Book Marketing and the Lockdown – How Things Can Change

Yesterday, an article in the Observer talked about lockdown heralding a brand new start for the book trade. It tells us a great deal about stats and sales, and is very informative, as one would expect. But it got me thinking about events, about other marketing incentives, and about how books can learn from other disciplines.

In the of the virus and the lockdown, the landscape for book sales is shifting – we know this. Bookstores will need social distancing measures, festivals are unlikely to happen, and your basic signing event will need to change.

In part, this is always an organic process. The days of author-and-pen have been fading steadily for some time, replaced instead by panels and talks. More authors at a single event means more fans, more cross-pollination, more sales. People come to see one author and discover two more (the maths are pretty simple), and everybody wins. Obviously, there are still creators who sign and tour alone, but the rest of us mere mortals are better with wing-people.

And with the current climate, it’s inevitable this will change again. Without events, bookstore websites need to become the destination. Smaller and/or debut authors will be promoted more online – which means less expense and less stress for publicists. The ‘blog tour’ concept is already opening its arms to virtual conventions, and that means more authors, more placements, more content, and more reach out. Zoom panels are a thing, and bookshops or bloggers or both can host these – the possibilities are as wide as your imagination.

But we also know that this climate is difficult for smaller bookshops, and we’ve seen how they’re banding together to fight back against the Amazonian juggernaut. But – and hear me out – what if this cross-pollination can be taken a step further?

In my job, I overlap several different disciplines who all approach marketing in their own way. And there’s a quite frustrating tendency to think that comics people are separate from books people who separate from games people… but, here a thought: what if they’re not? What if your common-or-bookshop geek likes more than one thing at a time? What if they like comics and games as well? And what if book marketing has something to learn?

Amazon is a nasty, soulless giant, with no personal reachout. And this is what we need to exploit if we want to chase it away. We (as much as we ever can) need to offer that things that it can’t – not only the ‘indie bookstore’ personal touch of digital events and signings and involvement, but also the pretty, individual things that we all love to collect, that we can show off across our own social channels, and that make us happy under lockdown. The treasures that you’d only find in your corner store. Books can have collectible variants, like comics. They can have unique artwork, and signed, mini-print editions. They can have steelbook covers, like games, or they can come with figures, if the budget will stretch enough. And why stop there? Why can’t they come in locked boxes, in embossed leather bindings? Why can’t they come with special, exclusive ‘from-the-author’ content that varies from bookshop to bookshop?

(And suddenly, I’m having a wacky idea of a book published in bits, each bit to a different shop, but that might be an extreme case… hell of a trick to do once, though!)

Now, I get that lot of this is a money thing – badges and bookmarks and cakes (on my) are inexpensive, compared to a limited edition run of a hundred numbered steel jackets. But, as the move to (more) digital would seem to be a given, it would be fantastic if publishers and bookstores could find way to back that up!

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MCM – and Doing It Before It Was Cool

So – MCM.

Fun, hectic, rammed with more people and costumes that I’ve ever seen and always a great opportunity to catch up with the lovely people from across the greater industries of geekdom – books, comics, toys, the whole kittencaboodle.

During the weekend, though, one of my work-mates commented, ‘Why didn’t we have stuff like this when we were young?’ He’s of similar age to me, and he completely understands that we grew up in a time when being a geek was something to be hidden. If you liked comics, or science fiction, or fantasy, or gaming, or wargaming, of dressing up, it was something to which you didn’t admit (only to your circle of geeky mates). Hell, my own mother was ashamed of my loves and hobbies. 

But we were geeks, and unashamedly so. I used to do cosplay, such as it was at the time – I still own the ubiquitous thighboots, and the chainmail bikini that my friend made for me (though I would NOT wear it in public now!). I’ve been to Cons in ludicrous dress-up, and before such things were cool, before anime brought us credibility and bright wigs and fabulous, outrageous weaponry. 

We were the generation that played dungeons and dragons before it arrived on our computer screens, before your humble adventuring party was celebrated by vlog and podcast and graphic novel. We did LARP and re-enactment before such things were ever popular – and long before Kathryn Winnick ever donned mascara, and kicked some serious booty. 

Don’t get me wrong – in some ways I’m glad there’s so little record of the fun we had (cough!), and I’m over the moon that it’s acceptable today, that the geekcred of such things is as massive as it’s become – the acceptance and the reassurance and the sheer celebration of this huge community.

Watching the Watchwomen

But in others, I feel we almost missed out. 

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Three Conventions/Three Weekends

Not only knackered, and up to my ears in people, but three events that were all VERY different. I’m used to book Cons and to MCM, but I’ve never done the Black Library Weekender before, and seeing the BL juggernaut in full motion was quite the eye-opener.

But, anyway, from the top!

FantasyCon

Lovely to see old friends and make new ones, and to do the hanging out in the bar, the talking shop, and the sitting on the panels. Excellent RPG panel with Allen, Alasdair, Sara and Gavin, then an equally excellent Wring Warfare panel with Anna, Anna, Simon and Pete (doing a fabulous job of being Andy Remic). The last of the day’s talks could have gone better – but Con people are always family, even if you’ve never met them before. So thank you to those who checked in.

Chester was beautiful, and I spent rather too long exploring the town (not looking for Alleyne-Johsnon, honest) and the City Walls past the Cathedral.

The hotel was good, too – though it didn’t quite manage the craziness of the Radisson’s glass fish…

MCM

Say it with me, it’s a madhouse. A glorious, manic, (loud), colourful madhouse. It’s a feast of brand and license and costume and prop (and money). It’s half a million kids – and adults – allowed to express their fandoms/ships completely. It feels like a celebration in which everyone gets to let go, and to be whatever the hell they want.

And that’s awesome.

Was trading at this one, so very busy – but it was lovely to see the authors that came to our stand to sign, and to be a part of the MCM madness!

The Black Library Weekender

So, this was a first, and it had a whole different feel – and not just because I wasn’t behind the (truly colossal) trading table. I may be stand at the very corner of this vast and epic mythology, but the Weekender still felt like the ultimate in shared-world-RPG-experience – a place where its fans could come and celebrate their love of the creation, and where its creators could remain gatekeepers and gamesmasters, flying the flags of the fiction they’ve made.

Two excellent panels shared with Nick, Mike and Rachel, talking about the new line of novellas, and what it really feels like to be dipping that first foot (pen?) into the grim darkness of the far future.

And big cheers for the team at BL/GW for their ruthlessly efficient management!

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BristolCon

Looking forward to heading to BristolCon tomorrow – and will be taking my son with me. He’ll be grumpy as all fuck (he wanted to be at MCM) and it’s his first outing into our little world… so look out, this may get colourful!

Find me, not behind a trading table (hurrah!), but hanging out with friends and on a couple of excellently topical panels. There’s a Mass Signing (why does that always sound so Catholic?) at 2:00pm, and I’ll be moderating an ‘Out Of This World’ line-up at 5:00pm in Room 1 – join Jen Williams, Gareth Powell, Paul McAuley and Dolly Garland as they tell us where they’d <really> like to go on holiday. Then at 6:00pm, also in Room 1, it’s all about the delights of cross-genre fiction with Jo Lindsay Walton, Elizabeth Jones, Jason Whittle and Nick Hembry.

Sadly the one place I won’t be is in the bar in evening, as we’ll be doing the loooonng haul home on the train, but, in my resolution that I <must> get to more Cons next year, BristolCon is just the best warm-up!

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Nine Worlds – A Second-Hand Blog

Matt BlakstadNine Worlds? Honestly, I didn’t see that much of it.

There was a fun combat panel first thing Friday morning and a sneaky couple of G&Ts in the bar on Saturday night – but I’ve never <ever> been that quiet (or that sober) at a Con before. Maybe age is catching me, who knows. Anyway.

So – this is a second-hand blog. A blog that tells of happy people buying lots of books (and I mean LOTS of books) which always makes the weekend go well. A blog that tells of happy people in every kind of cosplay; a blog that tells of an excellent venue and hotel, where the staff were sincere and helpful (and the bloke behind the bar mixing a Mai Tai (not for me) was an absolute God, a Dionysus for the modern age). Where was I? Yes – happy. From our nailed-by-our knees vantage, everybody had a very happy Con.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal – but getting this shit right is bloody difficult. Over the years, we’ve seen so many events die, or suffer from falling attendance, or become plagued with industry hamster-fighting… but with four years’ experience, Nine Worlds has absolutely got it right. People feel welcome and confident, they can dress in anything the bloody hell they want, they can attend a whole wealth of panels across every kind of format and topic. and learn about every aspect of this ever-expanding business of ours. Props to committee and program organisers for a top effort all round.

NPC Quest GuyMan of the match, though, goes to the Side-Quest Guy, handing out little Quest booklets for people to follow – I didn’t get time to follow mine sadly (missed my Gold, there) but the work and through that had gone into his costume and supporting story were amazing.

Above all, this is a blog to thank all of the lovely people that came to sign for us at our table – and those who also came to have a natter and sign their stock.

We had a bloody fabulous Con. More like this one please!

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Nine Worlds – Where I’ll Be

Nine Worlds Nine Worlds this weekend, which means you’ll find me, as ever, nailed by my knees to the trading table with a big piles o’ books, a full schedule of signings and (hopefully) a lot of tea.

I shall be on the Getting Fighting Wrong panel (not advisable, if you’ve ever tried it) alongside a suitable line-up of worthies: James Barclay, Liz de Jager, Sebastien de Castell, Oliver Langmead and Lucy Hounsom. The fur flies (or not) at 11:45am on Friday morning.

I’m also (so I’m told) on the LGBT Characters panel at 10:00am on Sunday morning – so I’d better not overdo it at the Cabaret the night before, I guess…

Signings ScheduleYou’ll also find me in the bar, as ever. And possibly dancing, but that depends upon my intake of gin.

Ah, but I shall miss the Radisson with its mad glass fish and its smell of air fuel and its…erm… character…

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Of Battles and Book-Sniffing – Where I’ll Be at FantasyCon!

Saturday morning at FantasyCon, I’ll be the one belting off the train at high speed and racing straight into the Conference Theatre for the ‘Fighting The Good Fight’ panel – the one where we talk about the battle tactics, the merits of cold steel, and how many Orcs one uber-Barbarian can really take down in a scrap. From the emails that have already been flying around, this promises to be a LOT of fun, and there may just be some propage…

At 2pm, you’ll fine me being rather more sensible, in Suite 2, and talking about book marketing. You know the stuff: social media, what works and what doesn’t, how much is too much and why you should never send a new follower a DM telling them to buy your book.

Or you can find me reading from Ecko Endgame at 4:40pm… plus ther are wicked rumours that Titan Books may have some advance copies, so be very very nice to Lydia, and she might let you sniff the pages.

The one place you won’t find me is behind the booksellers’ table. Because it’s not Forbidden Planet and they’re likely to ask me what in the ever loving fuck I think I’m doing monkeying with their till.

Find the rest of the gleefully awesome FantasyCon programme here!

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BristolCon

#squaresbygeeksAfter so many years of trading, being free to roam at BristolCon was a very odd feeling indeed. It was slightly nebulous, somehow, almost as if I’d missed something or there was something I should have been doing… for the first couple of hours, sitting chatting and drinking tea, I kept fidgeting, as if there was something I’d forgotten.

But no! After a while (and a very fine sarnie at the St. Mary Redcliffe just up the road), it finally dawned on me that I didn’t actually have to do anything, and if I wanted to sit on my arse, play with Lego and admire Emma’s sewing and crocheting skills (and all those lovely NERF guns, Ben!) then that was – actually – all fine.

Jen's DragonBut there was a reading (from the screen of my mobile phone as my iPad, dutifully lugged with me all the way from The Smoke, decided it wasn’t having any of it, thank you), a group signing (and actual people bringing actual books to be signed – even ones with my name on them), a book launch, (well done Jo on the almighty sales of Spark and Carousel), and the attending of the panels and the readings (including a very funny conjured-on-the-spot short story from Jasper Fforde featuring a wall of death and a pet lion in a sidecar, all good and blackly-oily fun).

Jasper FfordeAnd the best thing about not being nailed by my knees as usual? Proper time to catch up with people I don’t see nearly enough of, particularly old Vike buddy Ken, who’s now featured in Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion. And yes, I did buy a copy and he did sign it for me!

Well done to all involved for a fantastic event – a real family atmosphere and all very welcoming and laid-back. And, next stop FantasyCon, another event where I shall be a free and unbound creature, roaming widely and signing books and stickering unsuspecting passers-by!

Who knows, I could get used to this…

 

 

 

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BristolCon

No Tables! Well, fuck me ragged, it’s a miracle – I will be at a Con, and without those firmly hammered-in nails that attach me to the FP table.

Yes, I will be at BristolCon on Saturday 26th, and will be giving a quick’n’dirty (no, not one of those) reading from Ecko Endgame in the Summit Suite at 13:50 – which will leave plenty of time for all you lovely people to get to Jo Hall’s Spark and Carousel book launch at 14:00.

No idea how it will feel being at an event without my table to hide behind – kind of feels like being bereft of both armour and safe retreat – but this is BristolCon, after all, so it’s all good.

Plus, Des will be there flying the FP flag, so I guess I’m sort of on range patrol…

May also be signing Endgame at the Bristol FP, but more news on that to come!

Full BristolCon schedule is here…

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Nine Worlds

Staypuft Marshmallow LadyIt’s always hard to write a review of a Con when you’re trading from behind a table piled creakily high with ALL THE BOOKS – and this one was sans dealers room, our usual partners in crime replaced by a lot of Gundam Mech building and some highly amusing-looking D&D (not envious, honest). Trading table or no, however, Nine Worlds continues with its own particular achievement – to bring new people into fandom with the confidence to be themselves.

Gundam Mech MasterAnd this means that, from a traders’ point of view, we see more people buying books, and reading books, and picking up new things to try… and as we cautiously stray from behind our table, we see more people able to dress and express themselves however they wish, to meet their tribe and make new friends. And lots and LOTS of wonderful Cosplay, this AoT salute one of my favourites – unsurprisingly!

Attack On Titan Survey CorpsShifting away from the demographic, I always do a certain amount of hat-swapping at Conventions. This time, much hilarity ensued from me swearing four minutes into the first panel of Friday morning (in strict disobedience of the five o’clock watershed. (In my defence, I have no recollection of seeing an email about the ban… either that or I get possessed by Ecko at critical moments, (and I know which of those worries me more)). The panel was great though, and it’s always good to not only share, but to learn from the authors with you, and the questions from the audience. Special mentions to Al Robertson and Sebastien de Castell for their wonderful senses of humour.

The Endgame ComethThere was some excitement for the publication of Ecko Endgame (hurrah!), and for the forthcoming Fight Like A Girl anthology. There was much tea (thank you Em and Cara) and much wine (no changes there) and a great fun Saturday night that ended with the sun rising at the end of the Heathrow roadway – and a reminder that I can, apparently, still get up and go to work on two hours’ sleep… it just takes me longer to recover.

Su as Tiny TinaAn overall thank you to Paul and Nazia for all their help and support, Program is a horrible job (and we all know it) and they came through it with flying colours. Thank you to Erich for his tireless help and patience, and to all the authors who signed for and with us – a huge list of mighty talent which, frankly, leaves me exhausted.

Joanne HarrisAnd finally, a particular mention to the lovely Laurell K Hamilton and her crew – a perfect fusion of charm and efficiency!

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