6 Pages From a Book Expo Journal
Bestselling author Ann Patchett says this was her outlook on her writing career when she was a child: “While I thought I might publish something someday, I was sure that very few people, maybe no one at all, would read what I wrote.”
As I walked into the Eisenhower Recreational Center at The Villages, FL, a few weeks ago, I met many people who wanted people to read what they had written when I talked with each author present about Hometown Reads.
I really love talking to authors. Among other things, it brings back memories of helping my mother-in-law, Barb Kiger, shepherd her two books, Payback and Cold Storage, from concept to publication and being a part of several author events with her.
As I talked with the authors participating in the Central Florida Author and Book Expo, I jotted down six notes related to books, authors, readers, and the intricacies of the publishing (and self-publishing) world.
- Most Authors Love Writing Much More Than They Love Marketing Their Books
Several authors discussed how frustrating it is to have to tear themselves away from the joy of writing in order to promote what they have written. It takes a different skill set to promote a book than it does to write one. While some authors do revel in the marketing/sales process, others would rather be creating new adventures for their characters than scheduling tweets or fumbling with a dongle as they try to process a credit card transaction in a room with questionable wi-fi.
- It Can Be Tough To Put Authors and Readers Together
The majority of the expo participants were from The Villages, where the expo was held, with other attendees hailing from Leesburg, Tampa, Daytona, and other Florida cities in the region. I have a feeling they see each other frequently traveling the expo circuit. “We need to figure out how to go beyond selling to ourselves at these things,” one author told me. She had a point. We readers have long TBR (To Be Read) lists and limited discretionary funds. It’s a challenge for books to ascend to a reader’s list.
- Social Media Can Be a Mystery
When I took a brief break from visiting authors to get a bite to eat, I thought, “I have this stack of business cards here, let me send out some tweets supporting these authors.” The flaw in this plan was the lack of Twitter handles on all but two or three cards.
I know that Twitter and other social media properties can be a daunting mystery for authors who are already hard at work creating great pieces of fiction and non-fiction. As someone who has sent over 100,000 tweets, though, I simply must encourage you to tweet (or use some other type of social media) to engage with potential readers.
As a reader, I have had so many great interactions with authors. It always makes a difference to me and makes me much more likely to support them by buying their books.
- So Many Stories
I can see how the Expo attendees ended up in the writing business – everyone had a great story! I don’t just mean the words between the pages of the books they were selling. I mean the conversation I had with a fellow attendee who really wanted to be an architect but didn’t become one because her generation of women became “teachers or nurses.” I mean the author who said one publisher required her to use a headshot on the book jacket of a much younger her, on the premise that the book would sell better that way.
- How to Explain Hometown Reads
The expo experience held opportunities for me. As I made my “pitch” for Hometown Reads over the course of the day, I began creating a plan for what I could do more effectively in the future. As happens any time you have to explain something you’re not sure you know that well, you get to know it much better by the time you try to teach someone else about it. I am grateful to the authors who, unbeknownst to them, were helping me gain expertise.
- Local Connections Matter
When I read Ann Patchett’s book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage and went to tweet her in support, I discovered that her Twitter handle was @ParnassusBooks1. Strange name for an individual author, right? As it turns out, Ann co-owns an independent bookstore (read that story here) and her hunch that people sometimes want outstanding customer service and an intimate atmosphere more than a “big box” where they can ostensibly find every book under the sun turned out to be incredibly true.
Just as Ann found that people crave a local connection, my day at The Villages reminded me that there is power in being able to say “I know someone here.” Because our founder Becky’s mom, Linda, lives in The Villages, I was able to accurately say I knew someone there and was their guest. It helped build a tiny trust bridge at the beginning of each conversation with a Villages author. Bridges are good if you don’t want to get wet!
Are YOU An Author?
In addition to a local connection, I was asked this repeatedly throughout the day:
Are you an author too?
Not yet, I would reply. In Ann Patchett’s essay The Getaway Car, she gave a literary eye roll to the number of potential authors who have told her they have “one great book in them.” Quite a few inferred that she should write their riveting story, since she clearly understood how to be a successful author.
Discussing all the books still embedded in people’s heads that haven’t made it to the page yet, Ann Patchett wrote, “I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.”
I left my day at The Villages with deep respect for all the people I met that day who vanquished their inadequacy demons to produce books. I hope our work with Hometown Reads will support them.
You never know, I may have my own author table at an Expo someday and proudly enter my book’s information into the Hometown Reads database. Look for the announcement on Twitter.