Monday, February 12, 2007

Self-Promotion: Spending a Bit of Bling

I think for the purposes of this second installment I’ll talk about things you can spend promotional money on that are under a hundred dollars, though I’m not going to be rigorous about this division. However, I will try to note when I think there may be hidden costs (like postage, etc.) that may put it over.

First, let’s pretend that you’ve done the (IMHO) scary part and called up your local, independent bookstore and begged them for a signing. Maybe you’ve gone in with another new author friend (or established one) and booked a signing together or in conjunction with a book club meeting, etc. You’ve written a spiffy press release and emailed, faxed, or snail mailed it to all your local newspapers. Sometimes, if you do this right, it will net you some honest-to-goodness FREE publicity in the form of an interview or article or notice in the paper. I’m not terribly convinced that people READ the newspaper, but this is the sort of thing you can save for your media kit in the future.

1. Tell Everyone You Know. There are a few cheap ways to advertise your up-coming event. You can send out an email to everyone (or select everyones) in your address book. I recommend this, regardless, because even if those people can’t make your event they’re at least aware that your book is coming out and may take that moment to pre/order it on or wherever.

I also like to send out some kind of paper reminder to everyone whose snail mail addresses I have. I’ve been collecting addresses for years – from classes, signings, and holiday cards. You can make pretty cheap postcards with some index cards and a printer. If you have a printer that will feed envelops, most times they will also take index cards. This is a ridiculously time consuming process especially given the “advertising percent rate” that you have to keep in mind: 10% return, which is to say that if you send out a hundred postcards, expect ten people. I usually try to send out two hundred postcards a month in advance.

Remember: this will cost you postcard stamps and (very likely) a toner cartridge.

Make sure you have all the important info on the card: day of the week, date and time of the signing, the book you’re going to sign, the name and address and phone number of the place you’ll be at and, well, your name (and, in my case, both my real name and my pseudonym).

Also, if I have more than one signing in a month, I try to put information about both of them on one postcard so that if people can’t make one, maybe they can make the next one. There is some question about how many signings in a local area you should try to do for any given book. I have never figured this out, but my sense is that two bookstores in the same month is more than enough. I’ve had some success having several signings spread out over the course of a year, but the further away from your publishing date you are, the less enthused both your readers and the bookstore manager often are.

Okay, other things to do to make sure you have a good book signing is to show up early (at least fifteen minutes, but best a half an hour, IMHO) to help the store manager set up and dress professionally.

Also, and this is probably going to sound like strange advice, but always keep a dozen copies of your book in the car (this might include “backlist” if you’re promoting a second book). Most book store managers don’t expect to sell that many copies of your book. Even though you probably will only have a dozen or so people show up, it’s an unmitigated disaster if fifty show and you sell out of books before you run out of people who want them. This rarely happens, but, just in case, I always have copies in my trunk. Having extra copies on hand can save face for all involved. Happily, I can say I did this once and it made the book store manager very, very happy.

Okay, before your book signing (and after) you can also:

2. Attend Conventions. The nice thing about being an SF/F/H/Speculative fiction writer is that there are a million conventions happening almost every weekend. Check out the listings on Locus and you’re sure to find a convention near you. We’re extremely fortunate in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that there are no less than a half-dozen local conventions every year.

This is not free. It will cost you the price of admission (depending on how early you register, $30 - $100+) and, if you don’t live nearby, the cost of hotel (and transportation costs – possibly plane ride). However, this is an investment that I have always found worthwhile.

Most convention planners are desperate for programming volunteers. Ideally, you can get in early on the planning and suggest panel ideas that are especially germane to your work. (For instance I was always on the “Religion in SF” panel when the AngeLINK books were still in print). Kelly always has a list of “offerings” to send to conventions, which I think is very clever. I’m not usually this organized. If not, look for panel topics that interest you. I’ve made friends and influenced people (buyers!) by being on media panels about “Firefly,” etc. Media fans are often grateful to be taken seriously by the “literati” so there’s no reason to hide your inner fan grrl/boy. IMHO. However, I always plan to be on one writing related panel since people who attend those are very likely your target audience.

But, Lyda/Tate, what if I’m shy??

Here’s my advice about that. Volunteer anyway. Find a topic that you’re interested in and do some research. Come prepared with questions. If you don’t like being put on the spot, be the one who asks the questions. (If you’re signed up as the moderator, you should do this anyway,) but most decent moderators on panels are open to a panel member who is genuinely prepared with interesting questions. Also, if your nervous about what to say during the introduction period, write something up ahead of time and practice. And, the best advice, is to just tell people you’re nervous and it’s your first (or one of your first) ever panels. Most of us SF/F/H-type geeks GET that and will warm to you.

Some conventions also have readings. See if you can get one. My advice for that is to pick something length appropriate and practice, practice, practice. Find a scene in your novel or short story that you don’t have to explain, in which something happens, and which ends on a cliff hanger. Remember: you want people to leave the room wanting more! I also print up a reading copy and edit it for reading – that is to say, if I discover a huge chunk of world building that was important to the story, but which is kind of long and boring when I read it out loud I cut it (or edit it down to something much shorter.) I also make sure to add any dialogue tags that might be necessary for a hearer (but which aren’t in the text the line break is clear to the reader). I also make sure to have someone time me. No one likes a reader who goes overtime.

What if I’m just not famous enough to score a reading?

Well, here’s where being a joiner can help you. If you’re a member of BroadUniverse (which costs about $30 to join), you can take part in their rapid-fire readings. Unfortunately, to be a reader with them you have to be a woman.

Speaking of that:

3. Memberships that cost money, but which have been worth the dough for me:

RWA and my local chapter Midwest Fiction Writers. If you write anything at all romantic, Romance Writers of America is the organization for you. They’re open to writers who aren’t published, who publish small press, and, of course, the big press/big name folks. My local chapter organizes signings, gets me into book seller trade shows, and does group advertising. RWA costs big money, however ($90?) and my local adds another ($30).

BroadUniverse. See above.

When I first started out and simply needed to connect to other writers, I also found the National Writers Union to be helpful.

I could go on, but this is getting long, so I’ll stop for now.


Kelly McCullough said...

With a few quibbles about cost analysis, what Lyda said about cons. It's all good.

Douglas Hulick said...


What if the contents of your address book could FIT on a postage stamp? Any other thoughts on promoting your signings directly besides mailings? And what about those who aren't active/don't have the time/interest to be involved with fandom in an organized or regular way? I suspect this can apply to a good number of people (and not just me ;p)

Since I posed the Q, I'll muse on some possible answers as well, but I want to hear what others have to say.

Kelly McCullough said...


One of the things that a writer can do for advertising said signing is see if there's a fan organization or organizations in their area. In the Twin Cities there are several, all of whom maintain websites and email lists. It has been my experience that these kinds of groups are more than happy to help spread the word about local authors as long as said authors treat them respectfully and give them plenty of advance notice. Knowing your local fan and writer organizations like F&SF meetups can provide a lot of those connections.

tate said...

Most newspapers will also run a calendar listing for a signing. Check their web sites for details, but usually there's a way to send a notice electronically.

Kelly's advice about fan groups is good (although when I tried this outside of my local area, I discovered that the Twin Cities fandom is far more organized and friendly than many others out there.)

Also, it's okay to tap groups you already belong to, IMHO. Your church/religious organization might be open to running an ad in their newsletter. I've had my signings "advertised" in an employee newsletter, for instance. Your neighborhood paper/newsletter/email group is also a good place to hit. If you belong to any social or hobby clubs, these people may be interested too. I really believe that people like to support people they know.