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A handful of you may know that I’m almost finished with my first novel. This would be a great time for me to mention the title of my book, but unfortunately I’m like a floor fan on a hot summer day when it comes to determining the best title for my debut novel–oscillating between one corner of the room and the other. A title, after all, is crucial to marketing your book and conveying what the potential reader can expect from the content nestled between that compelling cover design and the great quotes (from your mom) on the back cover.

The title isn’t the only delay. I’ve been reading online about marketing and it is clear to me that if I hope to sell more than a handful of copies, I better get my marketing p’s and q’s in order. Because after all, people have to know our books are out there before they can purchase them and a book will not likely go “viral” unless you’ve done your time promoting the heck out of it.

Even though there is an overabundance of advice online on how to self-publish, I tend to lend more credibility to the advice that comes from people I know who have already gone through the experience.

Thus my morning coffee date with Carolyn Vines, author of Black and Abroad. I met Carolyn at a Connecting Women gathering in The Hague and discovered that she had self-published a book a few years back. Seeing as the point of these monthly Connecting Women gatherings is to connect with others, I got up my nerve and approached this beautiful, well-spoken, self-published author to admit that I was; 1) working on a book, and 2) would greatly appreciate it if we could get together for a cup of coffee and discuss her self-publishing experience. And instead of saying she was too busy, or that I needed to be further along in the process, or a more crushing response (get lost! for example), she replied “Yeah. I’d love to get together with you for a cup of coffee.” And so today was the big day.

As two American women who have chosen to live in the Netherlands with their Dutch husbands, Carolyn and I unanimously picked a table in the sunshine, determined to catch some rays while we could. As she sipped her coffee, Carolyn graciously tolerated my flow of consciousness style of questioning, and did her best to answer along the way.

First off, she confirmed what all the online sources say; you need to be ready to self-promote through multiple channels of social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, an Amazon author page, if you’re going that route, and a website designed for your book or books. Good news is, most of these sources are free or low-cost–unless you have a premium LinkedIn account or go for a fancy website design.

But no process is ever entirely free. A book launch, for example, can be where the expenses begin to add up. I learned from Carolyn that if you want to do a book launch as a self-published author at a bookstore, you need to order and purchase the hard copies of your print-on-demand books (at cost) and sell them to the bookstore. The bookstore will then determine for how much they will re-sell them. I’m assuming because of overhead like rent, employees, etc, bookstores need to make more than a buck on the exchange. Thus they mark them up quite a bit–sometimes as high as 19.99.

This kind of mark up can be quite problematic for a self-published author. Imagine you are attending a friend’s self-published book launch. Your loyalty is with your friend, so even though the sticker price for her novel might shock, you’ll most likely bite the bullet and pick up a 19.99 (plus tax) copy of her book. But let’s say the book launch is over and you’re another customer browsing the bookshelves who doesn’t know the author personally–would you purchase a novel that costs 19.99 from an unknown author, or get the latest work from a world-renowned bestselling author offered for 25% to 50% less? The competition is steep enough without having to deal with this sort of inequity. It’s not the fault of the bookstore; it’s just a byproduct of supply and demand economics.

Adding insult to injury, it’s quite possible that the bookstore will ask you to “purchase back” the books that aren’t sold within a reasonable amount of time. No problem, you say. I can sell them from the back of my car, or from the basket of my bike (for my Dutch readers). But once again; you have to prove yourself.

But back to Carolyn Vines. The most fascinating part of our discussion was about Carolyn’s book, Black and Abroad.

I purchased it as an e-book and was blown away by her natural writing style. This memoir is far more than a fun journey about falling in love with and moving abroad with her Dutch guy. It spans twenty years of her life and deals with topics of race, poverty, transition, depression, prejudice, culture and finding your strength to grow beyond tragic situations, rather than letting these situations make you a lifelong victim. But words from her website can sum it up much better than me. In her online bio, I pulled the following:

black and (A)broad: traveling beyond the limitations of identity, Carolyn’s memoir, spans her twenty years’ living and traveling abroad and shares how she found the inspiration to transcend the limitations of her identity as a black woman.

And to top it all off, she brilliantly describes humorous situations and isn’t afraid to laugh at herself–a quality I’ve always admired in people. Seeing as I’m only a handful of chapters in and already hooked, it seems clear I’m recommending it to you as well. Although the book was written for a black female audience, you do not have to be black or female to appreciate it. In fact, I think the honest portrayal of racial issues is important for everyone, regardless of race or gender, to read about. I got the kindle edition here. If you read it, let me know what you think!

If any of you are interested in knowing when my as-of-yet-untitled novel is coming out, please subscribe to this blog by pressing “follow” at the top of the page, and you’ll be sure to hear more.

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