Archive for August, 2011

Interesting empirical data regarding book sales over the last 10 years or so in this article.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/30/death-books-exaggerated

You can do a ton of online marketing, but in my mind, nothing substitutes for meeting a person face-to-face, discussing what they want to discuss, and selling ‘em a book.  Obviously, you can’t do one to the complete detriment of the other, but it seems that in this age of a trillion online marketing prospects, we need to highlight the benefit of in-person events.  With that context in mind, I’ve just had successful signings for my new book, Enemy in Blue, and wanted to share some of the keys that made them work out for me.

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AT A BOOKSTORE

I will admit, I fell into this trap.  And, I consistently hear of other authors falling into this trap as well.  Somehow (at least in my mind) having the signing/event at a bookstore gilded the entire thing with more prestige, more glamor.  That’s the same rationale that drives so many of us to pursue traditional publishing, and is similarly faulty.  Here are some “negatives” I found with trying to hold my events at a bookstore:

  1. Bookstores ain’t gonna serve food or booze: I don’t know about the circles you run in, but in my circles, lubing the wheels of conversation with some alcohol is always welcomed.  Add to that, the events I had were shortly after a 9-5 workday ended, so people were hungry.  These two facts meant a bookstore would actually have been a terrible fit for me.  I would have had to pay for both food and booze–not a cheap venture.  Plus, end of the day, our goal here is to make money and increase exposure.  At a minimum, breaking even so that we don’t have to pay for that exposure, other than with time.  So, consider other locations, where you don’t have to pay for space, food, or booze, and you could end up maximizing your profits while creating a fun environment for your potential readers.
  2. I think bookstores, simply because they are in the industry of “no response,” take the same course as some editors, publishers, agents, etc.  If you aren’t Patterson or Grisham, there’s no impetus to get back to you.  And, when you’re trying to schedule something with some semblance of a deadline, no responses or delayed responses are going to throw a wrench in your plans.  On the other hand, I have found that industries which recognize they can make money from your event, and that you won’t cost them anything (i.e. restaurants, restaurants/bars, art galleries) are responsive to the possibility of someone bringing them income, especially on slower nights.
  3. Bookstores aren’t that much fun or lively.  People are compelled to keep the noise down, even if a bookstore has a separate event room.  I believe fun attracts more participation/attendance, and more participation/attendance leads to more book sales.
  4. Space.  This entirely depends on the bookstore, but some are small and/or laid out in a limiting fashion.  I want my attendees to be able to interact with myself and other people, and a cramped space does not promote that interaction.

DAY AND TIME MATTER, A BUNCH

Choose your date/time wisely.  For signings in the summer–don’t do ‘em on weekends.  No one is around.  Probably, don’t even do them on Fridays.  Wednesday and Thursday have worked out well for me so far.  Wednesday is “hump day,” and people are looking for an excuse, any excuse, to get out.  Now, people are probably more inclined to do some drinking on a Thursday, which lends itself to a more lively environment, in my opinion.  And, by lively, I mean a more open wallet and conversation.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THESE THINGS

You organize a signing, and a day before it you’re racing to get everything together in preparation for the event.  Don’t forget these things:

  1. Make sure you have enough books in advance.  If you are a POD author, priority mailing your books costs a fortune.  Plan to order books 3-4 weeks in advance for the event.
  2. Sharpies for signatures.  Pens.
  3. If you’re doing an outdoor signing, like a booth at a festival, bring things to weigh down your materials.
  4. If you have reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., create a one-page sheet of excerpts from your best reviews.  It goes a lot further to have recommendations from people other than yourself.  Make it easier for potential readers to see what other people have said about your book.
  5. Have flyers for your book that include a summary of your book, your author bio, and how to buy your book.  You aren’t going to convert every “up” or contact to a sale.  Make sure they can leave with something in their hands to read, and to hopefully buy the book later.
  6. A sign up sheet, or a nice journal people can sign.  Get email addresses and mailing addresses.  Use this to start building a mailing list of your fans.
  7. Consider giving something away for free in exchange for people signing up to be on your mailing list.  It’s kind of amazing what people will do to get something for free, regardless of how mundane the free item is.  Giveaway a few books, an iPod, or something relatively slight in cost, and you’ll get a significant amount of interaction.
  8. Bring change.  Most people aren’t going to pay in checks. I have made many trips to the bank to get $100 in one dollar bills.  They look at me weird, and have even said, “Gonna be a fun night for you!”  Fughetaboudit.  I ask them to buy a book.
  9. If you have a business established, but don’t have a business bank account, don’t let people write checks to your business.  You can’t cash them without the business account.
  10. Bring a camera, and someone to take pictures.  It’s great to have pictures with your readers for a variety of reasons.  Not the least of which is to update on your Facebook fan page.  Check out my fan page for examples of photos from signings: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rogue-Books/189351461083083  People love them, and you can tag them, which brings people back to your page.
  11. Have a blowup of your cover made to use as a poster.  First, it’s cool, and you’ll feel like a stud or studette because you essentially have a movie poster of your book.  Second, it makes you look professional to have something like this at your event.  Of course, don’t forget to bring an easel to display it.
I’m sure there are many more suggestions some seasoned authors can offer.  If you want to add to the list, send me an email or comment on the post.  Finally, have fun!

Here’s a great blog post on marketing/branding, and why it’s so important.  Consider it an upper level marketing class!  http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/the-single-best-way-for-writers-to-become-a-brand/  Kristen Lamb was the author, give her props!

Eh-hem…do I have license to swear on here?  Well, just in case I don’t, this book was effin amazing!  That’s my technical analysis.  To put it another way, just as delicate and carefully reasoned, this book made me say “Oh, shit” about my own writing.

The story follows two improbable friends, one a scrawny Russian Jew and the other a specimen of a Cossack Russian, through a journey to get twelve eggs.  Why they need the twelve eggs, who asked them to get the eggs, etc. etc., is up to you to find out.  I won’t do with spoiling any of this story.  The story is set in Piter, Russia, during the seige of Leningrad by the Germans in WWII.  The squalor and terror of that existence, if it could be called that, was something Benioff did a masterful job of capturing.  Not having lived in a eastern European country through WWII, I absolutely felt like I tasted a bit of that experience.   At the same time, Benioff portrayed the human will to survive, regardless of the circumstances, with a half-submerged beauty.  What I mean by that is you have to look really, really hard, past the layer of dust, death and darkness that exists on everything and everyone in the story.

There is not a single hiccup in this book.  There is not a single moment where every ounce of your body fails to strain for Lev and Kolya’s success in their journey.  And there is not a single molecule in your body that will fail to well up with emotion at the end of the story.  Simply put, a magical book.  Masterful.  If you don’t read this by the time you die, you will not have lived as you should have.

A+

Another article on the changing landscape of traditional publishing houses: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/48259-all-eyes-on-amazon-publishing.html

 

 

I asked for book recommendations on Facebook, and this was one of ‘em.  The last one having been so damn good (City of Thieves by David Benioff), I was eager to get into this one as well.  First things first, I had no idea what this book was about.  Just bought it on the recommendation.  The Sparrow sounds like literary fiction, something that’s gonna be introspective, philosophical, etc.  And…it was.  But, it was also a science fiction book.  I’m not gonna spoil things for ya, but there’s another planet, with aliens.  I hadn’t read science fiction or fantasy since I geeked it out in elementary school (and just to be clear, I still geek it out, just not with science fiction or Halo 3 anymore).  Worth a shot though.  As they say, “Wrote a song about it…wanna hear it?  Here it go.”

The story’s main character is a Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz.  Okay, that could be interesting.  He is seriously messed up because of a voyage he made to the aforementioned alien planet.  Go on.  The story takes place between the past, which involves discovery of the planet and the ultimate trip there, and the present (which is set far in the future–it takes time to travel to planets, aight?), when Father Sandoz has returned.  In the present, the characters around Father Sandoz are trying to help him recover from what happened to him on the alien planet.  That’s all I’m telling ya, no spoiler.  In the past, Father Sandoz and a crew of several other voyagers, ranging from a doctor (who is a splendid character) to an artist, collectively brave the new world.

The build up to the actual voyage was lengthy, borderline tedious.  Russell certainly developed her characters, but there wasn’t much going on in the way of action to sustain tension.  Once the characters got to the alien planet, there was certainly a period of time that the story became extremely interesting.  Now, we were witness to a world created in Russell’s mind.  The alien residents are intriguing, and are essentially separated into two groups–predator and prey.  Russell’s prey group is interesting for a time, but their inherent simpleness makes them dull after too much time.  On the other hand, her predator group is very intriguing.  Unfortunately, we do not get to see much of them until the end of the book.  Even at that point, we don’t get to spend nearly as much time with them as we did with the prey group.

The primary suspense in the story was what Father Sandoz did on the alien planet, and was what done to him, that was so disgraceful.  This is literally what takes up the entire part of the “present” time story line, along with Father Sandoz’s struggle to reconcile what happened to him and his faith.  Honestly, once I reached the point of what happened to him, it was a bit underwhelming.  Maybe because I’ve grown up in a generation exposed to Faces of Death, or maybe I just shot too many people in first person shooters, but I was like, “meh,” when it all went down.

I was also distracted by Russell’s habit of saying her piece through her characters.  And, to be fair, she didn’t use diatribes.  Taking a step back, this is a book about religion, and struggle with faith.  Wrapped up as it may be with aliens and romance and asteroid spaceships, bottom line is that struggling to understand God was front and center.  So, while Russell didn’t try to push a certain point at all, and she did a good job of presenting multiple types of faith, at times the characters would start ruminating about God and faith when all you wanted was for them to do something.  Or, to have something done to them…

In all, this book didn’t inspire me to think differently, although I felt it could have.  The book wasn’t a page turner, because action and suspense was relatively sparse.  And, being a long book, it was unfortunate to combine that with not being a page turner.  If you’re gonna take the time to read something this substantial, there are other options.  For instance, City of Thieves by David Benioff, which I will review in full shortly, and which was (by far) the best book I’ve read in quite a while.

GRADE: C

Book Reviews

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Book Reviews

If you’re writing, you better also be reading.  I usually am.  Figured I would add a section to this blog that reviewed the books I read, and whether they go in the crap pile or whether they are enshrined on the tank behind my toilet.  That, as you know, is the ultimate location of reverence.

If you write for yourself, you’re gonna be alone.  And, you probably aren’t gonna sell more than 15-20 books, to poor souls who feel compelled to read it because of a close relationship.  Now, perhaps you’re someone like Denise Richards, who has a fabulous self-story to tell that derives from your amazing aesthetic appeal and your ability to perform hot lesbian scenes in big Hollywood movies.  If that’s you, get out of here and leave us alone.

For the rest of us, that want some modicum of success in selling our stories, we need to write what we are passionate about, but also with our readers in mind.   To get these points across, I’m combining two interrelated topics: (1) why you write, and (2) branding.

WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE, WHILE ALWAYS BEING RESPECTFUL OF YOUR READERS

Let’s dispel something right off the bat.  I’m not suggesting you should write what you think other people will like.  You should write about what you love, and in a genre that feels like home to you.  If you see steamy romance in your head, then please, take us into your boudoir.  If you crave the life of a spy, then 007 us!  But, while actually writing, you need to always be mindful of and respectful to your readers.  Specifically, what does that mean?  Here are some examples of what to avoid:

Excessive use of big words only shows you’re a Delta Bravo.  No one is reading a book to see how many words you know.

Meandering, flowery and overly descriptive prose.  No one cares if you can describe the minutea of the entryway to a plantation.  As Hemingway said, “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

Too much character development.  I saw this in a book I recently read, and it killed the flow of the story.  Remember elementary school?  Show AND tell.  So, tell us some of the aspects of your characters through narrative, but don’t forget to show us the personalities, traits and characteristics of your characters through action.

Get off the soapbox.  Another example from the same book I just referenced.  With some frequency, the author seemed to venture into her own thoughts and beliefs, and to force them out through the mouths of her characters.  Nothing is so disruptive, and correspondingly rude, to your reader than forcing them to hear your beliefs.  If your characters don’t believe it, don’t write it.

These are just a few examples, with the thrust being that you need to build trust with your readers through respectful and straightforward writing.

Part of building that trust is also respecting the fact that your readers will come back for more because of the brand you develop.  Do you have a series with a main character?  A series with a main world?  Do you have a specific, and unique, style of writing?  Think Jose Saramago with his lack of punctuation (which drives me nuts, but it’s certainly central to how he writes).  If you do, this is a large part of what will ultimately become your brand.  If you don’t, you may want to consider the fact that most successful authors have a niche genre or an identifiable set of characters that they stick with over a series of books, or their entire career.  Sticking with your brand, and in doing so, sticking with what people have come to trust you to write, is central to success.

I got the next analogy from a recent concert by a rock band called Soundgarden.  They were wildly popular in the 1990’s, but largely fell off the radar for the last decade.  Their falling off (with fans at least) can be attributed to two things, in my opinion: (1) they changed their “sound,” becoming more mellow on their last album, and (2) when asked about the band and touring, Chris Cornell (the lead singer) replied, “We really enjoy it to a point, and then it gets tedious, because it becomes repetitious. You feel like fans have paid their money and they expect you to come out and play them your songs like the first time you ever played them. That’s the point where we hate touring.”  Guess what though Chris, that’s just the point.  And, it leads to our second rule:

ALWAYS BRING IT AS HARD AS THE FIRST TIME

We expect our favorite musicians to bring it like the first time they ever brought it.  Why?  That’s why we first fell love with them.  Can the love evolve?  Sure.  But, the passion and same general sound needs to remain.  When that passion fades, or even diminishes in the slightest, people can sniff it out like fresh dog crap on their shoes.  Same goes for all of us as writers.  One of the greatest example of having a brand, and then sticking to it and bringing the noise just like the first time, is Stephen King.  Brand?  Horror.  Then, in pretty much each book he writes, King brings the horror with the same ferocity as he has his entire career.  Getting back to Soundgarden, what about that concert I just saw?  It was amazing.  The venue was in a frenzy for two hours.  People were stomping, pounding the air with their fists, and intermittently turning to strangers and their friends with ear-to-ear grins.  Why?  Soundgarden brought it like the first time, and they won each of us back for that night.

An implied part of the discussion so far is time.  A brand does not come overnight.  Soundgarden developed its sound over time, and their brand really came to fruition when grunge became popular in the early 1990’s.  Likewise, it was only after countless novels that we knew King was a master of horror, or that we knew Koontz was a master of suspense thrillers, or that Ludlum could deliver a spy story like no other.  On to the final rule!

DEVELOPING YOUR BRAND WILL TAKE EQUAL PARTS CONSISTENCY AND PATIENCE

McDonald’s (which I could devour right now, or just about anytime for that matter) is the quintessential example of branding in our country, if not the world.  The golden arches.  If you need a dollar menu, or a cheeseburger, or a place to hit the head, you look for the golden arches.  Driving through even the remotest parts of the country, you know what you’re in for if you see the golden arches.  Similarly, people need to be able to know, and trust, your writing.  Building your own brand is going to take time (McDonald’s started in 1955) and consistency (think, Big Mac–nothing more consistent than that burger).  But, a commonality with nearly every successful writer is a brand.

In short, if you can combine writing that respects your reader, while at the same time respecting why your reader loves you in the first place (i.e. your brand), then success is just around the corner.

[This blog isn't a vacuum.  Take the opportunity, if you're a writer or an aspiring writer, to leave a comment as to the reason(s) why you write!]