Sunday, August 10, 2014

Put Yourself Out There

After my library visit on Wednesday, I've been thinking a lot about where I've been, where I'm at, and (hopefully) where I'm going.  And I feel very encouraged about the future.

When my first book came out in 2009, I had grand illusions that I would instantly become a bestseller and be able to quit my job and become a full-time writer.  Five years and several novels and nonfiction books later, I'm still not there.  I don't know if I'll ever be there, but the only thing I can do is continue to try.

One of the important lessons I learned in this process is that there are millions of other authors out there who share my same dream.  MILLIONS.  It became readily apparent that just because I had a book, that didn't mean people were going to be able to find it.  Who is randomly going to Google "Pembroke Sinclair"?  They could possibly find my books based on genre, but they're going to find a whole lot of other books in that genre as well.

I'll admit it, I'm still trying to figure this promotion game out.  I'm on social media and do blog tours and try to get reviews, but those don't always work out like I want them to.  I've read numerous times in many different places that Facebook is not the place to sell/advertise your book.  People don't look at those posts.  Well, I'm sure a few do, but they don't always lead to sales.  In Twitter, you can attempt to sell it there, but those quickly get lost in the multitude of conversations.

The biggest part about promotion is that I'm not supposed to be selling my books, I'm supposed to be selling me.  It took me a really long time to figure this one out.  When I first started writing, I wanted to do it under a pen name--partly because my real name was rather common and would be hard to find, but also because I wanted to be a little anonymous.  I felt like I needed to protect my family.  I didn't want any weirdos coming after them.  That thought, of course, was tacked on to the dream that millions of people would be reading my book.

When that didn't happen, I realized that I was probably approaching this whole thing wrong.  Then, my local newspaper outed me, so my secret was no longer a secret.  The real person behind Pembroke Sinclair was revealed.  That was actually quite freeing.  It allowed me to go out and promote my work to people, not hide.  It gave me a chance to do readings and book signings.

My first "gig" was at a local flea market.  The owner set it up so that I could do a signing and then talk to the group while they were waiting for Hometown Hurrah numbers to be called (this is a local tradition where people get tickets after making a purchase at a participating store and they can win Jingle Bucks to spend locally for their Christmas shopping).

A friend kept commenting, "Oh, you know you've made it big when you get to do a singing at a flea market."  He was, of course, being condescending.  But I wasn't going to let him get me down.  It was my first public appearance, and I was going to make the best of it.  In the end, I sold three books.  I was happy.

My first library appearance was in my current hometown for the book Life After the Undead, and it was for the teen group.  The turnout for this one was fantastic.  Fifteen kids showed up to listen to me read the first chapter and talk about the book.  The library even purchased copies for all of them.  It was amazing.


After that, I went home to the town I grew up in to do a reading.  This turnout was a little less spectacular.  There were six people there, and half of them were my family.  I read the first chapter again and sold one book, so it wasn't a complete loss.

After that, I had another library visit in my current town that wasn't as successful as the first, and a reading at a local bookstore, which was kind of successful, but not overly.  Most of the people who showed up to that were people who had already purchased the book.  I've done one visit to a grade school library.

Now, don't get me wrong, I had an AWESOME time at each and every one of these events.  I appreciate the support from everyone that showed up.  The events may not have turned out like I envisioned they would in my mind, but they still gave me valuable experience and helped me figure out what needed to be done to make them successful.

In addition to putting myself out there, I also learned that I had to offer my audience something.  A reading is all well and good, but the audience wants more.  They don't just want my book, they want me.  They want to know what I'm like as a person and if I'm worth investing in.  They want to know that I'm passionate about my topics, and if I am, I need to get them excited too.

It took years for me to realize this.  Years and a lot of frustration.  Seriously, it wasn't until recently, when I finished Undead Obsessed and attended AWP in Seattle, that I became inspired to try something new.  That's when I developed my Surviving Zombies workshop.  But I didn't do it alone.  Thankfully (and luckily) my mom is a kick-ass teacher, so she helped me develop the idea into something valuable.

I am truly obsessed with zombies, and, luckily, so are millions of other people in the world.  The Walking Dead is popular because millions of people watch it.  There are books and movies being created.  But I couldn't simply walk into a room and say "Hey, you like zombies?  You'll LOVE my book!"  Well, I could, but more than likely, it wouldn't get the reaction I was hoping for.  So I took a different approach.  I created a workshop that allows people to think about what's needed to survive zombies and initiated a discussion about what would work and what wouldn't.  They got to be involved.  I mentioned that I wrote zombie books, but I didn't push them.

Will this help me sell books?  I don't know.  I hope so.  If nothing else, it gets my name out there.  And if people enjoyed the workshop, they'll be talking about me.  They have a person to relate to.

A funny side note on this, while in Thermopolis doing my workshop, my spouse was sitting at a table with some moms.  One of them mentioned that she knew me from my articles from Serial Killer Magazine.  I haven't written for them in years, but the connection was there. Tell you the truth, I was actually kind of shocked about that.  But it was also flattering to know I was recognized.

The point, though, is that you never know what people are going to remember you for.  I may be remembered for my books, but it's more than likely someone is going to say, "Remember that fun workshop we did with zombies that one time?  That was awesome."  That's my hope anyway.

I'm still trying to figure out how to make it in this world and how to get people to notice my books.  The first step, however, is to get them to notice me.  In addition to giving workshops, I've also been fortunate to be on the Wyoming Humanities Council as a forum presenter.  As of last week, I now have two presentations that I can be contacted to give.  I've also been chosen to present at Ignite Laramie in September.  Again, they are related to books I've written, but I'm not pushing the book.  I talk about topics from them and hope the audience finds something interesting in them. Or at the very least, finds me interesting.

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was thinking that I didn't have anything interesting to say.  But I discovered that if I am passionate about something and I let that passion shine through, I can get others excited about it too.  You have nothing to lose by putting yourself out there and everything to gain.  The road is long and it takes a lot of work, but I'm sure in the end it's going to be worth it.  I'm still navigating these roads, but I have seen progress.

My point in this long blog post is that you can't be afraid to put yourself out there.  You can't be afraid to be your biggest and loudest promoter.  The world doesn't care if you succeed or fail, but I know you do.  I know you want to reach the fullest potential you can.  You have to work for that.  You have to put in the time and effort.

The road isn't easy.  It can be full of failure.  People might not show up to your events.  But you can't let that stop you.  You can't let that scare you away.  I started in a flea market, but I started.  Putting yourself out there means you are opening yourself up to criticism and trolls, and they will knock you down.  They don't want you to succeed.  But you know what?  They don't get to decide your future.  Only YOU get to make that decision.  You control your destiny and success, so go get it.

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