I had just finished reading from my third book, Delivery, when a woman came over to introduce herself as my sales representative, the person who had traveled about selling the new books from that season’s catalogues of several publishers as well as my own, Oolichan Books. Susan Toy worked for the Kate Walker Agency at that point and had won awards as “top sales rep of the year.” As I got to know Susan it became clear that her love of books, authors, audiences, and her enthusiasm and personality made her a worthy recipient of that distinction and many other accolades as well.
Susan asked if I would meet with her over coffee and surprised me by bringing along Randal McNair, my “new publisher.” As well as having less than a clue about what went into selling a book once it was out in the world, I had also been oblivious to the transfer of Oolichan from Ron Smith to Randal McNair and the physical move of the press from its long time home in Lantzville, to Fernie. Susan had been busy arranging for as many Oolichan authors as were available to meet their new publisher.
At that meeting, Susan suggested another coffee date to discuss an “idea” she had. I was to learn that Susan’s creative mind never stopped spinning new ideas, some brilliant, others that were original but not quite where I was willing to go. The one we laugh about still was her plan to promote author readings at adult birthday parties and my reaction. Am I the sort of person who would even be comfortable, never mind enjoy, being the entertainment at a party? Dress up in a clown suit? Burst out of a cake with book in hand? Those were the images I conjured, not really what Susan had in mind. Nevertheless, that idea led to others that were both appealing and successful.
The idea over the next latté, went straight to the heart of my resistance at promoting my own writing. Some authors are comfortable with promotion and do a stellar job of reaching new audiences and creating a “platform” (a term I also learned from Susan) for their books and their identity as authors. Susan had decided to leave her position as a sales representative and launch Alberta Books Canada whose services would involve seeking promotional opportunities for Alberta authors through Susan’s many contacts with libraries, booksellers, book clubs, writing groups and a long list of other connections. I was ready to sign on before my coffee was cold.
Over the next five years, I traveled with Susan to bookstores, libraries, conferences, book clubs, wherever she saw an opportunity to sell my books and build that platform. Surprisingly, I did so willingly, even enthusiastically, because I was always in the cheerful company of my promoter. I learned a vast amount about the industry from Susan and that knowledge still guides my decisions about choosing the most beneficial ways to reach new audiences, and reinforce my connection with readers I met in my Alberta Books Canada travels.
Susan is not only a tireless advocate for books and authors but also a fine writer. She and her partner, Dennis, have owned a home on the beautiful island of Bequia in the Caribbean for many years and divide their time between there and Canada. When she felt it was time to close shop on Alberta Books Canada, she retreated to the “Island in the Clouds” to write the mystery that would be given that title. I took out my author inscribed copy just a few days ago, because Susan has a new book that will available soon, and I wanted to immerse myself in “paradise” in prep for One Woman’s Island. In the interval between these two novels Suan published a novella, That Last Summer, and has gone online with her never ceasing promotion of authors and their books, new and backlist included.
Particularly now, with a new book and the knowledge that if I don’t do some promotion, it’s not going to be read, I’m missing Susan. Not that I want to ride my skateboard to any teen birthday parties, but her ideas are always welcome. But I know, distance not withstanding — Susan is currently back at her “trailer” in Ontario– Susan is still on my small team of She and Me and there will be ideas.
Meanwhile, I owe her and want to give a well-deserved shout-out to her books.
Visit my good friend, Susan, via her books and through her websites — buy the books and consider providing her with reviews and interviews and anything else that she would like to offer on her blogs. She’s gone international with her recommendations and promotion, but I know that Alberta Books Canada is still alive.