Candy from Strangers

John KennyGuest post
by John Kenny

At the end of May, I found myself in an extraordinarily long security line at the Ottawa airport. I don’t have a lot of patience for that. As an emergency responder and HazMat tech I know that airport security is towards the bottom of the list of risks we all face every day, most of which we take for granted – like driving. As many people die on North American highways every month, as died in 9-ll. Every propane truck rolling through our towns and cities is a bomb on wheels and all you need is shoulder mounted rocket launcher. And no one gives that a second thought, but I digress…

There I was in this huge creeping line, for what is essentially a multi-billion dollar placebo, trying to go to my happy place, or at least achieve some sort of Zen-like detachment. I reminded myself that the security weenies tend to take a dim view of foaming at the mouth, ranting lunatics.

I noticed the woman in front of me was reading a book, a real book too, with paper and ink and heft. Yes, I know ebooks are real books too (yawn), but if you’ve read my antediluvian comments here before, you know my prejudice for print. She was obviously lost in the story, shuffling along like zombie, flipping pages. I tried to subtly position myself so that I could see the cover of the book that had so enthralled her, but I was too close.

So on a whim I broke the unwritten rule that you don’t talk to people in elevators or lines. “It’s so nice to see someone reading an actual book, and so obviously enjoying it,” I said as she looked up to negotiate another bend in the serpentine line.

“I just like the rustle of the pages,” she replied with a smile. She held the book up so I could see the cover – a Lee Child novel.

“Ah, you like thrillers. I just published my first novel, a thriller set in the fire service.” We chatted our way through the rest of the line, and before I knew it I was actually smiling as I emptied my pockets and trotted through the scanner.

It turns out that Laura used to work for Big Ink and now runs a website for families in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. It features a little bit of everything, including book reviews –

I gave her my card and told her there was an excerpt, reviews and background on my website. Laura said she would check it out. A week or so later I got an email asking how she could get hold of my publisher for a review copy.

I wrote back, confessing that Incendiary Publications was me and me alone, with (so far) one title to its credit. She admitted it was probably a good thing I hadn’t told her The Spark was self-published. As it was, my website and the excerpt had caught her interest. I popped a copy of the book in the mail and waited.

Two days ago (at the time of this writing) Laura wrote a long and very complimentary review on her blog. A few people posted comments that they were intrigued and were going to pick up copies, but I haven’t noticed any major increase in sales so far. Those of you who are better than me at marketing and all that social media stuff (just about anyone with a pulse) could probably leverage this sort of thing better.

The first lesson from all of this is that, as Indie authors, it may be in our best interest to be discrete about our publication status. I wouldn’t lie about it, but unless I’m asked I don’t say I’m self-published. There is prejudice, some deserved, some not. Perhaps the only way to overcome it is for all of us to fly our freak flags high. I don’t know. In this case, it probably wouldn’t have worked in my favour.

I’m much surer about the second and most obvious lesson: good judgement and taste are needed of course, but don’t be shy to talk to people about your writing, when there’s an obvious opening. I remember reading somewhere, perhaps here at IU, that wherever you go, you should take your book with you – literally and figuratively.

Sometimes talking to strangers is a great idea. And sometimes the candy is really good.


John Kenny is an author and fire department captain. When not scribbling or running into burning buildings, John likes to gripe about all that new-fangled stuff, like the wheel, and how much better life was before the continents drifted apart. His first novel, The Spark, recently won “Best Mystery/ Thriller” in the 2014 Indie Reader Discovery Awards. Learn more about John at his Amazon author page and his website.

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24 thoughts on “Candy from Strangers”

  1. I have wondered for a while now whether I shot myself in the foot by declaring myself as my publisher. That is how all my books are listed – under my name as publisher. At the time it was a bit of a thumbing my nose at the establishment. Now I wish I had called it something else.

    1. It’s not too late. If I recall correctly, Yvonne, you’re Canadian so you can get free ISBN’s from Library & Archives Canada Just make up a company name and follow the instructions to register it and get a block of numbers. Then register the business name with the Provincial Government. All told it cost me less than a hundred dollars. Then I think you can simply transfer the titles to your company. If you’re mostly e-publishing the rest is simple.

  2. Good for you, John. I spend most of my time in airport security lines grumbling to myself about how I have to undress and unpack. Maybe I should start thinking of them as marketing opportunities. 😀 (I love your “multi-billion-dollar placebo” comment — it’s so true!)

    1. I’m not sure if the thought of a horde of undressed, middle-aged, indie authors storming airport security lines is funny or frightening.

      The biggest challenge for me is forcing myself to talk to people. I’m not shy, not one bit, but I am a lone wolf. I just don’t like people for the most part. Hence my lack of enthusiasm for social media. I’m not sure why I find IU more acceptable. Probably because at least half the stuff here is actually worth posting.

  3. John, I so agree with your assessment of airport security that I had to read your post. Of course you KNOW the reason for the long lines is so that people will stay convinced there is some ephemeral bomb-toting terrorist lurking out there to consume their fear and keep their worry busy enough to deflect it from the real terrorists in suits… but I digress.

    My actual comment intent was to share an airport self-marketing story I heard from some online coach type. The story goes this self-published author’s first book was about to come out, so as he travelled around, he had cards with him that gave the people he struck up a conversation with a rebate they could claim directly from him once they bought his book. He’d go into the news stores in airports and hang out by the book area and strike up a conversation with the people who were looking at the books like his. The theory was that they would buy the book and be so enthralled they wouldn’t bother with the rebate. Even if it worked only 10% of the time, he figured it was a great promotion. and would get people talking

    I think you could take it a step further even and promise a two-tier rebate — one level for just reading the book and a higher one in exchange for a blog, review, or Twitter blast (which could be like sending a free review copy).

    1. Ah Kae, don’t get me started on the culture of fear. Excellent point though.

      I like the story. Unfortunately, I don’t have that kind of commitment. But for those who are less anti-social, by all means, knock yourselves out.

  4. Good for you John. You planted a seed!
    A suggestion for the next time you are in a security line; follow Lynne’s example and undress. Just remember to hold the cover over your special parts. The news and other cameras should do the rest!
    The longer the line, the more press. It will also give you something to read in jail.

    1. My streaking days ended in the 70’s. The less anyone sees of my body, the better off they are. We had a nude beach in the district of the station I was assigned to for few years. We’d respond there from time to time for various medical issues. It convinced me that the burka might not be such a bad thing. Most people should wear as many clothes as possible. And spandex should be outlawed.

  5. I need to make cards! I love the quote about the rustle of the pages. That’s really stealable!

    Here’s a nice story about chatting with a fellow author: A nice guy, about my age, has been coming into work for years. Very pleasant, and we always talk a bit.

    The other day he mentioned he’s published on Amazon. I told him about my Kindle shorts, and asked him if he was doing well on reviews.

    “Oh, I need some reviews! Here’s my name. Please look up my books and maybe give a review.”

    We exchanged names and I went home and looked up his books. As a matter of fact, he had quite a few books published. Well, they were all about white supremacy, but what the hay! I had to laugh, imagining me reviewing one of those books. Even better, what is it about me that made him think I was “down for the ‘struggle’?”

    By the way, John, that’s a great title and publishing company name. By the way, I bet I have you beat on hating new fangled things. I have a flip phone that took my hours to figure out how to change the picture it displays when you open it. Even to this day, when I open it, I marvel at the color beach scene displayed on a portable phone!

    1. Ya, well I guess you take your chances chatting to people. In the course of my job, I go into a fair number of people’s homes. Sometimes the sight is pretty amazing, sad, funny, disgusting and/or weird.

      I got my very first cell phone just after I published The Spark, about 10 months ago. I got it in a burst of over-enthusiasm so I could use “Square” to process credit card orders for books. So far I’ve used it only a handful of times. Other than that I’ve used the camera a few times – it’s a lot more portable, if much less flexible than my SLR. Other than that it’s pretty much a waste and spends 95% the time sitting in my desk drawer.

      1. A CAMERA!

        I still remember when I mentioned to someone that I needed a VCR or DVD player, because I couldn’t watch movies.

        “Do you have a computer?”

        I swear, the first time I put a disk in my computer and the MGM lion came on, I actually went, “WHAA!!?”

  6. -grin- Grats, John! I’m impressed by your courage. 🙂
    Re advertising Indie status, you may be right, but these days I tend to assume that any ebook under $10 is going to be Indie. How non-writers view these things I don’t know, however I should probably be thinking about it.:/

    1. I think it’s one of those “use your judgement” things. Every situation is different. I’m a non-theist, but that doesn’t mean I have to go around goading every fundamentalist I come across, no matter how much I might want to.

  7. Excellent post, John, and I, like you, have always been a bit of a lone wolf; also, like you I found IU different enough from the usual social media sites that three years down the track I’m still hanging around.

  8. I’ve had amazing results speaking with people in lines. Recently, while waiting to enter a lecture venue, I struck up a conversation with an aloof woman, and with no book-pushing, she ended up buying the book I had with me, and then asked if I had more. I went to my car and ended up selling two more to her and one to another woman who was listening to our conversation and requested it! This has happened a number of times—the idea is to avoid a sales pitch and just get conversational and be interested in their own story. It’s reciprocal.

  9. I am very social and find it easy to talk to strangers. I carry a clipboard and something to read everywhere I go. When my last book was in print, I carried a copy everywhere and made sure it was visible on top of my personal reading material. It often led to sales. I will do the same when my new one comes out in December. I have a business card with my top hat author photo that looks very sharp and pass it out as often as I can, most recently in the men’s room at a fancy restaurant in the Hamptons and on a fishing charter boat off Montauk.

    Although I plan to self publish my first ebook in the near future, my books so far are trad pub in print from well known publishers although they are not among the big 5. Mentioning my agent, the names of my publishers or showing a print copy of my book gets me instant respect and interest from people I chat up so I haven’t experienced reader’s attitudes about self published books.

    I even have the blessing of my agent about the book I plan to self pub that she will not make money from as I explore both sides of the publishing business.

    I value everything I’ve learned here at IU and plan to take advantage of both types of publishing.

  10. I recently sold a book (yes, I’m the proverbial author with a box of books in the trunk of her car) to a couple I struck up a conversation with in a forest service campground. You never know who’s going to be interested in your work. Now if I could just figure out how to find a few thousand more folks like them without prowling forest service campgrounds…

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