Thursday, June 17, 2010

One Writer's Journey--Through Promotion!

HANK: It's the wail of the baffled author: What am I supposed to DO? Every author wonders--should I make bookmarks? Library visits? Blogs? Mailing lists?

The secret is--what works for one person, may not work for another. Or, it might. And today on Jungle Red---Jeri Westerson tells all. In fact--it's a blueprint for successful promotion. (She's here, isn't she?)

On Promotion

I should first say that I am in no way a shy person. I feel sorry for those writers out there starting out who just want to sit in their home offices and never talk to another living soul and at the same time get published. I suppose it can happen, but in today’s publishing world, that scenario has become harder and harder.

Promotion is a tricky business. But I know that it starts with making opportunities.

I had written historical novels for about ten years. I had two agents, but I couldn’t land a contract. And I was alone, writing in my own little bubble of home office and university library.

The online chapter of Sisters in Crime was my introduction to the wonderful world of networking. I wasn’t a big believer in it before, being one of those go-getter gals, the I-Can-Do-It-On-My-Own person. But after some years experience with this, I can honestly say, why? Why go it alone when there are so many helpful people, truly “sisters,” out there willing to lend a hand?

Joining the international organization Sisters in Crime was the single best move I ever made. I signed up for the online chapter the Guppies (which stands for the Great UnPublished). I commiserated, I asked questions of the more senior members, I learned some dos and don’ts about the publishing world. Then it was up to me to stop gathering this information and do something with it.

I was encouraged, nay, muscled into getting a blog by one of my critique partners who had chiseled her place on the blogosphere with a very successful true crime blog. I didn’t want to write another author blog, there were already enough out there. And besides, I had a readymade topic and theme: the Middle Ages.

I started out writing articles on medieval history and only a few articles on my struggle to get published, and viola! was born. I think of it as a magazine with lots of different things to read and lots of interesting images.

But to bring folks to my blog I decided to do some interviews: booksellers, authors, small publishers—the kind of thing other writers might be interested in. And then the hard part. How to advertise?

I went to blogs that had a big following and went to their blog rolls. Painstakingly, I went to each of those blogs and trolled for email addresses. It took a long time to collect all that, but I finally had an email list to advertise myself. This led to being offered the occasional guest correspondent spot on The Rap Sheet ( and name recognition when I went to my first Bouchercon ever before I had a contract. I was a believer in networking from that point on.

But I didn't stop with one blog. I felt my medieval detective, Crispin Guest, should also have a blog. I thought it was a good way for readers to have something to read about him between book releases ( He also has Facebook and Myspace pages (but I do the Twittering).

It was a slow snowball. Each contact builds on another. At Bouchercon I scored some blurbs for my pre-contract manuscript. It’s that party atmosphere. Take advantage of it! When I got home, I put together some author presentations I could take to libraries so that once I had that book in my hand I could hit the ground running.

You can’t wait. You can’t decide to begin all this once you have a contract. It’s almost too late by then. Prepare far ahead!

I joined MWA and my local chapter of Sisters in Crime and volunteered. I learned to say “yes” at every opportunity. Another author recommended me to her book events coordinator and I hired her to book me at literary luncheons (putting that medieval presentation to good use, along with my cache of real medieval weapons I take with me whenever I do a talk. Interesting visuals and demonstrations can really make buzz.) Consequently, whenever I did a talk at these country clubs and beachside venues, who do you suppose was the one speaker who ended up with her picture in the local papers?

After a royalty check arrived, I felt it was time for a book trailer, but I decided that if I was going to spend the money on a professional-looking one, one that looked as much like a movie trailer as possible, then I wanted to get my money's worth and promote the whole series not just one book. I contacted a production company and they also agreed, for a modest fee, to add each new book cover each year. (You can see the trailer on my website ).

In the Los Angeles SinC chapter we are lucky enough to have a speakers bureau and I signed up for that, getting on these sponsored panels. Which led to the serendipitous event of being on a panel at the right time and catching the eye of the host of a local public access TV program. Two other SinC LA members and I went on the air to talk about SinC and our own books. An hour of airtime was a pretty good opportunity. One never knows how this might translate to sales. But every bit counts.

Does this take a lot of time and money? Yes, it does. In order to be able to say “yes” to opportunity, you have to have a flexible day job or understanding employers. I was lucky in that, too.

Travel, availability, networking, being prepared. That’s the ticket.

HANK: Authors, what promotion has worked for you? And what hasn't? (Tomorrow--more of our promo primer--a big juicy lesson on the secrets of Twitter!)
Jeri Westerson does spend time writing her novels, and you can read an excerpt of her latest, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, on her website


  1. Jeri, so glad to have you here and love to hear you sing the praises of Sisters in Crime--I couldn't agree more! I only wish I'd heard of the Guppies before I got published, rather than after:).

    Your description of your promotional journey is so fascinating--and exhausting--but tell us at what point you found your publisher? And do you think having all those promotions in place helped land a contract?

  2. Hi Jeri,
    I, too, am a big believer in promotion - hard to beleive from a woman who used to google herself 6 years ago to make sure nothing was there. And it's true that what works for one person won't necessarily work for another.. What's the most unusual thing you've done..that worked?

  3. That's so funny, Ro! Now google puts you before the actress, I bet!

    Hey, Jeri! How do you balance the promo-time--with the time you KNOW you should be writing?

  4. Hi Jeri -- thanks so much for these comments and tips. I have some students now trying to figure out how to go forward with books out of a university press with limited book promotion funds, so this is very, very helpful. I will point them to your post here (and thus also to your work)!

    For my part, a book tour with a pretty golden retriever in a working dog vest has certainly been an asset, but she's at the center of the book I have out now, so she's relevant, not an accessory.

    But in general terms, two of the most effective things I've found are related: 1) after Q&A sessions with audiences at events, give out your email address and actually answer the email that comes and respond genuinely. This tends to inspire forwarding to related groups and thus an introduction 2) On Facebook, have Friends, not Fans. I resisted a Fan page and am glad for that choice. There's a difference in relationship with the reader, and it makes interaction a touch less remote. I don't put anything vulnerable up on my Facebook page, so I'm not concerned about privacy or security issues by having an open Friend policy, but I do love this chance to interact with readers and fellow enthusiasts who love the same things I do. I don't use Facebook to simply carpet bomb book promotion. Though I do post book-related things, it's certainly not the majority of my postings, and I think that helps, too. People get a bit wary when all they get from a FB connection is a sell pitch.

    Like Jeri, I'm about to use online platforms to tease the next book, and I very much look forward to it. Back in the day, I wrote serial historical fiction for AOL (6 years, about 2500 words a week), and that was fun, fun, fun. A very creative rhythm that doesn't have to be a time-sink, fueling the book work rather than distracting from it.

  5. Hi Jeri,
    Wow you are tireless!! I wish I had your energy and enthusiam for promotion. I'm not shy and like personal appearances, but the blog tour alone does me in. In wonder the same thing I wonder about Hank and Rosemary, how do you find the time to write your books?

  6. Jeri, you are my heroine when it comes to PR. You've done a marvelous job, and as you know I adore Crispin! Kudos for a job well done. And for being a brilliant writer.
    Mystery Lovers' Kitchen
    Killer Characters

  7. I'm convinced Hank has managed to score a 36 hour day. For my part..I'm not sure how I do it. I'm at the tail end of a three month tour and can't believe how many events and shows I've squeezed in. But I had to say no to a few things this year and my husband and my dog are glad I did!

  8. Hank, btw...someone at an event last month told me that she met RH, the actress, and she mentioned me! I was thrilled.

  9. You know, that would be an interesting blog article (maybe you've already done it and I missed it?) -- a breakdown of you folks' "typical" day working promotion and moving forward on a new book -- and the day job, if that's a factor, too. I know I'd be interested in seeing how you all juggle it daily or weekly or however you parse out the duties.
    Starting with Jeri!

  10. Hi Roberta! Thanks for having me here. It wasn't long at all after that first Bouchercon in Wisconsin that I landed St. Martin's. Let me make a confession here. There was actually an earlier book before my first published book VEIL OF LIES. So Crispin has a prequel that was rejected all over town. Even by St. Martin's. But as soon as I write and finish one book, I'm on to the next. So I already had a cache of Crispin novels ready to go. When the first was shopworn, we retired it and I sent my agent the second (Veil of Lies). Just as it arrived on his desk, he heard from my editor who said 14 months after that first rejection, "I just can't get those characters out of my head. Does she have another one in the series?" Viola. And it came ready with blurbs from Cornelia Read, Margaret Frazer, and Julia Spencer-Fleming! Networking!

  11. Ro, that's very cool.

    Jeri, that's some success story! And it does prove how importatnt persistence is.

    Susannah--I'd love to see that article, too. The "day job" element is killer. I love mine, and I wish my days did have 36 hours.

  12. Hi Rosemary! What's the most unusual thing I've done that worked? I have plenty more things that didn't work! For the first, VEIL OF LIES, I prepared a promo kit and mailed it to a huge list of independent bookstores. Now this is a cheat for me because I happen to be a graphic artist and my husband works for a printer so all the design and printing was free. I could make it as slick as I wanted. Every year I do a mailing. Just last year I noticed that not as many libraries were purchasing number two, SERPENT IN THE THORNS as they did VEIL (all those budget cuts)so, painstakingly, my hubby made a spreadsheet of those that bought VEIL but not SERPENT and we did a mailing to those libraries with a slick little promo piece. We did raise the sales figures a little bit. Random mailings of postcards seem to me to be a waste of money. You need targeting.

  13. Hi Hank! How do I balance promo and writing? I don't have charts. I'm a little more organic than that. I try to use the first part of the day for "business" (emails--especailly since I'm in southern California and my agent and editor are in New York, blogging, creating ads)and the afternoon and evening for writing. If I have an event then all that gets tossed. The travelliing and the event itself usually takes the whole day. I've begun a new medieval mystery series and I'm trying to streamline the writing process by writing a minimum of ten pages a day. Theoretically, by the end of the month I should have a first draft. But that's after three months of research and outlining. I am currently without day job (on purpose) and I hope to get a lot done before I have to get another temp job, including some short story writing and more blog posts for my fall blog tour. Sheesh, I'm exhausted just reading that!

  14. Thanks for stopping by Susannah, Jan, and Avery! I just break down my day into bits and don't do housework. :)

  15. What didn't work? I don't remember too many. But one thing was trying to get stories about me in the papers. No one wanted to talk to you until there was a book and then there still needed to be a hook. I do get noticed now, especially with my Macavity nomination for SERPENT IN THE THORNS. I've had local coverage for that but nothing in LA, my hometown. My sword pens are legendary. You'll see them at Bouchercon. They're free, of course, and people LOVE them. But what I always wanted to do from day one was have knights sword-fighting at my book launches and I do have those guys. In fact, if anyone is in the LA area on October 23, stop by Vroman's in Pasadena where I will have my "Show": knights sword-fighting in the parking lot and strolling the bookstore handing out bookmarks, a medieval harpest and possibly a juggler this time, champagne, medieval munchies and...oh yeah...books, my fall release of THE DEMON'S PARCHMENT. Vroman's said they never saw anything like my launches. They love having me. I've always tried to get local TV coverage for that but no one has bit. This year I might at least get the public access station to do a live feed. We'll see.

  16. I can never quiet decide if collecting email addresses is permissible. But maybe that's the trouble with a shy person trying to promote - so tied up with thinking why I shouldn't take a step that I end up standing still.

  17. Sheela, if they didn't want it public knowledge then they don't include it on their site. They know where the delete button is, too, as do I. But while we're talking about that, a caveat on announcements. Don't barrage people on every post you make. Not everyone is enchanted with what Sparky the dog did today. Only contact these people when you have an interesting interview, something that will appeal to a wide audience.

  18. Maybe Sparky wrote the first chapter. In which case, that should definitely be advertised.

    No hush up, Hank. :)

  19. Jeri, when (not if) I get published, I'm coming to you for marketing tips!

    Those sword pens you gave out at Left Coast Crime were adorable and memorable! I gave mine to my 22-year-old son. He loves the pen, but he especially thinks it's cool that I got it from a real author.

    Mom is just chum. LOL

  20. Great post. Wish I lived close enough to come to a book launch with sword fighting! Thanks for the tips.

    I probably spend half of my time, or more, on various aspects of being an author other than the actual writing. I have to hole up occasionally, for a week or for an a day, to feel like I'm making progress on the WIP!

  21. Melissa, *I* love those pens. It's for tiny little sword fights.

  22. Hi Kathleen,
    I hear you. You can certainly get caught up in the Twittering and Facebooking and the blogging and forget to make time for the manuscript writing. But it is a business and you just have to compartmentalize your tasks. Maybe decide on certain times of the day only to Twitter or mess on Facebook. Or reward your good writing with a Facebook hit when you've written five pages.

  23. I agree! Melissa, WHEN, not if.

    And on writing days, I only allow myself to look at email or Facebook for five mins on the hour. That's all. If I miss the hour time, I have to wait until the next hour. Yes, nuts.

  24. Great post! I like how you mix traditional promo (mailers, appearances) with online venues.

  25. Oh, good question, Rhonda!

    An perfect, because tomorrow: TWITTER!

  26. What an inspiration you are, jeri! I took a month off writing after the release of A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE to do promo. Will get back to writing in July. I have a hard time mixing the two, so I hope this focus willhelp.

  27. Wait, did I miss it? How did you go from "pre-contract ms" to that great first offer?? I feel like I could've written this post myself--minus some a few great tips I am rapidly jotting down--and once I know how this step of yours occurred, maybe I'll have a crystal ball into my own future...

    Thanks for endorsing the fact that can take years, 10, and that believing in your work before you've gotten to yes is all part of the game.