Rules of engagement: author Laurie King on marketing, Twitter and the power of social media

The author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is buzzing over social media.

With a website, author and character blogs and a presence on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, Laurie R. King is a champion of social marketing. She posts in the voice of one of her characters, runs several writing contests for fans and invites readers to discuss the books among themselves. Her efforts go beyond promoting the work to promoting engagement with readers. That reveals an understanding of the collaborative nature of social media many corporations should envy.

“Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it,” she told me in an email that previews the interview here. But first, some background on the Californian who has become famous for portraying the life of perhaps the world’s most-famous detective, and the woman who has become, some would say, an equal or better.

LaurieRKingCreating a voice
Over the past 20 year Ms. King has written 20 novels, including two series, one featuring San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli and a second with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Her first book, A Grave Talent (1993), received the 1994 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and a 1995 John Creasey Memorial Award. She followed with the 1996 Nero Award for A Monstrous Regiment of Women and the 2002 Macavity Award for Best Novel for Folly.

Her books about Russell and Holmes have been applauded as “the most successful recreation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted” (Houston Chronicle) “with the power to charm even the most grizzled Baker Street irregular” (New York Daily News). The first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, appeared in 1994. The tenth, The God of the Hive, will be published on April 27.

She has more than 2 million copies of her novels in print.

Creating a buzz
To highlight the 20 books she’s written, and the publication of her newest novel Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel, Ms. King embarked this year on what she calls “Twenty weeks of buzz.” In addition to the traditional methods of promotion—book tours, radio and TV appearances—Ms. King has taken to the Internet with a passion usually reserved for her characters.

Her presence on the Internet is considerable. She created a website and a blog about her activities called Mutterings. She also created another blog, this one in Mary Russell’s voice, on MySpace. Mary, in character, posts regularly on Twitter (@mary_russell)—a technique used effectively by Helen Klein Ross (@AdBroad) to promote the TV show “Mad Men.” Ms. King writes as a guest blogger on other sites and runs a Yahoo! Group. She has a page on Facebook. She’s even posted author interviews and scenic footage of the British landscape where Mary Russell first met Sherlock Holmes on YouTube.

King beekeeper coverTo share her tastes in literature, Ms. King created an account on Goodreads, where some 3 million members recommend books, compare and discuss books.

She has also bolstered reader engagement with the creation of twin writing contests. To celebrate the publication of The God of the Hive, she authorized the 2010 Mary Russell Fan Fiction Writing Contest. The contest is also sponsored by the Letters of Mary Yahoo! group. Contestants are asked to write about a character in one of the Russell novels as a teenager. The second contest, to celebrate National Library Week, invites readers to create their version of the ideal library, complete with drawings.

She even runs contests for artwork about Russell, Holmes, and their world where fans submit and judge the works.

I interviewed Ms. King (who goes by LRK online) through a series of email exchanges on April 11 of this year. Here’s her reaction to the question about her social-media efforts, and their results.

Creating a community
“I have to say, it’s funny to be considered a ‘champion of social marketing’ since I never feel I know much about what I’m doing!” she wrote. “Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it. I’m kept in the loop of course, and I’ll drop in regularly, but making use of enthusiastic volunteers means that I don’t have to do all of the day-to-day work, while at the same time letting a group of key readers—‘fans’ if you will—have the fun of working with a writer they enjoy and making her job just a little bit easier.

King God of the Hive cover“I think a number of writers do this in some form or another—Dana Stabenow’s ‘Danamaniacs’ are a powerhouse of networking, for example—and so long as it is kept fairly clear which is the author speaking and which is one of the administrators, I find people are happy.

“Mostly I write and post my blog ‘Mutterings’ and stop in once a day on both the personal and fan Facebook pages. I visit regularly on the Virtual Book Club [a community on her site], reading the discussion and dropping in on some of the other threads, but I don’t tend to post a lot there unless I have something in particular to contribute—the VBC is a place for the readers to freely discuss and get to know each other, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in charge of what they say. A great side-effect of the VBC is that whenever LRK readers meet at an event or a conference, they often already know each other remarkably well, even if they have never met in person.

“As for Twitter, Russell’s MySpace page and Goodreads, those I work with volunteers on, answering letters sent to me (or to Russell) through the sites, helping promote things like the recent Twitter Party (I helped set this up beforehand but, being in a far distant time zone, I had very little to do with it at the time.) That last, by the way, was an absolute gas—you can see the transcript of its silliness at What the Hashtag.

“All in all, I probably average an hour a day on this stuff, more when I’m producing something like ‘A Case in Correspondence’ or working up to a book launch. [“Case” is a series of communications between Mary Russell and other important people, a running mystery of sorts on Ms. King’s various sites, the significance of which won’t become clear until readers finish The God of the Hive.

“As for results, who can tell? Last year we put a lot of effort into online venues and I came onto the New York Times’ bestseller list at #9. This year, we shall see.”

2 thoughts on “Rules of engagement: author Laurie King on marketing, Twitter and the power of social media

  1. Jeff, thank you for the mention of the fan fiction contest along with the link to the site. The voting has started on the eleven entries and the winner will be announced on and on Ms King’s Mutterings on April 29th.

    The Letters of Mary Yahoo group is the premier location for Russell/Holmes fan fiction based on the novels by Laurie R King.


  2. I just wrote about this subject on my blog and a friend mentioned King as a great example. Your post came up in my first search for her platform. What an incredible example for other authors to follow.
    Here is my post:

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