Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Promotion: A Full Time Job For a Writer

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger Elizabeth Zelvin today!

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I haven’t been a working stiff since I left my last day job, directing an alcohol treatment program on the Bowery, in the fall of 1999. Or have I? One of the mystery writers’ e-lists I belong to recently had a thread about what everyone was currently writing. I was not the only one who said, “Who has time to write? I’m hip deep in promotion.”

When I dusted off the existing first few pages of Death Will Get You Sober back in 2001, I was already sitting at the computer. I had just launched my online therapy website at and embarked on a major professional journey: building a practice, treating clients all over the world, and making all the mistakes as a website novice that would help me not make them when I launched my author website at several years later. Being an online therapist can be a fulltime job, as can being a writer, though in economic terms both are vocations about which everybody advises, “Don’t give up your day job.”

When I completed the manuscript in 2002, two more jobs awaited me: writing the next one and trying to find an agent, then a publisher. The many tasks included learning how to write a query letter and a synopsis, then expanding and contracting them according to the moment’s needs, polishing them till they sparkled, then fine tuning and fine tuning and fine tuning them. That process still goes on. Did I mention revising the first draft? I made the neophyte’s mistake of sending it out right away and learned about critique and revision the hard way.

Networking with mystery writers and mystery lovers in general was another delightful but time-consuming task. I couldn’t have reached this point without the New York chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and their respective e-lists; Sisters in Crime Guppies and its subgroup AgentQuest; e-lists DorothyL and Murder Must Advertise; and later, the online social networks CrimeSpace and MySpace, which I’ll get to in a moment.

So it’s Chanukah and then Christmas, 2007, and I’m finally on the homestretch toward publication of my book in April 2008. And how come I’m working harder—more hours per day, seven days a week—than I have since I got my master’s in social work (60 credits in two years plus three days a week working full time for free, first with severely mentally ill clients and then with alcoholics) more than twenty years ago?

Here’s some—by no means all—of what I’ve been up to:


Sent individual holiday messages to my then 900 Friends on MySpace and 800 on CrimeSpace, greeting each by name and NOT mentioning the book.

Sent holiday cards to the 100 closest friends I send them to every year—with a letter asking for their help in spreading the word about the book, explaining about sales and computer modeling and why I can’t give any copies away, and listing everything they could do, from asking for it at the library to getting their book club to invite me to speak.

Added an address label and a handwritten note to a postcard for each of the 1300 people whose postal addresses I have—some will come back undeliverable, as I’ve been collecting them for 30 or 40 years as I waited to have something to tell them about my dream of publishing a novel.


Set up the book tour. I’ve hired an outside publicist, but can’t afford to turn it all over to her, so I work closely with her and my publicist at St. Martin’s by email, pore over lists of mystery and indie bookstores, make endless virtual trips to their websites and to Mapquest to check the distance between towns and make sure I can get from one gig to the next in time. Do you know that the state of Florida is as big as England? And Dayton, Ohio is not as close to Indianapolis as my publicist assumed it is. The book tour job also requires me to turn travel agent and book flights, hotels, and cars all over the country.

Subscribed to Consumer Reports and did comparison shopping for a GPS. Bought the GPS.


Set up the virtual tour, of which this visit to Working Stiffs is a part. This involved writing numerous guest blogs as far in advance as I could, always striving to hit the requested word count and deadline, to keep it lively, and not to repeat myself; and participating in numerous interviews. Actually, I enjoyed both these tasks. Writing blog pieces (as a guest or doing my weekly stint on my own group blog, Poe’s Deadly Daughters) makes me feel like a journalist, and the interviews give me unprecedented license to go on and on about myself—what bliss!

Sent individual Valentine’s Day messages to my 1100 MySpace Friends and 800 CrimeSpace friends, again not mentioning the book. This kind of networking is its own reward: back-atcha messages are still trickling in from Valentine’s Day and even Xmas, every one putting a big smile on my face and convincing me that all these folks in cyberspace really are my friends who wish me well and might even, some of them, buy the book one day.

Learned how to use the GPS. Started to get used to it. Sent it back to the manufacturer for repair because it stopped talking to me.

March—well, you get the idea. There are now new bookmarks quoting the early reviews instead of the author blurbs and new postcards to alert people about the book tour in May and June instead of inviting everyone to the launch party on April 15 at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York. (Yes, you are all invited.) There’s endless recording of every stock signing and podcast: on two or three calendars, on my website (can’t believe I’ve learned enough HTML not to have to prod my webmaster to make the almost daily updates), on my MySpace and CrimeSpace pages, on the spreadsheets I keep so I won’t lose track. I have to keep reading all my groups because you never know when someone will offer a crucial tip or contact on DorothyL or Murder Must Advertise or CrimeSpace or EMWA or Guppies or SinC or MWA-NY or SinC-NY or MWA-Breakout—or the addictions and online therapy lists I still belong to. There’s the small matter of needing a new agent at this crucial phase of my career.

So there you have it. Network network network. Schmooze schmooze schmooze. Full time job. And you know what? I love it!

Elizabeth Zelvin is a New York City psychotherapist whose debut mystery, DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER, will hit bookstores April 15. Library Journal called it “a remarkable and strongly recommended first novel.” Her short story, “Death Will Clean Your Closet" has been nominated for an Agatha for Best Short Story. Liz is also one of the bloggers on “Poe’s Deadly Daughters” You can visit Liz’s website at Elizabeth will also be at the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA on April 28th.


Annette said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs, Elizabeth. I look forward to meeting you at the Festival of Mystery next month.

I recently took MJ Rose's Buzz Your Book workshop and got an inkling of the work involved in marketing. Still, I have to admit, I can't wait to be in your shoes. Congratulations on the new book!

Martha Reed said...

Liz, good morning. I'm going to pick up a copy of your book at the Festival and I look forward to reading it. I really like your cover - it's very eye-catching. Did you have a hand with that too?

Tory said...

Welcome, Elizabeth! As a psychotherapist in private practice,(I see 6-8 clients a week as well as doing training in mental health) I'm curious about the whole on-line therapy deal. What got you interested in that? Do you find it fulfilling?

Joyce said...

Hi Liz!

Some people might think your path to publication was rather whirlwind, but from reading your posts on Poe's Deadly Daughters, I know it's been a long process. Can you tell us a little about it?

JennieB said...

Hiya, Crimespace Friend! Thanks for stopping by.

Wow, I'm pretty much speechless. So much information... I had no idea I had so much to learn about promoting. My first comes out in November, and before then, I should ideally write two more books, or at least one and a half, plus a short story. I can totally relate to working harder than ever; I just didn't realize how much harder I should be working...! ;-)

Looking forward to the book!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks for commenting, everyone. Let's see if I can answer all your questions. Joyce, I think the reason I know to do all the stuff and have so many helpful friends in the mystery world is because it took so long--completed first draft and started to send out in October 2002, book in my hands March 2008, 125 agent queries and 35 publisher queries later. I've heard MJ's course is great, but I got the same information for free from the generous veteran writers and others on the Murder Must Advertise e-list. That's where I met my wonderful publicist, PJ Nunn, and learned everything from where to get great bookmarks ( to how to succeed in selling lots of books at a table in Barnes & Noble. (The best method is to have Chester Campbell's wife greet them at the entrance, book in hand, saying, "Do you read mysteries?" It works for Chester.;) ) Was this flood of information overwhelming? Yes. Had it sunk in by the time I needed it, four or five years later? Yes. :)

My cover: I got dumb lucky! I'm also grateful they didn't change my title. They even listened to me about the first version of the cover, in which the words "Death Will Get You Sober" were shattered and flying in all directions like the glass. I said, "The title will sell the book--it needs to be legible," and I'm happy they were willing to make the change.

Tory, you can learn a lot about my online therapy practice on my therapy website at If you still have questions, email me! I train clinicians in online practice skills, though that's on the back burner till the fall.

Annette, Martha, and anyone else who'll be at Malice and/or the Festival of Mystery at Oakmont in April, I look forward to meeting you f2f. And Malice-goers, please read my Agatha-nominated short story, "Death Will Clean Your Closet." It's on the home page of my author site at

Thanks again to the Working Stiffs for inviting me. :)