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Susan Toy Promotes Authors

An Interview with Susan Toy, owner of Alberta Books Canada

Susan, as the owner of Alberta Books Canada. Do you promote only Alberta books, or can you do virtual promotion across provinces?

I set up the business with the intention of only promoting Alberta books, authors and publishers, because when I was a sales rep, the first thing my customers asked was, “What’s local, and who is promoting?” I would make up a local list to circulate at the beginning of each season, and I always knew my sales would be higher for these books because I paid attention to them and made sure people who were making decisions on stocking, acquiring and selling knew about them.

I was asked by a couple of regional library systems to speak at their conferences about new Alberta books, and when I  received excellent evaluations from the audiences each time, I knew I was on to a good thing! So I organized my new business to promote Alberta books, first and foremost. (Besides, using “Alberta” as the first word in the name results in my company usually coming first in any listings.)

As interest expands in what I do, I will consider increasing my coverage to other provinces. (I am working with a BC author at the moment, and am helping her find promotion in Alberta and on the internet.) But the other factor involved here that I should point out is – we have so many authors in the province of Alberta who have not received the attention they deserve right here at home, so I’d like to concentrate my efforts on getting the word out about them first.

When did you start your business and why? Did you see a gap in the promotional services available to authors? If so, what was missing and how do you fill that role?

Alberta Books Canada came into being on Nov. 1, 2009. I had left my position as an agency rep for publishers in order to explore new ideas I’d formed to more effectively promote and sell books. I’m an emerging writer, as well, and I wanted time to pursue that part of my life. As a sales rep, I had to concentrate on sales.

The sad part about the entire publishing industry is that many people have become too focused and traditional in the way they expect things to be done, and they really don’t like, nor will accept, new ideas or change. Just look at the current reaction to e-books, e-readers, and all the worry this is causing to publishers (and booksellers), because they think the new direction can only mean the death knell of publishing. I don’t see it in this way at all, and am constantly asking, “How can we all benefit from these new changes? How can we work with them?”

The publishing year is divided into seasons based on selling– spring (for which sales meetings are held in Nov. and Dec.) and fall (meetings in Apr. May). It’s always a good idea to have lots of lead time to work on promotion before the release of new books, but by the time many of these books are published (often late into a season), the sales staff is already focusing on the next list. And, for me, that was another big problem with the publishing system: an author could only expect six months of promotion, at the most, and then their book was considered backlist, last season’s release, and unless the author managed to keep their own book alive, there was no chance that their publisher or sales force would be able to help them.

This certainly didn’t seem fair to me. I’d become friends with many of the authors I represented, and I’d heard their concerns about a general lack of interest, in them as well as in their books, from both the reps and the publishers. After discussing this problem with a couple of authors, I came up with the idea of “managing” them, and helping with promotion by finding opportunities and any means possible to keep their books visible and their names on everyone’s lips – promotion above and beyond what their publisher had set up for them. No one has ever before offered this service within the publishing business. I’m not an agent. I don’t sell authors’ properties to publishers. I’m a promotions manager, an artistic manager, or possibly even a personal assistant, without all the filing and letter-writing.

Do you see your role as different from or supplementary to that of a traditional publicist? How is what you do different?

What I offer authors is very different from what a traditional publicist does. A publicist sets up interviews and book reviews with the media. I don’t do that because it’s already being done by the publishers’ publicists. Instead, I assess each author and book and make suggestions to the publisher, or the author, as to where publicity materials and review copies might best be sent. I will advise authors:

  • where they might consider sending an article
  • of unusual places their publisher might send a media kit
  • of a fee-paying  association that might invite them to speak
  • of teaching opportunities
  • on how to develop their blog and what to write about in order to promote themselves.

Also, as you’ve seen, I use Facebook to shout out about what those authors are doing, where their books have been reviewed, and where readers can find out more about their books. I’m a cheerleader rather than a publicist. I’m what is called in the industry a “big mouth,” someone whom publishers should be contacting about their new releases and authors, as I will then create a buzz around them.

I try to avoid any kind of cookie-cutter promotion, because every author, and every book, is different, and will draw readers from unique markets and promotion opportunities. So I am primarily sourcing those opportunities outside of the traditional in-store reading/signings, and hope that these new connections will result in providing the author with new markets, and new readers, for their books.

Can you provide more specific examples of the sorts of promotional opportunities you have secured for authors?

ABC primarily displays Alberta-authored and published books at library conferences held throughout the province. Publishers (and sometimes authors) pay a per-book fee (currently $25 to $50) to have their books placed on the table. I create an informational handout for all conference attendees to take away so they may order books for their libraries. I sometimes also speak about Alberta authors and books at these conferences.

I have set up video-conferencing sessions for authors within the RISE program in Southern Alberta (Rural Information Services Initiative) and have arranged for author visits to rural libraries.

We are setting up a “salon” series to be held in private homes. Several authors will read during an afternoon, and a student musician will perform. A limited number of tickets will be sold, refreshments will be served, and we hope to be able to pay each author an honorarium.

I have also arranged with the Calgary Public Library to present a reading for a new author who will be introduced and championed by an established author. The first of these will feature Darcie Friesen Hossack being introduced by Betty Jane Hegerat.

I know some publishers have been very supportive of your services. Has feedback from the publishing industry in general been positive, or does your support come more from small presses?

Feedback from the publishing industry has been mixed. Publishers who already knew of and appreciated my enthusiasm have been quick to work with me. Others are slower to respond. If something I do does not immediately translate into sales, which is the only way many publishers are accustomed to gauging everything, they are sometimes unwilling to give me time to prove that my new methods are effective. Fortunately, many small publishers and their authors saw the value in what I do, and they are now telling others.

Have publishers said anything about promotion that authors might find interesting or useful to know?

I often hear the comment that all monies allocated to promoting a particular book have ‘already been spent.’ Due to budget constraints, there is ‘no further money available.’  Authors would be very surprised to know how quickly the promotion budget for their book was spent.

The authors I have spoken to about your services have been very enthusiastic about what you have accomplished. To what do you attribute this enthusiasm?

I am a writer myself, so I empathize with my clients. I know how difficult it was for them to write that book and secure a publisher. And I also commiserate with them concerning the little time and resources that most publishers allocate for promotion. I’ve always been what one author once called, “The best book cheerleader an author could hope to have!” I love books, writing, and this whole damn business. I’ve spent my entire working career as a bookseller, sales rep, publishers’ consultant, and am now trying to get my own writing published. So not only do I have the experience, I also have the imagination to get it done in a different and more cost-effective way.

I’m naturally optimistic and enthusiastic about books and the business, and I do see a positive outcome for this business when many others are crying, “imminent failure!” I act upon new ideas and methods because I truly believe in what the authors are writing and publishing, and I believe there are readers out there who want to buy and read these books.

How has the online world changed promotional opportunities for authors. Should they be excited or concerned?

The online world has opened up infinite possibilities to savvy authors who know how to make the most of the promotion opportunities – many of them free – that are now available to them. Authors should be excited, and they should be learning as much as they can about how to work with the Internet to better promote themselves.

What will an author pay to have you work for him or her? Do you offer a variety of services, or one comprehensive package?

I began this side of the business with a “wait-and-see” attitude. I had to charge something, because authors needed to realize that a new service like mine cannot be free. Unfortunately, many authors still believe that promotion is something publishers must provide for them at no personal cost to the author. (See above for the publishers’ take on this.)

Each of the authors who signed a contract with me for six months of promotion paid only $300. I will be adjusting my rates for next season, however, and will offer three packages:

  • $300 for the base level of promotion
  • $500 for more promotion
  • $1000 to specifically promote a new release.

Different authors require unique promotion methods, especially depending upon where they are in their careers, so I want the three levels to reflect how I might best help each author, while also offering them a choice dependent upon what they can afford. I am open, however, to working with authors on an individual basis to develop the best promotion campaign for them.

What authors are saying about Susan Toy:

If it wasn’t for Susan Toy, I’d probably trust the prevailing winds to seed my book, and hope it would pop up like dandelions. Susan’s methods, however, are not haphazard. For the months leading up to the release of Mennonites Don’t Dance, I received almost daily “to do” assignments. Everything from specific blogging, and promoting on www.bookclubbuddy.com, to recommending authors who might be (and were) willing to provide quotes for my book’s back cover.

She introduced me to other writers and people in the book world, arranged tour venues and compiled a list of likely reviewers. Susan also loves to talk, and she has spoken of Mennonites Don’t Dance to everyone in her circle, which is always growing. She is the best friend my book will ever have. ~ Darcie Friesen Hossack, author of Menonnites Don’t Dance

—————

I met Susan Toy a little over a year ago, at a reading at Pages on Kensington. I’ve published with two presses, both “small” by industry definitions, and had fine experiences with both. But resources for promoting books are limited, and the season of a book is short.

Susan’s enthusiasm and energy, her commitment to promoting not just new books, but authors and their total body of work was precisely what I needed. How many writers have the time or the confidence to shout about their work and hustle up reading gigs? We wait to be invited. Susan doesn’t wait.

She has a clear view of what is needed, and what authors and publishers can cover. In the year I’ve known her, she has promoted my work, and found at least a dozen interesting gigs for me to consider.

I have a new book coming out in the spring, and I know that long before the print is dry, Susan Toy will have covered every possibility for promotion.  She’s a tireless enthusiast.  One of the best friends a writer, or a publishing house could hope to find for their books. ~ Betty Jane Hegerat, author of Delivery

Contact Information:

Susan M. Toy
Alberta Books Canada
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