Selling Chapbooks

Last weekend I was at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair here in the capital, for the first time not as a buyer and reader, but as a vendor. I was there selling my new chapbook Science is for Real, from Nose in Book Publishing, as well as two publications from my brand new small press, which I’ve called Elara Press.

I had no idea what to expect as a vendor, since this was my first time ever sitting at a table trying to sell my own work. I basically went in expecting to sell nothing, and just have a good time and hopefully learn more about the small press world. As it turns out, I had a great time, learned a bunch and sold a bunch of copies. So I’d call that a win.

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Some necessary flare at my table

Trying to sell your own stuff at a table is a totally different demon compared to drafting query letters or pitching to publishers, which is the cornerstone of the mainstream spec fic world. I realized very quickly that, if I just let me people take a look at my books and didn’t say anything, odds were they would put the book down and move on. There’s no back cover blurb on Science is for Real like there is on a traditional novel, and so there was no quick way for potential readers to decide if what I had written was up there alley. I came up with two solutions. One was to scribble something on a sign about how I was specifically selling science fiction and fantasy. The other was to explain the premise of Science to people verbally, very much like an elevator pitch.

After the first few, I realized that what I needed to do was summarize my chapbook exactly like an elevator pitch – in other words, as succinctly as possible. Once I had that down (or as down as I could have it on the fly) I started to get more of a response from the Fair’s customers. Some listened and said very politely that what I had written wasn’t for them, and I thanked them and they went on their way. But about an equal number said they really liked Science‘s premise and bought a copy.

Afterwards, I was talking with a couple of my friends from the literary world, and they asked me if I would sell at the Fair again. Absolutely, I said. But then the question is what I’ll sell next time. To be honest, I had never considered the idea of self-publishing my own chapbooks until one of my mentors told me to do it, since it would be better to have more on my table than just Science (as usual, he was proven correct). So now that Elara Press is an actual thing, I have to decide what I want to do with it, and more importantly how much of my time and energy I want to commit to it.

Which is basically one of the main things that writing is all about. Like Jay Odjick said to me at Can*Con a couple weeks ago, one of the most important things to consider as a creative person is whether something is worth my time. Which short story is worth writing today? How long do I spend outlining a novel before I start writing, and how long do I spend on that novel before I decide it’s worth pursuing further, or scrapping in favor of another project? Is it more advantageous to focus exclusively on writing, and then find agents and publishers that will get that writing to the public, or split your time between writing and self-publishing?

Always questions, fellow writers, which I will now go and ponder.

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