When My Life as Laura came out in October, 2011, I wrote an essay for Hunger Mountain about how I planned to promote the book, though I be but a wee grad student on a small press. The book had only been out three weeks, so I was basing my post on articles I had read, conversations with other writers, observation, and sheer conjecture.
Here’s a reflection now that time has passed.
Contact Any Contacts You Have
This tactic has definitely been my most successful.
The party I wrote about in New York City never happened, but my home state of Alabama came through. And say what you want about “to MFA or not MFA,” the University of Montana lead to a reading at the Festival of the Book, and participation in the NEA’s Big Read Program at the public library. That’s TWO free trips to Montana, y’all. I was even interviewed by the local NPR program. In those early tender weeks of release, my writer friends bought, read, and wrote my first blurbs on Amazon and Goodreads, so my page didn’t resemble a Cormac McCarthy landscape. Ditto for Ohio University, where I’m working on my PhD. My advisor, Dinty W. Moore, and all the faculty have been super supportive. The department helped me with a launch party, and friends and colleagues lined up, yes, lined up to purchase my book! OU has featured me on their publications, their websites, etc. AND friends taught my book to their classes.
At What Events Did You Sell the Most Books?
Montana Festival of the Book (41)
The Least Books?
Conferences where I presented a craft talk, and readings where the attendees were other writers. (0)
What About “Internet Presence”? Do I Really Have to Do All That?
Welcome to the 21st Century. Even so, it’s hard to know if someone buys your book because of a 5 star Tweet or not. It’s murky out there. Let’s break this situation down:
Here I am blogging, but I don’t know that a blog necessarily (unless it is Stuff White People Like) translates into sales. My biggest keyword searches are “Eliza Jane Wilder” and “Buffalo v. Bison.” (Also, “Michael Landon freeballing,” you pervs! Which I did NOT even write about). My original idea was that people searching for Laura Ingalls Wilder and related info would find my website and then maybe buy my book. My exit links tell me that never happened. People just wanted to read about Eliza Jane Wilder and freeballing. People did use my exit link to Press 53 and Amazon sometimes. But only when they Googled my name or the book’s name.
Takeaway: A professional looking website with links to buy, obviously a must. But blog only if you like it. Otherwise, work on your work.
At this point I have a tremendous 121 followers. I asked Wendy McClure, author of The Wilder Life, if she thought her 10,000 plus followers (under the handle Half-Pint Ingalls) actually translated into book sales. She wasn’t sure. I’m not either. How would anyone know? My idea is that just because a person thinks you are entertaining doesn’t mean they are a buyer of books.
But I still Tweet. Leetle-leet.
Sorry, those of you weary of cats and food porn. I get your ennui, but FB keeps you fresh. Luckily, I’m naturally social and nosey. I’ll say, though, it’s really hard to wean people to the fan page. They want to be friends with you, not your book. My approach is to post here and there, and then I’ll Facebrag if something important happens in my Writerlife that I think my FB friends might actually want to know about.
You are reaching people who buy and read books, and geeky enough to want to post about it online. The Giveaway was useful. And I usually get a Twitter follower or two every time I post a book review.
The “web” metaphor makes more and more sense the deeper I get into this post.
Again, yes. Although these “posts” are really articles which take a great deal of time. But I’m in this writer gig for the long haul, and I consider guest blogging to fall under the category of literary citizenship.
Final Internet Promotion Thoughts
I don’t know exactly how all this cyberverse promotion works, but I do see where helping people remember you exist matters. And it probably does take some crazy convergence of multiple sources. And a great deal of consistency and energy.
At this time, My Life as Laura clings to a tiny foothold in real bookstores. I was thrilled to see the esteemed Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City on my invoice. I mean, I didn’t even ask! I still love real bookstores and support them. On the downside, it’s hard to get in there as a small press book. I began to feel like a Jehovah’s Witness. So I couldn’t take it (I am, after all, a person with limited ego) and gave up asking.
I know local bookstores hate it, but as a small press author, Amazon has by far been how I’ve reached Laurafans. People who love the Little House books as I do are my obvious target audience. The trick has been to FIND them. When people buy other LIW books, Amazon helpfully suggests they might enjoy my book. Amazon also enjoys a healthy Google profile.
A surprising amount of downloads here. For which I say, yay! I’m excited that anyone is reading my book ever.
Readers have found my book, liked it, written up reviews, and promoted it on their websites and journals. That’s been the best part—people who get the book. Thanks, people. There was even a book club who met and wore prairie garb. Pretty much a career highlight so far.
If you like an author, especially a small press author, know that an online blurb means a great deal. Go ahead. Give the gift of blurb.
Something I Did Right
I labored over my book, to the point of obsession, so that I knew it was the best book I could write. That carried me through the disappointments and the rough patches. There’s still errors—my apologies to that Goodreads reviewer who fell asleep— but I know, as Pa would say, that I worked hard and gave the book my sincerest effort. Laura, was, is, and will continue to be my guide in this ethic.
What I Could Have Done More Of
Find more Laura websites/blogs and comment. Learn to fly a skywriter.
I saw a woman speak on book promotion, and her advice was that your book deserves six months. That’s pretty much what I did. Writing emails. Setting up readings. Working on that ever-elusive internet presence. And yeah, my own writing didn’t exist during that time. I was exhausted of words. Finally, this past fall, I began writing again for me.
Yet another life lesson from the Ingalls family. (Yes, I really am serious about this Laura Ingalls Wilder business.) Here I am, looking at that untilled field all over again.