When Merry Jones got her start as an author in the ’90s, her publishers handled all her book promotion. They organized and funded a national tour with tons of signings and hundreds of TV, radio and newspaper interviews. “I was treated the same way they treated celebrities, even though I was new and not well known,” she says.
But today this author of 11 mystery, humor and nonfiction books sees a very different scene. “Now the given is that unless you’re a proven bestselling author, you’re on your own.”
It’s true. We writers are expected to shoulder much of our book promotion. So we try. We print up bookmarks, then we send out myriad invites and press releases for book signings we set up ourselves. And more often than we’d like, no one shows.
Let’s be honest: It’s tough for a lone author to get attention. That’s why I’m so glad I’m a Liar.
Jones and I are both members of the Liars Club (liarsclubphilly.com), a powerhouse marketing partnership (not to be confused with the memoir The Liars’ Club) of 13 Philadelphia-area authors, including two New York Times bestsellers (yes, even they now find they must self-promote), who basically lie for a living. We Liars collaborate to come up with fresh publicity schemes, and we share the work and marketing costs—and, when we appear as a group, we make a splash that gets big-time attention.
We’ve done panels, workshops, coffeehouses, conferences and signings. We’ve received coverage on TV and in countless newspapers. Features about us have popped up at Shelf Awareness, Indiebound and in the American Booksellers Association’s Bookselling This Week. We’ve even had a Publishers Weekly reporter shadow us for a day.
So how do we do it? The Liars Club is proof that when it comes to building your writing career, there’s strength in numbers. But we’ve noticed that there aren’t many groups like ours out there; surprisingly few authors seem to have joined forces in a similar way.
Lucky for you, there’s no reason you can’t emulate our path to collective success—and it’s easier than you might think. Here’s how to use the Liars’ proven method to start a marketing partnership of your own.
Beginning With a Purpose
Your goal is to partner with other writers on promotional efforts, of course—but why not also consider a deeper purpose when you form your group? “We quickly expanded our focus to see if we could unite writers, booksellers, publishers and readers into a growing and cohesive community,” says Liars co-founder and New York Times bestselling novelist Jonathan Maberry, author most recently of Rot & Ruin.
Having a meaningful group purpose can both broaden your group’s aim and create opportunities for involvement in the kinds of events that can make a real difference. For us, the expanded focus led to our Truth Tour, a series of parties that celebrate and publicize independent bookstores, as well as a Spring Library Tour highlighting the plight of libraries threatened by cutbacks. Events like these provide a way for our group to remain consistently visible—and involved in the community we care about—beyond our own book releases and signings.
And though the Liars Club is closed to new members, we regularly unite with scribes in our area by running a popular free monthly Writer’s Coffeehouse. “It’s the kind of event where I can hear the heartbeat of the writing community,” Maberry says.
Over time, we’ve taken on other issues, like working to raise funds for diabetes and AIDS research. Any press we’ve received about these happenings has also shed light on causes dear to our hearts. Now that’s powerful promotion.
When you conceive your group, have a clearly defined purpose, but strive to be far-reaching and flexible as you evolve and ideas and opportunities present themselves. You never know where they might lead.
Choosing Members Wisely
You’ll want to do appearances together, so you’ll need members within commuting distance. But be picky. Seek out authors with a positive attitude, and avoid those overly competitive types—you know the sort. Also look for authors who bring to the table other useful skills, such as public speaking, public relations, graphic design and business sense. You’ll find all of these abilities in the Liars Club, and we draw on them often.
While a successful marketing partnership can undoubtedly be formed among authors in the same genre, the Liars Club is a mixed bunch. Our authors write young adult, horror, romance, thriller, mystery, historical nonfiction, fantasy, science fiction, mainstream and crime. We even have a Poe scholar. And we find this blend works to our advantage.
“There is strength in presenting a diverse group to the public for events,” says Liar L.A. Banks, New York Times bestselling author of Never Cry Werewolf. “When you do a combo event, people who may have not been familiar with your work get to meet you. They may gain interest and buy your work, or spread the word to a friend.”
Our mix of authors also enables us to address a broad range of topics. Want an overall conference about writing and publishing? We’ve got that covered. How about a YA panel for a children’s festival? Or a mystery workshop for a college? Yeah, we’ve got those covered, too.
Another plus to consider with a mixed group? If you switch genres with a future book, you’ll still fit in.
What image do you want your group to project? We wanted to be thought of as an enjoyable bunch to spend time with. The name “Liars Club” is catchy and fun. Our motto? “We lie for a living.” Our logo of a guy with his pants on fire (liar, liar!) is memorable and different.
Speaking of memorable, in brainstorming promotional strategies for the industry’s huge BookExpo America conference, Liar and Standing Still author Kelly Simmons suggested we print up cocktail napkins with Liar pickup lines on them, along with toilet paper emblazoned with our logo. A crew from our group that attended BEA then tucked our napkins under glasses and stocked the bathrooms with our TP. Weird? Definitely. But smart. We snagged the “Picture of the Day” spot in Publishers Weekly’s Daily Newsletter.
Needless to say, in branding yourselves, you’ll need a group website. That’s where we display our calendar of events, member info, a blog with posts for aspiring authors, and the like. Prominently feature your logo on your site, and be sure the content is consistent with your image. In our case, that means we strive for content that is zany yet helpful.
Elsewhere, authors should identify themselves as group members as often as they can. I mention Liar events on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, include a link to the Liars on my own website, and have an e-mail signature that states “Proud member of the Liars Club,” followed by the Liars’ link. With 13 of us doing this, our group’s name recognition is soaring. People often say to me, “The Liars Club? You guys are everywhere.”
No one Liar cracks the whip or calls the shots. This allows every one of us to take the lead from time to time, but of course things can also get away from us. Who was in charge of such and such a program? Whatever happened to that idea we talked about?
To stay on top of it all, we’ve formed a private Yahoo! group. We use this to e-mail one another and stay in the loop. We save files there that we should all have access to, like bios and book cover images for each member, as well.
We’ve also learned the value of meeting several times a year to plan. At our next meeting, for example, we’ll discuss creating a Liars anthology, launching a series of mini writing conferences and working to become presenters at other events. And we fully anticipate some unexpected ideas to pop up—in fact, we welcome them. Encourage your own group members to think big, even to be a little nutty, because you just never know. (I mean, toilet paper?)
When you’ve collectively decided to adopt an idea, ask that big question: “Who wants to be in charge of this?” Members who step up must be responsible for seeing that project through to the end. For example, as part of a team of Liars that handles our Truth Tour parties, I make the bookings with stores and do our press. Others are in charge of games and prizes, posters, food, photography and the rest. Every Truth Tour event goes like clockwork because we all follow through and share the load.
Spreading the financial burden of all this promotion over 13 members means less cost for each of us. To keep things simple, you’ll want one person in charge of the bucks. Your members can pay annual or monthly dues or, like the Liars, just contribute money on an as-needed basis. If and when you start handling bigger sums for bigger events, though, you should talk to an accountant about the best way to proceed.
Because we authors aren’t always what you’d call flush with cash, try to be both frugal and flexible. Certain base costs, such as website fees, are a given part of membership, but most happenings, like panels and signings, can involve little or no cost. When events do involve an out-of-pocket investment, we Liars offer options. Can’t afford to attend that overnight convention? You’re free to bow out. As for groupwide events involving larger price tags, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but I anticipate that all Liars would have to agree on the costs before we’d move ahead. I also foresee us hosting things like workshops to offset the costs of bigger and better promotions, which we could then afford to do without socking members with a hefty fee.
Spreading the Word
Just because you’ve come up with a plan for an event doesn’t mean anyone will come. You’ll need to write and distribute press releases, and every member should promote the event on her website, on social media like Twitter and Facebook, and through any other possible outlet. We also take a proactive, personalized approach to our growing network by sending out Facebook invitations to Liars Club contacts, with each group member adding his own connections to the invite list.
While local attention is great, national attention rocks, so don’t limit your efforts. Give your event a clever name and an unusual angle, and send PR materials to national publications or organizations that might be interested in covering it. If the event benefits a cause, then the associations affiliated with that cause will want to know, and possibly feature it in their publications or on their own sites.
Assign someone to take pictures at every event, and post those pictures along with a write-up online. This gets extra mileage out of a function, and establishes you as a group that makes things happen. Also send newsworthy shots with captions to the media. (Hint: Our BEA hijinks didn’t just magically appear in the national press.)
To build up your press list, scour the Web for media contacts, specialty sites and relevant online communities. Liar and social media guru Don Lafferty recommends making a list of the top 20 authors similar to those in your group, and then tracking their marketing efforts to find more potential outlets to target with your own publicity. “Include these 20 in your Twitter searches and Google Alerts,” he says, “and you’ll identify readers, booksellers and media connectors who should know about you, too.” Lafferty also suggests following the conversations of these connectors with the help of a service like TweetDeck. “Then you’ll spot trends of interest and be pointed toward even more contacts.”
Maximizing Your Leverage
As my literary agent, Jennifer DeChiara has been a close observer of the Liars Club’s activities and initiatives from the get-go. “I’ve never seen anything like the Liars Club,” she says. “Their success clearly shows that ingenuity and hard work really [do] pay off.”
In fact, DeChiara says such a partnership has the potential to impress prospective agents and editors—exciting news for authors seeking representation or a new book deal. “It greatly improves a book’s chances if the author has a solid record of self-promotion,” she says. “This is even more important if a proposed book is nonfiction, where the author’s credentials and promotion plans are essential. An author’s platform will either make or break the book deal.”
Liar and Prallsville Mills and Stockton author Keith Strunk couldn’t agree more. When he recently pitched an idea for a new nonfiction book, his editor cited Strunk’s reach as a positive. “My first title exceeded their expectations in terms of events and media hits,” Strunk says. “Clearly, being in the Liars Club has given my small book a much bigger platform than I could ever have hoped.”
More events. Increased book sales. Impressed agents and editors. Greater media coverage. National attention. And wonderful camaraderie with a group of writers who understand you and share your goals. Simply follow the Liars Club model, and all this can be yours. Hey, would I lie?
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