07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Face Time

Face Time: Promoting Yourself and Your Books at Reader Conventions

Before the launch of the first book in my urban fantasy romance series in 2009, I researched other authors’ marketing efforts. While the results of the campaigns I studied varied wildly, one piece of advice repeated consistently: Word of mouth is your friend.

But HOW do you spark word of mouth? If you twist the above sentence a little you get your answer: If word of mouth is your friend, friends are your word of mouth.

The past few Saturdays here at Romancing the Genres, you’ve heard from Pat Hauldren about growing friends like weeds, from Cassiel Knight about energizing your long-distance friends with a virtual launch party, and from Kristina McMorris about creating new friends through out-of-the-box marketing, so I thought I’d go old skool with a discussion of one-on-one, face-to-face author-reader interaction: the reader convention.

The Pros of Cons:
I’ve gone a handful of times so far to several different conventions geared toward putting readers and authors together. The con experience offers several advantages, I think, over other forms of marketing and promotion:

 1. The quality of reader
Con goers tend to be a highly valuable sort of reader: enthusiastic, voracious, outgoing and often well connected with other readers. On the whole, con goers read a lot and they want to share their love. Win them to your side and you have the opportunity to create a true fan, the sort of reader who harangues others to read you too.

 2. Showcasing brand over book
In the course of a career, most authors will write more than one book in more than one series for more than one publisher, probably in more than one subgenre. Promoting YOURSELF as well as your books gives readers a chance to (hopefully) connect with everything you write, not just one title at a time.

 3. They’re fun!
This might not seem like the most sensible criteria for making business decisions, but a weekend with readers can be a delightful reminder why we endure the trials and tribulations of publication: Because we want to tell our stories to an audience.

The Cons of Cons
1. The money
Oh, the money… After adding up airfare, hotel, meals, and giveaways, a long weekend of a con can run one or two thousand dollars. And that assumes you are sharing a room, eating on the cheap, and being judicious with your swag.

2. The other costs
In addition to the financial outlay, there’s the lost writing time and the energy expenditure. The con itself might be only a few days away from home, but the preparation for and recovery from it can easily take a week as you make goody bags, properly pack your fairy wings (I ask you, how many other business women have to pack fairy wings for their business travel?!) and follow up with the contacts you make.

If you decide to make cons part of your promotional repertoire, here are a few tips for making the most of your efforts:

1. At a reader convention, YOU are part of the entertainment.
And by you, I mean author-you. Not you-you and certainly not writer-you. Writer-you sits with a writing implement all day and often stares into space. This is not entertainment. At least not to anyone besides writer-you. You-you might be entertaining enough but the important person at a con is author-you.

I could do a whole post on creating an author persona, but the key is to think of author-you as the best, most engaging parts of you-you. With creative additions and fairy wings as necessary. This is the you who attends cons and attracts readers.

2. When you are in public, you are ON.
Cons can be tiring and stressful even when they are fun, but author-you is on display any time you are outside the door of your hotel room. (And sometimes when you are inside your hotel room if you don’t keep your voice down.) Everyone has heard of authors behaving badly; don’t be her. Be open, be gracious, and be quiet when necessary.

3.  Choose your swag wisely.
You want to put something in readers’ hands (as well as their minds) to help them remember you, but swag can get expensive, not to mention heavy when you are traveling. Without question, the best swag is your book. Give it to reviewers, bloggers and readers who seem particularly outgoing. Next best is a sample of your book and/or voice, including excerpts or free reads. Next best is high-value fun items: coffee mugs, good pens, etc. Don’t even bother with cheap pens. For the money, bookmarks are probably still worthwhile for now, but don’t expect them to be more than another “touch” on your audience’s awareness.

4. Set goals, pursue them and evaluate the outcome.
As with any promotional effort, knowing what you want to accomplish will help focus you. If you are a doing a panel at the con, what points do you want to make to inspire readers to seek out your stories? If you are hitting the bar to network, who do you want to meet and why? Make sure you follow up with people you connected with (you won’t “connect” with everyone, and that’s okay; you’re looking for like-minded souls anyway) and keep the conversation going.

5. Have fun!
Yeah, I said this already, but it’s worth repeating. Positive energy attracts the same. My critique partners call writer-me Eeyore for my unsunny disposition, but at cons I bring out author-me and she does know how to have a good time! (For proof, the photo of me in the black and red dress was taken at an RT ball last year. I practically have a lampshade on my head, the epitome of fun!) Like formatting a manuscript or writing a synopsis, face-to-face promotion is a skill you can learn. If you aren’t naturally an extrovert, practice with real friends. Your local writing group is a good start. Offer to lead a book club or do in-person writing workshops to get comfortable talking about books. And then know that everyone who attends reader cons loves books too.

If you have questions about reader conventions, please ask. And I’ll ask you one: Have you had a face-to-face encounter with an author that made you want to know more about her stories?

 Jessa Slade is author of the Marked Souls urban fantasy romance series with NAL Signet Eclipse. The third book in the series, VOWED IN SHADOWS, is available now. Though she is most comfortable sitting behind her computer, she ventures out to meet readers in the wild and giggle about man chest. 

You can find her online at www.jessaslade.com


Sarah Raplee said...

Jessa, thank you for sharing you wisdom (that sounds hokey, but hey, I've been a fangirl for years, and you are AWESOME!)

Writer-you as Eeyore? Perfect! He's always been my favorite Pooh character, BTW.

Judith Ashley said...

Jessa, Tthanks so much for sharing about Reader Conventions. I know more and more authors are attending them and now I know why! I'll have to think more about my author persona.

And,yes, I've met authors and because I know them I want to buy their books. Rose City Romance Writers is one place, conferences such as Emerald City and Desert Dreams are others and here on Romancing The Genres is another. I may not have met all the Genre-istas in person but I'm learning more and more about the stories they tell.

Vonnie Alto said...

It's good to be reminded that selling our books is all about word of mouth and promotion of self, not just our product. I know when I attend the RWA national conference and meet authors there, I always want to know more about them. It seems most authors don their self-promotion mask and are eager and willing to interact with potential readers. You're right. When in public, we have to be engaging and extroverted.

I would love to go to a reader con but I guess I'll have to wait until I sell a book--and then figure out the logistics of what to do with my responsibilities at home--both two legged and four legged ones.

Paty Jager said...

Jessa, to answer your question..Yes, I bought a book due to an author's workshop I attended and was highly disappointed. Her book was nothing like her bubbly disposition. It was dark and uneventful.

But I'm an introvert and have to really push my limits when I go to a conference. I've yet to attend a reader conference and think if my ebook sales continue to go as they have, I might try to make RT next year.

Thanks for a funa nd informative post!

Marelou said...

Informative and to the point. I sometimes wonder what goes through authors' minds when they are at book conventions or booksignings. I'd like to think that they feel the way you do. I know some of them don't and it shows. I admit that after not so good encounters with authors i loved to read, I no longer had the yen to read their work afterwards. I met you at RomCon and I had a lot of fun. I can honestly say that almost all of the new to me authors I met there, I am slowly searching and finding their backlist. By the way, I can't see you as an Eeyore; you were more of a Tigger at RomCon.

Jessa Slade said...

Thank you, RtG, for letting me share! Blog posts are a great time to consolidate what I'm thinking. (Which sometimes I'm too lazy to do without incentive.)

Sarah, Eeyore was always my favorite too! Yes, he could be a tad melodramatic at times, but he had a well-placed kick when needed ;)

Judith, the smaller cons are great places to practice your persona. Since you're going to be there anyway, might as well practice the dance.

Jessa Slade said...

Vonnie, it's true the time away and all the rescheduling can be tough. And so many of the cons are in the spring and summer when the weather is FINALLY getting good in Portland!

Paty, I've seen you out. You totally have the "right stuff"! You know your topic and you walk the talk -- your ranching experience gives you insta-gravitas :) It might not be your preferred natural state, but I know you do have it in you.

Marelou, I DO have an inner Tigger, he just needs extra sugar to take center stage :) I'm still working on my inner Piglet. That Zen quality is tricky...

Vicki Batman said...

Thank you for posting this valuable information. I've wondered about other conventions and how valuable they are in connecting with readers.

Melania Tolan said...

Excellent information, Jessa. I loved that you stressed the difference between writer-me, me-me, and author-me. This concept is invaluable. Thanks for the great post.

Jessa Slade said...

Vicki, most of the authors I've met at cons seem to have similar reactions to mine as far as rating the value. Of course, this is a skewed sample since the authors who go to cons are, I think, predisposed to making the most of the opportunity.

Melania, better integrated personalities probably don't need the delineations, but us writer folk are used to thinking in multiple heads anyway :) so we might as well make use of our strengths.

Lisa Kessler said...

Great blog Jessa!!!

It was fun meeting you at RomCon!!! I thought it was a great place to meet readers... :)


Anonymous said...

I try to keepm to a budget of what I can afford. The hotel cost the most, as I generally share with my husband at conventions I am a guest at (not at RT--had to share with friend as hubby be bored at a romance con and not at a paranormal one (I write nonfiction ghost books under another name)--same thing. But at scifi cons I have been a guest at. Though we did share a room with two friends at Concarolinas.

I have found besides connecting with readers, selling my books and signing them at the conventions, but also noticed my books and eBooks selling at Amazon right afterwards. Due to the con?

Jessa Slade said...

Lisa, the smaller cons are definitely a great place to meet people. You get to actually TALK, multiple times even. (More, if you're stalking fave authors like I do!)

Sapphire, I know a lot of readers talk about how many new-to-them authors they find at cons. I imagine a lot of them do go home and check out sample chapters online before buying. Hey, we're all on a budget these days :) That's why I think SOME swag or giveaway item is a good thing to get into the readers' hands to help remember you.

At most cons, I stay in the "Cordwood Suite." That's our fancy name for "As many roommmates as the fire code allows"!