Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Beth Groundwater offers a bushel basket of book promo tips

We’re tickled to welcome Beth Groundwater to Jungle Red Writers and congratulate her on TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET, the second Claire Hanover gift basket designer series novel which comes out this month.

It opens with a death on a Colorado ski slope and, as the Kirkus reviewer opined, offers up “black diamond thrills.”

When we asked Beth if she'd share what she’s learned about book promo, she launched into song and then explained.

BETH: “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

As that line from the Bob Dylan song, "My Back Pages," so eloquently states, the more experienced you become at something, the more you realize that what you thought you knew about it is all wrong. This can be true for many things, but in my case, I’ll apply it to book promotion.

In 2007, as a brand-new author with my first release, A Real Basket Case, I plunged into the book promotion pool feet-first, arms-flailing, trying to do it all, and taking every promotion opportunity I heard about. And since I was such a networker and in so many writing organizations, I heard about a lot!

I made 51 personal appearances in 2007, and eight of those were weekend conferences. I drove over 6500 miles for my writing business. I launched a website, blog and e-mail newsletter and became active in over three dozen e-mail lists. I ordered business cards, buttons, “autographed by author” stickers, bookplates, and trifold fliers. My release was in March. By the end of June I was totally worn out, but I’d already booked summer and fall appearances, so I had to soldier on.

I’ve learned with my second release, To Hell in a Handbasket, to pace myself. And that’s my advice to new authors embarking on the adventure of promoting your first book: Pace Yourself!

I will make fifteen personal appearances in June, but after that, they will taper off to a few a month. I’m attending only four conferences this year: Mayhem in the Midlands, Bouchercon, and two Colorado writing conferences. I hope to return to writing fiction (versus blog posts and magazine articles) by August. Two types of personal appearances I’ve cut are library visits and multi-author panels. Both were good ways to gain exposure when I was a new, unknown author, but neither resulted in many book sales.

One thing I did for the release of To Hell in a Handbasket that I didn’t for A Real Basket Case is my May blog book tour. Two years ago, author blog tours were rare, but now there’s even a Yahoo! group class for authors planning their own tours. I set a goal of visiting ten blogs during May, and even though I declined or delayed some guest appearances, I wound up guesting at sixteen blogs, being interviewed twice on Internet radio shows, and visiting the Barnes & Noble on-line mystery book club. That was too much. I recommend authors limit their virtual tours to a maximum of ten stops in two weeks.

What kept me sane this month was that I wrote all of my articles except this one in April before my blog book tour started. I probably won’t have a good idea whether the blog tour was worth the effort until October--after I get my royalty statement and attend Bouchercon. I've heard a person needs to hear about an item five to seven times before making the "buy" decision. My hope is that the blog tour gave people some of those exposures to my books, so when I come to their location on my actual tour or to Bouchercon or they see my books later on-line or in a bookstore, they're ready to buy.

Another recommendation to new authors is to do as much as you can of your on-line work before your first book release. Set up your website and e-mail newsletter mailing service, join the e-mail lists for fans of your genre, and join the social networks you’ll have time to participate in. (I recommend Facebook and one of the book-reading sites such as Goodreads, Shelfari, or LibraryThing.) It takes a lot less time to maintain a presence on-line after you’ve set these all up and learned how to use them.

I’m constantly being asked what kinds of promotion work best and what authors should focus on. No one really knows the answer to this question. Magic can happen from any of your promotion efforts. I've gotten radio interviews from Facebook connections, blog site visit requests from Goodreads friends, book club invitations from library visits, you name it. It all feeds on itself. You do what fits your personality and what you have time for.

Remember my advice: Pace Yourself!

Contest alert!
Comment on this article or comment on Beth's blog anytime during her blog book tour and you will be entered into a drawing for an autographed set of both books in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series: A REAL BASKET CASE and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET. Good luck!


  1. got to this one a day late. but it is loaded with "sage" advice. I have wondered about this blog thing and how much writing and visiting you were doing. now I know.
    BUT I learned a lot through the various blogs. so I say, thanks!

  2. Oh, Beth, thank you so much! I've always admired your promtional savvy--and it's truly, um, comforting to hear your "pace yourself" advice.

    I was astonished and impressed by your blog tour--and really wondered how you would feel coming out the other end. But I'm sure you made lots of new friends and connections. (Now, take a nap.)

    And what do you think about bookmarks, postcards, things like that?

  3. Thanks for hosting me here, Hank! Now I'll move on to your question about bookmarks, postcards, etc. Before A Real Basket Case was published, I had the chance to sit next to Diane Mott Davidson at a writers conference and ask that queen of promotion for advice. She asked me what my upcoming book was about, then tailored her advice to fit.

    Diane uses postcards to promote her books because she can fit a recipe on the back of the postcard, which makes the card a "keeper" to tack on the fridge with a magnet. That means visitors to that person's home see Diane's book cover on the fridge, ask about it, and one thing leads to another.

    So, I decided to go with a trifold flier to promote my first book because I would have room on it not only for review quotes and an excerpt, but also for my ten tips for making gift baskets. That made the flier a "keeper," too.

    Also, Diane suggested a button to give to my first few hundred buyers (making it a collector's item) that said "I'm a fan of A Real Basket Case". The "a fan of" part was in much smaller letters, so from afar, the button read "I'm A Real Basket Case." Mystery fans loved them!

    The fliers and buttons worked better than bookmarks for my first release because they were different, eye-catching or informative, and "keepers." Now that I'm better known in the mystery community, at least, I'm going with more traditional and cheaper bookmarks, with A Real Basket Case on one side and To Hell in a Handbasket on the other. My husband designed them, and I must say, they are beautiful. I hope readers will think they're a "keeper," too!

  4. Thanks for all the great advice, Beth! You have a very sensible approach, and it's great to hear something besides "try everything"! I'm still in the throes of my first book tour, and I must agree that it's easy to overextend yourself when you have no idea what's going to work.

    -Meredith Cole
    POSED FOR MURDER, St. Martin's Minotaur

  5. Hi Beth, welcome and good luck with the new book! This reminds me of Alex's very funny post on Saturday. Always the question has to be, how to fit writing the next book in too and how to make it great:)

    How do you manage that? Sounds like you don't write while launching a book--is that right?

  6. Beth, let's do a spread-sheet interview at Your Blog Book Tours HQ when you get back from your live tour. All the gang at the blog book tours class want to know how you organized all your statistics. This is so important to measure how effective all that effort really was, because the sales numbers, as you mention, come so much later. Now if I could get you sold on the benefits of Twitter!

    Thanks again for all your great feedback - you helped the class so much sticking around for another session.

    Dani (who's going on hiatus for the rest of the year!)

  7. Thanks, Beth! I so admire your sense of balance and planning. I've been sort of dreading September, when I'm hoping to guest blog for my new series (hint, hint!). But the idea of writing the blog posts in advance is marvelous.

    "Pace Yourself." That may go up on my wall. Thanks!

  8. bluspider: there a story behind that name?

    Clea! Please come visit Jungle Red--we'd love to have you. Email me and we'll set a date. Is it for the fabulous Shades of Gray?

    Dani--wait, wait. You're going on hiatus? What will we all do??

    Beth: what's your take on bookstore book signings?

  9. Beth, thanks for the good advice. I'm already getting tired and my book doesn't come out until July 7. pacing is going to be a big issue for me. Twitter and blogging with some forays into Facebook are what I can handle. The on the road tour begins in September.

  10. Excellent article, Beth. You really spelled out for how much time an author must spend on promotion. Wishing yo much success always. - Rita

  11. Hi Beth. I found your comments on book promotion very helpful. I hope when I publish my first mystery/thriller...positive thinking I always says...that I can draw on your experiences on marketing.
    It sounds hectic but fun. Good luck with your new book, and all your writing endeavors.
    Hope I win! Would love to read your books.


  12. Excellent advice, Beth.

    I've also dropped the notion of multiple author panels because they don't sell books, but it was a great way for me to get over my anxiety about appearances and have a lot of fun in the process. I would still recommend it for nervous first time authors.

    Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.


  13. Welcome Beth,
    I think we're Facebook friends, I see your posts all the time, and now I see what insight and experience is behind them! This advice is extremely useful!

  14. Hey--The Practical Preserver is Karen Brees (yes, I'm the investigative reporter)--and I hope you'll tell us more aobut your book!

    And Patricia, I'm intrigued with your take on multiple autor paels. You mean at conventions? Or booksignings? Tell us more. (If you're not out promoting..)

  15. When I got the notice that you were here today I thought "she must be exhausted." You answered so many questions that I didn't have yesterday, it's as if you read my mind. Enjoy yourself once you are through, or at least take a little time to yourself.

  16. I go off to run a few errands, and look what happened! It may take a couple of comments to address everyone's posts.

    First, Meredith, you are indeed a busy bee promoting your first book, and I hope you're not wearing yourself out!

    Roberta asked if I try to write while launching a book and the answer is no. I set aside April-June to promote my May 15 release. April to write my blog articles, May to do the blog tour, and June to do in-person touring, with lots of "administrivia" and media contacts/interviews in between. I hope to start writing fiction again in July.

    Dani, nag me again in late June and we'll do that interview!

    Clea, good luck with your own September launch!

    I agree with Pat that multi-author panels/signings are a great idea for first-time or nervous authors to get some experience under their belts, but the important thing to remember is that you're there to talk to customers, not the other authors!

    I'll answer Hank's question about bookstore signings in my next comment.

  17. On to book signings! The kind of signing I hate to do is when I'm alone, walking in cold to a town where I don't know a soul and there hasn't been any promotion beforehand. That's an ideal set-up for failure, with few sales.

    Instead, I try to go to places where I know locals, first of all to sponge a bed to sleep in :) in exchange for dinner out and second to ask them to talk up my event among friends ahead of time and be a greeter while I'm at the store.

    Also, I do my part in promoting the signing by contacting features/entertainment editors at local newspapers via a personal e-mail, followed up with a personal phone call. I don't do press releases--too informal & easy to throw away. In my email letter, I give information about the event and my books that would appear in a press release, ask if they would like to assign a reporter to do an interview or review, and I offer an ARC. Many times I get no response, but on my June tour, for example, the Cheyenne, WY and Twin Falls, ID newspapers asked for ARCs.

    Lastly, I ask the store if they have a mystery book club and contact the moderator, and I contact local writing groups and Sisters in Crime chapters to see if they'd like to talk to me before or after my signing. In Fort Collins, I'm meeting with a mystery writers critique group, in Seattle with the Puget Sound SinC chapter, in Bend with the Central Oregon Writers, and in Grand Junction with the store's mystery book club. The side meetings make my visit more of an event and bring in more buyers. Plus, it gives me some folks to eat a meal or have a drink with while on the road.

    I also try to personally e-mail my newsletter subscribers and Facebook and Goodreads friends who live in the area to ask them to come to my signing.

    I aim for quality (having lots of visitors & sales) versus quantity (stopping at a lot of stores), so the book stores that I do visit appreciate the effort I expend to make the event successful.

  18. YES Hank, THERE IS a story behind the name. The fact that I am very fond of spiders is only part of it. (and yes there is a reason for that too!)
    this is a case where if there is a spider in the room my hubby calls me and I take it outside.
    GEE Beth, I have realized I am learning as much or more from your responses as I am from the blog.

  19. Beth, thank you..again, you're so organized! And you set up all this yourself? The amount of research involved is phenomenal. Great. And inspirational. nice. Good karma. I do that, too. Ants, too.

  20. Good advice, Beth!

    I followed you here from Facebook because I've heard authors give plenty of advice but never SING about it!

  21. Great windup to the tour, Beth. Your experience was a lot like mine, only you did a better job of planning and organizing. On the subject of multiple-author signings, I find a lot of Barnes & Noble CRMs want me to do those but I decline. If I'm the only author there, I can talk to lots of people and sell lots of books. If I'm one of a bunch, I find most of the cutomers who come by are friends or relatives of one of the other authors. I sell few books.

  22. Hey Chester--Good tease (as we call it in TV)!

    That's because Chester will be back here soon with his own tales from the book tour cyber road--talking about The Surest Poison, the first book in the new Sid Chance Mysteries.

    And yeah, I agree. Even though it seems like having multiple authors at a signing is a good thing, I'm just not sure it is. Sometimes, people are embarrassed not to buy all the books, so they just don't buy any of them.

  23. I'm a bit late to the party as Beth winds down her blog tour. I'm fascinated by this and wonder if it would work as well with non-fiction, which is my genre.
    Beth, I love your advice to "pace" yourself. And I was particularly taken with the great advice you received from Diane Mott Davidson. I tend to toss postcards since they usually have no value whatsoever. Most people don't turn them into a "keeper." I've found bookmarks handy and useful, leaving them in bookstores, even in airports. No, I don't know if they've improved book sales. I like the idea of the limited edition items for book buyers.Thanks so much for sharing so much good advice. First book or fiftieth, it's always good to get more input on promotion!

  24. Beth: Good advice gained by experience - pace yourself may some on blood pressure meds alone :-)
    Right now I'm in a 'up to my ankles but in headfirst' but since it's mostly with work coming out I make excuses for myself. I've got to do better updating my site and my blog as well.
    You're really doing great. Congratulations and keep up the good work - pace yourself is definitely good advice.
    Best wishes,

  25. To answer the question of whether a non-fiction book can go on a blog book tour, in some respects and depending upon topic, a NF tour can be as, if not more, creative than a fiction tour. For example, Karen Brees book on food preserving can be hosted on locavore groups, on organic gardening blogs, and on the gazillions of excellent cooking blogs. Some of those blogs get thousands of hits per day, and that's your objective on a tour - to be hosted on blogs that have a high readership, and thus exposure for your book - as well as on blogs which are relevant to your book topic.


  26. You have so much going on at one time and you still sound sane - how do you do it? I've enjoyed following your blog tour and wish you much success with your personal visits in June.

    Jane Kennedy Sutton

  27. Beth, thanks for sharing all the advice and lessons learned. I'm curious about conferences like Bouchercon. Have you attended previously and how can a new author get the most benefit from a conference?

  28. For those who ask how I can do so much promotion, I should remind folks that writing is my full-time occupation. I don't have a day-job or children underfoot to raise like so many other authors do, so I have more hours in the day to devote to this stuff. And the more time you've got, the more you can do. The reverse, of course, holds true, too.

  29. Good advice for any published author who needs to do a lot of self promotion. - Karin H.

  30. Lisa asked about conferences. This year's Bouchercon will be the first one that I attend. I decided that as a new author in 2007, I wanted to start with smaller conferences where I could get to know people better, be assured of a panel assignment, and make a little splash without being washed out of the pool by the "big names" doing cannonballs into the deep end. So, I attended Mayhem in the Midlands, the Great Manhattan Mystery Conclave and Murder in the Grove, for example. I worked my way up to Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic, and this year have finally decided to brave Bouchercon. My hope is that enough readers, librarians, and fellow mystery authors know me now that I won't be left as a wallflower weeping in the corner.

    All kidding aside now, I think the best way a new author can make a conference work for you is to work the conference. Volunteer! Submit an item to the silent auction. Sign up for at least one of the side social events. Hang out in the hallways or the book room between sessions and strike up conversations. It's especially important to get to know the booksellers, so spend some time with them when they aren't busy selling.

    Also, get to know your fellow panelists before the conference by e-mailing them to introduce yourself, reading at least one of their books, and discussing the panel topic with them. That way, you'll at least have a few ready-made acquaintances. Also, I always try to get a roommate if I'm staying at the conference hotel, both to save costs and to have a default friend to pal around with.

    I always come home from conferences totally exhausted because I'm "on" all the time. But that's why you're there, to meet people and network and make new friends.

  31. Congrats Beth,

    You survived a gruelling tour and entertained the rest of us in the process.

    Charlotte Phillips

  32. Congratulations, Beth, and thanks for directing me to Jungle Red Writers. I'll definitely add them to my blogroll - I've met most of these writers at various conferences, and I'm a fan as well as a writer.

    I wrote a lengthy comment earlier, but Blogger didn't want to post it - perhaps it was telling me that as a newbie here, I shouldn't be so wordy.

    Julie Lomoe
    Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders (2006)
    Eldercide (2008)
    Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso

  33. Beth, You are a whirlwind. I'm the basket case. I can't hold a candle to your marketing prowess, but I greatly admire your energy and enthusiasm. I had 3 books come out in 2007 and that was 2 books too many. Pacing yourself is the only way to go. Best of luck with To Hell in a Handbasket.

  34. I'm enjoying this so much! (Julie, you are too funny....)

    But you know, I think the conundrum of "pacing yourself" is: Fine. I'll pace myself. But what do I NOT do?

    And Beth, I can't tell you how relieved and delighted I am that you don't have another full-time job. Do you hire yourself out as a consultant? If so, sign me up...

    Maggie, how on earth did you manage three books in one year? Someday we'll all have to chat about the search for the time to actually--wait for it--write our books.

  35. Great advice, Beth! I'm glad I can learn from your experiences. I'm going to check out that Yahoo group. Good luck with your continued promotion.

  36. Beth, thanks for the great promotional tips. I'll be coming back to re-read this post a few times!

    And thanks to Jungle Red for providing the venue.

    Bob Sanchez

  37. Beth,
    This is one of the best blog posts -- and follow-up conversations -- I've read on promotion. (And, believe me, as a soon-to-be debut author, I've read TONS of them). THANK YOU for sharing your hard-earned wisdom. You're the best!


  38. Beth, this is an impressive array of ideas and analysis. I enjoyed meeting you at my first Mayhem this year, your groundwork certainly paid off for you were no wallflower. I'll be at Bouchercon as well this fall.

  39. Thanks for a really useful post, Beth. Having a full-time job, my struggle is to just get the writing done. I'll worry about all the promotion when I get there, but I'll have this post printed out and ready for that time!


  40. Good advice, Beth. Enjoyed all my stops on your tour and even learned a few things. Cheers.

  41. Thanks to everyone for your questions and comments--they helped make my visit to Jungle Red Writers even better, and a wonderful end to my blog book tour. I hope to see some of you at my in-person events (see For those of you who plan to attend Bouchercon, please don't be shy & come up and say hi to me!

  42. Thanks Beth. A fascinating insight to the world of a real author. Sounds like you're going to be busy for quite a while yet.

    Many thanks for all your answers to questions, here and throughout the month, too. I've really enjoyed following you round.

  43. I am impressed by your energy. What baffles me is how to find topics for so many posts! I have enough trouble keeping up with my own blog. How do you come up with different subjects for each place you visit on our blog tour?

  44. Nancy asked: "How do you come up with different subjects for each place you visit on your blog tour?"

    I looked at other authors's blog tour schedules who had gone before me, like Liz Zelvin, Susan Wittig Albert, and Jean Henry Mead and saw what they had written blog articles about. Character interviews or discussions of some aspect of the book, like theme (eg. my mother-daughter subplot), setting, or the sleuth's occupation are popular topics. So are aspects of the writer's life. When I asked people to host me, I gave them a list of suggested topics to pick from or if they didn't want one of those, I asked them to suggest one of their own.

  45. Oh, thanks, Beth! I can see people are going to ask you questions as long as you can answer--you're an absolute inspiration!

    Before you go--will you just tell us about about your new book?

  46. Here's a short blurb on To Hell in a Handbasket:

    The second book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series is set in Breckenridge, CO, where Claire and her family go on a ski vacation a few weeks after the events in A Real Basket Case. The vacation quickly goes to hell in a handbasket when the sister of her daughter's boyfriend is killed on the slope.

    "Groundwater's second leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills."
    -- Kirkus Review, April 1, 2009

    "Tightly plotted and very current, the story manages to keep you on the edge of your seat."
    -- Gumshoe Review, May 1, 2009

    For more reviews and excerpts, check out my website. The reviewers have been great about not revealing any of the plot twists, so I'm not going to either. ;)