“So many independent authors feel that once they have written their book and published it, they are finished and there’s nothing more to do,” said Raymond Depew, who writes under the pen name R.D. Vincent. In actuality, as Depew explained, "their journey has just started.”
Depew learned the importance of marketing early on, when his first book, Donbridge: The Ring of Lazarus, came out in 2015. At the time, his literary mentor from the State University of New York at Potsdam, the late poet Maurice Kenny, said: “I am very proud of you that you published your book. But I am gonna tell you, you won’t sell a [single copy].”
Recalling laughing at the comment, Depew said he knew that Kenny was challenging him to beat the odds, which were not in his favor. According to an article that appeared in the New York Times a few years earlier, most self-published books sell less than 150 copies.
Since that fateful conversation, Depew began aggressively marketing and promoting his books, primarily at various festivals. He also made sure to attend events with little direct connection to books, like the Red, White and Bayou Crawfish & Music Festival in Dickenson, Tex. “Readers are always at festivals and, even though they may not be looking for a book, reading seems to be on the back of their minds." Depew estimated that he signs roughly 90 to 105 books at the events he attends. He plans to release book six in his Donbridge series, The Four Talisman, this fall at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.
Altogether Depew has sold 31,000 copies of the first five works in the Donbridge series, along with a collection of the first three books, Donbridge: The Ring, The Legend & The Midwife, which he published last fall.
The collection was in the top 50 Kindle titles at Amazon in the days immediately following Thanksgiving last year, where it rose as high as #7. The series as a whole was a bestseller in the Kroger supermarket chain’s Texas authors program during the first quarter of 2017, where it came in at #6. Depew, who lives in Houston, does frequent signings at Kroger, and his books were included in an experimental in-store display for two weeks in April to see if self-published books would sell without the authors’ presence.
“My #1 readers are people who [think they] don’t like to read,” Depew said. Explaining this sentiment, Depew noted that his audience prefers to read shorter works. He ensured that each title in his series is closer to the length of a standard novella. (The Donbridge books range from 69 to 163 pages.)
With this in mind, Depew initially promoted his books to busy adults, aged 35 and up, who didn't have time to pick up a lengthier book. Each book also includes recipes featuring dishes that the characters might have eaten; examples include pumpkin bread, three-bean chili, and split pea soup. Depew said he added the recipes to encourage readers to keep the books and cook from them. They became so popular that he now does a column with a brief Donbridge tale and a recipe for two magazines—Country Folks in New England and Grandparents Day Magazine in Australia.
Like many writers whose careers have started to take off, both traditionally published and self-published, Depew has benefited from being in the right place at the right time. At an Indiepalooza conference hosted by the Houston (Texas) Writers Guild, he met Kathy Murphy, who heads one of the country’s largest book clubs, the Pulpwood Queens. After reading the first book in the Donbridge series, she invited him to speak at the group’s annual convention in January 2016 in Nacogdoches, Texas. The series was also named an official Pulpwood Queens book club selection.
Not only did the Pulpwood Queens’s endorsement help sell books, but it also helped Depew uncover an audience that he had previously left untapped: YA. When club members finished the books, they gave them to their kids, who also enjoyed the short length and fantastic tales. That the books appeal to 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th graders makes sense, particularly since Depew first heard these stories, which involve a magical ring, a witch, and a midwife, from his grandmother when he and his siblings went to her house on snow days.
Depew has now started to make school visits, making his first such appearance at a middle school in Jefferson, Texas, last fall. He has lined up visits to other schools in Texas, as well as schools in Louisiana and New York. But Depew has no plans to neglect his adult readers. For now, he will continue to use the same format and target both audiences.