Posts Tagged ‘marketing a book’

A bit of news

July 20, 2014

When last I shared a post with you patient people, “Kiss and Tell’s” public relations campaign was about a month from wrapping up and the news on the headache front was oh-so-very-good (although I mentioned one side effect of my prevention drug was that I DID miss that little thing we like to call eating). I realize there’s been a giant time gap, but if you’re game, come along and I’ll fill you in on what you’ve missed.

As I blogged in February, the numerous television appearances that Insider Media Management secured for Dr. Whelihan and myself to promote “Kiss and Tell” did not translate into book sales—surprisingly. Personal appearances turned out to be most successful, so that’s what we focused on toward the end of our campaign. However, I confess I was a bit distracted because somewhere around Christmas I had made the decision to move back to Austin to be with my family and friends.

It was a wrenching decision. When I moved to West Palm Beach, I figured it would be for only a few years. But I loved the ocean, loved The Palm Beach Post, loved my fabulous, smart roommate and ended up missing Texas way less than I thought I would. Huge surprise.

I stayed. And stayed. For a total of 12 years.

When I took early retirement from the newspaper in 2009, my mom wondered if I’d move back to Texas, but I told her I wanted to write my book. She understood. Three years later, when the book was finished, she asked again. I told her, “Now I need to market it.”

Which I did. For an entire year.

Enough.

Finally, this spring, I wrapped up my time in Paradise (as I like to call West Palm Beach) and took steps to bring all my belongings together in the same zip code. True, they are scattered between a storage facility on Braker Lane, my Mom’s attic AND her basement, but still, I like to think they are within shouting distance of each other.

In a show of solidarity, my wonderful pals Di and Patti (from Arizona and Ohio!) drove to Texas with me in early June, to ease the transition. We all lost a dear friend to a sudden aneurysm just days before my departure, which was wrenching beyond words, and a bit ironic as well. I had moved to Florida during a time of immense grief, mourning the unexpected death of my young niece.

To counter that memory, I very intentionally planned to say good-bye to Florida slowly, to give myself time to appreciate all the things I’d come to love about my adopted home. I had this serene, graceful exit all built up in my head—but once again, I left one state for another with a broken heart.

I limped into Austin feeling more fragile than expected. And the town isn’t quite how I left it, that’s for sure. I didn’t know where I’d fit in.

For the time being, I’m living with Mom, though I have already zeroed in on a nearby apartment complex where I’ll move this fall (halfway between my sister’s house and my mom’s condo!). Meanwhile, we are compatible roomies, while I make sure everything is as good with my 86-year-old mom as I think it is. I say we’re roomies, but between her trips out of town and the numerous dog sitting jobs I’ve already worked (and booked for the future), we’re apart more than I thought we’d be.

A quick trip to Padre Island in mid-June to celebrate Mom’s birthday was the perfect time for the moving company to call and try to deliver my furniture from Florida, so that was annoying. I had to wait an additional eight days before they sent another truck, but what are you gonna do? Finally everything arrived and has now been wedged into tiny storage units, joining the gang o’ stuff already hanging out at Braker Storage since the sale of my house last October.

Have I said how nice it’ll be to have my own place when I can unpack everything all at once? Well, it will.

Meanwhile, I started calling friends and getting back in touch with Austin peeps. It wasn’t long before I remembered why I love this place: the people. It does my heart such good to see the faces of friends after so many years apart, and still find so many shared interests, so much to laugh and talk about, such enthusiasm for time together. I feel … nourished.

And I’ve already received a couple of invitations to speak to groups about “Kiss and Tell,” so that’s exciting. Austin has a great demographic for the book and I look forward to marketing here. (I’ll blog about those appearances once they occur.)

Headache-wise, the Topamax is still effective, although I believe the stress of the move and my friend’s death increased the number of my migraines in May and June. I’m doing better now that I’ve settled in and am creating a routine at Mom’s. I can’t report only two headaches a month like I could back in January and February, but I’m hopeful I can get there again.

Part of the problem may be that, with my neurologist’s permission, I dropped from 125 mg. to 100 mg of Topamax at the beginning of May. Of course, I didn’t know then what a stressful time it would turn out to be. I asked if I could reduce the dosage because I was dropping too much weight and developing a food aversion. Eating felt like a true chore, something I almost dreaded. I knew that was dangerous.

My neurologist thought I could drop the dosage and still get a good effect with 100 mg. In addition, he felt the tension in my neck was reduced enough that I could cease getting Botox injections there (after four years). Needless to say, I was happy with that visit to his office!

Which reminds me, I need to find a really great migraine specialist here in Austin. That’s going to be hard. I’ll be comparing him to the BEST guy in West Palm. Dr. Winner was AWESOME.

Sigh. There are a lot of folks I miss back in Paradise.

I guess in some ways my heart will always be in two places. I’m going to have to get used to that.

 

 

 

 

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How do you measure success?

February 23, 2014

When Dr. Whelihan and I decided to invest in a PR agency to help us publicize “Kiss and Tell” late last year, we knew it was a gamble. But in the end, I realized I didn’t want to look back and regret not believing in our book, not trusting that we had a solid, well-executed product worth standing behind.

So we signed a four-month contract (the minimum) and held our breath.

The results have been gratifying: Multiple TV, radio and magazine appearances in enviable markets, from Miami to San Diego. InsiderMedia Management has delivered plenty of “media hits” as they’re called in the business, for both Dr. Whelihan and myself. We’ve been kept busy on various local and far-flung talk-show sets chatting about how to keep the passion alive in relationships, always mentioning our book, our research and how to get your hands on your own copy. Naturally, I wish The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal had responded to the press packets IMM sent them, but I certainly can’t complain about the way the company has handled “Kiss and Tell.”

What none of us predicted was that all the increased television media hasn’t moved the needle on actual book sales—which has baffled us all. For sheer volume of sales, what works best is to tell people we’re going to talk in person about “Kiss and Tell,” hold an event, then sell and sign books afterward. For whatever reason, seeing us talk about the book on the small screen doesn’t have the same effect, though there would have been no way of knowing this in advance, naturally.

And so as we come down to the final month of our contract, how do I feel?

Older and wiser, surely.

Poorer, certainly. A PR company is expensive, and obviously, we hoped our gamble would pay off monetarily. It definitely did not.

And disappointed too. It would have been oh-so-nice to sell a warehouse full of books.

But I also feel strangely satisfied. And peaceful. I like that a lot of people now know about “Kiss and Tell.” The guy at the catering truck I frequent said “I saw you on TV!” the other day, and his helper followed me back to my car to buy a copy of the book and ask me a couple of questions.

Thousands of people in San Antonio, Austin, Fort Lauderdale and San Diego saw Dr. Whelihan or I talking about the women who told their stories of desire for “Kiss and Tell.” That feels right to me. It feels right that the work I spent so long on is finally being heard by more than just a few hundred people. That the dissemination of the information is much wider. I can’t help but feel satisfied by that. Even if people aren’t fascinated enough to buy a book.

I’m honestly surprised that more people don’t want the whole story. It’s weird to me that people aren’t a little more curious to peek into the bedrooms of these women who opened the doors to them and spilled all this personal information about desire. God knows I was curious. I learned so much and was deeply fascinated by their candor and breadth of experience.

But these days everyone has so much else going on in their lives. Being involved in the world of publicity has made me attuned to the fierce competition for people’s attention today. It is relentless and wearying, I must say. I often have conflicted feelings about being a part of it. I imagine anyone who has a product or service to sell must feel the same. It’s a difficult line to walk.

With one month left on our contract with IMM, we are shifting to focus on increased personal appearances, and pitching magazines and print media on some Mother’s Day ideas. It has been fantastic having a partnership with an organization that is devoted to seeing that “Kiss and Tell” is seen and appreciated out in the wider world. When you are self-published, it can feel like you are all alone in the wilderness, and tooting your own horn feels horribly self-centered after a while.

With the help of IMM, “Kiss and Tell’s” resume is now pretty much of an all-star affair, if I do say so myself. We have fancy credentials we wouldn’t have been able to garner on our own.

And that makes me proud.

So I guess that’s the strongest emotion I feel coming out of this period: Pride.

For me and TV, third time was the charm

January 19, 2014

Far wiser people than me have uttered these words, but allow me to reiterate: Be careful what you wish for.

Two months ago, with the hope of raising “Kiss and Tell’s” profile, Dr. Whelihan and I hired a public relations firm, which has led to me making three television appearances and realizing that while I do want “Kiss and Tell” to be famous, I do not actually want to be famous.

Back before “Kiss and Tell” was published, I naturally dreamed about it being a best seller. I confess to fantasizing about chatting with Oprah about all that I’d learned from the women I met while writing the book. In such fantasies I was relaxed and coherent.

I now know the reality of television bears little resemblance to my fantasies.

Dr. Whelihan appears on TV every month for a segment about sexual health on “Charlotte Today” and she makes it look incredibly easy. Because I am an extrovert and enjoy speaking publicly about “Kiss and Tell,” I was unprepared for how truly terrified I was when our PR agency notified me of an opportunity to appear in Miami on NBC’s “6 in the Mix.”

I was in Lake Wales visiting friends when I got the call. Unfortunately I’d just arrived for a 4-day visit, so I had to cut our time together short and drive back to West Palm that night, then get up early and drive to Boca Raton the next morning, where the agency’s media coach Chris worked with me for an hour before taking me to Miami for the 11:30 a.m. live show.

I was profoundly grateful for all the tips Chris gave me (ignore the camera and have a conversation with just the host; keep your comments simple; when in doubt, keep quiet and let the host fill in, etc), but nothing really prepared me for the panic I felt sitting in the lobby of the news building waiting for the producer to fetch us. It rose and fell several times, complete with rapid heartbeat and a practically debilitating sense of dread.

I calmed my breathing when I got on the set, but I only had 30 seconds to visit with the host before we went live, and during those 30 seconds a producer was counting down the seconds in the background. It was NOT calming. My performance was merely adequate, but over quickly and I was profoundly relieved.

I figured Dr. Whelihan would do all the rest of the TV, and indeed she did the next taping our PR agency secured for us. But InsiderMedia is very good at their job, and since both Dr. Whelihan and I were traveling at Christmas time, the agency was seeking bookings for us in the cities we were visiting.

And thus, on the way to Austin for the holidays, all wrapped up in Christmas cheer, I get a text during my Atlanta layover asking if I am available five days later to tape a segment at the Fox-affiliated station in Austin.

My heart fell because I knew my coach wouldn’t be there to quell my fears. But I quickly rallied enough to think positive, and for the next five days I concentrated on not panicking and just rehearsing what I might say to surprising questions about “Kiss and Tell.” (InsiderMedia marketed us over the holidays by pitching us as experts in how to keep your sex life active during the busy and stressful holiday season). By Monday morning I was ready, if nervous.

My friend Dianne accompanied me to steady my nerves, thank goodness. This time the segment was taped, not live, but it feels the same. You get the feeling no one wants to stop the cameras and I was still terrified to make a mistake. The two hosts and I took about a minute to talk before the taping began, and we had a good chat. But then they opened with an extremely general question we didn’t discuss—and I was stumped. D’oh.

Helpful people later informed me that I might do what politicians do and just answer whatever question I want. You know, control the interview. This assumes that I am not so scared that I can barely think. There’s a reason for that phrase about freezing in front of the camera, people. It’s real. I have thought about why it happens and I don’t really understand it. I wish I did.

When I speak to groups of people and I say something wrong, I never worry. I just correct myself and move on. But something about having that mistake recorded for all time makes you not want to say anything at all. You are so sure you’ll say something dumb that you’re struck silent.

Anyway, I did OK in Austin after I recovered from that initial question. But my mouth got so dry that my lips stuck to my teeth, so that was unsettling. Dianne said it wasn’t noticeable but I was afraid I was going to have to unstick my lips and teeth with my fingers! Classy, no?

The station aired the segment about four days later; I watched it once and didn’t want to view it again. It made my stomach feel squirmy to watch. I could see that I didn’t seem relaxed, but didn’t know how to fix it as long as I was too scared and insecure during the filming process to think clearly.

Meanwhile, Dr. Whelihan had been booked for a similar segment in Charlotte, N.C., where she was spending the holidays, and I watched her clip on Facebook. She completely nailed the interview and seemed totally at ease in every way, bantering with the host and chatting breezily off script about any and everything.

I was so frustrated over performing badly, and further annoyed for being unable to control my emotions and physical response on camera. Happily, Dr. Whelihan called the next day and gave me a pep talk, reminding me that she had been doing television work for 15 years now in one form or another, and had done taped work for 10 years before she ever had to go live.

“Lighten up, girl,” she said. “We’re our own worst critics.”

I really appreciated the support. I took a deep breath and decided to just relax into the rest of my vacation.

The next day the PR agency called to say a San Antonio TV station (an hour and a half away) wanted to have me on four days later. Was I available?

To tell the truth, I almost said no.

It was an early morning show in an unfamiliar city . . . and I knew I’d have to endure another four days of panic. My mom had just come down with the flu, I didn’t think anyone in my family could drive with me to San Antonio and I was just flat out tired of being scared.

But you don’t hire a PR agency and then turn down the bookings they find for you. I said yes.

And in fact, my subsequent panic was so bad that over the next few days I occasionally took a Xanax, just to get a break from the anxiety. Sure, I was discouraged by my reaction, but I was trying to adjust to the fact that TV appearances might be part of my life for a little while. I knew I had to figure out how to handle them more effectively.

Fortunately my sister Joan made the sacrifice to set her alarm for 5 a.m. to go down to San Antonio with me for the live show. (Yes, another live show!) I can’t imagine what a basket case I’d have been trying to make that drive on I-35 alone. We arrived a little early and set up camp in the green room. (That’s what TV stations call the room where guests wait to be called to the set.)

And there in the green room I had a little epiphany. I suddenly realized that I was the expert on the subject of women’s desire and I needed to stop allowing the circumstances surrounding TV studios to intimidate me. Somehow I needed to relax and just find a way to share my expertise.

I had taken a Xanax that morning, to get my physical symptoms of anxiety out of the way, and I felt fairly calm. Then the producer of “San Antonio Living” came in and told me they wanted me to stay on after my segment and talk on air with the host, Shelly Miles, about the questions they had received on Facebook that morning. I knew I was doing better than usual when that news didn’t phase me.

Soon after, they called me to the set. Joan came along to snap a few photos. I liked their set up, because we sat at a tall table instead of on couches, and I could see a screen that showed when I was—and wasn’t—on camera. So when I wasn’t shown, it was like being on recess. I could lick my lips, push my hair back or just relax and breathe without feeling self-conscious. The whole scenario felt much more relaxed because of those couple of things.

Shelly asked me the first question and I had the answer. And just like that, everything was fine. I liked her, she seemed engaged by what I said, I didn’t feel intimidated—and things just took off. We were on for 10 minutes! During the break she told me a question she wanted to ask, but it wasn’t something that fed into anything I had insight about. So I found the courage to suggest something else. Which she liked! She immediately picked up on it and fed into it seamlessly as soon as we came back from commercial break. How those TV folks can do that so effortlessly is beyond me.

Needless to say, it was by far my most successful appearance. Plus, the book was featured throughout, and at the end Shelly mentioned our website, www.KissAndTellBook.com so that was extremely encouraging.

When it was over, I was euphoric. I felt like I’d overcome a huge obstacle. Joan and I walked along the Riverwalk for a little while and stopped for a breakfast of chocolate milk and a blueberry muffin. I was chattering with happiness. I told Joan I would likely experience nervousness at future television appearances, but that at least now I had a positive encounter to lean on and think about when going into such endeavors. And knowing I could do well would build my confidence.

As it turns out, this is extremely helpful to me today, since tomorrow I am heading over to WPTV, here in West Palm Beach, to tape a segment that will air locally during the week of Valentine’s Day. Yes!

And the same afternoon I go to Fort Lauderdale to appear on a new talk show about relationships titled—I kid you not—”Get Some.” I don’t know any more about it than that because it’s a new show. (I have to say that “Kiss and Tell” might just be the perfect book to be featured on such a show. I’ll get back to you on that.)

I firmly believe my success on the San Antonio show has enabled me to face tomorrow’s tapings without dread. Granted, I’m not exactly jumping up and down with eagerness, but I’m not panicked and I haven’t had to take any Xanax.

I admit, I’m still a long way from being the Oprah-ready author I was in those daydreams I had a short while ago!

Mass Marketing

October 19, 2013

The best argument against self-publishing is the simple fact that most writers yearn to write books, not market books.

I’m glad Dr. Whelihan and I went the self-publishing route, and we’ve been amazingly successful getting the word out about  “Kiss and Tell,” but let me assure you that securing media attention and exposure in magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for any book, product or idea these days is very difficult and much more time consuming than people realize.

After a certain number of months thinking about ways to talk to people about the book you’ve written on sexual desire, let’s just say the desire wanes.

I find that half my time is spent just trying to ferret out the correct contact people at media organizations to pitch to. That’s half the battle right there, because there’s no point mailing your product into a black hole. Even with my former newspaper experience, I struggle with this all the time.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that “Kiss and Tell” had finally cracked a national magazine. Yep. The Aug. 26 edition of Publishers Weekly carried not only a description of our book, but also a thumbnail of the cover. Since only a few covers per page were used, I chose to be complimented that we were among those selected.

But how do you break into more of those larger markets/audiences and therefore increased sales? What I’ve had lots of practice at is speaking with 20-50 people about my topic and connecting with them one on one. I love signing books and chatting afterward with audience members, hearing their stories and feeling that bond. I’ve talked to groups as large as 140, but I don’t have a famous name that gathers many more people than that to a venue.

What I need is a TV audience, right?

So . . . speaking of TV audiences . . . a PR firm approached Dr. Whelihan and I about representing us and they happen to have a lot of contacts in broadcast media, which is a good fit for us, since we’ve already done a pretty good job pitching the book to local print media. I’m shocked by how expensive it is to secure their services though—more than a couple thousand dollars a month!

But when I look at how difficult it is to attract anyone’s attention in today’s society, and I look at the competition out there from both professionals and amateurs (and I assess how hard we’ve been working already to do this exact thing), I’m wondering if maybe it isn’t time to bring in some help.

It’s not as if I’ve stopped my own marketing efforts. Far from it. When Miley Cyrus made her ridiculous remarks last week on “The Today Show” about how people over 40 lose interest in sex, one of “Kiss and Tell’s” local fans took to Kathie Lee and Hoda’s website to tell the two morning show hosts to read my book and learn first-hand what women of a certain age were saying about their sex lives.

So I quickly dropped a copy of the book in the mail to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, along with a two-pack of Oral-B Pulsar toothbrushes and a cute note for Hoda and Kathie Lee. (I did the same for Dr. Oz when he visited West Palm three months ago.) My fingers are crossed. But you can’t count on lightning to strike. You can hope, but you have to drop a lot of lines in the water to hook one of these talk show personalities. Everyone is trying to get their attention.

So what do you guys think? Is it worth the gamble to spend money that could boost sales? The PR company loves the idea of pitching sex to Florida’s morning talk shows. They are more accustomed to difficult topics such as stamp collecting (seriously) and are thrilled at the prospect of what they consider an easy sell. I’m thinking there’s a good chance we could justify the investment, but I’m nervous, naturally. Reader input welcome!

Meanwhile, I’m packing for a trip to Austin. I leave in two days and am looking forward to several book signing events, meetings with friends old and new, family time and fall weather.

Color me thrilled.

Hello migraines, my old friend

August 2, 2013

The melody to “The Sound of Silence” keeps running through my head lately, along with these unwelcome words. Yep, it’s been a bad few months in migraine land.

The truth of my life is that no matter what else happens—from everyday activities such as grocery shopping and attending book club to the big ones, like starting a job or taking a vacation or even attending a funeral—I have to factor in migraine headaches.

When I first began getting the headaches, around age 40, I would usually become aware of them late in the afternoon, driving home from work perhaps. I couldn’t figure out why my head felt like it was splitting open behind my left eye and why the highway lights seemed so bright and annoying. When I told my sister that one night I had thrown up at the gate to my house before I made it home, she calmly informed me that if my headaches were making me vomit, they were migraines.

Point taken.

And diagnosis eventually confirmed.

That was almost two decades (and a hundred sure-fire cures) ago. These days, I tend to wake up with my migraines. They seem to gather strength overnight, and I usually know within 30 minutes of waking if I’m going to need a triptan (a $30 pill by the way) or if I can hold back the full-blown version of the headache with a couple of over-the-counter Excedrin Migraines.

Last month, for the first time, the pain of a migraine that formed overnight woke me at 4 a.m. I was in Texas for two book signings, sleeping at my Mom’s house. I actually had a dream that I had a migraine and then the dream turned real and I became aware that the pain wasn’t imaginary. I got up, fumbled in the dark trying to remember where I had packed my triptans, eventually got one down, and fell back into bed. NOT a good way to start a day, let me assure you.

But this is my life. People get used to their own private hells, I find. Everyone is bearing a cross. I’ve been emailing a friend of a friend who also struggles with migraines, comparing notes on which meds are effective preventives and which ones have side effects too dicey or too incompatible with our lives to risk. I used Lyrica for more than two years with pretty good results; in fact I occasionally went for an entire month without a migraine, but I gained weight and lost hair, so I didn’t care to stay on it indefinitely. When I slowly came off it, about four months ago, sure enough, my migraine count went back up, to 6 or 7 per month (with several of them turning into multi-day events).

My correspondent wrote that she had good luck with Propranalol for several years, so when I went for my Botox treatments this week, I asked my neurologist about it. (Yes, I get Botox shots in my neck, temples and hairline every three months to control the migraine pain. My Aetna plan covers most of the cost and thank goodness. The shots have definitely helped reduce the pain and frequency.)

Anyway, my doctor isn’t a fan of Propranalol. It’s an older drug and he says Topamax has pretty much replaced it. The downside to Topamax is that it can interfere with cognition and focus, causing patients to lose word choice and such. Apparently, its nickname is Dope-amax, which is hardly encouraging.

When I worked at the newspaper and wrote stories every day, my doctor didn’t think it was a good choice for me, and I agreed. Writing—for me—requires 100 percent focus. I have to be on my game. But I am writing much less frequently now, and the occasional speeches I give (where losing focus would be most unwelcome) are an activity I’m becoming very comfortable with. So I was willing to risk it.

Topamax it is.

The spaciness many people feel when they start taking the drug dissipates for most. One friend who began taking it about 15 months ago confirms this. I watched her closely at the time and didn’t detect any dopiness; I was doing covert research in case it was ever my turn. She’s gone from 3-4 headaches a week to 3-5 a month, which she said changed her life.

So now it’s my turn. Naturally I’m hoping for a vastly positive result, but after all the things I’ve tried, I’m being realistic. I’m also watching out for other side effects such as vision problems and dizziness. Also, some people don’t sweat normally on Topamax. Odd, yes?

Another common side effect is weight loss, though I doubt I’m lucky enough to score that one. My neurologist says soft drinks lose their appeal because of the metallic taste Topamax leaves in your mouth, and that contributes to people’s weight loss. I DO love my morning Dr Pepper; can’t imagine losing my taste for that, but we’ll see. My girlfriend who showed no signs of dopiness did actually lose some weight.

Last night I took my first 25 mg. tablet. It’s a slow build-up to either 75 mg or perhaps 100 mg. and the whole process takes at least a month. If I allow myself the luxury of the fantasy, I can recall what it’s like to have entire migraine-free months. That would be SO amazing.

Fingers and toes crossed. I’m going to think positive!

Managing expectations

July 13, 2013

The traveling that’s required to market “Kiss and Tell” has provided me with plenty of excuses for not keeping up with my blog. Granted, none of the excuses are good ones, but they are new. So they have effectively soothed the guilt over my month-long lapse.

I’d have been better off blogging every other day, because then I could perhaps capture the shifting moods and perceptions I’ve undergone concerning this whole marketing process. Why is it that no matter how people warn you of what’s ahead, we always manage to think our experience will be different, manageable and entirely in sync with the scenario we’ve resolutely constructed in our mind?

Or is it just me who does that?

After the solitude of the writing experience, I was more than ready for the public aspects of book selling. And I have enjoyed every chance I’ve had this summer to put “Kiss and Tell” in front of readers and share what I learned from the amazing women who became the characters for the book.

But the cost of traveling (which I’ve done very cheaply) adds up, especially when you combine gas, airline and hotel expenses with the fees associated with book store appearances (many have a community room fee of $100 to $250) and the occasional buy-back costs that kick in if you overestimate how many books might be sold in one night.  It’s hard. You want to think positive before an event, but if you are too optimistic, you’ll get hit with a hefty price tag buying back your own books—at retail, not wholesale.

Actually, that only occurred at the Barnes & Noble signing I arranged in Phoenix. All the independent stores I’ve dealt with have just relied on me to mail them our self-published books from my CreateSpace account. And after those events, excess books are just mailed back to me in South Florida.

But because “Kiss and Tell” is considered non-returnable, Barnes & Noble stores basically don’t want anything to do with us. The manager at the Phoenix store was just a really great guy who decided to take a chance on me because I walked into his store cold turkey and won him over.

I’ve since taken steps to address this non-returnable handicap, especially after I spoke with a representative of Barnes & Noble’s small press department in New York. A while back I sent B&N corporate a letter asking if they’d stock “Kiss and Tell” but got a rejection form letter in return. Basically the message was: “Of course you want us to carry your book; we’re great. But it’s unrealistic because there are too many self-published titles out there and 90 percent of them sell 100 copies or fewer, mostly to friends and family.”

Wow. Thanks.

I’m guessing whoever opened the mail didn’t read the synopsis I sent or the press clippings or the sales info, which indicated we’d already sold about 8 times as many books as the typical self-published book.

So, I got on my high horse and wrote a second letter asking them to reconsider, and to tell me what kind of sales figures we’d have to achieve for them to add us to their shelves.

And that’s when the B&N rep called from New York. She said our book already had enough sales and that B&N would definitely stock “Kiss and Tell” but for the fact that it’s classified as non-returnable, and warehouse-wise and storage-wise and inventory-wise it’s apparently impossible for Barnes & Nobles to order non-returnable books.

So I called my wonderful book designer Brion Sausser to find out if we could change this and he did some digging and said YES! Per his instruction, I’ve contacted my representative at Lightning Source (which we joined back when the book debuted) and supposedly it’s a doable change. CreateSpace can’t make it happen, but Lightning Source can. Why this is, I cannot tell you. When I figure it out, I’ll share.

Meanwhile, I’m now preparing for Texas book events in Austin (July 19) and Houston (July 22). The two Phoenix events were great, although the one at Changing Hands drew lots more people than the one at Barnes & Noble. Yes, it was 112 degrees the day of the B&N event, and there were lots of high school graduations in the area that day, but still . . .  those are just excuses. I can’t tell you definitely why one event gets more turnout than another. I can just tell you that for each event I try to spread the word as best I can.

But as I alluded to at this blog’s start, keeping one’s spirits up 24/7 while one “spreads the word” is far harder than I expected it to be. I’ll circle back around on that complicated process in a future blog.

To give you a taste of the back-to-back travel I’ve been indulging in this summer, allow me to note that I flew straight from Phoenix to Grand Rapids, Mich., to spend a week with my sisters and Mom to celebrate her 85th birthday. The morning after I returned to West Palm from Michigan, I drove to Boynton Beach for a weekend dog sitting job, which meant that when it ended, I had just two days back in my condo to pack for a road trip with my cycling buddy to St. Louis and Cape Girardeau. (We were looking for fun and adventure and also some book selling opportunities along the way.)

We pulled out in his van on June 24th, and I flew home from St. Louis on July 2. Three days later I started a week-long dog sitting job that ended the same day I started a pet sitting job in the house I’m in right now. It ends Monday and on Wednesday I fly to Texas for 10 days. Two days after I return to Florida, I start the first of four August pet-sitting gigs (including one in Key Largo! Woot!)

I adore traveling; during the time I was writing “Kiss and Tell” I deeply missed the excitement and joy it brings me. But not surprisingly, I feel a bit unmoored these days, ping ponging from place to place, taking in new faces and experiences, but lacking the time to process and absorb lessons along the way.

With so little time spent in ordinary pursuits at my familiar home base, I sometimes catch myself wondering “Now, who are you again?”

Fifty Shades of Green

May 30, 2013

Don’t you love it?

That’s the title Sami and Joe and I came up with for our North Carolina trip earlier this month. Take the beautiful Smoky Mountains, garnish them with spectacular spring weather and a bumper crop of wildflowers, and season with a small bit of business for my sex-themed book “Kiss and Tell.”

Voila! The Fifty Shades of Green moniker emerged.

Though I’ve visited the Smokies at least three times previously, I’m guessing it’s been a couple of decades since the last time. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed by the reintroduction. The landscape was SO lush; the mountains so perfectly blue in their haze; the ferns and wildflowers so eager to impress us; the waterfalls so glorious. Everywhere I turned I found my eyes tearing up with the sheer beauty they were trying to absorb.

Sami and Joe, my landlords and dear friends, served as the perfect tour guides. Their place on Deep Creek sits about 2 minutes outside the entrance to Smoky Mountain National Park and they know it like their backyard. Day after day we headed into the park to visit their favorite spots: Cade’s Cove, Tom Branch Falls, Clingmans Dome and many more. We hit the tourists’ favorites, of course, but with their expertise, we also traipsed into the woods to stand quietly beside tiny graveyards, hidden away from most visitors. We read each stone, marveling at how many tiny plots we found for the infants who died a century or more ago.

We had a blast hiking through the tunnel that marks the end of the Road to Nowhere, which the government promised to build, but later abandoned. We studied the elaborate graffiti and laughed ghoulish laughs to hear our voices echo around the concrete walls. Good times!

I had arranged a meeting with the community events manager at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, and my hosts were gracious enough to devote one of our vacation days to that pursuit. The drive took a little more than an hour, and was gorgeous, by the way. My pitch for “Kiss and Tell” was well-received, and though it’s too early to pick a date, I was assured of a fall event there. I’m hoping to combine it with appearances in Charlotte and Raleigh, because my book partner, Dr. Maureen Whelihan, is well-known in that area for her monthly appearance as a sexual health expert on Charlotte Today, airing on the local NBC affiliate. With a bit of luck, I’m hoping the doctor’s busy schedule will allow us to appear together for all three of those events.

Our Asheville outing, which included some great shopping and a fabulous lunch, was yet another highlight of this incredible trip. I was able to unplug my “marketing brain,” and spend my time absorbing the beauty and peace of the mountains. On the way home from Asheville, we detoured slightly to include a portion of The Blueridge Parkway, stopping at Waterrock Knob overlook to marvel at the view. One more precious memory to store away for the ages.

When I returned to Florida—on a Sunday evening—I drove straight to a friend’s house for a 10-day dog sitting job (with some of my favorite pups in the world!) I’ve been plugging back in to real life, and mostly trying to secure some media coverage in Phoenix for my upcoming book signings. Since I don’t have the base of friends there that I enjoy in West Palm Beach and Austin, I’m nervous about WHO will come to hear me talk about sex there. I called and emailed radio stations, TV stations and local publications, but don’t feel like I got much traction.

However, I will try many of those contacts again tomorrow when I’m there, with the old “Hi, I’m here now and available to share stories about sexual desire with your listeners/viewers/readers!”

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I finished my dog sitting gig last night, and around lunch time today I catch a flight to Phoenix. While there, I have yet another dog job! (Yes, my side business is booming.) I will be happily ensconced with three gorgeous collies and two Maine coon cats.

I promise to blog from the Southwest and report on whether animals or human have the longest hair in this crowd.

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!