Interview with Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Interview by Carol Smallwood

I’ll begin with your award winning The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t. What led you to develop it?

Mistakes. I made so many promotion mistakes with my first book, the award-winning novel This Is the Place! Even with a background in publicity, marketing, and journalism. Not least of which were these two nearly universally false assumptions:
1. Your publisher will assign you a publicist and all your book’s promotion will be taken care of.
2. Once an author realizes that she must take her book’s promotion in hand, a publicist is essential and one book publicist is about as good as the other.

Naturally, Carol, I had to share my experiences. I guess I’ve got that sharing streak that most teachers have in my blood. Oh, then there was that little thing: I wanted to share all my booboos and lessons with other authors so I applied to do a class at UCLA and they accepted. And, yep, there I was with tons of marketing books—none of them that addressed the special needs of authors!

What is unique about you is your belief that authors should work together to promote their work. Tell us a little about your experience in helping and sharing your knowledge:

Awwww. It isn’t that unique. I studied publicity at USC (University of Southern California). It wasn’t my major,  but I had a fantastic professor, head of the publicity department there. He was a former president of a big airline. He taught us that one of the first rules of real publicity is that it shouldn’t be proprietary. My way of rewording that principle is, “the universe is so full of opportunity there is plenty to go around.” My other favorite is, “What one can do, two can do better.” Thus cross-promotion is one of the best ways to make one’s efforts do double duty. No. It’s a way to make one’s promotion efforts take quantum leaps. An example of how that works is a new blog I started. The New Book Review (www.thenewbookreview.blogspot.com) is something that takes me only minutes when I post a new review. Anyone can submit one. Reader. Author. Reviewer. After they’ve submitted and I post, they let their contacts know about it and that benefits them, me, and also all of the other authors who have ever participated on the blog. Submission guidelines are in a tab at the top of the home page and in the left column lest anyone should miss them. Following them exactly allows me to keep doing it free.

What would you say is the unique selling point of your book compared to similar ones that are on the market?

It’s fun to read. And everything in it is based on my own personal, practical experience. Not pie-in-the-sky marketing principles. It also addresses the fears that many of us have about anything to do with marketing.

I know you have written other books, too. Can you tell me a bit about them?

Well, the next one after The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t is The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditor) Together they comprise the HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers. There will be more to come.

This Frugal book is also based on practical experience. One of the classes I taught at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program was on independent editing. Between that and the query and cover letters and media releases that I get across my desk (I also consult) I kept seeing the same errors over and over again. It feels as if little gremlins were picking at the possibilities of these author’s success. They often weren’t big things, nothing a high school teacher would pick on. But they were instant tipoffs that these authors weren’t yet professional or hadn’t done their homework. That’s a big disadvantage when these gatekeepers—people like editors, producers, contest judges, publishers, agents—have many hundreds such documents move across their desk every week. They may toss something that is very promising based on a bad mood coupled with an inane comment like, “I always wanted to write.” Think! One has one page (maybe even only the first paragraph of that one page!) to convince a gatekeeper to keep reading. I bet 90% of new authors use that writing line, and usually in the first sentence. And it doesn’t really say much. So The Frugal Editor takes a writer through anything from first contact with a gatekeeper through final manuscript. Mind you, I don’t encourage a writer to edit his or her manuscript on their own. I do know that the more a writer knows about editing, the better partner she or he will be for any editor, any publisher.

How long you’ve been writing and what made you get into the literary field?

I started my journalism career in high school. All the cutest, smartest, most talented boys were on the newspaper staff. I finally wrote the novel I’d always wanted to write when I got cancer and realized that if we keep putting off our heart’s desire, we may never get a chance to do what we consider most important.. Writing is a healer. I’ve been cancer free since I started writing my novel—twenty-five years ago.

Who are the people most instrumental in your growth as a writer?

If I started naming names I might forget someone. Let’s just say that creative writing is nothing like journalism, copywriting, or other kinds of writing I had done. Without UCLA’s Writers’ Program (http://www.uclaextension.edu/), I may never have gotten that first novel published. Of course, I taught there after I took those classes and published. It felt as if I was passing along the love.

From your experience, what key ingredients do new writers need to succeed in the book industry?

Curiosity and a lack of pride. The false kind of pride. We’ll never become great writers unless we have open minds and an awareness that we don’t know everything.

Do you have a website where readers may learn more about your work?

At http://www.howtodoitfrugally.com there is a page for each of my books including my creative nonfiction, my poetry, my novel and more.  But there are also lots of pages of information. Resources for writers and readers, a free article page, etc.

Are you working on new material?

I am always working on poetry. I am very proud of my most recent poetry book, Imperfect Echoes. Writer’s Digest gave it an honorable mention.

Do you have any appearances planned?

What are some resources for writers that you would recommend?

They aren’t my own, but I do a “Back to Literature” column for MyShelf.com and love to recommend the entire site for both readers and writers. I also contribute to WritersontheMove.com blog.
A book I always recommend to my consulting/editing clients is Tom Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue.

About the interviewer: Carol Smallwood is a literary reader, judge, and interviewer. Her recent book is Patterns: Moments in Time (Word Poetry, 2019).

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