Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Digging Into the Past—and the Future—of Book Promotion

by Donna George Storey

The New Year always inspires me to do some housecleaning, but this year I found myself craving a deeper level of de-cluttering. Of course, this involves more than just filling up the trashcan, it means asking a lot of questions, too. What’s in this box that’s been sitting on top of my filing cabinet for years and do I even need what’s inside? The answer led me on a little trip down memory lane, but also posed new questions for the future of writerly self-promotion.

The particular box I mentioned just so happened to contain my promotional materials for the original paperback edition of my novel, Amorous Woman, which was released in the US in June 2008. (Predictably, it’s been re-released with another publisher as an ebook and takes up no space in my office). This included postcards, bookmarks, a well-thumbed reading copy of the novel and a sample press kit as well as a stand-up sign decorated with Japan-themed stickers: “Take An Exotic, Erotic Trip to Japan with an Amorous Woman.”

Ah, the memories!

It was educational—and utterly exhausting—to promote my novel all on my own, as the majority of writers must. In some ways I still haven’t recovered, and yet I met so many wonderful, generous people and had countless adventures that still make me smile. Reading with “In the Flesh” at the glitzy Hollywood Hustler. Speeding past the junkies collapsed on the sidewalks of downtown LA in a decrepit taxi at 1 am after taping the Dr. Susan Block radio show. The countless emails, phone calls, guest blogs, radio interviews, bookstore readings, bookstore visits begging the owner to help out a local author. This experience, more than any other, made me feel like I was a real writer because my eyes were truly opened to the reality that writing a book is but the small first step in reaching readers.

With Eden Bradley at our exotic, erotic booth (that's my kimono in the background)

The contents of the aforementioned box took me back to one event in particular—the West Hollywood Book Fair where I was part of a booth of “California Erotica Writers” in September 2008. (For anyone interested in a more detailed description of that hot, busy day, check out my blog post, The Last Hollywood Hustle).

Advised by a book fair veteran to provide freebies for the fairgoers to get their attention, I ordered some fortune cookies with my own erotic fortunes as follows:

Sip hot tea; swallow. French kiss your lover’s most sensitive spot.

Blindfold your lover; order him/her to remain still. Do things to make this difficult.

Caress your lover’s body with silk; try velvet, then your tongue.

Have your lover pick a number from 1 to 10. Caress his/her secret pleasure spot for that number of minutes.

FOR HIM: Sip crème de menthe; spread it over his member with your tongue. Blow gently.

Your lover’s been naughty. Maybe s/he needs a gentle spanking?

Give your lover an erotic book; mark your favorite passages first.

FOR HER: Don’t take off your lingerie tonight—make him (or her) “work around it.”

Have phone sex—even if you live together.

Make love anywhere but the bedroom. Be creative with the furniture.

The cookies--Would you like to try a grownup fortune cookie?--actually were relatively successful in getting the grownups to come over to the booth so I could chat them up about my novel. Without them, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a single person to listen to my pitch! Although I didn’t intend it to be self-serving, those who got the fortune suggesting you give your lover an erotic book smiled cynically, and I vowed to substitute a different fortune next time. (I still believe an erotic book is a good gift, and it doesn’t have to be my book!) While I would never call myself an outgoing person, for the sake of my novel, I took on the role of salesman as best I could. One athletic, silver-haired gentleman even asked me if I was from L.A. When I replied I was from the Bay Area, he smiled and said, “You seem like one of us,” which pleased me then, but feels more complicated as a compliment in retrospect.

Of course, I can’t let the rosy haze of nostalgia mislead you about the thrill of my self-planned book tour to Hollywood. I stood at that booth from 10 am to 5 pm and sold 5 copies total, all to strangers—which was the best record of all of my boothmates. And all the visitors weren’t so nice. One boozy woman monopolized my time for 20 minutes, driving away potential customers. Another older gentleman chatted for a long time without buying a book, but before he walked away, he did press his crumbled, uneaten fortune cookie into my hand as a return gift.

It was fun to sift through the contents of the box and reminisce, but my present goal to clean house called me back to 2014. Would I ever use a sign, a press kit or even the bookmarks again? Would I ever attend a book fair to promote my work or traipse around to local bookstores, discovering all too intimately which owners respected erotica and which seemed to take pleasure in sneering at smut?

This, Dear ERWA Blog Reader, is my question for you. Is face-to-face promotion a thing of the past? Are bookmarks and homemade signs merely momentos or worth keeping as tools in my arsenal for promoting my next book? I cannot say that a single event I attended resulted in monetary profit, although I came away with invaluable memories. It seems to me that for reasons of cost and convenience, the future of promoting now lies solely in the Internet ether.

In the midst of writing this month's post, I happened to read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s column in Dame, “Why Is Self-Promotion Considered the Eighth Deadly Sin?” Most writers, including myself, are more comfortable sitting alone at their computers making stuff up, so it’s no surprise that many, even the successful ones who’ve gotten world-class promotional opportunities like Jonathan Franzen, bemoan the necessity to peddle our own wares. Online promotion certainly does offer real benefits to a writer who is more comfortable writing than soliciting fairgoers to come over to her booth for a chat-up. On the other hand, I sometimes feel that all the Facebooking and Twittering is too much like making faces at myself in the mirror.

Promoting my book is not about me and my wonderful talent, as the uninitiated might think. That was one of the most valuable lessons I learned from my first efforts back in 2008. Promoting is about making connections. In her article, Rachel has a great quote from creative badass blogger, Justine Musk:

“Social media is about finding a way to tell this ongoing, multiplatform kind of story that resonates with your so-called audience because it’s about them, it’s not about you. It serves the audience, not you. Not all marketing is bad marketing. Good marketing is about making an emotional connection with the people whom you are meant to serve.”

I couldn’t agree more. But I have to admit that thus far social media has not provided the same potential for intimacy—although I do feel all warm and fuzzy from the Facebook messages on my birthday—and as I look ahead, I know it will be a challenge to find ways to make a real connection amidst all the noise and distraction of the online universe.

If you have any words of advice, please share!

Wishing you a Happy and Creative 2014!

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor

7 comments:

  1. I loved this -- thank you for writing. Your time at the "Fair" is the exact era I was coming out to SBWC... Oooof.

    I don't like the promotional aspects at all, but am thinking of getting a gorgeous print shop to run off my Gardenias. I just found out the local bookstore I adore takes those, and they will get shelved next to anthos I'm in. I'd rather interact in Goodreads?

    Lisabet's new "Snippets" sound fab. The nature of the genre post-Nin -- she didn't mingle per se, and isn't it much more interesting to just "read" us, without meeting us? I'm not sure the Kindle types much care about "author" in the old-fashioned sense, anyway.

    If I'm not going to do a reading at my Writer's Conf -- you made me laugh over that Hollywood exp. No way!

    xxoo!
    Valentine

    ps: we all have our own individual niches in the genre, I feel. I'm aiming for the hetero-feminist market. She loves lingerie, men and lipstick. He needs to know all about the legions of women who are like her.

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    1. Excellent point that we all do need to find our own best way to promote, just as we all have our own specialties in terms of what we write. I do love to hear about how other writers negotiate this, but I'd guess for anyone it takes a lot more work than you think. Also a good point about the comfort of anonymity in erotica. Actually I do think the new state of internet promotion offers a lot of opportunities; on the other hand the apparent need for constant new content can be totally exhausting and disheartening.

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  2. You're a much braver woman than I am, Donna! I don't think I would have survived that fair.

    At this point, I'm so burned out by marketing that I've decided to mostly ignore the issue. I certainly haven't found an approach that works - and I've been publishing for quite a while longer than you.

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    1. P.S. I do think you've got a potentially winning product with those fortune cookies!

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    2. Okay, Lisabet, I've always looked to you as my sempai (more experienced colleague) in this area. If you're burned out, then I feel okay with my own feelings. Unfortunately, just the other day, someone asked, "Have you thought of promoting Amorous Woman?" It took all I had not to punch this person. The fortune cookies are surely a more likely road to riches!

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  3. Hi Donna!

    I despair. I'm such a loser at even trying to promote myself, god knows Lisabet has tried to get me to do a better job. I still envy you though, having a chance to be in a promotion fair even if it didn't sell a lot of books. California is the right place to be for this. If I had it all to do over I would have moved to California straight out of high school. Shucks.

    Garce

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    1. California is a great place, although with this nasty drought this year, you might reconsider if you like to take showers and have a lawn! I think it is important that writers come out and be honest about how hard and unnatural it is for many of us to promote our work. We all hear stories about how this or that writer sold millions via MySpace [long ago] or Facebook, but do those "likes" really translate into sales? I've really reached the conclusion that it is the journey, not the money, that is of true value for us.

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