This post is part of the regular column Sam Stephens: On Reading and Writing Fiction.
I recently received an email from a long time “internet friend” of mine, Donna Sozio. It turns out Donna is currently in Australia promoting her new book, “The Man Whisperer”. This follows her first raging success of a book, “Never Trust A Man In Alligator Loafers”.
As a quick aside, to be honest I am a little worried that Donna is exposing all of our manly secrets and infiltrating our dearly held man-thoughts. How many more of Donna’s manuscripts need be released before our manliness becomes, quite literally, an open book?
Fears for the future of all males aside, Donna is also a wealth of information when it comes to getting published, as well as cutting book deals, and post-deal promotions. What still amazes me is that Donna sold her first book in three weeks. And since then, she’s been landing deals and TV promotions seemingly without effort. I’ve dug into her brain a little, and documented it below:
Welcome to Australia, Donna! Your publishing history fascinates me, purely because of what is seemingly effortless success. You received a book deal for your first book, “Never Trust A Man In Alligator Loafers” in three weeks, and you sold movie rights to your second book, “The Man Whisperer” before you even finished writing the book. Is this a supernatural talent, or is this something that other people can replicate with a chance of success? And was this just plain luck?
Thank you! It’s very exciting to be in Australia. In regards to my publishing history, all of my success is due to a specific process that I put all of my material through before I begin writing and/or pitching to publishers and the media. I began my writing career as a travel journalist. That taught me how to pitch article/story ideas to the media. Then I moved into copywriting for Lexus, Yahoo! Personals, Sunset Magazine and more. That taught me how to write “to sell”, which is a totally different process than writing to entertain. When I began writing books, I already knew how to pitch to the media and expertly position my book as a product in the marketplace to write a sizzling query letter and book proposal.
Yes, almost any writer can replicate my success. And it has nothing to do with luck. When consulting with writers on their query letters and book proposals, the #1 mistake writers make is not understating that how you write to sell your book in a query letter/book proposal is a totally different process from creating it.
A few tips:
- Concept trumps craft. Always.
- Book pitches must be memorable, repeatable, and instantly understood.
- Your book is an entertainment product. You must position it in the marketplace.
Recently we’ve seen the demise of a few huge book chains worldwide. Is the publishing industry still picking up new authors, or have things ground to a halt?
Yes, they are still picking up new authors… but they are offering less money for a book advance and less promotional support. Publishers will always try to pull the “first-time author” card. But you can negotiate (if you have a savvy agent) escalators in your contract that increases your royalties once your book hits different sales goals. That is just one way to make up for the lower book advance.
If publishing houses are less likely to take chances on new writers during the current economic climate, how can new writers draw interest? Is it still possible for an “unknown” to pick up a deal?
Concept. Concept. Concept. It’s not the most well written books that sell. Books that have a high concept sell for a generous book advance. Also, almost all bestsellers are written a certain way. There is a “secret” hidden formula and all writers want to know what it is. If you have a never-been-done-before commercial concept for a book, you will not be unknown for long!
Here a tip: Does your book have the solution to a large audience who has a common problem? If so, it’ll sell!
You’ve have huge success with non-fiction. Would your methods also work for fiction writers?
Yes, the method that I workshop all my material works for fiction as well. I still need to be a good storyteller. In fact, most non-fiction books are loaded with stories or case-studies that need to be entertaining. Everything still must be about life and death and have high stakes. Even the dating books I write have high stakes: finding true love or missing out on the relationship of your dreams!
You’re currently in Australia to promote your new book. Are book tours something that a publisher or agent will recommend and organise, or is this something a writer chooses to do?
Yes, I’m over the moon about the launch of The Man Whisperer in Australia! And I’m thrilled to celebrate the book launch at Dymocks. In today’s marketplace, as a first-time author, I wouldn’t host a book tour as the primary way to publicize a book. Yes, some publishers are hosting (and paying for) book tours but generally that is a thing of the past. Online book launches or Amazon Bestseller Campaigns are much more common. Sometimes these have a larger appeal and reach.
Are tours and promotional activities bank-rolled by the publisher, or do authors cover expenses?
This is 100% dependant upon what you negotiate in your contract with your publisher! Most books receive 3-months of promotional support from the publisher via their in-house publicist. But most authors need to pay for their own website and any PR activity they pursue after that. But authors who are PR savvy know how to get major media for almost free. There are some fantastic resources available to authors today. Rarely do publishers pay for a book tour. It’s easy for authors to organize their own readings at book stores in America. In the beginning, I just called up bookstores in cities I was already travelling to and booked an event and publicized it using local free media. It was fun and effective. Remember, one of the main points of a book launch or event is to get media. Don’t forget to invite the press!
When I was in my hotel room, minutes before meeting up with the AusLit editor for the launch of the “Australian Literature: A Snapshot In 10 Short Stories” anthology, I was wishing I had taken the time to slam down a few bourbons beforehand. Are author signings as petrifying as they first seem?
I’m lucky that I love the camera and public speaking. I actually started my career as an actress in Los Angeles and then moved into writing. Yes, I have jitters and a pre-launch mojito is always welcome. But the more I try to think of the event as a party with “new friends” the more fun I have and the more entertaining the event is for my readers!
Your book signing, along with Samantha Brett, for “The Man Whisperer” is at Dymocks, George Street, Sydney on Thursday 9 June from 6-8pm. It’s free entry, I believe – what can we expect to see/hear on the night?
Yes, free entry, champagne, and VIP gift bags for the first 30 who purchase the book! Samantha and I will be giving a mini Man Whispering workshop and be hosting a Q. & A. Samantha writes the Ask Sam! Column for The Sydney Morning Herald …so it’s a chance for her readers to meet and greet her as well!
Lastly, you’re running an online Webinar on getting published in Australia and then breaking into the US market for Aussie writers. Who is this course aimed at, and what can people expect to get out of it? And what will make this different from other courses?
Yes, we are! Samantha and I have so many tips, tricks, and tactics from a combined 15+ years in publishing that make the publishing process so much easier, that we wanted to share them with all writers while making it affordable. It’s all the hard earned insider information we had to discover for ourselves that was the tipping point of our success. You’ll learn how we get multiple book deals and apply the information to your own query letters and book proposals.
The publishing webinars are for every writer who wants to sell their book. It’s designed to give writers the real story about what it takes to write a bestseller, get a literary agent and publisher, and market their book … so it will become a huge success and they can get another book deal! Which is the dream – and with the right information, it can happen.
LINK to COURSE INFORMATION
Donna Sozio is an author, publishing consultant, writing coach and publicity expert. Emmy and Oscar award-winning writers have sought out her publishing advice. Her clients have been published by Adams Media, Allen & Unwin, Three Rivers Press and more. Clients have won many awards including: The Australian Literature Review, The Borders’ James Patterson Thriller Competition, and the National Indie Excellence Awards and have been featured on /in E!, The Today Show, Fox News, Vogue, Cosmopolitan and more. Personally, Donna received multiple offers from top literary agents multiple times, sold her first book to a major publisher in three weeks, sold the TV/film rights to her second book The Man Whisperer before she finished writing it and has been featured on/in over 100 major national media outlets including The Tyra Banks Show, The Early Show, GMTV, Good Day LA, and Fox News. Her success is due to a specific pitch process that she now makes available to all writers. Learn more about her at: http://donnasozio.com/getpublished/ or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Australian Literature Review