Wednesday, 9 April 2014

How Effective are in-Person Author Promotions?

In the span of one week, I attended two in-person author promotion events. The first one was an open-mic event where I read aloud from one of my mysteries, and the second was a talk I attended by another author on her publishing success. Here's my thoughts on both.

The open-mic event was organized by a national writers' association, and was open to authors and musicians performing their own work. I anticipated that most of the audience would be composed of the event organizers and fellow performers, and I was right. Aside from us, one of the authors brought her own cheering section, and there were a couple of other people since the public were welcome, but that was all.

I was #13 on the roster. We were given ten minutes, but it felt as though most people weren't sticking to their time limit. By the time I got up to read, the audience had dwindled to about one third of its original size. I read the first chapter of Framed for Murder as expressively as I could, left the audience on a cliff-hanger, and sat down after five minutes. I did sell one copy of my book to one of the organizers.

My take on open-mic events is that it's not very interesting listening to someone reading aloud unless you're familiar with the author's work. Cold readings are really hard to pull off, and just because you're an excellent story-teller doesn't mean that you're good at engaging an audience. Open-mic events are useful for getting to know your fellow authors, however, and for giving each other a pat on the back.

The bookstore event was with an author who began by self-publishing her first book on Amazon Kindle. She made it available for free the first week, and had 13,000 downloads. That would have put her at the top of the Amazon reading lists. It quickly came to the attention of an agent, who got her a contract with a major Canadian publisher, all within six weeks of it being self-published. She sold the Canadian rights to the publisher, and her book is now available through Walmart, bookstores, libraries, and online. The secret to her success, it seems, is that she had a well-written story that resonated with a mature female audience, plus the excellent job she did of promoting it with social media, not to mention offering it for free its first week. While she was writing the story, the author was working on a large fund-raising campaign with a major university, and she was able to amass a nice e-mail list to promote her book's release. A month before the release date, she joined Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and began a blog. She timed her release for Mother's Day, an excellent date for a book dealing with marriage, family, and life goals. Well-played and well-done. Now she is finishing a promotional tour with independent bookstores, women's groups, library fundraisers, and other events made available to her by her publicist. 

My take on an author's appearance at a bookstore is that talking to twenty people at a time is a long, hard way to build a reading audience. If you're J.K. Rowling and you've got an audience of thousands of people, plus the event is being recorded, that's another thing. But is it an effective use of the author's time, or are author's appearances a relic of the old way of book promotion? I'm not sure, since I've never done it. It would be interesting to measure its success by refraining from promoting the book through other avenues, but who would be crazy enough to do that?

I don't have a huge list of people I can e-mail about my books' releases, so I continue to write and publish through Comely Press, promote through social media, and hope to build up a list of followers who look forward to reading my next book. Independently-published authors have to promote their books, of course, but the time stolen from writing cannot be regained, and how is that time best spent? It's a balancing act, for sure.

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