Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Zen Marketing: One Mindful Step at a Time Without Attachment to Results

When I made the decision to self-publish and self-promote Decrescendo, I bought some do-it-yourself books and signed up for several relevant on-line newsletters. My list of feasible marketing ideas grew steadily. Launching the book and the initial publicity felt exactly like attracting an audience for one of my husband Bill's homegrown theatrical efforts, and I was comfortable with those details. My first priority, however was putting in place the building blocks of Internet marketing. All of that was new to me, but I had good help. I could then use those avenues to publicize the highly successful Book Launch.

Now I’m focused on doing the promotional work that would be done readily by an established publishing firm. In this current market all but the most famous authors are expected to be heavily involved in promoting their own work. However, the publicist assigned to them has the virtual Rolodex with current names, phone numbers and email addresses that can smooth the way. They know who does the booking for Ellen DeGeneres or Diane Rehm and which publications are most likely to review particular genres or subjects. I invest a little time each day in Internet searches trying to build my own A-list of contacts.  For the outreach I have done thus far, I prepared all the supportive materials, wrote the cover letter and, if called for, a press release. Then I wrapped the package and took it to the post office.

There are book publicists for hire but my limited budget will stretch further if I do the work myself. CreateSpace (the print-on-demand service we are using) sells promotion packages but I had the same kind of publicity materials printed locally at half the price. The other Rolodex-type services they offer are just too expensive. So for now at least, I’ll continue to be the one-person-band touting Decrescendo.

A happy and helpful surprise in this endeavor has been the steady stream of emails, letters, phone calls and Facebook messages that validate my belief in the worth of my story. It is clear that people are not just buying the book, they are reading it and then buying additional copies to give for Christmas gifts.

I do a lot of thinking at first light, especially if the room is cold and the down comforter is warm. I ponder how I can give Decrescendo national visibility from my mountain home, a long way from anywhere. Early on my daughter-in-law said, “You haven’t gone viral with your book until the (TV) networks call.” If that happens, fine, but I’m more focused on watering and fertilizing the grapevines I am finding. No matter how much I ponder, the answer is always the same: I say to myself, “You can only do one thing at a time, one day at a time.” Then I throw back the covers, sit up, ease my feet into warm wooly slippers and say as Bill did most mornings in his last few years, “It’s time to make the donuts.”

Friday, November 26, 2010

Counting Blessings and New Ways to Fix Cranberries

 A note to regular visitors to the Decrescendo Memoir Blog: Preparation for and the celebration of Thanksgiving put me totally off schedule. Unrelated to that, I have decided to shift to Tuesday for New Posts after this special holiday posting.

Thanksgiving weekend was the most celebrated time of the year for Bill and me. At our wedding on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1953, Bill suggested that we forget about the date (November 28) and always celebrate on the Saturday after the holiday. His rationale was that Saturday was a better celebrating day than other days in the week and it was also easier to remember. That was very typical Bill Dreyer logic and it was OK with me. During the family years it was something of a reward for all the work of preparing a feast on Thursday. In later years we often packaged the two things together into a trip.

Since his death, this particular weekend has been the nadir of grief for me. Even last year I still had those strange grief stalks (I picked up that term from a poem on the subject): those moments when out of the blue the loneliness of forever wells up in sobs or tears down the cheek or the feeling of emptiness in the solar plexus. I don’t think it will happen this year. Thanksgiving was a lovely day with seven of the family together in my little house. Before, during and after a splendid meal and there was equally splendid conversation: serious, silly, philosophical, and a good dollop of storytelling. We had all the traditional things plus goat Brie with cranberry and shallot jam in a gluten-free puff pastry and dried cranberries marinated for a long time in port.

The weekend ahead is free of obligation and outside it is blustery and raining with more of the same in the forecast. There is no lure for me in “Black Friday” sales and both a new crossword puzzle and a good book await. Nigel, my dog friend, is obviously worn out from all the company and the long walk that he shared with some younger members of the family. So I will abide in this glow of gratitude and trust that this anniversary will be a happy one. Maybe I’ll skip “All Things Considered” and other news outlets over the weekend, just to stretch the mellowness a while longer.

I have a sense of accomplishment that came from the decision to go ahead and publish Decrescendo. The feedback I have been getting indicates that readers are enjoying the book and many have sent notes of thanks indicating that they had been thinking about, or discussing with their life companions, the subject of caregiving. I am delighted about the conversations but equally pleased that people are finding it a “good read.”  It is an unexpected blessing to hear from people (some I know; some I don’t) thanking me for writing the book.

A child of the Depression, I was raised with regular admonitions from my mother to “count your blessings.” I thank her for having developed that habit in me. I generally use it to get myself out of moments of frustration or low spirits. But Thanksgiving bids us to count our blessings right in the middle of moments of joy. My list this year was longer than usual.

In the middle of December, I’ll be going south for three months, but it won’t affect the postings. My Mac-mini goes with me. So I’m ordering priorities for my on-going book marketing and making the list for things to do while I am, as the British say, out of station. In the small town where we’ll spend the winter, there is a fine dog park. There are comfortable chairs and benches for the dog owners, who are known by the names of their dogs. People greet me by saying, “Here comes Nigel.” I’m thinking about doing a book reading at the dog park one warm, sunny day. I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Up, Up and Away in Its Beautiful Balloon

Decrescendo has been officially launched and celebrated. About 85 people gathered for the occasion at the Celo Inn, just a mile from my North Carolina mountain home on November 14. For the past 25 years the Inn dining room has been the venue for plays Bill directed, music events sponsored by my son Robin and Dreyer family events such as birthdays and weddings. The bedrooms have housed dozen of Dreyer guests. It was the perfect place to give my book its wings.

Book launches are usually held in bookstores, but this do-it-yourself project doesn’t have any rules and I’m making it up as I go along. Usually it is just the author that reads from the book, but I’m definitely old and have limited energy and a propensity to cough if I push my voice. So I enlisted my son (who often performed in shows directed by his father) and a friend who is an actress to join me. We read a sampling of stories from various parts of the book that together gave a picture of what people can expect when they read it.

Looking out at the sea of dear faces as I perched on a stool and listened to the others read my words, I felt content that my memoir was getting the perfect launch. Now it is my task to figure out how to spread the word beyond Yancey and Mitchell counties in North Carolina and help Decrescendo find readers everywhere.

After the readings were finished, I told the room full of friends and acquaintances and even a few strangers that if they liked my book, I hoped they’d be my grapevine and help me spread the word by writing a reader review on Amazon or putting a note on Facebook.  I also suggested there might be other places where they could spread the word: if they are using other blogs or websites of groups that might have some affinity for the book, they could post a notice there.

Then a few of my close friends served hot cider and ginger snaps and I signed books accompanied by the happy rumble of conversations all around the room.

Here’s the thing that sustains me as I follow this unorthodox marketing plan, I believe in this book. For starters, Bill and I lived an unusual life and it made a good story. But there’s more.

The year we were married, we read a book called “Consent”. I don’t remember the author or even much about it, except that it was a gift from my mother. The title referred to consenting to life. In another generation or so it would be called “going with the flow”. But that little book was really more directed at the life of the spirit. It said the words Bill was ready to hear and for years he made reference to it when we made decisions.

As Bill attempted to consent to life, to accept what came along, our four parents wondered where our security would come from and when we would settle down. Actually I wondered that as well, but it didn’t matter much because I was happy most of the time. For Bill there was this funny mix of wanting to control all the micro decisions and being willing to consent to life on the macro side. Things worked out for us in part because Bill could not stand to be in debt, was a hardcore saver, and was willing to take lots of extra part time jobs to make ends meet. Fortunately, he had a wide range of marketable, although eccentric, skills.

The day in 1979 when Bill was diagnosed with aortic insufficiency he knew the circumstances of his life were changing radically. He approached the news with a mixture of incredulity and the (by then) reflexive response of consent and acceptance. Now self-publishing with homegrown marketing is the way that has opened for me, and I have consented to it. Bill would be pleased.

The other part of believing in my book is that while I don’t have all the answers, through stories and ruminations I have raised some questions that follow as the vitality of a partner wanes and the relationship is tested. If both partners can reaffirm their relationship I believe that those bonds will be strengthened. I hope Decrescendo will be a conversation starter for those who read it. Maybe some of that conversation might happen right here.

Meanwhile, the balloon carrying my book out into the world is aloft.

Monday, November 8, 2010

To Market, To Market: To Find the Right Grapevines

Before you begin to market a book you need to know who your potential reader is. That’s also a basic principle of communication theory, knowing your audience or your individual listener. The next task is to clear away anything that leads to a loss of information in your transmitted message (called entropy).

I have been trying to figure out a way to deal with the enormous amount of entropy in the Facebook model, as I’ve been using it as a vehicle for fostering an interest in Decrescendo. I am not sure it is the right medium to reach the readers for this particular memoir. I find Facebook so ephemeral and truncated that it’s an unsatisfying form of communication. I’m devoted to conversation and the ideal setting is two or more people speaking and listening to each other, probing for clarity and different perspectives.

Facebook is certainly a medium for the young and young-at-heart, although I have found some peers there and have asked them to be my friends. I do understand that it is recreational and fun and can be an organizing tool, but it seems an unlikely place for the exploration of ideas.

I think of my book as a conversation with the readers as I am telling my story. They were with me as I wrote and I hope I am with them as they read. I believe that the potential readers of this book fall into two main categories: those who know me or knew Bill and are disposed to be interested in our life, and people who have already been caregivers or realize that caregiving may part of their future. They know there are lessons to be learned; ideas to be challenged; or understanding that can be achieved long before the need clearly arises. They may even be looking for a book like mine, just as I looked in the years when I was trying to figure out the conundrums of caring for a beloved. In addition, I wanted Decrescendo to be a good read for anyone and to that end filled it with stories along with my thoughts and commentary. I am happy to report that younger people tell me they like it because it is a love story. Others have liked a glimpse of working in the theater, living in Guatemala or traveling to India.

So my task as I go to the marketplace in search of likely readers is to engage grapevines wherever I find them so that word of mouth will reach the ears or the eyes of those who want to or need to join this conversation. But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Facebook. Afterall, I started my journey with self-publishing using the image of a message tied to a helium balloon; I’m not going to turn my back on the ultimate launch site for airborne messages.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On Being Edited: Not for the Faint of Heart.

Adrienne celebrated a significant birthday at the helm of a boat; that’s not surprising, she is a take-charge kind of person. She’s a writer, editor, gardener and a member of her county planning commission. For many years, she worked at The Washington Post and, among other things, wrote a column on gardening. She is married to author Joel Garreau and is Executive Director of The Garreau Group. Adrienne is also the third child of my oldest brother Don and kept me on course for two years as my editor.

Just after I started work on my book, I had dinner with her in Washington and told her about the project. With considerable enthusiasm she offered to take a look at it when I was finished. I sent her my first fledgling effort to read before I visited on Mother’s Day weekend in 2006. By then I had asked a number of my friends to read the draft and already had a sense that I was way off the mark. Adrienne confirmed their opinions with some excellent specific suggestions about changing my approach, and I went to work.

Everything I had read or been told in workshops supported hiring your own editor. I trusted Adrienne and asked her to work with me, even though I was concerned about whether she could be objective, given that I’m her aunt. I also wondered if she would be just as tough with me as she would be with anyone else. I needn’t have worried. 

Once the second draft was finished, she invited me to spend time with her in Rhode Island, where she and Joel have a summer home. There we could soften the impact of her opinions with walks on the beach. After assuring me that I had a book, she proceeded to confuse me by rattling off, in rapid, punchy sentences, a catalog of items to reconsider. When I asked her how she could say it was a book when she found so much to criticize, she answered that she liked the way I write and knew that I had a good story. I took notes as she went through my woeful manuscript and ranted about showing, not telling. She peppered me with questions I needed to ask myself and answer for the reader.

For the next year, I worked away on another total revision, one chapter at a time. I emailed my work to Adrienne and she edited it, using the Track Changes feature of Word. Periodically we had an hour-long phone conversation digging deeply into the substance of a chapter or picking apart a little section that was troubling me. In those consultations, she probed with her questions and then told me I had good stuff to work with and reminded me that I had five senses I could call on for descriptions.

We talked often about structure. I never really deviated from the original plan that I had for the second part of the book, but the first half went through several revisions before it began to work the way I wanted it to. As editor, Adrienne did not suggest any of those iterations, but she did nudge me in the general direction by the questions she asked. For example, one phone conversation was entirely about why Bill and I had moved to Celo, none of which was in the book. At the end of the hour, she said that she thought the readers would need that story. I decided to write a new chapter. It was a good way of working for me, because this is a very personal book and I needed to feel that I was always in control of both the tone and the narrative. I didn’t want a ghostwriter; I wanted a coach to help me move from a lifetime of journalistic writing to this very different style.

I would ship off a revised chapter by email and wait eagerly for her comments, which appeared in blue or green or red. When it came, I printed it out on recycled manuscript pages. Here are some samples of what awaited me in those Crayola-colored comments.
“Sure you want to stick with this cliché?”
 “This passage needs rewriting to make it more lively, less didactic.”
“Very flat, dry writing—can you put some life into it?”
 “This begs explanation. Are you sure you want to go there?”
 “Totally extraneous and obvious statement.”
“Explain why you put up with this behavior.”
And my favorite, “…so he could hold two church organist jobs at the same time; wow, living on the edge.” (That story did not survive.)

Adrienne was also quick to praise passages she thought were working well or rewrites that brought the material to life. As time went on, there was more and more plain old black and white and less Technicolor, fewer sentences to clarify or narrative knots to untie.

In 2008 I made one more trip to her Virginia home. My daughter-in-law Tammy went along to drive me and helped Adrienne in her garden while I made notes about our discussions of what was now called Decrescendo. I felt I was ready to work on my own, but I wanted to know that we were in agreement. At the conclusion of the visit, Adrienne gave me a daunting task. “Now, it’s time for you to go through the book line by line and make sure that every sentence sings.” It was another year before I felt I was done. I was my own copy editor, checking all sorts of things (punctuation, accuracy, spelling, syntax, flow) all the while listening for the music.

I sent an occasional email to Adrienne with perhaps a paragraph or a sentence I wanted her to see, and we had a few more phone conversations. Meanwhile I had rewritten some parts of the book, rearranged others and cut things that slowed the pace. It wasn’t hard to keep both Adrienne’s voice and her laugh in my ear. When I emailed her that Decrescendo was completed, she responded with a message of praise and congratulations, which ended with this thought. “Would it be more complete with polishing? Well, you be the judge—complete is finite, isn’t it? It would be, simply, more polished. But even that is not something that should delay its publication nor weigh you down—I doubt there’s a writer living or dead who did not feel that his or her work could use greater luster.”

And did I mention that she is a fabulous cook, and promptly at 5:00 PM everything else stops and meal preparation begins. Local food, some of it as local as her backyard beds and well polished family recipes make for nightly feasts.