Sunday, October 23, 2011

Typewriters & Avocados

I know that a lot of people who visit this blog are aspiring writers, and I think one of those Dream Moments in an aspiring writer's mind is The Book Signing. It's a moment where you finally get to share the physical result of years of work (and, likely, even more years of pressing on through the daunting weight of rejections).

Your first book signing will be a big celebration that your friends and family are excited to attend and that your local media will be happy to support. Getting your first book published is a huge deal and people from all corners of your life get that, and get behind that.

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.

Whoops! Keys.

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.

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.


bookworm said...

first to comment... :D

I was slightly confused when you posted a picture of a typewriter.... I thought you were going to give us a lecture on the history of the typewriter to computers. :D I should have known better......... you are WAY less predictable than THAT. ;)
Then I saw the signatures, and I did a mental "huh?"
So I kept on reading.
This was a pretty cool post, Wendelin. Thanks for always giving me something to look forward to on Mondays when I return to the tortures of school. :)

I wish you could come down somewhere in south Florida (or Miami......... :D), but I understand we're a little far off the maps from California.

I keep reminding myself that, but it's getting harder..........

:) A Sammy lover.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Good morning Bookworm! Thanks for the chuckle--no lecture from me! I thought the typewriter was really cool, and it was interesting that it didn't separate from its case.

Random House has toured me in Florida before, so there's always that future possibility. Have a good day!

I Love 2 Read 26 said...

Hi! I just actually got a blog like yestarday, but I have been looking at your blog for a while. Mostly because I LOVE Sammy Keyes!!! I read Sammy Keyes and the Night of Skulls in like 5 days. It would of been like 4 hours but I have school and homework :( But it was AMAZING! I like it when you include Sammy's friends in there, especially Casey ;) I also really like Holly she is an amazing friend. I also like what happened to Marissa and Billy(that is all I will say so I don't give anything away to people who haven't read it...)
I have a cool idea for a Sammy book- like maybe after the last one, you write one about when they are older like when everyone is getting married and what not. You know we all know Sammmy and Casey will get married lol ;) That wedding would be down right hilarious!! It would be really cool to see how far everyone has come! well this is really long... so bye! and you are an awesome writer! :D

Eleanor said...

it was so cool to get to see you at the book signing, but i didn't bring my typewriter, just my book :)

Ryan said...

This has absolutely nothing to do with typewriters or avocados, but I just saw an article at about a girl who likes to run cross country but went blind. Apparently, most blind people don't run cross country very much, but she got herself a dog to guide her.

And I'm reading this thinking, "Wow--this sounds just like The Running Dream!" Except, of course, in The Running Dream she loses a leg rather than her sight, but still.... If there was ever an inspiring sequel, this is it!

And her name? Sami! Coincidence? Hmmm.... Spelled differently than Sammy, but kind of spooky anyhow! =)

-- Ryan

Anonymous said...

i've always wanted to see my favorite authors on tour and have them sign (well, my books, obviously :D) my scrapbook. i keep a different scrapbook for every year, so that would be a really cool momento, right? or my Nook... but sadly, my favorite authors never come to the northeast. or if they do, its too NYC, which is 4 hours away from New Hampshire. if only authors came to Boston more... (only 40 minutes from my house)
AHHHHHHHHHHH WENDELIN so my mom got me Night of Skulls yesterday afternoon. i started it at 10:30pm (i know, NOTTT the best time to start a book) and i just HADDD to stay up until 1:30am reading it- i finished it and it was SOOOOO FREAKING GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!! like, AHHHHHH!!!!! first of all, casey=amazing, sammy+casey=love/unstoppable. enough said. THENNN i absolutely LOVEEDDDD your final words of the book. i feel the exact same way as sammy at this point in my life and those words at the end were really comforting for a book whose themes/story line i wasn't very comfortable with. thank you so much for all the fabulous writing you do!!!!!!
also, i just need to say that your writing style and the personalities and HUMOR in your writing is brilliant. page 122=me dying of laughter in my bed, trying to be quiet so my mom doesn't hear me completely cracking up :) and pages 147 and 216 are the cutest pages EVERRRR- well, except for pages 289 in Wedding Crasher, and in Dead Giveaway when they're dancing to "Waiting for the Rain to Fall" :D and lots more after that haha :)
ANYWAY sorry to keep you, so please!! go!!! take a break!!! do something not involved with writing, caused you earned some time off!! see the sun!! or snow, which is what it outside my window right now- crazy right?! snow in October!! even thats early for NH!!!

Unknown said...

I think the fear of rejection is a big hurdle I need to get over. It stops my forward motion on my stories and makes me second guess myself. That is why reading your posts and encouragements are so important to me and probably many others. It is definately out of my comfort zone to do what you said for publicity but one day I hope I have to do just that.

Thank you for being here to encourage and help us all.

Jessica said...

Hello, Wendelin we really like your book "Flipped". If you could please email us or reply to this comment it would be great!
Our email is: thats our teacher. Thanks. :)

Jinnyd said...

Typewriters are the coolest writing tools EVER!

What kind of press do you think is the most successful (Internet, signings, wearing sandwich boards, TV, newpaper, etc.)? Does it change with the kind of book/author, or is it more universal?

And have you ever been to Minnesota? :-D Just wondering...

I can't wait to read Night of Skulls!!! Even though it will be really weird knowing that I'm older than Casey and Billy. And Sammy! I suffered some of this same shock when I suddenly realized that I was older than Arthur (from the PBS Kids show. good times!).

Yusa said...

Im still waiting for the library to get night of the skulls. Im dying here! Anyways wendelin do u remeber all the schools uve visited? My school is gold river discovery center aka GRDC and i rwally want u top come here. Its in sacramento california. Me and my BFF are really waiting to read night of the skulls so until then ....