Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Scratching the Holiday Shopping Itch

I heard on the news this morning Americans plan to spend $100 less on gift giving this year than last. The reason: More money is going into our gas tanks. If someone asked me that question for a national poll, I would probably say the same thing. Besides more money going into my ever-thirsty Honda minivan, my gift list is shrinking. I have no children at home anymore. While I just got a new grandson on October 29th, I don't buy the amount of gifts I did when my son was at home.

My sisters and I have agreed to downsize this year for the above mentioned reasons. I believe most people polled, me included, have every intention of spending less this year. But what happens as soon as the stores open the day after Thanksgiving...(Do they ever really close?) We run to the stores to spend those hard earned dollars on gifts. Forget gas prices for one day.

I love shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, that makes me either suicidal, homicidal, or just down right psychotic, but you couldn't keep me away with razor wire. I love getting up early, dusting off my running shoes and charge cards and hitting those early bird specials. According to store ads, most of them are even opening up an hour earlier than last year.

Can I make it? Do I have the fortitude? Your darn tootin'. I can't wait.
I am not ordinarily a shopper. Nor do I like to part with my hard earned money. I recycle aluminum foil, for crying out loud. But not the day after Christmas. The budget I planned to stringently adhere to is tucked away in my sock drawer at home. I love to buy for my family. I love to imagine the looks on the faces of those I hold dear when they open the perfect gift I chose so carefully. And it only happens once a year. Right? So I'll go a little overboard. I'll spend more than I said I would. But if I didn't, I would kick myself on Christmas morning if I let my usual spendthrifty nature rule my heart.

The gloves are off. I've got an itch, and I can't wait for Friday to scratch it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Short work week

Here it is the week of Thanksgiving and my Christmas craft fair schedule is winding down. I've met a lot of people and sold quite a few books in the last month, with plenty of time left over for holiday shopping and preparations. I have another craft fair this weekend in Chillicothe, Ohio, and then at least one weekend off. Maybe more if I decide to skip another one I have a chance to attend.

This flurry of activity has been fun and profitable. Last weekend at the Jingle Bell Craft Show in Waverly, Ohio, I sold 20 books and passed out over a hundred flyers. Many people told me they had read at least one of my books and they enjoyed it. That's fun to hear. After all the blood, sweat, and tears, my name is finally getting out there.

Just saw the cover of my next release, Redemption's Song, due out early 2006, and it is lovely. I can't wait to get my hands on the book. Waiting for a book is like waiting for a baby. Exciting, a little scary, and so many decisions to make.

Time after time, I see God's hand in this process. Exciting things are happening at the publisher's which couldn't have come about without God opening doors and creating opportunities. Found an unexpected review for A Tender Reed in Booklist trade magazine. Judy Lindley from the Hillsboro Public Library sent me a copy. Thoughtful of her. I've made new friends everywhere I turn and I'm thankful.

Craft Fairs

If you haven't already booked every weekend from Halloween to Christmas with craft fairs where you can set up a booth to sell your books, it isn't too late. There are six remaining weekends from this moment until Christmas, not counting the weekend of Christmas. I mean, who wants to spend their Christmas Eve in a middle school gymnasium or the basement of a church with every other vendor in the county, appealing to those last minute shoppers when you really need to be home wrapping your own last minute gifts?

Craft fairs are an excellent, and often inexpensive way, to get some visibility for you and your product. Here in rural Ohio, the average cost is around $25 for a 10x10 spot for a one day event. I can usually sell about a dozen books. Not bad considering the hundreds of flyers I pass out and the countless times I get to run through my sales pitch for whoever slows down and makes eye contact. Yes, by the end of the day, my face hurts from smiling and talking, but I love meeting readers and recruiting new ones.

People are still amazed and thrilled to meet a real live published author. It doesn't hurt if you live locally either. So if you haven't already done so, start perusing your local papers for craft bazaars and fairs within a fifty mile radius of home...farther, if you don't mind driving. Don't be afraid to check on the ones whose application deadlines have already passed. They are seldom so full they can't squeeze you in, be it hallway or janitor's closet.

Believe it or not, there are still book buyers out there who don't frequent libraries or bookstores. And what better gift for anyone on your list than an autographed book from a local author? At least that's what I tell the people who stop at my table. The most fun part of the day for me is hearing that the book I just autographed is destined to end up under someone's Christmas tree. What a kick to think someone is going to open my book on Christmas morning. I hope they love it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Where have you been?

Sorry it has been so long since I created a new post! Like everyone else, this is an incredibly amazing and busy time of the year for me. Most of the leaves are off the trees here in southern Ohio, and I still don't have any bulbs in the ground for next spring. Shame on me!

But I'm keeping busy. I just finished the first pass proofs for my third novel coming out in January. It's entitled Redemption's Song. I got the title from a line in an old Alfred Brumley hymn. Remember him? He's most famous for his hymn, I'll Fly Away.

He also wrote a beautiful hymn: Jesus, Hold my Hand, in 1933. My publisher notified me several months ago that I would have to change the original title of the book, Beyond Redemption, because of a book by Gary Smalley and Karen Kingsbury. I was bummed. Titles are harder for me than the book, and I thought I had a good one with Beyond Redemption.

But what could I do? I don't have the punch behind my name like Gary Smalley or Karen Kingsbury...not yet anyway. I couldn't think of a thing. Then as I was falling asleep that night, a line from a song kept going thru my head. And sing redemption's song one day. That's all I could remember. The next morning I asked my friends if they recognized it, but no one could remember it either.

So I googled that line. And there was the whole song right in front of me. And guess what? It fit the premise of the book perfectly. This is the second verse of the song. I absolutely love it.

Let me travel in the light divine, that I may see the blessed way.
Keep me that I may be holy thine, and sing redemption song one day.
I will be a soldier brave and true, and ever firmly take a stand.
For there's no other friend on whom I can depend;
Blessed Jesus, hold my hand.

I believe God put the line of that song in my head. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Check it out. It is the second in the series of Jenna's Creek Novels. I hope those who read it, will fall in love with the residents of Jenna's Creek, Ohio, as I have. I finished Book 3 of the series last month so it will be on its way to the publisher soon.

Now, I'm at an exciting juncture, where I get to decide on which new novel idea to pursue. I currently have 5 or 6 rattling around in my head. I'll have to be quiet and listen for which one is making the most noise.

Monday, October 17, 2005

New Projects

There's nothing like starting a new project after spending several months writing and rewriting an old one. My two favorite words in the English language are "The End". Those words give me permission to start something new.

Since I'm a book writer, that most often means a new book. Often times I need to write a few articles to promote myself and my website, or I enjoy writing a short story just for a break in the routine, but most often, I think in terms of a new project as being a full length novel.

At the present time, I have about five novel ideas simmering in my head. A few of them have been there for a couple years. I take notes sometimes or daydream, but I try to put the ideas off until I've finished my present work-in-progress. It is often tempting to give in to a new idea and put the current project on the back burner. Bad idea. If I did that every time a new idea came to me, I would never finish the first book.

I wonder if other writers have the same problem. I get asked all the time if I worry about running out of ideas. After finishing my first book, I wondered if I had any other stories inside me. Then about a week later when I found myself immersed in the next story line, I realized it wasn't a problem. The more I write, the faster ideas come for the next book. And the next. Running out of ideas is no longer a concern. Now I just wish I had two or three brains so I could work on several books at a time without giving one more time than the other.

Ah, beginning a new project. The only problem now is choosing which one to run with. I will pray and meditate on it and let the Lord lead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My field of expertise

After every post to this blog, I vow to myself that I will post more regularly. I also vow that I will spend more time writing each day and less time wasted on computer games and telephone calls. At this time of year I have a lot of distractions...not an excuse, just the cold hard facts. There's nothing wrong with having a life. It's one of the benefits of working for myself. But at the end of the day, I look back on it and lament all the things I should have gotten done and didn't.

I am still concentrating on writing articles to post all over the web. A way to draw traffic to my site, I remind myself as another day goes by that I haven't written the first article. Why am I stalling? Laziness, mostly. I love to write. Books. Short stories. Anything but articles.

I've spent a lot of time in the last year and a half marketing my books. I've driven hundreds of miles and spent countless hours practicing and preparing speeches for the people who come out to see me at libraries. While I enjoy speaking about myself and the books, I don't think it has had much impact on book sales. There has to be an easier way to let the world know I exist and I've written some pretty good books.

There is. Write articles. Post them everywhere. Keep blogging. Save my gas money for the upcoming holiday season.

My field of expertise goes without saying. I've written and published two books. I have two more under contract with two more ready to send to the publisher. The world wants to know how I did it. Why am I making those articles so hard? I should be able to write them blindfolded. So stop stalling and get to work. The rest will take care of itself.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Busy Writers

I didn't realize when I made all my grand plans for writing articles and setting up speaking engagements, that this is a one of my busiest times of the years. Besides my writing life, which takes up so much of my time, fall is fast approaching. The changing of the season means the buckeyes and walnuts are falling from the trees faster than I can gather them.

The past two weeks I have been collecting both nuts for holiday projects. Being from Ohio and surrounded by Scarlet and Gray fanatics, buckeyes are popular adornments for keychains, necklaces, earrings, and even Christmas tree ornaments. This year has provided a bumper crop. Between me and the squirrels, we've collected quite a stash I am using to create one of a kind merchandise to sell at craft fairs.

While it takes some searching to find the elusive little brown buckeye among the fallen leaves, all one has to do to find a walnut is walk across one's yard and try to maintain one's balance in a sea of green hulls. Walnuts and acorns are another bumper crop this year. Acorns I leave for the squirrels, but I plan to actually shell the walnuts for my holiday baking needs. I've never fooled with them before, but it seems almost like a sin to leave them laying in the yard while I pay nearly five dollars a pound for the pretty shelled ones in the store.

So I've been too busy outside to keep up with my writing duties, including keeping a regular routine with this blog. Today I plan to do better. I'll write a few articles this week. I will prepare for my appearance at the Portsmouth City library in Portsmouth, Ohio this Thursday. I'll enjoy the chill in the air and lament the Bengals loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last night in Jacksonville. 23-20. Not a bad showing, but a loss nonetheless.

Did I really expect a perfect season from the Bengals?

No, but 5-0 would have been nice.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Battling the jitters

For someone who likes to talk about the craft of writing as much as I do, you would think getting up in front of a group of conference goers wouldn't intimidate me in the least.

You'd be wrong.

On October 6th, I am scheduled to speak at the Ohio Library Conference in Columbus, OH. I am thrilled that the opportunity sort of fell into my lap after a gig at a local chamber of commerce meeting, but now that the date is drawing near, I am developing a case of stage fright.

Since the release of my first book last year, I've spoken to many groups about the writing and publishing game. But my audiences are usually made up of novices, so anything I say is profound and enlightening. At least that's what my mother says.

This audience will be different. They've been sent to Columbus by their respective libraries to learn something. They probably know more of what to expect than I do.

Rule number one is to know your material. Okay. My topic is Breaking into the Christian Fiction Market. I can talk about that blindfolded.

Number two: Entertain while you educate. No problem. I'm funny and often charming.

Number three: Don't look nervous, even when you are. That one will be tricky.

Number four: Finish big. The closing is what everyone remembers.

Hmm. Be knowledgeable. Be witty. Be confident. Leave them wanting more. Piece of cake. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Articles in marketing

Now that you've written a book, you've become an expert at "something". Even if it is how to attract the attention of a publisher, as in my case. Last year when my first book, Streams of Mercy, came out, I tried to find a hook for the book. Something that set it apart from other titles on the shelf. I soon realized though that just getting a book published is a really big deal. Millions of people have tried, and millions more dream about doing it someday.

Congratulations! You've already done it. People will want to hear your story from idea to published novel. They will want to pick your brain. But you can't go to them or expect them all to come to you...nor would you want them to.

What to do? Write articles. Write about the creative process. Write about where you find inspiration. Write about the city where your story takes place or its subject matter. Anything. People will want to read it. Then there's the argument that goes should you submit your writing to non-paying venues.

At this point in my career, the answer for me is yes. For me, payment comes in different forms than just monetary gain, which is great by all means. But my chief concern for this very minute is getting the word out about my books. In each article I write, I will mention a book title. I will tell readers who I am. At the end of the article, readers can find a byline with my name and information, hopefully with a link to my website that they will follow.

How many articles have I written to date? Not enough. That's my project for this week. Find some markets and then write an article they can't live without. I'll let you know at the end of the week how it's going. In the meantime, go write an article about your book and submit it somewhere. What can it hurt?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Is this really working?

With gas prices through the roof and the cost of everything going up, except of course, my royalty checks, I have to do a little figuring to see if what I'm putting into my marketing plan is actually paying off.

I like to think there are bigger payouts than just monetary gain. Have I reached a new reader? Has my writing touched a heart for the Kingdom of God? Will someone take what I've written apply it to their lives, and become a better person because of it?

Okay. If I take all that into account, a book signing or author event in another community or another county or even another state always reaps some kind of dividend. But my car doesn't run on good intentions. My husband's paycheck will only go so far in marketing my books. What do I do in the meantime?

Two weeks ago I sent announcements to everyone on my mailing list concerning the release of my latest novel, A Tender Reed, and the subsequent author discussion/book signing at my local library. Ten people showed up and I sold five books. Not a bad night since I live close by and the travel cost was nearly practically nonexistent. But haven't I made any fans around here? Most of them know me on a first name basis by now. Our kids went to school together. They call me up and tell me how much they loved my last book. So where were they the other night? I know we're all terribly busy, but hey, I'm of the mindset that if you really want to do something, you'll find the means by which to do it.

So I'm kind of bummed on the whole concept of book signings right now. In the grand scheme of things, they probably don't work. For the amount of work and time involved, the rewards do not justify the effort. But my publisher and my distributors seem to put a lot of stock in them, so I must keep plugging away. I just wish there was an easier, more rewarding way to let the world know I wrote this really great book they might enjoy if they'd just slow down long enough to read it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Craft Fairs

I have been talking about marketing the last few weeks and would love to share a great experience I had this past weekend. On Saturday, I participated in a craft fair/flea market to benefit Cause for Paws in Chillicothe, Ohio. For a minimal fee of $20, I got a 10x10 booth to set up my books. I sold 23 books over the course of the afternoon. My personal best. The best thing about setting up is I was invited to two more craft fairs/bazaars later in the year. This was one of those situations where you need to know someone to get invited to participate. Now that I'm in the loop, more invitations are sure to follow.

My favorite marketing venues are the ones that don't cost me any out of pocket. But those are rare. The money for my set up this time went to Cause for Paws which I wholeheartedly support anyway. My dog, Angel, is a rescue dog, and I encourage everyone to check out their local shelter before adding a pet to the family.

Back to marketing; good things always happen when we get out from behind our desks to go in search of readers. I was pleased with the 23 books sold at the event, and equally pleased with the positive response I received from the community. I gave out every flyer I had with me and was scrounging in the floorboard of my car for leftovers. I met readers who seldom go into bookstores and even more who don't visit their libraries on a regular basis. Don't limit your marketing efforts to conventional venues like stores and libraries.

Get outside. Enjoy the autumn weather. Think outside the box.

See you soon.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Never leave home without it

Continuing my topic of marketing your book or product, I suppose this goes without saying, but never leave your "baby" and its supplies at home. Even after a year of playing this game, I am still guilty of this. Due to the outrageous and unfounded hikes in gasoline prices, we have started driving my husband's Nissan Sentra more and leaving my minivan parked in the driveway. My minivan has become my rolling office and often holds a table and folding chair for events, a box of books and another of flyers, posters, and whatever necessary memorabilia associated with whatever event is coming up. I am always ready should the need arise to market my book. The Nissan is not equipped for all that hauling. A small cache of books and flyers is about all that will fit, and then, I sometimes forget transfer supplies from the van to the smaller vehicle. Last Sunday at church when I showed up with no books or marketing material, wouldn't you know it...two people approached me to buy books.

Always be prepared for a sale. Always be prepared to run into someone you haven't seen in awhile who will invariably ask you what you've been up to. I've sold books at the dentist, passed out business cards with my tips at restaurants and even in the examining room at my doctor's office. Believe it or not, I am naturally a shy person. Got over that fast enough when my first book was released.

While we don't want to be obnoxious about marketing, nor is this the time to be shy or overly humble. People are fascinated to meet a published author. Many of them share your dream. They will want to hear your story and pick your brain about how you did it. If you're like me, you'll be more than happy to oblige. I'm like that annoying grandparent who is always whipping out pictures of their newest grandchild. You had enough of a burden on your heart to write a book in the first place about your subject. Now get out there and market the thing.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Marketing your fiction

Today I will start a series on marketing your fiction. Like me, you might have thought the hardest part of becoming a best selling novelist was writing a book people would want to read. Then you realized getting the blasted thing published was more difficult than you ever imagined. Finally you tackled that Goliath, only to realize marketing was the real beast to conquer.

How do you let the world know you wrote a book?

Today let's talk about finding speaking venues to promote your writing. All the helpful hints say to find a hook that links your book with a current event. Easier said than done. I still haven't managed to do that. My fiction takes place in small town America where I live. So I starting by approaching local venues with my LOCAL AUTHOR PUBLISHES NOVEL headline. It works well around here, but I realize that will only get me so far. But that's okay for now. I have become a mini-celebrity of sorts in my rural area, and now receive several calls a month from people asking me to come to their meeting or library or county fair to speak. People are excited to have met a published author, and often chew my ear with their own tales of; "One day I'm going to write a book".

Today I spoke at a Rotary club luncheon. I got to talk about my books, which I can do all day, and they were pleased to discover a fiction writer in their midst, who was willing to offer a little insight into the publishing game. They bought my lunch at the steakhouse that hosted the meeting, and I sold seven copies of my books. Not a bad afternoon. More than book sales, I always consider an event a success if I can make people aware of my existence.

Just because you don't have a "hook", don't despair. Go with the local angle. Tell people where you find your inspiration, some humorous anecdotes from your writing experiences, and how you approached a publisher. Even those who never dreamed of writing a book will think you're interesting and charming. They may even find you brilliant.

Best wishes. Now get out there and market. You owe it to that wonderful book you've written.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Gentlemen really do prefer blondes

I've been a redhead for seven days now, and I'm still getting used to the new face in the mirror. I've received all kinds of feedback. Most affirmation has come from the women in my life. After recovering from the initial shock of seeing me--this is a radical color change for a fair-skinned Scandanavian with freckles--the general consensus is positive. Men on the other hand, wrinkle their foreheads and say, "You are going back, aren't you?"

Marilyn was right. Gentlemen do indeed prefer blondes. Or maybe it's the unnatural deep red-violet-burgundy hue on my head that fills them with dismay. Regardless, I'm happy with it. All I wanted out of this experience was to see myself as something other than blonde.

Not every male opinion was negative. One gentlemen called me Gena Davis. He was either very kind or very nearsighted, but I'll take my compliments where I can get them.

Thus ends my holiday weekend. Back to writing tomorrow. May this blog bless you and inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Your writing will be better for it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Obstacles that thwart the creative flow

For weeks I've been saying I am a few days away from finishing Book 3 of my Jenna's Creek Novels series, Evidence of Grace. Instead, I'm butting my head up against walls, either creatively or literally.

What's standing in my way this time? First, it's a long weekend so my husband is off work, and I never get anything done when someone else is in the house interfering with my normal routine.

Second, it's hot in here. I opened the windows this morning when it was sixty degrees outside and feeling quite glorious. But now it's eighty and stuffy in here. Too late in the day for a confirmed tightwad like me to close the windows and turn on the air. Ain't gonna happen. So I suffer, along with my creative flow.

And the biggest obstacle to finishing my novel that is currently at the 108K word stage...drum roll, please... My dog stinks. I mean she reeks. Molly, my beloved collie, setter, and who-knows-what-else-variety digs moles out of the yard and tortures them until they're dead. Then, ugh, this is really gross, she rubs all over their mutilated bodies. She comes back into the house smelling like she's been dumpster diving, which I don't think would smell as bad.

So I'm sitting at my computer struggling thru those last stages of bringing a manuscript together and tying up loose ends, and I'm sweating, I hear my husband channel surfing in the other room, and I'm trying to type one-handed while holding my nose.

I wonder if Hemingway got started this way.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Terror at the pumps

American consumers have the shortest memories. At the beginning of the summer we skoffed at paying $1.89 a gallon. Now we are wait in line to buy it for 2.69. What's wrong with this picture?! I've been considering how this gas situation will affect my book tours. Here in southern Ohio gas prices have soared to 3.09 and still climbing. Analysts are blaming it on Hurricane Katrina, which doesn't make sense since prices have been going up at an alarming rate all summer.

What's the solution? What's the average consumer with kids and two jobs and errands to do? We are totally at the mercy of whoever it is controlling these prices. I'm afraid too many forces have too much to gain to bother helping us out. We're just the little guy. Talk about the war on terror. What's G.W. doing about this one?

Since no one in power seems to care what is going on at the pumps, I am forced to cut corners in other areas of my life. My limited marketing income has forced me to make drastic changes in how I market my book. It currently takes three books sold at a local event to replace the gas put into my tank to get to said event. I don't even want to think about how many books I need to sell for an out of town signing. What are my options? I can stay at home, or pay up like everyone else.

My utility bills continue to skyrocket since everyone who offers those services is also at the mercy of the oil companies. So I can't save there. I can clip coupons and buy in bulk at Save-a-lot. Already doing that. Limit long distance calls. Check. Turn off the air conditioning unless the heat index threatens my very life. Doing that too. Borrow magazines from the library instead of buying my own copies. Yeah, yeah, am already doing all that stuff.

What else can I do to find a few extra dollars in my already stretched budget to satisfy my parched Honda? I'm thinking of foregoing Christmas. Sorry, Honey, Randy, Mom, Dad, Gail, Robin, grandkids, and all the rest of my dear loved ones. Nana is trying to build a career while the government and the oil barons are snatching ever dime out of her fingers the instant she makes it. You might find nothing but hand stitched doilies and my undying love and devotion under the tree this year.

Didn't someone say it's the thought that counts? Hope you still feel that way after Christmas when you're trying to return the burnt cookies and lame poems I gave you.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Going Red

Life is a journey, at least according to the not-so-original title of this blog. So as a newly published author on this journey from relatively unknown writer of two Christian fiction books, which are pretty good if I do say so myself, to best selling novelist--the Lord willing--I am ready to take a radical step. Well, for me it's a radical step. Tomorrow morning, after Taebo and my morning phone call to a dear friend to catch up on all the major life happenings that occurred over the weekend, I'm going to make a change. My haircolor. "Big deal," you say. "I do that three or four times a year," you say. But if you knew me, you'd know what a big deal this is. I'm going from summer blonde, the gorgeous color God gave me, to red, which I've seriously considered since Reba McIntyre made it big in the 1980's.

I'm not talking strawberry blonde or Light Auburn 203. I'm talking RED. Garnier Nutrisse Pomegranate to be exact. It is so not blonde.

I know. I know. You're still not impressed. If you knew me, you'd be impressed. When my speaking career began last summer after the release of my first book, Streams of Mercy, I was a nervous wreck. The thought of getting up in front of people and calling attention to myself is not something I like to do. But I'm stepping out of my comfort zone. Starting with my hair.

So if you live in or around southern Ohio, and are startled out of your Monday routine by a piercing wail and the sickening cries of; "Why, oh why? What was I thinking?", don't panic. It's only me. And for the next six to eight weeks, I'll be a redhead.

Life is a journey. I can't wait to get started.