Saturday, August 17, 2013

Nancy Martin's Rules of Writing and Promotion: Part 3

In this final 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. Now that we've heard about how fun and popular they were, it's time to scratch the bottom line...

Kathryn: Now the tough question—do you think your efforts have translated into sales? What lessons have you learned from these efforts that you can pass along to our readers?

Nancy: Let me say first that I am usually embarrassed by plugging myself, and cringe when I see writers openly campaign for awards and reader attention. In a recent New York Times column, essayist Philip Lopate said there is nothing more becoming in an author than modesty, and I am firmly in that camp. Sure, self-promotion might work, but I am too Presbyterian to do it! I think too much unseamly shilling demeans the writing. And readers aren't stupid. They recognize ego and flop sweat when they see it. That said, you can see why I may not be the best person to give advice about promotion efforts.

To answer your question: I only do promotion when I can track sales. Throwing ideas and resources against the wall in the hope that they'll work is . . . not smart. I used to get in a car and travel for two weeks after my launch date, stopping at bookstores I had mapped out in advance. Some years I hit forty or fifty stores and forged relationships with a lot of booksellers along the way. I took gifts and bookmarks. I chatted with everyone and promised to send cupcakes to their mystery reading book clubs, then I got in the car and did the same thing in the next store. One year I did a tour by air, but who wants to endure that torture anymore? But I pretty much stopped traveling to do events—except for my local bookstore—because the cost was astronomical and inconvenient and didn't result in especially reliable sales figures.

I stopped using snail mail to send postcards because the cost has become prohibitive. Conferences are also expensive, and they're so jammed with other writers who all seem to be shouting about their books that it's hard to stand out, so I rarely attend anymore.
Another writing rule: If a conference makes you feel bad about yourself, don't go back.
I stopped blogging when our group blog hits began to decline and our back-blogger growth leveled out. (I blogged at The Lipstick Chronicles, which was one of the first, and it was successful for many years.) Yes, the daily busy work of maintaining a blog felt as if I was making progress—it was fun, and I loved the interaction with my blog sisters and back-bloggers—but I could no longer justify the year-round time and resources necessary to maintain such a blog when I couldn't pinpoint resulting sales of more than a couple hundred copies once a year.

Besides, Facebook was coming on strong, and I can better quantify the sales that result from Facebook posts, links and ads. I did the paper doll campaign because Facebook has great analytics. Is Facebook waning now for writers? Maybe. Are writers building false numbers of "fans" by doing giveaways that attract people who won't necessarily buy their books when crunch time comes—and therefore are muddying their own tracking waters? I think so.

I don't use Twitter much, because it all seems to be writers selling themselves to each other—at least, in the mystery genre—and writers are notoriously bad about buying each other's books. I have seen many a Twitter-savvy author lose their publisher because of poor sales. Because they're promoting themselves to other writers instead of their true reading audience? Maybe so. (I do use Twitter to find good craft-related material, and I see new writers using Twitter to successfully network themselves into the business.) Right now, Goodreads seems to be the place where book lovers can be more directly reached, so that's the next thing for me to master.

I do maintain an email list, and I send a newsletter to readers once a year. I keep my website as current as possible. I go to library conventions like ALA and PLA and my state library conference to meet as many librarians as possible because they can really spread word of mouth.

Perhaps the most successful promotions for me, however, are those that my publisher negotiates—the co-op display at the front of Barnes & Noble stores. If it's true that eighty percent of sales happen within twenty feet of the front door, the front-of-store real estate is golden. My publisher pays for my books to be displayed there for two weeks after launch, and that's like having a billboard in front of consumers who walk in with the intent of buying something to read. I owe Barnes & Noble a lot. This summer, some of my old paperbacks have been featured in in-store displays.

My publisher also sees that advance copies of my books are sent to publications that review books. Timely reviews in the big four industry periodicals---Booklist, Library Journal, Publisher's Weekly and (I hate to admit it) Kirkus—are vital because they reach librarians and booksellers who order books. Sometimes I am featured in articles in those industry magazines—thanks to my publisher. Penguin also gets my books reviewed in places like Romantic Times, Mystery Scene, and other consumer-oriented magazines. I rely heavily on my publisher's remarkable sales team and the marketing team. I can't imagine trying to accomplish everything on my own.

What all this means is that advance planning is crucial. I recently received an email from a writer who had just self-pubbed his first book and he asked me to tell him how to promote it. I wanted to say: It's taken me thirty years to get where I am! Take down your book! Learn the business and re-launch it in a year when you've mastered a few things. It's like the surgeon who says he's going to write a book as soon as he finds the time, and the writer who responds she's going to take up surgery as soon as she gets a few free minutes to learn how to hold a knife. Real book marketing is a business. It's not to be approached like a hobby.

But it can be learned. It takes study and diligence.
But here's the main thing, my primary rule when it comes to promotion: The best way to sell your book is by writing another book.
It's almost impossible to whip up consumer enthusiasm for one book. It's easier when you have three products to sell, but one is . . . a lot of work without great results. I write one book every year, and I'm now supplementing that with short e-books that are tied to my series. (Some authors are doing this better than I am. Check out Deborah Coonts. She is building reader enthusiasm.)

What readers really want is not promotion. They want more good books. Writing well--and regularly--is still the time-honored method of building a solid readership. Promotion is important, but writing is more important.


Then write more.

It's what you love, right?

Nancy won't be able to answer comments today, as she's traveling across Pennsylvania for one of her rare bookstore appearances, at 2 pm tomorrow, August 18, at the Doylestown Bookshop, Doylestown, PA. On behalf of Nancy and the BRP thanks for reading, and good luck with your own book promotion efforts. Let us know what's worked for you!

Missed something? Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 of Nancy's Rules of Writing and Promotion.

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. It'll be interesting to see how GoodReads changes since the Amazon acquisition. I've never quite figured out how to maneuver over there even as a reader. As to how I find books to read - free first-in-a-series books for my Kindle has been a huge author introduction for me this past year. And as I mentioned previously, I would not have started reading the Blackbird Sisters series were it not for discovering Nancy on The Lipstick Chronicles.

  2. Thank you for being honest. Conferences have seemed like a very expensive option but you are the first one that I've read with enough insight to say so. Much of what is on Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Amazon, blogs, etc. reminds me of MLM people who peddle Amway and other products/services from A to Z, a lot of hype.
    Thank you,
    Tired of all the hype

    1. I think one or two conferences are great for unpublished authors - I consider it one of the best ways to meet agents and editors and find them accessible and helpful in offering advice. Many writers need that reassurance. But beyond publication, it seems authors go simply to be on panels and to schmooze with other writing pals. That's okay if you can afford it, time and money-wise. Or if you have the type of presence that fans adore. (And I DO think writers are Super Fans.) But many established authors don't participate in the conference circuit for exactly the reasons Nancy points out. I guess my point is that they aren't hype so much as just a stepping stone at certain points in the publishing process.

  3. Interesting article about GoodReads here.

  4. This series has been a literary gourmet meal served in three courses. However, each course is loaded with tasty tidbits that deserve to be savored and digested on their own. In other words, all three articles are keepers. We just need to separate the elements, taste them, and find the ones that whet our appetites and inspire us to reach for another helping to nourish our marketing skills.

    Thank you, Nancy, for sharing this wonderful information with Kathryn and, by extension, with us. :-)

    1. I'm sorry I was unable to create and participate in a discussion on Sunday. I was traveling. (Visiting bookstores!) I'm glad you found the info useful, Linda. But I would advise you not to hang onto this information for long. IN a few months (week?) the business will be different! ;-)

  5. There are some places you just can't go as an Indy pub. However, my book series managed to make it into libraries where it found fans both YA and adult. Alas, they will never be front and center in the bookstores that are left.

    1. True, Diana. Writers who choose to go the indie pub route have their reasons for doing so. But going in with your eyes open is important. Indie pubs are great for certain kinds of books and certain kinds of purposes. But making a decent living (which is my goal) is not usual. If you want a big audience, you must choose another path to publication.

  6. I'm not sure that's necessarily true, Diana. Well maybe not front and center, depending on the book. But think about some of the books that were self-published and then picked up by regular houses, republished, and the series continued. Here is one example.

    1. Dani, my editor at Penguin says they are buying books that assistants have found among self-pubbed work. Self-pubbing may be the new slush pile?


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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