<data:blog.pageTitle/>

This Page

has moved to a new address:

http://annerallen.com

Sorry for the inconvenience…

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service
----------------------------------------------------- Blogger Template Style Sheet Name: Scribe Designer: Todd Dominey URL: domineydesign.com / whatdoiknow.org Date: 27 Feb 2004 ------------------------------------------------------ */ /* Defaults ----------------------------------------------- */ body { margin:0; padding:0; font-family: Georgia, Times, Times New Roman, sans-serif; font-size: small; text-align:center; color:#29303B; line-height:1.3; background:#483521 url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg.gif") repeat; } blockquote { font-style:italic; padding:0 32px; line-height:1.6; margin:0 0 .6em 0; } p {margin:0;padding:0}; abbr, acronym { cursor:help; font-style:normal; } code {font:12px monospace;white-space:normal;color:#666;} hr {display:none;} img {border:0;} /* Link styles */ a:link {color:#473624;text-decoration:underline;} a:visited {color:#716E6C;text-decoration:underline;} a:hover {color:#956839;text-decoration:underline;} a:active {color:#956839;} /* Layout ----------------------------------------------- */ @media all { #wrap { background-color:#473624; border-left:1px solid #332A24; border-right:1px solid #332A24; width:700px; margin:0 auto; padding:8px; text-align:center; } #main-top { width:700px; height:49px; background:#FFF3DB url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg_paper_top.jpg") no-repeat top left; margin:0;padding:0; display:block; } #main-bot { width:700px; height:81px; background:#FFF3DB url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg_paper_bot.jpg") no-repeat top left; margin:0; padding:0; display:block; } #main-content { width:700px; background:#FFF3DB url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/bg_paper_mid.jpg") repeat-y; margin:0; text-align:left; display:block; } } @media handheld { #wrap { width:90%; } #main-top { width:100%; background:#FFF3DB; } #main-bot { width:100%; background:#FFF3DB; } #main-content { width:100%; background:#FFF3DB; } } #inner-wrap { padding:0 50px; } #blog-header { margin-bottom:12px; } #blog-header h1 { margin:0; padding:0 0 6px 0; font-size:225%; font-weight:normal; color:#612E00; } #blog-header h1 a:link { text-decoration:none; } #blog-header h1 a:visited { text-decoration:none; } #blog-header h1 a:hover { border:0; text-decoration:none; } #blog-header p { margin:0; padding:0; font-style:italic; font-size:94%; line-height:1.5em; } div.clearer { clear:left; line-height:0; height:10px; margin-bottom:12px; _margin-top:-4px; /* IE Windows target */ background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/divider.gif") no-repeat bottom left; } @media all { #main { width:430px; float:right; padding:8px 0; margin:0; } #sidebar { width:150px; float:left; padding:8px 0; margin:0; } } @media handheld { #main { width:100%; float:none; } #sidebar { width:100%; float:none; } } #footer { clear:both; background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/divider.gif") no-repeat top left; padding-top:10px; _padding-top:6px; /* IE Windows target */ } #footer p { line-height:1.5em; font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; font-size:75%; } /* Typography :: Main entry ----------------------------------------------- */ h2.date-header { font-weight:normal; text-transform:uppercase; letter-spacing:.1em; font-size:90%; margin:0; padding:0; } .post { margin:8px 0 24px 0; line-height:1.5em; } h3.post-title { font-weight:normal; font-size:140%; color:#1B0431; margin:0; padding:0; } .post-body p { margin:0 0 .6em 0; } .post-footer { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; color:#211104; font-size:74%; border-top:1px solid #BFB186; padding-top:6px; } .post ul { margin:0; padding:0; } .post li { line-height:1.5em; list-style:none; background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/list_icon.gif") no-repeat 0px .3em; vertical-align:top; padding: 0 0 .6em 17px; margin:0; } /* Typography :: Sidebar ----------------------------------------------- */ h2.sidebar-title { font-weight:normal; font-size:120%; margin:0; padding:0; color:#211104; } h2.sidebar-title img { margin-bottom:-4px; } #sidebar ul { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; font-size:86%; margin:6px 0 12px 0; padding:0; } #sidebar ul li { list-style: none; padding-bottom:6px; margin:0; } #sidebar p { font-family:Verdana,sans-serif; font-size:86%; margin:0 0 .6em 0; } /* Comments ----------------------------------------------- */ #comments {} #comments h4 { font-weight:normal; font-size:120%; color:#29303B; margin:0; padding:0; } #comments-block { line-height:1.5em; } .comment-poster { background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/list_icon.gif") no-repeat 2px .35em; margin:.5em 0 0; padding:0 0 0 20px; font-weight:bold; } .comment-body { margin:0; padding:0 0 0 20px; } .comment-body p { font-size:100%; margin:0 0 .2em 0; } .comment-timestamp { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif; color:#29303B; font-size:74%; margin:0 0 10px; padding:0 0 .75em 20px; } .comment-timestamp a:link { color:#473624; text-decoration:underline; } .comment-timestamp a:visited { color:#716E6C; text-decoration:underline; } .comment-timestamp a:hover { color:#956839; text-decoration:underline; } .comment-timestamp a:active { color:#956839; text-decoration:none; } .deleted-comment { font-style:italic; color:gray; } .paging-control-container { float: right; margin: 0px 6px 0px 0px; font-size: 80%; } .unneeded-paging-control { visibility: hidden; } /* Profile ----------------------------------------------- */ #profile-container { margin-top:12px; padding-top:12px; height:auto; background:url("http://www.blogblog.com/scribe/divider.gif") no-repeat top left; } .profile-datablock { margin:0 0 4px 0; } .profile-data { display:inline; margin:0; padding:0 8px 0 0; text-transform:uppercase; letter-spacing:.1em; font-size:90%; color:#211104; } .profile-img {display:inline;} .profile-img img { float:left; margin:0 8px 0 0; border:1px solid #A2907D; padding:2px; } .profile-textblock { font-family:Verdana, sans-serif;font-size:86%;margin:0;padding:0; } .profile-link { margin-top:5px; font-family:Verdana,sans-serif; font-size:86%; } /* Post photos ----------------------------------------------- */ img.post-photo { border:1px solid #A2907D; padding:4px; } /* Feeds ----------------------------------------------- */ #blogfeeds { } #postfeeds { padding:0 0 12px 20px; }

Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

My Photo
Name:

Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Three Keys to Writing Memorable Fiction

This week Ruth Harris discusses one of the major elements that separates ho-hum storytelling from bestselling fiction: details. 

Yes, we know you're often told to keep details to a minimum, and that's a good rule, but like the judicious use of seasonings in cooking, choosing the right ones will make the difference between a bland, generic dish and memorable cuisine.

As Ruth says below,"writers don't have to know everything, but they need to be interested in everything." We need to be on the lookout for just the right detail that will add the most punch to a story. Living in the Internet Age, we don't have to spend endless hours in libraries to find them.

What sort of details should you choose? Ruth tells us they're the ones that put your story in a 1) social, 2) cultural and 3) political context. I love the examples Ruth has chosenthey're some of my favorite books, films and TV shows of the past few decades. (There's a reason we work so well together as blog partners!) 

Would Downton Abbey or Mad Men have the same impact if they were set in the present? Could Homeland be set in any other period? Could the AbFab duo exist without the legacy of 1960s Swinging London? 

We are constantly told that story is alland yes, story is the engine that drives your bookbut it won't have the impact you want without a powerful sense of time, place, and cultural context. 

THREE KEYS TO WRITING MEMORABLE FICTIONby Ruth Harris


Social, cultural, and political history are powerful tools no writer should ignore.
  • John Le Carré used the Cold War, the Berlin Wall and the real-life unmasking of a double agent to create a compelling setting in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.
  • Isabel Allende’s The House Of The Spirits, a family saga partially inspired by the PInochet dictatorship, is set against decades of political and social upheaval in post-colonial Chile.
  • Alexander Solzhenitsyn drew on his experiences in the forced-labor camps of the Soviet prison system to create world wide bestsellers in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago.
However, writers do not need vast cultural and political disruptions to write powerful fiction readers can relate to. Ordinary, everyday details add enormous power to fiction and bring your story to life.

Whether your book is set in the conservative Eisenhower Fifties, the stylish Kennedy Sixties, Nixon’s Watergate and the gloomy Carter Seventies, the glitzy Reagan Eighties, or the Anxious-Age-of-the-Present, each period offers the writer its own specific backdrop and sound track. Trudeau’s Canada, Thatcher’s England, de Gaulle’s France, Ho Chi Minh’s China, Mubarak’s Egypt, Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany—all evoke powerful memories and feelings years after the events took place.

Characters need to be firmly anchored in a specific time and place. Even sci-fi and fantasy need social, cultural and political specifics to engage the reader. George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter draw their power from their authors’ ability to create credible details of an invented world.

If you research and then judiciously set up the specifics of time and place, you will expand and enrich your fiction. Invoking the relevant cultural, political and social details will draw your reader into recognizable settings against which your characters can act out their dilemmas, frustrations and successes.

You shouldn’t give your reader a history lesson—that’s Doris Kearns Goodwin’s job—but you do want to give your characters a relatable world in which to live. Your characters can be—and should be—shaped by the attitudes of whatever period you choose to write about.
  • Peggy and Joan in Mad Men deal with the casual sexism of the 1960’s.
  • The characters in Downton Abbey are caught up in a long-gone post-Edwardian upstairs-downstairs world.
  • Patsy and Edina, the fashion victims in Ab Fab, booze it up, get high and keep up with nutty trends as they attempt to recreate their younger, glory days in Swinging London.
  • Carrie and Brody in Homeland are enmeshed in a paranoid present complete with bi-polar disorder, psycho-active drugs and a hero who might also be a terrorist.
  • Elizabeth Moss’s character in Top Of The Lake searches for a missing and pregnant twelve-year-old in a remote, misogynistic area of contemporary New Zealand.
The writers’ skillful use of these various eras bring the fictional characters who inhabit them vividly to life.
By using cultural history, high or low, past or current, your characters will become dimensional as they reflect the world around them. They can be limited by it—or they can rebel against it. Some will choose to drop out, some will learn to manipulate it, others will challenge it, some will be defeated and still others will triumph despite the barriers they face. 

Are you writing about a period in which people feel positive about the future and confident about their prospects? Or are your characters coping with the Depression of the Thirties or the financial crisis or downsizing of the recent past and present? How they think and feel and what they do to deal with opportunity (or lack thereof) offers a potent way to explore and expand the inner and outer lives of the people you’re writing about. 

Early Elvis, swinging Sinatra, Abbey Road Beatles, Motown Soul, Latino Salsa, Madonna’s Material Girl, Gangsta Rap, Lady Gaga’s and/or Rihanna’s latest immediately evoke times and places your reader will find familiar.
  • Did your heroine’s first serious romance—maybe with her tweedy, pipe-smoking Literature Professor—begin and end to Mozart?
  • Did your MC come of age when Michael Jackson was moon-walking?
  • Did that bad-boy rascal of a boyfriend give your heroine heartache only Patsy Cline could express?
Selecting just the right song and just the right singer can illuminate the emotional life of a character in a memorable way. (Anne here: Just remember to use the title, not the actual lyric--unless you're prepared to pay. Here's a recent blogpost on how to do that.) 

Then there’s wardrobe:
  • Garter belts or Spanx?
  • Turtlenecks or bustiers?
  • Lip gloss or va-va-voom Marilyn Monroe red lipstick?
  • A natural Fro, an old-fashioned perm, a blow dry bob or a Gwyneth dead straight ‘do?
  • Punky pink streaks, Bergdorf’s blonde or let-it-all-hang-out grey?
  • A hedge fund titan in a five-thousand-dollar suit?
  • A dude in jeans and a pack of cigarettes in the rolled-up sleeve of a T-shirt?
  • A genius techie billionaire in hoodie and sneakers?
  • Are their clothes worn ironically? Or un-? 
Choices in clothing, makeup and hairstyles telegraph different personalities and different attitudes. A wise writer will make use of each telling detail as s/he creates characters readers will relate to.

Writers don’t need to know everything but they do need to be interested in everything from the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s to today’s California surfers. 

Research used to mean trips to the library, flipping through card catalogs and then waiting for the books to be pulled from the stacks. Research once meant slogging through microfilm, piles of old newspapers and magazines. It was time-consuming and often frustrating. Now, thanks to the web and Google, just about anything we want to know is instantly available.

Our world—past and present—is rich in incident, personality and conflict. It’s an oyster with a different pearl for every book, each character and every writer. An open mind and lively curiosity, a habit of reading widely, your own unique memories, passions and interests, plus basic research are your friends.

Embrace them and use them thoughtfully. Your readers will love you for it.

What about you, scriveners? What details do you use to anchor your book in time and place? Are there books that have more detail than you'd like? Do you read for setting as well as story?




OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) Literary Upstart Short Fiction Contest for writers in the New York area. You can submit your short fiction until May 28th; submissions must be no longer than 1,300-words. Semi-finalists, fifteen in total, will be invited to participate in one of three readings, in front of a live, lively audience, and a panel of judges comprised of members of the local literati. The grand prize winner will get a $500 award and be published in the annual Summer Fiction Issue of The L. Magazine. 

2) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until May 31st, on a first come, first served basis. But note: BE SURE TO READ THE DIRECTIONS. I've had complaints that a number of people are just leaving notes to "pick up the details and cover on my website." DO not do this. Just because this service is free right now does not mean you don't have to be professional. 

You can see the nice ads they gave Ruth and Anne in this weekend's newsletter.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

3) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post—is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

4) Find a Writing Group through Galley CatOne of the most reliable and popular news outlets in publishing is creating a directory for writers to network to get critiques of their work You can sign up here. 

5)  Readwave: A showcase for short stories: ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop--and writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave has created a new reading widget, that allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to "follow" the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers that are right for them. This looks like a great innovative site. You know how I've been encouraging you to write more short fiction? This is where to put it to start building a fan base.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Author Etiquette 101: Do’s and Don’ts for Writers Using Social Media


“Authors behaving badly” tends to be a hot topic on booky forums and blogs these days. A lot of people blame the indie movement, but some of the worst social media behavior I’ve seen comes from Big 5 authors who are following the dictates of their marketing departments.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers seem to have studied their craft at the “let’s cold-call random strangers just as they sit down to dinner” school of salesmanship.

As a general rule, I feel if someone has the social graces of a rabid squirrel, he’s probably not the guy to listen to on the subject of winning friends and influencing people—which is what social media is all about. So if you have any choice, ignore the squirrels.

Especially if they tell you to follow a bunch of other authors and then spam them unmercifully until you sell a million books. Because hey, if you’re not selling, you’re not spamming hard enough, right?

Wrong. Thing is, other authors probably aren’t your best audience anyway, unless you’ve got a nonfic book of writing or publishing tips. So think twice before you market to other authors—especially authors outside of your genre.

And even if you’re sure you're targeting the elusive “reader” instead of fellow authors, remember fans are not forever. They don’t like to feel badgered. Asking them to tweet and share every promo and blogpost can turn a satisfied reader into an annoyed boycotter.

Keep in mind that social media isn’t about numbers, no matter how numbers-oriented your marketing department squirrels are. Social media is about making actual friends, not about mass-“friending” a horde of random strangers in order to annoy them.

You’ll make a lot more real friends and sell a lot more books in the long run if you heed the following dos and don’ts.

1) DO remember Tweets are casual: Never tweet a query—not to an agent, reviewer, blogger or editor. Here's Peter Ginna of Bloomsbury Press on the subject . Tweets are breezy and fleeting. When you approach a professional, be professional. Whether you want a review, a guest blog spot, or you’re looking for representation or publication, Twitter is not the place to make your pitch. E-mail is the proper medium.

2) DON’T post advertising on anybody's Facebook “wall”.  A person’s wall is how they present themselves to the world. When you plaster the cover of your book on their timeline you seriously mess with their brand.

Put a naked vampire in bondage on a Christian romance writer's page, and you not only are NOT going to make a sale, you're going to lose a ton of sales for that author. And probably make an enemy for life.

And to whoever put the huge pictures of Krishna on my FB page every day for a week, you'll notice it was bye-bye, not buy-buy. You have no idea how freaked my friends and family were. They thought I'd been kidnapped by a cult or something.

Posting on somebody’s wall is like putting a sign in the front window of their house. Don’t do it without permission. This is true for pleas to sign petitions or donate to charities, no matter how worthy the cause.

And it’s especially true for ads for your own books. I just read a lament from a paranormal author whose wall was getting spammed with links by the author of a similar paranormal book. It may have been an attempt at networking, but it came across as trying to steal readers.

The ONLY time it’s OK to post on somebody’s wall is a ) when you know them well AND b) have something to say that will enhance their wall. Like “happy birthday” or “LOVE your book: just gave it a rave review on my blog: here's the link."

3) DO use social media to interact with people, not to broadcast a never-ending stream of “buy my book” messages. People whose Twitter stream is the identical promo tweet over and over look like robots with OCD. They will only get followed by other compulsive robots.

Twitter is a place to give congrats to a newly agented writer here or a contest winner there. It’s a wonderful vehicle for getting quick answers to questions. Or to commiserate when you've had a disappointment. Or if you’ve found a great book you love, tweet it. Facebook is great for sharing fun videos and talking about them. And for commenting on news items and sharing them. (Keeping in mind #14)

Social Media is a party, not a telemarketing boiler room.

4) DON’T make up an email list from people who have contacted you for other reasons. ONLY send newsletters to people you have a personal connection with, or who have specifically asked to be on your list. Lifting emails from blog commenters without permission is considered especially heinous. Cue Law and Order music…

Yes, I know marketers are hung up on email lists. They tell you to snag 1000s of names of people to harass with weekly spamograms filled with the details of your last trip to the laundromat. Obviously marketers aren’t on any email mailing lists themselves, or they’d know that 99% of those things go into the trash without being opened.

5) DO use Direct Messages sparingly. Private messages are for personal exchanges with people you have a legitimate connection with—not for advertising. The fact somebody has followed or friended you back doesn’t give you license to send them advertising through a private message. This is especially true with “thank you for the follow” messages that come with a demand to “like” your author page, visit your blog and buy your products.

I advise against using any kind of automatic Direct Messages. Sending an auto-response "thank you"  that says, “read my blog, and someday you, too, can become a published author” is not going to get you anything but an auto-unfollow from Ruth or me. I must get five or ten of those a week. One-size-fits all responses usually don't fit anybody.

Yes, I realize the auto-respond DM is #1 on the marketer's list of favorite toys, but if you annoy 1000 people in order to make one sale, does that really help establish an attractive brand? (Don't ask a rabid squirrel to answer that or you'll witness some serious mouth-foaming. So just nod nicely and fail to get around to setting up that auto-response.)

I think authors should be careful about automating social media at all. I know lots of people tell you to automate your tweets, but that can lead to social missteps like the one Kim Kardashian made on the day of the Boston bombings.

As a general rule, if you can’t be bothered to put the recipient’s name in a message and you know nothing about them, you have no business sending them a direct message.

6) DON’T forget to check your @messages on Twitter several times a day and respond to them. It only takes a moment, but those are people reaching out to you. Ignoring them will negate what you're doing on Twitter in the first place.

 7) DO change the Facebook default "email" address to your actual email address. You are on social media to connect with people. Post a reliable way to connect—which that Facebook address isn’t (see #8.)

Last year Facebook erased all our email addresses and put in a Facebook Direct Message address instead. You have to change it manually to get your real email address back in there. I strongly suggest you do this, especially because of the problem with messages getting lost in the “other” file.

I've heard rumors that FB wants to charge for sending messages to anybody not on your Friend list.  I don’t know if it’s true, but be safe. Be findable. Who knows, some Hollywood producer may have just read your book and be trying to contact you to option your book. Don’t let him languish in your “other” file.

Which leads me to…

8) DON’T forget to check your “Other” Folder on Facebook regularly. People who want to contact you for legitimate reasons may contact you through a Direct Message, but if they’re not on your “friend” list, the message goes into your “other” file.

A lot of FB users don’t even know it’s there.

If you’ve never heard of it, go to your home page and click on the message button on the left side of the toolbar (It’s the one in the middle, between friend requests and notifications.) They’re semi-invisible if you don’t have anything pending, so if it’s all blank up on the left side of that blue toolbar at the top of the page, move your mouse slightly to the right of the “facebook” logo in white and click around.

Mostly your “Other” file will be full of spam and hilarious messages from third world guys who think Facebook is a dating site. They’ll say stuff like “You face to be so beautiful. I am want to scam you for everything you’ve got get to knowing you for marriage.”  For some reason they seem to target women who are married and/or over 45. No idea what’s up with that.

But nestled in there you may find a note from a fan or a fellow author who wants to co-promote or is asking you to join a blog hop or something useful. So do check it once a week or so.

9)  DO post links to your website on all your social media sites. And have your contact info readily accessible on your site! Being paranoid on social media makes your presence pointless. Even if you’re on the lam, incarcerated, and/or in the Witness Protection Program, you need to be reachable if you want a career. Use a pen name and get a dedicated email address where you can be reached at that Starbucks in Belize.

10) DON'T "tag" somebody in a photograph unless they're in the picture. This is an unpleasant new way writers try to get people to notice their book or FB page. They'll post their book cover or some related photo (or worse, porn) and "tag" 50 random people so they'll all get a notification.

But here's the thing: a tag means a person is in the photo. Full stop. Yes, you may get a person's attention with this—but not in a good way. It's a nasty invasion of privacy as well as a lie. You're not just going to be unfriended and unliked—if you tag somebody in a pornographic photo, you could get sued.

Remember you're trying to get people to like you, not wish for you to get run over by a truck.

11) DO Network with other writers in your genre. Instead of spamming her fellow author’s wall, that paranormal author I mentioned in #2 could have sent an email (or DM—yes, this is a time when it’s OK) saying how cool it is they have such similar books and how about a joint contest or give-away? Joining up with other authors to share fans and marketing is one of the reasons you’re on social media. You’re not here to sell to other authors, but you are here to pool your resources.

Look how well Ruth and I have done with this blog by teaming up. We met through her comments right here in the thread. Commenting on blogs is one of the best ways to network.

12) DON’T thank people for a follow, especially on Twitter. It may seem like bad manners, but the truth is most people on Twitter and FB would prefer you DON’T thank them for a follow, because those thank-yous have become 99% spam. But if you must, send it in a @ tweet. If you actually want to show gratitude, retweet one of their tweets. Then maybe they’ll thank YOU and you can get a conversation going.

13) DO talk about stuff other than your book. Yes, we’re all here because we want to sell books, but social media is not about direct sales. It’s about getting to know people who might help you make a sale sometime in the future. Consider it a Hollywood cocktail party. You don’t launch into your audition piece every time you’re introduced to a film executive. You schmooze. You tell them how great their last picture was. You find them a refill on the champagne. You get them to LIKE you. Then you might get asked to audition in an appropriate place.

NOTE: Don't talk politics or religion, though. Save extreme partisan or discriminatory religious talk for a different social media account, or better yet, take it offline. It's fine to let people know your religious or political affiliations, but remember your readers may not share them.

14) DON’T call it “giving back” when you’re actually advertising. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. People who say they’re “paying it forward” or “giving back” by letting you know about their book launch, blogpost or freebie days on Amazon are doing no such thing. They’re giving publicity to themselves.

(And I think Catherine Ryan Hyde should get a royalty every time somebody uses the expression “pay it forward”. Most of us had never heard it before her book came out, and now you hear it dozens of times a day. Often misused by marketers. If you use it, at least use it right.)

15) DO Read the directions. If you’re invited to join a group, and you’re instructed to put links to your books only in certain threads, do so.  Anything else will be treated as spam and you could get kicked out of the group. And don't dominate any site with your personal promos, even if it isn't expressly forbidden in the rules. Taking more than your share of space is rude. People don't like rude.

16) DON’T ever dis a reviewer online. 
  • Not in the Amazon or Goodreads comments. 
  • Not on your Facebook page 
  • Not on their blog. 
  • Or yours. 
  • And especially don’t Tweet it
If you get a horrible, stupid, brain-dead review from some moron who wouldn’t know great literature if it bit his big fat butt, step away from the keyboard. Go find chocolate. And/or wine. Call your BFF. Cry. Throw things. Do NOT turn on your computer until you’re over it. Except maybe to see these scathing reviews of great authors. A bad review means you've joined a pretty impressive club. 

What about you, Scriveners? Have you been making any of these faux pas? (I'm not going to claim I haven't. I have trouble reading directions.) Do you have any funny "Other" folder encounters you want to share? Any do's and don'ts of your own would you'd like to add?

If you're not sick of me yet...
  • THE GATSBY GAME will be featured on The Cheap Ebook on April 23. I'm going to be talking about the new film of the Great Gatsby, and how I feel about a giving a contemporary soundtrack to the greatest story of the Jazz Age. I'll also be talking about the real Gatsby-obsessed man who inspired my novel. (oops. That's not happening until May 7.) 
  • And I'll be getting cheesy at Chick Lit Chat on April 22, helping Julie Valerie celebrate Grilled Cheese month. Stop by and win a free copy of THE BEST REVENGE. 

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until May 31st, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post—is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) Find a Writing Group through Galley CatOne of the most reliable and popular news outlets in publishing is creating a directory for writers to network to get critiques of their work You can sign up here. 

4) The 35th annual Nimrod Literary Contest: The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. The Awards offer first prizes of $2,000 and publication and second prizes of $1,000 and publication. One of the oldest “little magazines” in the country, Nimrod has continually published new and extraordinary writers since. For more information about Nimrod, visit their website at www.utulsa.edu/nimrod. Deadline is April 30th.

5) Readwave: A showcase for short stories:
ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop--and writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave has created a new reading widget, that allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to "follow" the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers that are right for them. This looks like a great innovative site. You know how I've been encouraging you to write more short fiction? This is where to put it to start building a fan base.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What are Algorithms—and are They Killing the "Kindle Revolution"?


First, an awesome announcement: this blog will be named to Writer's Digest's Best 101 Sites for Writers in the May-June issue! (special thanks to Lila and Janet for the heads-up.) We are so jazzed! The magazine should be in stores soon. Subscribers have already got their copies. Many, many thanks to whoever nominated us!! 

To celebrate this exciting news, my publisher has made all my mysteries 99 cents until the end of April. That's at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. This includes The Gatsby Game Food of Love, and the Camilla Randall Mysteries, either as the boxed set or singly, and No Place Like Home, usually $4.99 (still only at Amazon, alas.) Click those links or click through the book covers in the sidebar. Here's my author page at Barnes and Noble.

And Ruth Harris has joined in, making her Park Avenue Boxed Set only 99 cents as well. (That's 33c a book!) 

OK, we hear about them all the time, but what the *%@# are algorithms, anyway?

An algorithm is a line of code that gives a search engine a step-by-step process to produce a desired result: like a list of websites, a bra that fits, or a suggestion for the next title to put on your TBR list.

They aren't new. In fact they were invented in the 8th century AD by a Persian guy named Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmi . The word "algorithm" or "algorism" is a corruption of his name: al-Khwarismi.

But in the digital age this venerable type of formula has taken on a huge importance for the marketplace. An algorithm can make or break sales of any product online. As superstar author Hugh Howey said in an interview on Reddit, “I'm guessing 90% of my sales are from reader recommendations and Amazon algorithms.”

Or as his interviewer called them "the inscrutable Amazon algos."

They're sure not scrutable to me. I'm pretty sure they have to do with math, at which I suck. Seriously. I had to be counseled for “math anxiety” in high school.

Besides, algorithms aren’t that easy to define—even for the people who work with them. The Wikipedia article says, “While there is no generally accepted formal definition of 'algorithm,' an informal definition could be 'a set of rules that precisely defines a sequence of operations.' For some people, a program is only an algorithm if it stops eventually; for others, a program is only an algorithm if it stops before a given number of calculation steps”

Yeah, right. If you’re like me, your eyes have started to glaze over already. Secretly, I think of them as little robot elves who get things done inside my computer.

Like bringing up 64,300,000 links in .52 seconds when you put the word “algorithm” into Google’s search window.

Pretty durn clever, these elves. And kind of Big Brothery. They're what Facebook uses to analyze your “Likes” and figure out if you’re gay, conservative and/or smart.

They’re not infallible. They're responsible for sending you those emails from Amazon suggesting you buy or review your own book, and they're the reason you got spammed with dozens of ads for refrigerators after you accidently Googled “fridge” instead of “fudge” last week.

But they work well enough that businesses increasingly depend on them. A new online lingerie retailer, True&Co, uses a questionnaire and an algorithm to sell mail-order bras—a product that’s difficult to fit even in real-life dressing rooms. According to the NYT, at True&Co “women end up buying more of the bras chosen by the algorithm than the ones they select themselves.”

As you might imagine, online book retailers depend heavily on algorithms to get books in front of the people who might buy them.

David Gaughran talked about the complexity of Amazon’s algorithms in making Amazon’s bestseller lists on his blog, Let’s Get Digital.

“Amazon has a bevy of Bestseller Lists, all split into Free and Paid listings. The big one is theTop 100 in the Kindle Store, and placement on this list can drive staggering amounts of sales. This list is populated with items ranked #1 to #100 in the overall Kindle Store, which includes not just e-books, but also things like games, magazines, and newspapers.

The exact algorithm Amazon uses to assign a Sales Rank to each book is a closely-guarded secret, but the general make-up is easy to deduce. Simply put, your Sales Rank tells you how many books are selling more than you at this moment in time (it’s updated hourly). However, it also takes account of historical sales. More recent sales are weighted much more heavily in the algorithm, though, and velocity plays a big part too (how much your sales are increasing at that moment in time). There’s a lot more to it, but those are the basics.”

David talks more about how Amazon’s algorithm-driven recommendation engines work in a post from February 2013.

But the most important thing to know about the algorithms book retailers use is that they CHANGE. Those robot elves are programmed by real people—who are constantly inputting new data.

Mark Coker changed algorithms at Smashwords last year to encourage authors to stop devaluing their work by giving away so many free books.

Mr. Coker said, “At Smashwords, up until January of this year [2012], our algorithm for best sellers just looked at absolute downloads, but authors gamed that system by offering discounted or free books using the Smashwords coupon tool. So we changed our algorithm to focus on gross sales, so now when you look at the Smashwords best seller list, you’re looking at absolute dollar sales, which we are using as a representation of the interest of customers.”

Amazon changes its algorithms more often than Smashwords. Which means a whole lot of the “rules” you hear about how to sell big on Amazon are based on algorithms that no longer exist.

If you're in the indie author scene, you've no doubt heard a ton of rumors about what the Amazon algorithms will reward or penalize. You’ll hear that more than 50—or 100—“likes” will get more recommendations, or any 3-star or lower reviews will exclude you from the also-boughts or downgrade your author rank. Or that uploading from a non-US country downgrades your status, or dissing Amazon in their forums will be reflected in your sales ranking. Some of these may be true or may have once been true, but they’re hard to prove. And trying to game them generally isn't a good idea.

That's because the one thing we do know for sure about algorithms is that Amazon does not like it when you try to game them.

Which is probably why the Zon is removing the “like” buttons and “tags” on US buy pages. Every author group I belong to asks people to “like and tag” each other’s book pages whether or not the books are in a genre you read or enjoy. Which means the “likes and tags” no longer have meaning for tracking a person's individual preferences, which was the point in the first place.

Even though nobody can know for sure how the “inscrutable algos” are programmed, Amazon watchers can tell when there’s been a change. Some people make a serious study of them.

With the advent of KDP Select—Amazon’s program for books they have exclusive rights to sell—the algorithms were changed to benefit Select members. Select books get more weight in the popularity lists, more suggestions for “also bought” books, e-mail recommendations, and are featured when somebody searches the genre. That makes sense. When you ask for an exclusive, you need to give perks.

Now there’s an even more privileged “White Glove” program for books that have been “self-published” through a literary agency. It has a longer exclusive period and gets the benefit of even more also-boughts and other promotions.

Nothing wrong with that. It’s Amazon’s store and they can promote what they want. But it does make it harder on the truly self-published and small-press competition.

The “Kindle Revolution” that Amazon sparked in 2009 allowed individual authors to self-publish cheaply and gave them an equal opportunity with big publishing’s authors to get discovered. This was a brilliant way of providing a lot of inexpensive books for their brand new Kindle at a time when most people didn’t even think they needed an ereading device.

It was win/win. Amazon sold Kindles—and individual authors got to enter a marketplace that had been reserved for big corporations for half a century.

In doing that, Amazon shook up the book world and did a service to new authors that was pretty unprecedented.

But since then, Amazon has become a publishing company itself. Their Thomas and Mercer, 47North, Montlake Romance, and other imprints now compete with the Big 5. They also compete with the indies. Guess who the algorithms are likely to favor? (I did mention the elves are smart?)

Meanwhile, Amazon's competition as a retailer continues to grow. Kobo and Apple are gobbling up market share. Like any big business, the Zon wants to dominate the competition and keep its place as Alpha Dog of the online retail business.

So they’ve made it very appealing for authors to sell exclusively through them—both with their KDP Select and White Glove program.

And last month they bought Goodreads. We still have to see how that will affect self-and small-publishers. David Gaughran thinks it’s a boon to authors. But some others, like Jarek Steele, and The Author's Guild —not so much. But Mr. Coker saw a silver lining: a way of thwarting people who try to manipulate the elves with paid reviews. For a nice, balanced overview of the argument, read Porter Anderson's piece in Ether for Authors at Publishing Perspectives.

The one thing people agree on is that Amazon wanted Goodreads' data to feed its algorithms. As Gaughran says “Amazon’s recommendation algorithms will be vastly improved with all the data that Goodreads has been collecting.”

So is it true that the Amazon algorithm elves are no longer friendly to indies? Do they only like you if you publish through them, or have an agent—or at least give them an exclusive?

I think it's clear that multi-platform indies are not in the Zon's A-list any more.  I’m not sure we’ll see as many 100% self-pubbed authors reach the heights that Amanda Hocking and John Locke did in the heady early days of the "Kindle" revolution. But indie books by previously traditionally-published hybrid authors are still breaking records. And agents are still trolling the Amazon bestseller lists.

Indies are also hurt by the Big Six books that are being offered as cheaply as indies. (There have been amazing giveaways of big name author’s books, especially in the UK. And this week I saw Barbara Kingslover's iconic novel The Bean Trees for $1.99)

Some people think this all means that the self-publishing revolution is dying.

But the fact is, the trend to self-publishing and boutique digital press publishing is not only alive and well, but growing.

This is because Big Publishing has done nothing to change their attitude that the publisher/author relationship must be one of master/slave. They have made themselves less attractive to new writers with ever more draconian contracts and demands that authors hire publicists and provide expensive traditional marketing with their own funds while the publisher risks nothing, sometimes offering no advance.

The fact that Amazon aspires to become a big publisher itself may make Amazon less attractive for the truly independent author.

But the door to successful self-publishing has been opened and it’s not going to close. The Zon may no longer be the fairy godperson of indie self-publishers, but it's not the Great Satan, either.

And more important:  it's not the only game in town. Amazon now represents less than 50% of the ebook market.
  • A huge number of readers prefer to read on their iPads, which makes the Apple store a big contender.
  • 50% of Apple ebook sales are outside of the US, where the Zon is not always revered, due to a habit of tax dodging. 
  • Kobo has a growing share of the international market, plus Kobo ereaders are selling in indie bookstores, which gives indie authors a chance to reach readers through old-time word-of-mouth, in-store promoting. 
  • The moribund Barnes and Noble/Nook store is undergoing a major overhaul with the new Nook publishing. Those who fear change say it's a disaster, but many in the know say it's much more user friendly and heralds new and forward thinking from Nook, which is still a player in the ereader market. 
  • Plucky little Smashwords is expanding all the time. They are the only way for non-US writers to get uploaded to region-specific sites like Barnes and Noble, so they are becoming more and more useful to indies all over the world. 

Self-and small press published authors who want to be on top of the next trend need to spread their marketing to all platforms, instead of spending all their time courting the Amazon algorithms with freebies and/or organizing armies of fellow authors to give likes and tags and fake reviews.

Launching a book in Amazon's Select program still seems to be a good move. (It works for me, anyway) but after the first three to six months I think most writers need to spread out to other platforms and promote there.

What we do not want to do is keep repeating what worked when the algorithms were the BFFs of the indie authorpreneur and the word "Kindle" was synonymous with "ereader".

The  Indie "Kindle" Revolution may be fading, but the Indie Digital Revolution is still in a dynamic and robust infancy.

What about you, scriveners? Have your sales been affected by the changes in algorithms? Have you heard rumors that you need to do certain things to keep on the good side of the Zon elves? Do you miss the "likes" and "tags"? Do you fear the indie revolution is petering out? 

UPDATE: There is now an algorithm that writes poetry. See, I said those elves are smart! The New York Times now has a Tumbr site where they post algorithm-written haikus based on news stories, called Times Haiku. Here's my favorite. (From an article on Margaret Thatcher's legacy.)

But we are British
So most of us stood around
In awkward silence. 

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) Readwave: A showcase for short stories: ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop--and writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave has created a new reading widget, that allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to "follow" the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers that are right for them. This looks like a great innovative site. You know how I've been encouraging you to write more short fiction? This is where to put it to start building a fan base.

2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on "Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World"? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013

4) Stanford Story Slam The first ever Stanford Story Slam has opened, a chance for a team of writers to win $500. Anybody can enter. To enter, you must collaborate to write about this prompt: “There are over 15,000 bikes used by students, staff, and faculty to get around Stanford campus. Over 300 bikes are stolen each year. Where do they go?” The Stanford Arts Review will publish the winning entry. Here’s more from the organizers You don't have to be a Stanford student to enter. Deadline is April 22.

5) The 35th annual Nimrod Literary Contest: The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction. The Awards offer first prizes of $2,000 and publication and second prizes of $1,000 and publication. One of the oldest “little magazines” in the country, Nimrod has continually published new and extraordinary writers since. For more information about Nimrod, visit their website at www.utulsa.edu/nimrod. Deadline is April 30th.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, April 7, 2013

When is it OK to Blog Your Book?


What? Blog a book?  Sez you. You're always hammering us NOT to put our WIPs on our blogs!

True. And I continue to do so—if you're a beginning novelist hoping to get a traditional book contract.

Tiny snippets of fiction for blog hops and other writing-community bonding exercises are OK, but blogging the rough draft of your novel in order to get critique or attract an agent is a bad idea.

For one thing, agents say you're ruining your chances with traditional publishers by giving away your first rights.

And the simple truth is they are about as likely to go looking for new clients on blogs as Hollywood producers are to cast their next film from a drug store lunch counter. Yes, it has happened, but that doesn't mean it's likely. Agents look for new clients in their slush piles. Which is why writing a good query is the best way to attract them.

Also, for some reason, most people don't read fiction on blogs. A popular author I know put some of her short stories on her blog and got only a handful of hits in six months. She decided to self-publish the stories in an ebook and they're now making her hundreds of dollars a month.

The thing to keep in mind is that people generally read blogs for information. They want to skim for nuggets of data, not admire your deathless prose or read an episode in the middle of an ongoing saga.

And very few want to read first drafts and provide you with free editing.

If you're a new writer and want critique, I advise you use a password-protected site like CritiqueCircle.com where you aren't "in public." You'll get more trustworthy advice and you'll avoid hanging your fledgling fiction out there in cyberspace at the mercy of any passing grammar nazi who's having a bad day. Rough drafts are supposed to be s***ty, according to Anne LaMotte. Asking people to read them is asking for a favor. You want your blog to OFFER something, not try to GET something (like free editing.)

Besides, your more mature writer-self will thank you. Trust me on this.

If you want to post samples of work that's polished and ready for the marketplace, you can do it on Wattpad, where 17-year old Beth Reekles got discovered and made a 3-book deal with Random House this week. (Yeah. A big congrats to her.) There's also a new site called ReadWave for sampling short fiction, nicely categorized by genre.

But if you write nonfiction, it's a different story. 

A blog can be a nonfiction writer's best friend. It showcases your skills and gets your name out there where the search engines can find you.

More than half the new writers I meet at conferences and seminars are working on a nonfiction book. Mostly memoirs. And by far the majority of clients who contacted me when I did professional editing wrote memoir or nonfiction as well.

I foresee even more in the pipeline. Many Boomers plan to write a memoir when they retire. And according to the Social Security Administration, every day 10,000 US Boomers hit age 65.

That’s a whole lot of memoirs.

Unfortunately, memoirs are the hardest books to write well. Almost no beginning memoir writer I’ve worked with knows how to mold a lifetime of experiences into a novelistic story arc that will make a compelling read. Instead they write autobiography: a series of episodes from birth until now. Or a series of personal essays.

These authors face years of learning to craft their episodic writings into narrative—or shelling out a ton of cash hiring an editor to do it for them.

So ask yourself: does your project have to be a book-length work at all? Why not a series of short pieces?

Like posts on a blog.

Instead of shoehorning your memories into an 80K-100K word narrative, you can take advantage of the contemporary reader’s short attention span and serialize them on a blog.

The goal of many memoirists is to share their experiences, bear witness to history and make a difference, not establish a long-term career churning out two or three books a year.

A lot of memoirists I've met are working on the following:
  • Eyewitness experiences of historical events, especially war. 
  • Advice from a health crisis survivor/caretaker to aid others who are going through the same challenges.  
  • Inspiring or unique stories about famous people the author has known. 
  • A journal of exotic travels.
  • Advice from an elder to the younger generation
If you’re writing any of the above, and your primary goal is to reach a lot of people with your message, not establish a long-term writing career. I’m going to suggest you let go of the big-book goal—at least for a while. You'll save yourself a lot of money and grief.

Yes, even a self-published book. Of course you can self-publish these days for not a whole lot of upfront money. But here’s the problem with the indie revolution:  the competition has become crazy-fierce. Which makes it very, very hard to sell a singleton ebook—as demonstrated in a recent article in Salon.

Indie authors don’t generally get traction in the big online retailers like Amazon until they’ve built a hefty inventory.

So I’m going to break from traditional advice and suggest you consider blogging your memoiric essays and advice rather than spending years conference-going, workshopping and learning to craft your memories into a book that may not have a market.

Another plus: posting your own photos on a blog costs nothing. Self-publishing a book that contains pictures is expensive and problematic. (At least in the age of the black and white Kindle)

Not me! Sez you. I want an agent. A book deal. And a big advance! Besides, I've heard blogs are totally over.

Actually blogs aren’t over. They’re just not the darlings of New York publishing any more.

But it’s not likely your memoir, travel, or self-help book will be either.

And that's OK. New York publishing is probably not a place you want to be.

It's good to be aware that as Big Publishing scrambles to keep profits up in the e-age, they only want what they consider “sure things.” That means they’re not interested in books—especially nonfiction—written by people who are not already household names.

These days, if you want to appeal to the Big Five nonfiction editors and their marketing departments, you pretty much need to be involved in a reality TV show and/or humiliating sex scandal, be the victim of a major disaster, or run for President. Better still—all of the above. (Unusual hairstyle choices are a plus.)

Being well-known in the literary world means nothing. You have to be über-famous:  Donald Trump-famous; Snooki-famous; I-Had-Justin-Beiber’s-love-child famous.

Or be willing to buy your place on the bestseller list.

Yes. You read that right.

I recently heard from a very successful fiction author with an engaged, enthusiastic fan base who had decided to shop around a nonfiction book proposal. Because her long-time agent didn’t handle nonfiction, she had to go the query route.

She was stunned by what she found. To be considered for representation, she was told by an agent that she’d be expected to—
  • Book and pay for her own national speaking tour. 
  • Hire a publicist (with her own funds.) 
  • Provide names and addresses (along with blog stats and Klout ratings) of high profile reviewers who had been properly primed to give positive reviews.
  • Contact major celebrities who would provide endorsements, TV spots, photo ops, etc.   
  • Provide names of organizations guaranteed to buy up copies of the book in bulk at the appropriate moment to game the bestseller lists. 
  • Spam her email list and personal contacts with newsletters, postcards, flyers, etc. (at her own expense, natch.) 
In other words, to get an agent to represent a nonfiction book, she’d need a private fortune or a SuperPAC.

And a very flexible set of ethics.

I don’t know if all agents require this kind of upfront promise to bankroll your own project these days, but it does explain why so many piles of political doo-doo make it to the top of the NYT Bestseller list.

Apparently those big advances you hear about are more likely to be what nonfiction authors PAY to have a bestseller, not the other way around. Nobody could break even with those expenses unless there was a truly epic advance. Which you’re not going to get unless you’re already a superstar.

It helped explain to me why Simon and Schuster thinks they can get away with selling a $25,000 “self-publishing” package through the vanity press AuthorHouse/Archway.

That’s because ALL Big Five nonfiction publishing seems to have become vanity publishing.

The famous author’s reaction was the same as the one I’m sure you’re having: “If I had the money for all that, why the %&@! would I need a publisher?”

Why indeed? This is the era of indie publishing.

Hey! didn’t you say if you’re not a career author with a big inventory, your self-pubbed book doesn’t have great odds of selling? 

Yes, but remember that blogging is publishing, which is why agents won’t represent something that’s been partially blogged: once it’s on the Interwebz, you’re officially published.

Once you start building an audience, you can think about self-publishing ebooks—maybe a series of shorts. One of the great things about ebooks is they can be any length. More on that in a minute.

And of course, if your blog takes off and you get millions of followers and somebody wants to make the blog into a big book and movie like Julie/Julia, it’s funny how their rules evaporate.

I'm not the first one to suggest this. Nina Amir has been urging people to blog their books for a long time on her blog, How to Blog a Book.

It's true that Jane Friedman, one of the most knowledgeable bloggers in publishing, has advised authors "Please Don't Blog your Book." But she says blogging your book is fine if: "you’re blogging in a nonfiction category, especially if your blog focuses on how to do something or solves a problem for people." And "you’re focused on your blog for the joy of blogging."

That's what I'm suggesting: Blogging for its own sake. For community. For reaching an audience.

If you need to make a little money in order to justify the time you’re spending, you might want to start off right away with the kind of blog that allows advertising. Free WordPress blogs do not. Free Blogger blogs feature AdSense, which can monetize your blog as soon as you establish a readership. But a montetizable WordPress blog is not terribly expensive and I’ve heard it’s better for long term expansion. If you want more info on how to choose the right blogging platform, Jamie Gold wrote a great guest post for Kristen Lamb this week on WordPress.com vs WordPress.org.

You can also serialize your blog through Kindle and charge for the subscription. That way, your blog is listed on Amazon.

You can even put a donation button on the blog that works with PayPal. I think donation buttons are mildly tacky—and I definitely don't recommend installing one if you're bragging about how much money you're making with your business methods or you're chronicling your glamourous world travels. But if you've got a medical or caretaker blog that offers helpful advice and you're hard up financially, people can be amazingly generous. Funny how they're more likely to donate $5 to a blogger than they are to buy a $2.99 book.

I’m not pretending any of these methods will make you rich. But you won’t have to re-mortgage your house to bribe people to make your book into a fake bestseller, either. Or spend your golden years getting weekly agent rejections in your inbox.

Even the few bucks you might get from Ad Sense would be more than major newspapers pay most bloggers these days. The majority of newspaper bloggers are paid NOTHING—yes, I’m talking about professional journalists. Plus they have to sign away the rights to all their work forever—including their own photographs.

You’re way ahead of things with your own free blog. At least nobody’s making you pay to play.

But who’s going to read it? Sez you. How do I get traffic? 

It’s not going to happen overnight, and it especially won’t happen if you sit on your own little blog and wait for people to find you. You need to go out and meet your potential readers.

Submit your stories to magazines and online sites that appeal to your audience. (Some of these might even pay you. Look in the "opportunity alerts" below.) And they'll all allow a link to your blog.

Find websites and blogs that cater to your demographic, then—
  • Subscribe to or follow those blogs, 
  • Comment often 
  • Offer to guest blog 
  • Submit short pieces to zines and anthologies in your field
  • Make friends
If you have some stories that are too long to make good blogposts or articles, this is when you should think about publishing some of them as ebooks. As I said above, any length manuscript can be an ebook (although I suggest you don’t try to charge money for anything under ten pages.)

If you have a series of shorter titles, you’ll make much more of a splash than with one book.

And if you have mixed media to present, including poems, photos and essays, you can produce your own literary magazine at a site called Flipboard

I don’t want you to be discouraged by this post. Some memoirs do still sell to big publishing houses. But I’m offering alternatives. And a way to save a lot of editing fees.

If you’re set on seeing your project as a book-length work with a publisher’s name on it, and you’ve been working really hard on that story arc, you can also look to small, niche and regional presses that don’t require agents.

Regional presses will be interested in books about local history, and niche presses that specialize in military history might look at a war memoir (see "opportunity alerts".) A small press that specializes in the occult might like your book on tarot reading. A university press might be interested in your meticulously researched biography of a little-known artist.

These presses are generally a whole lot more author-friendly than the big guys. You won’t get an advance, but you might make a nice royalty.

But they’re going to be more interested if you’ve already established an audience with a blog. If you want step-by-step help in how to start a blog, I've got one in the book I wrote with Catherine Ryan Hyde, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY. 

Agents may not want memoirs or nonfiction by non-celebrities, but there are plenty of readers out there who do.

A number of readers of this blog have started successful memoir/personal essay blogs.
  • Florence Fois of Fois in the City blogs about all things New York, including her fascinating memories of a Brooklyn childhood, and has built a loyal following.  
  • Retired businessman Silvio Cadenasso has started a travel blog about the journeys he and his wife take exchanging houses with people all over the world. His great articles and photos have got the attention of National Geographic and has a steadily building audience. 
  • Nina Badzin started her blog to build platform for her fiction and discovered she prefers blogging full time. Now her witty pieces are often picked up by the Huffington Post.
Instead of endlessly chasing that agent dream, these writers are reaching readers.

Right now.

Big publishing’s nonfiction wing may have become a one-percenters’ club for generating expensive, unread pulp for vain billionaires and political manipulators, but that leaves a big market unserved.

Yes, you can keep honing that memoir until the pages turn themselves while socking money away and hoping a sinkhole swallows your house, you become a contestant on the Biggest Loser, and/ or your wife admits to a secret affair with Dick Cheney.

Or, you can think outside the book and start a blog.

How about you, scriveners? Are you working on a memoir or nonfiction book? Are you surprised to hear that nonfiction writers need a private fortune to be considered for Big Five publication? Have you thought of blogging your own book or publishing it as a series of shorts? 

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


1) FOR THE FEARLESS: The Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize comes from Black Balloon Publishing: "we champion the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable. We are battle-worn enemies of boredom and we’re looking for books that defy the rules." Prize is $5,000 and a Black Balloon Publishing book deal. They want a sample of your completed, novel-length manuscript. It's a two-tiered process, so make sure you follow the guidelines in the link above. Wait until April 1 to submit.

2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on "Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World"? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013

4) Stanford Story Slam The first ever Stanford Story Slam has opened, a chance for a team of writers to win $500. Anybody can enter the writing contest and the deadline is April 22.To enter, you must collaborate to write about this prompt: “There are over 15,000 bikes used by students, staff, and faculty to get around Stanford campus. Over 300 bikes are stolen each year. Where do they go?” The Stanford Arts Review will publish the winning entry. Here’s more from the organizers You don't have to be a Stanford student to enter.

5) Small Press Seeking Memoirs and other Nonfiction. Yes! See I told you they exist. GrayBooks in New Hampshire says they are always looking for authors. They publish in four categories - Food, Fiction, History, Memoir. They are especially interested in war and historical memoirs. 

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,