Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Sunday, September 30, 2012

100 Books and stuff

I hope you all are enjoying the guest posts! I know I am, with more to come! Meanwhile, I thought I'd show you what's distracting me right now--

Drives into the canyons to see the fall leaves and take pictures with my new camera.

And then there's this--

Emree Kay Gowen just one day old. Today she is five days old, and she gets cuter by the minute!

And then there's this--

I decided that before starting another novel, I'd read ONE HUNDRED books. It's not really that many. This picture shows 22, so multiply it by 4, add 12 more and you've got 100 books. I've read almost 250 books on my Goodreads account. Therefore, the easy way to keep track of them, since I review everything I read on Goodreads, is when the account says 350 books, I'm there.

I debated whether to create a page to list the books read on my blog or website, but then I thought why not let Goodreads serve that function? Anyone who wants to follow my progress, friend me here.

Now, time to get reading!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How to Sell an Ebook the Old-fashioned Way

Today we have Helena Halme, sharing a very helpful idea she implemented for marketing her novel:

First I’d like to thank Karen for letting me be a guest on her wonderful blog to talk about my novel, The Englishman, a love story between a Nordic student and a British Naval officer.

When I published my book for Kindle earlier this month, I thought: Who is this book really aimed at? The answer came to me immediately – commuters with e-readers. I knew my readership, but I urgently needed a way to make them aware of the book and encourage them to read it.

I live in a creative part of North London, and decided a leafleting campaign would be the ideal way to reach my core readership. So I asked my cover designer, Simon Wilder, to design a leaflet. Armed with a stack of them, I went out early one the morning to talk to commuters at bus stops and tube stations, handing out leaflets and telling people to read my novel.

Advertising would have been prohibitively expensive and, besides, it’s a rather detached, impersonal way to sell books. I was keen to adopt a more personal approach to get the word out.

The leafleting was an incredibly positive experience. People were very friendly, especially when I told them I was the writer. I’d printed a short excerpt from the book at the back of the leaflet and my only slightly wobbly moment came when, standing by a particularly long queue at Crouch End Broadway bus stop at about 8 am, I saw 20 or so people, all reading my words. 

Occasionally someone would glance back at me. That made me feel a little exposed – as a first time novelist, it was quite scary to actually watch people read your work!

The Englishman is a ‘will they, won’t they’ love story between a Finnish student and British naval officer. It started off as a series of posts on my blog, Helena’s London Life, after my readers asked me how I came to be in England. The posts grew so popular, that I decided to turn them into a fully-fledged novel.

In 1980, Peter and Kaisa meet under the bright lights of the British Embassy and share kisses under the statue of the Finnish poet, Eino Leino. But they live hundreds of miles apart and at the height of the Cold War Peter chases Russian submarines while Kaisa is stuck in a country friendly with the Soviet Union. Will their love go the distance?

So why did I choose to publish digitally rather than take the more traditional print book publishing route? Well, I’ve had a few ‘close calls’ with literary agents and publishers in the past, but blogging has given me such a lot of confidence in my writing, that I decided I could do it myself. I’m also a bit of control freak and like the fact that there are no middle men between me and the readers. Besides, ebook publishing did well for E L James and her book Fifty Shades of Grey, so why not me?

However, being an independent publisher doesn’t mean you can cut corners. The Englishman has been professionally edited and proof-read, and the cover was designed by an experienced and talented graphic artist, Simon Wilder.

While still carrying on with the leafleting (I might go to the West End next!), I’m also working on a second novel, Pappa’s Girl, about a Finnish immigrant family in Stockholm, to be published on Kindle later this autumn.


Like Englishmanthebook on Facebook!
@helenahalme on Twitter

Friday, September 21, 2012

What is a "small press"?

I made a comment about the small press as an alternative to self-publishing vs. getting an agent a few weeks back on C. Lee McKenzie's blog.  As a result, she requested this interview which we decided to turn into a guest post.  

Any questions, feel free to ask in your comments and I'll do my best to address them. (Although I'm headed to Moab for the weekend and not sure how my internet access will be, so it may be a few days before I can weigh in on the comments.)

C. Lee McKenzie: What’s the definition of a “small press”? 

Karen Gowen: A small press puts out fewer titles and makes less money than a large, traditional publisher. Still, it is set up essentially the same way-- meaning it pays the author and does not charge their authors for services such as editing, design, marketing, etc.  

Wikipedia states: "Since the profit margins for small presses can be narrow, many are driven by other motives, including the desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market. Small presses tend to fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. They can focus on regional titles, narrow specializations and niche genres. They can also make up for commercial clout by creating a reputation for academic knowledge, vigorously pursuing prestigious literature prizes and spending more effort nurturing the careers of new authors."

McKenzie: How are they distinct from vanity presses?

Gowen: Vanity presses charge for services to authors while a small press does not. Although there are many vanity publishing companies that now call themselves "small press" or "independent", since the reputation of vanity companies has been tarnished. I can't imagine any company actually saying, "We're a vanity publisher." They're going to call themselves something that sounds much more palatable. But the bottom line is, do they pay the author or do they charge fees for services while keeping rights and a share of royalties?  

McKenzie: Are small presses, indie publishers and independent publishers the same? 

Gowen: It has become a word game. Self-published authors now call themselves indie publishers. Independent publisher is another term for independently-owned publisher, not part of a conglomerate like the Big Six, but they may not be a small press. Tor is an independent publisher but definitely not a small press. A small press is an independent publisher but an independent publisher is not necessarily a small press. Confused yet?

McKenzie: If an author chooses to go with a small press rather try for one of the BIG international publishers, what questions should that author ask about rights, percentages, editing, design, promotion, formats, distribution?

Gowen:  The number one question to find out is whether or not the author has to pay for editing, design, promotion and distribution. A legitimate publisher will NOT ask their authors to pay for these services. The format the book will be published in and approximate publishing date should be part of the contract. Royalty percentages should also be part of the contract. And it should be clear what the royalty split entails, whether it is on the net price or what. This is very important. A publisher may seem to offer a high royalty rate but if it is based on net profit, watch out!

Writer Beware has a comprehensive list of questions and concerns about the small press.

McKenzie: Is there an association of small presses that one can refer to (similar to those that are available for agents) in order to be sure the company is legitimate?

Gowen: Yes, there is! It has been around for 25 years and  is called The Independent Book Publishers Association. According to their website: "The Independent Book Publishers Association is the largest not-for-profit trade association representing independent book publishers. Founded in 1983, it serves book publishers located in the United States and around the world. Its mission is to advance the professional interests of independent publishers. To this end, IBPA provides cooperative marketing programs, education and advocacy within the publishing industry." On their website, you can find a list of their members/publishers with contact information.

Thank you to Lee McKenzie for this interview! I hope it helps readers to make an informed decision about which publishing path to follow.

Lee's information is below:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The 3 D's: Divorce, Dieting and Dating

Sometimes you don't realize what your book is about until someone tells you. 

When Uncut Diamonds came out, the marketing director at WiDo called it "Steel Magnolias with Mormon characters," which I'd have never pegged but it was exactly the right description. (Even though it takes place in the Midwestern United States not the South, and the main characters are young parents not older ones preparing for a daughter's wedding.)

But all that's not the point. The point is that I find it amazing when someone can tell me exactly what my book is about, and do it better than I could have myself.

That's what happened when I saw the review for Lighting Candles in the Snow by Mirka Breen, author of the historical fiction middle-grade book, The Voice of Thunder.  

Today is my novel's launch day and I can't think of any better way to celebrate it than by posting Mirka's review:

"Lighting Candles in the Snow is a modern woman’s story, starring the Three Ds: Divorce, Dieting and Dating, in that order. Fans of Karen Jones Gowen’s first two novels will miss the solid loving Mormon family that was the heart of these books. They’re still here, in the form of Suzie and Rob, sister and brother-in-law of the main character, and their seven children. But they have taken a back seat to Karoline London, (that’s Karo-line, as she likes to remind us) who is struggling with the dissolution of her childless marriage, her ex-s addictions, her own lack of spiritual grounding and above all- with dieting and obsessing about food and her weight.

"But there lies a nice surprise- this is a modern woman’s tale, a bit of a romance novel, and a cookbook. Most chapters end with recipes, and having tried a few, I can attest that they are real, and yummy.

"As the story unwinds, Karoline makes her way home in more ways than one, and we readers get the essential nourishment we need from a good story, also in more than one way. Try the Pear and Bleu Cheese Soup; you’ll be glad you did, and happy to have read Lighting Candles in the Snow. 

"And just as in Gowen's novel, House of Diamonds, the title image takes a while to unfold but when it does it’s unforgettable." (Mirka M.G. Breen, author, The Voice of Thunder)

Thanks, Mirka!  

For more information about Lighting Candles in the Snow, see the WiDo website.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Invitation to Share

Occasionally I get a request for a guest post on my blog. I've never yet turned anyone down because I enjoy opening things up to another voice and viewpoint besides my own. Ho hum, I can get so easily get bored with myself. And I enjoy helping others with their book promotions.

This fall, in honor of all the support you've given me as I've had various books or projects to promote, I'd like to open up my blog to those who want to share something important to you.

Email me with your request and time frame and we'll get it set up. Guest posts seem to be the favorite of my followers, much more so than interviews or announcements. An interesting post on a relevant topic is more appealing to readers than an announcement about a new release.

I'd love to host your posts on any topic relevant to your book or author profile. Although, it doesn't need to be a book release. Just any idea you want to share that you'd like to use my space as forum.

 If you're interested, let's talk!

Friday, September 7, 2012

You'd Think the Book Business was the Place to Make Money

Anyone in publishing will tell you it's a tough place to make a buck. Yet the way groups and plans and promotions are springing up everywhere, you'd think that selling books is THE way to earn a living.

There's the mad rush for reviews. A zillion groups springing up for writer support. Non-stop Tweets on book links and promotion. Writers going crazy trying to get out more than one book a year so they can cash in quickly. Not to mention that everyone and their barber is writing a book these days.

It's like the Gold Rush Days of 1849. Back 150 years ago when the whole country went to California because a few people found gold and got rich. The real truth was that more of them lost everything and died from fever than actually struck it rich. Well, today with modern medicine and antibiotics, we writers won't die from fever, although some days the mad rush feels like insanity. Too bad we don't have antibiotics to cure our writer craziness. Some like chocolate for that.

And just when you think sense will take hold, when the Harry Potter, Twilight, Amanda Hocking and John Locke phenomenon has died down, you get Fifty Shades of Grossness. And it starts all over again, only this time with porn. Oh sorry, I mean erotica.

 I'm in favor of books and a fan of those who write them. But most of us won't earn as much writing novels as we can in other jobs. Most of us have day jobs. Even John Locke kept his day job. Or he did back when he was writing his "how I did it book" (which turned out to be a bit of a scam considering he actually bought 300 5-star reviews, didn't mention that in the book did he?)

Where did this idea begin that writing a book is the way to fame and riches? Even the famous authors of the 1920's and '30s weren't rich. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Thomas Wolf and others of their crowd went from one royalty check to the other, borrowing from family, living off the generousity of friends, getting constant "advances against royalties" from their publishers. Fitzgerald owed his publisher a great deal of money when he died, never having written all the books he had promised and his publisher had paid for.

Anyway, these are the thoughts rolling around as I surf the net and see the push to write more, publish faster, get more reviews, yadayadayada, like it's the way to great wealth. I just don't understand where that mindset came from.

Hitting it big with the next runaway bestseller is like winning the lottery. Where's it all headed? And when can we expect common sense to return, if ever? Or maybe careers in the arts are and always have been devoid of balance due to their very natures. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Kids Volunteering in the Community

Please welcome Kai Strand, author of Save the Lemmings! posting about the timely topic of kids and volunteering. Kai includes segments of an interview she did with Betsy Warriner of Volunteer Connect in Bend, Oregon.

In my newest novel, SAVE THE LEMMINGS, Natalie falls in love with lemmings and learns of their tendency to commit mass suicide. It breaks her heart to think of all those needless deaths, so she joins the Save the Lemmings! Foundation. Her support helps build tiny picket fences along the cliffs of the arctic so that lemmings can no longer jump to their deaths.

When I worked for Habitat for Humanity, we had a lot of children and parents contact us to ask about volunteer opportunities for kids. It can be difficult to find good non-profits for kids to get involved with…unless you know where to look. Don’t worry, I’m here to help. I recently spoke with Betsy Warriner, the Executive Director of Volunteer Connect in Bend, Oregon.

Kai Strand: Betsy, thanks for joining us. We are hoping to pick your brain about kids volunteering; mainly kids nine years old and up. Are children able to volunteer? What are some of the different opportunities they might get involved in?

Betsy Warriner: Yes, children are able to volunteer. Pre-teens are often welcome to help out with projects with animals and environmental restoration. Some opportunities have a minimum age qualification, but sometimes the organization can go below that age if the child is with an adult. Children also often do projects from home and school, such as organizing canned food drives or creating a community garden. A good resource for getting involved is Youth Service America at

Kai: If a child or teen has a particular interest; animals, books, art, how will volunteering help them learn more about it?

Betsy: Children and adults can learn a lot about particular interests by volunteering with organizations focused on those interests. By volunteering, you get to experience the topic personally and work with other people who know a lot about it.

To find good volunteer opportunities related to your interest, ask your local volunteer center or do an online search for the interest topic, including the word "volunteer."

Here is a good strategy for learning as you volunteer:
-- Figure out what you want to learn and how you want to help out. Doing this together with family or friends can bring up some great ideas. Write these goals down.
-- Contact local or international organizations serving your area of interest, and share your goals with them. They will probably be impressed that you have thought your goals out and welcome you to come and talk more about your ideas.
-- As you volunteer, keep a journal of what you do, what you see and hear, how you feel about what you are doing, and what you are learning. Share some of what you journal with family and friends. Maybe you could write a letter to the local newspaper about what you observed and learned and about what other people can do to help out. You could take pictures, and do a presentation for your class or a local service club. Sharing what you are learning makes it come even more alive.
-- As you reflect on your volunteer experience, figure out what you want to do next -- maybe a new volunteer endeavor, or maybe a way to make your current volunteering even better.

The best resource for ideas on how to learn while volunteering is Catherine Berger Kaye's The Complete Guide to Service Learning.

Kai: What are some of the most favorite youth volunteer opportunities here in Central Oregon?

Betsy: Events for Healthy Beginnings, the Latino Community Association, and other organizations
The garden at The Environmental Center
Repacking food at NeighborImpact
Preparing bag lunches at Bend's Community Center
Assisting at a branch of the Deschutes Public Library
Cleaning and yard work at Ronald McDonald House

Search on the Volunteer Connect website for other ideas: Volunteer Connect also has ideas for projects that families can do at home.

Kai: How can children and their parents learn about youth volunteer opportunities in their area?

Betsy: Check with your local volunteer center or United Way for ideas. Search online, using key words such as "volunteer" plus your community name.

Kai: Last but not least, Betsy….WHY should kids volunteer?

Betsy: Volunteering brings people together, builds confidence and purpose, and can be a lot of fun, while making a real difference in the community.

Kai: Thank you, Betsy, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us about volunteering. Parents, if you want to encourage your children to volunteer, be sure to find out what their real interests are and then search for an opportunity together.

Have you volunteered before? What did you do? Who did you do it for? What was the best part of the experience? We’d love to know.

Thank you, Kai and Betsy, for this informative and helpful interview!

About the book: SAVE THE LEMMINGS! 8th grade inventor, Natalie Isabelle Cailean Edwards is the N.I.C.E. girl who finishes last with the kids in school. Sappy inspirational phrases and monochromatic outfits have all but her best friends wrinkling their nose at her. When Natalie’s invention, the Texty-Talky, goes nationwide, she becomes an overnight sensation. Suddenly her days consist of photo shoots and interviews with little time left for her friends. A local reporter shatters her good-girl image by reporting a graffiti incident and the media launches into a smear campaign. It is so bad, even her friends start to believe the stories. Will Natalie be able to overcome the lies being printed about her? Pick up your copy of Save the Lemmings here.

About the author: Kai Strand writes fiction for middle grade and young adult readers. She is a (very lucky) wife and the mother of four amazing kids. The most common sound in her household is laughter. The second most common is, "Do your dishes!" She and her family hike, geocache, and canoe in beautiful Central Oregon, where they call home.

To find out more about Kai’s books, download companion documents, find links to her published short stories and discover all the places to find Kai both virtually and in person, visit her website: She loves to hear from readers, so feel free to send her an email or visit her facebook page, Kai Strand, Author.