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A book event is NOT a test of friendship.
I’ve moved a few times in my adult life, and each time I’ve been pretty peaceful about it. I don’t feel like I need to be physically with people for them to be part of my life. What has surprised me, however, is that the list of people I keep most in touch with doesn’t correlate with the list of people I felt closest to when we lived in the same town. This is what I expected:
People I like best/knew best in person == People I keep most in touch with
But that’s not what happend. What actually happened seemed random, until I realized the situation could be expressed like this:
People who are good at long distance communication == People I keep most in touch with
Seems obvious, right? But, emotionally, it can be hard to accept. The fact is: someone’s affection for you may not correlate with their ability to maintain that affection at a distance. And, someone’s excellent ability to maintain long-distance communication may surprise you by turning them into a closer friend than they used to be.
This applies to books too.
A lot of people I know have stepped up to help with my book promotion. It’s tempting to view the situation like this:
People who love me most == people who do the most for my book.
But thinking about things like that is the way madness lies. Try this instead:
People who are great at organizing events and have a circle of friends who love reading and/or are impressed with authorship == the friends who offer to create events/throw parties/bring hordes to my bookstore events
See? What someone does for my book and for me as an author is NOT a test of friendship. Sometimes the people who have arranged the most for my book tour have been the ones I expected, and sometimes I’ve been surprised by who steps up. Some of my friends who personally care about me very much have not come forward to offer practical support, because they haven’t had it to give. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about me. It means their care is expressed in other ways.
A few years ago I hosted a 40th party for a friend. It was at a restaurant in San Francisco, and the guests were all coming up from the suburbs. Traffic and public transport are unpredictable at the best of times, and this crowd was usually late to things anyway. I shouldn’t have been surprised when the start time passed and no one had arrived yet. I nervously promised my friend that people were indeed coming. She was unruffled. She said, “I know who my friends are. When or whether people show up to this party doesn’t change that.” What confidence and serenity! At that moment I aspired to know myself and trust my own friends so well.
FYI: It was a great party.
Have any good stories about casual friends who have really gone all out for you? Or about close friends who may have let you down in one way, but are still good friends?
As mentioned in my last post, in between my public bookstore events, I’ll be attending numerous private events. These are some of the different kinds:
1) Book club meetings. It’s becoming happily common for authors to “attend” book club meetings remotely, by Skype or speakerphone or online chat. I hope to do some of that too. But while I’m traveling, I have the wonderful opportunity of attending some book club meetings in person. The most basic way to do this is that members have already bought and read the book, and I will meet with them for discussion and questions in a home (if I know them) or, say, a cafe (if I don’t).
2) Some book clubs are excited about my book, but won’t have the chance to pre-read it before I’m in town. In those cases, I’ve suggested a pre-read meeting at a local bookstore cafe, for a mini-version of my presentation and private q-and-a. They can buy the book on the spot, and I can sign it.
3) Private parties. Some of my wonderful friends are throwing parties. I’m prepared to give a presentation, answer questions, and sign books, while chatting and eating. Because the invitations are for personal friends, and the events held in the host’s home, I felt that invitees are more likely to commit to attend than if the event were public or in a neutral place. For that reason, whenever someone has offered to set up a public event or a private party, I’ve gone for the private party.
At a senior center, I’m giving a “How Publishing Works” talk, introducing the basics about query letters and identifying scams.
Memorably, a friend who has a private law practice is buying dozens of copies of the book, which I’ll sign and he’ll give away as a “client appreciation” perk.
Most of these events have come about through the efforts of friends. What worked well for me was sending out an e-newsletter letting people know the itinerary for my bookstore events, and asking if they had any ideas for other things I could do while I was in town. People really came through. But, it wasn’t always the people I expected. (That’s the topic of the next post.) Let everyone know you’ll be around and ask “Is there anything I can do for you and for any groups you know of while I’m in town?” Maybe people will think you don’t have time. Let them know you WANT help.
A few of these events were arranged as the result of cold contacts. I googled my little heart out for book clubs and other relevant groups, and then emailed, politely and SPECIFICALLY, to offer to “do something for your group while I’m in town.” Out of about fifteen cold contacts I made, two good events came out of them.
For events taking place outside of bookstores, local booksellers will be on hand to sell books. That’s called an “offsite“. I thought that would only be possible for very large events, but those I’ve asked have been very willing, even for small events. The important thing is to get a sense of the RSVPs ahead of time, so that the stores can order the right number of copies.
What other ideas would you suggest? How can a writer make the best use of traveling?
Bookstore events are the fantasy for many authors. The reality is, it’s getting harder and harder to find an audience. I’ve been advised by pros that book tours aren’t worth the effort. It’s unlikely that travel expenses would be covered by the profit of at-event sales, even if you get a good turnout. And getting a good turnout is iffy.
So why am I doing a book tour? Oh, stubbornness. And as a celebration. And, as an experiment. I think there’s value to be found in this, and I’m giving it a go. Our kids are homeschooled and my husband works from his laptop and phone, so what’s to stop us from having an adventure? We, with my mom along to help with the kids, are crossing the ocean and hitting the road for the entire month of June.
Over five weeks, we’ll visit 10 states: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Ohio, California (northern and southern), and Washington DC.
This is my strategy:
1) My six bookstore events are the pillars of the tour. I feel honored to have been accepted for events at these fantastic stores. It can be hard to get a bookstore’s attention; having my publicist involved really helped.
2) I purposely arranged only one “public event” per large area, in the hope of having one great event rather than a handful of sparsely attended ones.
3) I’ve lived in all these places, or otherwise have close ties. While I hope that my publicist will get media attention for the events, and that the bookstores have their own regular clientele who will come, I’m counting on myself to provide a core audience for each event.
4) In between these events, I’m meeting with book clubs and presenting at private book parties. I’m in the lucky position of having lived several different places in my adult life, and having friends from many different social circles. Even in the same area, different friends of mine have completely different invitation lists. I’m going to get to meet a lot of people.
My expenses are pretty low:
1) For all but one city, I’m staying with family/friends, not at hotels.
2) My husband travels so much for business that we had enough air miles for ALL of us–that’s five people, folks–to fly from England and then all over the US. Our only transit expense is car rental and gas.
3) We return home to the US at least once every year, so part of this is a “normal” expense for us. We don’t usually do a trip this broad or long, of course, but still: this isn’t an expense from out of nowhere.
The relatively low-cost of this trip makes a big difference when asking whether it’s “worth it.” Lastly, directly attributable sales are not the extent of a tour’s effect:
1) Booksellers who become more aware of my book because of my visit (whether event or drop-in) may put it in a better position up front and recommend it to customers.
2) My events may get media mentions, which expose my book even to people who don’t come to the event itself.
3) Some of the book clubs I’m meeting with will likely be small groups. But “book club people” tend to be the kind of people who recommend books to others and are likely to be vocal about books online.
4) Even before the tour begins, it been a great conversation-starter. I’ve been able to make contact with readers’ groups with an offer of “What can I do for you while I’m in town?” Some are interested and some aren’t, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable making contact without something to offer, like visiting with their group of presenting at a private event, during the window that I’m in their area.
I’ll be reporting here on the effectiveness of the various events and what kinds of marketing/invitations/cold contacts were most successful.
This is where I’ll be! Join me
Friday, June 04, 7:30 PM
Words, Maplewood’s Bookstore
179 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood, NJ 07040
(Just a 40 minute train ride from Penn Station, New Yorkers!)
Tuesday, June 08, 5:00 PM (ETA: 5pm start, not 6pm)
The Learned Owl
204 N. Main Street, Hudson OH, 44236
Thursday, June 17, 7:00 PM (ETA: 7pm, not 7:30!)
Books Inc. in Mountain View
301 Castro St., Mountain View, CA, 94041
Tuesday, June 22, 7:00 PM
695 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA, 91101
Thursday, June 24, 7:00 PM
20 Congress Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801
(This is the wee bit of New Hampshire, squeezed between Maine and Massachusetts, that touches the Atlantic. Only an hour north of Boston or an hour south of Portland!)
Friday, July 02, 4:00 PM
Other Tiger Bookstore
90 High Street, Westerly, RI, 02891
(This is the southwestern coastal corner of the state, right next to Mystic Connecticut. Providence and Hartford area and southern Massachusetts–this means you too!)
Let me know if you can come!
And if you have any funny book event stories for the comments, so much the better.
My publicist is working hard to drum up reviews and attention. But who knows which sources will actually mention my book, and what their opinion will be? I have no control over that.
I’m working on the media that I can control. The common (and excellent) advice to novelists is to find some non-fiction hook for articles and profiles. My book is set in Cambridge, England, and I moved here from the States four years ago, so “an American in England” is my thing. I’ve made offers to write articles on that theme to key places.
This is what I’ve secured so far:
- Deadly Pleasures (quarterly mystery review print magazine)
An interview with Cambridge bookseller Richard Reynolds in the July issue.
- Anglotopia (website and blog)
Cambridge travel tips, posting weekly for the month of June.
- Games (monthly print magazine)
A profile of my father, a game inventor, and of my years as his assistant and later as a logic puzzle designer, which will be in the August issue, hitting newsstands in June.
Each of them will mention my book in my credit, and they’re all clustered around June, when my book will be recently on sale.
I’ve submitted ideas a few other places, and am waiting to hear. My grad school’s newsletter is printing an essay I wrote about Cambridge museums, but, weirdly, the alumni magazine of my undergraduate college is a completely closed door.
As writers, what have you put out into the media and did it have an impact? As readers, what in the media besides reviews has brought you to a new book or author?
ETA: A Mystery Scene “new books essay” is now in my line-up as well!
Publisher Alley is a peek into Baker & Taylor’s sales data.
Okay, I’ll back up: There are a few key distributors who move books between publishers and stores. Ingram and Baker & Taylor are the biggest. Each one represents only part of a book’s sales.
Distributor info is highly specialized, and professionals pay dearly for access to it. Some writers’ organizations, such as Mystery Writers of America, have made deals for their members to have access to Publisher Alley at a low rate (presently $35/year).
Keep in mind: this is partial data. It reflects only the books that move through Baker and Taylor. What can be useful, though, is comparing your sales data with that of similar books. I find it helpful to see where I stand compared to other debuts in my genre, and to other books from my publisher coming out that same month. Also, for some books they list print runs.
Ingram, another distributor, used to have a phone number you could call to get sales data, using a book’s ISBN. That seems to be in flux right now. The latest number I’ve heard is 615-213-6803, but several authors have reported that it’s not working for them.
For a fuller picture, you’d need Bookscan. Membership to Bookscan is prohibitively expensive.
Really, only a royalty statement knows for sure.
Any advice for what a writer should do instead of staring uselessly at numbers? Exercise? Volunteer? Write the next book?
ETA: Two new sites I’ve just become aware of, for tracking Amazon sales specifically:
The best use for these that I can think of are for 1) tracking books that sell PRIMARILY through Amazon, not bookstores, or 2) to identify/quantify sales spikes in the wake of specific advertising or media efforts. I don’t want to obsess over my Amazon sales in general, but it may be helpful to compare the immediate effectiveness of different kinds of promotion.
I’m sure my Amazon page will become a source of intense scrutiny once my book goes on sale. For now, I’m just keeping my eye on it in a housekeeping sort of way: Making sure my cover is there, and my book description. That sort of thing.
The info that most writers focus on is their Amazon ranking. This is found under “Product Details” and is usually an enormous number. This number reflects your rank among all the other books on Amazon, based on recent sales. If a lot of people buy your book at once, your rank will shoot up to a lower number (meaning, nearer number 1). But it will just as quickly drop down again. It can be exciting to see a surge, and depressing to see a drop. But what you’ve sold “today” is less important than many, many other things.
I have a fluctuating ranking already, based on pre-orders. If you want to know what your rank means in terms of recent sales, I found this chart (though I can’t vouch for its accuracy):
Your star ranking, from reader reviews, is an obvious thing to obsess over, but I don’t have any of those yet (my book is not yet on sale). As with GoodReads, I’ve been advised by those who have been through this before me to avoid dwelling on reader reviews. They are not for authors; they are targeted at other readers. Let the readers talk among themselves, candidly. If you do read them, and find a review you feel is unjust, WALK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Do not respond, not on Amazon as a comment, and not on your blog. Every reader has the right to their opinion.
I’m also going to keep my eye on “Discussions” and “Lists” that mention me, but not intensely.
I’ve made an Amazon author page. It’s basically just another page where readers can find aggregate information about me. I put up my pic and a short bio and a link back to my website. BookTour.com automatically added all my tour info.
Because of Amazon’s recent monopolistic actions, some writers are offering alternatives to Amazon in their buy links. IndieBound, Powell’s and Barnes and Noble are popular options. I link to them all.
Readers: How much do Amazon reviews sway your purchases?
Writers: What’s the most frequently you ever checked your Amazon rank?
I got sucked into GoodReads when my publisher did a giveaway of ARCs of my book. I watched every day to see how many people had registered for the giveaway. This kind of unhealthy obsession with numbers seems to be a stage all new authors pass through. Longtime pros eventually hit the stage of giving it up, but, to a debut author, numbers are crack.
I did notice something interesting: quite a few of my favorite books there have average ratings in the three-star range (out of five). These are some of my favorite books, by well-respected authors.
Really, I think it’s a good policy to assume that most books that sell widely will have wide responses to them. I have resolved to not let myself get caught up in readers reviews, and to steel myself to be happy with a 3 average or above (yes, of course I still hope for “above”).
Goodreads is one more place where readers can find me if they like. I’ve put up a bunch of my favorite books on my “bookshelf” there, so people can get a sense of my taste and reading history.
Are you on Goodreads, or Shelfari, or LibraryThing? Which would you recommend most, as a reader or writer?