Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Western Montana Mini Book Tour

There's so much to share in this post! I got home last night from quite the five-day road trip.
EurekaI drove to Eureka, Montana for the Lincoln County Fair on Thursday, sold 12 pre-orders on Friday, 22 on Saturday, and left early Sunday because it was pouring rain and I had nothing to cover my booth.

—I was camped out at the Rexford Bench Campground. The first night the wind blew so hard I was afeared a tree would fall on me. I would have escaped to my pickup, but I'm pretty sure the tent would have rolled away.—The Rexford Bench Campground is, in theory, located on Lake Koocanusa [Random Factoid: The name Koocanusa comes from Kootenai (the tribe) plus Canada (the country) plus U.S.A (Unidentified Smoldering Asteroid)]

The campground had no showers, so I jumped in my swimming trunks grabbed shampoo, soap, and a towel, and tore off down the path labeled "The Beach."The sun had set at this point, so I was racing against darkness, which is when spooky things like rabid ninja rabbits come out to devour lonely campers. The plan was to run to the lake, take a quick bath, and run back. But when I mounted the first hill, there was no lake in sight. The second hill revealed more wilderness. At this point, I started muttering "You have got to be kidding me!" over and over again as I ran as fast as I could.Finally, I reached a parking lot, but that only led to another parking lot, which finally descended into the lake. My estimate is a half mile from the campground. I dropped everything (except my shorts) and plowed into the water. It was colder than I expected for August (A local seemed pretty surprised when I later told him that I'd gone swimming in the lake.) But I felled myself and took the fastest bath of my life. Plunge-glunk-scrub-plunge.

Then I ran back, dripping wet with my computer-dust-filled lungs tiring. But I made it before nightfall.—I love it when teachers stop by at the fairs. A teacher from Kalispell, MT ordered a book, and I gave her four signed posters and a ton of bookmarks. She said she likes to read part of a book to the class, enough to get them hooked on the story, and then tell them they'll have to find the book to finish it themselves. How awesome is that?

—It was pretty cold in the mornings. I didn't bring a jacket or coat of any kind, so I invented a new style. Two dress shirts. Be on the lookout next Fall's release of my new clothing line, Parkquoir. (Pronounced like the urban freerunning sport, but with more of a French twist.)
—"The Western News," a newspaper out of Libby, Montana (an hour away) ran a story about me. Several people mentioned that they'd read about me there, and one person said she made the hour drive JUST to order two books, (that made me feel good) so it definitely contributed to sales, but I think it was too far away to have the kind of impact that the newspaper stories did at my local fair.


On Sunday morning I took down my tent in the pouring rain, threw it in the back of my pickup and set off for Kalispell, Montana. My only stop was at the Borders there (pictured at the top of this post.) I talked to a manager, handed her a bunch of materials. Not only did she decide to stock KMS, she wants to use the poster to make a display for it! And, depending on how well it sells, may even contact me about setting up a book signing.

Apparently they like to promote regional authors. I was quite a ways from home at that point, so I didn't think I'd have the "local" advantage. But regional works for me! As I've been telling people, by the time I reach Connecticut, I'll be introducing myself as an American author.


I have family in Ronan, so I stopped by for a few hours and participated in a Birthday bash/dinner for my cousin. I also got to meet an online friend in person.

I think now is a good time to introduce... The Mystery. Back at the Eureka Fair, several people not from Libby mentioned that they'd read something about me. Nobody could remember where, and nobody could remember details about the story. They were all from the Kalispell/Missoula area. Some guessed "The Daily Interlake," and some guessed "The Missoulian." Both are newspapers with a large distribution. Getting a story in either would be a tremendous boost. At this birthday dinner, another person said the same thing, and again, she couldn't remember the details or where she'd read it.

The plot thickened when a boy at the dinner said he had one of my bookmarks already. Where had he gotten it? At the local bookstore! I'd never heard of this bookstore, and all bookmarks had to have gone through me since I'm the only one with the ability to order them. Weird, huh? A look through the archives of all newspapers in the area turned up empty. I have yet to talk to that bookstore.

I hit Missoula late Sunday night. One of my friends is a student at the University of Montana there, so I crashed on a couch in his apartment. Coolest thing about the apartment? The 3x3 mule deer buck in the parking lot.The next morning I visited five bookstores:
The Bird's Nest
Fact & Fiction
The Book Exchange
Barnes & Noble

The Bird's Nest only sells used books, but they told me to cross the street to Fact & Fiction. The lady there told me they get a LOT of authors that come in and do exactly what I do. In fact, she said I was the third person that day. That's an impressive number when you consider that the store had only been open for an hour! What makes this even more curious is that it's a small bookstore located downtown. I was the only non-employee there. None of the other bookstores I've visited mentioned getting a lot of authors who stop in. I noticed that a large percentage of the books are marked "Montana Author." So that might explain some of it. If they have a reputation for stocking Montana authors, that would tend to attract small Montana authors.

But anyway, back to the story. She seemed skeptical at first, but after I poured gifts upon her (more on that later) and she looked through the book, and I told her it was named to the Highlighted Listings in Independent Publisher Magazine and a Book Trailer Pick of the Week in Foreword Reviews Magazine, she decided to stock it.

The Book Exchange is kind of set up where you trade your books in while paying a small fee. This place was recommended to me, but the clerk told me they don't stock new fiction, however, she got the manager, and he seemed really impressed. I mentioned that the clerk said they didn't stock new books, and he said something like, "Well... we used to. It's just... You know, I'm going to show this to the fantasy guy." If they don't end up stocking it, at least they agreed to hand out the stack of free bookmarks I left with them, and I left a signed poster too.

I walked up to the book counter in Hastings and asked to speak with the manager. The guy said, "That's me." Oops. His name tag even said "Books Manager." But he was a nice guy. He ordered copies of KMS to stock, put my booksmarks out to be taken by customers, agreed to hang the poster, and even invited me to call if I ever wanted to set up a book signing.At this point, I realized that this whole getting KMS into stores appears to be easier than I thought. The managers have all been nice people, and excluding Fact & Fiction, I haven't even given much of a sales pitch. The cover grabs them, they look it up on their computer, see that it's returnable and agree to stock it. Those two things appear to be all that they look for: A great-looking product and a fully returnable book through a national distributor. KMS is set at a standard 40% discount for bookstores, but that topic hasn't even come up yet. The retail price, however, I did discuss once. The manager didn't know how I'd managed to get it so low. Further talk revealed that actually "Well... it's an OK price." But he was initially comparing to self-publishing services, where he said they jack up the retail price if you want to get it set up with a national distributor.

From Hastings I drove to Washington Middle School, I was just going to talk to the Librarian and drop of a poster and some bookmarks. But when I got there and saw all the kids running around, I felt this desire to share my story with them. So I signed and left one of my author copies too. The librarian wasn't there, but I left a note.

Then I drove to the biggest Barnes & Noble I have ever set foot in. The manager was, again, nice. And, again, once he saw that it was returnable, he was all for stocking it. He also set the bookmarks out, and would have put the poster up, but it had "solicitation" on it. ("Go to SongLore.com to win yada yada") in small print. So for future B&N visits, I will black that out. I will do so for Borders, too, just in case.

Here is the package I hand to the managers: I plop everything on the table, and explain what each item is as I hand it to them, starting with the info sheet, then the book (just to look at), then I list off the book plate stickers, signed by author stickers, bookmarks, and signed poster. The book plate stickers say "Hastings, Missoula, MT! 08-30-2010 "Signature"

I stopped by the local Borders on the way home. I'd done so a couple times previously, but the manager wasn't there either time. Not so this time! And when he found out it's distributed through Ingram, he agreed to stock it and set me up for a booksigning on a Saturday in mid-October. I had dropped off the standard package I hand to managers over a week before that, and he mentioned that he'd seen it on his desk, but hadn't looked through it. What did I learn from this? It's important to actually speak to the manager. Just dropping stuff off and waiting for the phone to ring won't cut it.

I had a great time. My success rate is 100% when I speak to a manager in person. Now if only I can duplicate that success over the phone.

Now, about the ForeWord Reviews Magazine thing. Here's a snippet from their latest newsletter, under the title "Book Trailer Pick of the Week."

Many of you responded to a question I posed last week, and overwhelmingly the response was “Yes!” tell us more about what’s hot (or cool if you’re from an older generation) in Young Adult fiction. So here’s a suspenseful, animated book trailer for Kestrel's Midnight Song, a YA fantasy novel written by teen author, J.R. Parker. Take a look!

How cool—I mean hot—is that??

One last thought. At the fair, several people mistook me for Christopher Paolini. That led me to think about how strange the similarities are between Christopher Paolini and I. We were both homeschooled. We're both teen authors. Our home states, Montana and Idaho, are right next to each other, much like our books will be in the bookstore. No really, P-A-O, P-A-R. The uncanny similarities don't end there, but I can't give any more away without revealing the exact location of my home. Here's hoping these similarities extend to sales figures. :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Independent Publisher likes KMS!

Independent Publisher is one of the review publications I sent an ARC to. Go to this link, read the top, then scroll about halfway down the list. :)

Also, I just got word that my copies won't be arriving until September 3rd. That's a bummer, especiallly considering I told everyone they would be arriving any day. Sorry to everyone who pre-ordered a copy from me thinking I'd be the quickest source to receive it from. But part of that is it hit the bookstore system much faster than anticipated. You can buy it on BN.com right now for $11.51 and Amazon.com for $15.99, and you can order it from any bookstore.

P.S. Still working on emails, so don't panic if I haven't responded.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pictures and Video! (The Fair Day 4)

Sorry for the delay on the final post for the fair. I was waiting for a video interview to show up. More on that later...
The cool thing about Saturday is that I sold...
62 books! Then I sold 2 more the next day during clean-up. And thus I passed both my day and week goals. 64 (60), 141 (100) Speaking of numbers, my brain was so tired on Day 3's post that I forgot how to perform addition. AND NONE OF YOU NOTICED IT! Hahahahaha! ;)

The other cool thing about Saturday is that word-of-mouth started to really pay dividends. For example, a grandmother walked in and told me that her grandson's friends had told him about the book, so she had come to buy one for him. It doesn't get much better than that.
Also, I performed a spontaneous video interview. Filming literally started seconds after I knew I was about to be interviewed, which made it that much more fun! My interview skills aren't the greatest. I need to cap off all my sentences, inject some humor, stop moving around, and stop stuttering. But I was grateful for the opportunity, because now I see where I need to improve and I can learn from it. You can watch it HERE. Oh, and I messed up in one of my responses. The "There's a word for a writer..." thing is actually from the bio on J.A. Konrath's blog. It popped into my head, and when I'm at a loss for words I tend to spew whatever's in my brain.

This habit could end up being rather dangerous someday... ("Your wig is shaped like Abraham Lincoln!")

What I learned: This is kind of a combination of what I learned at the fair and in the past few days. It's rather important, so those of you with books coming out in the future, heed my words of wise wisdom. *Drumroll* Fairs are good.

But it's more than that. Sure, the newspapers were the biggest difference-maker. But the fact that I was at the fair was equally important. If the newspaper had advertised a store signing, my numbers wouldn't have been near what they were because people would have had to make a special trip. With the fair, everyone was planning on going anyway. Plus, the traffic is waaaay better than you get at bookstores.

But here's the kicker. My hope was to begin touring in early September, but when I started making the calls to get it scheduled, libraries and bookstores didn't want to talk about it until they could see my book in their system. Now that it's in their system, they are booked for over a month. This means over a month of down time. If I'd known fairs were such great places to sell books, I would have filled the first two months of my book's release with fair events. They don't need to see the book in their system, but as I've learned through many fruitless phone calls over the past few days, the sooner you sign up, the better.

Moral of the story: If you have a small publisher, late July is a good time to release a book. As soon as it releases, call bookstores/libraries and set up your tour. While you're waiting, hit all those fairs you signed up for ages ago.

Notes: Partially to drive my above point home. I just finished a phone call with a librarian in which I scheduled my first booksigning! It will be on... October 27th. That's two months plus four days.

The future:
I had hoped to get into a nearby fair, much bigger, where I'm still technically local and could therefore possibly get another story in the newspaper, but I was much too late. This bummed me at first, but now I accept that when God closes one door he opens another. So I'm looking for other doors. I might have managed to sneak into a small fair in Eureka, Montana this weekend. I'm waiting for a call on that. If so, I'll loop through Kalispell and Missoula, meeting managers and sales personnel, and handing out sales sheets and posters.

The nearer future: Catching up on email... Some of my emails came over a month ago, so it is time. I just thought I'd add that for those of you awaiting a response.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stream of Consciousness (The Fair Day 3)

I accidentally left my notes at the fairgrounds, and I'm rather tired, so for today's post I'll just mention things as they pop into my head. Invariably I will leave stuff out. I can fill in the blanks on the next post.

48 pre-orders sold today! More than Wednesday and Tuesday's totals combined. Altogether, that's 87. Reaching my goal of 100 total shouldn't be a problem at all. In fact, I expect Saturday to be my best day. Why?
1. Everyone's off work, which means more traffic.
2. The best events are saved for Saturday.
3. In the first three days, many, many people opted to wait until Saturday to purchase a copy in the hopes that the books would arrive by then.
So my goal for Saturday is now 60 pre-orders.

I got some invitations from teachers and school librarians to speak at schools. I'm looking forward to those. Each of them bought at least one book and took signed posters to hang in their library/classroom too.

The girls from post... 1 (I think?) came back and brought another girl. "He's the author of that book. No really, watch this." And she grabbed an ARC and repeated the test that I passed on day 1. This time she kept going, but she held the book too far forward like a novice poker player. So I just read each chapter title when she turned to it. She didn't catch me until chapter six. :)

Those same girls came back later and asked for a dollar to buy a toy. I told them I'd give them a dollar if they took a stack of bookmarks and handed them out to people where the food tents are. (Matt has been busy with 4-H.) They were (predictably) very good at it, and enjoyed it so much that they came back for a second round, free! Not only that, but at least one sale resulted because of it.

The newspaper articles continue to be, by far, the biggest difference maker. Community support also continues to be a huge factor. (Thanks everyone!) In doing a little bit of experimenting, I found that some people passed my booth with nothing but glances up to seven times before walking up and placing a pre-order. I wonder though, if I'd stopped these people the first time by, would they have placed a pre-order? I think the steady build-up of curiosity was in my favor, kind of like how I talked about several small attacks being better than a siege in my last post.

I made friends with the kirby vacuum guy. He has pre-paid for my last ARC, to be given to him at the end of the fair on Saturday. His plan is that if I hit it big, the ARC will be worth a lot more money.

I'm fascinated by human age progression. I love seeing the people you see around town, how they've grown, and to imagine them at previous/future stages of their life. We grow pretty fast. Life's remarkably short.

I met a retired publishing professional today who graciously gave me a list of names I should contact. This could prove very valuable.

I also met quite a few more aspiring authors. One, my neighbor actually, said he started a book three weeks ago, but hit writer's block. Then he saw the article in the paper and thought, "If he can, why can't I?" He promptly wrote three more chapters in his book. This news made me feel good. :) We talked a bit about his story world, which sounds satisfactory detailed. And I can tell he has the required passion for his story.

There are a lot of nice people here. As an example, the mail lady for my neighborhood bought two pre-orders, and since she'd heard the books hadn't arrived yet, offered to go and pick them up right then, at about 7:00 pm! But the books are being delivered truck freight, so although it wouldn't have helped, the gesture is much appreciated.

Hmmm, I just realized Saturday is my last day to get pictures. I'll try to remember to grab the camera on the way out Saturday morning.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Talk of the Town (The Fair Day 2)

Today was interesting, because it gave me some idea of what it's like to be a celebrity. Stories about KMS and me hit both local papers today, so a TON of people stopped with remarks like, "You're the author!" "I read about you!" "So you're the one!" A popular local hairdresser told me that everyone has been asking her about my book and whether or not she's read it. As I'm sure you know, the barber/hairdresser is a classic hub for news in small communities, so this was good news.

The posters arrived about midday, so in select cases where a sale was made, or someone was strongly considering it, I gave them a signed poster. It's really heartwarming to watch a kid walk away staring wide-eyed into a signed poster. The posters really boosted my sell-through rate. They get people excited almost like the flip of a switch at times.

I sold 17 pre-orders today, bringing my total to 29. I estimate I would have sold 60 or more today if I'd had books on hand. Many, many people chose to stop in Saturday in the hope that the shipment of books will arrive by then. Several others opted to buy a copy from the local bookstore, so they can support a local author and a local business owner at the same time. Which brings me to the first thing I learned.

What I Learned:
-Support. I received some great support today in the form of friends, family, my fourth grade teacher, opting to buy a book. People like to support their locals. "Are you from here?" is the second most question asked to "Are you the author?" The latter would be solved if my banner would get here. Today, I got excited because I got a package from the banner printer. But it was just the banner stand with carrying case.

-My location isn't terrific. Nice people on both sides of the aisle, but everyone is, like me, selling/promoting something. I started off the week by standing in front of my booth, stopping nearly everyone who walked by and offering them a free bookmark, then telling them about my book. But that just caused people to avoid me like the plague. So I tried staying in my booth and waiting for people to pause with interest, and that worked better. The majority still plow through there with only short glances to either side, not wanting to give the salesmen any indication of interest. Today, most of my customers were looking for me because of the stories in the paper. And several mentioned having trouble finding me. Oh well.

-Several small attacks are better than a siege. When I talk to people who have never heard of Kestrel's Midnight Song, even if I hand them bookmarks, posters, newspaper articles, and give them the whole spiel, it's not as effective as if someone handed them a bookmark, then someone mentioned it to them later, then they saw the story in the newspaper, and finally happened upon my booth over the course of a couple days.

-Not many people know what an ARC is. My tongue is getting a bit tired of saying "ARC" and explaining to people that they can't buy the ARC because it's just for display until the books arrive, when really all I want to do is hand them a book so they'll be happy. On the bright side, my hometown could become the most publishing-world-literate in the world by Sunday. :)

-There have been a few special cases where I parted with an ARC, such as an airplane flight that night, or a language barrier where I couldn't explain what the deal was. This morning, a man walked in, handed me ten dollars for a book, no questions asked. Apparently his son had gotten an ARC the day before, and they'd read some together later that night. They really liked it, so he had come to buy one for his nephew.

-As I mentioned before, it's really, really fun to watch small kids walking away staring up into a signed poster half as big as they are with wide eyes.

-Almost before I went home, a couple of ladies walked by rather quickly. One spotted my poster and said, "Oh, that's that movie," to the other. She had a definite prophetic air about her. ;-) Any guesses as to what movie she was thinking of?

-The proof copy arrived today (from the printer.) It's absolutely gorgeous. I kept taking it off the stand to look through it. And just in time. I was down from five ARCs to two.

Long day again tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Man Cannot Live on Hot Dogs Alone (The Fair Day 1)

Today was the first official day of the local fair. I manned a booth all day, selling books and handing out bookmarks. (I hope to post a picture of the booth later, after I have my banner, posters, and uh... hopefully books.) And I ate two hot dogs (lunch and dinner) in the process!

I sold 12 pre-orders, which I think is pretty good for a low traffic setup day in a small community. I handed out a TON of bookmarks, and got many assurances from people that they would come back and buy a copy in the coming days. Tomorrow, stories about KMS will hit the local newspapers, so I expect that to be a big boost, and I think I'm on track to hit my goal of 100 copies sold by Sunday.

I made some new friends with my neighboring booth-mates, as well as a kid named Matt. He wanted a copy of KMS but couldn't afford it, so I told him I'll give him a copy for free if he roams the fairgrounds handing out bookmarks and directing people to my booth. This arrangement has proved quite beneficial thus far. He's really good at it.

Some things I've learned:

-Nothing seems to grab people's interest more than seeing someone else in front of my booth talking to me.

-Some people (more than I would have thought) think all authors are rich and famous. I'm starting to wonder if a joke I made in my acknowledgements will backfire badly.

-There are a lot of aspiring authors out there.

-Eleven hours is a long time. Sixteen will be longer.


-Some teens asked me to sign bookmarks for them. One of them kept coming back for replacements because he kept losing his. I said, "I think you're just stashing them somewhere so you have more to sell on eBay," and handed him a new one. He said, "Yeah, I am. See you tomorrow."

-Some smaller kids didn't believe that I was really the author. I asked how I could prove it to them, and they looked into the ARC and told me to name the first chapter, when I did, they asked me to name the second chapter. When I did that, they believed me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Calling All Kindle Users

First, an update...
I think it's safe to say that all editing of Kestrel's Midnight Song is done. In a matter of days, a truckload of books will stop by my house. Very exciting. :) Right now I'm planning out the national book tour, which is coming up fast. If you'd like to help organize an event at your school or homeschool group, send me an email.

Now for the real news...
Kestrel's Midnight Song is available on Kindle RIGHT NOW! So for those kindle users out there, consider buying an e-copy now, and then getting a shiny physical copy in a few weeks! Check it out at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/tags-on-product/B003ZDOW1C/ref=tag_dpp_cust_edpp_sa

And be sure to post a review when you're done reading!

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/43602175@N06/4069260433/

Monday, August 2, 2010

Live Online Party! (Finally)

Hello everyone. For those of you who haven't heard through other outlets, the Live Online Party will be TODAY (Tuesday, August 3rd) at kmsparty.blogspot.com at 4:00 pacific time. Due to the abundance of technical difficulties and ill-timed commercials that the video format caused, this time it will be a simple text chat in which I will announce who won which books. Then you can ask me anything (unless it involves the underwear incident.)

I think it will be a fun time to interact with other fantasy readers/writers/broomstick-jedi-warriors. I hope to see you there! Oh, and Thadior might make an appearance...