Write a book, get it out there, and it will sell. Right?
Well. Not exactly.
It turns out that between six hundred thousand and a million books are published every year. Even if your story happens to be incredible, and even if you remove all categories that will not compete—children and picture books, young adult, mystery, fiction, suspense, reference, Christian and other religious themes, romance, and science fiction—there will likely be thousands of memoirs left in the narrative non-fiction genre. So how does someone find your specific title?
To begin with, publishers start marketing your book well before it hits the shelves—often six months in advance of the release date. I’ve searched Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs on Google, Google Chrome, and Yahoo! and found it available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, BAM! Books-A-Million, and Powells.com. I’ve also found it on sites in Canada, Japan, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. And, although I’m ashamed to admit it, there’s a site where my book appears and I do not recognize the language. Still, unless someone searches for my specific title, Loving Lindsey will likely get lost amongst all the other possible reads.
Some of the ways a book finds its way into the world is through Ingram Publisher Services, Partners West, PGW, and if you are truly lucky, Oprah! (Doesn’t every author wish for this?) It turns out, most big-name publishers such as Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster, as well as hundreds of independent presses attend BookExpo America, a trade show for 2017 titles (books from previous years are not allowed to be displayed). The media—as well as librarians, buyers from book stores and gift shops—have the opportunity to sneak advanced peeks at the new releases before deciding which ones will be fortunate enough to land on their shelves.
This year, BookExpo was held in New York City. My publisher, She Writes Press, a small independent press in Berkeley, California was in attendance. And the editor, Brooke Warner, invited all this year’s SWP authors to come. She encouraged us to attend the kick-off breakfast where five seasoned authors would speak about their journeys to publication, to schedule an hour in the booth, to give away collateral materials, to sit in on workshops of interest to us, and to mingle. I immediately thought: Combine writing and travel? I’m in! I had no idea what to expect. Still, my heart was eager to find out.
When I initially walked through the doors at the Javitz—the huge convention center in downtown NYC—my eyes were greeted with banners promoting the BIG names: Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly, and Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza. There was one quick moment when I daydreamed: Someday, could that be me? Could my name appear on a banner at BookExpo? Not likely! my sensible side quickly rebuked me, bringing me back to reality. Still, one of my writer friends regularly emails this reminder: “Never quit dreaming,” she tells me. And she is right. Because who really knows what the future holds?
On the opposite side of the room, BookTV interviewed a new author I did not recognize. When the interview was over, the crew invited me sit in the same space and pretend it had been me. Thinking about my friend’s advice, I decided to go a little crazy. Believe it and it will happen! I thought, stifling a giggle, climbing onto the stage, and plopping my rear in the chair for a quick photo opportunity.
When I wasn’t spending time in the She Writes Press booth, I trolled the aisles for free advanced reader copies. The large publishing companies give away cases of them—some signed, some not. A few of the titles I captured were: The Best of Us by Joyce Maynard, Sourdough by Robin Sloan, I’m Fine and Other Lies by Whitney Cummings, The Burning Girl by Claire Messud, and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.
On the last afternoon of BookExpo, I passed John Grisham. He was signing hardcopies of his new book, Camino Island, and the line for an autographed edition wove down aisles and around the Doubleday booth. To the exasperation of some of my friends, I just didn’t have enough energy to wait over an hour for his autograph and to lug one more title home. At the end of this two-day event, my arms juggled so many books, I knew I’d have to tuck them into a bag of their own for the flight back to Oregon. The extra effort was well worth it; my summer reading list is full, and I’ve never been so excited to get started.
I must confess, as thrilling as many of these encounters turned out to be, coming upon the She Writes Press booth and finding a poster sharing my book and author photo—well, that was pretty darn exhilarating. I think my heart might have even skipped a beat. And, of course, talking up my book, my story with librarians and buyers was certainly another highlight of this trip. But the very, very best part of this experience? It was the moment my cell phone rang, and on the other end was my grown son’s voice. Michael was working half a world away in Kuwait, but he’d taken the time to call his mama and wish her a successful show. That sweet gesture turned my insides to mush.
After BookExpo hours, I explored NYC with my girlfriends, taking my book along for a little pre-publication publicity. We visited the NBC studios and put Loving Lindsey in the hands of Jimmy Fallon. (Thank you, Jimmy, for helping promote my book!) We sat at the Today Show desk and practiced for a future invite—rationalizing that one can never employ enough positive actions. And at sunset, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and snapped a shot of my book with the skyline in the background.
My memoir won’t be out till September 26, 2017. In the meantime, my publicity team at JKS Communications is doing their best to get the word out about my book—and so am I.
Right now, there are many unanswered questions. Will Loving Lindsey rise to the top of the memoir market? Or will it barely get a shout out? Most new authors rarely sell a thousand copies of their work. But whatever happens this fall, for me, publishing a first book is a dream come true. Going to New York City with an advanced reader copy—well, I cannot imagine a higher point in all this marketing madness. And if that is the best it gets, all I can add is—I’ve had a blast!