Friday, December 08, 2006

What Do You Think About Author Promos?

December is the time to think about giving. Tomorrow, I will steal a few hours away from my computer and go shopping for the perfect gifts for my family. Shopping for others is always an adventure.

Choosing for my mom is easy. I have to find something I would never be caught dead wearing, then I can rest assured that she’ll love it. I’m just waiting until enough time passes and I can regift the blouses she gave me for Christmas. I know she’ll like them.

For my husband, he wants practical, don’t try to get creative with him. I’m sure last year’s Mr. Peanut M&M dispenser is hidden in a file drawer in his office. And the men’s bikini underwear, printed with those sexy dancing Santas? Well, he hasn’t modeled them for me yet. He swears he’s just waiting for the mood to strike. Yeah, right.

Now my daughter, her taste is hard to pinpoint, but she swore she loved last year’s reindeer sweater. Of course, I’ve never seen her wear it. And when I stopped by her yard sale last June, well . . . I was especially hurt when I found it in the ‘Free to a Good Home’ pile. ( I swear I didn’t realize that the red dangling reindeer noses came at the same level of her breasts.)

My sixteen-year-old son, if it doesn’t attract girls, or run fast enough for him to get another speeding ticket with it, he’ll stick it in the back of his closet where I’m sure all his dirty socks are hidden.

That’s the funny thing about gifts, you want them to be personal, to make the receiver think of you, but mostly you don’t want them to end up hidden with a bunch of dirty socks. So this year, instead of banking on my creative juices to come up with gift ideas, I did the unforgivable. I asked what they wanted. Yep. No more surprises at the Craig house.

And the reason I chose to blog about gifts? With my recent four sales, three to Dorchester and one to Triskelion, I’m thinking about author giveaways. I’m talking about refrigerator magnets, bookmarks, matches, pens . . . you know, marketing promotions.

Because the blunt approach seemed to work with my family, I thought it might work with you, the readers. What type of giveaways do you like? What works best in helping you remember publishing dates? What types of giveaways entice you to pick up an author’s book? And since my fellow writers will also be reading this blog, let me put the question to you? What types of promotional materials have worked best for you?

And hey, I’ll tell everyone just what I told my family, if you don’t give me a list, don’t be surprised when you wind up with a pair of men’s sexy-santa bikini underwear, or worse, I might send you one of the blouses my mom sent me. Oh yeah, and that reindeer sweater, it’s still looking for a good home.


L. Faye Hughes said...


If I could catch my breath long enough from laughing, I'd answer you. This was some seriously funny stuff, girl. LOL.

When it comes to promo items, I, personally, like the things that are unique and different. Now, that said, I've never bought a book because of a cute promo item.


Janette said...

Wait 'til I stop laughing. You are so funny, Christie.

Promo is tough, imo. I've always been a bookmark person and have a big collection. It's a thang with me. My mom, a reader, will make a beeline for any author giving away pens, and actually stole the pen my cp gave out at National.

Good post. I'm a newbie at this and curious what others like.

JoAnn Ross said...

LOL at the gift stories! Okay, you've hit a hot button. As everyone knows, I've always thought my job was to write books that publishers would be willing to spend THEIR money to promote, so I've never done the pens, etc. I also never look at all the stuff inside a conference bag until I'm packing to go home, and it all tends to get thrown away to make room for books anyway, and I've already searched out all the chocolate during the conference. Do I ever remember who gave me that chocolate. Hard to hear answer. . . no.

One year at NJ, an author gave away little packs of band-aids with her name on them. Maybe her book title, as well. I thought that was clever, given how many people get blisters walking in new shoes at a conference. However, I also remember asking everyone at the table at the next meal if they remembered who'd given away the bandaids at lunch. They didn't. (And geez, I hope I'm not hurting anyone on the list's feeling.)

I have a pen in the kitchen I picked up at a conference. I didn't know the author then, quite honestly it wasn't enough to make me google her afterwards, and although I've had it probably two years, I couldn't tell you her name.

I've always done refrigerator magnets for my readers who win contests on my newsletter. And the past two -- and now three, because I just ordered some for my Feb 27th book -- bookmarks, but again, they mostly go to my own readers who write to me because I mention it on my site or my monthly newsletter, though I do carry a few in my purse. Which I seldom end up giving out because, did I mention I don't tend to tell people what I do unless I have to? Like filling out those sheets at doctors/dentists' offices? It's not that I'm ashamed of what I write, or anything, it's just that suddenly I find myself becoming the answer girl of the publishing world.

Example. . . I sat next to a deadheading pilot on the flight home from NY last week. It's a long enough flight I did mention I'd been in NY for publisher meetings. The day after I got home I got an email from him asking me if I'd read his ms and let him know if he had a future as a writer. After 24 years in this business, I've just tried to stop opening myself up to having to say no to all these people. (I had to switch doctors in Phoenix because mine got mad at me because I wouldn't collaborate on his book with him.)

But I digress. . . sorry for the rant. I just realized I still have to respond to pilot guy. Anyway, my advice is, as it's aways been. First, concentrate on the WORK. Because no pen, chocolate, or anything else is going to make someone buy your next book if they didn't like the one they read because of that pen or magnet or chocolate.

Then secondly, don't count on items so much at a conference. People remember PEOPLE, not stuff. Meet as many people as you can. Mingle, even if it's hard for you. You're not just selling books, you're selling yourself. From my very first conference, back in 1982, I've made it a point, that unless I'm assigned a seat due to being a speaker, to sit at a different table every meal. Yes, it's often hard to walk cold into one of those big banquet rooms and ask to sit down with strangers, but by doing so, I've met a LOT of strangers over the years, and, by the end of the meal, we've sort of become, if not real friends, conference friends. I'm not sure if that's generated more sales. But I've certainly met some interesting people that way. Some of whom later write and let me know that they've just sold their book and thank me for my encouragement. Which is always lovely. :)

Thinking about it, I haven't been real helpful. Oh, wait! I do have something! The marketing people at every publisher I spoke with last week ALL said that they're now convinced that the Internet is the best way to reach more readers and that every writer should have a good, professional site that's continually updated. I think that's probably true, because if I handed out chocolate to everyone who visited my website each week, and who stayed long enough to play with the extras, Ghiradelli and Hershey would become endangered species. LOL

Jody Payne said...

Christie Craig is so funny. I can't wait to read all her books.

I'm afraid I'll have to agree. I've never bought a book because of a promo item.

Three things make me part with my money. The last book convinces me to buy the next one, a friend recommends it, or the author herself.

If she has an interesting or funny blog and a good professional web-site, I'll probably try it.

Alfie said...

I thought I had a different and interesting idea to promote my non-fiction book about writing. Since the book used movies to show different elements of creating a story, I gave away 'coupons' for a free month of Netflix. The glory of the idea was that I could check out how many 'click throughs' I got from my website. My former agent, who had been an editor and an author as well as an agent, told me the promo was 'brilliant.' I believed her especially since it had a built in element to see how it worked. But out of 3000 plus coupons, guess how many click throughs I got? Let's just say it was less than 2 digits.

I think Jody nailed it. Her 3 things that make her buy a book are mine. And meeting the author helps, too. I definitely remember authors I've met at conferences and have often bought their books--unless they were hateful and arrogant. (There are a few authors I've met that have made me QUIT buying their books because I met them.)

And my favorite giveaway of all time--I still have it--I must admit I would have to go look at it to see who the author is. So...

Allison Brennan said...

Christie, I've been thinking about this for a long time!

I think that people buy books for many different reasons, and the thing is we don't know why! Especially for new authors this is hard. We can spend tons of money on promotional items and only appeal to a small section of the readership who may pick up our book. Some people like bookmarks. Some like pens. Some like magnets. Does that make they want to buy your book? Doubtful. But it's the name ID, the branding, that comes with these giveaways that is helping to build your name and image, not that one little giveaway.

I have a friend who says she'll never buy a book because of a bookmark. She emailed me saying she read this book by a new author and really liked it. I asked her how she heard about it. She couldn't remember, it just "looked good". Hmm, maybe from one of the bookmarks she picked up at National? (Because I remember seeing that authors bookmark somewhere there!) We'll never know, though, because this friend will never admit it!

My theory on promotion: do what you can with the time and money you have. Don't spend all your advance on promotional items. The single greatest investment an author can make is in her website. That for me was my single greatest ticket item. Yes, I did bookmarks and magnets, but I don't know that they helped (though they didn't hurt.) I do like having bookmarks in my purse to hand out to people because inevitably someone will ask what my books are about and rather than me going off for an hour *g* about the story, I can hand them a bookmark and say "I write kind of darker romantic suspense."

But bookmarks are relatively cheap. They're not going to break the bank. Also, I think having something to hand out when you give talks is a good thing. Jody said she'll be more apt to buy a book from an author she's met and/or has a professional website. We obviously can't meet every reader, but when we have the chance we should hand them a little something to remember us by :)

Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Christie,
Thanks for bringing this up. I have to admit that I have never bought a book because of a bookmark. I also agree with Joann and the NAL editors that a website is the best bet. I update mine monthly and hope that is often enough. I enjoy all the little giveaways that authors think up, but I have to be honest, I don't buy books because of them.

I sure enjoyed your blog!

Christie Craig said...

Thanks everyone who answered. I really agree with everything everyone is saying. While I myself don't by a book because of a promotional item, they do seem to be expected. Everytime I mention that I'm going to this year's RT conference, people asks about my promotional items.

I like JoAnn's comment that she uses promotional items to give to loyal readers. That thought makes the expense of the items sting a lot less. I just hate putting money into something and thinking about the items being tossed away.

Kathleen Dante said...

I have to agree with Allison. Promo items are all about name recognition. That old saw about x number of exposures for a sale? Bookmarks, magnets, websites, etc. all count as exposure.

Also, not all readers are online, and some readers stick to their favorite websites. Sending a bookmark to a store may be what informs a reader or bookseller of your existence, so that she goes online to check out your website.

Kate Douglas said...

Hi Christie--I have a lot of requests for signed bookmarks and cover flats, so I know there are readers who collect them, but the promotional item that seems to get me the most comments, if not sales, would have to be my stuffed wolves. They're a natural to promote the Wolf Tales series, and are really popular. Besides, no one is going to throw away a cute stuffed wolf!

JoAnn Ross said...

Christie, RT is crazy for promotional items. But it's always been all about PR, which is why authors end up agreeing to host so many parties. (And I say that as one who agreed, along with Nora, Bertice, Janelle Taylor, and Karen Robards, to pony up $1000 apiece to host a readers' lunch back in 1983.)

This might be a good thing for some writers -- perhaps those who write in genres the conference seems to focus on. (In earlier years readers mostly seemed to be historical fans. From what I've heard these days it's all vampires, all the time. And, of course, erotica.)

I doubt that many of my Romantic suspense readers even know about such conferences, and probably wouldn't attend anyway, so spending money for stuff to put into the goodie bags or for raffles doesn't make much sense to me.

Oh, another thing just occurred to me. . . Even when I get books in my goodie bag, unless it's a book I was intending to buy anyway, or an author I've been meaning to try, I'll often just leave those behind for the maid (who usually doesn't speak English, so who knows how much good that does?) Because my TBR pile is already so high, there's no point in adding one more book I probably won't get around to reading. Then again, since I have no discipline when it comes to books --I buy every one that sounds interesting, or is written by a favorite author -- I may not be the norm when it comes to giveaway books.

Oh, and I was just about to click on publish when I saw Kathleen's comment. I'm of two minds about sending bookmarks to bookstores and definitely believe anyone who does should ask ahead of time how many, because I've found lots of stores, even ones who are big on handselling my books, can really only use ten or fifteen.

This time, because I've changed publishers and am not entirely sure my current publisher will follow through with all the planned promo for my upcoming book (even though logic tells you they should, if for no other reason than to try to earn some of their money back, I've seen publishers pretty much ignore books once an author leaves), I've hired a highly recommended publicist to send out 8,000 bookmarks to her very large list of bookstores. Will this make any difference? Who knows. But since I was going to have some made up for my readers anyway, it seemed worth a try.

Tawny Weber said...

Great topic (and great post! I'm very intersted in that sweater LOL) I don't have any answers since I'm just gearing up to promote my first book. But I have a lot of questions and these replies helped answer a few. I know I haven't ever bought a book because of a promo item. But I have, if I see a book I've had a promo item for while cruising the shelves at my local store or online, taken more time with the backcover blurb or a second look that I probably wouldn't have given it otherwise. If only because I can't remember why I know that author's name, but it really sounds familiar.

JoAnn Ross said...

Allison, What you said about your friend saying a book just "looked good?" Maybe, she actually did just see it somewhere and it looked appealing.

The most effective promotion is what we can't buy for ourselves, which is, first of all, getting the publisher to put more time, thought, and money into a cover that grabs the reader's attention. (Books that have a big book, buy me! look invariably cost more money to create and it shows.)

Then we need them to follow up by paying for store real estate placement that puts those fabulous covers in readers' faces. Along with paying co-op to get the book on all the bestseller racks in Target, Wal-mart, CVS, Safeway, Walgreens, whatever.

Which again brings us back to -- ducking tomatoes here from people who've got to be sick and tired of me saying it, lol -- the Work still being the best PR we can do for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

well i had a long post but it got lost, so here goes another try.

I read lots. I work lots, too. but no promo item has ever made me buy a book. the best promo item I ever received was from Nationals a few years back. I got a cute little whisk. Wonderful. I use it all the time. I can't tell you the name of the author who provided it. it was great.

I love Avon and Warner books and I get their newsletters, so I look for the latest releases. I'm on JoAnn's group, so I can be sure to get her books.

there are a few authors whose websites I check, but only because I love, love, love their writing and always wait for the next book.

BUT that only lasts until I hit a book or 2 in a row that I don't care for, then I watch the shelves only.

I buy any new author who's been active on a list and polite. (It's how I found Alison's series) And I never buy one who's rude or unpleasant.

I will buy almost every NY published book from a new writer that's been on a list I'm on. If I've watched her struggle and strive, then I'll give her one 'free' buy. If I love her, great. If not, then I won't worry about another book. And I try to buy the books from the pubbed authors in our chapter (some arent' available in stores) because they give so much to us. BUt if they didn't, I wouldn't bother.

And yes, I put the books I love facing the front in all the book stores I go to. and yes, if you talk to me at Nationals, I will always buy your next book - because you're a decent person.

website are probably great, but I never surf the web. but if you're on my watch list, I'll check in regularly. better yet, I'll sign up for your newsletter, so I don't have to check your website.

and I always buy Cindy Meyers books because of her email newsletter. it's a good one.


Shanna Swendson said...

I'm another one who does bookmarks because they're cheap, easy, and work more or less like business cards to hand out to people or to give to those people who hover around a table at a booksigning and say they're kind of interested in the book, but they usually buy their books online. Or, in rare cases like at RT and RWA, they're something to give out when they run out of my books at a signing.

I haven't bought a book because of a bookmark, but I think they work on a subconscious level because anything that's familiar to you tends to jump out at you against a sea of unfamiliar things. So if someone has seen a book cover on a bookmark they've even just glanced at, they're more likely to notice that book in a store because it's at least a little bit familiar. Because of that, I'm not likely to do something like pens, where you just get text instead of the image. I'm always grabbing pens and emery boards at conferences (because I always seem to break a nail in transit), but I couldn't for the life of me tell you those authors' names.

The most effective promo things for me have been my blog and going to conferences. My books cross over into fantasy, and science fiction conventions have been a boon to me. The bookseller who goes to conventions in this region keeps running out of my books whenever I speak. Plus, those fans tend to be dedicated, organized and very active online and in fan groups, so they're the best people for helping spread word of mouth. They're people who spend a lot of time talking to other people about books, and if they feel they have some connection to you, they'll become staunch supporters.

Allison Brennan said...

JoAnn, I completely agree--the cover is our best selling point. But this friend had this bookmark because I saw her pick it up. Whether she had that subliminal recognition when she saw the book in the store because of seeing this bookmark a couple months before, we'll never know.

In most advertising, it takes repeated exposure to the product or brand to make an impression. So while good cover art is important, seeing that good cover art on books all over the place is the best advertising :)

Kathrynn Dennis said...

Thanks Christi and JoAnn and all, for the informative comments! I'm a new author and just starting to think about how to promote my first book, out next September. The cost of giveaway's is mind-boggling, and I've almost decided to stick with bookmarks and my website/internet promotion as the way. I'm an avid reader, and like everyone else says, never bought a book becuase of a promo...COVERS compel me to buy a book and the book blurb. I buy my friend's and chapter author books. But really, all those years of reading romance (before I started writing) I was an impulse buyer. Never went out to a bookstore on purpose---looking for a book. I just picked up what was on the shelf in front of me at Wal-mart or the grocery store, mostly on a whim and because I needed a "fix". LOL, no real rhyme or reason to the choice, except that I favored historical covers.


Madeline Hunter said...

I also used to be a pure impulse buyer before I started writing. I'd just give the racks a look-see, check out what was interesting, and pick a book. It was an adventure and I'm sort of sad I've lost that wide-open approach when I buy romance novels.

Back then I was also an example of how hard it is for authors to create name recognition with readers. I have a friend who reads lots of romances and who got me started. For years I'd have to describe the books I had enjoyed so she could remind me of the writers' names. Once in a conversation I kept describing stories and she kept telling me they were all by the same writer! I feel bad now, and mention that author's name any time I can because I really admire her work, but back then it just wasn't front burner info, I guess.

Kate Pearce said...

I think bookmarks are a cheap and easy way to promote yourself. I also take advantage of the Vistaprint offers and get their fridge magnets which are nice to hand out as well. (I even signed a couple of these for people who asked, when my books didn't turn up at RWA in Atlanta!)
Maintaining a good website, getting involved in reader's chat groups all help name recognition on the internet. For example, the EC chat list has over 3000 subscribers. That's a lot of readers.
and as JoAnn says-don't get so busy with promotion that you forget to write the good book.

Lori Devoti said...

I'm going to go along with everyone else and say although I picked up TONS of stuff at conference goodie tables, I have never bought a book because of any of it. And I don't even usually remember the author name or the books title--although I do have a nice purple pen from Hannah Howell that I love. :)
That said, I like pens--nice ones, and tattoos if they are fun and appropriate for my kids, post-it note type pads, other note pads too really, and anything that I can take home and give my kids and make them feel like I brought them something. ;-)