“How Do You Do” Marketing? Book-signings or Bust..

gary with Leighton I write in English and live well away from cities in a foreign country, so there’s not much call for book-signing events or any of that sort of thing anywhere near me – but “now” seemed to be a good time to get into it.

Right now I’m away from relative seclusion in sunny South-West France and I’m back in Australia for several weeks then on to Fiji for a couple more. A lot of the trip is doing research for the two new novels I am now working on – a sequel to BEGINNINGS, my time-warping, historical novel about Spain and the Basque people (by the way, the e_book is now on special discount of 0.99c for a short time),  and a more personal memoir about growing up in Australia in the 1950s-60s …. and about dogs  ———-  but enough of that.  Now, I’m taking the opportunity to do some active marketing as well – mainly “book-signing” and “book-reading” events.

I embarked upon these marketing appearances with some trepidation.  Like many writers, I have a horror of casting myself as a salesman, PR person or networker. Somehow it didn’t fit well with my social and political conscience – but now I believe I was wrong. I’m keen enough to tell people how to make the world  better place… so why not tell them about my fiction and other writings.

Indeed, I’ve written lots of academic and professional books but never has a publisher ask me to do any appearances, book-signings or networking. I gave papers at professional conferences and thought that was enough – I probably didn’t even really care about book sales. My readers bought my books because they needed to not because they wanted to – and therein lies the difference. So over the last couple of years, I’ve come to accept that these marketing activities just have to be done …. and indeed should be done. At first, I started by throwing myself into twitter , blogging, author pages on Facebook, AboutMe sites etc.  That’s all time-consuming enough.  So I never got into the business of “appearances” at book-signings, book readings and speaking events. But taking this on has meant facing a bit of a “learning curve”, at least for me.

Preparing or Winging It?

Now I’m not averse to speaking in public but even my short career as a trial lawyer and then a university law professor didn’t prepare me for doing ‘stand-up’ comedy, nor even for pitching my own creations to present and potential readers.

Everything I did before was about “preparation”. You don’t go into a trial without a heck of a lot of preparation and you don’t give a law lecture or present a paper at a professional meeting without being fully prepared … otherwise you risk embarrassment or even worse. But book promotion appearances aren’t the same. Here you speak from the heart not the head. You talk about your own creation, what motivated you to do it and where you wanted it to go and where it led you. …. It’s really about making a connection, not making an argument. It’s as much about ‘who you are’ as ‘what you say’. So I took a different tack and just spoke from the heart.  Hey, that shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?  But it goes against decades of professional training.  Judges, students and other lawyers don’t care how you feel about things… they want to know about the case in question and the law that applies to it. So, did this “non preparation” approach work?

My first event was a book-signing at an occasional lunch function for survivors of my old High School Alma Mater – Brisbane Grammar School – and I was surprised by the warm reception, interest and how keen some people were to  have their copies of BEGINNINGS signed. It was a semi-public event but pretty “laid back” and amongst relatively familiar company .. so a good start.

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The next event was an appearance and signing at a privately hosted evening cocktail-champagne party on the Gold Coast – Australia’s version of Miami, for those unfamiliar with it. Mostly, there were new people present. A lot of fun. And I was to talk about my writing, my motivations for writing BEGINNINGS, what it was all about and then I had to follow it up with a “reading”. Well, again nothing was prepared and in view of what I said above about my background, it was certainly hard for me to contemplate just doing it, though a bit easier to carry it off.  I can’t really be sure what it was that I said or will say next time, but the response was good.

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Lots of applause, compliments and interest!  So maybe it worked! But when it comes to reading, aloud, for an audience, even if it is your own writings; that doesn’t come easy …. and I’d recommend at least a little bit of preparation!

My support act – and I had invited him – was the writer of “Bar and Barbecue Humour”, a series of slightly ‘politically incorrect’ joke and humorous story books, Rumford Kindling – a pseudonym of course – but you can get his books on Amazon.  A few jokes and funny stories was a wonderful way to wrap up the formal part of the event – if you’re not afraid of having the limelight stolen away from you by a comedian.

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Autographing Books and Dedications?

It certainly is a pleasure and an honour when someone wants you to sign their copy of one of your books. A cynic might say that maybe they’re hoping that one day, when you are famous, it’ll be worth a lot of money.  But I look at it differently. It’s just another symbol of what I was talking about about… making a connection between the reader and the author.

But you might ask: how do you autograph a book?  Exactly where is the best place to sign it?  I usually use the back of the front cover. There’s quite a few guides on these questions. But it can make a difference and autographing can be embarrassing. Of course, it helps when you have met the readers before or if you know them socially …  but not if you can’t remember their names – though you can always ask glibly: By the way, how do you spell your name again? And as long as the answer isn’t B..I..L..L  or something equally uncomplicated, you’ll probably get away with it.  Then, what do you say in a dedication – though perhaps that’s not the correct term for the little extra you write above and beyond the signature?  If I don’t know the person at all or haven’t really had a chance to meet them, and can say: A great pleasure to meet you! or Wonderful to see you again, all I have been able to come up with is hoping you enjoy the book!  Any other suggestions would certainly be welcome!

And Are There More Events?

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Yes, soon off to Fiji and another couple of appearances at book-signing or book reading events at a couple of tourist resorts.  That will be interesting.

Finally, I’ve been fortunate to have these events set up for me, and for that I am truly grateful.  But here’s a few tips and ground-rules for anyone thinking of hosting a book-signing for themselves.  Better still, here’s how to maximize the impact of the event.

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Who’s blogging who? I blog therefore I am.

It seems to be settled wisdom that blogging a couple of times each week is the bare minimum if you want to make a name for yourself on social media.  This seems to be especially true if you are a writer:  Kristen Lamb calls it the “digital core of your author brand” in her wonderful book RISE OF THE MACHINES: HUMAN AUTHORS IN A DIGITAL WORLDI recommend it as a guide to all those social media beginners, like myself, who want to make the best use of all there is, but most of the time don’t know where to start or are conflicted about how to proceed.  But one of the big questions is: what am I going to say?

You need to understand who you’re talking to

Of course there is so much to learn, but for me, one of the most important lessons that I took from Kristen is that while it is great to have the supportive and positive company of other writers, they are not really the people that an author wants to connect with.  Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy and  appreciate interacting with others who are going through the same highs and lows, trials and torments as I am.  But it’s ordinary people who are our potential readers and of course we want to reach as many of them as possible. How do we do that? ……  Well we blog and tweet what resonates with ordinary people – just like we should be doing on Facebook. And to take it a step further, I try to do what I seem to remember another social media inspiration, Rachel Thompson suggests you do on Twitter:- each day try to follow fifty (though I settle for just a few) new people (and not other writers or publishers or agents ).   ….. If you choose people you like the look of, then it’s likely they’ll like the look of you and follow you back.  You can always unfollow those who turn out to be not what you’d hoped.

Me and my “brand”

Now this is all very well for writers wanting to develop their “brand”. But you are your “brand” and one of the areas where I start to nuance all the good advice that the best people give is when it comes to things I care about ….  and after all, we are human beings (hopefully intelligent) and we care about other things than writing and selling books or whatever. And it seems to me that the things we care about should be the things we blog about.

Often it’s said “don’t blog about politics or religion – you don’t want to alienate or offend anyone” but these things are more than central to each of us a human being.  Of course, I’m not talking about “ranting”. That’s crazy as no-one wants to listen to a “rant”, even if you agree with their basic values.  But I’ve been struggling with a tendency to send out occasional “social conscience” posts – pretty much what my personal FB page had been full of … until recently.

Of course, there are “ways of doing things”.

Now Kristen Lamb’s recent blog: WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL? BEWARE OF END-OF-THE-RAINBOW THINKING is a pretty good – perhaps a great – compromise.  It’s full of useful advice as usual, especially for writers – because that’s what she does – but it raises social issues as well; although discreetly.  Perhaps much more discreetly than I would.  But hey! its her blog and she has ten times more followers that I’ve had hot breakfasts despite my advancing age.

What I hear Kristen talking about in this blog is how so many people have crazy expectations, thinking that they should walk straight into top-paying jobs (or best-seller status) without putting in the hard graft.  Kristen also raises the point that something has happened in today’s society where we’ve forgotten what everyone knew in the past: before you exercise a trade you do an apprenticeship and it can take many more years to become a master craftsman.    I’ve often heard it said that it takes “10,000 hours” of hard work for anyone to become competent at what they are doing. That’s 5 years working  forty hour a week, 50 weeks a year.  After that, you can start to get better.

I just wanted to take these points a little further.

I wanted to ask the question: why?  Why do so many people, especially younger people think that we can “have it all” straight off the bat?  And what can we do to counter this fantasy about how life works.  Kristen makes the point that media glorification of  inane celebrity culture has something to do with it. Of course the media who pursue these stories of super rich celebrities, actors, sportsmen and callous corporate raiders will just say that they are giving the people what they want.  Don’t you believe it.  It’s like filling supermarket shelves with crisps and chocolate bars because people supposedly like to eat them.  Maybe occasionally we do, but they can’t be our regular diet.  Try it and see.

So who takes responsibility for a better moral compass?

Now, we’re not going to stop the media and the PR and food supply industries and others from selling us the cheapest stuff that makes the most profit for them – while usually doing us no good at all.  And governments don’t seem to want to take any responsibility in these areas.   So that leaves the family.  ….. As mums and dads, grandpas and grandmas, it is our responsibility to help this generation of kids and the next understand that we get nowhere without hard work and that the good things in life aren’t necessarily what the media, the marketers, the conscienceless corporations want to make us think they are.

So what does that mean for my blog?

To me, a blog must reflect the writer’s own personality and character. We’re real people not shallow marketing models. We’re not here to be politicians trying to please everyone.  We never will. So we should be ourselves.

But it doesn’t mean we should feel free to trample over other people’s personal beliefs and values just because they’re different from our own.  It’s just common sense. If you want someone to listen to you, it seems to me that there are a few basic rules … and I hope that I can follow them:

  • be true to who you are as a person; but
  • speak your readers’ language  – in other words, talk to them in terms they are likely to understand and identify with; and
  • show the same respect for other peoples’ values and beliefs that you would hope they’d show you.