A Change in Direction

Life changes, and in surprising directions sometimes.

Writing about writing, book sales and promotions wasn’t my cup of tea as evidenced by my lack of posts. I’ve all but abandoned my blog in the last several months but as I sit in a formal dining room in Warwick, England looking out on a cobblestone street, instead of gazing across my snow covered field in Alberta, Canada I’ve found a new reason to blog.

My husband and I decided to expand our definition of family and one of our newest family members is a middle-aged Englishman who after experiencing Canadian hospitality with us, asked to return the favour by inviting us to his home in England once he returned from a stint working in Fort McMurray. It took some creative solutioning but after deciding to homeschool my daughter, and finding a house/dog sitter, I find myself living abroad. I never dreamed such an opportunity would ever come my way or that I would ever have the courage to make such a move.

It was hard to leave. I had been buoyed by the excitement of planning and preparation for weeks but when I backed my truck out of my garage for the last time for four months, leaving my wonderful home and almost everyone I care about wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I had tears in my eyes and I reminded my daughter and myself that this wasn’t permanent. We would be coming back.  We both looked back at our house with a new appreciation and longing. We glanced at our field as we drove by, in a way we never had before. We had only just begun our journey and already we were different.

My husband is the adventurous one. He worked for nine months in Africa several years ago. In July of this year he returned again to Gabon, this time working offshore on a platform. Now instead of my youngest daughter and I being left behind while he globe trots, we are off having our own adventure. We are making new friends and expanding our definitions of home. We have been very welcomed, and made to feel comfortable.

In the airport waiting to fly.

In the airport waiting to fly.

I spent the first four days recovering from jet lag which knocked me off my feet pretty hard. My daughter and I did a little bit of exploring and then we had to get back into some learning before Christmas preparations began. It has been a whirlwind of activity here which makes me feel very much like I am still at home. There hasn’t been much time to sight see. We’ve done a bit of exploring with plenty more to come.

Shopping in Leamington Spa.

Shopping in Leamington Spa.

It’s Christmas Eve and I am thousands of miles away from most of my family and friends. While there is sadness and loneliness, my daughter and I are also enamored with all that is new and so very, very old. We are enjoying our trip tremendously. Every time we step out the front door we see and learn and experience something new.

Its hard not to like a place that lets kids and Pugs into pubs.

Its hard not to like a place that lets kids and pugs into pubs and was built long before Canada was even a country. The Punch Bowl was built in 1806.

I am surrounded by history and a whole new country and culture to explore. My head is filled with ideas of things i want to experience and write about. that is encouraging. The home of Shakespeare is just down the road from me. If I can’t find something to write about here… there’s no hope for me.

To Write Or To Live? That is the Question

There is a fine line a writer has to walk between living and writing. Too much living means not enough writing, and too much writing means not enough living. As evidenced by my lack of recent blog posts and by my lack of mention of a completed first draft of my second novel, it is obvious which activity is consuming my focus lately.

Recently, while in the throes of excessive living, I was in a beautiful location, enjoying a sumptuous meal beginning with fried olives, stuffed with gorgonzola accompanied by a spicy honey sauce. My teeth cut through the crisp golden batter. My mouth watered in response to the hot, salty olive. I sucked in a breath and realized I should have given the appetizer a moment to cool; my tongue was stinging slightly. I carried on chewing, a little more gingerly, breathing in cooling air. The cheese creamed across my tongue. The sauce kicked in. I didn’t notice the sweetness of honey on the first bite but the spiciness grew with each passing second. I attempted to dispel the effects with a sip of cold, crisp, and tart Sauvignon Blanc. The wine opened my taste buds further. My mouth grew warmer for a moment. A couple more small sips of wine and the spiciness eased. I lifted my fork and began the whole process over again. Mm…

If I had not visited this restaurant and had this experience I could not have told you about it quite so thoroughly. I wouldn’t have known to include certain details about the experience. The napkin I placed across my lap was the thickest of linens. Snowflakes the size of quarters drifted down in front of a mountain backdrop. A candle flickered in the reflection. My spine stayed straight, my elbows were kept off the table but it was a romantic and exquisite evening. Maybe I could have come close to describing it this well without visiting, but maybe not.

View from Rimrock Hotel

View from Rimrock Hotel

When I pay attention to my senses, emotions and experiences while I am living, I always find rich details to incorporate into my writing to give it depth and to help recreate an experience my reader can identify with which will hopefully evoke a response. It is this response that binds my reader to my words.

When I am experiencing powerful emotions I often try and capture them in a journal. Sometimes these captured emotions can be used in my writing. The problem is that to have these powerful emotions you have to be living. When you are living you are not writing. To further compound the issue… I have a horrible memory. Things fade so quickly especially if you are living life at tremendous speeds, and I have been living at the speed of sound.

To combat this I try my best to always carry a pen and journal with me. I often see and feel these moments and I know them for what they are, snapshots that could make my writing better. It is painful. The writer in me gets the inspired thought or the creative burst and longs to capture it. I also know I can’t live behind the pen. If I spend all my time writing about my vacation I am not actually having one.

Finding the balance between living and writing is difficult. And as you can see by my lack of blog posts I’m doing a hell of a lot of living. Hopefully that will translate into some great writing at some point.

As someone I love recently said to me, “Quality problems Shannon, that’s what those are, quality problems.” That was a helpful perspective.

Life does not come with a remote control that allows us to pause and record.

What do you do to capture these living moments for your writing before they slip by?

A Year Of Self-Publishing

Exactly a year ago I made the decision to self-publish my first novel “Seascape”.

Over the course of the year I completed the editing and publishing process, I had 1 book launch, two store signings, three library visits. I was a book club selection for two book clubs. I did three assorted author sales. And I did a couple of community farmer’s markets. My book is in two bookstores, and two drugstores.

I have done almost no promotion other than this blog and Facebook, one newspaper advertisement and a couple of flyers at local post offices.

I have sold around four hundred printed copies and 75 eBooks, with almost no effort. Of course this begs the question, what might my results have been with considerable effort? Unfortunately I suck at sales. I am my own worst enemy, because I do not know how to toot my own horn, and I hate to impose and ask for the consideration of others. I have stretched myself a bit in this department. I am willing to stretch a bit father, but for the most part, this is never going to be my strong suit.

My strong suit is writing a book that people enjoy reading, even those who were certain they would have to groan and bear it. If I could get a dollar for every man who read it and said they didn’t think they’d like it, but enjoyed the whole thing, well I’d have about thirty dollars, at least. If you had to take away a dollar for every person who did not enjoy my book well I’d still have my thirty bucks. If someone has not liked it, they sure haven’t let word get back to me.

Word of mouth means everything. My book has sold for the most part on word of mouth. The trick is getting my book into people’s hands. Once it is there they enjoy it, pass it on, and buy more copies for others. I am blessed by repeat customers. That is wonderful for me because these are not just individual sales. Many purchasers of “Seascape” will return when the next book comes out. I may not have pushed my book into a great many hands, but almost every hand that took a book has become a fan and champion of my work. I know I have a small but firm base I can build on.

Over the course of the year the lessons were endless. I know where to spend my money and my time in the future. I know that bookstores are my least favorite sales locations. I know that if I can afford it, I am better off hiring someone to help with promotion. I am great at showing up but not so good at finding events and locations to market myself. I sold where I did not think I would sell. I did not do well where I thought I would. Through it all I made some great connections, bought some great books by other authors, and reaffirmed my belief that other writers are some of my favourite people.

Self-publishing seemed like such a monumental task and it turned out to be a life changing event. Looking back on the choice, I can say it was a fantastic decision and I have no regrets. If I do not secure a book deal with the next book I am writing, I would definitely go this route again.

Tell me your favorite

Instead of working on my current work in progress I have been a little distracted lately. And the whole blogging things has fallen by the wayside. To ease myself back in I decided to post four pieces of poetry I have recently been inspired to write. Tell me which one you like best.

Away

I am not here
I am gone, wanting in the direction of you
What’s left behind has been made lazy
Your absence strips the will from my limbs
It steals the want from my movements
All that I am is missing

Fire
I am always, only,
a few strategically placed pieces of wood
away from igniting
I remember the work it used to take to get a smolder
Now I am half lit and ready to burn
Don’t need a match
Don’t need gasoline
Just add wood

My Bed
Come crawl in next to me
Lie with me in my unclean sheets
They are dirtied by my need
Clean my want away

Self-Care
I don’t miss the girl I used to be
She was sad and easy.
But I feel the need to visit,
To travel back in time and watch her sob into her pillow.
I wasn’t there for her then, the way I can be now.
In her darkened room I sit next to her
My weight sinks the bed
She senses me
I feel her heart race with fear
In my own chest.
I rest my hand on our hip
I speak
“It will all be okay”
“You are not alone”
Her heartbeat slows
Her eyes close
She rests.
I hold her hand
I stroke her head.
I stay with her.

My Indigo Experience

Last Saturday I had my very first official bookstore signing at the busiest location available in my entire province. I was excited by prospect of being in a target rich environment with the potential to move many books. I could not imagine a better opportunity but I did make myself a personal pledge to go into it with no expectations and no hopes.

INDIGO

From 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. I sold 4 books. The total money made for the store was $83.96. My personal profit was about $12.00. I did not take the pushy approach; I did not sit insecurely behind my table. I moved around the store. I struck up conversations with shoppers. I feel confident I got every sale I should have so why so few sales?

I was set up in the front of the store, at the mall entrance near the till so people saw me as they were entering and leaving. However many of the people coming in avoided my table choosing to come in away from my position. Next time I will pick a better location.

I was incredibly upset to discover I did forget a pivotal piece to erect my banner properly. This was a huge mistake. From my last sale I saw how helpful the banner was at illustrating with a quick glance what the book is about. More importantly it really helps me stand out in a busy environment.

According to the staff the store was not as busy as it normally should have been. It seemed busy enough to me; there was a great deal of traffic. However the store is also a mall entrance and many of the people were not at Indigo to purchase books, but were just passing through on their way to the rest of the mall.

Those who lingered and browsed were selecting nonfiction. In fact one of the staff actually pointed out how little fiction is really in the store. Only thirty percent of the books are actually fiction. Contemporary romantic fiction is a small part of this segment.

The last and scariest reason I discovered because I was stationed so close to the till and I was able to see what people were purchasing. Over half of the purchases made were not books, but rather items from the other part of the store, for example, toys from the children’s’ section, curtain hangers from the home decorating section, and dishes from the giftware section. It was truly shocking to see the traffic was steady, but the purchases were few books or no books at all.

I deeply want my writing to contribute financially to my family. I realize this is a goal that will not be accomplished overnight; I must be prepared to do the work. After this experience it is hard not to wonder if writing books is a pipe dream. Seven hours put $12.00 in my pocket. Actually that is a horrible lie because I left the store having bought double the number of books I sold and it cost me at least a hundred in fifty dollars in travel expenses. I’m left wondering if this is really the best use of my time?

Indigo would like me to come back and it wasn’t so difficult a work day that I have any anxiety about doing it again. It’s all part of the learning process and I am committed to learning every aspect of book sales and promotion so when my year is done I will be wiser, more experienced, and I will have all the information necessary to proceed more successfully in the future.

Once the disappointment wore off I got to thinking about sales and fan base. I have sold three hundred print copies of my novel; I have sold fifty digital editions. I know my book has been shared by many. The copies I have put in the library system have been steadily lent out. I may not have hit five hundred sold copies yet but I am close to having five hundred readers of my work. That is something.

This fall is going to be exceptionally busy with several events each month and I am hoping to line up more. I am honored to find out I will once again be a book club selection at another library plus I am going to be a guest speaker for another town’s cultural days. I have several library visits set up, and two book sales with other authors which I am really looking forward to. I have 200 books to go and then I will be able to focus on my work in progress. One thing about being on the road it doesn’t get the next book done. At least I have a very clear perspective that if I am ever going to make a living at this, it is going to happen one book at a time and one sale at a time.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to encourage me and give me some advice. It really made a difference!

Indigo, Here I Come!

This week I have my first official bookstore signing at a chain store for my novel “Seascape’. The Indigo store I will be visiting is in a huge location and is super busy. This Saturday I will be at the Calgary Crossiron Mills location. From 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. I will be front and center of the store.

I am nervous!

I have had several events. Why is this one sparking so much anxiety? Because it is Indigo. Even more scary, to have a good sale, to do my absolute best, I have to get out from behind my display table and mingle. I have to pass out bookmarks and approach people.

Ugh! Approaching people is my struggle.

I have a game plan but if you have any suggestions or recommendations about how I should conduct myself, I am open to receiving.

Seriously, I am all ears.

Interesting Things You Come Across When Jogging

I am currently away right now from my home due to a family member’s health emergency, which is giving me perspective right now, about my own recent down grade in self care.

Since launching my first novel I have been eating bad and exercising sporadically. I’ve put on a few pounds which is something I have no business doing because they don’t come off as easily as they go on. Seeing this family member struggle with health has given me appreciation for my own great health and with that intent in mind I set out for a short jog, before I head off to spend the day at the hospital.

At home I walk/run on gravel roads and being in the city I was looking forward to nice paved/ concrete running surfaces. Just out the doorway in the parking lot I came across the following debris.

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I have to admit it caught my attention as I went by. I stopped, went back, and captured this photo. I immediately began to wonder how it all got there. The Chanel perfume box, the heels, the plastic covered roses, the brown facecloth, a cigarette butt all strewn on the pavement. It smacks of a romance gone bad.

Shortly thereafter I came across a beautiful boulevard lined with roses. By this point in my run I was gasping for air, a state made pleasurable by the deep rose scent. A couple of turns later and I came across this lovely pond.

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I abhor exercise. That’s why it’s usually the first thing to go when my life gets out of control and I am overwhelmed. I didn’t complete a solid 5kms of straight running, which tells me I have some work to do. I have fallen off the exercise wagon enough times to know that a couple of weeks and I’ll be there if I want to work at it. If I do, I know I will come across some pretty interesting sights.