(Clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib has just seen her eighth novel published in seven years. ASKING FOR MURDER is the third book in the series featuring advice columnist/psychologist Rebecca Butterman. Roberta is also wrapping up her year of service as president of National Sisters in Crime.
Let’s all welcome her to Murderati!)
Roberta: Thanks for hosting an "Asking for Murder" blog tour stop at Murderati. And no, this is not a post about marital aids! But I did ask my husband, John Brady, to help me out. He wrote a post for my tour last year that was very, very popular.
Before I became a published mystery writer, I had a practice in clinical psychology. As with most businesses, I knew I needed to market my services as a therapist in order to fill up my caseload. I was a whopping dud in the marketing department. Advice from my professional newsletter suggested that psychologists pack up a nice picnic lunch and visit nearby physicians to chat about the kinds of people they might refer to your practice. I would have died before I brought a sack lunch and a marketing pitch to a doctor’s office.
John: In the beginning, she thought marketing a mystery meant the husband attending conferences with the wife and passing out peanut butter cups.
Roberta: It worked pretty well for Alex Matthews!
John: I couldn’t picture standing around with an apron and a basket of candy. But seriously, my entire business career was spent in marketing and advertising. I thought I was going to be Roberta’s marketing guru. Turned out that in just a short time Roberta has become a true marketing dynamo — and she should be helping me!
Roberta: You see why I married him? John loves, loves, loves "best of" lists. Maybe we should do a top five best bits of advice here. Why don’t you start with telling them about the HR Challenge? We can all learn from that.
John: Tip #1 — Find a way to be interactive with your audience. My team at BLR came up with the idea of an interactive quiz for Human Resource professionals — testing their knowledge about different HR questions. We all knew it would be a good idea, but were blown away when the website got so much traffic it overwhelmed the server. We ended up having to shut it down for 6 months and rebuild the site so it could handle the traffic. Think about questions or contests that get people involved in your story.
Roberta: My biggest marketing coup had to be the article about the Golf Lover’s Mystery series that ended up in Sports Illustrated in 2004. The writer came out from Philly to do a four hour interview. The next thing we knew a NY photographic team was in our Connecticut town shooting photos of me looking very fierce in a salt marsh, a cemetery, and the sand traps at our golf course. From the outside, this might have looked like a lucky break. It was! But it came about because I doggedly sent emails and my own books to every contact I came across in the gold world. Tip #2 — exploit your niche(s) and be generous with review copies.
John: Publishers are mostly interested in promoting the folks they have given the big advances to, so if you want to succeed, you better get good at promoting your own ventures (shameless self promotion: here’s my new website ) Tip #3 — Pay attention to every contact, every person you meet. They might be able to help you — if you can find the common ground of mutual self-interest.
Roberta: Tip #4 — I’m going to piggyback on that one and call it something bigger — "networking." I didn’t know anyone in the business when I started, nor did I know about the mystery organizations. Once I did start to join, I began to volunteer. I’m naturally a little shy (I can hear John laughing), so it works better for me to have a "job" rather than to try to work the room. (Maybe I’ve gotten a little carried away, serving this year as prez of SinC.) It sounds corny, but the more you offer to other writers, the more you get back.
John: Tip #5 — Choose your marketing weapons carefully. At first Roberta bombarded me with marketing ideas for her series — advertising in magazines, renting email lists, taking directory listings, paying for a spot at conventions, going to far away conferences to speak at her own expense, West Coast tours with other authors, etc. Sure, you can justify any marketing expense if you think in terms of selling a certain number of books (but realistically, if you count only her mass market paperback royalties, that means selling a LOT of books). A better approach is to try to get free exposure, either in the mass market or a targeted niche. If you can get on a local TV news show with a local angle, you will reach thousands and thousands of people who will be delighted to learn about you. A favorable mention in an influential mystery blog might not reach as many people, but the folks who learn about you tend to be mystery buyers. So in conclusion — save your promotion money. Instead, try to hit some doubles and triples with free media that you have cultivated. Here’s an example from this weekend (please ignore 10" commercial).
Roberta: That was loads of fun — one last tip. Send the radio or TV show host talking points, and then make sure you know how to answer your own questions!
John: I’m proud of Roberta’s marketing transformation. As I say to a lot of people, if she weren’t such a good mystery writer, she could be the marketing director of Penguin.
Roberta: Ha ha ha ha. And thanks again to the folks at Murderati for having us over.
Read more about ASKING FOR MURDER (Berkley 2008) here.