The Good Old Days

Guest blogger: Sue Harrison

Don’t you wish that we still lived in the good old days? When every publisher was wide open to new authors, if you had the moxie to write a book, agents and editors lined up to read your golden words. Once you chose a publisher, they sent you on book tours and put you up in fancy hotels, where you found chocolate-covered strawberries awaiting your arrival.

Back then, no one sent email or texts. No one twittered. Imagine the solitude, the absolute peace and quiet. You just sat down, filled your quill with ink and wrote…

Hmmm. Yeah. Okay, now that we’ve all indulged in that little fantasy, let’s take a look back in time into the real world of a published novelist (me), circa 1990.

Yes, the book tours were real and sometimes even the chocolate-covered strawberries, but if you truly wanted to succeed, you did most of the PR work yourself.

My husband is a pilot, which gave me a few extra options. One of our favorite out-of-the-box undertakings was to fly our plane to an airport several states away, where we would rent a car and drive to every little bookstore we could find. At each store, we would introduce ourselves, talk to the manager, sign stock, chat with buyers and customers and then drive on to the next town.

Of course, with no Internet, we couldn’t just go online to locate bookstores. We had to rely on motel phone books and word of mouth. You know, the waitress at the local café. And then we’d leave her a free signed book to thank her for her help.

After we arrived back home from that impromptu tour (paid for by us, not my publisher), I mailed notes to the bookstores we had visited and then added them to our Christmas card list.

I did mass mailings to those stores and to libraries and to book lovers. Remember, no one had email. In those days you had to buy stamps.

I telephoned libraries, churches, and organizations to beg for speaking opportunities. I asked friends and family members to set up book signings in their local bookstores. I judged chili contests, hawked books at boat shows and at blueberry festivals. I spoke to church groups and at writers’ conferences. I gave commencement addresses at high school and college graduations. I dropped in for reading week at local elementary schools and gave the children bookmarks to take home to mom and dad.

We bought thousands of copies of my books from my publishers, and we sold them at craft fairs and community gatherings, at local gas stations and restaurants and curio stores. Our kids set up their own book business and helped put themselves through college by selling my novels.

Hard work? You bet. Fun? Absolutely. But guess what? Today – right now – 2010 – is an even better time to be a writer. Technology opens many more ways to connect and to shout out our names. Opportunities abound. Believe it! Then go out and celebrate with a little hard work.

Q4U: What out-of-the-box ideas do you use (or plan to use) to sell your books or products? What out-of-the-box ideas have enticed you to buy?

Sue Harrison is a bestselling novelist whose debut novel, Mother Earth, Father Sky was published in 1990. She went on to write and publish five more critically acclaimed, bestselling novels. Her books have been published in more than twenty countries and in thirteen languages. After a writing hiatus, she’s working on a new contemporary novel. Learn more about Sue at her website.

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  2. Thomas Lawton Jones says:

    >As an article writer who has often dreamed of publishing a book one fine day, I found your article entertaining and inspirational. It is, indeed, a good time to write and market a novel or non-fiction book.Thanks, Sue! And best wishes for the new novel.Thomas Lawton Jones

  3. Sue Harrison says:

    >Ray – I think you’ve done a terrific job of paving the way for an eventual career as a novelist. The contacts and experience you’ve developed as one of the creators and the editor of a very cool magazine is a great example of out-of-the-box thinking. Rick – DOOR-TO-DOOR! That has to be one of the toughest out-of-the-box things I’ve ever heard of! You get the Courage Award!

  4. rent says:

    >very good article i loved it thanks a lot.

  5. Rick Leland says:

    >I went door to door.That was hard…really hard.I felt it was a God inspired plan. Turned out to be an invaluable experience. And I sold hundreds of books!

  6. Ray Case says:

    >Sue,These are the kinds of things writers need to hear. It all seems so glamorous from a distance (like most of my carpentry projects – much better from a distance), but the truth is, it’s a struggle. I’ve been struggling now for quite some time, as you well know. I’m paying my dues, I suppose. You really have to love writing if you hope to stay the course.

    I’ve known you for quite some time now, and I didn’t know some of this. I think your personal story is as compelling as your fiction, and you know how much I love your work. It certainly gives me hope. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  7. Sue Harrison says:

    >T. Anne, My husband’s definitely been the brains behind my best marketing strategies. Good luck! Rachelle, Thank you for this very fun opportunity to be your Guest Blogger today!

  8. T. Anne says:

    >I plan on putting my husbands marketing ability to the test. He’s done OK with his business, let’s see what he can do with mine. ;)I also plan on driving to every bookstore possible and signing copies. I have a connection at the L.A. times and I’d plea for a review. A good one, of course.

  9. Sue Harrison says:

    >Michael – Charles Dickens has all my admiration. For his books and his sea journeys!

    Thank you, everyone, for the great comments! Sue

  10. Michael K. Reynolds says:


    This is brilliant insight. We've been guilty of complaining about our cell phone and pining for the days of carrier pigeons.

    I recently read of how Charles Dickens (and other authors) would go on book tours across the Atlantic (after 2-3 month sea journeys) to sell their art.

    There never has been a greater opportunity than today to self-promote our works.

  11. Erin MacPherson says:

    >This is SO cool. I love hearing how marketing has changed in the last 20 years and it's sooo cool what Sue did to sell her book. Thanks for the cool story and the ideas.

  12. Sharon Bially says:

    >Sue – out of the box is right up my alley! I have serialized my novel on a blog, where I'm simultaneously offering book-club style conversation. There is a lot to say about why — too much to go into now — but above all, I am a true believer in the power of social media and believe just as strongly that readers should be able to choose directly what they like. And I have so much more to say, so much that I am craving a conversation regarding both this and the story itself, I couldn't think of a better format than a blog.

    You can check it out at The initiative has already gotten some coverage in the news.

    Truthfully, I would have liked to be part of the good old days. But it's much too late.

  13. Linda Jones says:

    >This was tremendously interesting and informative! I have admired your story-telling ability & knew it was hard work combined with a lot of talent, but had no idea what the marketing required. Well, it looks like it requires almost as much creativity & hard work as the writing does! Thanks for enlightening us, Sue!
    Linda Jones

  14. Monia says:

    >What a joy to read, thank you Sue for sharing this with me 🙂
    Even though I knew a few bits and pieces of your work before this still was fun to read – going from store to store in other cities – sounds really like quite some work but FUN anyway.
    I hope we will all soon be able to read another book written by you!!
    Much love from me….

  15. Cynthia Briggs says:

    >I'm a cookbook author and my books sell well at arts and craft shows. I've lost count of how many batches of cobbler, cakes and fudge, etc. I've shared with cookbook buyers, collectors and passersby.

    My books have an old-fashioned feel so I've directed much of my PR and marketing toward old-fashioned methods. So, Sue, I know where you're coming from and have learned it's an exhausting task, yet a rewarding way to enjoy the journey.

    I still carry boxes of books in my trunk because I never know when I can offer help to someone trying to decide what to cook for dinner. Always fun!

    Cynthia Briggs
    Pork Chops & Applesauce
    Sweet Apple Temptations

  16. Lynn says:

    >Oh, Sue……I knew you worked hard to promote your books, but I guess I really had no idea!!! Although some of it does sound like fun 🙂 Getting to experience all of those little bookstores sounds great. And…..great pic 🙂

  17. Dobie says:

    >It’s hard for me to believe that you actually had to work so hard to promote any of your fabulous books (although judging a chili contest sounds like more of a perk).
    I don’t think I have the patience to write my own novel, but I always thought that I’d make a good manuscript reader or something like that. How on earth does some lucky person get that job?
    Anyhow, it would be nice to pretend that I’m more sophisticated, and that great works of osbscure literary genius just jump off the shelves at me, but I guess the usual commercial stuff for the common-folk works on me. Big, pretty, colorful cardboard stand-ups at the entrance to the mall bookstore, Websites that say “Others who liked that book also read this book“, The What To Read column in the newspaper, and, of course, word of mouth.
    Sometimes, however, they really do jump out at me. I got my first Sue Harrison novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, from a New Hampshire campground book-swap shelf(Free!). I couldn’t put it down. I read all night by dim lantern. Within a week I had read every Sue Harrison book that was out there. I needed more. I read everything in print from the Pre-Historic Fiction genre and waited patiently for a new Sue Harrison fix. I wanted to BE Chagak.
    Ok, maybe I’m getting carried away, but do you ever wish that you could UNREAD a book and read it all over again for the first time?
    I really, REALLY, wish there was room in the market for some more of your Pre-Historic Fiction.

  18. Author Guy says:

    >I created a full-blown business, Author Guy, as a bookselling operation. I mostly operate out of craft fairs, with the occasional book festival or fantasy convention if they're in my area. Author Guy also carries every book my publisher makes, and you can imagine how happy that makes her.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  19. Sue Harrison says:

    >Thank you everyone for those very kind words! I owe so very much to people who help me promote my novels. My readers, friends, family, agents, editors, bookstore folks, librarians, my chatroom hostess (in those days before modern social networking!), I could go on and on. They take time from their lives to help me. What a humbling affirmation!

    Middle Grade Ninja, keep up that very valuable work!

    80s Queen, hooray for that box of books!!

  20. 80s Queen says:

    >I carry a box of my books and bookmarks (I had printed up) in my car with me everywhere I go. I might forget my kids at home but never my box of books. Who knows who you will run into.

  21. Linda Six says:

    >Sue is a woman of integrity. She is a hard worker and conscientious person. She has a heart for people which is evident through her writings. She goes above and beyond in making sure everything is accurate. She has a strong marriage and is a family oriented person.

  22. author Scott Nicholson says:

    >I doubt it's ever been easy. Used to be, you had to "write it right" or be burned at the stake. So Tweet fatigue is a small sacrifice…

    Scott Nicholson

  23. Lisa Russell says:

    >Oh my goodness, I can't even imagine going through all of that. You're awesome 🙂

  24. middle grade ninja says:

    >I'm not selling my book yet, but I run a blog dedicated to promoting other writers and their books.

  25. Anna says:

    >I only recently became interested in the mechanics of book publishing–I have an experience of professional literary translation, but that's pretty different. The level of determination required from an author just seems unbelievable to me. Merely writing a great novel is so not enough… Thank you for sharing this, Sue.

  26. L'Aussie says:

    >Woh, that's hard to believe. Sheer hard work to sell books. Maybe the technology has changed, but self-promotion will never be simple..:)

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