Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Smasher Launch: A Two-Month Retrospective

Two months ago today was the official publication date of my second novel, Smasher: A Silicon Valley Thriller. Maybe it’s a good time then to assess how the launch has gone.

In-the-Flesh Appearances: The folks at my publisher, Midnight Ink, suggested I not schedule anything before mid-October to give stores a chance to get the book in stock. So I waited until October 14 for my first event at the Foul Play Bookstore in Westerville, Ohio. All told in the roughly seven weeks since then I have shown up at:

9 bookstore events where I read and spoke
3 library events
2 conferences (Bouchercon in Indianapolis and Men of Mystery in Irvine)
11 “greet-and-signs” where I stand by the front door at bookstores and beg customers to buy my book
3 private events (two at houses and one at a restaurant)
2 drop-by signings at bookstores

That’s a total of 30 events. The 27 events in California ranged from a Silicon Valley kickoff at Kepler’s Books with 106 attendees and 81 books sold to a Southern California library event with four attendees and three books sold. Even at the latter, I had a good time since the witty and sly Ashley Ream was moderating, the good-humored cynic Eric Stone was in the audience, and my fellow panelist was pal Libby Fischer Hellmann. In fact Ashley and Libby were so good, it’s a shame the session wasn’t recorded. At the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood traveling partner Libby Fischer Hellmann and I had a dozen or so people show up in person, but Linda Brown of the store tweeted dozens more in real time. At the nine events I did with Libby, we provided each other support and had a good time discussing and comparing our books and workstyles.

At the 11 greet-and-signs I signed over 400 books. (I have another five of those scheduled before Christmas.) I met lots of interesting people and, judging from emails I’ve received, made some real fans.

The launch at Kepler's. The great Cara Black is providing moral support from the end of the third row back.

The Virtual World: I guest blogged for seven different blogs, all terrific, that I read regularly.

The Rap Sheet
The Well-Read Donkey

Criminal Minds
The Kill Zone
The Outfit
A Million Blogging Monkeys


I have no idea about how effective my postings were in spreading the word, but it was sure fun writing them.

Again in the virtual world, I moderated a discussion on plot versus character for PP Web Con, the first online crime fiction conference, that included four great writers, Kelli Stanley, Rebecca Cantrell, Dave Zeltserman, and Mark de Castrique. Loads of fun there, too.

I was amused by tweets from Silicon Valley luminaries with lots of followers like Chris Shipley and Tim Chou. Apparently, there’s something like a guessing game going on over whom the predatory billionaire in Smasher, Ricky Frankson, is based on. My position is no one, but my protestation are being ignored. Ah well, the online speculation keeps people thinking about the book. At a signing I met Valerie Orsoni, the head of "Le Boot Camp" which has 600,000 members; she tweeted her followers, too.

The book trailer for Smasher has received lots of compliments, but I am , I admit, a little disappointed it hasn’t had more than a total of 600-700 views in its various manifestations.

In 2007 Google had hosted me as a participant in its Authors@Google program for Dot Dead. They posted my appearance on YouTube where it’s had over 1500 views. Apparently, like newspapers and everything else, they’ve cut back, too. No dice this time.

Reviews: The first magazine review of Smasher came from 17-year old Monica Deutsch in Jvibe, a magazine aimed at Jewish teens. Ms. Deutsch called it "intensely suspenseful and captivating." We were off to a good start. The next piece in The Palo Alto Weekly, my hometown paper, was a generous review by fellow Palo Alto crime fiction novelist Lora Roberts. Overall though, one of the most disappointing aspects of launching Smasher was the paucity of reviews in newspapers and magazines. Since Dot Dead, my first book, came out a couple of years ago, the number of places to be reviewed has just shrunk. A great review of Dot Dead in The San Jose Mercury helped turbocharge its early sales. Now The Merc is suffering from journalistic anorexia. Last Sunday the only two book reviews it ran were reprints from other papers. I don’t understand why I can’t get anywhere with The San Francisco Chronicle, but so it goes. As consolation and much more, Joe Hartlaub’s review in Bookreporter.com and Oline Cogdill’s in Mystery Scene were fabulous, the kind where my wife accuses me of ghost-writing them. Mystery News and especially The Boston Globe were a little less so. Still, I’m grateful to have been reviewed in a major metropolitan daily like The Globe at all, and I made it into Mystery News in the nick of time – lamentably, it was its last issue.

Articles: I got in touch with a friend who is one of the greats of Silicon Valley PR. With her help, I did a press release where I compared my current life as an author to my former one as an entrepreneur. I made lots of calls to journalists. The one to Mike Cassidy at The San Jose Mercury paid off. He came over to the house, I really enjoyed talking to him, and the result was a great piece.

Therese Poletti had worked for the aforementioned Mercury and done a nice story on Dot Dead. We’ve stayed in touch since and she said she wanted to write a piece on Smasher for Marketwatch, a business website owned by Dow Jones. A terrific reporter, she came up with a funny slant on my transition from entrepreneur to writer.

Michael Liedtke, another great guy whom I’d known from my days in the high tech world, included Smasher on his list of 10 tech books that made good holiday gifts. Since Michael works for the AP the story keeps popping up. I saw it first on November 19 on the site of The [Melbourne, Australia] Age. Since then it’s been in The Cape Cod Times, The Seattle Times, The Contra Costa Times, The San Jose Mercury, and -- just 30 minutes ago -- in The [Hagerstown, MD] Herald-Mail. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

There’s no question about the efficacy of these articles. Before Mike and Michael’s pieces ran my Amazon number was around 400,000. After, it ducked below 5,000.

Conclusions: Even as the disappearing act of newspapers plays out, articles and reviews in them can’t be beat as a way to reach readers. I don’t know how effective the virtual tour I did was, but I enjoyed it. Speaking at stores worked best around Palo Alto, my hometown, where I did a fair amount of marketing myself. Otherwise, standing at the entrance to a busy store worked better. I could sell more than 50 books in an afternoon that way and get to recruit readers, many of whom turned into dedicated fans.

Comments (Please): I’d love to hear from other writers and readers about what’s worked and not worked launching books. Feedback please in the comment section!


Alan Orloff said...

Keith, thanks for the fascinating glimpse into the promotion efforts tied to your release. Sounds like you tried a wide variety of things, and most of them seemed very effective--congrats. I'm going to use your approach as a template (if you don't mind!). By the way, you got a fair number of hits during your guest appearance on my blog--unfortunately, it's almost impossible to tell how that translated into new fans (or sales).

Did you do any radio?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Great job, Keith. It's really tough to tell what works and what doesn't, but I've seen you in action and you're a dynamo! I think you did an excellent job of putting a lot of different promotional plans into action.

Michele Emrath said...

Wow. That is A LOT of work. But it's great information for people with it all ahead of us (fingers crossed).
I have to say I have picked up more reading ideas from these blogs than anywhere else recently. So keep up the blogging! I will read your book b/c of this blog today, actually!


Lisa Bork said...

Very impressive, Keith. Those two months just flew by, I'll bet!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great job, Keith!

I have to admit that bookstore hawking is my least favorite method. Unfortunately, it *does* seem to sell books. Which means I'll have to continue the process. :(

I'd be interested in finding out how your virtual efforts have paid off. That's my absolutely FAVORITE way to promote.

Mystery Writing is Murder

kerrycharacters said...

It sounds like you don't need advice. You seem to have the virtual, the formal and the meet and greet covered. It must feel amazing to have accomplished all you have - all power to you. I am new to the writing business and have been super-excited by publisher interest. Silly me thinking the hard work was over once the book is born...

Keith Raffel said...

Alan, did try a local radio show on the NPR affiliate. Thanks to a fan, Smasher was mentioned on their quarterly book roundup, but that's it. Also, I'm not sure anyone should ever use me as anything other than a bad example.

Ooh, Michele. Makes me nervous when someone says she's going to read my book. Hope you like it.

Lisa, being in Indy for Bouchercon seems like three years ago. Does that mean time is flying by?

Elizabeth, as you say, you do what you gotta do.

Kerry, it says in the Talmud, "The day is short; there is much work to be done..." Such is the plight of us writers.

G.M. Malliet said...

Keith - I am exhausted just reading about all you've done.

I can't say what has worked or not for me. I can only say that group signings are fun so I say yes to them wherever possible.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for the detailed analysis and list of your promotion efforts. You did a LOT of in-person appearances! I've found that being a relative unknown, the "greet-and-sign" bookstore appearances always work better for me than setting up chairs for a reading or talk (no one sits in those darn chairs!). After my book's been out for a few months, I switch over from store & library appearances to talks with book clubs. Because I'm in a book club myself, I have a lot of fun at these events, esp. if wine & desserts are on the menu. I've gotten good exposure from the "New Books" pieces I wrote for Mystery Scene magazine, too. And yes, it's darn hard to get a book review in a regular newspaper these days!

cassandrajade said...

Sounds like you've been working hard. Thanks for sharing this, as Alan said, it is a great insight into the promotional efforts that go on for a release.
Wishing you the best of luck.

Jess Lourey said...

Wow. How much green tea did you consume in that time? Well done, Mr. Raffel. You covered all your bases, and with flair!

What are your thoughts on speaking to book clubs? I don't do that anymore, though a local one with 25 members asked me to speak, and I said I would. Otherwise, between books, I stick to paid library appearances where I present on writing and publishing, and sell books at the end.

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, I went to my wife's book club. Does that count? As with Amazon raters, newspaper reviews, and more, I'm getting fewer requests for book clubs this time around. Would I do one? If it's just a few minutes drive, yeah, I guess so.