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Virgin In The Church
#9, March 2002: The Hype

--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.)

The typical new author finds that the promotional burden falls onto his or her shoulders and digs into his or her pocketbook.

Sure, there are the exceptions, such as the wet-behind-the-ears MFA Writing program grad who gets a half-million deal, where the publicity campaign is launched by the publisher so that the gamble seems more like a shrewd move than a gamble. And there's the ghostwritten celebrity weight-loss book that is a can't-miss hit for Christmas and so deserves the extra ink.

Then there are the established authors who become news by the very virtue of having a new product. This last group is the one to be least envied, because in most cases, the authors established themselves through persistence, hard work, savvy marketing, and careful personal management. For every Suzie Lit-Grad who gets it all on a silver platter, there is a John Grisham driving across the country with a trunkful of his own books.

In a world where hype is expected and too many people are screaming "Look at me," it can be a little distasteful to add one's own trumpet to the din. Yet if an author believes in a book, then he owes it to the reading public to get the word out. Most importantly, he owes it to the story. If the story matters, it deserves to be heard.

I started the initial ripples for The Red Church by spreading news of its sale in the summer of 2001. This resulted in an increase of visitors to my website, so I got my site in order and continued to add new material. I also eased off a little on my online presence because hype works best in short and controlled bursts. Non-stop whines of "Look at me" quickly become tiresome, whether from an author, terrorist leader, or would-be romantic interest.

My next step was to compile bookstore addresses. I have begun mailing packets to North Carolina stores to coincide with Kensington's sales reps taking orders for their June list. As I understand the process, the reps only have a limited time to make a pitch and usually focus on the expected bestsellers. A slot book like The Red Church might not even be mentioned. Hopefully, the bookseller's prior exposure to my material will help increase orders for the book, at least enough to offset my mailing costs.

The next round of mailings go out to mystery, horror, and science fiction and fantasy stores. The final round will go to selected independent bookstores in the South, pitching the novel's Appalachian setting as a selling point. Hand-selling by clerks and word of mouth, along with signing tours, make a big impact in the South, and the regional bestseller list is often far different from the national list.

One of the more fun and exciting promotional projects is an e-book I've put together with two other authors. Jon F. Merz, Brandon Massey, and I each have first novels coming from the same publisher this year, so we tied the book together under the title "New Voices From Kensington." The book is free and downloadable in Adobe PDF from our websites, and contains a short story, book excerpt, and essay from each of us. It’s a grassroots Internet publicity effort and also a way to say thanks to those who have been with us along the way.

Since The Red Church is now available for preorder, I started a contest to increase the book's early sales and entice Kensington to boost the initial print run. I'm giving away up to nine free books depending on how well the book sells before its June release. Anyone who preorders the book, whether through an online bookseller or a local store, can e-mail and be eligible to win.

I have compiled my media kits and will soon be arranging my summer signing tour. I plan to do two stops each Saturday, saving weeknights for places within reasonable driving distance. I hope to expand my territory a little from that covered during my tour for the story collection Thank You For The Flowers. The tour is definitely not a cost-effective way to promote, but it’s a good way to generate some ink in the local newspapers.

One of my first and more subtle publicity efforts was starting this column series. But it quickly turned from a promotional effort into an adventure, working as a journal to mark my passage from the bottom of the mail stack to having my name in two-inch-high letters in Wal-Mart. Writing is often lonely, and to be able to affect and infect other writers and readers has added to the pleasure of the journey.

In a few months, I won't have to whisper "Look at me" anymore. At least until the next book.

(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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