Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dell Arte Press and How Not to Market

by Michelle Gagnon

Joshua asks:
As a fellow MIRA writer, I have been following with great interest your discourse on the recent snafu regarding Harlequin's new vanity imprint and the RWA, MWA, etc. Now that some of the dust has settled, who do you believe are the winners and losers, and what do you think will happen next?

Good question, Joshua. I'm not sure that the dust has settled- it's more that the debate has fallen into limbo, with everyone retreating to their respective corners. And at this point, what will happen next is really anyone's guess. What I've heard through the grapevine is that Harlequin might be waiting for the RWA national meetings in January to see what they decide. Whether or not Harlequin makes further adjustments to their Dell Arte Press imprint based on the results of that meeting remains to be seen. If the current stance of the RWA (among other organizations) holds, and Hq authors will no longer be eligible for awards for their work...perhaps Harlequin will make more changes. But I suspect that there's a lot of negotiation going on behind closed doors.

As I wrote in my post on The Kill Zone, the real losers in all of this so far have been the authors currently published by Harlequin. More on that here. I'm not sure there are any winners per se, at least not as things stand at the moment.

Rebecca asks: How was promoting your second book different from promoting your first? Any lessons learned about what worked and what didn't?

The main thing that I learned is to never, ever send promotional stuff to bookstores- some of the larger ones get literally barrels of it weekly. It costs you a lot of money, and nine times out of ten is promptly discarded.

Honestly, I think that at the end of the day we can promote until we're blue in the face- at some point, it doesn't make that much of a difference. I know people who drove hundreds of miles to sign stock at dozens of bookstores- and still their series was canceled. Other authors spend countless hours on social networking sites because they heard that propelled one writer to the bestseller lists- but then their sales don't reflect that investment of time and energy.
At some point, either your publisher gives you that bump, or they don't. So much of it comes down to distribution and generating buzz- and that is something that again rests largely with the publisher.
I'm not saying you shouldn't promote your book- of course, you should. But it's important to figure out where to draw the line. It's frustrating, but at a certain point, there's only so much you can do.


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks,Michelle! Finding that balance between promotion and using that time for writing has been the hardest part of my first year for me. I want to do everything I can to make the books successful, of course, but I also realize you are only as good as your next book and you have to keep writing. Combine that with a limited number of hours in the day and...

Michelle Gagnon said...

Exactly, Rebecca. The writing has to come first. On our blog, The Kill Zone, James wrote a great post about this recently. He constructed a "writing pyramid," with people who say that someday they want to write a book at the bottom, moving progressively up to people with multi-book contracts at the top. And at the pinnacle rests a "Wheel of Fortune." Either it spins your way and you become a bestseller, or it doesn't. Which is horribly depressing, but sadly true. I read a lot of great books every year that are barely acknowledged and post meager sales, while some terrible stuff appears at number one on the lists. To some extent, all you can do is keep plugging along and hope for that lucky spin.

If anyone is interested, here's the link to James's post: http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2009/08/writer-this-is-your-job.html

Mike Dennis said...

Right you are, Michelle. When I was playing music for a living, I used to do a song with the following lines:

Those dreams, they don't roll around
On that wheel of fortune much,
And they don't come 'round at all
Unless you've got that lucky touch.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Michelle! Great post. I feel oddly comforted to know how far up the pyramid I am and that I really CAN'T control the wheel of fortune. Because I'm an obsessive writer, it's not like I can stop the writing part. All I need to do is not fall off the pyramid. :)

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks for the wisdom, Michelle. I think most of us are control freaks (seems to be a writerly characteristic), and it's damn hard to get all existential and give it up to randomness.

Speaking of which, I'm off to light some incense to a good luck deity ... ;)


Shane Gericke said...

Well said, Michelle. I spent a lot of time and money promoting my first two books. For this third book in July, I'll spend time, but far less money--having signings at thirty bookstores, buying advertising and doing other expensive marketing just doesn't pay off in gathering new readers for our work.

Also, this Harlequin-MWA thing is nuts. Authors had nothing to do with the corporate decision of their publisher, and should not be penalized for it by being kept out of the Edgars, etc.

Fortunately, ITW welcomes Harlequin and Mira authors with open arms, and they're eligible for the Thriller Awards and other stuff that's offered.

Shane Gericke said...

Michelle, have you cut back on your social networking marketing? Or have you expanded it? You did a lot of it for the first book and it proved pretty successful. Or am I misremembering?

Shane Gericke said...

Control freak, Kel? Authors? Why, whatever do you mean :-)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I know Shane! It is almost like she thinks we have to crEate whole mini worlds full of people..I mean characters...who do our bidding...

Kelli Stanley said...

Only because no one in THIS world will, Becks ... ;)


Jen Forbus said...

Hi Michelle,

When I was in Michael Connelly's session at B'Con this year, he echoed something very similar. This will always stick with me because I thought it really reflected his modesty, but he said, "I know I'm a good writer, but there are a lot of good writers out there. I just also happened to be very lucky."

But, at the same time, being a reader, I think that there's something to be said for doing what best fits your personality. No one should be doing everything, but everyone should be doing something. If you're a genuine jerk, I wouldn't suggest social media. Because learning a writer is a jerk does make a difference to readers. Whether you want to or not, you do "see" the works differently. And in social media settings, if you're a jerk, it usually comes across pretty quickly. However, there are some people out there who naturally take to social media and it opens up a lot doors that wouldn't have otherwise been open for them. Sophie is great in this arena. I also think Brad Parks is shining here, despite his reluctance.

Some authors do phenomenally in situations like event panels and readers. Jeffrey Deaver knocked my socks off when I heard him at Murder and Mayhem this year. And Tom Schreck literally stole the show when he moderated the cozy writer panel. Their personalities allowed them to connect with hundreds of people sitting in that room all at once. It was awesome. And on the flip side, I sat in a panel with a writer who hogged the whole thing. I didn't have much respect for that writer when it was over. Panels probably aren't the best setting for that person to promote his/herself.

The other thing I'd probably caution - from my experiences - is coming off as aloof, as not caring about the readers. That personal connection is huge. And whenever you can make it, I do believe it makes a difference.

I, of course, am extremely vocal about my reading and what I like. I'm usually not broadcasting to the world what I don't like, but in casual conversations or when directly asked, I do tell people if I didn't like something. Or what I thought was an utter waste of my time. If you can do anything to get that word of mouth going in a postive tone, I think you're doing yourself the absolute best service possible!

Michelle Gagnon said...

I still do a fair amount of social networking, Shane- not as much as before, though. My goal this year is to strike a balance. I try not to spend more than fifteen minutes to a half hour a day on the social networks.