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Josie O’s first time on TV

It all began yesterday, as I stood in line at the Post Office. I checked my voice mail and there was a message from Dreux (pronounced Drew) DeMack, a producer at COCO (Colorado and Company), Denver’s Channel 9 morning show.

Hi, Esri! We were wondering if you could be on the show tomorrow to talk about The Portrait of Doreene Gray

Eek! The message had been left at 11:00 that morning, and now it was 3:30. Due to a surfeit of stupid political calls, I’d been ignoring unknown numbers. I called back and told Dreux’s voice mail I’d be overjoyed to come. Then I rushed home and washed Josie O. Then I rushed to Nordstrom Rack and bought a cute new dress, suitable for TV. 

But I didn’t hear from Dreux the rest of the day. I resisted the urge to beat my head against the wall. Now that I’d missed this chance, would they call again?

The next morning, today, I woke up around ten to eight and dialed Dreux’s number, just in case. He picked up. 

Hi, Esri, I just walked in the office. Sorry I didn’t get your voice mail yesterday, but we’d still like to have you on today. Did you get the message I left on your phone about an hour ago? 

I hadn’t, but the upshot was that they wanted Josie O and me there sometime between 9:30 and 9:45. It was now eight o’clock. I had an hour and a half to get myself and Josie ready and drive to Denver during the tail end of rush hour. 

No problem, Dreux! I’ll be there!

Esri’s 4-Step TV-Prep Program

Step 1. Drink a cup of soy milk to avoid passing out from low blood sugar.

Step 2. Careful grooming: Brush teeth. Wet ridiculous bed head. Attempt style with super big bobby pins. Give up and pomade it into submission. Put a whole crap load of make up on, and the aforementioned dress. 

Step 3. Get Josie’s stuff together. Sweater dress, toys, treats, food, water bottle, leash, ohmygod why does this dog have so much stuff?

Step 4. Drive to Denver. 

We made it there at 9:20 or so – plenty of time for Josie to have a wee on the manicured lawn and for me to sign in and get my visitor’s tag. Dreux came out and met me, and was just as warm and welcoming as last year. Great guy. This time, I was with the regular host, Denise Plante, a tall, gorgeous creature with boots I wanted to steal right off her shapely legs. I refrained. 

It’s chilly in a TV studio, except on the set proper, which is warmed by those bright, bright lights. Josie O sat quietly in her carrier while I reviewed my script and went over my answers to questions. Up on the set, Denise talked with guests about new treatments for thyroid problems and low mortgages. Dreux wandered over and looked down at Josie, who was napping. 

Him: She’s really good. 

Me: Next time, you’ll have her on and skip me. 

Finally it was our turn. I ran the mic up my dress, made sure my books were propped up, and gave Josie a few treats. Earlier I had walked around the set to get her familiar with it, but she didn’t seem to care. Josie has been in so many situations that her attitude is, “Is this what we’re doing now? Okay then.”

Denise gave me a lovely introduction, read the blurb for my book, and then asked about Josie. As I answered, I put Josie on the floor and had her do a spin, then picked her back up and took her sweater off, so she wouldn’t get warm and fuss. We only had about five minutes, and she sat quietly in my lap the whole time, being cute, which is her job.

Then we were done, and it was time to pack up. I asked Drew when the show would air. 

Didn’t I mention? This was live. We’ll probably run it again, though, because it’s general. I’ll let you know any subsequent air dates. Remind me to send you a DVD of your segment. 

So there it was, my second time on COCO and Josie’s first. As before, I did fine, but I also could have done better. Short appearances are a real art, and it’s hard to stay tightly on message. But hey, I had a cute dog with me. 

If you’re interested in Josie’s sweater, you can find it at The Doggie Market on Etsy.com. Just click here

 

 

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Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books.

Your most loyal readers are invested in you, the author.

Pre-internet, “you” consisted of your writing voice, an author photo, and the occasional interview. Now we have the option of engaging our readers with stories of our lives, our writing process, and the interesting things we learn during book research — all of it augmented with pictures, videos, and the opportunity for readers to have a conversation through comments. 

This is where short stories have a serious promotional advantage over free books. 

I want you to imagine two scenarios of reader engagement.

1) Free Book Offer

You give away your book for a certain period of time. The word goes out over FB, Twitter, through your blog, and if you’re lucky, an aggregator of free book offers. Readers looking for free books click the link to your book. The best of these people first read the description of your book and only acquire if it fits their preferred genre. The worst will read anything, and if it’s not to their taste, they may leave a crappy review on Amazon or B&N (this happens). Because they went directly to the book’s purchase page, there is no need for them to visit your website or learn more about you. If your ebook is being given away through a print publisher, there may not even be a hotlink to your website at the end of the ebook. If there is, it’s often unhandy to surf the Web on a dedicated ebook device.

2) Free Short Story Offer

You give away a short story, set in your series’ universe and with your characters, on your website. The word goes out as before, ideally with a photo that is larger than the average book-cover thumbnail. The reader goes to your website, sees a photo of you, sees the covers and titles of your other books in the sidebar or banner. Ideally, they begin reading the story immediately, because it doesn’t require a big time requirement. You include photos in the text that evoke the location, any featured animals, something that sets a mood. At the bottom, within the text, you include a personal note that says you hope they enjoyed it. They should feel free to pass it on. You encourage them to sign up for your email list, so they know when more free stories come out. Look, the email sign up box is right there on the right, see? And of course, if they liked the story universe, here are links to the first few chapters of your books, with links to buy at the end.

Unlike a temporary free book offer, your short story will always be free.

That blog post will work for you ad infinitum, not for a limited time. Along with other items on your website, that story is searchable, and contains key words that bring readers to your site through Google searches. If you want, you can put your books on sale when you promote a new short story, to sweeten the deal. 

I want you to imagine that instead of selling books, we’re selling food.

Let’s say there were as many manufacturers of food products as there are authors, and they came out with new items as often as we come out with new books, and they gave them away for a week at grocery stores. What would happen?

People would never have to buy food again.

When you go to a grocery story, those food demo people aren’t giving away free dinners. No, they give away samples, and often a coupon to buy the full item at a discount. 

We should stop giving whole dinners away. Get your readers to your website and give them a free sample. Engage them with photos, stories of your life, and links to free chapters of your other books. Give them the opportunity to buy a book on sale, if you want.

When enough authors give away books, people never have to buy books again.

This blog post is a follow up to My Plea to Self-Published Authors, which talks about ways short stories are better for readers as well as authors, and one author’s success with short stories. I hope you’ll consider passing these articles along, or writing your own post on the benefits of giving away short stories rather than whole books. If you do, send me a link to your post through my Contact Page, so I can pass it around.

Next time, I’ll talk about what Amazon could do to help us sell more books.  

My Plea to Self-Published Authors

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Why?

Even one day of pricing your ebook at $0.00, multiplied by countless authors, means readers never have to buy a book again. 

Hey, I’ve given away books in the past. But then I discovered that, as a reader, I could find enough free ebooks on one Facebook page, in one genre, in one week, to meet my reading needs for the next year. Sure, some of them are dreck, but there are enough enjoyable books to keep my entire family happily reading for free. And this is not a good thing. 

There has never been a better time to be an author, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. 

The ebook is a revolution right up there with the printing press. For the first time, authors can market and sell directly to consumers. Now, I understand that we don’t have any control over whether Amazon gives our books away. But Amazon provides only a fraction of the freebies out there, and they do a lot of promoting of those authors, so that compensates. Let’s take Amazon off the table and discuss what we can control.  

How can new self-published authors promote their work, if not with free stuff?

  • Write short stories set in your books’ universe, and give those away.

A good author friend of mine, Lynda Hilburn, has had tremendous success with this strategy. Every time she put out a free short story and notified the Kindle boards, all of her books got a bump in sales. She was making serious money on her self-published books – enough that a big-name agent took notice and got her a print offer she couldn’t refuse.

Free short stories instead of books benefit readers, too.

  • You can judge an author’s voice in the first couple of pages of a book, but you can’t judge their ability to tell a story until you read the whole thing — and readers often wish they had that time back. A short story lets readers know if they like an author in a fraction of the time. 
  • Short stories can be placed outside the time frame of the author’s fictional universe. Let’s say I’m offered a free book, but it’s third in the series. That’s not an ideal situation. I’d prefer to sample the author without any spoilers for books one and two. 

The lure of free is too strong. 

When Amazon made their free Kindle reading app available, my purchases of books skyrocketed. But when everyone started giving books away in promtions, my purchases plummeted to the few authors I was determined to support. The lure of free books is too strong for most of us. We wind up reading books out of order, moving on to the next free thing instead of buying an author’s other books, and spending a lot of time half-heartedly reading full-length books, trying to decide if we like the story enough to keep going. 

So that’s my plea. Give away a sample of your talent, then price the ebook such that readers don’t hesitate to buy — the cost of a nice cup of coffee seems to work well. And of course, giving one book away in a contest, or for charity, is a different thing. 

Please spread the word.

The internet is huge. If even a fraction of authors continues to give their books away, we’re screwed. I hope you’ll share this post or write your own. Get the word out. 

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Feel free to read my follow-up post, Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books, which explains how to use short stories to increase reader engagement and bring more people to your website.

Do I really love Chihuahuas, or am I just using them?

I’ve been quoted in newspapers and on TV as saying that including Chihuahuas in my mystery series was a cold-blooded marketing decision, and I meant it – but not in the way you might think.

The internet is how we find things these days. Anyone can sell things on it, and almost everyone does. As an author, success depends on getting your writing into the hands of people who will enjoy it. You have to cut through the clutter of things clamoring for their attention and say, “Look at me. I’m what you want.” One of the easiest ways to do that is to find a place where your ideal readers are clumped together, and show them you can fill one of their unmet needs. “Excuse me, but is anyone writing fiction about this thing you love? No? Allow me to introduce myself.”

Ideally, an author’s hook should be lively and engaging, something that will add to the books’ tone. It’s even better if it doesn’t bore the general public. And wouldn’t it be great if it had authentic emotional content? It shouldn’t be done to death, or that whole “cutting through the clutter” benefit is lost. Most importantly, it needs to be something the author will enjoy writing about over the long haul. So I took a look at the various things I love: singing, playing guitar, cats, writing, Chihuahuas…hold on a minute. Only one of those things met all my criteria and then some. As a considerable side benefit, the characteristics of Chis, and the character of their owners, matches my writing style rather neatly – funny, mischievious, and very into people.

So yes, the decision to include a marketing hook in my books was cold-blooded, but Chihuahuas were there to be chosen because I am crazy about them. As a benefit, I get to own these dogs in my imagination, when my cat won’t let me in real life. Actually, she will, but she becomes a ghost in her own home. (I’ve tried  and may try again.) When Musette dies, clearing my sinuses but breaking my heart, I’ll get a Chihuahua.

——–

P.S. Years ago, before I knew what a marketing hook was, and just as I was getting into Chihuahuas, I wrote a book with one. It got me my agent and my first publisher, but has never been published. The problem, as all the complimentary rejection letters said, was that publishers didn’t know how to sell it. Well, I do, and as soon as I fix the ending and find a new title (the one I had was recently used for another book), I’ll publish it myself. Stay tuned.

P.P.S. You can experience my Chihuahua enthusiasm for free with the short story, ‘Twas the Chihuahua Before Christmas. Am I giving away a Christmas story for marketing reasons? Of course. Did I love writing it and want everyone to read it regardless of whether they buy my books? Also yes.

UPDATE: I finally succumbed to my obsession and got a Chihuahua. And by golly, she’s kind of a ringer for the Chi at the top of this page!

Radio interviews, having a newspaper photographer in your house.

My first video log, with a cameo by Musette La Plume.

Chihuahua of the Baskervilles: Librarian review, Facebook ad

Allbritten’s debut mystery offers a good mystery, a terrific team of sleuths, ghost stories, and a number of possibilities for future locations. I can’t vote, but half-way through 2011, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles would be one of my nominees for the Agatha for Best First Mystery.

That’s from a wonderful review by Lesa Holstine, of Lesa’s Book Critiques. Lesa has been a library administrator and manager for 30 years. She’s  a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, and various websites, and was also winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. So this is kind of a big deal. My eyes got a little prickly feeling when I read her review.

She also sent me a list of great interview questions, and the results will be on her site tomorrow.

In other news, I’m picking my parents up from the airport today. They often visit, and are timing this one so they can attend my first book signing. Of course, this meant that I woke up from a dream this morning where I lost track of time and looked at my watch to realize I was supposed to be at the airport five minutes ago.

Ten of my author copies came yesterday. I’ve never understood why they arrive in dribs and drabs like that (I’m due another ten). I got one all on its lonesome a while back, but immediately gave it to a well-connected friend at her birthday party, so it’s nice to have one to fondle again.

Still have three blog posts to write. — Wait, maybe four. I’ve discovered that it’s a good idea to keep checking back with people to make sure they still have you on the schedule. Also gotta make a bunch of glow soap for the signing, and also to mail to various people as thank-you gifts and for general promo.

I whipped up a Facebook ad last night. 

Am having it click through to my website (with excerpt, reviews, etc.) rather than straight to a sales page on Amazon or whatever. Don’t know if that’s a good idea or not, and of course, it’s impossible to track actual sales when you’re not working with your own sales site. If you’re wondering about the headline, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles was too long to fit, so Chihuahua of Doom is what I came up with. I went back and forth on the all-capped Doom, but in the end decided it was funnier. I’m running a week-long test.

 

Help a Reporter Out

HARO is a website that puts reporters in touch with the sources they need. Their slogan is, Everyone’s an Expert at Something, and here’s how it works.

You sign up. They send you several daily digest emails of stories for which media people need interviewees. It could be a pet-insurance newsletter, InfoWorld magazine, CBS’s morning news show, Marie Claire magazine, or some dude’s blog. They might want to talk to people who have helped their arthritis through diet, or have a funny zoo experience, or have experience with cloud computing.

As an author, the best-case scenario is that I can help someone with an article or show that is directly related to my book. The worst-case scenario is that my zoo story is credited to “a reader.” Between those two ends of the spectrum is the chance that I’ll be credited as “Esri Allbritten, author of the upcoming mystery, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles,” and that it’ll happen in a forum that reaches bajillions of potential readers.

I also pass leads to friends and family, ’cause this both endears you to people and reminds them that you exist. Make sure your email signature line is in good shape.

Ebook authors need some kind of scrapbook system.

Today I was involved in a Facebook discussion with Vincent Zandri, a thriller author who is exploring the frontiers of epublishing and POD. He started by talking about a book signing scheduled for this evening at a local Barnes & Noble.

But here’s a prediction: I will sell more copies of “Innocent” before lunch even, than I will sell of the trade paper edition of “Remains,” during the B&N signing. I’ll also call the store to make sure they’re set for tonight, and I guarantee the response will be, “What’s your name again?…What book???” 🙂

And sadly, he was right. Due to an error in how they had entered his ISBN number, his books arrived and were then shipped back. The book signing is postponed, and the experience didn’t exactly rekindle Vincent’s love of of paper books.

I’m done with traditional book signings.
From now on I will happily sign the reverse side of your NOOK and KINDLE, which seems to be the trend these days.

One thing this discussion made me wonder was if there is a market for some kind of cute scrapbooking system for author autographs, especially as the number of authors appearing only in ebooks grows. If it exists, let me know. If not, someone needs to get on this. Here’s what my ideal system would have.

  1. A binder that allows you to decorate the cover yourself, or has preprinted pages for various genres (romance, mystery, speculative, horror).
  2. Envelopes that hold postcards, so you can send an author a prepaid postcard to sign/dedicate, and then they drop it in the mail to you.
  3. A scrapbook page that includes slots to hold the postcard. Also a promotional bookmark or biz card, if the author provided one.
  4. A page onto which you can print the book’s cover art. It could also have blanks for where/when you bought the book, who recommended it, how much you enjoyed it, where you’ve recommended it (Goodreads, online booksellers).

Authors, you don’t have to wait for this. Why not have a page on your website that allows fans to print postcard designs with your cover art and photo, so they can print it out and send it in for you to sign and send back? Don’t forget to give them your P.O. address.

And now, here’s a poll.

Facebook’s Networked Blogs for authors

Facebook’s Networked Blogs, which I’m going to call NB from now on, is a great thing in that after you set it up, you never have to fool with it again, and it has the potential to generate a new audience for your blog. It’s less great in that it’s hard for people to access and initially figure out, and because of that, there may not be that many people in your new audience.

I could be wrong. I’m new to it. Regardless, I’m going to show you how to set up your blog so it is syndicated on NB, and you can judge for yourself what it does for you. It doesn’t take long, and the initial link will open in a new window, so you won’t lose these instructions.

Step One: A whole bunch of button clicking.

Click here. Notice that there are some links to articles that you can access later. On the left side, click the Add to My Page, and Add to My Page’s Favorites. I didn’t see any effect from the first, and on the second, it appeared on my author Page rather than my personal Profile. (Unlimited numbers of fans can Like your Page. You’re only allowed 5000 “friends” on a personal Profile – we should all be so lucky.) You can also “Like” the NB page (toward the top), to help promote it on your FB newsfeed. Finally, on the left side, click the blue Go to App button.

Allow the app.

(Depending on what kind of FB account you have, profile or page, it may ask you to choose five blogs. You don’t have to. Click the blue word Syndication, grant permissions [Allow, in other words], and go from there.)

Step Two: Start filling in blanks.

On the new page, click the Register a Blog button (middle top-ish) and start filling out fields. My blog title is Esri Allbritten, author. The tagline (click to add the field) is Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, because everyone laughs and wants to know more when they first hear that, and because, even if they don’t click the blog link, they will at least have been exposed to my book’s title. If your blog has a clever name, use it. If your blog has a boring name, like mine, then make the tagline work for you. If your blog has a tight focus, like Vampire Mystery Reviews or Writing Around Three Kids, use that. If your blog does not have a tight focus, then put a tagline that reflects your voice, such as I Went to Harvard and All I Got Was This Stupid Blog or, for you emo types, Dark Dreams and Broken Laughter.

The Topics are important, because those are the search terms that allow NB people to find blogs they are interested in.  I chose mysteries, Chihuahuas, and books. I blog about online promotion, too, but promotion aficionados from the general population are more likely to buy Five Vital Tips from a Guy Who Made You Believe He’s Superior to You than my stuff, so I didn’t put that as one of my topics/search terms.

All right, so you’ve filled in the blanks, chosen your language (English is at the top of the drop-down menu), and you’ve reached the description part. Do not make readers wade through a long description of yourself. Describe what people will find in your blog. So my first paragraph looks like this:

Esri Allbritten is the author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles. She writes about Chihuahuas, her experiences as an author, and promotion for books.

And then I go into the rigmarole about my series.

This next bit is very important. When you’re done entering your description, click the blue word Advanced. It’s going to give you the “short name” of your blog. Mine is esri_allbritten. See how I’ve added that to the tail end of this URL?

http://apps.facebook.com/blognetworks/blog/esri_allbritten/

Do the same with yours, and write the result down, bookmark it on your toolbar, or tattoo it on your rump, because without it, you have to travel the FB maze to edit your blog’s description, topics, etc., and you may not make it out alive. Also, you should be logged into FB when you want to go there.

Step Three: Hit Save.

And that’s it. All your new blog posts will automagically show up on NB. With the URL that is now tattooed on your smarting bottom, you can edit the details, invite friends, and generally play around. If you discover some totally cool stuff, let me know.

Coming Soon

  • Because I use WordPress.com and their statistics are awesome, I’ll be able to tell you how many readers this post got from Networked Blogs.
  • How to send a personal document (like the first draft of your novel) to someone’s Kindle, so they can read it just like a book. It’s reasonably easy, and it’s free. Here’s the link.