Keeping the Book Alive
No, I’m not going to lament the death of the hard copy book as we know and love it, or talk about ebooks and piracy and loss of income to authors, or predict that under-appreciated writers will put down their pens and Canadian literary culture will shrivel to a few bestsellers a year. I’m about to begin another round of readings and presentations to promote not just my latest book, The Boy, but my three previous books as well and also a young adult anthology, Dark Times, published by Ann Walsh which includes one of my stories and which I think is a fine collection that deserves every breath of new life I can give it. I was warned when my first book, Running Toward Home, was published that books have a short season and after an initial blaze of interest they rapidly disappear from the shelves. I knew that reviews and award nominations and invitations to festivals were the key to a book’s success, but I’m enough of a pragmatist to know that there’s only room for a small percentage of the books published each year to be given those honours. True to prediction, my first two books came and went with little fanfare, but I wasn’t deeply disappointed or ready to throw down my pen because I’m as tenacious as I am stoic and I held onto the hope that each new book would stand on the shoulders of the one before it, that there was an audience building. Besides, I had never set out with fame and fortune as my goal. The hard truth was that publishers have little in the budget for promotion and even though I was published by two fine presses whose efforts to produce a book of which I could be proud met all my expectations, if my books were going to stay afloat, maybe even catch a bit of wind in their sails, it was up to me. But how, and where to go? Shortly before Delivery was published, I did a reading at Pages on Kensington with a poet friend from Regina who was launching her first book. A woman came up to me after the reading and introduced herself as my sales rep. I’m Susan Toy, she said, and I’ll be selling this book for you. Now, I knew someone was out there selling my books, but to have someone actually come to my reading, and then call me the next day and invite me to coffee to plan ways to promote the book was astonishing. Susan has had a long career as a bookseller, both in bookstores and as a sales rep, and is passionate about selling Alberta authors. Not just new books by Alberta authors, but previous books as well, and in fact is a whirlwind of ideas on how to get authors to their readers. A few months after we met, Susan left her job as a sales rep to establish her own business, Alberta Books Canada, a promotional service for authors. With Susan’s help I’ve done dozens of readings and presentations to libraries and librarians and in venues I would never have found on my own. She’s done a fine job of promoting my work, and also a fine job of cataloguing all the places The Boy has been since May when the book came out. Check her post:
Meanwhile, my purpose in writing this post is to reinforce the notion that while the agonies and pleasures of writing a book truly are the critical part, when it comes to building audience, the writer’s job has only just begun when the box of books arrives. Like it or not, our shy and introverted selves are required to sell the book, and arriving at some level of comfort with readings and presentations is the first step.