Just One Guy's Honest Perspective on the World of the Post-publication Blues
Getting my first novel into print wasn’t an easy ride. From the day I wrote that first sentence on my yellow legal pad in the summer of 2006, to the day a signed contract showed up in our mailbox, the journey spanned four years. Prior to A NEW PROSPECT’s actual release in January 2011, I learned how some of the big names on the best seller lists took as much as ten years before their debut novels appeared. James Lee Burke mentioned once receiving 111 rejections before one of his earliest books got accepted by a publisher. So, I didn’t feel too bad.
Once my book was released and on all the data bases of the usual vendors, and I had my publisher’s press kit in hand, a new journey began—post-publication promotion and marketing. I had spent my entire adult life as either a soldier or a cop. I knew nothing about marketing, precious little about selling, and even less about the electronic media world. I didn’t know a tweet from chirp, a facebook from a facelift, or a blogspot from a sunspot. But I figured if I could convince a suspect it was in his best interest to write a statement admitting to one or more felonies, I could learn how to peddle books. I’m old-fashioned, so my first excursions began with arranging traditional book signings at the storefront bookshops near my home in east Tennessee.
I had seen pictorial accounts of famous authors sitting at a desk next to a five-foot-tall stack of their books, getting exhausted signing oodles of copies for a block-long line of their adoring fans. Don’t expect your first events to be that spectacular. I’m happy if I sell between four and seven books in two to three hours sitting in a retail store. Wouldn’t you know that the place where I sold out the entire stock of fifteen copies, Borders in Knoxville, Tennessee, went out of business? But success is a relative thing. I set up one Friday evening at a Hastings Book Store, right at the front entrance, next to one of those five-foot stacks of James Patterson’s latest mystery. I occupied a card table with a half-dozen copies of A NEW PROSPECT. Two and a half hours later, I packed up after scoring 5 books for me, while James sold none.
Don’t get discouraged if you only sell a few books at an event. You’re winning the hearts and minds of potential readers and book buyers when they take your business cards and/or one of the printed handouts you’ve prepared with a brief summary for your book(s)…HINT. Shoppers aren’t stupid. They may like a signed copy of your book, which might be worth a few cents more after you’re famous…or dead, or they may prefer to shop the Internet discount sites rather than pay retail plus sales tax.
Other writers surprise me when they say how terribly uncomfortable (or afraid) they are to meet their public at book signings. Considerate it part of the job. I had to learn how to become intimate with dead bodies in my former occupation, live ones are now a breeze. Speaking engagements are also part of the job. Start practicing—it really gets easier with experience. And remember the old public speaker’s trick to feel in control of a group. Imagine your audience sitting there in their underwear. That may be more exciting some places than at others, but if you’re laughing to yourself, you tend to lose stage fright quickly.
After much soul searching, you still can’t bare the idea of watching shoppers avoid eye contact with you and scurrying away from your table quicker than if you were trying to sell time shares? Maybe a virtual book tour is more up your ally. You may arrange these personally by networking with bloggers for reciprocal favors. But if you don’t maintain a blog and lack the time to thoroughly read and review other writer’s books, you can hire a publicist who will arrange stops with his or her stable of reviewers, interviewers, bloggers, and radio show hosts. I’ve done a two-month summer VBT and now I’m in the middle of a pre-holiday sales push. These virtual tours can be a lot of work. You MUST prepare intelligent, interesting, and sometimes wordy responses to an interviewer’s questions and quality guest postings for someone’s blog. And be prepared to give away review copies of your book and prize copies to contest winners—that’s all part of the package, too.
Book tours are the glamour part of selling. The day-to-day reality involves posting clever and catchy blurbs on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google &, etc., ect. Follow the lead of some of your favorite authors to see how they handle it. Then be prepared to devote hours a day to “establishing an Internet presence.” Gads, I hate that phrase as much as seeing a Blue Screen of Death.
Here’s my take on this extremely necessary aspect of an author’s life: Writing is fun. Post-publication marketing is too much like work. But for me, it’s like saying, “I love to cook. I can’t wait to eat what I’ve made. But I hate to do dishes.” That little voice inside my head keeps telling me, “Suck it up, pal.”
~ Wayne Zurl