Book marketing – It’s not always about sales

Photo by Larry Baker's wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls in 2009.

Now what?

Author Larry Baker (The Flamingo Rising, A Good Man and others) posted this picture to his Facebook page this week, and I laughed. It captures a fear most authors harbor: ‘What if nobody comes?’

It’s not a groundless fear. It happened to me this week. I spend considerable time in advance of events to help ensure their success. But what I can’t do is guarantee people will come.

Over the past week I participated in six events to market my novel Go Away Home: a writing conference, two bookstores signings, a gift store signing, and two library book talks. The marketing side of the writing life.

Here’s an abbreviated look at how I promote and work events.

Bring my own audience - The event host isn’t the only one responsible for getting people to come. Authors need to work their own contacts, too. I use email marketing and social media to generate interest. A ‘save the date’ mailing three weeks in advance, and a reminder three days ahead of the event. I create Facebook events and invite. I tweet. Results of this effort reinforce the importance of using many ways of reaching people: At one book store event, all but one person came as a result of my email campaign. At one library event, none of my contacts came.

Alert media - I sent news releases to media in each town. To the best of my knowledge, none picked up the news for these events. I’ll keep doing this, though, because particularly in smaller towns, I’ve seen terrific pick up.

Stand and deliver - Even though I could sit down, I communicate enthusiasm by standing. I smile and make eye contact, then I ask anyone who meets my gaze if I can tell them about my books. Most will say yes. I pitch my book in 30 seconds or less. Once I’ve given the pitch, I ask questions to keep the person engaged. I put a book in their hands as we talk.

One of my events was in a gift store that also served lunch. The owner had me set up at a table at the edge of the lunch area. I took my books to the tables as guests waited for their food to be delivered. I kept this pitch very short and made sure not to overstay my welcome. An idea for next time: Create table tents to alert people I’m there and to keep my books in front of them as they eat.

Be flexible - I was on the road mainly to market my new novel, but at one library, the book discussion group had just read my memoir and that’s what they wanted to talk about. So we did. I included messages about my novel when it was relevant.

What if no one shows? In spite of all my efforts, at one library, that worst-case scenario happened. I was all set up and the audience didn’t show. I felt worse for the librarian than for myself. She’d done a lot to get the word out, but for who knows how many reasons, no one came.

I’d whiled away a half hour on my own, then a miracle. One young girl walked in the door. Turns out she was the librarian’s daughter. I learned she’d written a story and in that small town, she had found no writing support. We talked one-on-one about what she was writing. How she could get support from her teachers. How she might engage her classmates.

At that library, I didn’t sell any books. I didn’t share the story of my novel or my memoir. But I did something more important. I encouraged another writer.

Now that I’m back at home, feet up, glass of wine in hand, reflecting on the week, I count all the events a success. Everything that happened is part of the writing life. I reconnected with friends. I made new friends. I sold quite a few books. And I encouraged another writer.

That last achievement? Priceless.

* Photo by Larry Baker’s wife, Ginger Russell, at an appearance in Cedar Falls – 2009.

How much of historical fiction is history?

Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard FlanaganThe 2014 Man Booker Prize winner was announced this past week. The accolades judging panel chair A.C. Grayling heaped on Richard Flanagan‘s WWII-era novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, included this seemingly odd comment:

Historical fiction is not history.

The comment seems odd because by definition, historical fiction is about history. Or is it? Grayling’s comments raised intriguing questions: Is the story more important in historical fiction? Or the history?

Every writer of historical fiction makes choices about what and how much historical detail to include. I know I wrestled with this question as I wrote Go Away Home. Two historical novels I read this month demonstrated the broad history-to-story spectrum authors can explore.

a-time-of-traitors, David LawlorA Time of Traitors is David Lawlor‘s third novel featuring Liam Mannion, a young Irishman who fought in the Great War and then returned to Ireland and became active in the Irish war for independence in the 1920s. Lawlor’s books are fast-paced action stories featuring vivid characters and strong plot lines. Twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat, totally engaged because I cared about the characters and what happened to them. Oh yes, I also learned a lot about the IRA and the fight for independence.

A Time of Traitors will appeal to readers who enjoy action adventure. They’ll learn about Irish history without realizing it’s happening.

Ambitious Madam Bonapart, Ruth Hull ChatlienIn The Ambitious Madam Bonaparte, author Ruth Hull Chatlain goes to the other end of the spectrum. Historical details abound – clothing, furniture, modes of travel, historical figures in government, design of cities, architecture. Chatlain’s research is meticulous. Characters and story line take a back seat to descriptions laden with historical details.

The Ambitious Madam Bonaparte may appeal to readers more interested in 18th – 19th Century history than the characters around which the story is built.

Fortunately for us authors, there are readers for all types of novels.

How do you react to the comment: “Historical fiction is not history?” If you write historical fiction, how do you balance telling the story with telling the history? As a reader what do you expect?

NOTE: A.C. Grayling’s comments were included in an article in the Daily Mail. His comments add nuance to the quote I pulled out for this post.

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