Friday, February 10, 2012

From Early Marketing to Online Presence

It’s late, I’m tired, but I really need to get this post done. Several weeks will have passed before you read it. I leave for Israel the end of the week (I have a pregnant daughter there), but I want to maintain my weekly blogging schedule. That means scheduling my post for publication at a future date--something I haven’t done before. Neat.

I’m new to the blogosphere--well, not real, real, new. I think this will be my twelfth post. Despite that, I’m still learning Blogger. Just yesterday I had to pull out my Blogging for Dummies by Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley to recall how to update my template (I wanted to add links to the resources I used in building my first Kindle book.). Blogging is my latest attempt at marketing.

Last week, I broke down and threw away two full boxes of the “advanced reading copy” (ARC) of my first published novel, The Devil’s Bastard. The book bears a copyright of 2007, but it hit the streets in September 2006--and my brain-child, the 100+ copies of a plain, white-covered ARC--was even earlier than that. One of those boxes had never been opened, but I needed space, and that brain-child had proven a non-starter.

That large inventory of The Devil’s Bastard was an idea I had back when I first started self-publishing, a delusional attempt to market my books across the states that once made up the Old South. I was going to send ARCs to every independent bookstore I could google from Virginia to Texas and north to Kentucky and Missouri.

The idea fizzled in my home state of Mississippi. Truth is small independent bookstores don’t have the manpower (or the interest) to review a distant stranger’s self-published book--particularly one with an ugly white cover.

I was a classic “newbie.”

Additionally I did not have the time or logistics to drive and promote all over Dixie, then follow up with those stores on a “routine” basis--assuming they agreed to take a few copies of the “finished” book to begin with. Odds are very good--I know this now, I didn’t then--that if you leave a few books with a store, and those books eventually sell, that store owner isn’t gonna call you up and ask you to send more. He might take more if you ask him, but unless those suckers flew off the shelves--and beginners are unknown so they probably didn’t--you more than likely won’t be receiving a call. The author has to drive the sell, first to the bookstore owner. Once the book is in the store, she has to get the buyer in there, too, to buy the book. The latter is another story and I’m not going there today.

I did purchase plain, white-covered copies of my second book, Wolf Dawson, but wiser for those boxes of white-covered copies of The Devil’s Bastard still sitting on my shelves, I bought only 25 (the minimum from a digital printer), and those I used in the true spirit of an ARC. That was to request prepublication reviews from the standard biggies: Kirkus, USA Today, ForeWord, etc. Never got one, but I’d already learned from my attempts with The Devil’s Bastard that I probably wouldn’t. More practically, I passed out a number of those ARCs to writer/reader buddies to check for typos/usage prior to my offset print run.

With my third book, Epico Bayou, I did a full-color cover with an “ARC flag” across the top. I didn’t request one prepublication review that time around. I’d learned that lesson. But my writer/reader buddies still helped out with the proofing. If I hadn’t done the ARC, I’d have gone straight to offset and that’s too late to proof.

This fall, when I published my most recent novel, River’s Bend, I printed with Lightning Source (LSI) and forwent the ARC altogether. LSI is a digital printer and though the cost per copy for digital printing is more expensive than offset, I can order as few as one book. Once again, I sent copies of my initial short run to my writer/reader buddies for proofing. Errors fixed (most of them anyway, I hope), I uploaded the corrected .pdf to LSI and purchased a larger run--but not too large.

So far, I love dealing with LSI. No huge inventory sitting around and no hefty charge on the credit card to pay off. And by hefty, I mean several thousand dollars. Now I pay as I go.

I know much of this sounds discouraging to prospective self-publishers (and familiar to others), but things are not as bad as they sound. I’ve gotten four five-star post-publication reviews from Midwest Book Review, and I’ve found my niche in Mississippi selling primarily at craft fairs. I do have my books in independent book stores within the state (and as time passes, and my readership grows, the rest of the Old South is still on my list). LSI (owned by Ingram) provides access to the big chains across the nation. Barnes and Noble now carries the print copy of River’s Bend in its online store, whereas before Amazon was my only out-of-state retailer for print books. That new connection with Barnes and Noble would not have happened without LSI. Right now I only have one book at LSI, but one of 2012’s goals is to get all four of them there. Smashwords and Kindle have made my work available to all the major ereaders and gotten them with the major online digital-book stores.

Oh, a little brag if I could: Along with that surprise appearance of the print copy of River's Bend on sale at the Barnes and Noble online store, there was a five-star review. No, I do not know who posted it, but if he/she is reading this, thank you and I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

But whether it be a digital store or the local brick and mortar store downtown, my challenge remains to get the reader to the store to purchase my book. Loading my car, setting up a booth, only to tear it down hours later, through summer heat and winter cold is getting, like me, old. That brings me back to where I started this post, my blog and its purpose. Online marketing is a new initiative for me, and that’s the subject of my next post--next week.

I’m doing it in advance, too.

Thanks for visiting,



  1. Charlsie,

    Being a "newbie" has its disadvantages, but as I journey down the road of self-publication and marketing I realize that there are so many wonderful resources available to us for the choosing! Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have been the primary targets of my efforts and I believe it is beginning to payoff. Guest blogging has been another great tool. I also think Amazon and Smashwords has afforded me more sales than anywhere else, including my own website. I agree that selling books in person is a plus and I always keep some stock in my vehicle. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and progress in your book marketing saga. :)

    Deborah McCarragher
    Author of Mission Possible

    1. Thanks for your comments, Deborah. I returned from IS to find I've had some visitors to my blog, so maybe my efforts towards an online presence will lead somewhere, too. In the meantime I'm gearing up for another "craft fair" season. Sorry I took so long to respond to your post.



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