I’m sure many of the followers of this blog are published or aspiring writers. Like me, you probably read blogs (and countless other sources) about writing and the publishing industry. A common thread in many articles is book promotion. More and more authors are devoting time to marketing and publicizing their mysteries. But I think many of us planned to be writers when we grew up... not marketing wizards.
In many cases, authors are sort of flying blind when it comes to promotion and PR. I’m no different; I’m making it up as I go along. When something seems to work, I keep doing it, and the ideas that go bust get shelved.
One thing I am starting to place a bit more focus on is events with other authors. The idea of “sharing the spotlight” may seem counter-intuitive, but it can actually be very beneficial. You can potentially invite twice (or thrice!) the number of guests to an event, you can draw on each other’s crowds, and it’s nice to have a fellow author support you along the way.
Besides “sharing the spotlight”, the other angle I am focusing on as I promote my novel Blood and Groom is “captive audiences.” Think of how easy it can be for shoppers at a bookstore to whiz right past you. Think also of how limited your chat time with anybody at a retail event can be. Finally, think of all the missed opportunities when you do establish a rapport with a reader but you have no way to maintain contact or to follow up. Bring a “guest book” to all of your events! Pass it around and ask people for their email addresses. You will then have a way to reach your target market instead of passively promoting your novels. Create a mailing list and send out occasional updates or a monthly e-newsletter about your, your book, your character, upcoming events, new titles, reviews and so on.
Here’s a look at some group ideas I have come across or come up with that might work for you:
Themed Readings - Special Occasions: The obvious one here should be Halloween, but there are creative ways to plan events for any time of year. For example, find two or three authors whose mysteries have a “spurned lover” in them. Plan an event called “The Lonely Hearts Club Mystery Night” and schedule the event for Valentine’s Day. Promote the event to singles’ clubs, matchmaking services, or event networks such as Meet Up, Meet In, or Meet Market Adventures.
Readings Based on the Book’s Background: Another idea is if food/cooking/baking is a significant part of your novel, pair up with 1 or 2 other authors who have a similar theme. Offer to visit a cooking school. Many cooking classes end the session with a semi-social dinner they’ve prepared in class. Offer to be the “dinner entertainment.” Or, if your sleuth enjoys a pint of beer, why not arrange an event at your local micro-brewery?
An Evening of Books and Wine: This is not a carbon copy of the beer idea above, and I heard of this event from another source (can’t remember who or where...). The idea is to have a wine and books night with discussion led by a sommelier. A wine bar or a wine club might very well be interested in doing this event with you and some other authors.
The idea is to give the books to the wine steward ahead of time. The sommelier would then plan a wine tasting evening with wines paired with each of the books, not with the character. For example, a light and fun mystery à la Janet Evanovich might suit a Gewürztraminer, while a Spenser novel might match a full-bodied Amarone, and Sherry would be well paired with anything by Agatha Christie. For Blood and Groom, I bet the wine steward would recommend a white Zinfandel.
This kind of event could involve several genres, which could lead to new readers for you.
Schools: First of all, don’t limit yourself to classes in writing mysteries. Look into creative writing classes in general at your local college or university. Aspiring writers are like sponges and will gladly listen to and ask questions of published authors. Again, you could do this with another author or two, which makes it that much more appealing to the teacher and the students. A series of guest speakers attending part of the class adds value to the learner and gives authors a captive audience.
Don’t just look in to post-secondary classes, though. High schools may also welcome guest authors for their composition or English classes. I have an event in the works at the City Adult Learning Centre (where adults can go to get the high school diploma they never completed...). We’re planning to meet with an adult literacy class and our focus is on ‘reading can be fun’ and our angle is on books with a local setting. Again, this is a captive audience and has great word of mouth potential.
Public Institutions and Charities: Events of these sorts are worthwhile for altruistic reasons, sure, but there are many selfish reasons to seek out events with charities or public institutions. You can get a lot of press out of them! Two of my library gigs led to TV interviews (on a local cable show, okay, so it’s not Oprah’s book club...). Most of my library gigs have led to interviews with local papers. A charity event I participated in recently did a lot of local promotion about the fundraiser, including several radio spots. A museum at which I have an upcoming event has sent out tons of media releases. I also swung another cable TV interview out of this.
Many of these kinds of events involved more than one author, so we have the opportunity to connect with new readers. As well, most of these events were of the captive audience nature, so there’s opportunity to build your fan base.
The challenges in marketing a book seem greater and greater just about every day. There are so many types of social media – such as Twitter and Facebook, there’s so much competition, and there are the changing dynamics of the book industry. It seems to me that doing whatever everyone else ISN’T doing may be the way to get noticed.