How important is the frame?

A few years ago, as I walked the Crystal Bridges Art Museum grounds, I spotted a single picture frame set on posts in the middle of a soccer-sized field. Intrigued, I walked out to look closer, reasoning that this frame must be quite important to command such a space.

Framing nature at Chrystal Bridges Museum

Framing nature at Crystal Bridges Museum

As I circled the nondescript structure, I realized that the frame gave form to whatever you saw through it. The frame and what it held were equally important.

My friend Mary recently enclosed an open air deck with windows. She found that the window frames focused the way she looked at the trees, buildings, and landscape beyond, causing her to appreciate the views from her deck in ways she hadn’t before.

Framed for drama and impact. Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Framed for impact. Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Frames are, of course, nothing new. They show up everywhere in everyday life – movies, TV, computers, pictures on the walls, windows – each one encouraging us to focus on, to look at, something in a particular way.

As writers we make decisions daily on what story to tell. We choose the frames with purposeful intention.

Memoirists choose what parts of their life to share. In my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, I picked stories from those formative years when I was between 8 and 12. Years when the values my parents taught us kids came into focus (and conflict) in my young mind. The very same events depicted in my childhood memoir could have told a much different story if I’d used them to frame a look into the sometimes unhealthy ways I existed in my first marriage.

As I wrote my novel Go Away Home, deciding the time(frame) was one challenge. If the story began in 1900 and the main character Liddie was 10, the story would be entirely different than if the story were set in 1913 and Liddie were 16. The technological, political, and social differences between 1900 and 1913 change what might be included in the frame, not to mention the differences between how a 10-year-old and a 16-year-old would view herself and her actions.

In my work in progress, literary fiction set in Iowa, the main character is forced to face her own prejudices when she sees life through the frame of immigrants working in a meat packing plant.

Recently, I joined several authors at a retreat where I read a paragraph synopsis of my latest work. Because I mentioned one relationship in this synopsis, the listeners jumped to the conclusion the novel is a love story. It is not. Clearly, the frame I had chosen for my story was wrong.

In the wrong frame, a beautiful tree is blah. In the right frame, something mundane comes into compelling focus. Change the frame, change the story.

Writing reckessly – NaNoWriMo 2015

“Every morning I tell myself: Write recklessly today.

You can play it safe tomorrow.” – Sue Monk Kidd

NANOWRIMO CRESTAs I join tens of thousands of other writers to tackle the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in November, Kidd’s comment is particularly appropriate.

Writing 50,000 words in a month – 1,666 words every single day – is no easy task. Life gets in the way. The muse takes a vacation. I convince myself I deserve a break. However you slice it, 50,000 words in one month is tough. But Kidd has offered me words to live by.

To write 50,000 words or more, I promise to write recklessly:

  • I won’t look back. If I look back, I’ll get mired in re-writing and re-thinking. I will look ahead and just keep writing.
  • I will lock my internal critic in the closet. I won’t listen to any naysayers. Even if what I write is dreck (and I expect much of it will be), I will keep writing.
  • I will let the muse take me where she will. I’ve lived with these characters for a good long while; they know what they want to do. I will get out of their way and keep writing.
  • I will not let the outline I’ve prepared for the month get in my way. It’s a starting point to keep writing, not the designation.
  • I won’t let road trips or remodeling projects or family visits or holiday dinners – all of which are scheduled in November – deter me from the goal. I’ll write no matter what.
  • Finally, I will follow Sue Monk Kidd’s example. Every day in November, I will write recklessly.

NaNoWriMo was the genesis of my novel Go Away Home. I’m hoping for the same inspiration, encouragement, and push for my current novel.

Wish me luck. I will see you again in December.

Shameless Self Promotion Note: While I’m writing, you may want to be reading. A reminder that the paperback version of Go Away Home is 40% off – best price this year – until November 20. Possible gift idea?

Readers make novel launch possible

It’s launch day for the new edition of my novel GO AWAY HOME. If you haven’t read it yet, this is an excellent time to snag a copy. GO AWAY HOME is available on Amazon (at a very attractive introductory price) in print or Kindle versions and can be ordered anywhere books are sold.

Go Away Home, a novel

Go Away Home, a novel

If you’ve already read this story of independence, choices and love, set in pre-WWI Iowa, thank you.

Were it not for readers, my novel would not be here today. Here’s how readers played a role in my writing journey.

My writing partner patiently and thoughtfully critiqued each scene draft. Workshop leaders and participants read and encouraged me as I learned the craft of novel writing. Beta readers offered honest feedback as I fleshed out the manuscript. Editors read and helped me polish the final draft. Reader reviews of the first edition attracted the attention of Lake Union Publishing, leading to this second edition.

Readers mean the world to writers. I am grateful for each and every of you.

If you haven’t read GO AWAY HOME yet, now could be the time. Should you choose to read, I will be honored. Readers make my day.

Reviews matter – Here’s how to get them

Have you watched the big five trade book publishers launch a book? They always have an impressive list of reviews on Amazon the day a book launches. When I launched Go Away Home, I tried to have reviews ready to go, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

Reading takes time. Getting a review does, too.

When a senior acquisition editor for Lake Union Publishing told me all the rave reviews led her to read my debut novel, she affirmed what I’d felt in my gut — reviews really do matter.

This post consolidates two previous posts about my approach to getting reviews and includes new learning gained since those posts were written.

How many reviews is enough? – Though I didn’t have a specific number of reviews in mind, I felt really successful to have 48 reviews averaging 4.7 Stars posted on Amazon in the first month Go Away Home was on sale. On Goodreads, I had 40 reviews averaging 4.5 Stars.

Here’s what I did and how it worked.

Overall
Give yourself time – Reviewers get hundreds of review requests, and you may find yourself in a very long queue. Most reviewers ask for 10-12 weeks. I started seeking reviews five months in advance of my launch.

To pay or not to pay – Many sites will review for a price. I make no judgement about whether paying for a review is a good idea. I leaned toward not paying because I gave reviewers time. I also hoped the novel was strong enough to attract on its own merit. I did pay for an expedited review from Readers’ Favorite only because I wanted to be sure I had it before publication.

Utilize the social network – I put the word out to my social media contacts to see if any were willing to read and review, preferably in time for my launch. Questions have been raised about the value of reviews by author friends, so I made it clear to each volunteer that I expected an honest review. That the bonds of friendship didn’t apply for this task. I meant it. A one or two-star review is no fun, but all reviews speak to credibility.


Actions & Results
Target book bloggers and organizations who review in your genre – The Indie View has a list of bloggers willing to review.  It’s a long list and you have to search for reviewers in your genre. Morgen Bailey offers reviewers by genre on her writing blog.

Personal pitches to historical fiction authors and bloggers. I made 39 direct pitches, resulting in 17 reviews, including one from the Historical Novel Society. I also pitched to local media. While I received good media coverage of launch events, these did not include reviews. Of course, not everyone reviews. Several people took review copies but have yet to post reviews. There are no guarantees they ever will.

It takes a lot of time to identify the right bloggers and to tailor pitches according to each blogger’s specifications. I created a table to keep track of my contacts, format requested, ARC distribution, and follow up. I was meticulous in giving reviewers what they wanted. No form letters. I made all e-formats available, plus paperback. Doing this again, I’d cast a broader net to include women’s fiction bloggers. With a year of promotion under my belt, I know that this genre is another good fit for my book.

Lake Union has made Go Away Home available to reviewers through NetGalley. I was not familiar with this service making advance review copies available to bloggers, media and other reviewers, but they tell me books posted here can result in dozens if not hundreds of new reviews.

Blog Tour – I also paid for a blog tour organized by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. It was well worth the investment to have a specialist with established contacts set up a tour. Go Away Home was featured on 14 blogs, resulting in 3 guest posts and 8 reviews – 4 & 5 stars, all posted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Play the numbers game – I created advance review copy giveaways specifically to garner reader reviews.  I understand from other authors that if 10-20% of the people who win copies actually post reviews, that’s a high return.

LibraryThing Giveaway. Following the advice in a blog from The Future of Ink, I made 100 e-copies available. Sixty-five readers took copies. At launch, 17 wrote reviews, a 26% review rate. Reviews were 4 & 5 stars, and readers readily placed the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. A gentle follow-up email resulted in pleasant conversations with several readers as well as immediate reviews.

Two advantages to the LibraryThing contest. 1) I gave e-copies in .pdf, mobi, and e-pub formats so there was no out-of-pocket cost. 2) LibraryThing provides reader emails, so it’s easy to contact readers directly.

Goodreads Giveaway. I made 20 paperback copies available in a three-week giveaway that attracted 1,874 entrants and caused more than 600 to mark Go Away Home “To Be Read.” At last check, 4 of the 20 had written reviews, a 20% review rate. Reviews ranged from 2 to 5 stars.

The big advantage of the Goodreads giveaway was getting my book in front of so many readers. The biggest downside of this giveaway was cost of books and mailing. Three copies were won by readers in Canada, where media mail does not apply. Yikes. Plus, since Goodreads does not provide email addresses, it’s not easy to follow up.

Reinforcing that these giveaways are good for raising visibility, Lake Union Publishing is running a 20-copy giveaway of the new edition now. Click and enter.

Bookbub Promotion. Hands down, the biggest review generator was one I hadn’t even considered for that purpose – a BookBub promotion. In addition to generating impressive sales, readers responded with 36 new reviews in the first couple of months after the promotion.

Boldly Ask. I was, and continue to be, bold in asking people to post reviews. When readers tell me they enjoyed the book, I ask them if they’ll post a review to the review links I provide. With little editing, they can usually post what they’ve written in their emails.

Was all this effort worth it? You bet.

  • People comment on all the great reviews I’m getting. Reviews create enthusiasm and buzz.
  • Amazon has promoted Go Away Home numerous times in direct-mail emails.
  • Just this past week, Go Away Home earned it’s 100th review.
  • And, of course, there’s the big bonus of attracting the attention of Lake Union Publishing. There’s no guarantee that reviews will lead to a contract, but without them it most certainly would not have happened.

I’m so grateful to every reader who reads my books. A special thank you to each of you who took the time to post a review. Reviews really matter.

Seven questions about publishing with Amazon

Ever since Lake Union Publishing acquired my novel Go Away Home (re-launch on July 7), I get questions. Lots of them. About how it works, the advantages, the disadvantages. Jane Friedman invited me to answer the top seven most frequently asked questions on her blog. If you haven’t connected with Jane yet, take time to look around her blog; she offers a deep well of information on the writing and publishing world.

If you’re curious about how it all worked, too, hop over and read my answers to such questions as:

  • How did Lake Union find my book?
  • Why did I sign with them?
  • What happens when a book is acquired?
  • And four more …

My Experience Working with Amazon Publishing

Amazon Publishing

Note from Jane: Today’s guest post is from Carol Bodensteiner (@CABodensteiner), author of the self-published memoir Growing Up Country and the upcoming Go Away Home via Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing.


Unable to land a publisher after I wrote my first book, a memoir, I cast my lot with the indie world. I enjoyed the control, and good sales put money in my pocket. So when I completed my pre-WWI-era novel, Go Away Home, in July 2014, I didn’t even look for a traditional publisher.

Imagine my surprise when six months later an email arrived in my inbox from an acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. I felt like the average teenage girl sitting at the soda fountain counter who is spotted by a director and cast in a major motion picture.

Click to read more.

Have more questions about publishing with Lake Union and Amazon? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

Dressed up in a new cover – Go Away Home

A drum roll, please … When my novel Go Away Home re-launches on July 7, it will sport this brand new cover.

Bodensteiner-GoAwayHome-CV-FT-v1

As an indie author responsible for all aspects of publishing, I have to say cover design caused me the most anxiety. Still, I felt I found great designers for both my memoir Growing Up Country and for Go Away Home. Booksellers and readers told me in both cases I’d made right decisions.

So when Lake Union Publishing picked up Go Away Home, I asked, “What about the cover? Will we keep it?”

“We think we can do more to convey the time period and sense of the story,” they said.

I put my faith in their knowledge of what would appeal to readers, and we went to work. As with editing, cover design with Lake Union Publishing is a team effort. I worked with my editor and the designer to find the right clothing, landscape, and color. The right “feel.”

In addition to the images, size of elements came into play. The larger title on a light background ensures the title will show well in digital thumbnails. Smaller elements – the scissors and sewing machine, stitching and buttons – are surprises hinting at story elements for those who look closer. We went through several rounds to come to a decision we all liked.

Getting the right cover – one that grabs a reader’s attention and makes her want to read the blurb, then open the book and keep on reading is critical. As a marketer, I know there are generally several right answers. I liked the first edition cover, and I like this one, too.

I’m excited to see how readers respond. What do you think?

Are You a Book Reviewer? – Advance review copies of Go Away Home are available. If you are a blogger or journalist who reviews books, let me know so I can get you a copy.

The scoop on editing with Amazon Publishing

“What was it like working with Amazon Publishing?” “Did it bother you to lose control?” “Is it still the same story?” 

These are some of the questions I’ve received since my novel Go Away Home was acquired by Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. Since the editing process is complete, this is a good time to report on how it went.

When I published Go Away Home last July, it was as good as I could make it. I’d hired a professional for cover design, copyediting and proof reading. I felt good about my debut effort.

Editing to make it shine.

Editing to make it shine.

Even so, when Jodi Warshaw, senior acquisition editor at Lake Union Publishing approached me, she talked about how another round of editing could make my story really shine.

I was not offended by the implication that the novel didn’t already shine. It attracted her attention, that was good enough for me. In fact, I was excited to to see what new eyes and additional professional editors would suggest. From my perspective, good can always be better. Warsaw assured me I’d be involved every step of the way and I was. Here’s how it worked.

Developmental Edit: “Trim” is such a gentle word. Much kinder, much easier to hear than “Cut,” “Slash” “Eviscerate.” My developmental editor Amara Holstein suggested “trimming” so often I found myself laughing. She suggested changes that tightened the writing in ways I’d never imagined possible. She challenged me when characters acted out of character, when I over-explained, when I didn’t give readers enough credit.

Amara and I spoke on the phone before she began her work. After she sent her comments to me, she remained available by phone and email to clarify, respond to my probes, and react to approaches I took in rewriting sections. She was encouraging, helpful, professional. I learned a ton that made this novel better and will improve my future writing.

Copyedit: While not near as intense or time-consuming as the developmental edit, the copyedit was equally valuable. Where the developmental edit looked at the big picture, my copy editor Kirsten Colton delved into details. Colloquial word use. Consistency of use. Transitions in and out of flashbacks. Use of em dashes. She discovered several words that were out of historical context – some by only a couple of years – words I never thought to question. This was a tad embarrassing since I thought I’d been so careful about being historically accurate. Again the importance of another set of eyes.

An amusing thing happened in the copyedit: where Amara trimmed with vigor, Kirsten encouraged fleshing out – more historical detail, more character description. Their suggestions were not inconsistent, simply focused on different things. Reviewers who mentioned wanting more historical detail will be happy with these additions.

Proofreading: This is the step of the process I’m most clear about since I’ve done proofreading myself as a magazine editor. A set of eyes looking at copy with a magnifying glass. Is everything absolutely perfect – spelling, grammar, punctuation, page layout.

Each of the editors had plenty to say, and I seldom disagreed with their suggestions. The editing process was not easy. At each stage, I had two weeks to make changes, write, re-write and return the manuscript for the next phase. I believe it was worth every minute of effort.

I was impressed with the team of editors that worked with me to ready Go Away Home for re-launch in July. Going in, I thought I would get push back from the developmental and copy editors on changes I made or didn’t make based on their comments. Quite the contrary. When I asked Warshaw if this was common, she said: “We want the author to be in favor of all changes and don’t want to change their vision or voice.” Errors excepted, of course.

The whole process made me think of a dedicated effort to get in shape physically. Trainers look at the big picture and what you want to accomplish. They recommend exercises to strengthen here, reduce there, tighten, trim. The person getting in shape is involved every step of the way and must do hard work to recognize the benefit. When you stick at it in the gym, you come out a better you.

Having been through the entire editing process, Go Away Home is stronger, tighter, a little shorter here, a little longer there. Is it the same story? Yes, only now it shines a little more.

From indie author to Amazon Publishing

My life as an indie publisher went in a dramatic new direction when a senior editor from Amazon Publishing contacted me last November about acquiring Go Away Home. I share how it happened and what it means to me on the Women’s Writing Circle.

Thanks to Susan Weidener for the interview. Susan is the author of two excellent memoirs: Morning at Wellington Square and Again in a Heartbeat. She will soon release her first novel: A Portrait of Love and Honor.

Here’s the start of the interview. Join me at the Women’s Writing Circle to read the rest.

Indie Author Lands Amazon Publisher

Carol Bodensteiner, Author-web

Carol Bodensteiner

Breaking out of the pack and achieving discoverability is no easy task. That’s why some authors dream of transitioning from independent to mainstream publishing . . . less time on marketing and promotion, more time to write . . . and the possibility of much, much larger book sales.

In this interview Carol Bodensteiner attributes “rave reader reviews” for her independently published novel Go Away Home capturing the attention of Amazon’s Lake Union Publishing.  “I’ve always figured reviews made a difference, but now I know for certain,” she says.

Here are Carol’s posts for the Women’s Writing Circle on her memoir, Growing Up Country and her novel, Go Away Home. Please welcome Carol back to the Circle,

When did Amazon contact you and offer you a publishing contract with its imprint Lake Union Publishing?

Read more …

Marketing a book with a “Use By” date

This  cartoon circulated on Facebook, and I laughed because it hit me where I was. When I indie published Go Away Home this past July, I geared up for intensive marketing over the long term. I didn’t realize my new book would have a “Use By” date.Simon or Peter Cartoon

I published the novel through Createspace for worldwide distribution, and I also printed a quantity of books through a traditional printer to use locally because the per copy price was significantly better. I also printed bookmarks in quantity. If it took me a year or more to use up the supply, that was okay. It’s not like they were going to spoil.

Then Amazon Publishing came calling, acquired my book, and what do you know? Now there is an expiration date. I can market the current edition of my book and distribute the bookmarks until July. But when the new edition launches, the first edition goes off the market.

I can’t bring myself to recycle them. So, what to do with more paperback copies of the book and more bookmarks than I can use through my normal channels in the next five months?

This month, as I drive to Arizona to visit family and friends, I’m spreading the love with my book and bookmarks. In each town I visit, I find the public library and gift a book. In each rest area and restaurant, I hand out bookmarks and leave a few on tables. I feel a little like Johnny Appleseed, only I’m sowing the love of reading.

This is my idea of the day. Do you have ideas for other uses for books and bookmarks with a Use By date? Let me know. The clock is ticking.

Amazon Publishing acquires Go Away Home – I’m giddy!

Have you ever thought you were as happy as you could be and then something happens to make you realize you could reach a whole new level of happy? It happened to me this month.

When I completed the manuscript for my World War One-era novel Go Away Home earlier this year, the thought of finding an agent and a publisher flashed through my mind for all of a nanosecond. Since publishing my memoir Growing Up Country seven years ago, I’ve been proud to call myself an indie author and an indie publisher. I didn’t hesitate to walk down the indie road again.

Then one morning – six months after I published – I opened an email from Jodi Warshaw, a senior acquisitions editor for Amazon Publishing. Warshaw said, Go Away Home “caught my eye because of all the rave reader reviews. Then I dipped in and couldn’t put it down!”

Warshaw wanted to talk about my interest in partnering with Lake Union “to see the sales match the review intensity.” She got my interest, all right. There’s no organization that knows marketing like Amazon.

I was thrilled – then skeptical. Could this be real? I contacted my go-to person for all things of this sort. Melissa Foster (best-selling author and founder of the World Literary Cafe) confirmed that, “This is great news.”

Lake Union Publishing

Lake Union Publishing

So I am pleased – thrilled – head over heels – over the moon (all cliches apply) to announce that Go Away Home has been acquired by Amazon Publishing and will be released under the Lake Union Publishing imprint in July 2015.

Between now and then, the manuscript will go through an Amazon team of editors (because good can always be better), gain a new cover, and a marketing team will prepare for the launch. All these people working on my novel makes me positively giddy. Can you believe it? I have “people.”

I haven’t made out a Santa wish list in decades. Even if I had made one this year, signing with a publisher would NOT have been on it. That would have been too unbelievable. While I don’t know everything this new affiliation will mean, I do know I’m excited by the opportunity to learn, and I couldn’t be happier.

I would not be here without all the support and encouragement of readers, of writers, of friends, of you. So, I thank you. And I wish you a joy-filled Happy & Healthy New Year.