Friday, November 30, 2012

A Writer's Wish List

Welcome to December. Here is your official welcome package: a snowflake, a large pine tree, a candle, a snifter of brandy. Whatever tradition you're gearing up for, it's likely you've got gifts on the brain, and a shopping list as long as your arm. Here are some hints as to what the writers in your circle of friends and family might be longing for this holiday season. Some are DIY, some are even free! Only one is purely mythological.

No matter the genre or publisher, these are guaranteed to make any author click its little heels together with glee while smiling ear to ear. You might even see a little tooth sparkle, along with a charming *TING* of holiday magic. And if that isn't an image to go on a greeting card, I don't know what is. In related news, I'd like to know who's stuffing all those cats into Santa hats.

Quit it.

10. Sales.

Authors love sales. So I know that you, being a good and virtuous family member or friend, have already bought the book. But now, you can buy your friends the book. Buy your kids' teachers the book. I remember at my book launch, several dear and marvelous friends actually said, "I'm doing my holiday shopping right now!" as they toted away an armful of copies. I have now erected large, permanent, ostentatious statues in their honor in my driveway. Yes, it's hard to get the car out, but these people need recognition.

Many authors are happy to mail you a signed bookplate, for even more palpable specialness.

9. Reviews

It is free to review your author friend's book on Amazon, on Goodreads, on LibraryThing. A thoughtful few sentences, a handful of stars, a couple of tags checked, a "Like" button clicked: these might seem insignificant to you, but they are beautiful gifts to an author.

8. Stories

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Interrupt the novel, and I will destroy you.
A truth: Authors often chuckle to each other about how people come up to us saying, "I've got a great book idea for you. You write it, and we'll split the profits!"

Another truth: Most authors are walking around with 87 book ideas in their heads, and their only lament is not being able to crawl into a cave, dig a tiger moat at the entrance, and crouch over a laptop for the next six years, writing them all down. Did I mention the cave has wifi? And that someone occasionally tosses a turkey dinner across the tiger moat? Is this just my fantasy?


This one is tricky because not every story makes a good gift. Long ones usually don't. Ones involving the death of grandmothers, or adoptees finding birth parents, or really special, amazing animals... usually don't. What constitutes a literary treasure? Odd little snippets. Nuggets maybe. Sometimes whole book ideas emerge from tiny little bits of overheard conversation, or sometimes those little nuggets can fit into our books in weird ways.

Example: My friend Tina was chatting with me and some other people and casually mentioned she had a cousin or uncle or something who had escaped from prison by riding a cow through a river. I swear, it was as if the ceiling ripped open, a beam of light shone down on her face, and time slowed. I pulled up a chair and begged her to keep talking about this beautiful, magical cousin from god. Turns out he killed himself playing Russian roulette. WHAT? Was there NOTHING this cousin could not do? Turns out this backstory went like a puzzle piece directly into the past life of one of the minor characters in my WIP. It went in so perfectly, there was almost an audible click. Share your stories. Then get ready to read all about it.

 7. Social Media Love

Easy to Tweet: Hey, I read this book and it's awesome. If you loved Eat Pray Love, you'll want to get this one. It's like Eat Pray Love but IN SPACE!

Easy to share on Facebook: Hey, this book totally changed my mind about panthers. Turns out they're really lovable pets! Check it out. 

Post the cover on Pinterest. Microblog it on Tumblr. Pass the link around. Boost the signal.

6. Blog Posts.

If you have a blog, post a review or an interview! Relate the book to something personal to you, to give awesome content to your own readers while spreading the word for your author friends. If you don't have a blog, consider submitting a guest post to a blog you love. Starting a blog just to pimp out your friend's book is probably a bad idea, although I can see it working as a publicity stunt, if you were able to sustain it on a daily basis for several years. You can do that, right?

Image from
So many to choose from!
5. Booze. 

Note: This should also be on the wish lists for architects, bottle washers, chefs, dog walkers, educators, firefighters, grooms, hospital clerical workers, infographic makers, jewelers, kick boxers, loom weavers, magicians, nickel stampers, obstetricians, physicists, query critiquers, rocketry specialists, specialists of all kinds, truck drivers, unitarians, vets, white house interns, x-ray technicians, yak worshippers, and zebra inseminators.

What, my spell check doesn't like the word "inseminators"?

4. Encouragement. 

You can do it! Your book is freakin' fantastic! Are you kidding? Of course you can write another one just as good. Better, even. You are killing this author thing. 

As much as you feel like you've already stroked this needy author's ego quite enough, consider the fact that probably right now the soundtrack in their head is something along the lines of this: "That last book was a fluke. Nothing you say makes sense. You couldn't write your way out of a tiger moat. The things that are important to you aren't important to anyone else. That character's not likable. That idea makes you certifiable. Coffee is starting to taste bad, WHY? You're going to get a hole in your favorite sweater. The hole is coming. The groaning abyss that is your absence of talent will suck you down through that hole and annihilate you."

So you know, some cheery words are never amiss.

3. Time

If there's any way you can facilitate your author friend or family member getting more peaceful and uninterrupted time to write, this is a treasured, hallowed, beautiful thing. Loan your summer house. Babysit. When you're thinking of asking your author friend/family to volunteer for some lengthy, time-consuming activity, or get them involved in some really great idea for a project, or join you in a new hobby, reconsider. Think of someone else. Don't recommend new TV shows. Don't say, "You know, we should really go hiking on the beach once a week, for our health!"

Note to my personal friends: This is not a call for help. I have everything under control. Just send tigers. 

So, I was trying to think of what I would include for #2, and I told my husband what I was considering, he said, "What? That has nothing to do with gifts. Don't you want a gun/flyswatter? Or a robot that sharpens your pens?" It's true that I do want those things, but I feel a responsibility to be honest and deliver a true list, of real desires, and the list would not be complete without this:

2. Magical Plot Solutions. 

There's probably nothing you can really do here, and there's nothing to buy. But this is what authors really most want: plot solutions. We want to experience that sudden strange, unexpected brain-twist that results in a smooth, blissful unraveling of a huge plot-knot.

I want one really bad, this month. I'm praying and dreaming and hoping. I know it will come to me while driving, or while in the shower, or while reading someone else's book and thinking about something completely different, or while knitting, or while telling my dog to stop scratching his junk so luxuriously on the carpet -- I know it will come.

Like most writers, I'm an optimist. Even though we crank about the world and write books where everyone inexorably dies in despair, we all believe in magic, much like the kind that gets talked about in December. Writer magic comes in the middle of writing books. It comes when you're 16 chapters in and it's dismal and clanging and nothing works. It's like a special weapon that only becomes available when you've committed yourself to a battle you can't win. You can't predict or explain it, or make it happen, or find it by looking, but if you didn't think it was coming, you'd never start chapter 2. When it comes, it's the best, best thing ever. When you're waiting for it, the night can be long and dark.

I know I said it wasn't for sale, but if anyone's seen the devil, can you give him my mobile #? Thanks.

Note: My husband's next suggestion was "Sexy muse." But we all know what the #1 gift idea should be, right? It's not a brilliant cover or getting on year-end lists (although Book Pregnant authors have been killing it on that front, yo!). 

1. Sales

See #10.

Lydia Netzer is the author of Shine Shine Shine, which the New York Times Book Review just selected as one of 100 Notable Books for 2012. It was also chosen by Amazon as one of their Editor's Picks for the Top 100 Books of 2012, by Library Journal as one of five Top Women's Fiction Titles of 2012, and by Nancy Pearl in Publisher's Weekly as one of her ten favorite books of 2012. Written over ten years, two attempts at Nanowrimo, and many despairing moments, it's a novel about robots, motherhood, space travel, true love, and the perils of fitting in. Find her on her blogFacebook, and Twitter

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Baby Two

Baby Number Two, Or...  How to Survive a Difficult Pregnancy
In real life, my first two sons are fourteen months apart.  You would think after giving birth once, the next time would be easier.  You would be wrong.  My second son had the cord wrapped around his neck and was in distress.  The obstetrician had to take him quickly.  I did not have a Caesarian because he was almost born when he got into trouble.  The more he struggled to emerge from the womb, the tighter the cord pulled.  I remember being cut and feeling every snap of flesh before I passed out from the gas they were giving me.  When I woke up, three days later, my son still had blue lips and a purple face.  He was still in the incubator and I had to sign a paper giving permission to operate on his skull in case there was fluid on his brain.  Thankfully, he was fine.   But it took me a long time to recover from that traumatic experience.

I feel a little bit like that with my second book-baby.  I’m long overdue, and this time is not nearly as easy as the first.  Of course, being diagnosed with stage 3 uterine cancer last January did not help things.  First, I had a radical hysterectomy, followed by chemo and radiation treatments.  I had turned in the first draft of the book to my editor, who had many suggestions for improvement.  I was determined to get another draft for him, but it has taken eleven months so far.  I still have a month’s work to do, at the very least.  Luckily, he and my agent have been wonderfully understanding and patient.
I supposed chemo treatments might be compared to morning sickness.  There is nausea and extreme fatigue.  The brain doesn’t work as well as usual.  There is the constant fear that something will go wrong.  But, just like in pregnancy, there is not much you can do about those things.  All you can do is live through them.  Thankfully, working on book-baby 2 was good for my spirit, even though it was extremely difficult.

Book-baby 2’s are difficult for other reasons.  It’s very common for writers to have a weak second book; publishers refer to it as a ‘sophomore’ book.  There are several reasons for this.  The first book usually involved a deep passion for the project.  After all, there were no guarantees the book would find a publisher, no promises from an agent.  The book was written because the writer WANTED to write it.  Book 2 is a little different.  There is huge pressure to write a better book this go around.  If the first book was decent, the pressure is on for book 2 to be even better.  And, if the writer can’t produce a better book, she must face the chances of her career being over almost before it gets started.  Publishers and agents want writers who can produce on a regular basis, regardless of their insecurities. 

There is also pressure to produce a best-seller.  With mergers, indie-writers, ebooks and all the flux in the world of publishing, it seems more and more emphasis is being placed on book sales.  Where once there was a concern for the state of American letters and a dedication to producing books of quality even if they didn’t sell particularly well, now it’s the bottom line all the way.  It’s like expecting your newborn to be a genius from his very first cry.  That kind of pressure can’t be good for mother or book-baby.

So, for the past eleven months, I feel like I’ve wrestled my baby to the ground.  She is not like her big brother, not in the least.  But, as I prepare for the last month of pregnancy and I see her shaping up, I have discovered that I’m rather fond of her, after all.  No, she isn’t like my first baby because I’m not the same and neither is this little production.  Life happens, and it forms and changes us.  These changes are reflected in our writing, for better or worse.  I’m just happy to have book-baby 2 and I can’t wait to see her when she makes her way into this world.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A Debut Author Learns About Libraries

Learning to be an author in addition to being a writer is an interesting process. While in the midst of planning publicity, working on a new website, and sharing news both regularly and prudently (I think both are important), I’m very aware that yes, book sales are going to be an important factor if I don’t want to become a one-book wonder. (No intention of that, mind you, and WIP is coming along nicely, if I do say so myself. Which I do. Also have a tickling of a story for book 3!)
And then a few weeks ago I learned that THE GLASS WIVES will be published in hardcover for the library market. That means that libraries can purchase a copy (or ten, um, book clubs!) of my novel and it will be sturdier and last longer than the trade paperback edition.  Because libraries are book buyers, this is a good thing. Whether we all like it or not, not everyone can afford to buy every book. And some people can’t afford or choose not to buy any books.  And this doesn’t mean they’re not book lovers or voracious readers. It means that I want libraries to have copies of my book so that everyone who wants to read it has the opportunity to do so, no matter where they choose to obtain their [legal, I'm looking at you, book pirating sites] copy.
The point here is to garner the attention of readers any way possible. This is not lost on me.
So, after I was finished with a personal celebration, knowing that my editor and publisher have confidence that libraries will want to stock-up on THE GLASS WIVES, I printed out THE GLASS WIVES page from the St. Martin’s Griffin Spring catalog, the first three pages, and a copy of the cover. And I marched my debut author behind over to the library in my town.
Small town. Big new library.
I introduced myself to the adult services librarian, leading with “I live in Small Town and St. Martin’s Press is publishing my first novel in May.”  Yes, that is a way to get a librarian’s attention. She was lovely, and interested, and her smile stretched across her face. She asked if she could shake my hand (heartily, I might add) to congratulate me.  She asked questions about how long it took me to write it, the agent-process, and she made many correct assumptions about the excitement level in my brain and heart.  The librarian needed to pass along my information (complete with actual telephone number) to the person who purchases fiction for the library because of course she was at lunch when I showed up.
I’m fortunate to live in an educated, education-centric community. I’m in contact with the local book club that started in 1938 and boasts over 100 members. It’s also not lost on me that the fact that THE GLASS WIVES is set in a Chicago suburb and about a divorced mom, and that I LIVE in a Chicago suburb and am a divorced mom, may send 9200 locals scampering for the book in stores, online, in this very library, looking for something or someone familiar, looking for answers and insights to my real life, or—gasp—theirs. They won’t find it, but hey, I’m no dummy.
I just nod and say, “You’ll have to read the book.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Evolution of a Book Cover

by Sam Thomas

As other authors here have noted, the actual production of a book can be no less stressful than the writing. From choosing a font to finding blurbs, there are dozens of Is to be dotted and Ts to be crossed. 

But one of the most fascinating is the question of what kind of cover to put on the book. You want one that not only captures both the spirit of the book and the readers eye. It has to tie the book to others in its genre, while at the same time signaling its distinctiveness. It is also a decision that few authors can really control. (Check your contract!)

When I imagined the cover of The Midwife’s Tale, I wanted it to look like a seventeenth-century murder pamphlet like the one on the right. 

The pamphlet would both capture my setting and the central tension of the book, whether a woman would be burned at the stake. To add a little color, I imagined foil overlay in red and orange to make the flames really leap off the page. 

Nice, right?

Except that sometimes I'm not very bright, and I didn't tell anyone about my idea. So, lesson number one: if you want something, say so.

In any event over the summer - about seven months before my due-date -  my editor sent me this cover:

 I was utterly floored. I loved the interplay of darkness and light, the color scheme, the way the light played across the figure’s back… nearly everything about it.

The one concern my agent (not to mention fellow Book Pregnant authors!) had was that it seemed a bit too still. 

I had written a murder story, after all, and we thought it could use a bit more danger. I also suggested replacing the stalks of grain on the table with a mortar and pestle so the midwifery piece was more prominent.

This is where Minotaur came through for me the first time. By all rights, they could have said, “Nope, this is it.” But they didn’t. They came back with a modified cover.

If you look closely, we’ve got a mortar and pestle, and (even better) a knife, but now the scene is dominated by the cooking pot. 

We also now have the question of where the figure’s right arm is. Why isn’t the light that’s illuminating the pot, illuminating the arm?

So we tried again, and once again Minotaur came through gorgeously. We found an image we liked, and then the art department integrated it with the figure in a way that (I hope you'll agree) is nothing short of incredible.

We’ve got a knife (but now it's more menacing) a glass tipped on its side (which also fits with the plot), and even a right arm! I know all parents think their babies are beautiful, but mine really is.

I suppose the moral of the story is that you only get one cover (unless they give you a second one for your paperback!), and you need to find one that you love.

I can’t say enough good things about my agent (Josh Getzler) and editor (Charlie Spicer), as well as the artists at Minotaur/St. Martins,  who put up with my requests that we keep trying. I’m certainly happy, and I hope that they are as well. 

Sam Thomas is the author of The Midwife's Tale: A Mystery, which will be published by Minotaur/St. Martins on January 8, 2013. (You can preorder it from Amazon or Mac's Backs. Order from Mac's, and the book will be signed by the author.)

To learn more about the history of midwifery and the real-life midwife behind his protagonist, visit his website at: You can also find (and like) him on Facebook at:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Five Good Reasons You Won't Finish Your Novel

This dude was so proud, he
named his novel FINISHED.
by Lydia Netzer

In November, lots of people start new novels, as participants in National Novel Writing Month. Few people will finish those novels. That's a fact. Finishing a novel, slapping your hand down on a stack of papers and shouting, "DONE!" either literally or metaphorically -- that's something pretty rare. Why? Why do most people who start novels lose their way? Statistically speaking, if you're writing a novel right now, at some point before the end you will slow and stop. Why?

I do not believe that the reason you won't finish your novel is that you're not a writer. 

Novels are just words. We all have access to the same ones. I don't believe everyone can write The Old Man and the Sea or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell or Ulysses or Geek Love. But I do believe that you and everyone else who wants to can write a perfectly good novel that brings fulfillment to you and enjoyment to readers. So why are you not done? Here's a list of possible reasons.

1. You're writing the wrong book. 

Your idea is fabulous -- everyone says so. It exists as a beautiful crystalline work of art in your mind, so perfect in all its facets, so gloriously fresh and interesting and flawlessly structured. But you just... can't... seem to write it.

Truth: It can look like the right book, and still be the wrong book. The wrong book can sound great when you talk about it! You might be telling yourself how easy it will be to pitch, how neatly the plot comes together, how cute that one scene is, when she gets the phone call about going to the marina and what? -- she's already there. But if it's not the right book for you, for this year, for this moment in your life, then you need to grab your valuables and abandon ship right now. Write something else. If it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself you'll come back to it. Whether or not that's true doesn't really matter -- what matters is getting you out off the slowly sinking vessel that is this manuscript. Do something else. Swim away. Even if you've spent ten years working on this wrong book. Even if it's the only idea you think you're ever going to have. Because you know what? You're never going to finish it anyway.

Find the book you're supposed to write. It might be underneath the one you're working on, or beside it. It might be on the other side of a wall you've built to protect yourself from it -- maybe you've put the real storyline in the past, or you've killed off a character forty years ago that should be the star of the book, or you've shirked on telling a backstory that should be center stage. Look for the real story. If it looks perfect and easy and like it will write itself, that's probably not it. If it looks hard and awful and kind of makes you sick to your stomach, guess what? You found it.

Can this many people really care
about zombies all at the same time?
2. You're writing to be on trend. 

If your novel contains a school for children with special abilities, godlike qualities, or magical powers... If your novel contains werewolves, vampires, zombies, or trolls... If your novel explores a post-apocalyptic landscape where a remnant of humans struggles to rebuild their world... If your novel follows a plucky group of strangers through a zombie onslaught...

Examine your motivation.

This is not to say that a new book cannot be written about vampires or special kid schools or the earth after the apocalypse or zombies. Obviously it can. I'm saying that if you're writing about one of the above scenarios, or one of a dozen other trendy elements we all could name, and you find yourself faltering and failing to make progress, consider the possibility that you're writing to be on trend and you don't really care about your book.

Write about something you care about. Not about something that's popular.

Third time's a charm.
3. You've grown away from your book. 

I started writing Shine Shine Shine in spring of 1999. I started over twice: two times I was looking at a blank page, thinking let's-take-another-run-at-this-thing. Why? Two major changes happened in my life over the course of writing the book: I became a mother and my own mother died. Each of these changes caused me to start the book over. The final product bears little resemblance to the first draft -- except that it's still about motherhood and love and death. There are a few stray paragraphs that made it back into later drafts from that first effort, but calling it the same book is really sort of disingenuous.

Had I held on to those first characters, that first plot, and kept trying to make it work, I would never have finished. I changed radically in 10 years -- I could not have stayed with the same book during those changes. I grew up, and the book had to grow up too. That necessitated some painful cuts, and trashing a lot of words that I'd slaved over and loved. But eventually I did finish, because I let the book change with me.

4. You want to say everything. 

This is a big factor for first time novelists and it was a big factor for me. A major problem, really, especially as I neared the end of my final first draft. I felt like I would maybe, if I was lucky, if I could manage to swing it, have one chance to say everything I've ever wanted to say about life, death, humanity, space travel, parenthood, robots, love, the world. I wanted to open up my brain and remove the whole thing, cram it into the pages of a book, and anything less than that felt like I wasn't doing my job.

That was dumb.

For one thing, saying everything you can possibly think of makes a lot of noise. It's hard to hear any one good idea in a deluge of 50,000 ideas. For another thing, looking at this writing thing optimistically, you're going to want to write a second novel and even a third, and if you've unloaded all of your crazy -- excuse me all of your ideas -- into one book, you may find yourself looking at a blank page on book two and thinking, dang, what am I going to write about now?

Consider this a permission slip: You do not need to say everything in your novel. You can leave some things out. You can say some things in your next book, or the one after that. Pick one thing, or maybe two or three things, or even four or five, to say in this book. Focus. There is a long life ahead of you in which you can write many books. Don't let the burning need to include everything that's important to your world cripple you and prevent you from finishing this book. Don't.

5. You don't have time. You're sick. Your mother died. You have a good excuse.

You have a good excuse. We all have a good excuse. You have a special needs kid, you have a sick husband, you yourself are sick, you are working two jobs, your laptop broke, your desktop broke, you lost 95,000 words of your manuscript in a hard drive failure, you had to move, you had to change jobs, you got divorced, your mother died, your sister went insane, your leg got chewed off in a lawn mower accident.

These things happen, and they are really valid excuses for not writing a novel. They're all real. They're not insignificant. Life sucks sometimes and it can really harsh your writing buzz. People die. People need you in ways you cannot avoid. You get sad, you get sick, you get life circumstances you have to deal with. No one can deny that.

And no one will deny it.

When you don't finish your novel, and your excuse is one of the above, everyone will understand. Everyone will say, "I understand." And they'll go on with their lives. Because ultimately, they don't really care. The only person who really, really cares about your unfinished novel is you. Not your wife. Not your kids. Not your parents or friends or coworkers. It costs your friends and family nothing to understand all the reasons why your novel isn't done. They can be understanding all day long, all your life long. But then, you're someone who, in the end, did not write a novel and had really good reasons for it.

Novel writing is lonely. It's serious. At 1 o'clock in the morning, in the middle of your kitchen, when you're tearing your hair out over a scene you can't get straight, and you just want to go to bed, the only person who's responsible for persevering through that situation is you. Excuses are social, they're dependent on other people. Writing is insular. Your progress is between you and your book: you do it or you don't. You get it done or you don't. All the understanding in the world isn't going to get you to The End. It's up to you to decide whether your excuses are good enough for you. If you accept them. You're the only person that matters.

I hope this blog post pissed you off a little. I hope it put a burr under your saddle. I want you to finish your novel -- maybe not this month but soon. It is a great feeling, an addicting feeling, one that will get you pushing past your excuses, past the pain of abandoning drafts, and past the discomfort of writing something that really matters to you. You can finish, no matter what your circumstances. And when you do, you're going to really have something to celebrate. Finishing a novel is rare. Get out there and be someone who does it anyway.

Lydia Netzer is the author of Shine Shine Shine, which the New York Times called "A stellar, thought-provoking debut" and People Magazine called "a delightfully unique love story." It was recently chosen by Amazon as one of their Editor's Picks for the Top 100 Books of 2012, by Library Journal as one of five Top Women's Fiction Titles of 2012, and by Nancy Pearl in Publisher's Weekly as one of her ten favorite books of 2012. Written over ten years, two attempts at Nanowrimo, and many despairing moments, it's a novel about robots, motherhood, space travel, true love, and the perils of fitting in. Find her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Street Teams Can Hurt Authors

by Mindy McGinnis

First off, I want to be quite clear that it's very possible to be drunk and not rude, and also to be rude and not drunk. I have nothing against drunk people, but I do dislike rude people. This is just a general, for the record comment before I get to my point. Ahem...

There's been a lot of talk among authors lately about about the usefulness of street teams as a form of marketing and promotion. In theory, I like this idea. It's grassroots, it's out-of-the-box, it's people telling people about books, and hey—that's what I do for a living in the 40/wk.

But there's a drawback to street teams that I want to mention here, as it's relevant to our nation in general at the moment.

I live in a swing state. Anyone in Ohio will tell you that if we took all the political ads in our mailboxes alone and mashed them into paper mache we could have a decent facsimile of the Trojan Horse. It goes without saying that the TV, radio, billboards and yard signs are as clogged with political yeas and nays and Vote This Way Not That Way information than the nose of the average person with a sinus infection.

And then there's the people—the campaign teams of citizens who are donating their time to promote the ideals of someone they believe in, to raise the awareness of their candidate and platform. And good for them, I applaud the people out there who have that kind of conviction and selflessness to do that.

Except for the ones who are kind of assholes about it.

Not that long ago I went out to eat and as I was walking through the parking lot a carload of young political types came roaring through, a big fat sticker on the passenger door of their car loudly proclaiming who they supported. They drove too fast in the parking lot and parked crooked so that whoever was next to them had to slide through about two inches of space in order to get into their own car (no doubt noticing the sticker as they did so). Then the group went into the restaurant, drawing attention to themselves even as they walked by nature of how loud and abrasive they were, particularly their laughter, clearly designed to broadcast exactly how much fun they were having and precisely how clever they all were.

And trust me, they weren't.

And then the behavior continued inside, where they got nice and drunk and everything went up a notch, except of course the cleverness which continued to degrade.

Here's the thing. I'm not a prude. I get drunk. I can be loud. I know that in their minds these people were off the clock and just out being young and awesome. Their goal of having fun had no political agenda—but the car they were driving automatically associated them with someone who needed to make a good impression on the public, and the connections being made by that particular group on that particular night with that particular candidate were not so positive.

I think for authors street teams are open to the same connotations. Especially as debuts, we're excited to have people who want to promote us. It has so many attractions—free labor, word-of-mouth for audiences beyond or below your age range, no geographic limitations, etc. But you can't control the actions of your volunteers. Even your most enthusiastic reader and supporter might make a side comment to her friend that a pedestrian overhears and dislikes. What will they remember? The face of the girl, or her words in connection with the shiny swag with your name on it?

I'm still split on the idea of street teams for this reason.

What are your thoughts?

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, Not a Drop to Drink, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is "Iron Curtain" Worth Four Frappuccino's?

By Nancy Bilyeau

Being published yields lessons about control. After you sign your contract and, much later, the book goes on sale, you will learn what you can control. Or what you think you control but don't. Or what you don't realize you control and should actually spend more time controlling. Some of the lessons are stark, and some are subtle.

But there is one thing that you, the traditionally published author, do not control and that is the price of your book. There are no gray areas here. You can send emails to your editor and agent, or spend hours venting to friends in your online groups, and the price won't change a penny. The publisher sets it. Period.

Do readers know this? Maybe not.

Last week my husband and I were talking about the new book "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956." I'd read a compelling review of "Iron Curtain" in "The New Yorker," on the way home from work on the subway. Later that night, I mentioned it to my spouse--we both studied 20th century history in college (University of Michigan for me, University of Toronto for him). We were sitting up in bed, with our laptop computers and kindles and magazines, talking about this new book we were both interested in.

(Clearly if you've come to this blog post looking for Fifty Shades of Grey, you've so come to the wrong place.)

Anyway, my husband was poised to order "Iron Curtain" from when he said, surprised, "Two one-star reviews?"

"Iron Curtain," published two weeks ago and and written by the award-winning journalist Anne Applebaum, does indeed have one-star reviews. And both of them were posted by people who hadn't read the book.

That's right. Hadn't read it. But were ready to post "reviews," which are by any definition about the work itself.

One-star review No. 1: "Having travelled recently as a tourist in this part of the world, I was very excited to buy this book after reading a review. When I saw the outrageous Kindle price I was mightily offended. Pass on this."

One-star review No. 2: "Not only will I not purchase this book for a kindle I own (which my wife uses pretty exclusively), but this is the sort of thing that will leave me on the fence in deciding to purchase a Paperwhite for my own use, which I have been seriously considering this week. I love the author; it is probably a great book. But, I will wait. I have plenty of unread books.
Some of us enjoy holding a book. I only read one at a time, so space/size simply aren't considerations for me. I would never, in a million years, purchase an e-reader for any reason other than economy. So, an eye-raising price like this factors DIRECTLY into my buying decision."

What is the price that these consumers, one of whom travels through Eastern Europe, recoil from? $17.99. The original list price for the 608-page hardcover is $35 but of course amazon does not charge that and most likely book stores discount too.

The pricing of books is now at the heart of debates raging about traditional publishing versus self publishing. I use the word "rage" advisedly. Independent publishing is an issue often argued with passion that veers into accusation. We who are published by one of the "Big Six" are in the strange position of being both envied and despised. My friends with books out have been told they're passive, deluded, defrauded, the victims of Stockholm Syndrome. I'm not going to hurl myself into the fiery pit of which way of being published is "superior." I see merits in both. I have read great books that came to me via a bricks-and-mortar publisher and an author using Smashwords. I have come not to criticize self-publishing.

No, I have to come to talk about value. What our books are worth.

My novel, "The Crown," is currently priced at $9.99 for e-book. Many novels cost about that. I worked on my book for five years, researching and writing, taking classes and workshops. Traveling. Getting up at 5 a.m. so I could make my word count before the children woke up and I had to go to the office. Drawing on my love of Tudor England and the thriller genre, I crafted the best book I possibly could. It was edited by talented people, with a striking cover. Is my e-book worth $9.99? In my opinion, yes.

Let's talk about entertainment, because that's what many novels are. I am fine with that. In cities, movie tickets these days are set at about $10 for adults. So my novel is not as much of a value as a couple of hours with "Skyfall" or "Taken: 2" or, good grief, "Paranormal Activity 4"?  When you tell a novelist that their  book--in many cases, their dream--should be priced at a dollar or two, rather than nine or ten, you're saying their dream is not worth as much as "Paranormal Activity 4" and should instead cost as much as the Diet Coke someone sips while watching it.

To return to "Iron Curtain," it is an extensively researched book by the journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for her last book, "Gulag: A History." My husband, who went ahead and bought it that night, keeps reading to me parts he thinks are especially interesting. Based on his comments, The New Yorker review and the first chapter I read for myself on amazon, I believe "Iron Curtain" to be a thoughtful, provocative,deeply informative book. And yes, I think it is worth $17.99. I think it is fair market value to pay that much for a serious work of nonfiction. 

The e-book price of "Iron Curtain" is the price, plus tax, of four venti Frappuccinos at Starbuck's. 

And that's gouging? What am I missing here? It's as if people are outraged that a new book costs $50, which I would agree is too high. Instead, it's $17.99-- the cost of a movie ticket and popcorn and drink. Or a CD.  Or one-third of the cost of the new Playstation game. Or one-fifth of  a ticket to a professional baseball or football game. Or four Frappuccino's.

The supporters of self-publishing write very well about the movement. I sometimes get worked up reading their blogs. I agree it's important that writers now have a means to reach readers independent of agents and publishers. But lately the controversy over pricing of books (which has to do with the question of monopolies and the Department of Justice suit) has crept into the question of self-publishing. Now, for me, things are getting messy.

Nathan Bransford, a fascinating thinker on the book business, writes in "The Publishing Industry is Not Deserving of Special Protection", "What are publishers fighting for? They're fighting for the ability to charge a premium for their products. To make customers pay more money for books." I worry that Nathan is one of the people who thinks books should cost as much as a Diet Coke. Being a smart man (who used to be an agent), he knows that there's no way that an industry that went in that direction would be able to dole out an advance to a nonfiction author that would finance the months and years required to research a serious book. His fix for that problem is nonfiction authors should "find a member of the 1 %" to pay for them to write. I know a little bit about the 1 percent. You know what? That's not going to happen too often. No, if traditional publishing goes away, books like "Iron Curtain" go away too. And I think that would be a true and terrible loss. 

Agree with me? OK. Disagree with me? That's OK, too. But please don't let's duke it out in the reviews for the actual books.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Skyping Your Way to Bookclubbing Heaven: An Author’s Starter Kit

by Jessica Keener

I’m still new at this: setting up Skype appointments with book clubs and writing classes.  But I’m in love. I fell hard the first time I clicked my Skype button and hooked up with a college professor in Alabama from my upholstered, flying chair in Massachusetts.  I didn’t have to spend money on travel. I didn’t have to be away from my family. I didn’t have to go out at night (I’m a morning person)—or pack.

Skype, I now know, was invented for authors and book clubs.  It’s energizing. Free—a stellar means for spreading the word about books without draining authors who are truthfully exhausted from trying to do too much in the name of promote, promote, promote.  Skyping helps authors get their time machines back, and time machines as every author knows, help us escape to that place where books are written.

Ready for takeoff? Here are eight tips to get you going.
  1. Set up your Skype account.  It’s free. It’s simple. Go to the Skype website, create your account and you’re done.  It won’t take more than five minutes. If you hate all things technical, then ask a friend to walk you through. It’s truly e-z. (
  2. Establish a place in your home (or office) for your Skype appointments. Ideally, it’s a room with a door you can close, a setting that you can control.  If you don’t have that, then pick a corner or space that’s out of the way, free from ambient street noise, babies crying, and kitchen kettles whistling.
  3. Arrange a five-minute practice run with your host before your scheduled time. That way, you can be sure your Skype call numbers (like telephone numbers) connect, and that  your equipment—computer, computer screen, audio—is working.
  4.  Visuals –What will your book club hosts see on their screens?  A view of your bathroom is not recommended—unless your book is about bathrooms.  Do you have a floor lamp or lamp with a moveable arm so you can adjust your lighting? You want to be sure your hosts can see your face and not a shapeless shadow.  Skype visuals have a tendency to look a little crinkly, too, like vintage I Love Lucy episodes, so lower your expectations for perfection in that regard. If your laundry room is the only room available to you—fine. No worries. Drape a tablecloth over the dryer. Put a pile of favorite books on top, or flowers. That’s it. You’re done.
  5.  Audio – Make sure your sound is audible and clear. And speak just a tad slower than your usual pace because Skyping is a bit like communicating from outer space to mother Earth. Your voice will lag. Everyone’s lips look out of sync. (Sound waves are slower than light, remember?)
  6. Your style— Be comfortable. Be genuine.  In short: be—yourself, whatever that means.
  7.  Let everyone know you’re up for Skyping.  Put a note on your website so book clubs are aware that you’re interested and available.
  8. Have fun.  Remember, you’re an author-astronaut now. You can go anywhere.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Premature Delivery!

By Erin Cashman

I began my writing career in elementary school, always jotting down stories and poems. It has always been my dream to be an author, but my father encouraged me to go to law school, so that I could support myself. I took his advice, and stopped writing anything except legal briefs and memos for several years. And then one night I had the strangest dream about a family of vampires. I just had to write it down. I finished it a year later, and sent it off to agents and publishers, certain I would realize my dream and become an author. Boy was I wrong. After  Twilight, romance vampire stories were in demand, not middle-grade adventure ones. And then I wrote another middle grade adventure novel, about a long lost Irish treasure. This one would certainly be published, I thought. Wrong again. And then I wrote The Exceptionals. I sent it out to only ten people; pretty certain it would not be published. A few weeks later I had an agent and a publisher, both from those ten letters! So after years of writing, and two novels behind me, I was finally going to be a published author. Third time was a charm! I was elated.

Two years and several drafts later, my novel was finally finished. April 1, 2012 was the publication date. (The fact that it was April Fools Day should have been a warning!) In December I received my advanced reader copy in the mail.  And then I realized I better get on facebook (I know, about a year later than I should have!) and create a website. I contacted bloggers and offered an advanced reader copy of The Exceptionals for their giveaways. I scheduled a pre-publication blog tour, and had a strategy in place -- for the next two months I was going to do everything within my power to get The Exceptionals as much pre-release publicity as I could. Soon The Exceptionals was available online for pre-order, and all of my friends did just that. This was really happening!

Bursting with excitement, I painstakingly planned my release day. A fabulous independent bookstore offered to host a release party on April 1. A friend offered to make hawk shaped cookies (after Ferana, an important character from the book). Following that would be a nice dinner with my family. It was going to a perfect day. On February 1, I was at work doing some legal research when I received about a dozen emails from friends and family. Their copy of the The Exceptionals had shipped! That just couldn’t be, I thought, it won’t be available until April 1.  I had two months to get ready for the release, two months I needed to help promote the book!

Frantic, I emailed the only other author I had ever been in contact with, Julie Wu, who had already been very generous with her time and advice. She quickly emailed her author group – Book Pregnant – on my behalf. Had anyone heard of this? No. The next day my agent called and delivered the news: nothing could be done. The book was now available.

What did I do? I cried and felt so sorry for myself. But the next day I woke up and thought, Right now I am officially a published author. It may not have happened how I had planned, but I had realized my dream, and I should be thrilled. For years and years I worked hard, on three different novels, and I was so fortunate to finally be published. And then I met Julie for lunch, and she invited me to join Book Pregnant. I did, and immediately I was flooded with congratulations and well wishes on my release. It’s hard to believe it was only nine months ago, because the authors of book pregnant have become very important to me. It’s such a supportive community. We share each other’s successes, but more importantly, the disappointments.

Authors don’t control very much. They don’t pick their release date, they certainly can’t control what reviewers write, or what readers think. Often, authors don’t have control over their covers – sometimes even their titles! They work tirelessly on their manuscripts, edit again and again, and then, if they are very lucky, one day hold their published book in their hands. And then it’s up to everyone else to decide if it’s good or bad, worth reading or not. As exhilarating as it is to see your book in print, it’s scary, too. First time authors often have many questions (me more than most!), some highs and plenty of lows. Having others to ask questions to, go to for advice, vent – and know that no matter what, they are always in your corner, has been a blessing.

So in retrospect, I am glad that I debuted two months early. If I hadn’t, I probably would not be in Book Pregnant. I may have lost out on some pre-publicity buzz, but what I gained is far more important.