Amber Foxx on Image and Brand

I hate having my picture taken. Head shot, that is. I’m happy to pose for yoga pics. I feel normal in a yoga pose. Especially if I don’t have to look at the photographer. I feel really unnatural smiling at a camera, and it shows. I get such strange facial expressions, I hope I never actually look like that. I told my hairdresser about this while I was getting a haircut after the head shot session (I read that one should never get a new haircut before a picture session), and she said, “I know. Whenever I have my picture taken, I look like a drunken chipmunk. People ask me, what does a drunken chipmunk look like? I tell them: my picture.”

Now that I think of it, that’s what most of my pictures look like too. Torn between hiding from the camera and trying to convince my face to smile, I end up with one eye closed and the other wide open, and my smile half-cocked. I like the hiding-in-a-cherry tree picture I’ve use on this blog for years. Half my face is in the flowers. We started out using mysterious pictures, but gradually new bloggers joined and the remaining founding members updated their pics. Much as I like Kwanzan double-blossom cherry trees, that picture—though it expresses my personality—may not fit my image and brand.  But what does? If I’m posing for a yoga shot, I should look like someone you’d want to take a yoga class with. How do I look like someone whose book you want to read?

My series covers are designed to appeal to both visionary fiction and mystery readers, and their image and brand is closer to the visionary fiction genre. That’s intentional. The cover has to convey the mystical aspect of the mystery and the characters’ inner journeys. If my covers looked like cozies or like traditional murder mysteries, I’d be off target. Does hiding in a cherry tree make me look as if I write cozies? Many of my readers also enjoy cozies, but that’s not my genre.

I’ll spare you all the noise that ran through my head while planning for the head shot and keep to two main decisions. One: Maturity is a desirable characteristic in a writer, so I didn’t try to look younger. Two: I dressed the role of myself, if that makes sense, by wearing a turquoise necklace with citrine points made by a local artist. Because that’s my brand. New Mexico. Mystical. Crystals and healing and psychic visions. Is anyone going to analyze all that? I doubt it. But it’s like the right yoga pose for the yoga poster. Readers don’t expect authors to look like fashion models, but they may infer a lot from a picture without consciously thinking about it.

And I hope it’s not “That chipmunk had a few too many!”

*****

Book One in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series, The Calling,  is free on all e-book retailers through Sept.23.

 

What Makes a Book Great?

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I just finished the seventh book in a seven book mystery series. I picked up the first because I loved the cover. Also because it had a good blurb and some good reviews and it was set in a little town in France that appealed to me, but mostly because it had a beautiful, tantalizing cover.

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I like to think this cover is just as captivating!

I bought the second book as soon as I’d finished the first, and kept going that way straight through book seven. As an author, I have to ask myself, why did I find this series so compelling?

There were several ways in which the writer didn’t follow the “rules” that writers are so often warned about.

She bounced around between points-of-view. For every book you read, there is one— or two or three or more—point-of-view characters. That’s the character through whose eyes you get the story. In a cozy, which this series was, that’s typically the amateur sleuth—the little old lady or librarian or divorcee or pet shop owner or knitting club president who can’t help but get involved and who solves the crime in the end.

Writer are always warned not to bounce around between points-of-view, and if you must have more than one point-of-view character, then change points of view between scenes, not within a scene. That’s how I do it when I write. Each of my stories is told partly from the point of view of Adam Kaminski, the hero, and also partly through the eyes of another important character. And sometimes through the eyes of the killer.

But this series jumped from one person to another to another to another all within the same scene. The writer used a striking combination of the omniscient point of view (when the reader hears all the thoughts of all the characters) and a second person point of view.

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It broke the rules and it was wonderful!

Other aspects of these stories could have irritated other readers. There were some editing errors. Not little typos, but pretty major issues such as a character not speaking French in one scene then speaking French in another (I actually thought that was a clue and it proved the character was lying about himself, but it turned out just to be an error!).

So why did I love these books so much?

The characters. The juicy, crazy, emotional, fascinating, sometimes twisted, sometimes bizarre characters that populate the little town in which the stories take place.

Though I should clarify, the town itself was one of those characters. A beautifully crafted and gorgeously described town in the south of France.

Focus groups and marketing studies are clearly important, but not something I can do within my budget. Instead, I base a lot of my decisions about my books on what I like or don’t like. And this series proved a few things I kind of already knew.

I will choose a book by its cover. And I will keep reading a book because of its characters.

What do you look for in the books that keep you reading?

Learn more about the Adam Kaminski mystery series by Jane Gorman at janegorman.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Guest – D.J. Adamson

18c9df8f-826a-4eda-93a2-fc844dea3118  The act of self-promotion. Getting Out There!

I worked in sales and marketing before deciding to self-publish. This background gave me the confidence to go forward. I’d trained many people to successfully sell and market. Combining what I knew before with what I know now, allows me to pass on some of the tips I’ve learned about selling and marketing my books.

At the beginning, I mimicked what others were doing.  I played with social media, went to conferences and networked, purchased promotional packages.  Did I have success?  Some. But nothing that put me on the Amazon’s  “most sales list” or matched Hugh Howie’s numbers.

As a past business person, I know a business needs to eventually run in the black. Maybe not the first year, but eventually.  So after two years, I pulled up my expenses and balanced them with my assets.  DEPRESSING.  Yet, instead of discouraging me, it has motivated me to do it all differently. Here is what I have found:

  1. I no longer go to conferences unless the attendees include readers as well as writers.  Writers don’t buy books. Or very few. I’m a reader and have an addiction for anything on paper.
  2. I go to conferences that are close by and don’t cost a flight and hotel to attend. One conference cost me two thousand dollars and I sold one book. I joined active association, like Sisters in Crime, National Women’s Book Association, SCBWI, Mystery Writers of America. I became active. If I wasn’t active, I generally found excuses not to go to the meetings. Kind of like having a gym membership.
  3. I remind myself that I am as good as my last book. I have received one award and was nominated for another. I have received 4+ stars on my novels. Many Goodreads people “Want to Read” my work. But, sales diminish after the book has been out there for a year. I need to produce one to two novels a year. And let me emphasis, Good Novels. That means, I need to be disciplined in my schedule, working on my writing at least four to six hours a day, and I spend about five hours a week on social networking and promoting.
  4. I used to work many social networks. Now, I am only on Facebook and Twitter. Trying to do it all meant I didn’t do any of it very well.  I also limit how much I promote my books, only doing so when I have a special promotion going on, revealing a new cover or mentioning a launch.  Don’t you thumb right past those twenty posts requesting, “Read My Book”?

I use social networking for networking, not marketing. I meet new people in the industry and by putting myself out there, I am received.

  1. I use my Kindle freebies only before I launch a new book.  I hold maybe one/two .99 cent promotions. I try to do a Goodreads giveaway once a month.  I offer two, sometimes three books.  I send them by camel.
  2. I use snail mail to keep others updated on my new work. I’ve found postal mail more beneficial than email. It takes nothing to hit the delete button on a computer. The person getting the postcard has to see what the card is about and who it’s from before giving it a toss in the trash basket.
  3. I set a dollar limit for promoting a book. If you look around, you’ll realize a whole industry has been developed to swallow author’s dollars, promising to get their books noticed. I have limited my promotional money to $500 a book. I know that sounds low, but I think I have sold more books in this past year than the two years combined. I advertise on free or low-cost sites. Amazon ads have been very successful, and the cost is low. Finding a way to get to readers or promote without spending a lot of money has become actually very fun. I had Fiverr.com create my book trailers. Go to my website http://www.djadamson.com to see for yourself. They aren’t bad. They are also on YouTube, and go figure this, the trailer of Outré has been seen by almost five thousand viewers. Did that turn into sales. Probably not. But five thousand people learned my name. Like a shampoos brand, Clairol. You may not buy it, but you recognize it as a shampoo.
  4. I put myself out there by creating a newsletter. Le Coeur de l’Artiste reviews books and interviews authors. I publish it monthly. It comes out, like any other deadlined project, on the 15th of every month. Sometimes not until midnight, but one minute before, I press the send button. The newsletter has not necessarily created sales, but it has branded my name a bit as a writer. Plus, I find a great satisfaction in promoting other authors.

Stephen King said in his work On Writing that to write you need to read a lot. You need to read what is good and what is bad. I read at least 5-6 books a month, just for the newsletter. I also try to read one or two books on promotion and craft.

  1. I began accumulating email addresses as soon as the newsletter idea came to me. So far, my Le Coeur de l’Artiste list is almost two thousand readers. I don’t promote myself in the newsletter, but it can be found on my website. I also offer it to many readers as a PDF. The newsletter has been so well accepted that I now have a blog, L’Artiste, that spends a little longer with an author and their work. I produce it three times a month. I also include others besides authors: musicians, scriptwriters, playwrights, etc. The blog emphasizes that getting the story out has many forms.
  2. There are great books out there by people offering promotional ideas. Read them all. Take an idea, put it on a card, then try it out. One idea at a time. If it doesn’t feel good to you or didn’t pan out, throw the card away and pick up another.  Don’t be bashful, ask others for their promote stories. I have rarely been told to “beat it.” In fact, I think it’s a writer’s responsibility to help other writers. We all know how defeatist we can feel when things aren’t going well.

I am not sure I was helpful to anyone reading this. I am merely sharing my experience so far. I want to write for a long time, which means I need to be sensible about what I do, both with time and money. It might also sound like my whole life is consumed behind my computer.  I still teach a full load of classes, grade papers, make dinner, clean house, and find the time to give my family a hug. Keeping to a schedule helps manage everything. Plus, I am my own boss when it comes to this publishing gig. If I want to take a day off, I do. I just don’t miss a deadline. Readers might fire me!

Putting yourself out there is the ultimate KEY to being SUCCESSFUL.  Please share with me your promotional stories, both the horror stories and those that gave you some success. You can reach me on Facebook, Twitter, or my Website. And don’t miss the latest issue of Le Coeur de l’Artiste.

me-3D. J. Adamson is the author of the Lillian Dove Mystery series and the Deviation science fiction-suspense trilogy.  Suppose, the second in the Lillian series has just been released.  She also teaches writing and literature at Los Angeles colleges. And to keep busy when she is not writing or teaching, she is the Membership Director of the Los Angeles Sisters in Crime, Vice President of Central Coast Sisters in Crime and an active member of the Southern California Mystery Writers. Her books can be found and purchased in bookstores and on Amazon. To find her, her blog L’Artiste, or her newsletter that interviews and reviews authors go to http://www.djadamson.com. Make friends with her on Facebook or Goodreads.

 

Life of a Saleswoman

I was the Girl Scout who sold the fewest cookies. When my school asked students to sell Christmas cards for its building fund, I knocked on all of two doors. I could dance, act or speak in public without a flutter of stage fright, but facing a neighbor at her front door and telling her I was selling something filled me with dread. I was sure I was bothering her.

Needless to say, as a young adult, I planned my career in performing arts, not sales. Then I moved to Virginia to be with a boyfriend and we broke up. There I was, with a degree in theatre and dance and no money to move again. I passed the state insurance exam and went to work for a company that sold supplemental disability policies for auto accidents. The job sounded stable and professional. I had no idea what I’d gotten into.

My boss assigned me to ride around out in the country to hamlets like Frog Level, being trained in door-to-door sales by a huge mustachioed man in a plaid suit. I wish I could use his real name, it was so funny—I’ll call him Don Duck, though. It’s close enough. He drove under the speed limit, his big belly up to the wheel, serene as a smiling Buddha, teaching me the Dharma of Selling. “Ask for the sale.” “Agree with their objections. You’ll break down those objections, but do it so they don’t notice.” “Get them to agree with you.” People would pass him on those two-lane roads, giving him the finger for his slowness, and he’d say cheerfully, “Must be in some kind of hurry.”

He seemed happy. Our boss, though, was tense and smarmy, proud of the twists and turns he could take to avoid paying when people got hurt. (“Did you walk to your mailbox to get your check?” “Yes.” “Great, glad you’re feeling better. That’s your last check.”) When a policy had to pay out, he would grumble, “Don never should have sold those people.” If I found selling those cards and cookies hard, imagine how tough it was for me to knock on doors for a manager like that. I quit.

My next job was with a lingerie company as a model and salesperson, part-time with no benefits. We did fashion shows of elegant nightgowns—and also teddies and corsets-with-garters and thigh-high hose. Nothing showed that wouldn’t show in a bathing suit, but the setting had a whole different mood than a beach: hotel bars. I learned to twirl on my toe while shedding a sheer peignoir down my back to reveal the teddy, looking over my shoulder, the peignoir hanging from one finger—hokey, but I was an actor and it was a role I could play. Mingling with the audience to pitch the products after the shows, I was great at shooting the breeze, making jokes that were just risqué enough while still being a lady, channeling Mae West into my far from West-like form. My boss said I could, in her words, “sell ice cubes to Eskimos.” Not true. I could sell lingerie in a bar while wearing it.

One of the customers at a show thought I had such sales skill he offered me a job with his office supply company. I needed benefits, so I took it. This was before online ordering, back when sales reps and middlemen were the norm. Discouraging is an understatement—I was driving around gritty industrial neighborhoods with my catalog of office supplies trying to get office managers to place orders with us when I knew full well our company had nothing to offer that was better than our competitors. Hello. Our product line is limited and our service is slower and more expensive. Please buy from us. I couldn’t sell those ice cubes anymore, and I could see where I’d be headed once I was off probation and on commission.

I thought my selling days were over when I got a theater job and worked for ten years as actor and choreographer. Then, in one of my periodic self-reinventions, I went back to college and got two more degrees and my various fitness certifications, and eventually opened my own yoga and personal training studio. What was I thinking? I had to market it.

It started off well. Word of mouth was good, and I gave away some great T-shirts. (This was in a small North Carolina town, so they said “Down Om Yoga” on the back.) People are funny about fitness and stress management, though. When they get stressed out and need it the most, they stop. I forgot the Dharma of Sales and didn’t ask them to commit, though it would have been good for their health as well as my bottom line. I agreed with their objections and stopped there. It was a sad day when I closed my studio. A friend in Norfolk tried to reassure me that I’d done the best I could in that location, saying, “If you’d had a truck wash and gun-cleaning service along with the yoga, you’d still be in business.” But I couldn’t help thinking that if I’d been a better salesperson, I could have kept the place alive.

As a college professor, I don’t have to sell my yoga classes anymore. I don’t have to market anything. My selling days could finally be over. But no—I’m a writer. Unless an author is with one of the big publishing houses and has a publicist who does the shameless commerce for her, she has to be her own marketing department. Except for my peculiar genius for selling sexy nighties in a bar, I haven’t been a stellar saleswoman in the past. Why is this so hard? I need to get back in the car with Don Duck …

“Agree with their objections.” He eases off the gas, taking a curve past a bait shop and gas station. “They say they never heard of you? Yep. It’s true. They’re in for a good surprise, though, and they can brag about discovering you. What else do they say?” Don grins and loosens his tie. “They’re afraid they might not like it. Lordy. I know the feeling. I read a book I didn’t like once, and it gave me a headache. I read some I thought I wouldn’t like, though, and man, they won me over—kept me reading all night. I especially like those e-books that only cost me as much as a latté. I kick myself when I spend that much on a fancy cup of coffee, but not a book. I get into a book and my wife keeps saying say, ‘Don, turn off the light,’ and I say, ‘One more chapter,’ and it’s two more, three more … I never had a damned latté keep me up that long. Coffee wore off in a few hours. A good book—that’s forever. And I liked some of those characters better than my wife.” He glances my way, popping a mint in his mouth. “You got that? Agree with their objections. But then meet them and ask for the sale.”

I shrink into my seat. “Oh, Don, I’m sure you’re right … But I can’t. I’d be bothering people.”

“What’s the matter with you? You’ve won awards, you’ve got good reviews …” He sighs, shaking his head. “If you won’t get out there and sell your books, you’ll just have to give ’em away.”

Ah. That, I can do.

Blog follower giveaway:

Two blog readers will win all four books in the Mae Martin Series in paperback. Here’s how to enter:

You don’t have long—just a few days—so do it now. Send an e-mail to ambfoxx@yahoo.com with the heading Blog Follower. Let me know which blog or blogs you follow (I have four*), and I’ll enter you in the give-away. I will reply confirming your entry. You can ask to subscribe to my new release mailing list at the same time if you want, but I will not automatically subscribe you. Fear no spam. It’s not coming.

On Monday Sept. 28th at 12:00 noon Eastern time, I’ll close the entries and put all the names in a virtual hat and have a colleague pull two out. I will contact the winners and ask for their mailing addresses, and contact the other entrants with only the first name and last initial and general location of the winners, no personal information, i.e. “Winners are Jane X in Saskatchewan and John Y in Florida.”

If you’re not familiar with my fiction, you can read the book descriptions on https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com and also try a free sample:

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/free-downloads-retail-links

*The four blogs are:

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com a blog about the mysteries of life and reviews of mysteries set in New Mexico.

https://everywhereindies.wordpress.com a blog dedicated to supporting and reviewing the work of indie authors who publish everywhere, not just Amazon. (It started as my Nook book shopping list and grew.)

http://ladiesofmystery.com a group blog with seven other women who write mysteries.

http://amberf.booklikes.com a book review blog covering everything I read, from yoga philosophy to cozy mysteries to literary fiction to thrillers and more.