Deborah K. Frontiera on poetry, prose and practical marketing tips for authors

Deborah K. Frontiera chats with book browsers at the annual Eagle Harbor Art Show on the shores of Lake Superior.

Deborah K. Frontiera chats with book browsers at the annual Eagle Harbor Art Show on the shores of Lake Superior.

“It is as beautiful as I hoped it would be,” says the e-mail from my friend and mentor, author Deborah K. Frontiera, of her latest publication, “The Nature of Life.”

The hardbound, full-color, hand-numbered and signed limited edition pairs photos and poems accumulated over 15 years of observation and reflection on issues central to existence, from the relentless cycle of seasons to the inner voices of the creatures sharing our planet. Ethereal as dawn fog-wisps pirouetting in the reedy shallows of Keweenaw Peninsula’s Rice Lake, implacable as glacial bedrock, the collection mines deep themes ranging from empowerment to surrender to sheer celebration. On the lighter side I particularly treasure a so-not-Zen ode to the mosquito. Frontiera also took the majority of photos; images that take us into the forest, across the water and through the sky, revealing the extraordinary nature of ordinary things.

The project is personally satisfying for the prolific author who has published fiction and non-fiction for nearly every age range and in a variety of genres but hadn’t yet fully unleashed her inner poet. It also serves as homage to her parents, to whom the book is dedicated. Debbie and her family bid goodbye to her father just this past July, with a memorial ceremony for the sailor off the southern entry lighthouse at Jacobsville. One of her current side projects is transcribing her mother’s travel diaries detailing the voyages, keeping that part of family history intact for future generations.

Debbie and I managed two meet-ups this year, enjoying tasty small-town diner fare in July at Suomi Restaurant in Houghton and then in early September at Candie’s Corner Café in Lake Linden.

I’m grateful whenever my author role model makes time for me. There’s scant room in her schedule. Without being a real-life Debbie Downer, she has reinforced during our chats the hard truth that making a living writing is difficult and that the only way to economic stability is diligence in all things, especially record-keeping, accounting and active selling. Her northern book tour schedule boxes the compass in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The author sets up her tent nearly every weekend at summer festivals and art shows from Eagle Harbor to Ontonagon and beyond. As I’ve mentioned before, Debbie’s strategy focuses on grassroots savvy, including presence at general events, where she is sometimes the only or one of just a few authors.

The retired teacher continues her classroom involvement through a creative writing program for youngsters in her winter locale in Texas. And she’s working on a new fiction project as well as taking her latest publication to readers.

She’s also busy administrating a growing sales initiative, the Kroger Bookseller Program. Debbie serves as coordinator for the program that’s expanded to more than 700 of the retail grocery chain’s stores in Texas and Louisiana. She serves as a clearinghouse, vetting books to ensure they’re well-written and edited as well as suitable for the family-oriented venue. You can find out more about that here:

I’m querying my first novel the traditional way, for now, but I’m also eager to learn all I can about self-publishing. Debbie’s gone a few different routes during her writing career, most recently using CreateSpace to reprint “Living on Sisu,” the easy-reading, fascinating tale of labor turmoil in copper mining’s glory days as told from a teen-aged girl’s perspective.

She paid a computer whiz $250 for formatting. “You can do it yourself,” she says. “But I don’t like to change the oil in my car, either.”

She trades in-kind services for editing and since she already had ISBNs and other necessities the rest of the project was free.

Debbie’s been through the rigors and expense of a 2,000-copy conventional press run and sees no need for self-published authors to go to the expense or sacrifice the closet space given the ease of print-on-demand (POD) and other rapidly evolving publication technologies. Here’s a portion of our Q&A sessions:

Cyndi: How many print books should I order to begin with?

Debbie: “You start off with a nice, big bang.” She advises 100 or so at minimum to cover upcoming events and to assure always having a few on hand for review copies and out-of-trunk sales. The display copies will take a beating, she notes. She replaces them as soon as they start looking tired and gifts or sells the manhandled versions at a discount.

Cyndi: Are tents available or do you rent or buy your own? What’s the routine?

Debbie: Has her own tent and advises buying a sturdy type with air vents that stand up to heavy wind. She also carries four concrete blocks with her to avoid “parasailing.” “You bust your butt doing it,” says the inveterate festival schlepper, who tries to be prepared for all contingencies. “I have a bag with scissors, duct tape, a hat, mosquito spray and sunscreen.” Debbie reports getting “soaked” during Ontonagon’s Labor Day Festival. Word to the wise: Take your tent even if the day looks amenable, pack a rain poncho and use plastic storage bins to keep yourself and your books dry.

Cyndi: What’s your strategy for placing copies of your books in local stores?

Debbie: She maintains a cordial relationship with local bookstores by being respectful of staff’s time and resources. Courtesy and brevity are important. “Call early in the week, not on weekends. Don’t call repeatedly,” she says, noting most stores stock about five and no more than 10 copies of each of her books. “I check (stock) at the beginning and end of the season.”

Copies of Frontiera’s limited edition “The Nature of Life,” are available via Author’s Den for $27.95 plus shipping.

“Write from your heart and skip the rest,” says Debbie.

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