Susan Toy is a veteran book professional who is carving out a niche for herself in a nascent-but-booming section of the business: author-focused expertise. Or, as she much more glamorously likes to put it, she’s an “Author Impresario.”
I’ve had a life-long love affair with books. As a child, I read voraciously then studied English literature in university, knowing full well that the only job I’d be qualified for was as a bookstore clerk. I managed to land that position in the late 70s and never looked back.
Since then, I’ve been a bookseller, a sales representative for various publishers, and have begun writing my own stories. I’ve studied publishing and editing online and have taken writing workshops, all of which helped me develop new skill sets.
Throughout my employment in this business, the people who stood out were the authors. And why wouldn’t they? These were the people who were creating what I was selling, the books I enjoyed reading. I realized, though, that authors were not receiving the attention from publishers and booksellers that they deserved. Unless they won a major national prize or became a media darling, their books quickly fell off the radar at the end of a season. Authors were then left to fend for themselves, to find further attention, reviews, and speaking engagements in an attempt to keep their books from floundering on the dreaded backlist. I knew as a sales rep that publishers are quick to head into the next sales season, and put the past list behind them, especially if last season’s sales were not stellar. These authors require someone to help continue the buzz—their own personal champion (preferably not a blood relative) to lead the cheer about their books.
When I considered how I might help promote books further, outside of what publishers already offered, one author suggested she would pay me to perform those necessary aspects of the book business to allow her more time for writing. That was the birth of Alberta Books Canada.
I began by setting up displays of locally authored and published books at library conferences because librarians had always asked, “What are the new local books?” Publishers and authors pay me a per-book fee to display at conferences held annually throughout the province. Now I am also being asked to provide speakers for these conferences and have delivered several talks of my own about Alberta authors. The point is simply to provide information; if no one hears of these books and authors, no one will know to buy and read them.
For published authors, I seek out and develop promotion opportunities (generally web-based, although recently I’ve created a literary salon series) above and beyond what publishers offer, and I include all books still in print in the promotion, regardless of the original publisher. If a reader discovers an author’s latest and greatest, they’ll also likely want to read earlier books that might otherwise languish on the publisher’s backlist. So when working with established authors, my mandate is to find new readers.
I also consult with writers who seek publication, assisting with manuscripts, helping find professionals they require (writing instructors or editors) and to develop and improve their work. I make suggestions on where they might submit—although I do not act as an agent. I’m like a scout, recommending manuscripts to acquiring editors or suggesting the best possible fit for a writer’s work. I also discuss the writer’s career route, what mode of publishing they might consider, and help build their platform in preparation for publication. At writing conferences, I have delivered talks on marketing and promoting books, on publishing for writers, and common sense rules behind writing that will, hopefully, lead to publication and finding new readers. Basically, I help writers make wise decisions.
As far as I know, I am the only Author Impresario in the world, although I have noticed several agencies are now offering similar services to their clients. Actually, I’m a manager of authors, someone who helps with an entire career. I also provide a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on when required.
And I do all this because I love working with writers! They’re the best part of this business, the creative minds who provide everyone else—publishers, sales reps, promoters, publicists, booksellers, librarians, but especially the readers—with grease for their wheels. They deserve the highest recognition for what they do, and it’s my aim to provide them with that.
After all, I’m a writer, too—one who hopes to publish. I know it’s difficult to write well and craft a story readers will want to read. I’ve suffered from rejection, learned how to work with an editor, and agonized over my craft for many years. I know there is no such thing as overnight success in this business. So not only do I empathize with writers and authors, I can definitely relate!
Susan Toy splits her time between Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a home in the Caribbean. While she concentrates her efforts in promoting Alberta authors, she welcomes the possibility to consult via Skype or email. For more information, check out her website. Susan is currently developing a new ePublishing venture, IslandCatEditions, and will soon “experiment” with her own novel, a murder mystery set on the Caribbean island of Bequia.