Self-Publishing Journey: Week 6

Week 6: Live Events & Blog Tours

So now we are looking at the dreaded side of self-publishing for most writers: self-promotion. Writers didn’t used to have to deal with this. Your publishing company would toot your horn, promote your book, and you could show up very humbly and sign for adoring fans. Those days are gone, even for 99% of traditionally published authors.

I have a bachelor’s degree in public relations, so I know what needs to be done in this field. I’ve read some good books and follow some blogs of other authors and their journey. Some things have worked for us, some have not. What I can speak to specifically is promoting a book for elementary and early middle school age readers. It is a very specific market, and what may work for an adult book won’t work for me. I have done dozens of live events and set up blog tours for my first two books. Here’s what we have learned so far.

Blog Tours

Blog tours are an entirely separate beast from live events. When “Why Kimba Saved The World” released, I spent hours (I mean DAYS) setting up a blog tour. I screened carefully to make sure that the blogger wrote about children’s books and posted reviews consistently. Nearly everyone who agreed to take part in the tour did their part. I think there were about 10 of them. I made some great connections that I still keep in touch with, and we cross-promote each other. As far as all of that goes, it was a success. However, I don’t think any sales came from any of those posts. For “Vacation Hiro,” I set up a smaller blog tour, mostly of the sites who had already posted on “Kimba.” For Book 3, I did very little blog promotion. My big targets then were already established readers through social media and my newsletter.

I did get many, many reviews posted to amazon.com from those bloggers, especially for Book 1. That’s nothing to sneeze at (more on that in a later blog), but that’s not really the goal of a blog tour. You are supposed to be getting in front of new readers. I’m not sure blog tours, especially for kid’s books, work that way. At least not the ones you can set up on your own.

Paying for someone else to promote your books is an option on the blog tour front. The Mother-Daughter Book Review site has very reasonable packages, and they have a fantastic reputation. But it does feel rather like paying for a review (something I avoid), so I have not tried their services yet. That may change in the future.

When “Max’s Wild Night” comes out in May, I will definitely be in touch with bloggers, but the goal will be for reviews. The same will be true of “At the Corner of Magnetic and Main,” but it will be a whole new set of bloggers because this is an adult book. How much time I devote to finding them is questionable. I’ve made many connections through LinkedIn with those type of bloggers because I knew this book would come out one way or another. As long as it doesn’t become overly time consuming, I’m sure I’ll be working on connecting with them. I’ll try to coordinate the posts around the release date, but I’ll know more what to expect this time. If there are some sales, excellent. Mostly, I’ll be looking for reviews.

If you think a blog tour would be fun, go for it. There’s no harm, but you have to judge the amount of time you devote to it.

Live/Face-to-Face Events

Live events are by far our best sales venues for me, but it matters where we go and how much we have to spend to be there. We have learned, the hard way, that spending too much for any booth or table space will leave us disappointed. If we are going to have hotel costs involved, we are not going to make money. Promotion is all good and fine, but if you don’t sell enough books to cover costs you are not making money. That is our goal. This is a business for us, not a hobby. My time comes at a price. If I’m busy with something else, I’m not writing. That’s one of the things that has to weigh into every decision we make about events this year. Some goodwill and getting yourself in front of the right people is okay. Just watch how much you put into that. After the last two years of live events, we have reached some conclusions.

  • The War Eagle Fall Craft Fair was by far our most successful event. You can read my blog about it at this link. We sold nearly 100 books over the four days we were there, met lots of new and excited readers, and didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for the space. We made a nice profit. Perfect. But it is only once a year. There is a much smaller spring fair (and we did reasonably well there too), but it may not be held this year. Large craft fairs like this are big on our agenda for 2015. I’ve kept my ears open and made notes on ones within driving distance. There are a couple in Fayetteville I will be investigating and maybe taking part in. People coming to these events are ready to buy something and are looking for unique items they can’t just find at their local store. Indie books are a great fit for them.
  • Targeted events can be successful—events that have some connection with your book. My books are about cats, so I got a booth at a local Cat Fancier’s competition event. Click here to read about that one specifically. Sales were very good and it was fun to be a part of, however, I paid for two hotel nights so all profits were sucked away. When it is held this year, I may go again, but I’ll have to suck it up and spend four hours on the road each day. This is one the CFO across the hall and I will have to debate. If he can come with me, that may make it worthwhile. There’s also the question, though, of whether it will be all the same people again. I sold a set of books to over half of the vendors with cats in the show. If they are all there again, I have a smaller new audience. These are the kind of things you have to consider before you dive in to something a second time, but targeted events are good to explore as long as the booth fee is not excessive.
  • Big conferences like the Arkansas Reading Association and the Association of Arkansas Librarians were major flops. It’s not so much because I didn’t sell any books, but the huge overhead costs and hotel stays sucked any profit away and cost us more than we made. My hope with both was that I would stir up interest in school visits. Just one would have made the cost worthwhile. That may still happen, but none so far. Librarians are also mostly interested in hardcover books that are on the AR list. My books don’t fit either category. These events were not worth the time and money involved. Big companies like HBJ can throw money at events like this (and they did, believe me), but we cannot.
  • Author events at libraries are mostly a waste of time. Folks go to the library for free books. I’m not knocking this. I am at my local library every other week with books and DVDs for fun and research. You might meet some new readers. That’s a bonus. You might sell a few books. That’s a great goal. The table is usually free. That’s always a good thing. You just have to decide how much your time is worth. I have sat at library events for hours and not had a soul even walk by. If we do any this year, we will make sure the library is big enough to draw traffic and be worth using time I could spend writing or doing other promotional work. At the end of this blog I’ll share an exception to the rule from a couple of days ago. Library events are on the “maybe” list.
  • Anything that has a mass garage sale feel or fundraising for something where folks are hoping to get treasures for a dollar are not worth the time. They want massive deals. They don’t want books. I’ve done a couple. I did sell a few books, but mostly to the other vendors. It’s not worth the time.
  • Book store events were a waste. I did one author signing at an indie book store when “Why Kimba Saved The World” released. No one came. Along with consignments (I’ll cover that massive waste of time/money in another blog), don’t bother with book stores unless you have a significant local connection. I may try to set up something at a local book store when “At the Corner of Magnetic and Main” comes out because it is set in our tourist town and has that draw and connection. Otherwise, don’t bother with bookstores. There are better ways to spend your time and money.
  • School book talks are in our hopeful pile. I haven’t chased this line of events too much because self-published books are not going to have a big pull with public schools. Early in 2014 I spent a day at a private school where I had worked in Houston. I was already in town for a family visit, so no hotel cost. The students and faculty know me. We had a great time, I talked to separate age groups and could focus what I had to say, and they sent home a flyer that resulted in excellent book sales. It was very successful, but every element to help that along was in place. Just to wander into a public school where they don’t know me or my books would probably not result in much. I have been invited to speak to the 5th graders at our local school where I substitute teach a day or two a week (though only with the prek – second graders). That talk would be totally about community goodwill. I doubt many of the kids would go out and get my books. Frankly, I’d probably donate copies to the classrooms. I already did that for one first grade classroom where I’ve spent a few days and there are advanced readers who are ready for them. This is definitely not on the “business” side of things, but it is personal and I think it’s still worth the time because it’s only a few hours and makes for community goodwill—and it’s just nice for the kids involved. Doing this beyond my own community would really take some consideration. As I’ve read from many other kid lit authors, don’t let schools take advantage of you. If you are a professional writer, your time has some value.
  • Workshops where I am a speaker is my big goal for 2015. I am actually a well-trained public speaker and have presented full-day conferences all on my own. As I continue to write and publish, I am starting to get some areas where I have knowledge and experience to share in this business. You know, like about self-publishing. I’ve become more involved with two groups in the Ozarks who bring speakers in for local conferences, so I’m watching how they make their choices. Speakers send them proposals. Who knew? Getting a packet of my own together and looking for appropriate small conferences to start out with is on the agenda. These events can pay well or not so much, but you will nearly always have a chance to sell your books. I’ve watched people come out of talks and go right to the speaker’s book table to make a purchase. It’s a personal connection. Again, big goal for 2015. Stay tuned!

One kind of live event we have not tried yet is an actual book release party. I will be doing a live book release event/party for “At the Corner of Magnetic and Main,” along with a Facebook/Twitter release event that evening. Again, because this book has a local connection I think we can have a fun party, and I can invite local friends, authors, and business connections we have in town from our Chamber of Commerce (we run a guest house too). We can have it right here on our property in our pavilion. Sales at the event would be great, but it’s more about goodwill and celebrating a book that has been in the works a few years and is set in our town. As long as we keep our goals (and costs) reasonable, it will be worth it. I’m sure you’ll hear more about all of this in September, when the big day comes.

Kimberling Library Author Day

Here’s a specific example of a live event that was worth the time, even if sales were not amazing. On Saturday the 7th I took part in an Author Day event at the Kimberling Area Library (near Branson, MO). This was the first time I had done it, but I knew they were hosting 40 authors, having guest speakers (including Roy Rogers, Jr.), and doing lots of promotion. I also knew other authors who were taking part. There was no table cost fee, and it only took us 45 minutes to get there, so there was very little risk if it was a complete bomb. I’d still have fun hanging around with my author friends. This event also was the kind of local goodwill that is worth taking the time for. I know people on the planning team and wanted to help make the event a success. We also learned that this library, which is really nice and well kept, is totally run by volunteers and gets no tax money. Definitely a cause worth supporting.

Kimba and Hiro's travel reps pose with the library sign. They were happy to get out and about after a few months off.

Kimba and Hiro’s travel reps pose with the library sign. They were happy to get out and about after a few months off.

I shared a table with my friend Gwen, so that make the day even better.

I shared a table with my friend Gwen, so that made the day even better. Check out her book, “Letting Go Into Perfect Love” at amazon.com!

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There was a nice turnout!

 

As far as library events go, this one was very successful. Dozens of people wandered through to shop for books. The speakers were well attended and enjoyed. I sold 11 books total, but that was more than many of the other authors there. We also had the oddness of three different people buying only Book 2, “Vacation Hiro,” because they liked the cat on the cover. That’s never happened before!

She is a beautiful cat!

She is a beautiful cat!

I can only hope they will love it and want to read the whole series. I got names for my mailing list. It was all good. We made a donation of a part of our sales back to the library. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Now, will I do this event again next year? I don’t know. I understand that they want to have a variety of authors participate for the same reason I may not do it again right next year—there will probably be mostly the same people attending next year and they want to see new authors. I will have two new books out by then, so that may weigh into our decision and whether they want me back. It was certainly worth having done.

Book Festival Events

One kind of event I have my eye on is something like the Texas Book Festival. The booth costs are high, but people coming to that event have one goal: to buy books. That’s where authors want to be! I was all set to attend the Texas Book Festival in 2015 and share booth space with a writer friend who has done it before. Our books would line up well together. It was all planned. But then they changed the date to be the exact same weekend as the War Eagle Craft Fair—our biggest sure-thing of the year. It was just too hard to justify missing it, and we might upset the organizer and have her give our booth space to someone else—they are hard to come by—, so I had to back out of the festival. But I still have my eye on it for 2016. I’ll have seven books to my name by the fall of 2016, if all goes as planned and the creek don’t rise, so it may be worth getting my own booth. I have family in Houston and Austin, so no hotel fees. This is one we will have to wrangle with in the future. I can envision Scott’s brow furrowing already.

Is there a Missouri Book Festival? I’ll have to look into that. The Arkansas Book Festival is more by invitation only, so I’ll have to find out whose eye I need to catch for that one, but that would involve a hotel stay. That alone may take it out of the running. This is another area to “stay tuned.” I’m sure more events will present themselves this year that we will have to weigh and decide on. No waste of money is our 2015 goal. We will be taking fewer chances, but we also may miss out on some good stuff. It’s a very fine line to walk, as it is with any business. Promotion is good, but it has to have a valuable outcome to make it worthwhile. We have learned a lot so far. We may have a long way to go.

Any thoughts to share on what has worked for you as far as blog tours and events? Share with everyone in the comments section!

 

Next Week: Book Release and Production Scheduling

I kind of skipped over this one because I had a live event to talk about, so we’ll circle back to that one—a subject I am up to my eyeballs in right now for “Max’s Wild Night”—next time.

Self-Publishing Journey: Week 5

Week 5: Where to Publish?

My answer to this is easy: CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (which are both amazon.com). There are other places (LightningSource and BookBaby are the two main others), but after we here at Serenity Mountain Publishing have evaluated what we have done over the last few years I see no reason to go anywhere else. I did have “Why Kimba Saved The World” up on other sites for a while, but I saw very little in sales (if any) from places like Smashwords and Kobo. Where you sell your book is different than where you handle the publication process, of course, but I am happy just having all of my eggs in one simple, manageable basket at amazon.com.

Many people, especially authors, are all into hating on amazon.com these days because it has such a corner on the book market. It is the big, hairy elephant of book sales. But why hate? My feeling is that I need all the help I can get as an indie-author, so I’m just gonna jump on that big elephant and ride it around until it no longer serves my purposes. We are always poking at other options, I read what other authors are learning in their own journeys, but so far nothing has been compelling enough to drive me away from amazon.com.

Amazon.com publishes two kinds of books as two separate entities.

Let me be clear: CreateSpace = print books     Kindle Direct Publishing = ebooks

My husband still has trouble with this and asks me questions about one when he means the other or calls it all amazon (maybe just to see the look on my face). They are linked, but they are separate files and book covers and set up.

Once your print book is formatted and ready, all you have to do is create a PDF and you are ready to roll. Setting up an author account at CreateSpace for your print books is not difficult. Block out a couple of hours and just go through the steps one by one. It’s better to start this set up before you format your book because there are set book sizes that are easiest to work with, and you’ll want to know what size you are going with before you start formatting. That’s one of those hundred decisions you are going to have to make. I made this error with “Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge,” and even being off by a few bits of an inch made things a mess that I had to go back and redo. Major time gobble I could have avoided. Things also get tricky with the book cover size and how to format that cover PDF so the spine fits just perfectly and the back text is centered. My cover designer has this art figured out, and I leave it to her.

The ebook account at Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a separate step. You only need a JPG file for the cover (there is no back of book like in the print version), and the book file will be a totally separately formatted MOBI or PDF file.

With both of these formats, you can update the files as often as you like. When I have put out a new book, I add the name to the “also by” section at the front of the book and “buy” links to the new books at the end of the kindle version. This new ebook won’t go out to people who already downloaded, but it will be available for those who get it from that time forward (or who specifically ask for the new version through customer service).

There is one exception to this. If you discover that there is some MAJOR error in your ebook, KDP may resend it to everyone who has purchased it. Yes, I discovered this the hard way. I made a minor edit to part of the “Kimba” ebook. Somehow, someway that was never quite explained, in the editing process the ebook designer managed to drop the first paragraph of EVERY chapter in the book. I only checked what I asked them to change and then ran a BookBub free promo where 14,000 copies of this awful version were downloaded. It was a few months later when I was going through to update all of the black-and-white photos to color ones that I noticed something wasn’t quite right. I’m sure you can imagine the horror when I realized what had happened. I think there were some tears. Yep.

Fortunately, this is such an egregious error that I was able to contact KDP customer service and they agreed to resend it. This took six weeks. All that time those nasty, missing-text copies were being read (and, amazingly, reviewed well). Sigh. Yes, this is a lesson in always double and triple checking everything, but it is also a lesson in the fact that amazon.com is willing to work with authors when the unforeseen, major errors come into play.

At this time, I’m a big fan of KDP Select. It gives me promotions for my free or discount days, and I get 70% commission on sales. I can also do some free days if I want without trying to trick the system. I do see some activity through the Prime lending library at about the same price that my normal commission would be, so it’s all good for now. Being a part of this program does mean that you cannot list your book for sale anywhere but amazon.com, but I’m okay with that. I never saw any worthwhile activity from other sites anyhow. This could change when we reevaluate again, but for now I’m happy.

I also love CreateSpace’s “print on demand” feature. I can order one copy or 400 copies or 4,000 copies. It all depends on what I need for upcoming events or sales through my web site. No more do you need to order 1,000 copies to start a print book. You can order and fix errors along the way (you are sure to find some) and then order more later on.

I’ll leave the how to make the most of your set up at both CreateSpace and KDP to other sites. I still go in and tweak stuff and add review notes and change categories on KDP to see if it changes my sales numbers. There are whole books devoted to how to make the most of these setups. Mostly what we have learned with that is don’t try to play it too much. Call your book what it is. Put it in the right category. My biggest problem with having a children’s book about cats is that I have the whole “Warrior” series and all of its forms ahead of me in the rankings at all times. They take up around 30 slots. I did, however, beat them all when I did a 99 cent sale on “Vacation Hiro” through BookBub.com and hit #1 for three days straight. Yay, best seller status! Fight it out fairly and sell your book for what it is, not something that has fewer items in the category because it might get you a higher ranking. You may show up earlier, but if you are not what those readers want, they will ignore you.

Be sure you set up an amazon.com author page, claim your books so they show up on your page, and link your kindle and print copies so they show up together on searches. Here’s mine, so you can see how it works. If the thought of all of this freaks you out, one of those book guides we talked about in an earlier blog will be happy to help or talk you through it.

Where to publish has been the easiest part of our analysis of this self-publishing journey. We are thrilled with where we are and have no plans of changing that. For now. It can all change in the blink of an eye, so we stay alert.

Next Week: Live Events & Blog Tours

I’m going to move this one up in the list because I have a live event over the weekend and can share that experience too.

Writing Notes:

Winter is supposed to be my productive time while the guest house and book events are quieter. A book I’m proofing for Pen-L Publishers is ready for the final go-through this week. “Max’s Wild Night” is heading to the editor next week and book cover creation will start mid-month. So exciting! I’ll begin formatting by the end of February. Max will have his day on May 1st.

I have also submitted my MG/YA biography on Betty White to a local publisher. My goal for a busy February is to reach 10,000 words on “Kimba’s Christmas.” I don’t have release for that scheduled until Octoberish of 2016, but there are plot points between that and “Slinky Steps Out” (April 2016) that need unwrangling. I am also working on vocabulary activities for all three Cats in the Mirror books for homeschool and classroom use. I’d love to explore creating audio books for them as well, but time may get away from me. Things just keep moving forward. Never stop writing!

And I’d love to have you join me at the Kimberling Area Library on Saturday, February 7th for their annual Author Event. With over 40 authors, speakers, and fun activities planned, it should be an outstanding afternoon. Come on down!

 

Self-Publishing Journey: Week 4

Week 4: Publish Your Book Like A Professional

There are two kinds of self-publishing authors: those who slap it together themselves for cheap and throw it at an unsuspecting public and those who treat their book as professionally as a traditional publisher would. I stand with both feet firmly planted on the second strategy. I take this publishing step as seriously as I took the writing step. Otherwise, what was the point of working so hard on writing it?

When I made this leap into self-publishing, it wasn’t without serious consideration. What I came to understand was that “Why Kimba Saved The World” was never going to appeal to a mainstream publisher. I just had to face up to that fact. The real photos in the book (which some readers love and others don’t) made it different. I’d never published a book before, so that made me an unknown variable. Without an agent to bang down doors for me, I could spend years submitting and getting nowhere. Probably not even getting read. If I wanted “Kimba” to ever see the light of day, I was going to have to do it myself, but I had no idea where to start.

It was now mid-2012, and self-publishing had become the easiest and least expensive it had ever been. I don’t remember the exact train of events, but I had connections with publishing experience from my years of freelancing. Through conversations with other writers and former editors, I was hooked up with a “book guide.” This is an individual who has even more connections, knows how the self-publishing process works, and can walk you through and help you create a book. I had never met Carol Hohle, but I had rubbed shoulders with her husband during the time I worked in Boston doing research and compiling “Blessings of Forgiveness” for the Writings of Mary Baker Eddy. Her help guiding me through the process was invaluable.

Self-publishing is rather like building a house. I remember my sister griping about having to make a billion little decision on the house she built years ago. “I don’t care what kind of hinges are on the kitchen cabinets!” Creating a book is the same way. You need to be clear on exactly what you want the final product to look like and make lots of little decisions along the way.

What size will the book be? What size font are you going to use? Which font? How large are your margins going to be? What will the chapter beginnings look like? That’s not even touching on what the cover will look like. Don’t forget the text on the back of the book. Hugely important! Then there’s the whole process of getting the book set up on CreateSpace and KDP—just the business end of things. It can be overwhelming, but it has to be done right. A good book guide can walk you through the whole thing.

As we have evaluated the costs associated with the production of my first three books, we have already made some changes to move things in-house. That can save on cost, but I would only do this if I felt the end product would look as professional as it did in other hands. There were MANY discussions, and Scott and I didn’t always agree. There are some corners I refuse to cut, no matter how much he sighs.

Carol was heavily involved in both of my first two books, but by Book 3 I was ready to take on some of that on my own. Frankly, I had to. Formatting using InDesign is a time-consuming process, so it’s expensive to pay someone else to do it. Knowing that we are in this for the long haul, we decided to get a subscription for the whole Creative Cloud package (which also got us the invaluable AdobePro system). As a teacher, I can get it at a great price. I also use InDesign to create flyers and table toppers and ads, so it is a really useful program for the business of creating books and marketing them.

There is one point in the process I will never take in-house. You will hear it said from one end of self-publishing to the other, and I won’t be any different. DO NOT CREATE YOUR OWN BOOK COVERS!!! Unless you have serious cred as a graphic designer and artist, do not do it yourself. This is self-publishing suicide. Readers absolutely judge a book by its cover. It’s what attracts them and gets them to pick it up (click on it) instead of the million other books wafting by. I will pass up a freebie if the cover is for crap. And, sadly, I’ve done this more than a few times. To me, it sends a message that the inside will be for crap as well. That may not be true, but I’m a consumer, just like the rest.

I could write a whole blog on cover design, but that’s not my goal here. You can do your own search on that. My point, for my purposes in this series, is that we are not considering taking cover production in-house even though it is now the most expensive part of the production process for us. It is just too important to take a risk on. Scott is not always in agreement on this one. He really wants me to learn how to use all the programs I now have access to through Creative Cloud. For me, it’s not worth my time – also suspecting that I’ll just end up back with my cover designer to help me clean it up.

As I said, what I have started doing is formatting the text through InDesign on my own. This cuts $1,500 to $2,000 off the production costs. It takes weeks to do, and I messed up the book size on “Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge” and had to go back through the whole thing. Lesson learned. For me, this was still worth it because the CFO across the hall was ready to put on the brakes on Book 3 for a while. I had to do whatever I could to keep that from happening.

There are lots of ways you can format a book. Word documents can be downloaded to amazon.com. Scrivener has its own system of ebook formatting. Writers I know sing this program’s praises to the moon. Be sure you check it out. I’ll be looking into that more myself in the future. I spend a few hundred dollars having someone create my ebooks, so that program might be helpful. Here’s where the books I am specifically creating are different than adult books or some kids books. I need genuine formatting.

For my Cats in the Mirror books (and Max’s companion book, now in the works) I wanted specific fonts and have fancy chapter beginnings with an icon photo next to the number. There are photos inserted throughout. My books need to be genuinely formatted in a system that will make them look exactly how I want them to look. This was beyond important to me. I wanted to sit on the shelf next to a traditionally published book and look just the same, if not better. Do a “look inside” at amazon.com to see what I mean.

For example, when we first got the ball rolling, Carol asked me what books I thought my books were like. Which books did I want them to look like? After doing some research, I settled on the Humphrey the Hamster series. The cover was like what I had in mind—a real photo mixed with cartoon elements—and it was for the same reading level. That decision drove everything else from the size of the book to the font we used. It helped my cover designer know what style I was looking for.

Humphries

Can you see how similar the style is??

Rezised Facebook Banner Photo

Lesley Hollinger Vernon worked on the cover for “Kimba” with Carol as our intermediary. I never talked directly with her. For “Vacation Hiro” we talked directly to save on time/money. For Book 3, Carol was not involved, but I still went right to Lesley. Developing that relationship and understanding of the style of a series is HUGE! Book 1 went through several stages of cover design and changes to background color and animation. Book 2 had a few changes from the first proof to the final. Book 3 was almost perfect from the first draft. We just tweaked it a bit for color and minor details. We have developed a style for the series, and it never occurred to me to go with anyone but Lesley for Max’s book this spring. Finding that person for your cover design is huge. Don’t skimp on it. I absolutely know that I have sold paperback books, often all three as a set, without the books even being opened. I can talk about the plot, but the covers sealed the deal and sold them. That’s what you need!!

So, in our final analysis, going with a book guide was right for us. Carol saved me tons of headaches and redos, especially in dealing with CreateSpace. But as we have learned and progressed, we were able to take on everything she was doing for us. You may be happy to leave all of that in someone else’s hands. That’s okay too. For us, it was really financial. Carol was worth the money, we just didn’t have it to spend. And, I have to admit, I enjoy doing the formatting myself. I am a proudly professed control freak. I love making little final tweaks to the text as I move it from Word to InDesign. I’ve even changed words so they fit on the page better (never hyphenating words is a decision we made on Book 1). I can end up with everything exactly how I want it. That’s a move I’m glad we made.

Over the next year, I’d really love to learn more about the ebook formatting process and making changes to what is already done. I love the ones I have, and it’s not terribly expensive, but making updates when a new book comes out can add up. It’s also somewhere that design is not really an issue. I’ve already done that. There’s just technology to be learned. I doubt I will have the time to do that before “Max’s Wild Night” is ready to go, but I’ll be poking at it to update the Cats in the Mirror books with links to the new book. Maybe I can figure it out!

There are a hundred ways you can produce your book (ebook or paperback or hardcover). Plot it all out well. Consider everything along the way. Again, are you hoping to make money from this process? You are going to have to take it all as seriously and professionally as a traditional publisher would. You are establishing your reputation as writer and as a self-publisher. Give it 100%.

Do you have a book guide or a cover designer you would recommend?

Next Week: Where to Publish

 

Self-Publishing Journey: Week 3

Week 3: Set Your Goals And Expectations

So now you have honed your writing skills (week 1) and written a fantastic book (week 2). Here’s where you need to decide what your long-term goals and expectations are for this masterpiece. We did that at the start, but instead of goals they were really more like hopes and dreams. We hadn’t taken the time to do research and determine what we could realistically expect. Most of the stories writers hear are the “lightning in a bottle” ones. If your goal is to be that writer, you will end up highly disappointed 99.9% of the time.

You need to be clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you hope will come out of it. This is where the creative hat needs to be set aside and you need to become a publisher—assuming you want to make any money. A business person. I have run my own business before, so I had some experience with this. My husband has been a CFO, so he rules with a loving-but-practical fist from the office across the hall from me. We weren’t just publishing a book or a series of books. We were creating a business, and it needs to end up being profitable at some point. Otherwise, I can just write articles for magazines.

So, in this new business of self-publishing, what are your goals?

Traditional publishing is still an attainable goal. Maybe you want to exhaust that option first. But it isn’t what it used to be. If you think you really want to go that route come hell or high water so you can have a book tour and tons of money and publicity pouring into the promotion of your book, think again. Obviously, publishers have a vested interest in promoting and supporting every book they produce, but, unlike in decades past, they are going to expect most of that work to come from the author. Publishing staffs are limited. Funds are limited. Only the top few books that come out of that publishing house that year will get most of that staff and financial support.

This is why it is increasingly hard to get the attention of a traditional publishing house. They only want bonafide, sure-thing success. I did attempt that route for a bit with “Why Kimba Saved The World,” but I don’t have an agent to fight for me (and I’m not sure that would have helped). I don’t have proven main-stream success. My book is different and has personal pictures in a science fiction story. What’s a traditional publisher to do with that? The odds were highly stacked against me.

Self-publishing is a fantastic way to go, but you need to be clear about what you expect from the experience. What kind of book have you written? Does it have mainstream appeal? Have you written an autobiography so your family can know your history? Do you think you have the next amazon.com bestseller? Who is your target market? How many books a year do they buy? Where are you going to sell and market this book? How padded is your checkbook?

There are literally millions upon millions of books listed on amazon.com. A larger and larger percentage are self-published (31% was a number I saw recently), with varying levels of skill and talent. It is possible, with very little difficulty, expense, or computer literacy, to self-publish your life story. That’s outstanding, unless you expect to make a million dollars selling it. Expectations here are everything. Set realistic goals.

This is where reading up on self-publishing is a great idea. I’m in the middle of reading Write, Publish, Repeat, written as a team by well-experienced self-publishing authors. They are hilarious to read, first of all, but also able to share their success and failures—rather like I’m trying to do now. You need to know what you are getting into. I’ve read a bunch of books on the subject. Some are helpful, some are pie-in-the-sky.

My hopes and expectations for self-publishing were that I could get my books into reader’s hands, cover my costs in the first two years, and actually make a profit after that so I could quit my day job, so to speak. My long-term goal is to have writing be my sole income source. That may not be how seriously you are looking at diving into it, but, as I said in past weeks, I have been writing and making income from writing for years. I was ready to kick it up a notch.

However, I must admit that I’m glad I had not read the statistic that self-published middle grade level books are the absolutely hardest to sell when we started this journey. My husband would have certainly put on the brakes. I didn’t intentionally write a book for that audience. That’s how the story evolved. You have to go with your heart, but when you are setting goals it’s also good to know what you are up against. I guess. But I’m glad we didn’t.

I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself, but that has happened a lot over the last few years. When those hopes and dreams are bubbling out of you, it’s hard to even hear the realities of the business side of things. Do your best to find out the facts, but don’t let them govern your whole experience. Just let them help make your goals attainable so you don’t end up heartbroken and frustrated a few years down the pipe.

While we have had good years so far, my dream is still a twinkle in my eye. The realities of it all have helped us to adjust those goals a few more years out, but we haven’t let them go.

Just to give you an idea, here’s my sales numbers for “Why Kimba Saved The World” for the last two years.

  • I’ve sold 424 paperback copies, mostly by hand/face-to-face at events.
  • I’ve had 46 copies borrowed through the Kindle Owner’s Library system.
  • I’ve had free downloads of 14,800 copies through amazon.com promotions.
  • I’ve given away 122 copies to reviewers, contests, and giveaways (like at Goodreads.com).
  • I sold many, many more copies of “Kimba” in 2014 than in 2013, which means sales are increasing. Ding! Ding!
Yay, Kimba!

Yay, Kimba!

If you have researched self-publishing, especially for middle grade children’s books, you’ll know that those are actually fantastic numbers. Many self-published books never sell more than 100 copies. But my sales have come at a price. “Kimba” cost around $3,000 to produce between editing, cover art, paperback formatting (which I now do myself), and ebook creation. The book has yet to break even financially. Don’t even get me started on the cost of some of that booth space for those face-to-face contacts. That will be a whole blog installment on its own. That doesn’t mean, however, that “Kimba” isn’t out there building a name for me, winning awards, and gaining a loyal fan base of readers who pick up my next book without question. That kind of book establishes you as a true writer. This is where writing a series, or at least more books, comes into play. Yes, those free downloads drive the sales of Book 2 and Book 3 in the series. More on that another week.

Sadly, I have not seen all of my goals come to fruition yet. I’ve adjusted some along the way. Yes, it will be a couple of years before I can hit up Scholastic to do a boxed set of Cats in the Mirror books. That dream is still a twinkle in my eye, but it is still a twinkle. You have to have dreams! Dreams and goals can intersect, but the goals should be more practical.

What do you really hope to gain from this self-publishing journey this year alone? In the next five years? Will you stick with it, no matter what? (I have a YES on that one in my heart, but financial reality is another thing.)

There are folks out there living off an income from self-published books, but it didn’t happen in a year. As I am doing, those folks wrote and wrote and built a reputation. Traditionally published authors have to do that as well. I know writers who give away their books all the time. Some just write because they love it, don’t ever hope to see a dime, and just want to share what they have done. Others are hoping to attract fans through those free books. Again, it’s all about your expectations.

Before you jump off the self-publishing cliff, take some time to write down exactly what you hope to gain from the experience. Will you just publish this one book? Are you clear on who it is for? Are you willing to set up booths at craft fairs, pay for advertising, accept honest (maybe bad) reviews, talk at conferences about your subject (non-fiction books require this), and step outside your comfort zone to get your book noticed?

There are many ways to go about this process of self-publishing. We’ll talk about the ways to actually create the book you can sell next time. Being clear on what you hope to gain from the process can help you decide what steps are next. Don’t care if you make a dime? Don’t spend $3,000 on creating the book. Easy-peasy. You want to make this a career? You are going to have to pay some folks along the way, buy some computer systems (like InDesign and AdobePro), and put some cash into it. I don’t regret a penny that we spent on “Kimba” because it looks fantastic and I learned so much in the process. I can do much of that work on my own now, but I would have had no clue without the help and support of the book guide I hired (thank you, Carol Hohle Communications!). More on that later too.

If you are hoping for that writing career track, spend a good chunk of time researching. Know the market for a book like yours. Make sure the title is unique. Make sure the book has something unique to offer. Find where you fit into the world of books and set your goals clearly. Be ready to adjust (I certainly have), but it help to know what road you are running down before you set off on the journey.

Next Week: Publish Your Book Like A Professional

 

Self-Publishing Journey: Week 2

Week 2: Write the Best Book Possible

For the second installment in my self-publishing reflective journey it only seems prudent to start with the most logical but often overlooked part of the business: You have to write a good book. It would seem like this goes without saying, but from what I have found out there in the indie-pub world it is a major problem. Just because you wrote it and love it does not mean it is good enough for publication. I’m not even talking about technical stuff and proofreading. Write a good story. Readers still want a good story. As I take stock of the projects Serenity Mountain Publishing has going forward, this is still our number one goal.

As with anything that becomes easy and inexpensive to accomplish, like self-publishing, not everyone doing it should be doing it. My husband and I have a running joke that at every event we attend selling my books someone will stop at our booth and tell us how she has a great book idea…if only she had the time to write it. Being a writer and producing a good book is not a matter of having some spare time. Actually, most writers can tell you stories about what they gave up to find time to write. Writing is an art. Writing is a craft. Writing is a business. As with anything else under those banners, someone who has never even dipped his toe into the medium and magically thinks he can produce a good book simply because he has a good idea is living in a fool’s paradise.

Writers don’t just write, they go to workshops to perfect their craft. They go to conferences to network and learn from other writers. They have their writing critiqued and edited and listen to beta readers and redo and rewrite until they think their heads will explode and maybe their hearts will break. Double that effort if the manuscript has potential to be really good.

If you have never published your written words (your blog doesn’t count), start out with some articles or short stories. Submit to literary magazines. Find a writer’s group in your area. Go to local and regional conferences and enter their annual competitions. Get genuine feedback on your writing. Mom and Dad don’t count. If you have an idea for a book, by all means write it. Work on it. But you should probably wait to publish it and put it out into the world until you are sure it is the best it can be.

I’ll use “Why Kimba Saved The World” as an example because it’s the best one I personally have. Week 1’s blog already established that I had the first part of being a writer in hand. I had been edited and critiqued and published substantially. I was a genuine freelance writer. I had the foundation I needed to take this story idea—about my cat being part of an alien race that communicate with the mother ship through the mirrors in our homes and maybe want to take over the world—and turn it into a book. This was also not my first stab at writing a book for children. I have a few still in my drawer waiting for the right time and story evolution to publish them. A picture book idea was declined “with regret” years ago, which depressed me at the time, but now I know that it should have been encouraging. I got a personal answer at all!

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“Kimba” started off as an early reader book in 2011. With over a decade as a reading-focused teacher and tutor, I saw a big hole in quality reading for first and second grade kids who are ready for chapter books. That’s what the first draft of “Kimba” was aimed toward. Simple story. Simple writing. Story wise, it was okay. There’s only so much you can develop at that level, but I was happy with it. Submissions began and went on for over a year. “Nice, but not right for our list” came from the two or three publishing houses who even bothered to respond. One agent agreed to read it but then didn’t feel it tickled her fancy quite right. None of this is uncommon, even for books that end up being huge traditionally published successes, but I was running out of options. Most publishers are closed for non-agented submissions.

So I revisited the manuscript and pondered its future. One idea that niggled at me was that maybe I should kick it up a notch for older readers. That would allow for so much more story development. A few weeks later I got back the critique results for “Kimba” from an agent at the SCBWI conference in Brazos Valley, TX. (If you write books for kids and do not know about the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, stop reading this now and click on the link to find out more!) She thought it was a cute story but suggested that it might be a good idea to develop it more for older readers. Ding, Ding.

My tweenage daughter wanted to take a couple of friends to Dave and Buster’s for her birthday party, so I armed them each with a prepaid game card and set them loose. Then I tucked myself in to a booth in the bar area and began to “what if” for Kimba and her story. This is a tried and true method for breaking writer’s block or helping a story progress. For over two hours, I just made notes. I imagined all kinds of side stories for Kimba’s character and developed what other characters she would need around her during those adventures. I filled pages of a yellow legal pad. When we walked out of Dave and Buster’s, I had ideas not only for a more developed version of “Kimba” but also for other books in the series. The titles for “Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge” and “Slinky Steps Out” came quickly afterward. Months of revisions and notes and rewriting followed. I got inspirations at conferences. My beta readers gave me ideas. It sat in the drawer now and then and rested. My editor got her two cents in.

By the time it was published, I felt that “Why Kimba Saved The World” was in the best shape it could be. That doesn’t mean it is the best book ever published, or that I wouldn’t tweak a few things now, but it was ready. It has been rewarded with predominantly good reviews (which is the best you can hope for), won a Bronze Moonbeam Children’s Book Award as “Best First Book” in the chapter book category, earned a Silver Mom’s Choice Award, and is Story Monster Approved by kids. Over 15,000 copies are out there in the world on kindle or in paperback. All that tells me that I’m on the right track, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t go through all the same dramas with the next books along the way.

Writing well should always be the first goal, and it’s a never-ending process.

A good book doesn’t just leap fully developed from the head of Zeus. Okay, there’s always that one example of lightning striking that everyone loves to hold to. I’m not saying it has never happened. What I’m saying is that I have attempted to read many, many self-published authors who THINK this is what happened for them. They are absolutely wrong.

Learn how to write. Get writing experience. Become a writer. Keep becoming a better writer. Professional actors still take acting lessons and have coaches. Professional singers continue to get training and work with teachers. Professional writers are exactly the same. Every book, every story, is a new adventure, and it needs the best you have in you.

Here’s the thing. If you are not really interested in being a writer and learning the craft, you are wasting your time publishing a book. It only gets harder and more demanding from there. We will talk about goals and target market later. If you are just doing a family memoir that no one but your kids will ever read, whatever. I’m talking about a genuine book. One that could be sold at Barnes and Noble on the shelf next to traditionally published books. If that’s what you want to produce, write the best book that you can.

I’d love to hear who supports your writing! My husband and family are always my first readers—and are happy being totally honest with me—and I pay editors along the way. Currently, I am a member of SCBWI, the Ozark Writer’s League, and an honorary member of the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop. I’ll make it to a critique session one of these days! Find the other writers and readers who can support your journey. Write the best book that you possibly can.

Do you enjoy face-to-face critique groups? Do you use beta readers? What associations, groups, and conferences have been most helpful? Who has supported and is supporting your writing journey? Share in the comments section below.

PS: My Word of the Week video for Stanley and Katrina is live. Max joined me for this one since his book is up next. Click here! It’s a great program to follow for kids at home or in a classroom setting!

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I also just finished proofreading a book called “Depraved” for Pen-L Publishing. Excellent! I’ve seen the cover, and it is fantastic too. An alternate title might be “Bitches Be Cray-Cray” because the characters in this book need some serious therapy. I’ll post the link once it is up.

Next week’s blog: Set Your Goals and Expectations

 

Self-Publishing Journey: Week 1

Week 1: Introduction

Starting off 2015, I’m taking some time to review the self-publishing journey that we have been taking here at Serenity Mountain Publishing over the last three years or so. When thousands of hours and dollars are being invested in any venture, sometimes you have to stop and take stock of the situation. What worked? What didn’t? What REALLY didn’t? As my business partner (my husband, Scott) and I makes notes and regroup, I thought I’d share what we have learned and hopefully help others who are in the middle of the same journey or wondering if they should make the leap. This is not going to end up as a book. There are enough of those. You can just be a part of our mental download and evaluation sessions after the whirlwind that started in 2012 when we decided to self-publish my first middle grade book, “Why Kimba Saved The World.” It is now Book 1 in a best-selling, award-winning series, so I think we made the right call!

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The Cats in the Mirror trilogy.

 

In case you have just stumbled on my blog, I’ll give a brief resume of what I brought into this journey. I’m not just someone who decided to write a book and throw it out into the world. I have been writing, well, for as long as I knew how to put sentences on paper. In 5th grade, a picture book I wrote won a contest at the University of Illinois. I can still remember sitting at my school desk and writing more adventures for those characters while friends waited to read them. I journaled and wrote poems (one was even published when I was in high school) and majored in Public Relations because it was in the Journalism Department and had the most writing-related classes. I really wanted to be a teacher, so I returned to school at the graduate level and earned my certification and Master’s Degree in Education, but I continued to write freelance and published dozens of articles in newspapers, magazines, and on web sites while I was teaching. For a year I wrote a column for www.religionandspirituality.com called “Spiritually Significant Cinema” and had the opportunity to interview some major celebrities. I love doing interview pieces! I’ve won first place in regional writing contests, and my self-published books have won international honors.

What I’m saying is that I came into this self-publishing world as a professional writer with some street cred, but that doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the business side of being your own publisher. We have stumbled along, very blindly at times, and taken advice that was both excellent and terrible. Based on the statistics and averages, we have actually been successful. Our hope is that by really taking a look at what has worked for us specifically we can have an outstandingly productive 2015.

I hope that you’ll sign up for my blog (on the right side bar) and follow along. I would also love to hear from you. What questions and concerns do you have? I’m not going to be researching and sharing what other folks are saying. This is all going to be my experience in the trenches and what I have found to be true. I must say, it rarely matches up with the “expert” advice we have gotten.

In 2015, I will be self-publishing a companion book for my Cats in the Mirror series as well as having an adult book traditionally published. I’m sure dealing with those two different ways of creating a book will spark many more blog posts for next year.

So stay tuned! I’ll be posting every Monday for the next several weeks. Blogs already on the agenda are:

Write the Best Book Possible

Set Your Goals & Expectations

Produce Your Book Like A Professional

Where To Publish/CreateSpace

Online Presence & Networking

Reviews

Contests & Awards

Book Release & Scheduling

Live Events & Blog Tours

Freebies, KDP, & Discount Promotions

Book Stores/Consignments

Keep Writing/Book Series Benefits

Best Resources & Support I’ve Found

What would you like to hear about? I’d love to have you share your experiences too, but let’s wait and add specific anecdotal comments to the post on that subject so it can stay focused and others can benefit more.

However, feel free to introduce yourselves and where you are on your own self-publishing journey in the comments section this week!

 

 

Holiday Sale 99 Cents Days

I hope this week finds you prepared for whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year! We are on the Christmas track of things, but our family has also established a tradition of having latkes — often on Christmas morning itself. We grew to love them from friends who are Jewish (especially during my husband’s years of working at the Jewish Community Center in
West Bloomfield, MI). My family loves them served with bacon, so it is far from kosher, but I think that’s what happens in a place like America. Traditions meld and form into something new. I’m all about any celebration that involves presents and food and family!

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My husband goes a little “Clark Griswold” this time of year, but it looks mighty pretty from the highway as travelers drive by.

As a holiday special, I have set all three of my Cats in the Mirror books for sale on kindle for only 99 cents each. That’s all three for less than the normal price of one book! If you still need gifts for the last few nights of Hanukkah or are looking for some Christmas gifts, I hope these fit the bill for you. The 99 cents special runs from December 20th – 26th, so if someone gets a kindle for Christmas you know what to stock it with right away. Click here to find all of my books on kindle at amazon.com.  

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Alien rescue cats for only 99 cents each. You can’t beat that!

My writing work was sidelined a bit this month because I have taken on a new position as a proofreader for Pen-L Publishing. I’ve gotten to know Duke and Kimberly Pennell quite well over the last few months. They are putting out my adult book, “At the Corner of Magnetic and Main,” in September. I have done freelance proofreading for a while now, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the team at Pen-L that helps authors put out the most beautiful and fantastic books possible. My first project for them was a mob hit mystery type book called “Copperhead Cove.” It was a bit of a rush job to get it all tucked in before the holidays, so I proofed 85,000+ words in three days. Whew. I’m grateful I enjoyed the story! And the cover is perfect too. I’m sure I’ll toot more about it when release time comes.

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Staying focused, I was also able to get “Max’s Wild Night” completed and off to the beta readers before the holidays, like I had planned. My husband has already had his say and made some good notes (which he says I fixed perfectly). This is the stage where I take another break from the book and let it rest for a bit while others have their chance to add their two cents. I’m really happy with how the story evolved and look forward to sharing it with you on May 1, 2015!

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Max is very excited that he is finally getting a book of his own! He wants to be more than just The Big Black Beast.

In January and February, this blog is going to take a bit of a turn and focus on sharing what I have learned in the last three years of my self-publishing journey. There are hundreds of books on the subject. This will not be like that. It’s going to be only about what I have learned and discovered along the way — failures and successes — in the hopes that it can start some conversation and sharing in the comments sections so we can all get better at this new frontier of publishing. Watch for the first blog on January 5, 2015, and one each week after that. Is there something you want to make sure I cover? Shoot me an email or share your thoughts in the comments section.

What am I currently reading? I just finished “The Story is the Thing” by Amy Hale Auker, and I just loved it. Here’s my amazon.com review (5 stars!), and here’s the link where you can purchase it directly from Pen-L Publishing. Another reviewer used words like “lyrical” and “poignant” and described it as a “love letter.” I totally agree. Highly recommend.

On my bedside table right now is “Washed in the Water” by Nancy Hartney — a collection of Southern stories that won Best Book of the Year from the Ozark Writer’s League. So far, these stories also hit that “poignant” spot. I also just picked up “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson at the library. It is a National Book Award winner, and I keep seeing it on everyone’s lists of best books this year, so I need to know what the fuss is about. I’ll let you know.

I have finally broken down and asked for a kindle for Christmas. My book budget is soooo tight (they know me by sight at the library), and I love all the deals I can get on books that way. My mom always gets me what I ask for, so I have been collecting freebies and fun-looking books to put on it. I can’t wait to start reading it all! I know I will always prefer actual books. I’ve shared my husband’s kindle for the last year (and boy is he grateful I’m getting my own), so I’ve done some reading that way. It’s just not the same, but it is time to step at least one foot into the more digital age.

I hope each of you has a joy-filled end of the year and take time to enjoy all of the little pleasures of the holidays amid all of the chaos it can bring. I know I’m really going to try this year. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Wonderful Winter Solstice, and a Happy New Year to you all!

Arkansas Reading Association Conference 2014

Last week was an interesting mix of writing retreat all on my own and face to face time with the public promoting my Cats in the Mirror series at the Arkansas Reading Association Conference 2014 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

We have a time share condo, so I was able to spend a week in the Hot Springs/Little Rock area for probably less than two nights at the Marriott for the conference. On Monday and Tuesday, I hunkered down and got 10,000 words added to my manuscript for “Max’s Wild Night.” Since I’m hoping to keep it at only around 24,000 words, that’s a pretty significant accomplishment! My goal is still to have a very solid rough draft going into the Christmas holidays so I can let it rest for a bit. January will be serious editing and revisions, and then it will be off to my editor in February and book cover design can get rolling. Dog lovers, Max’s book is really coming!

Wednesday through Friday, I focused on set up and sharing my books with 1,000 teachers and administrators from Arkansas at the Arkansas Reading Association Conference 2014. There were some issues with the vendor area of the conference that can hopefully be worked out for next year, but overall those attending were delightful and felt their end of the conference went really well.

Kimba and Hiro were thrilled to meet so many teachers at our booth in the exhibit hall!

Kimba and Hiro were thrilled to meet so many teachers at our booth in the exhibit hall!

Our exhibit table.

Our exhibit table.

With any conference, who you have staffing the booths around you is crucial. You will be rubbing elbows for many hours — a lot of which there will be no one walking by and you will have to amuse yourselves. I was thrilled to have great folks surrounding my booth and learned a lot from them about past conferences and other events in Arkansas and Missouri. We covered for each other, and all of that camaraderie made the no-traffic hours more bearable.

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Lynn Hawking from Quirkles had a wonderful conference. Two presentations and happy teachers. I’d never heard of Quirkles science units before, but the teachers who already use it just love it. You should check it out.

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Dustin Rhodes from Lego Education was very popular. Who doesn’t love Legos??

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Dustin gave me a Lego “story starter” set as a thank you for watching his booth for a while. Kimba was impressed that there were THREE white cats in the set. She now thinks Legos are very cool

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Kim Stilwell from the National Science Teachers Association was our conference expert and got attendees to stop and sign up for her free book giveaway. I caught them on the way out of her booth.

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Jennifer Blalock from the Rainbow Book Company kept us entertained with her different pricing options to lure teachers in. $5 a book or 75% off or Buy 1, Get 2 Free?

Andrew Clements was in the building signing his Charlie May Simon Honor Book “Troublemaker,” and I freely admit to having a bit of a fan girl moment when he accepted the award only 20 yards away from me. I’m also curious to check out “The Little Red Pen,” which won the Arkansas Diamond Primary Honor Book Award. If it is half as adorable as the authors, I’m sure to love it.

Overall, I’m not sure that expensive booth spaces at conferences like this are worth the investment for independent authors. Sales were decent and feedback was great, but financially covering costs is nearly impossible. Most of the attendees were more excited about the famous, national award-winning authors there — and rightly so. They’ve earned it. I can only hope to be like them when I grow up. A  great many seeds were sown with teachers and administrators who may want to schedule an author visit with me. That will be the saving grace, if any actually happen. What events are worth attending may have to be two blog posts in my January series on what I’ve learned about self-publishing so far. There are no easy answers.

On the “what I’m reading” front, “A Snicker of Magic” was great from beginning to end. Highly recommend for middle grade. I also finished “I’ll Give You The Sun” by Jandy Nelson. It was superbly written. Much more appropriate for an older YA or NA audience because there is some sex, though it’s most innuendo. Anyone hoping to write for that age group should read this immediately. I’ve already requested Jandy’s first book “The Sky Is Everywhere” from my library. Right now, I am reading “Daughter of the Howling Moon,” an adult book by a local author friend, Ruth Burkett. Enjoying it so far. You had me at shape-shifting into a jaguar!

Sunday was Thanksgiving at our house to accommodate my daughter’s work schedule. I have certainly worked my own share of crazy hours over the holidays, and the dogs she cares for don’t care what day it is. They just want her love and to be fed. Thanksgiving Day here will probably be full of writing — and possibly a movie or two from the DVR.

I hope each of you is blessed to have family around you and weather that allows you to travel wherever you want this holiday weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Washington County Pet Expo

November may be a novel writing month for lots of aspiring and professional writers out there, but for me it is promote-my-book month…okay, and maybe some writing in there too. That’s not to say that I have anything against the NANOWRIMO trend, but with the holidays and fall book events November is not a great time for focusing specifically on writing 50,000 words for most authors I know. There is also a JANOWRIMO group. That sounds much more realistic!

I will be putting in my own mini-writing push the week of November 16th. Since I have a booth at the Arkansas Reading Association Literacy Conference in Little Rock on November 20th – 21st, I am taking that week to hide out in a time-share condo and finish my first draft of “Max’s Wild Night.” Some of those days are full of conference work and prep, but I should be able to put in at least four days of 6,000 – 7,000 word counts. That should get me at least close to that goal if not crossing the first draft finish line. Doing something like this last year was how I finished up “Vacation Hiro,” and that kind of isolation and writing seems to work best for me.

For this post it also seems appropriate to comment on the Veteran’s Day Holiday at least a bit. My family has a long and proud history of serving our country’s military, all the way back to the American Revolution. Yes, I qualify for DAR status and have family members who have devoted huge chunks of their time to supporting that group’s goals. Maybe I’ll get more involved someday since there is an active group here in Eureka Springs. My grandfather served in WWI, my father in WWII, and both of my nephews are currently on active duty and have served several tours overseas in nasty conflict areas. They have earned having their feet on American soil this year.

Patrick Errett Welch, WWII

Patrick Errett Welch, WWII

If you know of a soldier who is struggling with PTSD, be sure to check out the work of my author friend Pamela Foster. What she has learned through caring for her husband can help families working their way through the same issues. Some of her books are hilarious, but others are serious and face the issue head-on. Highly recommend.

On Saturday, November 8, we took part in the Washington Country Pet Expo to support low cost vaccinations, micro-chipping, spay/neuter options, and pet adoptions from the local animal shelter.

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“Leia” helped me man the booth, but she mostly wanted to see the cute animals that were everywhere.

We quickly realized that this event was a terrible fit for selling books. First, all of the cats and their people were brought in a side door and scooted back out that way. Great for the cats to avoid the crazy room full of anxious dogs, but terrible for us hoping to share our alien rescue cat books with them. Second, every “vendor” there was basically giving away services. The crowd did not come to buy. We had some lovely chats with the people there and had a great time dog watching, but that’s about it. Wrong choices like that happen when you are exploring new territory, so we just enjoyed the adventure. Consider the table fee a worthwhile donation to a great event, the day a fun time spent visiting with family, and move along with the month.

Rescue Family Photo

I created this especially for this event, and it certainly led to many conversations about the joys of rescuing animals from shelters and from the streets.

Our "granddoggie" came to be micro-chipped. Dottie is a rescue from Oklahoma and is beyond sweet.

Our “granddoggie” came to be micro-chipped. Dottie is a rescue from Oklahoma and is beyond sweet.

This little doxie was ready to run the show for the book the city set up. Woof, Woof!

This little doxie was ready to run the show for the booth the city set up. Woof, Woof!

Ziggy kept us entertained all afternoon at the book for XXXXX. He even got a puppy tattoo!

Ziggy kept us entertained all afternoon at the booth for the Canine Design Studio. He even got a puppy tattoo! He was especially talented at sneaking out from under their table cloth to sniff passing puppy bottoms and then slinking back unseen. Silly Ziggy.

In the next two days, I will be putting together my quarterly newsletter so I can send it out before my trip to Little Rock. If you don’t subscribe to it, you should! I only put out four a year with maybe one or two extra quick ones if there is something extra special going on. You can subscribe in the sidebar here at my website. Easy peasy!

On the reading front, I am LOVING “A Snicker of Magic” by Natalie Lloyd. It is just purely delightful, and I highly recommend it. I’ll post more later once I have finished and done an amazon.com review. Readers who love a book should ALWAYS share that love on amazon.com!

I hope everyone across the country has warm coats ready to go. Here’s to hoping that you avoid the early snow and stay warm and cozy while the arctic blast whooshes its way through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

War Eagle Fall Craft Fair 2014 & Greenwood Writer’s Event

We had such a blast at the War Eagle Fall Craft Fair 2014! For four days (Oct. 16-19), a sea of humanity flowed past, and we sold more books per day than any other event we have ever done. Dozens of happy new readers signed up for my quarterly newsletter, and we had fun trying to keep track of how many people enjoyed my newest book title. About every 10 minutes someone would say “Miss Fatty Cat’s Revenge” and laugh as they went by. Glad to know they appreciated it, even if it wasn’t a book for them. There are apparently a whole lot of Miss Fatty Cat’s out there.

141016_0002It was sooo cold in the morning, and we had to get set up before the sun for the 8:00 am opening time. We could see our breath every day until 10:00 am! This photo is only day one. The next three days I was better equipped with a warmer coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. Brrr. Probably because of the chill, traffic was a bit slow first thing in the morning, but we stuck it out for the thousands of people who came later in the day. Scott found it funny that we sold a set of books on the first day before we were even set up and sold a set of books at the last minute on the last day as we were just getting ready to close up shop. You never know when that perfect buyer will wander by!

What was especially interesting at this event was how many people bought the whole set without reading a word. I give my fantastic cover designer, Lesley Hollinger Vernon, credit for that. The covers got folks attention and got them to stop and find out more. Yay! I lost track of how many bookmarks we gave out so shoppers could download the kindle version. The response was just overwhelmingly positive.

A couple of fun moments:

*one young woman stopped at the sign, squealed, and clapped her hands over her mouth because she was so excited by the books. She bought a full set.

*a second grade girl read a page out loud to her mom to do the “five finger” test and see if she could read it to herself. She did pretty well, and just got hung up on a couple of words. I had hoped to start at a 2nd/3rd grade reading level, so it was a delight to see I was right on target. You know, I don’t even remember if she bought a book. I was still pleased as punch to hear her reading it.

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This is the event this sign was actually created for, and it did its job 100% by getting folks to stop and read and pay attention to what we had to offer. A huge part of a fair like this is just getting the throngs of people to even notice your booth.

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We had a great location on the first aisle across from the bridge. This is a low traffic moment when I could actually step out and get a photo. All day, each day, throngs of people crossed the bridge between the three sections. Honestly, if you are just shopping, you think it’s all one big event.

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Across from our booth was a caricature artist named Dorinda, and when traffic was slow we enjoyed watching her create little works of art in just a few minutes. The reactions of the people getting them were priceless. What a great way to use your talent to bring some joy into the world! Also across the aisle was Regina Smith, a folk artist from Eureka Springs that we had never met. She left us with some bling for our booth, and Hiro’s travel rep thought it was the perfect vantage point to watch the crowds.

I made her spin when I got a little bored.

I made her spin when I got a little bored.

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Hiro thought it was much scarier than what Daddy did with her when he got bored.

141019_0010We were also just around the corner from the big food vendor section and had more food at the end of our row. It was perfect because nearly everyone gets some fair treats while they are there. We waited until the last day to indulge, which was good because I would have wanted more each day if I’d started out that way. On Sunday, Scott and I split a gyro and spanakopita. There was also the required meat on a stick, which was fantastic.

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Okay, this was an early morning snack, not really lunch, and I was still freezing. Honey teriyaki chicken. Yum.

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I’m beyond glad I waited until the very end of the last day to get a funnel cake, which they were selling at the end of our row with far too easy access. It was amazing, even though we were both covered with powdered sugar when it was gone.

The War Eagle Fall Craft Fair was well worth the time and energy that it took, and we are looking forward to being back again in the spring with one new book and next fall with one more new book!

Because there’s never a dull weekend in the fall, just last Saturday (Oct. 25) we were part of the Greenwood, Arkansas Writers Unite Event benefiting Autism Speaks. There were 14 student authors who had put together a book of their stories, “Helping Hands: Volume 1,” and the mayor came to give out awards for the overall winners.

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My spot was right next to my OWL and OCW friend Dusty Richards, and there were about 10 authors there overall.

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Dusty got his first photo op with Kimba and Hiro’s travel reps, and he pretended to be a bit startled. I think he has seen those stuffed cats a few times over the last couple of years.

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On my other side was a new author friend, Cal Davis, and his adorable picture book “I’m Just a Crow.”  Cal ingratiated himself to me forever by passing on his raffle win: a kindle case with cats on it. After determining that it was not quite his style, he shared it with me because, let’s face it, most anything with cats on it is exactly my style. I am even expecting a kindle for Christmas, so it’s a perfect gift.

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I’m grateful that the next couple of weeks are a bit calmer than the rest of the fall has been. We have a wedding here at the guest house, and there are a couple more book events ahead. Next up is the Washington County Pet Expo on November 8th. But I can see the winter and hours of quiet writing time on the horizon. Enjoy these last beautiful fall days!