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Archive for May, 2010

I often address various sized groups of people who are interested in hearing me speak about my memoir, Becoming Alice. They want to know what inspired me to write write my book, how long it took to complete, how I went about getting it published, etc. etc. Then the groups I address can be split in two, those who have read my book and those who haven’t. I leave the haven’t group on the back burner, hoping they will buy my book on the way out the door, and focus on the group that has read my book.

Depending on the interests of the group, I will speak about WWII and Hitler’s takeover of Vienna; I may speak about the immigrant years in Portland, Oregon and the position our little group of refugees found ourselves in; I might speak about the unique personalities of my family members and how that effected our assimilation. I most often give more backgraound material than is to be found in my book.

What interests me most is what happens when I end my discourse and open the meeting up for questions. Many are on the subjects I’ve mentioned. People want to share with me their own family histories, especially as they pertain to members who have personalities similar to those I wrote about. And finally, I always get questions about what happened next ?, what happened ever to your brother?, are you still friends with Trudy? and are you writing a sequal?

I thought about the second works of some very successful books and also about sequals to their memoirs. My experience has been that very often, these sequals are not so successful. One example is Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes which I thought was an excellent piece of writing. It was followed by ‘Tis which in my opinion was not equal to his first work. Oh, I think it sold a lot of copies, probably because people expected the same sort of reading experience. It wasn’t. How could it be? It was about an entirely different subject, lived by an adult and not by a little boy, and in a America and not Ireland.

So when people ask me about my next work, I tell them I am not writing a sequal. Actually the working title of what I’m currently writing is Episodes. They do take place in the period following the close of Becoming Alice but as happens in all sequals, most other variables are different. In my case you will be reading about a young American girl and her relationships with others, including men, and not a European refugee who feels like a fish out of water in her new culture.

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I have been fascinated by the approach most traditional publishers take to promote their authors. I have been led to believe that they normally do whatever they can for their new publications for six months. That is, they will advertise the newly published book in a variety of newspapers, journals, catalogs, etc. geared to both the reading public and to those who may eventually be interested in film rights, etc. They will also help authors get media attention, radio interviews, TV coverage, and reviews from the most highly regarded newspapers, journals, etc. etc. Of course, they expect these authors to get to work appearing at book signings, book clubs, social clubs … the works. I understand all of this, but what is a mystery to me is, why only promote for six months. I am told that these publishers get a good idea about how their product, namely “the book,” will do in the marketplace. All of this is geared to the amount of sales garnered by their product (the book.)

My question is, can you really make a decision about a book’s success or failure in six months. I am trying to compare this type of marketing to what any so-called self-published author experiences. Of course, we are limited in getting the same exposure … limited reviews, limited radio and TV coverage, limited placement in book stores, limited, limited, limited…

Yet, we struggle on and do what we can far longer than six months. Personally, I was just getting started speaking about Becoming Aliceand thrilled with every booking and invitation I had to address anyone, anywhere. Actually, for someone who is basically shy by nature, I found that I really enjoyed speaking about my early life and the writing and publishing process. I was so encouraged by anyone who told me they loved my book that I’ve kept on marketing since its publication.

Having started about three years ago with the first edition of Becoming Alice, well beyond the six months period, I am still appearing here and there as opportunities open up for me. I’ve branched out by exposing my book on the internet and having a bit of success there as well.

But then I may hit a lull and I tell myself, “Well, I guess it’s over. My book adventure has run its course.” I look at my sales statistics now and then and look forward to having more time to devote to my next writing project.

Lately, I leave myself a block of time to write but before doing so will glance at the stats, for no reason at all. What happens is amazing. They will have taken a jump up. I go back to marketing, never mind the new work. It’s almost as if something is keeping me in there whenever I decide to hang it up.

There must be a time when it will in fact “be over,” but I just don’t know, “when is that time?”

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I’ve often wondered when self-promotion becomes bragging. From all my reading about marketing, I have learned that promoting a product, whether it is a can of soup or the services of a realtor or a published book, is absolutely necessary in order to for sales to happen. So, a successful sef-promoter is entirely accepted by society and even to be admired for his accomplishments.

That being said, what if that promoter is the author of a book. I have learned that all publishing houses, whether they are small presses or the large ones in New York City, expect their authors to market their own books. Is it enough for that book to appear on Amazon.com? Is it enough for the author to tell eveyone he/she knows that they have written a book whose name is such and such?
Apparently not.

It seems that authors are to tell eveyone about why their particular book is different from all the other 500 or so books that are published daily … implying or stating how their book is better. Doesn’t that get into the area of bragging? Isn’t that like saying, “My book is better than yours?” or “I’m a better writer than you?” No wonder authors are such poor marketers.

When I was growing up, if my dad called someone a Hochstapler, it was said with disdain;it was a put-down, a derogatory trait. It is a German word meaning swindler or braggard. I think all of us in our culture look down on anyone who is a braggard. So, what are we authors to do?

This is what I do: I am always one hundred percent honest about Becoming Alice. If I’m at a cocktail party and someone mentions that I have written a book, I don’t just smile and agree. If they are interested, I may tell them why I wrote it and what it is about. I may reach for an hor d’eurve before answering any more questions they may have. If I’d finished the glass of wine I was holding, I might add that it had won a number of prizes in contests I’d entered. I’d draw the line at telling them how many books it has sold. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was a braggard.

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Facebook’s been caught sharing secret data with advertisers. What’s the sence of all those passwords, then? I’m thinking seriously of dropping out of FB.

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Dealing with Stress

I’ve been pretty proud of myself in recent years for being able to meet stress head on. Life just has a way of throwing things at you that very often you don’t like, and can’t do a thing about. It’s taken a long time but I finally got to the point where I trained myself to shrug my shoulders … oh, not that you can see me do it … but the concept was incorporated and I sort of digested the negative, told myself I couldn’t change the problem one iota, and then went on with my business. I was even so good at it that I was able to talk my husband out of the stress he was feeling.

It wasn’t that I got to this point without going through lots of pain. I started out by dealing with stress, such as emotional upsets, disappointments, and direct attacks from loved ones, by sitting down and crying. Then one day, my husband said, “How can we work this thing out id you’re just sitting there crying?” It made me stop and think. He was right. Crying didn’t change anything. But imagine how powerful it is when you take the blows that come your way without even wincing. It was on the day that my husband challenged my crying that I decided never to cry again. I trained myself to do that. It can be done.

So, of late I have been able to digest stress of most every kind pretty well. Until a few days ago … and it has been over the most ridiculous thing in the world. You see, we are in the process of trying to sell our house. First, I stressed over the fact that nobody came to even look at our house. I knew the real estate market was bad, but I thought perhaps there might be some people who looked at houses on the weekend as their entertainment when they had nothing better to do. No! We didn’t even have anyone look at our house. Nor did we have anyone pronounce that they did not like the style, it was overpriced, or the bedrooms were too small.

O.K. I said to myself. I began to work on the stress by getting ready to deal with not selling our house altogether. We could always rent it out. My stress level went down.

Then, last weekend we had a couple look at our house who really liked it … a lot. Hallelujah! Stress level went down. Two days went by and we heard nothing. Stress level went up. Then we got an offer. Stress level down. The offer was much too low. Stress level up. We counter offered. No answer yet. Stress level is still up.

I’m trying to work with myself and my stress level. Somehow I can’t seem to get my mind off this thing and get on with all the other things I should be doing. This house sale keeps jumping back into my mind.

Maybe I’m not such a hot shot after all when it comes to dealing with stress. I think I’ll take an Ambien tonight so that I can get a good night’s sleep.

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Most people don’t really do a lot of thinking about themselves. They’re so busy trying to figure out everybody that comes their way that they have little time left to spend on understanding themselves. I think a lot of that happens because we guard ourselves against being taken advantage of, or emotionally hurt. It leaves us little time to study others before we let them into our lives.

The only other time people really take a good look at themselves is when they are unhappy or pained by their own personality. These are people who are social misfits or have severe emotional problems which need psychiatric help.

For me, writing my memoir helped me understand myself better. I looked at my early life with a magnifying glass as if I were a stranger. they were the years in which I felt myself (and was)an “ousider.” As a refugee from another culture I did not fit into my new American life. When I finished writing my book, I wanted to entitle it “The Outsider.” The title was unavailable; it had already been used by almost two dozen other authors whose books were listed on Amazon. That’s okey, the title “Becoming Alice” fits my story.

I’m still an outsider, except not a hard liner. I’ve softened a bit, but basically I still don’t fit into either a round or a square peg. I have trouble belonging to any groups or clubs that have an agenda. My beliefs are not exactly black and white. I often see things in gray and can be persuaded to change my thinking if the siuation calls for it. My friends are of all different persuasions.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be just like everybody else. I wanted to be an “insider,” that is just like all the kids at my school. I wanted to be an Italian Catholic. As fate would have it, I was Jewish refugee. I could never have been anything like an Italian Catholic. I went on to try to fit into my Jewish culture. Again I couldn’t become an insider in that group. I wasn’t an American Jew; I was an austrian Jew whose experiences were completely different from any Jewish kid in this country. I couldn’t feel like an insider there either. As time went on I formed my own opinions my own political philosophy, ideas on gay/lesbian marriage, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how much to pay for taxes and charity … etc., etc. Still, if I fit with one group, I clash with another.

It is nice to be at the stage in my life now when I no longer need to be an “insider.” I am perfectly happy to jump from one group to another, being accepted by them as an insider … for only as long as I choose.

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It is quite remarkable what people think of when they come across the word relationships.That word is one of the tags which is associated with my memoir, Becoming Alice among a number of other tags, such as wwii, memoir, young adult, etc.

These tags are used by readers to find books in which they have an interest. Some of the tags are a little off for my book. For example, wwii has a lot of books which deal with the military and the battles that took place. But the category also includes the Story of Anne Frank, a perfect fit. Her story is about the war through the eyes of a teenager; mine is through the eyes of a very young child followed by her teenage years.

The tag that is a complete misfit for my memoir is the one titled relationships. One of the first lessons I learned from a writing class I took many years ago, was that good books had to hit the mark with realtionships. The reader has to be able to see the characters as real. Even better would be for them to be able to identify themselves or with someone they know. These relationships could be between married couples, between father and daughter or son, between mother and daughter or son, between sisters, between brothers, between boss and employee, between friends, or enemies. The list is endless.

But when I go to the category of relationships on Amazon and l look at the books that are included there, I see almost exclusively books about the male and female relationship, whether it be in a marriage or not. There are books about dating, about how to “get” a man, or woman, about how to deal with a cheating partner, about gay/lesbian relationships, and so on. And then there is my Becoming Aliceway down on the list. What is poor little “Alice” doing there? It is a book that deals heavily in the husband/wife, father/son, father/daughter, mother/son, mother/daughter, brother/sister relationships along with each one of their abilities to form relationships with people outside their family. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the aunt and uncle who had the most outrageous relationship of all.

I hope Amazon gets it right one of these days.

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