Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pressing the flesh

By Rosemary Harris 

It doesn’t matter if your book is on paper, on an electronic device or on a microchip implanted inside someone’s brain, without readers writers are nowhere. And finding them, or more accurately helping them find you can be done - and not always in high-tech ways.

I didn’t realize when I got my book deal four years ago that the less glamorous (insert tongue firmly in cheek) part of being a published writer would be the months spent giving myself a crash course in promotion and publicity.

Lest you think this is turning into yet another rant against the Jennifers, Heathers and Sarahs who populate the major publishing houses, it’s not. Witness the emails I get on weekends and after eight p.m., the hundred and fifty books a year an art director I know works on. There are just thousands of books being published every month. How does a writer stand out even in his own publishing house? How do we find our readers? Our champions?

If I’d written a book on potty training I’d be home free. There’s a built-in platform and potential readers are easy to find online, in magazines, in groups, even on maternity store mailing lists. Affinity groups. The same is true for Civil War buffs, Red Sox fans and men named Ralph who think the world is going to end in 2012. Direct marketing companies have been using lists for decades. The technology may have changed and paper labels may be replaced with keystrokes, but the idea is the same.

Fiction writers have a harder time of it. It pains me to write this, but no one needs our books. Unless we are JK Rowling or Nora Roberts no one is waiting for our books. (I am always waiting for the next Carl Hiaasen and I do have a lovely reader, Cynthia in Ann Arbor, MI who is anxiously awaiting my next book, but these I fear, are exceptions.) For the most part genre fiction writers have to beat the bushes to find readers. Social networking has revolutionized this activity and I don’t need to repeat what others have said about websites, blogs, facebook and twitter, although I would be truly scared if anyone other than my husband wanted to hear from me more than three or four times a day, and some days he’s only good for two or three tweets from my direction.

So, after forty-odd years of avoiding groups (bad Brownie experience) I’ve become a joiner. And I don’t just send a check. I show up. Virtual pals are great and I’ve had some nifty conversations online about defunct ice cream parlors in Brooklyn, or whether beer really attracts slugs, but nothing beats pressing the flesh.

I’ll be attending no fewer than five conferences - Empire State Book Festival, Murder 203, RT (formerly Romantic Times) Convention, Malice Domestic, Festival of Mystery – and doing ten signings in the three weeks following the release of Dead Head (April 2010, Minotaur Books).

A favorite event last year was at a diner. It was the brainchild of a librarian from Connecticut. Her mystery group had read my first book and wanted to see the inspiration for Babe’s Paradise Diner where much of the action in my series takes place. Not a traditional signing venue but I met more readers there than I would have standing all day long in a big box store. (Not that anyone’s asked me. Feel free to ask me.) I’ve also done events at garden shows, arboretums, high schools, state fairs, a submarine festival, jazz clubs and rib joints. Okay, the submarine festival was a bust, but on paper it should have worked.

I will be driving to most of my destinations and doing drop-ins along the way. Some authors cringe at the prospect of “doing the driveby” as another writer calls it. Last year I dropped in on 103 Barnes & Noble stores and dozens of Borders. Only once did I get the stony “and you are?” stare. Every other time employees have been helpful, interested and engaged. Of course it’s all about putting a face to a name, and hoping that your brief conversation at the information desk will turn into sales and the neat stack of bookmarks you leave behind will find their way into readers’ hands.

Our publishers didn’t adopt us. They give us a shot, but it’s up to us to keep the ball rolling by writing better books and when we’re not doing that, talking about them.

To that end…DEAD HEAD is the story of a suburban woman revealed to be a fugitive from the law who’s been in hiding for decades. Amateur sleuth Paula Holliday is hired by the woman’s distraught family to find out who dropped the dime and who still wants her dead after all these years.

"Fast, funny dialogue, clever description and a good mystery make Harris' latest a very strong, entertaining cozy. With excitement and a surprise ending, this one's a winner." 4 stars! Romantic Times

Rosemary Harris is the author of the Dirty Business mystery series from Minotaur Books. Her debut novel Pushing Up Daisies was nominated both an Agatha and an Anthony for Best First Novel. She is past president of SINC New England and currently vp of MWA’s New York Chapter. Visit her at


Working Stiffs said...

Welcome, Rosemary! I'd love to know more about the bad Brownie experience...

Thanks for joining us today. I am so looking forward to reading Dead Head. Should be arriving any day now!

Joyce said...

Welcome to the Stiffs, Rosemary. See you at the Festival of Mystery!

Susan said...

Oh,Rosemary! You hit the nail on the head. Nothing beats actually going out and meeting people.

And, if at all possible, wowing them! :)

susan meier
A Duet from Harlequin Romance

Alan Orloff said...

Pressing the flesh (and doing drive-bys) is a lot easier when you've written some really good books. And you certainly have! Looking forward to seeing you at Malice!

Jennie Bentley said...

Thanks for dropping by the Stiffs, Rosemary. Great post, thanks!

Rosemary Harris said...

Thanks for having me. Malice and Festival of Mystery are two of the must stops for traditional mystery writers, but the Empire State Book festival got off to a great start in its first year. Donna Andrews, Jane Cleland and I had a great crowd of about 150. Definitely worth the trip. And I just got back from Michigan this morning. I love Aunt Agatha's and Robin is alwasy so supportive. having three or four destinations on every trip is good, too.

Ah...the brownies - I wanted to look for arrowheads and they wanted to make bean bags. I think I said the seven year old equivalent of "this sucks" and they asked me to leave.

KK Brees said...

Your postcard arrived in the mail a few days ago, and it's on top of my stack even as I write.

Can't wait to pick up my copy of Dead head!

Working Stiffs said...

DEAD HEAD arrived in today's mail!

Thanks for the story about the Brownies. Doesn't surprise me in the least.


PatRemick said...

Thanks for stopping by WorkingStiffs, Rosemary!

I'm exhausted reading all that Rosemary's done for her writing career but she's one high-energy gal who believes in her work -- and the mystery community! And she's really funny and as delightful as her characters, but you can find that out for yourself by reading Dead Head and/or catching one of her events!