Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Thoughts On The Journey of Self-Publishing

The Undiscovered Gem

Coral, a deep red or pink precious gemstone, can only be found by divers who are deployed into the faraway waters of Northeast Asia, Northeastern Australia, and areas in the middle east.  Lapis Lazuli, a deep blue gemstone, is retrieved by professional climbers who traverse the “inhospitable” mountains of Afghanistan. Tanzinite, a violet blue rare gemstone, is found by miners in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  My question is, how did someone know to look in these places to find such rare beauty? Was it more of an accident?  Where they looking for something else and then just stumbled up gorgeous stones?

I wonder if my books will be like an undiscovered gemstone, hidden in the deep crevices of some mountain or buried deep in the middle of the ocean or, worse, found in some mine no one can get to? Perhaps, one day, probably when I am dead, someone will uncover my books, buried beneath the ruins of my home office. Someone will find them and hold them up for all to see, hailing, “I have found the precious books! They are rare, they are beautiful!”  Maybe deep sea divers and miners will be deployed to excavate the remains of my office so that all the remaining copies can be retrieved. And, finally, the world will know the adventures of plucky Maddie Hickman, her angst, her friends, and her foibles.

It's a nice fantasy.

But a better one is that someone stumbles upon them now, holds them up to the masses, and proclaims that they are the next big thing in YA literature. I would rather be alive for the Big Moment, you know?

Seriously, this is going to be hard.

Back at it with book three....

I have to pound pavement with a heavy sack.  I have to knock on dead bolted doors. I have to send emails and post information on websites that no one may even read. I have to get the word out because no one else will.

I hate how self conscious and dumb I feel going into the local indie bookstore, three four times because the owner says she wants to host a signing, says she will display the books I have given her.

Yes, given her...until she puts the order she says she will put in...She keeps saying that she wants to get the best discount and make sure they are returnable...I keep reassuring her that if she calls iUniverse, they will take care of her, even gave her the extension to dial once she calls.

She has my books bound together with a large rubber band on the shelf in her office and hasn’t been able to contact iUniverse...Something about “they didn’t pick up.” I don’t argue with her. I give up. I will go and retrieve my books by the end of this week if I don’t hear from her, and then, I will just let go of the idea of a signing there anytime soon.

I have pounded on that door enough.

I Know The Leaf

I struggle with the marketing and publicity of this book.

Ignorance was bliss the first time around with self-publishing. Knowledge kills ignorance and can also kill the spirit that comes from not knowing. The sprit of not knowing is curiosity.

Watching my 14 month old journey through our yard, pausing to inspect leaves and rocks.  She can do this for hours.  She can sit with one leaf and inspect it, rub her fingers over it, tear it up.  Learn about it viscerally. Lose herself completely in it, in order to know it. 

I know about that leaf already. I know that if it’s dry and dead, it makes a crinkle noise.  That if it is freshly fallen, it has an earthy smell and smooth feel. I know because I have experienced the leaf thousands of times. Each leaf is unique and each experience with it is too, but I am not going to spend hours inspecting and learning about it. My curiosity about the leaf is less than it was thirty years ago.  I will have a moment while sitting with my baby outside. I will reach over, out of curiosity about what she is seeing, smelling, and feeling.  But it will be a flash, and soon after I inspect it, I’ll be on to the next thing.

I Know Self-Publishing

I know self publishing. I don’t have the stay-for-hours curiosity I had five and a half years ago. I pounded pavement and knocked on doors happily, hungrily, blindly, ignoring the wrinkled noses and funny looks of people when I told them I published with iUniverse that, yes, I was self published, but I did have a publisher you could call and order the books from.  Hell, you can get them from Ingram too. I schlepped those books to every gig I had, every class I taught, every speech I gave, every workshop I ran. I brought them with me if we were visiting family in other states, and I would scour the areas for local indie bookstores, and I would bustle in and say “Carry my book, whatever percentage you want to consign with me is fine. Just carry them.” No ego. No fatigue. I just cared about getting my book to people, any way I could.

It’s hard now.

I know the pushing-the-rock-up-a-mountain-with-ankle-and-wrist-weight feeling of self publishing. I know exactly how hard it is and exactly what hurdles I will have to traverse. It makes the pounding pavement that I know I must do all the more difficult. To market and publicize, you must have energy, time, and money. I have very little of all three. How will anyone reach this book?   I used to have the spirit of this whole experience is amazing. It’s new and fresh, and even when I would attend a whole bunch of gigs and not sell a lot, the experience of those gigs was just fabulous. I didn’t care about numbers.  Things have changed now, and I have a lot more responsibilities. I have two children instead of one, and I have a business with clients I really know, care about, and frankly provide me with my income. I am in school working harder than I ever have on my craft. I have to focus my energy on those things, giving myself whatever crumbs are left over.  The fact is, I can’t do marketing the way I did before  any more. I just can’t, and I believe that I need to approach this in a completely different way.  I can’t do every single thing that floats by my in box. I can’t give away books to friends and family. I can’t beg bookstore owners to buy my books and host a book signing.  I just can’t.

I Know This Book Is That Good

See, I don’t want me to sell the book.  I want the book to sell itself, and I am just the author. I don’t want to be on the red carpet, but I want my book to be. I like being behind the scenes and that’s why I write. The way I sold a lot of books the first time around was by attending sooooo many gigs,  I stopped keeping track. I sold books only because of me and my unwavering tenacity.  Also, I can perform well and work a crowd.  When I taught middle school, I could get a study hall of 250 kids to shut up and sit down. In a crowd, I can lose myself in a role and entertain, and if you get a kick out of me, you will probably buy my book. When I showed up at a gig and felt on, I performed and sold books. When I felt off and sat quietly or just did my thing robotically, I sold little or none. It never occurred to me that pulling back would ever work, that the books would sell themselves. What, in life, works that way? Nothing.

And I certainly don’t expect the book will sell without my effort, but what I want is to expose this book to as many people as possible, without draining my time and energy,  in the fastest way.  I need to figure that part out.

I want to have a book signing 

Yet, books signings are not always fun.

And...the reason is marketing. Booksellers usually put the signing in the local paper’s calendar section. But I’m not sure  how many people read that section any more, since so many people get their news online. Some bookstore owners may display the books with a poster or some visual to attract readers. 
But, some don’t.  And, bookstore owners may or may not put it on their website because they may or may not have one that they update more than once in a while. I always do a crazy blitzkrieg online marketing through social networks and my own data base. But not everyone on my list wants to or can attend the signing. Some of these things are really no ones “fault” just facts of the situation.

If little marketing was done or if the marketing was just not effective, when you actually show up for the signing, people come in and look at you, sitting with your books at a table. You feel a little like an orphaned puppy in need of an owner, and people look at you like they should come over and pet you, but they hesitate because they don’t want to take you home.

Right now I am trying to book myself  a signing, but it’s proving to be so difficult.  There appears to be an interest, but a hesitation to commit. Consignment isn’t really an option.  It’s a big pain in the ass.  I did that a lot the first two times. I had to purchase my books, and then sell them, and I am not good at the bookkeeping of that and wound up giving too many away or at too low of a discount. Some bookstores lost my books and never bothered to tell me.  I had to call or come in many times.  If they lost it,  I didn’t want to put up a fight. It seemed so ridiculous.

The reason I don’t consign any more is because my books all have the highly coveted returnability.  Highly coveted to a Print-On-Demand published author. Now that I have this returnability, there’s no difference between me and a regularly published author, from the book purchasers point of view.  The whole thing with return-ability is that many of us Print-On-Demand published authors have our books available with the big wholesalers that bookstore owners purchase from at a discount, like Ingrahm, but our books, historically, have not been able to be returned.  iUniverse, for a relatively low fee, allows its authors books (only the ones that are deemed qualified which means the well edited ones)  to be returnable.  Due to some errors (which have all been corrected) on the part of iUniverse through the process of publishing my recent book, they offered this to me for all three books at no cost.  Now every bookstore can house my book or have me be at a signing without worrying about purchasing books from me on consignment. They can order the books, and whatever is left over, send back to the distributor. In other words, it makes having me do a signing much easier and less of a pain in the butt.
This bookstore owner seems skeptical of my returnability.  If I was an author with a mainstream publisher and a publicist booking the signing, none of this would matter. None of this extra wasted time would happen–for me or for the bookseller.  The bookstore owner certainly doesn’t want to be calling publishers, etc.  This is a fact of the self-published author, not me being bitter.  It’s a fact I accept. I don’t blame the bookstore owners for being so conservative. But it makes all of this more difficult. 

A Party

So, I have decided that instead of launching this book at a bookstore, if I can’t get anyone to host me by the end of this week, I will have my own book party. Location and time to be announced.  But, you are all invited. : )

And...I think that this journey with this book will begin to shape into something that reflects where I am in my life.  My time and energy constraints will simply force me to narrow the focus on the things that work, that work with little struggle.

For example, I recently got a reply from one of my favorite, award winning authors, Alex Sanchez, who agreed to allow me the pleasure of sending him a copy of my new book. I admire and respect his work so much and just to have him say yes, means more than anything.  To me, this is the type of reaching out efforts I want to do with my book.  I also just sent a mini media kit with some of my books to a charity event.  This was little effort but felt good and right. So, I will step forward, one foot at a time, focused, eyes open. One reader at a time.  No struggle.


Margaret said...

Hannah, you have been more successful at getting signings than I have been. But I have had recent success at a craft and vendor fair that I have rented space at the Rayham Flea on October 18th. Hopefully it won't rain and I won't be put on a waiting list. I still want to do a book event with you. I have lots of ideas.

Joanne Carnevale said...

This feels right . . . like something great can happen from this launch party idea. Wish I could be there to witness the kickoff. Mazel tov!