Saturday, February 21, 2015

Show Your Class at an Author Showcase

Today I attended a Local Author Showcase put on by a local book club. The event was well organized and well run, with only some nasty weather offering a bit of a challenge. Most of my fellow authors maintained a warm positive attitude but a few disappointed me. It seems there should be a class in how writers who are invited to a book fair event should behave. Allow me to offer a few tips.
First, remember that you are a guest at an event that someone has worked hard to put together.  So show your hosts some respect. If for some reason you can’t make it, at least call or send an email saying so, so the organizers don’t try to save your table. And if you paid to attend and can’t, don’t ask for a refund on the day of the event. Your organizers have already paid for the space and sometimes a meal for a count that included you. They are not responsible if you choose not to show up.
If you do attend, please be on time. Getting set up in a narrow hall (or worse, at a street fair) only gets harder if you don’t stick to the organizer’s set up schedule.
If there are other rules, respect them. Every little rule established by the show hosts has a reason. If you have questions, ask them respectfully. You are much more likely to get what you need, and you won’t put them in a bad mood that could affect the rest of us.
You should also remember that you are there as part of a community of writers, not a crowd of competitors. So don’t pitch to the other authors. I’m not there to talk about your book; I’m there to talk about mine. 
Don’t ask for trades - It is not my intent to leave the book fair with the same number of books I arrived with, and if I say yes to you I’d feel funny saying no to others. Besides, if I wanted your book I’d offer you money like everyone else.

Don’t steal buyers! If someone is already talking to me it is rude to start talking to them about your book. Odds are they don’t want to offend anyone and so they’ll leave with neither book.

Similarly, don’t stand in front of my table or booth. You have a space assigned to you. When people wander into that area, speak to them. Not before, and absolutely not after. So don’t chase people down. If she was interested in your book she wouldn’t have walked away. If you make her angry she’ll think we’re all like that and will be afraid to speak to anyone.

For goodness sake don’t whine. If you don’t think the organizers advertised enough, or if you don’t like the weather, the venue, the patrons or the rules, keep it to yourself. The rest of us are trying to remain cheerful and positive, because that’s what attracts potential book buyers.

Focus on your book - No one wants to hear about your heart transplant, unless perhaps your book is about surviving a heart transplant. Likewise no one cares that you’re a war hero - unless you wrote a war book.

Finally, be willing to share - your ideas, your thoughts, your lemonade and most of all your enthusiasm. Positive mental attitude is contagious and if you help create a cheerful and pleasant atmosphere, we may even recommend your book to the lady who doesn’t like ours.
If you follow these simple tips you will always be welcome at a future Author Showcase.  And you’ll sign more books.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Panning for Gold

While I should be tackling the final rewrite of the next Hannibal Jones mystery I am instead focused on my publisher duties, reading through an avalanche of submissions, sifting the sand in search of 16 nuggets of gold worthy of publication.
Intrigue Publishing is taking submissions for a Young Adult anthology entitled Young Adventurers: Heroes, Explorers & Swashbucklers. We want stories of action, adventure and, yes, intrigue, featuring a teenage protagonist. We welcome spy thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, paranormal or fantasy stories. Dragons and magic are fine. Straight adventure stories are also welcome and they could be set in any time period. We’d love to see a good western or pirate story. The subtitle, “Tales of teens saving the day in the past, the present, the future & on other worlds” is an indication of the level of diversity we’re looking for. But I’ve already encountered a surprising amount of what we DON’T want.
For example, our submission guidelines clearly state that “The manuscript must be double-spaced, 12-point type, (Times New Roman or Arial.)” And yet, so far I have received stories in 11 point, one single spaced, another in a font called Calibri and one in a format called “.pages” which I can’t open with any software on my computer. If these people can’t get something as simple as font or format right how much detail do we think they pay to their prose? And if these simple instructions are too much for them, how will they respond to an editor’s input?  
The submission guidelines also included this direction: “The important requirements are that the protagonist be a courageous teenage boy or girl, that the story be gripping with a real sense of risk or danger, and that the protagonist survives or saves the day through his or her own intelligence, skill and ingenuity.”
And yet, I’ve read three stories so far in which the teen protagonist is little more than an observer or the person in jeopardy who gets rescued by an adult.
So what’s my point? It’s tedious enough reading weak and poorly written hunting for the ones the rare one worthy to be in an Intrigue Publishing anthology. If a writer doesn’t bother to adhere to our submission guidelines they are telling me that they don’t really care if we buy their story or not.  If you DO want someone to pay for your story, or novel, you dramatically increase your chances when you give them what they ask for.

And now, back to the search.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Writing, Publishing... and Life

Here’s the problem: being a publisher requires a lot of focus. I’m also a professional communicator for the Defense Department. And then I am at heart a writer. People often ask me how I can ever get any writing done with all my other responsibilities.

But I’m not alone, am I? All writers are multitasking. Even if you don’t have a job to do, I’ll bet you have a family, a dog to walk or a cat to feed, friends who need you or just want to hang out, a room that needs painting or a car you should be washing. So, what do we do when this thing called life gets in the way of our passion – writing.

Well, like any addict, step one is admitting that you have a problem. The problem is that there are only so many hours in a day. It’s easy to focus on something else today. Then tomorrow something else grabs you. And the next thing you know, a month has passed without any writing getting done. Admit to yourself that your novel or short stories will never appear if you only write when you have the time.

Step two is to take a good hard look at your life. Figure out what your priorities are and you should actually list them. You should admit to yourself that there are things more important than your writing, but also determine those time eaters that are less important.

Step three is the hard part. Commitment. How much time will you give your passion? Two hours a week? Ten hours? There’s no wrong answer. You’ll write as much as you need to, but accept that you won’t be doing something else. Maybe that means you’ll miss Friday night at the club with your pals. Maybe you won’t keep up with Downton Abbey. But whatever the choice, you need to make a firm commitment to an amount of time your writing deserves and stick to it.

Then take a close look at yourself as a writer. What time of day are you creative thoughts flowing? Does your muse visit early in the morning, late at night, or mid-day during your lunch hour? Once you know that you can make a schedule. That’s right, you should pick up your calendar and block out your writing time. It should be someplace you can see it every day.

Once you’ve figured out how to keep life from getting in the way of your writing, stick to it! You’ll find that if you sit down to create every day at the same time your mind will quickly become conditioned to the schedule. When you sit down to write, the ideas will already be there, raring to go. And your writing won’t let your life get in the way.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Whose Blog is it Anyway?

I promised to talk about guest blogs this week and it’s a good topic for writers. It is a good way to expand your platform by allowing you to reach new readers.  Other writers’ fans can quickly become your fans too. You might also make some new and valuable friends in the writer community. And, it is a chance to actually write some cool, fun stuff.

Placing content in other people’s blogs is usually pretty easy. Most bloggers, like me, are happy to let someone else fill that space once in a while. But for it to be valuable to you, you need to select which blog you want to contribute to. Choosing targets should be easy. You want to be visible on the blogs your natural audience reads. That usually means two things: either blogs that review books and interview authors or the blogs of other writers whose work is similar to yours. A simple email to the blogger is usually all it takes.

But before you send that request you need to have something to offer, so build your guest blog package. The objective is to offer bloggers a variety content that will interest their readers – content designed to introduce strangers to your writing.

Start with a short bio and high resolution photo of yourself. Keep your bio to about 100 words, because this isn’t really about you. It’s all about your book, or if you have more than one published book, your most recent.

 You’ll also want to include a hi-res picture of your cover, and a synopsis, which again should be short.

Almost everyone who accepts a guest blog will use the bio, cover and synopsis. Then you want to offer some stuff they can choose or not. I suggest a write-up of why you wrote this book, its theme or its major message. Interviews are good too. You do all the work by supplying both the questions and the answers. An interview of yourself can be fun. An interview of your protagonist, or even the villain in your book, can be even more fun. Or a short (400 words or less) article on your genre could be good.

Bloggers may choose one or more of these pieces, or none, depending on how their own blog generally runs. Options make your offer more appealing. They tempt the blogger to choose among the options, rather than choosing between yes and no. And if you are successful, your guest blogs won’t all be the same.  

BTW, I’m one of those bloggers who welcomes guest posts from other authors. So if you want to find new readers and expand your platform – be my guest.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

What About Reviews?

My recent blogs about author platforms have started some good conversation, and raised a couple questions. In particular, one of my readers asked about other options. Traci McDonald specifically said, “If you can suggest a good way to get reviews and guest posts on blogs, let me know.” Well I do have a few ideas and since Traci has a new novel coming out this spring I thought I would share them.

Reviews come in different forms. Mainstream reviews – the ones you get from Publisher’s Weekly, The Washington Post or the Library Journal - are the most sought-after and hardest to get. Major newspapers and magazines receive hundreds of Advance Reader Copies every week. To have a chance at all of getting reviewed in these venues, have the sent by your publisher. The ARC should be labeled that way or with the words “unedited galley.” The reviewer should receive it at least 120 days before the release date, and it should be accompanied by your marketing plan.

These reviewers are not trying to do anyone a favor. They enhance their publications by posting helpful advice for readers. Why the time frame? They want their reviews to appear just before the book hits bookstores. Why favor big publishers? They want to review books their readers will see in bookstores. And with hundreds to choose from each book has only a slim chance of success. That is NOT to say you should give up. We at Intrigue Publishing send ARCs of each new release to a couple dozen major reviewers. The odds are long but the payoff is well worth the gamble.

Reader reviews are easier to get and, while they may not carry as much weight they can help people decide to buy your book. You get them by asking. At book signings as every person who buys your book to please write a review. Or you hold a giveaway, and ask everyone who got a copy of your book for free to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads where readers are influenced by their peers. Or you seek out the top Amazon reviewers – these people are more influential than you might think – and send them copies of your book. This can become a numbers game. Some small percentage of the people you ask will write a review, so the more you ask the more you’ll get.

Don’t forget that subset of comments called blurbs. These come from other writers in your genre or experts in a related field. These folks can be true opinion leaders. These you get by meeting people and asking them, individually, if they will do you a favor by reading your book and writing a short, honest comment about it. Most of these people are flattered to be asked and happy to oblige if they turn out to like your work. If they turn you down it is usually because they simply don’t have time to read your book. Be gracious and thank them anyway. Who knows, they may have time for your next book.

Just remember that reader reviews and blurbs will not automatically appear in any high-circulation venue. When you get them you’ll want to push them through social media, send them to bookstores and radio hosts, and get the best printed on your book.

We’ll save guest blogs for next week.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

More about Platforms

Last week we talked about building an author platform – a worthy goal going into 2015. I asserted that to build a strong platform you need to do those things that get you in front of your reader.  It should be obvious that the way to find readers is to go to where they are. Where’s that? Well, for millions of readers that would be Goodreads and Library Thing. If you don’t have a strong presence in those locations you’re missing out. Like Twitter, it pays to be on these sites every day, and you can attract the attention of a lot of readers with a raffle or giveaway.

Book signings and readings are great ways to draw an audience and personally, I enjoy the personal contact with readers at these events. Sadly, this is getting harder as the number of bookstores shrinks and other event options narrow. The answer may be to use a little imagination. I’ve seen successful author events in restaurants, card stores, gyms, gift shops and even grocery stores. If you can figure a way that your book ties in to the venue you can make it work. Just remember that they’ve probably never done it before so you’ll have to educate the owners.

Non-bookstores probably can’t order your books so you should offer to bring them yourself and sell on consignment. Give an interesting talk if it seems appropriate, but if the store has a lot of traffic, just get a table and good signage and do a book signing. Just be sure to bring a sign-up sheet and collect email addresses for your mailing list. You should offer some sort of incentive for those emails: a free ebook download, an exclusive short story or maybe entry in a contest for a more substantial prize.

It may surprise you that your web site is an effective tool for platform building. Despite the apparent take-over of social media, every published author should have a well-designed web site. And that web site needs to have a mailing list sign-up button, because the best way to make your web site work for you is to use it to capture emails. This ties in to another useful platform building tool – an e-newsletter. A newsletter can put you in front of your readers several times a year. Many writers send one every week or every 2 weeks. I send one out the week before any event I’m going to be part of. I keep my formula simple; a cute opening remark, my latest writing news, details of the upcoming event, and something of value to my readers that is NOT self-promotional. That last bit is usually a review of someone else’s book or a web site I found particularly useful or fun. Whatever you choose as a format, be sure to include some helpful or insightful information that will help readers remember you. (and yes, you should hurry to my website - – and sign up for my newsletter.)

Now I can’t promise that any of the ideas I’ve offered will make your book a bestseller. I just wanted to make the point that “building a platform” is another way of saying “Get in front of your reader as often as possible.” It’s really up to you to figure out how to reach YOUR individual reader. So try some of these ideas, and let us know what has worked for you. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Resolution: Build a Solid Platform

As a writer, my new year’s goals tend toward pages written. And looking at a new year from a publisher’s perspective it’s easy to focus on numerical goals or detailed planned activities. But it’s important to step back and look at broader objectives and try to see the big picture. The big goal, for most publishers will surely be: sell more books. When we look for the big picture ways to accomplish that I think building our platform is at the top of that list.

Publishers want authors with platforms because their books are easier to sell. But if you’re a genre fiction writer having a platform is tricky because what it consists of varies. So for my authors – and my readers here – I will offer a very simple definition.  Think of it this way: for your platform it’s not who you know but who knows you.

In the past, the fiction market often relied on reviews either from professional reviewers or from readers. That has gotten tougher with the flood of books hitting the market today. However, if you have fans built up, have a good website and are active on social media, you actually have a platform. That puts you ahead of most of the writers out there.

To build a stronger platform, you need to do those things that get you in front of your reader. You might consider running ads but readers don't seem to favor them. What they DO appear to like is content that they find naturally, when it’s not pushed on them. That would include blog posts including guest blogging and of course, social media.

Our Marketing Director asserts that a writer does not need to work every social media platform out there. The writer does need to find the ones they’re comfortable with and work them consistently. By consistently I mean daily. If you can spend hours engaging with people that's great, but there’s nothing wrong with a plan to post one thing, engage and move on. Or you can do just a few effective things. Remember, being busy and being productive are not the same. Let me put it this way: if you spend an hour reading your friends’ feeds without posting or commenting, you wasted an hour of valuable marketing time.

Blogging is also a valuable platform building tool, but is often misunderstood. It is, after all, your own voice. Again, it’s great if you can blog every day. If not, twice a week is fine. I only manage it once a week, but I try to be consistent. I think it’s better to have something to say once a week than to post trash every day. I’ve seen blogs where the writer is writing a lot of stuff but it’s not stuff worth reading. You need to write something helpful. If you can’t then write something insightful. If not, at least be engaging. Remember, you can write about your characters, or write as one of your characters. Post an excerpt of your novel. Talk about your writing process, or how you do research. If your writers are readers too, talk about the industry. If you run short of ideas, just wander back through my blog.

Next week I’ll share a couple more ideas for platform building.