We writers are innocents in many ways, especially regarding the selling side of the publishing business. As long as we can stay in front of our computers, engaged in the dream world of our fictions, we don’t have to think of how these narratives will find their readers. Now that three of my novels have been published, I’ve had to make the adjustment. It hasn’t been easy.
Since I was born and raised in Canada, a high school dropout and a single mum when I left and moved to California, I wanted to do my first book launch for Fling! in the land of my birth. My son, who had read my novel in manuscript form and was a great early promoter of the work, suggested I do my first reading at Christina Lake, B.C., where he now lives. He set up an event at the Living Arts Center and also contacted a nearby library that was interested in hosting me. He even talked to the manager of Pharmasave, a local version of Wal-Mart. She was willing to put my books on display and set aside time one day during my visit for an author-signing session.
All of this sounded exciting, but I felt I also needed to include Calgary in my plans, the city where I had grown up. Local girl/woman makes good as debut author. I thought the story might attract potential readers, and I hoped the local papers would interview me (they didn’t). Since one of the novel’s main characters is a feisty 90-year-old, I booked readings at the Kerby Senior Center as well as a senior retirement home that caters to ambulatory residents. I also made arrangements for a reading at Page’s bookstore, an independent bookseller that has a good reputation in the city. In addition, CJSW, the University of Calgary radio station, invited me to join the program Suffragette City for an interview.
Finally, I registered for a conference that was happening during the dates I would be in Calgary, “Where Words Collide,” hoping it would give me exposure to potential readers through a workshop I offered on “The Origins of Fiction” and a reading I gave there on the last night of the event.
Then I had to make sure these events received copies of my book. But in order to sell them in Canada, I had to apply for a business number and an import/export account. A business number? An import/export account? Yes, through a series of phone calls and emails, I did acquire a business number and an important/export account.
Once I accomplished those things, I checked with the venues where I would be reading to see if I could have my publisher mail books so I could reduce the number I would need to carry with me. All but Page’s Books were fine with me doing so. But what I hadn’t anticipated, and nor had they, was the import tax/duty they would have to pay upon receiving the books. In each case, this fee amounted to around $20. Multiplied by six, in addition to shipping charges that I had to pay, it was a costly venture. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be making any money on this tour. It would be mainly for exposure and experience and vanity.
Not knowing what the demand might be for my novel, I also packed about 50 or more copies in our suitcases, almost destroying my husband’s back and ramping up our expenses because our luggage was overweight.
Was all of this effort and expense worth it? While I didn’t sell as many copies of Fling! as I’d hoped to, I did expose the novel to a wider world than the SF Bay Area where I live where I also had a book launch. And I met a number of people that otherwise might not have attended a book reading/launch and gave them insight into one writer’s world. This was particularly true at Christina Lake where my son lives. Those who attended that event had never been to a book reading before.
Then there are the intangibles. The radio interview I did could have opened doors (and windows) I’ll never be aware of. People do talk about what they see, do, and hear during their days, and I can hope that some might have mentioned Fling!
I also learned a good deal from the tour. I will never again sign up for a writer’s conference unless I know what kind of books are being featured. “Where Words Collide” presented mainly genre books: young adult, romance, mystery, fantasy, sci fi, etc. Those who attended weren’t interested in my somewhat conventional magical realism work. I wasted two days there that could have been more productive. It’s also difficult to make one’s book stand out in a sea of books no matter what the genre is. So I’m questioning the value of such events for promoting books in general.
In my next post, I’ll explore what seems to have been my most successful marketing attempts.