Promotion (I)

Back before the Flood (sounds like a joke; isn’e2’80’99t, not really) there was BoucherCon, with me and 1,999 other denizens of the mystery world scurrying through the halls of the Chicago Sheraton listening to, or participating in, panels and talks on more subjects than you can shake a laptop at.

Remember BoucherCon? No? If you don’e2’80’99t, then clearly you were there, one of the participating writers, who spent four days caught up in the cycle of buying drinks for friends old and new.

But some of us ventured outside the bars, to see the sky and talk with friends. And one of the people I saw was my editor.

Back in March there was a survey through the web site to see if we could figure out 1) Who buys my books? and 2) Why? Well, the results came in the other day, to say that most of my readers are well-educated, fairly high-income women. Which might be either flattering or informative if I didn’e2’80’99t think that most people who answer online surveys are well-educated, fairly high-income women.

So when I asked my editor about the survey, and about promotion in general, I found that, getting right down to it, the publishing world as a whole is every bit as uncertain as this writer about the best way to promote a book.

Take the crossword puzzle that was in the New Yorker earlier this summer (now on my web site, along with the answers, if you haven’e2’80’99t seen it.)

This puzzle was done by Random House as a very cool promotion for LOCKED ROOMS, and had just a ton of entries. It’e2’80’99s an example of how the publishing world continually experiments with promotion’e2’80’94what works, what doesn’e2’80’99t, what is appropriate for this particular writer and this specific book, although it might not work for another? As the person who just writes the thing in the first place, I freely admit that I don’e2’80’99t know how to sell the finished product. I suppose my instincts as a reader are more useful there than as a writer, asking myself why I, personally, am buying this hardback novel rather than that one.

Touring is of course still an active part of the promotion of a book, but even that is being scaled back. There are just so many writers on the road these days, it’e2’80’99s hard to get a big turnout for anyone under the level of Clive Cussler. The value of advertising is debatable, giveaway tschotchkes (key rings and refrigerator magnets) evoke yawns, and even post cards and bookmarks are tossed into the recycling.

Did the crossword puzzle bring in as many new readers as it did entries? Does a page-high ad in the New Yorker, or a quarter-page ad in the NY Times, or a plane flying cross-country dragging a banner across the sky, bring in new writers?

The truth is, no promotional campaign pays for itself, dollar for dollar, in books sold then and there.

So what’s a girl to do?

More tomorrow.

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  1. Anonymous on September 11, 2005 at 3:50 pm

    I’ve read more books recommended by friends than any other source. Librarians are often overlooked as a great source of advertising! In most bookstores, I am overwhelmed by the number, bright covers, and stacks and stacks of marked-down books. Oprah or another TV personality sends millions to read, but I’m one of those who most often will NOT read what everyone else is reading. I found Laurie thru a friend, found Elizabeth Peters thru my daughter, found Clive Cussler thru my dad. An author should travel around just to meet readers not sell books–good ones will sell. Living in an ‘end stop’ for airlines mean few authors arrive here even tho this is a big tourist stop and lots of reading gets done sitting on the beach watching for sharks–the real kind.

  2. WDI on September 11, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    I know nothing about advertising. I’ve always relied on recommendations as my primary means of finding new books. And, as somene who’s always on the lookout for more, More, MORE of the kinds of books I like to read, I’m delighted that the relatively recent explosion of writer’s blogs has served as a great source of recommendations. I started with this blog. One of the entries sent me to The Lipstick Chronicles, which pointed me to four new authors whose work I’ve just begun exploring. That blog, in turn, pointed me to Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, and the rediscovery of the pleasure to be found in high-quality romance novels. I’m sure you get the idea 🙂

    Word of blog – the new wave in book advertising . . .

  3. Dixie on September 12, 2005 at 2:21 am

    Beats me – I know nothing about advertising. What I do know is how I find new authors – friends and relatives (namely mom and grandma – both avid readers and defnitely with it ladies at 53 and 73). I would say to woo the librarian, but folks (like myself) who frequent libraries aren’t usually the ones who lay down $20 for a hardback. Although, most people will buy a favorite book or series as I have with Russell. Paperback only though – sorry no disrespect intended, I just can’t spend the bucks for hardback when I know I’m just going to read them to pieces. Mine are working copies, not shelf art. I guess what brings me to a new author is word of mouth, blog, or yahoo group.

  4. Debra Hamel on September 12, 2005 at 5:07 pm

    Speaking of promotion, you and your readers may be interested in the site I created with a view to promoting reading and book-buying: . The idea behind the site is simple: during four Buy a Friend a Book Weeks a year–in the first weeks of January, April, July, and October–surprise someone with the gift of a book, given just because. Check out the site for specifics. We have a different guest reviewer each BAFAB Week. This time around author Gayle Brandeis has recommended several books to visitors.

  5. Clea Simon on September 12, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    Well, I was given your “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” by my mother, and have discovered others through pure serendipity (I’d finished Ellis Peters’ Cadfael series and Elizabeth Peters was the next over at the bookstore). But I came here through a link on Sarah Weinstein’s blog, so who knows? I’m promoting a book too, so I wish I did.

    I do wonder about the Malcolm Gladwell theory of “connectors” (in “The Tipping Point”). If we could just identify the one person who knows everyone, how much time/energy/money we could save.

  6. Katy on September 12, 2005 at 10:30 pm

    I find books to read by wandering the library bookshelves. Literally I will carefully scan every single shelf in the fiction/mystery/science fiction sections, pick out anything that catches my eye and read the flap or the back. I always have a soft spot for series(for obvious reasons) but I will try anything that looks remotely interesting. I am the person you trip over in the library because I have found something so intriguing that I sit right down on the floor and start reading it.
    On buying books…I only buy something that I love, that I know that I will read over and over. That is the only criterion that I have. I only buy hardback books if the book is that recently published. I am a poor student, so I have many paperbacks. Maybe someday, when I have a job and all of my paperback books have fallen to pieces, I will invest in an entirely hardback collection, but until then, my favorite authors will have to survive on my love and best wishes.

  7. PatienceV on September 13, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    For mystery books, I tend to search for new series in period, location, etc I like.

    For general fiction, I read what is recommended by friends, or if I already have 2 of the 3 for 2 at Waterstones, whatever looks interesting to fulfil the quota. 🙂 I work in a library and have the reputation of the ‘Book Recommender’ for many friends and family, so Russell’s audience has increased widely because of that, as well. 🙂

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