Creating a Best-Seller using the Internet

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The U.S. publishing industry is printing more books than ever before, but unless your last name is Rowling, King, Grisham, or Clancy, or your novel is backed by big advertising dollars, how can an author compete?

When author Steve Alten received a two-book contract from Bantam/Doubleday in 1996, he never gave much thought about promoting his first novel. MEG, a thriller about carcharodon Megalodon, the fearsome 70-foot prehistoric cousin of the Great White, was backed by a large publicity campaign that landed the author on the TODAY Show, in numerous newspapers, and eventually on best-seller lists. But when the second book of the deal was abruptly cancelled, he had to scramble to do his own promotions.

“When The TRENCH came out (Meg sequel) I assumed my new publisher would handle promotions,” Alten says, “but they were a smaller house, and I soon realized it was up to me. At first I hired publicists, but even after spending upwards of ten thousand dollars, it was still hard to get an interview. By the time my third novel, DOMAIN, came out (a thriller about the Mayan doomsday prophecy) I was handling my own publicity, spending half my day contacting bookstores and newspapers, again with limited results. I was stuck on an inverse curve, my newest books getting better and better reviews, but having almost no publicity affected my sales.”

And so the author turned to the Internet. Always remaining accessible to his reader, Alten answers all e-mails personally and sends out monthly newsletters to his fans. He’s also created an interactive website (http://www.SteveAlten.com) which offers free excerpts of all of his novels, along with writing tips and special features. But even that wasn’t enough.

For RESURRECTION, Alten’s fifth novel, set to be released in mid-February (Tor/Forge), Alten turned to Burning Grounds Independent Media, a California film company. “Resurrection deals with Good versus Evil, here and in the afterlife, with a villainess who is convinced she is the reincarnation of the Succubus, Lilith. Using these basics, Burning Grounds created what we’ve termed a “Book Trailer.” Similar to a movie trailer, it gives readers a visual peek into the storyline, in this case, a fun mini-movie termed “Santa versus the Succubus.” If viewers enjoy the Book Trailer, they can pass it on to friends.”

Rebecca Skloot, a science writer who sits on the board of the National Book Critics Circle, agrees the sheer volume of books is so great, some get lost in the shuffle. Resurrection is already receiving high marks from reviewers, Kirkus calling it a “Galloping, hugely detailed scientific/paranormal/spiritual SF superdrama that deserves a wide audience of warped but delighted readers.” Whether Resurrection’s Book Trailer helps return Alten to best-seller lists remains to be seen, but as the author states, “with the competition for shelf space and media attention fierce, you have to try everything you can and just hope for the best.”

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