Michael Haskins

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Writers need a bit of snake-oil-salesman's charm

Waiting for March ’08, when my book “Chasin’ the Wind” finally makes it into bookstores, has been frustrating. I turned in the final copy of the novel to the first editor in mid December. I would take it as personal if the publishers’ panel at SleuthFest, held in Miami in March, hadn’t discussed that it takes up 16 months from acceptance to publication.

After the New Year, I began working on a sequel, though I had no guarantee that the publisher would take it. Again, the publishers’ panel at SleuthFest talked about sales driving publishers’ desire for a sequel to a first novel. Sales! Not commitment to the author. Less we forget, publishing is a business and a dwindling business at that. Small publishers, God bless ‘em, are the best hopes for publishing a first novel.

The advance is small, but they will look at works from un-agented writers. Trying to get a reliable agent is a whole other blog and horror story! So there’s only a small advance and, most likely, no money to help in a book signing tour. The print runs are low, also. And a second printing is going to depend on (you guessed it!) the early sales.

My publisher, Five Star, does send out copies of the book to reviewers and that is a positive. A few good reviews will help sales and the early ones may even get on the back jacket of the book. A real good one from something like the New York Times Review of Books would probably make it on the cover! Of course, a NYT review would definitely help sales.

It is up to the writer to promote his/her book and make sales. May son-in-law, Paul Carpino, works in a business with a marketing department and he was able to get me a list of all the major US newspapers’ book editors and their addresses. Some were on the Five Star distribution list, but many weren’t. Five Star will give me up to 15 books to send for reviews. So, from the list I have to choose 15 publications to send copies of my book to. It’s one step toward sales.

LA writer Robert Crais reminded me that many of the bookstores I haunted when I lived in LA were still open, and he suggested I test the waters by approaching them. I did last June, when I visited LA, and received positive responses from Mysteries to Die For, in Thousand Oaks; the Mystery Bookstore, outside UCLA; Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeehouse, in the La Canada-Flintridge neighborhood; Dutton’s, in Brentwood; Book ‘Em, in South Pasadena, and Mystery & Imagination, in Glendale.

I will be touching base again, after the reviews come out, and send my press package of review clips, book cover art, my photo and blurbs form other writers. And a T-shirt with the book cover on the back and a little blurb on the front with my website address. I just hope I don’t send a large to someone that would fit nicely into a small!

Yeah, T-shirts are another way of promoting the book. I expect to give away many and, with a little luck, sell a few to help make up the costs. I am fortunate to have Bill Lane, from Fastlane Advertising (www.fastlaneadvertising.com), as a friend and he has helped me with suggestions on promo ideas and some great art.

T-shirts and postcards are not that expensive and if some of the T-shirts sell at the signings, they may pay for themselves. The postcard will go in my press package and, hopefully, the bookstores will leave them on the counter or put them in the bag with purchased books.

I thought about bookmarks, but then realized most of the stores already had bookmarks that promoted their store. I didn’t want to be in competition with them, so I am going with the postcards. Postcards are also bigger than bookmarks and may get a second look when it comes out of the bag and before it’s thrown away. Maybe it will be saved and stuck on the frig, as a reminder of a book to buy.

Another good promotional item is the local library. Monroe County has a library system that includes three or four branches between Key West and Key Largo. Speaking to reading groups and the Friends of the Library will help sell books and the writer. If only a handful of people show up, and even if none of ‘em buys a book, and if I give a good presentation, they will talk about my book and me to friends and eventually some of them will buy copies.

I talked to Tom Corcoran, who can fill a movie theater in Key West when he signs, about how he does so well on stage. Especially with his readings. He had a great suggestion. He told me to pick a few short paragraphs, maybe from different sections of the book, and read them. They don’t need dialogue, he said and that made me feel better. I’ve been to readings where the writer reads dialogue and takes on the roll of each speaker. I am not up to that quality.

Another point Tom talked about was making the piece read leave the reader wanting to know more. Don’t tell ‘em too much and leave them wanting what followed. Sounds like an old fashioned snake oil salesmen’s pitch, don’t it?

Now I need to sit down and worry, because writers are such an insecure bunch; most of us, anyway. I will keep working on the sequel, hoping to finish it by September and then get to work on a short story I’ve blocked out. Jerry Healy told me to keep writing after the novel is finished and the short story works best for me.

If you have any ideas on self promotion, let me hear them.

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