Sunday, May 27, 2012

Promoting Your Novel — With a Little Help From New Friends

     Wasting time on Facebook while waiting for my next blog post topic to emerge from the murky depths of consciousness, I happened upon the Western Historical Romance Book Club. 
      I had been trying to find new ways to promote Willow Vale.  The effects of the first flush of publicity for the novel seemed to be fading.  I tried Facebook, both personal and author pages, and then Twitter.  I joined two Twitter re-tweet groups, with negligible results.  A few members were faithful re-tweeters of my message; others were beyond casual in their approach.  After they added their Tweet to the main document so that it was sent out every day by the other members of the group, they were never heard from again.  And then there were the writers of erotica, whose explicit messages I felt I could not send out from my account.  And I wondered if I really wanted my message sent out from their accounts: Would it look to people who received their messages that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing – or else that I was so desperate I would try enticing erotica fans to read my Western historical novel? 
      So it was with keen interest I read a post on the Western Historical Romance group’s page.  A new writer wanted to know how to get the word out about his novel, without having to spend a lot of money.  Readers loved his book, and his reviews were good.  But his sales weren’t great and he suspected it was because he was the only one doing any promotion, and he didn’t know what he was doing.
      The answers came from some of genre fiction’s heavy hitters, and it was a revelation to me how generous these writers are with good advice.
      The first answer, from a writer of fifteen novels in three genres, was simply to blog.  Then she offered the man looking for exposure for his novel one of two open spots on her own blog!
      Jacquie Rogers, who writes romance in three sub-genres, recommends the grass roots approach.  She said “just making yourself available to sign will often sell books.”  Besides appearances at organizations where members might be readers of her books, she sold some at McDonalds when her grandson told his friend that she was a writer, and his friend told his mom.  Jacquie has two helpful books on promoting available on Kindle, on building your author platform and growing your audience.
      Meg Mims, Western historical suspense author, recommends Goodreads.  I usually have a giveaway of Willow Vale at least once a month on Goodreads, and just recently joined a few book groups on that site.  I’ve gotten unsolicited 5-star ratings and reviews there, and am happy with the results.
      Kathleen Rice Adams, author of Western historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense, advised writing and speaking “outside the book.”  In other words, besides offering your novel to the usual review sites and bloggers, write for history blogs about what interesting topics your research has uncovered.  She says to speak to historical societies, book clubs, special interest groups related to your book, and libraries — but not to “relentlessly flog the book.”  If potential readers get to know you and trust your research, they’ll buy your book.
      Debra Parmley adds that, ultimately, the book must sell itself.  She says reviews are all well and good, but that she judges a book by its excerpts.  Readers need a “taste of your writing” in order to decide if they like strawberry, butter pecan, or in Debra’s case and mine, Western historical romance.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Featured Author on

Willow Vale and I are being featured permanently on  You can read about me; read a sample chapter of my Western historical novel; order your Willow Vale download; and order other Western books, Western movies, and ebook readers at this site. 

Get the latest western novels from  Featured western authors, ebook store, western book reviews and more.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Homestead Act is 150

Session II Chapter 75 1862

Chap. LXXV -- An Act to secure Homestead to actual Settlers on Public Domain.
       Be It enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who is the head of a family, or who has arrived at the age of twenty-one years, and is a citizen of the United States, or who shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such, as required by the naturalization laws of the United States, and who has never borne arms against the United States Government or given aid and comfort to its enemies, shall, from and after the first January, eighteen hundred and sixty-three, be entitled to enter one quarter section or a less quantity of unappropriated public lands . . .

       May 20 is the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Homestead Act.  Blocked three times by Northern factory owners and slave state Congressmen, and then once more by President Buchanan, the great giveaway had only to wait for the building of the transcontinental railroad — and for the vast interior land to be cleared of Native Americans — in order to spur growth in the young nation beyond even Manifest Destiny’s loudest adherents’ dreams.
       My novel, Willow Vale, tells the story of the promise of free land from two points of view.  The immigrant woman, Francesca Sittoni, is fleeing the aftermath of war and poverty in Europe.  She arrives in America with little except her young daughter, and loses most of it when her husband dies.  Francesca comes to live as housekeeper to the American, Kent Reed, a former doughboy finishing proving up on his dad’s 160-acre homestead claim. 

1906 homestead soddy near Cimarron, Kansas.
From Our Home on the Prairie by Joe Englert, 1978
 A homesteader had to file an application with a fee of $10 plus $2 to the land agent, improve the land and remain on it five years, and then file with an additional $6 for a permanent patent on the land.  In Willow Vale, Kent, as beneficiary of his father’s claim, is lucky to have water running through his land.  Government land near waterways was quickly snapped up and settled, leaving only land without irrigation for future homesteaders such as Kent's fictional neighbors, the Broadbents.  The Timber Culture Act of 1873 allowed claims of 160 acres if 40 acres were planted in trees, amended later to ten acres in trees.  In my story Harv Broadbent dry farms 640 acres, 320 acres apiece homesteaded by Harv and his wife Agnes, thanks to the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909.  In addition to his dad’s claim, Kent Reed also benefited from the Stockraising Homestead Act of 1916 which granted 640 acres of public land for livestock grazing. 

"Sod College."  The soddy school near Cimarron, Kansas.
From Our Home on the Prairie by Joe Englert, 1978
There were some radical — for that era — ideas embedded in the Homestead Act of 1862.  First, women could file if they were at least 21 years old and a citizen, or heads of families.  Second, a filer didn’t have to be a United States citizen but only to have filed a declaration to become a citizen, and never have borne arms against the United States.  Third, after the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves could claim land if they had the necessary filing fee.
Neighbor helping neighbor.
From Our Home on the Prairie by Joe Englert, 1978
My paternal great-great-grandparents tried farming in several places in southwestern Kansas, initially near a new settlement of German Catholic immigrants called Windthorst.  They couldn’t make a go of it and were eventually driven out by drouth and grasshoppers.  My great-grandparents bought a homestead of 160 acres sixteen miles north of Cimarron, Kansas from the original claimant, for $150 in 1906. The land had a dugout and a well.  My great-grandfather built a sod house, shelter for himself, his wife, an adopted son and three biological children.  Two more children were born to the couple and delivered in the soddy.  It was a difficult, unpredictable life.  The adopted boy died of a rattlesnake bite incurred while herding cows out on the prairie; most of the work was done by hand or with horses and mules.  Although things progressed well financially for a few years; by 1919 the family had to build a new barn to house a herd of sixteen work horses.  During the 1920s the sodbusters starting going into debt to buy modern machinery to plant more crops. 

1916 Kansas wheat harvest.
From Our Home on the Prairie by Joe Englert 1978

Altogether, the U.S. government gave away ten percent of the land in the United States with the various homestead land grants: 270 million acres altogether in 30 states — to poor white Americans, European immigrants, and Southerners both black and white displaced by the Civil War. 

Tearing down the old soddy attached to the new frame house.
From Our Home on the Prairie by Joe Englert 1978
Only about 40 percent of Homestead claimants stayed five years and prospered enough to prove up.  The rest were driven off by fierce forces of nature, the aggressive merging of many small claims into bigger land holdings, or the thrust of unaffordable modernization and its attendant debt into independent American agrarian life. Then in the 1930s came the Depression.  The bottom fell out of the commodities market and farmers were burning the corn from their fields instead of coal to keep warm.  Money was in desperately short supply.  My own family had the boys hunting jackrabbits to eat.  The Dust Bowl was the final blow, finishing off many Kansas farmers, including my great-grandparents, who could not make payments on their loan to the Federal Land Bank and lost the original homestead as well as the additional acreage they had bought over the years.
            In Willow Vale, my fictional account of Wyoming homesteading, my characters fared better.   Writers are free to make up happy-ever-after endings to their stories, even if that’s often not the way things went in real life.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Willow Vale a Night Owl Top Pick Review

Barb at Night Owl Review gives Willow Vale 4 1/2 stars out of 5, making it a Night Owl Top Pick Review!

"I thought this book was really wonderful. It had everything."
Read Barb's entire review here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Historical Novel Society Review of Willow Vale

Excerpt of new review of Willow Vale by Laura Lloyd:

Well-written in a casual, straight-forward tone, Willow Vale is a light read.  I particularly enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the towns and countryside.

Read entire review at Historical Novel Society.