Friday, September 28, 2007

Greetings from Anchorage and the start of the 2007 Bouchercon

I arrived late Wednesday after the expected travel hassles and delays and have taken up residence in the Hilton, where I am already a regular at the hotel’s overpriced bar. As with most trips I’ve ever undertaken, I didn’t do a bit of background research on Anchorage so it’s all coming as a pleasant surprise – especially these mountains right up close to the city, just to the east if my sense of direction works this far north. It’s not cold, with the temps in the high 40s, what the early fall is supposed to be like in Rochester (where it was 92 earlier this week). In fact, Anchorage reminds me of Rochester – about the same size with sort of the same feel to the place. I’m sure residents in both cities would disagree but that was my first impression anyway.

I’m always torn at these mystery conventions. One part of me wants to run off and see the sites, the other part knows that I can’t treat these events as vacations – they are work. In the end I’ll do what I always do, a little bit of site seeing (usually in the early AM or late, late PM) and lots of networking, session-attending, people-meeting, mingling, brain-picking and book shopping. Fortunately the program is filled with numerous must-see events, the highlight being the panels of which my editor, Barbara Peters (The Fan Guest of Honor), will be a member. Oh sure, there’s my panel (Setting the Scene. Authors Charles Benoit, Stephen Booth, Sharan Newman, and Ruth Dudley Edwards talk about why on earth they put their characters there on earth. Moderator: Laurie King Fri: 11AM) and the cocktail party launch of Noble Lies, but – as strange as it may sound – there are more interesting things to see than me.

Naturally Vicky and I will be bending elbows at the watering hole, as is the local custom. And naturally I’ll meet all these really cool authors and even cooler mystery fans, and I’ll buy way too many books and step out to buy a Diet Coke just as the one panel people will talk about for years is getting started – just like every other convention I go to. But this time, there’s even more.

I will be participating in the Authors in the Field program sponsored by the Alaskan State Government. On Monday I’ll be flying out to Point Hope, Alaska where I will teach a 3-day writing workshop in the community center. Where’s Point Hope? You won’t believe me if I told you, so go to Google Maps and see for yourself. I’m very excited about the opportunity as you can guess and really have no idea what to expect, that “Ignorant Traveler” approach yet again. I’m bringing some books about Rochester for the library (as well as my own) so in case any residents of Point Hope ever visit Rochester they won’t be as ignorant as me. Other than running the workshop, I don’t know what I’ll be doing in Point Hope, but one thing I am looking forward to doing is picking up two stones at the very edge of Point Hope (see that map again). One I’ll toss in the ocean, my mighty arm sailing it out almost ten whole feet. The other I’ll drop in the mail.

Yeah, it’s cool.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Uh, me?

Oh dear. I have to provide details on getting involved in our book launches? Apparently I do, according to Charles below. And I was mentally composing my next posting which is a study of the differences in the narrative novel structure of the Lord of the Rings versus the dramatic sequence as required by a movie translation. And how I haven't seen anything in Alaska yet (except T-shirts for sale) because everything is covered by clouds. Stay tuned, details to follow.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Merry-Go-Round

Congratulations, Charles, on book #3! I'm proud to say that my third book, The Drop Edge of Yonder, came out as well just a couple of weeks ago. Mine was out earlier than expected so it would be ready for Bouchercon in Ancorage, and Charles' was put on the fast track for the same reason. Our publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, is celebrating its tenth anniversary at Bouchercon, and I understand that seventeen Poisoned Pen authors will make the trek and join in on the festivities, yours truly included. The press is also treating most of its employees (I think I heard the number 21 bantered about) to a trip to Alaska for the occasion. It should be quite the deal!

Bouchercon will be the first public event at which Drop Edge is available. The official book launch will be at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, on Oct. 8. Barbara Peters, bookstore owner and my editor, is pairing me with a writer from New Mexico named Richard Benke, who's new book is called City of Stone, and with Nancy E. Turner of These is My Words fame. She has a new book out, too, called The Star Garden. Then I'm off to do another conference and a couple of gigs in Colorado before spending the rest of the fall promoting myself around AZ.

Last April, I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in a benefit event in Tucson for the U. of AZ Library's "Women of Mystery" special collection. (aside - can you imagine a university library establishing a special collection of the works and papers of women mystery writers? How cool is that?). One of the best things about this two day event was that it involved myself, fellow PPP author and friend Betty Webb, Alaska's Sue Henry, and J.A. Jance. We all spent considerable time together, and I heard quite a bit about what it's like to be a best selling author. I must say, I wouldn't refuse if it were offered me. In any event, I've kept in touch with all three, at least to the point of an occasional "How's it going" e-mail. I just sent an itenerary of my upcoming events to J.A. Jance, and she said that it sounded to her like I was "on the merry-go-round". I thought that sounded like a good description of what it feels like to put out a book a year and then spend months promoting same. And she's done it for over twenty years! She seems like a sane person, too, which gives me hope.

Ta Da!

This is it. My new book, Noble Lies, is officially launched.

Now I’m not one to go around tooting my own horn1, but the reviews have been excellent, and, as always, I’m hoping that folks –many, many tens of thousands of folks – will pick up a copy. I wanted to use a pen name for this book, something like J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown, but my publisher felt that I was starting to get enough recognition to stick with my own name. Well, they’re the experts.

I have not yet held a copy of said book in my hands. Sure, I had advanced reading copies to proof, but that’s a plain-covered paperback version. It’s not the same thing. I should have this morning, however, as 100 copies are being delivered in moment now. Yes, I get to open the boxes, hold the book, beam with pride…then sign ‘em all and ship them back to the publisher. These are for advanced special orders and these savvy readers contact Poisoned Pen Press well in advance to secure pristine first-run, first editions.

The next I will see my book will be in Anchorage this coming Friday. Yes, it’s Bouchercon time and I’ll be posting (Insha’allah) from there. At that time I hope to sign many copies for wide-eyed, giddy fans. If you are among those in attendance at this annual fete, be sure to track me down and say hello – mention this post and I’ll buy you a drink.2

Can’t get to Alaska but still want to get in on the fun? Be sure to check out Vicki’s next post. It’ll be filled with all the exciting details on how you can tune in to the action.

Finally, go back and re-read the first paragraph of this post. Consider this a subtle hint to go get yourself a copy.

Cheers!

1Yes I am.

2Offer not valid to other authors, unless of course it is followed by an offer to buy my next drink.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Reality of Promotion, part 4

Blechta on this subject one last time.

This is turning into a real "project"! My previous entry talked about how to present your book to readers, interviewers, ANYONE who shows the slightest interest in it. Basically, I was saying to be prepared to be able to explain what you've written clearly, concisely and interestingly. Now we're moving on to some tools specific to doing book signings.

First, give people something they can look at and take away.

This could be as simple as a bookmark or postcard or as complicated as a newsletter. It all depends how involved you want to get.

If you go the bookmark/postcard route, you may actually get your publisher to help defray the cost. One of the non-writing hats I wear is that of a graphic designer. Let me give you a good hint here: both of these items have TWO sides. Use them. The front should have the image of the cover with maybe some catchy copy or a great blurb from a famous author/personality whose name everyone will recognize. Make sure your presentation is easy to read and looks pro. Get a designer to help you if you don't have the necessary skill (most people don't). Hint: budding graphic designers often come very cheap.

The back is where you can put ordering information (publisher, ISBN, etc.) and some more sell copy. You can mix and match the stuff on the front and the back – but use both sides! Several of the large scale discount printers who handle these two items will print the back for free.

You can also do up a brochure or a newsletter. These give you an opportunity to expand on your spiel. If you go to Whatever you decide to do, the main point I'm trying to make here is to give prospective buyers something to carry around the bookstore with them, or to take home and look at. Here's a link to my website wher you can see an example of what I'm talking about (http://rickblechta.com/PDFs/Newsletter.web.pdf). This is the handout I used on tour last fall for my latest book. Notice also how cleverly I snuck in the previous book on the flip side. (Well, I thought it was clever.)

Will everyone buy after reading? No. But it's really amazing how many people who resist that fantastic spiel you just gave them will walk off to the magazine rack or café in the store and read your stuff over. A few will come back for a signed copy. Twice I've even had people leave the store, drive home, look at the copy and come racing back, hoping to catch me still there. Even if they don't bite, they've seen your name and the name of your book. Maybe they'll see a review. Maybe someone will tell them about your book. Publicists will tell you that each time this happens, you're that much closer to "name recognition" and a sale.

Second, have some kind of large sign or poster next to that stack of books you're going to try to sell.

I usually use the actual art for the book cover blown up to poster size and mounted on foamcore. On the back, there's a little stand also made of foamcore. It's big, it's colourful and eyecatching. You want to let people know there's something going on at this table. It will attract their eye and you're now more than halfway there to getting them to come over and talk to you. If you don't have the skill to make this poster, your publisher can help (and might even pay for it). They should at least provide you with the art to take to someone who will output it. In the Yellow Pages, you will find people who will print out the poster and mount it for you. Don't do this on the cheap. You want an excellent quality print, preferrably on glossy paper. Cost last time out for me was $27.

Third, engage people.

Bookstores will usually give authors a table and chair near the front of the store. It will have books on it. You should set up your poster, neatly lay out your bookmarks, postcards, handouts, whatever, and then stand next to or in front of the table (don't block that poster!). If I've had a few good reviews, I'll put them out in one of those plastic displays so people can read them.

It does no good to sit behind the table looking lonely. Most people can then easily avoid you (and will), so you'll look even more lonely – and glum as the minutes tick by and you don't sell any books. You need to make eye contact and then have a catchy line to get them over. "Do you enjoy reading mysteries?"

As people come by, great them, explaining succinctly who you are. Give them a handout. Be cheery – even if you're not – and exude confidence. Act if you really must. If you're shy, invent a "confident author" character and become that person. If you can make up good characters for your novel, you can do it in real life, too. You're playing a part here.

A couple of snappy lines don't hurt either. I have one: "I can say in all confidence that I will never write a better fifth novel. If you read this book and don't agree that it's the best fifth novel I've ever written, I will refund your money."

Okay, it's a bit hokey, but it does make people chuckle and it has sold a few extra books.

If they stop to talk, hand them the book, and use that book spiel you made up on them. Engage them. Be friendly and approachable – but never, ever come across as desperate for them to buy the book. That is a HUGE mistake. If they aren't interested, let them go. Don't keep yapping at them. That's pushy. Don't do pushy. You might try to give them your handout, but past that, let them go.

If they want to buy a book, you can either go behind the table and sit to sign, or do it standing; your choice. If you're behind the table, other people coming by might stop to see what's going on and then you'll have a line-up starting – just like the A-list authors!

Last few things: always bring books in your trunk, get to the store early and be friendly with the staff.

Every author has had the experience of showing up for a signing only to find the store didn't order books, ordered five of them. That's a disaster! Cover yourself by having a case in your car. Always.

As for arrival time for your signing: shit happens. The traffic gods may conspire against you. You get lost. Your car breaks down. What's the worst that can happen if you get to the store too early? You might have time to relax with a coffee, look around, or perhaps start a bit early. Pros show up early and the store manager knows this. Be a pro.

And the store's staff? Be totally nice to them. If you interest them in your book, they'll hand sell them for you long after you've driven off into the night.

Thus ends the sermon, oh my children. Go forth and publicize.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fantasy and One Last Word on Promotion

I admit that I feel kind of whiny, too, when I complain about promotion. Truth is, you've got to do what you've got to do. Rick is very right when he says the best thing to do is to figure out what you're best at and what you enjoy doing and concentrate on that. Sometimes you may feel you have to do a thing or two that you don't like, but if you do that all the time, you're going to get burned out pretty quickly. Sadly, expense is a consideration for most of us. Each of us has to decide for him/herself how much to invest in the writing enterprise, and figure out how to get the best bang for the buck.

And on the much more pleasant note of reading, I read The Hobbit when I was a kid, and enjoyed it, but never got around to the LOTR books. I was a very indiscriminate reader, and would read anything I could get my hands on and like it. But there were just too many books and not enough time. I remember being impressed with Watership Down, and I read some C.S. Lewis and a few more fantasy books as well, but I never really read much sword and sorcery. I think that I always favored historicals, even as a little kid. I loved to time travel, to leave my troubles behind; go to a different place and time and live there for a while. I still do. I read historicals before I got into mysteries, and in fact historicals led me to mysteries. I mention especially Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time, in which a detective who is confined to bed uses his enforced vacation to try and solve a murder that occurred five hundred years before. It was Ellis Peters who really turned me on to historical mysteries. I loved the true historical novels she wrote as Edith Pargeter, and in my quest to read everything she ever wrote, I put my hands on the first Brother Cadfael mystery, A Morbid Taste for Bones.

The rest is history, literally.

And let me not forget to raise a glass in memory of Madeline L'Engle, whose A Wrinkle in Time made me consider the possibility that one might truly be able to time travel.

Friday, September 14, 2007

[Read Vicki’s post below first.]

Lord of the Rings, huh? Sorry, I just could never get into it. Oh I tried, dozens of times I tried. But Bilbo Baggins and a bunch of Hobbits? Couldn’t care what happened to the lot of ‘em. And the movies? Too long for me to bother with. More like Bored with the Rings.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to be Mr. Fantasy reader. I devoured everything by Edgar Rice Burroughs – the John Carter series, the Middle Earth series (not the same Middle Earth as Tolkin, more like center of the Earth), the Venus series. Most of my adolescent fantasies involved metal-bikini-clad woman and swords, and not just the sexual ones either. I was never a big Robert E. Howard fan, not because I didn’t like the stuff but simply because I couldn’t find the stuff. The Walden’s at Long Ridge Mall didn’t carry any, so for me it didn’t exist. I wasn’t hip to libraries then and couldn’t even conceive of a used books store. I mean who would want to get rid of books? I got turned on to Conan in the Marvel comic series and I’ll admit that from time to time I still pick up a copy. As an artist, I tried to emulate Barry Windsor-Smith but ended up more like Sergio Aragonés – not a knock on the great Sergieo, but when you’re trying to be heroic, his style doesn’t quite cut it.

I did read Terry Brooks Sword of Shannara, a massive tome almost as long as a Tolkin, but that just about capped my guys-with-swords era. The next books I remember all had to do with smart-assed detectives and barking roscos. That and stories that all started with, “I never believed the stories I read in Letters to Penthouse Forum until it happened to me.”

I’m tempted to pick up an old John Carter of Mars book – maybe The Gods of Mars, The Swords of Mars or A Fighting Man of Mars, books that I recall absolutely loving. But it’s probably best I don’t. A few years ago I came across a CD of an album that I hadn’t heard in years, a band that I associated with that same guys-with-swords era. Triumvirats’s Illusions on a Double Dimple. “This is amazing”, I said, ripping off that damn cellophane and placing the CD in the tray. “Absolutely amazing.”

Let’s just say that my definition of amazing might have shifted since 1978.

So John Carter and Dejah Thoris and Thuvia and Tas Takas and all the other remain as “absolutely amazing” as I remember them.

Question: Did anybody else read this stuff?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Road Reading

As anyone who knows me, or has ever read any of my books can probably guess, I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Strangely enough, I never read fantasy; I don't like it. Perhaps nothing new can match the power of LOTR in my mind. I have read the books many, many times. And in the years that the movies were coming out I read the applicable book, or at least appropriate sections. But it's been a few years since I've read the whole book in one go. What better time, I thought, than on the long road North. I bought the complete set and have been saving it until tomorrow. If I don't make it to Bouchercon, you'll know that I'm holed up in some cheap motel, still reading.

Promotion, I guess

Perhaps I was in a bad mood when I complained about how much I hate promotion (or perhaps I was just trying to get a discussion going - It worked!). But I am planning my trip to Alaska right now, and my big U.S. West Coast book tour, and I find myself looking forward to it all. As I mentioned earlier, along with Charles and Debby and some other authors, I'll be visiting some schools. I'm really looking forward to that. All those innocent young minds! Kids are fun to talk to, they (hopefully) haven't gotten too cynical yet, and their enthusiasm rubs off on you. I visited a book club at a very expensive private school a few years back. The book club was for credit so they kinda had to be there. One girl almost fell out of her seat in her enthusiasm to ask questions. She wrote down every word I said. A boy was almost asleep. The teacher asked if he'd read the book. "Nope". But that girl made up for it. I have a couple of library visits lined up in Alaska as well; library members make great audiences as well. Because they love books.

So I am travelling to wonderful places, meeting great people, talking about books, probably even discovering fabulous new authors. Not so hard to take.

But at the heart of it, what bothers me about the promotion side of the business, is the time and money required. None of us are in this to make ourselves rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but it does seem unfair that someone with a full-time job, maybe little kids at home, or limited financial resources, can't make it these days, unless they've written a once-in-a-lifetime book and gotten a ginormous advance.

Perhaps the absolute best part of being a writer for me is the book launch party. And mine is now planned. If you happen to be in Nelson B.C. on October 20th, drop into the Vienna Cafe at 7:00. It's going to be the social event of the literary season. Or one of them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Reality of Promotion, part 3

Blechta at it again.

In reading over my previous two blog entries, I notice that they come across as a bit too much like complaining. That's definitely not the tone I wanted to set. None of us here at TypeM have sales that remotely approach what "A-list" authors have, so it's completely unrealistic thinking that we're going to get the promotional treatment that A-list authors get. We can't even expect much help from our publishers. They just don't have the money to promote everyone (They might have more, though, if they used a bit of creativity.) Yes, we could wring our hands and bemoan the unfairness of it all, but that ain't going to get us very far, is it? If we don't get off our butts and promote our own books, it isn't going to get done and the only thing that will result from that is we're going to sell fewer books. The final result will then be that we'll get dropped by our publishers.

So let's talk about how we can at least give ourselves a fighting chance!

But first a caveat: this is the way I see it. That doesn't make it "right". There's no right way or wrong way to promote. Anyone who tells you that they know "the only right way to promote" is either deluded, lying or trying to sell you something (like promotion). I can only say that the things outlined below have worked for me and have proven effective.

#1: You must know what you're going to say about your book. Nothing is worse than to have someone ask you, "What is your book about?" and then have to fumble with words while you try to figure out what to say. Write it out if you have to. There's nothing wrong with this – assuming you can memorize and deliver your lines without sounding like you're reading a part (a big no-no: that comes across as completely phony). What will you say to booksellers when you're trying to line up a signing in their store? How about librarians? Reading groups?

Doing this effectively means knowing how to pitch your book. Here's an exercise: write out a little spiel that lasts no more than one minute, explaining what your book is really about. Don't give an extensive plot summary. A little hit of plot to convey context is all you need. What you want to work on is the theme of the book. Is the heart of your story revenge? The results of random violence? Is your book about hatred and the damage that can wreak? About your protagonist being forced to confront his/her shortcomings? About the power of friendship? It might help if I said, "How might an English teacher explain your book to students?" When was the last time you saw a movie trailer and it made you desperate to see that movie? What did it say or show you? That's what you want to come up with. It might also help to think of it like pitching a movie to a Hollywood producer: "You got 60 seconds, kid. Give me your best shot."

It has to be short and punchy, compelling. You'll have no more than a minute to sell your book to that person standing in front of the table at the bookstore. Go overtime by much and you'll notice the person's eyes begin to glaze over. You've probably lost that sale.

Once you have something you think is effective, try it out on some people – both those who have read the book and those who have yet to enjoy it. Edit it, refine it until it glistens and then refine it some more.

The delivery of your pitch must be enthusiastic without going over the top, confident without appearing cocky or conceited. Tape yourself (video is best so you can get the full effect). Once you're actually delivering your spiel, you have to think of yourself as an actor! Listen to your tone of voice, the speed at which you talk. Do you come across well? Be hard on yourself. This is important!

Writing advertising copy – which is what you're doing here – is a craft in itself, but if you can already write a novel (and a future award-winner, at that!), it isn't so hard and you might even find it enjoyable. Actually, I consider it part of the novel-writing process. If you can't get someone excited about reading your book, who can?

Next blog entry, I'll talk about the other 3 "necessities" of doing a successful signing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thoughts on Airline Safety

by Debby Atkinson
I’ve already mentioned that I’m a nervous plane passenger. Not a white-knuckled, cocktail-swilling nail-chewer (as far as I can tell), but I don’t walk that gangplank, er, jet way, without considerable trepidation. My father died in a plane crash. However, I live on an island and if I took a boat to help my college age son move into his dorm, I’d be lucky to arrive for graduation.

Jetlagged yet safe, I arrived safely in Boston yesterday, and over lunch today I asked him his opinion as to whether the list of things passengers are asked to do on take off and landing actually had any bearing on the overall safety of the passengers. I can see why tray tables should be stowed, but I couldn’t see why returning your seat backs to the upright position protects a person. And does it matter if the headrest is up? And are seat belts, for that matter, going to be any good in a crash? Why do the flight attendants sit facing the rear of the plane? Which is where the only survivor in my father’s plane was sitting—facing the rear.

So I’m a picky, nervous cynic, but even I was surprised when my son told me he hadn’t worn a seat belt on a flight for the last two years. He’s not a nervous flier, obviously, but is this wise?
Consequently, I checked airline safety information, and tried to stick with independent websites that would give unbiased facts.

Here is the information I found, and some of it surprised me:

• In flight, turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants. When this occurs, it’s usually at altitudes of 30,000 feet or more. Each year, approximately 58 airline passengers in the United States are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts. Some of the injuries have been fatal.
• This is still controversial, but there’s a good chance facing the back of the plane is safer in the event of a crash. An airplane crash propels the body toward the front of the plane. In forward-facing seats, that means the passenger is propelled into a two-inch lap belt. This causes the body to jack-knife - the torso and limbs fly forward while the hips stay back. In seats facing aft, or rearward, the passenger is propelled into the back of the seat, and the force is spread over the entire body. The seat would support the head, torso, hips and limbs and significantly reduce the potential for injury.
• Sitting in the back of the plane, behind the trailing edge of the wing, is statistically safer than sitting forward of the wing—or in first class. Yikes. (Popular Mechanics).
• Putting your seat back into the upright position for takeoff and landing does seem to have a basis in practical safety. It allows easier access to the aisles in the event of an evacuation. Note here that accidents are most apt to occur during takeoff or landing. Also, it keeps your body in the safest position during an impact: it reduces the distance your head would travel backward, thus lessening whiplash-style injuries, and prevents you from "submarining" under the seatbelt in a crash.

This is just some of the information I found, but I’m going to be telling my son to wear a seat belt, and I’ll be doing the same. Now, will someone tell me if it’s safe to fly on 9/11? Cuz I’m going back home!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Too, Too Mortal Flesh

Donis speaking. I don't think I'm going to top Charles' tale of a brush with mortality. Not long ago, I heard a woman on NPR relate that her five year old daughter once came stomping down the stairs in a snit and demanded to know why we were ever born if we're just going to die anyway.

An excellent question that should convince anyone that children are deeper than adults give them credit for. The mother said she pondered for a minute before answering, because she wanted to give the girl a meaningful answer, and finally she replied that it was because of all the stuff that goes on in between.

Billy Graham was asked what he had learned about life, and interestingly, he said that he was just surprised at how fast it goes by. I think of that quite a bit, especially when it comes home to me that I have less time ahead than I do behind, and I wonder why on earth I ever spend time doing things I don't have to do that I don't particularly enjoy.

Speaking of which, my new book just came back from the printers a couple of days ago, and I'm in the throes of preparing for my publicity blitz, too. Now, since unlike Charles and Rick I'm one of the self-confessed non-enjoyers of promotion, this is kind of a slog for me. I've spent much of the past month contacting bookstores and reading groups and negotiating for programs and signings. I, too, am concerned that I haven't set up as many things as I'd like at this point, but I am spending a lot more money on travel for this book than I did for the first two, since I'm going to Bouchercon in Alaska and another conference plus a book tour in Colorado at the end of October. It'll be interesting to see how this works out. To make up for the fewer car trips this time, I'm going to see if I can manage to do more internet promotion. That'll be interesting, considering the state of my computer skills.

I'll enjoy going to Bouchercon, and travelling in Colorado, and doing various gigs around Arizona, where I live, but the major complaint I have about spending all the time on promotion is that I'd rather be writing, and I can't help the niggling little voice that asks me why I'm not using my remaining time doing more of the thing I love.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Shoot me

Charles here


I was planning to write about promotion, sticking to the theme so well developed by my blog partner Mr. Blechta, but then on Tuesday morning something happened which sort of distracted me. I woke up, oh let’s say at 3am, with this amazingly painful stomach cramp, the likes of which I am now certain few humans have experienced and live to tell of. By 5am I was at the hospital – or, for my Canadian blog-mates, I was at hospital – waiting for the prognosis. A mere 5 hours and 4 x-rays later I learned that I a) was not pregnant and b) was going to be just fine in “a short while”.

A “short while” is one of those terms that is subject to interpretation. For someone who feels that their insides are just dying to be outsides, a short while is, say, 2 minutes. For a doctor in her fancy-dancy smock, a short time apparently is 20+ hours. As for medications to deal with the cramping, I come from the ‘yes, please’ school of thought. On this point the doctor – a graduate of the Marquise de Sade School of Medicine – disagreed. Much to my surprise, I recovered in the predicted time frame, a lucky and fortuitous guess on the doctor’s part.

So why do I tell you this when I could be writing about the completion of my new manuscript, the imminent launch of Noble Lies or how I recently signed with a noted literary agent? Because, dear reader, on Tuesday morning at, say, 4am, I honestly thought that I wouldn’t make it to see 9am and was reminded, not for the first time I assure you, that all that I have accomplished is naught but the proverbial Dust in the Wind (not the Kansas song mind you, the older, more poetic D in the W), that the only thing that mattered was my relationship with those I loved and who loved me, and that the greatest of those was Rose, my best friend, my soul mate, my life partner.

But then, thanks to the miracle that is modern medicine (a.k.a. Milk of Magnesia) I rejoined the ranks of the living, and such notions of mortality and meaninglessness and futility slipped away and I focused yet again on the present – and the simple fact that I have a new book launching in less than a month and have not booked nearly enough signing yet.

Illness is wasted on me.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Reality of Promotion, part 2

Last entry, I talked about some of the poor ways promotion is handled by the book publishing industry. How about one more horror story?

Case in point #2: An author friend of mine who has a large number of books out that, while they're not best sellers, are selling well enough for her publisher to keep requesting more. She works hard at promoting, pretty well spending most of what she makes, touring in various parts of the States and Canada.

What has her publisher done for her promotionally in the 10+ years they've been publishing her? Well, other than sending out books to the usual places for review, they've occasionally done up a mounted poster of the cover for her to take out touring with her. They've never sent her anywhere, offered to pay any of her costs, and then to add insult to injury, strongly suggested to her that she might want to hire a book publicist to help her sell more books.

Wait a minute here! Isn't that what the publisher is supposed to do? You might think that all her hard work might get some sort of acknowledgment in the form of additional help for all her hard work. Couple this attitude by one of the major American publishers with a comment another person at this house made to my friend: "we put all the money on authors we know will sell a lot of books, so that we can publish authors like you." Pretty harsh, eh?

Let's get on the positive side here, now: Charles and my resuscitation of the magalog idea. Our spin on a publisher having to spend mega-bucks to put together their own promotional device like this is to ask all the publishers to join in. Each could put up some of the money, buy their own pages and at the same time form some sort of organization as an umbrella group, maybe something like the American Mystery Publishers Association.

The publishers have all sorts of other organizations to cover their interests, lobby Congress, things like that. They would, of course, have complete control of what goes on their pages (although using one graphic designer to keep the look of the publication consistent). A response device would be used, maybe the promise of an e-newsletter in the future, very focused distribution and tracking codes would provide all the feedback possible. Sounds like a really good idea, right?

What kind of response did it get? From the writers, a bit of enthusiasm that waned as soon as the Bouchercon where we were discussing this ended. From the publishers, other than Robert Rosenwald of Poison Pen (a smart man!), there was no response. I mean, no response as in I called five of the biggies in New York, spoke to receptionists, outlining what the call was about (and indicating that I was the president of Crime Writers of Canada), and asking for someone to call back. Not one call. Nada.

Not to be put off, I spoke to some ex-publishing people, book publicists and agents. All said that the idea was a good one financially and promotionally, but all poured cold water on the idea because "these people won't want to help out one another".

Am I missing something here? Aren't they in business to sell books? This would allow them to do something different, potentially very effective (and with the response devices, trackable) and wouldn't cost them a huge whack of cash.

I haven't given up completely on this idea, but I have to get to SOMEONE in the publishing industry who doesn't have blinders on, wants to "think out of the box", not afraid to make a few eyebrows go up because "this isn't the way books are promoted".

Anybody in the publishing industry reading this who wants to talk about the idea, just drop me an email. I promise I won't talk your ear off!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"The War of Art"

Like Charles, I don't read how-to-write books very much.

Well, I take that back. I've read more lately than I did before I was published. Not because I wanted the writing tips, but because I was looking for concise, cogent ways to talk to groups about writing. Usually, I don't find anything that I couldn't have thought up myself from my own experience, but occasionally I come across something that strikes me as particularly insightful.

I did a program on the use of detail to lend authenticity for our local Sisters In Crime annual writing conference last month, and I found some useful information in Walter Mosely's new book, This Is the Year You Write Your Novel. This is a short little step-by-step manual for someone who has never actually written a novel from beginning to end, but Mosely is a very good writer, orfcourse, and I found the whole thing rather interesting, expecially when I compared his advice to my actual real-world experience.

The very best book on writing, in my humble opinion, is a small book called The War Of Art, by one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. It's not a how-to book. It's a why-to book. I mentioned in an earlier post that you have to have that block of marble before you can carve your David. Pressfield maintains that the greatest barrier to becoming a writer is the demon inside you that keeps you from actually sitting down to do it.

This quote is an excerpt from the introduction of Steven Pressfield's The War Of Art.

"Are you a born writer? ... In the end the question can only be answered by action.
Do it or don't do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don't do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet...
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It's a gift to the world and every being in it. Don't cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you've got."

In the end, it doesn't really matter how many people read your contribution. I enjoy the thought that the thing I love so much to do is still a gift to the world and every being in it.

More Lies

And now a few words from Charles.

I don’t read a lot of How to Write books for the same reason I don’t read a lot of How to Talk books.

I’ve been lucky that both come rather easily to me. I’ve never been at a loss for words, a fact that anyone who knows me will confirm. Now I’m not saying that the words are any good, they just come to me easily. If I did read some of these books I might get better, but they just don’t pull me in.

There have been exceptions. The first was Stephen King’s On Writing, which, ironically, I listened to as I drove to work every day a few years back. The bio part was interesting but the stuff about assembling your writer’s toolbox was invaluable. Every writer should start here.

So that’s one.

Another is Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi. I’ve written about this book before and I have incorporated many of his ideas into my writing strategy. I think I enjoyed it so much because of my background as a geography teacher. The map metaphor made a lot of sense to me – it might not for you, but I’d suggest you check it out.

That’s two.

The third is a gem I picked up last week. The Lie That Tells the Truth by John Dufresne seems to be aimed at folks who have always wanted to write but who haven’t gotten around to it. It’s filled with straight talk about procrastination and, while he keeps a light and witty tone, he’s firm – if you’re not writing, for any reason, then you don’t want to write badly enough. But he’s also filled the book with wonderful insights and unique ways of looking at what we do. Check out this passage from page 34:

“In order for a message to travel from one neuron to another (one scene to another), there needs to be a gap between them. Like the gap in a spark plug. No gap, no fire, no ignition, no motion. This is how I think when I am writing fiction. I don’t want any chapters, paragraphs, sentences, words, to follow logically from the last. I want that leap, that surprise, that divergent thought.”

Wow.

The whole book (so far) is like this. Very inspirational. Very motivating. Very what-the-hell-am-I-doing-writing-this-blog-when-I-have-500-words-to-go-in-my-manuscript.

So.

Back to work.