Feed Your Soul

I’ve had a number of well-meaning friends come up to me recently and ask me about my writing. When’s the next book coming out, they ask. Are you writing? How far along are you?

I give them the same answer I always give when asked about my writing: I’m working on a couple of projects right now, and I’ll let you know as soon as the books are finished.

The assumption by many non-writers (and some authors themselves) is that once an author produces a book, or two (or four, in my case), the writer will continue to produce books at the same pace. While this concept might be true for many writers, not all of us follow the same path. For some authors (myself included), writing is a soul-filling (and sometimes soul-draining) process, but it’s not the only creative occupation that fulfills us.

I’ve dedicated over ten years of my life to writing books. I also, at the same time, helped raise two kids, worked two jobs, and supported my family and friends when they needed me. The writing was a lot of work, and it required a lot of time away from my husband and children. I didn’t mind the sacrifice then because, at that time in my life, the writing fed my soul in an important way.

But since the release of my last book in 2016, my family situation has changed. My children graduated from college and are now living and working on their own. And my husband and I have found ourselves at the age where we need to make decisions about retirement, our long-term life and healthcare goals, and how we’re going to do some of the travel that we’ve always had on our bucket lists.

I’ve also discovered in recent years that I yearned to explore some new ways to feed my soul. In the past three years, I’ve learned to bake my own bread, spent time exploring glass painting, and my husband Dan and I have created a successful monarch butterfly sanctuary in our yard (Follow me on Twitter to hear more about this). I’ve reconnected with old friends and family members, and Dan and I have started to do some serious travel to other countries.

I’m also still working part-time, teaching college business classes and doing some work for publicity clients.

Does all of this non-writing activity mean I’ll never write again? Of course not – I have a memoir outlined and have begun the sequel to one of my earlier novels, Favorite Daughter. But is writing the primary activity filling my soul right now? No. And that doesn’t mean the end of my writing career; it just means that I will write again when my soul calls for it.

I know there are some career writers out there who scoff at the notion that writing is only for those who do it every day without fail for years on end. But for many of us, writing is only one of many ways that we find creative expression. It fills a special part of our lives, but it may not be the only occupation that does that. And that’s okay with me, and my soul, for now.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Don’t Wait to Get Advice on Marketing a Book

Pink hourglassI love marketing books. However, it’s inevitable—I hang up the phone after receiving a call from another prospective client, and the last words I hear before we sign off are: “I wish I’d spoken with you sooner.”

I hear this same lament over and over again. Mainly because a good number of the authors who are call (and often it’s their first call to any publicist) didn’t complete some of the crucial marketing steps that must take place before they release their books.

When It’s Too Late for Marketing to Help

In many cases, it’s too late for me to help them. Especially if the authors have already done one or more of the following:

  • waited over a year before trying to get publicity for a book already released
  • didn’t develop a social media platform
  • didn’t have their covers professionally designed
  • didn’t have their books professionally edited
  • signed publishing contracts without reading them
  • allowed publishers only to issue their books in hardcover
  • released their books late in the year
  • didn’t workshop their manuscripts before publishing
  • wrote a book in a genre that is overcrowded or difficult to sell
  • wrote a book that doesn’t have a newsworthy angle or point of view.

Arguing Doesn’t Help

When I mention that these situations that might make it difficult for me to help market their books, I inevitably receive the following arguments:

  • but I didn’t know that a book should be marketed within the first six to eight months after release
  • but I’m computer-phobic and don’t know how to use social media
  • but I’m a good artist and my friends and family like my book covers
  • but I was an English major and don’t need an editor. Or my publisher is going to edit my book (even though the publisher is most likely not a professional editor)
  • but the publisher told me that she or he would do ________ (so I didn’t read the contract)
  • but the publisher said that she or he would issue the book in softcover after I sold an (unknown) amount of hardcovers
  • but I didn’t know that releasing a book in late winter would make it difficult to promote because of the holidays and that most venues will be already booked for the year
  • but my cancer survival/parental issues/adoption story or memoir doesn’t have to be unique—everyone I know likes it
  • but the fact that I wrote the book makes it newsworthy.

Successful Authors Listen and Seek Advice Early

In many of these cases, the authors don’t like what I have to say. They try to convince me that somehow I’m wrong about these important steps. Some of them try to tell me that because a few reviewers liked the book, they feel they can somehow bypass the rules. And some of them don’t listen at all—instead, they call to tell me how important their books are and, thus, whatever I have to say doesn’t matter to them.

In the end, every author has the right to do whatever he or she wants with his or her book. But if authors (especially new authors) want to be successful at selling their books, they have to be willing to educate themselves about the selling process. And they must realize that marketing is different from what they learned (or, in many cases, didn’t take the time to learn) about creating a successful book.

Book Marketing Basics

What I end up suggesting to those who call me with these issues is the following:

  • educate yourself about the book industry. Know the statistics and requirements for your genre and be realistic about where your book might stand if your genre is difficult to sell
  • educate yourself about the promotion process: take classes, attend workshops, go to conferences, read books on marketing, and talk with other authors who have successfully published and sold their books
  • don’t wait to hire a publicist: make contact (preferably by email) at least four to six months before the book is released
  • don’t be afraid of social media—learn how to set up and manage at least one or two sites (I recommend Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads) and place your blog posts on all of them, including your website (get help from a social media consultant if you find this process too daunting)
  • plan to promote your book during the first six to eight months immediately after the book is released
  • don’t ever release a book that hasn’t been edited by a paid professional
  • never design your book cover
  • don’t sign a publishing contract without reading it word-for-word and, if anything is unclear, discussing it with a publishing attorney
  • don’t let a publisher talk you into only releasing your book in hardcover—hardcovers are too expensive for readers and booksellers won’t stock them. Insist on softcover and ebook versions, or pass on the opportunity
  • don’t release a book at the end of the year (any time after October is too late); instead, plan to release in either January or February. That way you have the entire spring and summer to schedule events, make appearances, and promote
  • don’t assume because you received one or two positive reviews that selling the book will be easy
  • don’t assume that because you have an interest in your content/story that others will feel the same way you do.

My Best Book Marketing Advice

Finally, my ultimate advice to all authors is to write the best book you possibly can. For most, this means workshopping the manuscript with a writing group and taking the feedback that is given to heart. I see too many books that should never have been published. Not only because they have been improperly produced, but because the writing level is not where it should be to compete in today’s crowded market. Educate yourself about the promotion process as early as possible. Make sure your book is truly ready to be released into the world.


The Uncommon Word: Surprising Our Readers with Extraordinary Language

A hand flipping through a dictionaryIn the library the other day, I came across a copy of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House and, even though I’ve been pressed for time to read lately, I decided to check it out. The book turns out to be a great dish on the chaotic and cringe-worthy first year of the current administration, but what surprised me most is the language Wolff uses. Scattered across the pages are words I am embarrassed to admit I don’t know: words like samizdat, revanchism, myrmidons, quant, and hortatory.

To be truthful, I wasn’t expecting this level of vocabulary in what I thought would be a People type of read. To be clear, the book is quite good; it provides a fascinating first-hand look at the temperament of the current president and the political machinations of the people he chooses to work for him. But I have had to keep my phone handy while reading this book, just so that I can look up some of the unfamiliar words I’m encountering as I go along.

This process of looking up new vocabulary words brings back some of the best memories of my childhood. I was one of those kids who loved to read and enjoyed diving into books above my recommended reading level. I delighted in learning new words, and discovered, as an interesting by-product, that doing so taught me to be a better writer, as well as a reader. But at some point in my life, I lost this drive to discover new vocabulary words. I replaced it with a desire to acquire more content in what I was reading. Now I’m wondering if it was a good idea to lose interest in growing my vocabulary.

While many of us enjoy discovering new words in the books we’re reading, most of us who write don’t have the same feeling about pushing the vocabulary envelope. It’s a tough job just to get the words on the page on some days and forcing ourselves to write with more complex language is sometimes not a priority. But I have to admit that when I read books that are written with an elevated vocabulary, I find that I’m more likely to remember them as the books I love the most.

My appreciation for heightened language is ironic considering that in the college business classes I teach, I urge students to write with short, simple words. Some of the rationales behind this pedagogy are that when writing for business, the primary goal is to be clear. But when it comes to writing fiction and nonfiction books, the goal is a little different. In those cases, we are telling stories. Our purpose, for the most part, is to inform and entertain. And I would argue that in those cases, the type of words we use matter more.

Finding just the right word to describe a character or situation might take the writer a little more time, but the result can be captivating and memorable and can make our stories soar. I know some will argue that forcing readers to stop and look up words might take them out of the stories we write. There is some truth to that. But reading Wolff’s work has reminded me that in addition to developing a good storyline and creating memorable characters,  I also need to up my game when it comes to the language I use in my writing. I believe I owe it to my characters, my stories, and most of all, to my readers, especially if I want them to remember my books as the ones they love the most.


Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/698538/

Be Focused, Be Prepared, Be Committed – Steps to Take Before Hiring a Publicist

hand holding microphone with black backgroundMost prospective clients who approach me about publicity are new authors who have never worked with a publicist before. Whether self- or traditionally published, the most common question is: What would you charge for promoting my book?

My response is always the same: What is it you’re looking for? A book tour? Media coverage? Internet exposure? All of the above? And how much do you want to spend? Without knowing what it is an author wants, it’s difficult for me to put a price on how much I can do for him.

It’s also difficult to say how much publicity an author is likely to get without having read the author’s book or knowing a little about her platform.

So, for new authors who are thinking about hiring a publicist, here are my top five tips to consider before calling or sending an inquiry email to a PR expert:

1. What kind of book have you written?

With over 300,000 new titles released each year, it’s important to know where your book fits into the overall market. Is it a young adult novel, targeted for teens, or younger kids, say five- to nine-year-olds? Does your mystery fit more in the true crime or fictional detective category? Is your love story a traditional romance, or does it fit more under the women’s fiction heading? Knowing what you’ve got to sell will help you pinpoint what you have to do (and where you have to go) to sell it.

 2. Is there a market for it? If so, who and where is that market?

Once you know what you’ve written, you need to decide who would read it. Is your audience both men and women, or are only women likely to purchase it? Are there targeted niche audiences for your book? If so, where can you best reach them? Be ready to discuss with your publicist who your audience is and where you’re willing to go to find them.

3. What kind of experience/expertise/knowledge do you have that can be used to promote your book?

Having a platform is essential for both fiction and non-fiction writers, especially when promoting your book to media producers and reporters. The platform has to do with you (the author), your background, and the level of expertise or recognition you have in your subject area.

Before you hire a publicist, ask yourself the following questions: Are you a recognized expert in your field? If not, would you be willing to educate yourself and/or work to establish yourself as such? What is it about your background and experience that makes you an interesting interview for the media? Are you willing speak, write, and blog about your book/subject area? Have you taken the time to develop a social media following and, if not, would you be willing to do so (or to hire a social media expert to help you)?

4. How much are you willing to spend on publicity?

Before you hire a publicist, sit down with your spouse or significant other and decide how much you can afford for book promotion. Review items 1-3 above and decide what will give you the most exposure for your type of book and audience(s). Decide if you’re willing to travel to speak, tour, and/or sell your book, and figure out how long you’re willing to do that. Plan to create web, blog, and social media sites for your book and estimate the expenses, both time and moneywise, for those.

Finally, create a budget that factors in costs for printing and shipping copies of your book, creation of promotional items (bookmarks, posters, flyers, etc.) website development and hosting, travel, hotel, food, etc., for signing and/or media tours, booth space fees, postage, advertising, etc. Also factor in the cost of hiring a publicist or other professionals (social media, graphic reproduction, ebook formatting, legal, etc.) you might need to help with your book’s promotion.

5. How committed are you to do what your publicist recommends?

I’m always surprised at how many of my clients do the groundwork for hiring me and then, once we begin their promotional tour, panic when they achieve some level of success. As many authors realize after trying to do it themselves, it’s extremely difficult in today’s noisy and crowded publishing landscape to get attention from booksellers and the media. It can take an experienced publicist repeat contacting and hours of follow-up and pitching to get a bookseller, reporter, or producer to agree to an event or interview for a client.

But, despite their desire for exposure, there are always a few authors who balk at doing appearances or radio and television interviews once they get them, which is frustrating on many levels. It can be awkward for a publicist to go back to booksellers and the media to say that a client is passing on an event after working so hard to get them to agree to it in the first place. It’s also time-consuming to have to revisit plans and goals with authors, who say they want publicity and then waver on following through.

Yes, it can be scary to be in front of the camera for the first time or, for some, to stand up in front of a group and speak. But a good publicist can provide helpful tips for overcoming those early jitters, and most authors agree that, like any other activity, they get better at it the more they do it. And successful authors know that without that kind of outreach, they would not be able to generate the essential word-of-mouth ripple effect that comes from continued audience exposure.

It’s a shame to waste opportunities, especially if authors have done the footwork and spent the time and money to get the hard-won exposure they need to promote their books successfully. Be committed to your book’s success, and if you hire a publicist, follow through on her efforts to obtain the promotional attention you seek.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/977641/

The Holiday Gift Guide for Feisty Writers

Do you ever wonder what to give your favorite feisty writer? It’s that time of year, and some of our awesome contributors have made gift suggestions any scribe is sure to love:

Marni’s Writer Gift Ideas:

the cover of Novel & Short Story Writers Market1. Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2018 is the only resource you need to get your short stories, novellas, and novels published. This edition of NSSWM features hundreds of updated listings for book publishers, literary agents, fiction publications, contests, and more, and each listing includes contact information, submission guidelines, and other essential tips.

Inside Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, you’ll find valuable tips for:

  • How to take your readers on a roller-coaster ride by mastering the art of the unexpected
  • Weaving foreshadowing and echoing into your story
  • Discovering the DNA—dialogue, narrative, and action—dwelling inside all memorable characters
  • Gaining insight from best-selling and award-winning authors, including Steve Berry, Liane Moriarty, Junot Díaz, and more

Why I love it:  I love this gift because it answers the age old question, “But where should I send my work?”  This is the gift that keeps your work from ending up in a shoe box.  Buy one for yourself while you’re at it.  Truly worth it.


2. Inspirational Book

Book Cover for Juicy Pens Thirsty PaperWrite and share what’s in your heart! Let SARK show you how. Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper is your non-judgmental witness, resoundingly supportive friend, and practical guide to the craft of writing and storytelling. For anyone who knows that a writer lives within them but doesn’t know how or where to start; for writers who need new ways to work past their blocks and be reinspired; for anyone who loves SARK’s wise words and art, Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper will help start the ink flowing and keep it going.





Why I love it:  Well, truth be told, I love every book by Sark.  She is the queen of giving you permission to loosen up, to play, to love the messy, juicy and joyful process that writing can be.  If you become a fan here are a few more: Eat Mangoes Naked, Succulent Wild Woman and Inspiration Sandwich

3. The Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

For those who want luxurious toting of their notebooks, papers and laptops…

The Editor's Tote by Dooney & BourkeThe Editor’s Tote by Dooney and Bourke

H 7.5″ x W 4.5″ x L 8.75″ One inside zip pocket. Two inside pockets. Cell phone pocket. Inside key hook. Buckle closure. Handle drop length 4.5″. Detachable strap. Strap drop length 13.5″. Lined.




Why I love it:  Well if you know me, you know I can be greatly cheered up with purses and totes.  I don’t know why but when I carry around my notebooks in this it makes me happy.  If you have a writer in your life who is equally delighted by pretty containers with straps, this is a lovely gift.  And guess what, it is ON SALE for the next 4 days!

4. Bonus Gift – Just for Fun

fun wall clock for writers

The Writer’s Clock at Café Press

Why I Love it:  It only allows you an hour to panic, then back to writing.







Melissa’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for The Anatomy of Story


The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby


This is the most comprehensive and practical how-to book for narrative writing that I’ve ever come across. It explores story from conception through execution, delving into character development, world building, thematic through line, plot, and scene construction. Truby’s concepts build upon one another, helping the writer understand their story from many different perspectives and thus giving them the tools to weave an intricate and cohesive web that will satisfy readers. And the best part is, this isn’t just for fiction writers—it’s useful to anyone who incorporates narrative into their writing, be it journalism, memoir, or non-fiction. While this book could be mulled over from time to time as ideas develop, it also includes a workbook format where the writer can do the work as they progress through each chapter. The writer(s) in your life will be forever indebted to you for this gift and—let’s be honest—there’s no shame in treating yourself to this one too!


Karen’s Writer Gift Idea:

an index card that says the gift of 5 hours for writing


The gift of time to write.

That’s all I want in this crazy season. My shelves are full of books on how to write, I have very nice bags to carry 10 copies of my latest, a laptop, pens, three spare unfilled composition books. There’s one thing missing…



Paula’s Writer Gift Idea:

book cover for Big Magic


Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear 

Here’s why I recommend it:

Big Magic grants authors and artists permission to create free of fear (or maybe in concert with it). I especially liked the early sections on the distinction between being a genius and having genius pour through you (the latter reflects the true nature of the artist) and how ideas can get sidetracked and, if they’re set aside too long, lost (been there myself recently). But, Gilbert argues, even if these ideas go away from you, they often appear elsewhere, pursued by others in a concept known as multiple discovery.

Fascinating and liberating, this book celebrates the joy of creating and gifts all authors and artistic types with the knowledge that it’s okay to just do the work, no matter the experience level or eventual outcome. Highly recommended, not just for authors, but for all who yearn to be creative explorers.

Marijke’s Writer Gift Ideas:

an open moleskine journal with drawings and writing in it1. Moleskin Journals


I’ve tried a LOT of journals and finally settled on the plain moleskin journals.  They are the perfect size to carry with me.  I have taken them on all my retreats and now have a collection, one for each retreat I’ve been to.  These are marvelous to mine for content later.


2. Watercolor pencils

water color pencils


These are so fun for adding pictures to my journals.  I find that it helps me relax and pay attention to my surroundings when I add a little color to my journal notes






3. The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language by Natalie Goldberg.

book cover for The True Secret of Writing



This book captures what I think are essential components of my own writing practice, which Natalie distills as this: Sit. Write. Walk. It encourages us to dig a little deeper to “mine the rich awareness in your life, and to ground and empower yourself.”





Danielle’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. Out of print clothing

old t-shirt


I wear a lot of t-shirts. They are part of my personality and feature anything from interesting designs, to bands that I love. Lately I’ve started to add both bookstore and book t-shirts to my collection. This site has a whole host of book-themed gifts, whether it be a t-shirt with Frederick the Mouse or a scarf with Edgar Allen Poe-ka dots.






2. Book darts

book darts


I choose to read physical books simply because I spend most of my days and nights in front of a screen. I have also attempted to curb my book spending, so I’ve also been borrowing a lot of books from the library. Book darts are the absolutely perfect way to mark specific passages in books. If you’re reading a book you borrowed for the library for book club, you can “dart” your way though it and remove them all prior to returning the book. Book darts are thin, neat looking, and removable. I’ve already blown through two tins. So worth it.

3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art book cover




The War of Art is my writing bible. Pressfield tackles one of the greatest nemesis of writers around the world – resistance. When I’m wrestling with the demons of resistance I reread the final paragraph of this book (which is marked with a book dart in case you were wondering) “Creative work is not a selfish act or a need for attention. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us all you’ve got.”



Lisa’s Writer Gift Ideas:

  1. 1. Book Map

book map


These are fun, beautiful pieces of artwork featuring landmarks from literature in a single city map. Fun to stare at during those brainstorming sessions! They also have TV and movie maps, for those who don’t just love books…






2. Storymatic:

picture of storymatic game


Literally a box of writing prompts. These have gotten me out of many a writer’s block jam, and there is a booklet of fun group games, too!





3. Dragon:

dragon software box


This is a software program for taking dictation, which is the fastest way to get words on the page, whether they are notes, prose, blogs, or whatever pops into your brain. It also learns to recognize words and spellings you use often, including proper names. Think of all the brilliance you’ll be able to get out when the words move as quickly as your imagination! (Note: this is the PC version. They have it for Mac as well, but it’s more expensive for some reason.)

Writing with Intention: How Understanding Why You Write Can Help You Sell

a neon question mark in a graffiti-filled tunnelI recently spoke with a potential client who has written a nonfiction guide to help parents recognize the signs of late speech development in their children. Besides being articulate and able to clearly describe the book’s content and its audience, this author was particularly succinct about what she was looking for in the way of publicity. “I want to reach as many parents, teachers, and pediatric health professionals as I can about how to recognize the signs of speech and language development issues in children,” she said. “I also would like to cast as wide a net as possible via the media, so that parents and pediatric associations know about the information in my book and how it can help them.”

This particular client’s clarity about her goals is similar to having a corporate mission statement, which many companies use to provide vision and direction to their employees. When a company has a clearly written mission statement, employees can use it to tune in to upper management’s expectations and determine how they fit with the corporate mission. They can more easily grasp the company’s purpose and who its customers are, as well as develop a better sense of how to serve those customers.

Likewise, having a clear sense of the purpose your book serves and what you’d like to do with it can be very helpful to you (and the marketing professionals you might hire) when it’s time to promote your work.

In New Age circles, pundits call this sense of clarity and direction working with intention. When we work with intention, i.e., when we’re clear about why we’ve written something and understand its value to others, not only does the work flow more easily, but we are much more likely to be able to correctly describe and promote it.

The intention behind a written work can take many forms. Some authors intend to write books that are instructive or informational. Others write to entertain.

Some write because they feel compelled to do so, or because a certain storyline keeps playing over and over in their heads and they want to capture it in written form.

Some write to heal, as is often the case with memoir. Those who keep diaries or journals may do so as a means of knowing themselves better.

Many authors write because they love language or because they like playing with ideas. Others use writing as a way to develop a community connection, through meetings with other writers and the readers of their work.

Some write to document family history for future generations, while others do it purely for pleasure, as a way to pass blocks of time.

But no matter what the reason, it helps to know why you’re writing, so that when the writing is done—be it a novel, a short story, a nonfiction guidebook, a memoir, or a collection of poems—you’ll better understand it’s purpose and intended audience. This understanding makes it easier to pinpoint what you need to explain that purpose and reach your audience which, in turn, will help you make decisions about how you’re going to promote your work.

So, before beginning your marketing efforts, ask yourself, “Why did I create this piece?  What is its purpose? Who is my book written for, and how will it help those who read it?” Write down your answers; they’ll help you understand your original intention and determine what you need to do now to sell it.


Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Top 25 Ways to Promote Your Book This Fall

Orange and Red leaves of Fall Foliage

It’s that time of year when the kids are heading back to school and the rest of us are making plans to get out and enjoy the last warm days of summer.

With the change in season and return from vacations (hopefully tanned and rested!), it’s time to get serious about promoting your book again. Whether you’re a first-time author or a seasoned pro, there’s still a lot to do in the way of footwork to ensure that readers know about and remain aware of your book.


Here are a few tips for getting back out there and promoting your book this fall:

  1. Speak at conferences and special events
  2. Sign up for book fairs, street fairs, and fall festivals
  3. Submit your book to traditional and online book reviewers
  4. Contact your local library to schedule an appearance
  5. Submit your book to award programs
  6. Apply for artist residencies and fellowships
  7. Contact blog sites related to your book and set up a blog tour
  8. Attend a writers conference near you
  9. Join a book promotion group (Can’t find one? Start one yourself!)
  10. Contact local schools about speaking
  11. Start a blog, guest blog on other sites, or beef up your own blog
  12. Write articles about your subject matter
  13. Update your website
  14. Use social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to update fans about your book
  15. Upgrade your promotional giveaways
  16. Set up consignments at local stores and check up on those who have your book on display
  17. Create an FAQ or Q&A sheet
  18. Get new testimonials from recent readers
  19. Contact a book club and offer to speak
  20. Wear a t-shirt with your book cover on it to the gym, grocery store, bank, etc.
  21. Make business cards with your book cover on them and leave them everywhere
  22. Create a car magnet sign highlighting your book and where to order it
  23. Donate your book to charity auctions
  24. Write a press release about something recent that’s happened with you and your book and post it on the free wire service websites
  25. Volunteer your time for a worthy cause (a great way to help others and let them know about you and your book at the same time!)

You get the idea… there are lots of opportunities out there and lots of ways to make yourself known. Happy promoting, and happy fall!

Photo Credit: negativespace.co/autumn-fall-path-forest

What Makes a Good Memoir?

a book with a landscape popping out of it.As a publicist, I’m sent books of all genres by authors interested in my services, but lately, I seem to be on the receiving end of a lot of memoirs. I’ve also spoken to a higher-than-usual number of memoir writers, who either telephone or approach me with questions at writer’s conferences. The bulk of these conversations has to do with why their memoirs aren’t selling and what the authors can do to make them better.

My first suggestion for all memoir writers is to take a look at their market and identify the different types of people who would want to read their book. This is tricky, for while many memoir writers have done a good job of detailing certain aspects of their personal history, a number of them have not thought about who might be interested in reading what they’ve written.

A lot of memoirs I’ve seen recently are nothing more than personal recountings of an individual’s experiences—some of which are, indeed, memorable. But I’ve found that a great number of memoirs contain information that might only be interesting to the author. In this category, I include stories about having a child out of wedlock, rescue missions by health care workers, struggles with family members over an elderly relative’s care, vacations or trips abroad, collections of stories that the author told his/her children while they were growing up, or collections of a family member’s letters from World War II. Although engaging and, occasionally, entertaining, books with these topics typically focus on material or experiences that a number of us have already encountered in our own lives. And, thus, because we readers are familiar with the situations ourselves, stories like these don’t always make interesting reading.

So, what makes a compelling memoir? To become a bestseller, a memoir must have a strong storyline. That means that there is a beginning, middle, and end to the events recounted in the book. Examples of breakout memoirs with clear timelines are Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, where the author, Danish baroness, Karin von Blixen-Finecke, describes the political and emotional barriers she faced while trying to build a coffee farm in Kenya. Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas, the rebellious and flamboyant Cuban poet and playwright, also falls into this category. He describes both his early years as a homosexual artist under the Castro regime, including his imprisonments and escapes, and his last days as an exile in the United States.

Successful memoirs also have compelling or distinct characters in them. Just like fiction, a good memoir will introduce the reader to individuals who are memorable and, sometimes, highly unusual. Examples include Augusten Burrough’s mother, Deidre, and her unorthodox psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, in Running with Scissors, or the sadistic mother in A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer.

Often, as in fiction, the individuals in a memoir will be sympathetic, so that readers strongly identify with them. This is particularly true of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, who begins her book by depicting herself in a heap on the bathroom floor, devastated by a recent divorce, or Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, who lost her husband to a sudden heart attack and shares the aftermath with the reader in a way that is heart-wrenchingly honest.

Another reason for the success of these two memoirs is the fact that they both tell love stories. In Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert begins the memoir with the loss of love (after a failed marriage) and then ends it with the start of a new relationship with the man who would eventually become her next husband. Likewise, Didion recounts the significant moments of her marriage to her husband, John Gregory Dunne, as she describes her attempts to grapple with her grief at his passing. These two books are skillfully written, with clear, strong voices and brave directness, and both authors draw painful moments with great tenderness.

People in successful memoirs often face situations with high stakes consequences and experience an emotional trajectory, or arc, whereby the individuals are changed somehow at the end of the book. Many memoirs have to do with the author or a parental figure teetering on the brink of alcoholism (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller), destitution (Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt), poverty and spousal abuse (All Over but the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg), drug addiction (A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey), cultural adversity (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver-Relin), and life-threatening adventure (Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer). What makes these books stand out above others is that in all of these stories, the authors or their loved ones faced extreme circumstances—incarceration, kidnapping, starvation, emotional abandonment, and, sometimes, imminent death—and somehow survived.

In addition to the victim/survival type memoir, there are celebrity memoirs, where the author recounts his own story as a celebrity or his experiences living or working with one (examples include Here’s the Story by The Brady Bunch star, Maureen McCormick, or Everything about Me is Fake and I’m Perfect by supermodel Janice Dickenson). There are also tell-all or insider memoirs, where the individual describes events in an environment that most of us would never have a chance to experience. Many of these are political in tone, such as John Dean’s Blind Ambition, the anti-Nixon tome published in 1976, or George Stephanopoulos’s All Too Human, which described intimate details about the first family during the Clinton administration.

The message here is that unless your memoir is something like the ones I’ve mentioned in this post, you might have a tough time selling it. That doesn’t mean that authors shouldn’t write memoirs—on the contrary, writing a memoir can be a wonderfully revealing and cathartic experience for the author and of great significance to family members and friends. But, to reach further audiences, memoirs that don’t involve a celebrity connection or insider information must have a definable storyline, remarkable characters, high stakes, and a great love story—or some combination, thereof—in order to experience breakout success.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/book-writer-read-landscape-paper-1014197/

Hitting the Wall

a gas station in the darkIn addition to being a book publicist, I’m also a business instructor at a local community college, an author, a blogger, a volunteer, a participant in a number of community and writing groups, and a wife and mother.

While I enjoy doing all of that, at my age (I reached the magic number 60 this year) I often find that sometimes, inexplicably, I hit the proverbial wall. Hard. No energy, no ideas, nothing.

This concept was driven home for me recently when I was headed back to my house late at night after teaching a college class and noticed that my car was almost out of gas. I drive a new Honda Accord and had never driven it before with the gas indicator lit, so I wasn’t sure how many miles were left before it ran out. I wasn’t near any gas stations and had no idea how much further the car would go. My two options were to stop and call my husband to come and bring me a can of gas or to wing it and trust that there was enough left in the tank to bring me home.

Sometimes we find ourselves in similar situations with our energy levels. We over-commit ourselves and pile so much on our plates that eventually, if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves suddenly drained of initiative, sitting on the couch for hours, staring at the wall.

But here’s the thing—it’s okay to hit the wall sometimes. There are instances in our lives where we just plain do too much, especially those of us who are writers in addition to being committed to our clients and employers, our families, our social and online communities, and our friends. Eventually, we find ourselves physically exhausted, psychologically drained, and out of gas emotionally.

And sometimes, this can be a good thing. Our bodies and minds are telling us, “Hey, time to take a break.” It’s as if the universe is forcing us into a cosmic time-out so that we can rest, rejuvenate, and get ourselves back out there doing all the wonderful things we do, including writing.

Something else I learned from that evening of driving my new car home on empty is that even when we may feel as if we’re out of gas, we often have enough in reserve to make it through whatever we’re facing. As it happened that night, I made it, maybe barely, and maybe with just fumes to spare. But I took a chance and soldered on and was able to get home.

So the lesson is this: Even when it appears that we have nothing left to give, we can get through it. the key is not to panic, to realize that our bodies and minds are giving us a much-needed reminder about self-care, and to trust that our emotional reserves will be there to see us through.

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/search/gas?photo=o8IfF0RUTTs


Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, view her website at www.paulamargulies.com, contact her on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or say hello on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

How to Develop a Brand Strategy in Five Simple Steps

Shining person in the center of a dark forest

Authors often ask me what is meant by the terms “platform” and “brand.” Simply put, your platform is all about you—the specific and unique experience, background, and expertise you bring to the table, in addition to the wonderful book you’ve written. And your brand is whatever images, words, and other media you use to make that platform clear to your readers.

The concept of platform is important when selling a book because it’s what the media, especially radio and TV folks, are most interested in when it comes time to set up promotional appearances. I once had a radio producer in New York tell me, “Paula, I don’t give a damn about this author’s book; I want to know about his background and experience. If he doesn’t interest me, his book never will.” This may sound a bit harsh, but it’s all too true in the world of publicity. If you want premium exposure for your book through traditional radio and TV, you are going to be the story.

And it should be a good one. Media producers expect authors to be knowledgeable or experienced in their subject matter, whether the book is nonfiction or fiction. If you have a compelling personal history, expertise in the industry you’ve written about, or an interesting angle to bring to the interview, then you’re more likely to get a yes nod from a producer trying to fill a radio or TV time slot.

Reporters and producers look for individuals who are unique, compelling, and entertaining as interview subjects. If you’re a celebrity or have notoriety in your field, the path will be easier. But if not, you’ve got to develop a platform and branding that will intrigue members of the media in order to maximize exposure for your work.

So, how do you go about building your platform? One way is to create a compelling brand that conveys to readers exactly what your platform is when they read, see, or hear it. I suggest that authors follow these five simple steps to determine their brand identity:

  1. First, pretend you are a reader of the kind of books you write. What kind of person reads books like yours? What does that reader look for when s/he buys a book similar to yours? How will s/he find it? Where will s/he go to buy it?
  2. Next, think about what makes your books unique or different from other authors who write books like yours. Do you have an unusual perspective on a topic? Do you specialize in a certain region for your settings, a certain type of character for your fictional hero, a certain kind of specialty or emphasis that appears as either the main content or theme in your writing? Tie this in with the reader you envisioned in step 1. What will s/he find compelling about what you’ve written? How does it satisfy his/her expectations and/or needs?
  3. Now (and this is the fun part), close your eyes and concentrate on at least four (there may be more) words that signify your particular brand. Think about what your reader is looking for, as well as what is unique about you as an author.

If you find you’re having trouble doing this, try instead to come up with at least four words that a reader might put into a search engine when he goes online to find books like yours.

For example, if you are a cookbook author who specializes in easy-to-make vegan crockpot recipes, your keywords might be “cooking,” “recipes,” “easy,” “vegan,” “crockpot.” You may add more words to expand your list: “delicious,” “healthy,” “vegetarian,” “food,” etc. You may have a particular part of your background that you want to highlight (“restauranteur” or “trained chef,” for example), so include those words too. Anything that is specific to you and your books can be considered an element of your brand.

  1. Once you have your keywords, write them down. Now use those words in every statement you write when describing yourself as an author. Include them in your bio, your website “About” page, your author description on Amazon, etc. You’ll also want to include them in any writing you do about your book, so be sure and use them in press releases Q&As, guest posts on author websites, etc. The more you use these words that define your brand, the more they will become part of your author identity, which will help shape your platform and make you stand out.
  1. Finally, do the same exercise for images that reflect your brand. What items come to mind when you think about visually representing your writing? What colors go best with the content and themes of the words you’ve chosen? If you have trouble doing this, take a look at books from other authors that are similar or in the same genre/category as yours. Once you’ve honed in on the right imagery, work those colors, images, and themes into your book covers, your website, your business cards and handouts, etc.

Follow these simple steps, and you will be on your way to defining the words, images, and colors that will send a clear message about your brand, and your platform, to your readers.

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/collections/154874/strategy


Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her at paula@paulamargulies.com, or visit her at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.