Tag Archive for self-publishing

Today’s Authors and the Dazzle Factor

The “Writer’s Row” banner hanging from the rafters of the Javits Convention Center is misleading, for no writing gets done here.Row

Rather, this is where unknown authors at BookExpo America, the largest book industry show in North America, plant themselves (for a hefty fee) in hopes of attracting the attention of agents, publishers and readers.

The problem is that most writers prefer the laptop to the lectern, and, it seems, would just as soon pass on making the transition from creative writing to creative marketing. The New York Times asked insiders James Parker and Anna Holmes to weigh in, and both agreed authors in the digital age must get on board.

Says Parker, “Authors have to promote their books, and they have to be flashy about it.” Holmes adds, “Writers are prone to take themselves very seriously, which is fine, except it also means they sometimes find the self-promotional aspects of their craft distasteful, if not downright excruciating.”

Too bad, right? Just as there’s discretionary income, there’s also discretionary leisure time. Few have much of either these days. Which is why if an author wants someone to spend days or possibly weeks reading his book, he should be willing to meet face to face, explain the plot in 90 seconds or less, and do it with as much passion the 50th time as the first.

I suspect the reason authors don’t always like speaking in public has more to do with stage fright than anything else. As an author who also teaches presentation skills professionally, I know that anyone can move the bar with practice and constructive feedback. Practice what?

– A tight pitch that addresses every reader’s most important question: Why should I care enough to read your book?

– The answers to obvious questions, like, Where did the story come from? Who’s your favorite character? What’s your writing process?

– And of course some may need to practice appearing comfortable. Natural hand gestures, smiling and good eye contact will all make an author appear more confident, and thus keep an audience engaged.

I’m betting most who are gifted enough to write a novel are also capable of improving their public speaking skills, and possibly coming to enjoy recasting their 400 pages into the digestible bites that will persuade people to read all those words.

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8 Author Resolutions for 2014

Make this the year you nail it

Make this the year you nail it

Say goodbye to 2013 and get ready to reboot. Just one question: Will you be ready when new opportunities present themselves in 2014? Some suggested New Year’s Resolutions for my fellow writers:

1 – Update your website and social media properties. Maybe you’ve won an award or changed jobs. Maybe that idea you had for a Tumblr site didn’t work out and you haven’t updated it in months. Do some housecleaning. You can’t expect visitors to be engaged if you’re not even paying attention.

2 – Make your bio a story worth reading. The only people who want to read resumes are prospective employers. Readers like stories. You’ve got one, plus the ability to tell it in an imaginative way. Creativity shouldn’t end when you finish writing your novel.

3 – Commit to more personal appearances. Efficient as social media is, a handshake trumps a cyber-shake. Get out there and meet real readers. Look them in the eye. Tell them face-to-face why you’re so passionate. That doesn’t mean neglect your social media arsenal; it means find a balance between being social online and being social in person.

4 – Become a more engaging speaker. If you write like Steinbeck and speak like an insurance salesman, there’s work to do. Three quick tips: First, practice aloud, preferably in front of real people, or at least a mirror. Second, understand your crowd before you walk on stage. (What do they care about? How much do they know about your subject?) Third, anticipate likely questions, practice your answers, and try to weave in some relatable stories.

5 – Improve your pitch. No one has much time, what with the demands of the job, the house, the kids and the car. If someone gives you five minutes to explain your story, make sure to nail it. And (I can’t say this enough) be enthusiastic every time you make your pitch. Excitement is contagious. If you don’t have any, you can’t infect anyone else.

6 – Distance yourself from the reviews. Some, hopefully most, will be great, but some will be lousy. Live with it. There’s no way to please everyone, and remember you never wanted that when you first started out. Otherwise you would have begun by conducting a focus group instead of a prologue. And for heaven’s sake, don’t get in an online argument with someone who pans your book.

7 – Keep writing (and reading). There’s no finish line for writers. When you finish a short story, a novel or any piece of writing, take a break, but after a time, begin something else. Sometimes the work is great; other times it’s slow and painful. The only constant is that to continue improving, you have to keep writing. And reading. Reading helps, especially when the stuff you read makes you think.

8 – Pay it forward. Wherever you are as a writer, there are plenty in front and plenty behind. Tip your hat to the ones ahead and help the ones behind whenever and however you can. It pays healthy dividends.

Good luck, all, and please share the resolutions you’ve made for 2014.

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Free Webinar: Take 2 on the Secrets Your Characters are Hiding

Your characters have secrets to tell

Your characters have secrets to tell …

Please join me Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the repeat of a free webinar on how to discover the secrets your characters are hiding. Click here to sign up and participate in an interesting and practical session with actionable tips you’ll be able to put to immediate use. What will we cover? Novelists know that our characters begin much like the little wooden boy began. They sit one-dimensional, quiet and unmoving unless – or until – we pull the strings. Only then do they start to move, talk, lie and grow big noses. But a funny thing happens the deeper you get into your story. Call it growth. As your characters develop and mature, they come alive. Your work at the keyboard is like the blue dust that turned the wooden boy into Pinocchio. Once this transformation takes place, your characters become more like sentient beings, full of the same needs and emotions that drive the rest of us.

Those of you with children will recognize this as a significant moment – the day when the kids begin expressing their own point of view, and when your words are no longer accepted as gospel simply because you are the parent. Yes, you can subdue or quiet your characters in a way that will not work with your children, but that is the wrong strategy, in my view. For if you look at the writing of a novel as a journey through uncharted territory – and with you as the leader – your characters, if you let them, if you talk to them, ask questions and listen to what they have to say … will steer you to fascinating and secret places that do not exist on any map. And that is where your stories will take off.

I hope you’ll sign up and join me this Thursday.

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Pinteresting Recipe: Travel, Photos and Books

Bootlicker in good hands

Bootlicker in good hands

If 80 percent of Pinterest users are women and women buy most of the books, authors need to be on Pinterest.

Problem is, authors traffic in words and Pinterest is all about photos.

Here’s one way to create a compelling board:

When you, a friend, or a relative are headed abroad, take or send your novel. You’d be amazed at the opportunities that come up to snag a photo of your book beside a famous landmark or in the hands of a colorful local citizen.

During a recent trip to Thailand, we visited a museum where two women in gleaming gold traditional outfits were posted outside. I asked one to pose with the book and she gladly complied. Could she read it? Does it matter?

Authors these days need to make a smooth transition from creative writing to creative marketing. Send your book on a trip and capture some photos you can use to reach prospective readers on Pinterest.

You might make some international friends in the process. Oh, and here’s the actual board: Travels with Bella and Bootlicker.



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Interview Tips from the Self-Publishing Trenches

Interviews come in lots of flavors these days. Traditional print, radio and TV are still around, but you might also find yourself on an Internet

Interviews 101: Be positive, upbeat & courteous

Interviews 101: Be positive, upbeat & courteous

radio show, or being interviewed by Skype, or part of a teleconference. Some book bloggers like to ask questions over the phone; others prefer to email their questions.

No matter the medium, your core messages should remain intact. You must be able to explain your book, why you wrote it, and the big takeaways in a few short, engaging sentences.

At the same time, you should tailor your answers to suit your audience. While some crowds are most interested in plot, others want to know more about your writing process. When do you write? What do you do when you feel blocked?

A few tips to help you get organized:

– Interview the interviewer. Ask who reads the blog, watches on TV or listens to the show.

– Mine the comments. Most blogs and shows welcome comments. See which interviews drew the most interaction for clues about what interests the audience.

– Try for a second date. That is, your goal is a long-term relationship, so don’t treat the interview as a one-night stand. Make sure to talk about what’s on their mind as well as your top interests.

– Anticipate and be proactive. Especially when it comes to bloggers, be ready with materials they’re likely to want, like: photos, a well-written bio, links to trailers and social media pages, and press releases.

There’s more. Always be courteous and prompt. Watch your tone and body language. Don’t be dismissive. Learn to pivot. If you get a negative question, use a phrase like, That’s interesting, but what’s really important to me is … and get back to something you’d rather discuss. Don’t forget that you’re speaking through the interviewer to reach your real audience.

Last, always be positive and enthusiastic. You’ve probably talked about your book a thousand times. It may be getting hard to sound excited. You may even be getting bored with yourself. If that comes through in an interview, you’re sunk. Stay focused. Stay up. The cliché is true; the next interviewer hasn’t met you before, and you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

What else have you learned on the interview trail?

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Improve Your Blog Posts: Free Webinar Tuesday!

Author Steve Piacente with Bootlicker poster

Come blog with me …

Cover the 5 C’s, and you’ll be blogging with more confidence and capturing the attention of more readers. Come learn and try a few exercises in my free webinar on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The sign-up sheet is here. Hope to see you Tuesday!

To subscribe to Steve’s Back Story blog, please click the green or orange icon on the blog homepage.

Defeat Writer’s Block: Free Webinar

Bust through writer's block

It’s time to break through writer’s block.

You pace. You change rooms. You turn on music, get coffee, and put up laundry. Nothing works; the words simply will not come. The answer isn’t trying to stare down the screen. The answer lies in unclogging the creative channels that produce the ideas and prose hiding within. Join me Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. for a free webinar focused on tactics and exercises that will help you vanquish dreaded writer’s block. The sign-up sheet is here.

Break Out from the Pack at Book Festivals

Engage, don't accost ...

Engage, don’t accost …

When you wrote your book, you probably never thought about working your booth. No surprise; you were worried about plot, pacing and protagonists. But now the book is done and published. You’ve made the transition from creative writing to creative marketing. Trade shows and book festivals are a great way to introduce your work to readers.

One thing you’ll find at your first fair is that not all booths are created equal. Here are some tips to get you off to a running start:

– Engage, don’t accost. You’re selling intrigue and adventure, not brakes and mufflers. The pitch should match the product.

– Put the book aside and find common ground. Notice their outfit, or if they’re pushing a stroller or wearing a Mets cap. If you form a quick personal link before getting into the story, your visitor might actually bring it up first. And you’ll be thinking, Glad you asked! This is when you summon your quick, engaging synopsis.

– Use your space wisely. Booth work usually happens in tight quarters. If you’re talking to a couple and another person walks up, step around, open the circle, and invite them into the conversation.

– Make friends with your rivals. Odds are you won’t be appealing to the same audience as the guy in the next booth or the gal across the way. So spend a few minutes getting to know the neighbors. Trade ideas. Snap pix. And steer folks interested in other genres to your fellow authors.

– Be smart with posters. You can feature your cover, or you can make a cover poster that includes a blurb about the story. The latter is better, as it gives passers-by a taste if you’re busy with another customer. Along these lines, make sure you hide the boxes and coffee cup, and keep the table neat.

– Go for buzz, not bling. Sure, chocolate kisses will draw plenty of visitors, but most will grab a handful and walk off. Instead, find something to give away that relates to your work, like bookmarks about the book. Speaking of food, keep a mirror handy to make sure nothing you ate wound up sticking to your teeth.

Last, make sure someone who can handle a camera is taking plenty of photos. The shot you’re going for is that special moment when perfect strangers begin looking at you as an author with something worthwhile to say. A good assortment of pix from the show also make a nice Pinterest board.

Any other book show tips to share? Please add them below!

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Free Webinar: How to Connect with Book Bloggers

Steve Piacente, author of Bella & Bootlicker

Join me Thursday for free webinar!

In the old days, most politicians, athletes and artists knew better than to argue with people who bought ink by the barrel, meaning those who wrote for newspapers. Today the people with the megaphone – meaning those who can help or hurt you as a writer – don’t even need ink! So if you’re thinking about responding to a negative review, think again. If you give in to the impulse, you’re extending a conversation you’d rather have die a quick death.

I’ll be covering this tip and a lot more in a free webinar next Thursday, Jan. 25, at 7:30 p.m. Sign up here: http://goo.gl/sfQ7X

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Persistent Milchman Scores Big on 8th Try

Author Jenny Milchman

Author Jenny Milchman, measuring success by how late she can keep readers reading.

Jenny Milchman spent 13 years writing and rewriting the novel that would become Cover of Snow. Her literary journey is an inspiring story of perseverance, optimism and love of craft. How did she do it, and what lessons can other writers draw from her experience? Some answers follow:

SP – Jenny, Tell us a little about the Cover of Snow, including how long it took to write and get published.

JM – The idea behind Cover of Snow was a question that grabbed me around the throat and just wouldn’t let go. What would make a good man do the worst thing he possibly could to his wife? Of course, first I had to figure out what that ‘worst thing’ would be. Once I did, I had a premise and an opening scene that persisted over many years and about twenty-two drafts. It took me a very long time to get published. Thirteen years. During that time, I was always lucky enough to have agents, but although they got my novels close, interested editors were never able to get consensus from the rest of the house to make an offer. Cover of Snow is my first published novel, but it’s the eighth novel I’ve written.

SP  What have you learned in the process that might benefit others still struggling with their novels?

JM – Well, first I would offer a cautionary note. Just because we think our novels are done, brilliant, glowing, doesn’t mean that they are. A novel can always be improved—even after it’s published—but there are many improvements that need to be made before it’s published, and as authors, we don’t always see them. I know I didn’t. Novels and writing need time to mature, like fine wine. Don’t rush to be published, and seek out as many objective reads as you can get, always allowing feedback time to percolate before you decide whether or not it applies. And I’d also offer an encouraging note. The world will always need great stories. I think that the need for story is almost as elemental as that for food and water and breath. If you are able to tell a great story, then you will find readers one day, and there are more ways than ever now to do so. If it hasn’t happened so far, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means that you haven’t succeeded yet.

SP  -What’s your view of self-publishing and why did you go the traditional route? Has technology made publishing so easy that writing a novel has become a glorified hobby?

JM  – My view of self-publishing is that it’s one more route to readers. Self or traditional publishing are no better or worse than each other. It’s not a question of one being a fallback. There are pros and cons along both roads. On the self-publishing side think of speed and control and infinite shelf life. On the traditional side think of distribution and a share in investment and a team approach to building a career. These and other factors should be understood by the author so that a deep self-examination can occur and the author can think about which road will be the best fit for him or her. I don’t know if ease of technology will ever make writing a novel into a hobby, unless you consider hobbies lengthy investments of hope and heart and work. (Maybe they are). But though uploading a novel might be relatively simple, writing one will always be hard!

SP  – You’re going on a unique author road trip. Tell us some details and why you chose to put so much time into the effort.

JM  – I’ve dreamed of being a writer for 37 years, and I’ve been trying to get published for 13. But hard on the heels of that dream was another one…of going on the road once I had a book out, and meeting the people who supported me during all the time it took to get here. I met many of those people online, and I’m deeply aware of how forums and Facebook and listservs and Twitter all widen the world we live in. But there’s something about a real time, face-to-face meeting. I want to shake hands with the people who have helped me. I want to say hi to readers I never would otherwise have known. Hear their stories because they have done me the honor of wanting to know mine. As of now we have a few legs planned. One that runs north from Connecticut down to Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, then out west to Colorado, and back through Wisconsin and Michigan. Another that goes up to Vermont, before running south again to Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. And then we will head west to San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle—and it’s not clear where we’ll go after that!  Here’s what we’ve got so far: http://www.jennymilchman.com/tour

SP  – What metrics will you use to decide whether your first novel is a success. Is it a certain number of sales? Reviews? Amazon ranking?

JM  – If readers enjoy my book—if they stay up later than they intended because they need to know what happens—then this novel will be a success, and I will feel privileged all my life.Cover of Snow cover

SP  – I know you’re coming to the Washington, D.C. area. Please share any details you have firmed up so far.I will be at a Politics & Prose-sponsored event on February 2nd. This promises to be a fun night, at a wine and supper club, and I am hoping there will be several writers in attendance and that we can open up a roundtable conversation about writing and publishing today.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Adirondack Mysteries II, and in an e-published volume called Lunch Reads. Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Her first novel, Cover of Snow, is published by Ballantine. Jenny can be reached at http://jennymilchman.com and she blogs at http://suspenseyourdisbelief.com

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