Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Novel Approach: A Writer Finds her Audience

This article was published in my local paper when my first book debuted, two years ago. It still have some relevant ideas for authors and I thought it be help to pass on.

To me, book promotion feels like pushing a stubborn boulder up a if something works, I want to know about it and to share it! ~Suzanne Woods Fisher

A Novel Approach: A Writer Finds her Audience

Copper Star, a critically acclaimed World War II love story from local author Suzanne Woods Fisher, is the surprise summer hit of the season, climbing on the Publisher's Bestseller List the day it released. "The copies are flying off the shelf faster than the author can sign them," said Dawn Carrington, editor-in-chief of VR Publishing. A major motion picture studio is considering the film rights to Copper Star, and its sequel, Copper Fire, has already been contracted, set to release in early 2008. Lauren Duensing, owner of Sage Terrace, said that she was surprised how many copies of Copper Star flew out of her store. "Actually, they continue to fly out," she added. "But considering that I could not put down this wonderful summer `star' of a book, I understand its selling success. It's a great read.

"Getting published in today's competitive market is an achievement in itself, but most hopeful authors are unaware that an even bigger mountain to climb lies behind it: book promotion. "People assume that there is a large marketing budget available to support an author," Fisher explained, "but that's not true, unless your last name rhymes with `bowling'."

So how did Fisher break through?

After reading books on promotion, Fisher borrowed the concept of a `Street Team.' She sent letters out to friends across the country to help spread the word. She provided ten ideas, most of which took less than a minute. For example, Fisher offered postcards and postage for friends to mail to their friends. "It created a ripple effect across the country," she noted.

Fisher targeted book clubs by including a discussion guide at the back of Copper Star. To date, twenty-six book clubs have her book on their fall schedule. She booked speaking engagements with another author, such as a recent standing room-only event as at the Walnut Creek Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the topic: So…You Want to Be a Writer? "I think the key to its success was having a topic that many could relate to," explained Fisher.

She found that positive reviews posted on Amazon impacted sales. "Many people use those reviews—both editorial ones and customer reviews—as the deciding factor for a purchase." Another problem Fisher faced was industry bias against a small press. "I had trouble getting reviews from well known review sites," she said. "There was an inaccurate assumption that a small publisher meant it was a subsidy or vanity press."

Fortunately, the reviews Fisher did receive raved over Copper Star. Librus Lover Book Reviewer Carol Cushman wrote, "Suzanne Woods Fisher's first novel, Copper Star, is a shining example of today's fresh new emerging authors. She links different worlds in the unusual setting of an Arizona copper mining town while allowing us a glimpse into the world of a deaf child and the challenges that presents." Fisher offered parting advice for newly published novelists: "Try to complete at least five promotion tasks per day. Consider it part of your job. But only part! Don't let it take over your writing. You have to keep writing."

Suzanne was a contributing editor for Christian Parenting Today. Her work has appeared in Today's Christian Woman, Marriage Partnership, Worldwide Challenge, ParentLife, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Children with Special Needs and many others. Married with four children, Fisher lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Copper Star is available here on Amazon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Writer's Journey Continued

Publicity and promotion are a big part of marketing a new book. Writing the thing is just the first step. Then comes rewriting and editing, editing, and more editing. Finally the finished product rolls off the press. Now what?

The best book in the world won't sell unless people know about it.

So most new authors assault Media World: newspapers (send press releases and query for articles), online reviews (very important but don't expect 100% five-star reviews; there may be a dud now and then), radio (register local book events on community calendars and query guest spots/interviews), blog tours (often professionally arranged; online tours have pretty much replaced live bookstore tours due to expenses involved), bookstore visits (to introduce your book personally to managers and establish relationships so when they see your future books in catalogs, they'll jump to buy them), and even television (query local or related-genre talk shows for interviews).

Public Relations (PR) firms may be hired to carry the bulk of obtaining publicity, but they tend to be pricey (average $5k for a 6-month contract). Traditional publishing houses may assign an in-house PR representative to help get word out, but with departments tightening their belts these days, it's generally up to the author to network and beat the bushes for publicity opportunities.

Doesn't leave much time for writing the NEXT book, which everyone asks about, but 3-4 months of concentrated marketing surrounding the release of a new book is an expected part of the publishing process.

Since the release of Mom Needs Chocolate in April (three months ago), I've been featured in eight newspaper pieces, done two TV interviews and six radio interviews (most were arranged by my publicist). Each of these required sending a press kit (including copies of MNC, a bio, suggested talking points for interviews and other items of interest about the author/book topic) and some also requested book trailers or CD's/DVD's (I'm a speaker, so I sent a 3-minute DVD sample of a speaking event along with a MNC book trailer).

Radio and podcast interviews are usually done by phone, and can last anywhere from 3 to 60 minutes (they tell you ahead of time). I've done two in-studio radio broadcasts, which I find a bit stressful but nevertheless fun. Being able to observe the production process of both radio and television is quite entertaining and educational.

My first blog tour is coming up June 29, when 30 bloggers and book reviewers will post reviews of Mom Needs Chocolate. The point is to generate buzz about the book so that readers will check out my website and/or purchase my book. Naturally, copies of MNC are mailed to each participant ahead of time.

They won't have an opinion about your book unless they've read it.

Sounds like a lot of free copies, doesn't it? Yup - it feels like it, too but an author must understand that an average of 50 give-away books is necessary to garner even modest media attention. Traditional publishing houses will furnish most if not all of these promo books, but small press and self-published authors have to dig deep to cough them up from their own pocketbooks at an average cost of $5 to $7 each copy.

I heard that gulp. I feel your pain. Been there, done that with my first three small press books. I'm cheap by nature and each promo book I gave away scorched my guts. That's why knowing ahead of time and creating a budget are so important (nobody warned me before my first book; that's why I'm informing you!).

Of course you can choose NOT to send out promo books and you and your mother can enjoy the distinction of each being 50% of your total sales. But to give that dead horse one last whack, in order for people to buy books, they have to know about them - and what better way than through tried and true media outlets?

I'd be happy to answer questions or give you a sympathetic hug via the e-dress at my website above. (Did you catch that? Another marketing tip: Keep sending people to your website so they can learn about all your wonderful books that they just can't live without but don't know it yet.)

Keep breathing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why Do We Write?

What is it about a blank page that begs to be written on? Is it the fresh, new start? Is it the chance to leave a mark, a lasting impression where none exists? Is it the simple flow of ink from pen to page?

Before computers and even before typewriters, one used paper and pen to build volumes of inspirations and stories. Did the writers of old stare at a new sheet of paper with more respect than we writers today regard the next page, an easily discarded piece in our computer documents?

Do we slave and strive today to fill our pages with words that matter? Life-changing, soul-wrenching, spirit-cleansing words? Or have we become one of many medias bombarding the masses with shallow and selfish information designed to give a quick fix of entertainment satisfaction?

So many many words to ask one simple question. Why do we write?

Source: Dineen Miller's blog "Kittens Come from Eggs."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Last in the Class

An amazing thing happened this week to drill in the lesson of 2 Corinthians 12:9: "My power is made perfect in weakness."

Friday night I was on my way to a concert and took a wrong turn. I was totally lost and hopelessly late when I randomly chose a side road on which to turn around. About half way down the quiet suburban street, I came across a man lying motionless on the side of the road beside a running car with the passenger door standing wide open.

A young man materialized from the driver's side of the car on his cell phone and confessed to the 911 operator that his father had heart disease and diabetes but he didn't know CPR.

The fallen man had no pulse and was not breathing. It appeared to be a heart attack. With no one else in sight, I was the best choice - the only choice - of helping this man. Panic filled my guts. To fully comprehend this, you must understand that I was dead last in the CPR class I had taken years before. The instructor only signed my card to get rid of me after everyone had gone home and I was still fruitlessly pounding away on my dummy. I was about as unqualified a rescuer as you could get.

To abbreviate the story, I ended up doing the Debbie version of CPR on this poor man for 10 minutes before EMS arrived. I couldn't remember the correct positions, ratio of chest compressions to mouth-to-mouth breaths, or much of anything else, but I figured something was better than nothing.

After three cycles of CPR, his chin quivered and he vomited. We had a heartbeat. Praise God! I could hear the ambulance siren in the distance so I just kept compressing until the EMT's took over. He never regained consciousness but he was breathing and had a heartbeat as they drove him away.

Returning to my car, I was shaking so violently that I couldn't turn the ignition key and fumbled my cell phone across the floorboard. Tears finally came and I realized I shouldn't even have been there. It was so obvious that God had orchestrated the whole ordeal . . . from the wrong turn to my random choice of turn-around streets.

How marvelous that our God's preferred M.O. is to use inadequate, unqualified people to serve as His hands and feet. Even if you're dead last in your class.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wet Noodles

It was the day of the biggest speaking event of my life. And I was in tears.

I had submitted queries, brochures, phone calls and letters for nearly two years to the largest church in town, hoping and praying for an invitation to share the joy of the Lord - and my new book, Mom Needs Chocolate.

It finally came to pass in the form of a huge women's event for which they expected 450 attendees. I was thankful, of course, and thrilled . . . at least at first. Then I realized my tried and true speech would not fit into the unusual format of the program. What to do?

Three days before the highly advertised program, I was assaulted by a nasty head cold which descended into my chest in record pace. Two hours before the program, I was sniveling and snorting all over myself, hacking my lungs out after every five croaking words.

The gunk in my throat was thick enough to caulk a battleship.

My brain seemed to be encased in quicksnot as well, for I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to piece a workable speech together. My outline just wasn't right but I didn't know how to fix it. Curled up in a ball on my bed, all I could do was whimper. I was about as lifeless as a wet noodle, and nearly as intelligent.

"Papa God," I prayed, "I'm in a mess here. I REALLY don't know what to do. I feel totally helpless . . . hopeless. Won't you please, please help me?"

Like a soothing cup of hot tea with honey, 2 Corinthians 12:9 poured into my mind: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I could almost hear His still, small voice whisper, "I was just waiting for you to ask, dear child. Wet noodles are my specialty."

Almost immediately, my thoughts began to crystillize and I sat straight up, suddenly seeing exactly what needed to be done to my speech. Rushing to the computer to delete, add, and adjust my outline, I realized that my throat was clearing up and my voice was returning to normal.

Later that night, tears flowed again. This time they were tears of gratitude that if the pasta will only recognize its limitations and submit, the Master Chef is more than able to turn limp, useless, wet noodles into the finest of gormet cuisines.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Editing Letter

This was passed to us from our editor at Vintage, Dawn Carrington. All writers will enjoy! Plus...what a clever way to promote a book!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dream Job

Did you read about the British man who won the contest for the "World's Best Job"? He gets to live on a tropical Australian island for six months. His assignment is to enjoy the island and write a blog to promote the area.

He won the contest because he convinced the judges that he never said no to adventure and that he would make the role and the blog "his own."

If you watch American Idol, you may recall that the judges are always saying that to the contestants: make the song "your own."

Which leads me to my first question: how does a writer make the work "his/her own?" I'd love to read your thoughts.

You may have another question. I do. How do we get a job blogging from a tropical island for six months?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Writing with Integrity

An excerpt from Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:

Keep integrity of words and deeds on the forefront of your reputation. Always do what you say and say what you do.

Avoid criticizing others. Blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make yours - and certainly not Jesus' - shine brighter.

In a business where words are the business, it's easy to let our tongues wag a little too loosely and allow gossip to become second nature.

"Don't bad-mouth each other, friends. It's God's Word . . . that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You're supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it" (James 4:11, TM).

From the chapter entitled "Cracked Mirrors" by Debora M. Coty

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Oprah and Me

Have any of you seen the June issue of Oprah's O magazine? It's called For the Love of Dogs!

Now...I could be outraged, except for the fact that titles can't be copyrighted.

But I'm actually quite pleased.

For once...Oprah is copying ME, rather than vice versa.

If you have a minute to spare, a number of my friends are contacting Oprah and filling out this form to have her consider adding my book to her reading list. Join the ground swell!