Archive for the ‘writing business’ category

Talking with Barbara, Part Two

September 27, 2013

Part 2 of my delightful (well, for me at least) chat with Amy at Just Book Reading is live today. This time we’re talking mostly about the business of writing. I almost went off on a rant with this:

Barbara: Writing is a business—but first it’s an art. I think showing up in the study every day is an important practice because it keeps the creative juices flowing, but to expect to hold an artist to production schedules is destructive, and results in lousy art.

But all I will say on that topic today is Expect more on this topic. And meanwhile, stop by Just Book Reading for some terrific questions from someone who understands the business well enough to field truly penetrating queries.

Just Book Reading

Today is part two of my interview with Barbara Friend Ish, author of The Way of the Gods series and publisher over at Mercury Retrograde Press. Today, we’ll be talking about her books. Part one of this interview where we talked about the writing process, is here.

Amy:  I enjoyed The Shadow of the Sun immensely and I’m looking forward to the second book in The Way of the Gods series. Can you tell us a bit about The Heart of Darkness? Anything interesting we have to look forward to? What’s Ellion up to, or should I say, what kind of trouble is he in now?

Barbara: Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the ride, and it’s truly kind of you to say. The Heart of Darkness picks up roughly an hour after the end of The Shadow of the Sun, and all hell breaks loose…

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Heading out to PlayOnCon

July 28, 2011

I’m going to be at PlayOnCon in Birmingham, Alabama this weekend. I love these long summer cons! This one runs through Monday. I’ll be doing a wonderful assortment of panels and workshops and readings, as well as attending some programs on gaming (my new obsession). And, possibly most exciting to me, we’ll be playtesting the new, Tarot-based game the guys from Cliche Studio have created for my next novel, War-Lord of the Gods. If you’re within range of Birmingham, and you enjoy reading, writing, gaming or things Fae–

Did I mention the Faerie programming?

–you should definitely come out.

Here’s what I’ll be doing this weekend:

Breathing New Life into the Fae–6 pm Friday: A workshop on breaking free of the tired and cliche in Faerie-influenced stories by tapping into the wild, diverse, and under-used depth and breadth of the Faerie storytelling tradition.

Faerie Storytelling–9 pm Friday: A group reading with Mercury Retrograde Press authors of their faerie-influenced work. I’ll be bringing a sneak peek at War-Lord of the Gods.

Develop Your Story and World Through Games12 pm Saturday: A workshop on using games to create better, richer stories and deeper worlds. I’ll be bringing current work on my new Tarot-based game (developed by Cliche!) as a case study.

Writing Meetup–2 pm Saturday: This is hosted by the con, but it’s open to the public. You can attend whether you purchase a con membership or not. Come meet fellow writers! I’ll bring something to read as an ice-breaker. You can make that unnecessary.

New Realities for Writers–1 pm Sunday: A program on the choices available to writers in this rapidly-changing market. I am of the opinion that publishers can perform important services for readers and writers alike, but are no longer strictly necessary. Discuss.

Off the Radar Books–3 pm Sunday:Readers get together and discuss books they love that no one else seems to have heard of, so other readers can find out about new and wonderful things to read. Bring your list of undiscovered gems!

Serving the fans, why it’s important, and how to survive it

October 5, 2010

Being a popular author is a lot of work. There’s all those hotels you have to stay in, and all those bookstore appearances, and all those drooling fans with books they want you to sign. Oh, sure, it sounds glamorous, but you have to smile at a lot of people when you’d rather be watching re-runs of CSI, and your hand gets tired from signing all those books. There’s got to be an easier way.

OK, yeah, I mock the problem. And I do have a faint notion of how stressful and tiring that scene can be; I know I tend to come home from cons and other public events worn out. But while I am learning (slowly) to marshal my resources at public events, I think we forget why we do those events at our peril. They’re not for us; they’re for fans. Yes, we have to take care of ourselves; but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t leave fans feeling unappreciated.

This morning on Facebook, I read this post from my friend Mitch, who graciously agreed to be quoted here:

Unless you’ve been under a rock for a while, you know The Hunger Games is hugely popular right now. I’m sure all the appearances Ms. Collins does are swamped, and the bookstores at which she appears have no reasonable choice but to impose some sort of order on the chaos that her presence creates–not only for their sakes and the health and safety of the author, but also for the fans who come to see her. And when the crowds get huge, inevitably some fans will be disappointed. But in this case both the bookstore and the author seem to have lost sight of the goal, which is to serve the fans. That is a separate issue from selling the book, as you may observe from Mitch’s reaction. While this episode represents a lost sale, it also represents something worse: a fan who feels used and disrespected. In short, a lost fan. And that’s the loss of far more than one sale.

I recognize that this failure is an outgrowth of real problems for the professionals involved. So here’s my question: how should this situation have been handled? How could the interests of the author and the bookstore have been protected without leaving fans feeling used? Please help me troubleshoot this one.

The angst of the back-cover blurb

October 4, 2010

I am learning new lessons today. At the moment I think they are lessons about marketing oneself and one’s work, but already I sense deeper layers of what’s going on in my mind and heart. I stand with my fingertips brushing something that is, at least to me, huge.

Yesterday, with the page count for The Shadow of the Sun stable, I sent final data for cover development to Wynette Hoffman, the friend and artist who is doing the cover for the novel. She’d already put together a concept a number of weeks ago; now we’re dealing with the nuts and bolts of actual measurements and fine-tuning the design. Among the things I sent, naturally, was the back-cover copy (or blurb, as we say in the trenches) I wrote a few months ago, and which my editor blessed with minor tweaks.

I always write the blurbs for Mercury Retrograde books. It comes with the territory. Naturally I always work with the author of the book in question, asking them to fine-tune, making sure that what I’ve written accurately represents their intent. One of the things I’ve observed is that authors consistently tone down the language I come up with: I over-dramatize things; I don’t quite nail the intent here or there. Naturally, this time, no author asked me to tone my description down.

Actually, quite the opposite happened: Wynette called today to say that she agreed with all the ideas I’d put forth for fine-tuning the cover concept…but, she said gently, that blurb was awfully dry. Was I attached to it?

Well, no. I was surprised to learn it was dry, as I thought it was a reasonable representation of the story; but I found it easy to believe that I was too close to the work in question to do a good job of reducing the concept to 75 words or less. Wynette is the publisher of Alien Perspective and an author in her own right (as well as a visual artist. Feeling inadequate yet?) and has written her share of back-cover copy; so I asked her to see if she could draft a better one. We yacked for quite some time about non-work-related things, as is our way, and she said she had some ideas for how to attack the blurb, promising to send a draft today or tomorrow.

Tonight, as I returned to my desk for a last check-in, there was a draft blurb from Wynette. The drama level in this piece almost knocked me out of my chair. Really, it’s *immodest*. I couldn’t ever write such things about my own work, and I’m not comfortable with someone else making it sound that dramatic either.

As has so often happened during the process of bringing this novel to press, I suddenly see things from the other side of the desk. This is how all those authors for whom I’ve been writing blurbs feel, I now suspect: jittery and insecure at seeing the contents of their imaginations, their fantasy lives, described in such huge and dramatic terms.

I’m almost certain Wynette is on the trail of exactly the blurb that should be written for this book. But I am reeling, and will have to come back to it tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have a theory: what I am feeling stems from every writer’s bugaboo, insecurity. Our years in the world, most of them spent as geeks, have taught us that the likeliest follow-up to being held up as awesome in public is being taken down several pegs shortly afterward. To see one’s own work described as dramatic and actually kinda magnificent raises embarrassment and defensiveness, as we anticipate humiliation–whether consciously or not.

There’s a lesson in there that is about way more than publishing books. I’m going to be chewing on it for hours. Tomorrow I will come back to the blurb.

Social media: ur doin it rong

September 10, 2010

Today I opened up an email account I rarely use anymore–and discovered an email from someone in a critique group I left years ago. Oh, how nice, I thought. I wonder how she’s doing. And I opened it up–to discover spam.

The email wasn’t even addressed to me; rather, “Hi, friends”. And it comprised a newly-published-author version of that letter you hate to receive in Christmas cards: you know, the one in which you learn all about their accomplishments for the past year, or maybe longer if they haven’t bothered to spam you in a while.

The Playbook for Authors tells writers to Leverage Social Media to promote their books. I think social media is a fabulous way of keeping in touch, of getting to know your audience; but it’s not the same thing as advertising, and every person who ever made the mistake of giving you their email address did not “opt-in” to your newsletter list. If you want to learn how to use social media effectively, read Tara Hunt.

Treating friends and acquaintances as potential customers for your advertising campaign only alienates them–and that won’t make them want to buy your book.

An Author Event…Done Right

February 24, 2009

Last night I attended Christopher Moore’s packed-house event at Wordsmiths. Like anybody in the industry, I’ve attended an event or three, but this one was a standout. Uh, literally. There were people standing in the vestibule of the store and spilling out onto the square. The only people who got to sit had the foresight to come in and stake out a section of floor an hour or two in advance. As I was standing there listening (because there was noplace left from which a person could see the man; Tim Frederick of Baby Got Books was kind enough to let me briefly stick my head in front of him so I could *glimpse* Christopher Moore Authorguy) it occurred to me that there are a great many things Mr. Moore does *right*, and that it might be worth sharing them here.

Moore doesn’t give readings. Well, technically, he did read some stuff, but it was a little humorous essay he wrote in one of the hotel rooms he’s occupied lately. Mostly he just talks; it’s more like watching a stand-up comic than attending an author event, because as one would expect of Christopher Moore, it’s all very funny. And he hands out swag (GREAT swag: Christopher Moore FOOL promotional hats) to people who get the quiz questions right. (Did I not mention the quiz? It’s a Books by Chris Moore trivia quiz.) And he takes questions and gives entertaining answers. I stood (stood! at the end of a long day) for an HOUR and never wondered how long I’d been standing, even though I couldn’t see much of anything.

Now, I’m not suggesting all you authors start putting together your standup routines before your book tours. Unless you’re a humorist, it probably wouldn’t go all that well. (“Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”) But I do think it’s worthwhile to think about what your fans, yes all three of those diehards who will show up at your next bookstore event, would enjoy.

Each author is a one-of-a-kind with his own particular strengths and weaknesses. Each work attracts a particular set of fans. What do you do well? If you give a good reading, by all means do one at your event. (But don’t read too long. Five minutes is almost always plenty, and you are probably not the exception to that rule.) If you don’t, well, you probably need to work on that–but you might also think about what value you bring to your fans that might be shared in a bookstore event setting. (And please, if there really are only three fans there, get down off the stage and just talk to them. You look silly up there in that situation.) Most importantly, PREPARE. You’re putting on a show; try to make it a good one. Practicing your show in advance wouldn’t hurt–not least because, when things don’t go the way you expect, you’ll be comfortable enough to gracefully depart from your mental script.

Fans come to author events, more often than not at the end of a long day full of their own responsibilities, to feel a sense of connection with the author, to experience something special. Oh, and they probably want to get their books signed. But a significant percentage of event attendees are *potential* fans who have wandered in by mistake or been dragged to the event by someone else. They probably won’t buy the book that night; but if you show them an enjoyable time, they may later. In either case, the last thing they want is to see you stand there with your face in your own book, mumbling through page after page of prose for which they lack sufficient context to care (I don’t care how great the passage on page 142 is. No one who hasn’t already read the book will get it.) and then wait passively for them to ask you to sign their book. It is your job to do more.

Entertain if you can. Hand out swag if you can get some. But whatever you do, bring the people at your events something special, something they won’t get anywhere else: a sense of connection with you.