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Virgin In The Church
May 2002, #11: (Here's The Windup...And) The Pitch!

--By Scott Nicholson

(Intro: I sold my first novel "The Red Church" through the slush pile. It will be released as a mass market paperback by Pinnacle Books in June 2002. I'm sharing my experiences in hopes that other writers can learn from my triumphs and mistakes, and, of course, to generate interest in the book. Scott's rule number one: build your audience one reader at a time.)

This is the month that I have to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place for The Red Church’s brief cameo appearance on the mass market stage. Since I can only count on the book being widely available in non-bookstore outlets for four to six weeks, I’d better make my most visible promotional moves during that time. To this end, I’ve built my publicity kits and compiled my media contact list. I’ve already sent out my first batch of mailings, and have even secured some promises of features.

The kits are basically designed to serve two types of functions. The first is to land television or radio interviews. Here’s where it helps to have worked in journalism, because I have some understanding of what a producer wants to give his or her audience. Basically, that means an interesting story, hopefully one that is logistically simple to put together. The second goal of the publicity campaign is to secure some newspaper coverage in the cities where I will be stopping on my book tour.

Currently I have ten stops on my tour, with another five or more dates to be announced, plus a Fourth of July trip to Chicago that I’ve yet to schedule. These dates are squeezed into the same narrow window of opportunity as the book’s mass market life. My thinking here is that someone who reads about The Red Church but doesn’t come to my signing might see the book in Wal-Mart or the drugstore and go, "Hey, didn’t I hear about that book somewhere? It’s supposed to be good."

In order to make the story appealing to editors and producers, I’ve based my pitch on the novel’s connection to an actual "haunted" church in my community, the same church that sparked the seeds of the novel. An altered version of that very same church appears on the book cover (I e-mailed a digital photo of the church to the graphics department) and I also had my publicity shots made at the church. The first line of my cover letter reads, "Do you think your audience would enjoy a good ghost story?"

Speaking as a journalist, that’s much more intriguing than just another author trying to wring some free ink. It’s a hook to build a story around. If I turned on the radio and this guy was babbling about how a preacher committed suicide at a church and then came back to haunt it, I’d probably not turn the dial. I might not buy the book, but I would listen. If you’re curious about the material I’ve compiled, it’s all available at the Haunted Computer press room at www.hauntedcomputer.com/media.htm.

(See, I can also direct editors and producers to the site and they can find everything they need to build a story. Plus, of course, I am available for interviews, sound bytes, questions, and more ghost stories. In fact, I’m making some audio clips to go out with my radio packages.)

The other part of the equation is a little beyond my control. My publisher doesn’t print advanced reader copies of its genre titles. The review copies will probably ship about two weeks before the books hit the streets. That means the reviews might be dribbled out over the summer or fall, a little too late to drive sales. Of course, if the book is universally panned, the critics might be too late to warn everybody away. I’m not convinced that reviews (or awards, for that matter) have any effect on sales, anyway.

To further complicate life, we are in the midst of negotiating another potential novel or two with the publisher. In a way, my first novel could benefit if the company has more invested in "Scott Nicholson" the author instead of merely "The Red Church," the novel by a nobody. That could get the sales staff to push the book a little higher up on their priority list and make the publisher less likely to abandon the book if it gets off to a sluggish start.

Or maybe none of that matters. Maybe it’s just a book, one of hundreds of thousands that have been written by silly dreamers throughout history. It’s only words on paper. No big deal.

But I like to think the world is richer with my little book in it. It’s certainly made my own life more interesting and exciting. If a reader or two joins in on the fun, that will only enhance the pleasure. Then every key pecked, every stamp licked, every lie told will have served a larger purpose.

(This article is uncopyrighted and may be freely distributed and published, as long as Scott’s byline and web address are included.)

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