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Building Buzz and Relationships

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(alternate text)In Sunday’s Washington Post, Bob Thompson writes an article entitled Fast Forward: Never Heard of British Author Kate Mosse? That’s About to Change. It’s a fascinating examination of how publishers attempt to create buzz for a book long in advance of it’s publication. The article also details the need to brand authors which is exactly what businessman extraordinaire Mark Cuban said in our Slushpile.net interview last week. 

A month before Mosse’s book, Labyrinth hit bookstore shelves in the United States, G.P. Putnam’s Sons sent the author on a “spare-no-expense tour of eight American cities” designed to seed the market of booksellers and press.

Thompson addresses the undoubtedly envious hoard of aspiring authors. “As for all you hard-scribbling authors not being sprinkled with marketing fairy dust: You have a right to be jealous. Your publisher’s not sending you to chow down at Georgetown’s pricey Citronelle, as Mosse will this evening, with a roomful of booksellers from Olsson’s and Politics & Prose,” Thompson writes.

The article is in-depth and interesting. And it provides a detailed examination of how publishers endeavor to create a bestseller. All in all, it’s a great look inside publishing and publicity.

However, there is one cringe-inducing moment. Near the end of the piece, Mosse and DC booksellers revel in a delicious and expensive meal at one of the Capital’s most exclusive eateries. “It’s late in the evening in a private dining room at Citronelle. Nine booksellers have spent four hours with Mosse already, chowing down on — among other things not regularly affordable on a bookstore salary — the chef’s melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon. Cigars and brandy have been offered.” Three-course dinners at Citronelle run about $75 and the tasting menu is $150. It’s not a cheap place.

And Mosse voices a line that probably didn’t seem this jaded in real conversation but will undoubtedly inspire literary venom with the way it’s printed on the page. “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where publishing spends its money,” Mosse says.

But instead of bitching and moaning about the state of modern publishing, we should learn from this article and strive to implement some of these techniques in our own life. First class plane tickets, fine steaks, and expensive cigars aside, the main point of Mosse’s excursion was to build relationships, to excite booksellers, and to promote herself and her book. We can all do that ourselves, albeit on a much smaller scale.

In Making a Literary Life, author, professor, and book reviewer Carolyn See recomends that “six months or even a year ahead of your pub date, you should make it a point to go into the bookstores in your neighborhood just to make friends. Introduce yourself and say you have a book coming out.” After the book is released, See goes so far as to advocate giving copies of it to bookstore clerks. If the store carries your book, “buy two or three copies, sign them, give them to whoever is working at the store at the time. Offer to sign the rest. Say you hope they like it, smile, and leave. They’ll remember your courtesy.” If the store doesn’t carry your book, then give them some of your own copies.

In Create Buzz for Your Self-Publsihed Book, published in the February 2006 issue of The Writer, Dave Lieber gives similar advice. Although his article focuses on self-published texts, his prescription is true for all writers. “Your personality sells your book. People are more likely to buy a book from someone they’ve met, someone who has entertained them and who has a product they decide they want,” Lieber writes. He’s talking about actual readers, but this is true for booksellers as well.

The bottom line is that we as authors must connect with bookstores and the people who staff them if we want our work to sell. We may not have the travel budget that Kate Mosse has, but we can still build relationships with booksellers. When you visit Aunt Myrtle, then stop in at the local bookshop. When you go to your college reunion, go by the college bookstore and say hello.

Learn about the huge marketing campaigns, like Kate Mosse’s, and then strive to implement those techniques in your own career, even if it’s on a smaller scale.