I'm a writer. There, I've admitted it. I wonder if there's a 12-Step program for folks like me...

Most of this blog will be about writing for a living. Or maybe about trying to earn a living as a writer. Or maybe about trying to have a life while you write.

And maybe I'll be able to avoid the driving temptation to write about politics. But I'm not very good around temptation, so all I can promise is that I'll try to avoid writing about politics.

But I will write about the software I use, and the software I try out, and what I think about it. I actually spent lots of years in software testing - as a tester and as a manager of testing departments. I actually started work in software development in 1971, so I have a bit of experience with computers to back up what I have to say on this subject.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nothing else seemed to work…


…so I took on another project. I’ve been stalling, actually thinking of things to do to avoid getting back to work on “Twisted Key”. It’s not unusual, actually. It’s not that I’m tired of Terry Rankin and Cathy Diamond, or even the story line. I just didn’t want to sink back into the “Zone” again.

Well, that particular problem is out of the way.

I was one of eighteen authors at a group book signing party give by the Historic Grounds Bookstore in Green Cove Springs last Saturday night. I got there earlier than most and was still setting up my table when a customer and her daughter entered the store to look around. She promptly bought copies of “The Big Bend” and “Hog Valley”, which I happily signed for her. Once the party got under way an hour later, I spent the rest of the evening selling and signing books.

It was a great evening. I hope all of the other authors did as well as I did. I met a lot of very nice people – new authors, old authors, journalists and even a publisher. And customers, of course. Lots of very nice customers.

One of whom wrote me a few days later to say she had already finished “The Big Bend” and loved it. She said she reads a lot of murder mysteries. So many, in fact, she can easily predict ‘who done it’, which must really ruin an otherwise good story for her. But in “The Big Bend” she was surprised by the ending, and loved that immensely. A few days later she got back in touch and said she thoroughly enjoyed “Hog Valley” and was waiting for “Twisted Key”. She also mentioned she was thinking of taking a long drive around Florida to see some of the locations in my books.

What a great compliment that would be for any author. And what a great encouragement to keep on writing. I feel like running into the street, yelling “More appreciation! Less cash!” I would never do that, of course, but the thought is there.

I had lunch around mid-week with that publisher I met at the book signing. He suggested a book project to me. We spent the next ninety minutes eating and talking. About editing, and books, and marketing and promotion. And that project. I sent him an email this afternoon, telling him I had an outline ready and would work on the first chapter, starting tomorrow. I should have it ready for him around mid-week.

“Twisted Key” will get equal time, I promise.

I’m looking forward to this next week. I hope you are, too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ups and Downs of Selling


You’d think that after two years (or more) of writing, editing, rewriting and polishing a manuscript and actually getting the thing published that you’d be on easy street. You’d think that folks would appear on your doorstep, cash in hand, all atwitter to purchase your new book. Signed, of course.

You’d think that. Of course you would.

You’d be wrong. Disappointingly, frustratingly, and very sadly wrong. Nobody, except for your very closest friends, knows you exist, or knows that you have actually written and published a book. Or cares, for that matter.

Shortly after the glow of publication wears off (about fifteen minutes, on average), you begin to understand that writing and publishing are the easy bits of writing for a living. No matter the incredible number of hours you sweated blood to get your manuscript ready for the publisher, no matter the nights you lost sleep to doubt and insecurity, no matter the days you wandered and pondered, lost in plots and plans.

Harsh reality gets up in your face after those first fifteen minutes of utter joy and yells that no one gives a single, itty-bitty damn about you or your book.

They don’t know you, and have no idea your book even exists. What’s worse, they don’t care.

That is when you begin to understand that your job as a writer has now been placed way down on your List of Things To Do With Your Life.

Way, way down.

Remember the old saw about selling ice to Eskimos?  That’s you. That’s what you’ve got to do. You have to sell yourself and your book. Actively. There is no such thing as a passive salesman. You can’t sit in a bookstore with your book attractively displayed on a table, with your head buried in a magazine as people walk past and go home at the end of the day wondering why nobody bought your book. Well, you can, and some folks actually do that.

Time after time. Until they get really, really bored. Or depressed and very poor. At which time they go back to their real job, their precious book locked away where they won’t have to look at it ever again.

You have to get out, meet people, get them to like you and then help them to convince themselves they really want to read your book. You can’t sell a product to anyone, you know. You have to show them there is value in that book for them and then they convince themselves to buy it.

It’s what some folks call work. ‘Cause you have to do it for a living. Full time, overtime, weekends and holidays. You can write more stuff when you’re not selling. Or keeping your accounts, or researching new markets, or writing puff pieces for newspapers, or ordering more copies of your book(s) and hoping they arrive before your next sales event. Or setting up and maintaining your web site. Or writing a new post for your blog.

New writers are almost always reluctant to put themselves out there. Writers are usually shy and prefer to write in peace and quiet. They live through the the stories they tell. That’s a big part of why they write. But that does not sell books. Salesmen – or saleswomen – sell books, and develop markets.

Let’s get past the nasty bits of identifying the market for your work. Let’s assume you did that before you wrote the first word in your manuscript (as you should have done). Let’s also assume you’ve identified the price point for your book, and it’s set in stone. You know how much each copy costs you, including shipping, so you know what your gross profit will be from each sale. All that’s left is to identify where you’re going to go with your bags and boxes of books and your brand new marquee tent. And your smile, and your attentive look and pleasant demeanor.

And your fears of failure and rejection and your general nervousness.

I do a lot of personal appearances and book signings at independent bookstores and community fairs. I am open to speaking engagements, too. Not everybody can sell, and not everybody feels comfortable with public speaking. Not everybody writes books, either. But you did, and now you have to sell. First you have to sell yourself. then you have to give the person you’re speaking with a few good reasons to take a big chance on you and buy your book.

When a person approaches your booth, they are already curious. They want to know what you have out on your table. Stand up, smile, hold out your hand and introduce yourself. Look them in the eyes, and smile. Not everyone will give you their name, but most will. Be sure to remember it. Most people with take you hand, and return your greeting. People want to be friends with other people. People want to liked, and they want to talk about themselves. Find something about that person to compliment. Perhaps they’re wearing an NFL jersey, or carrying a very nice purse or wearing a lovely scarf. Get them talking. Find a connection for them with your book. Add value to your book by mentioning that connection.

Let them sell your book for you.

Let’s say you have two books. Make them an offer on the second book: “Look, I sell these books at $12.00 plus tax. Let’s say you buy both. I’ll knock $5.00 off the second book for you.” Almost always your new customer will go for the deal. He – or she – already likes you and likes the value they see in your product.

And then you sign the books, with a special note to your new friend.

You haven’t just made a sale. You’ve made a friend.

And you’ve just sold two books.

It’s easy. It’s fun. And you’re no longer alone. You’ve got a new friend. And money in your pocket. From your books.

Have a good week.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Web site changes, book signing events and more


I’ve added a number of new sections to the Photo Gallery ( http://garyshowalter.com/PhotoGallery.aspx ) – the major change is the addition of a section highlighting some of the pieces I built while in the workshop of Catriel Sugarman, in Jerusalem, Israel. I wish I had more pictures from those days. We did build some absolutely stunning pieces together.

Casey had the great good fortune to of acquiring a Holtzapffel lathe from a friend of his in South Africa. I had the great good fortune of restoring the lathe and using it for a few years. I loved that wonderful machine. Any real engineer would. I took lots and lots of pictures, and many of them are now in the Holtzapffel Lathe section of the Photo Gallery.

I had a great time at the Middleburg Winter Festival this weekend. Lots of nice people walking around, lots to see and do. It’s a small affair, and very well organized. Good music, good food and good weather, too. I met some very nice folks, many of whom purchased copies of my books. That’s always so encouraging.

Thursday evening will see me in Gainesville, Florida, at Books Inc, from 5:30 to 7:30. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood. Saturday evening I’ll be at the Historic Grounds Bookstore on Walnut St. in Green Cove Springs. There will be six or eight authors present, along with some good wine and good cheese, so dress nice (I have to, so you should, too), stop by and visit for a while.

Have a good week.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Web Site changes

I’ve had the privilege (or misfortune, to be more precise), to spend much of my working life in crafts. Woodworking, silver and gold smithing, wood turning and carving, furniture building and restoration, and so on. I call it a privilege because it is sheer joy to build something well. But for me it was a misfortune, because I never made enough money to turn a profit for all of the hours I put into each job. I’m just that good a craftsman, and that bad a businessman, I guess.

So now I’m a writer, and a businessman. The only difference I can see between being a good craftsman and a lousy businessman and and being a good writer and a lousy businessman is that I don’t sweat as much, or drive my hammer onto my thumb quite as often. Actually, that’s a real improvement in my quality of life.

I miss all of my lovely tools, and my workshop, and my dreams. I do, really. But at my age I have to at least appear to be starting to grow up. Maturity sucks, if you ask me.

So I’ve taken many of the photographs of my work over the years and put together a Photo Gallery on my web site. I’ve added a bit of commentary on the pieces I’ve made, or restored, and I’ll probably expand that once most of the photographs are in place. It’s about half done, now.

So, log on to www.garyshowalter.com and click on the Photo Gallery. There are three or four sections there, now. Let me know what you think.

We’ll get back to more serious stuff later in the week. I’ve got a book to finish.

Have a good week