Thursday, February 21, 2013

Promoting Your Novel Part II

This is the second part of my guest blog on Abbott Press. Here's the link on the Abbott Press website:

Promoting Your Novel Part 2: Contests, Preparation and Keys to Success

Promoting Your Novel Part 2
Recently on the Abbott Press blog, award-winning author Rebecca D. Elswick shared the first two steps of the “full-scale assault plan” she had ready for her book Mama’s Shoes  when it debuted. In Promoting Your Novel Part 1, Elswick focused on the importance of networking and social media when marketing your book. Now, it’s time for Part 2, in which you’ll learn the benefits of entering contests, how to prepare for marketing opportunities, and the three keys to creating success as an author:

Step Three: Contests
— Now that I’ve networked ways to get my books “out there” and submerged myself in social media, I’m ready to sit back and watch what happens. Right?
Wrong again.
It’s now time to enter contests. Since Abbott Press is an indie press, I own the rights to Mama’s Shoes  which made it eligible for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Yes, you guessed it, I entered Mama’s Shoes. The contest began with 5,000 novels vying for the prize — a publishing contract with Penguin Publishing. Round by round they eliminated novels and Mama’s Shoes  stayed on the list. It made it to one of the 50 semi-finalists before losing to the final three. Not too shabby!
I also entered Mama’s Shoes  in the ForeWord Review Book of the Year Contest. ForeWord, one of the few remaining wholly independent review sources, reviews more than 2,000 books a year from the country’s top small presses. Mama’s Shoes  was one of ten finalists for the Book of the Year in the general fiction category. Due to my networking with other Appalachian authors, in the past year, Mama’s Shoes  was nominated for: Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction; Weatherford Award given by Berea College and the Appalachian Studies Association; Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing given by Morehead State University, and of course the Writer’s Digest Mark of Quality Award.

Step Four: Be Prepared
— Always be prepared. When you are invited to give a reading, or set up a table to sell books at an event, put your best self forward. Be on time, have ample books and business cards available, and do your best to make your area attractive and personal. I always take a handmade quilt to use as a table cover and display my books with signs that entice the reader to take another look. Since my book is called Mama’s Shoes,  I have a pink and black sign with a high-heeled shoe on it that says, “You can never have enough friends or shoes.” I have another display that looks like a shoebox with “Stay Calm. Buy Shoes.” on it. I can’t tell you how many conversations these signs have started that led to book sales!

Step Five: Three Words of Advice
— I’m often asked what I think is the key to writing a successful book. I tell aspiring writers they must do three things to be successful: read, write, and study.
  • Read everything; classics, contemporary writers; bestsellers; independent and small press books. Don’t limit your reading to your writing type. Branch out and read other genres. There is much to be gained from poetry even if you don’t aspire to write it. The same is true of reading a memoir even if you never plan to write one, or a young adult novel. Read these books as a writer — that is — study it as you read. Look at how that author uses language, plot, setting and character development.
  • Write. Practice your craft. I believe that no writing is ever “wasted” and that keeping a journal is invaluable to a writer. I often gain inspiration by reading my old journals. Every writer experiences those times when the “bucket runs dry.” The best way to refill it is to write. Beware of spending too much time at the social media trough — it can steal away your writing time.
  • Study. If you truly want to be a successful writer, then you must study your craft. There is a wealth of books available for writers. I highly recommend Stephen King’s On Writing  and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  I also recommend attending writer’s workshops as a way to study your craft and network with other writers.
When I teach writing, I tell my students that writing is a process. I believe that when they look at writing in this way, it facilitates learning. That is how I look at my writing. I must not lose sight of the process that produces a book. I must be willing to read, write and study my way to a finished piece, and I must be willing to work just as hard at promoting that book as I did at writing it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love is in the Air

Love is in the air. 

Wait! Is that the scent of love or roses? Roses of all colors are everywhere, like a garden of arrangements, complete with I love you cards and red ribbons, sprouted overnight. Girls, in the high school where I teach, carry them from class to class like they picked them in the garden of love just this morning!

Did you send Valentine cards to the ones you love? Or receive Valentine’s from your loved ones? If you did, your cards are part of the estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards sent each year, making Valentine’s Day second only to Christmas in card greetings. You also join people in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia who also celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I look at the fresh faces of these high school students and I’m reminded of the phrase “puppy love”. I’m surprised at how few of my students have heard the term and even those who have, had no idea what it means. They also struggle with the meaning of “star crossed lovers,” but do better with love clich├ęs like “love is a many splendored thing,” all’s fair in love and war,” and “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” 

Messages of love abound on cards of all shapes and sizes. All you have to do is purchase your message – from super to slightly mushy – from humorous to just plain silly – to neutral that are just like a car in neutral, the reader doesn’t know if you plan to move forward or just sit there! 

What of the love letters of bygone years? And what about the homemade Valentines of old? It’s okay for preschool and perhaps, kindergarten children to make valentines with red construction paper and paste, but it’s not “cool” for anyone else to give handmade cards with hand written messages, unless they come from a boutique and cost as much as a tank of gas. 

One of my fondest memories is the Valentine Box. My first grade teacher brought in a big empty box that had a removable top with a slot cut in the middle of the top. She helped us decorate it with hearts we cut out of red construction paper, and then put it on a table in the center of the room. I remember how exciting it was to drop my valentine’s in the box, and how thrilling it was on Valentine’s Day when she opened the box and called out the names on the cards.

It was that first grade teacher who taught me about Valentine's Day. As I grew older, I learned about the legend surrounding St. Valentine, one of three (all named Valentine or Valentinus) martyred patron saints of the Catholic Church. He died on February 14th and has been associated since the Middle Ages with love.

The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. His wife was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, and Charles wrote to her declaring his love. It was the 1700's before people starting exchanging handmade valentines, and the 1840s before the first mass-produced valentines were sold by Esther A. Howland in America.

I doubt the young men and women I saw exchanging cards, flowers, and candy today, care who or what started Valentine's Day. The important thing is that it is the day when love is in the air and kisses can be stolen in the stairwell between classes. What matters is they are young and in love (puppy or not) and have someone to call my boyfriend or girlfriend.

Happy Valentine's to all and may you always have someone to love!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Promoting Your Novel

Today, I am the featured blogger on the Abbott Press Blog. Here's the link

The blog is in two parts - Here's Part I as it appears on the Abbott Press website.

Promoting Your Novel Part I: Networking and Social Media

Promoting Your Novel 

You have spent years writing and rewriting a book. You’ve slaved over every sentence, often stressing over one word for days. Your paragraphs are works of art. They build into perfectly constructed chapters that entice the reader to turn the page. You are ready to publish.

Now it’s time to sit back and accept the praise for a job well done. Right?
Wrong! Absolutely wrong! It’s now time to work harder.

It’s been just over a year since my debut novel Mama’s Shoes  was published by Abbott Press. At the time, I was querying agents in the hope that one would be interested in the book I had labored over for three years. In the midst of this, I discovered a contest on Twitter that was sponsored by Writer’s Digest and Abbott Press. It was called #Pitch2Win, and the object was to pitch your novel in the 140 characters allowed on Twitter. The winner received a publishing contract with Abbott Press.

I entered and went on to win the Grand Prize, and my dream became a reality. I had a book! When I got my first copy, I sat down and savored it, turning it over and over in my hands; touching every page. Then, I showed it off to my family and friends and soaked up their congratulations. When I finally managed to get my feet back on the ground, I realized I had just begun. It was not time to sit back and let Mama’s Shoes  fend for itself in the world. On the contrary, the work on my novel had just begun. It was time to deploy a full-scale assault plan I had ready and waiting when Mama’s Shoes  debuted.

Step One: Network
Before your book is published, network with other authors. A well-known author’s blurb on your cover is worth its weight in gold. I had the good fortune to be from the same hometown as bestselling author, Lee Smith. I have followed her stellar career since I can remember, attending her readings and workshops. When I finished my novel, she asked to read it and then gave me a wonderful endorsement for my cover. I met Amy Greene, author of the bestseller, Bloodroot,  at an Appalachian writers’ workshop. She was gracious and read my novel before it was published and offered another “thumbs up” blurb for my cover.

Prepare for the release of your book by identifying and networking with the venues in your area that will sell your book. Being from a small coal town in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, there are no bookstores within a hundred mile radius, so I went to my local library. Public libraries have a “friends of the library” organization whose job is to bring in authors and other book related programs. My local library was thrilled when I asked if I could have my book debut there. They advertised the event with a display in the lobby and arranged for the local newspaper to run a story — one of those “small town girl makes good” stories.
In the meantime, I had a database of names and addresses. I sent glossy postcards showing my book cover with an enticing description, to everyone in my database. I compiled my database from contact information handed out at writer’s workshops I had attended over the years.

I joined the local chapter of the Virginia Writer’s Club and became an active member. Even though there are no bookstores near my home, there are other places that sell books such as a local Appalachian Artisan Center. By the time my novel was a year old, I had done readings at every library in the four counties surrounding my home as well as schools and nearby colleges. My book was available in the gift shop of several upscale artisan centers for Appalachian artists, and an art museum’s gift shop in a nearby town.

Step Two: Social Media
— When my novel debuted, I already had a website, blog, and Facebook profile. I added an author’s Facebook page that I keep updated with everything to do with Mama’s Shoes,  including lots and lots of pictures of me giving readings, selling books at fairs, even reading to elementary school children on Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat  Day.

I joined LinkedIn, a social networking website for people in professional occupations; Google +, a multilingual social networking and identity service owned and operated by Google Inc.; and Goodreads, a website for social cataloging of books. Goodreads allows you to add books to your personal bookshelves, rate and review books, participate in discussion boards and groups on a variety of topics. Like Facebook, a user adds friends to her profile, which allows her to see the friends’ shelves and reviews and comment on friends’ pages. On Goodreads, I joined groups where I requested and received reviews for Mama’s Shoes. Another website I discovered is She Writes. It is the largest community of women writers online and offers a variety of support for writers. 

Stay tuned for Promoting Your Novel Part 2, in which we’ll discuss the benefits of entering contests, how to prepare for marketing opportunities, and the three keys to creating success as an author.

How do you establish relationships with fellow writers and potential readers?
Rebecca D. Elswick is the award-winning author of  Mama’s Shoes. Visit her website at

Sunday, February 3, 2013


It's snowing!

I look outside and memories crowd around me. I have that delicious trapped inside of a snow globe feeling. I have to go outside and touch it, so I grab my camera and step out on the porch. The dogs are ecstatic and they take off across the yard. Snow flies in the air as they make paths of paw prints in the snow.

Next comes the kids. I watch them stomp through the snow with that clumsy walk that means they are carrying heavy layers of clothes on their bodies and foreign boots on their feet. My son, niece, and nephew decide to drag the sleds out of the storage building. Even though it is February, this is the first time all winter there's been enough snow for sledding. My daughter ventures out to take pictures. It's her idea to try the plastic swimming pool, we use for the dogs in the summer, as a sledding device.

I have to see this, so I brave the cold that makes my throat ache with every breath. Our hill is very steep and for a moment I panic. In my mind I have a flash of them barreling down the hill; unable to stop at the bottom, I see them sail off the edge and tumble into the highway. But not to worry. My niece and nephew climb into the pool and my son pushes, and pushes, and PUSHES, but they only manage to move a few inches. Alas, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Back to the sleds. The shouts, the squeals, the laughter, drifts back up the hill to where I stand. I can't see them, but I smile. I too have sledded down that hill, and even though it's been twenty years or more, I remember the ice cold rush of air and snow on my face, the feeling that I was flying, and the hard thump when the sled stopped.

Mixing with that memory is my childhood sledding adventures. My brother and I had the standard wooden sled with red metal runners. We took turns, laying on our stomachs, gripping the wooden steering mechanism on the front of the sled. There was snow all winter in those days. That's a fact, not just a memory I have embellished to suite myself. We sledded in the middle of the road, yes the road. It stayed snow packed all winter long, no doubt in part because the kids around there used it for sledding. There were no snowplows on side roads in those days.

I remember how we trudged up the road that got steeper and steeper until it stopped at the top of a hill. From there, we took our positions. There were usually three or four kids with sleds, all vying for the bragging rights of the "fastest" sled. We'd line up, and since my brother and I shared a sled, the one not sledding would call out: On your mark! Get set! GO! The sleds would take off and most of us would make it all the way to where the road leveled off. I imagine the neighbors got used to our whoops and hollers.

Did I ever win? Probably. I honestly don't remember. But I will never forget the excitement of speeding down that road with the icy wind in my face, my hands already numb from the cold, gripping the steering bar on the sled so hard I would have to pry my fingers off of it when the sled stopped. I remember dragging that sled up the hill until I was so cold and tired I couldn't take another step. And at the end of the day, I remember how my brother and I would sit in the floor with our bare feet pressed against the wall register that blew hot air when the furnace kicked on, trying to warm our feet that were white and numb from staying outside too long.

Ah, let it snow! At least a little while longer.