What is the Story Within?

Oakland University Campus

I spent the day Saturday at the Eighth Annual Rochester Writers’ Conference at Oakland University. It’s one of the best one-day conferences going, and a tribute to its organizer, Michael Dwyer.

I find Michael’s conference a veritable treasure chest, and have attended every fall session since its inception. I’ve never failed to come away without some new, useful information.

Rochester Writers The theme this year was “The Story Within” and it featured Michigan authors, speakers & educators discussing fiction, non-fiction and business topics, through lectures, workshops and panel discussions.

The keynote address by best-selling author Bonnie Jo Campbell, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, who was also a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award (as well as being awarded a Pushcart Prize) was fun and informative … and worth the day, all by itself.

Speaking skills, poetry, history, author branding, children’s books, flash fiction and writing productivity were all session topics. There was also a publishing panel moderated by Lisa Howard that answered questions relating to publishing today.

There were also two small-group agent pitch sessions with literary agent Alice Speilburg. I attended one and found it very informative (although I don’t think I convinced her to represent my books).

I attend this conference every year trying to find ways to market my work. Some folks wonder why, and I’m not ashamed to tell them.

I spent 40 years in advertising, public relations and marketing, but in the past four years I’ve found trying to market my books … particularly on a short (read almost non-existent) budget … one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

The funny thing is, today’s writers have never had a more global reach. Of course, the potential of a global readership only matters if an author knows how to access it.

To Answer Who, You Need What
To get the most out of your marketing efforts, you want to attract a specific type of reader … the one suited to your book. This means you need to know who they are and where they hang out.

When it comes to understanding which readers are most likely to enjoy your book, you first need to look at what makes your book special. This means you must answer the crucial question: What makes your novel stand out from all others like it?

Authors tend to suffer book blindness when it comes to their own work. I know I’m guilty-of-it-as-charged.

It can be difficult to see what sets your novel apart. I keep going to conferences hoping someone has a real clue.

Here are a few ideas on what form this unique element might take:

    ~ A theme or cause that commands attention: bullying or family dysfunction (see Reichold Street)

    ~ Life during the Vietnam conflict and its PTSD effect among war veterans (see One Way Street)

    ~ Intriguing character talents or skills: even terrible, illegal ones, like drug use or murder (see Street Light)

The Next Question Is Where
Once you know the types of people suited to your book, you need to figure out how to find them and which people are influential with this particular audience (bloggers, other authors and organizations).

Also, find books like yours and investigate how they connect with their audience. Chances are their readers are a good fit for your novel. If you need help finding those books, try Yasiv, which provides an image web of books Amazon users typically buy together.

If your book is quite new and doesn’t have a lot of connections yet, find one like it and use that title as the reference point.

When looking for an audience, try also thinking beyond books. Whatever your standout element (like the Vietnam-era in my Reichold Street series), brainstorm what other businesses, artists, and organizations do to cater to this interest group.

Cross-promotion can open up new audiences. Try running an advanced search on The Twitter to show people, hashtags and groups that are actively talking about it.

Now Comes the Hard Part
Once you find potential audiences and influencers, you have to do something to reach them. And to be honest, this is the part where 80 percent of authors drop the ball.

The reason is simple: connection takes time.

As we all know from the barrage of “buy my book!” promotions online, the direct sell doesn’t work. It’s white noise; we see so much of it in our Twitter and Book of Face feeds, we just skip past it.

And yet authors still do this kind of promotion day-in-and-day-out because they’re looking for a shortcut solution to sales.

All they’re really doing is wasting time … time that could be put into building a community.

Connection is Simple
Find like-minded people and start conversations. Ask questions. Comment, add value, entertain, discuss your common interest, share relevant links and be authentic. It’s the main reason I write this blog (not to hear myself talk, as my bride sometimes suggests).

Choose the social media platforms (like Goodreads), blogs, forums, and other communities where your audience hangs out … and make your conversations about them, not you.

In other words, don’t treat them like your meal ticket. Get to know them. Show you care. Add to the community. Then, when a natural opportunity arises, share that you are an author, and when it sparks an interest, share your book.

With Influencers, Give First
Leave comments and start conversations on social media that show you are interested in helping them grow. Usually reciprocation happens naturally. Brad Meltzer has mentioned my books in a Twitter post, because I praised his in several of mine.

It really is that simple … and hard. It takes time, and you have to be genuine. But ask anyone who is successful and she will tell you building a community that cares and invests in one another far outweighs other tactics.

Be yourself, enjoy the people you get to know, and trust the rest will follow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try some of the ideas I gathered at the conference Saturday … right after I tell Michael again what a good day it was.


Click on the red-arrow link below to hear my recent podcast answering your questions about indie writing (duration approx 15 minutes):


My books have all garnered some terrific reviews. You can see the stories I have available by using the Amazon link below.

buy now amazon

You’re invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or like my Book of Face page. You can also follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

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4 Responses to “What is the Story Within?”

  1. T. W. Dittmer Says:

    Great job, Ron. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cindy La Ferle Says:

    Great post — and sorry I missed the conference this year. It’s always first class. You made some excellent points here about marketing books. I find the whole thing very daunting, not to mention exhausting. Writing the book isn’t isn’t as difficult — these days — as marketing the finished product and branding yourself as an author. It’s a full-time job!

    Liked by 2 people

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