HOW BIG IS YOUR BOX?

Talk about diminishing venues to speak and sign, difficulty getting book sales and name recognition makes me wonder--how far out of the box are you willing to think?

I live in a small town, pop. 23,000 (Lemoore). Ten miles away is a larger town (Hanford). Forty miles away is the Big City (Fresno).

I lived in the Big City over 25 years and was never able to get a signing or even a book launch. The local newspaper ignores local authors in favor of canned wire reviews of authors who would never set foot in this part of California. What good was that doing me?

When I moved back to my hometown, I was asked to write a monthly column on writing in the weekly newspaper. They practically created an entertainment section just for me. I sought to fill it with other book news and author interviews. I did this without pay. I became known as "the local mystery writer." Nice.

The Hanford library read one of my columns and asked me to do an event. It was such a great experience, I asked if I could help with the author program and filled the calendar with local authors all the way to 2011. I also write all the newspaper articles and contact the media. Free of charge.

An even smaller town, Chowchilla, put on a Local Authors Event. It cost nothing, but was set in a small room, little media notification and not well attended. I used the event to grab business cards from every author. Why couldn't I do a similar event in Hanford?

I asked the same question of my library. I was offered free use of the Veterans Building, picked a date, and put out a call for authors. Over 23 have responded so far. The event will be free to the public, widely publicized and the local ice cream parlor (best ice cream in the world, we are a dairy region) may be giving us coupons to go with book sales.

Okay, the point of my blog: instead of wondering where all the good sales venues are, why not create them? Not just for yourself, but for all the authors in your area. Why not just do what I did--ask. Sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.

Keep in mind, I did this with no pay. Yes, it took time from my life and writing. However, it has resulted in a higher profile in my region and kept my name out there to the public. I've also become the de facto hub of a writers' consortium since I have all the contacts. You need a speaker? Call me.

There are a few things you must be willing to do, but then, you should be doing them already. I became familiar with the movers and shakers in my small towns, including the Board of Education, the Sheriff and Police Departments (for crime writers), the junior college, high schools, tourist board, woman who holds the Indian casino purse strings, and the wife of the commander on the local military base. I did this by hand-distributing flyers the library made for upcoming speakers. I also interacted with all the sorts of writing groups in the area: Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers, various critique groups and reading groups.

Key to everything is the media. I took the time early on in my career to contact every newspaper in the area, especially small publications looking for newsworthy articles. I check periodically to make sure the same reporters are covering features. I ask what their deadline is for community news announcements. I ask if it would help if I drafted or wrote the article for them. Having been a newspaper woman in the past, I know these people are underpaid, overworked, underappreciated and stressed. To have someone offer to take some of the load off is heaven-sent. Do I get paid? No.

But I do get rewarded. My town is talking about giving me a book launch at the prestigious Carnegie Library. My books sell. I get written up in the media. I have two towns behind my career. I know people. We do lunch. They pay.

I'm not suggesting this philanthropic approach will work for everyone. If it's only your purse strings you are concerned with--not your fellow authors or your publisher's sales figures--then so be it. However, these are tight economic times. You can lament the buying public or you can offer them a free experience and hope they respond generously. Give a little to get a little.

So, ask yourself--how big is that box you're in? Don't you want to peek and see what's outside the box?

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