PR Success / PR Failure


I have a lot of things to say today. Stop groaning! Some of it’s important!  First, in case you missed it, we have a blurb for the Magical Words How To book from Orson Scott Card. Unless you have been living under a rock, he’s, well, he’s CARD! One of the biggest names in SiFi! And he loved the MW book!!!

“This is the best idea for a writing book that I’ve ever seen. It’s like sitting in a room full of professional writers, and after each one delivers a riff on one aspect of writing, the others weigh in to buttress, amplify, refine, or add to what was said. It’s an extended conversation with writers who know what they’re talking about—and what matters in writing fiction that really communicates with readers.” —Orson Scott Card

 Squeeee!!!! How cool is that?!? And the book is available for preorder at BellaRosaBooks.Com.

Second, the AKA, Gwen, has a book out next week, one that sold some years ago in the UK but never in the US. Until now. Ashes to Ashes is out next week with a small press, and she’ll be signing copies at the BooKnack in Rock Hill, SC on the 16th of December, noon to 2-ish. (Yes, Gwen, not me. I won’t be there. I have a photo shoot that day, and I have way better clothes and jewelry than she does… I wouldn’t be caught dead in her stuff.)

Ahem. My other half is not speaking to me now.

Third, thank you for forgiving me for not showing up last week. (If I was in rewrites, I’d redo that sentence. It’s clunky.) We had a band of storms that came through and took out my cable, both TV and Internet. So the cable company decided to do an update while they were making repairs. This required me to live through two days with only sporadic cable. I was in dreadful withdrawal, but I survived, and here I am this week, mostly intact mentally.

If you skip over the schizoid-psycho parts of having a book out by Gwen—Ashes To Ashes, a book out by Faith—Mercy Blade, and the MW book out (with Faith)—Magical Words How To, all in the space of 3 weeks. When you spot glitches in the coherence of everything I say, well, now you know why.

I am going to do a series posts in the next few weeks on what PR a writer should/could/must do in the months before a book comes out.  I am starting with the difficult stuff. PR Success / PR Failure.

I have a friend (a PR specialist) who has a first book out, and is discovering that even with great marketing skills and contacts in newspaper, TV, and radio, this can be a crappy business for a lot of reasons. This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone. Not at all! But is meant to indicate how difficult it is to break into the consciousness of the reading public—and that is, after all, why a writer jumps through all the hoops and over all the hurdles to get a book into print! Nothing about this biz is easy except for the very few writers who make it big right away—and even they have treacherous waters to navigate to stay in print.

I have my friend’s permission to paraphrase parts of her letter to me (removing anything personal) and my reply to her (ditto on the personal parts).

 My friend’s letter (paraphrased):

My signing last weekend was a complete bust: I sold five books. The bookstore owner had insisted she had a great relationship with the right newspaper people, advertised regularly, etc., so she would handle contacting them. I sent her everything and followed up a week ahead. She assured me she had it covered. She didn’t, so I got a tiny blurb, which is a shame because my cousin has a great relationship with the paper—we could have gotten a big spread, but the bookstore woman said not to.

Bottom line, I drove 500 miles for five books.

Most bookstore events garner a maximum of 20 or 30 books (usually 15 or less) which seems, well, to be honest, not worth the trips and the log drives.

I have a good relationship with the B&N in my touristy town.

Any suggestions?

 My reply:

Been there, done that—having problems with the bookstore owners or managers you drive a long way to sign books for. Sometimes it isn’t the new manager’s fault. The old one got fired or left in a huff and told no one you were coming. Or the event was written down for December and you contracted and emailed and confirmed for November. Other times, they are, frankly, space-cadets who think that because they love books they will make an indie a huge success. But they are useless at marketing and business and have no idea why their stores fail.

 Once, I drove to Atlanta (250 miles one way). I sold 1 book. It was awful.

 It’s hard being a writer. You have to love the stories so much that you keep at it even in the face of seeming failure. Been there, done that too.

You *do* have to pick your venues—things and places that work for your whole self, and keep you from getting discouraged, and your family from getting angry and upset at the lack of your time and presence in their lives.

 You have the perfect place with the B&N in a tourist destination town. It gives you a new audience every weekend, and you wouldn’t ever have to leave. Reaching out to and courting a local bookstore in her home town (a tourist destination) is how Kathy Wall did it. She became a success by making a point to write for the locale. Of course, she attended a few conferences a year, volunteered in a writer organization. But it was the bookstore in a touristy town that did it for her.

 Think about this, long and hard. Pray about it. Stare into that fire in your belly, and ask it what it wants. This is the moment when you have to decide—what do you want as a writer? As a person? As a wife? As a professional?

How do you get that and keep peace with yourself?

What concessions are you willing to make to build a fanbase?

How far will you go in terms of miles, time, and effort to see your book in the hands of a happy reading public?

This is a lesson learned: Always do your own PR. Always, even when someone else says they will do it. You knew in your heart that you should never release the reins of your own PR, and yet you were trying to be nice, so you didn’t listen to that little small voice in you who was screaming, “No!” That little voice is a muse of sorts. Listen to it.



25 comments to PR Success / PR Failure

  • Ah, Faith. This strikes so many chords in me I’m going to have to get the piano tuner in. Everything you say here is spot on. Unless you are a mega star (preferably a celebrity writer and not the other way around), you just can’t exepect to see more than a few people at a signing who actually came to see you. I’ve seen HUGE names sitting under banners with their credentials on in deserted book stores looking forlorn. It’s how things are. Unless I have a captive audience at a con or something, I sell the most books to strangers, not to people who came specifically to see me. My most successful signing was during a rain storm in down town Charleston (the Waldenbooks at the corner of Meeting and Market) for exactly the reason you say: a tourist town full of people who had nowhere to go because of the weather. I couldn’t sign fast enough.

  • Oh yes — the *raniny day at the beach* book signing. At Myrtle Beach, I once had a line around the store, people waiting for books, yet no one in line knew who I was. They didn’t care. They talked about the awful storm and their grandkids and made new friends and waited patiently to meet the author. We sold out in less than an hour. Lovely. I used to go to the beach often when it rained there, and sit in a bookstore. But it’s a *long* drive for me. No so much for my writing pal.

  • PR. Two letters when put together spell evil-pain-in-the-butt-I-never-know-what-to-do-and-what-will-work-and…..

    Thanks so much for starting this series of posts. I know many of our readers (and us MW contributers) will find it quite valuable. So, here’s my big question: Since every author I’ve ever talked to about this agrees that book signings don’t usually pan out, why do them? Is it for our brittle egos? It can’t be to connect with fans because going to cons does that far better. So why? Isn’t there a better use of our PR time?

  • I know that Stuart’s question is for Faith, but I’m going to take a whack at it, too, because I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. I am convinced that that vast majority of what we authors do in the name of “PR” is a waste of time. Really. I do lots of signings, and aside from the local ones in my home town — which have yielded as many as three dozen hardcover sales in a couple of hours (in a town of 2000 people) most of my signings have been busts. I think that my con appearances help me some — I don’t always sell a lot of books, but I do get exposure from readings and panels. But mostly I get to hang out with other writers which pays dividends in other ways. Web stuff? Yeah, sure, that helps some. I think that more people know about me and my books now than did three years ago, largely because of this site. But my sales haven’t jumped in that time. I maintain my website and blogs because they provide an easy way for people to find me.

    But here’s the point: I really don’t believe that my sales numbers would be that different if I did none of this stuff. I do it because if I didn’t I’d go nuts. When I have a book come out, I feel that I have to do SOMETHING to promote it. Sitting on my hands is out of the question. So I do blog tours and signings and cons, and I use my various online venues to promote my work. But I can only reach so many people. Compared with the number my publisher can reach directly or indirectly (through advertisements, by getting review copies into the hands and of right people, by distributing the books widely) my reach is minuscule. I do it to make myself feel like I’m doing something.

    The one thing I try to do that I think IS effective? Talking to bookstore staff in as many local stores as possible. They are the ones who hand sell books. They have the greatest potential influence over my book’s success or failure. But the rest is, in my opinion, window dressing.

  • Stuart, the answer to that takes us into next week’s post… But will say, that, when I was writing as Gwen, I used to go to tourist towns and sit in the most busy bookstores. I might meet 10 or even 20 people per store, and they very often became fans, writing me, emailing me, and sharing word-of-mouth about my books. It was worth it, because I’d hit every bookstore in the town over a two day period. I was meeting 45 year old or older women, who read and loved mysteries.

    Then yes. It was worth it…

  • David, yes. Spot on. I do it because I have to do *something*. Signings work for mystery writers, if they get the promo. They really work for that demographic. For fantasy writers…? Sigh.

  • Right, Faith. I do agree that our genre is less signing-friendly, in a way. But that’s why cons are so handy — they fill the same space in a way. I should also add that what I said above pertains more to big publishers. Smaller presses have somewhat less reach, and so self-promotion by small-press authors is more important in a proportional sense.

  • mudepoz

    A few weeks ago I went to Deland Florida. Its an old city, filled with ghosts and tourists, oh, and a really cool art fair. In the welcome center, sitting in front of the bookstore, were two local writers. Me, being the chatty type, checked their books and asked about what they were writing about, and why. Ended up buying 5 books between the two, had a great discussion on American Indian hauntings versus European in America hauntings (I’m in WI, very haunted state. Odd state), and enjoyed myself. In that time, a bunch of other people stopped, got involved with the conversation, and bought books. Maybe y’all need a shill standing there with a bag full of books:)

  • David, so true. Fantasy readers *like* cons. They like the energy, the opportunity to interact with so many other fantasy book lovers and their fave writers. They like meeting new writers and getting a chance to get a book signed, find a new author to love.

    And yes, small press authors *need* to get out there and be seen. But it’s the balancing act between so few books sold at a signing and so much time taken form livign and writing. That’s why venues in tourist towns are the best! MOre on that next week.

  • Mud, shills work great for those who can use them. It’s hard for me to *pretend* with a family member or friend, however. I get itchy and uncomfortable.

    I’ve used fans to draw a crowd around a book signing table, however. An excited fan asking questions draws stares. An animated writer answering them can draw a crowd. Raising my voice just a bit can keep the crowd around long enough for them to become interested enough to buy. It’s a sales technique. But it is exhausting and … well, more on that next week too.

  • Wonderful post, Faith; wonderful topic. It is, as Stuart says, Evil (with a capital ‘E’), but it is also necessary. I’ll be following this with great interest.

    The strategy I adopted early on was not to do JUST signings, but to offer some kind of workshop or talk first. My philosophy was simply that no one really knew or cared who Ed Schubert was (not yet, anyway), but that I could offer them something they DID care about. Once they were in the bookstore, some of them bought books, some did not, but the important thing was that the bookSTORES loved me for bringing in customers. That made them more likely to handsell my book after I left, and more likely to invite me back again the next time. Making allies out of the bookstores pays dividends long after you’ve left. That’s my approach anyway, and I’d say ‘so far, so good.’

  • Edmund, I’ve had mixed reactions to talks, including the one at a local B&N that ended up taking place during a huge rain strom, with one person to give my talk to! But it’s a good topic… Grist for the mill of PR planning and for this series.

  • mudepoz

    *Koff* Wasn’t a family member. Or a friend. Just someone with a big mouth who didn’t even know know these guys. Small press, sitting on folding chairs, signing books outside the gift shop. But, there it is. Grab interest by talking. I guess you still need one person to talk to. Maybe there is a place for loud mouths with a consuming interest in weird.

  • Mud, you did good. I was actually (and poorly, I guess)answering about *real* shills–who are often family members or friends. Other, non-family are not shills, and do *great* to create excitement for a writer. So, again, you were a writer’s best pal!

  • I like the idea of starting a conversation with potential customers/fans. Case in point: this website. I’ve bought, and slowly making my way through, something from nearly every writer on this blog. And part of that is because you all interact with us, so I’ve become interested in your work. And then I’ve told friends about it. Word of mouth is huge.

  • Moira, yes, word of mouth is the only way to make it in this business. No amount of advertizing dollars and no amount of personal or professinoal PR effort can beat or even come close to what word of mouth will do for a writer. Fans who tell friends about a writer’s work are the *only* think that sells books.

    I am reminded of the *bestseller* by Greg Louganis, the US olympic diver. According to a bookseller pal, his autobography presold to bookstores (most were ordered cleaply and non-returnable, in a *special offer* by the pub, BTW) in the hundreds of thousands. It had massive PR. MASSIVE. And the bookstores sold … none. They ate the *special* buy. Readers didn’t want to read his story. The very few who did read it, didn’t care enough to tell others. Years later, there were still books piled in dusty, dark, bookstore corners.

  • Moria, a PS — We are all cognizant of the effort of all our reades here, to familiarize yourselves with our work. And when you tell friends that you loved a book, we feel wonderful! It makes it all worthwhile!

  • Oh, PR, how I despise it! I went over to Kim Harrison’s house around the time my book was coming out, to pick her brain about PR, since she’s a whiz at it. And as your series goes on, I’ll share some of the things she said. 😀

    But about booksignings…I had two really excellent book signings the week after my book came out, but it was because all of my friends who could come out did. Subsequent signings have been less than stellar, but the one thing that did make it all worth it was the relationship I developed with a local bookseller. He’s great, gets in touch whenever there’s a promo opportunity he thinks I might be interested in, and handsells my book. As David said, that’s the best result you can ask for from a book signing.

  • Yes! I’ve met your guy and he’s great. A bookseller who likes you and your work is priceless.

    I made some very good bookseling friends back when Waldenbooks were around. The AKA’s numbers were pretty good (excellent by today’s standards) because of those relationships. But it’s harder to make bookseller pals now — because so many bookstores don’t make an effort to hire people who read. Sad but true.

    Hmmm. Mercy Blade will be out soon. I need you to put in a good word for me with your bookseller pal!

  • Faith, I’m really looking forward to this new series of posts. I figure the more I know how this end of the business works, the better. Even though I probably won’t get to that point for a few years yet.

    As an introvert who has been working at coming out of her shell as an adult, those booksigning stories sound like a special kind of hell. Well, forewarned is forearmed.

  • Aw, thanks, Faith. When I enjoy a book, I figure it’s the least I can do in return for the pleasure *I’ve* derived from reading it. I tell my friends and my sisters. And my dad. He’s burned through everything I hand to him … and then he tells his friends. Yup, word of mouth works. 😀

  • EK, Bookstore signings can indeed be hell. They force the shy writer to develop a different, outgoing persona. I was the *most* shy person on the face of the earth when I was younger. I’ll share a bit of tht process of remaking myself next week.

    Moria, that kind of help is worth everything!

  • Is anybody having problems with RSS feeds? Mine is still showing Misty’s post.
    Interesting take on PR. I’ve heard authors talk about signings with mixed emotions.

    One story I heard recently was author x sitting beside bestselling author y at a signing table (removed to avoid embarrassing a friend). Nobody to come see x, while the store was lined out the door for author y. Finally, a fan from y’s line asked x if he was one of y’s assistants. Ouch.

    I’ve been a regular customer at my local B&N, but with nothing coming out yet, I’ve been avoiding the “I’m going to get published someday” conversatation. I figure that’ll just hurt things for now.

    Thanks for the info, Faith.

  • You are welcome, NGD. I do recommend getting in good with a local bookstore in the months before your book comes out. An indie if you can, but a good B&N is good too. Having a release party at a local store is a great idea. The AKA used to have 100 to 150 people come to a release party, and once sold 175 books at one signing. I have fewer now, but fantasy (unless you are Big-Name-Writer) isn’t as signing-productive! I now manage 50 to 75 people, and feel good about that!