David Herrle reviews The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson
published by Star Publish 2004
ISBN: 1-932993-10-X (trade paperback)
ISBN: 1-932993-11-8 (e-book)
buy the e-book
buy the paperback
"John Grisham's story about selling books - store to store, person to person, out of the trunk of his car - is legend, if not letter-perfect true," says Carolyn Howard-Johnson in Frugal's foreword. Indeed this anecdote exemplifies the obscure beginnings of many now-esteemed authors (and artists in general), from Whitman to Woolf (both former self-publishers). And since book publishing has only become more complicated, frustrating, tribal, and crystallized by corporate rump-kissing and profit-mongering, a comprehensive guide to contending, planning, and navigating through the difficult (and often desolate or hostile) literary arena is all the more necessary and desirable.
Bottom line: Frugal delivers. Unlike those crappy Discovery Channel specials that promise to disclose some major secrets about some cold case (like Marilyn Monroe's mysterious demise) or some historical event but either never deliver or reveal a flimsy, trivial, non-conclusive tidbit - Frugal's package doesn't simply tease for the sake of readers. Many so-called guides and self-help books toot big horns but prove themselves limp from page to page. "Ok, Davey!" you cry. "We get the point! The Frugal Book Promoter rocks! Tell us about the bleepin' thing!" Want to be frustrated? There's not much to tell. The book speaks for itself.
How so? Well, the complete title gives it all away: The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't. There. That's what the book provides. It shows a BOOK PROMOTER how to be FRUGAL while DOing WHAT his/her PUBLISHER WON'T (or probably won't) do. That's what's to tell. Expecting a rather brief overview sprinkled with several decent tips, I ended up quite impressed. And I like to give credit where it's due.
Each section and chapter prefaced with a pertinent quotation which often serves as a tip in its own right, Frugal provides detailed, empirical information and advice about publicity, pitching, media kits, credential building, writer's conferences, Internet utility, mailing lists, publishing contract matters, publicist questions, book cover design, promo items, editor etiquette, book reviews, TV/radio spots, extra publicity tactics, book signings/readings, libraries, much ado about Amazon, e-books, sales concerns, keeping a book from fading away, and an appendix with sample media release, reader list form, and queries. (I'm disappointed that a sample query letter for agents/fiction editors isn't included, but I understand that Frugal is primarily about self-promotion and not the seminal process of courting presses.) Unsure of how to compose an official media release? Carolyn provides "Puzzle Pieces" to explain the proper procedure (down to fonts and font size). An index for the nervous, cut-to-the-chase folks like Yours Truly is also provided.
Carolyn once wrote in a NAWW newsletter: "Good PR is carefully targeted. It is PR in which the recipient feels cared for, PR that is repeated - with love and expertise - over and over again. These are the essentials and they work." She quotes a Joyce Jillson horoscope: "It's all about momentum." Frugal brims with supportive examples of careful targeting and repetitive methods for promotion and maintaining momentum. Carolyn might have titled the book The Art of PR (which even sounds like Sun Tzu's The Art of War). Instead, as I've already said, she chose to be ultra-straightforward in title and content. The book might be nicknamed The Frugal Promo Bible. Fittingly, it contains commandments - not ten, but nineteen: "19 Commandments for Getting Free Publicity." (I'm sure the impropriety of using God's name in vain at a book signing or during a radio interview is self-evident.) Carolyn doesn't hog the show. She allows a wider context, frequently referring to other writers/veterans in the field, from Rolf Gompertz' Publicity Advice and How-To Handbook, Jonathan Treisman's The Writer's Hollywood Toolkit, Carolyn See's Making A Literary Life, Vicki Hinze's All About Writing To Sell, etc., to a step-by-step example of how colleague (Raleigh Pinskey) conducts a media pitch by phone. For those of us who freeze on phones as if we were nude atop the Washington Monument (ouch), this is a worthy resource.
Carolyn has astutely devised an informative, helpful promotion guide that delivers what it advertises - which is the general ethic for being a good self-promoter. You must believe in yourself and your work in order to genuinely plug a worthy product. Too often, publishers do the bare minimum for their authors unless they're dealing with Sandra Brown or Tom Clancy. And books can be considered living things, so to speak, because they can certainly die. Drawing on multiple sources including her own experience with her books This Is The Place and Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered, Carolyn gives hope to those who fear book death. The Frugal Book Promoter is a reliable life-support system.
(Here's a cool interview with a self-published
author who achieved best-sellership: http://www.writing-world.com/selfpub/box.shtml)
- review by David Herrle 4/2005
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