Friday, May 31, 2019

Does Author Book Promotion Do Any Good?

My new year's goal for 2019 is to do a bunch of NEW THINGS. One of these NEW THINGS is to make my first serious effort to promote my books.

I haven't really bothered with book promotion before. Once upon a time (back when I first became an author), no authors did. We wrote the books; if we were lucky, they got published; if we were very lucky they got lovely reviews or end-of-the-year honors, and that was that. Once in a great while a publisher sent us to a librarians' or booksellers' convention. There were no book launch parties, no cover reveals, no social media boasting (there was no social media), no begging for Amazon or Goodreads reviews (there was no Amazon; there was no Goodreads).

It's tempting to think of these as the good old days. But that is how good old people tend to talk. If you want to sound old, this is an excellent way to do it.

I've also been skeptical, however, that author-generated book promotion really does any good. If you hand out bookmarks with your books, how much of a difference, in the end, does that make to sales? If you sell even fifty copies at a book launch, that's still only fifty copies. Ten online reviews that you bully your friends into writing are only ten reviews. Oh, what's the point?

But in Erin Entrada Kelly's Newbery-winning middle-grade novel, Hello Universe, one character, known for her wisdom, says this: "Of all the questions you ever ask yourself in life, never ask, 'What's the point?' It's the worst question in the world."

Besides... I mean . . . what's the point of ANYTHING? If you just lie on your bed surrendering to nihilism, you'll have a pretty dreary life, and a pretty short-lived career as a children's book author.

So this year I'm trying to promote my new book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star.
My guiding strategy - and it is an excellent one - is to concentrate on doing things that are fun for me to do, anyway. Or just things that add little tiny bits of joy to the world.

I've never made bookmarks for my books before. But bookmarks are fun! People LIKE bookmarks People USE bookmarks. So now I have them! Come by one of my events and I'll hand one to you!

Writing is fun. Writing blog posts is fun. So I organized a little blog tour for myself which starts today. Here's the schedule:

Friday, May 31, 2019  Bluestocking Thinking

Monday, June 3, 2019 Pencil Tips Writing Workshop

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 Unleashing Readers

Friday, June 7, 2019  Cracking the Cover

Parties are fun. Giving talks is fun. Cookies are fun. So I organized two bookstore events for Nixie, where I'll talk about the book and cookies will be served.

The first is next week, on Tuesday June 4, 2 p.m., at  Second Star to the Right in Denver.
The second is this fall, on September 10, 6:30 pm, at Boulder Bookstore in Boulder.

SO: the point is . . . fun. And maybe I'll sell a few books. And I'll keep a new year's promise I made to myself.

That's enough for me, for now.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Your Book Won't Get Written Unless You Write It

I agreed to get the full manuscript of my long-delayed chapter book (set in an after-school coding camp) to my long-suffering editor by June 1.

There was only one problem.

I had written barely any of it because - and this is the sadly crucial part - I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO WRITE.

Despite months of (admittedly somewhat slipshod) research, I still didn't have a firm grip on what kinds of things kids would do in a coding camp. Worse, I didn't have a firm grip on what my protagonist's character arc was going to be: how would she grow and change as a result of a month spent learning how to do coding? And what kinds of plot-generating events could transpire at the camp to make this happen?

These are very significant things not to know about a book one is supposed to be writing. And if I hadn't figured these out after months of fretting, moping, and whining, how on earth could I figure them out in a mere three weeks?

I am here to report that all is well. I figured out most of these things lickety-split.

How, you may ask?


Yes, I learned yet again a lesson I've learned many times before. Although many people praise the power of subconscious creativity and the benefit of gaining perspective on a project by stepping away from it for a period of time (say, for the period right up until three weeks before it is due), and the secretive toil of kindly nocturnal elves, I have found that the only way I have ever gotten a book written - the ONLY way - is by sitting down and starting to write it.

Even though I don't know what to write.

Even though I have no idea how to figure out what to write.

Even though I've forgotten how I ever figured out how to write anything.

If I sit down to write - and commit to writing for a whole entire hour every single day - timed with my trusty hourglass - words start to appear on the page - words written by me. Characters say and think witty things. They make choices that precipitate predicaments. They react to other people's choices and other people's predicaments.

All from just picking up a pen and moving it across the page.

Best, I can then type up the pages and share them with my brilliant writing group who offer insights beyond anything I could ever have generated all by my lonesome before the first word was written. I can leave my meeting with them energized and inspired.

I CAN write a book set in a coding camp! I can! I can!

Five days into serious hour-a-day writing, I'm loving my book. These five hours have given me the best of all gifts from the writing fairies: momentum. When my boys were little, I would ask them, "What does Mommy like?" and they could spout the correct answer: "Progress!" Progress is now being made simply because I am now making it

Oh, darlings, if there is something you need to write, or want to write, or vaguely feel like writing, just sit down and write it. I am here to tell you it really truly won't get written otherwise.

Take it from me, who has just completed a most pleasing revised draft of Chapter Three....

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Moment to Decide

As many of you know, my personal life these days lies in what I cheerfully describe as "flaming ruins."

Well, maybe this description isn't all that cheerful. 

Throughout all my recent Sturm and Drang, I've managed to stay a faithful and engaged professor for the students in my online class for Hollins University (on the figure of the emerging female writer from Little Women to The Poet X); I've continued to work closely with my three mentees through the fabulous mentorship program in our Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Rocky MountainsChapter.

It's relatively easy to do things that absolutely have to be done.

What I haven't managed to do is to make any real progress on my chapter book set in an after-school coding camp. There was no day on which I absolutely had to accomplish any writing, so basically I accomplished next to none. It didn't help that I remain paralyzed with dread at the thought of learning anything at all about computer coding, despite having attended numerous coding workshops and read (well, skimmed) numerous coding books. So I am now a teensy bit behind on delivering that manuscript to my editor; it was due April 1, and so far I've drafted three chapters of ten.

Two days ago she sent me a kindly worded email saying that she really did need to know when (if ever?) I would be able to send her the manuscript, as she needed to finalize her list for Fall 2020. 

Basically, I either have to send the manuscript to her sometime on the soon-ish side, or else my book will have to be postponed until 2021.

That feels like an awfully long time from now.

One of my favorite hymns begins, "Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide," with lyrics written in 1845 by poet and abolitionist James Russell Lowell. Well, once to every woman and writer also comes the moment to decide, and this was my mine.

In favor of postponing the book:
1. I have enough stress in my life right now. Do I need to add more?
2. This month I still have my Hollins course to finish up, and the three SCBWI mentorships. And promotional efforts for the first book in this series, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, pub date June 4. And my friend Rachel's wedding to attend in Minneapolis on May 18. And a sermon to write and deliver for church. And a week-long visit from my grandchildren.
3. Plus, I'd like to do a good job on the book, not a hasty, half-baked one.

In favor of making a heroic effort to write the book RIGHT NOW:
1. 2021 is SO far away.
2. I'm happiest when I'm writing.
3. I'm happiest when I'm busy.
4. I'm happiest when I have something other to do than mourn and mope, grieve and grumble.
5. Any good job on any project has to begin with a hasty, half-baked one if it's going to begin at all.

So I emailed Margaret and said, "Can I make the Fall 2020 list if I get the manuscript to you by June 1?"

And she emailed back, "I think we can make that work."

This morning I got up, not at 5, but at 3:45, so I could be writing by 4. Because EVERY SINGLE MORNING, to every human being and certainly to every writer, comes the moment to decide. The big decision - do it! - has to be followed by many, many smaller decisions of the form: do at least something on this project right now.

I wrote three handwritten pages. They are not very good pages. But all writers know that not-very-good pages have to come first. I now have three more of them than I had two hours ago. 

I have decided!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Time Spent Dreading versus Time Spent Doing

I have a new book coming out next month. Hooray!

Well, sort of hooray. It would be a bigger hooray if I weren't haunted by guilt at how little I've done to celebrate the arrival into the world of this new book child - when one of my major goals for 2019 was, for the first time, to make a serious effort to promote my books.

Partly it's because I really don't know how to promote a book effectively. I have a theory that nothing authors do in this regard really makes any difference whatsoever, at least compared to the difference made by writing a spectacularly good book.

But I did make a list - a fairly long list - of fairly simple things I ought to be doing:
1. Update my website, which hadn't been updated in . . . could it really be two YEARS?
2. Update my Amazon Author Page.
3. Update my Goodreads Author Page.
4. Reply to emails sent me by a local bookstore in reply to emails I had sent them, about possible events we could do together to publicize the book.
5. Research blogs I might reach out to for a little self-organized blog tour.
6. Contact those blogs.
7. Email my publisher to ask a few questions about how I could build upon their promotion efforts.

All of these were on a list I made on April 21. As of 8:00 this morning, I had done none of them.This meant I had spent two entire WEEKS dreading them.

So I decided this had to be do-or-die day for book promotion - or at least do-or-die morning.

By noon I had done all seven.

Here is a tally of how long each one took. Remember that they had been dreaded for fourteen days, or (not counting ten hours a night for sleeping - yes, I sleep a LOT) 196 hours.

1. Update my website: 1 hour, 45 minutes (105 minutes)
2. Update the Amazon page: 20 minutes
3. Update the Goodreads page: 10 minutes
4. Reply to the bookstore emails: 5 minutes
5. Research blogs: 15 minutes
6. Decide that I'd rather return to the publicists I used before (and adored) than organize a blog tour myself: 5 minutes - and another 5 minutes to email them
7. Email my publisher: 5 minutes

TOTAL 170 minutes - or just shy of 3 hours

196 hours for dreading! 3 hours for doing!

This is a sobering comparison.

It certainly suggests that I could improve my life considerably by cutting back on a few dozen hours of dreading in favor of a few minutes a day of doing.

There is one thing left on the list, which is deal with making bookmarks for the book. I put out an appeal on Facebook for recommendations for bookmark designers/printers and got many helpful suggestions. Now I have to do something about those suggestions. My guess is that, after days of dreading, this will take at most an hour or two.

Maybe, in fact, I should just go and do it right now (or, let's be realistic, first thing tomorrow morning), rather than dread it for another couple of weeks. What do you think?

Yeah, I think that, too.