This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Literary Fuller Brush Man

            Self-publishing used to be a mug’s game — something you did because your book meant enough that you’d shell out a lot of money, with no hope of return, to get it out there. That was largely owing to the physical limitations of the printed book.
            As recently as ten years ago, an author had to spend thousands of dollars to have a book typeset and have a printer run off a few thousand copies. Without a distribution channel, the author had to take them to every bookstore within driving range, begging the stores to take a couple of copies on consignment. The author, in effect, became a literary Fuller Brush man, always having samples in the car.
            Often as not, that same author would end up with several boxes of unsold books in an attic or basement. And the area in which the books could be sold represented a mere fraction of the possible market, nearly all of which would be forever out of reach.

A National 24/7 Bookstore

            For better or worse, Amazon changed all that. Certainly from an author’s perspective it’s better. A writer like me, who doesn’t fit into the system, can publish a book through their self-publishing program, get it out in front of the whole world, have a whisper of a chance of promoting the book through the internet, and make a decent return on every sale.
            The down side, of course, is what that does to local bookstores. I believe they have a real role to play in terms of making books accessible to people and as community gathering institutions. My mystery, The McHenry Inheritance, has sold quite a few copies on consignment at Crossroads Books and Bookshop Santa Cruz, but the numbers pale compared to how it’s sold on Amazon.
            Despite the popularity of e-books, there’s still a large demand for the print version, and the wise author has a few copies in the car at all times, just in case. I can order printed author’s copies from Amazon’s CreateSpace, or have them run off on Bookshop Santa Cruz’s Walt book machine (named after Walt Whitman), and I am never without.
            In the past couple of weeks there have been a few examples of why it pays to be prepared.

Everyone’s a Potential Customer

            When I spoke at a local middle school earlier this month, there was no danger that the kids were going to spend their lunch money on my book, but there were also some adults in the audience, and two of them ended up as customers. After hearing the talk, the school principal and one of the teachers asked about buying a book. Because I had two copies in the messenger bag in the back of my car, I was able to gratify them on the spot, with autographed copies.  If they’d had to go to a bookstore or get on Amazon when they had the time, those sales could have slipped away.
            Six days later I took my Ford Fusion in for servicing at the dealership, and when I went to pick it up, the dealer, Rocky Franich, saw me and came out of the office. I know him through Rotary and he knows about the book. He had a friend in the hospital who enjoys mysteries and wanted to get a copy for the friend. Fortunately, I’d reloaded the messenger bag after the middle school talk and was able to oblige.
            That made three personal sales in the space of a week. As any Fuller Brush man would say, keep those samples handy.