Monday, January 08, 2007

Performance - Bringing Your Story to Life

When I first started going to poetry open mics in the 90’s, Vancouver didn’t have much to offer in the way of venues for spoken word. Readings like La Quena’s Howling Full Moon Poetry nights and Tongue of the Slip at the Glass Slipper, were monthly and other readings were sporadic special events usually garnering no significant media attention.

It was a big deal to get on the reading line-up and an even bigger deal if you were actually asked to be a feature! These days, finding a poetry reading is like finding a bottle of Coke - they are everywhere!

Writing the book is only half the battle. Ask any self-publisher who has just come back from the printers with their box of freshly printed books and pondered what’s next.

One shouldn’t forget that the purpose of committing your work to print is to put it in the hands of the reader. In order for that to happen, the reader needs to know it exists. Even authors published by established presses have to make public appearances to sell books. Most publishers put it in their authors’ contracts and many want evidence that you’ve presented your work publicly and that you are willing to do so. Some publishers will help you set up a publicity tour, but unless it is a larger press with deep pockets, much of the publicity (not to mention travel and accommodation costs, etc.) will be left up to you. Sadly, authors rarely reach “bestseller” on merit of their work alone. It’s more likely that their publisher has a promotional budget which includes paid advertising and in print and broadcast media. This undeniably helps to push book sales.

Consider organizing your own launch at a local bookstore, art gallery or restaurant. It is a great way to introduce you and your work to the public. It is also important to realize that traditionally, the launch is where you will likely sell the most copies at any one time.

Although putting together and publicizing an event is a alot of work (literary event publicity given very low priority by most newspapers and broadcast media outlets) you will get an immediate sense of what’s involved in running a reading and it will help you to become more professional when dealing with other hosts and organizers.

Tip: At your launch, have everyone sign a guest book or maybe hold a business card draw. Whenever someone approaches you with positive feedback, get their email address and phone no. Create a database (Microsoft Outlook or Excel are good basic programs for doing this). This is your “fan” base. Use it to generate “word-of-mouth” promotion -which will be your most effective and inexpensive marketing weapon.

Historically, launches don’t make much money. You will sell some books, but probably not enough to cover the various expenses you will incur. The dividends, however, can’t be looked at strictly financially. Instead, think of this as merely a first step in a larger overall marketing plan for your work and your career as a writer.

People like to meet the author and have their book signed. Readings and open mics also attract other writers, performers and event organizers, and help build your creative network.

You might be surprised to discover that performing can actually be a feasible way for a writer to supplement his income and many storytellers hit the stage before committing their work to the published page. It’s also an excellent way to get connected to your community and may even provide you with the opportunity to travel if you want to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, I just discovered your blog and enjoyed reading it. You've got some very useful tips and interesting info here.
Ruth K.
(check out my writer's blog too!)