Marketing: You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

by Alafair Burke

…You take them both, and there you have … the facts of life.  (Sorry, I suffer from a condition scientists have labeled theme-song-monkish-itis, the only symptom of which is an insistence upon finishing a song lyric, especially when it comes from a 1980’s sitcom featuring Tootie, Cloris Leachman,* and, at one time, George Clooney.)

Ahem, onto my post: 

My girlfriends and I were on our fourth round of contract rummy on Thursday afternoon when one of them fiddled with her phone and declared, “Hey! RJ Julia is tweeting about you!”  Once I recovered from a momentary hallucination that I was famous, I asked for details.  Imagine my delight when I learned that RJ Julia, a fabulous independent bookseller in Madison, Connecticut, had tweeted: “Best freebie in an ARC mailing: a cute package of Nutella w/Alafair Burke’s newest.”

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am not one of those authors with marketing savvy.  Case in point: For Bouchercon a few years ago, I had bookmarks made for the giveaway table that featured these three fabulous photographs of my beautiful dude, The Duffer.  The text read, “The Duffer says Read Alafair Burke.”  I was very proud of myself.



Lee Child, unmatched for kindness, yet unflinchingly honest, took one look at my handiwork and declared me unfit for self-promotion.  For the life of me, I couldn’t see the problem.  Who, after all, could resist the Duffer?  “No one,” he explained, “and that’s the problem.  These sweet people who like mysteries about puppies and kittens will think you’re right up their alley.  Then they’ll read your violent, profanity-laden books and hate you for putting them through it.”

So much for my creative printing efforts.  Now my cards and bookmarks bear the typical book jacket images.

Contrast my high-effort bookmarks with the more recent, low-effort Nutella giveaway.  A few weeks ago I was in the Continental club at Newark airport, toasting a stale bagel, when I spotted a bowl full of these:

Not quite as adorable as a french bulldog who resembles Stacy Keach, but still pretty cute, right? As it turns out, my character Ellie Hatcher keeps a jar of Nutella and a spoon in her top desk drawer.  The galleys of 212 were due to be sent out to independent booksellers at the end of the year.  Lightbulb over the head, etc. 

Truth be told, I didn’t think of these tasty little treats as marketing – just a shared chuckle with the independent booksellers who have helped me over the years.  But I’ll take the shout out from RJ Julia as proof that, as marketing goes, this at least wasn’t an “epic fail,” as my nephew says.

The experience got me thinking about the little and big things we do to try to promote our work.  My high-cost, high-effort bookmarks apparently weren’t right; a snack-size trinket I first spotted in the Newark airport earned me some Twitter action.

As publishers cut back on advertising dollars and tour budgets, we’re all looking for personalized ways to thank our most supportive readers and booksellers while searching for a new audience as well.  Are you willing to share stories of your efforts, either successful or failed, high-cost or low?  Readers and booksellers: What efforts have you seen from authors, both good and bad?

(And, uh, speaking of marketing, if you enjoyed this post, please follow me on Facebook, MySpace, and/or Twitter.)

* Lest you ever doubted Cloris Leachman’s comic talents, watch this (but only if you don’t mind “blue”).

31 thoughts on “Marketing: You Take the Good, You Take the Bad…

  1. JD Rhoades

    My friend Bob Morris writes a really fun series of mysteries, each set on a different Caribbean island. (BAHAMARAMA, JAMAICA ME DEAD, BERMUDA SCHWARTZ, A DEADLY SILVER SEA, and BAJA FLORIDA). BAck in ’07 He managed to score a corporate sponsorship for his tour from Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, the primary ingredient in the Dark N’ Stormy, which Bob tells me is the national cocktail of Bermuda. And by sponsorship, I mean they gave him lots of rum with which to make Dark N’ Stormys for people who came to the signings.

    Sometimes I think maybe Bob knows something I don’t….

  2. toni mcgee causey

    I’ve done a lot of different things, some useful (certain blog ads), some not. Different things seemed to work for different books.

    But by far, the one thing that got me the most attention at RT two years ago was a throwaway idea I did just as a lark. It wasn’t cost effective, but I made a bunch of buttons (like the magnets below, but wearable) with the slogan that is on the t-shirt that Bobbie Faye wears all through book one:

    Shuck Me, Suck Me, Eat Me Raw
    with the URL for my site:

    People mobbed me for these. I’d put a few out on the goody table, and before I walked away, they were gone. People stopped me in the elevator and followed me back to my room. The cover models asked for them. (Major score.)

    I doubt it really won me a lot of publicity, but there was a surge in sales, and it was fun.

    [I think the Duffer needs to be biting down on the handle of a bloody knife, but I am warped like that.]

  3. JT Ellison

    The Duffer is adorable, so Lee’s advice was spot on.

    I’m not much for swag outside of bookmarks, but Toni’s t-shirt was definitely a winner. Your Nutella idea is great too. I’ve never figured out what would go with my books… maybe I should send out cases of blood oranges?

  4. Alafair Burke

    Liquor as promo…unfair!

    Toni, I love the buttons. Where did you get them made? Through cafe press?

    My sister makes Robicheaux gear that goes with my dad’s books, but there’s something about a Louisiana bait shop that calls out for t-shirts and hats. My favorite writer swag is (another shout out to Lee here) a t-shirt that reads "What Would Reacher Do?"

  5. toni mcgee causey

    Alafair, yep, Cafe Press. I did it on the spur of the moment and didn’t try to price them out elsewhere, thinking I was only going to do a few. Their quality was pretty sturdy.

    I love the What Would Reacher Do shirt.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    I had one of Morris’ drinks and let me tell you . . . Yummy!

    I’m still puzzling this one, Alafair. But it’s true that sometimes the silliest ideas — spur of the moment fun ones — are indeed the most inspired.

    And that Cloris roast was beyond funny. Thank you for today’s laugh.

  7. caite

    I would buy your book if it came with Nutella, the most delicious product ever invented.
    I am not sure how large a jar would be required.

  8. Sylvia

    How is Nutella fitting into the typical NY resolution to get fit, blah, blah, blah? It is divine I say.

    As for the Duffer – gotta love the bookmark.

  9. Alafair Burke

    The series character, NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher, keeps a jar of Nutella in her desk drawer for on-the-fly snackage. I admit the trait was copied from my own habits in the work world. Like me, Ellie grew up in Wichita, KS, but eventually acclimated to more urban surroundings. When I discovered Nutella, it seemed somehow fancy and European but still tasty and accessible. It’s one of those weird random things that found its way into my books – perhaps insignificant to everyone but me.

  10. Catherine Shipton

    My youngest daughter is a mad nutella junkie. It powers her up and through situations where she needs that extra boost. It’s both homey, and sugary goodness in her mind. I did note Ellie’s similar adherence to its benefits. To me it was one of those, not in your face, character traits that grounded Ellie in reality. Well my understanding of reality anyways.

    I also like that you are now a Nutella enabler.

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  12. Charlotte Creeley

    Lee Child is full of Nutella. French Bulldog owners are not puppy and kitten people. Not by a long shot. Most of them would make Jack Reacher look like Pollyanna in fatigues. I know, I go to those damned FBD specialty shows…

    I’ve read all of your books, and I was trying to remember the violent and profane parts. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember them. Maybe I blocked them. Maybe it’s those Pugs I live with. Oops, excuse me, I forgot, they’re called "Puggies".

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