Category Archives: Writing

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Running Your Author Business

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Running Your Author Business  (Raven Oak (M), Tori Centanni, Annie Bellet, Jak Koke)

The panel emphasized that unless you were writing as a hobby with marginal expenditures and earnings, you need to run it as a business. Annie recommended watching “Shark Tank” to get the flavor of it.

Publishers are not employers. They can and will drop you and your books. You have to look after your own career.

If you’re self-publishing, you have to find and hire and co-ordinate with editors and cover artists. It’s your book when you write it, but once you publish it, it’s a product. Like hamburger. You want people to love your hamburger. Put on your publisher hat .

Covers?

You can find a cover artist by looking at the covers you like, and contacting the artist. Or ask the author of the book who the artist is.

Annie: Very important to find an artist branded to your genre, who understands the tropes of your genre. If you’re a romance writer and you hate man-chests… well, that’s the branding for your genre. The cover must convey the flavor of the genre. (She related a story of going through 4 different covers for one of her books to get the right one. The first two weren’t too expensive, but the 3rd one cost $650. And it was a beautiful cover, just not right for the genre.)

Raven Oak does A/B splits to see which cover will work (for books from her micro-press).

Back cover blurb: Keep it short, but long enough to convey the tone. It should capture the character, setting, tone, and stakes.

Best marketing?

Annie: A new book. It boosts the sales of all your books. Besides that, good covers. Third, mailing lists.

Tori: Bookbub!

Jak: Blurbs and reviews. (Annie disagreed. Kirkus reviews had no effect on sales. The only one that mattered was Library Journal and that was hard to get into.)

Raven: Make friends with librarians, other contacts like Seattle Times, independent book sellers.

 Various income streams?

Tori: Amazon is the largest, Kobo if they do a promotion

Annie: Amazon dwarfs the rest. In one month, I made $31,000 on Amazon, $1500 on audio, $700 on Kobo and bits and pieces elsewhere. [I’m not completely sure I noted down the numbers correctly, but the point was that Amazon accounts for at least 80-85% of her income stream.]

Jak writes traditionally published books. Many have earned out. He also does freelance work for hire.

What about audio? When is a good time to do an audio book?

Someone (Raven? Jak?) said, ideal would be right away. Annie pointed out that making an audio book was expensive – it would cost $150 per hour or so just for a voice actor. She suggested waiting for Audible or one of its competitors to approach you. She has a audio contract with royalties.

Taxes?

Definitely get an accountant. Very well worth it.

Keep records meticulously, in real time. Record all your earning at the time in an Excel spreadsheet. The IRS recognizes income when it can reasonably be expected to arrive, not when you actually cash the check. A lot of expenses are deductible, including furnishings for a dedicated home office.

Don’t expect a 1099 will arrive. You may have to track it down. You’re responsible.

Is an LLC worth it?

Probably not. It’s state level, not federal level. It doesn’t make a difference on taxes. It only protects against liability, but not against libel/ slander/ copyright infringement – the things of most interest to authors. If you get sued, you would be better off using the money to hire a lawyer.  It’s only useful if you want to hire employees. If you’re big enough, you may want to form a corporation, but only when you’re really big.

What about Conventions? And what promotional material do you use?

Jak: I go to all affordable Cons within driving distance. For large Cons that are outside driving distance, I try to combine it with other stuff like visits to family. WorldCon is huge. I use business-card size cards of my book covers with contact information.

Annie: I go to Cons to hang out, meet other writers, and help others. I go to local Cons and WorldCon. I don’t sell a lot of books at Cons.

Tori: I go to local Cons, and now I’m the Track Lead at Norwescon. It’s for learning, meeting people. I carry business cards.

Raven: I go to all local cons, and a few outside. I booth. Sell books, make a connection with readers. When I’m at a Con, Con sales outsell online sales. (She also has “drop cards” that enable her to sell her ebooks at conventions to people not interested in buying print editions.)

Other forms of promotion? What about social media?

Annie: Have a mailing list and a monthly newsletter. Doesn’t really promote her books on social media.

Raven: I use Instagram. Pictures of our books photographed in interesting locations. It does boost sales.

General suggestion: Pick the social media you already love. You may or may not get much of a sales boost from it, so don’t do it if you hate it.

 

 

 

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Writing to Market

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Writing to Market  (Tori Centanni (M), Annie Bellet, Marta Murvosh, Brenda Carre, Tegan Moore)

For me, this may have been the most interesting panel of the day. It nicely complemented the New Publishing panel I attended earlier.

  1. What is writing to market?
    • Marta: Understanding the tropes of a genre and making sure you deliver what the readers want. (She writes to anthology calls to challenge herself, and considers that writing to market.)
    • Brenda, who is published in many short-story markets – both spec-fic and literary – writes to her passion, and less to the market. She’s also published several books.
    • Annie (who is a very successful self-publisher): Writing with reader expectations in mind.
    • Writing to market is not writing to trend. Writing to a fan-base is ultimately a more successful strategy than hooking on to the latest trend. Even if you can do it, you may not be able to repeat the performance.
    • Teagan writes mainly short fiction, and writes to anthology calls. Pacing in literary markets is slower than in spec fic markets.
    • Markets may be more liberal than people think.
    • Distinguish between writing to the reader and writing to the editor.
  2. So how do you achieve this “genre methadone”?
    • Marta: As a librarian, I look for “appeal factors.” When someone likes a book, I ask what they liked about it. For e.g.: Hunger Games. Some of the factors: Dystopian; Speaking truth to power; Love triangle; Action adventure; bows and arrows. Then I can recommend another book with the right appeal factor.
    • Annie listed all the things she loved about books she read, focused on the urban fantasy genre, and wrote a series (The Twenty-sided Sorceress) using that analysis.
  3. How do you study the market?
    • Annie: Read! Read extensively in the genre you want to write.
    • Brenda: Read widely, it can spark new ideas.  Markets change over time, especially Young Adult.
    • Teagan: This is even more true (changing markets) of short fiction markets.
  4. Marketing to readers vs marketing to editors
    • Annie: It’s easier to market to readers than to editors. Editors are jaded, and they have to read lots of manuscripts and get fatigued when the same tropes keep appearing. Readers don’t care, they like what they like.
    • Brenda: Also, editors are responsible to a committee. Readers only have to please themselves.
    • Annie: For commercial success, reverse-engineer your tastes to the market. There is no such thing as trash. You have to enjoy popular culture. Find out what will connect you to your market. Susan Kaye Quinn suggests starting out by writing fan fiction of genres you love.
    • Annie: Look at the sales of sequels to your novel. Ideally, it should be >50% of Book 1.
  5. Is there a market for everything? Can I just take what I like, and extrapolate?  Someone spoke about books written from the point of view of the bad guy. Does the protagonist have to be appealing? We go into a discussion about flawed heroes and anti-heroes.
    • Marta: The market may exist, but it may be small. Who in this room has read “The Best American Short Stories 2016”?  [ I look around, and maybe 2-3 people have raised their hands.] “Right? Not many. It’s an important book, edited by Junot Diaz, but it appeals to a small market.”
    • Annie: I think there’s a market for everything, but there may not be a market for everything we write. And your market may be too small to support you as a writer. (She also has trunk novels which will never get published.)
    • Marta: It may appeal to a different audience than intended. I get YA Romance that aren’t really YA. They don’t address the concerns of teenagers,  the characters don’t think like teenagers. They’re just cleaned up romance novels. But there’s a market for clean (i.e. no onscreen sex] romance, and so I direct them to adults who want clean romance.
  1. What are the biggest mistakes?
    • Annie: They want to write something no one has seen before. It’s difficult to do and even harder to market.
    • Brenda: Only getting the low-hanging fruit – duplicating the market.
    • Marta: Not understanding what the reader wants

My Norwescon 2017 Panel Notes: Navigating the New Publishing

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Navigating the New Publishing (Mark Teppo, Raven Oak, Shannon Page, Marc Gascoigne [Angry Robot])

I didn’t take notes, so all this is what I remember from the panel.

  1. Publishing, as we all know, is moving really fast as an industry. There are many options beside the traditional Big Publishing Houses. Small publishing houses like Tor and Angry Robot; micro presses that are even smaller, and often the work of a few individuals, maybe even one person; and, of course, self-publishing
  2. The big publishers have the best reach – they can get books into stores, they can get books reviewed in prestigious venues, they can promote your book in a big way. The question for most authors is, will they? The big publishers are notorious for concentrating their resources on the books they think will sell in millions of copies, and not doing very much for others. If your book is one of the left-behind ones, it may get hardly any promotion.
  3. The small publishers do better for new authors. They still have reach and a name in the market that provides an advantage. And with fewer authors, and especially, fewer big-name authors, they pay more attention to newcomers and new books.
  4. The micro-presses take it a step further in terms of personal attention and support for the author. They don’t have big budgets, but they are in your corner. You have a committed supporter who can take over many of the tasks writers don’t enjoy – the technical and business side of publishing and promotion. They can seldom afford to give advances.
  5. Self-publishing can work really well if you’re willing to make the effort and do the work. You start at a disadvantage without the reach, but the flip side is that you keep a much larger percentage of the sales, and you have complete creative control. You don’t have to hassle with trying to find a publisher willing to take your book. Some self-published authors have been very successful.
  6. Should you get an agent? It depends.  The panel had mixed views on agents as sellers of your book. If the agent has a really good list of contacts, it may be worth it. But it’s usually a lot of work to find an agent, and many writers discover that after all that trouble, it doesn’t work out. (I personally know several people who’ve parted company with their agents.)  If you’re willing to look at contracts really carefully and do your own negotiating, you make not need one. Shannon said she’d had an agent but they parted ways amicably. Mark said he has an agent whom he pays 15% for agented sales and 10% for sales that Mark negotiates, not so much for sales as for being there if something went wrong and needed fixing. Raven doesn’t have an agent, but has a lawyer who looks at the contracts. Tom, speaking for Angry Robot books, says that they don’t accept unagented submissions except for personal invitations (and he invited everyone in the room to send him manuscripts); it’s basically to keep the worst of the slush out.

Event Horizon – Free and available until July 15, 2017!

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Cover picture of Event Horizon 2017, a compendium of Campbell Award-eligible stories

Proud to have a story in this collection!

Event Horizon is an anthology of stories by authors eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer–meaning writers whose first pro sale have been published within the last two years. The volume contains over 75 authors and 350,000 words, and, thanks to the efforts of Jake Kerr, is available for free download–until July 15, 2017–at […]

via Event Horizon Available as a FREE Download — Everyday Magic | M. E. Garber

Why I Write American (Part 2)

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In a forum I’m on, we were talking about how story structures in other countries differ from US story structures. And they do. US audiences – whether the gatekeepers or the readers – do have specific ideas of what constitutes a good story in terms of characterization and story arc, and these are not always the same as those in other cultures.

One of the issues that came up in the discussion was whether non-US writers change the structures of the stories they write to conform to the expectations of editors/ publishers/ readers in the US. This is my take on it.

My question is, who are those writers writing for? This is a real choice for writers who have non-US experience and backgrounds. I wrote an essay on my Live Journal blog some years ago called “Why I write American.”

The fact is, I write for a primarily US audience. This is where the markets are. Even when I write stories set elsewhere, most of the readers are going to be USan, as are the editors who I want buying my stories. (With exceptions. A couple of my most recent publications were from UK publishers: Unsung stories published “The Mother Goose Virus” and Flame Tree Press published “Genetic Changelings.”)

So it’s generally got to be a US story, even if it’s set outside the US, even if the characters aren’t American.

I think it’s possible for very good writers to write a non-US story structure and sell it to an editor and then to a US audience. But I think it takes extra skill and vision. The bar is set higher.

There’s also the danger, in that situation, of writing exotica. The story becomes interesting because it’s so different, because it’s alien. I’m not sure I should call it a danger. Exotica is an interesting genre; I’ve read books because they show me a culture that’s very different from my own experience. But it is, in a way, sight-seeing.

And perhaps that’s as it should be. Every culture has its social struggles, but they’re not the same ones. We can observe others’ battles, but they’re not ours to fight.

Story in “Mosaics: Indie Women Volume I”

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12669608_1indie women anthology vol 1My story, Happily Ever After in Twelve Stained Glass Panels, has been accepted for the Indie Women Anthology Volume I. I’m thrilled… and delighted to be on the same table of contents as these writers:

Authors of Volume 1, on track for publication March 8, 2016 (in no particular order):
Tonya Liburd
Keyan Bowes
Carol Cao
Julia Ray
Kelsey Barfuss-Maki
Elizabeth Wolf
Sarina Amanda Dorie
Deborah Walker
Jordanne Fuller
Ariana Harradine-Noble
Keira Michelle Telford
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Naomi Elster
Patty Somlo
L.s. Johnson
Karen Heuler

The Stinkfisher’s Lovely Daughter

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I submitted The Stinkfisher’s Lovely Daughter to the Desi Writers’ Lounge writing competition, and it won an Honorable Mention. But even better than that was nature of the mention:

“This fantasy tale of loyalty and sacrifice came ever so close to the top three positions. Bowes deserves appreciation for putting together a complete story, excellently paced and with some incredible magic.”

Thanks, DWL!

“The Mother Goose Crisis” in Unsung Stories

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Unsung Stories, the UK-based online magazine, published my story, The Mother Goose Crisis.

When a nursery-rhyme virus threatens to take out the internet – and possibly its users too – a creative solution is needed to save the world as we know it. But what, and can the tech team pull it off?

The story is short and light-hearted. I wrote the first draft years ago, in the era when 5 1/4 inch floppies still existed. From time to time, as I do with all my stories, I’d pull it out, revise it and update it. (There is no such thing as a Trunk Story – only one that hasn’t yet found its purpose.)  The floppies in the story became 3 1/2 inches. Then they became thumb drives.  The cast changed a bit. I still found it amusing, but had no idea where to send it.

Recently, on Codex, someone linked to Unsung Stories. Here’s how they describe themselves:

Unsung Stories is a fiction imprint of Red Squirrel Publishing a London-based small press. Unsung Stories publishes genre fiction, most commonly described as science fiction, fantasy and horror. But as useful as those classifications are, we look beyond them, into the potential they contain. We love the fuzzy bits between genres: hard, soft, gooey and fuzzy sci-fi, high, low, top, middle and bottom fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, steampunk, cyberpunk, space opera, weird, dark, comedy, satire, bizarro and anything else that falls somewhere between any or all of those…

So I sent it off, and here it is. I’m delighted.

 

 

“Genetic Changelings” in Flametree Publishing’s Science Fiction Short Stories

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Gothic Fantasy 3 books covers 2015 August

Flametree Publishing, a UK-based publisher, is coming out with three awesome collections of stories classic and new: Ghost stories, Horror, and Science Fiction. They’re publishing my story, “Genetic Changelings,” in the Science Fiction anthology.

Deepali’s a science writer whose latest book, “Genetic Changelings: The Slippery Slope from Normalcy” is a runaway hit. She’s becoming the voice of the Normies in a world where it’s becoming more and more acceptable to be Designer. But her own sister’s about to sabotage that…

Flametree recently sent me a link to the Table of Contents, and I am going to be TOC-mates with an awesome bunch of authors – new and established. Here it is:

Science Fiction Short Stories

The Body Surfer by Edward Ahern
Behind the First Years by Stewart C. Baker
Genetic Changelings by Keyan Bowes
Overlap by Beth Cato
Rest in Peace by Sarah Hans
The Hives and the Hive-Nots by Rob Hartzell
The Vast Weight of Their Bleeding Hearts by Alexis A. Hunter
Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones
The Julius Directive by Jacob M. Lambert
Metsys by Adrian Ludens
Fishing Expedition by Mike Morgan
Red by Kate O’Connor
Nude Descending an Elevator Shaft by Conor Powers-Smith
Sweet Dreams, Glycerine by Zach Shephard
Jenny’s Sick by David Tallerman
Shortcuts by Brian Trent
A Life As Warm As Death by Patrick Tumblety
Butterfly Dreams by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1 by M. Darusha Wehm
Clockwork Evangeline by Nemma Wollenfang

“These new authors are surrounded by classic work from the following writers: Edwin A. Abbott, Ray Cummings, Arthur Conan Doyle, E.M. Forster, H. Rider Haggard, Henry Kuttner, Jack London, Edward Page Mitchell, Philip Francis Nowlan, H. Beam Piper, Arthur B. Reeve, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Edgar Wallace, Stanley G. Weinbaum.”

(I never ever thought my work would appear in the same book as some of the greats! )

This is going to be an awesome set of books. Look at this cover! (Which you shouldn’t judge a book by, but – look at this cover! Including the alien baby amid the scrollwork.)

Science Fiction Short Stories 2015 cover

“Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement”

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The standout panel for me at the World Fantasy Con last November was Fantasy and the Reality of Law Enforcement, moderated by Mark L. Van Name. It was excellent because panelists Griffin Barber and Alistair Kimble actually work in law enforcement. Barber is in the police force, and Kimble, if I understood correctly is (or was) in the FBI.

Here’s the panel description, taken from the World Fantasy Convention 2014 website (and I love that it remains up after the Con is over!):

Fantasy writers who are also law-enforcement workers discuss how fantasy fiction portrays law enforcement, and compare those practices to real-world law enforcement.  They will talk about where fiction differs from reality and discuss what works in stories and what really is fantasy.  In discussing such works as The City and The City (China Mieville), Finch (Jeff VanderMeer), London Falling (Paul Cornell), and Servant of Empire (Raymond Feist), they will contrast the real and fantasy worlds of law enforcement.

I finally got round to compiling my notes on it. (This may contain errors because this area is new to me – please feel free to correct mistakes):

  • Paul Cornell gets it. In response to which authors they knew who got it right, they picked Paul Cornell, a UK writer. It’s authentic and rings true. (When I googled him, I found he’d written some Dr Who episodes.)
  • Use of force. Books often portray police as trigger-happy. Barber said in 13 years in law enforcement, he hadn’t discharged his weapon once – though his finger crept to the trigger a few times. There are many steps of response well before reaching lethal force. And there’s a “force continuum” – starts with the baton, goes to a sleep hold (not a choke-hold), and goes to pepper spray before getting to shooting someone.
  • For the FBI, it’s one-zero. Kimble said the FBI doesn’t use weapons as a threat or a deterrent – it’s one-zero. They also don’t shoot to kill; they shoot to eliminate the threat.
  • When an officer shoots – not what you think. Barber pointed out that if there is a shooting, the standard by which the officer is judged is not what the public perceives. The legal standard is, Would another officer with the same training have done the same thing? (It’s like the standard used to evaluate medical malpractice – would another professional have made the same call?) But he says that officers don’t shoot lightly; it weighs on their minds all the time.
  • Personal video cameras on police officers make a difference. They not only provide evidence when things go wrong, the public were less likely to complain about an officer’s actions where video cameras were used. They don’t necessarily stop an officer from shooting if his life in in danger – according to Barber, “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” The problem is cost. They generate a huge amount of data, which means there are storage and handling costs.
  • The FBI is mandated to record every custodial interview (audio or video).
  • It’s not like CSI. Kimble talked about the TV program CSI creating the false expectations – that a DNA test was routine and could lead one to the criminal in short order. First, DNA is not always tested; tests cost $800 a pop. Even if it is tested for, the time to results is 3-5 weeks. The True Detective TV show is a better model than CSI.
  • Handcuffs aren’t the end, there’s paperwork.  Barber pointed out a case doesn’t end with the criminal taken away in handcuffs. There’s the paperwork. Lots of it. Your supervisor is going to want to see your report. You have to make sure the paperwork is done in case of complaints. Evidence collection requires a chain of custody; if it’s not solid, the case won’t hold up in court.
  • The worst kind of cases are domestic violence and Driving Under the Influence (DUI). They’re frustrating, with a small payoff. You end up doing 4 hours of paperwork, and most domestic violence victims return to their abuser.
  • Writing law enforcement authentically:
    • Don’t dehumanize people wearing uniforms. They’re still people.
    • Writing about loads of boring paperwork without being boring – have the officers complain about it!
    • When in doubt, denigrate upper management!
    • FBI has something called Citizen’s Academy which is an excellent way to learn about the FBI.
    • Black humor is a common way to relieve the stress of dealing with crime and death.

(If anyone has anything to add or correct please leave a comment. Comments are moderated because of spam, but I should get to it within 24 hours.)

Read my Story – in Polish!

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Some months ago, Dawid Wiktorski contacted me on Facebook to ask if they could translate one of my stories into Polish for their Speculative Fiction site, Szortal. They’d found Chick Lit  on Daily Science Fiction, and liked it.

Not knowing Polish, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But he’d sent me a link to the site, and I asked the writing community on Codex if anyone could check it out. Several did, and they said it looked entirely legitimate. So I gave the go-ahead, after some clarifying exchanges about the terms. (They’re an entirely free site, there’s no payment involved.)

Chick Lit is a very short Flash, written in class at Clarion and still one of my favorites. But I have to say I was a bit surprised at the choice. The “voice” of this story (which is mostly dialogue) is to my ear very American. How would they make it work in another language? I guess they did, because Dawid Wiktorski was complimentary about the story.

The story in English is here: Chick Lit by Keyan Bowes (Daily Science Fiction)
To see Chick Lit in its Polish translation (Koleżanki po piórze), click on the picture below.

SZortal - chick lit in polish sm

Click on the picture to go to the story in Polish ( http://szortal.com/node/5967 )

Sign-up Time For Clarion’s 5th Annual Write-a-thon

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badge_goforit Clarion writeathonYou don’t have to be a Clarion grad to join Clarion’s 5th writeathon, which runs from June 22nd for 6 weeks (paralleling the Clarion workshop). You only need to write, and get some sponsors. This fund-raiser for Clarion provides moral support and community as you write. Win-win-win! (The third win is for readers, who will get some good stories out of this.)

Here’s the Clarion Foundation blogpost about it:  The 5th Annual Clarion Write-a-thon

Here’s the Clarion Writeathon website where you can sign up to write, or sign up to sponsor writers by making a donation.

I’m a Clarion graduate (2007) and it was honestly life-changing for me. It takes years to unpack everything you learn, and a lot of it isn’t even about the craft – you learn about the whole writing ecosystem, so to speak. The write-a-thon funds help to keep this workshop alive, and to sponsor writers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.

NEW IMPROVED WEBSITE

My friend and Clarionmate Justin Whitney’s poured hours of work into revamping the Write-a-thon website. Here’s what he says about it:

“The vast bulk of the work I did this year has been to make the site easier to use. Basically, it’s finally begun operating like most other sites out there – lots of highly responsive javascript type of work. I created a bunch of web services so that I can save and retrieve from the database without the user ever leaving the page. I also added a bit of eye candy here and there. I imagine for most dot-coms it’s pretty routine stuff. But then they usually have teams of specialists working on the different areas that have to come together. I’m rather pleased with the work I did but I’m not really sure how to promote that to new and past users. It kind of looks the same, but the plumbing is WAY BETTER!

“The most significant change was to address the chief complaint we’ve gotten over the years – the actual sponsorship process. On the fast end, you can now pledge toward a writer’s goal with no more than 3 clicks (if you’re already logged in) and without ever leaving the writer’s page. On the slow end, a brand new visitor can sponsor a writer in about 5 clicks and a couple of short forms, again without ever leaving the page. And that includes both a one-time registration and a one-time credit card form (contact info only – no credit card information). After that, the credit card contact info will be prefilled and login will be remembered, so it’s even easier. OR, she can skip registration entirely and go straight to payment – I created a way to keep track of visitors who sponsor multiple writers without ever registering, so it doesn’t turn into a big mess on the back-end. Everything is integrated with the admin tools I built so that the entire Thon can be run by 2 part-time volunteers.

“Still, other than revamping the entire sponsorship process, the site looks almost the same as last year, albeit a LOT cleaner.”

CLARION: The Best Broken Heart You’ll Ever Have

Check it out! If you’re a writer, sign up! If you can’t, but can donate money to sponsor and encourage writers, that’s great too. (And if you can do both, so much the better.)

If this post sounds like hard-sell Hurrah Clarion! – it’s because I feel that strongly about the workshop. There’s a great blogpost from Sam Miller on the Clarion Blog, called The Best Broken Heart You’ll Ever Have. Nails it.

Reaching your Readers, Selling Yourself – Wiscon 2014 Notes

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Two panels I attended at Wiscon 38 were so closely related and important that I decided to merge my notes and put them all in a separate post. This is that post. First, the panel descriptions.

Reaching Readers: Best Practices for Writers. The panel description said: “Whether a writer is self-publishing ebooks, serializing fiction online, or promoting traditionally published books, modern technology is rife with opportunities (and pitfalls) for connecting with readers. The old advice about writers remaining aloof is outdated – especially in marginalized communities. Aloofness is a privilege that writers can’t afford. But should writers participate in “readers only” spaces like Goodreads? What should writers do to foment their own fandom, if anything? Facebook has throttled pro pages – has anything replaced them? What are the do’s and don’ts of serializing as part of a web presence? Do mailing lists work? What do readers want from authors online and how can authors benefit from that relationship?” [Panelists: Sally Wiener Gotta, Wesley Chu, Liz Gorinsky, Melissa F. Olson, Trisha J. Wooldridge]

Selling Yourself: The Journey of Self-Marketing.Today, authors find they must become part of the marketing machinery if they want their work to succeed. You need to sell yourself to agents, to publishers, and then to booksellers and readers, and beyond. Signed and aspiring writers can both struggle to find a balance. Is social media all there is? How can you stay professional while engaging in ways that sell your work? Can you keep a private social presence separate from your professional persona? [Panelists: Jim Leinweber, Ellen Kushner, Katya Pendil, Jesse Stommel. Mary Robinette Kowal was supposed to be there, but she had to miss Wiscon this year.]

So, to my notes.

1. Is social media all there is? What about book-tours or signings or Conventions? Ideally, you want to do everything but you can’t do all that and write as well.  In terms of return for the effort, social media give much more exposure. According to one panelist, when you’re writing Middle Grade (MG) books it’s different. This is because MG books are bought by gate-keepers – parents, teachers, librarians – rather than by the kids themselves. This means that to connect with your audience, you have to go through them, and that may mean a physical presence instead of an internet one.

2. Which social media? Ideally, be on every platform you can. If you’re a newbie at this, just get onto all of them and see which works best for you. One of them can be your primary platform, and others feed off that one. Facebook is possibly mature. Twitter and Tumblr are currently active; and Youtube is a good option; it’s “sticky” which means people come there and stay for a while.  Reddit is a possibility. And if someone wants to “friend” you – do it. What have you got to lose? If they turn out to be terrible in some way, you can ‘unfollow’ or drop them.

3. Are blogs dead? A few years ago, authors were encouraged to have blogs. Now, it seems no one’s reading them any more. Individual blogs – unless you are John Scalzi – may be more trouble than they’re worth. (Hmmm!)  Multi-author blogs that are magazine-substitutes (with multiple contributors, and significant following) are useful, and blog-tours with the writer contributing to, or interviewed by, such blogs are a good way to gain exposure. But every author does needs a website or blog as a sort of landing site, so they can be found on the internet and provide up-to-date information. It’s important to be easy to find. But you need to use other social media to connect people to your blog.

4. What about multiple pseudonyms and multiple accounts? Many do it. It’s definitely more work, but may be needed for “branding” if you have different audiences.  The question is, who are you trying to reach with each separate account? But if you are present as more than one “person” – reblog yourself. If you’ve written something as John Smith, reblog it on your Joanna Jones site as well – if it’s relevant to John’s following as well as Joanna’s. You can save some work that way.

5. You need to be visible. “Presence is promotion” – Jesse Stommel, one of the panel. Do you have an interest people would like to hear about? He recommends finding your enthusiasm and sharing it, using it to build a persona. Ellen Kushner mentioned a radio show, Sound and Spirit that she did for a number of years that brought her a following even though it had nothing to do with her writing. You need to create an illusion of intimacy with your audience, so they’re interested in you and by extension your work. It’s a constructed relationship. It’s important that an internet presence should not be all about selling your book; people get turned off by obvious sales pitches.

6. It’s a long game. Constructing the relationship takes time, and you may not see an immediate impact on book sales. Google analytics does help to see what impact your site is having, but how it translates to purchases is not easy to estimate. One panelist said it takes 3 exposures before people decide to buy a book. They may see a review and file it away in their mind, then hear a friend talk about it and still not respond. But if they then see the book somewhere online or in a store, they might decide to buy.

7. Effective reviews. Someone mentioned research that showed that reviews influenced book purchases only if they included a picture of the book.  Author pictures also had an influence. The recommendation was – always try to get a picture of the book into a review; and always have an author picture.

8.  Have a press kit. If you’re trying to get reviews, or visit bookstores, or practically anything – you should have a press kit. It should include a photograph (head shot) with high enough resolution to print.  It should include a list of publications, and something interesting about the writer. It should have a press release about the latest book.

But do NOT have a database of questions with every possible answer somewhere out on the web. It makes interviews less interesting.

9.  Book tours and personal exposure shouldn’t be written off, even if you focus on social media. Local bookstores, especially indy stores, are a good place to start and to build a relationship. Traditional book tours solely for promotion may be too expensive for individual authors. But – if you are thinking of travel for some other reason (say visiting family) – see if you can layer on book-signings and similar appearances. It’s fun, it’s exposure, and it makes your trip tax deductible.  Ask someone else to make the call on your behalf,  don’t make it yourself. (They should sound professional.)

10. Book panels and book clubs can be good ways to get exposure. If they like you and your book, they can become fanatics and your best supporters. “Sell your book by not selling your book” – people are more interested in hearing about the author than “Buy My Book!”  Hiring a publicist doesn’t necessarily work, for that reason. Consider having questions and study lists with your book, if appropriate.

11. If you’re self-publishing:

  • Get your own ISBN number for your book. Don’t rely on Createspace or Amazon’s ISBN. (Not sure why the panelist gave this advice.)
  • Make sure your cover is professional, attractive, works as a thumbnail as well as full-size. And that it signals the right genre.
  • Hire an editor, especially for the back-cover material. Typos there can kill the book.

12. Some panelists recommended BookBub. It’s a site that charges for promoting a book that is on sale to its genre readers lists. It doesn’t accept all writers, though.

13. Make friends with other writers and show up for them. If they have a new book, help them get the word out. This helps when you want their help in getting the word out about yours.

14. Consider having a monthly newsletter. Develop an email list of supporters and fans. If you’re keeping a blog, it can be a round-up. One panelist includes things like Deleted Scenes from her book, photos of locations where her book is set, and other interesting material. Make sure it’s entertaining.

15. How do you stop outreach from eating your writing time? Use time-fragments. One panelist needs uninterrupted time for writing, but in five minutes while waiting for a bus or 30 minutes during a kid’s activity – she can write a Tweet on Twitter, or a note on Facebook.

16. Do get on Goodreads and on Amazon. Every writer is a reader. Write reviews of books you enjoyed. Avoid reviewing books you dislike; it’s not worth the effort, and can just make you enemies. Also, try to get people to review your books on these sites. It’s a necessary evil. Many reviews may not boost your sales much, but a lack of reviews can kill them.

17. Serialising – mixed reviews. Some people serialize the first part of their book – as a teaser, or a sample – and charge for the remainder. Someone mentioned a site called Patreon to do this. One author puts out her chapters as she writes them to her list, with a warning that it’s a draft and could change in the final book. This engages readers, and also encourages them to buy the book later. Some serialize their books publicly in the hope that readers will want the whole book in once piece later, or that they’ll buy subsequent books in the series or by that author. But some panelists didn’t care for the idea; it provides too many opportunities to lose the reader.

18. Back list matters. If readers discover a book by you, they want to buy more. If there’s a body of related work, it provides that many more entry points for potential readers.