Saturday, November 17, 2012

I've Moved!

Please feel free to peruse this blog for posts written during my first year after publishing the award-winning Treasure Me. For more recent blog posts and news on my latest releases, please visit my website

Friday, June 22, 2012

Should Indie Authors Abandon Paperback?

It seems a given: you’re about to publish and, naturally, will release both an eBook and paperback version. Think again. Should you release in both formats?

Art Costs Vary.  Design costs for an eBook’s cover art are much lower—or nonexistent if you’re adept at design. You’ll encounter much higher costs for a full front-and-back paperback cover. If you’re on a tight budget, this is a serious consideration.

Time from Pen to Publication is greatly reduced if you only release in eFormat. You won’t spend hours proofing a paperback or coordinating work between your graphic designer and print-on-demand (POD) publisher.

The Flexibility of an eBook allows for fast edits if, God forbid, your first book reviewers catch errors you somehow missed. Similarly, if readers mention how much they wish you’d given more play to a certain character, or if they think you ended a novel too quickly (or in the wrong place) you can quickly revise then upload again. Yes, you can correct a paperback that arrived hot off the press two months ago, but you’ll pay for the privilege.

eBook, Free Book Some authors opt to release shorter works in eFormat only as a way to drive sales to their longer, more lucrative books. They run free promotions. They price at 99 cents. They do this to build a readership quickly while avoiding expense.

Convinced you don’t need a paperback to garner an ever-widening readership? Wait. There are good reasons to release in both formats.

What about Contests? Many highly publicized contests only accept paperback copies from entrants. Have you written a book you’re confident breaks new ground in your genre? Did your Beta Readers rave that they couldn’t put the book down? A contest win gives you bragging rights, higher visibility and a compelling lead sentence in your query letter to book review sites.

GoodReads Giveaway? With a paperback, you can run a GoodReads giveaway over several months to introduce your name to thousands of potential readers. Often, many of the people who enter but don’t win will go on to purchase your book. If you have other releases, those happy readers may purchase those books too.

Paperback Builds Credibility with Reviewers Most book reviewers will accept eFormats but some will only review paperbacks. Without a physical version of your book, you’ll cut down on the avenues for exposure.

Indie Bookstores? While most independent authors find it impossible to secure placement in chain bookstores, some writers earn a significant income through Independent Bookstores.

What About the Library? If your book garners excellent reviews from a variety of sources, including traditional book critics like The Midwest Book Review, libraries may choose to shelve your book.

Whatever you decide, be aware that most Indie Authors earn the bulk of their income through eBooks but many choose to also release some or all of their books in paperback for many of the reasons cited above. 

Photo: another great pic from Christian's semester in Europe.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Kill the Dog

Don’t get attached to the dog. It’s a goner.

Sure, the sweet-tempered pooch gently licks your heroine’s wrist while she sobs into her handkerchief and the hero rides off once again. Or the stalwart dog appears loyally in chapter after chapter, baring teeth and thwarting evil to lend your hero a slim moment to escape.

Perhaps you haven’t gifted your protagonist with a dog. You’re chosen a best friend from college. Or a sage curmudgeon who nonetheless offers tea and advice in chapters 3, 6 and 9. Maybe your hero’s father stands resolutely in the wings, ready to provide comfort the moment the going gets rough.

Well, no matter. My gun is locked and loaded. I’m taking Dad out.

The construction of your story requires more than a riveting battle between protagonist and antagonist. The most compelling novels escalate the tension in a million subtle ways, boxing in the main character and removing his means of support like so many pawns knocked off the chessboard.

Why is Twilight still a sensation seven years after its publication? Consider Edward, a blood-sucking creature of the dead as vicious as Count Dracula yet equipped with an ethical sensibility. First Edward suffers the irritating attentions of a curious girl he’s met at high school. Soon he realizes he’s drawn to her in ways that sap his deadly powers. When he falls for her, he must struggle against the blood lust that urges him to kill. Soon several members of his vampire family—the only characters he can trust—begin to despise his beloved Bella. Of course, he also must contend with Bella’s best friend and the natural enemy of the Cullen vampires—teen hunk and local werewolf, Jacob.

All of those roadblocks appear before Edward learns he must protect his love from the vampire coven intent on killing her.

Popular fiction isn’t your thing? How about the Pulitzer prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird? The young girl, Scout, must watch her father valiantly attempt to defend a black man wrongly accused of rape. Not only does her father fail and the accused man die, but Scout must make sense of the pervasive racism of 1930s Alabama through the lens of a child’s imperfect understanding. Or take Josep K. in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, a bank manager arrested for an unknown crime only to discover the advice he solicits from associates is contradictory and untrustworthy.

Regardless of genre, the most compelling fiction heaps woe after woe upon the main character. In my debut, Treasure Me, petty thief Birdie Kaminisky doesn’t simply battle a growing awareness that stealing is just plain wrong. She begins to measure her ignoble habits against the exemplary life of a former slave from long ago that built the restaurant where Birdie now works. Both the town’s matriarch and an investigative journalist begin to uncover our young heroine’s thieving past. Finally, the entire town is set against her.

As a novelist you can be forgiven for falling in love with your protagonist, but you must shear away any protective instincts you harbor. Hurt your hero. Discover her greatest desire and thwart it. Give him choices that offer no easy way out. Let her have an affair with her best friend’s husband then have her choose to come clean and call the mess off. Before she’s let off the hook and the confession is made, send the man’s car spinning off a cliff.

Reading is, after all, an escape from the humdrum business of life. The hero who always takes the high road isn’t particularly heroic. Give me a down-and-out PI with a drinking problem and a soul in need of redemption. Now you’ve got my attention.

The more your protagonist must overcome psychologically and in the outer world of your story, the more conflict he’s forced to face, the greater possibility for growth. Equip him with secondary characters that pull double-duty: the folksy neighbor set on the page as confidant should muck up the works at the worst possible moment. The adored father should hide a gambling habit or an embarrassing libido. Send the sweet Golden Lab into oncoming traffic when your hero needs it most.

Kill the dog. You have my permission, and your readers will thank you.

A note on housekeeping: This week my oldest daughter returns from a semester abroad. She took many gorgeous photos while bombing across Europe, and I'm not too proud to steal from her FaceBook page. No, the art you'll see on this and future posts has nothing to do with the essays. Yes, I love the photos and hope you will too.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

PR Basics for the Debut Novelist

The completion of your first novel is reason for celebration. Many people talk of writing a novel but few possess the drive to spend day after day—and perhaps year after year—perfecting hundreds of pages of prose.

Now arm yourself for the long road ahead.

Professional Photo  Ignore the loopy photos and caricatures some writers use on social media and have a sober, serious photo taken that reproduces well in JPG thumbnail. Yes, Stephen King writes horror but he doesn’t appear in public in a Halloween mask. Nora Roberts writes romance but you’ll never glimpse a picture of her with shoddy pink hearts floating around her head. Do not include your children, dog or great-grandmother in the photo. Editors, agents, book reviewers, readers and other authors will only take you as seriously as you take yourself.

Author Bio Many debut authors struggle with what to include in a bio. Find a balance between professional achievements and information about your private life. You’re now a member of the entertainment industry and future fans will savor the private tidbits. Equally important are writing awards and your career prior to becoming a novelist. If you’re young and don’t have many professional accomplishments to tout, mention your education if it seems appropriate.

Your completed bio must appear in several versions. You’ll need a two- or three-sentence clip for use by book review sites and the media. A longer, three to five paragraph version can be used on your Amazon and GoodReads author page. The longest version—if you have ample material to interest the reader—should appear on your author website.

Author Q & A Why did you write this particular novel? Have you been writing since childhood, or did the bug strike later? Do you have any writing rituals? What is your favorite book? Your favorite food? What advice can you lend an aspiring novelist?

For sheer economy, many book reviewers use a standard Q & A when featuring authors. Save yourself time later, when you’re busy writing your next novel while still promoting your debut, and create a Word doc of replies. No, you can’t use this boilerplate everywhere—some review sites will insist on receiving original material—but many others will happily reprint.

Jacket Copy / Synopsis Like your author bio, the description of your novel must appear in many formats and must hook the reader in the first sentence. Remember everything you’ve learned about Goal-Motivation-Conflict when writing the longer book description for your Amazon, B&N or GoodReads page, as well as the shorter, two- or three-sentence version that will appear on Smashwords and other sites. As you work to perfect the copy, notice the jacket copy used on traditionally published novels. Many include a story question to pique the reader’s interest. Others highlight the author’s rich prose style or use short, staccato sentences. Ensure that your copy reflects the type of book you’ve written.

Consistency No doubt you’ve created a social media presence everywhere from FaceBook to Google+. Now you must create a balance between promoting your book and providing valuable content for the writing community at large. What expertise can you offer? You’ll notice that my blog features material in three areas: publicity; (drawn from my background in PR) writing tips; (I’ve been writing professionally for thirty years) and family (readers enjoy reading about the adoption of a large sibling group).

Your material can be just as unique. Did you write a novel on superheroes because you’ve been hooked on Marvel Comics since age two? Perhaps you have something to say about modern culture and the heroic archetypes we all adore. Did you write a contemporary romance in between shifts at Dairy Queen and raising three children? Women struggle every day to achieve work-family balance, and surely want to hear from you. Did you leave a career in medicine or law or industry to finally achieve a lifelong dream? You can offer other writers tips on how to ensure accuracy during research, or share character sketches from an interesting career.

Whatever you decide—remain consistent and professional at all times. Don’t tweet about your political preferences. Don’t fill the Facebook feed with unrelenting plugs for your book or complaints about your Significant Other. Display Good Author Karma by helping the authors who help you, and provide the public at large with blog posts and tweets worth reading.

The Indie Movement is now entering its maturity. Gone are the days when amateurs could get away with spouting public rants or publishing subpar fiction. You’ll succeed—and flourish—by publishing your best work and following up with PR Good Sense.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creating Characters that Startle and Surprise

In the early 1980s, I attended a benefit at the Palm Springs Art museum alongside a host of movie stars and business tycoons. The goody bags handed out at the door to the women swishing their way inside the marble palace brimmed with expensive perfumes and silk scarves from Saks; the sculpture gardens glittered with diamonds and rubies strung around regal throats as couples took their places at linen-draped tables scattered with orchids. This was heady stuff for a girl from Cleveland, Ohio who’d stumbled into marriage to a millionaire.

In between the sorbet and the main course, I gathered the taffeta folds of my gown and tiptoed to the ladies room. Women pressed against the walls in crinoline and velvet like fluttering tulips. I squeezed in beside a matron dressed in magenta satin.

Then I looked at her.

What I saw wasn’t the woman pressed beside me, shoulder to shoulder. My mind reeled back to the glory of her youth as she’d glided across Hollywood celluloid with Fred Astaire. I saw the Ginger Rogers my parent’s generation had adored and I with them; an American icon who’d captivated the world with her beauty and her poise.

When my jaw hit the floor, Ginger’s mouth twitched. Then she said, “It’s hard to take a piss in here.”

Her ability to startle and surprise proved an enduring lesson for a budding novelist. Ginger Rogers was Hollywood royalty. Yet she talked like a sailor.

Do the characters of your current WIP startle and surprise? Is their interior monologue a shocking contrast to the dialogue spoken? Do they spout comments you’d never dare utter in public?

As a novelist, you must rebel against the Hobbesian notion that life is nasty, brutish and short. This line of thinking carries the subtle message of the sameness of all human lives, the dreary realties we all must face. Yes, we all will die and the man down the street strikes me as a brute but he’s also a unique individual. I want to know why he has a Confederate flag stuck in the back window of his truck yet drives by my house every Friday with a fistful of daisies for his wife.

The astute writer knows how to reveal distinctive qualities. Consider the co-worker, the one that picks his nose while playing Angry Birds as you deal with the flotsam from his workload. Why does he only wear green socks? There’s a Mickey Mouse bobble-head doll buried beneath the crap on his desk. Is it a memento from an idyllic childhood? A trophy from high school when he took Bobbie Sue to the carnival and finally got laid?

Collecting the unique details of an outwardly common life arms the novelist with ammo to create compelling characters. Life is in the details. As readers, we long to know why a girl with a dragon tattoo is a genius on a computer and why an orphaned boy lives in a closet beneath the stairs. Forget broomsticks and Hogwarts: J. K. Rowling had you in the opening paragraphs of the Potter series—you, and millions of other readers.

Organizing these traits takes skill. The first characterizations depicted should raise more questions in the reader’s mind than they answer. The protagonist’s choice of attire should deliver subtle clues, as should his manner of speaking and thinking and stalking across the room. Humans are built to conceal: we succeed quite artfully through speech and orthodontics and the square feet of our homes. And we’re vicious: we step out of the elevator if the black man inside is six feet tall and wearing a hoody; we duck past the old woman with the missing teeth then risk a sly glance. As humans, we’re flawed and abhorrent and greedy. We’re also noble and foolish and decent.

Mostly we’re curious about other people’s lives. I suspect this is why so many librarians tend toward a kindness and purity the rest of us will never achieve. They’ve honed their human curiosity through the reading of countless novels and come out the other end of an exploration through literature with a true understanding of the human heart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fox in the Henhouse

I’m here to tell you: I don’t own those hens.

Nor does Nicholas Sparks or Kathryn Stockett or any other bestselling author you may feel compelled to chase.

Here’s the thing: avid readers suffer a delightful addiction. They can’t get enough. They’re continually on the lookout for the next breakout author, the next Great Read.

Top-selling authors understand this. Stephen King doesn’t own a voodoo doll of Suzanne Collins. Nicholas doesn’t don boxing gloves when meeting with Kathryn or Nora or J.K.

A successful writer concentrates on making the next release better than the last. We’re all foxes in the henhouse doing our best to capture that next reader, but this isn’t your average-sized chicken coop. Some nights I ponder the vast number of eReaders flooding the world marketplace and the sheer reach of literature in the Digital Age. Millions of readers—no, billions—and eLit is still in its infancy. By 2014 the surge in demand for quality content will outpace our ability to supply it. Yes, some of the Big Names will capture a massive audience but you might too, with creativity and perseverance, because your singular voice appears right when a worldwide audience is ready to hear it.

Which brings me to the real point of this essay. I want you to rid yourself of jealousy over the sales numbers your pal posted on FaceBook. I urge you to step back, take a deep breath, and fully grasp the connectivity at your fingertips, the limitless resources at your disposal to build visibility and a readership fast.

Be the fox.

Do you dream of becoming the next Harlan Coben? Head over to his Twitter feed and check out his followers. His avid readers may follow if you follow first. GoodReads? Pick an author in your genre and poach her fans a few at a time. Salivating over the comments for The Help from fans on Facebook? Follow one reader and she may follow back. Then she may tell her friends about you.

It happens to me.

The same women who read Sue Monk Kidd or Anne Patchett's books will put The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge  on their GoodReads TBR list. My debut, Treasure Me has pulled readers who enjoy comedy, romance and mystery—a blend that allows me to poach from a whole host of established authors.

No, this isn’t a suggestion to waste your working hours building a following of potential readers. Simply keep it in mind as you log on social media sites to chat with reviewers and your established readers. A few clicks, a few times a week, and you’re done. And you’ll enjoy the sudden mail by a reader you made your friend, who then downloads and loves your book. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Get Your Book Reviewed

Recently I’ve been inundated with mail from other writers asking, “How did you get so many great reviews for your novels?”

The answer is straightforward. All it takes is patience and elbow grease. Trust me—you can do this. And if you can’t afford the expense of a blog tour with a PR firm, this is a simple way to earn those much-deserved reviews.

Begin on Amazon. Find books similar to yours. A professional book reviewer will often list her full name on her review. She may also list the name of her book blog. Use either one for a Google search.

Once you’ve located the blog, read the Review Policy carefully. Follow the instructions on how to send a query. Put that information in an Excel or Word document with a contact and email address for the given reviewer.

Next, do a Google search of Book Blogs. Many directories are available. Yes, it takes time to scroll through the list, visit each site and read each Review Policy. Also note that some blogs don’t name the contact person in an About Me section. You’ll have to read through several posts to find the name of the reviewer who runs the blog.

Once again, add these names to your Excel or Word list.

If you use Twitter (and I think you’re crazy if you don’t) you’ll also bump into book reviewers. If a writer in your genre posts a review, pop over to the site and gather information. If a reviewer follows you, put her name in a Twitter List of potential reviewers. Use that list to add to your ever-growing Excel or Word list.

I’m a bit of a noob when it comes to software and still keep my reviewers in a Word document. I swear on a stack of pancakes that I’ll transfer the contacts to Excel once my life slows down, or hell freezes over. Anyway, I do find Word’s search function a great convenience now that I’ve released my second novel, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge  Many reviewers gave my debut, Treasure Me, high marks and asked that I contact them again with future novels. I keep their names in a list alphabetized by blog name, with room for updates. It looks something like this:

Betty’s Books Galore  Betty Thompson 4/5/11: sent Treasure Me query.  4/12/11: Betty asked for post on upcoming review. 4/16/11: post sent with art 
5/10/11 Review up on Betty’s blog & posted on Amazon and GR
2/28/12: contacted Betty to read pre-pub of Tree  3/1/12: Betty asked for post
3/5/12: post sent with art.  3/15/12: review up and reposted on Amazon & GR. Betty asked to read pre-pub of my next novel.

A note on your query email: I personalize each letter and mention the name of the blog. You want to build lasting relationships with the reviewers who fall in love with your books. They are dedicated bibliophiles who will help build your career if you treat them with the professionalism they deserve. I’ve had reviewers hand my book off to another reviewer if they’re under the weather and can’t review, and share private lists of blog sites they admire. One reviewer recently scheduled Tree promotions on five blogs in the U.S., Europe and Africa because we’ve struck up a warm friendship.

By the way, I keep reviewers in a Twitter List I check weekly. If they’ve posted a new review, I re-tweet the post. If they’re running a promotion for another author, I put the word out on FaceBook, Google+ and other media sites. Do the same for the bloggers who kindly review your book.

A note on your query letter: If your book became a finalist or won an award in a contest, mention it early in your pitch. The pitch for my debut mentioned Publishers Weekly early on:

Dear (Name of Reviewer):

I hope you’ll be interested in reviewing my women’s fiction novel Treasure Me, which was a semi-finalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. Publishers Weekly reviewed the manuscript and said, “Birdie Kaminsky, a beautiful blond bombshell of a con artist, has met her match in Hugh Schaeffer, an investigative reporter in this zesty novel rife with witty dialogue and well-drawn characters. Their catty romance and zany interactions filled with witty double entendres are gems.”

My query for Tree was shorter—book review sites appear increasingly buried in requests and I strove to be succinct:

Hi (Name of Reviewer):

Last year you kindly reviewed my debut novel, Treasure Me, which continues to earn 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon and GoodReads and has now entered national contests. In mid-March I’ll release a more dramatic contemporary fiction novel, The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge.

NAME, I hope you’ll consider reviewing Tree for NAME OF BLOG. The various eBook versions will be available in several days for transmission. The paperback version will be available in two weeks. You’ll find the short synopsis, below.

Many thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing from you.

Wishing you all the best,


About The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge:

A savage rape on hallowed ground. Secrets buried for decades by the town’s most influential family.

Now Ourania D’Andre will learn the Great Oak’s secrets as construction begins at the Fagan mansion. She can’t afford to turn down a job that promises to stir up the long-buried guilt—and the passion—she shares with powerful Troy Fagan.

She’s already juggling the most important job of her career with her new responsibilities as a foster mother for young Walt and Emma Korchek. And there’s a hard, older man on the construction crew with eyes void of emotion—cold and killing. The secrets of his brutal past will pose a grave threat to the children in her care. Will she find the courage to face him?

If you have questions after reading this post, please add a comment. I’ll try to address your concerns. And good luck!