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Jennifer Lawler talks about promoting romance novels, Part 2: What’s working?

The first post in our three-part series on romance novel promotion with Jennifer Lawler introduced Crimson Romance, the new Adams Media imprint she’s managing.  Today, we discuss what is and isn’t working for authors and publishers  promoting romance novels.

Let’s discuss promotion. I talk to a lot of romance writers who think that paid advertising is the only option. What do you think is the most effective way to promote romance books?

Paid advertisement appears to work best for authors who are already well-established – as a way to announce that a new title is available or forthcoming. And it may also be useful to promote awareness of an imprint or publisher to a targeted audience.

But I have never seen convicing evidence that it leads directly to sales for authors who are not already established. So your money would be better spent elsewhere – or you can even put your wallet away and just spend time on other types of promotion to get the best results.

Book sales are still mostly driven by word-of-mouth and reviews. So, you have to think about what you can do to get that word-of-mouth and those reviews. This is why social media is so useful for writers – these tools are great ways to spread the word about your book.

Of course your publisher is already pursuing the obvious avenues for this – for example, at Crimson Romance, we know who the big-name romance bloggers are, so of course we’ll be asking them to review our books. But as the author, you may have friends and colleagues who could also review the book – maybe for a smaller blog they run, or maybe for the alumni magazine, or the like. These are not going to be obvious to the publisher.

Word-of-mouth is also important, and I’ve read studies that show that weak connections (e.g., people who follow you on Twitter but don’t necessarily interact with you) can be key to getting the type of snowball effect you need to have big sales of your books. So although for a long time I felt that quality connections were important (and they are!) I’m less inclined to pooh-pooh the idea of getting large numbers of followers than I used to be. I wouldn’t spend a year getting a million followers, but an hour or two a week focusing on this? It would almost certainly be worth your time.

That isn’t to say the quality of your interactions isn’t also important. But to some extent it does just come down to numbers.

I’ve seen a lot of surveys that show that romance readers in particular want to read samples from writers unfamiliar to them, so having your first five pages or your first chapter available on your website is a great idea (make sure you okay this with your publisher first).

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) has done extensive studies of readers, and this information can be very helpful for romance writers to consider when promoting. For example, romance readers are most likely to buy books based on the author, best-seller lists, a friend’s recommendation, or what the cover copy says.

So if you’re not already established, you need to work on that word-of-mouth – and also make sure the cover copy isn’t lame! The editor usually devises this, and you may not feel like you have any input, but do speak up if you feel the cover copy doesn’t do your book justice. Better yet, supply the cover copy to your editor. She may not use it but it will help get her started in the right direction.

The RWA has also found that readers buy online based on seeing the book available (so you need to be sure that it’s distributed to many third-party retailers, not just BN.com or Amazon.com), reading about it online (which is why you should connect with bloggers, readers, writers – spread the word!), and the author website (so you need an author website).

Romance readers follow author blogs, engage in Facebook in large numbers, and also enjoy YouTube (so come up with a fun book trailer for your book and post it there!).

But here’s the key. For romance readers, the story is the number one reason why they’ll buy a book. If you don’t have a great story, you’re not going to have great sales.

Do you think romance authors should work with book clubs (reading groups)? Why or why not? 

As with most promotional efforts, the answer is “it depends.” It can be very time-consuming to reach out to book clubs and perhaps not end up with a lot to show for your efforts. Also, some books are simply less likely than others to be book-club material. But I think it’s a great idea to offer a reading guide on your website for book clubs to use, and if you happen to have any connections with book clubs, there’s no reason not to use them.

Because yours will be primarily e-books, a virtual book tour for each title makes sense. What do you think of that option for romance novels? Also, will you provide any support to your authors, perhaps by negotiating a discount with a tour package provider or by providing assistance?

We are planning to work with romance bloggers and others to make this type of book tour possible, but a great deal depends on how much time and effort the author wants to put into it. These can be very time-consuming to arrange and execute, and the reward has to be there for it to make sense – both from the publisher’s perspective and from the author’s perspective. These can be just as exhausting as real book tours – and they can be just as disappointing as real book tours (where you’re speaking to an audience of three people, two of whom are waiting on their spouses to finish shopping).

On the other hand, a well-planned virtual tour, especially one that takes advantage of a particular slant or expertise the author has, can do great things for a book.

Be sure to come back on March 13 for Part 3, when Jennifer talks about romance novelists who do a great job of promoting their books.

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