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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 doesn’t feel new authors should have to stumble in the dark when it comes to book sales.

That first book signing is every writer’s dream come true, but Larsen says there’s more to book sales than simply showing up. Days before, she connects with the store manager, preferably in person, to discuss the individual store’s procedure. She also comes prepared to suggest the hours she’d like to spend signing.

"Target peak times for foot traffic," Larsen said, then added, "You’ll 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, she’s found that if sales average at least fifteen copies for each paperback and eight for every hardback, the day isn’t 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 well.

"Expect at least one person to freak you out each time," she warned. "For some reason, authors attract a certain branch of society’s 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 people’s 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 author’s 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 I’ve 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 author’s 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 station’s contact person before mailing.

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 them.

"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 subject."

Larsen also has a web site for each of her pseudonyms. She’s 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 author’s 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 don’t 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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