Here is a writer who have solved the marketing problem of her first novel. I have been reading about Kathleen Grissom’s novel, The Kitchen House. It is about life on a Southern plantation and was published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in February 2010.

The first run was 11,500 copies, which is a lot for a first novel, but, of course, that didn’t attract much attention.

While most of us focus on the Internet and creating buzz, it was the old-fashioned book-club-word-of mouth that made the difference for The Kitchen House. Today, the book is in its 21st printing, with 254,000 copies in print and another 152,000 e-books sold. It is now being carried at Target and Costco.

Grissom received a good advance of $35,000 from Touchstone and now has had several more royalty checks for $100,000 plus. How’s that for a first time novelist!

How did she make this happen?

Grissom says that early on,  “I realized my book was considered unimportant to the publisher. That’s just how it is with first-time authors.”

I’m not sure she is right here. Usually first-time authors get more attention than books by writers who have published a book that hasn’t sold. It is tougher to sell a second novel than sell the first one.

What Grissom did was promote her own book. That made the difference.

She sent advance copies to influential book bloggers, asking for a review. If she didn’t hear back, she’d bugged them again. Bloggers began to read and review her book. Next book clubs, which pay attention to such sites, started contacting her via her website. She often spoke to the club personally, sometimes driving there on her own dime, or calling in to talk to the groups.

She estimates that she has spoken to as many as 50 book clubs over two years. She would also make sure that nearby bookstores had enough copies to sell. Word of mouth helped tremendously. She writes, “Almost every book club has one or two members who are in another book club, or they have a mother in Chicago or a sister in California, who are also in a book club.”

Today, you can find the book in airports, on summer reading tables at book stores, and finally the publisher, Simon & Schuster is paying attention and promoting the book. They are always the last to know.

What does that mean to Peace Corps writers?

First, you have to have a book that would appeal to book clubs. Now, the majority–I’d say 90% of all clubs–are for women, and therefore, you subject matter has to relate to women who read books. (Some days I think the only readers of novels are women.)

The Kitchen House is a natural for book clubs. It is about an Irish indentured servant who bonds with slaves in the kitchen house. The book is helped, of course, because it is a bank shot off  The Help, which was already a bestseller (and a movie) when Grissom came along with her novel.

So, look for a best selling novel and see if you can come up with a similar plot. It won’t hurt.