As we near All Hallow’s Eve, I thought it would be fun to search for some of the—shall we say, less stellar words of advice shared among writers. In keeping with the holiday, they’re only scary if you believe them.
NEVER USE ‘SAID’
‘Said’ is the invisible tag. Instead, make the reader slog through an assortment of dialogue tags—she murmured, he growled, she mouthed, he whispered, she sobbed. Show me a person who can growl or sob words.
AVOID ‘THROWING UP.” Don’t use the phrase, “throwing up his hands.”
It evokes an image of a character chewing up his hands and vomiting them on the floor. Same with, “the truck’s wheels spun, throwing up dirt onto the car behind him."
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
Well, if you know what you know, certainly you know what you don't know. And if you know what you don't know, write about what you don't know! –got that?
REMOVE ‘THE’ FROM YOUR VOCABULARY. It’s holding you back.
WRITE DRUNK, EDIT SOBER. Makes sense. Or, is it, write sober, edit drunk? …does that mean drunk time can still be productive? Some good writer friends of mine (who shall remain nameless) will be delighted to hear this.
Unconfirmed quote by Stephen King:
DON’T CARRY A NOTEBOOK AROUND—it’s a graveyard for bad ideas.
GO AHEAD AND WRITE IT. IT’LL ONLY TAKE A YEAR. This can only be advice from someone who has never done it.
PUT YOUR CLIMAX IN THE FIRST CHAPTER. Aristotle is rolling over in his grave. Well, maybe the advisor was speaking of 50 Shades.
WHEN IN DOUBT, CUT. The insecure writer will end up with a one-page novel. No, wait, a one-paragraph novel. No wait, a one-sentence novel. No, wait…
IF YOU’RE BORING YOURSELF, YOU’RE BORING YOUR READER.
This depends on where you are. Sixth round of editing? Or starting your novel with a “dark and stormy night?”
WRITING IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. Right. How dare we try to craft words alongside the literary greats, and have the gall to call ourselves writers? Just do it in private and wash your hands. Someone once asked Stephen King why he wrote such terrifying scenes. His answer: “Do you think I have a choice?” And Kurt Vonnegut, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” Another good Halloween costume idea!
NEVER START A SENTENCE WITH A CONJUNCTION. See above.
YOU ONLY GET GOOD BY WORKING YOUR ASS OFF. With the proliferation of good writers in RMFW, we can showcase our deformities by forming a bizarre Halloween parade.
WHO AND WHOM CAN BE USED INTERCHANGEABLY. Do not, I repeat, do not approach Conan with this statement--unless your Halloween costume includes a sword!
Happy Halloween, my friends. May the terrors delight you!
I've been experiencing a little post-conference paralysis. Have you, too?
The rosy conference glow has started to fade. Have you harnessed the energy and inspiration of the Colorado Gold, or, like me, have you slipped into the Dreaded Distractions?
You know them --
…even Google Earth.
All useful when harnessed, these websites and services have a dark side. Yes, they may produce useful information that can boost your creativity or provide key marketing information that may help you in your writer’s journey.
Or they may burn through that most precious commodity: time.
Because you’re on the Internet right now, reading this blog, I don’t want to waste your time, so just do these two things:
One. Applying what you learned at the RMFW conference, make a checklist for what you know you should be doing. What you should be doing today, not in some vague, distant future. Two or three goals--don’t make it overwhelming. Add a box for your reward—one of the websites above.
Set new goals based on tips/insights gained from conference workshops.
Complete character sketch for my villain.
Write X new pages in my WIP.
Two. Scan the following checklist. If you answer “No” to any of these questions, GET THE HECK OFF THE INTERNET!
/__/ Do you have a specific reason to go to [name of website]?
/__/ Can you name the writing goal that visiting [name of website] will help you achieve?
/__/ Can you set your timer for fifteen minutes, and exit [name of website] if it hasn’t helped you toward one of your writing goals within that time?
Once today’s two or three tasks are checked off, treat yourself. Give yourself a half hour on one of those “rabbit hole” websites---then check it off.
Repeat Steps 1 and 2 above, and keep working toward your dreams.
I hope this is helpful to you, and I’m cheering you on!
As we prepare for this year’s RMFW conference, I’m guessing that many of you are tearing your hair out, trying to write good blurbs or condensing your 100,000-word novel into a short, captivating sentence worthy of the so-called “elevator pitch.”
I’m going to expand on a blog by my fellow RMFW blogger, Mary Gilgannon. She wrote, candidly and entertaining again this month, about how difficult it is to write good blurbs. When her publisher recently needed a blurb for her latest novel, she did the RMFW thing and consulted her writer friends. They met, brain-stormed, and she produced a good blurb.
I, too, cringe from writing blurbs. I’ve even given workshops on blurbs. I recognize great ones when I see them, and can de-construct them to reveal their strengths. I can write blurbs for other people. Yet sitting down to write my own? Blek.
Among her many other strengths, Kay Bergstrom is a genius at blurbs. I, too, used to use the journalistic approach Mary mentioned in her Aug. 4 blog. I thought of the blurb as a mini-synopsis. Thanks to Kay, I've come to think of the blurb more as a fishing expedition. Fish don't always want the same things, and all fish don't respond to the same temptations. Sometimes they want a sparkling lure, other times they’ll bite some drab, rubbery thingy. Sometimes its best to adjust your bobber so the hook sinks deeper in the water, other times more shallow. Whatever the variation, though, readers (and agents and editors) need to be hooked.
What are the currently hot tropes/hooks? The editors and agents are always quick to point out that they only know what they used to be—what they were last week, last month. They are ever-changing, fickle as the market.
There are some trusty tropes that seem to live forever, though. Cinderella. Survival. Strong female lead. Fish out of water. Returning home. Family betrayal. Change of fortunes.
What makes your story unique? I think this question is what paralyzes writers. Their answer (like ours) is probably … everything! “It’s my story,” we may say. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and there are many reasons why it’s unique.” So we expound and expand.
If we stay with the fishing analogy, this would be like spilling a dump truck of junk into the water, gooey stuff that contains an odd mixture of many, many ingredients. Some of it may be really good, but it’s been amalgamated into an incomprehensible sludge.
Setting aside all the wonderfulness of your story, what sets your protagonist apart? Perhaps your response is: My novel has a kick-ass heroine. Okay, but how can you make that more interesting, and specific to your novel? Consider these from the archives:
Tough widow Norma Rae has a lot on her hands, working to the bone at a textile mill--and fighting to unionize her hazardous workplace.
Feisty young mother fights for justice any way she knows how. She takes on a powerful utility company and won’t take no for an answer. (Erin Brokovich)
It is one woman’s fearless quest, criss-crossing the globe in an amazing attempt to save the world. (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider)
Gutsy Lieutenant O’Neil dares to earn a place with the elite Navy SEALS. (G.I. Jane)
Going beyond the cliché of something like “kick-ass heroine,” what dominant trait does your female protagonist possess? In what unique/interesting ways does she demonstrate that?
Be it kick-ass heroines, secret codes, ghosts, secrets, or intergalactic wars, remember to craft your hook as well as you crafted your book--and use tantalizing bait.
So here's your chance to practice before conference ... what's your blurb? Hook me!
Conference is just seven weeks away. Do you even need business cards? Now’s the time to decide and start designing them so you can take advantage of those great printing deals…and ensure that your card will work hard for you.
Over the years, I’ve shared my business cards with editors and agents during appointments and while circulating during programs and hallway conversations. I’ve also collected cards from graphic designers, editors, cover designers and other service providers.
Will you meet someone at conference and wish you had prepared one? Will you miss a connection with another writer that may prove useful and eventually enhance your support team?
Business cards can be useful well past conference time, too. I’m in two tennis leagues, and the Evergreen tennis team we played became very enthusiastic about my books. They all wanted a business card so they could look up my books on Amazon and iBooks. Because I spent the time preparing one for last year’s conference, I was able to distribute them.
I could have just as easily given them a bookmark, for example, or a postcard with my latest release on the front. Personally, my preferences have changed since I became an indie publisher. I no longer need postcards or bookmarks, as I did with my first two big book signings when I sent large mailings promoting them. I have found the business card to be a more convenient size throughout the year.
Should you decide it’s a good idea to have them at the ready, here’s a quick and dirty checklist.
Just the facts, Ma’am. Name, genre, website or Facebook page—make your card point to your strongest landing page.
Go first class! A poor quality card shouts poor quality writing or services. Upgrade your card stock, and remember that quality starts with you. Proof, proof, and proof again. Words are your business, so make every effort to get them right. Always put another set of eyeballs to your copy to catch errors like website URLs and email addies. Home printers are notorious for faded colors and colors that run if exposed to moisture, which also sends a bad message.
Strut your stuff! Same rules apply to cards as with book covers. Reveal your genre or service, which involves colors and hues. This includes your brand. If your website landing page and newsletter masthead features red, white and blue, design your card to echo the color theme for consistency.
Make a promise. If you provide service/s, don your “clever” hat and give them one good reason to contact you.
Send ‘em to your website. This will help you avoid a cluttered card with 6-point type that no one can read without strong reading glasses. It will also remind you to have your website or Facebook page up to date and operating properly, with all links working.
Be ready. What good is all this preparation if you don’t have your cards at the ready? Store them in your purse, pocket, car glove compartment, and briefcase.
Include a call to action. "Click here." Can't do that on a card, but include it in some way. "See my website for rate schedule/more info/free book offer--whatever entices them to act.
Research = inspiration. Play the information game. Give and collect cards. Check the free tables this year to see how other authors position/brand themselves, and what they include on their cards. This is not to promote copying them, but rather to give you inspiration to develop your own message and layout. Research printers, too. There are some great deals out there, and if you order early, your odds for getting them in time are much higher.
The answer to this question always makes me smile because I want the first answer to be, “Easily! Seamlessly.” Except, if you’re nervous about a new technology, there may be nothing easy about an online class. At least, at first.
Online classes are a way of taking a class at the times of day or days of the week that you most prefer in the comfort of your own home or favorite coffee shop during the specified duration of the class. In general, you can expect the following:
Classes are offered for a specified period and are generally two to four weeks in length.
The level of structure within a class varies widely based on the preferences of the instructor.
Some instructors follow a defined schedule and hope to see feedback within a specified few days.
Some instructors like the freedom students have with self-paced study.
There are generally two to four “lectures” per week (text or video or a combination).
Participants can log into the class whenever is most convenient for them.
Participants have the opportunity to ask questions and post comments via a discussion board that works a lot like Facebook.
Some instructors offer one or more “chat” sessions during the class, which are schedule for a specified time that allows participants to engaged with others in real time.
Participants have access to the classroom materials for a couple of weeks after the class ends.
RMFW University runs on a classroom platform called Moodle (used by colleges and universities), which gives users a richer experience than available with a Yahoo group. To help people interested in classes at RMFW University feel more comfortable with the tools, there is a Quick Start that is a self-paced tutorial structured to emulate how most classes are organized. If you would like to see what the RMFW University classrooms are like before enrolling in a class, send an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting access to the Quick Start. The tools are so simple to use, this tutorial should take you no more than an hour to figure out, even if you regard yourself as technically challenged.
A list of upcoming classes is posted on the RMFW website under the tab for Education and Events. If you have ideas for classes that you’d like to take, please let us know. Or, if you’re a person with a skill that you’d like to teach others, let us know that, too! We are actively expanding the catalog of offerings.
What could be easier? The classes are reasonably priced, and you can attend wearing your favorite faded PJs and slippers. We hope to see you there soon!
Sharon Mignerey (www.sharonmignerey.com) is a long-time member of RMFW who was recognized in 2016 as one of RMFW’s Guiding members. She is the 2000 WOTY, and she has been published with Silhouette, Zebra, and Steeple Hill. She has an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, and she has a passion for sharing the tools and techniques of writing and story-telling with other writers. She divides her time between the Texas Gulf Coast and a family cabin in Colorado’s mountains.
I’m listening to a fascinating audiobook about the power of the present. There are so many ways of expressing it.
“Stay in the now.”
“It’s called the “present” because it’s a gift.”
Deepak Chopra refers to it as slipping in the gap during meditation.
In this audiobook, Eckhart Tolle says that living in the now is the “truest path to happiness and enlightenment.” Tolle stresses that mindfulness, and a learned ability to stop the ever-chattering, negative inner voice will free us of the chains of the past created by mistakes and failures in times gone by. Stilling that inner voice will also free us of anxieties and fears when contemplating the future.
Of particular interest to me was Tolle’s observation about creativity. Creativity cannot exist in the past, or in the future. Creativity inhabits only the now. As I recall my most creative times, writing lyrics, poems, short stories and novels, I experience a “melting away” of life’s gnarly details—social complexities, financial responsibilities, life’s frustration—all that slips off my shoulders and evaporates, and I am in … the now.
Looking at a lake, a mountain, a deer, a flower, the ocean’s waves—these are the rejuvenating gifts of vacations, when we successfully escape “the voice” and simply … live.
All one must do is still that voice—the one that we ‘think’ is us but is really a compilation of parental ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and family/community/global expectations and standards—and we can enjoy simply being, every day of our lives, not just during getaways.
This message is also found in Buddhist and yogi writings, and in Deepak Chopra’s books and videos. Chopra in fact recommends The Power of Now.
Reviews for this book cover the spectrum, from deep appreciation for the book having helped people change their lives, to others who call it regurgitated rubbish and New Age babble.
For your further study, should you wish to do so, check out the reviews on Goodreads.
I was reminded of two important truths from the book.
Unless you have a time machine, nothing happens in the past. Nothing happens in the future. The only place anything really happens is in the present. It makes sense to silence any voice of the past, whether you think it’s your own or some kind of universal/conglomerate voice that seems motivated to make you suffer or limit you based on activities in those time periods. (Excepting criminal acts, of course.)
2. As it pertains to writers, our chiding, deriding inner voice does not belong in our creative “now.” I really like Tolle’s suggestion that we have the power to silence that destructive, crippling voice. I’ve had some good success countering it with yoga and powerful affirmations. I like to think of nurturing my “critique friend inner voice,” the one that’s based on the positive. Rather than, “This scene stinks. What makes you think you’re a writer?” my CFIV offers, “This scene can be more effective if the conflict is ramped up—how can we do that?”
I can envision a writers’ therapy session, where we gather and write a “silencing scene” in which we explore possible dialogues to say, "No!" --to quiet The Voice.
“Time’s up, buddy. Out you go.”
“Who are you, and what are you doing in my head?”
“There’s an app for that!” (pushes red ‘eject’ button)
“Sorry. Wrong number.” (gestures as if hanging up)
“No membership card? You don’t belong here.”
“I’d heed you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Or my favorite –
“Get a life! Oh, that’s right—you don’t have one!”
The Power of Now offers writers insights into how to quiet that negative, often destructive inner voice so we can reach our potential and realize our dreams.
After more than thirty years of writing genre fiction, I will finally be able to answer “yes” to that irksome, miserable question that all would-be novelists get at cocktail parties, “Are you published?” On November 2, 2016, I signed a contract with Five Star (Cengage/Gale) for publication of my historical romance, Love’s Last Stand. Yes, yes, yes, the publication monkey is off my back forever. I am finally a so-called “real” writer. But getting published took so long I thought I’d also answered that other nagging question would-be novelists sometimes get. “If you knew you’d never get published, would you keep on writing?” Lately, my answer has been, “Well, yes, I’ve pretty much done that already.”
I first started writing fiction in 1981, in the most clichéd manner possible. I heard somewhere that Harlequin would give you $1500 for three chapters and an outline. How hard could it be to write romance? Yes, dunderhead, harder than your thick skull. I didn’t get my advance or a contract, so I went to law school. But the writing bug had bitten, and I simply couldn’t abandon that story I’d started. After graduating and working for the Department of Justice for three years, I managed to finish the book, and without ever taking a writing class, reading a book on writing, or attending a critique group. How good could that book be?
Lo and Behold! My classic story of romance took second place (or was it 3rd) in the RMFW contest, way back when we still awarded places. I was a genius! Fortune and fame were close enough to touch. Ask me about my smug smile, please. Alas, it was not to be. The story, which I still love, violated every rule of fiction writing imaginable, especially those of romance writing, and I invented a few new rules to violate along the way. I shudder at the memory. That manuscript will remain forever buried, not in a drawer, but even further out of reach, in the murky depths of Word Perfect 4.0, where no one will ever find it, except perhaps, Robin Owens.
Undeterred, I continued to write. And, more importantly, I found RMFW and my critique group, not to mention my future wife (thanks, RMFW!). I was still not getting published, but it could have been my fear and loathing of rejection, as much as the quality of my writing. I simply didn’t query much. At least not as much as I should have. Not as much as you should, if you’re not already published. I much preferred the writing and, if I wasn’t going to publish, the one thing I could do is win or final in a contest.
And contests I did with a passion. Between 2002 and 2016, I was a contest finalist twenty-seven times. On top of that, I won the RMFW Colorado Gold Contest twice, and got first place in the Crested Butte Writers Friends of the Library Contest (twice), the Southern Louisiana Romance Writers Dixie Kane Contest, the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors contest, the Central Ohio Fiction Writers contest, and the San Antonio Romance Authors Emma Merritt Contest. I was Champion of the Contest World! But I still wasn’t published.
Eventually, I simply read ten pages for Five Star editor Tiffany Schofield at the RMFW conference, and the rest is history. What to make of it? You tell me, please. Was it as simple as not sending out enough query letters? Was everything I wrote “over the top,” as one agent told me? Was it just plain dumb luck? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time all these years? Truly, I don’t know.
Mine may be a cautionary tale, and I can’t recommend my strategy for getting published. What I can recommend is finding a good critique group, continuing to write come hell or high water, and, of course, never, ever giving up. Sorry, there’s nothing new or innovative in my advice.
I may never get published again, but at least now I know it’s possible, even for me. As long as it took, I’m not ready to rest on my laurels. My smug smile has been replaced by one a bit more knowing and patient.
After all, I’m just getting started.
When he’s not writing fiction, Steven Moores is an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to law, he has degrees in journalism and fishery & wildlife biology, and his interests in writing are as varied as his education. He has written contest-winning stories in romance, mystery, young adult, and middle grade genres, and he is currently under contract with Five Star Publishing (Gale/Cengage) for publication of his historical romance, Love’s Last Stand.
Just like real people, your characters have unique personalities, backgrounds, and worldviews—they should also have unique voices. Newbie authors often miss this lesson, and as a result, all 15 characters in their novel end up sounding exactly like the author. Here’s how I took my writing to the next level by giving my characters their own distinct voices.
There are two layers behind character voice: how they speak, and why they speak that way. Here are a few examples:
Big vocabulary Insecure, trying to impress
Big vocabulary Highly educated
Longwinded Used to work as a teacher or lecturer
Blunt Doesn’t care about others’ feelings
Blunt Comes from a country where directness is valued
Loud voice Lives with a hard-of-hearing relative
Loud voice Attention-seeking
Notice, from the list above, that each how has multiple why possibilities. Also note that some of the whys on this list are personality traits (such as insecurity and arrogance), while others are related to the character’s environment (such as occupation and hometown).
Your job is to first understand your character’s whys, from both personality and environment perspectives. There are many factors to consider: character traits, education, upbringing, location, sense of humor, political and religious views, and overall attitude toward the world. Are they a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty type of person? A leader or a follower? What are they afraid or superstitious of? Do they appreciate sarcasm, puns, or black humor? What kind of local slang or colloquialisms might they be exposed to? What job or hobbies do they have? Are they timid, assertive, or brash? Self-confident or insecure? How old are they, and how emotionally mature?
Next, determine how these whys inform how the character speaks. This means vocabulary, grammar, sentence length and structure, directness and subtext, just to name a few. This also includes verbal tics, similes and metaphors, and references to history, pop culture, etc. For instance, a college professor will likely have a wider vocabulary than a high-school dropout. Someone who studied abroad in France might exclaim “Mon Dieu!” while someone who grew up in Alabama might say “Criminy!” A professional engineer may use words like “delta” and “deviation,” while a hobbyist gardener may make analogies to roots, leaves, and flowers.
Then make a list of each character’s key hows and whys. Your lists might look like this:
12-year-old girl from New Jersey Middle-aged alien from Neptune
Hates school, but loves athletics and gym Expensive education, has traveled extensively
Uses lots of slang, sentence fragments Speaks more formally, full sentences, big words
Makes references to sports Makes references to home planet
Sarcastic sense of humor Doesn’t understand Earth humor
Once you have a rough list for each of your important characters, do a round of editing just for dialogue. Print out your manuscript and skim through the whole thing, highlighting each character’s dialogue in a different color (you can do this digitally, but I much prefer doing it by hand). Then go back to page one, and read through only one color of dialogue. You’ll notice immediately if that character is repeating himself, saying things that don’t fit his voice, or using a verbal tic too often. Make edits as needed, then go back to page one and start reading through the next color. It’s time-consuming but well worth it.
And remember, crafting distinct voices doesn't mean slathering on the dialect or slang. For instance:
Character A: “Well, hawney, sun’s a-settin’, so yew’d better git on down the road thurr.”
Character B: “Croikey! Is it dusk a’ready, mate? Oi’d better get outta here ‘fore Oi get eaten boi a croc!”
Character C: “Dude, I’ve never seen, like, a real crocodile. That would be, like, super intense, like, you know?”
For one thing, no reader wants to wade through this jungle of phonetics. For another, this is so heavy-handed that the characters come across as stereotypes rather than real people. The art of good character voices is much subtler. Here’s a better example:
Character A: “Gettin’ dark out there. You better get on home.”
Character B: “You’re right, mate. Hope the crocs aren’t out tonight.”
Character C: “I’ve never seen a crocodile—you know, a real one.”
See how these lines give a flavor of the characters behind them, without choking readers with dialect?
As with dialect, verbal tics and pet phrases will add depth to your dialogue, but be careful not to overuse them. If a character says “I dunno” or “Holy crap!” every other paragraph, readers will notice—and not in a good way. Same goes for references, analogies, and metaphors. As with anything, moderation is key.
Hopefully, this gives you a good starting point for your own character voices. Now dive into that story and start talking!
With a new book coming out in June, I have had the pleasure—and the pain—of deciding what I need to do to get the word out. My decisions are similar to the ones anyone launching a book makes. Being realistic, there is only so much time and money, and never enough. There is also a limited payoff to the some of the choices, so where do you get the biggest bang for your buck. I figured I would share the marketing plan for my upcoming release, RED SKY, in the hopes that it might help some of you.
Timing is everything
There are a lot of things you can do to promote your book, and some of them must be done months in advance. Early in the year, my publisher sent me a marketing plan with the dates of actions to be taken and the name of the person responsible for taking those actions--one advantage of having a traditional publisher, and still the tasks are the same. I added to it things like signings, travel, promotional items. The time frame goes something like this:
6 months ahead of pub date
Pitch the book for print reviews, guest articles and to local media. This includes sending galleys and later finished books to reviewers. My publisher's PR department took responsibility for this, and it resulted in some nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as guest blog assignments and local media interviews.
Give away galleys and books to help create buzz. There is a community of booksellers, librarians, media professionals and book lovers interested in reading e-versions of pre-published books. My publisher puts my book up on NetGallery, and later does Giveaways to boost reviews on sites like Amazon, B&N and Goodreads. I've added to it by doing Giveaways of the book once I receive my author copies--but those are limited. Sometimes you have to buy more, and that can get expensive.
Set up signings at the local bookstores. Some stores have longer lead times than others, and if you want a time close to your launch it doesn't pay to wait. Once you know your pub date, have your publicist call (r you call) the bookstores where you want to appear. My advice is to choose wisely. Venues differ. Upside, at Tattered Cover you'll be asked to speak and then sign books. Downside, if you don't have a traditional publisher willing to pay the fee, it will cost you $150 to set a date and you may have to consign your books. At a Barnes & Noble, you'll find yourself at a table in the front of the store hawking your book to their customers. Mark Stevens is the king of hawking, and he enjoys this type of venue. I don't, so I avoid this type of signing like the plague.
OF NOTE: A publicist once told me not to set up too many signings in one locale. The theory being, you can only ask your friends, family and fans to show up so many times. With Red Sky, which launches in June, I've only set up two signings—one at the Tattered Cover-Colfax store; the other at Hearthfire Books, in my hometown of Evergreen.
Two months ahead of publication
Order promotional materials and swag. Most authors do bookmarks or postcards. Some give out chocolate. Some do tchotchke items. For example, Suzanne Proulx, who wrote a series of books featuring a hospital risk manager, ordered pens that looked like hypodermic needles to promote her novel, Bad Blood. Robin Owens printed the cover of her book on the back of a pocket calendar. Brilliant! I carried that card around for a year, flashing it numerous times in front of numerous people. The key is to be creative. Put something into the hands of bookstore owners, librarians and fans that will make them want to order and buy your book. Make sure you have a good design, and research your printer. There are a number of companies that offer discounted printing, but quality differs—and quality matters.
OF NOTE: One of the best promotional values around is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blue Mailer. If you’re a PAL or iPAL member, for a modest fee you can place a blurb about your book in three consecutive bi-monthly mailers sent out to regional booksellers and librarians. For an additional charge you can include an insert. NOTE: there are specs for mailings and inserts, so be sure you meet expectations.
One month before publication
Take advantage of other opportunities
Library talks are fun, and a great way to get your book in front of readers. So are local book club talks. I've been lucky and my books have sold to the national book clubs, including Harlequin Book Club for my upcoming RED SKY. The entry on my publisher's marketing plans reads, "Cross promotion between all clubs. Coming soon email, new arrivals email and comparable titles email." I have no idea what that means, but I'm thrilled the publisher is handling things.
Agree to speak or teach, or sometimes you can simply show up. Just make sure it fits with your goals. Last weekend Mario Acevedo, Nathan Lowell and I attended "Books and Brews" in Greeley. What can beat twelve authors, and a room full of readers playing trivia, and specialty beer? In June, I'll present a workshop at the Parker Writers Group monthly meeting, and in September I'll teach a workshop at the Colorado Gold Conference along with WOTY Nominee Shannon Baker.
Donate to auctions. I am constantly being asked to donate signed books to auctions. I usually do, but I always try for added value. I want not only the winning bidder to remember the book, but the lookie-loos, too. For example, my fellow Rogue Women Writers and I donate baskets to mystery and thriller convention auctions. We each contribute a signed book, and then we add interesting things from the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. in keeping with our international espionage themes. Things like: Campbell soup can concealers, "rear view" mirror sunglasses," truth detector" devices, top secret bags, mugs and hats.
Segueing to conventions, every genre has one. In the mystery field, it's Bouchercon. The regional equivalent is Left Coast Crime (LCC). For cozies it's Malice Domestic. For thrillers it's ThrillerFest. And, trust me, they can cost you an arm and a leg. Mike Befeler and I once calculated that it cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend an out-of-state conference. Double that for ThrillerFest. We were taking into account airfare, hotel costs, meals, promotional items, and registration fees--yes, unless you're a star, you're expected to pay your own way--so there may be some additional hidden costs. The message is not to not go, but to figure out which cons are important for you to attend. For instance, at ThrillerFest I can meet with my editor and agent, as well as rub elbows with the big hitters in my genre—many of whom I can later ask for book blurbs. Colorado Gold is near to my heart, and I would go just to see all my friends.
OF NOTE: Always accept a panel assignment, and try not to be that difficult writer who can only speak at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday alongside Lee Child. Word gets around.
There are other cons, too. The Independent Booksellers across the country hold conventions, and a number of states sponsor book festivals. Many of the writers groups will have a presence at these events, and it's worth it to volunteer to man the booth for an hour and meet the booksellers. This year, I'm going to Chicago for the American Library Association convention in June. I'm paying my airfare, but my publisher has agreed to donate 100 books for me to sign and giveaway.
Be sure and budget!
Only you know what you can afford to spend. My advice, make a plan and stick with it! Don't be me. I'll admit, there have been times when I've transferred attending a con into the "personal fun" category rather than assess the expense to my book promotion budget. Don't tell!
Seriously, if you're not careful you'll spend every dollar you make writing books, twice.
This year my goal is to expand my readership, so I'm going to ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for some face time with my editor and agent, and to connect with East Coast and Canadian readers. I'm sending out mailings, creating a display poster for the ThrillerFest hall, making donations, guest blogging, speaking at several events. Just to give you a sense of the cost, my total in expenditures to promote RED SKY so far are—wait for it—a whopping $5,660. Not as bad as you might think. I budgeted $5,000.
OF NOTE: For what it's worth, Diane Mott Davidson second-mortgaged her house to fund a tour of the west coast with four prominent cozy writers. She also gave away scads of cookies, sometimes with the help of friends. Ask Chris Jorgensen about how she and I sat in the back seat of Carol Caverly's car and stuffed chocolate chip cookies into small giveaway bags enroute to the Omaha Bouchercon. In addition to writing good books, Diane's marketing efforts eventually landed her a gig on "Good Morning America" and a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Now, I'm not advocating you refinance your home, or that you sell your first born. But give some thought to how much you can afford to put into promotion, and make a plan. Allocate wisely and it just might pay off!
Welcome back, Campers. This month we'll look at three other types of romance heroes: the Delta, the Theta, and the Beta heroes. (And how about those Oxford commas!)
The Delta - the dark and dangerous. His past is so dark, so damaging, and combines with such a darker temperament that he exiles himself from society and takes on loner/outlaw status. His issues have to do with the past and how to overcome it - guilt, shame, rage, isolation versus need for love.... Delta means change, and these heroes most of all must change to be able to give and accept love freely.
Conflicts for Delta
•Guilt vs Trust
•Outlaw vs Authority
•Freedom vs Home
•Self-sufficiency vs Family
He lets no one see inside. Trusts no one.
The Theta - the wounded. Theta means both death and art. These are the wounded creators, the ones too sensitive to put on the Delta's armor, and too passionate about life to kill themselves. Their very vulnerability to life's suffering makes them creative. They can be artists or writers or healers, but
their way of dealing with pain is to create with it. The Theta's issues have to do often with the self-destructive nature of the artistic temperament--substance abuse, loneliness, the need to stay open to life without dying of the pain of it.
Conflicts for Theta
Addiction vs Pain
Art vs Life
Past vs Future
Care-taker vs Care-needer
Then there's the Beta, and him I define not as a wimp but more as a good-time guy. He's the open, friendly fella always willing to lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on. He likes a party and has many friends, most of whom take advantage of his good nature. His issues have to do with 'self' boundaries - care-taking, giving too much, and not planning for the morrow because today is too involving. He could be a leader but is too lazy or too busy or too uncaring to do that. Mostly he just wants to enjoy life today.
Conflicts for Beta
Commitment vs Freedom
Loyalty vs Loyalty (friend/job/girl)
Trust vs Betrayal
(Delta expects betrayal – Beta doesn’t)
My favorite Beta hero - Jack (Bill Pullman), the nice younger brother, in "While You Were Sleeping"
Example: He's playing cards with his comatose brother and says, "Whoever gets the high card, gets Lucy." (No direct confrontation.) Love this guy!
Feel free to leave comments about these heroes – your favorites – and any questions you have.
That does it for our Romance Heroes for this month. Next month, we’ll talk about the last one.
Until then, remember BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Scribendo disces scribere.