Monthly Archives: December 2009

Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, part 3

PART THREE: Developing Your Unique Hooks. What Makes You So Special?

We’ve all taken a stroll through Barnes & Noble and gotten that shiver of terror. Even if you’re already published and about to launch your second or tenth book, that fear trickles in and without warning you start to wonder. Who is going to buy my book when they’re bombarded with all these other books? Yes, you’re writing is wonderful and your story kicks butt, but one twirl around and you see thousands of other author’s offerings and can’t help but feel the pressure.

An already published author, no matter the publishing arena, has fans and that helps, but what can be done to keep those readers waiting with bated breath for your next book? A first time author can easily become paralyzed with the prospect of sitting along side best selling authors and hoping for a good showing.

Nope. Not if you’ve done your job right. Seriously. Building your Author’s Platform correctly is about not only knowing your prospective readers, but knowing where, how and when to reach them. AND … it’s all about doing it very early in the process. VERY EARLY. Like, yesterday.

But where ever you are in your platform building process, it’s never too late to sit still, develop your unique hooks and polish everything that makes you special.

For this exercise, I’m going to choose three different kinds of authors and genres and simply push the envelopes a little. You are the writer, you know your project and yourself better than anyone, but hopefully this will help break down a few walls and help you imagine a bigger, wider landscape for hooking your prospective readers better.

Who knows about The Six Thinking Hats? This is a management solutions process developed in Japan to help determine the practicality of a suggested business solution. Since being and author is a business, I always like to refer to this process. It’s simple and very productive. Get a piece of paper and get ready. Sometimes this process works well alone, sometimes it’s especially effective when you pull together a few more minds. Either way, you want to follow this procedure.

  • Hat number 1, White Hat. Choose an issue you wish to explore. For example, whether it might be wise to pitch your soon to be published book, Tropical Murder, to pet stores that sell tropical fish.
  • Hat number 2, Yellow Hat. This is the sunny outlook. Imagine putting a bright yellow hat on your head and only seeing the brilliance of the idea. For example, there are tropical fish in your book; you have seen books sold in the pet store; people who love fish will love your book.
  • Hat number 3, Black Hat. Now change hats. Put on the black one. This hat represents everything negative about the idea. Go on, get brutal. For example, you’ve never seen anyone buy a book at the pet store; there are no fiction books at the pet store; when someone is buying a fish, they’re not thinking about reading a book; fish people like to look at their fish, not read.
  • Hat number 4, Red Hat. Now it’s time to tap into your emotions. Thoughts may surface that say how much you love fish and how everyone should love fish. Or maybe, your emotions go the other direction and you decide that most fish lovers are boring and probably wouldn’t understand the nuance of your murder mystery. You may really like the guy who owns the pet store and want your book there, or you may have some negative emotions about the man who works the counter and never smiles.
  • Hat number 5, Green Hat. Okay, now your Thinking Hats are going to really begin working for you. You’ve explored the stupid and the sublime and now you can examine the real possibilities. The green hat is the super creative hat. All the yellow, red and black ideas have been written down and now you can turn it all into gold. For example, now you’ll recognize that just because the pet stores don’t carry or feature novels, doesn’t mean that they won’t. You may begin to develop a few fun and creative ways to present the book to the pet store owner. You can explore his possible objections and develop ways to counter that negativity. If he says he never carried fiction before, you must be armed with statistics about the number of books sold every year. Take it further, tell him how many tropical fish lovers are also avarice readers. Tell him about the common psychology between reading and watching tropical fish.
  • Hat number 6, Blue Hat. All right, now that you’ve taken creative steps to think the problem into submission, now you need to get down and dirty practical. The blue hat is a lovely blue sky that says it’s going to be a great day. You can make it possible but you can only do it with reason and logic. This is where your idea becomes something extremely possible and prospectively profitable. So, you’ve convinced a pet store to carry your novel on his shelves. Now what? Take it to the moon! Now make your proposal and plan for pet store chains. What about aquariums? They sell books there too. How about the pet stores that don’t sell fish, but they do sell fish food. And … what if your idea slides further. How about travel agents who book trips to tropical places. What a shoe-in! Travel and reading! Let this go, let the practical ideas grow and let them filter into possibilities. And remember, you also have some leverage here. Your publisher will be helping you get exposure, so perhaps you can give a little nod to the pet stores carrying your book. Maybe you can blog about each store or chain, giving a nod to not only the fish but the store owners. Everyone likes a little tit for tat. Remember your bargaining tools.

And all this came about because the main character in your mystery novel happens to love tropical fish. The story doesn’t have to be about tropical fish. The Six Hats Process is about taking standard business and pushing it further. Now you have an entire new avenue for book sales you simply didn’t have before.

THAT’S building a strong platform.

Your unique hooks can be about anything in your fiction or non-fiction book. They must relate to some passion within you. The hooks are what make you special. Let’s explore another genre.

Non fiction books are easy, or are they? Suppose you’ve written a non-fiction about the startling high growth of rat population in the inner city. Ugh, right? But, what can make people want to buy a book about rats?

  • White Hat – (fact) Author requires positive exposure for The Rat Book.
  • Yellow Hat – (sunny outlook) There’s a fear factor about rats, so there is an audience in need of this knowledge. Also, there are several historical and creative, informative segments featured in the book that make it somewhat entertaining.
  • Red Hat – (emotion) Rats are not loveable creatures, they carry disease and can be dangerous. They’re creepy and ugly.
  • Black Hat – (negative) No one but the scientific or educational community will be interested in The Rat Book. What’s the point in trying to promote it further?
  • Green Hat – (creative) If the creative elements of the book are entertaining enough, using an entertaining speaking platform could garner readers. Libraries might love to hear the author speak, as well as inner city radio or television shows. Perhaps the book can hook in with humane groups trying to evacuate rats from the inner city and they could co-promote. Maybe a few promotional items like a poster showing the noble rat in his habitat or tee shirts stating “Rat Book Rules” are a possibility.
  • Blue Hat – (practical) Begin a press campaign for effective exposure of the author as a speaker/expert on the subject. Book events at book stores, libraries, radio and television shows. See The Rat Book become a subject talked about on the daily train commute.

One more? Okay, How about the big mamajama right now – Paranormal Romance. How do you find your unique hook? A vampire? A werewolf? You have to go further than that, much further. This is where building your platform and creating your unique hooks are developed right along with the plot. Exactly what makes your supernatural (or human) character different than every other character in a paranormal romance?  Get out your hats and let’s explore.

  • White Hat – (fact) Author requires a unique hook in the paranormal romance genre.
  • Yellow Hat – (sunny outlook) Well, everyone’s reading paranormal romance right now so maybe no unique hook is required? Everyone loves vampires, the fae and shape-shifters, so you’re cool. Right? Right?
  • Red Hat – (emotion) Paranoia sets in. You love your book, really love your book and your characters but … what if your supernatural creatures aren’t as interesting as Charlaine Harris’ or Yasmine Galenorn’s? What if the readers just don’t get you? Of course, they’re all crazy if they don’t, right? Right? You love this book and so will everyone else. Who doesn’t love supernaturals?
  • Black Hat – (negative) There are a thousand paranormal romances on the shelves. What’s the point in trying?
  • Green Hat – (creative) Is there something unique about your paranormal character? Something that makes him stand out? Does your vampire love to sing opera arias or maybe your werewolf has a penchant for pasta? Is your story set in a unique town or does your protagonist love old black and white movies? Find the hook. If protagonist and werewolf, Ben Woofer, loves linguini with marinara sauce you just may have located a twist to your hook that can find you a broader readership. Ben Woofer might have a few recipes to share, he may even have a cookbook in mind. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to connect your paranormal romance with an Italian restaurant chain or play Italian folk music behind your book events? Find the hook. If pasta is the hook, make it stick and use it to the hilt.
  • Blue Hat – (practical) Take this from idea to practicality, from doing signings and speaking engagements at The Olive Garden restaurants, to chef’s hats with your book title on them. Build an entire culture around your werewolf with a pasta love to match his romance with your human character. These are the kinds of things that make your hook as strong as your competitor’s.

Okay, I’ve given you the tools, The Six Thinking Hats. You’ve written or are writing the book. NOW is the time to find and develop your unique hooks. It’s the third step in creating a great Author’s Platform!

Oh, and we can’t forget to add a little inspiration to keep you going with this construction process, right? Okay gals, is he a werewolf or isn’t he?

Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, part 1, The Rhyme and Reason

Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, part 2, Creating Your Book Business Plan

Lessons to come:

  • Tricks to Perk the Prospective Buyers
  • Knowing Your Market
  • Planning Effective Pre-launch Exposure
  • Understanding and Using Professionals to Help Build Your Career
  • Estimating and Limiting Expenses
  • Time is on Your Side!

Author Platform Building, One Plank at a Time, Part 2

PART TWO: Creating Your Book Business Plan

One of the most productive things an author can do is write a Book Business Plan. It’s a required exercise for authors writing non-fiction book proposals and in my eyes, easily as important as actually writing the book. Why? Three simple reasons.

1) Writing is a business
2) Writing is YOUR business
3) Nothing reminds a business person about the importance of their business more than a business plan

This is the reason the very first serious effort you should make in building your Author’s Platform should start with a Book Business Plan. Don’t be afraid, it’s not so bad. If you’re writing a non-fiction and using the plan as a book proposal, you will need to go much further and that’s another blog all together. For now, we’re talking about why and how a fiction author should put all the ducks in line, numbers where they belong, and place everything in a neatly wrapped package.


To keep on track. How many times have you gotten deep into a writing project and completely forgotten where your going with the book? Not the story … THE BOOK? A Book Business Plan keeps you on point as far as how you plan to expose the novel and excite people about the book you’re writing. Some of the elements in the plan may change due to the trajectory of the fiction … and vice versa. But, unless you are constantly aware that the writing of your novel and the strategy of your platform need to grow and vacillate together, you could be very, very lost come explanation time. You know the time I mean, when your agent, prospective agent or prospective publisher asks, “Now how do you see this book being sold?” Major DUH moment. Prepared is always better. The last thing you want is to be put on the back burner until you have a clue about your buyer audience.

To keep the monkey off your back. I have a personal, irrational fear of those flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz and whenever I start a project, I always look over my shoulder. They’re out there, waiting to pounce. Not knowing how to assure your writing project’s success is as bad as being unsure of how to construct a decent sentence. And even if you can write like Steinbeck, the winged monkeys will be nipping at your back if you don’t know what to do with a finished product. Both traditional and self published authors MUST know the score. Sales of your product will be gauged and wealth can be made … but only if YOU take an active roll in plotting the path to success as well as you plotted your story.


Take a deep breath. An efficient Book Business Plan is designed to fully outline your project and bundle it all together for ease of implementation.

Get a notebook and pen and follow these simple prompts. This will take a few hours. Turn off the radio and sit quietly for a moment before you start, then just go down the list and start jotting down everything you think of under each category. You’ll be amazed how much of this you’ve already thought about, but without writing it down, you can and will lose it. Now, let’s get started.

1. Your Unique Subject Hooks and Selling Handles

  1. What about your book will make readers run to the bookstore, Amazon or e-book venue to buy it? More next week on this subject.

2. Length of Book

  1. Always have this in mind, it may limit or open a huge opportunity for specific authors. For example, novellas in print – 40,000 words – are less successful sellers than full novels – 70,000 to 100,000 words. But in e-pub, novella length pieces sell well.

3. Proposed Markets for the Book

  1. Seriously, if you already don’t know where to find your readers, you should take time to do some discovery. Knowing who you’re writing for and where to reach them makes everything from conceptualizing the plot to envisioning the sales venues a whole lot easier. More on this in a few weeks.

4. Subsidiary Rights, Imagine High!

  1. Serial rights to excerpt/translation rights/TV/movie/merchandising/etc.
  2. Translation rights
  3. TV/movie rights
  4. Merchandising

5. Your Exposure Plan

  1. Visibility and Exposure: Website? Facebook? Twitter? Press release campaign? Advertising? Book Trailer? Book Signing Events?
  2. Expense for this exposure in money and time

6. Your Promotional Plan

  1. Your commitment to promotion. Make a promise and follow through.
  2. What professionals you will use? Research agents, literary agents, author liaisons, publicists, advertising agency, promo services? More coming on this subject soon.

7. Listing of Competitive/Complimentary Titles

  1. Know who else is writing the same kind of novels, not only to be aware of your competition, but to assure your work is unique enough to stand against them.

8. Resources Required to Write the Book

  1. Expenses. What do you need to pay for? Printer ink? Computer programs? Memberships to agent search sites? More to come on this too.
  2. Permissions. Are you using something you shouldn’t use in your book? A trademarked name or company that requires permission? Think and check it out now so you won’t regret anything later.
  3. Special Packaging. Get creative. Is there something super cool that your book can look like to make it stand out? A 3-D cover? A square shape or long horizontal shape? A cut-out peek-a-boo cover? Let your imagination go. You may not get to do it, but publishers love to know you’re thinking about making the book stand out on a shelf. If e-publishing is in your future, will a crisp, short music clip add to buyer interest? Enjoy this process and imagine yourself as a customer. What would pull your eyes to that book?
  4. Budget. Be smart right now. Set a limit and stick to it. And don’t think for one minute that super exciting exposure can’t be done on a shoestring. But again, THAT’s for another blog series I’m planning in the Spring.
  5. Timeline. THERE’S NO TIME TO WASTE. Repeat that, THERE’S NO TIME TO WASTE. Make it your mantra. Urgency within reason can make or break a book launch, and you never know who else is out there writing the same basic concept in their novel. When Albert Einstein was trying to prove his Theory of Relativity, there were several other scientists and mathematicians doing the same thing at the same time. THERE’S NO TIME TO WASTE. But oddly, time is on your side if you handle it correctly. I’ll be covering that later in this series.

9. Bio and Photo

  1. Just because you should have it done and ready at all times. Keep it up to date.

10. Book Outline

  1. For Non-Fiction you’ll need
    1. Per chapter description
    2. Page count
    3. Number of illustrations
  2. For Fiction you’ll need (for your files, since many venues, agents and marketing companies require different lengths of synopsis)
    1. A 250 word synopsis that can be used as part of your pitch letter
    2. A three page synopsis
    3. A five page synopsis

11. Show & Tell

  1. Illustration Ideas for Cover Art (Just because it’s important for you to have a clear vision. Most publishers develop cover design with or without your input. It’s always best to have something, even a folder filled with images you saw and liked that felt like your book. No one says you have to be an artist or hire one, you just have to have vision)
  2. Clips of Your Work (Excerpts should be chosen and set aside in a file for when a publication, hosting promo site or press release requires one)
  3. Ideas for Book Events (Things you will do to make your book signing event unique and securely connected to your plot. Does your character wear a yellow bow tie? Should you? Is he a werewolf? Maybe a stuffed toy wolf on your table or a werewolf pin on your lapel. Get creative, always connect you, your book and your characters to your readers.)

There you have it, all the elements to create a strong Book Business plan. As stated in the outline above, a few subjects will be explored further in this series. I’d appreciate any input from you on this series or any series you might like to see in the future.

Now … go build the base for your Author’s Platform with the best Book Business Plan you can develop!

The Right Ways to WRITE SEX

Interview with Sascha Illyvich, member of the all new WriteSex blog.

Are you one of those wonderful writers who can pen a fantastic saga, create fantasy worlds and pull emotion from every corner of a character … but you somehow get stopped dead in your tracks when it comes to writing a fabulous sex scene? Does finding the words and the perfect place in the manuscript for physical love scenes baffle and befuddle you? Or, do you write great love scenes but just know you can write, build and climax them better if you just knew the tricks?

Erotica has been around since the Egyptian masons carved joking sex scenes in stone showing a worker being screwed by his boss. The first romantic verse that can be described as purely erotic and explains the sensations of climax is recorded in an ancient Mesopotamian poem. Writing and communicating strong erotica has been around a long time and like all skills, there are a few wizards out there who are willing to teach us all how to be better at it.

On Thursday, January 7, 2010 a new weekly blog will hit the cyberspace that is sure to improve your writing skills where erotica is concerned. I had the opportunity to talk with Sasha Illyvich, member of the WriteSex team, about exactly what we can expect.

Riley: Sascha, can you tell us who else is in this specialized group of Erotica Writers?

Sascha: Certainly.  The ever talented erotica author M. Christian, lusty and gorgeous Oceania who is the voice of erotica.  We have Jean Marie Stine, owner of Renaissance E-books signed onboard.  Bestselling author of Gay erotic romance, Em Lynley joins us along with Dark Erotic author Thomas Roche.  Rounding out the panel is Dr. Nicole Peeler.

Riley: What made you and these other professional authors decide to share your expertise?

Sascha: Simply put, we have something of value for the writing community.  Many authors have desire to add erotic elements to their stories or just want to learn to write blue novels.  Our panel has done everything in between and can guide writers in any stage of their career.  I purposely chose Em Lynley and Dr. Nicole Peeler as the “youngest” in published fiction writing because the rest of us haven’t been in their shoes as new authors in many years.

Riley: How many different kinds of erotica are there? Are they really written differently?

Sascha: Many.  Styles, variations on themes, where the plot lies, make a difference in what you call you erotica.  Yes and no.

Riley: Is there really a ‘selling’ market for erotica?

Sascha: Definitely.  Outside of the Bible and Porn, erotica is in the top 5 of what’s selling.

Riley: What can writers expect to learn from your weekly WriteSex blogs?

Sascha: Everything they’ll ever want to know about writing smut or adding spice to your stories, we’ll teach.  We’ll cover marketing basics as well as how to approach publishers.  We’ll cover the hows and whys of erotica from what it is to what it’s not, how to deal with backlash from friends and how to make industry contacts that matter. Technique and structure of stories will be discussed along with how to be versatile in any market.  How to approach publishers will be covered along with the darker erotic markets and some website SEO stuff by a guest blogger.  We’ll cover e-book and print basics also.

There you have it, another opportunity to expand your writing skills, get your readers to do a little squirming while they read your work, and an uncovered market for selling it. The WriteSex Blog will go live on Thursday, January 7th and I’ll do an announcement right here. I’m thinking this is something no writer will want to miss!

Author Platform Building, One Plank at a Time

PART ONE: The Rhyme and Reason

Author’s Platform? Nope, it’s not a new buzzword for authors and writers to ignore. Lord knows there are a million shifts and changes in the publishing industry to confuse us already.

An Author’s Platform is something that has existed for a very long time under other, less intimidating names. In ancient history, you may recall that traditional publishing houses used to expend wonderful marketing efforts to expose and promote their authors. Those plans included booking talk show interviews, book signings and speaking events all over the country … AND paying for the author to be there! Well, those olden days are dead and gone but the need to create the perfect Author Platform remains. The author no longer has h/her publisher arranging, planning and scripting every moment for the perfect build-up for book launch.

The rhyme and reason for an Author’s Platform is simple. You must get the word out. Not just the news that you’ve written and gotten a book published, but these days, you have to go much, much further. Never forget what you’re competing against.

You are fighting like a warrior for a reader’s discretionary dollar as well as competing for his eyes. Those eyes can view a book the traditional way, by curling on the sofa near the fireplace and leisurely enjoying a good, heavy, hardback … or the reader could choose any number of other venues to read. E-books are here to stay and making a huge impact on the market. Kindle is kicking butt. Free reads are sucking readers in and making them salivate to make the purchase anyway. People are paying for good books in a variety of formats which means there are more people reading. GREAT!

Now all you have to do is make your book stand out. Have you stood in the dead center of a Barnes & Noble lately? It’s a pretty startling prospect to know your book could end up somewhere in that galaxy of a million other books. What will make a reader choose you over your competitors?

A well designed, effective Author’s Platform.

This is such a daunting prospect for authors I talk to and work with that I thought it might be a good idea to feed the details to you a little at a time. Keep in mind, the whole point of your platform is to have a nice, solid base to stand on while you’re shouting out your message. Without a strong platform, your orange crate or makeshift cardboard box just may collapse. No platforms built of sticks or straw like the three little pigs … only a sturdy Author Platform will do!

A powerful platform gives an author a voice, an identity that connects with the coming book, and a place to shout out the news. It qualifies the author, clearly stating to the prospective buyer that you are the right person, the ONLY person, to write that book and the one to buy it from too. If you’re traditionally published, a great Author’s Platform lets your publisher see that you are one of the few worthy of their limited promotional dollars because you’ve already proven it before the book even comes out. If you’re self published, it’s simply a smart business move to pave the way for the success of your investment.

AND, never forget, the sales of your first book will determine the success of your second. Your book must initiate and fly high within a one-to-three month launch window. If it doesn’t, your publisher will move on to another author who has developed a great platform, or you will have lost some money and be storing your self-published books in your garage. The statistics are sad. 98% of new books do not make the sales grade in their first quarter on the market, so it behooves an author to establish and rock a powerful platform to assure success.

Over the next eight weeks, every Tuesday I will cover another aspect of creating and developing your specific Author’s Platform. Subjects covered will include:

  • Creating a Book Business Plan
  • Developing Your Unique Hooks. What Makes You So Special?
  • Tricks to Perk the Prospective Buyers
  • Knowing Your Market
  • Planning Effective Pre-launch Exposure
  • Understanding and Using Professionals to Help Build Your Career
  • Estimating and Limiting Expenses
  • Time is on Your Side!

Hopefully this mini blog seminar of simple lessons will help eliminate the mysticism behind building an Author’s Platform, and make a few authors more successful along the way! See you next Tuesday!

Oh, and BTW, imagine what you wish when you think about doing the hard work of constructing your Author Platform. This one is my imagining …

Sigh …..

The Holidays Bit my Blog!

Opps! I almost completely forgot to blog! It’s Thursday, right? Who else is twisted with holiday responsibilities and trying to keep some semblance of a rational schedule? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?

It’s suddenly gotten nuts around here. When did it get to be December 10th? This is all California’s fault. Even though this fine December, the weather has given me a cold blast (nothing by Pittsburgh PA’s standards but hey, my blood has thinned over the past three years), I’m still always confused about the seasons. If it wasn’t for the malls and those goofy, blow-up lawn decorations, I might miss Christmas all together.

One year, I had put up the tree and never got around to decorating it. Seriously. On Christmas Eve I took it down, too embarrassed for company to arrive and see a naked artificial blue spruce (the poor thing wasn’t even sporting a skirt). It was easier to explain I just didn’t want to put it up than tell them how disappointed I was that I didn’t have time to decorate it.

Over all the years of my adult life, the Holidays have been a touchstone that has kept me sane in a vibrating, insane sort of way. It’s like those moments right before the batteries run out (you think what you want) and you know you’ve gotta finish what you’re doing before it happens. Ten years ago I vowed to change it, to downsize the frenzy and find real peace in the Season. Now I’m afraid it’s gotten a little out of hand. Why else would I forget to enjoy the Holidays?

I suppose I’m obsessive compulsive. If I write, that’s all I do. When I find a favorite movie, I watch it again and again. If I’m in a Rusted Root or Counting Crows mood, it’s all I listen too. If I diet, I never eat enough. When I smoke, I smoke too much. If I decide to clean … well, you get the point.

I think it’s time for a little balance, so I’ve made a conscious decision to permit some of the Holiday craziness back into my life this year. I never expected it to take over but it’s my decision and I’m sticking to it. Now, let’s see, I must …

  1. Bake cookies
  2. Make wonderful food gifts
  3. Go shopping and actually read through the lists of what people want
  4. Clean the house
  5. Put up the tree AND decorate it
  6. Plan a Christmas brunch for the family
  7. Wrap all the gifts I make or buy
  8. Smile at everyone
  9. Restrain from hating those goofy inflatable lawn decorations people have
  10. Lose 10 pounds

Okay, what did I forget? Oh yeah, BALANCE. Now, let’s see, I must …

  1. Bake healthy cookies … and write between batches (yes, that sounds good)
  2. Make food gifts but maybe write a few gifts too, recipes are nice (now I’m cooking!)
  3. Go shopping, but after I’ve written and handled my publicity clients needs (must pay the bills)
  4. Clean the house, in spurts, between editing chapters or doing research (that feels possible)
  5. Put up the tree AND decorate it … AND be inspired by it to … write (right?)
  6. Plan Christmas brunch, but keep it simple (so I have time and energy to do what I really want to do … write)
  7. Wrap all the gifts in those pretty gift bags. (Someone give the inventor of gift bags the Nobel Peace Prize, please.)
  8. 8)      Smile at everyone. Easy, I’ll stay home most of the season, so I won’t see too many people. (I’d rather smile while I write anyway.)
  9. Restrain from hating those goofy inflatable lawn decorations – okay, I draw the line here. The best I can do is write an article about how much I HATE those things! Some of them even play Christmas Music! Can you believe it? And of course, the music is OFF KEY.
  10. Lose 10 pounds … okay … forget it.

All right, so maybe balance is more about doing what you really love to do while dealing with what you’d rather not do. If I play my cards right, I will enjoy this Holiday Season and still retain my time to write, cook, smile and HATE THOSE BLOW UP LAWN DECORATIONS.

See, told ya. Obsessive. And by the way, if all the fat air-filled Santa’s in Los Angeles are flat as a pancake on Christmas morning, I’m innocent. I don’t even own a penknife. Honest.

Found the Perfect Giveaway!

‘Tis the gift giving season and it’s sometimes harder to think our way through a shopping list than it is to plot a 120,000 word novel. It’s tough! We all forget people we shouldn’t forget (that’s what that stash of scratch-off lottery tickets is for), and we realize that the people we didn’t forget, simply have everything. It’s a dilemma. What to buy, what to buy?

Okay, admit it, we all re-gift and we all do it for various reasons. Sometimes I get a gift that simply doesn’t fit. But hey, my work friend is three sizes smaller and she’ll love it so ….  Sometimes the gift is not my taste, but my son loves alternative rock ‘n roll so he gets the disc. Sometimes I already have one of those and don’t feel like doing the whole exchange thing, but oh yes, my neighbor would love a Tupperware salad crisper. Re-gifting just happens.

I take re-gifting a little further. For years I was involved with Native American studies and one of the most special parts of a ceremony is the “giveaway”. The original concept of the giveaway was designed to move the wealth around the community. To offer what you have and receive something in return. It also held a lot of spiritual importance, as it passed along the energy of the original owner to the new owner. For example, in today’s giveaways, many women pass on pieces of jewelry or a favorite shawl. Men will giveaway good serviceable tools or leather coats. The heart of this practice is beautiful and more giving than when a person simply popped in at J.C. Penny’s and picked up a sweater or wallet for you.

The giveaway touches on the spirit of the giving person it came from. It’s hard to part with things sometime, but I believe that if you listen hard enough, that item will tell you when it’s time to move on. I’ve tried to institute the practice often, especially when I have to give a gift to someone I don’t know very well. It’s an opportunity to explain the lovely meaning of the giveaway, what they’re getting, why I felt the need to give it to them, and what the item had meant to me.

I wish the Holidays would be more like Giveaways.

But, among my closest friends they all know they’ll get something odd, strange and interesting from me. I may spice the item with something small from the store, but the guts of it is always deeply personal from me to them. Today as I did my annual search, I found something entertaining and fun to share with you, my fellow writers. I only wish I had a million of these to pass around, but instead, I’ll just give you bits and pieces right here in the blog.

In the many still sealed boxes I never got to after moving 3,000 miles to Los Angeles a few years ago, I found a little treasure that made me laugh. The book is entitled “Words that Sell”. It was published in 1984 by Asher-Gallant Press and written by Richard Bayan. It’s a cool little book that boasts being “A Ultimate Thesaurus to Help Promote Your Products, Services, and Ideas”  I can’t recall if I ever used the book but exploring through it made me laugh and made me think. It also surprised me that there really are a few things in here that can be super helpful for writers. For example: the “Puffspeak – And Its Alternative” chapter. Check this out.


access (used as verb)  –   obtain

at this point in time  –  now

continuum  –  link

counterproductive  –  futile

finalize  –  finish

impact (used as a verb)  –  affect

inoperative  –  doesn’t work

interface  –  meet, work with

macro-anything –  big

mainstreaming  –  rejoining

mega-anything  –  big

optimize  –  improve

parameters  –  limits

parenting  –  raising kids

pursuant to  –  according to

ramifications  –  consequences

stonewalling  – lying

viable  –  workable

Now this wasn’t all of them listed but reading through the list, I realized that not only do writers use a lot of Puffspeak where they shouldn’t, but they probably forget to use it where they should. Cool, huh?

Anther section in that chapter has the header of “Wordy Expressions”. Now here’s a good way to pare down those manuscripts!


at the present time  –  now

at this point in time  –  now

as of this date  –  now

during that time  –  when

at which time  –  when

on the occasion of  –  when

on the grounds that  –  because

as a result of  –  because

owing to the fact that  –  because

by virtue of the fact that  –  because

with reference to  –  about

pertaining to  –  about

in the event that  –  if

came to a decision as to  –  decide

reached a conclusion as to  –  decide

make use of  –  use

in close proximity of  –  near

as it is often the case  –  often

he is a man who  –  he

Hahaha, I love those! Why do we all get so damn wordy? This book also includes lists on commonly confused words like accede and exceed, on commonly misspelled words, and a cool chapter on “Grabbers”. Under descriptions there’s a category of “Romantic”. Check this out. This was the ultimate in word collections and quick reference when computers were just a new nuisance we knew we’d eventually have to figure out. Please tell me that these days we do better than this under the “romantic” category, LOL.






a storybook world

surrender to the spell of






So funny! I think we’ve come a long way since 1984 but of course, there’s always something to learn from the past and from other parts of the communication world. I always listen to complex symphony when I’m preparing to plot a novel. I always look at old magazines and movies when developing character. I always check out the way I used to think to develop a new way of thinking.

“Words That Sell” was my giveaway little Holiday gift to you!

Book Trailers Today … Getting the Most for your Money

by Sheila Clover English 

Note from Deborah Riley-Magnus: Any good publicist knows there must be more to a service than simply the product. While investigating book videos for a client, I discovered that Sheila Clover English, the woman who trademarked the words “book trailer” knew exactly what I was looking for. I’m proud to expand on a past blog post, Lights, Camera, Action with this wonderful guest blog by Ms. Clover English herself! 

Book Trailers affect sales and opinions. They influence buyers and media. Still, there seems to be debate on whether or not book trailers are a good promotional tool. 

In 2002 the idea of book trailers was ahead of its time. There were ways you could use a book trailer, but the number of venues were limited. Borders was the first bookstore to use a book trailer on their site to promote a book. Their web traffic doubled the week the trailer played there. It was new. A novelty. And people went there to watch it whether they liked the genre of the book or not. 

In 2003 the term “book trailer” was trademarked. And though it can be argued that the term is common, the fact at the time was that no one knew what that was just by saying the term. And if you Googled the term it didn’t show up. Google it now and you can clearly see that times have changed. 

Novelty has been replaced by utility. At one point just having a book video was enough to bring people to your site and get them talking. But, when 2005 ushered in the popularity of such sites as MySpace and YouTube everyone with the ability to point a camera or use an editing suite started making video for their book. 

Now, with 2010 around the corner we look back and assess this tool with an eye toward utility, ROI and goal attainment. 

Book Video Utility 

Book trailers used to be limited in utility. You could put them on your website or play them at signings. With social communities and video platforms becoming increasingly popular and numerous the places you can put a book video have increased dramatically. 

The digital age has given us even more uses beyond the computer screen. Book videos are played in movie theaters, on television, out-of-home advertising and on mobile devices. A book video can be a viral video meant to be entertaining and shared or it can be an advertisement meant to inform. Digital has effectively removed the barrier of utility. 

Book videos can now be found on social sites, bookmarking sites, bookseller sites, library sites, blogs and media sites. 

Return on Investment (ROI) 

Return on investment means that you get something good for your money. You might pay $1 or you might pay $10,000 you still want a good return for your money. ROI is not the same as having a budget. You need to set your budget, know what you can spend and then get the money to work for you as hard as possible. The result of the “work” is your return on what you invested. 

A book video can be done by the author if that person knows how to use a video camera or an editing suite. That does not mean it is free. The pictures, footage, music and time all cost something. Even if you are lucky enough to not have to pay for the pictures, footage or music, the time it takes to make a video can be extensive. The person needs to determine for his/herself whether the time they lose when working on the video is worth it or not. It may be that the person really enjoys making the video so the experience itself has value. But, there is still a cost associated with making the video. The cost (your time) may be a good investment for you. Only you can determine that. 

Making the video isn’t enough. Not if you want to get the best return on your investment. You need to know what to do with the video once you have it. 

You should be sending it to your publisher in case they can make use of it. Upload it to your website, social profile and any other sites in which you feel it would benefit you to have your video there. You can burn it to a CD or DVD and play it during a book signing. You can use it to help sell foreign rights, option your book as a movie or as a tool to get you on talk shows or news programs. 

You can pay someone to create the video, distribute it and even use it for further promotions. If you don’t have time to figure out where the best placement is, but you want something better than YouTube where every other author is uploading to, then you might want to consider outsourcing this element of your work. 

If you hire someone to create your video and/or distribute it you want to know that they are going to give you the best return on your investment. For example, do they have a positive online reputation? You might want to check on that before you allow your book video, which represents you, your book and/or your brand to be associated with that company. Does that company have references? It is absolutely fine to ask for references when you are investing money into a service. Hopefully that company will have references or a client list on their website. Does the company have resources you don’t have or that are not easy to acquire? Do they have distribution contracts or platforms that are unique and targeted to your audience? 

If you invest in having someone else create your video you want that person or company to have an expertise in book video utilization, creation, formatting, distribution and analytics. Otherwise you can have your best friend’s 14 year old make the video for you and throw it up on some social profiles and YouTube. 

Having a larger company do your video has benefits because a larger company can negotiate deals in bulk and get contracts that a single individual cannot attain. For example, COS Productions has a contract with LexCycle which is the top iPhone eReader and with OverDrive which services 5000 libraries. As a company we are considered content providers, not advertisers. Though we do advertising, we are also content providers which allows us better negotiating terms when looking for new venue contracts. That means we can get a video places that are more specific to the target audience, where there are more people to see it or in a place where there aren’t thousands of other competing videos. 

Whether you create your own video and upload it or you hire someone else to do that job could depend on a number of variables. Do you have time, resources and ability to create your own video? Do you have a very specific need for your promotional campaign and the resources to meet that need? What is your budget? What is your goal? 

You might be able to make your own video with numerous photos, uploading it to the top 20 or so online sites and getting it to your publisher all for the cost of your time. But you might find that having a video utilizing one picture, your book cover, paying $300 for it and getting it to 300 booksellers, 5000+ libraries, dozens of reader destination sites, 20+ social sites and some specialty sites specific to your target audience is the better return. If you don’t need all of those distribution outlets then the first option is the better return. More is not always best. 

How do you determine what is best? 

Goal Attainment 

Before you spend time making a video or spend money having one made you need to set aside time and effort for researching your audience and determining your goals. You may find that your particular goals do not require you to have a book video. You may find that your goals require you to mortgage your home. You are the only person who can set your goals and determine if they are attainable or even logical for you. 

Throwing your promotional dollars into the wind and hoping something sticks and makes you rich and famous is a sign that you may not be operating in reality. Thinking you can become rich and famous by being on every social site online is an equal stretch. Nothing is absolutely certain. I mean, you could win the lotto and this entire conversation would be a mute point as you have Spielberg or Tarantino direct your book trailer. It could happen. Just don’t hold your breath. Create goals that are realistic for you. Goals for your situation. Goals you can actually attain. 

  • Your goals may include making a bestseller list, which means your big push needs to happen the first week the book is out.
  • Your goals may include branding yourself within a genre, or as a certain personality type in which things like a tagline, including your photo at the end of the video, including a logo or setting a mood could be included.
  • If you’re a new author you want to get your name out to as many people as possible in order to lay a foundation of name recognition.
  • There are a lot of potential goals and a variety of ways to attain those goals.
  • Identifying what your goals are in advance will help you see more clearly what your promotional campaign will require. 

Before we start a video project we have the client state their goals. A goal may even change the way we would create the look and feel of the video. It certainly will help us create a strategy for distribution. It can also clue us in on your needs so that we can make recommendations to your overall campaign. 

The fact of the matter is, most anyone can create a video these days. Anyone can upload it to a variety of sites. But, if your career requires more strategy than luck you might want to seek someone with a lot of expertise, experience and connections. If you’re one of those rare people who have expertise in marketing you already know that utility and goals are key to identifying the right tool for the job. If you’re unsure, start with setting your goals and identifying your audience. Don’t use a marketing tool just because it seems everyone else is. Be thoughtful in your marketing strategy and you’ll get better results for your money. 

Tips & Tricks and Inside Information 

Author interviews are great if you are already famous and have a big fan base. If you have been involved in something unusual or in popular culture. Otherwise you are a talking head selling your wares. There must be a catalyst for the viewer to want to watch an author interview. 

Book videos should not exceed 2 minutes. 90 seconds is ideal, but 60 seconds gives you the most utility since you can use it as a viral video and as a commercial if you so choose. 

Your visuals (photos and/or footage) should not compete with your text. Too much on the screen makes it hard to follow what is being said and hard to remember it at the end. 

Never use photos, footage, music or fonts that are not licensed to you. Even “royalty free” images have rules. You need to know what kind of license you have. 

A great place to go to upload to several places at once is You need to have profiles on those sites first, but if you’re doing a lot of videos this is a great service. You can use their basic free service or for deeper analytics you can pay for a premium account. 

A nice online editing system is- It can be fun! 

For information about COS video productions go to- 

For information about distribution including having COS distribute your video go to-

Be certain to research any company you are going to invest in. Ask for references and examples of work. 

Today’s Book Trailers are a tool not a novelty.

Do Something!

Note from Deborah Riley-Magnus – I LOVE inspirational people – those writers and creative thinkers that set a real fire under our butts. Dan Holloway is just that kind of inspiring. He and Year Zero Writers have set the groundwork for some groundbreaking advances in how creative people see the publishing world!

Writers love to moan. We love to say the system’s unfair. We love to say the public has no taste; the publishers don’t understand the public (sliding our argument to suit our end, of course); agents are slowpaced and biased. We love to complain. As though a Monty-Pythonesque character will boom down from the sky “I hear your complaint and I shall make it well” and a contract with six-figure advance will miraculously appear in our hands.

As I trawl through a number of writers’ forums, the sheer energy we expend complaining makes me wonder – why are we really moaning (especially when I hear people berate the industry for expecting time-pressed writers to market their own books!)? Isn’t that energy better spent actually doing something?

I’ve always joked that my motto is “it’s better to fail gloriously than never to have tried”, but it’s not really that much of a joke. What frustrates me most is seeing great writers waiting for something to happen, or frustrated that nothing does. I certainly DON’T believe that hard work creates success. I do believe that those who succeed have worked hard for it, though. I also would like to believe that as writers we’re a fairly creative bunch. It’s what we do, right? So why is it we’re so bad at thinking up ways to make our mark? Why are so many of us slaves to the agent-publisher route? Why do people still insist that getting lost amidst the crowds of Lulu or floundering on blogger and smashwords are the only alternatives?

Why don’t people get out there and DO something, and not give a fig whether they fail? I’m going to start with an answer. I think most people don’t because they’re the people about whom the adage that “everyone has a book in them” was written. There are lots and lots of people who’ve written a book. Maybe even a very good book. And they want to spend the rest of their lives selling it and living off the proceeds. Well, I’m not talking to them. Frankly, whether they look to the mainstream or beyond, they’re never going to make a career as writers. It’s all very well worrying that you’ll throw away your book’s big chance if your experiment goes wrong. But that’s only an argument if you’ve only got one book in you. And if you have, you’re never going to be a career writer.

This is aimed at the rest of you, those who know you’ll have to produce a book a year for the rest of your working lives if you’re going to stand a chance – and back that up with at least ten to a hundred times that number of articles. It’s to those of you for whom a failure with one book isn’t a “waste” but an experience. It’s for those of you who like the sound of my other hackneyed adage: “How do you know if you haven’t tried?”

This year I’ve tried three big things. One of them fell flat on its face and two of them have been the most amazing experiences. This is what I’ve learned.

1. The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes. This is a novel I wrote interactively on Facebook, in a group of the same name. The idea was to get readers involved in the story, to draw them in and get them deciding which characters they wanted more of, which they wanted killed off, which story angles they wanted to pursue and so on. I wrote al kinds of background material, promoted it online and in the local press, got a reasonable number (218 at latest) of people in the group, but it never really caught on. I had some lovely comments from my fellow writers, but readers never really caught the interactive bug.

Why? I think there are several reasons. But most of all, I think what I learned, and it’s been borne out elsewhere on the web, is that for all we talk about interweb this and 2.0 that, people behave on the net much as they behave off it – and most people want to be told a story, and not to have to get involved in it. Maybe it would work better in a book that overlapped more with traditional gaming scenarios – certainly MCM had some success with 3D1D. But it doesn’t work for how I write.

Nonetheless, I learned a lot about the craft of writing (serials are great for pacing), and I met some great people. And at least I know it doesn’t work for me.

2. I got the Year Zero Writers ( collective together originally as a marketing group. I thought we could use the economy of scale of numbers as a way of cracking the hardest self-publisher’s nut of all – getting word out. It hasn’t quite worked like that, although the word IS getting out. What’s happened is that around 20 of us have formed less of a marketing collective and more of a mini literary movement, each writing fiction that’s unapologetically literary, and delivering it straight to readers both through books, which are available on the freemium model – with ebooks free and paperbacks for sale, and through daily original fiction on our blog.

I’ve learned some amazing things through Year Zero: first, working in a group of people with similar concerns is great for pushing your writing to the next level. Second, marketing is key, but when you’re indie, it often works best when you’re not trying to market but just doing what you love doing. People get the authenticity. Whilst we just had our books, we went largely unnoticed, even though we were “marketing” a lot. Then we got the blog going, and within a few weeks we were Nylon Mag’s site of the day, labeled “cool”. And people were inviting us to guest blog, strangers were e-mailing saying they loved what we were up to. Authenticity and integrity are absolutely essential. Third, I’ve learned a whole load of things about going the indie way. The freedom you get – editorially, over cover art, over marketing, and over what you write next, is exhilarating. It’s something I can’t imagine swapping for a publishing contract. Fourth, I learned persistence. So many self-publishers give up when they’re not an overnight success, but there are no overnight successes – not really. What matters isn’t how you’re doing on day two of your project – it’s how you’re doing on book five.

3. Free-e-day ( is something I literally thought up on the bus. A single day on which every independent creative person gives something away for free to form one big celebration, and show the world what indies can do. It seemed utterly overambitious but I dutifully started a Facebook group and told a few people and, today (literally today, December 1st), we have a full-colour free e-programme with 100 contributors, 5 fantastic web workshops, and a live concert with music, reading, art, and dance, and most of all, we have built an actual indie community around what we’re doing. It’s a festival that will grow and communities and collectives and friendships with it.

So here’s the message. I’m an amateur. I knew nothing about social media theory or marketing before this year other than some experience running a flooring showroom. But I thought 2009 seemed like a perfect time for trying things and seeing what happened. So I did. Everything I tried I tried from scratch. There will be lots of people who disagree very strongly with what I’ve done. I’d respectfully suggest that rather than vent their spleen my way, they put that fantastic energy into seeing what they can do. Go on, everyone. In 2010 DO something. Anything. Just get on with it and don’t let anyone tell you no.