Volume 4 | April 12, 2017
Welcome back authors!

Here's a recap of what we've done so far with  Conspired:

  • Why another newsletter? Intro to Conspired and its reasonings (Vol. 1).
  • Don't Break the Chain; the Power of Tangents; Better, Not Easier; and the Three Phases of Events (Vol. 2).  
  • Win to the X; Defensive Entrepreneurship; Media Responsiveness; and Cold, Hard Calls (Vol. 3).
If there's something you'd like addressed in a future issue, whether a general matter or something unique to your book, please drop me a line.

Sharon Woodhouse
Book publisher, publishing consultant, and small business coach
Everything Goes Media, Lake Claremont Press, and Conspire Creative

Spaghetti & Ships

Spaghetti . . . Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks!

Ships . . . Royalty sending massive, well-funded expeditions out onto the high seas or over vast desserts for years at a time. Sure, many ended in demise—expensive, failed ventures—but the few that succeeded: untold treasures, agricultural wonders, new trade routes, colonies.

Serious authors committed to ongoing book promotion know they need to try a range of things in their quest for greater visibility and increased sales. They also know that when they hit on what works they should do more of those things and eliminate the duds. They further know they should calibrate the things that work so that they’re maximizing their possibilities.

And they need to know about spaghetti and ships.

Many of your marketing efforts can be inexpensive, handy, easy, commonplace, white-flour ideas: maintaining social media accounts; offhanded media pitches (see vol. 3); miscellaneous local book events; always pressing family, friends, and readers to post their fulsome book reviews online. You understand this pasty category: Throw it all out in the world as your time, energy, and budget allow and see what sticks. Build a momentum on that stickiness without investing all that much.

But for the big payoffs and the big leagues, you’re also going to have to launch ships regularly. Not as often . . . it takes forethought and proper planning, an investment of creativity and energy, to send out a ship. It also takes guts and deep reserves of self-confidence, patience, and vision to cushion you against long lead times and inevitable failures. Shore up your kingdom and wait for your prizes to make their way back to you.

What are some real-life examples of ships?

Daniel P. Smith, author of On the Job (oral histories of police officers), becoming a paid speaker for citizen police academies around the country. Not a police officer himself, this was how Smith connected with others like him who weren’t in law enforcement but who were very interested in it.

Humorist, marketer, and author Bull Garlington hiring a chef and bartender and launching an underground dining club to indulge his culinary and entertainment interests, promote his speaking and comedic abilities, and sell his books.

Convincing the Chicago Film Critics Association that they needed our book, The Movies Are: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays, 1920–1928 (ed. Arnie Bernstein), in their awards ceremony swag bag the year the book was released.

Others: Writing a syndicated column, founding a Meetup group around your area of expertise, hatching a plan to get a top literary agent to rep your book, developing a costumed workshop for third to fifth graders to sell to schools in your district, making volume book sales to convention planners.


  • Brainstorm on paper, with an author buddy, or on a reflective walk: To what ends will you summon your boldness? To what ships will you devote a real investment in time, energy, and exquisite, thoughtful planning (because it’s worth it)?
  • Decide what makes sense for you: On what schedule will you launch new ships? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? It may depend on how mettled your plans. Perhaps put six months worth on your calendar, allowing a week for this one, two months for another, three weeks for yet another. Figure a realistic time and double it.
  • Pick the coolest idea and start on that ship this week.
Big Ideas 
Service Marketing

Yes, I can do that.

This is how I can help you.

I saw my dad say variations on these two things my whole life. Sometimes he helped as a favor, sometimes in exchange for favors, sometimes for whatever someone offered ($10, $50, a case of beer, salvaged building parts), and when he built up to it—real fees (his kids would type up invoices for him). Yeah, I can fix your car. Yes, I can get a crew of guys to paint your house, build you a new garage, lay cement for your patio, put a ramp on your deck, rewire your RV. Now at 80, he’s still a go-to guy for other seniors in his neighborhood. Yes, I can change your lightbulbs, haul those boxes out of your garage, stay with you when the dude comes to fix your furnace so you’re not alone with a stranger. As he transitioned from job-jobs to retirement, my dad was never without enough side work to keep him busy and earning money at the level he wanted. No marketing. 100% word-of-mouth and referrals.

It was only after my husband and I had each built up our own 100% word-of-mouth, referral businesses—he in automation software, me in all things books, publishing, and small business—that we recognized a pattern. It was the same intuitive, unintentional template my dad followed, and we have since been stumbling upon examples of expert, jack-of-all-trades types in many fields who employ their own version of it. 

Right now I'm calling it service marketing. Here's the basic formula:

  • Every time someone comes to you asking for something...whether overtly or couched in the form of a hedge or a vexing problem, think yes, say yes, and do yes.
  • Yes, I can help you with that.
  • This is how... (Be honest about what you can do and want to do. Sometimes you best accommodate another by directing them to a resource or other person who can also help them.)
  • Make the proposal: I can do x in y time for z compensation, and abc, is the process. De, and f are some variations you may also want to consider.
  • Leave it in their court to respond. No need to pester or fill up the space with extra words. If they agree with the plan, decide how to get it underway on the spot. If they don't, utter some variation of 1) thanks for considering it, 2) let me know if you change your mind, and 3) tell others.

Let's run through some author examples:

  • Random neighbor: I'm having trouble finding anything new for the wedding expo I organize.
  • Author of Dazzling Geology: Let me help at least a little bit (I can help). I actually give a talk on alternative gemstones, which is a hot topic for millennial brides (this is how). Proposal: My speaking fee in professional circles is $400, but I'm available Saturday or Sunday (time table) of that expo and am willing to do it for $200 if I can sell my book afterwards (fee). I can also do a meet and greet / booksigning at a jeweler's booth if there's not a speaker's budget (variation).
  • Board member, local historical society: We're having trouble filling our summer programming. It's hard to get people indoors that time of year, and our honorarium is pretty modest, just $100.
  • Author of Dazzling Geology: Maybe I can help you. I speak on a whole range of gemstone topics...I'd be happy to talk to your members about recent local discoveries. $100 works for me if I can also sell my book after the program. Have you ever thought of restaurant programs or out-in-the-field hikes? I've done those before and they tend to draw bigger crowds.
  • Silent auction inquirer: Hey! Do you think you can donate a couple copies of your book to our annual Midwestern Geologists Conference?
  • Author of Dazzling Geology: Sure! Any chance the organizers will offer a free pass for a donor (thinking ahead about your networking opportunities)? Actually, how many geologists attend the conference? I'd love to get a copy in each of their hands. Let me see if I can find a sponsor to purchase a copy for every participant.


  • Service marketing may be considered a version of Win to the X (see Vol. 3) that focuses on proposing  a service/solution that can be provided under a certain set of circumstances that is favorable to both sides.
  • Learn this tool in steps if jumping into proposing seems too daunting. For every author- or book-related email, phone call, or conversation that comes with a request or problem, start by practicing "yes," even if it's just an eternal yes. Yes, I can do something here.
  • Add in the "how," remembering that sometimes "yes" means sharing a quick bit of information, offering an idea, or providing a referral, quickly removing yourself from the picture.
  • Move on to proposals and stating fees and other perks you want for yourself as part of a deal as soon as you can. You're not just serving in service marketing, you are also marketing, building the things you want for your book.
Coaching Tools / Stores / Media


“Be curious, not judgmental.”
—Walt Whitman

Curiosity serves a dual role in coaching (read more about coaching tools in Vol. 5, coming next week). First, in its unassuming posture, it’s an effective stance from which to explore the unknown. Second, curiosity provides a template for how to be with others—authentic, interested, and present rather than judgmental. A coach, from curiosity, asks open-ended questions of a client not to interrogate, correct, or analyze, but to provoke a client’s own wisdom and discovery.

Where am I going with this? When publishing and authorhood is hard and not going our way, when we get rejected, feel dejected, are deep in time- or financial debt, it is sooo easy to judge the industry, berate reviewers, curse bookstore owners, and then turn the critical attitude on ourselves. Curiosity, detached and genuinely interested, is a great neutralizer when all is clouded by harshness.

Curiosity is also a preventative, a preemptive guard against descending into negative judgments. Use its generous attitude on yourself and with others, appreciating that there may be so much more to learn, so much happening beyond your current understanding and horizon. 

Here are some examples (naturally, let your own curiosity direct your own conversations):

Members of the media
  • What does a good day look like for you?
  • How do you find your best stories?
  • What's the most exciting thing you covered recently?
  • How do you prefer to receive pitches?
Bookstore owners
  • What's new? What's easy? What's challenging?
  • What are the most popular categories of books at your store?
  • Are there ways authors can contribute to your blog or newsletter?
  • What comprises a successful author event for you?

As for coaches, not all of your curiosity needs to arrive at the listener in the form of a question. Other types of conversation can express your interest and keep the information flowing...

  • Say more about that…
  • Tell me more…
  • Go on...
  • Really? That's something I never considered...
  • That's not what I'd expect...
  • That's a perspective I haven't heard before...


  • When you're feeling a bit acrid and disapproving of the ways and means of the publishing arena, indulge yourself a bit (you deserve the rant and it deserves your rancor...this business blows), then move on to a coach approach of curiosity. Towards yourself, your goals, your options, and the industry: What does work around here? What do I want to see happen? What will inch me forward? How can I propel myself to my next milestone?
  • Curiosity is a terrific response to both acceptance and rejection. A library says "yes" to your author event? Great. What can I do to help make this a successful event for you? What have you noticed your patrons most respond to? Do you have any thoughts about handouts, props, or the best location for my sales table? A reporter says "no," they will no longer be covering your book. Thank you for considering it, may I contact you down the road with a different angle? What types of stories are you spending most of your time on these days?
  • Get curious, period. Ask what you really want to know about. What don't you know? How can you find out? Who could you know? Who needs your book? Why? Where and how can you reach them? What else can you do to promote your book? What do you really want from having written a book? How can you start getting those things?
Process as Story

My work has brought me into recent contact with three family histories, all of which involved a staggering amount of work, dedication, and personal flair on the part of the authors. And all three were quite different from each other.

One was the book of a project management client who spent over 12 years researching and writing about his family tree, going back 13 generations on one branch. His final tome was over 900 pages, the largest book I ever helped someone publish.

The other two took a similar approach to writing their family history—they fictionalized it—but with distinct approaches. Marc Savard, a history buff and orchard owner from Door County, Wisconsin, novelizes his family genealogy over several generations with sparse descriptions but rich historical context that displays his own wealth of historical understanding. Miguel "Mike" Villegas is an IT security exec from the Los Angeles area who wrote the cinematic, Family Honor, lush with detail, about an arranged marriage that took place in his family in Mexico City not all that long ago.

In reviewing with a couple of the above authors bookselling event options, one obvious concept for author events was making their process the focus of their talks. How and why did you turn your genealogy research into a novel? How does one research ancestry across centuries and across oceans? What are some considerations in fictionalizing one's family history?

Other examples of "process" stories you can speak authoritatively about as an author to interested others:
  • Creating high-end photography books.
  • Turning blog posts into a book
  • Self-publishing an audio book
  • Publishing with a university press
  • The ins and outs of working with a co-author
  • What I learned capturing oral histories for publication
  • How I wrote and published a book as a 14-year-old

  • List any process elements of your own book writing.
  • Have you noticed if any items on your list have generated particular interest in those you speak to?
  • Consider if there's one or more process stories that you can create whole author programs around.
  • Even if you can't or don't create a process-based event, keep in mind that many in your audiences will be interested in these things. Add some process anecdotes to your boilerplate talk.

If you found this newsletter useful, will you please share it with other established and aspiring nonfiction authors you know? 

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Coming soon in  Conspired, Vol. 5:
Hustle and Grit, Amazon and Indie Bookstores, Reconnecting, and Coaching Tools.

 © 2017 by Sharon Woodhouse
No part of this newsletter may be reproduced without permission.

Sharon Woodhouse | Conspire Creative

Sliding-Scale Author Coaching

Sliding-scale rates, where you’re at, for all serious and coachable clients. What do you as an author need? Coaching (vs. consulting or expert production / marketing assistance) may be for you if you need help…

  • Staying accountable to your own goals and plans.
  • Focusing on what’s important.
  • Deciding what’s important.
  • Aligning priorities and values with daily activities.
  • Simplifying an overstuffed schedule or a high-stress approach.
  • Amplifying what’s good in your author life and handling, neutralizing, or eliminating the rest. 
  • Managing and executing a major project.
  • Juggling multiple businesses, income streams, or endeavors.
  • Staying grounded and planning for the future in a disrupted industry.
  • Transitioning into or out of self-employment.
  • Playing bigger and operating with more fun, joy, and peace of mind.
  • Navigating through a disability, a loss, or other crisis.
  • Taking your business, art, or cause to the next level.

Contact me for a free coaching a session and to discover a customized way we can work together towards your goals, book success, and desired author life. 312.228.8400 or email.