Thursday, July 28, 2011

Miss Literary and I Discuss Genre!

GENRE IS NOT THE POOR RELATION OF LITERARY fiction despite what Miss Literary thinks!

Horror can be literary! My publisher says my novel, The House on Blackstone Moor is LITERARY horror/paranormal romance!

OMG! Miss Literary just fainted. Let me see if she's alright!

ME: Are you alright Miss Literary?

MISS LITERARY: May I please have some water?

ME: Sure! Here you go!

MISS LITERARY: Thank you. Oh it's you, that literary horror person!

ME: No, just plain horror will do. I'm proud to write horror.

MISS LITERARY: My word! You mean you actually write genre horror?

ME: Of course! And I'm widely published too. Just sold a couple of extreme zombie stories!

MISS LITERARY: I think I'm going to be sick!

ME: Look Miss L, there's nothing wrong with writing within a certain genre or reading within one. A well-written novel is a well-written novel. A strong plot with engaging characters is nothing to be sneezed at.

MISS LITERARY: That was a cliche!

ME: Okay, sorry. But come on! Get real. Don't be such a snob. Don't narrow the field! That's silly. By the way if you want something really classy to read, something very selective and posh, I'll get you a copy of Burke's Peerage, which is the definitive guide to the genealogical history of the royal families of Europe, the aristocratic and historical families of the British Isles, and the presidential families of the United States!

MISS LITERARY: Oh jolly good! But tell me, if I get bored might I read some zombie stories or something?

ME: Of course, anything you like! Just loosen up Miss L and remember: A GOOD BOOK IS A GOOD BOOK, WHATEVER IT'S GENRE! 

One more thing: Never judge a book by it's cover or whether or not it falls into a particular GENRE!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Blackness (or "Lackness") of Space

Many people have questioned why I, a black man, picked science fiction as a genre to ply my writing talents.

After all, in the long history of science fiction from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells up to the likes of David Weber, you can count the major black science fiction writers on one hand.

In fact, let’s try it:

1)     GeorgeSchuyler 
2)     Samuel R.Delany 
3)     Octavia Butler  
4)     Steven Barnes 
5)     John Faucette 

Note: Nos. 1, 3 and 5 are dead.

You can throw in a few more names that have dabbled in science fiction once or twice or are trying to get into the game such as Tananarive Due (Barnes’ wife); Walter Mosley, who took time off from Easy Rawlins to pen Futureland and The Wave; comic book writer Kevin Grevioux; Nnedi Okorafor; Billy Dee Williams, and, of course, yours truly.

When you see such a short list, it makes you wonder why any self-respecting African-American would take up anything in this genre. Maybe because being tossed a bone called Lando Calrissian wasn’t enough. Or maybe because I’m still pissed that all the black guys who survived Lucifer’s Hammer became marauding cannibals (except the one token black guy among the heroic white people). Ironically, Barnes got his start by co-writing with that novel’s authors.

Anyway, I write in the genre because I like it. Yeah, it’s racist at times and sometimes just plain vanilla (like NASA until Guion Bluford came along). But, it has its merits and appeal.

That was all that was needed for an eager 10-year old kid who took to writing because of the schlock movies on Creature Double Feature. Writing turned out to be tougher than I thought, as evidenced by this exciting dialogue: “Left right rudder! Left right rudder, aye, sir!” (that might have been the day I mixed Pop Rocks and pixie sticks with Coca-Cola and Tang).

Thank goodness for the grand masters of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.

When I first went to the West Medford (Mass.) Public Library in my elementary school years, I started reading hot rod books and mysteries. You see, we had yearly fundraisers to battle muscular dystrophy by getting people to sponsor us for each book we read. I usually averaged 30-35 books during the read-a-thon. (By the way, every kid participated and their parents helped out).

After tiring of the juvenile delinquent hot rod books, I wanted something new and Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel fit the bill. The cover art caught my eye (future writers, please pay attention to your cover art).

Once I read the book, it blew me away. I had to get more and, when West Medford public library couldn’t help me, I hoofed it five miles to the main Medford public library. I got what I needed -- Isaac Asimov, L. Ron Hubbard, Lester Del Rey, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, A.E. Van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson.

Science fiction stimulates my creative nature. I’ve got all these fantastic ideas in my head. Some of them are probably crazy but it’s my job as a science fiction writer to put these ideas out to the public.

Many of society’s most useful inventions came from the minds of science fiction writers. Here’s a brief list of inventions from science fiction stories that became reality: Water beds, mobile phones, iPads/tablets, teleconferencing, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, robots, TV newscasts, satellites, automatic doors, escalators, lasers, tasers, voicemail, the Internet, radar, and nuclear weapons.

A flying pinto? Really?
Much better.
Heck, we even have flying cars now.

And science fiction has been a great predictor of the future. George Orwell might have been off by about two decades but is there anyone who doesn’t think we’ve entered the age of Big Brother, with the Patriot Act, legal invasions of privacy, hacking, wiretaps and security cameras everywhere?

Considering the hate dominating the comments section of Yahoo! news, someone has to predict a brighter future.

I’d like to contribute to this illustrious list of inventions and predictions. And someone needs to remind readers that black people do exist in the science fiction world. We have made a significant contribution to American society. Without us, there might be no traffic lights, gas masks, plasma, subways or farm equipment. I have no doubt that African-Americans can contribute to the future as well.

That means someone has to insert that voice into the future.

God willing and the river don’t rise (any higher), I’ll do just that.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meet Alien McGee

Most of my characters aren't aliens.

Many of my stories begin by imagining the character first. The world and everything else is then built around this person ... or alien. I usually see the opening scene, much like a movie, in my head. Then I have to figure out how to invent a whole novel or story around that character and scene.

I usually do some rough drafting before nailing down details. It's through that initial frenzy I learn more about my character. I can't tell him or her, she or he will tell me as the story and world unfold.

At that point, I'm ready to delve more deeply into a character. There are many ways to do this, and it's as individual as a fingerprint. I like to write sketches in a journal -- a brief bio of my character's life before the story begins, my character's foibles and habits, and I sketch out their arc -- how they change over the course of the story. I usually find a photo or piece of art to depict that character. Usually there's something in the piece of art that screams some trait I want to develop.

To get deeper into character, I decorate their personal spaces, fill their closets and jot down a lexicon so that I can paint the world through the character's senses. Every one of us has a unique lexicon. Writers have one. Every profession and region has one.

I also usually create a part for myself in the story, so I experience it beside my character. I tell myself the story over and over, seeing it like a movie. I tell myself the story every night before I go to sleep. It actually helps me fall asleep. At any rate, I go to sleep thinking of the character and story. When I wake up, I get to writing.

How do you get to know your characters?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Character Building Solutions

Today we're talking about how to get to know your characters. My characters are my best friends, I know everything about them. I firmly believe the more you know about your character, the easier it is to write from their point of view. That way you can drop your character into any situation and know exactly how they'd react. But the question is, how does one get to that level with their characters? Sure, you can character sketch, but that really only helps you shift through the physical stuff. You want to go deeper than that.

If you're like me, your characters talk to you. If this is the case, you should LISTEN and talk back. Yes, have a conversation with your character. Seriously. Try it. It's great. But sometimes characters don't talk. Maybe they're shy or just stubborn. Whatever the case, there are ways to get into their heads.

Bellow are six lessons/exercises to do with your character. You don't have to use any of this in your actual story, but boy does it help with those stubborn or underdeveloped characters!

(I copied and modified this from a workshop I took on which was modified from the book "Characters and Viewpoint" by Orson Scott Card.)

Lesson 1: Character bio
Character Name:
1) Age:
2) Birthplace:
3) Marital Status:
4) Children and ages:
5) Living arrangements (i.e. lives with wife and three young children, rents a ramshackle apartment alone, has a tent in nomadic tribe with three concubines):
6) Occupation, including name of employer if applicable:
7) Degree of skill at occupation (beginner, really competent, experienced but a bumbler, etc)
8) Characters feeling about his occupation (loves it, hates it, regards it as “just a job”, has mixed feelings, is actively seeking other employment, etc)
9) Family background (whatever you think is important: ethnicity, siblings, parents, social status, clan affiliation, total repugnance toward everybody he knew before the age of twelve, etc)
10) What three or four things does this person value most in life? (i.e. Success, money, family, God, love, integrity, power, peace and quiet)
11) What three things does he fear most?
12) What is this person's basic underlying attitude about life? (i.e. "things will usually turn out all right," or "they're all out for themselves," or "it's best to expect nothing because then you won't be disappointed," etc.)
13) What does she need to know about another person in order to accept that other as "all right" and trustworthy?
14)What would cause this person more pain than anything else possible?
15) What would this person consider the most wonderful thing that could ever happen to him?
16)What three words would she use to describe herself, accurate or not?
17) How accurate is his self-description?
18) What organization most embodies this person's values? (i.e. Mensa, Daughters of the American Revolution her church, Aryan Pride, PTA, etc)
19) Does he belong to this group? Yes / No. If not, why not?

Lesson 2: The “Why”
Go back to questions 10-15 and answer WHY your character feels this way.

Lesson 3: Character Introduction
Pretend your character is introducing himself in front of a large group of strangers. What does he say?

Lesson 4: Stereotypes and assumptions
List 2-3 examples for each of the following:

1. A Character is what he does. You see a guy at the party who spills a drink, talks too loud, and makes rude remarks. You form a judgment. You tell a friend a secret, and in a few hours everyone seems to know it. You’ve learned something about your friend. Show your character stealing, the reader will think “thief”. This is the easiest form of characterization: have you character  DO something that demonstrates his nature.

2. Motive. This is more powerful than action – it trumps it. What if you knew that the drink spilling rude guy was trying to attract attention on purpose, in order to keep people from noticing someone else in the room. You impression of him changes. How about a character who tried to commit murder, but failed? You still think him a murderer even though he never actually succeeded in his task. Knowing why characters do what they do, reveals them to the reader. We will cover this A LOT later on, as well.

3. The Past. Knowing a person’s past, revises our view. You’re sitting at a dinner table, getting to know Pete. What if before hand, someone whispered to you that Pete was a POW for 7 years and escaped through enemy territory? Or that he just caused a corporate merger that resulted in thousand of workers losing their jobs? Does this effect your impression?

4. Reputation. This isn’t just for legends and heroes, this is for everyone. “Don’t bother asking Jeff to contribute, he’s such a tightwad I heard he would not even help buy flowers when Dona’s father died.” Same in fiction: you readers will likewise form opinions about characters they have not “met” yet based on what other characters say about them. Use it to your advantage.

5. Stereotypes. Paint half a picture, and you can count on your reader to fill in the other half. “The old man was wearing a suit that might have been classy ten years ago when it was new, when it was worn by someone with a body large enough to fill it. On this man it hung so long and loose that the pants bagged at the ankle and scuffed along the sidewalk, and the sleeves came down so low that his hands and the neck of his wine bottle were invisible.” Got the picture? This narrative relies on your stereotype to work. As a writer, you can use this one of two ways: either let the stereotype stand – sometimes very useful in creating minor characters who must not upstage the action … or, use it to surprise the reader.

What if the passage above was followed by:
“Hey, old man,” Pete said. “You’ve lost some weight.”
“It wasn’t the cancer, Peter, it was the cure,” he answered. “I’m glad you are here. Come upstairs and help me finish this Chablis.”
6. Network. We act different around our mother than we do around our coworkers than we do around our friends. So should our characters. Take your character out of one setting and put him in another, and see different aspects of their personality rise to the fore.

7. Habits and Patterns. She carries a Mace with her everywhere she goes. He always parks across the divide to take up two parking spaces, so his car does not get dented by the other car doors. Or just general habits, that clue us in to the character’s mind. He always taps his finger when he’s worried. After a while, the finger movement alone will clue us in to his mood.

8. Body. This one is tricky, because it is so easy to overuse it. Your reader will picture your character more through knowing her motives than through her looks (although knowing whether one is generally attractive or grotesque will influence this to a degree). So, does it matter what length fingers, color eyes, or size of breasts your character has? Maybe. It matters if it means something beyond mere fact. For example, in Lord of the Flies, Piggy’s poor eye sight (he wears glasses), his asthma, and his weight play a role in the story. His hair color does not.

Lesson 5: The Way I See It
Find a random image and write a short paragraph describing it as you would in your character’s POV.

Lesson 6: Emotional Stakes

1) Suffering. A character’s pain, whether emotional or physical, increases the reader’s emotional involvement. Note, however, that a character’s grief does not make the reader grieve any more than a character’s cut makes the reader bleed – it is the character’s reaction and feeling about their suffering that engage the reader. Intensity counts. Too little (a paper cut) won’t get you much bang for your buck. Too much (ghastly torture) and it becomes unbearable to the reader, so he distances himself. Frequency is also an issue. The first time a character gets hit on the head, we wince for her. The fourth time, we think of the Three Stooges.

2) Sacrifice. Pain and suffering also increase emotional stakes if the character has a choice in the matter. Nora setting Pete’s broken arm has less impact on the reader than Pete deciding to set it himself, making painful choices will each movement. This also works on the villainous side of things: Pete accidentally hits a child with his car vs. Pete does it on purpose. The reader may hate Pete for the latter, but the reader will care.

3) Jeopardy. This is the anticipation of pain… think of waiting to see the dentist. Put a character in a situation where great pain is upcoming, and you’ve got the reader’s attention.

4) Symbols. You can increase a character’s importance by connecting the character to the world around her, so that what happens to her seems to have a greater reach. As King Lear reaches madness, a storm breaks out. Oedipus’s sins cause a famine, which does not end until he pays the price.

Readers, what types of fictional characters draw you into a book? What's the one thing every hero/heroine needs in your opinion?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Career Be Thy Destiny!

Those of us who write consider writing our career I think whether or not it supports us full-time.
I have to think of it in this way simply because I'm not interested in thinkng of myself in any other way.

I think, therefore I write. Boy! Is that true!

Writing has always been there. It was there when I was making up plays for my friends and yes, I can recall at age 7 or 8 acting out the 'plays' I wrote.

I don't recall any other 'performers' I only remember my little friends, sincere loyal little guys applauding and enjoying whatever nonsense I had written. Ah those were the days.

If any writer was asked to name their career I think theyd get 'writing' in there somewhere.
You might say I'm a legal secretary but I write or I'm a medical records librarian but I write.

Years ago when I was in acting school one never said they were a waitress or usher 'and they were studying acting.' No! They said they were actors and if pressed they'd mention they were working 'as such and such.'

I happent to fully agree with that way of thinking, whether we earn enough from writing to be self- supporthing or not, WE ARE WRITERS, OUR CHOSEN CAREER IS WRITING.
It's just the way it is, we were born that way, we can't do anything about it, we wouldn't want to do anything about it either!

The Oxford Dictionary defines 'career' as:
(the)  "course or progress through life (or a distinct portion of life)". It is usually considered to pertain to remunerative work,,,"

See that?! It is USUALLY considered to pertain to remunerative work. USUALLY not ALWAYS! So hey! If you consider your writing your career and the moolah isn't rolling in yet, IT'S OKAY!

It's okay to say you're a writer! And that's good because if you are writing, YOU'RE A WRITER!
And if you are a writer, THAT IS YOUR CAREER!

End of story?!

Well there are zillions of stories in the Naked City and in your head! And you're going to develop them and get them published and thrill the world because you're a writer!

THE END (for now)!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The 5 P's & an S of Marketing

Okay, we all know the 5 P's -- Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance (this is sometimes known as the 6 P's if you add "piss" in there somewhere).

Since we're talking about marketing strategies, I decided to repost a great article from Jennifer Hollowell that was originally published on Writers Write. It deals primarily with self-publishing, specifically with pre-publication marketing.

I've decided to modify her title slightly and call it "Pre-Publication Planning Prevents Poor Sales" (aka 5 P's and an S).

So, without further ado, her is Ms. Hollowell's very informative article:

The Importance of a Pre-Publication Marketing Plan

by Jennifer Hollowell

A Basic Guide for Self-Published and Print on Demand Authors

You’ve written your book, gone through the editing gauntlet and decided to publish the finished product yourself. You’ve researched all the self publishing options, decided on a company, approved the book’s cover and polished the book’s final lay-out. All you’re “i’s” are dotted and “t’s” are crossed. Now, you’re ready to go to press. Right?


Day after day, week after week, my inbox is filled with marketing questions all centered on the same commonality:
  • “My book was doing really well in the beginning, but sales have fallen off. Do you have any idea why this happens?”
  • “My book has received some great reviews, but they aren’t resulting in any sales. Do you know why this is happening?”
  • “I sent out one hundred press kits, but no sales have turned over. Why could this be happening?”
These are just a small sampling of the distressed messages landing in my inbox. How are these situations the same? No pre-publication marketing plans or efforts. Each author felt the impact of “missing the boat” on sales opportunities in one way or another.

What’s the solution?

A book won’t sell itself. (This is very obvious to some, but not to others.) That’s a reality many self-published authors don’t anticipate until it’s too late. They’ve spent their entire budget without looking at the “entire picture.” The “entire picture” includes setting up a “selling plan” before your book hits the press. These efforts will make or break you. It’s my hope that you’re reading this piece before you’ve gone too far.

How do you formulate a selling plan?

Step one: target your audience

Where do they shop? How much do they spend? What’s your competition? How can they be reached?

Step two: outline your goals and objectives
  1. Events:
    • Do you plan to do book signings, tours, seminars interviews, radio shows and television appearances? If so, you’ll need press materials and enough books printed to substantiate all these efforts.
    • Setting up a workable event schedule for all parties involved is essential.

  2. Pre-pub reviews:
    • Line up pre-publication reviews. These are professional reviews published in newspapers (New York Times) and magazines (Publisher’s Weekly).
    • Read all submission guidelines thoroughly and adhere to all schedules, deadlines and policies. If the guidelines states self published books aren’t accepted, don’t send an ARC anyway. You’re wasting your budget and the publisher’s time needlessly.
    • Be sure to add the cost of ARC’s (Advanced Reader’s Copies), postage and supplies to your budget.

  3. Distribution:
    • Research distribution. Remember, brick and mortar booksellers (and some electronic booksellers) won’t stock your title unless it’s carried by one or more major distribution center.
    • Add the costs to your budget.

  4. Marketing and Publicity:
    • Do you plan to hire someone for marketing and publicity? If so, this needs to be done before the book goes to press. Figure a three to six month campaign into your budget. Explore your options before making your choice. There are a lot of firms following the same “cookie cutter syndrome” as some traditional publication houses tend to follow.
    • Do you plan to do the marketing and publicity yourself? If so, READ! There are mountains of books, reports, periodicals and articles’ focusing on the how-to’s of good marketing strategies.

  5. Post-publication reviews:
    • Don’t forget to obtain reviews even after the book has already been published. Consumers are driven by both professional and unprofessional opinions.
Step three: determine and realistic budget you can stick to.

This is where the most mistakes occur. Without looking at the “big picture,” authors don’t know how much money should be devoted to what aspect of the game. Organization and prioritizing are very important during this stage. Get quotes and estimates for everything (and be prepared for unexpected costs):
  1. Printing: galleys and finished copies.
  2. Press kits: supplies and postage.
  3. Flyers: design, printing and distribution.
  4. Publicity: what’s included and for how long?
  5. Distribution centers.
  6. Print advertising: how long will the ad run? Will it be in color or black and white?
  7. ISBN numbers: is it included in your printing fee?
  8. Web site: registration, designing, maintaining and hosting.
  9. Postal and email address purchasing for booksellers.
  10. Posters, post cards and bookmarks for events.
Rule of thumb: blind submissions are bad. Never ever send out materials unsolicited. There are individuals out there selling lists suggesting authors practice in this way and, in reality, it isn’t the way to go. Query first, otherwise your ARC’s are destined for used booksellers and your press materials the recycling bin. This is where I see a lot of authors dwindling down their budgets. Avoid this reality by sending to *interested parties. *There will always be exceptions to any rule, however. If guidelines posted to reviewer databases or publications states querying isn’t necessary, than adhere to that claim.

There are numerous other points to ponder in regards to formulating your pre-publication marketing plans. (Remember: pre-publication marketing plans aren’t defined solely as what you do before your book is released, it’s defined as your complete marketing plan outlined in preparation for all eventualities both before and after publication.) Examples of these points include:
  1. Don’t overlook the Internet: get yourself interviewed and or profiled for sites both about writing and about the subjects covered in your book. Build a web site to provide another avenue for ordering, a virtual press kit and link exchanges. Position your book with virtual booksellers and establish link partners.
  2. Remember to be sure your book is listed in Books-in-Print. Don’t assume it’s already there.
  3. Print/Electronic publications provide longevity to your marketing campaign in terms of having something tangible to reference. Radio shows and television appearances are good during the new release phases, but are often forgotten within hours of the broadcast. Focusing time and attention to an enduring effort is key.
Final thoughts:

As the old saying goes, your book is as successful as the efforts put forth by the author, particularly in the cases of self-publishing and print on demand.

Jennifer Hollowell has been in the writing and publishing business for a decade bringing forth 100’s of nonfiction articles covering a wide variety of subjects. In addition, Jennifer has made it her goal to provide authors, both traditional press and self-published, the services and resources necessary to achieve their goals in a realistic manner. For more information, please visit


Monday, July 11, 2011

Marketing Strategies - What Works?

We're covering an interesting topic this week. One most sales people the world over will roll their eyes at. Sure, I could give you lots of useless data and statistics revolving around what works in different industries, but most of of us here today want to know what works in the publishing industry, right?

I've learned a lot by trial and error. What I reveal that has worked for me may not work for you and your book.

First, and I know this is going to sound basic to most of you - Cover Art. This is huge. If you work with a publisher who sticks you with a crappy cover or has final say over what gets used, then you're toast. Sorry. You have a huge hurdle to overcome and some books can get past it, others can't. Until you have an actual name people know, it will be the cover that catches the reader's eye.

"Don't judge a book by it's cover." Yes, yes, we all know the famous quote. Most members of our family even go so far as to imply we should apply the logic when searching for a mate as well. I won't got into that one.

Sorry to say, the reading audience does judge. Even if they don't know it or won't admit to it. As the majority of purchasing is no longer done is a brick and mortar establishment,  you're battling against catching the eye of a reader in a small thumbnail on a computer, tablet, or phone, then you're already going uphill.

Research what is working within your genre and apply it to your own cover. Do not re-invent the wheel, but do try and think outside the box to make yours stand out. Unless you're really good with Photoshop, do not attempt to do it yourself. Hire a pro, should cost you around $50-75 bucks or you're paying too much.

Also, the cover is only the "gotcha". After that, you have less than 200 words to snag a reader. Yup, not the first five pages they flip through in the book store, or the sample they download. I'm talking about the product description or jacket copy (most writers mistakenly call it a "blurb", which is in actuality the one liners OTHER writers have said about your work appearing on the cover or in the opening few pages). Do not, repeat, do not, outline your entire plot, or even half of it, in this description. Make it intriguing and short.

As a reader, I can't tell you how many times I've been annoyed the product description gives away half of the damn book or more. Just ruin it for me, why don't you? I spent a week on the one for Vampire Vacation (V V), and several days on the one for The Hunt (TH).

Next strategy, also obvious: Pricing. The market is flooded right now with new authors. Everyone is jumping on the band wagon to self-publish. The stigma has gone away now that people see there is real money to be made by bypassing the NY giants. I'm following what other well-selling authors are doing -- pricing my first book at 99 cents and the others higher.

This strategy assumes some big things 1) You've written a compelling story 2) It's well edited 3) The readers can find it.

If you don't have those three things well in hand, then don't chose the DIY route. Pricing is really only something you can manipulate to your advantage if you have control. A publisher is not going to allow you to give your work away for free or allow you to price it really low to attract a readership.

My suggested way around that? Write something else and give it away for free -- on your website, Facebook,,, Apple, or on Smashwords -- anywhere and everywhere you can. And put samples of your other paid work at the end. Don't be stingy, give a lot of the other book(s) away for free.

If they like the bonus content, they'll buy the rest to see how the story turns out. Try and talk your publisher around to "getting" this concept. The only way to reach readers is to let them read your work. So far, over ten thousands copies downloaded of a free read (containing half of V V) have turned into over 1700 sales in one month through ONE retailer.

You're all really here reading this post hoping I can tell you what "magic ingredient" made my books sell. There is no magic ingredient, there is no easy way; it's a lot of hard work involving some experimentation and navigating it all can be extremely time consuming.

So - what has worked and what hasn't? I did not get a jump in sales when I used Google Ads. Perhaps I didn't experiment enough with my "slogan" on the link, but after a few hundred dollars I was tapped on that avenue.

Facebook ads -- sure, they worked to get me followers on my business page, but I did it before my book came out. Now the prices are so high I can't afford to do it for long. Did the money spent turn into sales? Yes, but not how you might think. The ads drew interested readers in the genre to me and they got to read my work on Facebook for free. I made some new friends and spent a lot of time cultivating the relationships. This turned out to be fun because I was sick and stuck at home a lot.

Blog tours and blogging? I'm really torn on this one. I think they work for some people, but I can't honestly tell if they work for me. If the blog is reaching real readers like the ones on the Kindle, then yes, I think it could work great. To be perfectly honest, before I became a writer I never visited blogs. I thought they were "out".

Now, I know some popular news, sports, and satire blogs are actually making great money. They reach lots of people and the better ones are giving newspapers a run for their money. Blogs aren't dead, but the same concern I originally had applies -- how do real readers find them?

And of course, that's where social networking comes in. I don't know enough about Twitter yet to tell you how to do it on there, I'm trying, but it still eludes me. I've met great people on Facebook and have had a chance to connect with real readers... but have I figured out the "viral" key to getting known through either of these avenues? Nope, not yet.

Reviews: is it more important to have actual reviewers review your book or real readers? I never went the route where I had big-time reviewers cover my book. Last summer, when I was trying to build a buzz for book one, most reviewers wouldn't accept self-published books, and before I started taking on other authors, that's how they looked at me and my small company.

After a little bit of experience, I realize the big long reviews are nice, but most buyers read the short ones on the website where they are browsing books. They will click on your lowest starred reviews to read them and then weigh what those say with the high four and five star ones. You'll get bad reviews, no way around it so you might as well just grin and bear it.

Last bit of advice, and probably far better than what I've shared, read John Locke's book titled "How I Sold One Million eBooks in Five Months". I'm just starting to follow his marketing strategy now. I don't have a list of buyers 2,500 long I can email like he does. Heck, I'm still struggling to organize my 900 contacts to figure out how I know these people and if they may like my work. But, he offers some terrific advice and he's shown it works. I'm game to add his ideas to what I'm doing now and see if it makes a difference.

It'll take me that long just to get on top of all his suggestions and try and build like he did!

If you're a writer and you read this blog, do the Wicked Team a favor -- spread the word by sharing the link. I plan to do a how-to series starting this weekend if there is a genuine interest from other authors to learn more about the self-publishing industry, reaching readers, and selling books. But if we don't get interest, then I just plan to write it and sell it (like Mr. Locke did ;-), instead of posting it here for free.


Wicked Writers is running a summer long contest to win a free Kindle!! All you have to do is comment with your email on any post from now until Labor Day weekend. 

We'll be keeping a tally of commenters with their emails included and then the names will be randomly picked - more comments per person means more entries! Ping backs to Twitter, Facebook, and links to other sites including a mention with a link to us will also count.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Got Publication On Your Mind?

How odd it is to post on a Friday! I’m used to posting on Mondays for all my blogs, not just Wicked Writers. But while barbequing with my family last Sunday, a mysterious insect decided my earlobe might make a tasty treat. I ended up having an allergic reaction. Oh yeah, fun 4th of July. :) But I’m better now.

Greg kindly filled in and the team allowed me to post on Friday this week. However, my post has changed considerably since then. As a Monday blogger, I like to think it’s my job to set the theme for the rest of the week. I say my piece and leave the topic open for discussion. But after reading everyone’s awesome posts, I now feel like it’s my job to give some closure.

What I take away from the discussion, and what I think all aspiring writers should get, is that there is no such thing as “One-Size-Fits-All” in the writing industry. It’s a rapidly growing, changing market and one of many trying to survive in the digital age and during a recession/depression nonetheless!

Every form of publication has its pros and cons. Do some serious thinking about yourself, your life, and your writing. Where is your life now and where do you want it to be in next ten years? In the next twenty years? Do you know how you’ll get from here to there? Take some time mapping out your career goals. Then, do your homework and choose the road that is right for you, that will take you where you want to go.

The truth is most traditionally published authors will swear that traditional publication is the best method. And many self-published authors will tell you that traditional publishing is the devil and will try to bring you over to their side. So be alert in your quest for knowledge and keep your career goals in mind.

Here are some common pros and cons to get started:

Traditional publishing:

Pro:  Quality – The select few manuscripts that manage to pass the query process are picked by literary agents or editors who’ve worked in the field for quite some time and know a good book when they see one. From there, author and manuscript go through the vigorous process of contract negotiations, content edits, line edits, production, and marketing to make sure the manuscript emerges as a worthwhile, readable book.

Con:  Long Lead Time – The query process alone can take years before you get accepted. The average query response time is three months and most authors accrue many rejections before they see an acceptance. The editing, production, and marketing process can take another 1-2 years as well.

Pro:  Advances – In most cases, trade publishers will pay their authors an advance that is theirs to keep even if their book does not sell well. This advance can be used to take some time off from your day-job to spend on writing.

Con:  Lack of support for new authors  - Traditional publishers expect the manuscript to be as perfect as possible before they get their hands on it. They won’t help you hone your craft or build your career. They’ll only market what’s in your book. They will also pool their money and resources into the “front-list” books that have already proven themselves in number of copies sold. Debut novels that haven’t proven themselves yet often get left behind and are seen as “risks”.

Pro:  Mainstream Exposure – Copies of your book will be widely distributed not just in book stores, but also in Walmart, Target, airports, novelty shops, grocery stores, online, etc.

Small publishers, Print-on-demand, and E-publishers:

Though smaller, these guys are considered traditional publishing but they have a few extra pros and cons, like they DO NOT have a very wide distribution. They focus more on online marketing and often are not able to sell to Walmart, Target, grocery stores, etc. (though usually they will sell to all major book chains like Barns&Nobel, Amazon, and Borders). Most of them DO NOT pay advances so the author must continue to work part-time at least to pay the bills until their books sell. However, these guys tend to be much nicer to their authors, including the newbies. They take un-represented authors as well as new authors and usually treat all books equally. They often DO NOT have a large budget for marketing, but they are usually willing to assist with marketing, give advice, and answer any questions about marketing.  


Pro:  Control – The author makes every single decision through-out the publishing and marketing process. They keep all rights to their work, they decided how to divide their time and their budget, and they keep all the profit.

Con:  You’re completely alone – Unless you have some cool author friends to help you out, you’re totally on your own. Every risk, every mistake, every loss comes out of your pocket. Some self-published authors spend years “experimenting” with different marketing techniques before they find any that work.

Pro:  Focus – Self-publishing is a wonderful alternative for books meant for a specific market, such as diabetic cookbooks.  Authors are free to focus on their niche, write, and market exclusively for that area.

Con:  Time and Funding – Again, you are on your own here. You’ll have to cover all cost for cover art, editing, ISBN registration, distribution, etc.

Pro:  Less Production Time – You can self-publish your book in a few weeks (versus a year or two with traditional publishing).

Con:  Prejudice – There is still some prejudice against self-published authors/books. Some people tend to think there must something wrong with a book if it is not backed by a traditional publisher. It was produced by an amateur so it must be terrible and not worth the money. Agents and Traditional publishers tend to hold the most prejudice against self-published authors, so if you were planning to self-publish to test the waters or to build up credence before taking on the professionals – stop! I’ve read an interview with an agent who shall remain names who said self-published authors are viewed the same as authors who have never been published before and that authors with even a single short story published by a small publishing house had more credence than an author with several self-published books. This agent did go on to explain her logic behind this statement, but I think I’ll refrain from repeating it as I predict it will only make some of you more angry.

These are the basics. Every publishing company has its differences, so again, do your homework! Investigate the specific publishing house you might be interested in and read the fine print. And while you’re at it, read up on marketing books. Because no matter which method you choose, you WILL be expected to self-promote on some level. It’s embarrassing when they tell you to join their Yahoo group to keep up with the news and you don’t know how a Yahoo group works (true story *ahem* luckily I’m not completely computer illiterate and learned fast). 

P.S.  I'm under contract with Muse It Up Publishing Inc. and yes, I would recommend them for anyone looking for a large e-publisher or small print-on-demand publisher. I'm willing to answer questions about my experiences with them if you are curious just ask.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I Chose Both

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing.

Many authors write about an either or decision for publishing. I'm going for the 'have-my-cake-and-eat-it-too' scenario.

I'll be querying my novels the old-fashioned way, but meanwhile I'm going to break into publishing online with my short stories and novellas.

To go the self-publishing route, I think it's important to hire a professional editor and produce a professional work. Especially if charging for it. The results from those that do are much better than from those who don't. Our work is our brand. Don't short change it or yourself.

It's a good idea to build your platform before going 'Indie' as it's called by some. Even before you land an agent. Blogs and social networking are the main ways to do this. Another, which is a great idea no matter the route you plan, is to upload some free reads to Smashwords in order to start building an audience. I'd suggest Amazon, too, but Amazon won't let you sell 'for free'.

I used to put my free reads directly on my website, but this idea of using Smashwords is better. It allows me to reach people who read and they can try my stories risk free. Exposure for the cost of some work and courage.

Meanwhile, I submit some of my short works the old-fashioned way and envision publishing some myself. I will also query my novels through agents for traditional publishing. So, I chose both.

The truth is, ebooks will soon out sell traditional books. The writing is on the cyber wall, so to speak. This changed my thinking on publishing. Has it affected yours at all?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Self-Publishing vs Small Traditional vs. Large Traditional

Hey, guys. I'm being published with a small press publisher. I know people who are published with large traditional publishing houses, and people who are currently working to self-publish, or who have self-published. The big differences really lie in two areas.


  • We all know that as a self-published author, it's on you and only you to promote your book.
    • Who's going to help you with that?
    • How do you know where to go?
    • Is Twitter and a blog the end all beat all of promotion?
    • How do you get on a blog book tour?
    • How many years do you have to invest to get enough information to be savvy?
  • With a small press publisher, they'll take it on for a few months, teach you how to do it yourself and then gradually let you go on your own, but they're always there for assistance or questions.
    • They partner with your to ensure their investment in you is worth it.
    • They show you all the hot spots, the best times to promote, the best ideas to get attention to your book.
    • And then if you have any questions down the road, they're there to point you in the right direction.
  • With a large traditional publisher, you might get a promotion assistant who has time to dedicate to your book, but then again, if its not one of the top 10% of best sellers, the likelihood is slim. Pray that you find the youngster just out of college who feels she has something to prove. If you don't, you're largely on your own. 
    • There are always the horror stories of any publisher. Always. People who were left out on their own, had no idea what their cover was going to look like, had no idea when they were even going to get published, had no clue what marketing was going to be done for them, etc.
    • However, there are good stories out there too. Large publishing houses have the BIG reach. That's why they publish the Best Sellers. They have the power to do so, whereas the small publishers and the self-publishers don't. A lot of that is marketing. They have a LOT of marketing power.

The other large difference is distribution.

  • Not all mortar stores will carry self-published books. Sometimes, they'll even say they won't take self-published books from certain publishers. The reason for this is that the mortar stores have to invest in the books they buy.
    • If the books don't sell due to poor quality, no marketing, a bad cover, or it's on the wrong genre shelf, there's nothing for the store to do but tear off the cover and throw it away.
    • Additionally, in order to get your book into the mortar stores, you have to pound pavement. Usually, you have to sell your book to the bookstore so that you can have 1-2 books on the shelf. How many stores are you really going to hit? How much work are you going to invest to get 1-2 books on the shelf of 1-2 stores?
    • Most self-publishers say they can get you into the major sellers, and they can, through their Internet sales. As long as you have an ISBN, you're in. However, ensure that your house issues those. If they don't, you're not published.
    • You're buying your books. You're the investor. It's on you to make it work.
    • Your distribution limit is you. You're the investor. How much can you afford to invest?
  • Small press houses don't have a lot of reach, but they do have a larger reach than the self-publishing houses. Their first "run" will get you into stores across the country, and will get you books for signings.
    • If you happen to schedule book signings on your own, you'll be buying your books. They can buy the books for signings they schedule at normal events because they understand that the investment has an instant return. It's all about business. However, if you decide to sign books at a privately thrown party or other venue, it's up to you to decide if the return will be good enough.
    • A lot of small press houses use POD. Internet sales, especially from their house website, is where their revenue comes from. Mortar store investments are risky (because f buy-back if the books don't sell), but they want to get you out there. Then you have the appearance of "being real". Perception is reality.
  • Traditional publishing houses have the largest distribution resources and that's the reason we traditionally push to be published by them. But this is where all the risk is.
    • They're investing a lot of money into your book to get it out to all the distribution outlets and all the mortar stores. Their investment in marketing is going to be fairly similar.
    • Their buy-back risk is bigger because their distribution is bigger. If your book doesn't sell, they have to buy the books back.
    • If they're investing heavily in marketing, it's because they're planning on investing heavily in distribution.
    • If they're barely investing in marketing, they've already decided your book won't sell, and they're keeping the distribution and their investment low-key.
    • It's a business. They have to curb their exposure, or they risk disappearing in a rapidly changing environment.
The age of E-books, though, is really bringing new shape to the publishing industry as a whole. As more people buy books off the Internet or purchase e-books, the need for the investment goes down. However, we still have the mortar stores. We all love the mortar stores. And we'd all love to see them thrive. We love to just go to the store, pick up a great book, grab a picnic lunch and go sit in the sun and grass and read a book.

I hope that the mortar stores don't disappear, but with their investment becoming less of a "need" for survival and more of a "want" for appearance, the small press and the self-published books are pressing forward as a better, more personable option for publishing your book.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Vote for Versus

This week we are talking about traditional publishing versus self publishing. As a yet-to-published-in-anyway author, I don't know what I can say on this topic. And so, I vote for Versus. Seems like a good way to go! After all Versus handles many things all at once! Can't go wrong with that. Mutlitasking! Balance! Oh yes, important things all thanks to Versus.

*ahem* What was I talking about? Oh yes...

Traditional publishing has it's good points. You have the backing of professional agents, editors, and a publishing company to help you as you market your book. They handle the formatting of your book to get it in e-book form or in print, they get your books up on the web where people can buy them and on the shelves.

Self publishing has good points also. You keep all the royalties from your sales. You have the added benefit that no one else owns any rights at all to your book or characters. You don't have to wait for an agent or publisher or editor to tell you yes or no to a query, then wait some more for them to get back to you.

Beyond that knowledge, I don't know what else to say. I don't have experience in either type of publishing and so I can't lend much insite into them. I do know that personally in the end, I want to have my book in print. Period. Right now, it's up in the air for me as I wait to hear back from a few publishers and agents but I'm seriously considering self-publishing also, only because I'm tired on waiting! It seriously drives me crazy.

The only thing that really stops me on the self-publishing thing is that I know even less about it than I do traditional publishing. Mainly, formatting my manuscript to get it into ebook and print form. I'm sure the information is out there if I just look for it, but I look at the time it would take to learn all of that. I just don't have it.

So I'm stuck -- I drive my self crazy waiting for an agent or publisher or try to weasle in the time to self publish. Either way, I feel like I'm losing something in the process! (My sanity in both cases...)

I wish I could have my last post be a bit more informative, but alas, that is just not the case. I'm sorry for that.

And yes, this is my last post on Wicked Writers. I'm sad to go, but my family comes first. I cherish the time I've spent here and I've learned so much from all the other authors that write for this wonderful blog. I've made lasting friendships with all of them!

I hope to see you all around the internet! Look me up at my website ( or my blog ( if you want to stay in touch.

Thank you to Greg for giving me the initial invite and to CJ for letting me join in the fun here. I wish every much success in their careers. I love you all and I'll see you around.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Who to Publish With? Ah, Decisions, Decisions

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing? Ah, Decisions, Decisions

This week’s topic deals with a topic running its course through the publishing world like a tortilla from a street vendor in Matamoros.

The answer simply is that there is no real answer, in my opinion.

Traditional publishing still has its place in the publishing world. Traditional publishing houses like DAW and other New York houses employ top-notch editors and have great marketing departments. They’ll also shred anyone who dares to submit less than their absolute best.

Therein lies the rub. Most of the aspiring writers really aren’t going to meet the standards of the big boys. Getting to New York will remain the penultimate dream.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Another option is self-publishing. That’s where you publish your work yourself. You incur all the costs from editing to marketing, but reap all the benefits. Let’s face it, if you can’t pass your own muster, you’ve got no business writing a book.

Starlene Stringer
My good friend Starlene Stringer went the self-publishing route. The well-known actress/writer/TV reporter/radio host penned a book of poems called Diary of a Military Brat. It was so successful that she published a second book. However, because of the intense work involved, she opted not to go for a third book.

Another option is small market. The vast majority of publishers are small market publishers. They include university publishers, genre-specific companies, art house publishers and general publishers, to name but a few.

The upside is that these small-market printers will accept new writers and can take on more projects than the big boys. The downside is that too many of them disappear almost as fast as they appear. More than a few are just outright scams, such as the defunct Mystic Moon Press.

If you go with a small-market publisher, check them out. Make sure they have a good track record, such as Red Hot Publishing. Also, check Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America which publishes lists of scam publishers.

By far, the easiest method but the one with the least chance of success is online publishing, namely with eBooks. The Internet offers a vast array of chances for the novice writer to see their work in print. And, for most writers, that may just be enough. Since only a small percentage of writers get to make a living at their hobby, it appears that most writers go for the personal satisfaction of being published, perhaps to impress family or to show off something at the next high school reunion.

I have published online with such sites as Smashwords, Lulu and SFH Dominion (a British outfit). Crawl is now out with Spectacular Speculations. Through the online site, I was able to get physically published with Writer’s Bump Vol. I and Farspace 2, both anthologies.

Of course, one must not forget the opportunity to hit more than one printing avenue. A small market publisher will often release a work in eBook format, as well as bound version.

Right now, of course, you are wondering why I haven’t talked about the 400-pound gorilla in the room. Okay. I will.

Vanity publishers. I haven’t attempted any of these. Unlike regular publishers, who incur all the costs of publishing the book, vanity printers charge fees to have a writer’s work published. Examples include Xlibris and iuniverse. Each will have different packages for different costs. The fees cover printing costs and garner physically versions of the final product. Too often, though, vanity publishers require high costs and, even worse, a lot of book dealers will refuse to sell vanity published books.

Probably the biggest vanity publisher right now is PublishAmerica, C.J. Ellisson's favorite. The less said about them, the better.

What about the original question?

Okay, in the interest of reality, I recommend online publishing. Realistically, the odds are against the tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of aspiring authors. Considering what I'm seeing in the plethora of blogs, most writers would have a better chance being drafted by the Boston Celtics than they would getting a contract with a New York publishing house. Better to go online and hone one's skills before trying one of the bigger publishers.

Enjoy the rest of your July 4th and I’ll see you next week in my regular slot.