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Creativity requires some daydreamy blue-sky thinking. It also requires going down the rabbit hole after things that interest you, even if you don’t yet understand why these things that are calling to you are immediately relevant.

The results of creativity require discipline.

These two aspects of writing are sometimes at odds. When is reading and daydreaming and chasing after sparkly things (things that are suddenly fascinating) a necessary part of the creative process that is unlocking new ideas and resolving story problems? And when is it self-indulgent procrastination?

Honestly, I pretty much can’t tell until after the fact.

Last week, while I was getting ready for the photog, I took some test shots. I wanted to be able to recommend good places.

On the hill:

Under the willow:

On the balcony:

On the stairs:

He did do “on the balcony” and “on the stairs.” No hill or willow.

I have no idea what the finished product will look like, but I think the test shots look okay!

Last scheduled promotional thingie finished!!

This week, a photog and interviewer came to our house to do an “at home” piece for a regional mag.

We cleaned like crazy. My husband protested that NO ONE lives in a house as neat as I forced it to be, and is horrified to give the impression that we have a live-in maid. For the record, for my sweetheart’s peace of mind: World, we have no live-in maid! In fact we live in squalor most of the time! But, I do tidy up for photogs 😉

The other scary thing was that, unlike the last time a photog came to our house, *I* had to be in these photos too!

I chose a crisp white shirt with a nice collar, assuming we would mostly be doing face-area photos. In fact, that’s what I assumed we were doing when we were in the midst of it until the photog announced approvingly that that the cat had wandered into the shot. At my feet!!!!!!!!!!

Look, the middle of my body is not the most flattering part. And that “crisp white shirt with the nice collar” bunches up around my middle. *worries*

Ah well–I’m darned lucky anyone wants to mention my book in a magazine at all! *Thanks*, Cambridgeshire Journal!

There are two kinds of cleaning:

REAL cleaning, where everything is put in its place.

FAKE cleaning, where everything is shoved out of sight.

For my first ever photo shoot at my house, I had a four-month ramp up of REAL CLEANING, culminating in a week of babysitting from my mother while I did the finishing touches.

For this Wednesday’s photo shoot? At a week’s notice?

Fake cleaning 😉

I’m very grateful for the experiences of authors who have gone before me; what they’ve shared on the internet helped me shape a plan for promoting my book. I hope my experiences described here can be of help to others. It’s long, I know, but there’s so much I want to share. I hope others will add what worked for them, or raise questions.

In-person events and activities

Just got back from 5 weeks promoting the launch of my first book. Me, my husband, two kids and my mom, on the road for 34 events in 35 days. 10 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, DC, California (northern and southern), New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. This is my summary of what I did, what I learned, what worked, and what I’ll do again.

I also did online promotion (blogging, interviews, guest posts, etc.) and print articles in three magazines. But what I want to focus on in this post are the in-person author events.

In-person author events are often what people think of as part of the fantasy of “being a published author.” Signing autographs is certainly gratifying. But such in-person promotion has become less and less popular, and is widely considered to be minimally effective. Except for big names, most authors don’t “tour” in the official, expenses-paid sense. It’s very difficult to get the public interested in a new or midlist author’s bookstore visit.

My publisher did not pay for any of this, but, because of special personal circumstances, the cost was minimal. My in-house publicist did support me well, and managed bookstore arrangements and associated media for me, once I had specified where I intended to go and when I would be there. My editor also supported me, by personally phoning to thank all the bookstores who hosted me.

This is WHAT I DID:

Bookstore presentations

These are events, held in bookstores, with chairs set out and a specific start time. I would talk (about 20 or 25 minutes), read (about six minutes?), q and a, then sign books. I did five of these.

My plan was to keep to one event for each large area I was visiting, in the hope of having one big event in each place rather than diluting my potential audience over several small events. I think that principle is sound, but that maybe I took it too far. I certainly overestimated people’s willingness to drive!

For example, in Los Angeles I had thought, foolishly, that my Orange County contacts could make a Pasadena event. (Those of you who know LA are laughing at me.) Luckily, my Orange County friends set me straight, and I added in an extra event in Tustin to suit them. So, feeling out your invitees beforehand is certainly worthwhile.

My biggest piece of advice for every bookstore presentation you do is this: TREAT EACH ONE AS A LAUNCH PARTY. You, and you alone, are responsible for the guest list. Yes, the bookstore will put you in the newsletter and hang posters. The fact is, not many people will be motivated to come from those alone. Those mentions may inspire strangers to check out your book, but they are not likely to bring strangers in to meet you at your event.

When inviting people, do so individually. Group emails simply don’t have the same impact as individual contact. Absolutely don’t depend on a Facebook event announcement or status update to do anything. Like the newsletter mentions and posters above, Facebook mentions can increase awareness of your book. Don’t discourage them. But, they will likely not bring anyone out to meet you. In my experience, individual invitations are key; an email or Facebook private message is fine, so long as it is to one specific, named person from you.

In some cases, a friend will mention that they have contacts in the geographic area you will be in and will offer to mention the event to their friends. This is great, and such offers should be enthusiastically accepted. BUT, your friend will likely do this the easiest way: by sending a group email. As I mentioned above, group emails are generally ineffective, even when they come from someone the recipient knows well.

Compare this to my friend who was too busy to send an email, and sent me a list of her friends in that city instead. I contacted each person individually with a warm, friendly email of introduction and invitation. More than twenty people from that list attended.

Not every friend will be comfortable sharing their contact list, but you can feel that out by asking, “I’d love to personally invite your friends; would you mind sharing their info?” If they decline, accept that gracefully. If they do give you the info, DON’T use your friend’s contacts as an email list for future book announcements. That would abuse their kindness. That list is for this one invitation only, and it should be a small, handpicked list of people your friend has specific reason to think would be interested, and who are geographically proximate to the event. (Organizing that is work for your friend, so even if they are willing to share their contacts it is asking a lot.) An ideal situation would be your friend sending a group email saying how they know you and why they think your book would be of interest, which you follow up with charming personal invitations.

If you sent out your invitations weeks in advance, a friendly (not pushy) email reminder to your personal friends or those friends-of-friends who have responded with interest may help. Something along the lines of “Catching my plane tomorrow; hope to see you Tuesday!” I would recommend against reminding any friends-of-friends who didn’t already respond with enthusiasm.

Afterwards, you may want to thank those who did come.

And know this in advance: not everyone will come, not even everyone who specifically RSVPed yes. Babysitters cancel; children have unmissable events; work surprises with a trip or desperate deadline; illness overwhelms. That is just the way things go.

I had good success with these: about 20-25 people at each event, which made the bookstores very happy. It was personally moving for me to see: my first grade teacher, my high school English teacher, friends from childhood, high school, college, grad school, work, even summer camp!

The hardest part was all the people-wrangling involved with the invitations and follow-up. The easiest part, for me, was the presentation itself; I have an acting background and it came naturally. Certainly, having a good presentation (ideally with some humor, interaction and interesting information the audience genuinely doesn’t already know) is key. You want the people who come to be glad they did!

Personally and professionally, I’m glad I did these. But, like with a big wedding, I wouldn’t try to pull this off on a grand scale more than once.

Bookstore “open house” signings

These are signings where you are there between certain hours, hoping to entice passersby. One rarely makes a lot of sales at these things. I did three of these, one with another author, which made it more fun.

Success for these depends on the attitude of the bookstore. In one case, the store manager’s priority was that he wanted signed books to fill an endcap for selling later. Any we sold at the signing itself was extra. In the other, they were already handselling the book and the signing was just another way to support me and a book they already cared about. There was no pressure to sell a certain amount at the signing itself, which was ideal. (At two, I sold 6-8 hardcovers, which isn’t bad. At one, I sold few, but that same bookseller did an offsite the next day where we sold 20, so it balanced out.)

Bookstore scheduled drop-ins

A drop-in is when you stop by and sign copies of your book for the store to sell later. Signed copies are often given priority placement in the store, and hand-sold by the staff. I gave my publicist a list of stores I wanted to drop in at. She contacted them to let them know I wanted to come, tried to inspire them to order more copies because I would be signing them, and made sure they would have enough copies on hand to make each drive worth my while. I had given her the date ranges that I could be at those stores, and she came back with specific dates and times that I was expected at each store.

In most cases, these dates-and-times are just the store accepting my proposed visit, reminding themselves when to have the books in by, and confirming that the manager will be expecting me. But in some cases, these specific dates-and-times may be announced in a newsletter in the hope that shoppers may be moved to stop by and get a personalized signature. So, the exact time of the drop-in is in some cases flexible (“around 11ish”) and in some cases not at all flexible (“11 to 11:30 AM”). It doesn’t hurt to call the bookstore the day before and confirm expectations.

In some cases, the store may have forgotten to order the copies they intended to (this once happened to me), or sold out of the copies they did order (this also happened to me). Calling in advance can save you the drive if either is the case. But, I want to add that the first case, the store forgetting to place the order, turned out well for me. Instead of me signing books, we chatted for an hour, getting to know each other and talking about publishing and books in general, as well as my book in specific. By the end of the visit, she was more excited about carrying my book and handselling it than if I’d been able to sign stock.

Bookstore impromptu drop-ins

I hadn’t planned to do any unscheduled drop-ins. But I couldn’t help stopping in random bookstores I passed and checking on my book. So why not ask to sign stock? I couldn’t believe how easy it was, and how welcoming booksellers were!

Most of my events were at independent bookstores; most of my unscheduled drop-ins were at chains. I’m very lucky that my book was well displayed in most chains; it was usually already up front or at least face out even before I signed. The booksellers’ enthusiasm for having signed copies to recommend to their shoppers was really encouraging. It was just a real pleasure and really easy to do. Many of the chain stores I went to asked me to please come back and do a signing event for the paperback or the next book, which I found surprising.

I also learned a lot from these chain booksellers. They were quite nice answering my questions about distribution and returns. Info of most interest to me: a hardcover has 60-90 days to sell before it is returned. One store suggested that if I come back to do a signing event for the paperback, they would sell the hardcover alongside the paperback, since some people prefer signed hardcovers. I was relieved to hear that there would still be a use for leftover copies of the hardcover once the paperback comes out!

Private parties with offsite sales

Private parties ended up being a large part of what I did; I did six. My original plan had been to funnel all interested persons to the bookstore events. But, in many situations, I have good friends who, though I know them well, have a large circle of friends who I don’t know at all. (This is because of having once been close when I lived there, but having moved away some years ago.) In those circumstances, their friends, who don’t know me, aren’t likely to come to a store event, but they will commit to a party in the private home of their friend.

I wanted my book to be available for purchase at these parties, and wanted to funnel sales through a local indie. This is called an “offsite.” There are two ways this can be done: with the bookstore sending an employee to handle the sales, or with the bookseller sending books and sales equipment (like a credit card machine) for the party host to use to manage sale themselves. I did it both ways, according to each bookseller’s preference.

Offsite sales generally turned out very well, but on some level I regretted it. The bookstore owners understandably wanted to know exactly how many people were going to be there, and how many copies would be sold, AND they needed to know this three weeks in advance so they could order the right number of books. Predicting that is not easy. Not only can RSVPs be hard to nail down, but sometimes the most interested guests would end up not buying a book, because they were so interested they bought it elsewhere to read BEFORE the party! Estimating numbers for the offsite sellers was very stressful. I tried to offload this task onto the party hosts, but still had to manage the relationship and make sure info was communicated. Ultimately, books were sold, and I’m glad the sellers were there. In most cases a dozen books were sold per party; in one case twenty; and in one disappointing case, two. Selling a dozen hardcovers, and, yes, twenty hardcovers, is certainly worth it. But the stress was high for me, both in the planning weeks and at the event itself. I felt a lot of pressure from the booksellers to come near selling out at each event itself.

In the future, I may encourage those who are interested in getting a signed copy at a private party to buy in advance and bring their copy with them. This would probably result in fewer sales, and would probably, in most cases, send people to Amazon. I want to support bookstores, especially indies, but they put huge pressure on me, and in some cases gave me the impression that unsold copies would be unceremoniously returned. Contrast that to the chains who were all excited about having signed copies to sell after I’d gone. I understand that there are financial realities behind this, and don’t begrudge the indies. It’s just not a stress I look forward to shouldering again.

Book Club meetings

I really wanted to meet with book clubs, either joining in with their discussion of my book, or to do a private presentation for them so they will consider choosing my book. In most cases, the clubs managed to read the book beforehand, which is impressed me considering how new it was! They had insightful comments, and great food 🙂

I did try cold-contacting book clubs from internet sites like “meetup,” but these clubs get targeted by authors all the time and seem to be pretty immune. That approach was only successful for me in one case. The other book clubs I met with either had someone I know in them, or someone who knows someone I know. Altogether, I met with four book clubs.

I loved book club meetings. I hope to continue interacting with book clubs remotely. When my paperback comes out, my book will become much more affordable for clubs, and I would consider traveling again, to meet with clubs when that time comes.

Miscellaneous:

A tax lawyer friend of mine bought thirty copies of the book to give as “thanks” to clients and colleagues, and held a “meet an author” party for them. That was great 🙂

I was on a panel at the American Independent Writers conference in Washington DC.

Twice I was asked to give a “How to get published” talk. I took those opportunities to talk about avoiding scams, internet resources, and my personal experiences.

Media

I did two local TV shows, two radio shows, and two newspaper interviews. I’m really grateful. Though the radio and newspaper interviews did not physically require my presence, they all hinged on the fact that I was visiting. Without the travel, I would not have gotten them.

Thanks party

This is the first thing I did, and one of my favorites. I held a little thanks party for my agent and editor and others who worked on the book. This worked well because we had all met a couple of times before and get along personally, and because I was able to keep it casual. My sister lives in New York very near Random House, so it was easy to invite people over to her place for a quick, casual reunion of sorts over pastries, fruit and coffee.

Hometown launch party and UK media

After all that, I returned to England (where I live) for the UK launch party and associated media stuff. It was a good party (about 50 people), which was a relief because summer is a tough time. I know from experience with my younger kid’s summer birthday that pinning people down in the summer is not easy, and you can consider any guest list halved by vacations.

At this point, I’ll link back to this post: “A book event is not a test of friendship.”

I had to remind myself of that truth as I was saddened by one reason after another from those who weren’t coming: work, travel, no babysitter, kid’s event, visiting relatives and, in two cases, being in the hospital! (They are both okay now, I’m relieved to say.) Your friends are your friends, whether they are able to make it or not. It certainly helped to remind myself that WE cancelled on attending a wedding in Scotland a couple months ago. Life is complicated and busy for all of us. Friends are friends regardless.

COSTS AND BENEFITS:

Personal benefits

*This was a wonderful family adventure. We went all over the country. The boys saw all their cousins, and many old friends. They played in both the Atlantic and Pacific. How lovely!

*It was weird and wonderful kind of resolution to see again so many friends from different stages of my life. Bringing these old friends into this new phase of my life was strange and peaceful and inspiring and comforting. I can’t really describe it. I just feel very whole.

*I got to really feel my book launch. I remember the day the book came out–nothing happened. The earth didn’t move. Getting out there and really flogging it marked the event for me, and made it a real experience, physically.

Sales benefits

*Sales directly attributable to my tour: I didn’t keep track of how many books I signed or sold in my presence, but I reckon it was several hundred. If you look at this in terms of royalties earned and consider these sales to be the total effect, probably not worth it, in dollars. Possibly worth it in word-of-mouth potential and the creation of fans for future books, especially since my costs for the trip were so low.

*Sales INdirectly attributable to my tour are impossible to estimate, but store displays, bookseller enthusiasm, local/regional media attention, and the free advertising of event mentions on posters, newsletters, newspapers and online have a cumulative effect. Definitely worth it, especially in relation to the low cost of the trip.

*Wouldn’t friends have bought my book anyway? I hope so. But, I think having the events prompted many sales that some people may not have gotten around to, at least for a while. The sales that did happen happened in stores instead of online, which I think makes a difference to bookseller enthusiasm. Also, the events prompted gift purchases that may not have otherwise happened.

*I found it more pleasant (and, I hope, effective) to contact people with an event invitation than just a “my book is now published and available” announcement. An event invitation is something you are offering them (please come for free entertainment!); a book announcement is a request that they do something for you (please buy the book!). I think the events gave me an effective way to reach people about my book, even those who ultimately didn’t come to the events themselves.

Creative benefits

*After this experience, I feel well separated from my first book, which is a great help as I work on the next one. I just feel like I’ve finally come out from being inside that first book.

*Reader feedback was helpful to hear, such as discussion in book clubs. It was interesting to learn which characters and situations in the book were most important to various readers.

*Having immediate in-person responses to my presentations was great practice for radio, TV and interviews.

Costs in money

*We always travel home to the States as a family at least once a year. Not on this scale, of course, but the point is that this isn’t entirely an unprecedented expense.

*My husband has to travel a lot for his job. We had so many air miles saved up that all the plane travel (yes for the whole family and my mom) cost us taxes only.

*We only went places where we had strong ties, and friends/family hosted us generously. Only one hotel was involved in the entire trip, and that was paid for by “hotel points” and so was free.

*The main costs were rental car and gas. Other things, like food, were pretty much on a par with what we would spend at home, since our accommodation allowed us to mostly buy groceries and do our own cooking.

*Looked at as a percentage of my advance, the total costs would be around 10%. That seems reasonable to me for promotion.

*Should publishers pay for author tours? My pub didn’t, and I certainly understand why. I’m a new author with no following. In-person events reach only a small amount of people at a time. I pushed to do it because I felt well-placed to pull this off. My pub didn’t contribute money, but supported me in practical ways.

Cost in time

Coming up with 5 weeks free to be out on the road is unusual. A lot came together for me to make that possible: I have no dayjob; my husband’s job is flexible and can be done remotely (and it so happened that his company has offices in two of the places we spent a week each in); our kids are homeschooled; and my mom made herself available to help us.

I did lose writing time; writing during the trip and in the weeks preparing was simply impossible. I did however gain perspective on some plot/character issues that I’d been struggling with before the trip. And, since the second book is a sequel to the first, I figure this investment in launching the first book will ultimately do the second book good.

Cost in stress

The “people wrangling” (invitations and reminders for all events, and guessing at potential sales numbers for booksellers doing offsites) was the hardest part.

Second hardest was coordinating all the dates. I’m the kind of person who likes to make a date and stick by it, but as various stores and groups responded to my offers, everything had to be kind of shaken together to get everything to fit. I hated saying “Can we move this by a day? Can we do a slightly different time?” and endeavored to do that as little as possible; but it was in some cases unavoidable. I hated doing it, but everyone involved seemed to take it in stride. I made sure the schedule got set in stone well far out, and suited everyone involved to the best of my ability.

Third hardest was saying no to some people who had offered to help or host. I had hoped to road-trip the middle of the country, but the great distances between destinations and the fact that we were traveling as a family made that not work. (If I could have driven a day between places I would have been happy to, but getting hotel rooms for the whole fam to stay in in-between places where we had nothing planned just wasn’t going to work. Nor did I want to fly all of us between places.) I hate turning away any offered kindness, and seeming to prefer one friend over another. I hope to get to the middle states at another time.

What made it work:

*Having a significant publisher was essential. Without nationwide distribution and my publicist’s involvement, I could not have made this happen. Yes, many of the specific events happened through my own contacts, but the lynchpin events were made through my publicist or, at the very least, courtesy of the words “Random House.”

*Thanks to my acting training, I happen to have good presentation and improvisation skills and can easily put on a pretty good show. Getting people to attend an event is just step one; persuading them to want your book so much that they pay hardcover price for it is your presentation’s responsibility.

*I’ve moved several times in my adult life, which gave me several different parts of the country where I have strong ties. That’s why I was able to find audience in so many places.

Would I do it again?

In the sense of, if I had my life to live over would I launch my debut novel this way again?
YES.

In the sense of, will I do this again for my next book?
No, not all of it anyway. Nor did I ever intend to.

This, for me, was very much the launch of my career, and the launch of this series, not just the launch of this book. I never intended to reproduce this total effort with every book I write.

For the paperback launch and next book:

For the paperback, I want to target book clubs remotely, and would consider travel to visit book clubs on a smaller-scale trip.

For future books, drop-ins were low stress, easy and rewarding. I’d definitely love to do more, though not sure how much I’m willing to travel for that exclusive purpose.

I’d love to visit my friends in the middle states of the US. As described above, I didn’t get a chance to take up several kind offers to help me celebrate my launch, due to geography. Maybe next time I’ll go there instead of the coasts.

I’d be willing to repeat previously successful bookstore events if I get to a point that fans/strangers would make up half my audience. I don’t think I can fairly expect friends to annually replay the efforts they made to support this first book.

I hope this book has enough success that I get invited to participate in large events that have their own reputation and audience.

A tourist in Bookland

I felt kind of silly, but took photos of my book on the shelf all over the place. I was a real tourist about it. The fact is, this may never come my way again. I hope it will; I hope my career will move upward, and I’m working hard toward that goal. But maybe I won’t come out in hardcover again. Maybe I won’t get co-op again. Who knows? So I’m enjoying the heck out of all this. And I’m glad I threw myself into all of it, including the promotion, wholeheartedly.

Some photos of the whole experience here.

I’m also glad it was so concentrated into five weeks. Sure, I’ll keep responding to opportunities as they arise. But, pretty much, I feel like I did it and now it’s done. (Almost. One more newspaper/magazine thing this week, and THEN I’m done 😉

The writing is, of course, the most important thing. Back to the second book now, with peace of mind from knowing I’ve done my best for the first.

PS–From “the intern’s” blog, some good advice about book promotion. My favorite is tip number five, “see everything as hilarious.” So right!

“My husband died a year ago and I haven’t cooked since.”

Okay, that sets up an interesting situation. But look at this, from Alicia Bessette’s new novel Simply From Scratch:

“I knot Nick’s camouflage apron under my boobs, unable to remember the last time I wore a bra, or preheated the oven. That’s my widow style.”

That’s an interesting situation in the middle of action and with voice!

Aim for that, always.

Just one more promotional thing this week (regional magazine/newspaper photo shoot), and then “being a writer” will mean “writing” again.

Can’t wait!!

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."