In the summer my children and I run a booth at the Valparaiso farmers’ market, selling felted soap and playing music for passers-by. Early on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, we load the van with our tent, table, drum carder, bags of wool, baskets of soap, and musical instruments, and set up shop in a well-trampled lot near the courthouse square. I love this gypsy life outdoors from early morning till afternoon, greeting friends and meeting strangers, then folding up the tent and silently stealing away.
Alongside the soap I display copies of my novels and colorful postcards of the book covers. I generally sell two or three books a day, and many visitors to my tent take the free postcards, which list the publisher’s website and my book blog.
Some people seem awed by the fact that an ordinary woman selling soap is also an author. Others, I suspect, wonder whether I am a “real” author, whatever that means. But I’m as real as they come. Like many other writers published by small presses, I am the one most responsible for publicizing my books. My publishers can only do so much—I need to be actively involved in marketing my wares in a variety of venues.
In 2009 when Crickhollow Books released Plank Road Summer, my sister/co-author Emily and I spent much of the summer at book events in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. We scheduled most events ourselves by emailing and calling bookstores, libraries, historic sites, and community groups. The harvest we reaped included not only book sales but also name recognition because of local press releases, feature articles, and Internet posts. Anyone who Googles “Plank Road Summer” today will find over 27,000 results.
I have not traveled extensively in promoting Kingdom of the Birds. After all the weekends away during the previous summer, I wanted to enjoy more time with my family. However, I did manage to sneak in a little book promotion when a video crew showed up at the farmers’ market: http://www.valpolife.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8098:making-felt-soap-with-hilda-demuth-lutze&catid=356:community-video&Itemid=315
My summer as a gypsy book peddler is nearly over. Next week I return to Chesterton High School, where I have taught English for over twenty years. I used to think that once I was published, I’d be able to quit the day job to write full-time. The truth is that I could make more money selling soap.