Monday, January 30, 2006

Are You Sorry?

If so, you're probably a woman. Norah Vincent, author of Self-Made Man : One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back, was interviewed on "The Colbert Report" last week, and one of her comments really struck home. Colbert asked her whether she had discovered any difference in the way men and women speak. Yes, she said, women apologize all the time: "I'm sorry I'm here. I'm sorry for existing." For example, when ordering at a restaurant, a woman will say, "I'm sorry, but would it be possible for me to have...?" Whereas a man will just sit back and say, "I'll have the steak."

A woman I work with is constantly apologizing. One day I got fed up and said, "You have to stop apologizing so much!" Her response: "I'm sorry!" (We both laughed, but she actually meant it.) Another woman we work with is a big apologizer too. They could cut their meeting time in half if they'd cut out "I'm sorry." Whenever I hear them speaking to each other, I'm always tempted to count who apologizes more.

Not that I'm much better. I constantly catch myself apologizing needlessly. I'm sorry, but I was brought up that way. My mother is sorry too. Is yours? Are you?

Preston Sturges Would Be So Happy

Remember Trudy Kockenlocker and Ignatz Ratskiwatski in "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek"? Or John D. Hackensacker III (aka "Snoodles") in "The Palm Beach Story?" Well, art is a fine thing, but once again it pales when compared to real life.

Consider Denver, my new home. I am waiting breathlessly for a newspaper headline announcing a meeting between the mayor of Our Fair City and the new offensive coordinator for the Broncos. Perhaps they'd engage in an informal sports contest, say, of the kind favored on college campuses throughout the Golden West.

I can see it now: "Hickenlooper and Heimerdinger in Hacky Sack Fracas."

If only...

End Those Blurb Woes

Every writer cringes at the prospect of soliciting blurbs for their magnum opus. It's embarrassing, demeaning, [insert adjective here]. Well, cringe no longer! John Warner, author of FONDLING YOUR MUSE: Infallible Advice from a Published Author to the Writerly Aspirant, has devised the perfect solution: the Blurb-O-Matic. Just type in your book's title, then click "Create a Blurb" and--presto!--you have the perfect laudatory phrase. Book Promotion 101 is "fuzzy and radiant." I'm so proud.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Worst Lying Writer of Them All

I've read about the transgressions of James Frey, JT LeRoy and Nasdijj till I thought my eyeballs would drop out. Interesting and thought-provoking as all the commentary is, their misdeeds make little difference to me personally as I'd never read anything they've written. But there is one writer whose lies have affected me right where I live, and I am shocked and appalled that the media has completely ignored this burgeoning scandal.

I am referring, of course, to the person who wrote the assembly instructions for the Target Mission Wall Hook (DPCI #249-06-0660) in oak finish -- now mysteriously "out of stock" -- which I put together yesterday.

Right on the front page, it says, "All you will need is a phillips screwdriver." STEP 1 then directs: "Drill 1/4" hole in drywall and press plastic anchor fully into hole." [Ahem!] Even if one uses the shaft of the screwdriver to make a hole--as I did, since my drill bits are at the bottom of a moving box somewhere--one needs a hammer to pound the screwdriver into the wall. And I have never yet been able to "press" a plastic anchor into a wall except with a hammer. Especially a plaster wall, as mine is.

So, all you need is a phillips screwdriver--and a drill and a hammer.

STEP 1 continues: "Using Phillip head screwdriver to tighten screw (C) into the hole from upper step."

So, all you need is a phillips screwdriver, a drill and a hammer--and a proofreader.

STEP 2 directs: "Hang wall hook to the screw from Step 1."

Very simple -- except that if one were to follow these directions exactly, the unit would be hanging sideways, as there are TWO (2) hooks on its back, exactly 29" apart.

So, all you need is a phillips screwdriver, a drill, a hammer, a proofreader--and a tape measure and a level.

Incidentally, the Mission Wall Hook unit looks lovely in my front entry, especially near the Mission Bench I put together earlier. The air there, however, is still blue with the epithets I unleashed when I discovered that (1) the bench bottom was split (I patched it w/ plywood) and (2) two of the camscrew holes didn't line up (I took out the screw).

I'm waiting for the New York Times to follow up -- or at least the Denver Post.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Whose Story Is It? II

Woke up ridiculously early this morning--in part because our room is ridiculously cold & the comforter was all on Darling Husband's side of the bed. Couldn't get back to sleep, so I finished reading the ARC of a riveting memoir that reads like a novel. In fact, it is by a novelist. He describes in minute detail a tumultuous affair he had in the early 1960s with a woman who was pregnant (not by him) and how he helped her give the baby girl up for adoption. Decades later, the daughter tracks him down, assuming he was her father, and asks for help finding her mother. He gets back in touch with Mom, whom he gives a pseudonym, but describes her background, very public career and looks in minute detail. Mom doesn't want to see the daughter; in fact won't even acknowledge that she is indeed her mother, despite their striking resemblance. Basically Mom comes off as a hypocritical, manipulative, selfish bitch--the more so when it turns out that she lied to the author about her relationship with the guy who knocked her up.

Mom is very protective of her privacy. Her husband knows about the adoption but her kids don't. She complains that the author portrayed her poorly in his novels and tries to get him to promise that he won't write about her and the adoption, which he refuses to do, claiming that it's his story too. Fair enough.


Within 10 minutes, using just two short phrases from a newspaper quote about Mom, I discovered her real name, which contains an anagram of the pseudonym. Just to be sure it was her, I searched Google Image. Bingo! Gotta give the author kudos for physical description--though he neglected to point out Mom's amazing resemblance to Geena Davis. (However, he did mention that Daughter's new husband looks like Benicio Del Toro.)

Whose story is it? Is the author right to have outed Mom? Despite her odious behavior, should he have omitted some details in order to keep her identity secret?

Woody Allen Was Right

It's true: 80% (or was it 90%?) of life is just showing up. I had a reservation for the Dave Barry lunch sponsored by the Denver Press Club. I was running late, had a million things to do around the house (we're still all over boxes) had to call various contractors (the heat isn't working right--Grr! Brr!), web site to update, workshop to plan for & publicize, etc. I was going to cancel, but thought, What the hell? The house can be cold a little longer, and at least I'll be warm at the lunch.

So I went. Got there 15 minutes late and only heard 10 minutes of Barry, who had to dart out for an interview. But sitting at my table were the director of a local literacy program and the manager of The Rock Bottom Remainders (the band with Barry, Amy Tan & other bestselling writers), who it turns out I'd met at a BookExpo party a couple of years ago. We got to talking, swapped cards and info, and wound up being among the last people to leave.

Moral: Be there.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Life Intrudes Yet Again

Woke up this morning all fired up to:
1) Continue unpacking & organizing my office.
2) Prepare for my Book Promotion 101 workshop in LA on Saturday.

First I took my Aussie-Golden mix out for a nice long walk in a wildish section of park along Cherry Creek, where there's no one to snarl at you about leash laws. It was warm (50s), sunny, not too windy for a change--a perfect Denver day. Got back home even more fired up to Get Things Accomplished.

But first I had to feed myself and dog. Gave her a bowl of chow and she dove right in. Then I heard jingling (license) & flapping (floppy ears). OK, so she had a tickle in her ear. More jingling & flapping a few seconds later. Must be quite a tickle, I thought. A few more seconds go by. Jingle/flap. A few more seconds. Jingle/flap. Over and over.

I look in her ears. Oh no, here we go again...

New to-do list:
1) Search piled-up boxes in hallway, bathroom & basement for doggie ear wash & antibacterial goo.
2) Corner dog, wash ears, insert goo.
3) Prepare for workshop.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Advice from the Trenches II

This just in from Quang X. Pham, author of A SENSE OF DUTY: My Father, My American Journey (Ballantine Books, 2005), who attended the same Book Promotion 101 session as Kathryn Jordan (see post below).

Quang X. Pham writes:

I went through a media training session with Kim-from-LA [she & colleague Bill Applebaum presented at the workshop] and that really helped with my appearances on NBC, Tavis Smiley Show on PBS, C-SPAN BookTV, NPR and many other regional radio and television interviews. Have energy, be passionate, lose the frog in your throat, don't blab forever...

My wife threw a launch party for 200 attendees (including media) on April 12, 2005, the day my father-son memoir went on sale. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

My first printing was 15,000 and the book went into a second printing six weeks after publication. My publicist sent galleys and books along with pitches. I sent out another 100 at my cost, resulting in a dozen reviews and interviews in niche publications and newsletters (and After the first three weeks (unless you're James Frey), authors are on their own!

Niche venues, like Kathryn Jordan said, are much more productive than chain bookstores. Service organizations, friends of libraries and colleges worked the best for me. THEY HAVE BUILT-IN MAILING LISTS.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Advice from the Trenches

The below is just in from two-time Book Promotion 101 alum Kathryn Jordan, author of HOT WATER (Berkley), a novel about a Minnesota housewife who sneaks away for a weekend at a Southern California spa with a rented red Lamborghini and a male escort. I usually can't abide "women's" and romance novels, but this one had me rapt. It's not too often you get a book with hot sex, humor AND a philosophical discussion of Hannah Arendt.

Kathryn Jordan writes:
A year ago I hadn't heard of a launch party, but when Lynn Isenberg (THE FUNERAL PLANNER, MY LIFE UNCOVERED) told about hers at the workshop, my mind got busy. Next week, I will speak and read excerpts at Two Bunch Palms to an audience standing within yards of where the scenes took place. How amazing. [Sure wish I could be there! --B]

'Til last Friday, I didn't know what the print run was. My editor, Leona Nevler, passed away in Dec., and my publicist moved to Simon & Schuster on Jan. 6th (3 days after the book release). Talk about feeling abandoned! Then my new editor called: the print run was 13,000! Pretty darn good for a first novel, and she indicated they're expecting a second printing before long. You said if an author generates enough interest it could make the publisher increase the print run. I don't know for sure, but maybe that's what happened.

Here's my advice:
  1. Find a niche market, if possible. My publishers were delighted with the spa resort tour idea.
  2. Use the internet - Follow every lead, however small. I took part in a conference call with retreat coaches (found online browsing spa resorts) and several events came from that, including the Hot Licks BBQ & Saloon in Bisbee, AZ (who woulda thought?) which is planning special sexy drinks, a sexy fashion show and belly dancers! An event at La Posada Resort in Santa Fe also came from the call, because I decided to go to a retreat at Ojo Caliente. Only about 20 women will be there, but boy did it pay off. A Borders signing in Santa Fe, and a couple things in Albuquerque too.
  3. Use each success to get more. I used the fact that the book is set at Two Bunch Palms to get local spa resorts to support my booth in the Palm Springs Book Fest (way before the book came out) and to interest other spas in events. I used La Costa (one of the first to book) to get more. I used the signings in Vegas... Well, you get the idea.
  4. Do not let disappointments stop you. There were spa resorts who decided Hot Water wasn't "appropriate" for them. (They'll be sorry!) Sometimes the same day I'd get a rejection, then pick up another venue.
  5. Send lots of galleys and advance copies, join whatever networking groups fit, word-of-mouth, word-of-mouth, word-of-mouth. My continual requests for more galleys--which ran out so they made bound manuscripts--must've registered on the publisher. I've given away maybe 40 copies from my author supply, but women are passing them around. Even some who said "inappropriate" are giving it to friends to read in the closet.
  6. Think outside the box - My "Hot Water House Party" idea (like lingerie or Tupperware, but with me & the book) is actually working. 6 scheduled so far.
  7. Be gracious. What people want is to connect with you on a personal level. They want to touch your experience as a writer. I've actually made friends with many women, talking or emailing about issues in the book, about writing, about events, etc.
  8. Practice. Keep it short.
  9. And finally, the bottom line of Book Promotion 101: WRITE A GOOD BOOK. With an edge, if possible.

Build a Better Website

Through my Book Promotion 101 work and as a program organizer for the Virginia Festival of the Book, I look at an awful lot of authors' websites. And too many of them are indeed awful--amateurish, poorly organized, with vital information hard to find or nonexistent.

Here is what every website should have:

1) An experienced designer! You get what you pay for (but don't overpay either). A good designer can set up your site so that you can edit the content yourself. Your website is your public face to the world. Make it crisp, sharp and professional-looking. As a friend of mine in ad sales once told me, "Presentation is everything."

2) A good proofreader & copy editor! (Not you. The more eyes checking it, the better.)

3) URL should be []. If you must use [], it should lead to [].

4) An image of your current book on the first screen of the home page with title, publisher, publication date, purchasing information & blurbs.

5) Separate pages for Author Bio, Press/Reviews, Events, Contact, Book Excerpt, Other Works.

6) MAKE IT EASY TO REACH YOU! Contact page must have your email address (you can encrypt it and/or set up a separate Yahoo/Hotmail/Gmail/etc account just for website mail); contact info for your publicist (her name, title, email & phone #).

7) Bio page should have a good, clear, recognizable picture of you, with a high-resolution (at least 300dpi) PROFESSIONAL headshot that journalists & event organizers can download. This means: No blurry snapshots on vacation or in front of a bookcase. No pix of you with pets/kids/spouse/partner.

8) Meta tags on (at least) your home page with your name, book title & key words. For example: Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, orphan, orphans, orphanage, pickpockets, gangs, Fagin, London, 19th century.

9) No flash animation on home page (takes too long to download & watch). But if you must have animation, have a "Skip flash" button.

10) No automatic sound (annoying/embarrassing for office workers). Offer sound as an option (for example: see website for Becky Motew, author of the upcoming COUPON GIRL.)

Here is a nearly perfect author website:
LOVE WALKED IN by Marisa de los Santos. My only quibbles are that she doesn't have a URL for her name & no meta tags, so a Google search for her name didn't lead to the site.

      OK, I'm really back

      Happy New Year! After 3 weeks in a hotel suite, I and my family, including dog & cat, are ensconced amidst scores of boxes in a charming (read: drafty & spottily heated) Victorian house in Denver. And after countless hours of frustration & umpteen calls to Qwest (Motto: "Pay no attention to our salespeople or website"), I'm finally able to send email again. No one else in the house can, though, till I work up my fortitude to call Qwest about why the wireless router isn't routing. Ah technology...