…when yeez have been bouncing around on the self-publishing carousel for a few years, yeez learn who the ‘real’ people are… the ones who ‘get’ it… we are all only as strong as our pals and supporters across the SOSYAL NETWURKS… now and again, yeez’ll discover a few who do NUTHIN for emb’dy else, and become the ultimate parasitical ‘takers’… they don’t usually stick around very long… and then yeez have the absolute stalwarts, who rejoice in giving the proverbial ’leg-up’ to their fellow scribblers… none does this more consistently than my Guest Blogger on this piece… the marvellous Susan M.Toy… I just LUV her story below… the lady is immersed in this business… she’s been there and done it… and got the T-shirt!… have a read:
From Local to Global: eBooks – promoting Authors to International Status
SUSAN M. TOY
When I moved from Ontario to Alberta in 1978 (3500 km), I was fresh out of university with a degree in English Literature and thought I knew a lot about books, and Canadian authors in particular. Within days of arriving in Calgary I managed to find my dream job in a bookstore and was soon doing all the ordering for the store, working with sales reps, and fulfilling customers’ special orders.
This was one of just a few independent bookstores at that time. Calgary was unfortunately nicknamed Chain City by those in the trade, because we had an inordinate number of malls and outlets owned by the two major Canadian chains, Coles and W.H. Smith. It was up to the independent stores to provide a space that didn’t only carry the (mainly US-authored) bestsellers, but also championed the prolific Canadian authors who were springing up like mushrooms, thanks in part to a nationalistic pride in everything Canadian – a result of EXPO ’67, held in Montreal during Canada’s centenary, and the added push by Jack McClelland, publisher at McClelland & Stewart, to publish only Canadian-authored books. A large number of small and medium-sized literary presses were also born during these years, giving Canadian authors new markets for their books. This was also the beginning of regional publishing in Canada and while there wasn’t much of a market for these books outside each region, specifically in the biggest market of Toronto, local bookstores and customers were supporting these books fully, because they were their own authors writing stories about where they lived – stories that had not really been told until the 70s, when interest in local writing really began to blossom.
Coming from “The East,” I had to learn about a whole new group of “Western” authors and books our bookstore needed to stock on the shelves at all times. We hosted a great many of those big-name Toronto-based authors (and I had the great fortune during those two years to meet Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Pierre Berton and oh so many more) as well as the growing list of local celebrities. W.O. Mitchell was one nationally known author who was living in Calgary then. Aritha van Herk had won the first, and very prestigious, Seal Books First Canadian Novel Award, which boasted the largest cash prize ever offered in Canada. Aritha was not only born and educated in Alberta, but was living in Calgary when she won, so she was a huge celebrity across the country, and was also a local favourite. (I am honoured to still be friends with Aritha.)
As a new bookseller, this experience showed me how important the local authors really were to our store – and to our customers. Since the chain stores really weren’t doing much in the way of stocking and selling books by local authors, it was up to us to represent and sell those books.
When I became a publishers’ sales rep in 1989, covering the territory of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and selling to bookstores and libraries – and, yes, even to those chain stores, what I discovered was that my customers wanted to hear about locally authored books first, because – after the big national and international bestsellers – that’s what stores could sell best, and what library patrons wanted to borrow. I received my first thousand-copy order for a Prairie-based children’s picture book – an unheard of amount for any bookstore to order, let alone a small independent bookstore in rural Saskatchewan. Both the author and the illustrator lived in the bookseller’s neighbourhood. When I presented this book to the bookseller, we both believed in it so strongly (it truly was a beautiful book!) that she immediately knew she’d sell a large quantity of books with no trouble at all. She did just that then ordered even more books each time she sold out. When the publisher reprinted, because the book had taken off like … well, like a prairie wildfire!, this one bookseller was sitting pretty with plenty of stock to carry her through those otherwise lean weeks. I REALLY sold many, many more thousands of copies to other booksellers after that. (This became the bestselling book of my career!) And the book did take off – both nationally and in the US, too. So it was my first experience with a local book that also had international potential.
Fast forward now to 2008 when I returned to Alberta to sell books for publishers. The difference between previous times and 2008 was there were now fewer independent booksellers and fewer markets for all books, not to mention locally authored books. Amazon was building in strength and brand-new eBooks were just beginning to be offered by a few publishers. I had also been writing during the years I was away from Canadian publishing, and tried, unsuccessfully, to find an interested publisher, but my Caribbean-set novel with a Canadian narrator was “too Caribbean” for one Canadian publisher, and “not Caribbean enough” for a UK publisher. Another Canadian publisher turned me down, saying, “We wouldn’t know how to market this.” I wanted to tell them, “I’m a local author with many, many connections in the industry, as well as having been a sales rep. Let me do the marketing for you!” But I saw the writing on the wall and knew that, if I wanted to publish, I was going to have to do it myself. (This was also when self-publishing was beginning to take off, but still had that “stigma” about it.)
I had been developing ideas I wanted to test about ePublishing first, marketing the eBook heavily online, taking pre-orders for a print copy, and only printing when I knew there was enough demand. What ePublishing first proved to me immediately was that my market was no longer restricted to one particular geographic area, the one where I happened to be living. Readers from around the world were suddenly buying and downloading my eBook from Amazon, Kobo and iTunes, and I was receiving emails from many people I didn’t know telling me they had discovered my novel and enjoyed reading it. Hooray!
Meanwhile, print sales pretty much stalled at those copies that were pre-ordered. A few independent bookstores, friends from when I was a rep, stocked some copies, but really did little-to-nothing to help me sell those books. Nor would they get behind an idea I had to sell eBooks through their stores. They just did not see this as a new opportunity I was providing in expanding their market to customers who were using these new eReaders. The one bookstore that did sell a much larger quantity of print copies was, not surprisingly, the Bequia Book Shop. But I have had to get that stock down to the Caribbean at my own expense, and keep the store supplied with books over these past couple of years. Plus I’ve paid for all local advertising myself to drive customers into the store.
Even though print copies are locally available on Bequia, I realize that the majority of my readers still download eBooks. (Sailors especially have really taken to using the new devices for reading, because print books take up too much space on their boats. Logical.) Now I was not only a local author on Bequia, but also had been “discovered” back home in Canada, and by readers in the US, UK, Europe, Australia, South Africa, and the many other places tourists arrived from when visiting Bequia.
I have long been promoting other authors and began this in earnest when I was still living in Alberta, setting up a business called Alberta Books Canada to promote local authors, many of whom were my friends. Since last year, I’ve been posting to a blog called Reading Recommendations and so far have promoted 168 authors, literally from around the world! (Seumas Gallacher, who has so graciously hosted me on his blog today, has been featured on this site.) This “community” of authors has been, for the most part, very supportive of me and the site, as well as of their colleagues who I have also promoted. Without realizing it was happening at the time, I know now that Reading Recommendations has expanded the market for all authors involved – including me. So instead of hoping that we will each find our own local market in which we can sell our books, horizons for everyone have grown to include the entire world, as readers discover our writing, read and enjoy our books, and recommend them to their own friends.
This has only happened because of ePublishing and online stores that have made our eBooks available everywhere. And also because we now market internationally, rather than merely being satisfied that our books are only available locally. We’re finally able to compete with those big-name international best-selling authors for readers’ attention, because our work is readily available at the click of a mouse.
I wish I could remember which Canadian publisher it was who told me they wouldn’t know how to market my book. I just bet they’re still using the same old methods as always to market and publicize books they’re publishing now. In the meantime, here I am, sharing my time between the Caribbean and Canada, writing the second (soon-to-be-published) novel in my series, knowing full-well that I already have an international market of readers in place, waiting to read.
eBooks have allowed me the opportunity to become an author with an international following – something that never would have happened in a million years of print publishing!
Susan M. Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and a promoter of fellow authors and their books through the site, Reading Recommendations. She is also an author (Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer) and publisher, under her imprints, IslandCatEditions and IslandShorts. For more information, please check out her blog, Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing
…just some of the links to Susan’s activities:
Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing http://islandeditions.wordpress.com/
Available in print and eBook editions
… thanks a bundle, m’Lady, Susan… so glad to have you board today… go follow m’Lady, Susan, Lads and Lassies of Blog Land… yeez’ll find it well worth while…
see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!…
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