I had a learning moment yesterday! Several things came together to show me a new way of thinking. I have been writing since 2015, growing with each step. First was tackling how to actually write a novel. Next was how to get it to readers. And then, how to market it. You would think writing is the biggest hurdle, but for me, an introvert with a wild imagination, actually talking to people about my books did not come easy.
The pandemic threw me off like it did most of the planet and all the cogs slowed to a crawl. No real writing and certainly no marketing. I made a friend recently, another author and talked about the issues of being an indy print writer and how to get out there. He told me how he has stopped chasing the traditional pathways of author events and gone straight to his readers. He utilizes community festivals. He said that at these festivals, people who are really interested stop and talk and the others just pass on by.
I thought, yeah, well, isn’t that what happens anywhere? The simplicity of the statement escaped me. I signed up for the Shelbyville Dogwood Festival, despite my introvert little voice saying, “No, don’t do that! You’ll have to talk to people on the fly. You’ll stumble and sound incoherent!”
As soon as I got the confirmation, I pictured myself there and I see myself at a plastic six-foot table with two stacks of books. Not too exciting. So, I enlisted the help of my mom, an interior designer. As you can see by the picture, she was able to create the mood of Victorian romance! I should have had her card handy to give to several festival goers that came over just to touch the mantle runner with tassels.
I bravely set up the booth per my designer’s instructions, sat down with my cup of hot Irish Breakfast tea, and snuggled into my cozy blanket. The event happened squarely in Dogwood winter with a 45′ chill. I watched vendors set up with sugar scrubs, crocheted plushies, jewelry, and silent auction items. They were focused, but chatty. Energy, laughter, comradery. It was so unlike the author events.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked meeting other authors and making friends. But from a marketing standpoint, it felt like an employment fair where we are all vying for the same job. Whose book will win the spot in the shopping bag? Those seasoned writers were so much farther down the path than me. I tried very hard to memorize my 30-second elevator pitch just like all the writers books say you should (“This book is Outlander meets Downton Abby…”).
As the fair opened and the crowd swelled, I smiled at babies, laughed at dogs meeting other dogs with happy wagging tails, and wondered how all those young parents ever got any sleep. And then, there they were: my readers. The people who would like my book. About halfway through, I could spot them two booths away. They just wandered up. They stared at the sign, touched the book and then looked at me. They asked, “Are you the writer?” I wasn’t expecting that. The usual question is, what’s this about? After getting that question a few times, I actually told one person, “I’m more of a daydreamer. It takes a lot of daydreaming to write.”
Another woman asked me if I was a storyteller. I told her that I really preferred to hide at home and write my books. Talking to people gave me anxiety. It’s the opposite of writing. Bless her heart, she was not easily dissuaded and said she was looking for storytellers. It would be at a very cozy, little coffee shop. I then had a new thought, when I talk about my stories with a friend, I get really animated and love to tell what the characters are doing. I realized that was what she wanted. That’s what they, the readers, wanted.
From then on, when they came up and stared at the poster, touched the book, and looked at me, I just started telling them about the characters, how they were sassy, modern, intelligent woman, who with a little magic, found themselves in the Victorian error. I told them how that was a bit awkward for them and required some adjustment, which was sometimes humorous. We laughed and before I knew it, they had book one and two in their bag and wanted to know how they would know when book three was available.
When I told them how my books were set in small Kentucky towns that were often overlooked, they talked about their hometowns and told me stories they knew but no one outside the town really knew. I got phone numbers and websites of where to get more information if I wanted to write a book set in their town. Many loved the historical fiction aspect and we shared about our love of learning about a place and time in the midst of hearing a good story. I realized my time traveling characters could jump to anywhere in Kentucky history. The Steam Through Time Series wasn’t limited to the late 1800s.
I sold nearly all of my inventory. It was a spectacular day. The event organizers were incredibly kind and supportive, even babysitting my booth when I needed a human break. Other vendors made me feel like old friends, sharing supplies and ideas. The very best thing was the attendees. The ones who passed on by with strollers and arms filled with wood art and wreaths who had no interest in my books, but also had no judgement about my genre or how many years I’ve written, and the ones who are my people and came straight up to me to talk.
I left feeling inspired to write, expand my series, and to find more festivals so that I could talk to the readers who love what I write. Isn’t it great to learn and grow and find joy?