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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creative, Cost-effective Promotion by Kristina McMorris

Inspired by my grandparents' wartime courtship, I penned my first novel, LETTERS FROM HOME, blissfully ignorant of the marketplace. You see, the story features an infantryman during WWII who falls deeply in love through a yearlong letter exchange, unaware the girl he's writing to isn't the one replying. Little did I know that WWII settings, not to mention books about letters, were considered a no-no at the time in both women's fiction and romance. Fortunately, it was too late to turn back. The manuscript was done, and I wasn't about to give up without a fight.


And so, when I was (more than once) told my precious labor-of-love story would "never" sell, I used that discouragement to fuel my persistence and creative, dollar-stretching strategy. First, I built a unique website, entered national literary contests to gain some accolades, and gathered endorsement quotes from unbelievably merciful best-selling authors (indeed, even before I sold the book), and when it did sell, I incorporated all of this into a full marketing plan that I presented to my in-house publicity and marketing team. I then created a media kit to accompany my ARCs, tri-fold color brochures with an excerpt (instead of bookmarks), and an interview-style video (vs. a standard trailer) that could help in pitching regional television shows.


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Fiction is notoriously known as a hard sell in the media world. Knowing this, I included 1940s recipes in the back of my novel to aid my TV show efforts, as well as discussion questions for reading group appeal. I actively scheduled book club visits (in person and via Skype), spoke at conferences and festivals and schools, established a social networking presence (including WWII sites), cross-promoted with authors of similar books, ran contests with the help of related Facebook groups and penpal/letter-writing blogs, donated nostalgic memory boxes to fundraising events, secured at least fifty reviews on well-suited blogs, and coordinated a large book launch party with B&N (where I read from my grandfather's WWII letters).


Other tactics included a fifteen-stop blog tour, on which I gave away free copies, same as on GoodReads. I ran inexpensive ads on GoodReads and Facebook, plus a few other popular reader sites that do direct e-blasts or e-newsletters. When I ran print ads, I made sure the circulation was high and the ad was visible (I submitted articles to offset the cost). And when it came to national media, although I knew it was a long shot, I sent press kits to fifty targeted editors or producers. I figured if even one of them took the bait, the effort would pay off. I lucked out; Woman's Day graciously gave my novel a third-page endorsement (and my grandmother much-deserved bragging rights!).


Now, for the usual question: Did any of this translate directly to sales? Some of it, sure. For the most part, I'll never know. What I do know is that my publishing house took notice. They slated my book as a featured title, allowed me a generous supply of ARCs and finished copies, volunteered some nice marketing efforts, and (perhaps a related result) gifted me with beautiful packaging and amazing co-op placement.


And…the more important question: Do you feel the campaign was a success? Given the number of times I consistently heard the fantabulous phrase "I've seen your book everywhere," my answer is a resounding yes. As authors, we can't control how much people will enjoy our stories (goodness knows, I wish we could!), nor the amount of support we'll receive from our publishers or the media. But where we can contribute is in brand awareness, doing our darndest to make sure readers know our books exist. Then, we simply cross our fingers and move on to write the next labor of love.


For more about Kristina and her novels, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com


Do you have any unique promo ideas that you either would or wouldn't recommend to others?

13 comments:

Paty Jager said...

Kristina, I knew you did a lot of promoting but wow! I'm impressed. I'm trying to figure out how to push my trilogy but I don't have the resources or the knowledge base you do. I've been slowly picking away a the internet freebie publicity.

Thank you for opening my eyes to the need to do more than I have been.

Judith Ashley said...

Wow! I've got my work cut out for me as I know you did a lot of this before your book was on the shelves. I'm inspired that you wrote the 'book of your heart' even though it wasn't the "In Thing" in romance and women's fiction and stuck with it until you sold and then kept with it until you had recognition.

I'm looking forward to your RWR article for more information on how you do what you do.

This isn't a unique idea but I think it is important to know your audience and focus your marketing on where they are e.g. your WWII focus. There is always a little something that sets us apart and to find it and use it in our promotion can only help.

Kristina McMorris said...

Thanks so much to the Genre-istas for having me here!

Paty - You're such a great promoter yourself that your compliments really mean a lot. Keep up all your wonderful efforts!

Judith - Aww, thanks for the kind words. It wasn't always an easy thing to do, sticking with a WWII ms. that I wasn't sure would ever find a home. But having passion for your work, whatever the premise or genre might be, is certainly helpful - if not essential - in this insane industry. :)

Vonnie Alto said...

Hi Kristina,
I can't think of a unique promo idea except perhaps have a unique blog--something different from what you would normally read. However, I'm fascinated by the number of endorsements you got from bestselling authors. However did you get them?

Tam Linsey said...

So you believe that because you worked hard at promoting on your own, your publishing house stepped up to the plate and pitched in? That is good to know.
I'd also be interested in how you pulled together endorsements from bestselling authors. That seems like a very big deal. Thanks for sharing your process with us.

Minnette Meador said...

You left out something, Kristina... You also shared yourself with your fellow authors, gave generously of your time and energy to help others, and lifted everyone's hearts with your kindness and wisdom. I count myself very lucky to call you my friend. You are worth every accolade and success. Keep 'em coming! :o)

Jennifer Lyn King said...

What a fantastic, inspiring wrap-up, Kristina. Thank you, from one a few steps behind. I look forward to reading LETTERS. -Jennifer

Sarah Raplee said...

Kristina, I learned so much from your post. Thank you!

I had no idea how to mount a publicity campaign as an author. You've given me a lot of things to think about and plan.

Since my first book has an ex-con dog trainer heroine, I thought of including a recipe for Meg's Killer Dog Biscuits, although I'm not sure that's very original. I also thought about approaching B & Bs that cater to pet lovers about cross-promoting through contests.

Kristina McMorris said...

Thanks, everyone, for your fabulous comments!

Vonnie and Tam - Regarding author blurbs, I wish I could tell you there's a magical formula to obtaining them (I'd happily sell it in a heated auction ). Really, it's just a matter of taking a chance by asking in a professional, efficient, and respectful way -- much like a query to an agent. Just remember, authors who are gracious enough to provide a quote are basically saying, "If you like MY book, you'll enjoy THIS book." Keeping this in mind will help you determine which authors would be a good fit for effective cross promotion that will ideally benefit you both.

Minnette - You, my dear, are the sweetest woman ever. Thanks so much for all YOUR generosity and support. xo

Kristina McMorris said...

Jennifer - If you got ANYthing out of my rambling, I'm delighted. :) Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy LETTERS!

Sarah - I LOVE the ideas you listed that relate to your book. Anything you can think of that's a little out of the box and can be used to cross-promote is a winner. Good luck to you!

Mary Lou Wilson said...

Kristina --

What a great post - there's so much to learn!

And I have to agree with Minette - you are so incredibly generous with other authors - thank you!

Courtney L said...

Kristina--
You've just described the obstacle I now face with my labor of love. I was told recently that WWII stories don't sell. I've been in a limbo trying to figure out my next move. Thanks for being so specific in laying out your strategy!
Oh, just thought I'd ask... Are you open to giving endorsements, yourself? That could be too much to ask, seeing as you're not familiar with my level of writing, but a good friend once told me, "You'll never know unless you ask." Call me shameless, but I'm done being bashful!

Kristina McMorris said...

Oh, my goodness! I've been so buried writing my next book proposal that I neglected to reply to the latest comments. Sorry about that!

Mary Lou - I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for stopping by. I'm always so grateful for your support!!

Courtney - If there was EVER a time the nay-sayers should be rethinking their "WWII will never sell" line, it's now. In women's fiction specifically, WWII novels are popping up constantly.

Some of the hugely popular WWII books of the past few years include: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Those Who Save Us, Unbroken, and A Fierce Radiance. Brand new ones making a splash are Next to Love, Violets of March, The Things We Cherished, The Soldier's Wife, and the list goes on.

Also, case in point: my next novel, releasing in February, is a love story complicated by the Japanese American WWII internment. And my third book has elements of WWII, as well. So, bottom line....I would beg to differ with what you've heard. :)

I'm certainly flattered by your asking me about reading an ms. for a potential blurb, and I'm more than happy to consider such offers when my schedule allows. Unfortunately, at the moment, I'm juggling three books for my publisher plus two kidlings who are growing up WAY too fast. But, once you've secured an agent or publisher with your ms., please feel free to contact me directly. Wishing you well!