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?