Monday, August 30, 2010

Thoughts on Marketing Your Books

Recently, I was on a marketing panel at the Catholic Writer's Conference Live. John Desjarlais was the moderator, and he kindly supplied me with questions ahead of time. I made some notes, which I never really got to because of the flow of questions from the audience. I thought I'd share with you today.

How does a non-artist get good promotional material?

• Use the cover art
• Get help
• Remember that “good” does not have to mean expensive or flashy—capture them with the story

In the modern age, has the web trumped public presence? Do you still need to shake hands and kiss babies?

• If in bookstores, I think physical presence is more important.
• However, it is fun and helpful to be available, to make live contacts (like Ann said in her opening speech) Not just for sales, but support and future publishing
What marks you as a professional when you market? How do I market on the cheap without looking like an amateur?
• Know what you’re doing—take some classes, get some examples of what works.
• Don’t hard sell. They say writing is an isolated art, but at the core, it’s about establishing a relationship, however temporary, with the reader. Marketing is the same.
example: There’s an author I friended on Facebook. Every post I see of his is really just an ad—often the same ad—for his book. A review quote and a buy link. Sometimes when he sees me on facebook, he IMs me to ask when he “can send me my copy.” Compare that to Carolyn Howard-Johnson. She has several books on book promotion and writing. She has a twitter account and a newsletter for promoting them and she mentions them fairly regularly, but mostly, she has interesting things that help authors. People learn to trust her, then they buy her books.

What do you think of getting your name out in tangential ways - teaching classes, apearing at conferences, etc.?

• I definitely recommend it. I sell a lot of stuff and gather new readers—and new friends that way.
• You don’t need to teach either. I always use conference workshops to work on a work in progress, like from my DragonEye. People get sucked into the characters, and I can mention that I already have one book out.

Your thoughts on appearing as original vs being compared to other authors? (Example: all the fantasy authors whose works are described as points on a line with Tolkein in the center.)

• I like what Terry Pratchett said on his website. “I’m having a real identity crisis, since apparently there are four or more of me.” I love Terry Pratchett and I aspire to write on his level, but I don’t want to be the next Terry Pratchett. However, when asked what my books are like, I have been known to say “Discworld meets Harry Dresden Files.” Or “Terry Pratchett meets Jim Butcher.”

Do you blog? Doesn't it take away from your writing time?

• I have a love-hate relationship with blogging. At one point, I had three blogs I kept up regularly, but they didn’t do anything for me except, as you say, take away from my writing—and my imagining time. This year, I narrowed it to one blog, twice a week. On Mondays, it’s anything goes, and I share news or review others or whatever. Thursdays, I write about my latest work in progress. That way, it does help me—it keeps people up to date, gives me a chance to give back to others who have hosted me on their blogs, and it gives me a little reward because I can talk about what I’m writing.

Do you do anything to determine what marketing methods are giving you hits and - more importantly - sales?

• I can’t get my head around SEOs and all that. One thing I found has helped is not depending on my own sites. For example, I started publishing my Dragon’s Eye View newsletter on Before, I only had a few readers each issue, now I average 10,000 reads. I’m still not sure how well that’s translating into sales.

What is the first thing I should do when I go home tonight to start marketing well?

• Set up a regular time or a regular task list. One thing about marketing is that you have to plug away at it, even if just baby steps. I actually publish a weekly newsletter, 30-minute marketer, that gives 4 tasks that take about 30 minutes each, to help folks organize that, and I have some samples. But really, the key is find that tasks that work and keep at them, a little each day or a little each week.

If you'd like a sample issue of the 30-Minute Marketer, check it out at

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top Ten Reasons the Catholic Writers Conference Rocks

There have been a lot of blogs about the Catholic Writers Conference Live. I'll be having a few more here and there myself. Here, in a nutshell, is why I love it.

1. Talking about papal encyclicals, getting published and the Cleopatra's Boudoir fantasy suite in the same conversation.
2. Starting the day with Mass, being able to go to Confession during the day, and having a dedicated place to spend time in adoration, pray the rosary, or spend time in quiet spiritual contemplation.
3. Laughing so hard that people come from the other side of the trade show to ask what's so funny. (And it's an NFP cartoon!)
4. Finding out that you are not alone or crazy to want to write Catholic fiction.
5. Taking that workshop that teaches you that you can do something you previously thought beyond your talents.
6. Telling that vendor on the last day how much you like their samples--and having it presented to you as a gift.
7. Discovering the "catholic" in Catholic: meeting people from all walks of life from the rural Southern writer of women's lit to the intellectual North England apologeticist to the soft-spoken article writer from Cameroon, and finding out you all share common ground, common morals, common goals.
8. Being able to talk pitch to publishers on the exhibitor's floor as well as in pitch sessions.
9. Hearing someone talk not just about the mechanics of storytelling, but the theology and philosophy of the creative process.
10. Knowing that when it's done, it's not really the end.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lessons Learned at an idea workshop

Just for fun this year at the Catholic Writers' Conference Live, I ran a panel on ideas. Rather than a lecture, I took some questions and we all shared our personal tips on handling ideas, then we did exercises. I'd gone around the exhibitors' floor and picked books at random, writing down the protagonist, the setting and the crisis/object:

13th century cathedral
a thief
a relic


a planet where trees are sentient
a deaf woman
an alien wants to marry her

Then I gave them 15 minutes (later cutting it to 10) for them to write a story synopsis, novel outline or article proposal. The response was phenomenal. Not only did these people come up with different twists on the same three elements, but several of them produced writing that they could do some minimal tweaking to and submit. One person realized she can come up with a complete story progression. Another discovered she had a talent for flash fiction. (Her stuff was amazing!)

I can't claim any credit for teaching them because I did not teach. We shared our ideas about generating ideas, prioritizing when we have too many, and fleshing out ideas. Nonetheless, these simple exercises taught them some valuable lessons:

* Ideas are out there
* You can flesh them out if you concentrate
* It doesn't have to take a lot of time and contemplation
* Sometimes a forced creative flow can produce awesome stuff--you don't always need to "wait for the muse"

I hope the lessons they learned will help you as well.

BTW, thanks to them I have another idea for a DragonEye, PI novel: a thief steals a relic from a 13th century saint and smuggles it across the Gap to Faerie. However, the relic, being from the Faerie St. Dismas, wants to return home. It starts a epidemic in Los Lagos--but only among thieves. I'm thinking of calling it "Dismas-ly Ill"

My Novel's Journey: Rediscovering Discovery

Well, I finally did it today. I finished reading the 80,000 words I have written on my Catholic sci-fi novel, DISCOVERY. I know what works and what doesn't and it really comes down to fixing the first half so that it dances with the second half. That means character development, minor conflicts during the trip out to the Kuiper Belt that foreshadow the crises when they explore the ship, and researching some great quotes for Sister Ann to lob off that are perfect for the situation as she understands it--and does she ever understand!--but that confuse everyone else. It also means some re-constructive surgery, then a really good polish.

Now, I have to decide how to best go about this. Should I outline? Cut the manuscript into pieces and play with them like a puzzle? Scrap the whole thing and start over armed with the knowledge of what I've written?

I'm not sure, and tomorrow, Steven gets his wisdom teeth pulled, and Rob took the day off. Not going to be doing a lot of writing this weekend. However, Monday, the kids go to school, and thanks to a different schedule and the fact that they have buses, I will have an extra couple of hours to work during the school day. I'll work a plan this weekend, and Monday start. I'll let you know how it's going!

Incidentally, I'm miffed at StarGate: Universe (aka StarGate: Whinyverse) for naming their ship Discovery. I'm wondering if I really have to change mine. For the record, I came up with it long before the show.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thanks to the Catholic Writers Conference Live!

(Note: This was written on Friday, Aug 6.)

The Catholic Writers Conference Live is over. The trade booth is struck, and my roomies (Michelle Buckman and Elizabeth Weiner) are on their way to the train. Fortunately, I get to have breakfast with Ann Lewis, Margaret Reiley and John Desjarlais in an hour or so or I might be crying.

I've been to writers' conference before, and it's always a high to be sharing your excitement for the craft with others, but being a Catholic conference adds a special element. It wasn't just that there was daily Mass offered before the day's events--it was the new friend who nabs you on the exhibitor’s floor and says, "They're doing benediction and Communion. Since you missed Mass, you need to go get the Sacrament now." It wasn't just hearing about how to write a great villain; it's learning how you can access that darker side of our nature and make it a force for Good. It wasn't just that you could talk to publishers an authors; it was that authors and publishers shared with each other in friendly competition but with a solidarity that comes from the knowledge that we share a higher mission than just making money (we hope) off our works.

It's more than just being able to talk freely about our faith--it's feeling free to live our faith as passionately as we live our craft.

While other writers' conferences inform my mind and inspire my imagination, the Catholic Writers Conference Live touched soul.

Thank you to all who helped put the conference together and to all who attended.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Waiting—the worst part of being a writer

Taking a break from My Writer's Journey as I wait for critiques and prepare for the Catholic Writers' Conference Live. So, appropriately, here's my take on waiting!

I know that most writers think getting rejected is the worst part of the vocation, but not for me. I hate the waiting. Waiting on critique buddies to get back to you. Waiting for publishers to accept or reject. Waiting for the book or story to come out. There’s a lot of waiting involved in writing.

Part of why I hate it is I’m an impatient person when it comes to completing a project. I like knowing something is finalized, and an unpublished manuscript is somehow incomplete.

I also get insecure: Did the editor receive it? Did it get lost in a pile somewhere? Did the reply get lost? I try to combat this by making sure I follow-up, but sometimes, even follow-ups (and second follow-ups) go unanswered. Even an autoreply would be nice!

I’m also insecure about moving on. I know the guidelines say they’ll get back in a certain amount of time, but 8 times out of 10, they don’t, even with a follow-up. However, I always feel like I’m being impolite if I send it someplace else. What if they find it in that pile they finally got to? Did I just miss a chance at Asimov’s or Tor because I got impatient and sent it to a small press?

Finally, I hate waiting because it plays on my biggest weakness: my memory. As I look back at my list of submissions, I find that some of them have been with a magazine for over a year! And no reply. Why didn’t I forget it and move on? I got involved in something else and forgot. Obviously, I need to start making a schedule to check on these things. It’s my next focus area in writing.

I know the best way to get past my distaste for waiting is just to keep moving on, and I do. But as I look at the growing pile of submissions that languish while I wait, I feel the weight of my dreams sitting in someone else’s in-box.

To be honest, I’d rather have a fast rejection than a long wait. At least then I know where I stand.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Who I write like...and other mis-analyses

In one of my writing groups, a person put up this link It’s supposed to be a writing analyzer that claims to be able to tell you who you write like.

I Write Like checks which famous writer you write like by analyzing your word choice and writing style and comparing them with those of the famous writers.
Learn which writer you write like and get yourself a badge!

Just for kicks, I decided to try it out. Of course, having been a math major and a logic-minded geek in general, I decided to treat it like a statistical experiment.

I put in three sections from three different novels:

Neeta Lyffe: Arthur C. Clark
Magic, Mensa and Mayhem: Stephen King
Live and Let Fly: Stephen King and (because I didn’t believe it and put in a second sample) Dave Foster Wallace

I put in three different sections chosen at random from Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator. According to the analysis, I write like Chuck Palahnuik, Cory Doctorow, and Raymond Chandler. All in the same book.

So I tried it again, with four consecutive sections: Raymond Chandler, Dan Brown (hm, maybe I should rewrite that part), Cory Doctorow, and Stephen King.

Then I took just the King section and divided it into three parts: Stephen King, Cory Doctorow and Stephen King.

Interesting that Cory Doctorow and Stephen King came up so often, especially since I write humorous fantasy.

Just a note: I did put the same bits of text in more than once and would get the same author, so I don’t think it’s just a random generator. It’s just not very good.

Apparently, the only thing it could agree on consistently is that I write like a lot of male writers, which is doubly ironic because another writing analysis program I tried said I have a female voice (which would have disturbed me if I’d believed it, since I was analyzing Vern’s stories.)

Now you know why I have no faith in these analysis machines.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Ten Reasons I'm a Writer

I’m at the Catholic Writers’ Conference Live this week. I adore this conference and have waaaay too much fun connecting with live people to take time out to blog. So this is prepared ahead of time.

1. There are too many people living out their lives in my head. If I didn’t exorcise some of their stories, it would get too crowded to think!
2. Along the same lines, it keeps me from sitting in a corner of my room, staring blankly at the wall while in my mind, I live their lives with them.
3. I can indulge a snarky side of my personality without anyone getting mad at me. (Or if they do, they can write about it on the Internet, giving me more publicity!)
4. I love to read my stories aloud to my kids and hear their laughter and comments. It’s the best compliment in the world when Steven starts reciting my lines at random.
5. I really don’t care much for discussing current events or celebrity gossip (more and more, the same thing). Writing allows me to explore a lot of issues without getting into what I consider the banal.
6. It’s a great escape from reality.
7. I can learn about a lot of really cool things without having to be an expert on any of them. This suits my impatient attention span just fine.
8. I’ve always been one for telling tall tales, anyway. It’s nice to get paid for them.
9. It’s rewarding to know I touched a heart—or made someone snort soda out their nose and enjoy the experience.
10. What other job lets you spend copious amounts of time locked in your own head, yet enables you to communicate with the world?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Review of The Bishop by Steven James

Summary from the Publisher:

FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers's cutting-edge 21st-century geospatial investigative techniques and impeccable logic have helped him track some of the country's most grisly killers. But those skills are pushed to the limit in this new installment of the highly-acclaimed, award-winning The Bowers Files series. This time it's a congressman's daughter who is found dead even as her killers launch a spree of perfect murders in the Northeast. With nothing to link the crimes to each other, Agent Bowers faces his most difficult case yet--even as his personal life begins to crumble around him. Known for his intricately woven, masterfully plotted novels of high-octane action and spine-tingling suspense, Steven James delivers once again. The Bishop is a gripping, adrenaline-laced story for readers who are tired of timid thrillers. Strap on your seatbelt and get ready for a wild ride. The game is on.


I got this over the weekend from the publisher because I volunteered to review it. I love James' books. This time, however, I was planning to give it a quick look, as I had a busy weekend before my writer's conference.

"Quick look" led to staying up until 1:30 a.m. James' novels are totally engrossing, and I was fooling myself to assume any different.

The description has it right: masterfully plotted, high-octane action, spine-tingling suspense. I know you're going to find plenty of other reviews of Steven James that will tell you the same thing, so I won't repeat.

One thing I love about James' writing is that his characters are very intelligent and deep thinking, and not just about their case or their relationship. They ask big questions, about the meaning of life, about the basic nature of Man, and they always have interesting insights. James does a great job of brining in a lot of views without pushing an agenda, too. Because of that, I always find the Patrick Bowers Files books compelling on more than one level.

If you love intelligent, well-written, can't-tear-your-eyes-off-the-page thrillers, get The Bishop. In fact, get any of his books in this series. You wont' be disappointed.

Incidentally, he's having a party on Facebook. Come join us.

Steven James Launch Party!