Apr 212014

Stephanie Dale Vatican

Rome! I am in Rome!!! I am in a gorgeous city that is warm and friendly and pulsing with the ages. I cannot remember ever being more pleased to be anywhere. Perhaps that is freedom’s colossal high, truth’s freewheeling zenith. Nowhere else to be but here. And it is my good fortune that ‘here’ is Rome.

Getting here took the best part of the day, most of it in slow-mo through security at Gatwick – until the announcement of our flight’s imminent departure compelled us to jump the queue and sprint a mini-marathon to Gate 105.

Puffing and laughing in our seats at the back of the plane, I remind Ben of his furious vow never to fly with me again, after I made him hurry to beat the crowd through immigration on a flight home from New Zealand half his lifetime ago. As it turned out, that was our last flight together, until now. We laugh so hard with the memory our eyes fill with tears. In an act of culinary desperation we stuff our faces with Toblerone for breakfast, taking turns to stare out the window, snow-struck by the white mountains far below.

Rome! Fiumicino Airport might have been forgetful had I not lost 250 Australian dollars to a wheeler-dealer at the exchange counter. The ride in from the airport might have been forgetful had I not insisted on taking the train (robbing Peter to pay Paul for the backgammon board) only to end up having to get a taxi to our room near the Vatican anyway.

The taxi drops us into the traffic on the outside of the vast cobbled plain that stretches to the Vatican steps. From there we lug our packs up the hill on the Vatican’s western flank, to the same apartment where Ben stayed when he walked in from Canterbury six weeks ago.

We dump the bags on our beds, grab the cameras and head straight out for lunch at the little deli on the corner, sitting in a basement at the foot of a small set of narrow wooden stairs, at a table with a red chequered cloth and a mound of white bread. And there the journey begins. We order wine. I order vegetarian antipasto, which comes, eventually, loaded with chunky cured meats. Ben orders spaghetti bolognaise and I can’t believe he’s come all this way for a spag-bol. We practise filming as we wait. We film the elderly waiter as he goes up and down the stairs, bringing food for all the guests but us. We raise our glasses and film a toast for the road ahead. We interview each other for the camera and laugh at our self-consciousness and our Australian-ness, stark against the ease of the Romans. The Romans!

We spend the afternoon walking around the streets, laughing in the heat of the day about the burning in our shoulder blades from the daypacks, knowing that it’s going to get one hell of a lot worse. We return to our room and collapse on the beds, rolling about laughing as we kick off our shoes with tell-tale groans because our feet are hot and tired and the walk hasn’t even begun. And we breathe in the simple pleasure of our small apartment, because come Saturday, September 22, two days from now, when day equals night and the sun turns on its heels for its southbound run, even the simplest of comforts – a clean bed, or any bed; a hearty meal, or any meal – will no longer be ours for the asking. For me, the madness is about to begin. For Ben, the madness is about to begin again. It is a privilege to be sharing this walk with my son. He has a grace and ease about him that is uncommon in our world. The first leg of his journey was a quintessential rollercoaster ride of challenge and fun, filling him with the lightness of being that comes to those who meet life as it presents itself. His is a steady eye and an open heart. This is the gift of the road.

Late in the afternoon, we decide to experiment with night filming at the Fontana di Trevi, the city’s famous Trevi Fountain. We ask around for the bus and board with the workday crowds, oblivious to systemic demands that we buy a ticket first, shrugging with the nonchalance of the stranger who doesn’t know and shouldering the free ride. We roll off the bus into the crowded evening, following our senses with the grace of tumbleweeds into the breezy, fluid night.

As far as I know, the only picture I have ever seen of the Trevi Fountain is in the opening credits of an American sitcom I liked to watch as a kid, ‘ To Rome With Love’. I was captivated by the notion that children could have a dead mother and I’d watch the kids on that show like a tiger in the grass, wired for proof of the impossible. In the opening, the children are sitting on the edge of the fountain. In my memory of the opening, the fountain is big and round and white and dramatic and there’s a busy road running around it. So I’m somewhat surprised to find the Fontana di Trevi is: a) neither big nor round; b) doesn’t have a road in sight; and c) packed with tourists jostling in the dark for viewing space. Of course, that was before I knew that the building behind it, the Palazzo Poli, is, depending on who you ask and what you read, considered part of the fountain.

Here in the company of Neptune rising, sea horses galloping and the berobed virgin who found the source of the gushing water in the first place; in the presence of stone waves, tritons and chariots; among tourists crushed alive with the night and locals fishing coins from the water with long magnetic poles; in the heart of a city that hasn’t missed a beat for three millennia, my world stills and I tilt my head to the night, listening ham-radio curious for the ones who walked this way before. Before me. Before you. Before.

I look to the night sky and come face to face with the colours of antiquity: a gold half moon, crisp and poised on its tip, egged on by an audacious indigo sky. Longing rises within me like sap to the warm sun, and I glimpse the obsessive fervour of the artisans, the crazed desire that commanded them to reproduce the ethereal, to give it form, to make it solid, to arrest God and celebrate their genius – or go mad in the trying. Face to the heavens, I smile at the enormity of the challenge before them: to find that blue on Earth!

My Pilgrim's Heart Australian editionExcept from My Pilgrim’s Heart, by Stephanie Dale

Mar 262012

Self Promotion for Self Published Authors


So you’ve written a great book. It’s piled up in boxes in your garage. You know it’s great and if you’re lucky your family is supportive and your friends are excited about your enthusiasm for your own work.

Family and friends, however, can only get you so far in the book sales stakes.

How do you let the world know about your fabulous book?

You start with your local community – and expand from there.

But before we go on, a warning:

if you’re not willing to stand tall and true with your book
and give it a public face, then hopefully you’re reading this
before you forked out those big bickies for the printer.


Because the stark reality is this: regardless of how fantastic and awesome your book is, unless you plan on holding out for high-hope lotto-like stakes that a) a mainstream publisher is going to stumble across your work and b) love it so much they’ll open the marketing coffers on your behalf – you must be prepared to devote every spare waking and sleeping moment you possess to promoting your book.

You will spend an awful lot of time wondering about how to approach the book industry itself and I would simply advise this: unless you have contacts who are serious players in the industry, you’ll feel like you’re firing pebbles with your little slingshot over the castle wall . . . without ever knowing where they land.

So all that’s left to do is – do it yourself!


And this, friends, is how you do it, starting from the top:

1. Local book stores
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a distributor to take you on (personally I don’t quibble about losing nearly 70% to distributors and retailers – I consider them my ‘team’ and am deeply grateful to them for the work they do on my behalf) – but if you don’t want or can’t find a distributor, you’ll find many local book stores have a ‘local author’ section and will happily stock your book on consignment.

They’ll guide you through invoicing and consignment notices etc etc etc (in praise of distributors).

2. Launch
Yes. You launch your book. You invest in your product and you show the world how much you love it. You hire a room, you put on nice food, you theme the room, you send out invitations to people you know and don’t know (making sure you invite the good folk from the nearest writers’ centre).

You find someone ‘important’ who is willing to launch it (be cheeky!) and – and this is very, very important – you write a speech and tell the world something they didn’t know about you and your work.

And then you invite the local media****(more on this later).

3. Book signings

Plan your signings around calendar events that involve the public buying large quantities of gifts, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc.

Call your local stores and tell them you’re available. You’ll be surprised how friendly and supportive they are! Make a list of bookshops in large towns and CBDs in your district, lend yourself to a wide geographical area – then hit the road with your little tour.

Make sure your signing table looks great –and always bring along everything you need (don’t assume the shop is going to provide you with anything more than a table). Include a nice tablecloth, book stands, a tray of wrapped chocolates (great icebreaker – in case you haven’t noticed, women love chocolate . . . and women buy books). Also, bring along extra stock in case the store only has limited numbers (and besides, the more books you have on the table, the more you’ll sell, so pile ‘em up!) AND, finally, a great big well-made, professionally designed sign (this is seriously worth the additional outlay).

As well, while we’re on the subject of promotional materials, the only paper flyers I worry about these days are bookmarks. Have bookmarks printed when you print the books – the printer can use the cover cut-offs, which would otherwise be scrap, and reduce costs. Print both sides of the bookmark and hand them out – they’re a wonderful way of introducing yourself to potential readers, because you are offering them something.

4. Local markets
Put that book signing stall to work on the weekends and hold a market stall with your books. This is seriously worth your while because a) it’s extremely cheap public promotion, b) people love to meet authors and c) you will learn how to approach a wide range of people and talk to them about your book in wide ranging ways.

5. Local media
This is where the 4 stars come in ****.

This is the difference between 100 sales and 2000 sales.

This is the difference between recognition and oblivion.

Why? Because media coverage is free.

And because media coverage is free it comes with credibility you can’t buy.

So, wherever you go, from here on until you’ve sold every single copy of your book, every holiday, every visit to a friend – regardless of where you’re going, you contact the local bookshop and tell them you’re a (location)-based author who is coming to town and you’d like to organise a book signing. Rural areas in particular will welcome you with open arms, because the arts are metropolitan-focused industries and people rarely take the time to go to isolated areas.

And while you’re there, think about turning your book writing and/or publishing experience into a talk, workshop or seminar – they’ll love you out there even more, and this also creates sales opportunities.

Then you write a media release.

I’ll keep this short:

• the story is not about you and it is not about your book
• the story is not about you and it’s not about your book
• the story is not about you and it’s not about your book.

Got it?

Are you sure you’ve got it?

Because this little fact is the singlemost important factor in your success with local media. Indeed, understand this fact and you are a long long way down the road to having journalists choose you, over the thousand other media releases they received today, for an interview.

You are offering them a story idea. So if it’s not about you, what is it about?

A tip:

Local media is a news organisation. News = what’s new. If you want publicity then they’ll send you down to the advertising department where you can pay for it (and rightly so).

News = what’s new.

What is new about your work – what is its message, what is it saying that hasn’t been said before, what is new (and this is where organising a talk or workshop is very handy, because what’s new is that local people have the opportunity to learn something from you AND if you make it free chances are HIGH local media will be more than happy to reward your generosity with an interview).

What’s new?

Imagine you are bursting with excitement about something relevant to your work. You race home to tell your friend or partner, you burst in the door – what is the first thing you tell them?

This is your lead.

This is the point of your media release.

This is your story.

So, briefly, here’s how to write a media release:

1. date and headline (remember, it’s not about you)
2. 6 short sentences with a space between each sentence explaining ‘what’s new’ and why it would make a great story for their readers or listeners
3. your contact details, including mobile phone number (check, check and double check you have these details correct, including spelling).

A final note of caution: it’s not about you. The story is not yours to control. If you don’t like the story they tell about you, try this on for size: 1) they know their readers and listeners better than you, 2) you probably did say what they said you said and 3) weigh up minor factual errors against the value of the media real estate (space) you’ve just been assigned. I promise you, it’s worth every sale.

And finally – good luck.

Stay focussed. Believe in your work. Have fun.

And remember this: no-one owes you anything.

 March 26, 2012  Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »