Thursday, February 26, 2009

Happy Accidents

I’ve spent the last week or so immersing myself in some of the wonderful books that were recognized by the Newbery Committee this year, notably The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, and it occurred to me that as a marketing or promotional coup, pretty much nothing beats the Newbery. There are few things that can do more for your sales numbers than that.

And yet, there is not a single thing the publisher or author can do to arrange that any given book of theirs wins that coveted prize. Which then led me to a fascinating marketing fact: all the really amazing promotional opportunities happen by accident. Seriously. Every single big-bang, promotional bonanza is something completely out of the publisher or author’s control.

The truth is, I’ve spent money on advertising and sent press releases and done all sorts of things—all with minimal affect on my book sales. The things that have most affected my sales have been completely out of my hands. Or even my publisher's hands, if truth be told. Being selected for state reading awards, being featured on television shows, all these happy accidents were because someone—usually an independent bookseller or librarian—has loved one of my books enough to become it’s advocate.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we give up on doing anything for our books; you never know which of the things you did attracted the attention of that person who ultimately played advocate for your book, but it does help to keep a sense of perspective in what you’re doing: you’re seeding the ground, you’re getting the word out about your book to as many readers as possible, never knowing which faceless soul will nominate it for an award or bring it to the attention of a talk show producer or tells their father it’s their favorite book ever and could he please make a movie of it.

It’s also why we talk so much here about writing the most amazing book you can. That single thing wins over more advocates for your book than just about anything else.

Here’s wishing you many happy accidents in your writing career!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Code 99!

In the hospital where I work, we have a secret distress code which is Code 99. It is the equivalent of Code Blue, which you hear on every television medical drama... everyone knows it means that someone is in a Very. Bad. Way. Get the Crash Cart-- now! Since people know what Code Blue means, we've changed it so it doesn't frighten every family member in the hospital who will assume it is their person headed toward the proverbial light while they're out grabbing a cuppa.

I was a walking/talking Code 99 in my personal life all last week, but forgot to let anyone in on the secret.  I even forgot what it meant for me. Sort of missed that I could be headed for a crash. I had entirely too many pokers in the fire, too many pots on the stove ( too many cliches), and not enough time to care and charge my introverted soul. I thought
surely I could survive till Sunday. Just push a tiny bit harder. Go! Go! Your day off is coming, girlfriend.

And survive I did, and I did a pretty bang-up job of getting things done, giving where I wanted to give, teaching and giving my ALL.  I strove to be a decent human being along the way (Jury is still out on that last piece).  What fell by the wayside was any real exercise but a few short walks, my dietary intake was a sketchy at best, I was seriously short-sheeted in the Sleep Department, and I had nothing that even resembled an Artist Date-- unless you consider staring at LA underpass grafitti.  

The point? By the time Sunday rolled around, I was medically unresponsive.  From my perch above my body I knew that I needed to go to Mass, wash and vacuum my car, write three hours on my novel, send out my client coaching assignments, EXERCISE, see if my partner still recognized me, write an alarming number of emails, and try to eat something that didn't come in a Kashi wrapper. Except that I couldn't move.

I had completely shorted out.  I lurched toward the coffee which just made me a very alert wreck.

I was in a bad way and I knew it. So,  I gently and lovingly let myself off every single hook that I could feel dug under my skin-- from my shoulders, the back of my neck, and every appendage. Turned off the cell phone and the alarm clock.  Did not go to  Mass.  (We'll keep that between us, okay?)  Ate well.  Ate slowly. My partner and I talked for hours in our PJs. Read the paper! Cleaned out the drawer of my bedside table. (Okay, random, BUT, if anyone needs any cat toys, give me a call. I have a few dozen extra, turns out.)  Took a nap at noon. A good, long one. I treated myself like a beloved aging aunt that needed  kid glove treatment. The day stretched on and on.  Nothing was accomplished at all-- except that I was brought back to life.

I woke up this morning, thirty years younger. Leapt to my novel and wrote many pages. Recognized I needed a brief extension on my book deadline, took a bracing breath, and asked for it. Got it. Took another nap today.  Cleaned my car with that Zen-like attention that Robin described in the story about the monk cleaning the bowl.  What was happening with me and the car vacuum was near holy.  I was completely awake.  My meter needle was back in the green zone.

I do have a point.  It isn't a new one, but it is critical to our survival as a species.  And, god knows, the world cannot function without introverts!  Do insure that embedded in each of your days is a time spent at your personal recharging station, whatever that looks like for you.  It may be reading, daydreaming, walking, stretching, tinkering, gardening, puttering, playing Scramble on Facebook.  Whatever it is, you need (read REQUIRE) the time.  Take it.  Revel in it. Claim it. Protect it.  Own it.  Do not negotiate it away in your eternal quest for productivity.
That equation is flawed for folks like us.  We're kinda special, you know?

Don't miss this!  Robin and I did a guest interview today over at Becky Levine's place. "PRE-Marketing: Seven Important Things You Can Do Before You Sell Your Book Hop on over and say hi to Becky while you're there. She is currently writing a book for Writer’s Digest, The Critiquer’s Survival Guide, due out in Fall 2009. We can't wait to get see it and report on it. Thanks for having us, Becky!

Mary Hershey 
Code 99 Survivor

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Art of Letting Go

So I think we're going to declare this Radical Thinking Week here at Shrinking Violets and I'm going to follow Mary's lead and talk about marketing and promotion from a very unconventional standpoint. Just as an idea to try on and see how it fits.

The concept of the law of attraction and abundance is really popular right now; envisioning success and riches (both material and spiritual) as well as actively trying to invite those into one’s life.

I, however, find that a more Zen approach works better for me, and, most importantly, allows those very things I’d be trying to attract, into my life. So in case there are others out there who find that the law of attraction isn't a comfortable fit, I wanted to present this alternative.

Now, I am not a Zen master by any means, but my favorite Zen analogy is one that was told to me by Barbara Samuel. It’s about the student who was assigned to wash a bowl. He wasn’t to worry about which bowl came next, or what happened to the bowl once he’d washed it, his sole task was to wash that bowl to the very best of his ability. The Zen message that I extract from that is to focus on living in the moment and the process. By adding our desires into the mix, we simply weigh down the process and risk sullying it.

I think the act of letting go of our desires is part of what allows amazing things to happen. Part of it might be that since we’re not expecting anything, whatever does come our way is a truly amazing surprise—one we greet with full gratitude and no sense of disappointment because we weren’t expecting anything else. But I think it can be more than that. Oftentimes, wanting something creates an energy field around us that sort of gets between us and our heart's desire. That very act of wanting puts one more barrier between us and what we want. Think of that girl in high school that so desperately wanted a boyfriend; there was nothing wrong with her, she was cute, nice, and had a great sense of humor—but on some level that desperation seeped through and repelled the very thing she desired.

That’s why, a few weeks ago when Mary invited us to state our marketing wishes for 2009, I had to pass. I’ve worked really hard to not think in those terms—to not wish for those kinds of things, because wishing and envisioning them doesn't help me, it distracts me. (But that's me--I know it works spectacularly for some people.) And while I felt a tinge of guilt for not participating, something very interesting happened the moment I reaffirmed my decision NOT to engage in that sort of thinking: three amazing PR plums fell in my lap—and all in one night, no less. I received news that my most recent book had been featured on Boston Tonight, it had been selected for the Today’s show holiday book segment, and had been short listed for a state award. Clearly NOT wishing worked really well for me.

I think this Zen approach is especially something to keep in mind when making big decisions about one’s career or life. There is something very spiritual about getting to a place where whatever is, is enough; if I only am able to enjoy writing, get this much joy out of the process, that is enough. If I am only able to gain enough recognition/success in my books that it allows me to get the next contract, that is enough. There is something very magical in taking that leap of faith and doing something for its own sake.

My guess is that each of us have different lessons we’re learning in this life and I suspect that which works best for you, Zen or abundance, has a lot to do with that. I do think the Zen approach is worth trying, though. It can be very freeing.

This doesn't mean that we should be reckless or incautious or give up on all marketing and promotional activities. But it does mean that we should focus on what we can control, the blog, the myspace page, the school visit, and do that with all our heart and soul and energy, and then let go. Don't fret, don't gnash your teeth, don't beat yourself up for not doing more than you are capable of doing--do what you can to the best of your ability and then let it go.

So as you plan your new year, consider the possibility of letting go of some of these desires, plans, and resolutions—especially the ones you can’t control. Focus instead on mastering the craft even more, or giving yourself the gift of writing a book “just for yourself,” without weighing it down with your expectations. By letting go of these weighty preconceived ideas of success—you might find yourself surprised by a different kind of success—one you hadn’t anticipated, but one that is more satisfying than you ever dreamed of.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Swallowing the Sun

Happy President's Day, everyone!

I hope some of you have enjoyed a day off--  I've been spending part of mine coming up with the following list of reasons why I am going to post this twenty minute clip (omigod-- who has 2o minutes?) about a rather radical way of thinking about creativity. Which has little if anything to do with marketing for introverts, but everything about how we survive as artists doing the work.  Not only that...

1).  I'm pretty sure that Liz Gilbert is a BIG introvert
2).  There is much we can learn by simply watching someone address a giant room full of people with more ease than perfection, and have them hanging on her every single word 
3).  I'm intrigued by her choice of pigtails for her appearance, and it makes me admire her all the more
4). In case any of us ever have the experience of having our books become "freakish" ENORMOUS bestsellers, we'll have some coping techniques for what comes after that
5).  I adored what she said about being more a mule than a pipeline and I bet you will too.
6).  It's a holiday, so that gives me a special dispensation to veer slightly off topic for something so powerful as this.  (It's in our Shrinking Violet Handbook, Robin.  You might have missed it.)

When you have twenty minutes, and can have a cup of joe or tea, and put your feet up, and shut your door, get ready for something very wonderful from Liz Gilbert.  (Thanks to the ever-lovely Heide for sharing this with me!)   If you have already seen this, I'm not going to apologize.  I'm going to encourage you to watch it again.  

Thanks to everyone that posted some great promotional tips on last Thursday's blog where we featured new author Meghan Wier.  They were so fabulous that I was at a loss to pick the best, so we went the sorting hat route. Our winner of Meghan's new book entitled Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl's Guide to Career, Networking, and Getting the Most Out of Life.   is Augustina Peach.  Congratulations AP!  If you email me off-line by by clicking here, I'll get that right to you.

Allah and Ole' to you each in your work--
Mary Hershey

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Confessions of an Introvert: An Interview with Author Meghan Wier

I'm delighted to be able to introduce you all to a compelling new title just out this month by author Meghan Wier--
Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl's Guide to Career, Networking, and Getting the Most Out of Life.  I dunno, I could be wrong, but I'm thinking this might be a read of real interest to our kind here. :-)

Meghan is an author, freelance writer, corporate blogger and Web consultant living in Fort Mill, South Carolina with her husband and son.  She researches and writes about Search Engine Optimization, business networking, relationships, career choices and strategies for introverts.

Meghan was kind enough to allow me to snag her during her busy launching month for an interview.  Being introverts, we did it by email, of course.

SVP: What was your personal catalyst for writing Confessions of an Introvert?

Meghan: I was working with dozens of small business people in my job at a web development company – and so many of them were struggling with the “basics” of business. They wanted to just do what it was they were good at… but they were missing things like networking, and self-promotion. I wanted to help them with what I had learned.

SVP: Your book proposes to help the reader separate "shy traits from introverted ones." Can you say a bit more about that? How do you differentiate between shyness and introversion?

Meghan: I see introversion as a physical reaction to being around people… i.e. introverts find it exhausting to be social – even if they are ok with doing it. Shy people do not want, or know how to behave in public in a way that represents the real them. They are profoundly self-conscious and are affected by a feeling of inadequacy about it. Many introverts are shy – but not all of us – and shyness can be worked through as confidence is gained… but even the most un-shy introvert will still be drained after a day of networking or socializing.

SVP: Your "About the Author" piece describes you as an "introvert/forced extravert". Can you explain what means? Does that mean that during your work day, you push yourself to live outside your comfort zone for the sake of business?

Meghan: Yes, for the sake of business (or talking to the other moms at the soccer game) I do have to step outside my comfort zone. I take on the persona of an extravert. I still am drained by other people, but I now know ways to accommodate the feelings I get from “social interaction” – like taking a walk alone in the middle of an event, or planning alone time before and after.

SVP: You seem to have a very busy, active, and "out" professional lifestyle. Would you prefer more writing time and solitude time, or does your balance work for you?

Meghan: I did not set out to be so “public” but as a business person, I saw this as such an important aspect of success. People need to know you, and like you to do business. As human beings we are more likely to work with someone we have a relationship with – and to have a relationship (any kind…), you have to put yourself out there. However, I do also lead an anonymous, quiet, loner life as best I can. If I am not meeting, or working, or promoting, or networking… I am quite happy to be alone – to write or just be with my family. Balance is VERY important to the introvert, especially if a big portion of your time is spent in those “forced-extravert”activities.

SVP: What are your favorite recharging activities?

Meghan: Checking email (but not always responding), writing, sitting outside on a sunny day, being w/ my family, or napping!

SVP: What advice do you have for an introvert who's work team is primarily extraverted?

Meghan: Participate as much as possible. If you are always the one who doesn’t do lunch with the team, or speak up at a meeting, or let yourself be the “wall-flower”you will be seen as an outsider—and then feel left out when you aren’t included. You need to focus on building strong relationships with your team—and for you this may mean getting to know each one individually, so that when they are in a group, you are not as overwhelmed by them. BUT… also take and savor the time you have before and after work to recharge so that you will be better able to be an active member of this group.

SVP: If you could have dinner with any introvert in the world (past or present), who would you choose?

Meghan: I have heard that Barbara Walters is an introvert… I would love to hang out with her for an hour.

: Conversely, any extravert whom you would you love to sit and pick their brain?

Meghan: Wow… maybe Martin Luther King Jr… I would just like to know how he was able to accomplish so much, and what he would think of our country today.

SVP: Is there any work-related area that continues to be a real challenge for you as an introvert?

Meghan: Setting up meetings and talking on the phone with new people… I hate talking on the phone. I will do almost anything to avoid it.

SVP: How will you use what you've learned about yourself and introversion to help you promote your new book?

Meghan: The biggest thing is to breathe—literally and figuratively. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and then excited and talk so much I lose my breath. Also—I have learned not to take anything too personally – good press, bad press, constructive criticism, etc. Everyone will always have an opinion and that is their right. As a shy, introverted person, I take the critical things to heart, and if I am going to have the other things in life I seek – i.e. success in business and life, then I need to be able to take the good feedback and the harsher criticism and grow from it—and move on!Meghan is currently working on her second book on introversion and relationships.

In honor of Meghan's book launching, we are pleased to be able to give away a copy of her book to one of our readers.  To enter to win, we are looking for your best piece of advice for a new, introverted author in her first month of publication.

Best of  luck to you, Meghan!  Thanks for all your efforts and guidance on behalf of Shy Girls and Shy Guys everywhere!

Mary Hershey

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Happy 2nd Birthday, Shrinking Violets!

Dear Friends, 

Happy Birthday to us, as in the collective us-- the community we have built with all of you here. We are TWO this week!   I keep looking at the calendar and thinking-- really?  Two years??

Robin and I feel so fortunate to have watched the conversation that started between us:
Me (circa 2006-2007) :  God, I hate book promotion.  I'd rather be burnt at the stake. Naked. On CNN. No, wait, on Live with Jon Stewart.
Robin :  I'd rather crawl over hot coals in my best silk blouse.  Why can't we just write? How can they expect us to do this?  
And from those early conversations, we have grown into this marvelous and gifted network of creative folk.  Wow.  Still amazes me.  And, it continues to be a lesson that visits me regularly, which is-- pay attention to the things that start small.

Because this is a birthday, there needs to be presents!  And, in keeping with one of the main tenets of our SVP philosophy, which is to Turn The Spotlight Around, I think we need to be the giver of gifts.  In the spirit of our birthday celebration, how about buying a book at an independent bookstore and donating it to a child, teen, a shelter, a school or public library?  And, if you can't decide which book to buy, Robin has posted some of our readers' books in the sidebar, as part of our new, ongoing, promotion of our tribe's work.  

And, since we are talking gifts, happy congratulations out to Cheryl, author of the soon to be released YA fantasy book entitled Dragon Speaker: The Last Dragon.  Cheryl was one of our Milestone Monday contributors and her name was selected in our random drawing today. Cheryl, please email me off-line by clicking here and let me know your mailing address for your prize.  I think you will love the CD you've won!

Robin is out of pocket this week, so I will be taking her turn posting this coming Thursday.  I am very excited to be interviewing author Meghan Wier, author of the new book entitled Confessions of an Introvert: The Shy Girl's Guide to Career, Networking, and Getting the Most Out of Life.  And, of course, there will be a contest to win a copy of her new book.  So, do come on back.  

Do treat yourself to a cupcake or two this week, friends.  Thanks for enriching our lives!

*[[['-)    *{[|:-]
Mary & Robin
The Shrinking Violets

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Guest Blogger C.J. Lyons - Build Your Brand

I'm away from the computer this Thursday and SVP reader CJ Lyons graciously agreed to guest blog on branding for us. Enjoy! - RL

A brand is a subliminal promise to your readers--that any book written under this author's name will promise this type of emotional experience.

The first step to finding your brand is to examine what you've already written. Ask yourself why these stories grabbed you? Why you wanted to write them in the first place, what you were trying to say with them.

For example, even though I love to cross genres from women's fiction to suspense to thrillers to romance, every book I write has a theme central to my life: they're all about making a difference, trying to change the world.

For me, once I realized this fact, the tagline came easily: No One is Immune to Danger

Note that is an emotional concept, not a promise of specifics. I did this on purpose because I knew up front that I didn't want to get locked into writing only medical thrillers. But it works with medical thrillers, woman's fiction, romantic suspense, mainstream thrillers, etc. And it reminds the reader that I’m a physician--which is part of my platform or unique selling proposition.

If this all seems very confusing to you, there's a book I found very helpful called Primal Branding. Instead of talking marketing mumbo-jumbo it discusses brands as ways to tell stories, so it was very intuitive.

A brand is more than a central theme, more than a tag line, it also includes visual images that evoke the same emotion.

When you design your site/blog use the images and colors and words that apply to your brand. See step#1. For instance, part of my brand image is that I'm a doctor, so I use medical imagery. I also use the color red a lot--again, creating an emotional response.

One thing that I wanted on my site was to evoke a response that it was fresh, dynamic, and different than other suspense writers' sites. Subconsciously this tells a casual viewer that here is a writer who's different than others, willing to take chances, and whose books are also fresh and different.

I checked out as many websites as I could. Many I fell in love with--but they didn't fit my brand and the emotional response I was aiming for.

So instead of a dark background (which 99.9% of mystery, thriller, and suspense writers have) I went with a light background. Instead of the boxes that many webdesigners use for images, I asked my designer to make the images feel more fluid and expansive rather than boxed-in. There's no way to totally get rid of the "boxes" without sacrificing clarity, but we got rid of as much as possible. You can see the results at

Other things to decide as you build your brand:
--to blog or not?

Base your decisions on your brand. As a doctor, teaching is a natural part of my life, and teachers are noted for making a difference, so volunteering to teach workshops, give keynotes, etc, was an easy fit for my brand.

If this didn't come naturally to me and fit my brand, I might have passed on some of these opportunities and spent my time and energy doing something else--like maybe blogging (which doesn't come easy to me so I use my blog as a news update and focus on guest blogging which is more like teaching).

Also, when choosing promotional items, make sure they fit your brand or reflect it by creating a similar emotional response.

Even your cover art should reflect your brand. Although this can be difficult since most authors don't have a lot of input into their cover.

I was lucky--the covers Berkley did for LIFELINES and WARNING SIGNS reflect my brand perfectly. They use real-life photos with hand-picked models--not stock art, crisp and fresh and energetic, and featured the color red. Perfect for my marketing platform of "real-life doctor writes stories as real as it gets".

I decided that any marketing I did would use these fantastic covers as much as possible.

So my business cards--had my cover art. My bookmarks (I like them to sign if someone doesn't want to buy a book and to give out at conferences) had the cover art and review quotes. The covers are on every page of the website. And the one promo item I paid for, to use for contests, charity auctions, and other give-aways, was a t-shirt featuring the cover art. They all fit my brand and create an impression.

I did not buy: pens, bath salts, magnets, stress balls, etc, etc, etc. Why? Other than pens they don't reflect the brand (well, maybe the stress balls could ) and for about the same price I could get the t-shirts. Again, you need to decide what fits your brand, not just buy something because it's cute, cheap or some other author has one….
Instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing, keep your own brand--that subliminal, emotional statement that you want to make through your writing--firmly in mind.

Once you find your brand and start to use it, it's amazing what will fall into place!

Award-winning medical suspense author CJ Lyons is a physician trained in Pediatric Emergency Medicine. She has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide and Munchausen by Proxy and has worked in numerous trauma centers, as a crisis counselor, victim advocate, as well as a flight physician for Life Flight.

She participated in an archeological expedition in the Outback of Australia sponsored by the Kuku Djugan tribe and was one of few people allowed access to explore the Hell’s Gate Wilderness Preserve in Kenya on foot during an environmental impact survey of the Lake Navisha region.

For more information go to

Thanks, CJ! This is an excellent explanation of branding. What I like best about it is that it avoids feeling as if it is limiting one creatively in any way, which some explanations of branding feel as if they do.

Violets, I want you to pay particular attention to CJ's bio. Such a terrific example of how introvert doesn't have to mean wallflower!!

And because we're all about the books here at SVP, we'll be giving away a copy of CJ's LIFELINES to the person who guesses the answer to the following question: In what martial arts discipline does CJ hold an orange belt?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Time for Another Milestone Monday

Photo by Renato Brancaleoni "Brickslaying"

Dear Friends,

It has been much too long since we've hosted a Milestone Monday here-- a day devoted to hearing from our readers about their recent accomplishments.  I aim to remedy that right now!

Consider this practice for putting yourself into the spotlight, but in the gentlest and most supportive space possible, here with your very own tribe of fellow and fella introverts.

Have you recently completed a piece of work that you are quietly celebrating?  Sold an article, essay, book?  Started a blog or launched a new website?  Agreed to do a school visit with live children (shriek!) or to do a book signing or book launch?  Have you asked someone to be your (gulp) writing buddy or read a new piece of work aloud?  

Let's hear from you!  And to further entice you, if you post an accomplishment here, we will enter you into a drawing to win a copy of the most lovely CDs I have heard in a long time . . . Prayer Cycle: A Choral Symphony in Nine Movements.  The compilation features such talents as James Taylor, Ofra Haza, Alanis Morissette, the late Musrat Fateh Ali Khan, the American Boychoir with Devin Provenzano, and the English Chamber Orchestra & Chorus. One reviewer notes that if this music fails to move you, you have no soul.  :-]  Lovely world music to recharge by.

I'm unfurling the long red carpet right now.  Violets, are you ready?

In full celebratory mode,
Mary Hershey