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Solo Sales Force : Authors: Many writers in Orange County find that self-promotion, while not always easy, helps sell their books. Publishers, they say, will only do so much for all but the biggest clients.

November 03, 1995|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

First-time author Carroll Lachnit admits feeling self-conscious the first time she engaged in "BSP."

That's what fellow mystery fans call blatant self-promotion on Dorothy L, the Internet e-mail message group named after British mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers.

"You don't want to go on sounding like a detergent ad, so I posted sort of gently," says Lachnit, who lives in Long Beach. "I went on and basically said, 'Well, I'm a writer, and my book's coming out. I'm terrified and exhilarated, and I hope you read it.' "

As an author, Lachnit says of her electronic BSP: "You've got to take advantage of every opportunity you get."

"Murder in Brief" (Berkley Prime Crime; $4.99), Lachnit's Orange County-set mystery about a female ex-cop turned law school student, hit bookstores in mid-May, ending a nearly four-year road from conception to publication.

But, like most first-time authors, Lachnit discovered that with publication her work was far from over: She had to help sell her book.

"Most writers really have to be prepared for the reality that it's up to you to promote your book," says Lachnit, 41, who has finally wound down her self-promotion onslaught, which included lining up book signings and speaking engagements, mailing out promotional postcards that she paid to have printed and introducing herself to local bookstore owners.

When it comes to receiving a promotional boost from publishers, there are basically two kinds of authors: those who receive a lot of support and those who don't.

Those who do are writers such as T. Jefferson Parker of Laguna Beach, whose publisher, St. Martin's Press, hired an airplane to tow a banner over Orange County beaches to announce his 1993 Orange County-set mystery "The Summer of Fear."

When the American Booksellers Assn. convention was held in Anaheim in 1988, St. Martin's launched Parker's "Little Saigon" by throwing a bash in his honor for booksellers aboard a yacht, then paid Parker's way on an eight-city promotional tour.

For his past two novels, St. Martin's hired a Southern California publicist to handle all of his book signings and promotional events.

"I've been well taken care of as far as publicity goes," says Parker, who still has one of the "Laguna Heat" plastic cigarette lighters his publisher sent out with publicity packets for the paperback version of his first novel in 1985.

Depending on their stature in the literary firmament, some authors receive an even greater share of their publishers' promotional treasury: full-page newspaper ads, bookstore displays, television and radio commercials and radio and TV satellite interview tours.

Best-selling Newport Beach author Dean Koontz will undergo a nearly eight-hour round of nationwide radio interviews, via satellite, as part of his publisher's national publicity campaign for "Intensity," his thriller due in January.

But for the vast majority of authors, publicity is largely a do-it-yourself affair.

And if a writer can come up with an attention-getting gimmick, so much the better.

For her 1990 first novel, "Avenue of the Stars," about a Japanese takeover of a Hollywood movie studio, Jina Bacarr of Huntington Beach showed up at book signings wearing a formal Japanese kimono and rice-powder makeup.

"People would come up and ask me if I was Japanese, and they'd giggle because I wasn't," says Bacarr, whose get-up not only guaranteed sizable turnouts at signings, but also generated media attention: Pictures of the kimono-clad author appeared in several local newspapers, and a major Japanese magazine ran a two-page spread on her.

When it came to promotion, she says, "the publisher did nothing. All this stuff I had to do on my own. The rule of thumb in publishing is, unless they pay a lot of money for your book, they're not going to pay a lot of money promoting it."

Which is why, she says, it's important for an author to do something to stand out from the pack--"as long as it relates to your book and you know what you're doing," says Bacarr, who once served as an animation studio liaison between Hollywood and Japan and has studied Japanese and art of wearing a kimono with a well-respected sensei (teacher.)

Bacarr took a different tack to promote "How to Succeed in a Japanese Company," her 1992 nonfiction book that provides insight into Japanese management methods and cultural differences.

"What got me on the 'Peter Tilden Show' on KABC radio and also got me KCBS' Channel 2 'Action News' was not the fact that it's a business book, but the fact that I had a great chapter on sex," she says.

The chapter, titled "Sex and the Japanese Salaryman," includes such titillating information as the 20,000 "love hotels," where many Japanese businessmen spend their lunch hours. The chapter landed her interviews on radio stations as far away as New York and Pittsburgh.

"Every single show focused on the sex chapter," Bacarr says. "What I'm trying to say is, you have to find something about yourself or your book that will capture media interest."

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