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And Then What Happened?: Chapter 3 in My Self-Publishing Diaries

04/18/2013 01:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2013

Chapter 3: Getting the Word Out

Dear Friends,

Sorry I have been away for so long! Turns out, it's a lot of work promoting a book.

"You can't just email or call magazines and other media outlets to tell them about your new self-published novel," a public relations expert told me. "You need me to do it for you. You can't represent yourself. It doesn't look good."

Really? I wondered. Isn't that kind of silly in this day and age? I mean, if I could dissolve my agreement with a literary agent and head alone into the brave new world of self-publishing, why couldn't I also personally tell everyone that I had done it?

Not to mention, the doubter/cynic/self-deprecator in me had to wonder, could self-promotion possibly look any worse than the actual act of self-publishing?

Hmm.

Welcome to the third installment in my self-publishing diaries, in which I focus on marketing. If you need to catch up on the first episode, which examines my decision to self-publish, click here. The second installment, here, is about readying the manuscript for publication.

As a reminder, all posts will be approximately 1,000 words in length and will conclude with a motivational quote from a Broadway musical.

Now, back to promotion and marketing.

Part of why I decided that I was a good candidate for self-publishing is that I have what is called a platform. Oh, that's one of the buzziest buzzwords around the self-pubbing world, your platform. Do you have a platform? How big is it? The argument goes that, because I write for the HuffPost and other (on- and offline) newspapers, I already have a built-in audience ready to read my novel, hence, a decent platform.

If you are going to spread the word about your novel, you need a good platform from which to shout!

So I shouted from my platform. In the first few weeks following the book's publication, I emailed several hundred people to alert them that my book was for sale and posted about it on Facebook. I tweeted. I had an event at my home, and then another at a friend's home in a neighboring town. I spoke at my local library and visited five or six book clubs. I sold books everywhere. I sold books at Neiman Marcus' Fashion's Night Out, Soul Cycle, a small eyeglass store (really), the beach in Narragansett, R.I. (yes, really), and a charitable holiday boutique. I sold one to a neighbor from the trunk of my car in a supermarket parking lot. Yes, indeed. I was featured on the front page of my town's newspaper, The Scarsdale Inquirer, where I am a columnist, and also in The Journal News on a Sunday, which reaches about 1 million people.

Sounds pretty good, right? I patted myself on the back.

But the book sales didn't seem to reflect my outreach. All told, I sold about 1,000 books.

Turns out that platform of mine is less of a high-dive springboard and more of a children's step-stool.

Oh, but I still tried. I sent copies to mommy bloggers hoping they'd love Lauren Takes Leave and tell their friends. Their millions of friends! Think of it! Ah. It never happened.

In the fall, I attended The Self-Publishing Book Expo, where I connected with some awesome people at Kobo and Amazon. I entered the book into a cover design contest and won first place. I sent pitches to reviewers and book bloggers, who are backlogged until about 2017, but I did end up getting a nice write up from chicklitcentral.com And, everywhere I went, I tried to get my novel into bookstores.

Ah, bookstores. Barnes and Noble, I discovered, would not sell my book even though they liked it. Let me repeat: they liked it. They wanted it. But they wouldn't sell it. Why? Because it was published by CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company. Barnes and Noble would rather bite off their own foot and choke on it than sell something from CreateSpace. It was a fact I didn't know going into this alone, and when I found out, I kind of wanted to die. (Hint: use Lightning Source to avoid this problem.)

But, no time to crumple up on the pavement when there are independent bookstores to reach!

Have you ever tried convincing anyone that you are worthwhile? That you are a good read, worthy of limited shelf space? It suuuuucks. The more I told these nice men and women with their nice little book shops that my book was funny, the less funny it became. But they took a few copies of my book and said they'd try.

Here's a funny -- and by "funny," I mean "sad" -- story for you. A local bookseller took two copies of my book and said that she just loved self-published authors. In fact, she helps promote them on a special self-publishing night at her store. Would I want to participate? Sure, I said, but right away, I was wary. Why? Because she was putting me in a separate category, seeing my book as "other." But I left two copies and went on to the next store.

I ended up returning to that store a few weeks later to hear some friends read from their YA books. Before the reading, another friend approached me and said that she couldn't wait to read my book. I was thinking about going to retrieve one for her from the trunk of my car, when I remembered. "Oh, they sell it here!" I said.

"Great!" She replied.

We started searching for it.

It wasn't in general fiction. It wasn't in humor. It wasn't even under local authors. Where had it gone? Perhaps, like a dream come true, both copies had already been sold?! We asked the bookseller. She whispered to her salesgirl, who led us out of the main room, through the second room, and into a dark back room. Then we turned and faced a wall in the corner and crouched down to ankle level. "Here it is!" she said.

"Really?" I asked. My self-published book was being punished. (Bad book! You didn't follow the rules! To the corner you go!) My friend raised her eyebrows at me and took her copy to the register.

I took the second copy and, when no one was looking, placed it on the front shelf in the front room, right next to Cheryl Strayed's Wild.

And then I went home to start writing another novel.

Signing off,
Julie

Today's word count: 1075
Today's motivational quote from a Broadway musical:
But nobody else is gonna put it right for me.
Nobody but me is gonna change my story.
Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

- From Matilda the Musical

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