Monday, October 20, 2014

Working Outside the Box - or - this side UP

Copyright © 2013 Susan Schreyer
Originally published by 1st Turning Point

Boxes are nice. They're comforting and cozy with well defined sides. You know what to expect in a box -- it's all there for you to see. No surprises. 
On the other hand, boxes are limiting and cramp your style. They don't allow for exploring except within the box. Want to try something that doesn't quite fit in the box? Bam! You'll smack right into a wall.
I've spent a good deal of time on the outside of boxes. On the occasions I've climbed into them, I generally find myself climbing out a short time later. I'm not box material. Apparently, a lot of people aren't box material. I've noticed that lately. 
In this revolutionary age of publishing an awful lot of writers are not only choosing to be outside the traditional publishing box, but are finding themselves dumped out of what they thought was a cozy and reassuring location. Regardless of how you've found your way to the "outside" you now have to deal with it. Every one of us is faced with the same challenges in making our writing careers work, and the work of promotion is a near-vertical learning curve for most.
The object of our efforts is to reach our readers. This simple little fact occurred to me about a year ago after the release of my first book. I got lots of advice -- some of it useful and much of it not. The good "useless" advice I got tended to involve getting out in public and hand-selling my book. You know what I'm talking about -- that sweaty-hand, palpating-heart-producing activity where you get to beg total strangers to buy your book.
There had to be an easier way.
Two things occurred to me: First, I'm exponentially more comfortable around people I know. Second, the times I've really enjoyed myself around scads of strangers have been when someone else was doing the talking.
I started quizzing other authors I knew who were facing the same promotion dilemma and came up with the idea of forming a local group of authors who would go around to different locals and give free talks about their books, or any of a variety of writing subjects. The idea was to reach out to local readers we might not otherwise have the opportunity to contact and let them know there were local authors with good books they might want to read. 
The first group I formed was The Northwest Mystery Authors Tour Group. I spread the word in my writing community and sent out letters of introduction to libraries, bookstores, senior centers and any place else any of the members could think of. Even hair salons (and yes, they're interested!). We got a number of events scheduled. Yay! We were on our way!
With a Yahoo group and a spread sheet, it's a fairly simple matter to communicate and schedule events.
Our format was fairly simple, not to mention tried and true. We offer a panel with up to four authors and a moderator, and take turns answering the moderator's questions. Then we’d open up to audience questions. It was fun, informative and far less anxiety producing than going solo. And we sold some books.
After a while it became apparent that it was just a small number of us who were pitching in and doing the heavy lifting. If a group is going to keep the momentum going, then it is necessary to get all members contributing since you’ll likely cause burn-out if you put the heavy lifting on too few shoulders. That doesn’t mean everyone has to go at full throttle all the time – that kind of expectation is unrealistic, not to mention exhausting. People’s participation in volunteer work tends to ebb and flow. It’s natural and reasonable. Work with that.
So, what happened? The original group of about fifteen transformed into a smaller group of three, sometimes four who found a certain synergy together. As a group, Women Who Kill, found a humorous and informative way to connect with an audience and a pace to work at that doesn’t exhaust, and allows for the other responsibilities of life. 
Sometimes, when life outside the box is scary it's a good idea to create your own box – and then be willing to jump outside of that one, too. After all, it’s a trip, not a destination.
Susan Schreyer is a local author who combines her love of mysteries with her passion for horses in the suspenseful, humorous and romantic Thea Campbell mystery series set in Snohomish, WA. Shooting To Kill, the fifth book in the series, has just been released in e-book and print. Susan is co-president of the Puget Sound chapter of Sisters in Crime and a former board member of the Guppies Chapter of SinC. 

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