The “P” Word

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to talk to the local (Northern California) Mystery Writers of America group about, among other things, promotion.

Now, as I said to Cara Black when she asked me, I’e2’80’99m probably not the person to talk to for recommendations about promotion. Joe Konrath, sure; Laurie King, not so much. But she asked and she’e2’80’99s a friend, so sure.

And speaking of Joe, I’e2’80’99d planned on writing this post when I came across his on the same topic. Take a look at his detailed working-out of the things a writer should do by way of promotion. Which is not to say that I agree with anything there, just that it’e2’80’99s interesting to know how a marketer looks at the question.

Basically, what I had to say to the MWA group was, there’e2’80’99s nothing you can do in the way of self-promotion that’e2’80’99s cost effective. Conferences, tours, hiring a publicist, printing bookmarks, keeping blogs and web sites (figuring minimum wage costs for those, as doing it yourself, the dollar outgo is limited)’e2’80’94dollar for dollar, you cannot earn back what you put out.

So does that mean none of it is worthwhile? Not at all. I’e2’80’99d agree with Joe, it’e2’80’99s all worthwhile, it’e2’80’99s just that you can’e2’80’99t count costs.

I have to say first that, I’e2’80’99m sorry, but all the promotion in the world can’e2’80’99t make a success out of bad writing. This isn’e2’80’99t to say that bad writing can’e2’80’99t be successful (no names named, here) but when a book does skyrocket into a year on the NYT list, it’e2’80’99s always due to some weird phenomenon of popularity we might as well just call luck. The deliberate slog of self-promotion might sell half a dozen copies, but the ignition of an unexpected bestseller is a burning match dropped from the heavens.

So is all self-promotion pointless? Absolutely not. Authors, like individual books, sell by word of mouth, and every little bit helps.

But that’e2’80’99s the point: Every little bit helps. A friendly chat with a bookseller helps them remember your name out of the pile. Making an effort to meet and thank your publisher’e2’80’99s local sales reps puts you on their map, just as an evening spent in the bar at BoucherCon puts you on the radar of a dozen other writers.

But, you say, all of these are things I would do anyway; isn’e2’80’99t there something extra I should do, some mailer I should be sending, some skill I should master?

Well, yes. Not the mailer, but the skill.

Learn to work a cocktail party.

Most of us are writers because we don’e2’80’99t thrive in the hurly-burly of real life. We like our solitary nests, we spend most of our time wrapped in fantasy, when clever repartee is there for the asking, heroines never have spinach on their teeth, and hemlines never sag. Coming out, finding ourselves surrounded by people who believe themselves a) more attractive and b) more important than we are is a cold shock.

Working a cocktail party is a matter of sliding into this world as if it is our own. Walking up to perfect strangers’e2’80’94worse, to strangers who are already in conversation with other strangers’e2’80’94is like being the new kid in a class halfway through the year, except with alcohol. And you need to be confident without seeming pushy, friendly and not obsequious, witty without’e2’80’a6well, you get the idea. You have to behave as if you were comfortable there, when in fact all you want to do is crawl under the banquet table until all the legs around you go home.

It’e2’80’99s a skill, like writing a pitch letter or weeding out those repetitive words that creep into a page, and the only way to learn it is to do it. Your local library having a get-together? Go along. A gallery having an opening for an artist you never heard of? The ideal occasion. BoucherCon coming up? There’e2’80’99s two thousand people who don’e2’80’99t give a crap about you, ripe for becoming your teacher.

And while you’e2’80’99re in the BoucherCon bar, glance under the tables around you. It’e2’80’99s amazing who you’e2’80’99ll see there, waiting for the legs to go home.

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  1. Patricia Mathews on May 13, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    Working the cocktail party – Xtreme sports for introverts.

  2. bani on May 13, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    “This isn’e2’80’99t to say that bad writing can’e2’80’99t be successful (no names named, here)”

    You mean Dan Brown, don’t you? 😉

  3. Anonymous on May 13, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    Patricia Mathews post is wonderful! I once mentioned to someone that I’m too introverted to enjoy a cruise, and we then started wondering what a cruise for introverts would be. We decided on a two-person kayak.

  4. myninki on May 13, 2006 at 9:32 pm

    Happy Mother’c2’b4s day!

  5. Rebecca on May 14, 2006 at 10:06 pm

    So do you blog because you like blogging, or as self-promotion, or both? Happy Mother’s Day, by the way.

  6. Trix on May 15, 2006 at 12:42 am

    Working the cocktail party – Xtreme sports for introverts.

    Oh, you with the WIN. Thank you! 🙂

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