Intimate Conversation with Debra Owsley
In 2005, Debra Owsley turned her love for reading and her hobby to support her book habit, into the reading accessory and consulting business, www.Simply-Said.net. Debra works with several major bestselling authors, and independent book stores creating unique gift-marks, book thongs, creative displays and promoting literacy. She also coaches authors on how to promote and market their book on a budget.
Debra never dreamed her two loves would turn into a marketing and promotional business, allowing her to meet authors she has read and admired, working at book events and book festivals selling her treasures. She enjoys meeting other avid readers and book club members. Debra is quoted as saying, “These are my passion marks!”
BPM: How did you get your start in this business/industry? Did you have any formal business training?
Honestly I started this business quite by accident! I am a hair stylist and every year I give my clients a gift as appreciation for their business. We always discuss books we’re reading and most clients read under the dryer. I simply decided to give them bookmarks as a Christmas gift that year. They loved them! Some asked me to make more so they could give as gifts. These were something I only made for myself at that time, just because I loved to read and love collecting quotes, so I put them on bookmarks so I could enjoy them!
Marcia King-Gamble was a client of mine at the salon before I knew who she was! She was also one of the clients who saw the bookmarks and asked me to customized some for her for the Goodie Room at the Romantic Times convention. I had been reading her for years and just never put the two together. She is also the person who told me about the trade shows, book events and different festivals that went on. She introduced me to a whole new world I never knew existed.
Donna Hill was my next author client. She saw the Book Thongs at a 100 Black Women’s Coalition event and she literary took me under her wings and gave my products her seal of approval, which made other authors take a closer look at what I was doing and the philosophy behind it; “give them something they want to hold on to and they also hold on to you.”
The only formal business training I’ve received is what I’ve learned being in the salon industry for many years. Be creative, be on time, do your very best, stay two steps ahead, be impeccable with your word and always surround yourself with people who you can learn from.
BPM: Tell us about your most popular service and products.
The “Gift-marks” are bookmarks have great quotes or sayings that are designed to inform, encourage and inspire. They come in two sizes full size is 3.5 x 8 and the half sizes are 3.5 x 4. They can be customized to any book, event, or occasion. They are durable and are heavily laminated and cut by hand with scalloped or torn paper edges to add to their uniqueness. They are the most effective and versatile item because they are more of a gift than just a bookmark.
The Paper Chase Collection was added to the line earlier this year. These have sarcastic book remarks and other things that readers say when reading their books. This collection contains bookmarks, card sized bookmarks and door hangers.
The Book Thongs are book jewelry for book lovers. They are gorgeous bookmarks that can be beaded or with charms. They will fit just about any size book and they absolutely deliciously girly and we call them Book Charming!
The “Book Lovers Book Boxes” I recently added to the Simply Said Reading Accessories line. They are beautiful boxes shaped and styled like books that are filled with all the treasures we book lovers love. Gift-marks, book thongs, a book light, a tote bag, postcards, note cards, book plates, a notebook and pen , even a change purse (if chosen), just to give an idea of treats are available! There are several themes available and it also comes wrapped with a beautiful ribbon. These are a few of our best selling products from Simply Said Reading Accessories.
I love to create and offer Book Candy for book lovers. I’m always coming up with new ideas and finding things we readers love and need! We readers like our bookish things so as I make them I share them with my fellow bibliophiles. Please visit my fan page at: Facebook.com/smplysaidreadingaccessories to see more and options.
The products mentioned here are not merely created for readers, I also create custom work for many bestselling authors, party planners, wedding planners, organizations, sororities, and many other types of events. They have also been used as coupons and event tickets/ souvenir for many social and corporate events. I’ve also done work for birthdays or shower gifts for guests. The possibilities are endless and everything is “remarkable.”
BPM: What separates you and your firm from the competition?
I am an avid reader and I think like a fan. Authors are most times so busy writing and working on the business of their books that they have forgotten how it felt to just be a fan and a reader. If you remember how it felt to be “just a reader” then you can look at things from their point of view.
* What would YOU like if You were the reader?
* What would stand out as significant in the story that was memorable? Not to you the author, but the reader.
* What would make a lasting impression to You if you at your signing or at an event?
* What keepsake would you hold on to forever because it reminds them of the time spent with you?
These things are often overlooked, not intentionally, but they are. These things are taken into heavy consideration when creating a product or gift for your book. All possible angles are looked at to give your readers a “remarkable” memory. I help create those memories and the keepsakes that go with them. I help you to connect with your customers on an intimate level.
Bookmarks are one of the most effective marketing tools there are. They can say a lot and are used frequently which also means they are seen frequently. They work through repetition They are constant reminders of things, people and messages, This is one reason I decided to use quotes and phases of inspiration or provocative thoughts, they stick to your memory. They influence quietly, repeatedly and consistently. Almost like subliminal messaging.
BPM: How would you describe your experience as a entrepreneur?
Extraordinary! I can’t believe I get to meet people I’ve loved reading and admired all my life. Authors are my rock stars! Even 6 years later, I still get absolutely giddy talking to them. Every note and email I have ever received from an author I have and cherish. When they contact me for an order, I do the “Happy Feet Dance” all over my kitchen! This experience for the most part has been an absolute joy.
I remember the first time my name and company was mentioned in the acknowledgements of a book. I had just gotten Donna Hill’s newest release Guilty Pleasures. It was late and I said I would read until I fell off to sleep. I always read the acknowledgements first and I saw my name. I thought to myself I must be more tired than I thought because I’m seeing things. I put the book down and went to sleep. I grabbed the book the next morning to read at work and opened it again and started reading the acknowledgements again and screamed! My name was there! Since then I’ve had many mentions, and it never ceases to amaze me. I still feel like Sally Field when she won the Oscar “They like me, they really like me!”
BPM: What is your biggest challenge in business? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge for Simply Said Reading Accessories was to get people to understand the value. The retail division of the company was fine but it took a lot of effort to convince authors that these products were the exception to the rule. Bookmarks are an industry standard. I’ve always said that there are times when those 5,000 types are the best option, such as when attending large events. But when you have more intimate settings, when invited to a book club meeting, when you want to gift a reader or you really want to make an impression, that’s when you use a Simply Said Reading Accessories product. Presentation is everything, and how you present yourself and your book is how you will be perceived.
Authors were so stuck on the 5,000 bookmarks for $100.00 that get worn, raggedy and most times immediately tossed away along with your information. Realistically, most authors can’t afford to give a Simply Said product to everyone they meet. They really have to be taught the value and philosophy of using my products. But they can be successful in strategically gifting them. Our bookmarks are collectables, limited editions, and keepsakes! They can be gifted, won or rewarded to the ”chosen ones.”
Our products can be marketed around contests, sign up perks, thank you gifts for hosts, thank you gifts for reviewers, etc. There are endless ways of making these items valuable to your readers. It’s all in how they are presented. People hold on to gifts, therefore hold on to your information and their memory of the time with you. That’s the philosophy and the mission of Simply Said Reading Accessories.
BPM: What advice would you give someone just starting the industry?
Some of the key points I coach my clients are:
* Start planning your marketing way before your book is released. Have a plan for each phase of your book business. Create a budget and add at least 30%. Think outside the box.
* Research who your audience is and where they are. Not everybody is going to think your baby is pretty. Don’t waste your time and money promoting to people who have no interest in your genre or subject.
* Start putting out hints about your story and about your characters. Use pictures to give visuals of the story. Be excited! There is nothing worse than a boring person trying to sell you something.
* Spend money and time on advertising and marketing materials that are duo-purpose. Figure out how to be creative with your promo materials If you see a sale on advertising or marketing materials, and your not ready yet, buy it now and use it later.
* Use all social media effectively to interact with readers, but don’t dilute your audience. Don’t copy, make everything yours. Your BRAND, is your Signature.
* Plan which events to attend that will bring you the most traffic and sales. And don’t forget to play in your own backyard. Don’t forget online events.
* Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Repeat what works, stop what doesn’t.
* Presentation is everything. Think like a fan. Remember how you felt before you were an author, and use that to connect with your readers tell people want you want them to do. Post reviews, tell friends etc.
BPM: What do you hope to offer your clients or customers to shape their lives?
I offer every client longevity and a way to be a constant memory in readers lives. Also, I strive to offer a different way of marketing with a more personal touch. I show them how to get the seven touches of exposure needed for people to really see their importance and how to be effective in reaching all of the reader's senses.
Even when I’m doing a brain storming session with a client, thing come up they never thought of, because they are too close to their book or project. I love to bring out of them a new way of seeing things. It could be a very simple thing to bring their project to life. I love helping and guiding them with that process.
BPM: How does your mission or vision keep your business growing?
I have certain items that have been and always will be my standard items since Simply Said Reading Accessories began. I’ve added things along the years that I may do for a limited time only to keep them exclusive to the limited edition brand. The mission is for readers to see these products as collectables and keepsakes. Readers are supportive and authors should thank them in special ways. Simply Said products are incentives to keep your bookmark around.
Saying Thank You and showing genuine appreciation never go out of style, neither does gifting. Repeat business is what keeps a business going. People will always collect things that has to do with their hobbies. People like stuff. So I’m offering them needful and useful things, that they need and want. So I am always looking for and thinking about what’s next for my authors and guests. I aim to be the “Go To Girl” for clever book treats and ideas!
BPM: What are three things all leaders possess, in your opinion?
Vision, faith and believing in yourself and your product.
BPM: What's new in your company, Simply Said Reading Accessories?
I’m always thinking up new ideas! Sometimes the sight of something can send me into the creative cave. “Book Charming” is something I’ve been introducing slowly but are doing very well. The Love Notes with the matching half size gift mark are doing well too because they can be any type of card with a gift to match.
The project I’m working hard on right now is the create a line of all occasion giftmarks that are like all occasion cards. The words Thank You, Happy Birthday, Get Well Soon, Thinking Of You are things we all use many times a year. Why not have a special, one-of-a-kind card ready to drop in the mail!
I also am working with several authors that have some really exciting projects coming in 2014 that I’m excited about. But for right now its hush hush!
With the holidays approaching, I have lovely gifts for book lovers in all price ranges and style, and for those doing Secret Santa’s, Kwanza and Chanukah gifts. I am also working on adding a collection solely for men.
BPM: How can readers connect with you online and how can we follow your new projects?
Thank you so much for this awesome interview! I can't wait to start meeting new book lovers! The easiest way to see what I’m doing is by signing up for my blog: www.simplysaidreadingaccessories.blogspot.com or by joining my Facebook fan page: www.Facebook.com/smplysaidreadingaccessories
Debra Owsley, Simply Said Reading Accessories
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