Every Christmas season, I make time for an annual viewing of movie holiday classics among the multitude of new offerings presented by Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel. Many would recognize the classics in my DVD collection – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, The Apartment. However, I have one favorite standard in my collection that may not be as well-known, The Gathering. For years, I had to be content with watching it on the VHS recording I had made when it aired on PBS over twenty years ago. Last year, it was finally released on DVD and I was able to retire the VHS tape to the recycle bin.
The Gathering was a 1977 TV holiday movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Special. Edward Asner stars as Adam Thornton, a gruff, stubborn business owner who is separated from his wife and estranged from his four grown-up children. As the movie opens, he has just been informed that he has only weeks to live. He realizes that he needs to rebuild the relationships with his children, so he goes to see his wife, Kate, portrayed by Maureen Stapleton, to get their addresses or some means of communicating with them. Despite his attempt to display normalcy, she instantly realizes that something is wrong and confronts him, forcing him to confess his medical condition. She declares that they together will invite the children back home for a Thornton family Christmas. Will they come and give their father a chance at redemption and reconciliation? Since this is a warm holiday movie, we already know the answer to this, but it goes to the power of the story that we become so emotionally invested in the process.
During my years with Disney ABC, I was fortunate to meet and interact with many well-known actors and television personalities while producing satellite interview tours and interview junkets. It was during one of these satellite tours that I had a chance to meet Ed Asner. I told him that The Gathering was one of my favorite Christmas movies and his first response was “Great script by James Poe.” His comment went to the essence of what makes this movie so great. This was a writer’s vehicle, a well-structured story with wonderful dialogue. It weaves the individual tales of each relationship into a redemptive drama about the rebuilding of a family.
In Legacy Discovered, I used references to classic literature that reflected themes within my novel. I had read many of the referenced works, but one classic I had not read was Pride and Prejudice. My use of Jane Austen’s classic as a high school English assignment for Sue was based upon my general knowledge of the book’s story and themes. However, after I published Legacy Discovered, I felt I should take the time to read Pride and Prejudice for myself, so I downloaded the free e-book. Last week, I had time to finally read this literary romance classic.
In order to read and understand Pride and Prejudice, the reader must consider the social and historical environment at the time it was written. In order to project refinement and social bearing within mid-nineteenth century English society, conversation and narration was less direct and presented very grammatically and more subtly with a polite surfeit of words to please modern English teachers. For the LOL generation, this is TMI for attention-challenged minds. However, for those willing to look under the puffery language, Pride and Prejudice is a light, yet thoughtful story about a woman, Elizabeth Bennet, who is the second oldest in a family of five daughters, whose mother is very intent on finding suitable – read higher social class – husbands for them. But Elizabeth is too proud and honest, brutally so, to play the game her mother expects her and her sisters to play. Elizabeth attracts the attention of a well-to-do reserved gentleman, Mr. Darcy, which she determines to be arrogant. Stories about Darcy that she later hears from a suave regiment officer just reinforces her prejudices toward him. It is only when Darcy gains the courage to express his intentions and gets an earful on his perceived shortcomings, that he begins to show her just how wrong she was about him. The plot has become a standard in many romantic comedies since, which is why it deserves its reputation as a classic in English literature.
I mailed my holiday cards today. Everybody has their favorite traditions for the Christmas season and mine is to create my own cards for my family, friends and associates. When I first started making my own cards years ago, I painted unique designs on watercolor sheets and wrote individual messages inside the folded sheets. However, computer technology has greatly improved the process, especially when my mailing list grew to cover an expanding directory of business associates . Basically, I would select an appropriate photo from my travels in the previous year, compose a poetic message for the interior and use the creative tools of Photoshop and Microsoft Word to build the theme for the year. A recipient database in Excel and mail merge made sure each card was personalized. It is an annual labor of love.
The one thing I will not totally give over to technology is the replacement of the physical card with the trend towards the virtual card. I think there is nothing so personal as feeling and viewing the work of art in your hand, then slowly opening the card up to read the original poetry inside. So my close friends and family will receive their personalized cards inside envelopes through the US Postal Service. However, a single frame image of the card will be posted on Facebook so my ever-growing sphere of social media friends will get to enjoy my annual creative endeavor.
On Thanksgiving Sunday, November 25, I will be interviewed live on Storytellers Campfire at 8pm Pacific Time on their BlogTalkRadio program. The show will be available over BlogTalkRadio, iTunes and Puget Sound Radio live, provided to other radio stations to air within a 24 hour period and available in the blogtalkradio archives for 90 days. The weblink to the interview is:
Update: As of January 2017, the interview is still available at the above link.
The post-Olympic and Labor Day weekend free download promotions did not generate much in the way of new sales, although I was pleased to get a few more positive reviews on Amazon; however, some new connections would provide me with more avenues of promoting my novel. On Twitter, my paltry account got a new follower, Faydra Deon. One day, I checked out the links on her profile and discovered that she was the owner and developer of the Independent Author Index. Her site and the Independent Author Network are two sites where indie authors can join to promote their creative works and readers can go to search for uniquely new literary gems. Both networks maintained that every author needed an individual website and blog, which led me to invest the time and effort to learn how to create my site. As soon as I had a viable site ready, I joined the Independent Author Index.
At the same time, while going through my author’s page on Amazon, I noted a section recommending that I update the extras section of my book on Shelfari, Amazon’s social media site for book lovers. As an author on Amazon, I discovered a logon and account had already been created for me. I was guided to join the Book Promotion & Marketing group and discovered some postings about e-zine blog sites that freely promote daily free e-book promotions to their readers. Of course, the number of books these sites could promote daily was limited. I had just been given a new allotment of five promo days from Kindle Publishing to schedule, so I went over my options. The obvious choice would have been the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, but I heeded the lesson from my first five promo days and scheduled one free day for this past Saturday, one week before Thanksgiving, and labeled it the “try before you gift” promotion. Besides the Facebook postings and tweets, I now alerted the Index and registered the promo day with four e-reader sites. With less competition, two of the sites – The Digital Ink Spot and the Ereader News Today – added Legacy Discovered as one of the featured free e-books for Saturday. The results were amazing. This one day promotion netted nearly fifteen times more downloads than the two day post-Olympics promotion. Now as I await the judgment of these new readers, I consider the newest lesson of self-promotion – with limited resources, seek out and do not miss the opportunities to join the networks and groups of fellow independent authors for there is strength in numbers and cross-promotion is key.
There will be more lessons to be learned as I continue to introduce my debut novel to readers around the world and contemplate the next story to be told. I will also start to look at my fellow authors current works and give my honest opinion on their endeavors, which is all I would ever ask of anyone willing to read my work.
It has been a little over a year since I decided to write and self-publish a novel. At the time, I decided on writing my story idea as a novel instead of a screenplay, because I knew that self-publishing had leveled the playing field for aspiring authors, while getting a screenplay read or pitched was still a daunting option. Writing the story well was my main goal. I was not focused on how I would promote this work, but my years of working in publicity for a major entertainment company did teach me one thing – good promotion can get a creative work an initial audience, but it is up to the work itself to keep and expand that audience.
After subjecting my first and subsequent drafts to an “edit focus group” of several friends, I went to CreateSpace to self-publish the novel. CreateSpace, an Amazon company, had a very reasonably-priced package that included a professional once-over by an editor and exterior/interior design packages for the book. However, the two major pluses I saw was the immediate access the book would have on the Amazon.com book and Kindle distribution system and the wide release of a professionally written press release announcing the book’s publication. I wasn’t expecting the journalistic world to come pounding on my door, but I did feel that I would get a few requests which would probably get me a few good reviews to tout on the Facebook page I had set up for Legacy Discovered. Some Facebook word of mouth, some Twitter posts and some impulse buying on Amazon would produce enough royalty payments to earn a year’s pay at the least. What I learned is that the ease of self-publishing had caused an onslaught of new publications on the market, about a thousand new books a month. Not only did major publications and local newspapers not have room or time to even consider the self-published wave, but a few outlets, some respectable, were able to charge sponsorships for their reviews. This meant the playing field was not as level as I imagined as an aspiring writer cannot match the resources the major publishers have to promote their releases.
Realizing the limits of my resources, I knew I had to be creative and patient with what I had. What I had was social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Some of my friends had supported my efforts by actually buying the book from Amazon. I asked a couple of them to honestly review the book on Amazon. This helped show purchase activity on the page. I posted and tweeted the links to the Amazon book pages. I received a lot of congrats on writing and publishing, but no sales beyond the few. One of the promotional tools that Amazon’s Kindle Publishing provided was the ability to schedule up to five free promo days within a 90 day period. With the Olympics drawing the attention of television audiences in August, I decided to schedule my first two promo days on the final weekend as a post-Olympic blues free Kindle e-book download weekend. I posted the promotion to my Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections. I tweeted the promotion and got @kindle_promo to retweet my posting. I had a fairly successful number of downloads, fifty times more than my current sales total. I instantly thought that if I could get this many downloads on a mid-August weekend, imagine what I could get by scheduling the other three days for the Labor Day weekend. The total of downloads over the three day weekend was one fifth the total of the post-Olympic blues weekend. One could say I had reached all I could reach that first weekend, but I have another theory – the post-Olympic promo was not only more creative, but had less competition than the promo heavy Labor Day weekend.
When I first decided to write and self-publish a novel, I thought that if I told the story well, a few likes from my Facebook friends, a few good reviews from some book sites and some impulse purchases from Amazon.com readers would allow me to sit back and focus on writing the next book. However, I have learned that the social media-connected world requires authors to have a blog in order to reach out and promote themselves to today’s readers. So here I am, opening myself to the world, ready to make a few observations. I hope I live up to the readers’ expectations.