Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Judge A Publisher By Its Size, Do You?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. This one, or some variation, comes to every author’s mind at one time or another.

I wrote a book and I have an offer from a very, very, very small publisher. They asked me what kind of an advance I would want, are paying 15% royalties (40% on ebooks) and what-not.

But it's a small house. The chances of getting the brick and mortar treatment are slim. What's funny is that I had no dream of getting this published and now I'm wondering if I'm selling myself short, or if self-published would be better until I attract someone bigger.

I do know a little about the pros and cons of self publishing. After all, I started my own publishing company because I didn’t have the patience to wait for the mainstream to let me in and I wanted to know for sure if anyone wanted to read my work. Luckily, I have found an audience.

I also placed one of my novels, Blood and Bone, with a small publisher (Echelon Press.) With 60 other writers to support, they have not been able to give me the support I can give myself. HOWEVER, they did make it easier for me to break into Borders and Barnes and Noble. Once I started selling in those places they happily accepted my other titles.

The primary advantage to NOT being self-published is distribution, and that difference exists more in the minds of booksellers than in reality. My books, manufactured by Lightning Source, actually get to stores faster and more reliably than the Echelon title, yet there are still managers who back away from “print-on-demand” books (if they find out.) A few I’ve become friends with were quite stunned to learn that my books were printed as needed because they had been told two falsehoods: they are not returnable and they take much longer to order.

So, my advice is to question the publisher closely about distribution. They need to have a distributor in addition to Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Lightning Source distributes thru both of them but there’s no sales force. If they have all three then you have as good a chance at “the brick and mortar treatment” as anyone else. If, like Echelon Press, they also work with a distributor that specializes in library sales you have a good chance there too. But understand that even with distribution, few stores will stock your title unless you do a signing there.

As for the advance, I think I have some unusual advice. Try negotiating for a smaller advance with a dedicated marketing and publicity budget. If they spend money on promoting your book, you'll get more royalties in the long run.

Also, for what it’s worth, my experience has been that you are more likely to go from small publisher to big publisher than you are to go from self published to big publisher. And who knows? If your book is a hit you might turn a small publisher INTO a big publisher.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Stories - Classics and my own

"A Christmas Carol" and "It’s a Wonderful Life" have become the traditional films that are symbolic of the season, but for me the key movie is the original 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street." In it, a nice old man who claims to be Kris Kringle is institutionalized as insane. A young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. So unlike the other two classic films, this story isn’t about an individual’s redemption but rather addresses the much bigger question at the heart of Christmas: Is There a Santa Claus?

In my mind, Santa isn’t about elves at the North Pole, or even believing in magic. He’s about the principle he represents. Santa Claus gives to everyone, not because of what they do for you, or what they mean to you, but just because they’re nice. No quid pro quo. No worship necessary. Kids don’t even have to believe in Santa Claus. They just have to be nice and they’re on the gift list.

I love the movie so much that it inspired the title of my holiday short story, “Mystery on Capitol Street” which was posted on the Echelon Shorts web site. In it my private eye Hannibal Jones gets lost on Christmas Eve and has to crash at an unknown motel. There’s no room at the inn but the manager lets him sleep in a small, unrentable space. Of course he stumbles on a murder that needs solving and, although it isn’t really his job, he decides to help the obvious suspect – just because she's nice.

The Miracle in the movie concerns the two giant department stores that dominated New York’s 34th Street at the time, Macy’s and Gimbel’s. Santa convinces the rival owners to shake hands and to direct shoppers who don’t find what they want in their own stores to their rival’s. The heroes of the film also get a NY court to rule that there IS a Santa Claus, which I suppose is a miracle in itself.

There’s a miracle in my story too, but you’ll have to read Mystery on Capitol Street to find out about it. But first, seek out this classic film and see that it really IS the most moving of the holiday fare. And if you disagree... well, what's YOUR favorite holiday movie??

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mourning the Loss

Not long ago I blogged about the need to support independent booksellers because of their strong support of smaller and less-well-known authors and publishers. That blog got comments from other authors reminding me that some stores in the Borders chain were also very good to writers who wanted to get their books in front of readers. I had to agree that those stores, especially those in Malls, had been a great help to me.

Soon we will see first hand just how important they were to us. Borders has decided to close about 200 of its Waldenbooks and Borders Express stores by the end of January. I mourn the loss of these store for both personal and professional reasons.

It’s a sad statement about the industry that a couple hundred outlets are about to disappear. It puts more control of what’s on the shelf into fewer hands. Fewer choices for readers means even more emphasis on the best sellers and less chance for newcomers to get any visibility.

In my area there are almost no independent bookstores left. By default, Waldenbooks and Borders Express have become the neighborhood bookstores. The booksellers in these stores get to know their regular customers and are able to hand sell books they want to support. That has helped me gain a toehold at least in the local marketplace.

On a more personal level, I have formed real friendships with the managers of some of these stores and hate to see them pass out of my life. In Maryland I spent time at the front of stores in Gaithersburg and Wheaton, and more recently had first (and last) signings in Glen Burnie and Owings Mills. Markets I was just cultivating, now gone.

In Virginia I just did the same in Waldenbooks in Chesapeake where the manager clouded up at the mention of her store going away. Tracy who had run the Waldenbooks in Landmark Mall got moved when that store closed to Glen Allen which is now also on the chopping block. Closer to home, Ilsa at Springfield Mall and Dan at Dulles Town Center have been my strongest supporters for years. They will also watch their stores close in the next few weeks.

You can find the stores in your area that will soon be gone on this national list - - and I strong suggest you stop in soon to say hello – and goodbye – to these booksellers. I still feel that the shrinking number of independent bookstores is a horrible comment on our society, but I must add that the loss of any bookstore that has tried to serve its local readers is a tragedy worth mourning.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Timing your Blog Posts

I don’t usually blog about blogging, but I’ve recently read that the popularity of your blog could be related to when you post to it. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that what time I posted to my blog mattered but after I thought about it, the concept sounds right. Experts tend to say that the best time to post is early morning Eastern Time. As it turns out, 8 am is generally the peak time for web surfers who are reading blogs. Is that when your readers are on line? It’s hard to say, but if you want to maximize your traffic and pull more readers into your blog you’ll want to know. Also, if you hope for your postings to go viral, their best bet is if they appear they traffic peaks.

So get your web site statistics. And traffic does tend to peak on weekdays, but maybe not if your readers are other writers. We (writers) tend to hit the computer more on weekend. But if you're looking to capture some noontime traffic, I've read a few blogs that say putting up a YouTube video just before noon will catch the most web surfers.

Timing your blog posts may seem like a very small thing in the grand scheme of getting hits on your blog site or YouTube. But since it costs nothing and only takes an extra few seconds to set the posting time, I intend to try some times, check the stats and see what the difference might be. If you try it, let me know what results you get.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Ever Present Need to Prosper

Today I'm fortunate to have a guest blog from a newly published writer - Nick Valentino, author of the fanciful steampunk novel "Thomas Riley." Take it away Nick!

Let me take a moment to thank Austin for letting me come and guest blog today. I appreciate his hospitality and thank you the reader for taking the time to read this.

How I see it the feeling comes in waves. This unavoidable need to tell the story is stoked by countless reasons. Some are motivated by money and some by the fact that they just can’t live a normal life unless they get their thoughts on paper. For me life tends to spur me to write. It’s become a need now. I’m incomplete without it. I need to write and then follow it up with promotion. Fun promotion. Promotion I promise you will enjoy.

It started as an offshoot from writing lyrics in a band. The first draft of my first manuscript was a rage filled piece which acted as a release from my dissatisfaction with life. It was a pressure release for discontent that I felt. From there, I revised it, took out the cursing and some of the blatant violence. Then it began to take shape into something more, something better.

After two years of writing 1.5 manuscripts I was sucked into the magic of a sub culture of science fiction called Steampunk. I saw people, (yes real ones) dressed to the nines in Victorian era clothing. With home made “weaponry”, machines and backpacks, I was enthralled. I wanted to write about them, no I needed to write about them. So I did. What took me two years to write in horror novels took me four months to write in Steampunk. The subject was euphoric to write about. Fun, adventurous, but with class and panache, the Steampunk genre opened my eyes to how fun writing could be. It didn’t have to be a pressure release anymore.

From there, I attended a writer’s conference. It was my first one ever. I got a critique with Echelon Press and decided that they would be the only ones to see any part of Thomas Riley. (My Steampunk novel.) I had at least four other critiques, but they were all for the horror novel and to make things more frustrating, no one even read what I sent them. Karen Syed from Echelon Press and I connected. My fifteen minute critique turned into a forty five minute conversation about writing, and goals. She basically offered me a contract then and there. I’ll never forget what she told me. “As long as the rest of this doesn’t suck, I’m interested in putting this out.” I instantly doubted myself… What if the rest did in fact suck? I quickly got over myself and pressed on. By the summer, I had signed a contract and by October I was holding the book that wasn’t a year old in my hands.

This all sounds a bit arrogant, but I don’t mean it like that at all. In fact I want to say how lucky I feel. This doesn’t happen to everyone and I feel like it’s kismet that it happened at all. Did I just win the publishing lottery? Yep. I mean the story is good, but what if I chose someone else to critique the manuscript? What if I didn’t do it at all? Wow. What I’m trying to say is go for it.
Whatever your instincts tell you, just go for it. Don’t let anyone stand in your way. This includes yourself. You have one life and you make your own luck, so take every risk you can. This is your story and if you’re anything like me, you are your worst enemy. So crush the things that hold you back and make something happen. I did half on luck alone and I’ve never felt so fortunate in my life.

This is a brief evolution of how I started writing and how I got published. The process was and still is sometimes tough, but as a writer, you know that feeling. You know what you have to do; it’s just a matter of the lengths you will go to not only get published but get the word out about your work.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mystery Lovers (and Booksellers) Unite!

Not long ago we mourned the loss of Creatures ‘N’ Crooks, an independent mystery and sci-fi bookstore in Richmond, VA. As a writer, it hurt so much because there is now no mystery bookstore within 2 hours drive of me.

Even as a fan I see the loss of independent bookstores as a cultural tragedy. Sadly, there’s not a lot we can do about it. The economics are hard to fight. But we CAN actively support the stores that keep their doors open. The best way to do that is to buy your books there if you’re anywhere near one. But how do you find these wonderful places?

The easiest way is to become familiar with the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA). Through their website they can help you find just the books you want – by theme, by author, or by detective. But, more important to me is their comprehensive list of mystery book stores. They’re all there, from Aliens and Alibis in Columbia SC to Wrigley Cross Books in Gresham OR. You can easily search using their interactive map feature to locate the stores nearest you or whatever city you may be planning to bury that body in.

The IMBA has recently started up a new blog for authors to make it easier for us to communicate with booksellers and each other. I suspect that many serious fans would enjoy those posts too. Talk about the insider's view!

I’ve met many IMBA members at mystery conferences and conventions and I can tell you these people are as devoted to the books as any fan. They also order my books, even in parts of the country where no one has heard of me… yet. So this short blurb is my pitch to you the reader and you the writer. Support independent mystery booksellers and their association all you can. These are the folks who will take care of you and show you the gems hidden in the stacks when the big chains are only interested in the best sellers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Edge of the New Thing

At Bouchercon I saw convincing evidence that the paper book was not dead, as hundreds of fans hauled away rolling cases filled with new acquisitions. But there was also much talk of the popularity of e-books, which got a dramatic boost from the Kindle.

A completely separate ongoing conversation had to do with the threatened death of the short mystery story. The most vocal proponents of this form belong to the Short Mystery Fiction Society which gives out the Derringer Award for the best short mystery of the year.

The challenge with short stories is that there are precious few places to get them published. Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines have little competition these days. The Strand is a larger, slick magazine that also publishes some fiction among other things.

So the question arises, will people buy short stories the way they buy novels in e-book format? Perhaps the short story form will gain even more popularity if the stories can be purchased individually.

If short fiction sold individually is the leading edge of the new wave of reading options, then Echelon Press is standing at that edge. Their new line of Echelon Shorts allows readers to download quick reads for small money – much like downloading the songs you like to make your own IPod mix instead of buying whole CDs.

I loved the idea I decided to submit a story myself and was pleased to be accepted. So now, for a couple of bucks, new readers can get the flavor of a Hannibal Jones novel in a few thousand words. My short story, “A Little Wildness” has all the basic elements of a Hannibal Jones novel in a bite-sized package.

Naturally, I hope you’ll give the story a try. But more to the point, I hope you and others will step further into the 21st century and sample other short stories on the site. This could be the reading plan of the future and we get to be there today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What to Do At a Networking Event

Tomorrow I’ll be moderating a panel at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Indianapolis. If you can attend, look for me at 1:30 pm. I will moderate a panel on "TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PRIVATE EYES," discussing current and future trends in the private eye novel with four of the best practitioners of the art: Jack Fredrickson, Greg Herren, Adrian Magson and Michael Wiley.

I am excited about that of course, but it’s only the opening gun of a four-day blast! While I’ll be having great fun meeting and greeting my favorite writers and fans I’ll also be working. For a mystery writer Bouchercon is the ultimate networking opportunity. If you’re an author too, don’t forget the basics of networking.

Rule number one: have enough business cards. I’m amazed at how often writers show up at these events without cards. That agent won’t just remember you, you know.

And have a pen with you. When you talk to someone and get their card, jot a few quick notes on the back so you remember what you talked about. You’ll talk to lots of agents and you won’t just remember which is which, you know.

Reconnect with distant friends. I'll also have lunch with my fellow Echelon Press authors, gather with the other contributors to this year’s Wolfmont Press holiday anthology, “The Gift of Murder,” and attend the Private eye Writers of America Banquet where this year’s Shamus awards will be handed out.

It’s cool to hang with your old pals, but remember that networking is about meeting new folks who might turn out to be important connections later. So at meals and at the bar, sit with people you don't know and introduce yourself.

If you can afford it, it’s good to give something away. At the end of Bouchercon I’ll be sitting in at the Author’s Bazaar, handing out free copies of one of my Hannibal Jones mysteries.

And don’t stop networking after you get home. Send a quick handwritten note after the event to publishers, agents, anybody you think is important. Sure, e-mail is easier, but a handwritten note really makes you stand out.

Find your new connections online and Facebook friend them. Follow them on Twitter. If they have a blog, subscribe to their RSS feed so you can keep track of what they're writing about.

As much as I love events like Bouchercon, I always look forward to getting home and sifting thru those business cards I collected and cementing my new connections.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finding a Publisher - or Letting One Find You

Here in the 21st Century, anyone who tells you they know how to get you published is either stupid or lying. However, I can tell you for sure that things have changed and continue to change, so we can talk about what appears to be working now.

Not everything has changed, of course. Publishers still want to receive queries. I’ve read stories of authors getting emails from publishers or agents who read their work on line and want to publish them, but I wouldn’t sit around waiting for that to happen. The submission process is a tradition in the industry, so get yourself a copy of Writer’s Market and study how publishers and agents want to be approached.

Networking appears to be very important these days, but jetting off to writer’s conferences is no longer the only way to do it. You can network from home if you find a network that works for you. For you that could turn out to be on Twitter or Facebook or Squidoo. If you write an interesting blog you can network there, or through other people’s blogs that you follow. You just need to stay in contact with people who can help your writing career.

Saturday morning I had the chance to join a panel of true experts in the field: Shashi Bellamkonda, the Social Media Swami at Network Solutions; Jen Consalvo, co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures; and Jeff Taylor of New Media Strategies. After that conversation I am all fired up about the importance of your online presence.

Social networking is a great way to get noticed but you can’t just use social media sites for personal contacts. You should design your Facebook page to support your writing. Then, make sure your blog is feeding to Facebook and vice versa. Make sure you keep the site updated with your latest events, projects, and writing news. Sites like Facebook LinkedIn can become your professional resume. Keep an eye out for people in the industry, like publishers and agents, who you can “friend” or link to. These connections can pay off big in the long run. And often these folks will find you, if you maintain a good online presence.

So what’s a good online presence? I think it’s whatever helps you build your platform. For many, a web site, a blog and a social networking page can do it, plus perhaps a Twitter account. You should also consider a newsletter sign-up on your home page and an RSS feed to your blog. Publishers like to see authors building their following. When your subscriber list grows, it’s a good thing to mention to publishers.

I want to remind my self-published friends that no matter how much information you put on the internet, it is only an introduction. IF you want a publisher to hire you, don’t forget that your book really is your resume. You would never send a resume to a potential employer that was full of typos, right? In the same sense, you should never send a book out into the world that isn't letter perfect. Only after having a quality product is it important to show you know your market.

If you're connected to it online, that’s a big plus. When a publisher is considering an author, they will often look at the author's "reach" or platform. That’s why you need to build your followers and get some buzz going on your book, even before it's published.

So get a web site, start a blog, and get to know where YOUR community hangs out. Read the blogs they read, and comment on them.

And if you’re a nonfiction author, find out how you can be of service. Find out what your community needs and how to fill that need. There's no better way to become a trusted resource.

My most important take-away from my fellow panelists was how the internet has leveled the playing field for writers looking to make contact with the right people. Take advantage of these free resources.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Charitable Murder

Sometimes a writer will give a story away for free just to get some exposure. Of course, in winter a person could die from exposure, but for the past three years I’ve donated a new short story to the same series of anthologies. It’s great exposure but that’s not the reason for my generosity. It turns out to be an easy and rewarding way to support one of my favorite charities.

For the last three years, Wolfmont Press has published anthologies of short fiction involving crimes around the winter holiday season. Cover art and stories are donated, and all profits go to the Toys for Tots Foundation. To date, Wolfmont has raised more than $6,600 for this worthy cause.

This year’s book, "The Gift of Murder" contains 19 great stories featuring Christmas crime, Chanukah homicide, Kwanzaa killings, and some stories that combine all three! This is truly inspired short fiction from the likes of Agatha and Anthony award nominee Elizabeth Zelvin, Anthony Award winner Bill Crider, and Kris Neri (Agatha, Anthony and Macavity Award nominee.) For the Hannibal Jones completist, my Washington-based private eye is there too.

I have to say I enjoyed every story in the book and am humbled to be among such talented writers. I think the cause alone is enough of a reason to order your copy of "The Gift of Murder," but even in you hate kids you owe it to yourself to check out this truly great read! It would also make a great stocking stuffer for those friends who would love a sampler of some of the best crime writers out there.

So give the Gift of Murder this year – toys for the kids, joy for the readers!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Make the Selling Fun

Bouchercon is the party of the year for mystery fans, and it’s even more important for mystery writers. Aside from the amazing amount of fun to be had in Indianapolis this year, it will be the best possible opportunity for networking. Leading up to Bouchercon (October 15 – 18), I’ll talk a bit about how authors can work the convention to their benefit.

As much fun as writing is, marketing is also important if you’re going to give people outside your family a chance to read your work. In a hotel full of fans it’s wise to promote your books. In a hotel equally full of successful authors, publishers and agents, it’s also wise to pitch your unpublished manuscripts. In both cases you’re selling, and in both cases you’ve got to be persuasive. But Bouchercon is meant to be fun for attendees, so you don’t want to be so persuasive that it seems you're begging for the sale OR sucking up to industry pros. Here are some ideas to keep it fun while making your point.

People like what other people like, so testimonials can be very effective attention-getters. If people are saying good things about your book you should emphasize that. Not all testimonials are equal, so you want to ask writers you admire to read your book and offer their opinions. Check the scroll on my web site and you’ll see what I mean. Bouchercon is a great place to get those testimonials.

And that can lead to name dropping. I know your mother told you not to, but trust me, it’s allowed at events like this. If you have an impressive list of testimonials or blurbs be sure to list them. If you're not sure which ones to list and which to drop, ask somebody who isn’t a writer. Someone you don’t think is important might be a big deal to the general public.

Gather, and tell stories. WHO did you buy a drink for at 2 am in the hotel bar? Cool! Naturally if you have great success stories (that book signing when they ordered 70 copies and I stayed until they were all gone) you’ll want to share them. But fun stories, like that joke J.A. Konrath told or the time you were on a panel with Walter Mosely and David Morrell, should be shared both in public and on your web site. And if you don’t have any good stories yet, hang out in the hall, in the bar and in rooms after panels at Bouchercon.

Trust me, stories will happen.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Published by the firm of Dewy, Printem and Howe

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. This one is fairly personal, but it is a question I often hear:

Hi, Austin--I took some time to look at your website, and was "intrigued" by your imprint. How did you do that?

I ask because I self-published my first novel with iUniverse. I'm not sure if I will do that again (self-publish) but it is in the back of my mind. I recently did an Amazon Kindle edition of that first novel to get it out there--and I'm an Echelon download author too.

Self publishing isn’t for everyone, but it it’s your choice there is a good reason for forming a publishing company and creating your own imprint.

iUniverse is probably the biggest Print-On-Demand publisher in the business. I was POD at first myself, with Infinity, but I soon learned that booksellers know who the POD companies are and would rather not do business with them. No matter how many books are in the warehouse and regardless of whether or not your books are fully returnable if they don’t sell, bookstore managers have it in their minds that POD books are trouble.

So my lovely wife Denise established her own publishing company – Intrigue Publishing - with one author – me. In Virginia it’s easy to be a business – just file for the privilege of paying sales taxes. For some reason booksellers like Borders are less skittish about small presses. They will order books from Intrigue Publishing, even though I get my books from Lightning Source and they are printed on demand. Lightning Source is owned by Ingram, the primary distributor on this side of the country, so stores can order easily.

Of course, I have a book with Echelon too, the Hannibal Jones novel Blood and Bone. Echelon has published more than 200 books, short stories, and novellas. They pay royalties and advances, and have international distribution with Ingram, Partners, Brodart, Follett, and others. Even gun-shy booksellers are happy to order from Echelon, and when they order Blood and Bone they often order a few copies of my other titles too.

The Intrigue Publishing imprint is an example of the principle of camouflage that I’m a big believer in. I guess I wouldn’t be much of a marketer if I didn’t at least mention that if you really want to know how I approach the marketing thing, you could always pick up a copy of my book, “Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century.”

And one last point – when you name your company, pick something that store managers will take seriously. You may like Happy Leaf Press or Kitchen Table Publishing, but if your company sounds like a hobby, it’s harder to get bookstore managers to order.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Short and Sweet

Although I'm a novelist by nature I've written several short stories featuring Hannibal Jones and his friends. Some were special requests for anthologies, some were for Hannibal's own short-lived blog, and a few were written to help me get to know the character better.

The problem with short stories is that there are few places to sell them. You can count the magazines that carry short stories on your fingers these days. Just when I was trying to figure out what to do with these orphaned writings, Echelon Press came thru with the answer.

Echelon Press Shorts officially opened today. It's a publisher I can trust since they published Blood and Bone and accepted one of my short stories for their anthology "Heat of the Moment." Now Echelon has created a home for short fiction on line.

So what can readers look forward to from Echelon Press Shorts? This month, they have new releases scheduled for the first AND the fifteenth. There is a wonderful list of authors whose stories they are excited about and who they know you will enjoy reading. There are also authors waiting to meet you! Readers will enjoy new blog posts Monday through Friday by the most current authors. Read about their latest ventures, their characters, and get to know them. Both Echelon Press Shorts and the authors would love reader feedback, so feel free to leave comments.

During launch week, there will be new releases and posts from the authors of those stories. Readers will hear from Regan Black, Mark Vun Kannon, Mary Welk, and Michelle Sonnier. To celebrate, they are giving away *free* ebook downloads. Want to know how? Visit them today at

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Editor Recommendations? I'll name names

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here's one that's typical of a type I get frequently:

We just got a new member in our Writers Group. He has a draft of a novel completed, doesn’t know how good it is, but is pretty sure it needs some work. Bringing it in to us for comments a chapter or two at a time will not only take forever, it won’t answer his main question: does it hold together structurally? He’d like an editor to look at it for him, let him know where the problems might lie. Can you recommend someone for him?

At least this fellow understands that you don’t hire a good editor to check your spelling and grammar or hunt for typos. We all need a real pro to look at structure, pacing, continuity and all those basics of the forest that we writers can’t see because we’re busy looking at the trees.

I’m pretty picky about editors – they have to have a sharp eye AND a good attitude. There’s an art to encouraging a writer while at the same time being honest about his or her work. Over the years I’ve only met three that I think enough of to recommend. Which might be better for you would depend on your personality and writing genre, and because they are all my friends I present them in alphabetical order:

Ally Peltier - - has a decade of experience, including several years acquiring and editing books for Simon & Schuster. Ally edited “New Lines From the Old Line State,” an anthology published by the Maryland Writers Association. She worked with the short story I and several others submitted to that volume and found the true potential in each.

Melanie Rigney - has more than 25 years in the business including nearly five years as editor of Writer's Digest, the leading magazine for writers. She was my choice to edit my last couple of novels and I soon came to rely on her storytelling instincts. She knows how to direct important improvements without losing my vision.

Beth Rubin - - has been at it… well… longer than her photo would suggest. Beth has been there and done that, with an award-winning novel in print, as well as travel books and essays. Beth worked on one of my manuscripts at a writers conference, and I’ve watched her share wisdom with dozens of others in intensive 15 minute sessions.

Aside from depth and breadth of experience and a death grip on the basics of craft, these ladies all come to their work with insight, empathy and a gentle sense of humor. They know agents and editors who work for major publishers and they know what those people are looking for. They’ve all presented at writers' conferences and they all love writers.

If you’re looking for an editor for your writing, check their web sites before making contact. Try to see who might be a good fit for you. And be prepared for possible rejection. These ladies are also looking for a good fit and you might not be the author they want to work with. Also, they are all very busy and won’t take on more clients than they can take good care of.

And if you decide to contact one of them, be sure to point out that you got their name from me.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I wrote a book. Now what?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here's one that's typical of a type I get frequently:

Attached is a pretty good start of a book by a colonel, doctor. My question is how does he go from here to getting someone interested in perhaps publishing the thing? I'd like to be able to tell what the next steps are and how to work toward them. Any suggestions?

Friends of authors often ask this questions because the writer is reluctant to. I always read samples sent to me. I see a lot of work that looks well written, heartfelt work by a writer who has somethng important to say, but often I don't think the piece is particularly commercial. Of course, that's just one opinion. If I was an expert I’d already have that million-dollar advance.

But manuscripts like military memoirs won't apeal to every publisher, so I strongly recommend they reach the right publisher as agented submissions. These are also books that not every agent will know how to promote. It’s not the kind of thing that would get my agent excited but I’m sure there are people out there who would love to represent this work. That leads me to two major recommendations for this writer and those like him.

First, he should invest in a copy of the Writer’s Market. That book lists all the best agents, their contact information and what they’re looking for. He should go thru those listings and submit to those that are looking for the kind of thing he writes. The book will tell him what they want to see (sample chapters, outline, sometimes just a letter with a synopsis.)

Second, he should Google “Writers convention” and “Writers Conference” to find these events in his area. He should attend any public event that offers a chance to speak with and network with authors, agents and editors. These connections make your manuscript more welcome when it turns up on someone’s desk. Sending a book to an agent or editor you’ve met in person is a million times better than sending to a stranger.

Aside from meeting the right agent, I believe that writers conferences are the place to talk to anyone who will lsiten about your manuscript. Just answering the obvious questions like "what's it about?" and "what makes your book different from all the others?" can help you make your manuscript better.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What’s the Point… of View?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. A new writer hit me with a very good craft question:

Every class I’ve taken and every book I’ve read about fiction writing cautioned authors to choose the point of view of their book carefully because it should stay the same throughout the story. Switching point of view is often pointed out as one of those errors that marks a writer as an amateur. But more and more often I see very successful writers changing points of view in their books. Is the traditional wisdom wrong, or have the rules changed?

I’m pretty sure that most editors and agents you would send your manuscripts to would still consider POV hopping a pet peeve and a sign that they’re dealing with an untrained newbie. They would say, and I agree, that it's best to pick a POV and stick to it. But I can’t deny that many bestselling authors ignore this rule on a regular basis and still sell lots of books. Should we learn from this and follow their lead into a new set of fiction-writing rules?

I say no. First, pick any big name who changes POV and check out his earlier works. I think you’ll find that at the beginning of their writing careers, people don't violate POV rules. I think you have to obey the rules to GET published. But once you’ve got a couple best-sellers under your belt, the universe grants you a bit more latitude. For example, James Patterson seems to give almost every character in a novel some POV time, and worse, they’re all in third person except his protagonist who gets to be in first person! I can’t explain how he gets away with it, I just know he does.

On the other hand, Michael Connelly’s just that good. After several Harry Bosch books he began switching to the criminal’s POV, maybe just to keep things interesting. He’s just so good at what he does that he can make it work. Another writer might look like he was just making it up as he went along. But when Connelly does it, we trust that he knows what he's doing and we’re willing to go along for the ride. I know I’m revealing my blatant hero worship here, but I’d say if you think you’re as good as Connelly, go for it. Me, I’ll stick to one POV… most of the time.There are times that even we mere mortals can get away with going from first person to third person POV or having multiple POVs. For instance, what someone is telling a long story to your protagonist? That’s a reasonable time to switch POV to that of the storyteller.

Or, what if your detective is reading someone else’s letters? You could write a chapter that was the content of the letters, and put that chapter in the voice of the letter writer.

I’m sure there are other possibilities I can’t think of right now. The important thing is that it is very clear to a reader (an agent or an editor) that you did it on purpose with a clear plan, not just because you didn’t know any better. I think it’s always safer to play by the accepted rules – at least until you’re as big as James Patterson.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

How to Work the Web

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here’s a question that addresses the busy writer’s need to have a strong internet presence:

I noticed that you had many blog mentions. What is the secret? What makes a good blog that gets attention? I remember MJ Rose saying she hated her blog, and that's how I feel. It's a mix of author interviews/tours, publishing/promoting tips, inspirational quotes, and tidbits on what I am doing, but I don't feel I've ever found my voice. I try to blog 5-6 times a week, but it's become a drain. I'm linked to many other blogs, but unfortunately do not have time to visit many of them. Is that what I lack - commenting often enough on other's blogs? Between blogs, websites & communities, I've got over a dozen sites, so it's already a lot to keep up with!

There are a number of related questions here and I’ll try to address them all. First, I do get mentioned on other people’s blogs. That’s mostly because I mention people on mine. I’ve made a lot of friends in the writing community. I talk up their activities on my blog and people often reciprocate. I also get mentions because I attend a lot of conferences and appear on panels. People comment on those events and my name comes up.

My blog gets mentioned or picked up on other blogs because I give advice or make comments others want to pass on. I think you have to have a theme and stick to it, so people know what to expect. If I read your blog and you’re talking about something that interests me, I’ll return. But if it’s hit or miss on the subject I want to read about I probably won’t. I started my blog thinking the average reader would be interested in the life of a writer. My content hasn’t really changed, but the blog has evolved to target other writers. I don’t know if it’s selling books, but it has helped to solidify my friendships in the business.

I’d love to blog five or six times a week, but honestly, I just don’t have that much to say. I write a newsletter most weeks, and post to my main blog (this one) ONCE a week. That appears to be enough to hold an audience.

I’m also linked to a lot of other sites – the ones I like – but rarely visit them. I don’t think those folks visit my blog very often either, but I think people who read mine click to theirs and vice versa. And I don’t spend much time posting on other blogs… with one exception. I have a Google Alert set for my name, as every author should. This means Google sends me an e-mail every time my name appears on the internet. I ALWAYS comment on a blog that mentions me. Comments are a small reward for making their audience aware of me, but it’s also my way of saying thank you. I’m always a little bummed when I talk somebody up on my blog and I hear nothing from them. I assume they didn’t even know I gave them some props. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.

This question inspired me to do an internet inventory of sorts. I counted 20 web sites I’m on, counting this blog I post to once a week, but the others aren’t as much to keep up with as you might think.

For one thing, my lovely wife Denise updates my main web site. There’s a Hannibal Jones Yahoo Group but that’s run entirely by fans so no work for me.

I am a member of three different teams of writers who take turns posting to web sites, so there’s something new every day on Acme Authors, Criminal Minds at Work and Make Mine Mystery, but I only supply the content two or three times a month on each.

There are half a dozen sites I almost never visit. Red room, Black Author Showcase , Maverick Marketers , Linkedin, Shelfari and Goodreads are more like standing billboards for me. They are filled with content that promotes my writing, but are pretty much static displays.

That leaves the sites I actively communicate through: MySpace, Gather, Friendster, Crimespace, Book Place, Bebo, and the current hot tickets, Facebook and Twitter. Those I feed four or five times every week. But again they don’t take much time because I generally reuse content already written for my newsletter. Or, if I get an unexpected mention on line I whip up a one sentence note pointing to that site and post it in all 8 places. 10 well spent minutes to get my stuff all over the web.

So there’s a long, drawn out view of my approach to on line promotion. It’s all based on my own experience and someone else may have a better plan. In fact, I’d be happy to hear some other approaches.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Two Other Writers' Lives

Today I am priveliged to have a wonderful pair of guest bloggers!

Visiting mystery duo Robert W. Walker and Miranda Phillips Walker have thriller books for summer reading—His being DEAD ON, Five star Books, Hers being The Well Meaning Killer, Krill Press. As a husband and wife both writing suspenseful crime novels, we wondered if it was a criminal advantage at home, at book signings, and on the web for this intriguing tag-team who have set out to do a thoroughly mysterious in tandem blog tour. As Miranda says in her replies below, “So far the only ones killed have been fictional.”

His and Her Q & A with Robert W. Walker and Miranda Phillips Walker
or When Mystery Writers Unite in Matrimony how much Acrimony?

Format – Toss a question out: Rob’s answer followed by Miranda’s answer.

Q: What is it like having two mystery writers working under the same roof?

R’s A: So far the roof has not caved in. Kidding aside, there are great advantages to having a partner in crime as in everything—someone to walk off dinner with, someone to support your resolutions, someone to act as a sounding board and visa-versa—or is that vice-a-versa in the case of crime writers? Truth be told our work stations are right beside one another, so there is a bunch of quiet time togetherness…silent running, but we also share one another’s scenes and as I said act as support and sounding board to one another. And it goes a long way in life when your significant other is proud of what you do and what you have accomplished, no matter the profession.

M’s A: So far we’re only killing people in our novels, I agree with Rob there are definite advantages to literally working side by side, like not having to run to another room to clarify a point. There are times, however when you’re trying to get the others attention and get no response because he’s so buried in his bleepin’ story. Not that this never happens to me…We have come to realize that and not take any silence as directed personally at the other. Another couple might think the spouse is ignoring and rude and obnoxious, which was how our previous spouses felt about us when we were writing. Rob says his ex thought he was having an affair and he was—with his characters. But see I am so aware of this aberration on account of having it muself!

Q: So you don’t get into one another’s way? What happens when you disagree, say on a line of dialogue or a scene or a given adverb?

R’s A: We never disagree. No, no…not true. However, we do listen to one another, and since we are writing separate books and separate characters—not co-authoring collaborative work, then it all goes back to “Hey, it’s my book!” So in the end, no matter, the author makes the decision. On the other hand, if Miranda says a certain line falls flat, or suggests another direction, or tells me a woman would never say that or a teen twenty years ago might use that slang but not today, I listen to her and will make an adjustment (after a bit of a defense, of course). In the end, neither of us have such huge egos that we can’t take good, solid advice, and we trust one another’s advice. Kinda like having a built in book critic at one’s shoulder but one without the acid tongue say of a PW reviewer.

M’s A: He’s going to get a big head if I keep agreeing with him like this. But he’s right the bottom line for both of us is our novels or work in progress. I am glad we both are humble enough to listen to each other and also other private readers we have for our books. We have a reader in Canada that picked out some important issues that so needed to be changed in TWMK. Her viewpoint was fresh since she was looking at it from my POV. It’s always critical to have the novel reviewed by fresh eyes so to speak. Spell check is great but Bertha—my computer—she misfires at times and so spellings and grammatical issues slip in. You want to know the real tough thing in living with Rob? He’s an English teacher. ‘Say no more, eh?’

Q: Obviously, as Miranda is a newly published author, her first title being The Well Meaning Killer, and as Rob has over forty novels and e-books on the market, his latest being Dead On, it would seem Miranda’s getting more out of the “sounding board” than is Rob. Is that the case?”

R’s A: Not at all. Miranda’s experiences in the ER are real life “horror” and “suspense” shows, and besides any time I give her advice, well it reinforces my own faith in how I work up a story, and one of these is research and using real life terror for authentic scenes. I help Miranda and she helps me fifty-fifty. She’ll read my book, and I’ll read hers, so we act as first readers for one another these past three years. We have four children in the home as well, so we also run interference for one another. Frankly, I don’t know how a single mom with kids can find time to write, but this is one of the lessons Miranda has learned from me—at times you have to stiff-arm your loved ones for them to understand that writing is not a game for you but a serious endeavor. You have to make people believe that if you expect them to leave you alone. Only bother me if there is blood. Finally, to answer your question, we teach one another each day, and frankly it beats “group” support as in a writing group—not that there’s anything wrong with that but you can get too many voices telling you in no uncertain terms to go in twelve different directions if you’re not careful.

M’s A: One of my biggest fears is that people will think, Oh, Rob must have written that, and is just throwing her a bone so to speak. From going to conferences and listening to other authors, the one theme I get is they are jaded. They have been in this industry so long and beaten down so hard they have no faith. Coming into this as a newbie, I certainly have a lot to learn, but I think I help Rob see things in a new light. For instance I share with him different ways to have an internet presence, unconventional local marketing, keeping a positive attitude in face of this crazy industry. We keep each other on track and focused, that’s what partners should do. I suspect if we were baking pies and selling pies out the door, we’d need one another’s emotional support for that as well. Matrimony not acrimony and mutual respect. I had been carrying The Well Meaning Killer notes around with me for years before I ever laid eyes on Rob.

Q: So how do you deal with the awesome job of organizing a mystery or suspense novel, and how has your partnership helped along those lines?

R’s A: I have two words I keep before me at all times while writing—one is “compelling” reminding me that every page must be compelling and to make that happen, this single word reminds me too to involve all five senses and strive to incorporate that nebulous sixth sense when I can. The other watchword is—oops! I forgot it. Oh, yeah, “Who’s story is it anyway?” This single question keeps me focused on the character whose name is synonymous with the title of the book (sometimes that name is in the title or subtitle). When a Japanese publisher came out with my Instinct Series, they at first wanted to rename it: Jessica Coran, FBI Medical Examiner! I don’t do an outline or rigorous storyboard. I rather allow the story to unfold and come into being much as a sculptor chips away at a block of marble until he finds what he’s looking for in the stone. In other words, I don’t know what I think until I see what I say…so to speak. Since Miranda works in the same fashion with her Megan McKenna we again support one another in our working method, our Modus Operandi.

M’s A: My method is similar to Rob’s. I don’t use a strict outline, but I do have a loose one with the names and descriptions of my characters, and location. I just sit down and write, trying to keep heat on every page, build conflict as I go. I try to keep to short chapters, since that’s the thing most readers like now, and I try to watch my POV. Megan McKenna’s is my character and everything in the storyline whether it deals with her at the moment needs to come back to her. So I focus on all threads or roads lead to Megan and Megan’s story.

One of the best lessons Rob has shown me is how to effectively use dialog to move the story along and keep it interesting. A favorite line of his is that dialogue must either illuminate character or move the story along. It can’t be static. And never stop to describe a person, place or thing—do it while that person is in action.

Q: Do you two have any plans of ever collaborating on a novel?

R’s A: That could put a strain on the marriage as it puts a strain on any relationship; collaborative writing is however something I believe—given the right storyline—we could be successful at. I believe we both have the right temperament to work that close in on a novel. The failed collaborations in my experience have failed for different reasons. One, my co-author at the time could not take the least suggestion or change and went berserk and it was broken off before it got anywhere; a second was great fun and was rip-roaring until suddenly my co-author simply quit on the project due to my agent’s inability at the time to sell it; a third has been greatly successful and that project was completed and I am very proud of it because my co-author and I did indeed have some shouting matches and knock-down, drag-outs, and cursing—mostly me pulling out my hair, but in the end we got it together. It is now published as a Kindle original and is entitled Cuba Blue with Lyn Polkabla. Miranda saw what I went through with Lyn, and she’s not, I suspect, anxious to collaborate but maybe some day…again if the right story came along. Can’t rule it out.

M’s A: Wow, that’s a loaded gun. I have witnessed the Rob and Lynn saga, the frustration, the if looks could kill, the large phone bill… Yikes! I think it is just a matter of time though until we do, but we will have ground rules, like no collaborating in the kitchen! OK, Rob does make a terrific hot Reuben sandwich to die for.

Final Q: You guys seem like a great tag-team match with a one-two punch, both your books hitting the stands at once and you’re doing “his and her” book signings. What exactly happens at a his and her book signing?”

R’s A: She sells my book, I sell hers. It is a win-win situation and you don’t have to be married to sell one another’s books if you tag-team with another writer. We have the added advantage of both books being in the same genre, but that could as well work against us. Two writers with different kinds of books can still tag-team readers coming through the bookstore door. I have known authors whose loved one—a husband, a wife, even a child “hawk” the book on behalf of the author and do far better than the author would have done alone and on his or her own. Point of fact, my dog Pongo, pictured on the jacket of Dead On with me, I believe, has sold more books than I ever could (insert laugh track here).

M’s A: I have witnessed Rob’s book signings, and I will be adopting his methods. He doesn’t just sit behind the desk. He is at the front of the store near the table ready to greet the customers as they enter the store, or throw a book out into the mall. (no kidding but with teens only, not the infirm or elderly). He has tons of energy and approaches people in a nonthreatening manner (usually!). I think we are going to have fun selling each other’s books and enjoying each other’s company simultaneously during an event which can often be a rather lonely one for the “lone” writer who has no one to go out to dinner with after the event.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More on Setting up Signings

Before anything else I want to send a shout-out and big thanks to Eric Angevine of the Washington Examiner for his kind words about this blog. That article really jump-started my readership here. And it made me feel that what I share here really is useful to someone, which after all the point.

This “Frequently Asked Question” thing seems to be becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more tips I share the more questions come in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This one appears to be in response to last week’s blog:

Can I ask how you get book stores to allow you to come in to do the book signings? I know you are on the regular circuit now, but how did you get started? When I get ready to take my show on the road, I just need tips on how to get started.

The first thing I need to remind you is that not all booksellers feel the same way about book signings. The Borders chain has supported me well, but I have friends in the Midwest to tell me they can’t get a toe into Borders but Barnes & Noble welcomes them. I can’t seem to get the attention of B&N managers here. But, you focus your energy on the stores that welcome you.

When I decided I wanted to be active in promoting my novels I used the Yahoo local function to generate a list of bookstores within easy driving range of my house. I was stunned at the number! Since the search gave me addresses and phone numbers making contact was easy, but I knew that time would be the challenge, so I decided to outsource.

I was fortunate enough to find a person who has time on her hands during the day and is willing to contact stores to ask for book signings. We agreed on a low-risk approach in which I pay her for each phone call made and a bonus for each signing she gets. I sent her the list of all the bookstores within an hour’s drive of my house and she has called them all! Now we’re down to the list of 30 or so that welcomed me in and just go around that circuit. Cyndi has established strong relationships with these store managers that really paid off with the recent new release.

But you asked “how.” That is really the simple part. Cyndi simply calls the stores and tells them I’m a local mystery author and asks when she can schedule a book signing. Often they just pick a date. Sometimes they say they don’t do signings or only work with big name authors. Fine. Goodbye. Move on. Sometimes they ask if my books are print-on-demand. Cyndi asks them to check the warehouse on their computer. When they see 100 books listed in the warehouse, and that the books are returnable, they decide it doesn’t matter. (that part takes time. The more you sell, the more the warehouse stocks.)

If a manager is on the fence, I send them a media kit including a copy of the latest novel. Then she calls again.

BTW, under the heading of shameless self promotion: if you want all the details of how I do it you should hop over to Amazon and order a copy of my book, “Successfully Marketing your Novel in the 21st Century.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book signings – More Harm than Good?

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Here’s one on a lot of proactive author’s minds:

I've heard a lot of mass market folk say that signings are a waste of everyone's time -- too often the bookstores get annoyed because nobody (or few) turn up to the event and then the publisher gets annoyed because those bookstores send back tons of returns. These authors say... rather than promote public signings, just visit all the stores to meet the managers and staff and offer to sign stock, thus ensuring that your book gets more visibility and life in that store -- but isn't OVER ordered and then returned. You seem like you do a ton of signings... what's your experience been? What do you do other than the e-newsletter to make them successful?

IMHO, the experiences you describe are the result of everyone involved believing that a successful book signing just happens automatically. In fact, a book signing is more like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

First, the author needs to convince the bookseller that he can bring a valuable event to the store. Tell her what a reasonable number is to order for your first visit. Send him posters in advance to put up. Give her bookmarks or brochures to hand out. Make him believe that you will make him money.

Now, despite my pushing my presence on social media, my newsletter, the posters and everything else, rarely does a crowd of people appear at a bookstore specifically looking for me. But people do come to the store. I ask the manager to put me front and center, the first thing incoming people see. There’s signage pointing out that there’s an author signing going on. I wear a badge that says “author, Hannibal Jones Mystery series.” And I GREET EVERY PERSON WHO COMES IN. I offer them a bookmark. I tell them that I’m doing an author signing. I ask if they read mystery novels. A lot of them stop. If this is the kind of thing they like, they take a book. If not, they still walk away with a smile just because someone said hello. Booksellers like it when you make people happy.

I introduce myself to the staff and remind them that WE are having an event that day, not just me. When someone asks where the mysteries are tell them you have an author present. When someone comes to the counter with James Patterson or Robert B. Parker in their hand tell them there’s an author right over there who writes a similar style and he’s signing his novels today.

The point is, people don’t “turn up” looking for me, but I move books out of the store and make new fans.

I’ve learned to ask how many books were ordered. At the end of a signing I always ask if they’d like me to sign a few for late-comers. Books with “autographed copy” stickers sell better. Then I ask if they intend to return any of my books. At first this always startles booksellers, as if authors shouldn’t be concerned about such things. But I generally get an honest answer. If the store has too many left I offer right than and there to come back for another event and move the rest. Then of course I point out that it would be silly to return them and then order more. This seems to work most of the time.

In my experience it is much harder to get stores to order my books if I’m not going to be there to bring attention to them. Even when I get stores across the country to order a few I still send a poster and bookmarks to help people notice my titles.

Do I get returns? Sure, and my publishers hate it. But if you’re selling lots more than come back, they won’t beat you up too badly.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Give it Away Now

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. This one is a common sense questions many of us have wrestled with.

I’m updating my Web site. It’s been suggested that I post excerpts from my published essays. While selecting which graphs to run, I’m realizing that excerpts don’t hang well on their own. Then it occurred to me that I may recycle/resell the pieces. Why give it away (on my site), if I can make a few shekels? Any thoughts?

I can see both sides of this question, but I fall on the side of favoring freebies. Let’s face it, we writers give away a lot of stuff all the time – bookmarks, postcards, coasters and so forth. But seriously, have you even bought a book because of a persuasive bookmark? I do know people who have bought a book or looked for a writer’s work in magazines because they read an excerpt or a free essay they liked.

I think a strong web presence can help with sales. That means a good web site or blog you post to regularly. These things can attract readers who are interested in your subject or your style. But there has to be a reason for people to go there, return later, and refer their friends there. Well written content is the draw. And yes, you’ll find sample chapters, short stories and essays on my own web site.

Before I buy a book or magazine in a bookstore I always stand there and read a few pages. I suppose that’s a kind of free writing sample. Some writers have been very successful offering their own free samples on their web sites, blogs, e-newsletters and even posting on message boards.

Free short stories or essays on line give readers a taste of your style and hopefully will make them look for more. Make it easy for them. Make sure you add links at the bottom of your freebies to where fans can BUY your work. Make sure there’s an e-mail address where editors can contact you if they’d like to have an essay or story that matches your style and subject matter. And don’t forget to post links to your social media sites (Don’t laugh. I’ve been approached for the foreign rights to my novels on Facebook!)

I am NOT suggesting that you give away the farm here. Limit the size and number of free samples or else you’ll be competing with yourself. Just tease those readers. Remember the objective is to leave them wanting more.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Lightning Source Tips and Tools by Denise Camacho (Return or Not to Return)

I was recently asked about whether authors should make books returnable, as opposed to non-returnable.

Cons - it could cost you postage to have them returned.

Pros - If you don't make them returnable no mainstream bookstore will order them.

If you don't allow returns the bookstores will not stock your book. Bookstores will not even consider ordering books that are non returnable. However, there are some tips that might help to keep the bookstores from over ordering and having to return those that didn't sell during the signing.

Talk with the person ordering the books and suggest the amount of books they order. I would certainly recommend they not order more than say 15. If you sell out great, but if you don't then there is less to return. Austin likes being able to state in his newsletter that he sold out at a book signing and he can do that if he only had as few as 5 or as many as 50. Also, when you are done with your signing, offer to sign the books that they have left, but only if there are only a few left. You don't want to sign books that might eventually get returned, but regardless, all of the books will come back to you, not Lightning Source or Ingram, they will get shipped to you so you can hand sell them. I strongly suggest you make your book returnable or you really will not be able to sell them at most stores.

Also, and this is the biggest point to make to new authors, don't let your ego get in the way of your profits. Rarely will you sell more than 15-20 books at a bookstore signing unless you are a popular author or you have really got a huge fan base and following. Austin typically will sell more than most, but it is because he is really great at hand selling. And if you think that the bookstore won't return your books you're dead wrong. They can't keep them in stock if they aren't going to sell them. If you aren't there to push them and are not a recognized author they are going to return them. That's why I say if there are just a few books left go ahead and sign them if you can and they will probably dispaly them in the "Local Authors" place, but not forever, so your sales job is not done. You still have to market your books to get people to go to that store to buy them.

If you are at a signing and you are not willing to stand up and talk to every single person that comes into the store you won't sell anything anyway. You have to become a seller/performer to have a really successful signing at a mainstream bookstore. So be prepared to be engaging without attacking.

I welcome your comments and questions.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Family publishing

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. This one reminded me that not every writer wants to be published as a bestseller.

I thought you might be kind enough to give me some suggestions as to how I would find a printer to print my childhood memoirs. I am only printing less than a hundred for the extended family. But I want to add pictures, which seems to be a problem with some of the potential solutions.

I can’t be a lot of help with this basic question because I have no experience in finding a printer for a short run of books. I’ve worked with Print-on-Demand publishers, and there are a number of publish on demand options available. I think the best are listed here. Most of these companies will handle pictures. In fact Lulu publishes quite a few cookbooks which are very picture intensive. Costs vary though, and that route could cost you several hundred dollars before the cost of books.

I’ve printed thru Lightning Source, but their books are intended for general release. If you don’t care if your book sells in stores you won’t need an ISBN number or bar code, which will make this a pretty inexpensive option (set up is $38.)

For a project such as you are working on, I would recommend you first contact 2 or 3 local printers and explain your intent. Then compare their estimates with what you might be able to get at Sir Speedy or Kinkos. Either of them can handle pictures as well as words since they would be offset printing anyway.

The primary point is that you have several options open to you and I strongly recommend that you explore them thoroughly before handing someone several hundred dollars for your family book project.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Poster Boy for Marketing

Recently I've been trying to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing. Not all the questions I get are deep or heavy. Consider this inquiry for straightforward marketing detail.

“When you send stores those 11x17 posters for book signing publicity, are they laminated, dry mounted, or anything other than a sheet of legal-sized paper? Do you make them up at work, home, or a printer's?”

First you should understand the importance I put on those posters. I learned quite quickly that many booksellers make no effort whatsoever to attract attention to the fact that they have an author signing books in their store until he or she arrives (and often not even then.) It’s a special event to them, so they carry on, business as usual. Then when no one shows up they say, “See? Book signings are pointless.”

Once I figured out that store managers couldn’t be bothered to even put a sign up in their windows I started supplying a couple of signs myself. They feature my face, my book cover and some words like “Meet The Author!” with the name of the store, the day, date and time of my appearance. I send the posters 2 weeks in advance and beg the manager to put them in prominent places. If nothing else it lets the staff know something is happening.

Managers soon figure out that it really does impact how many books move if you act like it’s a special treat to have an author in the house. I combine this with a stack of brochures or bookmarks which I tell them to hand out or use as bag stuffers BEFORE the day. And I ask them to set up the table and stacks of books before I arrive – it builds a little anticipation.

The point is that most people don’t know who a celebrity is or what a special event is. We have to tell them, in both overt and subtle ways. The bottom line is, it sells books.

And to answer the actual question: I get simple, color posters, 11” by 17” not laminated, dry mounted, or anything special. Kinko’s makes them up for about two dollars a piece. It costs more to mail them to the stores. It’s a small investment in making my appearance look a little like a big deal.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On the Edge

Just two days before my big book release party I feel as if I’m poised on the edge of a knife with spectacular success on one side and abysmal failure on the other. I’m not worried, exactly, but there is a certain amount of uncertainty. Anxiety? Maybe apprehension. A lot of time and effort has gone in to getting to this day but now we’ve reached the point where it’s too late to do more, too late to make a difference. Nothing left to do for now but wait. Will the Washington Metro area turn out to cheer my successful book launch, or will I be listening to crickets chirp and my wife’s sobbing while hundreds of dollars worth of wine and h’or douvres go to waste?

My lovely wife Denise put much time, sweat and tears into setting up a fabulous event in a fabulous place, to attract the local literary leadership. This event will be a bellwether, an indictor of how well I can expect to do at the first bookstore event, at the Borders Superstore in Waldorf, Maryland. And THAT event will be an indicator of the life Russian Roulette will have.

Russian Roulette, my latest novel, was a labor of love. The Fifth in my Hannibal Jones mystery series, the book allowed me to continue the rising and advancing of my protagonist’s spirit and I want to share that experience with as many people as possible. Goodness knows I’ve done all I could think of to make the book explode onto the scene. I’ve tried old school paper marketing, internet marketing, and personal appearances.The old school way begins with free books. After mailing out review copies to all the usual suspects I gave away another stack of books to anyone who would promise to post a review in four different places on line.

I got a bunch of blurbs from favorite mystery writers who are also pals. I bought print ads in Mystery Scene and Crimespree Magazine. I bought a list of 5,000 mystery readers so I can send each of them a postcard announcing the new novel. And I sent personal letters to each of the 47 bookstores in this country that specialize in mystery fiction informing them of the imminent release of Russian Roulette and respectfully asking (alright, begging them) to order a few copies. I also promised them a pizza party for their staff if they sell 50 or more copies of Russian Roulette. Yeah, I’m shameless.

For the on line audience I got a book trailer produced and made a promotional video for Russian Roulette myself. I launched a blog tour, appearing on several mystery and literary blogs, and I’ll be on 10 more (at least) in June. That is not my favorite kind of writing, but it is essential in the 21st Century to get the buzz mill running.And I’ve arranged for a dozen personal appearances at writers’ clubs and book stores. That’s the easiest part for me. I love being face-to-face with readers, explaining my books and discussing their favorites to find if my work is a good fit. Writing aside, this is the best part of being an author. And every hand I shake is another potential fan for the whole series. Someday, that could even make this writing addiction evolve into a decent living.

Sometimes I feel as if the marketing is the tail wagging the dog. My wife Denise is very supportive but sometimes I think she misses the point. I don’t get discouraged if a book doesn’t sell a million copies because it’s not about the sales. It’s about the writing. It’s about that process that spins random straw thoughts and ideas into golden chapters.I know I won’t get rich from sales of Russian Roulette, but the book deserves its fair share of attention. It isn’t simply a good story with a social conscience, putting good characters into a complex puzzle of a plot. It is the distilled embodiment of all the hours I could have spent with my lovely wife Denise but instead chose to give a keyboard my attention. It is the concentrated essence of her hopes that I will one day achieve my dream. At its core are the lunch hours I spent creating instead of relaxing, the early mornings, the late nights, the surreptitiously stolen moments when no one was looking. It deserves the eyes of an appreciative public, and I want so badly to give the book what it deserves.

But the ugly truth is that a book does not become popular in the marketplace just because the author wants it to be. No matter how good it is, you can’t force a book into buyers’ hands. You can’t will a novel onto the best seller list. You can only do your best to draw attention to your baby and hope that you stumble upon that magical combination of writing quality, buzz, distribution and timing that will raise your literary voice above the din of the thousands of worthy contestants whose fiction enters the lists every year.So here I sit, three days before the kickoff of my own big game, poised on the edge of night. But is that dusk I see approaching, or the glow of dawn?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Working the Web

I've been trying to get some buzz going for the imminent release of Russian Roulette and things are happening on line. You'll have to pardon my ego while I share my good fortune.

First, the Crime Critics website posted a very nice review of Russian Roulette, the very first advance review published. Crime Critics is one of the best mystery review sites on the net, and I'm flattered that they plugged my newbook so soon.

The same week I recorded a short promotional video for Russian Roulette, in which I personally explain my new novel. It's on You Tube and several other web sites.

Also, I was interviewed by mystery author Jean Henry Mead on her website, Mysterious People. She is an excellent interviewer who prompted me to reveal some new sides of my work.

And the lovely video trailer for Russian Roulette went live a couple days ago - it's down below this post. By now I'm sure you've found it on this page. Circle of Seven Productions does the BEST work!

Russian Roulette was not my only writing effort to turn up on line. A blog post on The Stiletto Gang highlighted the new journal called “The Writer's Journey.” This new manual for authors is a collection ofwriters' essays on the craft and business of writing fiction. It'salso obviously a journal with pages left for authors to write abouttheir own journey. Thirteen writers contributed to this manual,including yours truly. Aspiring authors can e-mail me at to learn how to get an autographed copy of the manual from me.

While monitoring the internet for my activity it is sometimes surprising what Google Alerts will turn up. I found out that you can order copies of The Troubleshooter in India. I had to do some research to figure out what Rs 1143 is in American money.

And finally, the trailer for Blood and Bone turned up on a web site for African American Scholarships. Maybe someone will use it for a fund raising event. Check the posting on African American Scholarships.

Will all this internet activity really translate into book sales? I'll let you know.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who You Gonna Call? Ghost Writers??

For the next couple of weeks, we'll try to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing.

Here's another question that comes up:

"What do you think about ghost writing? I'm in need of a writer to tell my story because I really do not have the time to write it and really don't know how to get started."

This is really two different questions, depending on whether you are asking about fiction or nonfiction.

If you're talking about a fictional story you're probably out of luck. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a writer who would write a story you came up with when they could be writing their own. Such writers do exist, but they generally get assignments from publishers to add to a series of books that are written under a house name. When Lester Dent created Doc Savage in the 1930s he wrote under the "house name" of Kenneth Robeson. Other writers added to the collection using the same name. This practice continues today, but I won't out any of my friends by naming ghosts. I just know they don’t work for individuals.

Besides, if someone else writes your story, you're not a writer. Is that what you want?

Ghost writers more often write nonfiction for others – autobiographies, memoirs and the like. I know a few of these folks too. They do work with individuals from time to time to tell the other person's story. These writers don’t expect their work to sell well, and their names aren’t on the cover anyway, so they don’t work for royalties. This kind of writing is called fee-for-service work, meaning that these ghost writers generally get paid a flat fee for their work. A book length work might cost $25,000 or $30,000. So a good ghost writer can make a decent living, and if you want to hire someone to do this kind of writing, you can probably find them pretty easily through a local writers’ organization.

But why not tell your own story? Take the time to write it instead of taking the time to explain it all to another writer. Then hire an editor to help you shape and refine the story. That way, you’re still a writer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Meeting with Agents

Meeting with Agents

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll try to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing.

Here's a question I hear often:

“I am attending a conference and I am meeting with three agents at the conference. Do you have any advice?”

Meeting with agents should be positive for you, assuming you have confidence in the quality and marketability of your writing. But before you sit down in front of an agent, make sure he or she handles your kind of work.

When you do meet with an agent you won’t have much time. Typical agent meetings at conferences last ten or fifteen minutes. So be prepared to cut to the chase. I recommend that you have a one sentence description of your book ready, and be prepared to go into more detail if asked. Bring the manuscript in case someone asks to see some pages. And be able to answer the most obvious questions.

What genre is your novel? To an agent, that means, where will Barnes and Noble shelve it?.

Who is the market (or audience) for your book? Don't say "everybody." Instead, pinpoint a book or an author whose readers would like your work too. Also, do a little research so you can tell them which publishers you think might buy it.

Have you had the manuscript professionally edited? Answer truthfully but if the answer is no, make it clear that you are open to editing. The agent wants to know if you’ll be easy to work with.

Stay on point. The conversation needs to be about you, the agent or your book. Anything else is a waste of precious time.

You should definitely tell them if you’ve submitted your manuscript to anyone and if you got any positive feedback, share it.

If the agent expresses interest in your book, be sure you know what he or she wants from you: a synopsis, an outline, sample chapters or the whole manuscript. There is no standard so don’t be disappointed or excited about what you are asked for. And exchange contact information, so you can reach the agent if you have any questions later.

Finally, when your time is up, be fair to the writer behind you and leave promptly. No agent wants to work with a selfish author.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Question: Virtual touring

Hardly a book signing goes by without a writer coming up to the table to ask me about the business or craft. Likewise, my lovely wife Denise gets queries about publishing and since we’ve learned all we know from the doing, people know they’ll get the nitty gritty from us. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll try to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions, on the theory that if one new author asked, a dozen more want to know the same thing.

Here’s a pretty common one, and it’s timely as I’m about to set up a blog tour to promote Russian Roulette:

“I'm considering methods to "get the word" out on my first book, so I'd be very interested in your honest appraisal of the effectiveness of virtual tours for POD authors.”

Once you get the hang of it, the virtual tour thing is pretty easy. Assemble 3 or 4 documents – an interview with yourself, your opening chapter, a blog entry-type essay about something related to your writing – and offer them to bloggers on blogs relevant to your work, or to other writers’ blogs. You will also want to send them a jpg of your book cover.

The challenge for me has been finding the right blogs to appear on. The important thing is to find blogs that your potential readers are already reading. And be sure to give back to that blogger who hosts you. That means making an effort to drive traffic to their blog, and watching it closely the day your guest blog appears. If there are questions among the comments you’ll want to respond to them.

I have no real metrics that can tie sales to the “virtual tour” idea, although novelist Cheryl Tardif has had great sales success using them. As far as I’m concerned, anything that costs me nothing and helps make my name more recognizable is a good thing. Plus, it’s one of the few places where being POD is no different from being published mainstream.

But make sure you get a web site for people to link to. Your guest blog spots are only hooks to get people to want more detail about your work. They need to have a place to go for that. If you don’t want to build a site from scratch, consider setting something up on

And BTW, if you have a blog and would like to have a guest post some fun and interesting stuff in June, let me know. I still have some dates open.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lightning Source Tips and Tools by Denise Camacho

Lightning Source (LSI) Tips and Tools

I have decided to blog about LSI because it has been a very successful place for us to publish and because I am asked numerous questions about it by other authors wanting to know how it works. We used LSI when we published Austin's latest Hannibal Jones Mystery, Russian Roulette.

So the next few blogs from me will be explaining some of the ways LSI works. Please feel free to contact me if you have specific questions about them and I will be happy to answer.

First thing I am going to talk about is their Book Design Essentials tool that they have on the front page of their website. There are a number of tutorials that will guide you through the process of making your book ready for production on LSI.

There is a Cover Template Generator, this will generate the bar code you need to add to your cover template in order for LSI to produce a complete cover.

All you need to do is complete a few key questions such as:
ISBN (with dashes):

Content Type:
B&W Color

Paper Type:
Creme White

Book Type:

Page Count:

File Type to Return:

Email Address:

Retype Email Address:

Optional Information:
Price (including decimal): Currency:

Price in Bar Code:

Once you have answered the questions and clicked on the SUBMIT button an email will be sent to you with the file attached that is the specific File Type you chose above, ie. PDF.

You can then use that template for your cover. It is extremely easy to do.

Another very nice tool they have provided for you is the Weight and Spine Width Calculator. This gives you the precise dimensions based on the following criteria for your cover:
ISBN: (optional)

Content Type:
B&W Color

Paper Type:
Creme White

Book Type:

Page Count:

This tool is invaluable for giving the information your cover artist or book designer will need to be sure your artwork is in line with LSI's requirements for having print ready artwork.

A tip for you with regard to the inside book design. If you are going to be sending it as a .pdf file, be sure that all of the fonts have been embedded or they won't accept it.

More soon!