To Market, To Market

To Market, To Market

Ruth E. Walker

I recently attended a celebration of local authors in Ontario’s cottage country. Aptly named Kaleidoscope, the book sales event offered a wide range of styles and published works for readers. Intriguing mysteries, fantasies for all ages, beautiful photography collections, wildlife explorations, compelling memoirs and biographies, and children’s picture books filled huge dining tables on two floors of the rustic Wintergreen Maple Syrup and Pancake Barn in Gelert, near Minden.

For readers, Kaleidoscope was a great opportunity to sample works by some of the many writers who call the Haliburton Highlands home. But for writers, it was an even better chance to learn from one another: what kinds of books were being inspired by the rugged natural beauty of the landscape and who are the people behind the titles? And even more important to me, how are those writers sharing their words with each other and their readers?

Even Margaret Atwood has to promote her books

I saw a range of approaches to direct sales of books and each has benefits and pitfalls. Of course, it’s always a personal choice on how one sets up their sales table. And that choice has to suit the writer. Some writers are painfully shy. I can say this because I am exactly that kind of writer. But I’ve put on my “act outgoing” pants so often now that people think I’m an extrovert. Don’t tell anyone — let’s keep it our little secret.

I toughened up my sales approach after a few years of setting up booths at Word on the Street and Eden Mills Writers Festival. I was there with LICHEN, a jewel of a literary journal I’d helped found and edit. Eventually, I learned to accept people walking past our table, avoiding all eye contact. I no longer took it personally when, after talking up a potential buyer, I watched them put the journal back and walk away. And I quietly celebrated those who bought their own copy.

I watched the writers at Kaleidoscope and recognized the many ways we promote our books:

The Quiet Table

This is the simple “here are my books on display” approach. Just the books. Stacked in an attractive display: cover out, at least one in a stand. The writer stands behind/next to the display, ready to chat with anyone with questions. This is a time-honoured marketing approach. Head to any bookstore and you’ll see lots of those display tables. Readers are attracted to quiet displays.

What you need to remember:

  • show the price; if there are specials let visitors know (2 for $xx or BOGO 50% off) Yes, it feels weird but it is part of marketing; most people dislike having to “guess the price”
  • business cards/postcards show readers you’d like to engage, even through an email or note
  • smile and say hello; it can feel unnatural (and really awkward if they ignore you) but you get used to it
  • NOTE: A recent article in Write magazine recommended displaying a question to give visitors a topic to engage with you on: “Ask me about…” — especially effective if your book(s) tackle tough or intriguing subjects that you spent time researching
The Audio-Visual Augmented Table

Video is a remarkable tool for marketing. Just like an illustration in a book, a video attracts passers-by through sound and/or images. It’s easily set up on a laptop or tablet that’s tucked in among the books.

At Kaleidoscope, a writer displayed a video of First Nation drumming scenes to share at his table. He did the following and these were exactly what we fellow writers appreciated:

  • consider your neighbours by watching the volume (but even the fairly low sound attracted visitors from the first floor to climb the stairs and see what was going on the second floor)
  • avoid constant looping to allow your visitors (and those at other tables) time and space in which to chat
  • NOTE: check in advance or arrive early to ensure your electronics are close to a power plug AND watch the cord for any tripping hazard (including for you)
The Multiple Offerings Table

Some readers are attracted to busy tables. And many readers are also writers (and that should not surprise you, writer!) so I make it a point to have material on hand for writers. Sometimes a jar of writing tips to reach in and pick from. Sometimes writing prompts. And, of course, I always have the latest on upcoming Writescape retreats.

  • offer treats or takeaways; even a jar of wrapped candy or bookmark can attract people to your table
  • define your space with a backdrop/tablecloth or banner (especially effective if you can tie it into the book)
  • get creative — for a children’s story about a picnic, use a picnic blanket and display copies of the book in a picnic basket along with picnicky items. If it’s a mystery novel, include a Sherlock Holmes cap and magnifying glass, etc.
  • NOTE: A plastic display stand can hold excerpts of reviews on your books or promote your next reading or event

No matter what kind of salesperson you are, writer, you know that in today’s noisy and crowded marketplace, we need to be prepared to sell our words and find our readership. No matter what, be ready to answer this question: What is your book about? A short one- or two-sentence answer should be on the tip of your tongue.

Like the writing process, marketing your book is a journey. But thankfully, with cooperative sales events like the first-ever Kaleidoscope in the Haliburton Highlands, it’s not a journey we need to take on our own.

DID YOU KNOW
Heather. signing BETTING GAME

Book sales events are just one piece of the marketing pie. Remember that websites and social media can also be a useful tool to introduce readers to your work. Here’s a look at Heather O’Connor’s Top Drawer post on the marketing work she did IN ADVANCE of the launch of her best-selling YA novel, Betting Game.

Invaluable and oh-so-practical advice from a successful author. And, as noted, it’s a journey.

Recipe for a Writing Grant

Recipe for a Writing Grant

Ruth E. Walker

Gwynn and I know firsthand what a thrill it is when someone validates us as writers. When you are told that you’ve won an award, a scholarship or a grant for your creative work, it’s not just about the money. Don’t get me wrong. For almost all of us, the “starving artist” is not a metaphor. It’s a hard reality.

Winning an award or grant is more than an income boost, however. It shows the world that others place worth on your craft. And it validates you as a working writer, one who is submitting their work for evaluation. That you are willing to risk the opinion of strangers.

So it gives us great pleasure to participate in an annual scholarship program with The Writers’ Community of Durham Region. WCDR is a 300+-member networking organization for writers of all types and levels. Heather O’Connor and I have been members for years and Gwynn was there at their very first meeting in the 90s. We all know that education is a prime focus for this non-profit group.

2017 Essay Prompt

When we were approached a few years ago to be part of their annual WCDR scholarship program we said Yes! Writescape funds a $150 scholarship.

Applicants must be members of WCDR, they must complete an online form to outline their background and budget details on their writing project/plans and, most importantly, craft a compelling essay inspired by a writing prompt. All applications are judged on their practical, logical content as well as how their passion is conveyed in responding to the prompt.

Our $150 support is not tied to taking any of our workshops or retreats. Writescape has no part in the adjudication process. We aren’t on any of the judging panels, we see none of the applications or essays, and only learn the name of the recipient a day or so before the award is announced.

A prize-winning event

It’s always been wonderful to attend the award breakfast and to hand out the prize. But this year was especially delightful for me. I’ve known the winner for twenty years. I also know he was the originator of the WCDR scholarship program and willingly volunteers his business acumen and well-honed technology skills to support the group and individual members.

In short, Rich Helms a good guy.

Rich Helms is not, however, a poet. Nor does he write mysteries or thrillers or historical romance novels. His excellent resource book Book Trailer 101 coaches writers on making their own book trailers. And if you want to understand Amazon SimpleDB, Rich co-wrote a guidebook on that as well. So I was curious and asked Rich if I could see his application and essay. What technological advance was Rich taking on this time? He willingly shared his application. Turns out, Rich reaches back to the early days of civilization for his latest topic.

Rich is baking bread. And he’s writing about it.

In his background notes, Rich shows his logical side. “…40 years in computer research and development, where I took complex ideas and turned them into marketable products.” and lays out his plan “The next thing I want to tackle is how to write a recipe – an area in which I have no expertise.”

But baking bread is his passion. Does his essay reveal any passion?

“When I retired from the company I once owned, I spent a month living by the ocean. Every day, my dog, Margaret, and I would walk the shore, then stop and fish. My all-consuming thought was, what now?

I’m a computer nerd who bakes bread and writes about it, and I’m not afraid to describe bread baking as a sensuous experience. I revel in the feeling of kneading dough into a boule of smooth, elastic food that is alive and growing. I breathe deeply the smell of the flour and yeast fermenting, breaking down the starches as well as the tantalizing aromas of caramelizing sugars…”

“…Thinking back to my walks by the ocean with Margaret …when I returned each day, our footprints were gone. Only pictures on my phone proved that we had walked the shore. The sand looked clean, and all traces of the day before were removed. What remained was a clean slate beckoning us to start the walk again.

This all makes me think about my journey with breadbaking. The traces of the journey disappear; time washes them away. But what survives are the writing, the stories, the recipes and what I learn along the way. As I move forward, I am excited to knead a deeper element of writing into the mix.”

Yup. I’d say the passion is there. And a wonderful depth and elegance to Rich’s writing that I’d not seen before.

A worthwhile gift to writers

We know that every writer who has received the Writescape scholarship has appreciated the support and used the money to deepen their craft or expand their skills into new areas. This time, it’s especially nice for us to know the recipient. And I can add that I have tasted Rich’s breads: a superb cheese loaf and dinner rolls that engaged the senses and deliciously filled the belly.

This ancient craft is even older than written language. I’ll be looking for Rich’s recipe book but in the meantime, I’ll settle for an occasional taste from the hearth. Yum!

DID YOU KNOW

Writescape offers Get That Grant, a fabulous one-day workshop on the art and skill of applying for writing grants and scholarships. Participants have a pretty good track record, and we can happily boast that Rich Helms is only the latest success story from taking the workshop this past February. Heather O’Connor offers her workshop yearly in Durham Region as well as “on demand” for groups and organizations that express interest. Email info@writescape.ca for details.