I think authors can learn a lot from each other, particularly about marketing and promoting their books. Authors with several titles under their belts have already seen and experienced many things that new authors haven't yet gone through, and they have a lot to share. With that in mind, today's post features an interview with Sheila Lowe, the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis, 2nd Edition and a recent novel, Dead Write: A Forensic Handwriting Mystery, published by the Signet imprint of the Penguin Book Group. As a veteran author who writes for a major NYC publisher, I think Sheila has some great words of wisdom for all up-and-coming authors.
- How much help did your publisher give you in the marketing of your book?
These days, publishers expect authors to do most of their own marketing. My publisher (Penguin) lists me on their site; they sent out notices of my book to reviewers (though this time they did not send out advance reader copies), and they distribute the book many places where books are sold, including Kindle. If I request a review copy for someone who has asked, they will send a book to that person. Apart from that, the success of the book is pretty much up to me.
- Did you hire a publicist, or did you work on marketing and promotion on your own? If you hired a publicist, what types of things did they do for you?
I do have a very low-cost publicist who handles book sales at my launch parties and some other events, and who also has arranged for some semi-local talks for me, some which actually pay(!). In the past I had a publicist who charged a monthly retainer plus fees for events. However, we weren’t on the same wavelength about what events or bookstores would work best for me.
- What types of marketing activities did you handle on your own?
I’m active in organizations in my genre, such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, as well as professional organizations. I attend conventions where I appear on panels, and meetings where I lecture. I send out bookmarks and signed custom bookplates to readers and to bookstores that want them. I write articles. Drop in book signings, as well as some scheduled ones. Speak at book clubs and guest blog. Because of the nature of my work as a handwriting analyst, I’m sometimes called by the media for comment when there are stories in the news where there are also handwriting samples (most recently, Tiger Woods), so that helps get my name out, too.
- Which marketing activities have been the most helpful in selling your book?
I’m still trying to figure that out. When I do, I’ll do more of it!
- Which marketing activities have not worked for you at all?
Scheduled book signings have very limited success, which I hear from other authors, too, even big name ones. Book store sales people have told me that signings don’t often generate more than 1 or 2 sales, and that 5 books sold at a signing is considered a huge success. This is probably less true at small, specialty stores that have a loyal customer base who attend everything they schedule.
- What was the biggest misconception you had before you started promoting your work?
That my (major) publisher would be helping me sell books. The sad fact is, the large publishing houses have so many authors and so few publicists that mid-list authors can’t expect much in the way of promo. I’ve heard it said that publishers expect their authors to use their advance for marketing, which means you don’t ever break even unless your books sell hugely. When I was with a very small publishing house, there was a great deal of personal help in promotion. Ironically, that’s how I got to move to a big house—the small publisher sent my first book out for review and it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, who called it “a dynamic debut.” That got the big publisher’s attention.
- How vital is social media such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to your marketing?
I’m not sure yet, but I think they are important, at least to some degree. I believe we create readership by selling one reader at a time until a book goes viral. I’ve heard it said that one happy reader represents five more. I don’t know whether that’s true, but if it is, I’d like to precipitate a very big sneeze!
- How vital is niche marketing to promoting your work? How did you identify and reach out to your book’s niche audience?
For me, it’s important because I’m well known in my field (handwriting analysis) and colleagues around the world read my books. However, the down side is, it’s a very small field. I need to reach out more to people in related fields, such as psychologists and lawyers, as my protagonist is a forensic expert. But then, my fiction books are psychological suspense, so they can be enjoyed by anyone who likes reading mystery.
- What advice do you have for new authors when it comes to marketing and promoting their books?
Have a marketing plan before you even look for an agent or a publisher. Write it out so they know you are committed to marketing and promoting the book yourself. If you do, you’re far more likely to get a book deal than a writer who expects to sit back while the publisher does everything. These days, that’s not going to happen. It’s probably even more true in non-fiction, but non-fiction is much easier to sell. There are some helpful books on writing book proposals that include great info on how to create a marketing plan.
About Sheila Lowe:
About Sheila Lowe:
Like her character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series (NAL), Sheila Lowe is a real-life court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in a variety of handwriting-related cases. She’s also the author of the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis, 2nd Edition, and Handwriting of the Famous and Infamous, and Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.