Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Authors are always on the lookout for ways to effectively market their books. This week and next I’ve asked two of my clients to showcase avenues they turn to that let readers know a new book awaits them.
This week Judy Christie, author of seven novels and five nonfiction books, fills us in on 2 promo ideas she’s used to good effect.
1. Judy, how did you connect with the Pulpwood Queen Book Club? How did you build off of the initial contact?
I was quite nervous when I first met Kathy Murphy (then Kathy Patrick), the exuberant head queen of the Pulpwood Queen Book Club, which has 550+ chapters in the U.S. and internationally. I had heard about her club, based in East Texas, an hour from where I live, and I attended a talk she gave about the power of story. Afterward, I introduced myself and, with a gulp, handed her an advance copy of my first novel, Gone to Green. I told her it was a Southern story, similar to some she had talked about that day, and she graciously took it.
I followed up when my novel released, and she invited me to speak at a small inspirational book festival she was experimenting with. I think she appreciated my helping her try that new event and has graciously invited me to be a featured author several times at her annual Pulpwood Queen Girlfriends Weekend. This event is held in January and draws several hundred very engaged readers and many well-known writers.
Through the years, Kathy and I have become friends, a reminder of how this writing business is really about relationships. An avid reader with an eye for books that become bestsellers, she’s devoted to bringing readers and writers together. I stay in touch with her, not just popping up when I have a new book, and I help to spread the word about authors I’ve met through PWQ. (For more on Kathy and the Pulpwood Queens, see www.beautyandthebook.com.)
2. In what ways has your association with the Pulpwood Queen been beneficial to your writing career?
The Pulpwood Queens keep me reminded of flesh-and-blood readers, real people who savor books. My relationship with them has enriched my life personally and professionally. As a writer, I have been renewed by coming together with hundreds of women who are excited about books. These readers remind me of the wonder of books and rejuvenate me on days when talk about changes in publishing tries to derail me.
In addition, these women show me that readers are as different as writers and that I need to know my target audience. Pulpwood Queens have bought my books and encouraged me on my writing journey, including inviting me to visit their chapters in person or via Skype. I’ve spent time with big-time best-selling writers such as Pat Conroy and Jamie Ford and met many great writers who have taught me a lot about writing.
3. How do you participate in the yearly convention?
The annual Pulpwood Queen Girlfriends Weekend is like a giant family reunion of readers and writers, and an author generally has to have a new release in the past year to be invited. This is not a stuffy, quiet gathering but a lively meeting of people who love books of all sorts and read like crazy. Kathy Murphy, a kind of Auntie Mame character, is the only person in the world who can get me to dress up in multiple costumes in one weekend. I participate as a waiter at the Authors’ Dinner, where writers serve dinner to a hundred or so readers, and I am featured on a panel where I discuss my book, followed by a book-signing.
Featured authors are expected to participate in the entire weekend, which includes a costume party on Friday night and the Big Hair Ball on Saturday. I’ve visited with Fannie Flagg while dressed as a fried green tomato, dressed as “reporter Barbie” for the launch of my series about a small-town newspaper and served readers dressed as Charlie Chaplin and a soda jerk. I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone and be willing to take a risk or two. (One of the things I admire about Kathy is that she takes risks, and when something doesn’t work, she tosses it and moves on.)
4. Thanks for those insights. Now, tell how you developed your relationship with your local Barnes & Noble.
I stopped by the store when my first book, Hurry Less, Worry Less, a nonfiction title, was set to release. I muddled through a conversation with the store manager, who intimidated me. Then I dropped off a copy of the book and set up a signing.
This relationship has taken years to develop, with my dropping off ARCs, calling to followup, asking to be on the events calendar, and delivering cupcakes and other goodies. I’ve worked on patience and not being pushy. I always try to let them know how much I appreciate their help. Many bookstores want to schedule community events, so I make myself available to help when they need me, such as teaching a writing class during NaNoWriMo or speaking to teachers during Educators’ Week.
I schedule an occasional coffee meeting with the Community Relations Manager to discuss anything coming up that I might help with and to let her know about my next release.
5. In what ways has that relationship been beneficial?
The best thing I’ve done with B&N is to launch each of my novels with a signing party at my local store. This creates buzz in the community, in the store and among my readers. I write a news release and send it to the local newspaper and send out invitations, generating publicity. I serve refreshments and give door prizes and draw 150 people or so.
A side benefit: B&N (and some other bookstores) offers book fairs for nonprofits involved with literacy, so I tie each signing to a fair, which helps local groups build their libraries and helps me give back to the reading community. (For more on Barnes and Noble book fairs, see www.barnesandnoble.com/bookfairs/)
6. What advice would you give to an author who wants to connect with a significant book club or a local bookstore?
Look for a book club in your region and connect regularly, not just when you want to talk about your book.
Start with one bookseller you want to build a relationship with. While I sign at a variety of places, including local gift shops that I personally ask to carry my books, I identified B&N, the biggest brick-and-mortar bookstore in our community, as the key place to sell my books locally. We no longer have an indie store and the local Books-a-Million rarely does events, so this was an easy decision.
Introduce yourself, no matter how nervous or busy you are and begin to develop a relationship, expecting it to take time. Drop by the store to browse (an easy assignment). Figure out how their “system” works. For example, at our B&N, the Community Relations Manager is the person who pulls events together. Getting to know her and trying to make her job as easy as possible was key in my overall support from B&N. We, too, have become friends and enjoy talking about books.
Attend and support events that aren’t all about you. Be an encourager, instead of a complainer. Be flexible. Be persistent and don’t take it personally if they don’t get right back to you. Learn how to nudge graciously.
Don’t make it all about you. I joined my local chapter of PWQ, and I’m a regular at B&N, even though I might get books cheaper online. If you’re not a fan of book-signing (who is, right?), volunteer to teach a workshop or say a few words and publicize your books at the same time.
Judy Christie writes fiction with a Louisiana flavor. A Southerner through and through, she loves visiting from her blog at www.judychristie.com and www.twitter.com/judypchristie and www.facebook.com/judychristie.
What is one thing Judy does that you’d like to apply to your book promotions?
Looking for book promo ideas? Here are 2 author @JudyPChristie uses. Click to tweet.
How authors can connect with book clubs or local bookstores to promote their books. Click to tweet.
All of this was great information. Thank you Janet for sharing this interview.
I didn’t know about B&N had book fairs to promote literacy. As a teacher, increasing literacy is a passion of mine. Judy’s tying a signing to the literacy book fair is a great idea and it’s one thing I would apply to promoting my book (especially since I’m writing for teens). The great thing is that perhaps I can find a way to get involved in the book fair before my novel is ready to promote. If I could volunteer in some way, I would be doing something I really believe in as well as laying the groundwork for creating a relationship with my local Barnes and Noble.
Thank you, Judy, for the wonderful ideas. 🙂
Thanks for sharing, Janet & Judy! I’m tucking these ideas away for future reference. I didn’t know B&N had book fairs, either.
Your mention of volunteering as a part of laying the groundwork for future interactions with B&N is a great one.
I haven’t done any book promoting yet, but I’m always on the lookout for ways others have done it that are successful. I love how Judy took a few steps of courage to get to know other readers. Yet again, you show us the importance of building relationships, not “user-ships” in this industry. Taking an interest in others can lead to natural open doors for promoting a book. But more importantly, it leads to genuine relationships.
When I get closer to publication, I’m definitely going to look into book groups in my region. We have a B and N in town. It would be good to get to know the store and those who run it better than I do now.
Jeanne, I appreciate your highlighting the relational aspect of Judy’s promoting. She knew it was important, but it’s extra nice when long-term friendships develop.
Thanks, Janet, for asking me to visit on the Books & Such blog today, and thanks Jeanne, Jennifer and Christine for your feedback. The friends I’ve made in each of these efforts are blessings. The book fairs are a great way to help your community; I think some of the larger indies (like Tattered Cover in Denver) do something similar too.
Thank you, Janet. 🙂
Sorry, Judy. I’m so used to typing Janet’s name.
Thank YOU, Judy. 🙂
Judy, thank you for calling us out of our introverted caves. 🙂
I love the examples you gave of dressing up and serving readers. What a unique and fun way to connect with others.
I appreciate your dropping in to comment, Judy. And thanks for sharing your experiences with us.
“Learn how to nudge graciously.” There does seem to be an art to it, doesn’t there? I don’t want to pester, but I also want to be heard, and sometimes it can take a few tries before someone truly listens. It all ties in together — relationships and encouragement and listening. Thank you, Judy, for great ideas and a terrific post!
Thanks so much. I don’t want to pester folks but do want to remind them. Once I got past the nerves, I’ve found book clubs and book stores to be such great encouragers. We all love books!!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
This was a buffet of great ideas. I LOVE the idea of an Author’s Dinner, and a costume ball. Of course, I love the idea of attention combined with showing off and dressing up. Biiiig shocker, there.
Mostly I love the relationships grown and the idea of not making about me (no, seriously, I mean that) because if it’s one thing I’ve learned on this writing journey, it’s to give. The greatest lessons I’ve come across and tucked away are the ones from multi-pubbed authors who treat me like a equally important peer, not a wanna-be, delusional minion.
I mean, yes, I can be delusional, but mostly that’s in the realm of “I can totally walk in these shoes”.
Giving … that’s what I love about you, Jennifer.
What Shelli said.
So many good points and ideas in this post! We have two B&Ns nearby (one is just over the river in northern KY), and I have heard before that they are willing to work with local authors but I have never taken advantage of the opportunity. However it’s on my list for the new “marketing-focused me” to look into, so thank you, Judy and Janet, for the encouragement today.
Diane, they are sometimes quite busy (like lots of folks in the corporate world) but once you make contact, they are very helpful. The book fairs are such a good partnership and benefit the community. We’ve helped build quite a big library for a local mission that tutors at-risk students, for example.
Diane, Judy is such a great example of being brave and plunging into the water–which might not be as cold as you thought it would be.
I am going to have to get over my shyness and my “not wanting to bug anyone-ness” Judy, I love that you’ve outlined here how to so so with grace and kindness. It makes me think I can do this!
I have a question I think all authors waiting to be published wpuld like to know. How many books did you have out before you asked a store if you could do a signing? Were you afraid at your first that no one would come?
Thanks for sharing here today 🙂
Hi, Angela: I asked my local B&N if I could do a signing when my first nonfiction book released and have gone back each time for 14 books now!. At first, I feared no one would come but I send invites to friends and family, who are thoughtful with their support. Seed the crowd when you sign locally! 🙂 When I sign out of town, I pray the right people will show up — so that even if it’s only a handful, I feel as though it’s the right number. Also, I find that if you offer a short, free workshop on writing or a free handout, cake or cookies and door prizes (which I provide myself), you can usually turn a scary signing into a party. I also try to go to signings when I hear about them because we have to encourage each other, right?
Judy, I would add to your response that it also helps if you give a talk on a topic connected to your book, including how you did research for your book. People love a chance to sneak a peek behind the scenes. You get additional people attending if you add value, be that food, give-aways, a reading, a talk, a demonstration.
Awesome, thank you both for responding. My wheels are already turning with ideas. Someday! 🙂
Thank you for this helpful advice – great for a first time author to know when approaching new relationships in publishing.
Great information. Thanks Janet and Judy for sharing how to build relationships with readers and bookstores.
Wendy Paine Miller
Thanks so much for sharing these ideas, Judy! One of my favorite parts of the publishing journey has been visiting local book clubs and connecting on Skype. It’s so rewarding to engage in discussions about my stories and characters. Funny timing for me, reading this because two minutes ago I was talking with my neighbor and she was letting me know her book club wants to read my latest work.
I loved your ideas and your point about being an encourager!
Wendy, thanks! Aren’t book clubs fun? There are so many enthusiastic readers who love to read and talk about books. Skype or FaceTime is an easy way (and free) to connect. My only bad experience with it was when we did a test call in the a.m. when the room was bright but had the “meeting” in the evening. The lighting was off, and I looked ghoulish. 🙂
Crystal Laine Miller
This is so timely! I monitor a Christian writing group and the marketing aspect had become a problem. I was delighted to see this addressed here with good advice. (And of course, linked it.)
Looking forward to reading more on this topic. It’s such a fine line to walk in this area.
Thanks so much to both Books & Such and Judy Christie!
Crystal, I’m glad the blog post appeared at a serendipity time for your writing group.
And I must add, the PQ readers love Judy! Her books are uplifting and bubbling over with chunks of daily wisdom hidden between the bookcovers.
Kay, thanks for a peek into the PQ reader side of the equation.
Thanks, Kay! What a delight to see your name pop up here! The PWQ have become such good friends; as you know, they’re a loving and fun bunch of readers. Crystal, I’d love to hear some of the steps your writers’ group takes as it deals with marketing challenges. Happy day!
Fabulous information. Book clubs and book store signings intimidate me a bit. Thanks for the great tips.