Thursday, October 20, 2011

Books R Us

I’ve thought about marketing a lot – as in, thought about it every breathing moment, as in thought about it the way that Ahab thinks about Moby Dick: night and day, while eating meals, in my dreams, while having sex. Does Ahab have sex? If he does, he might cry out in a moment of ecstasy: “Oh, Sister-of-Queequeg, how about magnetic appliqués on the car!” Or maybe that would be me.

Actually, I have no plans for magnetic appliqués – though if you want to drive around with one that says, “Read A Bad Night’s Sleep,” please be my guest. Those plastic-shrink-wrap things that they put on city buses and VW bugs look nice too.

Instead, I mostly think of cross-marketing possibilities. For instance:

(1) Shortly after St. Martin’s published by first mystery, The Last Striptease, I received the following email: "Hi Michael: I ran across your book while doing research for a new website my company is starting: I haven't had the time to read your book, but is a greeting card website with video greeting cards of live performers that will be 45-90 seconds. I would like to know if you would like to be an affiliate or aficionado on our website. We could promote your book."

This, I thought, has real potential – especially if I can be an aficionado. Maybe as the strippers finish their dances, they could whip out a copy of The Last Striptease and whisper the ISBN in a sexy voice. Maybe they could veil and unveil themselves with book covers the way that burlesque dancers once used boas and balloons.

I’m sorry to say that I passed up the offer. But here I am now, promoting, so maybe it isn’t too late.

(2) Having learned from my early experience that I should make the most of every sales opportunity, I recently accepted an invitation to talk to a group of women at the other end of the cultural spectrum: the Women's Auxiliary of the Salvation Army. When their chapter vice president asked me to join the Auxiliary for a morning of coffee, cake, and conversation, I explained that my books might be inappropriate for such fellowship. She dismissed my worries, and she was right to do so. When I arrived, a bright-eyed eighty-year-old woman answered the door and, within ten minutes, told me a story about a wedding she’d attended at which the bride handed out Barbie Doll party favors and when you lifted Barbie’s dress you found a Hershey’s kiss tucked between her legs. I said, “That makes me feel better.” The Salvation Army women and I then had a very pleasant conversation, and when we finished, they bought a lot of books.

(3) Not that every event works out so well – not even some of the ones that show the most promise. I’ve long thought that film noir devotees should be a strong audience for my mysteries, which are also noir. So, I’ve twice hired kids to hand out flyers at film noir festivals. What noir fan could resist the allure of a book called The Bad Kitty Lounge after returning home from a darkened theater? Apparently every one of them. As far as I can tell (and I admit that my science is inexact), my sales experienced no bump at all after the movie showings.

(4) Although my fictional private detective’s name is Joe Kozmarski, I haven’t done very well with the Polish-American groups I’ve joined either. My wife has a Great-grandmother Nowakowski, but I personally don’t have any Polish blood – not that I know of. Still, I set my books in Chicago, and Chicago has the second largest Polish population of any city except Warsaw, and I wanted my detective to epitomize the city, and my wife once interviewed for a job with a man whose name was Kozmarski, and I liked the name . . . and so, Joe Kozmarski was born.

I’ve made Joe as authentically Polish-American as I can, but I seem to have done no better with the Polish-American market than any other. Now, I’m thinking of marrying Joe off to an Anglo-Mexican woman with the hyphenated name Smith-Gonzalez and then hyphenating their names as well under the assumption that a detective named Joe Smith-Gonzalez-Kozmarski will have a broader appeal.

(5) As soon as I write that marriage scene and join all of the Anglo-Mexican-Polish-American clubs that I can find, I also plan to start attending Parenting Classes for Single Dads. I’m a happily married man myself, but Joe isn’t – or he wasn’t before becoming Mr. Smith-Gonzalez-Kozmarski. In the first three books, he has been unhappily divorced – and he has been raising his eleven-year-old nephew Jason alone. So, I’ll sign up for the Parenting Classes for Single Dads, and while the other men are talking about strategies for raising kids and the trials and joys of single parenthood, I’ll work my way around the room selling books.

And when the single dads kick me out, I won’t despair. I’ll go home and Google “Association of Confused Writers.” I’m sure that’s a market I can conquer.

(If you want a copy of my latest, A Bad Night's Sleep, you can find one in all the usual places -- not that I'm trying to sell you one.)


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

More clever ideas! Not everything we try works, but at least we try. Even though I'm Armenian, I've never been able to break into that community with book sales, like I had initially hoped. Although, I have been chastized for not having the book full of Armenian characters and not writing about the genocide. Maybe that's why.

Michael Wiley said...

Okay, now you've given me another idea, Sue Ann. Joe's next case will involve a gang of Armenian smugglers -- who all turn out to be good guys.

Meredith Cole said...

Sorry you struck out with film noir geeks. I think it was a good idea, and worth trying. Glad the Salvation Army ladies were more welcoming!

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Meredith. I'm not done with film noir. I have a secret suspicion (now outed) that the kids I hired may have been hanging out at Starbucks when I was paying them to hand out flyers. As for the Salvation Army: I'll drop a few coins of appreciation in their buckets this holiday season.

Gabi said...

Oh, you sweet talker you. You make me laugh.

Michael Wiley said...

You should hear me whisper my ISBNs.

lil Gluckstern said...

Having just finished "The Bad Kitty Lounge." I am ready for "A Bad Night's Sleep." Maybe you should solicit Polish recipes from your wife's relatives and put them in your next book, (just kidding) although the it was the egg foo yung that had me drooling for some reason. I really enjoy your books, and Joe is very appealing if a little confused about his love life. But then again, aren't we all? :)

Michael Wiley said...

Thanks, Lil. We do eat Polish food in our house on occasion -- and a lot more of it when we visit Chicago. Nothing like good pierogi. Except, maybe, good egg foo yung.