The Washington Post

How to market your novel? Put Ryan Gosling’s face on a stick.

Sarah Pekkenan's new novel, "Catching Fire," publishes May 6. Washington writer Sarah Pekkanen’s new novel publishes May 6.

More than ever, successful novelists must also be savvy publicists. That market reality demands a combination of unrelated skills that many writers simply don’t possess.

But Sarah Pekkanen does. The Washington area writer launched her career as a novelist in 2010 with a paperback called “The Opposite of Me.” Since then, she’s been an instructive model of how to make it as a writer of women’s fiction. With valuable endorsements from mega-sellers Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult, she’s taken to social media effectively, developed a dedicated following and sold rights to her work around the world.

With her fifth novel, “Catching Air,” ready to publish next week, Pekkanen has been developing ever-more innovative ways to attract attention and new readers.

She’s currently getting estimates from a Rockville company for putting actor Ryan Gosling’s face on a stick. “I can bring it on tour,” she says. “He can photo bomb my pictures with readers. Dignity at all costs, that’s my motto. Franzen is weeping from jealousy.”

Beneath that self-deprecating comedy is a writer who takes an active, strategic role in selling her own books.

"Catching Fire" (Washington Square Press) (Washington Square Press)

Pekkanen is determined to make the bookstore readings on her upcoming eight-city tour as dynamic as possible. Weeks ago, she started asking her 2,800 Facebook followers for suggestions. (She finds Facebook generates better interaction than Twitter.) Chocolate distribution was high on the list of requests. Fans also encouraged her to play trivia games, hold raffles, hand out books by her favorite new female authors and give away breakfast-related gifts (“Catching Air” takes place at a B&B). What’s more, the women who made these good suggestions will receive signed advanced copies of Pekkenan’s books.

Pekkanen has also learned that if you empower your readers, some of them will do your marketing for you. A devoted fan in Vermont was so disappointed that Pekkanen hadn’t been invited to the Burlington Book Festival that she started her own campaign to have the author invited with tweets to local bookstores and libraries.

Lo and behold, an invitation finally arrived.

Pekkanen is now working on her sixth novel.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.



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