Marketing a Book is Hard!

The Essay in the New York Times Book Review of May 1st comes to mind, since Tony Perrottet wrote a great commentary on “Building the Brand.” I commented on my quest to do just that in the recent June newsletter, so Perrottet’s remarks were preaching to a one-man choir. As he wrote, paraphrased a bit, writing is the easy part; the hard part, the real literary labor, is rabid self-promotion. The writer bombards every friend, relative, and vague acquaintance with creative emails, Facebook alerts and other social media promos. In addition, our web-sites, which have been freshened up with “great content” now must host nice photos of ourselves, taken on that one occasion when we looked decent, along with previous and upcoming events, as well as blog postings, etc. As a quick note, since I had not heard of Tony Perrottet and wondered how he managed to cop such a fine gig as writing the main commentary in such a prestigious forum as the Book Review, a check of Google indicates he is a contributing writer to the Smithsonian Magazine, has written five books on travel and is a very peripatetic man who has lived in Australia, South America, and now the wilds of Manhattan. That this man can write about brand building while on the go all the time is amazing.

In my quest to “build a brand” regarding “Contact Sport,” my wife and I left Austin on May 18 and returned on May 27 after putting 3,100 miles on our SUV. The car did well, and carried up to ten cartons of books at any one time along with two suitcases, a cooler, and some snacks for the road. Oh yes, and a dolly-cart to help me transport four cartons of books at a time in and out of the events. The main target was the largest ham radio “convention” in the USA, Hamvention, in Dayton, Ohio, where some 25,000 plus-or-minus amateur radio enthusiasts congregate yearly for seminars, displays of new gear, a huge flea market, and everything imaginable for radio and computer folks. I had registered as an Exhibitor for the first time, and paid nearly $600 for a selling booth/table for two-and-a-half days. My location was inside, and traffic was pretty good most of the time, but as a first timer, I got no chance for any of the premium spots and was more or less in the “back forties” of the aging arena. But all in all, sales exceeded my expectations for the new book, “Contact Sport,” as well as bonus sales of “Reunion,” my debut novel of four years ago, with eighty-five books altogether inscribed and autographed.

N3BB with DL1QQ and N6TV

N3BB with DL1QQ and N6TV

One of the highlights for me was a visit in the booth of both Sandy Raeker, DL1QQ, who was the captain of the German women's team in the 2014 World Radiosport Team Championship in New England, as well as Bob Wilson (known as TV Bob), N6TV, a California Bay Area contest maven who was the official event photographer. Sandy stopped by quickly, since she was part of a team rounding up financial support for the 2018 WRTC in Germany. "TV Bob" spent over two hours with me and we co-signed twenty-five copies of "Contact Sport" for buyers. It was a gas!

The show ended Sunday at 1 p.m. and I packed up and drove to the hotel where I picked up my wife, Diana, who was definitely ready to get going. We drove from Dayton to southern West Virginia over very nice roads in eastern Ohio and on into Charleston, WV, but then ran into very nasty weather as we got onto I-64 and I-77, formerly known as the West Virginia Turnpike, and surely one of the most spectacular Interstate highways in the country. After over an hour at 45-50 MPH squinting through the furiously moving windshield wipers at the brake lights of trucks in front of us trying, as we were, to stay in our flooded lane, we finally reached our destination at Princeton an  additional hour later, totally fatigued.

My wife and I had the opportunity to visit with family on both sides of the two Virginias, including some of my first cousins who retain most of their original family farm in Giles County plus an adjacent parcel that was first surveyed in the early 1700's when western Virginia was the frontier.

I had scheduled two book-signings: the first at a wonderful, boutique book store in Bluefield, Hearthside Books. Hearthside has hosted many well-known authors, with Homer Hickam, Jr. probably among the best known with his "Rocket Boys," later re-titled "October Sky" for the movie. I was pleased to have a “crowd” of nine people not counting my brother-in-law, who went with me, and the two book store owners. The reception was terrific, and was helped by a posting in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph's calendar, as well as support of Keith Jennings and the local ham radio club. In fact, the store owners shared with me that my “crowd” exceeded many well-known writers. Okay, two down (Dayton and Hearthside Books) and one to go. The one coming up the next day was my safe sanctity, the Princeton Public Library, where the crowd for “Reunion” four years ago was an overflowing hundred-plus people, a virtual heroic homecoming. In fact, the book sales were so strong at Dayton that I had called the distribution manager at my publisher and had him ship two additional cartons (36 books total) to the library, with expedited shipping so there would be plenty for the event.

Unfortunately, my good fortune ran out, as the editor of Princeton's weekly newspaper had some sort of miscommunication and her “feature article” on the event was not in the paper's previous Friday edition. To compound matters, the library had a new intern assigned to my “big day,” and the young person had not listed the book-signing on the library’s web page. So the publicity in Princeton was … zero. The only information was my own Facebook posting as well as a late posting from the local newspaper editor when she realized there was nothing in the paper. My wife and her family came to the room, and we waited. And we waited. At the assigned time, the “crowd” was … zero. At five minutes past the official time, one person came in, having seen a Facebook post. Then one additional person arrived five minutes later. So the “crowd” was two. Then my wife’s uncle and aunt who drove over from Virginia walked in. So we had four, counting two additional family members. Okay, count them! The “audience” reached five when the newspaper editor arrived late, since she was covering an “art on the circle” event nearby. I made what I considered a pretty good talk, and went over how “Contact Sport” came to be, along with what it’s like to cover a major international event and then to write a (hopefully) good non-fiction book.

Two very long days on the road (1,300 miles) later, we got home late on a Friday night. Oh well, now the trip is in the history books. “Contact Sport” continues to sell well both as a hard-cover print format and as an eBook download on all major formats. In fact, the ratio of eBook downloads to print sales runs about one-to-one. Interesting! If you have made it this far, thank you, and I’m pleased to report that “Contact Sport” has consistently ranked in the top 30 in “Extreme Sports,” top 50 in “Radio Operation,” top 50 in “Radio and Wireless,” and overall, out of 8 million books listed, in the top 50-60,000 overall. That’s not bad at all, but I’m still hoping that more non-radio people will read it and recommend it to their friends. Oh, one more thing; if you do read it, please consider going to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and leaving an honest review. So far, “Contact Sport” has been rated 31 times, with 30 five-stars and one four-star; outstanding ratings, and terrific commentaries as well.


Thank you!

1 Response

  1. JK James George
    Here are a few comments received by email. I've deleted the information of the sender, but think that the comments are worth listing: * You make me realize now that writing is the easy part, compared with the job of selling! Keep the faith! * I enjoyed your tale about how hard it is to sell books. Having written a couple (The books are listed) - I share your wonderment. I think, unfortunately, our disappointment starts out with hubris, our belief that because we are so smart and that our books are so good, they should be instant successes. I only did one signing, that at a Barnes and Noble and the only good part was that they had bought 20 books and asked me to sign ‘em. Once I did, they had to keep them in the store and couldn’t send back. Other than that, I felt it was a waste of a couple of hours. Looking back upon the experience, I think that a publisher’s commitment to promote the book is clearly the most important factor in how many sold. I believe that this is in many ways a “fad” world as in the popular book about “tidying up.” It has allegedly sold 2,000,000 copies. Go figure. I will reiterate that I certainly enjoyed the book

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