Book Marketing – A Love/Hate Relationship

John Koehler, founding publisher at the small indie press, Koehler Books just wrote this blog post for their website,http://www.koehlerbooks.com/the-truth-about-book-marketing/ While reading it, he jarred my thoughts back to book marketing with a sigh. My experience with this dreaded or delightful aspect of the publishing industry reeks of highs and lows and some words for future authors which will hopefully help you avoid the pitfalls along the way. Here’s a quick summary of my experience followed by helpful hints.

My first book, a children’s picture book called Back to the Manger, was published by a tiny publisher in Minnesota. They did a beautiful job on the product and gladly left all the marketing to me. Being the zealous first time author with a holiday book in hand I pounded the internet pavement with a vengeance. The book did well, supported by strong events and speaking engagements. In two months it sold a few thousand copies, but I found myself wondering what might the sales result have been if this publisher marketed the book as well as they produced it? Also, by Christmas Day my weary bones could barely make it downstairs for stockings and presents.

For my first novel, A Minor, I signed a traditional deal with a small publisher. Just FYI, traditional means you get an advance and royalties. They worked hard and created a gorgeous product with breakthrough technology, the music embedded into all the ebooks – presto! – just touch the title of the music on your Kindle and it plays. Their partnership with Ingram distributors accomplished this feat, but Ingram didn’t seem to do much more, despite being a big name. Again the lions share of the marketing landed on my doorstep with the first box of comp books. As John says, expect about 50-80% of the work to be done by you, the author. He’s not kidding. The book sold well, but not as well as I’d hoped.

Next up, a poetry and essay compilation with Redbud Writers Guild, Everbloom, with a small publishing house which also happens to have a fantastic marketing department. Lesson here, some small presses do have the capability to market your book so look carefully under the hood. Talk to other authors who’ve been published by this press. What did they do for their book? What does the contract say about marketing? What I’d describe as teamwork marketing muscle launched this book (i.e. not just me) and again it did well, but not as well as I’d predicted. Hint- don’t make predictions on book sales. However, the experience of working together with a marketing team enhanced my joy in releasing this book into the world.

So my singlehanded marketing effort for my first book has actually sold more copies over time than the others? Why? Not an easy question to answer because an amalgamation of factors are at play. A key one is what I like to call the unanticipated demand factor. Some books are organically launched in the right place at the right time. My Christmas book happened to be such a book. It leveraged a unique time period that can be maximized year after year. So timing effectiveness is a reality.  Hint – think about how you can link your book to a specific timing or event that thematically ties in with the topic. Also, breakthrough technology doesn’t ensure success so don’t bank on a quality of uniqueness as a factor of sales. Sure, the cover is important, but a breakthrough cover design/feel won’t make a huge difference. A teamwork approach to marketing is best. Hearing about a new event/opportunity from your marketing team even six months after the book launched buoys your desire to do more. If they’re still working for the book, then you can too, especially beyond the book signing launch party. In store signings don’t sell many books. Celebrating with friends and family at a rock ‘em sock ‘em launch party is a blast, but just because you sold 50 books that day doesn’t mean your book will succeed down the road. As a benchmark, a friend working for a larger publishing house told me, “If your book sells 10,000 copies then it’s a success.” With my limited track record of working through three book launches, I’d say he’s right.

Does all this deter my desire to write the next great American novel? Heck No! The intangible “amen” of writing a creative paragraph that develops a character and advances the storyline inspires me to keep going. We authors love words and the way we can manifest, manipulate and massage them to speak life into something that’s never been spoken before far outweighs the hills and valleys of book marketing. Keep your heart focused on the story while learning and growing as a marketer one book at a time. Keep the faith and Happy National Novel Writing Month everyone! For the first time I’ll be participating in this worldwide, manic writing endeavor with a healthy dose of fear and trembling.

p.s. John Koehler published a helpful little ebook for those who want more illumination on writing and book marketing and it’s free. Here’s the link: http://www.koehlerbooks.com/dropbox/pocket/pocket%20guide%20digital%20ARC%207-1.pdf

 

Is an Artistic Community Right for You?

https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/05/18/meet-women-building-community-christian-writers

This article was written for America magazine by Judith Valente and it might be helpful in sparking ideas about the benefits of creating in community vs. going it alone. I remember standing in a receiving line before a wedding reception and the woman in front of me, whom I’d never met, asked me if I was in a Bible Study. I responded, “No, I like studying the Bible on my own.” In about ten minutes she explained why studying it in a group is more beneficial and she invited me to try it out. I’ve been in various Bible studies for the past 20 years because of her invitation and she was right it is better than studying it alone. The same may be true for you in your creative endeavors. Have you ever thought about joining an artistic community? Here’s some reasons why that might work for you. If you already have, please write me a note and tell me why it works (or doesn’t work) for you.

Note: One correction – I am not an “original” member of the Redbud Writers Guild as the article states. I believe I joined the Guild about five years ago.

(iStock) 

For the members of the Redbird Writers Guild, writing is not only a craft, it is a spiritual practice.

The original members of the group first encountered each other about eight years ago when they traveled from the Chicago suburbs to attend a Festival of Faith Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. In addition to their shared geography, they all shared a call to write.

They bonded too, says founding member Shayne Moore, over a mutual “love of Christ.” They also shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

The women of the Redbird Writers Guild shared a common belief that writing with faithful trust can lead to transformation—their own and ultimately that of their readers.

When they returned home to Illinois, several of the women met over a glass of wine. They kept thinking back to the redbud trees that were flowering then on Calvin’s campus with their bright magenta blooms in full spring splendor. “We thought, ‘This is a beautiful metaphor for who we are,’” says Margaret Philbrick, another of the guild’s original members—writers seeking to blossom.

Many beginning writers seek out groups where they can share their work and receive constructive feedback. Few of those groups might last as long or have as much success as the e Redbud Writers. Today, the guild has grown to include 150 members in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Their regular meeting place is no longer someone’s living room or a local café in the Wheaton and Glen Ellyn suburbs where many of the women live. They meet via Skype and converse through a private Facebook page, which female writers who also see their writing as a spiritual practice can apply to join.

“We see it as a way of expanding feminine voices in the area of faith and culture,” Ms. Moore says of the group’s aim.

The guild’s philosophy is simple: that women of faith have something important to communicate and they do that best with the support of community. The writers come from a variety of religious traditions, ranging from Catholic to Congregationalist, Presbyterian to Pentecostal. “We are Christian women, but we don’t get hung up on the individual core values of each of our traditions. There is unity in the essentials,” Ms. Philbrick said.

Redbud Writers
The Redbud Writers Guild. 

Most writing groups focus on how to improve a manuscript, find an agent or get a publisher. Redbud Writers care about those things too. But the art of writing is never far from their spiritual practice.

This is how Ms. Philbrick, a fiction writer and poet, talks about her creative process: “I want to have the life-giving Storyteller give me my words. So before I type or write a word, I have a practice where I put out my hands and pray that the Lord’s spirit will infuse me with his creativity and give life to what I have envisioned,” she says. “There is a faith component to my writing that makes doing it more exciting than me just grinding out chapters, going about my task.”

Community, not competition, guild members say, is the trademark of their group. Among the Redbud’s “Core Values” are respect for the feminine voice and a spirit of non-competitiveness.

“That last thing is what I think sets Redbud apart. We are really grounded in that spirit of non-competition. God’s theology is one of abundance and there is more than enough to go around,” Ms. Moore says.

“These manuscript groups are deep times of intimacy,” Ms. Philbrick says, referring to individual members who meet either on line or in person to discuss manuscripts they are working on. “I’m giving my heart to this group in sharing my work. You have to have a deep level of trust.”

The prescription seems to be working. About half of Redbud’s members have books out now, or significant other print publications. Ms. Moore is the author of two books, including Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World Is Easier Than You Think, which chronicled her work as an advocate for H.I.V./AIDS treatment and prevention.

Ms. Philbrick’s first novel, A Minor, came out in 2014, and she is working on a second novel now centered around a famous painting.

Would male writers be welcome in the group? Well, not exactly. “My sense of men’s writing groups is that they very quickly become elitist. Men are going to look for men who are like them,” Ms. Moore says.

“Women tend to be more comfortable than men are sharing in groups,” Ms. Philbrick says. “Women crave intimacy.”

The group aims to encourage emerging writers in particular. The choice of the word guild in its name is an intentional reference to Medieval guilds where artisans worked as apprentices with more experienced artists in order to improve their craft.

“Many of us are moms with newborn babies, getting up at six o’clock to write before the kids wake up,” Ms. Moore says.

Every Wednesday at noon, guild members stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are, and say a collective prayer. While most of the conversations take place online, they meet every two years for a writing and spiritual retreat at Techny Towers, a retreat center run by the Society of the Divine Word order outside of Chicago. Then the writing resumes.

The Massachusetts-based religious publisher Paraclete Press recently put out a collection of writing by Redbud writers, called Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, edited by Ms. Moore and Ms. Philbrick. The two said they were careful to include writing from veterans as well as previously unpublished writers.

The anthology offers a snapshot of feminine life in the 21st century, or as Ms. Philbrick says, it reflects the many trains of feminine spiritual thought, like the outspread branches of a redbud tree. Topics of the reflections in the book range from living as an expatriot to the search for home, the loss of a child or a relationship, the suicide of a brother, the violent abduction of a relative, overcoming cancer and surviving rape. Each story ends, of course, with writing prompts to get both novices and veterans started on new work.

“I hope women who feel stuck grinding out the day-in and day-out routine, wondering what it’s all for, will pick up this book and get a tap on the shoulder from the Lord and see a bigger view of their lives and what it all means,” Ms. Philbrick says. “They just might see what God is doing in their lives beyond the cycle of grocery-shopping and feeding the children. I hope this book wakes them up a bit.”

Making Marriage Beautiful

I often thank God for blessing my life with a joyful, sacred marriage for 27 years. People say that building a strong marriage takes work and effort. In some sense that is true. Self-control is a virtue that I push myself to exhibit when my husband leaves his socks by the side of the bed again. Be the loving wife and just pick them up, right? They’re just socks. But the devil hanging out above my ear is saying, “Are you kidding, he’s done it again and he’s assuming you will pick them up for him, just leave them there.” Usually, I pick them up, sometimes he does and sometimes I leave them. But enough sock talking trivialities.

What makes our marriage beautiful? Dorothy Greco’s book, Making Marriage Beautiful forced me to think about this question and that alone is a worthy exercise. I’m recommending her book here today for anyone who wants to strengthen their marriage. This book, written by a woman with insights from her husband and other couples, focuses on listening to one another and God , maintaining realistic expectations (see chapter, “Not Your Mother’s Lasagna) and how we commit to growing together long term. It goes way beyond the everyday realities of socks and addresses the big challenges found in a life of commitment. I love the book trailer posted here because it focuses on growth and how we have to dig, sweat, and wait for those springtime blossoms, much the same process we follow in cultivating a healthy marriage.

bookcover-Aug-0815-003-©DGreco

 

Savor the vulnerable and wise voice of Dorothy Greco as you dig into her story. Ideally read it with your spouse and please leave a review on Amazon when finished reading, Making Marriage Beautiful. Here’s the link to buy the book and the link to Dorothy’s fantastic website. She is a phenomenal photographer and an author, of course. Just being proficient in one art form wouldn’t do. Love and thanks to you Dorothy for helping us and caring enough about marriage to write this book.

Buy the book here:

https://www.amazon.com/Making-Marriage-Beautiful-Lifelong-Intimacy/dp/0781414083/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491177718&sr=1-1&keywords=Making+Marriage+Beautiful

Dorothy’s Website:

http://www.dorothygreco.com

Book Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhyKpDLRIHM

 

 

 

Your Manuscript is Done! Now What?

I’m a slow writer. In creating my novel, I followed author Linda Sue Park’s advice, “Write something every day and then first thing the next day, review and revise it, then keep writing.” Sometimes the next day does not lead to writing, just revising. Or, the whole section might be deleted and you start over. Good writing takes time. A favorite professor at Trinity University told us, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.” I’m sure Hemingway or someone famous said that first, but Frank Kerznowski gets the credit today.

After countless hours of living with your characters, the time inevitably comes when you need to share them with someone who can be trusted, someone who is also a writer. These professional friends become your “first readers.” I asked for feedback from a few of them and they so kindly complied, by sending a red line edit back to me or an email with their thoughts. Because A Minor (my novel) intensely weaves classical music into the plot, I asked a dear Redbud Writer’s Guild friend if she would assess the manuscript from a musical perspective. She was a piano performance major in college and she had plenty of wise contributions and questions for me to think through like, Tchaikovsky vs. Chopin concerto choices? What to do about that? Go back to the desk. These comments invoke the need for more research which leads to more revising than anticipated. I fell in love with Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto as a result.

A manuscript group is invaluable. In my suburban world this looks like a bunch of well dressed women who meet once a month to drink wine, eat low calorie food, laugh and cry over the work presented and then tear your work to shreds. Of course, you’ve known these women for years so everything they share is worthy of your ear and heart. In the group, there should be some more experienced writers than you are and some less experienced. One of the best critiques that came to me from this group was, “She is having a miscarriage on the bathroom floor. Don’t tell me that in one line, tell me all about it. What happened before, what happens after. How was she feeling in that moment?” Because they are women, they will think about your work from a feminine perspective so make sure some of your first readers are men as well, seek balance.

Once your work has survived these rounds in the ring, you are ready for “Joe Plumber.” I found it insightful to receive feedback from someone who was not a literature major, does not write, does not talk about T.S.Eliot at the dinner table, but does read A LOT. What would the average reader tell someone else about your manuscript? I wanted to know. Listen to them. They probably won’t email a detailed summary of comments, but they will tell it to you straight. Revising will be needed after you hear from them. Now you are ready to seek out a real editor who will comb through your manuscript and fix your writing deficits. Mine fell mostly in the realm of point-of-view, too many people speaking and thinking in a chapter. Because this is my first novel and I believed in the story, I decided to pay someone who specialized in fiction editing to do this. It added a couple more months to the writing process, but it put the manuscript in a place of readiness to send out to potential agents and publishers. That is where the fun really begins!

Who is She?

Have you met the Proverbs 31 woman? Her description has always evoked feelings of awe and annoyance. Sewing late into the night by a lamp that does go out, gorgeous toned arms planting a vineyard, a prominent husband, self-designed purple clothes and children that get up in the morning and praise her? All of that sounds like an unattainable biblical ideal.

One Proverbs 31 woman does exist and she lives on the Amazon River. A few years ago a band of 14 folks from our church braved a missions trip in July on the Amazon. We lived on a boat, helped build a church, ministered to children, slept in hammocks and prayed we wouldn’t get sick. Our boat captain’s wife, Virginia, became our adopted mother. She rose in the dark for her quiet time with the Lord and then began preparing our food for breakfast. Working in a ship’s galley that was about three by four feet, she quietly went about smiling and chopping her way through the day.

In her “free” time, she helped us on the construction site, mixing cement and tamping down dirt with her bare feet. At days end, after serving all of us a not-to-be-duplicated fish soup, she held her husband’s hand and laughed with him as we all played Train Dominoes. She didn’t play, just contentedly sat beside him delighting in the fun he was having. We would worship together singing in Portuguese and English and she was filled with freedom and joy in her Savior, whether she knew the language or not. She had the capacity to love us like her own children with barely a spoken word. Being in her quiet, loving presence was like being with Jesus. I’ve thought a lot about Virginia since the Amazon and concluded that her transient home, a heart on a river boat is one of the perfect homes for him because, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 18:19-21.

Virginia is living in the light of John 14:23, “If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” She has daily made her heart his dwelling place and thereby abides in and creates a home from that place. The home of her heart emanates the love of the Father. She has learned to keep him at the center because everything around her is always changing i.e. new boats, new teams, new river communities to visit, new crews on the boats, yet because she makes her heart home his each day she is able to love us all as her own children. Although women in America don’t live in these circumstances, everything around us is constantly changing as well.

Who do you know that is a Proverbs 31 woman? Be on the lookout for her, watch and learn from her ways. Christ’s home in us enables us to effectively cultivate a home for many others as well. Virginia was able to do that without even speaking English, but she did wear a purple shirt.