Monday, April 25, 2016

Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide

by Fauzia Burke
Berrett-Koehler     2016
150 pages     Nonfiction

 There has never been a better time for authors to get the word out about their books. Online marketing reaches into nearly every Facebook page and Twitter account. But online marketing can be confusing, frustrating, and time consuming for authors who don't have time, or interest in promoting themselves beyond a book tour and a few television talk shows.  

Fauzia Burke runs FSB Associates, a marketing firm for authors, and in this brief and to the point book, Online Marketing for Busy Authors, she offers advice for authors who are realizing that online marketing is the best way to get the word out about their books.

As a blogger, I have been aware of the steps that Burke outlines, but in her book, I was able to equate the process with my experience with authors I have encountered. I have seen authors who are good marketers and authors who ignore the whole process. One local author, Bonnie Jo Campbell, has a terrific Facebook presence, and for her spring book tour, she took a large cardboard cutout of the author Flannery O'Conner with her everywhere. Flannery showed up at every reading, and Bonnie Jo recorded every visit on Facebook. Another author, Brad Parks, has a newsletter that comes to me because I am on his mailing list. His newsletter is written by his "interns." The interns are constantly doing stupid stuff, and it is all very funny—that is his brand. 

Burke takes the scariness out of marketing. She acknowledges that the most important component of marketing for authors is to know who their readers are and come up with a plan to market to them. Burke calls this building a brand and creating a community.

Burke divides her book into three parts: getting organized; turning thinking into action; and staying the course. Publishers, of course, do a lot of community building for books, but much of the work that needs to be done has to be done by the authors themselves. She assures authors, however, that they don't have to do everything—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, website, mailing lists, or blogs, but she recommends that authors pick some of these online tools and stay with them. She advises all authors to have a website. The author has total control over his/her website. It is the author's chief online presence. She does recommend hiring a digital marketing advisor to help with the creation of the brand and the design of the website.

I am not an author—I am a blogger—but I learned a great deal from reading Online Marketing for Busy Authors. My time has been very limited, but I realized, as I read, that there is more that I can do to promote myself and my blog. 

Online Marketing for Busy Authors is a must read for anyone who has written a book or is interested in writing a book. Burke's company, FSB Associates, frequently sends me books to review on my blog, and I have enjoyed a good relationship with them for several years. 

Here is advice from Burke on the Book Designer website.  

Saturday, April 23, 2016

My Life on the Road

by Gloria Steinem
Random House  2015
278 pages     Memoir

Gloria Steinem's memoir My Life on the Road begs to be discussed. It is one thing to read the book on your own but it is totally another thing to read it in a book club of opinionated women. Especially women with the age diversity of my club (the youngest is 32 and the oldest is 73.) We are having babies and grandbabies, starting careers and retiring all at the same time. 

The reviewer in the Washington Post calls this iconic woman's memoir "a travel diary of the women's movement." The reviewer also says that Steinem is relentless in promoting what she believes in, and this is probably the case, but the book is also a testimony of a brilliant and incredibly curious woman, who finds interest in nearly everything she witnesses and every life she touches. She keeps moving, she keeps asking questions, and she keeps listening.

Who else could write such an engaging chapter about taxi drivers and how every time you enter a taxi cab, you are entering a unique world with a unique driver with a unique point of view? Who else could go from college campus to college campus and continue to be inspired and motivated visit after visit? Who else could weigh her options when considering whether to support Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton? Who else could have kept close to African American and Native American feminists for so many years?  Who else could still be public speaking into her 80s? 

Steinem's father was an itinerant salesman, and in the first section of the book, Steinem acknowledges that influence as she began her life on the road. Apparently she has settled down in a home now, but for most of her adult life, she was on the road. The amazing thing is that she remembered so many incidents from her life. Is she a name-dropper? Most certainly. But it isn't just aimless namedropping; Steinem has a message to deliver from every encounter; something she learned from each celebrity or politician or taxi driver, indicating that she is not overcome by celebrity.

Believe me, our book club discussion could have gone on for hours. We each had stories to tell about inequality or injustice or slights or harassment. Most of us are, or were, educators, and we are grateful that we were able to have fulfilling careers without having to deal with income inequality. The teacher's union took care of that for us. One of the young women told about a beautiful clerk in the store her husband manages.constantly harassed by a middle-aged male customer. She told the store manager to not say anything to the customer because he buys a lot of stuff and she needs the sales. Another woman told about a principal who only hired young, pretty teachers. We all talked about abortion legislation, unequal pay, lack of respect, and all the other issues that still plague women.

As I said at the beginning, share and discuss My Life on the Road. If you read it, and I highly recommend that you do, find someone to share a discussion with. Steinem loves to deal with issues in what she calls "talking circles" in which people feel secure to say things that they might not share in large gatherings. Find a talking circle to share this meaningful book by a great woman.

An excellent review in the New York Times.

By the way, a new biography of Helen Gurley Brown, called Enter Helen by Brooke Hauser, comes out this week. Here is another side of the feminist story. There was an excellent review of Enter Helen in the Wall Street Journal today. The book is on my Kindle, but I haven't gotten to it yet.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Excellent Lombards

by Jane Hamilton
Grand Central     2016
273 pages     Literary Fiction/YA

The Excellent Lombards is, as my father would say, "a keeper." It has been several months since I have read a book that I enjoyed as much as this delightful and insightful coming of age story by Jane Hamilton.  

 Mary Francis Lombard of The Excellent Lombards,  moves from childhood through high school on a Wisconsin apple farm, Hamilton's home turf. The book begins in the mid-1990s and ends when Mary Francis is in high school in the early 2000s. Her father, Jim, farms a large family farm with his cousin, and her world includes all the various and sundry interesting personalities that make up a farming community. One detail I loved was that Mary Francis—Frankie--or MF as she chooses to be called in high school--is also the daughter of the community's librarian. Hamilton has the acerbic wit and intelligence of a librarian down pat in her characterization of Nellie, Frankie's mother. 

The plot, if there is one, never leaves the family farm but focuses entirely on Mary Francis' love of her family, love of the farm, and her observations about the people who populate her universe. Her curiosity and intelligence gets her into trouble, but Hamilton has incredible insight into the workings of a young girl's mind, and the reader is amazed and amused at her intrigues. There certainly are allusions to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I think Scout and Mary Francis would have been good friends.

Mary Francis loves the farm passionately, and she believes that she will take over the running of the farm when she grows up—but only after she marries her brother William, who is one year older than her. Slowly, as she grows, she reluctantly comes to the realization that of course, she can't marry her brother, but also she may not be the one to carry on the farming tradition. She is suspicious of every person who may be an interloper and take the farm away from her. William, for sure, is not going to farm with her. In one clever scene, the family gets its first computer. William plugs it in, and "in the glow of the soft grey light he clicked on the mouse, and down, down he fell into the infinite world."

I related to this book on many levels—my own childhood visiting the family farm, watching my daughter and granddaughters mature and change their life's focus, and now watching my 4-year-old granddaughter relate to her 3-year-old brother with a relationship much like Mary Francis and William. Growing up is both joyous and painful; life is a mystery that must be solved; and growth comes from watching and emulating the people who surround you. One reviewer called Mary Francis' eyes "omnivorous." 

The humor is so spontaneous and yet so well conceived. I had a good laugh over the introduction of honey crisp apples on the farm. I live in the fruit belt of Michigan, and the introduction of honey crisp apples was a huge deal around here—must have been in Wisconsin as well. And then, I had to stop and read my husband the passage about a family Euchre game—Euchre being a Midwest card game I first learned from my Indiana farmer in-laws. Father Jim plays Euchre just like my husband does, needing instruction every time he sits down to play.

The Kirkus review says of the book: "Richly characterized, beautifully written, and heartbreakingly poignant—another winner from this talented and popular author." The book comes out on Tuesday, April 19. 

Jane Hamilton is the author of several other books and the winner of many awards. I highly recommend The Excellent Lombards and would agree with other reviewers that it is appropriate for young adult readers as well. I will be giving my copy to my 15-year-old granddaughters. 

I loved this book so much. It is hard to give it up and publish this blog posting!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pound for Pound

by Shannon Kopp
William Morrow     2015
273 pages     Memoir
The Shortlist

Shannon Kopp is a recovering bulimic, who found purpose for her life befriending and nurturing dogs in animal shelters. Her story is told as a string of memories and incidents, and slowly we begin to understand the depth of her despair. Her father is an alcoholic, and Shannon spent many years being very angry at him. Additionally, body image problems made her teenage years miserable and she spent time in a live-in rehab center and many hours in support group meetings for eating disorders. 

Pound for Pound focuses primarily on the pain in Shannon's life that led her to punish her body with binging and purging, the months in recovery, and the faithfulness of her boyfriend (now husband). The other, and probably more impressive focus, is on the power of pets to heal broken people. Shannon found a job at the San Diego Animal Shelter, and it was here that she began to find herself and her calling. This led her to a writing class, which led her to writing this memoir.

While Pound for Pound is an inspiring story, the writing is a bit choppy. If you are able to look past that aspect of the book, Shannon Kopp shares a lovely message of hope and redemption, for both broken people and the pets who save them.

The review in Kirkus Reviews.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Girl from Home: A Thriller

by Adam Mitzner
Gallery Books    2016
324 pages     Thriller

Well, it's official. I have read more books by Adam Mitzner than any other author since I started blogging. A Conflict of Interest, A Case of Redemption, and Losing Faith all preceded The Girl from Home, which I finished reading yesterday. All four are good reads, but I believe that I enjoyed A Case of Redemption the most. In all his novels, Mitzner uses his understanding of criminal law in intriguing ways, mixing it with suspense to both ground the plot and show how the legal system works.

Jonathan Caine is a hedge fund manager, whose motto is "I want what I want," and frankly such a motto leads to an unlikeable character, which Jonathan remains throughout most of the book. Mitzner gives us an inside look into how a man like Jonathan lives, with a trophy wife, a penthouse condo, expensive meals, summer rentals, and a Bentley, which he reminds us frequently, is a lease. This is a lifestyle that few of Mitzner's readers have much experience with, although we get glimmers of it in the Trump political campaign. 

Jonathan makes some missteps with the funds he is managing, and he is fired by his company. His assets are frozen, his wife files for divorce, and his widowed father in New Jersey is dying. All in the span of a week or two—all in the first quarter of the book. Jonathan goes to his home town to care for his father, and decides to stay in his family home, since he has no job, no wife, and no money. 

At a high school reunion, he runs into Jackie, his high school crush, who is still as beautiful as she was as a teenager. Jackie, however, has a back story with as much baggage as Jonathan—an abusive husband and two teenagers. Both are vulnerable, and they quickly hook up for what Jonathan thinks will be a fling while he is in town. When Jackie's husband finds out about the affair, however, the narrative takes a dangerous turn. In her own way, Jackie is as self-indulgent as Jonathan. Can these two ever engage in a meaningful relationship?

I didn't like either Jonathan or Jackie very much through most of the book. I warmed to Jonathan during an intimate scene with his father when, shortly before his death, Jonathan's dad woke to have a father-son conversation that was very heart rending and affirming at the same time. Jackie's warmth remains elusive, and I never did find a way to identify with her. It could be that I am more forgiving of flawed male characters than I am of flawed female characters.

Mitzner shines when he is talking legal process, and the two lawyers who help Jonathan and Jackie are great guys who offer sound advice to both of the accused.  Although the cover calls this a thriller, the only thrill I got was when I realized how Jonathan and Jackie got away with murder. Mostly, it is a psychological study of an ill-fated romance.

The biggest thrill in this book is the author. It is hard to believe that a lawyer with a full time job and a family still has the time to turn out a book a year! The value of The Girl from Home for me is the author's discussion of the accumulation of wealth and the hollowness of the philosophy of "I want what I want." One revealing conversation between Jonathan and his wife Natasha early in the book gave me pause. 

"After a moment, in which she looks as if she's measuring her words, Natasha says, "Jonathan, someday you'll see that you can't always get exactly what you want" He raises his head and looks at her as if she's just uttered the worst form of blasphemy he can imagine. "Of course, I can, Natasha. I have for my entire life, and I have no intention of stopping now."

The Girl from Home was released yesterday. It's available for your spring break!

Adam Mitzner's home page.