Thursday, October 11, 2012

Five observations from the big marketing world by Chris Knopf

LUCY BURDETTE: On the plane to Cleveland last weekend, I ran into Chris Knopf and his lovely wife Mary Farrell and caught up with him a bit about writing and life. Chris and Mary run a busy advertising agency. On the side, he writes crime fiction--up until now, two books a year.  On the side!

The first in his new mystery/thriller series, Dead Anyway, launched in September 2012, and received unprecedented starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and Library Journal. The longer we talked, the more I realized he might have wisdom to share with us about both publishing and marketing. Take it away Chris!

CHRIS KNOPF: When I’m not writing mysteries and thrillers I run a marketing communications industry.   So you might think that I’m a whiz at marketing my books.  I’m not.  Not even close.  There’s   something oddly different about promoting other people’s products and services versus promoting yourself.  If you’re reading this blog, you already know several people who are a lot better at it than me.   But, I do know something about the topic in general, and can share a few things I’ve picked up from the marketing world at large.

    •    There are no silver bullets.  No one promotional  tactic is going to sell your book.  In fact, the more different things you do – social media, blogs, radio and TV appearances, publicity, mystery conferences, Amazon reviews, etc, the better.  There’s a reinforcing effect that happens through the interaction of multiple media.

    •    If you’re paying for it yourself, advertising isn’t worth the cost until you get to a certain level of sales and distribution.   Of course, if your publisher wants to advertise you, in which case, excellent!

    •    Ditto hired press agents.  They’re usually not worth the cost until you get to a certain level of sales and distribution.  It’s also very good to learn how to promote yourself.  You’ll be better at it and the press will be more receptive.

    •    Digital marketing is in the process of wiping out traditional media.  This is good for you, especially mid-listers and beginners.  Instead of a few powerful outlets that focus on a handful of books, there are nearly limitless digital properties that rate and celebrate thousands of titles.

    •    There are no experts.  Only people who want you to think there are.  However, there are lots of really smart, decent and generous people in the mystery world who can teach you a lot if you politely ask them and listen to what they say.

Chris Knopf is CEO of Mintz & Hoke Communications Group in Avon, CT.
He’s also written ten books, including two series set in the Hamptons, one starring Sam Acquillo (Black Swan, 2011) and a spin-off featuring Sam’s lawyer Jackie Swaitkowski, including Ice Cap, released June, 2012.  

Chris will be checking in with us over the day to answer questions about marketing, publishing (he's had experience with both big publishers and small presses,) his new novel, or his two wacky Welsh terriers...


  1. Thanks for sharing your expertise, Chris! I'm curious about this item: "...limitless digital properties that rate and celebrate thousands of titles."

    Can you elaborate on those digital properties for us? I'm one of those "beginners" you mentioned (my debut mystery came out just a month ago).

  2. Good question Edith!

    And also, tell us more about DEAD ANYWAY--it's such a great premise!

  3. Chris, I definitely agree. Things are moving so fast these days in terms of changes to publishing (and marketing of books) that it's just hard to keep up.

    I think Chris is speaking of all the ways in which you can now buy advertising vs. 20 years ago when PW, Kirkus, LJ, and a few others pretty much ruled the market on what books were seen.

  4. So interesting, Chris - and congratulations on the new book! WOW,four starred reviews!! That is fantastic. Second Lucy's question: TELL US ABOUT IT.

    I agree that ads are probably a waste if you don't already have a name. True story: I was visiting with my editor at St. Martin's for one of my early books, and I asked about another author of theirs whose new book had rated a **full-page NY Times ad**. The editor told me that the author had paid for it himself! Whoa. Now, maybe nine years later, that author has had zero new books in the last five years.

    My one piece of advice for authors doing their own promo: target your efforts thoughtfully. Don't keep fishing in the same pond. Sending out twenty announcements about your book to the SAME people is wasted effort, and probably counter-productive. Can you say: UNFRIEND!

  5. Never expect the silver bullet. I think promotion is like "secrets" about weight loss. If there was one that worked, it wouldn't be a secret for long and all the other weight loss methods would go away (can only wish). Gotta find what works for you.

  6. I'm sure Chris is talking about national ad campaigns running into the $1,000's or $10,000's of dollars when he advises against advertising, but new, small press, and indie authors can make modest splashes with online advertising at reader sites like E-reader News Today, KindleNation Daily, and Goodreads, usually for under $500 per and sometimes as little as $100.

    In these small-multiple, limited instances, I think advertising can make a lot of sense and avoiding it as a matter of principle is a mistake.

  7. There’re lots of blogs that review mysteries – like Dru Ann L Love’s Dru’s Book Musing, David Montgomery’s Mystery Ink and Ali Karim’s Rap Sheet. Also check out Goodreads and Library Thing. If you Google “Mystery reviewers” tons of stuff will pop up.

  8. Thanks for asking about the book, Lucy. Here's the flap copy that pretty well sums it up:Imagine this: You have a nice life. You love your beautiful, successful wife. You’re an easy going guy working out of your comfortable Connecticut home. The world is an interesting, pleasant place.

    Then in seconds, it’s all gone.
    You’re still alive, but the world thinks you’re dead. And now you have to decide. Make it official, or go after the evil that took it all away from you.
    Arthur Cathcart, market researcher and occasional finder of missing persons, decides to live on and fight, by doing what he knows best – figuring things out, without revealing his status as a living, breathing human being. Much easier said than done in the post-9/11 world, where everything about yourself and all the tools you need to live a modern life are an open book. How do you become a different person, how do you finance an elaborate scheme without revealing yourself? How do you force a reckoning with the worst people on earth, as a dead man?
    Mystery writer Chris Knopf, who has examined complex what-if’s through five Sam Acquillo and three Jackie Swaitkowski Hamptons Mysteries, tackles these intriguing questions in a tale of mindless venality, phantom identity, impossible obstacles and the triumph of intellect and imagination over brute force.

  9. I had another professional (and very successful) book promoter tell me the same things Chris said. Advertising and a paid publicist are not useful to emerging and early midlist authors. She said first spend any promotional budget you have on conferences and targeted small book tours, getting to know people in the field and bookstore owners. At the stage where you're known in the field but need more recognition, a paid publicist can help get the tougher-to-get media appearances and reviews/mentions. Only a well-reviewed, well-known author can really benefit from advertising dollars.

    Chris, I love the premise of your novel. It sounds like I'm going to have to add another great book to my TBR pile.

  10. Matthew-iden makes a very good point. Online is a great place to be seen at an affordable price. And I agree, no outlet should ever be avoided out of hand. Just think carefully about the size of your investment and what you’ll need to sell to make that investment worth while

  11. I'm Anonymous. I forgot to write in my name. Linda also makes some really good points. Even though writing is a solitary pursuit, it's a very good idea to get around to the conferences and connect with people. Running into Roberta at B'con got me this gig today!

  12. Hi Chris--such good advice. Now tell us how you manage to run your business AND write two books a year:-)

    What do you think about paying for promoted Facebook posts, when you really have something to promote like a new book?

    Love the premise for your new book. Those are things I have thought about, so this is going to be a must-read for me.

  13. Yes, I'd love to hear your take on promoting facebook posts too. I did it for a few, and had a lot of eyeballs. But it now it seems like Facebook is so closely controlling who sees a post, that you'd have to pay EACH time to get traffic.


    And also Chris, we were chatting about getting advanced copies to reviewers and readers--is this the very best kind of marketing an author could do?

  14. Hey Chris,
    Welcome to Jungle REd, so nice to see you here.

    That sounds like a lot of down-to-earth advice that makes it all less overwhelming.

    Congrats on the great review and hope to see you on the dance floor again some time!

  15. I've been wondering how important blogging is...and as a new writer, how do you go about getting invited to participate in a group blog? It strikes me that group blogs such as Jungle Reds provide more bang for the writer who only has time to write once a week...

    Thanks for the great advise, Chris. Congratulations on the all stars!

  16. Running in..yes,Chris, so interesting! I was late because I worked all day and then did a talk/siging at a library. It was terrific, and I made new frieds and sold a lot of books. What do you think--if you're not already alseep!--about personal appearances?

  17. Very interesting perspective. I like the don't-put-all-eggs-in-one-basket tip because I think a lot of writers feel, If I don't get this, it's really bad.

    If it is, it's seldom because of that.

    Best of luck with the new book.