Mark Terry

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thinking About Book Promotion

November 27, 2007
Legend has it that when Mary Higgins Clark was getting started with her books that she did the usual book signing crap with a plate of fresh-baked cookies at hand. I'm told it was just as unsuccessful as anybody else's book signing crap, but somewhere along the way, somebody--God knows who--decided that the secret to Mary's success were the cookies.

I was reminded of this today because of one of the listservs--Murder Must Advertise or eMWA, I don't remember which--had a thing about things to give away with your books.

First, fellow authors: Does this make you feel like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman?

Second, readers: Do free cookies, chocolates, M&Ms, bookmarks, tea bags, drink coasters, refrigerator magnets, pencils, etc. in any way, shape or form convince you to buy the frickin' book?

I just don't know. I'm hard-pressed to think that Stephen King spent any time giving away crap like this early on in his career. Or Patricia Cornwall? Lee Child? Yeah, yeah, I know at Bouchercon Lee Child opens up a local pub and invites attendees and, hell, Janet Evanovich puts on a freakin' street fair for her readers complete with caterer and live band. Presumably they can afford it. And Lee suggests it's in appreciation of his fans, as does Janet. They do this when they got big, not starting out.

Not to eschew (always wanted to use that word) promotion and the value of giveaways, but I've been to a couple author conventions where a slew of authors bring giveaways--I've done it, too, though in a more restrained (er, cheap) fashion. There's invariably a table filled with all this trash--bookmarks and postcards and pens--and it seems to me that when the convention closes for good, some poor schmuck has to come along and shovel the 99% of the stuff that's left into a garbage can.

The best giveaway I've ever seen was a chapbook by Joe Konrath. He wrote a short story featuring one of his characters and essentially self-published it as a small booklet complete with cover art and his photo on the back and his book jacket on the back with a "If you like this you'll love..." I took it home and I read it. It may still be around here somewhere. Joe also mailed me a drink coaster once and it's here on my desk--I use it. But I've also got a bunch of bookmarks (some of them with my own books and name on them) that I've collected over the years and I'm pretty sure I haven't bought a single book as a result. In fact, from time to time an author really puts money into it, sends you some fancy leather bookmark. Well hell, I've been on Sue Grafton's mailing list for years. I just got a Christmas card and a tea bag from her. (We threw it out. Although I will undoubtedly buy and read her book, I'm not drinking tea sent me by somebody in the mail. Sorry.)

I'm not purposefully being a curmudgeon here (it probably comes natural), but I do wonder, with a thousand authors flinging their bric-a-brac at readers like a low-grade version of a Mardi gras parade (without the floats, serious drinking or general debauchery--and you wonder why Americans are reading less?), whether we're all wasting our time and generally lowering the perception of writers.

Any thoughts?

Mark Terry 


Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

I would like to think that it has to do with attention to your readers as human beings. That it's not about freebies but comfort and enjoyment. If the cookies were successful for MHC, perhaps it was because they were just the ticket for people who were in the bookstore instead of home with their families?

An author I know is packaging her book with a gift basket containing chocolate, tea or coffee, and a few other odds and ends. I like that idea a lot and I think if she can find a way to bring it to book signings, she'll attract a pretty loyal fan base - she's trying to appeal to readers who want to escape into a book.

I'm not sure what kind of giveaways would "take care" of a reader of dark crime fiction, but maybe at that point, it's all about the cookies?

7:40 AM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

The best give-a-way idea Lynn Sholes and I ever come up with was while promoting our first book, THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY. Since it was a religious thriller, we were going to have a priest give out communion at each book signing. But we abandoned that idea after the archdiocese stepped in. Went for colorful bookmarks instead. I still think it would have attracted a lot of attention in Borders, though. :-)

8:11 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I know writers are the most avid readers, but still ... I wonder if marketing to writers who are already broke from buying so many books, who have so many books in their TBR pile they can barely get through one, is the wisest place to promote. I don't know.

I market to only my readers and people with similar interests. When pseudonym blogs, she doesn't DARE talk about the writing process. It seems to me my readers would find it spoils the magic.

When we read a book we treasure, we almost want to believe it's true, you know, almost believe we could live there? So to talk about creating a character or something ... I really don't know.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Why do I think when you and Lynn break up the writing chores, you get to write the scenes involving "the Old Man."?

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

In a world where we're all bombarded day and night by sophisticated, expensive attempts to sell us this that and the other thing designed by people whose expertise is in selling things, how much impression is a book mark going to make? I reckon that people who already read someone's books might be mildly amused by a giveaway from the author but I'd like to see any study or survey, any slightest bit of proof, that the typical author giveaways have ever sold a book. As I think I remarked before, I consider it faith based promotion. Authors believe they have to do it even while admitting that there can never be any proof that it works.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

"In a world where we're all bombarded day and night by sophisticated, expensive attempts to sell us this that and the other thing designed by people whose expertise is in selling things, how much impression is a book mark going to make?"

Does make you wonder, doesn't it? I was watching TV the other day to see an ad for James Patterson's book du jour, and one, I think, for Nora Roberts, and I couldn't tell you what either's books were because I never read Roberts and haven't read Patterson after I read "Pop Goes The Weasel" (and wish I hadn't).

But your point is excellent.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Joe Moore said...

"Joe, Why do I think when you and Lynn break up the writing chores, you get to write the scenes involving "the Old Man."?"

Whatever gave you that idea? :-)

12:24 PM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Since cooking on the bottom of my talent scale the cookie thing wouldn't work for me. Maybe I could get my daughter to make some? she's a pretty good cook.
I think the question is What would make you stop at an author signing?
I'd vote for Chocolate first, maybe some of those little liquor bottles you get on airplanes...

6:28 PM  

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