Welcome to the week that was.
Last week's review started with Caroly
Lance had the best comment on this:
Caroly__, I know how you feel. I lost a lot in my birth naming.It took me two passes to get the joke. See it
And Carolywith0ns now asking for forgiveness:
I want my Ns back, pleassssse.
Forgive my lapse in judgment.
Last week's review also mentioned Janice L. Grinyer's encounter with some lost souls. I remembered that when I had a similar encounter not very long after.
My husband was in the woods when he met a young couple from Vermont traveling across the US; not only traveling but living in their car. "There is a storm coming, would you like to stay with us at our home until it passes?" Needless to say, it has been a fun four days getting to know this couple, and the adventures they have had (worldwide adventures!) Once the sky cleared, they were on their way again, and we had one day off until the next wave of guests. So many stories, so much laughter; all good.
My encounter is posted here on my Facebook page.
On Monday we talked about snout to tail promotion: the concept that you use everything you can to promote your book.
I really liked what Audrey Shaffer said:
Several years ago, I took over a chatroom for writers. The mailing list was almost 300 people, and I was so excited! Now, we have live chats twice each week, and the mailing list is almost 3,000. I have 15% open rate, and people respond to the emails. (And Janet has dropped in twice!)
If I had started out with the goal to build this, I probably would have tied myself into knots and it would have fallen apart. But by simply moving forward, one step at a time, I'm amazed to find myself with something valuable.
15% open rate is HUGE for this kind of promotion, just in case you were wondering. And yes, I do like to swim by these kinds of things, but it's mostly luck of the draw: I'm on Twitter tormenting my clients with glee, and see a tweet that a live chat is going on NOW. There's no way for anyone to plan for it, it just happens.
And this from Jennifer R. Donohue is a good point:
But. I'm outside the bell curve of normality on any number of things, and one of those is newsletters. I hate receiving newsletters. I sign up for them, sure. I don't read them, for the most part. I kinda scan Publisher's Lunch, that kind of thing. But, as we discussed last week, I also don't read jacket copy (or reviews, by the way. I don't read reviews until after I've read the book. Or tried the book and failed to complete it). Commercials don't actually seem to make me want to buy things, but rather have the opposite effect.
So, when you're thinking about promotion, think about how YOU find books to read. Most of us find books by word of mouth. Someone we know tells us about a book they liked. Starting RIGHT NOW, keep a list of every single time you acquire a book (either borrowing at library, or buying, or receiving from another source) how you got the book and how you heard about it. You'll need to start EARLY cause you'll need a lot of data points to see a pattern.
I'm a big proponent of doing what works, not what people tell you what works. There's a lot of VERY BAD advice about promotion out there. Trust your experiences, not someone else's opinions.
And this from Sherry Howard about the MailChimp newsletter mailing platform just cracked me up:
I'm visiting the zoo today to get one of those mail chimps from the gift shop; I'm glad to know he's trained to take of that for me. I've always wanted a chimp!
Susan makes a VERY good point here:
As for mailing lists and newsletters: I'm of the Newsletters Don't Work For Me camp--both in sending and in receiving. I tried creating a newsletter for my business a few years ago. It began as a monthly, then dwindled down to a quarterly before going extinct. The pressure to create that content when I was already marketing my book, writing another, burned out from working a stressful corporate job, and recovering from illness was too much. It became a chore I grew to dread rather than an enhancement to my services, and I decided I'd rather spend that time and energy producing content I enjoyed: more blog posts, books, resources, and even personal journaling.
I do see the wisdom in maintaining a mailing list, and I'll likely revamp the newsletter into simple email updates such as book news and free resources, but I'm not one who can churn out content on a consistent basis like I'd originally intended. It actually took me a while to come to terms with that.
We talk about newsletters as though they have to be the multiple-page things we get from groups we belong to (I get Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime etc.)
Mailing lists don't need newsletters! You can simply email your list with a short paragraph of news:
Felix Buttonweezer's new novel "My Life In Kale" co-authored by Carolynn and Colin of Carkoon, will be published next Tuesday! You can pre-order a copy here (put in a link)
Here's what early readers have said: (include some good SHORT blurbs)
Thanks for all your support!
Kelsey Hutton said it very well here
I also think fewer words, more frequently is the way to go if you want to do newsletters or updates. At least for myself, I'd much rather read 1 amusing anecdote every two weeks from my favourite author than receive a long quarterly newsletter. The longer a piece is, the more likely I am to get distracted before I reach the end and then never go back.
Lucie Witt's parenthetical on a comment about bios caught my eye
(I almost didn't enter because so many "real" authors submitted but then I reminded myself I'm a real author too, dammit, and I should let my work speak for itself instead of fretting over my lack of name recognition).
If you're EVER hesitant about entering a contest, or sending work to an anthology for consideration or sending work ANYWHERE because you're not a "name author" let me remind you of this: one of the top flight agents here in NYC, Nat Sobel, is renowned for finding writers in places like literary journals, anthologies and other off the beaten track places.
One of my favorite books from 2014, Ghostman by Roger Hobbes, was found this way.
"I eventually wrote a short story called 'What's Inside?' about an armored car robbery. Nat Sobel (a literary agent) saw my piece and really liked it ... He asked me if I had any novels, and I sent him two of the novels that I had. He said, 'These are pretty good, but you should write another one for me over the summer and send it to me when you're done.' I thought, 'I've had some pretty good success with that heist story and he likes that so I'll write another really dark crime novel,' and I wrote 'Ghostman.' I turned it in on the day I graduated college."
And I was very interested in this from A.J. Cattapan, something I did not know:
Oh, one more thing!! About the Google search. My brother (who is a hotshot online marketing VP at a MAJOR company) has informed me that if you search your name on your own computer, you should definitely come up first because Google has cached your name and the sites you visit often. You do visit your own website often to update it, right?
Anyway, the real test is to have a stranger Google you on his or her own computer. Then you'll know whether or not a stranger can find you easily. One plus to having an unusual last name like Cattapan is that it's pretty easy for other people to find me. Not a lot of other Cattapans out there. :)
Kara Ringenbach asked:
Hope this isn't too far off topic: I am curious how someone with a pen name would handle these things. I am planning on using one even though I know now that it will prob. give something between a slight and extreme disadvantage as far as marketing. Assuming your name is NOT Stephen King, at what point would you mention a pen name in the querying/ publishing process?
There is a blog post on that very topic from back in June 2014.
Almitra Clay had a very interesting question about pen names
I share a name with a published author. Thus “Almitra.” I know that I will have to correspond with industry professionals by my given name. Should I also make it clear publicly that Almitra is my pen name?
Thanks to the white guy who used a Chinese pen name to publish a poem, I am a little worried that any obfuscation of my very white ethnicity is going to cause problems. The name I have chosen could lead people to assume that I’m not white. Should I be concerned?
I'm going to use that question for a blog post this week. It's something I've been thinking about recently. Stay tuned!
Another comment generated Tuesday's blog post about what a marketing department will do for an author;
This from Julie M. Weathers makes me think the Defense Department lost a great strategist when she decided to be a writer instead of a general;
When I was in real estate, I used to hold a lot of open houses. Even in the West Texas summer, I would have a fire going if the house had a fireplace. I'd put a loaf of frozen bread dough out to rise to give the house that yeasty home smell or a bowl of cinnamon and vanilla water went in a warm oven so the people thought they were walking in on fresh cookies coming out of the oven. I did everything in my power to make them feel like they were home, they wanted to spend more time there.
People who were really interested got a quart of Baskin Robbins ice cream when they left. Baskin Robbins ice cream is good enough not to want to waste so they'd take it home. Most didn't feel like leaving home again to look at more houses.
Theresa mentioned some model author websites:
Eve, these are the author websites I like. The first two are fiction writers, the rest nonfiction.
(1) Katharine Weber katharineweber.comI really like this website. It's crisp, clean, informative. The only thing I see right away is that I'd have suggested she add the Twitter icon below her headline. Lots of people look for the icon, not a text block when they're seeking contact info. Same for Facebook if you have it.
(2) Caroline Leavitt carolineleavitt.comThis one isn't one I'd use as a model. The landing page doesn't lend itself to navigation. The link "welcome to Leavittown" is clever…only if you think about it. If you're just trying to figure out the correct title of a book or verify a piece of information, it's not intuitive that you click on Welcome To Leavittown to enter the site.
Once you enter the site there's a headline, but what is it? A book title? If I don't know, it's not clear. Then there's a list of kudos. This is a CLASSIC mistake in promotion. It's the same rule you have in queries: tell me what the book is about.
Most people aren't visiting your page to find out what awards you've won. They're interested in your book. Always always always start with the book and what it's about.
The next problem is that when you click the tabs, they open in new windows. If you want to see the difference, go back to Katharine Weber's site and click her tabs. They don't open in new windows.
The problem with opening in new windows is you've got a dozen tabs open now, and you'll have to close them all to get out of there, AND it doesn't allow you to use back/forward arrows to travel between pages.
The biggest mistake though: her contact page doesn't list her social media. Her social media is at the bottom of the very very long first page, a place you're not very likely to find it.
And don't get me started on outdated events pages. These events are from 2013.
(3) Stacy Cordery stacycordery.comThis website is terrific.
(4) T.J. Stiles tjstiles.netGood, but not terrific
Terrific. Also notice on his contact page that he has made arrangements for people to get signed copies of his books from one of his local stores. This is something every author should do. It's MUCH easier to let a bookstore make these sales than have a fan ship books to you and you ship them back.
(5) Erik Larson eriklarsonbooks.com
And he's got a TERRIFIC blog. If you'd never heard of this author (ie you've been under a rock, or on Pluto etc) you'd know just by reading this blog that Erik Larson is a talented writer and you'd want to read all his books.
That's pretty much game, set, match there. Come to the website for info, leave wanting to read All The Books.
James Ticknor asked:
How exactly does one guarantee sales? That concept never made sense to me. I get the whole promotion bit, but not the other.
The only way to guarantee sales is to write a large check to the bookstore. In fact, people used to do that so their books would get on the New York Times Bestseller list. (This was early 90's) but the NYT, no slouches they, wised up to the move and now cast a skeptical eye on any kind of bulk purchase of a title.
Short of that, there's no way. If there was, and I knew it, you think I'd be sitting in Brooklyn writing this blog? Hell NO. I'd be sitting on a Greek island sipping mimosas with all my clients as we counted the wheelbarrows of cash being flung at us.
On Wednesday I listed my year end stats on queries, requests, new clients:
Lucie Witt said:
"From 2013-2015 I still have four people working on requested revisions."
So this means at least one person is still working on revisions going back to 2013? This potentially makes me feel better about the R&R I've been working on since September.
I'm working with an author who's been revising since 2008. That is a rarity, of course, but certainly not unheard of.
Just Jan asked (as did many subsequent commenters)
How (or why) do you sell one book three times? Do publishers back out? And do they have to pay a penalty if they do?
The first time I sold what we'll call Three Lives, the publisher decided to close the entire imprint and cancel all the offers and contracts. We were at the offer stage, so we didn't get any money. One of my colleagues had a signed contract so that author kept all the money he'd received (sort of like a penalty clause!)
The second time was to a publisher I hadn't worked with previously. When we got to the deal negotiations it was increasingly clear it was not a good match for my author and his particular situation. After a LOT of discussion with my author, I told the publisher we would not be taking the deal.
I'm very fortunate that my client had faith I could pull the rabbit out of the hat one more time, and sure enough I did. However, it's a not something I care to make a regular habit of. I'm not sure my nerves have fully recuperated. And let's just say the bar got a damn good workout those couple months.
Lisa Bodenheim asked
And I'm curious as to why people withdraw when you've requested. Do they say why? Is it because all of a sudden, after a conference or reading a craft book, they felt their writing was not up to par?It varies a lot. One author told me I was essentially pond scum and didn't want to work with me. (I was so shocked I thought he was joking when he wrote me) Others have offers and I can't read fast enough or soon enough to give them a verdict, so the project is withdrawn. If the author has a blinding flash of insight and wants to revise, generally they have to start all over again with a query and a request to read the full. Revise and resubmit requests are VERY rare. I have maybe five of those in two years.
Panda in Chief said:
Actually, it always makes me think of what they said to us just before we aspiring painters graduated with our shiney new BFA's: maybe one percent of you will go on to graduate school, and of those, one percent will still be painting 10 years from now. Of those, less than 10% will ever make a living from your artwork. This January marks the 28th year I have been supporting myself soley with my painting. Even soul sucking odds can'r get in the way of sheer stubborn determination.
Second, this reminds me of an article in the NYT some years back about the graduates of Juilliard in the class of 89 maybe? Something like 20 years after graduation, the question was how many of the graduates worked in music at all, let alone made a living. The answer was precious few.
I'm also keen to know who the contest winner was that you signed! I looked at your current client list - and didn't necessarily remember seeing any of them as an FF winter - so, I'm wondering if that list is all inclusive - or- do you only list the clients whose work you've sold?
I only list clients when I've sold work. The FF contest winner is not listed there (YET!) And it's his story to tell or not tell, so I'll leave it up to him about when to tell it.
Donnaeve also asked:
E.M. and others working on R&R's...I have a writer friend who received an R&R from one of the BIG FIVE YA editors - almost three years ago. She's still working on it far as I know. I'd almost be afraid the longer I took the more they'd think I couldn't 1)follow critique suggestions, 2)received representation elsewhere or 3)simply blew the chance b/c really - how long should an R&R take?
On the other hand, maybe they'd view it like the writer didn't rush it.
I wonder (I do wonder a lot don't I?) if there is a sort of timeline to it. A Goldilocks method - not too fast, not too slow, but getting it back to the agent/editor in just the right time.
I think the key ingredient here is staying in touch. I have a writer working on revisions going on 8 years now. We're in touch a lot. For other clients working on revisions, I'll touch base if I haven't heard from them in a while. So, it's not three years of deafening silence and then popping back up with "hey, here ya go" at all.
Other agents may handle this differently, but I like to keep in touch with everyone who's got serious potential.
John Frain asked
How many clients do you represent that you have not sold (yet)?12 right now. That includes 3 new ones this year.
4 are on active submission.
5 are working on revisions
1 is working on finishing a novel
1 isn't writing right now
and John Frain asked
Also, I'm curious about the withdrawn manuscripts, and wondering how many of them eventually came back.Not a lot. Mostly manuscripts are withdrawn because the author is signing elsewhere.
In the category of Things I Am NOT Obsessing Over (and might never need to know) But Just Find Interesting: I'm curious about what sorts of things cause you to turn down an offer. I mean, I can guess that it's money and terms or some combination of the two, but it would be interesting to hear any details you might be willing/able to share.
Money is the big one. I'd rather hold on to a project (particularly film rights) than let it go for less than it's worth.
Editorial/publication vision is the second.
Yes, I have a question. Where is the graphic that goes with
And I'm STILL laughing at this from Julie M. Weathers
Now I just need to win a contest so Janet will recognize me when I query her!
Yea. Cowgirls Wanted. I wonder who wrote that.
Thursday was a discussion on timing for promotional emails.
I was hollering bloody murder about people who email stuff before the event.
Audrey Shaffer said
I used to send chat-reminder emails a day or two before the chat. I've gotten better response, and more re-tweet/shares since I started sending them the same day as the chat. Took me about six years to figure that one out.
I too have had those blinding realizations only to think "how the hell could I not have thought of this before now!"
And yes, same-day reminders are the only effective way to get me to visit a site, or drop by a chat.
BJ Muntain had a VERY good suggestion here
Here's a suggestion (from someone who used to work communications/marketing): When you send your first message - the 'save your date' message Janet talked about - give your date, but also *tell them* that you'll be sending them another message once it's live. That way they're not fiddling with their calendars - and if they're not near their calendar, they can think, "Oh good. I'll do that then." And they'll be prepared for your next message, which will have a live link.
I should have included that in the original post cause it's exactly the right thing to do.
John Frain asked:
So this leads me to think we need to keep multiple email lists, correct?
For example, a list of potential readers who would buy the book. And then a separate list for promotion purposes, consisting of people who might get the word out about the book via giveaways, contests, reviews, etc.
I suppose the reader list is a subset of the promotion list, but they'd need to be kept separate somehow. Or am I creating more work than is necessary?
Whatever the case, this is a facet of life I had not calculated for prior to now, so as long as we're making New Year's resolutions...
Deep River had a good answer:
It would be better to maintain one master list of all contacts with each contact record having additional fields for marketing purposes. You might need one field to record buyers, a second to record promoters, a third to record reviewers, and so forth. The idea is that a single contact may buy, post a review, and then recommend your book to their friends. Other contacts may buy and review, and many may only buy.
The marketing fields allow you to create various subset lists from your master list, enabling you to tailor the message accordingly. You will spend much less time adding data to an existing contact rather than creating new, separate lists for each purpose that comes up. Also, if a contact changes (e.g. mailing address), you only need to update a master list once, rather than searching and updating every specialized list in which that contact may appear.
There are all kinds of contact management programs for designed for salespeople that would work just fine for authors; most of the contact functions are the same
In fact, this gives me an idea for a blog post next week so stay tuned.
John Frain asked later
But here's where I'm still confused. If one of my goals in all this is to develop an email list, where is that happening? Do I ALSO need a newsletter or some such to collect email addresses?
It happens on your website here on the contact page. This is from Terry Shames website
On Friday we talked about when/if to reveal upcoming life implosions during the query process
Many of you extended good wishes to the questioner and I particularly liked this suggestion from CynthiaMc (who's had a few implosions this year herself)
My mom used to tell me to remember the hour glass when things got crazy - one grain of sand at a time can go through. From that I developed the habit of asking "What's the best next thing to do right now?" Sometimes it's simple - make the bed, do the dishes. Sometimes it's a trip to the beach. It works in crisis or out and keeps the day from being overwhelming. It turns the tide from victim to victor.
That's my tactic when I'm utterly overwhelmed. "What is one small thing I can do right now that will help move me forward?" It's surprising how often "make the bed" and "wash the floor" are the answers!
And Janice L. Grinyer offered this (she too has had some implosions this year!)
What got me through was organization. Writing lists nightly for the next day. Delegating when I could, accepting the fact that I had to rely on myself other times. So no pity parties because they waste time (well, have only one, but make it a good one to get it all out- no witnesses, it can get ugly.)
Focusing on communication with others, even those long distance, to build a future, no matter how uncertain. Developing a timing for when to let people in, and when to hold back information. However, when you let people in, you'd be surprised on how understanding they can be - no one wants to be left in the dark, on the sidelines, especially those who you work with.
But don't pull the pity card just to get a good parking space- a strong personal moral code will make you a better, healthier human being. Also, recognizing that when I took care of my sleep, eating, exercising needs, I became stronger in spirit too.
And writing. Don't stop writing. The best writing comes from the ashes. "The evening's coals are the morning's ashes"
On Saturday we discussed whether you need a website before you're published. (yes, you do)
Some of you seem to confuse website with blog.
This is a website:
This is a blog
You can have your blog ON your website, but they are two very different things.
A website doesn't require daily/weekly updates or much content.
A blog is more dynamic. You do need updates, and new content.
I update this blog daily.
I update my website MUCH less often. Ideally it should be monthly or at least quarterly. I don't even do that much right now.
You don't need a blog. You DO need a website.
The biggest problem with using a blog as a website is that a blog has time stamps.
If I click on your blog and the last post is from 2013, that's a BAD first impression.
Susan Bonifant said
We've touched on this before, but I wonder how likely it is that blog content will endear a writer to an agent if it's not about writing? I use my blog to tell stories about how I see strangers connect, on planes, in line at the supermarket, etc.
I love doing this and have nice blog customers, but I tend to think of it as "the other writing" I do, rather than bracelets and earrings on the writing I pitch.
I'd like to be wrong about that, I guess.
You're in luck! You are wrong!
Any kind of writing on your blog is fine. I'll read about your dog, your adventures, your book reviews. The key is GOOD WRITING (also layout, white space and brevity but that's just me.)
Speaking of wrong, Colin Smith said
Websites, on the other hand, require design and technical know-how to set up, or you need to pay someone to do it for you.GoDaddy offers a template website that even the least tech-savvy person can use to build a website. It's not all that pretty, but it' works. You've actually seen one. Here it is again.
Colin's only a little bit wrong of course; you do have to pay for this, but it's not a whole lot. You can go to the GoDaddy.com website and check it out. It's called Website Tonight.
Colin Smith also said
OK, I'll bite on Susan B's question too. I agree 100% with Dena, and I'll add this: it's about platform Why would you want to read what I, an unpublished, unagented woodland creature, have to say about writing over, say, Chuck Wendig, or any number of published authors who might touch on the subject from time to time.
The reason a writer might/might not read your blog is DIFFERENT than why I will. Think about it. Chuck Wendig has an agent (the amazing and very capable Stacia Decker.) Those other published authors who might touch on the subject from time to time also have agents. You, unpublished, unagented woodland creature, do NOT. Therefore you're of much more utility to me than Chuck Wendig.
I think we may have to let Colin come back from LAX (the exile after Carkoon) because getting beaten up twice in one WIR is really more punishment than even I can dish out.
And if Colin isn't in exile, I guess we better bring back everyone on Carkoon, and LynnRodz from LAX too. A fresh start for the new year.
Back to work tomorrow after almost two weeks of slacking off. I love my job, but oh man, it's hard to think of getting up early and tackling the inbox tomorrow.
Thankfully I have a brand new can of Cafe Bustello to help me out.
Have a great week!
Blog subheader noms
Happy New Year to everyone in the known universe, and here's to achieving our goals without maiming anyone in the process. Cheers. --Amanda Capper
So raising my coffee mug to all; may we have a wonderful writing year, an even better querying season, and the time to read everyone's success!--Janice L. Grinyer
What if daily kale intake were the key to unleashing your inner best seller?--Lance