Monday, September 26, 2011

Promoting in a Pack -- By Ann Parker

When it comes to promoting, some authors go it alone, by choice or necessity. However, as someone with a “pack mentality,” I’m here to sing the praises of group promotion. Promoting with others allows you to…

·       Plan together: From “where should we go?” to “should we have giveaways?” you’ve got others to bounce ideas off of.

·       Share the workload: Divvy up your contact lists so one person doesn’t have to make all the calls or send all the emails. Too, if there’s a design whiz amongst you, she can design a flyer promoting your “group tour.”

·       Share the costs: Materials, mailing, and travel (gas, hotel) expenses are more manageable when shared. And let’s not forget the good “environmental karma” you’ll rack up by carpooling, using one flyer to hawk three authors, and so on.

·       Offer a “two-fer,” “three-fer,” etc. to bookstores, libraries, etc.: In my experience, most brick ‘n mortar venues prefer hosting an event with multiple authors. They can advertise once, prepare once, and (fingers crossed) get more people in the doors.

·       Encourage cross-fertilization: People who are interested in your fellow author might, upon meeting you, decide to give your book a try… and vice versa!

·       Avoid awkward moments: During the event, if there’s a dead silence from the crowd, you can ask each other questions. Similarly, you can feed each other straight lines and set up each other’s stories.

Group benefits apply in the virtual world as well. Do you find daily blogging just too much to handle? You are not alone, trust me. Find others of a like mind and create or join a group blog. For instance, I co-administrate a group blog, The LadyKillers, which has fourteen authors. Most post once every two weeks, with a few splitting one slot and posting just once a month. The big pluses of this arrangement: the blog has new post up every day, and we look out for each other, promoting/commenting on each other’s posts and creating a conversation. Among the things we do to make The LadyKillers work smoothly are the following:

·       Have weekly “themes,” scheduled out about six months in advance. Although blogging on the theme isn’t required, it prevents the last-minute “what the heck am I going to blog about?” panics.

·       Have two co-administrators for the blog. Mysti Berry and I back up each other, and the blogsters know they can call on either of us for help, should the need arise.

·       Have a private yahoo group. Allows us to post messages to the group. We also use the yahoo calendar function to list who blogs when and what the themes are.

·       Have “emergency posts” ready to go. We try to encourage all the LadyKillers to schedule their posts to go live just after midnight. If someone forgets (it happens), or has trouble getting the post up (that happens too), we have some back-up quotes in the yahoo group files that can be slapped up by any LadyKiller when they see a posting is missing/late for the day.

If you want to give group promotion a try, here are some tips from my “partners in crime” for making your group effort run smoothly:

·       Approach authors you know or have heard speak elsewhere, so that you know their styles/personalities and yours will “mesh.”

·       Find a catchy title for your group, something that underlines your commonalities or plays up your differences. It can be as simple as “Mavens of Mystery,” “Historical Murder and Mayhem” etc.

·       Appoint a “moderator” from amongst you, if your group is three or more, for each event. The moderator can keep a list of agreed-upon questions handy, be sure everyone gets heard, and handle the audience Q&A.

·       Read the works of your partners-in-crime, or at least be able to sound like you have. Compliment each other: praise always sounds better coming from someone else. So, next time you have a book coming out the chute, maybe there are other folks you can join forces with to bring the power of numbers to promotion.


Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, MERCURY’S RISE, will be released November 1.

Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win one of the Silver Rush mysteries! Winner will be announced later this week.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Promoting to Libraries

by Jacqueline Seewald

Writers can’t just write a book these days; they have to promote it as well. Today owing to the internet and the ease of self-publishing, there are more writers publishing their books then ever before. We are in the midst of a literary revolution that is changing the face of publishing throughout the world. So what are the best ways to promote books? The obvious answer is by using the internet: social networking such as websites, blogging, via Facebook, Twitter, etc. Bookstore signings and events are great. However, as we are aware with the demise of Borders among others, bookstore opportunities unless you are a famous author are diminishing. So where does an author go to find publicity and name recognition? How about libraries.

As a former librarian and teacher, I can testify to the fact that authors are welcome to provide an event at many libraries. Books are an important component of what the library has to offer. Authors are respected by librarians. Think in terms of what kind of event you can provide that library patrons will enjoy and appreciate.

On October 6th I will present an event at the Fort Lee, NJ Library entitled “We Can All Be Writers.” It will not just be a talk but a happening—an interactive experience for both attendees and myself. I will offer writing exercises that we can do together and discuss.
I’ll also talk about sources of inspiration for writers as well as library resources for writers. In short, I will be offering something to patrons. I believe that not only can everyone be a writer but should be a writer. By this I do not necessarily mean that they should strive for publication. There is such a thing as writing simply for our own self-expression. There is also writing to leave a written and historical record for our families.

What’s in it for you? Well, the library may or may not be able to pay you to speak but at least you won’t be paying a fee. Doing an event will provide you with publicity. You can ask the local newspaper to cover it. Hopefully, library patrons may want to either borrow some of your novels from the library or purchase them. At the very least, the library will buy your book.

As for me, I intend to give something useful back to the community. Hopefully, my expertise in teaching, library science and writing will benefit those who also want to write.

Multi-award winning author Jacqueline Seewald has taught creative, expository and technical writing at the university level as well as high school English. She also worked as an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Eleven of her books of fiction have been published. Her short stories as well as poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies. Her hardcover mystery novels, THE INFERNO COLLECTION and THE DROWNING POOL, are the first two novels in the Kim Reynolds series.
THE TRUTH SLEUTH is a new release in that series. All three novels have received excellent reviews from BOOKLIST among others. Her historical romance set in the Regency period TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS is available in both hardcover and large print editions. These novels can be found on Amazon, B&N online, and local libraries. A young adult novel, STACY’S SONG, is also available in print and as an e-book.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


In my experience, figure skating fans don’t merely love figure skating.  They love all things having to do with figure skating, too.

The love souvenir programs and sweatshirts, autographed photos and commemorative DVDs, autobiographies and children’s books written by their favorite ice stars.

So why shouldn’t they like Figure Skating Mysteries, too?

The very first book I published – by myself – at the age of 23, was a figure skating trivia book entitled “As The Toe Picks.”  If I may date myself, back in those days you couldn’t just format a book, upload it, and let a computer program to take care of the printing and shipping.  I actually had to physically cut down 8 x 11 pieces of paper to match the size of the book I was ordering, print on both sides of the paper, put it together and send it off to the printer, who then sent me a box of books which I then mailed out individually.

But, before I could send the books out, I had to have someone willing to buy them (and preferably include a check.)

So, in my first attempt at niche marketing, I created post-cards (also cut out by hand from a larger sheet of paper) and sent them to every skating club, skating official and registered skater in the USA using the Official United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) rule-book.  I also took ads (and solicited reviews) in print skating publications and in competitive programs distributed at local competitions.

I sold every single one of my books and even made a profit (though my dad, who’d fronted me the money, was quick to point out I only made my (his) investment back and then some, I hadn’t factored in my time.)  By the time a skating novelties catalogue asked for more books, however, I’d moved on to writing romances with AVON, and simply sold them the rights to continue printing my original trivia book.  (I saw it listed as a collector’s item on one site for $100!)

Flash forward a decade, and while I’m writing fiction for AVON and DELL, when it comes to skating, non-fiction is still the name of the game.  I publish a coffee-table book called “Inside Figure Skating” for a book packager which eventually gets bought by B&N, and a biography of Sarah Hughes (two months before she pulls an upset to win the 2002 Olympics) for Penguin Putnam.

My editor for the Sarah Hughes book, being a huge skating fan herself, wondered if I’d be interested in trying my hand at a Figure Skating Mystery series.  (Actually, the way she presented it was, “I read a proposal you wrote a few years ago.  I didn’t like it.”  I remembering thinking, “I am SO glad you personally called to tell me that.”  We did, however, end up coming up with a proposal she liked.)

The resultant books, “Murder on Ice,” “On Thin Ice,” “Axel of Evil,” “Death Drop,” and “Skate Crime” were released between 2003 and 2007.

In 2011, after getting my rights back, I made a deal with Ice Theatre of NY ( to incorporate their professional videos into my newly enhanced e-books as a key part of the story.

A demo, “Skate Crime: Multimedia” ( came out in the Spring and, once again, it was back to niche marketing for me.

This time around, though, I had the Internet on my side. 

No more post-cards.  No more painstakingly typing in each address into a label program (raise your hand if you remember those!)  No more trying to find mailing addresses and paying for postage, only to eat it when the missive came bouncing back.

Instead, I used a comprehensive directory of skating clubs, skating rinks, skating coaches and skating center directors to send customized e-mails (I got extremely nimble with cut and paste).  A good percentage of them still bounced back.  But, at least there was no cost involved.

In addition, I not only sent press releases to print publications, but also to on-line ‘zines, on-line fan-clubs and individual fan web-pages.

Strictly speaking, the bulk of my recipients cannot be mystery – or even fiction – readers.  But, they’re skating fans, and that’s the aspect I highlighted in my sales pitch.

The fact is, there is very little skating to watch in the off-season (Spring/Summer).  With “Skate Crime: Multimedia,” I was offering them an alternative way to get their fix.

Did it work?  As with all marketing; impossible to ever really tell, since you don’t know for certain where your customers are coming from or what they may have seen that drove them to click BUY.

All I know is, I’m selling books.  And making a profit, too.

Just as long as I keep excluding my time spent….

Alina Adams wrote Regency romances for AVON and contemporaries for DELL.  Her soap opera tie-ins, “Oakdale Confidential” and “Jonathan’s Story” were NY Times best-sellers.  Another tie-in, “The Man From Oakdale,” won the 2010 SCRIBE Award.  Alina is currently working on turning her entire backlist into enhanced e-books with video, music and more, spearheaded by “Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama’s Greatest Moments”, and soon to include all of her Figure Skating Mysteries.  Visit her at:

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When Well-planned Marketing Strategies Fail

Bob Sutherland is an author, illustrator and the publisher of Pikestaff Press.

One issue that perhaps requires more discussion than it normally gets is the occasional failure of well-planned and well-executed promotional efforts to generate book sales. In marketing my novel The Farringford Cadenza I’ve experienced two such failures which colleagues might find interesting (and even useful). I certainly find them interesting—as well as irksome and puzzling. I’m sure some of you have had comparable experiences you might like to share.

It’s always disappointing when a well-planned marketing strategy fails to produce sales; and it’s particularly frustrating when, to the best of your ability, you’ve done everything “right”: identified the target audience, done the necessary research to design promotional materials for an effective “pitch”, and delivered those materials into the proper hands. On two occasions while promoting my mysteryThe Farringford Cadenza (The Pikestaff Press, 2007), I’ve found that—contrary to logic and counter to informed intuition—my hopefully scattered seeds fell on stony ground.

CASE 1. Since the novel has classical music as one of its chief components, and its main action is organized around the avid pursuit by a number of diverse characters of a missing manuscript of a cadenza for solo piano, it seemed to me that professional musicians would be a logical niche audience to receive promotional materials. These materials consisted of a letter that described the book (briefly summarizing its action), depicted its cover, and provided purchase information. In addition to the book’s being well reviewed in a number of venues, two concert pianists and the former principal flute of the London Symphony Orchestra had praised it, and these endorsements were included in the materials.
To obtain my list of professional musicians, I researched the teaching faculties of all the nation’s major conservatories and university music departments. I list them here not to be pedantic, but to show the number of schools and their geographical distribution: Boston Conservatory, U. of Cincinnati, Curtis Institute, Eastman, Juilliard, Levine School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, U. of Maryland, New England Conservatory, Oberlin Conservatory, Peabody Conservatory (located in Baltimore, MD, where much of the book’s action takes place, and which enters into the story, though under a different name), San Francisco Conservatory, USC at Los Angeles (Thornton School of Music), Cleveland Institute, Yale, Indiana U. (Jacobs School), Interlochen Arts Academy, Blair School of Music (Vanderbilt U.), Bard College Conservatory, and Illinois Wesleyan University.

From these various institutions, I selected the faculty members who were to receive promotional materials on the basis of (1) their instrumental specialties (piano, flute, trumpet, violin, etc.), (2) their academic interests (composition, theory, musicology, etc.) and performance histories, (3) where they had done their own training (and particularly if they had studied at Peabody), and (4) what their non-musical interests were (writing, reading, collecting). From the twenty schools of music I selected 369 individuals whom I thought would be the most likely to find my promotional materials interesting. I assumed that if they purchased the book (and liked it) they would tell their colleagues and friends, lend their copies out, and purchase additional copies as gifts (a promotional ripple effect). My timing had the letters arrive in early autumn, well in advance of holiday gift-buying. Altogether, I spent almost three months doing research, selecting recipients, and preparing and mailing the 369 customized cover letters. These efforts resulted in one sale—an outcome that I found not only disheartening, but baffling.

The niche marketing strategy had seemed valid: contacting a carefully selected group of musicians (performers, composers, musicologists, etc.)—teachers all, deeply committed to music, and to nurturing the next generation of practitioners. The flatline response was not only contrary to what I perceived to be the logic of my plan, but counter-intuitive as well. Was I na├»ve to think that musicians would be interested in my novel? Is it possible they don’t read mysteries, or for that matter, any sort of fiction? Are they too busy teaching, performing, traveling, and practicing to read at all? Was there something about my promotional materials that didn’t resonate with 368 diverse people? Having carefully crafted my pitch, I’m at a loss to know how I could’ve improved it. I find this non-response a real-life mystery that I haven’t yet solved.

CASE 2. Two years ago I decided that I should make a concerted effort to market the book to public libraries. Because there are many hundreds of libraries in the United States, and my promotional budget is limited, it seemed reasonable to launch an experimental trial run before committing printing and postage money to a broad-based scattergun approach. Since much of the action of The Farringford Cadenza takes place in Baltimore and on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I focused on a regional effort, targeting public libraries in the State of Maryland and in Christiansted, St. Croix, where theoretically there would be local interest.

While Maryland has some prestigious freestanding libraries like the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, many libraries in the state are housed in County systems, in which a main library situated in a particular town has administrative jurisdiction over a variable number of branch facilities in other towns. When I was visiting my son’s family in Ellicott City, I asked the acquisitions librarian at Elkridge Branch Library (the one near his home) if Elkridge would consider purchase of The Farringford Cadenza. The librarian said that she didn’t have the authority to purchase books; that those decisions were made at the Central Library for Howard County, located in Columbia.

Using the website < > which lists all U. S. libraries alphabetically by State, with addresses, I compiled a list of Maryland libraries and obtained the address of the public library in Christiansted. I decided to pitch my inquiry to the chief or main library in each of the Maryland County systems. It seemed logical to assume that if the acquisitions staff at a particular main library purchased the book for their collection, they might make a blanket purchase for all the branches in their jurisdiction.

Back in Illinois with my targets identified, I again prepared promotional materials: a letter with a brief description of the book, depiction of the cover, and the endorsements as before, with an order blank for purchasing. But in these materials, I highlighted that the action took place in Baltimore (or respectively, in Chistiansted) as a detail that might catch the staff’s interest, and included ISBN and LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number). As a special incentive, I announced in large font that libraries purchasing directly from the publisher would receive a discount of 33 1/3% from list price ($10.63 net for a book priced at $15.95).

In all, there were thirty libraries on my list. I printed the customized letters and once again stuffed envelopes and affixed first-class postage. Later, in May, 2011, I arranged (free of charge to me) for Association Book Exhibit (ABE) to display the book in Ocean City at the Maryland Library Association convention, in the hope that seeing my book’s cover might jog the memories of County acquisitions staff who’d received my materials. How many sales resulted from all these efforts? Not one. It was as though a black hole had swallowed everything.

I began my experiment by targeting libraries in the State of Maryland, thinking it stood to reason that interest would be relatively high in the region closest to the scene of action (Baltimore). But even if interest was quickened, it didn’t translate into sales.

In both of these cases I did the best I could to frame approaches that would generate sales. My research was thorough, my planning meticulous, my presentation and wording of materials carefully calibrated for specific recipients. In targeting the musicians, whom I saw as a logical and “natural” niche market, I tried to think outside the box. In targeting the Maryland libraries, I employed logic and a systematic approach that simply didn’t bear fruit. The question remains: if my efforts in Maryland were so futile, should I approach other libraries in other states with individualized mass mailings? Would a campaign in Oregon be more successful? Oklahoma? Minnesota? And should I try the Maryland libraries again? Marketing gurus tell us that frequently multiple exposures are required for an advertisement to impact a potential target: maybe on the fifth encounter the target will take notice and act on it. But to balance that, there’s a popular definition currently floating about that may be worth considering: “Insanity is when you try something and, finding that it doesn’t work, you try it again the same way, confident that the outcome will be different.” I’m not inclined to spend the time, energy, and money on continuing the experiment with 49 other states.

The library failure, like that of the musicians’ campaign, is frustrating and discouraging. But like many failures in promotion, its cause may lie in variables beyond a marketer’s control—external events, a bad economy, shrinking acquisitions budgets, habits of buying in bulk from jobber-distributors rather than directly from publishers. The musicians’ lack of response is more problematical.

Though disappointing, failures are inevitable accompaniments to marketing. Promoters must be prepared to take them in stride, as bumps in the road, and go marching on. Good marketers must think outside the box, using analysis and imagination to discern potential new markets and to devise innovative and effective ways of reaching them. And in planning strategy, they must strive always to do everything “right” as the best hope for achieving success. 

Robert D. Sutherland

Pikestaff Press website:
mystery-writing blog:  (Anyone may post.)