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Authors Must be Marketers at Personal Appearances

The business of writing requires marketing skills. You have to get the word out to sell books. Some writers only want to deal with the art and leave the business aspects to a publishing house. Small publishers and university presses often have little or no budget for marketing. At one time, large houses provided marketing such as advertising and paid book yours. Not anymore. Unless you're John Grisham, a very good author who sells millions of books, even the largest publishers are not going to promote the books of most authors beyond perhaps a mention in Publisher's Weekly. To sell books, all authors need to hone their marketing skills. They need to participate in social media and make public appearances.

When giving a lecture, book reading or signing, authors must engage with readers and bring their message forward. They will never sell books by quietly sitting behind a desk at a bookstore while waiting for someone to approach them. Reach out, look people in the eye and say "Hello" to everyone who walks through the door. In smaller communities, most people will say, "Hello" back. In larger settings it can be a different story. One problem is that when too many people live too close together they tend to look on those that they do not have a close relationships with as if they were trees deserving no notice. If you are noticed, you might be thought of a trying to get something out of them. There is also the worry that if they talk to you they become obliged to buy something.

Don't let these people deter you. Keep a positive attitude. Be genuine in your greeting. Don't think of others as possible sales. Your inauthentic attitude will be telegraphed. Know in your heart that you are giving people an opportunity to learn about a book they might enjoy or that could change their lives. You have to believe in yourself and your work.

When you do catch someone's attention, have a 10 second elevator pitch ready to deliver. That's as much time as you will have. Boil down the 200 or more pages in your book to a single sentence. Bring out the main theme of the book and why people will want to read it. For a detective novel you might say, "Police detective Joe Doe must expose a crooked police commissioner with ties to the mob before he has Joe killed." An author of a non-fiction book about elementary school education might say, "My book reveals ways to teach your children how to excel in school with proven techniques that I have used in my career as a principal." The shorter the better. Don't go into long details or explanations yet. Get them hooked. Fans of detective stories will want to learn more about Joe Doe and his plight. A parent with young children who are having trouble in school will be enticed by the principal's message. If the people you are talking to show no interest, don't try to convince them. Thank them for stopping by and let them go. You will never sell a book to them. Concentrate on the next person.

If the people respond to your short pitch, give more details. Demonstrate how the book is different from others, how it will help them, how it will entertain them.

For fiction, talk about the main characters, overviews of the plot and themes. If appropriate, give the age range. Don't go into too much detail. Give a feel for the work and leave questions unanswered that readers will want to discover. In the theater we say, "Always leave them wanting more."

For non-fiction, you will need to present your credentials as to why you are the perfect person to write the book. If it is a book about politics, are you a journalist or politician. If it is a method of raising children are you an experienced parent or child psychologist. If it is a memoir cover what is unique about your life experiences and why people might identify with them. Potential readers will want to know that you can speak about the subject with authority and that it is something they are interested in. Describe key points that readers will want to know. Provide one or two solutions or answers, no more. You want to show that your book will serve them and you want them to buy the book to learn the rest.

Once you see that they understand what the book is about, ask them to buy it. You have to be polite and direct. Say something like, "Does this sound like a book that you would enjoy? I am here signing copies today. Can I sign one for you?" Don't wait for them to ask you to sign a one, but be careful not to sound like you are only seeing them as a sale. Always remember to present yourself and your book as a service. You have to know this to the core of your soul because people can detect disingenuousness.

If you are in the middle of giving your pitch and the person says, "I'll take one," Stop selling. Continuing can only ruin the deal. Just ask, "To whom should I delicate this copy?"
This will be difficult for some authors who fear public speaking and are terrified by rejection. You have to get past that if you want to make sales. Most people will not stop when you say hello. Most of those who stop will not buy. That does not matter. You are not actually selling books, you are selling your brand and you are the brand. If you can be personable, honest and present your book as a service, you will be remembered.

Don't be put off with responses like, "I'm fine" , "Not now", "I don't read (which is obvious because they couldn't read the sign over the door that said ‘bookstore' and probably thought they were in a pizza parlor)" and "I'll come back." Most people who give the last response never will, but some do after thinking it over. One person who came back said that he had looked me up on the Internet and was impressed with my bio. You never know, so be polite to everyone. Some people will come back to the store after you leave and purchase the book because they just didn't want to feel pressured. Those who you talk to might tell friends and family.

If you establish a solid brand that people find informed, authentic and pleasant, you and your books will be remembered.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow Bank, women's literature with a hint of magical realism, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, an epic fantasy novel set in a gender balanced world. His articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada, the Canadian Media Guild, The Professional Writers Association of Canada and the Writer's Federation of Nova Scotia. He is a professional photographer, a film maker and an actor.

Writing Gender Neutral Prose

For several decades, writers producing technical and nonfiction material have struggled with how to compose gender neutral prose. Before the 1970s the word “Man” was often used to mean all people, male and female. Likewise, the word “He” was used to mean a specific person who was either female or male. Instructions in manuals would read, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This created a fender imbalance in the language and implied that women were merely extensions of men.

Since then, society has looked for ways to be gender inclusive in writing. The first attempt was to write, “he or she.” Alternatives have been “she or he” – “he/she” – “she/he” and “s/he.” These were often rotated so that each gender reference alternately appeared first in sentences .

Not only are these phrases awkward, they persist in pointing out gender inequality by making a distinction. In addition, there is the question of who goes first, the male or the female reference.

Some people have suggested introducing new pronouns that are gender natural. None have been adopted. Even though the English language is very malleable and changes occur frequently, there are some words that are highly resistant to change. Those words include pronouns.

Others have suggested that the plural pronoun “they” be use in a singular sentence, such as, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This is simply not grammatically correct. Mixing singular with plural in a sentence sounds and reads wrong.

So, what is the solution? I have wrestled with this for years in writing articles, business documents and technical manuals. I suggest that writers always make their sentences plural unless they are speaking about a particular person, as in, “When operators see the red light flash, they must press the blue button.” There is no need for the ungainly “he or she” or to break grammar rules by combining plural and singular in a sentence. This is simple, flows seamlessly and does not bring up images of gender imbalance because there is no gender reference when writing in general terms.

If writers speak of a particular person, they may use "he" for males and "she" for females, as in, “Mary drove her car to work” or “Tom picked up his dry cleaning.”

There can be cases where a specific person being described does not want to be associated with a gender at all. A sentence could read, ”Feglarglata got into the car and drove to the store.” A problem arises if you want to say that a specific person drove to the store in a car owned by that individual.

This is simple when writing in first person. “I got into my car and drove to the store.” Pronounce such as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘them’ are gender neutral.

In the third person you might say, “Feglarglata got into the car owned by Feglarglata and drove to the store.” Repeating the individual’s name avoids any gender specific pronouns, but it is a little long winded and a bit awkward.

The sentence could also be written, ”Feglarglata got into its car and drove to the store.” This works, but addressing a person as ‘it’ sounds harsh and impersonal.

It is possible to write a complete story without any reference to gender and not get bogged down. Consider this tale.

Feglarglata owned a car and drove it to the store. It was a short trip and the scenery was pleasant. After finding a parking space near the front door, it was a quick walk into the store to buy some bread and vegetables for the party that evening. Feglarglata was looking forward to seeing new and old friends alike. There would certainly be an enjoyable game of charades.

The trip home passed the old city hall that had been converted into a community center. Childhood memories surfaced of days spent playing softball and making crafts.

At home, the groceries were put away. A quick inspection of the kitchen and living room showed that everything was ready for the party.

The doorbell rang and Grylke walked into the living room sporting a wide smile. The old friend said, “I have been looking forward to this. I saw the others at launch and they are all coming”.

The two of them shook hands. Feglarglata said, “Can you help me bring some chairs in from the kitchen. We should be able to finish before anyone else arrives.” As soon as they were done, the doorbell sounded again.

Is independant publishing for you?

At one time, there were only two ways for an author to get a book in print; through a traditional publishing house that covered all the costs and paid writers royalties or by paying a company to print copies for a fee.

Traditional publishers offer important services such as editing, cover design, marketing and distribution to book outlets. Authors are paid up front with an advance on royalties, which is important cash for writers. Large publishers also have resources to broker movie deals. But, it is difficult for a writer to get a publisher to accept a books or to convince a literary agent to represent it. New books must be written to the highest level of quality. That has always been true. There is now a new consideration, return on investment. It takes the same effort to publish a book that will generate $50,000 in profit as it does to publish one that will bring in $1,000,000. People working in the publishing industry have a deep love of books and delight in discovering new authors, but it is a marginal business and economic factors influence the decisions of publishers.

Before her death, literary giant Ursula K. Le Guin was honored at the National Book Awards. In her acceptance speech she said, "Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship."

For decades, the only alternative to traditional publishing houses was for writers to pay companies a fee ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars to have their book printed. This was not publishing, just printing. Editing, marketing and advice were not included. Writers had to do all this themselves. Many people used this service to print personal memoirs that were given away to friends and family, though there were writers who distributed their own books, sometime door-to-door, because bookstores would not stock them and reviewers ignored them. Such writers may have had 4,999 books in their basement because their mother bought a copy. As a result, these book printing companies came to be referred to as Vanity Presses. Few writers who used these services employed professional editing. As a result, quality suffered.

Two decades ago, a new form of publishing emerged, self-publishing. There have been self-published books before, but they were rare. Self-publishing to the mass market began when Amazon introduced its Kindle eReader device and began accepting manuscripts directly from authors. Amazon does not charge fees to writers. Authors simply uploaded their manuscript and cover art. Amazon takes care of formatting. listing and distributing books. Amazon pays up to 70% of a book's retail price to the author. Self-published authors do not pay fees to literary agents, which can be up to 20% of the author's royalty. Perhaps the most alluring thing is that self-published authors have complete control over their books. Amazon now sells Kindle, paperback and hard cover books from self-publishers. Other bookstores, even chains, have begun to accept self-published books and reviewers are looking at them.

But there is a stigma associated to self-published books. They are not taken seriously by some. Many literary awards will not consider them and grants that are available to authors whose works are represented by traditional houses are not given to self-publishers. There is the impression that writers self-publish their work because they are not good enough to attract a publisher. That perception is not necessarily true. Established authors, such as David Mamet, now self-publish. If readers do not know that a great novel is self-published it would compare favorably with volumes from big name houses.

Still, there is some ground for concern. Far too many self-published books are poorly written. They are not professionally edited and contain typographical and grammatical errors. Plots can be inconsistent and even incomprehensible. Dialogue may be unbelievable or juvenile and characters can be shallow. Such books and authors serve to reinforces the prejudice and stereotypes around self-publishing. Grant providers and contest judges dread the idea of slogging through poorly written material.

Today, a new movement is forming, independent publishing. Sharing many of the aspects of self-publishing, independent publishers take on the same roles practiced by traditional publishers. They assume the risks of hiring professional editors, cover designers, printers and distributors. They market the book or hire people to do so. Like self-publishers, Independents do not pay agent fees. Some independents only publish their own work while others publish the work of many writers as well as their own. The main difference between self-publishers and independent publishers is the degree of commitment and professionalism they exhibit. The books are not released until they pass rigorous quality checks.

Independent publishers heed the advice their editors, cover designers and other professionals they hire. These people know their jobs and bring an objective perspective to the project. My editor doesn’t just check spelling, missing words or wrong words. She performs fact checking and examines the structure and logic. In one scene, a character opened a window. Two paragraphs later the already opened window was opened again. My mind had looked at that scene dozens of times and missed this mistake. My editor caught it and much more. She suggested better ways to say things.

Even though I was the author and the publisher, my editor had the final say as to when the manuscript was complete. That was our agreement, the same as at any traditional press and was absolutely necessary if the book was to meet professional quality standards. This didn’t mean that I automatically accepted every suggestion. We had several discussions where I had to defend a phrase or a scene or a character. An editor's job is not to change the author's themes. Rather, it is to point out how writers can express those themes more effectively.

I also had to contact bookstores (chains, independent and online) and libraries to make the book available. I had to organize book readings and signings and place advertising in newspapers and social media along with blog posts. I was responsible for setting up an author’s page on Amazon and Goods Reads. I established Twitter and Facebook accounts. I put out ads on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook.

That is what an independent publisher must do in order to produce world class quality. Nothing else will do in the marketplace.

Independent publishing is not for everyone. It is a full time job to get a book in print and requires a willingness to be involved in the business end of publishing. Some authors just want to write and let others handle the details. For them, a traditional press is the best solution. Writers who are willing to get fully involved can find greater monetary rewards and satisfaction in making the decisions.