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A NEW LEAF / Some authors will try almost anything
to get their work into the hands of readers. (Excerpt)

Saturday, November 22, 1997
By Elizabeth Renzetti
Arts Reporter

It's no longer enough to be a good writer to be successful. An author who does not want to be relegated to the remainder bin must set her own promotional course: That means using every ingenious, crafty method at her disposal to get her book into the hands of readers. She will hire her own publicist. Write for niche magazines. Start her own company, if need be.

Novelist Charlotte Vale-Allen, for example, fed up with a series of publishers she felt didn't know how to market her books properly, turned to the person who knew her work best: Charlotte Vale-Allen. The result is her own publishing company, Island Nation Press, which has just released her latest novel, a mystery called Mood Indigo (the other book in her stable is Ziggy Lorenc's Life on Venus Ave. ).

"I thought that before I would allow my 25 years of effort to be flushed down the crapper by a bunch of fools," she said, "I would take control myself."

That means Allen spent 13 days recently sending E-mails to hundreds of bookstores in the United States, in preparation for the American launch of Mood Indigo in the spring. It means she made repeated trips to the post office in an ice storm (this was in Connecticut, where she now lives) to mail advance copies of her novel to booksellers.

It also means that her books are precisely targeted, something she did not experience with the handful of publishers who released her previous 33 novels. One of the first, the American house Delacorte, launched a staggering $500,000 (U.S.) promotion campaign for her 1976 novel Hidden Meaning , then ruined the book with a bad choice of jacket that she thought would turn women off. Her last publisher, Mira Books (a division of Harlequin), also took out ads for Allen's books -- in the pages of the National Enquirer.

Allen jumped ship. Her new publishing endeavour, which "isn't as expensive as you might think," is supported by the royalties from her previous books. This spring, she will finance a reading tour of independent bookstores to coincide with the book's American launch: just her, a map, and a trunkful of books. She is pretty sure the readers are out there, judging by the more than 3,000 people who have sent in the reader-response cards she's had printed in the back of several of her recent novels.

"Publishing is the only business that puts out hundreds of products each year," she has written, "but doesn't bother, except in a few select instances, to let anyone know."

Allen is assisted by her stepdaughter, Sue Baldaro, a Toronto freelance publicist. According to Baldaro, the freelance business is booming; there are plenty of authors looking outside their own publishing houses for someone to promote their particular cause.