There’s synergy when people come together and connect, especially when they share ideas or brainstorm. CAN is all about sharing ideas and connecting authors to authors and readers. I love networking and making lots of connections as well as building on connections I’ve already made. For me, writing conferences are the perfect place for connecting with writers. And things happen at conferences–that’s where many of my books originated.
Postcards, bookmarks, business cards and flyers have all been consistent elements in book promotion for several years. Together they make a standard part of a publisher’s marketing plan and an asset to an author’s promotion toolbox. And yet, they are just so… old.
Marketing is about creating a splash and catching someone’s attention. More than that, our industry requires marketing campaigns to build relationships with readers. Merchandising pieces have traditionally offered a take-away that not only catch attention but also give the reader something to look at later to remind them of a book’s title, an author’s name, or a character description. But once that reference has been made, what happens to the postcard? Inevitably, it will be discarded.
It will be discarded unless you make it something worth keeping. But how do you do that? How do you reinvent something so basic? How do you move from a traditional mass-marketing approach (printing hundreds or thousands of recyclable pieces) to a unique and targeted promotion that has lasting impact? How do you prevent the tried-and-true from becoming the same-old, same-old?
Here’s one idea: Instead of printing large quantities of one design, ask your publisher to print smaller quantities with unique designs.
- Design your merchandising pieces around a theme. It’s really easy to put the cover on the front and a book description on the back and call it a day. But what would happen if you featured elements of your book instead of the book itself? If you’re a nonfiction author, choose different quotes from throughout your book and feature a different quote on different cards. For fiction, maybe you can focus your theme around your characters. Offer a behind-the-scenes profile of each character, giving readers a deeper look at the people who move your story.
- Place the different cards and bookmarks strategically. Ask your local library and book stores to offer them near their cash register or even as bag stuffers. One of my authors got permission from the bookstore manager to place one of her cards in other novels that were stocked on the same shelf in that store—a little cross-merchandising, if you will.
- Position the merchandising pieces as trading cards, letting readers know their card is one of a set. Tease them with clues to the other cards and where they could find them (maybe you offer different cards to different stores so readers can go on a “scavenger hunt”). Maybe you’re at a writing workshop or conference and every time you hand out a card you encourage the reader to talk to other attendees and find the rest of the set. If you’re interacting with your fans online, consider hosting online book discussions where readers share the behind the scenes notes they have on their cards.
- Use the design of the pieces is other ways. One of the novelists I work with kept the designs of each of 6 postcards she used and turned them into web graphics that were then formatted into an animated introduction into her website.
- Offer specials or giveaways to people who promise to pass our cards for you. Have then email or Facebook you with details of how they distributed your cards and then award a prize (could be as simple as an Amazon gift card) to the most creative. Your readers aren’t just readers. They can be great marketers too!
- Be creative in your messaging. A business card doesn’t have to be boring. Communicating your basic contact info is one thing, but what if the card could provoke further interaction on your website? Think of a catchy line that begs people to look at your site for more information. Kregel novelist Patti Lacy’s bio starts with the line “I was born in the front seat of a Buick. I guess you can say my entrance into this world sparked a love for travel and the unpredictable.” How’s THAT for catchy? Offer a statement like that on the business card, followed by a URL, and your website unique visitors will skyrocket.
What else? How do you use postcards, bookmarks, business cards and flyers in unique and exciting ways? Share your ideas! We’d love to hear them!
Cat Hoort has worked with Kregel, Abingdon Press, and Worthy. She wasn’t born in the front seat of a car but still considers herself lucky to be able to work with fabulous authors who have such amazing stories to share.
Next week I’ll be teaching at the Florida Christian Writers Conference. Preparing to go is also a time I reflect on all that happened over the years of attending conferences. Amazingly, it’s been short, quick chats that led to many books.That’s a good reminder to connect with anyone, and make the most of every opportunity.
Let me share a few of those past chats and what happened.
I’m Ann Byle, a CAN member from way back. I’m a freelance writer for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich., as well as other publications including Kyria.com and Publishers Weekly. Before turning freelance 13 years ago, I was the book review editor at The Press. I received many press releases then; as a freelancer I have often done stories based on hard copy or email press releases.
There is a fine line between sending a press release too early and sending it too late. Too early and the assigning editor loses it in the pile on her desk or in his back emails. Too late and the editor can’t get someone to do the story to make the section deadline.
There are a number of sections in the newspaper printed early (for example, our local Your Life section for Sunday is printed the Wednesday before, which means stories must be done the Friday before that) so press releases must arrive early enough to accommodate those deadlines. Our Saturday Religion section must have stories turned in by Tuesday night at the very latest, which means stories must be assigned the week before.
So, first, figure out which section of the newspaper you’re targeting and find out when the section is printed. For the sections printed daily, such as Region/Metro, the A section, Sports, and Business, early press releases are nice but not mandatory. These editors and reporters are used to working on a quick deadline. Still, give them a few days before the event you’d like covered.
I suggest sending a press release two weeks before an event you want in the daily, and three weeks ahead for sections printed early. If it’s an especially big event, send it four weeks early and follow up with another release a week later, then another. Follow up on all press releases if you don’t hear anything. It’s best to do this via email, which means you’ll need to find out which editor or reporter to email. Most stories and mastheads now contain email addresses for reporters and/or editors.
The assigning editor must have time to assign the story and the reporter must have time to write it, which means contacting you for an interview, doing the interview, arranging art, and actually writing the story.
Website may be a different story, seeing as a website can post whatever you send. But websites also have regular reporters who write stories, some based on press releases.
Magazines? They work 2-3 months out most of the time so you’ll have to send way early. Local magazines and newspapers often have an events calendar that you can use, usually for free. Send your even notice to the most appropriate calendar (Religion, Book, Cultural Arts, etc.), making sure to put “Calendar Item” in the message field or on the envelope and address it to the appropriate person.
Email or hard copy press releases? Both work, but you have to get them to the correct person at the newspaper or magazine. I tell people they can do things one of two ways:
1. Send a press release to the newspaper and hope it catches the eye of the right editor, or the editor you send it to has time to consider and assign the story. The benefit of this is that you go right to the newspaper and the editor you want. The downside is that press releases get lost amid the chaos.
2. Contact a freelancer you know, who can then ask the publication about a story. The newspaper (hopefully) trusts the freelance to give them good story ideas, which the editor can then assign with a few keystrokes. (Something like, “Good idea, Ann. Please write the story and get it to me by . . .”) The benefit is that there is a known writer offering a story that she’s willing to write for that editor. The downside is that you’re not going right to the newspaper itself.
While I haven’t specifically addressed radio stations and other forms of media, the same principles apply: send early but not too early, search out the appropriate person to send it to, and follow up.
Your publisher will likely submit your book for review to some people and magazines. Just because they do doesn’t mean everyone will review it. It also doesn’t mean every review posted will be a positive one. That’s the nature of book reviews.
So why bother?
Because people notice. Maybe some people read online reviews. Maybe they don’t. But most people notice whether a book has 0, 15, or 400 book reviews. And that tells a potential reader something right away. It tells them whether or not people are reading the book.