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.