How important is self-promotion?
Oh, I am the worst person on the planet to ask about self-promotion. When I became a writer, I thought the job was for people who liked to sit in their basements for hours on end with no human contact but what was in their heads. I thought it was for people who didn't care what they looked like or smelled like.
I once was asked to speak on a panel about self-promotion and I said I didn't think authors should do any, because it was morally wrong. Readers should be promoting books and other book people, not authors.
So I've grown up a little since then, but I think no one really understands how one book seems to benefit from promotion and another doesn't at all. I guess the first thing is--do no harm. If you're doing self-promotion, make sure that you are being nice to people around you and that they will remember you fondly. Second rule, write a good book. Third rule, write another good book. Fourth rule, take a break and go to some conferences to meet people and be nice again. Fifth rule, write another good book. Eventually, the thing snowballs and you'll have too much self-promotion to do and you'll be wishing you were back at the beginning so you could write more.
How often do you do self-promotion?
I suppose I do it every day, in one sense. I'm on twitter and livejournal and facebook. I post every day. But it's also true that I think of twitter as my water cooler. The other people I talk to there are writers whose work I love. We talk shop and well, anything that interests us. On livejournal, I post musings. It's true that I am writing down things, but it also serves as a warmup for me. Once I've started writing about something easy, the panicked feeling that I can't get started is a little decreased. I hate that blank page. And facebook is actually partly responsible for the sale of two books to Egmont (one of them Tris and Izzie). I reconnected with my editor there and she asked what I was working on.
I think if you use any of those places as purely self-promotion in that you're trying to get people to buy your books, you will annoy everyone. I think it's about building a community and I don't talk about my own books much unless I'm using one as an example. I try not to hurt other writer's feelings even if I'm criticizing. I try to point out my own flaws.
If you mean book signings and conferences, I do those less often, maybe once a month. I tend to go to events where I already have a community I care about, so that during the downtime (and there will be lots of that) I am still doing something I love, talking to people who are interested in writing. So I don't do solo book signings. I've done one once in my life and it wasn't that great. I do go to conferences, but only ones I want to go to anyway.
Does your publisher arrange it or do you or both?
My publisher arranged one book signing last year. I appreciated it, but in my local community, I actually know a lot more people in the book business than they do. So I usually send myself places. I don't ask for the publisher to pick up the tab. It's part of my business cost. But if I were doing a book tour or something, that would, of course, be different.
When you do book signings what do you do to attract buyers? (candy, balloons, readings, bookmarks? flyers? posters? etc?)
I try really hard not to annoy people who are shopping. I have started to bring bookmarks, purely so that I can show people new books coming out and give free things to people who are interested, but not ready to buy. Candy and stuff? I've done it, but all it seems to attract are little kids.
I think about how I would want to be treated if I were in the reverse situation (which I am, all the time). I ask people what books they like, if they are willing to engage me. I read a lot, so I almost always have something to say about the books they like. I just make pleasant conversation, and show how passionate I am about books and stories. If they ask, I tell them about my books, but I never NEVER push my books on people. I wouldn't want someone to buy a book just to get me to stop bugging them and then never read it. The thought of a book going unread just makes me sad. I feel sometimes like books are waiting on the shelf, pleading for me to read them like a puppy. I want to send my books to a good home.
How do you handle school visits?
I only rarely do school visits. Not because I hate them, but because my target audience is usually the older set and high schools don't sponsor as many. I have a great setup for elementary where I come in and have the kids write their own fairy tale, then give them comments and come back a second time to talk about revision. It works great as part of a publication program for kids to show their best work. I think public schools are struggling teaching creative writing because there is so much focus on grammar. I'm not saying you don't need to learn that. You do. But it's just that you have to turn off the critical editor part of your brain to get the creative part working. So I have to promise kids that when I read their stories, I will only ever write encouraging words about what I would like to see more of. I never correct grammar or spelling. It's a bargain I sort of make with my own mind when I write. That's not what creativity is about.
How do you get and keep the kids attention?
I think by just being passionate about what I do. Also, I try on purpose to find a kid who hates fairy tales to choose a fairy tale to rip apart. They think they're being distracting, but I need them to give energy. Anger and annoyance are great things to use. Fairy tales are boring the old way. That's why we're retelling them. So they're not boring anymore.
How long are your presentations at school visits?
My fairy tale writing workshop is an hour one week, and then another hour two weeks later. I also do a "How I Became A Writer" talk that last about 45 minutes.
You do a lot of conferences and workshops. Do you have any tips on presenting?
I just like talking about writing. I think about it a lot. I talk to other writers a lot. I analyze novels, stories, movies, TV. We all do it at our house. My husband is the work critic imaginable. He hates everything I write the first time around. He is a physicist, so it has to make absolute logical, mathematical, scientific sense or he can't care about it. Any way, I've developed a thick skin in some ways and can talk about writing to anyone. I don't really prepare for this because I do all those blogs and I have a monthly column with Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show where I write about all imaginable writing topics.
Best and worst experiences doing self-promotion?
Shannon Hale did a blog this year about mortifying promotion experiences. She linked to my blog about it, which is here: http://metteharrison.livejournal.com/290855.html. I am not a good salesman. Well, let me rephrase that. I am not interested in selling a product to someone who doesn't want it. For me, it is all about the second sale. When someone loves your book, they end up being willing to buy ANYTHING you ever write again. You have to actually write a long series of bad books for them to lose that feeling. At least, that's the way I feel about certain writers. They have undying loyalty. I think you can't pay enough for a book you truly love and read to pieces. I wonder if the digital age is going to mean that people end up buying paper books only for those books they love in this way, and if paper books will cost a lot because they will only be for collectors. But that is another discussion.
Best self-promotion experience? I went to ALA in 2008, when Brian Selznick won the Newbery for Hugo Cabret, which I absolutely loved. I went to the speech the night before and heard him and it was one of the most amazing talks about persistence and creativity I have ever heard. Then I was sitting at the Harper Booth signing The Princess and the Hound and I look up and see Brian Selznick is in my line. I couldn't believe it and I think I said something super articulate like "You can't be--But I'm supposed to be--You're Brain Selznick." And then I signed his book, which I think he said was for a niece, but he said he'd read my book himself and liked it. And then later I went over and asked Susan Beth Pfeffer to sign a poster for me and she looked over, saw my name tag, and said, Oh, you have that nice blog, don't you? The book world is a small place, and I felt for the first time there that I was really a part of it.
Any other tips for self-promotion?
Don't worry about it. Think about the book. You'll figure the rest out later.
Don't forget to go to http://writingsnippets.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/podcast-introducing-author-mette-harrison/ to hear my writer's group podcast interview with her and enter a contest to win her book Tris and Izzie!