Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Getting a Leg up on Your Book Sales

Guest post by Jo Hiestand

Perhaps some of you know I write a British mystery series based on British customs. These are the Taylor & Graham books.

Last spring I was thinking of how I could market these books. Something different. Something unique. Since I follow the calendar with these customs, kind of like a murder-and-tradition-of-the-month, I though of writing a cookbook filled with recipes pertaining to these customs.

But I didn’t want to divide the recipes into the “usual” chapters of soups, breads, main dishes and so forth. I wanted to keep the foods grouped for their custom so they would identify that tradition or holiday. What better way, I thought, than to have each custom designate a chapter!

So, my book Cider, Swords and Straw begins with my first Taylor & Graham mystery – the November custom of Bonfire Night – and ends with the October book.

Since I was doing this mainly to market my mystery novels, I also figured I’d begin each cookbook chapter with a synopsis of that particular novel, then explain the custom featured in the mystery, and present recipes traditional to the custom – or at least some that would go well with the custom.

The book ended up being 387 pages, with more than 300 recipes. It’s nice.
I figure it’s a two-edged sword: someone buys the cookbook for the recipes, gets intrigued by the custom and/or story plot, and buys the mystery novel. Or someone familiar with one of the mysteries might want to delve more deeply into the custom, perhaps throw their own Twelfth Night or Watching the Church Porch party, and buy the cookbook.

To help bring about the former, I contacted a local St Louis area grocery store chain that has a prestigious cooking school attached to it. They were interested in hosting a class a month, with me talking briefly about the custom before the chef and I prepared a full menu fit for a Twelfth Night king...or summery tea for the corpse road wanderers.

But I didn’t stop there.

Last fall I had a book signing, resplendent with catered creations from my cookbook. While folks stood around and nibbled, the musicians who sang and recorded the song for my McLaren mystery Hit Song, performed. Nothing like promoting two books at once!

Which brings me to my other marketing technique: songs associated with the McLaren books available on single CDs.

Each book in the series has ‘song’ in the title: Torch Song, Hit Song, Rock Song, and so forth. A song that is integral to either the murder victim or to my protagonist, McLaren, not only is part of the plot but is also recorded by local music students from a St Louis-area university. It’s a great deal for all of us. They get the experience of recording and have a CD for their press kit; I have the song on CD for purchase; readers can hear the song that’s so important to the plot, and the story really comes alive.

I honestly didn’t begin this as a ‘stunt’ to market the McLaren mystery novels. The victim in my second novel, Swan Song, was a contemporary folksinger who performed at recreated Renaissance fairs. He was famous for his song about two swans. As I wrote, I could hear him quite plainly and thought it would be wonderful if readers could hear the song. That was the birth of the song-per-novel.

Siren Song, the first book in the series, inadvertently birthed another marketing idea. A silver charm is an important clue in the story. I thought it was kind of a fun thing to wear the charm on a silver chain around my neck. I wore it to signings and got some comments on it. I decided to sell them as an accessory to the novel. It was fairly popular so I started matching other charms to the series’ subsequent books and characters. Now I offer them for sale at signings and through my website. Sure, people can buy their own charms, and I don’t mind that. But the idea is mine (as far as I know) and people think of my books when they wear the charms.

My latest Taylor & Graham mystery, False Step, also appeared last fall. It features the custom of rapper sword dancing. The St Louis area, to my knowledge and research, has no rapper sword group, but it does have an English Morris dance group. I figured that was close enough. English folk dancing would still get the idea across when coupled with the “false step” of my book title. The dancers appeared at two of my book signings, something unique.

During my eight years of publication I’ve tried many other marketing things: library talks, basket giveaways, bring in two friends and you all get a classy tote bag... Teaching a mystery writing class at the local community college seems to help get my name ‘out there,’ too. One student even brought one of my books to class so I could autograph it for him! But I think making your signing an ‘event’ works best. It’s cemented in people’s minds because it’s different. And they actually show up because it is different.

And most anything that’s different, that sets your book apart from others, is good. All of us need a leg up when it comes to book sales – dancing included! 

This is T.W. Fendley. Thanks for reading and commenting on The Writers' Lens. You can find more about me at


  1. Hi, Jo,

    Wow! You are so creative in your marketing and book promotion techniques. Very impressive. Glad you are keeping us in the loop.

  2. Kudos for great ideas and alerting authors what can be done when inspired.

    Very creative, Jo.

  3. All I can say is, I'm tryin'! I gotta do somethin' to sell books, ha ha! Thanks for the comment, Jacqueline. jo

  4. Thank you, Betty. A good idea doesn't always guarantee anyone will buy books. But so far I've been pretty lucky. I still don't want to go into marketing as a profession, ha ha!

  5. It all sounds very fun! Good job!

  6. Jo, this is amazingly creative! I love the idea of including all those songs. And the book itself sounds utterly delicious. Congratulations! Now you'll have to write a how to market book--with a few lyrics, of course.

  7. LOL! Too funny, Nancy! Maybe I can let people have a choice: buy the book as trade paper, as ebook, or on a CD with the book sung to them! ;-)

  8. And thanks, Pauline, for your comment. It IS fun!

  9. There's no stopping you, Jo. These ideas are so creative, on top of what I know you already do. I hope they pay off in book sales and an enhanced reputation for you and your culinary knowledge.

  10. Jo, you are the marketing master. I've given a few talks in Sacramento on promotion and I always include the tip you shared about having gift stores in British castles, where your Taylor & Graham series is located, sell your books. I've also found as you have, that entertainment really draws people to a launch party. I had professional ballroom dancers perform at my launch for DYING FOR A DANCE and over 200 people showed up for DWTS up close and personal. Keep those great ideas coming!

  11. What a cool idea, Cindy! Who wouldn't love to dance with a pro! SUPER idea -- glad it was a successful event.

  12. And Peter...thanks for the compliment. It means a lot coming from a fellow writer...and one of your caliber. Thanks!

  13. I'm in awe. A couple ideas, yes; but so many! My first novel, Arirang: The Bamboo Connection had bamboo rings in gold as a symbol throughout. I found a bunch at the dollar store for wedding favors - gold bamboo rings! I handed them out with the book. I also had a real one that I wore on a chain also. With Ghost Orchid, I had "tears," the stones you put in the bottom of vases. I got the idea from L & L Dreamspell publishers who once sent a similar stone with "dream" on the bottom that shown through to their authors. I've done other simple things, but nothing so complicated as cd's and cookbooks! author of Ghost Orchid

  14. I don't know about complicated...I just thought of them and liked the idea and thought I'd see if anything came of them. I'm a former graphic designer, so some of this comes "naturally" to me. I write the CD booklet, design the label and cover, etc -- that's so much fun! Then I get the labels professionally printed onto the CD -- no paper labels 'cause I think that makes it look amateurish. I'm not trying to "prove" anything or make a oneupmanship statement -- it's just ideas that seem to come naturally to me. I do like your gold bamboo rings -- anything like that, that connects to the book, is good 'cause hopefully folks will think of your book when they use the ring! I like it!!! ;-)

  15. Wow! I thought it was pretty cool when I found earrings to match the cover of A Windswept Star, but you're way beyond that. I'm blown away.

  16. Don't be blown away, Nikki. I think that's incredible that you found matching earrings! Talk about branding!!!! ;-)

  17. I think that's cool, too. I never had matching earrings to a book! Talk about branding!!!!! ;-)