Friday, July 18, 2008

Marketing Madness Or The Wrath of the Tour God

© Bob Avey 2008 all rights reserved

Marketing books in unusual venues, upgrading equipment and traveling to distant places can be a call to adventure, but while you’re chasing notoriety be careful that your life doesn’t slip into chaos.

A few months ago – actually it was last year but the few months thing sounded better – with my first book, “Twisted Perception”, hot off the press, I was pumped and eager to jump into the world of book promotion. Some of the marketing books I’d read suggested that authors should seek marketing opportunities and book signings outside of traditional areas and not limit themselves to bookstores. With fiction, the idea was to seek out venues that might complement the theme of your masterpiece. The little cogs inside my head began to turn. The small town of Porter, Oklahoma was getting ready to launch their annual Peach Festival. Since this sleepy little town figured into the plot of “Twisted Perception” in a not-so-sleepy way, I would rent booth space at the festival and sell copies of my book. What a perfect idea. I located the proper authorities and paid my booth rental then beat a path to a local sporting goods store where I found one of those portable pop-up canopies. The salesman assured me that one person could erect the tent if necessary but with two people it was a snap.

Several days later, I pulled the canopy from my car and dragged it through the streets of Porter, looking for my booth space. Luckily I wasn’t alone. Other vendors were in various stages of doing the same thing, but soon many of them abandoned their efforts to visit my little marketing area. Seeing their feet alerted me to this. I imagined they’d come out of curiosity of what might be bumping around beneath the blue canopy in space 17. It ended up taking five strong men and a small troupe of boy scouts, but we managed to get the gangly, pop-up monster under control and within a few minutes, I was open for business. Well, almost. The salesman forgot to mention that you had to anchor these things down, and when a gust of wind came along the canopy took flight. Utilizing my lightening quick mind, I grabbed one of the metal legs with one hand and grasped part of the skeletal framing with the other. This is not a maneuver I recommend. I’m convinced I would have hang glided over Porter had the other vendors not again come to my rescue. Talk about your Mary Poppins.

With various cinder blocks and other heavy objects tied to the canopy, I turned my attention to setting up shop. Having achieved this, I plopped down into the folding chair I’d brought along, discovering to my displeasure that the portable seating apparatus only brought me up to about eye level with the table. There was a bandstand in front of me, and about that time they turned on the microphones and people, anyone who decided they wanted to, I think, started singing… loudly. As I contemplated this, I decided that one of the problems with festivals is their being held outside, and while the temperature soared to 105 degrees, and hordes of festival goers bowed their heads and moved stiffly about the hot asphalt like heat zombies, I wondered if I was not, in fact, lucky to have only the top half of my head showing. I thought of my family, at home with the air conditioner running. My mom had driven down from Wichita, and later she and my wife and son would come to visit me at the festival.

Later that night, I closed up shop, tore down the pop-up monster and drove home. When I walked into the house, I immediately noticed it wasn’t much cooler inside. Thinking that perhaps my mom had switched off the ac, I checked the thermostat. No such luck. I heard the unit inside the garage running, and when I went outside to check the compressor a sick feeling ran through me. The line running from the compressor into the house had a ball of ice around it. I’m no engineer, but I suspected the cool was supposed to be on the inside, not on the outside and this was the problem. The darn thing was running backward.

The next morning, after calling the air conditioner people and being told they couldn’t make it out to my house for several days, I sat outside with my mother on the front porch swing, drinking a cup of coffee. It’s a moment I won’t soon forget, for all seemed right with the world, sitting there ingesting caffeine with my mom, until we heard a strange noise and looked up in unison to see that the ceiling was rising, or rather we were falling. By the time I figured out that the porch swing had lost its hold on the ceiling, my mom and I were on our cans. Did I mention we were drinking hot coffee? Well not anymore. The hot liquid had jumped from the cups and landed on us. My mother screamed that she’d been burned. I helped her up then drove to the nearest drug store and bought some burn medicine. My mom announced that she was going back home to Wichita. I think she still loves me.

Not to be deterred, I began planning the remainder of my infamous book tour. Deciding that writers’ conferences might be more to my liking, I located one in Nebraska. Not having been there before, it occurred to me that it might be nice to have someone go with me. I posted the fact that I was going to this conference on several writers’ email lists and a few days later I got a response from a writer in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She said that she had been to the conference before and was going again this year and would love to share the ride with me.

I was driving an old car with a lot of miles and too many problems and I’d already been considering a new one. Now that I had an excuse, I went looking on Saturday morning and by Saturday night I had a third car sitting in the drive. Thinking the trade in amount they’d offered me too low, I’d kept the old one, with plans to sell it myself.

Monday morning, I was off to work. I pulled the old car out of the drive and parked it on the street then backed the new one out of the garage. I wanted to show it off to my friends. As I backed into the street, I considered taking the old one from the curb and putting it in the drive, but I was running late. Several of the neighbors consistently parked beside the street, I rationalized, and they never had any problems. One of the first things I did upon arriving at the office was to call the insurance company and add the new car. While I was at it, I asked the agent to reduce the old car from full coverage. After all, I wasn’t going to be driving it anymore. I don’t always, but that day I decided to go home for lunch. As I came up the street, I saw the old car beside the curb, but something didn’t look quite right. When I drew near, I saw what it was. The mirror was no longer attached as it should be, but had fallen loose and was dangling from the wiring. Even after seeing the dented fender and mashed in door with scrapes of yellow paint streaking it, it took me awhile to realize what had happened. The poor old car had been the victim of a hit and run. After knocking on a few doors and having no one admit to seeing anything, I ran inside the house and called the police. Then I called the insurance company. “Have you made the changes considering my old car?” I asked. They had not. “Don’t,” I said. “I’ve changed my mind.” The agent thought that was a good idea, until I told her the rest of the story.

The day had finally arrived and I’d driven to Stillwater. Using my new found writer friend’s directions, I located her house and pulled onto the long, winding drive. When I arrived, I saw several cars parked on a graveled area, one of which was an old blue van with a temporary, paper tag. A few minutes later, the door to the house opened and a lady began piling luggage onto the porch. I got out to help and she asked, “Would you mind if we took my car?”

“No,” I said, hoping it would not be the old blue van. “That’ll be fine.”

A little later, after we’d loaded our luggage into the old blue van with a temporary, paper tag, we left Stillwater and headed for Omaha, Nebraska. The trip up was mostly without incident, and the conference, though not profitable, was entertaining and educational. For the most part, I sat at a table, hoping someone… anyone would stop by and ask me to autograph a book, while just down from me a more famous writer would stop occasionally to rest his hand, frowning at the long line of customers waiting at his table. The trip home, however, proved more interesting. The other writer and I had become good friends, and as we drove through the countryside we talked of this and that. But suddenly she looked in the mirror and slowed the vehicle, finally pulling to the side of the road where she stopped. I looked in the side mirror and saw the problem. Parked behind us was a police car with its lights flashing. The officer got out of the car. Keeping a wide angle, he slowly approached the driver’s side window, his hand on his service weapon. “I need to see your driver’s license, registration and insurance verification,” he said.

My heart sank as she reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a recent bill of sale. When she handed the officer the items, I tried to explain that in Oklahoma we were not required to carry vehicle registration documentation. He didn’t appear convinced of this, but he took the paperwork and went back to his patrol car. What seemed like hours but was probably only a few minutes later, he returned to the passenger window of the old blue van. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He asked.

We explained that we were writers and that we were returning from a writers’ conference in Omaha.

He smiled and said, “I’d been following you guys for fifteen minutes. Seeing as you’d failed to respond, I radioed ahead and had the Highway Patrol place nail strips across the road. If you hadn’t stopped… Well let’s just say it’s a good thing you did.” He tipped his hat. “You all have a nice day now.”

So, now that you know whom you’re dealing with. I was a wanted fugitive, if only for fifteen minutes.

Now that “Beneath a Buried House”, my second book, is out, I’m touring virtually. What could go wrong?

I slowly remove my hands from the keyboard, wondering if my computer might electrocute me.

* * *
Bob Avey is the author of the Kenny Elliot mystery series, which includes Twisted Perception, released April 2006, and Beneath a Buried House, June 2008, several short stories and various non-fiction articles. He lives with his wife and son in Broken Arrow , Oklahoma where he works as an accountant in the petroleum industry, and when he’s not writing or researching mystery writing techniques, he spends his free time prowling through dusty antique shops looking for the rare or unusual, or roaming through ghost towns, searching for echoes from the past. Through his writing, which he describes as a blend of literary and genre, he explores the intricacies and extremities of human nature.

Bob is a member of The Tulsa NightWriters, The Oklahoma Writers Federation (active board member for 2006), The Oklahoma Mystery Writers, and Mystery Writers of America.


Cheryl said...

This is a great article Bob. At least your experiences are good for some stories.

Best of luck with virtual tour.


Marta Stephens said...

First thanks so much for joining us here at MB4. It's a pleasure to be one of your virtual book tour hosts!

With the release of my second book looming up ahead (fall 2008), I'm wearing my marketing/promotion hat again too. I must admit, my strategies seem a bit more "organized" this time around. What a difference a year and a little experience makes.

Best of luck on your tour and with your book!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your tale of woe. I hope your Mom recovers from her coffee incident. I did have to laugh as the old swing on the porch decided to dump me several months ago. Best of success with your book.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Bob, this was a delightful piece that reminded me of my life in general at times. Sometimes these bad luck events just string together (in threes, fours, or fives, as the case may be...) and then we get to go back to our complacency and routines. I've found that a combination of virtual touring and hitting the local wineries for book signings is the most profitable, and far more so than at bookstores, where I have way too much competition! LOL. Find a spot you love where people come happy and with fat billfolds, get in good with the owners, get an open invitation to sell/sign, give away some freebies (I give away my art photos in poster form), and life is good. Guaranteed sales and a nice glass of cold Riesling at hand at all times. It works! Best of luck with your books and future tours and thanks for guest blogging here at MB4.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone, for the nice comments.

Bob Avey