Pushing my books promises to be one of the toughest parts of being an author for me. Despite a career in Corporate Communications, marketing is just not my thing.
So, when a friend told me she was holding a holiday craft fair in her home featuring many of our mutual friends as vendors, I jumped at the chance to "practice my pitch" although my debut novel "Address to Die For" won't be released for several months.
I asked my friend if it would be helpful to have a "greeter" for her event—someone to direct people to all the different venues within her house where vendors were set up. The house isn't large, but I thought it might be easy for people to overlook the vendors who were set up in the backyard.
She loved the idea. Since I had nothing to sell, I wouldn't be backing up traffic. I loved the idea, since I knew I'd have a truly useful purpose other than promoting my books.
I'd hoped to have cover copy for the book, but as the date approached, I had to give up on that plan.
Instead, I created a "series" graphic using the artwork from my website, I created pens and bookmarks for my swag. Both were relatively inexpensive things that I knew I'd want to bring to conferences after my book comes out. Ordering test versions gave me a good sense of the lead time required and which parts of my design worked and which didn't.
I loved how both turned out, but next time I'd use fewer words and a larger font for the pens. Few people turned the bookmark over to read the back. Several people though my character's name was my name.
Initially, I'd planned to order sugar cookies embossed with the book cover art. Instead, I made my "corpse cookies" and ordered crime scene ribbon from an internet ribbon maker.
With some crime scene fabric (also ordered from the internet) and a black banquet table cover, I was good to go.
Based on the suggestions of friends, I planned to put bookmarks and pens in wine glasses. A gruesome "R.I.P" bottle of red wine picked up on the spur of the moment from Cost Plus was fun to pair with the glasses.
Driving to the event, I regretted not buying flowers or making a stand-up sign about the books. Next time, I promised myself, remembering that today's event was about practice, not perfection.
With a cooler full of water and snacks, I was set. After greeting my first 10 customers, I realized I needed to talk more about my book and tell people it was a local murder mystery. The local angle was something all the visitors responded to.
By noon, I was out of cookies. People loved them and it was easier for me to talk about the cookies than it was to hype the book. Once people had the cookies, they asked about the book, and it was easy for me to answer their questions.
The oddity of having a "welcome" booth that sported tape blaring "CRIME SCENE-DO NOT CROSS" also sparked comments.
The demographic of people who attend holiday boutiques is nearly identical to the demographic of people who buy cozy mysteries—suburban moms and grandmoms. And, although I thought that via social media everyone I knew had heard of my book, I ran into several acquaintances who were astonished to learn I'd signed a publishing contract.
By the end of the day, I'd distributed 100 bookmarks and pens to probable readers who will likely tell friends about my books. And as the day wore on, my tagline tripped off my tongue easily. I'd asked friends and the vendors to inspect my booth, eavesdrop on my pitch and offer suggestions for both. Their glowing reports and constructive critiques gave my confidence a huge boost. What I'd imagined as a shakedown tour turned out to be perfect promotional opportunity I might easily have overlooked.
The Gala Gallery is already on my calendar for next year (when I'll actually have books to sell.) I'll approach my next event more confidently...and with more cookies, fresh flowers, a back drop...and eventually, a plush golden retriever to represent my character's chief side-kick. And with the knowledge that I can market my books like a pro.