Category Archives: self-publishing

Book Marketing Independently

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Happy 4th of July from LA! — Photo Credit Kevin H. on Visual Hunt

Happy INDEPENDENCE DAY, a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, as well as the anniversary of when I started this blog on July 4th, 2011– before I had “indie” (i.e. self-) published my book, The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published. I recently updated the book for 2018 so if you’re interested, please note that on Amazon the updated cover has a little blue triangle in the upper right-hand corner that says, “25 Book Marketing Ideas A-Z.”

To share both this day of independence along with the anniversary of my blog, I’m going to give you some book marketing ideas, one for each letter in I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-C-E   D-A-Y.  I know that leaves out a lot of letters. Guess you’ll just have to check out the book on Amazon or Kindle to find out what they are!

Now, let’s go, starting with I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-C-E   

I is for Instagram — a photo and video-sharing site owned by Facebook which now has over 800 million users. Posts can be public or shared with specified others. People with services or products (like books) to sell are finding ways to do it here. Always do your homework and read all about it first. The same goes for all marketing tips.

N is for Networking – joining and attending groups, lectures, workshops, and seminars, where you’ll meet other indie authors involved in book marketing, can be energizing and inspiring and a much faster way to get new ideas and learn more about all things DIY.

D is for Discoverability – This has become an important term in the book-marketing field. How can anyone buy your book if they don’t know it exists? You have to find ways you can do-it-yourself that get you noticed. There is so much online and on YouTube about book marketing that it’s quite overwhelming. Just look!

E is for Elevator Pitch – Memorize a 10 or 15-second pitch about your book, what it’s about and how it helps and benefits the reader — just in case anybody asks you what you’re up to.  Search online for “elevator pitch” for plenty of good tips.

P is for Pinterest – Another “hot” social media site. Users can search, upload,, sort, and manage images—known as “pins”—and then save them on their “boards.” Think of a topic and there’s a Pinterest board about it! With a “business account” (also free) users can  promote their products (such as books). One cool thing is you can link a pin about your book to your Amazon book page, website, blog, or to an article. It’s your virtual storefront. You can use a program like Canva.com to create perfect pins.

E is for E-mail List – If you haven’t started an email list already, start one now. Collect emails of people who are potential book buyers. When you publish a book, one of the first things to do is send out a “book launch” letter to your email list — so you need a list! Give people an easy way to opt out or unsubscribe.

N is for Newsletter – Sending out a book-related newsletter used to be a hassle and a big expense. Now it’s all done electronically. You can use email programs such as Constant Contact, Mail Chimp, or MadMimi. Most are free for up to 1000 to 2000 email names. If your email list is small, it will cost you only your time.

D is for DIY – The more you do-it-yourself, the less book marketing will cost you. Publicists are still out there willing to charge you, but save your money to pay hired hands for the things you can’t do or don’t want to do, and do the rest yourself.

E is for Email Signature – Create a little “ad” for yourself at the bottom of every email you send out (try “stationery” section). You can hyperlink your urls to your Amazon website, blog, or website. This isn’t in-you-face advertising. It’s subtle. People can click on your links – or not.

N is for Newspapers – Even though many newspapers have folded (meaning there’s less space for traditional book reviews), there are many  newspapers left and some are hungry for content. Think of all the “throw-away” papers just in your area. Search online for “newspapers” and you’ll get sites like: 50states.com/news; onlinenewspapers.com; thepaperboy.com, and more.

C is for Contests – Lots of contests out there to enter, but first make sure they aren’t scams. Go to the blog of janefriedman.com for her list of recommended and “safe” contests. If you win, place, or show in a legit contest, that makes you “an award-winning” author. Good for book marketing!

E is for Ezines – Ezines are online magazine. Today, most regular magazines have an online counterpart and it’s usually easier to have an article you write accepted there than it is in their paper version. Ezines have thousands of readers so it’s a good way to get the word out about your book. Some even pay a little. Try directoryofezines.com or ezinesearch.com.

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You Go Girl! Market That Book! Photo credit: Visual Hunt

Now for D-A-Y:

D is for Description – Your book description is one of the most important things you’ll write. You’ll use it on your Amazon book page and in your launch letter, and in so many other marketing pieces. Write a short, medium, and long description to have on hand. Embed keywords and phrases and include benefits to readers and potential audiences.

A is for Amazon – Amazon is not only an online bookseller and publisher (CreateSpace and Kindle), it is a world unto itself when it comes to helping you market your book. It offers many marketing features – keywords, customer reviews, the Author Central page, their “look inside the book” feature, foreign sites, and so much more.

Y is for YouTube – YouTube is a candy store. You can find videos about everything on this list and you can make videos about your book to upload to YouTube, even have your own channel. Videos can be nichy, specific, and detailed. You could even make a short video on how you got the idea for your book — and people would watch it!

Okay, Independence fans, that’s it for now. Get to your independent book marketing. There’s more hints, tips and ideas where these came from. Later.

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Off you go to book market independently! Photo Credit: Virtual Hunt

© The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published by Sylvia Cary, LMFT, Timberlake Press – recently updated for 2018.

 

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Nana’s Magic Pen

Definition of Magic: The art of producing illusions by sleight of hand; the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power. . .

          ― Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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I’m not a fussy eater, but I am a fussy writer when it comes to pens. A pen has to be just right or it interrupts the creative flow, distracts me, and makes me go scrounging around for another. Without the right pen, I lose the muse.

As a result, I’ve owned a lot of pens over the course of my writing career, but never one as lovely as the pen I caught sight of one day at the discount store, Tuesday Morning. It was clear lucite―you could see right into its very soul―and only $18 instead of the original $80.  I bought it. I was not disappointed. It wrote “smooth as butter.” No skipping or yucky ink blobs.

When my granddaughter, Lily, then 6, came over one afternoon she went right for the pen. She immediately named it “Nana’s Magic Pen.”

“Can I use it, Nana?” she asked.

She cut up and folded some papers into a tiny book and wrote a story called “Nana Wants a Cat.” The story had the perfect three-act structure: The main character, Nana, loses her beloved cat. Now she wants a new one really badly, so she goes off on a quest to find a replacement cat. Her journey takes her to many animal shelters (where you should always get your cats) and she meets a lot of not-right cats and a lot of just-okay cats, which makes Nana so sad she’s about to give up — but then one day she finally finds a black and white rescue kitten and brings her home and names her Diamond.”

Lily proudly handed me her “book.”

I am sure you will all agree that this is proof positive that whenever a writer uses a magic pen, well-told tales with happy endings are the result.

Every writer should have a magic pen.

 (c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT; Photo credit: Sylvia Cary

Keeping up to Date Can Get You Down

 

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My book had been out for 5 years, so I started looking for just a few now-dated references and marking them with sticky-notes. I used a whole lot of  sticky-notes!    Photo by Sylvia Cary

Ever bite off more than you could chew? I did that recently. I made the mistake of re-reading my own book, “The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published,” which I  had indie-published on Amazon and Kindle, as well as on LightningSource, five years ago. While reading, I was stunned to realize that while I was out there marketing the book, publishing gremlins had been sneaking into it and making it sound dated! Dated! Imagine that! How the heck did that happen?

Well, it happened because during that five years the publishing industry had been rushing ahead and making changes, hundreds of changes, big and small. For example, there was no IngramSpark under the LightningSource umbrella when I published my book, so I had no mention of it.  At the time, a self-publishing author could get an ISBN number for $10 from Amazon’s CreateSpace. Today you can’t. It’s $99. “No wonder I’ve been reluctant to market my book the last couple of years,” I said to myself. “There are now mistakes in it and I’m embarrassed. Obviously, they were put there by those publishing gremlins!”

I made the decision right then and there to “update” my book, tweak the cover, and market it all over again. Then I upped the challenge to myself: “No, I’ll come out with a Second Edition with new chapters, which of course means I’ll have to get another ISBN and a new cover, front and back — but then I can really go to town marketing it in all the ways I neglected to market it before! I’ll be a changed author/promoter.”

I took a second pass through the book and put a sticky note wherever I caught something that was dated or needed fixing (see photo above). I set forth with great determination to track down every change in the publishing industry over the last five years and document each one.

Trying to keep up. . .

Within weeks my apartment had every surface stacked with books, notebooks, and printouts. To catch up with “the latest” I was watching YouTube videos, listening to webinars, writing new chapters, and driving around town to panels and workshops. I began to feel overwhelmed and sick at my stomach when I looked at the months of work ahead of me, not to mention my new, about-to-be-created re-publishing expenses.

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My bed of research books became a nightmare.  Photo by Visualhunt.com

And for what? I finally asked myself that all-important question: Why was I doing this? It was stupid. Why compete with all the hundreds of new books, Kindles, newsletters, webinars and videos about “the publishing industry” when I already had a unique niche audience (therapists who want to write) that I should be focusing on in a more laser-like fashion. I’d been making that mistake authors are warned about of trying to sell to everybody. “Stick with the shrinks, Sylvia,” I said and felt better already.

Knowing when to hold and when to fold       

So I walked back my plan for an update or a snazzy Second Edition and decided to Keep It Simple. I went through the book a third time just to tidy it up enough so I’m not embarrassed by statements of facts that are no longer facts. They’ve changed. I deleted some things, corrected some things, switched the first two chapters around, but it’s basically the same book, same cover, same number of pages, minus the errors (or most of them I hope). I’m about to upload it to CreateSpace as a “correction,” not a reinvention!

Getting good ideas is great, but knowing when to quit helps you sleep at night.

(c) Sylvia Cary, The Therapist Writer

 

 

 

 

 

Living in the Blurbs

 

 

 

colour-speech-bubbles (1) 8 Ways to Get “Blurbs” for Book Marketing     Photo by Morguefile

“Blurb” is a great little word, a sort of nickname for the more official-sounding words such as “testimonial,” “acknowledgment,” “endorsement,” “review” or “comment.” A blurb is a snippet of something that somebody says about your book that you can then use in your book marketing. It can be anything from an eloquent celebrity endorsement that you’ll probably want to use on your front cover to an unfortunately useless comment (“Great book!”) that a reader puts up on your Amazon book page as a “customer review,” but may quickly get disappeared by Amazon because it doesn’t fit their review criteria.

Why Blurbs?

There’s a whole history (just Google “blurbs” and you’ll see) about why blurbs have gotten to be so important, especially for indie authors publishing on Amazon, but the bottom line is that — aside from a good book with a good cover — you gotta have blurbs. An author should never launch a book on Amazon “naked” (meaning with no customer reviews), yet many do. That’s not good. Blurbs legitimize your book and make people feel more comfortable about buying it. Going to a book site with no reviews feels like going to a movie when there are only one or two other people in the theatre. It feels uncomfortable. You want out of there. Buyers go elsewhere.

Where to Use Blurbs

  • Indie authors want blurbs mostly in the form of customer reviews on Amazon. Set a goal of 100. (I know! Yikes!). Blurbs are also used for . . .
  • Front cover (hopefully from a celebrity or thought-leader in your field)
  • Back cover (as a powerful sales pitch for your book)
  • Inside the book where you can include pages of blurbs — which is why you’ll want to get a bunch of them in advance of publication
  • On your marketing pieces (business cards, postcards, bookmarks, flyers, “one-sheets”)
  • As part of your email signature
  • On your website, blog, or landing page
  • On certain social media sites (pretty-up a blurb for Pinterest)
  • Stamped on your give-away items, such as mugs or pens

 How to Get Blurbs

      Before Publication . . .

  1. Send out pages of your work (or a chapter to a specialist in the area you’re writing about) to get feedback and a usable “comment” (to later be put up on Amazon).
  2. When your book is close to its launch date, set it up on Amazon (pre-order status) so you can ask the people who’ve already read your pages or sections to write a “customer review”. Give them How-to directions.
  3. Order “proof” (advance) copies to give out for peer reviewers or whole-book readers for additional reviews. People do tend to procrastinate, so give them a deadline and offer some incentives for getting their review in quickly.
  4. Some reviewers who procrastinate are very relieved to have you write their review for them and they can just sign off on it. Saves them a lot of time!

 After Publication . . . 

5. Launch Day: As soon as your book is up on Amazon, officially published, grab the link from your book page and paste it into an announcement you’re going to send (using an email program like Constant Contact) to your email list telling them your book is published, asking them to click on the link to see it, and begging them to write a customer review (I like to use the word blurb or “comment” because it sounds less like a book report!). Explain How-to and why – because it helps you sell books!

6. If you’ve sent out a lot of announcements, some people will write reviews on Amazon, others may write you personally and say nice things about your book. Immediately, email them back and ask, “Would you mind putting that on my Amazon site?” (Give How-to directions). Otherwise use their blurb for something else.

7. Whenever you run into anybody you know at the market and they say something nice about your book, ask them, “Do you mind if I use that as a blurb.” If they can put it up on Amazon themselves, great, but if not you can use their blurb elsewhere, so write it down before you forget it, then email it to the person who said it to make sure you remembered it correctly!

8. This is like looking for spare change in the couch, but look though older emails and social media posts to find blurbs about your book you forgot you had. You may actually find a great blurb you didn’t realize was a “blurb” at the time that you read it. Now you recognize it for what it is and realize it’s just perfect for a press release you’re writing.

Blurbs are in the Air

There are many more ways to get “blurbs” (reviews), such as tracking down Amazon Top Reviewers  or doing the whole guest blogger thing (which is getting harder and harder as there is more and more competition for attention for one’s book). There are, as well, some really terrific books and Kindles by known experts in the book marketing business, but for now keep it simple and do these basics. And keep in mind that the next time somebody tells you, “Your book really touched me, especially that scene . . .” ask them, “Can I use that as a blurb?” See, blurbs are in the air.

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published.

Is It Okay to Write About My Patients? *

 Loose lips sink ships. World War II poster

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Before you pick up that pencil, read these tips.

Occasionally one of my therapist colleagues will approach me because they want to write a book -– maybe an academic book about their specialty, or a how-to, or a memoir, novel, or even a children’s book. They may have been sitting on a book idea for years and want to get it off their bucket list; or they want that instant credibility that comes from being “the author of. . .” a book on their specialty; or they may just want to have a carton of books in the trunk of their car to to sell at seminars, workshops or conferences, or give away to colleagues, clients, friends and family as gifts.

No matter what the book’s topic or genre or what the therapist’s reason is for wanting to get published, the first question I usually get asked is: “Is it okay to write about my patients? What if my patient reads it? How do I not get sued?”

Let me reassure you that licensed mental health professionals definitely can write about patients. Thousands do it. But there are some Do’s and Don’ts involved. That’s what we’ll look at here.

Confidentiality

All writers, not just therapist writers, should concern themselves with the possible consequences of what they say in print, just as we should all think before we speak. Blabbing off can get anybody in trouble. However, unlike “regular” writers, licensed mental health professionals have to be particularly vigilant when it comes to writing about clients because we have some extra legal and ethical restrictions. Our main concern is always the issue of confidentiality.

“Protecting patient confidentiality is the bedrock of psychotherapy,” says Gerry Grossman of Gerry Grossman Seminars, a company that provides California mental health professionals with exam preparation and continuing education courses. “Breaking this trust . . .puts the therapist at risk for losing his or her license.”

Yikes! Agreed! Nobody wants to get sued! That’s definitely not a perk of getting published. So let’s go over a few guidelines before you hop on the computer. If you just follow these hints and tips you should be just fine.

The Art of Disguise

This is standard. When you write about patients, always disguise their identities. This doesn’t mean just changing their names! Changing a name is never enough, especially if the other details or situations in the piece could help readers identify them. For example, stating that a wealthy female patient is “married to the Chicago-based CEO of XYZ company” doesn’t work for obvious reasons. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to do an Internet search to find out the name of that CEO and know immediately the identity of Mrs. CEO. So also change the name of the company. Change the location. Change the nature of the company’s business. Change their adult son to twin teen daughters. And if any of these things are really just fluff and not crucial to the story, leave them out.

Rule of Thumb

Danielle Ofri, M.D., physician and author of the books Incidental Findings: Lessons from My Patients in the Art of Medicine,  and Medicine in Translation: Journeys with my Patients, commented in an article (“Harnessing the Winds of Change”) that as writers we of course have to change names and identities of patients, but that’s not all: “My rule of thumb is that the description must be different enough so that it will be tough for anyone, other than the person being described or close associates, to recognize them.”

Psychoanalyst Judy Kantrowitz, M.D. interviewed 141 fellow analysts on the subject of writing about patients and found there wasn’t consensus on exactly how to disguise patients, only to do it. Kantrowitz came up with a similar conclusion to Ofri’s above, only she went a step further: “Disguise a patient so when they read it they don’t even recognize themselves.”

Self-Disclosure

What about a licensed therapist who wants to write about themselves, not their clients? A memoir perhaps, or a novel that’s obviously based on them? While it’s not illegal or unethical to do this, not all therapists think it’s a good idea. It often depends on the therapist’s training. A psychoanalytically trained therapist who believes in the “blank screen” approach is probably never going to write a memoir or disclose anything personal in a book. On the other hand, a therapist with a personal recovery story (addiction, e.g.) that’s related to their specialty may feel quite comfortable writing about it, seeing it as an appropriate self-disclosure which can be an asset to the therapeutic process, even inspiring some clients: “If my therapist can beat the problem, then I can beat it, too.”  The yes or no choice is up to the writer.

Informed Consent

An alternative to mastering the art of disguise in writing about patients is to get signed releases from them (“informed consent”) prior to making their identities known for some specific purpose or event, such as a case presentation at a conference, a teaching video in a classroom, or the publication of an article or book in which the patient might be identifiable.

A psychologist friend of mine who has published four books and is fairly well-known in her specialty area of weight management, has been a guest on many of the big daytime TV talk shows where she has talked about her private practice cases. Sometimes she will even have a client join her on camera. Advance discussions with the patient and signed releases are what make this possible.

Be Kind

The play Tea and Sympathy by Robert Anderson was a hit on Broadway in the 1950s and later became a movie. It’s about a shy young man in a boarding school who has an affair with the wife of the headmaster. At the end of the play the wife tells the young man, who is about to leave school, “Years from now when you talk about this, and you will, be kind.”

When writing about patients (ditto friends, family and neighbors), do the same thing ― be kind. You can rarely get into trouble for saying something nice about somebody. Leave the mean digs alone. In your description of your pudgy client, say “slightly overweight” not “fat” if weight is relevant. If it’s not relevant, skip it. Just don’t throw anyone under the bus. Remember, “First, do no harm” as it says in the Hippocratic Oath. And in the Twelve Step recovery groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, members are encouraged to be forthcoming (if they wish) about their own shortcomings (referred to as “taking your own inventory”), but it’s frowned upon to “take the inventories” of others. No loose lips!

Fearless Writing

Don’t let these legal and ethical restrictions on writing about clients scare you, just be aware of them. Basically, it’s just common sense. Put yourself in your client’s place: How would you feel if this or that were said about you? Abide by the guidelines of our profession. And then write on and prosper!

* (c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT. This article is from Sylvia Cary’s book, The Therapist Writer, which is currently being updated since things in the publishing industry change at lightning speed. Please email sylviacary@gmail.com if you are interested in being informed when the updated version of The Therapist Writer launches. Website: sylviacary.com.

 

 

 

 

 

The Declaration of Independence – A Document for Writers and Cats Alike

My rescue cat, Pearl, reading The Declaration of Independence that was printed in the New York Times today. She is appreciating no longer being in a cage.

JULY 4th, 2017 – The country’s birthday and my blog’s birthday. I started it on July 4th, 2011, and even though I’ve neglected it terribly the last few years, I do always blog on July 4th.  This morning when I picked up my New York Times from my doorstep, I discovered that they’d printed a copy of the Declaration of Independence. I read it twice. What a great piece of writing that is — brief, clear, well-structured, moving — the kind of writing that always takes the longest to write!

As a writer — as a human being — I am grateful for what this document means. Pearl, at this moment looking a tad anxious because fireworks are going off outside, I’m sure agrees.

Happy 4th!

(c) Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer

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Writing for Your “Inner Circle” – And Skip the Book Marketing

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How to Get Published and Skip Book Marketing  Getting a book published is a big job, but the biggest part of it isn’t the writing or even the publishing; it’s the book marketing. For many authors, book marketing is a … Continue reading

8 “Starter”Book Marketing Tools

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GUEST BLOG:

“The First 8 Things to Do to Start Marketing Your Book”

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by Catherine Auman, LMFT, Author of Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth, Publisher – Green Tara Press, www.greentarapress.com

8 “Starter” Books Marketing Ideas

You didn’t know that becoming an author meant becoming a marketer, did you? That’s okay; neither did I. The fact is, you’ll need to become actively involved in the marketing of your book because if you don’t, no one but a few friends and family will buy it. Then again, even they might not.

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Really, it can be fun. Here are 8 BRIGHT IDEAS you can get started on before publication:

1) First, gather the items you’ll need to market your book:

  • Author photos/headshots – professionally done, please
  • Author bios of varying lengths – 100 words, 200 words
  • Book synopsis, about 100 words, written to entice readers
  • A jpg of your cover
  • Your elevator speech – a 30-second verbal summary of your book for use at cocktail and other parties when someone asks you, “What’s your book about?”
  • If you don’t have a website, get one. If you do have one, redesign it to promote your books as well as yourself.

2)  Create an Amazon Author Profile. This establishes you as a legitimate author. You can link your website, blog, videos, the promotional tools above and the ones you will develop in the future. Go to authorcentral.amazon.com and it will walk you through the steps.

3)  Create a Facebook Page for your book. Invite all your friends to Like (or Love). Start posting the items above and anything you can think of to create buzz. People prefer it if you try to educate, enlighten, or amuse them rather than just sell.

4)  Create a Goodreads Author Profile. Goodreads is where the avid readers hang out. Go to the Goodreads Author Program tutorial which will teach you how. Later you will be sponsoring book giveaways as promotions.

5)  Go to Vistaprint.com and make some inexpensive postcards using the jpg of the cover of your book. You can use these in any number of ways: send out by snail mail, leave at coffee houses, tack up on bulletin boards, and many uses you will come up with as you go along. I always keep some in my bag – you never know who might want one.

6)  Start identifying people and places to ask for book reviews. You will want to get as many as possible, and you’ll be able to use the reviews later for further marketing.

7)  Identify local stores that are likely to sell your book – not just bookstores, but gift stores and specialty shops.

8)   Schedule and plan your Book Release Party. Congratulations! You’re a published author.

© 2016 Catherine Aumancatherine auman book cover sept 2015 guest blog

(c) The Therapist Writer Blog by Sylvia Cary, LMFT, author of The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published. Timberlake PressTimberlakePress.com.

 

Portrait of a Neighborhood Book Signing

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Have you ever attended a book signing by a celebrity author at a major bookstore (think Barnes & Noble), the kind where you are required to purchase the book in advance before you can get so much as a glimpse of the man or woman you have come to see? Then you have to wait in a line, sometimes a long line, and when you finally get up to the signing table, the author may be flanked by sharp-eyed assistants who look like Secret Service agents. Their purpose is to keep the masses at arms length, ward off time-consuming chatting, and keep the line moving right along. One of the author’s assistants may ask you for your name, write it down on a piece of paper, and slip it in front of the author who, without even having to look up at you, can scribble your name inside the book (before signing their own) to make it more “personal.” This done, the book is slapped shut and pushed towards you. You snatch it up, and  you’re out of there! Book signing over! It’s all kind of sterile.

A Different Story

But that’s just one kind of book signing. About a month ago I went to a very different kind,  a neighborhood book event at a small independent bookstore,  Chevalier’s Books at 126 N. Larchmont Blvd. in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles (chevaliersbooks.com), the kind of book shop that has been disappearing over the past decade because of big troubles in the publishing industry. But this bookstore still seems to be going strong, and the whole signing event was friendly, warm, and cozy —  with some great cheese.

The author at this particular book signing is a colleague, Douglas Green, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and fellow mental health professional. Lots of his friends and colleagues were there in support of his publication adventure. It was a party atmosphere. Doug’s book, which I’d already read, loved, and had written a blurb for, is called The Teachings of SHIRELLE: Life Lessons From a Divine Knucklehead. It’s a book about a man (Doug) and his dog (Shirelle) and their awesome connection. It’s one of those books that makes readers end up saying, “I laughed; I cried” — and so did I.

Leading up to, and on the night of, the big event at Chevalier’s Books, there was an appealing little chalk-drawn sign outside the front door, inviting people to the “party” — and when you stepped inside you were greeted by a stack of “Shirelle” books but with no pressure to buy before you were allowed to see the author! Doug was right there by the cheese, nervous and happy to see his friends. Finally, it was time for people to find seats and quiet down so Doug could begin.

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The book: “The Teachings of Shirelle: Life Lessons from a Divine Knucklehead.” (Available on Amazon.com)

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The audience had filled the room. Standing room only in the back. And people kept arriving. At one point Doug looked  up at the big crowd and said, as though in awe at the sight, “Oh, this is what you all look like!

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And we, in the audience, got a hear Doug read some wonderful excerpts from “SHIRELLE” and think, “Oh, this is what Doug looks like doing his book signing.” Everyone was on the same page!

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Some people pulled their chairs up close. Doug had everyone’s attention with his warmth, humor, and delight in his subject matter (“we laughed”); and we felt sadness when, at the end 0f the book, after many wonderful years, Shirelle died (“we cried”).

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When it was over, people jumped up, rushed to the counter to buy the book, grab some more cheese and crackers, gab with friends, and form themselves into a very chatty line to have Doug the Author sign his book.

 

doug - doing the signing

Above, Doug is signing, talking, and laughing with relief — he’d gotten through it! A book signing is really a lot of work, but once you’ve been to one like Doug’s, you’ll want one of your very own.

All you have to do is write a fantastic book!

Support your local authors and independent bookstores!

(c) Sylvia Cary; Photos by Sylvia Cary

Pocket Writing Guide: Brainstoming Book Angles

The right book

Getting the right “angle” or “hook” for your book makes all the difference. It determines whether or not the book “works” and is marketable. The answer is in there somewhere! You just have to find ways of getting to it. –photo by Morguefile

by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

Brainstorming (def): The uncensored offering of ideas or suggestions.

Angle (def):  To examine a problem from all angles; to give a specific bias, or point of view.

Writers say the hardest part of writing is knowing what to write. Once you nail down your topic, the next hardest part is zeroing in on your angle — i.e., figuring out what approach to take. For those of you who are mental health professionals, you may want to write a book about your area of expertise, such as addiction, post-traumatic stress, anger management, neuroscience, men’s issues, aging, eating disorders, abuse, bi-polar disorder, or depression.  I read somewhere that there are about 1000 specialties in the mental health field, so it’s not like the topics are going to give out!

However, since most of these topics have already been written about, some of them a lot, it’s not enough to simply write “about addiction” or “about abuse.” You’ll need to come up with a new twist/angle/hook in order to get the potential book buyer’s attention. For example, instead of writing “about depression” you might zero in on a niche aspect of it and write about depression in children.

Trend Tree
Think of the special topic that you want to write about as a branch on a tree, a rapidly growing, ever-evolving, living thing. What seems like a fresh, trendy, or “green” idea one year feels kind of old hat the next. The zeitgeist (or cultural atmosphere) just keeps on rolling along so you have to keep up by pushing out on your particular tree branch until you’ve come up with a fresh, new leafy take on your topic that makes others say, “Oh, I’d like to read that!”

Looking at a lovely scene often quites the mind and lets us push out further on our particular branch or niche. -- photo by Morguefile

Looking at a peaceful scene often quiets the mind and allows us to push out further on our particular branch or niche.  — photo by Morguefile

7 Ways to Brainstorm Angles
Writers use tricks to help them brainstorm their topics and tweak them into something fresh and appealing.

1. Cruise the Online Bookstores:  First, see what’s already out there. Search for your book’s topic online, go on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, look at the titles and subtitles, read the Tables of Contents when you can. The last time I searched for books on “alcoholism” (my specialty as a therapist), I found thousands of them! That’s pretty daunting and discouraging if alcoholism is what you really want to write about. Don’t fret. New books on alcoholism are still being published and are still selling, so the market obviously isn’t dead yet. Come up with a fresh angle, and you’ll have a chance. Look for “holes” in the topic that need filling; look for aspects that haven’t been explored yet. They are there.

2.  Cruise the Real-Life Bookstores: Though many bookstores have gone belly-up, others are still out there peddling books.  Go visit some. Looking through an existing book on your topic can be a great way to get ideas. Sometimes just a single paragraph from a book can trigger an idea in your head that you can actually turn into a quality book.

3.  Read / Talk About Your Subject:  Read everything you can on your pet topic. Ideas beget ideas. What’s hot? What’s not? What trends seems to be coming down the pike? Share your enthusiasm about your topic with others. Start discussions. Ask others for their opinions and views. Sometimes people ask a question that can lead you to a solution.  Ask, “If a book on X, Y or Z were to be published, would you want to read it?” And, “If not, why not?”

4.  Yellow Pad; Sharpened Pencil:  I must admit that my favorite brainstorming technique is writing things down on paper. I write down my topic and then I start scribbling down all the ideas that occur to me about that topic. It’s a free-association process that helps me decide if it’s a good idea or not. If I get lots of associations, it’s a good idea. If I get two and then run dry, it’s probably not, so I’m likely to drop it.  There are other times when I don’t know what my angle is until I’m already writing. I may think I’ve got a good angle or hook, and then a better one presents itself and I have to change horses in midstream.  Writing is easier if you have your angle in mind up front, but if a better one comes along, grab it and make the necessary adjustments in what you’ve already written.

5.  Shower Power:  There are writers (I don’t happen to be one of them) who get ideas while in motion (running, jogging, walking), or while being quiet (meditating, contemplating), or even while they are showering. My late husband, a computer programmer, got solutions to programming problems in the shower when the hot water hit the back of his neck. Other folks say they can “instruct” their brains to give them answers in dreams: “I want to write about Freud but I need a Fresh angle.”  So, whether it’s staring into space, meditating, walking, showering — or sleeping — the answers can obviously pop into your head at the most unexpected times.

6.  Professional vs Personal Perspective:  No matter what subject you know enough about to write a book, it doesn’t always have to be from the point of view of an expert or scholar. Maybe the best angle for you is the personal,  writing a memoir or taking the narrative non-fiction approach where there’s dialogue in the book so it reads more like a novel. Many therapists are “wounded healers,” people who have become professionals and have an area of expertise as the result of some personal or family experience. Numerous compelling and important books are by authors who have had personal experiences with addiction, child abuse, bipolar disorder, and so on.

7. The “10 Things” Angle: Think about your topic and ask yourself, “What are the top 10 things I’d like the world to know about this subject? What hasn’t been said yet? What’s missing?”  For example, “10 Things Your Clients Should Know About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder;” “10 Ways to Help People with Phobias” (or 7 Things or 15 Things); “10 Symptoms of Sex Addiction;” or “10 Misconceptions about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  Your list of 10 can grow into a unique and solid book. There can be an Introduction, then a chapter on each of the 10 things you came up with — and then a Conclusion.

So count to ten, and you’ve got yourself a book!

You can rest your mind anywhere.

You can rest your mind anywhere.

There are many other ways to brainstorm angles and hooks. Not surprisingly, there are even books on the subject of how to help your brain trigger an “Aha!” which gives you the angle you were looking for. Once you get that angle and write that book, there are people out there who will want to read it.

Do animals think -- do you think? photo credit - Morguefile

Do you think animals think?
photo credit – Morguefile

Copyright 2015 by Sylvia Cary, LMFT –  The Therapist Writer

“What Do You Mean You Don’t Want to Write a Book?”

Rick (Richard A.) Rofman’s declaration that he didn’t want to write a book took me aback.  He’s a regular at the monthly drop-in writers group that I run at Crown Books in Woodland Hills, California. It’s a satellite group sponsored by Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC.org). Dismayed, I asked, “Rick, whatever do you mean you don’t want to write a book? Why not?”

A Career in Writing “Letters to the Editor”

He’d thrown me. But his comment made me think. Maybe I had been beating the drum for “How to Get Self-Published” a little too strongly in all my various writings, teachings, talks, presentations, and workshops. I’d almost forgotten that you can be a writer without getting a book published as your goal. Ever since the start of the self-publishing craze , I’ve been on the “get published” band-wagon and have talked about little else. “Rick, you know everybody’s got a book inside of them screaming to get out and that it’s only life that gets in the way. Even Dan Poynter says so. Isn’t that right, Rick?” Rick didn’t think so.

Rick Rofman, who teaches composition part-time at a number of LA area colleges, is seen here at a writers drop-in meeting at Crown Books in Woodland Hills, reading one of his over 475  “Letters to the Editor,” a form of writing that has turned out to be his specialty: “Because of these letters,” he states, “I have had contact with CBS’s Frank Stanton, journalist Connie Chung, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Disney’s Michael Eisner, Ronald Reagan, Joe Biden, Bobby Kennedy, and more — but that doesn’t make my life a book!”  When some of us in the writing group suggested that Rick put together a book (there I go again!) of his Letters to the Editors over the past few decades, which would allow him to make comments about the history going on at the time, he was once again adamant: “I don’t want to write a book.”   Photo: Sylvia Cary

The Right Creds

Rick Rofman certainly has the right creds to author a book, a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master’s Degree in English Communication from Syracuse University, and a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He has taught English in a bunch of places, and, back in the day, worked for NBC News, Westinghouse Broadcasting, and Universal — but still the idea of writing a book is painful for him,  especially a self-published book. “I just finished trying to read book called ‘How to Publish Your Own eBook,’ and it was like being in the 7th Circle of HELL for all eternity. You need an Engineering degree just to understand the terminology. I’m 71 years old and this is just NOT for me. If Random House or Penguin or Bantam Doubleday Dell were to approach me and assign an editor to me, and assume all costs of publication, that might be a different story. But to devote three or four years of my final years to self-publishing, buy a computer, go through the agonizing process of learning a machine that eludes me–when I can’t even work a mouse–then do book signings, and ruin my health, all for twenty-five cents in ebook royalties, just makes no sense. Instead, I can edit other people’s manuscripts, re-read Shakespeare and Greek tragedies, bone up on my French and Russian, and get involved in community and cultural activities. I’m now reading Sandberg’s Life of Lincoln.”

It's said that Mark Trwin bought a new-fangled typetwriter and hated it so much ihe traded it for a buggy whip. Rick Rofman, in a similar frame of mind, bought a new-fangled iPad and took it right back.   Photo: Morgurfile

It is said that Mark Twain once bought a typewriter and hated it so much he traded it for a buggy whip. Rick Rofman, in a similar frame of mind, says he bought a iPad and took it right back.   Photo: Morgurfile

And What Kind of a Writer Do You Want to Be?

In a letter to me (what else!), hand-written (not on the computer since he doesn’t own one), Rick continued his stand against publishing a book: “There are many ways to be a writer without writing a book.” To make his point, he enclosed a brochure he’d picked up from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles about their Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program. “They had writing careers listed I’d never even thought of,” Rick said. Among the career paths listed for MFA graduates are: Teaching composition and creative writing at the college level, publishing (at least that’s mentioned! – SC), copywriting, copyediting, manuscript editing, marketing, greeting card author, comic book writing, novelist, creativity coach, writing coach, advertising, songwriter (lyric), freelance short fiction writer, creative writing instructor (give your own workshops), legacy writer (write people’s bios and family histories), ghostwriter, travel writer, freelance essayist/article writer, columnist, video game writer, personal poet for others, playwright, blogger, creative writing consultant, screenwriting.

And, of course, let’s add to the list Rick Rofman’s own specialty,  writing Letters to the Editor.

It works for him. It might work for you.

(c) Sylvia Cary, 2014