Authors seek new ways to sell their workby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Many authors are finding nowadays that even after they have written their book, had it edited and published, their work is not done. Today's authors are often left with the task of publicizing their work too.
Minneapolis, Minn. — David Unowsky has been in the book business for a long, long time. He founded the Hungry Mind bookstore which was a center of literary activity in St. Paul for decades. Then, like many independent bookstores, it folded.
Now he works for Magers and Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis. It's early, and the store isn't open yet as he sits amongst the thousands of books lining the shelves stretching in every direction.
Unowsky says money has been tight for years at the big publishing houses, and now they are really suffering.
"And one of the things that is going to go by the way even more, is the money to spend promoting books," he says.
In the good old days, if you had made it to the point of becoming a published author, you had a reasonable expectation of being sent on a book tour. You'd visit a bunch of cities to read at bookstores and colleges.
Nowadays, unless you are a big name, that's highly unlikely.
"So right now I'm just joining the wireless network at Dunn Brothers," says Amy Lundebrek.
Welcome to the modern book tour. In the coffee shop at the Roseville Library children's author Amy Lundebrek is off to meet her public.
"There is what you see when you log onto my Web site. That goes to Amazon, and then the blog tour is posted under news and events," she says, pointing to the various things on her laptop.
Lundebrek is doing a virtual tour in support of her new picture book "Under the Night Sky."
"The idea is to expose a lot of people to the book digitally so they can attend the tour whenever they want and I can post to the tour whenever I want."
"Under the Night Sky" is about a child seeing the Northern lights, and his community, for the first time. For two weeks, Lundebrek has been visiting children's book blogs which are featuring her book. She has done on-line interviews with bloggers, and the bloggers also post reviews. By the end of the tour, there is a solid amount of writing about the book - and she hasn't had to leave town, which is important for Lundebrek.
"The big one is the financial advantage," she says. "I am still able to attend my regular nine-to-five job, and I don't have to spend money travelling and staying in hotels."
It's expensive sending authors on tour, and sometimes they can be a real bust. Just ask Twin Cities author Sarah Stonich. Recently she was at the release of a new Milkweed Editions collection called "Fiction on a Stick" at the downtown Minneapolis Barnes and Noble store.
She recalls a cross country driving tour for her novel "The Ice Chorus," after a prolonged spell of bad weather.
"And it seemed that no matter what city I was in it was the most beautiful night of the spring," she says.
So the crowds were very small.
"It was brutal," she says. "I don't think I'll do it again."
At the Barnes and Noble, shoppers pause and listen as another author reads from the Milkweed Collection.
As she reads, sixteen other authors featured in the book, including Stonich, are passing books in a circle as part of a mass signing. A staff member hovers and arranges for personal messages for customers who ask for them. Stonich says the writers are also comparing notes on how to attract attention to their work. She's trying to work out what she's going to do with her next novel.
"I think I will go the online route, try to do and many blogs and on-line venues as possible, and try to do radio," she says.
Oh, radio. Of course.
If you can get on the radio you might have tens or even hundreds of thousands of people hearing about your book. A lot of authors know this, as is evidenced by the dozens of books which flood through the MPR door every day. Only a few end up on the air.
So some authors take another approach.
Search on YouTube and you can find book trailers. They're like movie trailers, except they are for books.
Some authors take things even further. Recently the radio host and author Glen Beck had a reading of his bestselling novel "The Christmas Sweater" beamed into 420 movie theaters nationwide.
However, similar things can be done for a lot less. Dave Eggars was due to make an appearance at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis recently via Skype, the free internet phone and video call service. Ironically, the reading was cancelled because of a snowstorm in Minneapolis.
The Loft runs a class for authors on the publicity trail, it also gives grants to help authors along the way. Jerod Santek is the Loft's Program Director. He says some of the advice is pretty simple, like visiting as many bookstores as possible.
"Introduce themselves to the booksellers in that store, talk about that book," Santek says. "Then the bookseller will get excited about [the] work and the author and will turn the book out on the shelf, that's really important so instead of just spine out its face out."
He says many authors are now hiring their own publicists, and trying to find innovative ways of using the web to attract attention. He also says the class encourages authors to find their niche and then work it. There was the poet who found success touring sci-fi conventions, and the children's author who arranged readings in one room schoolhouses.
Back at Magers and Quinn, David Unowsky is remarkably upbeat about the book world. He says he thinks the book business will work through this difficult spell. Other places may be cutting back, but he's not.
"Here at Magers and Quinn we are doing mroe events," he says. "That's the way we have got our name out and built the stores reputation."
While the big book chains are struggling, he believes independents are on the rebound.
"Those kids who 10 years ago had purple hair and pins in their face are going to be better entrepreneurs than I ever was and a lot of the indies 30 years ago. And it's going to start over again," Unowsky says.
And then David Unowsky turns and pours a cup of coffee from his thermos and prepares for another day in the book trade.
- Morning Edition, 12/31/2008, 6:20 a.m.