Once you have published a book, publicity and marketing is essential if it is to sell. If you had a traditional publisher, you would rely on it to promote your book with flyers, mailings, and even book signing events. But when you are a self-publisher, as I am, you have to devise your own means of publicity and promotion, without which it is unlikely that you will sell many copies. (And, you can’t count on relatives and friends to buy many especially since many of them expect complimentary copies.)
Since my books are on Chinese American history, a market that is arguably not very large and concentrated in regions with sizable Chinese populations, I soon realized that I had to find ways to hold book events such as talks and signings to generate awareness and interest. Although I anticipated some discomfort at having to ‘toot my own horn’ with such activities, I soon overcame these concerns and even came to look forward to them. Once a professor, always a professor, eager to have an audience to lecture! My 40 years of teaching often inattentive college students served me well in being at ease in giving book talks. One venue enjoyed my talks enough to invite me four times, so I got to speak on each of my four books. I have given 2 or 3 talks at about 5 or 6 other sites. Counting events through May of this year, I have surprised myself by making well over 50 public appearances to speak about my books across the country. These events have not only led to book sales but the opportunity to meet many interesting people as well as contacts for other events.
How did I manage to arrange all of these talks? Did I have a press agent or manager book these events? Did the hosts for my out of town talks pay the airfare and accommodation expenses? The story behind each event is somewhat different, with some events being a matter of dumb luck, others arranged through ‘connections,’ and some through my initiative and persuasion. For some distant events, I actually received travel and lodging funds, or only airfare but lodging with hosts, friends, or relatives.
Using a “piggy-back” strategy, I would try to combine business with pleasure. For example, I arranged to do two or three talks on consecutive days at one site. Or, I arranged for my New York talk to be on the day after I attended a 90th birthday party for a relative. In a few cases, I was willing to bear all the costs of my travel and lodging because that venue was in a part of the country where I had not previously spoken. More important to me than making a profit from my ‘career’ in history was spreading the word about the contents of my books, which I felt more Americans, Chinese and others, needed to know. Fortunately, my talks have generally been very well-received and attended and I have been able to sell enough books to offset my travel expenses.