Author Archives: Liesa Malik

About Liesa Malik

Liesa Malik is a freelance writer & marketing consultant living in Littleton, CO, with her husband and two pets. Liesa has built on her writing interest with a long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website: LiesaMalik.Wordpress.com.

Chris Goff–Author on the Rise

By Liesa Malik

The Published Authors Liaison (PAL) is a sub-organization within RMFW that exists to provide networking and promotional opportunities for traditionally published authors. This begins a series of profiles on some of our PAL members in the hopes that you will make an opportunity to read their books and meet them either at Colorado Gold or in other venues throughout the country and the year. . .

Photo of Christine Goff

Christine Goff -- Photo courtesy of Mark Stevens.

INTRODUCING CHRIS GOFF

Kevin slid a paperback across the table and said, “Try this author. She’s really good, and I think she is, or was, a member of RMFW.”

The book, A Rant of Ravens, by Christine Goff truly was a good read, and a fun start to the great Birdwatcher Mystery series of five books with regional bestseller status and nominations for several awards. The sixth in the series, A Parliament of Owls, is set for release this fall from Astor+Blue Editions.

Christine Goff (Chris to friends), has been writing fiction since 1984, joined RMFW in 1988, and has played several key roles our group. She is the 2002 RMFW Writer of the Year, and has a number of other successes in the Rocky Mountain writing communities. Like many PAL members, Chris continues to support our community with behind-the-scenes efforts.

WORKING WITH RMFW

“I’ve often judged 30 or more entries a year in the Colorado Gold contest,” said Chris. “We all have a responsibility to give back. I got a tremendous amount out of RMFW in my formative years, and enjoy celebrating the new success stories.”

Chris’s multiple roles in RMFW have been a tremendous boost to our community, but the three she enjoyed most are Newsletter Chair, PAL Chair, and President.

“I have a graphic production/editor background, so Newsletter Chair was right up my alley,” said Chris. “And then PAL members offer so much in the way of support and credibility to the (RMFW) organization, and often behind the scenes--judging manuscripts, mentoring, critiquing, teaching and championing those who are working so hard to make it in the business—that as PAL Chair, I was pleased to get some things happening in support of our published writers. Lastly, as President, I was proud to be able to steer us through a controversial year and help RMFW weather a public relations storm.”

You’d think that a writer with such an illustrious resume might be tempted to sit back and relax. But not Chris. She’s on to new writing adventures and continues to support our writing community with fresh projects.

OTHER PROJECTS

Last spring, Chris gathered several organizations together to help bring about Genrefest, a one-day workshop that highlighted national best selling author, David Morrell. Mr. Morrell, a friend of Chris, was one of the famous authors to endorse her newest offering, Dark Waters, a thriller set in the Middle East (Crooked Lane Books).

“Dark Waters is Chris Goff’s breakout book,” said David. “A relentless international thriller with a terrifying topic and an impressive heroine, Raisa Jordan. It’s been a while since I had such fun reading the work of a fellow writer. Well done!”

DARK WATERS  Cover ArtANNOUNCING DARK WATERS

“Dark Waters is a book that came into my head years ago,” said Chris. “The idea sparked in 1999, when I was in Israel with my then 11 year-old daughter, who was there for some medical treatments. But, with my first Birdwatcher’s Mystery coming out in 2000, and three-books under contract, I put the idea aside. Then in 2008, finding myself out of contract, I decided to pick up Dark Waters again.

“Seven years later, I just got my hardcover copy in the mail and the book will be coming out to the world in September. Writing a thriller is very different than writing a cozy. It was a big change for me. There’s a difference in pacing, a difference in character development, a difference in stakes. And then there was the international setting and the political aspects of the book...just a lot of things that made it much more challenging. I have my fingers crossed readers are going to like it.”

Knowing the quality of work Chris generally produces in every aspect of her writing life, the book is bound to be a success. You can find it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound.

MEETING UP WITH CHRIS

Chris will be at Colorado Gold, September 11- 13. She’ll be on a panel with Jeffery Deaver, and presenting a workshop on Elements of Mystery.

“I’m easy to approach,” said Chris. “I hope people feel free to just come up and introduce themselves. I figure unless someone is clearly having a private meeting with an editor or agent or another author, anyone should feel free to step up and listen in on the conversations, and join in when there’s an opening. I love to meet people at conference.”

Chris will also be one of three Guiding Members of RMFW to receive recognition for their long-term support of our organization at the conference this year.

Asked for her one piece of advice for aspiring writers, she said, “If you want to be successful, treat it like a job. It’s so easy when you’re working on your first book to treat writing like a hobby. So many of us put in our three or four hours, then go off and do other things. But the truly successful authors treat it differently. They’re putting in eight to ten hours a day, sometimes six days a week. They spend their most creative hours writing and their less creative hours editing, social networking, making phone calls, promoting. As soon as you have a multiple-book contract, you have to start looking at it like work. Fun work, but work nonetheless.”

Cobblestones

By Liesa Malik

Recently, my family and I had a chance to go to Rome. Rome! Can you believe it?

We were excited beyond belief, and made plans for months in advance. We even took a few Italian lessons and yes, bought the Pimsleur tapes with all good intentions of some fluency (personal note—a couple of months of practice doesn’t prepare you at all, but you give the natives a good chuckle before they kindly help you out, in English).

At last the great time came. We stepped off the plane and into a world of history, and history, and history. Two thousand years of lives and deaths were displayed everywhere we went. We walked and walked, through weather that was hot, and places that had ruin after ruin.

Centro Storico Cobblestones

History you can walk on.

By the end of our first day, we’d walked close to five miles and most of us were ready with all sorts of complaints about our feet, the lack of places to sit, and anything else we could think of (except, of course, the gelato).

And those cobblestones! Okay, so they looked very nice, these black four-inch squares that pave almost all of downtown old Rome, called Centro Storico. But my goodness, they hurt American feet strapped into lightweight sandals.

By day two and a wander past the Spanish steps, the Piazza Navona, and even the great Pantheon, we had cobblestones indelibly etched into our consciousness and toes.

Day three and the cobblestones became something of a curiosity point. “Wonder what they’re made of?” “Do you think they’ve been here as long as the ruins in that Largo Arenula Argentina—that place where Ceasar was killed?”

It was right about then that my daughter met up with like-minded acro-yoga fans (long story). One of the people who gave her a lift to the meeting (a total stranger but for the Internet), told Nicola that the stones are indeed throughout Rome, and are called San Pietrini or Little Saint Peters.

The cobbles were originally made from the volcanic rock (black basalt) that surrounds Rome, and chiseled into their classic square shape. I have read on the Internet (so it must be true) that the cobbles are now sometimes imported from the Far East.

The stones were apparently originally used to pave St. Peter’s square by order of Pope Sixtus V in the 1500s so while not as old as the Roman Empires, there’s still quite a bit of history to these modest landmarks of a great city.

Multiple San Pietrini

Whew, St. Peter's been busy!

One story I heard was that each cobblestone, or San Pietrini, represents a soul that St. Peter has saved. This doesn’t sound like so much until you look across the vast spaces of the piazzas and realize just how many stones are there.

The most compelling glimpse of these stones took me completely by surprise. I like to photograph the quirky but beautiful small things I see on trips. You won’t view a lot of family-in-front-of-monument snaps from me. But you will see doorknobs, windows, bugs, and other small items.

So, one morning on my first walk of the day, when the streets were quiet and the merchants were still busy setting up their tents in Campo De’ Fiori, I wandered down a street I hadn’t walked before.

Cobbles from Rome's Jewish section

I cried at this part of history.

After about ten minutes of walking and taking my quirky snaps, I looked down to see two cobblestones that weren’t black at all, but were made of brass. Of course I snapped a photo, and then did my best to interpret what I saw. Angelo Tagliocozzo was the name carved into the first stone and Angelo Limontani’s life story was on the second.

Angelo Tagliocozzo was born in 1916 and died in 1944.

Angelo Limontani was born in 1920. He was “arrestado” May 8th 1944 and “deportato” to Auschwitz where, at age 24, he was “assinato.” I had accidentally wandered into the Jewish section of old Rome. I’m sure St. Peter saved those young souls, but for me, the cobbles I walked on for the rest of my trip meant something much more than an unsteady walk for me.

Can you write the story of a cobblestone? Whose name would you carve? What part of history would they have played? Is your life one that will find its way to the streets of Rome?

Wishing you a creative week.

The Basics of List Building

By Liesa Malik

Lists are everywhere—the to-do list, the project task list, and most of all, the illusion of the golden contact list.

Screech! Breaks! Illusion?

That’s right. Many people believe that you can purchase, rent, or find on-line great contact lists for the asking. Unfortunately, in the years I’ve been in marketing, I’ve only found one absolute truth where the golden contact list is concerned—it doesn’t exist. But don’t let that stop you from trying. Even the largest companies continue to search for the golden list.

To me, the best list you can have is the one you develop yourself. Here’s how I’d suggest you get started:

BE COMMITTED TO COMMUNICATION

Photo of Contact List

However you build it, they need to be contacted.

I don’t mean the blast out to the universe kind. I mean reaching into your community (list) and regularly touching people one-on-one. A few weeks back, someone from The Ladders employment agency contacted me and asked for my advice on writing careers. He said he considered me a “thought leader.” Not only did that puff up my ego, but it also gave me a blog post on my personal blog, which the representative asked to use in his work with writers. Very cool. AND he earned a follower to The Ladders.

BUY OR RENT

What’s that you say? Why waste money on a list you know isn’t going to be great? You buy lists or rent them because it gives you a place to start. Just as a detective knows that all clues in a mystery aren’t going to lead straight to a killer, all lists aren’t going to lead you to multiple thousands of sales. But you may find a handful of contacts that eventually become associates and friends.

BUILD ONE OR TWO CONTACTS AT A TIME

Yes, this sounds very inefficient. But the real contacts you make often end up being supporters for years to come, whereas blast recipients remain strangers, and your name can easily become synonymous with the word, “annoying.”

COMMIT TO CONSISTENTLY BUILDING YOUR LIST

Ouch! First there were Facebook and LinkedIn. Shortly thereafter followed Twitter and Pinterest. Today there is Goodreads and a host of other social media. With all this posting and messaging, where’s the time for list building?

My advice is to relax. Social media posts are the same as blasting to a huge mailing list. I suspect more posts are written than read. There are no real connections when someone has 1,000 “friends” or more. Create an editorial budget and schedule, or invest in a multi-media service like Hootsuite, and get back to enjoying your life of writing. But connect, really connect with a handful of true friends a month. Here are some ways to make new friends (i.e. contacts) and keep building your lists:

  • Go to meetings and let people know you’re an author or aspiring novelist. Meetup.com has a bunch of interests listed and ways to get involved with your community.
  • Volunteer—you kill two birds with one stone here—you give back to your community and you build friendships.
  • Speak—Does your church need a witness? Does the cub or brownie troupe down the road need to earn a communication badge? Ask your local librarian if they have a speaker’s program. I’m excited to say I just joined my local chapter of Toastmasters. I have visions of opportunities to come.
  • Never forget family and friends! Haven’t written the Christmas newsletter in a while? Try again. Or better yet, pick up the phone and spend 10 minutes with great aunt Sarah, who is part of that romance book club.

Lastly, while we do sincerely want and need contacts in publishing, we also have to be good contacts back. Know an agent looking for westerns? Promote your friend who writes westerns. Your publisher having a hard time getting writers to do self promo work? Send along ideas that have worked for you.

I’ll be talking more about lists and contacts in my talk “Author Platform 101,” at Colorado Gold. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll join me there.

Keep writing and keep sharing. Book sales are all about the lists and contacts we make.

Finding Your Words Through Passion

By Liesa Malik

My_Workspace-300x2251This is so embarrassing that I hate to see the word in print--BLOCKED. I’ve been blocked. I know that professionals do not allow themselves to succumb to such a silly and amateur problem, but I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of “my writing sucks--I have no ideas--why did I ever want to be an author?” kind of whine and cheesy party for far too long. With little to no income from writing, I’ve been on the verge of giving up and going to find a day-job.

Yesterday, I even spent half the day submitting a resume on-line for a position I’m pretty sure I don’t want. And the process was excruciating. The site kept crashing 20 minutes into my application and required much more than a resume. Forget blood. I practically had to donate my total genetic map, and still find references before the process was through. Now I have to wait—don’t call them, they’ll call me. Right.

With a hopeful heart, I tell you I hit bottom when hitting that submit button.

And then it happened. I had an unexpected conversation that changed things around.

Over dinner, my good guy made a heroic attempt at talking with me beyond the usual discussion about when I was going to pick up the laundry or what’s for dinner tomorrow. I usually refer to adventures in new topics as pressure cooker conversations, because he pressures and I get hot under the collar. My friend started peppering me with “business” questions about my work. Things like:

  • If you’re not making a living with your current publisher, why don’t you find a new one? (Can you tell he’s unfamiliar with the publishing world?)
  • In most of the detective books I read, the hero has a super-power. What super power does your Daisy character have?
  • If I were to write a book, I’d like to knock off my old business partner. How do you make victims and bad guys?

BINGO! That was it. I agreed with my guy about how satisfying it is to kill off or make someone you know the villain in your book. I’ll never admit to murdering anyone I know, nor will I say that a killer in a Daisy story is really some neighbor or ex-colleague. But real people often inspire my stories. It’s those real people who generate the kind of true feelings your writing work needs.

With my latest novel, for several months I’ve been “researching” a general topic about which I know little and have no strong feelings for. Can you say “directionless?” I’ve dabbled with a few character sketches and even “tried on” some murder suspects as the one who really did it. Nothing ignited any excitement in me. There were no aha moments.

But in recalling and talking about my first two stories with my good guy, I remembered those whom I had strong feelings about being the frame on which I built other characters. Suddenly, there was a clear reason my work on book three had stalled.

Stories are about people not topics. Stories and characters can be built, but they need the skeleton of genuine people and their life stories underneath. You can change your friend’s gender, looks, occupation, and more, but to create an interesting and believable character, you need to have memories from one to five others to refer to.

After dinner, I charged up to my room and hit my ideas journal. I started writing down the names of people I feel passionately about. I grouped them in terms of “I really respect this person,” “I truly despise this person” “I think this person is funny” kind of thing. In the privacy of a personal journal, you can get away with such judgementalism. The only rule was to have passion about whatever name I put down.

Now I have something to channel my characters with. And hopefully, this small tip will help if you’re feeling stuck. Experience your passion to write passionately and avoid getting stuck. Good luck to you . . . I am off and running to play with a little murder--passionately.

Why You Should Vote for the WOTY   

By Liesa Malik

writeroftheyearOkay, friends, here’s the low down, the scoop, the real deal – the WOTY is fixed! That’s right. Fixed! And you know why? Because each year three distinguished authors willing to represent our organization with their work end up on a ballot that is under-supported.

It’s rather like local elections. According to Governing Magazine,  during a study by the University of Wisconsin, researchers found a steady decline in voter turn out. Not great at 26.6% in 2001, by 2011, that turnout declined to 20.9%. That’s roughly one in five people who took advantage of the American electoral process. These minorities of voters influence how we’re being governed today.

What has this to do with the Writer of the Year? Plenty. I don’t have any exact figures, but in checking with people involved in the voting process last year, most of our group did not vote for the WOTY. Shame on us all!

WHY THE WOTY MATTERS

The Writer of the Year is someone who represents the highest standards of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and represents our organization throughout the publishing industry. I spoke with Shannon Baker, the 2014 Writer of the year and she said that winning this distinction was life changing.

“Right before the nominations last year, I was ready to quit writing,” said Shannon. “I felt defeated. But the nominating process boosted my confidence, and the vote validated that newfound interest in continuing to write. Not only that, but being able to put the Writer of the Year title behind my name has opened a lot of doors for me.”

She mentioned that she was recently requested to speak at the CU Friends of the Library annual district event. It was a dream come true, yet Shannon said she didn’t approach this group, they contacted her.

Also, at every event, speaking engagement, and book sale (and more of these opportunities come up for the WOTY), Shannon says she does her best to put in a promotion of RMFW.

“I think it’s very important for the Writer of the Year to speak well and knowledgeably about this great organization we’re all a part of. If the Writer of the Year cannot or will not do this, why should they be voted to that honor?”

We hope that at some point, winning the WOTY would be similar to winning a Pulitzer Prize, but until that happens, everyone who is part of RMFW still has a certain celebrity, albeit a tad smaller, for people who love to read.

WHO IS THIS WRITER OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE?

To make finalist, a person must fulfill these hefty qualifications:

  • Be a traditionally published author with a book released in the previous year (in this case, the 2015 WOTY has had a book release in 2014)
  • The WOTY winner is a member in good standing with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers—while the WOTY is NOT an award recognizing volunteerism (that’s what the Jasmine is for), being active in our community is important too. After all, the Writer of the Year is representing us all in the larger publishing industry.
  • Have a high quality of writing. This may seem like a duh point, but the vetting committee read samplings of each author and had to distinguish candidates based on critical reviews of their work. Talk about hard work! So many great pieces of commercial fiction writing, so few slots we could fill. Whew!
  • Offer proof of significant achievements with their writing work—regional or national reviews or, awards, guest blogs and more.

Every time someone meets the WOTY, they’re being introduced to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers as a whole. This makes your writing platform even stronger when you mention that you’re part of our organization. Free publicity. How cool is that?

OLD WRITERS’ TALES

In years past, I felt much like you might be feeling today. That is, I didn’t know the writers personally, hadn’t read their works for the most part, and felt that some secret inner circle of friends put together the nomination list in a smoke-filled back room of political dealings.

Sorry to burst your literary dreaming, but this isn’t how things work. The same people are not nominated year after year. In fact, we haven’t had a WOTY become part of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Hall of Fame. The one qualification for that distinction is to win the WOTY three times. While there have been a number of two-time winners, no one has made the top selection three times.

How things really work is that an author can either be nominated or apply to the WOTY committee for consideration. After all nominations are closed, the WOTY committee of at least five members spends approximately two hours per candidate, reading the application form, checking out websites, and most importantly, reading and evaluating a piece of the writer’s work. This year, with as many candidates as we had, this means that about 135 volunteer hours went into narrowing the distinguished field to just three names.

WHO ARE THE 2015 NOMINEES?

Please watch for the April newsletter when the finalists will be announced. Then, beginning April 20th be sure to vote.

HOW TO VOTE

This year we’re going to try something new. Although you will still have two months to make your decision, we’re hoping to implement voting online via the RMFW website. Please keep an eye on your emails for more information.

And what if you haven’t read the nominees’ work? Try visiting your local library, or you could go onto the major bookseller sites to at least read a sampling of the work. I think you’ll be pleased if you do.

Be sure to read the author profiles that will be a part of the newsletter announcement. I think you’ll agree that we’re lucky to have such high quality writers in our community.

Still think the WOTY is a sham or a fix? The only way you’ll know for sure is to sign in and vote. Personally, I’m excited for all of the nominees and only wish we could select from everyone who sent author information.

Think I’ll go try to up my own level of writing. Someday I'd like to qualify . . . for a WOTY .

Beyond the Page: Your Writing Career

By Liesa Malik

As a marketing professional, I’m always looking for the next great thing to grab attention and make my clients’ products or services successful. I watch for ways to build awareness and markets of buyers, vendors, and supporters, and believe that these efforts lead to financial success. That success often doesn’t come in large numbers but in small efforts that stand out.

As a critique group leader, I send approximately 55 invitations each week to people involved in writing a commercial-length novel. My co-moderator sends notices through his Yahoo group for another large group. This may sound massive, but each Tuesday or Thursday evening finds us at Panera Bread with many fewer attendees than invitees. We generally host from five to fifteen people who take the invitation (and their writing commitment) to heart.

Picture of Colorado Gold Attendees

Getting involved with writing.

I’m not offering this to make lapsing Littleton Writers members feel guilty. After all, in marketing, a direct mail piece with 27% return is astronomical. Those who can’t or don’t take advantage of the invitations have many extenuating circumstances and reasons to delay one more week.

However, if you’re a writer who isn’t a member of any critique group available through RMFW, I suspect you might be making your journey to publication more challenging. This critique opportunity is one small differentiator between aspiring and published authors.

And all the above is not meant to guilt you into more active membership in your critique group, or sign up for Colorado Gold tomorrow, but to encourage you to think about your writing career beyond the page. You already know how to write; most of us write very well. But there’s more to being a writer than producing words on a page. Here’s what I mean:

Get Involved.

I know someone who just applied for his dream job. We both know he won’t get it. That kind of job requires connections and references he’s pretty much neglected for over thirty years. If you’re not involved in your community, you’ll never feel like a true member, and when opportunity comes knocking, yours is not likely the name that will surface.

The same holds true for your writing career and community. Yes, quality writing is of paramount importance, but being involved with other writers is a great way to keep your skills up-to-date, enrich your social life with like-interested acquaintances, and be in the know when a new opportunity comes your way.

In the past, I heard a lot about the “cliques” of RMFW. Personally, I have to say, HOGWASH! The reason you may hear the same names over and over when it comes to recognitions and awards is because you’re witnessing the outcome of people who stopped dreaming and started working at their writing careers beyond the page. They built reputations one raised hand and one volunteer moment at a time, and those efforts have come back with a “thank you” attached. That’s a strong platform.

Build Your Author Platform.

“Author Platform” seems to be the term of the moment. Writers without their first sale become obsessed with this platform and how to build it. They join every social media venue possible or follow all sorts of publishing gurus wherever those wizards can be found. It’s like watching the movie star fans who believe that if they only impress the right actor or producer, their own careers will be made. Hate to say this, but there are no recipe books for author platform success.

I remember when “platform” was called “personal branding,” or even being “as good as your word.” All this means is that you have a personal reputation for things like writing a good story, or you have a lot of people interested in buying your next book. You build that reputation by getting to know others, not by sending letters to every publisher listed in the latest Writer’s Market.

In marketing, we’re all about the story you present. But with writing, your story will sell when you reach out, volunteer, get to know others, and risk sharing both your story and yourself with others. The RMFW website has constant opportunities for becoming involved.

And if you want to build your platform using traditional corporate marketing efforts, please keep in mind that corporations spend triple figure budgets on getting a few new buyers. Can you afford that kind of spending? And what’s your Return on Investment (ROI) for such spending? It’s more time consuming, but a lot less expensive to build your brand with a handshake.

Making Friends helps Make Stories.

And speaking of handshakes, let’s focus for a moment on the richness that making friends in this wonderful community adds to your life. Yes, I remember that everyone is shooting for publication and large book sales, but let’s be honest here. Isn’t writing the story a whole lot more fun than trying to figure out where to place your next book, or how to get onto the "Oprah" show? Don’t we have a lot more fun “talking shop” with other writers than making “small talk” at some cocktail party full of strangers?

I have to admit, I haven’t done a whole lot of volunteering in the past. But in the months since I chose to embrace this wonderful community of writers, I’ve had email correspondences that get me excited to open my mail screen each morning, and shared hugs with people I both admire and respect. I’m sometimes lost in the volunteer work and don’t get enough writing done, but then I look up at the rich life I’m building, and smile.

How ‘bout you? Do you volunteer? Do you feel this helps your writing career? Where will you next be involved?

Judging A Book By Its Cover

By Liesa Malik

Malik_DierdreThree seconds is all you get. Three seconds to make the difference between a sale and a pass on your book. No matter how much time you as an author have put into your novel, or how carefully your work has been edited, artist Deirdre Wait of High Pines Creative knows you have those very few seconds to attract attention, make an impression, and influence the purchase of your book off a shelf. It’s her job to make those seconds count.

“Anyone with a computer may think they’re a designer,” said Deirdre, “but a good design requires technical and research skills as well as good ideas.”

She should know. For twelve years, Deirdre and her artist husband, Chris, have produced successful covers for Thorndike Press, Five Star Publishing, and independent authors. Generally, they produce 30 to 50 projects a month. Five years ago, the Waits moved to Salida, and currently work from a ranch they own there.

“As people, we may not have a long time on this earth, so Chris and I work on having a good time while we’re here.”

Deirdre didn’t start out to become a cover designer. She has a degree in marketing with several credits toward an additional degree in English literature, and her first work was on a newspaper selling ad space. But then, Chris, who has a background in software, purchased a home computer and Quark Express. The two artists learned that software and began selling more and more of their work.

“With this work, we never get bored,” said Deirdre. “In other design work, you’re told exactly what the client wants and you produce it. But with book covers, you have nothing to work from but the publisher’s notes, and through them, the author’s wishes. This is a real challenge, but we like it.”

STEPS TO A COVER DESIGN

Even with no specific graphics to work from, there are still steps to producing a quality cover design. Those requirements vary for each cover in order to preserve the individualism of the authors. Here are some of the items Deidre uses to produce a good cover:

  • Ask, what is the book about? Who is the audience? – If you were designing a cover for a cozy, you wouldn’t want to go into the dark tones of a hard-boiled mystery. Try to use color schemes that the audience may be drawn toward.
  • Research for the correct time period and props – “One time we were designing a cover for a Western, and used the wrong gun type. You can bet we heard about that very quickly,” said Deidre.
  • Produce covers that catch attention in 3 seconds or less – “Did you know that Amazon puts up about 100,000 new titles each day? No one has time to go through them all carefully, so as an artist, I have to provide a reason to stop skimming and look more carefully at my books."
  • Develop a mood for the book, and then dive into image searches. "Right now, I’m working on a cover for a story set in India. I’ve asked a lot of friends for images and cloth samples, and am finally ready to put the design in place."
  • Type is important, hugely important. For a while, it looked like cover designs would be pushed to the side with the advent of the ebook. However, Deirdre said that the new media delivery system has as much call for artists as ever, if not more. “Now you need to consider type very carefully,” said Deirdre, “because you have to format your ebooks to be displayed on the new smart phone platform. She said the image on a phone can be as small as one quarter inch wide by one half inch tall. If you use a script or other complex typeface, chances are the design will fall apart at such a small size. Use big type, she said, because it truly pops in the small images used today.

TIPS FOR AUTHORS

If you’re planning to hire someone to do your book cover art, or you want to send across good ideas for your publisher to pursue, Deidre suggests these tips:

  • Take the design process seriously, and work to communicate your vision with words. This is difficult, but not impossible.
  • Be prepared to spend a reasonable amount of money for the cover art. People claiming that they can develop a cover for $50 - $75 are generally not going to have the credentials and experience to get you what you want in a timely fashion. You should expect to pay $200 or more for a good design. The high end for designs is about $3,000, but that is for big name publishers using special papers, inks, and printing forms.
  • Boil your design down to as few objects as possible. Don’t ask for an entire scene to go into your cover. It clutters the page and dilutes the message. It invites people to go to the next book, instead of yours.
  • Don’t give too much away. If people can get the whole story on the cover, why should they buy the book?
  • Work on creating the best title you can. This way both your reader and your artist will be excited.

Lastly, Deirdre said, “No matter what they say, every single person out there is going to judge your book by its cover. Everybody likes pictures, even if they’re only on the cover.”

Setting Smart Goals for 2015

By Liesa Malik

New Year's Resolutions. Bah, humbug, right? The whole practice of writing down what amount to goals that seem firmer just by calling them "resolutions" can be intimidating and defeatist.

Me? I've always liked this clean-slate time of year.  At least for a week or so I haven't goofed up my brand new year.  I really will lose those ten pounds, leap tall buildings in a single bound, write that best-selling novel that gets turned into an Academy Award Winning motion picture, earn millions, and go live in the Bahamas when Colorado winters get to me.

But wait!

A resolution is a goal, a plan, a firm decision--not a wish and a dream.  And here's where the conflict begins.  As writers, our job is to live in a semi-dream state for a good deal of our time.  Without our imaginations we couldn't conjure up the stories we do.  Without a wish, our heroes and heroines would be, well, just like us.  We need that skewed perspective on life.

But as professional writers, we also need a foot firmly planted on the ground.  We need to take our literary vision and make it a reality. So how can we blend the two?

In my work as a marketing professional for twenty years, I've had this conflict a lot (both with my own goals and those of my clients).  Over time, I've learned to embrace it, and one of the best tools I know to do so is the S.M.A.R.T. goal. Here's how it might work for a writer.

One: Dream Big

Think of all the writing projects, awards, accomplishments, and kudos that could happen this New Year.  Go ahead.  Shoot for the stars.  Say things like, "I will finish that novel I've been working on and write a complete second novel to boot!" or "I will write twelve short stories that will make it into the finals of the Writer's Digest annual competition."  You can even go so far as to jot down, "My mother will be so proud of me!"  Whatever your heart truly desires.  Take time to enjoy a great vision of  yourself (hey, we're all entitled to a holiday gift from ourselves, right?)

Two: S is for Specific

Now take your dreams and turn them into a list of goals.  But be specific.  Writing a novel is a good goal, but a novel can be a romance, a murder, a sci-fi piece, and a novel can be 80,000 words or 120,000 or anything you determine is right for your project.  The point here is to choose what specifically is right for you.  Go ahead.  Look through your dreams and write down a few specific goals.

Three: M is for Measurable

Eew! As writers, measurable sounds an awful lot like math--hex, gag, whatever!  But being measurable doesn't have to be intimidating.  Let's say you've chosen to write a novel in the mystery genre. That's nice and specific.  But let's make that goal measurable by putting a word count to it.

"I will write a mystery novel with a goofy protagonist who likes romance but keeps stumbling across dead bodies in 85,000 words."

Wow. That is both specific and measurable. Cool. What's next?

Four: A is for Actionable

Now is where we start to deep dive on a goal.  What actions can we take to get that novel written? In other words, what smaller goals do we need to put into place to make that new novel appear in electronic form instead of in dreamworld hopes?  Here are some things I would consider as good actions:

  • Make a character list
  • Write character biographies or backgrounds
  • Develop a theme or life question that really challenges me
  • Write a list of obstacles or challenges that might appear by putting two or more of my characters in a life-defining situation
  • Write a short outline of "what happened" from each character's point of view
  • Make a master outline (sorry pants-ers, us plotters need this sometimes)
  • Write 1,000 words a day in my first draft

Five: R is for Realistic

Ouch! Who wants real in a creative writing project?  Well, to be honest, I do.  I have a hard time thinking that maybe one day I'll have a novel published when I don't have a plan to get that novel written.  For a goal to be realistic you need to be in control of the outcome.  You can't say "I'll get a contract for six new novel sales this year" because you don't control the editors and agents who might offer that contract.  However, you can say "I'll pitch to twenty agents and editors each month this year," and then you can have realistic hopes of landing a contract.

Six: T is for Time-Bound

Again, this may sound restrictive at first, but in reality a project with a beginning, middle and END is very satisfying.  Let's say you've been working on a novel for oh, six or seven years.  Will this be the year you finish it?  YES!  If you tell  yourself you'll have goals X,Y, and Z done by June 15th and that date comes, you have the power to say, "Know what? I've put enough time into this project. Do I still want to invest more in it, or do I want to go on to something new?"  That isn't being a quitter.  That is being realistic.  Some projects work, and others don't.  If you're into your new novel and the deadline (decision time) looms, you can sit back and say, "Okay, I'm behind schedule, but I can get back on track by doing . . . " It's your decision.

Yes. I like resolutions.  But I love SMART goals.  Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a New Year that's filled with SMART writing success.

Bouchercon Delivers the Thrills

By Liesa Malik

Bouchercon, the world's largest fan-based crime, mystery, and thriller convention was held in Long Beach, CA this past weekend.  Colorado's literary community was well represented, and several RMFW members attended, including writer-of-the-year, Shannon Baker, Programs chair, Mark Stevens, and authors like Mike Befeler, Christine Goff, and Susan Spann.  As one fan said, "What a party it was!"

What is Bouchercon?

Malik_Bouchercon3Bouchercon (or B-con) is best understood by looking as much at what the convention is not, as what it is.  B-con is not a writer's only event.  There are no technical sessions on POV, or filling in the middle of your story.  Nor are the casual discussions centered around whether or not Indy-publishing is going to take over the writing world, how to find an agent, or how you'll get going on that next manuscript.

But the convention is still packed with information important to anyone who writes or aspires to write a great story. And the big reason for this is found in the attendee list.

Who goes to Bouchercon?

photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

The guest list for this event is huge.  Approximately 2000 authors, editors, agents and fans come together to talk, sell, and acknowledge great writing.  It is not unusual to have a conversation with such greats as Jeffrey Deaver, Sue Grafton, or Deni Deitz.  Just as important, are the conversations you have with librarians and heavy duty readers, many of whom read as much as a book a day.

Photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

Photo courtesy of Mike Befeler

"This convention doesn't have just over-the-top fans," said Mark Stevens. "They aren't hunting down the famous writers, but are thoughtful readers. "

"It is a very humbling experience," said Rocky Mountain Mystery Writer of America author, Catherine Dilts.  "I've had a few readers tell me that this is their big vacation of the year.  That thought reminds me to keep trying my best to write a good story.  I'm in the entertainment business and my books are for these readers."

The Anthony Awards

Malik_Bouchercon1Catherine is right, both figuratively and literally.  Each year at Bouchercon, attendees vote for their favorite works of crime fiction.  These votes result in the Anthony Awards, named after Anthony Boucher, a science fiction writer who was very influential with his many years of writing mystery reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times.  This year's winners included William Kent Krueger, best novel, for Ordinary Grace; Matt Coyle, best first novel Yesterday's Echo, Catriona McPherson, As She Left It, and John Connolly, best short story, "The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository."  More Anthony awards can be found at Crimespree Magazine's website.

If You Go

Bouchercon is an annual event, and well worth the effort to attend.  Many conference attendees reserve their places for "next year" while still at the current convention.  If you decide to go, here are some tips from one newbie to another:

  • Wear comfy shoes and clothes.  Even if the event is in one or two buildings, there is a lot of walking.
  • Bring SWAG. There are many opportunities to hand out your information.
  • Go to the panels.  These showcases of authors' works add an extra dimension to your own efforts, and the moderators ask insightful questions that you can mull over when you get back to your writing desk.
  • Network.  If you're looking for readers, you'll find them.  If you want to work on building your author presence in our community, again, there is a lot of bang for your buck here.
  • Bring a little cash.  Rumor has it there is a poker game going on here and there and someone willing to lighten your load.
  • Have fun.  The biggest names in the industry seem to focus on this, and it seems a good lead to follow.

And as was echoing throughout on Sunday, "Had a great time!  See you in Raleigh!"

Going for the Big Time—Getting your book in Barnes & Noble

Bu Liesa Malik

Okay, so you've written a book. And you're getting it published, either traditionally or through independent means. Today, this isn't enough. Today, more and more, sales and marketing have become the author's responsibility.

How do you sell your book? Can you get it on the shelves of big stores like Barnes and Noble across the nation? The straight answer is probably, no. But there are booksexceptions here. You can get your book shelved at all of the big stores when you become a USA Today or New York Times best selling author. Or when you're rich and famous. Or you grow your book business as most small businesses grow—store-by-store and reader-by-reader.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Natalie Vande Vuss of the Barnes and Noble at Wadsworth and Bowles in Littleton. She gave me the bookseller's perspective on stocking and selling your book. And it all starts with a little understanding . . .

booksellerUnderstanding the business

"We all want the same thing," said Natalie. "We all want people to read, and we want authors to write. That's important. This is a business I enjoy because it's a business about ideas. Here you're shopping for your head."

Unfortunately, while we may all be after this same goal, everyone is reaching toward it from different directions, so it's vital to understand your bookseller's path to selling your book.

"Each Barnes and Noble is unique," said Natalie. "I can be three miles away from another store and have a completely different customer base. So the community makes a difference. And each building is different. We don't build cookie-cutter stores." She said that the stores all have their own layouts, number of bays, end caps, and tables. And the sales will be different from store to store.

"Once you've been in the market a little while and the customers have come in and are making their purchases, and you've tracked what you're selling, you determine what to buy based on what your store needs."

The other huge determinant of getting your books onto a Barnes and Noble shelf is whether or not your book easily fits into the established system. "There may be a product from a mom and pop out of their garage, and it may be a great item, but how is the payable system going to work? How is the reorder system going to work? How, if it goes to the register in sales, is it going to be re-ordered? There has to be some sort of system in place where what someone is trying to sell fits into our process systems for how we manage profit."

Natalie mentioned Ingram, Books West, and Partners Publishers Group, as distributors whose systems are compatible with Barnes and Noble's book stores.

The challenge with smaller or independently published books and books-on-demand is that each title requires processing by hand, and as Natalie said, "In our business staff hours are limited. If I have to go outside all of my systems, and go on a clipboard, it's going to fall way down on the priority list."

Where you can start . . .

Let's say you have a book that fits in Natalie's system, or you're willing to do the extra work necessary to get and keep your book on the shelves of the store. As an author, where can you start building your presence?

"Please, make an appointment," said Natalie. "What a lot of authors do is they just pop-in, and they want to talk to you for an hour. You do not have an hour to talk to them right then because maybe you just got 300 boxes in your back door." She also said that it might be a different titled person you talk to in each store (remember, every Barnes and Noble is operated uniquely with only general structure and a majority of stock ordered out of New York).

And don't expect your Barnes and Noble contact to be your personal trainer in how the n=bookspublishing industry works. " I had a gentleman do that to me on a regular basis. Once a week he would pop in and want an hour of my time. I couldn't do that. It got to the point where when I would see him I would avoid him." Natalie said she didn't want to do so, but she just didn't have the time to meet with him on his whim.

To Natalie, a best practice would be to go into a store and let whomever you talk to know that you're a local author. Then ask who the person is at that store that handles the type of event you would like to have. Ask if you can set an appointment to meet that person. Then have a short agenda when you do actually get together.

 . . . And finish

The big day comes. Barnes and Noble have agreed to host a book-signing event for you. Natalie said that a surprising amount of authors think this is all they have to do.

"What you have to understand," said Natalie, "is you need to help me help you. I'll provide the space. We'll have employees at the register, we'll order all the books, and we'll do all that kind of stuff, but just like Random House would want to sell it and promote it, you'll have to do that."

And when your book signing is over? You have to have follow-up in order to keep books flying off the shelves. It is your marketing plan more than anything done at a store that will sell your books.