Friday, January 18, 2008

5 Things I think I know about Self-Promotion

What, Charles again?

Let’s stick on this promotion topic a bit.

At one of the first mystery conventions I attended, an author warned me about promotions – “Careful,” she said, “they’ll suck up all the time you give them and you still won’t be doing enough.” It’s proved to be accurate. So, to save any just-published author years of repeating my mistakes, I present the following list:

The Top 5 Things I Have Learned About Self-Promotion.

  1. Know Your Target Market – When Relative Danger came out, I sold myself as a mystery author, lumping myself in with every other mystery author out there because that’s what I thought you did. When Out of Order was published, one reviewer called it “a good old-fashioned action-adventure novel with a touch of humor, romance and mystery.” Since then, I’ve used that line as an internal tagline to remind me to focus all my efforts on the kind of reader I actually write for instead of trying to get the attention of every reader. It’s easier to identify your target market if you write, say, cozies or serial killer books, a bit trickier when what you do isn’t so recognizable, but it can be – should be – done. Common sense? Yes. Often done? No.
  2. You Are A Writer – Be sure to see yourself/market yourself as a writer who has written a mystery and not as a mystery writer. Why? Someday you may want to write something else and if you are ‘just’ a mystery writer, you will have a harder time getting noticed. The best thing I ever wrote (so far) is a YA book that’s not a mystery and the book I’m working on now is best described as a historical thriller. Plus, I’ve got plans for a comedy set in an ad agency. I’m not saying that mystery writing isn’t an honorable calling, I’m just saying that folks should know that what makes you special is your writing, not your genre.
  3. You Are A Brand – When you’re writing, you are a writer. The moment your first book comes out, you are a brand. This does not mean you should only write one type of book, but it does mean that people should be able to pick up any of your books and see the same quality/style in all of them. For example, every single Elmore Leonard book is filled with amazing dialog. The man could write a shopping list and I bet the dialog would be great. Find what it is you do best and make sure that all of your books emanate that quality. For me, it’s my ability to describe exotic locations, spotting the mundane stuff that’s easily overlooked, and my ability to add humor to the mix. Read anything I’ve written and you’ll spot it. That’s me, that’s my brand. What’s yours?
  4. Connect With Connectors – I spent way too much time the first two years trying to connect with individual readers. It’s great fun, yes, and I still do it, but if you want to move product (i.e. sell books) you should put the majority of your time on meeting book store owners, book club organizers, writing workshop directors, talk show hosts and other folks who influence what other folks want and buy. And a postcard to a bookstore is not a connection, it’s junk mail. Master Self-promoter J.A. Konrath once traveled across the country specifically to meet bookstore owners. Did it result in sales? I don’t know, but I’d bet that at least several thousand times when people said, ‘gee, Miss Book Store Owner, what should I read next?’ Joe’s name was mentioned.
  5. Associate Yourself With Winners – Who would you rather drink with – a confident, upbeat, enthusiastic winner or a mopey, whiney, sad-sack also-ran? The same is true with readers – they want to know the folks they read are firmly in category A, even if the writer truly isn’t that way at all. When you get published, hang with the kind of writers you respect, not just for their writing but for their approach to life. The folks on this blog are a good example of what I mean. We may not be fabulously wealthy or household names, but each one of us knows we deserve to be. Not arrogance, confidence. And yet every one of us are as thrilled to sit and chat with readers, authors, waitstaff and strangers, and definitely not just about us. Go to a mystery convention and you’ll find us there, hanging out late, having a ball. Because that’s what winners do. And it’s not just us, you’ll find scores of similar writers at every convention, and there’s always a crowd around and someone is always being witty or charming or daring, and people remember it – and the people involved – for years to come. And at every convention, you’ll find scores of the other type of writer, too. Guess who has a better time?

So that’s it. I reserve the right to disavow everything I just wrote, changing my mind the second I hit “post”. So, fellow bloggers, honored readers and others who stumbled on the list, what say you?


Roberta Isleib said...

warm greetings Type M writers!

I'm over here because my name came up on your blog yesterday about blog tours (thanks Debby!). I did a blog tour this past December for PREACHING TO THE CORPSE. Between the holidays and a due date for book #3 in the series, I just didn't have the time and energy to run around the world.

Did it work? who the heck knows??? I definitely made some good connections, and some of them unexpected. The secret is finding a series of stops that already have huge traffic built-in. But isn't that true of all kinds of promotion?

Anyway, you're having an interesting discussion. I completely agree that it's a part of writing that we must embrace. The trick is figuring out what we can do for our books that fits our personalities and doesn't drain our emotional and financial resources.

I had a consultation a while back with my agent's publicity person and I whined about how even though my golf mysteries were featured in an amazing piece in Sports Illustrated, the series was still dropped. So all the work getting to that point was a failure. And she pointed out that the publisher bought a new series--so in fact that work led to success.

So good luck to all of you! See you at LCC and drop by to visit us at Jungle Red Writers.

Roberta Isleib

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Hey, Roberta, thanks for tuning in and adding to our discussion! Charles, your advice is terrific--I'm going to remember that at the next conference I attend. Woe, I can't afford LCC this year, so have fun everyone! Will any of you be at Malice? Let's get with a bunch of bookstore owners and book group leaders and have FUN.

Rick Blechta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Blechta said...

I want to wade in here, even though I'll probably say later, "Geez, I should kept that for my Tuesday spot on the blog!" However, Charles's words are just to good not to comment on.

Last year, at Left Coast Crime, the panel on which I was placed was Saturday morning at 9:00, commonly known in the con trade as "Death Valley" (because everyone is getting pretty worn out by then and wants to sleep in). Unless one of your fellow panelists is named is Ian Rankin, you're guaranteed to be staring at a boatload of empty seats.

I was confident, though, that we would have a good crowd. Why? Because young Charles Benoit was the moderator. He worked the conventionees all Thursday and Friday, in the bar, in the halls, in the washrooms, for all I know -- that includes the ladies' (Charles looks terrific in a dress, but that's a story for another day.)

Saturday morning, the room was full of tired conventionees, but on the platform Charles was READY. It was a great panel discussion, mostly because he asked such terrific -- and probing -- questions and everything had that touch of humour for which he is so well known. He made us look good, he gave away party favours, so everyone went away happy -- most of all the people on the panel.

If it wouldn't kill him, I'd have the man bronzed.

When Charles Benoit talks about promotion, you'd better listen up!


And Debby, alas I won't be at Malice to share a wobbly pop or two (or three...) with you since my books don't fall under their "kinder and gentler" purview. Seems my books have WAY too much sax in them -- not to mention tons of violins.

Try to have fun anyway!