Friday, September 22, 2006

Guest Blogger: Lisa Hunter and Thinking Outside the Box

BS Chick: Lisa Hunter is the author of the upcoming book, The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget, and runs a blog by the same name. She has long been in a contributor to the comments on this site, and as with Jean, I'm glad she can bring another look at the nonfiction side of the book market to us.

A Non-Fiction Author’s View of Bookstore Events
by Lisa Hunter

I always considered myself a writer -- until I became an author.

We non-fiction authors (even those of us who actually write our own books) don’t fit neatly into the bookselling world. We often have to promote our books in non-book venues instead. This was a big surprise to me.

When I was outlining my proposal for The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget, I envisioned readings at the type of indie bookstores I spend so much time (and money) in myself. It seemed like a natural match: people who like books usually like art too, but might not have a lot of money or experience in the art market. That’s exactly who my book is for.

Apparently, I was naïve. A friend with publishing experience warned me not to expect any bookstore events at all for The Intrepid Art Collector. “Bookstores are only interested in fiction authors,” she told me dismissively. “You should look for other venues.”

Chastened, I reworked my marketing plan to emphasize events at galleries, museums, and art fairs. Those were relatively easy to arrange. I simply emailed the organizers and said basically: “Gee, you have all these people who are interested in buying art, and I have this book that tells them how to do it…” Done deal. I also set up a blog ( where new collectors could email me their art-buying questions and get same-day answers.

The bookstore component of my marketing plan was reduced to a single sentence: “I’d be happy to do in-store events as well.” To avoid looking clueless to potential publishers, I had cut the sections about why bookstore customers in resort towns, artsy neighborhoods and affluent suburbs might be interested in The Intrepid Art Collector.

My husband, who’s also a non-fiction author, promotes his books – Crafty Screenwriting and Crafty TV Writing -- in non-bookstore venues too. It’s funny: he’ll stand up in front of 200 people at a film festival event, or happily host a writing conference panel, but is terrified by the thought of a bookstore signing. What if no one comes?

Somehow, we’ve both internalized the view that bookstore audiences only want novelists.

Thus I felt a mix of surprise, delight, and terror when my publicists told me I had two readings at superstores. Instead of my usual lecture concerns (What do I say? What do I wear? – not necessarily in that order), I had a new worry: How do I avoid talking to a roomful of empty chairs?

Here, though, non-fiction authors may have an advantage. Publicity is much easier when you can describe your book in a nutshell (“It’s about how to buy original art without getting ripped off”), rather than fumbling to explain a complex narrative (“Um, it’s a literary coming-of-age about a girl named Kate who finds herself suddenly orphaned…”)

We’ll see whether that actually helps draw people to my readings. If it does, I might dust off my earlier marketing plan about doing indie bookstore events. After all, even though I’m not a novelist, I wrote my book for readers. Why not go where the readers are? Is that such a crazy idea?


lady t said...

I've done events for both fiction and non-fiction authors and in some ways,the non fiction folk have certain advantages that their novel writing cousins don't.

Being able to promote your book at places other than a bookstore(and if planned well,at a venue that caters to your target audience)gives you more leeway and more areas to hawk your work.

If you do some small bookstore signings,recruit some of your family and friends to help set up and show up( in co-ordination with the bookshop staff). Food draws a crowd and maybe if you have a few examples of art bargains that you could bring along for some show and tell,that would get plenty of book browsers interested.

Good luck:)

Lisa Hunter said...

Hmm. Those are good ideas. Maybe even a mini "Antiques Roadshow" type of thing would work...

warren cassell said...

As a former indie for 25 years I should tell you simply din't pay attention to any publisher who says Indies want only fiction authors! Because my store was so small I staged meet the author events in many different venues from hotel ballrooms to garden clubs to churches and beyond. There was always a mix of fiction and non fiction authors and I found that the fiction authors talked about themselves and the non fiction writers spoke about their subject. When I bought my spring or fall list from the publishers my first question for every title was how and where can I sell this book out of my store. There are indies out there who think this way and they don't distinguish between fiction and not fiction authors. The tough part is to find the good ones; the rest will eventually go out of business.

Warren Cassell

literaticat said...

I've done plenty of non-fiction books -- stuff like "Art Sites San Francisco", wedding planning guides, etc, that have gone really well.

If you create a presentation (with either examples of artwork, a slideshow, or SOMETHING) ... it's almost like they are taking a free class with a cool teacher. You add food and wine, and it becomes a PARTY for SMART PEOPLE.

People will buy the book if you are charming them and telling them things that they don't know.

Hint: never ever think that whatever the bookstore does to promote your event will be enough. Even if I put a massive window up and hand out flyers, that won't be enough to assure a crowd. Your website is a great start - WORK ON YOUR MAILING LIST!!

I can guarantee you that if you say "I want to do an instore event - I have 300 local people signed up for my mailing list who have expressed interest in a launch party - no good indie bookstore worth it's salt will refuse you.

Sonny Friedman said...

Launching your non-fiction book in art shows is a great idea and it's so sad that as an author you need to do that.

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Haley Robinson said...

I like Lisa Hunter’s words about having considered herself a writer until becoming an author. I would willingly read the upcoming one by this author: The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner’s Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget. I’ll use the info for my writing services.