Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Holidays!

So have a good end of the year, and join us on January 5, 2015, when Meredith ushers in the New Year for Criminal Minds!

Friday, December 19, 2014

What If They Gave a Signing and Nobody Came?

We all have tales to tell from book events. What is your best experience and what is your worst?

by Paul D. Marks

Since I pretty much answered this question some time ago when we were asked about best and worst convention experiences...because it amounts to the same thing as book events, I’m going to give a short response to the “worst” experience here.  And just quickly mention that the best – and worst – was winning the Shamus, from the Private Eye Writers of America, at last year’s (2013) Shamus Awards. (If interested in that whole story and to see why it’s both best and worst, see What is your best experience at a mystery convention?  Your worst? posted on Criminal Minds, I believe, on 4/11/14). But after my brief other worst experience below, I have some reflections on the past year.

The other worst: though one that didn’t actually happen...’cause I was too chicken to try. Some of you might remember the old expression “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” Well, when White Heat came out I adamantly did not want to do signings in bookstores because I thought...“What if I gave a signing and nobody came.”

Vampires and zombies don’t scare me, though when I was a kid I did pull the blankets over my neck so if Dracula happened to fly in my window he couldn’t bite me (as if the blankets would stop him).  But one hears horror stories of writers going to signings and nobody showing up.  And I figured that’s what would happen to me as an unknown.  So I did most of my promotion via the web or going to mass signings like the LA Times Festival of Books with Sisters in Crime, etc.  And, all in all, it worked out pretty good.

 *          *          *

And now, since this is the last official post of the year, I thought I’d reflect a bit before signing off.

As some of you may know, my mom died in September.  I don’t have anything particularly profound to say about it, but I thought I’d offer some end-of-the-year thoughts about that and some other things.

It’s hard losing a parent or anyone who’s close to you. And I was pretty close to my mom.  I might not have seen her a lot, though I did see her, but we talked on the phone frequently.  Sometimes we didn’t have much to say to each other because we talked so much. But I guess she liked to hear my voice—her words, not mine. There was a time years ago when I didn’t want to talk to her so frequently and told her we shouldn’t talk more than once a week or even less than that. But then I realized she wouldn’t be here forever, so I gave in and we talked several times a week. She would ask me about the stuff I was bidding on on eBay (I collect toys, Beatles stuff and other “junk”), or about our animals (most of the time 2 dogs and 2 cats, but now down to 1 dog and 2 cats) or other things. Usually nothing of heavy import. And I don’t regret all those conversations at all. I guess you could say I was “stocking up” for that time—now—when she wouldn’t be here anymore.

Her last year was not a good one. She had breast cancer that spread throughout her body. She was in a lot of pain, but still thought she’d beat it. She’d beaten it before. But I guess none of us can stave death off forever unless you’re a better chess player than he is.

There was a time when she was younger that she had wanted to be a writer. And maybe that’s where I got the bug from. I tried to encourage her to write throughout the years, but she never did. But she did read to me as a child, and not just children’s books. Two pieces that I very distinctly remember her reading me as a young child were Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandius,” and Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory.” Two of my favorite poems to this day. (Simon and Garfunkel doing their version of Richard Cory: ):

We had our share of disagreements, even full blown arguments about one thing or another.  She didn’t always agree with my choices as a teenager or an adult, but she always stood by me, no matter what. Of course, I didn’t always agree with her choices either.  But if you can’t disagree with someone and still have a relationship, then maybe you don’t really have a relationship.  The closest human beings can be is when we can accept the other person and accept their differences.

            L to R: My wife Amy and my mom. My mom’s high school pic. Somewhere in the 80s/90s, I’m  guessing.  And her and I at a book signing a couple of years ago:

And she truly loved and accepted my wife, Amy, and that always made me very happy. On the other hand, I don’t think she loved our last house as much as we did—too modern.  But did love our current house and would comment on that all the time.

I suppose I could reflect on this for pages, but I’ll wind it down. So summing up the year, like most years, 2014 had some good and some bad. Some frustrating luck with projects falling through, not happening and one big media project biting the dust. So it’s been tough. But like Gene Autry says in “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” “I know when night has gone that a new world's born at dawn.” And the New Year is coming and hopefully a clean slate with it.

So Happy Holidays and a Good New Year to Everyone!  And look for the holiday greeting from the Criminal Minds going up this Sunday.

Gene Autry: Tumbling Tumbleweeds:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dorothy and Celine

The worst book-related event ever?

It might be the time I was invited to give the address at the Dorothy L Sayers Society's annual meeting. Everything went wrong.

I left behind the phone number of the woman picking me up at the airport and had no way to get in touch with her.  This resulted in her wasting about an hour searching for me when she had a million other things to do.

Then I got lost when I went to pick up the books I had sent ahead. Another hour of very busy people worrying about where I was and whether I'd ever come back.

So there was only time for us to go to the nearest chain pub for lunch. The huge screen tellys showing football and the screaming babies and cackling teenage mums were my fault too.

And on top of that I was just . . . not what they were expecting. Dandy Gilver is posh and conservative and a very DLS Soc kind of gal. I'm incredibly not. I stood up in an unserious dress and upsetting footwear, with my highly visible roots (follicular and social), and I committed all kinds of faux pas - talking about Dorothy's son (the DLS Soc doesn't talk about Dorothy's son), talking about Dorothy's anti-Semitism (guess whether that comes up much), not talking about Dorothy's theology and religious writings . . .

Oh well. 

I might not have been to finishing school but at least I had the manners to leave the after-party early so they could all get into what a let-down I'd been.  Meantime, I spent a sick-making night in the most tobacco-drenched hotel room ever. Paris included.

I still love Dorothy.

And as for the best book-related event? I'm humbled and amazed by having so many to choose from. But the moment that's standing out in my memory right now is the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Bouchercon, Long Beach, when I took over the presidency and was handed the official seal.

photo by Molly Weston

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's All Good

"We all have tales to tell from book events. What is your best experience and what is your worst?"

- from Susan

No one forgets her debut book launch event. There’s nothing like it. Before you finished your first draft, when going to a bookstore reading was exciting because you were in the same room with Sara Paretsky or Lee Child, you hardly dared dream you’d be behind the same microphone some day. When you landed an agent, it was like Christmas, and when your book sold to a publisher, the circus might as well have just come to town. And then, your publisher or agent said, “So, let’s get you booked somewhere for your launch,” and you were sure the fantasy was about to come crashing down.

Until the bookstore said, “Sure, we’d love to have you. Send us your bio and a JPEG of your book cover,” and you realized you had arrived. Oh, maybe not arrived to stardom or best seller lists, or being optioned to the movies, but arrived to the moment when the bookstore rep introduced you with flattering words, and you stepped to the podium, and a little voice inside you said, “Sue Grafton stood here…”

My friends, friendly acquaintances, neighbors, and my doctor’s assistant filled the chairs at my local bookstore, and bought every copy of Murder in the Abstract the store had in stock, and then some. They laughed at the right moments, asked good questions, and didn’t seem to want to leave. We drank sparkling stuff and ate chocolates, and had a great time. I’ve done that twice so far, and hope to do it again. Collectively, celebrating a new book with people I care about and – to my surprise – readers I don’t know but who enjoy my books – is the best.

I only had one experience of the kind that makes other writers cringe in sympathy, but it was more funny than awful. I write mysteries, but was invited, most kindly, to join four romance authors for an event about 60 miles from home at a large chain bookstore. The events staffer was charming, kept up a steady chatter of encouragement as we set up. He put out a lot of chairs. As the hour approached, we checked our watches surreptitiously because there was no one – no one – taking a chair. Our moderator gamely began five minutes after the hour and we all smiled cheerfully and started answering our own questions. A woman slid into a chair in the back and we beamed in her direction, but she had already adjusted her worn and tattered cost and gone to sleep. Another five minute passed and a man took the chair that was farthest from her and from us. Who knew, maybe he was a secret romance reader? No, he pulled out his cell phone and proceeded to have an animated conversation in Chinese with someone. I was pretty sure they weren’t talking about our topic of the moment: Where do you get your ideas?

These women writers were pros and we wound up having a good conversation among ourselves, carried through the upstairs of the store by the microphones clipped onto our shirts. “Worst”? Well, yes, certainly, in that there was nothing to feed our egos or our book sales. But we had each other and for the umpteenth time I was reminded how wonderful the writing community is. We packed up at the end of the hour, laughed as we exchanged hugs and good wishes, and went back to our desks to keep writing.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Blog, Tweet, Meet and Greet

There are many different ways for promoting a new book. Which do you feel is the most effective?

by Paul D. Marks

It’s always hard coming at the end of the week.  Other people might have hit points that I hit, though I generally write my articles before our week even begins.  But great minds think alike and all of that ;)

I was going to start off by saying it’s a new world we’re living in with the internet and all.  But it’s not so new anymore, especially as things move more and more quickly all the time.  That said, the internet has opened up a whole new wealth of ways to promote your book. And whether you’re with a major publisher, mid-size or indie publisher you will most likely be the one promoting your book or at least doing 93% of it.

The major publishers push the big authors—you know, the ones who don’t really need it, like Stephen King, Anne Rice, Sue Grafton and John Grisham.  But you and your little book, whether you’re pubb’d by a major, a small publisher or an indie, and who could really use a push, well you’re on your own for the most part. But you can do it. It just takes time, effort and a little money. But not nearly as much money as ad campaigns used to take when your only outlets were print, radio and TV.

The internet gives us: Twitter. Facebook. Goodreads and other similar sites.

There’s also a ton of bloggers who review books or interview authors. Ads in things like E Reader News or Kindle Nation Daily or Kindle Review or the very expensive and choosy Book Bub. Even Facebook ads.

And, of course, there’s the old standbys: word of mouth and personal appearances at bookstores, libraries, reader groups, conventions (like Bouchercon, Malice, Left Coast), etc.

If you’ve got money you can hire a publicist. But, just like with anything or anyone else, some might be good, others not so good. And just because they work for a big company or have a fancy office doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. When I was working in Hollywood my then-writing partner and I got William Morris as agents (have I told this one before?). We thought it was the best day of our lives.  Celebrated. Flying high. But it turned out to be the worst experience as we were the little fish in the big pond. (But I’ll leave the details for another time.) But the best agent I had was working out of his converted garage when I met him. And he hustled for me. And got me work.  And he was eventually picked up as a VP by another large agency and took me with him. The point I’m making here is don’t let the trappings of a big publicist (or publisher for that matter) fool you into thinking you can sit back and do nothing or let things slide

And today there’s a lot you can do yourself.  So even if you can’t afford a publicist it’s not the end of the world. The advantage of a publicist is that they might have lists or contacts of people who might be interested in your book.  They might be able to talk someone into running a piece on you and your book.  But lists can be bought and with persistence you can get the word out.

The bottom line is write a good book, get the word out any way you can. And hope for good word of mouth because that’s still the gold standard of promotion.  And not necessarily easy to obtain.  But if you have a good book and you’re persistent that just might happen for you.

As to which is the most effective, as the expression goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.*
There’s not one way that’s best or most effective. The most effective thing is a combination of various methods working symbiotically with each other. Each thing mentioned above works with and pays off each other, but you have to find what works for you. (And any old excuse to put in a cute cat pic.)

*No cats were skinned in the making of this blog post.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"There are many different ways for promoting a new book. Which do you feel is the most effective?"
by Catriona
Oh God, I knew tackling this topic on Thursday, having read three previous contributions, was going to give me a bad case of galloping inadequacy.
Group tour . . . (Does a family wedding count?) Newsletter . . . (Does mistakenly hitting reply-to-all count?) Be Louise Penny . . . I'll get right on that.
Just about the best thing a publisher has ever said to me was when Midnight Ink told me my first job in promoting the book was to write a great next book.  Writing a book is easier than corralling a street team any day.

It's not as though I do nothing - more that, like Clare said yesterday, I do what I enjoy and it seems weird calling it promotion.  Facebook feels like home now, Twitter like popping next door to borrow a cup of sugar, and Left Coast, Malice and Bouchercon are as fixed in the shape of a year as Christmas, New Year and my birthday. (And then there's Bloody Scotland.)
I also think it's a good idea to have an attractive and easily navigable website, with books in order, a press page and contact links.  Don't you Google every new writer you come across?  I know I want the first thing people find (before the Amazon One-Star Express rolls onscreen) to be what I put there. I had to take a deep breath before I ponied up to Bizango for mine (click here) but I've never regretted it.
What else? Giving books away is a big part of my promotional approach. Large print and audio to the library, prize draws on publication days or to celebrate good reviews, gifts to people who express an interest I can tell falls just short of buying one themselves . . . I think even if these books are discarded they'll be discarded to a thrift store and I first discovered Joyce Carol Oates in a thrift store (and have subsequently given her a decent chunk of my income).
I still can't and will never be able to, if I live to be a hundred, tell someone more than they've asked in the interests of promotion. A typical promo opportunity goes like this:
Potential fan: What do you do?
Catriona: I'm a writer.
PF: Oh? What do you write?
C: Mysteries.
PF: Oh, really?  I love mysteries!
C: Me too. Who do you read?
PF: [names some authors]
C: [names some more authors]
And the conversation is safely off of me. If the PF wants to steer it back I can't stop them.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Buy My Book!

"There are many different ways for promoting a new book. Which do you feel is the most effective?"

This is a harder question to answer than it might seem.

What format is the book and is there a publisher seriously supporting it? ? Hard cover from a major publisher? Trade paperback? Self-published? E-book only?

What about the author? Is it her first, or does she have a string of books under her belt? Is she well-known or seeking to build some name recognition?

What does the book have going for it? Is it getting lots of national buzz? Winning awards? Limping along at the margins? Is it part of a series or a stand-alone?

What research there is seems to show that connecting with the readers by personal contact (bookstore readings, fan conventions, library talks, etc) is a great way to promote a book. It’s clear that many readers want to know something about the author, to feel that they have some kind of bond that stretches beyond the page, and that’s lovely. But unless the author has a private plane or an unheard of publicity budget, there’s a limit to how many readers one can meet. So, the next best thing is that someone who did meet the author recommends the book to his friends, a kind of chain linking contacts between authors and readers.

If it’s a hard cover book, the bookseller and publisher are asking readers to pony up serious money, made more so by the advent of cheap or free e-books. And that’s another promotion tool that authors are discussing in online forums: giving or selling lots of copies (hundreds, thousands) in the hopes of creating demand for the author’s other books. For that to work, there need to be other books ready for the eager readers who, one hopes, got hooked on the teaser book.

There’s more – much more – that authors spend oodles of time chewing on, but I’ll leave that for other Minds to tackle all week.

- from Susan 
(author of Murder in the Abstract, The King's Jar, and (coming in the spring) Mixed Up with Murder - see, that's one way to promote books!)