Sunday, August 31, 2008

Selling the sizzle

A theme I keep returning to is the necessity to think of a book as a product and to build an integrated marketing campaign for that product if you want to be financially successful with it (even then, it’s a crapshoot). One of the elements of marketing a book is publicity.

Enter the book publicist
Different book publicists offer different services. The key function they perform, though, is to secure author appearances in the media. They work hard to do this, and they get paid well for this service. But it’s vital to the author (whether you are self-published or published by a major house) to understand where the publicist’s job starts and ends: a list of dates, times, and places where you are scheduled to appear.

That’s not enough. I mean, sure, it’s plenty from the point of view of the publicist who sweated bullets to get you those appearances and put the list together. But it’s not enough for you to think your marketing problems are solved. The reason it’s not enough is that the fact of having interviews does not guarantee book sales. It’s what you do in the course of your interviews that motivates listeners or viewers or readers to go out and buy your book.

Talk about the subject, not about the book
If you’re a novelist, this means you talk about the characters as if they are real people with lives outside the narrow slice you documented in your story. Or it means you talk about wartime Austria, if that’s where your story is set. Or it means you talk about the historical figures you based your characters on. You don’t just summarize the plot of your novel.

If you’re a nonfiction author, it means you talk about your field of expertise or about the context in which your book has application and meaning. You don’t recap the table of contents.

Know your material
Some interviewers may lead you into a discussion of the book itself, even if that’s not a great idea. Review your own book before the interview. Reread it if necessary. If the host asks you about page 57, you’d best be able to get to page 57 pronto and be familiar with what’s there as soon as see it.

Learn how to speak on the radio
If you’re uncomfortable as a speaker, the audience will know it immediately. Get coaching (see if someone in the drama department of a local college is available as a private tutor, or join Toastmasters, or join a community theater troupe). If you’re subject to stage fright, ask your physician to prescribe a beta blocker to take before interviews (only if it’s safe for you, of course).

Speaking on the radio, speaking on television, speaking on a podium, and answering a print reporter’s questions all have different dynamics. If you don’t have a good intuitive grasp of how to handle these different situations in a way that keeps the audience engaged, be sure to address this issue with your coach, too.

Don’t forget to plug the book
Your host should do this for you, of course. But if not, get the title and author into the conversation at least three times in the course of the interview. And if you have an in-person interview, remember to take a few copies of the book with you. You never know who might be happy to buy one from you.

Above all, enjoy yourself
No matter how shy and introverted you think you are, you can learn to enjoy sharing your ideas with an audience in an engaging way. Don’t focus on your fear; focus on the opportunity to reach others who share your interests. People will respond to your enjoyment and positive attitude. If you can’t convey those, you’re unlikely to turn that hard-won and expensive publicity opportunity into book sales.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Screw 'em all

The washer saga continues. The service tech showed up Thursday as scheduled. Yep. Needs parts. Nope. Parts are not on the truck. Parts are due to arrive September 5. So I called Whirlpool and expressed my wish to have the defective washer replaced immediately. “We can’t do that. Your warranty covers repair, not replacement. All I can do for you is extend your manufacturer’s warranty for a year.”

“But I already bought an extended warranty. Your extension will overlap it, and I don’t gain anything.”

“That’s right. As you bought an extended warranty, there’s nothing we can do for you.”

Bzzzt. Wrong answer.

I called the dealer and told him to take his new washer back, reinstall the old one that his crew couldn’t figure out how to get up the stairs anyway, give me a full refund for the transaction, and let me worry about fixing the old one. Then I called the credit card company to ensure that the entire transaction would be credited back to my account as if I had never walked into the appliance store.

This morning, I went to the local appliance parts store, bought a valve, came home, removed a few screws, disconnected the old valve, installed the new valve, replaced the screws, and I’m good to go as soon as the delivery goons show up and do their thing. The appliance service guy who recommended the appliance store in question, which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, doesn’t get my money this time. And when another appliance breaks, as surely it will, he won’t get my business. The appliance store is stuck with what is now a scratch-and-dent lemon of washer. And I’m out thirty-nine bucks for a part instead of nine hundred for a high-tech, computerized, extended-warranteed piece of junk. Whatever I’d have allegedly saved in future energy costs to operate the new washer doesn’t come close to the energy cost of manufacturing a new one and recycling an old one. So I did myself and the environment a favor.

That’ll teach ’em.

Okay, time to get back to earning a living.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cone of appliance malfunction

It started with the dryer. I thought nothing of it. Old—very old—dryer. Not worth fixing. Bought a new one. That was nearly three years ago. The dryer would be as energy-efficient as the label said if it actually dried clothes in the amount of time it says it’s going to take instead of two or three times as long. But I really can’t complain.

The microwave needed some work, but that was minor. Of course the same problem recurred right away, but we decided to live with the noise, which is just a bad fan bearing, rather than keep paying to have it not repaired.

Then it was the coffeemaker, a little over a year ago. (Follow-up on that story: the replacement coffeemaker turned out to be terrible, a dead loss; so I had to get another almost immediately. So much for a free replacement.)

In January the twenty-year-old water heater bit the dust.

Since the beginning of July, though, it’s been a circus around here. It was time to order a new furnace (really, it was). About the time the deposit for that showed up on my credit card, the refrigerator stopped refrigerating—a month after its five-year extended warranty expired. While the service guy was working on the fridge, the garbage disposer died. That was under warranty, but the same guy did a lousy job setting the new one and it leaks a little (not enough to put up with his coming back, but enough that I’m thinking of fixing it myself). Oh, about the new furnace? Well, that necessitated getting a new flue liner for the water heater, because the furnace would no longer be connected to the chimney. Chimney guy shows up to do the estimate and tells me maybe it would be cheaper to get a different kind of new water heater. Um, no thanks, as it’s brand new. But I think maybe he was right about the cost. Last week the washer quit. Thirty years old. Repair or replace? No-brainer. New washer delivered yesterday by guys who kept telling me all the things they don’t do, won’t do, and can’t do (like figuring out how to get the old washer up the cellar stairs). New washer doesn’t work today. Service call scheduled. Might send the new washer back and get the old one fixed after all.

Next week the new furnace gets installed and I get to pay for the second half. Can’t wait for the surprise extra expenses that’s going to entail.

I’m sure glad the lull is over and I’ve got work in front of me to pay for all this.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Plant a tree? Maybe not.

As in a lot of industries, many people involved in publishing are thinking green these days, and the focus of their thinking is on the trees that get pulped to make paper for books. (Somehow they don’t usually think about the transportation component—moving trees, moving pulp, moving paper, moving books—which can also be significant.)

Realistically, if unappealingly, the greenest way to publish a book is electronically, of course. But as a designer of printed books, I don’t like to think about that. The next best choice is digital printing, particularly print-on-demand, because it consumes only the paper needed for copies people are actually planning to read, not the excess paper needed for books that will sit unread in a garage or warehouse.

But emotionally, publishers are frequently drawn to the idea of offsetting their carbon footprints, particularly their vicarious destruction of tropical rainforests for pulp, by just as vicariously planting trees. They do this by contributing funds to any of several organizations that plant trees—trees that will grow up to sequester carbon, presumably.

Here’s the rub:

Most people whose understanding of the outdoors extends as far as their front lawn (which means the majority of Americans) think of planting a tree as a transaction that involves a nursery, a large hole, a specimen that costs anywhere from thirty to a few hundred dollars, and a lot of water. So the idea of donating three or five dollars to some organization per tree planted sounds like a heck of a deal.

However, anyone who has ever done any conservation tree planting or reforestation work knows that planting a tree actually consists of swinging a mattock (once!) to bury the head in the earth, pulling back on it slightly to open a slit, peeling a tree seedling from a bundle of 50 or 100 that you can easily carry in one hand, dropping the seedling in the slit, stepping on it with your boot heel to close the slit, taking one pace forward, and repeating the procedure. Total elapsed time less than ten seconds. The seedlings, depending on species, are available from state-run nurseries for prices in the range of ten cents to thirty cents. So if the “charity” is getting three dollars and the state is getting a dime, and the Americorps kid doing the planting is getting another dime (unlikely), you do the math.

If you want to plant trees to offset your carbon footprint, skip going to the gym or golf course one Saturday and go out and plant 1,000 trees yourself. Contact your state forester for a location where your volunteer labor will be put to good use. You’ll be out the cost of a good pair of lightweight work boots (not construction boots, which are too hot and heavy, but something more on the order of hiking boots) and you might have to buy your own mattock (thirty bucks or so at Home Depot). But you won’t have spent $3,000 on tree seedlings worth $100.

I hasten to add that I’m sure many tree planting programs are legitimate efforts run by reputable nonprofits that make excellent use of all donated funds. I’m pretty sure, though, that there are also a lot of scams out there. If you want to make a difference, it makes a difference where you send your money.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Author and pilot Bob Kline on the Jim Bohannon Show

Audio here of nationwide radio show interview from last night. (The attribution of his book to author “Bill Kurtis” on the page is an error that may be corrected by the time you read this.)