Edith here: I’m delighted to host author, blogger, reviewer, and photographer Patti Phillips today. 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 Detective 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 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.