Honesville PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2010.ISBN: 1-59078-385-9
Two recent Los Angeles Times columns by the paper’s book blogger Carolyn Kellogg talk about the fast-disappearing publisher-sponsored author book tour, and new ways authors are solving the marketing challenge of helping a book find its audience.
The Times article observes how “name” authors have little difficulty getting tours, hotel stays, and large audiences. But for every big time author there are dozens of non marquee gente, quality writers who, once discovered, get onto the radar of a loyal cadre of followers, but never seem to catch the big bucks, splashy market, break. And it’s getting all the more difficult.
As the business of publishing changes, book tours increasingly look like bad risks. "In 99.9% of cases," says Peter Miller, director of publicity at Bloomsbury USA, "you can't justify the costs through regular book sales."
Kellogg illustrates one self-funded tour that drained $2500 from the pockets of a married pair of authors who hit the road with no assurance of finding an audience when they set up shop.
That expensive itinerary is not the exception, nor exceptional. Prospects generally appear dismal. Print media are closing down book sections, indeed, bookstores are shuttering with alarming frequency. I see faint hope in states taxing internet sales like Amazon, perhaps awarding a meagre competitive advantage to local brick and mortar booksellers. On a more concretely positive note, technology fills some of the need via webposted video that brings eye and ear into play via the interposed medium, or "virtual book tours".
Bloguero René Colato Laínez, author of several bilingual children’s picture books is one of those niche market writers with a strong following but not necessarily a big bucks market. René’s recently published, “My Shoes and I” addresses that book tour conundrum. He’s adopted the “Virtual Book Tour,” strategy, coordinating cyber appearances on a variety of book and reader-devoted blogs.
A Virtual Book Tour is an inspired idea, albeit with a major drawback—text-heavy blogs mean an absence of face-to-face contact between reader and writers. It’s a keen disadvantage.
As Kellogg illustrates, a name like T. C. Boyle puts on a performance that is its own reward for author and audience. Kellogg quotes Boyle saying, Performing is a really great thing. My approach is to entertain the crowd. People aren't used to hearing stories read aloud, and you have to cast a spell on them. I love the audience, and it's a thrill to be in contact with them.
Boyle’s love of performing is a key element in his marketing. A grand performance will create “buzz.” Because classic marketing strategy understands the value of word of mouth recommendations from opinion leaders, a great reading performance will unlock demand in a local market.
Every writer can take advantage of the same phenomenon. Whether by means of a web movie or a local appearance, it’s vital that writers develop their own presence in front of an audience, whether it’s the camera, a local bookgroup’s living room, or a brick and mortar bookseller. To this end, I have the pleasure of conducting a “Reading Your Own Stuff” workshop at the upcoming National Latino Writers Conference. As a long-time teacher of public speaking, few experiences warm my heart more than seeing a person hit their stride with their own spoken message. As a photographer, my singular goal is to take what I call “the perfect public speaker” foto. I have a few good frames but not enough; I carry my lens to every public reading I attend and expose a lot of frames.
With Kellogg’s column in mind, and my own passion for oracy, I am happy to participate in René Colato Laínez’ Virtual Book Tour, with the following interview of Mr. Colato. (Parenthetical asides added after the fact.)
mvs-What are the more important elements in reading aloud to children?
RCL-The most important element in reading books to children is to expose them to wonderful stories, to culture and to open their own imagination. It is great when children can see themselves as heroes or the main characters in the story or when they ask you to read it “one more time”.
(mvs-I tell people who suffer from “communication apprehension” that nerves are a rewarding part of public speaking. One way to develop vocal variety as well as comfort in front of audiences is reading aloud to children. Even the stiffest, stage frightiest speaker will loosen up, do voices and make sounds and gestures when there’s a kid in her his lap, or a circle of tots listening with their beautifully uncritical enjoyment of being read to. Take the feeling from that experience up to the platform with you. It works, so go find yourself some kids and read to them.)
mvs-What benefits can a monolingual child gain from a reading in both languages of a bilingual book? What's a useful method, all in the one idiom then the other, or simultaneously as printed on the page?
RCL-Bilingual books are used in classes where monolingual children are learning Spanish. Also, they are use in bilingual English-Spanish classrooms. Monolingual children can discover stories from different cultures and can be more tolerant to our diverse world. Bilingual books are double worthy because they can be shared with families who speak only one language. Also they are great for choral reading. One group reads the Spanish while the other reads the English text.
(mvs-I wish publishers would give us facing page translations so readers can experience both idioms simultaneously. As for reading aloud, monolinguals will develop appreciation for the sound, rhythm, and flow of the other tongue, making the language and its speakers less “foreign”.)
mvs-At what age does a writer introduce hard-life concepts, like pigs as food? Mice as vermin?
RCL-I think that at any age a writer can introduce hard-life concepts to children. But the book needs to be written in child language and with characters and situations that they can relate to. It needs to be a fresh charming reading even though if the story is hard and harsh.
(mvs-I’m working on this with my 3 year old granddaughter. She refuses to choose books with “scary guys” in it. We’re learning to skim a new book to identify content, so she’s gaining good literacy skills despite her genuine terror when a cute pig is about to be caught by hungry pursuers. I suppose kids grow into hard realities.)
mvs-Children who watch television are exposed to so much commercialism; do you advocate giving children books with commercial tie-ins to popular television programs?
RCL-For reluctant readers books with tie ins to popular television programs are always appreciated. But the world is more than television programs. There is a different universe that children need to explore and cultures that they need to visit and learn from. We need to expose children to all kinds of books.
(mvs-It’s important that adults keep a close eye on hidden, perhaps subversive messages in whatever reading material or toys they give a child. You might gain some fun and insight from Ariel Dorfman’s long-ago treatise, “How to Read Donald Duck”)
mvs-Please share some of the best, and worst, feedback your own books have drawn from children and adults.
RCL-I have had great comments about my books. Many kids have approached and told me that after reading “Playing Lotería”, they were more confident to speak Spanish. “Waiting for Papá” and “I am René, the Boy” had brought smiles to recent immigrant kids. I’ve heard many times, “Thank you for writing my stories.” I hope to keep giving hope and smiles with my new books too.
mvs-What reaction do you have when you see celebrities-as-authors publishing books for young children?
RCL-I go “another book by ‘Famous Star’”. Some of those books are quite good! Celebrities publish books because they are well received by the popular audience. Editors know that money is secure with these books and they will continue to publish them. But publishers also need to give chances to new voices.
mvs-If you could change anything about "my shoes and I," what?
RCL-Maybe I would like the book to be published sooner. I signed the contract in December 2004 but the book didn’t come out until February 2010. I waited five years to hold the book in my hands. But the waiting was worthwhile. Fabricio Vanden Broeck’s art is fantastic. He was able to illustrate from my own shoes, the shoes I wore in my long trip from El Salvador to the United States.
mvs-What lesson or understanding do non-immigrant children gain from "My Shoes and I"?
RCL-Non-immigrant children can see in MY SHOES AND I, that immigrant children need to do sacrifices to arrive to a new country. They can realize that the trip is not easy at all, that there are many obstacles to overcome
mvs-What lesson or understanding do immigrant children gain from "my shoes and I"?
RCL-Immigrant children can find an authentic story. In the pages of the book, they can find their own story, the story of their parents and relatives. They can see that their stories are important and need to be told, that they can dream and have hope for the future.
Wishing bloguero René mucho exito with "My Shoes and I", that's the word for this ides of March Tuesday, a Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga.
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