1. Who’s Jack Elam?
2. Get me Jack Elam.
3. Get me a Jack Elam type.
4. Who’s Jack Elam?
Genre authors often have a similar experience. At first no one recognizes your name, and you sit at events with your single offering as people pass without a glance. I was once seated next to Sue Grafton at a signing (H for Herring, G for Grafton). Her line was around the room and out the door. Mine was…well, there wasn’t one.
So the first stage is “Who’s Peg Herring?” I was lucky enough to get a respected publisher for my first books and smart enough to work at promotion. I did talks from Michigan to Florida and sent out mailings to bookstores and libraries. My publisher found reviewers, so I saw my name in Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus with kind words about writing style, plot, and character development. In a small but helpful way, that first question was answered: Peg Herring is a mystery writer. Over the years I’ve worked to get as many readers as possible familiar with that six-word sentence.
In a perfect world, that would lead to “Get me Peg Herring’s books,” and I’m still surprised at how many libraries across the Midwest have the Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries on their shelves. Experts tell authors the best incentive for someone to buy the next book is their enjoyment of the last one, so the series served both my publisher and me well–until they decided to stop publishing mysteries.
That was okay, sort of. I had branched out to contemporary and what I call “vintage” mysteries, set in more recent times like the 1960s. My fans bought them, but without major reviewers and a direct library connection, it was harder to let book lovers know the Loser Mysteries and the Dead Detective Mysteries existed. When I finally went independent, promotion became even crazier. The reading world is choked with entries, so new releases fall into a dump truck full of titles, some well-written and edited, some not. A writer must decide when spending her limited promotional funds: To whom should promotions be targeted? Fans who liked my historicals might not enjoy KIDNAP.org, my humorous caper novel, but readers who’ve never heard of me might look right past an unfamiliar name, since they have no sense of my abilities and style.
I use a varied approach to promotion that depends on the book itself. Of course I start with an eye-catching cover and a great blurb. At promotional sites I match what I have to offer with the types of books their members like. (A site with two dozen covers depicting scantily-clad women grasped by bare-chested men probably isn’t for me.) Since these sites vary in quality, it takes work to figure out whether their membership, format, and pricing fits my needs. Still, the results are better if I take the time to do that rather than a scatter-gun approach. Of course there are no guarantees in promotion, even when an author gives books away. I know people who have hundreds of free books downloaded to their devices. If they never read them, how does that help me sell more books?
Since I write what interests me and not just what sold before, I work to let readers know my name means 1) quality mystery, 2) strong female characters, and 3) a satisfying ending. It isn’t easy. Last week I spoke at a library in Tampa, and after my talk, a woman picked up a book and skimmed the back cover. With a little shriek she said, “Oh, this is you? I read this whole series! I loved it!” If she’d read four of my books and still didn’t recognize my name, you can bet she hadn’t gone looking for my other offerings.
Though it’s an uphill battle, I enjoy the challenge of finding new readers and convincing them to try my work. Looking back, I generally like what I’ve done with my writing career over the last decade. And I don’t really care if ten years from now people are back to asking: “Who’s Peg Herring?”
Peg Herring reads, writes, and loves mysteries. As an educator, she once set the stage on fire. As a tourist, she’s been so lost she passed through the same town in Pennsylvania three times in one day. Friends have lost count of how many times she’s locked herself out of her house. As the award-winning author of several series and stand-alones, she’s safer if she stays in her office and writes, either as herself or as her younger, hipper alter ego, Maggie Pill. Peg’s newest release is Not Dead Yet…, suspense with a big surprise that’s set in 1960s Chicago. Maggie just released Book 6 of the Sleuth Sisters Mysteries, Peril, Plots, and Puppies.
Peg’s website: http://www.pegherring.com
Maggie’s website: http://maggiepill.maggiepillmysteries.com