- by Dara Girard
Just in time for the holidays I’m pleased to have the founder of Ninth Moon–For Writers whose motto is “Delightful Gifts and Tools to Inspire”
Tell us a little about your background.
Boring! I have a degree in accounting/information technology . . . but I’m a book-crazy person and a writing fool. Prior to college, I managed a bookstore for about five years, so I’ve been on the other side of the cash register and have some idea about what works/what doesn’t. About 3 years ago, I decided to merge my corporate experience with what I love and start a business.
How did you get interested in offering gifts for writers?
I realized there was a market niche. There are a few “reader” outlets like Levengers (which I love BTW), but nothing that specifically caters to writers–at least none that I’ve found. Other than an occasional pen/pencil set, it’s hard to find a meaningful gift for someone in this trade. As one writer put it at a writer’s conference it’s hard to find “treasures, not trinkets.”
How do you find the fun products you offer?
Experience and research and a lot of trial and error. I’m really selective on what I carry. It may mean my inventory isn’t as extensive, but I want each item to be unique, well made, inspiring. Many items are custom-developed . . . either by Ninth Moon or by local artists I’ve made a connection with.
What would you say is the most exciting part of your business? The most frustrating?
The most exciting part of this business is working with authors (even if it’s printing up something as small as a spine-sticker) and helping them achieve success. From a hands-on level, I love design work. There’s something magical about thrashing around with art and color and fonts and coming up with a concept an author is wild-crazy in love with. When I get a message that says “I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it”–I’ve done my job.
The most frustrating part is merchandise quality variations when dealing with outside vendors. When selling over the internet or in a catalog, I am the eyes/judge of merchandise for my customers . . . in other words, it has to be perfect. While some vendors are wonderful, others have been dropped from my list because I’d end up rejecting half (or more) of an incoming order.
What’s the process for custom-made promotional items?
It’s fairly painless (and fun). Bookplates are my most common promotional item. To design a bookplate, I ask the author to give me a brain dump: what kind of things do they like? Are they trying to promote an author brand? If they have a website, I’m off and running to take a look, paying particular attention to the evolution of their books, their bios, slogans, etc. I try to get a sense for the person behind the stories, as well as the stories themselves.
I’ll get other info as well: is this for a specific book? A series? Do you write for more than one line? I’ll use that information and come up with a few designs (usually 5 or 6) and we use that as a starting place. The author will tell me what they like/don’t like and we go from there until we get a perfect design. I allow authors to mix and match designs–it’s a nice way to get volume pricing along with variety. I did a mini-write up on bookplates a couple of months ago for the 1st Turning Point author promotion site if anyone wants additional ideas/info on how to leverage these as a marketing tool. http://1stturningpoint.com/?cat=16
I’ve seen your advertising in writers’ magazines, and now you’re on Twitter. What do you find is the best way to promote your own business?
The best way is word of mouth. A satisfied customer is the best form of advertisement.–and it can’t be bought. While I’m growing my business, my goal is to keep all of my existing clients–not forget them once they know about Ninth Moon. I do this by treating them as if I’m trying to win their business for the first time, every time.
Re: Twitter . . . I’m am a dismal failure! I signed up because a colleague chastised me for not being on Twitter. Now that I’ve officially signed up, I have no idea–none–what to do with it. “I’m washing clothes now?” “I’m brushing my teeth?” True confession: I’ve never made a single Tweet. But I will. I promise.
Would you like to share some information about the charity you support through book sales?
Absolutely! One dollar from every writing book sold through Ninth Moon is donated towards author presentations in the classroom. Why? I love writing, but when I was a teen, I never considered writing as a viable career (hence the accounting/IT background). Kids need to know that authors are real people who have chosen writing for a career–a real career, not just some closet-hobby. With an author in the classroom (I target high school kids mostly), they can ask candid questions and get a feel for how the book-writing business works.
I noticed your “insty-read” service and I’d love to know more. How often does this get used?
The “insty-read” came about as a way to accommodate writers who wanted an independent critique, fast, at a low cost. I’m an avid reader /writer and have been in writing critique groups for a gazillion years. Critique groups, while valuable, can often get too close to a manuscript to be able to approach it with fresh eyes..
So basically, I’m your critique partner for a few days. The author sends the manuscript (either electronically or in print) and the book goes to the top of my read pile. It’s not an editing service, but if I see typos, etc, I’ll circle them. Ditto for awkward sentences–that sort of thing. I also make margin marks/comments and include a one or two page typed summary of what worked, what didn’t work so well, etc.
If the author has something in particular they are looking for, I’ll pay attention to that aspect. Afterwards, if they need help fine-tuning a query letter I’m there for them. I send the written comments electronically, and the manuscript copy back in the mail. I’m honest, professional, but always respect the writer (anyone that finishes a book is a hero in my eyes!). All products at Ninth Moon are 100% guaranteed, so if someone didn’t feel they received value, I’d refund the cost (so far, so good, though!).
As far as “how often”–it varies. Summer? Full moon? New Years? I haven’t been able to isolate trends, but the insty-read offering has been a fun addition to Ninth Moon’s business.
Do you get to read the books yourself?
So far, I’ve read all of the books (simply because I love doing it and don’t get that many) . . . but I also have some pre-screened readers I would trust to do a good job. But I really love reading what my customers write . . .
What about a book really grabs you and keeps you reading?
Two things: a great premise and micro-tension (a Donald Maass term). A great premise will get me to buy a book in the first place–but a great premise standing alone won’t hold me for 400+ pages. It’s the ongoing conflict, or as Robert McKee teaches in his Story seminar, the gap between expectation and result that makes a book grab your throat and never let go. Easier said than done, but when it’s there, magic happens.
Thanks to Elaine Isaak for providing the interview questions.