Monday, March 24, 2008

CJ Lyons offers promotional LIFELINES!

The doctor is in the house! KJ Howe welcomes talented writer and physician CJ Lyons back to the lair. Remember her incredibly helpful tips on pitching at conferences? This time, she offers sage advice about promotion and branding, lessons she learned while promoting her debut novel, LIFELINES (a must read!).

Title: Practical Promoting in an Impractical World

KJ asked me to talk about practical promoting and what I've learned as a debut author. Hmmm…this might be a very short post!

For me, it's boiled down to knowing myself and my target audience. Or even more importantly, knowing my brand.

A brand is a subliminal promise to your readers—that any book written under this author's name will promise this type of emotional experience.

For example, even though I love to cross genres from women's fiction to suspense to thrillers to romance, every book I write has a theme central to my life: they're all about making a difference, trying to change the world.

Once I realized this fact, my tagline came easily: No One is Immune to Danger

Note that tagline is an emotional concept, not a promise of specifics. I did this on purpose because I knew up front that I didn't want to get locked into writing only medical thrillers. It works with medical thrillers, woman's fiction, romantic suspense, mainstream thrillers, etc. And it reminds the reader that I’m a physician—which is part of my platform or unique selling proposition.

A brand is more than a central theme, more than a tag line, it also includes visual images that evoke the same emotion.

For instance, part of my brand image is that I'm a doctor, so I use a lot of medical imagery on my website. I also use the color red a lot—again, creating an emotional response.

One thing that I wanted for my website was to evoke a response that it was fresh, dynamic, and different than other suspense writers' sites. Subconsciously, this tells a casual viewer that here is a writer who's different than others, willing to take chances, and whose books are also fresh and different.

I checked out as many websites as I could. Many I fell in love with—but they didn't fit my brand and the emotional response I was aiming for.

So instead of a dark background (which 99.9% of mystery, thriller, and suspense writers have) I went with a light background. And I asked my designer to make the images feel more fluid and expansive rather than boxed-in. As if there was a whole new world for visitors to explore.

Other promotional decisions I had to make:

--blog or not? To be successful you need to join a group, build a platform, or blog very often.
--contests? Offering free stuff is a great way to build interest and your mailing list, but it does cost money.
--appearances? Many conferences plan 9-12 months in advance, so if you want to get a speaking gig, you need to plan early.

Again, I based my decisions on my brand. As a doctor, teaching is a natural part of my life, and teachers are noted for making a difference, so volunteering to teach workshops, give keynotes, etc, was an easy fit for my brand.

And this is where I've had the greatest promotional success. I've been invited (ie. paid) to give online classes, live workshops, and keynote speeches all over the country. Fortuitously, many of these offers coincided with LIFELINE's spring release, so my "book tour" is partially paid for already, I have a built in audience, and the signings are arranged by the conference organizers, easing my workload.

If this didn't come naturally to me and fit my brand, I might have passed on some of these opportunities and spent my time and energy doing something else—like maybe blogging. But blogging doesn't come easy to me, so I use my blog as a news update and focus on guest blogging which feels more like teaching to me.

And I guess my final lesson in promoting was: it never hurts to ask. I knew my debut would be as a mass market mid-list general fiction novel. My publisher is very supportive, but was also candid with me up front that we had virtually no promotional budget and that it was pretty much all up to me. BTW, this is the "norm" for 80% of all books published.

But that didn't stop me from asking for things I thought were important. First, I asked for a "real" photo for the cover rather than stock art. After all, the whole idea behind LIFELINES was a "real" doctor writing about "real" events in a "real" ER—or as close as you could get and still be entertaining.

Wow!! Did Berkley ever come through for me there! The art director asked a lot of questions about my characters and then actually hired models for a real photo-shoot in NYC!!! And look at the results—stunning!!!

I also try to ask my audiences if they want to support myself or any of their favorite authors that they try to buy our books the first week they are available. That first week of sales is really the only thing that counts as far as deciding how long a book stays in print or even if there is a next book.

So go out, buy early, buy often! And to reward anyone who wants to buy more than one copy of LIFELINES (hey, it's only $7.99!), I'm hosting a contest: Treat a Friend and Win!

Simply send me copies of receipts showing two purchases of LIFELINES and you'll be entered to win prizes including an iPod Nano! Details on my website along with other contests, at

Thanks for reading!

KJ: The Banditas really appreciate you stopping by today to share those amazing promotional tips. We wish you all the best with LIFELINES!!! For more information about CJ, her bio is included below. As you can see, she is a very busy, multi-talented woman!

As a pediatric ER doc, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. CJ loves sharing the secret life of an urban trauma center with readers. She also loves breaking the rules; her debut medical suspense novel, LIFELINES, is cross-genre to the extreme, combining women's fiction with medical suspense with thriller pacing with romantic elements and is told from the point of view of the women of Angels of Mercy's Medical Center. Publisher's Weekly proclaimed LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), "a spot-on debut….a breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" and Romantic Times made it a Top Pick. Contact her at


Gillian Layne said...

CJ, it's great to see you here! I took an on-line pitching class with you and the information was so valuable. I still pull up my examples and your comments when I'm tweaking my blurbs and trying to polish hooks.

The very best of luck with your book! You're right, the cover is beautiful.

Kimber Chin said...

Totally agree about the cover.


CJ Lyons said...

Hi again! I'm so happy that my Break Free class helped you--it's always so much fun to teach!

Thanks for dropping by!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks--Berkley did a wonderful job on that cover and I love it!!!

Suzanne Ferrell said...

Good morning, CJ and welcome back to the lair. I'm actually still in my scrubs from work last night. We weren't too busy until a lady came in and the baby was in too much of a hurry to wait for the doctor!

We've been having some discussions on our private loop about book promoting. There are so many contests and giveaways and promo items, that sometimes it seems like the authors forget their biggest item...the books. Writing their best book and enthusiastically offering them to readers (at book signings and blogs) is probably the best promo any author can do for herself/himself.

I love your idea of putting your brand into affect with your promo!

doglady said...

Uh, Gillian? Did you notice a feathered visitor at your house this morning?

Wow! Some great info here, CJ. Thanks. That is definitely a fabulous cover. I write Regency so the stylized painting type covers suit me finr, but I like for the contemps to have real photos of real people.

I have come to realize that the biggest factor in an author's success once they actually get the call is themselves.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Suzanne! Hope baby and mom are both doing well.

I think you're right--you have to discover what works for you and helps you to best connect with your readers.

For me, it's not a regular blog (I'm just not disciplined enough to post often, so I use my blog as a news update) and not your traditional signings.

I'm too ADD to sit behind a chair waiting for folks to come to me!

For me, teaching, speaking at conferences, group signings/events, and stock signings have worked much better.

Everyone needs to find what works for them and their personality.

I did my first (and so far only) traditional book signing this weekend. There was another author signing at the same store at the same time, so they placed us each on opposite sides of the front door.

The gentleman signing his memoir was local, so he had folks waiting for him. He also was very much an extrovert and watching him work the crowd was great fun--but I knew I didn't have the personality or skills to copy his style.

Instead I stuck with my forte--I love a good book. Since my table was near the cash register, I saw what everyone was buying and asked them about their choices.

Quite a number stopped to chat about books, I sold some books of friends via my reccomendations, and then many of the customers would ask about my book as well.

Ended up selling over a dozen books in two hours--which the bookseller said was "exceptional" for someone without name recognition.

So, think about your strengths and what about this business brings you joy and include that in your marketing plan...much more valuable than any tzotchke you could buy!!!

CJ Lyons said...

Hi doglady! I agree--you best asset is yourself!

Paintings suit historicals--paintings are part of history, convey that wonderful feeling of being transported in time.

Since our marketing platform was real life doctor writing about real life medicine, I campaigned vigorously for a full color photo--there are so many "nice" covers that they all blend together, so I wanted something that was bold and vivid, that folks would either love or hate--but at least notice!

Thankfully, the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far!

KJ Howe said...


I love your advice about focusing on your strengths. There are some folks, like J.A. Konrath (I think he missed his calling as a stand-up comic), who adore book signings, but many writers are introverts who find the idea of hand selling their work rather intimidating. Any thoughts on what authors should wear to these signings (something in tune to their brand?), whether they should stand in front of the desk rather than behind it (I've read that people are intimidated to approach someone when there is an object in between them), and what might work as an ice breaker?

Congrats on your successful booksigning! Thanks for joining us today.


CJ Lyons said...

Hey there, KJ! Thanks again for inviting me to hang out with the bandits--this is my third trip here and everytime is so much fun!

What to wear--to booksignings, conferences, etc--should reflect your brand.

If you write a surfer dude detective, then Tommy Bahama would be a better way to go than Brooks Brothers.

CJ Box who writes Montana and Wyoming set mysteries is never without his Stetson. Even at award dinners!

I try to always wear red--it's my branding color and I look good in it. So my closet is now suddenly filled with red--dressy dresses for award dinners, nice dresses and jackets for nice dinners/outings, casual tops and blazers for conventions and signings.

I'm a ER doc, so I don't wear heels--ER docs have to be ready for anything, so that gives me an out (I hate wearing shoes, much less heels, lol!) So I dress professionally but not "fussy"--ready for everything.

And comfortable--keep it comfortable!

As for signings, where to stand/sit is wherever you're comfortable. At most conference signings you have no choice but to sit behind the table.

Sometimes at a bookstore you can mingle with the crowd--especially if it is an "event". But you don't want to wander too far from your table with your stock in case you leave someone waiting for you there at the table.

Again, you need to feel comfortable--a genuine smile erases most barriers!

Beth Andrews said...

Thanks for joining us, CJ! You certainly made the right call about your cover - it's gorgeous *g*

Love your advice about focusing on our strengths. I believe that's true in writing as well as promoting :-)

Great advice all around!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks for dropping by, Beth! Glad you enjoyed the post!

Kate Carlisle said...

Hey Gillian, congrats on luring the GR home!! Hope you've got some leftover Peeps. :-)

CJ, welcome back to the Lair. Wow, you are one busy doctor-writer! Thanks for all the great branding/promotional ideas. You obviously have a fantastic platform to promote your debut book, and your cover is fantastic, so hip and contemporary. I know it's going to be a smash hit!

KJ, thanks for bringing CJ back for more great advice!

Donna MacMeans said...

Just wanted to stop in and wave at my fellow Berkley Babe. *g* Love the cover and your comments about taking a "lighter" approach in promoting suspense. Suggestions on effective promotion are always appreciated as they take SO much time (and money). What do you think about the lure of book trailers?

Russ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russ said...

Hey CJ:

Great words of advice. I agree about focusing on your strength and I think "no one is immune to danger" is a great theme that will serve you well your whole career.

Having met you, I read your anecdote about the book signing with some interest. I think you have great communication skills. After focusing on your strengths the next step is to convert your weaknesses into strengths. I have no doubt with a little practise and study that you will be working the crowds like a pro in no time. I'm confident you have that in you.


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Good Morning CJ and welcome once again to the Lair! Yeah! You always have such wonderful advice, so thanks. KJ, Thanks for bringing her back for an encore. :>

Gillian! Girl, you got the rooster. Way to go.

CJ, I love the cover and agree w/ your philosophy on branding. I'd love to hear you speak sometime. Where's your next speaking gig, now that you're into promo mode w/ a March release?

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Russ! Usually I love taking any opportunity to work on my weaknesses--and there are many, lol!

But promoting a book is so stressful and energy consuming, that I think knowing your strengths and capitalizing on them is, for me, the best way to go--I need to make sure I have enough energy to write the next book!

However, I do think if you have time before your book comes out and know you have some weaknesses, like for instance speaking in public, then definitely take that opportunity to work on them--maybe join Toastmasters or volunteer at a place where you'll have a lot of public interaction.

Thanks for dropping by!

CJ Lyons said...

Hi, Kate! Thanks so much for the warm wishes!!!

CJ Lyons said...

Hey there Donna! Nice to see another Berkley Babe, indeed!

Book trailers....I'm torn. I've never bought a book because of one, rarely remember the book's title or author's name even when the trailer is interesting, and have seen many that just plain don't work.

But I do think they have their place. If you have a highly cinematic concept, I would create one that's more like a movie trailer--does not try to tell the story, rather simply intrigues us and evokes the same emotional response as the book.

And, if you have an opportunity to show a good trailer to your publisher's sales force, it can be an effective tool to get them on board.

Like every promotional tool, they have their place--you just need to know what you want and how you're going to use them, then see if the expense is justified.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Jeanne!

Let's see, this weekend I'll be at the Virginia Festival of the Book, part of their Crime Wave panels.

The weekend after, I'll be in Phoenix for the Desert Rose conference--if you're there, give a holler and drop by my Break Free of the Slushpile workshop (the one Gillian enjoyed so much).

Then I'll be at RT in Pittsburgh with KJ, followed by Malice Domestic and the Oklahoma Writers Federation.

For more info just go to my site and click on Events (

Did I mention how stressful launching a book is, lol! I'll be on the road 11 weeks out of 12 since the release!

Which is why it's so important to also keep it fun!

Maria V. Snyder said...

Hello Bandits - I couldn't resist popping back :)

CJ - great advice about branding. I love the cover of your book and wish you well with sales!

You mentioned wearing red to booksignings, and I realized I match my clothes to the cover of my most recent book! Right now I've been wearing orange to match Fire Study - I hadn't thought about it before your comment.

I hope to meet you at RT - it's my first one, and you'll see me following Kim around like a lost puppy ;>

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks for dropping by--and congrats on making the NYT list!!! How very exciting!

We'll definitely have to get together at RT--I'm sure Kim has it already worked out, she's the hostess with the mostest, lol!

jo robertson said...

KJ, you know the best people! Thanks for having CJ with us in the Lair today.

CJ, your promotional tips are the best I've heard in a long time, so clear, succinct, and do-able! I never would've thought to make a case for the kind of cover I wanted.

I think many of us unpubbed writers never think about how to brand ourselves. Great article! Thanks for sharing.

jo robertson said...

Ah, Berkeley Babes, that explains why ya'll are so smart!

And Gillian, forgot to say congrats on capturing the rooster. Does he have a chocolate hangover from all the goodies he ate yesterday?

Nancy said...


CJ, this is a great post. Your tips are all so logical but not ones we might think of ourselves. The idea about chatting up book customers is great.

Your cover really is fabulous!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Nancy! Glad you enjoyed the post and the tips!

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Jo! Glad you found the tips helpful!

Afraid to ask about the rooster....

Cassondra said...

Hi CJ! Nice to have you back in the lair!

Love the promo tips. I like the practical way you approach it too. And the hard truth about promo budgets from publishing houses for new authors. We all know it, but we like to forget that...and we shouldn't. Interesting about buying the first week if you can. I always try to preorder or buy on the release day if I can, but that's cuz books are like candy for me. I didn't realize the first week made such a difference.

And WHAT a gorgeous cover. I want a story for every one of those girls of course...don't know if you have that planned, but I want it. (grin)

Cassondra said...

And hey Maria!

Great to see you stopping back by!

Gillian, take care of the rooster and I hope it's warmer where you are than it is here. Easter turned cold on us in Kentucky. Brrrr.

One or two days in the 70s really spoils you after a long winter. Now I'm shivering.

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Cassondra--and your wish is my command!

The second book, CATALYST, is Amanda's story.

Hopefully sales from LIFELINES will be strong enough to encourage Berkley to release the future books in close succession. Fingers crossed!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

WTG Gillian on the GR. Did the Easter dye come out of his feathers yet?

Nice to see you again Maria! How interesting that you sub-consciously bought clothes in the color of your title. We happen to have another orange-lovin Bandita in residence...

CJ it is GREAT to have you back! You always have wonderful advice on timely subjects. Could you give me some hints on how you got the word out about your presentations and workshops to so many places? Virginia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma? I can't even get my local chapter interested in letting me speak. hmmm, maybe they know they can't shut me up?!?!?!


CJ Lyons said...

Hey there, Cindy! As a doctor, teaching is a daily part of my life, so it was natural for me to start teaching writing.

At first it was online workshops and as my name and reputation became known it blossomed into live workshops, panels, keynotes, etc.

Of course, it helps to have fantastic friends like Kim and Margie Lawson who have taken my classes and help to spread the word!

Anna Campbell said...

Gillian, have a great day with the rooster! Congrats!

CJ, welcome back. What fantastic advice. Actually it's been such a steep learning curve since I sold and one of the things I've learnt is that while I dreaded having to promote, I really enjoy it. It's fun meeting people who are interested in what you're doing and even more fun to meet people who really like your writing.

I realized when I sold that I had to get over my public speaking phobia so after that, if anyone asked me to speak to a group, I said yes. The first couple were pretty awful - you'd think I had a stick stuck up where the sun don't shine. But I've reached a point now where I can take it in my stride even if nobody is going to ask me to host the Oscars any time soon.

Practice really does make this stuff easer, I've discovered. One thing I learnt is my mental approach makes such a difference. I've never had much trouble talking to inviduals in an informal environment. It was the whole stand up and lecture thing that had me in a lather of sweat. So I had to start thinking of my public speaking gigs as me speaking to a whole stack of individuals. It really helped - definitely made me more natural.

Love the idea of matching your clothes to the covers of your books! And the photo on the front is fantastic! Congratulations on all your success.

Hey, thanks to everyone who played our Easter game yesterday. Wasn't it fun? Congratulations to all the prize winners!

CJ Lyons said...

You nailed it when you said mental prep was important! If you're facing something you know will be a challenge (like public speaking) spend a few minutes doing some active visualization.

First try to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong--don't hold back!

Then imagine what you could do to address those "bad" things.

Finally imagine the event just as you would like it to be--and even better than your wildest dreams. Spend a little more time relaxing and reveling in your success.

Remember this feeling right before you go on stage and you'll start with a smile on your face and odds are, you'll finish that way as well!!!

Helen said...

Congrats Gillian on the GR

Great post Ladies I am not a writer but an avid reader and this book sounds fantastic I love the cover.
As a reader I have a wonderful collection of coverflats and bookmarks that are very special to me that I have won in contests over the last couple of years and I love reading about the authors and "getting to know them" thru blogs and interviews this sort of thing definantly gets me to buy their books.

Have Fun

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Helen! As Jeff Deaver said, Readers are God!

Let me know what you think of LIFELINES--I'd love to hear from you!

Tawny said...

HI CJ - welcome to the Lair :-) And thanks so much for sharing your promo wisdom with us!! I definitely picked up some ideas there.

Your cover is absolutely amazing - and it sounds like it suits the story perfectly. Best of luck with your release!

Nancy said...

CJ, I skimmed fast and didn't see an explanation, so forgive me if I repeat. The Golden Rooster goes to the day's first commenter. He gets around a lot. *g*

Anna C., I can't imagine that you wouldn't quickly find your feet with public speaking. I'm sure you're great.

For those who are nervous, try something I suggest to my students. If you can't start with making eye contact, look at a point between two seats in the back. This gives the impression that you're making eye contact with someone. Then shift that point around. As you relax and realize nobody's throwing things, start seeking out actual attentive faces. It isn't the best technique, but it's adaptable for the nervous.

Maria, I envy your ability to wear orange. It hates me, alas, though red and I get along pretty well. I hope you have a great time at RT.

CJ Lyons said...

Tawny, thanks for dropping by! Glad you enjoyed the post.

CJ Lyons said...

Nancy, thanks for the explanation and for sharing your tip!

Anna Campbell said...

Maria, lovely to see you back in the lair. We had such a great day when you visited.

Nancy, thanks for the vote of confidence. And what great advice. Thanks a bunch!

Caren Crane said...

Gillian, congrats on nabbing the GR!! Um, did the Easter egg dye ever wash out of his feathers? *g*

CJ, thank you for being with us. What an intriguing book! It's a good thing I gave up caffeine and not books for Lent. Since I read TONS of books during Lent, I'm ready for a great new read. Looks like it's "Lifelines" for me!

I love to hear authors talk about what works best for them. There are probably as many different promotional styles as there are personality types (maybe more). I find some of the promotional things my pubbed author friends do incredibly intimidating. Others would not bother me at all, but make some of my friends nervous wrecks!

I can't wait until I'm published so people will ask me to speak. I love public speaking and don't get to do it nearly often enough.

Best of luck and hope to see you in San Francisco in July!

Caren Crane said...

Maria, I confess, I am the orange lover! I am now jealous of your orange title and Jo Mama's orange SUV. Yes, it's tangerine! She got it as a gift for her 16th birthday. Really! (You'll have to ask her about that one. *g*)

I lamented the other day that I lost one of my favorite orange earrings. I'll have to make sure I have news ones before conference. Maybe I can make orange my branding color, like CJ did with red! Hm. Maybe I should start with selling a book and work from there. *g*

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Gillian! Hope you enjoy LIFELINES!

I'll definitely be at RWA--am on two panels, one on Sex and the Single Title with the marvelous Toni McGee Causey and Debra Webb. And will also be on a Bad Boys panel with Jordan Dane, Allison Brennan, and Cindy Gerard.

It should be tons of fun!!

Gillian Layne said...

OMG--total fan girl moment! You're going to present with Toni M. Causey?? I am over the moon for Bobbie Faye!! I read her book during a particularly bad week at work and now carry it around like a talisman against bad luck and grouchy coworkers.

CJ Lyons said...

Gillian, I too love BF! Toni is a good friend--we help each other brainstorm and she was one of my first readers for LIFELINES.

Wait until you read BF2--it will be out May/June and it seriously rocks!!!

Keira Soleore said...

((CJ)) I can't believe the day I'm late to the visit the Lair, you're visiting.

Love your website and tagline!! The photo bar across the top and the way the pages are constructed--the reader always has many things to look at.

I'd always assumed the branding is what you write. Instead you're using emotion and visceral effect. Brilliant!

As I've mentioned many times before, your pitching blog here at the Lair was an eye-opener for me. Sign me up, please, for any and all online classes and workshops you're doing.

CJ Lyons said...

Keira, thanks for dropping in! So happy that my pitching post helped you.

I can't take credit for the website. A fellow writer and brilliant designer, Bill Cameron took my ideas and brought them to life. He really caught the feeling I wanted!

p226 said...

"No One is Immune to Danger"

Sage words, those. And from the goofiest of places sometimes. Short artillery rounds. Unsure footing. Poor map reading skills. (Green LT. walked my entire company into an impact area for mortar practice. That was fun.) Angry critters. Road signs. One's own stupidity.

Yup. Danger lurks.