Marketing, Writing and Editing

8 Questions From A Book Launch

So, I held a “Book launch and reception” at my local public library last Thursday night. It was, by all relevant accounts, a success. More than twenty people attended, only one of whom is related to me. I read a passage from my new novel To Hemlock Run, gave away a gift certificate for our local bookstore, and answered several interesting questions from the audience.

Since I can’t share the homemade cookies, I thought I’d share some of the more interesting questions I was asked.

The passage you read (about sneaking through the night time woods on a deer trail) was so vivid and so realistic, how did you do that?

Well, I carefully chose specific sensory details—mainly of sound, temperature, and wetness—and used those to build the atmosphere. I then used specific incidents such as crossing a small stream and climbing over a fallen tree to add realism and give the reader the illusion of the passage of time.

Informing all of these choices were the memories I have of wandering around the neighborhood forests when I was a young teen. I still remember how those woods we knew as well as our own faces, became a different, alien, world when the sun went down. I tried to convey that faint sense of threat in the passage.

How do you plot out your novels? Do you know how they’re going to end before you start writing?

No. I almost never know how the story will end when I begin. It isn’t the most efficient means of writing a book-length work, but I generally start out with a character and put him (or her) into a problematic situation. Then I start asking questions. How will he react to this situation? Why has this situation occurred? What are the bad guys’ motivations? How do they conflict with the good guy’s intentions and go from there. I usually conceive of the final ending when I’m about three-quarters through the first draft.

Like I said, it isn’t the most efficient method of writing. Many writers work out the plot in an outline before they ever write a line of prose. I’ve never been comfortable with that. I want the first draft to be the first time I write the story. Besides, if a plot twist surprises me, it’s more likely to surprise the reader. Right?

How much do you read, on average?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve averaged fifty novels each year. But this year, I’m trying to slow myself down and read less, but better. I’m trying to alternate reading fun, genre-style novels with classic literature. So I read a Craig Johnson “Walt Longmire” detective novel (which I really enjoyed if you’re keeping track) and then read In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. Right now, I’ve just started Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woof.

Do you like the college prep reading lists?

I think there is a lot of great writing and great thinking in those lists. One could always gain something by read Plato, Dante and Shakespeare. But many of those titles can also be very challenging reads. You really have to work to read and understand James Joyce, Dante, or Chaucer. There’s a danger in making reading so difficult that it is now longer fun. Reading should always be fun. That’s why I’m trying to lighten my load by allowing myself to read some less challenging material.

What are you doing to promote your book?

I’m limited greatly by my budget, but I’m doing the reading tonight and will be at another reading next month. I have a Facebook page for the novel and another for myself and use those, as well as a handful of book-related groups. I am also listed on Goodreads.com and have two ads running, though they haven’t been very effective up to this point.

Next month, I hope to schedule a blog tour, which is the online version of the old book signing tour. For a fee (or a lot of work if you want to set it up yourself) you are set up with a number of book-related blogs. Depending on the blog, they will review the book (also posting the review to Amason and Goodreads), post an interview with the author, or feature a guest post by the author. Whichever they decide, it will increase the book’s visibility and introduce it to people I cannot otherwise reach.

Are you working on a sequel to this novel?

Not actively. Right now, I’m working on a serious of short stories I couldn’t work on over the past year because I was concentrating on writing the novel. But, that being said, I am working ideas about the next novel-length work.

I am also hesitant about diving too deep into a series with the same character. Most authors like series because they take away one of the toughest parts of the job: creating a whole new set of characters with individual tics, problems, and backstories. In a series, the main character (and many of the supporting characters) are already designed, ready to go.

The one problem with a series is, unless it is a murder/police/detective series set in a major city, it starts to stretch disbelief. They really have multiple murders every year in that quiet rural town in Nebraska? I want to avoid that.

How long have you been writing?

In one form or another, since I was in high school. I realized fairly early on that I was easily able to express myself through writing and initially intended to go into journalism as a career, doing my fiction on the side. I first went to University as a journalism student, but quickly realized there was way too much competition for the jobs available. So I turned to English literature and became completely unemployable.

But throughout it all, my long term goal has always been to write fiction: novels and short stories.

So how did you make a living in the mean time?

With whatever I could find. I worked construction for five years in Texas until the oil boom of the eighties crashed. I returned to Oregon and found myself working in restaurants, managing several fast food locations, before switching to full service restaurants, where I worked as a waiter, a cook, and manager.

In 2010, I was able to retire on disability because of deteriorating scoliosis in my back. Since then, I’ve writing as a full-time occupation.

At this point, we needed to wrap things up so the library staff could go home.

It was an interesting, engaging discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nearly as important, because of the flyers the library distributed around town and coverage in the local newspaper many people weren’t in the audience are now aware that I have written a new novel. Perhaps at some point, they will buy a copy.

Oh, I also sold two copies of To Hemlock Run after the event and one copy of Deception Island, the first novel in the Jason Reynolds series. I might have sold more but most of the people at the event already had a copy. They were showing support, which is important.

So, I would say the book launch was a success.

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Marketing, Writing and Editing

Writing: Art Versus Business

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the place art (literary art especially) has in the business world and the power of the market. Because, like it or not, we all live in a system designed by and for business which, for better or worse, view the works we create not as works of art—unique and we hope transcendent—but as just another consumer product. As far as the business world—including all the financial, marketing, and branding machinery it uses—there is no intrinsic difference between the Mona Lisa and a roll of toilet tissue.

Both are products to be marketed and sold to someone.

Yes, writing is a business. So is painting watercolor landscapes, sculpture, music, and film. In each case, someone creates a work and tries to find a receptive market where someone will buy it. To achieve that, the smart artist will research prospective markets, learn the vehicles (media) she can use to reach those markets and then promote (advertise) their work to the best of their ability.

With hard work and some luck, they might be able to scrape a living out of the process. In reality though, very few artists do actually make a living from their chosen art. The success stories are so few and far between as to be the exceptions, rather than the rule.

Why is that? Because art and business are intrinsically different. Because of those differences, the rules of business don’t translate well into the art world. And art doesn’t translate well into the business world.

The primary difference lies in the purpose behind art and the purpose behind business. Art, in whatever its form, is driven by a passion the artist has for the medium and the way he can use it to interpret the world around them. For instance, a poet develops a love for poetry. She studies the masters who have crafter poems before her, practices and learns how to create her own and adopts poetry as the art she uses to interpret the world around her and express her emotion back to that world.

In contrast, the primary purpose behind the businessman is the making of money, of profit. Certainly, the good business person will study the business world just as much as the poet studies poetry, but in a more general way. They might study the financial aspect of business, or the marketing part, or the legal issues, but their commitment is still primarily to the desire to make money. The manner is secondary.

For instance, a man opens a restaurant specializing in hamburgers and fries. He hires good cooks and gives good service. He does okay. But talking to his customers, he notices that many of them would like burritos. Is he so committed to making good burgers that he refuses to add burritos to the menu? Probably not. Because he is not committed to creating and selling burgers. He is committed to making money. If he can do that making hamburgers, fine. If he needs to make burritos as well as hamburgers, then that’s what he will do.

The object of the businessman’s effort is not to sell perfect burgers, it’s to sell whatever the public will buy in order to make a profit.

Substitute the word “poetry” for “hamburgers” and “piano concertos” for “burritos” and you see the difference. Even if the public is clamoring for more piano concertos, the poet doesn’t switch to writing classical music. It isn’t her passion. Poetry is her passion and she will continue to write poetry, whether anyone buys it, or not.

The immediate problem this dichotomy presents is that despite all the study and hard work the poet puts into her craft, she may never sell enough of her poems to pay for having them printed up, much less make a living from them.

This holds true even if the work the artist produces wins contests and accolades from fellow artists, art experts, and scholarly authorities. This is because business is market driven and the market is not terribly smart. The market likes what the market likes. Quality has nothing to do with.

And the market is the only thing the business cares about.

For us writers, this means that publishers don’t care whether you’ve written the most ground-breaking novel of the last hundred years. They care about how many copies you’ll sell. And if they have to make a choice—and they do—they will choose the trashy erotic novel that will sell a million copies, then be quickly forgotten over a masterfully written one that won’t sell every time.

Because business is only concerned with making money.

And Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies will probably outsell 99 percent of all the novels published the same year.

So what do we conclude from this? Primarily, that if you’re hoping to grow rich by writing, especially writing fiction or poetry, you might as well quit right now. Sure, it can happen and I sincerely hope it does. It happened to Stephen King and J.K. Rowling and a handful of others, but they are the exceptions.

If you are going to write, you will be doing it because you love it. You love the form in all its living variations. You love being part of that wide sweep of literary history. You love the process of creating the work. You love seeing your ideas in print and you love the experience of having someone come up to you in a bookstore or coffee shop and tell you how much they loved your work.

It is love that drives you to even attempt to create something like you do. And it is love that is your payment for the work you do. Let that be enough.

Everything else is just business.

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Marketing, Writing advice

The Attention Deficit, Part Three (Fixing it)

Okay, we have decided that we really want to receive more attention for the work we have created. It is what we want and we want it badly enough to do the work necessary. Good. That is the first (and perhaps hardest) part of solving the problem, acknowledging there is one and that it’s important enough to make the effort to correct it.

The next question is how, exactly, do we earn this attention? As distasteful as many may find it, the answer is marketing. (Remember last week when I asked whether we were willing to do whatever it took—distasteful or not—to gain attention for our work? Now it comes home to roost.) The only way to get anyone who doesn’t know you to pay attention to your work is to efficiently and effectively market it to them.

Yes, this means advertising. This means putting you and your work in front of as many potential customers as you possibly can. It means advertising and posting images to social media and signing up to appear at book fairs and signings. In order to gain the public’s attention we have to place our work where they can find it. Right?

But we can do all that and still not gain significant attention. Many of us do. We place memes in social media forums; we buy advertisement in various publications; we do readings and signings and spend hours sitting at book fairs, trying to convince someone to take a chance on our new book and nothing really seems to work. Oh, we sell a few here and there, but in the great scheme of things, no one really notices our work.

Because, at the most basic level, we’re doing it wrong. We’re trying to gain the world’s attention by using an invalid argument.

Think of your favorite car sales person (your favorite successful one anyway). How does she close all those sales? How does she move all those cars?

She probably doesn’t sell many cars by telling the customer who designed it. Nor will she go on about where the car was built, or where the designer went to school. Someone looking to purchase a car honestly doesn’t care about any of that. What they want is safe, dependable transportation that’s pleasing to the eye and practical for their lifestyle. The good salesperson will not waste time trying to sell an Italian sports car to a Wyoming cattle rancher, or a four-wheel-drive one ton pickup to a suburban soccer mom. The sports car is undoubtedly a fine product. So is the pickup truck. They just don’t meet the particular customer’s needs.

The successful sales person matches the customer with the product that best meets their needs. They don’t waste their time trying to sell anything—no matter how good they think it is—to someone who won’t want it.

Why would marketing our books (or paintings, or films, etc.) be any different?

Too much of the time, we (and this includes myself) spend years refining our work, then send it out into the world, expecting people to notice it simply because we did it. That thinking doesn’t work for cars. It won’t work for books.

As authors, we need to identify ways our work may satisfy a need out there in the world and sell that aspect of it. John Smith in Omaha, will have no idea who James Boyle is and really doesn’t care that I wrote a novel. However, John Smith in Omaha is a devout fan of mystery fiction. The fact that James Boyle wrote a mystery novel might just pique his interest.

How do we do this? I would suggest you examine your work and make a list of every aspect and feature you think might be of interest to someone out there. Start out with the big, obvious features like the genre and work your way down to the smallest. The object is not to make a list of everything you will use. It’s to make a list of everything you might possible be able to use.

I made one for my novel Deception Island as an example.

Genre

Mystery/detective/thriller

With some elements of an espionage thriller

Author tie-ins

Gold Beach/coastal Oregon/Oregon/Pacific northwest/United States

Setting

San Juan Islands/Puget Sound Area/Western Washington/Pacific Northwest/United States

Seattle/Western Washington/Pacific Northwest/United States

Protagonist

Male/Investigative Reporter/Print Journalist/U of Washington alum

Antagonist

Greedy Corporation/Security Department/Private Police

Themes and background

Corporate ethics/Unregulated Capitalism/Greed

Secret crimes/historical cover-ups

The internment of Japanese during WWII

The salmon fishing/canning industry in Puget Sound, WA

Life in a small town/life on an island in Puget Sound/maritime life

Returning to your hometown

Police/legal investigation versus journalistic/private investigation

Having to choose between your career and relationship

Good versus evil

Wealth and power versus justice

I was able to compile this list in about a half an hour. Now let’s see how we can boil these down into something we can use to get people to notice Deception Island.

First, of course, is the genre. Most people tend to have their favorite genre and read more of those than anything else. So Deception Island is a detective novel, featuring an investigative journalist against a wealthy and unethical corporation. At its heart, it’s a sometimes violent battle between truth and power.

The second thing that leaps to my eye is Puget Sound in Washington. The story takes place there and therefore much of the story background has to do with the location, culture, and history of the area. So the novel could be of interest to anyone who lives in the area, has visited the area, or is just interested in the area. That includes the history of the salmon fishing industry, the ecology, and what life is like in a small town in the area.

Third, a major feature of the novel has to do with the Japanese interment and how a crime committed during an episode much of the country would like to forget can return to affect lives two generations later. Though all of the novel takes place in modern times, the ties to history are strong and may be of interest to someone fascinated by U.S. history, Pacific Northwest history, World War II, or the history of civil rights.

Probably the weakest feature is the author. There will be a few who would be interested because they know me. There will be a few more who might be interested because of the “local boy makes good” aspect, but I wouldn’t count on such tribalism for much. In the long run, it will drum up more moral support than actual sales.

So now we’ve done our homework. How do we translate that into attention for our work? We use the promotional tools we already have to target those people most likely to find that our work will satisfy their needs.

For instance, were I to have a budget dedicated to buying print advertising in newspapers, I would ignore the larger markets back east, despite their massive readership, and spend most of my money on advertising in the communities around Puget Sound. Say from Vancouver, B.C. in the north, to the Cascades in the east, south to Portland, Oregon, west to the Pacific, and north to Victoria, B.C. This should encompass most of the people with an interest in the area.

I’m not going to try and convince a farmer in Nebraska that he should be reading this novel largely set in and involving issues about Puget Sound. I’m going to try and get people already interested in the Puget Sound area to see my novel as a work that will satisfy that interest.

As authors, as artists, this is what we need to be doing: finding people whose interests may be met by our work and introducing the two. If we are right, and the work does meet the buyer’s needs, they will be pleased. Not only will they recommend the work to others who share their interests, but they will (we hope) be more willing to take a chance on your next work.

And that’s how we start getting the world to pay attention to our work.

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Marketing

The Attention Deficit, Part Two (Or Is This Really What We Want)

Last week, I discussed a few points about the problem artists in general, and writers in particular, have in getting anyone to notice their work. I don’t know whether this is a new problem born of modern, high-tech times, or not. But I know it is a problem for me and anyone else who would like the products of their hard work experienced by a larger slice of the public.

So we have identified the problem: next to no one notices our work when we put it out there in the world. Why is that? Part of the reason for this lies in the nature of the world. It is very, very big with lots of things happening. Our novel, painting, or poetry doesn’t even make a ripple when it is released. People are also very, very busy. In the modern world, a person is bombarded like never before with competing interests all clamoring for a bit of their time.

A third reason for not getting anyone’s attention just could be us.

Us. As in you and me, the creators of the works which are going unnoticed. We could be part of the problem. As in many facets of life, we could be a large part of the problem, our own worst enemy. To find out, we need to ask ourselves some questions. They are often difficult questions, but we need to answer them honestly if we want to get to our desired destination.

(The following was borrowed and adapted from an article by Bryan Hutchinson on the Positive Writer website. Many thanks).

Have you decided that you truly want the world to pay attention to your work?

We have to decide we truly want something before we can attain it. You didn’t write that book because you thought it would be kind of cool to have written a book. You decided you were going to write a book. You worked at it. When you were tired and felt like just camping in front of the television, you turned away and spent that time hunched over the word processor. You decided you were going to do what you needed to do to write a book.

Gaining serious attention for that book is no different. You have to decide you truly want it. Because gaining attention for your art is going to change some things in your life and it’s perfectly acceptable to decide you like your life the way it is. There’s nothing wrong with that. But realize that you have to make the decision.

Are you willing and ready to do the work needed to get that attention?

Gaining attention for your novel or short story collection is going to take some work. (Actually, it’s going to take a lot of work). Millions of people publish every day around the world and most of them capture almost no attention. They haven’t captured yours, have they? This doesn’t mean their work is not good. It could be fantastic. It just means that there is just as much work to do after the work is published as before.

You’ve worked hard perfecting your writing craft and then worked hard at creating a work of art. Now you need to work just as hard to bring it to the world’s attention.

Do you think it’s all about you and your work?

Hate to say this, but it isn’t about you and it isn’t about your work. Not everyone cares about you or what you care about. Only a very few people are going to read your book solely because you wrote it. And you will already know all their names. If you want anyone who doesn’t know you to read your work you are going to have to find good reasons for them to do that and communicate that reason to them. You see, if you want to get some attention from people, it has to be about them. Reading your book has to offer some benefit to them.

So the first thing you have to do is forget about you for the time being and concentrate on your potential readers.

Are you willing to make a difference?

You must be willing to be passionate, willing to make a stand. The world doesn’t pay attention to people who only go halfway, hedge their bets. You must be clear about who you are, what you are writing about and that you truly believe in your work. You must convince them that you truly believe your work is good; you’re not just saying that to get the sale. You must be absolutely ready and willing to make a difference.

The audience doesn’t want to hear from anyone who is not willing to stand for something; they don’t have time for it.

Do you think you and your work deserve the world’s attention?

You’ve worked really hard for five years on this book; you’ve earned the world’s attention, right? Sorry. You no more deserve attention than anyone else. You absolutely do not deserve the attention more than someone who went out and did the work to earn it. The brutal truth is that everyone worked hard on their book and there simply is not enough time to give everyone the same amount of attention.

You have to go out in the world and earn its attention.

Are you afraid of being criticized?

Everyone is afraid of being criticized. It hurts, particularly the occasional, vicious, personal attacks. However, if you create a work that matters and share it with the world, you will receive criticism. It’s inevitable. If you try and hide from the critics, you will be hiding your work from the rest of the world too.

When the hate mail and bad reviews start coming in, welcome them. They are compliments. It means your work mattered enough for them to remark about it. How often do you comment on something that simply doesn’t matter?

Are you riddled with doubt?

Join the club. All artists worth mentioning are filled with doubt. The only people who never doubt themselves are those too blind or ignorant to realize their own limitations. Self-doubt is a good thing.

The only question that’s important here is whether you’re going to let that nagging critical voice in your own head prevent you from achieving your goals.

Okay, now we’ve done some serious soul-searching and decided in our heart-of-hearts that we really want to earn some attention for our writing. It isn’t easy. It involves a skill set every bit as difficult as the craft we had to learn in order to write. Like our writing, it will become a work in progress, much of it learned through trial-and-error. For, as in everything else we do, we often learn more from what doesn’t work than from what does.

Next week we’ll examine some concrete steps we can take to earn the attention we want for our writings.

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Marketing, Writing advice

The Attention Deficit

Recently I stumbled upon a website called Positive Writer, which from my brief visit, seems to be dedicated to helping overcome the discouragement that can so easily overcome those who are trying to make something good out of this writing gig. It’s an admirable project. The culture we live in is not kind to those who attempt to carve their life out of the arts. It is very easy to get discouraged. Even those many of us would consider “successful” find themselves getting discouraged.

I battle discouragement on a regular basis. Personally, I think everyone does (even those who don’t write) because there’s a human desire for more, despite however much we might already have. But it can be worse for writer, painters, musicians, all those who are interesting in learning and perfecting an art.

Part of that is the apprentice period. It can take decades to learn the art form well enough to produce work that is any good. And then, when you do learn your art and produce something you think is pretty good, the culture around us—how do I put this?—doesn’t give a damn. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking the average person on the street couldn’t name a living poet or landscape painter if their life depended on it.

It’s just the nature of the world in which we live.

One of the most frustrating and discouraging part of this gig is when you have finally created something you think is good. Maybe it’s a poem, or a short story, or even a novel; it doesn’t matter. You’ve created it. You’ve revised and re-written it until there is no flab in the manuscript. You send it out and—be still your heart—someone agrees to publish it. This is what you’ve been working for all these years. This is the Promised Land. Right?

But no one even notices. No one pays any attention. The work you worked so hard on and are so proud of dries up and dies of neglect almost as soon as it’s released. You get discouraged. What’s the point of working so hard to produce something beautiful if no one’s going to pay attention? No one that isn’t a blood?

It’s a legitimate question and a valid reason for discouragement. It happens more often than you might think. In fact, I believe it happens with most works produced these days and that is also discouraging.

But perhaps there’s a better question to be asked here. Why in the world should anybody pay attention when I publish a new novel? After all, they don’t know me, do they? Who am I? Yes, I worked very hard on this novel and yes I think it’s pretty good, but doesn’t every author work hard on their novels? Don’t they all think it’s pretty good? Upwards of 200,000 books are published every single year, fiction and nonfiction. Why on earth should anyone pay any attention to mine?

The brutal truth is that there is no reason. The fact that I published a novel called Deception Island warrants no attention at all from Mrs. Mary Smith in Everytown, Iowa. Why should it? It has nothing to do with her. The fact that I published a novel deserves her attention just as much as the slaughter of a goat in a village in Zimbabwe—not at all.

The brutal truth is that most works of art, whether it’s poetry, a novel, a painting, sculpture, or a song, fade away soon after they’re introduced to the world because there is absolutely no reason for anyone besides its creator to pay attention to them. No reason at all.

It can be very, very discouraging. Very discouraging indeed. Especially if your goals are not satisfied solely by the knowledge that you have created this work, or with the praise and/or admiration of your circle of friends.

If your goal is to have everyone in the English-speaking world read your creation, what do you do? How do you overcome this discouraging news?

Well, first off, take a sip of realism, because you’re never going to get every person who speaks English to read your book. It’s impossible. Sorry. Even the Bible—the best selling book of all time—hasn’t been read by everybody. Shoot for a more attainable goal such as being the number one selling book on Amazon. It’s a high target, but completely attainable. Someone has to be number one, after all, why not you?

But how do you do this? How do you make your book a best-seller (or even a good seller) if no one is going to pay attention to it? Well, you can’t. People will not buy your book (or other work of art) if they aren’t paying attention to it.

In order to sell, we first have to get their attention.

But we’ll tackle that next week.

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Marketing

Lessons From a Book Fair (or two)

Some things I have learned from sitting at book fairs over the past few years that help to make them more successful. Or make them less painful anyway.

Bring snacks.

Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a supportive partner or spouse, you are often alone at the table. When the event runs several hours (as most do) and over the lunch hour (as most do) you can’t go get a burger without potentially missing sales. So bring some simple snacks. Dried fruit, nuts, and power bars work well. Though most fairs provide access to some form of drink, it is a good idea to bring something with you. Again, while you’re off getting a coffee, who’s selling your book?

Dress for the weather (if the event is outdoor)

In July, I attended a fair in Pioneer Square, downtown Portland, Oregon. Portland had been sweltering for weeks under triple digit temperatures, so I dressed lightly and brought plenty of liquid. It rained for the first two hours of the event. It was chilly and my light dress shirt offered virtually no warmth. The same works in the opposite way too. Always bring fluid, hats, and sunscreen. Better to have it and not need it, than stand there shivering.

Be ready to answer “What is your book about?”

It is the most common question you will be asked. So be ready and able to answer it quickly and in a succinct manner. The public doesn’t want a treatise; they want a general guide. The professionals call this an “elevator pitch.” Think of riding an elevator when someone asks what your book is about. It should be no more than a sentence or two, providing the customer with everything they need to know, such as genre, setting, targeted age, and anything that might be objectionable. You need to be honest. If a person doesn’t like scary stories, don’t mislead them into buying your horror novel. Not only is it unprofessional, but you will anger them and they will tell everyone they know about it. Bad career move.

Be ready to explain the differences, if you have more than one book.

If you have more than one title, have an elevator pitch for each. But also have a brief sentence explaining the difference between them. In my particular case, I have a horror/fantasy trilogy, but my newest novel is a fairly mainstream detective/mystery novel.

Learn to Judge genuine interest

Like most retail endeavors, most of the people passing by the table are just browsing. Most of the time, when I’m in a bookstore, I’m browsing too. Unless I’m after a particular title, I’m just wandering through, scanning covers until something catches my interest. If the book seller starts hitting me with a hard sell, they are just going to chase me off. So let the browsers browse. Be friendly, but low key. When someone is interested, they will stop. They will ask questions, or read the blurb on the back cover. Then you can try and persuade them to buy.

Be approachable

The entire point of the book fair is that people can come down and meet the author and even have a conversation with them. You need to make that as easy as possible. Be the guy next door who happens to write, not the prima donna artiste. Even if it’s hard, make the customer believe you’re enjoying meeting them.

Have callback material

However good we are, however appealing our written works might be, almost no one can attend a fair with fifty or a hundred authors and by something from every author. Most cannot even afford to buy every title they find interesting. I know I certainly can’t. That’s why experienced authors have lots of marketing giveaways people can take home: bookmarks, postcards, magnets, stickers. Anything with your name and the title of the book can produce a sale next month, or for Christmas five months later. Make it as easy as possible for them to remember you.

Be willing to talk without a sale

Sometimes people come through a book fair for reasons other than to just buy a new book. Sometimes, they are aspiring writers who are hoping for some encouragement from you, one who is more accomplished. Sometimes, they are just interested in your process. Sometimes, your subject matter. So talk to them. It can be interesting. It passes the time, and it earns you good karma. (And it doesn’t hurt if they go home and tell their friends about this cool writer who was willing to spend fifteen minutes talking with them.)

Be patient

Anyone who has ever worked in any kind of retail trade knows one eternal truth. Customers never arrive in an orderly fashion, spread out over the available hours. They tend to come in waves, punctuated by periods of nearly nothing. The same holds for book fairs. There will be long stretches when no one comes by the table. That is to be expected. Many writers bring a novel along to read, or work on their next project in the down times. Others chat with the folks at the next table. But even if you haven’t sold anything for the first four hours, don’t give up. Don’t leave. That person who might think your book is perfect may not show up until ten minutes before the fair closes down. You need to still be there.

Be professional

This ties in to the patience part of this. You are a professional writer. Part of that means you honestly try to produce the best reading experience for the money you can. But there are other facets to being professional. You need to look professional. You don’t need to be wearing a tux, but you need to have not been wearing the same clothes for a week. You need to have showered and brushed your teeth (believe it or not, I have seen writers who haven’t figured this out). As a professional, you also need to be where you say you are going to be. If you advertise that you’ll be signing books from 11:00 am to 3:00pm, you need to be there and ready to sign books promptly at 11:00 and continue to be there until 3:00 or later. In the same vein, if you tell a book fair organizer that you will participate, participate. If an emergency does come up, contact the organizer and explain. They will understand and appreciate the notice. Those who simply do not show up brand themselves as amateurs and flakes.

Public Appearances are PR

Above all, remember that all public appearances—whether book fairs, signings, or readings—are public relations events. This is the chance for the public to the see the person behind the novel, or poetry, or history. Always keep that in mind and try to be the person you would like to see in your favorite author, if you had a chance to meet them.

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Marketing

The “Deception Island” Tour (So Far)

May 20 Gold Beach, Oregon

Book Launch 10:00 to 11:00am

Gold Beach Books, Inc.

29707 Ellensburg Avenue

Gold Beach Or 97444

*****

June 27 Healdsburg, California

An Evening With James Boyle 6:00 to 8:00pm

Healdsburg Center for the Arts

130 Plaza Street

Healdsburg, CA

*****

July 25 Portland, Oregon

7th Annual NW Book Festival 11:00am to 5:00pm

Pioneer Square

Portland OR

*****

August 15 Lincoln City, Oregon

Northwest Author Fair 11:00am to 3:00pm

Bob’s Beach Books

1747 NW Hwy 101

Lincoln City, OR

*****

August 22 Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Art Fair and Farmer’s Market 9:00am to 1:00pm

The Ocean’s Edge

South 1st Street

Rockaway Beach, OR

******

September 26 Florence, OR

Florence Festival of Books 10:00am to 4:00pm

Florence Event Center

715 Quince Street

Florence, OR 97439

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