Monday, September 17, 2007

Ms. Viola on Marketing your First Book

Dear Ms. Viola,

I happened upon the Shrinking Violet site today while frantically googling/searching/sweating to find a magic wand with which to help me promote my young adult fiction book. My small publisher (his company, not his stature) would like me to take the dreaded "local author" approach with bookstores around my area. I am terrified at the prospect. Is it okay for me to place a blonde wig on my 260-pound husband and have HIM do it? He is an extrovert. He is not afraid of anything (except snakes) and I think he could fit into my grandma's old dress. He could plug the book, show up for the book signings and I could stay at home in my office where I belong. If you don't think this would fly, what advice would you/could you give me to help me approach these places and still keep my hair from falling out....more?

Karen Chicken Livers Laven


Dear Karen,

Thank GOD you've contacted me! Your sign-off reminded me that I have the most superb Chicken Liver Canape recipe that I've been mad to try. Hilary is dropping by my loft this weekend for a strategizing session. The canapes will be brilliant with a peppery little California Zin. And just between us girls, Hil is having a bit of an issue with the hair dropsy as well. More on that later.

First off, lovey, we need a whole new spin on what you're calling the "dreaded local author approach." Sounds like a nasty plague. Let's turn that on it's arse, shall we, Karen? Change your language, change your world.

I feel certain JFK wouldn't mind at all if we borrowed his famous "Ask not..." charge and gave it a quick makeover: Ask not what your bookseller can do for you, but what YOU can do for your bookseller.

One can only assume, Karen, that you have written a book that you adore, and you want to share it. It is your gift to your community. They would be silly eejits not to claim you! (Can you tell I'm just in from a lovely country week in County Wexford?) . Booksellers want to sell books. See how this is a chummy little win-win? You and your booksellers want the same thing. It's even what your shorty pants publisher wants!

Robin posted a bloody marvelous blog from some booksellers recently that bears this awfully important truth home. You needn't go jelly-kneed about approaching them if remember that you are coming to help them, not coming to ask them to work for you. You must be madly creative to have written this book, so leverage darling, leverage! Make that work for you! What genuis way can you come up with to help get your book out there and moving?

Here's an idea from the top of my shiny raven locks. (No dropsy here!) On the day or week your book comes out, you might want to go to your local indie and take some cookies or tea (or canapes) for the staff, and host a drawing for three or five free books or ARCs. You could set up a lovely display near the counter, even just drop it off. Patrons could simply drop their business card or name and number in the bowl. It's easy peasy for the staff, plus they get treats. You get off the hook. You create a buzz. Local Author. New Book. Contest. Repeat by all the stores you can hit in a day, or a week.

Take a few moments to pat yourself silly on the back and drive to your local library and high school. Donate a signed copy and leave a treat for the hardworking librarian(s). Nothing too sticky, mind you. Those girls are militant about that.

And, buddy up, lovey! Who else might you know that has a book coming out at the same time? What might the two of you be able to do together?

All right now, all you Violet and Vinnies out there. I want to hear from every single one of you on Karen's behalf. What ideas do you have for the poor lamb? While I do relish the idea of her husband in her grandma's knickers and a blonde wig, I don't want Karen one single moment of joy that a book launching brings. You're about to birth this delicious baby, please don't let your self miss out on any of the celebration.

Love and hugs,

Ms. Viola


Mary Hershey said...

Ms. Viola forgot to mention this, but-- Karen, will you send me your mailing address off-line so I can send you your very own Shrinking Violet mug?

Congrats, and keep us posted about your launch plans!

Mary Hershey

Anonymous said...

Is it just approaching bookstores that make you nervous, or crowds in general? Because that would make me nervous, too. But if you're okay with crowds, you might try local book fairs or, now that the holiday season is coming up, try to get a table at little shopping boutiques that pop up.

Anonymous said...

I think it is important to remember that introversion doesn't mean you can't ease yourself into doing public events, especially over time and with steady practice. Some very introverted authors are very good in public and without 'acting' extroverted in any way.

I went from real panic attack type terror over the smallest things, to doing speaking w/o problems over the course of a few years just from sheer repeat experience, building from small events to bigger events. I realized I had spent my life avoiding anything public, meaning I never got ANY experience, so my fears had nothing positive to counter them with. My advice would be to start small: even just making a point to talk to book store owners or librarians about your book is good practice. That is a real start, just approaching people and chatting. See: I really do mean start small.

If you are thinking "oh, she is not as bad as me" - all I can say is that for my first local signing, I had panic attacks for a month leading up into it and got in a small accident on my way and felt like I was throwing myself into a pit of psychological doom. I have LOTS of examples like that. Once I built up to it, school visits turned out to be very helpful in making me feel more and more confident in front of groups. It sounds unbelievable now, but it gets easier, not harder. I went from crying before signings to doing public talks without even a butterfly, and I am completely shocked by this and so are my friends.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Thanks for your great comment, Anon! What you say is very, very true. I find it does get easier and easier, just like any newly acquired skill. Being an introvert does not mean that skill can't be acquired, and that's a really important thing for us all to keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

Mary, Celise, Anonymous and Robin:

Thank you SO MUCH for your words of wisdom!! (That comes directly from my manly, "my head is too big for that damn wig, but, yeah, the dress fits..." husband.) If I could get a handle on the "wis" instead of the "dumb," I would be so much better off. I know what you are saying is true; ironically, because I've done it/lived it in the past. We moved to a new state, away from family/friends (I wrote feature articles for a local newspaper there), and I am right back to the old, scared me. I can't believe how mad I am at myself. I have done (sort of) what I'd promised my publisher before he took on my book (it's so much easier when you think it won't actually happen...) but it has, truly freaked me out. Today, it took me four hours to return a call from a local reporter. Four, basically wasted hours. I didn't work, I didn't fold towels, I didn't vacuum, I just chastised myself for not returning his call immediately...for FOUR hours. Wow. Anyway, I had assumed if I heard anything back it would be via email. After all, I had e-mailed his editor (LORD, I love is my lifeline) to tell them about an upcoming book signing and to see if they would like to interview me about that/the book. When I did call him back, said reporter was great, and now he is coming to our home -- this Thursday morning -- to interview me/take some photos. So, what do I think/feel with this news? Oh my heavens... not only do I have to look semi-not-deceased for this guy at 9-ish in the a.m., my HOUSE has to be clean, too! And what about my shaking hands? What was I thinking? Since my house is in for it, I have to come clean, too. Your ideas for putting myself out there (and the tools to do so) are really good, and despite the fact that I'm me, I am going to try them, BUT... I have to tell you guys: I DID have my husband bring around a letter and a signed copy of my book to several local bookstores several weeks ago. I didn't even sit in the car. I stayed home and made him pie. Even without the blonde locks (the dress is very flattering ;-) two of the three local bookstores are stocking my book. I know I need to think as you have said, and how I once (pretty much) did, and I will not give up. I might give sideways or down, but NOT up. This site is is the only place that I have been completely (sort of) honest. GOD BLESS YOU, Ms. Viola and your incredibly talented cohorts. You have made this introverted (wondering is she isn't actually agoraphobic) writer's month.

Karen Duck Livers Laven (I'm trying to get more confident with my sign off).

Anonymous said...

Psychological doom . . .

What a great description!

Thanks to everyone here who shares this Shrinking Violet phenomenon, I'm getting to where I can laugh at myself and not be so critical. Robin and Mary, I love reading all your articles. You both work incredibly hard at helping others. And you really are helping! Thanks.

Kimberly Lynn

Anonymous said...

Ooops . . .

And thanks to you too, Ms. Viola!

Kimberly Lynn

Anonymous said...

Dear Karen,

I can understand how you feel. I'm not only an introvert, I have Asperger Syndrome (an autistic spectrum disorder), which makes my social difficulties even worse. On the other hand, what Ms. Viola said was true. Bookstores are happy to get any kind of promotion, especially indie bookstores like the kind SVP promotes. I used to work for a small indie Christian bookstore, and after 26 years of business it ended up closing down because they were getting next to no business. When I go into those little hole-in-the-wall used bookstores, it's the same way - never anyone in there. They could use a publicity boost.

Maybe you could call these places ahead of time to arrange things, if that makes you more comfortable. If it's a small bookstore, you'll probably want to ask for the manager, who will probably be the person arranging things like this. If it's a bigger place, they may have a specific person who arranges signings and author events.

There is also the option perhaps of selling a book at a place on consignment. The bookstore I worked at did that with local music artists as well as I think some local authors. We would sell their products on consignment and the artist or author would get some percentage of the profits. I don't know if any of the bookstores around you do that sort of thing; you'd have to ask around, or maybe your publisher might know (though he might not be too keen on the idea, come to think of it).

Anyway, I hope that helps, Karen. Thanks for writing in - as a newbie author with no big-house publishing as of yet, Ms. Viola's advice here can help me too.


ReneƩ Le Vine