Friday, August 31, 2012

What Not To Do In Your Novel

Now that we have launched Intrigue Publishing I am often asked "What do I have to do in my novel to get it published?" Most often, authors would be better served to focus on what NOT to do.

First, if you’re writing for us, forget the common advice to “write what you know.”  For example, a sensual erotica novel will be downright boring if most writers only relate what they have personally experienced.  In crime fiction it’s important to be able to not just introduce new and interesting ways to commit murder and other crimes but to imagine how it feels to be the evil megalomaniac.  Good YA depends on having an imagination to match a child’s.  And even though urban drama must be rooted in realism, it needs to go beyond simply relating events we all know happen in the hood if you want to catch our attention.  So Start with what you know but write what you imagine.

Don’t get so caught up in your story that you confuse your reader.  To picture the action accurately I want to know what day it is, what time it is and, more importantly, how much time has passed from one scene to the next.  If, in the middle of the action I go, “Wait.  Is it the next day?” then you’ve lost me.  This is one place crutches are okay so go ahead and refer to the position of the sun, or that darkness is approaching.  Tell us what meal is coming up or have a character comment that they’ve been on that trail for three days.  In some cases you might want to state the day and time in a subheading at the start of each chapter. 
And don’t confuse me about the point of view either.  It’s best to stick to one POV but if you want to hop into another character’s head do it at the start of a chapter, or put an extra space between paragraphs.  Give me some warning that the switch has taken place.

When it comes to characters, don’t overdo the description.  You want to give me enough description so I can tell the characters apart.  But you also want to leave something for the reader's imagination. If you overdo it you might contradict the image the reader already has in mind.  Words like “handsome” and “tall” mean different things to different people, and unless the character’s exact height is important to the plot, “tall” is probably enough.

That’s a good start for your self-critiquing and editing.  I’ll have more “thou shalt not”s in a future blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

C3 Conference - Working On Site

There is no “how to give a literary conference” kit.  So I’m building one.

When we decided to launch the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference we knew that one of our challenges would be to prove the event is real. People will only register for a conference if they are confident that something will actually happen.  Despite our many connections in the writing community we knew we not only had to BE real… we had to LOOK real.  That meant getting our web site in place as early as possible because here in the 21st Century, if you don’t exist on the internet, you don’t exist.

So we looked closely at the web sites of other cons that we love: Thrillerfest, Love is Murder, Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, Balticon and several others.  Once we had an idea of what we wanted OUR site to be, we needed a web designer who could turn our vision into reality.  We settled on Stevenson Graphics and Design .

We knew the landing page needed to explain what our conference was all about.  It also needed links to a number of other pages and to show off our keynote speakers and local guest authors.  We also wanted a countdown to the Con (380 days and counting.)  Oh, and we wanted the page to not look cluttered.

Stevenson came through with a very nice design and also thought to add an RSS connection.  We had also asked for a creative logo.  After looking at several options we selected the shield design you see here, an almost heraldic combination of artistic, literary and crime-fighting symbols, complete with a fantasy creature, that somehow manages to look futuristic.  We love it.

 We wanted all registrations to come through the web site and thank goodness Stevenson knew how to execute that because we had no idea.  As it is, the registration form is separate from the money.  It lets everyone choose their banquet meal and allows for notes and comments that will help us fine-tune the conference as more people register.  And of course it allows registrants to tell us if they are authors so we can get them on the right panels.

We also created a page that will list each attending author with a link to their web site, a place holder page where we’ll display the panel schedule when we firm it up, and a contact page through which we hope to get lots of input.

In fact, I hope you will explore our conference web site and use the link on our contact page to tell us what you think of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Intrigue Publishing – What’s the holdup?

Some writers have told us that one reason they self-publish is that they don’t want to wait forever to see their books in print.  Their faces fall when I tell them that if they publish with us they can expect their release date to be a year from the day they sign the contract.  And that’s twice as fast as some big publishers work. 

“But,” they protest, “I sent my manuscript to a Print-On-Demand publisher and had books in my hand in less than a month.”  That reaction tells me that the author doesn’t realize all the steps involved in the process.

The fact that we believe you have a well-written story worth publishing doesn’t mean your work is done.  We’ll have suggestions for improvements that will drive rewrite number one.  Then your manuscript will go to a professional editor.  She will work with you on the structure, flow, pace, plot, character development and dialogue.  Armed with a marked-up manuscript and a four or five page evaluation, you launch into rewrite number two.

Then the book goes to a proofreader who seeks out spelling and grammar errors and looks for inconsistencies.  Another staffer will make sure the mistakes are really mistakes and don’t mess with your voice.

Once we agree that the manuscript is as good as it can be it’s time for formatting and designing the interior.  Meanwhile we send the manuscript to our graphic designer to create a cover, plus matching bookmarks, print ads and related promotional materials.

At this point we should still be more than six months from release.  A galley proof returns from the printer and both the author and one of our staff read through it to ferret out the last formatting errors.  About this time the e-book version is formatted.  This is rather different from formatting a print book. 

The first shipment of books should arrive about five months from the release date.  These are really ARCs – Advance Reader Copies.  Some will be sent to other authors with requests for blurbs.  Others will go in review packets assembled the month before.  Most reviewers want to receive books at least four months prior to release, so they can read the book and get their reviews into their publications to coincide with the book release.

But we’re not done yet.  A book-specific web page needs to be built.  Press releases must be written.  Files must be uploaded to ebook sources.  And, while each book’s promotional plan will be different, many will include ordering a video trailer, mailing books to independent bookstores, placing print ads in a variety of publications, or arranging for blog tours or talk radio tours.  Each of these is a time consuming activity that must be done weeks in advance.

Oh, and let’s not forget the fun part – planning for the book release party.  Again, each one is unique.  Your book’s release isn’t an action – it’s an event!

There are a few other details of course, but this hits the high points and hopefully helps to explain why it takes so long for a good book to be born.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

C3 Conference – Filling Up a Weekend

There is no “how to give a literary conference” kit.  So I’m building one.

Physicist John Wheeler said, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once..." and while that is only half the actual quote, it’s the part that pertains to today’s blog.  Once we decided where, when and how long the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity conference would be, we had to figure out how we would fill that time. 

A lot can happen in a weekend, and different con directors handle that fact differently.  I’ve been to events where the whole gang moved from one event to another.  That can be boring if you don’t enjoy one of the panels.  I’ve also attended convention that had as many as six things happening simultaneously.  That can feel like everything IS happening at once and there were always things I wanted to see scheduled against each other.

We decided that three panels at a time was a good compromise.  Hopefully there will be ONE panel in each time period of interest to every attendee.

We knew we wanted one hour panels, but before filling in a grid we had to decide when the con would start and end.  With a close eye on our model (did I mention Love is Murder before?) we tried to make the schedule friendly to travelers and the gainfully employed.  So Friday panels won’t start until 1pm.  Four panel hours Friday afternoon (three panels in each hour) will get us to a book signing by all the writers on those panels and then to dinner.

Saturday’s panels will start after breakfast at 9am.  Three sets of panels, then lunch, then four more panel hours.  Saturday’s presenters will all sign books at 5pm, just before the banquet.

There will only be two panel hours after Sunday’s breakfast, so the con will wind up at noon.  Along the way there will be author roundtable discussions, one-person workshops and a few special events. 

But most of the schedule will consist of panel presentations, which called for more decision making.  I’ve seen two-man panels and panels with six or seven authors.  In the latter case, some writers never get a chance to speak.  We want all our attending authors to get a chance to shine so we’ve settled on three authors per panel plus a moderator.  We should still be able to get every writer who registers onto a panel or two.  What all these panels will be about is a story for another blog. 

Oh, and the rest of Wheeler’s quote?  “Space is what prevents everything from happening to me.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Intrigue Publishing – Equal Rights for Good Books

When planning to launch Intrigue Publishing we took a long hard look at the publishing industry, and we didn’t like everything we saw.  One thing that bothered us was the loss of the midlist.

A few decades ago, major publishers nurtured what we call midlist authors - Authors who consistently published acceptable but not bestselling books.  Publishers would publish writers with potential and keep their careers alive as long as they weren’t big money losers.  Often those writers would find a solid audience and step forward from that midlist to become best sellers, but it took time.

Today’s business model for big publishers seems to be to ignore those solid performers in a never-ending search for the blockbuster!  They will find a book they believe has blockbuster potential and back it with huge promotion, advertising and distribution resources.  This sometimes results in a self-fulfilling prophesy, but after a million dollar advance and another million in promotion a book can sell very well and still lose money.

Well, we’re not chasing the blockbuster.  We’re looking for solid authors who can turn out solid books.  Of course, those books must clear certain hurdles for us to apply our resources.  But since we don’t have millions, we don’t’ expect Stephen King.  Yet.

So, what makes a book right for Intrigue Publishing? 
  1. Each book will entertain its readers.
  2. Each book will be worthy of the attention of discerning book reviewers.
  3. Each book will appeal to a mass market with major sales potential.
That's one side of the deal we will make with each novel we publish.  What will that book get in return?

  1. Each book will be carefully edited, designed, and produced.
  2. Each book will have a month-long launch in which it is our sole focus.
  3. Each book will have a national publicity campaign.
  4. Each book will have both a print and a digital strategy.
  5. Each book will be promoted well into its publishing life.
These novels will all be part of the Intrigue Publishing family.  And like with people, you may not LIKE all your children equally, but you have to LOVE them all equally.  Every book we put in the marketplace will get an equal chance to shine, and receive our best effort.  And who knows… by letting the readers judge which is best we just might accidentally stumble onto the next Steven King.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Things Every Aspiring Writer Needs to Accept

This guest post is contributed by Barbra Jolie, who enjoys writing about online college classes and other academic trends.  Barbara offers a dose of reality for those who want to write for a living.

Every year, thousands of students graduate with degrees in everything from English to Journalism in hopes of becoming professional writers. They might have different styles and pursuits, but they all share a love of the written word and a desire to write for a living. However, compared to those pursuing more traditional jobs as lawyers or doctors, writers must understand the unpredictability of the road that lies ahead of them.
As someone who regularly writes, I have definitely dealt with the ups and downs that come with this career. That being said, below are just a few things I have learned that have helped me maintain my sanity and perspective. They just might help others as well.
The Job Market is Less than Predictable
Probably the most important thing for career writers to remember is that their professional world is unstable. Sure, you have the rare success stories where someone lands a great job right out of the gate, but for the majority of us, this will not be the case. You will get replaced, fired, or whatever. At some point, upper management will cut the budget and leave you jobless.
Additionally, fulfilling freelance jobs can be even tougher to find, making the search all the more difficult. However, I'm living proof it's not impossible, you just have to have the drive to make it work. Take on an extra job. Pursue opportunities outside your comfort zone. Do what you must to pursue your dream.
Writer's Block Will Happen
You also must come to terms with the notion of writer's block. Believe me; it happens to the best of us. From the seasoned reporter to the newly graduated English major, they will all struggle with forming that perfect sentence, finding that enticing angle. So don't beat yourself up about it. It's usually just your brain's way of saying to decompress.  Sure, there will be times you won't be able to do that—the deadline will be looming and you will have nothing but infinite pages of white space in front of you, but have no fear, this brings me to my next point.
You Won't Like Everything You Write…
…And that's OK. In fact, others won't like everything you write either—it's just another harsh truth you have to accept.  Ideally, everything that poured out of you would be gold, but that's not realistic. A number of factors can affect the quality of your content, and you have to be OK with that. Say you get sick days before a deadline, odds are that piece won't be your best, but something is better than nothing, so suck it up and get it done. Quit agonizing over every line and give yourself a break. Nobody's perfect, and you need to embrace that.
This is in no way an endorsement to be mediocre, nor are these points meant to deter you. I simply aim to give you real insight into the path you've chosen. The life of a writer can be a rewarding adventure, you just have to learn how to enjoy the ride.

Barbara is always contemplating and considering issues concerning education and modern society. You can reach her at 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

C3 Conference: Food for Thought

Sadly, man does not live by fiction alone.  At some point we all have to stop reading long enough to eat.  When planning the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity Con we looked at other cons we've enjoyed from a food aspect.  Some, like Love is Murder, include almost all the meals during the event.  Some, like Thrillerfest, feature just a banquet, and even that is a separate charge so not everyone attends.  We considered the importance of eating during the con in two ways.

First, there’s the cost.  Including meals certainly boosts the cost of a ticket and might discourage registrations.  Then there is the question of relative freedom of movement during the event.

At Thrillerfest we were on our own to find restaurants nearby in New York City.  It turned out to not just be a big expense, but one that was difficult to predict and budget for.  Unless you’re a fast food fanatic, we were able to add meals to the C3 registration for less than it would cost to eat on the outside.  And, once you’ve bought your ticket you don’t have to try to figure out how much more money you’ll need to eat.

We also wanted to promote maximum networking between fans and attending writers.  We figured that having pre-paid meals with events at some of them would encourage attendees to stay in the hotel and hang out together.  Writers might make new fans, and readers might get a chance to chat with authors of interest.

Including meals in the registration cost was clearly the best plan for us.  Thank goodness I had two ladies involved to handle that – one a true foodie and gourmet, the other a seasoned event planner and entertainer.  They pored over the menu choices like a bride planning her wedding.

We settled on a buffet dinner Friday, during which we can offer welcome remarks and present our first keynote speaker, Jeffrey Deaver.

Saturday will kick off with a nice continental breakfast before the panels start.  During the lunch buffet I’ll interview one of our local special guests, John Gilstrap.

Saturday night’s meal will be a served banquet.  Attendees will choose from three dinner options, and if all goes well will hear another keynote address.  Let me know who we should get for this one.  We’re fishing for an author of horror, sci-fi, fantasy or steampunk on Jeffrey Deaver’s level.

Sunday’s buffet breakfast will feature custom made omelets thanks to our sponsor, Acorn Book Services.  And urban fiction author B. Swangin Webster will interview our other local special guest, Trice Hickman.

So, as you can see, the food will be an integral part of the fun at the C3 Con!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Intrigue Publishing - On a mission

Every business should have a purpose other than making money.  When we decided to form Intrigue Publishing we spent as much time talking about WHY we were doing this as we spent on WHAT we will do.

For example, we decided early on that we would pay advances.  An advance is just what it sounds like: money the author will earn in the future, paid when the publisher gets the rights to publish his or her work.  Not every publisher pays advances.  Many legitimate small presses simply acquire the rights to a literary work and contract to pay royalties after sales are made.  There’s nothing wrong with that business model.

It leaves the publisher with more funds to apply toward producing and marketing books.  But we choose to pay an advance because part of our mission is to turn writers into authors, and writers don’t FEEL like authors until they get paid for their work.  Our advances will vary based on our judgment of the book’s market potential.  If we don’t think a book is going to make us money, we just won’t publish it.  But if we DO think there’s profit to be made, we feel we should express our confidence in the work by paying the author something in advance.

A company’s mission should state its goals. One of our objectives is to publish at least four books each year.  We’ve already read a number of submissions and selected one for publication.  D.B. Corey wrote a police procedural with strong enough thriller and mystery elements that we are certain it will draw a large audience.  We’re excited about getting the chance to show the world what a great talent this is.

Corey fit our image of the author we want to publish.  He has a unique perspective and writes with compelling authority.  His book will definitely arouse the reader’s curiosity thanks to its unusual, new, fascinating and compelling qualities.  In other words, it will intrigue you.

We are looking for writers who can create quality works that will appeal to the reader’s interest.  We intend to nurture and mentor our authors, pushing them to produce writing that cannot be ignored.  We believe that talented authors deserve attention from their publishers.

Those writers also deserve attention from readers, so selling their books is also an essential part of our mission.  We will work to build an avid audience for each of our authors.  And, while bigger publishers may favor a few of their books and ignore the rest, we will treat each novel we publish with equal respect.

Next week I’ll talk a bit about what we’ll do for every book.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Cost of a Conference

From its inception the Creatures, Crimes & Creativity Con has been about the fun of writing and the fun of meeting writers.  But sadly, there is one part of planning a conference that is NOT fun.  Like it or not, you have to deal with the money issue.

The biggest expense is the venue.  To get bids you have to know what you want.  After you figure out how many breakout rooms you’ll need, you add a bookstore area, registration space, vendor space, a hospitality suite and a room big enough to hold everyone when your keynote speaks.  We also decided to offer meals as part of the registration package, in order to promote networking by keeping everyone in the hotel at meal time.  Once we knew what we needed we got proposals from several hotels, college campuses and even a VFW hall.  Tours and negotiations finally led to the Hunt Valley Inn.

You may want to offer your keynote speakers an honorarium, and/or to cover their travel expenses.  This makes local writers more attractive, but you need names that will draw attendees.

You need a budget for promotion.  This could simply be post cards or Facebook ads, but you might consider ad space in other conference programs or elsewhere.  Do the research to see how much such things cost.

And don’t forget the cost of your own Con programs.  This will be everyone’s primary souvenir of their Con so budget to get a nice one printed.

Unless one of the organizers is an IT whiz your budget must include putting up a slick web site.  Building the registration page turned out to be a bit more complex than expected, but the convenience of letting people register online is worth a lot.

Don’t forget that even the registration will cost money.  You’ll have to provide name tags and a nice bag or backpack for people to carry their stuff in. 

Many of these expenses – meals, programs, registration packets, etc – depend on the number of attendees you expect.  Here’s where the guessing comes in.  You have to pick a number, based on other cons you’ve been to that were similar to yours.  Once you have your guess for attendance you divide that number into the total projected cost and voila!  You know what the average guest will have to pay for you to break even.

Average?  Well yes, because you’ll want an early bird registration price, and if it’s a multi-day event you’ll want to offer a one-day price.  You may want to introduce other variations like a student rate, or retiree pricing.  You may want to charge less for the authors who will be on panels.

Your budget could change if you find a couple publishers to sponsor parts of the Con, or get vendors for all the space available, or sell souvenirs at a profit (coffee mugs, tee shirts, etc.)  Ideas like these could offset some of the cost.