We try to become our own “brand,” familiarizing readers with our names and book titles.
To do this, we use social media, broadcast media, print media and personal contact. We do signings at bookstores. We sit on panels at conferences. We do readings at libraries and shopping malls and bars. We join writing groups and organizations. We blog, tweet, link, friend and post. We do giveaways and send out newsletters. We spend as much time promoting as we do writing the books that we’re trying to promote.
Sometimes these efforts pay off. Other times, well, they can be less than effective. Even downright embarrassing.
In the twenty years I’ve been writing books, I’ve done lots promotion efforts, had some success, but also had my share of promotional bloopers. Here are a few lessons based on my experiences.
There was the signing in the mall bookstore where nobody, not a single sweet soul turned up.
LESSON 1: PROMOTE THE HELL OUT OF YOUR EVENTS IN ADVANCE
There was the signing I had following one by Lee Childs. I approached him amid a circle of his fans and introduced myself, adding:
“I loved the movies based on your books. Brian Dennehy was an amazing choice for Jack Reacher.”
Lee Childs paused, then replied, “There are no movies based on my books.”
He turned back to his fans. To my horror, I realized I’d confused Jack Reed, played by Dennehy, with Childs’ Jack Reacher, played by nobody. Oops.
LESSON 2: BE SURE OF YOUR FACTS BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Another time, I was booked by my publicist (there were such people at publishing houses back then) for a popular radio show in Chicago. Turned out, the host was a guy called “Mad Cow.” Unknown to me, his guests were traditionally and raucously mocked and abused. Fortunately—Maybe because I was so naïve—I was not the target of his jokes. Another guest on with me took all the punches. He was the “I’m-not-just-the-president, I’m-also-a-client” hair weave guy.
For pretty much the whole hour, Mad Cow kept asking me to pull the guy’s hair to see if it would stick to his scalp. It was radio. Nobody could see. I kept talking as if I were tugging at it, but Mad Cow wouldn’t play along. He persisted until I actually yanked the guy’s hair. I can’t even tell you if my book title was ever mentioned.
I do remember that, when I arrived, Mad Cow asked, “Who is she?” His cohost said, “She’s an author.”
“A what--An author?” asked Mad Cow. And he played sound effects of riotous laughter…
LESSON 3: CHECK OUT THE VENUE BEFORE YOU AGREE TO AN EVENT
More recently, doing an internet radio interview, I called in and heard the host and her associate talking about me. They didn’t know I was on the line.
“Her name is Merry Jones. I think she’s pretty stupid,” the host said. “She asked if she should call us or if I would call her. I mean, I sent her our phone number. Why did she think I’d do that if I was going to call her? How stupid is she?”
“Pretty stupid,” the associate replied.
At that point, I said, “You know, I can hear you.”
Idid the interview anyway, but it didn’t get any better.
LESSON 4: WHEN THINGS GO SOUTH, KEEP SMILING AND GO ON TO THE NEXT OPPORTUNITY
I can go on with anecdotes and lessons, but the main point I want to make is that promotional efforts don’t always go as expected. And no matter how much promoting we do, it’s never enough. It’s never finished. We do one blog, signing, interview or appearance and go to the next, hoping that sometime, somewhere, something we do will inspire someone to buy and read and love our books.
And that in the process, we won’t embarrass ourselves beyond repair…
Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers, BEHIND THE WALLS and SUMMER SESSION, as well as the Zoe Hayes mysteries, THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, and THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS. She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: WOMEN WHO RELINQUISHED BABIES FOR ADOPTION TELL THEIR STORIES). Visit her at MerryJones.com