Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Worst Promotional Ideas Ever, by Jess Lourey

There are roughly 200,000 books published in the United States each year, and if you’re the author of one or more of those, you know what it’s like to be a dust mote. Those of you who are savvy take imagepromotion into your own hands—setting up interviews and signings, buying trinkets to remind people of your book. I did that with May Day when it came out in 2006. I made a $1500 advance for that book and spent $3500 on t-shirts and book bags with the May Day book cover on them, color-changing pens with my name, ISBN, and my web address on them, postcards that I mailed to every library and independent mystery bookstore in the U.S., and, of course, bookmarks.

I’ve never read a book because I liked the bookmark or received a pen with the author’s name on it, but that didn’t stop me from salting the world with my paraphernalia. As new authors, we’re told we need to do that, in addition to starting a blog, setting up a blog tour, arranging booksignings, writing articles for publications, appearing on panels at conferences, etc. All this got me to thinking, what’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever heard of an author doing to promote her/his novel?

I’ve seen authors give away homemade cookies next to the ballot box at a conference for which their book was up for an award, and I understand why they do it. You either draw attention to yourself or get drawn into the literary undertow. I committed my BSP faux pas in 2007. I was registered for Left Coast Crime, the conference at image which the Lefty for best humorous novel is awarded. I considered which promotional items to bring but decided that instead of spending $1 apiece on a pen/bookmark/flashy candy combo, I’d cut to the chase and send any interested registered participant whose email I could easily track down a copy of my latest book. They were my target audience, so why mess around?

Because it’s tacky to send copies of your books to the people who are the judges for the awards for books (every LCC registrant gets to vote for the Lefty recipient). It looked like a bribe, and I got emails from two people who were deeply offended by my offer, and there were likely others who didn’t bother to tell me. I also got very kind emails and was nominated for a Lefty that year, but I’d never go that route again. I hate the feeling of offending others, accidentally or not.

My good friend, Chuck Zito, assured me that within a year my move would be christened the Half Lourey (the Full Lourey if you managed to get your image book to everyone at the conference) and everybody would be doing it. I don’t think anyone is. Most authors I’ve met are decent people who don’t want to trod on other’s toes. But there’s always the few out there, and so, I ask you, what’s the worst promotional idea you’ve ever seen? No need to use names, but you can if you want. Oh, and any amazing effective promotional ideas that really work (no changing your name to Stephen Kink)? Our readers wouldn’t mind hearing about those, either.

23 comments:

Lisa Bork said...

I like your T-shirt, Jess. It's colorful and eye-catching.

I can't say I've seen any real disasters. Personally, I am not fond of newsletters, especially since I never signed up to receive any.

G.M. Malliet said...

I also spent a small fortune mailing postcards to libraries and book stores. About half the cards came back...more "signs of a stuggling economy" stuff.

Facebook has become the new, free way to annoy hundreds of people you've never even met. Writers need to tread very carefully there.

Alan Orloff said...

I'm reminded of the WKRP episode where they gave away free turkeys for Thanksgiving. Frozen, dropped from the traffic copter. (Hmm, I wonder if a book "drop" would work?)

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! I remember that episode, Alan. Good one. For some reason, the episode where Les mispronounces golfer Chi Chi Rodriquez (chy chy rod-rih-gwez) also sticks with me.

A book drop it is.

Jess Lourey said...

Thank you, Lisa, but would you buy the book based off of it? I should maybe have gone with the billboard.

I also agree on newsletters. Unless I only get them once a year and they are for an author whom I love, I don't read them. However, I feel hostage to some newsletters I've somehow mysteriously gotten signed up for because I don't want to offend bookstore owners or fellow writers.

Jess Lourey said...

Gin, do you think the postcards that get through work? I actually put little sticker stars on the postcards for one of my books because I read somewhere that 3-D bright spots of color are eye-catching. Sheesh.

And yeah, when I get asked to become a fan of someone by that someone, unless it's someone I know and they include some sort of self-deprecating message, it feels about as good as finding out someone has been watching me change clothes.

So what's a writer to do?

Cricket McRae said...

I agree that we must tread carefully on FB. Being inundated with events and fan page invitations feels no more personal than happening to have a zip code in someone's mass mailing.

I've done postcards for three books, but don't think I'll do them for the fourth. I customized each mailing list, sending out only a thousand each time. The last list -- spinning and yarn stores throughout the U.S. -- actually garnered measurable feedback. Since they are retail stores that I know carry knitting fiction, it felt worth all the work. I don't know many cheese stores that carry fiction, though...

G.M. Malliet said...

Jess - I suspect cards to libraries don't work, unless they magically fall into the hands of whoever is responsible for ordering books - and I don't think that person necessarily will be found at a local branch.

Small bookstores might be a different story, since you have a good chance of having your card seen by the owner.

And yes, to be asked to become a fan of someone you've never heard of is just odd.

Jess Lourey said...

Cricket, I think you're on to something. Writers, especially craft fiction writers, have a great untapped fan base in the form of people who like to do what the person writes about, and that fan base can be reached through conferences and stores that sell the wares you're writing about.

Could I have said that less clearly? No time to correct it. I'm off to create a mystery series revolving around Wal-Mart murders potentially committed by people who like to knit, buy guns, watch TV, and eat bread.

Jess Lourey said...

Yes to small bookstores, Gin. You make your point well. Do you hit only mystery indies, of which there are around 35, or do you send postcards to all the indies in your region? Or do you hit all the Indie Bound sellers (http://www.indiebound.org/) listed?

G.M. Malliet said...

Jess - if I could purchase a reliable list of all the indies (does Indiebound sell such a thing?) I would probably send to all of them.

For the Mystery stores on the list, I'd also scribble a personal note.

G.M. Malliet said...

While we are on this subject, I Googled and found:

http://www.newpages.com/forms/mailinglist.htm

Anyone ever heard of this site before? They guarantee a clean mailing list.

Jess Lourey said...

Never heard of it, but for $100, the independent list would be worth it if they're guaranteed addresses. I'd also be curious is anyone else has used this.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've been to several conferences (Bouchercon, and some others) where one or more people make hundreds and hundreds of single-sheet flyers about their book, and wallpaper the corridors with them. In one case, the flyers were taped over every sink in the bathroom and yes, on the inside of every stall door.

Beth Groundwater said...

One idea I got from Diane Mott Davidson, when I was lucky enough to sit next to her at a writing conference a few months before my first book came out, was to create "I'm (a fan of) A Real Basket Case" buttons. The "a fan of" was in very small print, so from across the room, it looked like the wearer was proclaiming she'd gone loco. I only ordered 200 of the buttons and gave them out to bookstore staff where I had signings and to people who bought my book. They were so popular that I even saw people "stealing" the buttons out of the little basket on my signing table when my back was somewhat turned.

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, my God--what a great idea! But maybe I'll be Stephanie Kink. :)

The old ways of creating buzz do seem kind of uneffective now. If and when I ever sell another book I think I'll just try to do something really controversial and post it on You-Tube.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm spending less and less money on cards and promotional items. I find my newsletter to be the most effective tool I have. It gets sent out to individuals, bookstores and libraries, as well as women's clubs and legal associations about 3 times a year via e-mail. The individuals on the list are folks who have specifically signed up for it and therefore we have very few "unsubscribe" responses. I receive about 8-10 new requests for the newsletter a week. My newsletter is called “Hotflashes” goes out to nearly 3,000 addresses. I no longer do snail mail promos, except for special target letters to clubs and legal associations.

The biggest promotional disasters I've seen have been on Facebook in the form of annoying and pestering posts about new books. I've discovered that my FB friends that are readers like getting to know me personally and hearing about my books' progress rather than full blown promotion on a book. They will naturally remember the book when it comes out.

In the end, the best promo is really out of the hands of the author. It's in the hands of loyal readers, who will spread the news about a book virally like a bad cold.

Keith Raffel said...

I don't want to be pinned (nod to Beth) down on the worst promotional idea I've had yet. I'm hoping I have lots more books to publish and I figure I'll continue to top myself with each one.

G.M. Malliet said...

Re Sue Ann's comment about Facebook and annoying and pestering posts about new books:

Yes! It seems such a simple concept to grasp, but if I'm not interested in a particular type of book, no amount of telling me about it repeatedly on Facebook is going to get me to buy that book. I don't have time to read the books I have already purchased and am anxious to read, and I'd be willing to bet I'm not alone in that.

Shel said...

Facebook perspective from a fan: I love it when authors request a friendship from me. Makes me feel like they actually pay attention that I follow other authors in that genre or authors that they know. I have never yet taken it as a BSP tactic, but maybe that's because all the authors on my Facebook list actually post things about what's going on, not necessarily related to their latest books. Like the others said, I will naturally remember the book if I have been seeing progress reports on it. I have an insanely long list on my FB notes page about new releases, and I found a lot of them through Facebook posts, so I'd say they're pretty useful to me.
I've found out about signings in my area via Facebook too, that I otherwise would have had no clue about.

Jess Lourey said...

Kathleen, did those flyers do much for you? I should say, did they do anything good for you? Or were they an annoyance?

Those buttons sound hilarious, Beth! Good idea.

Julia, since it goes against your natural inclinations to murder someone in exactly the same way your antagonist does it in you next book, I recommend topless poker, posted on youtube. With copies of your book lying around.

Sue Ann, yours is one of the few newsletters I read because it comes only a few times a year, is bright, and is concise. And funny.

Keith, where were you?

Jess Lourey said...

Shel, please friend all of us. We need more of you.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Am I supposed to be giggling? Because I totally am.

I think personality is one of the most effective promotional tools. Whether someone buys your books based on your perpetual smile or some uber witty thing you said on your blog, you've made a cheap investment in yourself by just showing who you are. Like you said, this can be done in blog tours or on your own blog, but start early. Sell yourself as yourself from the get go!