Michael Haskins

Monday, November 24, 2008

Networking for writers and book signings

I am a believer in writers networking. We are solitary people, sitting often for hours, if not days and weeks, alone with our thoughts, sometimes a blank screen, and an idea. We play God to a world we create and bleed to bring our creation to life. Could God be as lonely as a writer trying to pound out that one true sentence?

I have been a member of Mystery Writers of America (http://www.mysterywriters.org/) since the ‘80s. For the past 12 years, I have belonged to the Florida chapter of MWA and have met many interesting and talented people. I live in Key West and that’s pretty far from most of the chapter’s luncheons and other activities, but the statewide membership keeps in touch via a yahoo.com chat group, as well as its monthly newsletter. Then there’s the annual SleuthFest (www.mwaflorida.org/sleuthfest) gathering that is both a social and educational experience. Non-writers are welcomed to join MWA. Check it out.

Through this networking, I was able to obtain some blurbs for my book, ‘Chasin’ the Wind.” Through MWA, I met Edgar Award winning author Megan Abbott (http://www.meganabbott.com/), Bob Morris (www.bobmorris.net), and Nancy Cohen (www.authorsden.com/nancyjcohen). I knew Jerry Healy (www.jeremiahhealy.com) and Tom Corcoran (www.tomcorcoran.net) from my first days in Key West. All of these people wrote blurbs for my book and all are popular writers.

One of Nancy Cohen’s posting on the yahoo.com group was about an opportunity to participate in the Parkland, Florida, Library’s annual author’s showcase. Nancy gave us the email address for Wendy Peppercorn, program coordinator for the library. Wendy got right back to me and I was on the program, with seven other authors.

One of the other participants was Joe Moore, a mystery writer I met a few years ago at SleuthFest.
PHOTO: Deborah Shlian, Joe Moore & Me)
Joe and Lynn Sholes have a great series going and I was able to buy a signed copy of the new Cotton Stone thriller, “The 731 Legacy.” (http://www.cottonstone.com/). While waiting for the program began, Joe and I had a brief talk about writing and it seems we share a few traits. While we all hear about writers (Steven King and Dennis Lynds come to mind) who get up and write all day, Joe and I are happy to write for three-hours straight. I often feel guilty because I get up in the morning and have my two or three café con leches, read the papers, while watching MSNBC, before sitting in front of the computer. Then there are the damn emails to reply to and/or delete, and then there are blogs to read. It was good to know that Joe felt three-hours of writing was a full day. I wasn’t alone! Writers are an insecure group.

The conference room at the Parkland Library was standing room only, as the program began. Deborah & Joel Shlian, (http://www.shlian.com/) physicians and mystery writers, were there. Deborah I knew from past SleuthFests. Their book,”Rabbit in the Moon,” is a Best Books Award Finalist.

All of us writers got to speak briefly about our books and encouraged questions. I think we probably averaged 15-minutes at the podium. It was interesting to me, that after everyone spoke, and we could mingle, only a few people came up to my table. A couple of people were interested in Key West and I sold one book. What I observed were people more interested in the price of books than in subject matter. We were a mix of mystery, youth genre, and non-fiction. Maybe, with so many to choose from, price was a top consideration.

I saw that in Vero Beach, when I signed, and that was back at the first signs of a crisis in the stock market. People came in, looked at the book, saw the price, and asked me when it would be out in paperback. I can understand that. For the $25.95 cost of my book, you could buy two or three paperbacks, or almost two trade paperbacks. While this crisis goes on, and everything points to 18-months to two years (the positive attitude!), I think paperback sales will increase. That concerns me, because my sequel, “Free Range Institution,” is at the publishers and I fear they are not in too much of a hurry to get books out – but that’s my opinion based on my fears.

The following weekend I showed up at the Miami Book Fair where I was invited to sign at the Florida Chapter MWA/Murder on the Beach Bookstore booths. This offer came via the chapter’s yahoo.com chat group. Joanne Sinchuk, general manager ofMurder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore (http://www.murderonthebeach.com/) arranged everything and had writers signing every hour, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., on both Saturday and Sunday. Each hour, two writers signed. That gave a lot of us exposure to people we wouldn’t have reached through our normal channels.

I arrived at the book fair a little before 11 a.m. to give my support to my friend Sandy Balzo (http://www.sandrabalzo.com/). (I should point out that I get lost just about every time I drive north of Florida
PHOTO: Jerry Healy, Sandy Balzo & me
so I always give myself plenty to time to get places outside the Keys) I also ran into Jerry Healy, Tom Corcoran, Les Sandiford, and Neil Plakcy (http://www.mahubooks.com/). The Florida MWA chapter had a room set aside at the fair for a pizza lunch for members. Megan Abbott stopped by, too.

After the pizza, I hung around the booth where I would sign at 4 p.m. and noticed, again, that hardback books were not selling as well as paperbacks. Some writers there to sign with paperback copies of earlier books as well sold them. I sold three, which isn’t a lot, but many people stopped and talked to me about writing, my book, and Key West. They all got a promotional postcard with the book cover, blurbs, and website, and, maybe, when my book does come out in paperback they might be looking for it.

One book sold to a young woman in the next booth, who liked Key West and scanned the book while I was eating pizza and bought it. The other two were sold to people who stopped to talk to me about Key West. One man enjoyed visiting the Keys and was looking forward to a long weekend in Key West. He was from Las Vegas and came to Miami on business one or two weeks a month. While I was talking to him, I saw a woman going through my book in the classic tradition. She looked at the cover, turned it over, read the blurbs on back, opened it and read the inside jacket copy and then started reading chapter one.

When the Las Vegas resident paid and I signed his book, I noticed she was on chapter two and thought she was going to read the whole book while standing there. She closed the cover before finishing chapter two and brought it to me to sign. She said she liked my dialogue.

At 5 p.m., I was done and ready to drive back more than 150-miles to Key West. On the long ride home, I thought to myself how lucky I am. It was my dream to be a writer since my teenage years and here I was, years later, on my way home to Key West after signing “Chasin’ the Wind” at the famous Miami Book Fair.

What a world for those of us with persistence and the writing disease.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An unusual book signing - Colonial Bank, Ft. Lauderdale

I just finished three book signings in less than four weeks and I learned a lot about the buying public, readers, and how the current economic crisis is affecting book sales.

But first, let me tell you about meeting Patti Stegal, (see photo) the daughter of my friend Sue Harrison. Patti was in town from Illinois, where she’s a teacher. Sue bought her a copy of “Chasin’ the Wind” when it first came out, as a gift and after reading it, Patti wrote to tell me how she enjoyed the book and hoped we could meet on her next visit to Key West. Well, that was a couple of weeks ago and we met at the Hog’s Breath and talked about the book and its sequel.

It was fun meeting Patti and I want to thank her for her interest in my book and taking the time to discuss it with me.

Oct. 29th, I drove to Ft. Lauderdale, where my friend Joe LiVolsi is a VP in the private banking department of Colonial Bank. He called me about six or eight weeks before and said the bank was having a branch anniversary party with a Key West theme, and asked if I would attend and sign my book, if they bought copies.

It took me all of a nanosecond to say yes!
(Antonio “Tony” Coley, left, president & CEO of commercial banking for Colonial Bank’s South Florida region; Eris H. Sandler, president & CEO of retail banking for Colonial Bank’s South Florida region; Michael; Pam Stolarz, vice president/branch sales manager for Colonial Bank’s Bayview office; and Joe “you know him, you love him” LiVolsi, private banking manager for Colonial Bank’s South Florida region).

I showed up a little after 5 p.m. and the Colonial Bank branch was closed and preparing for the celebration. They had a room set aside for me and when I looked in, I saw three stacks of my books on a table. Wow! I’d never seen that many copies of it in one place before.

By 6 p.m., bank customers began to join the festivities. There was food and drinks and Amy Rice, the VP for marketing, met me and introduced me to bank officials and customers. I thought this would be an hour where, like in the bookstores, I would sit and sign books. Wrong.

For more than two hours, I met and talked with people about writing, Key West, my book, and living in Florida. This was an opportunity worth killing for (at least in fiction) because more than 70 people receive copies of my books, courtesy of the bank, and that’s 70 people I probably wouldn’t have reached otherwise. And, if I am lucky, that’s 70 people who will buy my sequel, when it comes out. (And maybe Amy and Joe will invite me back to sign the sequel!)

The average sale at book signings, I am told and personal experience has proven correct, is 10 copies. Of course, in my two signings in Key West – 80 copies at KW Island Books & 50 copies at the Hog’s Breath Saloon – I exceed that, but in all my other singings I’ve sold less or a copy or two more than 10.

So, getting more than 70 copies of “Chasin’ the Wind” to people was exciting and there were some in Key West who wondered if traveling more than 150 miles to sign at a bank was a good idea. No, it wasn’t a good idea, it was a GREAT idea! Who would’ve thunk it, a bank as a venue for a writer.

If I learned anything from this signing, it is to accept all opportunities to sign your book, no matter where it is. For a writer with his first book out, talking at libraries, civic groups, and banks can only benefit you. I have postcards with the book’s cover on it, and on the backside there’s my photo, and blurbs about the book. I always pass these out wherever I am signing or talking. In Key West there are a lot of fundraisers for worthy groups and one of the things sponsors do is ask for donations to its silent auction. I always donate a book. Getting a copy of the book in people’s hands is the name of the game. Writers go to signings to sell books, but never make the costs back, so what they are really doing is working on name recognition and setting the sale for the next book.

Another aspect of the Colonial Bank signing that benefited me is also worth mentioning. Prior to this signing, I agreed to be part of the author showcase at the Parkland Library (Parkland, Florida) and to sign at the Murder on the Beach (http://www.murderonthebeach.com/) & Mystery Writers of America combined booth at the Miami Book Fair. Joanne Sinchuk, who runs the bookstore, let me know that she only had three copies of my book, since the publisher told her it was out of stock.

That was news to me. I contacted Five Star and was told “Chasin’ the Wind” had sold out of its first printing and they would know within a week or two if there would be a second printing. So, there I was with two signings and no books!

Well, Amy and Joe had told me they ordered 100 copies for the bank signing. I got in touch with them right away and offered to buy back any books that would be left over.

For a while, during the signing, I looked at the line and thought maybe there wouldn’t be any books left. It turned out that what could’ve been bad news, not selling all the books, turned into good news, because there were about 23 copies of “Chasin’ the Wind” left at the end of the event and now I had copies for the two other signings.

I will post about the Parkland Library and Miami Book Fair signings, and how the economy affected both, next time.

FYI, the sequel to “Chasin’ the Wind,” “Free Range Institution” is at the publisher. I should know in six weeks if they will publish it.

What unusual locations have you signed at? Or, I will take suggestions on other locations that might work for a book signing. Please, let me hear from you.

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