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Networking at PNBA 2013

PNBA logoA couple of days ago, I wrote a bit about the PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) conference in Portland, Oregon. What an amazing event! I had an opportunity to meet dozens of other authors and pick up many new books for the bookstore. I also connected with some great publishers, editors, and other folks in the trade. I wasn’t the only one at the show wearing two hats, either. A number of the authors also worked as editors, consultants, or illustrators.

It would take more than one post to tell you about all of the wonderful people I met at the show, but I’d like to talk about a few of them just to emphasize the importance of networking at a show like this.

Author Marketing 101

Author Marketing 101 book cover

The cover of Therese & Morgan’s new book.

This was one of the seminars in the author track, and it was put on by two engaging and enthusiastic ladies named C. Morgan Kennedy and Therese Patrick. Right from the beginning, they engaged the audience. After giving us a bit of background for each of them — and laying out their credentials — they split us up into groups and gave us collaborative assignments.

I’ve been writing professionally for a long time. My first paid magazine article appeared 30 years ago, and my first book came out 17 years ago. Why would I attend a seminar called “Author Marketing 101”? As a friend of mine once said, “If I learn one thing at a seminar, it was worth my time.” I did indeed learn something. More than one thing, in fact.

But the most important thing about events like this is networking. Meeting new friends like Morgan and Therese was great. We’ll be able to help each other in the future. Watch their blog for a guest post by yours truly, for starters (I’ll post an announcement here when it appears). I also met an author who will hopefully be visiting my store to do a talk, a bookstore owner who will hopefully be hosting me for a talk, and several other people that were just great to chat with.

Hey, I just noticed Therese mentioned me on her blog. How about that? Networking at work!

Keith McCafferty

Gray Ghost Murders

Keith’s soon-to-be-released sequel to The Royal Wulff Murders.

Isn’t it great meeting someone and hitting it off instantly with them? Keith is a Montana author who writes small-town outdoor-oriented mysteries (which I love), yet somehow we’d never met and I’d never read his books. Even though he lives just a few hours from here, we ended up meeting each other in Portland, Oregon.

Keith and I and our wives ended up sitting together at the author luncheon on Tuesday and chatting afterward until we just had to leave. We exchanged stories about his day job at Field & Stream magazine, bookstores we’ve both visited, life as a writer, and our homes in Montana.

We don’t live in a place like Seattle or New York City where authors are as thick as flies on fresh wolf scat (sorry — I write poop books, so I can’t help phrases like that sometimes). In Montana, we’re spread out across the landscape. It’s a mighty big landscape, too. If you’re in the southeast corner of Montana, you’re closer to Texas than you are to the northwest corner of Montana.

Ask the Experts

I know. I’ve met with “experts” who knew a whole lot less than I did. Nonetheless, I have some rather complex contract issues with some of my new projects, I’m crossing genres (again), I’m having difficulty finding an agent, and I need some publisher contracts in other countries. So I went ahead and signed up for a one-on-one “ask the experts” session with a publishing consultant named Sharon Castlen. I got a lot of good advice in 15 short minutes, but there were a few questions she didn’t feel that she could answer properly.

Sharon set me up with another “ask the experts” volunteer, Cynthia Frank. Cynthia is the president of Cypress House, a publishing services company in California. She was able to answer some questions and also suggest some agents and illustrators for future projects.

It’s tempting to spend all of your time at a show like PNBA just wandering the exhibit floor, attending the cocktail parties, and trying to pick up as much free stuff as you can. In the long run, though, the contacts you make are far more important than swag or free books.

Book Signings at PNBA: Above and Beyond

My dual personality is in full bloom today. It’s the first day of the PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) conference in Portland, Oregon. I have been going to bookseller conferences for a decade or so now. Since my wife and I own a bookstore, I always attend these shows with a bookseller badge hanging around my neck, even when I’m dragging around copies of my own books to peddle. Today, I have that bookseller badge, but it’s tucked in behind an author badge in the holder, as I’m primarily here to promote my newest book, Who Pooped in the Cascades? Having the author badge doesn’t stop me from turning into a drooling fanboy, though. I had a chance to meet one of my favorite authors today (Ivan Doig!), and I was utterly starstruck.

with Ivan Doig

My wife, Kathy, and I getting books signed by Ivan Doig. Yes, by the way, I’ve been right all these years. I asked him if he was offended that I suggest that people start with Dancing at the Rascal Fair when reading his McCaskill trilogy even though English Creek was written first. He said he agrees with me that it makes more sense to start with Rascal Fair because it’s first chronologically. I am vindicated!

Unlike most of the bookseller conferences, PNBA offered a whole track of seminar sessions designed for authors. This was a great idea, and the networking was worth every bit as much as the content of the sessions. There were authors, publishers, and editors in attendance, and I went through almost half of the business cards I brought to the show with me. Note to self: bring a bigger stack of cards next time.

My book signing is tomorrow afternoon, so at tonight’s “Nightcapper” author event I switched to the bookseller badge and collected signed books. About a score of authors ringed the room, sitting at tables with crisp white tablecloths and piles of their latest masterpiece. Most were in the mental zone authors tend to enter at a book signing. The process, while genuine, is routine: smile, make eye contact, chat for a moment, sign the book, move on. Some offered to personalize the books, while others waited to be asked. Autographs ranged from simple initials to elaborate signatures with little added comments.

In my post titled “7 book signing tips for children’s authors,” I talked about adding little extras to a signature. Tonight, Allie Brosh was going above and beyond the call of duty (wayyyy above), by offering to draw a picture of an animal on the title page of her book, Hyperbole and a Half, for anyone who asked. Any animal you asked for! I requested a Jackalope.

A jackalope by Allie Brosh

The jackalope that Allie Brosh drew for us.

Thanks, Allie. You have set the bar even higher. I once drew someone a picture of a wild boar and they thought it was a rhinoceros. How am I supposed to compete with what you’re doing?

Allie Brosh

My wife and I with Allie Brosh (she’s the one in the middle), as she finishes up the jackalope in our book.

Yes, by the way, those are wine glasses. I like this kind of book event. Wine and chocolate and books. I wasn’t going to have any wine, but right before visiting Allie, Mike Veseth signed a copy of Extreme Wine for me. How could I not have a glass of wine?

It’s been a good day. Technically, I was writing about today when I started this post, and now I’m writing about yesterday. We have an early morning start tomorrow (err … today), so I shall sign off and write more later.

I guess I’m one of the few…

Who Pooped in the Cascades?In the bookstore today, a customer was looking at my big spinner rack of Who Pooped in the Park? books. He looked at the sign on the top, which shows a picture of me signing books in Yellowstone Park. Then he looked at me. Then back at the sign. Then at me. Then he raised an eyebrow.

“Yes,” I said, “that’s me. And, by the way, my 18th Who Pooped? book is coming out next month! It’s for the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, Washington, and California.”

He swiftly summoned his daughter. I’m very bad at judging ages, but I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say she was eight or nine years old.

“This man here is the author of the Who Pooped in the Park? book that you like,” he told her.

She eyed me suspiciously.

“The author?”

“That’s right,” her dad assured her. “He wrote these books.”

She looked at me more closely.

“He’s alive.”

“No, honey, not all authors are dead. Some are still alive.”

Oh, well. I’m still planning a book signing at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association conference in Portland, Oregon this fall. If I live that long.

The Wrong Way to Promote Your Book

I originally wrote this article for Writer’s Weekly back in 2003. It can be seen in its original form on their website. I’ve placed it here on my blog because of something that happened last month that got me thinking about it. See that story at the end of the article.

Websites for writers and publications like are filled with information about scams perpetuated upon writers. We see everything from “contests” that bilk money from aspiring writers to markets that never pay the promised compensation. One subject that’s rarely discussed is scams perpetuated by writers.

Often, a new writer will come up with innovative “out-of-the-box” ideas for promoting a book without realizing that (a) they may actually hurt sales and (b) it’s been done many times before. “Scam” is probably too harsh a word for many of these ideas, but some of them are downright unethical and illegal. That’s what we’ll focus on in this article.

The book buyers at the big chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders have seen it all. It’s hard to pull anything on them that hasn’t already been tried. You may assume that owners of small, independent bookstores exist in a vacuum, but that isn’t the case, either. Over 1,200 independents are members of the American Booksellers Association, and members communicate through newsletters and online members-only message boards.

Do we really do this? Yep. There are regional book shows around the country, and owners of bookstores do sit around and share tales of scam artists and unethical book signing conduct. If you own or manage a bookstore, I’d recommend joining your regional association. My home state of Montana is claimed by two regional associations: Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association (MPIBA) and Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA).

Some authors have placed false orders for their own books through bookstores, hoping to pump up sales. Since most POD (Print On Demand) books are non-returnable, they figure the store will be stuck holding the bag and that they can pocket the royalties on the “sales.” This is actually inaccurate. Bookstores that are the victims of this scam WILL return the books and they WILL receive credit from the distributor or publisher. If they don’t, the bookstore will alert their fellow bookstore owners and everyone else in the industry to not do business with that distributor, publisher, and author. If your book is involved in this type of scam, you can kiss your future as an author goodbye, because nobody will do business with you. There are blacklists of authors in the industry and they are shared.

Authors may also face legal consequences for scams like this, and it isn’t difficult to prove who perpetuated a scam. Despite the huge number of books published every year, the publishing industry is a small world. Bookstore owners, book buyers, and librarians communicate with each other, and are eager to press charges if it will drive unscrupulous people from the business.

I spoke to one POD publisher who found out that one of their authors had tried this stunt. They instantly canceled the author’s contract and alerted the distributor and the bookstores of the attempted fraud. Rather than building up thousands of dollars in royalties, the author ended up with nothing; no contract, no book and, of course, no royalties. Not only that, but there are now hundreds of bookstores that will never order one of that author’s books, even if they do get it republished (which they probably will not).

I don’t want to imply here that all, most, or even many POD authors behave unethically. The overwhelming majority are honest people trying to sell their books the right way. It’s a shame that scam artists make so many bookstore owners and managers nervous about POD.

Needless to say, this scam can’t be pulled off at all with returnable books. Even if the author’s timing is perfect, and a royalty check is issued before the books are returned, the returns will show up on the next royalty statement, and the author will have a serious problem and some explaining to do to the publisher and bookstores.

There are plenty of variants on this scheme, like the “I’ve been getting lots of people from your town looking for a place to buy this book” lie and the ever-common yet never-believed “I used to live near your store and I have a ton of friends and family that want to buy copies from you.” The common factor in all of them is trying to trick a bookstore into ordering a stack of non-returnable books that they may not be able to sell. And, like I said, they’ve heard it all. I got one such call and told the author if he’d send me the list of people who called him, I’d be happy to get them the books right away. As it turned out, he didn’t even know where my store was located.

One author contacted a bunch of small bookstores and organized book signing events. The stores ordered stacks of books, and the author canceled the events. Now, many stores tell authors to bring along their own books, and they don’t order anything up-front unless it’s arranged through a publishing house they know. The author who pulled of this scheme will never have another book signing.

Another trick is misrepresenting the content of a book. A store thinks they’re ordering a big fat book of local bicycle trails, and they get a 60-page book of trails (and only one of which is within 100 miles of that town). A scam like this might work once, but if it does, your name is mud.

Another dishonest “program” that’s making the rounds is authors trying to get everyone to buy their book from within a 24-hour period in an attempt to get on the best seller list. Trying to twist the outcome of the Amazon best seller list in this way is unethical and does not represent a fair and legitimate tally of daily sales for your book (meaning calling your book an best seller when you tricked the system is being dishonest to your future readers and to the press when using this statement on your press releases). is one publisher that won’t allow its authors to scam the system in this manner, and other reputable publishers are following suit. The scam is now so well-known in the industry that an author that claims to have an Best Seller is now considered by many to be dishonest unless it can be backed up by data spread over a period of weeks or months.

It’s unfortunate that some authors feel the need to lie to and steal from others in this way. It hurts all of us, and makes bookstores much more wary about stocking POD books at all. When marketing your book, remember that the tried and true methods are the most successful ways to market your books and achieve an excellent reputation: pound the pavement, pay your dues, send out press releases, arrange book signings, take out ads, and arrange radio interviews. I have sold thousands of copies of my self-published books by attending trade shows, putting on seminars, and marketing through my website.

Treat others the way you want to be treated, and market your book to others as you would want other books marketed to you.

So what happened last month that got me thinking about this article? A small publishing house that my bookstore buys directly from gave me a call to tell me about a new book they had out. It’s not the kind of book I normally sell, but it is local-oriented, so I had them throw a single copy in with my next order. When the book arrived, I took a look and decided not to carry it in the store.

A few days later, someone called and asked if we carried the book. I said I had one, and the caller asked me to set it aside to pick up later that day. I set the book on the desk, and nobody showed up to get it. The following week, another call asking if we had it, and another “customer” who never showed up to get the book. This happened four times in three weeks — always people I didn’t know who never came in.

Was it the author (plus friends and family) calling me, hoping to get me to place a larger order? I’ll probably never know. But I most certainly won’t be ordering books for inventory based on phone inquiries like that, and I view that publisher with a bit of suspicion now.

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