By Natalie Bright
There’s a line in a country song that goes, “everyone dies famous in a small town”.
How many of your neighbors, coworkers, or in-laws even know that you’re a writer?
Local Fame and Fortune
We have a renowned New York Times Bestselling author here, who’ve I’ve known since she first became published. She now has a huge fan base, both locally and internationally, and she’s worked hard for it.
In the 25 years that we’ve been friends, I’ve known her to do many, many local talks for free, even though she commands major fees around the country. She rarely turns down an invitation to speak at local library fundraisers, book club meetings, or organization lunches. She’s become extremely popular with the Red Hat groups. Her programs include a tidbit of the characters and settings of her stories yet to be published. She’s not only selling her current list, she’s introducing herself and creating a fan base for works in progress. Her Fan Club has grown by leaps and bounds. Usually 100-200+ people show up at her local book signings for new releases.
Sometimes neighbors can be your biggest supporters. When I started out as a nobody writer several years ago, I’ve tried to emulate that train of thought.
Put Yourself Out There. Should You Charge?
Kid Lit authors are highly encouraged to decline school visits unless the school pays a fee because it sets a precedent in the area. I come from that small town mentality where everyone pitches in when asked and volunteerism is the way of doing things.
Right after college, I volunteered at our local historical museum where I spoke to thousands of kids during spring field trips. Today, some of those same teachers ask me to visit their classrooms. I can drop my kids off at their schools around 7:30, make it to the gig to talk about writing, and be back to my day job desk by 10:00. The kids get an inexpensive pencil with my website or a bookmark with my picture and bio. A 2nd grader told me last week, “I don’t want you to leave.” Another one whispered, “I’m writing a story, too.” For me, it’s about connecting with kids.
The publishing business moves at a snail’s pace. I’m making every effort to keep my name out there as a writer, and all it takes is my time and a .39 cent pencil. I’ve never considered charging the schools in our district, where my friends teach and my children have been enrolled since kindergarten.
Sometimes New Opportunity Means Practice
A friend’s daughter asked me to talk in the Dallas area for a reading event. The inner-city school had very limited funds so I agreed to talk for free. I’ve never done a power point for 700 elementary kids, but it seemed like a great opportunity since I’d be in the area anyway for a conference. This teacher is a tech-whiz so she helped with audio-visual set-up in the gym. I did my program for the first 300+, she offered suggestions to improve the clarity of content, and it went even better for the next group. I have the confidence to do it again. Sometimes new opportunity affords you a practice run, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Explore Your Town
Here’s that small-town mindset again: your time is free and it costs you nothing to give it away. Everyone you know can open doors to new opportunity. I usually say yes to everything because it always leads to something else. I’m not talking about selling out as a professional, hard selling, or pounding a group over the head about buying your book. I’m talking about networking and connecting with people who live in your neighborhood.
Show up, give them more than they expected, thank them for their time, eat the free meal, and leave your postcard bio. Odds are someone will ask if you have any books with you. Odds are good you’ll get an invitation to come back, or you’ll be asked to speak to another group because of the contacts you made. Odds are even better that someone will look at your website, perhaps follow you on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t forget to send a hand-written thank you note to the person who invited you. They may not buy a book today, but they know your name.
Marketing and promotion is a marathon, and who has the most depth and understanding about your stories? You can relay that passion about your novels better than anybody else. As authors, WE UNDERSTAND it’s business and all about building a platform and selling books, but not everybody has to know that.