Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sharing the love of reading

April 23rd was the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death. April 23 was UNESCO World Book Day. April 23 was World Book Night. What a perfect time to share the love of reading with a group of kids.

Yesterday, I joined 2,500 other volunteer book givers to carry out the World Book Night mission to share the love of reading by distributing 500,000 books in one day.

Friend and fellow WBN book giver Mary Gottschalk and I chose to give our books out at Oakridge Neighborhood, home to 300 low-income families, many of whom are refugees.

Before passing out books, we held a lively discussion of reading and writing with teens and pre-teens in one of the Oakridge Neighborhood after-school programs. What fun to hear that these young people are writing stories and keeping diaries. They could be writing the books WBN gives out in the future.

I chose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as my book to give. Mary chose The Things They Carried. The program leaders at Oakridge plan to have book club-type discussions of the books, using the discussion guides included in each specially printed edition of the books made just for this event.  

Because there were so many young people with so many different interests - and so many good books on the World Book Night list, I picked up copies of several other authors on the list to distribute as well. We encouraged them to take a book, read it and pass it on.

The love of reading is contagious. What fun to pass it on!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day highs and lows

"It's so clean here," Colonel Hill observed as we stood looking out the window of a restaurant many stories above the downtown Des Moines streets.

"It could be better," I responded, spying cans and paper litter, even from that far away.

I realize it's a matter of perspective. The colonel was visiting from Washington, D.C. Litter on big city streets makes Iowa look positively pristine by comparison. But even if we could smugly say we're not as bad as they are, that's hardly a badge of distinction.

Today is Earth Day.  Started in 1970 as a protest, since then the day has served as a celebration of the birth of the modern environmental movement and a day of action.

An AP article compared pictures from the EPA Documerica project. Things look a lot better, but they also show work to be done. Earth Day raises awareness each year of the need for good environmental stewardship, and of the need for each person to take responsibility for our environment. 

Every spring I find myself ranting about all the litter in the roadside ditches. Because of the mild, mostly snow-free, winter just past, I was able to keep the ditches along my walking trail reasonably clean throughout the winter. Pretty much every day I took a walk this winter, I came back with 2-3 bottles or cans. The capacity people have to litter is endless.

Since Earth Day is about action, my action today will be to bag up all the recyclable containers I've picked up in the last few weeks and take them to a recycling center. But also, because Colonel Hill reminded me that by comparison we also have it pretty good here in Iowa, I'll focus on the beauty of our surroundings, too. The plum tree my husband planted this week and the bleeding hearts blooming in the garden.

Our earth is beautiful. Earth Day reminds us all to take responsibility for keeping it that way.

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Will she get her man?

The story of David &Goliath is well known. But in reading about David, most people overlook the prize he won for bringing back the Philistine’s head—King Saul’s daughter, Michal. The women behind the men are often overlooked—in the bible and elsewhere—but that’s what makes these women such good fiction fodder. As author Rachelle Ayala has discovered in writing MICHAL’S WINDOW.

The story is told mostly from Michal's viewpoint. The young princess who falls madly in love with David, a young man who plays the harp for her father. David loves her just as much but their love is thwarted time and again because David is slated to be the next king. Michal’s father, King Saul, feels threatened and sets out to have David killed. Yes, even though David is married to his daughter. Soap operas have nothing on the bible!

Michal’s goal is simple—to be with the man she loves—and she is relentless in trying to get to him even as she wonders if he feels the same for her. She’s a feisty girl who doesn’t follow the rules of the day for women and that gets her into and out of many scrapes—and into and out of the arms of many men.  Will she ever be reunited with the love of her life? How does she deal with the reality that her husband takes many wives? What does she do about the other men who love her—and that she loves back? This is an epic story of love gained and lost, of betrayal and redemption.

Books like this always send me back to the bible to separate biblical fact from fiction. Ayala is faithful to the biblical story of King David, a story that includes graphic violence as well as explicit sensuality and sex—scenes Ayala writes exceptionally well. In rich detail and vivid scenes, the author takes us into a world where women are given, or taken, as prizes by men. She weaves in Michal’s story in a way that makes the characters real and the story totally believable.

Intertwining Michal into all of the actions of David while building Michal’s parallel story created the one challenge I found in this novel—the length, which is roughly twice that of an average novel.

MICHAL’S WINDOW is well written, historically accurate, a fascinating view of the women who receive only passing mention behind the men in stories we may think we know so well. MICHAL'S WINDOW reminded me of Anita Diamant's THE RED TENT. If you liked that one, this could be for you. A good read but settle in. 4.5 stars

The author provided a copy of the novel in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And what did we learn from that?

Woo Hoo! Thanks everyone for your support during my first 2-day Kindle Select Free Promo. IMHO, it was a success. 

At the end of two days, GROWING UP COUNTRY-Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl had been downloaded 7,173 times, landing me at #52 on the Kindle Top 100 Best Seller list as well as at #1 or #2 on various non-fiction history and biography lists.

My #1 goal for the promotion was to expand awareness for my book and that happened.

But, even as I was reveling in the child-like wonder of watching my book rise in the ranks, I was already hearing my public relations counselor self whisper in my ear--What did we learn? What worked? What didn't? What will we do differently next time?

Now that I've had a few minutes to take a breath, here's what I learned.

It takes a village

In 48 hours, you have to get the word about your free book out to as many people as possible. You can't do this alone. I signed up for the World Literary Cafe 15th of the month Free For All. The $10 investment was well worth it. WLC featured my book along with others on their website and their Tweet teams went into overdrive to promote.

I engaged my friends in the Facebook and Twitter worlds to help spread the news. Since most authors are going to be doing the same themselves someday, everyone plays. More on that below.

Next time -- I'll also join some of the WLC Tweet Teams (free) and add WLC Social Media Mania (paid) to the mix to extend the goodness beyond the Free days.

If you ask, someone will answer - but make it easy

The indie author world is a caring, sharing group. If you ask, someone has done it before and will readily share their learning.  I participate in several Facebook indie author groups and several Kindle Free promo groups. I posted my Free Day promo on all pages each day and I was bold in asking people to share the news with their friends. To make it easy to share, I made sure my posts were Tweetable length and already included hashtags. So anyone who chose to, could just cut and paste to Twitter.

Here are links to a few of my favorite Facebook indie author groups -
  • Indie Authors Promo https://www.facebook.com/groups/279403915471105/
  • Memoirs-R-Us https://www.facebook.com/groups/166765903397390/
  • The Heard - An Author's Voice https://www.facebook.com/groups/358463560861573/
  • WLC Book Marketing & Branding https://www.facebook.com/groups/265856476824177/ (only for people who have taken a WLC Book Branding workshop led by best selling author Melissa Foster)

Next time -- There are a long list of sites that list free books and many list for free. I knew of only a few going into my promotion. Now I know of many more, and I'll post to every one.

A BIG shout out to Clare Ayala for sharing her experience with Kindle Select promos on her blog. In another post, she provides a long list of promo sites.  While you're there, check out her novel - Michal's Window. If you like historical fiction and romance, you can't go wrong with this one.

Social Media is Full Time WORK

Now I have firsthand experience with why companies hire people to manage their social media presence. It's work. The advice from experts in doing a Free Day promotion is to 'Tweet like crazy.' Even with a Tweet scheduling platform like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, tweeting, responding, adapting kept me at my computer all day. 

Next Time -- I'll do more of what I did this time.  I wrote pages of Tweets out in advance so all I had to do was cut and paste. I'll still be at the computer responding to messages and thanking people over and over for helping spread the word. And I'll collapse in exhaustion - but happy - at the end.

The bottom line to my experience is that next time I'll do the same and more. Part of the problem with experiences like this, is you don't know what you don't know until it's over. But from my perspective, it's fun. I'm learning, so it's all good. As I learn more, I'll share. It's what social media is all about.

Note-Image from squidoo.com

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A FREE! gift for readers

I promised to give back to readers in April and here comes your second opportunity. Today and tomorrow, April 14 and April 15, you can download the Kindle version of my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, absolutely free. Yep, FREE.

This is a really good deal for readers and, though it may seem counter intuitive, it could be a really good deal for me, too.

Here's how it works.

  • Free ebook promotions generate widespread attention and many people who don't know about my book, will see it. Many (I hope) will download it FREE.
  • If enough readers download it, my book will rise in the Amazon best seller ranks, whether those who download it read the book or not. Then - after the free promotion is over - people who use those lists to guide purchase decisions may be encouraged to buy the book because so many others already have it.
  • Of course, I hope people who download my book will read it it, and then that at least some of them will write reviews and post their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Library Thing - all the places readers look for guidance on future purchases.  

I have never done a free book promotion, so I won't have firsthand experience to report until after this weekend. But other authors have done this and achieved varying levels of success.

My boss of many years had a sign on his wall that said, "Once you give it away, it's gone."  He's the same boss I blogged about back in January.  His signs really stuck with me, but then I read them every day for 10 years (proving the power of a repeated message). Anyway, he didn't believe in giving away our product.

He may have been right about giving away public relations counsel, but giving away ebooks in promotions like this may be more like providing product free to a non-profit so that paying customers will see what you have and like it enough to pay for it.  I hope so, anyway.  When the promotion is over, I'll let you know how it went.

 In the meantime, if you have a Kindle, this is your opportunity. Go ahead, download Growing Up Country. It's FREE! My gift to you. And I'd be most grateful if you shared this news with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, email. The more free downloads, the better.

P.S. Just a reminder to you Goodreads members to sign up to win a free hard copy of my memoir. If you haven't done so yet, there's still time. The giveaway runs through April 30.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doing the hard work - Editing

Most novels have fewer than 100,000 words. There are notable exceptions to this limit - Stieg Larsson and J.K. Rowling are two. But for most authors, fewer words are better.

So it is with trepidation that I face rewriting my novel, which stands at the moment somewhere north of 130,000 words. How do I ax a fourth of the precious words I spent the last years writing?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote some of the most memorable books I read in college, including Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. This week I came across his Eight Tips on How to Write a Great Story and I begin to understand why his writing is so powerful.

Here are his Eight Tips
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Within this list--right there in Tip 4--I  see one way to tackle my editing task. In fact, I'm making a sign to stick on my computer screen. Does this sentence reveal character? Does it advance action?   If not, out it goes.

Thanks to Kurt Vonnegut for offering just the writing guidance I need.

Image courtesy of: http://voiceseducation.org/category/tag/kurt-vonnegut

Monday, April 9, 2012

Are you feeling lucky?

Readers have been so good to me, this month I'm giving back. Through April, I'm working with Goodreads. Members of this book lovers social networking site can sign up to win one of three signed copies of my memoir - Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl - to be given away on May 1.

For those who are not familiar with my memoir, Growing Up Country tells stories of growing up on a family dairy farm in the middle of America in the middle of the 20th Century. If you grew up in rural America, these stories will trigger your memories and your senses, releasing stories of your own. If the rural Midwest is foreign territory to you, these stories invite you into a fascinating and disappearing world.

If you love to read, but you're not a Goodreads member, you might want to consider joining. Launched in 2007, Goodreads boasts 3.5+ million members, who've listed over a million books. Members line their 'shelves' with books they've read, post reviews, and add books to 'to-be-read' lists. Like other social networking sites, friends connect, share recommendations, and chat in book club-like discussions.

My goal is to give gifts to encourage and reward reader interest and get my book in front of more readers at the same time.  A win-win.

So, if you're a Goodreads member, I hope you'll enter the giveaway for my book.  I hope you'll tell your friends about the giveaway. And when it gets to May 1, I hope you're one of the lucky three and I get to send a copy of my book to you!

Good luck!

P.S. This is the first reader-reward opportunity in April. There will be others. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keeping a diary

When I was a teenager, diaries were popular gifts. The ones I received were all the same with a few lines designated for each day of the year. Four or five lines about 1/8th of an inch apart. Similar to the pocket day planner I carry around in my purse today, except these diaries had tiny locks and tinier keys.

I knew the intent was to write the important things that happened each day, but how could I crowd my unruly handwriting into lines that were so close together or say anything of importance in only four lines? God forbid that I break the rules and use the space of two days to write what happened in one! And what if I wrote something personal and one of my sisters or my mother read it? Even then I had secrets too big to trust to paper. Or at least I thought I did.

Instead I wrote down mundane things like what the weather was like. Often the diary gathered the dust of disinterest after a week or two.

Little did I know that all these years later, I'd still be keeping a diary in the modern day form of a blog and I'd still be driven to write about the weather. Yet, it's true. The weather this spring inspires gratitude and poetry. The weather is so unbelievable I can't help but note it. Were I trying to shoehorn my words into the diary of my teen years, here's what it would say:

"April 1, 2012. 89 degrees. Sunshine. Crab apple and redbud trees in full bloom. Daffodils and hyacinths blooming BEFORE Easter. Mowed the grass. Second time this year!!!"

Not since 1910 have we had a March so warm. In fact, this year March temps blew the 1910 record out of the water. Weather like this deserves its place in my diary. And I'm glad to have a blog. My handwriting has become less tidy over the years.