My husband loves to watch a TV reality show called The Curse of Oak Island. Apparently people have been searching the tiny island in Nova Scotia for centuries in hopes of unearthing either buried treasure or the ark of the covenant. Rick and Marty Lagina are twenty-first-century explorers and hosts who frequently refer to their obsession as a ‘money pit.’ Marketing is like that.
In the chaos of 21st century ‘do it yourself” publishing, we’ve no choice but to spend money on some of the dizzying variety of methods and experts who claim effective methods to promote you and your new novel. The competition for readers has never been higher.
Five or maybe six careers ago, I taught management. Of all the theory I taught, I hoped my students would remember the fact of decision making: The only way to avoid making a mistake is by never making a decision. Because the data shows that at least half of our decisions will be wrong; or even as high as three out of four.
I’ll limit this post to just five of the many marketing methods I’ve tried: Publicists, Book Store, Library and Church Readings, Blogging, Face Book and other social media, Press. Starting with my first expensive mistake.
Because my first three novels are situated in Houston, Texas, (and I live a few thousand miles north of Houston), I decided to hire a publicist for a ten day promotional trip to Texas a few months after the first novel was released. I did due diligence, at least I thought I did. All the people I spoke with in the company I hired said all the right things. There were compelling reviews from other clients and this company ranked as one of the top in the country. In retrospect, I hired the publicist because I was unclear about my goal. And there is only one goal of marketing: Book Sales. Sell books. All the other nouns are hype. Evocatively worded hype to be sure but hype.
I allowed myself to be talked into writing non-fiction articles to engender ‘name recognition,’ exposure to reporters, online and print media, prior to my trip. Since I had published extensively during my career in academic medicine while working in Houston, I figured the publicist’s pitches could increase the audiences at the nine events I had scheduled with friends and former colleagues. Honestly? The idea appealed to my ego… and to what I wanted to believe- that because I had been successful back when I wrote non-fiction, then naturally I would be successful in fiction.
I was wrong. Hiring a publicist at that time was a waste of my time and money. But we can learn from mistakes, thank God. I’ll talk about those lessons in my fifth point on the press and news media.
2. Readings at libraries, book stores, book clubs, churches and like venues.
This works. The folks who attend events like this come because they like to read, some attend because they know you or have heard of you but mostly they will buy your books. Here are a few caveats in case you have not done this before.
- Books stores are mostly empty unless they have great coffee and free WiFi like Starbucks and Barnes and Noble. Therefore, the bookstore who extends an invitation to do a reading from your book expects you to provide the audience. The same is true for libraries. They are mostly empty but are eager to host you and your book especially if you are a local author.
- Book clubs are perfect. You know your audience is interested and will likely buy one of more copies of your book so have plenty on hand to sell after your talk.
- Practice your talk. Before your event, make sure you know which section of your book you’ll read from. It’s always a good idea to begin with a high level look at the story before you read. Generally, plan on a ten to fifteen minute reading with ten minutes or so for questions leaving plenty of time to sign and sell your book.
- If you end up at a bookstore or church where you have no audience, have an elevator speech about your story prepared so that you can concisely convey your story line. Don’t sit there at an empty table with empty chairs, wander around and search out your audience. You’ll sell a few books this way.
The number of blogs on Tumblr is approaching 300 million. And 76.5 million on Word Press. As you know, there are many more platforms than these. Therefore, if you enjoy writing periodic posts then by all means, do it. But if you are constantly worrying about material, don’t waste your time. I do a weekly blog because I like writing posts on whatever subject that has caught my attention that week. Has my blog helped me sell books? Maybe a few.
4. Social media.
Twitter, Face Book and LinkedIn are the major sites I use for social media. Last year, I advertised primarily on Face Book along with dabbling in Twitter and LinkedIn. At this point, I cannot correlate sales of my books with my ads. Over the year, either Face Book or my methods have improved significantly. My last cost per click was 49 cents. Very high but according to Face Book data, more than ninety per cent lower than other similar campaigns. Although I have received lots or likes and re-tweets of an excellent review from my latest book, most of those doing the likes and tweets are other authors.
I use LinkedIn for posting articles and to gain exposure. Has my LinkedIn presence sold books? Once again, I see only what people click on. Posting a great review for my latest books gets lots of clicks. But I have not taken the time to learn how to do this.
5. Press and Reporters.
Dealing with the press is a mixed bag. I learned many valuable lessons from the publicist about this during that busy month of October.
- Because I was a former Hospital Director and had been in Texas during the massive Ebola scare that began in Dallas that same week, the publicist lined up CNN TV news, about ten or fifteen national newscasters salivating to interview me. One station planned to send a helicopter out to our remote valley to get me to the television station on time.
- Because they hoped I would participate in the insane and sometimes vicious criticism of that beleaguered hospital administrator at the Dallas hospital where the man with Ebola had first sought treatment.
- To a person, their interest disappeared when I limited my talking points to the real threats to American health: diet, lack of exercise and a lack of meaningful work. The publicist was most annoyed that all her hard work had been futile.
- There were a few print reporters who were more receptive to my message during our interview but they failed to mention a thing about my novel in the articles they wrote.
- Will I continue working with reporters and use press releases? Yes, of course. But carefully, very carefully.
Marketing and Promotion
There are many other promotional methods I have not touched. Things like email marketing, which can be extremely useful for promoting our books. Next month, we’ll talk a bit about the pros and cons of Email Marketing.