Earlier this week, I had lunch with a writer friend. The conversation turned, as writer-lunch-conversations are wont to do, to promotion — what each of us does to promote our work, and what we should be doing. My views on promotion have changed considerably, so I thought I’d share them here, and we can hash out what we thinks works and what doesn’t work.
I promoted my first novel, The Glasswrights’ Apprentice, with a self-financed book tour. I traveled up and down the West Coast, stopping at a dozen bookstores (Borders, B&N, and independents) for readings and signings. I spent weeks scheduling the visits, phoning community relation managers, begging for a calendar slot. In addition to the West Coast tour, I visited my hometown (Minneapolis) for a reading, and I hosted a reading in my then-town (D.C.) I hosted a book launch party at the law firm where I worked. I actually launched my career at World Fantasy in Providence, and I attended Worldcon in Chicago. I spent thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels, and on gas money. (I conducted the West Coast tour in my best friend’s purple Camaro — and *man* that thing ate gas!) I also burned through three weeks of vacation from my day-job, which did not cost me money, but it cost me time and sanity. Apprentice won an award from Barnes & Noble for “best first spec fic novel” (not phrased that way officially, but that’s what it was), and the book appeared on Locus’s bestseller list. I signed a new contract for three more books within a month of Apprentice’s launch.
I promoted the rest of the Glasswright series and my stand-alone fantasy novel in more restrained ways. I always scheduled local readings, and I tried to schedule events in Minneapolis. (After the first two books, though, those events were very hard to come by…) I created handmade bookmarks. I printed up business cards. I attended cons as day-job and finances permitted. I tried some crazy things — sending chapters of Glasswright books to every glass artist I could find in America, for example. (Not a single response from that…) I maintained a website and started a blog over at LiveJournal.
When I switched sub-genres and publishers, I followed similar models — lots of printed materials, as many personal appearances as I could afford, begging bookstores to let me do readings, signing stock in every store I visited. I printed up ribbons for con-goers to attach to their nametags. I eventually converted my website to WordPress and managed my blog from there. I added in Facebook. I created a mailing list and sent out quarterly newsletters, using Vertical Response. I ran contests on my blog, giving away free copies of my books, in exchange for email addresses to feed the newsletter. I spoke at book groups, in person, and by Skype. Each year, I spent a couple of thousand dollars (mostly on travel to cons, some on paper goods).
When I emerged as Morgan Keyes, writing the traditional fantasy, middle-grade Darkbeast series, I maintained all *those* methods of promoting, and I added in school visits. Once again, I was emailing friends, begging teachers and administrators, scrapping with local bookstores so that I could speak to middle grade classes. I went on a mini-tour to North Carolina (all paid for out of my own pocket), and I visited a dozen classes around my local community. I structured a blog tour, with more than three dozen stops, each with a unique post about some aspect of my novel.
Throughout all of this, I received minimal help from my publishers. For each book, I developed a marketing and promotion plan, and I approached my editor and my assigned publicist to ask for help. Over the years, I received three large foam-core book covers, a number of professionally-designed and -printed bookmarks, and, um… Well, I also received “co-op money” (the money publishers pay to place print books on tables at the front of chain bookstores). And for Darkbeast, my publicist mailed out prize copies for all my contests (usually, after a few reminders). Oh, and for Darkbeast, S&S did a truly wonderful thing — they invited me to the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, where I attended a cocktail party and gave away a couple hundred copies of Darkbeast to actual booksellers, getting the chance to chat with them and explain the book to them.
Now, it may sound like I’m complaining, but really, I’m not. I know that as a midlist author, my publishers gave me exactly the same support as they gave other midlist authors. That’s the way the game is played — bestselling authors get the vast majority of publisher support.
But I *am* saying that I spent a lot of my own money. And a ton of my own time. And an indescribable amount of my own energy. And I don’t know that I have a lot to show for it.
Bottom line: I strongly believe that the best promotion I can provide is writing a really good book. Especially writing my *next* really good book — getting new material out there for readers to discover.
Sure, I’m going to continue keeping my website up to date, including writing blog posts. And I’ll keep in touch with people on Facebook. And I’ll even send out a newsletter, when I have big things to report. I’ll keep business cards on me at all times, because that’s what a professional person does.
But the rest of it? The travel, the begging, the constant bouncing from city to city, on my own dime?
It’s time to take a break. It’s time to write the next book.
So? How about you? What promotion have you done for your own work? What promotion have you responded to from other authors? Where do you stand on the battlefield of the great promotion wars?