Learning from my mistakes

Posted by Jeff Markowitz on Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In response to my last post, Boowasborn commented

"you seem to handle the promotional stuff so well."  I don't think I'm especially good at promotion.  What I am good at, to be honest, is learning from my mistakes.  So I thought it might be interesting to devote a couple of blog posts to deconstructing my book promotion, to discussing what worked and what didn't.  Perhaps some of the other authors on xanga will jump in with promotional stories of their own.

John Wanamaker, of Wanamaker Department Stores, once famously said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."  Not having John Wanamaker's bankroll or his staff (nor, apparently, his knack for pithy quotes) I needed to focus on the things I believed I could do well.  I'm pretty honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to promotion.

On the positive side, I have developed relationships with authors and editors, and especially with librarians in New Jersey, and to a lesser extent, across the country.  I have been an active participant at a handful of mystery conferences, in the New York-New Jersey area, and in the midwest.  I have built a small internet presence, here on xanga, and on a variety of online networks, listserves and websites.  I may not have the most readers, but I have the best readers.  And, as a member of the Mystery Writers of America, I have access to information and events, to people and to resources, that I would not be able to marshal on my own.

On the negative side, I am still one of the very many, part of the long-tail of the publishing industry, with loyal readers, but without a national identity.  My publisher has limited distribution in bookstores.  I have no agent, no promotional budget and a limited grasp of the new technologies.

(I should probably also point out, on the positive side, that I don't rely on my book royalties to pay the bills.  On the negative side, that means I have a full-time job that constrains when and how I approach book promotion).

The single most important lesson that I learned the hard way is that book promotion has to start early, well before the book's release.  When my first two books were published, I failed to recognize the importance of pre-release book promotion.  I failed to use those opportunities effectively.  Not this time.  I kicked off promotion approximately six months before the book was released.

My primary goal during the six month period leading up to the book's October 2009 release date was to build awareness in the book industry, and specifically in the mystery community.  In short, I wanted people to recognize the book cover and the title.  By the time the book was released, I wanted people thinking, oh yeah, I've heard about that book.

I knew that I would need a bigger presence online, in print and in person in the months leading up to the release.  Identifying and responding to those opportunities became one of my earliest challenges.

In the course of researching print journals, I came upon the Mystery Readers Journal, a widely read quarterly, consisting mostly of autobiographical author essays.  Each issue is organized around a theme and, as luck would have it, the theme for the spring 2009 edition was holiday mysteries.  I immediately sent off an essay.  It was not my best work, but it was accepted, and when the spring 2009 issue of Mystery Readers Journal was released in April 2009, my essay "Shop 'Til You Drop (Dead)" introduced thousands of mystery readers to the new book.

I already knew that the most important in-person event, in the months leading up to the release, would be Book Expo America.  BEA is the premier event in the North American publishing industry.  It's location changes annually, but in 2009 (and again in 2010) BEA was scheduled at the Javits Center in NYC.  The NYC location meant that I wouldn't need to pay anything for travel or lodging.  The Mystery Writers of America always has a booth at BEA.  As a member with a new book coming out, I was entitled to schedule a 30 minute signing at the MWA booth.  So I spent the day networking with booksellers and librarians, readers and reviewers, and I spent 30 minutes signing and giving away Advanced Reading Copies of It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Murder. 

Advanced Reading Copies are uncorrected proofs that are used by publishers and authors to promote an upcoming book release.  With my previous book, I know that my publisher sent out some ARCs to book reviewers.  I really didn't know what I was supposed to do with my copies (and I still have a few sitting in a closet).  This time, I was ready.  I made sure my publisher knew of my plans for BEA.  I asked my publisher for  additional ARCs (more than my contract stipulates) and to get them in time for BEA.  And my publisher did a fantastic job, taking care of me even when the art work delayed the production of the ARCs.  So I had plenty of ARCs just in time for BEA and a few more for book reviewers and for other promotional opportunities (As I recall, GoodGuyTheBoss won one of those ARCs here on xanga).

To be continued... 
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