Friday, July 3, 2015

Ladies Who Lunch

I began my experience with the Midwest Writing Center by driving into Davenport from Bishop Hill for the Pen In Hand mini-conferences. I could handle the travel and the work load of the one day events.

It took me awhile to work my way up to the three days of the David R. Collins Writers’ Conference, an annual June event that turned 10 years old this year.

After I had a couple of DRC conferences under my belt and a nearly finished manuscript in hand, I felt ready to approach the visiting pros during the pitch sessions for the 2014 conference—a pitch session being 10 intense minutes of talking up my book to an agent or a publisher. Of course, that also meant pitching myself as well as my book. Both would be difficult, but, thanks to working on this blog, I felt reasonably ready.

My first appointment was with Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press. He runs a small publishing company that looks for “writing that better explains how we can best live in the Midwest.”

I didn’t know if he would consider Bishop Hill part of his Midwestern range, but I needed the practical experience.

Everything went well until the very end when he asked me one of his stock questions: “Who do you see as being your audience?”

I had pages of notes about characters, themes, plots and subplots…I had nothing on the marketing aspects of publishing. It seemed too far away to plan for at that time.

Since I knew I’d be on display, I tried to dress the part. Instead of my usual jeans and t-shirt, I had on dress slacks and my best new jacket. And since he caught me by surprise, I tugged at the shoulders of my nice jacket and ad-libbed: “Ladies who lunch.”

It failed to impress.

Afterward, I spent some time trying to figure out where it came from. How, in a pinch, I would have thought of that line.

I had to think back to my time in Bishop Hill and what the main attraction was during those years. It was tea rooms.

Bishop Hill in the 80s and 90s built up an impressive supply of tea rooms for family, friends, and other groups. The day in and day out staple: ladies. So, yes, that was a valid response. However, it was not complete. It didn’t answer the question of how does one market to “ladies who lunch?”

I left the issue unexamined throughout the past year as I went through extensive rewrites and revisions. Only in the past month have I spent time thinking about how to reach potential customers. Book buyers are customers.

I signed up for a different pitch session for the 2015 DRC Writers’ Conference and a requested element for the presentation was to have a marketing plan. I fell back on my experience as a craftsperson. I had operated booths at craft shows & fairs before eventually opening a shop in Bishop Hill. I brainstormed a page of ideas. Again, I felt ready.

As a bonus feature of the conference, Steve gave a free workshop at the MWC on what to expect from an independent press. I attended. I was struck by something he mentioned: He relied on events and gift shops for selling books.

When I went home to check my list of marketing ideas there they were—events and gift shops—as my top items.

I was on the right track to finding those elusive “ladies who lunch.”

Now, I just have to refine my sales pitch and broaden my range of appeal.

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