Monday, December 29, 2008

Resolutions: Make Some

Well it’s that time of year again. We sit down to make our New Year’s Resolutions, knowing that these are things that go in one year and out the other. But those of us who are goal oriented try to map out our objectives for the coming year. Aside from the mundane stuff - work out, reduce my personal debt, fix up the outside of the house - I have very definite writing goals for 2009.

Of course, the writer’s job falls in to two categories - creating and promoting. So the goals fall into two discreet lists. The creating is the fun part. It’s what we’re all here for. Some writers like time goals. They commit to writing a certain number of minutes per day or hours her week. I prefer to measure production. So I’ve set the mark that I will complete the first draft of our collaborative urban fantasy novel by July 1. That means producing 9,872 good words every month. We’ll have to bear down, but that’s what goal setting is all about.

The other side of the job is marketing. In my case, that means supporting the release of the next Hannibal Jones mystery, Russian Roulette, by following the marketing plan. Even though the book release date is in June, the marketing begins now. There are post cards, coasters, print ads and bookmarks to get designed.

I’ll be seeking blurbs from other authors. And in February when I expect to have a few physical books in my hand, I’ll be sending those advance copies to a broad spectrum of reviewers.

In March I’ll send pre-release postcards, which means I need to purchase a mailing list. I’ll be buying print ads in mystery magazines and buying a classy video trailer.

Of course I’ll have to set up bookstore signings closer to the release date, send a mailing to independent bookstores, sending out news releases and setting up a blog tour.

Planning is ongoing now for the big release party in June, and I’ll be running a contest for readers to get a little more attention. I’ll get Hannibal Jones’ podcast going again. And I have a schedule for newsletters and blogging, and I have to register for the eight writer’s conferences I plan to attend. Plus, I’ll be making a special effort to reach out to book clubs.

I WISH I could set a goal of a number of books to sell during the year, but that’s not practical. Self-published or Print On Demand authors can track their sales. But publishers, even small publishers, don’t like to share sales figures except on royalty statements. Sadly, those statements arrive after a six month delay. Knowing how sales were going from last January to June doesn’t help guide my marketing in the New Year.

But that limitation doesn’t impact my goals for 2009. What I will do, and what I urge you to do, is keep writing, follow my marketing plan and stay connected to the publishing community. We’ll have to trust sales to take care of themselves. If we do the right things, we’ll see the right results.

So... how many words or pages will you write in 2009? How many hours will you devote to honing your craft or creating new worlds? If you’re not published, what will you do about that? How many agents will you approach? How many conferences will you attend to meet editors? And if you’re published, what will you do to promote your writing?

Come on, I showed you mine, so you show me yours. If I get more than 2 or 3 responses, I’ll share them here (anonymously if you like) so others can know we’re not alone in this.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Writing Life at Holiday Time

Sometimes the marketing side of being an author is more fun than other times. Last weekend was one of those times when the life of an author starts to feel like fun.

My weekend started Friday evening at Borders Books in Silver Spring, MD. It was a great event, aside from finding a couple dozen new readers. First, new pal James Grady stopped by. Jim started his writing career in 1974 with "Six Days of the Condor," which became a brilliant film starring Robert Redford. His new book is "Mad Dog." Not much later, another author friend came through the store - Con Lehane, who writes a brilliant mystery series starring world-weary bartender Brian McNulty. McNulty's latest mystery is "Death at the Old Hotel." Anyway, having a few minutes to chat with those guys made it a special signing.

Saturday's event at Ukazoo Books was another chance to spend time with other writers. Seven other authors who contributed to "New Lines from the Old Line State: An Anthology of Maryland Writers" read from their stories, essays and poems. It reminded me of what good company my own short story is in. It put me in a great mood for the party Saturday night.

My lovely wife Denise and I were invited to a holiday dinner party by a member of my writers club. Our hostess is as-yet unpublished but has a number of very literate friends. She invited me as the “surprise mystery guest.” It was fun meeting new folks, especially in the context of a 70’s theme party (I wore a huge afro wig, but so did at least 3 others.) After dinner and some get-acquainted games our hostess distributed wrapped gifts to each guest which turned out to be copies of my first novel, The Troubleshooter. There is no greater ego blast than to be in a room full of people who are impressed that an author is in their midst, and all are vying for space to ask questions and get their books autographed. Dancing and karaoke followed, but for me the “reveal” moment was such a rush I found myself thinking that every writer should get the chance to feel that.

Then Sunday, I had another signing at the Borders Express in Dulles Town Center Mall. I'm sure the fact that it was the last weekend before Christmas helped make this the most successful event ever at that store for me. Several people handed me books to sign saying, “Thanks! I couldn’t’ think of a cool gift for this one person but you saved me!” That really capped an especially cool weekend for me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Can Authors Succeed in Today's Economic Climate?

What is going on in the publishing industry right now? It seems like a rather scary time for people in the business. I read not long ago that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books. So if you have submitted a manuscript to that house or its many imprints, don’t expect to hear anything any time soon. I’ve never heard of a publisher going so far as to instruct its editors to stop acquiring. One wonders what acquisition editors do at times like these.

At the same time, Simon & Schuster announced the reduction of staff by 35 positions. And Random House, the world's largest publisher of consumer books, announced a sweeping reorganization of its publishing divisions. Bantam Dell (the imprint publishes Danielle Steel and Dean Koontz) and Doubleday Publishing Group (Dan Brown and John Grisham) both lost their publishers. Not fired, but resigned. And imprints are being combined or dropped. People in New York are saying they’ve never seen anything like it.

I guess that means they weren’t around ten years ago when HarperCollins cancelled more than 100 contracts and laid off more than 400 people. The industry survives these challenges, just as other businesses do during a tough economic time. But what does it mean to you and me?

Well, if you’re published by one of the majors you might well be nervous about your next book seeing print. I have a book placed with a small press. The management has not changed, and I don’t’ think acquisition policies have either. And despite the harsh economic climate, people around me seem to still be buying books. In fact, bookstores I was in this last weekend were doing brisk business, even without the 55 books I signed.

Perhaps this really is bad news for most of the books published by the big companies, but most of them never turn a profit anyway. Maybe this economic climate will force them to trim some of the fat, to lose some books that just don’t sell anyway. But for those of us in the small press or self-published world, the big news may be no news. We already know how to work lean, we already work at marketing smart, we already look for every opportunity, and we know how to cut our losses if stuck with a loser.

So for me, and folks like me, the publishing recession might represent more opportunity than disaster. If Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Simon & Schuster stop flooding the market for a while, maybe more people will notice my work.

Am I overly optimistic? Probably. It may be impossible for me to thrive while the giants stumble. But then I remember the words of Rogers and Hammerstein in Cinderella:

The world is full of zanies and fools,
who don’t believe in sensible rules,
and won’t believe what sensible people say.

And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes
keep building up impossible hopes,
impossible, things are happening everyday.

Monday, December 8, 2008

In the company of authors

Yes, the current economic climate has triggered lay-offs and restructuring at major publishing houses and the loss of some popular imprints. I’ll chatter on about the state of the industry next week - I promise. This week I want to talk about something positive closer to home. Yesterday I attended a small writer’s event that turned out to be the social equivalent of a perfect storm.

As the current president of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club I arranged a sort of holiday gathering to end our first year of existence in style. When I say it was a perfect storm, I mean that all the right elements happened to come together at the same time to create a more enjoyable experience than I could have hoped for.

First, we found ourselves in a perfect venue. Busboys and Poets is a restaurant/bar that moonlights as a bookstore. I know of it because it is across the street from a library. Authors who speak at the library often go across the street afterward to do their book signing. I was just looking for a writer-friendly place but it also turned out to be a warm, welcoming atmosphere with an intimate back room perfect for our meeting. They prepared sweet snacks and kept the coffee/tea/juice flowing.

Then there was the turnout. Twenty-one local writers and aspiring writers joined us – just about a perfect number – plus the speaker and me. Enough for lively discussion, but not so many that people got lost in the crowd.

Finally, we had a great speaker. John Gilstrap’s writing career includes five award-winning published thrillers, a successful nonfiction book and several screenplays. That gives him the kind of credibility that makes new authors sit up and listen. It also means he has the varied experience to talk about a number of different sides of the writing business. But most importantly, John has the kind of positive and upbeat attitude that is encouraging to new writers, even while he’s delivering the hard realities of the publishing business.

And he’s such cool guy! How gracious is John Gilstrap? Well, if he’s reading this now I guarantee you he’s blushing. He was gracious enough to stand for more than an hour, answering questions about getting published, writing craft, process and business. He’d have gone on but I called a halt to give him a break.

The bottom line of all this for me is that despite what is happening in the publishing industry, there are still great people in the business, and great people who are fighting to get into it to tell their stories. I may never be on anyone’s bestseller list, but living a life in the company of authors carries its own sweet reward.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Greater Challenge of Anthologies

Like most writers I’m a walking contradiction. For example, I hate writing short stories because I find them difficult to craft, but I love a writing challenge.

That’s how I end up in anthologies. They generally have a theme that establishes some commonality among the stories. For the last two years I’ve contributed to the annual Wolfmont Press collection of crime stories related to the winter holidays. I loved this year’s title: Dying in a Winter Wonderland. I also placed a story in the Echelon Press anthology Heat of the Moment. Published to benefit the victims of last year’s California wildfires, all those stories had a fire-related theme. Each time, the theme was a hook on which to hang an idea, and I really loved that extra challenge.

Recently, fellow author John French invited me to contribute to an anthology to be entitled, “BAD COP, NO DONUT.” This is slated to be a collection of stories about police behaving badly. This one comes with an extra helping of challenges.

First, and most obviously, one of the primary characters has to be a cop doing wrong. Since I’m generally positive about the police this calls for thinking outside the box.

Then there is the fact that John, aside from being a fine writer, is also a full time crime scene supervisor for the Baltimore Police Department. That means I can’t play fast and loose with the forensics or police procedure.

And then there is the matter of deadline. All the stories have to be in by a certain time for the book to go to print on schedule.

One reason I love being a novelist is the freedom it gives you. You can tell whatever story comes to mind, and tell it however you choose, in any voice, almost any length, at your own pace. But sometimes there is a weird appeal to having to write within certain restrictions. That’s why I write in a specific genre that has its own conventions and comes with a set of reader expectations. And that’s why I always accept the challenge of writing to a theme for an anthology.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful... for YOU!

When you look at the economy these days you might wonder just what we all have to be thankful for this year. Booksellers are taking the hit along with the rest of the retail community. When money gets tight many people see buying that latest novel as a luxury they can ill afford. I feel you.

But let me remind you that others have had it far worse. Remember, the Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. In fact, no Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.

So I may not have as many readers as I'd like. I'm still very grateful for every single person who has taken the time to read one of my novels. I'm grateful for fans like Chuck Hagar who recently sent me an e-mail that said:

"Just finished reading one of your books (Blood and Bone). I purchased it from you at the Dulles Expo center last sunday. You got a fan. I didn't see that ending coming, I was so into the story that I missed my bus stop on my way into work. Take it easy. I'll be buying the other books."

And just a couple days ago Kayla Williams wrote:

"Austin - I picked up your book when I had the privilege of meeting you while you were doing a signing at our mall - I'm also a local author. Wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your book Collateral Damage - I couldn't put it down! The characters were rich and layered, the plot intricate, and the place descriptions spot on. Looking forward to reading more, and wishing you every success."

At this time of Thanksgiving, what can I say about how important these short notes are to me? Well, I'm particularly fond of this quote from H.U. Westermayer:

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' that would suffice."

I hope you are thankful for the people in your life who hearten, support and encourage you. I sure am. They all - YOU all - mean the world to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Marketing at the Market

You may know that I spent the weekend at the 15th Annual Northern Virginia Christmas Market. I stood at a table in the Dulles Expo Center and explained to passersby what I write and why they want to read it. Now you may well ask yourself, why would a small press author who is trying desperately to mainstream himself buy books to resell at what amounts to a glorified flea market?

Well for one thing, I get to do the best kind of market research. I have several titles in print. When people approach my table, I get to see which covers most effective catch their eye. I experiment with different signage. (One that said, “If you like Alex Cross you’ll LOVE Hannibal Jones” was particularly effective.) It was a chance to test market my first hard cover (I met with less resistance than I expected to the $25 price tag.) And when you’re eye to eye with people you find out what they like or dislike about mysteries. As it turns out, being able to say, “no graphic sex, no graphic violence” is more important to most readers than “it will keep you guessing.”

And then there is the exposure. Hundreds of pairs of eyes scanned my covers during the weekend, and even those who didn’t stop will recognize my name and book titles the next time they hear them. A few people said, “I’ve seen reviews for Blood and Bone.” And three different ladies told me they would love to have an author come to a meeting of their book club. Those are almost guaranteed future sales.

And yes, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the sales mattered. I signed 89 books over the weekend and even though I had to buy them to sell them, I got to keep the big slice of cash that usually goes to the bookstore and distributor. This allowed my lovely wife Denise to troll the 300 vendors at the Christmas Market and get pretty much all of our Christmas shopping done. Bonus!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Author update

I’ve gotten so caught up in broader industry issues of late that I’ve lost track of the meaning of this log. I’m trying to document my own career here.

I mentioned a few weeks back that my collaborator had not begun her work on our shared urban fantasy novel. I should have told you that she has since stepped up with some beautiful work. I’ll have to really stretch to come up to her level of prose, which was just what I was hoping for in a writing partner. We now have the first ten thousand or so words of what will be a real fun thrill ride when we’re done.

I also have duties as President of Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. I’ve set up a nice holiday meeting at a nearby restaurant/book store called Busboys and Poets. With luck, a broad collection of local writers will attend. One of my favorite thriller writers, John Gilstrap, will be our speaker.

Meanwhile, Intrigue Publishing is preparing the next Hannibal Jones Mystery, Russian Roulette, for a June release. Since many of my readers are also writers, I’ll bore you here with the details of the promotional activities as we go.

One thing you can expect with my next novel is that several copies will be given away - not just to reviewers but to my readers as well. Our thinking is that, with blogs and MySpace, Facebook and Friendster, LibraryThing, and Shelfari, everyone has a public forum where they can express their views. My expectation is that people who end up with my new book will mention it on their on-line vehicles and help me generate some buzz.

Ready to become a social media reviewer? Be on the lookout for your chance to pick up a copy of Russian Roulette for free.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who's looking out for you?

A couple days ago I receive two interesting e-mails within minutes of each other from the two sides of a lawsuit that should be important to every author on the planet. The fact that I know some of the people involved made it even more meaningful to me.

Not long ago, Google struck deals with major university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections. Many of these were older books in the public domain, but millions of others were still under copyright protection. The Author’s Guild saw Google’s scanning as, in their words, “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” Google countered that its digitizing of these books represented a “fair use” of the material. The Guild decided that a lawsuit was the path to a sound resolution. As it happens, Joseph Goulden and Paul Dickson were named plaintiffs in that suit. I know them because they are both founders of American Independent Writers (formerly the Washington Independent Writers,) an organization of which I am proud to be a member.

Just days ago, Google and the plaintiffs announced a settlement agreement. This settlement, according to Google, opens new opportunities for authors, publishers, libraries, Google and readers. You can learn more about the settlement at the settlement site But since it’s still awaiting Court approval, the principles can’t talk much about it. However, the bottom line is that Google cannot continue to scan copyrighted material without permission and royalties. One could make a case that if the Guild had lost this suit, the essential nature of copyright would have been at risk.

As it is, if you have books under the Google Book Search Partner Program nothing changes except that you will be entitled to benefits under the settlement, if and when it is approved by the Court. The settlement includes at least $45 million for authors and publishers whose in-copyright books and other copyrighted texts have been scanned without permission. If your book was scanned and you own all the rights, you’ll get a small share of this, at least $60. Those authors will also get paid for institutional subscriptions to the collection of books made available through Google Book Search, sales of online consumer access to the books, and printouts at public libraries.

What’s the lesson of this lawsuit and its outcome? I don’t think it is that Google is a bad company. I like the Google Book Search concept and they’re in business to make money. I think the real lesson is how important it is for writers to support the organizations that lobby for our rights, organizations like the Author’s Guild and American Independent Writers. These groups, made up of authors, are the only entities looking out for us.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

Part of the writer's life is promoting his work, and when you do it a lot there is sometimes a time lapse, then a sudden rush of appearance. This last week was good that way, and well timed too because of the new release. But more on that later.

I did have a fine showing, signing my novels at the Borders Express in Dulles Town Center last week. We ran completely out of two of my titles - The Troubleshooter and Collateral Damage - but if you’re in that area, don’t worry. They’ll order more.

Also, my new Blood and Bone trailer turned up in a few new places last week including on and popular video site Revver.

And I was a guest on the BlogTalkRadio program Book World News. You can still Listen to the Book World News Interview.

But best of all, in the aftermath of Bouchercon, yours truly was name checked all over the internet by several of the people I had a chance to chat with during the con. My publisher, Karen Syed mentioned me in a Bouchercon recap in her blog about “The Life of a Publisher.” Then Jared Case referenced me on his “Post-Game, and Onward” blog entry on his excellent blog, A Case of Murder. Fellow mystery author Persia Walker mentioned me in the post “Bouchercon & Good News” on her blog, Criminal Musings. And I turned up in Dana King’s Bouchercon recap on his blog One Bite at a Time.

And in an example of pure synchronicity, co-author Lisa Spahr is about to release an audio companion volume to our book, “WWII Radio Heroes.” She thanked me for my part in writing that volume on her insightful blog, POW Letters.

So all of this exposure was excellent on the week when I have some big news to share. As you probably know, The Troubleshooter is the seminal Hannibal Jones novel, the book that introduces my fictional private eye and his world. Although I wrote it first, mysteries were hto at the time and this one is more of an urban adventure, so it was not published first. However, urban fiction is now in its ascendence.

So the decison was made to re-release The Troubleshooter - and it is now available for the first time in hardcover! It’s not in any bookstores yet, but is running a very special promotion for the book, bundling it with two other Hannibal Jones novels for a phenomenal price. Seize the opportunity to be among the first to see Hannibal between hard covers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Life After Bouchercon

Bouchercon - the premiere annual event for mystery writers and fans - was more fun than a writer should be allowed to have. Thursday thru Sunday I was in my element, and I'm still sorting through the sensory overload. I won't bore you with details of all four days of wonder but I will hit the highlights just to give you an idea.

I sat on a panel with some excellent writers and got to talk about how we construct a puzzle to keep the reader interested. I watched a slew of great panels too and, while it's hard to rate them on a relative scale I'll admit that my favorite panel had only 3 people on it. Christa Faust talked about Richard Prather (Shell Scott's creator,) Gary Phillips talked about Chester Himes (Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones) and Max Allen Collins schooled us on Mickey Spillane (I don't have to tell you he wrote Mike Hammer, do I?) They were all amazing in both depth of knowledge and understanding of these seminal authors.

Another highlight of the event was the most excellent hospitality suite that Sisters in Crime put on. It was an oasis in the midst of merry chaos.

Then there's the whole ego thing. It's kind of cool to have fans ask about my work. It's very cool to have new writers ask for my advice. It is super cool to be recognized by guys like Max Allen Collins (Road to Perdition and a zillion other things) Louis Bayard (Edgar nominated The Pale Blue Eye) and Bob Randisi (founder of the Private Eye Writers of America.) When guys like that call you by name you feel like a star yourself for a minute.

I left the hotel long enough to give a presentation Saturday at the Canton Library, the nation's first branch library, standing in the same place since 1886. Those wonderful folks kept me there, answering questions and signing books for two hours.

In the meanwhile, my Bouchercon blog post for the Baltimore Sun was so popular that it was referenced and quoted in the competing Washington City Paper. And then it was referenced again in an article in the Baltimore Sun, and again in the Baltimore Sun's Read Street blog.

But the BEST thing was getting an e-mail Monday from a lady I met at Bouchercon for whom I signed a book. She said, "I finished reading it on the plane ride home. Wow! It was even better than I anticipated after I heard you speak. I will be buying and reading your susequent books. Your characters are believable, interesting and "hooked" me from page 1. I hope to see you at Bouchercon in Indianapolis next year. Thank you for your books and I hope you keep getting published!"

Yeah, THAT would have been a good reason to show up at Bouchercon all by itself!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The sorta kinda writing life

When I’m writing fiction I always know what comes next because I work to a detailed outline. Blogging, on the other hand, gives me a chance to experience what so many other authors have whined to me about in the past - writer’s block.

So here I am in my blog that’s supposed to be about my writing life. The only thing is, I haven’t been writing. The last couple of weeks have yielded precious few new words of fiction. So what am I supposed to talk about when I’m not living the writing life?

Well, when my editorial director self asked that question, my worker bee self replied, “What about all that writing that isn’t writing?”

Hmmm... well, I do write that newsletter every week. It’s meant to be marketing, but there’s always some value added in there - a web site of interest to my readers, or a new book they should read.

I wrote to my agent. She’ll be at Bouchercon and I wanted her to know all the questions I’ll ask when she gets here. And I did add a chapter to the urban fantasy novel I’m working on with a collaborator.

Oh, and I did prepare some questions and answers for the panel I’ll be on Thursday at Bouchercon, just so I’d be prepared. In fact, I’m giving a talk during Bouchercon at the Canton branch of the Baltimore library. For that I refreshed and updated a talk I gave a while back on why people love crime fiction. Then I wrote a blog based on that talk for the blog I post on Criminal Minds at Work.

I was also asked to guest blog on Read Street, the Baltimore Sun's book blog. I put together a piece on African American private eyes in fiction, pointing out just how rare Hannibal Jones is. That will appear Thursday so watch their web site.

So, looking back I guess even when I’m not seriously working on a novel or short story I still get a little writing done.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The joy of speaking to students

A high point in this writer's life was spending a morning at the Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton, MD. I got to be a celebrity of sorts for a couple of hours, and maybe inspire the next Hemingway.

I was invited to help kick off the America's Choice program, which asks each student to read 25 books or one million words by the end of the school year. The program has been implemented in 17 middle schools and 22 elementary schools in Carroll County.

I have to say that I wish I had teachers when I was in school like the people I met at Charles Carroll. They were so positive and upbeat, I wanted to join in on the school's 25 book campaign. Charles Carroll Principal Eric Wood told me he wants to expand his students' vocabulary and English language proficiency. He also wants the community to become a part of the progress.

As part of the campaign kickoff, I gave a short talk to a gym full of seventh graders, and then a cafeteria full of 8th graders. There must have been nearly a thousand kids there, enthusiastic and questioning, yet remarkably well behaved.

After the two assemblies I joined another author for lunch with the students who had read the principal's first selected book. They asked plenty of good questions and we did our best to answer them.

In my talk I told the students that it was impossible to read too much - there is no overdose. And every book expands our view of the universe. You can see more of what I told them in the article that appeared in the Gazette about the program.

I think every writer should set aside from time to visit schools. As an author, taking some time to speak to school children is not about selling books. It's about giving back, and building a future generation that can share my love of reading.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blurb Me!

Blurb Me!

By attending writers’ conventions and being personable I've been able to get some pretty nice folks to write blurbs for some of my books. Warren Murphy and Ken Bruen have blurbs on my published works, and people like Libby Fisher Hellman and David Hagberg have given me blurbs on manuscripts that are still making the rounds. In the same vein, I've written blurbs for other authors whose work impressed me. I always thought this was simply one good way to give a book s little more credibility, but now I'm no longer so sure.

I recently learned about a company called Blurbings LLC that offers writers the chance to buy and sell book endorsements. In other words, they traffic in blurbs.

Blurbs for cash? From who? After all, getting one unknown writer to endorse another unknown writer probably doesn’t do much for either one. On the other hand, some might say that this company has simply put a price on what mainstream publishers and agents ask authors to do all the time.

Yes, most of my blurbs have come from writers with whom I have made friends, and that may make them seem less impartial. I got David Hagburg’s kind words only because we share the same agent, although he assured me face to face that he would never give a blurb for a book he didn’t think was very good. But it’s fair to wonder to what extent all these blurbs represent friends being nice or favors being traded. In any case it sure can’t hurt to have a published author praise your work - although before you plunk down your $19.95 you should clearly understand that there’s no real evidence that blurbs actually help sell books.

I must admit that when I pick up a piece of fiction I may be swayed by whose blurb is present. If a writer whose work I love praises a book I am more likely to buy it. But I wish there was a way to know if the author landed the blurb himself or if his publisher requested it. One seems somehow more valuable than the other to me.

The bottom line is that I feel as if blurbs are worth less now that you can buy them, much like reviews which can also be purchased. I will still offer this favor for authors who really impress me, and still ask it of my heroes, but that’s more for my ego than with the thought that it will help my book sales.

But I’m curious. What do you think of blurbs on books? Do you ignore them, or do they help you make the purchase decision?

Friday, September 12, 2008


So, here’s the thing about working with another writer: you don’t want to overshadow their work, because your self image is that you’re a good team player and equal partner. At the same time you want to run over the other person’s stuff because, deep down, we all believe that we are the best writer anywhere and if someone else doesn’t think so that just speaks to their bad taste in literature.

So, my writing partner and I were having it too easy working on our first urban fantasy. We consistently loved each other’s ideas for this next book. I had an instinctive feel for the protagonist and an idea for a new spin on lycanthropy. She came with a super umbrella concept that would contain this little universe we’re creating, and a female protagonist who is guaranteed to pull both the male and female readers. She also had the best idea for a location and several specific scenes that will give this book heart.

Then we hammered out a basic outline in no time flat. We pretty much know what’s going to happen and in what order, and even have a pretty good view of how the series is going to run. We are ready to rock!

The thing is, once I get to this stage I want to get into the analogous studio and start laying down tracks. Meloney, bless her heart, has a very full life and needs to leave it in the crock pot a bit longer before she’s sure it’s soup. The musician and chef mixed metaphors pretty well sum up the differences between us as creative talents.

So, what is a stalled writer to do? Well... he races ahead because he can’t help it. I was well prepared to deal with my male lead but not prepared to write the girl. She was born from Meloney’s mind; much like Aphrodite was born of the blood of the Heavens and the foam of the sea. I won’t be able to feel her until Meloney has written her, and she is the focus of chapter three.

So in a fiery burst of inspiration I have pounded out chapters one and two. And four. And five, and in fact chapter 8 as well. With a couple of exceptions those are sort of interstitial chapters that reveal much of the background of our location, Portland, and create a certain amount of suspense. And I’ve written some stuff that gets into the meat of the male protagonist and I am very eager to meet and get to know his partner, but the anticipation is killing me.

Still, if I thought I could write this thing alone I wouldn’t have formed the partnership with Meloney. She is a gifted talent who knows the horror space the way I know the private eye turf. Better, actually. This will be a MUCH better book with her than I could have cooked up on my own. I absolutely know that to be true. And I knew going in that writing with a collaborator would require compromise, patience and humility. What I didn’t realize, was that it would call for an economy-sized helping of patience

I’m being good, but like the comic vulture, if something doesn’t drop soon I’m afraid I may well decide to kill something.


Here's a little clue about my part of the upcoming book - (substitute “Portland” for “London.”

And a little clue about Meloney’s piece of the coming book.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Winner!! And, Literary Cubism for the Twenty-first Century

We have a thought provoking guest blog for you today, but first I want to announce the grand prize winner of my contest to promote "Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century."

Congratulations to Yvonne Eve Walus! The contest called for entrants to send me their best tips on how to market full length fiction. Yvonne encourages us to network with fellow writers to built new opportunities, cross-market our books and distribute each other's promo materials. She also says to market e-books chiefly on the Internet, and she reminds us to market to readers not fellow writers. But the winning bit of advice I think was to appeal to the impulsive buyers with short-time-only discounts and give-aways - a sly nod to my own contest which she just won.

Yvonne wins a copy of my book, free business cards from and a $50 gift certificate toward bookmarks, a book cover or any other service offered by – the company that designed the cover of Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century.

Yvonne is the author of nearly a dozen books, including "Murder @ Work." The fact that she is a fellow Echelon Press author was NOT a factor in her winning, although the fact that she is from New Zealand may have swayed me, as I have a soft spot in my heart for kiwis. :-)

And now, for those who want to sharpen their literary skills (as opposed to their marketing skills) here is an insightful essay from Mohamed Mughal, whose novel, "Resolution 786." Jessica Roberts of calls "Deep, funny, poignant and ultimately satisfying." Let's find out what he means my literary cubism. Take it away, Mohamed.

The world moves faster these days. From political campaign snippets to the latest teen idol (who is it this week?) to the rolling scenes of music videos, things come, things go, other things take their place and then they, too, go.

But literature, good literature, is meant for savoring. It lingers. Touches. Whispers. Long after the written words are gone from view, those abstract black symbols that pull our eyes from left to right continue to play music in our minds.

And herein lies the conundrum. How can twenty-first century literature be fitted to a world that moves faster, to a public who wants and expects an avalanche of enticement?

Literary cubism.

The Eleventh Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines cubism as:

“a style of art that stresses abstract structure at the expense of other pictorial elements esp. by displaying several aspects of the same object simultaneously and by fragmenting the form of depicted objects.”



The “same object” in that working definition is my story. The “several aspects” and fragmented forms which I display include poems, e-mail messages, personal notes and legal documents, to name a few. And, yes, there’s room and necessity for blocks of traditional prose in literary cubism.

Cubist writing is liberating. It adds to a writer’s toolbox for telling his or her story. We’ve always had description and dialogue to set scenes, build moods, and create consistent, compelling characters. It feels good to now have the text of an e-mail message to do any or all of those things. We also have poems, personal notes, grocery lists, and any other form of written media. They can all be used to great effect to show a lifestyle, define a character’s motives and psyche, or to paint a relationship.

As I said before – liberating.

But as much license as literary cubism bestows, there are still some “Do Not Drive” lanes on this literary highway. Do not use incorrect grammar, spelling or punctuation (unless you’re Cummings “sketching” a poem onto the page). Do not use flat, un-interesting prose. And, whatever you do, do not let your focus stray from telling a good story. The grandest literary artistry is for naught if you fail to tell a good story.

I find literary cubism to be a sharp, fresh and consistently interesting method for constructing novels. Considering how fast our world moves today, how flashed and multi-variant our entertainment media and tastes are, I’m surprised that more writers don’t use cubism. It is an ideal structure for story telling in the twenty-first century.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Trailer Parking

You probably know that I host a Blog Talk Radio program called, “Book Bridge: From Authors to Readers.” What you may not know is that the show is owned by Circle of Seven Productions. Circle of Seven specializes in book trailers - they had more than 100 clients last year – and right now they’re busy producing a book trailer for my novel, Blood and Bone.

Will a new book trailer boost sales? Who knows? In fact, does anyone know? I doubt it. But there are a lot of books out there, and sales are not for publishers in general right now, so many seem to have fallen into a “try anything” mode. Publishers naturally encourage authors to get trailers. It can’t hurt and it costs the publisher nothing. Whether or not it convinces people to buy, it is at least entertaining for us all because by definition, authors are creative types. James Patterson talks directly to readers in his videos, pitching and explaining his books as if he were sitting in a book club’s meeting. And Meg Cabot deserves some sort of prize using Barbie dolls to put on a veritable puppet show on video to promote her books.

Entertaining, as I said, but what of my principle of evidence-based marketing? You know, my basic principle that one should not invest in any promotional effort unless there's evidence that it will pay for itself in sales? Well, I haven’t violated it, I’ve simply used some of that creativity I mentioned. Rather than being paid for serving as host of Book Bridge I’ve bartered my services for a book trailer. Their products are excellent, but what really attracted me was their distribution system.

Even their most basic book trailer comes with a lot of potential exposure. They offer the trailer to 30 social media sites, 4 more specific to my genre, half a dozen bookmarking sites and more than 300 bookseller sites. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the video will be accepted at all of them, but in most cases it is. I’m also getting the Transit TV service, which will take my book trailer beyond the internet. You see, mass transit buses in Los Angeles, Chicago, Orlando, Atlanta and Milwaukee have TV screens these days to keep the commuters from dying of boredom. Soon, commuters in those cities will be watching my book trailer.

And whether or not my new book trailer will convince people to buy several copies of Blood and Bone, it will certainly give me a good deal of exposure in new places and to new people. And if it DOES cause a bump in sales I will most surely tell you about it here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Solidarity Sells: Enlist Friends to Help Promote Your Book

The parade of valuable guest blogs continues this morning with a super article from my friend Cynthia Polansky. Having been published as a novelist AND non-fiction author, Cindy is uniquely qualified to tell us how to boost book sales. She's a great writer as well as a great person, and the fact that we are both published by Echelon Press is purely cooincidental. ;-)

Here are Cindy's words of wisdom:

You work together, play together; why not promote your book together?Friends are often an overlooked and underutilized resource for book promotion. We're often reluctant to impose, and despite sincere offers to help toot their talented friend's horn, they may balk at the reality of time-consuming marketing campaigns. But what if you offered willing friends simple promotional tasks that produce tangible results? Here are ten guilt-free ways to help them board the promotional bandwagon.

1. Go exponential. Invite friends individually to your next book even tin their area. A personal invitation conveys the event's singular importance, as well as the valued friend's importance. Ask each to bring someone who doesn't know you. Like the old shampoo commercial said,"They'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and ..."

2. Go postal. Create tell-a-friend postcards. Put your book cover on the front with a one-line caption like "You So Have to Read This!" or "Gotta Get This Book for Your Trip!" A simple message goes on the back: "This LOL-funny and thought-provoking book is the perfect vacation read. I know you'll enjoy it as much as I did." Include a header containing title, author, and ISBN, and a footer with your website. Ask friends who've already read your book to mail a few postcards to their friends and colleagues.

3. Go public. Don't have any librarian friends? Make some! Get to know your local public librarians and enlist their help. Create a postcard message encouraging the recipient to visit the library for the book. Ask check-out librarians to slip a few inside your book whenever it's borrowed. If the library doesn't own your title, submit a press packet -including a handful of postcards - to the acquisitions librarian.

4. Go virtual. In your e-newsletter, ask recipients to send a tell-a-friend email. Provide text they can copy and paste into a new email (e.g., Check out my friend's new blog, Crossing Polansky. Here's the opt-in link to her mailing list). Email from a known recipient is less likely to end up in someone's spam folder, and a personal recommendation carries more weight than an email blast.

5. Go nationwide. Create postcards or brochures describing you, your book, and an offer to participate in book club discussions. Most groups love the idea of discussing the selected book with its author. Send brochures to out-of-town friends and ask them to share the brochures with their book club or someone else's. Phone or web-cam visits take you and your book anywhere.

6. Go professional. Make a list of friends who work in professional offices and aesthetic businesses like day spas, hair salons, gyms, or studios. Ask if you can place bookmarks or other small promo items at the office check-out desk or waiting room tables. A very close friend confident in her boss's generosity might even inquire about a small display of your books for sale. As a courtesy, offer the professional a share in the sales or donate a portion to her favorite charity.

7. Go academic. Ask any friends with young children if they're interested in a unique teacher gift. A personalized, autographed book makes a meaningful gift and spotlights the importance and enjoyment of reading. Be discerning, though: Your erotic novel probably isn't the best gift choice for Sister Mary Catherine.

8. Go home. If any friends sell merchandise at home parties, ask if they'd be willing to insert your bookmarks in the merchandise catalogs.Or put together a promo item - such as a small bag of candy with your book's business card attached - to tuck into each merchandise bag before your friend distributes the orders. Show your appreciation by offering to host a party at your own home.

9. Go fish. Encourage friends who already own your book to pay it forward: pass it along to another reader, a book swap, synagogue gift shop, or yard sale. Or donate it to a women's shelter or hospital library. Cajole frequent-flyer pals into slipping a bookmark inside in-flight magazines. That seat's next occupant may become your next reader!

10. Go crazy. You may have a think-tank right in your own backyard. Ask friends over for a brain-storming party - nothing like a little wine to get the ideas flowing! A word of caution: before you solicit their help, take stock of what's going on in your friends' lives right now. Someone in the midst of a divorce or training for a triathlon has enough on her plate without adding your book promotion. Solid friendships are as precious as a spot on the NY Times bestseller list, and a lot more enduring. Remember to return the favor every chance you get. After all, isn't that what friends are for?

Cynthia Polansky is the author of two novels and four nonfiction books(written as Cynthia P. Gallagher). She has terrific friends who continue to provide support while she works on her next book, "Whiff: Human Aroma Through the Ages."

Visit her website at

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How Authors REALLY Make Money!

Hello, everyone,

I've had some excellent luck with great guest bloggers lately. Today I am blessed to have a really great writeup from author and speaker L. Diane Wolfe know for her tenacity and drive as for her uplifting series of YA novels – hence the nickname “Spunk On A Stick!”

Trust me, this lady knows whereof she speaks when it comes to the real life of a working author. Take it away, Diane!:

Thank you to Austin for allowing me to appear on his blog and post one from the trenches…

We’ve all watched authors and celebrities receive huge, million-dollar book deals and thought, “Wow, I could live on that!”

Problem is, most authors don’t make that kind of money. Most authors make next to no money!

When I first started out with my YA series, The Circle of Friends, I held no grand illusions of hitting the best-seller lists. I knew I was tackling one of the toughest sells out there – fiction. I just settled into my niche of clean YA fiction, and promoted and toured like a madwoman. And on my chosen publishing path, I was quite successful. (Most authors who go that route fail miserably and never put out another book, which is why I steer writers away from that path.)

Of course, my challenge could have been even greater! I do publishing & promoting seminars in North Carolina community colleges, and most of the attendees are looking to publish either poetry or their memoirs. Those are incredibly tough sells!

I know there’s one school of thought that says write what you know best and start with that. But after extensive publishing research and discussions with other publishers, I believe the best course of action is to research the market and see what is selling. Why pour your blood, sweat and tears into a project no one else wants to read? Good marketing suggests that you discover what people want first. Non-fiction lends itself very well to this approach – find a need and then fill it!

All of this will put you in a position to make more money, but it’s still not the ultimate answer. So after carefully considering your market and target audience and promotions, what else can an author do?

Speaking engagements!

Do you realize how much the top motivational speakers receive in speaking fees? Usually six figures! Those people make more money speaking than they do from book sales. The same thing applies to any expert in a chosen field. Try getting a top medical expert or corporate CEO or ex-president to come speak to your company and you’ll see what I mean.

We can’t all make six-figures, but the opportunity to make money as a professional speaker is out there for those who want it. Every day, businesses, organizations and schools are seeking speakers. They are looking for experts – for you! This is a wide-open door for non-fiction authors, and even fiction authors can tailor themselves to be experts on some subject. (After all, just as much research goes into a fictional book as does a non-fiction book!) As any successful author will tell you, the key is to diversify and offer more than just books – and speaking is a great way to branch out into other areas.

When I began writing The Circle of Friends six years ago, I had no idea it would lead to paid speaking engagements. I’d spoken on stage in front of five thousand people before, but never received payment! Now I have expanded my list of seminars to include topics such as leadership and goal setting. This in turn has led to other areas, including private consulting and a publishing company. And to tie in with my seminars (as well as to remain profitable and further perpetuate my speaking opportunities), my first non-fiction book will be released next year.

So, to the writer who wants to make money as an author – don’t quit your day job just yet! But start planning your path and editorial niche now. Research the market and consider all of the possibilities.

And for goodness sakes, think BIG!

L. Diane Wolfe – a.k.a. “SpunkOnAStick”

Author & Speaker

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Writing Lesson Number One: To Thine Own Self Be True

From time to time an author whose work I admire will send along a useful tip or timely comment from their writing life. Today I'd like to introduce Peggy Ehrhart, a mystery writer who shares an experience from her time in a writer's group that we can all learn from. Here's Peggy's story in her own words, although she does say that all the names have been changed:

“I don’t feel any feeling.”

That was *Betty’s mantra every time I read scenes from my work in progress to my writers’ group.

People often ask me now if I’m in a writers’ group, or if I got feedback from friends or relatives while writing Sweet Man Is Gone. No, I say with a shudder. No writers’ groups and no in-progress feedback. Never again.

This is what happened.

Betty wore me down with her complaints about the lack of feeling in my project.

No feeling, I would brood unhappily as I drove home. If there’s no feeling, no one will care what happens to my heroine. No editor will want my book. In my darkest moments, I was convinced I’d never be published because I myself had a horrible flaw--no feeling. It’s true that I don’t often show emotion in public, but it had never occurred to me before Betty that maybe I was truly incomplete when it came to emotional development.

I resolved to remedy the problem—at least as it manifested itself in my writing. I went through the manuscript and tried to imagine what a feeling person would feel in the situations my heroine encountered.

So my heroine started to cry. She cried a lot. I challenged my descriptive abilities to come up with different ways to talk about crying: gulping sobs alternated with trickles of tears, or moist-eyed howls of misery.

Betty warmed to my project. My heroine became even more emotional.

Around that time I made a new friend at a summer guitar workshop, *Carrie. Carrie had recently retired from a job in publishing and had decided to devote herself to music. We started practicing together and inevitably I mentioned that I was writing a mystery.

“Oh, I’d love to read it,” she said.

I gave her the first several chapters and looked forward eagerly to what I was sure would be lavish praise—for one thing, the mystery was about music. But her reaction wasn't what I expected. “I wouldn't want to read a book like this,” she said after she’d had my chapters for a week.
“No?” I felt my throat clutch the way it does when I’m nervous.
“No one would. Your sleuth isn't a good heroine at all.”
“She’s not? What’s the problem?” I said, trying to control my distress and make my voice sound merely conversational, rather than devastated.
“I couldn't stand her.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Well,” Carrie said, shuffling my pages back into their folder. “She’s much too emotional. She cries all the time.”

Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor who now writes mysteries and plays blues guitar. "Sweet Man Is Gone," featuring sexy blues-singer sleuth Maxx Maxwell, is just out from Five Star/Gale/Cengage. Visit her at .

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I've been branded! (Author's Spouse)

Ok, so it isn't as if Austin put iron to the coals and burned his initials into my skin, but he did brand me in a sense.

The other day he commented that I was his first experience with branding. He then went on to remind me that he had branded me with the moniker of his “lovely wife Dee”. I actually took issue with it in the beginning, but he wanted me to know that he thought of me that way so he continued to introduce me as his “lovely wife Dee” wherever we went and for whatever he wrote.

Although he had not consciously intended for it to happen, it actually became my name. The other day he received an email from a reader expressing objection to the fact that Austin had referred to me as “just” his wife in a recent blog. I have been at conferences or meetings where people have come up to me and introduced themselves to me by saying “hi I’m so-and-so you must be Austin’s lovely wife Dee”, so nice to meet you.

So what is my point in all of this? Well it must be about branding, eh?

The point is that big business has big dollars to spend in order to get you to recognize their brand, a Chihuahua or a little girl in pig-tails or whatever it is that gets you to remember them. For those of us who don’t have big dollars we have to use our brains and talents to wedge an idea or a phrase or a concept into our readers’ minds to get them to remember who we are so the next time they see us they will remember us.

I would love to use this blog as a forum for us to share our thoughts for branding ourselves, our books and our characters.

So tell me, what are you doing to make yourself, your book or your character memorable!

Until next time…don’t let their obsession become your undoing!

Austin’s lovely wife Denise, formerly Dee

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Will Amazon’s ebook reader re-Kindle sales?

After a decade of watching various formats vie for dominance I’m convinced that most people don’t want to read fiction in any way other than on paper. Despite ten years of reports to the contrary, the sale of e-books still doesn’t come close to the sale of physical books. So you may wonder why I’m putting my novels on Amazon’s Kindle.

Webster defines Kindle as a noun meaning, among other things, “to stir up.” And while I don’t think Amazon’s new machine will cause the downfall of paper books, I do think it will stir up considerable sales, even at $359 a pop.

The Amazonians have figured out the natural advantages of ebooks: they're never out of stock, they never go out of print, there’s no warehouse needed, and a couple hundred books fits in a handheld device about the size and weight of a paperback.

But then they realized the downside of e-books. Your reader has to be attached to a computer to get new material. So the Amazon folks designed a reader, The Kindle, which lets you browse, order and download wirelessly. So when you’re vacationing on the beach or commuting on the subway (this is, after all, where people read novels) you can get new books easily.

I’ve posted two of my novels as Kindle books. Thanks to Echelon Press, Blood and Bone is already available as an e-book from Fictionwise in a dozen formats including one that’s Kindle compatible. I haven’t seen many sales at Fictionwise, but then it doesn’t have the visibility of Let’s face it, NOTHING has the visibility of That alone might make this the place to be, electronically.

Still, it’s a real scavenger hunt to figure out how much you make on a Kindle sale, or how many you’ve had. And there’s no way to know how many Kindles are out there. Amazon isn’t very free with information. There is also one negative way that Kindle differs from any other publishing I’ve done. There’s no proof copy to check. As near as I can figure there is no way to see what my Kindle books really look like, unless of course I buy a Kindle, which is very unlikely. At these prices, I’ll stick to paper for a while.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Push and Pull

When I started out as a writer I thought that the publishing business worked on a push system. A writer would come up with an idea for a story, write a novel from that idea and then send it to every agent and publisher alive until someone understood his or her vision and published it.

Well it does work that way sometimes, but when you get to play in the majors it is just as often a pull system. Agents and publishers decide what they want to get published and call on an author they know to write it. One reason we attend conferences is to become an author they know.

My story thus far: On June 11th my agent called. During that conversation she mentioned that in the wake of the success of Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton, editors she works with were asking for urban fantasy. Based on my writing style in mysteries and thrillers she thought I could write one.

I accepted the challenge, but I’m not a horror or fantasy writer, so the next day I contacted my old friend Meloney, AKA the Horror Chick. Back in the 90s Meloney established a line of top-selling horror comics for Harris Comics, including the revitalized Vengeance of Vampirella. These days Meloney splits her time between working as a counselor for the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program and writing licensed trading card sets based on properties including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, LOST and Supernatural for INKWORKS. What better collaborator could there be for urban fantasy?

On July 10th I attended Thrillerfest in New York where the publishing industry, and my agent, live. Sitting in the bar of the Grand Hyatt I presented a six-page proposal for a series, which resulted in a happy agent requesting a full outline and the first 100 pages of a manuscript so she could start selling it.

I’ll keep you posted on progress. In the meantime, get out there and show your face as well as your work. Networking is almost as important a skill in this business as wordcraft and plotting.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

So what do YOU think? (Author's Spouse)

Have you ever sat through a panel or presentation that your writer was involved in and half way through you wanted to leave because you were bored or embarrassed by it?

I have!

Austin is one of the most interesting and lively presenters around, that goes without saying, but the panels and the topics he is asked to speak on aren’t always great. Even though he may try to make something out of them it doesn’t always work.

So while you are sitting there being bored here are some things that you can do to help for the next time:

Conference coordinators try very hard to come up with interesting ideas for panels and discussion groups, but if you have bad speakers or the topic just doesn’t catch it won’t work. Do you have ideas for panels? Tell your author what you think their strengths are. Let them know what you think is their best speech or topic to speak on. Then suggest them to the conference coordinators. They are always looking for fresh ideas.

On a panel is your author engaging the audience and the other panelists? If not tell them ways that you think might make their presentation better. You are audience so let them know why you were bored, what would have made it better. Was their appearance bland? Give them suggestions on how to spice it up. Are they writing a period book? If so give them suggestions for props or costume dress that might make the audience more interested in the topic or novel. Are they writing non-fiction? Give them some feedback for ways to make the audience more involved and engaged.

Years ago at one of the first conferences Austin attended he was asked to come up with an impromptu luncheon speech because the hired speaker was unable to make it. He did a very interactive and engaging speech on public speaking. He had no notes, nothing rehearsed and it is to date my favorite speech. Why? Because he was speaking about what he knows best. He is an expert at broadcast journalism and public speaking. He doesn’t need notes or rehearsal to speak about what is second nature to him.

My point is this…you are the one who has the opinions that count so don’t be afraid to tell your writer what was bad or good about their presentation, and also give them ideas for panels and presentations that they would excel at.

Writers…if your spouse comes to you with ideas don’t disregard them. Listen to what they have to say. You may not agree with the ideas or the suggestions, but listening can’t hurt and they may come up with something that you never thought of. But when they do give you an idea or suggestion that will work be sure and thank them for giving it to you. You’d be amazed how far that bit of recognition will go and when you are both involved in this beast they calling writing together it makes your relationship stronger as well.

Spouses…every suggestion or idea you come up with is not going to work for your writer so don’t get offended if they don’t use them all. You are planting a seed and believe it or not seeds do grow. Some idea you have given them will be the basis for a change in appearance, change in style, change in delivery, change in topic. And when they do thank you for that seed that you have planted be gracious and don’t get all big-headed about it. This is a team you are helping to build.

Until next time…don’t let their obsession become your undoing!


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Working with an author

Today we have a guest blogger of whom I am very proud - my good friend Cyndi, who is responsible for my busy signing schedule and other promotional successes.

I had never written a blog, but Austin asked if I’d be willing to give it a shot. Me, being somewhat adventurous, agreed even though writing is not something I’ve ever considered as a personal strength. Maybe that will change. My name is Cyndi, and I’ve been working with Austin for a while now as his publicist / branding manager, calling bookstores to schedule signings, contacting blog managers to have him as a guest blogger, and doing some proofreading when he finishes a new book.

If you are new at working with an author, like I am, it can be very enlightening. During the past year and a half or so that I’ve been making calls, sending emails and scheduling book signings, I’ve learned a lot about the writing & publishing business. (I had no idea what an ISBN was, or that POD wasn’t a “nu metal” band) Even though it can be very interesting and intriguing, it can also be stressful. There are deadlines, uncooperative and inexperienced bookstore managers, and downright rude people to deal with occasionally. I admit there have been several times when the frustration level caused a few thin spots in my hair.

There are several things that I’ve learned are very important skills to have (and have surprised myself on many occasions). Number one is organization. If you’re not organized with the contacts and schedule, it is next to impossible to avoid confusion and double bookings. It also makes the writer seem disorganized as well, especially if a bookstore sees scheduling a signing as a big hassle.

The second thing is having an approachable and friendly attitude, and developing good professional relationships with the managers of the stores. It’s nice to know that I am remembered by various managers who are always willing and anxious to be included in the events when they get a call or email from me. It’s especially nice when a manager contacts me, out of the blue, to say they’d like to schedule an event. Remembering even small details about them, such as a recent birth, makes them feel special and not just like another name on the list. That’s where keeping good notes comes into play.

Finally, it is extremely important to follow through with the contacts you’ve made along the way. If you tell someone that you’ll call them back on a certain day, be sure to do that, or be ready to apologize that you weren’t able to touch base with them because something came up. In my experience, most of them will understand.

I’ve often teased Austin that he’ll never have a summer weekend away at the beach with his wife if he keeps wanting me to schedule signings for him. Sometimes I’m sure it seems that it is my personal challenge to see how busy I can keep him. So far so good.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another blog on how to blog

A while back I shared some valuable tips from my friend and fellow blogger CM Mayo on how to create a good blog. Since it’s a big subject, I thought I’d share more of her valuable advice here, because if a writer is going to have a blog, it needs to be a good one! Here are some more great ideas and suggestions.

#1. Offer Beefy Blogrolls.Writes Tom Christensen, "Your ‘link neighborhood,' the constellation of sites you link to and that link to you, says a lot— both to your readers and to the search engines— about the nature of your blog. It's karmic— if you are generous with credit, praise, and links, I promise you will be repaid."

#2. Offer RSS feed.RSS means "Really Simple Syndication" and, basically, it is a way for readers to subscribe to your blog's updates (or "feed") without their having to actually go into your website and without your having to take their e-mail address.

#3. "Bookmark" and/or "tag" your posts.If you have time, bookmark your posts to bring in more traffic. For more about this and how it works, see Blogging for Dummies.#4. Don't use the free blogging programs and hosting--- get your own.Otherwise, you don't control your own blog. (As you can see, I need to take this advice more seriously.)


#1. Blogging that's nothing but floggingLeslie Pietrzyk, guest-blogging on "Madam Mayo" wrote: "I'm happy you have a book out; I really am. But if it's all there is to your blog— YOUR book, YOUR readings, YOUR conferences, YOUR mother loving the book— I am going to move on. Please learn to promote yourself shamelessly in a discreet way." Writes Tom Christensen, again on "Madam Mayo," "Try to look at the blog as the product, not as a vehicle for promoting the product: that is how your readers will look at it."

#2. Endless self-referential navel-gazingTom Christensen, guest-blogging on "Madam Mayo" wrote, "being too self-referential is a common, and deadly mistake."

#3. Opening a blog post with an apology"Sorry not to have been posting as I should"— oh, yecch. Just blog.

#4. Long strings of ginormous jpegsI'm talking about pictures here. I love to find them, and I love to include them— but when a blog post has several of them, and I'm on dial-up, and they take eleven cen-tu-rie-sssss to doooooooown-n-n-n-n-load, I've surfed away, click.#5. Black or dark backgroundsThese may look lovely, but they are a strain to read. Be kind to your readers, use a white or very (and I mean very), pale background.

#6. As a header, using the generic forms provided by the hosting service Try to get something original in there that presents you and your blog in the way that best serves your purposes.


Blogging for Dummies, by Susanna Gardner and Shane Birley, Wiley Publishing, 2007
See also "Madam Mayo" on which has an extensive archive of posts on blogging and writers's blogs.


Blogger, WordPress, Typepad

For more about choosing blogging software and services, see Blogging for Dummies.

SELECTED WRITERS'S BLOGS (All Very Different From One Another)

#1. Design expert and author Edward Tufte's Ask E.T.He calls it a moderated forum. Yeah, I'm calling the page a blog because I want to.

#2. Novelist and journalist James Howard Kunstler's Clusterfuck NationOnce a week, a zippy op-ed style essay.

#3. Novelist and creative writing teacher Leslie Pietrzyk's Work-in-ProgressHighly focused and meaty with helpful information. Frequently updated and features many guest-bloggers.

#4. Poet and literary magazine editor Deborah Ager's 32 PoemsWide-ranging, quirky, frequently updated. Big on Web 2.0 tools.

#5. Childrens writer Erica Perl's PajamazonChildrens' book recommendations (and a bit more). Part of Offsprung news.

#6. Travel writer Rolf Potts' VagabondingFun, daily updates, multiple bloggers working for him.

#7. Professor of History, Middle East expert and author Juan Cole's Informed CommentOne of the go-to places for news about Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Updated daily with multiple links and commentary. (Boy howdy does he sell ads!)
#8. Novelist Laila Lailami's Moorish GirlShe's been around almost from the time blogging began.

#9. Editor, graphic designer, translator and writer Tom Christensen's Right-reading Eclectic quality links, and he encourages both mail and comments.

#10. A cabal of crime novelists's Naked AuthorsRegular posting by Paul Levin, Patricia Smiley, James O. Born, Jacqueline Winspear, and Cornelia Read.

#11. Fiction writer and editor Maud Newton News, opinion, a charming miscellanea--- hers is one of the longest-standing and most respected lit-blogs.

#12. Novelist and essayist Jane Smiley (on the Huffington Post)One of our finest novelists. Her blogging, however, is focused on politics.

#13. Fiction writer and journalist David Lida's Mostly Mexico CityInteresting photos of Mexico City with brief commentary.

#14. Novelist M.J. Rose's Buzz, Balls & HypeShe's the author of some steamy best-sellers; the blog supports her "AuthorBuzz" advertising business.

#15. C. Monks's Utter WonderQuirky, elegant design.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Publishing’s Inconvenient Truth?

Regular visitors to this site know that I am a supporter of self-publishers, small publishers and even Print On Demand authors. After all, I am or have been all of the above. I always believed that having my book out there would be a plus, and that a track record of sales would make me more attractive to publishers. Besides, with a book published I can demonstrate how hard I’m willing to work to sell books.

The truth may be someone different. I’ve spoken with several agents lately and been told some things that, if true, I wish someone had told me a lot sooner. Some things that POD Publishers and small presses would NOT want you to know.

For example, I’ve been told that some agents automatically reject any manuscript from an author who wants to step up to a bigger house, or wants a chance at a wider readership once he or she is already published. They say that publishers prefer the unknown risk of debut authors to the known potential of established authors who have shown they’ll promote their work, unless those authors have sold more than 50,000 copies.

For years I’d heard that large publishers would pick up books that had been successful at a small house or POD, but until now no one every defined “successful” for me. (This particular agent, Janet Reid, was speaking in the Sisters-in-Crime newsletter.)

Agents also report that most publishers aren’t interested in taking on a series that is already started. They might look at a new series by an author with a series already published, but only if they see the new series as potentially a big breakout hit.

So the advice from these agents is, keep submitting everywhere because if you self-publish, publish POD or go with a small press it could spike your chances at a career as an author for one of the big houses. Ms Reid says that until you’ve queried 50 agents with three separate books, it’s too soon to consider the other options.

It’s hard to say to what extent this is just information that small presses and POD companies just don’t want you to hear, since their livelihood is based on getting writers to publish with them. There is also quite an industry that has sprung up around selling products and services to self-publishers and POD authors. They don’t want you to think it’s pointless, or worse, counter-productive to try.

But it’s also hard to say to what extent this information is self-serving for the agents, whose livelihood depends on selling manuscripts to companies that pay an advance big enough to make 15% worth having.

As there are no disinterested parties in this business, we must all still use our best judgment: publish now and risk never being considered by the big guys, or keep submitting, knowing that you may never be considered by the big guys.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mainstream VS Self-Publishing by Denise Camacho

I want to talk this time about the pros and cons of self-publishing.

Let’s begin with the pros. There are a lot of reasons why you might want to self-publish. Key among these is the ability to control your product and not give it over to a publisher that might change particular aspects of it that you hold near and dear.

There are other reasons such as being able to revise it at will. This is possible if you go with a printing company such as Lightning Source. With Lightning Source you can upload new revisions to your product whenever you like for a small fee. In addition, with a number of companies you can print short runs of 25 at a time. This keeps you from having to buy 100s or 1000s of copies of the books and the possibility of never getting your money back.

And one of the best reasons to self-publish is because you can make a lot more money from it. A mainstream publisher will take the bulk of the profits leaving you with a mere 7% or so. However if you self-publish you will garner the bulk of the profit. A typical book priced at $14.95 might cost you around $3.79 to make, a fee to ship and if you are hand-selling it that gives you a profit of about $10. Quite a difference from the $1.45 or so you would make from a mainstream publisher.

Also if you compare it to POD, the POD company will make you pay them to put your product into print, and then they make you pay on average about 60% of the cover price to purchase them. Not a money making prospect from where I stand.

Ok, so now let’s discuss the cons of self-publishing. You won’t get your books into the major bookstores across the country because you won’t have the backing and marketing engine that a mainstream publisher can provide. And because most self-published authors think it is an unnecessary expense to get their product professionally edited it is a real benefit that a mainstream publisher will put forth the expense to have the product edited. This is very valuable and something that more self-published authors should do.

So there are pros and cons for self-publishing, but with the new technology and the fact that better and better novels are being self-published, it would appear that the industry is finally starting to see that they are not the only game in town anymore.

Friday, May 23, 2008

HarperCollins Flips the Script

Part of the writing life is trying to keep up with what’s happening in the industry, and it’s a lot more than changes at

For example, mainstream publisher HarperCollins is launching a new imprint for the express purpose of experimenting with the standard business model. Giving small advances, not accepting returns and giving authors a bigger slice of profits, this big publisher is sounding more like a small press.

This might sound like a step back until you look closely. Big advances are nice, except with the barely makes a profit. Then the author doesn’t get invited back. Big booksellers return 30 to 40 percent of books shipped to them. That’s a major expense to the industry that nobody makes money on. But less up-front money and a bigger profit share is a motivator for writers who know they’ve written a good book. If they go with what I’ve read, a 50/50 profit split, that is sure to reward the authors who are willing to do their share of the work to make a book sell.

This new publishing program based on a non-traditional business model involves buying both print and digital rights. One cool idea is to bundle the formats, that is, sell the paper book, e-book and audio book in one package. Plus, their announced intent is to do a lot of promotion through on-line publicity and savvy marketing - kinda like we small press guys do every day.
Will the idea of a new paradigm scare other publishers? I don’t know. I do think it will rattle retailers. With no returns they’ll have to do what every other retailer in the country does - figure out how many of an item they can really sell, and order that many. Add to that the notion of the publisher focusing on direct sales to consumers and the big book stores might begin to see how the current broken system has babied them.

I’m certainly rooting for this new project to succeed. Anything that shakes up the industry is ultimately good for us little guys with big dreams.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A blog on how a writer should blog

At this point I figure every writer has been told that he or she needs to start a blog. Like writing a good book, this sounds easy until you actually try to do it. Well, there’s hope, and help!

My friend and fellow blogger CM Mayo has mastered the art of blogging. At the recent Maryland Writers Association conference she spoke on the subject, and offered to let me share some of the valuable advice in the handout she used. Below you will find part of her list of best practices for blogs.

1. Start with clear intentions.What do you want your blog to do for you? How much time are you willing to spend blogging? What image do you want to project? What kind of readers are you aiming to attract? I started my blog, "Madam Mayo," to help promote my anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion, as well as my other books, events, and workshops. That said, I have continued to blog because I love exploring the form. I now think of my blog as a kind of filter (read about that here).

#2. Open your mind to the many possibilities of what your blog can be and do.Be careful not to jump to conclusions about what a blog is or is not. Guest-blogging on "Madam Mayo," Tom Christensen (whose blog is "Right-reading") wrote: "Just as there is no one way to write a novel, so there is no one way to write a blog. I imagine Joyce's blog would look a lot different from Proust's, or from Kafka's, or from Celine's, and so on." [Ed. Note: Kafka’s blog! What a wonderfully tempting writing exercise!]

Be sure to have a look at my list of top writer's blogs— you might be amazed at how different they are from one another. Writers are forever telling me, "I can't blog because I don't have time to post every day." But why, pray tell, do you "have to" post every day? Or, "I can't blog because I don't have time to deal with all the comments." Who says you have to allow comments? With your blog, you make the rules.

#3. Provide content that is useful, interesting, charming, or at least funny.Because otherwise you will not have readers! This sounds obvious, but for a large number of writers, alas... well, go visit a few and see for yourself.... Writes Tom Christensen (again on "Madam Mayo"), "you have to have something original to offer. Some bloggers do succeed as aggregators of content produced by others, but I think it is more difficult to get by with that approach than it used to be. Sure, many posts can consist of passing along items spotted elsewhere, but unless you create some original content with a unique point of view, it will be difficult for the blog to grow."

#4. Make it clear to a first-time visitor who you are as a writer.Your name, what you write, the link to your books and web page, etc. This information can be contained in a link and/or the sidebar, but make sure it's right up front.

#5. Offer brief posts, as opposed to essay-like posts.There are some notable exceptions, but generally, the better blogs offer short posts (a single sentence to a paragraph or two), that are rich with quality links.

#6. Feature guest-bloggers.A voice other than your own can liven up your blog. Tip: Anyone who is actively promoting something (a new book, for example) is usually game to offer a guest-blog post. I find they are most likely to accept when this does not require more than a paragraph of writing, and when I can offer them a specific date for their guest-blog post. Madam Mayo, for example, hosts guest-bloggers (generally) on Wednesdays with a "5 link format."

#7. Offer lots of good links.For example: if you mention a book, link to that book's page on, say, If you mention, say, Jane Austen, be sure to offer a link to some web page about her. I love to find lists of links. On my own "Madam Mayo" blog, I offer, for example, Top 10 Books read in 2007; Top 5 Pug Videos on Youtube; 10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Writing Workshop.

#8. Post on a regular schedule.To attract repeat visitors, predictability is more important than frequency. Though certainly, frequency helps. Madam Mayo--- as noted on the home page--- is "updated every Monday and in-between more often than not. Guest-blog posts generally on Wednesdays."

#9. Indulge in a few off-topic obsessions.This tip is from novelist Leslie Pietrzyk, whose blog is "Work in Progress." Guest-blogging on "Madam Mayo," she wrote, " I enjoy feeling there's a person— complete with quirky taste— behind the magic curtain."

#10. "Mine" your blog.Dig into your blog and bring up the better / more interesting / traffic-generating posts and link to them from your sidebar. Some of "Madam Mayo's" post popular posts include "The 3 Questions I am Most Frequently Asked About the Writing Business"; Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, and "Jill Bolte Taylor's TED Video".

In a future blog I will share more of Madame Mayo’s blog wisdom. Meanwhile keep reading her blog.