Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Hurricane Hiatus

        Truly, I meant to write this blog the last week in August--and then along came Hurricane Ida.  At first, the storm appeared to be headed right for our small southwestern Louisiana town, the setting for most of my books.  Gradually, it moved eastward and placed us on the western edge. For those of you who don't know much about hurricanes, that's the best side to be on. Even better for us, the storm continued to veer to the east targeting New Orleans and Baton Rouge and the smaller towns of Houma and LaPlace. By then, we'd carried in all the porch furniture and potted plants (many). checked the battery supply, went out to get milk and canned goods we could heat on the grill, and boarded up the windows. Usually we fill a bathtub for a water supply just in case and keep a pail nearby to recharge the toilet Not our first rodeo by far, the night of Andrew still vivid in our memories from many year ago. 

     My husband took the car out to top off the tank in case we had to evacuate and found all the stations closed. So many people in pickup trucks loaded up numerous gas cans, they drained the pumps dry. Late in the afternoon, he found a convenience store off the beaten track and managed to fill up.  Our area is still low on gas due to people fleeing from New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  The motels are full as well and will be for some time. We were prepared and now had to sit and wait watching the round the clock storm coverage on all channels, sometimes the worst part of the ordeal, that wait.

     Even though we were out of the danger zone, we did expect some high wind gusts and lots of rain, probably a power outage, too.  We placed flashlights in most of the rooms. I decided to work on the new Sinners title, Edie's Sinner, as long as I could since I'd missed hours of work to storm prep. Having a battery backup for the computer with sixty minutes of time on it, I figured I'd have plenty of time to save and close down when the lights went out.  After two-thousand words, my most productive day in a long time, I quit with the lights still burning bright and went to bed hoping Ida hadn't changed her mind again and was coming to get us. In the end, all we got was some wind and a few sprinkles, never lost power.

     Oh, but to see the devastation on the TV in the morning. Little frame houses blown over, large trees down everywhere in a tangle of wires. one man crushed in his home, another killed by an alligator as he waded in deep storm water (only in LA). They do tell us to stay inside and out of the flooded areas. Some folks with nowhere to go sat in half-destroyed homes waiting for help.  The Cajun Navy, private citizens with small boats went to the worst areas and evacuated people, some from attics because their homes had filled with water. Thank heaven, in New Orleans the levees held this time in the below sea level city. But, they did lose the tower that generated electricity for the whole area when it fell into the river. Days and weeks ahead of steamy weather and no AC or lights.  Baton Rouge, not as bad, but still hit hard.

    We are prompted to charge cell phones in advance, but that doesn't do much good if the cell phone towers go down. I keep a land line as well just for these occasions even though the junk calls drive me nuts. I have many writer friends in both cities. I'm beginning to hear from some in Baton Rouge as the power there comes up, but only one message from New Orleans that all was well with that person.  I lost a couple of days of writing and a little more time hauling stuff outside again.  They, no doubt, will lose weeks while cleaning up from the storm. It takes several years for cities to get back to normal. Lake Charles is still recovering from Laura last year, another one that missed our area. Hurricanes, no fun at all. Just hoping we don't attract four like last year.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Singing for your Supper

      Actually, I can't sing a note, but I am a fearless public speaker.  I've found if I offer to do a program at a library or writers' conference I will sell far more books than just passively sitting at a table to sign, trying as hard as I can to will people to stop at my booth. With this in mind, I offer two talks: Adventures in E-publishing and Writing the Historical Novel free to any place that will have me within reasonable driving distance. I've addressed crowded rooms at both libraries and conferences and sold many books afterwards because I've had a chance to connect with my audience, give them good information while also being entertaining. I used to throw foam footballs into the audience to publicize my sports romances, the Sinners series, but my arm isn't what it used to be. I also make myself available to local book clubs if they want to discuss one of my books, my favorite being Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball. I usually have Mardi Gras throws to give away--scooped up from the streets during parades.

     Does this always pay off? No. But if you've agreed to come and sent out your press release to the local paper or library newsletter, you'd better show up. I was scheduled to address a book club after they had their regular meeting featuring another writer's book. The library had set out refreshments, but it was five before they ended. Every last book clubber went home to dinner. I was left with the three library employees assigned to close up the building once I was through. We ended up having a nice conversation  and enjoyed the refreshments, but it was a long two hour drive back to my place with no sales. On the other hand, I once drove another two hours through terrible weather to a small town to speak to another club and expected no one to show. I entered a meeting room with an entire pot luck dinner set up and a lively group happy to have me. I swear everyone there purchased a book, one woman buying A Trashy Affair and claiming it had to be about her in-laws. I was also offered a room for the night if I didn't want to drive back in the same torrential downpour. Now that's a warm welcome.

     Sometimes, the timing is just off like having anything scheduled near a meal time. At a writer's conference, the person preceding me on the stage ran overtime by a good twenty minutes. By the time I got up to the mic, the aroma of the luncheon was drifting through the room.  After fifteen minutes, people starting taking their pre-meal restroom break. After another fifteen minutes, I was told, sorry, the caterers were ready to serve, truncating my talk by half a hour. Only good that came of it was receiving first place in the lunch line. Zero books sold as after lunch everyone went into small group sessions which lasted until four when awards were given out, no time for the many authors attending to sell their wares at all. I was given a nice gift basket for my very short effort and ate some of the goodies on yet another long drive home.

      My smallest audience ever consisted of one person, a teenage girl who aspired to be a writer. Her parents sat in the rear of the near empty room talking quietly with each other. Instead of giving my talk, I just sat down one on one with the girl and let her ask me questions about publishing. When we finished, the embarrassed librarian who had asked me to come took our picture for the newsletter. I showed the girl how to stand up straight and smile into the camera no matter what the circumstances. Then, she left with her parents who did not buy a book, but the librarian purchased two, a pity sale, no doubt, though she claimed it wasn't. She had invited me because she loved my stories. Well, maybe, but that's all right. I do accept pity sales graciously.

     So, you never know what you will get when you set out on the road, two dozen sales or none. Regardless, if you commit, you show up, give it your all, and smile for the newsletter picture.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Exhibiting Indoors

      Last month I dealt with having book sales and signings outdoor. Needless to say, indoors is easier as there will always be bathrooms handy and thank God, climate control. If the distance isn't too great, I usually go to these events if there is no charge for the space. Nearly always a table and chair is provided so less to haul. Still, have a light weight dolly to help transport heavy boxes of books. Some convention center are vast, and it is a long way to get to your place. 

     Libraries are always pleasant, but don't expect sales. Best I've ever done was three books. People come to libraries to check out books for free. I've had many tell me they'd read the library copy when it got on the shelf, not always a guarantee as the library is in no way obligated to buy your titles. If you donate copies, they may or may not reach the shelves. Truly, I've seen library patrons walk the long way around to avoid the authors parked in a hallway or meeting room. Library venues also expect the authors to stay most of the day, say from ten to three, right through the lunch hour. Some will provide a bottle of water. Others have really nice author's lounges set up with everything from pastries and yogurt to hot coffee and cold drinks. You might inquire about this and be prepared to take snacks or troll the tables where cookbook authors give out free samples. Truly, only children's books sell well in libraries, especially if the authors are stationed near the children's department. However, you do meet others authors and a few might buy your book. Mostly I give out postcards with the cover on the front, blurb on the back along with order and contract information.

      Convention aren't the best places for selling either. I've done many library conventions and can tell you librarians want cheap or free books. They rarely buy but will take book cards and order later perhaps. Big name authors are situated in the middle of the fray, autographing and selling books at a deep discount provided by their NYC presses. Usually, the authors of small presses or the indie published are relegated to the outer edges of the venue where traffic is light. Because the event is indoors, this is the time to use those banners and any other attention getting gimmicks you might have. I once sat next to very nice lady, first time author, trying to sell a family memoir. She had wonderful vintage clothing on display, and many stopped to look at it. Sales, not so much, and she had piles of her single title on her table. I could feel her disappointment, but consoled her by saying many had picked up her bookmarks and might buy later. I don't bother with fancy displays much anymore--or cookies and candy giveaways. People swoop in, grab, and are on their way. One child with sticky fingers can do serious damage to your books. No, I have plenty of titles and the gift of gab, that's all.

     A nice perk of doing conventions is the availability of great exhibitor's lounges with free coffee and drinks, sandwiches, snacks, fruit, etc. Conventions centers will also have snack bars and perhaps even hot dog carts and restaurants.  You will not go hungry at these affairs. Again, not lots of sales, but fun meeting other authors. The time span might be very short, just an hour or two, to accommodate all who want to sign. Five minutes before your time ends, you will be reminded you must back up and leave in a hurry to let the next guy set up. This is another reason to have a simple setup. I can take mine down in a very short time. Setting up of course takes longer and eats into your time. Go simple.

     Though your time might be short, usually you can find a place to stow your stuff and enjoy some of the other exhibits. I once had a long conversation to a writer of medieval mysteries that I just loved. I stopped to get a signed copy and as she had no one else in line, we got to talk for quite some time. Yes, even midlist authors appreciate some attention. Give it too them if you have the time to spare.

     One last thought, if you can give a program or lecture, you will sell more books, but usually these slots are filled well in advance. Yet, do offer and have some talks prepared and a press kit ready to go. You never know when an opportunity will come your way.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Outdoor Events--Be Prepared

      As I said last month, slowly things are returning to normal which means outdoor book fairs are coming back. I've been at this for some time now, and at each event I find dozens of new authors who arrive unprepared. Indoor events usually provide a table and chair. Outdoor venues sell or designate a place on the sidewalk. All the schlepping is up to you. I boldly double park to unload if I can't get closer to my spot than a more distant lot. At the minimum, bring a table(s) and a chair or two and your boxes of books. Have a light-weight folding dolly. It's a challenge to haul books any distance.

   And for heavens sake, check the weather report! If lucky, you might be stationed in a pavilion or a tent with shade and shelter for you and your books from foul weather, but not very often. My family gifted me with a basic blue tarp supposedly capable of being set up by one person---think a tall, mechanically-inclined person. I am not tall enough to push it up. Luckily, my husband is. He usually comes along to do just that. That small tent has saved me and my books more than once, but I admit, I would be wiped out in a bad storm--which did happen to me once, and I lost several books to the rain, couldn't get the wet tarp down and into the car without the kindness of strangers, etc.  That disaster also taught me to pack all the merchandise into plastic boxes and not put out stacks of books, but just one copy each. As they sell, I replace them. Usually, they are displayed on book racks or book stands which all have to be lugged, but it is the most efficient method I've found.

     As for decorations, how much more do you want to carry? Some use tablecloths which I only do if required (read all requirements carefully-some do ask for tablecloths). Others invest in large banners that have to be set up and don't fare well on a windy day. Flowers look nice but vases fall over. I only did this once for my Roses series, a lovely selection of yellow roses. Toward the end, I gave the roses away in order not to have to transport them home. This also tempted no one to buy a book, though the public is always looking for freebies. Never once has swag sold a book as far as I can tell. As for myself, I only pick up pens and nail files which are useful. I do hand out postcards with the book cover on one side and the blurb and order information on the other along with a list of my other titles and how to reach me for further events. These are useful for readers who might order an e-book later, though I've never noticed a rush of Amazon sales, maybe one or two at most. Postcards can be had cheap from Vista Print and other online outlets, but they do blow away in the wind. Have something to hold them down. The rest of my decor is minimal.  I use handfuls of Mardi Gras beads, small foam footballs and crushed beer cans that fit into the crannies of my book boxes. Even these can cause problems as toddlers tend to get handsy and can take down an entire display with one quick grab as you try to sell their mothers on romance.

     Remember to bring change. For ease of transactions, I simply make all my titles $15 and have lot of fives on hand. I also take take checks and have never had one bounce because readers are good folks. It is possible to pay for a credit card app if you are so inclined, but I don't bother. Often they don't work well. Those more conversant with technology probably know of other ways. Next, offer a bag.  No extra expense required. I use colorful bags I've collected in my travels or even the standard, can't get rid of them, plastic grocery bags. I do have some slightly racy covers which some won't want to carry exposed, but bags are also good for foul weather sales to folks who take refuge under your tent.

     For your own survival, ask if any food will be easily available. My husband departs after the tent goes up. Usually, I am there alone. Take a friend if you can, but often you sit outdoors for hours, if lucky stationed close enough to meet authors to the right and left for company and to watch your table if you need a bathroom break. Bathrooms can be some distance away. Ask where they are upon arrival. Some venues offer you bottles of water, some nothing. The best have an author's lounge where you can refresh yourself and get a snack. Usually, I carry a small cooler with drinks, a sandwich, some fruit, and cookies to get through the day. Also, for me, a thermos of hot tea is essential because sometimes when there is no foot traffic, I can have a cup of tea and read someone else's book to pass the time.

     There, I think I have covered it all, but will take questions if I've let anything out, or if you'd like to share ideas. Be prepared for anything as the scouts would say.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Back to Normal--Sort Of

      I received my first Covid shot (Pfizer) in January before going for hip surgery. The hospital staff was efficiency personified, and I was in and out in half an hour. I did worry about getting my second shot when I was put into the PT rehab place. They had no Pfizer on hand, but did transport me back to the hospital for my second shot--no side effects at all. So, I was fully immunized by the time I returned home. Masks were required in regular PT, no problem for me. If I can do thirty lunges and the same amount of step-ups while in pain and wear one, you should be wearing one, too.

     I revised two manuscripts written before the surgery and sent them off to my two publishers. Both said they were way behind as everyone seemed to take up writing with nothing else to do. First time in a long time that my manuscripts have been put on a wait list, but at least the process has begun for the Bad Boy Sinner and Lion in the Heather.  

    The Art Guild, currently not meeting, got in touch asking me to take two paintings to show at the library and two at the Greek restaurant in town. I selected Night in the Forest and Luna Moth for the library and a still life of fruit and a red amaryllis for the Greeks. Since I couldn't drive or reach too high, my dear husband who had gotten his Moderna shots came along and hung them for me. It was lunch time when we finished. I looked around and saw people dining at well-spaced tables and a staff with facemasks worn properly. We had gotten take-out during the long months of seclusion from Olympus, and I thought, why not? We ordered chicken schwarma pasta and a gyro sandwich.  The salads were crisp, the food and pita warm, and my Lebanese iced tea delicious. Wonderful to eat in a restaurant again. Two weeks later, we tried a new Mexican place in town. The food and service was great--but I do wish someone would tell the entire staff that facemasks should cover the nose as well as the mouth. Still, we had a table well-spaced, and they made my husband a habanero pepper sauce blended by hand. Another enjoyable meal.

     Then, local arts and crafts shows began to revive. I took only my books to sell and sat outside on a lovely day so warm I got a little sunburn on the back of my neck. I always sell well at this event at an historic home, but did better than usual.. It seemed everyone wanted to be outside on a fine day and spend money after a year cooped up. The Literary Festival followed a couple of weeks later on a rainy, dreary day. I huddled in my little tent drinking hot tea from my thermos, reading, and eating a cookie. No sales at all until the sun came out around noon, A good friend stopped by and bought Lady Flora's Rescue, the first book in my new historical series. Looked like it would be my only sale and not even cover the cost of the space. The event ended at three p.m., and here it was two o'clock. Suddenly, sales picked up. I sold more than ever at this event. Ran out of one title, Lady Flora again, and all my Mardi Gras books, perhaps because Mardi Gras had been cancelled and people wanted to celebrate vicariously. This weekend, I have another Arts and Crafts festival. Of course, rain is predicted again. If possible, I will take some small pieces of art with me as well as books. I'd really like to see if this trend will continue considering that I sold only four books, all to the library, in past year. I have to say my e-books sold as usual. But my 2020 taxes will show I lost about $400 in income on paperbacks that are best hand sold.

     Regardless, I am thrilled to be almost back to normal.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Unexpected

      I fully expected to write a brief blog at the end of January despite being scheduled for hip surgery on the twenty-fifth of the month. Hey, I'd spend two or three nights in the hospital and be home in time to write my message before February arrived. Instead, I was transferred to a PT rehab facility for eleven days to rebuild my strength.  Physical therapy three times a day, decent food, sponge baths--but no computers. When not exercising, we were to stay in our rooms with no visitors thanks to the Covid epidemic. My husband could visit at a open window where we passed my laundry back and forth, not love notes.

     Of course, The Aussie Sinner had just come out, and I was unable to promote it from my room.  I also expected a shipment of The Greatest Prize paperbacks that I'd been trying to order since December, but the publisher had changed printers and complications ensued. Before, we just sent a message on how many copies we wanted and after paying through Paypal, the books appeared two weeks later. These showed up days after I'd returned home.  Not that I had anywhere to sell them because all events had been cancelled.  I wanted to drop the usual number of copies off at the local bookstore and the library--still sitting in the box.  Why? Because I'm not allowed to drive yet--and the roads are covered in ice.

     Yes, I live and often write about south Louisiana, but weather in the twenties and a sleet storm on Lundi Gras (the Monday before Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday) rank right up there with the highly unexpected.  Parades and other Mardi Gras activities had already been cancelled and thank heaven for that. Cajuns simply aren't equipped for black ice and slippery roads. I can only say the theme of my Mardi Gras books is "anything can happen on Mardi Gras day" in a city, small town or the country. If you can't get out, try reading Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, Mardi Gras Madness, or Courir de Mardi Gras.

     Lest you think I did no publicity while in rehab, you'd be wrong. As usual, my purse was stocked with book cards showing my covers and having blurbs and ordering information on the back.  I freely distributed these to nurses, LPNs, and patients, many of whom were readers with time on their hands during the long night shifts and endless hours alone.  I know one of them is now reading her way through the Sinners series which is greatly gratifying. So, you never know what the unexpected  will bring your way for better or worse. Just be prepared to roll with it.