About Julie Cantrell

Julie Cantrell is an award-winning New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling novelist and public speaker. A TEDx presenter, she is known to inspire others to live a more compassionate and authentic life. Her debut novel, Into the Free, earned a starred review by Publishers Weekly, the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award, and the Christy Award Book of the Year while being named a Best Read of 2012 by USA TODAY. The sequel, When Mountains Move, was named a 2013 Best Read by USA TODAY and won the Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Her third novel, The Feathered Bone was selected as an Okra Pick by SIBA and Book of the Year by Pulpwood Queens. It earned a starred review by Library Journal who also named it a Best Book of 2016 was a finalist for three literary awards: INSPYs, Carol Award, and SIBA Southern Book Prize. Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship as well as the Mary Elizabeth Nelson Fellowship at Rivendell Writers’ Colony. Her fourth novel, Perennials, will release November 2017. Learn more: Website: www.juliecantrell.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliecantrellauthor Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulieCantrell Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/juliecantrell Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/juliecantrell

How to Plan a Book Club World Premiere

Image by Salvatore Vuono

As I’ve journeyed to the February 2012 publication date of my first novel, Into the Free, I’ve listened carefully to authors who have “been ‘round this track” a few times before me. One such author is bestselling novelist Lisa Wingate.

Just before her sixteenth novel, Dandelion Summer, hit shelves, Lisa shared the book with a lucky group of ladies from the McGregor Tiara Literary Society. Then she shared their reaction to the book with the world via YouTube.

Book Premiere? That’s Genius!

I’ve always been a member of at least one book club, and I am drawn to books that encourage people to discuss the themes of the story. I was intrigued by Lisa’s idea for a premiere. I figured, Hollywood holds premieres for new movies, right? Publishers have started making trailers for books, just as producers do for films…so…why not follow that line of thinking and host a premiere for my novel? I was convinced Lisa Wingate was brilliant. And I was right.

But Lisa is not just brilliant. She is generous and compassionate and eager to share her talents with others. It’s no surprise she provided a step-by-step tutorial on her Southern Belle View blog for others who might want to plan such an event. There you’ll find detailed instructions on planning, organizing, recording, and sharing the big premiere.

Without her directions, I would have overlooked details about release forms and microphones. I would have struggled using Windows Movie Maker to edit the clips, and I would have been clueless about lighting, length, and little tips to make the event fun for all involved.

Roll out the Red Carpet!

Thanks to Lisa Wingate’s fabulous advice, and Terri Blackstock’s kind suggestion to check out Lisa’s idea, I have since held three book premieres across the country for Into the Free. I’m editing them now and will be sharing them with the public in January, 2012. But just for fun, I have posted some of the photos and comments on my website.

If you’re planning to launch a book in the future, I strongly encourage you to consider a book club premiere. Even if the camera malfunctions (as mine did with the third event) or Skype gets moody (as it did with the group in Colorado), it’s still a ton of fun and very interesting to hear reader feedback before the book ever hits shelves.

Big thanks to the Beach Babes of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Porch Pals in Longmont, Colorado; and the University Literary Circle from Oxford, Mississippi for playing along with me.

And…be sure to view  clips from Lisa Wingate’s world premiere for Dandelion Summer.

Creative Nonfiction: Top Tips for Memorable Memoirs and MORE!

Photo Credit: Simon Howden / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

My husband parks our silver F150 in a turnoff, which is really a patch of pounded land where folks have repeatedly turned their cars around after realizing the road goes nowhere. I imagine drug dealers, prostitutes, meth heads, and hormonal teens fighting for this spot on steamy summer nights, but for now, it’s just Charles and me. And my doubts.

He turns off the engine, and in the silence, we wait. We are surrounded by thousands of acres of farm fields, old growth hardwoods, and murky cattle ponds. The land is beautiful, and this type of setting would normally calm my nerves, but not this time. Not now, as I’m waiting at the end of the road for a stranger to arrive. My heart races and my breath quickens, as I realize, with sudden alarm, that we might be in danger.

“Should we have brought the gun?” A question I never thought I’d ask. Even though I despise America’s love affair with arsenals, in this position, I wish I was holding a gun.

“What gun?” He’s barely paying attention to me as he checks email on his phone.

“The one in the garage.”

Charles laughs. “It’s a 22.” With sarcasm he insinuates that if we find ourselves going head-to-head with a coyote or a tom cat it might come in handy. A hardened criminal? Not so much.

“Well what if it’s a setup. One of those Craigslist crimes?”

He doesn’t answer. Just keeps emailing.

11:49. No sign of the white Ford truck we are waiting for. “Of course it’s a white Ford,” I say. “Does anyone drive anything else around here?” I’m sure we’ve passed at least forty-seven white trucks since we left the interstate. Forty-six of them, Fords.

I open the door and get out to stretch my legs. The sounds of rubber tires and gasoline engines roar in the distance. Somewhere, within earshot, the newer highway ribbons through these fields, and I feel a little comfort thinking I can run toward the noise if it comes to that.

Then the engine noise comes closer, and the white truck we’ve been waiting for eases its way into a corner field and comes to a stop in front of a metal gate, a rusty chain locking the gate closed.

In the movies, headlights would have flashed, drums would have punched a dramatic rhythm, and a heavy pause would have filled the screen. Instead, Charles’s phone rings. “Yep, I see you. We’re headed that way now.”

I return to my passenger perch and close my door just in time, as Charles is already putting the truck in gear.

“You have the money?” he bites his nails, a habit he’s had all his life.

“Yes,” I check my purse, just to make sure. Cash only, I remember the stranger’s instructions. My pulse shoots flares.

And then it happens. We climb down from the bench seat and enter an isolated pasture with a man we’ve never met.

What’s this scene about? Do you suspect this couple is about to engage in some sort of illegal transaction? Are they in danger? Or is it just a creative twist on something as ordinary and realistic as buying a cow?

If you guessed a cow, you’re right. This is part of a creative non-fiction proposal that enabled me to become the 2012 recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Literary Arts Fellowship, an honor I am privileged to accept.

Whether writing about cooking or canines, remember non-fiction doesn’t have to be dry.

Try these tips:

  • At some point, let us know exactly where and when the event takes place, but use subtle hints to set the scene (music, tv, news, technology, etc., to hint at the era.)
  • Use sensory details – smells, sounds, sights (avoid writing “I see… I smell…I hear…”)
  • Involve more than one person in the scene…it’s not all about YOU. Describe something specific about the other characters. Use a few snips of dialog and let unique personalities shine.
  • Elicit an emotional response from the reader. How do you want them to FEEL when they read the story?
  • What is the main point of the story? What question do you want to answer? Try to leave the reader with one main thought, all while trying to show rather than tell.

When you write, what approach do you take to make the mundane magnificent? Share your thoughts about creative nonfiction and learn more about this interesting genre by visiting http://www.creativenonfiction.org/

Julie’s first novel, Into the Free, hits shelves February 1. Learn more at www.juliecantrell.com

How to Plan a Successful Book Signing

As a first-time author of two children’s books, God is with Me through the Day and God is with Me through the Night, I was surprised to discover that the most challenging part of the journey was marketing.

I had worked as a marketing writer for years; but marketing my own work was…well…icky. As a friend put it: “It’s a bit like standing in front of the mirror with a stranger and asking them to say nice things about you.”

Despite my reluctance, I was grateful to experience many successful book signings after the launch of my children’s books. When I sold more than 100 books at several signings, the bookstore managers were amazed. They couldn’t believe I was having such strong turnouts as a first-time author.

One Barnes & Noble community resource manager hit the nail on the head when he said he’d never had an author market the event as much as I had. That behind-the-scenes work was responsible for the second-largest signing of his career.

When planning your next author event, keep these tips in mind:

1. Your biggest ally is word-of-mouth. Reach out to anyone you know in a community and ask them to invite friends, family, neighbors, church members, school peers, etc. You’d be surprised how interested folks become when they have a personal connection to the author.

2. Send out press releases to local media outlets. Look for television news programs and radio shows that routinely support local events. Contact regional magazines, and reach out to the newspapers for a book review and/or author interview.

3. Post the event on all community calendars, since many media outlets will share the event both online and in print.

4. Contact local churches to invite their church community to join you. You can also offer to visit the church for a personal author event. Some churches have been extremely kind and generous to me by promoting the event in their Sunday Bulletin or weekly newsletter.

5. Use the Internet to locate your target audience and reach out to them via email, direct mail, phone calls, or – of course – word of mouth. Depending on your book, you may want to contact veterans groups, healthcare workers, mothers groups, or schools.

6. Use key social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, iGoogle, and a personal blog to boost interest in your books. Also consider pitching high-traffic blogsites to serve as a guest blogger.

7. Don’t be shy. When you’re at the event, engage attendees in conversation. Remember, humor is key. Get people laughing and they’ll want to hear more. Marketing does take time, but the extra hours pay off in most cases.

Now that my first novel, Into the Free, will hit shelves in February, I plan to use these strategies again when planning my upcoming book tour. How do you help ensure your book signing will be a success? Do you provide free giveaways? Tagalong with a larger event? Mail postcards prior to the big day? We invite you to share your ideas to help all of us make the most of our time on the road.

Happy book signing!