1. It’s a party/miracle
I always felt a sort of post-partum letdown after publication. I don’t know why. In 2000, Writers of the Future hired an illustrator for my story, flew me out to L.A. for a week-long workshop with A.J. Budrys and Tim Powers, and hosted a huge gala. I posed for photos and gave an acceptance speech in a sapphire ball gown. But I still felt a bit of a letdown.
Fast-forward to 2009 and my publication in Escape Clause: the Anthology. Here’s one way of looking at it: it’s a poem. Big deal. I’ve already been paid for it. I should just stay home and write more. This is how I spend 99 percent of my life.
And this is the other way of looking at it: success! My poem is published in a book! Let’s celebrate.
Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Which one do you think is more fun?
2. Good karma
Ink Oink Art is a start-up publisher. Kit St. Germain is a writer/actor who says, “Any idiot can renovate their kitchen. It takes god’s own egg-splattered fools to make books.” I heart any artist who has the chutzpah to fly in the face of conventional logic and risk their own money in order to support other writers and illustrators. So when I had the same choice, to accept my contributor’s copy meekly or to risk my time and money trying to sell this puppy at a book launch, I leapt into the abyss. I call this good karma because I’m helping the publisher and thereby myself by getting my work out there. But obviously I used my judgement. I still made sure I wrote 1000 words/day and marketed my novels and stories instead of going all book-launchy-wonky.
3. It teaches you flexibility
I now live in the country. The nearest bookstore is 20 minutes away in Alexandria. Gale, the owner of Second Time Around Books in Alexandria, was delighted to host.
The closest chain that sells new books is about 40 minutes’ drive away. The manager seemed underwhelmed at the idea of launching a book, maybe having been burned by self-published tomes. But I still wanted to do a second book launch, so I thought, why cling to the idea that a book launch has to take place in a bookstore? I know a high-ceilinged, wooden-floored studio that’s one of the most elegant places in Cornwall where we could read by candlelight. Erin Bush, owner of Sat Nam Yoga, said no problem and even agreed to make mint tea.
4. Small business training
A book launch is a business. I’ve done book launches in Montreal, Berkley, and the aforementioned LA. I showed up, read if asked to, and signed books, blissfully ignorant of who ordered the books or provided free eats. (This was my father’s most-impressed moment. “Who’s paying for this?” he asked, eyeing the cornucopia of food and drink.) Since these events were DIY, I asked Gale what kind of cut she wanted, thinking she’d order the books and take a percentage of the profits. It turned out that she’d prefer to take no cut (and no risk). Her bookstore would just be the venue.
So I bought the books myself. At first, I thought ten would do it. I should be able to move five and if I had to give a few away as Christmas presents, so be it. But when Christina Dudley Facebooked that she’d sold 77 in one night, I realized I was thinking too small. Also, shipping was egregious, and the more books I bought, the more I could spread the costs out. So I ordered 20. If I sold 14, I’d break even. If I didn’t, well, that’d be a lot of Christmas presents.
I did Facebook and Twitter, but what I think helped the most was that I told our local paper, the Glengarry News, about the book launch and Steve Warburton decided to do a feature on me. Old school works! If nothing else, I got my local 15 minutes of fame.
Even more old-fashioned, I printed up posters and asked my friends to post them. I chatted with people at both hospitals and asked them to come. Repeatedly.
Since I hate hard sells, I emphasized that it was a party and you could buy a book or not.
In my emails, I explained that I was taking a personal financial risk with the book launch. Three people bit. Before the book sale, I’d pre-sold three for cash and gotten verbal promises to buy another eight. So if I sold three at the book launches, I’d break even. Shoot, I might even run out!
6. Plan for success, prepare for failure
I bounced into Sat Nam Yoga with 24 cream puffs and 30 banana muffins, all mini-sized to minimize the guilt. Erin had set out three types of cheeses, pepper jelly, hummus and pita, grapes (“Look, Mommy, they have grapes, just like us!” my son Max exclaimed), cookies…a feast.
The hordes of people who said they’d come or might come turned into a handful. I felt like a right idiot. But my son was in heaven: a giant space to run and slide in his socks. The reading turned into a cozy candlelit Q&A about my writing and a discussion about our missions in life. I felt bad that Erin had splashed out for a small crowd, but she said it didn’t matter to her if there were five people or 50. In the end, I decided the only person who could decide if it was a failure or not was me. And I had fun: good food, good company, and I sold three more books, so if all the “save one for me” people came through, I’d already broken even. I probably wouldn’t choose to do another event on a Friday night, especially the night of Black Friday, but it’s all learning, right? That’s a metaphor for the writing life and maybe life in general.
Ottawa author Leslie Brown joined me the next day in Alexandria. One of the first things she did was ask me if I’d joined Access Copyright. If you have Canadian publications, you can sign up and two years later, they’ll start sending you money. I don’t know the details, but it’s a million dollars they’re dividing up. I’d never heard about this, but I don’t really end up talking to writers much, and a lot of my writer friends are American. I’d let my SF Canada membership lapse just because I changed email addresses and I didn’t want to wade through all their emails. My bad, but something I was able to correct by networking at my book launch.
Networking, part II. The Glengarry News article talked about another writer, LindsayBelow, who came to the book launch with her mother. I actually knew her because her teacher, Andy Rorabeck, had invited me to speak to his writing group at his high school a few years ago and she was one of the members. They invited me to join their critique group. Since my latest book is set in high school, a recent graduate and two teachers could really give me some reality checks.
8. Get the audience reaction you craaave
After I read my poem, one of my friends mouthed “Wow. Wow.” The audience applauded. Leslie’s brother Steve said, “It’s the kind of thing you have to sit for a minute, and then you applaud.” No higher honour. And not the kind of thing you get sitting in your room.
9. Sell your backlist
Only two people read the magazines I brought with my previous publications, but one wanted to buy “Space and Time Books” and the other “Waiting for Jenny Rex.” This is a tiny taste of what it’s like if you write, say, _The DaVinci Code_ and then everyone runs out to buy _Angels and Demons_. Small scale, but still beneficial to the magazines who bought my work even years ago.
10. Pay it forward
I hope Erin might get more yoga subscriptions. I know Gale certainly got more business. My neighbour didn’t even know where that bookstore was, but he walked out with $82 worth of books, not counting my own. Other friends browsed and bought, including children. Who knows how their imagination may get fired up by their books? An elderly lady bought my book and said she wanted to give me some greeting cards. I paid her $10 for the cards. She didn’t even know what to charge me because she wasn’t used to asking for money for her work. “Don’t be ashamed to make money from your art,” I told her. Maybe it will help her. Who knows?
It certainly helped me. I sold my 20th book in Alexandria, leaving me with just my contributor’s copy–plus at least six people who couldn’t come to the launches but asked me to save them a copy. So that’s a help to the publisher, Ink Oink Art. And for me, because I’ve always been afraid I could never make a living from my writing. I would like to make a cork board and pin up all the cash I made from these books so that every time I se it, I think, “Look at what you did.” Of course the money is trivial compared to what I could have made in the emergency room, but I don’t care. The money is a tangible reminder that dreams can come true and that I am trying to live as though everything is a miracle.
More photos here.
Copyright Melissa Yuan-Innes, 2009