Please excuse tardiness of this post and lack of cute pictures. Every member of the Dare household has succumbed to a yucky cold.

But congratulations to Christina, yesterday’s winner! Yay! Email me with your snail mail address, please.

So after my lunch at Saks, we returned to HarperCollins HQ, and I was introduced to Carolyn Pittis, Senior VP of Global Marketing Strategy and Operations (yeah, she had a nice office!) Carolyn talked to me about FanLit as a marketing tool – what they hoped to gain from the program, how the results matched their expectations, and what they have in mind for next time.

One in two paperbacks sold in the U.S. is a romance novel – as we all know, it’s a huge market. Through FanLit, Avon/HarperCollins wanted to reach out to romance readers and aspiring authors and create a community that allowed us, the end users, to feel connected to each other and the people who create the books (authors, editors, etc.). We all know that goal was achieved! Sites like Fanlit Forever and Romance Vagabonds and all our individual blogs bear witness to FanLit’s enduring esprit de corps.

It was really interesting to hear Carolyn talk about the HarperTeen event that followed the Avon FanLit, and how the two groups compared. HarperTeen drew more participants initially, but evidently teens are more fickle than we (ahem) more mature romance readers. Their participation dropped off sharply each week, and their individual visits to the site were in-and-out, while (to paraphrase Carolyn’s words) we Fanlitters “were on there all the time!” (My response: Um, you tracked that? Okay, I can explain. I was nursing an infant. That’s why I was up on the computer at 4 AM and all strange hours of the night. It wasn’t because I was addicted to FanLit or anything, you know. *g*)

She asked me how I found out about FanLit (the WSJ article), and what it has meant to me as a writer (uh, everything!). She also wanted my suggestions on how they could reach more people next time. She asked which Internet sites I use frequently, which media outlets I’m tuned into, where else they might place advertising … and by this point in the day, my brain was into overload, and my responses were, shall we say, less than inspired. But she gave me her card and told me to email her if I have any further ideas.

So, give me your ideas, so I can email her and redeem myself. Here’s your chance to talk back about FanLit and be heard.

Six months later, what are your lingering impressions of the FanLit experience? How could the next FanLit reach a wider audience? Where would you advertise or place press releases, if you were Carolyn? How could they build an even stronger spirit of community between the readers, writers, authors, and editors?

One commenter wins a prize package of one ARC, one book, (in both cases, I’ll give the winner a choice of what I’ve got left) and a blank journal.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk tea – my day ended with tea and cookies with everybody at Avon, and it began with tea with Ms. Eloisa. I’ll share Ms. Eloisa’s tips on pitching, and the answers to more questions you gave me about the publishing process.

33 comments to “The Wicked Game of Marketing – Day with Avon, Part 4”

  1. Terry Stone
    · April 19th, 2007 at 4:09 am · Link

    You know bookstores would be a great market to advertise FanLit. Anywhere you sale books, or even in the back of the books leading up to the event, would be terrific advertising for FanLit. Before I read the book, I always flip to the back of the book when I get home to see what’s coming next month. How many of you do that?

    The thing I took away from FanLit and that lingers in my mind was how great everyone was, and how everyone tried to encourage each other during every round. That was a terrific surprise to me. And of course, my wonderful critique group came from FanLit, so I feel as if I won in the long run.

  2. Beth
    · April 19th, 2007 at 4:11 am · Link

    Fanlit was the catalyst for many of us, I think. I still check on the original site every other day, and comment on many of the blogs.

    I think their next contest should be a contemporary or paranormal, to pull in another set (or expand the original members) of our “group”.

    I never had a problem with the whole “invite/voting” thing, but I know many people did. If they could gather some consistent feedback on that touchy subject, that could ward off some future problems.

    The constant involvement and feedback from Avon authors in the forums was wonderful.

    I found out about the Avon contest in my RWA magazine. I’d say hit all the major mags, and perhaps put out some kind of fliers/posters in bookstores.

    I’m throwing chicken soup your way (duck!) Sick kiddos are no fun.

  3. Lori
    · April 19th, 2007 at 5:25 am · Link

    Finaling for me was validation that I didn’t suck because before that I really had no way of knowing. Of course coming so close so many times in the end seriously made me insane. As far as the voting process, I think in the finals that the author board should vote on the winner, might make it more fair? I dont know, honestly with something that large, you aren’t going to please everyone.

  4. beverley
    · April 19th, 2007 at 5:50 am · Link

    Okay, I’m going to add a ton of work to the process, but I think they should break down the voting by category and have a winner for each (much like do for most of the RWA and chapter contest). That way you keep everyone’s interest because they will have the genre of their interest in there and you would have 6(approx)winners every week instead of just one. I think many people dropped off because it was a historical, but I’m sure the same thing will happen with any specific genre or sub-genre. I know that I would be personally not as interested if it wasn’t a historical.

  5. Sara
    · April 19th, 2007 at 7:37 am · Link

    I think that the plot line and sub-genre should be voted on independently. First, establish the sub-genre, and then have participants vote on x number of different plot lines.

    Another reason I think we ended up with Regency – not that I’m complaining! – is that the panel consisted of, for the most part, Regency writers. Had the panel consisted of five contemporary authors and drawn in their fans, things might have taken a different turn.

    The idea of having Avon advertise in the back of their books is great, especially since they can promote authors/panelists simultaneously!

    I found out about FanLit at the RWA conference – Avon did a great job of promoting it there!

  6. Cynthia Falcon
    · April 19th, 2007 at 7:55 am · Link

    6 months already? It feels like just yesterday.
    Anyhow, the contest has helped increase my talent as a writer. I also have become friends with a whole bunch of awesome people. It was a great way to network with those of similar interests.
    As for marketing, I like Terry’s idea of bookstores. Perhaps a banner ad at B&N or Amazon’s websites? What about writing magazine’s such as Writer’s Digest.
    I am sure when I speak for most of the romance reading community when I say that I don’t see the WSJ as typical reading for the readers of romance (I, myself, don’t read it). But I could see someone who reads romance reading Reader’s Digest or some similar magazine. Perhaps Romantic Times or RWR? I could see a good turn out from Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Garden readers too.
    Last but not least, TV ads have always been a great way to drum up business. Lifetime, who just ran three movies based on Nora Roberts’ novels and hallmark who have romance inspired movies would be a great place to attract an audience.
    I’m just sort of throwing ideas out there. I’m at work with a horrid sore throat, pounding head, and earache so my thoughts aren’t exactly flowing in a logical order 🙂

  7. terrio
    · April 19th, 2007 at 7:56 am · Link

    Sara’s idea for voting on the plot-line seperately is really good. I love to read historical but I just can’t write it. However, I stuck it out and submitted for a few chapters and I was just excited that my ranking got higher and higher with each submission. It was really validating.

    I’d say advertise through author websites and blogs. This is after all a contest online so reaching those of us who spend *cough* a substantial amount of time online would be the way to go. I heard through EJ BB and other readers/writers on the net.

  8. Ericka Scott
    · April 19th, 2007 at 8:44 am · Link

    Six months! Really! Wow!

    I think having too many genres/plot lines would be too confusing (look at the few odd submissions we ended up with for other story lines because of confusion).

    As for advertising. . . radio would reach me — I don’t watch a lot of TV. A poster/flyers at the bookstore would really suck me in (I’m there toooo much!).

    I googled contests and found it. . . serendipity? I think not! Fate, more like it.

  9. Lindsey
    · April 19th, 2007 at 8:54 am · Link

    What strikes me, Tessa, is that you learned more about Avon’s perspective on FanLit in one day than we did during the two months it went on. Though we all talk about the importance of the community & interaction to the event, Avon itself was this distant, mysterious presence. I can understand their reasons for this to an extent, but I think it was a missed opportunity to really forge a connection – plus they became the scapegoat for whatever people were unhappy about. It would have been exciting to know that they really were reading a lot of submissions, it would have been fun to hear what made them decide on a feather, it would have been awesome to have the editors comment & give picks to finalists in the same way the author panel did. They also would have been smart to collect feedback at the time – when I could still remember all the ideas I had for improving it!

    I don’t have any brilliant marketing strategies, but if they do it again, I’d think they’d be wise to use us to help generate some word-of-mouth (or word-of-blog) – since, as Terri points out, so many of us are involved in numerous online communities.

  10. Tessa Dare
    · April 19th, 2007 at 9:54 am · Link

    Awesome ideas, ladies. It’s so interesting how many of us found FanLit in different ways. Tomorrow, I’ll email Carolyn Pettis with all these comments, so keep them coming!

    Lindsey, I completely agree – after hearing how involved the Avon editors were in the program, I wondered why they weren’t more transparent about it. I know they all contributed to the blog at one point or another, but it would have been really fun to see them voting and commenting on entries. But then – I can guess why they might not want to do that. But even just a little note to let us know that they were following the forum and reading the top 25 each week – I think it would have made a positive impact and encouraged even more participation.

    By the way – they posted a picture from my day at Avon on the FanLit blog. Thanks so much to everyone who dropped by and commented there, too!

  11. Lori
    · April 19th, 2007 at 10:16 am · Link

    Maybe they didn’t tell us so they’d see the real people behind the chapters! Scary!

  12. India Carolina
    · April 19th, 2007 at 11:27 am · Link

    What Lindsey mentioned about scapegoating Avon for certain things is ture. Avon didn’t invent the “zero bandit” for example. Participants did. But in the end, those who gained the most from FanLit were the individuals who learned to trust each other, and “play nice” as Holly admonished us to do on a daily basis.

    As for improvement– Regarding the Blog: It’s a lot more fun to comment on a blog when you get a response. I believe the Blogs would draw many more readers and participants if the authors responded to the blog comments, as Eve did yesterday, and as we all do on our own blogs.

    Also, it would be nice to be able to view the comments without having to log in. Once you read the comments, you’re drawn in and are more willing to log in and participate.

    The forums on the other hand were awesome, because of the responsiveness of both participants and Avon authors. I’ve had “conversations” with Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Victoria Alexander, Anna Campbell, Toni Blake, and of course, Holly and Skirbo!

    There’s a problem with the voting process which worsens as the numbers dwindle. I think there should be more than one sub-genre with participants voting on categories in which they have not entered.

    And Eve, ummm…I wasn’t addicted to FanLit either!

  13. CM
    · April 19th, 2007 at 12:26 pm · Link

    Okay, the difference between teenagers and adults?

    WE HAVE JOBS. We are procrastinating in a way that mere teenagers will never understand. We are posting from work because the alternative is to do work, or to procrastinate in some other manner in our respective cubicles.

    How to draw more people in to FanLit. Hm. I found out about it through author websites. I would advise that they use different panel judges. I also second that having editors comment on the final round entries would have been really nice! I know that the comments I got from Teresa Medeiros, Cathy Maxwell, Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, and Victoria Alexander made me their slave for life. Almost literally. But–sorry Avon–I don’t associate the authors with Avon. I associate them with themselves. The editors, on the other hand, are Avon. If we’d gotten comments from Tessa or Esi, that would really have brought us in. As it was, Avon was just sort of … absent.

    That being said, the involvement of other authors made a huge difference in my buying habits. Anna Campbell, Shana Galen, Jenna Petersen, and Toni Blake particularly come to mind. I’ll buy anything those girls ever write. Really!

    I also don’t think that splitting into multiple genres is a good idea. It’s hard to form a cohesive community when you’re not working on the same thing. We really bonded over those darned storms and the pots of chocolate and the feathers. I wouldn’t introduce those divisions. Some losses are acceptable.

    I think the invite system is crucial to community formation. The first round, some people sent things out to friends and family. But near the end, everyone was pimping invites on the forum.

  14. Lady Leigh
    · April 19th, 2007 at 12:30 pm · Link

    I just got chills remembering the ‘zero bandit’. Shudder. Or even those 2.5 stars. Ouch. The ‘5 star fairy’ however, lives on in my dreams. 😉 As it was, my nerves could only take entering in two rounds.

    I think more people would have been involved with fanit if they seriously thought it could advance their careers. I was surprised when an entire critique group I was working with at the time showed no interest (even those who wrote historical.) I think that, if there was more concrete prizes each week- like a synopsis review (with comments) by an agent- people would have been FLOCKING to the competition. In retrospect, I’m glad there weren’t!

    The community and comments (I myself learned about my tendency to write mean heros- lol) and feedback from published authors was amazing. But throw in something more from Avon Pub (as Lindsey suggested) and I think it would have taken on a whole new level.

    Oh- the last thing that I know bothered people enough to drop out was the scoring process. Votes that didn’t go through. The number of skips. ‘Play time.’ It kind of seemed like a mystery.

    Now I’m all excited for the next round!

  15. CM
    · April 19th, 2007 at 12:49 pm · Link


    Funny you should say that! Oddly enough, I think that FanLit did way more for my career than any number of more “concrete” prizes could have. I learned more about writing and about how to engage readers–who were the ones scoring!–through FanLit than I did any other way. Trying to fit everything into the character limit taught me about editing.

    Most importantly, FanLit taught me not to be scared and to do it for love. You’re right that a critique might motivate more people to get involved. But I’m afraid that raising the stakes would really threaten the community. If there were a direct connection to my career, I think it would really threaten the camaraderie that we enjoyed.

  16. Alice Audrey
    · April 19th, 2007 at 1:17 pm · Link

    You knew that would set me off, didn’t you. I put my answer here:

  17. Ericka Scott
    · April 19th, 2007 at 1:26 pm · Link

    Just thought of another place to advertise. . . Those darned television screens they are putting at the checkout counters in grocery stores. You’ve got the perfect captive audience for advertising AND the majority of the people standing in the grocery line are women, the primary consumers of romance novels.

  18. CM
    · April 19th, 2007 at 1:54 pm · Link

    Here’s something Avon should know.

  19. Lady Leigh
    · April 19th, 2007 at 2:11 pm · Link

    CM- you’re so right on about learning how to edit! I had to learn how to say a lot in a few words. When I went back to my WIP I deleted soooo much filler. That definitely changed my writing tremendously.

    And yes, I can only imagine the competition/ snarkyness if the stakes were higher.

  20. Lindsey
    · April 19th, 2007 at 2:17 pm · Link

    This is a fascinating discussion – what fun to revisit all these issues. Thanks to everyone who’s expanded on my point about Avon’s absence – I couldn’t agree more.

    I want to reiterate again that the best of the experience was what was about community & interaction – invites, forums, etc. As India aptly points out, it would have been great if more had been done with the author blogs. Though they were full of great advice, they weren’t necessarily relevent to issues we were dealing with in FanLit. And on the other side, I though Avon missed a chance to hit home some important lessons.

    So, for example, plenty of people complained about skips and bored readers passing based on the promo – wasn’t that the perfect opportunity to give a mini-lesson on querying & pitching? What about the icons we all started at week after week – what if they had run some data, found that entries with flower pics got read more often and tied it to a lesson about cover art? The contest was clearly meant to be about more than good writing, yet I felt like Avon missed lots of opportunities to really educate us about the world of publishing.

  21. Tessa Dare
    · April 19th, 2007 at 3:35 pm · Link

    This is a great conversation. I definitely learned a lot about writing from FanLit – it helped me practice effective pacing, ending hooks, promos.

    and CM makes a good point about our audience versus teenagers – the numbers are smaller, but we’re more invested.

    Pam – those grocery store TVs are a great idea!

  22. Sara
    · April 19th, 2007 at 4:42 pm · Link

    OMG, those icons were a pet peeve of mine. Maybe it’s the art history major in me, or the costume historian, but those images pained me to no end. Once the category was decided on, I feel like appropriate icons could have been produced with fairly little effort.
    For next time, I think it would be awesome (I may be stretching the bounds of possibility here) to take the promo thing one step further and design covers/back covers for the entries… So that you browse an entry almost like you would a book… Front cover, back cover, first line – buy it or pass. It would be cool if the icons could change from week to week as well. We’re a very visual culture with a very short attention span. It’s hard to sell something over and over with the same three flower pictures…
    I also agree that it would have been great to know how involved the editors were in the process. In addition, it would be cool for each editor to take a week and have an editor’s pick out of the top 25 and then blog about why she found that particular entry engaging…
    And yes, my name is Sara and I am a recovering FanLit-a-holic.

  23. Christina
    · April 19th, 2007 at 4:48 pm · Link

    I remember how I found out about Avon. I was in the process of searching Victoria Alexander’s website, when I saw her blurb about the contest. I think it was the week before it began.

    I was new, I didn’t know anybody and was very nervous about writing. I hadn’t written in almost 16 years, and never romance. Can you imagine my surprise when I found out that I had just entered the twilight zone, I mean between zombies, wormholes, Damien, and all of these so very talented writers. I felt overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe that you all weren’t ‘everyday’ people, but many of you have been at this for a while and in my opinion better than some of the seasoned romance authors. But please keep that between us, don’t tell.

    What came out of Avon, was what I hope to be lifelong friendships. I have like Cynthia said found some really good friends. Avon has changed my life it has given me things like Fanlit Forever and an awesome Crit group, which I about fell over in my chair when I saw that somebody actually not only valued my opinion and input, but also thought that I had some talent.

    I can’t add to the marketing because I think everyone has covered it nicely. Come to think of it and I don’t know if it was mentioned, but libraries are a good advertisement tool. Especially when it comes to writing.

    Thanks again Tessa for doing all of this and for sharing the wealth, both in knowledge and in gifts.


  24. Liese Sherwood-Fabre
    · April 19th, 2007 at 6:35 pm · Link

    I wrote an article “Confessions of an AvonFanlit Junkie” that was published in the DARA (Dallas RWA chapter) newsletter. Since then it’s been picked up by about 5 other chapter newsletters.

    I identified the following lessons I learned:
    1) working on a tight deadline
    2) instant feedback provided information on how the writing resonated with readers
    3) connection with other writers

    I think the amount of time required to truly be involved in the contest probably limited many people’s interest. The first week had 500 entries. The last week had 187. I enjoyed the experience, but am not sure I could do it again.

    Finding a way to make it less time-intensive for those who which to participate would be my major advice to Avon.

    Liese Sherwood-Fabre (liesesf)

  25. Alice Audrey
    · April 19th, 2007 at 7:28 pm · Link

    You all are forgetting that the stakes WERE high. $10,000 worth of high.


  26. Kelly
    · April 19th, 2007 at 8:03 pm · Link

    Oooh, coming into this discussion late, I’m not really sure that there’s much I can add. I would have loved to have had more time, even a half a day more, to read and vote on the entries. Except for the invites I received in the last couple of rounds, I didn’t end up reading many subs during the initial timeframe because I was always writing up until the last minute, and in some ways, I feel like I didn’t quite pull my weight during FanLit, and I greatly admire those, like Laura T., who made the effort to read as many entries as they could squeeze into those few short days.

    I found FanLit through an author website, but I don’t remember which one! I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in the subgenres represented by the author judges, however (although I have no complaints about the judges we had – they were so gracious and generous with their time and input).

    But like many have already said, FanLit was the kick in the pants I needed to start me writing again after too many years. It forced us to turn off our internal editors and push past our self-imposed boundaries, and I for one am grateful.

  27. ERiCA
    · April 19th, 2007 at 8:18 pm · Link

    I first learned about FanLit at the RWA conference last summer. I thought that was an excellent venue. Bookstores are also a great idea. I liked the cameraderie of it–made lots of friends and had a great time!

  28. doglady
    · April 19th, 2007 at 8:24 pm · Link

    Hi, Tessa! It’s doglady! I have been reading your blog every day and loving it. Is is just me or does it seem like we have a spy behind “enemy” lines telling us all their secrets? Not that I see the publishers/editors as the enemy!LOL FanLit was a real catalyst for me. It gave me the opportunity to put something out there and see what people thought. And as Terry Jo said some great writing groups came out of the friendships we made there. I learned about the contest from my local bookseller. I would suggest they advertise the contest in libraries, contact little local book clubs and colleges where writing classes are taught. Okay, I just heard a wet noodle snap. Our writing group moderator is a real slave driver!

  29. Tessa Dare
    · April 19th, 2007 at 9:38 pm · Link

    Pamela! How great to hear from you! I hope everything’s going great with your writing and your animals and your bakery!

    I’m sorry for being such an absentee blogger today, guys – but thanks for having this great discussion, posting responses on your own blogs, etc.

    It occurs to me that the whole First Chapters contest got a lot of press and participation – FanLit might get a bounce from people who heard about or participated in that contest.

    Then there’s NaNoWriMo – they manage to draw in thousands of writers every year, mostly by word-of-mouth. I think that’s the allure of a FanLit-type competition – as Liese said, it was a great way to get your creativity flowing and stretch as a writer.

  30. Cynthia Falcon
    · April 19th, 2007 at 10:11 pm · Link

    DUH! I forgot to mention how i found out about the site. I stumbled upon Victoria Alexander’s website… wow Christina we have alot in common!

  31. Ervin Anderson
    · April 22nd, 2007 at 2:03 pm · Link

    I always love seeing that WSJ article mentioned, because I was in it! Whooo-hooo! I’ll forever appreciate the Avon contest because it allowed me the opportunity to really appreciate a genre of writing (romance) I previously had never even given a chance. It was so much fun getting a crash course in romance, although I wish Contemporary had won out…I might have had a better shot had that been the case. But it was an incredible experience. I most enjoyed getting to know Eve, Courtney, Amy, Sara, and every else who was kind to me. Wow, six month already. We should do it again sometime. 🙂


  32. Ervin Anderson
    · April 22nd, 2007 at 2:09 pm · Link

    Oh, and I was a total addict, as well. Completely. Utterly. Totally. There’s just something wonderful about posting a bit of writing and haveing the critiques come back almost instantly. It’s a rush, and I miss it. It’s funny, The L Word did a contest shortly after the Avon contest, and I finaled in every single round. But I think I had more fun with the Avon contest, even though I didn’t do nearly as well, simply because it was a bigger challenge, a bigger STRETCH for me. I like knowing that if needed, I can pretty much write anything. Anyway….miss y’all….


  33. Tessa Dare
    · April 22nd, 2007 at 8:28 pm · Link


    So exciting to “see” you! When are you going to start blogging? How’s the memoir coming along?

    Keep in touch, ‘kay?