I just returned from Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, a smashing success, thanks to organizer goddesses Robin Burcell and Cindy Sample and what looked like some graceful heavy lifting from the Sacramento area Sisters in Crime.
I love Left Coast Crime because it’s always so laid-back and friendly, possibly the most comfortable conference on the mystery circuit.
But this year there was definitely an undercurrent at the con, the same furtive conversation overheard repeatedly in dark corners of the bar, and it went like this. Have you done it yet? How was it? How many times have you done it? Have you told your agent you’re doing it? I want to do it but I’m afraid to do it… but should I do it?
Well, let’s face it, we’re all doing it, and some of us have been doing it for a while. I’m talking about e books, of course. Everyone was comparing stories, numbers, strategies, numbers, choices, numbers….
Because it’s the numbers.
Things have changed so much since I went to my first conference in 2006. Oh, the conferences are still wonderful, unforgettable experiences, so very good for so many things on so many levels. Let me just start with some non-business things.
For one thing, I get to get dressed. I even get to get dressed up, but just getting dressed every day is a miraculous thing. It makes me feel so professional and human. And because that’s such a treat I like to play around with it. This year I’ve been taking a belly dance class and I’ve discovered that they sell regular clothes – sort of – in belly dance costume stores, so I had some wonderful net-y sparkly things that other people seemed to enjoy seeing me in. But full-on costuming is not required: Kelli Stanley is never without her trademark fedoras (and this year some fabulous scarves and jewelry) and Bill Fitzhugh is always memorable in his berets – a little accessorizing is a great way to stand out from the crowd, express a little personality that gives a hint of your books, and help readers find you.
There is the sudden totally immersive social life – scary to some people but for most of us it’s a relief and a comfort and a total joy to be around people that just GET IT. There’s nothing anyone has to explain because we all do the same thing all day and night and we all feel exactly the same way about it and we can talk about it with people who really know but we don’t have to because they do know. And if we get a little crazy, and who doesn’t, once in a while? – what happens at a con stays at a con, and the family has your back.
And when we need to talk, well, there are no better listeners than writers. This year was actually a very weepy one; so many people had lost parents and spouses, others were struggling with or had just emerged from serious illnesses. But if you can’t break down sobbing in a dark corner of the bar with your brother and sister mystery writers, I don’t know who else you could do it with.
It’s also so wonderful to be around so many readers; they keep us honest and – well, they make me remember WHY I write, WHY it’s worth it to get to The End.
At a con writers exchange business information, they learn even more from booksellers and librarians; they get inspired hearing each other talk on panels (This year it was John Lescroat, the Guest of Honor, who gave me the inspirational ass-kicking I needed). Some of us teach and learn just as much from our students as they’re learning from us.
And in a business sense, I mean a book business sense, there are reviewers, editors, social media pros – unexpected opportunities come up for promotion. And you’re exposed to new readers. I taught a workshop that was maybe 60 or 70 people. I was on a panel for which there were about 25 people in the audience; I did another that was packed, easily 100 people. That’s some good exposure to potential readers, even though I know there’s a growing percentage of those readers who already know of me and my books, so in some ways I’m preaching to the choir.
In 2006, going to one of these cons was still one of the best ways to develop a following that would buy your books. You’d have to do a lot of them, and other appearances as well, but the theory was that you would build a devoted audience that would always buy your books, and that would be the core of a growing fan base.
But here’s where the numbers question starts to come in, in this new era.
This week I’m doing the new thing, a Kindle Select promotion on Amazon in which I am listing several books for free – a blast that gets thousands of books out there – not to my fan base, which theoretically already HAS my books – but to a whole lot of people who have never heard of me but who might become fans. Our Zoe Sharp and former Rati Brett Battles and I have teamed up with recent guest blogger Scott Nicholson, and thriller writers Mel Comley and Aiden James to further promote our giveaways by raffling off three Kindle Fires and some gift certificates on the new site Scott has built for this kind of promotion (it’s ebookswag.com, and you can click and enter the drawing for free with the button on the left of the page, and download all our free Kindle thrillers as well).
Well, first day of promo, day isn’t anywhere near over yet, and The Harrowing, my first giveaway, has already had over five thousand downloads. That’s five thousand new readers who actually HAVE the book – they’re not just considering it as I speak on a panel or as they walk past it in a bookstore – they HAVE it. (And to put that in more perspective – 5000 copies is a standard first print run for a lot of books! We’re talking ONE DAY). If people don’t read it all the way through – well, that’s my fault or their particular taste, but those odds are a huge improvement over pretty much any other kind of promotion I could do myself (not counting a big publisher push). And that’s just one day – we’re doing this giveaway all week (I’ll be offering The Price and The Space Between on Thursday and Friday) and the cost to each of us participating is less than the cost of one day at a conference. In fact I’d say it costs about a quarter of what one day at a conference costs.
This is the new model and the kind of economic reality we’re looking at these days, and it’s really making me think. I will never stop going to conferences. They’re life. They’re my inspiration, they’re my social life, they’re my way of keeping up with my beloved extended family, and they are great business. But these days there are ways of reaching readers that are book promo on steroids, and I wanted to at least broach the subject because this is what I’m seeing and that’s what we do here – we talk about this stuff.
So please check out ebookswag.com every weekday this week to take advantage of all the free books (including The Space Between on Saturday, still) and by all means sign yourself up for a chance at those Kindle Fires. And I’ve just noticed another Rati alum in the Top Ten Free Suspense along with Brett and me today – J.D. Rhoades. It’s a bonanza!
And tell me, authors – how do you see the promotional model changing? Are you more confused than ever, or is some of this making sense to you (and if so, please explain it fo the rest of us!)
And readers – how do you find books, these days? Are you into the free book promos? Has your bookbuying changed with e readers?