Thursday, October 13, 2011

Courting the Media

COURTING THE MEDIA                                                                      by Laura L. Valenti

            In the last few weeks, I’ve been most fortunate in that media contacts, I’ve been working on, in some cases, for a full year, have finally come to fruition.  In June 2010, my first novel, The Heart of the Spring, was published and I began the media chase to get the needed publicity to sell books. For those who have yet to reach this point, let me be clear: Publication is just the first BIG step in getting your book out there. Unless your name is Stephen King or John Grisham, once your book is published, your next BIG step is marketing and that takes as  much, if not more time, sweat and energy than writing the book in the first place. (Once upon a time publishers did a great deal of this for you but not anymore.)

The Heart of the Spring is a historical novel set in 1924 and tells the story of the beginning of Bennett Spring State Park on the Laclede-Dallas County line, 12 miles west of Lebanon. I’ve been blessed to be a Bennett Spring resident for over 30 years and I’ve written several historical articles on the park for various publications. With that foundation, I was able to place a fictional family in the midst of the 1924 Ozarks and voĆ­la, a novel was born. I’ve also been greatly blessed in that this book has been well received by reviewers and readers alike and has sold more than 700 copies in just over a year. The Bennett Spring Park Store concessionaires, Jim and Carmen Rogers have been kind enough to sell it in their store as have the two local Lebanon book stores and three other area stores. It is available on my website as well as my publishers’ website and of course, the ever present  This last month, the sequel, was also released. The Heart of the Spring Lives On, a new novel, picks up the story and same characters, 11 years later in 1935, when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was in the park (and many other parks across the state and around the nation), building the many features we know and love today as Bennett Spring State Park. It, too, is doing well and I’m pleased to say, many who have bought and read it are already asking, when will the third one be available? (The answer:  The Heart of the Spring Forevermore is set at the end of World War II and will be available next summer.)

            Even so, to get the word out, one must continue to court the media and recently, it occurred to me that this is the very same struggle we face with publishers and agents. Once again, we, the writers, must present our work in an abbreviated form as we try to convince the local newspaper editor, the news commentator, or local radio talk show host that our book is important, something of interest to the general public and worth a few column inches or a bit of air time on their news program. And once again, we run into the same obstacles. What if the media person we are writing to, emailing, calling or otherwise attempting to contact (dare I say FACEBOOKing or Tweeting?) knows nothing about our subject matter. In my case, if the editor hates history, I’m sunk. Years ago, my first book by a traditional publisher was about adoption, but when I was interviewed by a single man in a TV interview, it was rather disastrous. And then there are editors and news folks who are too busy, overwhelmed, ‘scared’ of independently published authors (And understandably so. There are those who have slapped a lot of words and pages between a front and back cover and called it a book and that’s about all that can be said for their endeavor. There are others, however, who have produced exquisite stories who see little distribution because the author will not or simply cannot bring themselves to do the required publicity.)  And so, again I’ve been fortunate in that an article I’d been working on for nearly a year came out in the Springfield newspaper the night before a book signing in Buffalo where their weekly had also run an article. The result was 26 books sold at Aimee’s Books, a very small book store on Labor Day weekend. (Many book signings only result in a handful of books sold, unlike what one sees on TV or in the movies.) And in early October, Tom Trtan of Springfield’s TV Channel 27 interviewed me on his local TV show. And he told me beforehand, he loves history and historical novels!

            Just like when writing the book in the first place, a writer cannot allow herself to become overly discouraged. When the media seems to ignore your efforts—learn to bide your time, try a different reporter or a different approach, just like you would with a publisher, an agent, or an editor. Make certain you have an excellent product to market by conferring with other professionals in the writing game (previous English teachers, fellow writers, former editors) and when they have helped to make certain that is the case, don’t give up! Keep your professional ‘cool’, keep working, keep praying! and you will prevail.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Curiosity of a Child

Thursday, June 16, 2011 

                On a recent weekend, we went to visit our son, daughter-in-law and 10 year old grandson, Dante in Texarkana. On occasion, we stay in a local motel there so that we can use their pool and Dante can go swimming. Dante came and spent a night with us and once again, he made me smile so many times as I listened to his inquisitive chatter. “Can we go see the top floor of this motel? I want to know what’s up there! Did you see that big fish in that photograph on the wall? Can I stay up late tonight and watch TV in our room? The Mexican restaurant here is really good!” 

                His endless prattle aggravates his parents (lovely adults in their mid-30s) and reminded me of myself at the same age and how I irritated the fire out of my father constantly with the same sort of thing. I find his curiosity and enthusiasm amusing but also very refreshing, and of course, Dante and I went to the top floor of the motel. We ate at the Mexican restaurant (where he ordered a toasted cheese sandwich!) and I was thrilled to point out to him that the man in the photo holding onto that big fish was also a writer named Ernest Hemingway. 

                My husband, Warren once made fun of the fact that I have had two long term jobs that I’ve really enjoyed, one working over 10 years for the local sheriff’s department and one as a freelance writer and author. I’ve often been known to stick my nose in here or there, asking questions about something I see along the highway or overhear in conversation. “In both cases,” he laughs, “you go in and start asking questions and if anyone asks why, you simply smile and say, it’s my job!”

And it is. Part of our trade as writers is to always remain curious, to look for that something special, different, the essence of a good story. I’ve interviewed folks who upon first glance would seem to be the least among us, as far as an interesting narrative. And yet, as a result, I’ve met and done stories with:  a chatty gentleman in overalls at Bennett Spring who repairs and collects sewing machines, many of which he then donates to local schools and even to disadvantaged people in other countries where a sewing machine is the doorway to a new profession; a vivacious grandfather of a barber in Bolivar who runs a nonprofit organization that ships food, clothing, wheelchairs, walkers, shoes and other vital necessities all over Central America; an animal trainer who raises and trains Dromedary camels in the Ozarks; a postal clerk who trained and rode multiple times in the RAGBRAI, The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state, and many other unforgettable characters.

Jesus told his disciples that only those who become like a little child will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. In a similar vein, I’d say all of us as writers must remind ourselves regularly in the world we live in full of cynics and critics and so many others willing to squelch our curiosity and steal our joy, that childlike curiosity is an essential element of being a good writer. We must promote it, encourage it, and nourish our sense of wonder and joy of life.  Warren shakes his head every now and then and says I still have the curiosity of a junior higher and you know what? I like that!

Laura L. Valenti is a freelance writer for “Ozarks Farm & Neighbor”, a southwest Missouri farming newspaper and is the author of two novels, “The Heart of the Spring”, a historical novel about the founding of Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon and “Between the Star and the Cross: The Choice”. Her newest novel, “The Heart of the Spring Lives On”, the sequel to her first novel, will be released in later in summer 2011.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Computers vs. The Genuinely Irate

My grandmother used to say, "Isn't it a good thing we aren't all made the same?" when one of us was complaining about another family member, a boss, a teacher or someone else. When it comes to computers, websites and the like, I have to admit she was so right.

My daughter, Lisa set up my website, found so many of the pictures, and now has re-configured the Blog so I can actually use it. I'm a writer, period, the end. Not an artist, not a photographer (a fact my poor editors are painfully reminded of from time to time; my photos for them tend to be pass or fail. On occasion, they make the front cover of Ozarks Farm & Neighbor; other days, I get a call, do you have more photos? Can you re-shoot these?) and certainly, not computer savvy!

I wrote my first book, 25 years ago, with a pencil on white typing paper (that's what we called it, not computer paper or copy paper. It was typing paper because back then that's what we still did - TYPE!) I stilll love the challenge of a blank sheet of paper and freshly sharpened pencils or smooth writing pens. Then I typed  the manuscript of over two hundred pages on a manual typewriter which was accepted by a traditional publisher. For the current generation, that would be just a step or two beyond chiseling it onto stone tablets.

I have no patience when it comes to computers and their ilk. When it doesn't work the way it is supposed to, I quickly lose my patience and sometimes, even my religion when I just rail at the beast. For more than 10 years, I worked for the Laclede County Sheriff's Department, where I often was confronted with people from all walks of life, with a variety of problems or challenges that brought them through our doors. I used to say, sooner or later, people from every socio-economic group, come through the door of the sheriff's department. Some do so because they run afoul of the law; others because they are the victims of that first group; still others, are relatives of that same group and others come because they need permits or other specifics from the chief law enforcement officer of the county. I found I had a lot of patience, even with the most difficult ones, as long as I was dealing with a living breathing person. A recording on the other end of the phone line, not so much.

Today, it is the young and computer savvy who easily wend their way through the electronic mazes devised by the psychologically sadistic (otherwises known as computer programmers, gurus, and hackers) that hold many in modern society, hostage to one extent or another. As Grandma would put it, "I am thankful that we don't all think alike" and I am particularly grateful to my own computer wizards, like my daughters and husband, who get me out of the computer pits, I manage to dig myself into quite often. And to all the rest, next time you need an inmate talked out of or into a cell, an irate homeowner calmed down or a bureaucratic official convinced to do things my way, give me a call!