Category Archives: Guest Blogger

The Incredible World of Editing!

Guest Blog by Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn

I wrote the most beautiful book ever written. I did. The plot, the characters, and the words … oh, I have always loved words. And here was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate just how many I knew. After almost a year of writing, it was complete, and made up of approximately 165,000 gorgeous words. Publishers were going to bid for the opportunity to represent it. For sure.

But I decided maybe I’d show it to someone else first. Maybe someone who had a little experience in that realm. Through a “Writer In Residence” programme, I met author Rona Altrows. She accepted, I think, fifty manuscripts, then sat down with those writers and gave them her opinion. When I showed up for my appointment I felt … what, nervous? Nah. My book was beyond question, wasn’t it?

Rona was wonderful. She told me up front that I had a gift for writing, and that my book had great potential. *ugh* Potential. What a scary word. The first pangs of fear clutched my gut. That was when she introduced me to the Incredible World of Editing.

She started by going through a brutal battle scene at the beginning of my book. She said, “This character is amazing. How did he ever survive all these adjectives?”

And so I embarked on an amazing voyage, learning about adjectives and adverbs (and the need to avoid most of them), Point of View (which was impossible to understand, until all at once I could see it, and I’ll never be able to ignore it again), tense … there were so many aspects to writing I had never considered. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry too much about spelling and grammar. I have always had a natural propensity for those, which I believe stems from both the vats and vats of books I ingested as a child, and from natural genetics. Both my mother and her mother taught high school English and nary an early sentence went by that wasn’t quickly corrected (“Me and Brian went out” “That’s Brian and I, sweetheart.”).

All right. Done. All those things fixed, I cast my net a little further and joined Scribophile.com, along with thousands of other writers. These folks were less gentle. Their hi-liters and strikeouts were everywhere. More lines than words, I thought.

But they were right. I took a little time and looked at my favourite books, then compared them to mine, trying to find just what separated the two. Then I went through every single word of my novel and ran through it on my laptop three times. I read it out loud twice – once to myself and once to my ever-patient husband. I printed it out and scribbled all over it. About six months later, it was 75,000 words shorter. I felt cautiously optimistic. I posted the first half of the book on Authonomy.com – and it shot to the top.

So what is editing, exactly? We’re all writers here, so let’s look at some metaphors. Editing is like sandpaper on rough wood, revealing the shining oak within. Editing is cutting back on too much salt so that the meal is delicious (and healthier). Editing is folding clothes neatly instead of dumping them on the floor.

Writing is not editing, but writing cannot happen without at least a modicum of editing. Some of it is natural, obviously. For instance, your brain automatically changes:

“Riting storeez iz the thing I luv to do”    to     “I love writing stories.”

But when you write something a little more complicated, how do you know what goes where? That is the editing experience.

The first step is to write your story as well as you can. Read it over just one more time so you see any glaring error, like killing off a character then having him reappear in the next chapter. Fix those. Now put your story away. Seriously. Find a cabinet with a lock on it and do not look at it for three months.

Pshaw, I hear. But it’s true. Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but it also sharpens perspective. You are too close to your story. I know, I know. You are finally done. Let’s get it out there! But really, what’s the rush? The world has existed without your story, as have you. Take the time to do it right. Put it away. Write something new, or read a different book. Take up macramé. Anything but that book.

*Ding! * (That’s the sound of your calendar alarm saying three months is up.)

Take a deep breath and start to read. If you are fortunate, you will find yourself sinking into your chair, wondering where all these words came from. Did I actually write these? Wow! I don’t remember doing that. It’s not half bad!

Roll up your sleeves. Here we go. We will now edit. Here are the main aspects of editing, as I see them.

1) Please tell me you have spell-check on your computer. Please. Being Canadian, I have the added chore of deciding between British and American spelling, but that’s easily fixable by Search/Replace. I just have to ensure I’m being consistent.

2) Read out loud – preferably in a monotone. Do your sentences sound like sentences? Or are they just words? Do they go on forever, winding poetically through infinite descriptive, albeit beautiful words? Stop right there. Picture your character pulling up to a stop sign. Here are two ways for that character to see it:

Option 1: The sign emerging from the distant horizon is a thin sheet of metal, approximately 75cm across, with a matte background painted a bright, highly visible cherry red broken only by a 20cm white border and clear, easily distinguishable white lettering sending its message from atop a sturdy pole intended to reach the most unaware, recalcitrant, ignorant, distracted of drivers.

Option 2: The stop sign is red and octagonal, on a post, with white print.

Read those two contrasting sentences again. The first gives you terrific information. Were you bored? Amazed at the detail (unless of course you are researching stop signs, in which case it would be fabulous information, and I recommend Wikipedia)? Did you have to look up any of the words? Did you skip ahead? Of course you did. No one would ever realistically spend so much time describing something simple. Not even your character. If you did, your reader would probably have to put the book down just so they could grab something to treat their impending headache.

Here’s the trick: Go through your first page. Remove every adjective/adverb until the remaining words are “naked”. Can you improve any of those “naked” words with something better, something that negates the use of adjectives/adverbs? Do that wherever possible. Then add the necessary descriptive words and no more. Keep it simple.

3) Sentence Length: While it is good to vary sentence length, anything written non-stop is just plain annoying and amateur. It may seem beautiful to describe a sunset as:

The inevitable rays of the setting sun cast awe-inspiring parting glories in an amalgamation of pure and omnipotent expressions of the gods who have chosen to enliven their palette with the glorious scatterings of aureate golds and bittersweet oranges silhouetted against an endless heliotrope sky.

Too much? I’d say. How about:

The sunset’s stunning array of golds and oranges faded into the purple sky. Or: Evening was heralded by the majestic golds of the sunset.

Well, those aren’t the best examples, but I hope you understand my meaning.

4) Paragraph length: Same as sentences. The reader’s eye is automatically drawn to white space – more particularly to dialogue. Keep paragraphs relatively short.

5) Point Of View: If you’re writing third person from Mary’s perspective throughout most of the novel, then you can’t say what John is thinking. That’s like: Mary had been wondering how John was feeling. “How are you feeling, John?” she asked. John was happy she asked. No no no. Maybe John appeared pleased that she had asked, but it’s impossible for Mary to know if John was really happy or not. See? Complicated, but that’s Point of View. Trust me. Once you get it, you’ll never go back.

6) Tense: You don’t want unnecessary words, and you don’t want the story to stall. Keep verbs as up to date as possible, so the book moves forward. Instead of Mary was forgetting to tie her shoes, use Mary forgot to tie her shoes. Be consistent.

7) Redundancies: John stood on his feet. Where else would he stand? Mary saw the smile on his face. Where else would his smile be?

6) Dialogue/Dialog: This is a sticky point for me because I have yet to edit a book in which all aspects are done correctly.

“Hello,” said Mary. (See how the comma is inside the quotations?)

“Hello,” said Mary. (See how I used the word “said”? Though they have their place, it’s not necessary to always use “exclaimed” “responded” “declared” “replied”. “Said” is just fine.)

“Hello.” (Sometimes you don’t need to tag who is saying what. Especially if the dialogue only goes on for about four or five lines. Too many episodes of “she said/he said” sounds robotic.)

“Hello,” Mary said with a grin. (See how I didn’t say “Hello,” Mary grinned. That’s because she can’t “grin” a word. She can’t “sigh” it or “frown it” or “attempt” it.)

In the time it took to take my book apart and sew it back up again (then take away any evidence of seams), I read a lot of other books. And I have been humbled. There is some amazing writing going on out there, published or not.

I no longer believe my story will change any aspect of the world, but at least I know it’s something worthy of a reader’s time. At last, an amazing agent decided my book was what he had been seeking. He wasn’t through with me, though. He had me re-write the ending three times. When he finally emailed back and said “Yes, I think we’ll go with that,” I felt dizzy with relief. In very little time he called to say Berkley Publishing (a division of PenguinUSA) wanted not only to publish my book, but wanted a companion novel to go with it. That was one of the greatest moments of my life. But then came another one. He said, “The editor said there was virtually no editing to be done.” So those years of writing, re-writing, nit-picking, agonizing, deleting … it was all worthwhile.

It took a long time to get that right. It took a ton of practice. My subsequent novels started to emerge with less need for re-writes. Editing had become a natural process for me (though nothing is perfect the first / second / third time round!). I started editing for other authors and found it was easy for me to sink into the “voice” of the author. They loved my work, and I loved doing it.

So now, along with my writing, editing is my business. If you have done all you can for your beloved manuscript and are ready for a professional touch, please check out my website:

www.WritingWildly.com

I look forward to reading your work someday!

Genevieve Graham-Sawchyn


Tweet Success!

The Following is a wonderful guest blog by The Email Doctor, Jane Dominguez, CPA and owner of The Write Business Advantage. This is information we all need!

Twitter? Me? I resisted the recommendations of friends and business associates to try Twitter for as long as I could. Finally, decided that maybe they couldn’t all be wrong, so last spring I cautiously dipped my toe into the unknown. Less than a year later more than 8,000 people are following me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started, no clue what I would find. Would anyone follow me? Why would anyone follow me?  I understand that people that like to follow celebrities, well-known experts, but why would they follow me? The first time someone retweeted (repeated and shared with the people who follow them), and someone else complimented one of my business writing tips, I was thrilled, and hooked.

Why are more than 8,000 people following me? Thanks to people sharing information on Twitter, I found many good articles in my early days of tweeting to help me get started.  I followed the advice to create my own persona, establish my area of expertise, and to share useful information. I began to develop ways to deliver my writing tips in 140 characters or less. One of my most popular recurring posts are: fat-free business writing tips: Fat-free business writing. Replace this: despite the fact that, with this: although. These tips are so popular that if I don’t post one for a few days I will get messages from followers asking where they are.

The second good bit of advice was to find people to follow that you were interested in, that have something in common with you, or perhaps tweet about a topic that intrigues you. Usually, when you follow them, they will follow you back. Now you have access to another expert, someone sharing useful information, or someone who makes you laugh. The lists that people can create on Twitter have made this even easier. Look at the lists that some of your favorite Twitter folks are included on, and you will find many other experts or people interested in the same subjects.

Develop relationships with the people you are connected with on Twitter. Engage them with a comment on their post, ask a question, compliment their website or Twitter profile. I am quick to retweet other people’s information, and usually stick to posts related to business writing, speaking, and training. Although a few people haven’t gotten the message, most people aren’t interested in what you had for breakfast, or what line you are standing in, but they do enjoy learning more about you, they want to know the person too. I’m always happy to join a conversation about chocolate. I remember one tweet that drew a lot of reaction, mainly people asking for my address: Puppy napping, quail strutting, lizards sunning, hummingbirds feeding, butterflies visiting, birds singing, pool sparkling—work, what work?

Courtesy is one of the first things I noticed and continue to appreciate on Twitter. People are quick to say thank you for repeating one of their tips, a link to useful article, or their latest blog post. When one person recommends another person to their group, a thank you usually follows.

My real success on Twitter is not the number of people following me, but the amazing people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet any other way. I have made terrific business connections, and am currently collaborating with a software trainer to deliver better business writing webinars for her clients. A company that creates business-writing manuals asked me to provide consulting services as they update and revise their material. I have booked numerous speaking engagements simply because people found my information useful. The resources I have found from what other people share is material I wouldn’t have found on my own, or had time to find. If I need information or help with something, people are quick to provide assistance. Feedback on tweets provide instant market research. The number of comments or retweets of a particular post let me know what topics people are interested in, and was a great help when creating my business email tip booklet. The number of people reading my blog articles has sky-rocketed thanks to Twitter. Twitter associates tell me they print the articles to save, share them with their office teams, and even use them as the basis of staff training meetings.

Create your own persona. Tweet about something useful, of interest. Share your passions, share good information, share your frustrations and successes, or make us laugh. Nurture your Twitter relationships, you will be rewarded with more than you gave.

Jane Dominguez, CPA

jane@writebusinessadvantage.com

www.writebusinessadvantage.com

http://betterbusinesswritingadvantage.wordpress.com/ (blog)

www.twitter.com/WriteAdvantage


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!


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 www.tubemogul.com. 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- http://animoto.com/. It can be fun! 

For information about COS video productions go to-  http://www.cosproductions.com/servicesVideoProducts.php#chart 

For information about distribution including having COS distribute your video go to- http://www.cosproductions.com/servicesDistribution.php

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 (http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/) 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 (http://freeeday.wordpress.com/) 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.

 


One Author’s Inspiration: “Finding Emmaus” by Pamela Glasner

!cid_A31B9820510C4515989E15E869C779EB@PAMSPOWERHOUSEEmpath, defined:

For the purposes of my book, an Empath is someone who experiences another person’s emotions as if they were their own, meaning they can actually feel the feelings of others.  However, unless they are aware that they’re Empathic or have the training required to make the distinction between feelings which are legitimately theirs from Empathic events, they’d have no way of knowing that they’re experiencing emotions from an outside source.  

The Inspiration for Finding Emmaus:

I knew I wanted to write a book about Empaths and actually Finding Emmaus started out as a love story with an Empathic element.  But I wasn’t crazy about it.  It kept feeling strained and forced.  I’d written about two or three chapters and I just didn’t like the ‘feel’ of it.  It didn’t flow; it just didn’t have the power to move me.  

And then, one morning, it occurred to me that perhaps I should try coming at it from a completely different angle … just pick anything.  The first thing that popped into my head was ‘name the town where the story will take place.’  

At that moment I just happened to be standing in front of a fabulous work of art I own called The Basketweaver, drawn by a wonderfully talented artist from Tennessee named Marita Parisi, a pencil drawing of an incredibly old man named Frank who truly did exist.  He used to sit inside the shelter of a covered bridge and weave baskets.  So I thought: Weaver’s Bridge, and suddenly the town had a name.  

That thought was followed closely by: yes, the town is Weaver’s Bridge and this is Frank and he’s an Empath.  In fact, he’s the Father of Empathy.  He ‘wrote the book’ on it.  But the book has long since disappeared and has fallen into legend.  

And then I thought, if the book faded into legend, this had to have happened a very long time ago.  And since modern America’s history is only about 390 years old, the decision as to when the story took place was made for me.  It couldn’t have happened any earlier than the 1600’s because that’s when Connecticut colony was settled.  

Then I thought: no-one wanted to listen to him.  He wrote the book — dedicated his life to it, in fact — but everyone considered him to be a madman.  Why?  Because HE was an Empath and therefore would have been considered a lunatic, particularly in Puritan times. 

So Frank (now dubbed Francis, as he would have been called back then) dedicated his life to the creation of a guide, a central source of information, an authoritative voice, an anthology of his experiences as well as the experiences of as many other Empaths as he could find and persuade to contribute, a manuscript containing not only practical lessons of what it meant to be an Empath and how to survive in this life, but a set of principals to live by and pass on so that none would ever be harmed again.  This guide would eventually come to be known as The Lodestarre. 

Unfortunately, Frank couldn’t find anyone to publish it or any other way to disseminate the information (because of Puritan beliefs) so eventually The Lodestarre was hidden away in the hopes that some time in the distant future, when hopefully the world might have evolved and people might have become more tolerant, that someone would find The Lodestarre and carry on with Frank’s dream.  Then, 300 years later, Katherine, the 21st century Empath, does just that: she finds it and picks up where Frank left off. 

I had all of that – I swear to God – in my head in less than 15 minutes.   

As I said, I knew I wanted to write about book about Empaths and I also knew I wanted to draw a comparison between the outward manifestations of the Empathic personality and the “symptoms”, if you will, of Bipolar Disorder.  And in order to do that accurately, of course, I had to do some research.  

In the story, Katherine finds out at 54 that she’s been misdiagnosed and inappropriately medicated all her adult life.  Now in her case, she’s an Empath so of course she could not be ‘cured’.  Katherine was actually the initial reason for MY research: I did it just so I could speak intelligently about Bipolar Disorder and not for any other reason.  But what I found in the course of my research sickened me.  Frankly, it scared the hell out of me.  Eventually, as I delved deeper, learned more and became more appalled at what I learned, it had a tremendous influence on what happened to Katherine as the story progressed.  

Traditional psychiatric philosophy has it that Bipolar Disorder is an illness which is treatable only by the administration of extremely toxic drugs, the side effects of which are pretty universal — and most of them hideous.  A good number of them, in fact, can become permanent and in about 10,000 cases each year, the effects are fatal.  Those who ingest these drugs — and I am speaking here specifically of people under the care of licensed physicians who legally prescribe them, can become psychotic, lose their eyesight, develop body tremors, become insomniacs, lose the ability to swallow, or if they can swallow they lose their appetite anyway because of severe nausea and vomiting, develop a condition known as Akathisia, develop hallucinations and actually lose ability to think clearly and reason.  

Then I found out that the failure rate of these drugs is 70% — meaning that 70% of the time, these drugs do not have their intended effect.  

Think about that: If a cough medicine failed at that rate, or if 70% of the time when you popped open a can of Coca Cola you didn’t like the taste, just how long do you think those products would remain on the store’s shelves?  

And yet, these drugs not only remain on the market, but in an economic environment when everyone else is suffering layoffs and cutbacks and closings and downsizing, the manufacture of psychotherapeutic medications has skyrocketed in four short years from a $12 billion industry to a $70 billion industry — with a product that fails 70% of the time.   

You go figure it.  

After reading congressional testimony and reports written by the CDC (US Center for Disease Control) and patient diaries and blogs from the loved ones who also suffer right along with the patients … I do not exaggerate one bit when I tell you that some of the stuff I read not only froze my blood, but broke my heart and had me sitting in my office, unable to read what was on my computer screen because I was crying too hard. 

It was — and still remains — impossible for me to talk about or write about objectively or dispassionately, but because it’s all true and I wanted to remain true to my characters, and because Katherine really would have found all of this had she been a real person and been the one to do the research, I wrote it into the story.  

Now, not only does the story move me, but there are parts of the book that, even now, even after countless reads and edits and re-reads, still have the power to break my heart and bring me to tears.  

~~Pamela S. K. Glasner~~ 

http://www.lodestarre.com/index.html

Finding Emmaus is available at several locations. See the “Buy the Book” page on the website.


Market Research for Authors

Books_moneyWhat’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of market research? Eight people taste testing crackers in front of a one-way mirror? Irritating telephone calls from pollsters at dinnertime?  A four-page check-box survey that arrives in the mail boasting of free coupons if you’re one of the first 500 people to return it? 

You’re right, these are all tools that researchers use to find out more about their customers.  Most of us believe that this element in the product development cycle is only for manufacturers of cars, the staff of politicians and producers of cleaning products.  However, this little post is all about market research for the author. 

Most authors balk at having to promote themselves.  After all, they are ‘Creators’, not salespeople.  That’s the job for publicists or agents or publishers or someone else.  However one might feel about it, the responsibility for marketing one’s book is the author’s.  How they go about that is really up to them, whether they hire someone or take it on themselves.  The importance of building an author platform is paramount in the selling of the book – and any author worth their weight knows this.   

This blog post is here to help you with that.  This is a simple primer on market research, that little thought of, but oh so important aspect of selling a product, and yes, whether you like it or not, your book is just that – a product. 

Simplistically speaking, the goal of market research is to determine the market demand for a particular product.  By determining demand, one is then able to determine how to best sell it.  That is why market research is important for authors, because after doing this relatively simple task, you’ll find it is easier to sell your work. 

The traditional product development cycle would say to research the demand for the product, go build it, then go sell it.  For the author, this might mean checking out bestseller lists, libraries and online networks to find out what people are reading and buying and then write a book on something that has high demand. 

But does that really work in this arena?  My say is no.  The minute you write for someone else, and not for yourself, you lose all credibility as one who creates.  And what you create will be lacking, aerated and void.  And readers will see that.  And they won’t buy it.   

So, remain true to yourself and create something from your heart, soul and intellect.  Go through all the steps necessary to get to your finished product – a manuscript.  Then once you’re done, you’ll try to sell it.  For some authors this means self-publishing.  For others this means shopping it around to publishers and agents.  If you take the latter route, you’ll soon find out that most of these people are looking for authors with an established platform. 

No matter which road you take, developing a platform means getting yourself out there, marketing yourself and your book.  You might Tweet, start a Facebook page, join author’s groups, hold readings, get a webpage, a blog, etc.  It means doing anything to get yourself or your book in front of customers – whether they be readers, agents or publishers. 

But, if you take the time to do a bit of research before you start all your platform-building efforts, you’ll find that you can cut down on the costs and time you spend doing sales and marketing and maximize your efforts.  While some might say that these tasks only apply to those authors who self-publish – I say that doing this task is for all authors.   

1. Know Your Product 

Being the creator of your product, one would think you know it well.  However getting a second or third opinion would be prudent.  Get your friends to read it and ask them to give you a “product overview”.  Ask them to describe the book as though they were telling someone who knows nothing about it, subject matter, length, writing style, etc.  You’re not looking for reviews – just a description.  Both you and your colleagues should write down your “product overviews” so as to avoid any misinterpretation in trying to remember what people said.  Then from these, compile a final description of your book, including all the details from ISBN, to title, to genre to word count to synopsis. 

2. Know Your Customer 

You likely have a pretty good idea on who your target reader is.  However, it is a good idea to get some second and third opinions, via your colleagues as mentioned above.  I have had several authors be surprised that a demographic group, different than the one of which they originally thought, enjoyed their novel.  Write down who your reader is.  Don’t stop at the regular demographic particulars like age, income and whether they have kids.  Think about their lifestage.  Are they young urban singles, suburban stay-at-home-moms, mature professional men, etc?  Then, think about what those groups might enjoy doing, list their possible hobbies and past-times. Think about their reading habits, frequency or where they read.  If you don’t know, talk to people.  One of the reasons Dan Brown’s books are so popular is because of his very short chapters.  His books fit today’s harried and hurried lifestyle of multi-tasking; and fitting in a short chapter on a coffee break makes for easy reading that many people want.  Then, once you’ve got your primary reader targeted, think about your secondary readers – or groups who may also be interested in your book. 

One might read this and wonder how we can group individuals into static uniform groups of readers.  I’m not proposing that – but generally speaking, people in similar life stages share similar interests. In no way is one trying to exclude any particular demographic, but having a sound idea of who your target readers are will better enable you to reach them. 

If you’re shopping your book for publication, then you need to identify another customer segment – publishers and literary agents.  Take the time to research these people and companies and get to know them the same way that you are trying to get to know your reader. 

3. Know Your Market 

Here is when you get to know the marketplace in which you are jumping into.  You would want to know the size of the market and the growth that’s in it.  If your book is romance, a quick web search will yield that in 2008 Romance is the largest genre of the fiction market taking 13.5% of sales.  Other things you might want to have an idea of are average prices, lengths, and trends in cover design or storylines.  You should also make yourself familiar with the trends in reading, publishing and bookselling.  Bricks and mortar bookstores aren’t going anywhere for a while, but paper books are down in sales and the only growth is in digital or eBooks.  If you don’t know anything about digital publishing or any other industry trends, make it a priority to find out the basics. 

4. Know Your Competition 

Finally, get to know who else is out there.  By knowing what authors and books are selling and not selling will help you figure out where your book belongs and perhaps what kind of sales you can expect.  It’s not hard to figure out the current trends, from YA vampires to middle grade fantasy.  Pay attention to these trends and pay attention to what your competition is writing and how they market themselves.  Glean ideas from others who are better at it than you.  Watch, listen and learn, then you can get out there and put your own spin on it. 

 

This might all sound a bit daunting, but once you start writing these elements down in an organized format, you’ll realize that you likely know a lot of this already.  You might have to get a few other opinions or bits of information.  This isn’t about creating tables or graphs or demographic pyramids.  It’s just about cementing in your mind where your book fits in this mass of new books that are released every day.  You’ll find that all this will fit on a few pieces of paper. 

Once you’ve done this, you’ll find that marketing becomes a bit easier, more creative, more task-oriented and far more effective.  For example, many authors join Twitter or Facebook and start trying to sell their book/themselves that way.  They accumulate lots of friends, and figure they’re doing a great job.  But what if their target readers are middle grade kids?  Many parents don’t let their 11 year-old kids on those social networks, so all that time spent tweeting would be much better served by doing some local advertising at schools, libraries or by getting creative on how to get viral with that highly social demographic. 

Of course, now comes the hard part, how to find creative and effective ways to reach your readers.  But now that you know who they are, who else is out there, what kind of market you’re in and what you have to offer – the ideas will flow much more easily from what we already know is your highly creative mind. 

ducks 

 

 

 

Michelle Halket is the Creative Director for ireadiwrite Publishing, a digital small press which specializes in literary fiction, poetry and selected non-fiction by new authors.  For more about her and ireadiwrite Publishing, check out www.ireadiwrite.com