Unless you’ve written the best and most original piece of work since To Kill a Mockingbird—and of course you have, darling—you’re going to have to hustle to sell your book. Online, in-person, over the phone to booksellers who’ve never heard of you and question your desire to sit-and-sign at their store. However you decide to do it, it’s part of the job, and you might as well enjoy it.
From my first conversation with Chip MacGregor, he made it clear he was all about the business of writing. It’s not enough to write well, to craft compelling stories, to engage readers on the page. Like any other profession, roughly a third of your time and energy has to be committed to finding work and selling your product. It was true when I ran a software company and it’s true now.
Long before I had my deal with Down & Out Books to publish Stinking Rich, I’d decided the best thing I could do for my debut novel would be to tour it. I have the luxury of time and the dollars I’d spend on gas and accommodation would never generate anything beyond a blip in advertising. What I didn’t know was how much work would be involved beyond the hours on the road.
Pulling together a database of independent bookstores is an interesting task in an era of store closures. With mystery bookstores in particular, it felt like one in three had disappeared since the start of the 2008 recession, coincident with the surge in ebooks and online retailing. Still, most of the people still in the game are deeply passionate about what they do, and many are bound to succeed regardless of market changes. I even met one bookseller brave enough to respond to the local Barnes and Noble closure by opening up last year. She couldn’t imagine her town without a bookstore.
Booking events, even with the help of Christy Campbell, my publicist at D&OB, was a challenge for a debut genre writer from a small press in peak book season. (Hint: try NOT to wind up with a September publication date your first time out.) But we stuck at it and wound up with over twenty gigs, a mix of author co-appearances, solo book store events, sit-and-signs, and readings in bars.
I’d started doing library readings and Noir at the Bars about a year before my novel came out, so I’d like to say it was a breeze, but that’d be a lie. The readings came off okay—I stuck to sometimes abridged segments loaded with dialogue, and audiences usually get a kick out of the dark bits in my work—but the open author discussions took some getting used to. All of a sudden, I felt expected to perform without a script, without the luxury of editing my words or rehearsing what I’d say. Even in the most comfortable and friendly environment, I had to be “on”.
And before and after each event, chatting with the bookseller, I still had to in sales mode (which for me has always meant active listening). If I’m going to meet 50 or 60 booksellers over a two-month period, I’d better not let them become a blur. These are the people I want hand-selling my third novel two years from now. I need to know what makes their business hum.
But wait, 50-60 booksellers? Wasn’t I talking about 20-some events? Who are the other ones? They’re the ones along my route who said, “No, thanks” to my appearance. The ones I heard of from people I met on the road or who turned up on Google that I’d somehow missed while planning the tour. They all get a visit, a quick chat, and where it makes sense, an ARC. And some of them will host me next time I’m out. Because I’ve made an effort to get on their radar.
Sound like work? Sure. Exhausting? You bet. But when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel that way. And when I finally hit my desk again, there’s a boatload of new stories to spill.
Rob Brunet is the author of Stinking Rich, which has just released with Down and Out Books. What could go wrong when a backwoods motorcycle club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Um… plenty. Have a look at Rob’s funny, twisted look at the local good ol’ boys. Famed writing guru Les Edgerton called it “one of the wildest romps you’ll ever go on.” Rob is currently out on the road, pitching it to readers.