That’s how you sell them, one book at a time. One reader at a time. Over and over. You do whatever it takes.
We were at the Louisiana Renaissance Festival last Saturday. The festival has theme weekends, and last weekend was pirates. I had made arrangements with the guy who runs Pigasus Books, a roving Ren Faire book merchant, to sign books.
I was the guest of Master James of York, the owner of Pigasus and a right charming gent. He had set up a table outside his tent and had a chair for me. It looked disreputable, but he told me it was actually very comfortable. I wouldn’t know. I never sat down.
That’s rule No. 1, of course. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – The bookstore or venue will usually provide a table and chair. Never sit down in the chair. If you sit down, you disappear. It’s too easy for the crowd flowing past to ignore you, to refuse to make eye contact, to willfully not see you, even when you’re dressed in full pirate gear. (And at a Renaissance festival, pirate gear tends to blend right in.)
No, you’ve gotta make them see you. You’ve got to engage them, draw them in. Especially at an event that isn’t specifically about books. If you’re working at a bookstore or book fair, people expect to buy books. At a Renaissance festival, books are one of the last things on their minds. So you have to get their attention.
Hardly a soul walked by that didn’t, at the very least, get a hearty “Ahoy!” from me. I talked to almost anyone. If they gave an embarrassed smile and muttered, “Hello!” they got a rejoinder that it was pirate weekend and only “Ahoy!” would do. One woman gave me a “Howdy,” and I chased after her until she mended her ways.
And sometimes that was it. More times than most. But if they slowed, paused, or looked inclined to interact with the pirate, I’d start pitching “a pirate adventure, written for pirates, BY a pirate!”
You never knew what might work. If they wanted to talk, you talked with them. One family was the Jolly Rogers – their last name was Rogers, and by god they were jolly! I explained about International Talk Like a Pirate Day, how I came to write the novel, listened to them talk about the books they liked, and eventually made the sale. Nice people, I hope to see them again.
Then there was the husband and wife from Lafayette who listened, and whose ears perked up when I mentioned writing the first draft while living in the Caribbean. What was that like? Turns out they were feeling very bad about the election and were contemplating moving back overseas. They had been thinking Europe (they’d spent a couple of years in the Czech Republic) but wanted to know what the Caribbean was like. We talked about island life for about ten minutes, maybe more. Then, a little bit to my surprise, they bought a copy of “Chrissie.”
Sometimes you can tell in the first 30 seconds whether you’re going to make a sale, but you never give up. One family had a couple of smaller kids. We chatted, and I talked with the kids, but you could feel it wasn’t happening. Then the wife suddenly looked at Tori and asked, “Were you guys on TV?” I sighed inwardly. She was talking about our “Wife Swap” experience, in which we played the “pirate family” on the ABC “reality” show. (I put “reality” in quotes for a reason.) So we chatted about that for a minute or two, and they ended up buying a copy of “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas.”
You do what it takes.
And everyone who bought a book went away with the postcard with book info, my website and my email address, and I asked each one to please write to me and let me know what they thought of the book. I always do that, and I mean it. I really want to know.
By the end of the day, we had moved some paper. And Master James of York took the rest of the stock I”d brought in. So at the end of the day we had had a lot of fun, and made a little money.
Well, we made a little money unless you count the fact that while Tori and I were selling, our kids Max and Kate were out wandering the festival, with my credit card in their pocket. SO it was more of a wash, really.
News for my friends on Goodreads: Starting Thursday you have a chance to win a signed copy of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” For the next three weeks Goodreads is hosting a giveaway of four copies of my young-adult adventure pirate adventure novel.
As you no doubt know, Goodreads is an online community of more than 20 millions book lovers designed “to help people find and share books they love… [and] to improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.” It’s sort of like Facebook without cat videos, pictures of your dinner, and all that.
If you’re interested and haven’t signed up or just want to check it, you can go to Goodreads.com. And signing up is easy and free. If you’re any kind of a reader, you really want to be a member.
One of the things they have at Goodreads is giveaways. With three clicks, Goodreads members can sign up to win books offered by authors. The winners are randomly chosen by Goodreads, so I’ll have nothing to do with choosing.
From Nov. 18 to Dec. 8, you can enter to win one of four autographed copies of “Chrissie.” When it goes online I’ll post the link.
Here are just a few of the comments readers have given the book.
Just finished reading this book. It’s a great read for young and old! … Good job. John Baur! Looking forward to the sequel! – David Garrett
If you like a good book I would like to recommend Chrissy Warren Pirate Hunter … Great reading all the way through. – Sharon Denardo
This is a very compelling story, moving at a great pace. I hope there is a sequel in the works, because the story leaves you wanting more, in a good way. While I am technically not a young adult, I think they will enjoy this, too. – D. Van Middlesworth
Just finished Chrissie Warren! Wow what a journey! I laughed, I cried, and I can’t say I could enjoy anything more. This has to be among the top in my favorite pirate books. I’m so glad this amazing piece of literature found its was onto my bookshelf! – Janine Myers
What a great trip! Two weeks on the road pirating, geeking out at roadside history, seeing friends and family and making new friends and family, and of course – selling books.
We had a blast!
And all in the company of my best friend, my wife Tori. Even on long stretches of road, late at night in odd places, we amused ourselves and just had a good time together. I always knew I made the right decision when I went up the stairs in 1988.
I’ve written about some of the things we encountered, including two posts (here and here) about what I’ve learned handling some of the book sales events. So this will be more a scattered collection of events, a last look back on some times on the road, before I get back to work moving forward.
Highlight of the whole trip was the three and a half days we got with our daughter Millie. Millie lives in New York, and though we talk to her on the phone almost weekly and trade texts with her often, we hadn’t seen her in two years. That’s way too long.
We picked her up in Baltimore and headed back down the road toward Knoxville. She had brought her ukulele with her and it was great listening to her. We also met up with the granddaughter of an old friend, someone Millie had shared time with growing up, so it was a bonus.
Can’t thank enough our friends Robyn and Daniel for their hospitality. They live in Knoxville, a one-day drive from our home in New Orleans, which was the perfect staging point for our jaunt into the mid-Atlantic states. So we spent a day with them on the way out and several (including two with Millie) on the way back. They have a lovely home they’re performing miracles with. It was a relaxing way to end the trip, sitting out on the patio watching birds take turn in the bird bath, watching scores of fireflies at night.
Talk about hospitality! Spending three days in Hampton with the pirates of the Blackbeard Festival was nothing but fun, a great honor. Constable Heartless, Damon, Mr. Willis, Hope, Rattanne, Greg of the Motley Tunes, all of Blackbeard’s Crew, of course – they were excellent hosts – and the crew of the Vigilant (real life lifesavers, as it turned out) and the Loose Cannon Company and so many more.
Hampton’s Blackbeard Pirate Festival is one of the big ones in the U.S. It’s not just a community festival with a little pirate panache thrown in. It’s got some of that, of course. But the crews are serious about both pirate re-enacting and about having a good time, especially after the fireworks, when the festival is over for the day and the pirate camps come to life.
Singing, stories, more than a little drinking. Good times.
If you’ve been thinking “Maybe I’d like to go to a pirate festival” put this one on your list.
Had a great day in Frostburg, Maryland, with me niece Jenny and her husband Brian. They showed us all the sites of Frostburg, which takes most of a day and you actually have to leave Frostburg for most of it. But they’re such a great couple, it was a really nice day. But two things:
– We left Virginia Tuesday morning and the temperature was upper 80s. We got to the aptly named Frostburg that night, elevation just over 2,000 feet, and it was 52! We had not thought to bring a single long sleeved shirt! First item of business was stopping at a thrift store and getting some flannel, Don’t think it topped 62 the entire time we were there.
– Why is that whole northwestern corner of the state even IN Maryland? It has nothing in common with the rest of the state, the locals no doubt spend all their time complaining about how state government never pays any attention to them. I’m sure everyone involved would be much happier if the area were part of West Virginia, or possibly Pennsylvania. It’d be a no-lose situation.
Met with a lot of folks in front of my table full of books and I always enjoy talking with them. Some had never heard in International Talk Like a Pirate Day, others were surprised to be meeting one of the two people who started the ersatz holiday.
My two favorite were both young girls, about 14 or so, who showed up separately at the Knoxville Barnes & Noble. They both were shy, but with much coaxing from their mothers, they each allowed as how they wanted to be authors, to write stories. They asked for tips.
I didn’t give them tips, they didn’t need them. They got a pep talk, instead. Go for it. Finish what you start. You can’t fix it if you don’t write it down. Write for fun, there’s nothing like the feeling when you create characters that are as real to you as anyone you know, and put them to work telling the story you see in your head. Create great characters and then abuse them – get them in trouble, make the trouble worse, then get them out of it.
They both got copies of “Chrissie,” and I pointed out my email address on the copyright page. I want to hear from them, I told them. I want to know what they thought of the book, and how their writing is going. Because writers stick together.
AND MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP
A lot of miles. From start to finish we traveled 3,572 miles, passing through nine states and just glancing off the side of the District of Columbia (getting snared in the Beltway travel at rush hour, easily the worst traffic of the trip.) Big disappointment – getting out of Baltimore we took the wrong exit and missed passing through the corner of Delaware. The route we took was actually shorter, but how many times do you get the chance to say, “Hi. We’re in Delaware?” (Wayne’s World” reference.) Not many. It’s one of those places where, if you don’t have a good reason to go there, you’re almost certainly never going to. And we just missed by maybe ten miles. Chances like that don’t come around that often.
And we stayed at a wide variety of lodgings – a very wide variety. Most of them were pretty standard motels, nothing special. Three stand out, each for very different reasons.
In Frostburg, Maryland, we stayed at Failinger’s Hotel Gunter. Let me just say, if life ever takes you to Frostburg, Hotel Gunter is a MUST. It was built in 1897, has this beautiful lobby with a sweeping staircase. The whole place kind of went to the dogs and was falling down, when the Failinger family bought it in the 1980s and remodeled They found all kinds of “stuff,” and I mean every kind of stuff you could imagine – and put it on
display from the basement to the fourth floor. It’s not curated, it’s just sort of there, mostly behind plexiglas. A bunch of pictures of Shirley Temple on one wall, next to a display about the Titanic. Old kitchen implements, including two cast iron stoves, a roomful of old clothes, and my favorite – the taxidermy display. Couple of dozen stuffed game animals, wild turkeys and owls and foxes and rabbits and all kinds of critters. My favorite (by far) was the dead fox carrying a dead squirrel in its mouth. Something sort of meta about that. And then, stuck in a corner as if it were almost embarrassed to be there, a stuffed toy polar bear.
Oh, and we stayed in the “Roy Clark Room.” The country music and “Hee Haw” star had stayed in the room back in 1990, and there was a picture and plaque at the door to prove it.
Hotel Gunter is such a wonderfully interesting place, bordering on the weird. The staff was friendly and proud of the place, but it was odd, like a cross between a doll house and the Hotel Overlook in “The Shining.” It was quaint and cozy and comfortable, but it would not have been a surprise to turn a corner and see a spooky pair of young twins chanting, “Come play with us.”
The Ramada in Tuscaloosa on the way home was a different story. I don’t know I’ve ever been to a motel where the staff was friendlier – it must be that Alabama thing; people in Alabama, as a group, are just the friendliest people I’ve ever met – but the hotel was in the midst of a total renovation. Our room had already been redone and was quite nice, but almost everywhere else in the building seemed to be under construction. Still, the pool was very nice, and since we’d only stopped to get off the road because we’d gotten a late start the morning before and it was starting to storm, that seemed like a huge perk.
Then there was that place in Frackville, Pennsylvania. Yes, I said Frackville. We’d finished the Wilkes-Barre signing and decided to hit the road and drive towards Baltimore until we were too tired to drive anymore that night. We should have decided to rest one stop earlier, or else soldiered on. Everything about the Frackville Econo-Lodge was dodgy, except the parts that were downright skeezy. Kind of room that reminds you of an episode of “The X-Files” or “Criminal Minds.” Still, there was a bed and a shower, it was cheap, and we were tired. It wasn’t until the next morning that we noticed that nasty stain, which we hoped and prayed was rust, running down the side of the bed’s box springs.
Anyway, we got to Baltimore in plenty of time, so I guess a motel room you don’t want to stay in – let alone sleep in – has its benefits.
GEEKING OUT AT HISTORY
I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but we are both history geeks. It’s hard for us to drive by a historical marker without stopping to read it. And what a gold mine. Basically, if it happened in American history, some vital part of it probably happened in Virginia. And Maryland and Pennsylvania are right behind. (Not so much Delaware.)
The highlight on that side was Jamestown, the first successful English settlement in what became the U.S. When I was a kid, about 13 or 14, we went to Jamestown as part of a vacation – except it turns out we didn’t. “Jamestown Settlement” is a recreation based on historical records, and it’s a good, educational attraction. But it’s not Jamestown. It was built a couple of miles from where the colony actually was. Until 1994 everyone assumed the land where the colonists settled had washed away a couple of hundred years ago.
Then a very smart archaeologist looked at the clues, looked at the terrain and said, “Wait a minute? Why are we looking there? It ought to be over here.” Turned out he was right. The actual Jamestown site is now a working archaeological dig and we got to tour it, watching college interns painstakingly lift layers of dirt from a trench and sift it for clues. We got to stand in the exact spot where Pocahontas married John Rolfe, and look at the artifacts – tools, toys, weapons and more – that tell the story of life in the settlement in the very earliest days of our country. Wow.
We also learned the story of “Jane” – real name and identity known but to god – a 14-year-old girl who died and was cannibalized during the “time of the great starving.” It’s a sad story and a fascinating bit of scientific/historical detective work. Tori will be using it in her sixth-grade science classes from now on. She teaches kids who are the same age Jane was when she died and was eaten. If that doesn’t get their attention and focus them on science, I don’t know what will.
Other historical stops included Harpers Ferry (where John Brown lit the fuse for the Civil War,) Yorktown, a drive-by of Williamsburg-ing (you can’t do Williamsburg in less than a day, it can’t be done. Maybe next time) and a couple of Civil War battlefields. Missed Antietam and Gettysburg, and kept groaning as we drove by Sharpsburg, Cold Harbor, Manassas, Chancellorsville and so many other names redolent with our country’s past.
And there was so much more. I didn’t even mention seeing a bear at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, or some great meals.
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
After we drove Millie to the airport Tuesday, Tori and I looked at each other and said, “Home? … Home.” We had planned to finish out the week on the road, attending a pirate concert by our friends Tom Mason and Blue Buccaneer in Nashville. It would have been a great cap to the trip. But we were tired. I looked at a picture of myself from the second day of the trip, and glanced in the mirror, and I was not the same guy. At some point you want to be surrounded by your own stuff, sleep in your own bed, use your own shower. The time had come.
Besides, we still had Max and Kate at home, and even though they kept telling us on the phone that everything was fine, that they had plenty of food still, that there were no problems and they’d been cleaning the house, we wanted to get back to them. A parent worries. And besides. We like them.
So we had one more lovely day with Robyn and Daniel and headed south.
Now it’s time to get to work. Because there’s two more road trips to plan this year, plus two more book projects to finish and receipts to organize and lots more business to take care of.
But not without saying again, what a great trip that was. We had a blast!
I entered Baltimore’s Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in full buccaneer gear last Friday. A three-year-old looked at me and said one of the things no pirate wants to hear.
“Are you Santa?”
Well, sure, I was wearing my scarlet shirt and my big boots, and my hair and whiskers have gotten a tad – what’s the word I want to describe the color of my hair? Ultrablonde! – that’s it, my hair is ultrablonde. And yes, my waist these days is, shall we say, more than ample – but I’m working on it! But still, didn’t want to hear that.
I growled at him. “Does Santa carry a pirate sword? Does Santa wear a pirate hat? I’m a pirate!”
He laughed and said, “Yo ho underpants!”
Because of course, to a three-year-old boy, underpants is far and away THE funniest word in the language. And that was an important reminder for me, because he was hardly the last kid his age I would see that day.
I had booked the appearance about two months earlier. Red Canoe is a really nice neighborhood institution. I really loved the place, the ambience, the neighborhood, everything about it. It was great. But in retrospect I have to say it probably wasn’t the right venue for me. I knew the store was oriented towards kids books, but I thought a reading of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” would not be inappropriate. Thankfully I had made alternative plans. Because as discussions went back and forth by the owner and myself, I realized this would be a kids gathering, not a teen or young adult. And even then, the audience was a lot younger than I had expected. And fortunately, I had alternate material.
First and foremost, I was going to have to switch books. “Chrissie” is a great book and something that kids as young as 11 or so can really enjoy, and kids as young as 8 would enjoy hearing a short scene read aloud. But it’s way beyond a three year old. Cap’n Slappy and I had put together a whimsical ABC book called “A Li’l’ Pirate’s ABSeas.” We have always proudly said it’s not the book for perfect parents to buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect children should get from their drunken bastard uncles so the kids won’t grow up to be insufferable little prigs. And even better, in our book, “U” is for “Underwear.” So that was obvious.
And I have a stock of material that is adaptable, so I felt pretty confident.
But kids that age have the attention spans of fruit flies. Ever try to keep a three-year-old focused for five minutes? I had a deck full of kids, the oldest of whom was probably four and the average age younger than three. And I worked them for more than an hour, by keeping these simple rules in mind:
The first of course, is “underpants.” I was a pirate so I didn’t feel the need to be perfect and polite. In a pinch, I could always get a laugh just by shouting “Yo Ho Underpants!”
Keep things moving and mix it up. I started with a song. Shifted to a bit of pirate schtick. Another song. A bit of reading from “ABSeas.” Another bit of schtick. A little sleight of hand. Another song.
There’s no way to keep that many kids focused for that long – But I could always play to their parents. Each was accompanied by at least a mother or father, some by both. I could and did play to them, and they in turn made sure their kids got the joke.
And I kept in mind why I was there. To sell books. So we spent more time on reading “ABSeas” than any other single thing. And I saved the best for last.
As I was winding up after an hour and 15 minutes, I gathered all the kids and told them I was going to teach them the single most important pirate phrase, a phrase they had to learn by heart and repeat over and over. That phrase was:
“Mommy, I want the pirate book. Buy me the pirate book mommy!”
They repeated it several times under my coaching. And we sold some books.
Another thing that paid off was that in the weeks preceding the event I had posted several reminders of my schedule on social media, and invited pirates and fans from the area to show up. I really wanted to meet them, because that’s always fun. And a couple did show up, and it was a joy meeting them and talking about how they celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day and incorporate pirattitude in their lives. And god bless ’em! They, too, bought some books, including several copies of “Chrissie.”
Sunday we did the last signing of this tour, at the Barnes & Noble in Knoxville. It went well. Looking back at the two weeks has given me a chance to think about what works and why.
I won’t try to compare the results of the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, VA, to the three bookstores we did – they were different both in type and scale. But some of the observations still apply.
We did signings at the Barnes & Nobles in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and here in Knoxville. We did an event – reading and some schtick – at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in Baltimore. I prefer readings, because I believe in “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” and know in my soul that if I can get them to listen to a bit of the story, they’ll be hooked. I love reading to crowds. I’m a ham, I admit it. But sometimes that’s not what the store wants, and you have to take what they’re willing to give.
The two Barnes & Noble signings were similar to an event I did with Cap’n Slappy (my pirate friend Mark Summers) when our book “Pirattitude” came out. That was pretty grim, but I learned a lot that time out and was more prepared this time around. Here are some things to think about when you do a book signing.
A “signing” isn’t a reading. There’s no expectation that you’ll have an audience or even any interested passers by. The store sets up a table for you. In Wilkes-Barre it was five steps from the front door, so everyone had to walk right past me. In Knoxville it was about a third of the way down the main aisle, next to the customer service desk. Good location. They give the table a generic cloth and, usually, a sign, and put a chair behind it.
Rule 1 – DO NOT sit down in the chair. If you sit down, you disappear, even if you’re dressed like a pirate in full gear from head to foot. It’s too easy for the people passing by to ignore you. Ninety nine percent of them aren’t there to see you, have no idea who you are or what you’re doing in the store. They have their own reason for being there and it has nothing to do with you. They will be happiest if they can slide past you without making eye contact. You’ve got to make them notice you, and you can’t do that sitting on your butt.
I worked the table, pacing front and back. Everyone who passed within the sound of my voice (and that’s a goodly distance) was greeted with a growling “Ahoy!”
You do what you can – or what you have to – to engage them. They’re not going to buy your book if they don’t notice it. Make them.
Rule 1B – Don’t be embarrassed. You are not begging, you’re not imposing on the store or your potential readers. Just get that out of your head! You’re doing them a favor. You’re giving the store an opportunity to make a few bucks by selling a great book. You’re doing the store’s customers a chance to be entertained by your book. They’re going to love it! Believe in your book and yourself. Of course you want to get in their faces. You’re giving them a chance to read a book you really believe in – yours.
Rule 2 – Don’t let the bookstore choose your decor. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got a lovely table cloth of some bland neutral color, and they might have a sign on a standard. But that’s pretty generic, don’t you think? We have our own table covering – a layer of burlap and a layer of netting – that gives it a nautical flavor. I bought a small chest years ago, knowing that I’d eventually have a book to sell and that this chest at a second-hand store was the perfect size and style to sell a pirate book. And we added other piratey touches that help attract potential readers.
If, like the guy I talked with in Hampton, your novel is set in the Prohibition Era gangster milieu, you might want a violin case that holds your books instead of a Tommy gun (but if you can get a replica Tommy gun to put on the table, that’d be cool.) And dress in a pinstripe double-breasted suit and fedora. You get the idea. Be creative.
Rule 3 – Don’t count on the bookstore for publicity. With the infamous Corvallis Borders appearance I mentioned (and I can certainly see why Borders went out of business) their idea of publicizing the event was to print out a flier with the bare facts, who and when, and stick one on the door. That doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to take the bull by the horns. After this tour was nailed down I sent releases and photos to every newspaper, radio station and TV news show in those areas. (That means you’ve got to learn to write a news release. Start now.) I posted regular reminders of my schedule on Facebook, including “the night before” posts – “Just a reminder to my friends in …” There were people there who came specifically because of that.
Rule 4 – Don’t judge success solely by sales. Yes, you want to sell books. Lots and lots of books. And you can tip the odds in your favor. But there are days when there’s just no one there, for whatever reason no one is shopping for books and didn’t see your PR. There will be good days, and there will be slow days. But no day has to be a bad day. You do the things you can, and try not to worry about the things you can’t control. We sold a lot of books this time out. But more importantly, we had fun. It’s FUN to work the crowd, to engage someone. As they learn about you and your book they get drawn in. Usually, you can almost hear the “click” when they decide to buy. But even when they don’t, have fun talking to them. People are interesting. Listen to their stories and tell yours. Connect. There might be something they say that can work in your next project, or a particular look or expression that you want to steal. You’re learning your craft, and part of a writer’s craft is selling, whether you like it or not. Get used to it. Even when you don’t make a sale, you’re getting the word out, you’re showing the flag (in my case a Jolly Roger, of course.) There’s a cumulative effect to luck. To be lucky, act lucky. To be successful, act successful.
Rule 5 – Don’t give up. At the end of the Wilkes-Barre signing – which was mildly successful but in terms of sales not our best outing of the trip – we had packed everything up. Tori brought our pickup around to the front door and we were throwing everything in the back when a woman walked briskly by.
“You’re not too late to get a great action story!” I said.
“Yes she is,” said Tori, creating the dramatic tension needed so that the woman would feel like she was defying odds.
“No she’s not,” I said, I said, making myself the hero.
“What age group is it?” the woman asked, taking a step toward me. CLICK!
I told her, told her about “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,” and the sea battles and chases and cliff-top duel, the action and adventure. And within three minutes I was signing a copy for her fourth-grade son.
NEVER give up.
This is long enough for today. My next post will be about facing a room full of three-year-olds in Baltimore.
I’m writing this Saturday from the backseat of Bubba, our Ford pickup. I’m in the back because Friday night, after our event at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe (about which more in a later post) we drove over to the Greyhound station and picked up daughter Millie, who had taken the bus down from New York. We haven’t seen her in like two years, so we’re very happy.
It’s great listening to Tori and Millie talking about all those things mothers and daughters talk about, and even greater when Millie starts singing along to whatever is on the radio, sounding so much better than whoever is on the radio. That sounds like proud, doting dad, and I certainly am, but it’s also true. Anyone who knows her or has ever heard her sing would know what I mean.
We drove down the freeway from Baltimore as long as we could stand, then found a pretty decent hotel in Frederick, MD, for the night. Now we’re heading to Knoxville, but we got seriously sidetracked by history.
We spent a couple of hours visiting the Harpers Ferry National Park, a kind of amazing little corner of American history, with connections to Washington and the development of the railroad and Lewis & Clark and – of course – John Brown’s abortive slave uprising in October 1859. His raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, to seize the guns to give to Virginia’s 4 million slaves, was a failure, they were captured in three days and Brown was hung before the end of the year. But it was the spark that set off the Civil War.
There was a lot of action on the site during the war, it changed hands eight times during the four years of the war, and we were also able to visit one of those battle sites, Bolivar, a tribute to every foot soldier who ever lived and whose commander picked the wrong terrain to try to defend.
Anyway, a lot to take in for nerds like us. That’s kind of a capsule of this whole trip. We spent a lot of time getting to the next stop, where we flogged the book fairly successfully, alternating with geeking out at the history that’s all around you in Virginia. The ongoing archaeological excavation of Jamestown was the highlight of that side of the trip, but we also got a look at Yorktown, Fort Dickinson, and the above mentioned Harper’s Ferry. And my heart sank a little when I realized I was driving past Antietam, site of the worst conflict of the Civil War. It was closed so there was nothing I could do, even if we weren’t already late for meeting with my niece Jenny and her husband Brian – both of whom would have understood geekiness. And it was hard knowing I was within 100 miles of Gettysburg and the time simply wouldn’t stretch to take it in. Next time.
As I write this we’re back on the road, six hours and 46 minutes to Knoxville. Won’t be able to post this until tonight. We hit the road June 1 and from New Orleans have passed through Mississippi, Alabama, a corner of Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, back through Maryland, West Virginia, back into Virginia and we’re heading back towards Tennessee. Three of those were firsts for me, five for Tori. We have one more reading Sunday at the Knoxville Barnes & Noble.
Millie flies back to New York on Tuesday, and then it’s kind of open. There’s another possible event in Nashville Saturday the 18th, but we’re both starting to feel like we’re ready to get home. It’s been an amazing tour and we’ve met a lot of great people and sold a lot of books and showed the flag (a Jolly Roger, naturally) all over, but it’s beginning to feel like I want nothing more than to wake up in my own bed. Probably with the cat sitting on my chest, poking my face to get me to wake up.
Coming up in the next couple of days, posts on some of the events, thoughts on the things an author will do to sell books (spoiler alert – anything, a writer is or should be willing to do anything to sell a book) and some of the geeky stuff that’s happened on this June jaunt.
This has been a good first week on the road, for a lot of reasons, many of them obvious. But I’m going to give three for now.
This is the first time since I’ve known Tori that we have been together without kids for a whole week. We both had children before we met, and after we got married we had three more. (They know what causes that now.) So we have been able to get away for occasional weekends, but that was it.
Today is our seventh day on the road, a full week. And we’ve had a great time. Just driving, being silly, exploring new things together, laughing. It’s always been a “given” that she’s my best friend. How fun to see how true that really can be, when it’s just the two of us, how well it works.
Speaking of friends, I left Hampton late Sunday afternoon with a slew of new ones, the many fine freebooters I met at the Blackbeard Festival, starting with the members of Blackbeard’s Crew, who were our hosts at throughout the gathering. It was an honor I feel deeply, and I’m proud to call them brothers. Constable Heartless – you’re not fooling anyone with that name. You’re a fine pirate, a fine captain and a fine man. And all the other pirates from the various crews – Hope, Rattanne, Just Gregg, Damon, Mr. Willis, Rummaker, all the crew of the Vigilant, The Moody Crew and the Loose Cannon Company and all the rest of ye – I’m proud to call you brothers – even the women.
This had been planned as a sales trip, and certainly that’s the point. We wouldn’t be doing this without the impetus of “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter.” (Certainly as far as the IRS is concerned that’s all it’s about.) It wasn’t necessarily about selling books as getting it out there, meeting people, showing the flag. But it turns out, so far anyway, that we have been selling books, especially the first day of the festival when we sold quite a few. Not just “Chrissie,” although mostly that. But Tori had noticed early in our “retailing” career last year that the tables that seem to do the best have more than one title on them. So we brought with us some of our earlier efforts written with Cap’n Slappy – “A Li’l’ Pirates ABSeas,” “Well Blow Me Down,” and “Pirattitude,” and sold a few of each. In fact, I think it was the single best day of book selling I’ve had since Cap’n Slappy and I had a reading at a bookstore in our hometown and the audience was packed with our longtime friends. This has been total strangers. So we’re hopeful.
And, like I’ve always said, each book is sold one copy at a time, person to person, one to one. I actually had quite a bit of fun engaging people as they walked by, joking with them, talking about the books, and drawing them in until – Click! – they decide to buy one. You can actually feel it when they make the decision, sometimes they are as surprised as anyone. It’s fun.
We’ve got three readings/events coming up in the next five days, and we are just having fun.
Been busy. So freakin’ busy. Trying to lay plans to make myself even more busy.
School’s out, and Tori and I are hitting the road for two weeks to sell books. But boy, it’s skull-numbing trying to set it up.
Because I’m self-pubbed, I have to do it myself. But honestly, even when I had a publisher (“Pirattitude!” and “The Pirate Life”) I had to do it myself. As I’ve said before, a publisher’s not going to put a lot of effort into promoting you unless you’re already selling, which seems bass-ackwards to me. So it’s up to you.
Anyway, the “tour” was all based around attending the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, VA, the beginning of June. By a happy coincidence, my novel actually opens in Hampton, where Chrissie lives before she sets off on her adventures. (Coincidence my eye! I did it for this very reason, knowing I’d eventually be trying to sell it at the festival.)
I contacted the festival back in October, and had several very encouraging exchanges with several different members of the organizing committee. We talked about a book reading, setting up a table for sales, performing, really just doing anything we could to help out. For what it’s worth, I’m a pretty well known member of the pirate community. I’m also a ham, never met a microphone that frightened me. I was ready to help out.
Then I got to work trying to set up other events around that. And slowly but surely they started coming together. There’s a fine line between calling too early before an event and calling too late. That line is somewhere between six and four weeks. I started sticking pins in the map.
But I was never able to get any firm commitments of times or activities from the folks I’d been talking to in Hampton. I didn’t want to show up and discover no one knew who I was, why I was there or what I planned to do. Believe me, I’ve been there and it is NOT the best experience. Awkward don’t begin to describe it. I’ll tell you the story some time. As the date approached I was getting more and more nervous.
Finally, only a week ago, I heard back from one of the folks I’d been in touch with earlier. Turns out neither he nor the other two people I’d been in touch with are still on the organizing committee. Hadn’t been in months. While he tried to be helpful and was very nice about it, he really couldn’t do much. I was back at ground zero, with the clock ticking. And I had a couple of events on the calendar that I wouldn’t have dreamed of scheduling if I wasn’t already planning to be in Virginia.
I scrambled. It took a day get hold of someone at the city (the festival is a city parks and rec event) who referred me to someone else, and finally, on Thursday I was talking to the captain of Blackbeard’s Crew Inc. He was horrified, felt somehow responsible for the mess, even though it had nothing to do with him. I tried to reassure him that stuff happens, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of the world. But he wouldn’t hear of it, and by Friday Tori and I had an invitation to come to the festival under the aegis of his group, with some really nice arrangements offered. We are honored to be the guests of such a gracious crew.
And that pretty much nailed down the schedule, at least the front two thirds of it. We’re driving from New Orleans to Hampton, VA, with a one day stop in Knoxville, TN, to spend a day with Tori’s oldest, closest friend. Then on to the festival where, with any luck at all, we’ll sell many books or at least pick up email addresses for the mailing list and give out cards advertising the book. We’re going to take most of an off day to visit the Jamestown Settlement (I’m a nut for historical sites) and on to Maryland to visit my niece, then up to Wilkes-Barre, PA, for a reading at the Barnes & Noble, followed the next day by an event at the Red Canoe Bookstore and Cafe in Baltimore.
In Baltimore we’ll pick up daughter Millie, who is coming down from New York, and spend Saturday June 11 with her driving like maniacs back to Knoxville, where I have a reading at the Barnes & Noble 2 p.m. June 12. We’ll stay at the friend’s house, getting Millie to the airport where she can fly home on that Tuesday (so she only misses two days of work.)
And then we’re at loose ends for a couple of days. I’m still looking for one more opportunity in the area, maybe Chattanooga, maybe Memphis, but honestly, resting up for a couple of days sounds good, too.
Then there’s an event in Murfreesboro, TN., just outside Nashville, 5 p.m. June 18. Our friend Tom Mason and his pirate band, Blue Buccaneer, will be performing at the Mayday Brewery. I will sing along with the best of ’em, pounding my tankard on the table appropriately. And of course I’ll have books with me available for selling, because even if I don’t sell any, that makes the whole event a sales trip and deductible from my taxes. No beer tastes better than a tax deductible beer!*
And then home. We’ll have covered a lot of miles and a lot of the eastern half of the USA, and we’ll be ready to put our feet up for a few days.
There’s another event coming up in August, and another in September. So there’s always something. But you’d better believe before I hit the road Wednesday, I’m recontacting all of the venues I’ve scheduled with, just to be sure. I hate that kind of surprise.
* I would point out that I am NOT a licensed tax expert or a CPA or anything like that. I’m a pirate. Please consult your tax professional before trying this at home and remember that it’s probably never a good idea to take tax advice from a pirate. The IRS hates the competition.
The trailers are often the best part of a night at the movies. And more and more books are getting the same treatment, a minute to two-minute video trying to entice people into reading.
I decided to put one together for Chrissie. Video software is ubiquitous and fairly easy to learn – although like so many things, it’s easy to learn but takes a lot more time to master. But Tori and I have done a lot of videos for the Pirate Guys, so we figured why not.
It took a lot of time, one of the reasons I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. I was mostly slowed because Apple keeps “improving” iMovie, in particular, the text functions, which slowed me down a lot. It was maddening. But I roughed it out, then Tori cleaned it up.
I like the way it turned out.
After you ooh and ahh over mine (kidding there,) you should go to youtube and search the words “book trailer.” you’ll be amazed how many come up. They range in quality and resources from full-blown productions with actors and budgets (I suspect these are paid for by publishers who only throw money promoting products they already think will be best sellers,) to videos of authors sitting on front of their computers camera talking about the book. Mine falls in the low-budget category. The music, which wasn’t what I was looking for but was perfect, came up on a search for “non-royalty tin whistle music.” The images were all sketches done by my cover illustrator. The words were from fans who loved the book.
We all know the story. When you self-publish, you’re not just the author. You have to do everything, and while that can be onerous, it also gives you a certain freedom. You can be a director, creating your very own video for the trailer.
It was more work than I expected. It’s easy to rough out. Harder to clean it up so that it looks good. But I had fun, probably too much.
It’s been more than a week now since I took part in the Jambalaya Writers Conference in Houma, then I got busy last week (a string of household “incidents” that took a lot of attention and time.) So let me start wrapping up what I talked about in my session.
I told you last week how I opened, with a couple of stories that illustrated, whether you’re self-publishing or got picked up by a legacy publisher, you still have to get out there and do the work yourself. And that’s the good news, because no one loves your book as much as you do, and no one is more vested in its success than you are.
So here, in summary, is the rest of what I had to say.
• It starts with your book. Make it the very best you can. Rewrite. Rewrite again. Have a few test readers. Listen to them. But keep these words from Neil Gaiman in mind: “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Don’t scrimp or cut corners. Hiring an editor is a good idea. An outside professional can do more than clean the typos. He or she can point to problems in your story that you might be blind to. If you can’t afford one, find someone competent to read it. You must know somebody – your daughter’s fifth grade English teacherAnd DO NOT go cheap on the cover. Like it or not (and nobody does) people do judge books by their covers. Do not have your neighbor’s 14-year-old daughter do the cover because “She’s always been so artistic,” unless your neighbor’s daughter has also taken classes in art, design, typography and print technology. Money spent on a good cover is, perhaps, among the most important money you will spend. Yes, you can use a service or the “cover creator” software on your POD platform, but the best you’ll get is a thoroughly OK cover. Generic, but not embarrassing.
You don’t want to publish a book. You want to publish a great book. So don’t cut corners. People might buy a bad book from you the first time. They won’t do it twice, and you probably want to be in this for the long haul.
• Social media can help you get the word out, but it will not sell your book.
Rule number one of social media is – It’s social. It’s not a marketplace or an advertising venue. It’s social.
Yes, you want the people on your friends list to buy your book. But you can’t treat them like potential customers. Treat them like – for want of a better word – friends. You don’t want to be the guy who is on their every day saying “buy my book, buy my book, but my book.” That’s a recipe for getting unfriended and unfollowed really fast.
If you have a release date coming up, if your book is about to come out or already has, you’re about three years behind the curve. The time to start cultivating your social media following is as soon as you start writing, or earlier. On Facebook (and “everybody” is on Facebook) you can start with your page, then set up a page for the book. Then act like a friend. For every time you mention the book you’re writing, try to post five things that are just chat. The picnic you went on with the family, the weather, something funny that happened on a date last night. Maybe post a picture of your cat. Those seem to be popular. And take some time every day to go through your friends’ posts and like things, comment on some of them. Be supportive and encouraging. Be a friend.
That way you’re an interesting person who happens to be writing and selling a book, not just an annoying person who is out there shamelessly flogging your book to a resentful public at the expense of everything else.
• Build an email list. Your email list and newsletter is your best single selling tool. You need a web page, and a place for people to sign up for your newsletter. Don’t sign people up without their OK. Having them sign up is critical. It gives permission for you to send them your information. Otherwise they just get – here’s that word again – resentful. And resentful people are hard to sell to.
And don’t make the newsletter nothing but an ad. Give the reader something useful, some reason to want to open the email you send them once a month. That’s going to depend on your book, your genre, and your platform. (More on platform later.) In my case, I try to give the readers something funny every month. I’ve been sending short excerpts from the earlier humor books Cap’n Slappy and I wrote, then a calendar of upcoming events, and finally something about the book.
The people on your list gave you permission. Don’t abuse it.
Making and maintaining an email list and creating a newsletter are not that hard, they’re something you can do yourself. But there are services you can use that are inexpensive and even free. For instance, if your list is less than 2,000 address, MailChimp allows you to send 12,000 emails a month for free. That’d by six mailings to your entire list every month, and I think we can agree that’d be excessive. Once your list grows over that number, it goes from $40 to $65 a month, which isn’t onerous, and wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? A list that just keeps growing? And they provide other services, templates, reports of how many of your mailings actually got opened. Stuff like that. Anyway, it’s something to think about.
There were two more pieces of my presentation, but this is long enough and I’ve got to get to work. So I’ll finish up tomorrow.