Greetings from Marti Pieper in not-as-warm-as-you-might-think Mount Dora, Florida, where our temperatures have been in the thirties this week (if you live in Boston, please ignore this, as well as the fact that on some days, our temperatures have risen to the seventies). Whether sunning or shivering, I sometimes have the privilege of posting interviews with authors I haven’t yet met. Carla Rossi is one of those. But in the process of preparing this interview, I explored her website and found out that one of her novels highlights a protagonist named “Marti.” Clearly, we’re a match made on the page (if not in heaven).
In any case, I’m confident Carla’s fun, informative answers will provide authors and aspiring authors with some wise insights and information, and I’m delighted to share her thoughts with you.
Welcome, Carla. How did you get into writing? How many books do you have published? What are a few of your latest titles?
I wrote a poem in fifth grade that won a prize. I was hooked. I have four full-length books and several novella-length stories available. My latest book is Unexpected Wedding.
That title makes me want to read the book. How did you get your first book contract?
The old-fashioned way: write, edit, pitch, query, repeat. . .
What has helped you promote your books the most?
Short answer: I don’t know.
Other answer: I’ve hung out on Goodreads and held contests there. This always boosts my “want to read” numbers, but I don’t know if that translates into sales. I maintain a professional Facebook page and Twitter account and try to keep up. I stay active on the loops/groups of my writing organizations and participate when I can. Book signings have not typically helped my sales, and donating books to every organization, library, or raffle basket gets expensive. I have to choose carefully.
You made some great points there, Carla. What mistakes or wrong assumptions did you make with the marketing of your first book? Did those mistakes cause you to change? If so, how?
I first published at a time when there was no guarantee a publisher was going to spend any money to help promote your release. I was warned at workshop after workshop and meeting after meeting not to expect anything, so I didn’t. This was also at a time when social media was about to explode. Suddenly a website was yesterday’s news (though still necessary) and everyone was setting up a blog. I never assumed anything, but I followed the social media pack and set up everything that came along because I didn’t know what would work. I spent too much money on bookmarks and not enough money on things people really want to pick up off a table or find in a goodie bag. Let’s put it this way: I have no bookmarks or signed cover flats from a recent conference. But I do have three chip-clips and a pink measuring spoon I picked up at a major conference in 2007, and I still use them.
What’s the craziest promotional gimmick you’ve tried?
I don’t know that it’s all that crazy, but one year I joined with other authors to have a romance promo at a book store around Valentine’s Day. We spent a lot of money and had little initial return. It was well-advertised, but I don’t know if the chocolate fountain, bookmarks, or door prizes turned into sales later. It was an idea that looked so good on paper, but did not yield many visitors or interest the day of the event. Romance, candy, Valentine’s Day, increased customer traffic. . . . Why didn’t this work?
Hmmm. I love that idea, too, and am surprised you didn’t see more results. So what’s the funniest thing that happened during a promotional activity?
Not really funny, but if you don’t laugh about it. . .
Another author and I split the cost of a table at an author event where the keynote was a Food Network star selling cookbooks. Local authors of varying genres were asked to purchase space to promote and sell books to the hundreds of people who paid to attend the luncheon. A promising idea, but after the guests put down a nice chunk of change for a lovely hardback cookbook, they weren’t all that interested in the local authors. So basically we paid to hand out our candy to guests as they passed by our table in a long line to get their cookbooks signed—and to tell people where the bathroom was.
I would say that experience provided food (or at least recipes) for thought. You’ve told us about a couple of failed efforts. Is there something you did that really helped with marketing your books?
Recently I’ve been participating in Facebook parties with other Pelican Book Group authors. While the chance to win books and other prizes is usually what brings the attendees, I am certain I’ve sold books as a result of chatting with readers who may not be familiar with my work. I’ve been able to “friend” readers and make a connection through those parties. If four authors participate and invite all their readers/supporters, it’s easy to find the new potential readers who don’t overlap.
I also discovered that sharing what I’ve learned helps sell books. I spent years in workshops and conferences learning the craft of writing. There are a few things I now feel confident enough to teach others. People buy my books when I present because I come prepared and speak directly, candidly, and confidently about writing. They want to read my work to see if I practice what I preach or see if I know what I’m talking about. Sharing your craft tips and secrets will cause others to want to see how you did it—and making personal face-to-face connections is a “can’t miss” in marketing. Plus, it always feels good to give back to the writing community.
I love the idea of community as a means of book promotion—and so does CAN, of course. Did you see God open any doors you never expected in the promotion of your books?
Though events, online parties, contests, etc., often fail to yield instant results, I’m always amazed at the people I meet who pop up at another time and lead to another event. You never know what divine connection God has orchestrated with any person who crosses your path.
So true! What are your top tips for writers with their first book contract?
- Start your social media and other promotional activities yesterday. Don’t be caught snoozing when your first release date rolls around.
- Though number one is vital, please remember to build personal relationships while working your marketing strategy. I’ve heard over and over that readers will follow you on Twitter and “like” your Facebook page, but will leave you just as quickly if they’re inundated with “buy my book” tweets and posts. Take time to share other things.
- Writing and publishing is a small world. Authors, agents, and editors get around. Always be professional when responding on social media and organizational loops – you never know who’s reading.
These are fantastic, Carla, and so helpful. Thank you for sharing your work and your wisdom with us. I know all our readers will appreciate your solid advice.
For His glory,