Lawletters: Defending the Bookmark
I recently moderated and took part in a panel discussion on the subject of book marketing, which is a significant part of my day job. On this panel were three authors, one the New York Times best-seller and creator of the iconic character "Rambo," David Morrell, and one New York editor, James Frenkel, of Tor/Forge.
It's not always easy to agree with everything or everyone on any given subject, but on this panel there was a general consensus to just about all we talked about. One thing I mentioned in my monologue was that I chose to use printed bookmarks in my face-to-face events, with the QR code that allowed people to scan it and access my website with their smart phone. I made the comment that some people may have other ideas, but this was mine. Frenkel and Morrell disagreed with me.
Morrell made a great comment about how authors will be passed by if they do not have some sort of significant Web presence, and if they do not, he referred to their activity, or lack thereof, as "sky writing." Following his monologue, Frenkel made a witty reference to the purpose of bookmarks, and then Morrell followed with a comment that labeled them as "sky writing."
Though I do believe that our virtual connection with readers is powerful and very important, I don't believe that face-to-face connections with readers, i.e. book signings, should be ignored. Morrell has already built an amazing audience, Rambo a global brand name, and he started forty years ago, but he doesn't ignore the fact that competition is incredible and is big into the social media frenzy.
For those of us who are just starting out, with eight million books to compete with, we have a lot of work cut out for us. My books are mass market originals and they don't get reviewed in all the major review publications. My books are also packaged as traditional Westerns (even though they are not traditional Westerns), which means they are found in Wal-Mart, which is good, and hidden in that tiny Western section of Barnes and Noble. My job is not only to write these books, but to help readers find them.
Then there's the eBook. Since the exodus of Dorchester Publishing from the mass market paperback, I have had a theory that this would hurt their Western titles and authors. After a couple years of royalty reports from my author friends, and one of my own, I was correct in my theory: readers of traditional Westerns don't read eBooks. It may be a booming product with romance, paranormal, et al, but the Western is not a lucrative part of that market.
With packaging the way that it is—a cover that depicts a scene irrelevant to the story inside, and a distribution system that does not reach out to the best potential audience—we are burdened with diverting around that system. It does no good to complain about it, we just have to get busy. When it comes to leading people to eBooks, the best place to do that marketing is through the social media. But to find that Western reader, and others, I have to meet them face-to-face.
I realize that bookmarks may seem to be heading toward obsolescence, as are printed books themselves, but I felt the need to have some sort of printed item that I could hand out to people who I met at my signings, which gave contact info, website address, eBook info, social media connections, etc. Business cards are probably an okay choice, but my fear was that they would get caught in the shuffle with all other "business." I don't like brochures at all, because they are too much information, and expensive to print in color. Bookmarks seemed to be the right thing for me because just by the mere size and design of them, it immediately put "books" in people’s minds.
I also used creative ways to distribute the bookmarks. Not only did I put them in each book I signed or left behind (a book with a bookmark in it on the bookshelf truly stands out among the others), but I handed them to people as they walked by. I especially loved giving them to kids. Kids love freebees, and if I couldn't get the parent's attention, they certainly want to know what it was that I just gave their child. I can't tell you how many times, during my five month tour, that I gave a bookmark to a kid, and their parent(s), who had originally passed by without interest, came back and bought a book.
My favorite experience with a bookmark was when I got an email from a man who visited his grandchildren one evening, and found one of my bookmarks that I had given them at a signing. He loved reading Westerns and was happy to learn about my book and ordered it. I think later he used the bookmark to "pick the peanut butter from between the keys of his cell phone." I like the idea that people might think of me when they do that. :)
I do respect the opinions of my fellow panelists, but I am going to stand by my bookmarks, for now. My activity in the social media has me well in the game of modern book marketing, so I feel connected there. But, I do know that some of my audience (maybe not the mass audience) are still chewing their food slowly, calling instead of texting, and maybe even going to air shows, taking their time to admire that writing in the sky.
Here's a link to one of the marketing panel clips. I hope you'll take time to watch them all.