Yet Another Reason to Self-publish

I drove into Calgary last night for a field trip hosted by SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

We got cozy in one of my favorite independent bookstores, Owl’s Nest Books. When we lived in Calgary, I used to take the boys to Owlets, the kids section of the store, and when Leaf was ready to hit the bookshelves, Owlets was the first bookstore I visited and the first to welcome Leaf aboard.

I even had my first signing there.

The owner of the store is a wonderful gentleman by the name of Michael Hare. He had opened up the shop for the Family Day evening in order to share his wisdom as a book retailer.

He was very self-effacing, but I came away with more than a few juicy tidbits to ponder.

When asked about trends in YA (young adult) publishing, he said dystopia literature is big, thanks to Hunger Games, while folk, fairy and historical tales are big for younger children. Vampires and werewolves are out, although the paranormal with a romantic/adventure twist is still okay.

He told us about a trend-following group out of the states we could hire for a mere $3250 to find out what the YA trends are (yipes!)

but suggested, instead, that we write about what we love. Better to pour heart and soul into what you are passionate about than try to cash in on a trend. Who knows? YOU might be spearheading the next big trend.

Other tidbits:

Let an independent bookstore owner/manager/bookseller look at your-work-in-progress so they can let you know if you are on the right track.

When contacting them about a meeting, or to tell them about your already published book, keep the email informative, but short – no more than a few sentences on one screen’s worth of space.

* * *

Before approaching a bookstore about carrying your book, be sure you know what types of books that store sells. Owl’s Nest Books, for example, does not sell science fiction. (Who knew?)

* * *

Covers sell books!

And many a self-published book has been killed by a sub-standard cover.

* * *

Publishers like series. They used to like 5 or 6 books in a series; now they lean toward 3 or 4. Michael shared the first titles in several series he thought were very good (all available at Owl’s Nest Books!)

Divergent by Veronica Roth (a dystopian novel Michael considered even better than Hunger Games)

The Amanda Project

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Leviathan  by Scott Westerfeld

* * *

The biggest takeaway of the evening for me was learning that traditional publishers do very little marketing for their authors. I knew they didn’t do as much marketing as years ago, but apparently publishers are so money-strapped these days that more and more of the marketing is left up to the author.

The publisher used to set up book tours.

Not anymore.

The publisher used to take out magazine and newspaper ads.

Natch.

Any on-line marketing that happens now is done by the author.

“So what DO publishers offer?” I asked. “I know they can print many more copies than I can, at a cheaper price per book, and I know they have great distribution systems, but is that all they can offer?”

Here’s what they still provide:

They will send out advanced reading copies to reviewers and book sellers to help generate some buzz.

They will submit your book for awards. (Self-published books cannot be submitted for literary awards.)

Public and school libraries can access publishers’ book lists.

Your book will be included in your publisher’s catalogue but, as Michael told us, you need to cross your fingers that he didn’t miss your particular page when he looks through the piles of catalogues he receives three times a year.

Jan Markley, Calgary author of Dead Frog on the Porch and Dead Bird Through the Cat Door, was in the audience and she shared a couple of eye-opening advertising stories.

For any of you who were at Leaf’s launch, when I told the story about attending a launch in cognito in order to find out what one did at a book launch, it was Jan’s November, 2012 launch for the Dead Bird book. I bought both her books that day and Jacob got them for Christmas. (They’re great books!)

She and Marty Chan, an Edmonton author, were doing an event together. They were interviewed on an Edmonton morning news show and there was a big article about their event in the newspaper yet, despite all that great press coverage, the only people who came out to the event were Jan and Marty’s friends and acquaintances.

She also told a story about a friend whose work had been published traditionally. There was a $10,000 budget for advertising. They used that money to pay for book placement on a table in Chapters: once on Mother’s Day (it was a mother/daughter book) and another time on a Canadian Lit table.

Those two placements made absolutely no difference in sales.

$10,000 down the tubes.

So Maxine’s big takeaway from the evening was this:

even though marketing isn’t my first love, if I continue plugging away in my own little world, doing my best to have FUN while telling people about the things I believe in (one of those things being my book, Leaf) then, eventually, all 4,163 copies of Leaf will find there way out into the world.

I started doing that last week when I was a speaker at the Didsbury Crown Jewels/Red Hat luncheon last week. I had a hoot sharing my self-publishing journey with the ladies AND I sold a few books.

Speaking of which, here’s a couple of photos of those beautifully bedecked ladies:

I think I’ll replicate that for awhile and save that $10,000 advertising budget for something else.

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6 Responses to Yet Another Reason to Self-publish

  1. MyHrt says:

    I know you can do it! I really, really know you can! 😀

  2. Jan Markley says:

    Hi Maxine! Great post! It was great to meet you and hear about your self publishing journey. I agree that it was an informative session. Funny about you coming to my launch ‘incognito’, I think we chatted briefly. It was a fun launch, lots of cake!

    • maxinespence says:

      Hello Jan,
      I was hoping to talk to you after Michael was finished speaking, but I got wrapped up in another conversation and when I looked up again, you were gone. I wanted to thank you for providing such a great example of a launch – and yes, we did chat that day. My own launch was fabulous – a direct result of my ‘espionage’ at yours. I told everyone there about my spy day and even showed them your books. Don’t know if it resulted in any sales for you, but at least I felt like I was returning the favor in some small way!

  3. Marina says:

    Hey Maxine, I’m impressed by the way you keep learning and sharing that learning with others. Your “Saskatchewan distributor” (a.k.a. “the weakest link” so far?!),
    MJ

  4. maxinespence says:

    Thanks, Marina! They say the best way to learn something is to teach it so I’m actually being quite selfish when I write the posts about what I’ve learned. Helps me to remember it!

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