Guest Post: Stephen A. Benjamin – Ideas: Where Do They Come From?

By Stephen A. Benjamin

How many times have writers been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” If we all had the proverbial nickel for each . . . Every time I give some nebulous and unsatisfying answer to the cocktail party query, I wonder if I should have something more cogent in my reply, and when I think about it, I do know where my ideas come from.

Agents, publishers, readers all look for originality when selecting novels to sell or read. As authors, we hope that we have come up with something new. But what does that really mean? When I think about the truly original concepts and stories I have read over the years, surprisingly they are not as many as I anticipated.

In the science fiction and fantasy genres, names like Heinlein, Asimov, Blish, Zelazny, and Niven come to mind. They were greats in their field, not only because of their superb writing skills, but because of their fertile imaginations and originality.

I realize that my own ideas are very much based in the works of the writers who came before me, and I cannot easily separate my imagination from what I have read and experienced. As a colleague said, “We are the sum of our experience.” I will use my science fiction novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, as an example. The main character, Dr. Cy Berger, was “born” in my mind over forty years ago when I reread Rostand’s classic, Cyrano de Bergerac. The idea of rewriting Cyrano set in the future intrigued me. Before you cry, “But Cyrano has been done umpteen times in literature and film,” hear me out. That idea in itself was not enough. Cyrano had some wonderful traits that I could use, but I needed more. My character became an empath—someone who could read emotions—but that ability made him ill. Empathy is not original in itself (recall Deanna Troi of Star Trek), but with Cyrano’s characteristics and Cy’s negative reaction to empathic perception, a more intriguing protagonist grew. Now Cy needed a calling. Enter George R. R. Martin with his Tuf Voyaging, a novel featuring a space eco-ark captained by Haviland Tuf who saved species and worlds from ecological disaster as he traversed the stars.

My background as a veterinarian made it natural for my character to follow in those footsteps, offering medical services to alien races across the galaxy (the old “write what you know” maxim). James Herriott’s memoirs, All Things Great and Small, of his veterinary practice in Great Britain, including the unique behaviors of animals and the idiosyncrasies of animal owners, was a source of inspiration, as well. Now I had my basic character with some traits very old, some quite new, and what he would do, but still not enough.

Then I read Michael Chabon’s wonderful The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. With my Jewish heritage, I saw how to set my story on a Jewish home world, one subjected to a fundamentalist Judaic tyranny to add some depth. Now my protagonist had antagonists. Though I had my star-hopping veterinarian fighting to free his home world from oppression, what happened while he hopped? He met and offered critical medical services to a variety of alien life-forms, and made allies of them to help him in his battle. Alien life-forms are always a good place for originality in science fiction, and I had some in the story, like a sentient jungle with its nine-mouthed, ambulatory plant predator, the hydra. But I also used dragons and werewolves.

Hold it! Aren’t those fantasy, not science fiction, and overdone in book and film? They are science fiction when you have a science-based genetic explanation for them in your universe. They are unique when you have a veterinarian who must treat epidemics of gout in dragons and mange in werewolves. When you dissect it, there are many aspects of my novel that are not totally new. Even the medicine Berger practices is extrapolation based on what we know about biomedical science today—no short cuts like the hand-held electronic cure-all of Star Trek. Some of the influences for the novel were overt, as I mentioned, but how many more ideas in my writing were subconsciously derived from others? I couldn’t tell you.

My ideas grew from seeds planted in my mind by previous writers, yet when they reached full growth, the resulting garden had bushes and trees unlike any other. I don’t think admitting to being influenced by others’ ideas diminish a writer’s work; I think they enhance it. I think of it as honoring great writers of the past. Now, when asked “the question” again, the inquirer had better grab a drink and a chair. They may get a longer answer than they anticipated.

 

Steve Snapshot Close (1)Stephen A. Benjamin is a veterinarian and Professor Emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. In publishing numerous scientific research papers over his career, he longed to allow his scientific speculations freer rein by carrying them into the science fiction realm. His novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, was a Colorado Gold speculative fiction finalist, and was published in November 2014 by TWB Press, Lakewood, CO. A member of RMFW, he lives in Fort Collins, CO. Links Facebook: Stephen Benjamin Website: www.stephenabenjamin.com

Coming to a Genre Crossroads

I’ve always been big on mixing genres, long before it became a thing. I’ve blogged about it before. I love the various juxtapositions you can get by tossing a genre salad into an innovatively unique story.

As an omnivorous reader, I can’t help but enjoy adding a little of this and a little of that to my own work. It’s been my process for over twenty years now, and I’ve met with some success and some failure. You won’t know how a genre mash-up will work until you spin it out. There was a time whe I could afford to indulge in such experiments. My work schedule allowed it then. Not anymore.

I’m unable to write as much as I used to because I’ve had to increase the amount of paid work I do, which is graphic design. Must pay the bills somehow. So I’m trying my hand at mainstream fiction through short stories to see if it’s something I’m even any good at. I’ve always been a fantasy writer, but to be honest, I’m a little burned out on the woo-woo stuff. I have a few contemporary fiction ideas calling for my attention. Will there be magical realism? Well…

When you come to a genre crossroads, it’s comforting to know you have options and that self-publishing is one of them. I’m not a big fan of self-publishing for myself, but hey, it’s there if I need it. And kicking the tires of a new story in short form is a great way to discover, or rediscover, enthusiasm for something new and different.

After twenty-plus years of writing, I’d hoped to be settled into a genre comfort zone by now. Ha! Looking back, I remember when I lived and breathed RMFW and read volumes of craft books, missed only one conference in the twenty-one years I’ve been a member, and then I became a teacher myself. Teaching writing workshops is one of my favorite things and I do it every chance I get.

I’ll really miss all my RMFW writer friends who’ll be at this year’s Colorado Gold. The conference is the highlight of my year and I was so looking forward to attending, but unfortunately neither of my workshop proposals (one on pacing and one on story endings) was accepted. That means I can’t afford to attend this year. I’ll try again next year and hope to see you all then. Who knows what’s in store for 2016? By then, I may have discovered a whole new genre, or gone back to writing what’s familiar. In any case, every year is a journey of new discovery. There should always be something to look forward to.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

 

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Nine-How Much Sex? How Much Romance?

By Jeanne C. Stein

Sex in writing is always a touchy subject—pun intended. Where does love making end and erotica begin? How much sex is too much? Do you have to have sex in your story?

Let’s start with the last question first. To be frank, most readers of genres such as UF or (of course) romance, expect sex to be a part of the storyline. PART of the storyline. They also expect it to be pertinent to the story, not tacked on as an afterthought. It’s different in erotica--sex IS the story. In UF or paranormal or straight romance, sex should be a natural element of the bigger story though it does not necessarily involve long-term consequences—or romance in the classic sense. Remember the difference between paranormal romance and UF? We may have a committed couple, but there’s no guaranteed happily ever after. In romance, happily ever after or happily for now is implicit. Regardless of genre, however, writing sex can be fun.

But writing a sex scene is not as easy as one might think. How far do you want to take it? Do you want to stop at the bedroom door or fling it wide open and invite the reader along? For our purposes, we’re going to assume you’re inviting the reader in.

There are two main elements to writing a good sex scene—the emotional and the physical. Sexual tension between the characters should have been building long before they land in bed. Danger can be a catalyst for sexual tension, conflict can be a catalyst. The characters may be long time friends or lovers, they may have just met and extenuating circumstances thrust them together. After a dangerous or life-threatening situation, slaying a dragon, for instance, or banishing the resident evil, sex is often used as an affirmation of life.

So we’ve set up the scene. Our characters are headed for the bedroom. How do we describe what happens next?

Depends on what type of scene we’re presenting. Is this a tryst between two lovers who know each other well? Will they take their time? Will they light candles and slip into a bubble bath? Will they kiss long and passionately? Will there be extended foreplay?

Or is this the frantic coupling of two people who have survived an unspeakable horror and want nothing more than to block it from their minds? Are they in an elevator or a taxi or in the back seat of a car? Do they fumble and tear at their clothes? Do they explore each other with fingers and tongues? Is the consummation an act of desperation or thanksgiving?

Set the mood.

Now on to the hard part: describing the action. Use all five senses. Set aside your inhibitions. If you’re writing the first type of love scene, the language and action will be romantic and sweet. If you’re writing the second, it will be abrupt and crude.

Your characters should talk to each other. Your characters should describe what they’re feeling. Your characters should have physical reactions to what is happening to them.

Now, here’s the secret. If your sex scene doesn’t turn you on—chances are it won’t turn your readers on, either.

Does that mean it has to be graphic?

Not at all. Here’s an example from author Jeaniene Frost:

He laughed—and then whirled me up in his arms so fast, my feet were still flexing for another step His mouth crushed down on mine, taking my breath away, and the same mindless compulsion that had led me to act so bizarrely upstairs manifested itself in another form. My arms went around his neck, my legs wrapped around his waist, and I kissed him as if by willpower alone I could erase the memory of every woman before me.

I heard a rip. Felt the wall at my back, and then the next moment, he was inside me.

I clung to him, nails digging into his back with mounting need, mouth locked onto his throat to stifle my cries. He moaned into my skin, free hand tangled in my hair as he moved faster, deeper. There was no gentleness to him, but I wanted none, exulting in the unbridled passion between us.

Everything inside me suddenly clenched, and then relinquished in a rush of ecstasy that streamed down to my toes. Bones cried out as well, and a few shattering minutes later, relaxed against me… (From Halfway to the Grave)

If you’re not comfortable writing or reading open door sex scenes, don’t do them. They will lack sensuality and emotional content and the reader will recognize it. So will an editor or agent. Better to stay in your own comfort zone. Show us something that has an emotional and sensual set up but ends at the bedroom door.

Another point, it helps if what happens in the bedroom furthers the storyline. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. There may be repercussions as a result of the coupling that are not manifest right away, but are made evident later. That’s okay, too.

Is there a difference between sex and intimacy? You betcha. Though they’re often used interchangeably, intimacy implies a close personal relationship that goes beyond the physical. An important aspect of any romance. That isn’t to say that our protag should be shown as lacking moral fiber—we want her to be sympathetic. But in some genres, UF or paranormal romance, we are writing characters that exist beyond the bounds of a normal world. A world that may not recognize them or worse, brands them as outcasts. Finding solace in sex is a way of retaining that human connection.

Our last two lessons will be more about the business of writing than the elements of writing.

Next month we’ll look at the many ways writers sabotage themselves —both in their writing and with their careers.

Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.

Whack the Cliché

By Mark Stevens

Is it possible to write a 100,000-word novel that is devoid of clichés?

Completely scrubbed free of all tired descriptions, predictable scenes, over-used descriptions, seen-them-all-before characters?

A panel* on clichés at Left Coast Crime last month in Portland sparked my thinking.

First, check this out:

The word cliché is drawn from the French. (My source is Wikipedia; there are several versions of this.)

In printing, "cliché" was the sound made by a printing plate—one cast from movable type—when it was used. This printing plate is called a … wait for it

A stereotype.

When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly, as a single slug of metal. Thus, “cliché” came to mean such a ready-made phrase.

Cliché—ready-made. Too easy. Banal, commonplace, shop-worn, old-hat, hackneyed.

Sound like a novel you want to read?

A side note, also from Wikipedia: Most phrases now considered cliché originally were regarded as striking, but have lost their force and impact through overuse. The French poet Gérard de Nerval once said "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile.”

OK, imbeciles, join me over here in the land of predictability and tell me: how do you avoid them? How do you avoid the ready-made crap?

These were a few cited by the Left Coast Crime panel:

The sassy Latina detective, say. Or staging a high-speed chase in the city (and no cops follow or give chase as well). The “slight” gunshot wound in the shoulder, yet our hero carries on. Isn’t a ticking clock, the device itself, a cliché?

Here’s one I can’t stand: the bad guy manages to bring a knife a few millimeters from our hero’s eyeballs, yet the hero’s resistance is j-u-s-t enough to hold it off. Ack!

There are cliché scenes, cliché gestures, cliché sayings, cliché lines of dialogue, too.  "Cover me, I'm going in!" "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

How do you keep the writing fresh, original?

Fill in the blank. As tough as _____.  As cool as a _____.

Go.

I mean, 100,000 words—all those characters, all those scenes and all that prose: how do you make sure it’s all original? Fresh?

And, should it be?

Wouldn’t that be exhausting? Can an entire cast of characters in a well-populated novel, every bit of description and every line of dialogue … be original?

Martin Amis thinks so: “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”

So there’s a standard for you.

Worth shooting for?

--

* The LCC panel was The Taste of Copper and the Smell of Cordite: Clichés in Crime Fiction. Panelists included David Corbett, Lisa Alber, Blake Crouch, Bill Fitzhugh and James Ziskin.

The Goodreads Connection

By Patricia Stoltey

So far in my series about blogging and social media I’ve discussed blogs and Twitter. In addition to blogging, I try to use a limited number of social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google+ so far).

I’m signed up on Library Thing, however, and may get busy over there once I figure it out. I understand that’s where an author finds a lot of librarians. We love librarians!

Regardless of your social media interests or lack thereof, there are good reasons for choosing a site or two to establish a presence. But no one author can do them all. That would be crazy as well as a monumental waste of time.

Today I’m going to focus on Goodreads. I haven’t been active there long, but my limited experience proves there’s a solid reason I should put this site at the top of my priority list. That reason? Because Goodreads is where readers hang out.

1. Authors can create and be approved for an author site and add all of their book editions and covers. You can check out my Goodreads page here.
2. Readers can enter giveaways for ARCs and printed books. So far, I’ve done one ARC giveaway and one hardcover giveaway.
3. Readers can read and leave comments on my blog posts within Goodreads because I opted to add blog posts to my author page.
4. Readers can ask questions and get personal responses.
5. Readers can recommend books to others.
6. Readers can mark our books as “Want to Read.” When they do so, they will be notified if there’s a new giveaway for the book.

In my experience as a reader, if I mark something “Want to Read,” I might buy it or borrow it from the library, but I’m also likely to post a short review once I’ve read the book. Not all reviews are good ones. So be it. Every book does not appeal to every reader, so I take the bitter with the sweet.

Now you’ll notice in my list above that I focused on what readers can do on Goodreads. That’s because readers are the people we want to connect with on Goodreads. Once my author page was set up and my blog available on site, I tuned in to the reader side of my brain and began looking for the things that would help me find the books I want to read, and the things that would most likely help the authors I admire.

Every time I visit the site, I find another “Want to Read” book to add to my list. If I read a book and like it, and can honestly give it four or five stars, I also leave a ranking and short review.

And one of these days I’ll figure out what I need to know to do an author event. There is a lot more to learn on Goodreads, and if it’s like other sites, it will continue to change over time. I think an author can even buy ads on Goodreads, judging by the header and sidebar content.

I may have just scratched the surface for promo opportunities. I wonder, is there a “Goodreads for Dummies” book out there yet?

The Only Writing Advice You Really Need

By Mary Gillgannon

I recently read a blog by a newly published writer about rejection. Her worst one came from an editor who basically suggested she quit writing: “You cannot write, you have no talent, and I prefer not to be bothered anymore.” Ouch.

But the point of the blog was that the writer ignored the total put-down, kept writing and ended up having her book published. As part of her blog tour, she tells her story, the many moments of self-doubt, the sense of defeat, the struggle with depression. She ends with this heartfelt advice: “Listen to me, new writers, and listen carefully. Repeat after me: I will not give up. I can take a break. I can change the genre. I can even go on vacation. But I will not give up! Repeat that to yourself daily.”

Wonderful advice, and not only for “pre-published” writer. Many multi-published writers struggle to keep going as well. You can have several books out and seem to be on your way, and then it all falls to pieces. Once again you face the dreaded specter of failure and futility you thought you’d banished when you got published.

In fact, of the writers I know who have “given up” (at least temporarily) this is the more common scenario. They did well in the beginning, but career reversals and market and editorial changes demoralized them to the point that they put aside their writing for months or even years. When you’re unpublished, you at least have a clear goal to work toward and that can keep you going a long time. But when your career path starts to resemble walking through quicksand, it can be even more difficult to maintain that passion and drive and keep fighting onward.

This was brought home to me last weekend when I got together with a good writer friend who has changed genres and is facing a slump in sales. The result is that she is currently without a contract after thirty-some years of being published. I know that this is temporary and she’ll find her way. And she knows it, too. But I’m pretty sure she’s experienced some moments of self-doubt and occasionally wonders whether it’s all worth it. The one thing on her side is that she’s changed her career direction a few times already, and she knows that there’s only one thing you can do: Find a new pathway and keep slogging forward, i.e., never give up.

But that’s not to say that sometimes it isn’t a good idea to take a break. Pull off to the side on your writing journey and rest a while. That’s what another writer friend is doing. For the last few years she’s faced serious health problems, while still keeping her writing career going. Despite surgeries, doctor appointments and chemo, she’s forced herself to meet deadlines and obligations and even write proposals to get new contracts. But after a long battle on two fronts, she’s finally decided it’s time for a rest. She needs to get the joy of writing back. The thrill of creation and the excitement of having your characters and story come to life. And she’s realized the only way to do that is to stop pushing herself.

But it will only be a vacation, a chance to give herself a little breathing room. To stop worrying about deadlines or how many pages she’s written. For her, the pathway forward right now means staying in the same place and catching her breath. But she won’t stop writing altogether, because long ago she also took those magic words to heart:  Never give up.

The blog post that inspired this one can be found at: http://www.wildwomenauthorsx2.blogspot.com

WAR IN FICTION

By Kevin Paul Tracy

I've spent the past three posts discussing elements of politics in fiction, somewhat focused on world-building, which is often considered an activity of the speculative fiction writer, but I submit is also a job for any crafter of mysteries, adventures, thrillers, etc. who wants to provide a solid plot line that fulfills and satisfies readers. It is time to move on from political intrigue, or spies and terrorists, to full-scale war in fiction.

waterlooMost of us have written the occasional (or frequent) action scene - fist fights, exchanges of gunfire, and various forms of chase scenes. But few have the occasion to relate a full scale battlefield clash between two forces numbering in the hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands. To some the task may seem daunting, but if you keep in mind that, in the end, even chapters about massive combat are still ultimately about characters the readers have, hopefully by this point, come to care about, the task becomes manageable, if no less complex.

The challenge is to relate the larger events of the battle, the strategy and tactics, the turn of advantage, the ebb and flow of victory and defeat, while still keeping the very small, individual, human element integral to the narrative. I suggest planning for the battle comes at the very beginning of story craft - in the outline phase for the entire book. If you know this book is going to have a large-scale battle in it, you have some elbow room to plan ahead. Introduce characters whose diverse occupations and roles are going to be useful in giving the reader insight into the various aspects of the conflict later. In a medieval setting, for example, introduce the Kings and Generals early in the story, but also perhaps a squire, perhaps a message runner, an infantryman or two, and perhaps a conscientious princess or lowly midwife who might become a nurse to the injured or a beacon of leadership to refugees, etc. These do not have to be major characters, and they do not necessarily have to hold the roles at the very beginning of the book, as long as they are in place when the conflict starts so that we can turn to them from time to time during the battle for their very personal, human dramas amidst the larger backdrop of war.

Characters in place now, the battle starts. A battle is kind of like a tide at the beach, it ebbs one way, flows another, breaks against hard forces such as rocks, then tumbles past soft forces like shells or seaweed. Think of writing your battle sequence like a tide. Start with a bird's-eye view, giving us the larger context, the state of war as it begins, then rush down into the midst of it and focus on the actions and consequences of one of the characters established earlier. At an appropriate point, preferably upon a cliff-hanger, zoom your storytelling camera back out to the thousand foot view again, tell us how the tide of battle has shifted, who is advancing and who retreating. Then, dive back down again, choose another character whose very personal story gives us a context-filled experience that affects us and keeps us engaged.

And so it should continue - wide-shot, then close-up, wide-shot, then close-up, keeping us apprised of the progress of the larger war at hand, while simultaneously keeping us engaged on a deeper, much more character-driven level. If done well, the reader comes away from your book with a fulsome sense of satisfaction, that they were able to follow the impact of the greater events at hand because they were also given the very personal, individual micro-view of how those larger events affected individuals they cared about.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow to be release 4/15/2015; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
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Guest Post – Cindi Myers: Setting Fire to Dollar Bills

By Cindi Myers

Julie Kazimer’s article about her experience paying for a blog tour prompted a lot of great comments, including mine that I could write a long list of promotional efforts I’ve wasted money on over the years. This led Julie to ask me to elaborate in a blog post, so here I am.

My list of promo efforts that turned out to be money wasted – for me. YMMV.

1. Paid blog tour. Julie pretty much covered this when she shared her experience.

2. Hired a publicist. The publicist I hired worked really hard trying to get media coverage for the book she was promoting (Learning Curves). The book got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was featured on the cover of PW so I figured that would help generate a little buzz, right? She sent out a boatload of press releases and managed to get the book mentioned in In Style magazine. So yes, she did her job. The problem? I spent a lot of money on these services and the book totally flopped in sales. In fact, it never earned back its modest advance.

3. Paid for giveaways at conferences. I had really adorable hot pink tape measures made to promote Learning Curves. People loved them. Did they sell more books? No. Were they expensive? Yes. Since then, I’ve done my share of postcards, magnets, pens, bookmarks, etc. When I moved last year I threw out tons of this stuff –everything from tote bags to drink Koozies that authors had spent money to have imprinted with their book info. While it’s nice to have a bookmark or business card to give someone who asks about your book, I’ve never bought a book because of a giveaway tchotchke. You can waste a ton of money on this stuff and most of it will end up in the trash soon after it is received.

4. Print ads. I’ve done ads in RT Magazine and other romance-oriented magazines, both group ads and single ads. They’re usually very pricey and as far as I could tell they had absolutely zero impact on sales.

5. Book trailers. Unless you have something really unique and share-worthy (I still remember Mario’s Lego book trailer from years ago) your average book trailer is not going to get you much attention from anyone but your friends and relatives.

So that’s my short-list of things that I feel were wastes of money and time – for me. I’d love to hear if you’ve had better results from these kinds of things. Next blog, I’ll share some promo efforts that yielded better results.

 

Cindi Myers sold her first book in 1997 and since then has had “somewhere north of 60” books published. Currently, she writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue, women’s fiction for Kensington Books, and self-publishes historical romance under the pen name Cynthia Sterling.

The One True Constant in Publishing … by Kristi Helvig

Kristi Helvig It’s a busy time for me as I gear up for the release of my sequel STRANGE SKIES at the end of April. I’m writing a slew of guest posts and doing interviews for my blog tour, planning the launch at my favorite local indie bookstore, Tattered Cover, and trying to manage the various giveaways going on right now for both my books. All of these things are similar to what I did one year ago for the release of my debut BURN OUT.

The biggest difference this time around? No, it’s not that I’m so much wiser and more time efficient (I wish). It’s that right after my book was sent for the hardcover printing, my editor at Egmont USA found out that my publishing house—not a tiny publisher either— was closing down. As in, less than a week after we spoke on the phone and celebrated finishing all the final edits, my editor said she wouldn’t have a job after the end of the week. Many authors found out that their books were cancelled.

I got lucky in that they decided to bump up my release date several months so that my book would still be published. I felt this weird mix of sadness for the awesome people of Egmont and my fellow Egmont authors, along with happiness that my book would still make it out into the world.

book-burnoutPeople asked me if I was okay, and what was I going to do after this book. My honest answer was that I was fine and that I trusted the right thing would happen for all my future books. I’d already had my first editor move publishing houses while BURN OUT was still in copyedits, and then my agent moved agencies within the same few weeks—though she took me with her, it meant that these two books had to stay with my original agency. After we got the news about Egmont closing, I spoke with my agent and we talked about my self-publishing the third book in the trilogy, which was a prospect that really excited me. And then, two weeks later, something else happened, seemingly out of the blue.

Lerner Publishing had acquired Egmont’s Spring 2015 list and just like that, I have a new publisher. I’ve already had a marketing call with them and am really impressed so far.

Helvig_strange skiesSo, what’s the lesson here? That the biggest constant in publishing is change. If you follow the publishing industry news, you’ll see a plethora of articles on publishers merging, publishers closing, editors moving to different houses, etc. The great thing is that the majority of the people who work in publishing are awesome and are in the industry because they love books.

What’s a writer to do? Keep writing, keep improving, keep seeking any and all means of publication and continue to support your fellow writers however you can. I believe it’s a great time to be an author—we have more choices than ever and if we focus on what is within our control, we’re going to be just fine.

GIVEAWAY: Enter the Goodreads giveaway through April 3rd for a chance to win one of 10 Advanced Copies of STRANGE SKIES!

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Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, BURN OUT (Egmont USA), which Kirkus Reviews called “a scorching series opener not to be missed,” follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earth’s last survivors, when our sun burns out early.

In the sequel, STRANGE SKIES, coming 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problems—and the same people who still want her dead.

Order Kristi’s books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer. Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog at www.kristihelvig.com and Twitter (@KristiHelvig). You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.