Monday, August 15, 2016

Jacob M. Appel's Tips on How to Market Your Short Story Collection(s)

In the tenth in a series of posts on 2016 books entered for The Story Prize, Jacob M. Appel, author of Coulrophobia & Fata Morgana (Black Lawrence Press) and The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street (Howling Bird Press), gives it all away.

Over the past three years, I have had the good fortune to publish six short story collections with four excellent independent presses—and I’ve spent nearly every free waking minute of that time, not devoted to writing or paying my bills, traveling the country in an effort to market these books. My itinerary has included forty states, dozens of literary festivals, and scores of bookstores and small libraries. I’ve delivered talks for audiences as large as five hundred and as small as one. I’ve waited in the airport while TSA agents flipped through the pages of fifty identical books, ascertaining that none contained a hollow compartment. I have even been mistaken for another author named Jacob Appel and asked to sign one of his books. In that time, I’ve picked up a few tidbits about marketing independent short fiction—and while my wisdom is limited, I am more than glad to share the few tips I have:

1. Give away books! 
Give away as many books as you can afford to anyone and everyone who might be interested in reading them. Your goal as an independent author is not to guard your prose like a Great Depression survivor stockpiling cash under a mattress, or to turn a quick profit, but to build up an engaged readership. If you deliver a talk in a library, make sure you donate a few books to its collection. If you sign books in a bookstore, offer complimentary copies to the cashiers—and ask them to hand-sell your work. Even if you’re too impoverished to provide free paperback copies to anyone other than your grandmother, you can always distribute free PDFs, which cost you absolutely nothing. (If you are reading this, and you’d like a free PDF of one of my collections, please email me.)

2. Market collaboratively. 
Unless you are a household name, you’re unlikely to host an event that exceeds the capacity or potential sales volume of most independent bookstores. However, you can easily team up with two or three other authors and pack the house. So why go it alone? Whenever I pitch myself to a venue for an event—especially those away from New York City—I offer to coordinate a reading or signing with other authors. Often, these are writers whom I’ve never actually met, but whose work I’ve enjoyed. Such joint events enable me to meet colleagues, and their fans, while offering the attention of my (however meager) fan-base to them. (If you’re a published author who would like to do a joint reading, please email me.)

3. Accept all invitations. 
I suppose there are some limits: If my Uncle Saul invites you down to his cellar to inspect his cleaver collection, I’d politely decline…but, for the most part, any opportunity to write, speak, present or endorse is worth serious consideration. Over the past year, I’ve given free talks at libraries, community centers, nursing homes—in short, any place that asks me to come and doesn’t charge me a fee. I won’t blurb a book I don’t admire, but I make every effort to consider every request. What better free publicity than your own name on the back cover of another author’s brilliant book? I’m always willing to sit down for an interview, even with a junior high school newsletter. (If you’re the editor of an obscure publication interested in an interview, please email me.)
Rejection? Get in line

4. Support other authors. 
One of my hobbies—possibly my only hobby fit for mention on a family website—is reading literary journals. Lots of them! About five years ago, I started writing brief notes to the authors of stories and poems that I’ve liked. I did this with no ulterior motive—merely a desire to convey appreciation from the ether. However, I’ve recently discovered that these kind words often lead to valuable professional connections—a pool of literary teammates who can provide juicy information and moral support when I visit their cities. (If you’d like me to visit your hometown, please email me.)

5. Never take rejection personally.
Even when it is intended as such. I have now acquired roughly 21,000 rejection letters—and that doesn’t even include romantic propositions. If you strive to market yourself proactively, you will face the same. Not every bookstore or university library is begging for you to squander their space. Fortunately, unlike that boy or girl who rejected you in high school, most of these venues are likely to reconsider in the future, especially if you keep in touch and build up a good track record. (If you’d like to reject me, please take a number.)