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Promoting Lesbian Fiction:
Tackling It One Task at a Time

2007 Kathi Isserman


Kathi Isserman

I have undertaken the task of promoting my partner KI Thompson's new novel, House of Clouds, and I want to share with you some ideas you might find helpful in promoting your own works.

This is not my first venture into supporting lesbian fiction. Foremost, I am a voracious reader of lesbian fiction, reading twelve to fifteen titles a month. I have also been actively involved in the lesbian fiction community for the past 5 years. I have participated in and set up numerous author signings, attended all of the Golden Crown Literary Society conferences and the past two Lammy awards presentations. I also write reviews for several online venues, including Just About Write, and now write book sidebars for Curve Magazine. I created and supervise two online promotional groups (one on Yahoo and the other on My Space) for Bold Strokes Books' authors since my partner is a BSB author.

KI and I both have fulltime jobs, and she is currently working on her next novel. When looking at how to market House of Clouds, I focused on the most "bang for the buck." It is important to note that publishers usually have set tasks when it comes to promoting authors, and efforts by the author should not duplicate these. All of my efforts are targeted with the full knowledge of what Bold Strokes does with respect to these tasks. Living in the DC area provided me with a plan. I would capitalize on KI being a local author since the book takes place during the Civil War in DC, Richmond, and the James River area of Virginia. We are fortunate that DC and Baltimore have many gay and lesbian outlets. (This will be discussed in detail later in this article.)

The first step was setting up an Excel spreadsheet listing all of the venues where I wanted to promote HOC. It includes all of the tasks involved as well as deadlines, and has become an important scheduling tool. Many of these tasks have me interfacing with KI's publisher and the BSB marketing consultant. They have been instrumental in helping us succeed in marketing HOC. Some of the action items that I have included are:

Send out manuscript and cover letter for advance reviews and follow up with a thank-you note.
Give BSB marketing consultant reading/signing dates for the BSB website calendar.
Get promotional flyer from BSB.
Set up readings at college gay student unions.
Get flyers to bookstores and events.
Get names of local reviewers (including the American Library Association) and send to BSB for review copies.
Put together press release package using BSB templates.
Make bookmarks to have at events and mail out to readers.
Follow up with LGBTQ organizations found on My Space for interviews and future events.
Pursue interviews with local lesbian/gay newspapers.
The spreadsheet was only the beginning. KI and I have made a concerted effort in the past couple of years to attend local LGBTQ events. Some of the events we attend are for Equality Maryland, local book signings, and the Mautner Project Gala (the national lesbian health organization located in DC). We network almost every weekend we are home. We also travel to lesbian- and gay-friendly locations and stay at places that are LGBTQ owned. We often get ideas on how to increase visibility from these travels. Through these activities we have met people associated with local colleges, the local PFLAG, and an LGBTQ-related organization, to name a few. I have nurtured a relationship with the manager of a local LGBTQ bookstore for the past two years. This relationship has resulted in the manager offering to do offsite sales of HOC at local venues where KI is doing a reading or signing. This is a win-win situation for both of us.

Since KI and I are involved in online groups and frequently peruse the online LGBTQ community, we have discovered local book clubs and have joined their Yahoo, My Space, or Google groups. KI is using My Space to invite those individuals that live in the DC/Baltimore area to her site. When we have book readings and signings, she will personally invite these "friends."

So when tackling the promotion of House of Clouds, we have used both online and local venues. Since most lesbian fiction is purchased at the local level rather than online, it is imperative that we make local associations. We also have chosen to take our vacations around national lesbian author and reader events: the Palm Springs Lesbian Book Festival, Golden Crown Literary Society Conference, Women's Week where House of Clouds is debuting, and the Lammys. Finally we knew that we needed to make inroads into areas where people may not be reading lesbian fiction or even be aware of it. Our marketing efforts had to focus on the groups that we were not reaching too; this is where I believe KI and I are succeeding. Only time will tell, but we are giving it our best shot.

The following is a partial list of venues we are pursuing or have secured for readings and signings:
Charm City Kitty Club reading and offsite sales - one of the nation's top lesbian cabarets located in Baltimore.
PFLAG reading and offsite sales (monthly meetings have an attendance of 70+ people).
Private reading and sales of HOC with LGBTQ employee organization at the Library of Congress.
University of Maryland gay student union.
William and Mary bookstore and gay student union.
Several local reading groups and book clubs.
Private book launch party offered by a woman involved with Equality Maryland.
Since this is an article on promotion, I must conclude with directing you to KI's website for the schedule of her upcoming book events. As we proceed to fill in the schedule, keep checking back on our progress.
Kathi Isserman
Reviewer for Just About Write and Curve Magazine
Publicist for KI Thompson, who is the author of House of Clouds (October 2007) and Heart of the Matter (April 2008)

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