“Isolation isn’t an excuse to give up.” ~~Carolyn Howard Johnson
“Be generous to others and it will come back to you.” ~~ B. Lynn Goodwin
Note: More interviews coming soon.
Rita Chapman’s Interview with Writer and Editor B. Lynn Goodwin
Originally posted on Ms. Chapman’s website, http://www.ritaleechapman.com.
An inteview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson by B. Lynn Goodwin
Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series for writers. She’s taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally series have won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books, and the coveted Irwin award among others.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s prestigious Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing and Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen.” Her website is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
I am not sure how she and I met, but we’ve supported each other’s work for at least fifteen years—maybe longer. She’s skilled, talented, and hard-working, which is a winning combination. She was a winner in one of the Writer Advice’s Scintillating Starts Contest, which is judged by the previous years winners, and as far as I can tell, she’s never strayed from her course of helping authors and doing the next right thing.
BLG: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how it led you to write The Frugal Book Promoter.
CHJ: Lynn, several careers prepared me for promoting my own books and those of others. I was the youngest person ever hired as a staff writer for the The Salt Lake Tribune—“A Great Pulitzer Prize Winning Newspaper”—where I wrote features for what was then called the society page and a column under the name of Debra Paige. That gave me insight into the needs of editors, the very people authors must work with to get free ink. Being familiar with the way news is handled helps me see how different books fit into different news cycles.
Later, in New York, I was editorial assistant at Good Housekeeping Magazine. I handled accounts for fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert who instituted the first Ten Best Dressed List. There I moved from reading effective media releases (then called press releases) to writing them for celebrity designers of the day including Christian Dior and producing photo shoots for clients.
I also worked as columnist, reviewer, and staff writer for the Pasadena Star-News, Home Décor Buyer, the Glendale News-Press (an affiliate of the LA Times), Myshelf.com, and others, and I learned marketing skills both in college (University of Utah, and University of Southern California) and as founder and operator of a chain of retail stores. When I wrote my first novel, I realized that my whole life had contributed in one way or another to helping other authors do the platform-building that we must do this new millennium—things that are very different from what the publishing industry required of them before that.
BLG: That’s an amazing background. You’ve picked an excellent title. How important are titles in selling books?
CHJ: It is more important than ever before. And that includes subtitles for nonfiction. The web practically operates on the concept of keywords. That’s why subtitles have gotten longer in the last couple decades. But a title is just as important for fiction. In a well-titled book of fiction, readers can usually sense the genre by the title alone. Of course, covers and the artwork (and graphics!) are important, too. And the more the author knows about that, the more control she has over the future of her own books. That may be a topic I will cover in a next book.
BLG: You’re in your fourth publishing, right? What makes this book so successful?
CHJ: “The Frugal Book Promoter” is in its third edition. Bookbaby called it a “classic” and offered it as a free download. It cracked all records for them. They gave away more than 37,000 ebooks! Now it is published traditionally (Modern History Press, and it is reaching an even wider audience. MHP is publishing all the books in my #HowToDoItFrugally series in their 2nd, 3rd, (or first!) editions.
BLG: How has marketing changed since COVID? Any recommendations for having a successful launch in 2020 or 2021?
CHJ: Well, it’s obviously more online stuff. And it’s more online-INSTEAD of. I just did a Zoom and Power Point writer’s conference keynote for UPPAA (Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association) in Michigan. I really missed a live audience, but I liked it so well, I watched some of the other presentations on YouTube at my leisure later on. By leisure, I mean “in my isolation.” Ahem!
Not only that, but many writer’s conferences aren’t charging for their zoom conferences, thus presenters reach incrementally more people than they could have in person because, I think it is fair to say most conferences record presentations and sell them after the conference. This conference was scheduled for spring in the upper peninsula and ended up on Zoom in September. It now shares my presentation at http://tinyurl.com/frugal2020 on YouTube! Please like and comment while you are there! Better, comment with an additional tip or question and use the signature I urge you to use before you click on “post!”
Here’s the thing. Isolation isn’t an excuse to give up. The web has always been a boon for writers wiling to learn enough to do their book marketing there. We can reach such a huge audience so much faster than any other medium, including TV. To prove my point, there is a chapter on ways to reach millions the stay-at-home way in my “The Frugal Book Promoter” and its first edition came out in 2004! It is now in its third edition from Modern History Press at https://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromoIII.
BLG: How does a good writer find a balance between writing and marketing?
CHJ: I don’t know that anyone ever does. We are all critical of ourselves. Our expectations get in the way. The most we can hope for is to get comfortable with the idea that we aren’t alone.
BLG: What is your favorite—or one of your favorite—passages in The Frugal Book Promoter? And why?
CHJ: “Oh, to remember all those who have been instrumental in the birth of a book! Once, at a writer’s seminar, I overheard a well known author deride writers who include many thank-yous to mentors and helpmates in their acknowledgements. He thought the process a ridiculous name-dropping tradition. He is a wonderful writer, but he must have an inflated opinion of his own abilities if he believes he writes book by himself…”
I love this excerpt from my acknowledgement because I know it has affected at least a few of my readers, including one publisher who mentioned it in a blurb she wrote for me.
BLG: Classic! What are some of the things you do to help authors?
CHJ: My favorites are, of course, my books. I often think how much better it would be for my readers if they read them before they spent a lot of money unnecessarily and then got discouraged from pursuing a writing career. But I also like one of my blogs, The New Book Review. I started it to help authors who often have trouble getting their first reviews. It’s at https://TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com. There are Google “pages” at the top of the homepage that will explain all the free services it offers. Or your readers can get my book on “How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically” where I give them everything (truly!) they need to get—and use—credible, free reviews. It even gives authors what they need to manage their reader reviews at Amazon. And it includes more information on how The New Book Review works. It’s like a two-fer available at https://bit.ly/GreatBkReviews.
BLG: What’s your best tip for being a good literary citizen?
CLH: Is the obvious okay? Respond to email and blog and website comments. And write thank you notes. A little less obvious apparently because few do it: When you respond online, sign your message. You wouldn’t think of sending a letter without signing it, right? Better still, install an autosignature. You will be doing your correspondents the courtesy of making it easy for them to add you to their contact lists, quote from your email and figure out how to credit you. It usually should have your most important metadata in it.
BLG: What else would you like writers to know and where can they learn more about you?
CHJ: This makes me laugh because it is sooo related to your question above and it’s perfect for the end of your interview!. So here is my most recent email signature with what I would like “writers to know and where they can learn more” about me. Obviously it makes it easy for people to learn anything else they would like to know EASILY! And it was frugal. No special signature services. Do-it-myself iPhone photo. Use the email feature that probably comes with your email account. And don’t be afraid to do your own thing or to change it out as new things come up in your life.
Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers, 2nd Edition
Released on 9/1 and now available on Amazon as ebook, hard cover, or paperback: https://bit.ly/LastMinuteEditsII
Published by Modern History Press
Amazon Profile: http://bit.ly/CarolynsAmznProfile