The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 155
Greetings From Olympia, Washington
Summer is almost upon us, the weather is mellowing, and the longest sunlight day of the year is knocking on our door. Birds are chirping, veggies are growing, and all is right in my world.
How about yours?
Great questions this week so let’s get to them, okay?
From Bill: “This isn't necessarily for the mailbag, but I was just wondering, have you ever thought about collecting the questions and answers from the mailbag and putting them into book form? Happy almost three years!”
Thanks, Bill, and yes, I have considered doing that, but it is so far down my to-do list I would not expect to see that happen for a couple of years. I have too many novels I want to write before that happens . . . but thank you for the vote of confidence.
IMPROVEMENT BY OSMOSIS
From Eric: “So a question. Do you think just hanging out with writers makes you a better writer? I like seclusion more than chit chat.”
Interesting question, Mister Seclusion! I’m somewhat of a hermit myself, and in truth I don’t hang out, in person, with other writers. I’m not sure if I would benefit from that or not. Having said that, I know of writers who belong to writer clubs and they swear by the benefits of those clubs.
And having said that, being active in HP, like you are, must have benefits. I know that reading good writing is beneficial, and discussing writing online, like in the Mailbag, is beneficial, and that’s kind of like “hanging out with writers,” correct?
In a purely “literal sense,” though, just rubbing shoulders with another writer will not make you a better writer and it just might get you accommodations in the local jail.
Clarifying Book Signings
From Venkatachari M: “I do not get a clear view of the book signing process even though you answered it in some previous mailbag also. What is it? Why is it termed as a signing? I hope to get some clear perception in your next mailbag.”
Venkatachari M, I’m happy you asked this question. It points out some cultural differences we should all be aware of. I was not aware that in India, book signings did not happen, so I’ll be happy to clarify.
A book signing is usually conducted in a book store. The author of the book will set up a table, and buyers can come to that table, talk to the author in person, get an autograph on his/her book, and purchase the book. It is a way for writers to meet the public and possibly sell more books in person. The book store may or may not charge a percentage of the sales for the opportunity to have the book signing. Most do not, and most independent book stores are happy to carry that book in their inventory for future sales.
Are they an effective marketing tool? Not as much as they once were. Independent, indie writers are not well-known, and money is in short supply, so it is my experience that buyers are still not willing to spend money on an indie writer they know nothing about. Still, it is good exposure for the writer, so it really can’t hurt to try it.
AMERICAN BOOK FESTIVAL
From Manatita: "Do you think it's advantageous to have paid personal, marketing on your behalf, or rather pitching your book, at say, the great upcoming American Book Festival?”
Shoot, Manatita, I had to look it up to find out what the American Book Festival was. Now that I’m a bit educated on it, I can give an answer.
My answer, though, is purely subjective, so take it with the proverbial grain of salt.
I think events like the one you mentioned are a roll of the dice. You could easily pay hundreds of dollars for advertising and not sell one book, or you could sell hundreds, with my bet on the former rather than the latter. That’s just the nature of the book business these days. Indie writers face a very steep, uphill battle in selling books. Buyers still have the perception that indie writers are not as talented as those writers who have a major publishing firm behind them. That is not a valid perception, by the way, but I believe it is the perception of a majority of buyers. How else do you explain the continued popularity of James Patterson, who doesn’t even write his own books any longer, and others like him?
If you should choose to do that, my best wishes to you. I hope you are very successful.
Win a Character in a Book
From Mary: “What do you think of the idea of putting anyone who buys a book into a random draw to be a character in your next book? Could this be the newest marketing gimmick? You can keep this for a mailbag question if you like.”
I love this idea, Mary. I don’t know how effective a marketing gimmick it would be, but for a novelist, I don’t see a downside. You have to name the characters anyway, so why not name them after buyers of the previous book? I think this is such a good idea that I am thinking of doing it when I release my next novel later this year.
From Lori: “I don't know if you've covered on this topic but I'll go ahead anyway. I am writing another story which has moments when a character recalls a scene from her past. It's challenging to make that a clean, smooth transition. I have a character who in the present remembers a scene from her past that is triggered somehow by her current thoughts, actions, or situations. Then I have to take the readers back to the present. Do you have any tips on this?”
It’s an interesting problem but rest assured, Lori, there are quite a few different ways to handle it.
A simple paragraph break with italics designating it as a memory from the past is effective….then a paragraph break before returning to the present again using normal fonts.
Another method used is to simply use a date at the top of a new section . . . “1987 . . . He tried hard to please his father but always failed. It was a battle he knew would last a lifetime as he pushed aside the covers and prepared to help his old man on the job that day ……….. And then start a new paragraph with . . . 2017 . . . He looked at his old man’s coffin and felt no regrets.
Make sense? I’m sure there are other ways to do it, and perhaps our readers will share ways which work for them, but these two tricks will do the job adequately.
From Rachael: “Hey, Bill, how are those coloring books selling at the farmers markets, and do you sell them retail at any stores?”
Rachael, here’s the lesson I’ve learned from the Great Coloring Book Experiment: it all depends on the venue. My coloring books have done poorly at one market, so-so at another market, and then yesterday at a special event at our son’s farm, I sold seven of them, which was very good. They also continue to sell online, so the answer to your question is that sales are doing well depending on where I sell them. Thanks for asking!
As for selling them retail in stores, the answer is no, and the reason for that has everything to do with pricing. The cost of one book plus shipping, to me, is slightly less than $5 per book. If a good retail price for that book is $12, and the retailer wants to make a profit, it means he’ll have to buy that book from me for, oh, say $7. That means I make $2 per book and quite frankly, that kind of profit isn’t worth it for me. I can save all the hassle and sell them at markets for $10, skip the middleman, and double my profits.
Some people might disagree with that strategy and to those people I say great! Go do it your way, and best wishes to you, but for me, it’s just not worth the hassle to go through retail stores.
AND THANKS FOR BEING HERE ONCE AGAIN
Next week we’ll celebrate three years of the Mailbag. I’ll bring cake to the party if one of you can provide cookies, and someone else a drink. Sound good to you?
Thanks so much for the great questions, and thanks so much for the continued support of this series. I’ll see you all at the party next week.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”