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Anne R. Allen's Blog

...WITH RUTH HARRIS

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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."


Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rejection, Rotten Reviews, and Social Media: 7 Ways Writers Need to be Like Rhinos

by Ruth Harris

Writers are always urged to have or develop  “rhino skin.”

But let me add a few words about rhino skin.

When I wrote ZURI, I did lots & lots of research about rhinos. As it turns out, rhinos have thick hides but sensitive skin—quite different from the usual perception.

What rhinos have is, in fact, is exactly what writers need:


1) We need thick hides to help insulate us from rejection, rotten reviews and incoming from the demands of marketing and social media.

2) We also require the sensitive skin that gives us the heightened awareness and sensitivity to others and to our surroundings that result in compelling fiction.

As I was contemplating the misconception about rhinos and their skin and the difference between a thick hide and a thin skin, it occurred to me there are a number of other rhino characteristics that would serve writers well:

1) Good sense of direction. 

Although rhinos have no GPS to guide them, they do have a superb sense of direction. Rhinos remember a route they have taken only once. They don’t get lost or distracted.

Writers need to keep from getting lost, too. Whether it’s deep in the thickets of a complicated plot or trying to decide between self-pub, small press or trad-pub, writers need to take a cue from rhinos:

Don’t get distracted and be careful not to get lost, lose sight of the goal or the way to get there.

2) Excellent memory

Rhinos remember people and places and can distinguish between friends and enemies.

Writers sometimes need to do lots of research (something rhinos can’t do) but writers, like rhinos, need to remember the apt fact, the relevant anecdote, the specific situation and the emotions linked to them. That depth and richness of memory allows us to describe a unique setting, a particular individual, and will contribute potent detail that result in powerful storytelling.

Writers also need to distinguish friends from enemies and, in our plots, the good guys from the bad guys. (Even though sometimes we try to keep it as complicated as possible, especially if we’re writing mysteries!)

3) Bond well with others. 

Although rhinos are nearsighted, they bond well with other rhinos (contrary to the popular perception of rhinos as solitary, in fact they are social and live in small groups). In addition, rhinos bond well with their human friends and keepers.

Writers will find much support from communities of other writers and, of course, writers want to bond well with their editors and readers. ;-)

4) Speed, strength, and resilience.

Despite their size, rhinos are surprisingly fast: they can attain speeds of 35-miles-per-hour over short distances. Writers also have a need for speed: to please readers who are anxiously waiting for the next book and, on deadline, a writer needs the ability to develop high speed over short periods of time as well as strength for the long haul.

It goes without saying that rhinos are huuuge! Rhinos, members of a mammalian class called odd-toed ungulates, are among of the largest creatures on earth. Fully grown, they can be six feet tall and weigh anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 pounds which makes them very, very strong indeed. Strong enough to withstand rejection or a rotten review? You bet! Can you imagine a rhino sulking over a crappy review? Hardly. Strong enough to power through a block? Plenty strong for that.

Can you see a rhino getting defeated by anything except maybe another rhino if he’s of the male persuasion and they’re fighting over a girl rhino? Nope. Rhinos are like the old Timex commercial: They take a licking but keep on ticking.

Ditto writers: Speed through and get that book finished—some will love it, others will hate it—but the writer keeps on writing.

5) Great listening skills.

The nearsighted rhino is blessed with superior hearing. What s/he can’t see, s/he can hear.

Writers would do well to hone their listening skills because good hearing equals good dialogue. A writer who really listens to what people say and the way they say it, will not burden his/her book with clunky dialogue. People speak in fragments and uncompleted thoughts, not long, well-considered sentences and paragraphs.

6) A nose for news

Rhinos have an excellent sense of smell, a quality that helped me write a triumphant ending for the baby rhino, Zuri.

For writers, a good sense of smell heightens the ability to sniff trends and detect BS in others, in their characters—and, most of all, in themselves.

7) What? You thought I wasn’t going to go there????


***

What about you, scriveners? Can you develop a thick hide over your sensitive writer skin? Do you have a rhino  "nose" for news and BS? Do you think you can tell friends from enemies as well as rhinos do? What helped you develop your "rhino" habits?

Anne and I love our readers and, because we want to keep them happy,  we are offering special deals every Sunday. This week, in honor of all I’ve learned from and about rhinos and in appreciation of our readers, I’m reducing ZURI to 99c from its usual price of $3.99.

BOOK DEAL OF THE WEEK
 Only 99c for a limited time! At Amazon US. Amazon UK, NOOK

The kindness of humans.
The intelligence of animals.
A book that will move you like no other.


ZURI's triggering event is the near-extinction of Africa's black rhino. Rhino horn is more valuable than gold and the illicit global trade in wild animals is third only to the smuggling of drugs and weapons. (Contains no sex or cursing and is appropriate for older YA readers as well as adults.) 

NOTE to readers outside the US
: We apologize if sometimes our links go to a full-price book. We can't access prices in other countries' Amazon sites, so we have no way of checking. This is yet another reason why we recommend Mick and the gang at Ebook Bargains UK (EBUK) who send you daily book deals with links to UK sites: not just Amazon, but Waterstones, Foyles, etc. (and no, we're not getting kickbacks. We just like them because they're affordable. :-) Now how about doing some more newsletters for our Canadian, European, and Aussie friends, Mick?)

NOTE to followers who've been reading this blog in Google Reader. Google Reader died today. RIP. But don't despair. You can either subscribe by email (in the sidebar, just under the blogfriends widget) or use any of a number or other readers. You can get great suggestions from Suzannah at Write it Sideways or Meghan Ward at Writerland.


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


1) Iron Writer Insane-a-Thon! The Dreadful Cafe will hold their annual writing marathon on July 13, 2013. There are prizes for the most words written in a 24 hour period and for raising the most money for their charity, St. Jude's Hospital. It's a wild and crazy insane-a-thon for a great cause. More at The Dreadful Cafe. Send in your entry before midnight on July 13 to: submissions@dreadfulcafe.com

2) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest. They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. (Soon to be a major motion picture) Entries close October 1, 2013

3) Escargot Books
is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions. Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, wealth and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. They have some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form

4) CALL FOR DESIGNERS FROM WRITERS DIGEST BOOKS
"We're currently assembling a new Market Book titled the 2014 Guide to Self-Publishing, and it's been great except for one problem-we need more freelance designer listings! It's currently filled with listings for self-publishing companies, freelance editors, and other services of value to self-publishers. But we need more freelance designers. If you are a freelance designer, send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with the subject line: Freelance Designer and request a questionnaire. It's only one page, and the listing is completely free."

5) Affordable book advertising to British readers from Ebook Bargains UKAll ads half price for the next two months. Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their FREE or SALE books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK.  And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Is Your Author Website Working Against you? Top 10 Things to Avoid on your Author Site or Blog


I visit a lot of author websites and blogs. Most are delightfully creative. I love how so many of the sites—especially the blogs—express the author’s personality and genre in a unique and clever way.

But then there are the others...

I’m talking about the sites that seem to have forgotten they have a purpose. They don’t offer even basic information. They may have a rant front and center, with no info on who the author is and what he/she writes. Or they may be so hard to read and tech-happy, they scream: “get out now! Save yourself!”

What’s sad is the worst offenders are often the expensive, professionally designed sites.

One of the reasons I suggest that new writers start a blog instead of a static, official-looking website is that a blog is free. But an equally good reason is that free blogs use templates, and templates are harder to screw up.

You have to work harder to make a free Blogger or Wordpress site truly awful because you don’t have the opportunity to make so many bad choices.

What makes a website awful?

Of course it's subjective. What some people love others will hate. I’m not talking about stuff that’s technically “wrong” or out of style with the geekinistas. I’m commenting merely as a frequent Web surfer.

First I should mention some things that work.

There are lots of great websites. A great example of a simple but effective DIY author website is Catherine Ryan Hyde's, and mystery author C. Hope Clark has a lovely professionally-designed site that is friendly, inviting and easy to navigate. Regency romance writer Anne Gallagher has managed to make a free Blogger blog into a gorgeous author website.

My site here is a simple Blogger blog that I’m sure wouldn’t win any design awards. But it’s easy to read and “cozy”—or at least that’s what somebody on Reddit called it when they recommended it a few weeks ago. (Thank you, anonymous Reddit fan!) That’s exactly the tone I hoped to create—a cozy, bookish spot to stop by with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon. With a sly hint of dark humor in the books on the shelf.

I created it with a few tweaks to the Blogger Watermark template and a fantastic photo of a shelf in my study taken by the multi-talented Christine Ahern. I chose the green background for the selfish reason that it’s easy on my aging eyes. I tried to choose a green that was pale enough to contrast with the darker text without being too wimpy.  It took me a couple of years to figure out that I could make the link text darker by going to the “advanced” menu on the Blogger template. Thanks much to the readers who helped me out with that.

But most of all, I worked on the principle of less is more. That’s when people screw up—when they try to get too creative with things outside their skill set.

And remember: just because you (or your web designer) CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Hey, we’re writers. We should save our creativity for our books and stories.

I’m talking here about stuff that makes me feel assaulted, unwelcome, or wastes my time when I land on a page.

If you want more professional advice on what makes websites successful or not, check out Vincent Flanders' Websites that Suck.

Here’s my very subjective list of top ten things NOT to do on your website or blog:

1) GIFs 

 A GIF is a graphic file type invented by Internet pioneer Steve Wilhite. It’s composed of many different images on top of each other, which are compressed, creating the illusion of a mini movie. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format.  Some people say “jif” like the peanut butter, and others say it with a hard “g.”  But at this year’s WEBBY Awards, he Mr. Wilhite announced that it’s “jif” as in “jiffy”...so, mystery solved.

OK, GIFs can be cool. But not on an author’s website. That's because they're distracting and pull the reader away from your text. Sometimes I have to cover a GIF with a piece of paper so I can concentrate on the text long enough to read it.

Remember: you’re a writer, so text should have priority.

They also take a long time to load. Most readers only have a minute or so to spend on your page. If that time is taken up loading the GIF, they’ll be long gone before they read your immortal prose.

2) Lots of warring colors and unpleasant color combos 

Like pumpkin and mustard. If they wouldn’t taste good together, they probably don’t look good either. Startling color combos might make people take notice, but not in a good way. Remember the point is to make people want to stay and look around.

And unless you’re writing exclusively for tween girls, go easy on the pink/purple/silver-spangles combo.

Ditto lots of large, multi primary-colored text—the kind cheap bargain sales sites use. Three uniformly bright colors don't just look cheesy, they can make it impossible for readers to find the pertinent information because there’s no place for the eye to rest.

When every word you say is shouted, all you produce is noise.

3) Too many pages to click through to get to the content 

I realize it’s very popular these days to have your main page present a menu of your most recent posts. This is great for browsers who have wandered onto your site through a search, but not so good for subscribers who are there to comment on that day's post.

If I really have something to say, I’ll take the extra time to open the current post. But when I then have to click on something else after that to get to the blog… and then to another page…and another… before I get to any actual content, I’m outta there.

One of my favorite bloggers had a site that would to send me into screaming frustration on a regular basis. It could take up to a minute to load and often crashed my computer if I tried to get in at peak hours. (Yeah, I have dorky DSL from the phone company. It’s not cool, but it's cheap when bundled.)

But what's more annoying, once that site finally loaded, all you'd get was a menu. And when you clicked on that...yup, another menu. Then there’d be a link to a whole other site, like a literary magazine. Maybe a great literary magazine—but by then I'd given up a chunk of my morning and never reached the content advertised in her email notification. If she were anybody else, I would have cancelled my subscription. Luckily, she's eliminated some of those endless menus recently. But who knows how many subscribers she lost because of all the hoop-jumping?

Don't limit your audience to the rich and techy. Remember you may have visitors with old computers or who live in places with slow Internet connections. Don't make them spend 10 minutes trying to find your content. They'll give up long before they get to your actual information and you will have lost a reader.

Worst of all—I used to follow a couple of bloggers who put up a separate "teaser" post a few days before they actually posted. This "promise" post had the same header as the real post and went out to subscribers as if it were a notice of actual new content. After at least six visits to the blog only to find a two-sentence teaser for "next Friday's post," I unsubscribed. There is NO reason to do this to your readers. You are not filling them with anticipation for your upcoming post. You are inviting them in for a meal and then serving nothing.

NOTE: "Teasers" in general are a bad idea in this age of instant gratification. Heavily advertising books that aren't available for pre-order is a waste of your readers' time, which will annoy the *@%! out of them. A cover reveal is fine. Ditto a "coming soon" on your book page, but save your major marketing efforts for when you have an actual product to sell.

4) A cluttered home page with too many choices

Beware any design that provides nowhere for the eye to rest. It becomes an unreadable jumble. A visitor can’t find anything because everything is the same and nothing stands out.

I recently was interviewed on a great Internet radio site. The interviewer is savvy and smart and I knew she’d have great questions. But the radio network’s website is so unreadable, I nearly had a panic attack trying to find the button to click to get to her show. There were endless ads, links to numerous shows, interviewer bios, and all manner of irrelevant content, all in text of equal size and intensity in a rainbow of over-bright colors.

It took me several minutes and some deep breathing before I finally found the show, after clicking on everything I could find. It was terrifying. I almost didn’t get on in time for my interview.

There’s no reason to do this to your visitors. Use bolding and larger fonts to point to your most searched-for elements.

5) Big blocks of text

Less is more. On a home page of a website, just offer the basic info, with links to more in-depth information.

And even on your blog, you need lots of white space and headers that draw the reader through the text.

Older writers especially have to relearn a lot of what they thought was “good writing.” If you compose dense, Kierkegaard-wannabe sentences buried in gigantic, impenetrable paragraphs, you’re not going to impress people with your fancy education. You’re going to piss people off.

People who read online are skimmers. They want an overview of what you’ve got to say before they’ll decide to plunge in. You can’t start out with a rambling anecdote and bury your main points in the middle of a 500-word paragraph.

What people are looking for on the Web is information. Give it to them in the easiest possible way to grasp in a glance. Use bolding, bullet points, and lots and lots of white space. Sentence fragments are just fine.

Ditto one-sentence paragraphs.

6) Stuff your web designer thinks is cool

Writers need to avoid flashy gimmicks that show off web designer’s skill at the expense of clarity and ease of navigation.

Weird minimalist designs that involve using teeny tiny fonts for buttons that lead to your actual information aren't clever; they are a big "GO AWAY" sign to any visitor over forty.

And I suggest you avoid what designers call “mystery meat navigation.”

That’s when the links are concealed until you happen to run a mouse over a particular photograph. Or all the information is concealed in a drop-down menu identified by an icon of murky symbolism. Big literary agencies, especially, seem to favor this kind of design. It says “if you’re not cool enough to know the secret code to get into my website, you’re not cool enough to query me.”

And then they complain you didn’t read the guidelines.

This kind of stuff also happens when you ask your nephew who’s studying web design to build your website for you. He’s dying to show off all the FUN!! FLASHY!! stuff he knows how to do, but he has no sense of empathy with the readers who might actually visit your site.

Beware anything that obscures the information your visitors are there to find out, like your name, bio, contact information, and book titles.

7) The pop-up window that says “are you sure you want to leave this site?” and won’t let a visitor close the window

You click on a website and a GIF practically jumps out of the screen to grab you by the collar. Then there's a sudden blast of noise: maybe a fanfare by Richard Strauss, and suddenly an infomercial voice screams at you about how you can CHANGE YOUR LIFE by reading this book!!!

Yikes. You desperately try to close the window to turn off the assault on the senses of the entire office. Meanwhile, your supervisor starts stomping over to your cube to see what the h**! is going on.

That's when this insulting little window comes up. "Are you sure you want to leave this site? You're losing your chance to find out about the miracle snake oil that will cure cancer, get you laid, and make your hair bouncy and shiny!"

 All you want is a button that says, “Click here to send the owner of this site to Hades for Eternity.”

It’s usually nonfic writers—ones who hire marketing companies—who do this. The kind who write books with titles like MAKE A BILLION DOLLARS IN REAL ESTATE WITH MONEY FROM YOUR MOM’S COUCH CUSHIONS.

These writers are taking advice from the kind of booksellers who follow widows home from the funeral to push overpriced Bibles. They see customers as prey to be insulted and bullied into buying their products. I hope the Afterlife has an especially dark hot place for them. Don’t join their ranks.

Remember that professional marketers often know nothing about readers or the book business.

8) Centered text 

No, it doesn’t make your words look poetic. It makes them hard to read. 
Readers of most European languages are trained to read from left to right, 
with a justified left margin. If you make our eyeballs 
work overtime, you won’t impress us. 
You’ll make us go away.

9) SOUND! 

Sites that launch into loud music or worse, a “webinar” or audio sales pitch as soon as somebody lands on the site should come with a warning label.

Newsflash: People surf the Web at work. And in libraries. And when the baby finally goes down for her nap.

Remember your site is supposed to entice people to buy your books, not put you on a "don't go there" list.


...and the worst offender:

10) Unreadable text!! 

Charcoal gray, navy blue or purple text on black is not a website; it’s a black hole. I have visited many sites where I actually have to copy the text and paste it into Word and remove formatting just to read it.

If you don’t want anybody to read your words, why not write them on squares of toilet paper and flush them? That will reach as many people as your unreadable dark text on dark background.

For most readers on a screen all day, light text on dark is hard on the eyeballs. Why make your words hard to read when you don’t have to?

This is one thing that must be pretty easy to screw up, even with a template, because I see an amazing number of sites with dark backgrounds and pale text. It may read all right in some browsers, but it won’t in everybody’s. And reverse black/white is painful for aging eyes.

Remember your primary purpose in having a website is to get people to read your stuff, not impress them with how dark and edgy and cool you think you are. There's nothing cool about sending your visitors away scratching their heads.
***

In short, what makes a website suck is saying LOOK! AT!! ME!!! instead of making people feel welcome and answering their questions.

I also want to remind authors about rants on their blogs. If you’re passionate about something, you may want to share it with your readers, but keep the ranting to a minimum. Especially if it's on a subject a lot of people will disagree about, like politics or religion.

Even if you're not addressing a particularly controversial subject, if the first time somebody hits your blog they see nothing but a series of rants about road hogs and mean people—especially if you use strong language—they could be turned off before they get to any information about your books.

Your website/blog is the face you present to the world. Keep it simple, welcoming, and professional, and save the passion for your books and stories.

What about you? What sends you away screaming from a website? What do you want to see on an author's site or blog? Do you have any pet peeves? 


THIS WEEK'S BOOK DEAL

OK, it's the same as last week's but it's a goodie: My publisher has made the Camilla box set ridiculously cheap for beach season. 

99 cents for three hilarious mysteries! Thanks everybody for keeping it in the top 100 in comic fiction (right between two Evanoviches) all week!

Available on Amazon USNOOK, and Amazon UK


"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess

This week I'm a guest at Morgen Bailey's award-winning blog, in the glow of her "Author Spotlight". I talk about some of the misadventures that inspired my novels, and that bonfire I made of all my old rejection slips last year....

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS:

1) A site for KOBO READERS: TrindieBooks.com This Canadian site is the KindleNationDaily for Kobo. Really nice folks, affordable rates, and their ads are FREE if your book is free for Kobo. Reach some of those voracious Canadian readers. Kobo is the most popular ereader in Canada.  Submit your book here. 

2) Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions. Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, wealth and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. They have some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form

3) The Lyttoniad contest for the WORST first sentence of a novel. This classic Bulwer-Lytton "Dark and Stormy Night" contest makes news every year. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. E-mail entries should be sent to Scott Rice at srice@pacbell.net in the body of the message, Ariel 12 font. One e-mail may contain multiple entries. Entries will be judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners. No prizes that I know of, but lots of admiration from your fellow writers.  Deadline is June 30th.

4)  The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is now publishing short fiction!   The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com.

5) COMPOSE Literary Journal debuted last month. Submissions are open for their Fall 2013 issue.  This prestigious journal was founded by Suzannah Windsor, of Write it Sideways, and she's put together an amazing editorial staff. I'm so honored to have my poem No One Will EverLove Him included in the debut issue. They are looking for art and photography as well as poems, literary short fiction, novel excerpts and essays. Must not be previously published (that includes anything that has appeared on your

We love your comments! If you can't get through Blogger's hoop-jumping, send me an email at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it personally. 

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

7 Ways Authors Waste Time "Building Platform" on Social Media


Authors are getting hammered with more and more demands on our time. We get escalating pressure to blog more! tweet more!! send more newsletters!!! churn out 12 books a year!!!! And don't query unless your Klout rating is as high as Justin Beiber's !!!!!

It's making us all feel as if what we do is never enough, as Nathan Bransford lamented last week.

"It never feels like there are enough hours in the day, or days in the weeks, or weeks in the months, or months in the year. Time slips away, and with it a chance to accomplish something or edge closer to your dream. Social media only adds to the pressure. 

People are completing novels and making New York Times bestseller lists and curing cancer while juggling on a unicycle and it all looks so effortless and who needs sleep anyway??"

I’ve addressed the problem myself in my post Why Are We Running as Fast As We Can to Stay in the Same Place? 

Porter Anderson of Writing on the Ether responded to Nathan with a post of his own, where he said,

“Remember the early XM Radio slogan? ‘Everything. All The Time.’ Are we really going to be able to sustain this?”

No. We aren’t.

We are creative human beings, not machines, and creativity is subject to departure without notice, leaving depression and anxiety in its wake. In succumbing to the pressure, we are abusing ourselves—risking physical and mental illness. Plus we’re increasing the pressure on all our colleagues by appearing to be that magic “unicyclist” Nathan talks about.

Thing is: A lot of the pressure comes from misinformation  and old news.

The online world reinvents itself at least every two years, and the creaky old publishing business has a hard time keeping up. They’ve jumped on the social media party train, but unfortunately, they sometimes jump on the caboose instead of the engine.

A lot of the things publicists and marketers are asking authors to do are time-wasters that have been overused, are no longer relevant, or have no impact on sales.

If you’re in a master/slave relationship with an agent or publisher, you may be forced to do this stuff.  But you can be excused for slipping a link to this post into your next email.

And if you’re an indie, you can ignore it all and do what actually works. (And please, stop trying to manipulate your fellow authors into doing this stuff for you.)

Right now what works is having lots of sales and freebies and—if you can afford it—advertising them on vetted newsletters like Bookbub. E-Reader News Daily or EBookBargainsUK. But next week it will probably be something different. This business is changing by the nanosecond.

The only thing that can be counted on to enhance your visibility as a writer is to interact with readers in a real, honest, and generous way on the social media platform of your choice, as Hugh Howey has showed us. He said he focused on the readers he already had instead of trolling the universe for more. When you create the kind of goodwill and loyal fan base he has, word of mouth spreads news of your books. That way you get those "1000 true fans" instead of amassing pointless lists of numbers.

Here’s stuff that doesn’t work, wastes time, and could lead to serious burnout:


1) Racking up 1000s of Twitter followers  



The only followers that matter are the ones who read your books and blogposts and interact with you. Any others are meaningless.

I’m amazed at all the spam I get offering to sell me followers. A "follower" whose identity has been obtained by fraud and sold is not going to be a willing customer.

Buying thousands of Twitter followers and calling it a “platform” is like renting a lot of empty safety deposit boxes and saying you’re rich.

And paying somebody to send out a stream of tweets saying "buy my book" to a bunch of strangers is pointless, too. I don't know anybody who has ever bought a book because they were ordered to in a tweet by a stranger.

An author with fifty engaged fans on Twitter is going to be far more effective than one with a thousand detached strangers, all of whom are purchased and/or are other authors racking up follower numbers, too.

Another thing that publicists and marketers love that will not gain you any readers: automating Tweets, especially auto-responds that say “buy my book, minion!” and asking your Tweeps to do your marketing for you. Auto-responses to a follow usually get an auto-unfollow, and publicists who insist you put one on your Twitter account are clueless.

2) Madly promoting your "Like" page on Facebook


People actually pay for ads on Facebook and give prizes to readers in order to get more "likes" for an author page. But a post on an author “like” page will only get a dozen or so views now—unless you pay extra fees—and you’re not allowed to interact on other pages or groups unless you have a personal page as well. This means a "like" page is far less important than it used to be.

It's probably a good idea to have an author "like" page so you have a Facebook presence—like having an ad in the Yellow Pages—but the number of "likes" has no impact on book sales. (Ditto Amazon author page "likes".)

A personal Facebook page is much more useful, but if you sign up for a personal page, you open a whole new worm-can. You're at the mercy of malevolent fellow authors who mark your blog links as “spam” in order to get you put into FB jail and block people from visiting your blog. There are no humans at FB to contact to report this kind of abuse. Believe me. I have sent at least two complaining emails a week to dozens of addresses. I have never had a response, and they still block this blog as spam.

At the same time, Facebook encourages real spammers, scammers and gamers who try to trick you into giving the personal information of all your friends so they can sell it to marketers.

And as far as privacy goes—you might as well live in a picture window like an Amsterdam hooker. (NSA, eat your heart out: Facebook has been invading our privacy for years in ways governments can only dream about.)

For me, Facebook is only useful to network with other writers in the various FB writing groups and to announce freebie and sale days on pages like Free Kindle and Nook Deals , 99 Cent Kindle Deals. (There are hundreds of these. It’s kind of a crapshoot which ones will work.)

Requiring an author to have a certain number of Facebook likes/friends is even more pointless than the Twitter-follower thing, since you have to pay to have any of these people see your posts.

NOTE: These days I think a writer can do much better finding readers on a smaller social network like RedRoom, SheWrites, or myWANA—sites where both readers and writers congregate and you can engage with people. (Goodreads can be good too, but they have a bully problem, and I find it incredibly hard to navigate.)

Even simply commenting regularly on blogs like this one can help form community and get your name out there. If I see a new book by somebody who's commented on my blog, or Kristen's or Nathan's—yeah, you bet I'm going to check it out. Much more than if I get a notice of a book launch from one of my 600 "friends" on Facebook.

3) Amassing a huge list of email addresses for a newsletter


I’ve resisted the pressure to start up a newsletter. I do send a private email to a few selected friends to announce new blogposts, but that’s it. That’s because I hate newsletters. They’re mostly rehashed content from blogs or websites and chest-beating self-praise.

A lot of spam-blocker programers seem to feel the same way, because most spam-blockers will block anything sent to more than ten addresses.

So I was so glad to run across a post from marketing guru Jon Morrow last week called "Why You Shouldn't Create a Newsletter."

“Newsletters are so 2005” is the way he put it. He says blogs are much more effective, and it’s annoying overkill to have both.

He says, “publishing [used to be] a one-way street. You wrote a newsletter, article, or white paper, sent it to your readers, and they either read it or ignored it. End of story.With social media though, communication now flows both ways. 

Yes, we still publish information, but now our readers respond back to us, leaving comments, sharing with their friends, and linking to us from their own blogs and websites. It’s a complete game changer. 

Rather than publishing an article you like and hoping your readers enjoy it, now you know what they think within a matter of minutes. You can also compare the response to different articles to see what your readers enjoy most.” 

He also points out that blogposts can be tweeted and shared with thousands, instead of forwarded to one person (if you’re lucky.)

In other words: newsletters are old news.

And as for sending them out to everybody who has ever commented on your blog or emailed you: just don’t. No matter how much your marketing department hammers you to do it. Not only is it likely to end up in a spam folder, but mass-marketing to people who are not your fans only annoys them.

Establish an enticing blog and enable email subscriptions to blog updates. It's more interactive and up-to-date than a newsletter and accomplishes the same goal.

4) Participating in expensive, grueling blog tours


I’m not against blog tours. My sales spike when I visit other blogs. And a professional blog tour organizer can be hugely valuable in helping you target blogs where your potential readers congregate.

But those big, month-long “blog tours” are usually too expensive to be cost-effective and often create an unpleasant experience for authors and bloggers alike.

Part of the problem is that the publicist or marketer who sends you on the “tour” is making money, and the tour host is making money—but the bloggers you visit aren’t making a dime. These are the people who are doing the actual work of reading, reviewing and interviewing. It can make for an unbalanced relationship that can cause bad feelings on both sides.

I know for a fact that many blog tour organizers do not do their homework, because they’re always writing asking me to review books.

Um, see any book reviews around here?

Ebooks do not have to be marketed like pbooks with a big splashy launch and a “tour”. You can build readership slowly, since e-retailers have infinite shelf space and your book won’t be returned if it doesn’t make huge sales in its first month.

That means the blog-till-you-drop $2000 blog tour is idiotic.

Instead, you can guest blog once or twice a month throughout the year. And instead of paying somebody to find the bloggers—who may be burned out by the time you show up—network with book bloggers in your genre yourself. Read their reviews and interviews and comment on them. Devoting a few minutes a day to “blog touring” instead of an intense, soul-crushing month will bring you better rewards.

Or visit five or six blogs at the time of your launch instead of fifty. A blog tour service that’s very affordable and allows for small tours is Black, White, and Read Tours, which was formed by three book bloggers who only charge a small amount for their time and have respectful relationships with the bloggers you’ll visit.

5) Blogging every day


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know how I feel about frantic, frequent blog-posting. I’m an advocate of Slow Blogging. You can read about the Slow Blog Manifesto here.

Advice to blog every day comes from the Jurassic days of the Weblog, when there were maybe 10,000 of them, not uncountable billions. Your readers can’t keep up. Bloggers who blog every day are likely to 1) Blather-blog, because they run out of things to say 2) Burn themselves out. 3) Have no time to write new books 4) Annoy readers with too many notifications of new posts.

I’m so grateful to bloggers who only have one or two great posts a month. I can enjoy their work instead of tearing through it or feeling guilty I'm skipping it.

A blog is the best place to establish a Web presence, build platform and interact with readers, but you can do that with weekly or bi-weekly posts.

Remember readers have lives. And chances are very good they don’t revolve around you.

6) Blog hopping


Blog Hops are big in the indie author community and can be fun. They're a good way for newbies to meet and network with other writers and get some blog followers when you're starting out.

But when you're a working, publishing author, a blog hop can be a huge time suck that offers little reward. They generally don't reach readers—just other authors, who are not your best audience.

"Hops" often involve a big prize like an iPad to be given in some contest that involves Tweeting frantically and making lots of comments on dozens of blogs. Everybody contributes a chunk of cash and some blocked author with nothing to do but Tweet and comment for a week gets an iPad.

Nice for the blocked author. Pointless for everybody else.

On the other hand, getting together with fellow authors in your genre to do a joint sale or promotion can be very successful, as I found out teaming up with other members of the "Official Chick Lit Group" on Facebook. We all posted an ad for the promo on our blogs, but didn't have to hop around to every blog or write timewasting posts and identical, inane comments. A much better use of everybody's time.

7) Worrying about your Klout, PeerIndex or other social media rating


Social media ranking systems like Klout and PeerIndex show one thing: how much time you spend on the Internet instead of writing books. If you're dealing with marketers who are in love with numbers for their own sake, I hereby bestow a rank of 10 million ARA points on each of you.

When somebody puts you down for not having a Klout rating over 80, just roll your eyes and say "Klout is so over. I have 10 million ARA points." Then get out the smelling salts. Big, meaningless numbers make these people swoon.
***

The best way to sell books is to write more books. Good ones. There may be authors who can actually churn out twelve good books a year, but I sure can’t. None of my favorite authors can either. A good book is thoughtful and reflects life experience.

If you’re chained to your computer, mindlessly Tweeting, blogging about your writer's block, and posting LOL Cat pictures to Facebook, you're not experiencing life, so you're not going to have much to write about.

Yes, we all have to be on social media. An author needs to have a Web presence, be Googleable, and offer fans a way to interact. But we need to be smart about it—and never forget our main job is to write those books.

What about you, scriveners? Do you feel pressured to waste time in frantic busy-work? What do you find sells books right now? Can you recommend a smaller social network where writers and readers can get to know each other? 

THIS WEEK'S BOOK DEAL

My publisher has made the Camilla box set ridiculously cheap for beach season. 

99 cents for three hilarious mysteries!

Available on Amazon USNOOK, and Amazon UK


"The Best Revenge, Ghost Writers in the Sky and Sherwood Limited are hysterical. Anne Allen will keep you laughing throughout, but in the meantime she dabbles her fingers in some topics worth some serious thought: sexism, weightism, lechery, murder, duplicity, homelessness & poverty to name a few. If you love to laugh, you'll like these three books. If you love to think, ponder AND laugh, be ready to fall in love"... C.S. Perryess

And if you want to read more of my deathless prose, I'll be visiting Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog on Monday, June 17, to talk about what inspired my latest Camilla mystery, No Place Like Home.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

1) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest.  They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1, 2013

2) The Lyttoniad contest for the WORST first sentence of a novel. This classic Bulwer-Lytton "Dark and Stormy Night" contest makes news every year. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. E-mail entries should be sent to Scott Rice at srice@pacbell.net in the body of the message, Ariel 12 font. One e-mail may contain multiple entries. Entries will be judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners. No prizes that I know of, but lots of admiration from your fellow writers.  Deadline is June 30th.

3) The Hidden River Arts Playwright Award: $1000 prize 
Eligible: Any previously unpublished and unproduced full-length play. (And yes, full-length musical plays are also accepted!) The full script should be submitted, along with a synopsis and character breakdown. Any scripts submitted without the synopsis and breakdown will be disqualified. Musical submissions should include either a sound file, sent to hiddenriverarts@gmail.com, or a CD mailed to Hidden River Arts, P.O. Box 63927, Philadelphia, PA 19147. The music should be clearly marked and identified so that we can attach it to the appropriate submission. $17 entry fee. See website above for details (takes forever to load, sorry.) Deadline June 30th. 

4)  The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is now publishing short fiction!   The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com.

5) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK (This really works. I used them for No Place Like Home after my freebie run, and my bounce was three times higher in the UK than the US because of the ad.)

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their FREE or SALE books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until June 30th, on a first come, first served basis. Remember this is for books you have on sale or free. 

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.


We love your comments! If you can't get through Blogger's hoop-jumping, send me an email at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it manually.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

10 Things Your Opening Chapter Should Do: A Check-List for Self-Editing


Let’s face it: first chapters are hard.

When you’re writing your first draft, you’re writing for yourself—getting to know your characters and their world. You should let everything spill out on the page free of your inner editor’s censorship.

But when you’re revising, it’s a different story. You’ll need to cut a whole lot of info you’ve put into the opening chapters. Don’t delete anything—save it for later to scatter through the book.

You’re going to end up with an opening chapter that’s way different from the one you started with. And that’s as it should be. In fact your entire original Chapter One may end up being one of those darlings you have to kill.

I usually write the final draft of my first chapter last. That’s because I won’t know exactly what needs to be in there until I’ve got the ending all polished up.

An ideal first chapter should do the following things:

1) Introduce the main character. 

You want to open with a scene involving the protagonist. Yes, I know the standard opening of every cop show on TV involves random strangers discovering a body or getting killed. This is something that works great in drama but not in a novel.

Whoever we meet first in a book is the character we’ll bond with. If that person gets killed on page five, we feel cheated.

We don’t need to know a huge amount about the MC right away, but we need to know enough to care. You can be very sketchy about looks (all Jane Austen told us about Elizabeth Bennett is that she had “fine eyes”.)

We probably need to know gender, age and maybe social status/work/position in society, but most of all, we need to know the emotions the character is feeling in the scene—preferably something the reader can identify with.

Here’s how I open Ghostwriters in the Sky: 

“The subway car was so crowded I couldn’t tell which one of the sweaty men pressing against me was attached to the hand now creeping up my thigh. I should have known better than to wear a dress on a day I had to take the subway, but in the middle of a New York heat wave, I couldn’t face another day in a pants suit.”

I haven’t used any description of the protagonist, but we can tell she’s 1) female 2) a worldly city dweller who takes things in stride 3) not rich enough to take a taxi 4) employed in some way that usually requires wearing a suit 5) way too polite for her own good.

We can also identify with her distress at being groped. She’s in an uncomfortable situation and we hope for her to escape without harm.

2) Make us care enough to go on a journey with that character. 

This is trickier than it sounds. What makes us care? There’s no formula and no one thing will work for every reader in every genre.

Agents and editors are always telling us they want a “sympathetic” protagonist, but that doesn’t necessarily mean somebody you’d like to like to have as a friend.

Scarlett O’Hara is shallow and narcissistic, but readers have found her fascinating for nearly a century. Dexter Morgan is a sociopathic serial killernot exactly a guy you'd want for a BFF. And who’d actually like to spend time with Lisbeth Salander? Even Jane Austen’s Emma is something of a witch.

You don’t have to present us with a protagonist as flawed as those characters. But they do need to have weaknesses. My sleuth, Camilla Randall, is terminally polite, and always believes things are going to be perfectly fine, although the reader can see sure-fire trouble looming.

Some people like a kick-ass-first, ask-questions-later character, and some prefer a more thoughtful, honorable hero. It will depend on genre and tone.

What readers generally don’t find sympathetic is arrogance, whining, or a victim mentality. A hero needs to be brave in some way, so let us see the potential for that right away.

3) Set tone. 

You don’t want to start out a romantic comedy with a gruesome murder scene, or open a thriller with light, flirtatious banter. You want to immerse your reader in the book’s world from the opening paragraph. Since novelists don’t have music and visuals to set the scene, we need to use words that convey tone.

Long descriptions of weather or setting aren’t in fashion these days, but broad descriptive strokes can offer a lot in terms of setting the mood of your story.

My above opener is light and humorous. The sticky weather echoes Camilla's sticky situation. In another kind of book, this could be a situation of grave danger, or something that would cause the heroine extreme distress. Then describing the humid weather in terms of darkness or heaviness would convey a different mood.

But you don’t have to use weather or description to set tone. Sharp, staccato dialog can convey danger, or a self-deprecating narrative voice can show we’re going to be in for some laughs.

4) Let us know the theme. 

If you’re going to be dealing with a particular theme, you don’t want to hit us over the head with it, but give us some foreshadowing. Great authors can do this in the first sentence.

Look at how William Gibson began Neuromancer, the novel that defined cyberpunk: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Gibson lets us know from the get-go this is about the dark side of technology.

I start my mystery Sherwood, Ltd with this paragraph:

“Anybody can become an outlaw. For me, all it took was a little financial myopia, an inherited bad taste in spouses, a recession—and there I was, the great-granddaughter of newspaper baron H. P. Randall, edging around in alley-shadows, about to become a common thief.”

You know right away we’re dealing with a theme of poverty, outlaws and thieves—echoing the Robin-Hoody title.

5) Let us know where we are.  

Don’t give us a ton of physical description, but we need to know what planet/historical time period we’re in.

In spite of everything you’ve heard about showing-not-telling, it’s perfectly all right to give the reader some basic information in a straightforward way, as Jeffrey Eugenidies does in Middlesex:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

In SciFi and Fantasy especially, you need to do some world-building, but limit it to the absolute necessities and fill in the details later. Most new writers tend to tell us way too much about their fantasy world up front. You want to tell us just enough to allow us to picture the scene that’s taking place, but not bog down the action.

6) Introduce the antagonist.

An antagonist is someone/something that keeps the protagonist from his goal.

The concept of an “antagonist” is probably the hardest thing for most new writers to grasp.

You may think that if you're not writing a mystery about a sadistic serial killer, or a spy novel where the hero must thwart the evil genius plotting to take over the world, you don’t need an antagonist.

But there’s a difference between an antagonist and a villain.

An antagonist can be a whole society, an addiction, a judicial system, or anything that might thwart a hero from achieving his goal. But you absolutely need one. (I found that out the hard way. I wrote a novel for 10 years that had no antagonist and I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t end.) The wonderful Kristen Lamb writes some of the best stuff I’ve seen on the subject of the antagonist, which she calls the Big Boss Troublemaker. Here’s one of Kristen's great posts on the BBT.

7) Ignite conflict.

We need conflict not only in the opening scene, but we need to see an over-arching tension that will drive your plot.

In the Hunger Games, the burning question in the opening scene is who will be chosen for the games. But the larger conflict is with the Hunger Games themselves. When the conflict of the opening scene is resolved, we still keep turning pages because of the underlying tension from a bigger story question—how will Katniss survive?

Conflict does not have to mean an actual battle. In fact, starting in the middle of a battle can be awfully confusing for a reader. It’s better to start with something like the heroine preparing for battle by stealing her brother’s armor after her father forbids her to fight.

8)  Give us a goal: tell us what your protagonist wants.


We need to know what he wants right now, which might be for the troll who just killed his companions to stop swiping at him with that pointy sword.

But we also need to know pretty early in the story what your hero really, really wants (apologies to the Spice Girls)—his ultimate goal, like maybe taking a magical jewelry item to Mount Disaster to destroy it forever.

I realize this ultimate goal doesn't always show up in chapter one. But we do need a goal in chapter one that will lead to the ultimate goal.

9) Present an exciting, life-changing inciting incident.

This incident has to cause something to happen that will propel us to the next scene—and the one after that—and through the entire book. Think of it as the explosion that launches the rocket of your story.

This one is easier for some genre writers.  If you’re writing a mystery, you can find a dead body and the story is off and running.

Or in a romance, the lovely Griselda can meet Lord Puddlesbury when his horse accidentally knocks down her grandfather’s vegetable cart and she vows to hate him forever.

But in other genres, it may be tough to get the inciting incident close to the opener. Do work on it, though, because everything else will seem like throat-clearing to the reader. Most readers aren’t going to admire your lovely prose until you’ve got a story going.

10) Introduce the other major characters. 

“Major” is the key here. Don’t let minor characters upstage the hero in the opener. In fact, you’re better off without any minor characters in the opening scene. We’ve got so much stuff to cram in there, we don't have much room for the maid/sentinel/pizza delivery person character who opens so many dramas.

We need to be introduced to Lord Puddlesbury fairly early on—or at least let us hear about him. Ditto Griselda’s bratty sister whose loose morals threaten to disgrace the poor but honorable family of vegetable mongers, and maybe the stalwart plowboy Jack, who has loved Griselda since childhood. But we don’t need to know about his Lordship’s groom or his tailor unless the bratty sister is going to run off with them in a scandalous ménage a trois in chapter ten.

A lot of new writers tend to clutter up the opener with colorful characters who never appear in the story again. This can irritate a reader, who expects people in the opener to re-appear and play an important role.

***

Hold on there, sez you. I can think of half a dozen bestsellers off the top of my head that don’t do these things.

 Yup, I can too. I didn’t say these are hard and fast rules. But they’re something to aim for. If your prose is so mesmerizing the reader doesn’t notice, then more power to you. But for most of us mortals, our readers are happiest when they get as much info as possible in the opener.

If your opener doesn’t do any of this stuff—and most first drafts don’t—try this trick: try cutting off the first two chapters. Does chapter three give you a better beginning? Start there. Then feed us the info from the first two chapters a little at a time later on in the book.

How about you, scriveners? Are there any other things you absolutely want to see in an opener? Do you have hard time cramming all this stuff into chapter one? 


Book Deal of the Week


Sherwood, Ltd is 99c for Kindle this month.


"It's not yer typical whodunnit, nor is the protagonist anything like a cop. Ms. Allen...has crafted a wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills to suspicion of everybody in the book"—David H. Keith



OPPORTUNITY ALERTS


1) Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions.  Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, wealth and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. They have some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form.

2) Chick Lit Plus is currently looking for reviewers and contributors to add to the team. If you are interested in joining a popular book and women’s lifestyle blog, and you love Chick Lit, this could be a great opportunity. This is an established site with a big readership. It's a great place to get started as a reviewer. (I personally know two book blog reviewers who have become literary agents. This is a great place to start a career in publishing.)

3) The Lyttoniad contest for the WORST first sentence of a novel. The classic Bulwer-Lytton Contest makes news every year. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. E-mail entries should be sent to Scott Rice at srice@pacbell.net in the body of the message, Ariel 12 font. One e-mail may contain multiple entries. Entries will be judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners. No prizes that I know of, but lots of admiration from your fellow writers.  Deadline is June 30th.

4) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK 

(I've had fantastic luck with these guys. I used them after my free run of No Place Like Home and my bounce was three times higher in the UK than the US—I'm sure because of the ad.)

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their FREE or SALE books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until June 30th, on a first come, first served basis. Remember this is for books you have on sale or free. 

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

5) Become a CERTIFIED GHOSTWRITER through Cal State Long Beach online courses. Ghostwriter training is now offered by California State University, Long Beach as the "Ghostwriting Certificate Program" (GCP.) The label CERTIFIED GHOSTWRITER has become a Professional Designation. GCP is a life-changing, career-launching course of study. Details and registration at http://ccpe.csulb.edu – search for "ghostwriting". This is only class in existence! Contact instructor  Claudia Suzanne at 1-800-641-3936 Class begins June 22.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Writer Power: The Rebirth of the American Author

This week Ruth Harris gives us some powerful reasons to be happy about the ongoing changes in the publishing business.

"What?" sez you. "But we see such woeful lamentation and wringing of hands over the demise of the book industry."

It's true about the laments. Scott Turow, bestselling author and president of the Author’s Guild mourned “The Slow Death of the American Author” in an Op Ed the New York Times in April. And James Patterson took it one step further, paying for a full page ad in the NYT to ask for government help to "Save Our Books"  and bail out the beleaguered industry.

But not all established, bestselling authors think the upheaval in the book biz is a bad thing. Some, like Ruth Harris, think it's greatly needed.

Yes, the industry is going through epic changes. But it’s not a case of a healthy industry afflicted by a sudden plague of the Big Bad Ebooks. The industry has been unwell for a long time.

The system of returns—where every book in a brick and mortar store is sold on consignment and can be returned for a full refund—has been causing unsustainable financial drain for decades. Up to 40% of books printed are re-shipped, warehoused and then pulped when they don’t sell in an increasingly short period of time. Can you think of any other industry that willfully destroys nearly half its own product, then routinely blames the suppliers for their financial losses?

The book business was already in decline long before the ebook "revolution." In the 1990s the “Big and Nasty” chains like Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Books-a-Million—with their sweetheart deals with the Big 6 Publishers—put 1000s of indie bookstores out of business. Bestsellers were created with boardroom financial deals and paid-for store placement, not word-of-mouth from the wise and dedicated bookstore clerks of yore.

Then along came Amazon to "Kindle" a revolution.... and now the Big Bad Zon is accused of destroying the poor little bookstore chains (formerly known as Big-and-Nasty) and their partners, the supposedly in-need-of-a-bailout Big Six. (Two of which are now owned by Rupert Murdoch.)

But guess what’s happening in some of the old “dying” bookstore buildings? They’re being bought up by independent shopkeepers and bookstore owners. And the indie bookstore is making a comeback.

Yes, as Ruth says: “what goes around comes around.”

Some of the indie stores are selling Kobos and other ereading devices and doing very well with them. It turns out ebooks aren’t incompatible with indie bookselling after all. In fact, there's been a 27% increase in foot traffic to brick and mortar bookstores in the first quarter of this year.

Best of all, the ebook revolution has challenged the master/slave relationship that had been created between the big publisher and the lowly author.

Unlike Rex Pickett—author of the 2004 bestseller (and film) Sideways—today's indie and hybrid authors no longer have to sit in limbo for a decade while their agents and editors conspire to keep them in the dark and treat them with sadistic disrespect. Pickett  has documented his tale of abuse in a 3-part series in the HuffPo

Ruth Harris was a New York Times bestseller in those “good old days” of the '80s and '90s—as well as working as an editor at several of the Big Six houses—so she knows what she’s talking about here.

I think you’ll find what she says about those days enlightening. It should make you glad you're living and writing at this moment in publishing history.

Sorry Mr. Turow, American authors aren't suffering a "slow death." We are being reborn—as our own masters.

And big publishers aren't dying either. The "hybrid author" is the future. Publishers who respect their authors will survive. Bookstores who serve their customers, not a distant corporate office, will too. And agents who represent their actual clients, not Mr. Murdoch and co., will thrive.

But some may get a few lessons in Karma. Yeah, it does come back...

POWER SWITCH: Or, What Goes Around Comes Around
by Ruth Harris

Once upon a time, way back in the middle of the Twentieth Century, thriving bookstores
dotted the landscape. Wire racks crammed with tempting paperbacks stood in every drugstore, grocery store, supermarket, even in gas stations. Publishers—and there were lots of them, big and small—needed writers and the work they created to fill those bookstores and wire racks.

Lots of markets existed and lots of genres were routinely published. Editors & writers were colleagues who worked together coming up with new ideas or new twists on old ideas.

More contracts were signed, more books were published and sold, more writers were able to make a living. When that massive distribution went away, a power switch occurred: the writer lost and became a beggar shaking his/her alms cup hoping for a crumb, a penny, a kind word.

Over time, the writer was placed in the position of the abused, rejected, criticized and undermined child—even though the parent (the publisher) would aver how much they “loved” you. Out of that unequal relationship a demon’s brew of writer bitterness flowered.

Every book that didn’t sell up to expectations—basically just about every book published—was almost always the writer's fault.

Never mind that the ad/promo/pub budget ranged from miniscule to non-existent. Which is why most writers—at their own expense—hired their own PR reps.

  • Or that there was maybe a single ad (that’s if you were lucky enough to get an ad) was massively inadequate to the results desired. I can’t tell you how many times I was told “Ads don’t sell books.” With a straight face! And let’s not even talk about coop, lack thereof.
  • Or that the cover had nothing to do with book. Don’t believe me? Then talk to almost any TradPubbed writer and you’ll hear a litany of pain and missed opportunities.
  • Or that books weren't in book stores even as the writer (me & plenty of others) was ruining his/her health touring.
  • Or that no one bothered to use rave reviews to stir up excitement and interest. Those raves were filed away to languish in oblivion, never to see the light of day. 
  • Or that suggestions a writer (who you’d think might know something  about her/his own book) made about how to sell her/his book were routinely ignored.
  • Or that books—even books for which publishers competed & willingly paid large advances—were published more or less in secret, with little (or no) support from ads, publicity, promo.

Nope. Blame the writer

The book didn't sell so it must have sucked—even if the publisher willingly, eagerly paid a lot of money to acquire it. Even if the reviews were spectacular. Even if book clubs, paperback publishers, foreign publishers, and movie companies spent beaucoup to acquire the rights. In fact, by selling off sub rights and thus recouping the amount of the advance, publishers had even less motivation to aggressively sell the book in question.

The publisher’s solution to the lackluster sales: Move on to the next book, the next writer. Then blame that one, too.

And what did writers take away from the downbeat response, the blaming, the unreturned phone calls, the memos containing suggestions or requesting information that went answered? They began to feel that the criticism was deserved, the disappointment was their fault, and the way to a more rewarding outcome was to write a better book next time. Except, of course, no one knew exactly what a “better book” was.

Except for the time Michael Korda of Simon & Schuster apologized to me for a terrible DECADES cover, no publisher of mine (or anyone else’s that I know of) admitted their publishing effort had been lacking. When several of my books hit the NYTimes bestseller list, the response was not pride or pleasure. It was flowers (sometimes) followed by a pout: “But it didn’t sell as much as we thought.”

With the advent of e-publishing, a second huge switch has taken place, this time, with the power going back to the writer. Now it’s publishers who are feeling threatened, rejected, ignored, undervalued. We hear the howls, we see how much they like it and how desperate they feel—just the way writers used to feel.

****

How about you, scriveners? Have you believed the stories that things were better for writers and bookstores in the "good old days"? Have you ever been disrespected by your publisher or agent?


Book Deals This Week


Ruth's Million-Seller Modern Women is on sale this week for 99c:


"Author Ruth Harris' rapier wit spices up a coming-of-age-in-the-sexist-'60s story. Funny, sad, vivid, and more than raunchy enough to satisfy the most ribald appetites. Harris seeks to enliven and entertain, and she does it in spades. —The Cleveland Plain-Dealer

"Sharply and stylishly written." —Chicago Sun-Times



Ruth Harris's Park Avenue Box set is only 99c this week, too. Three New York Times Bestsellers for less than a dollar. Includes Ruth's bestselling Decades, which she mentions above. You can buy it here.


"DECADES an emotional blockbuster about three generations of American women, sold millions of copies in hard cover, paperback and ebook editions. Originally published by Simon & Schuster; revised and updated by the author for today's reader.

"Terrific!" --Cosmopolitan 
 "Absolutely perfect." --Publisher's Weekly 
 "Powerful. A gripping novel." --Women Today Book Club


OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

1) Iron Writer Insane-a-Thon!

The Dreadful Cafe will hold their annual writing marathon on July 13, 2013. There are prizes for the most words written in a 24 hour period and for raising the most money for their charity, St. Jude's Hospital. It's a wild and crazy insane-a-thon for a great cause. More at The Dreadful Cafe. Send in your entry to submissions@dreadfulcafe.com before July 14th.

2) Spoonfuls of Stories Contest 

For new, unpublished writers of children's fiction. HUGE prizes for the winning stories for children age 2-6. This contest, sponsored by Cheerios, offers a $5000 grand prize and some hefty runners-up prizes too. More info at spoonfulsofstories.com  Deadline is July 31. 

3) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK 

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until June 30th, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

4) 
Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions.

Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, health and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. This is an indie press with some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form.

5) The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is now publishing short fiction!   The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com. If you want to know what they're looking for, check out this great story by Judy Croome, a long-time follower of this blog.

WE WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS--and apologize that we've had to exclude anonymous comments. Deleting the spam had become a full-time job. If you can't get Blogger to take your comment, email Anne at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com. Thanks!

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