Author makes awful mess of a promotion for a novel called “The Awful Mess”

It’s so much more fun to write irony than to live it.

I poured considerable energy and money into a free promotion for my book I scheduled for Sept. 2-6, but it turns out that I screwed up in a very basic way by not realizing the Kindle Select program would consider the PG-13 edition of my book too similar to the adult version.

So, although I tried to fix the issue immediately, yanking that [utterly non-selling] title from other retail sites takes time, and that means I’m barred from that free promotion for now.

This after sending out at least a dozen press releases, plus some notes to former congregations.

And after getting a lovely, now inaccurate article in the Monadnock Ledger (maybe it’s still there, or maybe they pulled it). Which my college marketing department noticed and wanted to celebrate, of course, just when I was comforting myself that at least THEY didn’t know about my screw-up.

And after investing in advertising that in most cases I will just have to swallow a loss on.

This is where I take a deep breath. Someday I’m sure I’ll laugh about this. Just not yet. For one thing, I have way too many revised press releases to get out.

Anyway, adjusting in the only way I can, here’s the new plan: I’ll reduce the price to 99 cents for the entire month of September, and still donate any earnings to Feeding America at my virtual campaign page here. And I’ll continue to donate 10% of earnings going forward, because not having a free promotion probably means my fund will be pretty pathetic. (I was planning to do that anyway, though.)

To put things in perspective, at least I’m not pregnant by a married priest I don’t even love and unable to tell the guy I really like what happened.

Also, I’m not going to bed hungry, or wondering how to keep my family fed. Too many people in this country can’t say that.

Anyway, my apologies if I’ve put you in an embarrassing spot with any of this. The rest of you have permission to laugh. (Though to be completely honest, I wouldn’t mind a “there, there.”)


Overflowing with plenty

Every spring I plant a pretty extensive garden, and every fall I go back to the classroom just as it’s hitting its peak harvest. “Why don’t I time these things better?” I always ask myself. But a garden in upstate New York runs by a very specific clock all its own, and the school year stops for no one.

We eat A LOT out of my garden. Usually about now I’m really getting sick of tomatoes (they’re late this year, so it hasn’t happened yet). The eggplant and string beans and peppers and squash go into stir fries or get marinated and grilled. I make and freeze recaito, a delicious Puerto Rican blend of garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro (my husband is from the island).

If I’m energetic, I also put away some fresh basil pesto, and stow away some frozen parsley, mint, and lovage (a celery substitute). I also try to process lots of chopped tomatoes for the freezer in recipe-friendly sizes.

But I’m far from a domestic goddess when it comes to preserving the harvest. I’ve also been known to just throw tomatoes in a plastic bag in the chest freezer so I can just plop a few into whatever I’m cooking when the time comes. (Hey, it works.) I’ve never canned anything in my life. We eat about half a jar of (someone else’s) jam a year and eventually I throw the rest away because it looks fuzzy.

We’re not big fans of zucchini bread, so the excess tends to get dropped off at the food pantry … if I remember to take it in time. Sometimes tomatoes rot on the counter. Sometimes the lettuce bolts. Sometimes the lovely soup greens have been hole-punched all over by insects by the time I think to pick them, or the broccoli has bloomed and turned bitter.

Frankly, there can be a lot of waste.

The same thing happens in our national food supply. Producers have food that they can’t sell on time. Expiration dates get close. Farmers get too much of one crop and not enough of another.

That’s where the wonderful organization Feeding America (formerly known as Second Harvest) helps. It funds regional food banks and coordinates with the food industry to take that excess and get it distributed to the food pantries and soup kitchens where people who need help with food can get it. The government also often distributes agricultural excess (a product of our taxpayer-funded crop subsidies) through this same network.

And you’d better believe there are people who could use this food. No, you don’t see children starving to death on the streets in the United States very often. If anything, the food-insecure may tend to put a little extra weight on – there’s something about eating plenty when you can, just in case the refrigerator is empty in a few days and you’re not sure how you’re going to get anything to put in it (assuming you even have access to a working refrigerator).

So we have food pantries and soup kitchens. Is this ideal? No. But it’s reality, especially now, when even people who are working more than 40 hours a week at low-wage jobs can’t afford food AND gas AND rent AND utilities AND medicine all in the same month.

Even those with decent jobs may be only one sudden job loss or serious illness or divorce or legal issue away from financial disaster. Meanwhile, our social safety net is at great risk from politicians (if you’d like to help protect it, see this).

That’s why next week I’ll be announcing a special free promotion for The Awful Mess: A Love Story that’s designed to help raise awareness of hunger (September is Hunger Action Month). I’ll then put all my net book earnings for the rest of the month towards Feeding America via this virtual campaign page.

After that, I’m going to continue to give 10% of all my net earnings from Amazon to Feeding America (Hopefully I’ll be able to keep updating that same page so you can watch month by month; keep in mind that Amazon pays authors a couple of months after each month’s sales close).

I think Bert, Winslow, Mary, Annie, Jeanette, and all the good folks of Lawson would approve. (I happen to know for a fact that they all believe in helping their neighbors.)

Psst... if you want to make sure you don’t miss a major free promotion, contest, giveaway, new title, paperback announcement, etc., make sure you subscribe to my book updates list below left or above left (it depends on which page you came in on).

The Affordable Care Act and my writing life

There’s a little scene in my book between my heroine, Mary, and Winslow, a town cop who’s made his interest in her pretty clear. She has just been laid off and isn’t feeling terribly well (for reasons many readers will have guessed) as they await Sunday dinner at Winslow’s dad’s farm:

The cracker was helping, and she reached for another with genuine appetite.
“There, you look better. You might want to get your blood sugar checked.”
“I haven’t gotten a doctor here yet. I probably just need to eat a better breakfast.”
“Potter is good; you met him when Father Arthur was sick.”
“I suppose I probably should get a check-up before the insurance runs out.”
“What do you mean?”
“It ends when my severance ends.”
She shook her head. “It’s very expensive.”
“You could get in a jam if you drop it. I’ve seen it happen.”
“And I might lose the house if I have to pay COBRA. I think that would qualify as more of a jam.”
He leaned back. “Lawson Police Department employees have excellent family health coverage.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Is there a job opening I should know about?”
“I just thought you should know.” He smiled.
Was this what passed for flirting nowadays? Look, baby, I’ve got great health insurance.

It’s not exactly the stuff of romance, is it? COBRA?  Fear of getting in a jam without health insurance? I’m dating my book! This scene should be completely obsolete soon. If by some miracle it’s still being read in fifty years, those readers will be wondering what the hell I’m talking about.

God, I hope so.

But I don’t feel bad about dating it. What would Jane Austen be without her attention to what various incomes — or lack thereof — meant to our heroines? Their economic reality informed every major choice they made.

As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of meeting people’s basic human need for access to affordable health care. So I’m a fan of the ACA even though it put a serious wrench in my life this year – and will probably do so again next year.

Last spring I learned that the college where I’ve taught for four years wasn’t going to allow adjuncts to teach more than two classes this fall. Usually I’ve had twice that, although it’s  not anything I can truly depend on.

For some of my most talented teaching friends, this was salutary. They got the hell out. The adjunct life is demoralizing enough without losing any hope of scraping a living out of it. While in the past, this college had hired mostly from its adjunct pool, that hadn’t happened for four years and wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. And while the college has faced serious challenges, like most of the rest of American higher education and quite a lot of American business, it has gotten far too comfortable with its vast supply of cheap, part-time, non-benefited workers.

For me, though, this presented an opportunity. I wanted more time to devote to my writing, I wanted to try to make a go of self-publishing, and I also wanted to stay in the classroom. Plus, these days my husband has the primary job and benefits in our family, and the tax man would actually penalize us if I got a good full-time job.

So I decided this summer was the perfect time to start Sheer Hubris Press. (Okay, so I also tried for a teaching gig at UAlbany, but I correctly guessed that I had little chance of getting it.)

Then the provision in the Affordable Care Act that caused all this havoc was delayed for a year. I dithered for a little while before I volunteered for more courses. Now I’m back up to my normal load of four.

So …now life gets crazy. I’ve had a full summer getting Sheer Hubris Press underway, but next week approximately 96 students become my top priority.

But it’s okay. One, I really do love teaching. A successful class recharges me in ways nothing else can. I love my students.

Two, it doesn’t hurt to get a little more money in the bank. The Awful Mess: A Love Story isn’t going to be paying our mortgage any time soon. I have high hopes that a promotion I have planned for next month will at least get it some recognition (check back next Monday!), but I’m going to be giving away the earnings it might bring in, at least for the month of September.

One, it’s for a good cause (Feeding America — because I’m also a big fan of the basic human right to not go hungry.). Two, as author friend Jenny Milchman put it only recently, this writing business is a very long game. That’s even more the case when you’re indie-publishing and nobody knows who you are. And that’s why I chose this route, actually. I suspect that my books are going to require a very long game, longer than a traditional publisher can afford.

So if you don’t see me flapping about marketing my book a whole lot after next month, you’ll know why. I’ll still be carrying on in the background, between student essays. Next up: A paperback edition (because I’ve gotten a book group request), and getting the next book ready for publication. And I have to fit in the premier of that one-act play, too, somehow!

I do plan to keep this blog up. I usually make my students write the equivalent of a paper a week, so it’s the least I can do.

Thanks so much for being here with me at the beginning!

Torn between two lovers

Basically, there are two dates available in the indie publishing world: Amazon and Smashwords. (Yeah, okay, there’s also Kobo, but everyone you know will say “Who?”)

Amazon is the guy with the nice car, which he keeps neat and fully gassed up, who likes to take you out to nice places. He’s reassuringly predictable. If he says he’ll pick you up at 7pm, then you can count on him to actually do it. You can make solid plans with Amazon.

You can expect Amazon to look presentable if you take him home to meet your parents. If you’re hoping for a sound, middle-class existence or even riches, he’s your best bet.

Unfortunately, he has a jealous streak. Also, you’ve noticed that he can be kind of ruthless. He’s not going to do you any favors unless you legally bind yourself only to him. And if he thinks you’re giving anyone else any more attention than him, he’ll cut you dead.

You can’t try to explain, either. Unless you’re already Someone Important, Amazon will probably give you the silent treatment.

Some folks even think he’s evil, and will judge you for hanging out with him. You’re not certain. You feel grateful to him for many things. However, you may still secretly wonder if he plans to take over the world and then laugh maniacally as he lays waste to anyone who might even dream of competing with him.

Then there’s Smashwords. Now this dude is the sweetest guy around. He happily shares everything with you and the whole rest of the world. He’ll give you tons of advice for free, and always returns your calls.

He loves libraries, and makes it easy to give them things. Who doesn’t love libraries?

Now he’ll let you take pre-orders, too. That’s enough to make a girl swoon.

But you never really know when he’ll show up. It could take days, even weeks. And his friends are extremely unreliable. Yeah, they’re all busy with their own lives. You could probably get their attention more easily if you went to them directly, but there are a lot of them and only one of you. So you never really know what’s going to happen when Smashwords hands you along. You could end up in some very weird situations.

Situations that Amazon is guaranteed to hear about.

And then you’re screwed.

This is what it’s like for indie authors right now. This is why The Awful Mess: A Love Story is only available on Amazon for now, while the PG-13 version (which nobody wants anyway) is available on both platforms. I can schedule and execute promotions in a predictable manner on Amazon, promotions that I need if I want to have any hope of selling books beyond my own small circle of friends and acquaintances.

If I tried to do this from Smashwords, God only knows what would happen. Life with him and his pals is unnervingly unpredictable.

But Smashwords, honey, I do feel bad about the choice I’ve made. You’ve got a great heart. I’d love to see you get a nice reliable car that never stalls out when I most need it to go. I’d love you to trim that scraggly beard and become someone I can take home to the folks.

And Amazon, dear, I really, really hope you’re just a little misunderstood, a good guy who’s just trying to get ahead, and not the grasping global dictator some people make you out to be.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along?

The shakedown cruise is over — time to head out

Having finally successfully updated my book file on Amazon, and feeling satisfied that I have some good reviews in place (even a couple in the UK), I just spent too much of this lovely weekend holed up with my computer, plotting my publicity campaign.

Last week’s pessimism is gone under control. I got a good scolding/pep talk from a couple of readers (thank you!), but I also find that whenever I get involved in advertising something I tend to get excited about it. (I’m not just talking about my own stuff, either – I’ve been known to get excited about life insurance.)

Fair warning, poor friends: I start hitting up my contacts on Facebook and beyond again this week. You’ll be asked to “like” my static author page and book page (just to make FB even more confusing than it already is with a Sandy and a Sandra). I’ll be mining my scary email contact list (it goes back years and is probably full of dead addresses). I’ll hit up my LinkedIn connections, too.

And I’ll be trying to create an opt-in email list that isn’t just a subscription to the blog, so you can expect something about that.

Since my brother Drew happens to be an experienced videographer, I asked him if he’d like to make a book trailer for me. He is interested, so I wrote up a rough draft of a script for that this weekend and we’ll see what we can come up with to publicize both my book and his video capabilities for the author market.

And I’ll be sending out press releases to every news organization even remotely connected to the novel or to me, and even notifying a few of my old churches.

This whole push is timed to the book going Kindle Select so that I can offer it free for five days at the beginning of September. I’m going to urge folks who get it free to donate whatever they think it’s worth in food or funds to their local food bank or to a virtual campaign I’m setting up for Feeding America. Any subsequent royalties I earn on that title at Kindle during September will go into that campaign, too.

I got a fourth class to teach next semester, so we can do this without financial pain, and I’ve decided that the best way to deal with the horror of publicizing myself is to put the proceeds towards a good cause.

Since part of my publicity campaign involves hitting up some churches or church-related enterprises, I’m glad I still have a PG13 version around, although I expect absolutely nothing from it at this point. On the plus side, it does mean I can go Kindle Select with the adult version and still offer the PG13 version at the other retailers. Unless something changes, though, I won’t be bothering with this strategy on the next book.

Once the semester really gets going, I’ll be too busy teaching to do much more marketing. But my short play “Nude with Bearded Irises” is being performed in October, so that will give me another little shot of local publicity.

I might time another free period or a new short story collection to go out right after Christmas, for another little bump.

And that’s probably it until we start all over again with The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire next summer. We plan to sell the house next spring so we can downsize a bit. Along with getting a book ready to publish and coursework, I think I’ll be busy enough.

That’s the plan, anyway. Do you have any suggestions?