Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Read the Guidelines

by
Kathryn Page Camp
 
 

You’ve finished that poem or a short story or non-fiction article or book and are ready to submit it. You have talked to friends, searched the Internet, studied the current edition of Writer’s Market, reviewed the publication collection at your local public library, and complied a list of potential markets. So what do you do next?
Read the submission guidelines.

Why?
First, reading the guidelines helps you eliminate publications that are not a good fit. Even if Writer’s Market says a particular science fiction magazine accepts stories between 5,000 and 10,000 words, that information can become quickly outdated. Maybe the magazine recently decided it can publish a greater variety of stories if it limits them to 4,000 words or less. The writers’ guidelines on the publication’s website are the best source for current information. Reading them will keep you from wasting your time, and possibly your money, submitting to markets that don’t buy what you have to sell. No matter how hard she tries, Georgia Washington is never going to convince Romance, Inc. to publish her novel.

The second reason for reading the guidelines is to ensure that your submission gets noticed in the right way rather than the wrong one. I try to follow the guidelines in every detail for this simple reason: if I were the editor, I would assume the departure means the author isn’t good at following directions and will be hard to work with. I won’t submit anything that I would discard if I were the editor.
But that creates a dilemma. If I follow the guidelines, won’t I look like every other submission that comes in? How do I stand out from the crowd?

My response is simple: I write the best query letter I can, focusing my creativity on the hook and the book description. Some writers respond by departing from specific parts of the guidelines, and it may work with some editors—but only if the departures are thought through first. If it will make you sound unprofessional, don’t do it.
What if the guidelines say to submit a hard copy to “Fiction Editor” at a physical address and you submit to a named editor by e-mail? Obviously, if you met the editor at a conference and were given permission to submit that way, you should do it. Some people recommend seeking out the name of the current editor and submitting directly to that person. If you do, make sure you send your manuscript to someone who is involved in the acquisition process. Even then, you run the risk that the person will see the use of his or her name as an end run around the process outlined in the guidelines.

Then there is the issue of simultaneous submissions. If the guidelines prohibit them, I usually put that publisher on the bottom of my list and submit there last. But on the rare occasions where I have ignored that part of the guidelines, I’m honest about it. My standard closing line is “Thank you for considering this simultaneous submission.” If they are going to ignore my submission, fine. But at least I won’t be blackballed if two publications end up vying for the same manuscript.
Whether you follow the guidelines is your call. If you can color outside the lines in a way that screams “innovative” or “creative” rather than “lazy” or “novice” or “not good at following directions,” then go ahead. But it’s still a risk.

Do you have any interesting experiences from the one time—or one of many—when you didn’t follow the guidelines? If so, we’d love to hear them.
_________

Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Why Do I Need Promotional Postcards?

by
Kathryn Page Camp
 
 
I like to support other authors, so I buy a lot of physical books at conferences and book fairs. But sometimes I would rather read the reviews first or purchase the Kindle version. That’s fine if I remember the author and the title of the book. Unfortunately, I’ll probably forget both unless I have something in my hands to remind me.
That’s why authors need postcards or bookmarks that promote their books. Readers can pick up this promotional material when they aren’t ready to purchase and then use it to prompt their memories when they are. Writers can also send postcards through the mail to interested persons when that new book has come out or the author is doing a book signing in the area. That may seem unnecessary in this digital age, but some people still appreciate and respond to “old-fashioned” methods. And hard as it is to believe, there are even people who don’t use technology and social media. My 53-year-old brother-in-law just got his first cell phone and Facebook account.
So what should you include in your promotional postcards? Your book cover is a must, as is purchase information. You should also include the ISBN, which is the book’s fingerprint and is the easiest way for a bookstore to locate it. There may be other books with the same title and even the same author, but no other book will have the same ISBN.
 
Then, of course, you will want to grab a reader’s interest. This may be done with a short summary, a quote from a review, an honor the book received, or all three.
As the first picture demonstrates, the front of my Writers in Wonderland postcard includes the book cover, the name of the publisher (my own imprint), and a witty quote about the book. I printed the quote in a font that matched the tone of the book, but I probably should have looked for one that was easier to read.
The back of the postcard (shown below), carries a short statement about why someone should buy the book, a note on an honor it received, the ISBN, purchase information, and my website. Unfortunately, I forgot to mention that a Kindle version is available.
 
When I designed the In God We Trust postcard, I included the book cover, a short summary, the ISBN, purchase information, and the publisher.
 
This time I left the entire back of the card blank so that I could sticker the left side with information on upcoming events. Even when the left side is filled in, as was the case with my Writers in Wonderland postcard, the right half of the back should remain empty to leave room for an address and postage. Or you could add blank lines for the address if you prefer.
For the second time, I forgot to mention that a Kindle version is available. Worse, I also left off my website address. Oh well. I live and learn like everyone else.
Next time I’ll use a checklist like this one:
_____ book cover
_____ ISBN
_____ purchase information
_____ e-book availability
_____ publisher
_____ website
_____ summary and/or endorsements and/or honors
Do you have anything to add to the list? I’d also like to hear about creative ways you use promotional postcards or bookmarks.
_________
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.
 



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Marketing Lessons Learned at the 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers' Conference


The 2016 Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference was held this past Saturday, and all of the sessions were fantastic. Since the November blog theme is marketing, however, this post will focus on those parts of the conference that addressed that issue.

The second session of the day included a workshop on “Marketing Your Book” presented by Carla Suson. Here are a few of the highlights.

·       Have a marketing plan in place before your book comes out. The plan shouldn’t be limited to what you are going to do but should also say when you are going to do it. For example, schedule when you will send galleys to major reviewers.

·       Before the book launches, gather information on potential publicity outlets. This includes radio shows, newspapers, newsletters, magazines, niche markets, e-mail lists you have gathered from your website or from book fairs, and blog tour sites.

·       A website is essential. If you only plan on writing one book, the website should be for that book. If you have multiple publications, the website should focus on you with your books included as secondary information.

·       Choose your social media deliberately and post information selectively. Social media is good for celebrating milestones, achievements, and connections but hard sales tactics backfire.

·       Identify the national days and months that relate to your book and put them on your marketing calendar. Then write a relevant blog post for each one. See the note below for some examples.

Keynote speaker Cathy Day talked about literary citizenship, where writers benefit by cooperating rather than competing. Be interested in what other people are doing. Interview other writers for your blog or an online or print magazine. If you want authors to recommend and review your books, then you must do the same for them. If you want to be published in print journals, become a subscriber. If you want people to buy your books, then buy books yourself. As Cathy Day kept repeating, be interested in what other people are doing. Or, to sum it up in words she didn’t use, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

IWC expects more great marketing advice at next year’s Steel Pen Creative Writers’ Conference.

See you there.

__________

You can find a list of national days and months at www.nationaldaycalendar.com, and something is sure to apply to your projects. Are you writing a romance novel set at a lighthouse? August 7 is National Lighthouse Day. Did you publish a children’s picture book about friends splashing in puddles after the rain? January 11 is National Step in the Puddle and Splash Your Friends Day. And we can all celebrate National Books Lovers Day (August 7), National Get Caught Reading Month (May), and National Book Month (October).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Marketing Resources for Writers

You’ve published a book, and now you want to market it, but you can’t figure out how. So where do you go for marketing advice?
Books are always a good place to start. Here are a few suggestions:
·       Sell Your Book Like Wildfire: The Writer’s Guide to Marketing & Publicity by Rob Eagar (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012);
·       Guerrilla Marketing for Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen, and David L. Hancock (Morgan James Publishing, 2010); and
·       Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval (TarcherPerigee, 2008).
Much as the IWC loves books, though, they can get out of date, especially when it comes to today’s fast-moving technology. The Internet is usually the best place for current advice on social media marketing. Here are some relevant online articles:
·       “Marketing Advice from a Publishing Pro: Jane Friedman Shares Her Best Tips,” at http://www.socialmediajustforwriters.com/marketing-advice-from-a-publishing-pro-jane-friedman-shares-her-best-tips/;
·        “5 Marketing Strategies for Writers Who Hate Promoting Their Own Work” by Hugh O. Smith at http://thewritelife.com/marketing-strategies-for-writers/; and
·       “Marketing for Writers: 19 Top Writers On Their Greatest Challenges” at http://becomeawritertoday.com/marketing-for-writers/. Some of the authors who were interviewed spout generalized platitudes, but Ellie Campbell and Jennifer Foehner Wells give specific advice, and a recurring theme among the writers is that the best advertisement for a first book is a second one, so keep writing.
Then there is that third, often-neglected, resource, which can be the most helpful of all. If you have friends and acquaintances that have successfully marketed their books, ask for their advice and help. No approach works for everyone, and the best plan will consider both your personality and the nature of your product. The author of the marketing book or blog doesn’t know you. Your friends do.
In the end, trial and error is the best way to discover what works for you. Even so, you need ideas, and books, the Internet, and friends are a good place to start. So listen to their advice.
Then get out there and market.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Getting the Most out of Author Fairs

by
Carla Lee Suson
 
 
Authors love to meet new folks and talk about their books. However, unless you are a literary superstar, most readers are like timid deer in approaching your table. They may shoot sideways glances at you, curious but skittish, and often don't want a conversation. This reaction is worse when the room is filled with over a dozen people hawking their particular wares.
 
So how do you attract people to possibly buy your book? You make yourself stand out.
 
Designing your display takes planning and some shopping long before the event. First of all, decide whether you want to promote yourself as an author of multiple books or only your current publication. That decision affects the focus of your display and the design of the giveaways.
 
Think vertically and colorfully.
 
In terms of color, most library sales or bookstore events offer a white tablecloth covering for everyone. The uniformity makes you fade into the background. However, adding color by using bits of fabric, overlaying different cloths, or featuring bright banners will make you stand out more. A cheap way to accomplish this is to use nice tablecloth napkins (in hues that compliment your book's colors) stretched out on the table and then place your bookstands in the center.
 
In terms of three-dimensionality, one critical component is to make sure at least one copy of your book stands upright so people can see the cover from a short distance. Plate holders from craft stores are excellent for this use. Keep them simple so people see the book, not the frame.
 
Other vertical elements can include banners across the front of the table, three-dimensional models of some kind, and either posters on easels or freestanding signs behind your table. These displays should feature something more engaging than just the book cover but still play into the overall theme of your writing. However, banners and telescoping signs are expensive. Again, decide if they should represent either you or your book in terms of how often you want to reuse them.
 
The Ailes Brothers of Terror have certainly mastered the vertical technique. In any event filled room, their display clearly stands out because of the large seven-foot banners and their use of symbols and colors. They also feature a creepy doll and brains in jars. No one can mistake them as anything but horror writers. Horror readers will make a beeline for their table. However, notice that the knickknacks do not overpower the books. Each book is upright, inviting the reader to check it out.
 

In this case, horror offers some easy ways to create a themed display. Other authors may struggle a bit more. For example, Joyce Hicks wrote Escaping Assisted Living, a mother-daughter relationship book has an audience of mostly women from their thirties and older. In her case, she needed props that would make customers think in terms of the elderly. She chose doilies, slippers, and some knitting. As women walked by, they saw the knitting and became curious enough to stop and chat.
 
 
One way to grab a child (and their parent's) attention is to feature toys that are somehow related to your books. The kids will stop to hold the stuffed animal or play with the items, giving you that window of opportunity to strike a conversation. James Dworkin uses this method for his The Dog and the Dolphin book.
 
 
Adult writers of mystery, thriller, and romance material may have a harder time finding some display that makes people take a closer look. After all, putting a knife or a gun on the table is simply a bad idea. In that case, you should focus on what makes your book different. What is the core theme?
 
In my case, biological warfare wasn't an easy theme. I didn't want to decorate with gas masks. In addition, I had several unrelated books to sell and wanted to promote myself more than any one of my books. In my display, my banner is about me so that I can use it as I publish more. It's thriller theme is good for anything I write. I also write as the Texas Chick so I use a cowboy hat as a symbol on my table. After a while, people were so used to seeing me in it, that they would ask about the hat if it was missing.
 
 
Finally, you must find some way to engage the customer in conversation. Some authors, particularly those in the children's genre, will have a candy dish out. This seems like a bad idea to me because the children will simply raid the dish by the fistfuls without even glancing at the book. If they stay and eat, then you have the potential problem of sticky fingers all over the book covers. If you choose to go with candy, then at least avoid chocolate, particularly at outdoor events. Remember that it melts and has the potential of messing up your merchandise and display.
 
Other authors offer complimentary pens, freebie items, and merchandise contests (free t-shirt drawing) in order to promote their material. Often this is used by those who have multiple items to offer. It can become expensive if too many people raid the table without buying items.
 
To engage the folks walking by my table, I created a "Do you survive?" game. The customer chooses a scroll wrapped in a blood-red ribbon from a jar. The message tells them whether they would survive an Ebola plague based on statistics and what their jobs are. Each scroll features some fact about the disease or epidemiology. I encourage them to keep the scroll and will offer the first chapter of my book. Usually people are curious enough to try it and it gives me the opportunity to talk about my fiction book.
 
No matter what, have something to hand to people, even if it is a flyer and your card. Whatever the material is, make sure it includes important contact information such as the book's website or email and a reference to Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites if your book is available online.
 
So before your next author event, figure out what you can do to make your merchandise stand out from the others. Draw the customers' interest over to your table and you've won half the marketing battle.
 
__________
 
A Texas chick at heart, Carla Lee Suson started writing after spending a few years in medical research at a Dallas medical school. She then moved to South Texas and developed short stories and articles on travel destinations, parenting advice, and science work while raising three kids and a pack of dogs. After relocating to Northwest Indiana, she obtained a Master's degree in professional writing. Her first novel is Independence Day Plague and she has stories in the Gods of Justice, Holiday Tales, and Night Light anthologies. When not sculpting scenes of ghosts, murder, and mayhem, she dives into one of her many hobbies such as woodworking, leather craft, or photography. For more information about Carla, her blog, or her books, check out carlaleesuson.com.A Texas chick at heart, Carla Lee Suson started writing after spending a few years in medical research at a Dallas medical school. She then moved to South Texas and developed short stories and articles on travel destinations, parenting advice, and science work while raising three kids and a pack of dogs. After relocating to Northwest Indiana, she obtained a Master's degree in professional writing. Her first novel is Independence Day Plague and she has stories in the Gods of Justice, Holiday Tales, and Night Light anthologies. When not sculpting scenes of ghosts, murder, and mayhem, she dives into one of her many hobbies such as woodworking, leather craft, or photography. For more information about Carla, her blog, or her books, check out carlaleesuson.com.A Texas chick at heart, Carla Lee Suson started writing after spending a few years in medical research at a Dallas medical school. She then moved to South Texas and developed short stories and articles on travel destinations, parenting advice, and science work while raising three kids and a pack of dogs. After relocating to Northwest Indiana, she obtained a Master's degree in professional writing. Her first novel is Independence Day Plague and she has stories in the Gods of Justice, Holiday Tales, and Night Light anthologies. When not sculpting scenes of ghosts, murder, and mayhem, she dives into one of her many hobbies such as woodworking, leather craft, or photography. For more information about Carla, her blog, or her books, check out carlaleesuson.com.A Texas chick at heart, Carla Lee Suson started writing after spending a few years in medical research at a Dallas medical school. She then moved to South Texas and developed short stories and articles on travel destinations, parenting advice, and science work while raising three kids and a pack of dogs. After relocating to Northwest Indiana, she obtained a Master’s degree in professional writing. Her first novel is Independence Day Plague and she has stories in Gods of Justice, Holiday Tales, and Night Light anthologies. When not sculpting scenes of ghosts, murder, and mayhem, she dives into one of her many hobbies such as woodworking, leather craft, or photography. For more information about Carla, her blog, or her books, check out www.carlaleesuson.com.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Space Between: Giving Voice to Real Life Stories

by
Janine Harrison
 
 

What is your story?  Do you want to give it voice?  If so, how?  As a memoir?  As an autobiography?  Does your story include that of an ancestor or mentor?  Perhaps the influential someone accomplished a feat that defied expectations set for his or her gender, race, or social class?  Or contributed to the betterment of humankind in a notable way?  If so, maybe a biography is in order.  No matter the answers to these questions, it is essential for anyone interested in writing a form of creative nonfiction (CN), such as memoir, autobiography, or biography, to understand the differences between the sub-genres and the conventions therein. 

For the uninitiated, a book that I have used to introduce creative nonfiction to college undergraduates is Writing True:  The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz.  The work explains CN in a clear and concise manner; discusses various facets from prewriting and voice to research and ethics; and then introduces various sub-genres, providing examples of each in the form of essays and excerpts.  

Even though in many bookstores today all long-form CN sub-genres are still lumped under the category, “Biography,” distinctions need to be made between the three types.  Usually in school, we are taught that “autobiography” refers to one’s own story and “biography” refers to someone else’s story.  What about “memoir,” though?  Some people consider autobiography and memoir to be synonymous, when actually, they are quite different. 

Whereas an autobiography records a person’s life from birth to death in a chronological manner, a memoir may be organized in any number of ways.  A memoirist may choose to cover a large span in time or he or she may ­­­concentrate on a particular time period instead.  Memoir may be organized thematically or spatially.  It may be in collage form or as quilted patches of vignettes.  The form, in fact, has considerably more “elbow room” in relation to structure.  In addition, while autobiography contains a voice that primarily tells the author’s story, in memoir, showing is the primary mode. 

A book that I highly recommend reading prior to committing pen to paper in draft form is Philip Gerard’s Creative Nonfiction:  Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life.  Although it is not exclusive to memoir, the author provides an in-depth look at the characteristics that distinguish CN from fiction as well as at the research and crafting processes that are appropriate for long-form work.   

A more recently published resource that is memoir specific is Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which, according to memoirist Cheryl Strayed, “Will be the definitive book on reading and writing memoir for years to come.”  The guide, which is written in a straight forward and entertaining manner, shows writers how to overcome writers’ block, understand voice and ethics, and appreciate the craft stage of writing; it even includes a list of recommended reads.

As for me, I recommend reading Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild for excellent examples of voices that work in memoir writing.  Both women writers’ stories are depicted with a good balance of factual and emotional truth; each one faces her dragons (ranging from substance abuse to family dysfunction to grief), and, at the same time, uses humor to help the medicine of reality go down smoothly. 

Happy reading!

__________

Janine Harrison, M.A., M.F.A. poet, fiction writer, and nonfictionist, teaches creative writing at Purdue University Northwest and is a former Indiana Writers’ Consortium president.  Her work has appeared in Veils, Halos, & Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, A&U, Not Like the Rest of Us:  An Anthology of Contemporary Indiana Writers, and other publications. Former Indiana Poet Laureate George Kalamaras included Janine in his The Wabash Watershed “Six Indiana Women Poets” feature.  For additional information, please visit her website:  www.janineharrison.live.