Most writers—and this applies especially to children’s writers—are pretty good at paying it forward. Because of the nature of our business, we tend to be very aware of how serendipity and luck factor in to our success. Most of us have been helped in some way by some writer somewhere who shared a tip, wrote a great how-to book, taught a class, or made an introduction. And while the idea of networking gives me a bad case of the collywobbles, saying thank you to people who have touched my writing life in some way feels very doable. In fact, good manners demands it.
So when I find myself trapped in an elevator or standing in the buffet line with a conference speaker, I realize Fate is giving me a perfect opportunity to say thank you. I shove my aforementioned collywobbles aside and force myself to let them know how fascinating, helpful, or insightful I found their talk. They are usually glad to hear it. Sometimes, more small conversation may ensue, or it may not. But either way I have made the effort to express my appreciation. I have also not asked for anything back, which is my preferred method of networking. Actually, it's about the only way I can deal with it.
I try to use this same approach with any “marketing” I do with my books. I am full of genuine gratitude for every librarian or bookseller that has ever handed one of my books to a child. I have nothing but admiration for those parents who scour bookstore shelves and review sites, looking for books that will delight their young, emerging readers. And I am absolutely beholden to any reader, young or old, who invests a few hours of their life in my books.
So I look for ways to express that gratitude. I am pretty much a sucker for anyone who asks for book donations,* and very rarely worry that it’s a con. People who are con artists have much bigger fish to fry than trying to snag a copy of my midlist title. And even if their intentions aren’t sincere, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they are willing to risk their personal integrity in pursuit of a free book, then I am more than willing to give them that free book. The rest is between them and their conscience. Plus, you just never know where or in whose hands that book will end up.
Not every author will agree with this approach, but I’ve been known to donate the majority of my author’s copies to libraries or schools around the country, as a form of karmic viral marketing. My goal is to attract readers, and I can’t do that if no one has ever heard of the book. And extra copies sitting on my home bookshelf aren’t really helping the cause.
So if you’re staring at your stack of author’s copies, feeling guilty because you haven’t used those to promote yourself effectively, consider donating them to school or public libraries around the country. More than ever, these vital institutions are strapped for funds, and it will be a way to get your name and title in front of those with buying power. Your kind gesture may just garner you a sale when your next book comes out. And if not, you at least know it’s being read, which is the whole point, really.
So think about it, anyway. It’s painless, it’s easy, and it makes you feel good afterwards.
*This confession may rise up and bite me on the backside if I suddenly end up on scammer's lists nationwide.