Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Monday, November 22, 2010

Author Interview: Tom Llewellyn

If the name Tom Llewellyn sounds familiar to you, it's because he has been featured in a previous post on this very blog.  Tom had blogged about his publishing contract with Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House, and just how much money he could expect to earn from sales of his new book.  Since then, Tom has learned that the future of his next book, Letter Off Dead, is up in the air, now that Random House plans to shut down Tricycle Press.

Tom was kind enough to answer a few questions about how he marketed and promoted his first book, The Tilting House.  What stuck out to me in the interview is that Tom doesn't take credit for the sales or success of his first book, but it is apparent from his answers that he has worked very, very hard to promote and market The Tilting House.


How many copies of your first book have you sold?

The last I heard, The Tilting House has sold a little over 8,000 copies. It’s in its second printing. The first printing sold out in about a month. It was made a Junior Library Guild selection, which helped a lot.

Where did most of your sales occur?  Online?  Bookstores?  Self-sales? 

I don’t know where the books sold—definitely not by me. As far as I know, sales have come nearly solely from Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and to libraries and schools. I wish I had a clearer view into where sales were happening.

Was your book widely available in bookstores?

Yeah, it was (and is) in Borders and Barnes and Noble nationwide and available via Amazon. I know through word of mouth that many independent bookstores carried it as well, like Powell’s Books, University Bookstore in Seattle, Kings Books in Tacoma, etc.

How much help did your publisher give you in the marketing of your book?

Not as much as I expected (he says, while hoping he sounds grateful to be published at all). They sent out promotional copies, distributed the book in their catalog, blogged about it and sent me a whole bunch of customized bookmarks. They might have done a lot of other important activities as well.

Did you hire a publicist, or did you work on marketing and promotion on your own? If you hired a publicist, what types of things did they do for you?

I did not hire a publicist. Should I have?

What types of marketing activities did you handle on your own?

I’m a marketer for a living, having worked as director of marketing for a number of firms and currently working as creative director for a major financial services company. So I’ve got a bit of a head start in this area. A very talented designer friend of mine built a cool website (www.thetiltinghouse.com) and created a book trailer you can see there as well. I setup and completed interviews in local newspapers. I held a pretty massive book launch party—about which the publisher’s rep said it was the biggest launch party she’d ever seen. I’ve done a whole bunch of author talks at local schools and still continue to do them. And I’ve done a whole bunch of blog interviews—kind of like this one.

I also have a number of other projects, including a book blog—(www.letteroffdead.com) and a street art project (www.beautifulangle.com). The followings I’ve created on those projects have definitely helped with The Tilting House.

Which marketing activities have been the most helpful in selling your book?

Since I don’t have much insight into where the sales are coming from, it’s difficult to know. They all seem to help a little bit, but it would be hugely helpful if there was more transparency into the sales sources. If I, the author, am given the responsibility for marketing, which it seems I am, then I should also be given the information to allow me to do an informed job.

What was the biggest misconception you had before you started promoting your work?

I assumed the publisher would take a more active role. As a professional marketer, I’m a huge believer in the power of marketing. Statistics consistently show that investments in advertising dollars nearly always pay off through increased sales. Especially with books, when a book sale is literally one click away from a banner ad or a search engine marketing term. So I’m surprised the publisher doesn’t spend more on that. It wouldn’t make sense for me, because I simply get too little of the sales proceeds. But I wish the publisher would pony up a little more dough and effort on promotions.

How vital is social media such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to your marketing?

It’s huge. I tweet a huge amount. My next book, Letter Off Dead, actually started as a blog—and was generating 10,000 unique visitors a month in less than six months. And I connect with other bloggers—like you—as much as I can stand.

How vital is niche marketing to promoting your work? How do you identify and reach out to your book’s niche audiences?

My first book, The Tilting House, is not really a niche book. It’s broad market middle reader fiction. My second book, Letter Off Dead, has more of a niche appeal as it deals specifically with junior high school, death and the afterlife. So I’ve been reaching out, via blogs and twitter, to junior high librarians, to grief counselors and to those interested in exploring metaphysical themes.

What advice do you have for new authors when it comes to marketing and promoting their books?

Don’t think that your job stops when you’re done writing your manuscript. Learn how to blog and tweet. Learn how to pitch the unique aspects of your story to local news sources. Network like mad. And never let a blog post that relates to your book go by without asking for an interview. You just might get one.
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