Me and Tom Hanks Selling Our Books

WW authors at Wordstock
Kerry Blaisdell, Jack Estes, John Dover, and Sue Fagalde Lick at the Portland Book Festival      Photo by Gail Pasternack

 

It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.

In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.

Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.

We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.

Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.

John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.

Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.

Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.

But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.

My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!

Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.

That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.

It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)

And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.

Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.

It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.

Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.

I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?

***

  • Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
  • The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at coast@willamettewriters.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
  • I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.

 

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New novel coming, buy it, pass the word

PD is coming.

What? No, not the police department. PD is what the protagonist in my new novel Up Beaver Creek is calling herself these days. It’s her initials, and she’s not saying what they stand for. Back in Missoula, people called her Cissy, her nickname, but she does not want to be Cissy anymore. Widowed at 42, she is determined to start over with a new name, a new look, and a new home on the Oregon coast, where she will pursue her career as a musician–if things ever stop going wrong.

Eight wonderful, brilliant, generous beta readers have given the book a careful going-over, finding numerous typos and a few discrepancies I need to clean up. Next steps: Finalizing the cover and formatting the inside pages. I’m starting to get nervous. I want everyone to buy the book. I want to do readings here, there, and everywhere. I want everyone to say they love my book. I want to show the IRS and my father that I do actually write and sell books.

I want . . . what every writer wants.

For Oprah to love it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because these days, whether you’re published by one of the big New York publishers, a small indie press, or doing it yourself, authors are required to build “buzz.” We need to become salespeople drumming up interest and doing everything possible to make sure everybody knows about their books and can’t wait to read them.

That’s Up Beaver Creek, coming in June from Blue Hydrangea Productions.

This sales business is tough for writers who prefer to sit quietly at their computers and get lost in the worlds they’re creating. We prefer art over commerce, readers over buyers. Once upon a time, publishers did all the marketing while urging writers to hurry up and write the next book. Not anymore. Promote, tour, build that audience high and wide.

Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Our Willamette Writers Coast Chapter meeting yesterday was all about building buzz. Jennie Komp of Myth Machine talked about building one’s “fandom.” Cultivate one loyal fan who loves everything you write, and that fan will attract others who attract more. Pretty soon you’ll have thousands. At least that’s the plan.

It can work. I got an email on Saturday from a writer who has a new book coming out. I ordered it immediately. I haven’t read a word of it, haven’t seen the cover, and I don’t usually pay that much for a book, but with this author, I’m buying it. I buy everything he writes. I’m part of his fandom.

Up Beaver Creek, coming in June, read an excerpt here.

Komp used J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books as an example of maximum merchandising. Fans don’t just buy the books and see the movies; they buy the tee shirts, the little cauldrons, the round glasses, and all the other swag. The books have turned into an industry.

We can look at our own books for things we can promote: songs that appear in the book and might be used in the movie, merchandise that could be sold in conjunction with the book, real-life locations to which we can direct our readers, articles we can write that will direct people to our books, outtakes we could sell, and quotes we can combine with images to create “memes” that we post on social media several times a day. We can create YouTube videos about something in the book, invite our fans to post testimonials, and set up “meet-ups” for our fans to get together. In other words, sell everything you can from the world you have created for your book.

I thought I was doing well to write blogs and list my books in my email signature. I feel old and slightly nauseated. Would Mark Twain have done this? When does a body have time to write? Of course, we can hire Myth Machine or another publicity company to do it all for us.

Up Beaver Creek, coming in June. Meet PD and her friends. Did I mention the tsunami?

Buzz, buzz, buzz

What? They didn’t have computers?

18334059 - old fashioned typewriter

Once upon a time, I wrote a short story for a Writer’s Digest correspondence course. The lessons came by mail in those days. The assignments–outlines, character descriptions, scene summaries, etc.–added up to a final story that’s reminiscent of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Eager young worker, horrible boss, boyfriend who doesn’t get it.

The plot revolved around the boss’s refusal to move from typewriters to computers. Our young heroine struggles with the correction tape on her electric typewriter (remember those?) and her boss complains that if she were a better typist, she wouldn’t need so much correction tape. Our girl, Colby, is mired in work and about to get fired because she just can’t keep up. But then, an angry client comes in while her boss is out. He wants his ad changed right now. Colby sneaks onto a co-worker’s new computer (an Apple?) and click, click, click, makes the changes. The client is delighted, Colby is promoted and she gets her own computer. Only in 1988, right?

It’s a terrible story, full of holes and clichés and way too many adjectives. I found it while cleaning out old writing files. I never throw away my work, but this went into the big blue recycle cart, where it is now lost among the boxes, butter tubs, and junk mail. I have also discovered reams of articles about writing from back in the olden days when I and others who taught or wrote about writing urged wannabe writers to get a computer or be left behind. It seems silly now, but I remember . . .

I learned to type on a manual typewriter with a slippery roller. The letters were attached to rods that got tangled up if I typed too fast. In my late teens, I used babysitting money to buy myself a new typewriter, blue plastic. My father couldn’t understand why I would waste my money on such a thing. It wasn’t like I needed it for school or anything else; we all wrote with pens and pencils, but I was determined to be a writer from the time I discovered words. Real writers had typewriters.

I encountered my first electric typewriter in a college typing class required for journalism students. It seemed to have a mind of its own, the keys moving so fast they stuttered out multiple letters if I breathed on them. I actually told the teacher I couldn’t handle this fancy electric typewriter. She basically told me to suck it up. I did. I got good at it, typing over 100 words per minute–if you don’t count mistakes.

On my first newspaper job in the early ‘70s, we used manual typewriters, big heavy Royals, typing on scraps of newsprint with carbon paper to make copies. We edited in pencil before sending the pages to the typesetter. I moved up to IBM Selectric typewriters in 1978 for a PR job. The letters were on ping-pong-sized balls, interchangeable for different typefaces. High tech! But you couldn’t “save” anything. You had exactly one copy, and if it got damaged or destroyed, you had to do the work over again.

Fast forward. Divorce. Temping as a secretary. Another newspaper job working on old Royal typewriters. And then, 1984, a typesetting gig at a print shop in Sunnyvale, California. The file-cabinet sized computer on which I worked used floppy disks that were eight inches square. The operating system was DOS. No Windows. No mouse. If you didn’t know the right sequence of letters and symbols, you were screwed.

Future jobs would take me through the Apple orchard and early PCs, from DOS to Windows, from Compuserve to the World Wide Web, news groups to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now I own a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a tablet and a smart phone, all of which I can use to write, send and receive stories, information, photos, music and almost anything else.

My short story would never work now, even if it were well written. It wouldn’t even make sense. What do you mean her boss wouldn’t let her use a computer? I probably saved that story about Colby and the typewriter on a floppy disk, either 5 ¼ or 3 ½ inch. If I could find the disk, I would have nowhere to plug it in and no program that could read it. What will happen to the stuff I write today?

A Facebook friend recently asked what we’d do if the Internet went away. Well, my blogs would disappear, along with all of my online connections, my ebooks, and any writing I did not save on paper, but when you get to the basics, writing is writing. I drafted this blog in my notebook with my new favorite pen, a Papermate “Inkjoy.” I quadruple back up everything I write and carry a flash drive in my purse, but I also print out everything I value on good old paper.

I don’t know whether to toss all those yellowing articles about prehistoric computer gear or save them as historic artifacts. I have another batch of articles about cameras that used film. I just know a lot has changed.

When I was an editor at the Saratoga News around 1995, a group of Girl Scouts came in to observe real live newspaper people at work. None of the girls knew what a typewriter was. How about you? Any typewriter memories? Or are you wondering what a typewriter is? See the photo; that’s a typewriter, similar to the one I started with. What was your first computer? What would you do without it now? Let’s talk about it.

*************************

Text copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2017. Photo copyright micelecaminati / 123RF Stock Photo

 

Retreat and re-entry: coming back from Fishtrap


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Two weeks ago today, I had just arrived at Fishtrap, a weeklong writing workshop at Wallowa Lake, near Joseph, Oregon. Sleeping in yurts and tents in a Methodist campground, we spent our days attending workshops, writing, thinking, making new friends and listening to great writers read their works.
Fishtrap is really a retreat combined with a workshop. I often think I don’t need a retreat. Why go somewhere else when I already live alone in the woods? I don’t need to go into isolation somewhere else. But Fishtrapoffers things I don’t have here, like great teachers and other people to eat with, talk with, and write with. It’s like finding a whole bunch of people to play with who like to do the same things I do. In the outside world, we might look like geeks sitting around writing, but not at Fishtrap.
It also offers me a chance to unplug. Literally. Normally I’m online all day and watching TV all evening. It’s a major eater of my time and a huge distraction. I also play a lot—too much—Spider Solitaire (don’t start, you’ll get hooked!). We had no Wi-Fi, no cell phone reception, no TV. Without them, I suddenly had lots of time to write, read and play music.
Back home, people ask “How was your trip?” I say “Good,” which doesn’t begin to describe it, and then we move on to the business at hand. In fact, yesterday my boss didn’t even mention my trip. He just started barking orders. Fine. He can’t disturb that peace inside me.
Imagine sitting by a river in the sun, with only other writers, deer, squirrels, Stellar Jays and robins for company, writing with paper and pen until a soft gong calls us back to the patio to talk about our poems and, by extension, our lives. Fishtrap was not a total retreat. We had classes and homework and a schedule, but we left everything at home behind. I could take the time to meditate on the bark of a tree for as long as I needed to truly see it. And then I could write a poem about it.
Of course there are inconveniences. Every time I went into town, I discovered I had book orders that I needed to fill before I got home. (I don’t know why I’m suddenly getting so many orders, but keep them coming. Visit http://www.suelick.com/Products.html) I had plenty of books in my car, but filling an order away from home meant finding a computer connected to a printer to print out the paperwork, putting together books, packaging, mailing labels and tape and getting the packages to the local post offices. It’s easy at home, but quite a challenge on the road. I’m thinking of recruiting someone to manage my Blue Hydrangea Productions business while I’m gone on future trips. Any volunteers?
Aside from the books, nothing else from home mattered. If something major happened, my family knew where to reach me, but otherwise, I could forget about everything. I didn’t have to cook; I showed up three times a day for fabulous food— French toast, pancakes, eggs and bacon, lasagna, fajitas, fried chicken, salads, fresh fruit, cookies, brownies, strawberry shortcake . . . and I got plenty of exercise to work off the calories. I didn’t have to take care of my dog, wash dishes or clothes, or deal with the massive piles of unfinished work that nags at me. I could just read, write, play music, do yoga, explore, eat, and sleep.
Before I came home, I went to Montana to do some research. I did turn on the TV, radio and Internet, but I kept that peaceful feeling and was conscious of not filling my mind with junk. I could and did turn them off and continued to write.
As I got closer to home, I started feeling the pain of reentry. Time to face all those things I put into the “after Fishtrap” category. I had hundreds of emails to deal with, tons of photos and pages of writing to process, meetings coming up, music to prepare, company coming, bills to pay, the dog wanting all my attention, and of course the need to come up with my own food. But I came home with a clear mind and thoughts about how to make my everyday life better. I’m looking at everything with fresh eyes. That’s a value of a retreat.
I long for the simplicity of my yurt, one room with only the things that fit in my car, and only the Fishtrap schedule to control my time. But I’m also enjoying sleeping in my own bed, snuggling with my dog, choosing my own food, reconnecting with my friends, and getting back to work. The challenge is to keep that peaceful, pared-down feeling at home every day. It is possible. I’m sure of it.