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Marketing 201 – The Advanced Course

On the first Friday in March the Friends of the Library held a fundraiser in our little town. My wife is a member of the Friends, and I was brought along to set chairs.

Admission was five dollars. The food was free. The Friends sold wine and beer, and there was a live auction of some nice things. I hoped the Friends would raise enough to cover the appearance fee of the speaker, New York Times bestselling mystery author William Kent Krueger, who would be driving out from his home in the nearest large city an hour away.

We set about 75 chairs. A few minutes after the doors opened, we scoured meeting rooms and offices for more. Krueger arrived with the members of the Friends who had taken him to dinner, and he opened a suitcase and put out the trade paperbacks and hard cover books that he brought for sale. People approached him with copies of his books, and he graciously signed them. Then he moved through the crowd, engaging people in conversation for several minutes each. He insisted on paying for his own beer.

Then it was time for Krueger to speak. He took the microphone, smiled at the audience, and spoke very little about his books. He asked for applause for the Friends of the Library and urged listeners to join. He said he arrived early to drive the streets of the town, and voiced his positive impressions. He spoke about how the public library is the first thing to be cut in a municipal budget pinch, but that we need to support our libraries as the only repositories of our culture.

When Krueger spoke about his writing, he talked about the personal connections with people that helped him form his character Cork O’Connor, the Irish/Ojibwe protagonist in his series of 16 (and counting) mystery novels. He spoke about his appreciation for publishers and editors, and for bookstores and not-for-profits that had supported him in his work. He spoke about what compelled him to write his award winning stand alone novel “Ordinary Grace,” how he had been given a boatload of money for a sequel, and how after struggling with the story he tried to give the money back. Many of the people in the room had read some of his books. Very few had met him. He was warm, approachable, friendly, honest and open. By the end of his talk, everyone liked him.

The auction, the principal fundraising event, followed Krueger’s talk. He had donated two items to be auctioned off, and he bid on several items also. My wife won a very nice hand made afghan before she realized she was bidding against Krueger. There was one item in the auction that I really wanted, and I got it: my chance for literary immortality. With my winning bid, I will be the main character in a William Kent Krueger short story, to be submitted to and most assuredly published by a magazine of his choice. We exchanged email addresses, and I have provided him with plenty of information about me for the story.

After the auction Krueger went to his display of books and began signing copies. I don’t know how many he sold. He left with a lighter suitcase and a bag of money and checks.

The crowd slowly left and just a few of us were still there. Krueger asked about his appearance fee. He was handed the check, and then he tore it up for the promise that the Friends would apply the money to a specific library program.

I spoke to Krueger for only a few minutes. It was about marketing. He stressed with me what I had just witnessed, a personal outreach to and a genuine appreciation for those people who are willing to read what he has written. This approach has grown his readership, his wide circle of friends, and his career.

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22 thoughts on “Marketing 201 – The Advanced Course

  1. atthysgage says:

    A fantastic recounting of what sounds like a remarkable night. I can say from my own, extremely limited experience, that the best night as a book marketer came the one time I was invited to do a signing at a local independent bookstore. I sold maybe 9 or 10 books, but the rewards of engaging, one on one, with even a handful of people far outweighed the sales receipts. (Unfortunately, such signings are rare, and touring about to other cities and towns would be beyond my means at this stage in the game.) There’s something about meeting an author in person that makes people want to read his or her books, even if it is only a brief hello, assuming the author isn’t a total jerk, I guess.

    Liked by 3 people

    • If I ever have the opportunity to sell 9-10 copies of Night Terror & Other Weird Tales to actual living, breathing, talking people, well . . . I guess I would die a happy man. I know you’re not complaining, Atthys! Just wanted to reaffirm a solid success there on your part.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perry Palin says:

        My best sales night was when I spoke to a group of 40-50 people for 40 minutes and offered my books as the meeting broke up. I don’t recall how many I sold, but I went home with $200-$250.

        Liked by 3 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      I was apprehensive about how my new friend Kent would draw in our town. I needn’t have worried. The whole evening was great. The Friends of the Library made pretty good money, Kent sold some books, and he has 80 or 90 new fans, some of whom will buy more of his books in the future. His two contributions to the auction, which were on display before he spoke, was a great intro for him to the group.

      We have an essayist in our area who sells a lot of books at readings, but he has made the reading an entertainment experience, even to sharing the stage with his own rock band, performing his own original songs.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like a grounded, courtly, thoroughly decent human being.

    I would have bought one of his books had I been there–solely on the basis of his behavior. He’s mastered the paradoxical “art of the signing”: though these events are billed as being all about the writer, it’s really all about the audience–they’re the ones judging your intelligence, wisdom, decency and kindness before shelling out hard-earned coin for your books.

    Dean Koontz, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and so many others have given great pointers in this regard.

    PS. I have a friend who once worked for Borders. He told me that the employees would gather in the back room if a signing wasn’t going well (no one stopping by the writer’s table) and point fingers at each other: “No, you go out and talk to him . . .”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      “Sounds like a grounded, courtly, thoroughly decent human being.” Yes, on all counts. How he worked the room before his presentation loosened up some of the attendees, and helped him get “up” for his talk. The chance to speak to the group was important for us to know who he is, and the people liked him a lot.

      He didn’t try to sell his books. By the end of the evening, people were asking for a chance to buy them.

      He wrote to me in an email, “I had such a wonderful time . . . last Friday. The fine people I meet at events like this are among the greatest of the blessings that have come to me as a result of my writing, and I surely found a bonanza on Friday night.”

      Liked by 2 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    This sounds lovely, if you can do it. I am an introvert and I would be so uncomfortable. I’ll give it a try if I ever get to that point, but I dread it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      Mimi,

      I doubt that you’re more of an introvert than me, but I’ve done this sort of thing a few times with good results.

      Nothing to fear. Preparation is key. Know your message and deliver it without notes. Dress the part. The audience is your friend; the listeners want you to succeed. Smile. Talk about the audience before you talk about yourself. Stop before people want you to stop.

      Kent Krueger has done this many times, and he is good at it. He entertained us, he informed us, and we left that place happy.

      Liked by 2 people

    • atthysgage says:

      I was uncomfortable too, but it wasn’t bad once you got into it. The most uncomfortable moments were the ones where no one was coming over.

      Kind of a funny story about that, depending on what you find funny. I shared the table with an old gentleman, a local guy who was also a political commentator (a conservative one) who advised Reagan and wrote columns about insider stuff in DC during the day. We didn’t discuss politics, but he was very kind and we got on well. The next day, I got a call from the bookstore owner (who is an acquaintance) asking if I’d heard the news: the fellow had died in the night from a heart attack, mere hours after the signing. He had seemed hale enough, at least for a guy pushing eighty.

      I’m worried now that the bookstore won’t schedule me for another signing because nobody will want to share a table.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Sounds like a great event. I gave a talk to the French Circle of Richmond, hoping to sell a few copies of Perfume Island, but just after arranging it came the split with my publisher so I had no books to sell. Still, it was a good experience – training for the future.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. mimispeike says:

    Curtis, how many copies did they print? What’s going to happen to them? What is a normal print run for a small publisher? Do you have ownership back, can you print and sell on your own?

    Why did you court and sign with a small publisher? What did you see as the advantages? You may have covered this before. Refresh our memories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would suspect that most small publishers these days don’t do print runs at all – it’s all print on demand, one by one to meet each order that comes in. That’s one reason why self-publishing has become so feasible. My publisher basically operated like a self-publisher but with a few extra titles in the catalogue – I only went with him to get that ‘veneer of legitimacy’ that Atthys has mentioned, and unless I’m mistaken, he still thinks it’s preferable to self-publishing despite the promotional aspect being the same either way, i.e. we have to do it ourselves. I now have the rights back (well, by verbal agreement – I need get out the contract to check it legally). So now I’m in control of pricing, scheduling, promotional packages etc. It’s also more advantageous financially. But one has to overcome the still prevalent – and not entirely inaccurate – idea that self-published books are inferior in the writing or proofreading/editing or both.

      Liked by 4 people

      • atthysgage says:

        To be honest, I’m not sure if I really think there’s a significant difference between self-publishing and small press publishing. Yes, they spring for a cover, which saves money. Yes, they edit, which saves even more. But they take a significant share of the royalties as payment for that.

        Promotion is pretty much nil in most cases. As you said, the author still needs to do nearly all of it.

        As far as the veneer of legitimacy, that’s still a thing, but I don’t think it counts for very much, and losing control of pricing and a few other issues… well, I think it’s pretty much a wash. If I even finish my epic Minoan trilogy, I will probably it publish them myself.

        Liked by 5 people

        • Perry Palin says:

          My short story collections were put out by a small niche traditional publisher. Some people in the book business were impressed (at least a little) with the “veneer of legitimacy.” I still have to do the marketing myself, but I have been told this is true even with the big publishing houses. I lost the right to make certain decisions, but this didn’t bother me too much. It was a good trade for their knowledge of the business of putting together a book. The printing may or may not be POD, but I know they will do short print runs, reducing the risk to them and me. They do have some money in the project. The royalty scheme is not as good as self-publishing, but it was better than most publishers ( I get $4-$8 for each trade paperback, depending on how it’s sold).

          I may have mentioned this before, but I really like “The Indie Author Revolution” by Dara M. Beevas, published by Beaver’s Pond Press in 2013. Beevas was a VP at Beaver’s Pond at the time, mentoring (for good money) “hundreds of authors through the publishing process.” She has since left Beaver’s Pond and opened another similar business with associates – Wise Ink. I’ve never done any business with Beevas but I’ve heard her speak twice, and I am impressed by her.The business sells packages, or a la carte services, to authors who need help getting their books together and out on the market.

          I have a friend who will “publish” your book for $100 with Create Space. All he is doing is saving you from learning the Create Space protocols. Other businesses, like Beevas’ will help with everything including ghost writers if necessary, but it comes with a price, sometimes a high price.

          Liked by 4 people

        • GD Deckard says:

          These days, a writer no more needs a small publisher than he/she needs a printing press. Hell, make up your own publisher name & print that on the book. Few readers ever heard of most of the publishers out there today anyway. (OKAY, it’s just my opinion 🙂 but I agree with Atthys)

          Liked by 3 people

            • But of course! Very understandable. But there are other wrinkles besides validation to consider: editorial services and channels of distribution. (No mean things in themselves, as Perry has noted.) A writer (especially of short fiction) is faced with this reality: consideration for inclusion in “best of” anthologies is drawn from a limited number of recognized literary sources. Rightly or wrongly, fair or no, a self-published writer–by definition–excludes himself or herself from these markets offering additional income and heightened visibility. A bitter truth.

              Like

          • Perry Palin says:

            Yes, I agree, GD. But small publishers say they offer services that you might need. Editing? I have a friend near here who has written and self-published a number of books. They don’t sell very well; most of his sales are in person at community events. He could have a better following, but he really, really needs an editor.

            Liked by 2 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    We have to get ourselves noticed and at the same time apply a ‘veneer of legitimacy’ to our effort. How do we do that?

    Kris says to network with ‘influencers’. Interact with them 80/20: offer entertaining content unrelated to your book eighty percent of the time. Convince them you can write, and that you have something eye-catching to say, and let them spread the word.

    This, by the way, is the advice of Tim in that marketing webinar I just listened to. This is the business model of Huffington Post and others. Free content in exchange for a credit, you get your name out there. The more beguiling the content, the better your chance that someone will look up your book.

    What sort of content would that be? I am not bold enough to try to (seriously) discuss marketing. Those people would surely know far more about it than I do. Should it at least be something literary? Damned if I know. Something about cats, maybe? Cats, I know. News items? I have to find some influencers and see what they like. How do we identify influencers? Scattershot? Trying to connect anywhere and everywhere? I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

    Kris has more experience with this than we (probably) do. I hope she can help us understand how to go about it. Frankly, the struggle to connect online makes me want to go back to the bumper sticker idea. (That I have not abandoned by any means.)

    Liked by 3 people

  7. GD Deckard says:

    WoW Perry 🙂
    This is exactly the kind of posts that helps writers to sell their books.

    Most attempts don’t work and any one that does may not work for every writer, but the more posts we have like yours, the better.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mimispeike says:

    The queen of the influencers has got to be Jane Friedman. jamefriedman.com

    She has a great blog covering all apects of the struggle. Here is a snippet of something that just caught my eye:

    How to Attract a Readership Based on Concept Alone.

    Ultimately, concept is far less important than character when it comes to determining the overall quality of your story, but your audience is attracted to your story based on your concept alone. Does your concept have what it takes to draw people in, at least long enough to introduce them to your wonderful characters?

    The key here is to picture strangers. They have enough stories already, thanks, and they don’t need a new one. What concept will win them over despite their apathy?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. mimispeike says:

    The queen of the influencers has got to be Jane Friedman. janefriedman.com

    She has a great blog covering all aspects of the struggle. Here is a snippet of something that just caught my eye:

    How to Attract a Readership Based on Concept Alone.

    Ultimately, concept is far less important than character when it comes to determining the overall quality of your story, but your audience is attracted to your story based on your concept alone. Does your concept have what it takes to draw people in, at least long enough to introduce them to your wonderful characters?

    The key here is to picture strangers. They have enough stories already, thanks, and they don’t need a new one. What concept will win them over despite their apathy?

    To read the whole, here’s the link. https://janefriedman.com/story-concept/

    I see twenty-three pages of fifty articles each, find them on her ‘blog’ page. And they all look so interesting. Better than half are written by Jane, but a dozen other writers (probably many more, I only sampled two pages) contributing as well.

    It could take a weekend to read it all. I may just do that.

    __________________________________________

    Now I give Kris a plug here. I have looked at his site. It is fantastic! Interesting, varied content, I say on a par with Jane Friedman, but not the same volume. Wow! We are so lucky to have him here! Go go go check out kristianbowes.com

    Fabulous Kris! I’m going to learn all I can from you.

    Liked by 2 people

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