This is the second post in which I am answering questions sent to me by local author Amanda A. Allen. This time, they’re about publicity, advertising, conventions, and other marketing-type topics. And as I mentioned in the first post, if you have any questions you’d like answered, please leave them in the comments below!
Conventions are great for meeting other industry professionals and hanging out with your friends. And there are some conventions I wouldn’t miss for the world. But honestly, they cost a lot of money (even if you’re a participant and your membership is comped, the other costs—food, hotel, and booze—won’t be), they are a lot of work, and they take a lot of time. And, bottom line, I just don’t know how many books they sell. I have cut way back on conventions over the past few years. I love them, but my free time is already pretty limited and I always end up feeling like it’s better used in writing more.
So what DO I plan to do for promotion? A lot of internet spade-work, honestly, just like I did with THE NATIVE STAR and THE HIDDEN GODDESS. I already spend so much time online that it’s pretty much my natural marketing element. As we approach the publication date, I’ll start putting myself out there, volunteering to do guest-blog spots, interviews, you name it. For the most part, internet outlets are always hungry for content, and providing content to the right ones is extremely valuable.
Have you been romancing any book bloggers?
The way you ask that question makes it sound like an activity with a beginning, middle and end. But it’s truly an eternal cycle. I am always romancing book bloggers and reviewers. And like any wooing, it has to be sincere. You can’t just run around telling everyone you love them … you have to pay careful attention to who is reviewing what, and what their tastes are, and target your romantic attentions on those individuals or outlets whose tastes seem to be in alignment with your own. Given the sheer number of sites out there, this can seem like a really daunting task (what I wouldn’t give for an eHarmony that would match bloggers with authors!) but the alternative—the indiscriminate scatter-shot technique, is not only disrespectful, but can also make someone who was merely indifferent to your work actively hostile. No one wants that.
As an adult writer, are schools a way you could suck in an audience? Didn’t Christopher Paolini just visit school after school at first? It must have really helped him, though, to be in the students’ age range.
Schools are a great venue for a lot of writers. I don’t think it matters much what age the author him- or herself is, just that he/she is writing books for the right age group. I’m not sure if schools would be the right fit for me and my work (though I have gone to a couple) … but this just points out the importance of having an idea who your audience is and tailoring your marketing/publicity approach accordingly. In my case, when I was doing publicity for THE NATIVE STAR and THE HIDDEN GODDESS, I targeted adult book groups. I made myself available to attend (whenever possible) and in several cases I answered questions via email.
Are you thinking of promotional space on blogs or Goodreads? Or offering your book for super cheap on e-readers for a while?
I know authors who purchase promotional space on Facebook, or participate in BlogAds, or whatnot. I have never gone that route because, as a reader, I have never bought a single book as the result of a banner ad on a Webpage. That’s how I generally tend to run all my marketing, actually—I operate under the assumption that I personally am probably a pretty good example of my desired target audience, and so I just do things that I think would appeal to me (or, at the very least, that wouldn’t annoy the crap out of me.) So I will definitely do a giveaway on Goodreads, for example. I may offer the book super-cheap, but that would be a pricing strategy, not a marketing strategy … and the two have to go hand-in-hand. The marketing strategy is your story about why you’re lowering the price—is it a special promotion for a holiday, e.g.?—and why your target audience should care. Once you have that “story” then the pricing strategy just evolves out of that naturally.
How do you get into places like Wordstock or Orycon as a writer with a table? Do they contact you, do you contact them?
Well, there are a couple of different answers. If you want to go to a convention and just sell books, you can purchase a table and go as a vendor. Personally, I’ve never done that and I don’t think I would. There are a lot of wonderful booksellers who make their income by attending conventions and I would prefer that they make money by selling my books. (Note that, if you’re attending a con as an author, it’s worth making sure your books will be there by contacting the booksellers who are attending and asking if they plan to have copies. And if they don’t, there’s no law against asking them if they wouldn’t mind taking a few on consignment for the duration of the con. This request is not unreasonable, especially if one is a participating author who asks nicely. With THE WARLOCK’S CURSE, I will likely have to do more of this direct-dealing with booksellers, as my retail footprint for the book will be substantially smaller.)
So, how do you get to be a participating author? There are many ways that can happen. The convention organizers can invite you (which is always lovely) but this likely won’t happen until you have achieved a bit of name recognition. As you’re building your name, I’d suggest starting by attending some conventions you’re interested in, getting a feel for the people, and even volunteering to help with some of the author programming (this is a great way to meet folks who can be very helpful to you.) Then, when you have a few credits under your belt, there’s nothing wrong with emailing the programming committee of a con you like and are familiar with, stating your credentials, and letting them know that you’d be available to participate if they’d like to have you.
In general, my feeling is that if I’m going to participate in programming (be on panels, speak intelligently, and just generally put on a good show) then I should at least get my membership comped. It is work to be on panels. But different conventions vary dramatically in their approach. Some conventions—especially small ones, or new ones operating on a very thin margin—simply can’t afford to comp participants. Some conventions require that you participate in a certain amount of programming in exchange for your membership. Some conventions ask you to pay your membership up front, then comp you afterward, out of the con profits. There are as many ways of doing it as there are cons.
So how do you choose which cons you want to spend your time and energy on? For me, it really comes down to a cost-benefit analysis … who attends this con? Are there industry professionals I want to meet, or a really good audience of readers I’d like to reach? Those are the cons I give serious consideration to. Those, and the ones that have REALLY good parties.