Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lowered Expectations

OK, I never thought Mahu was going to be a best-seller, or set the world on fire. I hoped it would find an audience, and that readers would like the book.

But I did hope for more than I got, so I'm learning to lower my expectations.

The first person I met who'd read Mahu, outside of my close friends, told me that she was a reader for Insight Out Books, that she'd loved the book and recommended it. So I kept waiting to hear from Haworth, and scanning the Insight Out catalogs that came in. I finally accepted that they had just chosen not to include Mahu in their offerings.

I was hoping to get a couple of decent reviews. Certainly I'd love the New York Times, but I knew that it could only happen by a fluke. I did think I was more realistic in getting a couple of reviews in mainstream publications, particularly my hometown newspapers.

Didn't happen. I greatly appreciate the reviews that Mahu got, which were generally quite positive, but they came from GLBT publications and websites in places like Connecticut and Minnesota. I didn't get into any of the big magazines like Out or The Advocate, and I didn't get into any newspapers in big cities.

The biggest disappointment was not making the top five finalists for a Lammy award. I thought I knew most of my competition and I was sure Mahu would stack up against them. But I didn't make it. Several people told me they thought Mahu belonged there, and that it was a symptom of how biased and/or out of touch the judges were.

I was hoping to get invited somewhere-- to speak at a conference or workshop, or visit a college. Hasn't happened yet-- but it might still, though I'm not expecting anything.

So I'm trying to be grateful for what I've gotten. Some positive reviews. Good word-of-mouth feedback. The chance to sit on a couple of panels at mystery conferences. Sales that look like they will top the publisher's expectations (though my royalties haven't yet paid back the money I've spent promoting, and probably never will.)

I've had a book published by a reputable publisher, and it opened doors for the sequel to come out in Spring 2007 (from Alyson Books) and for me to edit a collection of essays, Paws & Reflect, about gay men and their dogs. That will also be out from Alyson, in November, 2006. I now have a new agent, and I've met a lot of great writers online and through my travels.

I think any new author doesn't really know what to expect, and we should all be grateful for whatever comes out way. Now that I've gotten over my initial disappointments, I think I can be.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Pride Write

When I was at Stonewall Pride yesterday, Eston Dunn (aka E. Robert Dunn, author of the Echelon's End science fiction series) invited me to join a group of other gay authors at a Borders event later in the afternoon.

I was hot and sweaty and tired and knew Marc was waiting for me at home. But I agreed to go anyway (after letting Marc know I'd be late.) And I'm glad I did.

I didn't sell a single book, and there wasn't much of a crowd. But I did get to chat a bit with Richelle, the customer relations manager. I discovered that Borders has so far sold 38 of the 50 copies they ordered for my original reading back in September. At the reading, I sold 24 copies, leaving 26 behind. So another 14 copies have sold since then.

I think that's pretty good. Most stores would have sent back all or most of the unsold copies right after the reading. I did sign the rest of the books, and Richelle gave us all some little "autographed by the author" stickers to put on the books.

I spoke to her about Paws & Reflect in the fall, and how I hoped to do some publicity with Andy Zeffer and Jay Quinn, and let her know that the new Mahu book will be out next spring. And I also mentioned that I'm hoping to get Tony Bidulka to come to Florida, and if she sets up a reading for him I will do my best to draw out an audience.

So I thought that was a pretty productive event, all in all.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Stonewall Pride

Today I spent a couple of hours at the Stonewall Pride Parade and festival in Fort Lauderdale. Andy Zeffer was kind enough to coordinate a table for gay authors uner the tent of his publication, Express Gay News. He and I were joined by Eston Dunn and Richard Blanco.

Our mantra was "Gay Books by Gay Authors" and "Sexy Summer Reading." When people came up, we pointed to Mahu as gay mystery, Eston's book as gay sci-fi, and Andy's book as gay Hollywood. Richard's was gay poetry-- though there wasn't that much gay about it.

I only sold two books, though Eston and Andy did much better. But I had fun hanging out at Pride and getting my name out there. Andy handed out a ton of postcards for us, and EGN advertised the event for us and made up a great poster than ran the length of the table. So there was a lot of visibility.

I met several people who'd already read the book, and I even saw a guy wearing my Mahu t-shirt. I'm still trying to figure out where he got it-- he must have bought it online. He was another walking billboard for me!

I saw so many funny, funny t-shirts out there, and was motivated again to try and take the rainbow surfboard graphic and turn it into a money maker on t-shirts. My favorite slogans were "Hi, You'll Do," and "Stop that man! I want to get off."

My high school speech teacher also showed up to say hello-- which was wild. I hadn't seen him in 31 years, though he looked an awful lot like the way I remembered.

So the message of this post is that you have to take advantage of any opportunities you have to get your name out there and sell books-- and any time hundreds of gay men and women (young, old, and in between; handsome, hideous and in between as well) see your name and the name of your book, it's got to be a good thing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Glad Day in Toronto

While I was in Toronto, I also had the chance to visit Glad Day Books, which was a huge (by my standards, certainly) gay and lesbian bookstore. My internet friend Pat Brown (her gay mystery L.A. Heat is due out from Alyson any day now, and it's terrific) had arranged for a visit by herself, Tony Bidulka and me. Pat was sick that day and couldn't join us, but Tony graciously agreed to go along with me, even though he'd been there the day before.

Glad Day had so much stock I was just overwhelmed. I met the clerk and the manager, John, and chatted a little-- but honestly, I was too into checking out the stock to spend too much time talking! I noticed they had all four books I'm in at the moment-- Alyson's My First Time 2 and Dorm Porn (in which I have a piece, but under a pseudonym) as well as Mahu and the new Cleis anthology, Cowboys: Gay Erotic Stories.

It was fun to go around and talk to the stores, and now that I've done it I think I'll feel better about doing it in other cities. I should certainly get over to the couple of stores we have in South Florida, even though they don't have that much stock. I'll have to work on that this summer!


Hand-selling is one of the most important parts of the whole bookselling process. A bookstore manager or sales clerk who likes a book, or knows the store's stock, can make recommendations to customers. If you as an author get to know the bookstore's staff, they can help get your books into the hands of customers.

When I was in Toronto for Bloody Words, I went to two terrific gay bookstores: Not the Rosedale Library and Glad Day. At the first, I just walked in off the street and asked to speak to the manager. I had to identify myself as an author-- not some complaining customer. Then the manager and I had a nice chat about gay books, and I told him a little about myself.

And then he hand-sold me a couple of books-- ones that his customers really seemed to like, or so he said. I just finished reading Joey Comeau's Lockpick Pornography, which I bought because the manager thought highly of it and said the store could barely keep it in stock. He knew the author's back story, too-- about how he'd started publishing online to earn enough money for college.

I was hooked. I bought the book, which I liked-- it's a very interesting riff on gender, in particular, wrapped around a sexy, funny story. I hope this manager will be pushing Mahu the same way!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Bloody Words

I just returned from Bloody Words, a mystery writer's conference in Toronto. I think it's important to attend as many as this kind of event as you can afford when you're trying to build an audience for your book. I haven't really sold a lot of copies at events like this-- one at Bouchercon, one at Sleuthfest and one at BW. But I know I'm building my name recognition.

I also post on several list serves, such as DorothyL and Murder Must Advertise. Several people came up to me at BW and said that they recognized my name from DorothyL and wanted to say hello. It was nice to meet them, and to connect a face to some of the names I've seen online.

This morning, I made a post to DorothyL about the conference-- how well run it was, and all the people I'd met. That post served to inform the online community about the con, as well as to give me a chance to get my name out again.

Everyone I've spoken to agrees-- it's a lot of work to promote your book. But if, like me, you're in this for the long haul-- I want to make a career out of writing-- I consider it an investment in my future. And along the way, I'm having fun at conferences. I'm learning from panel discussions and from posts about writing, marketing, and mysteries. Sure, I'm not spending as much time writing as I should-- but at least this sort of thing is a lot more productive than computer solitaire!