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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do You Judge a Book by Its Cover?

I sure do.

When my acquiring editor Barbara Moore asked me for cover input, I said, "Please tell the artist to go look around in Archivers. I know there's one close to your office. He'll get a strong sense of what's au courant in scrapbooking. I'd really like my book to be a true reflection of the craft. It's very artsy these days."

I guess Kevin Brown did exactly that because the cover on Paper, Scissors, Death is sublime. Honestly, Kevin could win any scrapbook design contest with his work, don't you think? I've also had booksellers tell me that they appreciate the high quality of my book. The feel of the paper is rich, not cheap. The cover stock is a great weight. The type is easy to read. As one bookseller friend said, "It enhances the reading experience."

I think that the cover of Cut, Crop & Die is just as gorgeous and eye-catching as the first cover Kevin produced. It's a real joy to hand someone a copy of my books and watch the reaction.

Do I judge a book by its cover? You bet I do. How about you?

Liz Zelvin has posted a plethora of covers from the 2008 crop of books at the Poe's Deadly Daughters blog. Check it out at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Teacher is Always the Student

We had a totally excellent "Getting Published" class last night at Lewis & Clark Community College. First of all, I love their Edwardsville campus at 700 Troy. It's the conclave of brick buildings that I've been told was a former factory site. The classrooms are spacious, light and well-appointed.

But what made the class really cool was the students. We had folks who wanted to write novels, those who wanted to write children's books, and a gentleman who wanted to write non-fiction. Their questions were thoughtful and stimulating. We talked about self-publishing, POD (Publishing On Demand), marketing, publicists, agents, editors, conferences, royalties, and rights. Obviously, these were people who were willing to do their research before embarking on this great adventure called publishing.

At the end of the class, one of my students walked with me to our cars. We stood outside and brainstormed the plot of her novel. Oh, wow, that was so much fun. I love working over ideas with other authors. I felt so stimulated and ready to tackle my work with new vigor.

Here's the secret: Every class reminds me of how far I've come over the years. Sometimes we can't see where we are on the learning curve until someone asks us a question. Publishing is an incredibly subjective business. Authors spend so much time alone. My agent says we're all incredibly needy. Well, yeah, because we put ourselves into our work and that's daunting.

Was I teaching a class? Nah, not really. I was a participant. I was a student, because I had to re-think and review my experiences. I told them "the world according to Joanna." (That's a paraphrase of what my pal Vicki Sullivan always used to say with "the world according to Vicki.") I warned them that I'd share the truth as I've experienced it--and the truth as other authors have shared with me.

Wow. What a great shot in the arm. I'm feeling energized this morning!

Monday, March 23, 2009

You Can't Phone It In

Beth Groundwater posted this outstanding information about planning a Blog Book Tour. Go to to read it. (I'm having some STUPID "cookie" problem with Internet Explorer so I can't share the tiny url...yet. Will someone please explain to me why the same computer that was a happy camper last night woke up with new rules this morning?)

Anyway, and last Monday I promised to post more about Desire Pathways and getting noticed. Suffice it to say, Internet Explorer is making that DIFFICULT. Argh.

But here's a paraphrase of what a mentor of mine once said, "It's not worth going if nobody knows you showed up." do you distinguish yourself? Do you attend meetings and conferences and never make new friends? Are you so hum-drum that people forget you? Are your marketing materials so pedestrian that they get tossed?

I once went to a writers' and fans' conference with a friend. We were pleased to be rooming together because we were both "wanna-be" mystery authors at the time. Everywhere we went we spoke to people and introduced each other. One evening, back in our room, she said to me, "This is entirely different from the last time I came. Last time, the person I roomed with only left the room to go to specific sessions. She spent the rest of the time holed up here. She'd pull on her clothes to go hear a panel, then come back here, strip to her underwear and watch TV."

Wow. What a social idiot. (Yeah, I'm a tad cranky today.)

Then my roomie paused and grimaced. "And she needed new underwear, too."


Hear me clearly, I'm an introvert. I know, I know. If you've met me, you'd find that hard to believe, but the definition of an introvert is someone who is energized by alone time. An extrovert is energized by social contact. So...I'm still being me when you see me out in public, and I'm genuinely happy to be with you, but you need to know that after extended face-time, I need to find a hidey-hole and crash. For a while. Then I'll be back on the floor saying, "Hi," and asking you how your life is going.

When I go to a conference, I go to meet people. I go to make new contacts. And if I know you and you don't know the author or fan standing next to me, I'll introduce you. I don't "hog" my contacts. That's not how it works. That's not polite, and it's certainly not good business. In fact, it's borderline selfish and rude.

So this whole idea of staying in one's room--wearing your undies, no less--and only showing up to hear a panel or a speaker is word? STUPID.

Why not save the money and stay home?

This is life. You can't phone it in.

Don't even try.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

50 Things Under $50 You Can Do to Promote Your Book

by Penny Sansevieri

If your book marketing budget is tight (and even if it's not) you
might want to consider some ideas that are powerful, and won't cost
you as much as you think. Here are a few to consider!

1) Buy your domain name as soon as you have a title for your book.
You can get domain names for as little as $8.95

2) Head on over to or and start your very
own blog (you can add it to your Web site later).

3) Set up an event at your neighborhood bookstore

4) Write a few articles on your topic and submit them onto the
Internet for syndication

5) Check out your competition online and see if you can do some

6) Do some radio research and pitch yourself to at least five new stations this week

7) Ready to get some business cards? Head on over The cards are free if you let them put their logo
on the back

8) Put together your marketing plan

9) Plan a contest. Contests are a great way to promote your book.

10) Google some topic-related online groups to see if you can network with them

11) Send thank you notes to people who have been helpful to you

12) Send your book out to at least ten book reviewers this week

13) Do a quick Internet search for writers' conferences or book festivals in your area you can attend

14) Create an email signature for every email you send; email signatures are a great way to promote your book and message.

15) Put the contents of your Web site: book description, bio, q&a, interviews, on CD to have on hand when the media comes calling!

16) Submit your Web site to the top five directories: Google, MSN, Alexa, Yahoo, and DMOZ

17) Write a great press release and submit it to free online press release sites.

18) Write your bio, you'll need it when you start pitching yourself to the media

19) Schedule your first book signing

20) Start your own email newsletter; it's a great way to keep readers, friends and family updated and informed on your success.

21) Go over to Yahoo Groups and join some online groups on your topic - it's great Internet networking!

22) Develop a set of questions that book clubs can use for your book, and post them on your Web site for handy downloads.

23) Add your book info or URL to your answering machine message

24) Join Audio Acrobat ($20 a month) and begin recording audio products you can sell on your Web site

25) See if you can get your friends to host a "book party" in their home. You come in and discuss your book and voila, a captive audience!

26) Find some catalogs you think your book would be perfect for and then submit your packet to them for consideration.

27) Go around to your local retailers and see if they'll carry your book; even if it's on consignment it might be worth it!

28) Add your book to Google Book Search

29) Research some authors with similar subjects and then offer to exchange links with them.

30) Is your book good for the My Space market? My Space has recently started doing book reviews.

31) Write a "So You'd Like To..." article for

32) Ask friends and family to email five people they know and tell them about your book.

33) Leave your business card, bookmark, or book flyer wherever you go.

34) Are there any book fairs you could participate in? Look them up on the Net!

35) Pitch yourself to your local television stations.

36) Pitch yourself to your local print media.

37) Work on the Q&A for your press kit. You'll need it when you start booking media interviews!

38) Pitch Oprah. Go ahead, you know you want to.

39) Is the topic of your book in the news? Check your local paper,and write a letter to the editor to share your expertise (and promote your book!)

40) Stop by your local library and see if you can set up an event,they love local authors.

41) Do you want to get your book into your local library system? Try dropping off a copy to your main library; if they stock it chances are the other branches will too.

42) Go to Chase's Calendar of Events ( and find out how to create your own holiday!

43) Going on vacation? Use your away-from-home time to schedule a book event, or two.

44) If your book is appropriate, go to local schools to see if you can do a reading.

45) Got a book that could be sold in bulk? Start with your local companies first and see if they're interested in buying some promotional copies to give away at company events.

46) Don't forget to add reviews to your Web site. Remember that what someone else has to say is one thousand times more effective than anything you could say!

47) Trying to meet the press? Search the Net for Press Clubs in your area, they meet once a month and are a great place to meet the media.

48) Want a celebrity endorsement? Find celebs in your market with an interest in your topic and then for it. Remember all they can say is no.

49) Ready to get some magazine exposure? Why not pitch some regional and national magazines with your topic or submit a freelance article for reprint consideration.

50) Work on your next book. Sometimes the best way to sell your first book is by promoting your second.


Penny C. Sansevieri is a book marketing and media relations
specialist who coaches authors on projects, manuscripts and
marketing plans and instructs a variety of coursing on publishing
and promotion. To learn more about her books or her promotional
services, visit . To subscribe to
her free ezine, send a blank email to:

Is There a Virtual Book Signing in Your Future?

Virtual book signings offer a way to sell books, visit fans, and spread the word about your work from the comfort of your home.

What is a virtual book signing? It can be as elaborate or simple as you wish. You will “visit” a venue through the magic of your phone or the Internet. You can handle the signing portion one of two ways: 1.) sign the physical books and send the signed copies to recipients 2.) or sign bookplates, have someone affix them, and distribute the books with your bookplates to recipients.

The concept was pioneered by Daniel Weinberg, owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, Illinois. The first virtual book signing took place in November 2005 and featured historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. The webcast can be viewed at

I chose a much simpler format for my Paper, Scissors, Death Virtual Book Signing. My goal was to partner with the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League (MAGDRL) to raise money for homeless dogs. With foreclosures on the rise and the economy the way it is, more and more big dogs are being abandoned.

Since Paper, Scissors, Death features a rescued uncropped Harlequin Great Dane, there was a natural fit.

“I was interested because I know there are a lot of readers in MAGDRL, and this seemed like a different, unusual and fun fund-raising event. We are always looking for new things to try, and this was a big hit with our members,” said Joan Schramm, MAGDRL’s publicity coordinator.

First, we sent out mailings to the members telling them about the fundraiser. Then MAGDRL chose a date for our “book signing” and told members and friends I’d be available online during a certain time period. MAGDRL purchased the books from my publisher.

I added a chat room to my website. You can get a free chat room that’s easy to install at Bravenet
Members of MAGDRL were encouraged to order the book and to share the information with friends. Joan sent out media releases about the event, and forms were shared at various meetings of rescue dog organizations. On the form was a place for people to specify how they wanted their books personalized. Buyers could either choose to pick up their books or have them mailed out at an extra charge.

On the appointed signing day and time, we had a lively discussion in my chat room. It helped that I am a dog lover who has owned Great Danes! After the chat, Joan sent me a list of personalized bookplate requests. I created a special bookplate. I signed and returned the bookplates to Joan. She affixed them and distributed the books.

For an example of the form, Joan’s media release, and the bookplate, visit my website and click the Resources section.

Is a Virtual Book Signing right for you? I was fortunate to find an organized and willing partner to work with. Joan’s public relations expertise was extremely helpful. Certainly, you need a publisher willing to sell to non-traditional book sellers as well as a partnering organization willing to help publicize and organize the event. Were the results worthwhile? We sold 51 books and raised $382.50 for MAGDRL – a nice amount for something that was a lot of fun and not too labor-intensive.

-- 30 --

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of Paper, Scissors, Death the first book in the Kiki Lowenstein Scrap-N-Craft Mystery series. Visit her at

For permission to reprint this article, contact Joanna at

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patty's Day Contest


You have until 5 p.m. tomorrow, March 18, 2009, to email me at

I'll pull one lucky name out of the "hat" and that person will win a free four-week journaling class with me at Writers Online Workshops.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Desire Paths, Part II—Getting People to Follow You in a Digital Age

Last week I wrote about Desire Paths, those pathways that people create to get to what they love. I suggest you view the excellent presentation by Mike Arauz on this idea:

The big question for authors is how can we create Desire Paths in a digital media age? How do we influence readers to beat a path to our door? We must develop promotional activities which attract those readers who would love/enjoy/need/want our books.

1. We must focus on our readers not on ourselves.

It’s not about talking about ourselves! Leonard Pitts wrote this article suggesting that Twitter was a tool for the self-interested, self-absorbed few:

And he got it wrong, because he misunderstands the way most of us are using Twitter. It’s not all about me—and I know it. I “tweet” and give my followers “journaling prompts” which is a term I created years ago to help scrapbookers write more in their memory albums. Essentially a journaling prompt is a sentence stem which encourages a writer to blast through dreaded “writer’s block” by finishing the thought!

How can you give your readers what they want? First, you have to know who your readers are and then you have to…LISTEN. Yep. Amazing. Let me give you an example. A month ago, I was interviewed on Blog Talk Radio by Circle of Seven’s David Ewen. I was at a scrapbook crop during the interview, so David and I decided we should let my readers talk about my book. You know what my readers said? “Kiki Lowenstein is just like ME.” This wasn’t surprising because fans had written me to say the same.

So what do my readers want? I asked them. They loved the fact Kiki wasn’t perfect. They loved that she was slightly overweight. That she had problems with her child and her in-laws. They adored her women friends and her dog. And of course, many of my readers loved it that she scrapbooks.

2. We must get noticed.

In my next blog post next Monday, I’ll talk about how you can get noticed—and I’ll point out easy ways to make sure you do!

PS Make sure you are following me because you won't want to miss this post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cozy Armchair Winners and Paper, Scissors, Death Receives Agatha Nomination for Best First Novel

Do you remember when Sally Field held up her statue of Oscar and said with wonder, "You like me!"

I'm having my own little Sally moment.

How long did it take me to write Paper, Scissors, Death? It took 55 long years. I started writing when I was in grade school. Won my first award in high school. Put myself through college writing and teaching other students to write. Supported myself through a bad marriage with my writing skills.'s been a long, long journey.

To celebrate, this morning I pulled three entries from a contest I ran with the Cozy Armchair Group--each will get a copy of the book:

Mare of Winsted CT
Dee of Great Falls MT
Krista of Wichita KS

I put my all into Kiki Lowenstein. I wanted her to be bright, funny, vulnerable, likeable, and definitely flawed. I made her a little overweight. A lot self-conscious. And sometimes too trusting.

I made Mert the best friend a girl could ever have. Full of common sense. No nonsense. Protective. Multi-talented.

I gave Dodie all the qualities Kiki lacks--a sharp business mind and a clear understanding of what it takes to make your way in the world.

I created Detweiler in the image of my wonderful husband (ahem! I learned from that first mistake). He's thoughtful, all-guy, and he can be very sternly professional. But he also adores Kiki with all his heart.

I invented Anya as a female version of my son. Very smart, a wise-cracker, and a kid you can't put anything over on.

And finally, dear, dear Gracie is a combination of all the Great Danes and one Bichon I've loved and lost. She's that incredibly loyal dog who would give her life for the family she loves.

Thank you, all of you, for loving my fictional family back.

In return, I promise you more adventures, more fun, more thrills--and always my very best--


Monday, March 9, 2009

Desire Paths--Why Authors Must Create Them to Sell Books

Ever notice those footpaths between bushes, those stomped down walkways that go from a parking lot to the sidewalk, the ones clearly NOT planned by the landscaper where folks have made their own trail to get from Point A to Point B?

Those are called Desire Paths. That's a term architects use to desire "non-authorized" walkways. Ones that occur spontaneously rather than through top-down planning.

You and I must establish Desire Paths to our books if we hope to be successful. An excellent presentation by Mike Arauz explains this concept:

So how can we do this as authors? There are two parts:

PART I. We must develop a product (book) that acts as a magnet to readers--encouraging them to create desire paths to book purchases/rentals.

PART II. We must develop promotional activities which attract those readers who would love/enjoy/need/want our books--helping readers create desire paths to the booksellers.

Here how we accomplish PART I:

1. Write about characters whose qualities are enjoyable for the reader. Ever read a totally annoying book? Not for long. I remember purchasing a hardback of a bestselling author I've enjoyed over the years. I had to work hard to finish it. When I handed it to my husband, he read a couple of chapters and said, "That's enough for me. None of these people are likeable and none of them like each other." What makes an enjoyable character? Humor, humility, talent, being treated unfairly, flaws, authenticity, and most of all your character has to LOVE something or someone other than herself. Call it Slan's rule, okay?

2. Create characters who learn and grow. I got soooo tired of the victims (read: protagonists) in the Oprah bookclub picks that I wanted to reach through the pages and dope-slap them. My Kiki Lowenstein does victim-esque things, but she also makes some stunningly brilliant choices and refuses to be run-over. She grows as a person through the series. There has to be a balance--if our characters were never "victims" there would never be any conflict--and it has to tip toward growth. (Okay, I'm using "victims" loosely. Think Superman and Kryptonite and Lois Lane. If he was all-powerful, there'd never be any question of whether he could succeed, right?)

3. Add twists and turns. (In other words, be unexpected.) To stay within a genre we must meet reader expectations and adhere to unwritten rules. (For example, a cozy can't have gruesome violence or its not a cozy, and your readers will be upset because, by golly, they wanted a cozy. They didn't want to get grossed-out. Didn't sign up for that!) But just as there's all sorts of creativity within the strict format of a sonnet, you can also put in all sorts of surprises along the way. And on paper, in books, people love surprises. In real life, not so much.

4. Set your hook. I'm not a good fisherwoman because I never learned the art of setting my hook. But, as a writer, I've figured it out. See, you have to tease and tantalize the reader with an unrealized expectation at the end of each chapter. Each book must both satisfy and promise there's more to come. Those of you who have read Paper, Scissors, Death know exactly what I mean. (I won't spoil it for the rest of you, but it's a dilly.) It's not enough to give people an enjoyable read. You have to leave them panting for Act II.

Which in this case is...

How do we authors translate the concept of Desire Paths into our marketing efforts?

I'll tackle that next week.

Meanwhile...What are you thinking, people? How do you create Desire Paths within your book?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Travels with Joe: What It's Like to Follow J.A. Konrath Around for a Day Visiting Booksellers

Despite the fact he was recovering from the stomach flu, Joe (aka JA) Konrath made it clear we’d hit the ground here in St. Louis with my SUV tires spinning. We managed to visit 11 bookstores and one library in six hours. (I think…I have to admit my head was spinning almost as much as my tires.)

We did not call in advance, so these were all stock-signing opportunities, or as Joe said, “We’re here to be ambassadors.” He waved a yellow paper in front of my eyes. It was the “books” listing from a phone directory. Need I add it had been ripped out?

Starting with a Barnes and Noble, Joe kicked it into high gear. He race-walked to the mystery shelves and gathered up copies of his books. Then he looked for help. “There’s got to be a customer service desk here somewhere,” he muttered as his head swiveled. Once he saw an in store computer and a worker-bee, he introduced himself. “Hi, this is me,” and he pointed to his name on his books. “Mind if I sign some books?”

The employee called the acting store manager over. Joe introduced himself and gave his 30-second pitch while we all trotted through the store to see if we’d missed any books. (We had. A few were face out on the New Release shelves.) As he signed books, Joe launched into a short but pithy “elevator speech,” starting with “I write a series about a female cop named Jack Daniels.”

The pitch included:

* a funny quip about who Jack is (a 40-something detective, real name of "Jacqueline Daniels")
* that her personal life is a “trainwreck” (this always caused a smile)
* where the book is set (Chicago)
* that along the way she runs into some really scary bad guys (a rather enticing tidbit)
* and loosely what the genre is (crime fiction, a little suspense, cops, and mystery)

Next Joe compared his series to no less than five other best-selling authors.
The response was fascinating. In a few words, he’d made it easy for the bookseller to hand-sell his work. He’d given the clerk the information necessary to suggest his series to any book buyer who showed the slightest interest in five OTHER bestselling authors!

Finally, with a laugh, he would add, “Of course with a name like Jack Daniels, all the books are named after drinks. In fact, I’ve got a few coasters here.” From his pockets, he pulled a couple and signed them, offering them to the bookseller and anyone else who worked in the store. (“Here are a few extras. You might want to share a few of these with some of your friends.”)

What happened next might be the most interesting part: Joe would nicely ask 1.) to see his sales records and 2.) who in the store was the most avid reader of mysteries.

Each time a clerk or manager pulled up the sales record, they ordered more books. After all, Joe was standing there, and clearly his books had sold so they needed more. This also provided a chance for them to check any stock in the back or remainders.
Joe said, “I love remainders.”

I asked why.

He feels that remainders give him a chance to pick up new readers because they can scoop up his books at a bargain price.

Given an opportunity to check their stock, booksellers always placed orders as Joe stood there on the spot. Additionally, it pointed out to the bookseller that Joe’s work was, indeed, popular.

When Joe met the store’s mystery aficionado, he quickly made a new fan. In fact, one bookseller went so far as to say, “Now that I’ve met you, I’ll sell your books. It’s always fun to meet authors…” and his voice trailed off. The unspoken phrase was “when they are nice to us.”
Joe always made sure to ask, “Who are your favorite mystery authors?” Since he’s met so many, this gave him the chance to share an anecdote or two about the other authors with the bookseller. This established Joe as a guy with good connections and a good storyteller.
This whole time Joe collected business cards. (He handed them to me so he had both hands free to sign and move books.)

As he stood there with signed copies of his books in hand, Joe would ask, “Do you have any of those cool ‘signed by author’ stickers?” This encouraged the bookseller to tag the books as signed and subtly reminded them to display the signed books prominently.

Finally, he thanked the bookseller for his/her time. Once in a while, he’d give the bookseller a signed ARC (Advanced Reading Copy), but Joe was very careful not to pass these out willy-nilly.
At some point along the way, he’d introduce me as a local author and tell them they should watch for my series starting with Paper, Scissors, Death. He’d add that my book is set in St. Louis. This pleased the salespeople because they told us they are often asked for books featuring our area. His introduction and commercial were a nice gestures of camaraderie, very kind of him, and his generosity wasn’t lost on me or the booksellers.

I also picked up a couple more tips. As I was scouting for a parking space, Joe pointed to spots by Sears. “The Waldenbooks which are now Borders are all located next to Sears in malls.” (I gritted my teeth and resisted but he was right. Sigh.) He also noted that bookstores in the malls do a lot of impulse business, which makes them prime locations for hand-selling books.

We managed to slip in a visit to the Middendorf-Kredell Library in O’Fallon, MO. Robin Leach works there, and she’d interviewed Joe back in 2006 for the local daily, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The librarians had created a display of Joe’s books. They were eager to have their photos taken with him.

By 4:30 p.m., I was whipped, and Joe’s stomach was reminding him he was still in the recovery phase. Joe’s plan was to rest up. He had an early flight the next day to give a presentation to a group of librarians in Wichita.

I bet he planned to visit a few more bookstores while he was there in Kansas.

# # #

This article first appeared in the March 2009 issue of RWR (Romance Writer's Report), the publication for members of Romance Writers of America.