Daddy's Christmas Angel

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Corner Cafe--A Perfect Place to Meet for a Blog Book Tour

Dani Greer
Dani Greer
I first met Dani Greer when I took her Blog Book Tour Class two summers ago. I met Bodie Parkhurst, a gifted student in her class, during that very intense month of learning. The Corner Cafe is a book of short stories created by some of the students who have taken Dani's BBT classes. It is an experiment in marketing that both Dani and Bodie have had a major part in creating.

I was going to ask Dani Greer (founder of the Blog Book Tour Café) to share a little of the background that resulted in The Corner Café. Unfortunately, Dani lives in Colorado in an area very much impacted by the fires.  Do you know some of that background, Bodie? This book took quite a bit of organizing, I'm sure.

Bodie Parkhurst
I wasn't privy to all of the in's and out's, but here are a couple of the highlights:
Pulling together a project like this was a bit like getting together a group of people who all speak different languages, to produce a book in a language only some of the group speaks. Complexities arose in a couple of areas.
1. Getting everybody's files to "talk" to each other. We're all independent writers, and we work on different platforms, in different programs, and in different ways. Just getting files to open properly was the first hurdle. And then, of course, the files had to be prepared for Kindle. That's not as straightforward as it looks, or sounds. Creating a Kindle file from "scratch" is one thing; taking a file that many someone else's (most of whom are completely new to Kindle requirements) created and converting them for Kindle is something else again. And Dani did it.
2. The second issue was less about technology than it was a simple fact of the writing life--when we saw our stories prepared for Kindle, we saw them with new eyes, and spotted all sorts of things we wanted to change (probably not all of us, but enough of us to make it necessary for Dani to Lay Down The Law about what sorts of edits could be made (typos and grammatical goobers) and what couldn't. I design books for a living, so I wasn't terribly surprised. Part of writing a book is knowing that at some point you have to let it go--and you'll always find things you'll wish you'd done differently. 

Bodie, I've noticed that you've been putting each of your other books on Amazon as free books for a day or two during this Blog Book Tour. Have you seen your sales numbers climb during this period (if you want to share this information)? As a writer, how have you benefitted from publication of The Corner Café?

I'm a comparatively unknown author--I sell less than $1,000 of books a year--so as far as I'm concerned anything that helps me build an audience is a help. As for my sales, they've not increased drastically, but I'm seeing a lot of downloads on my free days, and I suspect part of that's from "The Corner Cafe's" tour--certainly on the days when I get mentioned in the posts I see a jump in the free downloads. I'm also seeing people taking chances on some of my books that have seen virtually no sales to date--one of my noviels, Redeeming Stanley, tends to jog alone at about 2-3 books a week in Kindle sales. Until we started the marketing and I started doing the free download days my other books virtually NEVER sold. I'm seeing them beginning to move, very, very, slowly. I'm sure that "The Corner Cafe" has helped because it's gotten my writing into a lot more people's hands. My job is to make sure that the writing's good enough to earn reader loyalty.
As I mentioned, sales have very slightly increased, but since I've been running "free download" days it's hardly surprising that they're slow. I HAVE been getting some pretty hefty download numbers--there have been over 1,000 downloads of my books so far--Redeeming Stanley's by far the most popular (that one's heading for 800 downloads, and it's climbed in the rankings considerably), with the second most popular being "Good on Paper." "Benchmarks," (the memoir) is hardly moving at all--less than 100 downloads. So I would say that the book tour helps, but it's not a magic bullet.

Do you think some readers have more interest in an anthology featuring a variety of authors than they do in books by individual authors? Do you believe readers like to sample writing, then buy other works later on by that same author?
Interesting question. I tend to steer away from anthologies, myself, and a publisher friend of mine says they tend to be a hard sell in the industry. However, I think that writing for anthologies can be a good sales tool, particularly for unknown writers (like me). It gives us a chance to be sampled, when readers might never pick up one of our books as a stand-alone offering. So I guess my answer's "yes," I think that a Kindle sampler like this can be a great way to dip your toe into a lot of writers' ponds, and see where the water suits.

Bodie, would you recommend a group anthology as a selling tool for writers?
I'd say "yes," as long as the writer realizes that they are participating primarily for exposure and the value of joint marketing. I think that's really the key--a book only sells as well as it's marketed. A project like this that involves a lot of writers, many of whom have active blogs, means that we can all benefit from everybody else's marketing efforts. We expand our marketing reach far beyond what we might otherwise be able to do. Unless there's a coordinated marketing plan in place, though, sales are going to be unpredictable.

If you had the Blog Book Tour to start over again, what, if anything, would you change? What have you learned from this project?
I think I'd try to develop my own marketing more, to dovetail more efficiently with the blog book tour. I followed the tour and commented, and I posted tour stops several times on my blog, and of course I hosted, but I could have maximized the shared exposure better to promote both "The Corner Cafe" and my own books. The challenge, of course, is to post interesting, focused pieces without competing with the main tour. I've participated in a few tours now, and each time I get a little better. 

Thank you, Bodie, for filling us in on background details to help us understand the process that resulted in The Corner Cafe.
Our heartfelt wishes go out to Dani Greer and all the others facing troubling times and great hardship in Colorado.

The Corner Cafe is available now for $.99 from Amazon. All proceeds from this project go to charity.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Creating Art for the Corner Cafe

My guest today is Sherry Wachter, cover designer for The Corner Cafe, an anthology of short stories by 15 authors and an experimental project for BBT Cafe members. 

The Blog Book Tour that started on June 1 is nearing an end. As an artist, the cover of a book is especially important to me. It can make or break a book sale. Because I've followed this book project from the beginning, I know a great deal of thought and consideration went into the creation of The Corner Cafe cover.

You did a marvelous job creating the cover art for The Corner Café, Sherry. How did you come up with your ideas? Can you share a little of the process of a book cover artist from idea to finished product?

Probably every designer approaches book cover design from a slightly different perspective. I sort of fell into design back in the days when you could still do that. Before I became a designer I was a writer and editor for marketing communications departments and firms. Very often writers and designers can end up in a sort of tug-of-war over a piece--as a general rule writers want to use the space for words; designers want to make things beautiful, and as a breed, we tend to like lots of white space. Because of my dual background I've always approached cover design as a unified challenge--I need to create a cover that first, will sell the book, second, reflects the content, style, and era of the story, and third, fits comfortably with other similar books, but is eye-catching and appealing. Everything has to work together. Designing covers for online marketing carries a special set of challenges--for one thing, the cover must be simple and striking enough to be recognizable at very small sizes, and very low resolutions. Those were the general parameters.

When I design book covers I start out by listening, and, if possible, reading some of the manuscript. I listen because often people have a very clear idea of what they'd like to see, and if they don't see it they will always feel a niggling dissatisfaction--or we'll end up doing round after round of revisions. I am a designer. I know what's beautiful. I know what my vision is for a book cover. But when I'm designing a cover for someone else's book that has to be the central point from which I work--that this is not my book. The person who has hired me to produce the cover is the one who needs to be delighted. So--The Corner Cafe was not "my" book. Dani was managing the project, so she was the person I talked to about her vision for the cover. We started out with images--she provided a few photos, and we talked colors, and what the cover needed to include. Then I came up with a few options.

Here's where my designery sneakiness comes into play. I never offer a client a single option. I start out by designing the cover they tell me they want to see. No matter how bad I may think their idea is, I do a cover that reflects what they tell me. I make sure that it won't embarrass them--I balance things out, arrange their elements as pleasingly as I can within their parameters, and I save it. Then I do a second option that is based on their comments, but develops their ideas further, or explores other type options, or another piece of art--something that I think will meet the book's sales and marketing needs in a dynamic way. And then I develop a third option that pushes things even farther--maybe it explores things like specialty inks, or novelty (but appropriate fonts), or a visual pun or joke (if the book's right for it). Basically, this cover just blows the doors off the design.

Option 1: This is where we started. Dani sent me a photo of a "Corner Cafe" window, and we talked about using diner style art. So--the chalk menu board, the neon arrow, and the traditional type. It was a starting point, but it just didn't live up to what I think either of us had envisioned--and one of the challenges of this book was that there are a number of authors, and their names needed to be legible without competing with the title (which didn't reproduce well at online thumbnail sizes).

Option 2: This was closer. The type treatment worked well at thumbnail sizes, and the colors were lovely. But the image wasn't quite right--it was too much bakery, and not enough diner, and the names weren't as readable as we would have liked. This cover is lovely--but just not quite right for this book.


Option 3: Instead of trying to get a diner on the cover, we went with elements that suggest "diner"--the coffee cup, the checkered pattern, the pie on a gingham cloth, and the menu board, enlarged, and with the names set in a bolder font. It works--it says "diner," but with enough subtlety to adapt itself to the variety of diners in the book.

Sometimes the client chooses the fun design. Sometimes they stick with their vision. Sometimes they go for the mid-range design. Most often they pick and choose elements of each, and we come up with a cover that works for marketing, reflects the book, and pleases everybody (except possibly me--but it's not MY book, right?). My job is to give clients what they want--but it's also to show them that they can have far MORE than they are dreaming of. 

Thank you so much, Sherry, for showing us how a cover evolves and how the cover for The Corner Cafe came about. 

I'm excited to be a part of The Corner Cafe with my short story, "A Face in the Window". 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Alligators in the Jefferson Hotel Lobby

Bronze Alligator at Jefferson Hotel - MMSikes
 Years ago, guests at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia weren't greeted at entrance door by a bronze alligator as they are today. Instead, they got to meet the real thing!

It seems that when the hotel reopened following a 1901 fire that ruined about 60% of the structure, live alligators took up residence in the lobby next to the Thomas Jefferson statue. According to legend, guests who had brought alligators home from Florida as pets discovered they grew too big for bathtubs and would leave them at the hotel. Apparently it was the bellman's responsibility to remove the alligators from furniture when he came on duty early each morning.

Old Pompey, the last of the alligators, died in 1948. It is his statue that now greets guests! The hotel gift shop honors his memory by using the name "Gators" and selling a variety of little alligator creatures and cards.

Do you know of another hotel that once housed alligators or other wild creatures? A number of hotels I've visited in Florida and in the Caribbean keep parrots and other birds on the premises.

Please follow The Corner Cafe Blog Book Tour next week. Here's the schedule:

June 26 SB Lerner
June 28 Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, June 18, 2012

Taking Things for Granted

Ever think about how quickly life can change? In an instant, everything you've loved and taken for granted can change.

My mother used to tell me, "Never take anything for granted."

With the busy lives most of us lead, that's just about impossible.

Last Monday, we were waiting for a traffic light to change when all of a sudden a loud bang that sounded like an explosion occurred. "What happened?" A pickup truck stopped behind us had suddenly crashed into the liftgate at the back of our minivan.

We were sitting innocently waiting, and the world changed. The driver said his foot slipped off the brake. Because his truck was higher off the pavement, his bumper hit the back of our vehicle instead of our bumper.

It was unexpected to have to take our van into a body shop for repairs. Our plans were changed. Now we have a rental car.

I've been tired (not like me). I've had trouble concentrating. No blog posts written since last Monday before the accident.

Don't take anything for granted. It can all change in a flash.

Any of you had experience with an automobile accident? I would like to hear them.

On a more pleasant note, here are this week's blog sites for authors of The Corner Cafe.

June 18 Morgan Mandel Double M
June 20 Shonell Bacon
June 21 Alberta Ross
June 22 Karen Casey Fitzjerrell

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Writing My Book in the Corner Cafe

CoffeeThere are Corner Cafes all over our country. Right now, I'll bet many of them have someone sitting at a back table typing away on a laptop or a notebook. There's a bit of a mystique to someone writing a book while sipping coffee in The Corner Cafe. (Our book of short stories with that title, written by BBT Authors, is available free today on Amazon.)

Writing some or all of a book while sitting in a public space got me to thinking about my own writing career. My first book, Hearts Across Forever, was written while I sat in a lot of different places, maybe even in a corner cafe or two. Because it was my first attempt at long fiction, the story played out in numerous versions and rewrites. The first of my attempts was written in cursive on big yellow pads. I suspect a few of those hand-written pages still lie hidden somewhere in my writing studio today.

"Rose Hall" - Painting by MM Sikes
This book has an exotic touch to it, probably because the story was inspired by my first trip to the island of Jamaica where I was entranced and enchanted by the story of the "white witch" of Rose Hall Plantation. The "what-if" questions began immediately. Not only did I pull out my notepad, but I also yanked out drawing paper and pastels to create paintings of Rose Hall Great House.Hearts Across Forever (Passenger to Paradise)Those paintings inspired me to devise a story that crosses the ages between present day Jamaica and the days when the island was a British colony known for its sugarcane and rum. To add another exotic touch to this book, the final edits were made by telephone from the island of St. Martin--another fabulous destination where I hope to someday set a story.

I don't have a Corner Cafe near me today. If I did, I might sometimes carry my little mini computer with me and tarry there a while for inspiration.

Please don't forget The Corner Cafe is free today on Amazon. "A Face in the Window" is the name of my story. If you don't have a Kindle, just download the app for the Kindle Cloud Reader. That's what I did.

Maybe you can help us reach #1!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meeting at the Corner Cafe and Creating Plots

Today Bodie Parkhurst, the cover designer, artist, and author for The Corner Cafe, is interviewing me at Magic Dog Press. My contribution to this book is a short story titled "A Face in the Window," a what-if tale based on a traumatic experience I had years ago.

Writing this story started me thinking and wondering how many authors base their stories on "what-if" plots that actually began as personal experiences. I remember listening to author Nora Roberts speak a few years ago. She talked about creating her stories by asking that question many times. Surely some of those "what-ifs" came from her own experiences. I heard this morning that plots for the Ray Bradbury stories developed from nightmares he had as a child.

Certainly, we can ask "what if" when we have a particularly vivid dream. Dreams become important in my stories, such as the dreams in my book, Hearts Across Forever.

As an author, do you often ask that question? Do you base much of your writing on personal experience?

Please continue to follow The Corner Cafe tomorrow, June 8 visiting Heidi Thomas

Monday, June 4, 2012

Kicking Off The Corner Cafe

 Today is the launch date for The Corner Cafe, a book of short stories written by authors who are members of  BBT Cafe, a social group for authors who have taken the Blog Book Tour online course taught by blogger guru Dani Greer. The book gives samples of the writing styles of the 15 authors. We hope readers will want to also discover other books by these authors.

Here is the teaser for my story, "A Face in the Window":  For Arianna, on the anniversary of the tragic loss that changed her life forever, memories lurk inside an art museum and among the shadows of the Corner Cafe.
You can also read the first two chapters using Amazon’s Look Inside feature. If it sounds like something you’d like to download to your Kindle, here’s the link to buy. Only 99 cents! 
In the fast-changing world of publishing, this is an experiment for all of us. We hope our readers will enjoy it!
Join us during the blog book tour all month as we visit these blog hosts:
June 4 Blog Book Tours Kick-off
June 6 Red Tash
June 11 Marian Allen
June 12 W.S Gager
June 13 Chris Verstraete
June 15 Kathy Wheeler
June 18 Morgan Mandel Double M
June 20 Shonell Bacon
June 21 Alberta Ross
June 22 Karen Casey Fitzjerrell
June 26 SB Lerner
June 28 Mary Montague Sikes