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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Promotion? What's that?

True confession, from someone whose former career was in marketing and advertising: I am lousy at self-promotion.

I know I am hardly alone: Most writers I read or follow find it difficult to put the sales hat on when their natural bent is to retreat into the wizard hat of creation. Of course, at a certain tipping point of sales and word of mouth, your name is all the self-promotion you need. But getting to that point involves marketing yourself. In my opinion, the contemporary author most successful at self-promotion is James Patterson, who back in the early years, personally paid the big bucks to run ads for his books in the New York Times Book Review, and later, even television commercials. Truly, how often had you -- have you even today -- seen a TV ad for a book? But it works for him, and according to his (admittedly self-promotional) website, he holds the Guiness record for the most New York Times bestsellers ever. Love his books or hate them, you gotta admit the man is a master promoter.

Then there's me. Hah. A few months ago, I created a series of full-color bookmarks promoting my novels, after a particularly embarrasing experience at a local Chamber of Commerce event when my hairdresser of ten-plus years overheard my husband telling someone about the upcoming release of Choice.  She turned to me accusingly. "I never knew you wrote books!"

Epic fail.

There's modesty, and then there's being ridiculous. I now carry these bookmarks with me to hand out, sometimes brazenly, such as when spotting someone else reading her Kindle while waiting for the doctor. A few of my more indulgent friends (my hairdresser among them) have let me leave a little pile of the bookmarks in their places of business. And today, because it, I heard the nicest thing. Deb, who works for my chiropractor and moonlights here at the bed and breakfast, said one of Dr. Sue's patients spotted my bookmarks in the waiting room.

"I've read all of her books," the woman said in a conspiratorial whisper. "My favorite was Blood Exposure."

"She'll be so pleased to hear that," Deb told her.

"You mean you KNOW her? She comes in here?"

"Every week," Deb assured her. "I could introduce you."

"Really? Could you?"

Made me feel like a rock star. 

I tell you, it's the little things in life. Like being read. And appreciated. Which--who am I kidding!?--is far from a little thing. I am grateful for every reader, and doubly happy if they let me know, either directly or (even better!) via an online review, what they thought of the book.

All of which is by way of announcing that Blood Exposure has just been published in print form. My copies of it arrived this past week --woo hoo! See how nice it looks? It feels even better. (It's that tactile thing.)

Two down, one to go. I'll begin working on Net Stalker tomorrow. My goal is to have it out by Labor Day.

Then, hopefully, I'll do a little coordinated marketing of the three of them. Like--hello!--sending out an email blast announcing their availability.

And given my pathetic self-promotion skills, I'll gladly take suggestions. Anyone?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paperback writer

On a sultry September day in 1997 (yikes, was it THAT long ago??), UPS rat-tat-tat-tatted on our front door with a square fat box addressed to me. Tears brimmed as I pulled the books from the box. Here they were, my first published book, the first hardcover copies of A Butler's Life.

For about a week, I carried a copy with me everywhere. Even if I wasn't showing it to someone (anyone! The clerks at the grocery check out! The bartender at our favorite restaurant! The pharmacist at CVS!), it sat on the passenger seat of my car while I ran errands. On my bedside stand while I slept. On the kitchen counter while I prepared meals. Had there been a Facebook back then, I would have probably annoyed all my friends with my "baby" pictures.

Because my last three books have been released first on Kindle, I've forgotten the deliciousness of opening the mailbox to find the physical copy of my book. But two days ago, Choice was released in paperback, and I received the first copy in the mail. Woo hoo! I can TOUCH my newest work. Caress the nice matte cover. Riffle the pretty ivory pages. I'd forgotten how good it felt to heft the weight of words -- my words -- in my hands.

Released by CreateSpace, Choice is POD -- print on demand -- so it doesn't go against my priciples with regards to wasteful publishing. If it doesn't become a runaway bestseller (and of COURSE it will, right?) it won't be taking up landfill space. Each copy purchased will be wanted.

You can find it here on Amazon. It can be your next beach read! (I'm a little nervous about taking my Kindle to the beach, what about you? Sand, the potential of salt water...? Not so good. Paper -- better.)

I admit it, I have been carrying my first copy of Choice around with me. Showing it off, like a new puppy. In a week, I'll have copies for sale here at the B&B. And I'll announce it on Facebook. But I'll still try to spare you the baby pictures.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The sense of touch, and an announcement

A while back I wrote that I believed the future of traditional publishing was in trouble. The future of the printed word has much to do with distribution channels (where and how do we get our books?) and with business models that, in my not so humble opinion, can or should no longer support waste. More and more of us are enjoying the ability to read on our tablets, be it a Kindle, iPad or other e-reader, and they are changing our experience in more ways than you might expect.

A classic example:  At our bed and breakfast inn, I meet a lot of guests who are fellow readers. We'll be comparing notes about something we've enjoyed and they'll say, "Oh, if you like Author A, you should try Author B!" And instead of making myself a note in my smart phone where I won't happen upon it again for months, I punch up the app on the spot and send the ebook, or a sample of it, directly to my Kindle. I have done this at bars, yoga studios, sandwich shops, cocktail parties, and book club meetings. It's another example of how social encounters can be enhanced by our highly-interactive technology.

Electronic books are the perfect medium for the reader who wants to test the water before s/he commits. Not only are many e-books priced well below the cost of the paper copy, you have the option of sampling the first couple of dozen pages for free.

But...many of us love the feel of the paper in our hands, the heft of the story in its physical form. An e-reader will never offer the same tactile sense of enjoyment. And let's face it...some books you just want to hold, maybe over and over again. There are some books on my Kindle that I have also in print form, just because I want to enjoy them again (and again and again) in both forms.

For those books and those readers, POD (Print on Demand) is the perfect solution. Order the book, they print you one, and it's in your hands within a day or two.

Think about it. Really, unless there is a book release guaranteed to be a bestseller (e.g., the last four installments of the Harry Potter series), why would a publisher need to have a half million copies available all at once? Every bookstore in the country knows whose latest book might trigger a run on inventory and how many their store might sell in a two-week period, and should be able to stock accordingly. We don't need warehouses stacked floor to ceiling with books waiting to be summoned (or not) to some outlet. We sure as hell don't need tables of remaindered books or worse yet, piles of books in dumpsters, their covers torn off to send back to their publishers as proof they were discarded unsold. As both a reader and especially as a writer, the mental picture of that dumpster full of paper gives me almost physical pain. The graveyard of unloved books is a writer's personal idea of hell.

So I'm going on record to say I believe the future should be in e-books and in Print On Demand titles. Stop the waste, already.

And with that said...drum roll...I am pleased to announce that Blood Exposure, Net Stalker, and Choice (all currently on Kindle) will soon also be available in print form. Your own copy, printed on demand. And if I can't sign it for you personally, I can send you a signed bookmark to add to the flyleaf.

Watch this space for more information, and look for their release about mid-June!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Flying a Kite

I was a child when Mary Poppins was first released, and it remains one of my favorite Disney movies. We saw it first at a drive in theater, which was the theater option of choice for the first ten or so years of my life, and the dress code, of course, was jammies. Dad got the big bucket of popcorn from the concession stand while Mom helped us kids to set up a nest of pillows and blankies in the back of the family station wagon from which to view the screen.

I've always loved the last scene and song, "Let's Go Fly A Kite" (lyrics by the Sherman Brothers):

Let's go fly a kite
Up to the highest height
Let's go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let's go fly a kite

In the scene, Mary Poppins' machinations have brought Mr. Banks to the realization that spending quality time with his children and family is at least as important as his job. For me, as for perhaps Jane and Michael Banks, the song personifies the spirit of hope.

It was with that song on my mind that Chris and I took part in a family kite fly on Cooper's Beach yesterday: the 2014 KITES for a CURE fundraiser sponsored by Uniting Against Lung Cancer, whose mission is to raise awareness and monies for lung cancer research. Participants received a T-shirt and a white kite which we could decorate if we chose. I should have come early or brought my own Sharpies, because I could happily have painted that kite for hours. As it was, I stuck with a simple design around an Eskimo proverb I particularly love:
Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven
where the love of our lost ones pours through
and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.
While much of the day had been sunny, by late afternoon high tide and clouds had rolled in over the beach. I haven't flown a kite in over twenty years, and so was pleased that there was enough breeze on the beach to get mine airborne. Chris snapped the pictures here where I am holding both his kite and mine (obviously lacking proper kite-flying style!). Regardless of technique, like that scene from Mary Poppins, the sight of a hundred kites bobbing in the air above was a joyous, uplifting sight.

The cause behind the kite fly is particularly relevant for me. Today is the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the day my mother died of lung cancer twenty-nine years ago. So as well as honoring all our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, I add a special prayer for my mom who, while not magical like Mary Poppins, still created a fair amount of magic in our lives. I will always miss her.

I don't know a single soul whose life has not been touched by cancer. This is a scourge we need to beat. I wish it could be done in my lifetime.

At the bottom of my kite I wrote:

I pray for the end of cancer.

I still feel hope.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A birth announcement's done. My third novel, CHOICE, has just been published on Kindle.

The feeling is somewhere between giving birth and sending your child off to school for the first time. The book and I have lived together so long in solitary confinement, that it is with mixed feelings I launch it into the greater world. Yes, that was why I wrote it...that it might see the light of day in someone's hands other than mine. But still.

Given these feelings, as well as the subject matter, there's a certain synchronicity that CHOICE comes out today, Mother's Day, as it is the story of  a woman whose former lover’s death forces a re-examination of her life, including the question of whether to tell her daughter the truth about her parentage.

About CHOICE: 

What happens when the fallout of a long-past relationship threatens to destroy everything in your current one?                                                                                                                                                             
Jody Carpenter Maclain’s daughter has never known she was the product of one humiliating sexual experience that drove her father, Keith Ackerson, out of the closet and Jody into a lifetime of self-recrimination. While Jody later meets and marries Alex Maclain, when Keith learns he has fathered a child he insists upon being involved in their daughter Kendall’s life. Jody, Keith and Alex come to an agreement: When Kendall turns twenty-one, the three of them will tell her the truth of her parentage.

No one could guess that Keith would die a year shy of that milestone birthday.

Keith’s death throws Jody into a tailspin of long-buried emotions. In the wake of her choices past and present, she wavers over the biggest question: Need she tell Kendall the truth now?  The consequences of her hesitation are swift and agonizing, and Jody faces an ultimatum: Unless she can extract herself from Keith’s shadow and expunge her culpability, the price of her self-doubt may be the loss of all she loves best.                                                   

Though I am not a biological mother, CHOICE is in many ways an immensely personal book for me. Partly because I wrote it in first person, so in the writing, I either became Jody or she became me.(I truly think that some characters come to life in the writing and merely use we scribes as their channel.) And partly because of the settings and circumstances, many of which echo or approximate my own. In the writing of the book, I, as Jody, fell in love with Keith, Alex, Kendall and Blake in turn. Though Jody's story is not mine, it consumed me in the writing. I can only hope that a reader will become equally involved.

The feeling of sending the manuscript off is bittersweet. My labor is done, and I'm mentally and physically exhausted...but also intensely relieved. It's time for this little baby to walk without me.

So I'm celebrating!!!!  Bring on the champagne!!!

Order CHOICE from by clicking here. I welcome your comments!

And Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Judging a book by its cover

Winter is my writing time.

When the bed and breakfast business slows and the cold sets in, Chris and I go away to California to relax and rejuvenate our bodies and minds. And, away from the siren call of house projects like painting rooms or planning garden additions, I try to reconnect with my writer spirit and channel my muse through my computer keyboard.

This winter I have been finalizing Choice. Unlike my previous fiction, the suspense novels Blood Exposure and Net Stalker, Choice is women's fiction. As I was doing the final edit from Southern California, where much of the book is set (and relishing NOT being in the midst of the horrific winter the East Coast had this year!), I found it easy to slip back into the arms of the characters once more. From the "flyleaf:"

Jody Carpenter loved and admired artist Keith Ackerman and believed their personal and creative synergy was evidence they were meant to be together. But after months of assuming their sexual impasse was due to his fear of commitment, Jody challenged Keith to prove he loved her. The fallout was immediate and enormous: Forced to acknowledge he was gay, Keith ran. And Jody found she was pregnant.

Humiliated over her failure to recognize Keith’s homosexuality, Jody nevertheless decides to keep the baby. During her pregnancy, she meets Keith’s antithesis in Alex Maclean, who wants to marry her and adopt her daughter Kendall. When Keith learns he has fathered a child and insists upon being involved in Kendall’s life, Jody, Keith and Alex come to an agreement: Alex will legally adopt Kendall while Keith continues as her “godfather,” but when she turns twenty-one, the three of them will tell her the truth of her parentage.

No one expected Keith to die a year shy of that milestone birthday.

Keith’s death throws Jody into a tailspin of long-buried emotions. Forced to reevaluate her past in order to determine which path her future will take, she wavers over the biggest question: Need she tell Kendall the truth now?  The consequences of her hesitation are swift and agonizing. In the wake of her choices past and present, Jody faces an ultimatum: Unless she can extract herself from Keith’s shadow and expunge her culpability, the price of her self-doubt may be the loss of all she loves best. 

AH, but winter sabbatical is over and we are back at work. This week, however, the B&B is quiet and so I have targeted a number of book-related tasks to accomplish. By next week, we'll have guests in every day, and the oportunity to carve out a chunk of time to dive into writing or promotion will be gone. If I want to get Choice published this year, I need to have it finished in the next two weeks.

Credit: Ronnie Nijmeh,
So while I corrected copy and created front and back matter, I emailed my cover designer with concepts and ideas. A shout out to cover artist Todd Hebertson, who has created the covers of all three of my books and works so fast it astounds me. Here in the age of the Internet, all communication and designs are exchanged via email. Todd is responsive and creative and always willing to make changes and adjustments, big or small. We went through about a dozen drafts before deciding on the one at the top of the page. 

Book covers matter. As any author can attest, you want to be proud of your book cover, and you want it to attract attention for all the right reasons. When my first book, A Butler's Life, came out in hardcover, it had the most dreadful cover and I hated it. (See it here.) We changed it when it went to paperback (check it out here) and I will always be glad. It is so much more descriptive of Chris's life as a butler than the esoteric, black and white hardcover design, which looks like it could have been a photo of the dressing table of crusty Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey. As research shows, readers really DO judge a book by its cover.

So, what do YOU think? Would the cover design and cover copy for Choice intrigue you enough to buy the book? 

Many thanks in advance for the input and support!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Father's Day

My father, Jim Burton, was not a reader. In truth, neither of my parents were bibliophiles. The bookshelves in our family room contained a complete set of Collier's Encyclopedias, a huge unabridged dictionary (both handy when we asked a question so my mother could point and say, "Look it up!"), a medical dictionary left over from Mom' s nursing days, and a literal handful of novels. After my siblings and I moved beyond the collection of Dr. Seuss, A Child's Book of Verses, and the complete Junior Classics, the only ever-expanding library in the house was mine.

Dad was an aeronautical engineer, and while reading and engineering aren't mutually exclusive, in our household the only reading material other than the newspaper Dad perused (in the bathroom, where the magazine rack was installed) was IEEE (an industry pub) and Popular Science. Therefore, when I began to write seriously, the process wasn't something we could discuss. Oh, he'd listen, with a smile and lots of vague encouragement, but the concepts like point of view, character development, and story arc were as Greek to his ears as propulsion, structural and control systems, aerodynamics, and avionics were to mine.

Equally foreign -- perhaps even more so -- to my dad's experience was what Chris did for a living. A butler? Without even the knowledge gained by reading, say, PD Wodehouse's "Jeeves" novels, my dad couldn't fathom Chris's chosen profession. As much as he liked my future husband, on our wedding day, my dad's parting shot to Chris was a half-joking "Now get a real job."

Fast forward nine years. Chris and I are now living in New York (because Chris accepted an estate manager job here). My first book, A Butler's Life: Scenes from the Other Side of the Silver Salver has just been published by Frederic C Beil. Dad, at my request, had done the drawings for two of the sidebars contained in the book, and he happens to be visiting from California when we have a book event scheduled at BookHampton. In the four or five days since his arrival, he's admired the look of the book but to my dismay, has made no attempt to do much more than glance through it. He can't know how badly this hurts me, because this book is my first born, and he is my only living parent.

Chris and I are both reading at the book signing: I'm reading the preface (which is the only part of the book in my voice), and Chris is reading an except from his time in Monaco. I'm watching the crowd as Chris reads, and I'm especially gratified to see my father laughing and enjoying the section. It's a very successful book signing; they sell out of all the copies they'd ordered (but after all, this is our home town).

Dad says on the way home, "You have more books at home, right? I'd like to buy some copies to take home. One for me, and others for gifts." I am almost teary as I sign him a copy. And shortly after we get home, to my complete astonishment, he takes his signed copy off to a comfy chair and starts to read. And he excuses himself after meals to go back to reading it. When he surfaces after finishing it the next day, there is a new appreciation in his eyes for what Chris does...and what I do.

Our inscripions on the flyleaf of Dad's copy were full of love and appreciation for the role model he was (and still is) in both of our lives. But Chris's inscription finished, "PS -- This IS a real job." :)

In the thirty months...only thirty months!...that followed before we lost him unexpectedly in the Spring of 1999, he and I still couldn't discuss story arc or conflict or plotting. But I knew from the day of that book event that he now had an idea of what went into writing and publishing a book, and that he was proud of me.

Dad has been gone fourteen years now, and both Chris and I miss him enormously. His copy of my book, of course, came back to me when we sold my childhood home.I'm sorry he didn't live to see any of my novels in print, though I'm sure they would have been a harder read for him; a memoir like A Butler's Life was a better fit for the immensely pragmatic engineer than novels of psychological suspense.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I'll love and miss you forever.