Tag Archives: Partners in Crime

I’ve got 99 problems…and book publicity is one of them

Being a writer is rewarding, exhausting, and sobering. Particularly if you’ve recently published your first book and are trying to make a name for yourself. That means you get to experience the wonderful world of book promotion. You get to try a million suggestions (which everyone will have) to find those fleeting moments of joy when you get a positive review or sell a book. You get to learn what works and what doesn’t. And as I go through these growing pains, I’m happy to share the lessons I learn with you.

 

In my ongoing quest for book publicity, I participated in the 2014 Dallas Book Festival a few days ago and purchased an author booth. It was my first time being an author at a festival, so I was hyped! I had my table set up, my books and marketing materials stacked neatly, and a gatorboard poster of my book cover displayed. I was ready to sell millions of books!

 

I fell a bit short of that goal. I sold THREE books (and I thank those wonderful readers who bought them). In fact, those three might have qualified as one of the top sellers at that festival. All famous authors had to start somewhere, right? I guess I’m moving in the right direction.

One of the great readers who helped me make enough money to pay for parking

One of the great readers who helped me make enough money to pay for parking

 

In addition to earning enough to buy three-quarters of a tank of gas, I learned some things that might have me better prepared for my next festival. If you plan to sell books at a festival to create publicity, maybe this will help you as well.

 

Understand the venue

If you want to meet local readers and support your community, a small festival is great. If you don’t care about all that and just want to sell lots of books, you’ll need a bigger one. The Dallas Festival was small and it wasn’t promoted very well. The author section was on the 2nd floor of a library, away from ground floor traffic, and with space for about ten or twelve tables. Some people on the first floor didn’t even know we were up there. Meanwhile, the bigger festivals can accommodate well over a hundred authors and they have promotional budgets to spread the word. Of course, the registration fees can be several hundred dollars (versus the $40 for Dallas), so you get what you pay for.

 

Hold reasonable expectations

One author at the Dallas festival had traveled from another country to participate. He didn’t sell one book. So unless you have lots of book-buying friends, you’re a well-known author, or you’ve got one of the big publishing houses advertising you, don’t expect to recoup your expenses for events like these. In fact, don’t even bother wasting time calculating how many sold books you need to offset the cost of traveling, registration fees, shipping books back and forth, etc. You won’t see a return on that money for a long time. Just think of it as building awareness for future books. At least most of it is tax-deductible.

 

Stand frequently and greet everyone

Don’t sit at your table all day. Stand up for a while. Greet people. This makes you approachable, making it easier to sell your book. On the flip side, you have to learn when to cut off certain people. Practice excusing yourself tactfully, because you’ll run across people who just want to talk all day. You’d think otherwise, considering it’s a book festival, but some attendees will have no intention of buying books. They are there to people-watch and talk. At the Dallas festival, I seemingly attracted people who stood at my table for what seemed like hours, telling me unsolicited details about things like their marriage and sex life. They didn’t seem to catch on that I had no interest, nor did they seem to care that I was trying to greet people behind them–people who looked like they would actually buy a book.

 

(Public Service Announcement: if you are a reader attending a book festival, don’t monopolize the writer’s time when other people are trying to check out their booths. Especially if you aren’t buying anything! If you want to chat, grab their contact information and email or call them later. Or simply step aside while they introduce themselves to another guest, and continue the conversation when the coast is clear.)

 

All in all, the festival was a great learning experience. I had fun meeting other authors and swapping stories about our experiences and the strange people we met. I still have my 99 problems as I continue this journey, but I’m having fun doing it.

 

Maybe my 100th problem is that I’m crazy enough to keep doing this mess.

I’m beat.

When my buddies suggested I join them in Trinidad for Carnival this past weekend, I figured why not? I love the Caribbean vibes and felt I’d be at home for my first visit to the island. Also, since it’s difficult to find time to write during the week, I thought I’d have some time to relax and catch up during my vacation.

Wrong.

From the fetes (festival parties) that end after sunrise, to the thundering soca music that never stops, to the wet, sexual wildness of J’ouvert, there’s little time to relax. I had a lot of fun, but now I need a vacation from this vacation.

If you like the Carnival atmosphere, check out Trinidad’s version of it. Don’t think you’ll fly there, celebrate, and return to work a day or two later, unless you like walking into meetings looking like a sleep-deprived zombie. You’ll be putting in some work, and you’ll need time to physically recover from the partying and celebrating. I’ve met people who’ve experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil, and they say nothing captures the spirit and energy of Trinidad.

If you want to party in Trinidad & Tobago, here are six things to keep in mind:

1) Start early

  • Plan your travel about 9-12 months in advance. Naturally, the prices get worse the closer you get. Hotels like Hyatt and Hilton will charge 3 to 4 times their normal price that week. And they still sell out fast.

2) Make the band

  • Some people reserve costumes and join bands for playing mas, where they dance along parade routes on Monday/Tuesday. Costumes range from $200 U.S. to well over $2,000, but this also includes food, alcohol, security, and access to parties. If you don’t reserve one, you can try waiting for a last-minute cancellation and grabbing an unclaimed costume at a discount, but you risk missing out completely. Or you can just watch and enjoy the crowd.
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Me and a lovely Carnival participant

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3) Dress for comfort

  • Most people wear shorts and t-shirts, with sandals or sneakers. It’s warm and humid and you’ll walk a lot. Trying to be cute with your shoes will only mean blisters and sore feet later. And people aren’t worrying about your shoes anyway. Not with all of the other sights to look at.

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  • In fact, if you do J’ouvert (a giant street party), bring a t-shirt, shorts or pants, and shoes you don’t mind throwing away. J’ouvert starts at 4am on Monday, where thousands dance through streets to ear-shattering, bass-thumping soca music until 8am. Revelers toss and smear colorful paints, mud, water, and chocolate syrup on everyone (tip: eat a snack before the party and put your phone in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet).
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The after-effects of J’ouvert

4) Wine and Dine

  • You won’t forget the dancing. Men and women will freak and grind on each other to the music (also called wining). They quickly move on to the next willing participant, usually a complete stranger. Inhibitions are definitely loosened (the free-flowing alcohol helps) and it is sexually charged. However, most people don’t wine; they’re content to walk along with the crowd and enjoy the music and drinks.
  • But if you do indulge in wining, please don’t fall in love with that sexy young lady because she thrust herself on you, or because that tall stranger with the accent lifted you in the air like some Adonis. It’s not that serious. They’ll wine like that all night. This isn’t a nightclub in the States, where that action could mean something else. In Trinidad, it’s dancing, not a commitment for sex. I didn’t see a single fight or drama, despite the plentiful supply of alcohol. So if you chase after that woman or dude because they wined you so well, you’ll come across as a stalker.

5) Stay near downtown Port-of-Spain (capital city)

  • Traffic can be as awful as Atlanta rush hour in a snowstorm (okay, it’s not THAT bad, but it’s bad). If you stay on the outskirts and go to a party, you may have to walk several miles back to your hotel at night (which I don’t recommend) or wait 1-3 hours for a cab to retrieve you. But if you do stay on the outskirts and don’t have a friend driving you…

6) Hire a designated driver

  • Finding a cab can be an adventure. Especially if you go to the fetes that end early in the morning and everyone leaves at the same time. You could be stuck there for what seems like days. Instead, pay your cabbie to wait for you or schedule him to pick you up before the party ends.
  • Just note that cabs there do not have standard markings, colors, or fleets. They look like any regular car or minivan. The only way to tell is to look at the plates; cab plates start with an ‘H’.

There are lots of other things to add, but that would put me over my self-imposed word limit for my posts, which I’ve already blown out of the water. However, I’ve only been to Trinidad once. I’m sure experienced veterans reading this could add more insight. If that’s you, please feel free to share!

Oprah, Oprah, where are thou?

Man, I love my friends, family, and readers. They are very supportive. Since I’m like every other author out there, struggling to build awareness, they think Oprah is the answer to all of my problems.

They feel I’m just one phone call away from stardom. One phone call from Oprah to highlight my book before I start signing movie deals and counting huge amounts of cash. When I tell them that there are a million books published each year, and other authors hear the same things, they pooh-pooh my realism and tell me to think positively.

But Oprah still hasn’t called yet. No invite to her show. No multimillion dollar contract. She hasn’t magically sensed my novel on the market and felt a strong compulsion to fulfill my dreams of fame and fortune. What’s her problem?

My friends and readers say “Send your book to her! She’ll read it. You never know!”

I try not to chuckle when I hear that. Oprah must have warehouses full of unrequested books that people throw her way. Besides, I’ve never known her to highlight my genre, which is murder mystery. If I’m putting all my hopes into a magical discovery that happens all of a sudden, I’ll probably be disappointed.

We live in a culture that highlights those who reach the pinnacle of success or luck. From the Powerball lottery winners to the young woman who wins American Idol, we’re inundated with these stories. Yet, they are just one in a million. Maybe one in several hundred million. However, people see these folks and believe that anyone can do it, too.

What we don’t see are the people who work hard and keep striving despite seeing any visible signs of progress. We don’t see the little things they have to stick to, day in and day out, to reach their goals. So we get lulled into that belief that we can get those miracle finishes without much difficulty.

Promoting a book certainly falls in the ‘difficult’ category, especially when I don’t have $3,000 a month to spend on promotion. Yes, several PR companies specializing in book promotion quoted a price of over three grand per month to promote my book. Maybe if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t need to worry about promoting my book to increase sales. So when my optimistic friends and readers tell me to call Oprah, I smile, say ‘sure!’, and keep it moving. Like most authors out there, I have to do this the hard way.

That’s not to say I won’t break Olympic records running to my phone if Oprah’s name pops up on my caller ID. I just won’t expect it to be that easy. I need to keep things simple and start with easier tasks before I get that invite to Chicago. Like writing five or six bestsellers first. Easy enough, right?

Then I won’t have to worry about Oprah and get upset because she hasn’t called me yet…

(yes, borrowed from Dave Chappelle and Comedy Central)

Writing pic download

In a previous post dated January 8, 2014, I stated that every aspiring author has been told to write about what you know.

Yet, some focus only on their existing knowledge, which is usually limited to their day jobs. Even though they might want to create the next great American legal thriller, they don’t believe they’re qualified to do it if they aren’t parading through courtrooms every day, hypnotizing juries with skilled wordplay. So they get stuck and never start. Or they force themselves to write about things that doesn’t excite them as much. Which means people won’t be excited to read them, either.

In case you find yourself in that situation, I’d like to save you some time. My previous post shared some things I learned as I wrote my first novel, Partners In Crime. The first step I outlined was to start with Data Research. Obviously, this is crucial, especially if you want to write about something in which you have little to no daily experience. People who don’t know what I do for a living usually think I’m a cop after they read my detective novel. Some express surprise when I tell them I’ve never worked in law enforcement. So gathering tons of data certainly helped me.

But that’s just the start.

Next, you have to:

      I.           Do your People research

  • This is hard for introverts like me, but you need to socialize. Suppose you want to write that legal thriller, but you work as an aircraft mechanic. So how do you find out about life as a criminal defense attorney? Well, you could always commit a felony and meet one that way, but a better option is to find out where they hang out. So…

a)    Ask around! In this example, start by asking friends and coworkers if they know any attorneys or paralegals. Someone always knows someone who knows someone. Ask for referrals or contacts if you can’t access your targeted people directly. Some of the best leads will come from those you least expect (it was an unexpected lead that helped me interview homicide detectives, go on ride-alongs, and visit crime scenes).

b)    Join a local writer’s group. They are filled with people just like you, people yearning to share their colorful stories with the world. Every writer’s group I joined had someone who knew someone who I needed to talk to. You can find them on the internet or through sites like Meetup.com.

c)    Go to writer’s conferences. These present an incredible wealth of knowledge. They will have workshops devoted to helping you improve your writing in your particular genre. They’ll have various subject matter experts serving as guest speakers and they’ll tell you what you need in order for your book to sound authentic.

d)    Find trade shows or conferences where your subject matter experts are likely to attend. For example, I’ve met police officers at gun shows, martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments, etc.

e)    Find professional groups. If you’re that aircraft mechanic wanting to be the next John Grisham, network with attorney’s groups. There are a billion lawyers in this country, so you should be able to find some legal group nearby. Many of them have charitable functions, fundraisers, and other events open to the public that you can attend.

f)     Be Honest. When you meet the people you need to, get them talking about themselves first. That warms them up. Then simply tell them you’re working on a book about ______ and you’d love to take them out to lunch to pick their brains. You’d be surprised at how helpful people are once you start talking to them. I haven’t had anyone turn down a free lunch yet.

    II.             Understand it’s all about the characters, not the research

  • This is important. As a first-time published author, I initially felt I had to prove my research by stuffing my book with a billion details. But as I kept writing, I realized it was less about the details and more about the character interaction, plot, pacing, suspense, etc. Realistic details are important, but you don’t need all of them. Sprinkling a few authentic details here and there will do. While you still need to conduct your research and know these things, putting the right details in the right places at the right times will work wonders.

Now these are just the things that I’ve found to be helpful for me. There are plenty of other things that people can do to gather insight that helps them create great stories and smash the boundaries of their everyday lives. For those who have finished books, what are some ideas you’ve found helpful?