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.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

How Do You Choose a Speaker?

Yesterday was the 20th Annual Maryland Writers’ Association conference that I coordinated. I think it went very well overall, but there was one presenter that I took issue with. As a conference coordinator I try very hard to make sure that I get presenters that are applicable to the audience and also that they can offer something valuable.

Rather than out this presenter, I wanted to talk about what makes a good presenter and what you should look for when you are recruiting individuals to present at your meetings, conferences and book clubs.

When you are looking for a person to present information or experience to your group be sure you have done your research.

Do they provide you with the following:

1. Resume of previous work experience that you can validate.
Now this does not mean the references they spoon feed you. This means that you can call the person who hired them and ask if this presenter gave valuable information and presented themselves in a professional manner.
2. Is the information on their website up-to-date. If you scan the website are the events that this presenter attended last year’s events or are they current. Has this presenter done gigs in the last 3-4 months? If not you might want to wonder why. If nobody wants to have them as a presenter there could be good reason for that. Also, if they are not taking the time to update their website they are doing themselves a disservice and that should send up at least an orange flag.
3. Content of the presentation you would like them to give. If they don’t have an actual outline on their website be sure and ask for one to be sure that they are going to be giving relevant information to your audience.

These are just a few things to look for.

Additionally, make sure they have a current photo and bio. Some of the photos that I received were out of date to the point that I didn’t recognize a couple of the presenters from their photo. One of them not only had a different color of hair, but it was a different length and they looked nothing at all like their photo. Your audience needs to be able to recognize the photo in the program with the individual walking around. Networking with these individuals is key to a successful conference.

Also, do your best to have a conversation with your presenter via phone if possible, but at a minimum via email to get a read on how they are going to be as a presenter. You may get fooled by their “interview” voice, but if you’re good at spotting the red flags you should be able to weed out the unprofessional and unknowledgeable ones.

Each time I do this conference I learn something new about how to pick out the bad apples and I’m getting pretty good at it. The conference was a big success I believe and everyone went home with something learned and a new energy to put into their writing.

If you are in the DC, MD and VA area and are looking for speakers for your events let me know. I have a list of those that I recommend and would be happy to share.