Last week, my loving husband drove me into the heart of the Broadway theater district at the height of rush hour to drop me off at my hotel for Book Expo America. He was none too thrilled about driving in Manhattan, but he loves me and I appreciate the sacrifice. I have attended this 'to the trade only' event only once before, years back in D.C. when my second book debuted. This time, the impetus and expense was on me. Sterling Publishing rose to the occasion with a Fifty and Other F-words book signing on Friday, which I greatly appreciated. More on that, later.
Shameless Self Promotion Tip: If you spend your life waiting for an invitation, you may find yourself waiting indefinitely. Sometimes the only way to get to the ball is to invite yourself. Be your own Fairy Godmother.
The first morning I attended the Adult Author Breakfast, enjoying some coffee and mini muffins while being regaled by a panel of fascinating people: Trevor Noah, Megan Mulally, Nick Offerman, Nicholas Sparks, Jill Lepore, and Barbara Kingsolver. Bonus, we received advanced copies of each of their new books! I hit the floor sauntering after this event, and quickly assessed the focus of the show. This is a show designed for publishers to sell books to retailers and libraries. This is NOT a show designed for authors to sell themselves or their manuscripts to publishers who are busy selling their newly printed books. I have a publisher, so I was not hoping to sell new books. I was hoping to have a presence at the show and perhaps in doing so to make some new connections for possible PR appearances, book reviews, and book placement. I also had vague notions of finding an agent and or a publicist. I realized neither of these goals was likely, so I focused, instead, on learning what I could from writers who were hosting panels and gaining a sense of what was happening in publishing.
Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion Tip: READ the room and conduct yourself accordingly. Sometimes just being present is powerful.
Publishing has taken a big hit over the past 15 years since I sold my first book. The big box book chains crushed the independents, then big box book chains were crushed by Amazon. Social media has diverted attention and attention spans away from book pages and towards bite sized narratives on small screens. Big advances are rare, big budgets for PR and marketing are a thing of the past, and publishers are tending to focus on things they feel are good bets. There were LOTS of celebrities hawking books. Some of these celebrities are really terrific writers, like Chris Colfer former Glee cast member. Some are perhaps more terrific at marketing themselves. I didn't stand in line to get any signed books, because the publishers were not at the show to give authors free books and the lines were epic for most of the writers I had hoped to meet. Some of the authors had ticketed signings and many signings took place off of the main show floor. I tried to respect that reality, and I still got a stack of terrific books to read from attending the many events at the show floor stages. If one wanted books signed by favorite authors, the event that followed BEA, BookCon, is designed specifically for this agenda. Many publishers stayed through the weekend for this purpose.
Quick assessments: Young Adult or YA is an important focus, which is a good sign for the future. I saw lots of magical, mythical books being promoted. Politics is, of course, another trending topic and there were many, many books dissecting the current climate. Thrillers and romances along with memoirs and historical non-fiction also loomed large.
As my signing approached, I began to worry. Not going to lie, folks. I saw many authors sitting in booths with stacks of books and no people waiting in line to have them signed. I saw stacks of free books discarded on chairs, ledges, and tables. My book is a hardcover, so it's heavy, and people were already lugging around totes straining at the seams with paperbacks, thus the discarded books. What if I got to my signing and...ack...no one cared? I have been there before. There has been more than one afternoon sitting in a big box craft store with a pile of books and a free craft project (often with my then young daughter by my side) while people avoided us like we were doling out the Bubonic Plague.
It's free! No, really! Come make these earrings!
Hey, where are you going? Don't run away!
I decided to make the most of my adventure and let the chips, or the books as it were, fall where they may. I sat front row for John Kerry, attended the Bernie Sanders event, saw panels of fascinating people discuss politics, publishing, racism, sexism, history, and even sexy puzzle assembling adventures. By the time my signing beckoned, I was ready to face it head on. I had freshly pinked hair, a big bag of Smarties, a rainbow palette of Sharpie markers, a handful of unicorn rainbow straws, and I was ready to rock and roll.
Then something amazing happened. A line of people began forming. I spoke to each of them personally, asking them about where they were from and what they did, letting them pick their favorite color marker. The people kept coming, the stack of books kept dwindling, I ran out of unicorn rainbow straws...and then we ran out of books. People were EXCITED to meet me, to read the book, to share the book, to buy the book for their stores and their libraries!
It was incredible.
Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion Tip: People want to feel valued, and connected. When promoting yourself, don't forget that you can't achieve success without the support of other people. They are the point, so celebrate them!
The only thing that put a small smudge on it was a woman who showed up after we ran out of books. We explained there weren't any left and she said, and I'm quoting here, "I don't care about the book, I'm an author." Then she proceeded to pitch herself, demand to see my Botox (which is not currently part of my budget), scoff at my lack of Botox, and press the PR people standing with me to listen to her pitch. None of them were in a position to give her a book deal. Awkward.
Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion Tip: Don't insult someone else to make yourself look good, and surely don't horn in on someone else's moment.
I believe there is room enough in the sky for every star to shine, and we shine much brighter when we share our light freely than we do in attempting to dull another's. I have no problem with anyone promoting themselves, but there's a time and a place for everything. The journey that it took for me to be there, at that show, with that book, was epic. I earned that moment.
After the show, my kick ass editor Jennifer, and I went to a divine little French bistro across from my hotel and enjoyed a nosh followed by a night cap at the Hotel Algonquin, where Dorothy Parker once held court. Believe me when I tell you, my editor is amazing. She navigated my big personality and strongly held opinions and the considerable pressures from the publisher along with carving an epic 75,000 words into a far less epic and overbearing 45,000. I could not have done it without her, the design team who made the book so visually compelling, the PR team helping to promote the book, and the publisher who believed in an entirely unknown writer and her memoir.
Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion Tip: Nothing happens in a vacuum. 'It takes a village' to take an idea from gestation, to birth, to bloom. When you succeed, don't forget to acknowledge and thank the many people who supported that success.
Now I'm home and back to the grind. I have to keep promoting Fifty and Other F-words, finding new ways to reach a larger audience. Seeing the reaction of people at the show affirmed that this book will resonate with people. It's my job to help them find it. And then there's the manuscript for the next book...
If you like these tips, check out my e-book with more tips about The Fine Art of Shameless Self Promotion! (Affiliate link, if you purchase the e-book I get a small percentage of the sale!)