My fifth book comes out tomorrow.
“That’s so exciting!” several friends–who are not writers–and one very supportive family member have been saying.
My writer friends have a different reaction.
“Prepare for the calm before the calm,” one particularly astute writer cautioned me months ago.
You work on something for what feels like a thousand years, interview two million people, log 34,000 nights of insomnia, read hundreds of scientific studies, and go back and forth with your New York based publishers a gazillion times. Your book is as perfect as you can make it, despite some very embarrassing will-be-corrected-in-the-next-printing-perhaps-unavoidable mistakes.
But instead of feeling like doing a happy dance all you feel like doing is throwing up.
If a tree falls in the woods and no one…
If a book is written in Ashland and no one…
See? Don’t you feel like throwing up now too?
Whether your new book charges out the gate to become a bestseller in the first week or sprains both ankles and is only purchased by your grandmother, writers wonder how someone goes from hearing about a book, reading about a book, seeing a book in a bookstore to actually buying the book? I’m someone who buys books and loves to give books as gifts (I just bought five more copies of an outstanding memoir called Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar and three copies of The Thinking Moms Revolution). But there are often books that I hear about and mean to read but that I don’t actually purchase until months, or even years, later. I can write until the cows come home (these gloriously mixed metaphors notwithstanding) but selling books is not something writers, myself included, are naturally good at. If they were, they would be salespeople, marketers, CEOs. And those folks hire ghost writers to write their books.
But we live in the 21st-century whether we like it or not and the new paradigm is that it’s not enough to be an author. You have also to be an “authorpreneur.”
Translation: it’s not enough to hope your book will sell and these days you can no longer play the “I’m an artist not a marketer” card (unless you have a trust fund or someone else paying the bills in which case it really doesn’t matter if your book sells a single copy and you shouldn’t be reading this blog). Instead, you have to get off your sorry [insert skin tone or optional self-deprecatory ethnic slur here] ass and sell your damned book your damned self.
The problem with being an authorpreneur is the more you study the market, the more you get the impression that the publishing industry isn’t really sure anymore how the fuck to sell books. In our post digital age when people like to read around instead of read and even those who were born when the telephone still had something called a cord are tending to surf the web for quick information and believe that what they read on Wikipedia is accurate, one can’t help wondering whether reading as we once knew it (reading, say, a bona fide book like the one I spent the last three years writing and the last ten years researching) is dead.
One of the books I wrote, that came out from a small publisher in Wisconsin, sold about 20,000 copies. I credit my mother-in-law with singlehandedly selling 10,000. Her sister, my husband’s aunt, bought more than a dozen copies to give away as gifts. Never underestimate the power of in-laws! My mother-in-law went to practically every gift store in Atlanta, spoke to the buyers, and moved a serious amount of merchandise. (Though bookstores have an agreement with publishers to return unsold books, gift stores and clothing stores and travel stores that carry books usually don’t have that agreement so every order placed is a book sold.)
I’ve been asking everyone I know what makes them buy a book. The answer has been surprisingly consistent: either because someone recommended it, they read about it on the internet, or they heard the author interviewed on NPR.
Word of mouth. That elusive concept that Klout is rather ridiculously trying to quantify. More power to you.
NPR. I am looking forward to that Morning Edition author interview and a nice long chat with Terry Gross. What author isn’t?
But instead of curling my hair and filing my nails while I wait for the paparazzi to descend, to help this horse get legs I’m sending myself on a book tour in cyberspace. A few months ago I started contacting bloggers I admire to ask if they’d be interested in hosting me on their blogs: either by doing a Q & A, publishing a short excerpt from the book, or writing a review. I am hoping to go as far away as South Africa (Tertia, are you reading this?) and I also plan to be in Hawaii, Australia, Canada, and across the United States.
I’ve also been to San Francisco: Debbie Abrams Kaplan at Frisco Kids reviewed the book on Sunday (“This is a book every woman should read. It’s an awakening. And it’s a weighty book (though easy to read). I’m someone of “advanced maternal age” whose womb is hopefully closed for business. My kids are way beyond the baby stage. But the book opens up insight into a medical system that is not always on our side, sad to say…”). Today Frisco Kids published a Q & A with me.
In the southern part of the state, Jessica Gottlieb, a professional blogger, L.A. mom, and one smart lady (if you haven’t read her post about pretty vaginas, it is not to be missed) and I duke it out about sex, cigarettes, and epidurals. Jessica asked me the. best. questions. ever.
On the other side of the country, Brette Sember in Buffalo, New York, whose blog is called Putting It All On The Table, wrote this review in which she concluded: “Some of her views might shock you, but others might hit home. This book is going to start a national conversation about our preconceived notions about pregnancy, birth, and baby care. You want to read it so that you can form your own opinions.”
My book also made it to a newspaper in Houston, Texas. In an article that came out in the Houston Chronicle called “Advice for new parents is big business,” reviewer Steve Weinberg writes: “Pregnancy and childbirth and infant care seem like they should be out of bounds when it comes to greed and corruption. There is no harm in physicians and hospitals and providers of baby products earning a profit. But unconscionable profits, particularly when the health of the unborn, infants and mothers might be harmed? In addition to its investigative aspect, “The Business of Baby” qualifies as a parent guide. In easy-to-read, nontechnical prose, Margulis shows how to avoid safety traps and greedy salesmongers.”
The reason I wrote The Business of Baby was to make pregnancy and the first year of life safer, gentler, and more enjoyable. It is the book I wish I had when I was 29 years old and pregnant for the first time. A lot of people, especially pregnant mamas on a budget, can’t afford to buy books. Those are arguably the folks who could most benefit from reading it. So next time you’re at the library, will you ask them to order a copy?
Readers and writers, I’m curious to hear from you. What motivates you to buy a book? Do you think the publishing industry dead?
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. A former Fulbright fellow, she has published articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and on the cover of Smithsonian magazine. She will be speaking and signing books on Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at Back Pages Books at 289 Moody Street in Waltham, Massachusetts and speaking on a panel with Christine Gross-Loh, Alison MacNeil, and Louise Kuo Habakus on Saturday, May 11 at 10 a.m. at the Cambridge Public Library. She will also be giving a multi-media presentation at AutismOne in Chicago on Saturday, May 25th at 5 p.m.