I had been arduously writing a children’s chapter book, Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund, for several years until one day I decided, enough editing—it was time to publish.
Rather than go the traditional route of sending my book off to established publishers and waiting forever to receive a response, I decided to self-publish. This is not an easy road. One must have a good sense about technology and programing to make it to the finish line, but I managed.
On June 17, I received my first proof copy in the mail. Thrilled to finally hold the product of so many years of work in my hand, I felt like I had indeed accomplished what I set out to do. It took another month for print corrections to be made and by July 15, I had the final proof copy.
After all this work, I thought, what now? I was certainly a novice at book promotion. How do I get my book out to the public? I decided to look into book stores. One of the most active remaining bookstores on Long Island, Book Revue in Huntington, always advertises authors doing readings/signings. Why couldn’t I bring my book to the store and get this same opportunity?
About the time that thought came to mind, I fortuitously saw an ad about Long Island children’s book authors gathering for a signing at the Book Revue. I decided to check it out. I made my way into the town of Huntington, known for being so congested that one must do a relay race to secure a parking spot. The storefront consisted of tall windows with giant posters announcing upcoming celebrity signings.
Inside, the wooden floors moaned under foot and a musty scent wafted through the air. I circled around walls of shelving until I reached the back of the store. There I found tables set up with authors displaying their books. I leafed through a few of the books curious about how these books were published. What I happily discovered was that most of them were self-published. I learned that this route is no longer frowned upon as it once was.
I searched out the store manager in charge of the event, introduced myself as a new author and expressed interest in doing a reading/signing of my book. She was pleasant enough and offered to discuss a future event through email. I contacted her immediately with what might be considered a query letter of intention. I included a brief synopsis of my book and its messages, and then expressed my interest in doing a reading/signing event at the store.
She handed me off to her assistant who handles all local author requests. The assistant made it clear that since I am not a celebrity, the majority of the audience would be personal friends and family. The store would need a guarantee of at least 50 people in attendance ready to purchase the books.
I do the same promotions for every event, no matter how big or small they are, but because the name of the local author is not recognizable like some of the other authors we have had, like Billy Crystal, Cameron Diaz, or Bill Clinton, only people who know the author firsthand are going to attend the event.
How interesting, I thought, since the first person on her list of examples was someone I actually know personally. I have known Billy Crystal and his sweet wife, Janice, since I was a teenager. In fact, I had just seen them at the Nassau Community College Theatre Department reunion this past May. I considered this a fortunate omen and decided to jump on it.
I perfectly understand that the store wants a guarantee of at least 50 people coming to the reading and ready to purchase my book. I promise to bring in at least 50 book purchasers.
Though I do not have a name as recognizable as Billy Crystal (Funny you should use his name as your example. I have known Billy and his wife, Janice, since I was a teenager. I am even attaching a picture taken recently with them at an event. Janice is on the left. Billy, me and our good friend, Victor, who is the chair of the Theatre Department at Nassau Community College.), my name is probably more recognizable than most local authors. I am an actress and playwright who has worked across Long Island. In fact, the end of this month one of my plays is being produced at a theater company called South Side Playhouse in Bay Shore.
I think the doors opened for me due to my association with Billy Crystal. At any rate, we set the date for October 9 at 7 p.m. I was in! All I needed was the audience of 50 people as I had promised. Reality struck—she was right, I didn’t have a name that would draw large crowds. How was I going to keep my word and bring in at least 50 people? That’s when my giant mailings started. I had postcards made depicting the cover of my book and sent to everyone I know. I opened a gmail account for the RSVPs. The responses were slow. I extended the RSVP date thinking maybe I had made it too early. Responses started coming in and to my surprise people noted that they wanted multiple books. Some wanted three books, others wanted four or five books. That was a relief. Maybe I would bring in my 50 people, maybe not, but the ones who were coming wanted to purchase multiple books.
The store put my book on consignment, something I had to pay for. I agreed because I felt that I wanted my book in the store available for purchase during the month I was having my event. Maybe I could drum up more interest aside from my friends and family. So, once again I hiked from my house out in Miller Place to Huntington and delivered a flier that would be posted next to my books on the Long Island Authors table.
I met a burly man on that day, the store manager. He was pleasant as he accepted my flier. He told me that about two weeks prior, if I brought in a poster advertising my event, he would display it in the window.
Then he added:
Sorry, but we can’t make up one of these giant posters like the ones hanging on our windows for you. They’re saved for celebrities like Billy Crystal.
Here we go again with Billy Crystal! OK, he’s a great guy. OK, he’s a celebrity and probably drew a profitable crowd when he did his signing at the store, but these people don’t seem to be able to get over Billy Crystal!
I sent Billy and Janice a copy of my book and enclosed a note in which I relayed how enamored they seem to be of him at the Book Revue. I figured he would get a kick out of that.
The allotted day arrived. My husband and I showed up at the Book Revue about a half hour early. Soon it was 7 p.m. and people started to trickle in. Now I was getting nervous. Where were all the people who promised to attend? A few people complained about the parking in Huntington. I hoped that was the reason for the low turn-out so far. Thankfully, I was right! At about 7:20 p.m., a whoosh of people arrived and took up all of the chairs that had been neatly arranged for them. Yes! I had an audience! I didn’t have to eat my words promising at least 50 people. I didn’t embarrass myself.
Being the actress that I am, I acted out a few chapters from my book. I even did an audience participation song that centered around the theme of celebrating our differences. The audience was with me—they joyously sang the refrain. Then I signed books for over an hour.
My reading/signing event was a success for the store and for me. On my way out, the store event coordinator thanked me and even offered a repeat event upon the publishing of my next book.
I received a follow up email the next day in which she wrote:
We never know what we are going to get with a local Long Island author. Sometimes they draw in a crowd, like you did, but often times they don’t. After all, you’re not a celebrity like Billy Crystal. We’re taking a chance on you.
In my response I thanked her again for the opportunity to bring my book to the Book Revue, but I couldn’t help including a PS:
PS – Since you are one more person from the Book Revue referring to Billy Crystal, I thought you might get a kick out of seeing this attached picture of me with Billy, his wife, Janice, and a mutual friend of ours, Victor, taken last May at the Nassau Community Theatre Department’s 50th Anniversary. As I told your assistant, I have known Billy and his wife, Janice, since I was a teenager.
Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund. She will be signing copies of her book at the Castaways store during the Dickens’ Festival in Port Jefferson this coming Saturday, December 6 and Sunday, December 7, with proceeds going to Save-A-Pet Animal Shelter.