Monday, September 1, 2014

Locating Your Tribe: Where to Find Readers for Your Books

First, a happy Labor Day to all of the hardworking readers and authors out there who got to enjoy a much needed day of rest (I know I sure needed one!).

I just returned home from a three-day weekend at the Barona Indian Reservation, where I sold copies of my books Favorite Daughter, Part One; Face Value: Collected Stories; and Coyote Heart. Before I discuss the powwow, please know that I am not Native American by heritage. I discovered the world of powwows when I wrote my first novel, Coyote Heart, which is a contemporary love story about a married woman who falls in love with a man from the Pala Indian Reservation here in San Diego.

When I was promoting the first edition of Coyote Heart (which was agented and traditionally published by a small press back in 2009), I discovered that there was a core group of readers here in San Diego County who were interested in Native American fiction. I learned this fact by getting out and doing book signings at local bookstores and libraries (there were still a lot of bookstores around at that time, so I was lucky to be able to do a four–state signing tour with the book).

After realizing that readers enjoyed the regional and/or native elements of Coyote Heart, I decided to see what it would be like to be a vendor at a number of local Native American gatherings (remember, I just had the one book, Coyote Heart, to sell) and rented booth space at powwows at San Luis Rey, Pala, Barona, Pechanga, Balboa Park, and Sycuan the summer after the book was released. As a result, I was able to meet a number of powwow attendees (both tribal members and local readers) who liked that Coyote Heart was about the Indian tribes here in San Diego (this was especially true of the Luiseno and Cupa readers who were familiar with the Pala Reservation). I sold a lot of copies of Coyote Heart that first summer, and then attended a string of powwows during the following summer, where I ran into many of my former readers who wanted to know when I would have another book out.

Much happened after those first powwow appearances – I hired a publishing attorney and got the rights back to Coyote Heart, which I rewrote as a second edition. I self-published the new edition of Coyote Heart, along with a collection of short stories I had written during 2001 – 2007, called Face Value: Collected Stories. I published both books in January, 2014, and then completed the final draft of part one of my historical novel about Pocahontas, Favorite Daughter.

I published Favorite Daughter, Part One in July of this year, which was, unfortunately, past the registration dates for a number of summer powwows held here in San Diego. But even though it was late in the game, I signed up for the Barona powwow, which took place this past weekend, and sold all three of my books there.

It was unusually hot and windy all three days, and the long hours of setting up, selling books, and then tearing down the booth every evening was tiring. But what a treat it was smell the scent of sage again, to view the gorgeous regalia and intricate footwork of the swirling fancy dancers, and listen to the hypnotic and soothing drumming and singing. Best of all, I ran into a number of my former powwow readers, who expressed great delight at seeing me there and who were happy to know that I had written some new books that they could buy.

I sold a lot of books this weekend (surprisingly, my first book, Coyote Heart, was still popular – it outsold the new book, Favorite Daughter). And what I learned was that once you’ve developed a core group of readers, they will stay with you, even if it takes years to produce another book.

So, my answer those who ask “How do I find readers?” is that in addition to all the promotional work you do online, you might also want to get out there where readers of the type of books you write congregate – whether it be at fantasy conventions, medieval fairs, children’s plays, young adult library events, mystery theater gatherings, professional meetings, historical reenactments, street festivals, or even regular book signings – and talk to them. Ask them what they like to read and listen to their answers. Tell them about your book and offer to sign copies for themselves and their friends and families. Most of all, treat them as members of a very special family – your tribe, if you will. They will buy from you, they will remember you, and, most important of all, they will be there when you’re ready to tell them about your newest publishing adventure.