AUTHOR NEWSLETTERS AND THE NEED TO REACH READERS by Jill Amadio

HandshakeHow important are newsletters to authors?  Some complain about the time spent writing them and maintaining their content, but readers appear to be experiencing a desire to bond personally with authors they read, and with privacy practically a thing of the past fans clamor for details of a writer’s life.

Letters A few authors still take the old-fashioned route for visibility and reach readers via print, then use e-newsletters to drive traffic to their Web site or blog, and vice versa. I interviewed a couple of bestselling writers a while ago about their newsletters. Thriller mega-author Dean Koontz considers himself a traditionalist as far as promotion goes and is one of the more reclusive of writers. He has never done a national book tour.

“I keep publicity to a minimum and try to reserve my work time for writing rather than for promotion,” he said.

Nevertheless, Koontz has both an online newsletter and one that he home-brews himself. “Useless News” is how he describes his seasonal printed newsletter (Spring, Summer, Holidays) and, indeed, that is its title. He goes on to declare in the sub-title: “but you’re on the mailing list, and there’s nowhere to hide.”

Snail MailHe’s happy that talented people at Bantam, his publishing house, produce his e-newsletter and send it floating into cyberspace where computers grab it for those who‘ve signed up. “I don’t know much about digital marketing”, he admits.   But the snail-mail version is created by Koontz and his assistants at home, one suspects in his Southern California kitchen but actually he has an entire wing of his house, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, devoted to work.

Both versions of Koontz’s newsletter contain glad tidings about upcoming books but the print version is packed with more personal pieces about his travels, home life with his dog, sources of inspiration, and two pages filled with answers to questions from readers. Given away to the 25,000 people or so who have asked for it, it’s obviously a labor of love. The postage costs alone to so many recipients around the world must be astronomical but he enjoys the hands-on task of creating the informal eight-pager whose back page invariably bears a photo of Anna, his golden retriever.

“We let readers know when a new book is coming but otherwise the purpose of the snail-mail thing is to have fun, evoke a few smiles from readers, and thank them for their loyalty,” he said.

But does Koontz’s author newsletter work as a marketing tool for this world-famous writer? “Not so that I can tell,” he said”.

World InternetSara Paretsky told me she began her e-newsletter after she’d published 14 novels. Readers fell in love with her private eye, V.I. Warshawski, and wrote enough fan mail for her to build a large mailing list.  A box on her Web site is provided for people to sign up. Because she has about three times the Facebook followers as she does for her newsletter subscribers she also directs FB readers to her latest newsletter.

“With the newsletter I wanted to expand the number of ways that I could connect with readers,” she said. “Any time someone writes to me I add their name to my list. My blog and newsletter have very different content. I don’t write either very often but the newsletter tends to be more specific to events in my publishing life – tour dates, book synopses, or contests”.

Unlike Koontz, though, Paretsky enjoys electronic communication. She Facebooks frequently and her page is especially well read by fellow authors. She posts about her family, her friends, feelings, and trips, and she replies to comments. Both her Facebook page and blog are informal and friendly. They often feature photos of her golden retriever, Capo – obviously the preferred breed of famous scribes. Readers are interested in anecdotes about her writing life, she said, and are fascinated by her physicist husband’s (Courtenay Wright) history, and her dog stories. She appreciates and values most the reader responses that show her work has touched their hearts.

As a marketing tool she doesn’t find a newsletter particularly important but agrees it can be useful for those who work the Web more than she does.  Terry Ambrose, a former skip tracer and author of a thriller series, is more forceful in his opinion. He considers author newsletters to be nothing more than blatant self-promotion.

Internet Friends World “The better solution is to provide value to the reader,” he said. “My e-newsletter is called The Snitch and talks about how to avoid scams as well as a little about my writing news. Authors should find subjects that readers like to read about, and make it the primary focus. Your books should feature secondarily most of the time.”

Generous as always about sharing her expertise, Sara Paretsky provided a few tips for newsletter writers:

  1. If you send out too many they are really annoying to the recipients.
  2. The most important part of my list are the overseas readers. Facebook doesn’t always allow international readers to join in the kind of simple contests I run, so I always set those up in my newsletters as well.
  3. Keep to a regular but not too frequent schedule. Include pictures. Keep the stories short.
  4. If I am writing about a new book I include a link to my web site where someone who wants more information or a sample chapter can go.
  5. If you receive an award or honor, mention it in your newsletter but don’t be fake humble or overly vain!

“Step on the Gas” by Jill Amadio

Racing 1

Here’s a life lesson from our very own Jill Amadio. Whether you’re a writer and need to make that deadline or a racecar driver in your first race… just put your foot down and get on with it.

 

As I’ve noted before, newspaper reporters often find themselves with unexpected assignments. One of my editors when I was living in Connecticut assumed that being a Brit I was brilliant at anything I tackled. It’s the accent, of course. Wonderfully misleading. Besides, no one else in the newsroom wanted to take this assignment on. I’ve never refused a project because whether one is aware of it at the time or not any experience can become grist for the mill when turning to write crime novels. As did this story, which has already spawned a main fictional character in my mystery series.

Although most journalists who cover auto racing itch to get behind the wheel at a race track, even if it’s only while the race car is in the pits, I never, ever aspired to be a race car driver, However, the only job on a newspaper I could get when I first arrived in America was as a novice automotive reporter because I once covered the Macau Grand Prix when working for the Bangkok Post in Thailand.

To tell the truth, I knew very little about cars in general, especially race cars. But all that changed when this editor sent me to cover a Can-Am Grand Prix during a steamy October weekend at Watkins Glen, New York. Volkswagen Worldwide Corporation was staging its Stingy Driving race, sort of a crowd warm-up before the big event whereby each participating member of the press was loaned a VW Rabbit with a ration of fuel, a precisely-measured 32 ounces, and let loose on the track. The winner would be the driver who squeezed the most mileage from this meager ration of liquid gold. That meant a very light foot on the gas pedal.

White rabbit sedan  Assigned identically set-up cars, we stood dutifully at the starting line. Taped to the passenger side window of each Rabbit was a glass vial containing the precious gas. A narrow plastic tube ran from the vial, across the hood, and into the engine much like an I.V. line dripping life-saving fluids into a heart patient.

The start was a la Le Mans whereby drivers queued up very neatly on the tarmac across from their cars like Brits waiting for a bus and sprinted over at the signal. There were supposed to be three of us females reporters competing, along with 21 men. One lady was disqualified for reasons unknown to me. The second never showed up. Thus I found myself unwittingly representing the whole world of women drivers in the Bunny Hop VW Rabbit race.

When I realized the honor that had been bestowed upon me, I decided I really wasn’t worthy. I’ve never been much of a women’s libber and I dreaded the thought of what might happen if I let my side down. Would I be chased through the streets by angry females waving signs reading: “Jill’s a Dumb Bunny?”

I offered to step down. I pleaded to step down. But by this time genial Chris Economaki, the iconic, gravelly-voiced ABC-TV race commentator had already pushed a microphone under my nose as we waited for the starter pistol to pop.

“How will you handle the chicane?” he asked me.

I’d never, ever, heard of a chicane. What the heck was it? How did one spell it?

“Oh,” I replied airily, “That’s going to be a surprise. It’s my secret weapon!”

Chris peered at me, a pitying look on his face, and moved on down the line, interviewing other journalists. Next to me was Ahmad Sadiq, art director for Penthouse magazine. He’d brought along a stable of voluptuous models who draped most of their bare flesh all over the hood of his fire-engine red Rabbit.

Nearby stood a car-less driver, Junius Chambers, who wrote for the New York Amsterdam News. He was unable to participate because the Rabbit he’d been given the night before was stolen from in front of his apartment in Manhattan. Was he going to sprint towards my entry and try to beat me to the door? Or was he here simply to drool at the models?

Time for the race to start.

The popgun popped and we all ran madly towards our cars. We jumped in (no one got in the wrong car; I knew mine was white) and fastened our belts. Or at least, I tried to. I got my elbow caught in the shoulder strap and ended up starting the car with the harness doing a great job of hanging my left arm uselessly in the air as I clumsily changed gears and steered with one hand suspended.

Tortoise and Hare    No matter. I was on my way around the track for the first lap. The only problem was we were supposed to drive as slowly as possible to preserve the fuel and thus achieve high mileage, a great promo for VW. Here we were on one of America’s most famous race tracks and to win we were to dawdle all the way. Well, women never like to follow the crowd, just ask any husband, so I must admit I gave in to temptation and led the rest of the field at first, all 21 of the men behind me as I pressed the pedal to the metal.

The circuit was 3.377 miles and went up hill and down dale in a zig-zaggy fashion, twisting and looping most of the time. Thousands of spectators — most of them still bleary-eyed from a night camping in the track’s infamous Snake Pit swamp — were on the hillsides, a veritable tent city spread out behind them. These fans were obviously not too keen on watching 22 silly Rabbits hopping along at a snail’s pace. They’d traveled here from far and wide to watch Grand Prix champions tear up the track at better than 180 m.p.h.. But they were good sports.

Halfway around my car coughed, choked, bucked a couple of times, and sputtered to an ignominious stop. Nonplussed, I wondered if the car was going to roll over on its back and expire like a real rabbit. What was happening? Was I a victim of the dreaded chicane, whatever it was?

“Hey, lady!” shouted one of the rather rude spectators. “Step on the gas!”

I looked at the transparent hose. Aha! An air bubble was blocking the flow from the vial to the engine. What to do? My Rabbit needed an emergency transfusion. I was soon surrounded by a gaggle of hung-over hippies who’d jumped over the guard rail and were offering to push the car home.

Dodging my competitors who drove sedately past shaking their heads, a track mechanic ran over.

“Get a move on, lady! You can’t stop there!” he yelled. Did he think I’d stopped to do some sightseeing?

“Oh,” he said brightly. “You’ve got an air bubble. Here, I’ll blow it out.”

This “expert” stuck the plastic tube between his lips and took an almighty breath. Instantly, the air bubble disappeared. It had been sucked into his mouth along with half my bottle of gas.

“Hey! You’ve swallowed my ration!”

His face turned green as he spat out some of the liquid he’d stolen from me.

“I knew it was a mistake to let women on this track,” he muttered, stalking off.

With what was left of my 32 ounces I restarted the Rabbit and continued around the track accompanied by hoots of derision from the fans. I decided to enjoy the scenery, waving to my fans and trying to eke out as many miles as possible from my seriously-denuded fuel supply.

The Watkins Glen circuit was a sweet grid and if you weren’t in a hurry as I certainly wasn’t there’s a lot to see. The first curve is a ninety-degree turn which got you all psyched up for that infamous chicane which, after all my fears, turned out to be merely a split speed bump to slow the field down. So what was the big deal? The chicane was followed by a very nice straightaway from which one may observe the lovely foliage on the surrounding hillsides. Then the track sent you along a tortuously twisting loop that could be hazardous if you’re not paying attention. It was a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon in upstate New York, I must say, and I was pleased the editor had given me the assignment.

Almost at the finish line my Rabbit slowed to crawl and, with a lurch, stopped dead in its tracks. Out of gas. I had to be towed back to the start/finish line. At the same internationally famous race track where Niki Lauda steered his Ferrari to victory I had completed two and a half laps in the most sensational car race of my rather short racing career. Very short. I never took to the track again.

The winner of our Bunny Hop was Bill Turney of the Hartford Courant who feather-footed his Rabbit gently enough to get 72.8 miles per gallon. Second was Jim Patterson of the Long Island Press, at 64 miles per gallon. My mileage? A paltry 36. I knew Volkswagen wouldn’t be too happy. The two winners were awarded all-expense paid trips to the Bahamas.  Neither invited me along.

I don’t know if the guy who selfishly swallowed my petrol perished (sorry, God) or merely suffered several extremely painful spasms. I never wanted to be a race driver anyway. But I was inspired to create such a character in my series as the daughter of my amateur sleuth.

Racing 2

 

Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, UK, but unlike her amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, she is far less grumpy. Jill began her career as a reporter in London (UK), then Madrid (Spain), Bogota (Colombia), Bangkok (Thailand), Hong Kong, and New York. She is the ghostwriter of 14 memoirs, and wrote the Rudy Valle biography, “My Vagabond Lover,” with his wife, Ellie. Jill writes a column for a British mystery magazine, and is an audio book narrator. She is the author of the award-winning mystery, “Digging Too Deep.” The second book in the series, “Digging Up the Dead,” was released this year. The books are based in Newport http://www.jillamadio.com

Books: Digging Too Deep, Digging Up the Dead

Non-Fiction: My Vagabond Lover: An Intimate Biography of Rudy Vallee; Gunther Rall: A Memoire, Luftwaffe Ace and NATO General

PROMOTING BOOKS VIA IMPROBABLE PUBLICITY OUTLETS by Jill Amadio

MegaphoneWe’re always seeking new ways to promote our books. One of the benefits of belonging to this group as well as to national organizations of crime writers such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America (I also belong to a British one called Crime Writers Association) is sharing marketing ideas.

 

After promoting my new crime novel to the usual online, broadcast, and print mystery media where I hoped (okay, begged) for reviews and interviews I realized that there are many other publicity outlets worth approaching that are outside-the-box and neglected by many authors.

 

“Yes, indeed,” I wrote to a gentleman in Virginia, USA. “I believe I am definitely qualified to join your organization. My family played an active part in the St. Ives, Cornwall community when we lived there.”

 

Digging too deep_533x800-e1383673499772This email conversation with the Cornish-American Heritage Society came about after the first book in my mystery series, “Digging Too Deep: A Tosca Trevant Mystery,” was published. I had endowed my amateur sleuth with a vocabulary of Cornish cusswords and a penchant for brewing tongue-curling medieval mead from the land of the piskies (Cornish pixies). My initial reason for seeking out the Society was to get back in touch with my roots and because my main character is a Cornishwoman.  I was worried I’d forgotten parts of my heritage by living in California. Happily, I gathered a new vocabulary of naughty words.

 

CornwallThe Society has a newsletter that reports on various goings-on in Cornwall and on ex-pats. One delicious news item that caught my eye was that the Duchy of Cornwall (as we call provinces) was contemplating opening up an embassy in London now that the Cornish are finally recognized as an official minority! Tosca can have fun with that in her next book in the series, I thought. Then, lo and behold, I noted that the newsletter also ran book reviews. Well, icing on the cake. The review and a blurb of my book appeared in the next issue. I noted, too, that with the Society holding events all over the U.S they provide signing opportunities. When I attended the international Gathering of the Cornish Bards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had a book table, and quickly sold out.

 

PubAre your settings on your web site? On mine, www.jillamadiomysteries.com, I have added a page about the small fishing village of St. Ives that includes a photo of its 1312 pub, The Sloop Inn, which is still selling pints. — a topic for the brewing trade publications? On second thought, Tosca brews medieval mead but makes such a hash of it I wouldn’t dare query them although two of her recipes are being published in a new cookbook anthology.

 

I also sent a copy of the book to the St. Ives Archive which maintains an online site as well as a gift shop that sells books. (Shouldn’t I be hired by the Cornwall Council as a roving ambassador?)

 

Classical MusicAnother avenue for publicity came from a friend in New York, a leading classical music critic. He writes an internationally-syndicated column for ConcertoNet.com distributed in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and on the island of Karguella for all I know. He’d helped me with research for the music in both my mysteries and my current WIP, and surprised me with a lengthy review. After it appeared in the Bangkok Post, Thailand I heard from a reporter I worked there with years ago. She now owns a specialty music museum that I’ll include in a future book. Again, grist for the mill.

 

Some authors combine their non-literary careers with the fiction they write as a platform and pursue marketing on both fronts Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, bases her protagonist in the Claudia Rose series on her daily job. Lowe’s expertise and testimony in real court cases gains her entry and access to legal publications, legal blogs, and online sites where she can discuss cases involving forensic graphology and at the same time promote her novels, even if only as a tagline.

 

The list of custom blogs like ours here at The Writers in Residence is growing by the week and they are looking for content. If you write about wine, gourmet cheese or other foods are you or your publicist sending ARCs to baker and grocery organizations and their trade publications such as the Costco newsletters? To crafts and pet magazines? How about a review copy to women farmers’ associations? The Internet is chock full of hobby newsletters that probably one of your characters enjoys although I doubt there is a milkmaids fellowship.

 

Magazines NewspapersI used to write an automotive column and sent my book, which features a vintage Austin-Healey, to my pals at car magazines. Alumni and club publications, too, welcome notices of new books of grads and members. Hit them up for a talk and write on their blog. Platforms such as these provide ideas for finding new and unusual opportunities to promote your book. Turn over that stone! I wrote a biography of a World War II fighter ace and give power point presentations to which I bring along my mysteries, too, of course. Likewise, when I am invited to be a speaker on ghostwriting memoirs.

I’m sure there are many other unusual outlets worth exploring. Let’s share!