Patti Phillips on Marketing a Character

Edith here: I’m delighted to host author, blogger, reviewer, and photographer Patti Phillips EdithLizDSC_0031today. Liz and I first met Patti at the Writers’ Police Academy a couple of years ago, and loved talking crime with her, as well as watching her be the conference’s expert photographer.

In Patti’s new book, Kerrian’s Notebook Volume 1, Homicide HeadshotPattiPhillipsDetective Charlie Kerrian sees bodies everywhere – in the backyard, in the neighborhood, even on vacation. Join Kerrian as he recounts his take on life as a cop in her collection of his 2012 stories.

Marketing a Character
by Patti Phillips

The Plan: write a novel, promote it and break onto the NYT bestseller list.

Reality: A few years ago I wrote a mystery, One Sweet Motion, then attended several conferences featuring workshops focused on how to promote the finished product. The advice was remarkably repetitive: establish an online presence with social media sites, start a website, look at what other authors were doing, pass out bookmarks and business cards, build a brand.

Start a website? That sounded like a fun way to present the novel and its Jamaican setting, so I hired a couple of techy guys to put my photos and text together. Not long after our second meeting, the team split up. The website they built? The design never worked for me.

The novel had been set aside (revisions had been underway) as I dealt with family illness, but when the time came, I wanted to be ready to help promote my future bestseller!

An online class with MJ Rose (co-founder of AuthorBuzz) clarified my ideas about promotion. In addition to being an internationally published, bestselling author, she had a background in PR and marketing. And the course spoke to me. The underlying advice: create something different that exemplifies your brand. I realized that the old website didn’t work because it was too soft, too vacation-looking, not at all crime related. Money poorly spent, lesson learned.

Rose also advised: Don’t copy everybody else. And, do something that makes you happy, because you may be spending a couple of hours a day, every day, working on it.

One night, my character’s name was mentioned during an episode on a popular TV show. Somebody else was using the name that I had so carefully researched as my protagonist’s name! Gulp. Then it happened again a few nights later. While I realize that it’s practically impossible to lock up rights to a name, I did want my first foray into fiction to be unique. I did not want there to be any confusion between the guys on TV and my guy. I had to choose a new name and figure out a way to claim it as my own.

My brand is cops and the life they lead. I started writing short stories from the point of view of my new Homicide Detective, Charlie Kerrian, and every few days, posted one on Facebook. After just a few weeks, if you Googled “Charlie Kerrian,” my name would come up in connection with it. And, to my delight, a small, but fervent fan base on Facebook grew and wanted more.

A few months after Charlie Kerrian spoke up on Facebook for the first time, social media gurus began to advise writers not to put original posts on public sites – that the sites might claim ownership or want to manage how those posts were used. It was time for me to rethink my own website, since I wanted to keep control over how the Detective Kerrian brand would be seen. That’s why www.kerriansnotebook.com was born in December 2011.

I had a small ‘direct contact’ list of subscribers for the website who were alerted to new posts as soon as they were available, but thousands of followers who stopped in at coffee breaks or at the end of the day. This marketing tool for my novel now had a life of its own, with people sharing what they liked about Charlie Kerrian and about the cases he investigated or reported. Extremely valuable info for a newbie fiction writer.

The feedback from the fans caused me to adjust the direction of the posts in the second year to include more real cases, some complaints from Charlie’s wife and even some recipes that the two of them worked on together. Many of the posts have links to newspaper articles dealing with the material. I’ve added information for writers that can be used as a reference (guns, handcuffs, fingerprints – to name a few). There is a Visiting Detectives section, so that other writers can showcase their own detectives.

After Kerrian’s Notebook reached the eighteen-month mark, some of my subscribers asked if I had an ebook version of the posts, so that they could read them all in a virtual book format. Was I surprised by the question? You bet! I asked some writer pals at one of the crime writer conferences (Writers’ Police Academy) what they thought of an ebook collection of blog posts. Nobody hesitated. Nobody said, “Bad idea.” Everybody said, “Go for it!” and two gals checked in almost weekly to get a progress report on the project.

That’s how Kerrian’s Notebook Volume 1 came to be. It’s a way to spread the Kerrian's_Notebook_fingerprint_cover_small- copy (1)word about nice guy, coffee loving Detective Kerrian and most of all, it’s a thank-you gift to the readers to whom I will be forever indebted.

There will be a Volume 2 (a collection of the 2nd year of the pages from the Notebook) later in 2014. One Sweet Motion is now being shopped around to agents, but until it gets published, Charlie Kerrian lives in the ebook(s) and the weekly blog posts. After publication of One Sweet Motion, the ebooks will remain as companion pieces.

Marketing does work, sometimes in ways we could never have imagined.

Patti Phillips is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina. Her best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research and playing golf. Her time on the golf course has been murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in her novel, One Sweet Motion. Did you know that there are spots on a golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices?

Ms. Phillips (writing as Detective Charlie Kerrian) can be found at www.kerriansnotebook.com. Her book reviews can be read at www.nightstandbookreviews.com

Fascinating story, Patti! You did your research and it paid off. Readers – questions for Patti? She’ll stop by and answer as she’s able.

 

 

27 thoughts on “Patti Phillips on Marketing a Character

    • Thanks, Rowena. Charlie and Sheila Kerrian are fun to write and their stories are often actually bits and pieces of my own life. I had my driveway redone and wrote a story about bodies and cement… 😉

      The original website had a much softer look, with pretty pictures of Jamaica – soft sands, water polo, coconut trees… sending a mixed message to readers looking for a murder mystery with a Homicide Detective as the lead character. If you have a chance to check out kerriansnotebook.com, you’ll see a stormy theme with a badge, a gun and crime scene tape. The short stories feature bodies in the backyard (and lots of other places) so the website works nicely with them.

  1. This is fascinating! I’ll have to check out your/Charlie’s site. As a former police secretary, I’m pretty sure I’ll like the stories. I hope One Sweet Motion finds a home–I’d love to read it!

    I’ve been thinking about brand more over the past few weeks. I’ve had my domain name parked on my blog for the past year or so because I needed to redo my website and find a new host. Hasn’t happened yet. The police secretary angle had been my brand for several years–the protagonist in the book my agent was shopping was a police secretary. But now, we just sold a cozy series to Berkley that features a female brewmaster sleuth, so I’ll be reworking the brand a bit, and I have lots of ideas for my website.

      • Joyce, that character sounds like so much fun. Kerrian and I are contemplating the possibilities – all the different places to find/stash bodies… 😉 Put me on the list of people to notify about your publication date!

    • Thanks, Joyce! Keeping all fingers and toes crossed!

      The original website had a much softer look, with pretty pictures of Jamaica – soft sands, water polo, coconut trees… sending a mixed message to readers looking for a murder mystery with a Homicide Detective as the lead character. If you have a chance to check out kerriansnotebook.com, you’ll see a stormy theme with a badge, a gun and crime scene tape. The short stories feature bodies in the backyard (and lots of other places) so the website works nicely with them. Best of luck with the new series!

    • Delighted to be here, Jessie. 🙂

      The character on that first TV show that popped up on my writer radar was a conniving murderer. Not sympathetic in any way. When the second show in the same week had a similar bad dude character with my protagonist’s name, it was time to find a new name for my solid citizen Homicide Detective.

  2. Patti – a million thanks! Been taking the advice about launching a web site to heart, but also trying to figure out why anyone would want to visit a web site for a book that’s not published yet. (I have a series of three cozy mysteries written, in various edit/shopping stages) You’ve given me a clue as to how to make this work! Looking forward to One Sweet Motion.

    • Hey everybody, Patti wrote that her power is flickering and she might not be able to respond to comments for a while but she very much appreciates today’s readers of her post. She’ll drop back in when she can.

      • Thanks so much, Edith, for passing along the message. The counties north of me have completely lost power and my neighborhood flickers on and off periodically. Great fun to be here and chat. 🙂 Stay safe and warm everyone!

    • Thanks for coming by, Diane. I have read that it’s always good to get your platform in place before you are published, so that even when you’re querying agents or presses they have somewhere to come and check out.

    • Hi Diane,

      What began as a way to permanently link my character’s name to my own, turned into something quite surprising. I did the website in response to the social media gurus, but the readers followed right along, signing up as subscribers right away. Mystery readers still seem to like short stories and if they connect with the character, will stick with the series, whether in short or long form.

      Best of luck with your series and your website. 🙂

    • Hi Diane, I had the same problem and I think this is a case of ‘build it and they will come’. I haven’t been as focused on the brand as Patti – so a good lesson there – but I’m getting about 500 unique hits per week and as yet I have no book for sale. Time will tell if I’m reaching readers for what I write, especially if I focus on my brand. I guess it’s easier to spruik once you’ve got a platform – you can rise above the crowd! Best of luck to all.

      • Hello again, Rowena. 🙂

        I never had to worry about things like this when writing non-fiction. The audience was already defined – I had an assignment and wrote specifically for that audience. In fiction, I believe we have an opportunity to find the audience that fits what we choose to write about. The ‘build it and they will come’ analogy works well for writers if the readers know where to find us.

        It’s clear that you’re building your audience, book or not, if you have 500 unique hits a week. Your readers like what you have to say and I would bet they keep returning. Take a peek at your GA and keep writing in your distinct style. Good luck and thanks for stopping by again.

  3. Hi Rowena – Google Analytics – great tool to have for your website. It shows (behind the scenes) which posts have the most hits, where the readers live (country, not address) and what time of day (as well as what day of the week) people are reading your posts. It has other features as well. 🙂

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