Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guest Post: Strength in Numbers

Book Promotion 101 alum Sally Nemeth (THE HEIGHTS, THE DEPTHS, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN) reports on last week's West Hollywood Book Fair.

(That's Sally by the balloons, doing her Mama Rose impression.)

I am a lucky author. No, my publishing house doesn't do squat for me promotionally, I didn't win a major award with my very first novel, and I'm not on anyone's bestseller list. What I am is a LAYA.

I'm one of the Los Angeles Young Adult authors. And what we've found over our three years of existence is that when it comes to promotion and appearances, there is definitely strength in numbers.

We were organized as an ad hoc listserve by YA author Cecil Castellucci. Initially what we did was share information online, have cocktails, gather for parties and bitch about our publishers, agents, publicists, etc.

Then last year, when the BookExpoAmerica and American Library Association conventions were held in Los Angeles, we saw it as a call to action. We figured we could make a bigger splash at both events as a collective than as individuals. We came up with the idea of presenting a live game show--LAYAPALOOZA--with games based on YA lit guaranteed to amaze and amuse. We invented some absurdly funny quiz show games, got some righteous swag to give away (including our own books), and were not afraid to make total fools of ourselves onstage. And it worked.

For BEA, we contacted the Association of Booksellers for Children and performed LAYAPALOOZA in their hospitality suite, to great acclaim. At ALA, we performed at the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) pavilion and garnered quite a crowd, awarding Dum-Dums for wrong answers to the likes of Arthur Levine and Jay Asher. We set up a group MySpace page and at both events gave out rubber bracelets embossed with our URL:

Since then, we've been invited to perform LAYAPALOOZA at Vroman's Books in Pasadena, at the November California Library Association meeting and in January at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix, AZ. And now all PALOOZAs are followed by book signings.

As a group, we've always talked about how book fests never get teen lit right. They either strand authors on the kiddie stage, where no teen would be caught dead. Or they put us on panels with other YA authors, where we blather to a room full of people who want to be YA authors about what it's like to be a YA author. Neither format attracts our target audience: teens.

Fellow LAYA Leigh Purtill and I approached the West Hollywood Book Fair with a proposition: If they'd set up a dedicated teen tent, we'd provide at least two hours of programming for it and rent a booth at the fair. We told them that, rather than present our own work, we'd adapt short excerpts of our books "readers theatre" style, and have an ensemble of teens perform the texts. If teens are performing, we reasoned, they'd tell their friends and families to come. VoilĂ ! Target audience achieved.

To our amazement and their credit, the WeHo Book Fair organizing committee agreed. They said that if we succeeded in getting an audience at the teen stage, the LAYAs would have slots at the fest next year, and for years to come.

On Sunday, October 4, the LAYAs INVADED WEHO! Ten members whose books had been published within the year, along with 10 teen readers, took the fest by storm. The organizers have yet to do a post mortem, but we're pretty sure they'll be having us back.

We learned a thing or two. Next year we'll sell our own books at our own booth all day, rather than have a fest seller handle a single signing after the performance. Thus we can sign throughout the day and more of us can participate in the fest, rather than just LAYAs with books published that year. And the more of us on hand, the more attention we draw.

Next week, invited by YALSA, we'll be performing in pairs at libraries throughout Los Angeles as part of Teens Read Week. It's a great way for us to get to know area librarians, YA authors' best friends. The LAYAs are now something of a brand, all because we joined together to promote our work--and YA literature as a whole.

Not bad for a bunch of solitary authors.

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