Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Kindle

I finally broke down an purchased a Kindle. I've been talking about it for ages.

The first one I actually saw was Sherman Lee's, one of the librarians at the Hanford Library. He downloaded one of my books, Lingering Spirit, in a matter of seconds.

Since then, I've seen people reading on their Kindles in airports and when I went to Mayhem in the Midlands.

I'll be giving two talks about e-publishing, first on a panel at the California Crime Writers conference and the very next weekend at the Public Safety Writer Association's conference. I decided it was about time I had Kindle to demonstrate. (Besides, I really want one.)

Thanks to Billie, a lot of my older books are now on Kindle. Some of my other publishers, who are primarily e-publishers jumped on the opportunity to put all of their books on Kindle.

Now I can download one or two and see what they look like on this classy new reading device.

Year ago I had the first e-reader, the Rocket E-book which I loved. Unfortunately, you had to download books through the computer, and when I upgraded my computer I couldn't figure out how to reconnect the Rocket E-book. I had a couple of other e-readers after that. One that the batteries didn't last on very long. If they went out, you lost the book and had to reload it.

Soon as I get my Kindle, I'll let you know how I like it. For those of you going to the PSWA conference, you can take a look at it there.

a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Color is Your Jelly Bean?

The Jelly Bean Principle: 105 Ways to Stand Out from Competitors is now available at and in OTP's Bookstore, or you may wish to ask for it at your favorite bricks and mortar store.

Intended for businesses in general, Thomsen's advice and know-how is like getting an MBA course in a single volume...attract new customers, solidify the loyalty of existing customers, learn ways to thrive in lean times and be THE ONE the client thinks of when his needs match your product or service.

Thomsen's ability to find the marketing edge revealed itself when he was a pre-schooler with a lemonade stand in front of the family home. Business was slow. His competitor had the same product in his vending stand a few feet away. It was hot and boring.

After assessing the situation, Thomsen loaded the pitchers and some glasses into his wagon and wheeled it over to some nearby construction sites. Moments later, he sold out, pocketed his profits and joined a neighborhood baseball game, leaving his competitor to wondering what happened.

The Jelly Bean Principles reflect a lifetime of successful business-building and business operation. Readers will learn to recognize -- and even create opportunities, how to flaunt your brand, develop ways to give your customer extraordinary service, hire superstars, make the most of your Chamber meetings, and much, much more.

I was constantly struck with how many of the JB Principles are applicable to bookselling...JB#7 Make it easy to pay; JB#8 Word of Mouth Power; JB#11 Unique Packaging (book covers, maybe?); JB#26 Be Ready to Sell; JB#32 Sign Power, JB#69 The Trade Show Advantage...too many to list here.

This is one to read thoroughly, then keep handy for refreshers....check it out!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What We Suffer Through to Promote

This past weekend, hubby and I attended Mayhem in the Midlands, one of our favorite mystery cons. Numbers were down, but there were still plenty of readers there eager to meet authors and buy books. Of course, there were many big name authors who attracted the most buyers.

Mayhem is fun though--not geared to teach anyone anything--but to entertain and acquaint readers with the authors' latest books. I was fortunate to be on two panels and moderated another. Even my hubby was on a panel of writers' spouses--which turned out to be hilarious.

We had a great time, got to see friends we've made over the years, readers and authors alike, sold some books, handed out lots of cards, ate some wonderful meals in different restaurants in the Old Marketplace in Omaha--right across from the conference hotel.

Now to the suffering part. I came down with a cold the first morning. Fortunately I brought Daquil and Nyquil with me--kept me going the whole time. Our flights to Omaha came off without a hitch. Going home was another story.

We checked into the airport and waited for the arrival of our plane. First it was delayed because of weather. Then they brought in another plane. The loaded us on. They they said we should get off. We did. Then they put us right back on. Then we sat on the plane and waited for about 45 minutes until it took off. By the time we arrived in Denver, our connecting flight had left without us. We were told when weather causes the problem, the airline doesn't have to do anything about it.

The line for customer service to find another plane had about 500 plus people in it. Took us about two hours to finally get to where we could speak to someone. There were no seats on the next day's plane to Bakersfield--we were told we'd have to wait until the day after. Hubby asked about flying to Fresno--they had two seats left on that plane for the next day. We took them. Of course our car was waiting for us at the Bakersfield airport. We had to make arrangements for someone to pick us up in Fresno and drive us to Bakersfield. Had no idea where our luggage might have gone.

We slept in the airport--not a good experience. Airports are extremely noisy at night. The night crew comes in to clean, make deliveries, and holler at each other. The lights are not dimmer, the air conditioner is on and without many people the place is freezing. Chairs are not comfortable places to sleep--even when you get another for your feet. I managed to get maybe 2 or 3 hours in--but it bits and pieces.

Our flight home was uneventful, son-in-;aw was waiting in the airport. We didn't even think to look for our luggage. Drove to Bakersfield to get the car, no luggage there. When hubby called about it, learned the luggage had gone to Fresno. Fortunately, the airport offered to deliver it to us. Hooray!

The outcome is, I'm pooped! Fortunately, I have a little bit of time to recover before I head off again.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Monday, May 25, 2009

Th small press discussion

If I were published by a Big House, would I be blogging with the other writers? Getting information, tips, and comments from John Grisham or Sue Grafton? I don't think so. Sure it's harder getting your books on the shelves if you're with a small press, but it's not impossible. In the process of setting up my mega book signing tour, I've talked to close to a hundred bookstores in Georgia and Florida (because they are close to where I live), in New Mexico (because my book is set there), in Texas (because I pass through there on my way to New Mexico), in Arizona (because I pass through there on my way to PSWA), and in southern Colorado because I don't know when to leave well enough alone.

How did I do? Struck out completely in Arizona. Ditto with Florida. I guess proximity isn't a selling point. I have three signings in Texas, but I contacted about 25 stores to get those three. I have about a dozen signings in New Mexico and expect that number to grow by another three or four before I start the tour.

What have I learned? Mainly this - you can't generalize about bookstores. One Barnes & Noble in El Paso turned me down because they "don't do POD books." The other B&N across town jumped at the chance to host a signing and even agreed to pay for an ad in the newspaper. They want my poster ASAP so they can place it prominently in the store and drum up interest, and they plan to keep the book in stock.

A small restaurant in Chama, NM (pop. 1250) called Cookin’ Books because they sell books on the side wants enough posters to cover all the surrounding towns that are even smaller, and I can tell from owner and cook Maureen that she is going to drag half the citizens of Rio Arriba County to my signing.

One store in Santa Fe isn’t doing signings at this point, but I kept talking to the owner after she told me that, chatting about Santa Fe, and after she asked more about my book, she decided to order it and keep it in stock even though she won’t do a signing. A bookstore owner in Silver City said his space was too small, but after we chatted for a while, he suggested I call the museum there, told me the person to talk to, and said to tell them he had urged me to call. He’s also going to stock my book.

There are a lot of nice people in the bookstore business who enjoy helping writers. One of them is my local Waldenbooks manager, Doug. You can find them in the chains and you can find them in the indies. And you can find a lot of people that are not pleasant to deal with and you wonder why they’re in the business, and they are at both chains and indies, too.
I know I’m fortunate to have summers off, so I can take the time to travel and do signings. I’ve enjoyed the trials and tribulations of putting this together, so I see it as one of many advantages of being with a small press. O.K., I admit that I always dreamed of walking into a book store and seeing my book on the same shelf with Robert Parker and Lawrence Block. And thanks to some really great bookstore people, I’ll have that experience. It won’t happen in LA or NYC, but at least I’ll be able to walk in to a B&N in El Paso, my local Waldenbooks, and a dozen or so indies in New Mexico and see that great looking cover. Or even better, a sign where the two copies used to be saying, “This title is on backorder.”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunny's Sunday Speakout


I've been battling with new authors over the past several weeks over their misconceptions and false expectations in the world of publishing. The frustration is killing me.

I understand that authors set out with high hopes of publishing their books and seeing them on the shelves of the big chains. They deserve to be there. After brain-sweat and sacrifice, the reward should be wonderful book signings and lines of buyers waiting for an autograph.

That's the carrot that keeps writers pounding away at the keyboard. It happens to a lucky few. But sometimes the author is a one-book wonder and left to contemplate why the publisher deserted them. Sometimes they can't meet the sales expectations of their big house on the second book and get pushed to the sidelines. Sometimes the economy downsizes them right out of their career as big publishing can't balance cost of putting out a book with a frugal public. Authors never fantasize about that aspect of the industry.

Then there are the small press authors. We're the ones who looked at the slush pile and the long lines in front of agent's doors and said, “I can do better.” We rolled the dice and took a gamble on a small outfit, a one-man-(or woman)-band. We were impatient and wanted our work out there before we were too old to travel and promote.

I started my career by joining with two girlfriends and putting out a regional mystery anthology of our prize-winning short stories. Anthologies are tough to get published, but nobody told us. We found a reluctant publisher, someone we heard speak at a conference. We designed our own cover and each paid $2,000 dollars to co-publish. The publisher put in a thousand dollars.

The publisher printed one thousand copies, not done with the publish on demand (POD) technology, which was new at the time. I was responsible for selling my share, 300 copies.

Soon it was apparent that no store, not even the independent book stores in our city, would carry the books. It was also apparent that we had a public delighted to read about the San Joaquin Valley. We had published the first mystery anthology in this region.

I sold all my stock and doubled my investment. My partners in crime didn't fair so well. Why? They never figured out how to market. Soon I was buying out their stock as well.

I'm lucky to have such a rough start. It banished my own illusions of the publishing world. I actually had to learn everything from the ground up. I came to Oak Tree Press with that knowledge and experience. After being dropped by my second publisher, I met Billie at the PSWA conference. She loved my first book and I studied her publishing house. It took me a year to decide, and then we did a handshake agreement on a walk to the ladies room (true story).

She offered me a contract and I brought to the table my marketing experience and a few new authors. My attitude from the start was “What can I do for my publisher?” My reasoning? She took a chance on me, put her own money on the line to produce an incredible book cover for WHERE ANGELS FEAR, gave me my first ad for the Left Coast Crime Convention book, and gave me a column to talk marketing. I set out to make money for both of us because I know if Oak Tree Press goes under, as so many small houses are doing in this economic crisis, I'm left searching for yet another publisher. I also know my chances will be slimmer because it's a cold, cruel world out there.
I knew from the outset that my success would happen under my own steam. I love having a big say in how I market, it makes me feel in control of my career. I didn't hand my work over to corporate strangers and trust that they would have my best interest at heart. I bounced off the contacts and savvy I'd learned from the first books I published. I had a readership in place salivating for the next book in the series. I also delved into Internet promotion, I even invited several of you to join me. Some of you told me you were too busy writing.

What I love about being with a small publisher is that I feel nurtured. I know my talent is respected. I keep a week-long diary for Billie telling her of what I've accomplished to keep her up to date. I email her my ideas to bring the OTP author together as a “family,” all working toward one goal—to keep our publisher afloat so we can keep producing books. I don't bother her with phone calls, we've only talked twice in one year. She's got work to do and I have my next book to get out.

I have no expectations of being in a chain store, but through contacts I get great book signings. I put together a BookFest for every local author in Central California and sold out my entire book stock. My town is giving me a huge book launch at the prestigious Carnegie Museum because of the author's program I've done with the library over the past year. I do press releases for author events, so the media knows me and supports me. I've made myself a visible part of the community, locally and world-wide. I give to the mystery community with my Murder Circle, and they support me in return.

Not bragging. Everything I've done, any author can do. The first step to success is to stop whining about being with a small publisher and become a player in the literary world. Small publishing was a choice you made. Perhaps you didn't know what would be expected of you or didn't do your homework ahead of time. Maybe you feel you are too big for small publishing. But, your career is what you make it, not what your publisher decides. I say enjoy the freedom and explore the possibilities.

Sunny Frazier

Friday, May 15, 2009

Life Gets in the Way

As always, you make some great points, Marilyn! You keep us inspired and focused. However, often life gets in the way, and I confess I am thankful that it does. I love seeing my children--all three of whom came today and had lunch with us. My daughter, who is a pilot with American Airlines and is based in St. Louis, flew into the West Point Airport in her small plane. She had planned to continue on by air to Columbia, SC for a South Carolina College alumni weekend. However, the weather changed that plan, so she and another daughter, also an alumni of the honors college in Columbia, drove from here. The third daughter came from Williamsburg to see her sisters. My plans to work all day on finishing my new book, Stranger in My Heart, were put aside.

Life gets in the way because of the 260 little artists I teach each week. I enjoy watching them respond and create. My job with them takes up Tuesday and Wednesday of each week. So I try to plan my writing (and sometimes art) around those days.

Part of the writing time goes to promotion and all those outstanding ideas Billie, you, and Sunny put out. The Kindle is a great market Billie has created for us. I am delighted with the Kindle Board connection Sunny gave us, but I regret that I have not yet followed up on the cover contact she sent. You folks with the Public Safety Writers are amazing people. Thank you for being here and sharing your awesome ideas.

On Sunday, I will be part of a panel on publishing. I've been asked to talk briefly about working with a small publisher. I plan to use some of your comments, Marilyn, during that talk. This will be our first annual Author's Book Fair at West Point Library. Meeting and talking with the other 20 authors who will be there should be a good learning experience.

For the future, I have all of Billie's newsletters filed away. On those days when life doesn't get in the way, I can go back and put some of her ideas into action. Still, when good things in life get in the way, I'm glad.

A Head's Up Here

Folks, we've got a publisher who is actually coming up with ideas for promotion! Do you know how rare that is?

I've been published by numerous publishers, large and small, outside of putting your book on their website, maybe posting reviews you've sent in, and making the book available through an ordering system, that's about it.

Billie keeps coming up with new ideas we should try. I sure hope you're all doing those things as well as what you're doing on your own.

I'm tickled when I see a new author show up and post something on this blog.

There are people following this blog who have nothing whatsoever to do with Oak Tree Press or Billy because they want to know what we're all doing.

I know you're all busy--I'm so busy I can hardly see straight--but remember, writing a book doesn't stop with finding a publisher. If you want that book to sell, you must put some effort into it.

And that's my soap box for today.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Borders vs. Barnes and Noble

I thought I would weigh in on this battle. I have to agree with Billie that there seems to be less cooperation from Borders. I have contacted some of their stores in my area to set up book signings and have been told that the persons to see were unavailable. I was given numbers to call, which I did, but never received any return calls. However, I have developed a good rapport with the Community Relations Manager at a local Barnes and Noble. She set me up with a book signing in December, and, this past Tuesday, my novel was the focus of a book discussion. She promoted the event with an entry in the monthly newsletter and had a sign placed at the entrance of the store with copies of A Lesson in Murder. People showed up who had read the book and we had a lively discussion about mysteries and the writing process. It was a very enjoyable experience.

Gus Cileone

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on Borders...

The news of Borders closing so many stores has been all around lately, even on this blog. Most people are lamenting the loss of so many bookshops in one swell foop, but --and maybe I am just having a crabby day--I am finding little sympathy for the folks at this big box chain. While I certainly don't wish joblessness on people, it's hard for me to move past the aggravations and inhospitable attitudes I've received at Borders and Waldenbooks over the dozen years of OTP's life.

At a personal call at a Borders/Waldenbooks store, trying to introduce OTP books, one invariably gets their corporate contact number and the information the you have to apply and go through their process for being added to their catalog. Their process for adding a book into their inventory system was a never-ending maze of phone tree selections, forms to complete and fax in, pitch letters, sample books, cover flats, sometimes sending sample packages with marketing plans, and waiting months before they tell you "sorry."

Some stores have been wonderful, of course. When I lived in California, the nearest large bookstore to me was a fabulous Borders in Claremont with a coffee shop and a great manager. However, after visiting, either in person or by telephone, with hundreds of stores all around the US over the years, I can tell you this is the exception, not the rule. I've been told that the books were out-of-print when they weren't, unreturnable when they weren't, not available through Ingram or BT when in fact they were, and so on. And don't confuse them with facts! The experiences are right out of the cliche "Who will you believe, me or your lying eyes?" A cordial, helpful experience was very rare, and rarer still was the occasion that they would stock a book or host an author.

I long ago switched my personal buying away from the big box stores. I still love and support the indies, even though sometimes they can be prickly too, and also prompt payment for direct orders is a rarity. Nonetheless, I see indie stores as I do indie publishers...true believers who are going to keep offering good reads to readers no matter what.

The majority of my personal reading books are ordered from Amazon. In addition to great selection, great service and the option to buy without leaving my chair, there is the point that since 1999, they have given OTP books a level playing field with the big house books. We get the same detail page, the same display opportunities, and access to the same free and fee promotional options. We get the same crack at hitting one of their bestseller lists as a book from Random or Putnam. And they will stock the books I add to my Advantage account, no muss, no fuss. It's really hard to beat.

Borders/Waldenbooks could have taken this attitude, but didn't...proving again that, as your mother always told you, it's a good idea to be nice!

Billie (stepping down from soapbox and returning to work now)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Good news and... well, you know.

My first signing was Saturday at the Waldenbooks in the local Mall. It was Women’s Health Day, and there were vendors and activities and prizes you could claim by getting the signature of each vendor. The five authors were considered vendors, and we signed a lot more scavenger hunt cards than books. The five books on offer were a book about prophecy (does that counts as fiction or non-fiction?), a romance, an historical novel, an inspirational book about a family coping with HIV, and my murder mystery. I’m happy to report that I sold the most books. You can probably guess that the romance was second. Genre is a good thing, although the other books also sold enough copies to make the authors happy and the bookstore manager ecstatic. I don’t know if it’s the prize for leading in sales, but he asked me to do a second signing in two weeks and – having no idea how things in this business work – I agreed to do so. If some of you veterans think that was unwise, don’t hesitate to tell me.

Now here is the depressing news. There are currently over six hundred Waldenbooks nationwide. The new CEO of Borders (who owns Waldenbooks) has informed the store managers that they intend to reduce the number of stores to sixty. Yes, sixty (60). I know Borders is the Chrysler of bookstores, out of money, their common stock virtually worthless, and being kept afloat by publishers who basically allow them to ignore payment deadlines because the publishers want the outlets. Unfortunately, booksellers don’t qualify for a government bailout. I don’t know enough about the publishing business to offer advice about how to make bookstores work, but I think I know one part of the problem. I used the card-signing activity to make a sales pitch. As I initialed the spot next to my name, I would say, “A book makes a good Mother’s Day present.” Of the roughly two hundred people who asked me to sign their card, at least half said, “My mother doesn’t read.” After hearing this a few times, I started replying, “She’s illiterate?” in a joking fashion, and they would laugh or smile and explain that she could read but she just doesn’t. So I’d ask them if they would like a book, and they’d say they don’t read either. “Not even murder mysteries?” I’d say, pressing a copy into their hands. “Oh, I love Colombo” (or Murder She Wrote, Monk, fill-in-the-blank) they’d reply as they handed the book back to me. Grrr.

Mike Orenduff

Friday, May 8, 2009

Royalty Checks and This Blog

It drives me nuts when OTP authors don't contribute to this blog. It has lots of followers who deserve to read new posts. Maybe you could figure out a time once every two weeks to post, and mark you calendar so you do it.

Some of us received checks for Kindle royalties this week. What a hoot! No, I'm not going to be able to pay any bills with it, but I can buy a couple of large Vanilla Iced Coffee from McDonald's.

What's so good about this, it means our publisher is making money too, which will help keep the house afloat. I've been a published author for a long time and know how fragile small presses can be. It's a hard business and only the strongest survive--and I mean that literally. Ask me about it sometime.

I was thrilled when Billie suggested putting my out of print books on Kindle. I've been e-published for a long time, before the Kindle came into being. From two different houses I get a nice little two figure royalty every quarter and part of that royalty is from e-books.

Believe me I'm grateful that Billie wanted to go the Kindle route. I'm even going to enter the electronic version of No Sanctuary in the Epic contest this year.

And off the subject, if you haven't seen the new Star Trek movie, by all means go. I smiled through the whole thing--the young stars captured the personalites of the former stars. Well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Scheduling Your Time

Yesterday I gave a talk at the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime. They'd provided me with questions they wanted answered and one was how did I schedule my time to do everything.

Sunny Frazier has a unique way of doing things--no doubt she'll pop on here and tell you about it.

My way is far more mundane. I try to write every single day on my work-in-progress, which happens to be another Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel. I'm at a really exciting part and would like to forge ahead, but have a few minor and one larger obstacle in the way.

The large one is I've been contracted to do a ghost writing project with a deadline, so for awhile, that will be what I have to work on first.

Smaller ones are things I do on a regular basis: Twitter, Facebook, my own blog which I try to do every day, the Stiletto Gang blog every Tuesday, Make Mine Mystery Blog twice a month and reading all my regular lists.

Of course there are the speaking engagements and conferences I'm attending. I keep track of these things on a calendar right next to my computer--and I consult it often. I have two more speaking engagements this month and Mayhem in the Midlands at the end of May.

And, as program chair for Public Safety Writers Association's conference, there are loose ends to work on for that.

And last, but not least, family matters. I have a huge family and something is always happening--good and bad. I do love to spend time with each of them when possible.

I'm certainly not a sweet young thing any longer (way at the other end of the spectrum) and can't burn the midnight oil like I did in previous years. I also need to work when my mind is freshest, which is in the morning.

Of course I'm wasting precious time writing this--but I know it's important for every blog to be kept up-to-date and since this is my publisher's blog, I want to do my part and perhaps help some of my fellow writers.

Now on to a few other writing chores before I have to go teach Sunday School. (Yes, I do that too.)

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith