Autographing Books Isn’t About Your Signature: Book Marketing in the Trenches

My recent writing focuses on loss, grief and recovery. Last weekend I autographed books at a national bereavement conference in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The traffic in the bookstore was constant, at times, packed. Presenters’ books, including several of mine, were displayed on a special table.

Some authors ponder about what kind of pen to use, where to sign, and what to write. Not me. Flattering as it is to be invited to an autograph session, I don’t think that is what the sessions are about. These sessions are an opportunity to meet readers, cultivate readers, and gather information for future books.

What did I learn at the conference?

1. Thick books may scare the bereaved. “I can’t concentrate,” one attendee admitted, “so I couldn’t read thick books like those.” She gestured to another table and added, “Your books are the right length.” Another attendee said my books were the perfect size to stick in a purse or backpack. This was encouraging because my forthcoming book is about 112 pages, the same length as my other grief resources.

2. The cover can make or break a sale. All of my grief resources have photos on the covers. I find these photos on a royalty-free website and send the numbers to the graphic designer. “I love that shot!” a woman exclaimed. This led to a conversation about symbolism and my reasons for choosing the photo.

3. A casual approach works best. Most attendees were glad to meet an author, but some were leery and thought I would use a “hard sell” approach. I’m not a hard sell person, I’m a funny sell person. Laughter is good medicine and I tried to joke with people. Once a conversation was started, many attendees stayed to chat.

4. Life experience counts. One attendee walked up to me and declared, “You shouldn’t be writing books about loss unless you’ve lost a child.” She was surprised when I said my daughter died in 2007 and I was a bereaved parent. Clearly, the people who came to this conference wanted to talk with authors who had been in the grief trenches.

5. Conferences are networking opportunities. I received an invitation to speak and another invitation to be on a radio program. Networking with other authors, all kind and caring people, was another conference benefit. Though I may never see these authors again, I enjoyed talking with them and sharing experiences.

6. Autographing is really about listening. Every person who came to the conference had a story to tell and I listened to many stories. Some stories were so heartbreaking I couldn’t come up with comforting words, other than “I’m so sorry.” Still, I encouraged people to tell their stories and that is important. I also autographed books in memory of their deceased children.

About 1,500 people attended the conference. Though I met only a fraction of them, I learned from the ones who visited the bookstore. Autographing books also gave me the opportunity to interact with my publisher and the bookstore team. I’m glad I went to the conference and was blessed to meet other bereaved parents.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson

How Love Guarantees You Will Get Through Your Great Loss

If you have been close to someone who has died, you are in pain. At times, it seems almost unbearable. You may also feel despair and hopelessness. Guilt, anger, and depression are normal emotions that may rear their ugly heads.

How can you deal with the pain of loss? What have others done to assuage their grief? Some strengthen their support network by joining a support group while others lean on good friends who will share their pain and not try to fix it. Very few are aware that their most powerful coping response is to strengthen their ability to love. Yes, to love. Don’t stop reading. It works again and again, because it takes you outside of yourself, as you will see.

Few counselors or therapists recommend the focus on love because it seems a rather Pollyanna approach to facing a major change in life. Yet, in my experience it is the most productive inner choice you can make. Here are three ways you can use this approach to reduce and eventually eliminate your pain.

1. Work at increasing your ability to love in separation. Start with the intent that although your loved one has died, your relationship never will. It changes to a relationship based on memories, new traditions, and celebrations in which the loved one is symbolically remembered. This is extremely important–you can love in separation even as you reinvest in your new life, as you must. It will get you through your great loss.

This means there is nothing wrong with talking to your loved one each day. Consider what psychotherapist Thomas Moore, in Dark Nights of the Soul, says about talking to deceased loved ones:

“The dead have lived in our space, in our homes, and on our land. They are part of our world…I pray for and to my mother, and I trust that she still prays for me…I converse with her now more than ever before… Maybe if we honored the dead more, we would know better what it means to have reverence for life…”

Light a symbolic candle at holidays and family reunions as a new tradition, start a memorial trust or scholarship fund, plant a memorial tree in his/her honor, listen to the deceased’s favorite music, or eat his/her favorite meal or dessert. Find ways to love. Print out the Moore quote to use as a reminder to become an expert at loving in separation.

2. Start each day with the intent of being a more loving person to all you meet. At the same time, make a commitment to be more loving and caring to family and friends. For those you have had conflict with in the past, look for the good and their strong points first.

Zero in on specific forms of kindness–sincere compliments, giving your time to one of their causes or interests, volunteering at the local soup kitchen, making prayer shawls or quilts for the newly bereaved, or join a group with an environmental purpose. The interaction will help you immensely. Find ways to sincerely love.

3. Use this daily check of your progress. We all have to start new routines after the death of our loved one. So add this new routine to your schedule. Each evening, at the end of the day, go to your favorite quiet place in your home. Sit quietly for a few moments. Listen to your breathing. Relax and light a candle, if you wish or play soft music.

Then ask yourself this question: “What moment during the day did I cherish most, where I freely gave or received love? Immerse yourself in it and take note of all of the details surrounding the experience. Give thanks for the experience. After a few minutes, ask yourself this question: “What moment during the day did I least cherish, where I did not choose to give love or receive it.” Consider the circumstances and then decide what you could have done to influence a different outcome. Each day, seek to become more aware of the needs of self and others, and how your efforts will make a huge difference in the quality of life.

What happens as you give and receive love is that you will find many opportunities to strengthen your social network which is more important to healing than any medication or vitamin. Once more, through loving, you will reduce your risk of becoming depressed and literally strengthen your immune system.

Loving is a choice and quite reasonable; it will bring many new ideas to consider, people to meet, and places to go. It’s inevitable, as it puts you on a high road away from the pain of loss and on a new focus on gratitude for life. It gradually leads to the biggest prize of all: inner peace.

How to Recognize and Grieve Your Secondary Losses

Have you wondered why your grief seems to be going on longer than you thought it would? It could be that you have some unfinished business with the deceased, or you have some anger you have buried and don’t want to deal with. However, one of the most common causes for prolonged grief is the failure to deal with secondary losses.

What are secondary losses? Essentially, they are a host of additional losses that are a consequence of your major loss, the death of your loved one. They include but are not limited to things like a loss of old routines, the loss of meaning, and/or the loss of companionship or a confidant.

Some secondary losses are recognized the first time you go somewhere and normally your loved one would be with you. You are reminded and it’s sad. It might also be that you have to relocate, withdraw membership in a golf or social club, or sell your home. These are all secondary losses that are very important to become aware of.

Some of the most difficult secondary losses to deal with, often not fully recognized, are the loss of dreams for the future you had with the loved one. For example, you were going to retire to a certain area of the country, or you were going to travel or build a business together.

Here are four key factors to consider in processing your secondary losses.

1. All secondary loss should be viewed as a normal part of the grief process and mourned. It is the failure to become aware that each secondary loss has to be grieved that causes many long term problems for the mourner. This means, financial changes, loss of a sexual partner, a good listener to share your problems with, the loss of the “accountant” in the family, or the loss of never being a grandfather. These and many other changes all have to be seen as losses and faced.

2. Some secondary losses may not show up for weeks or months later. They can be a cause for grief if six or eight months (or years) after the death a significant event occurs (a graduation, marriage or other milestone) and the deceased is not there. It could be very sad. Tell yourself it is normal to be sad in these circumstances, and grieve the loss.

You can recognize your secondary losses by simply asking yourself how the loss of your loved one is changing your life. What will you be giving up? How will it affect relationships with others?

3. Often caregivers are not aware of your secondary losses and are at their wits end because you are showing emotion at a particular time. Sometimes you may have to tell some or all of the people in your support network what secondary losses are all about– that your grieving about them is not pathological–but quit normal, and to be patient with you. Some of these losses may have immediate implications, and you will have to deal with them before you confront your major loss.

4. Do not think you can grieve all of your secondary losses at one time. If you have several, take them one at a time, find someone who is a good listener and talk, and if need be, cry them out. Take the time with each one that you feel is appropriate. Some mourners have found that their secondary losses were even more difficult to deal with than the loss of the loved one.

In summary, death inescapably portends a number of changes in the life of the mourner; the losses they entail must not be pushed away or they will complicate grief in the long run. Some of these changes may be very significant secondary losses that need to be dealt with immediately. Turning your attention to them, regardless of where you are in your grief work, is fully acceptable.