Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Drinks are on Ed

I've always understood the value of libraries.

Not only do they buy a good number of books (there are over 10,000 of them in the USA,) but a lot of readers become fans in libraries, and librarians love to talk about titles that they enjoy. They're great for word-of-mouth.

An added benefit to libraries is that they often have authors come in to speak. Some will even pay you for the honor, and you can sell books afterward.

So when a library wants me there, I try to make every effort to go. Which is what I did last weekend.

Spencer Indiana is about 250 miles away from my house. I drive a Land Rover, which can climb up the sides of boulder-strewn mountains and plow through raging rivers (very important in the suburbs of Chicago) but gets only about three miles to the gallon. With gas prices these days, a 500 mile round trip costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $77,325.

Not the most effective use of an author's money and time, you say? Especially since you geographically-savvy folks know that Spencer has a population of under 3000 people?

Well, a promo opportunity is a promo opportunity, and I loaded up the truck with beef jerky and energy drinks and went to see the Hoosiers.

Laura Stantz, Owen County Library's Events Coordinator, lured me there with promises of a free hotel room, free food, and free beer, so I figured I'd wind up ahead on the deal. I was to do a signing at the library from noon until three, then from six until ten I was to do another signing at the neighrbood bar and grill, Ed O'Brien's.

My expectations weren't very high--the most books I'd ever sold at a library event was 14. I had about 35 books with me, which should be more than enough.

My arrival at the library was met with much enthusiasm by the librarians, Laura, Beth Williams, and Brenda Curry. They'd hung posters around town advertising the event.

Unfortunately, their best efforts only drew a precocious 15 year old kid named Ben.

But I'm used to playing without an audience, so I circulated through the library (ha!) and met some patrons. In three hours, I'd sold 20 books. Not too shabby.

Afterwards, I did drive-by signings at the Bloomington Barnes & Noble and Borders, both of which had ample supplies, and then headed for the bar.

Ed O'Brien's was a small, intimate place, and I liked it immediately. Besides having me there, they also had live music in the form of the Jeff Waggoner band. I hung out with many literary-minded folks, including Jennifer Vibbert, Genny Coppedge, Brad and Jen Frye, Gwen Dieter, and Ed himself. Good people.

They fed me, gave me large amounts of beer, and bought the rest of my books. I also had a lot of fun.

I often talk about cost vs. value and effectiveness vs. effort. I preach that publishing is a business, and should be treated as such.

But this business isn't always just about numbers, or the bottom line, or the red and the black, or time and money.

It's also about people.

I've done over 300 signings in the past two years. I've forgotten most of them.

This one I won't forget.

How often can you say that?

To those authors who refuse to do drive-by signings because they don't feel it's worth the gas, and the authors that refuse to do events because they feel their time is better spent writing, and the authors who count every promotional penny and constantly fret about time and money, I say: Look at the bigger picture.

And to the wonderful people of Spencer Indiana, population 3000: Thanks for the great time. I'll be back.


Anonymous said...

Gee, I think I'm going to sign up as Joe's book tour guide or escort--sort of a Robin (or Alfred) to his Batman ("Yes, Mr. Konrath, your pen is read. Another Tequila Sunrise, sir?") Lots of food and drink and you get to see all the great pubs in Indiana. Does this job have perks or what?
Mark Terry

Mary Louisa said...

Joe, I have lots of questions that show my ignorance. I know you're busy, but maybe you have a minute to answer them. How do you get the books that you take with you to signings? Does the publisher send them to you free and then you send them back the money? Or do you have to buy them first and reimburse yourself with the sales? Do you charge the price on the cover or do you offer a discount? If you do a signing at a bookstore, will they supply the books (do you tell them how many to order)? Or do you bring your own? Thanks in advance!

JA Konrath said...

Happy to answer your questions, Mary.

I always travel with a few cases of books in my trunk. I get them from a local independent bookseller (the one who sold books at my launch party) at a 40% discount.

I could get them from my publisher at a 50% discount, but those sales don't go towards my royalty numbers.

All authors should have copies of their books on hand. If you're doing a signing, and the bookstore runs out, you can sell them your copies at the same discount so they make the profit.

If you're doing a signing at a library, and they don't have a bookseller, you can sell the copies yourself. I usually give folks a discount---the important thing is to find readers and make them into fans.

I go into more detail about this on the TIPS section of my website.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Joe, I've got two words for you: Toyota Corolla.

Brad said...

Hey Joe, Thanks for coming by Saturday. We ALL had a good time. I hope you did as well. I think I may have enjoyed myself a little to much. I needed a drink or two after the two day wedding extravaganza I had just gotten back from. Anyway I do regret not getting more time to talk about your books. I know you probably get tired of everyone asking you about them but I could have gone on for a while.
Thanks for your write up on your trip. You are to good to us. I returned the favor and put up some pics here: www.owencpl.blogspot.com
I hope maybe you can come back next year after you next book comes out. I hear Ben has a friend. No really we will have to do it again.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in how you sell books to readers and bookstores too. Do you write up receipts? Do you carry a cash box for change?

Mandy said...

One of the best, most amusing, informative blogs I've read. Best of luck with your books!


Anonymous said...

Joe, I don't know how you manage to write these informative blogs and still find time to write books, but I'm greatful that you do. This has to be one of the Internet's best sites on the subject of being a writer.

Many thanks,

Fred Price

anne frasier said...

that reminds me of the time i was put up in an old hospital that had been coverted into a nursing home. creepy!!

Unknown said...

As one of the 2999 people of Owen County that didn't show up to your signing, I forward my sincerest apologies. We folks wouldn't know a good time if it slapped us in the face. Whatever impression Spencer left you, don't let it fool you. We are all hilljacks, who but ten years ago had outhouses and wondered why the ternet was in. Why in fact I may have been at a hoe-down the night you were in town (Yes we call it a town). A hoe-down to us is like a rager anywhere else. As you may be able to tell I'm a little more than upset that my parents raised me in this hell-hole to put it nicely. Don't get me wrong, the people are mostly nice, with a few crazy drunks (Shout out to Earl Cook!!) roaming around stealing mushrooms and ginsing. And small town gossips and politics don't get much better than Spencer. Anyway I'm glad you enjoyed this place as it is nice in small doses, and maybe next time you can come to the barn-raisin'. PEACE

Anonymous said...

I am 100 percent flabbergasted. I've never, ever posted to a blog before, but I HAD to when I stumbled across the name Jennifer Vibbert. It's my maiden name. I'm not the girl you met in Indiana, but I'm from an even smaller town in Kentucky. I've been convinced all my life that I must be the only Jennifer Vibbert on Earth. Anyway, I like your site. Thanks for the reminder that there's always someone out with whom you have something in common. And hello to the other Jennifer Vibbert.