The Business of Writing > Publicity & Promotion

BLOGS & BLAHS: The Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of Book Promotion

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CS Challinor:
Blogs: A Useful Promotional Tool or a Waste of Writing Time?

I imagine streams of word particles polluting the information superhighways like so many fast food wrappers hastily chucked out of car windows.  Where do all those words go?  How many get read?  Depends on who you are, I suppose, and what you have to say.  Does John Grisham have a blog?  Does Stephenie Meyer?  I just checked and the answer is: I found Grisham on a blog, and Meyer has her own.

I may drop the occasional blog, see how it goes...

The Black Hole of Calcutta

Book promotion, a nebulous world unto itself--or so it seems.  I was prompted to write this article and unleash it into cyberspace--casting a desperate message in a bottle into a vast, limitless ocean, which is what youíd have done in the old days--when I was clearing out my promo folder for my last release.  A name and address of an Internet reviewer (great site, pretty seaside motif) covered a few lines of print on an otherwise blank sheet of paper.  I had sent out the requested novel, oh, maybe nine months ago.  Never heard back.  I sent a follow-up email.  Same result: zip, zero.  This, I understand, happens all the time, and may account for all the brand new books being sold at discount by Amazon affiliates.  Isnít that wonderful?  You write the book, pay the shipping, and the reviewer who doesnít review the book gets paid.

Now I largely leave it to the publicist at my publisher to send out the review copies while I limit myself to donating signed copies of my authorís free stock to contests (this way you get some publicity) and toward targeting readers who may identify with the theme or subject matter, as opposed to the genre, of the book and recommend it by word of mouth or any number of other means of communication now available. BTW, I rarely text either.  2 annoying.  It  naturally follows that I donít sext.  Snogging I like; but not blogging. [Definition of snog: Brit term, meaning kiss--at length.] If you do send out review copies, you may want to consider writing ďreview copyĒ inside the book so it canít be sold as new. 

If you can get librarians to read your book, and they like it, they can help it on its merry way into the library system.  I was able to get my novel available in Ottawa and Oahu that way, over and above those libraries that ordered my books based on trade reviews.

My Nude Fan Base

If you skipped to this subheading, itíll make little sense unless you go back and read the previous paragraph but one.  Hint: The second novel in my series takes place at a naturist resort.  This proved not to be the cup of Darjeeling expected by fans of my Agatha Christie spoof debut novel of the series, at least those who did not realize it was a spoof.  However, a premier US naturist magazine and a British nudist publication reviewed Murder in the Raw and exposed it to a whole new readership.  [Seems there has been a tradition of murder mysteries in nudist settings since the 1930s, perhaps one of the most notable being The Cool Cottontail (1966), written by John Ball of In the Heat of the Night fame.  This, his first novel, was made into a movie starring Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier as Detective Virgil Tibbs (who reappears in The Cool Cottontail).]  Ignoring that brief digression into nudist literature of the twentieth century, we neatly transition into the subjective nature of reviews.

The Reviewer Whose Cat Just Died

Starred review from Booklist: ďThe first installment in this new mystery series is a winner... At times, it seems we are playing Clue or perhaps enjoying a contemporary retelling of a classic Agatha Christie tale (And Then There Were None, or At Bertramís Hotel) with a charming new sleuth.  A must for cozy fans.Ē

Compare with bookbitch.comís: ďLets see.  His name is Rex Graves, heís driving a mini-Cooper, he is planning to spend Christmas in Swanmere Manor, an historic hotel in East Sussex.  By Jove, I deduce we have a classic English mystery here including death by almond tart, masks the smell of cyanide, donít you know.  Was it the cook, Sandy Bellows, the gay twit of an antique dealer, or maybe the sherry-swilling handy-man.  Its almost not worth the breakfast porridge made with Scots Quaker Oats and dollops of cream and brown sugar, but thatís far better than the cold kippers or going somewhere else in the blizzard.  Shades of Agatha Christie and all that.  You may not even want to save this one for the holidays.Ē

The latter reviewer nails it, without realizing the novel is meant to be a spoof.  And he leaves an out.  The last two sentences are salvageable for quote purposes.  A really acid review will garner more interest than a lukewarm one, and certainly didnít hurt sales of the book in question, which went into second print within the first three months of release.  Notwithstanding, a bad review, even one posted on Amazon by a patently vindictive person--or by someone who simply hated your book--can wreck your day.  What to do?  I turn my puny 15 watt amp to full volume and let rip on my Fender Squier.  If the review really stings, try composing a reply: ďDear Armchair Critic, sorry my book got you so riled up.  Try writing one yourself.  Or maybe you did, and itís still unpublished, and thatís what put you in such a pissy mood.  PS.  Look what happened to Kirkus.Ē And then delete said reply.  Do NOT press Send.

Plea to reviewers in general: Please donít give away the whole story and ending.  Whatís up with that?  They do it with movies too.  Youíre sitting in the theater watching the trailers, and before Hubbie has even made a dent in his two-gallon tub of popcorn, bim bam boum!, you just saw all the highlights.

The Readers--Those Elusive Gems!    

Letís face it, itís the readers we want to reach.  Hereís a nice email I received at my book site:
ďDear Ms Callinor, I just loved your books.  Murder in the Raw and the Christmas is Murder Books were just great.  I am looking forward to reading Phi Beta Murders.  Rex is so great and I love Helen.I hope they will get together in this book once again.  I can't believe that Moria would send him a Dear John letter.  Please keep writing about these interesting people. Thank you again for all the great hours I spent reading your books.  Sincerely Pam KoveckĒ (Name modified to protect privacy.)                     

It made my day!

Book Signings. Yikes!  Do I Really Have To?

Publicist says yes, but no more than five or you may get suicidal.  In retrospect, I think she said ďdiscouraged.Ē For my first book I did 6--no, 7!  All over Florida, in any event.  And I survived, shaken, not stirred.  Like James Bond, I kill for a living.  Tell that to someone who asks what line of work youíre in; just remember to add youíre a writer of mystery fiction (if such is the case).  That said, when Iím attempting to promote on online forums and my registration does not register and my posts do not post, I feel more like murdering my laptop than any character in my book.  >:(

Back to book signings...  The least number of books I signed/sold at an average three-hour sitting was four, the most was 12, and I noticed a spike in Amazon sales after each signing, though that might have been pure coincidence.  It helped that Walkers Shortbread contributed a crate of free cookies for the signings (Walkers Shortbread features in a scene in the novel).  A gimmick can lure a prospective customer to your table and serves as a talking point.  I offloaded the last of the shortbread onto a homeless man in a blue felt coat who wandered into the Borders Express in Key West.  He came into the store to read Lemony Snicketís The Lump of Coal.  Said homeless person, a modern Dickensian character, turns up in a story I subsequently wrote, which just goes to show that you never know who youíll meet at a book signing.  Which is one good reason to do them. 

Having A Lark With Bookmarks

These are indispensable to hand out at book signings.  I have 500-1000 bookmarks made up per novel.  These depict the book cover on the front along with some review snippets and basic info: ISBN, price, format; and a synopsis on the back with a motif from the cover (holly, sunglasses, noose in the form of a frat tie, whatever).  You can get really creative with distributing bookmarks, including sticking them in similar books at the library or, depending on the genre of your book, enclosing one in the SASE that comes in unsolicited mail, thereby helping to keep the postal service in business and surprising the bored clerk at the recipient end.  If your book is about astrophysics, you may want to rethink this strategy.

What? $14.95 For A Trade Paperback?

That thereís a whole lot of money in these difficult times, yessir.  So what about that new dingleberry,  the Kindle? A blow or a blessing to authors?  Itís cheaper to the consumer than a paperback (once the cost of the reading device is amortized), which may induce the consumer to buy your novel when they might otherwise not.  The print on a Kindle can be enlarged, doing away with the need for large print books (bye-bye to these subsidiary rights?) and it has audio capability (farewell to those rights also?).  All pluses that appear to favor the reader (and the proprietary owner of Kindle).  The Authors Guild rightly has its panties in a twist over this thorny issue (thatís my male alter ego talking.  I meant ďpantyhoseĒ).

What I would further like to know is whether Kindle updates any changes in the digital text when the second edition of the book comes out, correcting those pesky errors that creep into the published work like blemishes on the smooth buns of a Playboy centerfold. (I mean, on the smooth buns of your newborn.  Jeesh.) Like most writers, Iím a bit OC that way.  I have a section on my book site where readers can notify me of errors they find in my books.  Editors are not infallible, and nor am I.  I really used to think writers were.  That was way before I discovered banks werenít.

Writer Bewares

Beware of tooth-whitening commercials that pervade the Internet and any scams relating to getting your book published or promoted.  While I plink away at the keyboard, I have a cartoon visual of Writer-Surfer Dude cresting a tsunami of spam.  Be particularly on your guard if the literary advertiser makes it sound easy.  It rarely is.  And hereís the kicker: Itís uphill all the way and the summit is a receding target, summed up by these questions you will progressively be asked by non-writer friends and acquaintances:

1) Are you published yet?
2) Are you on the New York Times bestseller list yet?
3) When are you going to be on Oprah?
4) When is your next book is coming out?
5) Is it going to be made into a movie?

And the good news, you wonder?  This piece must have a happy ending, surely, Shirley, like all blockbuster movies and non-French novels...

The ending is for you, the writer, to write for yourself.  Good luck and Tweet, Tweet.

C.S. Challinor (www.rexgraves.com) has sold five cozies in her Rex Graves Mystery series to Midnight Ink Books (Christmas is Murder, September 2008; Murder in the Raw, May 2009; Phi Beta Murder, March 2010; Murder on the Moor, March 2011; Marriage is Murder, March 2012). 

MTH:
I like what you wrote. Entertaining and useful. The following sentence was one of my favorite parts: That said, when Iím attempting to promote on online forums and my registration does not register and my posts do not post, I feel more like murdering my laptop than any character in my book.
   I have looked for statistics to show that on line promotion sells books but I haven't found anything on the subject.  When I've asked other writers, they've mostly said that blogs and blog tours have not resulted in any noticeable sales.

Mickey

CS Challinor:
Thanks for replying, Mickey, and for your input. Yahoo groups, especially, drive me insane. Tried to post there today and got a slew of messages from Hot Biker Chicks, some of whom sent pix of themselved draped over Harleys. I guess I should have registed as Caroline instead of C.S., then I might have gotten some Hot Biker Dude pix instead.  ;)

wonderactivist:
Thanks for this thoughtful bit, it rings true.  ~ Lucie


--- Quote from: CS Challinor on February 28, 2010, 06:43:19 PM ---
...And hereís the kicker: Itís uphill all the way and the summit is a receding target, summed up by these questions you will progressively be asked by non-writer friends and acquaintances:

1) Are you published yet?
2) Are you on the New York Times bestseller list yet?
3) When are you going to be on Oprah?
4) When is your next book is coming out?
5) Is it going to be made into a movie?

And the good news, you wonder?  This piece must have a happy ending, surely, Shirley, like all blockbuster movies and non-French novels...

The ending is for you, the writer, to write for yourself...  

--- End quote ---

Abbs:
The acid reviewer mentions East Sussex like it was bad thing. As I come from West Sussex*, the tribal bit of me has to agree on principle, but any Sussex is better than no Sussex.

Really enjoyed your post, Caroline, and loved the idea for sending book marks back to spam mailers. Genius! Hope your sales are going north-east off the chart.

Have you come across Simon Brett? He writes the Feathering series of cozies set in a Sussex coastal town that reminds me a bit of Worthing or Littlehampton. He lives under the Downs near Arundel. They're amusing and wry - worth a look if you've not already come across them.

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