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I am Sherrie Hansen and it took a blizzard, and getting snowbound for three days, to make time in my crazy schedule to post a new entry to my blog.
In addition to writing books, I own a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn. My husband of almost 7 years is a pastor. My published books include Night and Day, Stormy Weather, and Water Lily. Merry Go Round is supposed to be coming out in February, but I’ve lost my daytime help at the Blue Belle, and am running way behind schedule on writing, too, after working 12 – 14 hours at the B&B pretty much every day since October 1.
I belong to a group called Shedding Light at Gather.com, and for our first assignment, or Ripple, as our creative leader, Mariana, calls them, we were asked to list ten things – fun things – that make you smile – that you do – or observe or watch or even imagining yourself doing.
Here’s my list:
1. I love rainbows and sunsets … over the ocean, behind the mountains, across the flat fields of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa where I grew up and now live.
2. I love taking pictures of things. People, not so much, because they never seem to look as good through the lens of my camera as they do in person. But things… places, colors, buildings, flowers… with my camera, I seem to have a knack for bringing out the beauty in everyday things.
3. I love writing books, weaving a story, developing characters, saying what’s on my heart in fiction form.
4. I love playing the piano at church – the contemporary worship service with the drummer and our worship team is my favorite.
5. I love Wednesdays because that is the day I pick up my nieces after school and take them on an adventure. The oldest is 9 and the youngest is 6. I’ve been doing this since the oldest was 6 weeks old. My time with them is absolutely the best time of my week.
6. I love snuggling with my husband. I was single for about 20 years before I met Mark – lots of nights spent alone in my bed. Now, we hold hands while we sleep (at least we start out that way) and I love the sense of being loved and cherished that I feel when he’s beside me.
7. I love the feeling of going home at night after a productive day at the Blue Belle Inn, of being told that what I’ve done has pleased people and provided a relaxing, enjoyable time for them.
8. I love reading a good book, whether romantic, spiritual, nostalgic or suspenseful, and listening to good music – bluegrass, country, Celtic, gospel, rock and roll. I love getting to enjoy other people’s creativity.
9. I love traveling – mostly in Europe or Canada. There’s something about getting out of the country that really helps me relax. Seeing the sights and experiencing a different culture is a true joy for me, inspiring and attitude enhancing in many ways.
10. I love days when I can hang around in my nightgown and watch TV, needlepoint, cook dinner for my husband, catch up with my writing or email and just relax and do things at my own pace… days where I don’t HAVE to be anywhere or do anything in particular.
Anyone feel like singing “These are a few of my Favorite Things”?
The Minnesota Public Television show featuring the Blue Belle Inn is now available online at http://www.youtube.com/ksmq#p/u/6/arS0cSJAgLg. It’s episode 403 when you get to YouTube. I’m the last interview for the Cities on the Move program about St. Ansgar, Iowa, so be patient!
My husband took these photos yesterday.
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!
Just wanted to let you know that I’m in the spotlight at Amy De Trempe’s blog, Timeless Romance, today. If you make a comment sometime between now and Saturday night, you could win a copy of my new book, Stormy Weather.
(Just want to make sure everyone understands that to be entered in the contest for the free copy of Stormy Weather, you must leave a comment on Amy DeTrempe’s Timeless Romance blog.)
I love seeing your comments here, too, but also hope to see you there!
You can also buy both Night and Day and Stormy Weather as a paperback, an e-book, or in Kindle version at http://www.amazon.com, Second Wind Publishing, or by calling me at the Blue Belle Inn (641-713-3113).
Thanks to all of you who have purchased and read Night and Day – I appreciate your good comments, and hope you like Stormy Weather just as well!
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.
Some of my earliest memories are of bedtime stories being read to me, and I loved to read books from the time I learned how. When I was in grade school and junior high I had special library privileges – because I had to jump on the school bus as soon as school was out, I was dismissed from class 5 or 10 minutes early each day so I could go to the library and pick out a book, which I would then read that night and return the next morning. On Sundays, I would check out several books from the church library. I read at least one book a day.
When I was little, my parents thought it was nice that I liked to read so much. They were proud that I was such an avid reader. But I was raised on a farm where everyone was expected to pitch in and help, and as I got older, what was perceived as cute became an irritation, especially to my Dad, who thought I should be working instead of “wasting time” reading. I took to reading late at night, sometimes in my bed, with a flashlight, half hidden under the covers, so my parents wouldn’t see the light. There are photos of me sitting at a picnic table or in the back seat of the car when we were on family vacations, reading, when according to my Mom and Dad, I should have been doing things with my family – hiking, swimming – the things “normal” kids do. When I tried to read, my sisters and brothers teased me. My parents yelled at me. Reading became a sore spot.
I stubbornly ignored them and kept reading… and writing. A poetry class and then, a creative writing teacher, inspired and encouraged me to write, to express myself. I was a straight A student, fueled as much by what I learned from the books I read as what I was taught in class.
But somewhere about the time I was a junior in high school, I started to accept the message that was repeated over and over again – at worst, that reading was a waste of time, at best, that reading was something people only did when they were too old to work and had nothing better to do with their time. I stopped reading for pleasure. My school courses became more demanding and required more reading, and I was involved in several extracurricular activities – choir, yearbook editor, 4-H, youth group at church – that required my attention and took a lot of time.
This was even more true in college. What free time I did have was spent talking with friends in my dorm. I started working and dating. I wrote reams of poetry while I was at Wheaton, exulting in first loves and new experiences, questioning, learning, growing up. But I read only what I had to.
I married after two years at Wheaton and moved to Germany. I continued my studies and wrote avidly – this time in the form of term papers and hundreds of hand-written letters to my parents, in-laws, Grandmas, and friends. But I didn’t read. I earned money and I worked. I gave up the fight and listened to the inner voice in my head that said I was being lazy when I sat down to read a book… that I should be working… that I should be doing something worthwhile, productive… if nothing else, seeing the sights and experiencing Europe.
It didn’t help that books written in English weren’t that readily available in Germany. No e-books back in the 70′s! But more importantly, my life was in crisis. My marriage was a mess, and I made a series of bad choices in the years that followed… choices that I was ashamed of, felt guilty about, and couldn’t talk… or write… about. I lost hope, felt depressed, eventually got divorced. I neither read nor wrote during this period. How can a person read stories with a happy ending when you are so cynical that you don’t believe in them? Writing seemed pointless. It didn’t solve anything, help anything, change anything.
I acquired a sarcastic wit as I fought my way back to emotional health and rebuilt my tattered financial status. I worked countless hours opening a business and eventually found both happiness and success. But I never opened a book.
It’s ironic now to think back on that time period — the fact that each of the rooms at my Bed and Breakfast is named after a book attests to the fact that I still had a passion for reading. But the rooms are named after books I’d read as a child… “On the Banks of Plum Creek” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, “The Secret Garden”, Sherwood Forest from “Robin Hood”, “Sleeping Beauty”, NeverNeverland from “Peter Pan”, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madelaine L’Engle, “Heaven to Betsy”, one of the Betsy – Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace… the books I’d loved as a child were the only books I knew, because I had stopped reading by the time I became an adult.
Then, a friend invited me to join her at Prince Edward Island for a week and a half. Her aunt and uncle owned a vacation house on the water, and had rented the one next door for us to stay. I arrived at the sleepy little island one summer day, and felt immediately at home. Plainly rural, yet beautifully scenic, it lives up to its Indian name, Abegweit, or land cradled by the waves.
I’d never been on a seaside vacation. My family camped, changing locations every night, seeing new sights every day, traveling hundreds of miles over the course of a week’s vacation. I was bored silly, or more accurately, fit to be tied, after 3 days.
My friend’s Aunt Doris was a reader. She handed me a book and told me to relax. I started Sandra Brown’s “French Silk” later that afternoon, sitting in an old lawn chair, overlooking the water. I had read six books by the time I left for home. She let me take another to read on the airplane. I had finished it by the time I reached New Jersey, and bought another at the airport to take me to Minneapolis. I haven’t stopped since.
I read everything Sandra Brown had ever written. I discovered Susan Elizabth Phillips, Jill Marie Landis, Dorothy Garlock, LaVyrle Spencer, Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell, Debbie Macomber, Janet Evanovich, Linda Lael Miller, Pamela Morsi, Julie Garwood, Jennifer Crusie and more, devouring their books one by one. Bookshelves once filled with baskets and knick-knacks were now crammed with books.
A year after I visited Prince Edward Island and started reading again, I was inspired to write my first novel. I spent hundreds of dollars to fly to Colorado, rent a car, and attend a writing workshop led by Madelaine L’Engle. My employees, parents, and brothers and sisters all seemed to think I was wasting my time. Would writing pay off? It didn’t seem likely that I would ever get paid for the hours and hours I was spending in front of the computer, typing away.
This time, I again refused to listen. I kept reading… and writing. In my first published book, “Night and Day”, recently released by Second Wind Publishing, Jensen Marie Christiansen finds pure magic on Prince Edward Island, the place where I rediscovered my love of reading. Is it any surprise I chose this very special island to be the setting of Jensen’s dream come true?
Although my family has learned to accept my passion for books and writing, the entrepreneurial side of me is still bothered on some level that I may never net more than one or two cents an hour for the time and energy I’ve spent writing my books. But I have learned to be proud of my voice. I have learned that dreams really do come true. I have learned that I must write… and read. With every book I read, I am far richer than I was before.