Author Success Story - Selling at Local Events

April is National Poetry Month. In today's author success story, I'm interviewing author and poet Debra Winegarten about her success in promoting her book "There's Jews in Texas?" through local events.

Welcome Debra. You posted a photo of your signing at Austin's Bookwoman bookstore on your Facebook page, and I couldn't help but notice the giant $160 check in the photo, made out to Bookwoman. What's the story there?

On my birthday, I decided to run a Facebook promotion and asked my friends to buy a total of 54 books, one for each year I've been on the earth, and for each book or ebook sold, I would donate $1 to Bookwoman...

Strategic Targeted Internet Marketing

The Background

I didn't know I was a marketing genius until my second book, "Katherine Stinson: The Flying Schoolgirl" appeared in August 2001.

That date may not ring a bell for you, as hot Austin August summer days go, it was a pretty dull time -- parents scrambling to get their kids back to school, Texans sweltering under months of non-stop blistering heat with no rain. Going out the front door meant walking into an outdoor oven and most of us suffered from the cabin fever of being held hostage to air-conditioned houses or cars with brief jaunts to work, the grocery store and the cooling relief of spring-fed swimming holes.

Against this backdrop, I began trying to contact groups to sell my newly released book. Katherine Stinson was the fourth woman in the US to earn her pilot's license in 1912, so I figured pilots were part of my target market. When I wrote the book, the audience I picked was middle-school girls, I thought it would be neat to give them a non-traditional role model for women and Katherine, with her interests in aviation, ambulance driving and architecture was a nice fit for that goal.

What I didn't prepare for were the terrorist attacks of September 11th of that year (who could know that?) and what that would mean for my little book's marketing journey. For those of you who were around during that time, you may remember one of the things that was eerie in the days and week following 9/11 -- the skies were quiet. Airplanes were grounded. The daily overhead background sound of planes that I took for granted, all-of-a-sudden, stopped. And, as part of the aftermath of that horrible day, thousands of people were traumatized and decided to drive their cars rather than fly in planes. And my target audience, pilots, were furloughed by the hundreds and in some cases, thousands.

So the very people who I thought would be eager and standing in line to buy my book, all lost their jobs.

I could have rolled over and given up, like I saw many other people do. But that's not in my nature. While others hid their heads in the sand, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.


Sitting at my computer, I went to Google and typed in the words, "female pilots." And I got a list of women pilot organizations: The 99's and Women in Aviation International. I narrowed my search down a little and typed in "Texas female pilots." Pay dirt. Austin had a chapter of the 99's, the older women's pilot organization founded by Amelia Earhart and 98 other female pilots in the early 1930s.  Women in Aviation International had a chapter in Houston and they had a national conference with a vendor exhibit area. I was on my way.

From my experience in organizations, I remembered that groups like nothing better than to have a speaker come give them an educational program on something they're interested in. I went to the group's website, "noodled" around and found the chapter president, and sent the following email:

Hi, _________,

My name is Debra Winegarten. I've just written a terrific book on Katherine Stinson, the fourth woman in the US to earn her pilot's license in 1912. May I come be a speaker at one of your next chapter meetings? If I could have an opportunity to sell my books at the end of the meeting, I'd appreciate that. You can view a bit more about the book on my website,

I look forward to hearing back from you. And if you're not exactly the right person to whom I should make this request, will you do me the favor of forwarding this email to that person?

Blue skies,
Debra Winegarten

The Response

I repeated this researching aviation groups in my area and discovered a group called The EAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association. I discovered the EAA has a chapter in almost every large and small city and town in Texas, and every other state in the US. And they, too, have an annual conference in mid-July with over 50,000 attendees every year! So, I took the above email, and started sending it to EAA chapters in my surrounding area. At each event, at the end, I have a sign-up sheet I pass around and ask people if they are members of other groups who would also enjoy hearing my presentation, to please sign up and I'll contact them.

In this way, not only did I sell a ton of books (two printings, to be exact), but I also started asking for mileage reimbursement and eventually, when I honed my presentation skills, an honorarium. Soon, groups were flying me to their states to speak at their annual award banquets, paying my airfare, hotel, giving me an honorarium, and buying my books.

Will this Technique Work for You?

I write non-fiction. One of the things I determine before I write word one of my book is, "Who is my audience?" Who will be the people who will buy my book, either for themselves, or someone in their lives, or both?

I am the first to admit that this process is a bit time-consuming. It requires you to be diligent, do research, and follow-up and through with your people. I keep an Excel spreadsheet of the groups I've contacted, their email address, the contact's name, and the follow-up response I received, so I can gauge how well my efforts are producing results. Sometimes, it takes a little while to hone in on who your target audience is. Occasionally, you will discover you have audiences you never thought of originally. I discovered female airplane mechanics, a small but mighty group of women were big fans of my book. But these were a "secondary" market, which I only uncovered when I went to a large women's aviation conference and a group of them together came up to buy my book and tell me about their organization.

You have to be willing to put in the time and energy for this technique to be successful. I've used it on every one of my books with terrific results. And now, with the advent of social media, all kinds of new doors are flying open.

The Online Workshop

I've had so many requests for more information on Strategic Targeted Internet Marketing, that I'm currently writing and designing an online webinar. If you would like to be contacted when the webinar is available, email me here and I'll put you on the list and notify you.

Interview with Austin Author Debra Winegarten
on BookMarketingBuzzBlog 
by Brian Feinblum