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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Your Query Letters: Answering a Request from a Reporter


I think I've mentioned on this blog the value of using the Help a Reporter Out (HARO) service to get exposure for you, your business, and your book--maybe more than once! (Use the search engine in this blog if you want to know more about it!).
I'm pretty sure I've also mentioned using out-of-the-box methods of selling books, and I know I talked about selling books in retail stores other than bookstores in The Frugal Book Promoter. This post is a bit about using them all to help your book sales. It will also serve as a template for some kinds of pitches--especially when you're following up on a request from a contact.
Specifically I am pasting a quick pitch I used to answer a HARO call for information. It's really just an adaptation of a more formal query letter, but I thought maybe it would inspire you to be a little less formal with your queries and pitches and still provide reporters and others with what they need if they are open to featuring you in a story. 
 Notice that a pitch or query absolutely must be tailored to the needs of the editor or writer you are contacting and that, generally speaking, it shouldn't have the tone of a formal business letter. Notice, that I am answering this reporter's call for my favorite ways to sell books to retailers.

Elaine, I give lots of ideas for selling books in the multi award-winning book you see in my e-mail signature, and all of them are things I've tried myself. I know their out-of-the-box character is one thing that has kept this book selling for years, well into its second edition.

One of my favorite stories is how I combined my thirty years as founder and owner of a chain of retail stores with my newer career in publishing and, I have to say, that retail experience has surely come in handy.

You probably know how hard it is to get books into airports.  Here's how I did that for a novel set in Salt Lake City. It was published just before the Winter Olympics in 2001 and I knew that retail stores in and around that venue would be looking for tie-in products. Bookstore buyers do the same thing. That is, they look for merchandise that is current,  that will interest their customers and those who walk by their windows and down their aisles.

 

So, it's up to an author or publisher to finding an angle that will make the book profitable for whatever retail outlet he or she is approaching. The Salt Lake City aspect of my book was perfect for this occasion and so was the fact that the "cute meet" in the book was set on the slopes of Alta, one of the Olympics venues near Salt Lake City.

 
I targeted the chains in airports, but also the gift stores paying special attention to independent gift stores. (I sent query letters and sales packets first to the airports in Utah and branched out to other major airlines' hubs).  I offered buyers a package deal of twelve books that came with a free point of purchase display with an Olympic-Utah themed header card.

 

I sweetened the pot by telling buyers that if they didn't sell at least ten books before the Olympics, they didn't have to pay for the order. Every one of them paid, though I didn't see reorders from them all. I don't think it's necessarily the no-risk offer that is so important. I think it's that an offer like this is contagious. If the sales person (in this case, the author or publisher) is so sure of her product's appeal, the buyer or owner of the shop will catch the bug.

 

This particular sales technique once worked on me when I was in retailing. I was shown colorful little odd-shaped lollipops I never would have put in my store otherwise, but the sales person suggested we could sell them as tie-ons in our giftwrap department.  BTW, I explain this in a little more detail  in my HowToDoItFugally book for retailers, A Retailer's Guide to In-Store Promotions .
 
[I always include an offer to help any way I can with images (not attachments), more information, and a media kit. My signature gives several ways to contact me. I always include a phone number in case the reporter is on deadline. And, of course, always include a thank you.]

 

Once you have written a few query letters or pitches, it becomes a lot easier to write another. And I save each new query letters with a different focus that I write so I don't have to reinvent the wheel if that a similar query should ever be needed again.

 
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  Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .

Friday, July 18, 2014

Last-Minute Opportunity for Help with Any Letter--Including Query

Writer Advice wants to give you a chance to share a letter to a parent, child, spouse, lover, neighbor, civil servant, or even a query letter. We’ll send you feedback telling you the impression you’re giving. The deadline is July 18. There’s a $15 fee in exchange for the feedback. Those whose letters are published will receive a $45 reimbursement. Learn more at www.writeradvice.com. Click on the http://writeradvice.submittable.com/submit link to submit. 

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Breaking News for Publishers and Authors

I thought I'd let you know that this information will be in my next SharingwithWriters newsletter. I thought you might want to know about it before the issue's August release.


In the News:  The LA Times reports on that Amazon.com may be testing a new feature based on Scribd’s subscription model. For $9.99 a month what once showed up on the site as “Kindle Unlimited” would allow those who sign up to choose an unlimited supply of books including some well-known ones like Water for Elephants—a full 600,000 choices (many from smaller publishers) as well as thousands of audio books. It appears this program is still being tested. The LA Times does not say  how authors would be paid their royalties, presumably because “Amazon…did not return a call seeking comment.”  (See the flash below posted on 7/18 am.)
If you would like to receive each issue in your e-mail box, subscribe at http://howtodoitfrugally.com. The subscription box is at the top right corner of every page on the site. You will also receive a free booklet of Wordtrippers with your subscription.
FLASH! In my next day's e-mail box came this notice directly from Amazon: "KDP Select authors and publishers will earn a share of the KDP Select global fund each time a customer accesses their book from Kindle Unlimited and reads more than 10% of their book-–about the length of reading the free sample available in Kindle books-–as opposed to a payout when the book is simply downloaded. Only the first time a customer reads a book past 10% will be counted."

FLASH #2: If your e-book is already on Kindle's Select program, it will automatically be part of Kindle Unlimited. And, yes, it may feel a bit chintzy not to pay authors upon download, but I get that it's a hedge against cheating.  And, yes, I still think this is a coup for authors selling e-books on Kindle!

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Unsuspecting Authors Get Lead Into Scammy Marketing Schemes


 

When I was taking a class offered to UCLA instructors in ethics, my master professor (those who teach the teachers) said, "Leadership means ethics." He knew that wasn’t the dictionary's definition, but he knew it was a good start for his class.

I had taken ethics classes before—as part of my journalism minor and as part of a marketing class at USC. I didn’t really see a reason for another—this one with a focus on classroom ethics. My theory was that by the time we reach a certain stage in life, we’ve probably absorbed theories on ethics anyway. But as I began to teach new authors, I was glad to have this update because so many new authors get lead astray by what at first appear to be brilliant marketing ideas for their books. It’s a whole new field for us and we may be as starry-eyed as we are ignorant of the end results of our actions.

Authors often get lead astray because they are so focused on their passion—sharing their books with others—but when we look a bit more closely, many of these ideas smack of dishonesty at the best and are scammy at their worst. Things like, "If a library doesn’t have your book, ask your friends go into libraries and ask them to order one, you know, even if that friend has already read your book." This idea is not only unfair to the library but it deters an author from building a relationship with libraries on her own. 

Another one: "If you can afford it, buy a ton of books just before its release date so it will hit the LA Times or NY Times bestseller lists." In the early 2000s, one traditionally published author did this and got caught. The story hit national news and it was not a pretty thing to see—either for him or for the publishing industry.

Authors, like other celebrities, must lead by example. It's part of great branding and great branding is part of great marketing. This is such an important part of an author's marketing plan that I mention branding, ethics, and scams (author scams as well as scams perpetrated on authors) quite frequently in The Frugal Book Promoter.

On the other hand, marketing is part of the game. In fact, it's an essential part of the game.  As long as it's tempered by a good, strong dose of ethics, you can be a power marketer who does your writing career—and your book—proud. The reason at the lowest rung of the ladder that ethics are so important is Karma. Bad actions can come bite you in the butt. The reason at the highest run of the ladder is also Karma. You and your readers will reap the highest benefit when you do things for the highest possible reasons.

Here is a quote from The Frugal Book Promoter that I hope convinces you that ethics are important.

“I think the word "humble" is used far too often. The thing is, we should be proud of what we do. It's part of doing the right thing. Pride is the stuff that self-esteem is made of and by extension the stuff people (that includes authors) need to do good in the world. Friends may mean well when they preach modesty or being humble but they also may be exhibiting passive aggressive tendencies. In either case, it is probable that they don't understand the heart of a writer who usually only wants to share.”

It’s true. The more we "brag" (or "market") the more good we can do. The trick is, we must learn to do it right. It isn’t about us as authors or even about our books. It’s about the reader. If it’s clear to the people we target with our marketing (our future readers) that we have their interests at heart, we’ll be successful with it. They’ll be grateful. We’ll be happy we shared. Everyone benefits.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How Family History Can Be Used in Fiction

Much of my fiction and poetry is based on family history, geneaology, and family stories so I was pleased to see my friend Heidi Thomas publish using similar inspiration. Then it hit me: I don't think this blog has ever covered that subject. This is a how-to article from Heidi, but it's also a bit of a case study. Enjoy.
 
How Family History Can be Used in Fiction

By Heidi M. Thomas

Years ago, when I took a children’s writing class, the instructor told us that biographies of everyday women who did extraordinary things were popular.

I immediately thought of my grandmother who at age 17 and 18 was riding bucking steers in rodeos during the 1920s. That was a pretty extraordinary thing!

But my grandma wasn’t famous. She didn’t continue her rodeo career and she didn’t win world championships in bronc riding at Madison Square Garden or in Europe, like several Montana women.

I kept mulling over the possibilities of writing a book about her, and even tried to write some factual vignettes. But sticking to the facts was like being confined to a corral—I couldn’t go anywhere with them. Using my grandparents’ names and writing about their lives seemed too intrusive, too close to home.


The story went nowhere until I gave myself permission to write my grandmother’s story as fiction. Changing her name and asking “What if?” to fill in the blanks freed me. Grandma died when I was 12, so I didn’t know a lot of the details about her rodeo life. By speculating how she felt about the opposition to women competing with men, I could flesh out a character and a story that was engaging.

 
This idea that had been rattling around in my head for years turned into a novel trilogy: Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and the newly released Dare to Dream.


The first two novels follow my grandparents’ lives fairly closely, while I took more fictional liberties with the third. My dad filled in many details and gave me anecdotes, especially about their months-long trail drive in the 1930s to find grass for their starving horses.

The next book in my series will address another bit of family history—my mother emigrated from Germany after WWII. Again, the subject is too close and painful to write just the facts, so this has become a novel as well. It will become the story that “should have been.”

Family history can provide a trove of information and inspiration for novel-writing. Don’t be afraid to use it!

 
Dare to Dream Synopsis: Montana cowgirl Nettie Brady Moser has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles on the journey toward her dream of being a professional rodeo rider. In the 1920s she struggled against her family’s expectations and social prejudice against rodeo cowgirls. During the Great Depression, marrying Jake Moser and then raising their son took priority over rodeos. And then she was devastated by the death of her friend and mentor in a rodeo accident.


In the spring of 1941, Nettie, now age 36, is regaining her heart and spirit, and she is determined to ride again at an event in Cheyenne, Wyoming. To her dismay, the male-dominated Rodeo Association of America enforces its rule barring women from riding rough stock and denies her the chance to ride. Her fury at the discrimination can’t change things for women—yet.

Based on the life of the author’s grandmother, who rode rough stock in Montana in the 1920s, this sweeping rodeo saga parallels the evolution of women’s rodeo from the golden years of the 1920s, producing many world champion riders, and shows its decline, beginning in the 1930s and ending with World War II in 1941.

 

Bio: Heidi M. Thomas grew up on a working ranch in eastern Montana. She had parents who taught her a love of books and a grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos. Describing herself as “born with ink in her veins,” Heidi followed her dream of writing with a journalism degree from the University of Montana and later turned to her first love, fiction, to write her grandmother’s story.

Heidi’s first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, won an EPIC Award and the USA Book News Best Book Finalist award. Follow the Dream, a WILLA Award winner, is the second book in the Cowgirl Dreams series about strong, independent Montana women. Dare to Dream completes the trilogy.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR/BLOG POST GUEST
Heidi is a member of Women Writing the West and Professional Writers of Prescott, is also a manuscript editor, and teaches memoir and fiction writing classes in north-central Arizona.

 
----- Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .