by John McFetridge
When we started this blog we said it would be okay for us to do some self-promotion here.
Now if someone could just figure out how to promote a book.
It seems these days people are trying just about everything. Last year I downloaded a free version of the book Beautiful Children by Charles Bock as a promotion from the publisher. A great book, but I haven't seen another one from that author so he still hasn't made a sale to me as a result of the free give-away.
There was an article in the paper today about Margaret Atwood promoting her new novel with a book tour that will include actors and original music performed live at the events. Sounds like fun, but the article didn't really say anything about the book, The Year of the Flood, which I understand is a sequel of sorts to Oryx and Crake (which I liked a lot). That could be a great publicity-generating promotion, but it's not really something many of us could do.
My Canadian publisher is small and doesn't have much money so there's little promotion beyond sending out review copies and hoping for the best. When my first book came out we had a launch party in my neighbourhood which was really just so I could show all the folks I knew from the schoolyard where I dropped off my kids that I really was going home to "work" during the day. It was a good party, but it wasn't really book promotion.
Because I sometimes like to play around on the computer, I've tried my hand at book trailers:
I think I'm getting better, but I don't think it's realy helping to promote the books very much. I think people who read books aren't fooled by some flashy graphics (if I had those, I mean). So, I try to go against the advice and actually put a lot of words into my trailers. I think people who like to read books are okay with a lot of words. Marketing departments may disagree with me, but I'm stubborn.
So, I have a book coming out in September in Canada (February in the USA) and I'm trying to think of ways to do some promotion.
Give it away free like Beautiful Children?
Stage events like Margaret Atwood?
And there's the billion dollar question. Well, maybe not billion.
It's a question, anyway.
Book launches with music or some kind of extra special event are always fun. But it seems that it's authors who already have a profile who are able to swing that kind of deal, Pelecanos did a reading in London recentley that was then 'supported' bu the Pogues. THE POGUES!
I think the compromise for everybody else, especially if your book has a local setting, is to get someone from the local music scene to support you. They may have an inbuilt core audience that would turn up more for them than the book, but you can the convince them its about places and people that matter to them.
The book trailer is something else. I've seen a few of them over the last few years, each one seems better than the one before. I have a background in video editing, and probably some mates i could con into appearing, so that would be an option. But who watches them? If somehwere like Itunes could start opening up to these book trailers and pushing them, there would be potential for a whole new audience. But even then, who would be clicking on the link?
One way to find out, i suppose...
The best internet example i've seen of self promotion is Seth Harwood. He built an audience from scratch with his podcasts, and now continues to maintain an audience for both himself and others. But he had the freedom to do that because he didnt have a bookdeal when he started, would a publisher be open to a new author trying it?
I wonder about the idea of giving away your last book at free ebook download to promote the new book.
I think Joe Finder gave away Paranoia to promote the new Vanished.
Through the Kindle, Mr. A. Guthrie is selling off his backlist pretty cheap.
I don't think it's terrible bright to give away something that might make you money, but giving away something that's selling a copy a week or so to promote the upcoming book sounds smart -- hypothetically.
Since you've used yourself as a case example, any thought to setting up Dirty Sweet (I already own the print version) for free ebook download so that folks can get ready for the new McFetridge book in September?
That's a good idea, Steve, I'd like to make Dirty Sweet more available. But there's the whole issue of rights - different publishers in Canada and the US and no publisher anywhere else, but my agent's working on it.
Also, most likely nothing will come of it, but I had a meeting with a producer who'd like to make a movie from the book. If that happened, there would likely be a mass market paperback issued and that would mean another publisher and more rights issues.
Still, I will continue to make my short stories and flash fiction freely available online. Sort of lik those free samples in the grocery store...
I think your idea of giving away some shorts, flash, and interviews for free works great. Kind of like free samples at Costco. The publisher could distribute them to more people than would ordinarily hit your blog, and they could be updated as statutes of limitations ran out on them for the original venue. (Powder Burn, Thuglit, whatever.)
I know trailers are the hot new thing, but I think readers prefer to read about what they're going to read. Someone like me reads books more for the writing than for the story, so a trailer doesn't do much for me. I think people who depend on trailers to get their attention are more likely to watch movies than read.
What I've noticed a lot lately is that everything is about the author instead of the book. I see authors jumping up and down all over the net "yelling" look at me. But they never seem to talk about their book or the characters. They'll discuss their writing habits, how they promote their books, where they've been and where they're going, but they just don't seem to discuss the book.
And for readers, it's all about the book. They want to see the cover, they want to know what it's about and I'd guess for the most part they don't care who wrote it as long as it's a good story and worth the money they're going to shell out for it.
I think especialy for first and second time authors they should be concentrating on selling their stories not themselves. If you grab the readers with the words and the characters they'll look for another book by you.
Of course, this is all from just a reader's point of view as I have no idea how much pressure is put on writers to sell themselves. Or even how hard it is to separate yourself from the book.
When I was in the weird limbo after I'd written my first book and had an agent and before she dropped me, I had an idea like Atwood. My first book featured Harry Truman as a character. I thought it'd be cool to have a local actor done up like Harry and come in and read part of the book. It would certainly have been memorable.
I like the idea of word-of-mouth spreading that Scott Parker's book signings are fun, entertaining, and unique.
Last year or in 2007, I attended a book "event" where the guys from Out of the Gutter magazine were the lead. They brought in the members of Houston's own roller derby team. Really. They had siphoning contests (water, not gas) and gave away free stuff. Surely the most entertaining event I've been to.
Charles Ardai brought an entire slide show and had giveaways. I'm to the point where I want more stuff in a book signing/appearance. Recently, I finally got to meet Pelecanos and it was not a very entertaining event. It was a letdown, really. Sure, I don't expect a circus but a little more than a Q&A and a signing.
Something I've thought about is a combination scavenger hunt/online game thing. Take my local Houston crime story. When it's published (see that optimism), I'd like to stage a citywide event that's interactive. People go to certain places and pick up clues to something, the winner getting a free copy of the book and The Grand Prize (TBD). Ditto for online promotion: have extra websites created around the web and have folks interact online.
Who knows. But it's different.
Do blog tours work at all? Neil Smith is very adept at it but no idea it helps. I think we are just in a down time. Yet more books were published last year than ever before. Maybe we will have to recalibrate what success is. Smaller advance, smaller first printings, smaller library expectations. Just hold on until we find a way to woo the public. Maybe cut prices. Maybe crime fiction should only be in paperback.
Perhaps offering your short stories (which are already free on your website) in some packaged form for free, as a teaser. At least those stories that are thematically similar to your book.
In 2009 with blogs, websites, and RSS feeds it seems like anyone with a genuine interest in (for example) crime fiction is well aware of what books are coming and when. Then I guess it becomes a question of authors fighting for their portion of the pie, convincing J.Q. Public to buy the new McFetridge instead of the new So Andso.
And to gain new readers? Product placement in the stores? On their websites? Give the big box stores some (financial?) incentive to rack your book more prominently in both locations? Offer some free chapbook (or cd) of short stories for on-line purchases only? Become notorious for some crime and go on the talking heads tv tour?
You already have the most crucial element: you write some damn good fiction, mister. I'll be buying your new book, so you'll have at least one sale!
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