Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Seeds of Relationships

Elizabeth Zelvin

Everyone in the book business knows that nowadays it’s essential for authors to promote their books—in the case of mystery writers, if possible, beyond the tight community of mystery lovers where the competition is greatest. Having chosen to write about alcoholism and other addictions, I sometimes envy authors whose subject matter is less threatening and who have a natural market within the general public that they can approach directly.

A couple of good examples: two authors who write delightful books, have worked hard for their success, and whom I’m proud to call friends, Jane Cleland and Rosemary Harris. Jane’s Agatha-nominated first book about antiques appraiser Josie Prescott came into the world bearing a terrific endorsement: Margaret Maron’s comment that it was “an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans.” Everybody loves Antiques Roadshow, and readers love the series. Jane is an indefatigable marketer who has found creative ways to tie antiques appraisal into her book promotion and has probably turned plenty of antiques lovers into mystery fans.

Rosemary doesn’t call her series gardening mysteries—no tips for gardeners and plenty of social commentary mixed in with the wisecracks—but her protagonist is a Master Gardener, and plants are part of the mix. To market the first book, Rosemary persuaded a major seed company to include a plug and buying information in their catalog, which I’d guess circulates in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.

My series about recovery does have a natural market outside the mystery world: members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs. Those who have found their way to me love Death Will Get You Sober. But a perfect Catch-22 prevents me from marketing to them. As AA puts it, anonymity is the foundation of their traditions: nobody, member or not, can address the organization, its groups, or its members as an expert or advertise or endorse a product. Part of my mysteries’ appeal to recovering people is that I really do get it. And since I get it, I can’t make the mistake, for example, of flying to San Antonio, Texas in July 2010 and trying to hand out bookmarks to the tens or hundreds of thousands of attendees at AA’s 75th anniversary convention. That would only demonstrate that I didn’t get it.

So what can I do to promote my mysteries? The new one, Death Will Help You Leave Him, is about relationships. Everybody can relate to that, right? Who hasn’t had at least one bad relationship? How do I reach this vast untapped constituency? Well, I’ve taken a leaf (pun intended) from Rosemary’s book and thought up a new kind of catalog that would lend itself to a tie-in with Death Will Help You Leave Him: I call it Seeds of Relationships.

Here are some of the flowers you can grow from my seeds of relationships:

Happy Marriage
Double blossoms start out white and lacy, matures through pale pink to red and violet to true blue; hardy perennial.

Rosy color, intensely sweet scent fade over time; cannot be propagated.

Fatal Obsession
Bright red petals fall easily; invasive habit, can mess up entire bed.

Second Date
also called Codependency Bush
(What does a codependent bring on the second date? A moving van.)
Springs up overnight, rapidly bears fruit; all parts of the plant are toxic: if ingested, may cause blindness.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think it's a great idea to pull in non-mystery readers to our books.

Your seeds/mature plants for relationships are right on target!

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jane K Cleland said...

Thank you, Liz, for the lovely comments. Your readers might be interested in a fun, free feature on my website []. It's called "What's It Worth? You Be the Judge!" Each week three antiques or collectibles are posted and readers are invited to pit their antiques appraisal skills against those of the professionals! Fun!

Sandra Parshall said...

I love the catalog of relationship plants -- it could be extended infinitely.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks for the comments. :) I spent the day driving from Roanoke to Nashville on the second leg of my journey from NYC to attend Killer Nashville, which starts tomorrow. If you are attending the conference and read this, make sure you say hello. :)