Last month, my interview with writer Beebe Bahrami, author of several guidebooks, was published on Matador’s The Travelers Notebook. Readers and I both appreciated Beebe’s thorough, thoughtful answers, and after re-reading her responses, I realized I had some more questions I wanted to ask her.
Beebe agreed to be interviewed again, this time about the publishing and marketing aspects of writing. To what extent does a writer need to be involved in selling his or her own work?
Beebe answers that question, and a couple of others, in this follow up interview, conducted via email:
Given the current conditions of the publishing industry, much has been made in the popular press lately about the role that writers must play in marketing their own work. Take, for example, this recent essay published in The New York Times Book Review about one author’s self-styled book tour. To what extent have you had to market your books?
Both of my recent books are from publishers who are doing their utmost to market my books. A critical part of that is my collaboration with them. They have in-house contact lists, marketing techniques, and insider industry know-how. I have my platform and my knowledge of my field and genre and the on-the-ground savvy of the places I write about. I work the social network circuits online and I do book events in the places I travel, anywhere from talks at bookstores and cafes, to study abroad interest sessions at universities, to meet and greet visits in English language bookstores in Europe.
The publishers and I complement each other and work as a team. If I get an idea and know the publisher can handle it better than I, I contact their marketing leader with the idea and he considers how best his team can further the effort.
As far as the exotic fantasy of a book tour, there is simply no budget for such things unless you are a NYT’s best selling author and the publisher prioritizes a lion’s share of the entire house’s marketing budget for a book tour. As I travel a lot for my writing, I think ahead and contact book stores and libraries and other book-loving venues in the places I’ll be traveling and ask if we can organize an event for the time I am there. I am also discovering that the marketing efforts and virtual tour efforts I make on the Internet are often more rewarding as far as reaching the right audience and generating interest in my work.
Being a book author is very much like being a fine artist: you need to dedicate a lot of years to the craft and really have a terrific body of work to offer the public. And then, you have to have the ability to reach that public, the classic business side of any creative enterprise if one wishes to manifest their vision into a concrete, engaged form.
And building on the previous question… Do you think the role of the writer in marketing his or her own work has actually changed significantly in recent years, or do you think this is the writing world’s equivalent of an urban legend?
This is no urban legend. Writers have always had to be a part of the marketing of their book but never more so than the past couple decades. Publishing houses simply don’t have the budget or manpower to market a book and author the way they did in the past. But approached with a sense of collaborative win-win spirit, an author can go a long way to maximize the publisher’s efforts and be creative with her own efforts. The author knows his or her audience and platform better than anyone else.
The publishers have terrific contact lists in the book world and do their best to get review copies to interested and influential parties. We also brainstorm together about who some of those parties may be. They also work on distribution within all the online and on-the-ground book channels.
I work on effectively and creatively connecting with readers interested in travel, spirituality, culture, and the parts of the world I write about, especially Spain, France, Portugal, and Morocco.
For example, last summer I gave a slideshow talk on sacred Spain and on walking the Camino, the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela, in a French Creperie in New Jersey. Diners enjoyed Bretagne buckwheat crepes as they took in my slide show, skimmed my book, and asked questions as I talked. In the overall view, it turned into an advice evening for people wanting to walk the Camino in France and Spain. I never know how things will go, but it is always interesting and in the end, somewhere, interest in my book also registers but in a wider context of audience concerns, such as a shared passion for travel, how to prepare for a pilgrimage, or what it is like to be a woman carrying out adventure travel on her own. As much as all this is directed to sell books, it is also a chance to meet readers and see who is engaging my writing or wants to do so.
Are your books available on any of the e-readers like the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader?
So far, they aren’t. My books are mainly travel guides and I think their printed format is still the most appealing way to use them. One day, however, who knows what format will be the standard? I have to confess, as a traveler I love marking up and cross-referencing travel guides, so I’d miss that raw, hands on page and pen feel, as well as my on-the-ground scribbles in the margins (albeit illegible to anyone but myself).
Read more about Beebe on her blog, Beebes Feast.
Beebe’s books include: