Looking at Promo

Christina Phillips asked her readers about promo, what we like and dislike, what we do, and what we think works. Since I’m me, my answer got way long, so I’m posting it here instead.

I enjoy some promo activities and dislike others. I generally don’t do the ones I dislike. 🙂

I like blogging, but I post only when I have something to say. I don’t appreciate it when other people post lame whatever just to fill a slot on their schedule, and I won’t blather about what I had for lunch just to get something up on a Monday. I know people who can come up with interesting, useful posts on a regular schedule — and envy them bitterly [rueful smile] — but I’m not one of them and I’m not going to waste readers’ time if I have nothing significant to say.

I have a LiveJournal under my pseud because my publisher has an LJ community and encourages us to sign up for days to play host. I’ll grab a day when I have something new coming out, but don’t try to appear regularly otherwise. I don’t have a gift for entertaining a bunch of people online all day long unless I have something specific to talk about and a relevant theme, and if I haven’t had anything new out recently, well, that sort of leaves me with tap-dancing and birdcalls, neither of which I’m good at. A lot of the other writers do stunt writing, where they call for prompt words from readers by a certain time, and commit to having one or more ficlets posted using the prompts by the end of the day. I’ve done that once or twice, but I suck at it and would usually rather do something else. [hides under keyboard]

I like doing raffles, and have found that an effective way of keeping a decent number of people showing up in comments all day is to give a ticket in the hat for each post a reader participates in. So if someone answers three trivia questions, tells me who their favorite historical pirate is, and posts a cookie recipe (or whatever I’ve asked for that day) they get five tickets in the hat. That draws much more traffic than just saying that each person who participates in some way that day will get a ticket.

And about raffles and other give-aways, if you’re giving away a copy of your new book, people who are participating won’t buy your book until after the contest is over, because they’re hoping to win a free copy. After it’s all over, disappointment can nullify the excitement and anticipation built up by your promo activities, and cause them to put the book on their wish list and maybe buy a copy whenever, rather than running right out after the contest is over. Giving away something else encourages people to sign up to win something from your backlist, or a gift certificate, or whatever swag you’re offering, and possibly also buy your new book, which you’re promoing the heck out of. 🙂

And giving away a gift certificate, even five dollars’ worth will let someone buy several of my stories, so it’s a nice prize but not a huge expense to me. And someone who’s a dedicated fan and already has my whole backlist can participate and use the gift cert. to buy someone else’s stories; I don’t mind at all extending the benefits to someone who supports me so much that they already have everything I’ve published, and if they buy someone else’s books with the prize, that just spreads the good fortune around.

I don’t do MySpace or FaceBook; I’ve heard too many bad things about them, and I don’t need an iffy timesink.

I don’t Twitter — major timesink.

I have an author’s topic over on The Phade, in their Manhole area, which is dedicated to m/m fiction. It’s a fun place to hang out, with people who really love the kind of stories I write, but it’s not so busy that it’s a huge timesink. A number of reviewers hang out there, and I’ve gotten several reviews from Phade people since I signed up there, which is way cool.

Being a Romancing the Blog columnist drove a surprising amount of traffic to my blog, considering that RTB is mostly het and I’m an m/m writer, but that was a nice gig, even overlooking the fact that I just love being able to blather on about whatever. ;D RTB is on hiatus right now, but I’m hoping the new owners do fire it up again soon, and decide to keep me on. [crossed fingers] Note that I have no idea how much of that traffic actually resulted in sales, but even just blog traffic is nice to see.

I have a set of GLBT Bookshelf pages and I get some blog traffic from that site. There are buy links from my story pages to my publishers’ buy pages, but I can’t tell how much purchasing traffic originates there. Building my pages also forced me to expand my HTML skills; I got a good book on the subject and did some experimenting to get my pages looking decent, and learned a few things.

I have a web site which I swear I’ll do something with some day soon. [hides under keyboard again] Doing the GLBT Bookshelf pages means I’m that much closer to being able to do something with my web site besides having a mirror blog sitting on it, in all my spare time. 😛

Part of my problem, though, is that so far I’ve only published short stories (and one novelette) and I like writing different characters and even genres so I don’t have a built-up body of information for any individual set of characters or fictional setting. I don’t have any major works which lend themselves to the kind of “bonus material” people like seeing on web sites. I have free sequels available to three of my stories, but they do perfectly well as pages on my WordPress blog. There are some things I want to pull out of the blog pages and put on the web site, like my list of publications, and the freebies, probably add to my bio, that sort of thing, but mostly I want to be able to give people cool bonus material. I have a novel in process with my publisher at the moment, and some more stories in the works set in the same universe; once that’s up and running, there’s other info I’ll be able to give — character bios, info on how the magic system works, background on the fey and various other beings the boys run into, that sort of thing. At this point, though, I feel like so long as I can manage with just the WordPress and its pages, I should keep it at that level, rather than expanding to a full web site (which would be skimpy anyway) just to have a full web site.

I haven’t done any swag because I don’t have anything to put on that kind of item. Again, all I have out so far are short pieces, none of which had an individual cover. Cover art is a primary focus of swag items, especially the cheap ones like bookmarks; I’m hoping my novel will have a great cover which will lend itself to that. [crossed fingers]

And recently (just yesterday, in fact) I signed up with Goodreads as an author. Still trying to figure out how that works — if you’re there, come say hi! I’m not sure what the noticeable effect will be (any comments from other writers who actively participate there?) but there are folks on Goodreads who’ve already put my work up and have done some rating and reviewing and such, so I’ll find out whether it helps to have an active presence there, however much time I can give it.

Wow, looking at all this written down, it seems like a lot. [blinkblink] I guess it sort of creeps up on you, a bit at a time. And some things require regular tending — like being an active presence in the blogosphere — while others are very intermittent, like my RTB gig, or maintaining my GLBT Bookshelf pages. That’s another factor when deciding whether to do a certain type of promo: can you invest the time to set it up and then mostly leave it, with just periodic attention, or is it something you’ll have to carve out a regular block of time for?

Honestly, though, I think the best promo when you get down to it is good word-of-mouth, and a lot of it. If you count that in, it seems promo will eventually start feeding itself, as though there’s some critical mass of talkative fans which, if you can achieve that level, will ensure that you’re going to expand from a decent audience to a really good one. The trick is getting to that critical mass, and making sure that your fans, however many or few there might be at any point, have stuff to talk about. Which comes back to writing great fiction, and ensuring that you have a fairly steady supply of it appearing. Awesome writing is what it’s really all about; with it, you’ll have other people promoing for you once some target number have tripped over your work, and without it, all the frantic promo a single writer can do won’t help.

It’s all about how you invest your resources, whether time (to do things yourself) or money (to hire people to do things for you.) I think we can all control money spent, because it’s money and there are bills to pay and that number at the bottom of the check book. Time can get away from you, though, if you don’t watch it just as carefully. There might be all kinds of promo activities you enjoy, and they all might even be productive, but if you take up all your time doing promo at the expense of your writing time, the wheels are going to grind to a halt eventually. Finding a good balance here is key, and any uncertainty should be awarded to your writing time.

Angie, still trying to find a good balance

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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.