Sunday, March 31, 2013

An Easter weekend like no other

Happy Easter! 
It is a beautiful and warm Sunday afternoon here in the Pacific Northwest.  Spring has certainly decided to step it up as it welcomes us with some terrific weather.  I can imagine how much fun the little kids are having today if they get to hunt for Easter eggs in their own back yards.

So how are you spending your Easter weekend?  I’ll be spending it with family as we gather together to have Easter dinner.  Right now I’m enjoying some peace and quiet at home as I work on my book and other paperwork.  It’s also giving me a chance to write this post now rather than this evening. 
Easter kind of snuck up on me this year.  When I scheduled the book signing for yesterday, I really hadn’t thought about the fact that I’d scheduled it the same weekend as Easter.  I don’t know if I would have chosen another weekend had I really thought about it but now that the signing is over, it’s nice to know I have one less to-do list to think about.

Book signing set-up at Ralph's

The book signing yesterday may be over but the results of a successful event will have a lasting effect.  It was a terrific day.  I met so many new people and all of them were very thoughtful with their questions about my work and very kind with their comments as they wished me success.  This signing was a lot like the first; with waves of people coming in at the same time, then a lull to allow me to take a breather before I began to worry if anyone else was going to show up just as another wave would pass on through.  I met quite a variation of people yesterday and the three hours allotted for the signing passed by in a flash.  Before I knew it, it was time to pack up and go.  Even then, as I was clearing the table and packing my bag, a few readers rushed to get a copy before everything was completely closed down.

I won’t hesitate to say again that the manger of Ralph’s Thriftway was a wonderful partner with regard to setting up this event.  His optimistic upbeat attitude is a trait I admire very much.  The employees who assisted me during the event were extremely friendly, a great help and I also enjoyed their company as well as their positive attitudes.   Even though the sun was out and many people were probably busy with yard work or Easter preparations, there was a good turnout and the signing was an enjoyable, successful event. 

Whether a signing should be held during a holiday weekend or not, now that I think about, I’m glad I had the book signing yesterday.  It has made this an Easter weekend like no other as well as a long-lasting good memory.  I truly enjoyed meeting everyone who stopped by to share their time with me during the event – it was a pleasure and gives me more reason to look forward to the next. 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Name up in Lights

Okay, not exactly up in lights…but up in the air anyway…on a reader board.  Either way, it looks pretty cool to see my name up there.  And who knows…maybe the board is lit up at night so my title can ring true. 

P.J. Howell book signing event

I have to say I like the reader board promotion.  Even though the choice of venue for the book signing this month is not your usual locale for a signing, I already expect it to be a great event.  I give a lot of the credit to the manager of this store who is very excited about hosting the event this weekend.  He has come through with flying colors after following through with how he said he would help promote the signing.  He and I have the same goals…to make the event enjoyable and successful.   

I’m as prepared as I can be but yet will always feel there is still more I can do.  That is the perfectionist in me, I suppose.  I also know that with each signing I will learn another trick or two to add to my list in order to make future events better.  Someday, I may actually face an event with a relaxed, I’ve-got-it-all-covered attitude…but then, knowing myself as I do…I highly doubt it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mystery vs. Romance…Who has The Following?

Which do you prefer?  Do you yearn for a good romance as two characters play out their love-hate relationship throughout the book or do you enjoy burying yourself in a good mystery you can attempt to solve right along with the main character? 
Maybe you like both?

How about a mysterious romance?  Actually, that might be interesting.
Or possibly a romantic mystery?

A long time ago, I used to read romance novels, right along with mysteries, thrillers and horror books.  My preference, when it came to romance, were books written by Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, Lavyrle Spencer and such others like them.  But over the many years I’ve been reading, I’ll admit I’ve become bored with romance novels.  If they have humor and a bit of mystery, it helps to hold my interest but typically the romance is overpowering and there isn’t much mystery when the boys always gets the girl. 
Based on that, I’ve shelved romance novels when it comes to the books I plan to read.  But I am curious which genre might have the most followers.  There are many readers out there and many authors to support their need but overall, which genre can come up with the most responsive following than the other?

The reason I’m asking is this…I’ve been keeping an eye on the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest as each Quarter-Finalist’s excerpt has been made available for readers such as yourself to download, read and review.  It’s my understanding that our place as a Semi-Finalist in this contest will depend on how Publisher’s Weekly rates our books as a whole now that the books are undergoing a PW review, but readers do have the option of reading the excepts the Amazon expert reviewers provided feedback on which in turn made each of us a Quarter-Finalist.
Do you know what I’ve noticed with regard to the contest? 

There are 500 total excerpts available for you to download; 100 excerpts for each genre to include mystery/thriller, romance, young adult, general fiction and science fiction.    I don’t know that the books are listed in any particular order and in fact, the order does seem to change when I go back to view them again.  But what I did notice was that out of the first 200 books, the romance category appears to be ahead of the game when it comes to reviews.  At least when it comes to reviews in double digits.  General fiction is a close second, young adult and mystery/thriller have about half the amount of double-digit reviews and science fiction is way behind.  Many books have a few reviews or up to a handful while many others have not received any yet.  I do hope that will change before the results are made available the middle of next month.  Those reviews do help the authors quite a bit and are obviously very useful. 
If you want to see for yourself, use this search for books on

You might wonder why I’m even discussing this particular discovery but if you think about it, I have a very good reason for it.  When the top Finalist in each category is finally revealed, do you know who will be casting their votes for the Grand Prize Winner?  You will!  Amazon customers will be able to read and review each excerpt for each Finalist and cast their vote for their favorite. 

At the rate the reviews are coming in up to this point, romance appears to have a larger following or at least a larger following willing to leave reviews.  So my request to you is this…let’s make this an even race.  Let’s show the authors in all categories that there are enough readers out there to read and review what each of us has put so much work into with the hope of some useful feedback and a chance at a terrific prize. 
If you want to check out my entry, click here:

As with all entries, you can download the full excerpt for free.  Check it out…if you like mysteries, start with mine and go onto the next.  Don’t forget the general fiction titles, the young adult, science fiction and yes, even the romance.  Of course, if my title were to end up as one of the Finalists up for voting, you can bet I’ll be asking you to vote for mine.  But for the time being, take a look at what I and the other Quarter-Finalists have offered up for this contest and give us your feedback, your ratings and your support.



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Book Club & So Much More

I sat in on a book club meeting for the very first time the other night.  When I think about it, I really can’t imagine how I have never been a member of a book club anytime during my whole lifetime of reading. 
An organizer I purchased when I once
thought about starting a book club
However, I did not attend this meeting as a member.  Instead, I attended as the author of the book the group read last month.  Now, this is something I really hadn’t thought about when I first published No Mother of Mine.  I hoped people would read the book.  I really hoped people would like, even love, the book.  But I never imagined a group of women sitting around in a cozy living room after a nice meal as they discussed my book. 

When I was informed the book club would be reading my book, it was just one more thrilling aspect of this life as a writer I’m getting accustomed to.  I wrote a post about An Author’s First two months ago and this happened to be one of the firsts on the list.  It is now one I can cross off my list.
So what did I expect?

Since I have never been a member of a book club, I could only guess what it might be like and it’s not a difficult guess to make…a group of like-minded readers get together to discuss the most recent book chosen for the group.  What they liked about it, what they didn’t like…what they’d like to read the following month.
But it was more than that. 

It was a group of ladies who have much more in common besides books.  Many of them have known each other for years, they have an effortless and unassuming way about them and they communicate with each other as a group that would give any outsider a desire to participate or wish for such a group of friends themselves.
Not only was the night complete with good company and conversation, it was topped off with a terrific dinner and dessert.  I should not have been surprised at how the evening was hosted.  These ladies have been gathering for quite awhile on a regular basis.  Of course they know what they’re doing. 

What I had to wrap my head around was the fact that they were gathering to discuss my book.  Really, it’s just one more surreal piece to the very amazing puzzle I am putting together as I continue on this journey as an author.  It’s a seriously amazing feeling.
When you’re talking about yourself and how your imagination and creativity works, it can be a bit difficult to explain but whether it makes sense or not to those who are listening, it is nice to talk about the process and how it ended with the final product being held in a book club member’s hands.  I don’t believe I was able to fully answer all of the questions asked of me the other night but it certainly gave me a better understanding of what to expect should I take part in another discussion like this.  There are some questions I wished I could have answered more completely and now that I think about it, there are some questions I would have probably liked to have asked of them.  An experience to learn from, certainly, and one I hope will help me if I get to experience this type of gathering again. 

I’d like to end this post with a very heartfelt thank you to the gracious ladies who extended to me the invitation to attend their book club meeting.  It was a terrific evening and left me energized with the excitement and interest the group displayed about my work.  I truly appreciate the feedback I received and I very much enjoyed the group’s enthusiasm.  It is that enthusiasm which further fans the flames of my passion to write.      


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thinking Outside the Box

I’ve scheduled my next book signing and the venue is staying true to the creative choices I have made with regard to signings so far.  I’ve yet to schedule a book signing at a book store, although it is something in the works, but so far I’ve held a booksigning in a relaxing garden setting at a local garden shop as well as a winetasting room and gift shop.  Both locations were nice settings and gave me an opportunity to sell to those who might not otherwise frequent a book signing.
My next book signing is in a location where you can not only purchase plants, spirits and gifts, but also any number of items you might need on a daily basis…a local grocery store.

Ralph's Thriftway (photo credit: Ralph's Thriftway)

This is not just any local grocery story.  It’s Ralph’sThriftway on 4th Avenue in Olympia and the local owners thrive on promoting local businesses as well as giving back to the community.  We all know how important it is to keep our local businesses afloat and it says a lot when you find a company willing to help promote new businesses in the area. 

I will admit this idea is not wholly my own.  In fact, I’ve left the sales and much of the outside promotion up to my sales manager…my husband.  He’s been in sales for 20 years and it’s just second nature to him.  Although the book business is something new, the concept of marketing and promotion is not and he’s very good at it.  While I’m stuck at a desk all day and spending my time writing and marketing on-line in the evenings and weekends, he makes regular contact with potential readers and businesses as he attempts to find any opportunity he can to promote my work and come up with new ideas to market my book.

Anytime you start a new business you’re heading for an uphill climb so I’m thankful and very lucky to have my husband’s assistance.  I’m like many authors out there; one who would rather spend time writing and not so much time marketing.  Having help when it comes to marketing and sales frees up more of my time to write.  In a recent post I bellyached a bit about wearing too many hats, which comes with the territory when you’re a full-time working mom running a side business, but I failed to mention one of the very important hats is already being shared with my husband.  I’d still like to have a personal assistant but for now I’ll just have to bide my time.
Photo credit:  Ralph's Thriftway
So we’re trying out a new way to market the book…at a market, if you will.  Can’t knock it when you have to admit one of the businesses people visit most often on a daily basis is the grocery store.  I’m certainly willing to take part in the true one-stop-shop idea.  If you’d like to attend the next book signing, here are the details: 

Saturday, March 30th
11 am to 2 pm
Ralph’s Thriftway
1908 East 4th in Olympia

For those who have already been to a signing, just wish me well and tell anyone you know who might like to attend.  For those who would like to meet me, please stop by, say hello, bring your prepaid book for me to sign or you can purchase a copy of No Mother of Mine which will be available for a special rate during the signing.  Don't forget to mark your calendar so you can stop by to visit and pick up a copy of my book while supplies last (and don’t forget to bring your grocery list). 

Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who made the Quarter-Finalist Cut?

If you read my initial post in January about my decision to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, you already know that this contest goes through various rounds.  The first round, I was judged on what I hoped was the perfect pitch for No Mother of Mine.   After waiting a month to learn the results, I was ecstatic to learn my pitch had earned me a spot in the second round as one of the top 400 entries in the Mystery/Thriller genre.  
This next round I waited with bated breath as the excerpt of my book was reviewed and rated by the judges.   Oh, how I waited…

It was this round when I feared I might not make the cut.  My book starts out strong, with my prologue working as a great hook, but because I am writing a series, the beginning of this first book also spends time molding the story and the characters.    
So I waited and I did my best not to think about it but I was truly hopeful I would make the cut.

After I arrived home yesterday, an e-mail was waiting for me to inform me that the chosen entries moving on had been announced.  I opened the e-mail, clicked on the link provided and I downloaded the list of the top 100 in the mystery/thriller genre now moving to the Quarter-Finals of the contest.  To make the top 100 in my category when the contest allowed up to 10,000 to enter, how much of a thrill would that be?
It was not long before I found out. 

Scanning the now much shorter list than the one I scanned last month, I was able to quickly find my name and the name of my book as one of the top 100 now moving to the Quarter-Finals.  I’m a Quarter-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest!
If you’ve entered a contest of this sort or of this scale, you know how I feel.  It is an amazing feeling, a great accomplishment and a terrific validation for my work.  Whether I move on from here or not, the title of Quarter-Finalist is a great title to have.  On top of that, the excerpt of my book was reviewed by expert reviewers and the reviews were very good overall and also offered helpful critique.  

Here’s a sample of the reviews I received: 
The writer knows how to unfold a story…I am following the story and delighting as the writer carries the story seamlessly from strength to strength, and if the writer succeeds in delivering the early promises, the reader will be rewarded.  Good work.” 

The sequencing of the story, along with the character arc for Jorja are both written well.  I think the story’s set-up is well done, and that the author is doing a terrific job exploring Jorja’s character.
So what’s next? 

Now, Publishers Weekly will read, review and rate our complete manuscripts based on certain criteria.  From the top 100 Quarter-Finalists in each category, the ratings offered by the judges will decide who will make it as the top 5 in each category.  Top 5 out of 100…that’s a huge cut.  Yikes!
Either way, it will be great to receive a review from Publishers Weekly.  As a new author, any professional critique I receive will be humbly acknowledged and put to use to the best of my ability. 

It’ll be another month before we receive the results of who made it into the Semi-Finals.  Good or bad, I’ll be receiving the news the day before my birthday.  *Sigh*  I’ll do my best not to let the news determine how well I receive my birthday.
If you want to check out the excerpt of No Mother of Mine the judges reviewed for the contest, you can find it here.  You can read it (download it for free), rate it and review it if you’d like.  It won’t be my book cover you’ll see, instead it will be the Amazon contest cover for the mystery/thriller genre but if you click on it, you can download the excerpt of my book. 

I’ve gone on long enough but it just goes to show, I’m excited about sharing the news.  If you want to help me spread the word, please tell your friends and family to check out my contest entry.  Any ratings or reviews I receive will be very helpful and appreciated.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

I’d like to Share these Hats I Wear

Someday, very soon I hope, I may just do whatever it takes to hire a personal assistant.  When you’re a mom, working full time, running a side business and doing your best to keep up with all the daily distractions life in general tends to throw at you, there are days when you wish you could just clone yourself.
While cloning myself sounds like a brilliant idea, I’m pretty certain it would end in chaos as it did for Michael Keaton in Multiplicity. 

So why this sudden (really, it’s not so sudden) idea for the need to hire a personal assistant?   
I’m at a point with my writing when I feel a constant tug between the creative side and the business side of writing.  I’ve finished the second book in the Jorja Matthews Mystery series and am currently working on editing the manuscript but I am also in the midst of continuously promoting the first book as well.  With another book signing scheduled the end of this month and potentially two months from now, as well as a very large event for both books this summer (details to come soon), there is much to be done.

The need to complete all tasks can become tricky as you attempt to find the time to complete those tasks.  Hence, the desire for help.
When I made the choice to become an Indie Author rather than spend all my spare time trying to acquire an agent and a contract with a traditional publishing house, I knew I was in for some hard work but it was hard work I knew would move me forward rather than leave me feeling immobile.  I had also read enough by other authors about self publishing to know I would be wearing many more hats than ever before. 

And it is definitely a large number of hats!
I believe I am fortunate to have run my own private investigative agency for over a decade before becoming a writer.  Had I attempted to write and publish books before I was a business owner and still working for someone else, I would have likely treated writing as a hobby.  It is the knowledge I have learned from running my own company that has allowed me to treat my writing as it should be…a business.

But a business owner can wear many hats and a writer is certainly no exception.  Writing is the enjoyable part of this business but the serious side of writing is what helps sell what you’ve created.  Marketing, sales, social networking, accounting, distribution…many tasks involved with each also make a writer learn how to manage multiple projects at any given time.
However, there are those days when there is only so much one person can do.  As I move forward towards my goals with regard to writing and publication, I will keep an eye on the prize which will surely be marked by the ability to acquire the assistance I need so that I might finally share some of these hats I wear.




Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Can we try this again?

Well, I get the nerve to ask for help and what happens?  Those who want to help aren’t able to follow through with my request; but I do appreciate anyone who tried.
But wait!  You can still help me if you “like” me…

Apparently, Amazon took away the original “like” button that used to be next to the name of the books.  Instead, there is a “like” button directly on our author pages.  Under each book title is the name of the author and you can click on it to view our author page.  You can click on “P.J. Howell (author)” under the title No Mother of Mine or you can just find mine here.  On the author page, look to the right above what should be a list of my most recent blog posts and you will see a “like” button next to the Facebook, Twitter and e-mail buttons.
Amazon’s idea about placing the “like” button on the author page might be a good idea but the trick is getting readers to think about visiting an author’s page.  If you don’t often visit author pages, this would be one reason why you should.

What was such a simple request has become not so simple.  I wish I had known about the change before I made my plea for help but I’m glad I was finally able to figure it out.  I apologize for asking for help again so soon but now that I’ve discovered the issue, I’d like to complete my request to you so that I can watch how it might affect my ranking.  So if you’d still like to help me test my Amazon author ranking, please think about viewing my author page and liking it…or by writing a review if you’d like to offer more specific feedback.   
Again, thanks to anyone who helps me out with this.  I’m afraid this will be a short post, as we are celebrating a birthday and I must rejoin my family but I will be back to post more this weekend.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

If you “Like” me…you can help me

I’m a Type-A personality and an Aries to boot so asking for help has never been an easy choice for me…but that’s what I’m going to do. 
I’m asking for some help and here’s why…

I have been busy with the edits involving my second book but I have also been researching and studying what I can to learn more about marketing and promotion.  Becoming an author is a passion but it is also a business and as much as I’d rather bury my head and just spend my time writing, there is no way around the fact that to become successful, my time must be divided between writing and promotion.
When it comes to marketing and promoting yourself, it is a difficult, sometimes overwhelming business.  As with most things in life, it takes planning, preparation, repeated attempts, lessons learned, failure or losses but eventually all the hard work will pay off and turn your sweat and tears into gains.  I am still learning, still preparing and planning but the future only holds what my hard work will achieve.

So for my first request, it’s really very simple…if you are a regular Amazon customer, can you take a moment or two, visit my book on their site and “like” my book?  That’s it…just hit the “like” button near the title, No Mother of Mine.
Even better, as my second request, if you have actually read my book, how about writing a review?  If you liked it, great; if you want to offer constructive criticism, I will take it as such (I haven’t denied the fact that I’m still learning) but either way, reviews are very helpful not only to me but to other readers as well.

So how will a “like” or a review help me?
These requests give me a way to test something with regard to my author ranking on Amazon.  Currently, my overall author ranking for ALL books is 92,624; we’re talking about competition between millions of books so I guess the number’s not too shabby.  However, I’d like to see if my numbers can be better based on marketing and promotion (the numbers aren’t just about sales when it comes to author ranking).  Over the past six months, my lowest ranking in competition with all books was 47,378 and the highest was 475,559 (lower is better).  Currently, when it comes to my specific genre, my ranking in competition with other mystery eBooks is at 2,564 and my ranking with other mystery paperbacks is 2,866.  Still not too bad considering the number of mystery books out there but I would like to beat my lowest author rankings (1,052 for my eBook and 2,061 for my paperback).  I’d also like to monitor what happens to my author ranking once some new action occurs with regard to “likes” or reviews about my book and this is where you can help me do that.

Which is why I’ve made this plea for help. 
I’m not asking you to buy the book (although if you have already, thank you!)…I’m just asking you to “like” or review my book.  Whether you take the time to hit the “like” button or spend more time writing a review, I appreciate anyone who follows through with my request for help and if your responses affect my author ranking as I hope it will, I will certainly follow up with a post to let you know the results.