Monday, October 17, 2016

The Best Place to Sell Books (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, before I took a much-needed vacation, I had posted about the best places to sell books, having just come off of a very successful weekend with a book signing at a bookstore and having a booth at my parish festival. I know that authors, especially those of us who don't have name recognition or the backing of a huge publishing company, need to be actively promoting their books if they're going to find any readers or make any sales. That brings me to today's blog post.

I received my 47th review on “End of the Road” just the other day... courtesy of a chance encounter in a northern New Mexico winery on July 4th.
My husband, Paul, and I had spent our anniversary weekend working a wine festival in Santa Fe. After two days in a hot, crowded tent with no air conditioning, tons of people, and precious few bathroom breaks, we decided to take an extra day—July 4th—and visit Vivac Winery in the tiny town of Dixon, about an hour north of Santa Fe. When we arrived, the place was starting to get busy. We tasted some wine and managed to snag a table on the patio under the grape arbor. Shortly afterward, a couple arrived and went into the winery. By the time they emerged with their own glasses, the patio had filled up with a large party and no other tables were available, except for two chairs at ours. We waved them over, introduced ourselves, and spent a lovely hour enjoying wine and the company of new friends.
Naturally, my husband—my PR person extraordinaire—mentioned to them that I was a mystery author. The woman, Patty, expressed interest, as she is a travel planner and is always looking for something to read on long flights. Paul promptly went out to our Jeep and grabbed a copy of “End of the Road” (yes, I always carry copies of all of my books... don’t you?) and offered it to her for free. She and her husband were both surprised, but (here’s the important thing) she expressed an interest in my book before we gave it to her. I had already given them bookmarks with all the books listed and she had started looking them up on her phone. We friended each other on facebook and then she messaged me to let me know she had written a review and posted it! Here is her review (did I mention it’s the 47th one???)
“This is a fun read with likable characters, a whodunit plot, and a touch of romance. I took it on a long plane ride and it made the trip whiz by. It would also be a perfect summer read. Now I have to read the next in the series to find out if Corrie and Rick make it past friendship, or if JD returns to give him some competition!”
In addition, we returned to Vivac a week ago to help out with the grape harvest. We had a fun day and spent some time talking to one of the winery owners, who happens to be a friend of the winery owner that I work for. Again, Paul told him that I was a mystery author and we offered him a copy of “End of the Road” and slipped in the fact that my boss carried the books in his winery (probably because the winery is mentioned in the books) and Jesse, one of the Vivac owners, grinned and said, “Any chance your characters might visit Vivac?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
We also met another couple from Missoula, Montana who had traveled down to help with the harvest (they were wine club members and were in the loop) and they agreed to meet up with us at Noisy Water in Ruidoso (where we work) in a few days after we had returned from Colorado. I had given them bookmarks and when they arrived at the winery, not only did they buy a few bottles of wine, they also bought all four of my books!

It goes to show that an author should always be prepared to meet potential readers! If you can’t keep a supply of books in the trunk (I was actually out of “End of the Road” a week ago) at least carry bookmarks, business cards, whatever it is you use to promote your books. And don’t be shy about talking about them (or else, have someone like my husband along!)

I have two more events planned for November--one is a "vendor blender" which is a monthly gathering of home-based businesses in Alamogordo, the town where I work my "real" job (Walmart, that is), and the other is the first book festival hosted by the El Paso Writers' League in El Paso, TX (my hometown). The "vendor blender" will cost me $20 for a three-hour slot and they provide the tables and chairs. I just have to bring my books and the items I need to spruce up my space. The EPWL festival won't cost me anything but my time and my annual dues. Of course, I have to pay for the books I will (I hope) sell at the events. Otherwise, the biggest investment is time and travel. 

None of this means I will suddenly leap to the top of the best-seller lists. It might not even mean that I break even. But if my master plan was to make money, writing is the wrong profession to take up. I write because I love to tell stories and I hope to find readers. The promo and selling is all part of the package and because I have to sell in order to keep being published by a traditional publisher. It's all worth it in the end and I've come to really enjoy it!

This was my table at our church fiesta in September... one of my best day of book sales ever!

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Best Place to Sell Books

This past weekend was one of my busiest (overall) and most successful (as an author) I've had in the last three years!

A couple of months ago, I signed up to do a book signing at one of my favorite bookstores in the world: Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque. The owners of this fiercely independent bookstore sell only books set in New Mexico, by New Mexico authors. Based on that criteria, I'm sure many people would be impressed by the number of books they carry. Anyhow, knowing from previous experience that the first book in a series is always the best-seller at a signing, I made it a point to stock up on over a dozen copies of "End of the Road", the first book in my Black Horse Campground mystery series.

Then three weeks ago, our parish church announced they would be holding an apple festival as a fundraiser the day before the book signing in Albuquerque, and they were looking for people to sign up for arts and crafts and other booths. It occurred to me that this might be a great way to help out my parish, encourage some fellowship, and maybe sell a book or two. I already had my book order for my Albuquerque signing, so I figured I could set up a table at the apple fest, eat some great festival food, and chit-chat with the neighbors and other locals. If I sold a book or two, it would all be gravy.

Little did we expect that we would have a lot of impulse festival-goers stopping in on their way to Ruidoso for the Aspencade festival. People from as far away as San Antonio (among other out-of-state places) pulled off the highway to check out our little festival. Not only did we sell out of apple pies and fiesta food, I sold 17 books. I had 40 to start with. And of those books, only six copies of "End of the Road" were going to make it to Albuquerque.

The next day, I arrived in Old Town Albuquerque with five minutes to spare for my event (that included being dropped off on the opposite side of the plaza and hoofing it through the crowds of people who had descended on the Duke City for the annual hot air balloon festival.) I no sooner set foot in the door when a woman pounced on me to say she had been waiting for me and did I have the first book in my series available? Turned out that Jim and John (the father-son duo that runs the bookstore) only had about five copies of my books available and none of them were "End of the Road". The customer graciously agreed to wait until my husband, Paul, had found a parking space (two blocks away) and brought my box of books to the shop.

Over the next two hours, I sold a total of 13 books (including the six copies of "End of the Road".) That's 30 books in a 48-hour period. Not enough, of course, for me to make the New York Times best-seller list, but enough to learn something important: you never know what places will be great for book sales. Honestly, I didn't consider the church fiesta a "real" bookselling venue. I did it more as a courtesy and a way to help out my parish. My cup runneth over, folks! And being able to score a slot at a bookstore on a busy weekend was a huge help, too. In Albuquerque, I met people from Oregon and Washington in town for the balloon fiesta who bought my books.

If there is one thing I learned that I can share about this weekend, it's this: never pass up a chance to sell your books. Readers are everywhere. You can't wait for them to find your book. Sometimes, you have to take your book to them.

Me, at a previous signing at Treasure House (and still wondering how to get people to buy Book 2!)

Monday, September 26, 2016

What Makes Characters UNlikable... and What Doesn't

With some authors, the plot line of a story comes first. What's going to happen? What is at stake? How will it all be resolved?

With me, characters come first. Something happens to someone. Someone has a great deal at stake. Someone must fight to get what they want.

Who is that someone?

For me, the "someone" doing the "something" matters a lot more than whatever the "something" may be. I have to like the characters in the story or, at the very least, find them interesting. There are many ways to kill my interest in a character.

I hate whiny characters, in real life and in fiction. Whining is a habit, not an endearing character trait. There is a reason why I trained my children out of this habit at a young age--I didn't want to hear it. Nobody likes to listen to a whiner, so if a character has this unpleasant habit, the writer better have a good reason for it. And never let that character be the main character! The main character may have reason to complain, but he or she should be more focused on getting things done rather than bewailing the way things are.

I also dislike characters who are in complete control of everything. Their life, their jobs, their emotions, even their hair, is always perfectly in order and runs smoothly. Now before everyone jumps on me and says, "Hey, what about...?" Yes, I know, it seems that my character, Sheriff Rick Sutton, has it all together, BUT... yes, if you've read "At the Crossroad", you know it's all a facade to hide a lot of pain. He's not a robot; he's human and he's trying to protect himself. A lot of people can relate to that.

It's easy to understand why boring characters can be unlikable. We all have met someone who goes on and on and on about everything and nothing at all. A boring person is one who focuses almost exclusively on him or herself. While it's necessary to know things about a character, focusing solely on that one character--especially a character focusing on himself--and nothing else, makes for a story that is very easy to put down and walk away from... especially since most of us who come into contact with boring people feel trapped and unable to walk away.

I really dislike villains who have no reason for being a villain other than... well, the hero needs someone to fight. All villains, like heroes, have a goal and it has to mean enough to them to make it worth their time and effort to achieve it. True, it's very likely not a good goal--after all, they are the villains--but it has to mean something to them, something important.

What creates an interesting character is that they remind us of real people, of ourselves, even. Real people have real reasons for the way they act. We can't always delve deeply into the lives of the people we interact with in the real world, but a writer can and should do that with the characters in a story. A character with a motivation rings true, is relatable, even if not likable, and makes a story more interesting.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pantser vs. Plotter? In Writing and in Real Life

Before I go any further, let me clarify what I'm talking about, since this seems to be a question that makes sense mostly to writers.

"Plotter" is pretty easy to decipher--it's someone who plots out their stories before they begin to write. Details, such as the characters' names, eye color, backstories, motivations, and their exact roles in the story are carefully noted. Timelines are mapped out to the exact minute (especially in murder mysteries) and charts are drawn up to show exactly what direction the story will take, including the "unexpected" twists and turns.

"Pantser" is short for "flying by the seat of your pants"--someone who just sits down, with only an idea for a story in their mind, and starts writing. They might know who the characters are, what they look like, and why they do what they do, but the details will be ironed out as the story gets down on paper. They know what the story is about and what's going to happen, but it might take a 38-hour day in the first draft to tell it (that's what editing is for, right?)

My style of writing falls somewhere in between. Of course, I have to know who  my characters are and what's going to happen in the story, but plotting a novel down to its every detail would drain me of energy and creativity. I'm not a recklessly impulsive person in real life--I do like to think ahead--but when it comes to having fun, I like to give myself a little freedom to "wing it". And writing is fun!

My husband and I are planning a long weekend getaway in a few weeks. I have often said that, for me, it's not a vacation if I have to look at my watch. Having an itinerary for every moment of a vacation seems to suck the joy and excitement out of the experience. If a vacation is meant to give me a chance to relax and recharge, then being on a schedule won't help. However, there are times when it's important to think ahead to what one might want to do on vacation. Certain things--a train ride, a whale watching tour, a special dinner event--do require planning because they are being arranged by someone who isn't on one's particular schedule. It's possible to take a chance and go on vacation and just hope everything falls into place--tickets won't be sold out, reservations aren't required, etc. If you don't really have your heart set on doing this particular activity, that won't be a problem. But if you do, then some planning is sure to be involved.

Just like we have planned out a grape-picking party at an estate vineyard, a lunch time train ride, and a VIP tasting at a winery during our long weekend, a writer has to plan key events, elements, and situations in a book. The fun, unplanned things can connect those points and eventually, they will all make sense and flow into one another to make a story work (with a lot of editing to take care of those 38-hour days!)

In a way, an author is like a cruise director. We have a lot of planned activities and interesting people to meet, but not all of them necessarily contribute to the story. So take some "planned spontaneity" and enjoy the unexpected. It makes for a better story and vacation!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why do you write Murder Mysteries? A guest post by Marilyn Meredith

Today I'm hosting fellow Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff P.D. and the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She is set to release the 15th book in her Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, "Seldom Traveled", and she graciously slowed down long enough to sit on the Back Deck and talk about why she writes murder mysteries and to tell you about a contest she is sponsoring for readers who comment on her posts:

My host, Amy, posed this question as it’s one she gets asked a lot. I haven’t been asked that much, but I think the difference is, Amy is young and appears to be sweet. (And she is.) I’m old, and probably appear a bit more on the grumpy side, the type of person who might like dipping into the darker side of life.

Since that’s not really the right answer, I’ll give you my motivation for writing murder mysteries.
Our world today is full of evil—people are killing one another for all sorts of reasons. Some of the bad guys get caught and are killed or punished, but some get away with what they’ve done.

When I’m writing a murder mystery I know from the start that my villain will be caught, no if, ands, or buts! This is one place I know justice will be done, because I’m in control.

Another reason I write murder mysteries is I like the puzzle. Yes, it’s a puzzle for me too because though I think I know who the murderer is from the beginning, sometimes as I’m writing, I know I’ve chosen wrong. When that happens, it means a bit of rewriting to make sure it will all make sense to the reader.

I can understand why people might ask the above question—it might have a hidden meaning, like why don’t you write sweet romances instead? (Or whatever reading genre they prefer.) When you think about it, that question is better than someone asking you where the restroom is, something that happens a lot in a book store signing.

No matter what anyone might think, I’ll continue to write (and read) murder mysteries until I’m no longer able and I hope that’s a long, long time from now.


Seldom Traveled Blurb:
The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

Marilyn Meredith’s Bio:
Marilyn has had so many books published, she’s lost track of the count, but it’s getting near 40. She lives in a community similar to the fictional mountain town of Bear Creek, the big difference being that Bear Creek is a thousand feet higher in the mountains. She is a member of Mystery Writers of American, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, and is a board member of Public Safety Writers of America.

New contest:

Winners will be randomly picked from those leaving the most comments on the blog posts. Each winner can choose one of the earlier books in the series as either a print book or e-book.

You can find me here tomorrow:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Author Branding--A Way to Market Books

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend a meeting of the El Paso Writers' League and got to hear a talk on marketing by League treasurer, Robyn Gold (who writes under the pen name R. S. Dabney--her first book, "The Soul Mender", was released in May.) In addition to talking about how to effectively utilize social media to market your books, she also talked about creating your author brand.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I had done this without consciously deciding to do so.

An author brand is something that marks an author's books as being unique to that particular author. You can look at a book's cover and immediately recognize that the book was written by a certain author or belongs in a certain series. My author brand, unique to my Black Horse Campground series, is the black horse logo that appears on all my book covers and the tag line "A Black Horse Campground mystery". If you write a series, this is a great marketing tool to help fix your series in the minds of readers and also to set the series apart from other books or series you might write. A great example of this is OTP's own, Marilyn Meredith, who writes two different series. Her Rocky Bluff P.D. series, published by Oak Tree, features a police badge on every cover and distinguishes it from her other series.

Another way to brand your books is to have a recurring title tag. Radine Trees Nehring writes a series in which every title contains the words "to die for". Dac Crossley's "Texas Ranger" series includes--you guessed it--the words "Texas Ranger" in each title. The tag line can be either part of the title or a subtitle to identify the series, such as my titles (example: "End of the Road: A Black Horse Campground Mystery")

There are other ways to brand your books whether they go in a series or not. Using the same font for every title, the same color scheme, or the same layout for the cover can also identify your books as belonging to a series or to the same author. Mary Montague Sikes does this with her landmark lodgings series. Holli Castillo combines a number of these elements in her covers--recurring font, black and white scheme, and the word "justice" combined with Cajun recipe names.

With so many books in the market and the possibility of so many similar titles (and author names!), developing a unique author brand to distinguish your books from others is a good idea to keep in mind, whether you write a series or not. When you find your fans and reading audience, make it easy for them to find you!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Going for the Gold--Finding Your Focus as a Writer

Recently there has been a new meme circulating on Facebook showing US gold medal-winning swimmer, Michael Phelps, in the lead during a race, looking straight ahead at the finish line. In the next lane is the silver medalist with his head turned, watching Phelps. The meme reads, "Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners."

While calling the second place finalist a "loser" might seem a bit harsh, it illustrates perfectly what some writers feel when their books aren't selling well or a less than stellar review pops up on their amazon page. It's heartbreaking to see a book that isn't well-written showing up in the Top 100 list on amazon while your own languishes somewhere in the millions.

As writers, it's essential for us to read, not only in order to keep learning, but to give ourselves a break. The problem is, it's hard for us to keep the reader's opinion from being tainted by our experience as a writer... and vice versa. I have a hard time reading a book that is rife with grammatical errors, with typos, with cardboard characters and stilted dialogue, with poor writing. It's even harder when one downloads the book and finds out the reason why it was free.

What is easy, unfortunately, is to fall into the habit of comparing those authors' work and rankings and sales with our own. Their books are always ranked in the thousands, not millions... like mine. Their book has seventy-eight five-star reviews, not twenty total reviews... like mine. And their book is nowhere near as good as mine.

The point we have to remember is this: So what? So what if their book is full of mistakes and is poorly constructed? So what if they have ten times as many reviews as our books do? So what if their book is ranked in the Top 100? So what if their book is just another tired, done-to-death, latest fad sub-genre, complete with recycled storyline and setting? It's not our book. We have no control over the content or (brace yourself) how other people perceive it. Just like we can't control how people perceive OUR OWN work.

What we can control is how much energy we focus on OUR OWN work instead of someone else's. Is our work the very best it can be? Are we investing energy in promoting our work (that's promoting OUR work, not denigrating someone else's, no matter how badly we feel we must warn the world about it)? And most importantly, are we wasting energy that would better be put to use writing our next book?

Focus on the finish line. Focus on the gold. Focus on making your own work worthy of it. And don't waste energy on the people in the "other lane". Save that energy for your own work... and celebrating when you win!