By Paul Czajak
Slush pile. Two words writers hate.
So much so that I use it like a swear, “What the Slush pile!!” But it is something we all have to deal with. It is the first big hurdle in the life of a writer, rising above the slush pile. In fact the slush pile is something we all focus on to an almost obsessive extent. We go to conferences and learn all the things we need to do to make our stories shine. We learn how to present our stories to the editor or agent. From margins, to word count, to that catchy first line in your query letter. It all matters if you want to rise above the fray one day. And when that day comes, that glorious day when it all comes together and your story sits above them all and is chosen for publication–something happens that you are not prepared for.
It gets thrown into another slush pile.
The slush pile on the shelf.
I didn’t really realize it until the other day, when I was at a book store doing a reading/signing surrounded by shelves covered in picture books. Shelves that were a good seven feet tall, 20 feet long and four books deep, stacked on top of each other. Trying to find a book was like fingering through a card catalog. That’s when I said to myself:
“What the slush pile! How is anyone going to find my book?” The answer is, they’re not. Not without a lot of help, that is.
Rising above the slush pile doesn’t end with publication. It actually gets worse: you are no longer competing with the 1000’s of manuscripts on an editor’s desk but the 10,000’s of books that have been published in the past few years.
But wait–don’t throw away that manuscript yet! Just like there are things you can do to make your story shine and catch the editor’s eye, there are things you can do to get your book in front of readers. This goes beyond publicity; publicity is great but not everyone is going to have the luxury of a publicist. I’m talking the boots-on-the-ground kind of work. There are a lot of things you can do.
Hopefully, your publisher will get your book in front of people who will write reviews. If your publisher doesn’t, then it’s up to you to do it. Solicit bloggers, librarians, even parent magazines. Give them a copy of your book with the understanding that you may not like what they say about it–though the payoff can be great if it’s a good review. I was at a signing where someone came up to me and bought a book solely because the reviews said it was good.
Schools, Libraries, Bookstores, Craft fairs, Museums, Zoos. Where ever you can make a connection with your book to a reader is where you should go. If you want to rise above other writers, this is your chance to directly make an impression on your readers. Tailor your visit to your crowd. For schools, it is important to show the kids your writing process as well as the book. If it is a simple read-and-sign at a bookstore, think about providing a take-home craft along with your reading. Kids love doing them, and it keeps the kids and parents in the store longer. If they stay in the store longer, the store will like having you read and sign and will most likely ask you back.
I’m putting this as a separate category even though it could easily fit under Book Tour, the reason being, Skype’s ability to reach the entire world. I’m not being overly dramatic here. I live in New Jersey, on the East Coast of the United States. Thanks to Skype, I have had visits with classes in California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indonesia–literally the other side of the world. Skype in the Classroom is an incredible way for you as a writer to reach people you would not normally be able to visit.
Not all of us will be lucky enough to get on the Today Show to talk about our book. So we need to reach as many people as we can, and blogs are a door to people. Contact as many bloggers as you can. Follow them on Twitter retweet what they write. Follow their blogs and comment on their articles. Make a connection before you hit them with the, “Hey can you interview me about my book?”
Once you start getting your name out there, it is important that you have an established website for people to find out who you are, what you write about, and how your readers can make contact with you. If they can’t learn about you, then they may not buy your book.
Few of these approaches to publicity will show any kind of profit at first. After a bookstore signing where only one person shows up and doesn’t even buy your book, you will say to yourself “Holy slush pile! That was a waste of time!” But in all actuality it wasn’t. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was your book, and your reputation as a writer won’t be either. They say instant success is 5 years. That’s 5 years of hard work and moments of time feeling like they are wasted. You put the time in to rise above the slush pile and get your book published so why stop there? Give your book the time it deserves and rise above the slush pile on the shelf.