GOODBYE 2020

by Miko Johnston

I’m taking a break from BACK TO BASICS: WRITERS BOOT CAMP, which I’ll complete in my next posting.

Goodbye 2020, and good riddance. The year began horribly when last January, a bizarre mishap led to a friend of mine getting shot while having dinner at an upscale restaurant. An 80 year old woman, healthy, mentally alert and physically active, who golfed, gardened, rescued animals and took piano lessons; if you saw her back then you’d never guess her age. She survived, but complications led to amputation of both her legs. If you told me back then that anything worse could top what happened to my friend, I would not have believed you. 

Back in May I wrote, How will YOU tell the story?, referring to “…an experience unprecedented in our lifetime*”. That asterisk referred to the few exceptions, including my then almost 105 year old aunt who’d lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic. She celebrated her birthday last July, but passed away on Veteran’s Day. Thanks to the ‘unprecedented’ times, I could neither celebrate her milestone birthday with her, nor attend her funeral.

When I originally wrote that post, we had little to guide us other than grave concern and dire predictions, most of which came true. Being married to a scientist who spent his career analyzing data, I took those predictions seriously, unlike too many. As we close in on a year of living dangerously, I have to change my question: it’s no longer a matter of how will we write about this, but how can we not?

I can see endless possibilities for mystery writers, from deliberately using COVID-19 as a murder weapon to inadvertently causing a beloved family member’s death. All writers may focus on how the virus instills fear, closes down communities, has us scurrying furtively between home and car, car and essential travel. Many people who live alone have had cognitive issues worsened by quarantine; those who suffer from depression have declined, whether secluded or not.

How will we react when we finally crawl out of our caves of isolation into the light? When will we feel safe? When will we feel normal? Will it ever happen in our lifetime, or will this haunt us as the Great Depression haunted a generation almost a century ago?

I also can see COVID used as a symbol for the dark fears held within us, and the hopes for a brighter future. Exploring the idea of can we versus should we. Or writing about it as part of a cleansing ritual, to wash away the disappointments, pain and sorrow of 2020.

January always brings the promise of better things to come and we’re all rooting for that. The man who shot my friend goes on trial that month. Ironically, that’s when I’m scheduled for jury duty – what are the odds?

As we head into the holiday season, may 2020 end on a more harmonious note for all of us, and may the new year shine like a beacon, beckoning us toward a safer, calmer and healthier future. At last, something we can all agree upon.

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of three novels in the historical saga A Petal In The Wind, as well as several short stories in anthologies including LAst Exit to Murder. She is currently completing the fourth book in the Petal series. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington (the big one). Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Marketing our Mysteries

by Jill Amadio

Marketing our mysteries is probably one of the least preferred tasks on our to-do list but it is crucial if we wish for success and sales. I truly dislike having to hawk my books and with so many different avenues than ever from which to choose, the effort becomes far more onerous than ever. But with writers’ conferences shut down and virtual meetings on the rise I found time to think about how to increase my book sales.

Five Guides

In isolation, I decided to buckle down and educate myself further about book promoti0on, buying five guides to add to the two I already own which are The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard Johnson, and Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny Sansevieri.  I must confess I barely cracked open either of them but added them to five new books from amazon:  The Tao of Book Publicity by Paula MarguliesHow I Sold 80,000 Books by Alinka  Rutkowska, Marketing Books on Amazon by Rob EagarBook Marketing…Reinvented by Bryan Heathman, and another by Penny updated in 2019., titled 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors. Naturally there are overlaps in all of these guidance books, some of them explained well with detail and others just glossed over. I offer my opinions herewith.

Five Minutes?

The 5-Minute book intrigues me the most. Five minutes? That’s just 30 minutes spread over a six-day week. Surely we can all handle that. Packed not only with advice on how to promote, Sansevieri includes a generous selection of web sites to contact after each point she makes. For example, to promote eBooks Penny presents dozens of free sites where you can list your book, as well as sites on Twitter worth notifying. She also  has several advice sections on how to use amazon’s author page, book page, reviews, how best to demystify amazon’s categories, key words, etc. if you self-publish with them. Her book offers the main benefits of Instagram, Pinterest, BookBub, Goodreads, Facebook, Google Alerts, blogs, and other social media, as well as creating your own newsletter for visibility.

Amazon

While on the subject of amazon, Bob Eagar’s guide focuses entirely on making the best use of the online global bookseller. He tells us how to find and understand their bestseller rankings, how to estimate your book sales, and why the rankings aid marketing efforts. Eagar also debunks a few myths about those rankings, as they change every hour of every day but at least give an idea of your sales, unlike traditional publishing houses. If there’s a spike upwards does it mean that your recent marketing campaign was effective? Or vice versa?  Your non-amazon publisher probably buys ads on the amazon site which means you can check your rankings without self-publishing with them. Is amazon advertising your book? You can find out from the site he cites in his book.

How to Sell 80,000 books

Moving on, I was eager to know how to sell 80,000 books. The author’s name alone fascinated me and I wondered who Rutkowska is. Turns out she is a bestselling USA Today and Wall Street Journal author and founder of Library Bub that connects indie authors with 10,000 libraries although you can find this list yourself online now.

A third of the book sets out interesting interviews with bestselling authors as to their promotional strategies, and Alinka shares how she sold those 80,000 books and more not only on amazon but also through online sites, bulk sales, foreign rights (there’s a service site for this), networking, and clubs. Happily, most of us are already skilled as panelists and speakers. She tells us something I never knew – that Apple is the second-largest book market player after amazon and publishes books, she says. Something also new to me, that Kobo is the second largest eBook retailer in Japan and has 3% of the market in the U.S. Is your YA plot linked to the ocean? If so, Alinka says we should contact the retail department of the cruise lines. They ordered hundreds of copies of her children’s books for their gift shops.

Selling the Sizzle

Heathman’s informal and friendly book includes branding and marketing formulas and understands the angst authors feel about the work that is necessary. He gets down quickly to the nitty-gritty of selling the sizzle, and like the other guides, talks about the various avenues available except that he adds how fortunate we are these days to have so many ways to promote our work and exactly how you approach Barnes and Noble through their CRM author signing schedule. I like his emphasis on reading local print media so you know what they are looking for regarding author interviews, and especially regarding radio. Don’t leave it up to organizations and clubs to publicize your event, get to work! However, his advice to create a daily series of social media posts sounds a bit daunting. I like Heathman’s list for getting quality book endorsements you can use for your back cover, press releases, and on your website and blog. Particularly useful is his 15 Week Book Marketing Checklist chart.

A ‘How-To’ Guide

The how-to book promotion guide I have taken a special liking to is The Tao of Publicity. Margulies directs it to beginners trying to figure out how to publicize one’s books but even those skilled at it can learn something from her pages. Like the other guides mentioned above except for Penny’s lengthier tomes, the Tao is around 145 pages but is crammed with tips, ideas, website content advice, timing your launch, Q and A questions for the media to ask, the pros and cons of a blog tour, why limiting social media sites can be a better way initially to build relationships with readers, and many other issues.  Ever heard of dashboards Hootsuite, Threadsy, and Tweetdeck to post information about your books? And make sure you take into consideration America’s different time zones.

After reading all seven guides I found something in each one that was individual enough to make a note of, writing down the page numbers. However, I am now too exhausted to figure them out.

 If you care to share, which promotional ideas bring you the most reward?  

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Alas……

I’ve always wanted to use the word “Alas” as a title for something because the word says so much to me, and sounds so much nicer, than therefore, thus, consequently…and for me, it does not have a negative connotation

As they often are, my posts tend toward being egocentric—having to do with something I’m dealing with. My thinking is, if I’m going through/learning/puzzling over something, maybe my thoughts will help other writers going through the same thing? So here’s the latest from my little corner of the writing world.

I’m on the umpteenth adjustment/edit of my latest, “Never Forgotten.” My first novella. And though scheduled to be out right now—unfortunately “Never Forgotten is turning into seemingly “Never Finished.”

And I blame it all on Writers in Residence!

Alas, I’ve listened to both what my fellow Writers in Residence, and what our commenters have said here; and most importantly, I’ve tried to incorporate their insights into my thinking. If that sounds like a plug, it is. My advice to myself and others, has always been, listen, listen, listen.You may not use it all, or disagree…but if you don’t listen, you’ll never know if you missed a great tidbit.

And a lot of the great tidbits I’ve picked up are not direct editing(in the traditional usage), but incorporating concepts, ideas, story-telling enhancements.  Refinements that raise your writing to a higher level. And that kind of editing, for me, takes longer than fixing misplaced commas et al. (not that I don’t do an awful lot of that)… Here’s a recent example. I had several lead characters doing the activities in one day that you or I would need at least three days to do. I noticed that in this latest edit because of Gayle Bartos-Pool’s excellent post on laying out your time line.

Here are a couple more time consuming review items that I’ve picked up on this writing trail…

    • I write in third person and as such consider I need to be a disaffected narrator of events, while also getting inside the head of the current scenes POV(usually the protagonist or villian) character and emotions. Keeping that straight …
    • And of course, have I used the best words? i.e. Holding, clasping, clutching, or grasping LC’s diary in his hand.
    • Redundancies, and its counter-balance—not clearly explaining at least once.
    • Conclusions left out, because one is assuming the reader put my two and two together correctly.
    • Pictures of characters not clearly drawn (hard one), and again, its counter-balance, letting the reader develop their own picture from people they’ve known.
    • Words inconsistent with scene POV character’s life experiences

My point to all this whining is: because of Writers in Residence, “Never Forgotten,” whenever it’s finally out, will be better for all the advice and knowledge I’ve gotten here. So, I most heartily, not only encourage other writers to read our blog (another blatant plug), but if not us, find that group, that person, that editor—that can not only give “editing” advice, but also address good writing concerns. Having a story go from your head—to paper, is not enough. I definitely want a reader to understand and enjoy my little stories. And hopefully, want to come back for more. My egocentric opinion I know, but I really think a genuine area for thought.

As a side note: being privileged enough to be a Writer in Residence, has led me into thinking about my writing a lot, and I’ve received and taken in soooooo much great advice. And finally, on the “Never Forgotten” front, my LAST(smile) pass is currently being reviewed by my trusted editor Kitty Kladstrup.

A further nugget here besides just me bellyaching about editing…is to point out that good writing, I think, takes effort and hard work. That being said, I can’t really see Agatha Christie at her Remington Home Portable typewriter agonizing over whether Hercule was sitting, lounging, arranged in his chair…  Hmmm.

Alas, it’s never a straight line to anything….

Happy Writing Trails!

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