‘WOTS in a name?’, you might ask. Or you might even be thinking, ‘Who’s on first?, WOTS is the name of the guy on second base’.
Word on the Street(WOTS) is one of the biggest [outdoor] book fairs in the world, certainly the biggest in Canada. And you’ve got to admit, it’s a clever name, both of them.
I may have spent the last six months trying to mend a broken heart but at the same time I was struggling to extend my new identity as an author. I had written three books (and two manuals) and I had sold a few hundred copies of them, mostly to family and friends admittedly but I had my books out there nevertheless. Somehow it wasn’t enough to accept charity and kind words from people close to me; they may have been lying to me anyway. If I was to be a real author, not a closet pretender, I needed to sell a lot more of my books.
Despite my reservations, and fear, I wanted to get wider exposure. I wanted affirmation. Endless ego needs may have been at the base of all this, but if I wanted exposure, I had to promote my books. As any author, successful and otherwise, will attest, the better mousetrap gets no attention by itself.
I did the easy stuff first, even if it wasn’t really that easy. I hired a webmeister and we designed and posted AFS Publishingas a vehicle for people to discover me and my books.
Building a website is one thing, getting people to visit it is another. So you have to ‘seo’ it, and you have to build a presence on other platforms and cross-reference to your own website. This easy stuff was turning out to be not so easy. I set up a twitter account, @dj_author; I decided not to mix my professional consulting identity on LinkedInwith my new author identity, but I’m not sure why. I intended to blog and get attention that way. I bogged down. I was hoping for a viral breakthrough. Nothing broke, not even bad.
But getting people to follow you on sm sites doesn’t sell any books. They still have to go to a retailer and buy! My books are printed and distributed by lulu.comthe largest independent bookstore in the world! (Really??, you’re saying to yourself, I thought that was amazon.com? –and of course that’s correct. Lulu means largest bookstore selling independent authors, thousands and thousands of books and authors you’ve never heard of, nor likely ever will.) lulu.com links its site to the many on-line resellers as well: amazon, barnes & noble, ingram, sony and apple (for e-books); ridiculously Indigo/Chapters in Canada will only distribute e-book versions (via kobo) of my books, not print. Maybe Heather Reisman and Bob Young don’t see eye to eye, even though both are Canadians.
I resorted to reaching out to family and friends via broadcast emails and they very generously anti-ed up and bought a book, and in some cases, all three. Some even encouraged their acquaintances to buy the books, or they bought them as gifts.
I set up AFS Publishing as a separate company: separate books, separate credit card. After two years I had a balance of $12,398 on that Mastercard account; 2018 expenses of $5819 (mostly inventory and interest charges on my credit card!) and annual [gross/net] revenues of $1041/$67.68. The Canada Revenue Agency took all this negative income in stride; at least I was getting a tax credit against my pension income. But this was a weak business strategy, and couldn’t last. I needed to generate serious revenue and cash flow, else admit this writing career was a hobby, not a business.
I did the only logical thing. I hired staff.
Well, not hired exactly.
I recruited my daughter Shannon as my ‘Literary Agent’. Shannon was a born modern-day marketeer for books. She was a google research wizard, a veteran on-line shopper, and a constant Facebook follower. She read at least a hundred books a year, she was on Goodreads. She loved books, and she loved her dad. She had the time. And like many a start-up, I promised her plenty of deferred income, commissions, stock options and the like. Naturally she accepted the offer.
I ordered business cards for her to make her legit (Literary Agent, it says so right on her card) and some for me (Publisher). Note pads with the company logo, a vinyl coated banner for the many book fairs we were likely to attend. Email addresses.
I shipped a small supply of my books to her as ‘samples’ to show her many friends and visitors.
She had many ideas: she got me to put up my author profile on Goodreads, and promote my books through Goodreads giveaways, and invites to review the books; she persuaded me to put up pages on my own Facebook account (AFS Publishing Canada, AFS Publishing (for US presence)); We set up a twitter account for Shannon. She signed me up for a number of independent authors associations. She researched and discovered there were book fairs, all over the world.
I thought we should start small. ‘Okay, here’s one right in your own back yard, Dad, The Ottawa Small Press Book Fair.
So she signed me up; my table cost me $12.50. Hey, I could cover that with one sale. Question was, how many sales was I likely to make? I started modestly: I hauled two canvas bags stuffed with my books (about 10 each of The Maxim Chronicles, and The Hallelujah Chorus, and a couple of The Dynamics of Management for good measure), and my banner. Wasn’t I clever, I didn’t think to bring cash or any means for making change, or registering sales. Turns out the show was mostly of poets and their cute little creative publications. I didn’t sell any books, though I noticed the poets got some traffic. Call it a learning experience. Preparation for the big time: WOTS.