|Industry Forum: Give new authors an opportunity to speak|
|Written by Production|
|Monday, 14 January 2013 04:04 PM America/New_York|
Making space for the newly published can pay off in more sales, kingdom impact
Once upon a time … I was a new author. After years of struggle, when my single goal was getting my manuscript published, the day came when I finally held a copy of my first book in my hands. More copies filled my garage and the publisher’s warehouse, boxes full of them. I was dismayed to discover that I now had a new full-time job, promoting my book.
To the local Christian bookstore, I was an unknown author, trying to market a book alongside the A-List, best-selling authors who kept the store in business and paid their employees’ salaries.
All authors are unknown at some point. Though the economics have changed, unknown authors still get published. It requires flexibility on the author’s part, being willing to change directions toward e-books and self-publishing if standard publishing fails. This route has its drawbacks, of course, as the author picks up the costs of all aspects of editing and design. But regardless of the publishing venue, writers must also be publicists, including building a platform for ministry via speaking, Internet writing, articles and social media.
New authors must have perseverance, determining to sort the morass of choices—and the temptation to let a less-than-excellent product slide through the chutes of self-publishing. Authors need to decide, if God is calling them to write, to constantly hone their craft, surrounding themselves with a writers’ group, attending writers’ conferences, learning from books on writing.
Getting published also requires creativity, building relationships between retailers and readers. Most retailers are eager to team up with writers if sales are a real possibility. New authors need to communicate why their books will impact readers, and how retailers can benefit from the addition of yet another new title.
As a newly published author, it took some convincing on my part—and a discounted price from my publisher—but my local store agreed to arrange a book signing. They provided a chair and a stack of my books on a table near the entrance… and a giant red tomato. A VeggieTales character was visiting the store during my signing. From my convenient position near the door, I directed the constant flow of excited families to the back of the bookstore where the tomato commanded center stage. I sat alone for three grueling hours, listening to the giggling and singing and clapping out of sight beyond the bookshelves. I managed to sell a handful of books that day, every single one purchased by friends stopping by to show their support. But even my friends wandered back to see the famous tomato.
At a second signing, I teamed up with Jane Rubietta, a good friend and fellow author who had just published a nonfiction book. This signing was too far from home for friends to attend. There was no tomato this time, but customers made a wide circuit around my table, avoiding eye contact, obviously fearing that I would corner them with a sales pitch and they couldn’t graciously escape without buying one of my books. The plate of dry, colorless cookies was not enough of an incentive for them to stop. At the end of two hours (experience taught me to shorten the time), the store manager said, “I haven’t read your book and I never will. I don’t have time to read fiction, and I especially dislike biblical fiction.”
That, of course, was the genre of my first book. I didn’t sell a single copy that day. But God was building my character, and trying to instill in me a servant attitude, probably one of the top necessities for authors.
My first few books were published in an era when Christian publishers still had the luxury of “discovering” new authors. Some big-name authors generated enough money so Bethany House could afford to take a chance on unknown writers. They published three or four of my books that barely recouped their advances until word-of-mouth (and a Christy Award) helped them to begin to pay off.
Unfortunately, the financial margin for discovery has shrunk in this economy. But a profitable relationship between bookstore, reader and author is still possible. Here are ideas I’ve seen work:
In a bookstore in Switzerland, employees write reviews (like an Amazon review) and tell customers their picks. These picks were on a special shelf, highlighted in the store with a display of the books. Customers learned which employee had their taste in books and always looked for their monthly picks.
Invite the author to give a short talk, something of substance and relevant to the published work, for people who take the time to come into the store. Jane Rubietta offered a workshop on journaling when her book Quiet Places was released. A large group attended. (And bought books!)
One bookstore had a librarians’ night for all the church librarians in their area. The store was closed, and offered tasty, colorful cookies and food. The owner invited me to talk about my books with the guests so they could get to know me.
Form a book club using the new authors’ books then invite the authors in for a chat. Most readers love to meet the real live author, and hosting the club at the store boosts traffic, sales and good ministry.
Consider using an Internet connection or Skype to host a “live” broadcast for a group with a new author on the screen.
Take advantage of the print media. Local weekend or weekly newspapers love local authors and “success” stories; stringers love to write up an article for those papers. The online version provides added publicity.
A “small name” doesn’t mean a small impact for eternity. I didn’t start writing because I wanted fame and fortune. I write because I believe God called me to write. If my stories can touch a single person’s heart as part of God’s plan, then I am a success. Thank God for the bookstores, the middlemen in this process, on the frontlines of ministry, bringing life-changing books to their customers’ attention.
New authors need space on store shelves. They have energy, passion and that vital ingredient of hope. They are willing to work hard and don’t take the privilege of publishing for granted. With teamwork, publisher, retailer and author can take that relationship to the bank. But more than that, new authors offer a new route to impact eternity. And that’s an investment we can’t afford to miss.