Singing the Book Promotion Blues

With a new book coming out in June, I have had the pleasure—and the pain—of deciding what I need to do to get the word out. My decisions are similar to the ones anyone launching a book makes. Being realistic, there is only so much time and money, and never enough. There is also a limited payoff to the some of the choices, so where do you get the biggest bang for your buck. I figured I would share the marketing plan for my upcoming release, RED SKY, in the hopes that it might help some of you.

Timing is everything

There are a lot of things you can do to promote your book, and some of them must be done months in advance. Early in the year, my publisher sent me a marketing plan with the dates of actions to be taken and the name of the person responsible for taking those actions--one advantage of having a traditional publisher, and still the tasks are the same. I added to it things like signings, travel, promotional items. The time frame goes something like this:

6 months ahead of pub date

                               RED SKY Advance Reader's Copy    

Pitch the book for print reviews, guest articles and to local media. This includes sending galleys and later finished books to reviewers. My publisher's PR department took responsibility for this, and it resulted in some nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as guest blog assignments and local media interviews.

Give away galleys and books to help create buzz. There is a community of booksellers, librarians, media professionals and book lovers interested in reading e-versions of pre-published books. My publisher puts my book up on NetGallery, and later does Giveaways to boost reviews on sites like Amazon, B&N and Goodreads.  I've added to it by doing Giveaways of the book once I receive my author copies--but those are limited. Sometimes you have to buy more, and that can get expensive.

Set up signings at the local bookstores. Some stores have longer lead times than others, and if you want a time close to your launch it doesn't pay to wait. Once you know your pub date, have your publicist call (r you call) the bookstores where you want to appear. My advice is to choose wisely. Venues differ. Upside, at Tattered Cover you'll be asked to speak and then sign books. Downside, if you don't have a traditional publisher willing to pay the fee, it will cost you $150 to set a date and you may have to consign your books. At a Barnes & Noble, you'll find yourself at a table in the front of the store hawking your book to their customers. Mark Stevens is the king of hawking, and he enjoys this type of venue. I don't, so I avoid this type of signing like the plague.

Promotional Poster for Hearthfire Books

OF NOTE: A publicist once told me not to set up too many signings in one locale. The theory being, you can only ask your friends, family and fans to show up so many times. With Red Sky, which launches in June, I've only set up two signings—one at the Tattered Cover-Colfax store; the other at Hearthfire Books, in my hometown of Evergreen.

Two months ahead of publication

Order promotional materials and swag. Most authors do bookmarks or postcards. Some give out chocolate. Some do tchotchke items. For example, Suzanne Proulx, who wrote a series of books featuring a hospital risk manager, ordered pens that looked like hypodermic needles to promote her novel, Bad Blood. Robin Owens printed the cover of her book on the back of a pocket calendar. Brilliant! I carried that card around for a year, flashing it numerous times in front of numerous people. The key is to be creative. Put something into the hands of bookstore owners, librarians and fans that will make them want to order and buy your book. Make sure you have a good design, and research your printer. There are a number of companies that offer discounted printing, but quality differs—and quality matters.

OF NOTE: One of the best promotional values around is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blue Mailer. If you’re a PAL or iPAL member, for a modest fee you can place a blurb about your book in three consecutive bi-monthly mailers sent out to regional booksellers and librarians. For an additional charge you can include an insert. NOTE: there are specs for mailings and inserts, so be sure you meet expectations.

One month before publication

New Ebook cover for down-priced version

Take advantage of other opportunities

Library talks are fun, and a great way to get your book in front of readers. So are local book club talks. I've been lucky and my books have sold to the national book clubs, including Harlequin Book Club for my upcoming RED SKY. The entry on my publisher's marketing plans reads, "Cross promotion between all clubs. Coming soon email, new arrivals email and comparable titles email." I have no idea what that means, but I'm thrilled the publisher is handling things.

Agree to speak or teach, or sometimes you can simply show up.  Just make sure it fits with your goals. Last weekend Mario Acevedo, Nathan Lowell and I attended "Books and Brews" in Greeley. What can beat twelve authors, and a room full of readers playing trivia, and specialty beer? In June, I'll present a workshop at the Parker Writers Group monthly meeting, and in September I'll teach a workshop at the Colorado Gold Conference along with WOTY Nominee Shannon Baker.

Donate to auctions. I am constantly being asked to donate signed books to auctions. I usually do, but I always try for added value. I want not only the winning bidder to remember the book, but the lookie-loos, too. For example, my fellow Rogue Women Writers and I donate baskets to mystery and thriller convention auctions. We each contribute a signed book, and then we add interesting things from the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. in keeping with our international espionage themes. Things like: Campbell soup can concealers, "rear view" mirror sunglasses," truth detector" devices, top secret bags, mugs and hats.

Segueing to conventions, every genre has one. In the mystery field, it's Bouchercon. The regional equivalent is Left Coast Crime (LCC). For cozies it's Malice Domestic. For thrillers it's ThrillerFest. And, trust me, they can cost you an arm and a leg. Mike Befeler and I once calculated that it cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend an out-of-state conference. Double that for ThrillerFest. We were taking into account airfare, hotel costs, meals, promotional items, and registration fees--yes, unless you're a star, you're expected to pay your own way--so there may be some additional hidden costs. The message is not to not go, but to figure out which cons are important for you to attend. For instance, at ThrillerFest I can meet with my editor and agent, as well as rub elbows with the big hitters in my genre—many of whom I can later ask for book blurbs. Colorado Gold is near to my heart, and I would go just to see all my friends.

OF NOTE: Always accept a panel assignment, and try not to be that difficult writer who can only speak at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday alongside Lee Child. Word gets around.

There are other cons, too. The Independent Booksellers across the country hold conventions, and a number of states sponsor book festivals. Many of the writers groups will have a presence at these events, and it's worth it to volunteer to man the booth for an hour and meet the booksellers. This year, I'm going to Chicago for the American Library Association convention in June. I'm paying my airfare, but my publisher has agreed to donate 100 books for me to sign and giveaway.

Be sure and budget!

Rogue Women Writers promo poster at ThrillerFest

Only you know what you can afford to spend. My advice, make a plan and stick with it! Don't be me. I'll admit, there have been times when I've transferred attending a con into the "personal fun" category rather than assess the expense to my book promotion budget. Don't tell!

Seriously, if you're not careful you'll spend every dollar you make writing books, twice.

This year my goal is to expand my readership, so I'm going to ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for some face time with my editor and agent, and to connect with East Coast and Canadian readers. I'm sending out mailings, creating a display poster for the ThrillerFest hall, making donations, guest blogging, speaking at several events. Just to give you a sense of the cost, my total in expenditures to promote RED SKY so far are—wait for it—a whopping $5,660. Not as bad as you might think. I budgeted $5,000.

OF NOTE: For what it's worth, Diane Mott Davidson second-mortgaged her house to fund a tour of the west coast with four prominent cozy writers. She also gave away scads of cookies, sometimes with the help of friends. Ask Chris Jorgensen about how she and I sat in the back seat of Carol Caverly's car and stuffed chocolate chip cookies into small giveaway bags enroute to the Omaha Bouchercon. In addition to writing good books, Diane's marketing efforts eventually landed her a gig on "Good Morning America" and a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Now, I'm not advocating you refinance your home, or that you sell your first born. But give some thought to how much you can afford to put into promotion, and make a plan. Allocate wisely and it just might pay off!

Once, Twice, Three Times a Manuscript….(Anyone Under 40 Won’t Have a Clue What Song The Title References But I’m Using it Anyway Because it’s My Title and I Can…Sing it!)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

The weekend before last I was lucky enough to hang out at the Pikes Peak Writer Conference. I also did some teaching but it was more about seeing old friends and making plenty of new fabulous ones. Besides having a great time abusing whiskey, wine and food I spent some time talking with other writers about their process.

It was at this point I had an epiphany.

Or maybe you could refer to it as a drunken revelation.

Either way, this is my point-- tables have dancing naked weight limits.

No, scratch that. I had two epiphanies and a bruise on my coccus the size and shape of Texas.

Anyway....we all have such different methods and madness for our works. And each, while valid, might not be the best choice for us, like dancing on a table when you're old enough to know far better.

Here's what I mean. I'm a pantster. A REALLY BIG ONE. I sit down to write and start at page one, word one. But I can learn to be better at plotting and that could make for more words, and more books. I can learn how to be a better marketer. I can learn to write deeper characters and better description. An old dog can be taught new tricks, as long as the teacher talks real slow and plenty of cookies are involved.

Maybe I can learn these things from a class or a workshop taught from one of the amazing instructors already selected for the RMFW Conference in September. Or I can learn from the fantastic community we are a part of.

One of the interesting things I learned a few weekends ago was from a longtime RMFW member -- Mike Befeler. Mike never knows who is murderer is going to be. Right up until the end. It's a good lesson if you've ever read his work, it feels organic for the protagonist when he figures out who done it. Now I am not saying I could pull it off, but it does give me insight into his process.

I'm interested in your own process. How many revisions does it take for the finished (or as close as you can get) product? Do you know what is going to happen when you start? Do you have any advice that has helped you greatly along your path? Let's open up and share all we can together.

Or else I will get on that table!

 

The Fairyland Murders_ebook (1)J.A. (Julie) Kazimer writes books. So many books that she now has to use her toes to count them. Learn more at jakazimer.com or friend her on facebook because she's pretty lonely. You can also tweet her at @jakazimer and she'll share some gruesome stories about decaying bodies or puppies. Tweeters choice.

Also, her latest book, THE FAIRYLAND MURDERS is on sale for the low, low, how the heck am I going to afford my Rolex now, price of $1.99. I don't know how long it will be on sale as my publisher never tells me anything....So pick up a copy today. Or don't. I'm not going to beg...Okay, I will beg. Please, please--

The Greatest Chicken Thief in All of Europe … by Guest Mike Befeler

Befeler_For LibertyI wasn’t planning to write a non-fiction book. But all that changed in May of 2013 when I met Ed, a 94-year-old World War II veteran.

Here’s the back story. At the time I was on the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and gave a ride to another council member. She told me about this fascinating man who lived in her senior residence. Later that day she introduced me to Ed, and he told me stories of fighting as an infantryman in Europe, becoming a prisoner of war and being liberated by the Russians. He got to one point and said, “At one time I was the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.”

Unfortunately, I had to leave at that time for an appointment. Two weeks later I gave a talk for the book group at this senior residence, and Ed was in attendance. Afterwards, I pulled him aside to hear the rest of the story. He recounted this experience of stealing rabbits and chickens to regain the 40% of his body weight lost as a prisoner. Given his impish sense of humor, he had me laughing out loud. Although Ed expressed no interest in writing his life story, he agreed to work with me, and our collaboration began.

We met approximately once a week, and I took notes and recorded the sessions. In writing Ed’s biography, I learned that fiction writing prepared me well. Ed’s life has been full of pathos and humor, attributes I have put into my mysteries. Along the way I learned a tremendous amount about World War II. As an example, Ed mentioned the name of the captain of his company, and through Internet research, I was able to locate a write up describing how Captain Batrus had been awarded a silver star.

Some highlights of Ed’s life: He experienced an unusual early education, attending an anarchist school, and suffered through the depression. As an American of Jewish heritage, he chose to fight Hitler, and in the Vosges Mountains of France faced a number of life or death encounters with the enemy. On New Year’s Eve 1944, he was a forward observer when the Germans’ last initiative on the Western Front, Operation North Wind, overran his position. He survived behind enemy lines for two days before being captured. He spent seven days and nights in a crowded freight car with no food and the only water being from snowflakes caught on his fingers through slats in the side of the railroad car. In Stalag IV-B, he survived by trading cigarettes for food on the black market, tried to escape but was recaptured.

After being freed by the Russians and although he hated Germans, he saved four German refugees. When he returned to American command, he was almost killed in a back alley in Paris, before shipping back to the States where a medical authority informed him he would be lucky to live into his early fifties. Suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he almost killed himself, had a disastrous first marriage, lost custody of his son and struggled to support himself. Pulling himself out of the depths, he found his true wife, who helped him rebound and run a successful business.

An example of Ed’s puckish sense of humor. His second wife was a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One night at a reception, he was introduced to a pompous academician who looked down his nose at Ed and said, “What do you do?” Ed replied, “Oh, I sweep the floors and clean the equipment at a machine shop,” (not mentioning that he owned and ran the business). The man raised an eyebrow. Ed then put his arm around his wife, Sonia, and said, “And this wonderful woman taught me how to read and write.” Afterwards, he got an earful from Sonia.

For me, one of the highlights of this project, was locating the son from his first marriage, whom Ed hadn’t seen in fifty-seven years, and facilitating a reunion that took place in October of 2013.

The working title for the book is For Liberty: A Soldier’s Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience, and it will be published this spring. And Ed is the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.

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Mike BefelerMike Befeler has six published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Nursing Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing and a theater mystery, Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse. His first historical mystery, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, will be released in October. Mike is past-president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

To learn more about Mike and his novels, visit his website and blog. He can also be found on Facebook.

Getting the Most Out of the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference

By Mike Befeler

Writers conferences are a blast. Having attended a number of different ones, the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference ranks up there right at the top. This will be my twelfth year, and I get something new out of each one. Here are my thoughts on getting the most out of the conference.

1. If this is your first conference, jump in and meet people. If this is your umpteenth conference, make an effort to meet the people who are here for the first time. At my first conference, I knew one other person attending. Now I have many friends I’ve made over the years.

2. Take the time to peruse the schedule and pick out a variety of sessions. For my first few years, I concentrated on craft. Then I migrated to sessions on how to pitch and sell your manuscript. Then with my first publication, I focused on how to promote your books. Now, I find myself jumping in at all levels. It’s said you need to write a million words to learn the craft of writing. I’ve written over a million words, and I’ll still learning. We all can continue to tune our craft.

3. Think about what you’re currently writing and go to sessions with the frame of mind that you’re going to learn something to improve that manuscript.

4. Volunteer. It’s a great way to meet people. I’m coordinating moderators this year and moderating. We all can contribute to making the conference a success.

5. At the meals sit with someone you don’t know. Although it’s great to catch up with old friends, meal time is a chance to also make some new friends.

6. Make an effort to pitch to agents and editors. This works much better than sending in blind query letters. I sold my first book as a result of a pitch at the 2005 RMFW Colorado Gold Conference. Just don’t follow agents or editor into the restroom to pitch to them, particularly if of the opposite sex.

7. Spend time at the book sale on Friday night. Go around and meet the published authors. If you’re a published author, stand up and greet the people coming by. For the first five people who stop by to see me at the book signing and mention they’ve read this blog, I’ll give you a free book.

8. Drop by the hospitality suite after the conference Friday and Saturday nights. This is an excellent opportunity to schmooze with editors, agents and other writers. By the way, the hospitality suite is sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Hug a mystery writer.

9. Have fun.

Mike Befeler has five published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder and Care Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing. Mike is president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Learn more about Mike and his books at his website and blog. He can also be found on Facebook.

 

The Art of Balancing Writing and a Full Time Job

By Mike Befeler

When I started writing in 2001, I made a decision that fiction writing was something I wanted to retire into. I began writing and training myself so I could eventually retire from the computer industry where I had worked for years. I had learned that you can take any course for free at the University of Colorado with the instructor’s permission if you’re fifty-five or older. Coming to writing later in life and living in Boulder, I availed myself of this opportunity. We wrote short stories in the courses and critiqued each other, my first exposure to critique groups. Then I decided to try my hand at novel length material. At this time I was still working full time so I devised a way to write on a regular basis while paying the bills through my day job.

I had read the book, The Artist Way, by Julia Cameron. I highly recommend it since it provides excellent exercises to improve creativity. One of her techniques is called Morning Pages. Every morning first thing, sit down and write three handwritten pages. They can be anything—your journal or whatever pops into your head. It’s a means of getting the creative juices flowing for the day.

Since I didn’t have a lot of time to spend beyond my job and family responsibilities, I decided to adapt the Morning Pages concept for my own use. Here’s the approach I took: First thing every morning, I’d review where I left of in my novel manuscript the day before. Then I’d write three handwritten pages to continue the story before heading off to my job. After work, I’d enter those three pages into the computer, doing an editing pass along the way. This typically produced two typed pages.

If you do the math, in a hundred fifty days, I had the rough draft for a three hundred page novel. I wrote the initial draft of my first three published novel (Retirement Homes Are Murder, Living with Your Kids Is Murder and Senior Moments Are Murder) using this approach.

In August, 2007, I was able to retire from the computer industry into my full time writing career. Since I now don’t have to dash out of the house in the mornings (unless I’m giving a breakfast presentation), I write directly on the computer. But for those years of balancing writing and a full time job, my adapted Morning Pages technique served me well.

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mike_befelerMike Befeler has five published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder and Care Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing. Mike is president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Learn more about Mike and his books at his website and blog. He can also be found on Facebook.

Why I’m Loyal to RMFW

By Mike Befeler

I’ve been to every RMFW Gold Conference since 2002. The first year I went, I had no clue what I was doing. A writing friend had suggested the conference, so I decided to give it a shot. She was the only person I knew at the conference.

I had started writing in the fall of 2001, having made the decision that I wanted to retire into fiction writing. I had learned that if you’re 55 or over you can take any course for free at the University of Colorado with the instructor’s permission and had signed up for a fiction writing course. I also negotiated with my boss so that I could work 3 days a week, allowing me to take the course and do some writing.

In fact, the first day I was going to write for the whole morning was a Tuesday morning in September. I got organized at my writing desk and was about to start when my phone rang. It was the CEO of the company I worked for asking if I had seen the reports on what had happened. I hadn’t watched television that morning because I didn’t want to get distracted from my first morning of writing. That was September 11, and, needless to say, I never got any writing done that day.

At my first conference I learned about critique groups and over the years have joined several RMFW critique groups, which helped me improve my writing.

By 2005 I had a novel that I decided to submit in the mystery category for the contest at the conference. I didn’t place in the top 3 but received a packet back with some excellent suggestions and madly rewrote my manuscript, so by the time of the conference, I had an improved novel that I had a lot of confidence in. At the conference that year, I pitched my idea to two agents and two editors. Deni Dietz of Five Star liked the concept and told me to email my complete manuscript to her.

After the conference, I went home, completed one more editing pass on my manuscript, emailed it to Deni and crossed my fingers. Two months later I received an email with a contract offer, and my first novel, Retirement Homes Are Murder, was published in January, 2007, the result of a pitch session at the RMFW conference.

Attending the first conference in 2001, I took careful notes on writing craft, which helped me improve my skills. Then I started paying attention to how to pitch a novel, which prepared me for 2005. Next, I focused on sessions of what to do to sell your novel once it’s been published. I still attend as many sessions as possible, and learn more each year.

That’s the beauty of being in the writing world. It’s an ongoing education.

See you at the RMFW Gold Conference this year.

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Mike Befeler is active in organizations promoting a positive image of aging. He holds a Master's degree from UCLA and a Bachelor's degree from Stanford. Author of the popular "geezer lit" Paul Jacobson mystery series, he has recently branched out into standalones such as The V V Agency.