Don’t Shoot! Oh Wait, I Need Photos

Some cultures are said to believe that when a photographer takes your picture, he is stealing your soul. I think my dog might believe that, too.

It was time for new author photos. I had been using the same ones for years. My hair is grayer now. I have a new book, Seal Rock Sound, to sell, and I didn’t want people looking at my photo and saying, “Is that you? You look different.” I hired local photographer Chris Graamans because he does terrific work. We did the deed last week.

For me, getting author photos taken is on a par with getting my teeth cleaned. I’m going to have to live with these pictures for years. They’ll show up online, on the back of my books, in articles about me. They have to be good, and I’m all too aware of my imperfections. When I asked Chris if he could shave off 20 years and 30 pounds, I wasn’t kidding. He just smiled.

As Chris brought in his light stands and umbrellas, backdrop and camera and commenced to take pictures, Annie acted very strangely. She usually says hello to visitors then lies down, but she kept walking around him and brushing against me. I don’t know if she was trying to protect me or begging for attention, but it was strange.

I wonder. Humans (and some monkeys and apes) are the only animals who bare their teeth when they’re happy. For most critters, it’s a sign of aggression when they’re getting ready to attack. Again and again, even though it felt strange, I forced that smile, showed off my massive choppers. I have seen myself not smiling and don’t like the way I look.

We all want to show up with perfect skin, perfect hair, a slim figure, a perky nose and maybe some dimples. I’m going for “friendly.” Or maybe “interesting.”

We don’t see ourselves the way other people see us. I know that. Other people may not even notice things that look terrible to me. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I’m horrified. Do other people see that? How can I show my face in public? Of course, it could be the other way around, too. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

You can’t photograph a soul, a spirit, the essence of who you are, and no, the camera does not kidnap one’s spirit. It only captures the outside shell that holds it.

But if you’re going to be a writer, you have to have photos.

As a reader, I always look for the author’s photo. I want to know what the person who wrote this thing looks like. Frankly, if they’re too attractive, I don’t trust them. So maybe this will work out all right for me.

People are drawn or repelled by pictures. Sitting at my table Saturday at the Florence Festival of Books, I saw very clearly that the front and back covers are the most important things when people are strolling around with a few dollars to spend on books. If the front cover doesn’t grab their attention and the description on the back cover doesn’t make them want to read more, they’re moving on. They’ve got 40 more booths to visit.

If they pause long enough to talk to you, you need to be able to tell them what kind of books you write and what they’re about in just a few words. Do not make people stand and listen to the whole story when they didn’t even ask for it. The man at the next table was great at this. He writes “Humorous murder mysteries” about a professional wrestler turned private detective who runs into Big Foot in the woods while on a case. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

One author said her books are like Clan of the Cave Bear but rated PG. Another said he writes “biker poetry.” Another offers “inspirational nature photo books”.

With my many different kinds of books, I’m still working on how to sum it all up in a few words: true and fictional stories and poetry about childless women living alone on the Oregon coast? No, that’s still too long. Suggestions?

Have you had your picture taken lately? How did it go? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

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Finding Old Friends at the Thrift Shop

Hey, those are my books! The familiar covers stood out among the new arrivals at the humane society’s Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport. Stories Grandma Never Told and Childless by Marriage, the two books I’m most proud of, now sat among the other titles discarded for one reason or another. They didn’t look as if anyone had read them. Did the people who had them before not even bother to look inside? Were the books brought in by family members after a loved one died? Did they somehow gravitate from the local bookstore that closed without paying me for the books it had on consignment? 

Once $18.95 and $15.95, they could now be had for $1.50 each. In perfect condition. Ouch. Maybe I should buy them and sell them again. On the other hand, maybe someone who couldn’t afford them before will buy them now. Maybe I should sneak in an autograph. Or would that be too pitiful?

Our books are our babies. We spend years writing them, and then someone reads them in a day. Or doesn’t read them at all. Once your manuscript is published, you cannot control how it is received.You aim as carefully as possible, but an unseen wind may blow them to someone who doesn’t want them, someone who takes them to Goodwill or the thrift store or, God forbid, throws them in the trash. Some people don’t even read books. The Pew Research Center says roughly a quarter of Americans have not read a book in the past year. That’s hard for me to imagine, but it’s true.

Getting people, even avid readers, to read your book is a challenge. More than one million books are published every year in the United States alone. Why should they read yours? The trick is making sure someone hears about your book and knows where to get a copy. Which is why it sometimes feels as if we spend a little time writing and a lot of time marketing.

Pre-Covid, I spent many hours at tables and booths hawking my books. Sometimes I sold quite a few copies, but sometimes sales were slow. Sometimes people stood there for 20 minutes reading parts of a book, then set it down and walked away.

But maybe when they got home they thought, shoot, I should have bought that book. Maybe they told a friend, hey, I saw this book the other day I think you would like.  

What’s the secret to book sales? Being famous helps. When Tom Hanks spoke in Portland a few years ago, the audience bought hundreds of copies of his book of short stories, Uncommon Type. I never saw so many copies of one book in one place, and they rapidly disappeared because the author was Tom Hanks. It’s a good book, but even if it wasn’t, they were buying it because he was a famous movie star. 

If you’re not Tom Hanks, you tell as many people as you can about your book, hope they spread the word, and let it go. Yes, it hurts to spend years writing a book and have people reject it with barely a glance or to find it among the books at Pick of the Litter. But you know what? Every famous author’s books eventually wind up at a secondhand store priced at almost nothing. I have purchased many a beloved book cheap that I might not have bought when they were new. They might have been a little wrinkled, but they were still good. It’s the story that counts.

I can take comfort in my recent trip to the Nye Beach Book House where I was piling up used books by John Grisham and Maeve Binchy when a man said, “Hey, that’s you.” I whipped around to see he was holding a copy of my novel, Up Beaver Creek, looking from the photo on the back cover to me.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“What’s it about?”

I told him. The bookstore owner overheard us and started raving about my book. The man, visiting from Alaska, bought that copy of my book and took it home. 

I remember being thrilled to find my books on Portuguese Americans in the New Bedford, Massachusetts library when we visited there. And I was surprised when an excerpt from Stories Grandma Never Told was translated into Portuguese and published in a magazine from Portugal. I know people in Australia, India and the UK have purchased copies of my books. And people right here in Newport will buy them at Pick of the Litter.

You can’t control where the physical book will go once you send it out into the world. So I pat my books at Pick of the Litter, say, “Good luck, friends,” and move on to see what other treasures are there for me to buy. 

If you’re local and get to Pick of the Litter soon enough, you may be able to get these books cheap. If you really want them, I’ll give you copies for free. I just want my babies to find good homes. 

Do you buy used books? After you have read them, do you donate books to thrift stores or pass them around to your friends? Do you think less of a book when you find it on sale at a secondhand store or do you think hooray, I have always meant to read this

Writing books is a crazy way to earn a living, but I keep doing it. A sequel to Up Beaver Creek is coming soon. Meanwhile, visit https://www.suelick.com to see a list of my published books and download my Blue Hydrangea Productions catalog.

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Rocking the Book Table in Newport

Did you write all this? Which book is your newest? What are you working on now? Behind the book table again at yesterday’s  Celebration of Women in Newport, I felt like the old veteran as I watched people pick up my books, study the covers, and put them back dofbbc5-dscn2584wn—or sometimes even buy them. I have been doing this since Stories Grandma Never Told came out in 1998.

I have sat at book tables all over Oregon and California, including many stints at the annual Dia de Portugal in San Jose, bookstore signings, book fairs in the rain in Lincoln City, and street fairs in Stockton where the only person who bought a book was the fellow author sitting next to me. All too often, sales are sparse, the only purchasers being the other authors.  The truth is, if the event is not specifically about books or about the subject of your books, most of the people attending are not looking to buy books. They’re going to spend their money on food, carnival rides, and souvenirs. The writers are just a roadblock on the way to the fun.

Because I have published three books about Portuguese Americans, my books sold like linguica sandwiches—hundreds—at the Portuguese festival. At the Lincoln County Fair, not so much. Yesterday? Two.

So why go? Exposure. People see you and your book, maybe they’ll take a flyer or postcard, and maybe later they’ll think, hey, I should buy that book by what’s her name. Maybe you get a little free publicity in the newspaper. Plus it’s fun to hang out with other authors, people who understand what you do and can exchange information on how to do it.

Yesterday, I sat between Lee Lynch, author of more than a dozen novels and longtime booktable partner, and Lori Tobias, whose first book, Wander, just came out. Lee and I traded war stories while Lori gathered information and advice and vented about how this was not as much fun as she expected. No, but it could have been worse. We were warm, dry, and the wind wasn’t blowing. At the fair in Medford where the photo above was taken, it was 35 degrees inside and snowing outside. Nobody came.

You learn things over the years. Don’t bring every copy of every book. You only need a few. Have something for people to take: cards, bookmarks, candy, or trinkets related to your topic. Get a cart or a strong person to help you carry the books because they are heavy. Get there early so you don’t get the table least likely to be seen. Bring sunscreen and a hat if it’s outside. Don’t hog your space. Bring dollar bills and coins for change. Keep your book money separate from your personal money. Acknowledge every person who approaches with a greeting and a smile. Resist the urge to read or stare at your cell phone, even if nothing seems to be happening. Wear comfortable clothes; nobody cares what you’re wearing. Etc.

Lori kept saying she’d rather be writing. I was content at the table. It was Sunday afternoon. I had played three Masses at Sacred Heart Saturday night and Sunday morning, so I was too tired to do anything useful anyway. I was among friends.  There was music, wine and chocolate. You learn to ride the writer waves of private time and public time.

Besides, I had new editions of two of my books on their virgin outing. Stories Grandma Never Told, that book about Portuguese women that launched my book table career, has been updated, with a new cover and, for the first time, an e-book version. Azorean Dreams, my Portuguese American romance novel, also has a new look. What’s next? Another novel, a memoir, and perhaps a poetry book. Got to keep adding new merchandise to the table. Also, I’m going to move into the 21st century and start taking credit cards at in-person events for those customers who wind up emptying their purses and pockets to come up with enough nickels and wrinkled dollar bills for a book because they don’t carry cash.

Next time you see somebody sitting at a table with books, walk up and say hello. We’ll be glad for the company and delirious if you buy a book.

The Glamorous Life of the Writer, Again

So here I am in Medford, OR, wearing nothing but my bathrobe because my clothes got all wet between the exhibit hall at the Expo Center and my car. But I kept my books dry, of course. The plan was to not have any books left over, to go home with a lot more space in my car, but no, this fair was a bust. In fact, we quit two hours early, and by then a third of the authors had already packed up and left.

Wouldn’t you know I’d try the Oregon Book and Author Fair on its first year at the Expo Center? The previous venues, hotels and libraries in town, not only attracted crowds, but they were actually warm. We had been warned about the heat being inefficient in the exhibit hall, but actually it was nonexistent. It was about 50 degrees inside, colder and raining outside. The concrete-floored hall was vast and ugly.

We were arranged at long tables with dozens of authors, who gamely put out books, postcards, brochures, bookmarks, pens and candy. One guy, who writes haiku books, wore a clown hat. Another wore a sweatshirt that said, a “Ask me about my book.” One author brought a model of a spine for her book on scoliosis. Another had model wagon trains. One had balloons.

All to no avail. There were no customers, except the authors themselves. I did my part; I bought five books and a hot dog. But I did not sell a single book. Even the one lady who assured me she would buy a book failed to show up at my table.

I did trade one of my books for another woman’s book. There was a lot of that going on. And I made some good contacts, I think. This Portuguese woman promises to get me on her TV show. Another author plans to invite me to her upcoming book fair, which she promises will have a lot more going on.

My tablemate, Jim Henson—not the Muppet guy—is a delightful man, full of jokes, stories and encouragement. We made plans to meet in Newport for the open mic at Café Mundo.

It’s not all a loss, unless you’re counting dollars. Let’s see, miss a weekend of work, drive 500 miles, pay for the dog to stay in the kennel . . . no, it doesn’t pencil out. But if you think of it as a life experience, it’s not so bad. I talked to lots of people, got to see the fall colors here in Medford, and I’m still enjoying the amenities of a really great hotel: giant-screen TV, microwave popcorn, pool, spa, fitness center, hot buffet breakfast, free newspapers, a heavenly bed, and an escape from the responsibilities of home. Of course, I have to eat breakfast with strangers, and the clock radio suddenly burst into loud music at 4:10 a.m. And there was that flat tire near Roseburg, but hey, it’s an adventure. I’m writing, I’m reading, I’m swimming, I’m watching TV, I’m going out to dinner. And I have a new badge that says I’m an author.

Anybody want to buy a book? Or two or three? Christmas is coming. Visit https://www.suelick.com–or the back of my Honda.

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