April is National Poetry Month. In today's author success story, I'm interviewing author and poet Debra Winegarten about her success in promoting her book "There's Jews in Texas?" through local events.
Welcome Debra. You posted a photo of your signing at Austin's Bookwoman bookstore on your Facebook page, and I couldn't help but notice the giant $160 check in the photo, made out to Bookwoman. What's the story there?
On my birthday, I decided to run a Facebook promotion and asked my friends to buy a total of 54 books, one for each year I've been on the earth, and for each book or ebook sold, I would donate $1 to Bookwoman. The promotion turned out to be so successful (I think I sold 12 books the first day I posted it), that I decided to continue running the special up to my book launch -- and ended up selling 80 books. I then decided for even more fun, and to support my local independent bookstore (one of the last 12 feminist book stores left in the U.S.) I would match the donations, 1:1. Hence, the check for $160. Fun!
That's a great story! Tell us more about the signing at Bookwomen.
For invitation purposes, I did a combination Facebook event page invitation, and good old-fashioned postcards. I ordered oversized postcards from Vistaprint with my book cover on one side, and information about the event on the other. I also put my website on the postcard and told folks if they couldn’t attend the event but wanted the book, they could order from my website. I received three orders that I know of from the postcard.
The event was magical. About 40 people came, filling up every available chair. There were people from my synagogue, Austin Writergrrls, women I didn’t know who read about the signing in the Chronicle and brought friends, members of my critique group, people from the UT Astronomy Department where I work, and many members of the Austin poetry community. I even had a friend in Israel Skype in – we gave her a front-row seat and talk about a trooper – it was midnight in Haifa when we started and 1:30 am by the time we ended, and she stayed up for the whole event.
I read new poetry as well as a few poems from the book, talked about my other three books, my writing career, and encouraged folks to buy “There’s Jews in Texas?” We laughed a lot and cried a little, I took questions from the audience, and then we went to book buying and signing, as well as gobbling up goodies from the veggie and cheese trays from Central Market. I think we sold 34 books, with some folks buying multiple copies, always a good thing.
That's an excellent result from a bookstore signing. What other local events have you done and how did those come about?
All the marketing mavens say to start the marketing plan six months before your book it out. I didn’t have that luxury, this book came out because I won a contest. I was told originally the book would be out in the spring, two weeks later the publisher said, “No, it’s going to be out in December.”
A friend of mine said, “Oh, it’ll be here in time for Christmas!” I told him he had to buy the book and read it; Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. He blushingly said his wife was half-Jewish, so I “made” him buy the book.
I delayed my launch until the end of January, and started reaching out and scheduling signings. One of the women in my critique group runs a monthly writers group called “The Re-Story Circle,” and she asked me to be the guest speaker in February. Another friend-of-a-friend saw my Facebook posting somewhere and invited me to be the guest speaker at a dinner even at Chez Zee which is a fund raiser for Texas Hearing and Service Dogs. When I do these types of events without charging a speaker’s fee, I always make sure I can do two things to make it worth my while:
1) I make sure I can sign and sell my books at the end of the evening; and
2) I ask the audience members to think of which groups they belong to where they need a speaker (groups always needs speakers), and I have a sign-up sheet. I ask them to put down their name, phone and email contact information, and the type of group, and then I take responsibility for following up with them to schedule another event. That way, I create a list of potential speaking engagements and since the folks have just heard me talk and know what a terrific speaker I am, it’s a pretty easy sell.
Another fun event was Fiction Friday, which takes place at a coffee shop on the square in Georgetown, twice a month, and has quite a supportive group of folks. My partner read there one Friday, and there's an open mic, so I read, too, along with other folks. The organizer was so gracious (and also a Jewish woman from Louisiana), that she invited me back to be a featured reader. And the audience bought 5 copies of my new book, which coincidentally, were all the copies I brought with me that night. More fun!
I’m in the process of scheduling events in all the major Texas cities – Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. One of the secrets to getting entrée is knowing who your target audiences are. For me, since the book is called, “There’s Jews in Texas?” I have a built-in audience in the Jewish community.
Each November, most major cities host a Jewish Book Fair and I have already been in contact with the woman spearheading that festival in Houston and started the conversation of having me be a speaker there.
I am also working on an article for the Texas Jewish Historical Society’s newsletter, and my plan is to have events scheduled in the major cities with dates and locations prior to submitting the article, so that I can publicize the events when the article runs. Also, these communities have Jewish newspapers which reach probably 70% of the Jewish populations in their cities, so as I get these events scheduled, I’ll be contacting those newspapers for articles, as well.
I also have a list of my friends, whom I have started contacting, asking them to set up speaking engagements with their various community groups. I’m lucky in that public speaking is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and there’s almost nothing I love better than getting in front of a large group of people and sharing my work with them. For me, the book is like a speaker’s delivery device – a means to an end, the end being sharing my stories and work and ideas with folks.
About the Author
By day, Debra Winegarten, a third-generation Texas Jew, is the First Undersecretary of the American Astronomical Society at The University of Texas, at Austin. By night, she writes. You can find out a bit more about her and order her books at www.sociosights.com.