Our December Author of the Month, Vali Benson, has been sweeping up the book awards this season. Her young-adult fiction book, Blood and Silver, won a gold medal in two categories at the San Francisco Book Festival, took first place at the New York Book Festival in the young adult category, and won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for best first chapter book! She has generated over 100 reader reviews, and offers up her book-promotion insights to authors on how to generate buzz for your book, reviews and awards.
Published in 2020, Vali Benson was faced with marketing her book during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving online, she began the process of gaining visibility for her book by submitting for book reviews. What came next can be accredited to Vali’s hard work, consistency, and dedication to making Blood and Silver a book on every family’s bookshelf.
Read on to hear about her award and review success, plus her advice for new authors!
Tell us a bit about yourself & your book.
I have been a writer all my life. I can also now call myself a published author. It still seems like a dream, but it’s true. However, it would take some time to develop. My parents never encouraged my creative interests, so I studied retail in college. After I graduated from the University of Illinois, my husband and I moved west. We started and operated a couple of successful businesses. When we sold them, I decided to retire early to pursue my dream of writing. I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, with my husband, two sons, and grandchildren.
Ever since I can remember, I have had a book in my hand. As a lifelong reader, I often thought, “I could do better than that.” So, I decided to finally do something about it. Blood and Silver is my first book. It is a young-adult historical fiction novel about a twelve-year-old girl in 1880’s Tombstone, AZ, who runs into all kinds of trouble trying to save her mother’s life. I like to think it has an entertaining combination of history and heart. The inspiration for Blood and Silver was formed from family outings. When our boys were little, we used to take them to Tombstone for the Wild West show. I was amazed when I learned that this little town of just over thirteen hundred residents had once been a boomtown of fifteen thousand. I couldn’t imagine it, but I knew there had to be a great story there.
What were some of the more significant lessons you learned writing and publishing a book? This could be about the process itself, or about you.
The process of publishing a book is extremely personal and I’m sure it is different for everybody. For me, I was not quite prepared to hear other people’s reactions to my work, either positive or critical. Blood and Silver had only been a story in my head. When other people had access to my words and ideas, I felt that they were no longer mine. Those feelings gradually dissipate with each positive review received or award won.
What have you been doing to market and promote your book?
Honestly, I don’t do anything earth-shattering. From day one, my project managers and consultants at Tellwell have guided me in the right direction and I have tried to follow their suggestions as close as possible. A major marketing strategy that was stressed to me was to establish a digital footprint. Simple steps include creating author profiles on selected social media platforms such as Facebook and Goodreads. An author website is not a necessity, but I would strongly recommend it. I try to regularly update my success on these forums thus consistently cultivating fresh interest for my book. The key is to generate constant buzz.
You have had a ton of success and recognition for Blood and Silver, especially with some notable book award wins, most recently the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Best First Book – Chapter Book. Do you have any advice for authors who are thinking about submitting their book for an award?
I recommended entering book awards because a good showing can establish validity for your book. Unfortunately, most book awards charge an entrance fee. As such, budget must always be a consideration. If you are operating on a limited budget like I am, my best advice is to find award contests that adhere to your specific genre as narrowly as possible.
If your book is historical fiction, don’t settle for a contest that only offers the generic fiction category. Make an effort to find an award that offers specifically a historical fiction category.
Not only will this reduce your competition, but your book will also be in front of judges that are knowledgeable to your specific genre.
How did you find the different book awards you submitted to? Were there any particular things you looked for?
When I began establishing my digital footprint online, I made it a priority to join groups and forums that included seasoned writing professionals. When it dawned on me that I could enter my book in award contests, I reached out to some of the connections that I made with my new writing friends. Their suggestions gave me a starting point. Then, when I started to investigate the different contests, I tried to find the right fit for my specific book by isolating my exact genre. When deciding on an award to enter, I also like to contact the contest via email and establish a relationship with the contest president or the officer in charge of submissions. It gives me a better sense of the contest so that I know it is suitable for my book and that the judging is objective.
Blood and Silver has over 50 reviews on Amazon and nearly 70 on Goodreads, with even more features and write ups on popular book blogs. How did you generate such an interest for your book?
As I’ve mentioned, Blood and Silver is my first book, so when it came to generating interest I had exactly zero industry knowledge. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. As a new author, I try to search out book blogs on the internet that feature books in my genre. I will then contact the site owner and ask if they may be interested in an interview or a guest post. The site owner may be accommodating to a new author, and it never hurts to ask. This is free publicity and can help your book tremendously. Also try the simple, local approach. Investigate local bookstores in your area and see if they would be interested in supporting local authors.
The historical aspect of the book had been very well researched and it did feel like I had stepped back in time. It is a fascinating read. It might only be a short read at 142 pages but it is so worth it. It is beautifully written, tore at my emotions, and had me engrossed from the first page.
– Stacey, WhisperingStories.com
What is/was the biggest obstacle for generating reviews for your book? How have you overcome it?
The quest for reviews is never-ending. Thankfully, my Tellwell team stressed the importance of reviews and I have been soliciting them ever since. My method is not overly scientific, but I have seen some nice results. I will research books in my same genre and look for reviews posted online. When I determine who wrote the review, I will then obtain their contact information and send a review request.
Most of the time the requests go unacknowledged or are declined. Do not let this dissuade you. The more requests you have declined, the more requests you will have accepted.
What advice do you have for young authors considering self-publishing a book?
Your book will succeed or fail based on the amount of effort you put into it. The writing of your book is the easy part. After your book is published, that’s when the real work begins. Be prepared to compete in an extremely aggressive market and do not take failure or criticism personally. On the same token, be sure to celebrate your accomplishments and achievements whenever you can. Remember, just to be able to call yourself a published author is a big deal!
What’s next for you?
I have a few projects in development, but due to the favourable reaction to Blood and Silver, I am unexpectedly working on a sequel.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
In my experience, it is natural to feel overwhelmed as a first-time author. Be prepared that publishing a book is a sobering process and marketing a book is an ongoing grind. Try not to get dispirited. All I can say is that if you give it your best shot, nobody can ever take that away from you.
Notable award wins
Top honours for the Young Adult category at the 2021 New York Book Festival!
Winner of the 2021 SAN FRANCISCO BOOK FESTIVAL for two categories: History and Young Adult.
Winner of the 2021 Moonbeam Awards: Gold for Best First Book, Chapter Book!
Named to the long list for the Shelf Unbound 2021 Best Indie Book contest
Winner of Best First Book (Arizona) in the 2021 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards
Winner of 1st Prize at the 2021 Arizona Literary Awards (Fiction)
Winner of 3rd Prize at the 2021 Arizona Literary Awards (Young Adult)
Winner of 1st Place at the 2021 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards (Western)
Three-time Honourable Mention at 2021 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards (Best New Author, Young Adult, Historical Fiction)