month Randy Ingermanson interviewed me for his Advanced
Fiction Writing E-zine. After rereading the interview I
thought it might be good information for the three of you who don’t
already take Randy up on his monthly wisdom.
After a few questions about my
current novel, Randy posed some intriguing marketing questions. I get a
little verbose in some of my answers, so we’re going to break up the
interview into two CFOM columns.
For those of you who subscribe
to Randy’s brilliant e-zine and have already memorized my interview,
please stop reading now.
I met Jim Rubart at a writing conference about four years ago. He sat
at my table for lunch one day and I asked him what he was writing. When
he described his novel ROOMS to me, I thought that it sounded either
hopelessly weird or incredibly cool.
So I asked him to bring a
chapter to the critique table later that day for me to read. He did,
but I didn’t do much critiquing because it was clear that his writing
was excellent. So we talked mainly about how to get it published. Since
then, Jim and I have become good friends and have spent many hours
talking on the phone and hanging out at conferences.
Jim sold ROOMS
a couple of years ago (to B&H Publishing), and I’ve been
eagerly waiting to see how it would do in the marketplace. It recently
hit the stores and has had a terrific launch. The paper version of the
book has been selling briskly on Amazon, and the Kindle version is, at
the time of this interview, #1 in the Kindle store on Amazon.
That’s a remarkable achievement,
particularly since ROOMS is in a niche
category—it’s a Christian novel and the topic is fairly theological. I
have no doubt that some people may even call it heretical. What I like
about the book is that it makes me think. If you imagine “The
Shack meets The Matrix,” you’ll have some
idea of what ROOMS is like.
First, tell us a little about yourself and how someone might get hold
I grew up in the Seattle area, went to the University of Washington,
and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. I went into
advertising and marketing in ’94 and currently own Barefoot Marketing.
I’m a husband, dad, author, and follower of Jesus. My wife and I live
with our two teenage boys in the Pacific Northwest.
Every novelist needs a one-sentence storyline about their book that
hooks people’s interest—or turns them away. What’s your storyline for ROOMS,
and how did you come up with it?
A young Seattle software tycoon inherits a home on the Oregon coast
that turns out to be a physical manifestation of his soul.
The initial inspiration for ROOMS
came from a little pamphlet I read in my teens. A man chooses to follow
Jesus, so Jesus comes into the person’s life and examines the rooms of
his heart. I thought you could inject that idea with steroids and make
it into a killer novel. I mixed in a little Twilight Zone,
a little C.S. Lewis, a little of The Matrix, a
little It’s a Wonderful Life, a little
romance—basically all the stories, movies and themes I love—and out
It’s a fairly weird idea for a novel, but in practice, it works
Xtremely well. Kudos on the writing! In real life, you’re a marketing
guy. Marketing fiction isn’t like marketing underwear. What’s your
philosophy of marketing fiction?
This will sound flippant, but honestly it’s not. Here are the three key
components of selling fiction successfully:
1. Write a book that makes people rave.
2. Get those people to tell other people about it.
3. Get some people to hate your book.
1: The majority of
authors’ marketing efforts should go into writing books that make jaws
go slack and make readers say, “Ooooooo, that was fascinating.” There
are a lot of novels out there that people like, there are far fewer
books that readers love. If someone had $500 and asked me if they
should spend it on advertising/marketing or on your products or other
how-to-write resources, I’d point them toward the craft products every
time. What’s a restaurant’s best marketing tool? Amazing food. Same
thing with novels.
Point 2: If you accomplish the
first key, the second will come automatically. Donald Mass says 80
percent of a novel’s sales come from word of mouth. I agree. On the
positive side it’s easier than ever to spearhead word of mouth via the
Internet. On the negative side, the firehouse of information has grown
so vast our teacups are being knocked out of our hands. But if you have
enough people who love your novel, they’ll cut through the noise and
start some serious buzz.
been an effective marketing professional for over twenty years, because
I understand all I can do is cause the inevitable to happen more
quickly. Good advertising and marketing will cause a poor company to go
out of business quicker. I can teach authors how to get large numbers
of people to check out their books more quickly than they could on
their own, but if the novels are lousy, there’s nothing I can do to
help increase sales. Word of mouth is too powerful.
Point 3: Do you think Paul Young
(The Shack) is upset with preachers standing behind
their pulpits, screaming about how evil his book is? I don’t. “Don’t
buy this book! This book, right here, the one in my hand! The
Shack! Stay out of The Shack! It’s evil!
And isn’t it horrible that it’s in every bookstore. It’s without a
doubt in the bookstore you’ll drive by on the way home from church!
Don’t buy The Shack!” You know where people are
stopping on the way home.
investigation. It raises awareness.
People aren’t stupid. They can
make their own decisions. As of this writing I have fifty-seven
five-star reviews on Amazon and forty one-star reviews for ROOMS.
Do I Iike the one stars? No, but I understand that it draws more
attention to my novel. As I tell my marketing clients, “Love me, hate
me, just don’t ignore me.”
Next month: Part II of
And if you have a marketing
question burning a hole in your cranium, fire it my way and we’ll see
if we can get it answered: email@example.com or