Writing Your Book Is Not the Hard Part

Writing a book is not easy. Editing is hard.

Both of those are a breeze compared to selling the damn thing.

I’ve had a mixed week. Got the online distribution channels set up, the book is all formatted. All I need is the cover image and we’ll be ready to “go to market.” That’s all on the good side.

I’ve also had some frustration. Besides the online presence, you’ve got to make appearances, got to get out there. And I’m having trouble finding venues.

I’ll be on Los Angeles for Talk Like a Pirate Day, and the appearance with Cap’n Slappy at Studio City Tattoo (owned by Talderoy, the big mug of a pirate with a heart of gold) will be great. A big deal and I think I can move some paper – or electrons if they opt for the ebook. But if I’m flying all the way from New Orleans to Los Angeles, I’d like to lay in a few more, get the most bang from my buck.

There’s a Barnes & Noble less than two miles from the tattoo shop and I thought that’d be easy. If they’d have me, I could do an event there the day before, during or the day after the pirate party. I called ’em and worked my way up the phone chain to the person who coordinates events for the store. She sounded remarkably unimpressed. Can’t blame her. But she didn’t seem moved by the 130,000 Facebook likes, or the millions of visits to our website. She all but yawned at the enormous following the holiday has gotten around the world. She took my name and contact info – or at least she said she did – and said she’d be in touch. That was three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, I tried another bookstore, Vroman’s in Pasadena, the oldest bookstore in L.A. County. They’re sort of the gold standard of Southern California bookstores. Now I want you to understand, I’m not blaming Vroman’s – I’m not. It’s a tough world out there for brick and mortar bookstores. They have their policies that protect their interest. Fine.

Yes, they had an opening on Sunday, Sept. 20, the day after the holiday and the big party. Yes, they’d be willing to let me do a reading and signing there that day. BUT – books would be on consignment. Actually, that part was fine. But I was going to have to sign a
“gold level consignment contract,” which included a fairly hefty fee. I did some quick math. If I sold 161 books, I’d lose money. I would break even and actually make 12 cents on the 162nd. That was a non-starter.

It’s par for the course. You’ve gotta keep grinding away at it. This is not my first rodeo, as the saying goes. When we (my pirate partner Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers and myself) decided to go it alone on “Well Blow Me Down,” our first attempt at writing a book, it was 2004, right on the rink of the self-pub revolution but still not there. Print on demand was not well know. We found a printer we liked who offered the services we needed. We figured out how much money we could afford to lose and had him print 10,000 books. Half of them he kept in his warehouse and fulfilled orders from bookstores. Happily, there were a lot of those.

The rest were shipped to us. My wife, Tori, printed 1,500 post cards which we sent to every bookstore in any state we had reason to believe had a pirate population. We sent press kits. And I hit the road. I’d make a list of five to ten bookstores in an area – the Oregon coast, Portland, the mid-valley, etc., and start driving. There were a LOT more bookstores then. And get to work. You’d paste a smile onto your face, walk into a store and ask for the manager. Talk to her or him, show her the book, explain. Answer questions. Then most likely he or she would say no, you’d thank them for their time, leave your card and head to the next store. Do it again. And again. And at the end of the day, eight or nine stores under your belt, maybe not having sold a single book, or only a couple, you’d go into the last store on the list pasting on just as big a smile and being just as hearty and positive as the first one.

It’s just part of the job.

We also did quite a few personal appearances – at libraries, bars, museums, basically anywhere people would have us. We did a gig in Las Vegas, for the annual national convention of faux artists – they are a surprisingly large group and have a lot of money to throw around at their convention. I may have chosen the wrong profession. And over the years we’ve done – I’m not joking – somewhere between 700 and 900 interviews for radio, television, newspapers and various and sundry other media.

We eventually sold enough that we more than broke even. More importantly, the sales of our self-pub were good enough that we were able to interest New American Library in publishing a sequel. So it was all good. That book, “Pirattitude,” went through seven printings before it finally went out of print.

I just noticed on Amazon you can still buy “Well Blow Me Down.” It’s out of print, of course, part of the deal with NAL. But there are 33 used copies offered for sale today, beginning at 32 cents and going all the way to some delightfully optimistic person who’s asking $62.14. More power to him.

It’s a pretty safe bet the copies for sale are signed. As Mark pointed out, it would probably be harder to find a copy we didn’t sign. We signed a lot of books. You’ve gotta do what you can to sell ’em. That’s the hard part.

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