Friday, August 27, 2010

Are You Wasting Time Reading...?

The complete question reads like this: Are you wasting time reading about writing when you should be writing? This awful question reared its ugly head when I began packing to move house. Ah yes, the joys of moving. I think it’s number two on the list of Most Terrible Things To Happen In Life. Along with death and divorce, moving house is one of the most traumatic experiences known to man, woman, and writer. Of course, there’s always the chance that while packing, as you scrabble among the dust balls under your desk, you might just find a vital piece of paper with a plot link you thought of in the middle of the night, wrote down, but then couldn’t find... There’s also the chance you could find money, the winning lottery ticket, or the missing library book that has accumulated thousands in fines...

However, the worst part of moving is thinking about what you have been doing for the past few months. Is there a link? Yes, for me there is. You see, I can’t move into my beautiful new house yet, the one with a stunning TWO (yes, two) room office. This is an incredible step up as far as office space goes, and I just can’t wait to fill it with books, lost library books, missing pieces of paper, and dust balls (My housekeeper very wisely put a clause in her contract that prevents her from cleaning my current office and I guess it extends to the new one...) How is this connected to what I have (not) been doing for the past few months? Let me explain. Alas, I have to camp out in a rented flat for two months while the current owners make their own moving arrangements. This means no access to the Internet unless I go down the road to an Internet cafe and log on. So, I’ll only be doing that once or twice a week. I decided I should pare down my subscriptions. It was a shock to find out just how much mail I was receiving.

Last week I did not open my email for two days. When I did, there were over 100 messages in my inbox. Apart from the ever-present ‘you have won the UK lottery’ spam mail, I found I had recklessly subscribed to just about anything that had ever presented me with an interesting article. I was receiving mail from all sorts of blogs and newsletters, some with remarkable articles, some with run-of-the-mill stuff. In my eagerness to learn more about honing my writing skills and developing a marketing strategy, I had accumulated so many subscriptions that basically my time on emails had gone from 10-15 minutes every morning to 90 minutes. Unacceptable. I was spending more time reading about writing than actually doing any writing.

I also found that while many of these articles were extremely informative, I had begun to question my writing, my characters, the back story, the inner story, the action, the dialogue, the adjectives, the adverbs ... I had begun to tear my writing apart. So, I had to cut off the source of my addiction and ... unsubscribe! I have, however, kept the few stalwarts that I began with. I expect that once I am settled in my new abode I shall be tempted to start subscribing again. But my resolve is firm: forge ahead with more writing, and not so much reading about writing. I shall leave the ‘fixing’ to my editor!

Here’s my TOP Ten List of best blogs, sites and newsletters about writing and marketing. I just know I will start adding to my list again....

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Beyond Adversity: Author Arlene Crenshaw

For many authors, writing is a means of expelling the demons, getting rid of burdens and baggage, healing the pain of past hurts, and sharing a story with many others who may have experienced similar events in their lives. Author Arlene Crenshaw has used her experiences to heal and change her life. I'll let her tell you in her own words...
Hello everyone, my name is Arlene R. Crenshaw, the author of Twelve Roses for Uretta. I wrote my book because I felt it was a story that needed to be told for my sake of healing within. I also hope that by putting this story out there it will raise awareness to many, many people that suffer with domestic violence as well as child abuse. My story is a true story of my life growing up—watching the abuse of my mother and also the abuse I suffered from my best friend’s brother, being molested over and over at age 14, which led to me being a mother at age 15.

Most of my life I have struggled with anxiety, depression and I struggled even more after the untimely death of my mother. After 47 years of struggling to finally get my life under control, I decided to write everything down. The first thing I did was stop crying behind closed doors. Everyone who ever knew me always thought I was a happy person, full of joy. The truth was I wasn’t. I was miserable with my life and the only thing after the death on my mother that kept me going was my son; he was all I had.

So after 47 years of crying, I decided to stop and take charge of my life. I had been through a lot of challenges that I didn’t at first realize I had overcame. When I began writing, I started emptying out all the old baggage I was carrying within and I started noticing I felt better and stronger. I cried and cried while writing and sometimes I found myself writing so much that hours went by, but it felt good right to the soul. The more I wrote, the more I sensed a feeling of healing coming over me.

I realized I had been carrying a lot of stuff and for an awful long time. I prayed and prayed to God to help me…and he did. I got it all out and I ended up writing a book and it’s all true. My own story healed me within. I no long suffer from anxiety or depression. I have not taken any medication going on 2 years now. I live my life beyond adversity. I have also written a second novel due out this month called Hidden Closet’s Book of Short Stories. It is not a true story but it’s all about secrets that people have that they want to keep hidden for fear of being exposed to their real truths about themselves.

Life is wonderful for me now I love life and I even write every day on Facebook and Blogger. I call it “My quote of the day,” which I write a quote to try to inspire people and uplift their spirits, I do this daily. Also below is a poem called Living Beyond Adversity. To all stay blessed and soar high as eagles!!!

Living Beyond Adversity

Adversity means different things to different people and it depends on what their experience was and the attitude they have about it.

In the beginning when life was out of control, it meant something like this:

It shows up uninvited.

It took control.

It changed your life in ways you didn't want.

It took what you wanted away from you.

It forced you into situations you didn’t want to be in.

It stopped you from doing what you wanted to do.

It's was ruthless and cruel.

It's was unfair.

After working through its challenges, life became something like this.

It helped you to become a better person.

It made you achieve more than you ever thought you could.

It made your relationships deeper and more meaningful.

It showed you what was most important in life.

It helped you become more compassionate and understanding.

It made you appreciate life much more.

It leads to the discovery of true joy, in life.

It gave you wisdom and now you soar beyond the clouds (awesome feeling within).

And know you live your life beyond adversity; because now you’re in the best place you can be for yourself emotionally… now you’re living beyond adversity.

By Arlene R. Crenshaw

Thanks for sharing these thoughts and feelings with us. For more information, visit Arlene's website.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Imperfect: Author L. E. Harvey

Say hello to someone who flies in the face of convention, both as a writer and a person. L. E. Harvey is a writer and model in Harleysville, PA. She greatly enjoys all that Philadelphia city life has to offer. She is also an activist for human rights, animal rights, women's rights, and gay rights. When L. E. is not writing or working on the political scene, she models as a pinup and  "alt" (alternative) model. L. E. admires women like Betty Page, and "Rosie the Riveter" has been her idol since childhood. She is currently affiliated with The Gypsy Queens, Angels With Ink (AWI), The Cherry Girls, and Curvy and Rocker Pinups. L. E. Harvey is a proud participating author in Operation E-book Drop, sending e-book copies of her books to the men and women of the U. S. military across the globe!

Imperfect, L. E.'s first full-length novel, is the story of Carol Mathers. Carol was born a sickly child, and received a blood transfusion in the early 1980s. Now in her mid-thirties, she's a highly sought IT guru in St. Louis. She has built a great life for herself with her partner of twelve years, Alexandria. Carol and Alexandria face prejudice as lesbians, and as an interracial couple. Fighting tragedy and sometimes finding triumph, both of the women live day to day. During her tumultuous life, Carol discovers that she has acquired AIDS as a result of her childhood transfusion. Now, they face even more obstacles, prejudice, and a new life as AIDS patients. Carol learns just how much her chaotic past has affected her, and how she can never really escape it, even as she tries to move on with her life. An unexpected hostage event creates even more pain and tragedy in Carol's life, and causes her to wonder about the meaning of and purpose of her own life.

Chatting to L. E. is extremely interesting so let's get to know her better!

Imperfect is your first full length novel. How did you make the leap from short stories to full novel? Was it difficult/easy/like falling off a log?
The leap from short stories to a full length novel was definitely difficult and not at all like falling off a log! My publisher encouraged me to try writing a full-length. With a background in non-fiction and short stories, she knew this would be a good challenge for me. The storyline came very easily, but the time and work weren't always easy. I did feel like I was falling off a log into some kind of strange abyss, but in the end, it actually worked out!

Tell us something about that inner and outer journey and inspiration for the book. It's a pertinent topic right now.
The inner journey for Imperfect is that it challenged me emotionally as well as just being my first full-length novel. I began writing it in the beginning part of a year and a half of some serious health issues. I was very vulnerable as I wrote Imperfect. I allowed the book to showcase the emotions of a difficult health issue as well as my own insecurities and self-perception. The outer journey was that I studied computers and technology, as well as HIV/AIDS. I was able to learn a lot in my research and I feel that the studies that went into this book have helped to make me more aware, more understanding and much more attuned with the HIV/AIDS cause.

Tell us about the follow up you have planned, how do the themes expand?
Impeccable, the sequel to Imperfect is almost complete. I'm really excited about it individually and these two as a complete story. What you find in Impeccable is much more character growth and development, even of secondary characters. You really get to know my characters, their thoughts, their emotions, their motives and perspectives on life. Impeccable also shows us all the real meanings of love, devotion and family. The reader will gain a tremendous amount of peace and knowledge, too.

What was your publishing journey like? How did you get published etc? Any funny moments etc?
My publishing journey was actually fairly simple. Like every writer, I got rejected from publishers and agents alike. I happened to stumble across Vanilla Heart Publishing's website, queried them and the rest is history! As far as funny moments, probably the joy and elation I had when I received my acceptance letter from them. I'm normally a fairly calm person, but even I couldn't help but jump around the house when I got that good news!

How do you hone your craft as a writer—do you read books by authors you admire, do you attend classes, do you have a critique group?
Honing my craft is extremely important, especially since my background is in non-fiction. Fiction writing is so much more difficult, so it's important to me to keep improving my fiction writing. I read as much as I can from the other authors in our publishing house. These are people with doctorate degrees, tremendous accolades and years of professional writing under their belts. I have an incredible classroom at my disposal! I also study style manuals, the dictionary and thesaurus. I know that sounds ridiculously nerdy but it helps to improve my vocabulary and writing skills.

Modeling and writing—that's an interesting combination and what is an alternative model? Tell us how you came up with this multi career?
Yes, I do have an interesting career. I've been writing since childhood, and was nationally published for the first time at age 14. So writing has simply always been there. As far as modeling goes, I literally fell into it. A few photographers saw my picture and thought that I had an interesting look and it sky-rocketed from there. Within my first year, I was already in a calendar! I was Miss November 2007 for the original Pinups for Pitbulls calendar. My pictures have been featured in art exhibits and were even in the Philadelphia Enquirer! I NEVER imagined I'd ever model, but it worked out well for me! An alternative model is someone who is not 6 feet tall and only weighs 80 pounds. I am only five foot one and I wear a normal dress size. Alt models are also typically tattooed and pierced, which I am as well. You won't find us on the cover of Cosmo, but we do much more artistic work and you can find us in art exhibits and in more creative photography. It's a very unusual pairing, but I love the creative outlets each provides, and I've had some incredible experiences in my life from them both!

Some advice to writers who perhaps hesitate over contentious topics such as mixed couple, HIV, gay relationships—what is the best way they can get their work out there?
When dealing with difficult or controversial matters, there's really only one way to handle it: just do it. It's not easy at all, and it is a risk to put such books out there. You don't know how they will be received, but creating a piece that's dear to your heart is far more important. Be sure to do your research as well. You don't want to tackle these issues and not have your information be correct. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it can be tedious and boring at times, but the end result from your efforts and research will show. Your book will be so much stronger and sharper, and that is key, no matter what the subject matter.

Thanks for being my guest today, L. E. Readers who'd like to learn more about L. E. and her books can visit her website.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

12 Secrets to Selling More Books at Events

One of the funniest book signing videos popped up recently on YouTube: Parnell Hall singing about signing books in the Walden Books. It's an amusing video but possibly taps into every writer's greatest fears ... will anyone come to the store and will anyone buy my books? Marketing guru Penny Sansevieri offers 12 great secrets to selling more books at events, not just book stores.

So you got a book event, great! Now you want to maximize it, right? You've heard your writing buddies talk (or perhaps read online) about the lack of attendance at signings, so figuring out how to maximize the event, regardless of the numbers might be tricky. While I spend a lot of time addressing online marketing, the offline component is one you shouldn't overlook. If book events are where you want to focus, then bringing in some ideas to help you sell more books is something you should consider.

Some years back when I was promoting The Cliffhanger I ended up at a book signing in the driving rain, I mean it was pouring and the store was all but empty. It was amazing I sold even one book, let alone seven. While not a big number, the copies were all sold to people who were seeking refuge in the store from the rain and not there for my event. This signing taught me a lot about events and connecting with consumers in stores. If you have an event coming up, consider these ideas before you head out:

1. Marketing: First and foremost is the marketing of your event. But I'm not talking about the marketing you do in the media (though that is great too) I'm speaking of in-store marketing; this is what most folks seem to overlook. This is where you supply things to the store to help them market your event. Because the first phase of a successful event is driving people to it. Here are a few thoughts.

a) Do bag stuffers. You can easily do this in your favorite computer program, do two up on a page, meaning that you use one 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper to do two fliers. You'll want to ask the store first if they mind that you provide this, most stores or event venues don't.

b) Bookmarks: while most in the industry see these as passé, people still love them. You can do bookmarks and bag stuffers (or staple them to the flier) or you can do custom bookmarks with the date and time of your event. Nowadays it's pretty easy to get these done cheaply. Keep in mind that if you are having the event in a mall or other type of shopping area, you might be able to drop the bookmarks (or bag stuffers) off at the nearby stores to see if they'll help promote the event.

2. Book signings are boring: Regardless of where you do the event, plan to do a talk instead of a signing. People are drawn into a discussion and are often turned off by an author just sitting at a table. Marketing is about message and movement so stand up and speak. If speaking in public is intimidating to you, go to Toastmasters or some other local networking/speaking group and see what you can learn.

3. Unique places: If you want to get more attention for your event, consider doing events in unique places. We've done them in video stores, electronics stores, gyms, even restaurants (on slow nights); doing outside-the-bookstore events is a great way to gain more interest for your talk. Why? Because you aren't competing with everyone else at the bookstore for your crowd. When you do an event at a locale that doesn't normally do events, you'll attract more people just because it's considered "unique."

4. Show up early and talk it up: OK, so let's say you're in the store and there are a ton of people in there shopping (a book event dream, yes?), I suggest that you take your extra bag stuffers or custom bookmarks and just hand them to the people in the store. Let them know you are doing an event at such and such time and you'd love it if they can sit in. You'll be surprised how many new people you might pull in this way.

5. Customize: Regardless of what your talk is about, poll the audience first to see a) what brought them there, or b) what they hope to learn if your talk is educational. I suggest this because the more you can customize your discussion, the more likely you are to sell a book. If you can solve problems (and this is often done during the Q&A) all the better. You'll look like the answer machine you are and readers love that. If you have the answers, they'll want to buy from you. I promise.

6. Make friends: Get to know the bookstore people, but not just on the day of the event. Go in prior and make friends, tell them who you are and maybe even hand them your flier or bookmark (or a stack if you can). Often stores have Information Centers, see if you can leave some fliers there instead of just at the register. Getting to know the people who are selling the book is a great way to help gather more people into your event. If your event isn't in a bookstore but attached to a shopping area or mall, go around to the stores (and perhaps you did this when you passed out the fliers) and let them know you have an event and ask what you can do to help them promote it. If you can rally the troops to help you market your talk, you could triple the numbers of people at your event. No kidding.

7. Take names: I always, always recommend that you get names and (email) addresses from the folks who attended. Signing them up for your mailing list is a great way to keep in touch with them and stay on your reader's radar screen. If you have a giveaway or drawing, great! This will help you to collect names. If you don't, offer them a freebie or e-book after the event. Often if I'm doing a PowerPoint presentation I will put together a set of them (delivered in PDF) after the event. Attendees need to sign up to get them and then once they do, I include them in our newsletter list, which helps me to stay on their radar screen.

8. Pricing: Make sure your book is easy to buy. If you are doing this outside of a bookstore this is easy to do and will help your sales. I find that a rounded number like $10 or $20 makes for a quick and easy sale. If you can round up or down without adding or losing too much to the price, by all means do it.

9. Book pairing: One way you might be able to round up is by pairing your book with a freebie. When I paired Red Hot Internet Publicity with a second, but smaller, marketing book I took the awkward pricing of $18.95, bumped it up to $20 (so 2 books for $20) and quadrupled my sales after an event. Now the pairing doesn't have to be a book, it can be a special report or even an e-book that you send to them after the event.

10. Product and placement: As you're doing your talk (especially if it's in a non-bookstore venue) make sure that you have a copy of the book propped up in front of you so event visitors see it the entire time you are speaking. Hold up the book when appropriate and use it as an example when you can. This will help to direct the consumer's eye to the book - and making eye contact with the product is a good way to make sure it stays on their radar screen throughout your talk. When I do a speaking gig at an event that allows me to sell books in the room, I will sell four times more than I would if the attendees have to go somewhere else to buy it, so make the buy easy. If you can, make sure your books are for sale in the room.

11. Ease of purchase: Aside from pricing, if you're doing your own checkout make sure that you have many ways consumers can buy your book. I take credit cards at the event, checks and cash. Don't limit yourself as to what you can take or you will limit your sales.

12. Post event wrap-up: So the event is over, what now? Well, if you got attendees to sign up for your newsletter (you did do that, right?) now it's time to send a thank you note for attending and remind them (if they missed the chance at the event) to buy a copy of your book at the "special event price."

Speaking and book events are great ways to build your platform, but if you aren't selling books there's little point in doing them. For many of us, our book is our business card and thus, if we can sell our "business card" we can keep consumers in our funnel. If your book isn't your business card you still want readers, right? The marketing before, during and after an event is crucial to building your readership. While it's easy to say that events sell books, they often don't. I find that if you don't "work it" you often will find your time wasted. Seek the opportunities when they are made available to you - and then maximize them when they are, you'll be glad you did!

Thanks, Penny!

Reprinted from "The Book Marketing Expert newsletter," a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Books That Change Childrens' Lives

When examining books that have changed children’s worlds, many times the books are possibly the parents’ choices. This could be because until the child can go out and choose and pay for their own books, the parent is usually the book buyer, and therefore is by default the book chooser.

Parents may purchase enchanting classics because they want their children to enjoy the books they grew up with. It could also be that some books may be considered inappropriate by the parent. Perhaps the subject matter is too shocking in some cases. For example, when I first read Lord of the Flies (now a classic) at a very tender age, I was shattered. Violence and death among children seemed impossible. Nowadays, the number of instances of child on child violence is rising. Or is it? Possibly with wider media coverage and the age of the Internet, more cases are being reported because the dissemination of information has become so much easier.

When I taught my adopted daughter Mabel to read I naturally turned to my old favorites. I was very pleased to see many of them on Susan Orleans’ list. Many of those books changed my world. Mabel loved lots of them but naturally began to spread her literary wings as she grew up. First it was The Golden Compass, then Inkheart, and then Twilight. It’s time for another trip to the bookstore soon. Twilight has kept her busy for a very long time because each movie release means another read of the whole series to check what the movie makers are leaving out.

Your child may not enjoy the beloved books of yesteryear that were your friends and companions. Times change, technology marches ever onward, and children’s tastes develop. Any parent wishing to foster and develop a love of reading in their child should be aware of the new and often difficult pressures on children today. Issues that did not exist thirty years ago may be of compelling importance now. Subjects that were never spoken of such as child abuse, incest, violence, drug use, death, a dystopian world, global warming, war, racism, nuclear threats, etc unfortunately rear their ugly heads in today’s society. Children are also bombarded with media messages that create confusion. Should kids be growing up too soon parents wonder? Should they be reading this or that?

Some practical tips for parents wishing to expand their children’s book list and foster a love of reading in their child:
  • Sign up for online newsletters from children’s publishers to keep up with latest releases.
  • Subscribe to children’s book review sites such as 5 Minutes For Books to keep abreast of kids’ books. Often reviews are helpful in deciding whether to purchase a book or not.
  • Look at what your child is reading at school and discuss whether they are enjoying it, and if not, why not.
  • Plan a shopping trip to a good bookstore and look at the books most prominently displayed. Chat to the store assistants. Get their opinion on what is popular, what works, and what they would recommend. Find out if any authors will be doing book readings or if there are any book launches coming up.
  • Local librarians are a fount of often unappreciated knowledge. Ask about book readings or library sessions where there is a fun activity planned.
  • Buy books that target your child’s interests and hobbies.
  • Encourage your child to make their own choices.
  • Fill your home with books on a variety of topics. Recent studies show that having a few as twenty books in the home boosts your child's chances of going on to higher study.
  • Let your child see you reading, and how much you enjoy it.
  • Children love to share activities with parents. Reading aloud to kids is something all parents should do for as long as possible.
For more articles on the benefits of books for children, or for educational aspects visit my author site (see media page).

Don’t be afraid that any one book will change your child’s viewpoint in a negative way. Life is full of all sorts of experiences that they must eventually experience. Books are a way for kids to dip into another world or explore topics safely.