A Novel Idea?

Feb 15, 2012 | 5 comments

     A few days ago I received my annual royalty statement from WSU Press – no check, just a statement.  Dear Medora, Child of Oysterville’s Forgotten Years, the accompanying letter said, had sold seven copies last year and had earned $4.42*.  Since the amount was under ten dollars, and presumably it would cost more than that to cut a check, the amount would be added to next year’s royalties.
     I’m sure WSU Press is as disappointed in the sales as I am.  The book was published in June of 2007 and that year Dear Medora was their fifth biggest seller, even though it had been available only six months.  There are mega reasons for lack of sales, of course, beginning with the fact that the book has been available for more than five years; it’s no longer a new, hot-off-the-press item.
     Added to that, small presses like WSU’s have minimal budgets for promoting any of their books, much less an older one.  Likewise, bookstores – even local ones — seldom have the luxury of devoting space to ‘niche’ books.  And, of course, the niche aspect is the biggest difficulty of all;  Dear Medora is not in the block-buster, best-seller category.
     Yet, the very day I received the unwelcome royalty news, I had lunch with two women who had just “discovered” Dear Medora and were singing its praises.  No surprises there.  It’s a wonderful book, if I do say so myself!  (Since it is based largely upon family letters and not on my own writing, I can be somewhat objective about it, or at least I tell myself that.)
     Over the years, I’ve had wonderful feedback from readers everywhere.  But now, it seems, there are fewer opportunities for people to lay hands on the book.  Plus, right now I’m deep into writing a book about Medora’s youngest brother, my uncle Willard so I worry.  Maybe it won’t find buyers either…
     These thoughts were apparently heavy on my heart and mind last night because I woke up thinking that writers and artists and musicians all have this same difficulty – making the public aware of what they do, much less earring a living by it.  To address the problem and to make a little money, as well, visual artists have gallery exhibitions and musicians give house concerts.  Writers, of course, have ‘readings,’ but usually only immediately after publication.
     So, my morning thoughts went like this:  Mother’s Day is coming up and Dear Medora is the perfect gift for a daughter to give her mother or even the other way around.  We have no House Concert scheduled for May.  Maybe we should host a “House Reading” here instead.  After all, Medora grew up in this house.  She sat in these chairs, ate from this table.  Her photographs are everywhere.  It would be the perfect venue.
     And then, those relentless thoughts continued, I could also share a bit from the ‘Willard Book’ I’m working on…  We could set it up just like we do for house concerts for musicians – a potluck, BYOB, $15 per person, books available for sale.  Or maybe it’s too novel an idea…
     *Lest you think authors get rich, the book retails for $24.95.  You do the math!


  1. Kathleen Shaw

    Oh, Sydney, yes, a house reading in May! If you decide to do so, do let everyone know as I would love to come, and I always plan a week on the Peninsula in May (in addition to time the rest of the year, such as next week!).

  2. Betsy

    Do it! I’ll attend and even though I already own the book I’ll buy another copy to send a sister!

  3. Nancy

    Sydney: Two of your California “fans” have a tentative plan to be in Seattle, leading a seminar in mid-May. A lovely Mother’s Day gift idea. Although I have no living mothers, I do have a bounty of daughters, step-daughters, grand daughters, adopted daughters, etc. All your fans might boost the sales of “Dear Medora”….

  4. Kitt

    What a wonderful way to remember Medora! I bought the book this year and have enjoyed reading it so much.

  5. Pat Krager

    SIGN ME UP-!! What a grand idea…maybe some period music played on the old piano to set the mood-!!


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