Oct 17, 2012

To Promo or Not to Promo - Annie West

 I thought it about time I chatted here about something related to romance writing. Or perhaps more accurately, selling romance books to readers. How much promotion is enough? What works? What is a waste of time? Should I bother at all?

At Guildford Library: Helen S, Annie & Anna Campbell
I'm afraid I don't have the answers but I thought it would be interesting to discuss.

When I envisaged myself as a writer I have to admit I had a limited view of what that entailed. Mostly I saw myself writing, or perhaps sharing a champagne lunch with writerly friends while discussing our bestsellers (hey, I was allowed to dream!). At no stage did I consider how much time I could potentially spend on promotion.

One of my first experiences of it was heading to Sydney for a library talk with fellow romance writer Anna Campbell. We received a warm welcome and I met some lovely readers, one of whom is in this photo, and who contacts me whenever she's read another of my stories. Talk about a boost! So, there I was talking publicly about my writing - a new experience. There have been a few radio, newspaper and magazine interviews, including for some international outlets. I suspect though that, as they weren't targeting romance readers in particular, they had minimal value as promotion. On the other hand, it's a good way of developing skills in handling unexpected questions!

I've delivered romance writing workshops in libraries and at a writers' festival as well as at a romance writers conference. All were terrific experiences but again, not really valuable promotion (feel free to tell me if I'm wrong). Instead I see those as part of the process of participating in the romance writing community and encouraging others as I've been encouraged along the way.

I've been to a couple of book signings organised by the Australian Romance Readers Convention. They were terrific fun and absolutely fit within the classification of promotion. It's great meeting readers (and other writers) face to face and having a chance to chat about books. I'm not sure if it brings in new readers, as many attendees seem focused on meeting authors they already know, but I'm no expert. Have you ever gone to a mass book signing and discovered a new-to-you author?

And then there is the huge range of other promotional opportunities. There's blogging (I don't have my own but join in with other writers, like here at Love Cats, which I confess is more like dropping in with friends for a chat). There's Facebook and Twitter and a multitude of emerging opportunities all across the web. There's Goodreads where your books are often reviewed and Amazon ditto. Most authors have websites and some are outstanding - attractive and easy to use. Gauging whether my own is like that is much harder as, apart from the occasional comment, most visitors don't offer a view. I'm convinced though that having a site is a necessity for an author now. Even if it does no more than list previous and upcoming titles.

Bought Ad
There's paid advertising. Personally, it's not something I've done a lot of, but occasionally I've bought myself advertising space on a website where romance readers visit. Here's an old example. But though I love seeing the ad and knowing that at least some readers have seen it too, I have no real appreciation of whether paid ads work or not. I've heard the adage that readers need to see your name, or your book's at least 6 times before they buy. I suppose if that's true, then ads will at least lift your profile even if they don't lead to immediate sales. But is name recognition what I should aim for or getting readers interested in a specific book? What about YouTube videos? They're fun, but unless they go viral, are they worth the time and effort? Again, I don't know.

In addition to website advertising there are hard copy ads in magazines as well as a whole industry built around advertising materials: pens, stickers, notepads, T shirts, customised giveaways of all shapes and sizes. Specially designed bookmarks are very popular too. It's so tempting, as a stationery addict, to tell myself that these would be a wise investment - and give me an excuse to pore over a lovely catalogue of products I could customise. Do readers appreciate them? I don't know. I've been bombarded with bookmarks and tend to keep only the ones that most appeal. If I receive something really cute or useful from an author I use it and certainly remember the name of the author. Whether that influences me to buy their books in future, I'm not sure.

Contest giveaways
Other promo? I run contests via my website and I do have a mailing list for personal newsletters. I see that mail out as important as the recipients are people who've taken the time to contact me. I make the effort to offer them news (not too often) and giveaways. Here's a photo of a current contest prize via my website. In case you're wondering my current book is primarily set in France, hence the French cover on the notebook, and the French theme to the bookmark and tote bag.

I suppose one of the best methods of promotion is reader word of mouth and good reviews. Sadly though that's not something I have control over.

With so many promotional opportunities around it can be hard to stay focused on writing the next book, which after all, is what's it's all about!

So my question is: as a reader, or as a writer, what do you find effective in promoting a book? How much is too much? Does promotion affect your book buying? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Annie, great post, and let me say, I love that French inspired tote!
    Sometimes I wonder how much time is spent writing the stories and how much time is spent on all the other stuff like promotion. And more than ever it's important to keep a handle on the business and information gathering side of things.
    I do occasional contests, contribute to three blogs, I'm afraid I haven't got into Facebook but use Twitter when I'm feeling social and to let readers know if something nice has happened with regard to a book or my situation.
    One thing I invested in this year is a lovely website. It was silly the amount of time I put into running (and constantly revamping!) my own design. But it still needs updates - like now, lol.
    I guess enough is enough when you feel overwhelmed and you start to rack up the money spent. Oh, and when you have screaming deadlines =)

  2. Robbie, I'm glad you like the post - and the French themed tote! I've actually got two of those and am planning on keeping one for myself...

    Your reference to screaming deadlines resonated with me. When it comes to getting a book in everything else shuffles way down the priority list, doesn't it? I couldn't agree more about keeping a handle on the business and information side of things. That's an area I really need to concentrate on.

    I'm off now to check out your website (while making a mental note that my own is almost due for its monthly update).

  3. Hi Annie - thanks for a great post and the interesting questions you pose. As a new author I am very keen to understand what works and what doesn't. I'm going to try out a couple of different promotional avenues and see if they work (although as you point out, it is often hard to judge the effectiveness!!).

  4. Annie, such an interesting post and something I'm thinking about myself at the moment. By the way, waving madly to Jen - congratulations!!!!

    There's an old adage that only 20% of promotion works but nobody knows which 20%. Not terrifically helpful, is it?

    I know as a reader rather than a writer, I get sick of people who bombard me with promo and I've unfriended a few in social media (I know - aren't I mean?). But then I also like it when someone tells me about a book I want to buy and I haven't realised is out - so I want SOME promo.

    Regarding the bits and pieces, you can spend a fortune on those. When Courtesan came out, I bought calendars and magnets and doodads galore. I had fun and I'm sure the people who won the calendars in particular liked them. But did they persuade anyone to buy the book? Somehow I doubt it. Things like tote bags and notepads are, however, nice ways of thanking regular readers or someone who's done something to support you or to use as contest prizes.

    I find a lot of the paper promo ends up going in the bin - trading cards were popular a little while ago, I could never really see the point. But that could just be me!

    Elizabeth Boyle, who should know, said that the best promo you can do is give someone a book. I kind of subscribe to that and think a lot of this other stuff is fun but not necessarily going to help with sales.

    As always when I talk about promo, though, I'm happy to hear an alternative view!

  5. Hi Jennifer,

    I suspect that with your background you may have a better idea than most of us as to what's effective promotion. Good luck with trying out your various options. It's always surprising what works and I suspect there's no one 'right' way. Sometimes I've thought a particular avenue wasn't very worthwhile and then much later discover from a reader it was what connected them with my books the first time.

  6. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for that thoughtful post. I know what you mean about hearing over and over about a release date for instance. It can be wearing. But on the other hand I love to read excerpts. There's nothing quite as good as reading a tantalising snippet to make me want to read the book - except maybe having a friend who's read it tell me it's marvellous.

    That's an interesting comment by Elizabeth Boyle. I've heard from a few readers who've won my books somewhere that they've gone on to seek out more of mine - which is always fantastic to hear.

  7. Hi Annie
    Great post! I had the fantasy of being a writer - sitting at a keyboard a-la Angela Lansbury - except with a glass of red wine and wearing a tiara and mules (pretty ones that would miraculously transform my gigantahoof into a Cinderella-esque appendage), because every attractive person wears heeled mules around the house, right?
    The arduous self-promotion aspect hadn't factored into that fantasy. It's hard to gauge what actually works from a sales perspective, unless you're independently published. If a publisher is also carrying out promo activities, and you don't have the access to immediate numbers and campaigns to see just how one certain activity impacted on reaching readers and convincing them to buy your book, it's hard to make those promo decisions. I think, for me as a reader, conversation is always king - what my friends, colleagues, peers, family, etc, talk about books, what makes them passionate, saying 'OMG, you HAVE to read this book'. As a reader, that's what will get me looking at a book with a mind to buy. As a writer, the only way I can have an impact on that is to write the best book I can. And then the next.
    But those 'doodads', as Anna Campbell calls them, can be sooooo seductively fun! It would be a shame not to try some of them...

  8. Hi Shannon,

    I LOVE the idea of you wearing a tiara as you write. Would your heeled mules have swansdown on top? That's such a frou frou look. From now on I'll have a picture in my head of you at the computer dressed like that - how fabulous.

    Oh, yes, you're so right about the inability to read results into promotional activities. It's like trying to predict the future. And yes, too, I absolutely agree about writing the best book you can next. That's the excuse I give to myself when I just want to escape the promo round and hunker down with my book. I think in the end that's the one single important thing. Getting the next book out as soon as possible and in the best shape I can get it must be my focus.

    I'll look forward to seeing which doodads you choose to indulge in!

  9. Annie, thoroughly enjoyed your post! That French carry bag looks lovely! I have no great insights into what works and what doesn't with regard to promo though I do enjoy blogging here on the LoveCats and on Love Is The Best Medicine with the Medical Romance authors - as you say it's like chatting with friends with the lovely readers and writers who pop in to comment.

    I confess I did buy some post-it notes for promo and I've enjoyed giving those out! I think it's because I ADORE stationery and there's a part of me that's absolutely positive everyone else must feel the same way! LOL

    We must get Shannon back to share pictures of her promo doodads! And Anna, too! She has a gorgeous carry bag for her latest book, SEVEN NIGHTS IN THE ROGUE'S BED - I know because I modelled it for her Facebook pics! (waving, Anna!)

  10. Sharon, isn't it great to find a nice comfortable blog site to post at? I love the sense of warmth and welcome here.

    I love giving away stationery too but like you I think it's because I can't resist nice stationery either. But then I've met a lot of other readers who do too so maybe we're on the right track. Who know?

    Well, if you want to be in the draw for the French themed bag, just go to my contest page... Yes, I saw that pic of you with Anna's latest Seven Nights' bag. Beautiful! Did you charge her for modelling it so nicely?

  11. Oy, Annie, don't you encourage my supermodel to start charging me the $10,000 an hour she's worth! I gave her a cheese sandwich and she was happy. I like it when the help is humble! ;-)

  12. Hi Annie

    I remember that night well it got me hooked on your wonderful stories and I have never looked back I wouldn't miss one. I think getting out there with booksmarks magnets etc is a great idea. I love meeting authors new to me as well so as I can try new books. I love doing reviews for ARRA and put them up on goodreads and amazon I love plugging new books I am susre it means more great books for us to read.

    Have Fun
    I hope this one works it just won't let me sign in LOL

  13. Ooo, no, Annie... I was very cheap... I can see I should have been holding out for more! Next time! LOL

    Helen, you got here this time - sometimes these techno things do give us a hard time, don't they! hey, sounds like it must have been a lovely session at Guildford!

  14. Anna, a cheese sandwich? That's mighty cheap.

    Sharon, definitely hold out for more next time. Maybe a trip to the markets?

  15. Helen, you're a dream reader - honestly. I still remember seeing your beaming smile for the first time at the library talk, and you made me feel so good about being there. Plus I seem to remember Tim Tams featuring that evening... I don't know how you find time to work and do anything else with all the reading and reviewing you do. Thanks for the feedback too - I must say I've got a weakness for fridge magnets too.

  16. Hi, Annie and the LoveCats!

    Wow, there's a wealth of promo info here, Annie. I'm still contemplating what I would do for promo. As a reader, nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations.

    It was great to see you and Anna way back when at that fabulous Guildford library talk. Come to think of it, judging by the low-angle of that photo, I might've been the photographer that night!

    I love that tote bag you have up for grabs, btw. Fab post!

  17. I tend to follow links, so I may visit one blog or website & keep going until I find you.

    I think if an author has a website & a blog, I will hopefully stumble in one day & set up camp.

  18. Vanessa, I wish I could offer you a French tote bag but I'm selfish enough to keep the spare for myself. Aren't you generous saying there's a wealth of info! Actually, I thought I was a little humdrum as I'm not really a promo expert and would love to know more about what works. Absolutely can't beat word of mouth as you say. That's how I often latch on to new authors.

  19. Ah, Mary, that's interesting. Nice to know those links get used from time to time. I love the idea of you coming in from the cold and setting up camp!

  20. Hi Annie :) As a reader I follow my fave authors blogs on Blogger which I find the most effective. I follow my fave authors Facebook pages and I have a favorites folder for authors websites in my bookmarks bar so I can keep track (when i feel like it) of news and upcoming books. I also sign up for the newsletters. I like the reminders on Amazon that they send you when a new book is coming out... I dont know how that happens... maybe when you buy from a particular author? I love the behind the scenes blogs offers the readers, as a reader you really learn to appreciate the hard work that goes into what you do. I love reading about the conferences you all attend, so many sunshiney personalities shine thru :) I'm getting offtrack but I think you all do a fab job and sometimes I bet social media can be a curse to you all as well because you probably feel pressure that you must blog regularly. I like Blogger the best because you can go to it when you have time and read thru posts you've missed and catch up on all the news when it suits :) Anyway as a reader, I think you all do a phenomenal job, to write, blog, facebook, tweet, email newsletters... I dont know how you all fit it in :))))

  21. Hi Annie and the LoveCats
    As an author, I don't have a clue what promotion works best and I have tried most of the strategies you discuss. The only thing I know for sure has an effect is giving away copies of my books. Sometimes the lovely readers who have won them are kind enough to give them nice reviews and also mention them in the comments on blogs, eg, if someone asks for recommendations for books with dogs in them.

    As a reader, I enjoy "personal" contact via social media--I am quite the fan girl when it comes to friending authors I admire on Facebook. If they post about when a new book is coming out, I'm pleased to hear it straight from the author's mouth. And if it's available as an e-book I like the instant gratification of downloading it straight away.

    I love your latest DEFYING HER DESERT DUTY. Hope you don't mind, but I am speaking at the Sutherland Writer's Festival next month on romance, and I want to include it as an example of a romance where the reader is kept on edge the whole time wondering how the hero and heroine can possibly end up happily ever after with the huge obstacles of duty and honour you put in their way!

  22. Annie,

    This is a topic I've been slowly gathering data on and learning through trial and error. Like most have said, unfortunately a lot of marketing/promo is unmeasurable.

    But in the time before I crossed that publishing line I watched 4-5 of my favorite authors and took note of what they were doing, and what appealed to me in what they did.

    I also read a lot of results of reader surveys run by a variety of organisations (can't remember their names now).

    I came up with the following list of things that have helped me shape my promo/marketing plans (of course, I tweak them as I go as I learn more after each book and time passes):

    * word of mouth is probably the most powerful selling tool

    * giving away books ie. selected number during your blog tours, giveaways at conferences, newsletter prizes to subscribers, Goodreads etc.

    This feeds word of mouth - how do I know this? I've had readers email me to say they won a giveaway, lent the book to a friend and their friend has liked it enough to want to buy their own copy.

    When readers email me I offer to send out signed bookplates for their friend if they'd like one. I used this as a chance to send out a doodad/bookmark/postcard as well. (see doodad comment below)

    This may seem small bikkies but I believe every sale counts.

    * mentioning when your books are significantly discounted or on special at certain places like Amazon, The Book Depository, B&N. And I did this on my social media network - FB, Twitter, my newsletter and so on.

    Now, while I can't give you 100% proof of sales with this, I made a point of looking at click throughs from my newsletter - where subscribers went looking - and tracking things like sales rankings on TBD, Amazon/Author Central, on a daily basis for a period of time AFTER I announced these discounts.

    What I noticed was this...sales rankings rose. So, I guess one could assume that there may have been some sort of link to advertising discounts and these results.

    But one thing to be wary of is doing this too often, it can get annoying and spammy.

    * as for doodads, as a reader I like receiving "stuff", particularly if it's from a favorite author, whether it's postcards, bookmarks etc.

    But one thing I think is that whatever you giveaway in doodads probably should serve a dual purpose. It should advertise your product (the book) and it should be practical. So things like refrigerator magnets, pens, cups, notepads, tote bags work well.

    It puts your work/name in front of the reader and anyone who sees that doodad, every time they use the refrigerator, write or carry something.

    I quite like calico tote bags you can take them shopping or to work with you (with a book cover & website on the sides).

    I use them mostly as grocery shopping bags and the number of times I've had people comment and ask about them is amazing. They're walking advertisments, small billboards on legs.

    * As a reader I also like free stories for subscribers of newsletters, and snippets of new releases during blog tours (the varied the better as I will follow an author around on their tour getting information about that book), "special extra's" about the book (a bit like the extra's on a DVD, character outlines, bloopers, deleted scenes and so on).

    So, as an author, this is what I've tried to incorporate in my blog tours, on my blog, in my newsletters.

    Of course, some of the promotional items require a budget (like the doodads & postage) but if you set yourself a limit it's doable.

    My 2c worth on promotion/marketing outside of writing a damn good book! :-)

  23. Fabulous discussion, Annie et al. Coming in late to say that as a reader, word of mouth is huge for me. Also, reviews, interviews and hearing people speak. I'll often read the books of authors I've heard at conferences.

    Sharon, I still have your post-it pad and love it :)

  24. As a reader it's always nice to get prizes but honestly, winning a book that I read and love is the best way to get me to buy more of an author's books - I've found many a wonderful author this way and with some, I go out and buy their backlists (or at least some of them if they're are tons like Nora Roberts lol).

  25. Tash, you sound so organised. Thanks too for that vote of appreciation for authors' efforts. That's fantastic.

    I like the behind the scenes information too. For me it's fascinating to hear how a book came into being and what influenced it.

    Smiling about those Amazon notices of books coming out. The last couple I've received have been about books I've already snaffled because I couldn't wait!

  26. Kandy, you know, I'm so relieved to hear other authors say they don't know what works best with promotion either. I'm always torn between thinking I should do more or differently and just wanting to slip into my cave with my latest manuscript!

    You raise a great point. Isn't it terrific to hear back from readers who've received a giveaway? When they take the time to tell you what they thought of the book or tell their friends or review it, it's fantastic. It's always terrific to know that a book you sent off into the great unknown actually hit the spot with someone. And when they spread the word...!

    Kandy, I hope you have a ball at the Sutherland Writers' Festival. They're such a lovely bunch. I'm a little sad I won't be able to go this year. I'm so flattered you want to use 'Defying Her Desert Duty' in your workshop. Of course I don't mind. Smiling here though as I have to confess I wrote that book wondering how the hero and heroine could possibly get together in a happy ever after ending too. The odds are stacked against them, aren't they?

  27. Wow, Kylie! What a fantastic, comprehensive run down on promo! Thank you so much for sharing all that hard won expertise. I feel I should have invited you here to the Love Cats to blog on the subject instead of posting myself. You're a mine of information.

    One comment on Tote Bags. I too like to use the ones with an eye-catching cover and the website on them, but one of my favourites is a gorgeous, heavy duty tote sent to me by a lovely reader in the USA. It says in large letters 'Ask Me About My Book'. I've used it as cabin luggage on flights and at other times but not for day to day shopping. I've had plenty of questions as a result, including from the airport security officer screening my baggage who couldn't resist asking and was delighted to find out I wrote romance.

  28. Zana, it does seem that word of mouth is a big thing for most of us. Thanks for mentioning buying books by people you've heard speak at conferences. Actually, I've done the same. A great way to find a new author, isn't it?

  29. Hi Catslady. How great that you check out backlists once you've found an author. It's like discovering a whole new world, isn't it? Laughing at trying to catch up with Norah R's backlist. That would keep you busy for years.

  30. Hi Annie!

    Great post and heaps of information in the comments!

    I have your magnet on my fridge and questioned about you everytime a neighbor or relative visit my house!

    And I 'saved' Sharon Archer sticky notepad- as in not using it!

  31. Hi Nas,

    I'm honoured that my magnet is on your fridge. That image always lifts my spirits and makes me think of the pleasure I get from reading a great book.

    How cool that you're saving Sharon's sticky notes. I tend to hoarde special stationery too but make an effort to use it much more now. It's fun to use something special, I've discovered.

    Thanks for popping by.

  32. Annie, what a great post - such invaluable information in all the comments too. I have no idea what works either, but, like you, I love an excerpt or some way to judge whether I'll like the book.

    An example that's worked on me - I was reading RT Magazine and saw the big ad on the back cover for Brenda Novak's new trilogy in a small town. I haven't read BN before because she writes suspense and regular visitors will know I'm a fraidy cat. So, her name and the covers grabbed my attention, then I saw she had a free novella set in the small town. I went straight away to download it (however it's not available on Kindle in Aust!! I had to download as a pdf). I only downloaded last night, but you can be sure that if I like the novella, I'll order the book.

  33. Ooh, Annie, what a wealth of information here! It's so hard to know what works, though, isn't it? Word of mouth is probably my biggest influence. And if I'm given a free book and I love it, then I'll go and buy more from that author. The same can be said when I'm judging contests too. If I love a book I'm judging, I'll nearly always go out and buy something from that author's backlist. Sigh. Sometimes I'll buy the entire backlist. :-)

    P.S. I LOVE that French tote!

  34. Wow, heaps of information here Annie! Kylie, you're given this a lot of thought - thank you so much for sharing your 2c! And absolutely on great stories being the most important thing!

    Zana! I'm so rapt you like the little post-it! They were such fun to buy and give away!