Monday, October 31, 2011

How Important are Personal Appearances for a Writer?

Mary at Poppyseeds, Stanwood, WA

I have found that a big part of promotion is making personal appearances. Look around for opportunities to make this happen.

– Call on stores in person. Always have your books with you when you’re out and about. In my car, I keep a good sampling of my books in a wheeled carry-on. If you see a store that might feature your books, don’t hesitate to go in, introduce yourself and show them your books. Many times I have shown a store owner or manager my books, even though they currently don’t have books in their inventory. I’ve been gratified by their interest. For sure, call on bookstores, but broaden your scope to other stores your readers might frequent, such as drugstores, gift stores, tack shops, etc.. Non-book stores most often pay up-front rather than on consignment, and pay a higher rate than bookstores.

– Take advantage of writer group events. In the Northwest, Pacific Northwest Writers Association has a Cottage Event where members are encouraged to appear with their books. If you belong to a writers group (and you should!), help organize an event that will draw the public.

– Participate in community events. On Camano Island, where I live, an annual Women’s Expo draws a large crowd. Vendors display their wares at tables featuring health items, jewelry, gifts, clothing, seasonal items, hand-crafted goods....and my books. Often, I am the only vendor with books and I enjoy being a novelty. It’s gratifying when people stop by to tell you how much they enjoyed your book and will now buy another title, and perhaps one more as a gift. Watch for opportunities in your area–there are bound to be Christmas events, fall festivals, public markets, even flea markets. Sometimes there’s a fee to have a “booth.” You have to weigh the cost against the profit. But, if nothing else, your personal appearance has added to your name and face recognition.

– Become known at your local library. Inquire about the library carrying your books. Donate a copy of your book to show your good will. In my area, Friends of the Library has invited me to speak and it is expected that I will bring my books to sell to attendees. Friends of the Library regularly host writer events–readers love meeting authors. They also hold an annual book sale for which proceeds go back into the library fund. I save my slightly shop-worn books to donate to this cause.

– When we take a road trip, I always take an extra supply of books and call on stores along the way. I have found small town drugstores to be among my best customers. I don’t make a big thing of this–it is our vacation, after all. Sometimes I’ll explain we’re visiting the area and thought I’d pop in and introduce myself. The response has been gratifying. Throughout the year, especially at Christmastime, I follow up these visits with a phone call and often replenish their book supply.

– Team up with a friend. It’s fun to make personal appearances with a friend. I often team up with a writer from another community, giving us a wider selection of venues. Sometimes it’s fun going solo, but other times it’s good to share the cost of a booth with someone else.

– It’s always interesting to people to have a book written about where they live. Canvas that area, looking for stores or other possibilities for personal appearances.

As you make your personal calls, be professional. Be prepared to leave a brochure or at the very least a business card. Sometimes people need time to think new ideas over. Follow up with a phone call soon after your personal visit. You are unique. Show enthusiasm about your product.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: West With the Night

West With the Night (North Point Press) by Beryl Markham was first copyrighted in 1942, so don’t look for this gem on the just-released shelf. Since I’m researching memoirs and am always interested in all things African, I found this book extraordinary. Markham, born in England but raised in British East Africa, shows a powerful command of the English language.

In her childhood Markham hunted with tribesmen, endured the same discomforts, ran the distance with the best of them. Later, she followed her father’s passion for horses, raising thoroughbreds for the track and keeping them for her own pleasure.

In the mid-1930's, Markham became enchanted with flying and learned from a master flyer, Tom Black, who taught her in a D. H. Gipsy Moth. She achieved her “A” license, then later, her “B” license which entitled her to earn a living flying. In the early years, she carried mail, passengers, supplies to safaris and occasionally joined in a search for a downed plane. Often, her destination was marked by a single column of smoke, or at night, a row of small fires or lanterns.

Hunting bull elephant for their ivory was popular in the 1930's. As I read these encounters, I simply had to put aside what we know now about extinction and the injustice of killing an animal for a single feature of its body. Markham became enamored with the sport of spotting herds of elephant, working with one of Africa’s best known white hunters, Baron von Blixen, whom Markham called Blix.

In 1936, Beryl Markham met head-on a challenge of a trans-Atlantic solo flight, east to west, England to America. She would fly non-stop a night and a day. However, somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland ice lodged in the petrol tank’s air intake, partially choking fuel flow to the carburetor. The engine failed, caught, failed again and again, but finally would not restart and, after twenty-one hours and twenty-five minutes, Markham had to force-land in a Nova Scotia bog, burying the plane’s wheels and tipping it head-first into the mud. Markham managed to crawl out of the plane and wandered in the muck for an hour before being rescued.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman and West With the Night a memorable accounting of her life. Ernest Hemingway said of this book, “...[Beryl Markham] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers...” I won’t argue with that. It is an engaging, elegant book.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River (W. W. Norton) by Bonnie Jo Campbell is a captivating novel that kept me terrified, heart-warmed, and fascinated by a girl who becomes foot-loose on a Michigan river.

Margo Crane and her dad get along pretty well on their own, though Margo misses her mother Still, she’s always had more in common with her father and grandfather, learning to live off the land, to fish, to shoot like her heroine, Annie Oakley. She can get along without all the trappings sixteen year-old girls usually feel they need. Margo isn’t one to talk a lot, and when she’s raped by a neighbor, actually a relative, the secret is kept.

Through a violent and strange turn of events, Margo is on her own. She’s always been as one with the river, and it’s the river that becomes her home. Life is harsh for a young person on her own and she soon finds comfort from someone she’s met before, a man her father had known, and she finds security for a time. She’s able to do what she loves–hunt and fish. When that situation turns sour, Margo is on her own again, briefly.

Margo meets people with whom she seeks refuge, but the past has a way of catching up and when that happens, she is again alone. She meets an old, dying man, and forms a bond, not unlike she’d had with her grandfather before his death.

Once Upon a River is remarkable on many levels. Hunting lore, skinning animals, cooking wild game–Margo is a master at these skills. Campbell has done her homework–most readers will learn more about living in the wild than they ever wanted to know. I found myself caught up in the daily living struggles of this young woman, cheering her on when things got tough, bursting with pride when she created solutions, but all the while terrified of what could happen next. I was riveted to this story from the first page to when I reluctantly turned the last.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Heirloom Murders

Kathleen Ernst’s The Heirloom Murders (Midnight Ink) is a cozy mystery written with flair.

A woman apparently commits suicide and Chloe befriends the deceased’s sister, Dellyn. Not only shaken by her sister’s violent death, Dellyn is still grieving over the recent death of their parents.

Both young women work at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor history museum, Chloe as a curator and Dellyn as an agriculture specialist. Chloe is helping Dellyn sort through her parents’ household effects, many of which are antique treasurers. Among the numerous files, they find references to the missing Eagle Diamond, a legendary gemstone unearthed in 1876.

Sparks are reignited between Chloe and cop Roelke McKenna when he investigates the alleged suicide. When an ex-boyfriend appears on the scene, Chloe is reminded of a messy and sad previous life she’d hoped to leave behind. The old boyfriend’s presence leaves Roelke unsure of how to proceed with his hoped for relationship with Chloe.

A murder takes place on the museum grounds, someone breaks into Dellyn’s historic house, and Chloe is attacked when she discovers someone lurking in Dellyn’s barn. It becomes clear that murderous greed is behind these evil acts.

The book toggles from the present day to 1876 on Charles and Clarissa Wood’s farm. Hired hand Albrecht Bachmeier is helping Charles dig a well, when Charles finds an unusual gem. Once it’s washed, the pretty gem is placed on Clarissa’s kitchen windowsill.

Kathleen Ernst’s The Heirloom Murders is a great sequel to the first of the Chloe Eliffson Mystery series, Old World Murder. The author presents a captivating story with humor and more than enough mystery to entice readers to keep turning the pages.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: Year of the Angels

Year of the Angels by Erika Madden is a heart-felt novel about a ten year-old girl living in Germany during World War II. Inspired by Madden’s personal experiences, she describes war that few of us can imagine.

The Lindner family, a gentle mother and six children, including a new-born infant, struggle to survive the war as it creeps closer to their little village of Mainbernheim. Lisel’s father, conscripted by the Germain army, is away from his family, and they receive no word about his whereabouts or even if he’s still alive.

The family strives to make life as pleasant as possible, despite the black-outs, screaming sirens, crowded bomb shelters, the terrible shortage of food and other basic necessities. The children scrounge for coal along the railroad tracks, work in the fields in exchange for food, do whatever they can for the family’s survival. Through it all, their mother bravely and tenderly guides her children. and shows by example that the most important thing is family. Lisel and her beloved little brother Dieter have a special relationship and find play and enjoyment whenever and however they can. They escape to their treasured stone break, their secret, magical place.

War is terrible. Most of us believe that. Still, we reason, it’s necessary to preserve our freedom. But when you read an account such as Year of the Angels, you realize what it means to those most affected by the violence, the people who live there. The desperate struggles of being displaced, enduring shortages of food, clothes, and warmth, the misery of families being torn apart, is their daily reality. In the midst of this misery, the Lindner family shows kindness, sharing, and even humor.

Year of the Angels is a poignant account of one year of the European war as seen through the eyes of a young girl. It’s a treasure you will long remember. To learn more about the author and how to purchase the book, visit Year of the Angels can also be purchased through