Thursday, October 27, 2011

"To Thine Own Self, Be True"

Would you compromise your personal values in order to sell books? Would you allow an editor or book critic to cause you to change your writing "voice"? Would you hide behind a pen name in order to write material you would be embarrassed for your friends and family to know you were associated with? Would you mimic the styles of other writers just to land a publishing deal, even if it wasn't a style or genre you felt comfortable with?

While I'm not here to judge anyone, I must honestly say that I hope you answered no to the above questions. As authors, we all want to enjoy some level of success with our work and build a substantial fan base of readers. Some of us might like to be associated with big-name traditional publishers or see our books on the NY Times bestseller list. Some of us may even want to land positions writing for major magazines or see our names rolling with the credits at the theater or on TV. Goals are great, and it is my sincere belief that all dreams are worth pursuing. But if reaching those goals or fulfilling those dreams means giving up who you really are to "go along with the crowd," then I must ask, is it really worth it?

I believe that we as writers need to stay true to who we are and what we stand for. Each of us has been blessed with a unique and wonderful gift that we can share freely. We have the potential to change lives and bring joy into the hearts of hundreds, even thousands, of people simply by placing words on paper. Along with this gift comes our own unique areas of talent and our own ways of delivering those words to the readers. Whatever your genre, whatever the level of intensity you want to give to the story, whether you write in first or third person(or both!),fiction, non-fiction, etc., make it your own. Develop and keep your own voice. Do what you feel comfortable with and what your heart tells you is right. Don't give in to the pressure to follow the crowd. Don't be a cookie cutter author just to get sales or land a contract. Stay true to yourself and what you believe in, and don't let anyone take that away from you. It's then, I believe, that you will find the true success you have been looking for. Here's wishing you all the best!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pushy or Passionate?

I recently took part in a lively discussion with other authors about the fine art of self-promotion. For most authors, and especially for those of us who are independently published, sharing information about your work with those around you is a must if you have any hope of selling books or securing personal appearances. There is nothing wrong with 'tooting your own horn,' but how do you know when you've crossed the line between passionate and pushy?

Let's take the example of a used car salesman my husband and I dealt with several months ago. "Bill" was a really nice guy and worked for a reputable local dealership. After expressing a slight interest in one of his vehicles, Bill made it a point to call our home at least four times a day--every day--for over two months. Even after expressing that we would call him if we decided to make a purchase, he persisted. Sadly, Bill's attitude pushed us right into the showroom of another dealership and into an entirely different vehicle. Had Bill backed down and let us take the time we needed without making us feel pressured, he may have gotten our sale.

Now, don't get me wrong--I fully understand that Bill was only trying to drum up business, and he needs to make money like anyone else. But allowing your customers--or in our case, readers--to take the lead does wonders for gaining trust and gaining sales and referrals. My rule of thumb is this: If the conversation is going well and the conditions are appropriate to do so (i.e. I'd never try to get business at someone's funeral!),I will casually mention that I am an author. Then, if the other party expresses further interest, I will expound on my work and offer a brochure. I never ask for any information from them unless we have discussed the possibility of a personal appearance--then I would need an email or phone number to follow up. Even in that instance, I am careful to contact them only a few times, and always ask that they follow up with me if they are still interested and at their convenience.

Keep this thought in mind--when you are sharing your work with others, be passionate. Create a burning desire within them to know more, and then, back off. Give them time to respond on their own, and chances are, you'll be more than pleased with the results. Good luck!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Paying It Forward

As an accomplished author with two published novels under my belt, I'm often sought out by new or aspiring writers for advice on how to break into the literary world. In my seven years of writing, never once have I refused to share my "secrets" with anyone nor have I hesitated to discuss topics that may be beneficial in helping them down the road to publication. I delight in seeing new authors succeed, and as the "older, more knowledgeable" one, I actually feel, in many instances, that I owe it to them. After all, I didn't get to where I am without the help of others who had forged the path ahead of me. Why should I expect anyone else to do it?

Sadly enough, despite my own willingness to share with my fellow authors, many in the field don't feel the same way. More than once I have been refused the privilege of gaining insight that might help further my career simply because someone chose to be selfish. I've encountered blank stares (read as, "I have no idea what you're talking about"), the silent treatment ("Sorry, my computer/phone stopped working and I also moved so I never got your messages"), or the person simply skirts around the issue and gives an answer/advice that has nothing to do with what I had originally asked. I have to believe these people are afraid that,if they help me, I will somehow take away from their success. If I happen to know the name of a book store contact that they use, will this disable them from returning to that store? If they tell me how to become a presenter at a conference they are speaking at, are they afraid I'll "steal the spotlight" from their presentation? I just don't get it.

In my opinion, we as writers have a common bond and the ultimate goal of each of us is to succeed at the art, whether that means landing a contract with a big-name publisher, selling thousands of books, or simply getting our name in print. We need to stick together, to help each other out, and to cheer each others' successes. Remember, you were once in that person's shoes--if someone helped you, I say, pay it forward.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Remember the "Little People"

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a HUGE fan of country music star Chuck Wicks. I love everything about the man--his voice, his looks, his personality, his music, his looks--okay, okay, I know I already said that, but c'mon, the boy is GORGEOUS! So much so, in fact, that I decided about five years ago when I first saw the cover of his CD that, if the Forever Love series ever makes it to the big screen, Chuck's the shoe-in to play Mitch Tarrington. (all right, so Chuck doesn't have Mitch's blue eyes or silver-rimmed glasses, but hey, Hollywood can step up and take care of that, can't they?) Yep, he's definitely my "real-life Mitch." Of course, I know it all seems far away, but a girl can dream, can't she?

Well, God smiled on me a few weeks ago at the Shelby County Fair in Sidney, Ohio, and made one of my dreams become a reality. I sat with my husband (the TRUE love of my life!) three rows away from the stage at a concert by none other than Mr. Wicks. As any good author would who wants accurate characterization, I studied his every move and took plenty of pictures to use as reference for my future writing. (oh, all right--they weren't REALLY for reference, but it sounded good, didn't it?) But, that's not the best part. During the last song, Chuck announced that he wanted to meet his fans after the show at a table next to the stage. After practically throwing the camera at my dear sweet husband--thankfully, not a jealous man--I eagerly made my way, Chuck 8 x 10 portrait in hand--to the meet and greet line. Standing there, I silently rehearsed what I would say in an effort to avoid fumbling over the words once we were face to face. When my turn finally arrived, I know I must have blushed as he shook my hand and I looked into his sultry brown eyes. *Sigh* But my words came out strong and clear--"I write romance novels, and I wanted to tell you that I pattern my male character after you." Oh, the smile that I got in response was worth every nerve-wracking moment! He was truly flattered as he passed the news on to his sound man(who was waiting for me to shut up so he could take our picture) and mentioned that he "would have to look into getting those books." As I placed an arm around him for the shot, he thanked me for thinking of him, handed me my autographed 8 x 10, and I flew into the arms of my hubby who was laughing at his middle-aged teeny bopper. Can you tell I'm still reeling?

Okay, so I may have drawn out this post, but here's the point. Naturally, someone like Chuck Wicks has tons more fans than someone like me, a little romance novelist from smalltown Ohio. But even though he has reached fame and fortune, he hasn't forgotten those who helped get him there--his fans. He could have easily crooned the last line, headed for his tour bus, and called it a night. But he didn't. On a 95 degree evening, hot and tired, no doubt, from an almost 2-hour show, he took the time to greet and talk to each and every person there who ducked into that line. He let us each know he appreciated our support, that he was glad we were there, and that we meant something to him. He was sweet, kind, and most of all, genuine--exactly the person I want Mitch Tarrington to be.

We as writers need to remember our fans, too--the readers who take the time to come to our signings, who purchase and read our works, and who sometimes even send fan letters or refer our works to their friends and family. Without them, where would we be? Why would we even have a need to write? I vow to always try to remember the "little people" who mean such a big deal to me. To them, I say, thank you with all my love!

Friday, May 6, 2011

To Sign or Not to Sign?

I love being an independently-published author. Choosing to go this route has afforded me the privilege of writing without worrying about deadlines, my books will never be "back-listed," I get paid a higher per-book royalty than most traditionally-published authors, and most of all, I can market and promote my work in any way I wish. Although I love to do personal speaking appearances, one of my favorite ways to promote is still the good old book store signing.

Even in the age of e-books, throngs of people can still be found lingering among the shelves of a book store on any given day. There is just something about the atmosphere that draws them in (not to mention a good cup of coffee at the store cafe!). Whether you gravitate toward the larger brick-and-mortar chains or the quaint neighborhood shop, you can have a successful book store experience by following these tips:

1) Schedule the event on a day/time that the store will have the most traffic.
Saturday afternoons are usually a safe bet, in most cases. If you can
schedule during or close to another store event, even better!

2) Get to know the store manager or signing coordinator. Get a full name, phone number, and email address for that person so you can keep in contact. Make sure they "know" you as well by sending them a media kit.

3) Ask the manager/coordinator what kind of and how much publicity they will be doing for the event. Don't be afraid to make suggestions. You may suggest something they never thought of doing! Also ask what they need from you in order to better promote the event.

4) Send or drop off posters and/or something they can pass out with your info prior to the event.

5) Do your own publicity--word-of-mouth, website, blog, Facebook, etc. Let people know you will be there. DO NOT leave publicity solely up to the store--the books are yours, not theirs!

6) At the event, don't sit at your table. Get up, move around, and greet patrons. Tell them about your work and invite them to check it out. Smile and be friendly.

7) If the patron isn't interested for him/herself, ask who they might know who would like an autographed book. Remember gift giving occasions like birthdays, etc.

8) Don't be pushy--if they are interested, great. If not, give them your info for future reference. They may want to buy later. Thank them for looking.

9) Dress and act professionally. People may not judge a book by its cover, but they DO judge the author that way! Sad to say, but true.

10) After the signing, thank the manager/coordinator personally, and offer to sign a few copies for them to keep in the store. Follow up with a handwritten thank-you note within a few days.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you, and would love to hear anything else you have done to make your signings successful!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Social Networking--Help or Hinderance?

A few years ago, I heard about this new marketing concept called social networking. Being an independently-published author, I'm always looking for different ways to promote myself and my works, and thought, "Hey, this sounds like a winner. The perfect way to reach hundreds of people I wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to connect with." Immediately I set out to establish myself on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I even checked out MySpace and considered filming a book trailer to place on YouTube. "If you're gonna do it, do it right," I told myself. Several times a day I logged in to check status updates, send tweets, and accept friends and followers. It seemed not an hour would pass without my doing some sort of social networking activity. I found old friends from days gone by, made new friends, and became a social networking diva. I was sure to begin selling more books than I'd ever imagined. Everyone would want a copy, and I might even connect with a big publisher who would sign me to a million dollar contract. Yes, I would become a household name, all because of social media.

Then one day I woke up and realized one important element of the equation was missing. I was so caught up in trying to promote my books via these sites that I had neglected to keep writing! I was telling everyone to buy books one and two in the series, and that book three was "coming" when, in reality, I hadn't even begun the manuscript. What was to happen when everyone in my social media circle had read the first two books and there was no end in sight for the third? I also realized that much of my social networking had nothing at all to do with my books or the fact that I was an author. I was so caught up in Sally's new puppy or Joe's wedding photos that I was using up the valuable free time I once used to pursue my passion. Social networking for me had become more of a hinderance than a help.

The moral of the story? There is a time and place for everything. If you want to participate in social networking, then by all means, go for it. Have fun, talk to your friends, enjoy your time. However, don't forget to also set time aside for writing. It may mean limiting the number of minutes (or hours) you spend on Facebook or only 'tweeting' three times a day instead of ten. It may mean actually writing out a schedule for your day and making sure you stick to it. Some have even gone as far as to set a timer when they 'log on' to their networking site--when the timer goes off, they move on to the next task. As it did for me, disciplining yourself to use your time wisely may take some effort, but in the end, you will be glad you did---and so will your readers.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Looking Up

Above my desk hangs something I call my inspiration board. To anyone else, it probably appears as nothing more than a giant corkboard filled with pictures, newspaper clippings and the like. When I look at it, I see all the things that give me a reason for writing.

The idea for my inspiration board came last summer during a low point in my writing career. Somewhere along the way, I had convinced myself that no one wanted my books, my public speaking abilities were mediocre at best, and, due to a severe case of writer's block, I had lost the gift God had so graciously given me--if I had ever truly had it at all. Tired of wallowing in self-pity, I decided to give myself a pick-me-up and, with cash in hand, headed to my local Office Max for some new office furniture and supplies. A glass desk, padded chair, and the aforementioned corkboard accompanied me home.

As I set about the work of remodeling my office, God set about the work of changing my attitude. The top of the desk's attached shelving unit provided the perfect place to showcase my ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Silver Award certificate--proof that I really had "the gift" of writing. My two published novels, which I tucked away just a shelf below, reinforced that fact. Continuing to arrange and rearrange the room, I happened upon my file box where God pointed me toward a folder labeled "Fan Mail." I began to read the contents, and my heart was warmed by the notes which had so lovingly been penned by those who had been touched in some way by my work. Each one told me that there were plenty of people who loved what I was doing--and they were eager for more. Next came the "Reviews" folder; again, more reinforcement that I was, indeed, doing something right. Lastly, God decided to remind me that I, like many other authors, had a dream of seeing my stories on the big screen someday. I smiled and laughed at His sense of humor right then--Chuck Wicks was playing on my CD player--my "real-life Mitch." "Okay, God, I get it," I said aloud. "Thanks for reminding me."

Today my inspiration board is filled with those wonderful reviews, some of my cherished fan mail, a few of my newspaper interviews, and yes--pictures of Chuck. Now when I become discouraged, all I have to do is look up to be inspired, to know I'm worthy, and that there are people depending on me to keep going. Looking "up" is what I should have been doing to begin with.