Episode 161: Paying Your Writerly Dues

On October 2, 2021, Kasie and Rex were back in the studio after going out-and-about to sell books. Here’s what they learned about paying their dues:

Theme for the day

Paying Your Writerly Dues


  • SCWA Upcoming events and goings-on
  • How have those book promotional events gone?
  • What to know about “paying your dues”
  • Even some super famous authors sat alone in a bookstore
No one showed up to your writer thing? Yeah, we’ve been there. | Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

We’re back and live for the entire month of October! Can you believe it? We’ve had a few weeks off and we’re gonna talk about what we’ve been doing.

But first! The SCWA has their final Writing Conversations event this upcoming Tuesday at noon via Zoom. Register at myscwa.org. Remember these events are free and open to the public and sponsored by the South Carolina Humanities. Tuesday’s topic is on memoir and features Megan Galbraith.

We’re also in board recruitment mode so if you’re an SCWA member and excited about all the work we’re doing and want to lend a hand, consider joining the Board of Directors for a two year term beginning in January 2022. Send Kasie a note — kasie@clemsonroad.com — and let her know you’d like more information.

October’s Become an Author event will feature literary agent Amy Collins and address all those questions you have about getting an agent and getting published. Register here. Also free and open to the public when it’s live. But the recordings are only available to SCWA members. That’s on October 12th at 7 p.m.

Finally, SCWA has announced a new event “Diversity in Publishing” that will take place November 11th at 7 p.m. and feature Felice Laverne, Agent, Author, and Editor. Register here.

So much happening (all digital and distance and covid-friendly) at SCWA. Find a local chapter. Get your work critiqued. Join a professional organization. Admit you’re a writer and want to be an author.

Also want to mention Taffeta.com and our new partnership with them. Their audience — GenX women — is my audience. So find them on Instagram and Facebook and follow them. The editor, Laura Ellsworth, and publisher, Tom Lynch, attended my livestream session last Saturday and it was awesome to get to know them and swap 9/11 stories.

We’ll be right back.

Segment 2

My mom joined me at M Judson Books in Greenville back on September 12th. Four people bought books, two bought shot glasses and one got a wine glass, too. Then last week’s library event, two publishers of an online magazine and the librarian attended. I sold six books, a wine glass and a shot glass. At the neighborhood event my friends threw, two people came by and bought four books. Then I signed another half dozen that had been purchased by people who couldn’t attend.

So, overall, three events sold 20 books. Because COVID shut down my After December promotional calendar, these events were my first ever.

Is it usual to sit, lonely, waiting for people to stop and ask about your work? What are author events? What should you expect? How should you prepare?

This blog gets us off to a good start (from Neda Dallal):

  • Bookstore Events:
    • Solo: The most standard bookstore event is a solo appearance. Authors are expected to speak for fifteen to twenty minutes, followed by a ten-to-fifteen-minute audience Q&A and a book signing. Fiction authors often choose to read from their books during their presentation.
    • Joint event: Bookstores may pair authors who have similar audiences to draw a bigger crowd. The format of the event can vary, but typically authors present separately and then do a Q&A together, followed by a book signing.
    • In conversation: In this format, authors can expect to be interviewed and should also prepare a few questions for the person doing the interviewing, especially if it’s another author.
    • Straight signing: Authors are not expected to give any formal presentation at a straight signing but simply sign books for attendees.
  • Panel Discussions: Panel events typically have a moderator, who asks each individual author specific questions and also raises broader questions that anyone on the panel can answer. Authors typically receive the panel topic in advance, and in some cases the questions as well.
  • Conference or Trade Show Appearance: These events can vary greatly in format, from meet-and-greets to panels to formal presentations. Often you are grouped with a few other authors and asked to speak for five to ten minutes about yourself and your new book because your story or topic dovetails with a particular theme or trend that is relevant for attendees.

Here’s a video on how to set up and conduct one of these signing events.

So how do you get booked for these? This blog talks about approaching bookstores. So, yeah, you query them.

  • Contact them two- to six-months in advance
  • Use the release date or some other timely (holiday) event to match the book’s theme
  • Best to pitch a store you know, so do your literary citizenship ahead of time and visit their store, attend their events, and promote their stuff
  • Convince them you’re worth their time and resources with social media numbers, local friends and family, and other expectations for attendance
  • Confirm the date, time, and length of your stay
  • Ask about display items (what you should bring and what they’ll have) and advertising (on their end)
  • Agree on the number of books you should supply and what percentage of sales the store expects to keep

Segment 3

What about online events? Have you done any? Who hosted them? How did they go?

I (Kasie) did a Free Advice Friday open session with NewShelves in May and Words & Wine with the Columbia-area crowd led by Chris Errol Maw in June. It was difficult to connect with the online attendees. Many are content just to watch or listen without asking any questions or discussing much. 

I’ve done presentations — Writing About Your Hometown comes to mind — for various groups. These are more fun, I think, because we have a topic that’s not just “All about Kasie and her books” but they draw more writers than readers, unfortunately, so you miss out on the grow-your-audience aspect.

That said, the Book Club Conventions circuit has been good to me. PCLC brought me to theirs in 2018 and in 2019 Fairfax County Library in Virginia had me there. This past weekend’s livestream at the Herndon Fortnightly branch was because of that original Book Club Convention event and the connections I made there.

When we talk about doing live events — workshops, specifically — we suggest extracting themes from your own work. The Herndon event was easy for me because I could talk about the locations in the book that are still in town: Amphora Diner, Reston Towncenter, Dulles Airport, etc.

What are some other approaches you’ve taken to pitching workshops or becoming faculty at conferences?

Are these all just efforts to sell books? Or are they efforts to build your audience? How can you tell the difference?

This idea of “paying your dues” is not just in the writing world, it’s every profession. One starts out as a novice, learning the ropes — learning your craft — and is trusted more and more as experience grows, offered opportunities and invited to do more.

I will give my first keynote speech at the Aiken Book Festival on November 13th and I’m hoping it won’t be my last. Keynote is the top rank for performances, right? You’re a panelist, then a workshop lead (maybe co-lead), then a featured speaker and then the keynote.

Segment 4

What you should expect while paying your dues:

  • Few books sell (my first event, I sold 1 to my friend John Starino)
  • Few people stop and talk (same event, only talked to CJ Heigelman, our patron and friend)
  • Few people know (or care) what you’re working on
  • People who don’t know the writing world will be ignorant of what it takes to sell books and might even be confused by your efforts. Just pat them on the head.
  • Be a learner – go to workshops and ask questions and learn something new; those workshops are not about you. Do do more listening than talking during them.
  • You need to write and you need to publish — blogs, articles, on someone else’s site or your own (or both!)
  • You need to be a good literary citizen – this doesn’t mean buying every other author’s books if they’re not your cup of tea. But it does mean showing up to events where authors will be (readings and such) and sharing their posts and promotions on your own social channels.
  • Keep writing – you’ll get better and your work will get better and the second book, the third, the fourth, will sell better.

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