Monday, July 07, 2008

Jo-Ann Power on Sipping Margaritas, Selling Books, and Smiling with Intent

Jo-Ann, is it mere coincidence that you once worked in Washington D.C. and your name is POWER? Were you drawn to that hub of power?
Mere coincidence it was that I fell in love with a guy whose last name was infinitely better, more memorable—and more easily pronounced (!) than my maiden name. He and I (and others) always joked that I wore Power Suits –in my days in corporate DC world—and had Power Lunches with lobbyists, media and elected types when I worked in lobbying. At home, with 3 children, I tried to keep my power! In writing, the name is useful and memorable!

What made you move from Washington to San Antonio? Do they have anything in common?
San Antonio Texas in 1996 was as far from Washington D.C. as salsa on the River Walk is from peanut butter pie in the Palm!

I was totally lost when we moved to south Texas after my husband was promoted in his corporation. Culturally, socially and professionally, I was utterly out of my element because I had been an East Coast gal for all my life, except for a brief stint in the Army when we went to the mid-west and to Japan. In Washington, I had owned and operated my own PR firm for over 5 years and just brought it with me.

BUT WOW, I had to learn how to do business Texas style! And did I! I learned that women are a big force in business here. (And I lost the Power Suits fast because it was too hot for 2 layers of clothing PLUS hose! UGH!)

Women here are also A HUGE force in politics. Think Ann Richards and Kaye Bailey-Hutchison. I also learned that there is absolutely no funny bone to compare to a Texan’s. So I combined all that new knowledge—in a truly Write What You Know concept, to come up with the concept of a female Texas politician who finds dead bodies wherever she goes! This became the ME & MR. JONES series that starts with MISSING MEMBER and continues this November with the release of #2, BARING ARMS.

In addition to being a writer with myriad writing credits—nonfiction, freelance work, ghost writing, romance, mystery—you are a publicist. What advice would you give to authors who are not “naturals” about publicizing their own work?
Because publicity and promotion can become your second job as an author and because it can be fun, it is vital to have a good business plan AND a budget before you embark on the tactics. PR can get out of hand, I will be the first to tell you. And it is extremely time consuming. (For example: there are rules of the road, so to speak, when contacting media. Ways to send an email press release that ensures it will be read, and so on. Failure to follow the rules—and you have failure to see your hard work reach its audience let alone result in positives.)

The best way to start with media is at home. Work your home market first in terms of tv, radio, metro and local newspapers. Then, go to those other niche markets that seem appropriate. And go with a well-written 3rd person journalism story.
With promotion, the challenges are greater in that you have so many venues to choose from that you need to figure out which are the most important. Chain stores? Indies? The web? Blogging? Blogging with whom—and why?

The list is endless. But it must be tamed! Why? Because your real job is to write the next great book—not spend your life doing bookmarks.

What was the first piece of fiction you ever published? How did learning of that publication make you feel?

My first novel was THE MARK OF THE CHADWICKS (Kensington, 1991), a first person gothic with the woman in jeopardy and the tormented hero. Loved the entire experience! Nothing compares to the rush of the first novel!

Your last release was called Missing Member. Is it me, or is that aggressively euphemistic?

Yes, the title certainly is! I meant it to be. And it worked!

I wrote this book with a grand concept in mind—and at the time, I wanted to write it for PURE fun. It was 2003 when I began and the mood in the country was very pro-conservative. My main character is a female and a Texan—and though you never know her politics (I mixed that up to protect the innocent and make a few points about how Washington REALLY WORKS), I figured it would never be published. She was too irreverent a character.

By the time I marketed it—and sold it, the mood in the country was changing quickly. And so, I felt as though my female character would meet her market. She did! And it was a featured alternate of THE MYSTERY GUILD! Plus, we are sold out of the print run!!! And hopefully now back to press.

What’s the premise of this mystery?
The premise is that a savvy, sassy, good-looking female Texan who is a Congresswoman from the border area and a single mother not only finds her party’s boss dead in her office chair in the Rayburn Building, msut then clear herself of complicity by finding the culprit!

What I wanted to do here was show how Washington really works. I got very tired of seeing some novels where Washingtonians were portrayed only as men who never did any work and ran around town solving crimes like James Bond on uppers.

Janet Evanovich called your mystery the “fastest, funniest, and sexiest mystery ever to hit D.C.” Were you thrilled to get that kind of support from a queen of the humorous mystery?
Janet and I have been buddies since the 1980s when we both belonged to Washington Romance Writers. In 2005, when I called her and told her I had sold this series to St. Martin’s (her house, too), she said immediately she would give me a quote! Nothing like good friends in this industry!

Your commercial for Missing Member features a cow—or is it a steer?—talking about your book. Is this the choice of the publicist in you, focusing on your Texas buying public?
I wrote that script and chose the longhorn! (I have written tv commercials for years—and here, I knew the value of promoting a Texas-gal and her Texas voice to Texans, a natural market, so to speak.

The voice-over is done by a friend of mine who is a video and film producer here in town. But the longhorn? He is a real Texas longhorn with a horn–span of 5 feet! One of the biggest in Texas. He chows down in Boerne, my home town, and belongs to one of my clients who owns an entertainment ranch and film site for westerns!

Wow. You really have the connections. When I was a kid I used to listen to Tanya Tucker sing about the San Antonio Stroll. Is there such a thing?

Oooooou. Not to my knowledge! I better go look that one up!!!!

You’ve written many romances, and I noted on your website that you and your husband Steve have been married for 37 years. THAT is romantic! How did you meet?
My husband and I met in grad school. We had a mutual friend who insisted we date. For over a year, each of us said, no thanks. But then, we gave in. Six months later we were engaged. WHAT A SURPRISE! We thought we were all wrong for each other.

What are you writing now?

I am finishing up a short story that I hope to sell to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Title is MURDER BOARD—and is another Washington-insider kind of story. Murder boards are training sessions put on for nominees before they face Senate confirmation hearings. A real slice of political life! And in this story, death!

Are there certain authors that you just love to read?
OH, yes. How can I count them? And the variety? Janet E., Carla Neggars, Victoria Alexander, Mariah Stewart. Elizabeth George, Minette Walters, Laura Joh Rowland. Daniel Silva. Nelson DeMille. We could be here for days!!!!

I’m currently on a diet, so naturally all I think about is food. (I dream about it, too). What are the best dishes in San Antonio?
Fajitas, chips and salsa. Margaritas. I have to go the gym at least 3 times a week to keep up!

I'm drooling. But I think I can find low-calorie versions of those, right? :)

I couldn’t help but notice that in your author photo, your eyes are actually “twinkling,” something that I thought only happened in books. Are you a mischievous person?

Ah, see me chuckling! Those twinkling eyes are the result of years of media training and exposure!!!

When you appear on tv—or do still photography—you must learn how to emote with the eyes and the lips. Those are the 2 elements people see most—and the ones that folks who meet you in real life recall! I learned long ago in Washington from the woman who taught me media presentation (she worked with presidents, Congressmen and Senators) that you smile with intent—or don’t do it at all!

On your website, you give some succinct advice to writers: “You must begin to end.” Did you ever go through a time when writing was something you meant to do but put off for another time?
To write regularly is a constant challenge. For anyone, I do believe. You must plan it. Rigorously.

I currently have a daily schedule. If I did not, I would run in circles and get little done. I have just beenelected president of my local RWA chapter here in San Antonio, and that means I have a new layer of daily responsibilities. So I must be organized to succeed.

Do you run writing seminars?

No, I don’t do writing seminars, but I do run workshops for authors and groups on how to develop and monitor a comprehensive public relations plan.

You also advise writers to give themselves “permission to write badly.” Can you expand on this?

The first draft is usually awful. For almost everyone I have ever met. (With a few exceptions.) The point is to keep going, refine the work so that has uniqueness, a voice and a theme and moral that are very clear to the reader at the end.
Moral of this? Not much springs from the head of Zeus full blown except Athena.
ReVISION is really ReFINEMENT—and most necessary to a sale.

Any fun summer plans?
I am staying home in hot hot hot Texas this summer, getting ready for the November debut of BARING ARMS, the second in my ME & MR. JONES series. This year, call me amazed, but I have traveled at least once a month—and loved it.

My 2 biggest trips this year? To the Middle East—and the West Bank with a new client, a non-profit group that does work with charities in the Palestinian areas. I am the ghostwriter for them for a book about their work—and I am delighted to do it.
If that trip was heart-breaking, informative and frightening, then my other big trip this year was my hubbie’s and my Annual European, this time to Paris for 10 days! We are still tasting the escargots (big as your thumb) and the kirs!

Thanks so much for talking with me, Jo-Ann!!!
And thank you for having me. I enjoyed it!


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