You and Your Book: It’s Up to You

Saturday I was a presenter at the Jambalaya Writers Conference in Houma. I was talking about getting the word out on your book, and I started with these two stories.

In 2005 my friend Mark and I had written a book, and our agent had tried for a year to place it with a publisher. No one said they didn’t like it, in fact most of them said they really enjoyed it. But none of them decided to take a chance on it. One publisher called it “laugh out loud funny,” but said “It doesn’t fit our list.”

After you’ve been in the book business for a while you realize “It doesn’t fit our list” is publisher speak for “It’s not like what we’re already selling and we don’t know how to sell what we don’t already sell.”

So our agent suggested we should consider self-publishing. A woman I worked with at the newspaper, Jan Roberts-Dominguez, is a well known food writer in the Northwest, and had published several cookbooks, some self-published and some traditionally. So I called her and asked if she had any advice or thoughts about our decision to go our own way.

There was a long pause, then she said, “When you self-publish, you’re spared the disappointment when you learn that your publisher doesn’t know how to sell your book either.”

So we decided to do it, figured out how much money we could afford to lose, and went ahead. And we worked our tail off. We went to book fairs, we performed all up and down the coast. We performed places where they were kind of surprised to see us walk in the door. And we sold books. Within a few months we had sold enough to cover our costs. A few months after that we had sold enough to interested a publisher. New American Library offered us a contract. New American Library. That’s a pretty big deal.

About six weeks before the release date for the new book, I got an email from someone in the NAL publicity department. She said she’d been assigned to our book and she was excited to be working with us and was sure we’d have a big hit.

And that was the last I ever heard from her.

I made calls and sent emails with suggestions or questions or ideas for promoting the book. Nothing. Eventually my agent explained, “You have to sell 50,000 copies before she’ll reply to your calls and emails to tell you she can’t help you.”

I figured, if I can sell 50,000 books, what do I need her for.

So we set to work and the book went through seven printings.

And that’s the main point of what I want to say today. It’s up to you. Whether you’re self-published or traditionally published, YOU have to be your book’s biggest promoter. You have to get the word out. It’s up to you.

And that’s good news, because nobody loves your book as much as you do. Maybe your mother, but she has to say that. No one loves your book more than you. Yes, publishers have PR departments, and you can always buy the publicity package from CreateSpace or Lulu or whatever service you use. You can hire a publicist, and I assume they do a good job. But they’re doing it for money. It’s their job. You’re doing to because you love your book and want readers to love your book too.

No one cares about it as much as you.

And then I went on with a lot of thoughts about ways you can get your book out there. And you know what was freaking AMAZING? People were listening and taking notes! I was so surprised I lost my train of thought. I have done a lot of public speaking, but I don’t remember anyone ever taking notes before. Very surprising.

I’ll have another post or two over the next week with some of the other stuff I either said or learned during the course of the weekend.

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