Author, know your reader

I’ve been reading a bit about the importance of knowing my target audience. Naturally, I want the whole world to read and love my books, but that’s simply not practical.

Although I’m sure anyone who reads my work will become a fan for life, I can’t afford to make the whole planet aware of what I have published. My promotional budget is limited, so it only makes sense to use my resources to target the people who are most likely to appreciate what I write. Who, then, is my target reader?

I write contemporary mystery/thrillers featuring mature women with a Christian worldview. Fans of lusty historical romances will probably not be satisfied with my books. Being a woman of a certain age, I tend to write for women with a common cultural and generational frame of reference. Also, while I do not dabble in the paranormal in my writing,  I am convinced my readers and I have at least two supernatural experiences in common.

The first of these paranormal incidents happened on my fiftieth birthday when I became invisible. I was shocked and dismayed, initially, but eventually learned to take advantage of my ability to blend into the background to surprise those who underestimated me.

The second other-worldly phenomenon came to my attention gradually. Someone would snap a photo of me, alone or in a group, but when I looked at the picture I noticed someone had stepped in front of me just as the shutter clicked. No one else seemed to have noticed, but the woman in the photo was obviously years older and at least a few pounds heavier than I, although she was spry enough to jump in and out of the focus in the blink of an eye. Recently, this phantasm has taken to stalking me and jumping in front of me when I look in a mirror, too. I don’t think this wraith is dangerous, simply annoying.

Talking with some of my contemporaries, I’ve discovered they have these phantoms of their own, so I’ve come to believe most of my target audience share these experiences, even though they are reluctant to speak of it.

I still haven’t figured out how to use this knowledge in my promotions, but when I do, the top of the best-seller list will be all mine.

Face-to-Face with Readers

Last weekend I was privileged to have been invited to speak at a Christian women’s retreat in beautiful Montana. The organizers encouraged me to bring some of my books to sell and sign during the weekend.  I was a little insecure about shipping the cartons of books because I was afraid I would have to bring them all back home with me. I’m still not too confident when it comes to promoting and selling my work.

Well, I’m happy to say I did sell most of the books I took with me (phew!), but even if I hadn’t sold a single one, the blessings of being with those women and their encouraging words about my speaking and writing were priceless.

If you get a chance to meet with your readers, please don’t let your insecurities or fears of “tooting your own horn” hold you back. I’ll be feeling the glow of warmth and inspiration from last weekend for days and weeks to come.

Nonfiction

I currently have one weekly Christian devotional guide published and am working on a daily version. These are written under my full name, Jonna Hawker Turek, and are taken mostly from my weekly inspirational blog, Power Walking with Jonna, on WordPress.

devotional guideWriting and promoting nonfiction is completely different from producing my novels. In the novels I can try on and discard one persona after another, but nonfiction calls for authenticity and transparency. With one genre I exercise my imagination and with the other my character.

Publishing anything makes a writer vulnerable, but I am learning to take the critical reviews of my fiction without flinching; looking for the helpful within the hurtful. I haven’t promoted my devotional guide since publishing it a few months ago and I haven’t received any reviews, yet, but I’m afraid I will be completely defenseless when the unflattering ones inevitably do arrive.

This writing game isn’t for sissies.

Reader Reviews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Since setting the digital edition of Hollow, the first book in my first series, as free, it has had a gratifying number of daily downloads. I’ve noticed during previous free promos of my books that readers tend to be harsher critics of books they’ve downloaded for free. This phenomenon was brought to mind this week when the first freebie reviews of Hollow were posted on Amazon.

I think my fellow writers will agree that receiving a negative review of their work is as painful to us as it is for a mother to be told she has an ugly baby. So, why do we continue to offer our precious creations up to the two-edged sword of public opinion?

I remember the elation I felt upon reading my first good review from a stranger. What validation! What joy! …and what a let-down when the first critical comments were posted.

Some writers avoid this emotional roller coaster by refusing to read their reviews. They only want to know how many reviews and how many stars. Others, like me, cannot resist the temptation to read every new word, in the hope of once again experiencing the affirmation of a rave review.

With Hollow I was lucky to receive only good reviews in the early days after publication. I was well into my second book before the first negative review arrived. That reader complained because I had not listed the book as a Christian Mystery. She felt I’d tricked her into reading it by calling it a Mystery/Thriller. Shortly after that, a reader took the book to task for “too much religious content,” although the book description clearly states the lead character is a pastor’s wife. Taking these comments to heart, and following marketing advice to narrow my metadata to improve my sales rank, I changed the category for my books to Christian Suspense.

In the years since Hollow was published, I’ve received numbers of good reviews from Christians, pastors’ wives and others, appreciating the book’s portrayal of a flesh and blood, flawed, though sincere, Christian woman.

The first negative comment in the latest batch of reviews complained about aspects of the plot which weren’t actually in the plot…that’s the sort of critique I consider a “bad” review. There’s nothing helpful when the comments seem to be about a different book. I was surprised later in the week by this terse one-star review: “Trash. NOT a Christian book.”

That grim denouncement was followed this morning with five stars from an obviously discerning and thoroughly admirable reader, “Loved this book— kept me in suspense the whole time, I could not put it down!!! I bought the rest of the series, can’t wait to read them!”

Go figure.

The Indie Author Experience

What a ride! Since publishing my first fiction in 2012 as a complete novice thrilling to receive my first good review, through the ups and downs of sales stats and learning all I can about this new second career, I’ve felt extreme highs and sinking lows. Through it all I’ve learned the value of patience and pacing.

With six published works and two awards, I’ve come to recognize that this process takes time to perfect. I’ve begun to let go of the dreams of overnight glory and accept my missteps and failures as tuition in the learning process.

One thing I’ve learned is that in order to reach readers I need a sizable email list of fans willing to receive updates of new releases, promotions and special offers. This will include my regular monthly newsletter and infrequent (I promise not to spam you!) special communications.

If you would like to be added to my email listing, please send an email to me at: j.b.hawker2012@gmail.com. I will gratefully add you to my list and send you a couple of chapters of my current work in progress as a thanks for giving me a push on the ride.

Whee!

BUNNY ELDER SERIES COVERS REDESIGNED

4 NEW COVERS SNIP

An independent author, especially one just starting out, must become a Jack, or Jill of all trades, writer, promoter, and designer. To that end, I have been learning to use the free image manipulation software products Gimp and Paint.net. The results are above.

I haven’t become an expert, by any means, but I was able to give my Bunny Elder Series covers a more cohesive look, and that’s a start.

I tried to find an affordable cover designer, but most wanted me to select the images and do the creative designing for them to manipulate into cover images, when what I really wanted was someone to design and produce the covers. One day I hope to be able to pay the costs of truly professional cover design, because I know how important that is, but for now, I’ve managed to get one step closer.

Creating a Blog Book

I decided to create a book from the past six years of  posts on my weekly inspirational blog  “Power Walking with Jonna.” (Thanks, Nonnie Jules for the idea!)

Going back to categorize and evaluate this many posts is daunting.

I’m creating one book of daily devotions for women and one of weekly readings for leaders in women’s ministry. I managed to get the posts separated and then began evaluating, rewriting and winnowing the book of weekly readings first (taking the smallest bite from the elephant before tacking the main carcass).

The process has been enlightening, revealing and humiliating, in about equal parts. There’s nothing like reading through years of posts to uncover a writer’s bad habits.

I’m re-writing to remove the most egregious lapses, so hopefully the finished book won’t lay my writing faults quite so bare to the readers.

I think this exercise will probably improve my fiction writing, too, so my current chagrin will be a small price to pay for becoming an improved novelist.