Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning author and poet, a columnist for MyShelf.com, and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her books include the popular titles The Frugal Promoter and The Frugal Editor, both USA Book News’ Award winners. She’s also the editor of Sharing With Writers and Readers newsletter. In this interview, she talks about her books, book promotion, the future of ebooks and print on demand technology, and offers some advice to aspiring authors.
Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you start writing?
I started writing seriously when I was chosen for my high school’s newspaper staff. I mostly wanted to be a part of it because the cutest boys in school (the ones we called the ivy-leaguers) were on that staff. But it turned out that my teacher thought I had talent for journalism. It turned out that others did, too. One of those young men is still a friend and has written several books and screenplays. And it turned out that I had a love for writing, too. Writing in the clear, organized journalistic style was like putting together a puzzle with words.
What type of books do you enjoy writing?
Truly, my first loves are my fiction, memoir and poetry. But I also get a real charge out of writing how-to books that will help others. I’d love it if your readers would look some of my creative work up, though. Many are award winners and they do tend to get shuffled aside in favor of my successful HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers.
This series seem to be popular with authors. What prompted you to write these books and what sets them apart from other similar titles on the market?
I started with The Frugal Book Promoter. I had fallen into so many marketing potholes (some that cost a lot of money!), and I wanted to help other writers avoid doing that. I figured that if I had those troubles with my marketing background, the average creative author with no experience in publicity or marketing or promotion would really be in dire straits. I also needed that sort of a text for the first class I taught at UCLA so I wrote it myself!
BTW, everything in that book is something I did myself. That makes it very, very practical, full of nitty-gritty how tos and lots of resources. I followed that successful model with the others.
Tell us about your newsletter, “Sharing with Writers and Readers”.
I started that newsletter in my search for the perfect promotion campaign for a writer. I resisted a long time because of the work involved but I’m a great recycler and finally figured out how to put out a letter that had the same practical qualities as my books and I share those secrets in The Frugal Book Promoter. I also strongly recommend having a newsletter. Newsletters are great for building loyalty—for both fiction and nonfiction writers.
Your readers who would like to subscribe may send me a request at HoJoNews @ aol.com. Put SUBSCRIBE in the subject line and I’ll take care of it for them.
Virtual book tours and book trailers are extremely popular at the moment. Are they overly hyped, or are they really great tools of promotion?
Well, we’ve all known for a long time that picture is worth a thousand words. So yes, the visual aspect of promoting is important. The trouble is, the competition with these vehicles is steep and so many authors haven’t perfected their speaking and on-camera skills. And it’s really, really hard to make a presentable trailer. One should choose what fits one’s book, one’s pocketbook and one’s personality when mapping out a promotion campaign. I did it all, but no one else needs to. I fell into those potholes for them. Your readers can see a natural how-to video of me at my Writer’s Digest 101 Best Website blog, www.sharignwithwriters.blogspot.com . It was professionally filmed and, I think, that word “natural” is important. Not elaborate. Just doing what you do. (-:
How do you see the future of electronic and print-on-demand books?
It is growing and the future is huge. Digital is rife with new models that suit all kinds of different books for different niches. Aaron Shephard wrote an interesting book called Aiming at Amazon that tells a writer how to skip all the bookstore hullabaloo and concentrate on online sales.
And here’s the thing. We as authors are in fact retailers. We are selling books. We want to offer our books to readers the way they want to read them, not the way we think they should. Both The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success and The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t are available for Kindle and The Frugal Book Promoter is available as a plain old e-book at StarPublishllc.com. I’m working on some other formats now.
What, in your opinion, is the most effective tool of book promotion?
Speaking and teaching by far. That skill carries over to the ability to use TV and radio well. And those videos and trailer you asked about, too. You can learn to do it. Yes, you can!
Do you have a website and blog where readers can find out more about you and your books?
Writers can find lots of lists and other resources on my www.howtodoitfrugally.com Web site, as well as lots about all the stuff I do, including travel and poetry. Here are some blogs that are sure to benefit your readers, too:
It’s a little off the subject but I also blog on War. Peace. Tolerance and Our Soldiers at: http://warpeacetolerance.blogspot.com . That’s because my grandson has done two stints in Iraq and I believe our troops desperately need our support, no matter how one feels about the wars we are in.
What is the best writing advice you would give an aspiring author?
I really think authors should not rely completely on the Web for their education in writing. Take some good classes offered by reputable universities who vet their instructors. Oh, yeah. My favorite. Persistence.
Thanks for the interview, Carolyn!