Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Impressions vs. Connections

Liz Johnson graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations and works as an editorial and marketing manager at a Christian publisher. She is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist, and A Promise to Protect is her fourth novel with Love Inspired Suspense. Liz makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she enjoys theater, exploring the local music scene, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her two nephews and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings. Keep up with Liz's adventures in writing at www.lizjohnsonbooks.com, Twitter @LizJohnsonBooks, or Facebook.com/LizJohnsonBooks.

NR: Leave a comment for Liz and be entered in a drawing for her book. Continental U.S. residents only, please.

Impressions vs. Connections

I applied for my first job in Christian publishing when I was twenty-one, just about to graduate from college. I didn’t get that job. Or the next one. Or the next. But about the time I turned twenty-five I was offered my first gig in my dream industry as a publicist. I accepted it in a heartbeat.

Never mind that I didn’t really know what a book publicist did.

During my first week at that job, someone explained to me the difference between marketing and publicity. In the simplest terms marketing was paid for and publicity wasn’t. At that time, at that publisher, marketing equated to paid advertising and publicity was any other coverage that a book might get—interviews, reviews, etc.

Publicity and marketing had clearly defined parameters, easily stated goals, and measurable results. Separating them was clean and simple. And as such, many publishers were set up with publicity teams separate from their marketing teams. Sure, they were often referred to together. “Let’s hear from marketing and publicity.” But the teams mostly worked independent of one another.

Seven years later, I’m still in Christian publishing, now as a marketing manager for a nonfiction group. And, boy howdy, how the times have changed!

In early 2006 blogs were the new thing, Facebook was still only available to limited colleges, and Twitter hadn’t even been launched. Tumblr wouldn’t show up for more than a year and the initial closed beta launch of Pinterest wouldn’t happen until March 2010.

The digital explosion has changed the way that publishers and authors reach out to readers in more ways than I could cover in one blog post. So let’s just talk about a new definition of marketing and publicity specifically for novels and what those definitions mean for novelists.

At a recent ACFW conference, someone (and I can’t remember who, so please forgive me if I’m stealing this from you) said, “Marketing is about impressions. Publicity is about connections.” That may be the most succinct and accurate definition I’ve heard in this new era of publishing.

Let’s unpack this for a second. Impressions—if you’re not familiar with advertising lingo—are the number of people exposed to the product you’re trying to sell or the brand you’re communicating. Classic print, television, online, and radio advertising fall into this category. So every time I see an ad in my Entertainment Weekly, I’m an impression to their marketing team. Regardless of my choice to buy the product, I count as a pair of eyes that have seen a book cover or new dvd.

Connections—well, that seems pretty self-explanatory.

But is it? Are you talking at your audience? Or with them? Are you opening a dialogue or sending a message?

Connections are opportunities for readers to hear from the heart of an author. That may not always be a two-way conversation, but it’s deeper than a book sale or jacket copy. It’s a chance for writers to express why they feel so strongly about their topic or why stories and struggles mean so much to them. It’s an opportunity to build a rapport with readers that isn’t easily broken.

As I’ve considered the idea of connecting with readers, I’ve pondered promotions that could be either an impression or a connection. Take a blog post for example. In the early days of blogs, an author’s posts were considered publicity. Without question. But what about posts that are clearly sales copy and sent out to the ether without any follow up? Aren’t those just gaining impressions? How do they differ from posts where the author responds to every comment? Those conversations are building connections.

What about a booksigning? Historically they’ve been considered publicity and usually organized by a publicist. For the authors who stop and talk with each person who comes through the line, connections are formed. But what about the best-selling author who doesn’t even look up as the line moves along.

Katie, a friend of mine, was planning a trip to Mississippi several months back. She heard that a famous author would be in the area while she was there, so Katie stood in line at a small bookstore to meet the author and get a book signed. Imagine Katie’s dismay when the author never acknowledged her or even stopped talking with a personal friend. Katie walked away with a scribbled signature and a bad taste in her mouth. Is that a connection?

What about bookmarks? Marketing teams are usually responsible for these. And if they’re left on a table somewhere with no follow up from the author, they’re collecting impressions. But what if a simple bookmark was used to open a dialogue? If a scrap of cardstock has both the cover of Nicole Quigley’s Like Moonlight at Low Tide and an invitation to join an online conversation with the author about bullying, has it become publicity?

If readers are discovering our books, it doesn’t really matter whether a promotion is labeled as marketing or publicity. And publishers are realizing this. Some are even integrating their teams to the point that one team member is responsible for both publicity and marketing for an author.

So what does this mean for us as novelists?

1. Both impressions and connections are important. They go hand in hand. Some readers will buy a book just based on a cover and concept they like. Others want to really know the author before spending their hard-earned money. Great promotions often include both.

2. Connections aren’t a guarantee. They take effort and planning.

3. How you choose to connect with readers should fit your strengths. If you’re a visual person, maybe you’re pinning on Pinterest. Maybe you love to keep it short and sweet. Try twitter. If you’re long-winded like me, blog posts may be your wheelhouse. You don’t have to do it all. Figure out what works for you and connect that way.

4. Connecting doesn’t always mean starting the conversation. If you can add value to a discussion already going, don’t miss the chance just because you didn’t initiate it.

5. Be open to connections that can become impressions and vice versa. I recently took a handful of my newest book to my dentist’s office. I was there for a regular visit and planned to leave a few on the table in the waiting room for other office visitors. But when I showed the books to the staff, their eyes lit up. I ended up giving every copy I had with me to the hygienists and front desk team and chatting with them about reading, writing, and books in general. I hoped for impressions and instead got four connections and a promise that they’d look up my previous titles, too.

6. Gaining impressions isn’t just up to publishers anymore. Years ago publishers may have been responsible for gaining all of a book’s impressions through advertising, but that’s no longer the case. Authors have the opportunity to offer giveaways on GoodReads.com or swap book ads on blogs with friends. And that’s just a couple ideas.

As always, I recommend working with your publisher’s team. Every publisher has its own strategy, so ask how you can be involved and bring your own ideas to the table.

If you’re not yet published, it’s never too early to begin making connections, discovering the outlets that you feel most comfortable with, and building your network. Then when it’s time to bring your book into the discussion, you’ve got a head start.

Do you struggle with consistently making connections and impressions? Which do you find easier? Are you more apt to be swayed by an impression or a connection? What’s worked best for you to reach readers?

A Promise to Protect

Navy SEAL Matt Waterstone knows about keeping people safe. When his best friend's sister is attacked, Matt promises no harm will come to Ashley Sawyer-not on his watch. But Matt's not the only protective one. Ashley will do anything to safeguard the residents of the battered women's shelter she runs. She's sure she can handle the threats she gets in return. What she can't handle is the way Matt scales the walls around her heart. Yet when she falls prey to a crime web more sinister than she'd realized, trusting Matt could be the only way to survive.


karenk said...

a great article, liz...thanks for sharing.

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Heather Marsten said...

Thank you for showing the distinction between marketing and publicity. I didn't realize they were separate. Your story sounds interesting. When I grew up there weren't women's shelters for abused spouses. I wish there were for it would have let my mother have a way out. Have a wonderful Christmas

HM at HVC dot RR dot COM

Heather Day Gilbert said...

WOW. This is an eye-opening and just excellent post, Liz! Tweeting this one. I love the personal interaction my blog and FB author page allow--making those connections. But working on an image/catchphrase for my writing is harder. I'm glad the publishers are at least still partially involved in that aspect of things!

Cindy M. Jones said...

What a simple but powerful point! I think you just made a new connection! I will be checking out your book.

Lilly Maytree said...

Connections seem something like inventions to me... recognizable as beautiful ideas once someone else comes up with them, but illusive as butterflies to discover on my own. So, being an author who has had to rely mostly on the "trick, or treat method" for such information gathering, I can only say, "Wow, Liz, thank you for so much thought-provoking and applicable explanation in one post." Because it's the kind of stuff one feels compelled to pull out of the bag as soon as it's dropped in.

Wendy Newcomb said...

Sounds like a great book! Thank you for hosting this giveaway.


Liz Johnson said...

Karen, I'm so glad that you stopped by! Thanks for your comment!

Liz Johnson said...

Oh, Heather, I'm so sorry to hear that you and your mother went through such a terrible time. I pray that you've found healing and comfort from God. Thanks for dropping by today.

Liz Johnson said...

Heather, thanks for dropping by today. I think there is a misconception that publishers' marketing and publicity teams aren't working on behalf of authors. But that's certainly not what I've witnessed both working for a publisher and as an author. The publishing team has a vested interest in helping a book succeed, so they're eager to work with authors to see that happen. I know a fiction marketer who is brilliant at helping her authors identify their personal brands and put them to use to reach new readers. That's how she spends much of her time. But promoting a book is definitely a team sport. The personal interaction that you mentioned has to come from the author. :) I'm glad you enjoy using your blog and FB for that. Thanks again for your comment.

Liz Johnson said...

Cindy, I'm so glad you stopped by today and enjoyed the article. I loved that quote about impressions vs. connections and for someone who had been in the industry for years, it was an eye-opener for me, too.

Liz Johnson said...

Lilly, thanks for dropping by today and adding to the conversation. You're not alone in feeling that connections can be evasive. :) I confess that sometimes I stumble upon more than I plan. Like my trip to the dentist office. I wasn't planning on anything more than leaving a few books in the waiting room. But I just went with the connection when the door opened. Sometimes it's about being available when the door opens. Good luck!

Liz Johnson said...

Thanks, Wendy! Glad you dropped by today!

Jill Kemerer said...

Liz, I LOVE this post! You put marketing and publicity in terms I understand. :) And how cool is that about sharing books with the dental team. Love it!!

Please add me to the drawing: jrkemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

Katie Ganshert said...

This was a great post, Liz! I'm suddenly motivated to get my teeth cleaned. :)

Liz Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jill! Glad this article made sense to you! :) I was surprised by the reception at the dental office, but it was great! Very fun chatting books with them. But harder to do when the hygienist had her fingers in my mouth. :)

Liz Johnson said...

Katie, you're too funny! I didn't realize my article may have served two purposes: discuss marketing/publicity AND remind folks to get regular dental check ups. :) My dentist will be so proud.

Lyndie Blevins said...

Connecting is so important - thanks for the reminders.

Liz Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by, Lyndie! :)

Kathy Harris said...

GREAT points, Liz! Thanks for sharing!