Monday, January 14, 2008

Promotion and Self-Promotion

Nice discussion started by Debby about the value of hiring a publicist. I hired a publicist for my last book tour, because I hate organizing things. And because I hate it, therefore I'm not very good at it. Was it worthwhile? Yes and No. More No than Yes. Was it cost effective? No.

Will I ever hire a publicist again? In the right circumstances I might, but I’m not entirely sure what those circumstances are.

So what can I do? Here’s an idea (as Barbara Peters says) – pick up the phone. Charles mentioned in his last post that he is speaking at a library. In the Poisoned Pen authors discussion group several people have talked about their library visits. Why, sniff, sniff, I whimpered to my dog, am I never invited to libraries? Poor me. So I had a brilliant idea, and I e-mailed two libraries in towns close to where I’m spending the winter to ask if they’d like me to give a talk. They replied almost instantly, and very enthusiastically.

Who woulda thought.

Which brings me to self-promotion and something I truly hate. And that is popularity-contest type awards. These are the ones where people write in to suggest books for a certain award, and then a group of select people such as conference attendees, vote on their favourite of the nominated ones. I have a huge problem with these sorts of awards. The value of the book, as a book, isn’t the point. It's a matter of 1) how well-known the book is and 2) how popular the author is. Some of this might be sour grapes on my part, as I was hoping that In the Shadow of the Glacier would be nominated for an award at Left Coast Crime and it wasn't. But I think my point still stands. The big awards such as the Edgars and the Arthur Ellis rely on a panel of judges to create the shortlist and to pick the finalist. Each and every book submitted is read by more than one judge. If Mary Unknown writes the best book of the year, even better than John Bigshot, Mary will win the award. Because hers is the best book. It doesn’t matter if more people have read John because he has a big advertising budget and better distribution.

But with the popularity contest awards, you don’t have to have read the book to nominate it. In fact, I wonder how many people actually have read the books they nominate. And you certainly don’t have to have read the book to vote for it. Say two writers of equal publicity value are nominated for the Vicki Delany award for best book set in Nelson, B.C. in 2007. Teresa Timid goes to the conference at which the voting will take place. Teresa is very shy, unattractive, badly dressed, doesn’t mix, spends most of the conference in her hotel room or with her face buried in the contents of the conference book bag. Alice isn’t on a panel because she hates public speaking. Tom Terrific is good looking, charming, affable, loves to meet everyone, participates in a super panel, while being mildly and humoursly self-depreciating and allowing his fellow panellists to take centre stage. The voting takes place – remember that you don’t have to have read one of these books to be voting. I’d bet my bottom dollar that Tom wins.

Because in small group voting situations, even if most of the voters have read all the books, and are voting based on the quality of the work, all it takes is a few who are charmed by Tom himself more than by Teresa’s writing, to swing the award Tom’s way. Am I wrong? If you think so, please let me know.

This week I’m doing my bit towards helping writers promote themselves by interviewing my good friend and blogmate Rick Blechta on my radio show on Internet Voices Radio, Thursday at 8:30 PM, EST. Please tune in, if you can. Next week, I’m pleased to have Julia Pomeroy. If you miss the live broadcast, you can always find them in the archives at (click on Archives from the menu on the left, and then on Vicki Delany).


zhadi said...

I would think self-promotion for a shy author is a special circle of hell...

Charles benoit said...

I have a few suggestions - drop me a line. And that goes for any shy authors who are reading this entry.