Archive for October, 2009


Flex Your Marketing Muscle

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

I’ve been pretty lax at posting the last couple of days… in all honesty, I haven’t been entirely sure what to write about. I know that sounds ridiculous – how many millions of writing topics are there to choose from? – but there you have it.

So, here we are today. And today, I want to touch on marketing, because it’s relevant to me right now. “Oh noooo,” I hear you say, “Not this again… I’m so sick of hearing about writers and marketing…” I know, I know. Aren’t we all? We know we have to do it, but it doesn’t have a lot of real relevance for us until we “get the call”, so to speak. Awhile back, I posted about developing your platform before you get published, and many of you mentioned that your blog is your primary platform at this stage, while you develop your writing skills.

But what about your marketing skills? Not everyone has a natural aptitude for marketing, in the same way that 98% of writers need to continue to develop their skills, regardless of their career stage. What does that mean? It means that you can’t just expect to be able to do marketing to the best of your ability on the first go-around. And if the first go-around happens to be your first novel, well… you might end up shooting yourself in the foot, due to a simple lack of experience.

There is, however, a solution. And that’s called: practice. Yes, just like your writing practice, you can practice marketing. How? Don’t you need something to market, in order to know whether you’ve been effective or not? Yes, you do. And you don’t need to necessarily market something writing-related.

This will be my first year as the NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for my region. When I signed up for it, I thought “this’ll be fun”… but as I thought about it, I realized the kind of potential the position has. As the ML, I would be responsible for getting word out about the event, for trying to recruit new people, for subtly asking for donations, and for keeping everyone informed throughout the entire month. In essence, the ML’s job leading up to November is marketing.

During October, I posted press releases on all the community bulletin boards I could find. I emailed newspapers, radio stations, and put up flyers. I recruited another individual to help put up flyers and spread word of mouth, and I sent press packages to about 15 high school English departments. I created a Twitter account for the regional NaNo group, made a website, updated the Facebook group. Then, I waited.

Participants began trickling in, but I was discouraged by the lack of interest from local media. Was I doing something wrong? I still don’t know if there was a better way to get information out, but it means I learned something — I learned what routes don’t get coverage of my event/product. I learned that instead of emailing certain people, next year I’ll have to pick up the phone. I learned where posters worked best in terms of generating participants, and where they were ignored. And November hasn’t even started yet!

This week, I received two requests for interviews. Two! Yesterday I did an interview for a local news program, which will air on Friday. Next week, I have a tentative date scheduled for another interview, for a local university news program. I now know my postings on community bulletin boards worked, and in the coming week, I’m sure I’ll find out whether television coverage works too!

I tell you all this to say: You can learn to market your product, right now. Then, by the time you’re published and your book is ready for the world, you’ll have a better idea of what works to reach people and what doesn’t. Sure, you may get a bit of direction from your publisher’s marketing department, but we all know that it’ll be mostly up to us to get the word out.

So if you can’t volunteer as a NaNoWriMo ML, what kind of position will let you flex and strengthen that marketing muscle?

How about:

  • church events
  • SPCA fundraisers
  • local newspaper subscriptions
  • community theatre promos
  • other community events
  • your kids’ school events
  • local sports teams

…etc, etc, etc. There’s really no end of positions available for marketing and promotion, and most non-profits will be falling down grateful for volunteers who want to help them promote this event or that fundraiser or even just the organization or team itself. Simply tell them that you’re looking to learn some marketing skills, and you’d like to do it with them — be up front about it, and be willing to make mistakes and learn what works and what doesn’t.

Just plunge on in, and start flexing that muscle. Don’t let it get flabby and saggy, because when the time comes for you to use it when it counts, you want a tight marketing muscle that can do the job properly, and do it well.

And here’s a little tip as well: When you try your hand at marketing, your name is “out there”. After a time, it’ll become familiar and recognizable in your community… which means that you’ll have plenty of connections to draw on once that published book is in your hands and ready to be sold. People prefer to buy things from people they know and trust… so get out there, and be that person!

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Book Review: ‘The Deadline Murders’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

I’ve really got to stop doing this. “Doing what?” you ask. Well, I admit: I tend to judge books by their covers. And their weight. And publisher. And back cover copy. Arrrgh. But, but, but… who doesn’t? Is there anyone who literally doesn’t judge books on first glance/touch?

I received a copy of The Deadline Murders through LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway program. It came with a letter from the publisher, a couple of promo pages for additional books by the author, and a personalized autograph on the front page. This was good marketing, I thought, but what of the book itself? It didn’t have that ‘professional’ feel. It didn’t have that ‘professional’ look (though it looked much, much better than many small pub novels). I liked the image on the cover, but the title font stopped me. I also couldn’t believe the blurb on the front — an endorsement from Piers Morgan? Seriously? What the…?

I set the book aside. For months. Finally, I gave in and decided to fulfill my commitment to the author, and review his work. I didn’t expect to like it, and for the first 50 pages or so, I was rather bored.

But that was just for the first 50 pages. Surprisingly, around there, things started to pick up. I didn’t hate the main character quite so much (she seemed really pretentious, too pretentious to be likable at first), and the banter between the female and male leads became entertaining. The story itself picked up, and I spent the rest of an evening devouring the rest of the book.

To boil it down, The Deadline Murders is a mystery novel without the fancy technology, gore, or sex of many mystery novels out there today. This was a mystery for entertainment’s sake — not quite old fashioned, but more adventure-oriented than anything else. Of course the resolution was too simple in the end, but we sure have a lot of fun getting there, and it’s not so disappointing that you’re upset with the author. Let’s be honest — the book is meant to be a fun escape, and it is.

I finished this book with a smile, and have thus resolved to track down the rest of this author’s books. I’m happy to see that they’re available at (1-3 weeks shipping, since I assume they’re brought in from the UK) and I’m thrilled to have found a new author from a non-traditional publisher.

Here’s the product description from Riverheron‘s website listing for the novel:

HENRIETTA FOX is a paparazzo. A wild, flame-haired girl in biker’s boots and leathers, with an Irish temper. She rides the streets of London stalking celebrities for the tabloid gossip pages.
When a Chinese military plane explodes in a fireball before her camera, life for Henrietta Fox gets dangerous! Five reporters across Europe have been murdered, each with their exotic, lop-eared Sumxu cats. Animals considered extinct for 300 years. Only Henrietta Fox knows why – and that knowledge could kill her.
To survive she must pursue a madman across China with partner CASS FARRADAY, an ex-Repton public schoolboy turned tabloid reporter with a devious line in interviews.
Only they can prevent an Armageddon assault on Britain’s Air Traffic Control. Fail and half a million lives will be lost.

Sounds cheesy, yes? Good. Definitely recommended. :)

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NaNo: Writing Tools

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

Today I have a simple question: Have any of you used Liquid Story Binder to write your novels, and what are your thoughts on it?

A few years ago, I stumbled across Writer’s Cafe 2, and really enjoyed the demo… but it’s a very simple program, limited in what it can do. This is both a plus and a minus, depending on how you like to write your novels. I enjoyed the simplicity at the time, but I was writing something that wasn’t very complex… and now that I’m tackling fantasy this year, I need a place to keep a gazillion threads/characters/notes/back stories organized.

So, anyone used LSB and enjoyed it? I’ve heard great things about Scrivener too,  but I’m a PC user (and always will be). Or are there other writing tools out there that you’ve tried and enjoyed even more?

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NaNo ’09

   Posted by: Faith    in NaNoWriMo

It’s almost that time of year again… time to hunker down at the computer for hours on end, typing away furiously, drinking too much coffee and eating far, far too many potato chips… ah yes, National Novel Writing Month. What could be better?

Not only will I be attempting it again this year (year three!), but I’m also the Municipal Liaison for my region. As a first-time ML, the learning curve is a bit steep, but so far we have more people signed up than we did last year, so that’s encouraging. I’ve also done quite a bit of promotion, and I think that may be helping as well — not to mention that several other Wrimos in the region are helping out with posters and promo, which is fantastic. Really, NaNo is a community event that works best when everyone helps out, so I’m extremely grateful for the help I’ve received so far.

If you’ve never tried NaNoWriMo, why not make this year your first? Afraid that pumping out 50,000 words in one month is too hard? Or you’ll end up with too much crap if you try to write that quickly?

As writers, we should be writing every day anyway (though I admit, that’s not always realistic). I know many writers try for 500-1000 words per day, which seems like a reasonable goal. If we’re going with the high end, that’s 30,000 words in one month. You can do that, yes? So why not just tack on an extra 667 words per day — that’s just a few paragraphs! — and make it to 50,000? Easy, right?

Well, it is if you know what you’re doing. Here are a few tips to help you make it through the 2009 NaNoWriMo season, if you’ve decided to join up for that wonderful journey. And if you’ve signed up, come friend me on the website! (dark_phoenix)

Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo 2009

1. Plan ahead.

This doesn’t mean just thinking about your novel… I’m talking actual planning. Whether it’s point form notes, a character interview, or plot cards, you’ll be more likely to keep momentum going if you have at least a bare bones idea of where your story is headed. You might also want to plan ahead in terms of your laundry, groceries, pet care, and babysitting. NaNoWriMo can get pretty consuming… just sayin’.

2. Decide to scrap the linear approach.

This is a real preparation step, because for some people, writing out of sequence is the most terrifying concept they’ve ever heard. However, if you get stuck at a scene because your Muse decided to take the afternoon off, how are you going to make your word count? You could pad it, sure… or do the cheap thing and fill your novel with song lyrics… or you could pluck a scene card out of the pile, and simply begin writing a different scene in the novel. Then, when you’re ready, come back to the one you left and finish it.

3. Prepare meals ahead of time.

If you live alone, or without parents, or with a signficant other, meals are going to cause a bit of concern. Making a decent dinner can take upwards of an hour, and with busy lives, how can you fit food AND writing together? Why not make some casseroles now and freeze them? Or, you could go the easy route and just eat boxed Kraft Dinner all month (I might…). Either way, prep and warn. Just make sure you actually eat… that’s pretty important.

4. Vaccum. Now.

No, seriously. You won’t be cleaning your house for the next month, so make it a goal to get the place spotless by Oct.31st. Besides, the neighbors will be bringing the kids over for trick-or-treat and will probably be nosy enough to glance inside your front door, so you might as well make the place look great ahead of time.

5. Buy snacks & coffee.

Instead of worrying about what you’ll eat when snack time rolls around, stock up on things like coffee/tea/hot chocolate & chips/popcorn/cookies/fruit bars/crackers… whatever brain food you need. Prep some veggies & fruit a few days before November hits, and you’ll be set for about a week and a half. Remember that while junk food makes you feel great for awhile, you’ll eventually crash and feel like crap afterward… I say, pick the chips when you’re having a late-night catch-up writing session, but go for the healthy stuff when you need longevity during the day. But that’s just me — pick snacks that’ll work for you and that won’t make you feel disgusting when Nov.30th arrives and you awaken from your writing stupor.

6. Clear your schedule.

Dinner party invite? Nope. Visit to the in-laws? Sorry! Coffee with friends? Well… okay, you’d better make sure you don’t decline everything. In fact, telling others what you’re doing will create a system of accountability that’ll keep you writing, even when the only thing keeping you going is guilt! “How’s that novel coming? You know, the one you missed my birthday party for?” See? Guilt is an excellent motivator. Create a managable schedule, then let everyone know about it.

7. Visit your regional forums & attend local events.

Stats say that people who do this are more likely to accomplish the 50,000 word goal… because you’ll have a support system, encouragement, and competition from others in the area. Are you seriously going to let that 12-year-old finish writing her novel ahead of you? Well, maybe, but you’ll give it a good run in the meantime.

…so, get plotting, cleaning, and cooking… and you’ll have a successful NaNoWriMo! What’s that? Who has time for all of that now, let alone at any other time of the year? *hrrumph* Well… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to CostCo to buy a case of KD. Or two.

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Book Review: ‘Land of Elyon’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

The Land of Elyon Book 2: Beyond the Valley of Thorns – Patrick Carman
The Land of Elyon Book 3: The Tenth City – Patrick Carman
The Land of Elyon Prequel/Book 4: Into the Mist – Patrick Carman (all Children’s Fiction)

Several years have passed since I read the first book in this series, and for whatever reason at the time, I never got around to reading the rest of the books… which made absolutely no sense, since I loved the first book. Last week, I made up my mind to just go for it and “git ‘er done”. Well, I still have one book to go, but in the meantime, what were these three like?

I have to say, I truly believe Patrick Carman is one of the new masters of worldbuilding. After recently reading the first two books in his Atherton series for older readers, and then coming back to this series, it’s clear to see that Carman has a gift for creating unique worlds that make sense. He weaves geography, cultural differences, politics, and economics into his worlds, which is quite the feat, considering the age level these books are targeted toward and the shorter length of his books (compared to, say, other children’s fantasies).

The main character of this series is a young girl – twelve or thirteen, I believe – and I was surprised how well this male author portrayed a girl of this age! Then I learned that he has two daughters of his own, and it made sense. He writes strong female leads who are true to their age.

And as for the story itself? The first three books in the series continue along the same path, though books two and three are more directly linked (ie. don’t finish book two without book 3 in hand!) and keep the action continually moving. The fourth book, or the prequel, can be read separately from the rest of the series… however, reading it fourth sets the stage for the fifth book (technically book 4 in the series, but I count the prequel as book 4 because it comes between 3 and 4 (er, 5) chronologically but not really… confused yet?). The prequel features the main characters from the previous books as they listen to the main thread of the book, which is told in the form of a story being related from memory by one of the characters. The final page in the prequel/not-a-prequel ends the storytelling and the main characters have arrived at their destination to begin the next book. Make sense?

Final verdict: read the books in the order they were written. 1,2,3,Prequel/4, Real book 4. They’re short, exciting, fun, and very well done. Highly recommended!

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Editor Empathy

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

I recently started working as a volunteer editor for the online flash fiction magazine Flash Me (don’t worry, it’s not as sketchy as it sounds!). I saw an ad for the positon on someone’s blog (my apologies to whoever posted it, I wish I could give you credit!), clicked over to the magazine site, and was pleased to see that it was an ezine I was already familiar with. I’d read their stories on several occasions, and thought it would be a good fit. What a great way to earn some editorial experience! Plus, it’s a paying market for the authors — and the zine has been in publication since 2003 — which, to me, screams “credibility!”

Good for the resume, good for the experience.

That said, what have I learned in my first 3 weeks as a slush reader?

  • There’s a lot of potential out there. There are a lot of stories that are almost good enough, and you can see the raw talent… often it just hasn’t been refined and polished yet. A little more experience, a little more practice, and you can sense when a writer has the potential to someday shine.
  • There are limitless ideas. I never know what I’m going to see when I open up a new submission, since the title often reveals very little about the piece. However, most ideas have been done before, and there is a real danger of writing obviously derivative work. Writers must be careful to give their own spin to an oft-used idea, or else the story will simply come off as sloppy.
  • Formatting is everything. When I open up a document that’s 1000 words of narrative without any dialogue, paragraph breaks, or scene changes, I groan inside. And that gives you 2 strikes already, in my book.
  • Authors need to read guidelines & know their markets. PLEASE. Please. I’m shocked when I read something that’s submitted and is obviously an experimental piece. When was the last time you saw an experimental piece in Flash Me? Read the entire guidelines before submitting. Check if you’re actually submitting to the right place for your work. PLEASE.
  • Authors need to PROOFREAD. I’m even more shocked when something comes in with spelling errors, formatting errors, grammatical errors, crude sentence structure… and so on… and so forth… I simply don’t understand how people can submit something that’s full of errors and expect their work to be taken seriously.
  • Authors need to do their research. Whether it’s location, a specific situation, a disease, a creature… I don’t care what, but please know what you’re talking about before you make that specific thing integral to your story. There are many, many resources today to make you an expert on your ‘thing’ if it isn’t something you already know about. It’s also important to know your stuff on specific topics because you can seriously offend someone through your own ignorance if you don’t do your research.
  • It’s a real joy — and I do mean real, no sarcasm here — to read something so good that it feels like a breath of fresh air. It makes all the time spent worth it. I mean that.

While it’s only been 3 weeks, I have to say that I’m beginning to empathize with editors in bigger magazine/book publishing houses. If a small market like ours has these ups & downs, how much more extreme must it be for them?

Needless to say, when I submit my work anywhere in the future, I’ll be reading the guidelines extra carefully, and researching the market even more closely. I think sometimes we as writers get so caught up in the creation part of our work that we skim over or rush the selling, perhaps without even realizing what we’re doing.

So, I’d like to thank Jennifer at Flash Me, the Editor-in-Chief, for allowing me to become a part of her fun & exciting publication. I encourage you to head over to the website and read some of the stories from the last issue (new issue published Oct.31!) — I particularly recommend ‘Survivalist’ and ‘Going Home’.

Question: When you submit, how carefully do you read the guidelines & research the market? Are there specific things you know you skim over because you don’t like doing them, or are you a stickler for detail?

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