You’ve written your book. You’ve put it through rigorous editing and gone through all the hoops needed to get it published.
Putting “The End” on a novel does not mean the process is finished. You’ve written an amazing story, but unless you shout that news from the top of the bell tower in the town square, no one’s going to know about it, unless they stumble upon it while browsing through Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s catalog.
That’s no way to make a living.
I’m by no means rolling in dough from my books, but I’ve slowly been trying to get out into the public eye. One method has been by using social media to meet other readers and authors. The other has been to set up a table or booth at events and reach people in person.
The first method is easy. The second one takes a little work.
My first three novels started out strictly as e-books, so I didn’t immediately jump into holding public events. It wasn’t until I put my first novel into print in 2010 that I decided to start putting myself out there as an author. I was living near Lake Powell at the time, and I convinced the director of the local library to let me hold a book signing at the library. I planned a talk, ordered 150 books from the company I’d set up a print deal with and was ready to step into the spotlight.
It was a spectacular failure. A couple of friends showed up, and no one bought a book.
I didn’t try again for a couple of years, opting to stick with online exposure via a web site and social media. I decided to give public events a try, this time with the Pride Alive festival in Green Bay. It seemed like the perfect idea, as the lead characters in my book are gay men. What better way to build an audience than to pitch the book to people who were similar to my protagonists?
The 2013 festival had a happier ending than that library event almost three years earlier. While I didn’t have a line of people wanting to comb through my book, a few shelled out cash to buy my sweat and tears. I even had one guy take a chance and buy all three books in the A Cure For Hunger trilogy. The one snag I found was that a couple of people wanted to buy books but did not have cash, and I didn’t have any way to process credit cards.
I decided to make a return trip in 2014, thinking that I can continue to build the momentum. I had obtained a Square credit card reader that would allow my cell phone to be a cash register so I didn’t turn any potential customers away, so I was ready for a better year.
Then reality backhanded me. I only had one person decide to buy a book—paying cash—and so I didn’t make back the fee I paid for a booth. That would have been fine, as I managed to get one paying customer and gave out business cards with my website to other people. However, the end of the day turned into an unpleasant confrontation with festival officials that made me decide that trying to cater mainly to the gay community was a strategy doomed to failure.
(One more funny note about the 2014 Pride Alive: I had a rather militant lesbian say that I should be writing about women, not men, as there are more women in the world. I just left that idea on the grass where it belonged.)
The stinging failure made me ponder where else to go to hype up my books. In early 2015, I found out the Shawano City-County Library was organizing an “Afternoon With the Authors,” allowing local authors to sell their books. It was like gift-wrapped publicity, and so I immediately signed up. There was no set-up fee like there was with Pride Alive, so any books I sold would equal pure profit. I sold some more books, in spite of being one of more than a dozen folks lobbying for people’s attention.
I decided to do it again in 2016, but that was less successful due to the event being scheduled in January, the smelly armpit of winter, instead of April, when people were more willing to be out and about. The 2016 Afternoon resulted in the authors mainly staring at one another.
However, the Shawano library was not my only event in 2015. The Byng Community Theatre in Abrams was holding its first art, craft and vendor fair, so I decided to give it a whirl, eager to continue to expand my audience. Despite neglecting to get a tent for my booth and getting sunburned, I sold a few books and made a few new friends.
I did it again in 2016 and found it to be less successful, like with the library. However, that was due to rain. Yes, it’s challenging to get people to come out and buy your books when Mother Nature is trying to waterboard you.
I had the opposite experience with the Rhubarb Festival in Shawano. I was invited to sell my books at the 2015 festival, but was put inside the visitor center, where the only folks who came in were looking for restrooms. I hadn’t planned to do the festival again but was told I would be outside with all of the other festival activities, ergo more visible. In this case, 2016 was better than 2015.
I added one more event in 2016—the Shawano Folk Music Festival. The added twist was that this festival was two days, while all my previous efforts were at one-day events. You wouldn’t think that people coming to a festival geared toward music would be remotely interested in buying books at said festival. Au contraire. It wound up being my best success yet, and do you remember the Square card reader I bought for Pride Alive. I finally got to use it at this festival, more than two years after I got it
This year, I’m going to branch out again with my biggest attempt at self-marketing yet. A new book and author festival, UntitledTown, is starting up in Green Bay, and I’ll be conducting a writing workshop on the last day. In other words, I’m going to be responsible for helping aspiring writers hone their craft. For anyone interested in joining the party, UntitledTown runs from April 28-30, with my workshop taking place at 9 a.m. on April 30 at the Brown County Library, 515 Pine St. in Green Bay. To find out more about the festival, you can check out www.untitledtown.org.
Before I do that, though, I’m going to be making my third appearance with Afternoon With the Authors. The planners have wisely decided to return the event to an April date, and there is going to be an additional perk. Besides authors sitting at tables with stacks of books, some of the authors will be able to conduct readings of their work, which means—seven years after the spectacular failure in Arizona—I’ll actually get to read my books before an audience not exclusively consisting of other writers. The Afternoon With the Authors will be 3-6 p.m. April 10 at the Shawano City-County Library, 128 S. Sawyer St., Shawano.
It’s hard work writing a book. It’s hard work getting it prepared for publishing. However, if you’re not prepared to work harder still and let people know about your work, you’re not going to be able to share your vision, your imagination beyond the confines of your home. It’s taken a while to build up a fan base, but it’s there, and I hope it grows in the years to come.