Saturday, June 18, 2011

Canada Calling: Susan Calder

Susan Calder is a Calgary, Alberta writer who has published short stories, poems and a murder mystery novel Deadly Fall, which launches a series featuring insurance adjuster Paula Savard.

When promoting a new book, how do you find time to write - or wash your hair?

In mid-February I returned from a winter vacation. Waiting for me was a box containing copies of my first novel, Deadly Fall, a murder mystery published by TouchWood Editions.

I’d seen a picture of the cover; the concrete book was something else. After months of fantasy, my novel was real.

I knew about the importance of the three-month publicity window following a book’s release, that this was the time to grab attention for the book before my publisher and the public move on to the next new thing. Was I going to set aside my writing and focus exclusively on promotion, or write and promote at the same time? Rightly or wrongly, I wound up concentrating solely on promotion. My husband and I combed our address books and sent launch invitations to everyone we’d ever met. We viewed this as sharing good news, rather than advertising. I created a Facebook launch page and a print flyer to give to neighbors and casual acquaintances. I felt awkward approaching people I’d barely spoken to before, but they surprised me with their interest in my writing. It opened up conversations between us. Some came to the launch and/or bought the book.

People invited me to speak to their organizations. I also participated in two local joint readings, did a presentation for my mystery writers’ group and visited local bookstores to see Deadly Fall on their shelves. Most stores still had the copies in their stock rooms. This provided an excuse to chat with booksellers about Deadly Fall, while they tried to locate the copies and lug them out. Signings in their stores? Why not? For years I’d felt sympathy for lonely authors at signing tables, but was eager to try it all. I started blogging about – what else? - my promotion adventures and shared my posts on Facebook.

Late May. Two months into my three-month push. I drove from my home in Calgary, Alberta, to the Bloody Words Mystery Writing Conference in Victoria British Columbia. I tried not to think about all the new people I’d meet, including my publisher and editor, who I’d only dealt with so far by e-mail and phone. I was glad to have my husband and several Calgary mystery-writing friends there for support. On the drive to the conference I did three book signings and a presentation. My sister organized a mini-book tour through her region of southern Alberta for the week after my return.

My three-month window is now drawing to a close. These months have cost me time, effort, and money. I’ve sent numerous e-mails. I’ve written advertising blurbs, designed posters and prepared my readings and presentations. The events themselves ate into evenings and afternoons.

Success varied. For a library workshop, reading and talk I received a generous honorarium and car mileage and sold a bunch of books. Another presentation drew two participants. A third led to an invitation to speak to a book club next fall. I gather the 10 members will buy the book. I found all of the events interesting, but missed writing and often felt overwhelmed. As my to-do list grew, I wondered how I’d keep on top of my promotional tasks and still find time to talk to my husband and wash my hair.

I didn’t intend to cram so much into three months. At the start, I had little scheduled, so I said yes to everything that came my way. If I could have plotted it out in advance, I’d have probably done a bit less. Opportunities don’t dry up after three months. I already have a tentative event lined up for this summer, a couple confirmed for the fall and more possibilities. I think the three- month window could easily stretch to a year, with events staggered between writing time.

And yet, I’m glad for every single reader my efforts have introduced to my book. Who knows which ones will like Deadly Fall enough to recommend or loan it to someone else or otherwise produce some ripple effect? My promotion blitz this spring has contributed to strong initial sales. This is particularly good for a mystery series, where you want to develop a readership base for future books.

In addition, this immersion into promotion has been intriguing in many ways. It took me out of my comfort zone. I learned a lot about marketing and the book selling business. Every day brought something new, some of it frustrating, some exciting.
Maybe with my second book, I’ll be more relaxed, as I was with my second child, and manage to balance promotion with writing. Meanwhile, I’ll wrap up this blog post, share the link on Facebook and set off on my last mini-book whirl for this spring – five venues in three days and who knows what will happen with any of them?

To learn more about Susan and her books visit or search for her and Deadly Fall’s fan page on Facebook.


Debra Purdy Kong said...

Wow, Susan, you did much more than I did, and our books were released by TouchWood at the same time. I chose to do less promotion, but keep writing. But I think your approach was great. You learned a lot. Like you, some of my promo events were highly successful, others weren't. But it was all great learning! Hopefully, we can do an event together one day!

Susan Calder said...

Hi Debra.

Focus on promotion or keep writing? Who knows what's the the right choice?

Let me know when you'll be coming to Calgary. We might be able to line up a joint event.

Meanwhile, I'm glad to be finished my promotion blitz for this spring.