Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Only if it's effective

By R.J. Harlick

Authors are increasingly expected to shoulder the time and expense of book marketing and promotion. When was/is enough finally enough? Where do you draw the line and why?

When I was writing my first book, I never gave a second thought to what my involvement in promotion would be if and when I finally got the blasted thing published.  I just want to get it written and published. But once I was over the thrill of holding that first book in my hands, I quickly realized that the book, Death's Golden Whisper, by the way, it wasn’t going to leap off the booksellers’ shelves on its own and my publisher was only going to do some very basic promotion.

I soon learned that one of the best ways of getting word out into that big black hole of readership was through reviews. Fortunately for me, my publisher then and now sends out advanced copies to all the established review publications, be they paper or online, such as Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Globe & Mail, and so on. But one thing it does ask me to do is ask my readers to post reviews on the various online bookseller sites, such as Amazon, Kobo and the like.  I’m afraid this is where I chicken out. Call me Canadian, but I feel I am lucky to have anyone read my books at all. No way could I impose on them to do a review.

Another way is through an online presence with at a minimum a must-have website and a Facebook page. Any costs associated with these are all mine. The costs are both monetary and time, because as I have learned too much Facebook and Twitter interaction eats into my writing time. But I don’t mind doing this for I have seen how valuable these are. They have introduced my Meg Harris series to many readers and helped me to connect to my fans.

Store signings, literary festivals and library readings are another effective way to get the word out. I enjoy this interaction with readers and have done many of them. I invariably do a round of local store signings when my book first comes out. In addition to making readers aware of the book, it ensures that the bookstores will stock sufficient copies on their shelves. But this is for the most part on my own dime.  I book the event and pay for any associated travel costs. 

On a few occasions, my publisher has paid the travel costs for an event, but for the most part they don’t. With my earlier books, I didn’t hesitate to pay all the travel costs for a book tour, like the Maritime tour for Arctic Blue Death or the southern Ontario tour for Red Ice for a Shroud. Now I will only do an out of town tour if I can be assured of being reimbursed for travel. Fortunately, in Canada some of our writing associations have access to government programs that will pay a reading fee and some of the travel costs. I have taken advantage of this on several occasions, in particular my west coast tour for Silver Totem of Shame. 

When I first started out, I didn’t hesitate doing library readings, festival events, even writing workshops for free.  I was just happy and flattered to be asked. Now I am more discerning and usually will only consider doing such an event, particularly a workshop or literary event, if I am paid an honorarium and travel expenses. 

I mustn’t forget the mystery conference. I quickly realized that mystery conferences were great not only for finding new readers but also for giving me an opportunity to schmooze with my fellow writers. I love going to them and in the early years would often attend three per year, particularly when the Canadian conference Bloody Words was a going concern. But I have to foot the entire bill myself. So, I have become more discerning in the conferences I attend. Location has a lot to do with the decision, as in a place that I have always wanted to visit, like Hawaii, Santa Fe, which I then turn into a longer vacation. 

You can’t talk about promotion without mentioning ads. I suppose this is where I draw the line. I would never consider paying for an ad for a newly released book, not even in conference program books. My publisher does do some advertising, but mainly in library journals to capture the library market. I suppose I shouldn’t be so definitive in saying never for I have tried one or two Facebook posting promotions. But to tell you the truth I have no idea how effective they were, so doubt I will do it again.

I also know writers who have paid for publicist out of their own funds. This is another cost I would never bear. I do have a publicist with my publisher, but she is limited in what she can do.

And that is about it for promotion, except of course for blog postings, whose cost is in hours not dollars. I like to do as many as I can with the release of a new book. Though I really can’t determine their effectiveness in terms of books sales, I will likely keep doing them, because I enjoy writing them.  

While I’m at it I might as well remind you that the latest Meg Harris mystery is Purple Palette for Murder, available as an ebook from all ebook sellers or a trade paperback in bricks and mortar bookstores and through online booksellers. To find out more about my Meg Harris mystery series check out my website at rjharlick.ca. 


1 comment:

Paul D. Marks said...

Robin, it seems like these days one has to be more than "just" an author. We have to be our own PR dept.too.