Kathleen Delaney came to the writing life a little late. Instead, she raised five children, heaven alone knows how many cats and dogs, a few horses, and assorted 4 H animals. She also enjoyed a career as a real estate broker in the small California town of Paso Robles. Somewhere in there she found she wanted to write as well as read, and her first book, Dying for a Change, was a finalist in St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest. Since then she has written six more books, to great reviewer praise. The first in her new Mary McGill canine mysteries is available in both hard cover and ebook form, and will be available this spring in soft cover, just in time to great the release of Curtains for Miss Plym.
She currently resides, and writes, in Georgia with one dog and one cat, close to two of her grandchildren, who are more than eager to share their dogs and cats with her, just in case she gets lonely.
I don’t usually read comments on articles posted on the internet, but a while back one got my attention. It seems that a woman author of bestselling chick lit books engaged in some imaginative promotion. Her books have a reputation for being funny, and she decided to play on that for a new release. She hired a number of actors-I’m not sure how many-to take copies of her new book into crowded places, the NY subway, Times Square, a popular New York deli, and pretend to be reading. And laughing. Extra emphasis on the laughing. Of course, while doing this, they were to hold the book so the cover was visible to one and all.
Mighty clever, I thought. A wonderful, quirky idea that just might work. But it seemed I was in a majority of one.
There were numerous comments about this article, mostly negative. Several people said they were glad they had read the other comments because the book couldn’t be any good if she had to promote it that way. After all, if she had talent, it would automatically sell. Several others felt they had been cheated in some way because she had brought it to their attention and vowed not to buy it or even check it out at the library. Others complained because she had the gall to try to promote her book at all.
The comments left me scratching my head.
Have none of these people been in a Barnes and Noble recently? Have they not seen the row after row of books offered for sale? You can get lost just browsing the stacks. When I go I carry water with me, just in case.
Have they not maneuvered around the stacks of “bargin books”? Authors cringe to think their book might end up on that shelf, but it’s better than having the book disappear into a warehouse somewhere, never to be seen again. Someone may pick it up off the bargain table and, who knows, they may even read it. And, if they like it, they may buy that author’s next book. Maybe
And then there’s Costco. Tables piled high with best sellers and lots of not so good sellers. Occasionally someone will pick one up, crying, “I read the review of this one in Time. I forget what it said.” Someone else will say, “oh, this got a good review on NPR. At least, I think it was this one.” That doesn’t mean they are going to buy a copy. But at least they’re holding it in their hand, so they might.
Have none of these people logged on to Amazon lately? The amount of books offered is staggering. Some have great reviews, some don’t have any, but it really doesn’t matter. You have to somehow find a book you are interested in before you read the review anyway, and unless you know what you are looking for, browsing can give you a headache and you can end up buying a DVD instead.
There was a time when authors relied heavily on independent booksellers. The people who owned those wonderful stores actually read the new books that they stocked. Some of them, anyway. So, when a reader came in looking for something they could actually recommend a book, could point out a good new author, or help find that obscure research volume no one else had even heard of. Some even called up their regular customers and told them when a book came in they thought their customer would like. But small-or large-independent bookstores are rapidly going the way of the dodo bird.
So what’s an author to do? He/she spent a couple of years, probably more if it’s a first book, writing it, a small lifetime trying to get it into print, and now its also up to him/her to get it sold. Publishers no longer have large budgets for promotion. Some don’t even have small ones. According to Garrison Kealor, the average author sells about 23 books in their lifetime, that’s books, not titles, mostly to close family members. My figures might not be exactly his but you get the idea. I think that means that the average author shouldn’t plan on book sales income as part of their retirement plan.
So, seriously, what’s an author to do? It’s hard to rely on those “maybe’s” for sales, and harder still for retirement income.
Hire actors to read your book on the subway, that’s what. Those people who complained—at least they now know that book exists, and who knows, when they see it on the table at Costco they might forget they already didn’t like it. They just might buy it. Or at least pick it up.
I have written 7 books, 6 are in print or available in ebook form, the 7th, Curtains for Miss Plym, will be available in the UK in January and in the US this spring. Am I thinking about promotion? It’s the only thing, other than plot points, that I think about these days. My latest release, Purebred Dead, features cocker spaniels. I’ve gone to dog shows, set up shop near the cocker ring, and actually sold a couple of books but found the people there were more interested in looking at live dogs than reading about them. I’ve tried library events, been on panels at conferences, had book signings in book stores (had one once the day before the store closed for good—it wasn’t a success) been all over the internet, have outstanding reviews from all the big important reviewers and lots and lots from readers who love my stories (the kind of reviews I like best) and am still not sure what motivates people to notice a book, pick it up and buy it and what doesn’t.
One of my books, Murder by Syllabub, takes place in and around Colonial Williamsburg. Christmas is coming. So, I’m wondering, maybe I can hire people in period costume to do something to tie into that era. Hummm. Six maids a milking? In Rockefeller Center? In front of the Today show window? Now, there’s an idea. I have at least three friends who’d be willing to dress up like mild maids if for nothing more than to wave at Mat Lauer.
I’d do it, too, if I could figure out how to get the cows onto the subway. Oh, well. Back to the drawing board.