Several weeks ago, I joined other authors under the Chicago Writers Association tent at the Printers Row Lit Fest. It was wonderful seeing old friends and meeting new writers. Unfortunately, I didn’t sell many books.
So, how might I do things differently next year? New signage that includes the novels’ great reviews and awards? A catchy blurb, to tell the passersby what the books are about? Or maybe I should do what Author and Poet Elizabeth Wheeler did.
Elizabeth asked passersby if they’d like her to write a poem about them. More often than not, they’d say, “Yes.” She would then interview them and people were honest and open with her. There was a lot of laughter and poignant moments.
After interviewing them, Elizabeth would ask the interviewees to come back in a few minutes. Then she’d write the poem, stick it under a vase labeled “Tips,” and give it to them when they returned. I asked her if she sold a lot of books that way. She told me no, but she didn’t care because the connections she made with people stuck with her, and them, for years.
This resonated with me and I realized that what I enjoyed most about Printers Row was reconnecting with other writers. I wondered how I could connect with potential readers in the same way. Could I play librarian and ask passersby what genre they prefer then steer them to an author who writes in that genre (and for those who like political memoirs, send them to my friend Mary Lang Sollinger pictured)?
They’d probably thank me for this kindness, but I doubt this would lead to a meaningful connection.
Later that afternoon, Abigail Morrison and I went to see Dave Eggers, author of The Circle. He told the large audience he’d lived in Chicago until his early twenties and had attended the Art Institute. On the table in front of him was black paint, a paintbrush, water, and a slab of paper. While he talked, he painted.
At the end of his session, he asked eight random questions such as “What’s a group of flamingos called?” He then signed his painting and gave it to the woman with the most correct answers (by the way, a group of flamingos is a flamboyance). His amazing painting of a buffalo was a wonderful keepsake for her and I know I and probably everyone else in the room will remember that moment for a long time.
So, I’ve been brainstorming ideas on how to connect with potential readers. I don’t write poetry, and writing a short story about someone who I don’t know sounds a little creepy. Besides, I can’t write that quickly. I do have artistic ability — every ten years or so I create an oil painting — but I wouldn’t be able to paint while I talk like Dave Eggers did and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it in a matter of minutes.
My niece suggested I take people’s photos and insert them into scenes from my books. It’s a super cool idea. In my Leo Townsend series, Leo travels to Northern Illinois, Chicago, Madison, and Endeavor, WI and I have pictures of many of those spots (including this one of the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union Terrace and Lake Mendota).
But I’m not sure how I’d get the doctored photos to the people. Maybe there’s an app for this? But then would they have to download the app? And would people agree to have their pictures taken in the first place? Hmm.
I’ve also considered asking people if they want to take the Dark Triad Personality Test (it’s something Paul has to take in The Devil Particle). But if their results aren’t great, I don’t want to piss people off, particularly if the test indicates they have psychopathic tendencies. Yikes!
Lately, I’ve been thinking that I could give people my short stories for free or create them into little books and sell them for a buck a pop. Still, that means I’m just selling something, not making a connection. Sigh.
I’d love your help with this. If you were at a book festival (and I encourage you to go to Printers Row next September — it’s heaven for book lovers), what would draw your attention to a bookseller? What would endear you to an author? Any ideas you have, be sure to pass them along. Thanks!
Looking for some good books this fall?
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Wednesday, October 4, 6:00 p.m. – I’ll be celebrating Christa Bruhn’s debut memoir, Crossing Borders: The Search for Dignity in Palestine at Mystery to Me Bookstore.
Friday and Saturday, October 6th and 7th – I’m volunteering at the Wisconsin Writers Association Conference in Waukesha (my new hometown!) and Brookfield, WI. There’ll be lots of terrific keynote speakers, agents, and networking — can’t wait!
November 5th-10th – 20Books Vegas Conference – This is my first conference that focuses on the business end of being an author and I’m really looking forward to it!
Thursday, December 7, 8 p.m. – Books & Beer – We’ll have fun discussing The Devil Particle while enjoying some good craft beers. Join us!
RELEASE OF THE VESSEL!