When Keeping the Lights on for Ike came out in early 2019, I knew that my publisher would help me to create various pitches for my book to help promote it. They would set the book up for distribution on Amazon.com as well as more traditional distribution through the Ingram catalog for libraries and bookstores, and they would do a few publicity pitches via Cision, a large e-commerce public relations platform, mostly in conjunction with WWII anniversaries and for military or history-focused users. But I knew that this was just the beginning. I was also going to have to take an active role in promoting my book.
The first thing I did was to start contacting local libraries about giving author talks for their patrons. I started with the local library where I volunteered each week, and though they hadn’t had any similar events in quite a while, they decided to take a chance on me. At the same time, I started visiting independent bookstores in my local region (the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts). I learned two important things during this process.
First, even when you offer to give talks for free, sometimes other priorities can prevent this from happening. I did manage to get two local talks scheduled early on, one in my own town and another in the next town over, but another nearby library was in the middle of a controversy about whether or not to fund a new building, so all general programming queries went unanswered more or less indefinitely. Further, only one of these three libraries actually purchased the book to put on their shelves, which was disappointing, to say the least.
Second, I discovered that independent bookstores were reluctant to order books from a national distributor like Ingram, even those of local authors, because of the financial penalty they would be required to pay if the books didn’t sell and had to be returned to the distributor. This reality brought me into the world of consignment book selling: I buy the books from the publisher at the author price (50% off in my case, though it might vary somewhat by publisher); the books go on the shelves at the local bookstores at the regular cover price, the stores take care of the sales tax, and any sales are split between me and the bookstore (usually 60/40).
I knew that reviews of the book would help spread the word about its existence, so I started actively seeking reviewers. My publisher was willing to provide media copies for major papers, but in the semi-rural area where I live, circulation is low for all the print media, though I was able to make the case for at least one review copy to be sent out to one of the larger papers in the area. I sent out the others from my own stash of book copies. I also knew several friends who had purchased the book when it first came out, so I asked them if they might be willing to post reviews of the book on Amazon or Goodreads, trusting that the reviews would mostly be positive ones. A few of them agreed to do so, and my reviews started to accumulate, little by little. I have recently started approaching more people for reviews, including people that I don’t know personally but who review books on these platforms often, because those reviews really are the key to successful book sales numbers.
I also spent some time developing an author website (with help from a wonderful friend who is a professional web designer and who gave me a “friends and family” discount for her services). I also created an author page for myself on Amazon and Goodreads, though I’ve only begun to explore the possibilities of those platforms.
This past winter, with the help of some friends and a couple of former students, I was able to arrange my first-ever author tour where I would give readings and talks at libraries and senior centers in several communities in southern Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts. I ordered a box of author copies to sign and sell at these events, and everything was in place for this exciting new step. Then a pandemic put an end to all those plans…at least until this fall (or perhaps even later in the year, depending on what happens this summer as communities reopen).
Some of you may recall that I sent a newsletter out on April 1, 2020, announcing the cancellation of my in-person author tour. That message prompted an old friend to suggest I should consider a virtual tour, which was something entirely unknown to me at the time. He was right, though, and the online tour was exactly the thing to do in the middle of a pandemic! On June 12, 2020, my virtual tour for Keeping the Lights on for Ike will kick off, and I will have text-based “tour stops” with 20 different book bloggers/reviewers all over the country between then and July 31, 2020. For full tour details, see the tour announcement here.
Next month, I’ll update you on how the virtual tour is doing and share some information about my latest book, Finding Sisters, the story of how, as an adopted person, I used a combination of DNA testing and traditional genealogical research to find my genetic parents and other close family members over a four-year span of time. That book will be published by Sunbury Press, probably in early 2021.