Fire, fury and quiet

The Furies

Carl Rahl’s Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1852). Wikimedia

This has been an extreme week when it comes to North Korea—extreme political tension, extreme possible consequences and extreme differences in communications strategy, tone and messages.

Furious rhetoric

There’s no shortage of reaction to and analysis of the continuing verbal exchange between the Trump White House and the leadership in Pyongyang. I’ll let others debate the merits of two national leaders threaten each other with nuclear annihilation. What I will say is that the rhetoric itself is extreme, and shows an extremity of intention.

On the other hand, two days ago the world learned that Hyeon Soo Lim, Pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, was released from prison in North Korea. Pastor Lim had been sentenced to hard labour for life for sedition—in the words of the North Korean state, for attempting to destroy North Korea through religion.

Canada sent a delegation, including the senior national security advisor, to North Korea earlier this week to negotiate the pastor’s release. Apparently, the Swedish embassy was involved, too, providing consular support to Pastor Lim over these past two years because Canada does not have an embassy in North Korea.

This came as a huge surprise to the public. Apparently, there have been communications behind the scenes among Canada, North Korea and Sweden for some time. The opposite in tone and volume from Donald Trump’s style of shouting threats of “fury, fire and power.”

How to choose your approach

Kim Jong-un does not back down to threats of nukes.

Image source: SkyNews

There are many who have supported Trump’s messaging. “It’s the language that Kim Jong-Un understands.” One author described it as “mad dog complex”: because nuclear war would destroy all sides in a conflict, each has to make the other believe they’re willing to use nukes, to make the opposition back down.

On the other hand, the Canadian and Swedish governments’ approach to communication, while not at all dramatic, was effective. They wanted to have Pastor Lim released from jail, and that’s what happened.

This is an excellent example of strategic communications in action. Whether your communications is effective always comes down to knowing your audience and knowing what you’re trying to achieve.

With the Canadians and Swedes, the audience was the North Korean government and judiciary. The goals was the release of the pastor. And it was effective.

When it comes to Trump and his communications, the strategy is completely different—if there is a strategy at all.

A guess at the strategy

I don’t have any insight into Trump’s mind or the communications team he has working for him, but I will assume that they do attempt to develop a communications strategy, with goals, hoped-for outcomes, audience analysis, key message development and so on. All the elements of a communications strategy.

So I will attempt to guess what the strategy was by looking at it from the receiving end.

Donald Trump threatens

Image source: The Independent

Threats of “fire and fury” have not worked—they’ve only escalated the rhetoric and the tension. Yet they continue.

Threats have an inherent problem: if you don’t follow through with them, you lose credibility not only with your enemy, who will no longer be afraid of you, but also with your friends. Unfortunately, following through with the threat of nuclear war, as I said, will only lead to losers, with no winners.

What is the goal, then? Before answering that, let’s look at the audience.

Trump’s audience is not Kim Jong-un. His messaging, whether spoken or tweeted, are not directed to Kim, but to other Americans. To the media, political aides, and the voters.

Trump is not trying to achieve peace—he’s bolstering the United States’ reputation as the greatest military power in the world, and his own as a strong man.

Trump’s “brinksmanship” is not a strategy to solving the North Korean problem. It’s a tactic in a long-term strategy to get re-elected, because he perceives that his supporters, his “base,” react well to his bullying and showing off.

What it will achieve in terms of international diplomacy—even international war or peace and the lives of billions—is not part of the calculations.


Think strategically

Creative Commons

On Saturday, April 12, I’ll be showing my paperback books at the Canadian Author Association’s first-ever Book Fest.

If things go right, I may even do some live blogging from there. And if you come, we may even have a chance to meet face-to-face! I know I’m excited about it.
I look at events like this more as chances to network with other writers, readers and book enthusiasts, rather than as a place to sell product. But let’s face it, authors are all trying to sell their work. As my Internet friend and fellow author Russell Blake likes to point out, writing books may be art, but selling them is business. And in that frame of mind, I am re-presenting a blog post that I originally wrote for the Guild of Dreams blog.

Thinking of authors as business people

The book field is an extremely competitive, fast-moving market. If any of us hope to carve out the slightest sliver of presence in it, we’re going to have to recognize it as a marketplace and ourselves as sellers of products. Marketers. Business people.
The authors who sell the most books treat their activity as a business.
I have to admit I’m not the greatest business type person in the world. But over the past couple of decades that I’ve been selling my words, I have learned that you’re a lot more likely to succeed at something if you have a detailed strategy to achieve it.
If you’re a writer (or anything else, for that matter), think strategically about your career. Set some realistic, if ambitious, and measurable goals. (Check out George Doran’s SMART project management approach.)
These should not be just a number of book sales. Your strategy has to list a lot of specific steps that will help you achieve your goal. What will you do to increase sales? When will you write your next book, who will review it, edit it, design the cover, take care of the production of an e-book or a paperback?
What is your promotion plan? How will you contact book reviewers? What is your social media plan? What will you do on Facebook, how frequently will you tweet, what will you do to increase your number of followers on Goodreads?

A collaboration challenge

As individuals, we don’t have the ability to make much noise. But if we work together, strategically, we can have a lot more impact with a lot less effort.
Regular readers know that I am a big believer in authors (and other artists) working together, sharing skills and leveraging collective efforts. I participate in group sales and in professional organizations like Independent Authors International and Bestselling Reads.
Credit: Anthea Sieveking/ Wellcome Images
My challenge to all my readers who are also writers or other artists is to come together, not just in a mutual support and admiration group, but in a strategic one. Contribute your particular skills and take the advice of others who know about their specialties.
Collectively, we can devise an effective strategy to raise our profiles, improve the quality of our work and sell more books.
Want to get involved? Tell me about it or offer your time, expertise and effort in the comments, or send me an email (you can find it here if you look).

Progress report: One Shade of Red

Image: Creative Commons

 I have learned a few things in the year since I published my first novel, The Bones of the Earth — even some things about publishing books. I tried to apply them when publishing my second book, One Shade of Red.

I’ve known the importance of promotion and advertising any product for a long time. Even as a kid, I saw ads promoting the power of advertising. I knew that if I wanted my book to sell well, I’d have to figure out some way to promote it.

The problem, however, is that advertising costs money. Money I don’t necessarily have, money that I need for my other indulgences, like food and heat and gas. And taxes.

In the past year, though, I have also learned about some promotion and advertising I could afford.

And I learned is that results of promotion are not always what you expect.

What I did

After I released The Bones of the Earth at the end of 2011, sales were not what I had hoped. So I read, I researched, I spoke and corresponded with a lot of people who know, or who said they knew, about how to promote a book. I listened and I planned to take as much of their advice as I could for the release of my second novel.

I ramped up my participation on Twitter and joined some great, fun groups on Facebook. I was invited into the Guild of Dreams fantasy authors’ group and corresponded more frequently with other writers. And as you faithful readers have noticed (thanks, by the way, for coming back here every day!), I increased the amount of blogging I do, and wrote guest blog posts for others.

Even before I was finished with the first draft of One Shade of Red, I started talking about the book in person and on the Net. I put little teasers on my blog and tweeted things like “Coming soon: a sexy spoof of 50 Shades of Grey.”

I put samples on my blog for Six Sentence Sunday, too, until that fun site closed.

I solicited and received some excellent and very encouraging advice from an excellent writer, one known for both erotica and other writing, too: Charity Parkerson. Thanks, Charity!

One of my most important decisions was involving the amazing members of Independent Authors International. As I’ve blogged before, Gary Henry and Cinta Garcia de la Rosa were invaluable editors and reviewers. Ben Wretlind and Bruce Blake contributed excellent copy-editing and proofreading. Thanks, all — I really could not have produced as good a book without you.

Another iAi member, David C. Cassidy, designed a fantastic cover. I can’t say how happy I am with it! Thank you again, David.

Once I had a fully edited version, I sent advance review copies to some good friends who are known for good book reviews. Their response was very positive — and I made sure to tell them I wanted honest reviews, and not to spare my feelings. I am very gratified to read their responses, which you can find on Goodreads and Amazon.

Blog tours

By February, I knew I was getting close. I set a deadline of the end of March to launch One Shade of Red as an e-book. When I realized that was the Easter long weekend, and the April Fools Day followed immediately, I chose April 2 as the official publishing date.

Taking a cue from Bruce Blake, I organized two blog tours. First was a cover reveal a couple of weeks before my launch day. Thanks to everyone who posted that stunning cover:

CR Hiatt

Rachel Thompson

– Christine Nolfi

Bruce A. Blake

Wodke Hawkinson

Doug Dorow

Linze Brandon

Lisa Jey Davis

David C. Cassidy

Jesi Lea Ryan

Next, I set up advertising on Wodke Hawkinson’s Find a Good Book to Read and on Rachel Thompson’s two book promotional sites, the Indie Book Promo and the related but more specific Romance Promo Central and the Erotic Promo. [

The launch

Launch day was April 2, as I said. For one week before and one week after, I organized a blog tour. (I did not realize until it started that the blog tour coincided with Passover.) Ten generous bloggers agreed to post an excerpt from the book; each person got a different excerpt. Thanks to everyone who participated:

Alan McDermott

Siggy Buckley

Charity Parkerson

CR Hiatt

Dawn Torrens

Bruce Blake

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa

Doug Dorow

Frederick Lee Brooke

– and Shannon Mayer.

Also, Joyce Strand agreed to feature the my guest post about why I wrote a book like One Shade of Red, which is such a departure from my earlier work.
It’s amazing how many people will say “yes” when you ask a favour.

For launch day, I set the price at 99 cents, and for my first book, too. Opening special!

The results

Sales that first day were gratifying — not huge, but it seemed that the market at least noticed that my new book was available.

After that, sales dropped off.

However, starting that day, sales of The Bones of the Earth started to surge on Amazon’s UK site. I don’t know why, but sales have been steady there ever since, and now the full edition and Part 1: Initiation Rites, a stand-alone novella which is also available as an e-book, are in the top 100 of the Historical Fantasy category — depending on the day, sometimes ahead of some major titles like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana.

I had heard of this phenomenon before: the best way to sell more books is to publish more books. But this is the first time it has happened to me.

It’s curious that this sales spike is restricted to the UK. Come on, Americans — are you going to let the Brits outdo you in buying The Bones of the Earth?

You can still beat them in buying One Shade of Red!