Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part I)

With Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, it seems like everyone is ready to pull out the tree skirt, boxed ornaments, and Mannheim Steamroller albums––if they haven’t already!  Out comes the fine china, the spiced cider, and the box of spare fuses for the Christmas lights you plan to wrap around the front porch.  Out, too, come the annual holiday-themed blogs, the admonitions that you too can take advantage of the sales frenzy that begins over leftover roast turkey sandwiches and concludes with the sound of a tape dispensor licking over the last cardboard box of holiday decorations, shuffled off to storage for another eleven (or ten, or nine, or eight) months. 

But there’s a problem, and it’s the same problem you face at every other time of year: How do you know which advice to listen to, and which tips to follow?  How do you know if the benefits of a holiday-themed special will pay off for you, the self-published author?

Let’s face the facts:  A lot of holiday-themed advice seems canned.  The same tips come rolling back around every year––offer a holiday special!  host a holiday giveaway!  throw a holiday-themed party!–and they do so for one of two reasons:

  1. They work, or
  2. They’re easy.

It’s hard to know which is which, but I hope to help you find your way through the confusion, whether you’re a newly self-published author, or a veteran who’s looking to try something new––and whether you’re working to plan something last-minute for Christmas of 2014, or thinking ahead to future years.  I’ve road-tested many of these strategies myself, and I hope my experience will prove a help to you.

the ultimate B.A.G.

Thought #1: Not All Gifts Are Created Equal

One of the first things you’ll be told as a self-published author is that you should try and promote your book around the holidays as a gift item; I’ll call this the B.A.G., or Book As Gift.  In fact, the B.A.G. is probably the most common of all recommendations for self-published authors around the holidays, period.  The basic idea is that you ought to ask your friends, family, and social media followers to purchase B.A.G.s to give away, to build a more diverse reader base. 

So, what’s the efficacy of the B.A.G.?  Well, in my experience, it’s rather a mixed bundle.  First of all, a book sold is a book sold, and every B.A.G. contributes to your paycheck.  Great!  But there’s a difference between having people give B.A.G.s and having your book reach your ideal readers, and the line is sometimes more distinct than you might realize. 

Think back to the B.A.G.s you have received––which ones did you actually read, and which ones did you put on the shelf for a rainy day that never came?  One Christmas, I received eight B.A.G.s from family members, and I read a grand total of two of them––the same two that said family members purchased after they saw me lingering over them in the bookstore.  The previous Christmas, I received only three B.A.G.s––all of them surprises, but all of them in a narrowly-defined genre that the gift-givers knew I loved––and I read them all.  I have on occasion enjoyed a B.A.G. that I never would have picked up in a bookstore, and had never heard of, but I can honestly say this is not the norm

The truth of the matter is that many B.A.G.s never get cracked open over one knee, a cup of cider balanced in hand and Mannheim Steamroller blasting from somewhere nearby.  It’s tough for B.A.G.s to compete in a market where so many books are available for such little expense––a market where I can load up my Kindle or Nook or iPad or other smart device with hundreds of free or inexpensive ebooks that I know are titles that I’m going to like.    We sometimes hear the term ‘time-poor,’ and the concept is simple enough: There are only so many spare hours in a day, and we tend to spend our dedicated reading time pouring over old favorites, classics, and other books we already know we’re going to enjoy.  Some B.A.G.s just aren’t destined for happy endings. And that’s okay.  Why?

the ultimate B.A.G.

Because you are interested in finding your ideal reader, and you already know that doing so is a years-long enterprise.  You already know that getting your book into a new pair of hands is just the beginning of a relationship, and that you have to woo a reader’s interest with more than just a dash of holiday spirit––you have to capture the reader’s eye with a clever cover, the reader’s attention with the weight of physical presence, the reader’s participation through interactive challenges and campaigns, and the reader’s imagination with your prose.  In short, you know the B.A.G.’s benefits and limitations, and you’re not about to put all of your eggs in one basket.  (Or is that a poorly-timed Easter metaphor?) 

So, what’s my advice, in a nutshell?  Go ahead and ask your existing network of readers to give your books as B.A.G.s, but see what you can do to hybridize your B.A.G. promotion with other efforts.  If possible, link your B.A.G. with materials, whether digital or physical, that help introduce you to these new readers.  Keep an open mind––and an optimistic outlook.  Develop a marketing plan that goes beyond holiday gimmicks.  Think big.  Holiday promotions are one tool in your toolbox, but they aren’t the full set. 

Check back every Wednesday as I continue my blog series on the happy chaos of self-promotion during the holiday season.  If you have any questions, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!
KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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