"You've got to figure out every way to sell your book these days."
Although many might still consider it a glamorous gig - write a book, reap the rewards! - selling those books, especially for first-time authors, has become a lesson in perseverance. Stand-alone newspaper book sections, or even substantive morning TV and radio talk shows that would discuss the books, have dramatically decreased in numbers, as have the publicists who could book such appearances. There are fewer bookstores at which to hold signings and even fewer libraries that have the ability to hold author series. While publishers might still invest resources to promote a high-profile author, more of the selling part of the literary life is falling to the writers.
Luckily for many writers, creativity is what got them this far. Still, the tricks of the trade can range from anything as simple as blogging to a book's targeted market to as complex as arranging a whistle-stop tour.
Take Stephen Fried, 53, of Philadelphia, now promoting his fifth book, Appetite for America, about Fred Harvey, whose hotels and restaurants, primarily on the train routes in the Midwest and West, helped usher in middle-class tourism a century ago.
Before the book's launch date in April 2010, Fried spent months setting up a train tour, with plans to stop only at locations with Fred Harvey hotels or restaurants or towns with ones nearby. At those stops, he set up speaking engagements at historical societies or museums, where he would get several dozen listeners, almost all of whom would be buyers of the book.
"You have to find what your core audience is and target where you are going to get them," said Fried. Fortuitously, the Wall Street Journal reviewed his book just as his tour was starting in Chicago. Then NPR thought the excursion clever enough to produce a story.
"It may be harder than actually writing the book," Fried said of his promotional tactics, "but it extends its life for you, and you get to meet people who really connect with what you wrote."
Locally, the Holy Grail is to be on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross - a rare coup. There's also Radio Times, the WHYY radio morning show with Marty Moss-Coane, and the morning talk shows on CBS3 and NBC10. Still, the only sure thing for local authors is to take matters into their own hands.
Rachel Simon, 51, of Wilmington, already had published three books, even helping other local authors in the area by organizing book events at the Princeton Barnes & Noble. But it wasn't until she wrote Riding the Bus With My Sister, in which she documented a year spent on public transportation with her mentally disabled sister, Beth, that she had her own big seller - and a new way to promote herself.
"That led to an unexpected development - organizations for the disabled asking me to be a keynote speaker and paying me for that," said Simon of the book published nine years ago. "It also sold a lot of books."
When Simon's latest book, The Story of Beautiful Girl, a novel about a romantic relationship between two people with disabilities, came out in May, she was able to capitalize on her long list of Facebook friends and Twitter followers amassed from her near-decade of speaking as an advocate for people with disabilities.
Now she finds social media crucial to sustaining a book's following.
"There are still people who only read the newspaper, but I'm finding that the passionate people are on Facebook and Twitter and e-mail lists and on book blogs," said Simon. "Selling a book is really personal these days. People message me on Facebook and I answer them immediately. That didn't happen before."
Sometimes, the events that transpire in the social media world give publishers the push they need to invest in promotional measures.
Two years ago, when a book blogger saw the cover of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - an illustrated Elizabeth with a skeletal jaw dripping blood - on publisher Quirk's catalog of coming books, he wrote about it and other bloggers picked up on it and started to write about it, too.
"It spread virally and forced us to pay attention," said Brett Cohen, vice president of Quirk, based in Old City. Quirk released excerpts and rushed the book into print. Before it even came out, said Cohen, it rose to No. 10 on the Amazon best-seller list, based strictly on prepublication reserved copies.
"It presaged a new world, " said Cohen. "The groundswell came from the bottom up. We got newspaper coverage after that, but we now know we have to pay attention to blogs - and we tell our writers to find that outlet, too."
After Fried's successful train trip, he arranged for two more car tours through the Southwest - in preparation for this spring's release of Appetite for America's paperback version - still mostly catering to historians and history buffs. But he is well aware of the e-mail lists, Facebook promotional possibilities, and blog opportunities that help peddle his prose. That's why he has his own blog called "One Nation Under Fred," where he links to his fan base with regular postings about Harvey, or Fried's own whereabouts. He has held several culinary events, too, having uncovered old Fred Harvey Restaurant recipes. He also has done research to find Harvey descendants so that they may tour and speak with him.
"You can't do it the old way any more, or just the old way," said Fried. "But if you are creative, then [media outlets] will write stories about you. Or someone will forward your Twitter feed. Or pick up your blog."
After two hours at the Princeton Inn, Miller was happy with how her Twitter signing had gone. Besides the original autograph seeker, only three other people showed up, but one, Erin Visalli, bought a dozen books for her Shore concierge business - a decent development.
A Shore guide is a niche sell anyway, Miller said.
"But if I am on Twitter or another blog that looks at the Jersey Shore, my book is exactly what they are looking for," she said. "I wouldn't mind being on Fresh Air, but on Twitter, the response is positive and immediate. I may have to work hard at it, but it can be more gratifying and successful, too."
Robert Strauss is in the midst of promoting his own new book, "Daddy's Little Goalie," a memoir about being the father of female athletes.