The hardest thing about writing a book is marketing it, particularly in this day and age. Compared to the quiet and intense focus of the writing process, marketing takes chutzpah, salesmanship and an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s about cold-calling prospective groups, arranging appearances, and handing out chocolates (and smiles) at Barnes and Noble in hopes that a few people might stop for a look. Not easy in the best of circumstances.
But marketing a book during a pandemic? Please. Some people say the shut-down has given them more time to read, yet others report feeling too distracted to relax with a book. And I understand. It also feels silly to be out talking about my book when what people really want to hear about is the coronavirus. I had quite a string of book talks lined up for the spring and summer to promote Searching for Nora, but most of those arrangements fell through as soon as the country closed down. A few brave groups have joined me for a Zoom discussion, which has been wonderful, but most of them want to wait until I can appear in person. And who knows when that will be. I worried that my Nora promotional efforts were grinding to a halt.
So imagine my delight when I opened up my email recently to find that Searching for Nora had won a silver medal from the Independent Publishers Book Awards (known as the IPPYs) for Best Fiction: Midwest Region. This was exciting on several counts. First, I hadn’t gotten a significant prize since I won a balloon dog from a magician impressed with my determination to blow up my own balloon, despite being barely three. Second, winning the IPPY meant that someone other than my friends and family thought my novel was good. That was encouraging.
But most importantly, the award gives my book a chance to stand out from the mass of other self-published books that come out every year, particularly in the Midwestern market.
The IPPY Awards recognize excellence in fiction, non-fiction and book design. The awards program was the first created exclusively for independent authors and publishers, including small presses and university presses. More than 5,000 books from the English-speaking world are entered each year. The competition seeks to highlight “progressive, thought-provoking books, the kind that touch lives… and stretch our imaginations.” Recent winners include Italian author Elena Ferrante (Gold Medal, 2017), whose novel The Story of the Lost Child was published in English by Europa. Previous fiction winners include entries from the small presses Milkweed, Coffee House, Graywolf, The Other Press, McPherson, and McSweeney’s. It’s nice to be in such company.
Given this shot in the arm, I am now determined to book as many Zoom book talks as possible until normal life is restored and I can schedule myself in person. My husband has offered to help me approach public libraries across the Midwest, who are much more likely to order my book now that it comes with a silver medal sticker on the front. You don’t make a lot of money selling to libraries, but you do get lots of readers, and I lust for readers.
But of all the marketing efforts I have tried (social media, bookstore talks, radio interviews, etc.), I’ve found the most successful method is old-fashioned word-of-mouth. I love it when I hear from a reader that they passed the book on to their mother, or to their daughter, or a friend. Then, if I’m lucky, the friend calls and says “I hear you do book talks.” And then we schedule a discussion and I get the pleasure of meeting another group of thoughtful people clustered around with their wineglasses asking interesting questions. From Seattle to Montana to Florida, I love how far Nora has traveled. If you belong to a book club, or have a group of friends who might enjoy Searching for Nora, please contact me to schedule a free Zoom session.
Wendy Swallow, June 1, 2020
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