Aug 01

Editor’s Note: Author Promotion Strategies

Sisyphus, from Greek Mythology, rolls a boulder uphill for eternity. With each attempt, the boulder rolls back downhill and Sysyphus must start the task anew. This is the author’s task once a book is published.

Some authors think that the publisher does (or should do) most of the promotion to sell their books. They might reference the Bestseller’s List for authors who’s latest book cover is promoted in stores, mailers, and social media. Places like Barnes and Noble and Books A Million have posters of books and authors to entice shoppers. As of this writing, Amazon is promoting books recommended by their editors. How do these books get on the ad banner, much less make the list?

I don’t have the answer. My publisher for So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation (see description) has not told me, but is it her responsibility? The answer to that question is what I’ve been told by other authors before me, and when I did book publicity for a friend and excellent writer Phil Rosette: The best person to promote an author’s book is the author.

Publishers do promote the books. They have many that they must get air time on their website, mailings, and at the relevant book events. For most authors that’s as good as it gets. The few with high advances on royalties might get more investment in marketing. Again, a publisher has many books to promote. Considering the books you see on an end shelf, or display tables. Many are not rotated so that different authors are on display for the consumers. Likely, the same books will be presented week after week, because the publisher paid for the service. This practice is not exclusive to the book industry, as the same is found in many stores from clothes to groceries.

The author must be proactive in their book promotions. Sylvia Hubbard, author and book marketing coach, was once asked how long should an author promote their book? She responded (paraphrasing), how long do you want your book to be read?

If the best person to market and sell a book is the author, what should the author be doing? A few ideas include:

  1. Use social media to keep the book in people’s minds. Keep the message fresh. Connect the book content to events or special dates throughout each year.
  2. Share ideas and content that others would be interested, and find relevant ways to reference your book. For example, So All Can Learn can be purchased at Rowman & Littlefield for 20% off using the code: RLEGEN17 OR the Kindle version (as of this writing) is on sale for $9.99.
  3. Present at events such as conferences, stores, and schools. Again like item 2, use topics that interests potential buyers, and that also tie-in to your book.
  4. Recruit and invite people to read and write reviews for your book. Have them post the reviews where potential readers look, such as: Amazon, Good Reads, Barnes and Noble, and other sites. When potential buyers see that others have read your book and posted a positive review, they might be more likely to buy the book.
  5. Create a website for your book. Here is mine for So All Can Learn.
  6. Write a blog with new ideas and insights. Include links to your book. Write weekly, advice I’m working on for myself 😉
  7. Establish a listserv that you can share content you’ve posted on your blog and social media. Send out once a week or 2-3 times a month. Find the balance that works for you and your listserv. The key is content that they find relevant.
  8. Give your book to key influencers. If they like the book they might share it with their networks as recommendations.
  9. Use images related to your book where possible.

Many of these suggestions require you to put yourself out there. Some have suggested that self-promoting one’s book may be seen as negative. Who is best to sing the merits of a book other than the author? There may be a line between hard sell and convincing others that your book is worth the time. Being subtle all or most of the time will leave you with a dusty pile of untouched books. The result is that a publisher will wonder why you didn’t do more when sales are low. Most authors on the best sellers list started without name recognition, and had to become known. Those who were already known, likely had to establish themselves within their respective field. An author who chooses not to promote their book may become a best-kept secret, and lots of unsold books.

There are more ideas to try. This is a beginning. It will be time consuming, yet how important is your book? Catch your breath, and start rolling that boulder uphill–again, again, and again…

 

 

Jul 23

Oh Dear, Deer!

 

Crow Story, Part Four.

 

Sunday morning dawns chilly for the first weekend of summer. Swift, sporadic clouds rush overhead as Fred, our four dogs, and I appear to have the park to ourselves. The wind blows predominantly out of the West and slaps our faces as soon we’re over the footbridge. We start down the trail that winds along the river. Gracie, Joker, Sadie and Taco all have their noses in the air as they lead our way past the football and the soccer fields and out onto the river trail. Sunshine dots and dashes along the spectator berm like nature’s Morse code.

I ask Fred if he called his cousin. ‘Playin phone-tag,’ he says.

I show him the charm, now in a baggie with the pouch of poo pourri. ‘This is what that crow dropped on my deck.’

Fred looks at it. Stops. Doesn’t take it or say anything, just lights up a joint. I put the charm back in my pocket.

We’ve done this before, smoked in the park when it’s just the two of us. I don’t think any more of it than he does. Marijuana can enhance your senses, especially when the sensations are created by Mother Nature. It can dull other senses, too, like being clued in to what your dogs are doing. Fred takes a hit then passes the joint to me. I fill my lungs until even my nostrils flair, then pass it back.

I pay only casual attention to Gracie with her nose high in the air and prancing left then right. All the other dogs start to mimic Gracie. She growls deep-throated and glances at me a few times. But Fred hands me the joint and I’m easily distracted. Fred starts to say something, but, just like that, Gracie bolts and the other three dogs follow her into the woods and out of sight.

Fred calls, ‘Sadie, Taco! Here!’

I give the joint back to Fred, ‘I’m done.’

We hear my dogs’ cowbells and their growling and barking but we can’t see them through the underbrush. Suddenly, a deer bolts from the woods and gallops past us, zigging and zagging across the soccer field. It goes over the spectator berm and out of sight. We both call our dogs, but another deer comes running out next. Short and lanky and still with its spots, it can’t run nearly as fast as its mother. It follows her scent over the berm. Fred’s Chihuahua comes out chasing the fawn. It’s hysterical and I start laughing, but Fred calls her off, ‘Taco! Here!’

We hear growling and snarling in the distance. Fred says, ‘She probably had two fawns.’

Humor gone, I say, ‘Had being the operative word!’ We fast-track it into the woods.

I don’t have much sympathy for baby deer – they just grow up to become car magnets – but I don’t like my dogs killing them. I say, ‘I just hope it isn’t another skunk, or worse; a porcupine.’

Fred puts Taco inside his jacket and we follow a deer-worn path through the woods and underbrush calling for our dogs.

It’s some minutes and we’re at least fifty to sixty yards deep before we see them walking out of the swamp with their tails tucked and ears down. Joker’s legs and underbelly are as black as Gracie’s natural coat, but there is no blood around her mouth. Sadie, tan, and tall as Gracie, isn’t nearly as bad. Gracie, you can’t tell at all without your nose.

Fred looks over Sadie and says, ‘Fawn maybe got away.’

We look and listen but do not see or hear anything dying or crying. I say, ‘Let’s get these girls in the lake before this shit turns crusty.’ We head for the L-shaped lake-with-no-name in the northeastern corner of the park. It’s about a half mile from here, as the crow flies. We finish the joint on the way.

Sadie and Gracie are already in the lake when we get there, but Joker is just standing on the shore. She was swept away in the river when she was a puppy and has never trusted deep water since. Taco walks along with us.

On this side of the lake, there is only the old public launch; a cinderblock-lattice slope of about twenty-degrees that these days disappears under mature lily pads. I take off my sneakers and socks and strip to my boxers. It looks like I picked the wrong day to wear my pink and green polka dots when I hear Fred laugh and say, ‘Your wife names your butt!’

Three homes on the far shore have a clear-if-distant view of me in my Honey Buns but I don’t care. I’ve done this twice before when I had to de-skunk Joker and I can now strip faster than a streaker. I put my sneakers back on.

I pick up the stinky, white dog and point her feet to the sky to keep most of the muck off me. I carry thirty-eight pounds of snub-nose protest wiggling and twisting into the water. Fred laughs and encourages the dog, ‘Go Joker! Go! You can do it!’ The launch is slimy and I lose my footing, slip and fall on my ass, but manage to keep a grip on Joker’s collar. With her rear feet on the cinderblocks, she calms down and starts licking my face. Her breath doesn’t stink, and that’s a good sign, too. I use one of my socks to scrub off as much swamp as I can. Thankfully, I find no bite marks or broken skin wounds on either Joker or Gracie, but Fred says that only confirms his second-fawn theory when I tell him that Sadie is clear of any marks, too.

Fred points to the sky over the swampy area. ‘Look.’

I turn to see two vultures circling barely tree-high. ‘Probably turkey buzzards,’ I say, and automatically scan the skies for crows. Then it dawns on me – vultures only eat carrion!

Fred says, ‘If they’re in the air, the fawn ain’t dead yet.’

Back in the parking lot, and with my shirt and pants back on, I dry off my dogs. Fred lets his dogs just jump right into his pickup’s cab. He says, ‘Fawn probably got stuck in the swamp,’ and rushes off.

I scan the skies again. Still no crows, but now there are three buzzards over the swamp and I realize Fred is probably right; fawn is probably laying on some slope, struggling between slippery logs where it can’t get traction to free itself. Digging its own grave. Maybe it broke a leg. Either way, it will soon die of exhaustion.

And that’s all my dogs’ fault!

This is that crow’s doing, somehow, I know it! And it doesn’t make me feel good at all.

Instead of heading straight home, I cross over the car bridge and drive past the soccer fields. Then out of that parking lot and onto the trail we walked earlier until I get the van as close as possible to the swamp. When I come around the last corner, I see Fred’s truck. Taco perks up in the back window, but Sadie must be with Fred.

I park behind the pickup, put Gracie on a short leash and tell both dogs, ‘Go find the fawn! Find Sadie!’

As we head into the woods, I call, ‘Fred!’ But before he responds, I hear three loud, harsh caws. I look up, see no crow, but hear it call again, angrily drawing out each caw. I up my middle finger to the sky.

 

End, Part Four.

Jul 21

Havana, A Subtropical Delirium

Have you ever thought of a city as a person, as someone who is alive and waiting to make your acquaintance? This is a new idea for me. It came after I started reading Havana* by Mark Kurlansky.

He begins by saying in the Prologue, If I were ever to make an old-fashioned film noir…I would shoot it in Havana.”** He goes on to talk about other writers and poets who have found Havana fascinating. It seems you have a very different impression of Havana if you first see it from the sea, rather than from land.

Mr. Kurlansky tells how Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the original city, developed. The streets in this section were, and still are, very narrow and dark. The sidewalks are narrower still, all because the sun is so hot. So, when people put awnings up, they tie them to the building across the street. That way everyone passing below gets the shade.

One of the more interesting things I learned is that the city was founded three times in three different places. And Mr. Kurlansky has lots of interesting anecdotes to tell about how each settlement was founded.

Havana was invaded many times, always from the sea. There were the French pirates in 1538 and 1555 and different ones came again many times after that. Each time the townspeople paid a ransom and those that were still alive rebuilt. They built one fortress and then another and, over time, they added to each. It didn’t seem to make much difference. There seemed to be no shortage of pirates coming from the sea, and so, there would be another raid.

Havana grew and became an important commercial port in the 1700s. African slaves were brought in around this time to do the work.

Mr. Kurlansky says, “It has at times been suggested that the impact of slavery on modern Cuba is exaggerated, but so profound and fundamental is slavery to the identity of both Havana and Cuba that it would be almost impossible to overstate it.”***

He goes on to say that there were people alive in 1980 who had known their grandparents who had been born in Africa. Imagine that!

I’m going to stop here because I don’t want to give too much away. I hope I’ve inspired you to read Havana. It’s an exciting, fascinating book that reads like a novel and the city of Havana is the main character!

*Havana by Mark Kurlansky, Bloomsbury USA, March 17, 2017.

**Location 71

***Location 493

Jul 16

Priceless Garage Sale People

You may be surprised by whom you find at a garage sale.

When you gather misfit belongings of your household, open your garage door, and offer the no-longer-treasured personal property for a pittance to the public, you’re going to come face to face with strangers you would never have intentionally thought about inviting into your home. And oh, what a shame it is that we don’t do that more often. People who shop at garage sales represent the melting pot of society. They’re genuinely interesting and have stories to tell. We can expect to bargain with them. But by talking with these opportunistic visitors, we may actually learn something about ourselves.

In my family, “garage sale” is a verb, as in: “We garage sale.” I grew up with a grandfather who frequented tag sales, yard sales, rummage sales, and garage sales. Different areas throughout the USA tend to adopt one of these terms, but overall the idea is the same. Grandpa didn’t care what anyone called their sale. For him, each designation meant roughly the same thing: he could buy items cheaply and later sell them for higher prices. But at some point, he developed an affinity for Jim Beam bottles. He hoarded so many of the decorative containers that he decided to build a small home adjacent to the one he lived in just to house his collection. He officially dubbed the building The Treasure House and boasted that it contained the largest collection of Jim Beam bottles in the world.

My own parents also eased into the hobby of collecting. On family trips, the six of us piled into our Oldsmobile Delta 88 and drove to far-off destinations. That took much longer than expected, because “Rummage Sale” signs always drew us into somebody’s yard.

One year while my family was staying in a cottage in Wisconsin, our dog died.  On our way home, my siblings and I were crying over Smokey’s death. We stopped at a rummage sale that just happened to have puppies, picked one out, and brought the little girl home. Mom thought of the perfect name: Rummy.

A childhood spent garage-saling inspired my sister’s profession. She and her husband built and own one of the largest craft and antique malls in Allen, Michigan. The business is so successful that there’s a waitlist of vendors, all vying for rental space to become available in the 23,000 square-foot building so they can sell their wares at the Hog Creek Craft and Antique Mall.

Although I don’t make a living at buying and reselling, like my sister does, I don’t snub garage sales or worry that some people look down upon them. Other people’s disdain doesn’t adversely affect my love for bargains. So, in search of a good deal, I occasionally stop at sales throughout the spring and summer. I do hate the amount of work it takes to organize and run these types of sales, but the hassle doesn’t stop me from doing so. Garage sales are full of fun, surprises, and inspiration.

When I stop to browse, I’m often asked by the homeowner, “Are you looking for anything special?” My answer is, “I’m shopping for our vacation Bible school program at church. I’m not really sure what I need, but I’ll know it when I see it.” With a theme in mind, my attention focuses on items that can be used as props and decorations to transform ordinary church rooms into exquisite settings for children’s enjoyment. I once bought an Ethan Allen wingback chair for $5 and felt horribly guilty applying metallic gold paint to the wooden arms. But I needed a throne for a king. Where else would I find one for that price?

I’ve had a lot of my own garage sales throughout the years. There have been many instances in which I felt like I was practically giving things away, and during my last one, I did that very thing. But I never anticipated all that I would gain simply by talking with my guests.

Here are my favorite encounters with garage sale people:

  • I eased a mother’s stress by providing decorations for her son’s high school graduation party which was less than twenty-four hours away. Decorations included a custom-designed logo of the school mascot—an original piece of artwork—created on a Lite Brite. I threw in extra pegs at no cost.
    • Realized gain: $4; pleasant feelings that I had helped an overwhelmed neighbor.
  • I changed my impression of the eccentric woman whom most everyone in the community recognized by her flamboyant clothing but never talked to. She was friendly and seemed very smart. She bought Spanish books so she could teach herself to speak the language.
    • Realized gain: $2; a spanking for allowing myself to mistakenly think that flashy clothing was the defining feature of this lovely person.
  • I provided peace and tranquility to at least one shopper by playing classical piano music on a karaoke machine I was selling. The gentleman commented, “This is the classiest garage sale I’ve ever been to.” I eventually sold the music CD to someone else and ended up donating the karaoke machine.
    • Realized gain: $1; bragging rights.
  • I inspired a middle-aged man to break into a cheer. A set of Michigan State pom-poms encouraged him, but he must not have liked the pair well enough to buy them.
    • Realized gain: $0; bewilderment and laughter.
  • I gave what was left of my expired and nearly empty tube of Benadryl anti-itch cream to a woman who was having an allergic reaction. Earlier in the day, she had bought a basket at a different garage sale and was driving around with the purchase in the back of her van. Evidently, someone’s cat had used the basket as a daybed before the piece was sold to the poor lady. The medication itself wasn’t worth anything, but the heavy-duty industrial bag I gave the woman to stuff the basket inside of had some value.
    • Realized gain: minus a dollar or so; feelings of goodwill.
  • I generated smiles by reaching out in friendship to a young family from Paraguay. The parents bought tools and household supplies. Their eldest daughter settled on a whiteboard and dry-erase markers. I gave the youngest a bilingual doll that spoke English and Spanish. The father asked if I was a teacher.
    • Realized gain: pure joy.
  • I listened intently to a woman testify that she used to be possessed by demons when she lived in Peru. I seriously wanted to hear all the fascinating details, so I gave her my phone number and hoped she would call.
    • Realized gain: awareness of evil at work in the world and thankfulness for my faith in Christ.
  • I exchanged contact information with a woman who buys clothes for a homeless man and mentors young ladies. She was generous in many ways and surprised me by donating, on the spot, to the charity I co-founded in 2016 and promoted during my sale.
    • Realized gain: a newfound friend.
  • I cried. With nearly every sale, I handed out prayer cards to customers. The prayer was special to me because I learned it from my pastor who died eleven years earlier in a car accident. One woman read the card, looked at me, and softly said, “I knew Janet.” And that’s all it took for me to feel connected to this woman who I had never met before. More words weren’t necessary. We knew Janet.
    • Realized gain: a flood of memories.

Garage sales are more than the perfect way for savvy sellers to get rid of stuff. They are more than a novel way for buyers to harness creativity and stretch dollars. These phenomenal American shopping experiences give us unique opportunities to express kindness and compassion. When we price things just right and open our doors to the world, we let in all sorts of fabulousness: priceless garage sale people.

Jul 15

Bug-eye Sprite – Part Two

Once the Austin Healy Bug-eye Sprite was back in my hands after a major front end repair, I began retraining myself on why depressing the clutch pedal wouldn’t stop the car while the brake pedal might. But the fun of actually driving it was like no other. For one thing, its steering was so precise that a simple quarter-turn of the steering wheel was enough to complete a right-hand turn. Seated in the tight-fitting cockpit was like sitting in a tiny aircraft surrounded by bare-bone metal surfaces, traces of Castrol racing oil, and the startling uncertainty that I might not reach an intended destination after starting the engine.

Sitting in it was like being astride a four-wheel motorcycle if such a thing existed. Its 948 ccs, 43 hp engine provided a top speed of 82.9 mph according to the British Motor magazine, and it took over twenty seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph which is slower than smoke by today’s standards. But, with less than a one-liter engine and 40 mpg, an eight-gallon gas tank provided almost 300 miles. Better yet, $.30 a gallon, it cost less than two whole dollars to fill it up.

The entire front end, hood, fenders, grille, and bug-eye headlights were made in one piece, so checking oil and coolant levels meant unlatching and raising the whole assembly on its hinges like a grand piano soundboard propped open. Conversely, and more than a little odd, there was no rear trunk lid to open. Tipping the seats forward allowed the only access to the rear compartment. At the time, crossing the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Canada meant all drivers were required to get out of their cars and open their trunks for inspection.

So, as one may surmise, the Sprite rather stood apart without a trunk lid raised like surrounding cars. A  Canadian Customs Officer wandered over, scowling, demanding I raise my trunk lid like all the others, even less happy when I said I didn’t have a trunk lid to open. Unable to believe anyone could build a car without a trunk lid, he insisted on finding and unlatching it, futilely jerking the back of the Sprite up and down. Further examination proved their Commonwealth partners hadn’t found a need to provide a Customs-accessible trunk compartment, in this case, and there was none to be found.

Unfortunately, the Sprite’s extremely small size and weight, even to the extent of eliminating door handles and locks, although contributing wonderfully to agility and handling, proved rather more detrimental later. Anyone passing by was able to unlatch its doors by simply reaching inside flexible plastic side windows and moving a lever. In other words, the car couldn’t be locked. Around ten o’clock one night while studying for next day’s college classes with friends, something made me look outside our off-campus apartment to check on the Sprite. It wasn’t where I had left it parked in front of our building a few hours before. Panicky, I stood in the dark looking up and down the street. My new sports car had been stolen! Returning to the front porch, there was a trace of tire tracks in the dewy grass leading to one side.

Peeking around the corner, there it was, pushed between the buildings with its front and rear ends only six inches away from both walls. It didn’t appear to have any damage, but I suspected the upperclassmen on the second floor of mischief. Returning to our front room, I explained to my two friends I had found the car between the buildings. What an opportunity for revenge. We tip-toed outside and carefully pushed the car back and forth until we maneuvered it out to the street with no one noticing. But, why not push it around the corner a block or two and, later on, come outside as if for the first time and scream and holler that my car had actually been stolen and I was going to call the police?

Once back inside and studying another hour without the slightest sound from above or outside, I remained uneasy.  It was time to end this charade and get some sleep. Leaving by the side door, I returned to where we had pushed the car. Holy mackerel! It wasn’t there! Now I was really upset. Had it really been stolen this time? Returning to our house, there were a few second-floor upper-classmen above trying not to be noticed. What was going on?

But, was there yet another trace of bent grass in a different location? I followed the line and it led toward an unused garage filled with junk. I slid the door open, peering into the darkness. There wasn’t even a light to turn on. The upperclassmen began calling down, in all innocence, “What happened, buddy? Did you lose your car, or what?”

How would they have noticed if they hadn’t been involved? Inside the shed, after carefully lifting an edge of old tarp and a pile of blankets, a slice of moonlight gleamed on shiny metal. “OK, guys, come on down and get my car out without scratching it. And put it back in front of the house where it’s supposed to be. Either that or I’m really calling the cops.”

“Oh, no. No need for that.” Half grinning and embarrassed, an entire second floor of guys trooped down, got the car out, and rolled it back to the street. We all had a good laugh and, after donating a few bottles of beer in compensation, they explained they were totally shocked and confused when someone went to check the car where they left it between buildings and found it missing. Oh, oh, they thought; someone else had really stolen the car and now they were in deep trouble. They then dispersed through the neighborhood, trying not to alert us, hoping to find the car. When they finally located it to their great relief, they rolled it back and hid it in the shed hoping to provide a double shock when I didn’t find it the next morning.

It all ended well enough but, if anyone wants to make mischief with a Bug-eye Sprite in the future, remember the British once ignored the fact that tiny cars that can’t be locked are in no way compatible with upper-classmen mischievous pranks.

 

 

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