Pitching 101, part XXIII and Writers’ Conferences 101, part III: the bare necessities of pitching — and no, I’m not just talking about 3 lines scrawled on the back of a business card


I honestly am trying to wrap up our weeks-long series on formal and informal pitching, but the fact is, if I’m going to talk about getting the most out of (often quite expensive) writers’ conferences, it only makes sense to give a few more practical tips on pitching while I’m at it. So please bear with the absurdly long and complicated titles for a while: labeling discussions as series makes it easier for late-joining readers to follow them in the archives, I’ve found.

Since we’ve all been so very good for so very long, I have a fun-but-practical topic for today: what materials should you bring with you to a conference — and, more importantly, to your pitch sessions with agents and editors? Other than good, strong nerves, an iron stomach, and faith that your book is the best literary achievement since MADAME BOVARY, of course.

At minimum, you’re going to want a trusty, comfortable pen and notebook with a backing hard enough to write upon, to take good notes. You’ll also want to bring all of the paperwork the conference organizers sent you, including a copy of your conference registration, information about your agent and/or editor appointments, and tickets to any dinners, luncheons, etc. for which you may have paid extra. (As, alas, one almost invariably does now at literary conferences. I can remember when rubber chicken banquets were thrown in gratis, and folks, I’m not that old.)

I’m already sensing some shifting in chairs out there, amn’t I? “But Anne,” those of you new to writing great big checks to conference organizers protest, “why would I need to burden myself with all of that paperwork? I already signed up for those events, as well as my pitch appointments. Won’t the conference folks have all that on file?”

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here, but not necessarily. Remember, most writers’ conferences are organized by hard-working volunteers, not crack teams of hyper-efficient event organizers assisted by an army of support staff with Krazy Glue on their fingertips. Details occasionally fall through the cracks.

So it’s not very prudent to assume that your paperwork has not been crack fodder — or even that the selfless volunteers working the registration tables will have access to their computers to double-check what you paid to attend. Few literary conferences are held in the offices or homes of the organizers, after all, and while being able to get into the dinner where you paid $60 to hear the keynote speaker may be vitally important to you, the volunteers on site will probably neither have the time nor the inclination to run home to double-check a misprinted list of attendees.

All of which is to say: if you registered electronically, make sure to bring a hard copy of the confirmation. And if everything goes perfectly when you check in, please remember to thank the volunteer who helped you.

As my grandmother used to say: manners cost nothing.

While you’re printing things out, go ahead and produce a hard-copy confirmation of your hotel reservation as well, if you’re not attending a conference that permits you to sleep in your own bed at night. Again, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it is not at all unheard-of for a hotel hosting a conference to over-book.

Also, it’s a good idea to bring a shoulder bag sturdy enough to hold all of the handouts you will accumulate and books you will buy at the conference. This is not an occasion for a flimsy purse. Think grad student backpack, not clutch bag.

Don’t underestimate how many books you may acquire. It’s rare that a literary conference doesn’t have a room devoted to convincing you to buy the collected works of conference speakers, local writers, and the folks who organized the conference. (At the Conference That Shall Not Be Named, for instance, only organization members’ and conference presenters’ work are typically featured.)

Don’t expect to receive discounts on those books, however; because the conference typically gets a cut of sales, offering a members’ discount seldom seems to occur to organizers. On the bright side, it’s usually child’s play to get ‘em signed. Even if the author is not hovering hopefully behind a pile of his literary output, if he’s at the conference at all, he’s going to be more than happy to autograph it.

Don’t be shy about walking up to ‘em in hallways and after speeches to ask; this is basic care and feeding of one’s readership. And if you’re polite about it — introducing yourself by saying how much you loved the author’s latest work and/or speech last night, perhaps, or via the Magic First Hundred Words — who knows? You might just end up with a marvelous literary friend.

Which is one of the reasons you signed up to go to a conference in the first place, right?

Do be aware, though, that when major bookstore chains organize these rooms (and at large conferences, it’s often a chain like Barnes & Noble), they often take an additional payment off the top, so a self-published author may well make less per book in such a venue. And if an author with a traditional publisher has shown up with her own copies, purloined from the sometimes generous stash of promotional copies publishers often provide authors because the expected copies did not show up on time for the conference (yes, it happens), the sales may not count toward official sales totals.

This is not to say that you should hesitate to purchase a book from the writer with whom you’ve been chatting in the book room for the last half an hour. You should. However, if the book is self-published, you might want to ask the author if s/he would prefer for you to buy it elsewhere. Generally, authors will be only too glad to steer you in the right direction.

Speaking of requests folks in the industry are thrilled to get, if you are struck by a particular agent or editor, you can hardly ask a more flattering question than, “So, are there any books for sale here that you worked upon? I’d like to read a couple, to get a sense of your taste/style/why on earth anyone would want to spend years on end editing books about horses and flamingos.”

Hard for even the surliest curmudgeon scowling at early morning light not to be pleased by that question.

By the way, at a conference that offers an agents’ or editors’ panel (and most do), do not even CONSIDER missing it. Attendees are expected to listen to what the agents and editors are seeking at the moment and — brace yourself for this — note where it does not match what was said in the conference guide blurb or on the agents’ websites.

Oh, did I forget to tell you to sit down before I mentioned that?

Tastes change. So does the market. But blurbs tend to get reused from year to year. Even the standard agency guides, resources that actually are updated yearly, often don’t represent what any given member agent wants right this minute.

No comment — except to say that you will be a much, much happier camper if you keep an ear cocked during the agents’ and editors’ fora to double-check that the agent to whom you were planning to pitch a vampire romance isn’t going around saying, “Heavens, if I see ONE more vampire romance…”

In addition to noting all such preferences in my trusty notebook, I always like to carry a few sheets of blank printer paper in my bag, so I can draw a diagram of the agents’ forum, and another of the editors’, to keep track of who was sitting where and note a few physical characteristics, along with their expressed preferences in books.

Why do I do this? Well, these fora are typically scheduled at the very beginning of the first full day of the conference — a very, very long day.

By the time people are wandering into their appointments at the end of the second day, dehydrated from convention hall air and overwhelmed with masses of professional information, I’ve found that they’re often too tired to recall WHICH editor had struck them the day before as someone with whom to try to finagle a last-minute appointment.

Being able to whip out the diagrams has jogged many a memory, including mine. It’s also a great help a month or two after the conference, to help you remember which of the dozen agents who spoke struck you as worthwhile to query instead of pitching, and which left you with the impression that they eat books, if not aspiring writers, for breakfast.

On my diagrams, the latter tend to be depicted with horns, pitchfork, and tail. But that’s just me.

I always, always, ALWAYS advise writers to bring bottled water to conferences — even to ones where the organizers tend to be very good about keeping water available. A screw-top bottle in your bag can save both spillage and inconvenience for your neighbors.

Why? Well, when you’re wedged into the middle of a row of eager note-takers in a classroom, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world to make your way to the table with the pitcher on it, nor to step over people’s legs with a full glass in your hand.

If I seem to be harping on the dehydration theme, there’s a good reason: every indoor conference I have ever attended has dried out my contact lenses, and personally, I prefer to meet people when my lenses are not opaque with grime.

I’m wacky that way.

If your eyes dry out easily, consider wearing your glasses instead. Men may not make passes at girls who wear ‘em, to paraphrase the late great Ms. Parker, but looking bookish is seldom a drawback at a writers’ conference.

Even if you have perfect vision, there’s a good reason to keep on sippin’. If you are even VAGUELY prone to nerves — and who isn’t, while preparing to pitch? — being dehydrated can add substantially to your sense of being slightly off-kilter. You want to be at your best. Lip balm can be helpful in this respect, too.

Both conferences and hotels, like airports, see a lot of foot traffic, so the week leading up to the conference is NOT the time to skip the vitamins. I go one step further: at the conference, I dump packets of Emergen-C into my water bottle, to keep my immune system strong.

If this seems like frou-frou advice, buttonhole me at a conference sometime, and I’ll regale you with stories about nervous pitchers who have passed out in front of agents. Remember, if you find yourself stressed out:

*Take deep breaths. Not just every so often, but on a regular basis.

*Don’t lock your knees when you’re standing. People who do tend to fall over.

*If you need to sit down, say so right away, no matter who happens to be standing in front of you. Trust me, that editor from Random House doesn’t want to have to pick you up off the floor.

*Don’t drink too much coffee, tea, or alcohol. (Even though everyone else will be doing so with enthusiasm.)

*Go outside the conference center every so often. A glimpse of blue sky can provide a lot of perspective.

*Make some friends. You’ll have more fun, and you can meet in the hallway later to swap notes about seminars happening simultaneously.

*If you’re feeling nervous or scared, talk about it with some nice person you met in the hallway, rather than keeping it bottled inside.

*Be willing to act as someone else’s sounding board. Just for the karma.

Trust me, this is a time to be VERY good to yourself. A conference should not be an endurance test. If I had my way, the hallways at any pitching conference would be lined with massage chairs, to reduce people’s stress levels.

While I’m sounding like your mother, I shall add: don’t try to pitch on an empty stomach.

I’m VERY serious about this — no matter how nervous you are, try to eat something an hour or so before your pitch appointment. When I ran the Pitch Practicing Palace (a safe space for those new to the game to run their pitches by agented writers BEFORE trying them out on an agent or editor, to weed out potential problems), I used to keep a bowl of candy on hand, because so few pitchers had remembered to feed themselves.

Trust me, even if your stomach is flipping around like the Flying Wallendas on speed, you’ll feel better if you eat something. If you are anticipating doing a lot of hallway pitching, or dislike the type of rubber chicken and reheated pasta that tends to turn up on conference buffets, you might want to conceal a few munchies in your bag, to keep yourself fueled up.

It’s also not a bad idea to bring along some mints or ginger candy, just in case you start to feel queasy. As a fringe benefit, the generous person with the tin of Altoids tends to be rather popular in the waiting area near the pitching appointments.

Since you will most likely be sitting on folding chairs for many, many hours over the course of the conference, you might want to bring a small pillow. I once attended a conference where instead of tote bags, the organizers distributed portable seat cushions emblazoned with the writers’ organization’s logo.

You should have heard the public rejoicing.

In the spirit of serious frivolity, I’m going to make another suggestion: carry something silly in your bag, a good-luck charm or something that will make you smile when your hand brushes against it. It can work wonders when you’re stressed, to have a concealed secret.

Honest, this works. I used to advise my university students to wear their strangest underwear on final exam day, for that reason — it allowed them to know something that no one else in the room knew.

(It also resulted in several years’ worth of students walking up to me when they turned in their bluebooks and telling me precisely what they were wearing under those athletic department sweats — and, on one memorable occasion, showing me, à la Monica Lewinsky. So I say from experience: resist the urge to share; it’s disconcerting to onlookers.)

If you suspect you would be uncomfortable wearing your 20-year-old Underroos or leather garter belt (sorry; you’re going to have to find your own link to that) under your conference attire, a teddy bear in your bag can serve much the same purpose. Anything will do, as long as it is special to you.

So far, my advice has been concerned with your comfort and welfare. From here on out, the rest of today’s tips will be all about networking.

That’s right, I said networking. Conferences are about CONFERRING, people.

Because you will, we hope, be meeting some God-awfully interesting at your next writers’ conference, you will want to bring some easily transferable pieces of paper with your contact information printed on it: a business card, for instance, or comparably sized sheets from your home printer.

I mention this now, so you may prepare in advance. Having to scrabble around in your tote bag for a stray scrap of paper upon which to inscribe your vitals every time you meet someone nice gets old FAST.

Besides, if you file a Schedule C to claim your writing as a business, the cost of having the cards made is usually tax-deductible – and no, in the US, you don’t necessarily have to make money as a writer in every year you file a Schedule C for it. Talk to a tax advisor experienced in working with artists. Heck, all of those books you buy might just be deductible as market research.

Seriously, it is VERY worth your while to have some inexpensive business cards made, to print some up at home, or to ask Santa to bring you some professional-looking jobs for Christmas. First, it’s always a good idea to be able to hand your contact info to an agent or editor who expresses interest in your work. They don’t often ask for it, but if they do — in a situation, say, where an editor from a major press who is not allowed to pick up an unagented book REALLY wants to hook you up with an agent — it’s best to be prepared.

Second, unless you make a point of sitting by yourself in a corner for the entire conference, you are probably going to meet other writers that you like — maybe even some with whom you would like to exchange chapters, start a writers’ group, or just keep in contact to remind yourself that we’re all in this together.

The easier you make it for them to contact you, the more likely they are to remain in contact. It’s just that simple.

I’m sensing some ambient rustling again. “But Anne,” some rustlers exclaim, “I’m going to the conference to meet folks in the industry who can help me get my work published. Why would I waste my time chatting up other aspiring writers, who are ostensibly there for precisely the same reason?”

A very good question, oh rustlers, and one that deserves a very direct answer: because it’s far from a waste of time.

Besides, avoiding the unpublished is just a wee bit snobbish, I think. I would urge you to avoid the extremely common mistake of walking into ANY writers’ gathering thinking that the only people it is important for you to meet are the bigwigs: the agents, the editors, the keynote speakers. It requires less energy to keep to yourself, true, but it is a tad elitist, not to say short-sighted: in the long run, casting a wider acquaintance net will pay off better for you.

Why? For one very, very simple reason: the more writer friends you have, the easier it is to learn from experience.

Why make your own mistakes, when you can learn from your friends’, and they from yours? What better source for finding out which agents are really nice to writers, and which are not? And who do you think is going to come to your book signings five years from now, if not that nice writer with whom you chatted about science fiction at lunch?

Obviously, if you can swing a one-on-one with the keynote speaker, go for it — I once spent several hours stranded in a small airport with Ann Rule, and she is an absolutely delightful conversationalist. (Especially if you happen to have an abnormally great interest in blood spatter patterns; she’s a well-respected expert on the subject.)

But try not to let star-watching distract you from interacting with the less well-known writers teaching the classes — who are there to help YOU, after all — or the writer sitting next to you in class. I have met some of the best writers I know by the simple dint of turning to the person rummaging through the packaged teas on the coffee table and saying, “So, what do you write?”

Don’t tell me that you’re too shy to handle this situation — I happen to know that you have a secret weapon. Remember those magic first hundred words? This is the time to use ‘em.

Believe me, it’s worth doing. Someday, some of your fellow conference attendees are going to be bigwigs themselves — realistically, can you rule out the possibility that the person sitting next to you in the session on writer’s block ISN’T the next Stephen King? — and don’t you want to be able to say that you knew them when?

And even if this were not true (but it is), writing is an isolating business — for every hour that even the most commercially successful writer spends interacting with others in the business, she spends hundreds alone, typing away. The more friends you can make who will understand your emotional ups and downs as you work through scenes in a novel, or query agents, or gnaw your fingernails down to the knuckle, waiting for an editor to decide whether to buy your book, the better, I say.

Even the most charmed writer, the one with both the best writing AND the best pure, dumb luck, has days of depression. Not all of us are lucky enough to live and work with people who appreciate the necessity of revising a sentence for the sixth time. Writers’ conferences are the ideal places to find friends to support you, the ones you call when your nearest and dearest think you are insane for sinking your heart and soul into a book that may not see print for a decade.

So stuff some business cards into your conference bag along with a folder containing several copies of your synopsis AND five copies of the first five pages of your book, as a writing sample.

Why five pages, specifically? Well, not all agents do this, but many, when they are seriously taken with a pitch, will ask to see a few pages on the spot, to see if the writing is good enough to justify the serious time commitment of reading the whole book.

Having these pages ready to whip out at a moment’s notice will make you look substantially more professional than if you blush and murmur something about printing it out, or simply hand the agent your entire manuscript.

Don’t, however, bother to bring your entire manuscript with you to the conference, UNLESS you are a finalist in one of the major categories. You will never, ever, EVER miss an opportunity by offering to mail or e-mail it instead.

In fact, agents almost universally prefer it. This is often true, bizarrely, even if they insist that they want to read it on the airplane home.

Why the exception for the contest finalists? Well, I don’t think it should come as much of a surprise to anyone that agents tend to be pretty competitive people. The primary reason that an agent would ask for the whole thing right away, in my experience, is if he is afraid that another agent at the conference will sign you before he’s had a chance to read it — and the writers who tend to be the objects of such heart-rending scenes of jealousy are almost invariably those sporting blue ribbons.

So while I have known agents to read a chapter or two of the winners’ work in their hotel rooms, the chances of its happening in the normal run of a pitch day are roughly the same as finding the complete skeleton of a dinosaur in your back yard.

It could happen — but it doesn’t really make sense to plan your life around a possibility that remote.

Otherwise, don’t hurt your back lugging the manuscript box around; the sample will do just as well. And no, don’t bother to bring an electronic copy of your book — it’s actually considered rather rude to hand out CD-ROMs willy-nilly.

Why? Well, because not everyone is as polite as my lovely readers. It’s not at all uncommon for a total stranger to come charging up to an agent, editor, or someone like yours truly at a conference, shove a soft copy into our astonished hands, and disappear, calling back over her retreating shoulder, “My contact information’s on there, so you can let me know what you think of it.”

Without exception, electronic media presented in this manner ends up in the trash, unread.

Why? Well, apart from the general impoliteness involved in insisting that just because someone is in the industry, s/he has an obligation to read every stranger’s work, there’s also the very real risk that a stranger’s disk is going to be infected with a computer virus; it would be rather imprudent even to try to check out its contents.

Even if the recipient happened to have a really, really good firewall, this method also conveys a tacit expectation that the recipient is going to go to the trouble and expense of printing the book out — or risk considerable eyestrain by reading an entire book onscreen. Not very likely.

These days, if an agent or editor wants an electronic copy of your book, s/he will ask you to e-mail it. Trust me on this one.

Regardless, your 5-page sample should be in hard copy. If you feel that an excerpt from the end of the book showcases your work better, use that, but if you can at all manage it, choose the first five pages of the book as your sample — it just exudes more confidence in your writing, as these are the first pages a screener would see in a submission.

From the writer’s POV, the sole purpose of the writing sample is to get the agent to ask you to send the rest of the book, so although I hammer on this point about twice a month here, I’m going to say it again: as with everything else you submit to any industry pro, make sure that these pages are impeccably written, totally free of errors, and in standard format.

Seriously, this is not a moment when you want your pages to cry out, “The author’s unfamiliar with the standards of the industry!”

If the fact that there IS a standard format for manuscripts — and that it does NOT resemble the formatting of published books — is news to you, rush into the archives at right immediately, and take a gander at the HOW TO FORMAT A MANUSCRIPT and STANDARD FORMAT ILLUSTRATED categories at right. Even if you’re relatively sure you’re doing it right, it isn’t a bad idea to double-check.

Stop groaning, long-time readers; we all could use a refresher from time to time. As long as I am writing this blog, no reader of mine is going to have his or her work rejected simply because s/he didn’t know what the rules of submission were.

Again, I’m funny that way.

Keep practicing those pitches, everyone, avoid dehydration like the plague, and keep up the good work!

The Glamour of the Book Tour, Part II, by Michael Schein, author of Just Deceits

Hello, campers –

Welcome back to Part II of your treat for having made it all the way through the Manuscript Formatting 101 series: a first-hand account from a FAAB (Friend of Author! Author! Blog) of a book tour by a recently-published author. Bookmark these posts, because someday you’ll need them.

Don’t quibble about when someday will come. Whenever it does come, you’ll want to be ready, won’t you?

Yesterday, FAAB Michael Schein, author of the recently-released JUST DECEITS gave us a humorous peek into the hectic world of being one’s own publicist, as well as some very valuable tips on how to set up book readings. (In response to that great gasp I just heard from those of you who missed yesterday’s post, no, Virginia, one’s publisher doesn’t always set those up for one. Increasingly, it’s up to the authors of books released by major publishing houses, just as it’s always been to self-published authors, to schedule public readings.)

Today, Michael is being kind enough to share his experience of what happens after an author gets to such a reading, as well as insights on how to cajole attendees into actually shelling out the dosh for a copy.

Speaking of which, I would be remiss to my duty to a fellow author if I did not add: if you happen to have a mystery lover or two on your holiday shopping list, here is a brief description of JUST DECEITS to whet your gift-giving (and reading) appetite:

In 1793, the most powerful family in Virginia found itself embroiled in scandal: Richard Randolph and his sister-in-law, the beautiful and impetuous Nancy Randolph, were charged with adultery and infanticide. Based on actual events, Just Deceits tells the story of the Trial of the Century – the 18th Century – as the remarkable defense team of wily Patrick Henry and ambitious John Marshall battled each other, their clients, family intrigue, the prosecution, and the truth itself, trying to save their clients from the gallows. In its ribald portrayal of a young legal system already driven more by spectacle than evidence, Just Deceits calls into question the feasibility — and even the desirability — of uncovering “the whole truth.” Ultimately, in the secrets revealed and the relationships celebrated, Just Deceits is as much a story of a trial of love as the trial in the courtroom.

You may buy JUST DECEITS directly from Michael’s website, from his publisher, if you’re in the mood to spread the Christmas spirit to an independent press, or on Amazon. If you’d like to buy it from him in person, here’s a link to his tour schedule.

Why do I so often list several venues for buying my guest bloggers’ work? Knowing how publishing works, mostly: in case you weren’t already aware of it, these days, the author’s royalty rate varies by where a book is sold. Typically, that rate is highest through the author’s or publisher’s website and lowest at discount clearinghouses like overstock.com. (Yes, you read that correctly: much of the discount offered by discount venues comes out of the author’s pocket.)

Once again, please join me in welcoming Michael Schein. Pay close attention, think good thoughts about your own future book tours, and keep up the good work!

How to sell a book, one at a time. OK – it’s the day of the book signing! I just had the first one of my tour today (11/18). It was my fifth overall. I sold 13 books today on a quiet Tuesday evening (in three hours), and the Barnes & Noble manager said that as signings go, that’s a success.

I certainly think so – I feel quite good about it. I’m being read by people from various parts of the country, including (aside from Washington State, where I live) Virginia, Missouri, Minnesota, Texas, West Virginia, Alabama and New Jersey. If they like it, they’ll probably tell their friends and family – because I asked them to.

Making contact with your future readers. If you aren’t John Grisham, the first and most important thing about a book signing is to get your butt up out of the chair.

The only time to sit in the lovely chair the bookstore will provide (it’s a leather throne at Seattle Mystery Bookshop) is while actually signing the book you just sold. Then get up and shake your new reader’s hand as you return the book to him/her. That won’t make up for a crappy book, but it will make your new reader want to like your book, which doesn’t hurt.

Second, don’t wait for people to approach you – they won’t. Don’t stalk them, but greet them as they walk by, and ask, “May I tell you about my new novel?” or something to that effect.

It takes a hard heart or a big hurry to answer “no” to that one.

Your pitch – the same one that sold the book – comes next. Every time you say it, say it like it is the first time (but without the stuttering). In other words, this is conversation, not telemarketing.

Show the customer the back cover – the one with the great blurbs. Hand it to them. Put the product in their hands.

Yes, it’s a “product.”

Ask a question: “Are you interested in history?” (for historical fiction) “Where are you from?” “Have you ever dreamed of traveling to Africa?” (for a book involving Africa).

You’ll get used to it – again, this is simply conversation. Don’t do all the talking. Listen.

Once you’ve engaged a person in conversation, you’ve probably got a sale. But you still need to close the deal.

The correct way to close a book deal is not, “Would you please buy my book?” It is “May I sign that for you?” “Shall I personalize it?”

Once signed and personalized, it is sold.

Pretty scary, huh? Look, we can be artists on our own time. When we are in the bookstore, our job is to sell books. If you need motivation beyond the royalties, remember this – that new masterpiece taking shape in your hard drive is unlikely to see the light of day if your current book flops.

Nov. 19. More pitfalls on the road. All the above sounds rational, right? Forget rational. The world is not what it seems. Or, worse yet, maybe it is.

On Nov. 19th I found that the Richmond stop I’d sweated blood over was a small house off the main road on the edge of a small shopping district where there’s no foot traffic. True, the owner was kind and interesting, the shop was crammed to bursting with an eclectic assortment of books, and it had been in business somehow for 28 years, but still, it was dead. It had never been my first choice, but writers can’t be choosers: it was an independent non-Christian bookstore and therefore something special in post-apocalyptic America.

Despite marketing through their email list and by postcards to local lawyers, the only two people who showed up were my brother-in-law, and the woman who owns the B&B where I’m staying. I could have sold to them directly, and made more on each sale.

No one else even entered the shop from 7 pm to 8:20 pm, when I gave up. Then I did what you cannot do if you are to make a profit – I bought an expensive book. It is hard to sit in a bookstore for over an hour with nothing to do, and not buy a book or two.

This is so glamorous!

What do you mean, the books aren’t here yet? My publisher was supposed to ship two cases of books, and I needed them for my 11/20 appearance at the John Marshall House, since they hadn’t ordered books directly. I’d made arrangements with Anna, the B&B proprietor, to ship books to her, so I was disappointed to find when I arrived the night of 11/18 the books were not yet here. Nor did they arrive on Nov. 19.

Finally, I got the tracking numbers from my publisher – and sure enough, they had arrived on Nov. 17th, and been signed for by Anna! It was too late to ask her again, but I sent an urgent email, and then didn’t sleep well all night, thinking they’d been stolen.

The story emerged the next day. Anna (an otherwise very capable woman) had hosted another writer the previous weekend (see, I told you last time that we’re thick as flies), and had arranged with his publisher to take a shipment. She’d forgotten about the same arrangement with me, so when the books arrived, she assumed they were his, and had his sponsor pick them up for shipment to his next stop – New Hampshire!

My books were on their way to a general store in the Granite State and my signing in Richmond was in three hours.

Frantic calls, texts, and imprecations to the ghost of Jack Randolph, who I’d insulted the previous day during my visit to Hollywood Cemetery, resulted in a rescue worthy of Lassie, as my books were snatched off the loading dock with all the shipping labels affixed, and somehow returned to me.

I sold twenty (count ‘em – twenty!) books today (11/20). I almost had none to sell.

And so, to end this tale of woe and wonder, this life of ours is never boring as soon as we step off the edge, and call ourselves writers.

Happy touring, fellow fools!

The Glamour of the Book Tour, by Michael Schein, author of Just Deceits

Hello again, campers –

Remember how I promised a few days ago to give you a treat for working so hard throughout the Manuscript Formatting 101 series? (Yes, I honestly do know it’s no fun for anyone concerned. Things that are good for one often aren’t.) Well, today is Treat Day — and I’m delighted to report that tomorrow will be as well.

Don’t you feel virtuous now? Doubly so?

I’m excessively pleased about this particular treat, because it’s not something I’ve been able to finagle for all of you here at Author! Author! before: a first-hand account from a FAAB (Friend of Author! Author! Blog) of what it’s like to be on a book tour by a recently-published author.

Yes, really. Pinch me, somebody.

To make this treat better yet, FAAB Michael Schein, author of the recently-released JUST DECEITS is not only going to share his on-the-road experiences with us, but also give us some tips on how to set up public readings, attract potential book buyers to them, and sell copies of one’s book once they’re there.

I told you it was going to be a good treat.

So please join me in welcoming Michael Schein; take good notes, because you are going to be deeply grateful for his insight someday. If you’d like to see him in action at one of his own book signings, here’s a link to his tour schedule.

Keep up the good work, and take it away, Michael!

November 17. 12:59 Eastern Time. 24,997 feet. Descending into Atlanta. Turbulence. Welcome to the book tour for Just Deceits: A Historical Courtroom Mystery (Bennett & Hastings 2008). I’m Michael Schein, author, publicist and traveling salesman, and I’ll be your host. Let’s talk about that particular aspect of book promotion known and romanticized in many Hollywood films and in the fertile imagination of the unpublished writer as the book tour.

Let me begin by saying that I am grateful to be at this point in my life, in which I have a trade paperback published by a small Seattle press, and I have the freedom and frequent flyer miles (“earned” by charging too much on my VISA) to be able to go out and peddle my book.

Between that paragraph and this one much has happened! I wrote that in Atlanta while awaiting my flight to Norfolk. We took off, but the plane seemed to falter on its ascent. It was quiet and creepy. We turned. We lost a little altitude. We turned some more. We heard engines, but they were too quiet. We heard nothing from the flight attendants, who remained buckled in and stone-faced. We were about three to five thousand feet up – the trees and houses were still clearly distinguishable. Finally, we were told we were returning to Atlanta due to a little problem but not to worry, the engines were working fine.

OK, great, what else keeps a plane up? Wings? Rudder? Flaps? God? who never hears from me except to curse and write atheistic poetry?

A minute can be a long time.

We were up for about twenty to thirty of them. But the fact that I’m writing this tips off the happy ending. Yes, a safe landing. Turns out the throttle lever got stuck – that’s not good, is it? No matter how well the engines are functioning, without fuel their proper function is to shut down! Anyway, our crack pilots got it unstuck.

To make a long story short, we changed planes, and got to sit on a new plane without ventilation for an hour while we waited for the crew, plus another hour while we waited for soft drinks.

There’s logic: delay a one hour seven minute flight (airtime) one hour to be sure you can serve the thirsty cranky denizens a Pepsi which the few who actually drink that treacly syrup would have been able to purchase at their destination just as quickly.

But I wasn’t complaining. Alive was good enough for me. All this to sell a book! And so far, all I’ve managed is give away the copy in my carry on to my seat mate, who didn’t offer to buy one.

But as I blew along 64 West from Norfolk (or NorF*ck; to pronounce it right, “you have to say the dirty word,” I was told) to Williamsburg in my rented Kia, and chanced upon Simon & Garfunkel’s Kathy from Bookends with its magnificent chorus of “All come to look for America!” just as I passed the exit for Historic Jamestown Settlement, I had to pinch myself to be sure I hadn’t died and gone to heaven.

Setting up the book tour. Here’s what I know about setting up a book tour. The first and most important thing to realize is that most bookstores don’t really want you if you aren’t already famous because they’ve seen years of authors sitting behind a table loaded with their books, and almost nobody attending or purchasing.

Therefore, it is hard to set up a book tour; it takes time and persistence, and you need to begin at least three months before you plan to start the tour and figure you will be working on setting dates for at least two months.

Don’t expect to sell a bunch of books while on tour. The tour has several purposes:

(1) getting to know bookstore owners/employees and, more important, getting booksellers to know you;

(2) getting some readers to know you;

(3) getting your book into bookstores where the booksellers remember you and your book, and will continue to hand sell it; and

(4) selling a few books with a personal touch, and saying to each person who buys one: “If you like it, please tell your friends and family.”

My tour began with the totally naive gesture of me purchasing airline tickets with frequent flyer miles, that put me on the East Coast for 2 weeks. The only reasons it wasn’t totally insane were: (1) frequent flyer miles; and (2) my daughter and parents reside in NY and VT respectively, and I’ll see them all for Thanksgiving. By perseverance I have managed to book nine events for the fifteen non-flight days I am here.

Not bad. Here’s how I did it:

First, my initial contacts were made by my “publicist”. The fact is, I don’t actually have a “publicist”. Unless you are published by a big house that has decided to bless your book, or have big bucks to shell out to a publicist – I’m talking $50 – $150 per hour, or in one case I know, a $10,000 flat fee – you are your own publicist by default. It is a full-time job, or as close to it as you can possibly eke out from your other remunerative activities (you have some, right? – I hope so, cause we’re all striving as writers for that mythical ten cents an hour!).

But even though you are your own publicist, that’s not good enough for the initial contact. Few bookstores want a writer who’s such a loser that they have to book their own appearance. So my small-press publisher made the initial contacts for me – mostly from a list of contacts that I generated using the internet. One great source is the American Booksellers’ Association website – they have a state-by-state, city-by-city directory of their members, hot-linked to the members’ websites.

Those first contacts should be by email with detailed information (Title, Author, publisher, ISBN, cloth/trade/mass, price, where in distribution, “Please book me for an event”, when you’ll be there, contact, attached synopsis, press release, cover image, author bio). Followed the next day by a telephone call.

Once the first contacts were made by my “publicist”, it was acceptable for me to follow up. And follow up. And follow up.

Every few days I followed up and then put a new “To Do” in my computer calendar to follow up again in a few days until I finally either got: (1) booked for an event; or (2) “No.” Then I marked it in my notes, and if it was “No” I dredged up a new contact in the area (or continued to follow several in the area simultaneously).

When (not “if”) you get a “NO”, try to make it work for you. Always say that’s fine, I understand, but would you please carry my book? They’ve just said “no” to you; most people don’t like to say “no”, so now they get to say “yes, of course.” Whether they will or not, who knows? – but they’re more likely to.

One venue booked me for a big lecture, then later wrote an email saying that the lecture had to be canceled. I was very understanding, saying that just a book signing would be fine. I think they meant to cancel me completely, but now I’ve got a book signing.

Never, ever, blow your cool. Remember, we’re just writers – a dime a dozen. When you’re JA Jance there will be time enough to act the prima donna, if that’s really how you want to be remembered. But for now, nobody wants a hothead in their shop.

And besides, booksellers are some of the finest, most dedicated and underpaid people in the universe. They are there for love of books, not filthy lucre, of which there is precious little.

Even when you are booked, you are not done. You still need to follow up – check their website to be sure you are listed; if not, re-send all the info just to “help you update your events listings”; be sure they’ve got books, and there aren’t any distribution problems. Be sure they’ve got a poster if you are going to be able to send or bring one.

An example of the care and feeding the tour needs, and the need to stay cool, is the call I got from my publisher a month or so before leaving. “Congratulations,” she said, “you’ve pissed off your first Virginian!” We had discussed whether Virginians would be open to a Pacific Northwesterner messing with their history (even though it our history too!), and this seemed a portent of pitchforks to come. The ARC found its way to this bookstore’s most valued customer – a retired banker – who reported back that he was offended by my lack of respect for treasured historical figures.

I hasten to add that I love my characters, even the villains, but I don’t idolize them. Even lofty figures like John Marshall and Patrick Henry come to the page warts and all. Anyway, the owner was determined to cancel the one bookstore signing I had in Richmond (the other signing was at the John Marshall House). But another ARC and calm dialogue defused the situation, and now I count this bookseller as a colleague and Just Deceits enthusiast. And, I might add, all the other Virginians I met were very gracious and seemed genuinely interested in my book.

In addition, if you want to have anybody present at the signing you have to shake the trees till the nuts fall out. Whatever publicity you can think of – postcards, emails to friends and/or groups with an interest in your subject, small newpaper ads or review copies, radio spots if you can get them, facebook and goodreads announcements, booktour DOT com (which I could never get to work!), skinnydip in the town fountain two nights before (leaving one day for the story to run in the local paper and for you to get out of jail).

Be creative! Getting the word out is an entire blog topic, and that’s not this blog.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about how to sell a book once you actually convince people to come to your book signing.