Tag Archives: Timberlake Press

“It’s Too Nichy”^

Sylvia Cary to Get an IRWIN AWARD from the Book Publicists of Southern California Sylvia Cary, psychotherapist and author of 5 books, is to get an award for "Best Niche Campaign" for her book, "The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published" (Timberlake Press) The IRWIN Award, named for the Book Publicists of Southern California founder, Irwin Zucker, was introduced in 1995 as a way to formally and publicly recognize BPSC members who conduct the best book sales/ promotion campaigns. The Honorees present will share with the BPSC audience the steps they took that led to the success of their book promotion campaigns. The event takes place at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City on Thursday Oct. 15th. Contact at: sylvia@sylviacary.com OR visit newly tweaked and updated website, www.sylviacary.com.

Sylvia Cary, LMFT, received an IRWIN AWARD from the Book Publicists of Southern California (BPSC)  for “Best Niche Campaign” for her book, The Therapist Writer: Helping Mental Health Professionals Get Published (Timberlake Press). The award is named for the group’s founder, Irwin Zucker, and was introduced in 1995 as a way to formally and publicly recognize BPSC members who conduct the best book promotion campaigns. Each honoree shared with the audience the steps they took that led to the success of their book promotion campaign. (See video clip of Sylvia’s acceptance remarks below.) The event took place October 15th, 2015, at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, California, http://www.sylviacary.com.

Nailing Your Niche*

Definition of niche:  A French word meaning “a situation or activity suited to a person’s interests, ability, or nature.” 

“Nail your niche and own it.”   — Dan Poynter

In the old days of publishing, before digital, before the Internet, before Amazon, before Google, and before Kindle, big publishers didn’t want to touch books on small topics because most didn’t sell . Publishing them just didn’t pay off. Authors of books in niche areas were more likely to find homes with academic or university presses or with little publishers with no money for publicity or marketing.  The readers of these books often had to find out about them through obscure newsletters, specialty bookstores, or by word-of-mouth from other folks interested in the same subjects.

I went that route myself “back in the day” when I was researching my book called Jolted Sober: Getting to the Moment of Clarity in the Recovery of Addiction. I became a long-distance member of the Alister Hardy Research Centre in the U.K. (Oxford) in order to receive their snail-mailed newsletter which contained information of interest to me for my book. They were studying spontaneous healings and religious experiences. My book contained numerous stories about sudden “Aha!” moments of clarity in the addiction recovery. What they were researching was right up my alley. Today, niche publications like this one are easy to find. In fact, I Googled the Centre to see if it still exists — and it does, but with a new name. Now it’s the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre.

What all this means for you is that, as an author, you no longer have to be afraid that your topic or specialty is too narrowly focused (i.e. “too nichy”)  to write about. There are people out there looking for what you have to say. And while it’s unlikely that you’ll get a contract with a mainstream publisher where “No Niches Need Apply,” you may be accepted by a small press or you can self-publish on Amazon’s CreateSpace for free. You’ll find some buyers. Or they’ll find you. And they’ll be thrilled.

Tofu Takes Off

Here’s one of my favorite stories about writing a book for a niche market: For many years I’ve been running a free drop-in writers group at a bookstore in Woodland Hills, California. It is sponsored by the Independent Writers of Southern California (iwosc.org). One of our regular members, Lisa, told us how years earlier she’d accidentally stumbled upon an idea for a niche book while waiting in the check-out line at a local market. In her shopping cart she had a couple of packages of tofu. “How do you cook that stuff?” the woman behind her in line asked her. “Tofu is so tasteless.” Because Lisa really knows her tofu, she answered, “”It picks up the flavor of what you cook it in.” The woman was intrigued: “I didn’t know that.”  Lisa shared a few recipes with her; the woman was delighted.

This little conversation triggered an “Aha!” moment in Lisa’s brain. She went home and put together a cookbook on tofu, which included family cooking stories and, on each page, she placed a thought-provoking quote. She had copies made and sold them to friends, family and neighbors. She got requests for more. She had additional copies printed, this time bound with a plastic spiral. She took some of these to a local health food store. They bought a few, sold them, and ordered more. Then they ordered even more. By the end of the year the health food store had sold a total of 250 of Lisa’s tofu cookbook.

The following year, Lisa branched out to other health food stores and even a few pharmacies and it was the same story. They bought books, sold out, and ordered more. Next, Lisa bought her own spiral machine and printed copies at home for less money, and started doing a little local advertising. This resulted in a total of 5,000 cookbook sales, a decent number–  even if it had been a traditionally published book. But it was a lot of work! Had self-publishing on Amazon’s CreateSpace been available at the time Lisa started this project, who knows how many sales she’d have made as the result of people typing “cooking tofu” into their search engines!

Weightier Subjects

While it may still be possible to put everything that’s known about cooking tofu inside a single book, the body of knowledge in other fields is too vast for that. If you are, say,  a mental health professional and want to write a book on your specialty, you are probably going to have to “niche it down” so it’s not too broad and so it doesn’t repeat what’s already been done. In other words, you can’t just write “about alcoholism.” However, a book on alcoholism and the elderly is another story. By “niching it down,” you’ll be appealing to a few specific audiences, such as physicians, mental health professionals working with this population, and family members.  Try to think of another audience or two.

Here are just some of the subjects therapists have picked as specialties. Any one of them could be developed into a book:  Abuse, addiction, adoption, aging, anger management, ADHD, animal assisted therapy, anxiety, art therapy, Aspergers, autism, biofeedback, bipolar disorder, children/adolescents/teens, Christian counseling, cognitive behavioral, couples, creativity, depression, divorce and custody, eating disorders,  employee assistance (EAP), gay / lesbian/transgender issues, HIV/AIDS, Jungian analysis, Gestalt, grief recovery, learning disabilities, life coaching, meditation, mental illness, men’s issues, metaphysics, military culture, neuroscience, online counseling, parenting, phobias, play therapy, postpartum, private practice marketing, psychoanalysis, relationships, religious counseling, retirement counseling, rockstar therapy (yes, really!), short-term therapy, sex therapy, singles, sleep disorders, special needs – and hundreds more!

Start thinking about how you might give your special topic that special twist to make it different and unique. That’s how you get literary agents interested in representing you, publishers interesting in publishing you, and readers interested in buying you, whether it’s a traditionally or self-published book. Readers don’t care. They just want the information. The trick is to jump on a niche when it is still fairly new so, as the late publishing guru Dan Poynter said, you “own” it.

Finding a Home for The Therapist Writer

When I first came up with the idea for The Therapist Writer, I wrote a standard book proposal and started sending it out to literary agents. I kept getting back the same response: “It’s too nichy.” The agents didn’t think  there were enough mental health professionals who wanted to write who’d be interested in buying a book on the subject.  In fact, well-known literary agent Michael Larsen from San Francisco even phoned me to tell me this, and added that if I’d expand the focus from therapists to include other professions, he might consider it. That was tempting, but it wasn’t the book I wanted to write or felt capable of writing. I know my “tribe,” my fellow mental health professionals, very well, but I don’t know about other professional “tribes,” so I didn’t think I’d sound like I knew what I was talking about. I said no.

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

The Therapist Writer by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

That’s when I realized I didn’t have a clue how big my market was. How many mental health professionals are there are in this country, anyhow, and how many of them want to write a book? I consulted the Occupational Outlook Handbook and came up with 750,000 mental health professionals, so I figured that if I could sell The Therapist Writer to just 1% of these therapists, that would end up being 7,500 books.  I also realized that while this figure might make me happy, it wouldn’t make me rich, and it wouldn’t impress a mainstream publisher.

I gave up on the idea of traditional publishing and self-published through Lightning Source (after first becoming a publisher — their rule at the time), and once the paper version was up on Amazon, I published it as a Kindle E-book.

Doc, What’s Your Line?

The conversation with agent Larsen made me really clear on the fact that I didn’t want to give up my niche audience (mental health professionals who want to write) and write for all writers. There were already plenty of books on writing and publishing for the general public. I also felt it was a plus that I was a licensed psychotherapist because I had chapters in the book on special issues that therapist-writers face, such as the important issue of patient confidentiality: How can a therapist write about a client’s case without getting sued? I talk in the book about “the art of disguise” in writing about others, which means a lot more than just changing names.

I now understood that by “niching down” my book I was probably limiting my readership and profits, but that’s just one of the many decisions an author must make. I also knew that when I started marketing my book, I’d have a chance to point out the benefits in the book for all writers, not just therapist writers. One big marketing shift I had to make was to treat therapist-writers as therapists, not writers. Most therapists don’t want to be writers, which is why they haven’t bought books on writing, and why they know less about the writing business than the average bear. They just want to keep on being therapists who have written a book. My book, I point out in my marketing, understands this and works with it so the therapists can reach their publishing goals in spite of their discomfort. The therapists who do want to be writers (and there are some!) already act like writers, and have read books and know about publishing trends. They are ripe and ready to press on.

The majority of the time, in marketing to therapists, I stress therapy careers, not writing careers. I  list the perks for therapists in being “the author of ” a book. It means instant credibility; being seen as an “expert in the field.” They might even become the “go-to” shrink for colleagues to refer to for specific psychological issues, like one therapist I know whose self-published book on his personal bipolar struggle has made him the therapist that other therapists think of as a referral resource. When I’d speak at therapy-related events and meetings, I’d take the same approach. I’d  talk to the audience as “therapists,” not “writers,”  and stress the career perks of getting published.

Becoming Niche Savvy

It’s important to know why your niche audience wants your book. For my niche audience, my book is business, not pleasure. Some therapists want to publish in order to have a carton of books in the trunk of their car to sell when they give talks or give workshops, or to have on hand for clients, clients’ families, and colleagues. Nothing more. They hate marketing.

I learned how to market The Therapist Writer (and I’m still learning) and how deal with a niche audience on the job, mostly by correcting mistakes —  such as starting out with no idea of the size, or whereabouts, of my audience! Next time out, I’ll know.

I didn’t get rich or famous marketing my book, but I learned a bunch and I got this award for my efforts. Cool experience. And the award  is pretty, isn’t it?

The IRWIN Award for "Best Niche Campaign"

The IRWIN Award for “Best Niche Campaign”

Below, FYI, is a video clip of my award acceptance remarks:

 

*Copyright 2015  Sylvia Cary, LMFT.  Portions of this blog post are taken from the chapter on “Nailing Your Niche” in The Therapist Writer.

Getting off the Train in Van Nuys

British Steam Train Image courtesy of "Susie B." at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

British Steam Train
Image courtesy of “Susie B.” at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Getting Off the Train in Van Nuys

I’ve traveled across the U.S. and parts of Europe by train a number of times, and when the train pulls into a station in some small town, I always like to imagine what it would be like to get off, find a job, a place to live, meet new friends and have a whole new life.

In some ways, that’s exactly what I’ve be doing since my last blog post in January after my husband of twenty-eight years, Lance, suddenly died – only I got off the “train” in Van Nuys, California, just a few miles from the townhouse I used to live in in Woodland Hills. Van Nuys feels so far away. It might as well be somewhere in the middle of America. New building, new neighbors, new grocery stores, new streets, new Starbucks, new noises, new cooking smells at dinner time.

When Lance died a mere three weeks after a stage four lung cancer diagnosis, followed by a major heart attack and strokes, my life was up-ended. We’d planned to move into a new house at the end of December; I’d planned on starting book promotion for my new book, The Therapist Writer, which was finally finished and up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kindle. Then he died.

There’s a lot of work to do when someone dies, plus on top of that I also had to move, which is also a lot of work.  I tried to squeeze townhouse worth of stuff collected over the twenty-three years we were there into a tiny one-bedroom apartment. I ended up putting furniture, books and crockery out in the hallway of my building with a sign: “Free! I Can’t Fit It All In!” — and it all disappeared. Poof!  The apartment building is next to the San Diego Freeway, which sounds ghastly, but the freeway sound wall protects me from all but a soft hum of traffic, and all I can see out my window and patio is trees. I can’t even see the sound wall.  It’s actually serene and cozy here and my cat likes it.

My Cat, Diamond, Enjoys Bird and Squirrel Watching in the Woods that Hide the San Diego Freeway

My Cat, Diamond, Enjoys Bird and Squirrel Watching in the Woods that Hide the San Diego Freeway

As a new widow (so strange to be using that word), I occasionally have strange thoughts, such as, “I’ve been out a long time so I probably should be getting home or Lance will worry.” It takes a second to remember there is no Lance and there is no “home.” Van Nuys is my home now.  I had an errand in my old neighborhood the other day and I drove by “our” townhouse. It was garbage day and somebody else’s garbage was out where my garbage used to be.  Somebody else lives there now.

Today when something happens in my life, good  or bad (I won a writing contest; I had a spat with a friend; I am confused about how to fill out Lance’s taxes) my impulse is to reach for my phone to “call Lance at the office” — until I remember he’s not at the office. He’s dead. I want to let it ring anyhow, just in case…

At other times I have tortured myself by listening to the always-cheerful messages Lance used to leave on my cell phone when I was out somewhere.  It makes me want to reach into the phone and pull him out — alive.  I also do a strange thing with calendar dates:  When I read about an event that took place on a certain date, I figure out if that was before Lance died or after he died. If it was before he died, I feel as though I might be able to stop time and keep him alive: “Wait right there, Lance, don’t go anywhere, I’m on the way!”

I stopped eating and I lost weight and I lost my heart for my work. I didn’t care about my writing, or my blog, or promoting my new book.  I read a quote from former President Bill Clinton about his first book: “I didn’t sell it because I didn’t promote it.”  Clinton and I now have something in common. I’m not selling many books, either, and for same reason. I’m not promoting it. It shows you that you can be one of the most high profile people in the world, or a widow from Van Nuys who writes, but if you don’t promote your work you won’t sell anything. I knew this; I just have to start acting on it.

But now, after four months of living in Van Nuys, my new upside-down world, I’m starting to put my toe in the water and get back to eating, writing (I started a novel, my first), book promotion — and this blog. I accepted some speaking gigs (although I wanted to stay home under the covers), and I won that contest I mentioned above — the 2013 Beverly Hills Book Award in the writing and publishing category. That was nice. Slowly I’m going back to some of the organizations I belong to, both as a psychotherapist and as a writer/publisher.

My next blogs will be on the subjects of writing, publishing and book promotion – which is why I started the blog in the first place.  I’m giving a speech soon in Sacramento on “Marketing Your Book Like Mad A-Z,” which is the subject of the last two chapters of my book, so I’m hoping that  will kick-start me into promoting my own book as well as help you promote yours! Yes, that, too, is a lot of work.

But it’s nice to realize that in this new world of writing, publishing and the Internet, authors can promote their books from anywhere in the world – even from Van Nuys.

(c) Sylvia Cary, TheTherapistWriter.WordPress.com

Tips on How to Prepare for a “Gemütlich” Book Signing

Book Soup on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood - All Book Soup Photos by Sylvia Cary, LMFT

Are you a traditionally published celebrity author planning a book-signing in a mega bookstore?  I described just such an event in my last post — “How to (Almost) Get Thrown Out of Barnes & Noble.”  It was about  attending the Regis Philbin signing for his new book, How I Got This Way (HarperCollins, Ent.)  If you’re an author in this kind of scenario, you’re probably not going to need my tips. Chances are you’ll get all the necessary prep work  done for you — by your publisher, by your publicist, by your “people” and by the book store itself. They’ll even make sure copies of your book are in stock.

The rest of us, however, the smaller potatoes, have to do most of the footwork for book-signings on our own, including getting the gigs — which will usually be in small, independent bookstores.

Before I continue, a little backstory. When I became my own “indie” publishing company (Timberlake Press), I published Charlie & Me, a memoir by Harriett Bronson, first wife of the late actor Charles Bronson. Her book tells of their 16-year marriage, high-profile divorce, and her life post divorce as the “Ex Mrs. Famous” who reinvents herself as a radio talk show host.

"Charlie & Me" by Harriett Bronson. The cover is Harriett and Charles Bronson's 1949 wedding photo.

On January 6th, just weeks after the Regis Philbin book signing, Harriett and I had our own little book-signing at Book Soup on Sunset in West Hollywood.  It’s a gemütlich (one of my favorite words) little place — warm, cozy, congenial, pleasant, and full of interesting things. Book Soup is how I’d like my living room to look.  Such bookstores are gems and, sadly, too many are disappearing. Hopefully, this one will stick around for a long time.

This was our first book-signing for Charlie & Me (unless you count the one we did at an old-folks home where three people showed up in wheelchairs and fell asleep). The signing went well.  I talked a little about publishing, made a plea to support small bookstores, and introduced Harriett. Harriett spoke about her book and admitted that even though she’d been a radio talk show host, speaking in front of real human beings terrified her. When it was all over she had a moment of clarity:  Some of her fear about public speaking had gone away.  It had been a “growth” experience for her, which often happens to “indie” authors doing book-signings for the first time.  It stretches them and makes them stronger. It’s a gift.

So for all you therapist writers and other new authors out there planning to brave your own DIY book-signings, here are a few tips to make things easier:

  • While you’re still writing your book, attend at least ten different kinds of book-signings, from mega stores to gemütlich shops to specialty stores. Note what you like and don’t like. If you can afford it, buy a book. Remember, support the bookstore. They are precious!
  • When your book is published (or before), return to these same bookstores and inquire if you can do a book-signing there. You’ll feel more comfortable approaching them since you’ve already been there and bought a book. Some may actually say yes!
  • If a bookstore says yes, immediately order your books — at least 25-40 of them. Find out what financial arrangements the bookstore requires. Some may want 40% to 50% of sales. The author will be stuck with what doesn’t sell, so go right out and arrange for another book-signing since you’ve already got the books!  Consider doing signings in other venues — libraries, stores, organizations.
  • Visit the bookstore in advance, see the book-signing area, take some pictures, ask if you’ll have a table or a lectern, find out if they have a microphone. If they don’t, bring your own – or prepare to shout.

Harriett Bronson Signs "Charlie & Me"

  • Start publicizing your book-signing. Don’t ask people to come to a “book signing.” That makes them feel pressured to buy your book. Instead, offer them a little presentation, a mini-lecture or mini-class, a Q & A and refreshments. After our Book Soup event, people hung around the refreshment area and talked, which turned out to be the most fun part of the evening.
  • Get a poster made for the book store window. A printer can enlarge one of your flyers to 16 x 20 inches and mount it on cardboard or Styrofoam so it won’t bend over.  Ours was in the Book Soup window for over a week. There’s heavy pedestrian traffic in that spot — i.e.,  good marketing.
  • Find out what publicity the store does for author events. Many have a newsletter, a website and an email list and heavily advertise upcoming book-signings. Appreciate that this means thousands of eyes will see information about your book, which is really valuable publicity. In addition, send out an announcement to your own personal email list. If you’re a therapist and you’ve written a book in your field, you probably have contacts that are already interested in your topic.  Other people you know may show up just to support you. Harriett’s dental hygienist popped in just to say hello and buy a book on her way home from work — which reminds me of the story of a now-famous mystery writer who says that nobody showed up for her first book-signing until the very end of the evening when a woman arrived and asked if she could have a cookie.
  • People love handouts (as well as cookies!). Give them something to take home with them. We printed 100 “one-sheets” (an overview of the book) plus 100 bookmarks which had the book cover on one side and the author’s picture on the other — along with “blurbs,” snippets of reviews, plus contact and purchase information. The bookstore let us leave some bookmarks behind to keep by the register for customers to pick up. (The staff at Book Soup was the best.)

    Harriett Bronson with Irwin Zucker, President of Promotion in Motion and Founder and President Emeritus of the Book Publicists of Southern California

  • Again, unless you’re a major celeb like Regis Philbin, don’t expect a big fuss, big lines or big sales. It’s not going to happen. You’ll learn from each signing how to do it better and how to sell more books in the future.
  • When it’s all over, thank everybody and help clean up. We had plastic water bottles to gather up, crumbs from goodies, scrunched up napkins and small plastic cups with wine left in them sitting on top of books — so be very careful not to spill on the merchandise.
  • Finally, write a thank you note. Keep the relationship friendly. You may publish a second book and want to go back there.

Copyright (c) Sylvia Cary