A Lesson I Needed To Know

Inuit Eskimo Women

It’s been almost a year now that my book, POTLUCK: Little Stories from a Big Table has been published (like most unknown authors, I self-published POTLUCK). Michael, my book adviser, suggested I say that my book is “independently published.” He’s right, that sounds a little more professional.

Anyhow, once published, the next job for me was to make sure my book got into the hands of readers. If readers enjoy POTLUCK, and tell their friends, there’s a chance I might get picked up by a larger “real” publishing company. Until that happens, promoting my book is up to me.

For 12 months, I have been doing all I can to promote my book. Like with all sales, you must plant a lot of seeds (it’s a numbers game) and eventually a certain percentage will sprout. I’ve had many book signings and I’ve made numerous book presentations in libraries, private homes, book clubs and book stores in Florida, California, Virginia and Ottawa, Canada. I’ve even spoken at a writers’ conference and was interviewed on local T.V. in my home town of Seal Beach, California (that interview is currently being edited for a December release).

During our summer in Canada, I was able to get my book on the shelves and do book signings in eight large Indigo book stores (they are like Barnes and Nobel stores in the U.S.) The events were moderately successful (but don’t look for my book on the New York Times Best Sellers List just yet). Michael tells me that I’m doing better than most new authors, so that makes me feel good. But, my book is not exactly flying off the shelves.

It’s been lots of fun and extremely challenging to promote my book, even for an out-going person like my-self. Some folks in book stores are friendly and willing to listen to my spiel about POTLUCK while others clearly try to flee when they see me approaching. But, last week I had one of the most unusual experiences I’ve endured in this year-long process. And, it taught me an important lesson.

After exhausting the typical venues for promoting my book, I decided to try offering my services as a speaker to a few retirement homes near our place in Ottawa. I Googled “high-end retirement homes near me” and emailed the activity coordinators of the establishments that responded. The title of my email read, “Hilarious and Lively Presentations by Local Author” and I included a description of my book and my website address. I was sure I could provide the retirement residents an hour of fun, even if no one who attended the event purchased a book. After all, making people laugh and telling self-deprecating stories is how I survived my youth.
Overall, the response was excellent, and I was able to immediately schedule three facilities close by.

So, in case you ever write a book and want to promote it in senior living centers, you need to know there is a BIG difference between “independent living” and “assisted living” communities. Independent living communities advertise something like this: “Retire in Comfort and Style.” These communities offer things like multiple dining options, health and wellness support, fitness classes, laundry services, and even a bar or bistro.

The first two facilities I made presentations in were populated by independent seniors who simply didn’t want the responsibility and upkeep of home ownership any longer. Been there, done that, they were retired, and so was their lawnmower. Some still had their own cars, handled their own finances and while a few used walkers for getting around, they were all alert and engaging, regardless of any minor physical limitations.

Both facilities were beautifully appointed, spotlessly clean and in both cases I made my presentation in a theater with big comfy chairs for the residents. In one, a hostess served coffee, tea and cookies during my event. The events were lots of fun and modestly successful; I sold the same number of books in a one-hour presentation as I did in a four-hour book store signing, so that was good. And, none of the residents tried to flee the theater. Most folks got my jokes and laughed quite a bit. At the conclusion of my presentation, the residents thanked me politely and I felt confident I had put some fun in their lives.

My third retirement home was a totally different experience. The minute I passed through the doors of the reception area, I could see what the words “assisted living” really means. The place was nice and clean, and the staff was attentive and friendly, but all the residents needed some kind of assistance. (Okay, yeah – duh, Paula….it’s called assisted living for a reason).

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