Monday, July 31, 2006

A Chat with Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson's first novel, This Is The Place and her creative nonfiction, Harkening A Collection of Stories Remembered, are both award-winners. Her fiction, nonfiction and poems have appeared in national magazines, anthologies and review journals. She speaks on Utah's culture, tolerance and other subjects and has appeared on TV and hundreds of radio stations nationwide. She is an instructor for UCLA Extension's Writers' Program and has shared her expertise on publishing and writing at venues like San Diego State's world renowned Writers' Conference, Call to Arts! EXPO and Dayton University's Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. She was recently awarded Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of the California Legislature. She has also published a nitty-gritty how-to book, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't which won USA Book News' "Best Professional Book 2004"

Carolyn, thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to join us. Self published, or authors who use a publish on demand company face an uphill battle in getting bookstores to stock their books. Are there any shortcuts? Any tips?

Dee, for some kinds of books, how-to or self-help books as an example, it might be best to simply avoid worrying about bookstores. One well-known marketer says, "Bookstores are not the best place to sell books," and he's right. At least in regard to some kinds of books. Did you know that big publishers are purchasing display space in prime spots of bookstores? This, while yours (however it is published unless you happen to be a big publisher's favorite child) go languishing, spine out, on a shelf along the wall along with thousands of other books.

What do you do instead? Use the Net. As you know The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't shows people dozens, if not hundreds of ways, to put the power of the Web to work for you. There are other ways as well, Speaking and teaching are among my favorites.

Your book, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER, contains a myriad of marketing strategies, a plethora of promotional ideas and a ton of tips. If an author only has $100 to spend on marketing for a one month time period, what would you suggest?

Not spending it. Go to my chapter on Amazon perks and use them. It doesn't include this very one (Amazon plogs) but it will in the next editions. It will get you started on Your About You page, using their reviews, using Listmanias, and my favorite, their So You'd Like To.... essays.

Branding seems to be the buzz word of late. How does an author brand themselves when they write both fiction and nonfiction?

Oh, yes. Do I have this problem! You bet. I am a poet and literary novelist. I also have a book of creative nonfiction stories out called , Harkening. I'm known best by my The Frugal Book Promoter: title (which, be the way, is soon to become a series). The way around it is to brand your name. When Stephen King wrote his book On Writing it sold big. People know his name. Many of his readers couldn't name more than one or two of his book titles.

You mention writing articles as a way to promote yourself and your book. I can certainly see how that works for nonfiction, but could you give some examples on how it would work for a novelist?

Unfortunately, novelists don't think of their books as commodities. They are. This Is The Place is set in Utah, home of the 2002 Olympics. It has an underlying premise that even subtle prejudice is corrosive. It is set in the 50s. It is about a protagonist with Mormon ancestors, a huge topic every time polygamy comes up in the news. Now that Big Love is a hit on HBO, that is a tie-in for publicity. I've put those subject in red. Those are my angles to get features, radio spots and, yes, for articles. As a novelist, you ask yourself, what are your novel's best angles? What do its characters do for a living? The articles will suggest themselves to you.

The publishing industry is a dynamic industry. What changes do you foresee in marketing and promotion of books in the future.

Just like politics, I see people using fewer benefits to sell their books and more fear tactics. An example: For my next book THE FRUGAL EDITOR: HOW TO AVOID HUMILIATION BY PUTTING YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD (or something like that) even the title will suggest why editing is important. It's even more important if a book is a tough sell. Why is this book a tough sell? Because so many authors think they are great writers and therefore don't need an editor and also don't really learn to be one on their own. Being a great editor is not the same as being a great writer. Even people who aced English, need to develop editing skills or hire someone who has. Preferably both.
My appreciation to Carolyn Howard-Johnson for spending a few minutes to chat with us. I know I'll be implementing some of her suggestions to promote The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tired Tomatoes, Cranky Cucumbers and Balky Beans.

No, this isn’t a salad gone bad, it’s a vegetable garden in July. The southwest desert is a terrific place for all sorts of things, but not for growing vegetables in the middle of summer. No matter how much water they receive the plants are pooped. The tomatoes won’t set when the temperature is above 100 degrees because the pollen dries out before it gets to fertilize the flower stamen. The cucumbers are in a permanent state of wilt. They might perk up around 4:00 in the morning but I am not going out there with a flashlight to find out. The green beans should be renamed the yellowish brownish beans.

The lantana looks lousy and refuses to bloom. The lawn, once a cooling emerald sea of grass, is pockmarked by brown spots where the sprinklers don’t quite reach and a permanent sludge of mud where it gets over watered to compensate for the soaring temperature.

The plants aren’t the only sufferers in the summer heat. Trying to cool off in the pool is useless. The crystal blue waters beckon with promises of a respite from the sun, but it's misleading. Even if aerated by sprays and fountains, the temperature is bath water warm. The cement is blistering and results in an odd little dance of shuffling and hopping in at attempt to have the feet make as little contact as possible with the pool deck on the way to the water.

The dogs, Kate our Irish Setter and Rose, our Springer Spaniel, refuse to go outside, except for the necessary potty trips. Kate actually sits under the sprinkler when it’s on. And then of course runs through the decomposed granite and the mulch so when she comes back in the house, one knows where she’s been and where she’s going by the paw print trail.

Both girls love their walks in the morning, but now the paraphernalia required resembles that of going on safari. Besides the requisite plastic baggies, and hand sanitizer, and emergency treats, there is the water bottle for them which attaches to your belt and a water bottle for each of us. At the half way point of the walk Rose gulps down her water. Kate on the other hand refuses to drink, she wants the water poured on her nose. That’s what she does to stay cool, puts her entire head in her water dish with her nose under water. Sometimes she even blows bubbles.

Then we have our hats and they have their little hats. You know the doggy kind that are terry cloth lined and you wet down the lining before you put them on? I don’t know if the hats actually keep the puppies any cooler but they look just darling. We have our bandannas and they have theirs. Well they did, until Rose ate hers. I suppose the bandanna just didn’t make the right fashion statement.

That’s just how it is in Arizona in July. 90 degrees for a low and 115 degrees for a high. No matter how early you get up or how late you go to bed, it’s just too hot.


Dee Power is a desert dweller, along with her writing partner Brian Hill, their Irish Setter, Rose and English Springer Spaniel, Kate. She and Brian have written several nonfiction books, the latest is The Making of a Bestseller and a novel, Over Time. You can find more about Dee at

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A Bolt From the Blue

Monsoon season is finally here in the Southwest Desert. This June wasn’t as hot, or as dry, as it historically has been, but still any time the temperature is over 100 degrees and the humidity less than 10%, the relief provided by summer thunderstorms is welcomed. Monsoon means much needed rain, a cooling breeze, and lightning.


At any given time there are 2000 thunderstorms in progress around the world releasing 100 lightning bolts every second. A lightning bolt unleashes 20 million volts of electricity and heats the air around it to 50 thousand degrees, that’s five times hotter than the surface temperature of the sun. Every year there are a hundred or so lightning related deaths, several hundred more people injured, and millions of dollars of property damage just in the United Stated along.

Exactly what lightning is and how it’s caused has been a mystery for thousands of years. Ben Franklin with his infamous kite was the first to prove that lightning is electrical. Of course if old Ben was so terrifically smart, why was he out in the middle of a storm holding on to a metal wire attached to a kite? Makes ya wonder.

Lightning is caused by the separation of negative and positive charges in different regions of a cloud. Ice particles in the cloud grow, break apart and collide. The smaller ice particles acquire a more positive charge and the larger particles a negative charge. The smaller particles are lighter and have a tendency to be carried up into the higher regions of the cloud. The larger particles are heavier and accumulate in the lower regions of the cloud. When the electrical potential (the difference between the negative and positive charges) within the cloud and between the cloud and the ground, is great enough, the electrical resistance in the atmosphere breaks down and the flash begins. Lightning is the electrical discharge, think of it as Mother Nature restoring order.

Thunder is produced by the heating of the air along the electrical current and occurs simultaneously with the lightning flash. Sound travels much slower than light, so the farther away the lightning is, the longer the delay between the lightning flash and the thunder. You can guess roughly how far away a strike is by counting the seconds between when the flash is seen and when the thunder is heard. For every five seconds counted, the lightning is a mile away. If you see the lightning at the same time you hear the thunder, odds are: you’re toast.

Worst places to watch a thunderstorm:

Under a tree

On the tenth tee at on a golf course

(any tee, green, fairway or rough for that matter.)

In a swimming pool

Sitting on a metal lounge chair

In other words if you’re caught in a thunderstorm, stay away from tall trees. Usually lightning will hit the tallest object and if you’re standing under it, the charge can jump from the tree to you. If you’re in an open space you are the tallest object, so crouch low, lay flat on the ground, or get to your car or a building as quickly as possible. Water is a great conductor of electricity, stay away from being in the water or on it during thunderstorms. There’s a reason throwing a hair dryer into a bathtub is used in cheesy movies to murder someone. And finally don’t pull a Ben Franklin – what was he thinking – stay away from metal objects.


If you're wondering why I'm so fascinated with lightning, it's because it's a character in the novel Brian Hill (my co-author) and I are working on.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A conversation with Shel Horowitz

Trained as a journalist, Shel first became aware of the power of the news media when a local paper refused to print meeting notices he wrote for a controversial group--but gave extensive news coverage to its refusal. Now, for over twenty years, he's helped businesses, nonprofits, and community groups get their message out to the public with little or no expenditure.
Shel offers not only copywriting and strategic marketing planning, but also speaks on affordable, effective marketing to national audiences. His third marketing book, Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World , was a finalist for ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award.
In June 2003, convinced that there was a better way to run a business than the methods used by Enron, WorldCom, and Arthur Anderson, Shel released his fourth marketing book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First . This new book states that honesty and integrity are important, while market share often isn't...that long-term relationships are better than a one-time sale...and that competitors can be among your best allies.
Dee: Why did you think that your book
Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First was needed in the marketplace?

Shel: When I got the idea for the book, it seemed that every week there was another major business scandal. I've long been known as an expert in frugal marketing, and it hit me one day that the frugal techniques I'd been advocating for years--based on providing quality, building relationships, and dealing with others straightforwardly--were also the most ethical. So I started looking at the question of whether it was possible to succeed in today's world as an ethical business. Then, when I began my research, I was not surprised to see that often, the most ethical businesses are actually the most successful. I thought that this message would be a welcome antidote to the greed-is-great message that was all over the airwaves--and it really resonates with people!

Dee: You talk about "Abundance Versus Scarcity," can you give a few examples how an author could put that concept into action when marketing their own book?

Shel: The best example comes from John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers . While I was writing the book, he and I were co-panelists at a publishing conference and he talked about his concept of "biological marketing"--that if you think abundantly, you can be like the farmer who gets 900 corn kernels back for planting a single kernel. I took down most of John's speech on my PDA--and since we both believe in the abundance principle, he freely gave me permission to use the material. I gave him full credit of course. John, of course, reaps many benefits from all the struggling authors he helps--as do Dan Poynter and many of the other publishing gurus. And as do I, particularly through my participation on the various publishing discussion lists.

In my forthcoming book, Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers, I discuss a number of examples of "abundance thinking" by authors or publishers. For instance, there's the client of mine who came to me with a really great novel that had been published by a small outfit that did one of the worst production jobs I'd ever seen. I told him to become his own publisher and do the book the right way. It was a leap of faith on his part, but he hired a book shepherd (a service that I wasn't yet offering, although I do now), spent a fair bit of money, and came out with a beautiful book that he could sell with pride. Another example I love is the guy who took some of his copies and cut them in half as part of a marketing promotion. He also had to think from an abundance perspective, because here he was destroying his inventory. And a very successful promotion it was!

Dee: In -- Chapter 9: How the Abundance Paradigm Eliminates the Need to Dominate a Market and Allows You to Better Serve Your Customers The Death of "Market Share" -- you emphasize serving your customer. Most venture capitalists when investing in a company want to see market share, a huge chunk of projected market share. What would you tell an entrepreneur looking for investors?

Shel: Don't necessarily think you have to take your company public; you give up a lot of control to the bean counters, and often, you'd be better off without them. There are dozens of other ways to acquire capital. As one example, I did a bulk sale of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First , before publication, that paid all the expenses of producing the book.

Dee: How do you define "ethical business practices in 100 words or less?"

Shel: A commitment to honesty, integrity and quality. A desire to serve. A vision that includes the "triple bottom line" of financial, social, *and* environmental concerns. An understanding that there's more to life than making money, but also that service to others will actually make you more revenue.

Dee: You have what looks like nearly 100 endorsements for Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First " listed on your website , which one is your favorite and why?

Shel: It may look like 100, but ethically, I have to tell you that the current number is 78 (and constantly growing). It's a very diverse group, including a former US Secretary of Labor, numerous authors and entrepreneurs, the former editor of Writer's Digest, other copywriters, marketing gurus, commentators on the Left and the Right... The one that attracts the most attention is Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup, and I'm very grateful to have that--but I think the one that's most meaningful to me might be Dr. Ken Evoy of Build It, in part because he rarely endorses, and in part because he actually uses his endorsement to credit me (through my 1993 book, Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell Anything on a Shoestring with helping him achieve his own considerable success. Oh, and I should mention that hundreds of people around the world have agreed to the principles I outline in the book by signing the business Ethics Pledge ">

Dee: If you had to grade (from A is the best to F failure) the major publishing houses, as a whole, on their ethics what would you give them and why?

Probably no better than a C right now. There have been major issues of cowardice, such as the recall and destruction (or apparent destruction) of James Hatfield's Fortunate Son (a critical biography of George W. Bush), which was left for tiny soft Skull Press to pick up--and the suppression of one of Michael Moore's books, Stupid White Men. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to Moore, as an author, you should be appalled by the way his publisher treated him. The book was saved only due to an outpouring of support from librarians. You can read about this at shtml.

There have been major issues of plagiarism, and of fiction passed off as true memoir. And of course, there's the growing tendency of the big publishers to publish "safe" books that don't challenge our thinking or our knowledge base; almost all the cutting edge nonfiction these days is either written by those already famous or published by small-to-medium-sized presses, including self-publishers. It used to be that the big houses supported the thought-leader books with a portion of the profits from the blockbusters, and it's a shame that those days seem to be largely over.

Shel Horowitz can be reached at 413-586-2388/800-683-WORD
-->Join the Business Ethics Pledge - Ten Years to Change the World,
One Signature at a Time (please tell your friends)
Marketing consulting * copywriting * publishing assistance * speaking
How to market ethically/effectively:
Ethics Blog: /
My thanks to Shel for taking time from a very busy schedule to talk with me.