Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Fairs

I've gone to two book fairs so far this year. I have three more scheduled. Last year I did many more. So why did I cut back this year? Several reasons.

About the best most of us can hope for is a few dozen books sold at a fair. These usually run one day from ten in the morning until sometime between two and four in the afternoon. Others run two days. Since some require an overnight stay due to distance, writers should factor in the expenses when deciding whether or not to go to a fair. If you draw a largish crowd at your table, you'll have to worry about spending only a few minutes with each buyer.

We meet fellow writers on the same circuit and catch up on family and friends. I caught up with Arnetta Philpott Hairston who brings her son's books to events until he's able to do it himself.

Let's do the math. Say I have a great fair. I meet with 30-40 readers, some of whom are already part of the Mad Max "family," while others are shopping for a new book with different characters. Say I sell 25 books at the fair. Now factor in five such events a year. I'd be able to reach 150-200 readers and sell 125 books. Add in at least one overnight for one of the fairs, plus gasoline, food, etc., and the return on each book sold quickly goes into the negative.

But how else do we reach our readers, you howl. I want to do book signings and be loved by my readers, you whimper. I want to thank them for buying my book, for supporting my writing efforts. It's a conundrum most debut writers face. We won't have the big book tours paid for by our publishers. We won't pack Barnes and Noble through having a poster in the window and a small blurb in the papers. We won't be on the Today Show, NPR, Oprah or CNN's book show. We won't have a publicist pushing us here and there, guiding us through the pits of marketing, unless we hire one. We have to do the work ourselves. That said, we have to be smart about how we spend our time.

I wondered if I was crying into the wilderness until I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal last weekend. Titled "Fiction's Digital Alchemist," the article features how Paulo Coelho, everything best selling author (NYT, USA Today, etc.) has changed his outlook on marketing. The article laid it out pretty clearly. Before he cut out book events, he calculated the following:

"In the past, each reader at a book signing would ask him to autograph about three novels (he has 27 out) and pose for a photo, amounting to a two-minute encounter. All told, that meant interacting with maybe 90 readers at a few dozen book events each year." Oh phooey. My estimates are way too high. Sigh.

He goes on: "Now he can write 'at least one kind word' to roughly 30 people a day and reach more than 10,000 a year. In the past six months, he has gained 4.1 million fans on Facebook through "likes" on his page."

And that, my fellow writers, is a good use of time.

Several years ago, I heard a middle grade author talk about answering every personal tweet. Granted, she only said things like "OMG. So happy you loved my story. Happy face." She kept a small file of  responses which she cut and pasted into her responses. Her fans stayed and were very happy.

For those of us who have day jobs, or who are shy and don't like to put themselves in front of people, or who may not be able to travel for a whole host of reasons, this might serve as a trail guide for reaching readers. I put together a daily timeline for responding to email, FB and Twitter. I alternate between writing and interacting. It's easy and takes the stress away from balancing reaching out and writing down.

I answer every, and I mean every, personal note. My numbers on FB, LinkedIn, Goodreads and Twitter continue to grow. My newsletter has nearly 1000 members. Can I say that any of these activities leads directly to sales? No, but if I don't do anything, I guarantee I will turn inactivity into no sales at all.

Now I figure out how these contacts translate into sales. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle

When the Killing's DoneWhen the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to the audio version of T.C. Boyle's When the Killing's Done, read by Anthony Heald. I'm glad I did, because I might not have finished reading it.

Boyle's unusual subject of killing invasive animals in the Channel Islands off the coast of California brings to light the controversy that rocked California years ago. A park service biologist pits herself against members of PETA and a fictitious group of animal rights advocates who want to stop the slaughter of feral pigs and rats. Straightforward enough, except the narrative ranges across three generations, multiple downings and boat sinkings and too many characters whose names begin with the same letter. I found it hard to keep up with Alma, Anise, Anabelle and others whose names began with A.

Not only does the narrative range back and forward in time, it is presented from the point of view of several characters. I'm sure seeing the character's name on the page would have helped. All the characters are brought together through the generations by the end of the book, which in this reader's mind was forced.

Head-hopping, i.e., written from differing points of view, often within the same paragraph, and characters with similar sounding names make the reader work hard to stay with the book to the end.

So, why the three stars? Because the reader was excellent. Alma, the biologist and protagonist, has fairly a straight-line thought process, although when she slips into confusion, and when Heald uses his pacing to portray that confusion, the book surges. Dave LaJoy, the antagonist, is full of anger, which might have become tedious on the printed page. Again, Heald saves the day with his rush of anger and near breathless delivery.

Would I recommend reading it? Only if you like convoluted sentences and tortured thoughts. Would I recommend it as an audio book? Definitely. Heald made all the difference in whether I cared for the characters or not.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at Way by Robert Gates

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at WarDuty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Gates' book provides extraordinary insight into the behind-the-scenes working of two presidencies. The title alone is telling: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. Not a Secretary of Defense, but a secretary at war.

Nowhere in this book does Gates forget to remind us he served in the Department of Defense when the U.S. was conducting two unpopular wars. Nowhere does he denounce the two presidents he served as SecDef, Bush 43 and Obama.

Gates details his support for his troops in nearly every interaction he has with the White House and Congress. He is critical of the White House under both presidents, often railing against principals who have really very little experience with the troops, micromanagement and political realities where budgets are approved or not based not on the actual needs of wartime reality. In most cases, math trumped approved strategies.

Late in a book that would have benefited from tight editing, he takes on Congress: "Uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations, micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, often putting self (and reelection) before country--this was my view of the United States Congress." He pulls few punches.

Gates is an angry man. He is also a fair man, taking responsibility for his actions and fighting for the troops.

For all his candor, he writes: "I was put off by the way the president (Obama) closed the meeting. To his very closest advisers, he said, 'For the record, and for those of you writing your memoirs, I am not making decisions about Israel or Iran.' I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would ever write about such sensitive matters."

And yet Gates did. While the current president is still in office. One wonders what his motive was.