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Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the first name of a TurnHere, Inc. executive. It is John McWeeny, not William McQueeny.

Novice Authors Must Promote Themselves, Since Publishers Won't

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By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Poor Kelly Corrigan, first-time author, didn't get invited to this weekend's National Book Festival on the Mall to plug her 2008 memoir, "The Middle Place." She won't be rubbing shoulders with heavyweight authors such as Sue Monk Kidd, John Grisham or Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz. No major newspaper bothered to review the California mom's tale about cancer and family and recovery when it was released. Her publisher didn't send her on tour. All the old-school staples of book promotion -- the book festival, the tour, the glowing newspaper review -- Corrigan got none of them.

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What was a newbie author to do?

She cobbled together a trailer for her book on her home computer, using iMovie software, downloading a free tune off the Web for background music, and stuck it on her Web site. Her agent helped get her on one network television morning show. About 20 friends hosted book parties, which she hit on a self-funded three-week blitz, selling books out of the trunk of her car. A guy shot video of her reading an essay at one of these parties, and she posted it on YouTube when the paperback came out.

A year later, the book has sold about 80,000 copies in hardcover and another 260,000 in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan data. It sat on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks, peaking at No. 2. That homemade trailer has been viewed more than 100,000 times. The video of her reading has drawn 4.5 million hits. She's in Washington on Thursday, speaking at the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Award luncheon. Then she will plow into more than a dozen paid speaking gigs across the country in the next six weeks.

"I hand-sold at least 2,000 to 3,000 copies," the 42-year-old said in an interview this week from her home in Oakland. "And while the hardcover was doing well, everything changed with that video from the reading."

Corrigan, spending $3,700 for the Web site and her tour, figured out a path through the weird new-media maze of authors overseeing their own marketing and promotion, using the Internet and networks of friends to get their little-known works off the ground.

Book publishers actively market and promote authors, of course, particularly the big names, but for thousands of writers it's a figure-it-out-yourself world of creating book trailers, Web sites and blogs, social networking and crashing on friends' couches during a tour you arrange.

"Being an author has become much more of an ongoing relationship with your audience through the Web, rather than just writing a book and disappearing while you write the next one," says Liate Stehlik, publisher of William Morrow and Avon Books. "You have to be out there in the online world, talking and participating."

Authors are expected to behave like mini-entrepreneurs, says Kamy Wicoff, founder and CEO of She Writes, a Web site devoted to helping women writers promote their books. She started the site in June. More than 4,000 writers have joined.

"The landscape has altered so fundamentally and irrevocably that almost no one is immune from finding ways to participate in the promotion of their books," Wicoff says. "Writers with small advances and limited resources are expected to treat their book as a new company, with marketing and promotion and PR."

This trend is driven by the availability and ease of Internet marketing, the expense (and diminishing use) of author tours and the need to keep up with the competition. More than 560,000 books were published in the United States last year, a $25 billion pie of which everyone wants a slice.

"The fragmentation of the market is staggering," says Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book audience research firm in New York. "Authors walk into bookstores and think they're cluttered, and wonder how browsers could find their book in there. The problem is, the Web is giga-cluttered by comparison."


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