Introducing the One-Book-Only Book Club: January 1 to 31, 2014

What better time to read a novel about a woman who is struggling to get thin than in January?

TWCD_cover_v2Join other readers and the author for a fun, easy, interesting, on-line book discussion from January 1 to 31, 2014 to read and talk about The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel – the story of 29-year-old Rita Sax Turner’s frustrating and funny but ultimately rewarding journey to rid herself of sixty unwanted pounds (or so. Maybe more. Maybe less).

Each week we’ll read 100 pages, and then we’ll talk about them together. There will be set questions and topics posted at the end of each week, but you can ask the author anything about her thoughts on the book, or talk among yourselves – about the book, families, marriages, walking in the park, your own food-related issues, anything. If you have ever used food for something besides sustenance – like to make you thinner, or fatter, or just plain warm and comfy – you’re going to love reading about Rita.

The Whole Clove Diet tells the story of a young woman caught in a frustrating marriage with two step-kids, a nagging mom, a whiny mother-in-law and no clear plan for her future… well, at least none that she wants to think about. Not long ago she was a slim young thing with her whole future ahead of her, but as her options decline, she is getting fatter and fatter (her words) – not from hunger, but from frustration and rage, and feelings of despair and sadness. Her husband thinks that her getting pregnant would be just the thing, but this idea only makes her feel more trapped. She goes on diet after diet, and guess what? They don’t work. It appears that reducing your calorie intake does not take any weight off your problems.

Rita’s redeeming features include her ability to hope (true of anyone who has ever gone on a diet!), her wits, and her sense of humour (black though it may sometimes be). When an injury gives her an excuse to escape the home-front action for a week, she starts to figure it all out – and to figure herself out. The novel is ultimately a feel-good story that will leave you cheering for Rita (and feeling even more hopeful for yourself, and for those around you who are battling with addictions of any kind).

Some of the issues we’ll be talking about:

  • Is overeating an addiction – just as bulimia and anorexia are now thought to be?
  • How does the western world treat people who are overweight differently than it does people of normal weight?
  • Do we invite any of this treatment ourselves, by how we act when we are above our ideal weights?
  • What is self-discipline? Can you acquire it, and if so, where?
  • What is the difference between deciding to make a life change and resolving to make one?
  • Do women and men approach food differently? How much does this have to do with our historic roles?
  • Does one diet work better than another?

We’ll also get down to the nitty gritty:

  • Why exactly is Rita sexually attracted to a doctor who has been verbally abusive to her?
  • What can Rita do about the fact that her husband’s first wife keeps getting more and more attractive in everyone’s memory the longer she is dead?
  • What IS the recipe for Nanaimo bars?

As we read, your feelings of despair and sympathy for Rita will alternate with a sense that you want to sit down and have a talk with her, or maybe just give her a good shake. But she’ll also make you laugh and cheer.

Find out what the author was thinking when she wrote the novel, and what her own experiences with weight issues (and other addictions) have been, in this perfectly timed opportunity to join a book club that is reading only one book, ever.

Whether you’ve already read The Whole Clove Diet or have been intending to read it – or have never even heard of it until this minute – join us. (Check out the reviews by other readers first, on Amazon or GoodReads, if you’re so inclined.) If you have ever wanted to lose (or gain) a pound or two, are planning to make a new year’s resolution (about anything – the same principles apply if you’re on a weight-loss program, cutting back on the booze or cigarettes, or training for a half marathon), or just love reading some good writing, snuggle up with this book – and with us – for a truly satisfying launch to the new year.

Note: The WCD One-Off Book Club will meet on the The Whole Clove Diet blog, but the discussion will be copied to Mary W. Walters’s Author Page on GoodReads. Regular updates will also appear on the Mary W. Walters, Writer Facebook page, and on Twitter (@MaryWWalters). If you are not an on-line-forum kind of person, you can have printouts of the discussions emailed to you on request, and you can submit questions by email each week that will be answered and/or discussed by the group. (mary at marywwalters dot com)

The Whole Clove Diet is available from amazon.com in both print and e-book versions, and as a Kobo e-book.

Book Promotion Tip of the Week #13: Host Your Own Reading/Book Launch

Me, reading at Secret Handshake Gallery May, 3013 at a triple launch co-hosted with authors Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman

Me, reading at Secret Handshake Gallery May, 2013 at a triple launch co-hosted with authors Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman (Photo: A. Resnick)

Make it an event to remember

So many books are being published now that most of us will wait in vain for a bookstore owner or an established reading program to invite us to come out and strut our stuff. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for anyone to invite us. For very little money, we can put on an event any old time we want to – to celebrate the publication of a new book, or just to celebrate being writers.

If you are new to writing, most of your guests will likely be family and friends who have not been to readings and book launches before. They will come to the event out of curiosity in part, but primarily to share your excitement and toast your achievement. Your number one goal as host should be to make sure that when they get there, they  have a fantastic time. (In fact, if that is not your goal, forget about doing it at all. This event is all about you,  but it is also not all about you, if you get my drift.) With some planning and some thinking, you can make those who attend your event eager to attend the next book-launch or reading: thereby doing a service to writers everywhere.

The first thing you need is a venue. You can hold your event anywhere. Last summer, I was well into the planning of a picnic-style book launch in a ravine park when a few well-wishers insisted that I think about the weather possibilities and hold it inside instead. (I still like the idea of an outside reading. I think I’ll do it at some point.)

What we did instead proved to be a great alternative. We held the launch at a small art gallery in Toronto which was very reasonable to rent for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon (it’s called the Secret Handshake Gallery on Mutual Street, and it is managed by the noted Toronto poet and artist David Bateman).

It had a kitchen, which was handy for preparing tea and coffee, washing fruit, and arranging plates of crackers, cookies  and dips. The same kinds of facilities would also be available in apartment-building party rooms, someone’s living room, the basement of a church, a community hall, etc. You don’t actually need a kitchen — think a room in a library, or the back room of a pub.

The next thing you need is a date and time. Give yourself plenty of lead time: you need to order books that will be available for sale, and you need to promote the event.

Begin the promotion three weeks or so ahead. Don’t rely on Facebook and Twitter: these sites are not too effective in attracting actual people to an actual event – although you will get lots of back-patting there, which always feels good. Check out where established reading series publicize readings in your area and submit a notice there (Open Book Toronto and Open Book Ontario are good examples from this region). You should also post notices on writers-organization events lists and in other arts publications. Your local newspaper or neighbourhood journal may also list your reading for free. If you are going to be reading at an art gallery or library, they probably have their own promotional methods – handouts and on-line items – and they will likely add your appearance to their list even though you are hosting it yourself, in the hope that you will bring people out to see other exhibitions or events they have on offer. And don’t forget that great “old-fashioned” method for spreading news: the email.

You need some kind of refreshments. These can be very modest: tea, coffee, juice, cookies, bottled water. Or you can get fancier and add wine, cheese, grapes, beer, tacos and dip, steak tartare and oysters – whatever you want, depending on your budget, your audience, the venue and the time of day. It’s true that people who’ve had a drink are much more likely to love your reading and buy a book than are the (tee)totally sober, but you have to figure out whether the potential payoff is worth it. Remember that you’ll need to sell several books to pay for even one half-decent bottle of wine: for economic reasons if none other, you may have to convince your guests to buy your books by giving an excellent reading rather than by lubricating them.

You might want to introduce a theme at your gathering that is in keeping with the subject of your book. When I launched The Whole Clove Diet, I invited people to bring Nanaimo bars – a sweet delicacy which figures largely in one of the novel’s comic scenes – in exchange for a free copy of the novel. Not only food, but decor, costume and music can be customized to suit the subject of your book.

Mary W. Walters, Kathleen Whelan, David Bateman

To my left (your right), Kathleen Whelan and David Bateman, co-hosts and writers extraordinaire (Photo: A. Resnick)

You need books to sell (and autograph). This may sound obvious but I cannot tell you how many readings I have been to (including my own most recent one) where fate hung in the balance until the very day of the reading: would the books appear on a delivery truck in time for the event or not? Don’t give yourself a panic attack: order the books well in advance. (Of course, this problem will not occur if  you are dealing only in e-books, but I am not sure that you can hold a viable book launch if you only have an e-book. I could be very wrong about that. Perhaps I just haven’t thought it through properly. Reader input on this subject is welcome.)

You also need a book sales table, and someone to sell the books for you (that’s what friends are for). You will need to provide a float. If your book is $15, have some $5s on hand to give as change for the inevitable $20s you will receive. You might also want to prepare a handout featuring the title of your book and a sales link or order form as a takeaway for those who didn’t bring enough money – or in case you run out of books to sell.☺

You need an itinerary. Plan to read for half to three-quarters of an hour maximum, and figure out what time you intend to start. I don’t recommend starting right at the time that the event begins. It’s a party: not just a reading, so let people mix and mingle for half an hour or an hour before you read. (This also gives the latecomers a chance to arrive.) Think ahead about whether you want music playing in the background while people socialize. If so, you’ll have to organize that in advance as well. (It’s pretty simple to bring a laptop computer with a playlist on it and a couple of speakers, but someone has to do it.)

You need someone to introduce you. This person will need to get people’s attention when it’s time for you to read, invite them to be seated, turn off the music, etc. During the introduction, this person should point out where your books are available for sale and announce how much they cost. When it comes to your introduction, you might want to write it out yourself and email it to your introducer ahead of time, just to make sure that all the points you want covered are covered. If the person who is introducing you might be insulted by your writing your own blurb for him or her to read, you could send a list of points to cover. Or else you could hope for the best, and fill in any oversights yourself when it is time to read.

Even if only one or two people show up, carry on. Poor turnouts happen to lots of writers, even those who are invited to read by established reading programs and bookstore owners. No matter how few there are, you should read anyway. Those people came all the way across town/around the world/down the street to hear you, and you want to blow them out of the water. Also, reading to a very few people will be good practice for when you become as famous as Margaret Atwood and you have people lined up down the block to hear you read.

(I encourage you not to read like Margaret Atwood does, however. She can get away with a deadpan delivery, but most people cannot. Further to this bit of gratuitous advice, in my next blog post I am going to talk about how to give a good reading. Too many writers don’t and there is nothing worse than a boring or inept reading. The only comparable experience in my life was a philosophy class I took at university where the lectures were delivered at 8 a.m. by a prof who leaned against the blackboard with his eyes closed, and spoke like Margaret Atwood reads. He seemed to still be half asleep – his half met my three-quarters and no knowledge was transferred.)

You need a photographer. (This is also what friends are for.)

You need people to help you clean up afterwards. These same people should take you for a drink after all the cleanup is done so that you can celebrate the celebration. For if you have done it properly, it is only when your well planned, well delivered, fun event is over that you will actually be able to start enjoying it yourself.

______________________

Note to my FaceBook friends: I’m taking a break from Facebook, which has lately been turning into more of an addiction than a pleasurable diversion.  If you think some of our mutual Facebook friends would be interested in this post, please post the link as I can’t do that at the moment. Thanks. – Mary

Establish a S.M.A.R.T. book promotion goal

iStock_000018615175XSmallBook Promotion Tip of the Week #9: Figure out how many copies of your book you want to sell before you start promoting.

(You can always adjust your targets later.)

After floundering around in the book promotion literature for quite a while now, and blogging about what doesn’t work, I am learning that one principle is more basic than the rest: if I don’t set some promotion goals for myself, I’m never going to get anything done. I could continue to research promotion forever, rather than doing anything about it.

Not that I’m giving up the research, but I’ve decided that even if I haven’t read and learned everything that’s out there yet (by a long shot), the moment has come when I must start to make a focused effort on the actual promotion.

A key word here is “focused” — because I’ve also come to the realization that the goal I set for myself cannot be “to sell books.” That just isn’t a very “SMART” goal.  If “to sell books” is all I’m striving for, I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s like setting myself the goal “to lose weight” or “to read Tolstoy” or “to learn another language.” Those are ultimate goals, but they are not specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-sensitive goals, which is what SMART stands for (more on S.M.A.R.T. goals later).

First I need to decide what I want to do with my promotional efforts. Do I want to get to number one (which I think is the general hope that most of us have as we set off on our non-specific promotional adventures)? If so, what does this mean? Do I really think I am going to sell 300 copies of my book EVERY DAY on Amazon? According to this article on Salon, that’s what it takes to make a book an Amazon bestseller. I must face whether that is my specific goal and intent, or whether that is a pipe dream.

And even if that IS my goal, then how many days of 300 sales/day am I aiming for? Would I be satisfied with 300 sales for just one day? – enough to get my book to the top of the Amazon list just once, at which point I could legitimately say (for promotional purposes) that my book had been an “Amazon bestseller” (as in, “My book was once an Amazon bestseller”)? How much practical good is that going to do me in the long term?

Maybe it is The New York Times bestseller list to the top of which I wish to climb. That one is far more prestigious, of course, when it comes to putting a plug about it on my promotional materials. The NYT list is based on weekly sales of books and ebooks across the USA, and no one really knows how many copies of each book must be sold before you make it to the top of that particular mountain, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than I can realistically plan to sell at this point.

Maybe I just want Don Valiente to top the list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon for a day, or for The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel to appear and then stay in the top-ten list in women’s fiction. Maybe I’m eying a local newspaper’s weekly posting of the top ten fiction books sold. (Or maybe I’ve written a family history and I’m not interested in top-ten lists at all: maybe I’ll be happy if I sell ten books, period.)

According to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry on “bestsellers,” the term is relatively recent and means so many different things in different contexts that it actually means nothing. The entry points out that, depending on the venue, in the U.K. a “bestseller” can mean anything from 4,000 to 25,000 copies sold. In Canada, 5,000 copies sold (ever) constitutes what we call “a national bestseller.”

Why do the numbers matter anyway?

There are a couple of reasons why the numbers of copies of books sold matter (quite aside from the royalties that accrue). First, purchasers do respond to books that are at the top of bestseller lists, even though such lists have nothing to do with quality. (I go back to my Fifty Shades of Grey example which proves that book-buyers can be total sheep exhibiting no taste, and no sense of literary or even erotic discernment whatsoever.)

In addition, and of equal importance, in the case of Amazon when you reach a certain level of sales, the site starts recommending your book to other people who have bought or looked at similar books – which means that Amazon is now doing some of your promotion for you.

And yes, once your book has made a bestseller list, you can call yourself a “bestselling author,” and no one can ever take that away from you. (Although I guess they can demand to know which list you were a bestseller on, and for how long, and they could ask you that in a radio interview, so be prepared.)

It is for such reasons as these that some writers are paying to get onto bestseller lists which – as I reported last week – you can do if you have enough friends and money.

Does the number of books you want to sell affect your promotional efforts?

I think it does, even if you aren’t aiming for the top of a bestseller list. This is the crux of the question when it comes to this week’s Book Promotion tip.

In recent days, I have been thinking about S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is a term which has been in use in the business world for decades, and which I keep coming across in my reading about marketing and even in some of my editing for clients. The acronym stands for  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. Many experts consider these five attributes to be key indicators when it comes to establishing and attaining goals in such areas as personal and professional development, project management, employee performance, etc.

If your goals don’t have these five attributes, such experts would point out, how can you possible attain them? “Selling books” has none of those attributes, and therefore it’s a lousy goal. (For me it also leads to madly riding off in too many directions at once, as I have several books to sell, not to mention my podcasts on grantwriting, and dozens of places I could sell them, and dozens of ways I could approach the promotion in each case.)

So for me, here is what I am setting as my first S.M.A.R.T. goal: Within six months, to attain at least thirty days of sales of at least ten copies a day of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (Kindle version). I have chosen this number because I estimate that this will get us onto the “top 50 Westerns” list on Amazon for those 30 days, which will help to propel us towards ongoing sales with diminished effort.

This goal is Specific because it says I am going to focus only on Don Valiente and ignore my other books for now, and it also sets a specific number of sales per day for a specific number of days.

This goal is Measurable because six months from now (mid-September) I will be able to tell whether I have attained the goal. I can see on my KDP page how many copies we are selling. (I can also track our progress vis á vis other western novels on Amazon. If we need to up the sales numbers per day to get to the top 50, we can do that.)

This goal is Attainable — with an attractive promotional campaign that targets readers of Westerns, given a consistent promotional effort for six months that (at no significant cost to us) positions our books in as many places as possible, I believe that this goal is attainable.

This goal is Realistic. It allows for the fact, for example, that if I send out a review copy of Don Valiente, even if someone does review it, the review will likely not appear for three to four months at least. On the other hand, hitting The New York Times bestseller list is not a realistic goal. I don’t even think that getting into the top 10 list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon would be realistic, when I consider the competition. And I know me: if a goal doesn’t seem realistic, I am going to give up on it very quickly.

This goal is Time-Specific. I have given us six months. (I am now putting a memo in my calendar to report back to you here then, and let you know what happened.)

Do you have a SMART goal for your book promotion? Do you want to declare it in public here so we can cheer you on?

Do you think that setting goals is necessary or of use?

Let us know! I love your comments and so do my readers.

Next week: a book promotion tip that is more specific — that takes less time to write. :)

The Day before Day 1: Anguilla’s First Ever Literary Arts Festival

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I have arrived on the beautiful island of Anguilla, where I have been staying with friends for a few days – getting some work done for clients while enjoying the tropical breezes.

The first session of the Anguilla Lit Fest: A Jollification is tonight — a reception/meet and greet for the presenters/authors and the organizing committee. I am looking forward to meeting all of the people who have spent so many months putting this together on behalf of the Anguilla Tourist Board, and to chatting with my fellow presenters, who include:

Stay tuned… I’ll keep you updated when I can!

A Book-Promotion Experiment: The Book as Soap Sample

My first novel, THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, is a story about a young woman who must go home and confront her past when she learns that her mother — to whom she has not spoken in several years — is dying. It won the Writers Guild of Alberta award for excellence in Writing, Novel Category waaay back in 1988.

As a promotion of the impending release of the Kindle version of THE WHOLE CLOVE DIET, The Woman Upstairs is downloadable on Kindle at no charge for four days only (March 25 to 28, 2012).

In other words, I’m using my first novel as a free sample for a few days, like a little box of soap flakes, to promote my new novel.

Last year I rereleased The Woman Upstairs (NeWest Press, 1987), which had been out of print for two decades, as a POD and an e-book through CreateSpace. It only cost me a couple of hundred dollars to have it scanned in. Plus I had a new cover made because I didn’t own the rights to the visual. I have done nothing to promote it aside from posting links here and there: I just figured that it was available and maybe some day, when I published another book, it might sell a few copies.  I wanted it to be available in case.
As most readers here know, I am self-publishing my next novel, The Whole Clove Diet (it’s available now as paperback). I decided that, in anticipation of the release of the Kindle version of The Whole Clove Diet, I would test out the Kindle Direct Publishing “Free Promotion” option with The Woman Upstairs. This allows ebooks priced at $2.99 or more (which is the price point for accruing 70% royalties; anything less and you are down to 30%) to be given away for up to five days. (Of course, no royalties accrue on these books. Nothing times 70% is the same as nothing x 30%.)</div

So I started the sale Sunday morning, and I did not notice where the ranking was at that point, but I would guess The Woman Upstairs was probably a millionth or so on the best-seller list, like the paperback is. It was at about #4000 in the Kindle Free Store when I first started watching a few hours later.
I have been promoting it as much as I can on the social media, but that does not explain what has happened to it — there must be a lot of people who are finding it on some “free books” list somewhere from which they download everything in sight. In the past day it has moved up to #11 in Kindle Literary Fiction and #17 in Kindle Contemporary Fiction. But what really blows me away is that 1200 people have downloaded it. That’s almost more than the first print run, I think.
Who knows how many people who have downloaded it will ever get around to reading it, and better yet like it enough to pay for the new book (which is my master plan), but it’s been an interesting process. Here’s the link if you’re interested in watching what happens.
At the end of Wednesday, it will go back to $2.99, at which point I expect it to fall off the face of the earth again. But it’s the long term impact I’m interested, and I guess I may never know exactly what that is.

If you had told me five years ago (or even two) that I’d be giving my first novel away – even as an e-book and even only for four days – as a promotional device, as though it were a sample package of soap, I would not have believed you. But these are interesting time, and they call for creative approaches.

This is (one of) mine….

I’ll report back at some point on how this and other strategies for book promotion re: The Whole Clove Diet have worked out.

By the way, I have started yet another blog (my 10th, I think) for items related to The Whole Clove Diet, and diets in general.

And again, here’s the link to the free Kindle version of The Woman Upstairs.

(On March 29, it will go back to its usual astronomical ;) price of $2.99.)

How to Sell Your Published Book

Rodney Walther, author of Broken Laces

In which I expound on why most writers’ initiatives to promote their own books are about as effective as patching a leaky boat with Band-Aids, and then interview a writer who has sold more than 17,000 copies of his first novel – self-published! – in just over a year . . .  and the book keeps selling: like hotcakes.

Mary’s Opinion About the Problem With A Lot of Book Promotion

Whether your novel (or poetry book, or work of non-fiction) is about to be released from a major publishing house, a small literary press, a collective, or under your own imprint, the primary challenge once the book is released is how to get it noticed amid the hordes of other authors who have also just published a book, and (more importantly) how to get it selling.

Traditional promotional routes such as a mention in the New York Times or the various outdated forms of “industry buzz” just don’t make it any more. Who cares what “the industry” thinks? (Answer: The industry does. No one else gives a damn.) What we need to do is to build a profile among readers.

I have many, many friends and acquaintances who have published books recently, both on their own or working with established presses. For an unfortunate majority, their marketing efforts seem to be restricted to statements on FaceBook or Twitter that really amount to nothing more than, “My book is out. Buy it.” Or “My book is available for 99 cents today only. Buy it.” Or even, “A big (or small) company published my book and therefore it must be good. Buy it.” Their blog posts are only marginally more interesting and/or informative. Could I care less that they have published a book and that it is for sale? No. Several millions of people have done that (most of them, it seems, within the past two years. ;) )

This “Here I am. Buy me” approach does not work for me for one significant reason: it tells me nothing about what buying the book is going to do for me. And unless you are a very dear friend, I am not going to buy your book, much less read it – much, much less read it and review it – just for your sake. And this applies not only to those who are marketing their first books, but also to those who are publishing their third or fourth books.  I need to get something out of the experience myself before I’m going to invest my time and money in your book. As I get older (and a note to younger writers: we baby boomers constitute a massive audience for books, and we buy them. It is wise to consider us in your marketing efforts), I get even more particular.

Book reviews from trusted outlets and word-of-mouth are the primary sources of information I use to choose which books to buy and read. I choose my sources of reviews and feedback based on my interests: I don’t normally read science fiction or fantasy, for example, so I don’t seek out reviews and recommendations about books in those genres.

As a writer, I want to know how to get my books into the venues that are going to persuade other people who think like me (i.e., readers who want a literate general fiction book) to read the books I’ve written (general fiction with a twist). That is my job today: no one else is going to do it for me. The time is long gone when we as authors could decide that we were “above” all that – that as “artists,” we were too superior and delicate to walk among the mortals – that good literature was self-evident, and that it would reveal itself, and that people would find and read it.

We can be delicate artists while we’re writing, but when the book is published, we need to put on our running shoes and hit the streets (the Internet streets as well as the ones outside our doors). To my mind, a work of art is only complete if it has an audience. Our publishers (if any) aren’t going to do it for us: we are the ones who need to take responsibility for making sure that our books get read.  We need to deploy new forms of creative energy in the marketing of our books. We need to study business models, to strategize, to take the “customer is always right” approach.

If we’re going to sell books, we need a mind shift: we need to stop thinking of our books as our “babies.” It is hard to sell a baby. Our books, once published, are commodities, and people are going to criticize them – and us. We have to let that roll right off our backs.

We need to create a feeling among our prospective readers that they want and need to read our books, not that they “ought” to read them. We need to figure out our target audiences: promote ourselves among people who really are going to enjoy what we’ve written – and we need to disregard the ones who aren’t in our target audience (and this includes non-readers for the most part, by the way). If our book really is intended for the entire world (a universally appealing serio-comic western, shall we say, just as an example?), it will cross genres on its own.

I actually find this part of the process exciting, and one of the best parts of the new world of books. No longer do we need to leave this crucial component of the publication process (and the source of our future incomes) up to the vague if earnest attempts of interns in publicity departments who have a dozen temperamental authors with several books to promote as well as ours, which they haven’t had time to read and probably never will. Now we can do it all on our own.

To start my investigation into how to become a really effective marketer of my own book, I interviewed multiple-award-winning novelist Rodney Walther, author of Broken Laces. In just over a year, Rodney has sold more than 17,000 copies of his self-published first novel, and I was very pleased to be able to talk with him.

With The Whole Clove Diet – my next novel, and the first I am self-publishing – due for release in about a month, I am eager to learn all I can about this subject—and to share what I learn with others in my situation. So if you have additional suggestions, please add them by way of comments at the end of this article. I appended a few links I found myself while preparing to write this post.

Interview with Rodney Walther

MWW: Broken Laces, your first novel, concerns a father coming to terms with the tragic death of his beloved wife, while also coping with the grieving process and parenting needs of his seven-year-old son. It is set against the backdrop of a suburban community and particularly a Little League baseball team, which serves as a catalyst for many lessons learned by both father and son during the course of the novel.

It is unusual to read a domestic drama with a male figure as the central protagonist, but this one works. What was your primary target audience when you wrote it?

RW: In the original draft, I envisioned my reader as someone like me, a baseball parent or coach who could empathize with the redemption-through-sports angle. As I developed the story over a number of years, I came to understand that the ideal reader was any mom or dad, which led me to emphasize the father-son connection and the hero’s grief journey even more.

While a domestic drama typically appeals to women (and usually features a female protagonist), both women and men have responded to Broken Laces for its unique male voice and its complicated male protagonist. I think that’s allowed my story to stand out from similar books in the genre.

MWW: What made you decide to self publish?

RW: Although I had the interest of agents, the process was agonizingly slow. After five plus years of writing, my novel was finally ready to go, and I didn’t see the need to wait any longer.

Scanning the landscape of the print-on-demand (POD) world for paperbacks and the digital bookstore for e-books, I sensed that the time was right to self-publish. Looking back, I believe my instincts were correct.

MWW: How long has Broken Laces been available? And in what formats did you make the book available?

RW: I originally published Broken Laces in paperback via CreateSpace in November of 2010. Within a few weeks, the e-book was available on Kindle. In early/mid-2011, I made it available on the Nook, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords platforms.

Writing Competitions

MWW: Your novel has been a finalist and a winner of several writing awards. Tell us about those.

RW: The world of writing contests has been a great experience. Initially, I entered a few contests to get feedback on the work, as I was committed to improving my writing craft. I did receive excellent feedback, but I also began to win awards.

For novel-length fiction, I’ve won first place honors from Houston Writers Guild, West Virginia Writers, Maryland Writers’ Association, Panhandle Professional Writers, Crested Butte Writers, and North Texas Professional Writers.

My work has garnered multiple second- and third-place awards as well, including being named as a state finalist at Writers’ League of Texas and an ABNA 2011 quarterfinalist.

MWW: Broken Laces has also occasionally risen quite high in various Amazon best-seller lists. Can you tell us how many copies you have sold? Did sales build gradually or did the book start strong?

RW: My expectations were modest when I released the book. Although I was confident in the work, I knew the long odds against sudden success. The first two to three months had decent sales, with Christmas, 2010 giving the book a nice jumpstart.

Then when I lowered my price in March 2011 (e-book, from $6.95 to $2.99), that set in motion a significant increase in sales. I feel blessed that I’ve seen eleven straight months of sales greater than 1000 (mainly due to Kindle).

Broken Laces regularly stays in the Top-3 of multiple categories (currently #2 in sports fiction behind the 2011 Amazon Book of the Year The Art of Fielding; #2 in baseball behind Moneyball, and #1 for months in Death & Grief). My novel reached the Top-250 of all Kindle books in June 2011.

To date, I’ve sold more than 17,000 copies of Broken Laces.

MWW: Fabulous!! I’ll just pause here to take an admiring breath.

Okay, then. On to the next question. . . .

Your book is very “clean” from an editing perspective. Did you consider this an important part of preparing it for publication?

RW: I am very proud of how well edited the book is. I work with a number of writers in a critique group, who help identify structural flaws and discuss ways to improve characterization, story, etc. Between their contributions and my almost-obsessive attention to details, the book is indeed “clean.”

One of my reviews came from a reader in Spain (!), who said that he was initially wary of reading a self-published book. But after reading the whole book he decided, “This is a well-written novel, up to the standards of any big publisher.” That quote brings a lump to my throat each time I read it.

Pricing

MWW: How did you decide how to price the book? Is price important to book sales?

RW: Price is a huge factor for sales. Especially for self-published works. I originally set the price at $6.95 (Kindle) and $14.95 (paperback). In March 2011, I lowered the e-book price to $2.99 as an experiment, knowing that I’d have to sell two and a half times the number of books to achieve the same royalties. That move has paid off. I have considered the price point of $0.99, but because I’ve enjoyed strong sales at $2.99 and know that I’d have to increase sales six-fold to make the same profit—and because the $0.99 price point does have some negative connotations—I’m staying at $2.99.

Promotions

MWW: What promotional mechanisms have you used (e.g, in-person, social media, YouTube, sending out review copies, etc.)?

RW: I have done a little of everything: held book signings (sold books at several Little Leagues during Opening Day; attended a book and author dinner arranged by the community’s Literacy Council), participated in Facebook/Twitter (although not as much compared to others), participated in Amazon message forums, and sent out review copies. I haven’t created a YouTube trailer.

MWW: You have an excellent website at http://www.rodneywalther.com. Is it important for writers to have a website? Why?

RW: If people are serious about the process of crafting and selling a book, they should take the time to be serious about the way they appear in public. My website is professional and thorough, although I doubt it’s generated many sales. And I try to maintain a helpful, professional appearance in my Internet life. You won’t see me getting into flame wars or trashing others online: self-published authors do not need enemies.

MWW: Do you blog? Why or why not?

RW: I do not blog, but that’s because I try to focus on my writing.

MWW: Is targeting a specific audience important to book sales? On your website and in other places you have compared your books to other similar books by other (possibly better-known ;) ) authors in order to help readers know what to expect. Is this a worthwhile tactic?

RW: I believe so. It doesn’t make sense to try to sell my book to everyone—it’s much better to identify the audience that will respond to my story. For example, because of the complicated protagonist and the dysfunctional family dynamics (and because of the writing itself), readers of Jodi Picoult tend to buy my book. The emotional aspect of my work also attracts readers of Nicholas Sparks. Looking at Amazon’s “People who bought xxx also bought yyy,” Broken Laces is definitely being bought by that audience.

MWW: Do you have other suggestions for writers who are either self-publishing or are picking up some of the promotional responsibilities for their books from established presses?

RW: Be professional and treat it as a business. For writers who are self-publishing, pay great attention to the cover design. Mary, you and I have discussed this in the past. There are way too many unprofessional covers out there, ones that scream “Look what I did in a couple of hours!”

Building A Fire

MWW: Can you summarize the critical factors for launching a book?

RW: I look at the publishing/marketing of a novel much like trying to start a fire. Some people hope to ignite a successful book launch, but strike a single match and nothing happens. So they give up. Some people spend all their time striking individual matches, trying to win over one reader at a time. That’s a lot of work!

I was committed to giving Broken Laces its best shot at visibility. To continue the fire metaphor, I figured the best way to ignite a blaze was to bring everything together before striking matches haphazardly.

First, I took care in crafting the story and making sure it was well edited. I worked with a graphic designer to develop an effective cover. I identified my target reader and tried to figure out how to make my book visible to them (e.g., use of Amazon tagging, praying to the Amazon suggestion algorithm gods). I made FaceBook friends and ABNA friends, not for the selfish purpose of selling to them but to build relationships. I carefully considered my price point. I wrote a solid pitch and made sure to highlight my writing awards. And I tried to time my book launch for Christmas season.

Thanks to all these factors, plus solid reviews and great word-of-mouth, the fire has been burning for more than a year. Yes, every day I worry that a big rainstorm will come along and put it out.

That’s why I’m working on my next novel, so the blaze can continue well into the future.

* * * *

I am very grateful to Rodney Walther for taking the time to answer all of the questions I asked him — so clearly, thoroughly and honestly. His willingness to share everything he knows about the process of writing and selling has made him a popular and respected figure in the writing circles we share, for good reason. His generosity is appreciated. He’s also a fine writer. If you want more information about his book, click through the link I have posted to his book cover, or go to his website which is, again, www.rodneywalther.com

While researching this article I found a couple of lists of ideas re: book marketing that I think will be useful to my own initiatives — if I use them in conjunction with a few ideas of my own and the suggestions Rodney has provided. Here they are. And again, I welcome feedback from readers by way of comments if you have additional ideas that have worked for you – as a book marketer – or on you, as a book purchaser.

Update: Check out an additional comment from Rodney Walther  on ineffectual marketing, thoughts with which I concur completely. Thanks again for all your help with this post, Rodney.

Looking for Beta readers for The Whole Clove Diet

Update Jan 4/11: Thanks for your responses! I have now got ten beta readers. Watch for the next posts on The Militant Writer: How to promote your independently published book — an interview with an author whose books are selling like hotcakes!

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My third novel (fifth book) is currently being typeset and will be published in about two months. I am looking for ten people who are interested in reading the final version of it in manuscript form and then writing a one-paragraph (or so) review for Amazon once the book is published. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not — you are welcome to be honest. I just want some reviews up there as soon as the book comes out.

In exchange, once the book is published I will sign a copy of the print version (it will also be available as an e-book. It’s is going to have a beautiful cover! I’m so excited!) and mail it to you, all at no cost to you.

If you are interested, please write me at mary @ marywwalters dot com or contact me via this blog.

Here’s info about the book:

As she breaks 200 pounds, and not in a good way, Rita (29) finds herself married to a self-focused widower with two difficult kids and a mother who almost makes Rita’s own mother look like a role model—which is really saying something. Graham’s first wife, being dead, just keeps getting better and better in everyone’s memories while Rita just gets fatter and more aggravated. She’s tried every diet in the book, but it’s not until a family crisis forces her out the door that she figures out that the easiest way to thin is to get rid of the baggage on the inside. Funny and insightful, The Whole Clove Diet is sure to make readers of all shapes and sizes feel better about themselves—and ultimately maybe even about Rita.

Thanks!