Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Buying the Person Behind the Product, Not Just the Product

Me excited to find my book at Cracker Barrel
I've been looking for a change. Without going into too much hairy detail, I've recently decided it's time to look for a new publicist.

And in shopping around, I've learned a few things that I believe are key marketing principles.

First of all, let me say that I'm a firm believer in the power of a good publicist to get word of your book out there to places you can't, and therefore drive sales.

I learned this lesson with my first few books which were published by a small press. All marketing and publicity was up to me. Me and only me. Sales were meager and each and every sale was hard-fought.

Then came my first traditionally published book, Mom NEEDS Chocolate, which was contracted in 2007, the year every industry in America - including the publishing industry - was hit hard by the recession and had to tighten their belts or go under. During the two years between the time I signed the contract and the actual release date in 2009, the publisher's publicity department shrank from 14 people to one.

There was no way that one poor overworked gal would be able to make the splash I yearned for my book to make while trying to promote the other dozen books releasing in the same quarter. So without any significant research, I hired the first outside PR firm I came across to create more ripples. The problem with that firm was that it was comprised of only one woman who had just had a baby (a bit distracting, right?) and turned out to be quite expensive for the services I received.

Live and learn. The price for not doing your homework and leaping before you look.  

Then came my "Take On Life" series with Barbour Books (a different publisher than my previous book). When the first book in the series was ready for release (Too Blessed to be Stressed, 2011), I had heard the 90/10 rule, that 90 percent of new authors share a mere 10 percent of the PR department's attention (the majority of funds and efforts go toward the best selling titles and authors). So after doing more research this time, I hired a highly recommended publicity firm (a different one) to work alongside the Barbour publicity team in order to cover all the bases.

The success of Too Blessed to be Stressed (over 60k copies sold and still counting) plus the spawning of 10 Baby Blessings (books and book product offspring of the original book) indicate that it was a good idea.

So with the publicity campaigns of More Beauty, Less Beast (2012), Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate (2013), and Too Loved to be Lost (2014), I continued to use the same publicist with pretty good results.

But lately, with the upcoming 2015 release of the Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook, I began to itch for something more in a publicity campaign. Something different. Something with a little more pizzazz. So began my publicist shopping expedition.

And here's where the real marketing lesson began.

I came up with a list of 15 publicity firms that are generally associated with Christian publishing. Not that they don't deal with secular markets as well, but primarily their clients are Christian authors of inspirational books. I began e-mailing queries, explaining briefly who I am, where I am on my writing journey, and where I'd like to end up, ending with, "Would you be interested in representing me?"

The first five responses were less than heart-warming. I was greeted with tepid enthusiasm and instructed to fill out a form. Afterward, they would get back to me. Maybe. When they had time. And Jupiter aligned with Uranus.

It reminded me of the oblivious store clerk chatting on her phone with a  friend when you're in a hurry to check out. She may or may not acknowledge your presence, then turns her back to you as if you're a pest and annoying inconvenience and continues gabbing away.

You feel:
1. Unwanted.
2. That your business is unappreciated.
3. You are unimportant, insignificant, and invisible.

The sixth query response, in contrast, launched fireworks lighting up my sky.

"I'm was so excited to receive your query yesterday," the warm-voiced gal gushed over the phone (she had requested an immediate phone conversation when she got my e-mail query). "Of course I've heard of you and I love your work. I love your brand. I love the concept of this cookbook and I've been bubbling over with ideas about how to market it to a wider secular audience as well as the Christian market."

Oh yeah? Well, I love you too, sister!

I suddenly felt:
1. Wanted.
2. That my business is valuable and greatly appreciated.
3. That I'm visible to this gal and she thinks she can make me visible to the rest of the world.

So who do you think I'm more inclined to hand over my hard-earned dollars to? I don't know if this self-marketing-savvy woman really did know my work before she received my query and perused my website, but because of her enthusiasm and the way she presented herself, it really doesn't matter to me. She knows me now, and she's willing to put her enthusiasm to work for me.

She knew that by selling herself to me, I would be buying the person behind the product, not just the product. That's POWERFUL marketing.

And if she can do it to me, she can do it for me.  

Something to remember in my own future self-marketing forays. And you too, author buddy.