Delin Colón has been both a writer and a promoter for other writers. In this interview she discusses her well-researched book, Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History, and her extensive recommendations for marketing and promoting.
1. Tell me briefly about your book – what is it about and what motivated you to write it?
My father had always told me that my great-great uncle was Rasputin’s secretary, and one of the few Jews permitted to live outside the ghetto called The Pale of Settlement. Fifteen years ago, I found an out-of-print copy, in French, of my ancestor’s memoirs about Rasputin. What amazed me were all the stories he told of Rasputin’s compassion for and aid to the oppressed Russian Jews, as well as his efforts to get the tsar to accord the Jews equal rights, as they were deprived of educations, most occupations and choice of residence. Since some writers have disparaged my great-great uncle’s account, due to the amount of wild court gossip he included, I made it my mission to research and substantiate the specific incidents of aid to Jews that he documented. After a dozen years, and reading over a hundred works in French and English, including many Russian works that were translated into French, I found that nearly every writer, from Rasputin’s daughter Marya to his killer, Yussupov, at least mentioned that he advocated equal rights for Russian Jews. Some lauded him and others vilified him for this. While some who knew him attempted to bring his humanitarianism to light, they were overshadowed by the largely anti-Semitic views and propaganda of the nobility, clergy and press. I feel that, in my intensely documented book, I’ve accomplished his vindication. Apparently, so far, all of my reviewers (by editors and readers alike) seem to agree.
2. How have your sales been?
Sales have been sporadic – some months great, others not so much. But the book has a relatively narrow market, appealing to those interested specifically in Rasputin, Jewish history, anti-Semitism, etc. In addition, I refuse to pay for a review and have not bought any advertising. I have no doubt that those investments would bring a greater readership and attention, but it just doesn’t sit well with me.
3. Have you been published by a traditional publisher? Why or why not?
Decades ago, I had a few poems and articles published in literary journals and magazines. With this book, it had already taken me fifteen years to complete it and I really didn’t want to wait around for publisher responses. If I’d written a novel, I certainly would have gone the traditional route, but since the target audience for this book is so specific, I felt I could market it on my own. Of course, being self-published, I also retain a greater portion of the proceeds than with a traditional publisher.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
I found the process quite easy and, given a specific subject and readership, would definitely do it again. As I said before, however, if I were writing fiction, the competition would be much greater and, I believe, would require the support, PR, and marketing of a publisher.
5. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your books, and which ones have been most successful?
The first thing I did was to garner reviews, so I sent emails querying reviewers from newspapers, Jewish periodicals, bloggers, etc. The response was pretty decent and from experienced, well-credentialed book reviewers. I set up Google alerts for Rasputin, Jewish history, anti-Semitism – things like that. Whenever a relevant article, forum or blog came up, I’d post my book in the comments section, along with a description. I wrote an article summarizing the book, which I posted on Yahoo Voices (formerly Associated Content), which seemed to generate more interest. After much hemming and hawing, I finally did write a blog (though I still have sections to add) and included a summary, reviews, excerpts, historical background, etc. I traded links with other bloggers as well. It was actually a huge surprise to me that the blog and link exchanges brought a significant increase in interest. I even had a call from a Russian TV producer requesting an interview on the subject. The marketing, however, is an ongoing process and a lot harder and more time-consuming than actually writing the book! I am always in search of more reviews for my book and more places to post it.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
Yes, I refuse to pay for a review. To me, it’s a conflict of interest. I know there are well-regarded places that charge for interviews, but in my mind, paying for an interview casts suspicion on the integrity of it. I also have not paid for any advertising. It’s not that I’m adverse to it, though of course I’d rather not, but I’m waiting to see if the momentum picks up the way it has been. If the book isn’t moving in another year, I may resort to that.
7. Tell me about your background in promoting other writers’ work and what you’ve learned from that.
Many years ago, when I was involved in an intensive writers’ workshop and my mentor was complaining about not having enough time to write, due to the time taken up with submissions, publicity and marketing, I offered to help out. It sounds obvious, but the pitch is everything. You have to grab attention with the very first line and pique curiosity with the rest of the pitch. You have to be minimalistic in your approach, using the fewest words possible to say your piece, and say it briefly.
For a period of time, a few decades ago, I had a company called The Writers’ Broker, which brokered out writers for various jobs – commercial, industrial, technical and creative. I had a bank of writers with different specialties, suited for different jobs. So much of my time was spent running and promoting the business that I did very little of the writing myself. However, it was a unique niche I had created, and that grabbed the attention of many clients. So, minimalism and uniqueness in approach are my main lessons.
8. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
The first thing I learned is how easy it is to self-publish; the other thing is how hard it is to do the publisher’s ongoing job of marketing and promotion.
9. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
I can’t think of anything I’d do differently, except maybe starting my blog sooner than I did.
10. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
Expect to spend more time selling your book than writing it. Join forums and blogs. Exchange links. Post your book on different author websites. Query as many reviewers as you can, but read their reviews of other books, so you know what their preferred field or genre is. Sign up for Google alerts with keywords relating to your subject matter and plug your book in the comments of those articles/blogs. Contact local bookstores to carry your book and arrange author signings at those stores. Certainly contact your local or regional newspapers. They generally enjoy touting when a native of the area accomplishes something. Press releases are free. Submit press releases to newspapers in your area, being sure to mention that you’re from the area. It’s not guaranteed they’ll print it, but it costs nothing to try. If you can write an article – not a review of the book, but something to be learned from the book, or an issue that the book is about – you can publish it on many sites like Yahoo Voices, Ezine, Sirgo, Goarticles and others.
11. What projects are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished editing the sixth draft of my husband’s science fiction novel, which has just been sent off to a traditional publisher. Now, I can concentrate on my next project, which will be true stories from The Pale of Settlement – Russia’s Jewish ghetto from the mid 18th century until the Russian Revolution. I want to try to capture the essence of life in the Pale and how restricted Russian Jews were in their daily endeavors to survive. In fact, if anyone has any anecdotes or memoirs from their ancestors, that’s what I’m currently researching and gathering.
12. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
My ‘brand’ would be lesser known or misunderstood aspects of history, with a leaning toward Jewish history (but not confined to that).
13. How can readers learn more about your books?
On those sites, there are other links as well.
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and promote my book. I’m extremely grateful.