When Poison Pen, the first book in my Forensic Handwriting series, was published in 2007 I had the great good fortune of being part of a very special critique group. Everyone did their homework on how to promote books and everyone shared what they had learned. Having discovered that even a major publisher like mine (Penguin) did very little to promote a midlist author like me, we each signed up with a popular publicist and set out on our individual book tours around the country (I blogged about the ups and downs of those early experiences: http://mystery-writers.blogspot.com/2007/05/between-lines.html).
Over a period of four years and four book releases, believing I was investing in my writing future, I traveled extensively to appear at numerous conference panels, book signings, and lectures, spending around ten thousand bucks a year. The problem was, while I was writing book four, the super supportive editor I loved left Penguin. Her replacement had no interest in continuing my series. So there I was, $40k invested and no new contract. I had been building a fan base, but with major publishing houses not wanting to pick up a series in the middle, I was, well, screwed.
Fast-forward. After self-publishing What She Saw, a standalone novel of suspense, I finally got my rights reverted and my series was taken on by Suspense Magazine, who is now publishing books, too. By this time, social media had taken off. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., is a great way to build relationships with readers without having to pour in tons of money. These days I am selective about the conferences I attend, and my lectures tend to be more local (unless the requesting organization is willing to pay). Appearances on panels at libraries and bookstores are usually within reasonable driving distance. I sometimes drive further, such as for a panel at Book Carnival in Orange tomorrow because supporting independent bookstores is well worth the extra effort.
Another marketing tool I’ve found effective is the launch party. It’s also a way of giving back to your local readers. Around 75 people showed up at the event I hosted for the release of book 6, Outside the Lines. The $500 spent on hors d’oeuvres and prizes was far less than a national tour cost, and far more effective. I handed out door prizes, gave a short talk about how the idea for the book came about, and bookseller Debbie Mitsch sold at least as many books as if I had spent thousands on a national tour. Everyone had a great time and I didn’t have to deal with TSA or jet lag—always a plus.
Blogging and guest blogging, like I’m doing here, is also a terrific way to reach new readers. I’ve recently been invited to join the Mysteristas group and will be blogging on the first Tuesday of each month. Doesn’t cost a cent.
That $40k I spent wasn’t wasted. It got my face and my books in front of readers who would not otherwise have known me. I consider it part of my education. But there’s no denying, achieving better results at lower cost makes Sheila a happy author.