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December 28, 2017

Author Marketing: Insights and Ideas for Local Promotion — Guest: Elizabeth Randolph

View of a store-filled alley with text: Marketing Locally: Ideas & Tips

For most authors, marketing and promotion is low on the list of activities we enjoy. We might feel uncomfortable “pimping” our books. Or we might not know how best to spend our marketing time or money to get results. Or sometimes, we might lack for ideas or be uncertain how to implement our ideas.

For many introvert-type authors, the only marketing or promotion we can see ourselves doing is online, where we don’t have to face people. However, local marketing efforts can be best for certain kinds of books, for working with people with whom we can build a relationship, or simply for going the road less traveled by hordes of other authors.

But it’s even harder to find advice about local marketing than it is to find tips about online approaches. So when Elizabeth Randolph told me about her experimentation with local promotions and asked if I (a very non-marketing kind of person) knew of other ideas she could try, I acknowledged my ignorance and instead encouraged her to share her experiences and insights with us.

On Tuesday, Elizabeth gave us her thoughts on connecting with the primal aspects of our stories, and she’s back today to give her unvarnished look at a few local promotion options. Her experiences with local marketing might help us figure out how to make our ideas happen, as she shares what worked, what didn’t, and what she wants to try in the future.

Please welcome Elizabeth Randolph! *smile*

*****

Local Marketing: One Writer’s Experience

by E J Randolph

I am an Indie author and must do my own marketing. Recommended online options don’t work as well as they used to, and the only choice seems to be to find a way to market books that hasn’t been done to death.

Last spring I decided to try a few local options. I live in a small town in the mountains of New Mexico. Historically, it is a mining and ranching town. Recently, a thriving but small arts and crafts community has developed, and tourism has become important.

5 Ideas for Local Marketing—including 2 Ways to Create Opportunities

Idea #1: Local Library Part 1: Book Signing

Last spring I showed my first science fiction book to the director of the local public library. She asked me to do a book signing. I was excited and made quite a few preparations.

I purchased two prizes: a magnetic solar system and space cookie cutters. I constructed a space ship out of a plastic milk jug and filled it with Milky Way candy bars. I labeled bottles of water Liquid Hydrogen and Oxygen. I painted a bowl black and filled it with dark Hershey’s kisses — dark holes. Of course, I brought Starz candy.

I asked for a Saturday time with a big traffic, but the staff gave me a low traffic time of 4-5 on a Tuesday afternoon. Only six people showed, and one was my mother.

Not good.

The Lesson: Support from the location has a bigger effect than preparation.

Idea #2: Local Stores

I went to the only local bookstore in August. The proprietor insisted that local authors don’t sell. I think he was trying to make sure I didn’t have unrealistic expectations. But recently he sold two of my sci-fi books and one of my children’s books.

A local gift shop agreed to carry my books. Seven children’s books sold since August, but only one of my sci-fi books. I tried another gift shop and nothing sold even when I lowered the price, so I removed my books from that store.

The Lesson: The enthusiasm of the proprietor makes a big difference.

Idea #3: Local Library Part 2: Offer Knowledge and Value for Tie-In Opportunities

It occurred to me that one good way to sell books is to show I am knowledgeable. The concepts of WANA, an online organization of writers dedicated to helping other writers, influenced me, and I read on several blogs that a writer should offer something before asking for a sale.

Want to be a bigger author-fish in a smaller competition-pond? Try marketing locally... Click To TweetA month before the eclipse of August 21, 2017, I went to the local public library and asked the outreach librarian if I and another sci-fi writer could give a reading from our books and talk about eclipses on that day. She said yes. The library had free eclipse glasses to give out, and she would send out notices to the press.

The day of the eclipse, the library was so packed the staff had to remove partitions, and the audience spilled into the children’s section. I gave a nice rousing talk about ancient notions of what was happening during an eclipse and the scientific advances surrounding eclipses. My partner gave a brief talk about the current eclipse. I passed out handouts including a one page handout showing my book covers.

The next day I had one of my books for free on on Amazon. I received over four times my usual number of downloads. I also sold some ebooks. I can’t prove a direct connection, but they occurred right after my talk.

The Lesson: If you demonstrate knowledge and give value, you might be able to find opportunities everywhere and get bigger crowds and more visibility.

Feeling Ambitious? Try Organizing Bigger Events…

Idea #4: Monster Book Sale

Every two years, a local organization puts on a Festival of the Written Word. To date they have put on three. The organizers invite writers — poets, novelists, journalists, playwrights — along with a couple small presses and an agent from the Southwest region to give presentations.

Here are 5 ideas to market your books locally—including 2 ways to create opportunities... Click To TweetI was at the outreach librarian’s office giving her some handouts for my upcoming eclipse talk, and out of the blue she told me that local authors were not welcome to give a talk at the Festival. I was insulted. And what about other local writers? Sure, they invited an award-winning author from the university and a woman who wrote a play the local theater group put on for the festival. Maybe one other writer.

I read a neighboring town’s public library put on a monster book sale for all their local authors. I thought the local library might give a big group a good time slot, so I asked the outreach librarian if we could do one. She said they didn’t have the staff, but she gave me the name of a local guy who recently started an online literary magazine who might know of local options.

He loved the idea of a book sale and suggested holding it at a local coffee house that opened over the summer because the proprietor promotes local musicians, writers, and artists and has two shelves of local authors’ books for sale without requiring a commission. The proprietor agreed to allow the sale.

I made up fliers and posted them at the public library, the senior center, the local museum, and on local business doors. The ezine guy sent out press releases to websites. I called the local radio stations and asked them to announce our event. I emailed an English professor at the local university, and she agreed to download a flier and post it for her students.

The Lesson: If you can’t find opportunities, create them.

Idea #5: Writer Talks and Local Press about Event

But when it came to the book sale, what about the principle of offering something before asking for a sale and about demonstrating knowledge? I emailed local authors and got quotes from them about why they write and a talk topic so we could give the community the benefit of our knowledge and experience.

I wrote an article about the book sale and talks for the regional arts magazine. In my cover letter, I related overhearing a retired couple extolling the arts in this town. Someone else said there were a lot of writers, and the couple was surprised. They hadn’t heard anything about writers. I thought this provided a newsworthy aspect to the article.

The editor liked the idea of a book sale and author talks and said she had heard from other local authors they felt excluded from the Festival. She told me to add author profiles. I did, and she printed the article with good graphics. I also mentioned big publishers today are saddled with merger debts and can’t take any risks, so small presses and indie publishing are the future of book publishing and are where creativity occurs today.

My article required reading 10 percent of a lot of books, tracking down email addresses and phone numbers, and contacting and recontacting people for quotes and talk ideas.

The Lesson: Creating an event is a lot of work, but might be newsworthy for more press.

The Inevitable Problems Working with Others

Now, I know everyone is thinking surely this can’t all go so easy. You’re right.

The problems can all be summed up in one word: egos. Fortunately, I didn’t have any ego invested in this event.

First of all, the editor printed my article but did not give me a byline. I ranted for a day and then told myself to get over it. We (the local writers) got an article. That was the point.

Then the ezine guy wrote an article for the local tiny newspaper and sent it in without showing it to me. He wrote his ezine put on the event. OK. Sure.

But he left some writers’ names off his article. I sent out an email to all the talk participants about how the event was inclusive, no one wanted anyone to feel excluded or slighted, but the ad hoc nature of how the idea started and grew meant there were some omissions. That soothed some ruffled feelings.

I also wrote to the people the editor cut from my earlier article and told them the editor said she might give them a separate article. One wrote back and thanked me for explaining things.

The ezine guy organized who would work the book sale table, and he listed out the order of talks. If I had cared, this would have blown the book sale apart. He just had to give a short introduction and did not mention me, but I expected that. I don’t hold it against him. Not everyone is tuned to other people’s feelings.

NOTE: I would rather have left this section off this post because I don’t like to complain, but then I would not have been honest, and I would not have given someone fair warning about the real pitfalls.

Is All the Work of a Big Event Worth it?

Event Results: Book Sale

The book sale went on all day, but we only sold four books. One was my children’s book.

Two of the presenters traded books. Books on the sale table included a poetry book, a memoir, an account of working with Navajo weavers, a couple science fiction books, a young adult book set in the Southwest, a few books on spiritual journeys, an account of abuse at a Catholic school for boys, and a couple erotica books.

I think some of the people expected more sales. I thought this was a good step in making local writers more visible.

The Lesson: Keep expectations low for sales, but visibility will be helped if the people working at a sale table are knowledgeable about the books and enthusiastic.

Event Results: Writers’ Talks

The talks were successful. Seven presenters showed. A couple begged off at the last instance. One was on the road and could not make it.

Everyone was well prepared and had something good to offer. A science fiction writer talked about conditions on Mars. The ezine guy led the group through the creation of a short story.

Other topics included writing prompts, being compelled to write, coming to writing late in life, being wary of writing advice, and writing on the primal level. I was surprised how eager the local writers were to give talks. It meant something to them.

Every chair in the small coffee house was filled and a couple of people stood. A few people left and a few people came in late. The audience numbered 15-18. None were family or friends. Attendees were interested and asked questions.

During the talks, I felt we were a community of writers. We all met local writers we didn’t know. For an hour after the talks, we sat around and talked. Nice.

The next day, I had my sci-fi novel for free on Amazon KDP. I got more downloads than normal for November, which normally is a dead period for me.

The Lesson: Even without sales, planning a big event can create an author community.

What Did Other Participants Think?

I emailed the ezine guy and a couple writers for their impressions. The ezine guy was lukewarm about the experience. The two writers enjoyed the camaraderie and liked giving presentations on writing craft.

Moving Forward

To my joy, a local poet has started a Word & Music session (with open mic at the end) every third Saturday of the month at the same coffee house. (She also runs the Writing in a Woman’s Voice Website.)

Local writers can read their poems or the first chapters of their books, give a talk on writing craft, or sing songs they have written. I have attended two sessions. This is a nice way to raise writer visibility in the town.

The Lesson: Getting the ball rolling can create future opportunities.

Conclusion

Because of the Word & Music sessions, I don’t think there will be a need for a monster book sale next year. I enjoyed meeting other writers at this one. But the preparation time cut into writing time, and worrying about people’s feelings was a drain on me. I will be attending as many of the Word & Music sessions that I can.

It is very important to find a venue that is supportive. I suspect the local public library provides that in some towns.

In this town, one particular coffee house is quite supportive. A recent ad in the newspaper had another coffee house hosting an out-of-town poet. Perhaps coffee houses hosting readings will become quite the thing in this town.

I can hope.

*****

EJ Randolph headshotE J Randolph writes science fiction stories about a rule-bending Federation of planets diplomat who goes to planets troubled with internal unrest or war, and she brings about peace through unusual but historically derived methods.

She also writes children’s books about a purple dragon who saves the town when the chili roaster breaks by roasting the chilies in the field and melts snow when skiers are caught in an avalanche.

She draws on her five years of experience as a history writing tutor in her A Very Short Writing Manual for the Utterly Clueless. By asking questions, anyone can learn to write at least passably.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

*****

Retrograde: Some Principles Are Timeless

Retrograde coverThe cold steel of the assassin’s blade bites into her neck, and Kate Stevens, Federation diplomat, freezes. She has cured the king. Is that the problem? Or, does the knife wielder have something against the Federation?

She needs allies and she needs them fast. Coups plots are springing up like mushrooms after a rain, and the lord chancellor wants her out of the way or dead. Illustrations.

Available now on Amazon!

*****

Thank you, Elizabeth! I’m impressed by how much work you put into your marketing attempts. No one can say that you haven’t been trying to sell your books. *smile*

I like how Elizabeth started with the usual suspects of local libraries and stores, but then decided to see what she could create on her own. In other words, if the resources don’t exist, we might be able to develop them.

Another important point from Elizabeth’s experience is how much we might need to adapt our efforts to our local situation. In some locations, our local library might be a great resource and the local stores might be unsupportive, and in other locations, it might be the opposite. Some locations might have festivals or events we can join, and in some places, we might need to start our own.

As Elizabeth said, many marketing approaches no longer work as well as they used to, so whether we follow up with online or in-person opportunities, we might get better results with more unique ideas. It can be hard to think of ideas that haven’t been done to death, but like Elizabeth jumping on the interest of the eclipse, we can try to keep our eyes open. *smile*

Have you done any local marketing? What have you tried? Did it work for you, or if it didn’t work, did you learn something from the experience? Does Elizabeth’s experiences give you ideas of what you might try? Do you have any questions for Elizabeth?

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Nancy Pearcey
Nancy Pearcey

Thanks for describing your creative efforts. I like the way you took initiative and engaged in strategic planning to make things happen. Very inspiring.

June
June

Thank you.:)

Zinjy

I wish there were people we could hire to do marketing and book placement… It would be money well spent. I really dread having to go through this when my book comes out, and all the authors I know personally would greatly benefit from it as well. It’s just such a different skillset for many people, especially the kind who would prefer to be holed up alone writing.

June
June

There are people you can pay. My budget is not nearly big enough. I agree writing is so much more fun than marketing.

Zinjy

I feel like people would actually be less likely to buy my book if they had to talk to me, I am so bad at interacting.

June
June

Even extreme introverts become animated if they are talking about something dear and close to their hearts. Perhaps if you recast interactions as times for sharing something really special, you won’t dread it as much. You say you prefer writing. Writers are creative people. That means they have something unique and interesting to talk about. They have an experience that is worth sharing. How did you come up with your ideas? What is it like to write? Coming up with whole stories is quite a feat. Not everyone can do it. The next time you feel like clamming up, remember, you have something to share that is worth listening to.

Clare O\'Beara
Clare O\'Beara

Very well done and an enjoyable article. We do tend to sit indoors too much! Putting ourselves and our work out in front of people can feel daunting, especially if we are not sure of their interest in the genre. The coffee shop was a great idea.

June
June

The woman who runs the Word & Music sessions third Saturday of the month at the coffee shop always thanks the presenters and seems genuinely delighted with whatever someone presents. That creates a good atmosphere for a variety of different creative expressions whether poetry, first chapters of books, or songs. And, I can tell you so far the variety is big but works. I was scared, but one time I read the first chapter of my sci-fi novel. Last time someone read the first chapter of their young adult novel, several people read poems, and I sang a song I wrote. (My knees knocked a little)

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