Building a Local Readership


DeBary Hall Historic Site
Enterprise, FL

I’ve mentioned this subject briefly in an earlier post, but I wanted to get back to it again, with an update on what’s happening in my world, and to see if any of you are doing the same kinds of things.

First, let me say that I have an advantage over some, in that my second novel, Swamp Ghosts, is set in a fictional town about 30 miles north of where I live. I plopped Riverbend, Florida down along the St. Johns River, because I knew I wanted to write a book set in the habitat I love most in this state. And surprise, that’s not the beach, nor any of the glittery enclaves along our seashores. As a Florida native (yeah, there’s me, and some guy up in the panhandle), I far prefer the mysterious rivers and lakes of central Florida, and the wildlife that lives there. So, I had my setting in mind before I had my story line worked out. I had an idea I wanted a serial killer to be terrorizing Riverbend, but it wasn’t until I was out with the St. Johns River Eco Tour folks that I  realized the good Captain Jeanne Belle had the most perfect job in the world, and it would make a great job for the heroine of my book. Her husband & first mate, Doug Little, is a very talented wildlife photographer, too. So, voila. Maggie Devlin and Gunnar Wolfe were born, and my novel was up and running. Or paddling. In a canoe, of course.

The Naiad
My Inspiration for Maggie Devlin’s Boat, The Undine

I’m giving you this back story, because this is how the next part of my adventure began. Jeanne & Doug loved my book, and Doug was pretty sure he was Gunnar Wolfe’s alter ego, and they began to tell folks on their tours about the book they had inspired. One thing led to another, and before you know it, they were selling copies of the book at the end of each tour, and talking to people in the area who had venues where I might be able to do a Meet the Author type of thing. It started with a small group at a local nature center, and then I was at DeBary Hall historic site, doing a PowerPoint presentation on writing a novel using the St. Johns River basin and wildlife as a backdrop. That went so well, I not only sold a lot of books, I discussed future presentations we’d like to do there, including one on my experiences with self-publishing both eBooks and print versions of all three of my novels. There are more in the works, too, plus I believe they plan to carry my books in their gift shop.

Then there’s the spill-over. Because I told the audience all about St. Johns River Eco Tours, one attendee immediately booked two tours on the Naiad, for her group of 40+ folks, and I’ve been invited to go along as a guest on each, and do a short Q & A session, mid-tour. I’ll do a signing afterward, for anyone who wants to buy a copy of Swamp Ghosts. I’m not telling you guys this just to brag, even though it feels GREAT to be having this much fun with my book. I’m sharing because it’s such a super way to build a local readership. There’s a good chance I’ll be doing more of these Meet the Author things at other venues in the central Florida area, too.

As far as sales go, it’s a one book at a time thing, rather than a mass market event, but each one of those sales is a chance to make a personal connection with a reader. And each reader who enjoys meeting you and reading your book is a potential member of your tribe, ready to check out everything you write. And better yet, each one has friends and family they can tell about your book. Word of mouth is still the number one way to sell books, after all.

Bottom line, I may have stumbled into this opportunity accidentally, but it can work for you, too. If you’re lucky enough to have written a book set in your area, you have a built-in sales tool with local businesses, book clubs, book fairs, and libraries. If your setting isn’t local, look for a hook of another kind. If you write murder mysteries, maybe you can offer to do a presentation on famous murders in history, or new forensic techniques (in layman’s language). Be creative. Find something you can build a presentation around, and start looking for places that offer talks to the public. Consider it advertising that doesn’t cost anything, and might actually make you a few dollars. And more importantly, it’s a great way to build name recognition, and add members to youryour tribe.

And best of all: Meeting readers face to face is FUN!

My Favorite Swamp Ghost of All
The Dancing Albino Alligator

7 thoughts on “Building a Local Readership

  1. I know North Carolina fairly well, having lived her for over twenty years, but I was too scared to include many real towns in my fictional work. I had images of people hunting me down with pitch forks and torches threatening to burn me at the stake (my first series is about modern-day witches and familiars).

    So I created a town and nestled it between a couple pre-existing ones. I’m hoping to branch out from this soon, but for now, it’s comfortable, and it works. Just telling a couple people I know that I have it set in NC, even if it’s an imaginary town, has gained a couple of readers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, as I say, my town isn’t real, either. It’s totally fictional. I just set it down amid other towns that are real, and mention them now and then in the book. Plus, the river is a huge portion of the book’s settings, and it’s the same no matter which little Florida town you’re in. I say mention those other towns that ARE real, and landmarks here and there. People seem to love going, “Oh! I’ve been there. I know where she means.” I wouldn’t ever set one of my books in an actual existing town, because I’d have to be far more accurate about roads, areas of town, descriptions, etc. I just make sure my fictional town is close enough to real ones for people to identify with it. Sounds like that’s exactly what you’ve done.

      BTW, I actually found a vacant area along the river, so I could use that as my place to put Riverbend. Then I could say it’s x-number of miles from Orlando, etc, in my narrative, without people going, “No it isn’t. Such and such town is there!” But it still will give people a sense of location.

      But my other point is that you can still do this type of thing using other hooks. I was lucky to have the location as a set up, but there are other things. You could do a presentation on the history of witch trials, or myths and legends about them. Lots of things will come to mind if you think on it a bit. 😀


  2. Terrific advice, Marcia! It’s always better to go where the competition is few and far between – I did a reading at comic book store because my first release, Die Laughing, is a retro sci-fi story with a graphic novel look to the cover.

    Other comic stores were very receptive, too. Quite a few carried the book, and one store in NC conducted an interview with me and posted it on their website. I also found a hair salon that was willing to carry the book, which was cool, too. I’m like you in the belief that it’s always worthwhile to think out-of-the-box.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Exactly! What a great idea for your book, and since I’m well into reading it, I can see how it would fit in a Comic Book store. In fact, I could even see it as a graphic novel. It’s got all the right elements!

      What you’ve done is a perfect example of what I meant by saying be creative about it. You found a good hook that works as an additional sales tool, and gets your name in front of folks. That can only be a plus! Thanks for sharing, Louis.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I did set my book in a real town, my town, and it was a pain in the a** to find house numbers that didn’t exist for real streets. I’ve heard horror stories about authors who didn’t take the time to find fake house numbers and ended up getting sued by the occupants who lived in the house mentioned in the book. Nightmare! Thank goodness for Google earth, and then I drove around to confirm. Back to your post: It’s a fabulous idea, and I’ve known many authors who’ve taken advantage of this and did real well. Good for you! Having them sell your books at the end of every tour is amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly why I never write about a real town. I just don’t want the hassle of that much fact checking. It’s hard enough to use a fictional one, because I’m obsessive enough to want to be sure that I haven’t put it down right on top of something that already exists in that location. I have maps and draw out my town (or mountain ridge) and then check to see how it sits in relation to real ones, so I can mention those in a way that makes it seem like they really ARE just 15 miles north or 25 miles south of the one I’ve invented. I even had to check with Riverbend to find a deserted stretch of river where I could place my marina. I’d rather do that first, than find out problems later.

      What you describe is exactly what would happen to me. I’d be placing something north of the library and east of city hall, and find out later it wasn’t possible to put it there. Eeep.

      But…whether your location is your hook or not, you can still find ways to interest folks, and make your Meet the Author events a bit different than the more typical ones. More fun or interesting. YOU would be able to do a fabulous one on murder weapons or methods. And then show how you’ve researched those items for your book. People would be fascinated and dying to buy it. (As soon as it’s “out there,” of course.)

      Doug and Jeanne got the idea to sell the books after telling people about them, and having ask if they have any on hand for sale. So I took them some, and voila. They keep a small stash in their ticket office, and have sold way more print books for me than I had done before they started it. Most of my sales are eBooks, not surprisingly, and I only have the print ones for signings or gifts, etc. Now, I have to reorder them fairly often to be sure Doug & Jeanne have enough, and that I have them ready for things that pop up. It is SO much fun, Sue! I can’t tell you what a good time I’m having.

      Liked by 1 person

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