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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Friday, January 11, 2013

Talking to Rotary About Publishing

            Wednesday afternoon I gave a talk to the Rotary Club of Watsonville about “Self-Publishing in the Digital Age.” If you’re wondering how I got such a gig with my meager qualifications, I should mention that I serve on the club’s program committee and can call my own number at any time.
            With only a half hour, and wanting to leave time for questions, I could only skim the surface. I began by bringing up the memory of one our late club members, Sherrell Watson, who had self-published a book on steam locomotives in 1995, and tried to draw a contrast between that era and 17 years later, when I published my mystery, The McHenry Inheritance. The primary focus was the rise of Amazon and social media, which can give a hustling self-published author a modest shot at success.
            I do a lot of public speaking and (braggadocio alert!) like to believe I’m pretty good at it, which includes reading the audience reaction. This group was clearly interested, and when I finished the prepared talk and asked for questions, a half-dozen hands shot up instantaneously. That’s a sure sign they’re listening.

Interested in the Marketing

            As might have been expected from a business-oriented group, the questions were mostly geared to the business and marketing aspects of book publishing, as opposed to the work of writing a book. In fact, the closest thing to a writing question was whether I’m planning a sequel. The answer is yes, but not a continuation of the story, rather a new adventure featuring Quill Gordon (my main character) in a different setting with different characters and a fresh story.
            Beyond that, I tried to answer the questions in a complex and sophisticated fashion. A few examples:
            Q: Fifty Shades of Gray was self-published and became a huge best-seller. Do you think your book can do that?
            A: Probably not. I forgot to include any bondage or S&M scenes.
            Q: How do you make any money selling an e-book for $2.99?
            A: No problem. You just sell a million of ‘em.
            Q: How many people would you guess bought your book because they thought it was written by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes?
            A: Not nearly enough.
            Yeah, we had some fun.

Surprised by the Response

            There were some good questions about tracking sales and about marketing the book as a straight mystery or emphasizing the fly-fishing angle. (Gordon is on a fishing trip in the High Sierra when he gets caught up in the murder and intrigue.) All in all, I was quite pleased with how it went.
            One pleasant surprise came out at the end. I had mentioned in my talk that I had probably maxed out on selling the book to my friends and had to be getting it into the hands of strangers now. I really believed that, figuring that if anyone who knows me hadn’t bought it after five months on the market, they weren’t going to buy it at all.
            Not so, as it turned out. In the course of the talk I mentioned that I had brought some books for sale (I’d recently ordered a dozen from Create Space, Amazon’s print-on-demand program) and that I would give $3 from each sale to the club’s community service fund. When the meeting adjourned, there was a crush around the head table, and when it finally dispersed, I had sold ten books to an audience of approximately 60 people. Nice work if you can get it, and not a bad day’s work at that.