Writing A Book About Suicide Is One Thing: Getting People to Read It Is Quite Another

It’s not a summer read that you gobble down in a matter of hours while you lounge in the sun, sip your drink of choice, and, if you’re under 40, work on your tan.  (Actually, I see a lot of “older” women out there with the goal of turning a golden brown.  They’ll be sorry.  Trust me.)

I digress.  Maybe it’s my attempt to make a serious subject into a lighter one.  But there’s no way.  Teen suicide is serious: dead serious.  Whether we like it or not, our kids are attempting suicide and, sadly, completing suicide at record numbers.  Suicides among girls ages 15 to 19 reached a 40-year-high in 2015.  That number doubled between 2007 and 2015.  We can never know for sure, but the best estimates show that 5,240 teens attempt suicide every day.  More than 5,000 in grades seven through twelve die every year.

 

www.newshelves.com

When I hired NewShelves to help me promote Dead Serious: Breaking The Cycle of Teen Suicide, head honcho Amy Collins (She’s the best!) was straight up with me: Bookstores are not your best bet.  Really?  I thought such an important topic at a time when teen suicide is rocking thousands and thousands of families, friends, and communities would be a bookseller’s must have.  “No,” said Amy.  “People just aren’t comfortable going into a bookstore and buying a book about suicide.”

 

I was sure she was wrong; sadly, she was not.  Libraries, she said, are the home for Dead Serious.  Again, she’s proven to be right.  Now, I don’t get the difference between taking out your library card and checking out a book or standing in front of a bookstore salesperson and buying a book.  I mean, neither knows you and is probably too busy multi-tasking to pay much attention.

But in this age of everything Amazon (or Kobo, Barnes&Noble, Kobo and the like), a reader can order a book online and either have the eBook format downloaded to their Kindle or other reader or have the actual book mailed to their home.  There is complete anonymity in such transactions.  (Maybe that’s why Dead Serious has been ranked in the Top Ten on Amazon in the Books > Teens > Social Issues > Suicide category since its publication at the end of January, 2018.  Yea!)

 

At this point, I’m going to plug away.  I’ve decided to focus on main libraries in major cities rather than market to a zillion smaller towns around the country.  NewShelves sent me an Excel sheet a million miles long with contact information for librarians who buy books to add to their collections.  It would take me the next year to get in touch with each one.  A Herculean task I’m not about to undertake.

No, teen suicide is not a happy subject.  Reading a book on the subject can be a challenge.  But Dead Serious revolves around the stories of teens in their own words, all kinds of strategies for breaking the cycle, song lyrics, and new chapters on bullying, LGBTQ teen, successful suicide prevention programs, and more.

Authors assume their work is done once they’ve birthed a new book and put it out into the universe.  The hard truth: their work has just begun.

 

 

 

THE NEW BOOK TOUR (For Us Mid-List Authors)

 

The Not-Quite End of the Book Tour

In 2015, author Noah Charney wrote a piece for The Atlantic in which he declared the author book tour gasping for air but not quite a relic of the past.

https://goo.gl/fs4eM3

In recent years, and especially since the recession of 2008, when author advances shrunk and publishing had to tighten its collective belt, one of the first things to go were book tours (not to mention the all-but-extinct beast called the “book release party”).
Charney was one of the “lucky” authors who still got to be sent on tour by his publisher.
But in this new, more austere era, publishers only regularly pay to send authors who are compelling public speakers, authors with large established audiences who are guaranteed to sell well and therefore cover expenses (the James Pattersons, Gary Shteyngarts, J.K. Rowlings, and so on), or authors with a high profile that extends beyond books (such as actors, athletes, comedians). Publishers might send the odd debut writer, in hopes of more media coverage, but it’s no longer a given.

Well, I, along with my fellow mid-list authors, don’t fall into the first, second or third category.  (Back in the day—I’m talking the late 1980s—I did do a book tour to promote the 1st edition of Dead Serious, a book for teens about teen suicide.  But I’d hired a publicist who picked up where the 20-something in-house publicists left off.  “Left off” is putting a positive spin on the work they did—or did not do.  These new college graduates were overwhelmed, asked to juggle a ton of books.  While they tackled their job with youthful enthusiasm, they didn’t know what the heck they were doing; hence, the necessity of paying for one’s own publicist.)

This time around, my enthusiasm was tempered by the sad reality that, to hire a media specialist who’d focus primarily on a book tour, was both too expensive and a shot in the dark.  Even though the timing for a 2nd edition of Dead Serious couldn’t have been “better,” I knew that without an M.D. or PhD. behind my name, I didn’t stand a chance of  making a media splash.  (Now if my mother were still alive, she’d probably have coughed up the necessary funds, convinced that surely the sister of her dead son had a lot to say and a big audience that would listen.)

So, what’s a mid-list author to do?  Give up?  Nope.  Not me.  I may be a realist but I’m not a quitter.

I searched the Internet, talked to other authors.  The solution: one of the unique online programs that, for a price far, far below what it costs to hire a publicist, arranged a virtual book tour:  “It’s not just a blog tour. It’s a social media experience.”

http://www.pumpupyourbook.com/

Hmm . .  . I don’t know about the “social media experience” deal, but over the course of a month, I guest blogged, had my book reviewed and/or had feature interviews on 16 book/author blogs.  In truth, Pump Your Book had the blog contacts and did the leg work.  I, on the other hand, spent a chunk of time writing unique guest blogs and answering interview questions.

When I started the “tour”, the paperback version of Dead Serious ranked #2 on the Amazon  Books > Teens > Social Issues > Suicide key word string.  The Kindle version ranked #6.

For a day or two during the “tour,” the book reached #1 and never ranked below #6 again.  Today, almost two months since publication, the book stands tall at #2.  (In truth, the  raking can go up based on the sale of a single book.)

So, was the “tour” a success?  I’d have to answer “yes.”  It sustained interest when many books lose their readership after the blush of initial success.

Now, the trick is to figure out how to keep those cards and letters coming.  Stay tuned.

Okay, So It’s A “Heavy” Topic for a Book

imagesOkay.  So, not everyone wants to read a “heavy” book about teen suicide.  I get that.  It is often much more comforting to build a fire, sit in a comfy chair, and read an entertaining book that sweeps you away from the miserable polar vortex that has descended on half of the country.

But there’s another vortex, if you will.  While it may not be entertaining, it’s damn important.  The rate of teen suicide has reached a 40-year high.  That’s serious stuff: dead serious.  (Hmmm . . . good title for a book.)

But all is not gloom and doom.  There is so much we can do to help break the cycle of teen suicide.  We can feel good about how we talk to friends and family.  We can be aware of the warning signs and make a move if we think there’s trouble up ahead.  We can line up some folks we trust who can connect with health professionals who know how to treat underlying problems like depression and/or anxiety disorder.  Hell, we can just be a good friend.

A marketing pro whom I respect read the 2nd edition of Dead Serious over the holidays.  (Yep, I snagged the title.)  Maybe not the best time to read anything heavier than A Christmas Carol or to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  (If only it were so.)  She thought the book was important and well done.  But her gut told her that this is a book that people would much prefer to buy online or check out from their local library.  She had a hard time envisioning readers walking up to the cashier at their local bookstore, smiling at the person behind the counter and plopping down their money for a book about suicide.  They’d feel uneasy.  Or maybe embarrassed.  You know, like the boy buying his first copy of Playboy or a young wife sheepishly purchasing a how-to about kinky sex.

Well, the marketing pro may be right.  I hope not, but what do I know?  I just write the books and hope that someone else can help sell them.

But then, I wonder, what accounts for the fact that the 1st edition of the book sold almost 90,000 copies some three decades ago?  There was no social media.  No online book sites.  No Twitter.  No Facebook.  No Instagram.  And no ebooks to be downloaded at the library.  Nope.  People either bought a book at a bookstore or librarians bought copies to fill their shelves.

Mind you, thirty years is a long time ago.  I’ve unearthed some of the yellowed accounting notices that I received from publishers back then.  All they reported was whether the book had been sold in the U.S. or Canada, how many copies, and the price per each.  And that was it.  Translation: I don’t have a clue who bought the book or what motivated them.  I didn’t receive any comments on my web site or customer reviews on Amazon.  I was in the dark and will forever be.

You could do me a big favor and help clear things up.  Walk right up to the bookstore cashier and, with a wide grin and charge card or cash in hand, tell her how long you’ve been waiting for a book like this one and how anxious you are to get home, stoke the fire, settle in to that cushy chair and have a good read.