Monday, March 26, 2007

A Few Things I've Learned in the Past year . . .

First, I have to say I'm overwhelmed with all the comments my first post garnered. I think part of it is that as writers, so much of what we do is in isolation that we sometimes wonder of anyone hears us. Lesson one from last week--figure out a way to respond to the comments!

As I get ready to head to New Orleans for the Lit Festival (I'm really not trying to rub it in), I thought I'd talk about some of the things I've learned about being a writer since I attended last year. All of these lessons could also be classified under the title, "Don't be an idiot." (This friendly catch phrase is one my dearest friend, Patty, frequently uses to help me along in my life when I need a reality check.)


Googling Yourself is Good (and, no, it won't make you go blind or send you straight to hell)
Yes, it's a tad embarrassing to be sitting on the sofa with my laptop and have my husband look over at me and say, "You're doing it again, aren't you?" But, you can get some pretty darn important info. For example, I discovered that Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas had chosen my book for a January Book Club discussion. I e-mailed the leader and arranged to buy drinks from the cafe for each of the participants. That led to the group leader (who also works at a Borders store) making my book her "staff selection." I also saw my book was the choice for this past month's Novel Readers book club. I contacted them, and, since we live in the same town (who knew??), met with them last week. I've also found reviews (which can be both good and bad) and links to other sites I might want to check out.


It Doesn't Hurt to Ask
So, a year ago I was in New Orleans at one of the breakfast meetings and a woman was introduced from the Park City, Utah Literary Festival. She was visiting to get ideas since their festival was pretty new. I walked up to her, explained that not only did I have a novel being released in July but my parents were both born and raised in Utah, and that I'd love to participate in the festival. After a few e-mail exchanges and mailing her an ARC of the book, I was invited to the festival, all expenses paid. That gave me the know-how to start applying to other festivals including the Midwest Literary Festival where I met a bunch of cool writers who, among other things, encouraged me to start this blog. (Thanks Tasha and Melanie!)

Another example: the week before my book was released, I was having coffee with a friend. She asked if the St. Louis Post was reviewing the book. I said I didn't know, but I knew my publicist had sent her a copy. She said, well, have you called the book editor to tell her you're local? I said, no, I didn't want to seem too pushy. She told me I was nuts. I thought that was a little harsh, but when I got home, I e-mailed the editor anyway. Next thing I knew, the editor had called me and said they were looking for an author to use for the Sunday "Q and A" and would I be willing to sit for an interview. Uh, yeah. The result? A quarter page article (with a picture!).

Oh, and every time you are out of town, stop in bookstores and offer to sign their stock (I always make sure they have a few copies first). It's a way for booksellers to put a face to a book and it usually gets you a sticker and face-out placement.


You Never Know
My husband likes to refer to this phenomenon as "a thousand points of light"--you never know who you'll meet or chat with who has a connection somewhere else. Blogs like these are a perfect example. I "met" Larramie through Kristy Kiernan's site who I met through Tasha Alexander. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Just last week, when I was meeting with the Novel Readers group (see above), one of the women mentioned the Bookclub Cookbook. They're looking for authors to feature (who knew?) so, I've already been in touch with them and signed on for a year. I also e-mailed all the community college and high school creative writing teachers in the area, offering to come in and chat with their classes. One of the community colleges contacted me to see if, instead, I'd be willing to teach a non-credit class this summer. You never know.


Just Say "Yes"
I know that I'm the best advocate for my book; no one wants it to succeed more than I do (well, maybe my mom). I also know that I only get one first book--I have to pull out all the stops to get it noticed. So, you want me to come sign books at a mall at Christmas? I'll be there. You want me to attend a conference for librarians? Sure, where do I sign up? Your book club wondered if I'd stop by? What's the address?

This whole experience of being a published author is a dream come true, but it also has a pretty steep learning curve. I'm loving it but at times am also overwhelmed. Perhaps the best thing I've learned is what fabulous people writers are--friendly, supportive, funny, smart--I love being a part of the community. So, this is a small attempt to give something back. I'd love to hear tricks that you've learned too.

Okay, gotta go pack for The Big Easy.

10 comments:

Cynthia Langston said...

Hi Judy - I love your blog! I also love your tips. Can't wait to see you in a few weeks!
Cindy Langston

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia (Miss TV Star!). See you soon in Bowling Green.

Larramie said...

Those were great ideas, Judy, and ones that obviously produce results. However -- now knowing how much work the author must do -- I wonder what's the role of a publisher's PR department?

Kudos on your "links," they're perfect. And enjoy the week.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Hi Larramie-

The PR department handles soooo much--and I figure anything that I do supplements them (and vice-versa). For example, my publicist sent out scads of books to reviewers, arranged for ads in trade magazines, coordinated bookstore appearances, and worked closely with book store buyers (to name just a few things). Promotion budgets, especially for debut authors, are pretty slim (that's just the way the business works), so I knew that all the work on my end would help me now and with future books. For someone who never saw herself as a saleswoman, I've actually loved doing all of this--I guess when it's your own "baby" it's all easy.

Tasha Alexander said...

Judy, great post!

I'm so glad to know self-googling isn't going to send me straight to hell....

; )

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Just don't tell your grandma, Tasha!

Therese said...

Judy, you are a wonderful resource, thank you!

I'm going to have to learn to allocate my work hours so that I can fit in writing, blogging, AND promotional efforts...

Any tips there?

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Therese, I still don't have that whole balancing act down. When my book first came out, I didn't try to write or anything for the first 6 weeks or so--I wanted to concentrate on promoting. Plus, my brain was too flustered getting used to the whole "I'm a writer" persona. Now, the two hours a day I carve out to write are sacred (well, except when they're not). Closing the laptop is a good thing--I get sucked into cyberspace way too easily!

So, as you can see, I really have no answers.

Bella Stander said...

You're fortunate that contacting the editor at the St. Louis Post turned out well. You did right to email him rather than call.

It's usually a bad idea to contact media yourself (that's the publicist's job); book review editors especially don't want to hear from authors. On the other hand, your publicist should have flagged the review copy of your book as being by a local author.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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