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Friday, June 12, 2009

Killer Campaigns: Postcards

In the art world, it's not uncommon to choose an especially well done piece of (your) work and turn it into a postcard. It's like a mini portfolio, a sample of the artist's work. We generally send them to art directors, printers, and prospective clients.

The same thing can be done with your novel. Only in this case, you are not (necessarily) showcasing the art, but rather trying to create interest in the story.

I generally see these postcards at conferences and signings. There's usually a picture of the book cover, a short blurb, and contact information by way of a web site, blog or other social networking site. A few have a short bio of the author, which I always like to see.

The postcard can be one or two-sided, but if it's designed with its original use in mind, it is usually one sided so the other side can be used to mail the card.

I always pick up postcards at cons because I like to see what other people are doing in this realm. One of the best ones I ever saw was for a horror novel. The author didn't use the cover of his book, because he was trying to market himself rather than just the book. I like that he chose a simple black and white palette, with the partial image of a skull howling.

It had minimal copy that used active words to imply horror and danger. I loved the simplicity of it all. I'm not a big horror fan, but it definitely got my attention.

When I used to design advertising, a week didn't go by when I didn't come across a client who 'insisted' we fill up the vacuum in his ad. He didn't want to see any white space. Ads are expensive and he wanted to get his money's worth.

I always tried to gently explain that he'll catch more flies with suggestion than overstating his case.

The same holds true for postcards. It is a selling tool; an advertisement that will either go through the mail or sit on a table begging to be picked up.

Try this experiment with your postcard. Mix it in with several other postcards and scatter them on the table. Which one do your eyes land on first? Why do you think that happened? If your postcard caught your eye last, send it to someone (not your mother) who hasn't seen it before and ask them for suggestions.

Artwork: If you are using it to market your book(s), your choice of art is fairly easy. On the other hand, if you are looking to market yourself as an author, you have to think beyond your book covers and more towards your brand. Use the elements that define the genre and style you write in.

History and the passage of time comes up often in my fiction, so I might use a watch or an hourglass in my graphics. It's a theme I like to write about. Try to pinpoint what it is that comes up most often in your fiction.

I think a mistake many authors (including myself) commit is trying to appeal to too many people. Deep down, maybe we're afraid our core group isn't big enough. Or maybe we think: "I write so many different kinds of genres. I want to include them all."

I learned the hard way that scattering your forces makes you less visible, not more. Concentrate on your specific audience and market to them alone. If you write more than one genre, you'll have to do twice the marketing to each specific audience.

What makes a good postcard?

• Clean imagery. Use your cover art if you're marketing that specific book. Otherwise use art that describes your style.

• Tight copy. Don't give away the first chapter. (Leave that for your web site.) Suggest, tease and intrigue the reader. Polish your back cover blurb.

• Author bio. I'm a big fan of bios. I like to know a little about the person whose work I'm reading. Stay away from political rants or personal crusades. You don't want to scare people away.

• Contact. Always include your web site, blog, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter name, and any other social network where they might read more about you.

• Mailing lists. This is probably a post in itself, but if you are not collecting email and physical addresses, you should. This is where that thing called networking comes in. Even if you don't do mass mailings. It's good to have a list and keep it updated. Next year you may up your ante and decide to start marketing more broadly and you'll be glad you started collecting this data.

Treat postcards like a great piece of advertising. For ideas, study the ads for the big time authors in the RWA newsletter. Look at magazine and newspaper advertising. Pull the examples that appeal to you and then write down what it is that works for you.

Chances are, they'll work for your readers too.

For more Killer Campaign posts go here.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

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Shelley Munro said...

A timely post for me, Maria. I've been thinking about doing postcards. Bookmarks work out very expensive down this end of the world because there are no local printers who do them. Postcards are much easier, especially with Vistaprint.

I have to agree about white space in ads. Less is definitely better.
Lots to think about!

Maria Zannini said...

If you have a paper cutter, you could print bookmarks two to a page and cut them down the middle.

Sometimes printers will cut paper stock for a nominal fee too. With their machines it would only take one cut.