Friday, January 11, 2008

Advertising Space

Charles pontificating here.

So the discussion comes back around to PR and advertising. It always does. Not just here in this blog but in so many things in life, from saving the wombat to finding a job to fighting a war to hooking up for a one-nighter. Homo advertiseus.

I spend my days writing ads and helping other folks get their messages out, and if there was a secret to making it work I would have done it for me four years ago when Relative Danger was published. There’s an expression in the ad world – if you think advertising doesn’t work, just stop doing it for a while. I have seen what happens when companies think they don’t need to stay in the public eye. There’s a short period when their sales stay the same, maybe even go up a notch, then they drop, leveling off just below the break-even point. There’s no way around it – you have to get yourself out there.

That said, I’m pretty tired of it. Oh not the job, I really enjoy what I’m doing and realistically couldn’t be happier. I mean I’m tired of advertising myself and my books. My publisher does more than most – they get my books reviewed by the best critics, they get my books in every major award competition (several of which led to nominations and fancy trophies) and they provide me with more postcards than I’ll ever mail out as well as posters and press kits. But even with all that, the reality is that if I want to get noticed in the vast sea that is the mystery genre, I have to work at it. And that’s what I’m tired of.

I’m tired of sending out brochures, updating websites, making cold calls and endless lists of ‘things to do’ and ‘people to contact’. And while I always have a good time, I’m tired of attending expensive conventions, using up all of my vacation time promoting the books, the next of which I don’t have time to write because I’m busy promoting the last one. I got my birthday off at the ad agency – it was the first non-weekend/non-holiday that I had off from work when I wasn’t at a signing, driving to a signing, at a convention, coming back from one, or on a trip specifically to do research for a book, in four years.

I’m tired of hours on the road to get to a library at which two people show, and only because they were lost. I’m tired of pushing bookmarks and handouts to people who not only don’t plan on buying my book, they don’t plan on buying any book, ever. And, most of all, I’m tired of begging people to read what I wrote. I spent years writing my books, and they represent the best work I am capable of creating at this point in my career. I shouldn’t have to beg people to read them, but I do. I’ve received killer reviews, been nominated for the highest awards in the field, won my share of accolades, but if I don’t keep my name out there, I disappear. It’s expensive, it’s exhausting and honestly, it’s a bit humiliating.


I love meeting people who love books – not just mine (although that’s always great),but any books. I love discussing my craft with fellow authors, both pre-published and NY Times Best Sellers. I love telling stories from my travels, the stuff that ends up in my books and the stuff too unbelievable to include. I love helping new authors get started, sharing what I’ve fought to learn, knowing that it will help them get to my level – and well past it – much sooner. And, I’ll admit it, I love being the center of attention at a book signing, on a convention panel, in a newspaper article or on a radio interview. So what’s a boy to do?

Endless advertising and costly marketing are part of the job. If you have fantasies about just writing a book and not worrying about all this marketing crap, you are in for a huge surprise. Advertising, PR and marketing aren’t little extras you may find yourself involved in – they are as critical as the editing process and if you don’t believe it, ask any author out there.

So I’m tired of all. And tomorrow morning I’ll get up and jump right back in. Because next Saturday I’m appearing at the Pottsville Free Library, teaching a writing class and doing a signing. Drop in. I’ll give you a postcard.


Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Charles, I don't know if I feel relief or despair. I wanted to believe that there was a "way." That someone would reassure me about the efforts and frustrations paying off. Naive me. But I do agree that the satisfactions in our work keep me going. I love to work on my stories, build a mystery like a puzzle with people and events instead of interlocking pieces. And the living characters--book lovers and other writers--make the grind worthwhile. Good luck at your library book signing. Wish I could drop in. I love it when a colleague comes by.

Anonymous said...

Charles, I've got the uphill climb of promoting two books this spring/summer. It's only January and already I feel exhausted. To hear you, the master, are discouraged is disheartening indeed.

zhadi said...

Whimper... I just started promoting my first mystery put out by a small publisher and...well...whimper!!! I love the actual signings and appearances, but getting them when you're new and your publisher is not well known (NOT self-published!) is depressing. MWA took my publisher off their approved list this October even though they've got a proven track record and...well...WHIMPER! YOu make some excellent points in your post. But ugh, depressing!