Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Glengarry Glen Ross of Writing

I sat for six hours at the Oregon Authors table at the Lane County Fair. I had company.

Bob Welch - newspaper columnist. Everybody who walked up to the table knew who he was.

Dorcas Smucker - a Mennonite Erma Bombeck, Dorcas also has a regular column in the town newspaper. Everybody who walked up to the table knew who she was.

Two other regionally well-known writers also had table space: Bob Blakely writes historical non-fiction about Oregon, especially sports. Bill Sullivan has dozens of books out about every hiking trail in the state.

That’s platform.

I also sat next to Carola Dunn. She does not write a newspaper column. She writes cozy mysteries set in the 20's in England. Her Daisy Dalrympel is related by ink and blood to Miss Marple. Carola has 51 books in print. Her new book comes out in September, and her last book is going to paperback this month.

Yet, here she was, sitting next to me. Every time a person wandered by, she piped up "Do you read mysteries?" She got quite a few hits with that line.

Looking at her books lined up in front of her (she took twice the space as I did), then looking at my four (two published the "regular" way, and two self-pubbed), I tried to figure out how to get somebody to stop and look. If they looked at all, I sent out the telepathic message: Go ahead, pick up the book!

I let the covers for my scifi and two fantasies speak for themselves. Obvious what they were. But my "Stories about my father growing up in West Texas during the Depression Era, but it’s not depressing," was just a tad too long to grab the attention of the browser. Carola was already asking them if they read mysteries long before I finished the sentence.

I had plenty of time to ponder the life of a writer, and had a good look at several successful writers. What were they doing, sitting at an authors’ table at a county fair, pitching their works to passersby like carnival barkers? Didn’t having a big name publisher do enough for sales, that these folks felt compelled to sell their own books at a very non-bookish venue like a county fair? Apparently not.

An agent blogged the question "When to Hire a Publicist?" The answer "Maybe never because the writer will really do all the selling." Gee, I thought I was a writer, but apparently I’m also supposed to be a marketing person with a bubbly, outgoing personality, with buns of steel so you can sit at signing tables (like the one at the Fair) for hours on end without going to the bathroom. So, shy writers just give up now. Even if you get a publisher, you won’t get sales unless you’re a salesperson.

So what happened to the maxim that the money flows from the publisher to the writer? Apparently, the money flows from the writer, but it flows after the book is published. Travel, entrance fees to events (can you believe they charged vendors to get into the fair!?!?), conferences, a publicist. And the agent gets paid first.


  1. Today selling books, particularly fiction, isn't what it used to be decades ago. Even when you are published by big names from mainstream publishers. Authors become more actively involved in promoting their books -- blogging, personal website, social networking. Everyone uses Amazon as one of the publicity channels to get the word out. And some authors even hire their own publicists. The cost paying a publicist is high, and you must determine at the onset how much you are willing to pay; otherwise don't be surprised if the fee rockets to 10K plus. Forget about those who self-publish their works. Those folks have a dead-end from the get-go. They can spend money on a publicist, but most of them can't sell a product branded as 'self-publishing'.

    Tough market. We need to bring back the enthusiasm of reading books to our readers.

  2. Yup. We have to be jack of all trades and master of them, too. Time to polish up the smiles. Practice carnival barking (what a great term!) at Jack. hee hee hee

    OH-happy late birthday. I serenaded you all day on twitter yesterday, gave you a shout out on my blog, but forgot to stop by here and say happy b-day. What a dope I am. : )


  3. I'm in agreement with you, Khann. Self-pubbers do have a tough row. However, the marketing requirements seem to be just about the same either way. My self-pub regularly shows up within the top ten on Large Print lists.