Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, with quite a story to tell. In the wee hours of last Wednesday morning, when I was having trouble sleeping, I went downstairs for a glass of milk and while I was there I checked my email and my Facebook page. Imagine my bleary-eyed surprise when a post containing the title of one of my Liss MacCrimmon mysteries, Ho-Ho-Homicide, popped up. What was even stranger, was that it was a link located on the Facebook page of Steven Zacharius, the CEO of Kensington Publishing Corp. Kensington publishes the series. Although I’ve been writing books for a long time, I’m definitely a mid-list author. I’m not often singled out for special attention. Then I took a closer look at the link and things got really weird. It was a clip from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Only the segment he was doing was one of his “Do Not Read” lists.
Can you say mixed feelings?
Taking a deep breath, I played the You Tube video. You’ll find a link to it at the end of this post. The good news is that there’s a quote in what he said that can be pulled and used for publicity. He really did say, while holding up my book, “It’s got two things that everyone likes: Christmas . . . and murder.” Of course, he then went on to make faces, hint that because of the “Ho” part of the title, the story focused on prostitutes, and generally imply that mixing Christmas and murder was unappealing, but since he was doing it for a laugh, and since I really like him in the movie Fever Pitch (go Red Sox!), the upshot was that I was not unduly upset by anything he said. Besides—usable quote.
I’m an optimist at heart. In the old days, having a book banned in Boston always helped sales, and in most cases, any publicity is good publicity. That’s like the theory that any review is good, even a bad one. It’s certainly true that most people remember that someone mentioned a certain book or movie but not what they actually said about it.
Now on to another clichéd saying: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It didn’t take me long to start thinking about how I could maximize the positive effects of having one of my books thrust into the spotlight. First, though, I went back to bed and slept on it. It was, after all, still the middle of the night.
When I got up again, I started spreading the news through my personal and author Facebook pages and I asked my retreat buddies (Kate Flora, Barb Ross, and Lea Wait) for suggestions. First on their list was one I’d already thought of, posting the news on the three mystery listservs I belong to—Dorothy L, Sisters in Crime, and New England Sisters in Crime. I did that, and I also asked if anyone on those lists had suggestions. By the time I went back on Facebook, writer friends were already spreading the word, including a post to “Save Our Cozies.” I spent most of that day and the next responding to emails and comments.
The responses I received were overwhelmingly of the opinion that any publicity is good publicity. The second most frequent reaction was to ask if I was getting a big bump in sales. The answer is: I don’t know yet. Ho-Ho-Homicide came out in hardcover in 2014 and was published in mass market paperback last year. Amazon didn’t have any paperbacks in stock. The ebook was already on sale for $1.99. By the time I looked at the Amazon stats, it was doing better than the other books in the series but was nowhere near hitting the top ten (or even the top hundred) in any category. On the other hand, quite a few people have said they have bought or will buy a copy based on seeing it on the Tonight Show. And my publisher has gone back to press on the mass market paperback.
Suggestions for making lemonade included sending Jimmy Fallon an autographed copy of the book, flooding social media, making Fallon the victim in my next mystery, making stickers that say “as seen on the Tonight Show,” creating a challenge for readers to read the book and vote on whether Fallon’s recommendation was right or wrong, with a Christmas-themed prize for the winner, making a poster of Jimmy Fallon holding up Ho-Ho-Homicide, volunteering to appear on the show and read other cozy titles, and writing a parody about Fallon’s obvious lack of familiarity with the genre.
There were two responses I particularly liked. One came from Leslie Budewitz, president of Sisters in Crime, who pointed out that Fallon was having fun with words, “something we can all get behind.” The other was from Clea Simon, who experienced something similar when she was featured in a Wall Street Journal article about an alleged feud between those mystery writers whose books feature talking cats and those whose cats don’t talk. It was “ultra-silly” she told me, but it gave her a huge bump in sales.
So what have I done besides social media? The biggie was sending a thank you email to DoNotRead@TonightShow.com in which I included a link to the first section of Mystery Readers International’s list of Christmas mysteries Christmas Mysteries A-D as proof that there are a whole heck of a lot of novels out there that combine Christmas and murder. I also mentioned that many of them have atrocious puns in the titles. If I get a response, I’ll be sure to report it in the Weekend Update section of this blog.
Meanwhile, a question: if you suddenly and unexpectedly found yourself (or something you’d created) in the national spotlight, how do you think you’d react? Here’s the link to the You Tube video: http://bit.ly/2bnfF8c
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Kilt at the Highland Games) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse ~ UK in December 2016; US in April 2017) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com
My aunts like to say I was banned in Boston, and I had to move to Arizona. They think it’s funnier than I do, but in the spirit of Brendan Behan and Jane Russell I like to think that if your aunts care enough to joke about you… eh maybe not.
On being suddenly and unexpectedly finding myself in the national spotlight, several years ago I was asked to appear on BBC TV in the UK. My first reaction was to say I didn’t have time to go over there, but the producer of the show said he and his crew would fly over here to Boston (technically after the city censor was no more and banning not an issue, except with my aunts). It was interesting and almost fun, especially when they bought me a tin of Altoids and a Coke for supper.
A side benefit was a small “fan club” in Finland, which I still laugh about, and my aunts don’t believe. Of course that makes it more fun.
Thanks for sharing your story, Reine. A fan club anywhere, large or small, is a wonderful thing.
When I saw that Jimmy had done this, I thought this was the greatest and funniest thing ever. There is probably nothing better than when A comedian gets a hold of anything of yours because that means they are paying attention. It’s the people who they ignore that you have to worry about. I would say congratulations and keep running with all the suggestions!
Thanks, Sheryl. The oddest thing about it is that after a week or so it starts to feel like something I just imagined happening. Good thing there’s You Tube to prove it really did!
I think Fallon did you a big favor. I’m guessing his “Do Not Read” feature, which I don’t follow so can’t say I know well, probably has the general effect of making many viewers want to check out some of the books featured.
Puns are tricky. But your title is catchy, no matter how the pun is evaluated. Fallon, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, tried to take advantage of it’s comedic value — the ironic, odd combination of juxtaposed images or concepts — one foundation of comedy. There also seemed to be a satirical twist to his suggesting, while seeming to say the opposite, what is true — that everyone is fascinated by murder, even though they may not want to think about it when they think about Christmas. So, in a left-handed way, he’s saying to read your book, because you’ve creatively put the two supposedly contradictory things together in a story.
On how I’d react to sudden national publicity, if it was on balance good, as with your book, I’d take advantage of it as you have sought to do.
If it was bad, even unfairly untrue, I’d think about it, but probably ignore it. Just like slander or libel, do you want to protest, explain the truth or sue? Maybe not, when the effect may well be to call more attention to the unwelcome criticism or publicity. The poster child of what not to do — Governor LePage.
Thanks, David. A thoughtful and thought-provoking comment, as always. LePage certainly disproves the theory that any publicity is good publicity. I suppose the difference is in whether the experience is a once in a lifetime event or a continuing series of PR disasters.
When I saw this I thought it was marvelous. So exciting that Kensington is reprinting Ho, Ho Homicide. I hope it sells like crazy.
PS–I am a huge fan of Fever Pitch also.
Great idea reaching out to The Tonight Show! I’m hoping you (and others on this blog) sent Tweets to Fallon, posted on The Tonight Show Facebook page, etc. as well. Keep it going, and maybe you’ll be one of the Do Not Read authors invited on to the show! Why not! Fallon clearly loves puns or he’d never notice yours or others’ books with such titles. And remember, he’s an author now, too…
And so many great puns in titles out there! Even the real groaners are funny.
I agree the those who say that any publicity is good publicity — and I don’t think Jimmy was saying your book was bad, just, as pointed out, having fun with words. I think most people will remember they heard/read about a book, but not if the review was bad or not.
That’s what I’m hoping, Maureen. Funny thing is, Ho-H0-Homicide wasn’t even my original title. I wanted to call it Auld Lang Crime but I was overruled by the marketing department. Guess they knew what they were doing!
I hope you hear back from them! It thought it was fabulous too — he held your book up for a long time in TV time! I think you should do everyone of those fabulous suggestion (okay maybe not kill Jimmy Fallon in your next book — I love him)!
Hi, Sherry. I’m not holding my breath on hearing back, but you’re certainly right about how long he held the book up. I got a kick out of the way he looked at the back cover copy, too, even though he didn’t say anything about that. It’s almost a double take.
I’m with Sherry. I’d milk this and use all of the suggestions. Run and have fun with it!
Definitely some enjoyable parts. I was interviewed by our local online newspaper, the Daily Bulldog, earlier today, as a direct result of the You Tube video.
Great post, Kathy. I tend to agree with one point offered by others: any publicity is good, even if it’s a bit adverse. Jimmy Fallon has millions of viewers. A certain percentage of them might be intrigued enough to check out your book and buy it.!
Oops. Missed responding to this the first time through. Thanks, Susan. Here’s hoping you’re right.
A fan club in Finland. Love it.
And I believe the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ POV. Frankly, when I see anyone (dumbass celebrities, politicians, religious types or know it alls) setting up banned lists, I go right out and check out the books.
Music to my ears, Pat!
I followed some of this on the SinC listserv. I think it’s great and you should milk it for all you can.
Thanks for your support. I’m already planning another follow up in a couple of months.
I’m happy to read this follow-up. As one of your Sisters in Crime, I your first post on the list-serve and all the responses. I hope you do see a bump in sales! I love the idea of a poster of JF holding up your book … definitely something you can display at your book signings.
Thanks, Sandra. I’m having fun figuring out what to put on a poster.