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.