Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vicki Essex

Vicki Essex’s debut novel, Her Son’s Hero, will be released by Harlequin Superromance in July. With no clue about what she’s supposed to do now that she’s a published author, she turned to veteran author Mary Sullivan, whose book Beyond Ordinary is also being published by Superromance in the same month.

Maureen eavesdropped on their conversation, and here's an excerpt!

VICKI: Mary, I sold my book, and I’m kind of freaking out. The release is next month. I made bookmarks, I set up my website and social media sites, I organized signings, I’m doing some blogs…but it all feels so…CHAOTIC. What the #@$& am I doing?!

MARY: Vicki, HUGE congratulations on your first sale! It’s an awesome accomplishment. When you start to feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath, sit back for a moment and remember that the most important work has already been done. You achieved an amazing goal by starting the book, writing it well, finishing it and selling it. As far as the list of things above that you are doing to promote it, you’re on the right track in every area!

Vicki Essex
VICKI: How do I get people to review my book?

MARY: Harlequin will send your books automatically to Romantic Times Book Reviews.
If you want to be reviewed elsewhere, you need to send out copies of your books yourself. There are many websites out there reviewing books. In the past, I’ve sent to Cataromance, All About Romance, and Fresh Fiction. There are also Dear Author and Smart Bitches. [If anyone reading this has other suggestions, we would love to hear them!]

VICKI: What do I do if I get bad reviews? What do I do if I get good ones? What do I do if there aren’t any reviews?

MARY: Learn from bad reviews, if you can. If they feel mean-spirited, curse a lot and then ignore them. Treasure good reviews—and quote them. This is a tough industry. Find your accolades where you can.

VICKI: I’ve never been to a conference in my life. I’m no good at talking to people face-to-face. I can barely talk to myself on a good day. Do I have to go to conferences? I can’t go to RWA this year, so I feel like I’ve missed out on a huge opportunity.

MARY: Vicki, I know what you mean about talking to people face-to-face. I might be the world’s worst networker, so perhaps not the best person to advise about conferences; however, there are many reasons to attend them. The RWA conference offers amazing resources for the published author—fabulous workshops and seminars.

If you sit at a lunch table with a bunch of strangers, you automatically have something in common to talk about. You are all writers. Most write romance, in a myriad of subgenres.

An easier way to break into conferences, though, is to attend a smaller regional Chapter conference, which might have only 300 or so attendees, rather than Nationals, which can feel huge and overwhelming. These are listed in the RWR Report. Choose one that offers the most workshops that address your particular needs in a rapidly changing publishing market.

Mary Sullivan
There are other conferences to consider attending—fabulous learning experiences—I’m thinking in particular of the NINC conference. You have to have published at least two novels to become a member, so something to keep in mind for the future.

You’ll have to make your own decision about whether to attend conferences at all. In this digital age, many people think that networking using all of the social media is enough. So, make your decision based on whether you would use a conference strictly for networking, or for broader motivations, i.e. to keep up-to-date on publishing trends, or to continue to work on your craft, or to actually meet some of those people you’ve ‘met’ only online. I think there’s a lot to be said for personal contact.
In the past two years, I’ve attended reader conventions rather than writer conferences because I love touching bases with readers.

I wouldn’t worry about missing this year’s Nationals. Regret is such an energy-suck and there are always more opportunities in the future.

VICKI: Am I still supposed to enter contests? Is there any point?

MARY: Entering contests is optional. Between entry fees and the cost of mailouts, it can be expensive. Entering, though, can be done for a number of reasons. Contests offer the chance to get your work in front of different judges, and if you are lucky, maybe increase interest in you and your writing. The following are from my own experience.
Judged by Reviewers: RT Book Reviews decides on their own finalists using feedback from their reviewers. The author has no influence. You receive a notification (I think for me it was email) that you are a finalist. It’s a lot of fun being a finalist at the RT Convention.
Judged by fellow published authors: The RITAs are wonderful, but a huge competition--so many entries, slim chance of ever being a finalist, sigh--but I send my books anyway.
Judged by readers: the RomCon Reader's Crown awards. Again, a lot of fun being a finalist at their convention.
Judged by booksellers and librarians: GDRWA Bookseller's Best contest. Nice to have both as fans.

There are many more contests available for published authors, including in various subgenres. Check them out in the RWR Report or on RWA’s website.

Category books are only available on shelves for one month (not counting ebooks), so what's the point in shelling out for the contest entry fees and postage if it doesn't come back as sales?

Yes, they are on the shelves for only one month. We're fortunate these days, though, that so many sales are made over the Internet, and this can continue long after hard copies are gone from retail stores.
Entering the contests gets my name out in a good way. After I won the Reader's Crown last year for Best First Book, Harlequin re-issued No Ordinary Cowboy for a full month in all Borders stores. Borders put them on an endcap with the cover showing, where they had a much better chance of sales than on the regular shelf with only the spine showing. Also, all the winners were interviewed on Borders' website, which generated a lot of interest. The number of visitors to my website skyrocketed.
My Amazon ratings on ALL of my books—not just the winning book—shot up and stayed up for a couple of months because some people were suddenly interested in Mary Sullivan books--and wondering who I was. After the Reader's Crown, my books moved into the top 100 Superromance sellers for a while despite not being current, which was fun. Even more fun was that No Ordinary Cowboy made it into the top 100 Canadian authors sold one day! It might have lasted only a couple of hours, but you can bet I hooted long and loudly about it!

These are AMAZON sales--Internet sales, which have nothing to do with the actual sales at Borders from the re-release of that book. Internet sales can continue long after your book comes off real bookstore shelves, but only if you are putting your name out there, one way or another—making readers aware that you exist, and that they should give your books a try.

I’m not handy with social networking, and I don’t give workshops or seminars, so I need to find ways that fit my personality for raising awareness of who I am. Entering, and I hope, being a finalist, give me a boost in that area.

VICKI: What am I supposed to do with these bookmarks I made? I mean, doesn’t it seem kind of weird to hand them out to people who are already buying my book?

MARY: So, you mean that you will hand them out only to readers who have already purchased your book, i.e. at booksignings? Here are more options for you to consider.
You can check out conferences that are put on by RWA chapters. Often, they will send out calls to the loops for promotional materials from published authors, to add to the goody bags they will hand out to attendees. Check whether that would include bookmarks and mail them a bunch.

Again, it won’t matter whether your book is already off the shelves. Think Internet sales.
I know that you’re booked for a booksigning when your book comes out. Ask the bookstore whether they would consider handing out your bookmarks whenever anyone purchases a romance novel—for say a full week before the booksigning? If the owner/manager is promoting the signing in any way, this gives the reader another chance to see your name and perhaps show up at the signing to purchase your book!

I’ve designed my bookmarks to list all of my books and the next two coming out, rather than just showcasing one current book, with room to add the next book after that, so it acts as a kind of oversized business card—people have a printed copy of my booklist—and I can continue to use it long after the current book has left the shelves.

I think it’s nearly impossible to draw a direct line between promotional materials handed out and actual sales. Do these items actually promote sales? Are they worth the per unit cost compared to the per unit royalty made on whichever sales they generate? I don’t think anyone really knows. [If anyone reading this has anything to offer in this debate, we would love to hear it! Any great promotional ideas out there?]

Vicki, I’ve enjoyed our talks. I’m looking forward to the two booksignings we’re doing together in Toronto.

For readers in the area:
On July 16th, we will be signing at the Coles Bookstore in the Cloverdale Mall, at 250 The East Mall, at the 427 and Dundas West, from 12:30—4:30.
On July 23rd, you can find us at the World’s Biggest Bookstore, at 20 Edward Street in downtown Toronto, from 2—6 signing our July releases.

We would love to see you there!

**Maureen's back** Hope you enjoyed a sneak peak into the life of a soon to be published author! Both Mary and Vicki will be back in the future to be grilled by the Get Lost in a Story team bloggers.

Come back tomorrow and get to know author Misty Evans!


  1. Such, great, great advice, Mary. Vicki, congratulations on your sale!! Maureen, so glad you eavesdropped!

  2. This is great, guys! I'll be interviewing Vicki later in July. It's going to be a great interview :)

  3. Thanks for stopping by GLIAS. Lots of information in the chat. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Vicki, Mary, Maureen,

    Wonderful post, as I am in the pre-publication mode. I still have several books to write under contract, which means I have to write, edit and do promotion on books that begin to release next year.

    I am currently taking in all of the options for promotion. I am putting together a kind of informal chart on all the different promotion venues and hope to end up with a time/cost/results kind of report at the end, which I hope to blog at some point in the future.

    I do think that connecting with readers will make all of this promo angst worthwhile. Ultimately we are writing stories to be enjoyed by readers, and it would be nice to meet some of them.

  5. Congrats again, Vicki. Well deserved. I was sooooo lucky to win her book in a contest and get her to sign it. :)

    I can't wait to read it! WOOT!

  6. Donnell, Simone and Angie, I'm so happy to be here today. This is such a great blog site. Thank you for having us today! I'm particularly happy to have one of my chapter mates, Vicki, have a book out in the same month as me. Promotion for our July books has been fun!

  7. Hi, Gjillian, you have a lot to do in the coming year! Congratulations on your contract. Kudos for thinking ahead and looking into all of your options now. Your efforts will pay off once your books are out and you make contact with readers.

  8. Hi Amy! Great to see you here. I can't wait to read Vicki's book, too. Love, family and mixed martial arts! What more do you need in a romance novel? ;-)

  9. I forgot to mention how much I love yours too Mary! :)

    It's an honor being part of a chapter with so many talented authors. :)

  10. Congrats Vicki! It is nice to see how authors use their material to get their name out!

  11. Congrats, Vicki! And great advice Mary! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Thanks, Sherie and Regina! Mary gives terrific advice!

  13. Thanks for sharing your concerns, Vicki, and thanks for offering such sage advice, Mary! Looking forward to both of your books -- and using this advice in the future!

  14. Hi, and thanks for sharing the wonderful info. I recently sold, and like GJillian, I've been thinking about doing some sort of chart to see what works the best, I'm looking for ideas wherever I can. I think we all figure we'll have to do blog tours, but what is your opinion on a regular author blog? Maybe it's not so necessary for an H/S author who has so many fabulous venues to sell, but what about smaller publishers, have you seen it make a difference for an author? thanks and congrats!

  15. Hi Bonnie! Be sure to file this away because one day soon you're going to need it!!! ;-)

  16. Vicki, excellent questions. Mary, you are so smart! Maybe someday I'll put the info to good use.

  17. Diana, congratulations on your contract!!!

    I don't do well on my personal blog. It requires a lot of promotion, plenty of time on the social media. I like to share blogs. The Superromance authors have a blog to which I contribute, but because there are so many of us, rarely do I post more than once a month, so it doesn't leech away a lot of my writing time--and leaves me free to blog at a variety of venues.

    There are a LOT of blogs around these days. If you can find a 'hook' that stands out, or a group of like-minded authors, as you have here on GLIAS, then you can do well. The onus of promoting the blog (promoting your promotional vehicle) doesn't fall on only one author's shoulders.

    Consider your own personality. If you're comfortable putting yourself out there, really promoting yourself and your blog, then give it a try. You really have nothing to lose, since it costs nothing to start up.

    Remember while promoting to protect the writing. Always leave time for it. If you can preserve that time, while blogging daily, and enjoying it, then give it a try.

    Also, look at your publisher. Many smaller presses and e-publishers have author blogs, or wouldn't be averse to you starting one for their authors.'re promoting your work and name without having to blog daily.

    As far as it making a difference for an author, I can't really answer that. If you can manage to build a following on your blog, though, chances are you can build a fan base for your books.

    Hope this helps!

  18. Joan, I'll keep my fingers crossed that one day soon you'll have the opportunity to use these ideas!