You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that has driven Dr. Alanna Bree to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first annual happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros, emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.
But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted commitment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.
This is her “big why.” Her whole purpose is to cultivate this healing and hope in the world – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.
This is what the whole evening was about. It was about more than what Dr. Bree does (care for children and teens with skin disease and birthmarks). It was also about more than how she does it (with compassionate, holistic care, flexibility, and reasonable prices). It was all about why she does it.
In his TEDx talk titled, “How great leaders inspire action,” marketing consultant Simon Sinek says this approach is what makes Dr. Alanna different from other physicians. You see, true leaders share their “big why” to inspire people to take action. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”
This is the reason Dr. Alanna just released, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page autobiography chronicles her journey to becoming a pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that forever altered her course. She tells with honesty how she quit a successful but unsatisfying career to find her ultimate purpose and fulfillment. It’s a stunning read for everyone: medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.
It’s also a stunning example of the power of sharing your “big why” with others. Dr. Alanna is communicating from “the inside out,” as Sinek calls it. She’s sharing the drive behind her cause, the whole reason her nonprofit exists. And it’s already making an impact.
As guests streamed out of the Health Museum, stakeholders stopped to tell Dr. Alanna that they were inspired by her message. Patients were grateful she hadn’t given up. Board members were surprised by their impact on her success. Dr. Alanna smiled at each of them. Now that they understand her “big why,” they are empowered to make a difference.
Ella Ritchie (left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.
Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (right) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Earlier this year, we announced some thrilling news to Houston banker Bill Herrington. His memoir about Hurricane Katrina, Contraflow, won the prestigious 2017 Independent Publisher bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).
His book was one of more than 5,000 entries that were submitted to the annual Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs), the oldest, most established book awards in operation. For 21 years, the IPPYs have been honoring the year’s best independently published titles from around the world.
Not bad for a first-time author.
We wanted to know what made Contraflowstand out as a winner. So we asked the IPPY awards director, Jim Barnes, to share a few bits of insight with us.
But before we get to what he said . . .
Why does it matter?
The recognition of an award is a huge morale boost for you and your team. You’ll see renewed enthusiasm because your hard work is confirmed as credible. It didn’t hurt that we were whisked away to New York City to celebrate at the IPPY awards ceremony. And it’s rewarding for the other businesses and individuals who lent their names and support for your project.
An award also increases the visibility of your marketing campaign. You’ll have photo opportunities and will receive book seals that can added to your covers. You may be mentioned in a new wave of websites, press releases, and international articles to new audiences.
Ultimately, all of this means that your message may reach new people and lead to increased book sales.
Let’s get back to Jim’s insight.
What is considered?
Jim said IPPY book submissions are judged by longtime publishing experts. They narrow their selections based on the following six criteria, and then a committee selects the winners.
Use of Language
These criteria underscore the importance of selecting a publishing team that will pay attention to every detail of your book – from writing and editing to design. “Books are judged by their covers,” Jim said, “so make sure your book looks really good. Your book title and cover should tell exactly what it’s about and what readers should expect.”
That’s why the author of Contraflow collaborated extensively on the book cover. He wanted to nail the exact colors, images, and words that would convey his message.
Jim continued, “Opening lines should grab the reader and suggest great things ahead. Careful editing and proofreading are vital, especially in the early pages.” That’s why we opened the book with a line that is sure to stir curiosity:
“Right away, it was obvious that something was wrong.”
What is not considered?
Jim said there is one aspect that doesn’t tip the scales.
“We judge the book and only the book,” he said. “So any marketing material accompanying an entered book is discarded. We don’t pay any attention to reviews or publicity.”
Two things that spell doom
There are two red flags for a book – and they both have to do with being too vague. Jim said, “One thing I hear that spells doom for a book is, ‘You have to read about halfway into my book to really get it.’”
Jim said another red flag is when an author says, “My book is really hard to classify and kind of falls between a few different categories.” It’s important to thoughtfully consider your genre before you even start writing – and again when it’s time to enter it for an award.
There are more than 80 subject categories in the IPPYs, from economics to science fiction to cookbooks and coffee table books. Since Contraflowis part autobiographical and part regional, we consulted with a marketing guru, David Ivester of Author Guide, on the best category. David advised that we enter the Regional category because it’s not as broad as the Autobiography category. (We’re glad we listened.)
So start with the end in mind. As you write your book, be clear on what you are writing and who you are writing it for. Partner with a professional team that will craft the best book for you. And then dream big!
Ella Ritchie (pictured left) is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the websitefor more information.
Jim Barnes (pictured right) is the awards director of the Independent Publisher Book Awards, which bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles published each year.
The staff at River Oaks Bookstore knows about book signings. Since their doors opened in Houston 45 years ago, the booksellers have handled more than 3,000 book events for authors. That’s why their feedback on Bill Herrington’s book event last week mattered.
Their unanimous response? “It was one of the best events we’ve had,” they all said. In fact, book sales tripled their expectations.
It’s no wonder. Nearly 60 friends, family, and colleagues had streamed into the cozy shop to celebrate Contraflow, Herrington’s memoir about the leaders who provided hope to New Orleanians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The evening was a culmination of years dedicated to shaping his eyewitness experience into a compelling tale.
So how can you ensure the same positive experience for your own book signing event? We teamed up with the author to share some pointers.
Tip #1: Align yourself with a publisher who is an advocate for you.
An advocate will provide the accountability and encouragement to see your project to the end. “From my endorsements to my book event,” said Bill, “Ella has pushed me to go further than I thought possible. I was initially hesitant to host an event, but my philosophy became, ‘Go big or go home.’”
Tip #2: Define your goals and expectations.
Book events typically result in few sales, so don’t make the mistake of measuring your success solely by numbers. Set realistic expectations by shaping the event around your original goals. What were your reasons for writing the book in the first place? Whether you sell more or less books than you hope, this is an opportunity to bring these goals to life beyond what was accomplished in the pages of your book.
“In my case, my primary goals were to share my story with family and friends and to honor Houston leaders,” said Bill. “These two goals were even more important to me than making sales. So we based every detail of my book event on these two goals.”
Tip #3: Plan your format.
Decide whether you prefer a casual signing or a more structured format that designates a time to share a formal reading and in-depth thoughts. Be sure to mention the plan in your invitations so guests know what to expect.
Bill said, “I decided that my two-hour signing would be a come-and-go event on a weeknight. I liked that people stopped by at different times after work to grab a book, say hello, and mingle. However, there were some downsides, like the fact that some were pressed for time and had to leave before my speech that was given midway through the evening. So you really have to think about what you want.”
Tip #4: Choose a fitting location.
Consider a venue that maximizes your ability to accomplish your goals as well as your guests’ ability to attend. A bookstore is a solid pick because it has ample space and staff experience to accommodate a book event – and it’s usually in a recognizable location. Most stores keep a portion of the book sales in exchange for handling logistics like tables and chairs, book purchases, parking, and refreshments.
River Oaks Bookstore in Houston, Texas
For Bill’s signing, we chose River Oaks Bookstore because it provides a charming atmosphere in the heart of Houston. Bill said, “I visited the shop before the event to introduce myself, ask questions, and scope out the space. I like that a small shop can make even a small event feel well attended. If you prefer to not share a percentage of book sales with a store, another idea is to host your event at a spacious home.”
Tip #5: Arrive early to arrange your materials.
Bring plenty of books, a display stand, and several fine-tipped black Sharpies for easy signing. Set out business cards and a stack of press releases that can be left with the bookstore as promotional materials. Name tags and Sharpies are useful if you’re welcoming people from different social and business circles. Finally, keep a water bottle on hand to keep your throat clear.
Bill said, “Colleagues sent flowers, which turned out to be a nice touch as a table centerpiece.”
If you want to get creative, you can also display photographs, a slideshow, or other materials related to your book. Some authors choose to have their book cover, author portrait, book title, and name enlarged on a standing poster board. This might be worthwhile if you plan to host future signings.
Tip #6: Plan your message.
When it comes to your written message, choose the page of the book on which you’ll sign, which might differ in your paperback and hardcover formats. Be ready to ask for names and spellings, try to personalize the message, and sign your name legibly. If you don’t know a guest well enough to write a personalized message, consider a signature phrase, such as “Much appreciation” or “In gratitude.”
The author signs a copy of Contraflow for Elizabeth White-Olsen, founder of Houston writing center WriteSpace
This is also a great time to express verbal thanks for your endorsers, family, and community members who contributed in some way. Guests attend these events because they want a personal connection with you as the author, so think about how you can take this deeper than what they can read in the book on their own. Consider telling about how you made your choices on content or cover design, or explain your emotional journey in making your book. Aim to keep it short – no more than 15 minutes. Bill said, “You’ve got to practice and rehearse what you’re going to say. The only thing I wish I’d had was a podium to glance down and remember everything I wanted to say and everyone I wanted to recognize.”
Tip #7: Recruit others.
Before the event, ask friends and family to mention the book event online to drum up curiosity and potential sales. Then ask them to arrive a little early at the event to help welcome guests and make them feel comfortable. Designate a friend or two to take photographs at the event. Afterwards, offer to sign some copies to leave at the bookstore as an incentive for them to sell.
Most importantly, pay attention to your guest list. “I didn’t send an Evite to everyone I know,” said Bill. “I invited people whom I trusted would bring a positive, supportive energy for an enjoyable evening.”
Bill offered a few more tips on inviting guests. “You need to spread the word yourself. The only people who will come to your event are those you bring,” he said. “So invite the centers of influence. Invite people from your circles far and wide. Invite them even if they already own your book because they may want their book signed or may want to buy more as gifts. Like any party, you’ll want to invite more than you think will come because about 20 percent won’t show up. And don’t be afraid to send a reminder – people have good intentions but might forget because they’re so busy.”
Tip #8: Ask for reviews.
Before the event, insert a typed note or bookmark into each book that communicates three things: gratitude for the purchase, an invitation to enjoy the book, and a request to leave an honest review on Amazon. This is a perfect opportunity to collect reviews from your readers, which can boost your online ranking.
Tip #9: Make it fun and interesting.
Showcase another guest of honor or a product that you think would interest your guests. Because Bill’s book was about paying tribute to city leaders, he invited former Houston mayor Bill White to share a few words about his role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Not only was Mr. White relevant to the evening – he added credibility to the book.
We also coordinated with Mr. White to display his own book, America’s Fiscal Constitution,along with a bowl to collect names for one complimentary copy. This added an element of fun for guests but also brought attention to Mr. White’s book as a gesture of thanks.
The former Houston mayor shared his perspective
L-R: Bill White and Bill Herrington
Tip #10: Use social media.
Encourage your guests to post pics on social media before and after the event to spread the word about the book.
After a long journey to publication, you don’t want to miss out on the satisfaction of a successful book event. So follow these ten tips and then – in Bill’s words – “Go big or go home!”
Ella Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedInor Facebook, or check out the website for more information.
As a corporate banker in New Orleans for 20 years, Bill Herrington actively supported community education alongside his wife Frances, a teacher. In Contraflow,he uses his unique perspective of the extraordinary leadership witnessed after Hurricane Katrina to raise funds to support the education of youth impacted by natural disasters or family tragedies.