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Thursday, April 16, 2009


I’m welcoming another Campbell to my blog today—Chester Campbell. Contrary to rumor, Chester Campbell was not a passenger on Noah's Ark, but he didn't get off the boat yesterday, either. With a writing career that has spanned sixty years, he has a new mystery novel just published titled The Surest Poison. In it, three seemingly unrelated murders crop up during the investigation of a toxic chemical dump that plagues a rural community west of Nashville. PI Sid Chance is hired to find the party responsible for the pollution behind a small plant whose current owner is being harassed by the state. Sid is tailed, threatened, and shot at before encountering some nasty guys from his past. (And yeah, I thought "green" was eerily appropriate when writing about poison!)

One of the earliest eye-openers I experienced as a mystery writer occurred when my first book came out in 2002. I quickly discovered that marketing and promotion take as much time as writing the novel. It’s like learning to walk, then realizing you have to climb steps, too. Fortunately, I had started attending conferences, primarily SleuthFest, put on by the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I picked up some great tips there on getting ready for your book to come out.

“Coming out” is a good term to describe a book’s publication, since it denotes a debut and, in Southern social circles, a debutante’s introduction at a ball. Too bad my books don’t get that level of fanfare.

However, I followed most of the advice for getting ready. I set up a website, primitive though it was. I created a mailing list of publications to inform and people who might be interested in buying the book. There were no Advance Review Copies, so I had to wait for the book to be printed before I could send it out for review. I got a friend who ran the color lab for the local newspaper to make a head shot to use for publicity. And I started calling bookstores to set up signings.

I found it all took lots of time and slowed my writing efforts. Being published by a small press, though, I knew the book wouldn’t sell unless I let people know about me and what I had written.

I now have four books out in that first series, the Greg McKenzie Mysteries, but the marketing and promotion effort remains essential. Some things have changed, however. The reason I’m here today is because I have another debut to talk about. The Surest Poison is the first book in a new series featuring a Nashville PI named Sid Chance. I’ve just started a Blog Book Tour for it, something unheard of back in 2002.

From now through the first of May, I’ll be doing daily interviews and a variety of articles about the book, its characters, the setting, the origin of the story, writing issues and such. Again, it’s promotion, and it’s a lot of work. But it’s fun, too. I have posted the schedule on my website of where I’ll be blogging each day. Join me, if you’d like, and make a comment. I’ll be doing drawings from those who leave comments, giving away several books as prizes.

With the Internet becoming more important as a means of communication, I’m concentrating more of my marketing efforts there. It takes a lot of effort, but, heck, you don’t have to dress up or even get out of your chair. I’ve recently established a presence on Facebook and Twitter, two of the most popular social networks. I belong to several others that deal with books, such as Goodreads and Crimespace, but haven’t been as active on those.

One of the most important aspects of Internet promotion is the author website. I do a makeover on mine every couple of years. If all goes well, I’ll have the revised version up by the time you read this, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Joanna has a great website with lots to see and benefit from. That’s the secret to a successful website. Give visitors lots of goodies and they’ll keep coming back for more.

The final act of “coming out” is the Book Launch Party. I’m having this one at my church, City Road Chapel United Methodist Church, in Madison, the Nashville suburb where I live. It’s also where my protagonist lives and has his office. We’re throwing the party Sunday afternoon, April 19. I thought about serving green punch in glasses marked with a skull and crossbones, but I’m not sure how that would go over. We’ll have a cake with green icing, though.

I can’t leave without telling you a bit about the people who populate The Surest Poison. The story is a little grittier than my first series, which some said bordered on the cozy. One reviewer wrote that the new book was “the kind of fiction writing that those with a penchant for Lawrence Block can enjoy.” Sid Chance is a big guy (six-foot-six, 230 pounds) who was a Green Beret in Vietnam, spent eighteen years as a National Park Service ranger, and ten years as police chief in the small town of Lewisville, southwest of Nashville. He left that job after being falsely accused of bribing a drug dealer.

His part-time helper is Jasmine LeMieux, whom DorothyL’s Kaye Barley called “a character I LOVE; Jaz LeMieux, wealthy ex-cop who has done a little bit of everything in her life, and done it with flair.” Her Southern Belle mother disowned Jaz when she dropped out of college and joined the Air Force. Making matters worse, she then became a champion woman boxer before joining the police force to pay her bills. After her mother died, Jaz’s father, a French Canadian entrepreneur, took her back in and left her controlling interest in a lucrative chain of truck stops.

Now you know just enough to be dangerous. Or maybe want to read the book. Or maybe you have some other good ideas for promotion? Joanna says she’ll mail a bag of benne seed wafers (a very Southern cookie a lot like peanut brittle) to some lucky person who comments with a good idea.


Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Great having you here, Chester!

Karen Brees said...

Hi Joanna,

My first book is coming out July 7 and I'm working as hard on the publicity as I did on the writing. (The Complete Idiot's Guide to Preserving Food). I'm going the guest blogging route and also doing a road trip- Seattle to San Diego and Boise to Boston to promote it at hardware stores (sources for canning supplies) and book stores along the way.
I've updated my website ( with an Events tab to publicize the tour and a Blog tab to link my blog and website. Also on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter. Created a new group on Facebook (Practical Preserving) and will link that to the blog.
While this book is nonfiction, I think the same techniques apply. My next book is a mystery 9of course) and I'll have the groundwork in place.

Chester Campbell said...

Sounds like you're doing a great job, Karen. Have you considered writing articles for magazines related to canning and such? When my first mystery came out, I did an article for the University of Tennessee alumni magazine, which goes to thousands of alums. There are all kinds of possibilities out there.

Helen Ginger said...

Chester, get paper and do some free associating. On one sheet put your name in the center inside a circle. On another, do the same, only put the book title in the circle. Then draw spokes out and write down ideas that relate to the book or to you. For you, start with every place you've lived and every job you've held, and go on from there. For your book, put down every topic touched on, even if you're not an expert on them.

Do this until you run out of ideas. Then start thinking of how you could promote your book to each spoke.

(This makes more sense when I teach it in a workshop with visual aids.)


Anonymous said...

My experience with my first book is much the same as yours was, sounds like. I'm spending a lot of time on marketing and finding little time to get my revisions done for the sequel. But I'm hoping the learning curve will get easier as I progress! Good luck on your tour. I'll be doing one the last two weeks in May.
Heidi, Cowgirl Dreams

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Karen, everything you learn, you can apply (although perhaps with some modification) to selling your fiction. I know, because I did.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Helen, I like the free association. I use it to brainstorm and I think stepping outside of linear thinking is very useful.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Chester, here's a question for you. Do you ever wonder when you've done enough? Ever have problems prioritizing?

Chester Campbell said...

Prioritizing is something I have difficulty with, Joanna. It doesn't seem like I've ever done quite enough. I can always find something else I missed. Like Helen's circles and spokes. It has all sorts of possibilities.

I'll need to do a bit of juggling, though. Both newspapers I worked for are long gone. The ad agency and PR agencies are gone. The governor I wrote speeches for is long dead. The trade association I ran for 18 years has changed its name and structure and no longer resembles the one I worked for. Guess I've been around too long. I'll have to try the book part.

Anonymous said...

Think "off the beaten path," as a member of our local writing group did to promote her book: You can't smell the flowers if you're pushing up daisies. She talked to some local nurseries and persuaded them to carry her book. Seems like if you can think of something related to your book, but not necessarily the typical location...I wouldn't try the local poison control center. But I can't help with suggestions because I don't have a sense of what your book is about. Free association might help you come up with something. If you come to the Seattle Tacoma area, I'll stop by one of your signings.

Sherry from Cozy Armchair

Karen Brees said...

Thanks Chester!
Great idea. I'll start the old brain cogitating.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Sherry, I like that. Hmmm. So I went to a scrapbooking site and signed up to have a blog there. That's on MY path since my book's about a scrapper. We'll see, huh? I wish there was one central hub for all these sites.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Chester, can you stop back by tomorrow in case anyone visits tonight? I wouldn't want folks to miss out on getting to "chat" with you.

I'll pick a winner tomorrow at 5 p.m., so everyone check back, okay? I know you want to try these benne seed wafers. They're like peanut brittle but buttery-er.

Gramma said...

One of the more creative marketing ideas I have heard of was a local author persuading local nurseries to carry her book, "You Can't Smell the Roses if You're Pushing Up Daisies." Our small, novice group, published two anthologies, and we learned a lot about marketing and promotion (and did a lot of booths at summer fairs and farmer's markets). Good luck, Chester, it sounds like a keeper.
Sherry of Cozy Armchair group

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, Sherry. I haven't figured out how to tie in the poison part, either. The plot involves chemical pollution of the water supply, so I don't think too many water companies would be interested. Jaz LeMieux, the number two character, is board chairman of a chain of truck stops. I think I'll see if there are any possibilities there.

Thanks for hosting me, Joanna. I'll stick around and watch for any more comments.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Chester, do you think promotions are MORE a part of an author's job than ever? Can you detect a change in the emphasis?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Chester, do you think promotions are MORE a part of an author's job than ever? Can you detect a change in the emphasis?

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

HeidiWriter--You are our winner. Email me at and put CHESTER in the subject line so I can mail you your yummy benne seed wafers!

Thanks to all for participating! And a special thanks to Chester!

Chester Campbell said...

Coming late to the party, Joanna, but I do think we need to be more proactive in the promotion part of our job today. With people spending less these days and the mass of books out there to choose from, we're faced with a big task to see that ours are noticed.

Charlotte Phillips, Co-Author of The Eva Baum Detective Series said...


I don't believe you should give up on your spokes so easily. Other people worked for those organizations. Where are they now? Are they on LinkedIn? Has anyone created alumni type organizations? Is anyone writing a personal column in a newspaper? Are any anniverseries coming up for any of those orgs - birth or death? What about the govenor - any current events that could be tied to your work for him? You just never know.

F. M. Meredith, author said...

Definitely promotion is as time consuming as the original writing.

Yesterday I spoke to Yosemite Romance Writers, today I'm going to a book fest. Next weekend is the L.A. Times Book Festival where I have three signing times.

Mostly though, I do Internet stuff like Chester.

Who knows how well any of it works, but if you don't do it, you certainly won't have results.

Marilyn a.k.a. F.M. Meredith

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Gosh, Marilyn, you said it. What if we quit? Then we get none of the benefit, and that's about all we know for sure.