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Thinking outside the book: Three Canadian writers look for new audiences in novel ways

“As writers, we need to figure out how to allow readers into our lives in a way that we control and that is comfortable for us.  A sense of participation in the writer’s personal journey can generate an incredibly loyal and supportive reader base.” Kate Hilton, author of The Hole in the Middle.

Publishing has changed significantly over the past ten years. No longer can a writer sit back and let a publicity machine take over, generating reviews, interviews and speaking engagements for a new title. With shrinking marketing budgets—and with writers experimenting with new forms of publishingthere is no single way to create a buzz about a new book anymore.  

Here are the stories of three enterprising Canadian writers who are taking on more than just writing. They have developed their own strategies to get their work in front of new readers.

Daniel Baylis opts for Indiegogo

When writer and blogger Daniel Baylis returned from his year-long trip around the world, he realized that his 12 months of volunteerism and living with the locals would translate nicely into a 12 chapter memoir. So he got down to writing his first book. He knew that the self-directed spirit of his trip aligned itself more with self-publishing than it did with traditional methods. 

“I was unconvinced that a publishing house could offer me much more than what I could do on my own,” says Daniel. “All the tools now exist for writers to create and market professional-level work, if they are so inclined.” 

Daniel wrote his book over the course of two years, working closely with a professional editor to get it into shape, and this past September he launched an Indiegogo campaign to cover production costs. After researching designers, typesetters, and printers, he figured he would need approximately $6,850 for a print run of 1,000 copies. He set a modest goal of $5,000 for his campaign, which donors met three days later (to date his campaign has raised over $10,000).

“To leverage $5000… in three days—as well as to see all the sharing on social media—was both exciting and touching.”

Social media proved vital for Daniel, because it was where he was able to connect with his audience. For years he worked to build and maintain a network of online friends and followers. “In terms of social media, the mantra reads like this: the best time to start was five years ago. A good time to start is now. A bad time to start is next year.”

When asked about “the future of publishing,” Daniel finds the chatter to be melodramatic. “The industry is not going to collapse tomorrow,” he says. “But things are evolving. If I were running a publishing house, my first order of business would be to create a huge team whose sole purpose is to go into the world to track down people who are creating compelling content: writers, photographers, bloggers, twitterers. And then I would start kissing those peoples’ asses. I would pull out all the stops trying to convince them that traditional publishing is worthwhile. Because otherwise, there’s a strong chance that they would sidestep it completely.”

Kate Hilton self-publishes for success

With her 40th birthday looming, Kate Hilton realized that if she was going to write that book of hers she better do it now. “I was worried that I’d never do it if I didn’t make a start before my 40th birthday. As realizations go, it was very motivating.”

Kate spent three years writing The Hole in the Middle, her debut novel about an overburdened working mother attempting to balance the demands of career and family. Once her book was completed she submitted her manuscript to 17 agents in Canada and the U.S. She never heard back from most of them. “Two agents asked for the full manuscript; one ultimately rejected it and the other broke off all communication with me. In truth, the process was totally demoralizing and I thought seriously about giving up on it, since what had started as a midlife empowerment project was becoming the exact opposite.”

Kate put the book away for several months and then, at the beginning of this year, reread it. “I still liked it. I still believed that it could find an audience. But I knew that I would have to commit to self-publishing if I wanted to get it out into the world.”

Kate self-published her book with the help of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, and timed her launch to coincide with Mother’s Day. “I have a pretty extensive network, and I asked everyone I knew to help me promote the book via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and an electronic newsletter. The result was that I had 13,000 downloads in the first month.”

One of the first people to discover her book was author Roberta Rich, who loved the book and showed it to her agent. Soon after, HarperCollins came knocking. Three months after self-publishing, Kate received a contract for her book. The Hole in the Middle is scheduled to come out this December. 

Kate is very active on a multitude of social networks and credits them for helping her sell herself as a writer. “As writers, we need to figure out how to allow readers into our lives in a way that we control and that is comfortable for us.  A sense of participation in the writer’s personal journey can generate an incredibly loyal and supportive reader base.”

Norman Nawrocki on using music and performance to transform the book tour

Norman Nawrocki is no stranger to the stage. The writer, actor, musician, cabaret artist, and sex educator defies categorization so it stands to reason that his own book launch would be unlike any other. His most recent book, CAZZAROLA!, is out this fall and the author is treating his book tour like a concert tour.

“Every book launch on this CAZZAROLA! Canada tour is a triple threat: live theatre (with a soundtrack and visuals); live music (me on violin playing excerpts from the novel's soundtrack); and live me to answer all their questions about all of the above (and about how I make perogies).”

Norman sketched out a 22 city (so far) schedule of performances and readings in bars, concert halls, coffee houses, and bookstores across the country - basically anywhere he feels he can draw a crowd and sell some books. “Thankfully, I have a wonderful network of dear friends, and friends of friends, in each city who stepped forward to help me book the tour.” Norman received no funding for this tour so he will be passing the hat at the end of every show to help defray his travel costs.

During each show Norman will portray several characters from CAZZAROLA!, delivering monologues excerpted from the book. He also plans on playing live music; sampling and looping violin extracts from a CD of original music he recorded to complement the book. “It can also be listened to before, during, or after a reading of the book. It's a sonic complement, an aural context, a musical framework. It's also just some beautiful, moving and reflective music that you can enjoy with your next glass of Lemoncello.”

Sounds refreshing.

To find out what people on the Publishing side have to say about the challenges of promotion, go here.


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