Guest Author: Juli Alexander
Posted by Amanda Brice Apr 20 2012, 12:01 am
Today we have a special guest, Juli Alexander, author of the fabulous new YA, The Karma Beat. It’s her third release, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy. And believe me when I say it rocks!
Not every seventeen-year-old girl works part time for the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E., but when you’re a genie, you have obligations. I’d rather spend my time rocking with my older brother’s band. I’ve been waiting years to replace the last drummer. Just when it’s looking good for me, Leo Fuller shows up, and this bad boy genie’ s after more than just my drummer gig.
Male genies are dangerous, volatile, bad-boy types, and I’m finding him way too attractive. If we’re caught together, we could both lose our powers and be banished to the other realm. I know helping Leo will be a really bad idea. What I don’t know is why I’m doing it anyway.
Juli finaled in the Golden Heart in 2006 with Investigating the Hottie. Today she’s going to talk about promotional items, and how an author can use them to advantage. Take it away, Juli!
Everybody Loves Free Stuff
Like many professionals, writers have found that a career cannot be built upon craft alone. That ugly B-word, “business,” must necessarily play an integral role. A book, like any product, requires marketing and promotion. Sending a manuscript into the marketplace without any support may not be much more effective than keeping it hidden away in your desk drawer. Since the most creative (and therefore most fun) of the many marketing tools authors utilize is promo items, I conducted some non-scientific research on the topic.
The most ingenious promo item I’ve seen was for a children’s book. The item started as a small green square of paper, mere cents to purchase. With some value-added by the children during the author’s school visit, the paper becomes an Origami Yoda, the perfect promo item for Tom Angleberger’s book, The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda. In the book, a main character carries one on his finger. The Origami Yoda dispenses advice to the children at school.
What makes the yoda the perfect promo item? The cost, value, and relationship between the item and the book. The cost—nominal. The value—added by the children themselves and the lesson in making it. The relationship—do you know of any other Origami Yoda products?
While romance writers do not have a captive audience or a platform for teaching a cool new craft, we can and should strive for this perfect tie to our work.
What makes a promo item valuable to a potential reader? A promo item can be valuable to a reader if it is Unique or Useful.
Unique items can include collectibles—trading cards, bookmarks, cover flats, and the like. Often, the status of the author plays a role in the allure of the collectibles.
Mari Mancusi, author of the Blood Coven series and Tomorrow Land for young adults, gives these tips about schwag:
“I find bookmarks are useful in social situations. People ask what you write and you can pull out a bookmark with a full-color cover and description on it — not to mention a link to your website. It’s small enough that they can stuff it in their purse or pocket and look you up later. They’re also less expensive than things like keychains, magnets, etc. Besides, most people already have a keychain and unless they’re already a fan, yours will go in the trash. Pens are useful, but they can’t show off your cover, which is the most important sales tool you have. Ditto for things like bottle openers. Postcards are nice because they have a bit more of a keepsake value and you can put a longer book description on the back.”
My favorite “unique” promo items include:
1. The evidence collection bag to promote mystery, thriller, etc.
2. The “Do Not Disturb” door hanger for the spicy author.
3. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s “Bite me” buttons to promote her Dark Hunter series. As I was preparing this article, several authors mentioned Sherrilyn Kenyon’s promo items ranging from her badges to her bookmarks to her postcards. This New York Times bestselling author has clearly mastered both the craft and business of writing.
“I suspect that promotional items are like books: different ones appeal to different people,” said Carolynn Carey, author of Prognosis for Happiness and My Elusive Countess. However, she cited a unique and collectible promo item. “I’ve seen items that impressed me because they were a little out of the ordinary. Lisa Jackson once had a giveaway that consisted of a pad of Post-It notes bound with a wrap-around covering that featured one of her book covers on the front and another on the back. I still have one of those pads on my desk.”
In theory, useful items will be more effective the longer they are used or kept. They may be used repeatedly, kept for a while before using, or used immediately and discarded. Items that are used immediately and discarded include candy and other edibles. Love the chocolate but unless the reader has a photographic memory, the author who provided it will be forgotten before the calories hit the waistline.
Things that may be kept for a while before use provide a better opportunity for making an impression on the targeted reader.
1. Sunscreen, earplugs, hand sanitizer, adhesive bandages in a dispenser—Sunscreen is perfect for promoting the “beach read.”
2. Temporary tattoos—Just awesome in their own right.
3. Flower seeds—Perfect promotion for the gardening book or seeds for a spice garden for any cooking-related book.
price range .25 to 1.00
Promo items with staying power make contact with each use.
1. sewing kits
2. hairbrushes, compact mirrors
3. luggage tags
4. bottle openers or corkscrews
5. keychain/flashlights or keychain/whistles
6. pens, pads, post-its
7. pill cases or pill cutters
8. stress balls
9. measuring spoons
.25 to 1.00
The trick is getting the targeted reader to keep and use them. Author Leanne Tyler, author of Season of Love and It’s Always Been You, indicated, “I guess the best one was from Vicki Lewis Thompson and her thermal lunch bag and sponge cellphone for Talk Nerdy to Me. I got that at RWA National Conference in 2006. I used the lunch bag to bring my lunch in at work and the sponge cellphone was a good stress reliever when you needed something to squeeze.”
If you agree with my analysis of usefulness and cost, the next step is to evaluate the connection to the product, or at the very least, the connection to the reader.
As an author of young adult fiction, I’m not exactly going to be handing out bottle openers or pill cutters. Flower seeds, sewing kits, and luggage tags may also be misses. I love the idea of the cd opener/key chains, but they were likely more useful before MP3 players hit the scene.
Writing a niche book? Dance is an integral part of Amanda Brice’s Dani Spevak mysteries. Ideally, Amanda would target this niche with items that appeal to the right age range. A dance keychain, bracelet, or bookmark should fit the bill. Finding inexpensive dance charms shouldn’t be too hard. And what about dance phrases? A do-not-disturb sign that says, “Not now, I’m dancing” or the ubiquitous “Dance like nobody’s watching.”
With a little craftiness, an author can make a useful item unique. Embellishing a bookmark with a ribbon and a charm may add value for the prospective reader and yet cost little.
Kate McKeever, author of the upcoming Crescent Moon release Caden’s Fate, experienced this firsthand. “Promo items I had the most success with were the book thongs with my business card attached. Lots of chatter afterward and people still remember who gave them the bookmark.” Kate’s book thongs had a great deal of value added and each of these bookmarks was unique.
The analysis of connection to the product or targeted reader may be author-by-author, book-by-book, or genre-by-genre.
Another promo item with low cost, high value, and a close link to product itself—the free read. These are becoming increasingly popular as the distribution outlets multiply. Author websites, blogs, downloads from Smashwords, Amazon, B&N, Apple, etc. The free read can also be distributed at conferences and retreats in the form of a chap book. Check it out at <<http://www.microsoft.com/education/en-us/teachers/how-to/Pages/create-booklet.aspx>> or search for instructions and/or a template from your software provider.
While there may be some trial and error involved, the chapbook is inexpensive and allows us to use our best talent—writing. Printed correctly, the chapbook is one-fourth the size of a sheet of paper. The cover can be fancier, using a color printer, or folding a postcard. The oversized postcards from Vistaprint work well and have been running about $20 for 100 lately. Total cost? Under a dollar. Value? It’s a story. What more could a reader ask for. Connection to your book? At the very least, it’s more fiction. At most, a short story to accompany the novel.
[Amanda is going to interject here for a moment, since it's topical. Juli and I were part of a group that recently released a "free read" anthology called Eternal Spring, which is available from Smashwords for FREE! It's got some fantabulous authors and 13 amazing stories, so go download it in the format of your choice!]
[OK, now that you've all grabbed some free stuff, back to Juli's post. ]
If I polled readers and conference-goers on their favorite promo items, would they give me different answers? Most likely. Would their answers change over time, as the memory of the item faded? And most importantly, would their answers result in sales of the books promoted? I certainly hope so.
Mari Mancusi also has tips on the best ways to spend your money and the two types of schwag:
“There’s also a difference between promotional schwag and schwag for your actual fans. For my teen readers, I created plastic membership cards, the size of a gift card or credit card. Vampire-in-Training cards, I call them. They can stick them in their wallets and show them off to friends. It’s a fun keepsake for fans of the series. But I would never waste the money to give them out to random people who will probably throw them out.
Pretty much anything that shows off your cover and gives out your website address in a clear, professional manner, is a useful promotional tool. But I warn people not to go overboard and mortgage your house on promo items. I’d rather have a beautiful website than a thousand pens with my name on them.
As Carolynn Carey said, “Perhaps that enjoyment in providing an item is the most tangible reward we can expect to receive because I doubt anyone ever knows whether a promotional item really results in more book sales.”
What are your favorite promo ideas? Have you bought a book because of an author’s promo?