Monday, June 2, 2008

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes When You're Busy Washing the Woodwork

I felt a little like Cinderella this last weekend. The one who is scrubbing bedpans while her stepsisters are at the ball—not the one who meets the prince and dances the night away. Friday through Sunday all of my fellow Shadow Mountain fantasy authors were at BEA (Book Expo America) in Los Angeles, doing book signings, meeting cool authors, attending dinners etc. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have my first book out yet, I was left home.

The analogy even goes a little farther, because my fairy godmother even made me a beautiful new gown for the ball. It’s the cool book cover over on the right of this blog. And it is as beautiful as any gown I could wish for. The kind of sucky thing is that in this version of Cinderella, the gown went to the ball without her and was snatched up by other dancers. (Okay this whole analogy is starting to sound a little creepy even to me. But you get the point.)

I guess the good news is that Shadow Mountain took 250 ARCs to the show, and they were gone before the end of the first day. With all the free books available, that really says something about the cover. So yay!

Meanwhile, back in Utah, I figured I might as well get out and do some work. So Jen (my wife) and I took ARCs, mouse pads, posters, and bookmarks out to twelve stores. It was actually kind of fun seeing how different the responses of store employees were. Some were thrilled to death and others looked like we were the postman dropping off a batch of junk mail. We even came up with a little grading system.

F—The only F I am going to give is there store where we walked in at a few minutes after seven and no one was there. The entire store was empty. Finally we checked the back office and realized the store had closed at six and some guys were cleaning the carpets. Um, you might want to lock the front door maybe?

D—Manager or CRM not at store. No clue who I am, who the publisher is, or what an ARC is. Repeats this phrase over and over as I hand him all the goodies. “Okay, I’ll give it to the manager.” Fortunately I only had one of these. I really tried everything I could to get him excited, but he looked like he hated anything to do with books. Which begs the question, “Dude, why are you even working here?”

C — These employees at least seemed to look interested. They politely took the book and glanced at the cover. I couldn’t get any conversation going about school visits, book signings, or the like. When I mentioned Shadow Mountain there was no recognition. Mention of Fablehaven got a small spark. They seemed to understand generally what an ARC was.

B — There was actual interest here and recognition of some sort. They definitely knew what an ARC was and were interested in reading it. They recognized either me or the publisher. They liked the goodies and promised to put them out. They thought there were several people in the store who might want to read the book. There was interest in having me do events with them.

A — These were the best ones. And fortunately there were more of these than any other. These people knew exactly what an ARC was and practically snatched it out of my hands. When I mentioned Fablehaven their eyes lit up. The loved the poster and promised to get the mouse pad on the office computer where everyone could see it. Several of them knew exactly who I was from my other books and couldn’t wait to start on this one. (This won’t be the case at most stores outside of Utah, but it was still fun.) They were excited to talk about school visits and book signings. They told me what had worked well in the store previously and gave me suggestions for working with them. I came back from these almost forgetting I wasn’t at BEA.

So what did I learn? Several things actually. (If you aren’t into book marketing jargon, stop reading now. This is the kind of stuff that bores most non-authors to tears.)

First, I am going to make up some new business cards with information about school visits, books signings, best ways to reach me etc. They best store managers asked for that right away. I may even make up a little flyer talking about my school presentations. Many of the stores got excited as I outlined what I present to schools.

Second, a few stores know who Shadow Mountain is. But nearly everyone recognizes Fablehaven and The Wednesday Letters. I could tell that several store employees were wary when I first showed up. Typically ARCs come in the mail. But once they realized I was with a publisher they knew and saw my book, they opened right up. I found that phrases like, “My publisher would normally send this out, but I like to meet you person,” helped a lot.

Third, know the name of the person you are coming to meet and try to make sure they are there when you come. There is a huge difference between meeting a manager or community relations manager and just dropping by on a bunch of employees. While we did meet several employees who were excited to see us and promised to get our materials to the right person, the managers were always excited and involved. I will make appointments from now on instead of just dropping by.

Fourth, explain what an ARC is. Not everyone understands that this is an advance copy of a book coming out. I actually had one nice salesperson try to ring it up while I was talking. I need to make sure they understand that the final product will be a hardback with illustrations and that an ARC is not proofed.

Last. I need to get a clean clear pitch that I can give in less than a minute. It explains who I am, who I am with, why I am there in person, and what I can do for the store. Starting with the right pitch makes all the difference in the world. It was clear the assumption was that I was some schmoe out peddling a book he printed up in his garage. I don’t think they get a lot of drop ins from authors, so letting them know I am coming in advance and why I am there would probably go a long way.

Well that’s it. I guess I’ll get back to work. I still have to finish sweeping out the chimneys and washing the dishes before those ugly step sisters get back. But I hear a rumor that if I clean the drapes really well, I might actually get to see some inside illustrations today. Now where are those helpful little mice?


Anonymous said...

The ARCs look fantastic, by the way. Mine came at lunch today and I'm very excited about it. I have to remind myself that I should wait a bit to read it, otherwise I'll have to write my review right away and won't be able to wait until August to hit 'publish'.

Thanks for continuing to share your process with us all, it is really interesting to read about.

ally condie said...

Can I be a Cinderella too, Jeff? I was supposed to be at BEA with Shadow Mountain this year but complications w/pregnancy prevented me from going. No fun!

Next year, right? And congrats on the ARCs. They DO look fantastic.

Tamra Norton said...

Assuming that y'all are actually "brothers" (since y'all are guys), I stand by my notion that Shadow Mountain REALLY needs to add a "sister" to their Middle-Grade Fantasy line-up...and I just happen to be up for adoption! :)

Even though you missed out this year, I hear you're headed for NYC next year. Good times!

Thanks for sharing all this marketing stuff. I'm eating it all up and licking my chops! :)

Suey said...

My ARC came over the weekend too and I too am going to have to wait just a bit to read it... maybe... maybe I won't, 'cause my turn to review isn't for awhile yet either. Dang!

Sorry to hear you aren't out smoozing with the rest of 'em. It does sure sound like a blast (from all their blogs I've been reading!) but like you said, next year!

DesLily said...

First off I have your "hook" when you meet a manager!... all you do is say: "I'm here to make your day!"... that should get his/ her attention! hehehe..

MY ARC CAME TODAY! You are too cute to autograph it!!! I will be posting about books I got in the mail tomorrow and your book will be the one I zoom in on!.. love the book marks too! I already have a good feeling about your book and I'm sure I will buy the hardback when it comes out for my grandson (since mine is autographed I'll keep the arc!)

I know you aim for the YA for the book but keep us old farts in mind... we have grandkids ya know!! lol... thanks again!!

Chris said...

I got my ARC today and it looks great! Really looking forward to it!

I'm so glad that things are going so well for you and that you had more "A" encounters than anything with your own little bookstore ARC tour. Hopefully it pays off as I'm sure it will.

Just think, next year you'll be at BEA yourself and the whole world will know who you are...bwuhahahaha!

Sandra said...

I was so excited when the mail came today. I left some of the bookmarks on the table and took the book to my room to read. My son came in and called to me, "Mom, did the book come? Where is it?" Then we had a little friendly discussion about why I got to read it first. There is a line at my door of kids waiting to read.

ms-teacher said...

I also got my ARC today & am too excited to wait to read it. Thank you!!

I also told my son he would have to wait to read it until I'm finished :)

Brian said...

I got my ARC, too! I had to wait a day to read it so that I could finish reading the Alchemyst (It was a very good book,) but I am now reading it! I plan to read it once before school gets out on the 13th and once or twice at sleep away camp. Then, I can post the review when I get back from camp! I am already in chapter 14, "Taking a Chance" and the book is fantastic so far! I hope you do another ARC contest for the second book, because it is so worth writing the review to get a copy early. I'll be the first to sign up! (Ok, probably not quite the first...)

BTW, when is going to be up. Keep us posted!

James Dashner said...

Savage, we missed you - although not enough to prevent us from having the time of our lives.

Next year will really rock in NYC!

Dude, some things you should just not do. Like, comparing oneself to Cinderella. Hello?

Jaime Theler said...

Thanks for the great tips. And don't worry, someday your prince will come...

Jewel Allen said...

*I actually had one nice salesperson try to ring it up while I was talking* LOL!

To be even doing what you're already doing...sigh, you sure raise the bar for the rest of us. If you're Cinderella, then we are the mice :-).

Mikaela said...

Saturday evening I recieved my ARC of Far World!! :]I started reading it there and then!

Suzy - Q said...

Gosh Savage,
reading about all that going to stores with ARC's really makes me miss my old job even more!

I really hope one of those stores was the one I was working at (you know the one) and I really hope you got to talk to the CRM there (if not, Tell Me and I'll hook you up!) And lastly, my old store better have gotten an A- ! If not, tell me and I'll pass a few words onto it! I may not work there, but I still got the ins.

Man I miss my job! But no worries, my second interview with the library went really well and hopefully that'll happen soon!

Congrats on your awesome book, can't wait to get my ARC (don't think it's come yet)

Julie Wright said...

well cinder-fella, Your ARC looks awesome!!!

Candace E. Salima said...

I understand about BEA. I'm going to make sure and be there next year.

Jeff, I bow to you. You are the king of marketing! Way to go. And outside of Utah, bookstore managers get excited when an author, any author wanders in and talks to them. That's how I got my books on the shelves of the Barnes and Noble at Mall of America in Minneapolis, or St. Paul, wherever it was. Wherever I am, I wander in and ask if they have my books. I tell them if they do I'm happy to sign them and perhaps move them a little quicker. They always jump all over that and order whatever they can get right then. It's worked for me every time. Then I always try to drop back by when I'm in town.