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No Rest for the Writerly
by Carol Johnson
I dont know how many times Ive heard it: I cant
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. Whats that you say? Youre shy?
Not good at self-promotion? Well, too bad. Youll have to get over
that if you want people to read your book. Unless youre John Grisham
or Stephen King, nobodys going to do it for you, and Ill
bet even those two have put their time in schlepping around the country
doing what needs to be done to sell what theyve written.
Im 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. Ive 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. Ive had to be creative, listen to other
people, put out a little cash when needed. Im no different from
Tonight, its midnight, and I just made it home from the Tulsa
State Fair, where a bakers 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? Its just like a neighborhood.
You hate to whack the neighbors 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
dont actually steal our customers, well suffer silently.
When I finish this article, Ill have to work on the database of
names Im compiling for upcoming book signings. Ive 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. Ill 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 its 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,
Having been involved in helping start a library, I knew I still didnt
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
Im 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. Ive offered to speak to their group
and donate a book and 10% of the money from books sold.
So far, I dont know if this is going to pay off in any big way.
Ive 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. Ive 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 Ive 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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