Promoting a book (if I might step on Erin's toes one more time, but from a different viewpoint) is like looking for a job. You want to get hired (you want people to buy your book), but in order to do so, you have to catch their attention among many competing candidates, and make a good impression.
Consider, then, the story of the job seeker who created a tremendous copy of his resume and hung it across an entire side of a Manhattan office building--facing the headquarters of the company he wanted to reach--in the 1980s. (By the way, the image to the left is what you get if you search for Mark Bohn's giant resume on Google Images.) Creative guy, huh?
Yes. He even got the attention of the president of CBS Records, who interviewed him based on his chutzpah. But here's the thing: He didn't get the job.
No matter how creatively or insistently an author tweets, FBs or otherwise shouts from the mountaintop, "BUY MY BOOK," the goods have to be in the writing or the sale will not be closed. This is true for writers trying to interest publishers, and for published authors attempting to gain notice of a public noted for its microscopic attention span.
And those who show up on social media with nothing but the message, "BUY MY BOOK" are very quickly labeled annoying and not long after unfriended, unfollowed, and generally ignored.
The flip side of that argument is that of the thousands (or for all I know, millions) of terrific books that are left unpublished or unnoticed simply because the author was not adept at drawing a crowd. And aspiring authors, don't fool yourselves: You will be responsible for publicity. Your publisher might offer a little help, print up some bookmarks, that sort of thing, but beyond that, it's your party, and you can cry if you want to.
So are creative approaches effective? Ah, that's the question, is it not?
A couple of weeks ago, we premiered the book trailer for the upcoming THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT, E.J. Copperman's (ahem!) latest in the Haunted Guesthouse series. It was meant as a light diversion, and dreams of bestseller lists were not attached to the trailer. I do think, however, that it was a nice little twist on the usual book trailer we're used to seeing.
It hasn't set the publishing world on fire, nor was it expected to. It was made, frankly, for fun and to give the occasional viewer a wink and a giggle, one hopes. Other promotional "gimmicks" like contests and skydiving authors (I've never heard of skydiving author; I made that one up) don't really drive sales.
So what does drive sales? A good cover is essential, I think. That's out of the author's hands for the most part. Good placement on bookstore shelves, very important. Also something the author can't control. An enthusiastic mailing list and excited booksellers?
Ah. Now those the author can help identify and inform. I've never been great at compiling a mailing list; I'm hoping Erin might be able to school me on that one day. I have a few hundred names and email addresses, and I love to communicate with readers who have shown interest in the books before. But other authors I know have tens of thousands of names. I haven't a clue how they managed that. (Sometimes when I ask, they act as if I should know already, and give me an explanation that, frankly, I don't understand, but if you want to get on my mailing list, feel free to email me.)
Booksellers? Postcards are the accepted form of communication to thousands of bookstores around the U.S. I've vistited (and I'm being generous in my estimate) maybe 40 booksellers, and it's not for lack of interest. It's mostly about lack of funds and time to fly into cities and visit the stores, much as I would love doing it. (Aspiring authors: No, publishers do not pay to send you on a "book tour." And you're adorable.) The ones I've visited are lovely people, and even some I haven't visited are kind enough to look for a new title--many are on the mailing list!
Promotion is the trickiest part of the whole writing-for-a-living gig. If I knew how to sell things, I'd probably have gone into sales or advertising and while I wouldn't enjoy my work as much, it would indicate some talent in that area.
I know how to write. That's about it. And my natural tendency to think I'm annoying anyone I tell about my book is limiting, although much less so than it was when I started. I'm not at all afraid of putting out the tremendous resume now.
It is, however, hard to know where to hang it.
P.S. THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT will be available in 22 days. AN OPEN SPOOK, the latest Haunted Guesthouse e-novella, is available now!
P.P.S. Next week, I shall step aside from my usual post here to make way for the luminous Julia Spencer-Fleming, who will regale you with her wit and wisdom (and perhaps let you know her latest, Through the Evil Days, will publish Nov. 5--hmmm... the same day as THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT!)
P.P.P.S. (Last thing today, I promise): The audiobook version of the first Haunted Guesthouse mystery, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED, will be released a week from tomorrow, on October 22! Check it out and pre-order here!