Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Roller Coaster

This is what we have to remember: It happens to everyone.
I just read a blog in Publishers Weekly about the ups and downs of author signings. Well, I read the beginning of it; the rest was available to subscribers only, darn it, but the author began with a story. He had reported for an event to find only three people waiting to hear him read. When two of the three realized they were there by mistake, they left, and he proceeded to do a reading for one person.
I live near the Kings Island amusement park, home of such daunting roller coasters as Diamondback, Firehawk, Flight Deck, Invertigo, and the Beast. I enjoy visiting the park about once a year, but it would take a lot of money to get me onto one of those coasters. For the last couple of weeks, though, I’ve been thinking of the publicity campaign for my book as its own roller-coaster ride.
It bears repeating that an author is responsible for publicizing herself. In addition to a web presence early on, publicity includes media events and signings once your book is published. It’s an exciting time that we all deserve to enjoy.
So far I’ve done two radio interviews, and another two were cancelled or postponed by the hosts. Things happen. Just last week I spoke at two events. Both were scheduled weeks in advance. Four people attended the first one, and forty came to the second. I was deflated on Wednesday and elated on Thursday.
This is the roller coaster of which I speak. As a new author, you can expect to experience serious emotional highs and lows publicizing your book. Will each event be a hit or a miss? Will you be flying high or in the pits? Will you fill one seat or a whole room?
My publicist worked with a very successful author team whose best-selling series of books didn’t catch on for a year. “It happens to everybody,” she said of the struggle, implying that even the super-famous pay their dues. Remember those stories about singers starting out? How they crowded into some old car and drove all night over bumpy back roads from venue to venue?
Maybe nobody comes to your signing, or your books don’t arrive in time. Maybe you forget your speech. You take a full day to develop a presentation with no idea how many people will show up to hear it. You spend money on a new outfit, or shoes, or a beauty appointment and wonder if the expense will ever be worth it.
It will.
When the chairs fill up and the flashbulbs go off and a line actually forms off to the side of your signing table, as was the case on a recent night in Cincinnati, there is nothing like it. Of course, maybe you wouldn’t be screaming, “Get my nails in the picture! It’s the best they’ve looked in years.”
Like the author in the PW blog, you put your product out there and then follow it, always the professional, always doing your best. So touring has its ups and downs. It happens to everybody. Enjoy the ride.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Geography

Amazon’s Author Central is a program authors can join in order to learn more about the book business and see market responses to their specific products.

In my educational publishing job, I had access to a sales database. Every morning I logged on, first thing, to view “the numbers.” I loved the numbers. Author Central now fills that void by providing sales information about the paperback and Kindle versions of It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me.

Near the top of the Sales Info page is a map of the United States with shaded areas reflecting pockets of book sales. To the right of the map is a list of cities where my book has sold. For each city the program lists the number of books sold there.
“Denver, Colorado,” I read this morning, and realized: That’s Janice.
Baltimore, Maryland: That’s Carol. Hartford, Connecticut: Rachel. Philadelphia? Susan. Two books, so Susan and a friend. Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek: Anita? Indianapolis, Indiana: My cousin, Karen? Atlanta, Georgia: My son, Greg, and his wife, Amy; Amy’s sister, Jen. Charleston-Huntington, West Virginia: The signing last month at Taylor Books. Jacksonville, Florida: Beverley?
Cincinnati, Ohio, has the darkest shading for the most books sold. That makes sense; it’s where I live.
The U.S. map of sales isn’t the only feature of Amazon’s program, so look for more about Author Central in a future blog. “The numbers” are shown in several different ways. I still love the numbers, but nothing beats the place map that became a people map today as I saw my friends within its jagged outlines and—even if some of it was guessing—learned to read that list of cities in a brand, new way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do You Skype? Uhhhh...

A radio host wants to Skype with me. I have no idea what to do and twenty-four hours until the interview.

I do know that the software program Skype, recently folded into Microsoft, has been a grandparents’ tool for years. Instead of settling for a weekly telephone call, my friends have been visiting with their children and grandchildren face to face. All they need is a camera on each computer.

I installed Skype on my laptop when my son and his family suggested it, but somehow we have never used the program together. Now I have an opportunity to become proficient. Fortunately, the radio host isn’t interested in seeing my face; after all, it isn’t television. He wants to use “audio only.” That’s fine with me. I find the camera on my laptop harsh and unforgiving. I couldn’t really look like that!
Skype can't be that hard, I thought as I went in and set up a profile, complete with a picture I uploaded from my files. I sent my Skype name to a friend, who then called me using the program. “Hello there!” she said brightly, as her Skype photo enlarged on my screen. Thrilled to be connected, I answered. And then I heard the sounds of silence, and I don’t mean the song.
“Hello. Hello?”
Nothing came back.
I don’t know what happened to the connection. My friend had to leave for an appointment, but she promised to Skype me again later. My mind was all aflutter as I noted the time slipping by.
And then, sitting here all by my lonesome, I realized that the Skype interview isn’t the one tomorrow; it’s the one scheduled for late November. Whew! Relief is too mild a word. This week I have many things to do, and learning to Skype wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
But where is my mind?
I’m still learning to roll with the punches. I want to follow others’ advice to “have fun” during these initial months of author events, and I am. Each signing, each trip, each interview is exciting. Once I’m there, I love it. Sometimes, though, there is such a learning curve.
Here’s my new plan for Skype. Before the November interview, I’ll be visiting my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I’ll corner them and have them teach me. Annie is eight; she probably can Skype rings around the rest of us.

Friday, October 14, 2011

First Bookstore Signing

The setting couldn’t have been better for my first in-store book signing at a Cincinnati Barnes & Noble. The store held a New Authors Night that featured eight of us.

I’d had an event confirmation for weeks, but didn’t know what to expect in terms of the particulars. Would I be seated among other authors at a long table? If not, should I bring a tablecloth? It was October, and with a book title that included “Dracula,” should I give out Halloween candy?

I wasn’t sure how the signing process would work: Would customers buy a book and then bring it over to be autographed? Would there be a line? You think about many possibilities when you’re planning for the unknown.
Joe and I arrived about twenty minutes before the event. Each author had his or her own table, all of them located throughout the store. The tables were square, each with a tablecloth and a sign identifying the author who would be sitting there. When I found mine already stacked with copies of It Started with Dracula, I knew the signing would precede the purchase.
I’d packed my things early in the day: first, the Diva. The store had let us know that we could bring posters, so I carried mine to the car between rain showers and put “D,” as I call her, in the backseat with my collapsible easel. Next, I jammed my briefcase with bookmarks, “Autographed Copy” stickers, a camera, my signing pen, and Static Guard to keep my suit from sucking onto me. I decided to skip the candy, but took a disposable orange tablecloth, just in case, loading the car hours before I had to leave.
I took my time with my makeup and tried to put a few waves in my hair. In getting dressed, I chose my black pantsuit. When in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. I pinned the handmade bat pin from my friend, Anne, onto my left jacket lapel for good luck.
We put the Diva up at the end of the bookshelves nearest the signing table, all but blocking a display of Ken Follet’s novels. Sorry, Ken, but you’ll do all right, and I’m just starting in this business.
My first customer of the evening was a friend, Shannon. Other friends and family members dropped by during the next two hours, and two stayed. Joe stayed close by as well, so I was seldom alone or unoccupied. I met a few of the other new authors, some of whom were from the local area.
Brooke, the store’s Community Relations Manager, brought us drinks—coffee for Joe, water for me—and checked in with us several times during the evening. Just before we began packing up, she asked me to sign a few copies of ISWD for a display she will create based on New Authors Night.
This was the way to have a book signing. The ease of it made me realize not just how well the event had been planned, but also how much my friends and family members had contributed to the evening. As I travel to other communities, I expect I’ll have to transition from socializing to selling, but I hope every signing is this much fun.
Thanks especially to Brooke Edman of Barnes & Noble, 7800 Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, Ohio, who planned a great event and treated us like we were already famous.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


You might have to stretch to make the connection between this post and the craft of writing, so I’ll tell you why I’m thinking of Kendra Wilkinson today: I have a book signing later in the week, and all of my beauty appointments have come up on the calendar again. Image rears its tousled head, demanding to be tamed.
As a fan of Wilkinson, I’ve been watching the first episodes of the new “Kendra” season Sunday nights on E! television. A former girlfriend of Playboy poobah Hugh Hefner, she went on to star in her own reality show after leaving the popular series, “The Girls Next Door.”
Kendra gained many fans during “The Girls Next Door” and became a breakout star. I liked her because she was atypical of the Playmates who graced the show. Though beautiful, Kendra was also athletic--not just another girly girl trying to outdo the others for Hefner’s favor.
Don’t get me started on him.
For me, Kendra was the standout girlfriend (of three). She was natural and direct; spontaneous and unpredictable; foul-mouthed; domestically challenged; openly sloppy; and full of fun. She had a big heart. Kendra’s uniqueness in the Playboy henhouse made her highly entertaining.
Part of Kendra’s appeal was—is--a Playmate stereotype: She’s a bit empty headed. For example, in an early episode of her show, she asked her mom how to use a postage stamp. When her mother expressed shock at such a basic question, Kendra’s answer was something on the order of, “Dude, I’ve been living in the mansion since I was eighteen.” In the Playboy mansion, other people mailed the letters.
Kendra was told this season to clean up her act, and I think that will prove to be a mistake. Some acts should not be cleaned up.
On the first show she was called into a meeting by her agent and told to upgrade her image. Though she can look quite glamorous, Kendra is most often filmed at home. Thus, she appeared on TV—and in public--wearing baggy sweats, with no makeup and her hair pulled into a casual ponytail.
She was one of us.
She initially resisted when an image consultant began rummaging in her closet, but on this week’s episode Kendra found a designer she liked. I lost count of the beautiful dresses she wore during the 30-minute show as she plotted, in full makeup, to find her son’s babysitter a new man. The upgraded Kendra and her friend the matchmaker were decked out for TV, chatting in a perfectly appointed home.
Though I could barely take my eyes off her floor-length, nautical-striped sundress, I wasn’t so fascinated with Kendra this week. She seemed a bit cautious and--dare I say it?--boring. Admittedly I dozed, but gone were her distinctive laugh and spontaneous curse words as she carefully picked her way through conversations. I missed them. I also missed the sweat pants and running shoes, because the woman who had worn them seemed to be absent, too. I missed the dance in Kendra’s eyes.
Being grown up is okay. Upgrading one’s image is usually a good idea, as long as we don’t leave the best parts of ourselves behind. If I’m right about Kendra, I hope she finds her best self among those pretty dresses. Better yet, maybe she’ll end up giving the image people a piece of her mind.
Go, Kendra!

This post is dedicated to my Cincinnati "image consultants," whom I love: Tina Elizabeth White at Michelle & Company Salon (hair); Debbie Sebastian at Avalon Salon (nails); and Claude Kayrouz at Identity (face).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Googling What?

Today I was on the Internet before first light, Googling It Started with Dracula even though I’d already signed up for Google Alerts. This is what happens, and I’ll warn you: It’s addictive.
Google Alerts is set up to send an e-mail to my G-Mail account whenever certain words or phrases pop up on the Internet. That’s how I discovered a blogger’s review of ISWD based on my recent signing at Concord University.
The first time I Googled myself, I could barely look. Seeing my own name on the screen was embarrassing, like the day in high school French when our teacher audio-taped each of us and then played the tapes back for the whole class.
It gets easier.
I figure I’ll sound like an egomaniac telling you about my new obsession, checking the Internet for all signs of my book: reviews, author events, news articles, and sales. I worry about that, but remember: The publisher publicizes your book; you publicize yourself. With Halloween approaching, October is a key month for It Started with Dracula. Of course I’m interested in its availability and sales! Of course I want to know what people are saying!
Amazon has an author service called Author Central that reports book and Kindle sales, catalogs customer reviews, and allows authors post their bios and pictures. I discovered Author Central with the help of Pastor Gregory Hunt, whose Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night hits stores Oct. 3. Check out Author Central at
The Internet is the fastest and most fascinating source of information for authors. I found out by visiting my sites that Amazon released my memoir last Friday, notifying those who had pre-ordered that their book was on the way. I learned that a Facebook friend had just downloaded my book to her Kindle. I discovered that my memoir had been inaccurately described as a novel in a local column. This morning I saw on the Barnes & Noble website that one of our local stores has ISWD in stock! Guess where I’m going later today? I’m taking a camera, too.
If you’re a writer and you haven’t Googled yourself or your work, give it a try. It’s part of your job to know what’s out there. We all need to manage our careers, even at 4:00 a. m..

Saturday, September 24, 2011

First Signing

Ricky Ricardo might hold his head and say, “Ay, ay, ay.” I'm just crossing my fingers.
Yesterday I spoke to a group of—well, we forgot to count, but twenty to twenty-five people--in the library of Concord University, where I was a student back in the 1960s. My college friend, Sharon, took pictures as I greeted the attendees, posed with the university president and his wife, and signed copies of It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me.
The room was lovely and just right for a signing. At one end of it, two wing chairs flanked a large fireplace. At the other, soft seating contrasted with the library tables that made up the middle. It was like being in a family room during a loving and occasionally boisterous event.
The boisterous part would be mine. Before the signing started, it occurred to me that letting my voice drift out into the main library might bring more people in; after that, I have no excuse except that I was having an absolute picnic. Fortunately, none of those who were there to study in a quiet atmosphere had brought baseball bats. I’m kidding, I think.
I’ve told you this before: It’s funny about fame, and how it plays with our egos. I’m not an assertive person. In a group, I’d rather listen than talk; but when you publish a book, you have to put yourself out there. Concord rolled out the red carpet for me. Even though the university was hosting my very first book signing, every person treated me like I’d already made it as an author.
I was pumped up. (A) You have to be, to do this; (B) the university treated me like a star.
In my publishing career I learned to speak in public, so stage fright wasn’t an issue; I couldn’t have wished for a better audience. Caffeine wasn’t an issue, either: I’d watched my intake, and most of my morning coffee had worn off by the time I walked into the library. It was my own happiness and heightened sense of importance that brought out my chattiest of selves.
My preparation process is to make lots of notes over several days, read them obsessively, and then put them away. I don’t use notes when I speak, and I don’t memorize; therefore, I never really know what’s going to come out of my mouth. One of my index cards says, “STOP AND THINK.”
Yesterday I had to forget that a camera was rolling and that a young woman in the back was taking copious notes. Forgetting the reporters was easy to do, but that night as I lay in my bed I got a sinking feeling. What had I said? As usual, I’d spilled more beans than I’d intended.
My friend Sharon told me afterward that my presentation was fabulous, but I wonder: What will end up in the paper? What will end up in the archives of Concord University? I’ll admit to you and you alone that I begged the media not to include certain statements I had made.
As we were leaving, a young man hurried after me to ask if we could film a ten-minute interview in the signing room. This was for the university. I have no television experience and no training for it, but I agreed. That would have been a good time to plop the Diva (my two-by-three-foot poster) into one of the wing chairs by the fireplace and let her handle the interview, but she was back in the car.
I don’t want to come down too heavily on myself, because I know that my presentation was a success. The entire day at Concord was lovely. But there was a lesson in it for me. It’s nice to be in the spotlight, if we don’t get carried away.
In my second interview—let’s call it the fireplace chat--I rambled on, hardly needing a question from the nice young interviewer to prompt me. In fact, he thanked me for my robust answers. He was used to having to draw people out.
With the camera rolling, I gaily volunteered that I’d had porcelain veneers put on my two front teeth to repair a gap. “My daughter-in-law told me the dentist would file my teeth down to points like a vampire’s,” I said, “and maybe he did. But I haven’t bitten anyone.”
Ay, ay, ay.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Personal Branding: Blog like Crazy

In your quest to become known—to build that oh-so-important harbinger of success called platform—blogging can be a quick way to reach an audience. Additionally, blogging is all kinds of fun.

When I traveled to India for business in 2008, I was with a colleague who planned to blog about her experiences for the folks back home. She invited me to do the same, but back then I didn’t know what a blog was. Sally helped me set up my India blog using a free website that provided templates. Designing my blog was easy. Writing it was a blast. Posting pictures was a snap, once Sally showed me the steps.

We arrived in Bangalore on a weekend and had plenty of time to unpack, relax, and blog. Our experiences were all so new that topics easily presented themselves. Soon we began seeing favorable comments from our colleagues and families in America, and I was hooked on blogging.

There are a couple rules for blogging, and these are coming directly from my experience. I don’t mean that I have all of it down. I don’t even do everything I say, but I’m speaking as someone who’s learning from putting my blog out there.

First, if you begin a blog, keep it going. That’s how to build a readership. Decide how often you’ll post something new and stick to it, so that readers know what to expect. That was as difficult in India as it is now.
As our work week began there, I was preoccupied with what I would write in my next blog post. I couldn’t wait to get back to my keyboard; but blogging wasn’t our purpose in Bangalore. Work took precedence, and many times our hosts also kept us company after the workday had ended, taking us to malls or restaurants. On weekends, we all toured. Thus, I was often too busy or too tired to write. Occasionally I would wake up in the middle of the night with a blog idea and be unable to sleep, so I would post in the wee hours.
I guess the second blogging rule is have something to say. Topics are infinite, as are opinions. Express yourself well. People are not going to have a lot of patience for junk; at least, I hope that’s true.
We’re in an age of online communities where anyone can write for public consumption. People who would never call themselves writers will blog, share their opinions with discussion groups, and regularly post status updates on social media. Reading those gems can be painful. I just read a blog on a publishing site in which the author incorrectly used lay, split an infinitive, ended a thought with a preposition, and incorrectly made molehill two words. I won’t even go into the comma faults, incorrect use of a pronoun, and poor sentence construction.
It’s like being in school when the teacher asks you to write an essay and not to worry—or should I say TO NOT WORRY--about spelling or grammar, but to focus solely on creativity. Sorry; I don’t agree with that one.
Blogs can be pretty. Many bloggers decorate with graphics or photos. Choosing a readable typeface is important. If you don’t use a designer, blog sites have templates for those sorts of things.
The other rule I would inject is write responsibly. Cuddle up to the English language and do your very best with it. Do your research. Be considerate of others. Make your blog worth their time. It's a thrill when others tell you how much they like something you wrote.
Read other people’s blogs. Decide which ones are good and which ones speak to you. Read your own from time to time. I just reread every one of my posts this morning, some of them long forgotten. Doing that helps me to see the big picture--where my blog is going, and how it might come across to readers.
So, blog like crazy. It’s a good way to work on your writing skills, and you might just set the world on fire. I bet you’ll at least make somebody think or smile.
Thanks to all of you who pause during your busy lives to read this blog.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Here’s a little story that made me laugh this morning. It’s more about life than it is about writing.

I was putting on my makeup, as usual; but this was not my usual makeup. I’d bought a few new cosmetics in anticipation of some upcoming author events on my calendar. After all, how could I sign books without new makeup?

I like to watch the TV show What Not to Wear. It’s a makeover show whose clients generally are women whose images need a boost. Unbeknownst to her, a woman’s friends, relatives, or business colleagues nominate her for a $5,000 New York shopping spree, courtesy of the show. In return, she must give up her current wardrobe. Her makeover consists of new clothes, a new hairstyle, and a session with a makeup artist.
The makeup artist on What Not to Wear is named Carmindy. She has a website ( that helps to illuminate the mysteries of cosmetics and the human face. I like what Carmindy does on the show, and sometime I try to emulate her techniques.
Carmindy does wonders with women’s eyes. So, when I bought my new makeup, I took a bit of advice from What Not to Wear and went shopping for eye shadow that was “the opposite” of my eye color, to make my eyes “pop.” Only what is the opposite of brown? I got to the store and had to ask a clerk, who steered me to a nice blue-gray.
Next I had to practice putting it on. Carmindy has a way of sweeping the shadow across the lids to make “smoky eyes.” The color looks so pretty and smooth when she’s done. I had been trying this for two or three weeks, every day, but I just couldn’t get it. My eye shadow wouldn’t behave!
Again today I looked in the mirror and oh, so carefully applied the shadow to my eyelids. The same thing happened! I knew my hands didn’t shake. How long was it going to take me to learn this? And then it dawned on me. The eye shadow did not go on smoothly because my eyelids are WRINKLED!
I just celebrated another birthday last week, and let’s just say that wrinkles should not be a surprise. I guess they were there all along; it just took a little blue-gray eye shadow to make them pop.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


If we change one letter, writing becomes waiting. Writing does become waiting, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s what freelancers strive to avoid. You finish one piece, log it, send it out, and start another; or you finish the one and immediately rework it for other markets.

You don’t stay on Facebook all day hoping someone will “Like” the tiniest thing you write. You definitely don’t click the “Send/Receive” button on your e-mail service every few seconds in case that message you want is on its way. You keep busy. You keep writing. It’s the hardest thing.

I’m in a major waiting period right now. My book will be out by the end of this month--very exciting, but still weeks away. My brother and I have a manuscript out to readers, but the deadline for feedback isn’t until October. Last week I wrote a new story and submitted it to an anthology, but I haven’t heard anything yet.
I should have a perfect house; there’s no excuse. This would be a great time to clean every surface and discard or donate older items to get rid of the clutter. I did clean my office a few weeks ago, and my brother and I recently uncluttered my garage, but I don’t spend my days with a bucket of Murphy’s Oil or Mr. Clean. Deep cleaning must be for the desperate; that’s all I can figure, and I must not be there yet.
A fallow period does allow one to plan. With events scheduled from late September through mid-November, I’ve already made some notes, had my clothes pressed, and scheduled my initial beauty appointments.
The first event is a book signing at the college where I graduated--45 years ago. Even though the current student population was not born when I was there, I’ve timed my appointments for that event. Current needs had nothing to do with it. If you’ve ever postponed a grooming appointment past your usual point of panic, you will understand how I feel slowly sliding down the slope of “Before.”
Once when I was in my twenties, my grandmother came to visit. One morning I told her I had an eye appointment in a few hours and invited her to go along. She was dressed and ready, complete with jewelry, an hour before we needed to leave. There was nothing to be gained from going early, yet we did; it was that or sit and stare at each other at home. Grandmama probably was the best-dressed person in town as we walked up and down the little strip mall where the eye doctor’s office was located, looking in windows. This is a little bit like that.
It seems the best response to down time is to get busy at what we do best. After all, if we change one letter, waiting becomes writing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Finest Hour

I’ve been thinking more about Spencer Pratt, the reality TV actor I mentioned in my last post. Pratt was just voted one of America’s most hated celebrities, coming in second behind Casey Anthony. Was being unpopular in his vision for himself? I doubt it, even though Pratt and his wife, Heidi Montag, have shown that they are publicity hounds, a term for those who believe that any recognition—positive or negative--is good.

The couple, whose show was cancelled in 2010, now lives with Pratt’s parents. They recently told US Magazine that fame had destroyed their lives. Both went on “star trips” early on, spending big money on themselves. Already beautiful, she underwent ten plastic surgeries in one day; he bought a $1 million wardrobe. She squandered $2 million on a failed music career. He bought a fancy truck that he drove only once.
I’m taking their story with a grain of salt, but think about it. Like many of us, Pratt and Montag were preparing for the future. Most of us are taught to do the same. We may not be able to invest millions, but don’t we all see ourselves as bright stars of something?   
I think about Don Knotts playing Barney Fife. The Andy Griffith Show was his finest hour, but did he know it? Did anyone? Did Knotts see the Griffith show as a jumping-off point for greater things? It would be human nature; he was only in his thirties. After he left the show, Knotts went on to play many other parts, but he never quite captured the magic of Barney again.  
I’m looking ahead to author events for my first book. Right now my schedule consists of local and regional book signings and a few radio interviews. Will I ever go on television? Will It Started with Dracula become a New York Times best-seller? Will I be rich and famous? Or is this my finest hour, right now, writing this blog?
We never know, do we?
Buying new clothes, picturing oneself on a stage opposite Ellen DeGeneres or Piers Morgan, and laughing all the way to the bank are examples of positive thinking. They’re harmless—even helpful--unless we fall overboard like Spencer and Heidi did. Is fame fun? I don’t know. I guess it depends on where life takes us and what we’re made of.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Making Room

I cleaned out two closets today. The first one was the walk-in closet in my bedroom. I had it customized a couple years ago with multiple shelves, drawers, and rods at different heights so it keeps my clothes organized--in theory. What does a clothes closet have to do with being an author? Oh, you poor innocents!

See, first there is the prospect of book signings, which to some of us serves as the starting gun for whipping ourselves into shape. Author events are part of publicity, and before you know it you’ll be appearing in public, speaking to people you’ve never seen before. Your friends will see you in a new light; old lovers might show up; or your college roommate, or even that English teacher who saw a spark in your writing. If those possibilities don’t send you to your closet, I don’t know what will.
Before I ever worried about where I’d be going and what I’d say when I got there, I was stalking the malls. I’d been working at home in shorts and T-shirts, and it was time to pump up my professional wardrobe; or, more accurately, to get one. You’ll do it, too.
The other day I read an article about television actor Spencer Pratt. He was looking back to the beginning of his career when he was seduced by fame. Pratt said he began "investing in himself" by buying expensive clothes and accessories, only to realize later that (a) fame is fleeting; and (b) he now leads a simpler life and no longer wears any of his new clothes. Well, okay, there's a good lesson in part (a); but I still believe we need to invest in ourselves.
So, while you’re filling up your closet with author-like clothing, you might want to discard a few items. For instance, where were you planning to wear those ten-year-old shoes? Maybe they’d work with that skirt you forgot about, or that trendy top you’ve never had on, or the suits that don’t fit. Oh, wait; that’s my closet.
The second closet I cleaned out was the one just inside my front door. It held the usual jumble of coats, boots, and gloves plus an assortment of old umbrellas, Yankee Candles, vacuum cleaner accessories, and a big box of videos. Why did I empty it? Well, sitting nearby were seven boxes of books; a newly purchased hand truck to move said boxes; The Diva (my two-by-three-foot poster of myself); the easel I ordered to hold the poster; packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and mailing labels; my new stationery; a box of bookmarks; and a box of business cards: tools of the trade.
I wanted those items stored together, out of sight. When I get ready to leave for an event, I’ll be nervous enough without having to search the house for what I need to take. My books have to be near the front door, because each box is almost too heavy for me to manage.
Now that those books are put away, my living room looks better. My bedroom closet is shaping up, too, but I believe more shopping could be on the horizon--just a hunch, Spencer. Yesterday I cleaned my office. My goal is to have the whole house clean and my wardrobe organized before I start traveling in a few weeks.
Maybe we’ll see each other out there. I hope so. Stop and say hi.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Personal Branding: Stationery

In her book Making a Literary Life, Carolyn See suggests that writers—and would-be writers—should form the habit of writing “charming notes” to authors they admire. That would be one charming note per day, “five days a week, for the rest of your life.” A phone call will do as well, See advises; but how many of us would find that easier?
One of my takes on life is that some people are better in person and others are better on paper. Think about it. Don’t we all know some charming people whom we admire for their smooth styles and ability to talk to anyone? I have friends like that. Maybe that description fits you.
On the other hand, some of us are more comfortable typing out our messages. We E-mail; we build stories and books; we write blogs. We’re better-than-average spellers. We like English; we like getting it right. And our words flow best onto paper or the screen.  
I’ve been sending charming notes for years—not five days a week, but when I had something to say to an author. I did it my usual way, via E-mail. Sometimes they E-mailed me back, and sometimes they didn’t.
When I re-read Carolyn See’s book a few weeks ago, I knew that I would be sending out books to reviewers and others. Some would require a note, so I took yet another step in the personal branding process. I ordered personalized stationery. This might not be front-page news to many of you, but I had never had personalized note paper in my life.
I went to a store where I could expect personalized service because I didn’t want to make a social faux pas by picking something tacky. As it turned out, choosing the paper was easy; there is white and there is ivory. You can find pink note paper and notes with colored borders, but the risk is that they could be discontinued. I chose plain ivory.
Let’s face it: Does one put one’s first initial, last initial, or full name on the front? And what type font should be used? What color? How large should it be? I took my brother to the store with me because he has a good eye, but I already knew what I wanted if it worked. The type font used for my name on the cover of It Started with Dracula looks very much like my signature, and it would forge a connection between the notes I would write and the books I would be sending. It turned out to be a fine choice, per the stationery expert.
I received e-proofs but felt more comfortable returning to the store to discuss and approve my stationery before it was printed. After an additional round of correction—I thought my name was just too large—we ordered the stationery and picked it up within a few days.
If you want a career as a writer, writing charming notes is a great idea. I write mine by hand when I use my new note paper, although I guess whatever you decide is okay. Ms. See tells the story of John Updike, who typed his on a typewriter and had so much to say that the letters were jammed up and crooked on the paper.

Making a Literary Life is full of interesting stories written in a wonderful style, if you want to give it a try. I bought it in hardcover a few years ago, but the other day I saw a paperback version in Barnes & Noble.

Oh, by the way, in addition to being an author, Carolyn See is a book reviewer for The Washington Post. I sent her a copy of It Started with Dracula with a charming note. We'll "see" what happens.

Friday, July 29, 2011


In this journey of writing and publishing a book, there are certain moments that stand out. It’s all a learning curve and, for me, every new experience has been both exciting and scary. The lesser moments can prepare us for the bigger ones, such as the day when a FedEx driver steps onto your porch, rings your doorbell, and points in the 95-degree heat to seven boxes of books that he will carry into your house.

My book is here.

I knew that the boxes held copies of It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me; my publisher had told me it was off press and would be arriving soon. This was the real deal.
I came upstairs to write my publisher an e-mail and then realized I couldn’t write it yet. I hadn’t opened any of the boxes. I didn’t work in publishing thirty years for nothing; we check books when they are delivered. I went back downstairs, slit the tape on the top carton, and removed the first book; held it, turned it, flipped the pages quickly.
The thing about receiving printed books is that they’re printed. Every time you’re asked to check proofs along the way, you have yet another chance to find the mistakes. Once a book is printed, you want to look through it, but you don’t…at least, if you’re me.
I came back upstairs and started to write to my publisher again. I wanted her to know how much I loved my beautiful, beautiful books; but I stopped myself again. I hadn’t looked at every page the way we were taught in Here’s Your Book It Better Be Perfect 101. All right, I made that last part up; but I’ve always felt a huge weight with every new publication until I knew it was all it should be.
I went back down to the stack of boxes and picked up the same book again. I really couldn’t rave about it until I knew that the pages were all there, in order, and right-side-up. I have the greatest respect for printers, but I couldn’t thank my publisher until I’d gone through the book page by page.
I held my breath and began quickly scanning each page, afraid that if I slowed down, I might see “it,” that inevitable error we talked about a few blogs back. So far, so good. A quote I’d hoped would fit into the first pages was missing, but otherwise It Started with Dracula was looking good. I finally wrote that note.
In the next couple of days, I’ll sneak up on my book again. I’ll probably end up reading it, but not today. Today I played hooky. I got a pedicure and then celebrated with my brother: eight ounces of light beer and a trip to the local racetrack. Woo hoo!
Thank you, Bettie Youngs, for believing in my story and turning it into an awesome book. You rock!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Editorial Eye--and Ear

Someone you know mispronounces a word. You wonder whether to correct the person and it’s too quick—he or she is already on to another thought—so you’ve let it go. Then it happens again, same word. You realize the person is mispronouncing a word he or she uses frequently. You’re going to hear it again. What do you do?

My mother used to say to one and all at the conclusion of family dinners that she was “sa-TIE-ated” (satiated). Another person I knew said “inter-MEEN-able” for interminable.

It takes guts to tell someone that she’s pronounced a word incorrectly, and I never corrected those two. I could have said to Mom, “Do you mean ‘SAY-she-ated’?” but she would have been mortified instead of satisfied.

Maybe you’ve had a conversation in which someone pronounced a repeated word differently from the way you said it. If the conversation was about tomatoes, he always said “to-mah-toes,” and neither of you was about to give up. That’s awkward. The same thing can happen in an e-mail exchange. My brother will write about making “chile” and I write back that I hope that his “chili” turns out well. That’s about spelling, but it’s the same principle.
I just quit reading a library book because the main character’s name was Sharon and people called her Shar. Now, the last time I checked, “Shar” rhymed with “car,” but “Sharon” rhymes with “Karen,” so how was that ever going to work? Maybe the author thought that “Share” would be a dumb nickname for Sharon, and I agree; but “Shar” doesn’t work—unless the character’s name is changed to Sharlene. It’s a stumbling block the reader must encounter again and again if she sticks with the book.
Some names just don’t translate well to the page. If you shorten "Roger" to "Rog," the reader can’t help rhyming it with “log” and then having to correct himself—over and over. It should rhyme with “dodge,” but if you spell it out that way, you might as well use his whole name.
We of the editorial persuasion are particularly bothered by things other people might not even notice. For instance, every time I read a detective book involving a chopper, I wonder why the short version of helicopter is “helo” when helicopter begins “heli”? And is it pronounced “hee-low” or “hell-o,” which sounds like a greeting? The website shows both pronunciations.
This blog is about the written word, but do you see how closely the written word and the spoken word are connected? When we read, we do speak—even if it’s most often to ourselves—which is why the written word has to work when we say it, even if we say it silently.
On the other hand, pronunciation bloopers usually occur when we’re trying to say unfamiliar words we see in print. Believe me, I know.
I have a good friend who eats out regularly. Thus, she knows food trends and pronounces foreign and otherwise confusing food words correctly. Once when we had lunch, falafel was on the menu. I had no idea what falafel was, let alone how to say it. Instead of “fuhl-AH-fuhl,” I ordered “fell-uh-fell,” to my friend’s chagrin, and she immediately corrected me. Now, the next time I order that dish, like when donkeys fly, I’ll get it right.
It’s easier to return a book than it is to correct a person, but if you and I are talking sometime and I mispronounce one of my favorite words, do the world a favor and correct me. That goes for spelling, too.
As pronunciations go, some people are past correcting; they’re going to say “nuke-ya-ler” all their lives, and there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it. I try to apply the sage advice of Davy Crockett—or was it Daniel Boone? Fess Parker, anyway: “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” I look it up. Sometimes—as in the case of my brother’s recipe—we’re both right.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 2)

Continued from Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 1)

I drove to the printer’s to pick up my poster. It was absolutely beautiful. I’m not talking about myself, but the high quality of the finished product.

“Is there anything I should know about the care of this poster?” I asked the printer’s rep.
“Just don’t leave it in a car in the heat,” he said. Did he realize that was exactly what I had to do? Where else do you store a rigid two-by-three poster on a road trip? By then I knew I was taking it to my school reunion, but not because I wanted to trot it out for my former classmates. I didn’t even know if I’d take it out of the car; but the trip would be the perfect test of how it would be to tote around a large poster and an easel, and then to set them up in a public place.
The poster came wrapped in heavy paper. I put it on the floor of the back seat and slung my suitcase into the trunk with the assorted items that were already there. I picked up my brother at his apartment, and we were off. Our hotel was still an hour away from the old high school. I didn’t want the poster banging against the items in the trunk, so I moved them to the floor of the back seat and put the poster in the trunk by itself, where it would lie flat.
The reunion was fine and the poster did make an appearance. When we packed the car to go home, Joe and I had to move the emergency tire pump, jumper cables, folding chair, and boxes back to the trunk with our suitcases and put the poster in its original spot on the floor of the back seat. Would my next purchase have to be a van?
“This thing is a lot of trouble,” I grumbled, speaking of my alter ego. “It’s like a diva.” And in that moment, my poster no longer represented me. It was no longer even an “it”; it was a “she.” She: The Diva.
“Maybe she’ll start demanding her favorite brand of bottled water,” Joe said as we got on the road, “or insisting on certain colors of M&Ms!”
“She’ll send back her food,” I added; then: “She’ll have her own fan club! They’ll be lined up around the block, and when they get to the signing table, The Diva will be propped up in the chair.”
“You could send her to ‘The Ellen Show’ in your place,” Joe said. “You know how dangerously chatty you get with too much caffeine.”
“She wouldn’t say a word!” I howled. We were having a good laugh at The Diva's expense.
“She’ll make personal appearances,” Joe said. “The curtains will part before a packed house, and there in the center of the stage will be The Diva on her easel. You won’t have to do anything!”
By then I'd cried my makeup off, laughing.
“Come to think of it,” Joe said, “maybe you could put her on the seat of that roller coaster you’re afraid to ride.” He was referring to an upcoming visit from my granddaughter, the coaster fiend.
My brother and I had a picnic on that trip, inventing scenarios for The Diva, and I have a feeling that isn’t over yet. A poster is a practical investment for an author and, in my opinion, best if you don’t take it too seriously.

Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 1)

“Do you have a poster you could bring?” my friend Beverley asked. “We’ll have a room dedicated to the graduating classes of the ‘Sixties.” We were discussing our upcoming all-high-school reunion, an event held in June 2011 for anyone who had ever attended or taught at our alma mater.

I didn’t have a poster to announce my first book, but wasn’t that next? After all, I’d invested in author photos, a website, business cards, and bookmarks. I knew I’d need a poster later when I began my rounds of bookstore signings, so maybe the occasion of our reunion could move that task up a bit.
Why would an author want a poster? Let me explain; or maybe you already know if you’ve ever been in a bookstore during a signing when the author was not well known. Once in West Virginia I attended such an event. The author sat at a small table near the customer service desk with a stack of his books next to him, as lonely as the Maytag repairman.
A poster can point the way to your table from elsewhere in the store. It can be set up near your signing station to identify you. Many bookstores provide signage, but others may not. Do you want to take the chance?

Aura Imbarus, whose memoir was published in 2010, has been my trailblazer. Her website includes a photo of her poster for Out of the Transylvania Night, displayed on an easel--my next purchase. Remember, the publisher publicizes your book and you publicize yourself.

Before my poster was even printed, I ordered its companion piece, an inexpensive portable easel. The one I chose has bungee cords inside the legs. You simply take it out of its bag (an additional purchase) and shake it. Like magic, the easel assembles itself. Woo hoo! I have a tent like that; the poles snap together in seconds.
The design of my poster would feature a giant photo of me, along with the cover image from It Started with Dracula. By then I was used to seeing my own face on business cards and bookmarks, but seeing it a foot high would be a first. The printed poster would be two feet wide by three feet tall, mounted on a rigid surface called Ultraboard for durability. My new easel would hold it just fine if no children, animals, or a slight breeze came along.
My designer had left a white area at the bottom of the poster, full width and five inches high. I thought it was a mistake. “No,” he said, “that’s so you can write on your poster.” Fortunately, I found that out prior to printing. The printer agreed to add a dry-erase coating, and I went to my local Staples for a starter kit of markers, an eraser, and cleaning fluid. See how this grows?
My designer had recommended that I use a local printer to avoid shipping the poster from California to Ohio. That should have been my first clue,
To be continued in Personal Branding: The Poster (Part 2)

Monday, June 20, 2011

If It Ain't Bea, Who Is It?

Do you ever think about the word aunt? Do you pronounce it “ant,” “ont,” or maybe “ain’t,” the way Andy and Opie addressed Miss Beatrice Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show?

I prefer “ant,” which is why my mind skipped naturally to Aunt Bea while I was chasing the other kind with a can of bug spray this morning. Before I’d even had my coffee, I spotted the insidious little things crawling along the molding under my kitchen cabinets. I don’t mean the molding on the floor; they had already climbed to the upper level!
What IS it with ants? I once made a boat from a cantaloupe rind when I was a kid, so I could sail it in the bathtub. I thought I was pretty clever. I set my boat on the rim of the tub, and when I returned a few hours later, it was covered with ants! Our bathroom was on the second story. How did they do it, and why?
Someday I’m going to study ants--not in person, but in books, or maybe on the Internet. I’m going to find out what drives ants, what caused them to sniff out my little boat and make the long journey upstairs in our house, to swarm the pathetic remains of a cantaloupe; but not today. Today, I’m going to the store because I threw out virtually every container of food in my kitchen cupboards.
You may be asking about now: What does this have to do with writing? Well, if it hadn’t been for the irresistible pull of the book I'm working on with my brother, now about halfway into first draft, I might have paid more attention to what was going on in my kitchen. I’ve been lax in the cleaning arena for a while now, preferring to sit at the computer and write.
Some writers freeze when faced with a blank page, but I don’t. I’m not bragging; it’s just a fact. Words and phrases flow through my mind all day, every day. I love the process of writing and shaping those words. I never need prompts, and if this blog isn’t evidence, I don’t know what is.
So, to wrap up the ant story, if I hadn’t been so interested in writing for the past several weeks, I might not be in this pickle. Oops, don’t say “pickle” out loud; it’s sure to draw more of those persistent little fiends that are still hoping for a morsel of food in my empty cabinets.
And that brings us back to Aunt Bea. Remember the Emmy-winning pickle episode? I could use a few of those kerosene cucumbers about now. They’re probably better than ant cups.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Personal Branding VIII: What Was That, Again?

My brother and I were driving south on Interstate 71 when I noticed a sign on a building: “Retirement University.”

“Look at that,” I said, wondering what it meant, and in the same breath: “Hip, Hip, Hooray: Intro to Replacement Surgery.”
“Cat Food One-Oh-One,” Joe said.
We were two retirees, having a little fun. But really, what was Retirement University? Was it an institution to teach people about being retired, or a school meant to attract retirees? I supposed it was the latter, a university for senior citizens--that supposed leisure class interested in lifelong learning, but no exams: Tired of golf? Try our evening courses. No class runs past 8:00 p.m.
I was wrong. Retirement University is for learning about retirement, primarily the financial side of it. The school is sponsored by an investment advisory firm, but it also offers workshops on leisure activities such as photography and book clubs. Most students would be those interested in retirement topics, but that wouldn’t limit the population to seniors.

You might be asking, “Just what is her message this time?” Well, the point is that we need to be clear in branding ourselves. For instance, if you’re an author and you haven’t hit upon the ideal title for your book, you’ll soon understand this concept.
The first title I gave It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me was Cold Moon in August. That was early in the writing process. Later I came up with It Started with Dracula—because it did. The subtitle was A Travel Memoir of Romania. Then, not wanting to limit the scope of the book, I shortened the subtitle to A Travel Memoir. When my publisher questioned whether we wanted the book to be placed in the Travel section of the bookstore, it became A Memoir. Once we began writing promotional copy, the whole game changed.
Whether the main title would even survive was a cliffhanger. It all depended upon the potential for sales. Would the bookstores go for a book with that title—meaning, did the sales reps think the bookstore buyers would consider it fascinating enough to attract customers? I fought to keep it--well, I didn’t fight; I hoped. After all, I’d already told people the name of my book. I’d grown used to it and liked it. My publisher knew how I felt, but sales potential would drive the final decision. It Started with Dracula squeaked by.

“You’ll need a subtitle for your book,” my publisher said, and that prompted another round of suggestions. We chose The Count, My Mother, and Me because it’s intriguing and it gives the reader further information about the topic.
Every word in a title counts, so to speak. And we writers aren’t just pleasing ourselves. If you want your book to be a commercial success, you’ll need to put on a marketing hat, for when it comes to the business of publishing, the question that always persists is how to catch the fascination of the public. There is a place between literary loveliness and cha-ching that you’ll need to explore, as I did. The goal of that exploration is a final product that you and your publisher can be proud of as it flies off the shelves.
Names should communicate clear messages. That’s my point, returning us to Retirement University. The name on the building did send me to the Internet for more information, so in that regard, it’s a success. I wish the institution well; maybe I’ll even show up there one day. What was that about book clubs, again?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Grandmama's Teeth

The summer after her sophomore year of college, my sister worked as a waitress in Myrtle Beach, living in our great-aunt Iva’s spare room. In August Mom, Grandmama, and I drove down from West Virginia to pick her up, and that’s how I ended up standing in Aunt Iva’s bathroom doorway one morning as my grandmother was fixing her hair.

Grandmama was finagling her long, salt-and-pepper hair into its familiar bun. She held the hairpins between her lips and talked around them, glancing at me in the mirror as she used both hands to gather her hair and twist it into shape. Her movements were automatic.
Grandmama had what were called finger waves going back from her face. She would sleep in a hairnet to preserve the style and then use a smaller net during the day to hold her bun in place.

Having me watch her that morning didn’t seem to be a distraction. When she’d pinned the last pin, she picked her hairnet up off the vanity without looking, spread it with her fingers, and popped it into place. Then Grandmama looked down at the sink, completely puzzled. She looked at herself in the mirror and then cast her eyes over the sink and vanity. “Where did I put my teeth?” It wasn’t a full set of uppers and lowers she’d lost; more like a section.
Bewildered, she swung her head left and right to look around the bathroom, and then I saw what she couldn’t: Grandmama’s false teeth were caught in the threads of her hairnet. Her movements made them twist and bounce and finally whip outward in an arc behind her head. Anchored by nylon, they sailed past me, grinning at our little secret, and I grinned back.
“Where in the world…?”

“Hold still,” I said, hating to end it. “I know where they are.”
This experience actually happened to my brother. I wrote the piece to see if I could adequately capture the humor in someone else's story. This piece was the First Place winner in the Writer's Wall contest for prose held by West Virginia Writers during the organization's annual conference June 10-12, 2011.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Book Right Back to the Library

I was so excited to find Stieg Larsson’s third Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, sitting on the library shelf. It was a 14-day book, but that reduced borrowing period had never been an issue with me. I could read three or four books in two weeks, even if I opened them only at mealtimes.

It has now been 13 days. I’m on page 281—of 563. I’m not going to finish this book, at least not now.

Note to authors: Please don’t give your characters similar names. Was Niedermann or Nieminen suspected of murder? Who was investigating? Was it Ekstrom, Eriksson, Edklinth, or all three? And what were the roles of Bjurman, Berger, Blomkvist, and Bublanski again? It’s enough to make a reader crazy.
Did I mention that this novel is set in Sweden? The translator did a fantastic job, but he couldn’t change the street names, for instance when “Figuerola drove her white Saab 9-5 to Vittangigatan in Vallingby” or reached the Bishop’s Arms and “found a parking space on Bellmansgatan at the corner with Tavastagatan.”

I slogged through the first 150 pages of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest just to digest the background, which I didn’t remember from reading the second installment. It had been too long between books, and this one contained WTMI: way too much information.
Note to authors: Let us know what we have to remember, or just leave out the irrelevant parts.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is going back to the library today. I could try to renew it, but I won’t. It bugs me to have read the first two books in this best-selling series and then to let this one go at the halfway point, but for Pete’s sake, I’d rather do math problems.

What's It About?

People always ask me, “What’s your book about?” It’s a natural question--one of the first a writer hears--and the Stupid People’s Guides (made-up name) to marketing tell us how to prepare for it.

Memorize an “elevator speech,” the books say, so that you can recite the crux of your book instantly and enthusiastically when people ask. This will come in handy when you go on radio and TV. First, write down the genre, plot, theme, lesson(s), and the ways your book will change the world. Then incorporate that material into a pitch you can deliver in about a minute. Finally, practice saying it as though it’s the most important information ever imparted.
It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me (Did I use all my words yet?) is a memoir. An editor friend once told me, “Many people who write memoirs forget that the first two letters of memoir are M-E.” It’s about me.

After I signed my publishing contract for It Started with Dracula, my publisher gave me a series of assignments designed to help me identify and express the essence of my book for sales representatives and bookstore managers. Yes, it was about me, but every memoir author can say the same. It was time to spell out what distinguished my memoir and made it compelling.
I spent hours writing descriptions, first listing every summary, benefit, and angle I could think of and then boiling it all down to a paragraph. I did this again and again. My initial tries were returned with suggestions to try again. It wasn’t rocket science, but occasionally it made me wish for rocket science.  

Though I wouldn’t want to wager that my versions of the sales sheets, website pages, and back cover copy made it through intact, they were good practice. I’m grateful for my publisher’s help in finalizing the central message of It Started with Dracula; otherwise, I might still be at it.
The summary of my book on the back cover begins like this: “A long-awaited dream vacation unexpectedly triggers an inner journey of self-reflection that opens the doors to forgiveness, acceptance, and longed-for peace.” It goes on to explain that visiting the land of Dracula at age 59 unearthed memories of my childhood with an alcoholic mother.

Nailing down “the story” should make writing the elevator speech that much easier. It’s all related.
When I created my visualization board, the place where I display my wishes as though they have already come true, I pasted information about my memoir onto a copy of the New York Times best-seller list. Covering up the real #1 book is a description of It Started with Dracula that mimics those on the list: “A solo traveler’s inner and outer journeys in Romania.” Well said, if I do say so—and certainly succinct. There are all kinds of descriptions.

Not long ago I spoke to a class of fourth-grade writing students. They had prepared questions for me in advance. Partway into my talk, a boy raised his hand and asked expectantly, “Is there a lot of action in your book?”
“Well,” I said, wishing I could embellish the truth for him—or at least slap on a pith helmet--“It’s about me.”

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Personal Branding VII: Hire a Publicist

I might have argued with this nugget of advice before I did it, but now I’m convinced. Yes, I knew that marketing “how-to” books suggested an author should have a publicist, and my publisher had echoed that advice.

“Just use the person for the three most important months,” she had said: “The month before your book is released, the month of, and the month after.” The success of my book launch would depend heavily on my activities during those three months.
My publisher then quoted me a typical publicist’s monthly fee—one that made my mortgage payment look puny. (Some might argue that my mortgage payment IS puny, but let’s stay on track.) Once I knew the cost, I gave up on the idea of having a publicist and considered other options.

The busy period for my book would likely be July through December 2011, with the key months being September, October, and November. The big push was still several months away.
Always working ahead, I began a list of possible stops on my expected book tour—bookstores, book festivals, and retail establishments that might stock It Started with Dracula. I went on the Internet and found the contact information for each one.

How do you book a book tour?
The next step, according to the marketing books, was to call each place and verify the contact information, especially the people. Employees come and go; websites, if unattended, can be wrong.

I’ve always dreaded phone work. Maybe that began when I worked for a figure salon in the 1970s. Every so often I’d have to sit on the floor behind the service desk with stacks of customer member sheets and call each woman whose attendance had lapsed. “We’ve missed you!” I’d begin in a perky voice, not having any idea who she was; and from there my script was designed to turn anything she might say into a commitment to come back.
Any kind of selling is about as comfortable for me as a three-day wedgie. Some of us just don’t have that killer instinct. Combine “selling” with “phone work,” and I’m out. Bye-bye.

I called a friend who has a thriving assistant business, but she was booked up. That’s what thriving means. I dreaded having to handle every detail myself. When should I start calling? How long would it take me to contact every bookstore on my list? Would they be happy to have me, or would I have to convince them? How many places could I appear in a week? It was overwhelming, so I put it off.
In the meantime, another publicity challenge was on the horizon. Early, uncorrected copies of my book were being printed so that they could be mailed out to “key reviewers.” The publisher wasn’t going to do all of the mailing; some of it would fall to me. After that, it would be time to create an EPK—my electronic press kit.

I couldn’t do all of that. Besides being untrained and terrible when it came to snappy marketing ideas, I was writing a second book. So, when my publisher again mentioned hiring a publicist, I agreed. She very generously offered to help with the cost, which by then I knew was reasonable and the service worth every penny.
I love having a publicist, and she's a wonder. She loves setting up book tours, she does a rocking EPK, and she made up the best mailing labels for all those books “we” sent out. About the only thing I have to do now is get used to saying “My publicist,” which still sounds a bit Hollywood to me. I’m working on that.

Thank you, Randee Feldman of GetNoticed PR (; and Bettie Youngs (, the best publisher on the planet.