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.