I like facts. Facts about anything, everything that pertains to stuff I’m interested in and want to know more about. And, because I want to know, I subscribe to various magazines, blogs and I buy books. I also listen to other people who have had experience with the thing I’m interested in. I’ll lean in close to catch their every word, waiting for them to confirm what I believe to be true. I ask questions, going after what I need to know with the gusto of a puppy chewing on a new leather shoe.
If that’s really true of me and my fact finding/loving missions, then how come when I read something I don’t like, or hear something makes me doubt my ability to do something I want to do, then, I no longer want to know the facts? You might see me skip happily away, hands over my ears, while singing “lalalalala!” like I never heard it, saw it, read it.
Here’s what I’m talking about…
The latest Poets & Writer’s Magazine has an article called “The DIY Author Tour.” I wished I’d never read it. Why? Because the facts really sucked. I don’t mean the author, Ron Tanner, had his story wrong. He had it right, it was his experience, his story. But good Lord, his cold dose of reality was like the slap of a stinking dirty dish rag, right in the face. I mean reading about what he learned was enough to make me feel queasy.
The purpose of his article was to share his findings on “what it takes to sell a book in America,” something all us writers are keen to know. Granted, the book he wrote and his circumstances might have been a bit unique to some extent, since it was about how he and his wife renovated an old Victorian home, a project everyone said would bankrupt them and make them head towards “Splitsville,” (Like that movie “The Money Pit”)
Instead, they not only finished it, but were featured on “This Old House” website and in the magazine. From that he wrote what he described as a combination love story, “Mission Impossible” sort of tale and inspirational memoir. He thought it probably had wide appeal.
But he also knew, like many of us, that word of mouth is what really sells a book. Therefore, even though he was prepared to do the blog tour and go the usual path of many authors these days in promoting his book, he wanted to try his own “live” tour. He equipped a van to act like a camper with AC, solar panels, a little kitchen and a toilet. He kissed his wife, took his dog and hit the road. Forty states, sixty cities, four long months.
The results? With all of his work, querying like minded renovation enthusiasts, preservation groups, historical societies and the like, using social media networking (Facebook) libraries, family/friends, and publicity (interviews on various outlets) he said his most successful events ended up being the partnerships between local organizations and the libraries.
And the bookstores for the reading?
He found out just how much it took to get fifteen people at a reading. It was at one really good bookstore in Milwaukee. He said he sent an email to eight thousand people, set up a Facebook events notice, (seen by more than two thousand) had placement on the bookstores calendar, (which had a distribution of six hundred people) did a blog post to about four hundred, (plus he kept re-posting to Facebook and Twitter) then, there was the in-store signage and display and a mention in the local arts paper, plus a local TV station appearance. (Wow!!) But again, all that netted him was a lousy fifteen people to show up!
While, on the other hand, he turned around and got fifty people at a museum in Oklahoma City by having one feature article in the city paper and one announcement in the local arts paper. Go figure.
He asked what we could conclude from all of this – and believe me, I’m leaving out a LOT of details, but basically, not much. His wife calculated that if he sold at least five books at each of his stops, well that would equal three hundred books sold. Not much for the four months he spent on the road. (feeling queasy yet? I’m with you.)
What I will say is his article did confirm that word of mouth is still the out and out best way to sell a book in America. Plain and simple, he said it’s like planting a seed. For every ten who showed up, another ten or maybe a thousand knew about it. And in the end, he has heard from prospective readers. That’s what I took away from it, I ignored his pitiful turnouts after all of his hard work, and I turned my attention to that one good thing in his article, about planting those seeds.
But then, I had to wonder, does this make me ignorant, or just optimistic? Is this just me, yet again, running away from the facts?