Friday, May 15, 2015

Swag The Dog: How Obsessing Over Promotion Can….

HANK:  Pssst. You know Kristi Belcamino and Bryon Quertermous? They’re right over there, talking about...something bookish.  How Obsessing Over Promotion Can Kill An Author's Mojo?  That sounds pretty darn interesting! Let’s see if we can listen in…

Kristi Belcamino: I don’t know about you, but I just fixed myself a cocktail! And I’m raising it to US! Because a year ago, you and I were both sitting here dreaming of being published authors, right? And look at us now? So I’m raising a glass to US. Salut! Chin chin! Clink!

Bryon Quertermous: That really is amazing isn’t it? (And if we had signed traditional publishing deals we’d STILL be waiting for our books to come out and you’re already putting out #3!)

KB: True. We both walked into our deals forgoing the traditional author dream of seeing our books in bookstores and holding our books in our hands and yet, somehow, we both ended up with real, physical books …

BQ: The future rocks. What cocktail do you have? I’m drinking a Diet Pepsi.

KB: I’m doing it up Gabriella Giovanni style (in honor of her, of course) and having Absolut straight up, chilled of course. While my 11-year-old is decorating envelopes for some mailings I’m sending to readers.

BQ: And that’s a perfect transition to what I think will be the major focus of this
conversation today: author promotion. It’s absolutely necessary in this new publishing future but it’s HARD and frustrating and depressing.

KB: Can I agree to disagree with you here?

BQ: No.

KB: Well, I’m gonna anyway.  I’m not going to do any promotion if I think it is hard and frustrating and depressing. I only do what I think is fun … for instance, I really dig interacting with readers on Facebook. For someone who sits alone writing for eight hours, it is a social outlet for me.

BQ: Ah, okay, then I suspect we may actually agree. I like doing promotion, specifically the stuff you mentioned that’s interactive, what I find hard and frustrating and depressing is not knowing if any of it is working.

KB: Aha. Anyway, here’s the thing - we really don’t know if it is working. Were you the one who said throw it out and see what sticks? So that’s why you can’t stress out about it too much. I think our role as authors in this day and age is to be engaging enough so that when readers seek us out, they feel like, hey, I sort of relate to this person AND like her books, so I’m going to follow what she is up to.

It’s about selling yourself by being yourself, right?

BQ: You are very right. I just finished up my first solo book event today (pause for Kristi’s congratulations).

KB: Woot! Woot!

BQ: And it was great. I started the morning with a giant stack of books and was able to see concrete results of my promotion efforts as that stack diminished through the morning. But we don’t get that sort of experience regularly. People buy our books from websites or stores away from us and we have to wait until our publishers send us the cryptic maps to our sales figures to even get a remote sense of whether what we’re doing is working or not.

KB: Well, first - that is awesome! And bravo! But dude, that is why I became friends with you before we met in person in Milwaukee, because I liked your personality online and felt sort of like you were a little brother. That is why I bought your book because I liked your personality and hoped to see that in your book. That is why I think it’s important we be authentic on social media—although I do try to rein in my super bitchy side, even though my main character can be somewhat bitchy at times, too.

BQ: I know I’ve bought plenty of books from authors I never knew because they were entertaining on a panel or authentic. I like that you used that word because I think some authors think you have to be Jerry Seinfeld or Taylor Swift up there being charming and funny and ON, but there are plenty of people both of us know who are quiet and subdued but when they talk they convey an authenticity that readers find intriguing.

We seem to agree that social media is very helpful if done right, but what about swag? This seems to be a fairly divisive topic among writers in what seems to work for different writers and different audiences.

KB: I think swag is hard to measure. What I use swag for is as a way to spread the word through a grassroots campaign. It’s not going to help me to send bookmarks to someone who has never read my books or who is lukewarm about my writing.

BQ: Oh, that is SUCH a great point. When you look up advice on promotion for writers and weed through all the bullshit from “gurus” and “experts” one thing that pops up time and again is that the best promotion a writer can do is write another good book quickly. 

KB: Yeah. The only thing we really can control is writing the next book. But there is only so much money in the pot for the publisher to spend on promotion so my job is to let them know I’m pulling my weight in getting the word out. I’m open to interviews, I’m keeping the social media ball rolling, I’m spreading the word in my own way …

BQ: How about newsletters? After being adamantly opposed to the newsletter idea for a long time, I think I’ve finally come around to their usefulness. Can you talk a little bit about your newsletter experience? Why did you start it, how do you make it successful, how do you get folks to sign up for it, etc.?

KB: I’ve learned a bit about it since I started the newsletter last year. What I did wrong was essentially bribe people to sign up for it, which was not ideal. Why? I offered some cool gifts to random newsletter subscribers every month for the first few months. The problem with that, is you DO NOT want to bribe people to subscribe because essentially then their subscription is useless. Because they don’t care about you or your books. They signed up for the chance to win something cool.

But if you offer something that only an enthusiastic reader would want - say a deleted chapter from your book, a copy of your book, a short story you wrote - then you are focusing on your ideal newsletter subscriber - somebody who signed up because they like your books and your writing and will care about what you have to say when you do send out that newsletter.

And that’s why a newsletter is important - you’ve winnowed down the people who are enthusiastic about your books and you have a direct line to them for all your book news.

And I reward them for being enthusiastic with giveaways each month.

BQ: I think that’s a great place to end this. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I know I’ve found it beneficial to learn about your failures and false starts and I’m sure our readers will as well.

KB: Bryon, thanks to you, as well. I loved talking bookish things with you and am happy that we both have landed where we are and that we are friends.

HPR:  We loved it, too! Such fun to listen to you guys! (And congratulations on the Anthony Best First nomination, Kristi! YAY!)  Reds, writers and readers alike, weigh in! Agree? Or disagree?

Bryon Quertermous is the author of Murder Boy and the forthcoming Riot Load. His short stories have been published in a number of journals of varying repute and he was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award. He currently lives outside of Detroit with his wife and kids. Visit him at and follow him on Twitter @BryonQ.

The only thing standing between Detroit writer Dominick Prince and his dream of a writing fellowship in New York City is his thesis adviser who doesn’t want Dominick’s crime novel tainting his last chance bid at tenure. When Dominick tricks a bounty hunter into helping him kidnap the professor, things spin quickly, and violently, out of control.

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, newspaper reporter, and Italian-American mama who makes a tasty biscotti. As an award-winning crime reporter at newspapers in California, she flew over Big Sur in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca and watched autopsies. Her first book, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD, was based on her dealings with a serial killer while she was a reporter at a Bay Area newspaper. Find out more at

In BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP, San Francisco Bay Area reporter Gabriella Giovanni stumbles onto a horrific crime scene with only one survivor—a baby girl found crawling between the dead bodies of her family members. Reeling from the slaughter, Gabriella clings to the infant. When Social Services pries the little girl from her arms, the enormity of the tragedy hits home. Diving deep into a case that brings her buried past to the forefront, Gabriella is determined to hunt down the killer who left this helpless baby an orphan. But one by one the clues all lead to a dead end, and Gabriella's obsession with finding justice pulls her into a dark, tortuous spiral that is set to destroy everything she loves …


  1. I find whole promotion thing to be fascinating . . . although I’ve been to a few author’s book signings over the years, it’s only been in the past two or three years that I’ve become aware of author promotion, mostly through this blog. For readers, it’s pretty special to be able to interact with the authors who write the books that we enjoy reading.

  2. I laughed (several times) reading this. Here's what I call book promotion: flailing. Because you just do and do and do and have no idea what's worth doing.

    I've seen authors who pulled out all the stops in the swag department and honestly it made them seem cringe-worthingly desperate. On the other hand, I still carry around Hank's chapstick giveaways and every time I take it out it's a reminder... which is what you want, right?

  3. I am at Pennwriters right now… And about to look at the giveaway table. I will report back!should I leave my bookmarks there? Do you pick things up from those tables of loot?

  4. I always imagine it all getting thrown away when the convention is over… Sigh. But then people say to me:hooray! I needed a new book mark!

  5. Joan,
    Thanks for reading. I've found that one of my favorite things is interacting with readers. It is the best thing ever. I model myself after Adriana Trigiani. Many years ago she called my book club on speaker phone and said, "Hey, how's it going baby?" And then asked us all sorts of questions about what we wanted in her future books, invited us to be extras in her movie and made us adore her. If I can be even a little bit like her as an author I'm doing it right!

  6. Hallie,
    So true. Throwing things out and seeing what sticks, right? Speaking of cool swag, I always use my pal, Carey Baldwin's shot glass she gave me at B'Con last year. Useful swag is cool! Thanks for commenting! And thanks for writing your wonderful book on writing mysteries!

  7. Hank,
    Thanks again for having us on Jungle Red Writers and for always being the most gracious writer around!

  8. Flailing! I find great comfort in that definition of book promotion, Hallie, because it's the most honest and so is this conversation. With my first book out this August, I listen and read about what other authors are doing, what they think works, and in the end, I'm just following my gut. We shall see...

  9. I like unique stuff. Loved Hank's The Wrong Girl chapstick and it gave me the opportunity to talk about the book when people noticed it. So sad it's gone.

    I don't often pick up stuff from swag tables. I've got a bazillion bookmarks (even though I never seem to be able to find one when I need one). Sorry I missed you at the after-hours last night, Hank. Great workshop, though.

  10. How are you all so awake and brilliant this early? I suspect this will be an ongoing adventure for me. It will be interesting next year with the next book to reevaluate what has worked and what hasn't. Right now I'm to the point where I have to let all of this go for now and focus all in on finishing my next book.

  11. Welcome Bryon and Kristi!

    It is all too easy to get swept up in promotion and forget that the real work is writing. With my first mystery series, set in the golf world, I spent hours stuffing little baggies with golf pencils and tees that had book names and website on them. I don't know if that sold any books, but they are surely collector's items now LOL. I did peruse the Malice Domestic tables--aside from our I READ RED buttons, which were quite fun, I picked up chocolates and a jar opener. I'm very mixed about swag--it doesn't seem as though "stuff" should sell books, does it?

    You're smart Michele, to watch what everyone else is doing and pick a few things that suit you. And we will be thrilled to support you!!!

  12. Thanks Roberta! It's super exciting for me to be on Jungle Red Writers after being a longtime reader!
    That is the key - putting promotion second to writing that next book. In some cases, I had obligations from my publisher (blogs for blog tour) and had to really juggle writing and blogging for a month or so. Fiction in the morning, promo in the afternoon.

  13. Great conversation--interesting to see the ideas and opinions on this topic. I've been to a number of conventions where people were selling products/services (not books at this point), and I love swag--if it's useful or just plain tickles my fancy because of the creative way it ties into the concept (or book, in this case). Useful is always good, like the chapstick--because every time you reach for it, someone else might notice.

    Also, in terms of giving away swag, we always try to be the booth with the swag everyone is talking about and wants--one year it was these cool flexible penlights--great for reading on the car, plane, etc.

  14. So great to see two of my favorite people here at Jungle Red Writers.

    You both are indeed authentic and supportive of other writers. This is really key.

    I am happy to be able to say that I reviewed books by you both on BOLO Books and plan to continue that long into the future, as your careers continue to soar.

    Like with book promotion, blog promotion is a tricky business. I went in knowing that I didn't want to do giveaways. Some blogs do this well (Hey there, Dru), but others do not and it often feels more like a way to artificially inflate stats by "bribing" folks to sign up.

    For BOLO, I'm much happier having a more accurate representation of the followers who come to the blog for the content, not the contest. The right people find me, and I have no complaints.

    In the end, like with your novels, it's the writing that will bring them back.

  15. Hi, FChurch!
    At B'Con, I was pretty excited to see my publisher had little pens with flashlights. I only wish I was bold enough to have scooped up even more than the two I grabbed for my kids!

  16. Hi Kristopher,
    So great to see your comment on here. I feel so lucky to have had you read and review my books.
    One thing I really love about you and your blog is that you act with integrity in so many ways and that is authentic and real.

  17. When all an author does is say, "Look at my book. Buy my book." It's a real turn off. If, however, they are including that in with other things in their life - being genuine - then I am more likely to buy their books. This is my philosophy for social media. Newsletters are different since I subscribe to learn about their books.

    Swag? If I'm interested, I pick it up. If not, I don't.

  18. Welcome Bryon and Christie! Agree with Hallie -- I just sort of flail -- but also try to bring lesser-known things to the table. I love bringing up WW2 interesting facts and life in the 40s as opposed to yamering on about my books on social media.

  19. Kristi,

    Brilliant advice on the newsletter swag! Offer 'something that only an enthusiastic reader would want - say a deleted chapter from your book, a copy of your book, a short story you wrote - then you are focusing on your ideal newsletter subscriber - somebody who signed up because they like your books and your writing and will care about what you have to say when you do send out that newsletter.'

    I'm definitely going to try that.

  20. Hi Kristi and Bryon! Kristi, we're all going to try your newsletter swag idea:-)

    Generally, I'm not big on swag, although I love our REDS Read buttons!

    I like interacting with readers on social media, and I love actually TALKING to readers at events. Too much "Buy My Book" from anyone is a turn off, but we all have to do it sometimes.

  21. First let me say that I love promoting authors, with my The Reading Room blog, my Bookaholics FB page, and writing reviews. I always appreciate receiving ARCs so that I can help get the word out early about so many great authors and their books. Reading is my passion, and talking about it to others via social media and other means is a part of that passion. Nothing is more satisfying in reading than recommending authors/books and having someone else fall in love with those books and characters, too. And, I try to ensure that my local library is carrying the books of the new up and coming authors.

    My first Bouchercon in Albany in 2013 was truly a dream come true, meeting and connecting with so many authors of the mysteries and crime books I so enjoy. I can't wait until this year in Raleigh. Also, these conventions where promotion is at a high is a place to connect with other reading enthusiasts and bloggers, such as the amazing Kristopher and BOLO. He is my blog guru and is responsible for connecting me to some great reading world people, including authors. In fact, Krisi and Bryon, you all are on my radar because of Mr. BOLO. I am so looking forward to reading Kristi and Bryon before Raleigh.

    It's such a thrill to be in on the ground floor of promoting a new author, as well as continuing support for my established favorites (i.e., all Reds). I'm on the "street team" for a couple of emerging authors, and it is a blast.

    Kristi, I was glad that you said you enjoyed interacting with readers, as that's so important to the readers, to feel a connection to the author that writes their favorite books. As you mentioned, Bryon, that you've bought authors' books because they were entertaining and engaging, it is just contagious when an author enjoys sharing her work and self with others. Thank you and Kristi for sharing yourselves and your insightful thoughts on promotion here today.

    Oh, on swag. I have to admit I'm a sucker for swag. I'm on the fence about its effectiveness, but I like to think that it at least delights established fans who are then even more enthusiastic to get the word out about an author. Like Mary Sutton, I loved Hank's chap stick at the Albany Bouchercon. Things like that help an author stick in your memory.

    Oh, and I know I have rambled on and on here, but there's one promotional tool that has been most effective in my choice of authors and books. It is none other than the Jungle Red Writers blog. My reading life and involvement with authors has been much enriched through this blog. Karin Salvalaggio, who commented on the newsletter aspect, is one of the treasures that I have found here. Now back to reading her Burnt River.

  22. Mark,
    It drives me crazy when everything an author tweets is buy my book. I always want to ask, Does that work for you? It just seems so clueless.

  23. Susan,
    I agree - that is infinitely more interesting than blabbing about myself!

  24. SO delighted you love the chapstick! xooxo Maybe I'll get more, hmm.

    And that's terrific advice on the newsletter..

    I am just back from the airport..more to come!


  25. Karin,
    Thanks and thanks for reading. I spent a lot of money learning that lesson. Lol. Oh well! Cheers!

  26. Deborah,
    I agree - talking to readers is THE best!

  27. Kathy,
    Thanks for all you do to promote authors! We owe a huge debt to people who review books and spread the word about authors. What you do is HUGE. Thank you especially for getting authors into your local library. I personally believe it is extremely important to get into libraries. I am a huge library patron and fan. One of my favorite quotes is "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries!" Please come up and introduce yourself at B'Con!

  28. Kristi, that's a great idea--Let's all get together at Bouchercon--we had such a great time in Long Beach! And we can toast Kathy Reel!

  29. When I first started pricing swag, I discovered the more interesting items cost as much or more than my book royalties. So I started bringing "dead body" cookies to my local author events. Fortunately I have a neighbor who loves to bake and made about 600 of them over a 3 month period. One weekend she left town and I was forced to make them which took me hours. If the dough is too thin you get dead body parts - if it's too thick you end up with chubby aliens. I decided I would no longer give them away. So I posted a sign - free dead body cookie with purchase of book. Sold a ton of books. The next event I changed the sign to read - free book with purchase of cookie. Sold just as many. You never know what will get people's attention but it was a great way to strike up a conversation.

    Hank, I love your chapstick which to this day is my favorite swag ever (besides my cookies)

  30. Cindy, I have a book signing/launch party in 10 days and I want to TOTALLY STEAL YOUR IDEA for dead body coookies, if you wouldn't mind, I'd love more details, pics, etc. Brilliant! Also, yes, please, Hank. Let's meet as a group and toast Kathy!

  31. Dead body cookies! Only around here could we all be thinking--wow, good idea! RIght? xoxo

  32. Speaking as a reader, I like bookmarks, postcards, chapstick, as they all remind me to buy the newest book by my favorite authors. (Maybe I'm one of the few people who actually will buy whatever is advertised on the swag item??)

  33. I am humbled and honored that I would be toast worthy. Hank, you are so great at making everybody feel loved and appreciated. It's a gift that you use generously. Kristi, with you and Hank toasting me, my book love will explode into a cascade of sparkling fireworks, or maybe my world will turn into a fairylights dream world. I definitely want to meet up with you, Kristi, and you, Hank, and all of the Reds and all the wonderful people here. Do you think we could rent a room? Hehehe! We certainly have enough to fill a bar!

    Oh, Cindy, dead bodies cookies are genius!

  34. I am so obsessed with SWAG that a friend suggested I start a side business helping authors come up with creative promo ideas - mostly to save myself from spending more money on my own SWAG!

  35. Hallie's right about Hank's lip balm, most soothing ever, and eye-catching! . . . and now I'm intrigued by dead body cookies . . . but online short stories are wonderful also, and no shipping charges ;-)
    The best gift to your readers is to keep writing those fun and interesting (and well-edited, thank you very much) books!

  36. Deb,
    Cool. I do bookmarks and postcards (with recipes on back) and now I'm tempted to steal Hank's idea for chapsticks (CIndy was kind enough to let me steal her dead cookie idea)!
    Kathy and Hank - It's a plan! See you at B'con!
    Ell, I admit I go overboard on swag. I've got swag bags for a bookclub visit next week - I just can't help it, it's so fun to give fun things away.
    StorytellerMary, thanks for popping in and reinforcing how cool the lip balm idea is!

  37. I'll be there so please - if there's a Reds party let me know!