Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Putting the P in Promotion

I think the subject of promotion is a never-ending one with writers, and it pops up on every writers' board that I frequent. Everyone is always chatting about the most effective ways to promote yourself and your books, and no one seems to have a surefire, solid method, other than maybe Joe Konrath, who is the king of all kings of promotion and seriously, I'm in awe of the man and could never do what he does. But it works for him, so to that, I say kudos.

But yeah, other than Joe, a lot of writers are always rooting around, looking for newer, better, shinier promotional tools (Post-its! Bookmarks! Book club phone-in!), just in case we're missing something that might help get the word out.

I was chatting about this recently with another writer whose book has just been released, and I have to say, it's remarkable how similar writers' complaints and worries are: nearly every writer feels like he or she could have had more push from his or her publishing house and nearly every writer is scrambling to make up that perceived deficit. In my case, I've been really pleased with my promotional team - they continue to support me, pitch the book and line up a variety of things for me - but from what I hear, I do feel like I'm more of an exception than not. Our worries about sales and PR and marketing are virtually universal...after all, at the end of the day, while we might pretend otherwise as we bang out our manuscripts, this is a business, and in any business, what matters is the bottom line: we. have. to. sell. books. Period. Your next book deal depends on it, and your publisher depends on it so they can earn back their advance.

Which brings me to my thoughts for the day: what, really, is the best promotional tool? I think this can and will vary from author to author. Konrath swears by store drop-ins and signings, which again, I really commend him for, but (and this has been hotly debated on Backspace), I don't know that for me, that's the most time-effective way to go. I'm an unknown author, and who shows up to hear an unknown author to read, and sure, I could certainly sell a few more books that way, but I'm also a busy mother of two, and trekking out to dozens (or hundreds, as he does) of stores to introduce myself doesn't seem viable right now, though I do agree with him that it probably leads to better shelf space, hand-selling and all of that. Published authors out there, do you agree or disagree? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

For me, I really think that the best promotional tool might have been starting this blog. I did it partly to promote the book and partly because I really enjoyed offering a counter-perspective to Miss Snark, a writer's perspective to this crazy industry. And what's been amazing, and I alluded to this earlier in the week, is not that I have thousands of eyeballs and readers and all of that, but via this blog, I've MET so many other writers and readers...and we all champion each other. I've been interviewed on blogs, and I've hosted interviews here; people have talked about my book, and I've talked about theirs. The blogging community not only has incredible power, it's also incredibly open and generous and kind, and so, from the security of my office, I can sit here and get the word out, and also befriend some fabulous folks.

Promotional tools I'm unconvinced of: bookmarks and doo-dads and various things like that. I've never bought a book because I had a pen or a stress ball with a title on it. Have you? (And I don't ask this rhetorically...I'd like to know!)

One new spin that I do think works: Book clubs. I've done a few call-ins for these, and they're not only superfun, they're a guarantee of books sold. So, for pubbed authors out there, if you can spread the word that you're willing to call in, do it. It's a great way to connect with readers, and I'm always surprised at how excited they are to have me! It completely cracks me up.

So pubbed authors, what are your favorite promotional tools? And readers, what are the ways that get you to buy books? I'd love to have a discussion on this!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps I am not typical but since you asked...I like books, I buy books. And, I would do it no matter what. If the topic interests me then I get the book. Also, I get books recommended by others (all the time).
Now, aside from this if I answer to another question what makes me right now (more than anything else) get a particular book before I get another? Well...if the book is an audiobook. Being able to listen right now as I do chores is fantastic...other than my cell phone I value my ipod...

Allison Winn Scotch said...

Ines - I agree, I'm the same way. I also agree that word of mouth is the best way to sell a book, hands-down. But if no one has heard of your book, word of mouth can't spread...and that's what authors worry about! :)

Jen A. Miller said...

I review books and write about authors, so I'll chime in with what I thinks promotes books, or at least gets the attention of those who can give your book media coverage.

Any kind of doo dad or hickey do put into a package with a galley, or a finished book, is a big turn off. I got something with halloween candy, which went right into the trash. Ditto for the beach towel promo. Reviewers usually have tons of galleys to sort through, and it's just another step we have to take to throw something out. I've been to a major newspaper's book room, too -- something extra thrown in is not going to make a difference, especially if an intern is opening the packages. The same newsroom keeps a collection of the junk they're sent -- they make fun of it, not use it.

What I think gets my attention is a really focused pitch, from a PR person or an author (I wrote about that here:

I've developed relationships with PR people who know what I like, and will tell me why they think I'll like it. Like Allison said, not everyone has this luxury. I've sometimes had to kick and scream at a PR person to get a copy of a book I wanted to write about. And I've seen fascinating books not get the attention I thought they deserved because of a poor PR campaign.

But the best way to get my attention? Networking. I just wrote a piece about a woman I met at Book Expo America. She was signing at a table next to the guy I was writing about. She was nice, personable, gave me her card, and a copy of her book. It took a few months, but I finally placed a nice article about her that will hopefully sell books for her. Always ALWAYS have your card, with your book info on it. It makes a difference.

I met Allison through Freelance Success (, and ended up writing about it, too. Allison was also great in making sure and double checking that copies of her book were sent my way, and that I got them. What a luxury. I think that's just as important -- once you get someone interested, follow up and make sure everything goes smoothly. I've also met authors through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, through friends and even my family. The more people you tell about your book, the better chance you have at selling it.

As for cards and promo materials, I only think that'll work at a book conference, like Book Expo. But I go to that event specifically looking to pick that stuff up. I don't know if it'll work with the general reading public.

I'm starting to work on my own PR campaign for a book coming out in May, and have been following Allison's posts about promo (especially blogging), so my opinions might change as I go through it myself. But one thing you'll never get with a galley of my book? Halloween candy!


Jen A. Miller said...

Oops! That Poets and Writers link is at Sorry about that.


Angela Williams Duea said...

As a reader,I'm never an early adopter. I have such a backlog of book to read that I am always waiting to hear what someone else thinks of a book before I buy it or borrow it. So word of mouth or buzz is what does it for me.

Jen A. Miller said...

I thought about this again yesterday. I was at a golf outting all day -- I used to work for this company, and my sister and dad still do. I write their newsletter, etc.

People asked me what I'd been up to, and I told them I wrote a book. I ended up passing out about 10 cards to people who were interested. How many of those will turn into sales, I don't know, but it was well worth piping up and telling people I wrote a book!


Carleen Brice said...

Good timing for me, as my publicist (who I really like, btw)and I are planning/ scheduling right now. My views about touring have changed a bit. I've done it, and, strangely maybe, I actually enjoy it. However, now I really want to go only to where I know I can get a crowd (ie, family and/or friends live there and will beat the drums). I've done the nobody-shows signings and, while they don't hurt my feelings, I can't see spending the time or money. My brother was offended as a Texan that no Texas cities are on my tour list (so far). I told him to have a party at his house and invite me and I'd come. So far...crickets. :)

I've been amazed at the attention blogging has brought my book. Seems a much more effective use of time.

Jen, thanks for letting me know you guys don't so much like the doodads. I agree with you 100% about networking-in person and online. I don't go anywhere without my cards! Though I forget to hand them out all the time (duh), I do have them with me.

Anonymous said...

Such useful advice here. Just wanted to say thanks for all you're doing. Your blog is wonderful and so is your writing. Can't wait to read the next book!