Monday, September 1, 2014

Finding Old Friends


A year ago in early March, I inquired on Facebook if anyone had heard about plans for my class’s fiftieth high school reunion this year. No one knew anything, but two days later, I received an email through www.Classmates.com announcing the date of the reunion: September 6, 2014.
I volunteered to try to account for all of our 600+ class members. This was a particularly challenging undertaking because I started from scratch.
 
The school was less than helpful. We gave the office the details, but when another classmate called to ask if they had any information about the reunion, she was told the school knew nothing.
 
Several months later, I talked to the gal who had kept the school’s alumni records for years. When she retired a few years ago, another person took over. When that person died, apparently all the data was lost.
 
Different people had organized the previous reunions, so we had no continuity within the class itself.
 
I began with the school’s 1995 directory of the alumni from all classes in the school’s history. They create a new one every ten years, but I didn’t get the 2005 one. In the back, I found a list of the graduates in our class. So I took the first half, Larry took the rest, and we created an Excel spreadsheet. (I couldn’t have done any of this without his support!)
 
Next, I went through the books we’d received from past reunions, starting with the most recent, and entered the information they contained working from the latest backward. (I had only attended the ten-year and the twenty-year ones, but I had purchased the books from the others.)
 
My brother had borrowed my annuals previously, so a few weeks later I got them back. In the front was pure gold: our graduation program. It contained everyone’s middle names. This allowed us to narrow down the possibilities.

By this time, several people had volunteered to make phone calls, and a couple of others said they’d help locate people. After I received new data, I entered it and sent out the updated spreadsheet.

As we contacted people, starting with those we knew. We asked for and received information on others, and they were added to the database.
But what about the rest? Fortunately, I already had an account with www.Ancestry.com for my own family research. That helped a lot with the gals. I tracked some of them through four or more marriages, but I was usually able to find their current names and then look them up.

Where? www.Whitepages.com was a good source. So was www.Spokeo.com. I paid to join the latter because their listings showed email addresses. (Many of them were wrong, including my own, but we contacted a few this way.) Another of our ‘sleuths’ used www.Anywho.com. I finally subscribed to www.BeenVerified.com because it allowed me to search by age. It also showed the addresses from most recent to oldest. This and Ancestry were the best sources I found. (Keep in mind, we only used public records. We had no access to any hidden private information.)

I already had a paid account with www.EmailFinder.com. I sent many, many requests through this site, and some were responded to.

A month or so into our search, the gal who had helped organize our last reunion contacted us. That one combined four classes. An outside company did the planning, and she still had their contact list for our class, which she provided to us. It contained some helpful data, but even by that time, we were aware they had many names, addresses, and other information completely wrong.

Unfortunately, we also discovered that many of our classmates had died in the intervening years. As of today, ninety-three of them. We created a website for our class (www.ahs64-alumni.com) including a page devoted to those who have passed.
   
Of course, the last ten percent of our peers required the greatest effort. We explored relatives (siblings, cousins, children, ex-spouses, etc.) as well as neighbors and others. We ‘googled’ them, and found them listed in various places, including in the obituaries of relatives. We looked on www.LinkedIn.com, www.Classmates.com, www.Facebook.com, etc. We created a class group on Facebook where we exchanged lots of information. Today, over 160 of the members of our class are on that site, and we’ll keep the group going long after next weekend.

Today, just a few days prior to the reunion, we have located all but thirteen people. (We even found our two foreign exchange students. Unfortunately, both of them have passed away, but at least we know what happened to them.) Of those last few, we have addresses for more than half. We’ve sent several letters. They were not returned, but we haven’t heard from them either. Nevertheless, we believe they’ve received word about the event. Only about one percent are truly ‘lost.’

At the beginning, we were told we’d be lucky to find twenty percent after fifty years. As of today, we’re down to just over two percent.

The private detective in the class keeps saying he’d like to hire me. While I’ve enjoyed the process, I think I’ll go back to writing and editing!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Marketing 101

Recently a friend, who had just published his first book, asked about marketing and promotion. We have learned a few things over the last nine plus years since our first book was published, and we’d like to share some of it with you.
  1. You must have a STRONG online presence with a dedicated website, blog, Facebook author page (we have two because one is specifically for our first book and geared toward our Japanese friends), Twitter feed, and Linked-in presence. (I have my Twitter feed linked to my LinkedIn profile, so whatever I post there goes to Twitter automatically. I am the queen of Facebook, but I confess I really don’t get Twitter.)
  2. Join Goodreads. Larry and I both have profiles. You must keep your content up-to-date. You can link your blog to your Goodreads profile, so each new post shows up there as well.
  3. Create an Amazon author profile, and make sure it is current and accurate. (I have to keep checking mine since there is another author with my same name.) Again, link your blog feed to your Amazon author page.
  4. All information posted on the above sites must be fresh to show up in searches. Update your blog at least weekly. (I didn’t post a new one this week, but that is unusual.) Write about writing, your life, your interests. This is another place, besides Facebook, where people get to know who you are. DO NOT just post excerpts from your book!
  5. Be sure to use keywords (with or without the hashtag) to make sure people searching for content can find you.
  6. Contact local bookstores, libraries, and other venues about doing book signings. (Most bookstores—if there are any left in your area—won’t shelve your books, even if you do a signing.) We have done a LOT of these without measurable return on investment, but you get name exposure. Think outside the box and look for different and unusual places to do signings. We have done a couple in art galleries with mixed results.
  7. I generally advise against hiring a publicist. However, I do recommend you ‘friend’ Penny Sanseveri on Facebook and read her content. We met her at a conference many years ago, and she is an expert on marketing. The information she posts on Facebook is free. So is her newsletter. And if you do decide to hire someone, I’d recommend Penny. She has a good reputation in the industry.
  8. Attend conferences. We have done some of our most valuable networking there and have made lifelong friends. What genre do you consider your book? Find a conference targeted specifically to the type of book you write. (I’m easily bored, so I have a hard time sticking with one genre!)
  9. Visit different locations where your book is set, and write off the expenses against your business. (We set our mysteries in Hawaii for a reason!) BUT you must write about the place, keep accurate records of your expenses, and be able to show the results of your trips in your writing. Keep in mind, both with conferences and travel, only half of your meals are deductible, and only the related expenses for the actual industry professional can be deducted.
  10. Enter contests. HOWEVER, do not pay outrageous amounts to enter! Contests need to be funded, and a small entry fee is reasonable, however, some of them charge ridiculous amounts.
  11. Get reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other sites. These boost your visibility.
  12. Run contests and publicize them.
  13. Assemble an email mailing list. Use it to send notification of your blog posts, new books, appearances, etc.
  14. Create a video trailer and post to YouTube. These can be done at virtually no cost using PowerPoint and MS Moviemaker, but they can attract additional interest. Be careful about using music, however. Using well-known music by famous artists can result in your video being blocked. There are sites with free music you can use.
  15. Post about your book and related events and topics on Facebook, but the caveat is this: Facebook is a CONVERSATION, so make sure you are interacting with other people and not just posting about your book! I have unfriended people whose only message is: buy my book.
  16. Offer to give a talk or lecture on your subject. Most places will also allow you to sell your book after your talk. These appearances will also establish you as an ‘expert’ on your subject.
  17. Contact local book clubs about reading your book, and offer to visit their meeting for a discussion.
  18. Get free business cards from VistaPrint. (You only pay for shipping). Be sure to include your website and contact email address. We write “Thank you” on the back and leave them with the tip whenever we eat at a restaurant. We also hand them out whenever we talk about our books with anyone. This is one of the cheapest forms of advertising.
  19. Treat your writing as a business, not a hobby. Keep accurate and complete records and report all income.

At this point in my writing career, I spend much more time promoting than I do writing. I managed to finish and publish The Memory Keeper in April. And I completed our latest romance anthology, ...And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe this summer.
In addition, I still edit professionally. I don’t know how to do straight line editing. I have to address content as well. So these are very time-consuming.

Even with LOTS of strategic promotion, you probably won’t become rich. You may not even break even. But you will have more fun than you can imagine.


Do any of you have any other techniques you have found to be effective?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saying I Love You



Whenever I end a conversation with close friend or loved one, I nearly always say, “I love you.” I do the same whenever we part.



Both my niece and my godchild caught onto this when they were little girls. As our conversations began to wind down, each of them tried to beat me in saying it. And often, they did.


Why am I so deliberate about telling those I care about that I love them? Because one day when I was seven years old, my father went to work in the morning and never came home. I didn’t have the chance to tell him I loved him. I learned far too early that we never know when it might be the last time we’ll see or speak to the special people in our lives.


Larry was blessed with parents who were married 67 years before his mother died, but also grandparents who were married 63 years when his grandfather died. On our wedding night, he told me his grandmother had said the thing she missed the most when his grandfather died was not saying, ‘I love you,’ each night before they went to sleep.



“I’d really like to start that tradition in our marriage,” he said. And we have. In fact, when he was doing a lot of traveling for work, he’d call each night so we could say it to each other. I found I had trouble nodding off without hearing his voice at the end of the day.



We also say the words first thing when we wake in the morning and each time we leave each other. In the mornings when we were working, Larry usually left earlier than I did, but before he got into the car, he always came back to the bedroom to kiss me good-bye. At that time, we also reminded each other that we loved each other.



One morning I heard the garage open, followed by the car pulling out and the door closing. My first thought was: I didn’t get my good-bye kiss.



About ten minutes later, the phone rang. “I just realized I never went back upstairs to kiss you good-bye.” We laughed because we and both felt something was missing in our day.



I later found out Larry’s request that we say the words before going to sleep was unusual because, although we never had a doubt that his parents adored each other, his mother once told me that his dad never said the words. Instead, she always said, “I love you, Murl.” His response was, “Me, too.” I even wrote this into my novella, “Finding Love in Paradise,” in our romance anthology, Directions of Love.



Although Larry’s father, whom I always called ‘Dad,’ didn’t seem comfortable using the words, I always kissed him and told him I loved him every time we parted. A couple of years after Larry’s mother died, he left me a voice message, which ended, “I love you, honey.” I cried when I heard it and kept the message on my machine for a year.



From that point on, he grew more comfortable saying the words to me and my sister-in-love. And his very last words to me before he died, after I kissed him and said, “I love you, Dad,” were, “I love you, too.” What a special gift.



Years ago, our young friend, John Osborne, died. Although he had many friends who cared about him, I was never sure he actually knew it. At his memorial service, many people expressed their affection for him, and I felt sad to think that perhaps he had never heard the words during his lifetime.



I don’t want my friends and family to wonder about how I felt about them. When I say, “I love you,” I mean it. And I try to say it often.