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Taking the Mystery Out of Writer Promotions
by Joan Rhine
One of the biggest mysteries new authors face is
what must be done to promote a novel. After marketing multiple suspense novels
under multiple pseudonyms for multiple publishers, Jodie Larsen has sleuthed out
the best ways to promote her books and hook new readers. While her latest
hardback thriller, At First Sight by Hawk Publishing, involves a
protagonist slowly going blind, Larsen doesnt feel new authors should have to
stumble in the dark when it comes to book sales.
That first book signing is every writers dream
come true, but Larsen says theres more to book sales than simply showing up.
Days before, she connects with the store manager, preferably in person, to
discuss the individual stores procedure. She also comes prepared to suggest the
hours shed like to spend signing.
"Target peak times for foot traffic," Larsen
said, then added, "Youll sell more books to strangers with a friendly smile
than you might expect."
Larsen cautions against getting disappointed
over sales at a single signing, saying every author has a sales number he or she
feels makes for a success. Acquainting herself with all the bookstores in her
hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma and around the Oklahoma City metro, Larsen mines her
statewide contacts. By determining ahead of time the breakeven sales figure for
average expenses, shes found that if sales average at least fifteen copies for
each paperback and eight for every hardback, the day isnt a disappointment.
One more tip is to always have extra copies in
your trunk, since stores frequently order only a few copies of every book and
can run out before a signing is over. She has a few other cautions as
"Expect at least one person to freak you out
each time," she warned. "For some reason, authors attract a certain branch of
societys fringe members. Some people get right in your face, while others keep
everyone else away by monopolizing your time. And, of course, they never buy a
book. A good bookstore manager watches for the latter and will come and bail you
out with a fake phone call."
Another ploy for promoting a book is tying an
appearance in with a gimmick. Anything that makes your novel stand out from all
the other new books on the shelves will help. To promote At First
Sight, Larsen analyzes peoples handwriting, the profession her protagonist
holds in the novel. She also keeps business cards, bookmarks, and postcards
handy for distribution.
A more expensive route, but which can pay off
with larger exposure, is to provide press kits to the media. Larsen prepares a
press kit for each novel, so the package is ready to send out as soon as she
receives first copies of the new title. She includes two copies of the novel, a
list of upcoming appearances scheduled, and her authors bio page covering
background and previous writing experience. For first time authors, this could
include any article sales, writing classes or workshops taught, or club
affiliations and offices held. Because media people are always operating on a
deadline and rarely have the time to read the book, Larsen provides them with a
brief, one or two paragraph synopsis of the book, a longer synopsis that runs
one page single spaced, a page of excerpts from reviews, and sample questions
that can be used during interviews.
"I also send some kind of edible treat," Larsen
said, smiling. "Media folks love goodies, so Ive used gourmet coffees and
cocoas, as well as extra rich chocolate chip cookies and candies."
Larsen added that while TV and radio coverage
will establish an authors name and provide better turnout at bookstore signings
and appearances, this method of self-promotion can be very expensive. Also, due
to recent postal and anthrax scares to the media, the package could be turned
away at the door, so make sure to speak with the stations contact person before
Writing for magazines and newspapers can be a
great way to get your name in front of a new group of readers, and get a free
plug in for the novel. Larsen has found that small newspapers are hungry for
anything they can use to fill space, especially if the work is already done for
"For my latest novel I wrote several articles to
use as promotional material," Larsen explained. "These articles are not about
the book, they are about subjects related to the work. Since At First
Sight touched on search and rescue dogs, low vision from retinosa
pigmentosa, and handwriting analysis, I prepared articles on each
Larsen also has a web site for each of her
pseudonyms. Shes published with Hawk Publishing and Penguin/Putnam under her
Larsen name, as Alex Lawrence for a non-series book with Penguin/Putnam, and
will be taking on a new persona, Jackie Nida, when Berkley publishes the first
book in her newest series, Render Safe, about a Kansas City bomb
technician. Luckily for Larsen, a family member maintains the sites, leaving the
authors time free for the other promotions.
Finally, one of the most time consuming ways,
but one that can keep paying off with every new novel, is a comprehensive
mailing list. Larsen has found that using both the email and snail mail
varieties has helped increase attendance at her public appearances and gain
larger overall book sales. On the other hand, however, they can be time
consuming and expensive to maintain.
"Due to the mobility of our society,
approximately 10 to 20% of my postal mailings are returned each year because
people have moved," Larsen said. "Money can also be a factor, with printing and
mailing costs usually exceeding profit for a targeted appearance. However,
mailing lists allow authors to establish and maintain personal contact with
loyal readers, which pays off in the long run with future sales."
So dont be fooled by any red herrings along the
path to book promotions. Use these tips to unravel the mystery to higher sales
and better name recognition.
© Copyright 2002, Joan Rhine
Joan Rhine is an award-winning writer of both fiction and nonfiction and is a longtime member of the Tulsa Nightwriters and
the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. She has published over 400 articles in the last 5 years, in magazines ranging from People and Oklahoma Today to aboutBusiness and American Careers.
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