An impossibly easy sell

Disclaimer: For anyone who knows me from social media, this is going to be yet another message about my middle grade book, Stu Stories: The Adventures of Dirt Clod and His Sidekick Bird Bones.

By now, I fear, you’re completely sick of my peddling. (Note: that word, peddling, makes me think of the word piddling. More specifically, it makes me think of my 9th grade basketball coach calling a time out and screaming at us to “Quit piddling down your legs!” If he were currently my friend on Facebook, he’d probably scream, “Quit peddling your own book!” which would be less funny but equally well-deserved.)

I know I’m sick of my constant attempts at self-promotion.

Truth be told, I’ve never wanted to have anything to do with hawking my own wares. No matter how hard I try to make my pitches funny or clever or self-deprecating, I always feel like I’ve simply written, “Look at me, everyone! Please, PLEASE look at me!”

And yet, as off-puttingly self-serving as I know my status updates are, I also know I’ll probably keep writing them.

That’s what happens when you publish a book you believe in.

More to the point, it’s what happens when you publish a book you believe should be an easy sell but for some reason isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written a lot of things that aren’t easy sells. Most of my fiction for adults, for instance, is called either realistic fiction or, perhaps worse, literary fiction. In an age where people are suspicious of anything sounding too intellectual, telling someone I write literary fiction is akin to social suicide. If I’m lucky enough to get a follow-up question—“what’s that supposed to mean?”—my follow-up answer doesn’t do me any favors: “I write about ordinary people and the everyday drama we all face.” Honestly, I’m surprised more people don’t yawn in my face.

In any case, Stu Stories isn’t literary fiction and it most certainly isn’t about ordinary people or events.

Sword fighting, decapitation, thievery, vanishing into thin air: this book’s got all kinds of first-rate premises and plot hooks. It even has a love triangle of sorts, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It also has a clear genre and market. Broadly speaking, Stu Stories fits comfortably alongside tons of other current books featuring humorous shenanigans. Origami Yoda, 13-Story Treehouse, Timmy Failure, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Wayside School, etc. etc. etc. More specifically, Stu is intended to be part of an old and still robust tradition of larger-than-life characters performing incredible feats of derring-do in an otherwise real-world setting: from Tom and Huck to “The Great Brain” and “Soup”  to Matilda and Grandma Dowdel, these characters’ antics have been a hit with kids for almost 150 years. A lot of these books are currently called “boy books,” but this is a limiting designation. Perhaps the character who most resembles Stu, in fact, is Pippi Longstocking.

I mention all these books not to say that mine is their equal, but merely to point out the conclusive evidence that there has been and continues to be an audience for books like Stu Stories.

So how do I make this audience aware of my book.

So far, I haven’t come up with any great answers.

A co-worker recently suggested, “You should get your book into that Scholastic reading flyer that kids take home with them from school—remember those?”

I do remember them, and what’s more, I totally agree with my co-worker. I’d love to get Stu Stories into one of those flyers. One minor problem, though: my book wasn’t published by Scholastic. It was published by an imprint of Cedar Fort (Sweetwater Books), a company who has been wonderful to me but simply doesn’t have the financial fuel to launch a full-scale marketing campaign on my behalf. They’re happy to help me brainstorm strategies, but I’m the one who has to do much of the legwork.

So far I’ve created this website, I’ve gone on a blog tour, I’ve done a handful of class visits and author readings. These visits and readings have been far and away the best part of the process: Students have responded to Stu’s hi-jinks with shrieks and gasps and laughter.

In a sense, though, they’ve also been the worst part of this experience. As I get in my car and drive away from the school or bookstore, there is invariably a letdown. I’ve just gotten raucous confirmation that there is indeed an audience for my book; but I still don’t know how to reach this audience—not on a larger scale. At this point I’ve pretty much run out of friends who work at elementary or middle schools. I’m willing to drive anywhere in Minnesota to do a reading, but like I said, I’ve used up my connections. And what about other states? I work full-time; my employer is great about letting me take a day off here or there, but an actual tour would be much more difficult (not to mention expensive) to pull off.

None of what I’ve just described makes me at all unique. Any author who doesn’t have a national marketing campaign at their disposal faces the same dilemma.

So why am I taking the time to whine about it? Is this just self-pity?

Maybe.

Then again, the problem just became more acute.

Why? Because I recently finished a sequel to Stu. When I let my publisher know about it, their response was completely fair but also disheartening. They’re going to wait and see how the first book does before agreeing to publish the next installment.

So now I have two Stu books. One is barely a blip on any teachers’ or kids’ radar. The other is quite possibly dead on arrival.

Unless, that is, I can get that blip to start, well, blipping.

Blinking.

Scurrying across the grid.

Catching people’s eye.

If you have any ideas, let me know. Believe me, at this point I’m open to suggestions.

Until then, I’ll keep posting on social media because I can’t think of anything else to do.

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