by Kathleen Kaska
I’ve never been given the keys to a city, but almost.
When I decided to set my Sydney Lockhart mystery series at historic hotels, I began with my favorite ones, since the research would require a multi-night stay at some of the finest old hotels in the country. What I didn’t realize was that viable outlets for promotion would be created. Elated that my first mystery had been accepted for publication, I envisioned book signings and e-mail announcements as promotions, and not much more. But that was a little more than three years ago, and my how things have changed.
That first mystery, Murder at the Arlington, takes place in the historic Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The town has a large chain bookstore, which I was certain would stock the book. So a few weeks before it’s release, I sent a press release to the local newspaper. There was a nice review, but not much else happened locally to sell the book. My second Sydney Lockhart mystery, Murder at the Luther, was almost finished. It is set in the coastal town of Palacios, Texas. The 1936 Luther Hotel had become a second home to my husband and I whenever we visited the coast. But Palacios was just a spot on the map, much smaller than Hot Springs; and I wondered if I’d made the right decision when I chose this remote location.
In the meantime, I’d spiffed up my webpage, connected with Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, started a blog, and learned the value of self-promotion. Then we hit the road on a lengthy retirement trip (from teaching), which also included a month-long stay at the Arlington Hotel. As soon as we pulled into town, we stopped at the bookstore, expecting to see several copies of my book on a front table. There was no table, no book, and not much interest in Murder at the Arlington. So I decided to promote it myself. The hotel’s executive secretary had already read it and was delighted when I suggested a book signing in the lobby. The first night at the hotel, there was a Halloween celebration in town. Tons of people were imbibing on the hotel’s verandah and milling around the nearby shops on Bathhouse Row. I grabbed a stack of promo cards and spent the evening inviting them to the signing. The next say, I visited the chamber of commerce and they agreed to announced the signing in their weakly publication, website, and on their tourist kiosks. Local shops posted the announcement in their windows. Three shops actually stocked the book. And Maxwell Blade, the famous local magician who entertained the Clintons at the White House, gave us tickets to his show and introduced me to his audience. Later on, a local book group read my book and invited me to their meeting—a luncheon at the hotel. By the end of our stay, I had two successful signings at the hotel and one at a gift shop. More than 200 books were sold that month and I made dozens of connections.
Would I have the same success in Palacios? When our travels brought us to the Luther Hotel right before Christmas, I contacted Old Main Bookstore (the local bookstore/coffee shop), the newspaper, and of course, the Luther Hotel. I had my doubts about how successful a book signing in Palacois would be. Me of little faith. The bookstore sold out in the first ten minutes and we took orders for two more hours. Folks staying at the hotel ordered multiple copies (one woman ordered 20); Jack Findley, the owner, now stocks the book, ordering several every few weeks.
If you ever visit the Luther Hotel, ask Jack (original owner Charles Luther’s son-in-law) to give you the Murder at the Luther tour. Be sure and note the plaque on the door of the La Salle Suite. It reads, “Sydney Lockhart Slept Here.”
On my next visit, Jack had a wine and cheese reception for me at the hotel. It seemed entire town turned out; more books were sold; the school superintendent offered me a teaching job and the local real-estate agent offered a good deal on a beach house. I deeply appreciate all the kindness shown. No offense, Tony, but I left my heart in Palacios.
Murder at the Galvez (LL-Publications) will be released on December 7. Where to spend a few days in December? My favorite place in Galveston—the historic Hotel Galvez.
Kathleen Kaska is the author the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book. All three have just been reissued in by LL-Publications. Kathleen also writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series set in the 1950s. Her first two mysteries, Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queens Book Group, the largest book group in the country. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, (University Press of Florida) was released on September 16.