by Mark Stevens
Between the Facebook “like” buttons, the tweet avalanche, and the endless (here’s another one) blog posts, you sometimes have to wonder whether you are connecting your book with the right audience. Yes, I plunge from the high-dive into social media. I do my best. I try to balance self-promotion with genuine participation. Out here in the virtual village, I’ve met tons of cool readers and sold lots of books.
But when it comes to marketing, there’s one old-school tactic that is my bedrock.
Bookstores. Booksellers. Book people.
I visited 42 stores in 2007 when Antler Dust came out and I’m back on the trail in late 2011 with the sequel, Buried by the Roan. Success rates vary. But here’s how I think about it. You’re a writer. Wouldn’t you want your own built-in agents working for you every day? People who talk to readers all day long?
It’s not about just the event and that particular bookstore stop. It’s about developing a relationship with the store owner (or event manager) and readers, too. (And don’t forget: each event gives you a solid reason to tweet and post.)
A few tips:
- Query far ahead. Think months. Work with their schedule. Ask if they do events, but be willing to stand around for a few hours with your titles and your nifty cool promotional material. This is true for the chain stores, too. Each Barnes & Noble outlet has its own flair, its own interest in doing “events.”
- Treat each event like it was the only one you were ever going to do. Ask the bookstore owner for reporter and editor names in the community. Send advance copy books to the local media (no matter how small). The long lead time pays off here, too. Call the reporter or editor a couple weeks before the event, remind them you are on the way.
- Ask the bookstore if you can send a few flyers. Make the flyers. Send them. Ask the bookstore if the local library might post a flyer if you send one or two. Make them, send them.
- Find online community calendars (almost every town has one or two). Upload the details.
- Find writers who live in the town—or nearby. (Again, the bookstore owner will know.) See if you can make a connection and ask for that writer’s help in reaching friends and fans. Pull up their Twitter account and follow some of their followers. Once a connection is established, send a direct message with the details and something personal.
- Post the signing event on your Facebook page (two weeks out, one week out, “day of” reminder) and tweet it to smithereens. Search your Facebook friends for those who live in the area, create an FB event page, invite them. Find the bookstore’s Twitter handle and follow a bunch of their followers (readers, not the carpet cleaning companies) and then send a direct message once they follow you back. (They will.)
- Day of event: Ask for a spot near the front of the store. Stand; don’t sit. Be prepared to answer questions about where the bathroom is located. Engage every reader who comes within range. “Any mystery fans here today?” “Looking for something in particular?” “I’m a writer from XYZ town, let me know if you’ve got a minute and I can tell you about my new title.”
- Come prepared. Bring a bottle of water, breath mints (ahem). Bring copies of reviews, bookmarks, business cards. An 11&17 poster on foam core with your cover. Best of all, bring your quick speech. What is your story about in one sentence? Nail it. Rehearse it. Make it genuine. Not a sales pitch. Ask readers what they like. Engage them. Some will think, “I may not like mysteries but I have a friend…”
- Send a ‘thank you’ to the store after it’s over and post public ‘thanks’ on FB and Twitter and wherever else your social media heart desires.
- Not sure yet? Go to book signings and readings by other writers. Take notes. Keep the things you like, dump the elements you don’t.
Now, if you liked this column, back to the virtual world. Please visit my Facebook page and and you could even ‘like’ my protagonist, Colorado hunting guide Allison Coil. https://www.facebook.com/AllisonCoil Hey, and thanks. Nice “meeting” you. Follow me and I'll see you in cyberspace: @writerstevens
The son of two librarians, Mark Stevens was raised in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He worked as a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, covering a variety of events and issues from the economy, commercial fishing, the environment, politics, then at The Rocky Mountain News, and for The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. He has produced field documentaries across the United States and Latin America. He is the author of the novels ANTLER DUST and BURIED BY THE ROAN and now works in public relations.