Saturday, January 16, 2016

Marketing Two Books at Once


by Betty Webb

In December, 2008, when Poisoned Pen Press released my kinda-cozy “The Anteater of Death,” the first book in the Gunn Zoo series, I had a choice to make. I could tour the brick-and-mortar stores and never mention my earlier 2008 release, the dark “Desert Cut,” or not bring up that fifth novel in the Lena Jones series at all. After all, I’d already conducted a brick-and-mortar tour on “Cut”.

But the bookstores ordered more Lena Jones books for me to sign on the “Anteater” tour, so I realized that I had to come up with a way to discuss two very, very different types of books in the same talk. The answer came when the store managers asked me why I was switching from dark material to light, and was that switch going to be permanent. As I began explaining, I thought, “Gee, this is exactly the kind of stuff audiences might be interested in.”

My explanation? Researching writing the socially conscious Lena Jones books -- Desert Cut in particular -- is so time intensive and emotionally grueling, that I needed a break. Such as writing something funny. But where could I go for laughs? Then I realized that in my four years as a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, I’d seen some pretty funny things, and that a mystery set in a zoo and with a zookeeper protagonist would provide the comic relief I was looking for. I picked one of my favorite animals, Lucy, a Giant Anteater, and framed her for murder. Only the clue-sniffing actions of her fond keeper -- the intrepid Theodora “Teddy” Bentley -- keeps Lucy from being shipped off to a different zoo.

So I pepper my in-store talks with funny stories about zoo life; a giraffe kicking a pesky ostrich ten feet into the air, a cowardly bear, and the sex lives of Mexican gray wolves (they’re not as monogamous as some people believe). When people ask about my Lena Jones material (and there are always some), I address those issues: abuse of eminent domain in “Desert Noir,” polygamy in “Desert Wives,” publishing scams in “Desert Shadows,” Arizona history in “Desert Run,” and a horrendous type of child abuse -- performed on millions of little girls -- in “Desert Cut.” This extreme duality makes for some pretty peculiar talks, but it works. I’d thought that the two different series would appeal to different readers, but to my surprise, many readers buy both.

My promotional material reflects the duality of the two series. Side A of the full color brochure for “The Anteater of Death” flyer talks about the anteater (cover, plot line, reviews, short bio, etc.). Side B lists the entire Lena Jones series, the five books and their plots (and covers), and some of the more widely-read reviews (New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.). I designed my two-sided, full color book marks the same way, although I was only able to fit in two Lena Jones books; I chose the best-selling books (“Desert Wives” and “Desert Cut”). And, of course, my web site address appears on everything.

The promotional material worked even better than I’d hoped. Seems like every day I get an email from a flyer reader who’s decided to read their way through my list. The only drawback is that they want me to write faster. And -- God help me -- tour more often.

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