I’m taking a little detour from writing about my own publication process to talk about a real-life marketing experience – the Chronicle Book Fair in Glens Falls, NY.
I participated in my first book fair as the author of Autumn Colors yesterday. It was an eye-opening learning experience. Although it was mostly positive, I was disappointed that I was too busy at my table and in the panel groups I volunteered for to get around to other tables and find out what else was there. I guess that’s a good thing.
From a distance, many of the other displays looked interesting and polished. There seemed to be a lot of children’s books, including a science based young adult book offered by my immediate neighbor. Since the book fair was held in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, there were a lot of locals with books about some aspect of the Adirondacks or novels based there. I’m sure there were additional interesting books and displays.
I was glad that I’d planned ahead to have some colorful (“autumn colors”) decorations to draw eyes to the table. My neighbor with the science story hadn’t planned for much, and he had considerably less traffic. However, the woman with whom I shared the table, Gloria Waldron Hukle, a three-time novelist, had a more professional display than I did, with posters for her books (and stands to hold the posters upright) and copies of reviews and articles about her books and herself. Her stacks of both hard and soft cover books were pretty impressive. Think I’ll make some changes in my exhibit before I do another one. Gloria also let me know about a few more book fairs coming up and promised to send me notices when it’s time to sign up. She’s very generous about sharing her experience and contacts.
Another thing I did that proved useful was to hold a raffle to give away two books. Participants had to give me their address and email so I could notify them if they won, so now I have a lot of contacts I can use for further promotion.
As part of the “experience”, I had volunteered for one of the mini-readings and a panel about how I got published. I was glad I’d practiced (and timed) the reading, because we were limited to five minutes, and a lot of people went over that. The moderator had to cut them off, and she obviously wasn’t comfortable with that, because she did let them go over. Note to others planning to do readings: be courteous to the other authors. Pick a reading you can complete within the allotted time so everyone has equal time to do theirs.
The panel on how I got published was the “eye opener.” There was a clear bias AGAINST traditional publishing amongst the panelists, which took me by surprise. I assume that most people would prefer to secure a traditional publisher, preferably a major one, and would resort to self-publishing only when their road to traditional publishing is blocked. Not so with these panelists! The other eye-opener was the gap between the old and the young on the panel.
There were two men and me in my general age category (well, one was probably about 10 years younger) and a man and a woman who were probably somewhere in their thirties. The three oldsters all talked about a traditional or semi-traditional approach to publishing. A man who’d done a picture book for children called his publisher a “hybrid”, in that the publisher did some things like a traditional publisher but others more like a self-publishing arrangement. The other older man also described his experience as a cross between traditional publishing and self-publishing. And, of course, my publisher, although traditional, does not do some of the activities done by other traditional publishers, such as secure reviews of the book, and very limited other marketing.
On the other hand, the two younger authors were adamant about not wanting the traditional publisher approach. They wanted to retain full rights over their work, which you lose for the period of your contract with a traditional publisher. The young woman said her novel was literary, and she expected that it would appeal to a more sophisticated reader. The young man was by far the most interesting to me, both for the topic of his books, the Abanakee language, and for his use of something called Lulu, which I hadn’t heard of before yesterday, but was mentioned by at least 3 people. I haven’t investigated yet, but it seems to be a print-on-demand service, and was praised by those who spoke of it. It certainly helps limit the outlay for large print runs, which can be very costly, and that makes sense particularly for such specialized books as one about the Abanakees. But it seems to me it also limits your reach, if you’ve written something more mainstream, or even for a literary novel.
The two younger folks also, although they spoke with disdain about Facebook and Twitter, both agreed they were essential to promotion, and seemed to have a good handle on using them effectively. Two out of three of us older folks were not on Facebook (I am), and I haven’t yet checked out their presence on Twitter.
And the young authors also made it clear that electronic books were the future and old-fashioned hard and soft cover books will go the way of eight-track tapes. I can’t imagine a world without “real” books – books that can be signed by the author and lovingly stored on bookshelves after reading. I can’t imagine libraries with only downloadable e-books instead of shelves and shelves of well-worn books. I certainly can see an advantage to a Kindle or similar device for going on vacation, so you can have several books with you without taking up precious weight and space. And e-books are less expensive in the long run, after you’ve made up the cost of whatever reader device you purchase. But there’s just something satisfying about holding a real book in your hands and turning the pages and marking your place with a bookmark or scrap of paper or whatever’s handy. Perhaps turning on a Kindle is just as satisfying for some. But what would childhood be without picture books? Do illustrations and photos even translate to e-books? Admittedly, I’m showing my lack of experience with them, not to mention my lack of interest. And maybe my age.
I tend to “think young” – or so I thought – but this was the first time I felt a significant generation gap related to writing and publishing. There was a clear line between the thinking of the young and the approach and hopes of us older authors.