I attended the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend. The Festival took place under an incredibly blue sky and a hot, desert sun that brilliantly lit up the Sonoran landscape and surrounding mountains. Every year for the past nine years, the Festival has overtaken the center mall of the University of Arizona campus for a weekend during the University’s spring break. It is a huge celebration of literature, whose primary purpose is to improve literacy rates among children and adults. All of the events are offered to the public are free of charge, including a wide array of really amazing lectures and workshops by well-known authors and well-placed people in the book industry. The vast majority of the Festival’s revenues come from citizens who choose to pay a yearly fee to become friends of the Festival, and all proceeds from the Festival go to supporting local literacy programs.
This was my first time attending the Tucson Festival of books, and my very first book fair as a published author. I bought a two hour stint in the adult fiction tent on Saturday for $35.00. I also entered the Festival’s Masters Literary Awards Competition. My book, Cha’risa’s Gift, ended up placing as a semi-finalist. There had been hundreds of submissions to the competition, and the judges had been drawn from a pool of this year’s big name authors/presenters. Needless to say, it was a very exciting way to start off my first experience with the Tucson Festival of Books.
I only sold one book during my two hour slot, but I was having such a good time, the lack of sales wasn’t enough to dim my spirits. Then, to my delight and surprise, I discovered that over the course of the day I had sold an additional 8 books on-line and the following day another two. I sold enough books to break even on my investment in the Festival. But honestly, book sales can’t even begin to describe the value of this weekend. All around me, there was an air of excitement and fun. Books were changing hands by the thousands; children’s events were successfully inspiring a love of books in a new generation of readers. And for those of us older bibliophiles, we were offered, for free, literally hundreds of quality lectures, seminars, and workshops on a wide range of topics.
I had a chance to attend two of the workshops on Sunday. One was a workshop entitled “How to Build an Indie Readership,” by author Lindsay McKenna. The other was called “Getting Your Book Reviewed,” by Claiborne Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media.
You might know Lindsay McKenna as Eileen Nauman. She’s an award winning author of more than 100 books, and a pioneer in using electronic media to further her publishing goals. When you first meet Lindsay, you are struck by two things. One is that she is just a powerhouse of energy, and the second is that she is a risk taker. She started her career with traditional publishers; however, the nature of her contracts resulted in her being responsible for much of her own marketing. She began to wonder if she might be better off striking out as an indie author. She decided to take the risk, using $40,000 of her family savings to make the switch. That first year was a slow start, and she had a lot of sleepless nights wondering if she was going to be able to earn enough to re-fund the family savings. But she kept a level head and continued looking for those things that would bring her a good return on her investments. Eventually, she cobbled together a plan of action that enabled her to reliably bring in about $100,000 a year.
One of the key elements of Lindsay’s plan involved reaching traditional readers through blog tours. But, she made it clear that it has to be with a company that really knows what they’re doing. After trying out several, Lindsay now highly recommends Tasty Blog tour. They offer a five day tour for $120 with between 60 and 80 stops. Her plan also involved making sure that a book was up on Amazon, Kobo, Apple and ibooks before booking a tour and that strong analytics were in place before a tour. Lindsay recommended subscribing to Booktracker, which she said is the best way to keep track of sales and rankings across a variety of platforms.
Another element of her plan involved contests to generate interest, and she recommended Freshfiction.com. For $1,500, this service helps an author to run/promote a contest every month for a year. She said that this investment resulted in 10,000 new followers. In fact, three-fourths of her indie readership came from this investment. Lindsay indicated that the ultimate goal is for writers to run contests from their own websites, but said that it’s good to start with the wider exposure that a site like Freshfiction can offer.
Claiborne Smith has been Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media since 2013. Kirkus Media is an expansion of Kirkus Reviews and was formed to help Kirkus respond to the many changes and challenges currently facing the publishing industry. Claiborne is a quiet but very well-spoken and thoughtful man who possesses such a keen intellect, that you can’t help but be inspired by his words.
In listening to Clairborne talk, it was clear that Kirkus reviews is still much more focused on traditional authors than indie ones. However, Kirkus is attempting to respond to the changes indie authors are driving within the industry, and has recently begun accepting galleys from indie authors. Clairborne made it clear that it is important to send galleys with plenty of lead time; about four months before publishing. There is also a service Kirkus offers where indie authors can pay for a review. The cost is $425.00, and if the author doesn’t like the review, the author can ask that it not be published. But, the honest truth is that for the indie author, Kirkus is not the right starting point. Claiborne made a strong argument for the importance of becoming involved at the local level; adding your voice to your community. He made the suggestion to try to get your local papers to review your book, but not to stop there. He encouraged us to consider writing reviews for our local papers. He suggested we could offer to help out with book events within our communities. He also mentioned reaching out to local book store owners, to find out not only what they can do for us, but what we might be able to do to support them. In short, the message was to become an active, positive, literary influence within our communities.
He also wanted us to go beyond our physical communities, taking this principal and applying it to social media. He wanted us to consider writing posts that went beyond news about our work and our writing goals. He encouraged us to share some of the interesting research we uncover in our journeys as authors, or to talk about writers we admire. The key part of Claiborne’s message was for us to find ways to take our social media interaction to a deeper level, one where we share what we were passionate about, hopefully igniting that passion and excitement in others
Clairborne got me thinking about the ways in which I could have a greater impact on the people whose lives are most directly influenced by me every single day. This was a message that resonated deeply with me; a perfect takeaway from a weekend that was meant to inspire literacy in our communities.
In these unsettled times, when a thoughtless tweet could start a war, Claiborne reminded us that the best defense we have is our capacity for intellectually engaging with others. Our words matter, it is how we share the best of ourselves with others.