The Perils of Conferences… ;-)

PerilsofConferencesFair Warning: This isn’t the sort of post that’s appropriate for your disbelief to be reading. You may wish to have it play elsewhere for a bit…

Not long ago I was persuaded to attend the ‘How to Write Good and Make Millions Doing It’ conference. After a day of workshops and talks, I was definitely ready for a break. So I decided to skip the panel on ‘Blood and More Blood’ and visit the exhibit booths. You never know when you might make some good connections at exhibits, and some of them have useful little products.

I was passing by one of the booths when the man who was staffing it called out ‘Hello!’ I smiled, said ‘Hello,’ and got ready to move on to the next booth. Then I noticed that there was a bowlful of little packets of dark chocolate almonds on the table. What choice did I have? I walked over.
‘Are you a writer?’ he asked as I picked up one of the packets.
‘Yes, I am.’
‘I’ll bet you’re not selling as many books as you’d like, are you?’
‘I think most writers would like to sell more,’ I said cautiously.
‘Exactly!’ he said with a big grin. ‘And we’ve got just the service to help you do that. Have a seat right here and I’ll show you.’

We both sat down and he said, ‘I represent Your Bottom Line, the most innovative marketing company ever. We’ve got a great new line of products that I know you’ll love.’
I was beginning to be a little concerned about this, even with the treats. But I thought I’d at least hear him out. ‘So you do publicity and marketing for authors?’ I asked.
‘That’s our specialty as a matter of fact. Let me ask you this. What sort of promo are you doing right now?’
‘Well, I have a website with links to what I’ve written. I’ve done a few interviews, handed out bookmarks and business cards, that sort of thing.’
He shook his head sadly. ‘That is never going to get you anywhere,’ he said. ‘You need a more aggressive approach.’

Now I was really beginning to wonder if I should leave, but he put a hand on my arm and said, ‘You are missing millions of potential sales because you’re not going out after them.’
‘But I hate the idea of being obnoxious. People want to read good books. They don’t want authors constantly nagging them to buy.’
‘That’s where we come in. We do the marketing, so you don’t have to. Let me show you what we offer.’

He pointed to a large computer monitor next him and pushed a button. Within a moment, one of the more popular entertainment news sites came up. As I watched, an animated book surrounded by hearts and flowers came dancing across the screen, grew bigger, and then faded out.
‘Ugh!’ I said with a grimace. ‘That’s just plain annoying!’
‘But it got your attention, didn’t it? Don’t you want to know more about that book?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Hmmm…’ Then he snapped his fingers. ‘I’ll bet it’s because you don’t write romances. Gotta be!’
‘Well, that’s true. I write crime fiction.’
‘Really? Well, we have just the product for you then. Look at this.’ He gestured towards the monitor again and pushed a button. Now a large dagger popped up on the screen. Inside it was another book with a large button labelled ‘Click here!’ The images got larger and then faded.
‘Isn’t that spectacular?’ he asked eagerly.
‘To be honest,’ I said, ‘I think it’s really obnoxious. I hate pop-up ads and I avoid sites that use them if I can.’
‘But they get people’s attention. You’ll get people thinking about you and your books. Isn’t that what you want?’
‘I don’t want people thinking what I’d imagine they’ll think if they see that kind of pop-up with my name on it.’

I was more than ready to get up and move on by this time. The sales rep noticed my restlessness and said, ‘OK, so maybe our pop-up package isn’t for you. That’s no problem. We’ve got plenty of other products.’ He thought for a moment, then said, ‘I think I have just the one for you.’
‘You do?’ I was very doubtful of this.
‘Sure do. It’s our Happy Holidays Package.’
‘Holidays? You mean Christmas? But it’s only halfway through November!’
‘Never too soon to start getting people in the holiday buying mood. I have writer clients who start using this package in August, to be honest.’
‘Of course. Let me show you how it works.’ He gestured towards the monitor again where the same site came up. In a moment a video appeared on the side of the page. The video showed a Christmas-wrapped package. As the package started to open, an overeager voice-over narrator urged us to buy the book being advertised. When it was over, the salesman asked, ‘So what do you think?’
‘You want my honest opinion?’
‘You love it, don’t you?’
‘Actually, I hate it. It’s loud, garish and annoying. I can’t even read the page with that video going.’
‘That’s the whole point! You get it! Once customers see the video, all they’re thinking about is your book. And we do all the technical work for you.’
‘But that’s just maddening! People aren’t going to want to buy books if they’re angry at the ads.’

He leaned back in his chair, templed his fingers for a moment and then said, ‘Well, maybe our online ad programs aren’t for you. But you might be interested in our auto-dial ad program.’
‘Auto-dial? You mean robo-calls?’
‘We don’t call them that. Too negative of a connotation. And they work. All we do is record your voice, and then millions of people hear directly from you. Doesn’t that sound great?’
I’d had enough. I stood up and said, ‘Thanks, but I really don’t think these programs are going to work for me. I’m probably better off just writing as good a book as I can.’ I picked up another packet of dark chocolate almonds as I got ready to leave.
‘Write a good book? Who wants to do that much work when marketing does the job for you?’

I really wish I hadn’t been lured by those chocolate almonds…


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38 responses to “The Perils of Conferences… ;-)

  1. I love this post, Margot. It may have been written tongue in cheek, but it points to our ongoing dilemma–how to promote and in what matter so we get the word out without driving potential readers nuts in the process.

    • Pat – That’s just it. It’s very hard to strike that balance of getting the word out about our books and getting readership without driving away potential customers because of being obnoxious. I don’t know precisely what the magic balance is, but I think it’s important to try to reach it.

  2. Oh that made me laugh, Margot! Advertising is such a pain when it’s so wrong. Dark chocolate almonds sound good though – and it was a ‘nutty’ idea.

    • Margaret – LOL! So glad you enjoyed this. And you’re right about advertising. Some of it’s enough to completely madden me. On the other hand, dark chocolate almonds are a perfect antidote 😉

  3. Great Margot – and at least you got the just desserts (sic) 🙂

  4. Thanks for this hilarious post, Margot. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, but Australians hate anyone who big notes themselves. Promoting books, and yourself as an author, is all about charming people, winning them over, ideally making them laugh. Aggressive and annoying marketing simply will not wash.

    • Angela – It may indeed be a cultural thing. And it’s something that I actually really appreciate about the Australians I’ve met. And really, it’s all about establishing a relationship with the reader anyway, no matter what one’s culture is. So…I guess I shouldn’t go on the Australian talk show circuit saying how wonderful my books and I are?? 😉 – Thanks for the kind words, and I’m glad you liked the post.

  5. Margot

    It’s Joe here at Your Bottom Line.

    I didn’t realize you were a blogger as well as an author until I searched your name online. Love your blog!

    I just read your post on our conversation. Very interesting!

    I scanned your blog. You have a lot of posts. I can see from the blog that you have not welcomed innovative book promotions in the past. We love the word innovative.

    You did not want a photo blitz featuring that nifty photo of you peering over a box that could have been captioned “Margot Kinberg – A Woman of Mystery”.

    You did not like the new blurbs comparing recent authors with famous authors. I still think it would have been outstanding for you to be known as “America’s Agatha Christie”.

    You are what we, in the book promotion business, call a “traditionalist”. I’m sorry Margot but you need to become a “progressive” to sell books. Never fear. If you couldn’t tell, we here at Your Bottom Line never give up. Since you left I have been scheming, I mean thinking, about ways to promote your book.

    I wish I had known you’re a blogger. We have a blogger special! We send out a message to all bloggers you know and other bloggers you don’t know but we know with a big button for them to push that will have you speaking to them about your books just like on your crime fiction reports. You would be wearing some bright clothes to get everyone’s attention and we would have Billy Joel music playing in the background. What could be better than Billy Joel and yourself promoting your very own mysteries in the blogosphere?????

    If that doesn’t work for you just send me a note. I have lots of other ideas – think Facebook.

    We’re always ready to help progressive authors at Your Bottom Line. I look forward to hearing from you!!!!

    Joe from Your Bottom Line

    • Looking forward to Margot’s response, here … 😀

    • Joe – Thank you for getting in touch with me. Your schemes – er – plans are certainly, well, creative. Oh, and innovative. I’m very glad you’ve taken a little time to read my blog and get to know the sort of author I am. As you’ve mentioned, I am more of a traditionalist in some ways. That includes online marketing. So, much as I think it’s, well, ‘out of the box’ to send around that message to other bloggers, I think I’ll decline. The people I know in the crime fiction blogosphere wouldn’t – erm – appreciate your intent with such a campaign. And quite frankly, I’m not sure whether you could get rights to Mr. Joel’s music for a purpose like that.
      You also mentioned a ‘photo blitz and blurb campaign. I have a feeling that there are people in Ms. Christie’s family who might not – erm – see the value of using her name in conjunction with mine. I know, pesky legal sort of thing, but there it is. But I do appreciate your tenacity. You certainly can’t be faulted with a lack of interest in building your clientele. I think, though, that you might want to look elsewhere…

      Best wishes,

  6. Well, the world is like it is. But thanks for the good read, laugh, and smiles. 🙂

  7. Oh Margot, that is a REALLY GOOD “story”! 🙂 Thanks for telling it!

  8. This was hilarious, Margot. The whole episode could be an ad for a Writers’ Digest course on How Not To Market. Who needs to write a good book when you’ve got pop-up marketing? Loved this story. 🙂

    • Carol – Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked the story. And I couldn’t agree more that pop-up marketing is not the way to go about selling books…

  9. Haha! Almost too near the truth sometimes though! I think you should just get some labels printed for your book covers – “the next Gone Girl” springs to mind… 😉

    • 😆 I love that idea, FictionFan! Maybe I should do just that. Glad that you enjoyed this story! The trouble is that you’re right; it is uncomfortably close to what happens sometimes, I think…

  10. Clever and insightful. Tough to pull off and you succeeded.

  11. We have become a race of consumers and as a result are bombarded with this utter c*** all year, (by which I DO NOT mean your books Margot). I hate the fact that if I don’t log out of Facebook before goggling something when I go back to facebook there in the sidebar is an ad for what i was googling! It’s so intrusive. Yes as authors we all want to make a living but we also want to be geniuine individuals, that’s what keeps fans coming back. Thank you for this Margot and good on you for taking his almonds and telling him to stick his pop ups, politely of course 🙂

    • D.S. – You are so right that more and more, we’re getting bombarded with ads, mostly for products and services we don’t need and don’t want. And it all can indeed get intrusive. All you need do is look for something on Google or read certain kinds of articles and before you know it, you’re being attacked by all kinds of ads. I think there really has to be a balance between wanting to make a living, as you say, and harassing people. And yes, if this situation had been real, I’d have found a polite way to tell that guy where he could put his pop-ups. 😉

  12. Kathy D.

    This is definitely a “nutty” story. I guess
    Intrusiveness as a way to promote products, not only books, is very annoying to all of us.
    I was once in an email conversation with a woman I know who writes articles about women’s health care. Right after our last email, an ad from Amazon advertising her book popped into my email inbox! I asked the writer if she had done that or knew about it. No, she had not.
    So, Amazon was following her emails and sending ads for her books, or it picked up her email to me and then sent it because her name was involved.
    The privacy rights of both of us were violated. Don’t we have a right to privacy in our emails from corporations? Apparently not.

    • Kathy – I’ve had that sort of thing happen to me, too. It really is intrusive when a company uses people’s private email to try to sell them on things. As much as I can, I ignore ads, but sometimes they really are intrusive…

  13. For one moment, I thought you really had attended the conference. DO these things really exist. I think

  14. Whoops posted too soon. I think that most writers write for the love of it and keep their fingers crossed that they’ll make some money at some point.

    • Sarah – I think you’re right. Writers write because it’s their passion – because they couldn’t imagine not writing. Well, this writer does anyway. If there’s money in it too, that’s good, but I don’t think that’s the main reason writers create stories.

  15. Col

    Hard juggle to get the right balance between passivity and too pushy. I don’t envy anyone.

  16. Margot, I think you have struck the right balance in getting the word out about your books, and I am sure it is a gnarly issue for most writers.

  17. Margot, having just returned from this year’s Bouchercon, I was thinking you might have been there with me. But I realized my error when I discovered two basic flaws in your post.

    1. I assume you were looking for advice on social media. What you found instead was advice on antisocial media. BIG difference.

    2. Those chocolate almonds may look tempting, but be careful – there are a lot of experts around who know all kinds of rare poisons (not known to Western scientists) that could kill you and leave no apparent trace.

    Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed yourself. Erm, somewhat more than it sounds like you did, anyway.

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