Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Can’t Seem to Find the Time? 5 Tips for Developing a Writing Schedule

This guest post is contributed by Lauren Bailey.  She has a good grasp on time!
If you are like most writers out there, you probably don’t have a multi-million dollar book contract, with deadlines to meet and people to please. Writing your novel is more than likely a labor of love, a project that you set out to accomplish because you feel that you have something important to share with other readers. Juggling this labor of love with many other obligations—raising children, working a full-time job, keeping house—can seem all but impossible. You just can’t seem to find the time. The key, however, is to plan rigorously while still leaving yourself some breathing room. Here are a few ways to do just that:
1.      Don’t set unrealistic deadlines. Be flexible.
Writers are an imaginative bunch. It comes as no surprise, then, that we can be unrealistic about things that we should be approaching more objectively. Instead of setting an impossible deadline, like finishing your novel in a few months, give yourself some extra time based on your internal writer’s clock. Sometimes even a short story can take months from an initial draft to finished product.
2.      Set aside time to write whenever you are most mentally alert.
Socrates once suggested that the key to living the good life is being aware when he said, “Know thyself.” More than just a self-help pronouncement, this is especially good advice for writers, who use intuition and creativity more than any other faculty in order to write well. Knowing when you are most mentally alert and creative—for many, it’s first thing in the morning after a cup of coffee or late at night when the kids have fallen asleep—will help you produce your most penetrating prose efficiently.
3.      Enlist the help of a writing partner who will motivate you.
When we keep our writing projects to ourselves, it can be difficult to stay motivated because we are writing, at the moment, only for ourselves. You don’t necessarily need to join a writer’s group; all you need to keep you working according to your plan is to seek help from a friend or two who loves to read or write. Have them read chapters of your novel as you complete them, sit with them over dinner, and talk about how you can improve your work. Even if your friend isn’t a professional editor, you’ll still get an opinion from a typical reader, and talking about your work with someone else will inspire you to keep at it.
4.      Get into the habit of writing daily, even if you aren’t working on your project.
The only way to produce a steady stream of work is to make writing a hard-wired habit, something that you do as automatically as personal hygiene. Of course, it will take some time, but start by setting aside a short block of time, like thirty minutes to an hour, in which you do nothing but write. Don’t pressure yourself to work on your big project. Even if you are just scribbling journal-style notes, it’s the best way to get your juices flowing in a disciplined manner.
5.      Use milestones as goals instead of page numbers or chapter numbers.
Many novelists try to enforce their writing goals numerically. They tell themselves that they will get three chapters written by the end of the month, and they then race to meet their goal. The problem with this approach, however, is that it doesn’t take into account that novels are, in some ways, like living things. It would be the same if you were to tell yourself that you will find a partner and get married by your thirtieth birthday—life and novels don’t quite adhere to a set calculus. Instead, try setting goals based on plot milestones. For example, you can endeavor to resolve Character X’s mini-conflict within the story by the end of December. This type of goal-setting will help avoid stilted novels that result from thinking in numbers.
Completing a project as long and demanding as a novel is something that very few people, even self-proclaimed writers, are capable of. And it often takes a few tries to get it right. Regardless, if you set goals, both and long- and short-term, without being too hard on yourself if things don’t get done according to plan, you’ll eventually make it to the finish line. Good luck!

Lauren Bailey welcomes your comments at her email Id: blauren99@gmail.com

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hardboiled Help from the Sons of Spade

A new friend has set out to help preserve the hardboiled detective genre.  But I should let him introduce himself.

I’m Jochem Vandersteen, blogger behind www.sonsofspade.tk and author of the Mike Dalmas and Noah Milano stories. I’m also the founder of the Hardboiled Collective and Austin asked me to tell you all a bit about how that came about.

When I published my first Noah Milano short story on www.thrillingdetective.com the web was starting to get filled slowly with cool zines showing off the work of up and coming writers. It was a great way for writers like myself, who were writing about PI’s, crooks and other hardboiled character that might not appeal to a huge audience but surely to a niche of connoisseurs. It offered me the chance to introduce Noah Milano, son of a mobster, security specialist and always looking for redemption.

It encouraged me to put out my first novel, White Knight Syndrome at iUniverse. Then I started to promote it by showing people what my work and main protagonist had to offer through the e-zines.
Then the ebook revolution started. What a great way to get my work out there. It changed the writing world even more than those e-zines did. The audience that I could offer my work was huge, the possibilities to promote my work bigger than before. Social media, blogs and boards can help an author to get noticed without the big campaign a legacy publisher can fork over the cash for.
Blogging about PI-fiction at www.sonsofspade.tk I’d managed to befriend a large amount of writers. I decided their work could use an extra push. I decided they could help my work get an extra push.
I started to invite people and most were happy to join. The Hardboiled Collective was born. The goal is to get people to notice and buy the wonderful works of hardboiled fiction out there. We all help each other out by informing our own fans about the other great stuff out there. It’s been great working with these people and we’ve all benefited sales wise.

I think these kind of groups are the way of the future. Writers are not competitors anymore, they need to be partners. With groups like mine you don’t need a publisher anymore.
Check out the great work by the Hardboiled Collective here:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Getting Reviewed – II

Last time I talked about the sources of book reviews I consider the most valuable.  I started with the most prestigious publications that do prepublication reviews.  However they aren’t the only good places to get reviewed.

A few years ago the holy grail for getting your book reviewed was the separate newspaper book sections.  But those sections have been disappearing rapidly.  In fact the only stand alone book section I know is still being printed (please correct me if you know of another) is the section in the New York Times.

The New York Times Book Review gets in front of nearly a million readers, and until recently it had another million readers on line.  Now that you have to pay to read the paper on line that’s no longer true.  Still, the New York Times Book Review is a hundred year old tradition and still offers informed criticism of a diverse selection of books.  The staff  is generally reviewing a couple hundred books at a time, with a half dozen “preview editors” looking at 15 or 20 books a week.  They’ve added a podcast, online video interviews, a blog and even slideshows. 

I’d also love to have my books reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle.   That paper still includes a weekly eight-page pull-out section with 6 to 8 reviews plus a list of first sentences from new books.  I’d love to get one of my opening lines in there!  They also have local celebrities write about their most cherished book.  

Also valuable is the Los Angeles Times book section.  It’s tucked into the Arts section now but it still has more than 100,000 Twitter followers.  The Washington Post has a very cool book review video series on it’s website.  And the Wall Street Journal has a print section simply called Books.  It’s kinda hidden in the Weekend’s Review section, but it still reaches two million readers. 

A few other sources are highly trusted by readers.   The American Book Review, the American Scholar , the Believer; Bookforum, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Review of Books; O, The Oprah Magazine, and Rain Taxi all have faithful readers who decide what to read based on their recommendations. 

Also, more than a million readers visit the online book section posted by National Public Radio (NPR) every month.  They mostly focus on new-related nonfiction and literary fiction, but at least they cover the small presses.  They run 3 online-only book reviews per week and do reviews on All Things Considered and Fresh Air.   

I know this is pretty subjective, but next time I’ll list more of what I consider the best places to get reviewed – the next tier to aim for if your book gets overlooked by those I’ve already mentioned. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The challenge of getting reviewed

When we authors build our promotion plan for a new book, reviews are always a part of that strategy.  With a new novel (The Piranha Assignment) coming out October 1 I have been chasing reviews for months.  Getting a book reviewed not only helps to raise awareness of your work, it also legitimizes you as a published author.  In some ways it doesn’t seem like a real book until some objective outsider comments on it.

At one time you could gather some reviews by simply mailing copies of your book to several newspapers around the country.  However, in the last five or six years book reviews have been fading from the news stands.  Financially weak newspapers have been eliminating their book review sections.  In some cases book review space shrank and got tucked into the culture or entertainment section.  Book editors and critics have also been cut from the payroll.  And hundreds of newspapers folded completely. 

“The key word for the changes afoot is proliferation. The number of books being published has ballooned from some fifty thousand books published annually in the 1970s to more than three million in 2010 and climbing."

The good news is that reading hasn’t gone away.  I see a lot of book discussion on the internet and I have visited several reading groups.  People in both camps complain that they have few guides leading them to the best reading.  A lot of bloggers are reviewing books, and many of them have large followings.  So reviews haven’t disappeared, we just have to look in different places.

On the other hand, thanks to print-on-demand and the rise of self-publishing, there are about 60 times as many books going into print every year than there were 40 years ago.  Books do still get reviewed in newspapers, magazines, radio and television shows, but now you are just as likely to find reviews on social media sites like Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter and Library-Thing, on Amazon.com and a variety of podcasts.  However, most of these reviews are written by fellow readers, not literary professionals.  Writers wanting to promote their work want it reviewed by people readers trust.  I thought I’d list those I think have the most clout.

At the top of the list, in my opinion, are those well established publications that do prepublication reviews.  Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews are examples of magazines that preview books in advance.  Their target audience includes librarians, editors and broadcast producers – the people you most want to know that your book is coming out.  Booklist covers about 8,000 books a year.  Kirkus Reviews is broader in scope and reviews some self-published books. Library Journal publishes more than 6,000 reviews a year.  They sift through thousands of galleys every week and write about books 6 months in advance of publication. And before you decide that librarians are old fashioned, note that Library Journal 18,000 subscribers but about a 150,000 Twitter followers.

Publisher’s Weekly sends a daily newsletter to about 37,000 people, and about 100,000 follow them on Twitter.  So while their target group is publishers, editors, publicists, booksellers, and authors, lots of readers read them too.  Every week PW’s reviewers editors consider between 300 and 600 books.  They publish 150 reviews in the magazine, and another 20 or so on line.  They are focusing more and more on small presses.

I’ve got more to say about places to get reviewed, but I’ll save it for next time.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What if they Google you?

It should not surprise you that for many people, research starts with Google.  That means that if someone hears your name or one of your book titles and they’re curious, they will likely check Google for details.  If your web site is on the first page of results, odds are pretty good they’ll click to your site.  If it’s not quickly visible, well, maybe they’ll get bored and move to the next writer of interest. 

So how do you make your site turn up fast in a search for your work?  I don’t think there’s a quick or easy way, because we can’t know for sure what the Google system looks for.  According to some references, Google changes their algorithms more than once every day!  But there are some things you can do that should reliably you’re your web site closer to the front of the line.

First, keep your web site focused on your reader.  It seems that Google’s focus is on web sites that stay focused on the users.  It can be hard to take yourself out of the equation but you have to try to make your web site all about the people you want to visit it.

It helps to have links from other good web sites, and sites that get a lot of traffic.  I've found two techniques that are almost sure-fire.  Many sites, blogs and even Facebook pages review books.  When I’ve gotten people to review my books they almost always post a link to my website.  Also, when I comment on posts at other people’s blogs I add my URL at the bottom.  Each time you do that you’ve created a link to your site from a site you chose.

You should also Google yourself and see what comes up.  When you see your web site, check out what it shows.  Usually there will be two or three lines from your home page.  That little bit should not be about you.  It should be about your readers.  This really will affect you ranking, so go back and make some changes to that first paragraph on your web site.

There are also some purely mechanical things you can do.  Make sure the right key words are on your home page so people know what your site is all about.  You should also remember your title tags, what your page name says at the very top of your search bar.  Getting your key words there helps your search engine ranking.

Don’t let your page stay static.  Search engines love fresh content, so every time you update your website it helps raise your ranking.  Perhaps the most important thing is to keep your web site current and your content relevant.  If you do that, and follow the other tips above, you are almost sure to move your web site to the first page of any relevant search.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Writing from a Different Gender’s Perspective

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges.  However, today she has some excellent tips for fiction authors.

For many fiction writers, especially those just starting out, the first piece of advice we hear is “write what you know.” Of course, as our writing develops, we understand this adage to mean that we should write honestly. A writer can become, through her fiction, many things that she is not, as long as she portrays emotions and situations accurately. That being said, one common writing dilemma that all writers run into at one point or another is writing from a different gender perspective. After all, you can avoid writing from the perspective of, say, a physicist, but you cannot avoid writing fiction that has both males and females, unless every narrative you write is set in an all-boys or –girls Catholic school. Here are some tips if you find gender-bending in your fiction is particularly difficult.
1.      Don’t overshoot it by incorporating gender stereotypes.
When you are writing from the opposite gender’s perspective, your first impulse may be to obsess over what you think a “boy” or a “girl” would think. This is an easy way to fall into gender stereotypes, which in turn will make your narrative surprisingly unrealistic.
2.      Make someone of the opposite sex read your work to check for believability.
The best way to improve your ability to write from the opposite gender’s viewpoint is to ask someone of that gender to read your work, then have a discussion on whether or not it sounds believable. Of course, you’ll have different opinions about what a male or female should sound like, but ideally getting several people of different age groups, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds who share the same gender, then taking all their opinions into consideration makes for a good plan.
3.      Read other books in which a male author focalizes a female character, and vice versa.
Although it is true that most male authors focalize male protagonists, and most female authors focalize female protagonists, there are some authors who have very successfully portrayed the opposite sex. One prime example is Flaubert in his classic Madame Bovary. Another wonderful example of a male author very accurately channeling a female character’s thoughts and emotions is James Joyce, whose last episode of his novel Ulysses is told completely from Molly Bloom’s perspective.
4.      Practice a lot and don’t doubt yourself too much.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about writing (as well as about life, generally speaking) is being able to walk a mile (or a write a novel) in another’s shoes. When this “other” is extremely different from you, then the task becomes doubly difficult. At the same time, however, we are all humans, and if, as you write, you remember that we all share the same range of emotions, you’ll find that tapping into these universal emotions is the most important thing. Once you practice creating different characters and you stop over-thinking considerations like gender, you’ll be sure to write something poignant and believable. 

Mariana loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031@gmail.com

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ebook reading clubs

Despite all the obvious signs, the popularity of ebooks has caught a lot of people by surprise.  USA Today recently had three ebooks listed among their best sellers.  Last week, fellow thriller author Michael Prescott had a 99-cent self-published e-book in the paper’s top 150.  Sadly you can’t sit in a bookstore and sign your ebooks, but then again there are fewer and fewer bookstores to sit in anyway.  So how does the enterprising writer reach out to his audience in a personal way?

News in Publisher’s Weekly seems to indicate that book clubs may be the answer.  According to a survey done by Reading Group Choices, more and more reading groups are picking e-books over the dead tree publications.  Twenty-five 25% of the book club members surveyed said they are using e-books.  In fact 21% of those surveyed said they are reading most or all of their books on e-readers.  Nearly 60 percent of those books were read on a Kindle, but the Barnes & Noble Nook held a strong second place at 26%.  There was also a certain amount of overlap in platform choice.  For example, tablet computers as e-readers were used by nearly 20% of reading group members who read e-books.

I can imagine several advantages of visiting a book club if they are ebook readers.  There would be no reason to carry books with you.  If you impress a room full of Kindle users they can download your other titles on the spot.  And because ebook prices are lower, many people who order one of your titles will get them all. 

Also, readers who are comfortable with ebooks may be more open to virtual visits.  You could join the reading group via Skype or some other remote computer interface.  That would certainly widen your reach, allowing you to meet with readers across the country.

So if you enjoy personal contact with your readers, book clubs may become your targets of choice, especially if you are a romance writer.  Most reading groups are largely female, and 60% of all titles purchased in e-book format are romance fiction.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Are e-book Royalties Fair?

I hold my own e-book rights and a couple weeks ago dropped the Kindle price on my novels to 99 cents.  I expected a bump in sales but not the explosion that ensued.  I then noticed that the major publishers often charge as much for e-books as they do for paperbacks, and wondered if writers were being fairly compensated for those sales.  It didn’t take me long to find an authoritative opinion.
In a recent interview, Brian DeFiore, President of DeFiore and Company, a New York literary agency was asked if it was fair that large publishers pay the standard 25% of the net to authors on e-book sales.  DeFiore was once a Senior Vice President and Publisher of the Villard Books division of Random House and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Hyperion, so you might expect his opinion to favor the publisher point of view.  Instead, he said that authors are getting shorted by the big publishers.

Of course there are a lot of advantages to getting a book placed with a major publisher.  Just the publisher’s name adds a lot and there is value in the marketing and distribution they can offer.  They also handle expenses that man authors might overlook or undervalue, such as the legal efforts to stop piracy.

But despite all the hidden costs publishers may have to cover, DeFiore said that that are saving huge sums on e-books just because printing and shipping books is enormously expensive.  So all along the process, from the production department to the warehouse, publishers are reaping big savings and authors are just not being credited for those savings.  The price of e-books is almost always below the price of a hardcover, but the publisher’s contribution on every sale of an e-book is about the same as a hardcover.  However, the author’s share has dropped by about 1/3.  It’s hard to see that as fair.

Here’s how it shakes out.  Suppose my e-books were put out by Random House.  They’d retain at near what the paperbacks cost, around $13.  After Amazon’s cut, the publisher gets $9.10.  If I self published at that price the $9.10 would be mine but if the book was with Random House at that price I’d get a 25% royalty, so about $2.27.  The rest is gravy for the publisher.

I’m not saying any author should or shouldn’t take an e-book deal with a big publisher.  I’m just saying they should look closely at the math. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From Noir to Horror

I took a hiatus from blogging over the summer but now I'm back and you can count on hearing from me a couple of times a week.  For today:  Washington DC crime writer Quintin Peterson has taken a step out of his usual comfort zone to write something even darker than noir.  I asked him to explain the how and why.  Here’s what he said:

I am a contributor to a recently released anthology of tales of horror and the paranormal; FromShadows & Nightmares, edited by Amber L. Campbell, which is available at amazon.com, BN.com, et al. My contribution is the genre-blending ‘Round Midnight, a cop/ghost story. Hard-boiled chills and thrills.

In my youth, I read a lot of horror and speculative fiction and watched quite a few such movies and my writing back then reflected that. While I was a high school student, I received the University of Wisconsin’s Science Fiction Writing Award, the National Council of Teachers of English Writing Award, and the Wisconsin Junior Academy’s Writing Achievement Award.

During my career as a DC police officer, I turned to noir fiction and became “the cop who writes crime fiction” and now I am known as “the retired cop who writes crime fiction.” I considered it an interesting challenge to generate a ghost story rooted in the crime fiction genre. So, I combined a cop story with a ghost story and came up with ‘Round Midnight, the story of a DC cop’s on and off-duty ghostly encounters with a childhood friend who died in his youth. It begins:

“Police work had taken everything from me and over time had left me virtually hollow. Seeing humanity at its worst on a daily basis had taken its toll and left me jaded and faithless. And yet the biggest case of my career, a murder involving a childhood friend who died decades earlier, changed my outlook and renewed my faith.”

I’m sure fans of both genres will enjoy it.

From Shadows & Nightmares: Travel through the darkest shadows and twisted thoughts of a group of talented authors. From the traditional werewolf to an ancient curse to brain eating zombies, the authors' imagination will make you squirm in your seat. Your stomach will clench as you read one, and then you will question just how depraved our fellow human beings can be as you read another. The talent gathered in this latest addition to the Nightfall Publication anthologies present to you spine-tingling, blanket clutching stories, all brought to life from their own Shadows and Nightmares. James Dorr, Jeffrey Wooten, and Michele Wyan are among the 22 authors featured in this anthology, which has something for everyone who enjoys creepy stories.

This fledgling independent book publisher is still going through growing pains. This is only its third anthology. Currently, the publisher has released only ­­one novel and three thematically different anthologies, but more books are in the works. I support what Nightfall Publications and other indie book publishers are trying to achieve.  Check the book out here: http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Nightmares-James-Dorr/dp/098372041X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313059419&sr=1-1

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day to Day Marketing

Sometimes I think the best thing I can do in my blog is point writers to other blogs they should be reading.  I’ve been focused on marketing more than craft here recently and was thinking about how overwhelming that job can seem.  There are so many things a writer CAN do to promote their work that it could easily become a full time job.  I thought I’d write something about that but my research proved that someone else has already done a good job there.
Every published author should be following the blog “Marketing Tips for Authors.”  It recently featured an entry entitled “7 Weekly Book Marketing Goals You Can Adopt Todaythat lays out a way that a writer can market his or her book on a consistent basis.  The issue, I think, is not so much knowing what to do as knowing how to do it.  The trick is to have a plan for breaking the various jobs into smaller pieces.  The book marketing plan might start as monthly or weekly objectives, but the easiest path to success is to follow weekly and daily goals, and make them part of your routine.

The seven objectives laid out in the article are simple, and if done consistently they will help you increase your book’s visibility, grow your platform, and extend your network.  Their first suggestion is to either be a guest blogger or get another writer to be a guest on your blog.  Posting on someone else’s blog is a great way to get your name and your writing in front of a new audience.  If you have guest bloggers, they will usually bring some of their readers to your blog.  If they like it, your blog may become a regular stop for them.  So they suggest that every week you look for a way to expand your readership through guest blogging.  And by the way, I am ALWAYS looking for guest bloggers here.  Anything related to living the life of a writer is welcome, four hundred words is a good length, and I always post book covers and web site links.

Their second great recommendation is that you comment on ten blog posts every week.  Not hard if you commit to posting two comments every day.  If those blogs are related to your writing, or the blogs of similar authors, this will get your name in front of new readers too.  It will also help you build relationships with those other bloggers. 

The blog on Marketing Tips for Authors includes five more great ideas.  These seven weekly book marketing goals laid out in the blog really are pretty simple and really will help new readers find your work.  Plus, the daily activity will help you to get better at book marketing.  Of course, their list is by no means everything you should be doing, but they can be a heck of a good start.  Find out at http://blog.marketingtipsforauthors.com/2011/05/7-weekly-book-marketing-goals-you-can.html

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Get the Most Out of a Conference

I wish I was at Book Expo America right now, but I had to make a financial choice and I’ll get more out of Thrillerfest.  Whichever writer’s conferences you decide to attend, you should not just go for the fun if you’re an author.  So have clear goals when you plan to attend one of these events.  I focus on networking a lot, but you may want to accomplish other things and that’s fine, just know what they are in advance.

If networking IS your focus at a writer’s conference, get started before the event.  Dig thru the conference website and pick out the people you want to meet.  If you can find an email address (usually easy if it’s an agent, publisher or writer who is networking too) send them a note letting them know you’re looking forward to meeting them, or taking their class or hearing their presentation.  Also friend them on Facebook, like them on their fan page, and follow them on Twitter.  See, you’re already connected.  And if you want more than five minutes with an individual, go ahead and set up an appointment during the conference.

Also, please don’t make the disastrous mistake I made at my first conference.  Take plenty of business cards.

One cool idea for staying organized is to take a few small envelopes with you.  If you’re collecting other people’s cards you can stick all you get at one award presentation or dinner in one envelope so you remember where you met those folks.  When you get each card jot a note on the back about the meeting (“said he’d give me a blurb” or “was willing to look at my manuscript” are my favorites.)  Then you won’t forget to follow up, and when you do you can mention that award presentation you both sat thru.

There are always meals at these events so make sure you never eat alone.  In fact, try to eat with different people each time to maximize your networking. 

Finally, make sure you follow up with everyone you told you’d contact.  Otherwise, it was a wasted contact.  And try to stay in touch with those folks AFTER the event – you DID friend them on Facebook, right?  Maybe you’ll see them at a future conference and they’ll introduce you to even more people worth knowing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

You think YOUR life is weird?

I don’t usually borrow from other blogs, but considering my theme you’ll understand why I was fascinated by an article entitled “15 Writers With Lives More Interesting Than Fiction  My guest writers and I focus on the writing life here.  The author of that article, Erin Lenderts, points out that throughout history, writers have led interesting lives, with lifestyles well worth exploring.  Truly creative minds have long been driven to drugs,  alcohol abuse, tumultuous relationships, and often mental instability.  

Among the 15 lives explored in the article is Ernest Hemingway, a members of the "Lost Generation," who was an ambulance driver during World War I.  Hemingway was also a bull runner, a lifelong heavy drinker and an American expatriate in Paris. He married four times, and was almost killed in two different plane crashes while on safari in Africa. He is believed to have had a genetic disease that causes mental and physical deterioration over time. When alcohol, accidents and continuous risk taking failed to kill him, he took his own life by shooting himself with his favorite shotgun,

Even more interesting was the life of Sylvia Plath.  It seemed she was obsessed with death and deterioration, which may not be so surprising, considering that her father died when she was eight years old.  His death inspired her first suicide attempt – rather a young age to try to overdose on sleeping pills.  She finally did manage to kill herself when she was 30 years old.  A gas oven proved more effective than pills.

The lives, and deaths, of Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare, and eleven more authors of note get a close and fun examination in the article, which I recommend you check out on your own.  Then, maybe you will feel better about your own life.  I do.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Kindle Book Un-Signing

With ebooks beginning to outsell dead tree books, one of the forecasts I’ve heard is that we’ll see the end of the book signing.  No more readings, no more face-to-face time with authors and no more of the interaction that helps an author understand his or her audience.  Well luckily, those forecasters were wrong.  The fact that you can’t put a pen on the fly leaf of an ebook hasn’t stopped anything.

The Soundry, in Vienna, VA, has been holding a series of Kindle parties for those readers who are always looking for a good download for their ereader.  Each Kindle Party features several novelists reading from their digitally published books.  The audience sits poised with their Kindles in hand.  When someone likes what they hear and wants more, they just download that book on the spot.

At the Soundry, they really do make each event a party.   At 7pm there is a half hour of social time so authors and readers can mingle and talk.  The writers discuss their books and answer questions from both the live audience and internet listeners via a live chat.  Then each author gets ten minutes for a reading, and a chance to answer more questions.  The evening ends with a panel discussion where the authors share their experiences with epublishing and social networking.

I see great potential for this approach to book events to be expanded and enhanced.  Authors could set up friendly competitions to see who can move the most books in a specific period of time.  Venues could arrange prizes for the reader who downloads the most books in an evening.  Or authors could offer discount coupons – codes that would allow readers to download another of their books for free or at reduced cost.
All in all, this Kindle Party idea strikes me as a marvelous way for readers to discover new writers, and for authors to build their fan base.  It’s a nice mix of grassroots selling and potentially viral marketing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Can I Write a Bestseller? (Part 4)

A while ago I started talking about what it takes to write a guaranteed blockbuster.  The longer I thought about it, the more I began to realize how many different factors publishers must look at before asking a writer to produce a particular book that they think will sell big.  If the editors at publishing houses do have a formula for bestsellers, I suspect there are things to consider even after the book is written.

One of those factors must be timing.  For films we often think of summer blockbusters, but fall is always a big time for book releases.  Publishers seem to push their biggest titles out in the fall.  Of course that means that if you’re NOT one of their biggest titles it can be a tough time to launch.  To make it work you’d need to start marketing efforts real early… but that’s true no matter when you launch your book.  For best results, you really should have your title and branding finalized six to eight months ahead of the book launch, and as soon as you have those things you should be marketing.

And it’s easy to see that big publishers line their book releases up with dates that fit their subject matter.  For example, books that are about relationships debut on or near Valentine’s Day.  If your book is focused on moms, Mother's Day is the obvious release date.  It’s just easier to sell something to somebody already interested in it, so save that World War II thriller for Memorial Day or maybe Pearl Harbor Day. 

It will help your book climb the charts if it has a unique message.  This is one way to differentiate your book from all the similar stuff out there.  When you have zoomed in on your unique marketing message you can develop that brief, interesting statement often called your elevator pitch – so called because it’s what you’d tell an agent about your book if you happened to get into an elevator with her and only have until she reaches her floor to make your sale. 

Looking back over all the ideas I came up with that seem to guide publishers to developing, buying and promoting bestsellers, the one consistent fact seems to be that it is not about us authors at all.  We do the work, put in the hours, to craft something special, but the bottom line of this business is: It’s all about the reader.  What can your book do to help that person or make them happy?  The answer to that question is the linchpin to a successful writing career.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Business Model?

   I know I’ve talked a lot about ebooks of late.  Self-publishing through Kindle and it’s cousins has definitely resulted in a new business model for authors, but it’s not the only one.  I'll talk about the new Kindle Parties another day.  But today's news is that I just found out about the Kickstarter project in Pittsburgh and I think it’s created a great new approach to book selling in Fleeting Pages - http://www.fleetingpages.com/ - a pop-up bookstore.
Basically, Fleeting Pages consists of taking over one of the spaces left empty by a failed bookstore.  Starting tomorrow they’ll be up and running in a former Borders.  For one month they will fill that 6,000 square feet with independent and self-published books and  art,  They will host workshops and other events, but essentially it will be a big bookstore offering great writing not found on the end cap in the big bookstores.

In order to make the temporary bookstore (or world’s longest book fair if you like) financially viable, Fleeting Pages is only taking books on consignment.  The idea must be attractive to authors because without pre-paying for stock they have had new books, magazines, comics, journals and art pouring in from all over, along with great workshop and event ideas.

To keep people coming in, Fleeting Pages folks plan to have raffles, mixed bag books for sale, and lots of authors to talk to.  Also in the works is an online store which could help reduce the number of books they might have to return as the store closes up next month.  That piece of the project will remain online even after the store closes, but they will then redirect the purchase links to the publisher or author website.

If this idea works, if they move enough books to pay for the rental of the space, utilities and supplies, this pop-up bookstore idea could have a future.  They could open more pop-ups of various kinds in the Pittsburgh area.  Or they might try it in different regions, or help others open their own stores in various places.

I think this idea has tremendous potential, and you can be sure I’ve submitted my books for their use.  I hope it’s not too late, but if it is… well, there might be another chance next month in another location. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can I Write a Bestseller? (Part 3)

A while ago I started talking about what it takes to write a guaranteed blockbuster.  We’ve talked about writing to a ready market, picking the right title, be too in love with your own ideas, branding, and knowing how to compete with major publishers.  If the editors at publishing houses have a formula for bestsellers, I suspect all those things are figured in, along with knowing what other similar titles are out there.

I think knowing the competition is vital.  As I said before you need to identify your market to know someone wants to read your book.  You need to read the top books in your genre and get to know those writers.  I find writers conferences are a great way to network with the top mystery and thriller authors, but you can also make connections by visiting their blogs or even through email.  If you want to write a bestseller, then you’ve got to write a book that fits in with the winners in your genre.  At the same time you need to avoid writing a book that’s TOO much like another recent hit.  Even if it were written better, The Michelangelo Code would not hit the bestseller list now.  And while you’re making connections you get to share helpful information.  Besides, it’s easier to ask for that killer back cover blurb from somebody you’ve had a drink with.

If you plan to write a bestseller you’d better know who you’re writing for, and how to reach them.  This way you can add elements to your book that are of particular interest to this readership.  You can even get in with that group BEFORE you write the book.  A novel or series set on a cruise ship could be a big hit if you know how to market to people who go on cruises.  Likewise, a book that is of great interest to people who belong to a particular club or association is born with built in promotion, marketing and networking advantages.  In this way, if you are the stereotypical solitary, isolated author you hurt your book’s chances of becoming a blockbuster.

How people will buy your book affects its sales success too.  These days it’s hard for a book to get shelf space in the big bookstores unless the author has already written bestsellers.  It helps to offer your book on your own web site.  I don’t, but I DO link to Amazon to make it easy for people to order copies of my work.  To reach bestseller status you need to look at other outlets as well.  Gift shops and specialty stores, catalogs and associations are all possible outlets for the right book.  Major publishers map out sales strategy early, and so should you.  If you intend to target specialty shops, gift shops, or catalogs you'll need to approach them early because they often have a time-consuming buying process.  You should begin by showing the same Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) that you send to reviewers.  You can make sales using these “unedited galleys” if you’re approaching the right market.

All this and we haven’t talked about timing or messaging yet.  Well, we’ll save them for next time.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keeping Romance Contemporary

Nancy Naigle is a romance writer who spent most of her life on the Virginia coast, but has moved to greener pastures a little further inland in Southampton County. She and her husband now live on a 76 acre goat farm where Nancy spends every spare moment working on her next book.  We met at the Maryland Writers Association conference in 2010 where her manuscript, OUT OF FOCUS, won the mainstream/literary category. That book will come out this November.  A few weeks back I asked her to write a guest blog on how she keeps her romances contemporary in our every-changing society.  She didn’t let me down.

With you busy on the Hannibal Jones play, I thought it might be good timing for me to pay a visit.

I write love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense. Small towns don’t quite change at the pace of our big city counterparts so I’ll admit it’s not as big a problem for me. However, for me, fresh viewpoints and attitudes is what keeps stories current.

As I read one of your posts earlier this week, the point became very clear to me. It’s just a matter of perspective. The same time, same place, same people—can see things so differently.

Here’s the case in point:

You wrote,
It was hot, sticky, muggy country even at night. Bugs and birds competed to see which could create the most irritating sounds. The river they sloshed through carried the stink of sewage. Mud sucked at their boots. Leeches clung to anything that moved. A field of brilliant stars and a sliver of a moon did little to illuminate the potential animal and reptile dangers lurking in the darkness.

Here’s what I’d see, Jill and Garrett caught the occasional glimpse of the stars through the thick summer foliage of the trees. The humidity was so high that it was like walking into a wet sweater, but the heavy air didn’t quiet the bugs and birds any. They sang out in an unplanned tune that no orchestra could match. The mud sucked at Jill’s boots as they got closer to the river. Just over the last incline, they could hear the river sloshing below. The tiny sliver of a moon cast silver swords of light across the moving water. It was worth every mosquito bite to see the show that nature put on. At least they’d thought so until a noise in the darkness made them aware they weren’t alone.

Like that old Sears tag line, I’m on the softer side. But that’s what makes our voice such an important factor in what we write. It’s our perspective, and how we tell our stories. It’s what the readers come to expect from us.

So, how do I keep things fresh? I guess my natural curiosity about what’s in the news and technology keeps me current. That translates into my stories without me even me making a conscious effort.

I hope your friends will check out my debut novel, SWEET TEA AND SECRETS. It’ll be available in e-formats and print in May. (Yes! It’s getting close, but I have a copy of your SUCCESSFULLY MARKETING YOUR NOVEL IN THE 21st CENTURY handy so I’m ready!) 

you can learn more about Nancy  Naigle's work at  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Can I Write a Bestseller? (Part 2)

Last time I started talking about what it takes to write a guaranteed blockbuster.  Today I continue to explore what I think a publisher’s editor might think is the formula for a bestseller. 

Beyond writing a book that there’s already a big market for, I think the title might be an important factor.  A book’s title, and its cover, might be its most significant elements.  Let’s face it, people really DO judge a book by its cover, and its title.  Readers want to know what the book is about before they even pick it up.  If the title is confusing, or just not appealing, it could cost you sales.  Would you buy “The Catholic Conspiracy” or “The DaVinci Code”?

I also think that if you want to write a bestseller you can’t be too in love with your own ideas.  I guess it’s okay to be passionate about your work, but you have to be open to feedback. Outside input from your publisher, agent and publicist is necessary for a successful book launch.  If you’re not open to it, you could miss valuable advice.  Or, maybe you need to know if anyone else thinks people will pay to read your memoir before you invest thousands promoting it.

If you’re self published or even with a small press, you need to know how to compete with the big boys.  Maybe those big New York publishers ARE ruining the industry and doing everything wrong, but they still drive the business.  So if you know when they put out their new releases, their promotional efforts, their weaknesses and their strengths, you can understand what you’re competing with.  If your work is similar you can ride their coattails.  If not, you can hit the niche they’re ignoring.

A bestseller needs the right branding.  The look of your work or your series is vital.  That’s why book covers need to be designed by professionals.  So do the research – go to a major bookstore and look closely at the covers where your book would be shelved.  Right now, thrillers and mysteries (my genre) get covers that are both powerful in design and relatively simple, and showing people on the cover seems to be out of fashion.  However, romances ALWAYS have people on the cover, and the humorous ones have a totally different art style from the racy ones, and that style is different from the historical ones.  If you already have a brand – your name, your company, a logo – make sure it’s unavoidable by anyone who sees the book, and that it fits well with the cover.  The look of your book should get people interest but not confuse them.  If you have to explain the title, or the cover, no one will pick it up.

The more I think about this, the more stuff I think of, so I’ll continue this in a few days.  Meanwhile, maybe you’ll think of some things you need to do to produce a best seller that I didn’t think of.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Can I Write a Bestseller? (Part 1)

Recently I was looking through the stacks in Borders and found myself both admiring and criticizing some of the most popular books.  The thought process went something like this: “Wow, this thing is really selling!  I could never write a piece of crap like that.  It’s like it was done to a formula.  Probably some editor called his friend and said “The marketplace needs a book about [fill in the blank] and if you write it like this, I know we can sell it.” 

In some cases it seemed obvious that a book written on that concept at that time would sell big.  That got me wondering if I could think like a publisher’s editor and figure out the formula for a bestseller.  So, with tongue firmly in cheek, here’s what I think you’ve got to do to write a book that will end up on the bestseller lists.

First, you need to write a book that there’s a big market for.  I tend to write what will make ME happy, but that’s not a commercial approach.  If you write a book and boast proudly that “there was no other book like it on the market” you’re in trouble already.  If no one has a similar book out, there’s probably a good reason… like, no one wants to read that.  Or, say you write a great self-help book for men.  Cool, except that almost all self help books are bought by women. 

In fact, most books of any kind are bought by women.  Best selling thriller writer Jon Land launched his Caitlin Strong series based on a perceived hole in the marketplace.  Thrillers are the best selling genre.  Women buy most books.  There were few female protagonists in thrillers.  He’s on the NY Times list because he’s not only a great writer, but also a smart writer.

But how can we know what the market wants?  We can go to bookstores and talk to booksellers.  Ask if they have books on your topic or in your sub-genre.  Check out the competition.  If there isn't a book on your topic, try to find out why.  Chat with that bookseller, other authors, or a friend who works in marketing. 

Writing the right book may be the first step to the bestseller list.  I’ve got lots more ideas, so this could be a long series.  I’d be happy to hear your ideas too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Play's The Thing

I know it's been too long since my last blog, but that's partly because I've been wrestling with a new challenge - writing a play.
The director at a local theater thought it would be a great idea to have a Hannibal Jones mystery on her stage.  I had to agree.  So I went online to find a few examples of how a play is formatted, found out the preferred length, and set about writing a nice 90 minute live action mystery.

I didn't want to start from scratch of course.  Creating a new story would only add to the difficulty level.  But knowing that a novel would be way too much story to tell in the time allowed, I decided to adapt one of my short stories.  That way the characters, the action, and more importantly the clues and resolution were already in place.  This would be a snap, right?

Well, not exactly.  I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of it just how limiting writing for the stage can be.  For one thing, I’m accustomed to using the setting, the action and my protagonist’s internal monologue to tell a story.  But with a play, all you have is the dialog.  I can’t use a fight scene, driving sequence or even moving from room to room to help carry the plot.  Scenes are pretty static.  My characters are stuck in that room or on that street for a while.

And that’s another thing.  In a short story a scene can be one page or the site of the entire story.  I can have one scene or a dozen.  I can move back and forth between two scenes in whatever helps the pace of the story.  But live audiences don’t want to spend half the night in intermissions because the scenes keep changing.  So I settled on three acts with three scenes in each, and each scene had to be about the same length.  That simple decision totally restructured my story. 

Dialog also takes a shift.  EVERYTHING the audience knows about these characters has to be said out loud or demonstrated by their actions.  So the characters have to express their emotions more blatantly, and in interaction with each other.  That turns out to be a bit harder than I imagined.  

All in all, this is a very different kind of storytelling I’ve jumped into.  Exciting, and challenging, but it is stretching me as a writer and I can’t wait to work my way into a full size play that I’ll be proud of.