Nightmare, great experience, or both?

OK. Book has been published. These days I am not sure what that means. There are somewhere in the range of 100,000 brand new novels produced each year in the U.S. alone. That’s 333 a DAY. For those few lucky enough to have a well funded publisher, or endless deep pockets, or previous best sellers, their new books are almost automatically picked up by bookstores everywhere. But for the rest of us, and boy am I in that group, the struggle is, I am learning, being noticed. How do you get noticed among the blizzard of alternatives?

One thing to increase visibility is a giveaway. My publisher is doing that for Strong Heart May 30 through June 3, any Kindle download will be FREE, with hopes enough people grab it to bump its sales figures enough to appear on everyone’s searches in the hope it then starts selling at its list price of $ 4.99.  Maybe this will work, start something viral. That’s the great hope – something, somewhere, takes your book viral, a function of luck and timing and grace – because we authors cannot do much one person at a time face to face.

Yet….that’s what I am doing, now. Driving to bookstores, introducing myself, saying, here’s a copy, read it, or have someone on your staff read it, and if you like it order some for sale. Or take a few more on consignment. And here’s a couple fliers about the book, me, and some reviews, which are all terrific, by the way. I am going to Indie stores, one at a time. They are kind with me, at times very supportive, at other times the key person isn’t there and I need to come back, and I have already learned that while those of us who try to write are mostly crazy and in a hopeless chase, it is the bookstore owner who is the true hero, the real person of courage, because if a writer’s task seems hopeless, the bookseller’s seems twice as hard. Which book will sell? That’s a function of reputation, name recognition (I have zero of both), the cover and whether it draws people, the words on the back, and the general…feel. If the book is placed on a shelf, spine out, there is not much to see, but it’s a struggle to get the space to display the whole cover, even have something about the author or reviews. That’s my challenge – to get noticed then to get someone to decide this puppy will move. And it’s done one person and store at a time.

I am encouraged, though. The local Mailbox place in Ballard, where we do our mail, a small shop which also sells cards and knick-knacks, and occasional books, saw me mailing all these books out to reviewers and offered to place my book for sale. So I did, on consignment, this is a place that is not a bookstore, the customers are there for mail, not for books, and furthermore other books they had tried had not sold at all, and so the book was placed there on the counter, just the cover and behind it a sheet with some of my reviews, and the damn thing has been selling, about one copy a week. Something must be right, but still, the challenge, is, get the book in places where people will see it. And that means, bookstores.

The Pacific Northwest is pretty big. My car has 146,000 miles on it, a 17 year old Toyota I plan to drive until it has become a precious antique, and what I am doing these days is driving hither and yon and stopping at independent stores and making my pitch. I have the sense there is a stream of authors like me doing this, every day, but perhaps not. I do know from one store that they get 20 to 30 asks a week for readings and displays. I think most of those are via email.

I am in the mind of many now old. How the hell did I reach 70? Old school, me, a computer dinosaur, an old car, raised on the rules of personal contact and reaching people one person at a time, and having something worthwhile to offer if I am taking their time. That is hard, for something I saw appear beneath my hands, this book, but I carry my publisher’s faith and enjoyment of the tale, and the reactions of my readers, for the courage to walk in and say, “Hi, I’m an author and I’d like to convince you to sell my book here.”

This odyssey, the bookstore tour, started a couple weeks ago and continues. Maybe you’ll see me rattling down a northwest road somewhere, this now-retired guy, spending his time as a peddler, flogging his tale. Lotta driving, and to some surely a nightmare, but bookstore owners and workers are great people, fun to talk to, and their stores tend to be in pretty interesting communities. In between these road trips there are some local readings, and a library convention in Idaho in August for Pacific Northwest libraries I plan to attend, and then there the Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association event this fall. Plus, there are a few planned hikes, including one to take in the total eclipse of the sun August 21 deep in the Olympics, so maybe all this isn’t such a nightmare after all….

Everything relies on my humble chariot here….



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