Can a brain set to “market” be turned off?

May 11, 2013

Here’s hoping that in the coming week of vacation I will able to silence the barrage of marketing imperatives my brain is so kindly providing to me during every waking hour.

Honestly, it’s become ridiculous. Some days I’m very productive—mailing out packets, making lots of phone calls, researching physical addresses or names of contacts at various media outlets—and some days I get pulled off track by personal errands, chores, doctor’s appointments, what have you. But it doesn’t matter which kind of day I’m having: The loop in my head of marketing minutiae remains shrilly insistent, shoving its way into every moment of every day.

You need to call the manager back at Lemuria Book Store . . .  It would be great if more people posted reviews on Amazon . . . I wonder if Palm Beach Book Store needs more copies of Kiss and Tell? . . . You should email Michael and get his opinion on which book store in St. Louis he thinks would be best for you to approach about a signing . . .  I can’t believe Grand Rapids’ Shuler Books is doing their quarterly authors’ event in July, when naturally I’ll be there for a week in June. Argh!  . . . How many radio stations in Phoenix should I contact before my book signings there, I wonder?  . . . That receptionist said the event manager would be working tomorrow between 9 and 1; don’t forget to call him back! . . . What are the best indie book stores between here and St. Louis that I might want to approach about an event? . . . Does anyone listen to their voice mails and return calls anymore?

No. That would be the answer to that final question.

And it’s about the only definitive thing I can say. Because everything else about marketing a book is an exercise in fluidity, in keeping your options open, being flexible, available, asking what someone needs and then trying to provide it as seamlessly as possible. And in the midst of all that fluidity, you have to nail down concrete dates for events and then work frantically around them to bring the light of publicity to bear on your (comparatively) insignificant little soiree.

It is not a dance for the weak of heart, my friends. At the end of the day there is often no tangible evidence of your labor, no finished pages, no satisfying prose. Just a couple of more strings in the water that, with luck, will bring a nibble one day in the future.

The difficulties of self publishing are much more visible to me now than they were this time last year. I’m still glad Dr. Whelihan and I chose this path. (She’s the medical expert and research partner for our “Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97.”) We were right to assume responsibility ourselves because publishing houses don’t have a good track record of promoting first-time authors. With my journalism background, I believe I am better equipped than they are to tap into interested media outlets.

But I sure do wish I had a staff! Not to mention a few plane tickets to cities I’d love to visit for book signings.

It would be great to divide up some of this detail work with eager assistants, bright-eyed interns perhaps, hoping to impress their boss with their diligence.

Instead, it’s just me. Planting my butt in front of the computer and reaching out into cyber land for contacts, advice, magic and miracles.

And occasionally, lightening strikes. The one time I spoke with a HUMAN last week (a producer for Channel 3 in Phoenix foolishly answered her phone), I was actually able to reel her in. After my 60-second spiel, she said, “Hmmm. That sounds interesting. Would you send me an email with more about the book and I’ll pitch it in our Tuesday meeting.”

This is what counts as a home run in my world, ladies and gentlemen. Of course I worked hard on a personal letter and a funny, succinct synopsis to hopefully increase her interest. I sent it off within 45 minutes. And, naturally, I’ve heard nothing.

I would feel so much better if she just sent a “Thanks. I’ll let you know what happens,” email. But no salaried employee has time for that anymore, I’m guessing. So, although I’m sure my email was delivered, I’m sitting in Wonderland as usual—wondering if she received the message, wondering if she liked the message, wondering if she’s thinking about liking me and my book . . . it’s all so uncertain.

And it’s all guaranteed to make you insecure. Yes. This work plays havoc with how you see yourself in the world. Although I am certain the book is fun, informative and highly readable, I am struggling with the task of saying that over and over every day. I’m not sure why that is. The book is the book, and its quality isn’t diminishing. And happily, when readers give me feedback, it is extremely positive and uplifting.

But in this marketing world that I enter day after day, my confidence sometimes falters. I’m not a retailer by nature (see my previous blog), and so I find it tricky to consistently find the right words and approaches to encourage others to open up to “Kiss and Tell.”

Doesn’t mean I’m going to quit trying.

And in the meantime, I’m finding the personal appearances at clubs, meetings and community events to be the most gratifying part of the process right now. The light in the attendees’ eyes, the interest they show and the questions they ask let me know I’m on the right track.

So, tomorrow morning I leave for a week in North Carolina with friends. I have one book-related appointment at Malaprops in Asheville (with no promise of anything), so mostly this is vacation. I will be staying near Bryson City, on the southern edge of Smoky Mountain National Park, and just typing those words makes me want to say “ahhhhh.” Our cell phone coverage will be pitiful, thank goodness, and I hope to lose touch with the cyber world that has been too much my companion lately.

Instead, I’m dreaming of forests and mountains and a cool, green world, far from all the concrete cities.

Yep. I’m definitely going to switch off the marketing brain for a bit.

Life as a bookseller

April 20, 2013

Retail was never my calling.

My early efforts to earn money didn’t include stints at clothing stores, sit-down restaurants or grocery stores. Instead I taught gymnastics at a rec center, bussed tables at a cafeteria and played receptionist at an H&R Block office during tax season. So my sales skills, if indeed one could call them that, were honed amid the bare bones landscape of door-to-door dealings as I peddled Girl Scout cookies annually for perhaps six years. (Yes, I was a Girl Scout for a long time.)

Let’s agree that this rudimentary training did little to entice me into the world of retail. Sure, in my journalism career, I feel like I “sold” the product of the news every day, and was an enthusiastic spokesperson ready to recount the reasons why a daily subscription was a bargain. But my pay has never been linked to sales or percentages, so I’ve never felt that pressure to “move product.”

Till now, of course.

Selling Kiss and Tell is a full-time job. I decided to devote the spring and summer seasons to spreading the word any way I can, whether through interviews, talks, social media, book-signings, chance encounters or just plain begging for coverage. I have a small, black notebook that I’ve used to jot down marketing ideas for months, and every few days I page through it to remind myself of what’s yet to be done. It lists everything from the email address and phone number of an acquaintance who belongs to the Red Hat Society to a reminder that I need to send Kathie Lee and Hoda of Today a copy of the book.

For the Today show gals, I will use the same tactic I employed for Dr. Oz, who was in South Florida recently for a wellness seminar at Gardens Mall. I put a copy of Kiss and Tell in a brightly colored bag with his name on it, and included an Oral-B battery-operated toothbrush. A ribbon attached to the toothbrush held a note reading: “Why is a respected gynecologist recommending this toothbrush as an enhancement to her patients’ sex lives? Turn to Page 3 and find out.”

Call it guerrilla marketing.

I was unable to hand my gift to Dr. Oz himself. About a thousand people were there before me. But I left it with his handlers, who were collecting all manner of Oz offerings for their famous boss. I feel cheered by the effort. And though the daily rewards are small, I rarely feel discouraged.

Sooner or later, something will come of all this. My friend Libby, who worked in a PR firm, says you’re after just that one break, that one contact, the one book that makes it to the right desk. You don’t know which book it will be, but it arrives at the perfect moment and its recipient decides to share Kiss and Tell with the world. That’s the goal!

Meanwhile, I’m finding genuine satisfaction along the way. Last Thursday’s book signing at The Palm Beach Post was truly fun for me and I had this moment about three-quarters of the way through when I felt completely grounded and secure and also thrilled. I realized I was comfortable talking about this sensitive topic, and had a glimmer of how passionate I feel about sharing what I’ve learned in order to bring about more understanding on the subject of sexual desire. And I simultaneously sensed that the audience was with me, was receptive and open to everything I was hoping to impart. It was really a special moment.

And considering that I was a bit anxious heading into this event (because it was my first public book-signing), the fact that I had such a great time in the moment means I can use that experience to talk myself out of future nervousness. Call it self soothing.

Clearly, I’m a novice  in the world of retail marketing, so I have much to learn. But when a Girl Scout cookie badge marks your sales success up till now, you take your small victories where you can!

A new perspective on the power of the press

March 24, 2013

I’m riding high right now, admittedly, because a few days ago I spoke about “Kiss and Tell” to a local book club and sold lots of copies in that posh country club setting. The members asked smart questions when I finished my half-hour talk, and then lined up to purchase the book, which I was naturally thrilled to autograph.

But most of the time, marketing a book is a behind-the-scenes job, with only the very tip of that iceberg being public appearances that translate into book sales. I’ve verified the conventional wisdom that the skills needed to write a book are totally different from the skills required to then launch it in the marketplace. Self-publishing—as my partner and I did—means you have to quickly switch from one skill set to another; otherwise your beloved book will languish once your family and best friends have purchased their copies.

I try to make progress every day on getting the word out. My digital marketing skills are fairly dismal, but a savvy friend is giving me tips and I’m trying to implement all the suggestions about Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and more. I did score an interview at Austin’s famous BookPeople (which I mentioned I was hoping to land in my last blog) and the coordinator there sounds like she will be happy to find a slot for me to hold a book-signing there in the summer. To maximize exposure, I’ll try to set up other events around that book signing, as I’m doing in Phoenix.

Speaking of Phoenix, I found out about a wonderful women’s group there called Wild Boomer Women, who get together for adventures such as hot-air balloon rides, theater outings, cruises, happy hours and more. I emailed the president to see if I could interest her in having me talk with one or several of her chapters about “Kiss and Tell” when I’m in town. But that was 9 days ago and I’m still waiting to hear back from her.

I have a couple of other “fishing hooks” I’ve thrown out into book media land, and I wish I knew the formula for how long you wait to hear from someone before following up with a gentle nudge.

It doesn’t make sense to give up after just one contact: To wit, I waited 11 weeks to hear back from a hard-working friend I emailed at Entertainment Weekly and finally took the plunge to call him, only to discover my oh-so-carefully-worded missive had been routed to his spam file.

When we talked he was happy to give me the name of the right person at his magazine to contact for coverage, and I was very glad I had taken the initiative to call. And yet, when I’m asking for a favor—even if it’s just contact information—I worry that my recipient is going to be annoyed at my request or just too busy to respond altogether. Living constantly in that tentative frame of mind is not a particularly comfortable space to inhabit, I’m finding.

Back when I was a newspaper features editor, I knew I had it good, but I’m realizing afresh how nice it is to be in a position to sift through all the ideas that come across your desk and choose what you want to cover . . . rather than being the abiding supplicant, that hopeful, powerless one who waits for another to bless their idea with publicity or coverage.

Well. Turnabout is fair play. It’s helpful (if humbling) to view the world from this angle, and I’m grateful for the learning experience.

I’m also very thankful to be marketing a fun product I believe in. I can’t imagine navigating this territory if I was peddling, say, draperies or used cars. There’s a story I never want to write!

And so the marketing begins

February 27, 2013

Once a book is finished, a writer who is affiliated with a traditional publishing house can wait anywhere from 6 to 18 months for his or her book to actually be released. And yes, there are some sound reasons for this.

But self publishing is a different story. In fact, its immediacy is one of the reasons so many authors are discarding the old publishing model.

In a blog of a just a few weeks ago, I wrote about receiving and proofing the final manuscript of Kiss and Tell from our book designer Brion Sausser. And here I am again, already saying “The book is out! The book is out!”

In between, many things happened of course. Thank goodness for Brion, who navigated all the various sites and formats we wanted Kiss and Tell to be available for. Different platforms are set up for Kindle, Nook and printed books on Amazon, so Brion’s uploads had to satisfy every category for each format.

Once CreateSpace cleared us for take off, I ordered three proof copies of the book in print form. I gave one to Mo’s well-read nurse Mary, one to Mo and kept one for myself. We all spent the weekend reading, trying to find typos and problems. As a longtime newsroom employee, I know only too well that scanning page proofs differs from computer reading—and sure enough, we all found some errors.

But forget about a months-long wait: On Feb. 4, just days after we finished proofing our books, Kiss and Tell appeared for sale on Amazon! I learned this because Dr. Mo sent me a text IN ALL CAPS to this effect at 6 a.m., which definitely got me out of bed and heading for the computer. Honestly, it felt like Christmas morning, complete with the flutter of excitement in my stomach.

Naturally, other titles and products using “Kiss and Tell” (it’s a popular title for mysteries) were the first things that popped up in a search, and at first I was hard put to locate us online. But I’m happy to report that during the past week, most searches on Amazon of just those three words bring our book up as the No. 1 listing. Since we started out three-quarters of the way down on Page 7 of the search, I consider that a nice bit of progress!

I’m a novice on all the nuances of online search optimization, but I do know that good reviews on Amazon by “verified” readers go a long way toward lifting your profile. Verified reviewers—I learned last week—are those who bought their book on Amazon (which Amazon can of course check). The giant book seller instituted the distinction some time back when authors desperate for feedback created fake online profiles in order to “review” their own books. When you write a review on Amazon AND if you bought the book from them, you’ll get a box to check saying you can elect to be a “verified” reviewer.

Yes. Things have gotten very complicated in the world. Since so little face-to-face interaction occurs anymore, the machines are trying to find ways to keep feedback in all forms legitimate. Small sigh. It’s sad how deceptive people are willing to be.

But I digress! Next up for me is the considerable marketing aspect of this process. I’ve been taking notes for months and have a long list of suggestions for who to contact and how to get the word out. Now I’m making my way through the list, although I confess I’m fairly haphazard as to the order. I kind of do what I’m in the mood to do that day, whether it’s calling a book store and exploring their requirements to hold a book signing or writing the PRWeb.com press release (which went out Feb. 8!).

Happily, I’ve already been interviewed by a reporter at the Arizona Republic working on a story about Boomer sex. This is quite a coup, since newspapers still reach a much wider audience than any conceivable book signing could. I have a friend in the newsroom there who told a reporter about Kiss and Tell, who in turn passed my name along to another reporter who’d been assigned the Boomer sex story. Pretty serendipitous if you ask me, especially when you consider that the article came out during a visit to Phoenix I’d already planned, so I was able to use it when I approached an independent book store about a signing.

That book signing, I’m delighted to say, received final approval earlier this week. Therefore, the first “book store book signing” for Kiss and Tell will happen June 1 at Changing Hands, an awesome independent book store I first visited in December, when my former roommate and I flew to Phoenix for a visit that just happened to coincide with Bruce Springsteen’s final Wrecking Ball tour date in the United States. (Bruuuuuuce!)

Patti and I stayed with our pal Diane, a Scottsdale resident who is as bookish as we are, and knew enough to introduce us to Changing Hands, a dream of an independent book store. The store carries every title you hope for, and features a gift and card department that makes it impossible to spend less than an hour browsing. Fortunately, there’s an adjoining cafe/sandwich shop with very tasty food, so you can fuel up and return for more exploration. Yes, we did.

Changing Hands reminds me of BookPeople in Austin, another stellar independent book store where I hope to schedule an event. (Maybe I’ll even get motivated to call them TODAY. I want so much to be on their calendar . . . )

I’ve had some luncheon speaking gigs this month, and last night, Dr. Whelihan and I had a magical evening in the company of a women’s group called Goddess Within. Much laughter, much friendship, much fun around the book signing table. I could do that every night.

If you’re a Facebook friend, this news about Kiss and Tell finally being available won’t come as a surprise. For you others, I’m sorry for the slight delay in notification. I was out of town for six days in the middle of all this and let my blog duties slide. Shame!

And now . . . I shall return to my awaiting marketing efforts, because I want to give Kiss and Tell every chance to succeed in today’s (crazy!) market.

A dash for the finish line

January 30, 2013

We’re probably only a few days away from announcing Kiss and Tell’s availability on Amazon, but meanwhile I’m keeping plenty busy trying to juggle all these last-minute requirements that are an integral part of self publishing.

Settling on a price for the book, which Amazon will immediately discount by about $5, was a requirement. Ditto for the e-book version. Then we have to arrange for unique url addresses that will signal Amazon when the buyers come directly from us. We earn credits with Amazon that way, sort of like being a loyal customer, I suppose. We had to get a tax ID number, set up a bank account for our already-formed writing corporation and make sure Lightning Source and CreateSpace were supplied with every piece of information they need in order to make the book available. Not to mention double-checking cover type, subheads and more on the online versions of the book.

It’s a lot.

And it’s a long way from interviewing subjects and wrestling alone over my computer on the best words to tell their stories.

But that’s OK. I’ve said good-bye to the solitary phase of my life that produced Kiss and Tell and am eager to enter the marketing phase, where I’ll get to share the book with the wider world.

An experience I had earlier this month boosted my confidence about what’s to come. A week or so after I returned from Christmas break, book designer Brion forwarded the email copy of his work on Kiss and Tell for me to proof. Rather than viewing my chapters in Word documents, this version positioned the type on book pages, complete with page numbers, chapter titles, subheads, footnotes, etc. It was the first time I had seen it altogether in that form.

Almost a month had passed since I had looked at the manuscript, so for the first time since I began writing Kiss and Tell, I was able to approach it fresh.

And I liked it! A lot!

Every other time I’ve looked at these pages, I’ve seen the problems yet to fix, the transitions that need strengthening, the weak verb I meant to replace, the doubts, the doubts, the doubts. Since I built it from scratch, I’ve grown to consider Kiss and Tell as merely a series of separate sections, each with issues and problems that I’m responsible for fixing. Often, it felt like a burden. A burden I volunteered to carry, but still . . .

Well, that viewpoint disintegrated when I proofed Brion’s work. For me, obtaining some distance from the work was a wonderful thing. Freed of the need to be a copy editor, I was somehow able to dive in and read as a consumer. And I was pulled along from page to page effortlessly. The writing felt smooth to me, and occasionally a vocabulary choice would delight me. Did I choose that? I did! Good job!

It was such fun to transform my relationship with the work from taskmaster to admirer. Always before I’ve seen what needed to be done; finally I got a glimpse of the finished product. It was a heady feeling.

Which is truly nice, because the majority of the “heady” feelings I’ve been visited by this month are of the migraine variety. I brought the flu back from Texas with me, and have wondered if perhaps it contributed to the fact that I had a total of six migraines in January. And two of them recurred, which means I woke up with migraines eight days this month. That is way too many.

However, I ended my two-year run with Lyrica early in the month (it’s a preventive) and so perhaps this is my system adjusting to its absence. Lyrica has numerous side effects and is NOT a drug one stays on indefinitely, but it did reduce the number of migraines while I took it.

I’ve decided to practice some patience and see if I drop back into a better rhythm once my body adjusts to Lyrica’s absence. With so much happening in the book front, it’s not like I don’t have distractions aplenty!

Stay tuned for a notice as soon as Kiss and Tell can be ordered online.

And thank you for sticking around this long!

Choosing a cover

December 20, 2012

Without tips from my blogging friend in West Palm, and working without wifi at my mother’s house in Austin, I’m unable to upload all the choices Maureen and I received from Brion for the book cover of Kiss and Tell. However, I will upload them for everyone to see when I return to Florida.

Some of the covers were too explicit for us, but book designer Brion was trying to push the envelope a little, and get us thinking about the ways that sex can help sell the book. Since Kiss and Tell focuses on sexual desire, obviously you want a cover that is sensual, maybe romantic, even sexy. However, we didn’t want to step into raunchiness, but making that call is very individual. At some point, I realized not everyone could possibly agree on the best cover—and after that it got easier.

The winning design incorporates a close-up photo of a couple, with the man leaning in to kiss the woman’s neck. I found it too reminiscent of a romance novel cover at first, as did a couple of friends. But it was also the clear favorite of Maureen and several of my own friends.

I tended to favor two other designs, one which incorporated the pink, pursed lips that adorn our business cards (love them!) and the other which featured a stylish photo taken in a lush hotel lobby of an anonymous woman’s legs, encased in sexy black heels. The seated woman is wearing a tasteful little black dress, but is shown just from the waist down. Very classy.

I asked for many opinions, as did Maureen. And Brion sent some adjustments and redesigns along the way based on our input. I admit, I changed my mind several times. Finally, a patient of Maureen’s who looked at the covers one day when Maureen put the three finalists up in her gynecology office, said something that changed my thinking.

“I know what the book is about,” she said (she was one of the in-depth interviewees), “so I actually like the woman seated on the sofa in the lobby, because that most accurately reflects the book. But if I didn’t know what the book was about, the cover with the couple kissing is the one I’d pick up and look at.”

And there you go. Anyone who already knows what the book is about—or has listened to a talk by Maureen or I—will likely be intrigued enough to consider buying it . . . and they won’t care what’s on the cover. They’ll know what’s inside and have already decided on its value. But for the cold-call customer, we needed something with a powerful draw.

And so the kissing couple was selected.

I was happy with Brion’s tweak to the cover: It was such an intense close-up that I could see the woman’s pores and I really wanted him to zoom out a little. Once that was done, I was on board and we gave Brion the green light.

Today I visited the branch library near Mom to use their wifi and emailed Brion all the endorsements I collected for the book jacket. I still need to write the cover type, which I seem to be procrastinating about in my usual efficient fashion. Ugh. It’s 100 words, give or take. What is my problem?

All I want for Christmas is the gift of flowing, graceful sentences. Hope Santa is listening!

Kissing and telling … and telling

December 5, 2012

I am thrilled to report that the revision stage of Kiss and Tell is now complete, and the entire manuscript is in the capable hands of Brion Sausser, a book designer in California.

Although I’m sure there will be a proofing process—electronically, I’m guessing—I am proclaiming the writing phase OVER. The final weeks turned into a rather painful process, as I raced to make many of the changes my beta readers suggested. Corralling 455 pages of type is about as fun as it sounds. After wrestling with the words for so many months, the final polish was hampered by just how familiar I was with the material.

That’s the beauty of beta readers. They found rough spots, confusing syntax, missing words, repetitions and more. If I had it to do over, I would have definitely enlisted my beta readers before we hired Tiffany do to the editing work. But you live and learn. This is my first book. If this turns into the biggest regret I have over Kiss and Tell, I can easily live with that.

As publication loomed, Maureen and I circled back around to the book’s title, in order to finalize the subhead. (Maureen is the Wellington gynecologist whose patients filled out our survey on sexual desire and are the characters in Kiss and Tell.) Our working subhead was Sexy Secrets from Behind the Gynecologist’s Door, but we had worried from the start about using the gyno word in the title. It’s an ugly word and it carries an unpleasant visual as well.

So we polled some friends (mostly hers) with some sample subheads, among them Frank Talk From Women about their Sexual Desire, Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women of All Ages and Women of all Ages Tell the Truth about Sexual Desire.

Yes, I realize the distinctions are fine, but titling a book is nothing if not an exercise in squeezing the most and best meaning out of every single word.

Feedback from our public was helpful, but also confusing. Many people voted for the Frank head; just as many said the word was old-fashioned or made them think of a guy’s name instead of women’s desire. Suggestions came in to incorporate words such as “riveting,” “candid,” “explicit” or “raw and unedited.”

After much debate and vote counting, we created four finalists and sent the list back around to our polling group. We asked for votes only, no more suggestions of new titles, since we felt we were closing in on a winner. Of the finalists, Maureen liked Sexy Talk From Women of all Ages about their Desires; I thought it sounded too Cosmo girl. She rightly pointed out that a book’s title should first of all, SELL the book. We waited to see what the votes said.

The winner by a landslide (with 17 votes) was Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women of All Ages. We were very happy with that and Maureen was planning to make an adjustment on our website to that effect.

But then, on Nov. 24, Maureen and I met to have our author photos taken and I asked her to consider yet another change. My riding buddy Ken had reminded me the night before of how intriguing specific numbers can be, and so I asked Maureen what she thought of adjusting the subhead to Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97.

I told her that naming exact ages is more likely to catch people’s attention, as they think “97? 97!” Or “15?” Although I liked the lyricism of the phrase of All Ages, I agreed with Ken’s assessment that 15 to 97 would sell more books.

After all the polling and consideration of outside opinions, Maureen and I knew it was ultimately up to us, so that morning we chatted a bit and then just decided: Yep, we’re gonna use the ages.

So there it is. Kiss and Tell: Secrets of Sexual Desire from Women 15 to 97 is a done deal.

Stay tuned for an update next week on book cover designs. Brion has already sent us 8 samples and we’re debating the merits of erotic vs. sexy vs. serious vs. age appeal, with shades of typography and color choice thrown in to keep it interesting (and complicated).

Hopefully I’ll also be able to narrow down the date the book will be available. It’s going to be early next year, but that’s the best I can do right now. Stay tuned.

Just think, before you know it, Maureen and I will be asking to speak at your community groups and book clubs! Don’t be shy! Get us on your calendars. We kiss and tell.

The lap of luxury

November 25, 2012

Through no accomplishment of my own, I am spending tonight at the PGA National Resort and Spa free of charge.

I’ve just completed a sunset walk around the pool and club house area and strolled over to the spa area, which I decided to locate since I’ll be heading over at 10 in the morning for a “neck and shoulder massage; $90 gratuity included.”

Should you be wondering how in the world I got so unbelievably lucky, let me answer by saying that people are SO NICE.

I was slated to dog sit for a one-night gig so that the owners of a sweet little chihuahua could use their soon-to-expire coupon for a complimentary night at PGA (yes, home to the Honda Classic.) The client called the day before and announced she had good news and bad news. The bad news was that 14-year-old Tabby had a cough, and though she seemed OK, Tabby had just started taking medication and Mom didn’t feel right leaving her when she wasn’t feeling perky. The good news was that if I chose, I was welcome to use the certificate!

Well, I am on a mad deadline to deliver Kiss and Tell‘s revised manuscript to our book designer by Dec. 5, but I figured, ‘Hey, I can work in serene, posh surroundings just as easily as I can beside the construction zone that Southern Boulevard (30 yards from my front door) has turned into lately. Why not?’

Brief digression to point out that dog people are THE BEST. My dog sitting clients are so kind, so welcoming, so sweet and so treasured by me. And then to receive a generous offer like this confirms it once again.

So this morning as I’m packing up to drive the 6 or 7 miles over here, I email book partner Maureen about something else and I happen to mention my plans. “Hold on,” she replies. “When are you going? I have a gift card for spa services there that’s about to expire. You could use it.”

That much good karma coming together at one time is astonishing, let’s face it. Over the top, right? But it all worked out. Maureen donned her motorcycle gear and rode her Harley (yes) over to my condo this morning to hand off said gift card. She headed across the bridge for a beautiful ride on Palm Beach; I finished loading my car and arrived here at PGA by 12:15.

Everyone on staff here is super nice, and even though check-in isn’t till 4, if rooms are ready they are happy to assign you one. I was settled in and headed to the pool in no time—but not before I called the spa to check out their services and decide which exotic treatment I was going to use my gift card for!

After just a few short hours, I feel like a different person. The quiet, the green of the golf course and this evening’s cheerful twinkling Christmas lights out front—combined with the sun absorbed poolside this afternoon—have combined to lull me out of the noisy, chaotic jumble I’d accumulated in my head.

I’ve been ridiculously stressed about this upcoming deadline, alternating between a deer-in-headlights inability to decide what to do next and panicked stabs at completing the revisions that the three “fat” chapters are desperately crying for. One of my beta readers provided so much amazing, insightful input that it’s taken me days to go through her notes chapter by chapter and clarify areas she found confusing, add sources, rethink construction, etc, etc. With that phase complete, I’m heading back into those fat chapters (the very long 40s, 50s and 60s decades) for judicious trimming and more.

Something had been niggling about me about those chapters, and my astute beta reader helped me identify what it was. Because there are more women included and because I gave them free rein to share their stories, readers can get lost in the wilderness so to speak. My friend suggested I make more frequent use of my narrator’s voice to paraphrase and then assist the reader to know what’s important about these decades, what the take-away is. It’s a matter of guiding my readers and helping them stay on the path through these more complicated chapters.

Which is hard work. Anyone who writes knows how difficult it is to make sweeping changes when you’re too close to the material, and I’m definitely close to this material after more than 2 years of steady research and writing. But I realized if I just go day by day, and concentrate on each chapter separately until I am satisfied with it, I can maybe, just maybe, hit the deadline.

I was supposed to have everything to our designer by this Friday, but THAT wasn’t going to fly, so I pushed it back, to my chagrin. Even so, I know it won’t be perfect. I console myself with the knowledge that if I worked on it for another month, or even another year, Kiss and Tell wouldn’t be perfect.

Instead it’s going to be the best book I can write right now.

It’s still early and I’m feeling refreshed, so guess what I’m going to do now that I’ve posted a blog?

Yep. I’m going to go back to writing about sex!

Plus, I promise to blog again in a couple days about the process of honing the book’s subtitle, which required massive polling, much democratic input and then a final executive flourish of a decision.

It’s all good.

A pitifully short update

October 27, 2012

My procrastination skills—always formidable—have experienced a recent surge in power. Thus, it has been an entire month since I’ve chronicled progress on Kiss and Tell for you. Which is crazy, because I actually have a boatload of stuff to report.

I have a very minor amount of revision work left (maybe a few hours), and then the finished manuscript is ready to go out to a couple of beta readers, a term I just learned from my copy editor’s website. Beta readers provide a preview for an author of what the public might say about the book, pointing out things that are confusing, repetitive or even missing. Since the book is about 450 pages, agreeing to be a beta reader is no small task.

Fortunately, as I say to anyone who’ll listen, I have the best and most supportive friends anyone could hope to accumulate, and two of them have agreed to the “beta” task. One is an editor and the other a writer (though both can do both), so I’ll be fortunate indeed to see the book from their perspectives.

While they are reading, I’ll turn my attention to creating type for the book’s cover, which includes soliciting cover blurbs from authors I’ve met over the years. Dr. Whelihan and I met last week to discuss hiring a book designer and together we interviewed two candidates on the phone. I’ve since had additional calls with several online organizations who specialize in helping self-published authors bring their books to market. It’s a complicated field: not rocket science or anything, but there are multiple paths you can choose and we want to explore all the options before jumping in.

Although December is a huge month for selling books, it would be a rush for us to pull everything together in time to make a holiday release feasible. And let’s face it, sexual desire is understandably not at the forefront of women’s minds when they’re trying to buy and wrap gifts, arrange holiday dinners and parties, send cards and trim trees. Enough already! As we learned during interviews, sex can feel like one more thing on a to-do list if a woman is feeling overwhelmed by the requirements of daily life.

So right now we’re aiming for a lead-up of Kiss and Tell marketing to dovetail with Valentine’s Day. We’ll get advice from more experts along the way on how to make sure the campaign effectively builds momentum, and though I’m sure we’ll hit some bumps along the way, I’m hopeful we can generate some strategically-timed media excitement to help things along.

Fortunately, I have friends who have been down this road and are willing to lend their advice and expertise. Though the process seems a bit scary to me, they give me confidence that it can be done! Books do get published. It’s not impossible. Even for little old me!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got just a few more revisions to make.

A matter of motivation

September 25, 2012

Whenever I get like this, blogging is the last thing I want to do.

I hate fessing up to my drag-ass spells and it doesn’t matter at all that I realize they are part of the process for any big project—especially one that expects to have a book pop out at the end. I just want to be above them, okay? I want to be such a skilled, motivated, energetic and passionate craftsman that such mundane matters are powerless to trip me up. Is that too much to ask?

Actually, this was worse than just an ordinary drag-ass spell. It was two weeks of nasty self-doubt and an unbidden journey into the whole “what does this all mean?” territory. Since the timeline correlated pretty closely to the completion of my first draft, it was interesting that a girlfriend married to a successful biographer told me he always experiences a dark couple of weeks after he’s done with a book—and before editing and revisions. She likened it to post-partum depression.

Perhaps that’s what I experienced, and I use the past tense because one day last week I woke up and I just felt better. For no good reason. Things just kind of shifted back into a glass-half-full mentality, and I’ve maintained an upswing ever since.

Isn’t it weird how being in that negative spin cycle just feeds on itself? And it’s so crippling. When I’m in the midst of such a spell, I know I should reach out and call a friend or make a run to the grocery store or attend a yoga class, but I’m unable to locate a single molecule of energy to make it happen. I’m lucky to go check the mailbox, much less fix a good, healthy meal. The routines of my normal life suddenly appear impossible to sustain.

Not surprisingly, feeling inadequate in my simple daily routines makes me insecure, and that in turn complicates all the relationships in my life. If a friend forgets to call back, I obsess over all our recent exchanges to discern what I said to make her angry. If an editor doesn’t return an email, I decide I’m the worst freelancer they’ve ever had to deal with. Every event is reflected through this ridiculous prism of negativity. And though my rational mind sees the absurdity of what I’m doing, I can’t figure out how to get back to a better frame of mind. I have no tools to help me crawl out of the abyss—perhaps partly because I don’t often fall in.

Anyway, as I said, my trip to Crap Land is thankfully past. I’m gradually regaining my enthusiasm for various activities, from exercise and cooking to writing and maintaining friendships. I told one friend that perhaps two weeks is my limit for focusing on my shallow, first-world problems and feeling sorry for myself.

This week I’ve completed a package of stories for my former newspaper about women’s friendships that begin in mid-life and I’ve also done all the phone interviews for another piece that will run in October. Today I spent an hour going over editor Tiffany’s notes on the Kiss and Tell manuscript, and that was good medicine. I can see I need to get together with Dr. Mo for a session so we can discuss some of Tiffany’s recommendations and how to best incorporate them into the book.

I’m still trudging to the gym twice a week; I managed to do that even while depressed. But now I’m back in yoga and also actively trying to get back in a regular riding pattern with my biking pals. South Florida’s weather pattern is ridiculously wet right now, however. Multiple rain-outs have occurred and it’s getting annoying. My tires are aired up, the headlight battery is charged and I’m ready to go.

Or not.