Sunday, October 19, 2008

What works? (Notes on book marketing)

On the excellent book promotion Yahoo group Murder Must Advertise (which was a godsend to me when I was scrambling to figure out the publishing biz after the sale of my first book), Jeff Marks asked these questions of the month for those who attended Bouchercon:

1. What did you do to promote your book?

2. What do you think worked best?

Great questions to ask and ponder, but I find that it's hard to pinpoint what it is that works to market your books. I mean, it ALL works. And what works "best" at one conference might not work as well at the next con, so you're constantly shifting your strategies and amphases.

At B'Con I:

- Was on a well-attended panel on supernatural fiction.
- Did an outside signing at a local bookstore with other authors.
- Did a panel at Pratt Library.
- Dropped in to other local bookstores to sign stock and meet the managers.
- Left bookmarks and postcards on all the giveaway tables.
- Circulated in the book room and met or reconnected with all the booksellers.
- Met with my agent and editor
- Attended parties to network
- Stayed in the bar till all hours to network
- Hung out in the hospitality lounge to network
- Hung out in the halls to network
- Hung out in the bathroom to network
- Hung out on the deck to network
- Made a point of introducing myself to authors I love and admire and being simply a raving fangirl
- Blogged about all of it afterward here and at Murderati:

But most of all, I was just there, and having fun and being available to anyone who wanted to talk to me, which I suspect is the most effective marketing of all - and such a pleasure that it doesn't feel like work at all.

Luckily I love people and the social aspects of this business of promotion - it's a great balance to that neurotic solitude of writing.

Now, what worked best of all of that I've listed above? I don't have a clue. It's everything you do, all the time.

But there are realities we have to be aware of. A few months ago there was an excellent discussion at David Montgomery's Crime Fiction Dossier about promotion, which I want to link here for posterity (and my own easy reference!), and Lee Child weighed in with this:

Everything works. Literally everything. I don't think there is anything I have ever done that hasn't produced at least a couple of readers. Years later one fan told me she tried my books because I greeted someone politely at a conference, and she thought, he's a gentleman, I should try his books.

But Dusty is right because getting a couple of readers at a time is obviously at the cost-ineffective end of the scale.

So obviously the question is what makes the big impact?

And, problematically, the answers we hear tend to ignore the 800-lb gorilla in the room, which is that everything we talk about in blogs like these addresses only the tiny grains of sand scattered in front of the huge mountain - and the huge mountain is expensive, committed, unrelenting support from a major publisher ... specifically, penetration to every conceivable point of sale. Advertising and reviews are only the tip of the iceberg. The real effort (and cost and expertise) goes into making sure that your book is actually for sale everywhere. If your book is in the 20-slot rack at the airport or the drugstore, it will sell purely by the law of averages to one in 20 customers.

So, should authors without massive publisher support do nothing? No, because being proactive is a kind of "audition" for the moment when a publisher decides who exactly to back in a big way. There are always five or six contenders, and being a helpful, motivated person can tip the decision your way.

The whole discussion (and the links from it) is worth reading and absorbing.

And here are a couple of other articles I find particularly helpful -

- From David Montgomery on Buzz, Balls and Hype

- Putnam editor-in-chief Neil Nyren on Murderati


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Unknown said...

Excellent, excellent post. I especially like the part about the social aspect balancing the "neurotic solitude of writing." That describes me to a T!

Of course, you have to do everything (from what I've heard) over and over and over again before you get the hint of success. It comes more quickly for some than for others. But, if you have the resources, is it really any worse than being slave to the man for the rest of your life?

Bobby Mangahas said...

Once again, very good advice Alex. I think that this is one aspect that those newer to the business tend not to focus as much on: The marketing and the networking. I'm so glad that there are resources out there to remind us of that.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Emma, I think that describes most writers to a T. Half of the joy of conferences is being in a room where everyone I meet is embarrassingly like me. ; )

I find a lot of the work of promotion fun, although it often feels overwhelming. The trick is balancing the writing with the right amount of promotion, and that's a balancing act that very few authors I know seem to have mastered. We all struggle with it.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Well, RJ, you don't have to worry too much about it yet - the most important thing is getting that first book done. But you're absorbing a lot that will be lifesaving for you, by reading Murderati regularly, by going to B'Con. You're not going to be one of those deer-in-the-headlights authors who find themselves with a book deal and no idea what to do next - not that I've met you I know you've been filing all this away for when it counts!

I highly recommend that you get Jacqueline Deval's book PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK and just have it on the shelf for when you make that first sale. You'll be glad to have it waiting for you when you need it.