Monday, October 31, 2016

Who's Your Audience?

One of the first pieces of advice a writer is given is to "know their audience". For whom are you writing? What age group? What genre?

Many times, if you look in the mirror, the answer will literally stare you back in the face.

Author Toni Morrison said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Another way to look at this is, if you want to write a book, but you're not sure what you want to write, you must look at what you like to read.

Even children's book writers must look at themselves when they were children to see what kind of book they would have enjoyed reading at that age. When I was a child, I loved reading books that were about children just like me (the Little House books, stories by Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume) or in settings with which I could identify, even if some of the animal characters were gentle fantasy (E. B. White's novels, especially "Trumpet of the Swan".) I was never into science fiction or fantasy and I doubt I could have really enjoyed the dystopian fiction that is so popular today (let's not even start with the whole vampire genre), so it stands to reason that, if I wrote young adult or children's fiction, I would probably write books like the ones I enjoyed reading.

I write mysteries that appeal to people who live fairly uneventful lives--some would even call their lives "boring". Work, school, laundry, bills to pay, daily interactions with family, friends, and co-workers make up the fabric of their lives, just like those of the characters who populate my stories. Some of my readers appreciate reading about characters whose lives have more drama than their own--very few people would want to discover a dead body in their own home or business! Others, whose lives are fraught with a lot of tension and drama, enjoy a story that has a sense of peace and order when all is said and done, with love and loyalty being treasured character traits. I see myself in both camps, through different periods in my life, and I write what has always appealed to me.

Perhaps one of my earliest "audience members" was my late sister-in-law, Dawn. Twenty years ago, when we were living all together (her family and mine) in Mt. Kisco, NY, we both had developed a love for Mary Higgins Clark novels. The fact that a new novel was released every year in April, right around Dawn's birthday, made gift-giving easy and we loved the fact that the settings and characters seemed so real. And then we both read "Loves Music, Loves to Dance" and fell in love with the main character's love interest--such a handsome, supportive, loving guy!--only to discover in the end that he was the villain! I'll never forget Dawn's reaction: "I hate it when the author makes you really like a character and then he turns out to be the bad guy!" She was so disappointed that she almost swore off the MHC books. She didn't (and neither did I) but I learned that readers come to trust authors to deliver consistency with their books. Whether she received a slew of complaints or not, I'll never know, but I did notice that never again did Mary Higgins Clark disappoint us with another enormously appealing villain.

So that is one audience member I always wanted to deliver the goods to. I think she was always pleased with my work. In any event, when you write for your audience, you must be true to yourself and what you enjoy reading, That's how you find your true audience.

Thanks, Dawn.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Best Place to Sell Books (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, before I took a much-needed vacation, I had posted about the best places to sell books, having just come off of a very successful weekend with a book signing at a bookstore and having a booth at my parish festival. I know that authors, especially those of us who don't have name recognition or the backing of a huge publishing company, need to be actively promoting their books if they're going to find any readers or make any sales. That brings me to today's blog post.

I received my 47th review on “End of the Road” just the other day... courtesy of a chance encounter in a northern New Mexico winery on July 4th.
My husband, Paul, and I had spent our anniversary weekend working a wine festival in Santa Fe. After two days in a hot, crowded tent with no air conditioning, tons of people, and precious few bathroom breaks, we decided to take an extra day—July 4th—and visit Vivac Winery in the tiny town of Dixon, about an hour north of Santa Fe. When we arrived, the place was starting to get busy. We tasted some wine and managed to snag a table on the patio under the grape arbor. Shortly afterward, a couple arrived and went into the winery. By the time they emerged with their own glasses, the patio had filled up with a large party and no other tables were available, except for two chairs at ours. We waved them over, introduced ourselves, and spent a lovely hour enjoying wine and the company of new friends.
Naturally, my husband—my PR person extraordinaire—mentioned to them that I was a mystery author. The woman, Patty, expressed interest, as she is a travel planner and is always looking for something to read on long flights. Paul promptly went out to our Jeep and grabbed a copy of “End of the Road” (yes, I always carry copies of all of my books... don’t you?) and offered it to her for free. She and her husband were both surprised, but (here’s the important thing) she expressed an interest in my book before we gave it to her. I had already given them bookmarks with all the books listed and she had started looking them up on her phone. We friended each other on facebook and then she messaged me to let me know she had written a review and posted it! Here is her review (did I mention it’s the 47th one???)
“This is a fun read with likable characters, a whodunit plot, and a touch of romance. I took it on a long plane ride and it made the trip whiz by. It would also be a perfect summer read. Now I have to read the next in the series to find out if Corrie and Rick make it past friendship, or if JD returns to give him some competition!”
In addition, we returned to Vivac a week ago to help out with the grape harvest. We had a fun day and spent some time talking to one of the winery owners, who happens to be a friend of the winery owner that I work for. Again, Paul told him that I was a mystery author and we offered him a copy of “End of the Road” and slipped in the fact that my boss carried the books in his winery (probably because the winery is mentioned in the books) and Jesse, one of the Vivac owners, grinned and said, “Any chance your characters might visit Vivac?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
We also met another couple from Missoula, Montana who had traveled down to help with the harvest (they were wine club members and were in the loop) and they agreed to meet up with us at Noisy Water in Ruidoso (where we work) in a few days after we had returned from Colorado. I had given them bookmarks and when they arrived at the winery, not only did they buy a few bottles of wine, they also bought all four of my books!

It goes to show that an author should always be prepared to meet potential readers! If you can’t keep a supply of books in the trunk (I was actually out of “End of the Road” a week ago) at least carry bookmarks, business cards, whatever it is you use to promote your books. And don’t be shy about talking about them (or else, have someone like my husband along!)

I have two more events planned for November--one is a "vendor blender" which is a monthly gathering of home-based businesses in Alamogordo, the town where I work my "real" job (Walmart, that is), and the other is the first book festival hosted by the El Paso Writers' League in El Paso, TX (my hometown). The "vendor blender" will cost me $20 for a three-hour slot and they provide the tables and chairs. I just have to bring my books and the items I need to spruce up my space. The EPWL festival won't cost me anything but my time and my annual dues. Of course, I have to pay for the books I will (I hope) sell at the events. Otherwise, the biggest investment is time and travel. 

None of this means I will suddenly leap to the top of the best-seller lists. It might not even mean that I break even. But if my master plan was to make money, writing is the wrong profession to take up. I write because I love to tell stories and I hope to find readers. The promo and selling is all part of the package and because I have to sell in order to keep being published by a traditional publisher. It's all worth it in the end and I've come to really enjoy it!

This was my table at our church fiesta in September... one of my best day of book sales ever!

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Best Place to Sell Books

This past weekend was one of my busiest (overall) and most successful (as an author) I've had in the last three years!

A couple of months ago, I signed up to do a book signing at one of my favorite bookstores in the world: Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque. The owners of this fiercely independent bookstore sell only books set in New Mexico, by New Mexico authors. Based on that criteria, I'm sure many people would be impressed by the number of books they carry. Anyhow, knowing from previous experience that the first book in a series is always the best-seller at a signing, I made it a point to stock up on over a dozen copies of "End of the Road", the first book in my Black Horse Campground mystery series.

Then three weeks ago, our parish church announced they would be holding an apple festival as a fundraiser the day before the book signing in Albuquerque, and they were looking for people to sign up for arts and crafts and other booths. It occurred to me that this might be a great way to help out my parish, encourage some fellowship, and maybe sell a book or two. I already had my book order for my Albuquerque signing, so I figured I could set up a table at the apple fest, eat some great festival food, and chit-chat with the neighbors and other locals. If I sold a book or two, it would all be gravy.

Little did we expect that we would have a lot of impulse festival-goers stopping in on their way to Ruidoso for the Aspencade festival. People from as far away as San Antonio (among other out-of-state places) pulled off the highway to check out our little festival. Not only did we sell out of apple pies and fiesta food, I sold 17 books. I had 40 to start with. And of those books, only six copies of "End of the Road" were going to make it to Albuquerque.

The next day, I arrived in Old Town Albuquerque with five minutes to spare for my event (that included being dropped off on the opposite side of the plaza and hoofing it through the crowds of people who had descended on the Duke City for the annual hot air balloon festival.) I no sooner set foot in the door when a woman pounced on me to say she had been waiting for me and did I have the first book in my series available? Turned out that Jim and John (the father-son duo that runs the bookstore) only had about five copies of my books available and none of them were "End of the Road". The customer graciously agreed to wait until my husband, Paul, had found a parking space (two blocks away) and brought my box of books to the shop.

Over the next two hours, I sold a total of 13 books (including the six copies of "End of the Road".) That's 30 books in a 48-hour period. Not enough, of course, for me to make the New York Times best-seller list, but enough to learn something important: you never know what places will be great for book sales. Honestly, I didn't consider the church fiesta a "real" bookselling venue. I did it more as a courtesy and a way to help out my parish. My cup runneth over, folks! And being able to score a slot at a bookstore on a busy weekend was a huge help, too. In Albuquerque, I met people from Oregon and Washington in town for the balloon fiesta who bought my books.

If there is one thing I learned that I can share about this weekend, it's this: never pass up a chance to sell your books. Readers are everywhere. You can't wait for them to find your book. Sometimes, you have to take your book to them.

Me, at a previous signing at Treasure House (and still wondering how to get people to buy Book 2!)