Kay Kenyon is one of the first authors I worked with and we’ve worked together for years on numerous projects. In addition to being an amazing writer I love the way Kay tries new things, is willing to reinvent herself, and keeps up an informative blog to let us all know how things things are working out. In the interview below we talk about author marketing, the best parts of the author life, and how even though marketing is a long game it can all change in a minute.
First, a little about her. Kay Kenyon is the author of twelve science fiction and fantasy novels. Her latest novels are the fantasies Queen of the Deep, about an enchanted ship, both a colossal steam vessel and a Renaissance kingdom; and A Thousand Perfect Things, about a Victorian woman’s bid for forbidden powers in an altered India of magic. She has just sold two paranormal espionage novels to a major New York publisher. More details to be announced soon! She is a founding member of Write on the River, a writer’s organization for Eastern Washington, with year-round activities and an annual conference, this year on May 13-15. She is on the jury this year for the World Fantasy Awards. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and her website, Writing the World.
What’s your favorite part about being an author?
I love the balance between writing a story for an audience, and making the story uniquely mine.
Getting into that zone where the scene is real to me, and flowing. Where do those words, those details come from? It’s an essential and rather intoxicating mystery. On a day-to-day basis, I love the balance between writing a story for an audience, and making the story uniquely mine. Without having the reader in mind, you are writing, but not necessarily storytelling. You can sink into pretty murky territory. At the same time, I have to be (I get to be) true to my strongest instincts and my heart–my emotional integrity. Without that part, writing would be a bit of a slog.
What’s your least favorite part?
When the writing is not going well. There may be a day, a string of days, where I dislike the story, and it feels wooden on the page.
You’ve written a lot about introverted writers. What kind of disadvantages do they have when trying to market their books? But, what are some advantages they may have?
Introverts are at a bit of disadvantage in promotion. They aren’t bold networkers, and they may not interact enough. The advantage, however, is that they get more work done, and actually this is perhaps more important than marketing. The more stories you write and publish, the more your name circulates, after all, and the more you hone your craft, the deeper your industry connections inevitably become. I encourage introverts to embrace on-line promotion and interaction.
You recently switched from writing science-fiction to fantasy. Why? Was it market determined at all?
Both markets are very healthy. I’ve heard that fantasy is a harder sell in Europe than the US, so in some ways science fiction has the upper hand. My decision to move to fantasy was based on the need to refresh myself after so long a career in SF, and a suspicion that I lack the technical chops to keep up.
What program do you use to write your novels? What are some others you’ve tried?
I’ve actually never tried any on-line writing programs. I just use plain old Word and find it easy and versatile.
What are some online tools you find indispensable for marketing?
I like Constant Contact for putting out emails. Distribution is easy. I receive notifications when people sign up, and I send them a free short story as a thank you. (Authors should format their short stories in mobi and epub for easy access. There are many services available if you can’t do this yourself.)
Amazon is the biggest sales engine that I feel I can access, so I have a good presence there (and at Amazon UK.) The author page is crucial for visibility. In addition to my traditionally published novels, I have enjoyed putting up an indie published novel and five short stories.
Author platform is a buzzword in author marketing these days. What does that term mean to you and how currently work on growing your author platform?
I think of “platform” as the total internet footprint controlled by the author. I use Facebook, Twitter, my website (thank you Brad!), a web-based newsletter, and an Amazon author page. Also, to a lesser extent, Goodreads. Recently I started offering a free short story to people who sign up for my newsletter. A lot of people took advantage of that. I struggle to come up with newsletter content, but I hope to improve, having lately acquired some great advice about it. I am working with a few select authors to form a local writers’ coop for online and in-person sales and promotion. More on that soon! The Write on the River Conference in May (in Wenatchee) will feature Shoshanna (Evers) Gabriel who will have terrific advice for author newsletters.
I started offering a free short story to people who sign up for my newsletter. A lot of people took advantage of that.
I occasionally check out my footprint by looking up my name on Ice Rocket. I find reviews and can check out any chatter about my work.
What are some ways to market your book that have really worked for you?
The question of what works is frustratingly complex. Much of the industry wisdom is anecdotal. Strategies are different for those with many books out vs. those just starting. For myself, I interact with readers quite a bit on Facebook. I make announcements, do giveaways (always popular!) and share writing tidbits. My principal is to not make it all about me, but provide value to and interaction with, readers. I had tremendous success with a book that was picked up as part of a story bundle, where the books are sold as a package, with customers paying what they think the package is worth.
There are hundreds of ways to promote and if you don’t really rather enjoy the ones you pick, it will be a misery to try to keep up.
For those just starting out I would caution against flogging a book too much on Twitter. Tasteful retweets of what others are saying about one’s book, and invitations to events and real news are best practices here. I also recommend not promoting a book until you have a sell page. If you generate excitement, but there’s no place to buy, you’ve squandered the opportunity to gain the most readers. One lesson I’ve (painfully) learned is not to take every expert at his/her word. There are hundreds of ways to promote and if you don’t really rather enjoy the ones you pick, it will be a misery to try to keep up. Choose 5 or 6 things you don’t mind doing and know that you have time for, and keep up faithfully. If you are new to publishing, understand this is a long game, and it may take you 2-3 years to build a noticeable digital footprint.
this is a long game, and it may take you 2-3 years to build a noticeable digital footprint
Occasionally, to expand my reach beyond my usual haunts, I will write an article for an online magazine or do a review for a review site. I’m convinced this is useful, but like so much of marketing, I don’t really know. I encourage those just starting out to regularly review books on their blogs. Reviewed authors will share and retweet these.
What are some things that didn’t work?
I had disappointing response to a paid Goodreads ad. Social media sites are always trying to sell authors extra visibility, but there is so much content vying for attention, you may not recoup your investment.
How much do you time do you spend these days on book marketing?
Well–as an introvert–I’d say 15% of my working day, or about an hour. I drop into Facebook 2-3 times a week, and Twitter more often. When I have a new book out, however, it can go up to 50%, especially in the 2-month window after the pub date.
Who are some authors whose websites or social media presence is engaging to you as a reader? As an author?
I like to keep up on book reviews at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and Black Gate, both dealing with fantasy, science fiction and horror. For publishing topics, I like Kristine Kathryn Rusch Business Musings. For craft, StoryFix from Larry Brooks. (Also his books, especially Story Engineering and his follow ups.) For promotion, I pay attention to Constant Contact’s emails on strategies.
How much time do you spend promoting your older books as compared to your latest book or two?
Oh, none, really, besides keeping them on my website and sharing reviews that pop up now and then. My books occasionally resurface in new editions, and when they do, I give them a boost with mentions and giveaways.
What’s one piece of advice you would give yourself as a younger writer?
The writing life is one of ups and downs. There are no trends. Dry periods don’t last, and as for selling the next book: All you need (besides the finished manuscript!) is to land on the right desk on the right day. Everything can change in one hour.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to touch base with Kay (@kaykenyon) or me (@aptdesign) on Twitter with any questions or comments.