published UNPREDICTABLE, a romantic comedy about a woman who fakes psychic ability to get her boyfriend back, with Berkley in February, and it quickly earned rave reviews. One called it “fresh, funny and quirky,” as well as “an absolute delight.” She has sold the rights in Russia, France, Germany and China, and New Line Cinema has optioned the film rights. Her second novel, WHAT WOULD EMMA DO?, crosses over into the young adult market and will be published in January by Simon Pulse.
Cook lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband and two dogs.
What were the top 5 things you did to market your book after publication?
1. Web Site and Blog: I don't believe it is an option any longer—you must have some type of online presence. I do a combination of a Web site/blog at www.eileencook.com. I know some people detest blogging, but I use it as a writing warm-up and don't find that it takes too much to maintain. This past year I also belonged to a group blog—The Debutante Ball (www.thedebutanteball.com). This is a group of six debut authors who banded together to share marketing and outreach opportunities. It was a great group of women to work with, and sharing the load of marketing (not to mention ideas and contacts) made a huge difference. We hosted a number of guest authors who shared their experiences, including Meg Cabot, John Grisham and Jodi Picoult. We have Jane Green coming by as our last guest in mid-August. In September, we'll be passing the group blog onto another group of debut writers who will keep the party going. I'm so excited for their debuts and to see what they do with the site.
2. Blog Tour: Several months before my launch, I made a huge list of blogs and Web sites that I felt targeted my ideal readers. I sent out a request to guest blog on their different sites, and provided copies for review and as contest giveaways. With so many people online, this seemed the most cost-effective way to reach out. I contacted over 400 blogs and Web sites and had reviews/guest posts or interviews on about 65.
3. Signing Party: It may be debatable on how effective it was— as I suspect everyone who came would have bought a copy anyway—but I am very glad I did a launch party. Writing is such a solo activity, and I couldn't think of a better reason to celebrate than having my book published. I also did a small tour in the Midwest (Chicago, Lansing, Grand Rapids, etc) as this is the area where I grew up, and I was confident between friends and family I could get at least a small showing in every place I stopped. The added bonus was that I was able to stay with friends and family, which kept the costs down. My best friend left her family to fend for themselves and was my all-purpose driver and assistant on the trip. We decided it was like Thelma and Louise without the driving off the cliff downer ending.
4. Media Outreach: I sent out press releases and media pitches around the hook of "The Top Five Ways to Fake Psychic Ability." The hook was different enough that I was able to appear on both television and radio.
5. Remembered to Say Thank You: When I did signings at a bookstore, I always sent a thank you note and often brought chocolate for the staff. There are so many people hustling books (not to mention every other product) that one way to stand out is to be polite and gracious. There are so many books that people can choose from—I truly am grateful when they give me, a new author, a chance. If you are sincere in your thanks, I believe people remember and are more likely to talk your book up to others.
What was the best thing you did before publication to prepare?
The best thing I did was to take some time to understand what I was undertaking. I took M.J. Rose's Buzz Your Book course, which provided a great overview of how book marketing works, and I read several books on the topic (when in doubt “buy a book” has long been a motto of mine). I started to grasp the concept that the media wasn't interested in the fact that I wrote a book. I had to find a hook that would be of interest to their audience. My angle was the research that I did for the book and led to the idea of teaching others how psychic ability could be faked. Getting grounded in the basics of how promotion and marketing worked was important in creating a strategy for my book.
Did you work alone on your book promotion strategy, or in conjunction with a publicist?
My agent, Rachel Vater, is with the Folio Literary agency. The agency has on staff a publicist who works with all writers in the agency to provide feedback on our marketing plan and provides tele-seminars on promotion. I strongly considered hiring a publicist, but when looking over my list of things I wanted in relation to my budget, I ended up deciding to do it on my own.
Of course by saying "on my own," what I mean is I did it with support and help from my agent, my critique partners, my local RWA chapter, friends, family and my devoted husband, who listened endlessly and provided well-chilled lemon drop martinis as needed.
If you knew then (when your book first published) what you know now, what might you have done differently?
It is so easy to second guess ourselves. I've wondered if I should have hired a publicist, paid for print ads, done more signings, bought bookmarks or pens. The list can go on and on. However, overall I've been pleased with what I was able to accomplish given my time (I still have a day job) and budget available. The need to market ourselves has become a huge pressure on writers. We worry if we don't do enough, or if we've sunk our career before it even got off the ground. I think we have to keep in mind that many of the larger things that move books are out of our hands and in the publisher’s. (Print run, co-ops, placement, etc.) I do think we have a responsibility to promote our books, but we also have to remember our number one job is writing them.
If I could go back and do it all over again, the only thing I would change is to slow down and enjoy it more. Seeing my book on the shelf at my local store was one of the greatest joys in my life. I should have spent more time enjoying it and less time worrying about how to get it into the hands of readers.
How do you balance writing with the business side of being an author?
There are people who have balance? : )
It is a constant struggle for me to find the optimal balance between my day job, time for writing, my personal life and the business of writing. It often seems as soon as I've found the balance something comes along and upsets that very delicate state. What I've come to accept is my life is fluid and flexible, and so are my priorities. What works great one week can be totally wrong for the next week. What I do now is to sit down on Sunday and make a list of what needs to get done that week in all aspects of my life and setting priorities from there. Some weeks it is more important to be writing, and others I may spend more time on the business. A week after that may be focused on something not even related to writing.
Any other advice for newly published authors?
There are millions of options to promote your book, and they range widely in terms of how much time and money they require. The best advice I can give you is that you cannot do it all: You have to decide where you will spend your energy and your budget. There will be people who will tell you that if you don't do X (insert any number of random promotion ideas) that you have doomed your book to failure. Take a deep breath before adding anything else to you to-do list. Does it fit in with your overall plan? Does it make sense for you? If you hate public speaking, pitching to speak at conferences doesn't make a lot of sense. Volunteer to write an article for a magazine instead. This is a long-winded answer to say "pace yourself."
Favorite item on your writing desk: My flying pig finger puppet. It has a magnet in the snout, and it attaches to my lamp. There is something absurd about it, and it makes me laugh every time I see it.
Favorite way to procrastinate: Reading. I am a book junkie and can easily lose an entire afternoon in the pages of a book. However, if I am at a part of my WIP that has me stuck, then I will allow myself to procrastinate with anything, including laundry. If our house is too clean, then my husband knows I'm struggling with some aspect of my latest project.
Favorite literary character: Do I have to pick one? Owen from A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, by John Irving, is a favorite for sure, but I could easily start a long list.
Favorite CD: The creation of iTunes is one of the greatest inventions of our time in my humble opinion. I love creating mix CDs, and I have one for every mood. I even create mixes for the books I am writing. It's very Pavlovian. if I hear those songs, I feel like I should sit down and start writing.
Favorite snack: Anything chocolate.
To learn more about Eileen Cook and her books, visit http://www.eileencook.com/.