The daughter of an English teacher in Miami, Florida, Karen Hodges Miller, publisher and CEO of Open Door Publications, recalls two highlights of her childhood: “The big events in our lives were when we were old enough to get our own library cards. When I was eight and read Louisa May Alcott, I decided I would be a writer.”
Miller offers a Winter Writers’ Weekend, “Break the Bookstore Barrier,” that will show authors how to get their books into readers’ hands, from Friday, February 28, at 7 p.m. at the Artists’ Gallery, 18 Bridge Street, Lambertville, through Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2, at Lambertville House, also at 18 Bridge Street. Featured speakers include Miller, Amy Collins of New Shelves book distribution services, Rhenda Fearrington of Barnes and Noble, and Eric Maywar of Classic Books in Trenton. Cost: $275. To register, go to www.opendoorpublications.com/winter-writers-weekend. Call 609-540-0518 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
With 2 million books published yearly, Miller says, “the book is alive and well, and people are reading. Bookstores may have problems but books are doing great.” In her years as a publisher and book author, she has learned a thing or two about authors and book marketing:
Consider the purpose of your book and work hard on marketing it. Because there are so many variables, books vary greatly in terms of sales. “It depends a lot on the authors, their goals and desires for their books, and how hard they want to work,” Miller says.
Miller’s own authors exemplify this variety. One, a sales consultant, doesn’t care how many books he sells. What is important for him is giving books to potential clients. “If he walks into a client meeting and hands them his book, he is more likely to get the job and get paid more for it,” Miller says.
Jodi O’Donnell-Ames of Titusville lost her first husband to ALS and then wrote a children’s book, “The Stars That Shine,” to help children deal with parents who have disabilities. She knows her market is small, but she has used her contacts in the ALS world to parlay sales. The book has been translated into Chinese and is going to be made into a micro movie in Taiwan.
Kevin Kita, a New Jersey chiropractor with an office in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, wrote “Healing Journey,” about the connection between people’s emotions and their health. Kita has worked hard to get his book reviewed, and has gotten testimonials from authors, doctors, and, yes, Hillary Rodham Clinton. “His plan is to sell a million books,” Miller says, and his game plan is to do five things every day to promote his book.
Leon Bass, a soldier in the African American corps of the Army during World War II and a liberator of the Buchenwald concentration camp, wrote his memoir, “Good Enough: One Man’s Story on the Price of the Dream,” five years ago at age 84 and is now doing talks and participating in panels to help market it. He has sold several thousand copies, and some school groups he speaks to order a couple hundred copies to hand out.
Miller emphasizes that authors must stay active to get noticed by readers. “Authors believe in the myth that they will have a publisher who will do it all for them,” Miller says. “If you’re a writer, you have to be a marketer; you have to be willing to put yourself out there.”
Use the Internet and social media. The Internet has made marketing less expensive, but Miller advises authors to pick two or three social media venues and do them well.
One obvious approach is to have a blog. For business books, writers should not be directly promoting their work, but instead providing useful information and tips related to the book or links to related articles in the Wall Street Journal or Huffington Post.
Although this may work better for nonfiction, L. E. Rose, author of the novel “Mirage or Truth,” tweets and blogs women’s issues, which are a theme of her book.
Get people to read and review books by giving them away. “What authors hate to do is give away a book,” Miller says, who adds, “The statistics say for every book you give away you sell 10.” She advises giving away e-books, which, once formatted, don’t cost anything.
Amazon reviews are important, Miller says, who advises authors to look for the book reviewers who are influential in their genre. Dr. Kita, for example, tries to get reviews from other doctors and chiropractors. Getting reviews on Goodreads, which calls itself “a site for readers and book recommendations,” is also useful.
Maintain quality if self-publishing. “This is the age of self-publishing, but there is a difference between self-publishing and do-it-yourself publishing,” Miller says. Authors will read their book three times and assume it is edited, create their own cover or use a template, and not hire a proofreader, Miller says, who adds, “Then they wonder why it did not become a New York Times best seller.” Instead, she advises, authors need to look at their books as a business and look at the costs of publishing and promoting it as an investment.
Miller, who wrote short stories as a child and majored in journalism and speech communications at Duquesne, got her first job in 1978 with a daily newspaper in western Pennsylvania, the “Butler Eagle,” as assistant women’s editor. “It is the lowest of the low jobs, lower than the sports editor,” she recalls, noting that she made less money than a male with the same title.
Miller’s next beat was crime, where her daily travels took her to the local jail and the police and fire stations. But after winning a statewide award for an article on the trial of a man who killed his baby, she says she knew she wouldn’t make it as a hardened crime reporter. “Something terrible must have happened to someone else for you to get major recognition.”
After marrying her husband, who does production troubleshooting for Bristol Myers-Squibb, Miller moved to Evansville, Indiana, where she worked for the Catholic diocesan newspaper. After three years, her son was born, and she says, “I quit, knowing my goal was to never have another boss.”
She became a freelance writer and then owned a small women and children’s magazine, “Tristate Child.” Freely distributed and supporting itself through advertising, the paper, Miller says, “was more of a public success than a financial success.”
After her husband’s job took the family to Puerto Rico and eventually to their present home in Lawrenceville in 1998, Miller did some freelancing for U.S.1, and after several years decided it was time to go back into business. The idea came through her reporter contacts. “Every journalist I’ve every met has had books in the drawer that they haven’t finished,” she says. And sure enough, friends started to ask Miller to edit their books.
At the same time, she was watching the changes on the Internet, with phenomena like Amazon, and one of her editing clients told her she wanted to self-publish. “I did all the research to help her,” Miller says. “At the end of the process she decided she wanted to divorce, and I decided to open a business. She never published a book, and I have a business.”
By about 2004, Miller transitioned totally to her new identity as head honcho of Open Door Publications. She published her first book in 2005, “Purpose Takes Guts,” by business coach Bob Garvey, and by now she has done more than 30 books, including three of her own.
Miller started her business and organized this workshop because she kept seeing really great books not getting published. “I feel like we’re going back to the roots of publishing, before the ‘20s when big publishers came into being,” she says.