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Someone recently asked me how I started to write.
I was already a night owl before I opened the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House almost 20 years ago. Opening the Inn had been precipitated by a move “back home” to a town of 1000 people after 11 years in bustling Colorado Springs, CO.
Opening the Inn, establishing a business, training new employees, sustaining financial credibility, and everything else that went along with being a first time business owner sapped my strength, sucked the life out of my relationships, and took 16 out of every 24 hours. I loved what I was doing, there was just no time for anything else.
I was working every night until 10 pm – my night owl tendency’s worsened. Probably not a good thing for the owner of a bed and BREAKFAST. I was soon exhausted – between checking in honeymooners at 2 am and serving breakfast to business travelers at 6 am.
My “home” was in the basement of the Blue Belle, so I never really went home from work, but when I went downstairs at the end of the night, I was tired. But just because it was bedtime didn’t mean I could go to sleep. Like anyone, I came home from work pumped up with adrenalin, sometimes frustrated, sometimes happy, charged and ready to go after flying around, being busy for hours – I needed to talk to someone, to vent, to spend a few hours unwinding before I could go to sleep.
Problem is, who do you call to talk to at that time of night? (No one – they’re all asleep.) Where do you go if you feel like doing something, or need to run errands (Nowhere – everything is closed.) So what’s a person to do? Sometimes life thrusts you into situations where you’re forced to to adapt. I did. I started writing. Late into the night.
My first published book, Night and Day (it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark), was no mistake.
When the internet caught on, I made friends in every corner of the world – friends who were on the same schedule I was. While my real-life friends and family slept, I carried on a “imaginary life” with my online friends. And I wrote. In essence, I made up a few dozen “imaginary friends” and started writing about what was going on in their lives, weaving them together into relationships, imagining “what if” – and writing about it.
A friend of mine, Deborah Scafferi Rohne, writes a blog called “Life Is Too Short to Fold Underwear”. In her latest entry, she writes that life is too short to sleep when everyone else is awake. Her theory is that you miss out on too much when your schedule is contrary to the rest of the world’s. She is absolutely right. In my case, however, I wasn’t sleeping when everyone else was awake, I was working. And when everyone else was asleep, I was living – and writing – and engaging and interacting with my imaginary friends.
In my case, my imaginary, after-hours, everybody-else-I-know-is-sound-asleep world changed my real life.
And twenty years later? I work less (well, sometimes), play more (okay, occasionally), and have better relationship in the real world (with at least a few people – I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 7 years now). I still have many friends online who inspire, encourage, and cheer me on. I try to find a good balance, which is probably the key to everything in life.
And then, irony of ironies, when I hit 51, my body clock started to change. Suddenly, I found myself falling asleep in front of my computer at 9 pm. My most prolific hours – 10 pm to 2 pm, found me zombie-like and bobbing my head in front of the words on my screen. After finally giving up and succumbing to sleep, I would wake up at 6 am. But I wasn’t productive, I was crabby.
So. . . such is life. I’m trying to adapt – again, carve out a new niche in my busy schedule for my writing, make time for me and my imaginary friends, and still get a good night’s sleep! And guess when this was written? 6:30 am.
Here are the answers to the quiz I posted early this month as part of Second Wind Publishing’s launch party for Stormy Weather. I hope you enjoyed getting to know a little more about me!
Thanks to all who entered! (A winner will be announced soon!)
1. Sherrie worries about her sex scenes being too steamy because she:
A. is an old-fashioned girl at heart.
B. is married to a pastor and is afraid of what the church ladies will say.
C. has Baptist relatives who frown upon such things.
D. All of the above.
E. None of the above. Why worry? Be happy.
2. Sherrie’s response to the question, “Have any of the scenes in your books really happened?” would most likely be:
A. “Yes, but I’ll never tell which ones.”
B. “My books are works of fiction in their entirety. Any similarities to real people, situations, or events are purely coincidental.”
C. “Of course not. If I really had gone skinny-dipping, do you think I’d actually tell anyone about it?”
D. All of the above – depends on whether or not her mother is in the room.
3. Sherrie has lived in all of the following places except:
A. Bar Harbor, Maine
B. Lawton, Oklahoma
C. Colorado Springs, Colorado
D. Albert Lea, Minnesota
E. Wheaton, Illinois
F. Augsburg, Germany
4. When traveling to castles in Scotland, the beach in California, and a cabin in northern Minnesota, Sherrie takes along __________ so she can write whenever the mood hits her.
A. her AlphaSmart
B. a moleskin journal given to her by a dear friend
C. a plain steno notepad and a sharp pencil
D. a cute notepad with cherubs on top and a quill pen
E. a state of the art MacBook Pro.
5. Sherrie belongs to a great writing / critique group called:
A. Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Alpha Writers.
B. just Cherry Writers. (formerly known as Jenny’s Cherry Writers)
C. Romance Writer’s of America Elite Critique Group.
D. Very Berry Writers.
E. Juicy Romance Novelists, Inc.
F. The Rainbow Connection at gather.com
6. Sherrie can hardly wait until the next book in the __________ series comes out.
A. Diana Gabaldon Outlander
B. J.K. Rowling Harry Potter
C. Debbie Macomber Blossom Street
D. Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum
E. Sue Grafton Alphabet
7. Sherrie has read every book ever written by all of the following authors except:
A. LaVyrle Spencer
B. Jennifer Crusie
C. Sandra Brown
D. Pamela Morsi
E. Jill Marie Landis
F. Susan Elizabeth Phillips
8. In addition to writing, Sherrie keeps busy doing all of the following except:
A. playing the piano at church.
B. running a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.
C. fishing at her cabin on the lake.
D. taking her two young nieces on weekly adventures .
E. planning her next European vacation.
F. watching the latest episode of Big Break on the Golf Channel.
9. Night and Day, the title of Sherrie’s first book, refers to:
A. Midnight in Milwaukee and Daybreak in Delaware.
B. a romance between a night watchman and the host of an early morning talk show whose paths cross for a few seconds each morning.
C. Midnight in Minnesota and Daybreak in Denmark.
D. a romantic dance to Frank Sinatra’s hit song, “Night and Day”.
E. Midnight in Manhattan and Daybreak in New Delhi.
10. In Stormy Weather, Sherrie’s new release, one of the main characters is:
A. a well-known meteorologist.
B. a reckless storm chaser who fears nothing.
C. terrified of tornadoes.
D. haunted by childhood memories of a blizzard that claimed the life of her mother and father.
E. a cute young weathergirl who does the evening news for the local television station.
I posted this article on my publisher’s blog (Second Wind Publishing) on April 15, 2009. Since then, I’ve been asked to share my thoughts on this subject many times – in regard to selling not only books, but other products, including romantic evenings at a B&B. I hope it’s helpful!
So you’ve written a wonderful book. Friends and family who’ve read it rave about how good it is. Now all you have to do is to figure out how to get it into the hands of the hundreds and thousands of other people who you know would enjoy it.
Marketing your book can be far more intimidating than writing it – especially for a writer who is more introvert than extrovert. For me, it is not so much the lack of courage, but lack of time that comes into play.
Whatever your reason for not getting your book out there, conquering a few easy marketing strategies can make the difference between your book being a success and not.
I’m not a marketing expert by any means, but I’ve owned and operated a fairly successful bed and breakfast and tea house for 17 years, and I have learned quite a bit about promoting a product. Here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with for marketing my recent release, Night and Day, that I hope you’ll be able to adapt and use to market your own books.
(Note: In this article, I will concentrate on old-fashioned, non-internet marketing ideas. )
1. A couple of weeks ago, I personally visited several grocery stores and specialty shops in my area with a book in hand to let them know about Night and Day. One shop owner handed me cash right then and there and said they’d call when they needed more books. They’ve already called to order 2 more. Other shop owners seemed more skeptical, and wanted to have the books, but on consignment.
One woman wasn’t there when I stopped by, so I left a book for her to take a look at. When I returned a week later, she had read half of it, and was saying things like, “What are you doing living in St. Ansgar, Iowa? You should be in New York City writing full time – you have such a knack for this! The book is wonderful! I love it!” and “If I don’t get my Easter ham in the oven, it’s going to be your fault. I can’t put this book down!”
While not everyone is going to react to your book with such enthusiasm, all it takes is one person – in a store, a community, an area, and the word is going to get out. Word of mouth is always the best advertising. Giving away a few books to people you think might be good cheerleaders might really pay off.
2. I also sent out a letter to a dozen or two shops in areas mentioned in my book. For Night and Day, I targeted Scandinavian specialty shops, quilting shops, and book stores in areas of Minnesota mentioned in the book, as well as areas of Iowa and California with high concentrations of Danish settlers. So far, I have only had one positive response, but it was definitely worth my time. And, once I follow up with a personal visit (I’m planning to head to Red Wing, Welch, Cannon Falls and Blooming Prairie, MN as soon as I have more books, and a free day.) I hope to land a few more placements for my book. You can find email and mailing addresses online if you visit the chamber of commerce pages for the community you’re targeting.
3. Offer to do a book signing at the shop’s next sale, open house, or special event. Shop owners are always looking for ways to attract a few more customers. Some shops have wine tastings, or craft demos, or participate in community celebrations. Ask if you can come to their next event and be part of the excitement. Everyone I spoke to reacted enthusiastically to this idea. I’ve even been invited to do a book signing at the Book Loft in Solvang, CA next January when we’re out on the West Coast. It might have something to do with the fact that I offer to bring a plate of Melting Moments (a little Danish butter cookie my family has always made) with me when I come. A unique slant can catch their attention.
4. Woman’s groups and clubs, church groups, community groups, most any kind of group enjoy special speakers. I’ve been on several committees, and it’s a constant challenge to find someone to speak at our monthly meetings. Prepare a 10 – 15 minute long talk on some aspect of your experience, and contact libraries, churches, friends, community centers, senior citizen centers, and let them know you’re available. Odds are, they’ll be delighted, and you’ll soon have an opportunity to present your book to a captive audience! I will be speaking to a local writer’s group this Friday at 10 a.m., and another, in the next town over, sometime next month.
5. Send out press releases to area newspapers, radio and television stations. Include a blurb, a bio, a photo, a list of places your book is available, and hopefully, a slant that makes your story unique. A unique slant might be how you were discovered, how the story ties in with a local legend or current event, or what inspired you to write the book in the first place. Most of them will go in the trash, but if even one picks up the story (who doesn’t love a “local girl or guy done good” story?), it will have been worth your while. I taped my first radio interview yesterday, for a station in Atlantic, Iowa, a large Danish community a couple of hours south of here. Who knows what will come of it?
6. Offer your book as an auction item or special prize for your favorite charity, a church bazaar, or a local contest. Most places will also let you leave a stack of business cards or book marks to maximize your exposure.
I’m sure there are many other ideas that you can use to market your books, but hopefully, this short list will jog your creative impulses and help you get started. If not, make a list of what kind of people you think would enjoy your book (who is your target customer?) and where you are most likely to reach them. Then, make a list of each place, area, craft, hobby, or profession mentioned (hopefully in a positive light) in your book, and start thinking about how you can market to those niches.
You HAVE written a wonderful book. Now it’s time to tell the world!
In this year’s Christmas letter, I said, “I am now a published author of two books, Night and Day, and Stormy Weather – a most wonderful happening, squeezed in between daily stresses that do not go away simply because something extraordinary has happened.”
Being published is certainly a dream come true for me. I’ve signed more than 800 copies of Night and Day – To dreams come true, Sherrie Hansen (with a flourish under my name).
So why is it, when our dreams finally come true… when we finally find the pot of gold at the rainbow… the experience often isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
As a single woman, I was convinced that when I met Mr. Right, all my problems would mysteriously vanish. I would lose all the weight that I had gained over the years because I had no one to hold me, no one to be with. My financial woes would disappear, my sorrows would simply go away, and my frustrations would evaporate, so wrought with great joy and extraordinary sex my life would be.
As all of you old married couples tried to tell me, being part of a couple comes with its own set of challenges, and that’s not even taking step-children into account!
When the economy is in a down cycle, I console myself with dreams that this or that politician or promise or occurrence or happening will make everything all better again. My troubles will all fly-away, and I’ll be in the money again. Then, everything will be wonderful.
As a yet-to-be published author, I told myself much the same little white lies. Being published was all I needed to make me happy. If I only had the affirmation of knowing my work was worthy of publication, I would be satisfied. All I needed is to hear is that someone likes my book, and then everything would be okay.
Don’t get me wrong – being published is a wonderful feeling. Hearing from readers who like my books and can’t wait to read more is a joyful, unparalleled thing.
So why is it that this year, of all years, I have a royal case of the holiday blues?
Perhaps it is because my back is out, I’m estranged from my 19 year old step-son, and I’m still faced with frustrating circumstances on a near daily basis as I struggle to juggle a time-consuming business, family, friends, husband, church, and now, a blossoming writing career with it’s own set of demands. Perhaps it’s because I’m in my 50′s and my body, both physically and emotionally, is changing, falling apart, failing me.
Perhaps it’s because I’m still deluding myself, thinking that any one occurrence can make me happy.
Perhaps its because I keep forgetting to count my many blessings, name them one by one… Perhaps it’s because I am a blue belle living in a blue house, when I should be out painting the town pink, or green or yellow or even purple, looking up, seeing rainbows.
The pot of gold may be ever elusive, but the rainbows, ah, the rainbows… the rainbows always keep me looking up.
What about you? Have you ever achieved a goal, then found it less than satisfying? Are you singing the blues this Christmas or swinging from a chandelier as you ring in the New Year? Have you found the secret of happiness? Contentment in any circumstance? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
The author is in, and signing copies of her latest release. Keep looking up! Sherrie Hansen (with a flourish under my name.)
When I was 10 or 11, my parents decided to sell the tent-top camper we’d had for a number of years and buy a bigger one. They put an ad in the paper and had a few responses, but no buyer. Then, one Saturday, while the ad was still running, they had to go somewhere. I was the oldest child in our family, so before they left, they said, “If anyone calls about the camper, tell them we want $500 for it.”
I was in awe. That was a lot of money back in 1967.
Well, wouldn’t you know, an hour after they left, the phone rang – someone had seen the ad and was interested in the camper. I told them the price, answered some questions, and told them where we lived so they could come and see it. A short time later, the phone rang again – someone else wanted to come and see the camper. I gave them directions to get to our house (which was 6 miles from town, on a gravel road) and went back to my other job, which was to make sure my younger brothers and sisters weren’t wrecking the house.
An hour later, I was standing in the yard, showing the camper to both couples, who had coincidentally arrived within minutes of each other. After looking the camper over and asking a few questions, the first couple offered me $450. The other couple jumped in and offered $500, the asking price set by my dad. The first couple was still hanging around, so instead of saying yes, I told a little story about one of our camping trips and how much our family had enjoyed the state park where we’d camped.
The first couple countered with an offer of $550. I mentioned how easy the camper was to put up and tear down. Working together, my dad, my sister and I could do it in 10 minutes flat. The second couple offered $600. I showed them how the table could be folded down and made into a bed. The first couple upped their bid to $650. That was more money than the second couple had, or was willing to offer.
I pronounced the camper SOLD, got $650 cash from the winning bidders, wrote them a receipt, and waved goodbye as they drove down the road, pulling the camper behind. You can imagine my parent’s shock and glee when they came home and I handed them $650.
It was at that moment that I first experienced the joy and exhilaration of selling something. As writers, pitching, or trying to sell our books may or may not be part of our comfort zone. But like it or not, published or unpublished, if you’re a writer, you have something to sell, and you need to pitch your book, not just once, but over and over again. Selling yourself, and your book, is an important part of being an author… the difference between being published or unpublished… the difference between success and failure.
When I made the decision to go with a small, independent press (Second Wind Publishing) for my book, Night and Day, it was in part because I own a bed and breakfast and tea house and knew that I had a built-in venue for selling my book. Each day, 4 – 40 people walk in the door – all potential buyers. Still, a stack of nice, new books sitting on a table with a cute little sign rarely sell themselves. Neither will a bump on a log at a book signing.
What does sell my books is me. I pitch my book once or twice every day – sometimes ten or twelve – to each and every guest who walks in the door. As you might guess – I’ve got my pitch down – and I have sold about 300 books in the last 3 1/2 months. I sold 8 over the lunch hour just yesterday.
That doesn’t mean everyone who walks in the door buys a book. Some are not interested. I can see their eyes glazing over 10 seconds into my pitch. Some look excited until I mention the words “internet romance”. Perhaps they’ve been burned by an online lover – perhaps their spouse has had an online dalliance – maybe they think computers are for the birds. Whatever the case, when you try to sell something, you have to be ready for rejection – and then, you have to pick yourself up and keep trying.
“It’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark…” I regularly vary my pitch depending on who I’m talking to – young, old, someone I know, a stranger. The important thing is that I believe in my book. I love my characters and am convinced people will enjoy reading Night and Day.
I live for those moments when I connect with a reader, when we strike common ground, when their faces light up. Sometimes it’s when they see the log-cabin quilt on the cover of Night and Day, sometimes it’s when they hear the words Danish, “junk in the attic”, or bonfire. And when I take their $15 and autograph their book, it’s just as exciting as selling that camper for my parents when I was 11 years old.
Selling is hard. Whether you’re pitching your book or telling someone about your story at a writing conference, talking to guests at a book signing, or asking the manager of your local grocery store if they would consider stocking your book, you will feel naked at times. Intimidated. Daunted. Unsure.
But there comes a moment, when someone wants to buys your book, when you find a common chord with an editor, the owner of a shop, a librarian, or a potential reader, and make the sale, that you will know it was all worth it.
Find the courage to try, and keep trying.
Don’t ever sell yourself short. Sell yourself and you will sell your book!
A week or two ago, I wrote an article entitled Reading… A Waste of Time, or a Good Investment?
In the blog, I spoke to my Dad’s philosophy – working hard to get the work done you did something relaxing or fun like reading a book, and how it often clashed with my desire to read (or play the piano) every second of every day.
On Sunday, May 17, the Austin Daily Herald published a story about the release of my new book, Night and Day, where they quoted me discussing the same subject.
What didn’t get said in that article, follows… the rest of the story, if you will.
I’ll freely admit that I was not a good candidate for a farmer’s daughter. How my hard-working Dad and Mom ended up with a child like me, who was allergic to being outdoors, hated big trucks and farm equipment, and wanted to read all the time, is still a mystery to me. When I was about twelve, I became convinced I was adopted. I was just so different than the rest of my family. (This strikes me as extremely funny now that I am older, look like both my Mom and Dad, and am like them in countless ways.)
One thing I should have seen, even then, was that we shared a certain “stubborn” gene. Even as a child, it was impossible to get me to do anything I didn’t want to do. When my Dad tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift so I could drive tractor, the pick-up, or his truck, I would act dumb, grind the gears, and generally be a pain in the butt until he got irritated with me, gave up, and sent me back inside – where I went to my room and opened whatever book I was reading.
I did cook, help with the laundry, clean, and baby-sit my younger brothers and sisters so my mom could drive tractor – usually with a book in one hand. Later on, I learned bookkeeping and did the books for the farm business. But contrary to the article in the Austin Daily Herald, I very rarely did anything farming related. Like Jensen’s parents in my book, my Mom and Dad worked sun up to sun down. I did not. I read at least one book every night of my life through junior high.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I gave up reading, in part, because I was busy with classes, and being yearbook editor, and yes, in part because at that age, my parents felt like I should be helping on the farm or around the house instead of reading all the time, like I always had. My reading was a bone of contention at times, yes, but what little I did around the farm didn’t prevent me from reading.
I’m sure, if any of my brothers and sisters read the article, they chuckled when it implied that I worked on the farm at all.
But that is beside the point. The important thing that I think needs to be mentioned is that, looking back, I am eternally thankful that I was raised to appreciate the value of hard work, and the importance of getting the work done first, before I played. Why? Because writing a book is very, very hard work.
If it weren’t for my parents instilling their work ethic in me, I’d
still be one of those creative persons who has always said, and probably will say to their dying day, “I should write a book someday.” Because of my parents, I did it. I worked and worked until it was finished, and then I worked some more, making it better and better, until it was ready to publish, and then I worked and worked to get it in front of editors and agents and publishers. When I got a rejection, I worked even harder to make the book even better, until I got an offer. And now, I’m working hard to promote and market it.
While the article touched on this, my parents weren’t given credit, and I really think they deserve it, for teaching me persistence and determination, and the value of hard work.
I know many an artist, musician, writer, craftsperson, who although talented beyond words, can’t earn a living doing what they love and are gifted at because they don’t have a clue how to finish what they start, or keep at it until the job is done, say nothing about marketing themselves, selling themselves, or running a business.
Looking back on my farm experience, I feel passionate about the fact that my upbringing empowered me to be the person I am today, both innkeeper and author… because like it or not, my Dad taught me the value of hard work… an essential ingredient in the journey to getting published.
I grew up reading romance novels with 20 year old heroines, virgins, whose mother and father were conveniently vacationing in Europe or dead. While I loved embarking on an adventure of first love (and first-time sex) with these all-alone-in-the-world, pure-as-the-driven-snow waifs, my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older.
I find a complex, mature heroine with a caring (okay – meddlesome) family, who has experienced love and been disappointed (okay – burned), who finds it in herself to take a chance on love again, to be more appealing. To me, when a person with baggage and a less than ideal background finds true love — finally — it makes for a truly rewarding reading experience.
How do you feel? If you are older than 40, do you like the reality turned fantasy of reading about what other women (and men) your age are going through, or do you prefer to relive simpler, less complicated times in your life, to dream about what it would be like to be young again, to start all over?
If you’re young, would you even pick up a book with an older heroine? Does a good love story, and wonderful characters, render age irrelevant?
If you’re a writer, and knew that books with a heroine of any age would sell as well as the next, would you rather write about someone your own age, or do you prefer to write young, first love, first career stories?
I’m curious to hear which you think is more appealing in a story line – age and experience, or youthful exuberance?
Sometime this week, I should hold my book, Night & Day, in my hands for the very first time. I’ve been waiting for this moment for the last decade, writing my heart out. Thanks to Second Wind Publishing, my dream is finally coming true. I hope you’ll check my book out (you’ll be able to purchase a copy soon at http://www.secondwindpublishing.com).
It’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark…