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No Rest for the Writerly
by Carol Johnson

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it: “I can’t wait to till my book comes out!”, the implication being that then, finally, the writer can relax. Well, as my grandpa used to say, “You want bread with that baloney?” Any writer worth her salt knows that the real work starts somewhere between “XYZ Publishing would like to offer you a contract” and that giddy moment when the long awaited book is in her hot little hands. And it goes on for as long as you want people to remember that book.

That work is promotion. What’s that you say? You’re shy? Not good at self-promotion? Well, too bad. You’ll have to get over that if you want people to read your book. Unless you’re John Grisham or Stephen King, nobody’s going to do it for you, and I’ll bet even those two have put their time in schlepping around the country doing what needs to be done to sell what they’ve written.

I’m shy, too. I get a little embarrassed when other people toot my horn, so you can imagine what I go through if I have to do so myself. But facts are facts. I’ve got a small publisher. I knew going in that while they would help as much as they could, the burden of promotion would fall largely on me. I’ve had to be creative, listen to other people, put out a little cash when needed. I’m no different from you.

Tonight, it’s midnight, and I just made it home from the Tulsa State Fair, where a baker’s dozen of my fellow Tulsa NightWriters and I have been taking turns selling our books in the booth we rented. This was my third of four shifts, and, like most of the others in our group, I also have a full time job.

At the fair, we, like the carnival barkers on the midway, vie for the attentions of the crowd. The Avon representatives from next door do everything but snag potential customers with hooked canes and seem to find the floor in front of our table the best place to hawk their wares. That forces fair-goers around them and further from us. I and my partner this evening are peeved about it, but what can you do? It’s just like a neighborhood. You hate to whack the neighbor’s kid for running across your lawn, because that will just lead to animosity from the whole family. So, we pick our battles. If the Avon reps keep their hands out of the till and don’t actually steal our customers, we’ll suffer silently.

When I finish this article, I’ll have to work on the database of names I’m compiling for upcoming book signings. I’ve found that bookstores are far more willing to host a signing for my novel, Everlasting, if I can provide them with a fat list of interested parties to whom we can send postcards. I’ll be taking cookies to these signings, too, and maybe some fresh flowers, anything to get the buyer to the table. And it will all be on my nickel, because as I said, my publisher is small. They do what they can, but it’s not a lot.

Casting about for other venues for selling my book and getting it into those hands that I know will read it and tell others to read it, too, I hit on the idea of a sending letters to all the Friends of the Library in Oklahoma, or just to the libraries if they have no friends group. I searched the Internet for addresses. I found a few, perhaps a dozen, on a site called Libraries on the Web, http://lists.webjunction.org/libweb/Public_OK.html. I found some listings at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries Web site, http://www.odl.state.ok.us/weblinks.htm.

Having been involved in helping start a library, I knew I still didn’t have but a handful of the Friends groups and libraries in Oklahoma. I unearthed a few more in Cyber space on the Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) Web site at http://www.odl.state.ok.us/weblinks.htm. They have a nicely arranged, alphabetically ordered table of Friends Groups with addresses, zip codes, and phone numbers.

By now, I had spent hours on this project, but had only about fifty addresses. Then I happened upon a Web site called CityTown.info. It is sponsored and maintained by various Chambers of Commerce of Oklahoma. After hours on the computer, I finally, finally had stumbled into the perfect Web resource for my purpose. Hometown Locators, at http://www.hometownlocator.com/State/ ListCounties.cfm?StateCode=OK lists every county in Oklahoma, alphabetically, with a working link to each. You can find the cities in the counties, and you can find out about the schools, the real estate, the jobs, and YES! the LIBRARIES!!! Not only that, but listings include street and mailing addresses.

I’m still compiling addresses, but I sent out the first hundred letters a couple of weeks ago. I included a bio, information about my novel, some early reviews, and, most importantly, I think, a brief letter telling the library or group what libraries have meant to me and what I am willing to do for them. I’ve offered to speak to their group and donate a book and 10% of the money from books sold.

So far, I don’t know if this is going to pay off in any big way. I’ve gotten three or four of my letters returned because the address is invalid for one reason or another, but I have also set up appearances in five or six libraries across the state. I’ve also heard from a few librarians who send their regrets but would like to purchase the book. That works for me.

When you spend years writing a book, there are no guarantees. Some of the very best writing I’ve ever read is unpublished. Some of the absolute worst is published, and makes the bestseller list. But good or bad, once your book is published, you can take some control over its destiny.

© Copyright 2007, Carol Johnson

Carol Johnson received her bachelor's degree in English from Northeastern State University and her master's degree in language and literature from The University of Tulsa. Her novel, Everlasting, was published in 2006 and named a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. She has published short stories, articles, and critical essays, and is a full time faculty member at Tulsa Community College.

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