Building a Better Biography

By Ami Hendrickson

Whether you are a beginning writer or an established byline, it behooves you to construct a biography as a means of introducing yourself to those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your work.

Bios are more important than you might think. They give the reader a quick overview of your qualifications to write whatever it is you have to say. They offer a bit of your writing history. And they provide an opportunity to connect with your readers on a personal level.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a string of best-sellers to list on your bio. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you have few (if any) credits to your name. The biography is a fluid piece. As you start accumulating credits, you can easily add them and allow some of the less impressive things to fall by the wayside.

Bio Building Guidelines

Writing your bio doesn’t have to be a chore. Some simple suggestions:

Write in the third person. Use your full name in the first sentence. Afterward, refer to yourself either by your first name only, your last name only, or the pronoun “she” or “he.”

Say you are a writer in the very first sentence. If you specialize in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or screenwriting, say so. If you have a niche area that you are especially known for, say so. (“Jane Smith is a freelance writer specializing in worsted yarn and the humor of Albert Einstein.”)

Brag. Tell people what you’ve done. This is no time to be shy. If your writing has ever won any sort of recognition or contest, use the term “award-winning.” If you have written a best-seller, say so. If you have published ten, 20 or 100 articles, mention it. If your mother thinks you’re brilliant—keep it to yourself.

It’s okay to be eclectic. If your credits are all over the map—if you’ve done a little of everything, that’s fine. Something like “Smith has written greeting cards, warning labels, and street signs. She has also provided copy for breakfast cereal boxes,” would be appropriate to highlight your range.

No experience is necessary. If you don’t have many (any?) writing credits to include in your bio, don’t panic. Identify areas in which you specialize, or that you know more about than the average person. Write those down and don’t worry about perceived shortcomings in the byline department. (“Smith has climbed Mt. Everest twice, walked on the moon, and appeared as a Playboy Playmate. She is a double black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys knitting potholders in her spare time.”)

Location, location, location. If you wish, include a short sentence about where you live. Don’t be so specific that the loonies out there can find you and stalk you. But a reference to your family members, your pets, and your hometown can help make you more accessible to your reader.

If writing about yourself in the third person, or “bragging” about your abilities is difficult, write some sample bios for famous people, or for people you know well. Once you get a feel for the exercise, then apply it to yourself.

If you don’t have a bio, I urge you to spend some time creating one. Make it as lengthy and as packed with information as you wish. Then leave it for a few days, come back to it and edit it.

When you’re done, ask yourself if you would read something written by the person the text describes. Work at your bio until the answer to that question is “Yes!”

Bringing Your Bio on Board

Once you have drafted your bio, you will discover that opportunities to use it are plentiful. For instance:

Websites, weblogs, book jackets, and brochures are useful places to include such information.

A short space at the end of magazine articles is often devoted to the author’s biographical information.

If you ever teach or speak publicly, a short bio allows someone to easily introduce you to your audience.

You can also include your bio in a short paragraph in letters introducing yourself or your work to a potential publisher, editor, agent, or manager.

When you use your bio, tailor it for the situation. Use the whole thing on a resume of writing credentials. Shorten it to a single paragraph for inclusion in introductory letters. For speaking introductions, you may wish to shorten it still further. And for “about the author” blurbs, condense it to one or two sentences.

The point, however, is that you cannot utilize something you do not have. So spend some time thinking of how best to introduce you and your writing to the world. Then have fun looking for creative ways to make your bio work for you.

Ami Hendrickson is an award-winning writer, screenwriter, educator, editor, and consultant. She has written for some of the leading horsemen in the world including Clinton Anderson, of Downunder Horsemanship, and hunter trainer and judge Geoff Teall. Find out about her latest projects Website, or visit her blog at Museinks.

Writing An Author Bio That Will Knock The Editor’s Socks Off!

By Dorothy Thompson

Never been published? Here are some suggestions on how to write that author’s bio that is sure to achieve success!

You have just finished your masterpiece and are about to send it off to that magical world, The Land Of The Publishing Industry. You have done your homework and have edited it with a fine-tooth comb. Now what?

You must prepare an author bio to knock the editor’s socks off. Your manuscript cannot stand alone. Along with an impressive cover letter and query, your manuscript must include an author bio. As an already established author, you have probably saved your bio in a file, updating it as you go. As an unpublished author, it is hard to know the exact way to go about doing this. I will show you the tricks of the trade to send off an impressive bio, even if you have never been published before.

Always Write In Third Person

To begin your bio, always remember to write in the third person. Many professional authors know that this is the correct way to write your bio. This makes it more presentable to the publisher. It also allows your readers to distance themselves and not be intimidated.

Your Opening Sentence

This is where you sell yourself to the editor. Your opening line is your introduction, the first thing the editor notices. This line can make you or break you. I start out by stating, “Dorothy Thompson is a freelancer, online journal editor, e-book author.” State your name and who you are. Never mention your personal life, just your professional titles. If you write, “Hi! I’m Jane Doe and a housewife from Minneapolis,” you are already looked upon as an unprofessional. No editor wants to hear this. They simply do not care.

No credentials? No problem. There are ways for even a first-time writer to wing it. Let’s say you have written a poem about your dog that perhaps saved a drowning boy’s life. First of all, you are already a freelancer because you are sending this article to a publisher. Second, you are a poet because this is a poem. Now, you can say, “Jane Doe is a freelance writer and poet.” Sounds better, doesn’t it?

Join Writing Or Critique Groups

Are you a member of a writing group, online or otherwise? If not, join today! This is very important for a first-time writer with no bylines. An editor will take notice if you are a member of a writing or critique group as this tells them you have an interest in perfecting your craft. There are several places online to find a writing group. One good place to look is Yahoo!. Go to Yahoo Groups at http://www.groups.yahoo.com and look for Entertainment & Arts. Look under “books,” then “Writing.” Peruse the groups, as there are over a thousand groups listed here. Join as many as you want. Be careful about the amount of groups you sign up for, for it will take up much of your email space.

Writing Organizations

Another plus in an editor’s eyes is your affiliation with writers’ organizations. Where to find them? One way is to go to one of your writer’s groups and ask. Many writers in these groups are already associated with several organizations and they can give you advice on which ones to join. Another way to find out is to put “writer organizations” in search. I went to Yahoo and put “writer organizations” in the search box, and this is what I found: at the time of this writing, Yahoo included 23 categories and 298 websites for writer organizations. They included:

Most have yearly fees, so be prepared for that. This should not defray you. One particular writers’ organization I know is so well respected by editors and publishers that having that in your bio is almost all you need for an instant passport to publication.

Conclusion

As an unpublished author, you have to always remember that you are your own product. You have to sell yourself. By following the above suggestions, I can guarantee you will come up with an author bio that will knock the editor’s socks off and increase your chances of becoming a published author.

Dorothy Thompson 2001

Dorothy Thompson is a freelance writer, children’s ebook author, and editor of The Writer’s Life. She writes for many online publications, as well as AuthorsDen and Stories.com. Her children’s ebook, No More Gooseberry Pie! is published by Writers-Exchange E-Publishing. Her latest project is a soul mate anthology she is compiling that will be published next year.

How to Write a Book That Will Actually Sell

By Patricia Fry
Is it possible to predetermine the success of your book before you start writing it? To a degree, yes. Some of your choices during the planning and writing phases of your book can definitely influence eventual sales. There’s no sense in leaving the future of your book to chance, when you can help to create a greater potential for its success.

As the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and an international speaker, I meet many authors every year who are disappointed in their book sales. I think it’s fair to say that 100 percent of the time the fault lies with the author. Here are eight common mistakes first-time authors make and tips for how to avoid them:

1. The author writes the wrong book for the wrong audience.

This author hasn’t discovered the true audience for his book. He may have written a bulldozer book– one designed to change minds. It may be a valid book subject, but he plans to promote it to an audience who isn’t interested.

Many of us enter into the world of publishing with hopes and dreams. We want to make a difference, change wrong thinking, offer positive alternatives, teach better methods of being, for example. More often than not, however, our perceived target audiences don’t really give a darn. They aren’t interested in a new perspective, a different way of living and they certainly don’t want to be told that their thinking is wrong.

Examples of bulldozer book topics might include, smoking, religion, politics, parenting techniques, and pregnancy issues.

Remedy: Early on, study your chosen genre/topic and identify your audience—those people who would want to read this book—not those who should. Write the book for an audience who cares.

2. The author doesn’t know that he is responsible for promotion.

Obviously, this author didn’t take the time and initiative to study the publishing industry or he would know that his job isn’t over once the book is published.

Remedy: Study the publishing industry. Discover all of your publishing options, consider the possible consequences of your choices, and learn about your responsibilities as a published author. Read my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book by Patricia Fry. Also read books by Marilyn Ross, Brian Judd, Dan Poynter, and John Kremer.

3. The author doesn’t take the opportunity to build promotion into his book while he’s writing it.

Savvy authors think about their target audiences while they are writing and designing their books.

Remedy: If yours would make a good reference book, for example, you’ll want to include a complete index. For a novel, choose a setting that is conducive to promotion. Give a character a popular ailment and present it in a positive light. Build promotion into your how-to book by involving a lot of experts and/or organizations through interviews and by including them in your resource list, for example. Solicit testimonials for your back cover from high profile people in your field or genre. Find ways to make your book more appealing to a larger audience.

4. The author neglects to establish a platform.

An author’s platform is his following, his reach, his way of attracting his target audience. Most successful authors today have a platform in place before they produce a book.

Remedy: Begin establishing or building on your platform even before you start writing the book. Your platform for your book on phobias might be the fact that you’re a psychologist in this area of study, that you suffered a severe phobia for years, that you work with women with phobias and/or that you’ve written articles and papers about this for years. Establish a platform for your cookbook by entering and judging cooking contests, writing articles for magazines, teaching online cooking classes, for example. Create a platform for your novel by becoming known as a short story writer (submit stories to appropriate magazines– lots and lots of them), building and maintaining a large mailing list, getting involved in sites related to your genre.

5. The author has unrealistic expectations.

Many first-time authors (we’ve all been there) expect to sell their books by the truckloads through mega bookstores. They believe that any good book will be eagerly welcomed by bookstore owners and managers. The reality is that few people outside of traditional royalty publishers with track records can get new books into bookstores. And space on bookstore shelves does not guarantee sales. In fact, books that are not selling will be returned– sometimes within the first few months.

Remedy: Have a promotions plan in place before deciding to produce a book. Don’t expect that your book will sell well just because it exists. Understand that it is going to take work and time to get your book noticed among the thousands of others. Having your book accepted for sale in bookstores is not necessarily your key to sales and riches. It’s still up to you to promote it– to spread the word about your wonderful, useful, exciting book.

6. The author plans to give promotion just a lick and a promise.

I’ve seen it often: An author brings out a book, notifies her local newspaper, sets up a website, visits a few independent bookstores, attends a book festival and then goes back to her previous lifestyle. She realizes a brief flurry of book sales and then they stop. She doesn’t know why.

Remedy: Authors need to understand that book promotion is ongoing. It should start before you write the book and continue for as long as you want to sell books. Your book will sell only for as long as you are willing to promote it.

7. The author gives up.

I can’t tell you how often I hear this, “I can’t sell my book, so what’s the use?” You won’t achieve the level of success you desire if you quit.

Remedy: Adopt a never-give-up attitude. Adapt the same measure of persistence, stick-to-itiveness and patience it took to complete your book project and get it published.

8. The author grows weary of the book promotion process.

Sure you’re going to suffer burnout. Promoting a book is a long, hard process.

Remedy: Tap into your sense of creativity in order to spark book sales. Try new, interesting and even exciting ways to boost sales. Plan a trip and take your book along. Visit bookstores and negotiate consignment deals. Rent a booth at a book festival locally. Give a performance featuring your book and invite the entire community. With the help of a publicist or marketing genius, launch a mail order campaign.

There’s a lot to consider when entering the huge and competitive publishing business. And promotion is a major consideration. Whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, self-publish (establish your own publishing company), or go with a fee-based POD publishing service, it is up to the author to promote his or her book. And the time to start thinking about promotion is before you ever sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Patricia Fry is the president of SPAWN. She is also a full-time freelance writer and the author or 28 books. Ten of her books relate to writing and publishing. She blogs at Matilja Press

Mining for Gold In Your Own Backyard

By Bex Hall

I’m not really certain why it took me so long to realize this, but I admit, somewhat ashamedly, that I have literally been sitting on a gold mine and didn’t have a clue.

For about eight months now I’ve been reaching out and networking with writers from afar. Participating in discussion lists and on message boards related to my book topic. My inbox is filled regularly with wonderful newsletters for writers that I devour upon arrival. I’ve been corresponding regularly with colleagues now who live thousands of miles away.

Then last month, I met a writer acquaintance while running errands. She told me about a local writing group that had an opening and asked if I’d be interested. After learning more about them, I applied, and was ultimately accepted.

The first meeting was an eye-opener, to say the least. Here I sat in a room with a local professor who had self-published a novel that was meeting with success. There was another woman who was shopping for an agent for her fiction manuscript, and yet another person who had been to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Which, from what I understand, is truly a Big Deal. I was humbled. The remainder of the group was comprised of writers who were at various stages in their journey for publication and honing their craft. I know I’m going to learn a great deal from our monthly meetings and interaction via the message board.

It was then that I began to wonder if there were others in our community who write or have been published. Google provided me with some interesting results. When I searched for “local, authors, published, [my city, my state]” I came across a gentleman who has been a freelancer since 1985. He’s written two dozen books, some that are well recognized, and his wife is an editor at our local newspaper. All I could do at that moment was pick my chin up from the floor and wonder aloud, “Here? In my little town?” I later shared this with my husband and he then proceeded to tell me that he had lived two doors down from the couple for seven years and that they were friendly people. I asked for an introduction.

I found the schedules of several other local authors who were doing book signings at, of all things (gasp), our local Borders bookstore. Sometimes I amaze even me at how obtuse I can be. My thirst for knowing more fueled my quest so I dug deeper. Apparently, our museum holds workshops for writers, I discovered. And to top it all off, our city holds an annual Festival of Books in November. I learned that last year our state capital, a mere hour long drive away, debuted a Book Fest event that was attended by over 7,000 people and that it’s being held again in October, complete with publishers, agents and nationally known authors. How could I have missed all of this?

I reason that it’s because I’m a writer first, marketer and networker, second. Better late than never, I rationalized. I also found that our state has an organization just for writers and I joined. They have an annual writing competition and while the deadline for entry was missed this year, I plan on participating next year as a new member. They’re holding a weekend workshop in June that’s designed to improve the craft, and my registration is already in the mail.

My search also revealed a seminar by Dan Poynter, the self-publishing industry guru, who was hosting the event only three hours from my backyard. I ventured forth for the day and met other published authors sitting in the audience. I also learned a very clever secret from one of the attendees about how to get reviews for your book cover. Well, it worked for him at least, and I’m sure going to give it a try.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that I’ve been blind for so long to the goldmine in my own backyard. While it’s a good thing to network with those you may never physically meet, being face-to-face with other writers, editors, and publishers, I’ve learned, is priceless.

Not only for the encouragement and support one can receive, but also for the doors that can potentially be opened on a local basis. Developing these contacts and relationships will take time and effort, however, when the time comes to seek local paying freelance jobs or to promote the book once it’s published, the groundwork will have been laid.

Do you remember that commercial that went something like, ” . . . and they’ll tell two people, and then they’ll tell two people . . . “? If you happen to be in your late thirties, used a certain popular hair care product and you were concerned about others hating you because you were beautiful, then you may be familiar with it. If not, it exemplifies the concept of grassroots marketing and networking. Even though it may take time away from writing, it can ultimately lead to more opportunities to do so.

If you’re already out there in your own backyard, panning for nuggets, then kudos to you. If not, then get thee to thy favorite search engine and begin the rush. Who knows? You may even become richer from the experience.

Copyright © 2002 Bex Hall

Bex Hall is a published writer, a mother of two daughters and has remarried adding three stepchildren to the fold, all between the ages of 11 and 20. When she’s not busy applying to be on Jeopardy!, Bex spends her free time looking at life and watching what’s really going on amongst humanity. She then turns around and writes about it. In fact, her column appears weekly at Macon Area Online and on Bex Hall’s Website.

The Book Launch: One Survivor’s Story

By Lauri Kubuitsile

5:30 p.m.: Okay, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to live in the moment tonight, &agrav; la Oprah. I’m not going to be my normal spastic self, planning every minute of my future, coming up with fantastic scenarios that keep me obsessed for hours. I am not going to spend the whole time being somewhere else and then have to ask my husband what happened. It’s my book launch for goodness sake! My first ever! My dream come true! My confirmation that I’m finally a real writer! This is my day and I’m going to grab it with both hands! Seize the day! Seize the day!

5:35 p.m.: Who am I kidding? I’m not a writer. A writer is somebody else. Ernest Hemmingway. Margaret Atwood. André Brink. These are writers. But then, what am I? A big fat scam, that’s what. Somehow I slipped through the cracks. Writers don’t feel like this. Writers are different. Writers are not like me.

5:45 p.m.: I’ve decided not to wear the new clothes. Clothes can be your worst enemy. I don’t know these; they could do anything. I’m sticking with the enemies I know: black skirt that never misbehaves, but does make my bum sweat; navy tank which believes itself to be sexy and often travels to places that it really shouldn’t, revealing things that, at 41 years old, really shouldn’t be revealed; and the olive jacket that looks positively “Mom-ish.” Is this what a writer looks like? Extremely doubtful. The evidence against me is mounting.

6:10 p.m.: My hair has decided that we will be performing at the Grand Ole Opry tonight and will not be convinced otherwise even by a stern Alice band. Despite all efforts to the contrary, I have begun my descent into spaz mode. I’ve already seen myself in front of everyone unable to speak, paper shaking uncontrollably in my hands. Or alternatively, speaking maniacally about my dog to the two people, besides my family, who have managed to show up. The scenarios of disaster are endless, and are rolling through my mind like a newsreel on a case of Red Bull. Just because I’ve written a book, don’t think I’m a writer. No, that would be a big mistake. Have opened the box of wine.

6:30 p.m.: I’ve changed back and forth between two pairs of shoes 43 times until my husband has taken control of the situation. Getting up to go to the car, I knock over the now empty box of wine and realize to my surprise that I am no longer spazzing. Am I going to be okay? Unlikely. I’m now drunk. A drunk writer-poser dressed as a “Mom-ish” Dolly Parton. Great. Just great. My husband, in typical “everything’s fine” mode, says, “So, we’re off then.”

Off, yeah, we’re off all right, I whisper to myself.

7:00 p.m.: They’ve come! I’m here. This is it. My first-ever book launch! The store looks marvelous, my book is stunning. I have a perfect view of everything from the corner where I’m hiding, behind the nonfiction section.

7:30 p.m.: It’s my turn. I speak about something I would be hard pressed to remember. I see people smiling. My husband nods his head, agreeing with whatever it is I have said. I’ve let Oprah down dismally. I’m just floating around overhead, not really in any moment at all. Surprisingly, the crowd seems to be buying whatever I’m saying. There’s been no indignant bookworm coming forward, shouting about the sham of it all.

Is this what a writer is? A writer writes and then people come and listen to her talk and think she knows something about what she’s written when she really hasn’t a clue? Could it be that all those famous writers are just like this? Lost as to how or why they wrote what they wrote and not really having anything to say, just making it up along the way? No. No, can’t be. Those are writers. This is me. Completely different.

7: 55 p.m.: People are buying books. They want me to sign them. I’m prepared, of course. I’m a Capricorn. I write my little blurb and sign and the person, for some reason, is so thankful. Yesterday the bank teller gave me a scowl when she asked for my signature on the check I forgot to sign; today someone is thankful to have me muck up her new book with it. What a difference a day makes.

9:30 p.m.: At dinner, family and friends say that it went well. I believe them only to the extent that I know they have to say that. I drink more wine and ramble on excitedly. Am I not a real writer now? I have a book with my name on it. Disappointedly, I feel no different.

11:45 p.m.: I flop down on the hotel bed, the world spinning from too much alcohol and too many emotions. How is it when you reach your dream? This is how it is, I answer myself. It’s just like this. Drunk in a hotel room that smells slightly of stale cigarettes, my children and husband smiling down at me. A look of pride on their faces.

It’s good, I think. And as I undress, realizing I’ve worn my shirt backwards the entire night, I spend a few moments smack in the present. I look at my name on the book, run my finger over its cover. I am an author, I say out loud to no one, for they’ve all gone to sleep.

And I smile and know, finally, that it is true.

Lauri Kubuitsile is a freelance writer and author of the novella The Fatal Payout (Macmillan, 2005). She has written for Australian School Magazine, Dogma.Net, Ghost Magazine, Learning Through History, OTTN Publishing, Kutlwano Magazine, and Touraters, among others. Her short stories have won prizes in the 2004 Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the John H. Reid/Tom Howard Annual Short Story & Prose Contest 2005. She lives in Botswana with her long suffering husband and two teenage children. You can find Lauri Kubuitsile’s blog Thoughts from Botswana.

Promote Your Prose: Promote Your ProsePromotional Material For Your Books

By Mary Emma Allen

“What promotional materials do you have to make your book stand out and help us sell it?” a bookstore events coordinator asked.

There are a variety of materials you can use to let others know about your book and help make it noticeable in bookstores. With today’s computer printing programs, you can create many yourself. Also, check what other authors are using for promo materials.

  • Business Cards— I print my business cards with standard information on the front. On the back (a publicity expert mentioned using the back of your business card for additional data), I print information about various aspects of my books and writing programs. These cards can be changed as I need because I’m not printing huge quantities.
  • Bookmarks—These can be made fairly inexpensively and are a great promo item. Bookmarks are welcomed by children when you do Young Author programs and workshops in schools. They also serve as a type of business card.
  • Postcards—The design may feature a picture of your book cover or simply information about your book. When you need to drop a note to someone, use your post cards. (As one publisher mentioned, it’s not only you and the person you’re sending the card to who read it; many people along the way may handle the post card.)

I discovered post cards were a great way to generate sales. One side includes a description. The other side has one half for address and the other half an order form. A surprising number of people return this card with an order and check for my book.

  • Flyers—This item can take may forms, depending on its purpose. Use the flyers to give information about your books, upcoming programs and classes you’ll be giving, and as order sheets (both for mail order and sales at schools and workshop locations).
  • Posters—These are another way to give information about your book and/or presentation. Sometimes you’ll need to provide posters for your book signings. They’re also good to have when giving talks and workshops.
  • Enlargements of Illustrations & Covers—Use these as posters for promoting your book. I’ve had requests for enlargements of the illustrations in my children’s anthology, so have begun making these available for sale.
  • Information Packets—Prepare an information packet to send to bookstores, book reviewers, interviewers. This includes a description of your book, a copy of press releases you send to publications, a short bio. You may include other material, like a bookmark, business card, and review copy if requested.

©2001 Mary Emma Allen

(The above material has been expanded in my manual, “Self-Publishing Your Books.”)

Mary Emma Allen writers for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. She’s also a columnist and travel writer, as well as speaker and teacher. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Promoting Your Prose: Creating a Memorable Personality

Do you recede into the background when people meet you or do you present a memorable appearance? We’re told it takes 30 seconds to make a first impression. How do you want to be perceived as an author?

This often is something we writers don’t think about. As writers who strive for recognition, we often never think of what could set us apart from others or what might set writers we admire apart, in addition to their writing.

“Develop your own style, your signature,” a children’s author and workshop teacher told us when she discussed doing book signings or giving school presentations. She mentioned the importance of dress and told us she decided to create an image for herself . . . one when she appeared at functions attended by adults or met with editors and another when she appeared in schools to talk with children.

Leaving an Impression

A variety of factors will be involved when you create an impression… favorable or unfavorable . . . that will cause readers to remember you.

“Why should this matter?” one asks, when readers will be buying and reading our books without our being there… and when most editors will buy my work without ever seeing me.

Everything we can do to create a favorable impression with readers and editors, when we do have an opportunity to meet them, certainly helps. If we can create a favorable impression, that they remember when our name is mentioned, helps even more.

Developing Your Signature

This author at the workshop wore colorful flowing dresses and chunky jewelry. She’d dressed the way she does when giving presentations for children in schools and libraries. She said children enjoy bright colors and appealing jewelry.

Another of her suggestions was dressing like one of your characters when giving a presentation, reading or signing book. This certainly calls attention when you’re doing readings or book signings in book stores where you want to catch the interest of customers and draw them to your area.

Appearance Depends on Occasion

Your appearance also depends on the occasion and the type of writing you do. I recently attended a health fair where I set up a display about my book on Alzheimer’s, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents I wanted to look professional, someone knowledgeable about my topic.

To me this meant giving attention to my appearance and not looking scruffy. Once I used to wear clothes and colors that made me recede into the background. However, I’ve found the “secret me” enjoys wearing the colorful clothing I enjoyed as a child.

This doesn’t mean wearing gaudy clothing, but something well coordinated and comfortable, something that makes me feel good about myself. Then I can feel good when talking with others about my book and my work as an encourager to caregivers.

If one is at an outdoor craft fair or function, where weather might be a consideration, dress according to that occasion. Jeans and similar clothing could be appropriate. If your book is about the out-of-doors or connected with sports, then dressing in clothing associated with those occasions would be more in keeping than skirt and panty hose and heels or suit and tie.

Dress Depends on Age

Dress often depends on the age of the audience or the editor you’re meeting. Those of an older generation have a different idea of appropriateness than someone who is comfortable with “dress down Friday.”

Keep in mind that the way you dress at a book event or meeting with an editor can have an effect on how you’re received. It might be worthwhile to give some thought to developing a characteristic type of dressing that it associated with you.

I’d enjoy hearing from writers who have had success in developing a signature style of dressing.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen writers for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction. She’s also a columnist and travel writer, as well as speaker and teacher. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Promoting Your Prose: Developing Your Own Press Releases

By Mary Emma Allen

Many writers are reluctant to “toot their own horn” or promote themselves. Writers often are shy people who’d rather write than market their work. However, in today’s writing and publishing world, you can’t hide in the closet, as one writer said at a workshop.

An excellent way of obtaining free publicity is through press releases. I used to think it very presumptuous of a writer to put together and send out her own press releases. However, I discovered that newspaper editors didn’t look aghast at press releases.

I also learned, when working as a reporter and part-time editor at a weekly, that
newspaper editors often are looking for free well-written material to publish. Press releases fall under this category.

Tips for Press Releases

  • Write Well—The press release represents you and your writing. Make sure you proofread it for grammar, spelling, and coherence. An editor is very unlikely to use a press release they have to rewrite.
  • Keep It Short—Try to make your press release no longer than one double spaced page, one and a half pages at the most. The newspaper editor is more likely to have room for it if it’s short. Also the second page won’t get lost if you don’t have one! It’s less likely to be rewritten if it’s short.
  • E-mail Your Releases—if the paper accepts them. I do this now with all my releases, but I’ve checked to make sure this is the acceptable procedure so they’re not simply deleted unread.
  • Send to the Appropriate Editor—You have a better chance of having your press releases read if you send them to the editor of the department your news would come under.
  • Use releases for various announcements—You can send out press releases for more than having a book published. Announce a book signing, a workshop you’re teaching, a talk you’re giving, an article published in a magazine, an author day at a school.
  • Use photos—Have some photos made to accompany press releases. In today’s world of digital cameras and scanners, you can use photos without it being a great expense. The newspaper may not have space for every photo you send, but you’ll have a better chance if you do include a photo periodically.
  • See if publishers will send out releases— Occasionally when I’ve written for magazines, the editors will send a release to local newspapers. This gives them publicity, too. Book publishers often will send out releases about their authors’ books.
  • Check For Calendar of Events—When you’re giving talks, doing book signings, teaching classes, send short notices to publications that have calendars of events.
  • Send to Newsletters—If you belong to a writers’� group that publishes a newsletter, make sure you send a press release to the editor or person who puts the newsletter together.
  • Check Out Online Possibilities—Many ezines and web sites are looking for news about writers and their work. Generally these press releases must be even shorter than those for print publications. Check out the length of those online; also inquire of the editor what he/she uses. Online publicity is read around the world!

These are just a few tips about press releases. If you don’t know how to write one, study those you see in various publications. Also, check out books on the topic.

© 2001 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen writes for children and adults, fiction and nonfiction, teaches at conferences, continuing education classes, and in schools. She has written for newspapers and magazines, online and in print, has written four books, a coloring book, and nine manuals for writers. She blogs at Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.

Interview: Susan Bays, Independent Publisher at Arbutus Press

By Gloriana 

Susan Stites Bays publishes under the name of Susan Bays, and writes as Susan Stites.  She owns and operates Arbutus Press, a small independent company that publishes nonfiction subjects relating to Michigan and the Midwest only. Arbutus Press flourishes due to Susan’s skills, resourcefulness and drive.  Here, Susan shares some of her secrets—how she began, what she’s learned along the way, and her vision of the future. 

Tell us about your company in its present state. 

Arbutus Press is still a very small publishing company with a bright future.

What got you into self-publishing?

It all started under the name Discovery Travel Tours, a production company for audio travel tour tapes. After some success with writing a script, hiring an announcer, booking studio time, finding an artist for cover art, ordering jewel cases and J-card inserts, and selecting music or sound effects for audio, a 60-minute audio cassette tape describing Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore found its way into the marketplace. That was in 1989. It is still stocked through regional bookstores.

I guess that venture got my feet wet. Actually, it was total immersion into the exciting field of writing and producing.

After two more titles on audio tape, I found the concept of tape tours difficult to distribute. It didn’t fit standard displays at bookstores. There were no distributors who would handle them because the product was neither a book nor a book on tape. I realized that the product’s time had not yet come to the Midwest (tape tours are very popular on the West Coast and in museums), so I moved on to publish a book on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a guidebook in its second printing.

So, from what I gather, you tried travel tapes, but found that in this market, books do better. 

Exactly.

Why did you choose to pursue the travel genre? 

I was a gypsy of sorts and loved to explore. I read Joseph Campbell at the time and just followed my bliss. In addition to bliss, it was a way to make my travels more necessary. Friends often came with me on my “business trips” to hike the dunes or take the ferry to Mackinac Island. I couldn’t think of a better business to be in.

You must have had to do a lot of research to jump in and publish a book. How did you find everything you needed to get going as a publisher? 

I bought a book on self-publishing. That got me started. From then on I just flew by the seat of my pants and asked people questions. Research was really part of my training as a biologist, so I applied those learning strategies to acquire the knowledge to get a book in print.

It was, and still is, a huge learning curve. I made mistakes, some costly, but it’s all part of the process of doing it on your own.

Care to pass on any of those lessons?

There are many technical aspects of the printing process that I found difficult to understand, ranging from paper selection to scanning and reproduction of photos. Now I realize that there are prepress businesses to help with this process. But it all takes money. The language of printers was foreign, so just communicating with them was difficult.

Then there was the confusing discount that booksellers and distributors receive, sometime tiered depending on shipping charges, consignment or not, and a million other details.

I never consign with bookstores anymore. If they want to buy a book, that’s fine, but consignment is very labor intensive, and the bookseller has no motivation to sell your book. The merit of consignment comes from a measure of desperation. No one was buying my tapes outright because the whole concept was unfamiliar. My choices were to consign with a bookstore or look at cardboard boxes in my basement that were filled with tapes.

Why didn’t you go with an established publisher? 

I might have given that option a brief thought but never seriously considered it. I really wanted to do it myself. The rewards, financial and personal, were my original motivation. Why would I want to give 95% of that away? I know that established big publishers are absolutely the route for fiction, but my project was regional nonfiction.

Would you define “regional nonfiction”?

To me, regional nonfiction means that the intended readers are familiar with the topic of the book because it is essentially about their neighborhood or about their neighbors. And distribution of the book is limited to one area or region. The Road Guide: Sleeping Bear, Dunes National Lakeshore is limited to bookstores in the region and visitors of the dunes. It is not a fictional account of the dunes, but a factual guide.

Why is self-publishing is better for that genre?

Because the marketing is easier. People are already somewhat familiar with it because they have visited the place or already know they like the topic. Again, the Sleeping Bear Dunes book sells itself if someone is interested in the dunes and needs a guidebook, versus a work of fiction written with the setting of the dunes.

In fiction, you’re selling the writer’s ability to tell a story with exciting characters and compelling conflicts. It takes many readers to form a consensus that a book of fiction is worth recommending. The reader doesn’t know if s/he will like it or not before buying it unless it is recommended by someone like the New York Times, other book reviewers, friends, book clubs. How many times have you overheard people in bookstores say, “I’ve heard this is good”?

I’m not discouraging writers from self-publishing fiction; I’m saying be prepared to put tremendous effort into getting the book out to readers.

How did you find a printer? A distributor?

There are resources in the library to help find vendors. Also, I asked an independent bookstore owner for advice. This proved valuable in finding distributors, publishing and marketing organizations to join, and journals to read—-for a start.

How did you handle the business aspect of self-publishing?

I bought Quickbooks, keep a card file, have a file cabinet, stamps, fax and a telephone. What more do you need?

Quickbooks?

Quickbooks is a software accounting program. It tracks the sales of books and accounts receivable, prints invoices and also has a wonderful feature that allows you to accept credit cards for book orders from individuals.

You did your own writing. How did you obtain the photographs that must have been an integral part of the project? 

Of the three books I’ve written, each has different sources. Some used historic archival photos or public domain photos. Even my digital camera produced some photos. Friends of mine took color shots for one of the books, and I share the profits from that project with them.

Did you do your own public relations work for the book? 

Yes. I found that every stage of publishing required a new skill. Public relations work is the most difficult for me. It takes a tremendous amount of my time and energy, and I have to put my ego away. PR can be an endless pursuit, because without readers for your book, you’re left with that basement full of cardboard boxes. Besides, the author is really the best person to convince a newspaper, radio show, or bookseller on the merits of their book. Sometimes, just the author’s enthusiasm alone will rouse interest.

What did you do about advertising at the beginning? 

I wrote a press release and sent it to various newspapers. If a press release is well written, the newspapers sometimes print it verbatim. It saves them money and benefits an author. Never underestimate the power of that first press release. Usually a follow-up phone call [to the place you sent your release] is helpful.

How did the book do when you released it? 

All of them have done well. By well, I mean I’ve made enough money to pay for the expenses and then some. The “some” is invested in more projects. Right now, I’ve taken the leap from self-publishing to other-publishing. I have an author’s work in layout ready to send to the printer next week.

By “other-publishing,” I assume that you publish others authors’ books?

It seems to me a natural progression to move from self-publishing to publishing other people’s work. For me, I can apply the acquired knowledge and experience from fumbling around to get my own stuff in print for the benefit of others. Sometimes it’s a joint venture, where the author and I team up and finance the project jointly, and sometimes it’s a standard contract where I apply my knowledge and money to publish a book for someone else.

What type of book is the one you’re publishing for the “other” author? 

I have two that I’m working on. One is a very special cookbook, and the other is a historical chronology through black and white photos.

Have you ever gone with Print On Demand (POD), or have you always used conventional publishing? 

I have researched Print On Demand and received a sample copy of one of my titles. I wasn’t impressed with the quality of reproduction for the photos, so it wouldn’t work for me. But I do have a copy of a an author’s work of fiction that is text only, and it seems a viable solution to the problem of quantity and expense for that type of book.

Your Sleeping Bear Dunes guidebook is in its second printing. This means it’s sold out or almost sold out. How many do you print at a time? 

I printed and reprinted 3,000 books under that title. Another book out last year will have 10,000 in print by mid summer. Determination of the print number has to do with what I think the interest is. Century of Summers [a third title] is an extremely regional book about people and places on a small inland lake near Traverse City. I have only 600 in print and sell them at the corner market. I’m pretty conservative in my print runs. I’d rather pay more per copy than store many books. Reprinting is nothing more than making a phone call and writing a check.

Susan, your experience illustrates several cardinal aspects of successful entrepreneurs in this field: 1) Write about what you love. 2) Be resourceful. 3) Do your homework. 4) Be willing to take risks. 5) The only way to learn is to jump in and do it. Does that sum it up? 

Well said.

What is your five-year vision for Arbutus Press? 

I see Arbutus Press remaining a small publisher of quality regional nonfiction in five years.

Susan, thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. 

Visit the Arbutus Press website at www.Arbutuspress.com. Susan’s publishing name is Susan Bays, and she can be reached at Arbutuspress.com.

©2002 Gloriana

Promoting Your Prose

By Mary Emma Allen

Promoting Your Books At Writers’ Conferences

When I mentioned to a colleague that I’d sold eight of my writers’ resource books and another on Alzheimer’s at a writers’ conference, she remarked that she didn’t know writers could do that. It all depends on the conference, but these are good places to network and to let others know about your books even if you’re not one of the speakers/teachers.

You’ll find that writers’ conferences vary. Some don’t have this opportunity available to attendees. Some allow only members of the organization coordinating the conference to sell books at the members’ book table. Others only sell the books of workshop teachers and keynote speaker.

Check Out the Possibilities

However, when you’re planning to attend a conference, check out the possibility of book sales and opportunities to sign books. Inquire whether they have sales and signings and who can participate.

Also, check to see whether the coordinating organization takes a percentage of the sale. Some offer this as a service to those attending and don’t take a fee. Others will ask for a 10% to 20% donation.

If you don’t have a book to sell or aren’t allowed to sell your book at a conference (some simply don’t have space for book sales), inquire whether there’s a table where you can leave literature and business cards. Most conferences like to have freebie material for the attendees to pick up.

I frequently get requests from conferences for literature about my books and, when I published a newsletter, guidelines and information about it.

Types of Books

It’s difficult to determine what type of book will sell at a conference. However, at writers’ conferences, I’ve found that my Writing in Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont is popular, along with my manuals for writers.

When I give talks about Alzheimer’s at conferences or nursing homes, When We Become the Parent to Our Parents is the book attendees pick up. However, I have sold these, as well as my anthology of children’s stories, at writers’ conferences.

If you’re one of the speakers or workshop teachers, just about all of your books will be of interest. However, if you’re speaking on a particular writing topic, anything you’ve written about it usually will be more popular.

Working at the Book Table

Volunteering to work at the book table enables you to meet the attendees, answer questions about your book(s), and autograph your books. Also it’s fun. I enjoy meeting the other authors as they check their books at the table.

This also gives me an opportunity to network with more of the attendees, to meet them, and to make newcomers feel welcome at the conference.

Inquire About Guidelines

Whenever you’re registering for a conference, check to see if they have a book table where you can display and sell your books. Then inquire about the guidelines.

*Who is hosting the book table?

Committee members or a local book store? At one conference I attended, a local book store checked in the books and took care of sales. A couple weeks later they mailed me the check for my books sold.

*How many books can you bring?

Limited space often restricts the number of titles an author can display.

*Do you bring change for sale of your books or does the organization make change?

Let them know whether you’ll take checks from individuals purchasing your books.

Even if you don’t sell many or any books (and it’s difficult to predict beforehand how many and what types of books will sell), you’ll have an opportunity to let more people know about you and your writing. Have order forms to leave on the literature table so that if someone cannot buy your book the day of the conference, they can order it later.

Explore the possibility of selling and promoting your books at conferences. It’s also an enjoyable way to network and meet more writers, editors, and publishers.

© 2002 Mary Emma Allen

Mary Emma Allen, an author of books for children and adults, also offers a workshop, “Marketing Your Books & Manuscripts.” She teaches writing classes online, at a local college, and in elementary and high schools. Visit her blog Mary Emma’s Potpourri of Writing.