Thursday, August 15, 2013

Nancy Martin's Rules of Writing and Promotion: Part 1

In this first of three installments, novelist Nancy Martin takes time from the release of her latest mystery, Little Black Book of Murder, to talk with Kathryn Craft about her recent Facebook promotions. Or click through to read parts two and three. Nancy, welcome back!

Kathryn: Nancy, Congratulations on your new release, the ninth in your Blackbird Sisters mystery series. New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Andersen said of your series, “Smart intrigue dressed in cool couture.” Was that true from the very beginning? When did you realize that you could turn that into a marketing advantage on Facebook?

Nancy: Thanks for your good wishes, Kathryn. The use of haute couture clothing in my books began early in the creative process as I built my main character, Nora Blackbird. If Nora was supposed to attend fancy balls and galas for her job as a society columnist, she needed great clothes to wear. But the whole point of her needing a job in the first place is that her parents ran off with her trust fund, so she's broke and can barely afford to pay her electric bill. How to solve her wardrobe problem?  

I had already decided Nora would be deeply influenced by her late grandmother—a great lady Nora still admires, so it was a short leap to inventing a closet full of Grandmama's vintage couture that Nora could dip into as needed. I will confess that I'm not terribly interested in clothes for myself, so researching the great designers has been a challenge. I was gratified and taken by surprise when so many readers responded to the clothes in the first mystery, How to Murder a Millionaire. In subsequent books, I increased the pages devoted to Nora's clothes.
One of my writing rules: Please your reader!
This Oscar de la Renta was Nancy's #1
in her Fifty Shades of Pink countdown
But it wasn't until Pinterest came along (and I got addicted to it!) that I realized I could be making the clothes more of a marketing hook. I could attract more fashion-oriented readers if I played up Nora's closet on my website, on my Pinterest boards and on Facebook, too. Now Penguin also spends more time crafting cover art that will attract fashionistas, so it's a team effort to please established readers and attract new ones.

Kathryn: Tell us about the pink dress campaign and its impact on your number of social media followers. Was Pinterest involved in this campaign from the start? 

Nancy: I didn't come up with the pink dress idea until I was scrolling through Pinterest while trying to train my own fashion eye.
Another of my writing rules: Never stop researching.
Pink is Nora's favorite color, so I'm always on the lookout for great pink clothes. (I don't make up Nora's outfits. Because I don't want to be wrong about the fashion, I always choose real dresses—that is, dresses which were designed by well-known couturiers and which still exist—so looking at designer outfits has become part of my writing routine.)

Last summer, I happened to open my calendar to count how many days before the launch of No Way to Kill a Lady, the eighth Blackbird Sisters Mystery—which was pubbed after a three-year hiatus—and I saw I had fifty days to build enthusiasm for the book. Well, last summer, the number fifty meant Fifty Shades of Grey—it was everywhere from late night comedians to popular magazines and conversations on the subway. It was impossible to miss!
Another of my writing rules: Pay attention to cultural trends. I use them in my stories, and I use them in promotions, too.
I am not fond of gray, but pink—! It's so Nora! It hit me that I could do a countdown to my book launch and post a different pink dress every day for fifty days on Facebook. I wrote a couple of sentences about each dress and why it was iconic, but I always included info about my book, too—usually providing a link to a bookseller.

Feel free to leave questions for Nancy—but don't beg spoilers! You'll have to check back in with tomorrow's installment to see just how well this campaign worked for Nancy, and how she tweaked it for her next title!

Winner of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement award for mystery writing from Romantic Times magazine, Nancy Martin announces the release of the ninth book in her Blackbird Sisters Mystery Series, Little Black Book of Murder. The author of nearly fifty pop fiction novels in mystery, suspense, historical and romance genres, Nancy created The Blackbird Sisters in 2002—mysteries about three impoverished Main Line heiresses who adventure in couture and crime—as if “Agatha Christie had wandered onto the set of Sex and The City.” Nominated for the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery of 2002, How to Murder a Millionaire won the RT award for Best First Mystery and was a finalist for the Daphne DuMaurier Award. No Way to Kill a Lady was a 2012 Bookscan mystery bestseller. Nancy lives in Pittsburgh, has served on the board of Sisters in Crime and is a founding member of Pennwriters. Find Nancy on Facebook.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Nancy and Kathryn. It is so nice when you can find an obvious angle or hook on which to device some marketing plans. I think some people are better than others at seeing those angles for any product, which is why those folks often work for advertising agencies. (smile)

    I look forward to the next to posts to see what I can learn from your experience.

  2. Kathryn, what a great post this is! With a mindboggling number of books published annually — both hardcopy and e-books — we need a gimmick, a unique marketing strategy to call attention to our books. Otherwise they will be harder to find than the proverbial needle in a haystack.

    While my stories don't involve fashion, they do encompass other elements that I can utilize to pique the interest of potential readers. My thinking-cap has been dusted off and is now in place. Thank you. :-)

    Go, Kathryn! Go, Nancy! This series of articles will be a winner!

  3. Nancy, thanks for stopping by and sharing with us. I'm thrilled the series has continued having read from the start. I've also been following along on Pinterest since you joined, and though I'm not really a fashionista either, I do have some fashion illustration background so it's been a blast! Love the paper dolls too. I hope we get to hear about *that* clever marketing idea. Welcome to the BRP!

  4. Paper dolls coming up! Hang in there until tomorrow, Dani. ;)

    Nancy thanks for taking time out of your busy release schedule to do this interview. You are always so generous to share your experience with other writers.

  5. YOu are all so sweet. Thank you. I know "branding" is the new buzz word, and most of us have no idea how to brand ourselves because we feel......... ordinary. But as Maryann points out, the challenge is finding some element in your work and--forgive the word--exploiting it. Sometimes it helps to brainstorm with friends (ideally, your critique partners who know your work well) to tease out the marketable material. I think it's worth adding something to the story, if you need a marketing hook. (A current issue? A cultural trend? A fad?) It's much easier if you write non-fiction, but those of us who are novelists must think harder and dig deeper to find the element that a block of readers will find compelling. Public perception is important, too. Years ago, I observed my m-i-l subscribed to a newsletter of 25K golden retriever owners. I realized I could sell a lot of books if I wrote about goldens and advertised in that publication. Now, though, with a backlash against puppy mills, it's slightly more tricky.

  6. PS. I should add that if you choose to develop some element of your story into a marketing hook---or if you create one to fit---it should be something that you enjoy. That's fun to talk about, to research, to share. If it's something false, I think readers see through it in a heartbeat. And, really, you want to be as genuinely you as possible in your online persona. (Do you really want to be just an avatar? Uh, no.) Nancy rule: Enjoy it.

  7. Hello Nancy.

    So my question is this: Do I need to continue blogging? Although enjoyable, it takes away from my writing time and my numbers aren't stellar. They are growing but not by leaps and bounds. Is there truly a point?

    Jodi Carmichael

  8. Jodi, this is my personal opinion (albeit one that comes from years of blogging and running a blog and promoting a blog.) I think blogs are over as a promotional tool for fiction writers. But it depends on why you're blogging. For me, it was to help new readers find my books. But--- nowadays, what reader has time to go to a favorite writer's blog every day/week? How we use the internet has changed--and continues to change! I adore a whole list of writers, but I find it's easier to keep up with what they're writing and releasing and doing with their lives via FB and Twitter. (Where I can multitask!) If I'm looking for craft info/educational stuff, I will Google it and sometimes end up at a blog, but I rarely seek out a blog as a book consumer. I kept good track of our (group blog) hits and discovered they were staying level, and it didn't make sense to keep blogging to the same audience who had already discovered us as authors and could (pretty much) be counted on to buy my books when I needed the sales. I believe I became a better writer by blogging, but....I can improve my writing by writing more books, too. The benefits of blogging have waned, I think. But to answer your question? I think you need to decide why you're blogging. For fun? For the pleasure of creating and participating in an online community? (Lots of writers enjoy writing and reading how-to craft material. If you write a craft blog, maybe you have created a group of like-minded writers, and you have a virtual water cooler to hang around every day. That's great. Writing can be a lonely profession.) If you enjoy it, keep blogging! But if you're doing it to find readers for your books......maybe there are better ways to build your audience.

    Are there a zillion typos in this post? I can barely see this tiny box. Sorry! For an editing blog, typos are surely a no-no, but I can't see to revise1 Argh.

  9. LOL. Don't worry about typsos.

    Thanks for the advice. Blogging has improved my writing, but I agree, so has writing the books I want to publish!

    Take care,

  10. This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing.

  11. And I disagree with Nancy on the blog thing. I think a good blog is the best anchor for a complete online marketing package. I especially like group blogs which never seem to lost their popularity. That said, if you dread doing it, don't bother. It'll come across and your won't get readers anyway. Find something you like and put your energies there. Example of someone who loves to blog and will never lose readers? Ree Drummond.

  12. We can disagree, Dani. Group blogs are better for fiction writers than indivisual blogs, certainly, because the labor of promoting and organziing and growing readership is spread around--as long as everybody pulls their weight. I think the best kind of individual blogs are those situated right on your website. (I don't update mine often enough!) It should reflect your own voice, your interests, your writing. But the thing we're all supposed to be doing is writing, and if blogging gets in the way of your primary work--and isn't reaping measurable benefits--my feeling is that you don't have make yourself nuts about maintaining a blog anymore. I've shifted the center of my online presence to FB, and I'm getting good results that I can measure. Will that change? Sure. I hope to be flexible enough to change with the times and not cling to outdated methods just because it "feels right"--a common blunder among creative people. Before making a decision about blogging, do the research. Track your numbers. Set goals. Tend the fire or douse it with a bucket of cold water. Either way, treat your blog like a business.

  13. Fascinating! I love your 50 shades of pink for promotion--what a fun idea!

  14. Here's a good post about blogging/writing/tweeting for readers, not other writers:

    1. I think Susan Wittig Albert has that interaction with readers down to a fine art. It's all about offering added content - something way more than just book promotion. She'll be the first to tell you much of her content in blog and newsletter is repurposed writing from years past. But still fascinating and informative to her readers. Also, she shares her day-to-day life on her blog, which is really just more of what she writes about. It's all neatly linked and the fans love it.

  15. Can't wait until tomorrow's post! Thanks, Nancy!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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