Two steps from scattered–to focused!

I've been experiencing a little post-conference paralysis. Have you, too?

The rosy conference glow has started to fade. Have you harnessed the energy and inspiration of the Colorado Gold, or, like me, have you slipped into the Dreaded Distractions?

Stay focused. No one will make your dreams come true but you. Only you.

You know them --

Email

Youtube

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Pinterest

…even Google Earth.

All useful when harnessed, these websites and services have a dark side. Yes, they may produce useful information that can boost your creativity or provide key marketing information that may help you in your writer’s journey.

Or they may burn through that most precious commodity:  time.

Because you’re on the Internet right now, reading this blog, I don’t want to waste your time, so just do these two things:

One. Applying what you learned at the RMFW conference, make a checklist for what you know you should be doing. What you should be doing today, not in some vague, distant future. Two or three goals--don’t make it overwhelming. Add a box for your reward—one of the websites above.

Examples:

Set new goals based on tips/insights gained from conference workshops.

Complete character sketch for my villain.

Write X new pages in my WIP.

Two. Scan the following checklist. If you answer “No” to any of these questions, GET THE HECK OFF THE INTERNET!

/__/ Do you have a specific reason to go to [name of website]?

/__/ Can you name the writing goal that visiting [name of website] will help you achieve?

/__/ Can you set your timer for fifteen minutes, and exit [name of website] if it hasn’t helped you toward one of your writing goals within that time?

Once today’s two or three tasks are checked off, treat yourself. Give yourself a half hour on one of those “rabbit hole” websites---then check it off.

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 above, and keep working toward your dreams.

I hope this is helpful to you, and I’m cheering you on!

Power-charge your blurb with hooks

As we prepare for this year’s RMFW conference, I’m guessing that many of you are tearing your hair out, trying to write good blurbs or condensing your 100,000-word novel into a short, captivating sentence worthy of the so-called “elevator pitch.”

I’m going to expand on a blog by my fellow RMFW blogger, Mary Gilgannon. She wrote, candidly and entertaining again this month, about how difficult it is to write good blurbs. When her publisher recently needed a blurb for her latest novel, she did the RMFW thing and consulted her writer friends. They met, brain-stormed, and she produced a good blurb.

I, too, cringe from writing blurbs. I’ve even given workshops on blurbs. I recognize great ones when I see them, and can de-construct them to reveal their strengths. I can write blurbs for other people. Yet sitting down to write my own? Blek.

Among her many other strengths, Kay Bergstrom is a genius at blurbs. I, too, used to use the journalistic approach Mary mentioned in her Aug. 4 blog. I thought of the blurb as a mini-synopsis. Thanks to Kay, I've come to think of the blurb more as a fishing expedition. Fish don't always want the same things, and all fish don't respond to the same temptations. Sometimes they want a sparkling lure, other times they’ll bite some drab, rubbery thingy. Sometimes its best to adjust your bobber so the hook sinks deeper in the water, other times more shallow. Whatever the variation, though, readers (and agents and editors) need to be hooked.

What are the currently hot tropes/hooks? The editors and agents are always quick to point out that they only know what they used to be—what they were last week, last month. They are ever-changing, fickle as the market.

There are some trusty tropes that seem to live forever, though. Cinderella. Survival. Strong female lead. Fish out of water. Returning home. Family betrayal. Change of fortunes.

What makes your story unique? I think this question is what paralyzes writers. Their answer (like ours) is probably … everything! “It’s my story,” we may say. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and there are many reasons why it’s unique.”  So we expound and expand.

If we stay with the fishing analogy, this would be like spilling a dump truck of junk into the water, gooey stuff that contains an odd mixture of many, many ingredients. Some of it may be really good, but it’s been amalgamated into an incomprehensible sludge.

Setting aside all the wonderfulness of your story, what sets your protagonist apart? Perhaps your response is: My novel has a kick-ass heroine. Okay, but how can you make that more interesting, and specific to your novel? Consider these from the archives:

Tough widow Norma Rae has a lot on her hands, working to the bone at a textile mill--and fighting to unionize her hazardous workplace.

Feisty young mother fights for justice any way she knows how. She takes on a powerful utility company and won’t take no for an answer. (Erin Brokovich)

 It is one woman’s fearless quest, criss-crossing the globe in an amazing attempt to save the world.  (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider)

 Gutsy Lieutenant O’Neil dares to earn a place with the elite Navy SEALS.  (G.I. Jane)

 Going beyond the cliché of something like “kick-ass heroine,” what dominant trait does your female protagonist possess? In what unique/interesting ways does she demonstrate that?

Be it kick-ass heroines, secret codes, ghosts, secrets, or intergalactic wars, remember to craft your hook as well as you crafted your book--and use tantalizing bait.

So here's your chance to practice before conference ... what's your blurb? Hook me!

Checklist for Business Cards

Conference is just seven weeks away. Do you even need business cards? Now’s the time to decide and start designing them so you can take advantage of those great printing deals…and ensure that your card will work hard for you.

Over the years, I’ve shared my business cards with editors and agents during appointments and while circulating during programs and hallway conversations. I’ve also collected cards from graphic designers, editors, cover designers and other service providers.

Will you meet someone at conference and wish you had prepared one? Will you miss a connection with another writer that may prove useful and eventually enhance your support team?

Business cards can be useful well past conference time, too. I’m in two tennis leagues, and the Evergreen tennis team we played became very enthusiastic about my books. They all wanted a business card so they could look up my books on Amazon and iBooks. Because I spent the time preparing one for last year’s conference, I was able to distribute them.

I could have just as easily given them a bookmark, for example, or a postcard with my latest release on the front. Personally, my preferences have changed since I became an indie publisher. I no longer need postcards or bookmarks, as I did with my first two big book signings when I sent large mailings promoting them. I have found the business card to be a more convenient size throughout the year.

Should you decide it’s a good idea to have them at the ready, here’s a quick and dirty checklist.

Just the facts, Ma’am. Name, genre, website or Facebook page—make your card point to your strongest landing page.

Go first class! A poor quality card shouts poor quality writing or services. Upgrade your card stock, and remember that quality starts with you. Proof, proof, and proof again. Words are your business, so make every effort to get them right. Always put another set of eyeballs to your copy to catch errors like website URLs and email addies. Home printers are notorious for faded colors and colors that run if exposed to moisture, which also sends a bad message.

Strut your stuff! Same rules apply to cards as with book covers. Reveal your genre or service, which involves colors and hues. This includes your brand. If your website landing page and newsletter masthead features red, white and blue, design your card to echo the color theme for consistency.

Make a promise. If you provide service/s, don your “clever” hat and give them one good reason to contact you.

Send ‘em to your website. This will help you avoid a cluttered card with 6-point type that no one can read without strong reading glasses. It will also remind you to have your website or Facebook page up to date and operating properly, with all links working.

Be ready. What good is all this preparation if you don’t have your cards at the ready? Store them in your purse, pocket, car glove compartment, and briefcase.

Include a call to action. "Click here." Can't do that on a card, but include it in some way. "See my website for rate schedule/more info/free book offer--whatever entices them to act.

Research = inspiration. Play the information game. Give and collect cards. Check the free tables this year to see how other authors position/brand themselves, and what they include on their cards. This is not to promote copying them, but rather to give you inspiration to develop your own message and layout.   Research printers, too. There are some great deals out there, and if you order early, your odds for getting them in time are much higher.

"Do you have a card?"

Say No! Say it “Now!” How the power of now frees you to be your best

 

I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook about the power of the present. There are so many ways of expressing it.

Stay in the now.”

“It’s called the “present” because it’s a gift.”

“Mindfulness.”

Deepak Chopra refers to it as slipping in the gap during meditation.

 In this audiobook, Eckhart Tolle says that living in the now is the “truest path to happiness and enlightenment.” Tolle stresses that mindfulness, and a learned ability to stop the ever-chattering, negative inner voice will free us of the chains of the past created by mistakes and failures in times gone by. Stilling that inner voice will also free us of anxieties and fears when contemplating the future.

Of particular interest to me was Tolle’s observation about creativity. Creativity cannot exist in the past, or in the future. Creativity inhabits only the now. As I recall my most creative times, writing lyrics, poems, short stories and novels, I experience a “melting away” of life’s gnarly details—social complexities, financial responsibilities, life’s frustration—all that slips off my shoulders and evaporates, and I am in … the now.

Looking at a lake, a mountain, a deer, a flower, the ocean’s waves—these are the rejuvenating gifts of vacations, when we successfully escape “the voice” and simply … live.

All one must do is still that voice—the one that we ‘think’ is us but is really a compilation of parental ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and family/community/global expectations and standards—and we can enjoy simply being, every day of our lives, not just during getaways.

This message is also found in Buddhist and yogi writings, and in Deepak Chopra’s books and videos. Chopra in fact recommends The Power of Now.

Reviews for this book cover the spectrum, from deep appreciation for the book having helped people change their lives, to others who call it regurgitated rubbish and New Age babble.

For your further study, should you wish to do so, check out the reviews on Goodreads.

I was reminded of two important truths from the book.

  1. Unless you have a time machine, nothing happens in the past. Nothing happens in the future. The only place anything really happens is in the present. It makes sense to silence any voice of the past, whether you think it’s your own or some kind of universal/conglomerate voice that seems motivated to make you suffer or limit you based on activities in those time periods. (Excepting criminal acts, of course.)

2. As it pertains to writers, our chiding, deriding inner voice does not belong in our creative “now.” I really like Tolle’s suggestion that we have the power to silence that destructive, crippling voice. I’ve had some good success countering it with yoga and powerful affirmations. I like to think of nurturing my “critique friend inner voice,” the one that’s based on the positive. Rather than, “This scene stinks. What makes you think you’re a writer?” my CFIV offers, “This scene can be more effective if the conflict is ramped up—how can we do that?”

I can envision a writers’ therapy session, where we gather and write a “silencing scene” in which we explore possible dialogues to say, "No!" --to quiet The Voice.

“Time’s up, buddy. Out you go.”

 “Who are you, and what are you doing in my head?”

 “There’s an app for that!” (pushes red ‘eject’ button)

 “Sorry. Wrong number.” (gestures as if hanging up)

 “No membership card? You don’t belong here.”

 “I’d heed you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Or my favorite –

“Get a life! Oh, that’s right—you don’t have one!”

The Power of Now offers writers insights into how to quiet that negative, often destructive inner voice so we can reach our potential and realize our dreams.

I’m wishing you many peaceful, creative moments!

1, 2, 3: How to reach your goals

Wannabe goals. We all made them for the new year, right? Unbelievably, we're now knocking on the door to June.

Often our goals are unspoken but sincere, something we know we need to accomplish to advance our writing. They inspire us for a moment then, in the face of our busy lives, we allow them to fade.

Write my synopsis. Develop my marketing plan. Finish my outline. Finish/Revise my book. Query my top five publishers. Learn how to blog. Get reviews. (Fill in your goals here.)

You know you need to do it. You keep thinking you will. But you don’t.

Read this. Follow the steps, and you’ll do it.

It starts with number one. Three Dog Night sang, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” When it comes to goals, I consider it the most difficult number.

If you're having trouble reaching your goals, try starting with number one. It will help you progress to number two. If you’re not prepared to tackle number one, don’t read this blog. This information is only for those who are tired of letting important goals evaporate in the face of procrastination, laziness or fear.

Still reading? Okay, here’s the not-so-secret formula.

NUMBER ONE. Tell someone important. Your critique group. Your most stalwart friend who supports your dreams. “I am going to (specific goal) this (week/month/summer).

It must be specific. Not, “I’m going to write more,” but “I am going to write to The End by August.” Not, “I’m going to market more,” or “I am going to develop a marketing plan,” but rather, “I’m going to write a marketing plan by August.”

Something good happens when you commit to another person or group. The goal becomes real. Increase your odds of success further by insisting that your friend follows up weekly to ask about your progress.

NUMBER TWO. Generate ideas. Browse the Internet, searching for topics such as “How To (Goal)” and “Top 10 Ways to (Goal).” Then create a mind map, incorporating what you’ve learned from your initial research.

You complete number two to better achieve your number three goal.

NUMBER THREE. Brainstorm with someone with RMFW who has accomplished this goal. (Having completed number two, you will have learned enough to ask good questions and you will demonstrate to your expert RMFW member that you’ve given this some thought, and have taken those first steps already. Show you’re committed to learning, and others will be more willing to help you.)

Many RMFW members have become known for their expertise in writing, editing, public speaking, workshops, book tours, blogs, reviews, podcasts—the list is extensive. Connect with fellow members through the on-line loop, the free monthly educational programs, and special events such as our upcoming annual conference. Browse the workshops and see who’s presenting a workshop in your area of interest. Most are free with your conference registration, some are reasonably priced master classes. Your RMFW membership is a big, big asset. Harness it and feel the power and inspiration of having even more friends cheering you on.

Remember that this is brainstorming, not mentoring, which represents an extensive commitment that may scare off your targeted expert. Make it clear you’re only looking for suggestions and resources that you will pursue to complete your own plan of action.

NUMBER FOUR. By now, you will have gathered a daunting amount of information and options to consider. Sort by level of difficulty, easiest to most challenging. If your goal includes some area of marketing, sort by affordability. Sort also by effectiveness, based on what you learned in steps three and four.

NUMBER FIVE. Create your action list. Based on the completion date you initially told your critique group or stalwart supporter, put dates on this action list that will reasonably bring you to the finish line.

Make adjustments, if needed. Share your list, and if you keep a hard copy or digital planning calendar, insert those dates with a big star, color code—whatever triggers you to remember the importance of your intermediate goals.

It’s a simple concept, proven over time and as reliable as gravity. It’s also proven over time that you must take step one first.

Go for it!

Spring! Time for cloud-watching!

Puffy white cyber-sites feed creativity

Ah, spring—longer days, warmer temperatures. I strive to invest my BICHOK (butt-in-chair-hands-on-keyboard) time daily, but there are times my brain wants to get off the gerbil wheel of word quotas and plots and marketing, and put in some time just staring at the clouds.

There are “clouds” of sorts on the internet, not those storage sites, but sites that re-charge the brain. I visit those that provide inspiration, little bursts that refresh me after a good writing session.

Here are some I’ve enjoyed. Slip into your hammock, look to the sky, and enjoy!

http://lauradavis.net/category/prompts  Author Laura Davis offers prompts that let you mine veins of gold from your own experiences. Here’s a sample:

     Tell me about a time you found the courage or necessity to express yourself from the deepest part of you—a time you truly showed your soul.

Answering questions of this depth can help you discover and/or clarify your author’s mission statement, and help you find your writer’s “true north.”

http://inkygirl.com/  If you’re having a bad day, set your timer for fifteen minutes and drop by Ohi’s website. She authors and illustrates children’s books, but she also creates cartoons about the writing life that resonate and make you laugh out loud. After reading a few of them, you will not take yourself so seriously, which makes for a much more fruitful and creative you.

http://marthaalderson.com/what-motivates-you-to-keep-writing/  Alderson has a wealth of tips to help you become and stay productive and motivated. I listed the motivation blog because it seems like a real spring topic—the beginning of a new season, and the wonderful promise of spring.

thestorystarter.com  This website generates over 39 billion story starters. Like many generators, it can trigger more than just a story. It can provide a setting for your next scene. Trigger an idea for a secondary character. Help you decide on a dominant emotion for your next scene. It beats letting Facebook suck you into its rabbit hole, and its wild randomness helps loosen the rusty hinges in your mind. A sample: The brilliant Olympic gymnast painted a portrait in an abandoned toy store during the hurricane.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-387  Brewer offers prompts for poetry, a wonderful way to “clear the palate” and digest one delicious word at a time. It’s a chance to re-discover the power of the right word, the right combination of words, and the beauty of cadence.

http://www.hughhowey.com/eyes-like-hers/  Described as one of indie publishing’s great successes by Writer’s Digest, Howey tracks his lessons learned through both self- and traditional publishing. I apologize ahead of time for this, but the story’s too beautiful to overlook. The power of a short story—it inspires me to dig deep, to get the emotions on the page.

Last one:

http://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/book-title-generator.php#.WMWzoclzU5s

Book title generator that covers several genres. Beware—it will entertain you for much longer than the allotted fifteen minute “cloud-watching” session, so set your phone to bring you back to earth.

Did you like these? Do you have some sites to share? RSVP, and happy cloud-watching! --Janet

 

Go to it! (Pursue what makes you come alive!)

I read the most touching article last week. Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a well known children’s author and filmmaker. It was titled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It was written along the lines of a match.com profile, and it described the charms, kindnesses, and deep expressions of love her husband had shown her over their 26-year marriage.

Eight days later, Amy, 51, would pass away from ovarian cancer.

Tragic, yes, but what I discovered about Amy after reading the article made me think of my RMFW friends, and the joys and challenges inherent with the creative path we’ve all chosen.

One of Amy’s tenets was included in her obituary. “I tend to believe whatever you decide to look for you will find, whatever you beckon will eventually beckon you," she said during a 2012 TED talk.

I watched that TED talk and her message inspired me, so I am sharing it with you.

Amy begins by talking about coincidences such as the proliferation of “7” in our lives—seven days in the week, seven colors in the rainbow, seven wonders of the world. Seven music notes. Her TED talk is called “Seven Notes on Life.”

She mentioned walking the beach with her mother-in-law, when she discovered a heart-shaped pebble. Once she had seen that first one, she looked for another, and found many heart-shaped pebbles. Her mother-in-law was astonished, but Amy was not. She had observed many times that we find that which we seek out. “When our eyes are open, there is a subtle shifting of awareness.”

To demonstrate, she told the TED audience that she would imagine that she was speaking to a totally red audience, and once she focused on that, she would see instantly all the red clothing there.

She went through the seven musical notes. “F” stood for, “Figure it out as you go.” We don’t have to have it all mapped out before we embark on something new. Get a good idea, invest in it, and learn and adjust as we go.

These thoughts and others inspired me, but what left the lasting impression—the one that made me feel connected to you, my RMFW friends, was this: All the cell phones, iPads, laptops, and other technical devices create a huge amount of technical “noise” in our lives. All that modern noise demands something from us—a reaction.  Once we turn off the cell phones and all the technical “noise” in our lives, we become disconnected from the chatter, and are left with empty space. And what do we find in that newly empty space?

It is no coincidence, she pointed out, that with the individual letters rearranged, another important word emerges from “reaction.”

REACTION {changes to} ….. CREATION.

She ended the talk with a quote from Howard Thurman:

            Ask not what the world needs.

            Ask what makes you come alive.

            And go to it.

What we need is people who have come alive. What, Amy asked, makes you come alive?

Go to it. Move toward what makes you come alive.

------------------------

A Chicago native and longtime resident, Rosenthal completed more than 30 books, including journals, memoirs and the best-selling picture stories "Uni the Unicorn" and "Duck! Rabbit!" She made short films and YouTube videos, gave TED talks and provided radio commentary for NPR, among others. Her loving optimism will be missed.

Read more: http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.777097

The TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxWgIccldh4

Magic-Wand Words

Remember the Disney production of Cinderella, when the good witches waved their magic wands of blue, red and green? Their glitter flowed like Fourth of July sparklers, creating magic.

That’s what my blog is about this month—the magic that happens with words. In an entire novel, only a few or at most several dozen of them may appear. When they do, they connect us to the characters, embed us more deeply in the setting and emotions of the scene, and increase our enjoyment and understanding of the story. They linger in our memories.

These are a few of my favorite magic-wand words. Enjoy! May these words that so inspired me also inspire you to dig deeper in your creative reservoir. May your current work in progress sparkle!

Nora Roberts, Spellbound:  

… an exquisite simile

And she was there, just there, conjured up out of storm-whipped air. Her hair was a firefall over a dove-gray cloak, alabaster skin with the faint bloom of rose, a generous mouth just curved in knowledge. And eyes as blue as a living star and just as filled with power.

Nora Roberts, Public Secrets

... another one

She would remember the feel of the air against her face, air so moist from the sea it might have been tears.

 Nora Roberts, Sanctuary

… a character-enriching analogy

She walked to the water’s edge, let the surf foam over her ankles. There, she thought when the tide swept back and sucked the sand down over her feet. That was exactly the same sensation he was causing in her. That slight and exciting imbalance, that feeling of having the ground shift under you no matter how firmly you planted your feet.

Katie Schneider, All We Know of Love  

...melding scene and character

The clouds are pulled thin like cotton. I understand how they feel, out in the middle of nowhere, unsure of quite where they’re heading.

Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm

…skillful use of the senses

“I saw you in India.” Mrs. Humphrey had about her the slightly sour tang of an unchanged baby. “You took my clothes off.”

…expression of fury, revenge, stunning rhythm and great example of back-loading

He thought of the look on the Ape’s face, the relish of terror, the time it would take; he’d once seen two men hanged and quartered—the expression of the second condemned traitor as he watched the executioner cut down and butcher the first: that was the fear, that was the struggle, the prolonged kicking and spasms, that was the cringing, weeping, purple-faced, swollen-tongued, bloated sickening twitching entrails-sliding agony he was going to inflict.

Mary Jo Putney, Loving a Lost Lord

…fresh imagery

He wouldn’t need her, and that was as it should be. … When she was old and gray, the time she had known Adam would be the merest ripple in the lake of her life.

Annie Proulx, Close Range-Wyoming Stories

This passage slams the reader into the scene

“Hey, you’re old enough almost a be my grandmother. I rather eat rat jelly than—”

But he was edging closer and Mrs. Freeze saw his trick and the red-flushed neck swelled like that of an elk in mating season, the face beaded with desperate sweat.

...succinct characterization

“Think about it, give me a call.”

“I don’t need a think about it,” said Mrs. Freeze. She dropped the cap of the whiskey bottle, kicked it under the chair. She didn’t need that, either.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

Memorable, humorous, backloading

“I don’t know where you keep finding these Mexican strawberries,” he said, referring to the beans. Bolivar … mixed them with so many red chilies that a spoonful of beans was more or less as hot as a spoonful of red ants.

Barbara Bretton, Just Like Heaven

…exquisite rhythm and backloading

…she clung to his shoulders so she wouldn’t slide off the face of the earth and into some vast unknowable universe of shooting stars and fireworks and whispered warnings that some things are too good to be true.

Jacquelyn Michard, A Theory of Relativity

…another memorable simile

He had never been able to think of that except as “innocent,” as guileless and tender as a childhood Christmas.

Tina St. John, Lord of Vengeance

...word choices

The answer came swiftly, softly at first, a dark whisper that curled around him, anchoring his soul to the earth with shadowy tethers.

---

I hope you've enjoyed these magic-wand words. If you have some to share, please do!

 

Advertising Secrets from RMFW authors

“Last chance! Secrets from Media Guru!”

“Sell Hundreds of Books Now!”

“Optimize social ads!”

Like cheap paper fliers of yore, these headlines fill your email inbox.

We all want publishing success, hoards of fans and yes! More than moderate fame. Some of us have been published traditionally and not found that hoped-for, instant success. Others have either refused the traditional route, or have kinked our necks on the gatekeeper ceiling and answered the Indie Call. All of us want to sell more books.

Somehow, in the big bubble gum baby maker in the sky (thank you, Garrison Keillor), most of us got rolled out lacking good marketing instincts. Some people just figure it out, but not me. I took marketing 101. I did! Still, I can’t wrap my brain around all the choices to figure out the best combination that works. It’s not for lack of passion or purpose that I remain confused and uncertain. I’ve talked about this with many fellow writers, compared notes on what kind of investments they’ve made and what produced the most sales.  I know writers—everyday folks like you and me—who have spent upwards of sixteen thousand dollars trying to boost their sales over some magical threshold that will start the income flowing dependably.

This is no secret to the industry’s service providers. Some are legit, some not.

The Good Guys. These are talented people who offer their graphic services for fabulous book covers, Facebook ads, banners and promotional material.  Also copy editors and proofreaders, who help to ensure that we emerge from the publishing process with no pie on our face, only clean copy that makes our ideas shine.  Also publicists, virtual assistants and the like who may offer a more clear, calm path through the marketing jungle.

The Bad Guys. This group includes anyone who waves a magic flag to attract authors and get rich off our dreams, even while knowing full well that their product won’t deliver as promised without considerable luck or additional investments.

Our jobs, ladies and gents, is to tell one from the other.

Good Investments.  Before rolling the dice to determine the next move on the game board, we must first be sure we have an excellent product. Good doesn’t cut it. It needs to be excellent. The investment here is time and yes, toil over the words until they shine and provide a reward to the reader for spending their precious time reading our words.  Concept. Is it intriguing, or like hundreds of others? Plot. Is it dynamic, surprising, refreshing, or safe, just following the genre formula? Characters. Do they develop naturally through the novel, or does the author merely force actions that suggest growth?

Oh, heck, I’ve seen worse. We all know of less than stellar authors who have achieved success. They slide into home base on a magic carpet of luck. As Clint Eastwood said, “Do you feel lucky?” If you do, this route is available. Beware of Bad Guys, and proceed.

Crazy Luck, Magic Formulas, or Good Ol’ Sweat Equity? Who’s to say which will bring success? No one, but you’re in this game and if you want to play you have to pay.  Find the right combination for you.

To start you on your information quest, I consulted several of RMFW’s published authors to learn their thoughts on effective advertising and promotion. I offered anonymity, which some preferred, but most were willing to share.

Here, then, are some thoughts on sharks and winners.

The Question. What advertising/promotion has brought you the most book sales?

The Answers:

No Idea.  This was Jax Bubis (Jax Hunter), multi-indie-pubbed military and paranormal romance author’s first response. I sensed her smile through the email and read on. She suggests that you build your email list.

Been There, Spent That.  An author who wished to remain anonymous shared the s/he had spent a substantial budget on ads this past year, including Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, giveaways and more, but still received a poor return on investment.  Another author, also remaining anonymous, spent over $16,000.00 on Facebook ads. S/he could accomplish no more than to break even. (At least s/he broke even.)

Skip the Swag. Several authors commented on swag—candy, bookmarks, tea bags, pens, scratch pads and the like. Most felt it’s best to skip all of it except for business cards, and write more books.

It’s All About Genre.  Mary Gilgannon has been busy testing the ad waters. She’s tried blog posts, small romance book sites, a promo service, tweets, newsletter lists and reviews, all with mixed and less-than-stellar results. “My sense is that what worked even six months or a year ago, might not work as well now. The market is ever changing and it seems to become more difficult every year to get your books noticed.” Her final answer: write in a best-selling genre, and get your books out quickly.

Reviews, Baby! Terry Wright, former contest chair for RMFW, is an indie pioneer and prolific writer. He entered the field early with his sci fi and action thrillers. He also writes screenplays, founded TBW Press, and conquered production of book trailers. He described advertising as a crapshoot, but believes strongly in Kindle reviews. He has little regard for Twitter due to the excessive tweet traffic, which buries any tweets within minutes.

Face Time. Terry also believes it pays to get personal. He has sold more print books face to face at conferences, panels, fairs, etc., than with other methods, and encourages his writers to do the same.

Good, and Free. Twice named RMFW's Writer of the Year, Robin Owens has enjoyed much success with her fantasy and paranormal ghost series. Also RMFW's former president, Robin stresses two ways to succeed: write a very good book, and develop a following. She has found good results with a multi-author ad featuring a Kindle giveway.

Carry a Big Gun. 2014 RMFW Writer of the Year and current Treasurer, Shannon Baker, is the author of the Nora Abbott and Kate Fox mystery series. She's also a tireless promoter. With her recent release of Stripped Bare, she participated in an intensive blog and book signing tour. What she’s especially pleased with is her decision to hire a publicist. She has found it well worth the investment.

Goodreads Ads.  Our 2015 Writer of the Year, PubLaw friend and Twitter guru, Susan Spann, writes Shinobi mysteries set in sixteenth century Japan. She shares that she has had great success with blog tours and Goodreads ads.

Let’s Go Surfing Now! 2016 Indie Writer of the Year nominee Corinne O’Flynn is RMFW’s Conference Chair and a multi-published author of murder mysteries. She shared this link: http://www.paidauthor.com/best-ebook-promotion-sites , a helpful overview of some of the many options available.

King Amazon. Anne Randolph’s memoir, Stories Gathered at the Kitchen Table, recently made the Amazon Best-selling list in Memoirs. “I have found the Amazon Hot New Release and 30 Day Book Launch with Amazon Select to be quite effective.  We sold over 1200 books in a two day period and more by the end of the campaign.”  Anne has a webinar and podcast about her campaign at www.AuthorU.org

Podcasts. Nathan Lowell, nominated for RMFW’s first Indie Writer of the Year, is an inspiration to many. In his January RMFW blog, Nathan mentions the large part his early podcasts played in his publishing success. Nathan sustains high output with his writing progress charts.

Audio Books. Along that line, Richard Rieman guest blogged on the January 18th RMFW blog about how audio books can resurrect a “mostly dead” book and increase your fan base.

Expensive Webinars. While I focused on RMFW authors, I’ll add that several other friends and acquaintances have taken webinar courses on book marketing. UK indie author Mark Dawson, and one of Dawson’s webinar graduates, Nick Stephenson, are the main  players in this field. It’s pricey -- $700 to $800, and focuses on advertising with Facebook. I have not been willing to put all my dollars in one place like that, so I can only recommend that you research all such webinars. Things to consider are:

* In their sales efforts, do the student testimonials include success stories for authors who write in your genre?

* Is there any kind of guarantee, and if so, does it cover a long enough period for you to determine if it’s a sound investment?

* Does it require yet more investment on your part to discover if it can work for you? If so, how much?  As I mentioned earlier, I know of authors who have invested in the course and then spent additional thousands to test the course strategy. I’ve heard from some authors that it helped their sales, and I’ve heard from others that the best they’ve achieved is a break-even. I’ve heard from yet others that it’s such a complicated ad strategy that they haven’t had time to try it out, and it’s now only gathering dust in their hard drives.

* Rumor has it that Nick Stephenson has stopped writing his thriller novels to concentrate on his teaching business because it pays better. Hmm.

* Can you “test” the webinar concept yourself for less money than the course costs?

* Is the information updated often? The market changes practically daily, so old information is quickly rendered useless.

Details Are Tools. RMFW’s first Indie Writer of the Year, Lisa Scott Manifold, recommends that you write more books. Readers are impatient and don’t like to wait a year or two for book 2, 3, etc. in the series. She believes readers want series even more these days and if you can’t manage multiple books a year, you can consider writing shorts to keep visible to your fans. “You need to figure out, among all the noise out there right now, what kind of promotion works for you.” That includes limited free days, advertising on promo websites, working on a newsletter or blog. Above all, track your efforts. “How much you spent, what sales you got (check them daily!) and did you see buy-through into your other works? That kind of data lets you know whether or not this new method is worth keeping in your marketing tool box.”

My thanks to all authors who were generous enough to share with us. Have you found this information helpful? You can pay it forward by responding to this blog, and sharing which promotion/s have worked best/worst for you.

Together, we’re stronger.

I hope to hear from you.

 

A crutch, a hat and a nightcap

Memorable character tags from A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is one of the most endearing, enduring redemption stories ever told. Written by Charles Dickens and first published in 1843, it’s now 173 years old and is still entertaining – and teaching us. It reminds us of the power and joy of redemption, and it’s also a great example of a fictional  character’s arc—and a clear example of character tags.christmas-carol

I attended a musical version of A Christmas Carol last week at The Stage in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. I’ve seen it several times on stage. I proudly own the Mickey Mouse and Muppets versions, the Alastair Sim version, and most especially the George C. Scott version, lush with its scenes and of course the brilliance of George C. Scott.

The version I saw this year is a relatively new adaptation by Richard Hellesen. Those attending can identify the differences quickly. In the beginning scene, the actors appear first as narrators, then step into scene and assume their characters roles. Scrooge is no less miserable than in the older versions, but in the Hellesen version, he’s comedic and includes the children in the fun. The ghostly apparitions are still there, but even in his fear, Scrooge pokes fun into the dialogue.

We want our characters to be memorable. There are several ways to accomplish that—in-depth character studies, psychological analyses, applying enneagrams and such—to be sure our characters are interesting and multi-dimensional.

A Christmas Carol makes full use of physical tags. In written form, the story comes alive with images that help the reader remember the characters. Dickens wrote them so well that, even if you’re given nosebleed theater seats, you can still recognize the characters as they come on stage.

Character tags from A Christmas Carol

Physical tags

Scrooge’s stovepipe hat

His long black coat

Tiny Tim’s crutch

Bob Cratchett’s scarf

Cratchett’s wife’s bonnet

Marley’s chains

Mrs. Fezziwig’s outlandish party hat

Verbal tags

“Bah. Humbug!”

“God bless us, every one.”

The actors have readily identifiable voices, as well, using tone, vocabulary and pace to differentiate one from the other.

In addition to what one can visualize, tags identify characters through sound – a gruff policeman, a nasal-voiced girlfriend, a foreign spy with a heavy accent. One who stutters.

I often write down “EYE PATCH:” and list potential character tags early in my plotting. A character can wear so much perfume that people tear up and sneeze when she gets on the elevator. Another character can stink so much that people can smell him before they see him. A female character can have silky red hair that reaches her waist. An aging brunette can have a perky bob and whenever she flips her hair, her neck cracks. The possibilities are endless. Have fun with your writing, and ...

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays!

And God bless us, every one.

 

PS: The DCPA presentation of A Christmas Carol plays through Dec. 24.

A final note on Hellesen (replace “theatre” and “Play” with “novel.”)

When an interviewer asked what kind of theatre excites him, Hellesen replied, “…given the abundance of falsity in our world, I simply want to witness engrossing moments of recognizable human truth, things I knew were true but forgot until the play reminded me--and if possible to be allowed to feel genuine emotion in doing so.”

For a holiday treat to yourself, you can read Hellesen’s interview at http://aszym.blogspot.com/2013/06/i-interview-playwrights-part-588.html