Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to write your book.
I’m an adventurer, speaker, and award-winning author of two books, Tightwads on the Loose and Sea Trials. Tightwads on the Loose a popular travel adventure book about the 7-year, 34,000-mile voyage I took with my husband aboard a small, violently rocking sailboat where I alternated between feats worthy of Wonder Woman or Suzy Homemaker. It’s full of humor and armchair thrills. Tightwads on the Loose was selected for the literature program for Western Washington University, won the Journey Award for best true-life adventure story and was selected as a top travel book for women. Sea Trials, my eagerly anticipated second book (April 2017), has earned a Kirkus starred review and it is racking up many other favorable reviews already.
As a kid, I wrote poems and songs. But writing wasn’t a “career.” Though I came from a family of readers, no one in my family was a writer or knew any writers personally. I didn’t have any “connections.” But I had hopes. In 8th grade, for a class project, we assembled our essays and poems into a book. As modest as it was, that act left an impression on me. As an adult after years in international business, enjoying the report writing aspects of my jobs the most, during the dot com boom I shifted into working as a technical writer, a web content manager, and an online magazine editor, but I always secretly longed to author books. Marrying my love of sailing and adventure with my love of writing seemed a natural place to begin publishing book-length manuscripts.
What was this book about, and where did your decision to write it come from?
Over the years I’d been hearing snippets of the epic voyage my husband had taken with his family around the world and their shipwreck when he was fourteen. Family dinners had been filled with “you remember the time when …
- gun boats forced us to sail across mines in the Red Sea?
- our pilot Abdul got lost in the Suez Canal?
- the boat starting sinking in Israel?
- Mom tried to poison us?
- we ran out of food and nearly starved?
Such tantalizing anecdotes intrigued me. I got possession of the famous letters the family had mailed home. Hundreds of them. Inside them was more detail than any writer could hope for. Too much, sometimes. But in combing through them I fleshed out the outline of the story that I’d developed in my mind of the voyage. I asked a lot of questions of the family members and took copious notes. I consulted guide books and sailing directions, maps, and the ship’s log to ferret out the details. I read the newspaper articles, listened to the interviews with the family. And started writing. And double checking details with the ones who had lived through it. With a rough draft completed, I had them read every word to check for inaccuracies or things that didn’t seem true to their experience. It was a family bonding experience.
I got possession of the famous letters the family had mailed home. Hundreds of them. Inside them was more detail than any writer could hope for. Too much, sometimes. But in combing through them, I fleshed out the outline of the story that I’d developed in my mind of the voyage. I asked a lot of questions of the family members and took copious notes. I consulted guide books and sailing directions, maps, and the ship’s log to ferret out the details. I read the newspaper articles and listened to the interviews with the family. And started writing. And double checking details with the ones who had lived through it. With a rough draft completed, I had them read every word to check for inaccuracies or things that didn’t seem true to their experience. It was a family bonding experience.
What I uncovered was such a dramatic story that I could hardly believe anyone had truly lived through it. Especially people I knew. It featured things like pirates, gun boats, mines, thieves, starvation, and scurvy.
And that’s AFTER the shipwreck.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took me a couple of years.
Did you have a publisher or agent? If not, was it by choice?
I had a lot of interest, but chose not to go to a big company to publish this book, because I had a ready market and a following and agents, and editors I spoke with didn’t seem to know my market potential as well as I did.
Did you use anyone to help with the finished design? Editors, cover designers, etc.?
After I had 15 beta readers (writers) go through my full manuscript and I edited several drafts, I hired an editor and a cover designer.
When did you start preparing to market your book? What kind of research did you do?
I have been developing an audience for my book for many years. I had a very active blog while we were sailing. I sent out newsletters that found an audience beyond my email list, and I had been publishing in sailing magazines for years. I did a ton of research on the book business and online marketing to try to keep up to date with trends. I have taught many classes on book marketing, because people often ask me for advice.
What is the difference between your book and other books on the subject?
My book is filled with action and humor. People love the voice. The writing is a caliber above most sailing books. My first book, Tightwads on the Loose earned an award for best true-life adventure story and my second book, Sea Trials earned a Kirkus starred review and recognition as a Kirkus best book.
Did you use an outside publicity or marketing firm? If so, what benefits did they provide you?
I have done all my own legwork. I identify places that might be interested in my story and pitch an interview or a presentation with a catchy headline. I’ve had excellent luck as a speaker selling both books after my talks with a package discount. I’ve polished an entertaining slide show and offered it to a wide variety of clubs, libraries, and other organizations. Announcing the events with a press release benefits those organizations and often secures significant interest from the media. It helps to have an engaging story or several, great photos and be comfortable in front of a crowd. People often want to read the rest of the story.
Did you use any paid ads or posts? Did you use social media, guest posts, interviews or other personal marketing?
I posted my digital book on NetGalley and invited people to review it there. I paid for several spotlight ads that attracted attention to the title from various bloggers. I personally emailed bloggers and invited people to review my book or do an interview.
Where did you get your first reviews for the book? What places did you go to get reviews?
My first reviews were from fellow writers that I’ve gotten to know over the years who had built a name for themselves. My first Independent reviews were the San Francisco Book Review, Seattle Book Review, and Manhattan Book Review, then I added Kirkus Reviews. Glowing reviews encouraged people to give my book additional consideration.
What marketing event or plan was your most successful? How did you come up with the idea and how did you execute it?
For me, events and presentations have been very successful, because I am a good public speaker. I speak at 3-4 boat shows per year and sell directly to readers. I offer how-to sessions that are instructional and offer practical tips they can use. I also have leveraged relationships that I have built over many years with other writers, book stores, and magazines. I try to be a good literary citizen and support local bookstores and understand their point of view and show them how they can benefit from helping me. I also have several Facebook groups I belong to that focus on sailing, and I try to post helpful tips and interesting information. I edit a newsletter called the Writers Connection. Through the newsletter, I introduce readers to new local authors who share their tips about craft and offer links to resources where they can learn more. Everyone benefits: The writers get their name out there, readers learn, and the Writers Connection expands its readership. I try to network with other authors and learn from what they’ve tried.
What did you do that yielded results?
I ran a BookBub ad for a $.99 sale, and I more than paid for the cost of the ad with downloads during the sale. I’ve run NetGalley ads that have generated more reviews for the book. I send newsletters asking for reviews from readers, and they usually produce results. Whenever I get a nice email from a reader saying how much they’ve enjoyed my books or articles, I thank them and then ask if they would post a review. They usually do. I have pitched radio and post about interviews and reviews on social media and can see direct results in sales. I try to do something every day to put an iron in the fire for later.
I occasionally run $.99 sales and post about that in Facebook groups focused on sailing, but I have never done a Kindle KDP giveaway. Every time I post in my FaceBook groups, it generates sales. I always try to be positive, encouraging, and upbeat and relate my experience in a way that seems consistent and appropriate to my books and my expertise: sailing, speaking, writing, and marketing. I use humor to keep it engaging. I comment on other people’s posts so it feels like a genuine relationship and not just a one-way sales pitch. I try to acknowledge when people post on my behalf or share their positive impression of my books. I periodically pitch articles for sailing magazines that offer helpful information.
What are your book sales like?
My first book, Tightwads on the Loose, has been a consistent seller for more than 5 years. It hit the Amazon top 100 of all books and was top in its category for years. Sea Trials is brand new, but is doing reasonably well and gaining momentum. I have run a Goodreads giveaway, which interested several hundred entrants and sent books out to winners. I will keep running them so people will see the book and hear positive reviews. I can tell that sales dip when I haven’t done any marketing for a while, so I try to do something every day/week. Steadily building a plan has created a momentum and made me less focused on each individual sale. I have personally placed books into the hands of thousands of people. Amazon sales benefit from the word of mouth that those happy readers generate. I have not sold as much through bookstores (yet), but I have been a bestseller in bookstores on couple of occasions.
What books influenced your writing and your book marketing?
I have read many books about writing. I did my own self-study program of studying and analyzing books to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I am always open to new ideas and trying to learn. I ask a lot of questions and read voraciously. I’m on a number of mailing lists where I can glean information: Booklife, Alliance of Independent Authors, Create Space, Author Central, Jane Friedman, Book Marketing Experts, BookBaby.
What tools do you use for marketing or writing?
I don’t use any special tools, just a lot of elbow grease, persistence, and a smile. Press releases with a sense of humor. I try to have fun with the marketing and be a little creative. Each book has its own unique approach. Pick what might work best for your personality and your book.
What tips or suggestions would you give to someone else getting ready to publish or market a book?
Learn about distribution and the industry while you are writing. Develop relationships while you are writing. Always consider how the other person or entity benefits from helping you. Be a good literary citizen. Buy books, support other authors, be knowledgeable, and give back.