Marketing from the Middle by Karen Hall

WebHalfFigureI write environmental thrillers.  Exciting?  You bet!

I’m an environmental engineer with an English lit degree, so I have the platform and the credentials, but here’s the problem:  I live in South Dakota.  The geographic middle of North America is less than 60 miles from here.  People?  Not so many.

I published my first book, Unreasonable Risk, a thriller about sabotage in an oil refinery, in 2006.  My publisher advised me to set up two book signings a week for the first ten weeks, just to get my name out there.  I smiled.  There were three bookstores in Rapid City (two sold only used books), one in Hot Springs and one in Pierre.  For a radius of 300 miles, that was it.  In those days Facebook had just been opened to the world and Twitter, launched the month before my book was published, was in its infancy.  Social media and its distant relative, on-line marketing, had not reached the Mount Rushmore state.

By the time I published the second in the series, Through Dark Spaces—you guessed it, a thriller again, this one about the environmental impacts of mining—I’d learned a thing or two.  I did lots of guest blogs, radio interviews and giveaways, launched a website and dipped my toes into the Facebook waters.  I also published e-versions of both books.  But for me, the most sales resulted from niche marketing.

My books feature Hannah Morrison, a young environmental engineer who’s capable, intelligent and intuitive, and although she finds herself in jams pretty regularly, Hannah rarely needs to be rescued.  Who, I thought, would like to read about a character like that?  Duh:  women engineers.  So I didUnreasonableRiskCover my research and bought an ad in the journal published by the Society of Women Engineers.  Double duh:  environmental engineers.  They have journals, too.  Though these ads weren’t as cheap as some on-line book marketing opportunities, they targeted a very specific audience.  And they resulted not only in sales directly from the ads, but by word of mouth they brought in many secondary sales.  I also used my local library’s searchable business database to send flyers about my book directly to mines all over the country with the request that they be posted on the change room bulletin boards.  And what do you know!  More sales.

I’m working on the third book in the series, as yet untitled (though I’d welcome any suggestions), this one set in the wild and absolutely crazy boom-town world of the Bakken Oilfields in western North Dakota.  It concerns not only environmental issues surrounding the practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but also the social issues that follow the enormous amount of money to be made from an oil boom, especially the issues of human trafficking and rape in a society where men outnumber women by nearly 50 to 1.

In addition to mainstream marketing, this time I’ll market not only to engineers, but to the rest of the oil and gas industry:  companies that produce well casing, drill bits, compressors, pumps and drilling rigs; companies that build railcars and trucks specifically for oilfield applications; refineries and pipeline companies.  I’ll send flyers to the mancamps in the Bakken—those guys have nothing to do but work, drink and watch TV, so why not give them the opportunity to read about the craziness of their own world?  And I’ll also send flyers to bookstores and citizen groups in other parts of the country where fracking fields have been controversial, especially to eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, where the Marcellus Shale has TDSCoverSmallcaused terrible friction between neighbors.

So my advice to other writers out there is this:  if your protagonist has a specialty, whether she’s a psychologist, a cop, a hair stylist or a firefighter, mine that specialty.  If you don’t know how to find out where to send your promotional material, ask your local librarian.  She’ll know, or she’ll be able to direct you to somebody who does, because librarians are very capable heroes themselves.

Why does it work?  Because people love to read about themselves, especially if you make them valiant, courageous.  If you make mistakes in portraying your hero/heroine, you’ll hear from them, but for the most part they’ll thank you for giving their profession a protagonist worth reading about.


Karen E. Hall, an environmental engineer and writer, earned a B.A. in English Literature at the University of Minnesota and went back to school years later for degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering. She spent many years working in Minnesota’s oil industry as an environmental engineer.  She left to start her own environmental consulting business—and to devote more time to writing.  She’s published two thrillers, Unreasonable Risk and Through Dark Spaces, both featuring environmental engineer Hannah Morrison.  Karen is currently finishing a novel about infertility and working on her third Hannah Morrison thriller.


Karen is also a member of the Pennington County Planning Commission where she works on issues of water protection.  She and her husband Jeff Nelsen live outside Rapid City, in the Black Hills of South Dakota.




To purchase e-books (amazon):

Unreasonable Risk

Through Dark Spaces


An interview with Dr. Betty Jean Craige

Dr. Betty Jean Craige

Dr. Betty Jean Craige

Dr. Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art.  She is a scholar, a translator, a teacher, and a novelist.



PJ: How long have you been writing?


BJ: I started translating Spanish poetry and writing scholarly books in 1973 when I came to the University of Georgia as an instructor. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t working on a book. My first non-scholarly book was Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Gray Parrot (2010). I also had loads of fun for two years writing a column in our local newspaper titled “Cosmo Talks” about animal cognition and communication.



PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?


BJ: I never made money as a scholarly writer, but I still felt that I was a successful scholar. However, not until I published Conversations with Cosmo did I realize I was “a writer.”

Downstream is my first novel. When Black Opal Books accepted it for publication, I felt I could be a successful writer.28451-026 (ZF-10527-14196-1-005)



PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?


BJ: I am retired from the University of Georgia. Although I am on several boards of non-profit organizations, I spend every spare minute writing my mysteries now. Writing is what I love to do best.



PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?


BJ: As yet, I don’t have a writing income. I am 68 years old. I have published 17 books, but Downstream is my first novel.



PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?


BJ: I just want to devote whatever time I have left in my life to writing.



PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?


BJ: I never had trouble finding a publisher.



PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?  


BJ No.



PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?


BJ: I would rather write than promote what is already in print.



PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?


BJ: I was executive producer, producer, and co-writer of a documentary titled Alvar: His Vision and His Art. It won first place in “Short Documentaries” at the Indie Gathering Film Festival in 2006. That was very exciting.




PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?


BJ: My mystery is set in North Georgia, and it’s about the pharmaceutical pollution of our environment. Its setting and its theme set it apart from other mysteries.



PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?


BJ: Figure out what you have to share with the world and write about it. .



PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?


BJ: Radio interviews.



PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?


BJ: The whole idea of promoting myself. I would rather talk about ideas, the ideas in my book.



PJ: Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:


Authored Books

Lorca’s Poet in New York: The Fall into Consciousness.  Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977

Literary Relativity.  Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1982

Reconnection: Dualism to Holism in Literary Study.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988  (cloth and paper)  Winner of     Frederic W. Ness Award

Laying the Ladder Down: The Emergence of Cultural Holism.  Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.  (cloth and paper)     Winner of Georgia Author of the Year for Non-fiction

American Patriotism in a Global Society.  SUNY Series in Global Politics.  Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996 (cloth     and paper)

Eugene Odum: Ecosystem Ecologist and Environmentalist.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. (paper edition, 2002)

Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot. Santa Fe: Sherman Asher Publishing, 2010. Foreword Reviews     Book of the Year Silver Award (Category Pets) (2011)

            Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot. Red Planet Audiobooks, 2010

Parola di Papagallo (Italian translation of Conversations with Cosmo). Mediterranee, 2013

We All Live Downstream. Black Opal Books, 2014



DOWNSTREAM coverPJ: Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:


At the celebration of his hundredth birthday, local billionaire Francis Hearty Withers announces to the people gathered on the front lawn of Witherston Baptist Church that he has finalized his will. In it he bequeaths $1 billion to his north Georgia hometown of Witherston and another $1 billion to be divided up equally among the town’s 4,000 residents—in recognition of their support of a Senextra pharmaceutical factory. Senextra is a drug that enables individuals to lead healthy lives well into their second century, but it has some unanticipated consequences.  Downstream, published by Black Opal Books, is Betty Jean Craige’s first novel. Betty Jean Craige is retired from the University of Georgia, where she was a professor of Comparative Literature.



PJ: Where can we buy it?


BJ Barnes & Noble, your local bookstore and online booksellers.



PJ: What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?  


BJ: I am an environmentalist who loves writing cozy mysteries.