Industry Insider Interview:Marketing Up (and Through) a Storm




With my next release, Beneath Bone Lake, on the horizon, I’ve been wondering how the current economic climate might affect efforts to promote new books. To find out, I contacted Erin Galloway, Manager of Marketing for Dorchester Publishing and asked if she’d be willing to share her answers to a few questions on the blog.

CT: Thanks so much for stopping by Boxing the Octopus, Erin. We appreciate your willingness to share your considerable knowledge of the book biz. First of all, could you tell us just a little about what is it you do for Dorchester?

EG: Colleen, thank you very much for having me at Boxing the Octopus. I am the Manager of Marketing for Dorchester, so my main job is to promote our novels to readers. I do this through consumer advertising, email marketing, content on the Dorchester web site, in-person promotion at various conferences and conventions, and through publicity pitches to various online organizations and print publications.

CT: How would you say recent economic trends have impacted your efforts? Have you and the terrific team at Dorchester come up with any creative ways to generate buzz without straining the bottom line?

EG: The internet is a goldmine, especially in today’s economy. While we will certainly continue our print advertising, we are going to be very targeted in those efforts in the future. Print media tends to reach a more finite audience whereas the internet allows for endless possibilities. I have been carefully cultivating relationships with bloggers and web sites for some time and it is times like these that those relationships will prove invaluable.

CT: Most of us have been hearing stories about reduced print runs and weaker sell-through percentages. Are there any particular authors, books, lines, or subgenres that are defying that trend, and if so, why do you feel this type of product has been especially successful?

EG: The sad truth is our economy is indeed suffering and thus the book industry is suffering as well. The weaker sell thrus are a result of the tremendous slow down in the economy for the last half of the year through the holidays.

And, if the economy wasn’t causing enough of a problem in the marketplace, this difficult situation helped create a major disruption in the distribution channels for both books and magazines. In January, two major magazine wholesalers—Anderson News (ANCO) and Source Interlink (who, combined, represented roughly 50% of the magazine distribution market)—separately announced plans to charge publishers a 7-cents-per-copy distribution fee, effective February 2009. The magazine publishers announced they would not comply with the price increase and as a result, Anderson News, who also controlled a major portion of the wholesale mass market book distribution, did not survive and closed. This loss dramatically altered current print runs. You should know that all publishers are working daily to regain ANCO’s distributions to minimize the negative impact on the affected retailers. In some cases, the wholesalers have already worked out interim and long-term arrangements to ensure the continuation of product into those markets.

And yet, it is important to note that romance as a genre is bucking the downward trend. In a difficult time people need escapist literature even more to allow themselves time away from the stresses of everyday life. Romance provides that escape and relaxation. While I do think this year will be a difficult one for books, I have been heartened to hear from booksellers that romance is not only selling, it’s selling well.

CT: Finally, what advice can you offer authors in working with their house’s publicity/marketing department? What can we do to make your job easier? And is there anything you wouldn’t recommend, either because you’ve found it ineffective, overly expensive, or too time-consuming to be realistic?

EG: More than ever I think it’s really important to think about what audience you are targeting and marketing properly to that audience. If you are an established author with a solid reader base, is there any way you can expand? As a matter of fact, you are a great example, Colleen. We know you have a very established reader base and that romantic suspense readers are loyal to you. In order to introduce you to a new audience, we sent a special promotional mailing “introducing you” to the top bookstores of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. We wanted to seek out new readers that enjoy a good mystery (and some suspense) but perhaps were not yet familiar with your work.

I think it’s very important to communicate with your in-house publicist what audience you want to target and what your goals are. Once you have established that you have a framework for a plan. There may be specific blogs or web sites you can pitch to be featured on. Some places may offer you the opportunity to write a guest blog. Have you received any emails from reviewers saying how much they enjoyed your book? Write back and say thanks and feel free to politely ask if there is a way to be included in their site newsletter or in a guest blog. As long as you do so in a nice respectful way, it’s okay to be a little shameless when it comes to self promotion!

Think long and hard about where you are going to spend your money this year and do not spend it on any marketing and promo items if you don’t have specific targets in mind for them. If you want to print a thousand bookmarks or excerpt booklets, carefully consider who you will distribute those items to and how. Confirm with booksellers, librarians or conference organizers that they will be willing to distribute your materials or ask your in-house publicist or marketing team if they could use these items. It’s okay to order some extra items for unexpected opportunities that come up along the way, but ensure you have definite distribution channels before investing your money.

CT: This is all excellent information. Thanks again for taking time to tell us a little about your work and what authors can do to work with, rather than against, the publishing/marketing/sales team!

EG: Thank you so much for letting me join you and I wish all of you out there promoting yourselves and your books the best!

Note to BtO readers:
Ms. Galloway will be popping in as time permits to respond to questions and comments left here, so please feel free to leave a note. And please feel free to share a link with anyone you know who might be interested in the discussion.

Comments

Christie Craig said…
Hi Erin and Colleen,

Thanks so much for the post. The business can be tough and it's always good to have information to help us promote our work. I am especially happy to know that romance is doing well.

Thanks...

CC
Anonymous said…
Erin,
Thanks for the informative post. I do you have a question...do you think that ads on places like Facebook or Myspace (both can be costly, I think) are a good idea?

Thanks in advance!
Anonymous said…
Nice to meet you Erin (and Hello Colleen!).

Great blog entry! I do have a few questions and really appreciate the opportunity to ask.

What is the most effective form of author self-promotion that you see working right now?

Are there any examples that you know of where authors have effectively tied in "subject matter" within their books with effective marketing?

What type of marketing really doesn't work?

How do you feel about an author hiring her own PR firm to work with your marketing efforts? Does it even help?

Many, many thanks,
Diane
TJ Bennett said…
Thanks for the great information, Erin. One of the challenges I have found in marketing is reaching actual readers where they hang out. You suggest the internet is a great tool for marketing, but readers are becoming pretty jaded about author promotions, IMHO. Are there any particular reader sites/blogs that encourage authors access to their reader groups that you would recommend cultivating a relationship with? I'm thinking of sites like All About Romance or Dear Author, for example.

Thanks!

TJB
Judythe Morgan said…
Very informative and timely blog topic. Thanks for coming up with such great questions, Colleen. And, Erin, thanks for the concise, honest answers.
Does the current trend mean that authors looking to break-in are out of luck? What do you suggest the unpublish do (besides write a very good story) to build their platforms?

P.S. I tried this earlier and it never seemed to go though. Sorry it appears twice.
Tracy Madison said…
Thank you Colleen and Erin for this great post! I'm always interested in learning more about promotion. :)
Vicky said…
Thank you, Erin and Colleen, for a great post. Erin, you said the web is a great tool for marketing efforts. The number of social networking sites seems to be increasing exponentially. How effective do you think MySpace and Facebook are in creating awareness for authors? What are the Pros and Cons? It occurred to me that the interactive aspect is more likely to appeal to consumers (as opposed to passive consumption of print ads). Any comments about using Twitter as a possible marketing opportunity(e.g., creating awaressness)? Thanks in advance!
Anonymous said…
Hello Everyone,

This is Erin; forgive me for not having a blogger ID. Colleen thank you againf or having me. I'm going to respond to several of your questions and hopefully get back again later in the day as well.

Regarding Facebook or Myspace, I’m not convinced that advertising on either of these sites is the best bang for your buck. While you can hit a wide variety of people, both sites seem to charge a premium for that privilege and for the most part people go to these sites to make connections. If you want to make a connection you probably aren’t interested in products being advertised. On the other hand, if you are surfing the web and looking up information on authors and books you may be more open to clicking on an ad for a book that catches your attention.

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Hi Diane,

The most effective form of author self-promotion I see working now is the “personal approach.” We have an author that personally contacted several hundred bookstores last summer. She contacted each store, provided information on her book and explained why she felt her book would suit their readers. It was extremely time consuming, but it paid off. She went from a virtual unknown to the New York Times list almost overnight. In our current economy the personal touch matters even more. If people are going to spend their money they want to feel very connected to and very confident about what they are purchasing.

In terms of tying in “subject matter” that’s very hard because we’re talking about fiction. Yes, most novels require a great deal of research, but it isn’t always information that can be marketed easily. Probably the best way to connect subject matter and promotion is to interest the media (even if it’s a local newspaper or radio show) in the facts behind your work of fiction.

Right now I’d be leery of most print advertising and lots of glossy promo sheets. There are always exceptions to the rule (such as advertising in Romance Sells – that is a good investment), but it’s very hard to measure the worth print advertising and you are not connecting personally with readers. And readers don’t tend to keep glossy promo sheets around. Emailing the same information in a newsletter is a lot safer. Readers can save the email and refer to it later or keep it as a reminder to buy the book.

Hiring a PR firm is an individual decision. If you are comfortable investing a significant amount of money and would prefer someone else handle most of your marketing, it may be a good option for you. However, if you don’t have a lot to invest and you want to be more involved in your own marketing, it probably isn’t worth it. And trust me, your in-house publicist or marketer really does care about your success. If you are feeling adrift or like you need some help, ask her or him for advice and info – we’re always happy to help!

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Hi TJ,

You’re right, it is getting harder to keep readers interested. I really think it’s a combination game now – finding the best combination of sites and networking opportunities to reach readers. Your web site is number one and from there it’s up to you. If you are comfortable on Facebook, develop a network there and then email those people with occasional updates and encourage those folks to tell their friends about you. Offer them opportunities to get involved in promoting your work through a buzz campaign or by winning an ARC or book. Very targeted, reasonably priced advertising on Dear Author, ParaNormalRomance.org, etc. (especially if you have a very sexy or eye catching cover) can also be useful.

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Hi Judy,

I don’t think that new authors looking to break in are completely out of luck, but it is a difficult time as readers are more careful about spending money on something they haven’t tried before. The most important thing an unpublished author can do is write a terrific story and maintain a web site. A great story shows you have the talent to be part of this business and a web site demonstrates to a potential editor that you are serious about investing in your future in publishing.

~Erin
Gerry Bartlett said…
Hi, Erin,
Thanks for giving us the benefit of your experience! What do you think of videos? The professional ones can cost big bucks and homemade ones seem to be pretty generic. Are they worth the time and expense?
Gerry Bartlett
Teri Thackston said…
Thanks, Erin, for all this information. It's so helpful to get the advice of a professional.
Teri
Amanda McIntyre said…
Thank you for this post! This is a topic that is timeless, regardless if you are unpublished or seasoned. I agree that people need/seek that escapeism in reading, so true.
Your insight and input, Erin, is really helpful!

Amanda McIntyre
Anonymous said…
Dear Erin,

Thanks for the awesome, detailed response.

I do have a few follow-up questions regarding the author who personally contacted several hundred bookstores. I'm really curious about this person-to-person marketing because it is such a HUGE time, money, and energy investment.

* Did she do this in person, by phone, or by mail/email? Did she send/leave any marketing materials, or was it simply a meet-and-greet?

* Did she target independents or big chains? Was her goal to meet/email all the employees in the store or just the manager?

What this approach seems to imply is that bookstores are still hand-selling novels. Yet, when I am in a bookstore (Borders or B&N), I'm alone in the aisles. It's just me and rows of books. If I go to the information desk, they can look up titles and authors, but that is all.

Maybe the real emphasis here is getting bookstores to order multiple copies of your book?

Thanks for all your insight,
Diane
Jo Anne said…
Erin, thanks for being with us today and for sharing your ideas and experience of marketing in these tough times. I am, as yet, unpublished, but have been around long enough to see thousands of dollars of marketing 'paper', bookmarks, cover postcards, etc., end up in the trash (although I think bookmarks may be worth the ego stroke). :-)

I have to agree with the personal approach. Networking creates energy, which creates excitement about a product. That's what it's all about. And an appropriate web presence, of course.

Good info. Thanks. And Colleen - thanks for bringing Erin to us today.
DeAnna Cameron said…
I'd just like to add my thanks to the pile, too :-) These are great questions and answers. I focus on book marketing a lot on my writing blog, so I hope you don't mind that I've linked to your post...
Thanks again,
DeAnna
DeAnna,
We're always happy for links to the blog!

Erin,
Thanks for all the terrific additional info, and thanks to everyone who's stopped by with questions.

Diane asked about marketing targeted to nonfiction aspects of the novel. I started out writing historical romances, several of which were set during very specific events in U.S. history. To promote one book outside of the usual venues, I hired a publicist (at great cost) and consequently appeared on a number of national and regional radio programs as an "expert" on the event in question. Although the book was duly hawked by the hosts, there was a disconnect between my activity and the efforts of the sales force, partly because of my failure to plan far enough in advance. With low order-in, the book sold out of stores and out of its print run within weeks, but the publisher didn't choose to do a second printing. As a result, my efforts were largely in vain and the money wasted.

Moral of the story: Anything you plan to do like this you need to get going about nine months (not three months, as I did) in advance, and you need to be certain your publisher's on board. You also need to have a heart to heart with someone, probably through your agent, about the real-world likelihood of getting a large enough print run and ship # to make your efforts feasible. My agent did advise me against spending the $, but I was too inexperienced at the time to understand that she, and not the publicist who was making $ off of me, had my best interests at heart.

Some books are going to be niche books with a small, devoted readership. All the promo $ in the world won't make these books into mega-bestsellers.

I also learned that people who love Civil War history won't necessarily be caught dead reading a book with a clinch cover - no matter what's on the inside.
EmilyBryan said…
Colleen--Thanks so much for having Erin here. She's a fount of useful info. I have to echo what I'm hearing about the personal touch. If I have a choice of products and I feel a connection to one over the other (the shopkeeper knows me, my friend recommended the place, etc), that's the direction I'll go.

I think it's back to business basics for publishing. Recently I did a 50day/50blog tour and while it was mentally exhausting coming up with fresh material every day, I loved meeting so many new readers. Whether it will sell books remains to be seen, but I found some new friends in the process and that's always a win!
Gemma Halliday said…
Great info, Erin! As disheartening as it is to see books sales decline, it's nice to know romance still has a fighting chance in this economy!

~Gemma
Hi Colleen and Erin,

Great information. I'm always interested in how best to promote. I was wondering how the economic climate was affecting promotion and sales. I've found the Internet a good place to promote, especially guest blogging.

Helen
Anonymous said…
Hi Gerry,

I think a book videos or trailer can be a good tool if used properly by someone who understands a video’s strengths and its limitations. It’s unlikely that a book video will immediately inspire a reader to run right out and buy a novel, but that video will give a reader a reason to stay longer on an author’s web site, poking around and seeing what else the author has to offer. If well made, a video will also stay in readers’ minds and when they see further marketing and promotion for that book, they may remember the video they saw. My feeling is that when used in conjunction with other marketing, a book video can be very useful, but as a professional book video is expensive to produce, I always advise authors to consider all marketing options before investing in a video.

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Hi Diane,

I believe the author I mentioned earlier used different approaches for different stores. With her local bookstores it was, of course, easier to make in-person approach, but with other stores, she wrote personal letters and some she contacted by email and others at various conferences or conventions. She generally focused her efforts on store managers or community relations managers. This was indeed a huge investment in time and energy. I will say that she was quite focused, truly contacting stores that she felt would be worthwhile—either because she knew of them through other authors, obtained a list (which you can often do through your publisher), etc.

I still believe bookstores can have an impact on how books sell. You are correct in that many stores do not have the time or staff to personally hand-sell to all readers. It’s an unfortunate but true fact. However, in stores with romance experts (which Borders has) or in independent bookstores that heavily focus on genre fiction, you will still find booksellers who truly care about a particular genre and want to give their readers the best information possible. It’s booksellers like this that stay on my ARC list. I love sending ARCs to booksellers that write back to me to say how much they enjoy a book and that they will tell their customers about it. It is indeed helpful to have a store order multiple copies of your book, but even if they order only a few to begin with, if a bookseller feels strongly about a particular title and it sells well for them, they will often order more.

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Hi Jo Anne,

I am with you on the bookmarks! I actually have a collection of them, so I am living proof that readers love bookmarks!

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Hi Emily, Gemma and Helen!

Great to see you all here today! Looking forward to seeing some of you at RT next month!

~Erin
Anonymous said…
Everyone,

This will be my last post today, so I just wanted to thank you all very much for your comments and questions. I enjoyed coming to the blog to chat with all of you today.

Colleen,

Thank you so much for having me on Boxing the Octopus.

Take care and I wish all of you the very best with your writing and promotions.

~Erin
Carol Ann said…
Awesome nterview - very enlightening! Glad that romance is still a staple during difficult economic times.

Carol Ann Erhardt
Anonymous said…
Erin and Colleen,

Thanks so much for your generous, detailed answers!

You ladies rock.

Hugs,
Diane
Thanks, Diane, and to everyone else who stopped by.

And thanks especially to Erin for shedding a little light on concerns important to writers at every level!
June Shaw said…
How interesting! Thank you so much for all of the insider's info, Erin.
hi! late to the game but enjoyed the interview and thanks Erin for the enlightenment! look forward to seeing you at PASIC!
Tambra said…
Hi Ms. Galloway,

Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us.

I'm happy to hear romance is doing well despite the economy.

Best,
Tambra Kendall
DebStover said…
Thank you Erin & Colleen. We've all been concerned about the distribution breakdown, and I really appreciate this information. Most book buyers for the major chains tell authors at conferences that the only publicity they pay any attention to is what comes from the publisher. Anything generated by an author is meaningless and goes into the garbage. Other than personal contact with booksellers and readers, is there anything we can do to boost sales of an individual title ahead of its release? Thanks.

~Deb Stover
http://www.debstover.com
Great interview, Colleen! I am heartened to hear that romance is bucking the trend. I know that I've seen an increase in readers contacting me and saying they were happy to be lost in a book.

I had a release this month (March), which got caught up in the whole distribution/ Anderson News mess. I don't know what it's going to do to sales overall, but I'm happy to see that the books have gotten to Walmart (not just mine but March releases in general).

About videos: I usually do them (or have someone whose better at them than me) do them, but my goal is not selling. I do videos to give readers something cool to do on my website. I take the approach that my website will be found *after* the reader has read the book and wants to know more; so I try to keep it as informative and up-to-date as possible. I want them to come back again and again to see what's new and find a few things to enjoy.

Thanks again! Erin in the bomb.
Of course that's supposed to say:

"Erin *is* the bomb."

Darn blogger.
Joni Rodgers said…
Weighing in better late than never (I was driving home from Florida yesterday) -- just wanted to add my thanks to Erin and all who participated in this great discussion.
wordtryst said…
Thank you Erin and Colleen. It's a relief to know that romance is holding its own despite all the doom and gloom.

Author marketing is very time consuming and its hard to tell if your efforts are having any effect at all, or to quantify any effect you might discern, so I was glad to find some signposts here about the things I should focus on and the others that I should just let go at this stage. Very informative, very timely for me.

Liane Spicer
What an incisive post. I really appreciate the look inside the business side of writing from one of the pros. Thank you!
A beautiful and enlightening post.

JJ
Nancy J. Cohen said…
What useful information. Thanks so much for sharing!
Valonia said…
I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Ann

http://racingonlinegames.net
So glad you're here, Valonia. Thanks for your comment!