Before starting her own business, Karen Hodges Miller read many great books the public didn’t know existed. Not that she wanted to keep them a secret — the authors couldn’t get them published. Miller hated it when that happened, so she founded Open Door Publications in 2004 and began hosting writers’ workshop weekends in 2012.
“The Winter Writers’ Weekend is different from a lot of conferences because we focus on not just writing the book and publishing it, but also on marketing and selling it,” Miller says. “We want authors to write a great book and sell it to more than their friends and family.”
The 2017 annual writers’ weekend takes place Friday through Sunday, March 3 through 5, at the Logan Inn in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The $200 cost includes a Friday night reception and presentation, “Business Books: Taking It to the Next Level,” workshops, and networking on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 609-553-9800 or visit www.winterwritersweekend.com.
“I believe in authors helping authors, and the ones who are successful are usually very happy to talk to others and give them tips and ideas,” says Miller. Congruent with Miller’s philosophy, the workshops will be led by successful authors, distributors, publishers, and marketing professionals.
Topics will cover the how-to of becoming and staying a best-selling author on Amazon; social media for authors; author websites that drive traffic; e-book promotions; business books, a tool for growing your company; selling books beyond the bookstore; monetizing your book with a roadmap that fits your genre and personal style; and writing opening lines that draw readers in.
In a recent conversation, Miller shared what she has learned from her experience as a publisher and author of four nonfiction books and a novel, “The Patient Wolf.”
Your book is a product, Miller says. If your main reason for writing it is to make money from its sales, it is your main product. But you can also think of it as a marketing tool to establish yourself as an expert in your field and attract new customers. From a marketing perspective, you’re selling a book, and you’re also selling yourself. “One of your best business cards these days is a book,” Miller says. “Authors tell me that it gets them in the door and gets them more work.”
Your books should focus on your expertise, advises Miller, not on that of another person. You’re writing the book because you have something unique and useful to share, not that you know more than everyone else in the industry, but you know more than the reader.
Once your book is published, you need a marketing plan(which you should have been thinking about during the publishing process). Miller identifies four keys for successful promotion: Think of the long term, publish your book in both paperback and e-book formats, sell on Amazon, and understand how the company promotes its products.
If you have written a business book, you should plan on doing public presentations about your product or service. Having a paperback that you can either sell or give away at the event is a way to draw in new clients locally, and an e-book is a good way to reach people and places at a distance.
Miller finds that many new authors don’t think beyond short-term results. They publish the book and hype it to their clients, friends, and family, and for a couple of hours on a certain day, the book hits the Amazon best seller list. The author then puts a best seller sticker on the book but does nothing after that.
After a couple months, the book rank drops down to the thousands or millions. “This is where we love to hate Amazon,” Miller says. “It’s a catch 22. Amazon only promotes books that are selling well. But without being promoted, how is the book going to continue selling?”
An effective strategy is having a companion e-book and doing e-book promotions through companies like bookbub.com and e-reader.com. It increases your rankings and your sales, and causes Amazon to increase its promotion of your book.
“Everyone will tell you that Amazon is this big dog out there trying to take over the entire publishing market and decreasing the compensation authors receive for their work,” Miller says. “Yes, that is true, but it is still the best way for a new author to get out and find an audience. You have to work with Amazon, you have to really learn about how they work.”
“I’ve met a lot of authors who have told me: ‘If just one person reads my book, I’ll be happy.’ But I’m a more selfish than that,” Miller says. “I want people to not only read the book but to pay for it. And I want to work with authors who want a lot of people to read their book.”
From Miller’s view, there’s nothing wrong with writing a book that’s just for you, but if your goal is to change people and give them useful information, you need to value your book enough to get the word out.
Miller decided to become a writer in high school. She earned a journalism degree from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and began her career writing for a daily paper in Pennsylvania, the Butler Eagle. Throughout her career, she has worked as a columnist, editor, and writer, freelancing for several newspapers, including U.S. 1.
“If you’re a reporter, half the people you know have some kind of book in their bottom drawer that they’re going to publish someday,” Miller says. “I was doing editing work for a newspaper, and friends would ask me to edit their books. I would see them go through the process of writing this great book and sending it to agents and publishers but having it rejected.
“So, as I watched Amazon and social media and the whole book industry change, I started thinking, ‘I can help these people. I can help them get their books published’.” Today, through Open Door Publications, she’s doing just that.
Throughout her career, she has attended several writers’ workshops and eventually realized this was another way she could help aspiring authors. For years, the idea remained a future possibility until she shared her thoughts with friend and business associate Barbara Stange, founder of Simply Natural Living. “So, Barbara said, ‘OK. Let’s do it.’ And she pushed me for about two years until we actually did it.” This is Miller’s fifth year of hosting Winter Writers’ Weekend. “We’ve grown each year,” she says.
Miller, who lives in Yardley with her husband, Howard, and their two cats, says she loves her work because it involves creativity and entrepreneurship.
“I get to combine art and business. I enjoy that, and I want others to enjoy it too.”