Sunday, October 23, 2011
Typewriters & Avocados
After 28 books?
People from all corners of your life get that this is what you do...that it's your job. Sort of like they have a job they go to every day, only they don't get to have the celebratory signings like you do. And you'd better get that, too--after the first few books your friends and family shouldn't be expected to prop up your career. (But for the first few, you bet!)
And this is where a new kind of hard work for the author comes in--you've got to solicit press. At least I consider it hard work because I seriously don't enjoy it.
Scratch that, I verge on HATING it.
The nice thing about your publisher springing for a national tour is that the publicity department gets involved in getting your book (and you) print coverage and TV spots and radio interviews. I've been lucky to have been toured many times, so I've seen first hand what a huge job it is for the publicist to coordinate all of this.
The reality, however, is that only a small percentage of authors get toured, so it then falls on the author to do a lot of the publicity. Blog tours have become popular and I think they're a brilliant way for an author to gain some traction--at least on the Web. But for most authors, they start with the local book signings and try to drum up interest in their own backyard, which they hope will be spread by word of mouth to neighboring areas, etc.
So for local signings, it's up to the author to contact the newspapers and the TV stations and get them to run a story on your new book and signing--preferably before the signing so people know about it and show up.
And that's the key--if people show up, your signing is successful and the bookstore will be happy to have you back. If nobody shows up and the book store has ordered in a good quantity of your book...well they won't volunteer this information, but those extra books are going to be returned to the publisher and the book store will be more wary about having you back for another signing.
So it's your job to get the word out to people who are a) not related to you, and b) not your core group of friends, but instead c) your fan base or newcomers who may truly be interested in what it is you've written.
This means you have to...
1) write a compelling press release--one page or less
2) get a good digital photo of your book jacket
3) get in touch with the right people at the various media outlets.
4) follow up without being a pest.
Per #3: If there's someone at a particular outlet that you've worked with over the years, this can be fun. Usually, however, it's someone who's worked there less than a year, is overworked, and has no clue who you are.
Per #4: This can be a real balancing act. Me, I'd rather just step down from the rope.
There are lots of publications about how to go about doing this whole press thing, and my point here isn't to go into all the how-to's of it, but more to explain that this is part of being an author--something you don't really think about before your first book comes out. And if you're okay with the inevitable mistakes and misrepresentations that seem to go hand-in-hand with news coverage; if after a dozen books—or two dozen— you don’t mind answering, “So, what got you into writing?” from someone who hasn’t read a word of what you’ve written, then maybe you won't mind it.
What keeps me trying is that in the end, people show up. This weekend I saw some old friends, some familiar faces, and some new people. People who are crazy for Sammy Keyes. People who have read every book I've written. People who already knew what got me into writing and just want me to assure them I'll keep doing it. People who were moved by a book and want to just shake my hand and thank me. People who heard I stuck with it through ten years of rejections and want me to know that they're on their fifth year and hanging in there. People who were students of mine, or the parents of students of mine. People who bring pictures of their kids and grandkids and share a memory of how a book of mine has bonded their family.
And then there are the people who bring things. Sometimes flowers, sometimes letters, sometimes drawings.
Sometimes just an excited hug.
At this weekend's signings I received all of those things, plus some avocados.
I love avocados.
But the coolest gift I received was a fat black ring of skeleton keyes.
The ring is big enough to fit over my hand, and if you've already read Night of Skulls you understand the dual significance of this gift.
The coolest thing I signed was a typewriter.
When I do school visits my policy is to only sign books because if I stray from that pretty soon I'm signing foreheads and shoes. I just tell the students that if I do one scrap I have to be fair and do everyone's scrap, so I can't do any scraps. Or body parts.
But at public book signings I'm okay with signing other things. I did a few autograph books and three casts this weekend (2 were purple). I'd have signed a pumpkin if someone had brought one in.
Instead, a writer brought in an ancient typewriter--one he's had some of his favorite authors sign, most notably Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury's book Dandelion Wine is what inspired me to write my first published work--How I Survived Being A Girl. So the idea that my name is signed on the same typewriter as Ray Bradbury’s is, to me, awesome. (And that this writer wanted my name to be signed on the same typewriter as Ray Bradbury is double awesome!) My autograph's on the side, which you can't see in the picture I posted...but it's there!
So this is a long and sorta rambling way of saying that sometimes parts of our jobs require us to do things we would rather not, but if we make ourselves do them anyway, the net result can make it worth the effort.
I've got the hugs and the avocados and the keys…and a picture of an awesome typewriter to prove it.