Mark Terry

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Book Marketing--experience & options

May 3, 2010
The PR person with my publisher asked me to write down some of the things I've done to promote my books over the years and to include any thoughts. I'll do it here with a very cautious reminder that your experience may vary. One of the things that's important, I've found, is to place your marketing efforts within the context of your publisher's distribution capabilities, your publishing history, and the amount of money, time, and energy you can afford to spend on marketing, which may or may not be based on how large your advance was or whatever your professional and economic circumstances are.

--book signings. It's better if your publisher or publicist can set them up. Bookstores are leery of authors who do it themselves, because they figure you're self-published. Also, some of the chain stores have policies against book signings, or they just don't want to commit to an unknown entity. Book signings are hit & miss. Keep in mind they're not really about selling books--they're about getting your name out there, meeting readers, getting your signed books onto local author or front tables. Hundreds of people show up to see celebrities and buy their books, i.e., Sara Palin, Bill Clinton, Whoopie Goldberg, Chelsea Handler, Lee Child, Robert Crais. Until you're some sort of celebrity, whether as a writer or as something else, your turnout is likely to be fairly modest. Publishers may or may not help with this. Sometimes they put out signage, sometimes they don't; sometimes they order your books, sometimes they don't; sometimes they announce your presence, sometimes they don't; sometimes they put you in a good location, sometimes they don't; sometimes they forget you're even coming; sometimes they act as if they wish you'd go away; sometimes they welcome you & treat you like a celebrity; sometimes they promote the signing in a newsletter, on their website, in a local newspaper, sometimes--most of the times--they don't. From the POV of a bookstore, they want you to come in and sell books for them. In fact, one of the ironies for me in how bookstores treat authors is THEY MAKE MORE MONEY PER COPY SOLD THAN YOU DO. So why don't they act like it? Don't know.

--direct mail (postcards, brochures, letters). Yup. Done it. Expensive. Time-consuming. Most marketing experts indicate direct mail (i.e., junk mail) has a 1-2% recognition rate. That doesn't mean 1-2% will buy your book. It means 1-2% will register the mailing. The rest will throw it out and forget completely about you. I don't recommend it unless you can really afford it.

--conferences--expensive. If you go, go to hang out with other writers and readers. With any luck you won't receive a signing time opposite Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King or Harlan Coben. If you do, smile, be pleasant, and be thankful for the one book you sell. Can be decent exposure, but I doubt it's worth the investment in time. I'd like to go to ThrillerFest, which is in New York City, but I calculated the cost of airfare, hotel, conference fees, food, parking, etc., and came pretty close to $2000. I can't possibly justify it at this time. Plus, Mark Terry's going to be largely unnoticed when there are 400 thriller authors with names like Harlan Coben, Barry Eisler, David Morrell, Steve Barry, Gayle Lynds, etc. Smaller cons can be kind of fun and a little more intimate--Magna cum Murder in Muncie, IN in the fall keeps the numbers down around 350 or 400, so the ratio of writers to readers is actually kind of cool. Still... go to hang with people, not sell books.

--TV, radio--yep, done some of that. In my area there's a cable access show, Cult-Pop, that focuses on books, primarily SF and Fantasy, although if Jim Hall and Jerry Jesion, like your books, they'll have you on. It's seen by about 20,000 people in southeastern Michigan and they're probably all book people, so being on that show gives your book a bump. I've done some radio and stuff like that, too, and it's harder to quantify, but if all it means is a phone call, it can read a lot of people without wasting a lot of time. Local NPR or PBS might be interested, particularly if you're not a large market and they have some sort of local arts programming. Local cable access is a real possibility. Again, I'm not sure there's a direct link between exposure and sales, unless someone's seeing you while they're on, but the more name recognition the better. Of course, it'll bite you in the butt if your books aren't available wherever the people who see your exposure shop, which a lot of times isn't bookstores, but Wal-Mart, Meijers, Kmart, etc. Nothing you can do about it, but be aware of it.

--Public speaking. I've done a fair amount of it. I'm comfortable with it. I don't like to over prepare and I prefer to shift it into something resembling a conversation, so I like a lead-in that moves to a Q&A. In preparation for the possibility an audience won't have questions (it happens), I've put questions like, "How long does it take you to write a novel?" on a postcard or notecard and put them in envelopes, so if there's no questions, I can hand them out and ask people to open them. Here are places I've done public speaking:
--libraries--libraries are wonderful places, but library-goers are not necessarily book buyers, although libraries are. Some libraries will bring in bookstores to help sell books. I've done regular library book stuff and I've done workshops like, "Freelance Writing For A Living." This latter was the best attended and they paid me to do it, and I managed to sell a couple books in the process. I'm looking into doing more workshops along the lines of, "Write and Get Your Novel Published" with another writer or two, but I've been busy lately.
--schools--can be kind of fun, though teenagers, etc., are not really going to buy many books, although I find them an interesting, engaging audience. I've never really done younger groups, although a lot of people can. My books aren't appropriate for them.
--Rotary Clubs. I did quite a few of these at one time. They're generally enjoyable. Rotarians are local business owners that typically are civic-minded. Their meetings are mostly at lunch although sometimes breakfast or occasionally dinner. They're often at a restaurant. A meal is always involved. You typically go, eat lunch, listen to their business meeting stuff which can be a bit surreal the first couple times, give your talk, and try to hand-sell some books. They don't want you directly selling for your talk, so my talks generally revolved around my research. Sales are all over the board and have no correlation to size of the group. I've done a Rotary with 75 people there and sold 3 or 4 books and did one with 17 people there and sold 15 (they were big book readers). Rotarians are busy, though. The lunch meetings in particular, people come in, chat, eat, listen, and head back to work in a hurry. If you're uncomfortable making small-talk with people you don't know while eating, this can be a miserable experience, but Rotary Clubs, Elks, Lions, etc., are all a possibility. They're generally always interested in someone who can come in and talk. And usually you get a free lunch, so you won't go away hungry.
--Contests. I've done it once or twice. It generates a lot of traffic on your website. The majority of the people who do it are hard-core contest enterers, rather than readers. It depends on how you structure it. I gave away Amazon gift cards and people were kind of odd about it. At book signings I've tried doing raffles and giving away gift cards for the store I'm in. For a small store it works great. For a large store, people act like you're asking them to sign up to give away a kidney, so I stopped doing it. Stephen Parrish is doing a treasure hunt/contest and making sure it's linked to clues in his books, so presumably people who are doing it are actually buying his books. I'll be curious to see how it works out ultimately.

--Websites, blogs. Gotta have a website. Period. Offer lots of freebies to read. Update regularly. Have links that make it easy for people to buy your books. Look for other author websites and see what you respond to. Blogs--well, I like blogging and I did a blog tour for this book, which to me worked out terrific. Not everybody likes to blog or does it regularly. Some are just kind of boring. Mine might be, too, but my focus tends to be a very unvarnished view of the writing world, so people who come for happy-smiley-face encouragement that writing novels will solve all their problems and give them strong bones and a glossy coat are probably disappointed; but the people who come back seem to like the raw data and the honesty. My problem--like today's entry--is I tend to write posts that are too long. I think shorter posts work better, and I promise to try a shorter one soon!

--Social media. You know what it is--FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, CrimeSpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo...
--Facebook. I like it. I started out wanting to just keep it to friends and family, then started linking up with old friends and a lot of writers. I don't know if that's good or not. I don't think it works if you're constantly trying to sell people something, but when I announce book signings and things it goes out unobtrusively to a lot of people. It's a giant time-suck, though; beware the addictive nature of it.
--Twitter. Well, I hate Twitter. I've tried it for fiction and I've tried it for nonfiction. I've written about it professionally. I still think it sucks and hope it goes away. But that said, a number of writers seem to use it effectively. It seems to me that the people who use it successfully are on TweekDeck or something similar, & when they tweet it automatically gets pushed to their Twitter account, their Facebook page, their blog, their Amazon blog, their... etc.
--All the others. Well, somewhere out there in the ether I'm on all of those, but it's obvious I can't keep up with all of it. Facebook and Twitter are the 5000-pound gorillas.

--Drive-by signings. This means you visit any bookstore anywhere near you, find out if you have books there, and offer to sign them. This is a good use of your time IF the stores actually have your books. Considering calling ahead and asking. Your reception by bookstores may vary. Some will ask for ID (I know, strange). Most will say yes, then put an AUTOGRAPHED COPY sticker on the cover & put the book someplace out front or in the Local Author stack. I also recommend you do this for at least one book simply so you get some idea of how distribution issues can affect your life as an author. It's an education, trust me.

--Book fairs. Sometimes these are great. For a while there was a mystery bookstore in the area, then it went out of business and did a book fair a couple times a year at a church. They didn't get enormously high traffic, but the people that came did so to buy books and to meet the author and buy their books. So 20 people might come through, but almost all of them bought your book. The problem was that if you were invited back 4 months later, the exact same people came through and they already bought your book.

--street fairs, etc. One of my local towns had a street fair, sidewalk sales thing, & a local bookstore offered to let me stand outside their tent and try to hawk my books. I didn't sell many. I stood out front and handed out book marks and asked people if they liked mysteries or thrillers or whatever I was selling at the time (mystery, at that time) and got a lot of head shakes and blank stares, but I did give away a lot of bookmarks.

--book groups. These are sometimes formal, sometime informal. Usually women, they read a book, get together and talk about it. Then they have cookies and punch and go home. I've done this once or twice. It's a pleasant enough evening and I sold a few books. Depends on the types of books you're writing, but not a bad way to get your name known.

--newspaper, online & magazine interviews & profiles. The best you can do to set these up is to send out press releases. It's nice when it happens. Be gracious, smile, and don't wince too badly when the local newspaper report gets everything wrong or wildly misquotes you.

--creative stuff. Years back I had a contract for a novel called Blood Secrets. The publisher had a long lead-time for the pub date, which kept shifting around. Finally she locked in on about 14 or 15 months in the future. Personal websites were somewhat new at that point, so I got a high school class to design a website for me. Then I wrote a 12-chapter novella that was a "prequel" to Blood Secrets. The idea was to publish a chapter a month, serializing the novella, leading up to the publication of the book. So I did. It was called Name Your Poison. I was gaining readers (around the same time Stephen King did something similar, so I got a little bit of media attention). I promoted it on ListServs like DorothyL. It was working. Then around month 6, my publisher went bankrupt and cancelled the publication of Blood Secrets and returned the rights to me. Eventually I wrote another novella called Catfish Guru featuring the same character, Theo MacGreggor, and through a series of coincidences, ended up publishing it for free via iUniverse as a book called CATFISH GURU. The point of this is that there are a lot of creative things you can do to promote a book--and some of them might work, and some of them might get hit by a hurricane or a meteorite. Roll with it. That's book promotion.

--AuthorBuzz & email newsletters. Two different things, really, but I forgot to mention them before. AuthorBuzz is an online ad campaign run by author MJ Rose. It costs now something like $1500. I've used it twice. Once my publisher did it & once I did it. As you may have noticed, my sales for the two previous books were not setting the world on fire. I would rank it up there with direct marketing of sorts, and again, the statistics are probably about the same. And that 1-2% doesn't mean SALES, it means that people pay attention to the ads.

--Email newsletters are cheap and effective. On your website, make sure you have somewhere to collect email addresses. Mine email newsletter is handled by my website designer she uses Vertical Response, I believe, although Constant Contact is another common one. Several authors I know just type something into the body of their email and send out bulk emails. I'm the secretary for our schools' band boosters & that's what I do, but VR, CC & others like it allow you to put pretty graphics to it & track click-through rates, etc, but you pay for it. I primarily use mine when I know I've got a book coming out. Some people use theirs regularly--Mary Reed & Eric Mayer send one out about every month or so & it's a little bit like a blog post, doesn't necessarily market (often doesn't, in their case). I'm inundated with emails about damn near everything on the planet, so I don't jump to send stuff out like that to people, but if there's a big announcement like the pub date of a new novel, I use it.

--Standing on your roof and shouting really loudly, "My book's for sale! My book's for sale!" Well, it doesn't hurt and it's at least as effective as everything else on this list.

Anything else?


Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I'm curious about whether any studies have been done about pre-release as opposed to post-release marketing. I know that every time I'm marketed to before the book is out, I just don't buy. (I can't read it.) And by the time the book is out, if they've been yelling at me to buy it for months, I've been conditioned to tune it out and I forget to buy it.

I suppose if there's something really catchy and intriguing about the book, it could build hype. I don't know. I'm just asking. It tends to condition me not to buy a book I would have bought the first time I heard about it, if I'd been able, for some odd reason. I'm just curious if anyone else has the same reaction.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

I'd fall off the roof and end up in the hospital followed by some reporter laughing his head off, putting it in the paper, and then getting a few sales.

I'm still waiting on my book to arrive. The first order messed up (operator error) and I gave up on reading them in sequence.

Yes, I tend to tune all the pre-release hype out except in the case where I know beyond of a shadow of a doubt I will enjoy that author's work.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I try to keep pre-published news to a minimum, perhaps a single email newsletter to say, "Yeah, new book coming out, here's the pub date."

One of the things that can burn you--it's happened several times to me--is that many media outlets and reviewers want press releases, etc., send to them 4 months prior to the pub date. Sometimes that works great, but sometimes they forget and sometimes, which has happened to me a couple times, they get all excited and do a story on me 3 or 4 months before the publication date of the novel. That happened to me with my local paper with The Fallen, & they haven't done a follow-up, although I made sure they received notification of some of the signings and stuff. That crap just happens sometimes.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

What a terrific summary. You don't specifically name "giving your work away for free" but you kind of discuss that in your section on creative things you can do. I haven't done too much of any of these things, except for blogs, and websites and the newsletter. Who knows if any of it works but the newsletter, for example, is fun to do since it is more than just blatant self promotion. I think the best approach to take with promotion is to find some sort of promotion that you enjoy doing and that being the author of a book gives you an excuse to do. Then at least you've had a good time whether or not it helps sales.

3:35 PM  

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