Book Marketing Now: Namina Forna
An interview with debut YA novelist, Namina Forna, about her upcoming novel THE GILDED ONES and how to balance marketing, the market, and social media.
Welcome to Book Marketing Now, a new monthly feature of Books, Marketing, & More where I share interviews with writers about their marketing and publishing journey as they share the inside scoop on releasing books into the current market!
YA novelist and screenwriter, Namina Forna, and I caught up a month out from the release of her debut novel, The Gilded Ones, which is already building buzz with its six-figure deal and timely themes. Gracious and down-to-earth, Namina shares the importance of paying attention to the market (but not too much!); the demands of social media; marketing as an introvert; and creating events that bring you joy.
Remember how we talked pre-order campaigns earlier this month? Check out Namina’s pre-order campaign through her local bookstore Book Soup to get a signed copy of The Gilded Ones + cool swag.
How did you initially market your book to your agent? How has that strategy changed now that you’re marketing to readers?
Namina: I originally wrote the book around 2012. I tried to get an agent for it and there were bites, but it didn’t get anywhere. I got my agent for a different book, a middle grade book, through #DVPit.
It was the winter of 2017. I was writing clickbait at the time and my job was to see what was trending, what was going to be big in the next year. I saw the promos for Black Panther and the organic reaction it was receiving online and thought “Oh my god, this is the time for this book.”
So I called my agent and said: “Hey Alice, I have this book. It needs a page one rewrite, but it’s basically about this girl who lives in a super patriarchal society. She can’t die and she bleeds gold. It’s really kickass, it’s very violent, and it’s set in an African fantasy world.” And she said: “Namina — write it.”
I wrote it in a month and a half. I started Jan 1st and I finished Feb 15th, then we did rewrites where literally I was waking up at 4 AM, 2 AM to write. I’d write 10-20 pages before work and 30 pages on weekends. By that point I had spent 12 years just trying to get my foot in the door. I had an agent and I still wasn’t getting anywhere. It felt like now or never.
The book sold within days of it going out. And I just cried. I felt such a wave of relief, because I’d wanted this dream for so long and had been banging my head against the door for so long. It just never worked, until then.
Now that the book is coming out, the way I talk about it is: imagine if the Dora Milaje from Black Panther or the Amazons from Wonder Woman were stuck in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale and they said “burn it all down.”
My book is set in an African-based fantasy world. It’s a young adult fantasy that follows a girl named Deka who lives in this society where every 16-year-old girl must go through a ritual to see if they’re pure or not. Pure is red blood, impure is gold blood. If you’re impure, people think that you’re a demon because you’re faster and stronger than regular people and you have only one way to die, like an Achilles heel.
My main character Deka is discovered to be one of these “demons” and she’s sentenced to death until she gets a reprieve: a mysterious woman comes to tell her the emperor is getting a group of women like her together because there are these creatures who are attacking this world. She can either fight for him or die. Deka chooses to go and thus starts her journey.
You mention that feeling of “now is the time” for this book. Authors often feel they need to write to whatever is popular. What would you say to writers who are trying to get a sense of what to write about right now and thinking of looking to trends for inspiration?
That’s a difficult question because it’s both a yes and a no. On one hand, I think that books should be like your thumbprint. They reflect you and what your interests are. I wrote The Gilded Ones because I had questions about being a woman and feminism and I wanted to tell it in a fantastical way. Now, it just so happened that Black Panther exploded, opening up African-based fantasy for everyone to join in. But I already had the book. I knew my writing capabilities; I knew I could get a book done in a short amount of time. Not everyone is able to do that.
But still: your book should be your thumbprint. Because your book might be the one that changes the market.
Write what you know and what you love. But when you’re sending out a book, look at it in terms of what aren’t we doing right now: topics that are either over-saturated or offensive or everyone is just tired of it and, in that way, refresh your book. When I was writing my book in 2012, what was hot then isn’t what’s hot now. I don’t think writing to the market is wise because again, you never know what the market is.
Publishers are already saying they have too much African-based fantasy, for example. While there are a thousand stories that are waiting to be told that I want to read, the powers-that-be often reach a point where they say “no” because they’re getting tired of reading them. So unless you have a book that is undeniable, you’ve just made it harder for yourself because you were writing towards what was current.
What has surprised you the most about the book marketing process?
How much of it you have to do it for yourself, as an author. A few authors are so huge their publisher has their whole strategy put together. And make no mistake, my publisher has a strategy too. But at the same time, there’s so much that you have to do: making graphics, making posts. I never particularly enjoyed social media, but now I’m on it 24/7 because it’s a facet of my career.
I did not anticipate this. I thought that I was going to be a writer in a cottage somewhere, with the curtains billowing in the wind and a quill in hand, writing on parchment. But the reality is I wake up in the morning, scan social media, send off a tweet, send off Instagram. Here’s the thing: I’m not really a social media person, in that I feel like there’s a level of extroversion that you need and I’m a super introvert. But as an author, in this time, I have to be reachable to my audience. I have to be making tweets, posts, Instagram Lives, things that raise my profile with and engage my audience.
A lot of my readers and students face this challenge too! What kind of ‘life hacks’ do you have to make marketing less draining and more palatable for introverted writers?
One: Build a community on social media. Typically, what us introverts do, is set up a post, press send, then run away. Anytime I see a tweet that I like, I try my best to like it, retweet, reply. Anytime I see a book announcement, I say congratulations. I find it much safer and friendlier for me on social media when I know I have friends there. Showing up and seeing my friends gives me incentive to post more.
The second thing is using a social media scheduler. On Twitter you can schedule your tweets beforehand, if you know you’re going to be overwhelmed that day. Or you can use Hootsuite to schedule Instagram posts. These tools can really help you get over that hurdle. But if you’re not interacting on social media, you can post as much as you want, and people aren’t going to follow you unless you’re a celebrity,
Have you found events to still feel as relevant now for authors and if so, what that has meant for you in terms of partnerships with stores, organizations, and other writers?
That’s an interesting question because right now people are getting talking-head fatigue. If we were showing up in person and seeing each other, that’d be great. But we’re stuck at home and everyone’s scrambling to do all of these things: events, Instagram Lives, etc. Right now, it feels like all publishing is doing is TEDTalks and everyone’s tired of TEDTalks.
I’m currently planning my book launch and instead of talking heads, I’m making every single thing an actual event, not just us interviewing each other, but fun stuff that has audience engagement.
Tell us more about the engagement strategies you’ve come up with!
I’m planning on having an African mythology smack down, where I talk with other African authors and we defend our myths. We each choose one mythological figure and then defend them and cast aspersions against the other along the way.
And I want to do a tea party with one author because she’s fancy and I love tea parties. Or pajama parties. I’m choosing events where I know a person and we have a rapport because then it’s engaging and funny for the audience.
We have to understand the reality of where we’re at: Everyone is tired. If an event doesn’t bring you joy, why do it?
Any final piece of advice you’d give to a writer who is trying to figure out how to market themselves right now?
Instead of reinventing the wheel, find someone whose [marketing] strategy you like, social media for instance. Copy it and put your own twist on it!
You said you like tea parties… me too! So I have to ask: is there a tea you’d like to recommend?
I recommend this milk oolong from Republic of Tea. It has a subtle fragrance and always makes me feel so much calmer.
To order The Gilded Ones:
Book Soup Pre-Order Campaign | Bookshop.org | Indiebound | Barnes & Noble
Namina Forna is a young adult novelist based in Los Angeles, and the author of the epic fantasy YA novel The Gilded Ones (releasing February 9th). Originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, she moved to the U.S. when she was nine and has been traveling back and forth ever since. Namina loves telling stories with fierce female leads and works as a screenwriter in LA. You can connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, or via her website at NaminaForna.com
Do you have a book releasing this year? What are you doing to market your book or what questions do you have about marketing? Drop them in the comments!
Happy reading & writing!
Writer & Marketing Coach
Keep Writing, Keep Connecting! Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Website
Allison Pottern Hoch has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and as a writing/marketing coach for authors. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea. For workshops & consults: pottern.com
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How did you get an agent when you had no manuscript? It seemed like you had one before you wrote The Gilded Ones. I'm just curious XD