3 S.R. Johannes: Marvelous Marketer: Cynthea Liu (Author, Paris Pan Takes The Dare)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Marvelous Marketer: Cynthea Liu (Author, Paris Pan Takes The Dare)

NOTE: Cynthea may be dropping
by so feel
free to leave your
questions/comments for her.

Hi Cynthea, thanks for finding time to
join us today!

Before we get started, can you tell me a
little about yourself and your books
that all appear to be doing so well. :)

Hi Shelli. I'm the author of PARIS PAN TAKES THE DARE (Putnam, 2009)--a middle grade novel about a dare, a creepy shed, some very bad basketball, and a heart attack that was possibly caused by a chili dog.

My YA novel, THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA--a Students Across the Seven Seas novel (Speak, 2009) follows an adopted teen to China in search of answers to her past. It's also part travel, part romance, and all-over fun if it doesn't make you bawl at the end.

WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE (Pivotal, 2008) is my tell-all book--without the gossip!--for new writers who had just as many questions as I did when I started writing for kids and teens. I hope it answers all those questions and then some!

Looks like you have had a busy 2 years. To promote your book, do you have your own website or blog? If so, when did you start it and who manages it?

I do. I am almost embarrassed to say I have THREE websites and a blog, managed by me and my pet rabbit Snoop. Though he's been slacking a lot lately.

My author site, my writing site, and my Debut Author site (which supports the largest collaboration of debut authors in the US, and quite possibly the world!)

I also maintain a blog.

Phew! Now I realize why I'm so tired. :)

Boy, those alone must keep you busy. But you seem to find time to do marketing for yourself as well. In your opinion , what are the top 3 things every author should and must do to promote their book?

The best things I think an author can do (in no particular order) are:

1) If you're going to go online: have a website where people can find the following information:

a) Info about yourself
b) Info about your books
c) Info about visits, talks, or presentations (do you do them? how much does it cost, what can you do?)
d) How to contact you

2) Tell everyone you know about your book. It's so easy to forget to do that sometimes! Even if you're not a web-savvy person, let the people you personally know (family, friends, your dentist) know about it. Yes, even Dr. Smile who may give you nightmares, can be your biggest fan and supporter.

3) Write the next book! It is way too easy to get lost in PR activities. And it could make you crazier than you already are. We have to remember, FIRST AND FOREMOST, we are authors, not marketers. Our writing is what keeps us going! That said, if you can joyously market your book without feeling guilt, by all means, do it! But if marketing makes you sick and angry and annoyed, remember: no writer needed to know how to build a website in order to be a great author!

See? Isn't this just sooooo simple? Why do we stress ourselves out with all this stuff? There's just no need!

In your opinion, how important is social networking? Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, GoodReads.

First I think it is important. I am on Twitter and Facebook.

If we're talking about social marketing and its correlation to book sales, you will find examples where social marketing has let a not-so-big author sky-rocket to the top because a social network gave them visibility that they wouldn't have had otherwise. But there are right and wrong ways to do it! Most people online can see through sales pushes now, and social networking can actually be a negative if you don't use them correctly.

How important is it? Based on my answer to Question 3, you can tell I don't feel like every author HAS to do it. Can it make a difference? Sure! But it's still a question of ...

Do you want to do it?
And can you do it joyously?

Otherwise, you could be wasting your time.

Personally, I use social networks according to the purpose for which they were built--hanging out, getting to know people, connecting and reconnecting. Direct-selling on social networks can be kind of Ick. Though I have sold stuff before using Facebook and Twitter for my PARIS PAN launch called Take the Dare: Show You Care. I held an auction that raised money for a Title I school in my home state of Oklahoma. I was selling and selling hard. But I wasn't trying to sell PARIS PAN. (What?!) I was selling the school, auction prizes, etc--motivating people to put money down for a cause. Sure, fans could buy my book in support of the school. And the book got great exposure. But did I expect to sell thousands of copies? No. Not at all. So if you're thinking "what Cynthea did" is what *I* need to do to sell my books, think again. A book launch DESIGNED to sell books would have been a much better alternative.

But..."it's my party, and I can do what I want to ... do what I want to!" :)

In the end, the community raised around $15,000 for Tulakes Elementary in less than a month. Most of it through social networking. While I'm talking about it, I have to thank everyone who put up with all the noise during that time and supported the cause. (And btw, if you want to donate money or books straight to Tulakes, you still can. Find out how to double your money at http://www.cynthealiu.com/showyoucare. Don't be left out!) See? I still can't stop selling that school. I LOVE IT!

So this brings me to a big point about social networking.

Be genuine. Be you.

If you're putting a sales-hat on, and it's just not fitting your fat-writerly-head, don't wear it.You might as well go door-to-door and sell your book that way. The result is the same. Doors closed. No one answers. Who cares?

Finally, social networking is supposed to be fun, not work! If people buy your books as a side-effect of social networking, amen. If you set out to sell your books through social networking, more power to you! But I, for one, am perfectly happy with just reading and commenting about other people's stories when I can, posting fun pics of my Baby Liu, and sharing my writing joys and woes with others. And that's just another way you can socially network effectively!

Wow that was packed with a lot of great advice. You mentioned your auction, when you started marketing your books, did you have a formal marketing plan or is your marketing more random?

A formal marketing plan? Ha. I can barely find my planner, much less formulate a marketing plan. But I do have some idea about what I want to do and when. Like my book tour to Oklahoma this fall. Does everything I want to happen get all done? Absolutely not. There's just no end to the things that you can do to get your book out there.

What creative things have you done to promote a book?

People have told me that my book launches are some of the best launches they've ever seen. Wow! But that praise always takes me by surprise. I guess I haven't stopped to think about it until now. So here's what I'm thinking ...

If you do something creative, it becomes more memorable automatically.

Even though my first book launch (for THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA), wasn't "mind-blowingly" creative or anything, I did spend some moments thinking about how to make party-goers feel like they were REALLY at a party (but online). Then it became .. we have to have food, games, prizes, movies, etc. So I made a video that wasn't just any old book trailer, I served up some grub (recipes related to the book), got the game figured out, made sure everyone left with a party favor, and gave away free prizes. I guess, as a total package it WAS creative. And that's what made it stand out to people.

The Paris Pan launch party was like the new-and-improved version of my first launch party. While online auctioning isn't a new idea, the combination of the book launch, the auction, the new movie, the game, the contest, and everything else made it even more special to my fans and supporters. I was so happy I could show everyone a great time and do something truly meaningful to me in the process. And btw, if you'd like to go to one of my online parties, the after-party is still on at http://www.cynthealiu.com. You can see what happened: the auction bids, the passed-out people with lampshades on their heads, and even take home some prizes. Sweet!

I also put together an essay contest that tries to do more than just get kids to write about the book. In true Paris-Pan-style, I ask readers to "Take a Dare: Dare to be You." It's part writing-rigor, part social-experiment. Kids will dare themselves to change something about their behavior, and take their own Dare over the course of one week. Their dares should get themselves to act in ways that are more aligned with who they truly are. For example, a reader might say, "I should stop acting like washing dishes is worse than an oral cavity search. I am not a lazy person, I am a helpful one." Once the reader carries out the Dare, he or she then reflects upon it in an essay. Finalists will be published in a book of winning essays and the top winners will also get some serious cash. Now how can you beat that?

So if you have any kids, know any kids, who might benefit from this one (maybe YOU might benefit from it if you need some dish washing done :) ), definitely check out the essay contest. It's open to all students in the U.S. and Canada (including homeschoolers) in grades 3-7.

You obviously have a knack for marketing that not all authors have. Did you do this great of a job marketing yourself to agents/editors before you were published?

Before my books sold, I focused on writing, more so than getting noticed by agents/editors in any other way. It's easy to forget in this age of Internet-Everything, that YOUR WRITING is what matters most. You do hear about examples where writers have gotten stuff sold from having great blogs and so on; I think that's fabulous! But keep in mind you still have to be a great writer! It's not a matter of putting up just any old thing and then hoping it happens. There's a lot of hard work involved.

Also, the Internet is now inundated with blogs. That means it's becoming harder and harder to be noticed by editors and agents through your blog unless you're doing something truly unique, and doing it in a way that shows publishing people that you might actually have a really good book in you! So let's remember what editors and agents think about when trying to make that determination. I won't spell it out for you here. I want you to think hard about it ... Done? Now make sure you're "showing" that in your blog, if getting noticed by agents/editors is one of your objectives. And keep in mind, that even if if you are doing all the right things, don't bet on anything happening either. You'll just frustrate yourself.

Finally, I can't say enough about how wonderful it is to put yourself out there, online, and befriend other people in the community (not just agents and editors) BEFORE you're published. If you want to blog, have a website, or socially network now, but you're holding back because "I'm not published yet!", get that thought out of your head. You don't have to be published to have a wonderful place to hang out on the Internet. It could be one of the best marketing moves you'll ever make. Who wouldn't want a fan base already in place when your first book comes out? (And I'm not just talking about your mom and your English teacher! *Though we love them, too!*)

So go for it. I look forward to meeting you in cyberspace!

Thanks for the great tips today, Cynthea.

Thanks for having me, Shelli! Hope your readers enjoy the interview!


Anonymous said...

That was so helpful and informative. Thanks for that great inverview! Karen (karenb from the blueboards)

Anonymous said...

Wow! This may be your longest post yet. (And this is why my books take forever to revise! Never a shortage of material to work with!)

Jennie Englund said...

Really thorough and insightful interview, Shelli!

Thanks for the tips, Cynthea!

Susie Bramble said...

I write children's picture books and found this interview very helpful. Thank you for posting it.

However I couldn't get the links to work...

I look forward to reading Cynthea's books!

Unknown said...


And I can personally attest to how well social networking worked for you, Cynthea. I had not heard of either of your books until the Twitter explosion of Take the Dare! This past weekend, I was in the bookstore and sought out both of your books (both were, btw, sold out).

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Whoa! Cynthea, I just hopped on over to your website and watched the movie. How cool is that? What made you decide to do a such a personal story? I love it, by the way and will go in search of Paris Pan asap.
Thanks to both you and Shelli for a fine, fine interview packed full of useful information and energy.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great interview! I'll definitely be buying Cynthea's books.

lisa and laura said...

Cynthea is a marketing genius as far as I'm concerned. I've heard all about her and her books and her worthy causes and will definitely be buying Peter Pan Takes the Dare.

Great interview!

Kelly Polark said...

When I first started writing for children a few years ago, Cynthea Liu's website was one of the first one's I bookmarked for guidance! She is such a generous person to other writers (and more with her fundraising efforts).
Excellent tips, excellent interview!

Anonymous said...

Wow, guys, thanks again for all the nice comments. Aw ... I'm such a softie.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Karen, suzie, jennie - thanks for stopping by. I love meeting new blogger buddies :)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

beth, lisa, laura - cynthea is definately a marvelous marketer. very creative.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

tricia, kelly, and lazywriter- she gave alot of great tips.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

cynthea = thank you so much! :) hope to see you in LA.

Danyelle L. said...

You ladies both did an excellent job. I really appreciate all the time and effort that went into this interview!

Stephanie Faris said...

Thanks for doing this! I need to read her book on writing for teens.

Kelly H-Y said...

FABULOUS interview and advice!!!!

Katie Anderson said...

This might be my favorite interview ever! She is made of total genius. I can't wait to read her books!

Thanks Shelli

CJ Omololu said...

Cynthea and Shelli in one place - nice! I just got my Cris Crutcher prize pack yesterday from the auction - so much coolness in one little box! Thanks for organizing it.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Great interview! I think Cynthea is a brilliant marketer-I took the dare :) She could seriously teach classes on it, not that she has the time!