by Hugh Gilmore
I need to talk to you this week as though we’re meeting for coffee, and I have to catch you up on a thousand and one things that have happened since we last had a heart-to-heart.
Coffee first: I own a few shares of Starbucks stock, so I went there every morning to write for nearly a year. Each morning I ordered the same thing from the same people. No one ever said hello, or reacted as though they’d seen me before. So, I stopped going. Now, most of the time I go to The Coffee Company up near Hideaway Records and people say hello. I’m supposing that’s the difference between an international chain and a locally owned company.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. I had my book launch for “Gorilla Tour,” as I’ve come to call it, and that went very well. Kathy Bonanno, founder/director of Musehouse Literary Center, 7924 Germantown Ave., and her staff run a smooth operation. I had a full house for my reading and sold some books and had a number of interesting conversations with people as we all stood around cheese-and-crackering (and wining) later.
More than one person told me that I stand as a figure of inspiration. I think they meant, “If a dummy like you can get a book launch, then there’s hope for the rest of us.” Meaning: other writers who haven’t finished their books, or haven’t felt that magical moment where they feel they should take their manuscript out of the drawer and start trying to market it. A friend told me that I’m kind of living a Walter Mittyish existence where I live out other people’s dreams.
Perhaps so, but it’s not a risk-free existence. The day of the book launch someone shared with me an email sent by another person that said, in effect, “I wasted money on his first book, “Malcolm’s Wine,” which I found unreadable. Now I don’t want to go to his reading and buy another unreadable book.”
“Ha ha ha,” I said, right after I pulled the needle from my arm and emerged from the men’s room, “Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion.”
After the reading at Musehouse, it was time to capitalize on my investment. Time to carpe diem. Time to strike while the iron was hot. Catch the fly with your tongue while it’s still on the windowsill, you know.
I joined Facebook to promote my book. I’ve written two Local columns describing the experience. I didn’t want to beat the subject to death, so I didn’t write that all-important third column that told what I realized when I finally opened my eyes and saw what was going on.
If I had, I would have said this: Facebook is like a big college dorm lounge where three or four different TVs are playing. Everyone is also surfing the net and has earphones on. They are all friends with one another (more or less) and they make occasional comments to one another about a TV show, their website, a text they just received, or their child’s birthday party. They’re all happy.
Into this casual pajama party I came plunging, sleeves rolled up, shouting, “Hi, I’m going door-to-door, just to make you this incredible offer!” That is, “Hey, my book is for sale.” Every time I signed in.
That was rude. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk on salesmanship. Facebook is much more subtle than that. When I first came on FB, I received a lot of “traffic” because a lot of old friends, many of them ex-students of mine, wanted to welcome me and say hello for old times’ sake. A few bought my book and told friends to buy my book. After a while the traffic slowed down and the requests to be “friended” stopped.
The real purpose of Facebook is simply for a circle of people to connect. It keeps them in contact. It relieves boredom. It’s funny. It eases loneliness. It’s a wacky thing to do late at night. And so on. But it is not really the marketplace every marketing expert told me I had to “utilize.” It is what it is. And I’m enjoying it.
What one can do about marketing is this: Establish links on Facebook to your author/artist/yodeler web page. A friend of mine, a local guy, offered for free to spruce up my blog page, which is essentially my “writing life” page. Among other things, it’s where many of my old Local columns go to the rest home.
So now, my FB page and my log are linked. And guess what? For the time being at least, most of my “traffic” to the blog comes from Facebook. So the system does work, if you know how to use it. In fact, my paperback sales for this month jumped from 3 to 5. Overnight, one night. Walter Mitty, indeed.