midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

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The Art (and Practice) of Self-Promotion

I attended my 35th high school reunion last weekend – but not for the typical reasons of reconnecting with old friends or catching up with acquaintances. I knew none of the few people I still am in touch with from high school would be there, and that I wouldn’t recognize the vast majority of attendees, let alone have had even known them in high school.

I went primarily to practice self-promotion and marketing, tactics at which I am not highly proficient, but which I need to improve to raise awareness of and generate interest in my two new books published by Sirenian Publishing. These are skills which I also will sireniancardneed in the future, as I plan to launch an independent counseling practice. Having just obtained Sirenian Publishing business cards, I wanted to see if I could work the two books I have authored into conversations and grease some palms with the information.

I’ll call my endeavor a success, having talked about the books (the novel Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet about a rookie sportswriter in Florida and the nonfiction political memoir Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics) and given out cards to the eight or so classmates I spoke with at any length.

Sorry to sound so crass, Winston Churchill High School Class of 1981. However, it wasn’t completely an exercise in marketing, public relations and sales. I also attended to be social and with the thought of the possibility of meeting engaging people and establishing a new friendship or two.

It’s just that I know that I fall on the Introversion side of the Myers-Briggs personality inventory and that I don’t get energized by joining big crowds of people I don’t know in loud, cramped spaces. In fact, when I first walked into the reserved room at the restaurant and observed the scene of many strangers who 35 years ago had something in common with me engaged with each other in loud, animated conversation, my first instinct was to leave. I wouldn’t know anybody and I wouldn’t fit in, I thought. I walked straight past the crowd to the bathroom and then stopped at the far end of the bar and watched a football game on TV for a minute to compose myself, get in the spirit and prepare to plunge into the social melee.

It’s also that I associate high school with a difficult time of life that I never felt I could embrace – no fault of my high school classmates. Just before 9th grade, I moved, the result of my parents’ divorce years earlier and my mother’s struggles with her health and ability to function adequately as a single parent. I didn’t want to move to the new high school district, leaving the neighborhood and classmates I had known since kindergarten, and I resented it. It was difficult to adjust and break into cliques and friendships that had been established for years at the new school. I was an outsider and naturally quiet, and never really felt like my new high school or community were my places.

Luckily, just as I left my safe place at the bar to mill through the crowd and face my fear, I encountered a guy I recognized who was with his fiancé. We talked for 45 minutes while I drank a beer and they ate dinner. The ice was broken. That’s what it took to quell my anxiety, open up more, engage in the event and enjoy myself – while still subtly working on self-promotion (At least, I hope I wasn’t blatant. I think I had some tact.) All the classmates I met at reunion were exceedingly friendly and accepting, and I enjoyed conversations. I was grateful for that. As a former reporter, I asked people I met a lot of questions about themselves, so I wasn’t overly narcissistic about self-promotion.

The reunion was an event I wouldn’t have attended if I wasn’t an author. I just wouldn’t have been interested enough to make the effort. But the only way to become better known is to put yourself out there more, and when you do, good things you don’t expect and side benefits can happen.

I talked to a few people at reunion I would like to see again. They don’t even have to buy a book – but it would make me want to see them again more (final shameless plug)!

 

 

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Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: An Unvarnished Look at the Unseemly Underbelly of Campaign Politics

The second book under the new publishing company Sirenian Publishing, a real-life, first-person account of a longshot, shorthanded political candidate for the Maryland State House who learns the lessons of the dog-eat-dog, incestuous, narcissistic world of campaign politics up close, is set for release August 1, 2016.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead: A Longshot Candidate Gets Schooled in the Unseemly Underbelly of American Campaign Politics, takes an unvarnished look at what it’s like for an amateur, DSC00069under-funded candidate without the assemblage of a political machine to try to break into the byzantine world of state-level politics, where cozy relationships, cronyism, influence, backroom deals, power plays and horse-trading rule the day.

Don’t Knock, He’s Dead peels back the curtain to find political practices of questionable ethical standards to be routinely performed to strengthen and enrich those who are entrenched insiders and well-versed in political gamesmanship:

  • A candidate who is a member of a powerful “team slate” drops out on the deadline date to withdraw, only to be replaced two days later on the candidate filing deadline by her husband.
  • An entrenched state senator with a massive “war chest” uses his largesse to distribute a quarter-million dollars to more than 40 other candidates and political slates over a four-year election cycle to strengthen allegiances.
  • A wife who is a high-earning lobbyist represents several of the same industries – and in some cases, the same organizations – that make large political contributions to her husband, the powerful chairman of a state Senate budget committee.
  • A longtime state delegate with leadership positions on several House health care committees receives 60 percent of her campaign contributions in a year from health care and health insurance interests.
  • A state senator who lost a bid for Congress resigned his Senate seat more than a year early to become an uber-lobbyist, spreading his remaining campaign account into more than 80 contributions to more than 60 different political candidates and slates to solidify his future business relationships on his way out.

The race the longshot candidate entered became a rollicking free-for-all populated by 10 Democratic participants, including two “carpetbaggers,” ranging from a plastic surgeon to a disbarred attorney to a legendary state senator’s daughter to the sitting governor’s former speechwriter to an 80-year-old cantankerous former judge, a contest labeled by one observer as a “three-ring circus.”

And as in any political contest, things got contentious and nasty, resulting in criminal charges against one candidate for smearing another amid a long-simmering feud, and a malicious mailing campaign in which one candidate accused two others of being stooges for a union.

What you will find in Don’t Knock, He’s Dead, if you’ve ever had the aspiration to run for a high-stakes public office, or even wondered what a political candidate must endure, is what it’s like to spend every weekend and many weeknights until dusk knocking on doors of strangers; to be ignored by political organizations supposedly responsible for fairly evaluating candidates to make endorsements; to feel poor and unsuccessful among more financially-connected candidates; and to be targeted for barbs by highly opinionated, unfiltered bloggers.

If you’ve ever considered subjecting yourself to scrutiny and the whims of uncensored public opinion; debated whether it would be worth the time and effort to run for public office; stepped to the precipice of throwing a hat in the ring and then backed off with either regret or relief; or still have a dream to make a difference in people’s lives by entering politics—you know, someday, when everything is perfectly aligned and your finances are in supreme order, and your employer gives you essential flexibility and full backing, and your family has attained impeccable stability, and the moon eclipses the sun, cicadas emerge after 17 years underground and the Chicago Cubs win the World Series and the time is right to run, somedayDon’t Knock, He’s Dead is an account of what it’s like in the trenches of an election as an entourage-less, DIY, working-stiff candidate.

Sirenian Publishing also is the publisher of Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, a fictional story of a rookie sportswriter in a football-mad Florida backwater covering an intense season of high school football and battling head-to-head with the ruthless, win-at-all-costs coach from the town’s ruling family. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1cYG5vP

The Writing Life: Pay to Play

I was thrilled when I saw an e-mail in my inbox from a publisher I had queried about acquiring my debut novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, about a rookie sportswriter covering an intense season of high school football in a football-crazed backwater Florida town. The publisher had written me immediately after I had submitted my query to say the synopsis and sample chapters looked promising and to have patience while the editor reviewed the material.

When the publisher’s follow-up acceptance e-mail arrived about six weeks later with an attached “Publishing Agreement,” I thought I had threeyardscovertriumphed over long odds as an unknown author by persuading a publisher to acquire my book. I had wanted to progress from a self-published author to one backed by the heft, resources and credibility of a traditional commercial publisher, which I believed would open more doors and opportunities to bring the novel to a broader audience. I expected there would be a payment for my work. But when I read the agreement, I realized it wasn’t quite that simple.

The experience has been part of my indoctrination into the complex, confusing and rapidly evolving world of book publishing. I discovered there would not be a dime coming my way up-front from this operation for the blood and sweat I poured into crafting the novel over three years and had already self-published, paying thousands to a self-publishing company to edit and format the book, design the cover, and prepare it for print-on-demand, e-book and distribution channels. In fact, the Publishing Agreement included a non-negotiable provision requiring me to pay about $1,300 for the publisher to essentially re-do many of the same tasks I had already undertaken to produce a self-published book.

That’s where my real education began. There are various kinds of publishing companies – self-publishers, indie publishers, vanity publishers, subsidy publishers, hybrid publishers and traditional/commercial publishers. The publisher I was dealing with called itself a “hybrid” publisher. Without going into great detail on the distinctions between the breeds, this basically meant that this particular publisher acts something like a self-publisher, but looks for books of a certain quality and rejects much of the sub-standard work that comes its way. This supposedly distinguishes it from a vanity publisher, so-named because such a publisher will publish anything of any quality by any author vain enough to pay for the service. The hybrid publisher functions like a traditional publisher in that it has access to certain distribution channels and performs some marketing functions to represent its titles.

But the bottom line about this type of hybrid publisher, I learned, is that it doesn’t assume the risk to make or lose money by selling new authors’ books. Any revenue that comes through sales for the hybrid publisher is likely gravy. The hybrid publisher’s bread is buttered through selling its publishing services to eager authors. That is the bigger incentive and target for the hybrid publisher’s resources, not necessarily marketing and selling the new authors’ books.

So now I have a choice to make. Would I earn back my investment by having the backing of a legitimate publishing company, or would I have no better sales than if I continued to soldier on by myself? Would it open more doors – book signing appearances and placements in bookstores, for example — or lead to more book reviews? Hard to say. Do I want to grant various rights and interests to the book to this publisher and diminish my control for a fairly small royalty? In exchange for what, exactly?

While stumbling in the dark, I discovered another option that intrigues me: Forming my own imprint, or publishing operation, as a sole proprietor. That will take more research, but I like the idea of full creative control – and it looks like I will have full responsibility for promotion and marketing anyway, whether I go with this particular hybrid publisher or not.

For anyone sticking a toe in the rather arcane book publishing industry waters, I can’t offer expert advice. I’m still learning. I can only offer the time-honored, sage warning for solicitors and buyers of any services or products anywhere: caveat emptor.

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