Judging Books By Their Covers by Joshua Viola

2016_Joshua ViolaThey say you should never judge a book by its cover. But we all do. And you should -- especially when you're in the business of selling fiction.

All marketing techniques begin with the visual presentation. The most aggressive campaign will fail if the product lacks the right aesthetic. In fact, beautiful covers can give otherwise inferior books a marketing edge over better-written novels with mediocre exteriors.

A good cover should hint at the story within. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of details. Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. A professional cover artist should be able to capture the book’s mood in a single frame while employing intriguing design elements.

The Internet makes the task of locating an artist easy. You can find websites with affordable options like Fiverr and those with a huge list of portfolios, such as DeviantArt. They’re both great places to start, but you’ll likely find more amateurs than top-level professionals.

If you don't want to sort through digital portfolio after digital portfolio, consider attending an art convention. Denver hosts a number of them -- many of which are comic book-related. We have the Denver Comic Con, D!NK, and Comic Fest. Comic book artists have a great sense of visual storytelling and presentation. If you do go with a comic book artist, make sure they have the ability to jump between art styles. You don’t want your new literary novel to look like the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

If conventions aren't for you, visit an art gallery or attend the First Friday Art Walk.

When you do find an artist you’re interested in working with, research their portfolio and résumé to determine their level of expertise. It’s easy to fall in love with a single piece, but it’s important that the rest of their work also hits the mark. If it doesn’t, keep looking.

Once you’ve found a prospective artist, send them samples of other book covers you like and decide whether or not they can provide something comparable to the look, feel and genre you’re going for. Then have the artist provide some basic mockups (this may not be an option until a contract is signed).

Before you sign a contract, find out what rights you'll be purchasing. Much like writers, artists are hesitant to give up the rights to their creations. Oftentimes they’ll license the work for use as your cover, but keep the rights.

Given the subjective nature of art, the artist determines the work’s value. There is no set rate. Typically, quality covers will cost between $300 and $1,000.

If you don't have the money for original art, you might find something worthwhile in the public domain. For those unfamiliar, public domain refers to content that is not subject to copyright and is legally accessible to everyone. Art typically falls into this category 120 years from the date of creation, but you’ll need to do your homework before slapping something on your book.

Public domain artwork is becoming a popular trend in publishing. For example, Tracy Chevalier's book, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, uses Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name for its cover. It’s standard practice nowadays and costs the author absolutely nothing. The New York Public Library recently added 180,000 images into the mix. If you have financial constraints, give this option some real consideration.

Remember, never underestimate the importance of a compelling presentation. It's your first and (oftentimes) last chance to reel an audience in. A professional cover will make the difference when you’re trying to convince those who don't know who you are to give your work a shot.

Now cross your fingers and hope they like your writing as much as they do your cover.

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

Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. Viola is the editor of the Denver Post number one bestselling horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. His next anthology, Cyber World, co-edited by Jason Heller, will be available this November. Blood Business, co-edited by Mario Acevedo, will be available in 2017. He lives in Denver, Colorado where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers and vice president of Frontiere Natural Meats. He can be found on the web at www.joshuaviola.com

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation. Cyber World presents twenty diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries.

“Cyber World gives the cyberpunk genre a much-needed reboot.”
—Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and Zer0es
Featuring stories by Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Stephen Graham Jones, Cat Rambo, Alyssa Wong, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

Edited by Hugo Award winner Jason Heller and Joshua Viola. Foreword by Richard Kadrey.

Soundtrack of Humanity's Tomorrow featuring Celldweller, Circle of Dust, Mega Drive and Scandroid.

Available this November from Hex Publishers.

The Freedom to Write

Happy Memorial Weekend!  So many things to celebrate—the beginning of summer, the joy of family, our gratitude to veterans and those who lost their lives in war.

Like most of us, I hate the idea of war.  I know what it’s like to lose a loved one suddenly, and to have my child killed in action in a place far away under conditions I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy would be a trauma I don’t think I could endure.  It all seems so senseless. But wars have been fought since humankind first began to gather in tribes across our world. We are a violent species, and our children of 18, 19, 20 years pay the price for this.

Photo for the freedom to write.
Thank you to all our service personnel who protect our right to write.

What soldiers do, though, is bring you and I as writers a solemn and precious gift—the gift of a free press. The gift of being able to say and write what we feel is important.  The US Constitution in the first amendment recorded under our Bill of Rights guarantees our freedom of expression.  Our military personnel protect that freedom in a very real way.

I don’t know if my uncle worried about the specifics of a free press when he went to war in the 1940s, or when he had to shoot or be shot in the South Pacific.  He was just a kid who did what he was told. In all the years I “knew” him, Uncle Jack only talked of his military service once. That was just a year or two before he died, but the stories he told were frighteningly vivid even after almost 70 years had passed.  Uncle Jack’s service and the service of his buddies in WWII guaranteed that a book like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible would be published and not burned as so many books were by the Nazis. Thank you, Uncle Jack.

And even when journalists and soldiers come in principled conflict as happened in the 1960’s, our freedom to write, to challenge our mores and common thinking are protected.  While young men and women sailed across to Vietnam to, as the posters said at the time, “meet new people – and then shoot them,” our journalists at home and in the rice paddies far away were protected and even encouraged to write, to discover, to unearth the important stories.  That’s how we ended up with such classic writing as the Watergate investigations by Woodward and Bernstein, published in the Washington Post, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, and the television show, M.A.S.H. that criticized American involvement in foreign wars.

Today, journalists travel with armies, report in countries about political and human rights violations, cover our world with information.  According to the website cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists), there were 73 journalists killed in 2015, and so far in 2016 there have been 10 killed as they did their jobs of writing.  Today, people still sacrifice their lives so that crucial truths have the chance to thrive.

This leaves you and me with an important role in the story of human history.  If we have the freedom to write whatever we want, we have the obligation to write and reflect our world passionately in our stories.  Whether we write romance, or crime, fantasy or creative non-fiction, let our writing be from our hearts, and be as honest as possible.

This Memorial weekend, as we acknowledge our fallen soldiers who protect our freedom of expression, perhaps we can also spare a moment for the journalists who exercise that protected freedom. And in the process of remembrance and gratitude we can encourage our own growth as humans and writers.

And Aaron Michael Ritchey Waves His Magic Wand! Poof!

I am going to wave my magic wand, and I am going to make all your writerly dreams come true.

Yeah, my magic wand. No sex jokes.

Like Sigmund said, sometimes a magic wand is just a magic wand.

Here I go.

Do you know that story you were so excited about but every single short story market rejected you?

Poof.

You sent in query letter after query letter on the short story, and bam, a total acceptance for professional rates, ten cents a word, and you were included in a “best of” anthology. Suddenly, a hundred literary agents are knocking on your door wondering if you have a novel they can represent.

You can thank me later.

What about that cover you weren’t quite thrilled with?

Poof!

You have the ultimate cover drawn by either Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan. Your book cover could be a movie. No, seriously, and not a movie released in January to a limited audiences, but a movie released in July with Florence +t the Machine on the soundtrack. It’s such a great cover.

You can thank me later.

What about that agent who loved your story idea, asked for the full manuscript, then eighteen months later rejected you because the market changed?

Poof!

Ten minutes after reading the full manuscript, that agent immediately called his go-to guy at HarperCollins and you are offered a six-book contract including a movie deal, and you get to meet Joss Whedon who is interested in the project.

You can thank me later.

What about that time you Indie published a book you loved more than life, more than sleep, more than donuts? It sold five copies and a week later its Amazon ranking sank into the low two millions. It’s still falling and threatens to become Amazon’s least sold book of all time.

Poof!

The day after you published the book, the Amazon ranking shot into the top one hundred. By noon? The top ten. By twilight, it was number one across all of Amazon and across all of the major categories. Suddenly, there’s a Huffington Post article on your book! How can this Indie book be dominating Amazon for weeks on end? Someone from Amazon calls you to apologize because they don’t have enough money to pay you. They’ve never seen such a book break those records. A month later, Joss Whedon calls you, personally, to ask if he can turn your book into a Netflix series.

You can thank me later.

What about that book where you did your homework, sent out review copies, made people sign blood oaths, all to get at least fifty Amazon reviews on the release day? Then? Yeah, you had two reviews. Amazon removed one, and the other was a one-star review that confused your book with the latest from Chuck Tingle.

Poof!

Not only did you get fifty five-star reviews, no, you got a hundred reviews total. And more are coming in each day. Joss Whedon left a review. And the bots working the interwebs saw all those reviews and emailed everyone across the globe—anyone with an email address—a “Buy Me” promotion about your book. You sold gazillions.

You can thank me later.

What about yesterday, when you promised yourself you’d get up early to write that one scene, which you were originally excited to write? Instead of getting up, you slept in, then wasted what little time you did have on Facebook, and then the day hit and you won’t be writing a single thing.

Poof!

Wait…

Dammit. Nothing happened?

Let me try again.

Poof!

Still nothing?

Let me check out my magic wand for a minute (no sex jokes). It’s working. I mean, it did all of that other stuff.

Oh, wait. That’s right. I can’t magic you into writing your book. That’s something firmly in your control, and yeah, it can be rough, life is busy, and dude, the Preacher comic has its own AMC show. I know. How cool is all that?

The magic wand only works on things outside of your control.

All of the wonderful things I’ve done on this blogpost are possible. They happen all the time. Magic happens to writers who finish books and get them out into the world. Sometimes great big magic. Sometimes teeny-weeny magic. But magic happens.

So do what you have control over. Write those books.

No need to thank you. You know what to do.

Terri Benson Sets Fire to Words Along with Genre Con (Literally)

I’m coming out of the closet. Yep. I’m an…introvert. What, you already knew?

That’s a pretty simple reveal. Most writers are introverts, and since writing is a fairly lonely job, it can have theWhy-Introverts-Are-Like-Cats makings for hermithood (you know, like motherhood—no wait, it’s not at all like motherhood unless you’re a mother and don’t have any friends with kiddies). Anyway, you know who you are, and what it’s like to try to network in a busy room, or to stand in front of a group and say things that make sense: right up there with a trip to the DMV.

I’m learning to come out of my shell. And the major reason is that I volunteer for RMFW. It started perfectly innocently, helping Vicki Law with the Western Slope workshops. Then, when Vicki decided to run for President of RMFW, she asked if I’d be willing to step in to run the W/S workshops, and be the Education Chair. Innocent that I was, I accepted, thinking it would be a piece of cake. Hmmm, maybe an upside down cake. I quickly realized I would have round up speakers, arrange a venue, stand up and talk in front of large groups, and all kinds of scary things.  And guess what? I survived. OK, except for the fire alarm and smoke and firetruck at the annual event last month in Golden. But there was that hunky fireman….which sort of made up for it. And despite rumors, I DID NOT set e fire. So our romance workshop got a little hot…it wasn’t my fault.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say (oh, no, there goes that song again) is that to grow as a writer I believe you have to do two things: learn to do new things, and get yourself out there. Become an ambivert - that’s someone with a little of both introvert and extrovert. The perfect place to debut the new you is at Colorado Gold. It’s too late to present, but you can still submit your story to the contest (until the end of May), which can be a little scary, but might get you a read by an agent or editor, or at least will be a good learning experience. And then there’s the Gold Conference itself. Three days of non-stop immersion in writing. You’ll be surrounded by other intro/ambi/extr-overts, all of whom are writers like you. THEY have the same worries, fears, and interests you do. They want to talk about their WIP just as much as you do. They want to discuss genres, protagonists, POV and all that ad naseum, just like you.

Take the plunge. Go to Gold. Don’t make excuses. It’s the best money you’ll ever spend. You will learn more than you ever imagined about the craft of writing and marketing, you’ll make friends that will last as long as you do (and if they put you in their book, longer), and you’ll have a chance to strut (or show) your stuff to agents or editors, but only if you DO IT.

Come on, if I can do it, so can you. It’s much more difficult to take that first step than it is to be there, in the moment. Trust me. And Write ON!

Yee Shall Not Judge or Should Yee?

Recently I’ve struggled with writing, publishing and the whole caboodle (yes, caboodle is an actual word though it shouldn’t be). I am not complaining, not in the least. No really. I swear

My issue is a matter of self-doubt. Which is my problem and mine alone. Or so I tell myself when caught whining to uninterested family members or friends. Nobody cares about how hard it is to publish or gain new readers. How the deck seems stacked against you. That is, nobody but your fellow tribe members suffering similar self-doubts and annoyances.

I love you guys!

While I am not turning this into a whine-a-thon (yes, again an actual word according to word), I wanted to preface my post with the above.

My post is about judging. Not being judgey (Caught me. Not a real word, but a good one that should be). I’ve long judged contests for various organizations. Every time I’m asked it brings up this issue of self-doubt. Who am I to say if a submission is good? Or more importantly, what it is about said submission that makes it worthy of a high score?

Yes, I’ve gotten books published. People have read them. Some liked them. Some didn’t. But I’m pretty much a hack. It was a fluke. 9 times over. I won’t ever see another word in print…

See how self-doubt derails me? It makes me feel unworthy of making simple contest judgments.

And they are simple. It’s about engaging me as a reader, not as a writer. The writer in me has a list of do’s and do nots. A bunch of reasons for every writerly action, and the consequence of opening a scene with the weather. But the reader in me doesn’t. I like certain styles more than others, sure. But any voice can engage me. Every well crafted scene can make me gasp in surprise.

I might have points to make for the writer, things I’ve experienced in my own publishing journey, but those are asides. If a writer opens with the weather, and makes me a believer in the reason for it, I, as a reader will be just fine.

Do you judge contests? If so, do you feel differently? What about critiquing? Do you read as a writer or reader? And hell, let’s open this up to self-doubt. What’s your greatest downfall when it comes to self-doubt?

3 Quick Tips to Avoid Dumb Mistakes with Writing Contests

The 2016 Colorado Gold Writing Contest is still accepting entries.  (Hot tip: the romance category needs entries—this is your chance to shine!)  It is the contest that led to my first published novel, so I’m thrilled to pass the information on to you. The contest accepts the first 4,000 words of your fiction manuscript (and 750-word synopsis) in the categories of action/thriller, mystery suspense, romance, spec fic, YA/middle grade, and mainstream/other.

Here are some tips so you can avoid some of my past mistakes.

1.  Remember the rules. Find them at rmfw.org/contest. There are just seven of them. I made a ColoGoldDeadlineJune1dumb genre mistake with my first novel. I had no fiction writing experience, and had just joined RMFW. I wrote a romance in which the hero died.  It’s amusing in hindsight, but just a reminder, be sure you’re entering in the right genre. Be attentive to format requirements, too. At the contest preparation workshop in March, Pam Nowak pointed out that you can guarantee yourself something like 9 or 10 points just by being certain the basic formatting and genre requirements are met.

2.  Don’t fudge on entry length. Way back in another century, I read on a writer's loop about circumventing contest length requirements. I thought I could fudge on the line spacing and submit a skosh more than the maximum number of pages. The contest is now run with a maximum word count, so this strategy of jiggling the line space settings is no longer an option. However, there are always some who think they can duck under the boundary rope and send more than allowed.

The contest folks note on the entry where the maximum number of words are reached. The judges are advised, and entries are not read past that point. If it’s blatant the entry may be rejected. Play it safe and follow the rules.

3.  Avoid eleventh hour panic. It’s easy to be overly confident and wait until the day before the deadline to review the entry. After all, it’s perfect as is—isn’t it? There’s an old joke about parents. When children are in their teens, their parents are really stupid. As those teens enter their twenties, their parents aren’t quite so stupid. By the time the children enter their thirties, their parents are pretty darned smart. This same focusing mechanism applies to writers as they look at their work just before a contest deadline. Their vision improves, and flaws can suddenly be seen that weren’t there before. This eleventh hour editing session quickly becomes a nightmare. In the panic that ensues as midnight approaches, massive cutting occurs, leaving hastily chopped gems lying on the cutting floor. Give yourself adequate polishing time before sending your entry.

These are the mistakes I made in my early contest career. Well, all the mistakes I’ll admit to having made, any way.

Get your entry ready, and good luck to you!

What Should an Author Expect from an Agent?

In the months between now and Colorado Gold, my guest posts here at the RMFW blog will take a lawyer's eye view at some issues that may be relevant to authors trying to choose a publishing path or figure out who (and how) to pitch their work at conference. Today, we'll kick that off with a little introduction to some the things agents do...and a few they don't.

Mismanaged (or mismatched) expectations are a fundamental cause of problems in the author-agent relationship. Before signing an agency contract, authors should understand the business and try to establishrealistic expectations about the author-agent relationship.

Know What Agents Do … and What They Don't.

A literary agent can fill many roles in an author’s world. Some of the common ones include:

- Line editing client manuscripts ("editorial" agents do this, but not usually at the first draft stage).

- Pitching manuscripts to publishers, and negotiating contract offers.

- Consulting with authors about new ideas and series development.

- Discussing short-term and long-term plans for the author’s writing career.

- Marketing advice (but they don't do the marketing - that's the author's job).

- Mentioning clients' work on the agent’s social media feeds.

- Acting as an intermediary between the author and publisher (especially when conflicts arise).

- Selling foreign, translation, and other subsidiary rights, either directly or through sub-agents.

Not all agents fill all of these roles. Investigate agents before you query, and talk with an agent who offers representation (before you sign!) about his or her preferences and business practices.

All agents should review client’s manuscripts, pitch and negotiate deals, and act as an intermediary with publishers on some level (some do more, and some do less). Beyond that, your mileage may vary.

Know What You Want YOUR Agent To Do (Within Reason)

Consider the list in the heading above. Do you want an editorial agent? Someone who’s active on social media? How involved do you want the agent to be in your long-term plans?

Beware the temptation to say “I want it all” (or "I don't want any of this") without more thought. Publishing is a business, and authors need both a business plan and a solid concept of how an agent fits (or, in some cases, doesn't fit) within it. Make a list, and be reasonable...it doesn't much matter whether or not you want your agent to give you a magical glitter-and-book-deal farting unicorn. You're not going to get it. 

Do Your Research, and Find an Agent Who Matches Your Expectations

After you know what you want from your agent, you need to focus on finding an agent who matches your expectations. If you only query agents who aren't editorial, you have only yourself to blame when the agent you sign with doesn't edit your manuscript.

It can be difficult to determine, with certainty, whether an agent's business model matches your own before you receive an offer of representation. That’s okay. “The call” is a perfect time to talk about expectations—the agent’s, as well as yours.

Obviously, authors only get to choose from the agents who actually offer representation. That’s why "doing the research before you query" is such a critical step.

If you're planning to pitch agents at conferences (including this September's fabulous Colorado Gold - registration is open now!) do your research in time to choose your pitch appointments wisely. Don't limit yourself to the conference website. Google the agents and editors, visit their websites, and find the ones who seem like a match for your preferences and your work.

Realize: There is No Magical Ring to Rule the Publishing World. You Won't Get One - And Your Agent Won't Have One, Either.

No matter how well an agent matches the author’s business expectations, we have to remember that no one can guarantee an offer, a publishing deal, or a place on the bestseller list. Sometimes a manuscript doesn't sell, no matter how hard an agent works. Sometimes publishers drop a talented author.

Publishing failures often aren't the agent’s fault - and the possibility of failure even if you do everything correctly is a sad but real expectation authors need to manage.

On the other hand, if the agent isn’t living up to the author's expectations, authors have the right to consider a change. Just make sure, if you make the decision to terminate an agency contract, you make it on the basis of an objective, honest evaluation—what the agent has done (or not), in comparison to industry standards—not on the basis of emotion or unreasonable expectations.

Managing expectations in publishing is a lot like herding cats or nailing Jell-o to a tree. It's a constant process, and it's going to get away from you at times. 

Even so, it’s worth the effort. The better you know the industry, and treat publishing as a business, the more likely you are to find an agent who meets your needs and becomes a beneficial partner in your publishing career.

What do you expect your agent to do for you? How do you manage your "agent expectations"?

 

Meeting Agent Right by Linda Joffe Hull

Over the years, I, like most authors, have collected enough rejections to wallpaper my office (and the adjoining hallway). However, as I continued to hone my craft, sent out more queries, and tried not to go completely insane, I began to wonder if there was more that I could be doing to get published.

As the rejections continued to filter in, it occurred to me that if I could meet every agent I queried, I’d realize that we (and thus my writing) weren’t a match, saving me some of the ego beat down of all that rejection. After all, like an online dating profile that states, I’m looking for a short, perky, blond, 40-50, I may fit the qualifications and still not be Ms. Right. And we all know Agent Right could look nothing like his photo. Similarly, an agent can say he is looking for exactly what you’ve written, read it and tell you it isn’t at all what he was looking for.

Seeing as I was unlikely to meet any agents at my home office to determine such things, I decided to do what I could to make my luck.

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. RMFW

Go to the various events. Not only will it improve your writing, you’ll meet and connect with other writers. I’ll never forget the first time an author offered me the contact info for her agent after a friendly conversation.

  1. Get Involved:

I offered to write a monthly agent spotlight in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s monthly newsletter. As a result, I was able to contact agents and interview them about what they were really looking to acquire. Not only did the membership benefit, so did I. In fact, I landed my first agent as a result.

  1. Conferences:

Attend, but also volunteer. At Colorado Gold, we have a kick-off party specifically for volunteers and guests of honor. What better way to have casual, VIP access to the attending agents and editors before they are inundated by the masses? I started out by volunteering to coordinate the agent/editor critique groups. Not only did I get dibs on getting my WIP in front of an agent, I also had a job that led to contact with all of our guest agents and editors.

  1. Enter Contests:

Enter as many writing contests as you can. Finalists are typically judged by agents and editors. Many first deals have come as a result.

  1. Make Small talk:

After being inundated with pitches, that editor at the end of the conference bar might enjoy talking about almost anything but what you’re working on. Many of them write as well. A conversation where you don’t mention your book might even result in a connection that leaves him or her interested in who you are and, thus, what you write. I met my agent at a conference. My debut novel, THE BIG BANG, was published as the result of a conference lounge discussion with my now editor about his favorite writers. The Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series came about when another editor, whom I’d met over an RMFW conference weekend, suggested I try my hand at mystery. Even my first novel was recently published by Susan Brooks, a small press publisher and member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Five published books later, I can honestly say, putting myself out there and getting involved in my local writing world was not only the key to getting published, but a whole lot more valuable than an entire inbox full of rejections.

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

cropped-linda-hullLinda Joffe Hull is the author of two standalone novels, The Big Bang (Tyrus Books) and Frog Kisses (Literary Wanderlust). She has also written three books in the Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery series featuring bargain hunter and sleuth, Maddie Michaels: Eternally 21 (2013, Midnight Ink), Black Thursday (2014, Midnight Ink), and Sweetheart Deal (2015, Midnight Ink). A long time member and former president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Linda was named the 2013 RMFW Writer of the Year.  She currently serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

Schmooze Cruise

icann_photoIf there’s anything scarier than public speaking, it’s private speaking. Not the quiet conversations you have with friends but the prospect of being thrown into a room of strangers and having to get out with any shred of dignity intact. Some people have no trouble making new friends, but introverted and anti-social writers seem to have a harder time than average. The normal strategies of hiding behind a potted plant all evening or orbiting the room clutching a beverage like a life-ring while refusing to make eye contact may leave you feeling like you survived but somehow missed out on opportunities.

With the Colorado Gold Conference right around the corner, now is the time to address the burning question.

How do people do that schmooze thing without feeling icky?

It takes a just bit of mental jujitsu.

First, you have to understand that everybody in the room is there for the same reason. You’re there because you’re passionate enough about the subject matter to have found the time and resources to attend. Just by being there, you’ve got common ground with every other attendee.

Second, you need to check your excuses at the door. Even introverts can get satisfaction from sharing ideas they’re passionate about. The “I’ve got nothing to talk about” excuse and the “Who’d want to talk to me?” excuse  and the "They're all famous!" excuse all need to be left at the door.

Third, the hardest room is the first one. Not everybody in the room is a first timer, but everybody in that room was a first timer once. Most of them remember it. Newcomers are always welcome. Remember that when it's your second room. If nothing else, you'll have someone to talk to.

A few simple ideas can help even the shyest individual over the threshold.

Have a goal or two.
I believe too many people struggle because they have goals that place too much emphasis on measurable return on investment. They want to pitch their stories to three agents or get an acquisition editor to request a manuscript. While those are certainly valid goals, for somebody trying to learn the art of the schmooze these goals put Olympic-sized pressure on Wading Pool skills.

My goals for every convention I attend — writer oriented, fan oriented, whatever — are always the same. Meet three interesting people and take home one actionable idea. I don’t limit myself to what I think “interesting” means or what kind of action I want to take. Sometimes I meet interesting people in the lobby or sitting beside me in the audience at a panel. Sometimes the ideas are time management or dealing with stress. Occasionally I learn about new tools, gain insight into new techniques, or find writers I want to learn more about. I can’t achieve any of those goals unless I get out there and meet people.

Listen more than you talk.
You'll often find yourself forced into potentially awkward situations at organized dinners. Simple courtesy can ease the conversation into starting on its own. Take a seat, smile at the person on your left/right, offer your hand, and say, “Hi, I’m Nathan.” If nothing else, they'll look at you funny unless you use your own name. Typically, that triggers a response around the table. This also works at meet-and-greet events, BarCons, session audiences, and other situations where you’re in a room full of strangers all wearing the same badges. If the conversation lags, you can always ask “Who came the farthest to get here?” Chances are nobody will know so you’ll have to compare notes. After that the conversations generally sort themselves out.

The thing about listening is that you always have something to do. If you’re focused on listening, you’re not thinking about what to do with your hands or whether your hair is sticking out at an odd angle. You’re thinking about what the other person is saying and maybe asking questions about it. Listening has the added advantage of making you seem smart, even when you don’t think you are. Do it regularly, and the odds are good that you’ll become smarter, too.

Wallflowers Unite
There will always be somebody who’s off to the side, out of the path, and standing alone. The art of the schmooze is making sure you’re not that person. Find the wallflower or the person standing or sitting alone and introduce yourself. You’ll each find you have a lot in common and both of you will be able to practice the art.

Breaking In
What about when you’re trying to join a conversation that’s already going on? A lot of people feel like they might be intruding if the conversation is already in full swing. Sometimes you might be, but more typically, there’s always room for one more smiling face. Stepping into the gap—often literally—with a smile and a nod usually works. If the conversation doesn’t stop, chances are you’re just as welcome as anybody else. This is a great opportunity for you to practice listening. Asking a pertinent question at the next pause in the festivities works very well to cement your place in the conversation.

Semper Paratus
Awkward silence is awkward, but a little preparation can push awkwardness to the backseat. Questions like “So, what are you reading these days?” or “How are you dealing with social media?” often yield interesting responses. A bit of noodling time with your favorite professional online sources can add currency to your conversation as well. Finally, when awkward just won’t leave, have an exit line of your own ready. A simple “Nice to meet you. I need to circulate a little. Enjoy the convention” lets you wander off without feeling like you’ve stepped on anybody’s puppy. You can change it up with “I need another drink” or “I need to find my partner.” Even “I need to find the little writer’s room” can give you the exit you need without falling into TMI.

Have fun.
That probably sounds a bit like “Hey, they’ll only hang you once. Enjoy the gallows.” This is one place where you actually can “fake it til you make it.” Smile at people. Meet their eyes and nod. Extend a hand and introduce yourself. Before you know it, that person you met in the first session on the first day will show up and you can compare notes. Or the person you had breakfast with will invite you to eat dinner with them. Take a few selfies with other attendees. Ask for cards from interesting people. By the time you have to leave, you’ll find you’ve actually had more fun than you thought.

After all, these people all cared enough to arrange their lives to be in that space with you, even when they didn’t know you’d be there. The least you can do is make it worth their while.

Image credit: ICANN Photos 1361
Licensed under Creative Commons-BY-SA 2.0

Trying New Things–Kindle Scout

Photo from Morguefile by semiphoto.
Pick your book--Before it's published! Photo from Morguefile by semiphoto.

Last month, I talked about trying new approaches in the aftermath of losing a publisher. Starting with this post, I’m going to talk about some of the new things I’m trying.

The book I’m focusing on right now is a full-length paranormal romance novel about spies who’ve been genetically altered to have special powers. The hero is a Russian werewolf; the heroine is an American super-brain. Together, they fight crime!

I wrote this book quite some time ago, then spent a lot of time editing and fine-tuning, but mostly ignoring it while I worked on other things that were already contracted. In the back of my mind, I always thought maybe I’d send it to the Amazon contest, or find some other semi-unconventional place for it.

Then Kindle Scout came along. This is a crowdsourced publishing platform—you put your book up, cover and all, and people vote you up or down for a publishing contract. Amazon’s editors then evaluate the books and pick the ones they want for publication. Publication is not entirely based on how many votes you get—KS is looking for well-written work that doesn’t require massive editing. (Although I've read in some of the links below that some authors have gotten editing as well as cover-art work from Amazon before their book was published.)

So KS ended up in the back of my mind, too. But when I finally decided it was time to do something with the book, I submitted it to a lot of traditional places first. I really felt it was one of the more mainstream-type books I’d written in a long time (HA HA HA HA I used “I” and “mainstream” in the same sentence pardon me), and might just have a chance with agents/publishers.

Apparently not. The responses I got were either, “This doesn’t suit our needs at this time,” or “Wow, I liked this a lot, but it doesn’t fit our line/paranormal isn’t selling right now.”

So, after numerous rejections, I decided to move on, and now I’m preparing the manuscript for Kindle Scout. I have some misgivings, but then I always have misgivings (“Do you really have sufficient justification to eat lunch right now?” “Are you sure you really need to stop what you’re doing and go to the bathroom?”). Aren’t you glad you don’t live in my head?

On to some meaty stuff:

Kindle Scout offers a good many pros and not many cons that I could see. The manuscript has to be unpublished—not even on a blog or Wattpad, for example. You also have to be sure you’ve done all the heavy lifting editing-wise, and you have to supply your own cover. Then, during the voting process, you have to run some marketing to get votes. If you’re chosen, you get an advance of $1500 plus Amazon’s marketing machine working for you. The contract is very straightforward, and outlines exactly what the conditions are for you to ask for your rights back.

If you don’t win—here’s where I was a bit surprised. To prepare for this, I started scouting books (4 out of 9 of my choices have gotten contracts—pauses to buff nails and look smug). If the book is NOT chosen for publication, a couple of things happen that I thought were actually pretty neat and author-friendly. First, if you subsequently publish the book through Kindle, Amazon sends out an email to everybody who voted for your book. So if you get, say, 300 votes but no contract, you can then Kindle-fy the book and all 300 of those people will be notified that your book is available. In addition, if you vote for books, those books stay on your Kindle Scout page. The ones that have been published on Amazon will now have a link to their buy page even if the book was not chosen for publication by Amazon. Now that’s a perk.

If a book you voted for is chosen for publication, you receive a free copy and are encouraged to read and review the book to further assist the author you voted for.

Some additional info can be found here:

Getting Ready to Go Scoutin’

My first step to prepare my book was to sign up for Kindle Scout and start scouting books to find out how the process works and also to check out what kinds of books are being submitted (gotta scope out the competition, natch). The KS page presents the cover, the first chapter or so of each book, a blurb and an interview with the author. I usually check the blurb, then read the first chapter until I nope out of it. If I don’t nope out before the end of the excerpt, I give it a vote. That’s my full process. I am lazy. And I’m still scoring almost 50%. (I actually have no idea how that fact is relevant to anything, but I’m still bragging about it. Because I can.)

The next step is marketing. Not for the specific book, but for everything else I’ve ever published. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING.) The goal here is just to get some additional people’s eyes on me. I’m focusing on my mailing list and my Facebook page. I also revamped my website (actually both websites, but the Elizabeth Jewell site isn’t as relevant to this effort). I’ve read several books and articles about marketing as a self-publisher. From those books, I’ve pulled out all the advice that’s common to all or most of them, figuring those are probably the most efficient and effective approaches (they’re also the ones that make the most sense to me). In the mean time, I’m also preparing the manuscript and the cover art.

I see I’ve run on quite a bit, so I’ll stop here. Next time, I’ll talk about the nitty gritty of getting a cover prepared and cleaning up the manuscript. In the mean time, go check out Kindle Scout on your own and vote for some books! It’s fun! I promise!