Author Cara Black Interviews Soho Press

Monday, March 09, 2009

*** Readers, please join me welcoming Author Cara Black who will be guest blogging here today! She's interviewing some "superstars" at Soho Press! Get ready for some interesting answers to intriguing questions! ***

I love my publisher Soho Press ( and I know they share the love. We’ve been together ten years and nine books. They’re a quality, fiercely independent book publisher, based in NY, and their specialty is crime fiction from around the world. Of Soho, The Wall Street Journal says “Some of the most exotic crime fiction in the world.”

But I thought I’d use this opportunity to rake them over the coals, grill them about what we all want to know: how do the publicity and marketing director of a publisher—in this case mine—promote, market and sell the book and help the author. Something that, as either pre-published or published writers, we’d all like to know, right?

So now with my ninth book, Murder in the Latin Quarter (Aimee Leduc Investigation), coming out this month, I thought that instead of asking the blatant question from the Janet Jackson song “What have you done for me lately?” I’d politely ask them about what the heck it is they do there in NYC? I know it’s not just smoke and mirrors when Soho authors regularly are reviewed in the New York Times or interviewed on NPR. So I spoke with Sarah Reidy, the publicity director, and Ailen Lujo, the marketing director, both superstars in my book at Soho and asked some questions.

CB: What’s the deal with sending out galleys? When and to whom do you send them out? How much in advance for review?

SR: For publicity purposes, I typically send out 100-150 galleys (those paperback “not for sale/uncorrected proofs” some of you may see floating around) to a variety of reviewers. As soon as they reach my hands, I immediately send out a batch to the trade publications (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist) as these are the first places most books are reviewed…and the magazines that are read by a number of booksellers and librarians throughout the country. Next up: “long lead magazines,” which are basically publications that are issued monthly or quarterly. Then, the “big” papers…New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, L.A. Times, etc. And finally, I usually send out to national TV and radio shows, including, of course, Oprah. For the most part, I try to get them out at least four months before publication.

AL: As far as marketing is concerned, galleys are probably the single most important marketing tool behind the catalog. I usually put galleys in the Indie Bound White Box. Indie Next is an organization, a consortium of sorts, of independent booksellers. Once a month, these booksellers write in to Indie Bound and vote for their favorite book of the month. Indie Next releases a list monthly of the top 20 picks, along with some notables. Getting an Indie Bound pick can greatly influence the sale of a book in the independent book stores. Galleys are also sent to our sales reps, and for certain titles, we do larger giveaways at select book conferences and conventions.

CB: Can you describe a sales conference? It’s a mystery to me...who’s there? I’ve heard the chains can decide a book cover…

SR: Sales conference is basically a meeting in which we (publicity, marketing, and editorial) present our upcoming list to the sales force. The sales team consists of all the wonderful people who are responsible for actually getting your book into stores. They take the information we give them and share it with Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and all the great indie stores out there. In terms of book jackets, that’s usually determined at pre-sales. I’ll let Ailen explain that one.

AL: In regard to presales: Twice a year an editor and I fly out to Minnesota, where our distributor Consortium is based, and we introduce our potential titles to the sales and marketing staff at Consortium. In many ways this meeting is even more important than the actual sales conference because we talk about the minutest details of the book, from price and format (should we do this as an original paperback or hardcover?) to book jacket designs. If our account reps hate a jacket, we go back to the drawing board. We present titles at sales conference. We discuss titles at presales.

CB: What kind of marketing strategies - I know you don’t throw darts at the wall - do you use? Do you look for a hook?

AL: Marketing strategies vary from book to book, so it’s pretty difficult to answer this question. It’s much easier to market a book by an established author. For first-time authors it becomes a bit challenging—this is when I have to get more creative. You’re right; there are no darts involved, but there is a fair amount of guesswork. There’s no telling what will work. Something that has worked in the past for one book can fail miserably with another.

I always look for a hook, which is why I love working with our Soho Crime series of books. We’ve branded the series so well that it practically sells itself. We have standardized the look of the covers and we tend to market and advertise the authors and books in the series together. We’ve done everything from free-standing displays to tote bags to bookmarks to promote the series. For the past two years we’ve made Soho Crime samplers, which include the first couple of chapters of every Soho Crime book of a particular season, and these get distributed to fans, librarians and booksellers. I find that bookmarks make a great marketing tool for series mysteries. People love having a list of all the books by a particular author, one they can reference time and again. I even once made a Soho Crime kit and sent it to all the mystery bookstores. I bought evidence bags from a forensic supplies place I found online and packed them with bookmarks, galleys and catalogs—this was a big hit with the stores. Promotional items can be expensive, so you need to be a little creative about what you give away at conferences. We once gave water guns with the Soho Crime logo imprinted on the side away at Book Expo. Strangely enough, it was the librarians who really loved that giveaway.

Lately I’ve been moving away from print advertising toward online advertising and marketing. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter are all quite effective marketing tools if used the right way. Thankfully, I have Sarah to steer me in the right direction when it comes to online trends.

CB: What about blogs? Conferences? Bookstore events? How effective are each or do you recommend a combination?

SR: Oh, my. This is one of those questions that really depends on the author. I think blogs are great, and there is such a variety out there that I think almost everyone can find a good match for him or herself. There are straight review blogs, of course, but there are also a number of blogs that do author q&a’s, accept guest blogs, or will post podcasts and book trailers. In addition, there are blogs that are extensions of “traditional” media outlets, such as Papercuts (New York Times), Jacket Copy (Los Angeles Times),, and Washington Post Live Online. This is a market that in constantly growing and offering more opportunities. For any author, I would recommend researching literary blogs and reading them for examples and ideas. Once you get a feel for a blog, you can start coming up with ideas about how your book could fit in.

Specialized conferences are wonderful. As Cara knows, Ailen and I are both huge fans of Bouchercon for mystery authors. It’s such a close knit community, and it feels that everyone there is there for the love of a good novel. If you are a less well known author, I think conferences and conventions are a much better option that a traditional book tour.

Bookstore events are good in some cases, and not in others. If you’re Tori Spelling or John Grisham, you should absolutely do bookstore events. People are going to turn out to see you no matter what. You lucky son-of-a-guns. However, if you are a debut novelist with no real connection to a location, you are probably out of luck. It’s hard to turn people out for these, so I typically recommend doing one big event in your home town, and perhaps somewhere else where you have a large community of family and friends who come.

You should also look into reading series. There are some great series out there in every city that set up a night with multiple authors…often at a bar! And everyone knows that drunk people are more likely to buy books (I just made that up, but I imagine it could be true). The series tends to have a built in following, so it’s a good way to expose your writing to a new group of people.

CB: What can an author do to help you in your job? What would you like to see an author do?

SR: There are ways to assist your publicist, and there are ways to just be in the way. But, what it boils down to is that your book is your baby. No one knows it better than you. I may love and believe in it, but I will never care about it as much or know it as well as you. That puts you, the author, in a unique position to help me think outside the box. You can offer me ideas about places you think would be a good fit, news hooks, and anything else. I might be able to list the names of every book reviewer at a U.S. newspaper, but that doesn’t mean I will know the name of the highly trafficked blog featuring South Asian writers or the podcast devoted entirely to D&Ders. Fill me in on outlets that I might not be aware of. Be sure to also let me know about any biographical info that might be useful. Even if you’re book is fiction, there might be an angle to your personal life that we can tie in to help get author profiles.

Self-promotion of any sort is great, and I encourage all my authors to embrace it. Whether that means blogging, visiting local booksellers, or emailing every person you’ve ever met with a link to your book…each author is different. And with shrinking book review coverage in our papers, it becomes less and less easy to rely on reviews. Seeking out alternate means of getting your name out there is becoming more important than ever. At the very least, create a Facebook profile and an author website. And be active on both of those to keep viewers coming back. You can have contests, blog about topics related to your book, podcasts…be creative.

AL: My interaction with authors is minimal, so most communication goes through Sarah.

CB: What’s a big no-no from your perspective - something an author should never do?

SR: Never contact reviewers or producers on your own without some kind of personal connection. The New York Times does not want to receive a request from the author. You have a publicist for a reason. Our whole purpose is to cultivate relationships with the media so we can approach them for you. If you have a friend in the media that you can ask, that’s one thing. But don’t cold call reviewers who you found by googling or on the paper’s website.

AL: Never, ever take it upon yourself to email or call the CEO of Barnes & Noble to complain about lack of availability of your book. Actually, never ever email or call them about anything, period. ;-)

CB: What’s the ideal thing an author would tell you?

SR: That I’m the best! Or that Oprah is actually is his or her best friend. No, I would say as along as my authors are available when I need them, willing to travel when asked, and happy to brainstorm with me (and take my advice about whether or not something works), then we’ll have a good relationship. And it’s always nice to be thanked when you score a great interview or review placement.

AL: I’ll take a “thank you” any day of the week.

Cara Black is the author of the Edgar-winning Aimée Leduc mystery series set in Paris. The ninth book in the series, MURDER IN THE LATIN QUARTER, is out this month, March 2009, from Soho Press.

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2 People said

  1. Hello:

    I'm a big Cara Black fan--just ordered
    "Murder in the Latin Quarter." I'm
    trying to find out the name of the
    street on the book's cover. Can anyone

    Ron S.

  2. Hi Ron,

    I'm sorry I don't know but think it could be Xavier Privat...not sure. I haven't been able to confirm with the book designer yet.



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