Category Archives: Marketing

Phood for thought

My agent sent me information on a new social marketing site called Pheed. At first I thought it was a new online grocery store where I could order phood.

It’s not.

Pheed is a “free social multimedia platform that enables users to create, inspire and share text, photos, videos, audio tracks, voice-notes and live broadcasts.” You can find it here.

I promise: This isn’t a cutesy post about silly-old-person me and how I just don’t get the kids these days!!!

I get it. I do. Facebook has been taken over by users’ parents and grandparents and great grandparents. Young Facebookers want something newer, faster, cooler. I guess Pheed is newer, faster, cooler.

And frankly, it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard to move to something new when you’ve got something familiar, something you like. Could I get my Facebook friends to add Pheed to their daily Internet time? Doubtful.

I learn about new sites long after they’ve launched. I’m generally puzzled and a little annoyed, but I could master them if I wanted. By the time I do, everyone has moved onto something else. I finally got moon boots a few years ago and guess what? Nobody wears them anymore.

My friend and writer Rachael Hanel is the go-to tech source for our writing group. Long ago, she told us she was going to build a Tumblr presence. She described it as “Facebook meets Twitter.” I couldn’t stop entertaining myself with an imagined introduction.

Facebook: Hello Twitter, I’m Facebook.

Twitter: Yeah, I’ve heard of you. I’m the new kid in town.

Facebook: We need to talk. Together we could raise $10 billion dollars through an initial stock offering without having any revenue whatsoever. Or we could just make Tumblr.

Twitter: Cool. Send me a message on Pheed.

After Rachael’s tutorial, I felt like a techie. I told my stepdaughter about this Tumblr thing, ridiculously thinking I might possibly inform her of new technology.

She said, I’ve been posting on Tumblr for a year. Want a link?

A year. She’d not only heard about Tumblr, but she’d been posting for a year. That’s faster than Rachael.

I could do Tumblr, but do I want to?

I have a dumb phone. I could have a smart phone but why? I’m home with a laptop all day, and I hang out with people who have smart phones. I get instant access to GPS and flixster and they pay the data charges. (Thanks, guys!)

I can text – and I do, occasionally – but I don’t like it. I can Tweet – and I do, occasionally, but I don’t like it.

Someday I’ll be a Tumbler and a Pheeder and an Instagramer. Maybe I’ll Tweet effortlessly. But it’ll be on my timeline.

See, age gives me some rights, and one of those rights is staying in technology’s version of a rocking chair. I like it here.



Marketing and things we hate

My friend is a freelance writer. She doesn’t have a novel to promote, but she must sell herself as the go-to writer-for-hire. I asked her about that awhile ago: How do you cold call people? How do you pester people you haven’t heard from in awhile? What if someone doesn’t like your article/brochure/newsletter?  How do you ask someone you don’t know well to have coffee and talk shop?

She said, a colleague of mine gave me a great piece advice about networking and marketing. You have to do something every single day that makes you want to throw up.

So, aspiring writers, get yourself a bottle of Tums.

“She said,” said he

I forget her name.

She was a college classmate returning from an internship where she learned “hands-on” media relations at a real PR shop, some place in Wisconsin where the news never stopped and jaded journalists had to be “worked.” Oshkosh. Or maybe Ashwaubenon.

She was back from the city, back in the student newsroom and ready to share everything she learned from people with an eye for good writing. Not stuff we’d heard from professors, God no, but from the people who cut their teeth every day on the bones of news-hungry journalists. The real-world public relations team plus one, the star intern.

She tossed her hair and delivered the first lesson: We students need to learn about the word said, as in its placement.

She critiqued reporting from The Pioneer Press. “Really, people,” she snorted, “quotes need to end the same way. It’s Director John Smith said, not said Director John Smith! Really, people, you should hear how we laughed at that kind of thing in the office.”

We. She counted herself among a professional we. And she tossed her hair again, which she probably learned from her hands-on PR experience because our professors did not teach hair tossing.

I was a pure journalism student, and the purists considered public relations the Dark Side of the Force. And I would never go to the Dark Side, even if reporters didn’t place said correctly, even if Darth Vader was my father or a cousin twice removed.

A year later, I got a hands-on job at a hands-on newspaper, tossed into that group of people who sometimes misplaced the word said. I wondered if the hair-tossers at the PR office laughed at us my co-workers.

Soon, perhaps my first day, I discovered the difference between PR gurus and PR hair tossers. How? Because we got hair-tosser press releases, with appropriately placed saids, once or twice or thirty times a day:

Dear Food Science Reporter,

How sweet is this news?! Chemical Food Solutions Inc.™ is unveiling a tasty new chocolate additive for the nation’s chocoholics! Thanks to Chemical Food Solutions Inc.,™ your readers will drink up  the drinkable form of our better-than-chocolate chocolate while they read you’re (sic) newspaper. After all, chocolate is a favorite food group!

“The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” Chemical Food Solutions Inc.’s Interim Associate Director of External Marketing and Communications John Smith said.

And that was followed by a couple pages of blah blah blah.

Here’s what would really happen when a press release like that arrived: The Food Science Reporter aka obit writer would pass it around the newsroom so everyone could share a nice morning laugh.

But let’s pretend. Let’s say the hair-tosser kind of press release actually got ink in my newspaper. (It couldn’t actually get ink in my newspaper, but try really, really hard to pretend.)

So, grumpy, hung-over Frank “Frankie-Prankie” “Frankfarter” “Frankenstink” Jones gets the release on his desk and uses it to wipe up a coffee spill.

Meanwhile, the news editor zigzags through the newsroom pleading for copy. “We’ve got a Texas-sized news hole, and what do I have for tomorrow? Jed’s story on corn prices being the same as yesterday. Eric’s column on the color of the new stage curtain at the high school. And a feature piece already headlined: ‘Gingerbread: When Does it Expire?’ Hmm. Nobody seems to be claiming a byline for that.”

Crime guy Robb says, “I got nothin’. Nobody is robbing nothin’ these days.”

Frank waves the press release. “If you promote me to Food Services Reporter, I can get you 20 inches on a new chocolate additive.”

“Absolutely,” the news editor says. “You’ll still be whatever it says on your business card, and you’ll probably take a pay cut, but definitely cough up 25 inches on that chocolate story, plus three photos. By the way, Shelley called in sick so you’ll also be covering tonight’s special assessment hearing for the city’s inflow and infiltration task force.”

Poor Frankfarter.

He didn’t have a PR internship, but he did get a journalism degree. In this forced exercise, here’s two options he would have considered for that quote.

1. “The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” a spokesperson said in a prepared statement.


2. Chemical Food Solutions, Inc., released a statement touting its new product. “The additive has real potential to tickle tastebuds across the country,” said John Smith, a spokesperson for the company.

That’s an A+, Frankie Prankie

So why the long story today? Because last night I had a dream about the hair-tosser. I remembered (or made up) every detail. Her hair, her big teeth and big ego, and the way she laughed at the Pioneer Press from our tiny student newsroom.

This rambling post should make a point that there are no absolutes in writing, I say.

And it should be much, much shorter, say I.

But mostly, it’s driving me crazy that I can’t remember her name.


My friend Rachael Hanel has her own YouTube channel. You can link to it from her blog. She’s the author of We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, a memoir about growing up as a grave digger’s daughter.

In the future I expect her to write another memoir, I’ll Be the Last One to Let You Down When it  Comes to Clever Uses of Social Media.

Kudos, Rachael.

First, a writer. Now, a budding YouTube star.

First, a writer. Now, a budding YouTube star.

An earnest conversation

Another Hemingway mug for another Hemingway post.

Another Hemingway mug for another Hemingway post.

My friend Mary read my recent Hemingway post and insisted suggested I pick a different bio to read. She said, everyone knows Hemingway’s an asshole! Then she said something about his undue influence. (That’s why I’m not using her last name. I’m afraid the literati might throw books at her.)

Before our conversation, I’d been reading about Hemingway’s lost manuscripts and was feeling kind of sorry for the guy. (If you don’t know the legend, Hemingway’s wife took his early manuscripts – the only copies – with her on a train. She was meeting him somewhere in Europe, and by the time the train arrived, her bags, and his work, had been stolen.)

I don’t think this story would have moved Mary.

We ordered dinner, and then Mary rattled off a quick list of great memoirs. Patti Smith. Neil Young. Bob Dylan. Hillary Clinton.

I wondered what was most important for me as a writer. Studying how an acclaimed writer evolved during his life? Learning how a woman crashed through the glass ceiling in politics? Analyzing how artists moved our culture with their music, lyrics, politics, and challenges to the status quo?

If I could only read one of those books, it would be Patti Smith, and not just because she once worked at a bookstore. She was a game-changer. I’d argue Hemingway was a game-changer, too, but eventually somebody would have popularized simple language/sentences. Right?

You could write books about Patti’s influence (and people have).  I don’t mean to minimize her career, but I do have a novel to finish. So here’s my bottom line: Patti Smith had genuine defiance. She defied record companies, politicians, censors, and more. But for me, her most significant defiance was the way she extended her middle finger at music industry execs, who continue to support the standard that “rocker chicks” should be babes. The “babes” can become icons, but the path to icon status surely involves long curly tresses, red lipstick, and plunging necklines ready to rip and expose surgically enhanced double Ds.

For most performers, defiance is simply part of the marketing plan. I don’t think Patti ever had a marketing plan, and if a PR company wrote one for her, she probably ripped it up and extended her middle finger.

Here’s something Patti Smith told New York Magazine:

When I started performing a lot with Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl, we had goals: to infuse new life into performing poetry—merging poetry with electric guitar, three chords—and to reembrace rock and roll. It drew us together and kept us informed, whether through Bob Dylan or Neil Young or the Who. In the early seventies, rock and roll was monopolized by record companies, marketing strategies, stadium rock. Tom Verlaine and Television were for me the most inspiring: They were not glamorous, they were human.

I don’t think it’s possible to be the “Patti Smith of kid-lit.” But I wouldn’t mind a little more Patti in my DNA.

So there you have it, Mary. More Patti, less Ernest.

Some extra special Tougas books

Check out the left bottom of the shelf.

Check out the left bottom of the shelf.

We were in Edina’s Barnes and Noble, so I couldn’t scream, even a happy scream. So I jumped up and down and pointed. There was my book, Little Rock Girl, on a special display with other kids nonfiction. Okay, it was on the bottom row, but it was there. Face out, too.

This was a rare moment, because B & N rarely buys, let alone features, work-for-hire books from companies whose market is schools and libraries. (I repeated this tidbit multiple times to my almost-husband.)

Immediately, though a terrifying scene flashed in my mind.


Movie: Young Adult. Character: Mavis, played by Charlize Theron. Plot: Mavis is a drunk and soon-to-be ex-writer of a snarky girls series. Think Gossip Girls.

Scene: Mavis enters a bookstore and finds the last of the series on a clearance table. She refuses to believe it. She takes out a pen and starts signing the books. The teen clerk tries to stop her, tells her these books are going back to the publisher, the store hopes it’ll get some reimbursement because they don’t sell, and sales rep is telling stores this series is done.

“I’m the author!” Mavis shouts. “People want books signed by the author!”

The clerk wrestles the books away from her. “The publishing house won’t take them back if they’re marked!”

An angry and heartbroken Mavis leaves the store. (I think she steals a book or two.)


Back and B & N, I nervously told the clerk I’m the author. She’s gracious and wished me the best in my career.

Awww ... making my book more special.

Awww … making my book more special.

I expected “Please sign the book. People want books signed by the author.”

Since she didn’t ask, I offered — hesitantly and with a voice that said don’t worry about it; you’re probably too busy.

But she was excited. She took me to a table, handed me a pen, and shows me where to sign. I thought, it’s a Sharpie – she’s not going to erase it after I leave!

I signed the books and asked my fella to take photos.

Mavis had a point, because my clerk finally said, “People want books signed by the author.” She put stickers on the cover that say “autographed.” She added, “It makes the book extra special.”

Later, at lunch, I have to stare at the menu so I don’t make eye contact with the server. No need to shout, “I just autographed my book at Barnes and Noble and if we leave a really big tip, will you go buy it?”

Lit geek? Me? Absolutely.

Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?

Students yesterday field tripped to the Twins stadium and enjoyed America’s favorite pastime. They laughed, they cheered, they used sunscreen for the first time since September.

Since I’m not a sports fan, I spent my time people watching and stadium inspecting.

I guess this is where I’m supposed to complain about billionaire owners charging $4.50 for water or $6 for mini-donuts. The water situation is extortion, but you can’t put a price tag on mini-donuts.


Make it a perfect game, US Bank!

Or maybe I should point out how fans are held hostage by marketing and money. But everyone already knows corporate logos are stadium wallpaper; and that Ronald McDonald himself strolls past the U.S Bank Home Run Porch, waving at fans looking for the Budweiser Roof Deck.

Old news.

But, please, let’s consider one boundary. I hate to deliver a bloated patriotism lecture styled after Limbaugh or O’Reilly, because nobody owns patriotism, although corporations are bidding for it.

Yesterday’s pre-game tradition began with fans standing, taking off their hats, and singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” This rendition was brought to you by Super America. Not as in, our great country, but the gas station.

The announcer actually said it. Today’s national anthem is brought to you by Super America. He didn’t even gag.

While a digital version of the U.S. flag spanned the lower screen, the Super America logo popped up next to it, so gallantly streaming.


Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

What’s left to sell?

I like writing dialogue, so I spent two innings imagining the chumps brainstorming a marketing plan for client Super America.

I’ve got it! We’ll sponsor the national anthem and mix company’s logo with the flag!

Umm … the American flag?

Hello, knucklehead! You think we’d mix the logo with the Venezuelan flag?

I’m just not sure about this, Jerry. Seems a little disrespectful.

It’s profound. Nothing’s more patriotic than baseball, the flag, the national anthem, and our client’s name. I can just hear it. America the Beautiful and client Super America. Because America is beautiful, and our gas station is super. Super America!

Umm … the national anthem is the Star Spangled Banner.

You sure?

I googled it.

Crap! It doesn’t even have the word America in the title. Can we get that changed?

And so we have a gas station writing a check for the anthem and the flag. Super America. America is super. Come buy our gas.

I’ll be filling up at Kwik Trip. They sell hot dogs, but not at the stadium.

Not yet.

Shelley’s technology manifesto … from a non-techie

Commenter Ewan had a great question about aspiring writers entering the tech world: how do you start? What options should you consider?

The truth? I still feel like an aspiring writer. I still feel like an aspiring techie. But I’m happy to share my experience and lessons learned. Other writers – aspiring or otherwise – may completely disagree. So find yourself a grain of salt. And let’s begin.

Web stuff

Until you’ve got a contract or some cash, use a free platform. WordPress is great because it works beautifully as a blended web site and blog. And it’s free unless you upgrade. Be careful about spending a lot of money on technology until you’re getting writing contracts or paychecks. Instead, I’d spend my money on conferences and classes and books. Keep all those receipts for tax time.

I tried GoDaddy, the company that takes care of my domain name, but I felt like a crop duster on the space shuttle. Hours of frustration. The company’s sites are wonderful, but trying to construct one made me want to toss my precious laptop through a window. I also have a private Google blog with my writing group, but overall, Google blogs have limited functionality.

I guess Tumblr is the latest web toy. It synthesizes the microblog, web site, macroblog; and it’s easy to use and follow. Check out my friend and author Rachael Hanel’s Tumblr site.

I wouldn’t do a full web site unless you’ve got creative endeavors to showcase.


If you’re trying to build an audience, a pre-book audience, blogging is a great way to go.

Content is everything. Fresh content. I’ve Googled subjects, clicked on blogs, and see the last post was 2012. I won’t be going back there. My goal for this site is blogging every weekday with weekends off. I consider blogging part of my writing job, so it’s actually more than a goal. It’s an assigned task.

That said, the first thing a potential blogger should do is open a Word document. Trying writing (mostly) meaningful posts three times a week for a month. Can you do it? Or do you feel dry after week three? If you can’t keep up the practice run, you probably will struggle to post fresh content. (Remember, if your practice posts are good, you’ve got 12 posts in the vault.)

Know you’re audience and write mostly for them. I narrowed my subjects, and I suspect my audience is primarily book industry people, including librarians, teachers, and other writers. I have wonderful friends who follow me. I hope adult readers will find this blog, too. Yours might be the life of an aspiring writer. Research other blogs and see what you like.

I’m not trying to attract teens and tweens. I don’t think they’re interested in reading about the writing life, unless they love to write. I do plan, however, to make parts of my blog interesting to tweens and teens – book trailers, for example.

Bloggers build their Google position, and therefore audience, with “search engine optimization.” Google that phrase because I haven’t figured it out.

See? My own dirty dishes!

See? My own dirty dishes!

The bigger tech world

You probably already have a Facebook page. You’ll need a separate author page on Facebook when you publish, plus a Twitter account. It’s pretty easy to connect subjects on all three.

I’ve neglected Twitter. I’ve spent blog space making fun of Twitter. I don’t completely understand it, but I’m back to my Twitter account and giving it a good try.

See? My own lamp!

See? My own lamp!

Take lots of photos and keep them in a separate folder. Pictures you think you’d never use, pictures of yourself, pictures of books. Tons of pictures. I’ve managed to use photos of my overflowing stack of dirty dishes and even my living room lamp. You need art on your blog, especially if your posts get long. Copyright on Internet photos is something you have to consider.

That’s my tech advice. If anyone has time to add to it, or disagree, please comment.

Starving writers. Mansion-buying writers. Who decides?

Before I continue with the second list of six, I want to share a link to author Maggie Stiefvate’s blog.

Maggie is the successful author of Shiver, Ballad, Lament and many others. (I hope I get a chance to meet Maggie someday.) Maggie is prolific, she’s brilliant, and she was “discovered” by a Minnesota publisher. That warms my Minnesota heart on a 20-degree spring day.

In a response to a writer’s question, Maggie delivered this bottom line: Publishing is run by readers.

I get her point, but I want to share some general disagreement.

I think publishing is run by editors going through a nail-biting process of figuring out what readers will want two years from now. For editors, it’s part guessing game, part experience, part marketing.

Functionally, there isn’t one big circle of readers. “Audience” is segments of different people. In data-driven marketing, companies have a process to engage consumers, collect responses, disaggregate the information, and use that data to make product decisions.

The other kind of marketing, the Don Draper model, is “Mad Men’s” ad team theorizing about what the product represents to a certain segment – and Don’s segments are very limited – and then throwing ads at them.

Publishers aren’t stupid. They understand modern marketing.

But the process of publishing is so slow – I’ve compared it to a snail crossing a pool of pancake syrup – the data loses its value. For example, Pepsi can spend millions on new messages and deliver new products quickly. They’re always developing new products, or twists on the old products, and keeping them at the ready. Because you never know.

They generate new data and experiment with new products based on data and then retest the product. Learning what people want is a circle. Don Draper is a line with some arrows.

Unlike Pepsi, publishers’ marketing budgets are relatively small. The budget goes to books they think – fingers crossed – have the best chance of being a hit. A handful of hits keeps the publishing business afloat. Most books never earn out their advances.

A publishing example: a company does a thorough marketing analysis of middle-grade boys. By the time they secure the “right” books, edit them and publish them, those boys are now teens with different interests. The new group of middle graders also might have entirely different interests.

Some things/events that change boys’ interests: (Remember, even middle-grade boys can be further segmented by income, reading levels, ethnicity, etc.)

  • New video games
  • New aps
  • A breakout television show
  • A novel goes viral
  • A book with a girl protagonist is megahit (Hunger Games), so they might dabble in a book or two with a girl protagonist
  • A megahit movie
  • New educational approaches in their classrooms
  • Teachers and librarians loving a new book and “hand selling” it to kids (awards and great reviews are motivators)
  • Sci-fi gets bumped by a new genre, like magic, thanks to books about wizard kids going to wizard school
  • A new, young celebrity hits the scene

So, what might have been a fabulous book to middle-grade boys in 2010 turns to mold in 2012.

I agree with Maggie generally. Readers want a good book. Writers, agents and editors are trying to deliver books readers want.

But bottom line, the decision-makers in publishing are often throwing darts at a big circle cut into lots of slices.

Good writers can starve. Bad writers can buy mansions.

Readers have a big role in deciding who starves and who buys mansions. But so do luck, timing, rapidly changing tastes, viral capacity, and the size of that year’s marketing budget.

The randomness makes me shiver. (Thanks, Maggie, for that awesome title.)

Jowls be gone!

Welcome to my blog’s rhytidectomy. (That’s the smart word for facelift.)

Even though this blog was very young, it suffered from the cosmetic equivalent of eyelid creases and fatty deposits below the chin. (That’s the smart phrase for double chin.) Or, you could say the font was hard to read, the orange-mesh background made readers queasy, and the overall look screamed clutter!

When I started thinking of my blog as my web face, I felt like I’d gone to my class reunion with spinach in my teeth and fatty deposits under my chin.

Time for a blog facelift.

I think the blog is now simple, clean and reader friendly. Why daisies in the background? My protagonist (The Graham Cracker Plot) is named Daisy. Isn’t that just precious?!

The new look isn’t my ideal blog-web site blend. I still need to work on the pages, and things I’d like to tweak are “untweakable.”  That’s the reality of a free service. If you want custom stuff, you need a designer.

Someday. But right now, no designer until I’ve got some fatty deposits in my bank account. Ba-dum-bum-CHING! (That’s the smart phrase for “drum sound made after a bad joke.”)