Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Book Promotion at a Glamorous Party

Sometimes promoting a new book can take the author to a glamorous setting. Being invited to show and talk about your book at a party can be one of those occasions. On January 20, Encompass New Opera Theatre under the leadership of Nancy Rhodes orchestrated a fundraising party in New York City. Rhodes and Encompass developed, directed, and premiered Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, my opera with composer William Banfield. Since one facet of The Steiny Road to Operadom is about the development of my Stein opera and Encompass was showcasing the innovative work they do in the field of new opera and music theater, it made sense for me to attend with a few books in hand.

Prior to performances by several singers, I had a chance to let them see the book. Tenor Justin Vickers’ name appears in The Steiny Road book because he played Leo Stein (Gertrude’s brother) in the world premiere of the Stein opera. In the showcase program, Vickers sang “O might those sighes and teares,” a poem by John Donne that was set to music by Benjamin Britten. When I complimented Vickers on his performance, he told me he had done extensive study of Britten’s work. I’m a fan of this tenor not only because his singing and acting skills are outstanding but also because he is such an intelligent interpreter of the roles he sings. Participating in workshops prior to the world premiere of my opera, Vickers helped me strengthen the character of Leo Stein, the art critic brother who found his sister’s writing embarrassing.

Because an opera company must always be proactive in raising money to continue its work (even a full house for an entire set of performances will not cover the cost of a production), my interaction with the invited potential patrons needed to be low key. Expecting about fifty to sixty people at this event, I brought three copies of The Steiny Road and put two out on a big coffee table. The third copy I handed to Nancy Rhodes so she could hold it up when she made remarks about her theater and the show she had organized.

I also brought about thirty half sheets of paper that provided information about The Steiny Road book, including a comment from a New York City arts educator and the book’s blog where a potential buyer could order the book. This information also highlighted that Nancy Rhodes wrote the foreword of The Steiny Road. Connecting the dots for people to whom you hope to sell a book is critical. I sold two copies of the book and asked Nancy to take the third copy to her office where she could show it to people visiting her there. Raising awareness and showing who you are aligned with are both important in the party circuit. The event was not about how many books could be sold.

While I was in New York, I also visited two bookstores to see about creating an event focused on selling The Steiny Road book. What I determined is that I need to bring together several organizations to help present a special program with a short performance selected from Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On. One of the two bookstores I visited has a small theater and a great midtown location. One thing I know about bookstore readings is that you need a large invitation list to get just a handful of people and that’s why I need a bunch of organizations behind any event I plan outside of my hometown. Before I say what I have in mind, I need to approach my contacts and see what is possible.

Photos: #1 includes composer John David Earnest (on far left) and Nancy Rhodes. #3 Karren Alenier and composer Philip Hagemann. #4&5 Tenor Justin Vickers. #6 Nancy Rhodes. #7 Mezzo Soprano Yong Kyung Park. #9 Soprano Lorraine Hinds. #10 Baritone Dominic Inferrera.

Opera Links
Encompass New Opera Theatre website
John Yaffe, Music Director of Encompass
John David Earnest
Opera Index
Tenor Justin Vickers
Baritone Dominic Inferrera

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tips on Publicizing a New Book

On January 14, 2008, The Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) in Washington DC offered a program on “Book Publicity and Promotion Today” featuring publicists Lauren Cerand and Imal Wagner. In a nutshell, the operative word for creating buzz about a new book is the Internet. What surprised me was many of the things these two sensible and well grounded publicists recommended I am already doing but the difference is now I am more aware of what I am doing and may be able to channel my efforts more effectively.

Here is some of the critical advice from the publicists on how to launch a publicity campaign.

1. Decide what your goals are for promoting your book.

To decide your goals, you need to evaluate what’s important and prioritize that list. So for example, is it more important to sell as many copies of the book as possible or is it better for the book to be read and recognized by experts and aficionados in your subject matter discipline? Regarding The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas, I would probably be better off working on getting the Washington National Opera to recognize the value of my book and have them endorse my book in some way so that subscribers of WNO would be encouraged to buy my book. My book is creative literary nonfiction and although it is written so anyone could read and enjoy it, the likelihood of it becoming a best seller is slim. Word of mouth is important for books like mine and therefore getting the attention of people who like opera is one audience that I need to target.

2. Decide what your online presence should involve.

Before you decide the extent of your online presence, establish a website and then a blog. For example check out Ms. Cerand's blog called Lux Lotus. Everything now in the world of promotion depends the Internet. When someone puts your name into a search engine like Google, your name better pop up with a link that leads right to your new book or you have missed your window of opportunity with that user.

OK, so I just typed into Google Karren Alenier and see that the links include in this order: this blog (, The Word Works website ( where my book Looking for Divine Transportation is sold (this book of poetry relates directly to my Gertrude Stein opera and the Stein opera is a main subject of The Steiny Road to Operadom), the Stein opera website (, my online press kit, The Innisfree Poetry Journal which has a current bio on me as well as samples of my work, Beltway literary magazine where my breaking news always appears, the website of my publisher on which page The Steiny Road book is being sold, my current, Scene4 Magazine feature article on New York City Opera’s VOX program, and so on. What this list says to me is that my blog which references every other link that I just mentioned is working in the way it should be working. Maybe the only item that ought to be higher on that list of links is my book publisher.

I asked Ms. Cerand about how to decide which networking opportunities an author should spend time with. I have established a presence with MySpace, Author’s Den, GoodReads, and my university’s networking site. I’m not sure I know how to decide which one does me any good. Hello, can anyone reading this give me advice? The webmaster for Washington Musica Viva says I should forget MySpace and get a presence on YouTube. The whole realm of YouTube is probably my next venue of concentration because if I can make a presence there, I could most likely create a successful book trailer. Anyway I still need serious help trying to decide how best to focus my time in the huge arena of networking.

3. Pitch into a trend. Use an event to make your book immediate. Hook into breaking news.

I think these three threads of advice are related. Unless your book is on a current events topic like the war in Iraq or the 2008 political campaign, a book belonging to the fine arts by itself has no news worthy sense of immediacy. I became painfully aware that no journalist was interested in coming out to cover the launch of my book at Bridge Street Books earlier this month. Of course getting some news coverage was absolutely what I had my heart set on. An overwhelmed writer at The Washington Post told me in a tired and exasperated voice that he gets thousands of books and if I wanted to, I could send him my book. It was clear to me he would probably never open the package, let alone the pages of my book if I wasted my time and money by sending him a copy. What Ms. Cerand suggested is that an author establish herself as an expert based on breaking news and develop relationships with journalists who would then come to you for information in your field of expertise. What this means is that you must read the newspapers everyday, identify the journalists who write about your subject matter and then determine how best to interest these journalists in your expertise. Does this sound like a full time job? Maybe so.

4. When you get a speaking engagement, remember it is your job to ENTERTAIN not educate.

As the president of The Word Works since 1986, I know that it is the author who sells a book of poetry. Authors who are good at connecting with their audience (I mean eye contact and eliciting vocal response—not just clapping) are more likely to sell their books. I firmly believe that most sales of poetry books fall into the category of impulse buying. This is not to demean works of art but just to say that nourishment of the soul still does not fill the stomach. If an author is not a rock star like Salmond Rushdie or J. K. Rowling, then she or he must strike sparks that beguile the audience either by charm or guilt to make them open their purses to buy books.

An author must make an audience want to leave owning a piece of the author. What I do is recite my language play poem “Leo on Seesaw.” The poem is part of my opera and at Bridge Street Books I followed up the recitation with a recording of the cast singing this poem. Reciting from memory is a showstopper and I recommend that every poet have one or two poems memorized. “Leo on Seesaw” is heightened by its rhythmic and rhyming format. I am often asked to repeat this poem by children and adults alike. Anyway, I never really thought about the main purpose of a speaking engagement to be an act of entertainment, but I see the point that these two publicists were making.

5. Go after public opportunities that maximize your effort.

Instead of going to a bookstore for a book signing, figure out how to get invited to a church group, a book club, or some special interest group that will be excited about your subject matter. Also visit blogs that deal with your subject and try to get invited to be a guest speaker there. One way to do this is to read and comment on that blog regularly. Instead of going for broadcast radio, try contacting Internet radio. It’s a new broadcast opportunity where they are looking for content. If you go on a talk show, be sure to stay on point. Tangents don’t make for interesting sound bytes. Probably an author should anticipate questions before hand so that you have coherent answers. I put a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) into my press kit. The questions are based on questions asked of me over time as well as some of my own development.

So these are some of the many tips and ideas presented by Lauren Cerand and Imal Wagner. Because the format of their talk was informal and did not include handouts or projected slides, I found it a little hard to remember who offered which ideas so I hope they will excuse my inability to accurately quote them. Ms. Wagner, who is based in Maryland, has been in this business longer and has had some very high profile customers like Robert Allen (author of The One Minute Millionaire). Ms Cerand, who is based in New York City, left traditional public relations jobs (media relations for labor unions) to strike out on her own in the literary field. Among her recent successes is assisting Quinn Dalton with her book Bulletproof Girl, a short story collection released in paperback. Check out the interview Tayari Jones (author of The Untelling and Leaving Atlanta) did with Lauren Cerand.

In my next post I’ll try to capture some of the energy generated by the members of The Women’s National Book Association at this meeting. There are awesome authors who belong to the DC WNBA.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Successful Washington DC Launch of The Steiny Road to Operadom

The launch of The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas at Bridge Street Books in DC’s Georgetown occurred on a winter-spring evening with temperatures still in the upper 60’s (Fahrenheit). The front door was open and some books were displayed outside to attract customers. Indeed, some curious walk-ins attended the celebration.

About 15% of the author’s list of invited appeared for the event. The author sent out the invitation via Evite on the Internet, which was a good way to estimate how many people would attend. In this case, there were about 30 people with over half buying books
from the bookseller Rod Smith and some attendees bringing copies of the Steiny book that they had purchased on the Internet.

As promised wine, cheese, and brownies were offered. Were the brownies made with Alice B. Toklas’s infamous recipe?

Standing in front of her opera poster,
the author read from the chapter “Hubris, Vanity, Rejection.” She recited “Leo on Seesaw” and then played a recording of “Leo on Seesaw” as set by William Banfield, her collaborating composer on Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On.

After the launch, the author who never goes into the woods alone went with friends for drinks.

Photo Gallery of poets, artists, historians, professors, students, physicist, composer, dancers.