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. :)