I had a secret fantasy of becoming a writer when I was a child. I wrote scenes and dialogue while listening to AM radio in my bedroom. I threw them out later. There wasn’t a Barnes & Noble in Belleville, where I grew up, in the 1970s, nor, of course, the Internet. I read book reports or comics and tabloids. The “D” I got in high school English ended the writing fantasy, but not fully.
While I earned my bachelors in hospitality sales and meeting management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI (I graduated in 1992), I wrote for the college newspaper and worked in the communications office. Years later I owned Sub City in South River. In addition to making sub sandwiches, I did the marketing, advertising, menu design, and accounting, all of which, believe it or not, would play a role in helping me promote my first novel.
Instead of following my dream of becoming a writer, I worked in pest control, hotel front desk, hotel night audit, sandwich shop owner, truck driver, route sales for Canada Dry Beverages, and as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. These experiences weren’t distractions; they were stories in the making. In my latest novel, “Dream Dancing,” the character of Mark is a truck driver. His experiences don’t mirror my life exactly but I have worked the same long hours, encountered the slow supermarket receivers, and seen the night crew at convenience stores struggle to stay awake.
The concept for “Dream Dancing” came from a conversation that I had with a female co-worker at my current fulltime job at the New Jersey Department of Labor, where I am a supervisor of a staff of six in the Reconsiderations Unit in the Bureau of Temporary Disabilities. My co-worker was getting married and asked why I was still single. We talked about past relationships and friends until I said, “someday I’ll get lonely, go to Vegas, get drunk, and find myself married to a stripper.” The scenes of friends and family’s reactions popped into my head.
That scene played out every day on the “Jerry Springer Show” so I had to develop other story ideas. Real erotic dancers have children, pay bills, put away for a child’s education, or maintain a house. These dancers are associated with a seedy world covered in neon and makeup. All these elements are in the book.
The novel focuses on Abby, an erotic dancer who leaves Las Vegas and moves to New Jersey to escape an abusive boyfriend. The adult entertainment business plus a serial killer stalking dancers where she works puts her at risk. Her new husband in New Jersey, Mark the truck driver, doesn’t know or understand her. His doughnut delivery company is going out of business and he is preoccupied with that. A murder mystery, “Dream Dancing” takes place near the shore, and Mark tells Abby about his routes throughout the state.
The title, “Dream Dancing,” comes from a chat room name that I changed to fit the story. The title refers to the beautiful fantasy dancers on stage fulfilling male dreams. It refers to the dancing. It refers to the characters who have goals of money, respect, family, or a steady job. They dance toward the dream, literally like the dancers or figuratively like the truck driver or the security guard.
The writing was easy. The editing took years.
My first book, “Dear Pen Pal,” was released in 1998, by a publisher whose name I’d rather not say, as it didn’t work out well. I got plenty of praise for the work, however, but I felt it could be better. There were story parts that I thought could have flowed better. It made the Best Sellers list on Amazon.com. There’s something I never thought I would say.
My new book had to be a good follow-up. I participated in about six writers groups and book reading groups, both near my home in Freehold and some closer to Princeton. Some have dissolved and some are still active. The Jackson Writer’s Group meets at Jackson Library. The Brick Cultural Arts Center has hosted writers groups for over eight years. The Creative Writing Group meets at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in Manalapan. I also attend the writer’s group that meets at the Barnes & Noble in Princeton MarketFair. In additon to the feedback I received on the manuscript for “Dream Dancing” from these writers groups, friends and two professional editors reviewed the manuscript also.
The publishing industry is loaded with thousands of authors trying to get noticed and publishers trying to make money in a field with low profit margins. Many unknown authors get discovered by small press publishers. In the past few years many of those companies have changed their focus or gone out of business. Another option is print-on-demand publishers or self publishing. Self-publishers run their own publishing companies. They print, store, and promote their books any place they can. Print-on-demand publishers work just as it sounds. They don’t have warehouses of books; they don’t have press runs. The book is printed when an order is placed. It’s not a long time between order and the finished book is shipped, thanks to ever improving technology in that field. I published my book with iUniverse publishing, a respected print-on-demand company.
Very few print-on-demand publishers have a return policy. Because of this, large bookstore companies are very hesitant to stock these books. Independent bookstores are more open to selling them. Classics Bookstore, at 117 South Warren Street in Trenton, was one of the first to sell and promote “Dream Dancing.” They have signing events almost every week where they provide tables, chairs, and signs.
In May Classics had a panel of authors for the “Wednesdays on Warren” festivities. Authors brought tablecloths and decorations like candles and display boards of reviews. Laurissa Reynolds and Eric Maywar pointed walk-in customers toward the authors. Poets and historians stood side-by-side with fiction writers to meet people. “Dream Dancing” sold several copies to customers who came back to praise the book.
Classics still advertises the book even after the event. The local author shelves, filled with history, health, architecture, poetry, and fiction, stand front and center of the store.
It takes more than one store, however, to sell and market a book. All those fields I worked in over the years help. Here are some of the book writing and promotion tips I’ve gleaned along the way:
Know the market. When I had Sub City, I knew the competition was fast food and convenience stores. I had to market my difference. I delivered during lunch, and I had daily specialty sandwiches. Many of those sandwiches were ideas from customers. How does this knowledge translate to books? “Dream Dancing” is a mystery with interweaving storylines touching on racism, sexism, and religion, but I wouldn’t try to sell “Dream Dancing” as religion. The book is about mystery and the allure of sex. Its subplots advance the mystery. I had to know the core theme of the story and sell the theme. It sells as mystery or general fiction, and I market it as such.
Set realistic goals. Everyone would like to sell millions of copies but to be a success I need to make back my initial investment and get interest in the next book, which is outlined but not yet fully realized. Mystery readers and word-of-mouth among mystery readers will sell the book. It’s not the whole world but it’s a large audience.
Develop contacts. I will be appearing at the New Writers’ Night authors event at Barnes & Noble MarketFair on Thursday, August 30. This is hitting the big time for me because of all the famous writers who have had events there. I’m part of the event because I participate in the writer’s group there. I also found out about contests from other writers. I applied my knowledge of business ownership to appeal to independent bookstores. “This book will increase sales,” I tell them. “Here’s why it’s beneficial to you.” One of those reasons is that I’ll shop there and bring friends.
Network with other writers. Every writer I met wants other writers to succeed. I’ve never met anyone who says, “Stop, I have too much competition.” When I meet other writers they love to discuss what they’re working on and any advice they have. What better source?
Take advantage of the Internet. “Dream Dancing” is available on Amazon.com, B&N.com, and iUniverse.com. I have a page on jacksonwritersgroup.com and AuthorsDen.com. I tell every bookstore they will get mentioned on my pages when I have an event. Free publicity for a business is always good. If it helps me, the writer, to help the store, I will.
Marketing and promoting the book can be as difficult and as fun as writing the book. I get to talk about it everywhere I go and I meet many other writers and readers. I write and I like to read. I’m in good company.
New Writers’ Night, Thursday, August 30, 6 p.m., Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, West Windsor. Area authors including J. J. Lair, Maria Ferris, Betty Long, Peter Oppenheim, Jeffrey Richig, Pasquale Varallo, and Vanessa Wilson will discuss and sign their latest books. 609-716-1570.