Monday, March 9, 2015

Something Special is Simmering!

3 Cheers for the Barbour artist who created this adorable cover!

I'm so excited! I just received the final draft of my Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook cover, so it's one step closer to becoming a reality!

For those of you who have never written a cookbook, here's the process in 15 easy steps:

1. Brainstorm idea at 2 cold, dark night.
2. Present idea in query form to publisher (via agent if you have one) and pray that they ask for a proposal.
3. Do happy dance when they finally do ask for a proposal.
4. Spend several weeks writing, editing, and fine-tuning a 10-page proposal for something you cannot for the life of you envision.
5. Pester every prominent person you've ever met who is remotely related to cooking to obtain their promise for an endorsement. Include in proposal.
5. Bathe that sucker in prayer and send it in.
6. Many moons pass. Keep praying.
7. Receive contract offer (via agent). Sign. Return.
8. Collect all recipes from family and friends that meet your criteria (prep time for this stress-free cookbook must be 20 minutes or less). Start cooking like mad to test every recipe that may potentially be included.
9. Create a slush pile for rejects (because they either take too long to make, don't taste incredible enough, require too much clean-up, aren't simple enough, or the ingredients are too hard to find.)
10. Complete first draft. Edit. Then reread with a gnat strainer and re-edit six times.
11. Submit completed manuscript.
12. Console distraught family and neighbors who are standing by holding empty plates; the cascade of awesome food samples has dried up. Discover you must go on a diet because you've gained 7-lbs writing your cookbook and can no longer button your pants (The chocolate section was a killer.)
13. Receive first draft of cookbook cover (where I am today). Suggest minor changes. Receive the final draft - Yay! It's marvelous and perky and adorable!
14. Several months later, receive final edits from publishing house.
15. Brand new cookbook releases October 1. Now the hardest part: Selling it!

Never thought I'd see the day that I'd write a cookbook, but it was SO much fun and I loved every minute of it. (Especially testing the chocolate section.) Plus, I know these simple, terrific recipes and menu suggestions (complete with grocery lists!) will help lots of women care for their fams without feeling like they're drowning in the stress-pool of life.

So tell me, what kind of a cookbook would YOU write if you ever decide to write one?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Buying the Person Behind the Product, Not Just the Product

Me excited to find my book at Cracker Barrel
I've been looking for a change. Without going into too much hairy detail, I've recently decided it's time to look for a new publicist.

And in shopping around, I've learned a few things that I believe are key marketing principles.

First of all, let me say that I'm a firm believer in the power of a good publicist to get word of your book out there to places you can't, and therefore drive sales.

I learned this lesson with my first few books which were published by a small press. All marketing and publicity was up to me. Me and only me. Sales were meager and each and every sale was hard-fought.

Then came my first traditionally published book, Mom NEEDS Chocolate, which was contracted in 2007, the year every industry in America - including the publishing industry - was hit hard by the recession and had to tighten their belts or go under. During the two years between the time I signed the contract and the actual release date in 2009, the publisher's publicity department shrank from 14 people to one.

There was no way that one poor overworked gal would be able to make the splash I yearned for my book to make while trying to promote the other dozen books releasing in the same quarter. So without any significant research, I hired the first outside PR firm I came across to create more ripples. The problem with that firm was that it was comprised of only one woman who had just had a baby (a bit distracting, right?) and turned out to be quite expensive for the services I received.

Live and learn. The price for not doing your homework and leaping before you look.  

Then came my "Take On Life" series with Barbour Books (a different publisher than my previous book). When the first book in the series was ready for release (Too Blessed to be Stressed, 2011), I had heard the 90/10 rule, that 90 percent of new authors share a mere 10 percent of the PR department's attention (the majority of funds and efforts go toward the best selling titles and authors). So after doing more research this time, I hired a highly recommended publicity firm (a different one) to work alongside the Barbour publicity team in order to cover all the bases.

The success of Too Blessed to be Stressed (over 60k copies sold and still counting) plus the spawning of 10 Baby Blessings (books and book product offspring of the original book) indicate that it was a good idea.

So with the publicity campaigns of More Beauty, Less Beast (2012), Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate (2013), and Too Loved to be Lost (2014), I continued to use the same publicist with pretty good results.

But lately, with the upcoming 2015 release of the Too Blessed to be Stressed Cookbook, I began to itch for something more in a publicity campaign. Something different. Something with a little more pizzazz. So began my publicist shopping expedition.

And here's where the real marketing lesson began.

I came up with a list of 15 publicity firms that are generally associated with Christian publishing. Not that they don't deal with secular markets as well, but primarily their clients are Christian authors of inspirational books. I began e-mailing queries, explaining briefly who I am, where I am on my writing journey, and where I'd like to end up, ending with, "Would you be interested in representing me?"

The first five responses were less than heart-warming. I was greeted with tepid enthusiasm and instructed to fill out a form. Afterward, they would get back to me. Maybe. When they had time. And Jupiter aligned with Uranus.

It reminded me of the oblivious store clerk chatting on her phone with a  friend when you're in a hurry to check out. She may or may not acknowledge your presence, then turns her back to you as if you're a pest and annoying inconvenience and continues gabbing away.

You feel:
1. Unwanted.
2. That your business is unappreciated.
3. You are unimportant, insignificant, and invisible.

The sixth query response, in contrast, launched fireworks lighting up my sky.

"I'm was so excited to receive your query yesterday," the warm-voiced gal gushed over the phone (she had requested an immediate phone conversation when she got my e-mail query). "Of course I've heard of you and I love your work. I love your brand. I love the concept of this cookbook and I've been bubbling over with ideas about how to market it to a wider secular audience as well as the Christian market."

Oh yeah? Well, I love you too, sister!

I suddenly felt:
1. Wanted.
2. That my business is valuable and greatly appreciated.
3. That I'm visible to this gal and she thinks she can make me visible to the rest of the world.

So who do you think I'm more inclined to hand over my hard-earned dollars to? I don't know if this self-marketing-savvy woman really did know my work before she received my query and perused my website, but because of her enthusiasm and the way she presented herself, it really doesn't matter to me. She knows me now, and she's willing to put her enthusiasm to work for me.

She knew that by selling herself to me, I would be buying the person behind the product, not just the product. That's POWERFUL marketing.

And if she can do it to me, she can do it for me.  

Something to remember in my own future self-marketing forays. And you too, author buddy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New Book Giveaway!

This is what I'm wearing to work on Valentine's Day
During this Valentine season, discover the kind of love that is never too lost or too late.

From Feb 1-14, register for the drawing to be held on Valentine's Day for 3 copies of my book about unconditional love, Too Loved to be Lost. 

I'm hosting a simultaneous giveaway on Goodreads so you actually have a dandy chance of winning a book one way or the other!

I hope you're feeling the love I'm sending your way and will take a moment and click HERE to register.  (If for some reason the link won't work, hop over to my website and click on Too Love to be Lost giveaway under "contests").

Remember, Papa God loves us just the way we are - broken. But he also loves us enough not to leave us that way!  "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winning Isn't Everything But It Sure Is Something

If Adele can do it, so can you!
During a discussion about the importance of entering writing contests last night at my *local writer's meeting, a dignified, silver-haired fellow named Lou spoke up.

In all earnestness (and with a telltale twinkle in his eye), Lou posed the following scenario: "I won a chicken sandwich gift card in the **Fla Inspirational Writers Retreat story contest last fall; can I now call myself an award-winning author?"

The vote was unanimous: Absolutely!

So why is it such a big deal? Who really cares if you have that little phrase after your name ... award-winning author?

You care. And yes, it is a big deal.

That powerful little phrase is not only an eye-opener, it's a door-opener. When people - especially prospective publishers looking at your new manuscript, and perusing readers considering whether to invest precious hours of their time in your book - see that three-word-proof of the excellent quality of your work, they'll be changed by it. They'll suddenly see the words you've written through a lens of respect and high expectations. Your work has become elevated in their perception to that of other award-winners: Dickens, Fitzgerald, Patterson.

But even more importantly, your own standard is raised. You begin perceiving yourself as a real writer, and tackle your next project with a new confidence. A new level of professionalism. And it shows. Editors will notice. Readers will notice. Your work will improve and keep on improving. The sky's the limit!

So keep writing. Keep submitting. Keep entering contests. A chicken sandwich gift card is only the beginning, my friend! Your next award might be silver and shiny with your name engraved on it.

*If you live in the Tampa area, we'd love to have you join us for our monthly Brandon Christian Writers group. We're about 25 of the friendliest, encouraging, chocolate-loving folks you'll ever meet. All experience levels and genres of inspirational writing are represented: fiction, non-fiction, adult, YA, children's writers, humor, fantasy, women's books, devotionals, self-help ... you name it. More info, meeting time and location here:

**If you'd like to try your hand at winning your very own chicken sandwich (Chick-fil-a, YUM!), seriously consider attending the Fla Inspirational Writer's Retreat this year on Oct 3 in Lithia, Fl (I'm co-director). It's very affordable but scholarships are available if that's an issue for you. More info here:

Monday, January 12, 2015

New Adventures

Chasing the sunrise on an exciting adventure
The past week has been one chockfull of good news. This, of course, happens far too rarely, that I receive word even one exciting twist has torqued in my writing journey, much less two.

What a red letter week!

The first tiding of great joy was the official notification that my book, Fear, Faith, and a Fistful of Chocolate, won an Illumination Book Award for Exemplary Christian Books.

One response sums that up: Hallelujah!

The next splendid news was that there will be a Too Blessed to be Stressed 2016 Planner to follow the 2014 and 2015 planners already published. Yay, God! Yay, Barbour! Yay, editors with foresight! Now I have something positive to say to the fine folks who have been contacting me, frustrated that they missed out on the 2015 Planner that was sold out before the year ... hold tight! Another will be coming down the chute soon (early fall, I think), and this one will have lots of new encouragement and scriptures from my other books in the "Take On Life" series, as well as from Too Blessed to be Stressed. 

Oh, and one other tidbit that thrilled me to my socks, although it happened about two weeks before my red letter week. My editor informed me that Too Loved to be Lost, my newest book in the series, will be turned into a hardcover journal like the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal that's now being carried by Cracker Barrel and Barnes and Noble.

I can't believe how popular journals are right now - I walked into a B & N the other day and was stunned to see three walls completely full of journals. Mama mia. I guess lots of people have lots of introspection to document. That's gotta be a good thing, right?

So I'm starting the new year in a purple haze of gratitude. I am so deeply thankful for these new writing adventures opening up before me and pray that I'll do Papa God proud for entrusting me with these unexpected blessings.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my good news with you, dear writerly friend. And please feel free to reciprocate when you receive your own good news - Ill be more than happy to rejoice with you!  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Do I Need an Agent?

Deb excited about her book in the window of Cracker Barrel
I received a question this week that I thought might interest my writer-buds. My answer is included below. 

Q: A friend of mine has just self-published a book and is having a debut with lots of people and publicity. I remember you talking about your agent. My friend does not have one. He does not know how an agent works or how it may help him. Would you be able to share your agent's number so he can get advice from him/her?

A: If your friend has already self-published his book (or is in the process of doing so), it's too late for an agent. The job of a literary agent is to represent a literary work in seeking a traditional publisher, much like a realty agent (realtor) does in selling a house. Once a book is out (as in self-published), it's considered "sold," and is unlikely to interest a traditional publisher - or agent - in wanting to publish it for their company.

The exception is when a self-published book sells well within the first 2-3 months of its release (we're talking 10-20k copies here). Those numbers will turn an agent's head (and publisher's). Otherwise, the time to query an agent about representing your work is after the manuscript is completed, professionally edited and ready to be shopped around to traditional publishers. 

If you intend to self-publish, you don't need an agent. 

Most traditional presses will only deal with agents - not the authors themselves - so the only way to get a better (bigger and more lucrative) book deal is by having an agent. But sadly, they're VERY hard to get these days. You don't audition them, they audition you, and are generally very picky about whom they sign on - they only make $ when a publisher wants your book and offers to pay for it (agents make 15% of your advance and royalties). If they can't sell your book, they make zero.

I strongly believe agents are worth their weight in gold. 

My first three books (with the best marketing I could do myself) all together sold about 10k copies. In contrast, I've had three different books published (through my agent) by a traditional publisher that have sold over 30k each. The difference is largely because of distribution. They had a system in place to market on a national level. I didn't. 

And 3-4 of my other books have sold between 5k-10k each. One is nearing 60k. The difference is the wider distribution you get with traditional publishers (my books are in WalMart, B & N, Cracker Barrel, Sam's, airports, grocery stores, convenience stores (just saw one of my titles at a nondescript “Food Mart” in rural Georgia when we stopped for gas on a trip recently) and Christian bookstores everywhere, besides being sold online as e-books and print books).

It's very difficult to get widespread distribution like that when you self-publish or publish through small presses (small presses pay for everything but the marketing is pretty much up to you; self-publishing means you pay for everything and do the marketing yourself).

I had three books out with a small press before I was able to interest an agent in representing my 4th book. His name is Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary Agency - your friend can Google Greg and the agency if he likes, but I don't feel comfortable giving a recommendation to Greg unless I've read part/all of the book myself and know that it's ready (meaning it's thoroughly edited and polished and of the highest quality).

Finding an agent is not something to be taken lightly. It's actually a lot of work - your manuscript must edited, re-edited, and edited some more so that it absolutely shines. You need to have your book proposal (about 10 pages long) ready too. Then you send prospective agents a query letter (which must be of excellent quality - there are books out there on writing a query alone) just like you would to a publisher. If the agent thinks it's good enough, he/she then offers to represent that work (JUST that one manuscript), you sign a contract, and you're off to the races. 

When your agent shops the manuscript around and finds a prospective buyer, you talk turkey and hammer out the details of the deal (date the final m/s is due, royalty percentage, advance - if there is one - who owns which rights, number of author copies provided, etc.). Then you sign the contract and the real work begins: Preparing to sell your book. 

Agents nowadays specialize in particular genres, so when your friend completes his next book, he needs to do a little research on literary agencies that specialize in his genre and start sending out queries right away. It's a huge bonus if you can meet your agent-match-made-in-heaven at a writing conference face-to-face. (Many conferences offer personal meetings with agents as well as publishing house editors - take advantage of this!)

I hope this answers your question sufficiently. I can be reached through my website if you or your friend have further questions. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

How Does Your Book Get National Attention?

Look what Shellie found in Cracker Barrel! 
Earlier this week, my friend and writing bud, best-selling author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson ("Belle of All Things Southern"), sent me this phone photo of her own coy eyes peeking over the top of a pretty pink and teal book in Louisiana.

Boy was I surprised!

It was my own Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal. Now this was fun in itself, to see someone of Shellie's celebrity holding my humble book (she's hugely well known in secular as well as Christian publishing for her hilarious southern-genre books like Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy), but the thing was ...

The surprise wasn't just WHAT the book was, but WHERE it was.

Gift bundles, anyone? 
Yup. My very first book to hit Cracker Barrel. Woohoo! The big time! And Shellie's local Cracker Barrel was apparently one of the first to grace their shelves with my baby blessing. 

Later in the week my daughter-in-law sent me another photo of my book in the central Florida Cracker Barrel she just happened to stop in for lunch. Not only were copies of Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal in the window, they'd wrapped some in this nifty gift wrap packaged with some cool bookmarks and other Cracker Barrel-y stuff for your shopping convenience.

Then other messages and photos of my book in Cracker Barrels across the country began popping up from my faithful reader friends. (THANK YOU if you're one of them!)

A glorious event for any author. But how did it happen? How does a book make it into a highly trafficked, nationwide consumer outlet like Cracker Barrel? My writer friends are clamoring to know.

Well I must tell you in all honesty that it was none of my own doing. The sales force employed by my super duper publisher, Barbour Books, is responsible. When Barbour decided to print a hard cover version of Too Blessed to be Stressed, they wisely made it upscale and beautiful and turned it into a journal (meaning inside it's basically the same as the original  paperback Too Blessed but with additional lined pages to answer the reflection questions at the end of each chapter and for the reader to journal her thoughts.)

And journals are IN these days. As are gift books. And gifts, of course, are what Cracker Barrel is all about.

Barbour knew this, of course (because it's their business to know what's hot and where it's selling), and when their sales team pitched a list of possible purchases to the Cracker Barrel home office marketing people (as they routinely do to Walmart, Sams, Target, LifeWay, B & N ... you name the retailer), even though the Too Blessed to be Stressed Journal was a few dollars more than the original paperback, they bit.

Why? Because it fit their before-Christmas-gift book criteria and seemed to be a good fit for their store.

I only wish it was easier for self-published and small press books to be considered for distribution by these national chains, and perhaps it will be one day with the ever-changing face of the publication industry, but for now, it's one of the benefits of going to all the trouble of getting your manuscript professionally edited to a glaring shine and enduring the angst of trying to interest a literary agent to represent your work.

That's the path to hooking a traditional publisher and the traditional presses seem to be the ones in the queue.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep spit-shining your manuscript with detailed editing or consider self-publishing. The two should go hand-in-hand. That's the way the glass ceiling will shatter ... good quality books by good quality authors will be chosen by good quality retailers. Regardless of their birth.

And I truly hope it's your book that leads the way!