Getting published is only half the battle

Dear sir or madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write. Will you take a look?

So begins the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," a song whose lyrics take the form of a query letter by a fledgling author to a publisher. The subsequent verses nail many of the anxieties ("I can make it longer if you like the style ... I can change it 'round ...") of taking that first step toward publication.

For a few lucky authors, that step leads to the finish line. And then, after the first rush of euphoria, another pertinent question arises: "Dear sir or madam, will you buy my book?"

Think for a moment of a board game in which the first square represents a customer walking into a bookstore with $20 to spend, and the final represents the customer actually plunking down the cash for a particular title. Along the way are squares that can alter the player's journey — "Personal friends with the author! Advance three spaces." "Poor review in the New York Times! Sit out one turn."

Or there could be a square that simply reads, "Want to hold onto the $20." Of all the writers whose work we consume, only a small percentage actually deprive us our hard-earned dollars. We enjoy the others for free at the library, online or just browsing the retail shelves. Experiencing a play or movie requires buying a ticket — it's not possible to stand in the parking lot and crane your neck to see the actors — but books invite being devoured for free.

Saturday at the Irvine Marriott, OC Public Libraries will host the annual Literary Orange festival. More than two dozen authors, some from Orange County and some from afar, will speak and have books available for sale. Some audience members may load up on titles; some may buy just one or two; others may come to hear the panel discussions and wait to indulge on Kindle or at the library.

In short, when a reader is confronted with a seemingly infinite number of titles and a finite amount of money and time, the odds of going home with a book — any book — are slim. But the authors who will headline at Literary Orange have all beaten those odds to some degree.

So what are the factors that can entice a buyer? The Daily Pilot surveyed the 2013 festival lineup and gathered a few theories — although it goes without saying that, as in any entertainment industry, nothing is foolproof:


A voice and a face

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, who will moderate the festival's memoirs panel, has promoted authors for years with her "Writers on Writing" KUCI radio show and Pen on Fire speaker series at Scape Gallery in Newport Beach. Both projects are about not just presenting high-quality work, but also connecting potential readers with authors — in short, creating an experience that a book will help revisit.

DeMarco-Barrett often sees newcomers at her readings buy books from authors they had barely heard of an hour earlier. And sometimes, it doesn't even take an in-person encounter.

"I have heard from pretty big authors that have been on the [radio] show that they like coming on because they see a spike in their Amazon ratings when they come on the show," she said. "People are listening and then buying the book."

The Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings of the world obviously don't need to worry about recognition. But if readers can put a face or voice to a lesser-known name, they may be more inclined to shell out. In particular, if the author is a friend or relative, the $20 doesn't just go toward a quality book. It also puts proceeds in a loved one's pockets and sends a message to the publisher (or a bigger publisher) to keep it coming.


Brought to you by ...

Forget that old cliche — you can judge a book, to some degree, by how it looks on the outside. And in publishing, as in politics, endorsements count for a lot. Those words of praise can vary from "New York Times Best Seller" to a back-cover blurb from an acclaimed poet.

Culinary author Debra Samuels, who lives in Boston and is making her Literary Orange debut this year, said she got a sales boost for her recent cookbook, "My Japanese Table," when chef-author Roy Yamaguchi agreed to write the foreword. Having his name on the cover, Samuels believed, helped her credibility as a non-Japanese author.

"I had several Japanese-American people who recognized his name and said they were going to pass by the book until they saw Roy Yamaguchi's name on it," she said.

Samuels noted that cover endorsements have influenced her own buys in the past. When she recently came across a book bearing a blurb from spy novelist Alan Furst, she "knew that the book was good" and took a chance.


Don't Google us, we'll email you

Crime novelist J.A. Jance, one of this year's keynote speakers, has The New York Times' blessing and 45 books to her credit. But she's not depending only on others to market her work. She keeps an email list of more than 10,000 people she's encountered over the years and personally alerts them about new titles.

"The people who read my books are my constituents," said Jance, who lives in Arizona and Washington. "They're my people. When they send me an email, I answer it."

It's an approach Jance developed early in her career when, without a brand name to speed sales, she parked herself at a table outside bookstores and pitched her latest effort to passersby. If her book took place in the city where the reading took place, she made sure to mention that. Her sales background helped in that regard: Jance previously worked in life insurance.


A purchase you can't refuse

Given most people's busy schedules, a good way to entice them to buy a book is to make it mandatory. Hector Tobar, a longtime Los Angeles Times reporter and author of three books, said his novels have gone into multiple printings partly on the strength of being assigned to students, which in turn spurred word of mouth.

A gentler, but maybe just as persuasive, push can come from another kind of group that assigns reading: book clubs.

"With book clubs, too, you have a deadline," DeMarco-Barrett said. "You have to have a book read in a month, and most libraries don't have many copies, especially if it's a new book. You won't be able to check it out, so you have to buy the book."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

If You Go

What: Literary Orange

Where: Irvine Marriott, 18000 Von Karman Ave., Irvine

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $70

Information: (714) 893-5057 or

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