I began writing the Amish story of my heart in 1999. I went to my first writers’ conference in 2002. I had a lot to learn, so I began reading books on writing, attending conferences, and working with a writing mentor, Kathy Ide. Two years later I felt as if I was ready to turn in the first chapter to a few editors.
I received wonderful feedback on my writing, even a potential offer to put me under contract if I’d write anything except Amish fiction. At the time only Beverly Lewis was writing Amish stories in trade fiction, and editors weren’t sure the market would hold strong for a second Amish author. Besides, they didn’t like the idea of a new writer following in the footsteps of such an established author.
I spent a few restless weeks deciding whether to follow the editor’s advice or stick to my Amish stories. It was a rough choice. It didn’t make sense for an unpublished writer to turn down the opportunity for a contract with a big publishing house. But after weeks of sleeplessness, I knew I had to continue with the story I’d written.
With that decision made, I made another—to pitch my story to every editor at every conference possible. Unfortunately, with one exception, the editors I spoke with were not interested in testing the market to see if it could support a second author writing Amish fiction.
In the spring of 2005, I showed my first chapter to an editor who felt my writing and story were strong enough to sell whether it had an Amish setting or not. She took the manuscript to committee, hoping her publishing house would feel as strongly about the story as she did. To my amazed delight, they offered me a contract for a three-book series.
My debut book hit the market in the fall of 2006. It sold out within two weeks, and the popularity of the series continued to grow until
my third book hit the number thirteen spot of New York Times best-sellerlist.
But as we all know, fun times only last so long.
Not So Good Times
The marketing people in my publishing house wanted me to do some book signings. My editor braced me for what the typical book signing was like, and she gave an accurate account. But the bleak reality was even harder to deal with than I’d expected.
With the exception of friends who only came to the first signing, no one came. None. Zilch. Nada.
Is there a way to avoid this? Absolutely! When advertising your book signing, use the name Karen Kingsbury or Mary Higgins Clark. Of course that’ll cause all sorts of legal problems, but you’ll have fans lined around the block who will want to spend a few minutes with you, at least until they realize you’re not who they came to see.
So what else can be done to create a busy book signing?
Start building a Web site and newsletter as soon as possible, preferably before you’re contracted. Use every connection to readers that you can. One thing I wish I’d had up and running in time for my first book to hit the shelves was a sign-up for a newsletter. I missed a lot of interested folks that first year. But I did start one in 2007, and in addition to a regular quarterly newsletter, I now send detailed information near the time of each of my book signings. Because these readers cared enough about my writing to sign up for the newsletter, they will likely help spread the word about an upcoming book signing.
Use your blog and Web site to promote your book signings. If you know of any book clubs or church libraries in the area of the upcoming book signing, notify them. If you can, offer to teach (free of charge) on a topic of interest. Whenever I’ve taught on writing and publishing or held a question and answer time about Amish life, I had great turnouts. I may not sell hundreds of books, but I enjoy that time of giving, and others enjoy learning about writing from a published author.
Offer a giveaway or sweepstakes for those who come. When my fourth book came out, I had a spur-of-the-moment book signing, and I learned that ABC Nightline was coming to it! I sent out a special announcement, and we had a wonderful turnout.
If the store you’re signing at does some kind of promotion, that may help. It may not. I had one store that did two dozen radio spots as well as newsprint ads, and twelve people showed up.
One thing I’ve done is to put small stickers on bookmarks that give the time and place of the upcoming signing and mail them or take them to the store. Although few stores will advertise for a book signing other than posting a sign in their window, most are happy to put a free bookmark inside a customer’s shopping bag.
If time and energy allow, I prepare bookmarks and get them to the store about two weeks before the signing. As far as people coming to a book signing, those special-made bookmarks seem more beneficial than radio spots. After all, people who’ve just bought books are comfortable going to that store. They can refer to the bookmark to remind them (unlike listening to a radio while traveling). And they clearly are purchasers of books.
I’ve had some great book signings and some disappointing ones. I had one signing where we expected such a great showing I brought in cases of extra books . . . and still sold out. Unfortunately, at the next signing I had, no one came.
The worst incident was when I traveled five hours to a book signing where no one showed. So I handed out bookmarks. One woman refused to take the bookmark. Before arriving home, I would log ten hours of travel time for that signing; it seemed she could at least take the free bookmark. After turning me down, she headed down the aisle and then turned back. “Hey, I recognize you. You were on ABC Nightline.”
We talked for a bit, then she went on her way—with a bookmark, but not a book.
For a humorous reality check about book signings, watch this clip.
My publicist lines up radio, television, or newspaper interviews. She’s constantly pitching ideas to newsprint and television journalists and radio hosts.
Anything she lines up requires effort on my part; sometimes only a few hours of preparation, sometimes days of travel.
But every radio, television, or newspaper spot is more than worth what it takes to participate.
Even if no one comes to the signing, just being on television, in a news article, or on the radio means that at least my name was heard or seen by some folks. I was in a beautifully written USA Today article this week. It had nothing to do with upcoming book tour, but I would have jumped through numerous hoops to get to be a part of it because many people need to hear an author’s name numerous times (some say five to seven times) before they’ll purchase that person’s book. So I see media spots as my work for an eventual payday.
I don’t expect much in immediate returns, but by faith and business savvy, I anticipate a little increase in readership for my next book, a little more with the next, and so on.
I know some authors make a big splash the first time and people stand in line for hours at their book signings, but for most of us, it’s a work-the-fields-and-expect-an-eventual-harvest deal.
If your publisher arranges for you to do a book signing and no one comes, make the best of it.
Connect with the store managers; most are wonderful to get to know. At one store, when no one showed up for my signing, I helped the stock manager move books. She seemed appreciative of my assistance. At the end of my two-hour book signing (at which I signed zero books!), I left. A few weeks later I learned that the stock manager had read my book because of my volunteer work with her, and she started bragging about me to potential book buyers.
One person she told read my book and then asked me to speak at a ladies’ function, where I connected with a lot of women who purchased my book. I gained more than 300 readers from that no-show book signing. I still hear from people (including book club leaders) who learned about me from that stock manager.
So attend book signings in faith that believes in what it does not see. If nothing else, a book signing is an opportunity for you to pray for everyone in that store or that city.
I happen to have a book-signing tour coming up. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you. Even if you’re the only one who comes!
For my upcoming book signing info, go to http://www.cindywoodsmall.com/events.php
Bio: Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish community has been featured on ABC Nightline and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Her ability to authentically capture the hearts of her characters comes from her real-life relationships within the Plain community. You can visit her at http://www.cindywoodsmall.com
The Bridge of Peace is available starting August 31, 2010. To read the first TWO chapters, go to http://www.multnomahemails.com/wbmlt/pdf/SneakPeek_TheBridgeofPeace.pdf