Lessons Learned From an Author-a-go-go

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It has been four days since I returned from my very first trip to Malice Domestic, and I have almost recovered. My brain is swimming with smiling faces and new ideas. I find myself telling any soul who will listen, including a polite dental hygienist who was trying to scrape off my plaque, that I met Charlaine Harris in the hotel elevator. Charlaine Harris! Can you believe it? Imagine my wide, bookworm grin.

If I can focus my full & tired brain long enough, I’d like to tell you about the pleasant and brave authors who survived an interesting event called Malice Go Round. Billed as “speed dating with authors,” it was a fun and exhausting session in which we readers sat in groups of six at tables while teams of mystery authors rushed from table to table (with admirable stamina) telling us about their books in rapid fashion. They pitched their books to at least twenty different tables of booklovers. It was an onslaught of friendly writers, interesting premises and clever sleuths. Chatting with the readers on either side of me, I saw that their eyes were starting to glaze over about two-thirds of the way through the event. Certainly our minds were wandering by the end. To remember an author and their novels, we needed more than their smile. We needed their savvy marketing.

As an author myself, I found the various marketing techniques employed fascinating. The room was full of smart writers who can craft a good story. The ones who stood out could also create a good connection. Some had that seemingly natural gift of charisma and eye contact that is so helpful in any sales arena. Some had the kind of genuinely bubbly personality that no professional event, even a grueling one, can suppress. Some roved about in teams with friends who could support them. Some, like Accidental Alchemist author Gigi Pandian, had written interesting articles for First Draft, and Malice Go Round allowed me to connect their byline with a face and a book. And some authors just seemed very, very well prepared. They used materials provided by their publishers (and by themselves) to augment interpersonal experiences. Those were the authors that I tried to pay particular attention to before my synapses got too tired.

For a socially nervous person like me, marketing my stories and myself does not come naturally. I would much rather talk to you about food (did you see that chocolate teacup?), other people’s books, travel, music, liberal politics, my love for We Have Always Lived In The Castle (Haven’t read it? It’s a strange and wonderful little book), Broadchurch, or Orphan Black. So I came away from that author-a-go-go feeling like I’d taken a master class in marketing, if only I could remember it all! The marketing materials that authors and their publishers used to remain memorable varied: lovely sets of recipe cards, convention care packages, chocolates in pretty bags, marker sets, a mystery press’ promotional sewing kit, etc. These seemed well-suited to a mostly female fan convention.

Colorful, high quality marketing materials packaged in an original way (and given in a low-pressure manner) caught my eye. More importantly, they survived in my tote bag, and I could fish them out to remember an author before hitting the book dealer’s room. That is exactly what I did with the bookmark for Jennifer McAndrews’ book Ill-Gotten Panes. I love mysteries, and stained–glass, but I never would have heard of heroine Georgia Kelly and this quirky new series of books without McAndrews’ marketing.

At the end of any event for readers and or writers, I summon my social courage and make a real effort to thank people who are supportive of my books (my readers rock!) or inspire me as a writer. These generous souls make the writing life, a solitary path, warmer and brighter. So here’s a big “Thank You” to the “speed daters” at Malice Domestic 27, who taught me more about marketing. Kudos. Now go nap for a few days. You’ve earned it.

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