Wednesday, March 17, 2010

PROMOTION--An author's view

My guest is Historical Romance author, Lisa Cooke. It fascinates me how a former biology teacher, used to the *innards* of things writes characters so alive and vibrant. I love her dialog. I really enjoyed Texas Hold Him. I haven't read A Midwife Crisis, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm thinking her knowledge base will pair up perfectly with her fun characters.

Lisa's topic today is timely for both published and unpublished authors. Promotion. The value of it, the various trinkets authors use to promote their names and books. I'm looking forward to seeing the comments for this discussion.

I’m relatively new at this writing game. My first book, TEXAS HOLD HIM, released a little less than a year ago and my second, A MIDWIFE CRISIS, came out this January. I had no idea how much easier it was before getting “the call”. As pre-published authors, we all dream of that moment, sure that our trials and tribulations will end as soon as an editor recognizes our brilliance and buys our first book. Little did I know that the chaos was about to begin.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s extremely exciting, fun chaos, but chaos is chaos no matter how you slice it. I quickly learned the editing ins and outs, and my agent handled the contract issues, but no one told me how expensive all this would become. Yes, you read that right. Getting started in this business costs a lot of money. Contests, conferences, bookmarks, website, travel to book signings, book trailers…the list goes on and on. One of the biggest problems I’ve had is trying to decide what works and what doesn’t by way of promotion.

New York agent, Donald Maass, says it’s unproductive for an author to spend any money on promotion until she has 5 or 6 books out. But I have to ask, if you don’t do promotion, how will the reader know you have out 5 or 6 books? It seems to me that the author must do something, but when is enough, enough?

I have attended many conferences and writing workshops where all sorts of promotional items were distributed. I have bookmarks, ink pens, magnets, stuffed animals, bags of candy, key chains, cover flats, and many more items in totes stuffed in my closet. Right now, I have at least 5 book cover magnets on my refrigerator holding important notes. My writing basket has 10 or more ink pens with author names and book titles emblazoned in colorful letters.

And now, it’s time for the confession. I don’t know who the author or book is for any of them. AND I have never purchased a book because of a cool promotional item. There. I said it. Promo trinkets do not work for me. I know the idea is to get your name in front of the reader so when she goes to the bookstore, it’s familiar to her, but I don’t even read the magnet to see the author’s name.

What good is that doing her?

Based on my own reaction, or lack thereof, to promo goodies, I decided to do the basics. I have a website, bookmarks and some business cards. I attend conferences to meet and talk to readers where I hand them my bookmark in person. I know they won’t buy the book based on the bookmark, but my hopes are they’ll be interested based on our discussion, and the bookmark will help them remember who I am.

  • That brings me to my question for today. Have you ever purchased a book based on a promotional item? Do you visit author websites? What will cause you to buy a book from a new-to-you author?

The Midwife Crisis

Katie Napier is happy with her life as a midwife and healer in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. So why does her family suddenly decide she needs to have a husband? It’s not that she’s adverse to it, mind you, it’s just that by her estimation, men are more of a hindrance than a help. But she agrees to their plan to find a husband because for the purpose of having children. Unfortunately, each of her well meaning, though zany, family members finds her the man of their
dreams and now she has three fiancés!

John Keffer, a widowed doctor with secrets of his own, comes to town with is five year old daughter to set up practice and escape memories, but the locals don’t trust the outsider and continue to seek help from the healer they’ve known for years. John’s only way to gain their trust is to hire Katie to help him in his office. What he’s not expecting, however, is her request that he help her decide which fiancĂ© she’s going to keep. A task complicated when he finally realizes he wants to keep her for himself.

A MIDWIFE CRISIS is a fun filled romance that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips and a tug to your heartstrings.


After 25 years of teaching high school Biology, Lisa decided to tackle her first novel. It was, of course, abysmal, but the love of writing took hold, giving her a new goal in life. She wanted to be published by the time she retired from teaching. Seven novels and four years later, she sold her first manuscript to Dorchester Publishing four weeks after retiring from the classroom.

Lisa and her husband live on a 70 acre farm in southern Ohio with a Maltese who thinks he owns the place. She has two grown and married children and the world’s most perfect granddaughter, who also thinks she owns the place—though in her case, that might be right.

You can contact Lisa at or visit her website at


Mason Canyon said...

Enjoyed your post. I've never bought a book strictly based on promotional items, but I have checked on authors' books because of promotional items. What can I say, I collect ink pens looking for the perfect one. I do visit authors' websites and blogs and getting to know them through their sites has lead me to purchase books. The biggest draw for me to purchase a "new to me" author is through one of the following: the book cover and blurb grabs my attention, a read a review that interest me, or a friend who knows my reading taste suggests a book. The blurb above has my attention and I'll be looking for A MIDWIFE CRISIS on my next trip to B&N.

VA said...

I too have never purchased a book due to a promotional item. Though there is something to be said for the name recognition thing. I am guilty of reading an excerpt I really enjoyed, not writing down the title and/or author and then wondering which one it was. Drove me insane until I just started Googling keywords and found the book that was tickling my mind. Yay for search engines!

Why do I pick new authors? A multitude of reasons: trusted source recommendation, endorsement by an author I like (this gets a foot in the door, but see next point), intriguing excerpt, and passes the random page challenge for continuation of tone and style. I get jaded by books where the author has polished the first fifty pages to perfection and then the rest goes to hell in a handbasket!

I like reading new authors and hearing new voices. What I've really discovered is that there are plenty of good writers out there who just aren't my cup of tea - straddling all genres, including romance. But there is nothing like finding a delicious something different and allowing yourself to sink into it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lisa, Welcome to Over Coffee. Lots of hot coffee and tea, some lovely home made goodies, and a comfortable chair.

Yes, I've bought books based on reading a bookmark with the blurb on it. There's are friends of mine that make recommendations.

Now, of course, I always look at websites. Prior to blogging, I'd look at a few. Yes, I've bought books based on the blurb and excerpts on the website.

Oh, and I'm with you, I don't agree with Mr, Maas. I think in today's market, you HAVE to get name recognition so they know you wrote the first 5 books. That's how you build a readership.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Lisa and my dear Sia!

I loved this interview...because I'm at this point in my writing...working very hard to make the first sale...Oh and how nice to discover it only gets worse! LOL Well, I've come this far...guess I'll live to make it to the end and make the sale. LOL

I have to say...this was a refreshing interview...well done Sia!

For a new author...I'm thinking it's the cover that gets me to buy...or I'll buy from reading a review from one of my favorite reviewer well, an interview that the new author has done that makes me feel she's a person I would like to know better, so I know I'll like her book.

Such as this one...I like what you said and how you said it...I've marked your name in my buy list book so the next time I'm at the bookstore I go check out the name and see what books you write...then I buy one so I can see if I do in fact like the way you tell a story. And when I do...I buy more!

Best wishes in your career...BTW, I'm heading to the bookstore tomorrow ...just so you know...I'm buying this one based on this interview. ;-)


Tonya Kappes said...

High school biology?===you would have to BEAT me!!! I taught elementary and it about did me in. LOL!
I don't buy based on promo items. I will check out the author's website and read about the book.

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Mason--I follow the same basic steps you do when considering buying a new-to-me author. Cover-Blurb-then I read page one. If it doesn't grab me, I don't bother with page two. (Forgive me if this post shows up twice. I tried to post and things went sideways on me)
Thanks for stopping in

Lisa Cooke said...

Ah,VA--there's a reason those first 50 pages are often so sparkly. Contests! LOL. I know what you mean, though. It's obvious, sometimes, which books worked the contest circuit before they published. Those first 30-50 pages do shine ;-)
Thanks for commenting

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Sia! Thanks for inviting me today. I love meeting new readers and this sounds like a great place to do so!

Lisa Cooke said...

HAWK--Thanks so much for your kind comments. While it's true that insanity starts as soon as you sell, it's still a wonderful trip, and I'm enjoying the craziness to it's fullest! The main thing to remember is to ask/talk to published authors for advice. They love to give it and it's very valuable!
Thanks for dropping in

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Tanya--I loved teaching high school, but 30 years of anything is enough LOL.
Thanks for commenting today.

Christie Craig said...

Hi Lisa,

Great blog.

Like you, I've never once bought a book because of a PR item. And I think it's easy for new writers to over do, thinking they have to have the latest and greatest PR thing.

Do I do pens and such? Yes. I think PR items are good for two things. To give away to my fans. They are already my readers and this is just a way to say thank you. Second, to give away to people whose job it is to buy and sell books--book sellers and book buyers. I have book sellers ask me for bookmarks. I have one local bookstore that with every book they mail out, they slip a bookmark into the bag. Will that sell me a book? Maybe, maybe not. But I think it makes the book seller happy. And a happy book seller is more likely to buy more of my books next time it comes out, or recommend my book to a customer.

Elle J Rossi said...

Hi Lisa,

Great topic. I've never bought a book based on a promotional item and that includes bookmarks. How do I discover new-to-me authors? Mainly recommendations, such as the ones here at Sia's blog. I do check out the authors websites, book covers and such. I read excerpts and make my decisions based on that. I think blog tours are a fantastic and free way to promote yourself.

Word of mouth is another way. I love talking to other readers! When they are particularly excited about a book or an author, I'll give it a shot. I also love to recommend good books to others!

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Christie--Thanks so much for stopping in today! I can see how someone with your fan base (and awesome books!) would do more promo. You're so right about the booksellers. They are an extremely important cog in the wheel, aren't they? I've given bookmarks to booksellers too, but I should probably do more.
Hope to see you at RT ;-)

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Elle-- I often try an author based on word of mouth, though I have to be careful whose mouth I listen too LOL. I have a good friend whose taste is so different from mine that I actually worry if she likes one of my books ;-)
Thanks for commenting today

~Sia McKye~ said...

My writing group was discussing this a while back. The first 50 pages and the reason they sparkle were mentioned. There was also the suggestion of picking random pages after that to read.

Another way I've found good authors too, is looking at the commenters on not only my blog but other blogs. I usually end up on their websites. I've found some real gems that way.

Of course, I'm a blog owner, so I do pay attention to and investigate websites, not only for authors to read but to have as guests.

I think a lot of computer savvy people today do look at websites.

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi Lisa! Great interview, and the book sounds wonderful! And OMG, how refreshing to know I can finally release all my guilt over not appreciating promo items! I'll confess. Most of those things stuffed in goody bags at conferences never make it further than the hotel. I do a fast sort of all those bookmarks and set aside only those I want to investigate further (and it's never more than two or three). And once I've checked that author's website and made a go/no-go decision, those go in the discard pile as well. I have kept only ONE bookmarker, not because I will EVER read that author, but because it has a tassle, which is my preference in bookmarkers, so it is useful.

Same thing with postcards and coverflats. Who wants something that bulky laying around?

Like VA, I am always in search of the perfect pen, so I try them all out and might retain one out of them all, not because I like the author, but because I like the pen.

The candy is always nice, and will earn a second look at whatever it's attached to, but still, has never induced me to buy a book. Same with can covers, fancy paper clips, etc. For "stay in my face" value, I most often keep the pads of sticky notes with the author's name, just because I really do use a lot of sticky notes.

I read new authors because I see them on blogs I follow, see others recommending them, and then check out their websites and reviews.

I can see what Christie said, that booksellers might like having the bookmarks to send with books, but in that case, the sale is already made--it wasn't the bookmark that made the sale.

Good luck and continued success!

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Kat--thanks for dropping by today. I like the sticky notes too *smile*, but if promo is supposed to sell books, those don't do it for me either. I like Christie's view of it being a gift to your reader.(Of course, she has a bunch o' readers ;-) I'll ponder that concept a little more.

Lisa Cooke said...

Sia--I've often wondered how many readers are truly savvy enough to use the net for choosing their books. I do, but I think of my mother and her friends (who read like crazy) and none of them even own computers. I wonder how we're supposed to reach them?

~Sia McKye~ said...

That's a good question, Lisa.

Before I did as much with the computer, my local library had a supply of bookmarks. They stuck them in books you checked out. I found a few good authors that way. I always thought that was a neat touch.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I don't know, so maybe someone can comment on this, but don't book Clubs also send out bookmarks?

Janie Mason said...

Hi Lisa!
While the handy promo items might be saved and used regularly in my house, I don't purchase books because of them. What grabs me is a good blurb, but it has to be SHORT! I'm talking fits on half a bookmark. If I've taken the time to read the blurb (thus the need for it to be brief) and I'm intrigued, then I'll look for the book. But just because I kept an emery board doesn't mean I'll remember the author's name that's printed on it.

Marcia James said...

Hi, Lisa! Great blog post! As someone who presents author promotion workshops, I've done a lot of research on this topic. It's easy to want a print or logoed PR item to sell a book, but actually that's not its job. It's supposed to tempt a potential reader to check out the author's Web site. (A great Web site can be an author's most important PR tool.)

Here's the best way to think about it: A bookmark is like a resume. A resume will rarely get you a job. But hopefully it will get you a job interview that will get you a job. A bookmark (or keychain or pen or post card) will hopefully bring the reader to your Web site, which will hopefully convince your potential reader to check out your book's blurb and excerpt. A blurb and excerpt are more likely to convince a potential reader to buy a book than most any other type of promotion.

So a bookmark is just the first in a several-step PR process. The best way to have something in print that can lead in one step directly to a sale is to create an excerpt booklet or a first chapter booklet. You can produce these yourself or have them printed up. But obviously these are a lot more expensive to producing the same number of bookmarks.

As for figuring out the best way to spend your limited promotional budget and time, you can take a look at several factors, including: your publisher's PR support and book distribution, the format of your book (hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, e-book), your book's genre/subgenre (e.g., there are more online reader communities for paranormal romances than for contemporary romances), your technological and other skills (e.g., Can you design and maintain your own Web site? Do you have desktop publishing/graphic skills?), elements in your book that lend themselves to niche marketing, and last but not least: your personality.

Not every author is comfortable with doing every type of promotion. Extroverts like to do things (e.g. public speaking, power-schmoozing, booksignings) that introverts might not want to do. Authors comfortable with social media sites and Twittering can reach a lot of potential readers that authors intimidated by these things can not.

So by choosing those promotional options that work with your personality, budget, time constraints, and book-specific issues, you can narrow down what's best for you to do and let go of the rest, without feeling guilty about not doing more promotion.

Sorry for going on so long, but I absolutely love talking about promotion. ;-)

-- Marcia James ;-)

misa ramirez said...

I love your titles, Lisa!

I'm with you. I think promo trinkets don't do what we'd like them to do. It's all about exposure, in my opinion. Name exposure, title, brand, etc. But it's impossible to translate that exposure into sales.

I'm working hard to promote my new websites, Books on the House and Books on the House for Kids and Teens. What I've found is that it's been more challenging to get the word out to the younger audience, and/or parents of kids/teens, who would enter to win free books. BUT, on the other hand, the launch has been so phenomenal that I couldn't be happier. The only promo item I've done is bookmarks.

The internet is the best tool ever! Networking, as we've done with The Naked Hero ( ) has helped that launch, which ups our exposure, and the exposure of the books we feature. Same with Books on the House. We are already averaging close to 500 average daily visits, and that means the exposure authors are hoping for is materializing, and that's what it's all about!

(I'm with you, Marcia. Promo is a great topic!)


Saralee said...

Hi, Lisa!

I never bought a book based on a promo item either! Although a cute pad of sticky notes with an author's name on it does help with name recognition.

I "shop" for new authors at the library. If I've seen an author's name on a promo item, and then see the book on the library shelf, I might pick up the book to check it out.

But that doesn't mean a lost sale--if I really like a book, I'll buy it later, because the library wants their book back for some reason.

So for me, promo items do help, just maybe not in the way an author might expect.

And, I loved A Midwife Crisis! Can't wait to read your next book!


Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Janie-- I read blurbs too, but the cover makes the biggest impression, I guess. If it doesn't catch my eye, I won't read the blurb. Stupid, I know, since you can't judge a book by its cover ;-)

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Marcia--I was hoping you'd stop in LOL. Thanks for the great tips!

Lisa Cooke said...

Thanks, Misa--one of the great thing about the internet is that blogging, etc is free. That fits my budget perfectly :-)

Lisa Cooke said...

Hi Saralee--thanks for dropping by. I've heard others say they try out a new author at the library. Not a bad idea. I'm so glad you liked A MIDWIFE CRISIS. I had a lot of fun writing it.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Marcia, never worry about length here. You shared some great info.

Promotion is an important topic. Especially in today's market where publishers expect their authors to carry varying degrees of the responsibility of promotion. I've often mentioned that authors have to work as hard at building a readership as they did writing the book.

You'll notice, I didn't say THE BOOK. It' not JUST this book you want to sell, but your writing, the follow up books. When authors come on blogs and only talk about the ONE book, without sharing something of themselves, it becomes boring and hardsell. Good writing and personalities sell items. Just take a look at how some products are sold in the real world or on the internet. A good example is Progressive Insurance. The PERSONALITY of the *face/woman of Progressive has probably been the biggest drawing factor in getting people to look online for quotes or make a phone call.

Sad fact is, promotion and marketing money is in short supply. So, as with any tight budget, you have to look at getting the most effective form of promotion for your dollar.

I've done promotion most of my working life. I agree with *trinkets* being a STEP in an author's promotional platform. But you can’t say, okay, I did bookmarks, pens, magnets I’m done. I think you have to sit down and think about what you really want to accomplish. What’s your platform? Your plan? Like you mention, personality is a deciding point as too how you develop that platform.

Knowledge is power. Research; take advantage of workshops, such as you mention, Marcia. I’ve seen and met some very introverted authors who do an excellent job with promotion. On line, you’d never guess they are as shy as they are because they’ve created an online persona. We write and we create—it’s not difficult to do that. They’re approachable and take the time to say hi, or share something that gets people talking. They spend a few minutes several times a week following up on comments that come to their status comments on FB, Goodreads, MySpace. At conferences, they’re sitting there with their books and they smile. A couple I know have written down a few questions or thoughts to share with readers. They’re prepared.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Lisa and Sia, Great interview and good blog topic. A good rule of thumb is never spend more than 10 percent of your advance on promotion. So do as many "free" things as possible.
Like blog posts- :) If a website doesn't fall into the ten percent rule get a free blog. I print my own business cards and after 9 books made bookmarks this year. Yes, they are fun and a bit cheesy, but I can hand them to people when we meet- autograph them and hopeful it will make them seek out a book.

Good luck always!

Marcia James said...

Hi, Lisa! This is a fun discussion. Thanks for kicking it off!

I agree with Sia that promotion is about building the author's brand. One goal is to become an autobuy, as a recent article I read described. You want people to go into the bookstore and ask for "the latest Lisa Cooke book" vs. asking for the book by its title. As an autobuy -- as long as you keep your brand promise to your readers, they will buy your book sometimes without even bothering to read the book blurb.

Lisa's books are already on my autobuy list!
-- Marcia ;-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic...

I've never purchased a book based on a promotional item (and I own A LOT of books).

I do visit author websites - absolutely.

I've attended many writing conferences (I'm also a writer), and I've seen plenty of people handing out promotional items. I never keep these items - though I will bring home free books that look interesting.

As a writer, I admit that I don't even have business cards, much less promotional bookmarks, pens, or trinkets.

As a reader, I buy books in a "brand" sort of way. If I like one novel by an author, I'll read another... and another...

I also read cover blurbs-synopses, flip through print books - before purchasing