Wednesday, September 26, 2012

You Can't Trust Me, I'm the Marketing Man

by Mindy McGinnis

Too many authors think of self-promotion as the equivalent of a used car salesman. I can't tell you how often I've heard writers say they just don't feel comfortable pushing themselves - or their book - at people.

There's a neat little trick to get around that feeling of icky - give people something they already want and make the fact that it has your book, your links, or even your face on it just a useful sidebar. They get something free, you're giving away yourself without feeling pushy.

That sounds totally easy, right?


NOT A DROP TO DRINK is fast approaching cover time, which is exciting and intimidating at the same time. I need to start thinking about innovative ways to get my book out there, without rehashing the same stuff that everyone has seen a thousand times over. In my opinion the exception to that is the business card, which I don't think will ever cease to be a staple. I'm talking about that particular piece of swag over on From the Write Angle today.

There are options, sure. Pens, pencils, band-aid dispensers, t-shirts, personalized mints, postcards, bookmarks... and everything else you've seen a dozen times and conditioned your mind to stop noticing. DRINK is a genre-buster; I want something new and fresh for my debut baby.

Unfortunately the rest of the world has already discovered what I had originally wanted to do for DRINK - customized water bottle labels. How perfect is that for a book built around the idea that the world has run out of fresh water? However,  I recently took an author branding class that addressed swag. One of the big rules for swag is that in order for it to be cost-effective it should be something that the recipient will use more than once, not toss away.

I don't know many people that use a water bottle more than once, but I think the simple idea of tying my book to the idea of a water bottle could have a heck of an impact. The obvious water message is an easy association, and even if they throw away the bottle I put my cover on, the next time they take a drink out of a bottle they might think... "Oh hey! That book looked pretty cool. Too bad I threw the bottle away..." But with a name like NOT A DROP TO DRINK they might be able to remember it in connection with water, and a Goodreads or Amazon search might just land them in my lap.

I don't see this working for bookmarks in the same way. Someone might think, upon seeing another bookmark, "Gee I wish I hadn't thrown away that other bookmark..." but unless the name of the advertised book was NOT A BOOKMARK LEFT I doubt their brain will be able to make the association leap for a good Google result.

And giving away water would hardly make me feel smarmy. Everyone needs it. Most people like it. It's very useful, and I have yet to meet someone allergic to it.

What do my fellow readers and writers think? Is there a magic swag item out there that you've always wished someone would put your brand on or that you've wanted to see handed out?

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut NOT A DROP TO DRINK - a post apocalyptic survival tale will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins Fall, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Find a Good Critique Group

by Brenda Remmes

              I’m always surprised at how many people tell me that they don’t want anyone to read what they’re writing until they’re completely finished.  Most agents say they don’t need to read more than five pages to tell whether they’re interested in the rest of the manuscript.  You’re hoping they’ll get through at least the first three chapters.  My thoughts are you might as well get those first five pages out there as soon as possible for some feedback so you don’t make the same mistakes throughout the rest of your writing.
               I was very lucky to fall into an excellent critique group on my first try.  That doesn’t always happen.  Critique groups are different.  Whether you wish to start a group on your own or attend one already in existence, here are my rules of thumb.  1)  Look for some members where at least a few people have already published or have some professional experience in publishing, even if it’s in the local newspaper.  There’s no better educator than experience.  2)  Stay clear of family members and friends.  They tend to be too kind.  You need honesty that is cushioned with respect and appreciation for the work and method involved in writing.  3) Establish the guidelines for participation in the group.  Everyone should be writing something.  Meetings should be regular.   Submission requirements should be consistent.
               Here is the way my critique group works.  Our group has ten members.  Average attendance is about six, which is a good number, because it means each person can submit for every meeting if they wish.  Larger groups allow people to submit only every few months.  We have a coordinator who e-mails reminders before each meeting.  We meet twice a month for two hours.  Anyone who wishes to submit may do so four days prior to the next meeting by e-mailing to every member up to ten pages (double-spaced in submission format) of whatever they are writing.  Participants are asked to critique each piece prior to the meeting.  I stress the word “prior” because this is a point on which a lot of critique groups differ.  Some critique groups read the submissions at the meeting.  We have found it much more effective to individually critique the submission before the meeting and then discuss it at the meeting.
               We are not an “editing” group.  While we may note misspelling or grammatical corrections on our copy of the manuscript that we return to the author, this is not what we come together to discuss.  Our role is to make comment on the character development, plot and background stories.  “What worked for me when I read your piece,” and “What didn’t work so well.”  During this process, I have learned that my weakness is my inability to give enough descriptive detail to a scene.  “I can’t see this scene in my head, yet,” is the critique my group makes.  “What’s in the room with them?  What noises are going on in the background.  Are there certain smells I should be aware of?”  Incorporate all of the senses, not just the visual.  The group will often give me ideas and make suggestions of what might work.
               We remain respectful of each individual’s efforts and their particular genre, recognizing that we don’t have all the answers by a long shot and reminding one another that what one publisher may not like, another might love. One of our members joined another group in addition to ours where they worked specifically with children’s books.  She shares what she learns from them. 
We continue to remind one another that one person’s opinion does not an absolute make, but we suggest that if two or more people raise the same issue, it might be something the author wishes to consider.  In the end, the author always has the final say on whatever they choose to write.
               As for me, there is no doubt in my mind that I would not have made it as far as I have at this point without the insights and recommendations from my critique group.   I would have wasted valuable time submitting one manuscript  after another to agents without understanding why they got rejected.  I now have a contract on a book.  In addition, I have a new group of friends, who remain kind and compassionate in regards to my writing.  More importantly, they’re not afraid to challenge me to do better and continually improve my writing skills.  

Illustrations:   rudall30, Yury Shchipakin/

Monday, September 17, 2012

Books, Blogs and BFFs: How One Thing Leads to Another

By David Abrams

When I come to the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop on Oct. 19, I’ll be sitting at the front of the room next to four of my best friends I’ve never met.  Lydia, Barbara, Anne, Brenda and I have never met in person, but we are as close as any strangers can be in this connected and wired world.  The five of us have been active members of Book Pregnant—primarily on Facebook, but also collaborating on this blog. 

Books are my BFFs
When we finally rendezvous in Myrtle Beach, there will be hugs, cheek kisses, and exclamations like, “Ohmigod, so that’s what you sound like!”  We’ll have some catching up to do, but not much…because by that point, we’ve pretty much spilled everything about our lives to each other within the confines of our private Facebook group.  Well, almost everything.  These ladies still don’t know all my secrets—like my vasectomy or my teenage obsession with Captain and Tennille (which, OOPS!, now they do if they’re reading this blog). 

Though we all started as strangers, we came together as fellow writers through the Great Mosh Pit known as the Blog-o-sphere.  And that’s what I’ll be talking about when I come to the SCWW in Myrtle Beach: how to network with your fellow authors via a blog. 

Blogs are as diverse at the authors who write them.  That’s probably the most “duh” thing I’ll write all day.  But it’s true.  And here’s another trite truism: blogs are like snowflakes—no two are exactly alike.  When you start a blog, it’s your blog; it will have your personal stamp on it; you’ll maintain control on how often you post; you’ll be steering the direction of the conversation, the tone, and the personality of the blog. 

What may not be as obvious is how a blog can enrich your life as a writer (if you let it, it can also become a ball and chain dragging you down and pulling you away from other writing projects….but that’s a whole other topic of discussion [“Paxil Popping Bloggers Who Overcommit and Other Tales From the Psychiatrist’s Couch”]).  For me, the most rewarding benefit of starting a blog—especially a books blog—is that you’ll get to meet kindred spirits on-line and sometimes—if you’re lucky like I’ll be in South Carolina—in person. 

One of the things I’ll be focusing on during my presentation at the conference is how a blog can serve a bridge between you and the unseen writing community on the web. 

I’ll use my own blog as an example simply because it’s the one I know the most about.  Besides, it’s always easier to discuss parenting techniques by using your own kids as examples rather than those urchins belonging to the grubby, beer-swilling, lottery-playing couple who lives in the trailer down the road from you, right?  I know my blog like I know my own children. 

I started The Quivering Pen on May 2, 2010 full of spunk and hope.  In that first, now-embarrassing post, I wrote: “I am standing on the threshold of the first draft of my second novel.  I am days away from typing the final period of Fobbit: a Novel.”  As you can see, The Quivering Pen was founded on the idea that everyone on the Internetz would be fascinated by watching me, The Writer, at work.  It would be like I was sitting in a glass booth with a typewriter on the corner of 4th and Main. 

In those first few days, the blog was like a jalopy with a loose steering wheel as it careened without brakes down a mountain pass.  My initial blog posts consisted of a quote from Tobias Wolff (something about writing taking “stamina and self-mastery and faith”), a brief examination of palindromes, and a silly little sermon about my reading habits called “The Island of Readers, Population: 1 (Me).”  Those early days of The Quivering Pen basically consisted of me sending short telegrams to the rest of the world, saying, “Is anybody else out there?” 

You’ll probably do the same when you start a blog, and that’s perfectly okay.  It takes time to get your sea legs, to point the compass in the right direction, to build a following.  Your blog will probably grow slowly and will be all arms and legs and bumping into things at first.  Be patient with it.  Make those mistakes (which, at the time, will seem like the most brilliant things you’ve ever written) and find your readership. 

The day I think The Quivering Pen really grew up—put away its tricycle and Legos and started talking in a deeper voice—was when I started a weekly series which continues to this day: My First Time.  (Yeah, it’s all about attracting readers with the tease of sex.)  On the blog, I say My First Time is something “in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.”  The first My First Time appeared about 10 months after I started the blog and it was a guest post by Caroline Leavitt called “My First Humiliation.”  To this day, Caroline and I have never met, though we’ve been on-line acquaintances for years—even before I started the blog.  I can’t remember who suggested the idea of  “My First Time,” whether it was Caroline or me, but whoever came up with it was brilliant (so I sort of think it was ME).  I thought this might be something that readers would be interested in—hearing about the beginnings of writers, how they came to be who they are. 

I came up with a list of every writer I “knew” (in the Facebook sense of the word) and wrote a standard email to all of them which very politely and earnestly begged them to send me tales of their “virgin experiences.”  The response was overwhelming and soon I had a steady flow of guest blogs coming in to me. 

This was the catalyst which started a more intense dialogue with my fellow writers.  Having the fellowship of other writers (to borrow a word from my father, the Baptist preacher) was like gold in the bank.  As we all know, there can be inspiration, encouragement and intense networking whenever two or more writers get together.  Blogs can easily be the pivot point for those relationships.

And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing when we all come together in South Carolina.  I can’t wait to share the rest of my blogging tips with you.  And the best part is, I’ll be surrounded by my new writing BFFs Lydia, Barbara, Anne and Brenda. 
David Abrams is the author of Fobbit (Grove/Atlantic), a comedy about the Iraq War. His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Narrative, Salamander, The Connecticut Review, and several other publications. He lives with his wife in Butte, Montana.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Showing the Book's Face to the World Before its Born

by Priscille Sibley

It’s all about buzz. THE PROMISE OF STARDUST is due on February 5, 2013. And a few weeks ago I received 10 advanced reading copies. I cannot express what the feeling is like, to see your book, solid and sturdy. It’s very different from looking at the pages on a computer screen, different from a printed manuscript, even different from the proof pages. It’s real. Not a figment of my imagination. It’s an entity of its own. And those things, those characters I conjured up in my imagination, they are about to become real for someone else. The book is no longer in my hands. It’s out there in the world.

This is a hazy purgatory. Because it isn’t published yet, not exactly, but it is out there. It’s been sent out to media outlets, magazines, newspapers. Harper Collins gave away 50 ARCs to readers in sneek preview via Along with the ARC, readers received a questionnaire. The book is being read by real people, not my agent, not my writer friends, not my editor or other people at my publisher (not that these are not real people) but by honest to God readers.

This is wild. My wonderful editor, Emily Krump, sent along their responses and I must say the comments brought happy tears to my eyes because the majority of them were very, very positive. The recipients said they’d recommend the book to their book clubs, to their family, to everyone. They said they felt happy, and sad, and satisfied. They said they cried. They said they loved it. This is what an author works for, to make a story something that will resonate and evoke an emotional response. So if you’re one of those readers who read THE PROMISE OF STARDUST and sent along your comments, I want to thank you.

Famous authors also have my book in their hands and have given me some very flattering blurbs. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you writers who took the time out to read an unknown author’s debut.

But you see, at this point, the book writing is done. Now, to quote my wonderful literary agent, Laney Becker, now we just have to make sure readers find it.

So… now there’s that social media flaunting. I’m beginning to like Facebook and Twitter. Pinterest is fun although I have no idea if it will mean anything in terms of book sales. And blogging, well, throat clearing time, I’m nervously raising my head here and there. 

 This is a different world for me. In my real life I’m never the center of attention. That I have to wave my hand up in the air to draw focus onto my book still feels foreign and self-aggrandizing, but this is it. My book is about to make its entrance into the world. The fact is most books only live for a short short time. I want mine to have a chance, so I am here. My book is stirring, weighing on me. I am joyous with anticipation. 

So, yes, please follow me on Twitter @PriscilleSibley

And please like my author page on Facebook.

And stop by my webpage. 

This is the part where we authors wait, a period of confinement. This Book Pregnant.