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 my four novels (Fling!, Freefall: A Divine Comedy, The Ripening: A Canadian Girl Grows Up (a sequel to Freefall), and Curva Peligrosa have been published, I’ve needed to make the adjustment. It hasn’t been easy.
Since I was born and raised in Canada, a high school drop out and a single mum when I left and moved to California, I wanted to do my 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 (my home is in the San Francisco Bay Area). 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 town 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 the 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. Once I accomplished that, 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 carried with me. All except Page’s Books were amenable. 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, 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. I also met a number of people that otherwise might not have attended a book reading/launch and gave them insight into one writer’s world.
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 literary/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.
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 from the tour did exactly that.
After I returned home, I researched extensively for potential readers and reviewers for both of my novels, and I continue to do so. Reviews generate a buzz, especially if they are posted on major sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble. It’s essential, then, to gather as many as we can. They encourage potential readers to take a chance on our books based on other readers’ experience. And it’s more readers that we want, right?
I also found it useful to generate interviews on other writers’ blogs. I did this in multiple ways. First, both of my publishers, Pen-L Publishing and Regal House Publishing, have authors who are willing to work with me, doing blog exchanges as well as reviews. In addition, I found blogs that seemed to have good followings and suggested we exchange interviews or guest blog posts. This also generated some valuable connections.
In addition, I paid Women on Writing (WOW) to manage a blog tour for Fling! and Sage’s Blog Tours for Curva Peligrosa that included a few reviews. It was worth it to me to spend this money on marketing, though the “tours” weren’t as well managed as I’d hoped. I’m not sure that I connected with potential readers of my novel during the 12-day events. I was supposed to be available each day to respond to questions that could come from followers of these blogs. But, in reality, in most cases, I was the only one there, waiting for someone to ask me a question! Even the blogger was absent. The reviews that bloggers posted on their websites were the best part of this deal. After some prodding, most were posted on Amazon, etc.
Would I do it again? Not likely. I could probably do as well on my own by contacting potential bloggers and reviewers, but for those who don’t want to spend their time in that way, it might be useful. These tours have taught me the importance of researching the kind of blogs the tour guides contact. If the bloggers don’t feature your genre, then they are not going to be effective.
Surprisingly, I have found Goodreads to be the best source in two ways. First, I have done several giveaways. While it’s costly to mail the novels, especially if you don’t designate US only (as I didn’t on my first giveaway, opening it to Canada and the UK, thinking it would give me a bigger readership range), it’s worth the expense, a tax write off. A number of people listed the novel as one they wanted to read. And some of them will write a review. However, now that Goodreads is charging authors a hefty sum just to do a giveaway, it may not be a good choice.
The Goodreads ad campaign also has been productive. The book title and description reaches many people over a long period. I’ve been running mine since early July 2015. So far I’ve only paid about $39.00 for my original $50 ad campaign, but I’ve reached innumerable potential readers. So in terms of pay off, the Goodreads ads seem to be a good investment.
The message here? Take the time to do your homework and find the many resources there actually are out there before you give away too much of your hard-earned money. It pays off in the end.
Another option? Though I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I also have done readings while spending a week at Sea Ranch, a coastal community in Mendocino about three hours from my home (though this might be harder to accomplish during this unstable Covid period). The conventional wisdom is that readings are more productive in areas where we have family, friends, or acquaintances. That might be true in some instances, usually at bookstores. But there are exceptions.
I thought that while I was in the Sea Ranch area, I would try to book events so I could get a broader readership for my novel Fling! I first contacted the only bookstore in Gualala, a tiny town just a few miles from where we were renting a house. I was surprised at how enthusiastic the owner was about reserving a late Saturday afternoon slot during our week in the area. He told me that the venue has a healthy clientele of mostly regulars but also of those visiting the coast. Since there isn’t much entertainment locally, many residents are eager to attend something out of the ordinary. The owner also recommended that I contact the Point Arena library, a half hour drive further up the coast. And he put me in touch with Peggy, the host of one of the local radio stations so she could interview me.
I followed up and was delighted when Julia at the library signed me up for the Sunday afternoon at the library series. She was also eager to offer her usual visitors an inspiring talk and/or reading. I had planned to frame my discussion of Fling! with a talk on “The Magic in Magical Realism.” Again, Point Arena is another small town whose inhabitants are hungry for enriching programs.
Each of these venues did a great job of advertising its event with flyers, notices on their websites, and postings in the local papers. I happened to pick up the Coastal Observer when I was there, eager to read the local news, and was amazed to find a quarter page write up about myself, something I didn’t expect.
Bookstores usually are only worthwhile if you have a large following in an area and can generate traffic. Otherwise, the percentage they want per book doesn’t make them a viable option. Also, several bigger stores now charge authors for the honor of doing a reading in their facility. I just paid $100 for such an honor. But the Four-Eyed Frog Bookstore in Gualala doesn’t fit that profile. They sold all of the books (about twelve) that I left with them.
While I was at Sea Ranch, KGUA, the public radio station, did a 25-minute interview with me that featured my upcoming readings and allowed me to give extensive info on myself and my work. I later learned there is another station in Gualala, KTDE, a commercial one, that also would have interviewed me if I’d contacted them, which I will do in the future. In addition, I discovered that authors should submit some sample questions beforehand to the station so the interviewer has material to work with.
This experience helped me to broaden my horizon for doing readings and giving talks. Intimate rural towns can be great resources. They often are hungry for the kind of events that big city residents take for granted.
I also have put out feelers to book groups (I tried contacting book clubs through Meetup but was banished for scamming!), libraries, and senior residences/centers for readings or speaking opportunities. Some have gotten back to me and booked events. I’m still waiting for other responses.
And that seems to be the message I’m getting: Wait.
Each day I anxiously check my Amazon and Goodreads’ pages to see if anyone has posted a new review or rating. Then I look at Bookscan’s sales’ figures, which don’t seem to budge much in spite of all my efforts. It’s depressing!
I’m also waiting to hear back from potential local radio interviews, and I’m waiting for word from the film and foreign agents I’ve contacted. Hah!
While Fling! is now an audiobook, I’m waiting to see if my other novels will become one as well.
Patience seems to be the key here. I need to let go of my need for instant gratification and realize that the publishing scene has its own pace. It may speed up at times. It may slow down at other times. But it will be less discouraging if I think more in terms of years than a few months.