Author’s New Chapter: Advice for Self-Publishing and Promotion

Today’s guest post: What do you do when your life season changes? Award-winning Indiana newspaper journalist, Donna Cronk, decided it was time to write a novel. This inspiring author and speaker’s guest post shares her empty-nest and novel writing experiences. More importantly, the successful lady explains why she self-published and offers great advice about promoting a self-published novel.  After all, Donna’s now written two novels, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast and the sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. (available on amazon.com) 

God gave me a new life chapter

Raising our two sons was the best gig I could imagine. I loved everything about having kids at home, knowing what they were up to, attending Ben’s baseball and soccer games, and Sam’s band competitions. I shared in their shouts of joy and frustration while watching the Indianapolis Colts and in watching our sons grow into young men.

When they were ready to leave the nest, this mom wasn’t. I had been the dugout mom, the room mother, the field-trip chaperone. I didn’t suppose the boys needed my skills in college, and a stray mom might be frowned upon at first-job sites.

Once they moved on to first apartments and jobs, the only firsts on my calendar were the colonoscopy we’re all supposed to get at 50 and figuring out who I was apart from a wife and mother. I’m not proud to admit this, but I couldn’t imagine what God might have for me that could rival the job of hands-on mom.

Then one day my husband’s idea inspired a fresh outlook. He said when we retire, we should return to my hometown. I hadn’t thought of this. His comment filled me with the oddest feeling of possibility. I realized there were surprises ahead and that I didn’t need to have a prepared script. In fact, I was incapable of creating a script that only God could write.

But a question begged: If we returned to my hometown, what would we do? I imagined opening a bed and breakfast. Just for fun, I started writing a story about a woman I called Samantha. I gave her an empty nest, made her a widow, had her lose the job she adored, and in all, made a bigger mess of her life than I had going in mine. Then I moved her to her hometown, which looks a lot like mine, gave her a B & B, and still more issues. Going home didn’t solve her problems. There will always be problems, disappointments, new seasons, and new joys too.

I feel that God used this story to show me (and readers) that no matter what happens, we can trust Him. We need to let His plans for our lives unfold and to realize that no matter where we are or what happens (empty nest, feelings of sadness, loneliness, abandonment, fear of the future) He’s beside us if we ask Him to be. As I wrote and rewrote the story, I realized that I had a plot, message, and a real novel on my hands. It wasn’t just fictional scribbles to hide in a drawer.

My husband challenged me to finish the book and get it published in 2013. We recognized that as a new empty nester, the space was available to devote to the book, and then to the time-consuming promotions, and programs required to sell it. It was the right time to go for it. Tomorrow or next year might not be. This is why I self-published.

One thing I would tell a would-be author is don’t underestimate the time a book will require of your life. If you decide to move forward with the project, make sure a significant amount of free time is cleared for you to devote to marketing and doting on your book after it is published. If I had waited for an agent, deal, publisher, or some other form of magical thinking, the book might never have seen print. I had no illusions of becoming a bestselling author. But as a newspaper journalist, I had a base of readers who might be curious about what I had to say and buy copies. Two-hundred copies of Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast landed on my doorstep in January 2014. To start, I had lined up a dozen programs and library signings, women’s-club meetings, early-morning coffees, and service-club dinners in which to speak about my book and then sign copies for those who wanted them. To my delight, people responded positively, and I enjoyed the ride and the busy schedule. It wasn’t long before I ordered more books, then more, and my initial costs were soon redeemed.

Readers told me I had to do a sequel. I started writing and only after I had eight chapters did I tell my husband, “Honey, we’re expecting again.”

The sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, came out last year. I got many repeat signings and programs from the first time, along with some new ones. I’m constantly looking for more. This story follows Samantha after the drama in book one has settled down. Now she is ready for a semi-permanent boarder, and maybe even a romance. The theme of the book is figuring out where God wants to plant and use us.

There are also recipes. I mention them throughout both novels and put them at the end. They are all tried and true, either from family or friends.

I’m not getting anything close to rich. But I’m in the black on both books, and I’ve had countless wonderful experiences traveling throughout Indiana giving programs on a variety of themes found in my books. I’ve sat in living rooms and answered discussion questions for book clubs. I’ve reconnected with people I never thought I’d see again. I’ve been cheered on in my hometown library by my kindergarten and fifth-grade teachers – sitting next to each other a half a century after I sat in their classrooms. I wouldn’t trade these surreal, sweet moments for anything.

As long as people book me for a May banquet or a February chili supper with their book club, I’ll go. With bells on.

The other thing I would say to writers who want to publish is to consider going for it. Google “self-publishing companies.” You’ll get bunches of names. I used CreateSpace and would do it again. If I waited, or kept going to conferences hoping to catch someone important’s eye, I think the first book would still be in the drawer and the second not even a gleam in my eye.

God gave me a new life chapter with these books. And for that, I give Him the praise and glory. This post is long enough for now, so I’ll say thank you to Christina for letting me share. And I’ll leave you with a bit more advice. From the first book: Trust God and live your dreams. From the second: Bloom where – and before – you’re planted.

Donna Cronk and her husband Brian live in Pendleton, Indiana. He’s a retired school administrator and teacher. She continues working as a community newspaper journalist in nearby New Castle, Indiana. She’s won many statewide newspaper-writing awards and is a contributor to the Indiana University Press anthology, Undeniably Indiana. Email her at newsgirl.1958@gmail.com.

Both books are on Amazon in print or for Kindle. Or, invite Donna Cronk to your church banquet, women’s group or book club to give a program and buy them from her! Contact Donna and she will tell you about her topics. Or she invites you to visit her website at www.donnacronk.com.

Donna, I appreciate your guest post. This is wonderful advice. God bless you, dear sister. Until the next time …On the Road Less Traveled – take good care, Christina

Christina Ryan Claypool  www.christinaryanclaypool.com 

 

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My Little LinkedIn Experiment

Hand on ComputerI hate deception. That’s why it took sidestepping my core values to create a LinkedIn connections’ list filled with mostly perfect strangers. This is not recommended, since LinkedIn advises that you only connect with individuals you know well. But after doing my research, I wonder if many of the 200 million members follow this advice.

The goal of my project was to see if I could gain 500 plus noteworthy associates. In the LinkedIn world, 500 is the magic figure, because after that your total number of colleagues isn’t visible anyway. My motive: it was entertaining. Besides, isn’t narcissistic visibility what social media is all about?

To name drop, one of my more famous connections is mega-church pastor, Rick Warren. Despite the constant media bashing he endures, I deeply respect this author of The New York Times bestseller, “The Purpose Driven Life,” which has sold more than thirty million copies. Recently, the now Christian classic was re-released in a 10th anniversary edition titled, “What on Earth Am I Here For? The Purpose Driven Life.”

By the way, most best-selling Christian authors sell in the mere thousands. Could jealousy be fueling some of that criticism? Anyway, gaining Warren as a connection was like obtaining the Boardwalk property when I was a kid playing Monopoly.

The minister was a kingpin during my little experiment which began in August 2012. Because I have gleaned a lot from reading his books, when I saw his profile picture on a friend’s connections’ list, I thought, “Why not?” With a just for fun click of the mouse and a pitiful plea to please accept my invitation, I sent the request. Let’s be honest, how could Pastor Warren turn down an invitation from a desperate follower. Besides, we have a lot of connections in common. Even if most of mine were bogusly obtained.

In reality, I would describe myself as a small market journalist and inspirational speaker from the hills of Ohio. Although I have been blessed with a few professional milestones, which I fully exploited on my LinkedIn profile. Creating an impressive profile is of paramount importance. You can make yourself stand out by shamelessly listing the bigger than life moments of your career at the top. An award that you’ve won, being featured on a TV show, etc. Even if you only held a prop it still counts. Then folks who are not sure if “you are somebody” connect to insure they stay in the LinkedIn loop.

Metaphorically stealing another’s connections is the dangerous beauty of LinkedIn. In explanation, if one of your contacts leaves their connections public, once you are connected you can send requests to their connections. Being a colleague of a colleague, is like having an instant recommendation. This is how I gained access to the hundreds of literary agents, authors, publishing house owners and editors that I am now connected to.

It was pretty easy to get them to accept my invitations, after I nabbed a couple celebrity status associates and made a few mutual connections. After decades of book proposal rejections, this part of my research became more than a test. It became a personal vendetta.  To explain, I have published several books, but that’s just the point, I self-published, or as we authors say, I “vanity-pressed” my way into becoming an author. But enough bitter ranting.

Once I hit 500 plus, the invitations starting rolling in. I think most of them are from professional people who want to look successful. In their attempt to climb the LinkedIn ladder, they think that connecting with another 500 plus person like myself, will be of some use down the road. But in my case, I highly doubt that.

Anyway, midway into my research, I sent an invitation to the wrong lady. An executive director of internal affairs for a large organization who replied back about her hesitancy to connect with someone she didn’t know. This stopped me in my tracks for a couple days, because I realized I barely knew anyone on my own list. There were those cautious individuals who initially ignored my requests, but this female director was the only one to question my motivation. Besides, those who ignored me originally, most often jumped on board when my numbers grew.

Unfortunately, some LinkedIn users don’t seem savvy enough to keep their connections’ list private. After you connect there is a privacy setting that can make sure new associations only view mutual associates. At least, I had the decency to employ this tool, so stalkers like myself wouldn’t violate my hard-earned contacts.

On another note, it’s such an honor when a LinkedIn colleague takes time to endorse you for your professional expertise. Unfortunately, when it is someone you have never met, and they send an unsolicited endorsement for your skills, it really makes you wonder. Am I going to endorse them back? No way. I do have my scruples, if loosely.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some great contacts through LinkedIn. It’s an important social media tool for professionals. My little experiment was just to prove how less than ethical individuals can misuse the site for their own promotion. Still, I had to giggle this past February when LinkedIn sent me an email congratulating me for being, “one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012.”

As for social media in general, most people are simply hoping that being a visible presence on the Web will somehow give them a career advantage. And who can blame them? These remain difficult economic days, and most of us can use all the positive public relations we can get.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com She blogs at www.christinaryanclaypool.com/blog1

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