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Getting published is only half the battle

Writers talk about the problem of getting people to actually plunk down money for a book.

April 02, 2013|By Michael Miller

Dear sir or madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write. Will you take a look?

So begins the Beatles' "Paperback Writer," a song whose lyrics take the form of a query letter by a fledgling author to a publisher. The subsequent verses nail many of the anxieties ("I can make it longer if you like the style ... I can change it 'round ...") of taking that first step toward publication.

For a few lucky authors, that step leads to the finish line. And then, after the first rush of euphoria, another pertinent question arises: "Dear sir or madam, will you buy my book?"

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Think for a moment of a board game in which the first square represents a customer walking into a bookstore with $20 to spend, and the final represents the customer actually plunking down the cash for a particular title. Along the way are squares that can alter the player's journey — "Personal friends with the author! Advance three spaces." "Poor review in the New York Times! Sit out one turn."

Or there could be a square that simply reads, "Want to hold onto the $20." Of all the writers whose work we consume, only a small percentage actually deprive us our hard-earned dollars. We enjoy the others for free at the library, online or just browsing the retail shelves. Experiencing a play or movie requires buying a ticket — it's not possible to stand in the parking lot and crane your neck to see the actors — but books invite being devoured for free.

Saturday at the Irvine Marriott, OC Public Libraries will host the annual Literary Orange festival. More than two dozen authors, some from Orange County and some from afar, will speak and have books available for sale. Some audience members may load up on titles; some may buy just one or two; others may come to hear the panel discussions and wait to indulge on Kindle or at the library.

In short, when a reader is confronted with a seemingly infinite number of titles and a finite amount of money and time, the odds of going home with a book — any book — are slim. But the authors who will headline at Literary Orange have all beaten those odds to some degree.

So what are the factors that can entice a buyer? The Daily Pilot surveyed the 2013 festival lineup and gathered a few theories — although it goes without saying that, as in any entertainment industry, nothing is foolproof:

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