Please welcome Kim Wright as our guest today. Kim is the author of Last Ride to Graceland, The Canterbury Sisters, The Unexpected Waltz (all Gallery Books), and Love in Mid Air (Grand Central), as well as seven books of nonfiction and the historical series City of Mystery. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Like, I suspect, most writers, figuring out how to promote and market my books has been an ongoing struggle. How much social media is too much? Is there a way to make book tours more palatable? What works and what’s a complete waste of time and money? When I fell into the Authors Out of Carolina group, which is the brainchild of a group of longtime friends, it seemed to offer a fresh new way to look at the marketing angle, and I wanted to share our experiences with other writers.
Authors Out of Carolina (or Anywhere Else, for That Matter)
Like most writers, I have a lot of friends who are writers. And, also like most writers, I have a knee-jerk reaction to the very idea of using my friends. But lately I’ve been rethinking the assumption that it’s somehow morally wrong to base your marketing plans around your personal relationships. Here’s why.
Through a strange piece of serendipity, four members of my local writing group have books coming out this summer: Last Ride to Graceland by me; The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway; The Last Treasure by Erika Marks; and The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Whalen. We all have different publishers and thus different publicists, but we decided to pool our efforts, starting with a joint launch party.
We’re renting a nearby Victorian house and each theming a room to our novel, complete with snack. (In honor of my book’s Elvis connection, I’m doing banana and peanut butter Hunka Hunka Burning Love milkshakes.) We decided to call it a salon and invite everyone in town—Friends of the Library, book clubs, the historical society, retirement centers, and of course our own family and friends.
Advantages of the joint launch:
- It’s kind of a no-brainer that four writers can draw a bigger crowd than one. And people coming in for Erika might end up buying Joy’s book as well.
- Four themed rooms are more festive, and we’ll always have at least one writer reading in the gazebo.
- By turning the launch into a community event rather than a private function, we got a discounted rate on the rental, which we were furthermore able to split four ways. We can promote the event to local media with the “ick” factor reduced. It’s no longer about “Buy my book” but more about “Let’s celebrate local authors.” (And yeah, while you’re celebrating, you might also want to buy my book.)
Inspired, we pushed on. With a nod to Dorothy Allison, we came up with a group name—Authors Out of Carolina—took a group photograph, and created a joint Facebook page, too, with these advantages:
- With all four of us inviting our individual friends to like the page, we gained a much bigger following than any of us could’ve mustered on our own.
- Which meant that any time we used the page to announce events or news, either individual or collective, that post went out to a larger audience.
From there it was a natural call to tour together. Charlotte, North Carolina, isn’t exactly a literary mecca, but it’s smack central to several promising pods of booksellers, all within a two to five hour drive. We sat down one day over lunch with maps and calendars split the territory; I took the north around Durham-Raleigh-Chapel Hill, Marybeth took the coastal towns to the east; Erika handled the Greenville-Atlanta area to the south, and Joy contacted the western booksellers in the mountains.
- Our publicists treated us like we’d invented the wheel. Now they each only had to handle a fourth of the prospects.
- We figured the booksellers might LIKE idea of four writers traveling in tandem but as it turned out they LOVED it. With the same amount of planning and promotion, they stood to quadruple their potential sales. We had no trouble booking in-store events. Not just signings, which can be kinda lonely and sad, but full-throttle events.
- We were able to present ourselves to conference coordinators as a ready-made panel, with a list of topics we were more than prepared to discuss.
- From our home base of Charlotte some trips were one day, but for the longer ones, we could split the costs of hotels and gas. A big deal, since we were all traveling on our own dime.
- With the group name, picture, and dynamic, it was easier to get media coverage prior to our arrival.
- We’ve all found it easier to promote ourselves as a group. I have no problem talking up how funny we are, or how much pizzazz we’ll bring to an event. Because as creepy as it feels to brag about yourself, it’s easy to brag about your friends.
- And best of all, whatever awaits us on the road, we’ll face it together.
Our plans fell together with the kind of speed and ease that was frankly Biblical. Before we knew it, we’d booked twenty-three gigs.
I suspect this is a dynamic that can be replicated in lots of ways, wherever you live. It seems that you need to find other writers who 1) you like well enough to create good event and panel chemistry; 2) are writing in a similar genre so that people who come out for one person’s books might also be tempted to buy those of another; 3) are interested in investing about the same amount of time and money; and 4) are geographically close enough that you can either drive together to events or easily meet up there. You don’t have to do it all—perhaps you just want to share the cost of a spiffy venue for a joint launch or present polished panels to local conferences—but it seems beyond dispute that you can generate more opportunity when you work in tandem.
We’re treating Authors Out of Carolina as an ongoing experiment, and if you want to follow our ups and downs, like us on Facebook. We’re curious to see just where this wave of momentum might carry us next.
What are ways you have joined with other writer friends? Are there other promotion experiments you’ve tried? We’d love to hear!