Friday, October 11, 2013

Reaching Readers

Much has changed since my last mystery came out in 2011. Or maybe it only seems that way because I wasn't as aware of the possibilities a couple of years ago. At any rate, the debut of The Red Queen Dies with Minotaur has required me to step up to the plate and take my best swing (okay, it's early in the morning and that analogy is the best I can do). I'm doing all I can to show my new publisher that I will not only write a good book but work to get it into the hands of readers. Not that I haven't always done that, but my first series is with a (terrific) small independent publisher and distribution opportunities have not been as plentiful.

With The Red Queen Dies, I've taken multiple approaches to reaching readers -- readers from my first series who I hope will follow the new series, readers who know my nonfiction, and readers who I hope will "discover" me. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I did a virtual book tour. It was arranged and conducted by Partners in Crime. They knew what they were doing. I had to learn the pace of being "on tour" in the form of book reviews, spotlights, guest posts, and interviews. There was no guarantee that all of my "hosts" on the tour would like my book. Luckily, even the reviewers who had quibbles also had positive comments. A review by one host bounced around Twitter for several days as her tweet was picked up and re-tweeted by her followers on Twitter. This virtual book tour allowed me not only to reach mystery readers, but those readers who might be intrigued by the near-future and/or Alice in Wonderland themes in this book. Of course, I have no way of knowing if the "cross-over readers" who are attracted to these aspects of the book like it when they read it. That's one of the inherent risks of writing a book that does a bit of genre-blending/bending, even though it is a traditional police procedural novel.

Aside from the virtual book tour, I worked with my webmaster to revamp my website and create sections for book series (Lizzie Stuart and Hannah McCabe) and my non-fiction books. I have to confess that since my new website launched, I haven't been doing as much with it as I had planned. I've been updating events, but haven't been writing the essays about research for the books that I intended to do. I also haven't done discussion questions for book groups or posted my offer to "visit" groups that would like to chat about the book. I was so busy with book roll-out that I neglected that part of my plan.

Speaking of roll-out, I did it twice. Once at Killer Nashville, when the bookseller was able to get copies of the book before the scheduled released date. Then back home in Albany, I did my official book party launch at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza. That was lots of fun. The bookstore staff were great, the members of our local Sisters in Crime chapter and friends from school came out to support me, and the Alice in Wonderland-themed cake from a local bakery (Coccadotts) was to die for (see photo).

 I've done book launches for books in my other series at conferences and at the bookstore. I'm not sure how much impact these efforts have -- perhaps more in Albany for this book because it's set in Albany.

Then there's the challenge of getting out on the road again. Next month, I'm joining two other authors -- Donna Andrews and Jane Cleland -- for a three-day book tour in North Carolina. We are going to be escorted by Molly Weston. So I'm expecting that to be all good. But this week I was reminded of how far I've come in understanding the rhythm of the author on tour process (probably a snappier phrase to describe that). Yesterday, I was in Rochester. My first stop was at Watkins Glen Public Library, where I delivered a grant check from Sisters in Crime ("We Love Libraries") and did a talk about the craft of writing. I was delighted to have actually made it there because I had made most of the almost four hour trip from Albany with my low tire pressure light on. As I was getting on 88 West, the computer went beep, beep and the light came on. I glanced at the clock and cursed. Luckily, there was a service station right there. Self-service, not full, but a really nice guy who worked there came out and checked the air in the tires. He couldn't find anything obviously wrong. We agreed it was probably the fact that the weather had been cold overnight (which affects tires like mine). But he had no way of hoisting the car to check the tire for nail, and that annoying little low pressure symbol was still on. Clock ticking and hoping for the best, I set out for Watkins Glen. And had a wonderful time giving my talk to an enthusiastic audience and a lovely lunch with Harriet Eisman, the library director, after. She even directed me to the local Ford dealership, where they found my problem -- tires set at the wrong air pressure -- and sent me on my way, no charge.

I headed off to Rochester for my book signing that evening. I stopped by when I arrived and met Matt, the very nice Barnes and Noble manager, who showed me where I would be speaking. He had lots of my books and told me he had already sold ten copies. I was a little worried about that large community room with podium, but hoping people would show up for me on a Wednesday evening. They didn't. One man asked what was going on and wished me luck. Then Matt and I stood there, waiting.

This is when I discovered something about the author muscles I've built up over the years. Instead of bursting into tears -- or even feeling really bad -- I chatted with Matt about how unpredictable book signing were and he shared some examples. Then I suggested he move me downstairs by the door where I could be a "greeter". He and an assistant moved books and table, and I spent the next two hours smiling and saying "hello" to everyone who came in. The really lovely part was that no one made a detour to avoid eye contact -- could be folks in Rochester are just really nice and kind to strangers. I had a couple of long conversations, passed out some postcards with book information to people who were interested, but not ready to buy, sold four or five books and had one person who bought (had seen the book online) tell me that he would be looking for me when I came back next year. And then Matt asked me to sign the books he had in stock. As I was leaving I said I'd love to come back for the next book and he agreed that next year I would have more name recognition and word of mouth. I left feeling that what might have been a depressing situation had gone pretty well. There were even moments -- in between being aware of sitting at my little table -- when I was having fun.

I've also been doing radio interviews. I don't know how effective such interviews -- from 10 minutes to 20 or 30) are in reaching readers. But. like the virtual book tour, they do extend my reach beyond my ability (time and money) to travel. Some listeners hear the original broadcast, others heard a podcast. And the interview link can be posted on my website and sent out via Twitter. I have done radio interviews (set up by PJ Nunn) before, with my Lizzie Stuart series. This time interviews are also being set up by my publisher. I like the fact that I can prepare and have my talking points in front of me. I don't like that sometimes the interviews are in the early morning when I'm not quite awake. But they are generally fun.

So that's what I've been doing in between working on the first draft of the second book and working on my non-fiction book about clothing and crime. I don't know if I have been reaching readers effectively. There are probably things I could do better. I love giving talks at libraries. I'm still working on the one-on-one of signing in bookstores and at conferences. But I'm taking the long range approach on this. Each person I speak to is someone else who has heard of me. My job is to keep writing and trying to do it better with each book. Sooner or later, I'll have those bookstore lines that wind out the door. Although I'm torn between that fantasy and starred reviews. The two probably go together.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, I loved this post. I'm not doing nearly enough to promote, but I'm learning more all the time. I want to focus more on libraries. The problem is when a book comes out we can't be everywhere at once.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I know what you mean, Charlotte. It's always a trade-off when it comes to what to do and how to get it done to be most effective.