Friday, February 29, 2008

Meager Book Signings

If you have a book signing/talk at a store and five people show up (a homeless guy, your best friend, and a woman with two kids), is it total waste of your time?

Depends on what you did with the situation. Maybe you drove 200 miles to get to the store and sold only one or two books. That's not fun and you spent more than you made, for sure.

But it's still not necessarily a bust.

Book signings are not just about book sales and/or attendance.

They are also about meeting booksellers and Community Relations Managers (those people who set up such events).

Even if you didn't draw a crowd or sell many books, they may book you again got to know them, helped with the mailing list to promote the event, were polite and pleasant, offered to sign stock, sent promotional materials ahead of time, and let them know you appreciated the work they did on your behalf, no matter the results of those efforts.

Maybe someone in the store will even turn your books face out or write an in-store recommendation and hang it on the shelf in front of your books. Maybe they'll hand-sell it when a customer asks for a recommendation in your genre.

Maybe they'll give you the contact information for a sister store in another city. Or maybe they have recommendations for local places you could contact about teaching a workshop or events where you could sit in on a panel at a conference.

On some events (maybe even a lot) you may lose money and time and patience. But you can still make it a winning situation.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Querying Agents

When your book is written, and re-written, and then re-written multiple times more, and you feel it's ready to submit to an agent, should you call, write or email?

First of all, do your homework. Research agents. Go online, refer to the Literary Market Place, consult books on publishing, talk to your friends and local writers' organization. Make notes.

If you've done that, then, at the least, you have names and addresses. You should also know whether they prefer snail or email queries.

As to the address of the agency and the name of a particular agent there who looks at your kind of book? Just because you got the info from the Internet or a book, don't count on it being correct or up-to-date. Agents switch companies. Even whole agencies up and move to different streets or suites. First off, check the agency’s website. That’s better than culling the information from a book (already out of date by the time it’s published) or other secondary sites. If you’re still not sure, call and double-check the address, as well as the spelling of an agent's name and the correct procedure and person to send your query. Of course, you can always take a chance and send it off.

If you do call, then while you've got that agency receptionist on the phone, ask if the agent you're interested in accepts email queries. Some agents now prefer email. It's fast, easy, and saves on paper cuts. Either way, though, whether you snail or email, odds are your query won't actually get to the agent. It'll be read by someone lower on the totem pole. Someone whose job it is to screens queries for the agent.

But what about really cutting through the red tape and just calling and pitching to the agent directly? Don't count on it. Don't even count on getting to him unless you have a good reference or recommendation. He (or she) is busy on the phone or at lunch with an editor, trying to sell someone who is already a client, or they’re actually reading queries or they’re reading the queries that the first-line readers have passed on to them. And, after all, that's what you would want him to do if you were his client, right?

This is not to say it can't happen. So be prepared. You may call to get contact information and find yourself talking with the agent. Be ready to pitch. You want to sound intelligent and enthusiastic about your book, not like a blithering idiot. (Been there, done that.) Have notes by the phone, if that will help you remember your plot and characters, as well as your two-sentence logline.

What day of the week should you call? Hey, you can phone any day of the week you want, but if you want to increase your odds of getting through to a live person, possibly even an agent, here are some general guidelines:

Avoid Fridays. They're most likely not there. And you can probably forget Mondays; they're trying to catch up on what they missed on Friday. Pay attention to the time zone -- don't call too early. You'd have a better chance of catching an agent in the early evening.

Those guidelines usually hold true for New York agents, but are good ones to keep in mind no matter where the agent you're after is located.

At least, that's been my experience.

So, should you call, email or snail mail? Make use of all three methods. Use the one that best fits each particular agent, though. You want to get her attention, not her ire.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another Blood Sucking Book?

Ever read one of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles books? Good chance many of you have since they’re best-sellers. Or if not, you’ve seen the movie, Interview with the Vampire. I’ll have to admit that I’m not one of the millions of fans. I’ve seen a teeny bit of the movie and I bought one book, but couldn’t get into it.

Even so, I thought it interesting that after the entire successful series, Rice, in 2005, gave it up. She announced that she would never again go back to writing about vampires. Then after 30 years away from the church, Rice, a committed atheist, returned to the church and began writing a multi-part series about Jesus Christ’s life.

Now, three years later, she’s announced she’ll write another vampire book. Time says:
While Rice justifies her decision by saying the book will have a definite Christian framework and a focus on the theme of redemption, she admits that the future chronicle will once again involve the character Lestat and a fictional organization known as the Talamaska that is responsible for investigating the supernatural. Much like the author herself, Lestat will be wrestling with the existence of God throughout the story.

If you’re looking forward to another vampire book by Rice, you may have to wait a while.
For a prolific author who writes a book approximately every 15 months, that means it may be at least another three years before we once again see blood dripping off her pages.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Online Book Promotion

Okay, here’s a press release worth reading – and you can do it online. Scott Lorenz, President of Westwind Communications, gives his list of his favorite books on marketing your book.

I’m going to give you the list here, but you’ll want to go read his article to get all the details so you can decide for yourself if you want to buy, check out or borrow any of them.

1. Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors by Steve Weber

2. PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra

3. The Web-Savvy Writer: Book Promotion with a High-Tech Twist by Patrice-Anne Rutledge

4. 1001 Ways To Market Your Books by John Kremer

5. Author! Screenwriter! How to Succeed as a Writer in New York and Hollywood by Peter Miller

6. MAXIMUM EXPOSURE Marketing System Book Marketing Training Program for Publishers and Authors by Tami DePalma and Kim Dushinski

7. How to Write, Publish & Sell Your Book and Turn it Into a Never-ending Money Machine by Jim Donovan

8. The 7 Keys To Publishing Success by Eric Kampmann

9. The Insider’s Guide to Large Quantity Book Sales by Jerrold Jenkins

10. Author 101 Bestselling Book Publicity: The Insider's Guide to Promoting Your Book--and Yourself by Rick Frishman

11. Beyond The Bookstore by Brian Jud

12. Book Marketing A-Z by Francine Silverman

Of course, the author of this article and the man recommending these books recommends you read up on marketing your book, but hire a publicist. He is, after all, the president of a public relations firm that specializes in book marketing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Book Award

Can you have too many awards for books? Probably not. There aren’t that many, after all. But here’s one you may not have heard of:

The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.

Yep. There are six books on the short list, with the winner to be announced March 28 after a public vote.

Here are your choices, ladies and gentlemen:
Cheese Problems Solved
How to Write a How to Write Book
Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues
If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs
People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood
I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen (the only fiction finalist)

Now, you may wonder how I came up with this (or if I’m making it up). But this award is pretty big news. It’s been around for thirty years. You can read about it in the Guardian Unlimited, CBC Online, the AFP, Telegraph UK, even Reuters India.

And you can go vote on Bookseller’s website. Good luck to all the nominees.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Driving in the Literary World

The National Post had a funny article last week about the invasion of NASCAR into the literary world. Even if you’re not a racing buff, you’ll find a chuckle in the article.

The first smile from me was when the author, David Menzies, refers to Harlequin as the McRomance publisher:
It was the beginning of a new literary era when McRomance publisher Harlequin teamed up with the hard-left-turn race circuit that is NASCAR to produce ... romantic race car lit.

He goes on to show how cars have played a role not only in romance, but horror. Remember Stephen King’s Christine? And romance – think Corvette Summer. And, of course, outside of the literary world, cars are everywhere in music and advertising.

Think back to books that you’ve read. In just about all of them, cars are involved and usually named. What kind of car (or truck) a character drives says something about them. And some books really center around NASCAR. I’m listening right now to Janet Evanovich’s Motor Mouth. Yep, it deals with car racing.

How about you? How much time do you spend considering what your protagonist drives?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guest Author: Sylvia Dickey Smith

Our Featured Author this month is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Sylvia is the author of the Sidra Smart Series, set in southeast Texas. She’s also a talented teacher and workshop leader. She has a whole series of workshops she leads called the “Creating” series, with topics like Creating Credible Characters, Creating a Plot That Won’t Stop, and Creating Fiction From Real Life.

Sylvia will be giving away a copy of one of her books to a Straight From Hel reader. You can find out how to put your name in the hat for the book at the end of this post. Good Luck!

Welcome Sylvia! I know you’ll have a lot to share with Straight From Hel readers. I’m very happy that you’re here.

SFH: In your Sidra Smart/Third Eye mystery series, you've pulled together memorable characters, vivid settings and plots with twists and turns. Tell us about the series and anything you have in the works.

Sylvia: At first, Dance On His Grave was a standalone murder mystery. The series developed after I’d landed an agent for the book. She loved the plot, the characters and the setting and said it would sell better as a series. Then she assigned me the task of writing synopses for two more books! Of course this blew me away. I was excited—yes—but after all the work it took to first learn HOW to write, then write the book, and finally land an agent, I felt mentally spent! Now she wanted me to come up with not one, but TWO more ideas for books in a series! I hustled, let me tell you! I whined, I borrowed, I copied, (and asked for forgiveness for that infraction!) and surprised myself that I ended up with plans for two more books. Then, after I got started—ideas just rolled in on the old Idea Express. Now I have more ideas for books than I have time to write.

So the series will continue as long as fans want it, or until I run out of ideas for the next caper for Sidra to get into. Folks in Orange, Texas have supported me way beyond what I’d ever imagined. They are thrilled to have a series set in their neck of the woods. They love reading about a locale, or a colorful character that reminds them of people they know. And it has been fun for me to return to my roots. I moved away soon after high school. I am convinced almost every person in Texas lived in Orange at one time or another! I meet them everywhere I go—even my hairdresser in Austin was from Orange and went to the same elementary school that I attended many years ago.

Okay, I think I’ve departed from the question about other things I have in the works.

I’m drafting a romance novel and intend to have it to my publisher by the first of April. That is a killer assignment, since I’ve just begun the first draft—but challenges get me fired up. I want to see if I can do it! This will be a stand-alone contemporary romance novel about Azilee Tyler—a young woman who raises Charolais cattle and 57 varieties of pecan trees, and communicates with horses better than she does men.

Another in the works is a standalone novel of a young woman during WWII who has her own war to fight—at home.

SFH: I know you're really good at marketing your books. Do you have a background in marketing or is it something you've learned along the way?

Sylvia: I am? Oh, thanks. No, I don’t have a marketing background, although I suppose being a preacher’s wife all those years taught me something about reaching people, eh?

I just hustle—thinking, always thinking about new and creative ways to attract readers, which results in many sleepless nights, of course. I go to bed some nights and my brain just won’t shut off long enough for the Z’s to catch up. It has been said that I see everything and miss nothing. I guess I do. Maybe it’s that right/left brain connection. I’m left-handed and I’ve read that many left-handers draw from both hemispheres of the brain more than do right-handers. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it sounds impressive, don’t you think?

Seriously, I enjoy marketing. I love meeting people; I love creating an environment at my book signings that will attract readers and be fun for everyone involved. I believe life is too short, and if you can’t have fun doing what you’re doing, then don’t do it. Plus, I see it as another one of those challenges—let’s see how many people I can get to listen to me talk about my book, and us both enjoy it.

The difficulty is that marketing is a process that must involve others, and writing is a solitary activity. Writing a first draft takes lots of focus, and when I get bogged down in the plot, it is so easy to put that aside and do a little marketing—looking for a place to have a book-signing or talk to a book club. Which, of course, doesn’t help me get that first draft written!

SFH: You also do a lot of the more technical stuff on your website and blog. Did you have help with things like the YouTube video for Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets or the slideshow on your blog? Are these things the average author can learn to do?

Sylvia: Before my first book came out I developed my own site using a template, and did pretty well with it, I thought. But then time started getting more precious and I hired a web maven to help me with it. She’s great, and helps keep things on track. I do my own blog. And yes, these are things any author can learn to do for themselves. They are not really high tech; they just take time to first figure out how to do it, and then time to keep things fresh and up to date. I love working with websites and blogs. It is truly fun to learn. Actually, when I get tired of writing I think I’ll buy the software and learn how to design book covers!

SFH: With two books under your belt and another in the works and much experience at marketing, including an upcoming Carnival cruise where you're a featured author, has anything surprised you along the way?

Sylvia: Yes, that I got my first book published!

The process to having a book published in today’s market is indeed discouraging. The market is tight and difficult to break into. Anyone who doesn’t have to write in order to breathe would be better off finding another way to express themselves.

SFH: You lead a lot of different workshops and you work with aspiring authors. What advice do you have for writers who are struggling to get published?

Sylvia: DON’T GIVE UP—Instead, keep learning new and better ways to both write, and to present your work. Hire a professional editor to read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. Do not be offended by their suggestions. One fantastic woman (a retired English teacher) who has reviewed both of my books told me she’d share her red-marked copy of my ARC with me if I would not be offended. I said of course, that I’d love that feedback. It may sting, but it would make me a much better writer. I strive for perfection, even though I fall far short of that goal.

If you have sent out ten query letters and received rejections on them all, modify your query, have someone knowledgeable about them give you suggestions, make changes, and then send out ten more. Then, with every rejection letter that comes in, repeat that same process. Discontinue that process ONLY when there are no more viable agents/editors that you can find, or at least until you have sent out two or three hundred letters.

AND, learn to laugh every time you get a rejection letter. I got to where I’d announce to my husband, “Hey, look, another neg letter!” Wear them like a badge of courage, because indeed they are.

If you feel like you have a great manuscript, and other knowledgeable people have given you the same feedback (family members and friends don’t count in this equation) then don’t accept no for your final answer. Keep working until you get that YES! And it only takes one.

SFH: Thank you Sylvia!

Sylvia definitely isn’t sitting around or worrying about rejections. She has a whole list of books, both fiction and nonfiction, she’s working on, including more in the Sidra Smart/Third Eye Series.

And she’s in demand for speaking and workshop engagements. In the Fall, she’ll be teaching writing classes aboard a Carnival cruise.

As a wonderful bonus for all the Straight From Hel readers, you can sign up for a chance at a free copy of one of her books. Just email your name and address to her at You’ll have through February 29, 2008 to enter.

Also, if you have any questions for Sylvia, post them here in the comments section.

Thank you again, Sylvia.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cautionary Tale for Writers

The Los Angeles Calendar Live had an interesting article for authors, especially those who hope someday to have Hollywood knock on their door.

It starts with the story of Deborah Gregory, a first-time author who created the highly popular Cheetah Girls novels, then sold the dramatic rights to the Disney Channel for 4% of the net from things like CDs, DVDs, merchandise, etc. In the end, though, she’s basically gotten zilch.

She did the creation and Disney pocketed the money. She did get “$125,000 over the last nine years in option fees and payments for her title as co-producer of the movies.” But as for the other stuff, the 4%? She can’t even get Disney to show her a net profit participation statement.

Before you think this couldn’t happen to you because you’d have an agent taking care of the legal stuff – she had an entertainment lawyer. It may be too late now for profits from the Cheetah Girls novels, but she’s hired a veteran New York entertainment lawyer and is now represented by the William Morris Agency. And she’s started a new series.

And if you’re thinking this wouldn’t affect you because Hollywood will never knock on your door, consider this:
The stakes are high because 43% of Hollywood movies in the last five years were adapted from books and other written materials, according to estimates by the Writers Guild of America. What makes Gregory's case unusual is that she didn't simply write a book, she wrote bestsellers that led to a movie and marketing bonanza.

Think about that – 43 percent of Hollywood movies in the last five years were adapted from books and other written materials.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Free Online Books

Publisher HarperCollins is offering free online books. Say what? Now, before you get too excited, it’s not exactly what you might think.

The selection is limited, as is the time when they’ll be available. And online means online, not downloadable or printable.
The free books, available to read in their entirety, will only be available for a month, and they won’t allow users to download them to eBook readers like the Kindle. Also, the print function will be disabled.

But … if there’s a title on their list that you’d like to read online, then you can do that and then decide if you want to buy it .. without having to go to your bookstore to thumb through it.

Believe it or not, HarperCollins is allowing you to read the books for free as a way to increase sales. As an example of how this has worked before, they cite the novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
The children’s novel “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” was available free three years ago on but the physical book flew off store shelves: it spent 42 weeks on the New York Times Children’s Chapter Books bestseller list.

Another way HarperCollins is hoping to increase sales is by letting you have a sneak peek at new books. Some books, like Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews and Friend of the Devil by Peter Robinson will have excerpts posted two weeks before they go on sale in bookstores.

Just another way publishers are trying to embrace the eworld without totally losing control of copyrights and profits.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Checking Out the Library

The Library Journal recently reported results of their annual book-buying survey. It’s an interesting look at trends, services, and how libraries are changing.

One part of the report that I thought you might find especially interesting involved budgets. Okay, everybody groan now. But, listen to this:
After a rough patch in the early 2000s, LJ has watched materials budgets rise gently, with a 2.18% increase on average reported in this survey. Spending on AV and electronic products keeps burgeoning, even as the book budget shifts firmly in favor of fiction over nonfiction, a transition first noted in 2005. This year, fiction claimed an average 55% of the budget—the biggest chunk yet—and about one in four respondents claimed that fiction expenditures were growing …

Now, if you write fiction, that’s good news. Spending by libraries is up and more than half the budget was for fiction. Yea!

If you write nonfiction, you might be interested in what library patrons are reading:
As also noted as early as 2005, how-to and crafts titles have upped their public library profile, rising with cooking to a place of honor on the charts—right behind perennially top-ranked medicine/health in terms of circulation and expenditures … True, current events titles keep surging, but the fun factor motivates a large share of library borrowing.

If you’re wondering what libraries are doing to promote books, you’ll want to go read the entire article.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Are You a Party Animal?

Just about all authors recognize the importance of arranging book signings and speaking engagements at conferences, workshops, and other functions. Some authors go beyond the "ordinary" and throw a launch party for their book.

If you're a big-name author or even a no-name author with the backing of a big, enthusiastic publisher, your house may throw you a debut party. The publisher/publicist arranges the gig, complete with food and guest list that includes the press.

If you're an ordinary author like the rest of us, you have to throw your own party. Question is, do you want to?

Answer: Depends.

First off, what are your expectations for this event? Is it to share your excitement with family and friends, maybe thank those who helped you with your research or writing? Or is it to generate press interest and market the book? Those are two very different party animals. With the first, your task is fairly easy -- invite family and friends over to your house or a restaurant, laugh a lot, accept praise and toasts to your success. With the second, be prepared for a lot of stress, unless you can get someone to help you.

You might could team up with a local independent bookstore. They supply the place and help with publicity. You underwrite the cost, supply or cater the food, and help with guest list. Or you could go out on your own, maybe with the help of a publicist or party planner. We're talking finding a place that fits your book (like, a country club for your literary novel, or a spooky house for your mystery, or a drive-in theater for your nonfiction look at the last of the great outdoor picture shows), catering food and drinks, and, especially, getting the "right" people to show up.

Which brings up a second thing to consider: what is this worth to you? In other words, how much are you willing to spend? The cost of appetizers, drinks, background music, press releases, time, place rental, and more can add up quickly. Even having just family and friends over to the house can take a wad of bills from your pocket. So, how much can you afford to spend -- and, maybe more to the point, will the pay-off be worth it? Will you get enough publicity and marketing points to offset the cost and generate sales?

If you're considering a launch party as a way of generating publicity, then here's another consideration: can you actually get press coverage? Do you have media contacts who will either come to your party or write about it? Is your book, subject matter, or friends a big enough draw to pull in press and reviewers?

Here's another point to consider: What kind of a mingler are you? Do you enjoy crowds and social situations? Are you witty or adept at small talk? Can you mingle with the best of them? Or do these situations send you in search of a curtain to hide behind or a bathroom to throw up in?

Now, I'm not saying don't hold a book party. Some authors have had great success with them. Just know what you're getting into and what you hope to achieve.

If anyone out there has had a launch party, good or bad, send in your comments or stories. We'd all like to hear what you did and your feelings about your experiences.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sylvia Dickey Smith Next Thursday

Next Thursday, author Sylvia Dickey Smith, will stop here at Straight From Hel. She’s agreed to do an interview and share her experience and thoughts.

I thought I’d give you a week’s heads-up so you could check out her website and blog, maybe read one of her books, and come up with some questions for her.

Sylvia is the author of Dance on His Grave and Deadly Sins, Deadly Secrets, the first two books in her Sidra Smart Series. The series is set in southeast Texas in the town of Orange, where Sylvia grew up. If you know that part of Texas, then you know her books are filled with memorable characters.

She’s also an adept speaker and workshop leader. In the Fall, she’ll be teaching writing classes on a Carnival cruise. (It’s a tough world, but somebody’s gotta do it.)

She has an interesting blog, where she talks about her books, interviews authors, and gives her thoughts on writing.

Oh, she’s also going to start a free newsletter, which you can sign up for now.

So, visit her site and blog, then come back next Thursday for an interview with Sylvia Dickey Smith. And, oh yeah, she’s going to be giving away a free book to a Straight From Hel reader, so look for instructions on how to throw your name in the hat for that!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is Napster Coming to a Book Near You?

Remember the uproar a few years back about teens downloading music online for free? Remember the lawsuits because they were sharing copyrighted songs by the thousands? Artists and producers who owned the rights to those songs forced Napster to change their way of doing business.

Newsweek predicts that the same scenario may happen to the book world. It all came to the forefront last month with a website for ArtizBookSnap. Sort of a scanner, except designed to handle books. According to the author, the book snapper is sort of a big, heavy, awkward contraption costing $1,600 that won’t, as it is, change the world. You have to turn the pages by hand, two cameras (not included) take pictures and send them to your computer then software transforms them so they’re readable on a screen or e-reader.

The significance of the ArtizBookSnap is that it could be the forerunner for a much more consumer-friendly device that would lead to a Napsterish for Books or an I-Pod-like e-book reader. People could create ebooks from their physical books then share them online with others. No paying the authors. To hell with copyrights.
That's when the idea of ripping books might really catch on, presumably with cheaper, cooler scanners. "It will be inevitable," says Booppanon. "And then the book industry will follow what happened with the music industry." Remember—Napster happened in a snap.

Sometimes it’s not the car coming down the road at you that you have to worry about. It’s the truck you can’t see yet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This is Counter Intuitive

I was reading an article in Newsweek over the weekend. The more I read, the more I muttered, No, this is nuts. By the end, I’d decided that, at the least, it’s totally counter intuitive.

The article, “Free Speech,” focuses on author Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist) and his recently revealed passion for putting his books online for free. This is not to say he doesn’t sell his books – he’s sold more than 100 million copies, in fact. But he doesn’t just say, it’s okay with me if you download my book instead of buying a copy. He works at making his books available online. He has a website that searches for sites that offer his books free. He pays scouts around the world to find where his books are available online.

And he’s convinced that offering his books for free has increased his sales. And … he’s just gotten around to telling his publisher what’s he’s been doing. And, so far, they haven’t tried to stop him. Of course, it helps that “Coelho owns all of the digital rights to his work, except for his contract for English editions with HarperCollins.” On the other hand, his publisher could take action to limit the distribution or to fix the distribution so copies couldn’t be shared. But so far, they haven’t. And Coelho doesn’t think publishers should be worried.
A collection of short stories Coelho wrote specifically for the Internet in 2000 was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, but not a single reader took up his invitation to comment on it. Readers only began writing in when some of the stories appeared, six years later, in the book "Like a Flowing River," which sold 180,000 copies in the United Kingdom and other English-speaking territories.

It shouldn’t be working that way. And yet …

Monday, February 11, 2008

Book Promotion: Brave New World

More and more authors are turning to the Internet to promote their books. Authors have websites – that’s practically a requirement now, not a novelty. Everybody knows about blogs -- I know you do since you’re reading this one. Authors are revving up their web pages and blogs with video, audio, slide shows, book club questions, sample chapters, and more. Authors now use MySpace or YouTube. They go on virtual book tours by visiting blogs instead of bookstores. They join blogospheres to get their names out there. They subtly promote themselves and their books through discussion groups and listservs.

Hell, book promotion can take over a writer’s life! But it has to be done. If you don’t have good sales on your first book, you may not have a second book. If you don’t have strong sales on your third book, you may not have a fourth.

Publishers are now entering the virtual promotion world. They now offer web pages to their stable of authors, with ways for their writers to connect with readers. When a writer is going on a blog tour, they help out with copies of the book to give away at “stops.” And sometimes they go all out.

Like for author Douglas Coupland. With books coming out almost every 18 months, he’s been practically on a non-stop tour. He was tired of it, exhausted. So he came up with a plan to promote his latest book without having to leave home. And his publisher loved the idea. (Keep in mind, he’s already a best-sellling author.)

His publisher, Random House, ran with his idea. They hired a graphics and post-production studio who created videos, complete with actors, to make some of his characters come alive on YouTube. They were a hit.

Random House bought ads and promoted it on Facebook, plus did some of the regular book promotion. Coupland did one author event.

Keep in mind, this was an author who already had an established following. But he went with something new and it worked. Someone’s gotta blaze the first trail or others can’t follow it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

To Outline or Not to Outline

You know the questions -- Do you outline your manuscripts or not? Do you know what's going to happen to your protagonist or do you want to be totally surprised as you write? Do your characters do as you tell them or do they take over and do as they will?

Some writers do one or the other. Some teeter in the middle ground, saying they outline and know where the story is going, but sometimes characters take over and do things they (the writers) didn't expect.

Best-selling author, Steve Berry, to my way of thinking, is one of those middle ground authors. In a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, he says,
"If you outline it all out, it becomes mechanical. It's like watching the same TV show over and over. You already know what's going to happen. It ain't fun."

But, on the other hand, he doesn't just let characters run willy-nilly over the plot. He's ready for contingencies.
"You've got to be prepared to write yourself out....When I'm writing a book, I know everything about that story."

Before he sits down to write, he researches, he prepares for whatever might happen.

So, although he doesn't outline before starting to write, he also doesn't let himself be totally surprised, despite what he said. He has done enough research that no matter what his characters do or where the story turns, he's ready to work his way to the end.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Good Writing, Good Blogs

Well, whadda ya know. I’ve been awarded A Roar for Powerful Words Award. It was passed on to me by Puss Reboots. Thank you Puss…er, Mr./Ms. Reboots. Got a feeling Puss is a “she,” but I’m not positive.

Puss Reboots said the decision was based on three criteria: knowledge of your subject, passion for your topic, and a spark of creativity. (In case you’re wondering what that pink glow is emanating from your computer, it’s me, smiling.) Thank you again.

The rules are:
1. Link back to the person who tagged you.
2. List three things that you believe are necessary to make writing good and powerful.
3. Tag five others and comment on their blog informing them that they’ve been tagged with this award.

Okay, here are three things that I think are necessary to make writing good and powerful (and these served as the criteria I used to pass along this award to five others).
1. A sense of reaching out to a larger community,
2. Knowledge of the subject,
3. Love and passion for the topic, no matter what it is.

I now pass this award along to:

1. David Bowles of Writing the Westward Sagas. David writes about genealogy, history, his family. No matter the subject, he’s passionate.

2. Sylvia Dickey Smith is an author, speaker, teacher, and she used to be a mermaid. She blogs about her writing, her life, and even interviews other authors. Her blog is great fun to read.

3. Blog Book Tours. While they may not respond to being tagged, since each posting is an interview with an author, I’m still tagging them. So many interviews. So many great questions. So much information.

4. Paperback Writer. Here’s another almost all author-interview site, but you gotta love a blog that takes the time to ask the questions you would ask – if you could. And they interview authors who write a variety of books. You’ll probably find something there that will intrigue you.

5. Lastly, but not leastly, Rose Fox Reads. Probably futile to tag an editor of book reviews for Publishers Weekly, but how could I not? This blog fits the criteria – reaching out to a larger community, knowledge and love and passion for the topic.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Voice in Writing

As a writer, how do you find your voice? If you’re working on your third, fourth, fifth manuscript, look back at that very first one. What do you think of it now? Do you still have the same voice? Has it evolved? Do you feel like you’ve “found” your voice?

How did you find it and when did you lose it? Did you find it by hearing voices in your head? Did it come to you in a dream?

Now, remember, I’m talking about your voice, as the writer. Not the protagonist’s voice. Your voice.

The arrangement of the words in sentences. The cadence. The words you use. The length of the sentences, the paragraphs. What the readers hear when they’re not reading the words or thoughts of your characters. The overall voice of your book. The author’s voice. Keep in mind, that voice is not static. It can evolve. It can change from book to book. But some authors maintain their voice. You can pick up their eleventh book and know it’s them.

Chances are you may have developed yours without even thinking about it. And you may have gotten it from other writers. Writers, I believe, read differently than non-writers. We’re not always reading just for plot. There are times when a sentence catches our eye. Stops us. We re-read it; ponder its structure, the way it talks to us. We think, that’s beautiful or I never would have thought of putting it that way or wow, that is such a unique metaphor. Sometimes we may even make note of it by highlighting or adding it to a list we’re keeping of examples of great writing.

Although we may never go back to read that list, it affects us. Not that we copy that person’s words, but we absorb what we consider “good” writing. Good writers are readers. And we learn by reading. And, over time, we develop our own voice, a lot of it based on what we consider wonderful writing.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Getting Published - A Turtle's Pace

Sunday’s The New York Times had a good article on the publishing process. If you’ve ever wondered why it takes so dang long for a book to come out (except for those celebrity tomes), then you’ll want to read “Waiting for It.” It does a good job of explaining the why.
Although publishers can turn an electronic file into a printed book in a matter of weeks — as they often do for hot political titles, name-brand authors or embargoed celebrity biographies likely to be leaked to the press — they usually take a year before releasing a book. Why so long? In a word, marketing.

If you’ve been a reader of Straight From Hel or my newsletter, Doing It Write, then you know I preach that a writer has to start marketing about 6 months out from pub date. This article pushes it even farther out than that.
If it’s a book by someone who people aren’t familiar with, on a subject that people don’t necessarily need to have, it will take nine months to a year for people to figure it out. As soon as a literary agent has sold a publisher a book, and even before it’s edited, copy-edited, proofread and indexed, the publicity wheels start turning.

You’re not just competing with other books coming out at the same time as yours, you’re competing with general news. For example, if you have a book scheduled to debut in the fall, you’re going to have to compete with all the books and pundits jostling in the election arena for publicity.
Nan Graham, the editor in chief of Scribner, said she was releasing very little fiction from July to January. “I’m never publishing a novel in the fall of an election year,” she said. “I feel bad about every single person whose novel I published in the fall of ’04 because they absolutely got no attention or no sales.”

Part of the marketing strategy for your book has to include things you may not have even realized will affect your sales. It takes months to get the word out about a book. Barnes & Noble and Borders tend to order books six months out. ARCs have to go to reviewers months in advance. If your publisher’s publicity department is pushing you, they have to try to convince magazines and TV shows to feature you.

In the end, the article’s conclusion that the wait is not the fault of the technology in publishing, but of the people in the publishing and publicity process.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Publishing Your Own Book

If you’re a self-published author or are thinking of forming your own publishing company to publish your book, you’ve probably had people tell you not to do it. The truth is, the odds are against you. Just considering what it entails can be daunting.

If you turn it over to a print-on-demand publisher like iUniverse, they can do the editing, designing the cover art, printing and helping you get it on online outlets like Amazon. But it’s gonna cost you, perhaps dearly. And you won’t have nearly the control over the book that you would have if you formed your own publishing company.

That said, even with your own company, it’s going to be a steep uphill climb. It’s still going to cost you and you’ll have to do everything yourself or farm it out. You’ll have more control – you’ll have all of it, from the editing, the artwork, the printing, the selling to bookstores, the publicity, sending out ARCs, trying to get reviews, everything. had an article about the author of The Lace Reader, Brunonia Barry. She and her husband went the set-up-your-own-publisher route. It cost them $50,000. Gary Ward, Barry’s husband, said: “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

But before you get too depressed, Barry’s story is a fairy tale, one of those happy endings. Last October she signed a two book deal, for The Lace Reader and a future book, for more than $2 million. New York Entertainment said the rumor was that “the deal was for $2.5 million, not $2 million, but that hasn't been confirmed.”

So, if self-publishing is something you’re considering, read her story. Self-publishing has never been the easy way into bookstores. And few people who take the route end up in Wonderland. But you can learn what Barry had to do to achieve such a profitable end result – beyond just writing a great novel.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Rejection Letters

Unless you’re just writing the first draft of your first attempt at a book, you’ve probably queried agents. And unless your first query letter was an immediate success, you probably have your own horror story or tale of woe.

You’ve queried a hundred agents and got a hundred and four rejections. You had six agents show interest and ask for the full manuscript then heard back from absolutely none of them. You sat at your desk and stared at the phone for three days, unable to make your hand pick up the receiver and call an agent who, eight months ago, said they’d get back to you in six weeks. You landed an agent who was enthusiastic about your book and your chances of snagging an editor/publisher, then checked his website, only to read that he’s decided not to represent fiction (or nonfiction –whichever is the one you write) since he’s not having any luck selling it.

Most unpublished authors, if they’ve been in the business long enough, have a three-inch notebook or a foot-high stack of rejection letters/notecards/strips of paper saying “not for me,” or “not right for our agency,” or “loved the characters, hated the setting,” or “hilarious but just accepted another similar manuscript yesterday,” or some other equally obscure, coulda-been-a-stamp comment.

Gina Barreca, in The Chronicle Review, wrote a piece called “Growing Literary Agents from Stem Cells.” It’ll give you a laugh to start your day.

Get out your notebook of rejections. Ignore the recent additions – they’re still too painful to read. Go back a few months or a few manuscripts. What’s your favorite (read: craziest or most asinine) – now that the sting has had time to go away? What was your favorite from the other end of the scale (read: most helpful or informative)?

Maybe it’s time to reorganize your collection. Instead of lumping them all together, make two piles – hurtful and helpful. If you must keep the hurtful comments, pack them away in a box in a dark place. Keep out the helpful ones. You can use those to boost your spirits on a difficult writing day, or to rev your courage up to make a call to an agent, or just to keep you working when you begin to wonder why you ever thought you could be a writer.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...