As I indicated in my first post, I am entering an unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable world of self-promotion with the publication of my first novel. Publishers these days don’t have the resources to sink a lot of money into promoting untested authors, so the majority of my book’s publicity therefore falls on my shoulders.
This is daunting in several ways. First of all, I have never taken anything remotely resembling a business or marketing course. Secondly, having to get out there and push a product, no matter how wonderful I think it is, goes against the grain. I don’t want to impose. I even hated selling Girls Scout cookies, and who doesn’t love thin mints?
But as my publisher explained to me, book marketing is like dropping pebbles in a pond and watching the ripples spread outward from the center until they cover the entire pond. It’s like that old shampoo commercial: “You tell two friends, and they’ll two friends, and so on, and so on . . .”
So, yesterday I took a deep breath and cast a pebble. Packing up a box full of hardcovers, a box full of softcovers, my easel and book poster, a handful of postcards and bookmarks, I headed downtown to a little bookstore/bistro combo to set up shop. The manager had graciously agreed to let me do a book signing there, but I had grown increasingly apprehensive as the day approached and there was still no mention of my event on their website or Facebook page.
And when I walked in, it was obvious by the blank looks on their faces that they weren’t expecting me.
Me: “Hello, I’m here to do a book signing. Is the manager here?”
The girl behind the counter looked a little flustered. “No, she’s off today, but she did mention that you were coming.” (Big sigh of relief!) She went on to explain that a new owner had taken over only two days before, thus explaining the lack of publicity for my event. So far, things weren’t starting off very well.
In between making crepes for customers, the girl behind the counter helped me set up a couple of tables near the entrance and there I camped out for a while. Right off the bat, someone came along and helped reduce my inventory—with the purchase of a hardcover, no less! Things were looking up!
After that came a dry spell. However, I did have a pleasant conversation with a lady who was chowing down on one of those crepes, and when she found out I was a former psychotherapist, proceeded to tell me all about her recurring dreams, to which I responded by telling her about my recurrent anxiety-driven tornado dream, experienced the previous night, no doubt in anticipation of the charm I would need to summon to sustain me through the day.
During another lull in the action, I spied two high school girls waiting in line to order their food. Ah, my target audience! Immediately, I zipped over to them and introduced myself. “Hey, I’ve written a book about a teenage girl who has an amazing adventure in another world,” I blurted out. Instead of looking at me like I had two heads, they were sweet enough to indulge me, checking out my book and then purchasing one! The success emboldened me.
It was a gorgeous fall day and unseasonably warm. Right around noon the shopkeepers opened up the big sliding doors and let me sit in front so that I could accost not only their patrons but also anyone walking by on the sidewalk. And there were a lot of people downtown on such a beautiful day. I felt like a broken record: “Hi! I’m having a book signing today!” I announced as people walked by, some of them muttering a polite “no thanks, not today” before hurrying off. Talk about stepping out of my comfort zone!
Yet some actually stopped to check out my book. I met a teacher in a Catholic school who loves to find books to recommend to her female students, book club members out looking for a new book to read, and other writers, both published and unpublished, who offered an understanding ear.
Somewhere along the way, the new owner of the bookstore/bistro, a man with a thick French accent, emerged from behind the counter to apologize for the mix-up about my book signing publicity and to offer me a crepe. It turned out to be the best crepe I’ve ever put in my mouth. I even put the shameless self-promotion on hold to devour it. Apology accepted!
Six hours later, I had sold 13 books. This might not seem like a lot, but in actuality I handed out many more postcards and bookmarks to people who had some degree of interest. If you cast your net into the water enough, eventually you’ll catch a fish.
Not that I’m comparing my fans to fish, mind you.
Or, to complete the “pebble” analogy, my ripple just got a little bigger.