I’m not a salesperson. I don’t even like to think about business or money. If I did, I would have stayed at a law firm and pulled in a lot of dough.
I love to read. I love to write. I love to talk to readers about the books I’ve written. But I also appreciate the absolutely true fact that it is only because there is a “business” side to the business that I am in the enviable position to do what I love.
These days writers are unavoidably pulled into the sales and marketing of their books. Some writers enjoy it. I once heard a writer talk about his drive to “move units.”
I also know writers on the other end of the spectrum who resolutely refuse to think about anything other than the writing of the books. I confess that I find this view tempting. Unfortunately, that “strategy” often leads to this:
So what’s a writer like me — neither diva nor salesperson — to do?
I thank my readers — a lot — because they are the ones who give me a career.
I truly believe that word of mouth is the most effective advertising. I still believe that readership can grow incrementally. In a business that increasingly searches for the one-time out-of-the-gate phenom, I want a career like Michael Connelly’s, Harlan Coben’s, Lee Child’s, or Laura Lippman’s — each book getting better and better over the course of years and decades.
That kind of career is built on support from readers. No, not just support. Love. Like, serious wind-beneath-my-wings love. Like, this cat and this dog kind of love:
Last year, to thank my most loyal, loving readers for early support, I promised a “mystery gift” to readers who pre-ordered my novel, 212. The gift was a 212 keychain and a signed bookplate — not much, but a small token of gratitude. My awesome readers not only sent the book into the top 100 on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but also earned us a little shout-out in a Wall Street Journal article about author giveaways.
The article was headlined, “How Authors Move Their Own Merchandise” and featured authors who were “becoming more and more involved in the nitty-gritty of moving the merch.” One writer (not me, thank God) was described as “approximately as shy as a Kardashian,” and said, “I have four children to feed. I wish I had the luxury of not being tacky.” Another (again, not me) had a book reading at a sex toy shop.
Hey, wait a second! My cute little keychains were a personalized and organic way to say thank you. Tacky? Nitty gritty of moving the merch?
Suddenly I felt like Tom Peterson, an electronics salesman who used to run TV ads in Portland, boasting “Free is a very good price!”
Well, it’s about three months before the launch of my new novel, LONG GONE.*
Once again, I’m trying to find a way to thank my awesome readers, but my publisher and I are really struggling with the best way to do it.
Are pre-order incentives “tacky?” Are they so common now that the book gets lost in the noise? Or do readers enjoy being invested in the early momentum? Are they just for loyal readers, or do new readers jump in too?
And what’s better, a little giveaway or a raffle? Would you rather have something small like a signed book plate, or a chance to win something big? And what should the something big be? Something generic but expensive, like an iPad? Or something personal, like dinner together at Boucheron?
And because this blog post is on the topic of raffles and give-aways, your thoughts on the lofty questions above will enter you into a raffle for a signed copy of 212. Act now, and I’ll throw in a 212 keychain! “Free is a very good price!”
*Tom Peterson would be ashamed if I mentioned his name in this blog post without also including the following information: You can pre-order your copy of LONG GONE here.
It is always fun when anyone has a giveaway. I especially like giveaways of ARC's as I love getting to read books before anyone else. That's my favorite give away. Also love it when authors give away t shirts DVD's etc as it pertains to the author. A true fan tho:, loves anything and everrything!!
Sadly, those articles are (usually) written by jaded media and marketing people who THINK they know middle America when they're not a part of it. Do what you want. If the readers like it last time, they'll like it again. Will they keep something for ever and ever and hand it down to their kids? No, but it's a fun thing to do. 🙂
I think smaller, personalized items would keep the focus on the book and the people who buy it to read it, instead of buying it to earn the chance for an iPad before returning the book.
Dinner at Bouchercon is great, personalized gift — although it wouldn't work for those who aren't attending or aren't in the St. Louis area.
"Sadly, those articles are (usually) written by jaded media and marketing people who THINK they know middle America when they're not a part of it."
This. A thousand times, this.
I'm all in favor of giveaways–but the primary thing I recommend authors give away is their time. You obviously get that–you interact with and talk with your readers. That said, I think there are probably even more things you could do to connect with new and existing readers, especially in the swaths of the country that don't necessarily have easy access to bookstores. I'm thinking of online tactics like Q+As, virtual signings, etc.
I see "stuff" giveaways as a good way to increase your audience with new readers in specific venues, especially Facebook. But giveaways don't sell (lots of) books–they do, however, drive brand awareness. And the keychain was brilliant in this regard.
Of course, I'm a marketing person–not jaded, thanks very much, though, and firmly rooted in flyover country (read: don't work for a publisher 😉
For me, personal is better. An inscribed copy of the book, dinner with the author, etc. It doesn't matter if it's small….but if it's something generic and there's only a slim chance at "winning" it, I'm less likely to respond. In the end, I would be more likely to pre-order to support an author that I know I want to read than because there's an incentive for me to do so. The incentive is just a nice little extra perk.
I would rather have something small, inexpensive like a bookplate. If it happens to be personalized, score! Bonus! I can start an author bookplate mini scrapbook! You shouldn't break the bank giving things away. I usually buy ebooks as opposed to DTBs…hence the bookplate scrapbook until they find a viable way for authors to add an autograph page. I hear they're working on that.
The idea of a personalised bookplate is lovely, and the keychain too. I think expensive but impersonal gifts, i.e an iPad would get people in but isn't very relevant. I admit I'm a book geek, but I'd love something like an autographed bookmark, or a chance to get your copy signed, something that is actually relevant to literature and the book in hand. It doesn't have to break the bank, but an 'extra' makes the experience more special.
Maybe it's because I just did my taxes, but I'm feeling especially aware right now of the costs of small giveaways. By the time one pays for the giveaway itself, the administration of collecting addresses, and the postage, it's a fairly substantial cost.
Last year, I did get one email saying, "I can't believe it was only a keychain," which had me wondering whether I should have just had one or two big gifts, but then I really would feel like Tom Peterson. I'm glad to know that most readers enjoy a personal touch.
"Last year, I did get one email saying, "I can't believe it was only a keychain,"
Or, for Chrissakes…some people are just never going to be happy.
Wouldn't miss an opportunity to read her books. And I received the keychain last year and loved it. Love Alafair and her blog. Very nice author.
Hey, thanks for the above comment (and high compliment) but, just to be clear, I was not the author of said comment, though I agree with every word 🙂
I liked the keychain. It was a perk. Would have bought the book without it. The perk I appreciated most was your web cast where we could ask questions and see you in real time answering them. Now that is some personal time. The prize in the cereal box isn't a major seller for me, but I take it as a thank you from you. Don't spend too much on those thank you's though. I would rather that I know you are getting a fair share of the book price as well as the independent book store getting one, too.
IMHO giveaways related to an author's forthcoming book are a fun announcement and I enjoy getting them. It isn't about cost, rather about being a clever "keepsake". I still have an assortment of keychains, pens, stickynote pads from Sue Grafton and others that continue to remind me of books I enjoyed. Continue to do what worked for 212. -Lola
The keychain and bookplate was a good idea. These things must be within reason, and a personalized bookplate is rather ingenious. It makes it personal, obviously, and makes the hardback less likely to wind up in the secondary market, because of it.
An iPad sounds too gimmicky to me these days, and might actually be flagged as spam if you email it to a mailing list of your fans. "free ipad" is sort of an internet joke. The dinner limits winners geographically but is a nice idea.
The bookplates and a keychain or similar seems best. Even bookmarks. I usually use old concert tickets, stubs, and so on because I donate many books to the library and like to hide a little souvenir inside. They may get thrown away, but part of the love of books for me is traces of the previous owner.
I have always wanted to have a raffle, where everyone who buys a book by an author is entered – the winner gets a phone call from the author. The prize is not too expensive, but for a real fan – priceless.
I liked the keychain because it was mine and I wasn't in a contest with a hundred other people to not win a iPad or kindle. If I like an author, I'll pre-order their book regardless, but the small tokens are nice perks. How about a refridgerator mangnet? bookplates are good. Little stickers to place on my nook would be nice. Again, sometimes it has nothing to do with the perks, but rather liking the author's work.
Like most of you, I think the small, personalized keepsake is a nice touch. I would never vote for a big single prize for one lucky winner. That said, I wonder if this sort of thing really has a significant impact on presales. I long ago preordered Long Gone, without any thought as to whether there might be some sort of premium offered. I think most of your loyal fans are likely to do the same, Alafair, and I therefore wonder if it is worth the time and expense to do the giveaway. An offer of a premium is not likely to garner many preorders from those who are not your current readers, and we current fans probably need only some cheerleading by you via FB and your newsletter to jump on the bandwagon. BTW, I'm looking forward to an announcement of the Long Gone tour this summer.
I always thought refrigerator magnets were a nice giveaway item, because the reader (and everyone in the house) looks at your name several times a day.
Thanks for all this feedback. I've got some ideas cookin' as a result.
Carl, I've already posted some dates on my website. Seattle's there!
Any giveaway is great and if it's autographed, all the better.
I am one of your old readers – old because I'm ready to retire age wise and also old because I was at M is for Mystery when you appeared for your very first book (and you haven't aged a bit). Virtue is its own reward and so is reading your books. However, Americans do love "free stuff" — you might tie in long gone with lower gas prices and give a gas card (I remember when fifty cents worth of ethyl took you places far away).
Ah! to be in a class with Connelly, Coben, Child, Lippman, Burke… This is the stuff dreams are made of.
If it's a "Thank You" for pre-order, book plates/postcards/bookmarks signed and dated are great since not all of your readers will be able to get to one of your author events. I liked the magnet idea as well, or maybe a pin. Along the line of fun stuff like the keychain, author Kim Harrison gave away keys for BLACK MAGIC SANCTION. Since one of her characters was to be imprisoned on Alcatraz, the keys had book title, release date and her website imprinted on one side and on the other, the word Alcatraz and the cell number. I like raffles for personalized copy of the book. The iPad-type raffles aren't personal enough for me, unless there's some specific link to the story or character.
A thought about the idea of dinner at Bouchercon or some other event; that might be better for a charity auction type of thing. As much as I love the idea, as a raffle, it could leave some readers feeling left out since not all of them would be able to attend the event or happen to live in the area.
I'm not currently planning to be at Bouchercon this year, but if I won a dinner with you, that might give me the extra nudge I need. Oh, and an iPad would be cool too because there's probably no way I'd ever buy one for myself. A signed copy of 212? That would be great too. See? I'm easy.
(I think the 'get something if you pre-order' idea sparkles. Just for the record.)
By the by, that cat & dog video was adorable! And watching that commercial? I immediately remembered the "Cal Worthington and his dog, Spot!" commercial tagline from when I lived in CA in the 70's and 80's. When it occurred to me that I couldn't think of any recent commercials with that local yokel sticks-in-your-head quality, it's because we DVR so much and fast forward thru the commercials.
I love the idea of a signature or dedicated time with the author. If something more is offered, it should be useful (like the keychain), something that tells people around you that you are a fan of said author. Next chance I have to meet you, I hope you'll sign my 'EAT, SLEEP, READ" t-shirt! In the end, however, I don't need an incentive to read an author I already enjoy.
We're being totally honest here, right? No hard feelings? 🙂
I don't like giveaways, at all. I don't like the chance to win something big for advertising a certain book, for liking some author's fan page, for pre-ordering a book. I kinda get the "mystery gift" thing as a reward, I'd like to get one, but I don't like it to be part of advertising. Let me tell you why. When I like an author's books, when I like their voice, their story, their characters (or their blog, in some cases!), I'll go and like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. If I really like their books, I'd naturally pre oder them (I don't, really, since I live in Brazil and read on my Kindle, so, the books arrive automatically anyway, I buy them when I'm about to read). And, believe me, when I really like an author, I'll recommend them to everyone, their mother and her lover. I'll RT about their newest release and tag them on my Facebook status because I'm SO excited about this book. And that's something I do because I like them, because I want to share these nice stories with my friends, because I want to know the latest about new releases, not because I'm getting anything for it.
To me, offering something is like saying, "Hey, if you like me, I'll give you a prize." That's just like buying a friendship to me. I don't need that. I don't like that. I won't try a new author because they're offering something for me to buy their book or like their page. I barely notice all the RTs from my timeline. When I want a new author, I look around blogs, ask friends, then I check the author's website and make my own decision. I don't care about free gifts. I don't care about expensive (or not) prizes. I don't think I'd get into these things for a darned Unicorn. Okay, for an Unicorn I would, but nothing else. I don't need to get anything to recommend and advertise my favorite authors, and getting something won't make me try or like new authors. To me, when someone's offering something for people to like their page, I already cringe and think, "So, they can't get likes by their talent, they have to "pay" for it?"
I'm sorry if that's too honest, but that's how I feel about it. When I love something (and you can ask Allison and Toni and they'll confirm), I'll yell to the world about it, and I really try to persuade everyone I know (and like, know of) to like it, too. I'll do that on my own, no payment required. Now, if someone wants to give me a gift to thank for it (not to make me do it or incentive it), I'm all for it!!! 😉
I think small giveaways are fine, but my favorite thing you did was your live webcast at your home. I still remember it and thought you handled it so well, and we got to meet Duffer! You made a lot of reader friends with that. I am looking forward to your new book.
I love the personal touch. Receiving an autographed anything is a treasure for me.
No gifts required, Alafair. Just keep on writing great books. (But I'm now thinking of fridge magnets for when my book comes out next year.)
I don't believe that it's bad to offer an incentive to nudge someone to buy your book. No one's arm is being twisted, no one threatened in any way and the upside is that you might be introduced to an author with whom you'll fall in love for their characters, plots or writing style. No, this is not the equal of deciding on your soul mate, career choice or whether or not to have children, but it is a choice. An author has chosen to write and strive to succeed at increasingly higher levels with every book. Giveaway incentives are simply a tool toward that end. As if to say, 'Look reader. Here is my book and it's actually very good. Take a chance with me. I believe that you'll find it's a good read.'
So, Alafair…keep on writing and keep on promoting in any way that you see fit.
I think different things work for different people in different situations. (How's that for a firm hop on the fence?)
I've given away Kindles to help promote friends' books which were coming out, and included other books in my newsletter, and I know that some people went and bought those books, because they emailed me about it. The Kindle/Nook giveaway was just a little extra lagniappe that they might happen to win, but it was the word-of-mouth from me about the books that helped more, I think. My newsletter fans know I'm not going to mention something on there to them unless I think it's really worth their time. (I rarely do newsletters, so if I bother, they know I care.)
Secondly, a bigger giveaway isn't really designed to convert individual readers who've never heard of the author — they're really only able to maybe make people aware that a certain book is coming out on a certain date. That's it, really–that's all you can hope for from a bigger giveaway.
And I agree with CarlC up there in the stream: people who are already your fans just need to know about the book coming out. The ones who aren't fans, aren't going to care what the item is (unless it's something huge, which would be cost prohibitive), and then, frankly, if that's their attitude, they aren't buying the book for the book's sake to start with and won't likely read it or like it or help spread the word.
I think a thank you to fans is a nice thing, but I'm leaning more toward a free story as a thank you, or a free pamphlet of essays or something they can download on their computers/kindles/nooks, etc. Chats are fun, too.
Smaller things are also fun. I gave out Bobbie Faye "Shuck Me, Suck Me, Eat Me Raw" buttons and magnets for a while 'til I ran out, and I got mobbed for those at a couple of conferences. I ordered an extra batch just to send out to fans when they send an SASE for a bookplate, or when I'm sending out free books. (Well, I did 'til I ran out.) I kept having people ask me for the t-shirts, so I created some and put them up on Cafe Press (I don't make any profit on those–they're priced at what CP charges, I think.) In fact, two fans wanted different designs, so they got to include theirs on the page, too.
The thing is, for all the things that I've done, the bottom line is, nothing helps as much as people simply talking about the fact that it's out. Having other writer friends mention it on their FB page or newsletter is probably the simplest and surest way to get the word out to readers/fans who may overlap, or intro you to new readers. It's a favor that has to be asked/used judiciously, because you only want to recommend books you like to your own readers (much like with blurbs), but honestly, I think we're coming to a point where this is one of the simplest ways to cut through the clutter of marketing and get to the meat of the point: good book coming, pay attention. 😉
I haven't seen Tom Peterson in years. "Free is a very good price," indeed. I think that giving away a signed bookplate is perfect. You don't need to go over the top with an IPad or something expensive like that, especially considering that you already have a huge fan base that has pre ordered, "Long Gone."
Alafair, I sit firmly in the "No Gifts Required" camp.
I don't want to hurt anyone's feeling here, but when I've come home from a con with a bunch of little give-aways, they usually end up in the trash. I feel badly about it, because I've gotten caught up in the moment and grabbed "stuff." Stuff that I should have left for someone else. 'Cause really, all I want is the book. If I'm lucky enough to be able to meet the author and have the book signed then I am over the moon.
So, I guess if there IS a gift that I'd like it would be to win an autographed copy of a book. But I don't expect a writer to be giving these away willy-nilly either.
Personally? I think you're at a level with a sufficient number of regular readers that most of us are going to pre-order your book and don't need an additional incentive.
Super convo today – thanks for bringing it up, Alafair. I've done both – the mass entry giveaway, and the more personalized – this book, if I was sent a receipt, I sent the ebook of my short stories as a thank you. I like the mystery gift idea too. I worried myself silly over doing it versus the big giveaway. But it's been wonderful – I've met some new readers, and that's worth the price of admission for me anytime.
This is all fantastic. I liked the keychains I did last year because 1) I'd never had a thank you gift for my readers before, and 2) people can actually use an extra keychain.
People don't, however, need a drawer full of keychains. I too feel awful post-conference when I'm filling a trashcan full of giveaways I have absolutely no use for. This feedback has been great, and I think I've got a nice idea for a low-cost, but very sweet, thank you gift. (And Barbie, I agree with you: this is all a thank you. Readerships can't be bought.)
Thanks to all of you who mentioned the live webcast. I'll be traveling less this year, in part because of my writing schedule, and in part because I'm currently a close caretaker to the Duffer because of his ailing back (see my Facebook page for details). To make up for the reduced in-person travel, I'm going to be ubiquitous on the net. Details to come, but there will definitely be another live webcast, plus a bunch of other new stuff planned.
I have never bought a book just because and author was giving away a free gift. I do think its nice when authors give us readers a chance to get there autograph!!
Ok I feel really dumb. I just figured out that you don't actually have to be a published/established author to comment. I have missed out commenting on some really good blogs!!
Erin, If all we did was talk to other writers, we'd call it Tupperati instead of Murderati 🙂
Great topic, and very interesting feedback. I agree with everyone who's said that you write wonderful books that are reward and thanks in themselves.
And that dog/cat vid was delightful, but dangerously close to cross-species soft porn ;-]
Erin, welcome and glad to see you here. I write…for me…nothing published and more than likely there never will be, so I'm with you! There are a lot of readers, those trying to write, shop a MS, and published authors.
Alafair, the personal touches such as dinner, the web conference or a phone call for me are more of a great prize, rather than a thank you. Charitable donations for the purchase of the book would be an incentive for me personally to purchase an author I was on the fence about.
Autographs especially the book itself, but an autographed sticker to put in the book or the sticky notes that both advertise and remind me of a fav. author's thanks, especially if the top sheet is autographed and I can put it in the book; these things are wonderfully rewarding to a fan, IMO.
The best thank yous I've gotten were personalized responses to e-mails or Facebook messages I've send saying I really dig the book. It makes me feel good to know that you, the author, personally appreciate my patronage and I'm far, far more likely to be a repeat customer because of that than because of any bling you might send my way.
I've not bought a book for a give away. That said I had a moment (whilst scarfing down my uber strong coffee, delaying starting study readings) where I thought of the irony of a key chain with ' Long Gone' etched into it. Keeping track of my keys is one of the least developed skills I have.
As for branding in the long list of jobs I have done. I once worked at a pottery. Selling the pottery not making it. Anyway my potter boss developed a line of every day use, sugar, creamer, cups et al that could bear the brand of a B&B. The B&B would use these items in the guest rooms and have them behind the register when people signed out. The quality and practicality of these items meant they sold well. They also had the added benefit that any time someone used them they sparked conversations about the good time they had had on their holiday.
I think a give away that likewise sparks conversations could be a good lead in to discuss a book…or books. Although if you love reading you'll find a way to thread it into a conversation.
Case in point last night at my first Professional Practice class (Library Science) as an icebreaker we declared what genre/genres we liked (with a understanding that you can tell a lot about a person by what they read). Amongst this set of baby librarians there was a large amount of fantasy fans, with a vocal subset of crime/thriller fans.
I think we're going to have to meet for coffee and exchange some info. I love the chance to introduce people to Murderati. It's such a good gateway to everyone's work.
Must study…must study…
Woops, and yeah I think offering an i pad is gliding the lily a tad…little personalised stuff that reflects you and your book…way better.
There are a lot of persuasive comments above, for and against giveaways.
Either way, I find myself pre-purchasing the book because I've enjoyed the previous stories and can't wait to get my grubby hands on the next one. In fact, I'm probably a bit odd in that I tend to lean heavily towards the 'personal' touch of wanting to meet the author and thank them personally for their writing by supplying homemade cookies. If only work allowed me more time off.
I really wish that our blog software gave us the ability to hit a "like" button on comments because I like — nay, love — so many of these.
Zoe, cross-species soft porn is about right for the dog/cat video. It probably should come with a NSFW (not safe for work) warning.
And Catherine, you're right about the irony of a LONG GONE key chain.
Just for the special, tiny audience that might take the time to read this comment posted late in the day at the bottom of the page: I've been known to say that the full title of the book is "LONG GONE: not a Harlan Coben novel." (Because even I have, at moments, accidentally said Long Lost, which is, in fact, a Harlan Coben book. But Harlan rocks, so it's OK.)
Alafair, if I were feeling even a little bit articulate at the end of the first Monday of DST (someone just shoot me please), I would have said what Toni and Barbie said. But I'm weird (not to imply that they are) (well, Toni is) (a little bit) in that I am continually baffled by people who collect autographed books, let alone other mementos. I just want the book.
Obviously, reading these comments, I'm in the minority. Very enlightening. I will keep all this in mind for someday when I need to worry about marketing.
Alafair – Giveaways are great but at the same time I'm in the "I'm buying your book anyway – just let me know how to help!!" Need me to send my kids to the bookstore and place your books on the front table and bury everyone else's? Done. Get a posse of peeps to post on Amazon? Done.
I think there is a difference between retention of your current fan base and acquiring new readers. Current fans, hell, we just love to tell everyone what we're reading (shit, reminds me I need to post on my FB wall that Zoe is coming to town next week).
Mailing, postage – ditto on pain in the ass.
So… how about something that would be cool, not involve cash and truly is what readers want which is to chat with the author? For all of those who pre-order, they are invited to a one-hour virtual cocktail party at your place. You can give a webcam tour, let the Duffer participate and in general just visit. It's fun, cool and no postage required.
Alafair, back those many months ago when you were asking the kitchen cabinet to pick between the two alternative titles, I think more than one person said Long Gone sounded like Harlan more than Alafair. I don't believe I was one who said that, but I thought it and voted for the other one, whatever it was. I also was concerned about what snarky comments reviewers might come up with by using the title. Doesn't look like that has happened; so much for my predictions. Anyway, there's been sufficient time for Long Gone to be burned into my brain as YOUR book, not Harlan's. And now, thanks to Catherine's comment, we know that whatever (if anything) might turn out to be a Long Gone keepsake will NOT be a keychain.
First, I want to say that beyond selling books, I think what you did with 212 and are doing again is not only smart, but very sweet.
My opinion is that all readers should be rewarded, not that we need a reward for the reward of reading a great book! But, if you are going to do something, I think it's better to do something small for everyone.
But, that doesn't have to be something you buy. I don't know how you would do it, and I haven't had a chance to read the other replies, but just saying a personal thank you would be very rewarding to loyal readers. I do not mean you should sit down and write thousands of personal emails or thank you notes, ha!
Frankly, the book is the reward to me, and I don't mean a free book, but one I pay for. You don't need to do anything. If we follow you on here or FB or wherever, we will be buying your books and telling our friends about your books, and are rewarded by getting to read your posts.
Sure, I love to win ARCs at conventions, or free books. But, that's a different situation.
Having you to write books for us is one hell of a reward!
The random number generator has picked Kaye Barley as the lucky raffle winner. Kaye, if you happen to see this, please shoot me an email with your mailing address. alafair [at] alafairburke [dot com]. I'll try to hunt you down otherwise.
Pre-ordered. Looking forward to reading "Long Gone". Duffer's paw print on Author's page would be a fun touch.