Monthly Archives: November 2009

Promotions: The Difference between “Free” and “Cheap”

I’ve never known a writer who wasn’t starving for something. Some want more time, some need ideas, most desire a champion to fight for them, and in this time of shifting publishing industry paradigm, all of them need to promote. The problem is, first-time authors just don’t have the money to do it right. Enter – the internet and every crazy “free” or “no charge” scam imaginable. It’s just the tip of the iceberg and very little of it is designed for long term results. Many are design to feed our egos, and most take advantage of ignorance about the publicity, marketing or promotions process. Always remember what your mom said, “You get what you pay for”. 

Today I’d like to explore a few specific tags authors on a tight budget seem to hone in on. Free, Cheap, Inexpensive, Reasonable, and Value/Value Added

FREE 

This is easily the most powerful word in the English language, maybe even more effective than “Fire!” Free falls into the bin with Easy, Stress Free and Child’s Play. Come now, you’re a writer. Has anything in this process been easy, stress free or child’s play? What makes you think promoting your book will go any smoother than writing it? Free is where the phrase Bait and Switch comes in to play. Let’s take an example: press release services. 

You’ve just written a sterling press release announcing the release of your book (or where you’ll be doing a book event, or when you’ll be interviewed on a radio show). Now you need to create a list for where to send it. But it’s more complicated than that, you must specify who will receive it at each target media. There are options here. You could painstakingly create a killer media press release list of your own by doing research and compiling everything yourself. Oh, that may be free but is sure isn’t easy. Or, you can seek out an already developed list, so you troll the web and low and behold, you find not one but several Press Release List services that boast the word FREE! You’re in like Flint, right? Wrong. Take a closer look. 

Yes, for free you will have your press release go out, but you won’t know to whom, nor can you specify an industry or subject in which the release should be categorized. You need two days lag time for the company to screen your press release and deem it inoffensive before it’s actually sent out. Seems reasonable, in fact, even paid press release email services take the time to look over your submission. Here’s the catch. For Free, you don’t get to add any attachments (i.e. your book cover or photo), you don’t know where the release is going, you don’t know if it was ever received so you have no idea how or with whom you should follow up, AND, you don’t even have proof it went out. 

I’m not condemning free press release email services. I’m only pointing out that such services make it extremely difficult to gauge the success of your press releases. 

If you go back to the main page of that press release mailing service site, you will see a chart. THE chart. The one that shows you what you get if you pay for it. Online email press release services range from free to hundreds of dollars per release. The super expensive services are not a scam; they include AP wire service, international targets and client specification down to the smallest detail. Those are the services that provide reports that gauge success. 

Nothing is free, at least nothing that works. Sorry. 

CHEAP 

Okay, time to look at Cheap. You need to self promote, there are no two ways about it. Without tooting your own horn, you will be lost in the tall weeds. Cheap directions can include a few free things, but in this category, everything requires your careful watchful eye and diligence. Websites can be created cheaply, but they don’t need to look cheap, so it may be beneficial to get some help in that area. If money is too tight, think about trading services instead of cash. For example, a friend who builds beautiful websites may occasionally need a writer to pen the blurbs for his/her clients. 

Blogging is cheap. Well, in most cases it’s free, but your time isn’t, so budget your time carefully to assure that your blog is updated and promoted regularly. Same with Twitter, FaceBook and all the other online exposure venues you are using. Saying you’re on Twitter and actually tweeting regularly are two different things. I have to laugh when clients tell me Twitter does nothing for them. A little exploration explains how they’ve done nothing to make Twitter a viable tool. Things like having a website, a blog and social marketing are the life blood of making yourself and your book known. Yes they’re cheap, but they can really score big if handled correctly. It’s a strategic investment of time and energy. 

INEXPENSIVE 

It’s a relative concept and depends on how empty your pockets really are. The best way to seek and utilize the illusive inexpensive strategies is to create them. Think outside the box. Maybe you can’t get on Oprah but why aren’t you trying to get on your local public television shows? Maybe speaking at the biggest bookstore chain isn’t possible due to scheduling, but look around, aren’t there fifteen small independent book stores and libraries nearby? Maybe you can’t purchase a quarter-page ad in the newspaper, but printing out flyers and posting them at your local market, beauty salon, your pet’s vet, your dentist’s office or any business related to your book subject just may be extremely effective. 

The difference between expensive and inexpensive is elbow grease. Trust me, you can work around anything and get astounding results if you just think creatively and work it to the bone. Lots of small efforts lead to big exposure that just may put you on the map sooner than you think. 

REASONABLE 

What’s reasonable for you? It depends on your goals. If you’ve self published, printed only a thousand books and have put no efforts in creating your platform, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be a New York Times best selling author by Christmas. Finding reasonable solutions to building success often takes an author back to the original question: Why did they want to write a book in the first place? Make a pot of coffee, grab a note pad, refresh the answer to that question and start getting reasonable. 

Writing is a career, not a pastime, not a fun thing we like to do … it’s a business. If you opened a corner coffee shop (self published), you’d be taking on an inventory based business with built-in competition. You’d do whatever you had to do to bring people off the sidewalk and into your doors. You’d create specials and maybe buy 5 get the 6 cup ‘o coffee free cards. You know why you’d work this hard? Simple. You’d do it because your failure would be painfully obvious when the “Out of Business” sign goes up in the window. When you’re on your own, it’s tougher. 

Now, let’s imagine that instead of being independent, you buy a Starbuck’s franchise (traditionally published). You’ve got guidelines, you’ve got training, specific products, national advertising and an already established following. Cool huh? But guess what, you still have to be there to open the doors, hire the employees, stock the shelves, make acceptable vanilla lattes and meet expectations. You have a lot of help but failure is still a looming possibility. 

Everyone has to work at it, and in the case of authors, reasonable is all about knowing your limitations and needs. It’s about understanding the professionals you need, choosing them carefully and working with them to get the success you want. Whether you opened an indi coffee shop or a shiny new Starbucks, you still have the same goals. Good professionals know how to help you reach them. Don’t randomly hire marketing experts, publicists, advertising agencies or even personal assistants. Make sure the relationship is reasonable for you, your wallet and your target goals. 

Oh, and just like owning that coffee shop, with hiring comes possible dismissal. Know how to say, “enough, it’s not working” and move on.

VALUE/VALUE ADDED

Promotional Marketing is about glitz and glamour, it’s about loud bongs and flashy lights and gaining awareness that results in sales. 

The problem is, as the creator of the product, we tend to get mesmerized by all that sparkle. Like a dog that suddenly stops mid-stride because he noticed a squirrel, we have a habit of falling head over heels in love with the ego-feeding super promotions. 

Please note, that doesn’t mean that those particular promotions are bad or ineffective or even ill advised. They may be perfect for your book, but the author’s responsibility is to stop drooling, take a deeper look and decide intelligently. Explore the value of the promotion … and seek out the added value, because therein lies the power. 

For example, who doesn’t get excited about things like book videos, high profile ads, audio books voiced by famous actors, a possible movie deal or international interest for translated publication of their book? It’s so heart-pounding it makes the head spin. There are three things you must think about before you swoon with visions of expectant riches. 

1)      Cool as it may be, does the promotion really serve to reach your reader target? Many promos blast off about reaching a million viewers, but honestly, if you’ve written a dark literary novel about the history of the Druids, and a large portion of the viewers boasted happen to be YA readers who prefer sparkly vampires, this may not be the promotion for you. How will you know if you don’t demand proof of the demographic receiving the promo info? And oh hell yes, you certainly can demand, after all, you are paying for this, right?

2)      Is it necessary? Really, it makes perfect sense to do an audio book version of your amazing Druid novel … but is it really necessary to get Russell Crowe to do the recorded read? Isn’t it the story that’s important? Wouldn’t an unknown with the perfect voice do just as well and cost … oh … less than your mortgage and/or first born male child?

3)      Where’s the added value? Some of these services have taken things several steps further to help assure success for not only their product, but their client’s promotion. For example, never, ever even consider having a book video produced unless the company offers a strong marketing package to make it all work. Yes, it’ll cost a bit more, but what good is having a cool book video if no one sees it? Ask for the added value packages, look them over carefully and choose the one most likely to create the success you want. 

So, there you go, the difference between Free, Cheap, Inexpensive, Reasonable and Value/Value Added. Any questions or comments? I’d love to hear your input.

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Tools with Balls: Software for Serious Writers

Note from Deborah Riley-Magnus – I’m not usually one to endorse products on my blog, but there are a few amazing tools coming onto the market designed to help writers write and organize, manage SEO and understand the shifting literary market. I think this is the place to share them. Welcome to a new blog category – Tools with Balls – where we can explore a few neat weapons for success! In the case of My Story Writer, I had taken the challenge, downloaded the free sneak peek and promptly asked Lara Wells if she’d like to share her thoughts with my blog buddies. Here’s what Lara had to say.  

I never thought I’d use writing software. I know as well as any writer that when it comes to writing, there’s no “magic bullet.” No book you can read or class you can take or software you can use that will make writing stories effortless, but it would be wrong to ignore the fact that there are tools out there that can help to make the process of writing more manageable. 

My Story Writer was created by a software developer for his daughter, a writer who wanted a tool that would help her writing – not to write better but to get (and stay) organized throughout the writing process. 

I was asked to take a look at My Story Writer this past summer by a friend of my husband’s in the hopes that I might have some marketing ideas for the software. I’ve been in marketing for more than a decade but was very skeptical as I downloaded the trial. Two hours later I wondered how I’d ever planned a story without this tool. 

The argument I often hear about writing software is that it’s just another way for writers to procrastinate. I agree. As writers, we are true masters at procrastination. We have a gift for finding something else we need to do when we should be writing. The options are endless. 

The other snappy comeback I see when someone asks for a recommendation on a good writing software product is: “Shakespeare (or insert-any-other-famous-writer’s-name-here) didn’t need writing software and you don’t either. You just need to write.” If you carry that logic ahead we should all be writing by candlelight with a quill pen and a pot of ink. Shakespeare (or insert-any-other-famous-writer-name-here) also didn’t have a computer, spell-check, or the Post-It note – all of which I could not live without. 

Writing shouldn’t have to be any harder than it already is. 

As for me, I’m currently working on revisions for a memoir I never thought I’d write (I’d so hoped it would be a novel) and I’m playing around with two other novel ideas that are swimming around in my head. I’ve got three of what I’d call “practice novels” to my credit – one first draft and the others at various stages of revision. I learned a lot from writing them but don’t believe any of them are salvageable – and I certainly don’t have enough passion for any of them at this point to see them through to the finish line. 

In my writing, I’ve always struggled with structure and that’s the problem I’ve had with the memoir. Even after writing the first draft and undertaking a major revision (let’s just call it a complete rewrite), it still felt to me like a series of events and not a story. I wrote the first draft and the rewrite before I knew about My Story Writer but have been using it on the current revision and can’t believe how much it’s helped me to visualize what I have for each scene – and more importantly, see what I was missing. 

My favorite tool in My Story Writer is the wizard. In addition to the New Story Wizard, there are wizards to help you create characters, locations, events and even items. I wasn’t sure how helpful the wizards would be for me since when I started inputting my two story ideas I had such limited information, but the wizards helped by taking these story “nuggets” then and asking the questions I needed to have the answers to write the story. What’s the story crisis? Where does the story take place? When does the story take place? What happens at the end of the story? Of course I didn’t have the answers to every question in the wizards but it planted the seeds of these unknowns in my head so that I could be thinking about them. Not sure the color of your protagonist’s eyes? Maybe it’s irrelevant and will mean nothing for your character at all, but what if it does? Or it could? 

But what I think is the greatest thing about My Story Writer is that I have everything in one place

Like most of us, I need to maximize the time I have to actually sit in front of the computer and write. By having everything in one place I don’t waste time searching for a character’s name or random trait that I wrote down here somewhere. (Good luck finding that on my desk.) And not only is everything I need captured in one place it’s organized around each story which is great when you’re working on more than one project at the same time. I’m currently playing with two different novel ideas and not sure which one will be my next project so I’m researching and exploring both of them. 

My brain isn’t into linear processes so even as I’m trying to work out ideas for one story, I’m constantly coming up with something for the other – whether it’s a character detail or a plot point or line of dialogue. With My Story Writer I can easily jump between stories and capture all of my ideas –  even links to the websites I may need to reference again. Everything is right there so there’s no searching through the multiple folders in the Writing folder in My Documents to find a document I think I saved. 

I don’t write science fiction or fantasy but am in awe of the writers who create not only a story, but an entire world in which that story takes place. When your locations aren’t as simple as Colorado or Los Angeles I don’t know how you’d keep it all straight and consistent without a writing program. 

The future of My Story Writer is exciting, too. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve to software and here are two new features we’re working on:

  • Collaboration – With the new collaboration functionality you’ll have a way to easily work with another writer or writers on the same project. This will also make My Story Writer a great tool for writing classes or groups to be able to share not only a manuscript in progress, but also the planning that’s going on behind the scenes – like character development and plotting.
  • Marketing – We’re undergoing some major enhancements to the Marketing tab which currently focuses on the query letter process to include planning for the post-publishing marketing efforts that often starts long before that first query letter is even sent out.  (Thank you to Deb Riley-Magnus for her feedback and insights into how we could improve upon this to offer a true publicity tool.) 

As what it means to be a writer evolves, so will My Story Writer. It’s meant to be a companion to you throughout your writing journey – whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned writer. So share with us how you work and what you need to make your writing days easier. There’s never going to be a “magic bullet” when it comes to writing, but I’ll take any tool that makes the process more manageable.

My Story Writer writing software brings technology to the creative writing process so you have a structure for organizing all of your writing projects. You bring the ideas – or use the brainstorming functionality to create some – and My Story Writer delivers a way to control the writing process the way you want to – from conceptualization of your story idea to the day when you submit your manuscript for publication. You can try out the software with a free 15-day trial. (http://mywritingsoftware.com/FreeTrial/tabid/139/Default.aspx

Lara can be found on Twitter (@mystorywriter) and on the My Story Writer blog or via email laraw@mywritingsoftare.com

(http://mywritingsoftware.com/Blog/tabid/128/BlogID/5/Default.aspx)


Villains and Trojans

A writer without her computer is like a woman living in a pitch dark desert! A publicist without her computer is a professional on the edge of terror. Twelve days ago, (on my birthday, sheesh!) I was gifted some horrible, nasty, computer controlling villains who literally stopped my life dead in its tracks until the Tech Guru at the repair shop was able to revive my creative heart and send home a faster, more smooth, fully recovered and newly protected machine. 

I just wanted to share the ten levels of hell without my computer. I’m sure it’s not new to most of you, but it sure was new to me. 

1)      All my writing was out of reach. Computer gone, what’s a writer to do? I mean really, when was the last time you wrote with a pen and paper? Hell, I didn’t even have an empty spiral notebook to work with and found myself scribbling on those cute little lined yellow 5”x7” pads. Six of them. I used to really like those things too. Now I’m so traumatized (and finger cramped) by the experience, I may never be able to purchase a pack of those pads without having heart palpitations. Not to mention … I can’t read my handwriting!

2)      Where was I? You know the question. I have a laptop available but my backup was weeks out of date. All my novels are on the desktop. I had no way to truly pick up where I left off, and with the panic and stress of being overthrown by a whole Trojan army, I simply couldn’t think straight! But, I did what I could and kept on writing.

3)      I need ginko biloba, dammit! This publicist has clients … yes, clients … plural … in the dead center of several projects. I was faced with recreating at least two complete proposal outlines from memory. But there again, I trudged through, sigh.

4)      Where is everything? Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING I research is bookmarked in my internet listings. Everything I need for my writing, everything I need to keep up to date with in the publication and publicity business and everything I stored away for special client projects, past, present and future is in that list. Talk about having your hands tied!

5)      My email, now that was fun. I have Outlook Express which feeds from my yahoo account. Every time it fed into Outlook Express, it was filed appropriately and simply disappears from the yahoo account. Sooooo, from the moment I opened my laptop, I was in the dark. Who remembers email addresses or phone numbers these days? We’re so reliant on technology, all we do is hit a button or type in the first few letters and voila, connection. Seriously, I had to call everyone and tell them to email me so that I’d have an addy to work with! By this point, I had pulled out a large portion of my hair.

6)      The vacillating prognosis. Four days after dropping off my computer at the repair shop, after they’d quoted a price and promised that they could remove all the nasty stuff with no damage to my files, they called with bad news. Techie Guru was suddenly saying the Trojans were far too deep and everything would be lost … but, hold a minute, he’d call back in a few moments. His next call was semi good news, he could get all my files saved onto a disc, but the computer would be wiped clean and I’d need to put everything back on. Now, I’m about as computer savvy as a gnat, so this was extremely distressing. That, and the fact that it would cost even more to do this. Yes, I cried. Two days later, I received another call that they finally discovered the way to clean the nasty viruses off and everything would be just dandy. It was time for my coronary.

7)      Seeking technical support. Like a woman about to give birth, I talked to all my computer proficient friends and heard all the horrible possibilities. They told me that it still may not work out and I should be prepared for the worst. I think I may have had a stroke about then, my eye started to twitch and my head was about to explode.

8)      Seeking emotional support. Now I called all my friends and family. They were sympathetic, insisted that everything will be fine and yeah, that helped … a little. The twitch continued though.

9)      Seeking spiritual support. Yes, I went to church. I knelt at my bedside and folded my hands, praying to the God of computers to help me through all this. I even started reading Spirit Cards. That did help, a lot.

10)  The aftermath. Finally, my computer came home! It runs fast as a whip, has a full disc backup of everything that was on it and … well … looked all different. Needless to say, I was happy as a clam but confused for a good twenty-four hours until I could put everything back the way I’m used to seeing it. Guess I’m more a creature of habit than I thought. Now I have kick-ass protection and several fail safe procedures before anyone or anything can download a damn thing on my baby. And now … I can work and write again. 

Needless to say, the whole experience was horrible. I still have nightmares about it. But I’m nothing if not persistent and determined to use my tenacity to not only get back on track, but learn to roll with the punches. 

Where did I get the damaging Trojans? I followed a link on twitter. Techie Guru explained that it wasn’t placed there by the poster, that Trojans are out there, laying in wait until there’s a crack in the foundation then they attack. It has taken me a day or two to feel safe and comfortable enough to log on to twitter or follow a link, but sometimes a little faith is needed. 

Now, I’m back in the saddle again. Long gone are the days when using a Trojan meant being safe … now a Trojan means completely the opposite. I have chosen to trust my Tech Guru (who I actually asked to marry me, he was so kind and helpful and calm) and trust in the new security systems I now have installed on the computer. 

Onward and upward!


No Blog Today, Just Birthday Silliness!

 

HappyBirthdayCake

No blogging today … no heavy thinking, no project juggling, no worrying or strategizing.

Today I’ll do whatever comes into my head.

I’ll eat what I want, bake brownies and cut them HOT!

Today I’ll laugh rather than cry, I’ll celebrate an eclectic life and the interesting results.

I’m going to read instead of write, imagine instead of plot, read Medicine Cards and watch television, preferably movies.

Today … I’m just going to be silly and have myself a happy birthday.


And the Publicist says … “Breathe”

deep breath 3Most writers and authors I know and/or work with are so much more. They are mothers and fathers, caregivers, homemakers, cooks and bread winners. They work day (or night) jobs as accountants, factory workers, cashiers, salespeople, business owners and top executives. They all struggle with finding the balance between their passion, their families and meeting their mortgage. Life is complicated enough without trying to write, but every one of them is driven, obsessed with their plots and characters, striving for perfection with the written word and usually dog tired. They’re courageous and talented and among the most creative and busy people I know.

Now, add negotiating the shifting paradigm of the publishing industry and what do you get? A borderline crazy person. Some writers are new and baffled by the currently vacillating publishing maze. Some authors are embedded with the original publishing business profile and having a difficult time accepting the reality of this new landscape. 

I’m proposing that change is deceivingly simple, it’s just our mindset that makes it appear complicated. Don’t panic. 

Breathe. 

Let’s start with that quaking landscape. Rising up from all this upheaval is more promise and potential than a writer ever had. There are more options and more variations available today than ever before in publishing. All should be looked at, dissected and considered for making intelligent choices. Traditional publishing, sprouting indie publishers, POD, e-publishing, market shifts in reader genre preferences, purchasing outlets and how the reader likes to read a book. (Kendel? Hardcopy? Online?). Yes, it seems like the zoo has gotten overpopulated, but really … the reader base has expanded vastly and that’s a good thing. Honest. 

Breathe.  

No matter how you publish, you must market. I’ve covered this topic before and won’t go through it again. The bottom line is … you must market. All authors are terrified of this prospect but in truth, I have never met a writer who isn’t so completely sure of their story,  that in a few excited words they can’t sell it. You CAN speak in front of a group. You CAN talk to the media. You CAN do this. All an author needs to do is believe it and make the time for it. Time was carved from a hectic, full life to write the book; there’s no logic in deserting your baby as it’s about to take flight. 

Breathe. 

Now you need to make plans. Don’t shy away from this, it’s no different than plotting your novel. All you’re doing now is plotting your success. You need a business plan, a marketing plan, a press campaign plan, a speaking engagement/event/book signing plan and a plan for your next book. Close your eyes and imagine the success you want, then get it down on paper. 

Breathe. 

It’s time to open your mind and expand it. Spark up those creative juices, get your brain crackling to uncover all those unique, untapped markets for your book. In truth, you should have been doing this since you began writing the book and you probably didn’t realize that you were. The trick is to jot those ideas down as they come. Discount nothing. Save them all for a brainstorming session that breaks all the acceptable molds for the sale of your particular book. Just be fearless. The massive shift in the industry has opened neat little cracks and anything is possible. Never concern yourself with the fact that something hasn’t been tried or that you never saw a book sold in that particular venue before. If it fits, would be powerful, and you’re excited enough about the possibility, you can succeed. Call in all your friends and associates who write and don’t write, share your ideas and get their ideas. Who knows, you may just be the author who cracks a bookselling venue no one ever thought to approach before. 

Breathe. 

Decide how you want to deal with professionals. Of course, you may have a literary agent and you will have a publisher to deal with. Those are based on your informed choice and you deal with them as you would your doctor or lawyer. Respect them, stand your ground and smile. But there are other professionals, all clamoring for your attention, your project, your money and a coveted place on your coattail should you make it big. 

There are knowledgeable people everywhere and they’re knocking on your door. You’re no longer a lone, private writer taping away at your keyboard. Now, you’re visible. Early on you may have come across an Author’s Liaison, a newly created professional geared toward helping writers find self or join publication for their novel. If you’re not super duper computer savvy, you may be either approached by or on the prowl for a website designer. Later, when your book is a reality, you’ll meet local media people, bookstore owners and a slew of other authors (if you’ve been diligent at social marketing). All these people are brimming with great advice and seriously want to help you … some for a cost. You’ll consider hiring an assistant to help organize all the wonderful book events and speaking engagements you see in your future. Then you’ll notice that all these eclectic, scattered, dismembered efforts require someone to pull them all together and keep them targeted and you may consider hiring a publicist. 

Here is a vital piece of advice regarding any and all of these professionals: If they don’t know when to hold your hand and say “Breathe”, then they’re not worth their salt, much less their fee. 

Everyone clambering to be part of your future success is not always there to support you, the author. Everyone you come across who loves your book and knows someone who knows someone related to Jeffrey Katzenberg or Opra, is not necessarily your ticket to the big time. They may be, but keep your head on straight and don’t forget to … Breathe

Breathe deep and do it often, with intent and determination to remain centered and think clearly. This is where all those plans you made earlier come into play. They target the goals and help you keep your eye on the prize. With the right attitude you can attract the right professionals to get where you want to go. The best professionals understand that there are times an author needs to be reminded to step back, think, and enjoy the ride. 

Be happy and remember to … 

Breathe.