Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wondering How To Approach Self-Promotion? Ask Yourself This: "What Would Mike Mullin Do?"

Last year around this time I got an email from a librarian I did not know, inviting me to an event I'd never heard of, in a city I'd never been to, two hours away. The thing--whatever it was--would take place on a week night and it would only last an hour. I'd be driving to part of the state I'd never been to, doing some Thing (I wasn't sure what, exactly), and driving back in the dark.

My first inclination, of course, was to say no. But I ran the invitation by my husband, thinking he'd immediately agree with me.

Instead, he surprised me by asking: "What would Mike Mullin do?"

(Mike Mullin) 

"Um," I said, and I only needed to think about it for a few seconds before I answered, "He'd say Yes."

So I went to the event, which turned out to be one of the coolest events I attended last year--and that is saying something. It wasn't just some random thing. It was a state librarian conference put on for all of the school librarians in the state of Ohio. MT Anderson was one of the keynotes.

(MT Anderson's bare legs)
I ate dinner with him and learned that his name is Tobin and he let me take a picture of his bare legs (which is a story for another day). I met librarians that night, some of whom invited me to speak at their schools. One asked me to teach a session at a city-wide teachers inservice. Another put my book on a multi-city Battle of the Books list. The librarians asked me back to speak this year.

I didn't hesitate to accept. I knew what Mike Mullin would say.

At this point you may be wondering who Mike Mullin is and why I use him as a yardstick for evaluating my invitations.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time Mike Mullin wrote a book called Ashfall. It's a cool page turner about a fifteen-year-old boy named Alex who just wants to stay home and play video games while his parents and little sister leave town to visit relatives 100 miles away. Big bummer for Alex  because the first night he is home alone the super volcano under Yellowstone erupts and pretty much half of the country is wiped out. The remainder--and where Alex lives--is covered in ash. The book is a nightmarish hero's journey with Alex trekking across the desolate and dangerous landscape trying to find his family.

Ashfall is published by Tanglewood, a well-respected, small publishing company. It doesn't have a huge PR budget, so Mike did a lot of the promotional work himself. Before the book came out, he loaded a box of advanced review copies of the book into his car trunk and drove around the country, stopping at bookstores and libraries.

He did not do the hard sell Buy My Book thing. Instead, he chatted up the booksellers and librarians and dropped off a copy Ashfall--no pressure to read it or do anything with it.

I heard this story from one of the booksellers that Mike had chatted up. Mike's non-pushy demeanor and compelling book pitch had piqued her curiosity and she'd read Ashfall. 

And loved it.

Now she was passing the copy on to me, so I could read it and review it on my blog, if I liked it. Which I did. 

I imagine a similar kind of thing happened all over the country at those bookstores and libraries where Mike introduced himself because Ashfall made quite a splash when it came out, both critically and sales-wise. The book earned a starred review from Kirkus, was promoted on NPR and in Entertainment Weekly, and was featured on awards lists in nine states. Mike wrote two sequels to the book and keeps driving around the country to this day, speaking at bookstores and libraries and visiting schools.

I met him at a book-signing for his second book. He started the presentation by karate-chopping a cement brick in half.

At this point I was thinking that Mike was awesome and if I ever got a book deal I was going to model myself after him (minus the karate-chopping.)

When I did get my book deal, I mustered up the courage to ask him if he'd read my book and possibly blurb it. He turned into a role model for handling blurbs too. He wrote to me, saying, and I quote: "If I love it, I'll blurb it. And if I don't, I'll keep my big mouth shut."

He wrote the blurb.

I told my husband the story of Mike Mullin when I was brainstorming ways I could promote my book Thin Space. 

There are A LOT of ways a debut writer can approach self-promotion and marketing. Some writers push their books and themselves like door-to-door salesmen, pleading Buy My Book both virtually and in person at every opportunity. Other writers do absolutely nothing, believing that their efforts are as productive as spitting into the wind.

I didn't (and still don't) like either of these approaches, although I don't begrudge the people who follow them. (Okay, that's a lie. I CAN'T STAND the obnoxious Buy My Book thing. It never makes me want to buy the person's book and instead causes me to feel the same way I do about telemarketers and people who try to guilt me into passing along a chain email. Resentful. And that's on a good day.)

But back to Mike Mullin. Here was a writer who seemed to have found a sweet spot between Nothing and Inspiring Me To Slam My Phone Against a Wall.

When my husband asked me if Mike Mullin would've driven two hours away to attend a librarian conference, there really wasn't any question what the answer might be.


The only difference is I didn't heft a cement block into my car before I made the trip.

1 comment:

  1. I was at one of Mike's talks for an SCBWI conference and saw him break a cement block--very impressive! It's hard to compete with that. :)