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Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Beauty of Hindsight


THE BEAUTY OF HINDSIGHT 


Math has never been and will never be my strong suit.  But when I was fourteen, you might have thought math was my best subject.

At the end of 8th grade I took a placement test and scored high enough to take advanced algebra.

When my freshman year began at Jeffersontown High School in Louisville, Kentucky, I was proud to be part of Ms. Leslie's advanced class.  But after a few lessons, I realized this was not the right place for me.  I was in over my head.  Equations looked like a foreign language to me.  A blurry foreign language.  Vanity called and I gave up wearing my glasses—there were so many cute boys in class.

Ms. Leslie intimidated me.  No, let me rephrase that.  She scared the hell out of me.  She never smiled.  She was firm.  She was totally all business.

I wanted to do well in class, but the book was impossible to follow and there was no way to approach a teacher who frightened me.  Looking back, if I had been braver and asked for help, I would have probably made fewer Ds in algebra.

Ah, the beauty of hindsight.

Since then, my math skills have not improved that much.  I have a habit of overestimating.

I overestimate when packing for a trip and bring
  • way more clothes than necessary: 14 outfits, two jackets, earmuffs, scarves and gloves—I kid you not—when going to Spain for a week in April.  
  • too many meds:  Tylenol, muscle relaxer, Imitrex, Flonase, Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Naproxen, decongestant, antihistamine, Benadryl.    
  • too much jewelry:  earrings, bracelets, and bangles for every outfit. 
  • too many hair products which I won't list because this in itself is another blog.

I overestimate when cooking for a family gathering (20 pieces of chicken for five people, right?)

I overestimate when I should arrive for an event (an hour is not too early, is it?)

Sometimes, I underestimate.  When Jim and I got married, we held the ceremony and reception at a Spindletop Hall, a historic mansion in Lexington.  The ceremony took place in the library.  A very small library.  The room only held 200 people.  We invited 210 people.  We counted on five couples declining. 

They showed up.

I have a habit of overestimating more than underestimating, like the time I had my first book signing.  Two hundred invitations were sent to family and friends.  Of course, not everyone could attend.  There was a nice turnout, but true to form, I overestimated how many books would sell.  

And then there was a school visit.  I was scheduled to give nine classroom visits over two days.  The teachers gave me a head count of 225 students.  

I thought half of the students might like to buy Maggie.  Roughly 112 books.  Then, I thought that's being too optimistic.  It seemed reasonable to order two cases of books.  Each case has 25 books.  Surely, I could sell this quantity.   

I sold 14 books.

That said, I still have quite a few more copies.  I would love to sell them.  Each and every one of them.

How many do I have?

It might be best if you did the math.
   
✌ and 

COMMENTS:

Read it. Enjoyed it. I don't know what that stuff is on the chalkboard, but I think it's way beyond algebra!  M. Cook



Wednesday, November 14, 2018



WHERE'S THE BEEF JERKY?

I could have sold more copies of Maggie at a holiday craft fair...but I sat next to Beef Jerky Man.

Last year at the fair, I shared a table with Peggy Park, author of Grandmother's Journal.  At first, we were nervous.  Our table was in a room off the beaten path of the main lobby.  We figured the foot traffic wouldn't be as good and that people wouldn't find the smaller room.  But, we were pleasantly surprised.  People visited the lobby and then wandered into our room to buy jewelry, candles, holiday crafts, handbags, and paintings.  Peggy and I were the only book sellers and since we did quite well with sales, we decided to share a table again for this year.

But this year...oh my goodness.  Our table was next to K. C., a man who sold homemade beef jerky.

Beef jerky is a dried meat snack.  It is made by marinating beef in a curing solution and drying it. Meat treated in this fashion has unique flavor and a long shelf life.  Native Americans smoke-dried meat to preserve it and are credited for the invention of this meat-processing technique.  

Beef jerky is advertised as a nutritious product which is low in cholesterol and high in protein.  It was used during World War I as a source of protein for soldiers.  Astronauts travel with beef jerky.  It is a 2.5 billion-dollar-industry in the United States.

While beef jerky is touted as being a healthy snack, it can be high in fat and sodium.  As reported by Sara Ipatenco for Healthy Eating, "A 1-ounce portion of beef jerky contains 116 calories and 7 grams of fat, of which 3 grams are saturated.  While beef jerky also contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, much of the fat in the food is saturated.  If your diet contains large amounts of saturated fat, you're at an increased risk for heart disease.  A diet high in saturated fat can boost your cholesterol levels. Too much saturated fat as a regular part of your diet can also elevate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes."

Ipatenco advises to "look for beef jerky that contains small amounts of saturated fat.  Many brands manufacture thin strip versions of meat, which are often lower in total fat and saturated fat.  Opt for low-sodium versions of beef jerky as well; they are more nutritious than traditional versions." 

I wasn't sure about the quality of K.C.'s beef jerky.  But, I do know he sold an assortment of flavors:  peppery, spicy, teriyaki, scorpion (hot chili pepper) to name a few and that people flocked to his table.  I could tell in the opening minutes of the fair that we were doomed.  I could feel it in the air.  Peggy and I could not compete (not that this was a competition, mind you) with beef jerky.

K.C. had a simple table.  Four white baskets filled with plastic bags of jerky.  Nothing fancy.  On the other hand, our table was bright and cheery.  Welcoming.  We had a bright red tablecloth.  We had books wrapped in Christmas ribbons.  We had adorable plush puppies and Hershey's kisses.  Still, we were no match.  People never even saw our table.  They walked right past, hypnotized by the lure of beef jerky.  I'm not kidding—people waved money in the air as they approached K. C.'s table.

When the fair was over late afternoon, K.C. counted his money.  He meticulously laid it out on top of his table in four stacks.  With that much money, he probably figured it made sense to separate it into denominations of ones, fives, tens, and twenties, but I'm sure he had no clue how it looked to other vendors.  Sitting next to him made me feel uncomfortable and a little jealous.  I'm sure he wasn't trying to be boastful of his earnings, but he could have used more discretion.

Even at closing, crowds continued to flock to his table.  I wanted to get the courage to ask them to come over, pick up a book, and see the value in buying one.  Peggy's book is a wonderful way for grandparents to share their memories.  And picture books entertain kids while teaching them vocabulary and life lessons.

I wanted to tell people a book is a gift you can open again and again.  A book could last a lifetime.

It was useless.  Beef Jerky Man had a product that people craved.  A good friend of mine tells me that he buys beef jerky because it tastes great and it stays fresh for a long time.  That opinion seemed to be shared at the fair.  People were going gaga over beef jerky.  I never would have believed how popular it was if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

But all was not lost this year.  I met talented artists.  I sold a few books.  And, I learned an important lesson.  Next time, I won't use a red tablecloth.  Next time, I won't need ribbons or chocolate or plush toys.  Next time, I'll bring beef jerky. 

✌ and 




Thursday, October 18, 2018



Losing and Winning 

I was totally bummed out and feeling low.  I was losing money on book sales.  

How does an author LOSE money instead of make money selling her book?  For me, the answer was giveaways.  

Professor, columnist, author Jane Friedman says, "Giveaways (or freebies) are popular for good reason; they’re a classic, frictionless way to make people aware of your work."  She also states, "The giveaway is one of the more powerful tools in the new author’s arsenal because it’s a way to get attention when you may not have anything else going for you."

Giveaways however, did not work for me.  I gave away copies of Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell as a contest prize and as a gift in a silent action.  I also gave free copies of my books to catalog companies, school book fairs, and other businesses in order to create attention and drive book sales.  And this starting adding up.

I decided to give up this practice.  No more giveaways.  I was stick-a-fork-in-me done with losing money.

And then an opportunity arose to have my book considered for the Kentucky Book Festival (which meant relinquishing another book.)

The Kentucky Book Festival is a week-long celebration honoring reading and writing in Kentucky.  Now in its second year in Lexington (my hometown), the 37th annual Kentucky Book Fair is the grand finale of the week.  This festivity attracts writers of all genres and patrons who share a passion and interest in writing and reading.  More than 140 authors will attend the Kentucky Book Fair to promote and support literacy, including Silas House (Clay's Quilt), Bobbie Ann Mason  (In Country), and Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow).

After giving away close to 20 books (well over $200), I was ambivalent about having my book evaluated.  This did not guarantee an invitation.  But, I felt it was important to send my book to the committee.  This could be an awesome opportunity to introduce readers to Maggie and her rescue dog.

During the waiting period, I grew doubtful of hearing good news and thought more and more about the difficulties of being a published writer.  Being published is supposed to be totally joyful, but for me, there were times when it was not always a bed of roses.  The more I considered the struggles, the sadder I got knowing:

  • Book expenses exceeded revenue
  • Page views on my blogs were not as high as I'd like
  • Responses from agents for new picture book submissions had been nonexistent

Don't misunderstand.  In spite of these disappointments, I feel lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to write.  Writing is still one of my biggest joys in life.  But it's hard to hold on to the good feelings all of the time.  Especially when I had just given away another book.  I had lost more money.  What were the chances that this "investment" was going to pan out?

Doubt and worry seeped in and gnawed at me.  Feeling discouraged, I released a question into the universe:  Is writing still the correct career choice or is it time to move on?

Silly as it may seem, I asked for a sign—something, anything that might give me an idea if I should continue being a writer.  And then I went back to writing.  In only a few hours, this email appeared in my inbox:


"Dear Randi,

On behalf of the Kentucky Book Festival Committee of Kentucky Humanities, it is my pleasure to invite you to participate in the  annual Kentucky Book Festival (KBF), presented by Kentucky Humanities and our sponsors." 

I was floored.  This was unbelievable good news.  And the timing!  The timing couldn't have been more perfect.

This situation got me thinking about how we should turn to the universe more often if we have questions or if we are troubled.

"When you need to know, you will. There will be no confusion or doubt about what is being said. Seek out this kind of relationship with the universe and it will most certainly support it. Don’t allow yourself to get part of the message and end up more lost. Trust in the source, within and outside of yourself. Signs are not meant to be ambiguous, even if they appear to be so at first. Seek and find, then receive fully, in order to find your truth." ~ The Chopra Center.

And so my decision is clear.  Moving on to a different career is not part of the plan.  Despite the doubts and disappointments, despite feeling low about marketing a book, and despite losing money, I was shown that my footsteps should follow the writer's path.


Kentucky Book Festival
at the Alltech Arena at
the Kentucky Horse Park
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018
from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

✌ and 

Comments: 
"Great Stuff. Congratulations!"  M. Cook
"Congrats, Randi!"  C. Phelps
"Congratulations on the Kentucky Book Festival" A. Miller Hudson

Thursday, October 4, 2018















Marvelous musings and the mind-boggling journey of marketing a book


The Benefits of Gratitude  

I like hearing the words "thank you."  Don't you?  Those two words make me feel good. 

And yet, those two words bring back a hurtful memory.  

Many years ago, I took vacation leave from my job and drove 75 miles to take care of a relative recovering from surgery.  It was my pleasure and honor to care for him.  But, when it was time for me to travel home, I never heard I'm glad you came, you were helpful, thank you for being here.  Maybe he felt that I was obligated to help out.  Or maybe, he didn't feel well and just forgot to thank me.

On a more upbeat note, a fellow writer and protégé has kept in touch with me for over ten years.  He writes to tell me of his rejections, acceptances, and goals.  In all of his emails he expresses thankfulness for the help I had given him in the past and for the help I still give him.  And this means the world to me.

I never fail to notice gratitude.  My husband thanks me after every meal.  Even if it's just spaghetti and meatballs.  Even if it's leftovers.  He doesn't have to, but he does.

Our daughter is grateful.  She thanks us when she gets a surprise package at college.  She always writes thank you notes to relatives for birthday presents.

My cat Ozzie expresses gratitude.  After he's been fed, of course.  Ozzie shows his appreciation by rubbing his lips across my hand and marking me with his scent, telling me that I'm his.

I like to express gratitude, too and writing has given me many opportunities to be thankful—when someone critiques my work, when somebody submits to Kid's Imagination Train, when a writer asks me to guest blog, when an editor publishes my work, and the list goes on.  
  
When people do something nice for me, I like to write a thank you note, send flowers, or bring them something sweet to eat.  And after being published, I found there are a lot of people deserving of a thank you:  
     
  •  My publisher
  •  My agent
  •  Reviewers 
  •  Fans who came to the book signing
  •  Shop owners who placed a book order  
  •  Bloggers who promoted my book 
  •  People who ordered my book
  •  Editors that accepted an article I had   written on publishing a book
  •  Bookstore managers and book sellers
  •  My book launch team
  •  Business people who helped me market   my book
  •  Media specialists who booked a school   visit
Gratitude is easy to do and it can transform your life.

Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author states that gratitude has been proven to open doors to more relationships and can improve physical and psychological health, enhance empathy, reduce aggression, improve sleep, and increase self-esteem.  She believes we can cultivate gratitude. Rather than complain about the things you think you deserve, focus on all that you have

Grateful people have been found to be blessed with more happiness.

As reported by Robin S. Stern, Associate Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Robert A Emmons, Ph.D. Dept. of Psychology, University of California for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, "Grateful people experience more joy, love, and enthusiasm, and they enjoy protection from destructive emotions like envy, greed, and bitterness.  Gratitude also reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders, and it helps people entangled with those and other problems to heal and find closure.  It can give you a deep and steadfast trust that goodness exists, even in the face of uncertainty or suffering gratitude to mental health and life satisfaction." 

Stern and Emmons said it perfectly, "Gratitude isn’t just an emotion that happens along, but a virtue we can cultivate. Think of it as something you practice as you might meditation or yoga.  Gratitude practice begins by paying attention. Notice all the good things you normally take for granted." 

When you practice gratitude, it can inspire people to acts of kindness.  It has the power to strengthen bonds with other people. 

There are countless ways to say thank you.  All you have to do is to take note when someone is kind and express thankfulness.  No one gets tired of those two little words.  

✌ and 


Thursday, September 20, 2018




Marvelous musings and the mind-boggling journey of marketing a book

ONE COOL CAT  

Ozzie isn't crazy about his vest. 

Maybe he's not fond of the fabric.  Maybe he's not crazy about the pattern.  Maybe he doesn't like the color red.  Wait, are cats color blind?

"Want to try on your vest, Ozzie?"
Ozzie skedaddles away.

I'm feeling a little discouraged.

My husband Jim asks, "Who takes a cat outside on a leash?"
Well, that would be me.  If dogs wear vests, why not cats?

On cold days, the lean, short-haired breeds like the Greyhound, the Chihuahua, the French Bulldog, and many terriers and pinschers have trouble staying warm outside and benefit from wearing a vest.  According to www.orvis.com, "Dogs whose bellies are close to the ground—the Dachshund and the Corgi, for example—need extra protection from frigid sidewalks and snowy paths. Toy and small breeds, light-bodied breeds, and breeds with very short or thin hair (even if it’s long by nature but you keep it clipped close) need the extra warmth of a dog jacket or sweater outside in the cold."

Though most cats don't need a vest to stay warm, a vest would keep an indoor cat safe outside. The decision is up to the owner and of course, the pet's cattitude.  Our vet said that getting Ozzie outside for some fresh air would be good for him because he is an indoor cat.  That's all I needed to hear.  And since I need to take breaks from writing and marketing Maggie, being outside would be good for me, too.

The plan:
Day 1 - 3:  Let Ozzie sniff the vest and get familiar seeing it
Day 4 - 6:  Let him wear the vest around the house
Day 7:  Let him enjoy the great outdoors

I placed the vest next to Ozzie's food bowl.  He didn't tear it to shreds.  He didn't pee on it.  I took this as a good sign.

But the first time he wore it outside, he hugged the back door, crouched, and slunk around.  This was not a good sign.

And yet, he didn't growl or cry.  So, here we had another good sign.

I wasn't going to torture him with a lengthy stay, just long enough to sniff plants and experience bugs and birds.  To feel sunshine on his back.  To feel grass beneath his paws.

Ozzie tolerated  seemed to like the grand outdoors, but being out in the backyard wasn't always the cat's meow.

On one occasion with Ozzie outside and all-vested up, Putt-Putt (our loving stray) wandered by.  I hadn't expected he'd show up.  His schedule is fairly random, unless it's breakfast or dinner time.

When Putty comes to visit, I leave the deck door open and the screen locked, so that he and Ozzie can enjoy each other's company.  Since they are buds, I allowed Putt-Putt to get close to Ozzie.  But then clear out of the blue, Putt-Putt bit Ozzie.

Ozzie screamed.  My interpretation:  get me the hell out of this vest and back inside where I belong.

I felt terrible for Ozzie and never expected Putty to bite him.  But Putty's home is outside and he felt inclined to defend it.

I gave Ozzie a break from going outside after Putty's attack.  Then after a while, I tried again.

My husband snickered.  The look on his face said are you really going to do that to him?

Yes, yes I am.  I wasn't going to give up.

It's been several months and Ozzie is still not crazy about his vest.  Though, he is a good sport.  He humors me.  We hang out on the front porch away from Putty's backyard space for a good five minutes!  We take in the sunshine and enjoy the great outdoors. Or, at least one of us does.

Trying new things takes time. Ain't that right, Ozzie?  He may not believe it now, but one of these days Ozzie will know he is one purrty cool cat.


✌ and 





Thursday, September 6, 2018











Marvelous musings and the mind-boggling journey of marketing a book


I WILL NEVER BE A BALLERINA

When I was young, I loved ballet.  I couldn't get enough of the pink tights, the black leotard and the leather ballet slippers.

Children typically start ballet training between the ages of five and eight, and though I began at an early age and took for three years, I wasn't able to continue.  Students were expected to take tap before continuing to the next level of ballet.

Even at the age of eight I knew tap dancing was not for me.  I put my foot down.  I would not take tap. I would not take tap.  I WOULD NOT TAKE TAP.  And so, unwilling to take a class I had no interest in, I had to give up something that I dearly loved. 

I would never be a ballerina. 

Even if I had gone on to learn tap, ballet classes would have been too expensive.  My father worked two jobs.  He had five mouths to feed.  He only had to look at my overbite to know the future foretold the footing of orthodontic bills.  Paying for lessons would have been a huge financial strain.

I would never be a ballerina.

I would never have the opportunity to learn pointe and partnering.  That's just the way it was.  Instead, I was fortunate to do a little horseback riding and play softball and basketball.

And then much, much later in life, in my mid-twenties, I wanted to find a way to stay in shape, so I decided to try some adult ballet classes.  Once I learned the French vocabulary, I felt more confident to continue.

Over the years I tried different dance studios, trying to find the balance between a serious class and a class that would be fun.  Through persistence and luck, I found the place that I love—Dancers' Studio in Lexington, Kentucky.

We begin each class at the barre.  This is where we perform exercises to stretch the entire body.  We might do this combination:  tondue, coupe de pied, relevé.

That means begin in a ballet first position, extend a straight leg with pointed toes, return to first position, slide a curved foot to the ankle, and balance on the other leg.  The exercise is performed in first, second and fifth position.  Then the entire exercise switches sides so both the right foot and the left foot are used.  After eight different barre exercises, we're ready for center work.

Center work is composed of adagio and allegro movements.  We begin with adagio where combinations of ballet steps are pieced together and danced slowly in order to develop balance, control and extension without the use of the barre.  Then we move on to allegro—the faster, livelier steps which include jumps and turns.  Class ends with a révérence, a bow to thank the teacher.

I've been doing ballet for many years now and I still can't get enough of the pink tights, black leotard and leather slippers.  It is a good workout for the mind and the body.  Dancers must remember all of the steps of a combination and perform them correctly.

As I conclude this blog post, I am reminded about the similarities between ballet and writing.  Both require practice and discipline.  Even marketing a book is like ballet.  It takes an incredible amount of time and effort to be successful. 

However, even with practice, discipline, time, and effort chances are I will never be a best-selling author.

But, still I write.

And I will never dance a pas de deux or wear a dancer's tutu.  I don't have physical stamina and impeccable balance.  I'm not as flexible and coordinated like a professional dancer.

I will never be a ballerina.

But still I dance.

The Maggie Project is published twice a month. 

✌ and 





Thursday, August 16, 2018


Marvelous musings and the mind-boggling journey of marketing a book


TANTALIZED 

I was like a kid in a candy store.  And Vistaprint was my candy store.

As a newly-published author, I was over the moon about marketing my book Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell.  So, I went crazy buying all kinds of promotional material.  You name it, I bought it: posters and postcards, bookmarks and sticky notes, and mugs and magnets.

Vistaprint met most of my needs.  But there was one special item I was dying to have. Like the State Farm commercial - I had to have it.

I made the decision to splurge on Budsie doll.  Budsies are customized stuffed dolls that can be created from a photo.  After seeing several finished products online, I felt confident that the manufacturers could create just what I wanted.  In a short while, I'd be holding my very own Maggie doll.  

Several weeks later, she arrived.  I could hardly wait to open the box.  But the moment I saw her, I was crushed.  Simply devastated.  

The doll's face did not resemble Maggie's face at all.  Its head was floppy.  The hair was made of red felt which made her look like she was wearing a hat.  

Maggie did not look like Maggie.  

This doll cost a fortune.  We're talking close to one hundred dollars and I could not use her.  She looked as sad as I felt.  

But rather than giving up on her, I made a bold decision.  This doll was going to get a makeover.  

To begin, the "hair" had to go.  I snipped it off and sewed a small red curly wig (think Little Orphan Annie) to the top of her head.  Next, Maggie underwent cosmetic surgery—I reshaped the nose and the mouth with thread and black markers.  Lastly, I strengthened Maggie's neck.  My husband suggested using VelCro to make the head more stable.  Finally when all of the work was done, Maggie looked more like Maggie.  

Now that she looks happier (and I am happier) I bring my Maggie Budsie doll to events.  She helps draw people to my book signing table.  However, spending lots of money on a doll that did not meet my expectations made me wonder if the money was well spent.  This big purchase brought me to my senses.  As the newness of authorship wore off, I started to tally my expenses—and I discovered that I had spent a fortune.  But the rationale was, I'd sell a lot of books to make up for the spending and get reimbursed from my publisher.  

Wrong on both counts.  

Every author envisions or plans how they hope to get their fans interested in their books.  With hindsight, I discovered that not every marketing tool was effective.  Here are some of the items I would not purchase to promote a second book:
  • Wooden ornaments used as gift giveaways
  • Magnets
  • A Facebook campaign boost 
  • 500 oversized postcards announcing the book signing 
  • Large cardboard table top displays for selling books at local shops
Also, I would not send as many free copies of the book to companies or to contests because they are not returned.

There were several items that were inexpensive and worth having.  I would purchase these things again:
  • Balloons for the book signing
  • Pencils and candy 
  • A poster of the book cover
  • Bookmarks (200)
  • Large envelopes for mailing books
  • Small metal display tripods
  • Personalized post-it notes
  • Plush mini toy puppies as a giveaway gift 

Promoting a book was new and confusing for me.  If I had realized that my publisher was unable to reimburse me, I would have had a stricter budget. I would have made  sensible spending decisions. 

There are no regrets however, because this was my first book and it was a learning experience.  

But next time, I will check to see if the publisher will shoulder some of the costs.   

Next time, I will know what marketing tools to invest in and which ones to resist.   

And next time, I will be wiser, thriftier, and Budsie-less.




The Maggie Project is published twice a month. 

✌ and