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.
By day, Mike Kowis, Esq., is a mild-mannered tax attorney at a Fortune 500 company. By night, he’s an adjunct professor of Business Law and Corporate Tax for one of the largest community colleges in Texas. He’s also the author of the award-winning debut book, Engaging College Students: A Fun and Edgy Guide for Professors.
Mike discovered that the process of self-publishing was just as challenging as teaching college students. So he took careful notes on each step and released a second award-winning book, 14 Steps to Self-Publishing a Book. It’s a handy guide for authors that paves the way to self-publishing on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It also contains cost comparisons and 10 surprising lessons learned.
Here, Mike fills us in on one of those surprising lessons.
Writing my first book was nothing short of a full marathon. By that, I mean the process takes a serious commitment of time and effort to reach the finish line. If you’ve written a book, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t yet done so, then buckle up, Buttercup! It can be a long and emotional journey, but well worth it.
I kicked off my first book project with a public announcement on Facebook that gave me one year to write and publish it. I’ll admit the one-year time frame that I set for this goal was completely arbitrary. But I needed the pressure of a deadline to motivate me to stay on track and finish. Looking back, 365 days was too ambitious given that I also had a full-time legal career, part-time teaching gig, and a family to raise. Not to mention that I knew absolutely nothing about writing books.
Fast forward to one year later, and I was embarrassed to admit to my friends and family that I’d only written 57 pages. Most of the reactions I received were positive and encouraging. As expected, I took some friendly criticism for missing my initial deadline. But a few folks seemed almost happy to see me fail and were convinced I was wasting my time.
Luckily, I’m the type of person who loves to prove someone wrong. I used this criticism to push myself forward. I got up, wiped the egg off my face and repeated to myself, “I got this. No problem.”
At the end of year two, I found myself with 80 pages and perhaps the worst case of writer’s block known to mankind. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t think of a single word to add to my manuscript. Not. One. Word.
As a tax attorney, I write daily and have never experienced writer’s block. So I was completely shocked and frustrated when this happened. I also felt depressed because it was the first time in my life that I doubted my own ability to complete a goal. Until that point, I had accomplished pretty much everything I had ever set my sights on from both a professional and a personal level. I remember thinking, how can this be happening to me?
I turned to my muse and editor, Geoff Smith, for help. Geoff worked his magic and gave me fresh ideas to explore. Soon, I was off and running again.
By the end of year three, things were finally looking up with 113 pages completed. But then I came down with another bout of writer’s block that stopped me in my tracks. Once again, I turned to Geoff for developmental edits and then headed toward the finish line.
My four-year journey finally ended when I published the book on October 21, 2016. Wow… what a day! I felt just like a proud Papa when I finally got to hold my creation in my hands for the first time.
Obviously, not everyone’s first book journey is as long and arduous as mine. However, an aspiring author would be wise to head this advice: Be aware that book writing requires a significant investment of time. Also, the journey can take an emotional toll if you’re not mentally prepared for possible set-backs and delays.
The good news? The journey is totally worth the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to create the book you have always dreamed of.
Ella Ritchie 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.
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
After a long journey to publication, you don’t want to miss out on the satisfaction of a successful book event. So follow these eight 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.
“Successful people simply practice successful habits.” – Brian Tracy
Successful business leaders are more than great visionaries. Their success is in their everyday habits — the small choices that build an empire over time.
One notable empire is the basketball career of Michael Jordan. Houston business coach Glenn Smith recently shared Jordan’s incredible story of successful habits with me.
“Michael Jordan without a doubt was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA,” he said. “But Jordan was not born a star basketball player. He was actually cut from his high school varsity team.
However, he didn’t let that stop him. He worked hard to play high school ball and even earn a shot at playing in college. He wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted to play for — North Carolina State — and he wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him.
But Jordan never let any of this get in his way. At college, his coaches were taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else. Even at the height of his success with the Chicago Bulls, his coach called him ‘a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.'”
Michael Jordan’s story is a fantastic example of successful habits. Most notable is his daily investment of time and energy toward his vision in spite of obstacles and rejection.
Another notable habit was Jordan’s decision to resist distractions. Surely he was tempted at times to steer his attention toward other promising activities, people, or purposes, but he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he focused solely on doing one thing very well — “upgrading his genius.”
Like Jordan, successful business leaders define their vision and practice successful habits daily in spite of obstacles and rejections. But they also resist promising distractions. Even a worthy task, such as blogging, can prove to be an ineffective, distracting effort if a leader doesn’t have the time to maintain it properly. Business success includes tapping into resources and delegating tasks in order to remain focused on your primary genius.
What daily investments will you make — and what distractions will you delegate — to upgrade your genius this year?
Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. Connect with her on LinkedIn or on her website.