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Sunday, January 25, 2009

How Can We Help?

I had a lovely luncheon today at the home of my friends Denise and Craig. The occasion was a book club get together that Denise arranged, and I was the feature author. It's always a joy to be asked to talk about Paper, Scissors, Death--and particularly, I love hearing different readers' reactions to the book. I was curious about how Denise's friends felt about the humor in PSD, specifically how much that did or did not matter to them. I wondered what they would ask regarding the plot. Of course, I won't tell what happens in Cut, Cut & Die, book two in the series, but I could assure them that Detweiler and Kiki and the gang will be back. I was thrilled at being compared to Janet Evanovich. (Hey, that was almost as heavenly as Denise's soups, the terrific salad and the fabulous bread.) And I was stumped by the question, "Which revives your creative juices more: scrapbooking or writing?"

But the biggest surprise came when the readers asked me, "How can we help you?"

Whoa. I was suddenly transported back in time to when networking was big. We women would meet together to share job possibilities, ideas for being more professional, and support. Back then, we knew we'd only make it if we helped each other.

So I haven't heard those precious words in years: "How can we help?"

Maybe you have a friend who's an author. Or maybe you're a fan. Perhaps you've wondered, "Can I make a different in an author's career?"

The answer is a resounding, "YES!"

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Go to Amazon and Barnes & Noble and post a review. The more reviews, the more stars, the more their internal logic systems will recommend the books you favor. (Yep, I don't know exactly how it works, but it does.)

2. Suggest the book to another book club. In my experience, book clubbers tend to belong to more than one club. So, tell your second club about the book your first club liked.

3. Call your local library. If they don't have copies of the book, ask them to get them. If they do, check out the book, even if you have already read it. I'm not suggesting you take out the book and keep another reader from her chance at it, but I am suggesting that the more a book is checked out, the more likely a library is to buy more copies. (And in some libraries, if a book isn't being checked out regularly, they may sell it to make room for more popular works.)

4. Order copies of the book as gifts. Readers love to swap and share. Especially mystery readers. But, book sales are what keep an author writing. So, consider giving books as gifts.

5. Introduce the author to other people who are influence leaders. That might mean other business people who could purchase copies, English or creative writing teachers, book club leaders, or other club leaders. That's the essence of networking: Introducing Person A to Person B because A and B might be able to do business together.

6. Ask your business library to carry a copy of the book. Some books won't be appropriate, but some might. When I worked at Illinois Farm Bureau, we had a huge corporate library. If the book you read is appropriate for your corporate/association library, suggest they purchase a copy.

7. Schedule the author to come make a presentation at a corporate/association lunch. Many companies have meeting rooms where folks can get together at lunch. Schedule a meeting room, and invite your local author to come chat about his/her work.

Any other suggestions? Please share them!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Am I on the Right (Write) Track?

With the new year, a lot of us are back to work. For many of my friends, that means back to writing.

I've been fielding questions about the process. One friend wrote me to say she's wondering, “Am I on the right track? Can you tell me whether I should write this or something else?”

No author ever knows if she/he is on the right track. We all feel “at sea.” In fact, as you get into the writing of your book, it will get worse before it gets better. Yep. My friends call it the “oh, crap” moment, and even New York Times bestselling authors report to me that they have it, too.

Which is a long way of saying, this is normal.

The trick is to believe in your project despite those internal voices which say, “Argh! Why did I ever think this was a good idea? I should give up and write something else! Anything else! This is dumb! It will never sell! No one will want to read it but me! I’m wasting my time!”

Sound familiar? You see, that nasty chorus is why most people never finish writing their book. Most people—USA Today says 85% of all Americans want to write a book—will give in to those voices. They’ll stop somewhere short of the finish line.

Which is the ultimate mistake because it is by seeing the project through, by writing an entire book start to finish, by typing in the words THE END that we learn the most about ourselves and about writing.

In another email, I will tackle the differences between giving up and choosing to self-publish. I will tackle them honestly because I think there’s a lot of bad information and misunderstandings about the two choices. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Easy Access That Strips Us All of Down Time

So I've been traveling and parenting for the past five days--busy with my family--and when I checked my email, what a shock.

You see, I've trained people that I'll respond to their emails in hours or less! I keep my email on all day as I work, and I check my messages frequently. I'm not nearly so available by phone. (I am supposed to clip my cell to my clothes, but that's awkward. I feel like I'm wearing a honking big peace symbol or some other freaky accessory.) Nor do I always check the home phone. (We have Charter and there's no flashing light to indicate how many messages. To find out the number and the time of your messages, you have to go through the whole queue. A total pain in the backside) But I spend most of my day with my hands on a keyboard, so I'm almost always able to check my emails several times an hour.

One message told me about a meeting the next day. Okay, missed that! I try to be flexible, but next day?

Another wanted a response same day. Uh, no.

Another wanted an answer the same day. Even though I'd turned on my "away" message.

You know, used to be, we didn't expect people to turn on a dime. Folks worked 8 to 5 Monday through Friday. And our weekends were our own. People actually took vacations--and during these, they were unavailable. They didn't work during their vacations. If you wanted something from them, you had to wait. Wow. What a concept.

And then there was the cute photocopied sign taped to cubicles: A lack of planning on your end does not mean an emergency on mine.

But the joy of instant communication means we're never out of range. We're never off duty. We've become addicted to instant gratification, instant response. We expect other people to respond in real time. In some ways, that's great. We can get stuff done quickly. We can turn on a dime. We can work at odd hours. We can work when it's convenient for us. We can follow up quickly. We can wait until the last minute--and feel confident we'll get the information we need on any project.

When someone isn't available, or doesn't answer, we scratch our heads. "What's up with THAT?"

We've lost something valuable...we're lost the ability to wait. We've lost the ability to give each other space. We've lost the respect for each other's needs. We no longer understand that other people have other priorities. We think we always come first. We've lost patience. We've lost down time. We've lost privacy. And our family time is riddled like Swiss cheese, with holes poked by all the routes of access to us.

I read over the missed messages, and I decided not to stress them. I am not the leader of the free world. Nothing I missed was near so important as spending time with my son and husband. And clearing my head for a productive week ahead.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

If I Died Tomorrow.

I spent two days in Los Angeles last week. Well, actually I was in Huntington Beach at the Balboa Bay Yacht Club.

My husband, David, and his partner, Gerry Malzone, and I were driving back to LAX when the topic turned to "what if I died right now"? (This was BEFORE we heard about the airplane crashing into the Hudson River!)

Maybe it's because we've all known each other for years. Maybe it's because we're all middle-aged. Or maybe it was because this year we lost Henry Steinway, a lovely man, the last of the Steinways involved in the business...and since it was the first Steinway dealer meeting without Henry, we were all feeling a bit thoughtful.

Then Gerry said something extra-ordinary. He said, "You know, I think I've only had maybe five really bad days in my life. And if I was in a plane and it went down, I wouldn't be screaming and crying. I'd be thinking what a good life I had."


I got to thinking about it.

I could only think of two really, really horrible days in my life. One was when my nephew Joshua was killed in a freak accident. The other is too personal to share.

Honest. I mean, I had to work hard to think of anything more than those two days. I mean, yeah, there have been some rotten days, some days I'd rather didn't happen. But only two that really, really still make me sad to think about. Two days in 55 years.

Gerry was right. If I died tomorrow, I'd have to think, "Wow. It's been great. Thank you, God." And realizing that, I vowed to be a little happier every day, and grateful for the happy times I've had.

(But I still miss Henry. We all do.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

They Really DO Close Up Over the Holidays

I've long heard that publishing in New York City "shuts down" between Christmas and the New Year. But what exactly does that mean, I wondered. Does it mean they don't take calls? That they don't read new manuscripts? That they keep unconventional hours?

Well, duh. Guess what. It means just what they say...literally.

On Friday I wound up here in New York City and across the street from HarperCollins.

I told my husband, "I'm going over there and I'm going to say, 'Hi,' to an editor I know."

So I arranged my scarf around my coat in what I hoped was a fetching and fashionable manner, put on a fresh layer of lipstick and marched my freezing little body across the street to HarperCollins. Both the security guards rose to form a barricade as I walked in. I said, "I'm here to see Emily So-and-so."

The men looked at me sadly. "Nobody's here. We're closed for the holidays."

I mumbled, "oh." (Lower case "o", folks.) And I turned with a sigh and walked back out onto the cold, cold New York Street.

They really DO close up over the holidays.