Misty Urban’s latest book is a short-story collection published by Snake Nation Press, A Lesson in Manners. These ten stories “offer a how-to manual for dealing with love, lies, loss, and loneliness.” Her other published book-length work is Monstrous Women in Middle English Romance, which won the D. Simon Evans Dissertation Prize for Medieval Studies and was published by Edwin Mellen Press in 2010.
The first time Misty thought about book marketing was with A Lesson in Manners’ publication; she created a marketing plan for the collection after completing Midwest Writing Center’s Book Marketing Workshop Series (led by yours truly). She said, “The class gave me a template for a marketing plan that encouraged me to develop a sense of how I wanted to present the book and brand myself as an author. Portions of the template prompted me to think about competing books and how mine compares, identify my ideal reader, and decide how and where I wanted to promote the book. The marketing plan gave me practical tools for tracking the financials, keeping a schedule, and collecting press clips. I would have figured all this out on my own eventually, through trial and error, but the guidance offered by the class was enormously helpful. Having a marketing plan helped me enjoy the publishing process and feel I was prepared for the next step.”
Because the medieval study was a “high-priced, highly specialized book” and she knew her target audience was small, she didn’t spend much time thinking about or marketing it. When A Lesson in Manners was picked up by Snake Nation for publication, she knew she would need to do more marketing to find the wider audience to which the collection appeals. “Signing up for the book marketing class was my first step, and it really made me plan in advance. I decided how I wanted to brand myself as an author, selected my platforms, decided which tools I would use, and learned about other marketing networks and resources I could participate in. I actually want people to read this book, so that’s motivating.”
Misty said she ended up enjoying marketing more than she thought she would. “I thought at first ‘marketing’ meant ‘trying to get someone to buy something,’ and I felt really uncomfortable about having to get in people’s faces and beg them to buy my book. But then I decided to think about marketing as a process of visibility. I get my book out there, on the website, on the shelf, and then let the reader decide if it’s something they want to buy. It’s a short-story collection from a tiny press, so let’s face it, I do not expect great sales. But if my book means something to the people who read it—if it gets talked about, passed around, maybe taught in a class or two—that, to my mind, is the pinnacle of success. What I’m really interested in is seeing a community of readers grow around the book, seeing how people respond to it. That’s the real payoff for the marketing time spent.”
When asked what has surprised her most about the book marketing process, Misty said, “I think the biggest hurdle I overcame was getting the right mindset. I feel much more at ease when marketing is an outgrowth of my larger participation in a literary community: talking to readers, talking to authors, networking, teaching, holding and attending events. I’m a writing teacher (composition and creative writing), and I run the writing center at the local community college, and I also participate in a local community writer’s group. As a teacher I get invited to run workshops and do classroom talks, so I feel like my larger contribution is as a teacher and literary crusader and then, by the way, here’s my book. I don’t like to sit behind a table and try to answer the question of ‘why your book, and not the book of the person sitting next to you, or a nice steak dinner?’ Um—because it’s my book? Only I can tell those stories? But if it’s medium-rare, and there will be wine, then honestly? Maybe the steak. Having the marketing part be one piece of my larger participation in a literary community takes away much of the humiliation and aversion I feel about self-promotion.”
Misty has learned the value of having professionally printed promotional materials, like bookmarks, to give away. She’s enjoyed more interactive personal appearances like readings, question/answer sessions, craft talks, or discussions about writing and publishing. When she has a table, she fills it with things that would appeal to those who don’t buy her book at that event. “I printed up acquaintance cards and flirtation cards, old-fashioned calling cards that people can take with them, along with my business card. I have handouts on how to do a formal place setting, a riff on the etiquette theme. Lately, because I like to feed people, I’ve been bringing snacks ‘developed’ by different characters. At my book launch party, I had a table of displays and a table of prizes inspired by the book. It’s a way to give people a feel for the book when there’s not a narrative to summarize.”
By far, the most successful marketing tool Misty has used is her website. She said, “Years ago I bought my own domain and paid for a website hosting service so I could have e-mail as well as full control over design and functionality. I wanted a professional online presence to help collect and describe my work as a scholar, teacher, and short-story author, to distinguish me from the other Misty Urbans floating around the world. (There are more of us!) I’ve switched to WordPress as my CMS, because it’s free and flexible, easy to update, and it comes with built-in tools to handle things like comments and subscriptions. I don’t have a huge following, but when you Google ‘Misty Urban,’ my site is the first link that comes up. So that’s useful for people who are gathering information or following along from home.”
Misty has used a mixture of learning from other authors’ experiences as well as getting creative on her own to expand her marketing toolbox. “When Manners came out, I sent out the book for review to a few places, and I’m lucky that the response so far has been welcoming. I was warned in advance that sending out cold copies is a waste of time, so instead I just chose to send free copies as gifts to the writers who have most helped or influenced me. If they want to give me a blurb or review, great, but I mostly wanted to share my pride in my book. I’ve also been told not to read Amazon or Goodreads reviews, ever, but I ignored that advice immediately. My reviews are coming from people who read with care and honesty and interest, and their thoughts mean a lot to me.
“I’m also trying two new tactics that were my own brainstorm. I recorded audio of certain stories and put those up on my website as samplers. And I’m currently hosting a contest for readers to write their own story inspired by the book. A couple of professional publicists who heard about this didn’t think it was great as a marketing strategy—too much time for too little return, they said—but for me, and my hopes to network with other writers and participate in a writing community, it’s perfect. I love hearing other people’s work and I already have a few entries. I might come up with more such reader-interactive activities and contests in the future—quizzes, games, whatever.”
Other than bookmarks, postcards, business cards, and other promotional items, Misty hasn’t used any paid advertising but said she might consider Facebook post boosts, Goodreads ads, or other paid advertising in the future. At this point though, she doesn’t think paid advertising would net a great enough return given where A Lesson in Manners is currently distributed. For social media, Misty uses Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest. She also has a LinkedIn profile.
I asked Misty what advice she had about selling and marketing books for authors who just completed a first book or are about to be published. She said, “Have a marketing plan! It’s so essential to get things organized from the beginning. Spend the time thinking about what how you want to brand yourself—what kind of presence you want to have as an author? What kind of publicity do you want to do? The very best thing the book marketing workshop taught me was to play to your strengths, make sure you’re having fun, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do. My own advice is to be strategic about the methods you employ. You really do have to budget your time. Maintaining websites, being active on social media, subscribing to the blogs and reading the book marketing books will take up the mental space and energy you need for writing your next book. Have a plan, have a budget, set your limits, and retool as you go.”
On the writing life in general, Misty said, “Heaven knows the writing is agony—Getting the words on the page! Revising the words! Getting the words fit for publication!—exhilarating, but also agony. The book marketing shouldn’t be. Do try to have fun. Do what rewards your time and energy, sparks you with inspiration, makes you want to get busy writing. Connecting with readers is hugely satisfying—hugely!—and having somebody read and love my book validates my career, my life, my worth as a human being. But at the end of the day, being read or not being read won’t stop me from writing. It’s the writing I really love.”
A Lesson in Manners (Snake Nation Press, 2016), short story collection: Ten very different stories that offer a how-to manual for dealing with love, lies, loss, and loneliness.
Monstrous Women in Middle English Romance (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), winner of the D. Simon Evans Dissertation Prize for Medieval Studies. A study of Melusine, Constance, Medea, and murderous women.