Monday, June 11, 2007

The Second Word in Best-selling is Selling: Tips on how to market your book

Patty here…

That was the title of the workshop I presented at the Sisters in Crime/LA “No Crime Unpublished” writers’ conference on Sunday with my friend, Rochelle Krich.

Rochelle is a multiple award-winning, best-selling author of fourteen novels and numerous short stories and I’m…well, you know who I am. I have a master’s degree in business with an emphasis in strategic planning. I also had a marketing plan for my writing career before I had an agent. The two of us have stories to tell and only some of them can be repeated here.

These events are a great opportunity to meet budding writers and reconnect with friends and fellow presenters like Naomi Hirahara, Gary Phillips, Sueann Jaffarian, Denise Hamilton and the irrepressible Harley Jane Kozak, D.P. Lyle, and Jan Burke pictured below.

Before my first book was sold I knew four things: (1) That it would be published; (2) My publisher would, in all likelihood, do little or nothing to promote it; (3) Promoting the book was just as hard as writing it; and (4) Ultimately, I was responsible for my writing career.

As it turned out, my publisher did more than I expected, for which I was grateful. However, publishers can do only so much to get your novel noticed among the 199,999 other books released that year.

The big New York houses all have publicists that may arrange book signings and some media coverage, but they don’t continue working on your campaign beyond the month or two surrounding the book’s release. They have other writers to promote. Susan Page has written an insightful book about publishing called The Shortest Distance Between You and A Published Book. She says:

“So it is true that you have to put out a major effort in the first three months. But it is a terrible mistake to stop after that. The best promotion a book can possibly receive is word of mouth. Word of mouth takes time to build, and you have to keep nurturing it.”

Page suggests that for a year and a half following the release of a book, a writer should continue to promote the book and spread the word. Sometimes the task is daunting. All writers have a story to tell of driving fifty or a hundred miles to give a presentation. Two people show up. One of them is only there to get in out of the rain. No books are sold. It's disheartening not to mention costly.

At some point we all stop to ponder whether any of this raises our profiles. Yet, most of us continue to pack our books into those briefcases and hit the road, because we all dream the same dream—to achieve a level of success that allows us to continue writing. In order to do that we not only have to be William Faulkners we also have to be Willy Lomans, because if there is one thing we all know in today's publishing climate it's that attention must be paid.

"You don't understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."
—Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

What about you. Are you more inclined to buy the book of an author you meet face to face?

Hope to see you at my next whistle stop. Until then, Happy Monday.


  1. "Riding on a smile and a shoeshine."

    Nothing like humbling your fellow Naked Scribblers by quoting the best.

    There's always a tension between doing the hard work (writing) and the miserable work (flogging), or what Dave Barry calls "strumpeting" your books.

    I'd rather write. But then Mark Twain and Charles Dickens hit the road on what we'd now call book tours.

  2. I guess there's a reason why the Rolling Stones are still touring after all these years. It sells records. Something to consider.

    I love Death of a Salesman. I played Linda in a college production back in yon years of yore. I still have my dusty copy of the script, which is where I got that quote.

  3. I agree with Paul, that's a fabulous quote Patty. And I know we've all felt like that dusty salesman with the spotted hat at times.

    I was a voracious mystery reader before I started to write. For me, meeting an author wasn't part of my attraction to the book. It was the praise or recommendation from a bookseller that did it. With every anecdote related, every "you'll love this one, it's his best yet," I grew to know and love new authors.

    So, while I think author tours are important, I do them now to connect to the bookseller as much as to the reader.

  4. You must have been a terrific actress to carry Linda's gravitas at such a young age.

    One line of Willie Loman's puzzled me on first seeing the play 30 years ago. Paraphrasing here: "You can't eat the orange and throw away the peel." Well, of course that's exactly what you do (ignoring the metaphorical meanings).

    Willie's mind was clouded by age, depression, and in the scene, he was being fired by the son of his old boss.

    A similar point about the brutality of life is conveyed in a lesser work, "Seabiscuit," with this thematic line applicable to both horses and humankind: "You don't throw a whole life away just 'cause it's banged up a little."

    We toil mightily to avoid dialogue that's on-the-nose. But sometimes, at least in horse stories, that lack of subtlety works.

  5. I'm with you, Louise. I never went to author signings. Occasionally I would go to a lecture or interview featuring authors. I mostly bought books recommended by friends. That's why word of mouth is so important in this biz.

    "One line of Willie Loman's puzzled me on first seeing the play 30 years ago. Paraphrasing here: "You can't eat the orange and throw away the peel."

    Ah, but Paulie, the peel is where you find the zest of an orange. If you had been a cook back then you would have known that.

  6. "Hope to see you at my next whistle stop."

    Fresno? Bakersfield? Alaska? Canada?

    I love you, Patty, but....

  7. Actually, Mims, the next stop is at the Glendora Library on June 26th. It's going to be a happening event, so be there or be square.

  8. I collect signed books. I try to see every writer I know if they appear at Murder On The Beach. It's not always possible but I try.

    I also have bought a lot of books by people I meet at Bouchercon.

    Usually I can tell by talking to someone if I'll like their books or not.

    I like meeting and talking to people but I'd rather be writing like everyone else.


  9. I collect signed books now, most are written by friends of mine. However, there is always a storage problem. Where do you keep them all?

  10. I am a firm believer in cutting off my nose to spite my face, and, consequently, as I've said before, I find myself with an embarrassing lack of funds and a wealth of amazing authors, and buying (with a few exceptions of old favorites) books only by authors who Willy Loman their wares. I've added a few authors I met at Thrillerfest last year.

    Prior to learning about book signings (about 5 yrs. ago), I relied on word of mouth or summaries on jacket flaps.

    (Thanks for DEATH OF...--my Dad's favorite play, mine too, after HAMLET.)


  11. Groupie, I have a feeling you'll add a few more tomes to your collection at T-fest this year. I hope the UPS guy wears his back support when he delivers them. What would we do without you????!!!!!!