Thomas Sullivan has turned his driver’s ed teaching experience into a writing endeavor with his book, Life in the Slow Lane. In this interview he discusses how he’s used blog radio and audiobooks as part of his marketing strategy.
1. Tell me briefly about your book – what is it about and what motivated you to write it?
I taught driver education for a third rate company in Oregon. We used aging cars that broke down and had far too few instructors for our volume of students. We actually had one car from the Dirty Harry era, an ancient Chevy Malibu with a “Three-On-The-Tree” shifter attached to the steering column. My book is about trying to be a good teacher amidst all the confusion and chaos that enveloped the situation.
At first I just jotted down episodes to fill time gaps between lessons. But then I realized that I was in an industry that affects millions of kids and parents each year, and they were increasingly being taught by shady companies like the one I worked for as public schools bowed out of doing the teaching. And no one seemed to be writing about this strange shift happening in a big part of teenage education. So part of my motivation was expository, to shed some light on a little-known industry. The other reason is that the kids always reacted to ridiculous situations with humor and grace, and I wanted to celebrate that quality in my own peculiar way.
2. How have your sales been?
Pretty slow, but steady. The key seems to involve “getting the word out,” which I’ve been doing a lot of lately.
3. You have not been traditionally published. Why?
At first I tried the traditional route (i.e. NY agents and publishers) and found a bit of interest. But I think my style of humor works better with smaller, non-traditional publishers less restricted by the urge to appeal to the broadest audience possible. The folks at Uncial Press and Cool Beat Audiobooks are quite funny and gave me a lot of latitude in how I wrote the book.
4. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your books, and which ones have been most successful?
I’ve used a writer group on Facebook to post links to excerpts from my book when they appear in journals (written and audio). I do the same through Twitter, and also use Twitter to write humor posts that are unrelated to Life In The Slow Lane. Lately I’ve been doing interviews on Blog Talk Radio stations and internet podcast shows. RadioGuestList.com is an excellent source to find these shows, many of which seek out authors. Having an audio book and a story that works well in interviews, the radio/podcast approach is probably best for me. But in general, I think Twitter has the greatest promise in general for authors, given how easy it is to search and share information. Also, tattooing your book cover on your back and streaking through a nationally televised political convention could bring in some serious publicity for your work.
5. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
After a few strange run-ins, I’ve avoided book reviews by new online book bloggers, mostly because I found that personal and cultural beliefs often seeped into reviews. When one reviewer started out by saying “This story made me so angry because when I was…” I shifted away from that venue. I’ll do an occasional review, but only after making sure the reviewer is top notch and has been doing reviews for a while. I prefer to get written/audio content out into the world and let readers decide for themselves if my work is something that would interest them.
6. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
I’d start getting word out earlier about my title. I waited until the book was released to hit Twitter and do radio interviews. In retrospect, I should have started all that earlier.
7. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
(1) Try any and all avenues that can publish your work and help spread the word, no matter how new or small they may be. A new writer is like a band that starts off playing weddings, dive bars, and kids’ birthday parties. (2) Help other emerging writers and small publishers to promote their published titles, and that free support will probably come back to help you down the road.
8. What projects are you currently working on?
I have a book of short humor essays that I’m polishing up. I think I’ll call it Funny Stories About Things That Usually Aren’t Funny.
9. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
Funny stories for lighthearted people who’ve accepted the fact that the world doesn’t really make any sense.
10. How can readers learn more about your books?
My website has links to the e-book and audiobook versions of Life In The Slow Lane. The address is thomassullivanhumor.com.
I’ve also posted a group of clips from the audiobook up on PRX that people can listen to. They’re short and fun. That link is at: http://www.prx.org/p/71515