Novice Authors Must Promote Themselves, Since Publishers Won’t

Poor Kelly Corrigan, first-time author, didn’t get invited to this weekend’s National Book Festival on the Mall to plug her 2008 memoir, “The Middle Place.” She won’t be rubbing shoulders with heavyweight authors such as Sue Monk Kidd, John Grisham or Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz. No major newspaper bothered to review the California mom’s tale about cancer and family and recovery when it was released. Her publisher didn’t send her on tour. All the old-school staples of book promotion — the book festival, the tour, the glowing newspaper review — Corrigan got none of them.

What was a newbie author to do?

She cobbled together a trailer for her book on her home computer, using iMovie software, downloading a free tune off the Web for background music, and stuck it on her Web site. Her agent helped get her on one network television morning show. About 20 friends hosted book parties, which she hit on a self-funded three-week blitz, selling books out of the trunk of her car. A guy shot video of her reading an essay at one of these parties, and she posted it on YouTube when the paperback came out.

A year later, the book has sold about 80,000 copies in hardcover and another 260,000 in paperback, according to Nielsen BookScan data. It sat on the New York Times bestseller list for 20 weeks, peaking at No. 2. That homemade trailer has been viewed more than 100,000 times. The video of her reading has drawn 4.5 million hits. She’s in Washington on Thursday, speaking at the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Award luncheon. Then she will plow into more than a dozen paid speaking gigs across the country in the next six weeks.

(Excerpted from Neely Tucker’s article in The Washington Post on Thursday, September 24, 2009)

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