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.

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