Thursday, August 10, 2006

How To Woo and Win A Reader's Love

Many authors struggle, juggling jobs while writing, not earning enough from book sales to put food on the tables for their families.

It’s easy for struggling authors to look at those who are successful and be jealous.

“Their publisher must have pushed them hard.”
“They don’t deserve it.”
“It was easier back then…”

Yesterday, I looked at some of the complaints readers have about BSP and how authors promote themselves. Today, I’m going to share with you what they shared with me, about how authors are reaching readers.

But first, I want to address some of those murmured author complaints I’ve heard. Is it really harder now than it was ten, fifteen years ago?

When I took my first Ian Rankin book off a shelf in a bookstore to read the back, I didn’t have a clue who he was. I didn’t know if he sold well or if he was popular. Incidentally, none of his books were facing forward either. I was looking for a new author, but it was what I read on the back cover of his books that made me decide to buy The Falls, which was the first book in the Rebus series I read.

Now, I know that Ian has sold approximately 17 million books worldwide in his career. A sum not too many authors would complain about.

In fact, one a lot of authors would be envious of.

What a lot of people forget is that Ian Rankin struggled for years as an author, and was in danger of being dropped by his publisher.

How does an author go from potentially being dropped to international success? You might want to read this whole article but one thing I asked Ian about was the value of promotion and how critical it was for him to do author events, as well as the Gold Dagger award, which he won for his novel Black & Blue - how much did this help his career? What made the difference?

Ian responded, “There's no doubt the Gold Dagger had a positive effect on my sales, but I've heard from other winners that it doesn't always work with such potency. My feeling is that a lot of things 'clicked' at much the same time: me relocating to UK, meaning I was able to do bookshop and library signings/talks, media interviews, etc., my backlist coming back into print (as) several of the early books had been very hard to find and my publisher finding a great new look for the jackets.”

Does he think it’s harder for authors to promote themselves now?

“In some ways I'd say the situation is actually better now than it was, in that new writers can use the internet to garner publicity, and as an outlet for their work. Back in the bad old days, it was really hard to access an audience without actually traipsing all over the country trying to meet them in bookshops, libraries, etc. These days, author websites can do at least some of the groundwork, and can get new authors noticed by publishers. There are also e-zines, etc where new writers can get work 'published' - just as well, since old fashioned literary mags, such as the ones where my work was first published, are closing by the day...

“Also, crime fiction, in the UK, is a 'sexy' genre right now, which it wasn’t in the mid 1980s when I started. Publishers are actively looking for new crime writers. Great news for the genre!”

It’s always nice when someone mentions the value of ezines to someone who runs one…

Part of the reason I was interested in looking at this topic is that I don’t want to look back five years from now and feel like I’ve sold my soul to survive. I used to joke that I was going to get the name of my book/website url stitched across the ass of my jeans, with bookmarks free for the taking in one pocket and business cards in the other.

And that all t-shirts should be printed with your info across your chest.

Very good for appealing to the male reader, anyway.

But last night I was watching one of the Harrogate sessions, The Great Gender Debate, and one of the things mentioned was that something like 70% of book buyers are women.

And then it gets more specific. More women in their fourties and up.

Some debate that their husbands read the books their wives buy, so readers aren’t just women. I would agree – Kevin reads my books. Although he buys some of his own. He’s been on an Ayn Rand kick, which is interesting, because I used one of her books as source info for an essay I did back in grade 12.

Ooops, sidetrack, sorry. Point is, having my info across my backside and my chest will hardly appeal to most women…

Yesterday, I came to the conclusion it was impossible to please everyone. This is true. But after reading reader comments, I think it is possible to reach readers without losing yourself along the way and turning into a one-man (or woman) marketing machine who lives, eats, sleeps, breathes self promotion.

Authors, I encourage you to read my post here yesterday, and also at Killer Year. But I especially encourage you to read Pari Noskin Taichert’s post on the topic of PR. Pari knows more about promotion than I do, and her posts at Murderati are always insightful.

Well, so are all the posts from the entire Murderati gang. Some days, I think my blog should just be auto-directed over there.

But before you start clicking on links, take a minute to see what the readers had to say about promotional efforts that worked for them. Oh, and then I’m going to announce the ARC winner.

Now, what do readers say? How are they discovering new authors?

“Several things, reviews sometimes, word of mouth,cover blurbs and of course recommendations on DorothyL from people who have "like taste" to mine.” – AP

“Because I collect signed 1st editions, I buy most of my books from Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. They provide an excellent monthly catalogue, and email, that describes books and often offers the stores comments. I have found many excellent authors, both American and English, through them.” – LJ

“I like to give new authors from the small presses a shot when reading for pleasure. Find that diamond in the rough so to speak.” – Del Tinsley

“What motivates me to try a new writer… Recommendations by those who seem to share my taste on Dorothy L. Seeing, handling, being attracted by the book on my library's "New Books" shelves. I read the first couple of pages. I am careful about reading the flyleaf and back cover, though, which frequently contain spoilers ("When her best friend dies in a mysterious accident" -- although that doesn't happen until three chapters in, for instance -- dampens my enjoyment of the storytelling.)Recommendations by friends in my local circle of reading friends. Need. Sometimes I seem to have read "everything" by the writers I like and am in between new books. Airport desperation. For example, for some reason, I was never attracted to try Lee Child's books until I was caught before a cross-country flight having read my planned, faster-than-expected book. I picked up a couple of Jack Reacher books in the airport (I knew his name from DL) and was very surprised to fall in love with them. I'm trying to read all of them now.” – Terry

“Sometimes what I read on DL. Other times what a friend gives/lends me or reccommends. Sometimes what an author may say or do.” Patricia M. Jones

“Best BSP is when someone on the list is funny and I figure he/she will have humor in their book. OR when someone whose opinion I respect reviews a book I haven't read, I often decide to give it a try.” – Lonnie Cruse (Geez Lonnie, I don’t think I have a link to you yet…)

Stina Branson shares a specific example, and general ways she’s influenced to try something new.

“Author Linda Moore is known as WhiteRaven13 in the BookCrossing forums. She's a fascinating lady and a true member of the BookCrossing community. She chats with us like she would any of her friends, not as a potential market share. She contributes to the conversations started by others. She's been instrumental in the development of the BookCrossing Top 100, an opportunity for BookCrossers to make up our very own "favorite reads" list. So when she announced her (self-published) novel, Rhaeva, we were all excited for her. Linda shared a copy of her new book with some of us through what is known as a "bookring," which permitted all of us reading the same copy to discuss it with each other online. I enjoyed it so much that I bought a copy to give to my mother-in-law.

“What makes me take a chance on a new (to me) author? Well, I don't mean to imply that an author has to be my friend and chat with me to get me to read her book. But if you are talking about shelling out $8 to $30 for a brand-new book (as opposed to borrowing a copy from the library, which I'll do on any old whim), I need some sort of personal "connectedness" to the author or the story. Maybe I heard the author speak at a con and was really intrigued. Maybe the author makes interesting posts on DL or BookCrossing. Maybe a trusted friend specifically recommended the book or author to me. And that happens a *lot* on BookCrossing. Shadow of the Wind has been recommended to me by numerous BookCrossing friends, so the last time I was at my favorite independent bookstore and had some cash, I fell under Zafón's spell and paid full retail price for a brand.”

“Give-aways are always a winner for me. If I like the author, I then make sure to buy one or two books so s/he will stay published.” Jane Cohen

“I go to a lot of signings at my local independent bookstore. I usually read something from the library to see if I like their style before deciding to go and purchase something. I don't think I have ever not bought something if I went but even if I didn't go, I did read something. I'm also drawn by a really good cover or title. Doesn't mean I'll buy it but I will pick it up and read the flap. I can also be suckered into picking up a book that has a blurb by another author I really like. Again, it doesn't mean I'll buy it but it does get into my hands. rely on recommendations from DorothyL and from the owners of my bookstore who know my taste in books. They are honest enough to tell me if a book is good or not knowing what I like. I have received postcards in the mail which general are not read. I do read, and use, bookmarks given to me at the store. Huh, I never realized that until just now.” – KR

“The best strategies that get me to read a new work are: reviews by critics I respect, meeting and liking the author via a panel at a convention such as Bouchercon and/or humorous and intelligent postings on DL. I read Jeff Cohen's work because he's such a great poster and so amusing. It's not my cup of tea, but I've recommended his work to others who might like it and I wouldn't do that if I didn't think he was a good author. Most marketing strategies such as bookmarks, postcards, etc, don't lead me to read a book.” - Wendy Lewis

“Lisa Scottoline gave away book bags if you bought 2 of her books a couple of years ago. So I bought a book for myself and a second book as a gift for my sister. Otherwise I would have gotten her book from the library.
An author at Magna one year, and I don't remember who it was, gave a paperback edition of the first book in the series if you bought the new book in hardcover. Having a way to get the book signed though is the biggie for me. I have so many books that the only hardcovers I buy are ones I can have signed by the author which means I don't get a lot of books from new authors or authors from small presses that don't travel unless the book can be ordered through the website (or the website lists places the book can be ordered signed) or the author will send book plates-Sue Grafton (sometimes) and Lisa Scottoline do that.

“Good reviews on DorothyL by some of the people I know like the same sorts of books I do. (Tilt a Whirl and Mad Mouse are examples here- and I called a bookstore in the Chicago area where Chris was signing last week and ordered both books) Free books. I can't tell you the number of times I have gotten an ARC, loved the book, then went to the ends of the earth to try to order a signed copy of it. (Cosigned to Death is the most recent-I got a review copy, liked the book so much I ordered one signed from Murder By the Book in Houston, I also bought Eight of Swords after being given High Priestess) Meeting the author. When I meet an author, hear her speak and get to ask questions I often end up buying the book to give her a try.” – Caryn

“I like thoughtful responses by authors on-list that may reference their book by describing just a bit and then directing to their website where they have chapter excerpts. I like authors who don't ever BSP but simply send good, interesting, thoughtful, sometimes funny notes to the list. Examples include Stephen Booth, Bill Tapply, Gar (aargh, can't think of his last name), Cornelia Read (until the BSP of her book by so many other authors and the brutal defense of their belief in the absolute greatness of her book started to turn me away), Jan Burke. These authors tend to participate in discussions and often don't even have signature lines touting their books. I enjoy their posts and then will seek them out on the internet and in some cases will by their book or borrow from the library.” BJ

If you want my advice today, here it is. Be willing to get out there are meet readers, but also be willing to bare your heart on the page. Be the best writer you can be. That’s what comes first. Go back and read Ian Rankin’s story about becoming a better writer.

It’s funny, because I was chatting with my friend Allan Guthrie just the other day, obsessing about something, a decision I had to make. He told me not to waste energy worrying about what was out of my control but to concentrate on the one thing I did have control over: the writing.

Great advice.

Nothing should be more important to me right now than making sure my book is as good as it can be. (Yes Kat, I am working! Honestly…)

Obsessing about sales six months down the road is truly putting the cart before the horse.

And now, for the winner of the ARC of my book…

Now, this was drama. I went through the folder of all names I had as of 4:30 yesterday afternoon and started writing names on slips of paper. But then we lost the internet. Long story I won’t bore you with, but it wasn’t until I checked around 1:30 in the morning that it was back up. So I put up the Killer Year post for Derek, and then I checked my email and saw that more entries had come in.

This is why I’m a bit behind this morning…

Anyway, the winner is Kim Reis. Congratulations Kim!

Tomorrow I’m posting some jokes. Well, not just jokes, but definitely some jokes.


JT Ellison said...

As always, Sandra, you give more solid, reasoned information than any single source out there. You need to start selling this stuff to Writer's Digest, get the word out to everyone. Great stuff!

s.w. vaughn said...

Agree with JT. Excellent information!

I need to give some stuff away. I've got loads of ten-cent folders from Staples... :-)

angie said...

Damn you, Sandra! I read the Rankin article & got all teary. Haven't we spoken about the snot issue?

Great post, great info. And congrats to Kim for winning the ARC *said with lower lip trembling - pout is imminent*

Sandra Ruttan said...

JT, you're too kind! But it's okay - I'll give this away for free if it helps people. I'm just relieved to get the level of feedback I did - more quotes than I could possibly use - and to learn from the readers themselves.

SW, I could use some folders! Get on it!

Angie, oh, sorry. Forgot the dribbling snot warning at the top. I'm sorry you didn't win Angie. But there will be more contests. And maybe your bribe will be better next time.

Mindy Tarquini said...

Congratulations to Kim!

*muffles anguished cries in a sofa cushion*

On promotion. If I see it featured at the library, I'm likely to pick it up and at least flip through it. If it looks good, I'll take it out. If I like it, I'll tell others. Hopefully, some of them will be less cheap than me and buy the thing, instead of borrowing it. If the book really impressed me and the author has a local booksigning, I'll go to the signing and buy the book to get it signed.

Sandra Ruttan said...

So Mindy has just given me justification for making a stop in Arizona...

Mary said...

Sorry to show my ignorance, but can somebody give me a link to Dorothy L?

angie said...

What? The lifetime supply of toilet paper and Turtle Wax didn't get there?! Oh damn, I made a pop culture reference. Oops...

Bill Cameron said...

Mary, you can find DorothyL at

From there, you can register to join the conversation. It all happens through email, so you'll need to decide if you want that. Some people create special email addresses through free email services for things like this.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You can read DL on the site as well, as long as you're signed up. It can be a great source of suggestions for new authors and books Mary.

Angie, yeah, the pop culture reference will get you every time! You know I have an aversion to anything hip!

Julia Buckley said...

As ever, some excellent info here, Sandra. You are a tireless worker for the mystery cause. :)

Zinnia said...

Terry Brooks' non-fiction book Sometimes the Magic Works goes into detail about publishing now vs publishing about 30 years ago.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Julia, mostly, I just collected the info. My thanks goes to all who shared their thoughts!

Zinnia, that sounds like an excellent book to check out. Thanks for referring it - no doubt, 30 years ago, things were different. In some ways for the better, in some ways, more difficult. I'm going to order it - thank you!


You began reading Rankin with The Falls, one of his best. That was my frist Rankin novel too. His thrillers are bit disappointing, he hasn't hit his stride outside the Rebus books.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hi David,

The Falls remains a sentimental favourite of mine. I still remember thinking if I could write half as well, I'd be happy.

Although there are some of his earlier books - Mortal Causes, The Black Book - which I've really enjoyed.

Interesting you mentioned the Jack Harvey books, published originally in 1993, 1994 and 1995. All written before Black & Blue, and as the article indicates, back when he was doing two books a year. For me, I look at the evolution of the author over time - true enough us newbies don't have the same amount of time to learn and grow now, perhaps, but I think that now if Ian wrote a new set of thrillers, they would be as great as anything else he's done.

Time will tell. Next week I'm going to launch the campaign to remind him you have to put 25 years in before you get the big employee package, so he can't wrap things up on the 20th anniversary of Rebus.

Be sure to come back and sign my petition!


Anonymous said...

I have to admit to being something of a book snob. I usually find books through reviews, and on the new releases sections in the library. If I find an author I like, I keep getting his/her books through the library. If I really like the author, then I'll buy. I also use some word of mouth, but I usually check out the author first.

The Ian Rankin article was fantastic. Thanks for the link.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Glad you liked the article Norby - how do you choose which reviews to listen to?

I hope you're having a nice holiday!

Anonymous said...

"Many authors struggle, juggling jobs while writing, not earning enough from book sales to put food on the tables for their families."

And some just watch their spouse go to work while under the warm covers surrounded by cats.

Very good post!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Is this where I say living with you is hardship enough?

Seriously honey, I wouldn't be here if you didn't chain me to the desk.

Anonymous said...

How do I choose which ones to listen to? Yikes!! Good question. Actually, I read a ton of magazines (they are my dirty little weakness, I'm not even sure how many I subscribe too, plus I read them at Barnes & Noble) so I usually end up reading quite a few reviews about the same book. If a book is good enough, that will show up throughout the reviews. And of course sometimes if the book's blurb intrigues me I read it even if the review is bad.

One time my mom brought home a library catalogue that listed all the books coming out over the next six months. I spent over an hour making a list of books I wanted to read. It was heaven.

anne frasier said...

the Ian Rankin article -- wow.
thanks for the link, sandra.

Mindy Tarquini said...

If you make a stop in Arizona, Sandra, I'll actually have first class accommodations to put you up. I wish I could have offered you something for Thrillerfest, but we didn't even have a sofa in our old place. So, I'd love to make it up to you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Mindy, no need to feel bad! I've wanted to come to Arizona for ages. I want to do the four corners and go to Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon and all those places... I might just take you up on it! That would be FUN!

Norby, you are dilligent! Wow!

Anne, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I think you're someone who knows about channeling life experience into the writing. PI is still haunting me, which is the sign of a powerful read, esp. since I've already finished another book since.

Mary said...

Thanks to Bill and Sandra for the Dorothy L info - I will check it out!