MORE POLITICS IN FICTION

By Kevin Paul Tracy

senateAfter writing last month’s column on infusing your fiction with real-world politics, I thought I’d address this month’s column to how to infuse fictional politics into your fictional world. In fiction it is often necessary to build a world as a stage on which the events of your novel or series will play. Most often this is done in Science Fiction or Fantasy, but it is done in other fiction as well. For example thrillers often create a world very close to our own, but different enough to avoid complaints by purists. In world building, the more complete your world the more real it becomes to your reader. Even if, like character back-story, much of it doesn't reach the page, readers can still sense the fulsomeness with which your world was built. The subtleties bleed through, even if you the very author are unaware of it. Politics can be a great way to add intrigue and urgency to your story lines.

The thing to remember about Geopolitics is that at the core of everything is money. Find any driver of international political conflict – oil, borders, religion – and you don’t have to dig much further to find the root financial drivers behind it. Now I’m going to use a dirty word, please don’t stop reading: that’s economics. Use the word economics in almost any context and people’s eye glaze over, but it doesn't have to be as dry and boring as the pundits on television make it seem. Let me explain how you can use basic economic concepts to build a realistic, engaging, and exciting geopolitical scaffolding around which to build your fictional world.

The definition of economics is stated in a single sentence: economics is the management of finite resources. Period. That’s it. Simple, right? Resources can be anything from food, to water, to grazing land, to narcotics, to oil, ad infinitum. In economics a resource has at least two properties: demand (how many people want it and in what quantity) and supply (how much of it is available or how difficult is it to come by). The value of any resource increases as demand increases and/or supply diminishes. So, likewise, it’s value decreases as demand goes down and/or supply increases.

dune_frank_herbertYou can use this simple idea to infuse a whole lot of ecopolitics into your world. Consider Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune. In this science fiction epic, the resource in greatest demand in the universe is the spice known only as Melange. Melange extends life. Additionally, two of the most powerful political organizations in the universe need it: the Spacers Guild need it to enable their pilots to fold space and traverse the galaxy, and the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood uses it extensively as a part of their rituals and ceremonies. In order to make use of the services these two organizations offer, every other political body in the universe, from the Emperor himself to the lowliest royal house, must deal in Melange. If that demand alone weren’t enough to make Melange the most valuable resource in the universe, there is this one fact: Melange is only available in one place in the entire universe – the planet Arrakis, aka Dune.

So you have a commodity, the spice Melange, in high demand by very powerful entities, and in very rare supply. You can imagine the intrigues and alliances and betrayals and, yes, even battles that emerge out of the conflict introduced by this economic stress. (Actually, you don’t have to imagine it, your can read the books by Frank Herbert, who got enough mileage out of this political tension to fill six books.) Now your book doesn't have to center around this economic tension, but it can add all sorts of color and richness as a backdrop to larger epics and themes. Dune itself is more about prophesies and myths and the emergence of a super-being or god who will bring peace to the universe.

The point is, if you feel the world you’re building is thin or lacking in richness and opportunities for conflict, don’t forget that politics is a great way to introduce grander themes and wider scope to a novel or epic series. And that the core to all politics, eventually, comes down to economics. Of which now you know just enough to build upon.


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
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Guest Post – Betsy Dornbusch: The M Word

By Betsy Dornbusch

Emissary coverMarketing is a dirty word in publishing. The publishers don’t do it, the writers don’t want to do it, and it doesn’t work anyway, right? I mean, how many times do readers have to hear about a book before they buy? Three? Eleventy-hundred? Who knows?! Might as well do nothing.

If you can deal with the guilt.

Or do EVERYTHING!

If you can stop eating, showering, caring for children, going to a day job, writing because who has time to write when you’re hawking books to anyone who’ll listen. Also, be sure to find a good therapist because that way lies madness.

Pro-tip: Do What You Do Well.

Read, take advice, try some strategies on for size. If it doesn’t work, if you hate doing it, then for the love of all that is holy, don’t do it anymore! I’ve many friends who handsell books at cons. Me, not so much. One writer I know just did a 100-stop blog tour in a month. Yeah, no. I’m not particularly good at asking for author quotes or disciplined in sending out review requests, so I let my publicists —a private one I hired and the Night Shade Books publicist— handle that. Some writers are wonderful at doing readings. Me, not so much. And, gasp, some writers really do just concentrate on writing the next book, which is also a valid marketing strategy. This often coincides with writing short stories and novellas to sell alongside their primary works.

As for me, I’ve tried lots of stuff and six books and ten years later my focus, besides writing the best book I can, is on making friends and talking at cons. That’s pretty much the size of it, though the list does go on a bit:

  • Cons get me in front of SFF readers and maintain my industry friendships.
  • I blather online and in person about my passions. Mine are diversity in SFF, and home décor because I used to be a designer.
  • Strategic local appearances.
  • Limited strategic, high-profile guest blog writing.
  • Interviews: I’ll let about anyone interview me: podcasts, blogs, paper.
  • Make friends with booksellers.
  • Swag: Pens are reusable and readers are delighted to carry off the pen you signed their book with. I always have some with me and if I meet someone in the wild who shows interest in my books, I give them one.
  • Hang out in bars and meet people. Readers hang out in bars. At cons, writers and editors and agents definitely hang out in bars.
  • Twitter and Facebook (Or Ello, Tsu, Instagram, blogging, pick your online flavor. Just be consistent and remember cross-posting is your friend.)
  • The Blue Mailer from RMFW for every book.

You’ll notice I don’t waste a lot of time doing things outside my particular talent sphere. I’ve spent some time honing the skills I enjoy and I’ve tossed most of the rest. So. Where do your marketing talents lie and how can you exploit them?

 

Betsy Dornbusch is the author of several short stories, novellas, and novels. In addition to Red Rocks squarespeaking at numerous conventions and teaching writing classes, she has spent the last decade editing the online magazine Electric Spec and writing on her website Sex Scenes at Starbucks (betsydornbusch.com). She and her family split their time between Boulder and Grand Lake, Colorado.

twitter: @betsydornbusch

Tales from Long Shots in Book Marketing

By Mark Stevens

I hopped in the car and flipped on the radio.

Scott Simon (rock star reporter and host on National Public Radio) was wrapping up a Weekend Edition interview with a guy reviewing books.

I only caught the tail end of the chat, but Simon said something like: “...and that was our London cab driver so-and-so who occasionally reviews books for us…"

I’m not sure I remember the rest.

Cab driver? Book reviewer? National Public Radio?

As you may or may not know, my friend Mike Keefe and I are in the process of publishing the works of the late Gary Reilly, who left behind 25 novels when he passed away in 2011.
Of the 25 novels, 11 are very humorous books that feature Denver cab driver Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. Murph, The Asphalt Warrior. To date, six of those 11 have been published, along with the first of Gary’s books based on his experiences in Vietnam.

Gary’s posthumous works have received great reviews—and two of the titles were named finalists for the Colorado Book Award.

But as a publisher (and also as a writer, unless you’re in the stratosphere of high visibility) there’s a never-ending search for reviews and, well, mentions.

Mere mentions of your book can make your day— Amazon, Goodreads, Shelfari, bring it!

So why not roll the dice with the cab driver from London? Indeed, why not?

Our company, Running Meter Press, has been lucky to have time and support donated by a major book publicity firm, JKS Communications. I contacted JKS and an energetic member of their team found a way to contact the cab driver, an apparently cheerful and well-read guy named Will Grozier. Soon, via Twitter (!), we had the green light: send 'em!

I packed five “Murph” titles up in newspaper, shoved them in a box and shipped them off at some cost ($55 if I remember right). In a couple weeks, I received an email from Will saying they had arrived safe and sound and that he was also enjoying the newspaper articles I’d use to wrap the books.

That was December, 2013.

Twelve months later, on Dec. 20, 2014, I’m pumping gas and my phone chimes. Shunning all risks for using your electronic device around gas fumes, I answer it.

The six titles in The Asphalt Warrior series by Gary Reilly. Five more to go. And another dozen or so novels to publish beyond this series.

The six titles in The Asphalt Warrior series by Gary Reilly. Five more to go. And another dozen or so novels to publish beyond this series.

A friend of mine is going nuts. “Gary Reilly…NPR…right now…they are talking about Gary Reilly…

Later, I listened to the whole piece (transcript and audio here) and there was Will Grozier singing the praises of my late writer pal and mentor, Gary Reilly, on National Public Radio.

“Huge fun,” said Grozier of the series, citing the books as his favorite fiction reads of the year before mentioning a long list of other books.

So what happened?

First, we got emails from all over. A dedicated book reader and book reviewer from Michigan named Tim Bazzett (a guy who has written books about the books he has read) did some digging on Gary Reilly, having heard the NPR piece, and asked for Gary’s Vietnam novel, The Enlisted Men’s Club. A few days later, Bazzett had consumed the book and wrote one of the best, and most insightful, reviews to date.

Sales went nuts.

In fact, the publishing company we work with in Boulder emailed a few days later to say Amazon had ordered 165 copies of the first title. We needed to hit the "reprint" button; we were running out.

I’d like to think that Gary has a whole new legion of fans being built based on that first book. I know  readers of The Asphalt Warrior (Book #1) will recognize they have their hands on a one-of-a-kind writer with a unique and engaging style.

In thanking Will Grozier (via Twitter) he asked if he could read the new Gary Reilly titles that had been published (The Enlisted Men’s Club and Murph #6, Dark Night of the Soul) since we first set him the shipment.

Of course, I happily obliged.

It was a long shot. It was a random radio-publicist-Twitter-email connection.

Cheers to cab drivers, book lovers, book reviewers, National Public Radio, Scott Simon, Will Grozier and readers everywhere.

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To Blog or Not to Blog? Good question!

By Patricia Stoltey

HorsetoothRes2000_text_smallI’m sure you know there are tons of blogs out there on every imaginable topic. You’ve also probably heard those little rumors floating around that “blogging is dead,” or “blogging does not sell books,” or even “blogging is a total waste of time because you should be writing.”

If you already have a blog, your frustration may reinforce those rumors because your stats are in the toilet. You don’t get visitors, or they come but they won’t leave comments.

On the other hand, you may have heard that agents and publishers aren’t remotely interested in writers who don’t have an online platform. That usually means a website, a blog, and at least a couple of social media sites such as Twitter and Goodreads.

I don’t know if any of that is true.

What I do know is that blogging can be useful. It can be time-consuming. It can be frustrating. And it can be lots of fun. Let’s deal with my truths one at a time.

Blogging can be useful

1. Link to your blog and have it display on your Goodreads author page. Readers who follow you can comment on your post without leaving the site.

What did you say? You have a book out but you don’t have an author page on Goodreads? I’d highly recommend you remedy that situation as soon as possible.

2. Keep information current so friends and readers know about your new cover art or book release. You are more likely to regularly update a blog than a website.

3. Attract readers to your blog with reader-friendly content. Share anecdotes about your life with humor and photographs to attract potential readers.

Blogging can be time consuming

1. While I admire the bloggers who post long essays/articles seven days a week, I don’t think that’s the best approach for someone whose primary purpose is writing fiction. Limit the number of days you will add content to the blog, but post at least weekly.

2. Keep blog posts reasonably short or well divided into categories so readers can pick and choose what they want to read and respond to. No one has time to waste.

3. Schedule certain times of the day to read other blogs and leave comments.

Oops! I hear the screeching sound of potential bloggers slamming on their brakes. But if you want bloggers (and bloggers are readers, too, you know) to visit your blog and leave comments, you have to get yourself out there and make friends.

4. Make it easy for readers to subscribe to your posts via email. Give readers a way to search for specific topics. There are widgets for these and many other functions.

Blogging can be frustrating

1. Be patient. Be persistent. Because one day your pre-scheduled post won’t publish. The next day, you can’t open the site at all. Suddenly readers are unable to post comments. Or the blogger god makes major changes on the site and you can’t find the buttons for bold or italics or even to pre-schedule.

2. Look at blogging as you would look at any amazing technical marvel that is constantly being upgraded (and didn’t quite get all the bugs worked out before its release).

Blogging can be lots of fun

1. Make a whole bunch of good efriends through blogging. They help spread the word about cover reveals and release dates. Blogger friends post news and host authors as their guest bloggers, conduct interviews, and sometimes review books.

2. Host other authors on your site. They bring their fans to your blog.

3. Participate in blog challenges and blog hops related to your genre. Lots of book bloggers host these kinds of activities, and the people who follow book bloggers are readers.

A2Z-BADGE-0002015-LifeisGood-230_zps660c38a0One of the very best blog challenges takes place every April. It’s called the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge—participants post 26 days (rarely on Sundays) and title their posts, with or without a theme) to coincide with that day’s letter of the alphabet. Signups are happening now at the challenge website/blog and that’s where you can get all the information and register. Total participants have numbered well over 1,000 in past years. That’s a lot of econnections you can make in a month.

So after all that, is the biggest question on your mind, “Does blogging sell books?”

Wrong question!

The right question: Does blogging reach people who read books?

It sure does if you create good content, make blogger friends and help each other, promote your posts, engage with those who leave comments, and make sure your blog reaches the non-writing readers who look to Goodreads and book bloggers for the books to add to their “Want to Read” lists.

If you have questions about your blog or would like feedback, leave the link in your comment.

You Need Critique

By Lesley L. Smith

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

Photo by Patricia Stoltey

There's a stereotype of the writer hammering away on her typewriter late into the night in a cold lonely garret in Paris. Okay, nowadays, she's stereotypically hammering on her computer keyboard. Maybe she's wearing those gloves with the fingertips missing. Maybe she's drinking bourbon or scotch or rye. In pretty much every scenario, however, she's writing alone. That part of the stereotype is true. (Why can't it be the Paris part?) Generally, writers write alone. That's why we need feedback. We need someone else to put his or her eyes on the page and tell us if what we've written makes sense (and to warn us about wandering body parts). Another word for feedback is critique.

Like many of you, I've been writing a long time. It wasn't until I became a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) and joined a critique group that my writing really started to improve. It's hard to see our own work objectively. Getting input from your significant other, your BFF, or your mom is not the same thing as getting input from another writer. Your friends support you by saying nice things. Your fellow writers support you by critiquing your work.

There are many reasons to join a critique group:

  • Get feedback on your writing. Find out what works and what doesn't work in your own pieces. Learn about the mechanics of writing. Learn about the art of writing.
  • Get to know other writers. Be part of the writing community. Help other writers become better writers.
  • Experience those "Ah ha!" moments. When you have to stop and think and explain to another writer why something works or doesn't work it often leads to an increased understanding about writing.
  • Meet writing deadlines. If I'm being honest, usually the only reason I finish my pages for the week is because they're due at critique group.
  • Your reason here. There are almost as many reasons to go to critique group as there are writers. Please share in the comments.

Of course, it's not all wine and roses. Sometimes you go to a critique group and it's not a good fit. But, if this is the case, there's an easy fix: leave the group and find another group.

Another thing to keep is mind is you don't have to change your work because of critique, it's your work, after all. Listen, consider, and then, do what you want.

How can you find this wonderful thing called critique?

  • Many local libraries and bookstores have critique groups.
  • There are a lot of critique groups online these days (search for "online writers critique groups"). Also check out Meet-ups.
  • I've met critique partners at local writers workshops and conferences.
  • Many local Writers Groups have critique groups. For example, RMFW has an entire critique webpage, including critique guidelines and listings of critique groups in the Denver metro area and online.

Please ask your questions about critique and critique groups in the comments.

Finally, I couldn't write a post about critique without including a shout-out to my many critique partners over the years. There have been a lot--and, no, I'm not reading anything into that. :) Thank you for all your help! Thank you Rebecca, Grayson, Jamie, Adrianne, Donna, John, Jim, Mary, Emily, Deb, Mike, Susan, Joseph, Monica, Barb, Nancy, Judy, Zuzana, Jill, Jordan, Dave, Betsy, Renata, Georgia and all the rest. I sincerely appreciate your help, support and insight! Maybe we should have our next meeting in Paris?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lesley L. Smith has an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction, and her short
fiction has been published in various venues. She's an active member of
the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America and Rocky Mountain Fiction
Writers. You can find her on the web at www.lesleylsmith.com.

Is It Worth It?

By Lisa Brown Roberts

Lisa Brown RobertsLast fall, I participated on the RMFW First Sale Panel. We had a great time talking about our books, and taking questions from the audience. One question has stuck with me ever since. Someone asked, “Is it worth it?” Essentially, all the blood, sweat, and tears getting to this point of publication- is it really worth it?

My response was, if you can walk away and not miss writing, then it’s probably not worth it. But if you can’t stop writing, if this is your calling, your obsession, your neurosis and your passion, then, yes it’s worth it.

Now that I’ve gone through intense rounds of editing with an amazing editor who pushed me as an author, now that my book is “real,” now that early reviews are trickling in, now that I’ve nearly drowned in promo and marketing tasks, now that I’ve spent days feeling like I’m either going to puke and/or that I’m floating on clouds.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Even though I got my first one-star review (maybe more, by the time you read this). Even though lots of people want free books and don’t quite understand why I can’t oblige. Even though a creeper somehow tracked down my day job phone number and called me at work to say we apparently had a lot in common, based on my social media presence.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Roberts_How to FallBecause here’s the most amazing thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half from contract to book on the shelf: There is an amazing tribe of supporters out there. I knew this in part because of my fantastic SCBWI critique group. But then I met more of this tribe when I branched out from SCBWI to also join RWA and RMFW. Then I found even more of the tribe at my publisher and agency, and online. People I’ve never met in person have been some of the kindest and most supportive.

When I have bad days or freak-out panic attacks or “my books stink and should never be published” phobia…all of those typical neurotic writer issues…I’ve been tremendously grateful to know that support (and maybe a glass of wine) is just an email or tweet or phone call away.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Because the main reason I write, to connect with readers, to touch them emotionally, that’s finally happening. And when a blogger reached out to say how much she loved my book and fell in love with my characters, and that she’d be posting a great review? That made it all worthwhile.

I always told myself that if my book resonated with just one stranger, someone not obligated by familial or friendship ties to say they liked it, that I’d know I’d done my job, and that it would all be worth it. I’m sure my publisher is hoping my book connects with more than one reader (as do I), but from the perspective of outside validation that the story “worked,” of empowerment to keep writing, I’m learning that yes, it’s worth it in ways I only imagined before getting to this point.

None of my worries and doubts have decreased by getting published; in fact, I have new ones. Three years for neurotic writers! (A big tribe, that one…)

But for every anxiety about this whole journey that I confess in whispers to writing friends, I receive sympathy, commiseration, and encouragement times one-hundredfold.

So to the gentleman who asked that question last fall, I stick by my answer. If you can’t walk away from writing, don’t. I promise you, it’s worth it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lisa’s debut novel, How (not) to Fall in Love, releases from Entangled Teen on February 3, 2015. She’s having a book signing and launch celebration at Hampden Hall/Englewood Library on Saturday, February 7th at 4:00 and would love to see you there.

Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn’t recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both of her eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year. This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write and read YA books about navigating life's painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way. Catch up with Lisa at lisabrownroberts.com, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Do You Need To Warm-Up Your Writing?

By Colleen Oakes

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The other day I was trying to explain to someone why I can't write for just two hours.  In two hours, I can do a lot of things. I can clean a house, take my toddler to the park, watch a movie. But I can't write.  Sure, I can put words on a page, but I know in my heart that they will be tired words, useless words.  At the very most, my hope would be to accomplish two pages of barren junk with a pretty good ending.

It took me a long time to realize how I write, and even longer to realize that I need to warm up. At first I regarded having to warm up as a weakness, but later came to the understanding that knowing intimately EXACTLY how I write was a strength. Denying what makes you great as a writer will hurt your career more than it will ever hurt your pride.

So - what exactly is warming up for a writer?

I could use a sports metaphor here, but I'm not going to.  To quote Mindy Kaling: "Athletics and sporting are the great non-loves of my life."  Instead, let's compare it to vocal music.  When a musician prepares to give the world her contribution to the wild beauty of art, she warms up.  A Met lead soprano wouldn't dare step on a stage without warming up her instrument.  If she did, her performance would be sub-par vocally, but also her nerves would overtake her senses more easily, seeing how she had not run the piece ahead of time.  More devastatingly, the joy of the performance would be lowered, for both the singer and the audience. The art would suffer in the end.

So - let's have a frank conversation - are you as a writer struggling because of your lack of warm up?

Do you spend a lot of time staring a blank screen, grasping at lose concepts? 

Do you struggle with finding the right word for complicated sentences? 

Are you spending massive time distracted by the internet or "research?"

Do you spend more time planning your plot than actually writing?

Does your writing tend to be rambling with short bursts of inspiration? 

If these apply to you, then I would think about how you warm up your instrument: your pen. Or keyboard. Or blackboard. Or whatever.

First, remember that you are starting on the ground level. You are ramping up to greatness.  Let your words RISE, like yeasty bread in the morning.  Warm-up writing should be simple, clean and easy.  You won't get stuck on a warm-up because it's impossible. Think of it as laying the road that you will later travel on.  Write a blog, an entry in a personal journal or a letter, heck, even an email to a friend.  What matters is that you are turning on the part of your brain that says "it's time to write."  By doing this, you push open your creative doors and prepare to stroll through them.  And don't worry about quality  -you'll face the hurdles later when you are working on your real writing.  Right now is all about enjoyable, brainless writing.   Fire up the engines, stoke those inspirational flames and go.

How long should you warm up?  I would say that depends on what kind of writer you are. I warm up for about an hour before I begin working on my novels.  I have found that my best writing occurs when I have about a five hour writing stretch. Anything less than that is not within my peak writing abilities, and anything more than that starts to get messy and tired - I see it when I edit, every time. "Oh yes, here is where I timed out."  Everyone writes different, and so you should be able to tell when you are sufficiently warmed up.  Maybe five minutes works for you, maybe two hours of warming up is what you need to have two brilliant hours of word craft.  Are the sentences flying fast and furious? Is your brain tingling with great ideas, story concepts? Are your fingers dashing out words like they are moving on their own.

Good. Now you are in the good writing zone. You've warmed up your writing voice and you are ready to share your gift.  Step out on the stage and wow us.

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Colleen Oakes is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Bestselling Elly in Bloom Series, The Queen of Hearts Saga (Harper Collins 2016) and The Wendy Darling Saga. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son and surrounds herself with the most lovely family and friends imaginable. When not writing or plotting new books, Colleen can be found swimming, traveling, blogging, decluttering or totally immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She currently at work on the final Elly novel and her next YA fantasy series.


Setting Up Your Goals – Make Your Bed and Lie in it!

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

If you’re anything like me, and I know you are, your New Year’s resolution lasted until January 3rd. The 2nd if it involved not eating cake. Thankfully, for the sake of humanity, most of our writerly resolutions do not involve the consumption of baked goods.

However, they do include the dreaded word resolution, thereby dooming us yet again this year to failure. Therefore, I prefer to look at the start of each New Year as an opportunity to, a) eat lots of cake and b) set writerly goals rather than making resolutions I will never stick to, merely for the fact, it contains that vile word.

Goals are much less concrete to me, a place I’d like to be rather than meeting some expectation or commitment (and now you see why I’ve never been or will ever be married). Expectations equate to failure. Goals equate to trying your very best. Yes, it’s merely my own warped version of the same song, but it does help me accept and make new goals.

So my goals for this year are:

1) Write every day.

Yep. I blew that one by day 5. Now if I felt like this was a resolution, I’d simply give up and write like I normally do, which is whenever I feel like it. Since it’s a goal, I can easily get back on track.

2) Expand my marketing efforts.

By this I mean, I want to try new marketing avenues. I love facebook, but it’s never done me any good as a marketing tool. Therefore, I am no longer going to expend my energy on it (as a means of marketing, instead I will use it for my enjoyment as it was meant to be used, that and for whining about sports teams, mother-in-laws, and plagues). I’m going to look at more guerilla marketing based tricks. I might be sharing more depending on how things go.

3) Finish the manuscripts I have waiting on my desktop.

Remember that vampire/zombie interstellar romance you wrote 10 years ago? No? Me…neither. Stupid concept…Anyway, some books are left half written because they suck. But others, like a few I’ve abandoned over the years, are good books that just needed more time to percolate. This year I am getting out the red pen and working on those manuscripts.

How about you? What are your goals for this year? What would you like to do more of (if you had the time)?

Need more writing time? Start billing it!

By Janet Lane

Hi, all! I’m glad to be joining the accomplished stable of writers on RMFW’s blog. I thought I’d start the conversational ball rolling by reminding you that it’s not too late to make a New Year’s Commitment:

FIND MORE WRITING TIME!

If you’re like me, one of the hardest aspects of writing these days is finding more writing time.

Being both a traditionally- and indie-pubbed author, I know that both groups of writers need more writing time. Traditionally published writers are encouraged by their agents and editors to write more books. Indie-pubbed writers are busy trying to accomplish the same--while wearing the staggering number of “also” hats that fit on top of the profession of “Writer”--hats like Publicist, Advertising Manager, Marketing Manager, Bookkeeper, and Research Director.

Since the beginning of time-keeping, every New Year has been pretty much the same, length-wise. Same number of months, weeks, days. My calendar reveals that 2015 has no gift cache of additional hours. To gain additional writing time, then, time will have to be allocated differently than in 2014, and some needless activities can be sacrificed to make that time.

What goes? What stays? All authors struggle with the promotion game, juggling various activities, gambling at which ones will produce the best results, and which projects can be dropped to gain those precious pockets of writing time.

Alas, this blog will not be able to determine the right promo mix for you. Each writer’s unique life, work and writing circumstances will determine that. I can, however, offer a small suggestion that may help you carve out some additional time.

One way to find balance among all the time demands is to adopt my husband’s practice of “billable time.”

Billable time is a way of life for attorneys and CPAs, consultants and other professionals who sell their services. How much time do you spend with your writing, as opposed to your promotional activities? Or your (heaven forbid) computer gaming time, or fill-in-the-blank-aimless-wandering-time?

???????????????????????????????My CPA husband bills his services in quarter-hour increments. You can, too! Put your week-at-a-glance calendar (all marked up with writing goals and prompts) just to the right of your computer screen. Use an internal timer on your computer or any timer. Set it to go off at quarter-hour increments and record how you’re using your time.

This will accomplish two goals. You’ll be able to track wasted time and identify the time thieves, and you’ll be more mindful of the valuable resource of time as you “spend” it throughout the day.

What’s a reasonable time “mix” for you? Of the available 16 hours a day, allocate perhaps 60% to the “paid” job and related commuting, 10% writing, 10% promo, 10% research, 10% leisure? More family time is needed for growing families; find the right mix. Translate into hours, and start billing them.

You can do it in 2015!

Recover lost hours. Become time-accountable. It will give you new freedom, and new focus. It will also increase your efficiency.

Writing is your love, your reward. Reclaim it!

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???????????????????????????????Janet Lane is an Amazon Bestselling Author, and lives in the Denver area with her husband. Her historical romance novels, published in hardback by Five Star and in ebook by Dreaming Tree Publishing, have won several awards. She is working on the fourth novel in her Coin Forest series, and her women’s fiction novels will be published in late spring, 2015. For more about Janet, visit her website at http://www.janetlane.net and her blog at janetlane.wordpress.com.

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.”