Old dogs can indeed learn new tricks

I fear I have done a disservice with my last blog entry on internet vs. traditional methods of promotion. I had approached the topic as one who built a career the old-fashioned way, by finding my genre niche, reliably producing a book a year in that niche, and tirelessly going on the road to promote them. My publisher(s) pretty much decided how much promotion would be done, and what methods would be used, although in more recent years I’ve contributed my own efforts online with a website, a video book trailer, a blog on Amazon, and webzine ads. My attitude was, if it got me — a former paperback romance author — on the hardcover bestseller lists, then it must work.

But as a number of people have pointed out to me, this is a new day and age. The publishing business has changed. Traditional promotional methods are costly, print media is fading, and we have to adapt to a world that’s increasingly online. I’m trying to.

Another thing I was wrong about was focusing my comments on promotional strategy for top-tier sellers, and not for new or mid-list authors. My comments about co-op, Costco, and major print ads are better directed at those writers who are on the cusp of breaking out to the next level. Promotional efforts are not one-size-fits-all. No career is the same. And depending on where you are in your career, you will choose different ways of promoting.

If you’re just starting out, marketing money will be tight, and you’ll want to be as cost-effective as possible, which makes the internet a good place to begin. Everyone, for instance, should have a website. Everyone should take advantage of Amazon.com’s free author blog space. Throwing a fortune behind a debut novel could well be a useless extravagance, and authors should know that before going into debt to push their book, no one knows exactly what works. There are a number of things you can do, with minimal cost. Everyone should make a point of dropping into local bookstores, meeting booksellers, and signing stock. Everyone should be willing to do at least a few speaking engagements at libraries and bookstores. These will require your time and effort, but they’re free. (I continue to do all of these things, limited only by my energy and my writing deadlines.)

But the most important thing you can do as a writer is to write. Write the next book. And the next. Because every new title on the bookstore rack serves as an ad, another chance for readers to discover you. If you write two books a year, that’s twice a year readers and booksellers will encounter your name. But those books must be good books. That’s the given in all this promotional talk. The books must make a reader want to pick up your next book. There’s no point spending millions promoting a book that no one likes; all it achieves is convincing an audience that they don’t want to buy any more books by you.

You don’t have to be a bestselling author to make a living at this business. A prolific mid-list author with a devoted audience can have a rewarding life-long career. And you can do it without ads in USA Today or TV spots or national book tours. It’s breaking out to the next level where promotional strategies are subject to debate. If publishers knew exactly how to make an author a bestseller, then they’d be doing it more often.

Building an audience takes time. In my case, it wasn’t until my fourteenth novel, THE SURGEON, that I became a regular on the bestseller lists. Sometimes you just have to be patient and keep your nose to the grindstone. Keep in mind, too, that there’s something called luck involved. And that’s something you can’t bottle or pay for.

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And on a personal note, I’m happy to share that the German edition of THE KEEPSAKE (in the UK known as KEEPING THE DEAD) just hit #5 on the hardcover bestseller list in Germany.

12 replies
  1. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    Hey doc,

    I must say that when I first heard your name I said “who’s that?” But once I picked up The Surgeon I was hooked. Even if you wrote a crappy novel I’d pick it up and read it because I was turned onto your writing style by that one book and hearing others say how wonderful it was. And I like to hear other people say how they like an author and you definitely should get a copy of their book because it makes me feel like I’m not the only person who is going to buy that author’s book. Just seeing a great blurb on a cover of a 30 dollar hardback isn’t going to make me automatically say “okay I’ll buy this and give it a try.” There should be more extensive, pre-release, buzz about the author and his/her novel.

    Take Dan Brown for instance. He’s only written 4 novels but is one of the most popular novelists out there today. How did he get so popular? He wrote GREAT novels but also put some work behind getting his name out there. I had heard of Dan Brown even before Da Vinci went gold and therefore I knew I had to give him a shot.

    If an author is just coming onto the scene I’m more likely to give that person a try if I’ve heard more about them other than they’re just a new author with a greatly-blurbed-about novel. And having a good foundation online is one way to go about this. I like to read about books I’m going to buy online because usually you can pick up more about the book from comments left by other readers, ads, videos, etc.

    So I’m with you. I think going online is a great way to get a new author heard and seen BEFORE their novel even goes to print. You want to get people abuzz about your hard work before it hits shelves so you may see a high level of interest from the start…even if the novel is crappy.

    Like you having your blog. When you were writing The Keepsake you would post tidbits about where you were at in the story and such and that really piqued my interest even more even though I was already going to buy the book. Having a blog is another great way of getting your name and novel content out there before it hits shelves. I don’t know how many people visit your blog outside of the novelist world but I’m not a published anybody and I still love reading what you write on your blog because it gives me some insight into your passion for writing. That’s another thing that matters. If you’re not even passionate about what you’ve written how do you expect other people to be?

    Long post, sorry. I just wanted to add my consumer cents haha.

  2. techiebabe
    techiebabe says:

    Congrats on the number 5 spot – hope you get higher still. It’s a great story. I was about to say “but my favourite is…” when I realised that actually, I like different things about all the books – and re-read them depending on my mood. You’re right that each book is an advert for the others; I wouldn’t have picked up your romance books if not for the name (gosh, I don’t read that kind of thing!) but I secretly rather enjoyed them.

    Anyway, back on topic – I’m glad you’re still blogging, it definitely keeps people informed and interested. If you didn’t have a blog for me to follow, I probably wouldn’t know your release dates and certainly wouldn’t have known about the book tour. As I keep telling my customers, a website is a 24/7 advert, a great marketing tool.

  3. therese
    therese says:

    Great post – again- thanks!
    You also over-looked those of us with a non-fiction project and specific targeted markets that can be broached only through “platforms”. For us, the gatekeepers of the publishing world will still choose “commercial viability” over what one editor called, “a beautiful book”.

    I’ve extensively researched and queried through the levels, and am now settling into the reality that, for this one specific book that I want available for readers, I will go the route of self publishing. Even two years ago, I wouldn’t have considered this option. But things are changing fast, and now more than ever, it’s not the way a reader reads, or finds the book, but that the story within, is presented well and has value to the reader.

    It also needs to be said, I read your books, because of finding your blog. I may only be one reader, and one blogger, but I love your books and blog, and promote you on my site.

    So – keep sharing your thoughts about the real world of creating, then sharing, story. It’s your passion for feeding that basic human need, that has put you into the upper stratosphere of novelists.

  4. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    I’ve always been an advocate of advertising, whether it be the news media or television (although I am not in favor of pop up ads on the Internet or commercials before a movie starts in a theater.) But I still say that word of mouth is the best advertisement scheme. A tells B and B tells C and so on. As you said above …Everyone should be willing to do at least a few speaking engagements at libraries and bookstores. These will require your time and effort, but they’re free.” This is a great way to meet the public and promote your book.
    I don’t know why it took all the way to your fourteenth novel to be on the bestseller list. I was hooked from Harvest and and still quite hooked. I’m glad you went the writing route. Luck and perseverance are always the way to go. I’m so glad you had both.
    On being #5 in Germany, all I can say is
    Alles Gute! Herzlichen Glückwunsch! (best wishes and congratulations.)
    Abe

  5. april
    april says:

    There are way too many authors who have no websites or the websites are out-of-date. I depend on author websites for information. I’m more likely to not consistently follow an author when there is no online presence. I actually rarely go into a bookstore. I do support a bookstore if there’s a signing, but I find it’s better on my budget if I order online and only order what’s on my list.

    I’ve actually started reading authors because of booksignings. I’ll see the name up and the book will look interesting and I’ll just go. There’s something great about hearing an author speak about his/her work. The enthusiasm and respect for the reader goes a long way. That said, the opposite effect goes into play when an author comes to my town and acts like she’s doing us a favor for showing up. That has also happened. I actually bought the book to support the bookstore, but I never read it.

    Congrats on winning over Europe! Good start to taking over the world. 🙂

  6. Susan
    Susan says:

    Hi Tess,

    Wonderful blog entry, especially when I wonder how to promote Book #2 for its November 12 release date.

    And you’re right–writing another book is the best promotion there is (next to writing two books).

    Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and a very HUGE congrats for hitting the German bestseller list!

    -Susan

  7. PackingPadre
    PackingPadre says:

    Tess,

    You have reached the point with me that I will grab your latest book regardless of how much or how little marketing you’ve done.

    I became hooked on your books whilst living in Dixfield, Maine, where the now-retired librarian recommended you strongly, knowing I liked Tammi Hoag mysteries. She, and no offense meant, said you both were mediocre romance writers who became fantastic mystery writers.

    Having never read your romances, I don’t know if that’s true or not.

    I’m inclined to pick a book because it’s written by a favorite author, you, of course, Nevada Barr, Jack Higgins, Dr. Michael Palmer, to name a few.

    Tess dear, you keep the books coming, and I’ll keep buying them.

    Daniel

  8. Tess
    Tess says:

    Daniel,
    Ah, you reminded me of something I forgot to emphasize: the incredible importance of librarians for word-of-mouth. While readers may initially try out your books free through their local library, if they really love your work, eventually they might move on to buying your paperbacks, and perhaps even your hardcovers. Even if they don’t ever buy your books, they will tell their friends — who may turn into book buyers.

    That’s why I’m such a strong advocate of doing library talks. I wish I had the time in my schedule for more of them. Last year, when I had planned a writing sabbatical, I envisioned doing a six-month driving tour of the country, speaking only at small-town libraries, in places where authors seldom visit. But then my mom’s health problems came up, and I had to use those six months to move her across country instead. So my hoped-for library tour never materialized.

    It’s still something I dream about.

  9. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    You’ve outlined the tiers very well in this post. There is certainly a huge difference between the advertising budgets of new authors and best selling authors with publishing houses promoting them. Congratulations on your success with ‘The Keepsake’.

  10. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:

    Tess,

    My friend Joan Price wrote a piece about marketing her book and gave me permission to reprint it on my blog. “What I’ve learned about book publicity since wasting $1000.”

    Joan’s a dynamo and an author of primarily health and fitness books, but she the book Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty. Here’s a link to her post about book publicity:

    http://lcmccabe.blogspot.com/2009/01/joan-price-what-ive-learned-about-book.html

    Linda

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