Book marketing has changed dramatically since I began writing in 1995. The internet, print on demand, and ebooks were not a factor, so there was a lot less competition for the brave, or foolish, authors throwing themselves out onto the publishing highway in hopes somehow, against all odds, breaking out as a NY Times best selling author.
It was actually a lot more fun back then because the publishing industry seemed to admire our courage in stepping out amongst the eighteen wheelers rolling down the highway at 80 mph. I remember being at a Bouchercon in Philadelphia on a panel sandwiched in between Paul Levine and Bonnie MacDougal, and feeling pretty proud after getting a glowing introduction from the panel moderator for my latest legal thriller, Brash Endeavor. The next day I was even approached by a couple of real agents interested in possibly representing me and wondering what I was working on.
Even when my publisher went bust and filed for chapter 7, I didn’t get discouraged as I was always welcome at any Barnes & Noble across the country as I had made the “good-guy list.” So, I set out to become a best-selling author the hard way—selling one book at a time at Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, or Hastings all across the country. In five years I went to over 200 stores in 48 states, but it was an exciting adventure and my wife and I enjoyed every minute of it.
During this time we, of course, hit all the trade shows and conventions and got up too many times for those 6 a.m. TV interviews. I’m a night person, so those were murder but I obviously couldn’t turn down any free publicity. A few nice reviews for Second Chair from Publisher’s weekly and Library Journal finished off five fun years.
Then my son, who was trying to become a professional golfer, went to Trinidad-Tobago for a tournament and I tagged along for the adventure and to give my son moral support. Little did I know that the trip would be so exciting that I had to turn it into a novel, Trouble in Trinidad. I was thrilled because a major TV station in Houston had promised to have me on their morning show to kick-off the release of the book on September 15, 2001.
Not only was the release of Trouble-In-Trinidad, which ironically is about a terrorist plot, completing derailed by the tragedy but publishing as we knew it changed forever. This was particularly true for the small press authors like myself who were dependent on the goodwill of the bookstores to survive. Now, suddenly booksellers and distributors were struggling for survival and any goodwill and tolerance for the small press author evaporated.
What this meant in practical terms were bookstores who usually would buy 50 or 100 books for and event and keep them until they sold, suddenly reduced there orders to only what they thought would sell at the event (10-20). Worse, every bookstore in the country facing dwindling profits started returning any book on their shelves that wasn’t a sure bet to sell in 30 days. This devastated many small presses and distributors and a lot of them didn’t survive the year.
For me it was the demise of my distributor that hurt the most. Not only did my publisher forced to write-off a lot of money that was owed, its sales arm had suddenly been cut off. At the time I was hopeful that somehow things would turn around. Little did I know this was just the first blow to strike with the worst yet to come.
To be continued...
William Manchee is the author of the Stan Turner Mysteries and Tarizon Trilogy which is available in print, ebook, and audio format.
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