Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Hedonist's Guide to Book Publicity

By Hilary Davidson

Book publicity is a thorny subject. Long before THE DAMAGE DONE came out, I started polling authors I know about their experiences. Here’s a sampling of what I heard:

“You need a great book trailer that goes viral.”

“A book trailer is a waste of money.”

“Getting a mention in Entertainment Weekly is gold!”

“A mention in Entertainment Weekly moves 100 books, tops.”

“You have to promote yourself on Twitter.”

“Twitter is just a big time suck.”

“You need to do a national book tour to build a following.”

“Book tours are a waste of time and money. No one comes out to see a new author.”

“The best thing you can do is hire a publicist.”

“Freelance publicists take your money and run.”

The more I asked around, the less I knew. For every opinion I got, there was an equal and opposite opinion. At times, my head was ready to explode with all of these competing, incompatible nuggets of wisdom rattling around. All of them came from people I respect. Everyone was being helpful by telling me about their experience promoting their books. It was just that everyone’s experience was wildly different.

After much agonizing, here's what I decided: Since I was planning to spend a lot of time and effort publicizing the book, I figured I’d go crazy if I shoehorned myself into doing things I hated or felt uncomfortable about. So, I would publicize my first novel by doing things I like to do. In retrospect, that sounds bizarre. I was going to enjoy doing book publicity? What kind of messed-up hedonist was I? But I realized I was stressing about doing the "right" things, even though I had no idea what they were. On the other hand, it was entirely clear to me what the fun things would be.

Since I love meeting people and public speaking, that meant hitting the road for a book tour that took me to Houston, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Boston, Toronto, and a few other places (I also had six events in New York City). I went to ThrillerFest, Bouchercon and Noircon. I did a blog tour. I was on Twitter and Facebook long before I got a book deal, but I did join GoodReads. One publicity advantage I had was that I've published a lot of short fiction, so that made it a little easier to get reviewers to read my book. I wrote some new stories and tried to time their release dates to help the book. (That didn't work out as planned in every case; Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is going to publish one of those stories in its April 2011 issue.)

There were lots of things I didn't do. I didn't hire a publicist or make a book trailer. I didn't design a bookmark (that would've taken me a month) or find cool swag to give away. I didn't come up with any gimmicks (seriously, would you eat chocolates sent with a murder mystery?). I don't knock any of these things, because they've worked beautifully for other writers; I just decided that they weren't for me.

I can’t tell you whether my hedonistic marketing strategy worked or not, because aiding and abetting my publicity efforts was a host of very kind people who helped me out without my asking them to (the acknowledgements for my next book are going to be very long; here are some reasons why). But I'm thrilled with the coverage I have received. Also, even though THE DAMAGE DONE came out on September 28, 2010, I'm still promoting it, albeit at a more relaxed pace: next week I head up to Toronto for a library conference; a month from now, I have an event in West Palm Beach, Florida; in April, I'm speaking at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors; in May, I'm on a panel at the New York Public Library. Later this year I'll be on tour again, this time for my second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, and I can't wait. A writer friend who looked at the "Book Tour" album I have on Facebook told me that she'd never seen an author look so excited at every event. The truth is, I'm having the time of my life.


Michael Wiley said...

This seems right and smart, Hilary. The shotgun approach (aiming for EVERYTHING), which I -- and a lot of people I know -- have been tempted to take, can lead to a lot of misses. Doing what we enjoy (and what we're good at) seems sensible and sane, and, I expect, is most likely to have good results.

A great post.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

You broke the code - do what you enjoy. I tried almost everything for my first two books (except for trailers)and discovered what worked and what didn't for me. Now the publicity for each release follows a path I'm comfortable with, enjoy, and fits my time and money budgets. Like you, I love getting out and meeting readers. I do a lot of public speaking to large groups which translates into nice chunks of books sales. And I give out a lot of bookmarks at every event. I also hired a manager, who acts as my publicist. And that one thing has been the most valuable.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Wonderful column and a very sensible approach to publicity.


Kelli Stanley said...

Hilary, I think you've found the secret -- and not just to publicity! :)


A win-win scenario, and one we often forget about in the sturm und drang of writing and publishing.

Thanks for a great post!!

Meredith Cole said...

You're doing publicity in a very smart way, Hilary. It can be very confusing when you hear all the things people are doing (and how much money they're spending). I'm so glad you're enjoying yourself. I think life is too short to waste it doing things that you think you "should" do to push your book (and everyone can tell when you're just going through the motions...).

Rebecca Cantrell said...

That's the best advice I've heard on the subject: do what makes you happy. It works on a lot of levels too. Write what makes you happy too. Then you are guaranteed happiness, which is priceless.

Thanks, Hilary, for putting it in perspective!

Steve Anderson said...

This and the previous posts about promoting are a huge help to a writer like me who's anticipating what and what not to do. I spend half my time -- when I can find it among the day job and writing -- weighing what doesn't seem to help much even though many others are doing it. In the end it comes down to staying happy and sane so we can do what we love -- actually write. Thanks for the great posts.

Robin Spano said...

Wow. Thanks for this perspective. I think you flipped a switch for me - I think you're right - no one in the industry has any solid answers about what works. But if we do what we enjoy, it will be (a) the life we want to live & (b) more effective, because sincerity is obvious and enjoyment is contagious. And P.S., I'd say yes - what you're doing is working really well.

Reece said...

Excellent advice, Hilary! I heard all of the same conflicting messages last year when I was figuring out how to promote my first book. Very smart of you to figure out early on that the only advice that's worth taking is the advice that's right for you.

Unknown said...

I like your approach for book publicity. What a novel approach. Enjoy the journey, Hilary.

Hilary Davidson said...

Thanks so much for all of your wonderful comments! I'm thrilled that this post resonated with so many people. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on writers these days to do their own publicity. If this do-what-you-enjoy approach helps anyone take a step back and think about what they'd find personally satisfying, I'm very glad. I felt overwhelmed when I was considering publicity options — it was actually very liberating to limit my choices!

Lynn Sheene said...

Thanks so much for the wonderful post, Hilary. So much helpful but conflicting advice out there! I'm in the midst of gearing up promotion for my May 3 launch date and have spent so much time and energy trying to figure out what is the "right" choice. I'll make an effort to follow your lead and do what I enjoy. Takes so much of the stress out of it!