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Exploring the Rule of Seven

lisa alberOur guest today is Lisa Alber [1], a Hibernophile whose first novel, Kilmoon [2], was nominated for the Rosebud Award for best first novel. She is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant and a Walden Fellowship, and was recently included in the bestselling anthology, Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now [3]. Lisa lives in Portland, Oregon, but later this month she’s off to Ireland, where she’ll probably drink too much Guinness—all in the name of novel research, of course! Her second novel, Whispers in the Mist [4] (August 2016, Midnight Ink) is available for preorder.

Anything to do with marketing, publicity, and self-promotion can be overwhelming. Most of us would like to be left alone to, well, write. I like to hear other writers’ tales from the promotional jungle, especially when there’s a new idea that might resonate with me and be fun at the same time. We can’t do everything, but it’s good to know what options are out there. Thought I’d share what I’ve recently experienced.

Connect with Lisa on her blog [5], on Facebook [6], and on Twitter [7].

Exploring the Rule of Seven

I have a theory about self-promotion. Namely, that we throw as many things out there as we can—Facebook viritual parties, guest blog posts, bookmarks, and so on—in hopes that something sticks. Please, we say to ourselves, let my name magically propagate through the hoards of readers out there who I know would love my novels.

I’ve heard it said by “experts” that our names don’t stick in readers’ heads until they’ve been exposed to it at least seven times. Seven! I don’t know who these so-called experts are, and I’m convinced that no one knows what truly works at any given time, for any given author, but I’m open-minded. I’m willing to toss my name into the literary grab bag over and over again.

The rule of seven has become official enough to have a Wikipedia page—I kid you not—and an official sounding theory associated with it: “effective frequency.” As with any unprovable theory, this one has caused some controversy. How many exposures constitute the optimally correct number? Is it really seven?

Not long ago, I realized that in the past year, I’d been invited to participate in three joint book promo-y projects, which struck me as interesting and perhaps “a thing” that’s going on at the moment to help us land our optimally correct number of exposures. I call it “hive mind self-promotion.”

So what am I talking about exactly? Whispers 1D-2I’m talking about anthologies, basically, but with new twists. Hive mind self-promotion like this wouldn’t be possible without easy-peasy self-publishing. Imagine it—any joint book project you can think of, you can make happen in a relatively short span of time.

Here are seven ideas that could help with the rule of seven exposure:

  1. Serial novels. Charles Dickens would have a lot to teach us about how to craft serialized novels. I recently stumbled on a newfangled hive mind take on this classic idea. Serial Killer, a thriller in stories, is a modern retelling of Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie. Ten authors will each write a chapter that stands alone as a short story and also propels the novel forward. Creator Chantelle Aimée Osman plans to publish an e-story every two weeks in serial fashion followed up by both e- and print versions of the book.
  2. Cookbooks. In We’d Rather be Writing, 88 Authors Share Timesaving Dinner Recipes and Other Tips, editor Lois Winston collected recipes and tips, and she included a bio page with links for each of the author contributors. She donated most of the profits to the No Kid Hungry charity. Cookbooks are great projects for writing organizations too. The Mystery Writers of America published a deluxe cookbook that came out right before the holiday season.
  3. Hinges of History. There’s a notion I’ve read about called “the hinges of history.” These are moments in time that are pivot points—moments of change. These moments are ripe for fictional exploration. In Fall of Poppies, Stories of Love and the Great War, editor and author Heather Webb chose the end of World War I, November 11th, 1918, as her hinge moment and gathered eight historical novelists to write stories that explore this moment in time.
  4. Fanfiction-ologies. Fan fiction as a subgenre is a recent development, one that seems to have found favor, even a kind of legitimacy if 50 Shades of Grey is any indication. It strikes me that we can use hive mind to honor the beloved. As an example, you could gather a group of fantasy writers to set a series of stories in J.R.R. Tolkein’s world, with new characters. The mean noir streets created by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler have inspired dozens of spinoffs.
  5. Group Blog Anthology. Group blogs are a handy example of using collaboration to help spread your name seed around. How about taking that a step further with a group blog anthology? This is just what Christina Lay, head maven of the ShadowSpinners blog, decided to do, and the result was a fun and varied collection of dark tales.
  6. Return of the Novella. Have you noticed that novellas have returned? Lately, I’ve seen novellas put to good use by authors who are between novels but hope to keep their names in front of readers. In Other People’s Baggage, by Kendel Lynn, Gigi Pandian, and Diane Vallere, three interconnected novellas get their start from a baggage claim glitch at the airport.
  7. Really Putting it Out There. Call me honored to be asked to join the collection Eight Mystery Writers You Should Be Reading Now [3]. With a name like that, you know this project really is all about spreading our name seeds. The idea is that sometimes readers may like help discovering new authors. To that end, this book includes short stories, sample chapters, and interviews. As a group, we wrote guest blogs, promoted free days, and threw a Facebook virtual party. It’s amazing how much fun self-promotion can be when doing it with a group. And, the book became an Amazon bestseller!

Marketing is elusive, we all know that. We don’t know what works, and it’s hard to prove anything anyhow. We can probably agree that getting our names out there is a good idea, and sometimes making the effort communal can make the overall self-promotion task more fun.

I figure at least a few readers have seen my name seven times by now. Maybe some of them have bought my novel…And there I go, praying again…

What do you think of this new collaborative style of self-promotion? Helpful or just another clamoring voice in a sea of clamoring voices? As readers, how do you discover new writers?