Great reasons to self-publish: 7 case histories

Writers who self-publish often reap enormous benefits that are personal and unique.

This goes way beyond the usual notion of self-publishing as either an alternative or a pathway to a traditional book deal.

Writing and publishing a book can strike an emotional chord of meaning and importance for the author that is rewarding beyond expectation.

Some experience the profound satisfaction of leaving a family legacy, or finally making sense of life experiences, or raising public awareness about a serious issue. Publishing your own book can also make sense financially and strategically for business purposes, as many writers have found.

Here are seven great reasons to self-publish with case histories from authors I’ve worked with.

Making sense of life experiences

Baby boomers of a certain age are reaching a life-cycle plateau past their years of building careers and raising children. They’re asking themselves: What happened? What did it all mean?

In his recent memoir Wrong Side of the Tracks, Ron McElroy, a flourishing real estate developer in Hawaii, Mexico and Southern California, tells the story of his struggle to overcome poverty, discrimination and violence as the son of an indigenous Hawaiian mother and emotionally shell-shocked, physically abusive father.

“I never really dug down beneath the funny bad stories,” Ron says, “like picking up my big brother in jail or getting beat up by neighborhood gangs or helping my mom get my father back home in one piece. Writing it down showed me it wasn’t so funny at all, in fact it was awful. It nearly killed me. How did I ever escape? I had to figure out and explain it to my wife and kids.”

This kind of self-discovery often produces a sense of urgency. It can’t tolerate the kind of frustrations and delay usually involved in getting an agent who can sell a memoir by an unknown writer with no platform.

Leaving a legacy

One writer wanted her children to know the true story of their grandmother’s escape from Germany during the holocaust.  The author’s mother had never wanted to speak about her experience as a nine-year-old thrown from the train just before reaching Auschwitz. But finally at the age of 88, she agreed to let her daughter tape a long series of interviews.

“I wanted my own kids had to have this information before it was too late, not only about their beloved Nana, but also her parents and older brother who died in the concentration camp. My mom had incredible stories of being protected by a network of German farmers who risked their own lives hiding Jews in their haystacks. They kept Nana alive until she could come to America. What a legacy! She always wanted to forget about it and just have a normal life, so no one knew the details of her experience. I had to preserve this.”

I’ve also worked with innovative entrepreneurs who built family fortunes, courageous creative artists, and other authors of multi-generational memoirs and novels eager to pass on their stories to generations to come.

These authors aren’t trying necessarily to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, though of course it would be nice. Their goal is to preserve the most significant details about what exactly happened that only they know. They envision their great-great grandchildren will one day read the memoir and understand more about their family history.

Why wait? There’s a lot to tell and life is short. Self-publishing provides a perfect solution.

Setting the record straight

John Montandon, a co-founder of several business media companies including magazines, radio and online publishing, wrote By His Own Blood about his 81-year-old father’s experience after he got AIDS from a bad blood transfusion in rural Texas. He remembered the way his father fell victim to heart-breaking prejudice and was shunned and denied proper care from the local institutions. So after his father died, Montandon felt compelled to write the shameful and infuriating true story as a testimonial to his dad and also to prevent this from happening to others.

“I’m most surprised and pleased that many of my readers who responded to the book with emails, blog posts or Amazon reviews find that they relate very directly to my story in various ways,”  he said.  ”One lady whose gay son committed suicide says the book has changed her life and she can now put a lot of her negative past behind her.  That is an example of an unintended consequence; one that I find extremely rewarding.  Other readers have shared with me how they think the book should be required reading in college psychology classes.”

Seizing control of the publishing process

Lee Geiger, a fast-moving day trader in the stock market, wrote a transgender love story called Pearls of Asia, and was able to get a literary agent pretty quickly. But then things began to sour. “During my very first meeting with Random House, a fresh-out-of-college kid looked me up and down and asked, ‘So how many Twitter followers do you have?’ I told him three, and that two of them were my kids. ‘That’s not going to help us market your book,’ he said. I walked away from this meeting wondering how many Twitter followers Ernest Hemingway had.”

Geiger is a successful guy who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. As he began to realize how the book business really worked, he was increasingly appalled.

“Even if a publisher bought my book that very day, it would be 12-18 months before it ever saw a bookstore shelf,” he said. ” It would then be included in a quarterly catalog, along with dozens of other books. If a bookstore decided to carry my book, it would have only six weeks to prove it could sell before being returned and replaced by another book. ‘Ninety percent of all published books don’t make money,’ this rep told me, ‘so we have to keep bringing in new books.’

Are you kidding me? I sweated over this novel for three years, you want me to sign my rights away to a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately publisher, and it only has six weeks to prove itself? Thanks, but no thanks. My book is like a fine wine, and it needs time to age.”

Making More Money

Simon Royle is a British-born international businessman who wrote the techno-thriller TAG and a follow-up novel called Bangkok Burn. He was impatient with the traditional agent/publisher process and also confident he’d make more money on his own in the long term. So he self-published both books, in 2010 and 2012, respectively.

“The financial reward is not insignificant,” he told me. “I have already earned back the money I spent on developmental editing and self-marketing and am in profit; meanwhile the combined income from both books is roughly $1K a month. That income will grow with each book and although the fortunes of each wax and wane, the trend is upwards every month.

Changing the World

An attorney who specializes in food and drug law, Margaret Kathrein’s son Jonathan was nearly killed in a great white shark attack off Stinson Beach in Northern California. She decided to self-publish because of the urgency of her mission to increase knowledge and safety in the public consciousness regarding living near sharks.

Therefore, instead of focusing on his horrific trauma and painful recovery, Margaret’s book Far From Shore explains the dangerous misunderstandings most humans have about these iconic creatures. Meanwhile Jonathan used his reluctant fame to speak at schools and colleges about living near sharks and wrote his own book Don’t Fear the Shark. They’ve appeared together at bookstores and in major national print and broadcast media, including Dateline NBC, the Discovery Channel’s “Primal Scream” special, Sports Illustrated and elsewhere in their mutual campaign, and both books have sold widely.

Creating a calling card for business

Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz are a husband and wife team of psychologists who help sustain long-term marriages at workshops and trainings. They self-published their book Building a Love that Lasts and used it to promote their weekend workshops. They’d give away free copies when they spoke at conferences and couples’ retreats, build the cost of a copy into the price of one of their many training sessions, and put discounted copies in the back of the room whenever appropriate. Eventually they had sold and distributed more than 15,000 copies and were approached by a major book publisher who made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Many other authors who offer training or consultations in the field of relationships, parenting, cooking, dieting, health and fitness, real estate, wealth management and investing, and other self-help fields publish their own books. Some have the intention of pitching to commercial publishers eventually, but many don’t.

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What about you?

Authors, does self-publishing make more sense for your book and circumstances than taking the traditional route to finding an agent and commercial publisher?  If so, what are your reasons and motivations?  If not, same question!

We’d love to hear your story here in comments.

Ask the editor: An agent said my novel needs emotional glue. Help!

Q. An agent said my novel is missing emotional glue. Like it doesn’t stick together. What is emotional glue and how do I get it into my story?

A. Emotional glue reveals a character’s internal reactions, ruminations, and anticipated responses to the dialogue and action of the story. It’s the unspoken ideas and feelings that focus and hold together the narrative and keep the reader right there with you, caring and excited about what’s gradually evolving.

Adding this sticky stuff fuses the narrative with the core combustive material that drives the book forward. It creates a pervasive climate, helps the reader feel the mood that hangs in the air, and compels us to keep turning the pages.

Scroll down for my tips on injecting emotional glue into your story

Here’s an example

In a widely-reviewed first novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale, the emotional glue is supplied through the first person narrator, a chimpanzee. We see everything through Bruno’s eyes as he tells us his story as a baby primate from a local zoo nurtured by a university primatologist named Lydia Littlemore. This kind and patient woman teaches him to speak, and brings him into her home, where she encourages him to paint collectible abstract canvases, and dress like a man. Eventually Bruno evolves to a point of intelligent sophistication, while at the same time falling in love with his benefactor.

We readers enjoy a built-in subtext to the narrative, since at first Bruno can hear and see everything but not speak. Only we know his true thoughts about these mysterious human creatures and their often-humorous attempts to coerce him into what they think is more civilized behavior. And when he does learn to speak and interact as a strange but respected creature, we are privy to the internal conflicts he experiences between his inherent animal bestiality and his new access to polite society. Eventually Bruno’s love for Lydia and horror about the cruel experiments on his little sister create violent and calamitous results, but profound meaning for what in fact it means to be human.

How a developmental editor can help

As a developmental editor working with authors on early drafts, I frequently go back to find and help fill in the spaces, so the reader can understand a character’s private process that leads to new behavior.

I worked recently, for example, on a memoir by a writer who grew up in an enmeshed relationship with his beautiful, narcissistic mother. With no other men on the scene, she recruits him in an unscrupulous series of fraudulent swindles that lead to her arrest and lengthy imprisonment. The author’s core motive for writing the book was to show how despite this dysfunctional childhood and adolescence, he’d grown up to enjoy a healthy productive life.

The first draft of this work-in-progress was packed with glib dialogue and fast-moving high jinks, but there was no way the reader could take the author seriously or care about what happened to him. So our job was to create a sense of his transformative journey, his survival over amazing and uniquely bizarre obstacles from dysfunctional struggle to high functioning happiness.

We went through the book and inserted his internal feelings and responses to the dialogue and action around him. At first, for example, he’s delighted by his mother’s shenanigans, the sudden flights from house to house and across the country, the mad schemes and unpredictable windfalls of luxurious gifts. Then we gradually increased his unspoken concerns about getting a formal education and having stable friendships. His reactions become incrementally different, more aware, sophisticated, able to understand how he’s a separate person, different from his mom.

By the end of the book, the author is more confident, able to appreciate his intelligence and ability build a separate life, with long-term relationships and meaningful work, leaving the reader uplifted with the prospect of more good things to come for this young man.

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How to inject emotional glue into your story

Clarify your intention

Stay focused on why you’re writing this story and what’s it actually about – the theme, message, vision of it. What happens at the end and what’s the point? Hold that motive in your mind from the first sentence, and shape all of the internal spaces, reactions and responses so they’re consistent with that ultimate goal.

Focus on the narrative voice

It’s always the narrative voice that conveys the internal response, the feeling and attitude that holds the story together and moves it on page by page. This is true whether you’re writing in first person, as in the mother-son memoir described above, or the opening of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby “…frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon.”; or in third person, as in the exquisitely revealing first sentence of Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

Provide clues and unspoken detail

Give us the occasional clue, the unspoken detail that reflects what just happened or effects the character’s future actions. Describe the emotional event that can’t be seen or heard. But don’t explain or interpret.  Don’t tell the reader what you want them to feel, or try to control what the story means to them.

Be economical

Inject these moments of emotional glue from the beginning of the story, infrequently at first, with just a bit more as the book progresses. There’s no formula or rule about this but rather a need for good literary craft. Don’t let the new material stand out, slow the pace or become repetitious. Think of it as part of a seamless story-telling voice, either the character’s or your own.

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What about you?

Does your story have enough emotional glue to keep a reader affixed to the page?

Sometimes a writer doesn’t discover there’s a problem until an agent or other professional reader takes a look.  It’s better of course, if you can resolve these issues before sending out your book!  I’ll watch here in comments for any questions that come up.

Big-6 publisher jumps on the indie bandwagon

Was it just a matter of time?

The news came recently that Penguin Group, one of the largest book publishers in the world, has acquired Author Solutions Inc (ASI), a leading provider of services for self-publishing writers, for $116 million.

Penguin’s CEO, John Makinson, waxed rhapsodic in remarks made at the time and quoted this week in the Atlantic Monthly, saying:

“Self-publishing has moved into the mainstream of our industry over the past three years. It has provided new outlets for professional writers, a huge increase in the range of books available to readers and an exciting source of content for publishers such as Penguin.

This acquisition will allow Penguin to participate fully in perhaps the fastest-growing area of the publishing economy and gain skills in customer acquisition and data analytics that will be vital to our future.”

What does this deal say about self-publishing’s evolving position in the industry?

That depends on who’s talking. So I asked two insiders. One is an upbeat proponent of self-publishing, Keith Ogorek, the Senior VP for Marketing at ASI. The other is a caustic critic of the deal, a source at the highest levels of traditional book publishing, who requested anonymity in exchange for his candid views. I’ll call him James Doe.

Ogorek told me: “This answers the skeptics and naysayers who doubt the permanence, importance, and benefits of self-publishing,” he said. “It validates self-publishing because one of the world’s largest and most respected traditional publishers has made us a part of their company.”

And on a darker note Mr. Doe told me:  “Buying an author services company gives Penguin access to the sub-slush pile, which is the realm of self-publishing,” he said. “From Penguin’s perspective why not make a nickel off the zillions of people who just because they have ten people reading their blog think they can command a substantial audience. Vanity publishing indeed!”

Ouch!

OK, so we have a major difference of opinion. Penguin’s acquisition of ASI is either a marriage made in heaven for the benefit of self-publishing authors or it’s a desperate preempting of David by Goliath motivated strictly to grow corporate revenues.

The big IF: Potential benefits for self-publishing writers

Penguin CEO Makinson told the Wall Street Journal, “Authors increasingly are willing to pay for self-publishing if the publisher plays a big role in distribution, marketing and promoting the title via social media.”

So what happens if an author, frustrated by years of no response, rejection or disinterest from the traditional folks decides to self-publish with one of ASI’s imprints? Will signing on with ASI get the author an audience with Penguin? Will Penguin really play a “big role” in distributing, marketing and promoting that self-published book, like Makinson said?

I asked Keith Ogorek about this. Here’s our exchange:

How does the Penguin acquisition help writers published by ASI?

We’re setting up an early warning system, so books being self-published at ASI can be flagged by our team and called to the attention of Penguin for consideration. In some cases, the books can move from our radar system to Penguin’s, even before publication or a title can move out of our previously published books that our editors feel are exceptionally good writing or have sold very well.

What should an author do to get the attention of editors at ASI or Penguin?

Go on the Author Solutions website and sign up for what you want. There’s no direct access or way to pay for getting into the early warning system or on Penguin’s radar. That will happen through our internal operations.

But how can an author get to the top of the list of those who are noticed?

Just what any author should do: write a good book. I don’t have to tell you how important it is to work with an editor to get the best book possible you can write, to build your platform, including the website, public appearances, social media, direct sales of your own through local or regional bookstores.

What do you predict for the future of the book business?

I think the whole publishing model for title acquisition is going to change as traditional publishers look to self-publishing as a source of new books.

It’s analogous to the film industry, where small independent producers, directors and writers have made low budget films and shown them at film festivals. Then the big studios have either bought the independent films outright and put them into their own distribution systems, or hired the producers, directors and writers to make films for them.

Similarly, I don’t think the traditional book publishers are going to go away. There’s always a need for good curation and distribution, but the method of title and talent acquisition will change. It’s already changing, as this Penguin acquisition of ASI has shown.”

Do you think other traditional publishers will be making these kinds of acquisitions and mergers with self-publishing companies?

Yes. I have no direct knowledge of this but I’m certain that other big traditional companies are now looking at self-publishing companies as sources of new content and profitability.

The view from behind closed doors: More from James Doe

If James Doe was thinking along those lines, he didn’t reveal it to me. But here’s more of his response to Penguin’s purchase of ASI and self-publishing in general. I find his remarks an accurate reflection of the attitudes and opinions I’m hearing from other friends and colleagues in the traditional side of the business.

“Publishers are struggling with two things, first, the rapid emergence of the eBook and, second, the related impact on books prices in a distribution world where Amazon owns the biggest chunk of the pie and is willing to drop eBook prices below the cost of publishing to entice more of their customers to buy refrigerators and other products, which is where they make their profits. All traditional trade publishers are impacted negatively by these trends and the related closing of hundreds of brick and mortar bookstores.

So what do publishers do when prices drop and margins go south with them? They look for new streams of revenue hopefully with higher profit margins. This is a necessary survival tactic.

In the last five years or so we have seen the transformation of vanity publishing into a new, viable publishing model. Of course, we only hear about the self-published books that make it big on their own or establish themselves through large initial sales in a way that entices established publishers like Penguin to sign their authors’ up for a new edition or their next book.

For the rest of the scribblers, if you can’t get published by a ‘real’ publisher, you can get published in many other places and maybe do more than brag about getting your first novel into a bookstore or at least on Amazon (for a price).

If Penguin is proposing to expand its revenue by controlling a greater flow of published manuscripts, they need to wonder if they aren’t cannibalizing their existing business by increasing the number of publications and unwittingly supporting the downward pressure on prices, which is at the center of Amazon’s efforts to control the print and digital book distribution business and sell more other stuff to the unwitting.”

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What about you?

What are your thoughts about all this? Is this revolutionary acquisition of a self-publishing conglomerate by a traditional big-six publisher good or bad for writers?

We welcome your opinion of the points of view expressed in this post. What are your own predictions for the future of writing and getting published?

The bears and bulls of publishing: An insider steps up

EBook buyers read more books. They’re the future! We’re in the midst of a fantastic transition.

Words from another outsider advocating the overthrow of legacy publishing?

Nope. Not this time.

Instead, these bullish sentiments come from a consummate insider, John Glusman, editor-in-chief of W.W. Norton, a mainstream highly regarded traditional house that publishes bestselling authors like Michael Lewis, Rita Dove, Sebastian Junger, Jared Diamond and Paul Krugman.

A new age

“We’re at the beginning of an age where we’ll be able to reach a book reading audience exponentially bigger than it was before,” Glusman told an audience of writers last month at the venerable Squaw Valley Community of Writers summer conference in a session on eBook publishing.

As one of the faculty, I sat in on the revealing and occasionally contentious discussion with other panelists from traditional publishing expressing profound misgivings about eBooks and what they felt was the dangerous success of digital publishing overall.

Bears don’t read eBooks

One literary agent announced he would never ever read an eBook, period. Another warned that digital publishing would be the death of literacy and the end of qualified professional curators and gatekeepers such as himself.

“Who needs agents and publishers if authors can post their own work online so easily and reach readers directly? It’s going to put me out of business.”

These particular panelists believed eBooks represented a threat to literary art and the sanctity of the traditional publishing business model. To them, the experience of reading an eBook was actually repellent and discomforting. Lower prices per eBook title cut into their margin of profit, and worst of all, they feared that the opportunities for self-publishing could eliminate their existence altogether. They were certain eBooks spelled the death of the book business, the oft-evaded Armageddon finally overwhelming us, the end of literature and reading as we know it.

A woman sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, “If these big-time agents are right about eBooks and self-publishing destroying literature, I’m going to give up and shoot myself!”

A brighter vision

Then John Glusman stood up to these dire prophecies of gloom and doom with refreshing clarity and optimism. He threw back his shoulders, thrust out his chin, and seemed disturbed by the negative and recalcitrant remarks of his colleagues.

“Let’s be careful not to give the authors here any misinformation.” He went on to present a completely different and hopeful vision based on a whole-hearted open-mindedness to a vigorous future for writing and publishing.

I was impressed. So after the conference at Squaw Valley ended, I followed up by asking him a few questions.

AR: What do you think is the impact of the digital revolution in the book business?

JG: There’s no doubt that we’re in a period of extraordinary change in terms of how we read, where we get our reading material from, and what platforms we use to access that material. The mere fact that there are so many devices on which one can read is tremendously encouraging, since distribution has always been the Achilles heel of book publishing.

EBook readers buy more books than those who buy traditional books. Children are reading hardcover and paperback books. Baby boomers have both the resources and the time to buy books in whatever format they find most desirable.

So our goal as publishers is to reach as many readers as possible across all formats.

AR: What are you doing differently now in light of this transformation in reading and publishing?

JG: We’re trying to think creatively in terms of eBook publishing, social media, where and how we market our books, and how we can use one format to help another. We have a very busy and social media team. Norton has the most followers of any trade book publisher on Tumblr, and one of the largest followings on Twitter. Additionally, we communicate with readers through Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, and GoodReads.

We’re using new ways to attract attention for our books online; it could be a blog contest, a competition for advance reading copies, advertising over a broad spectrum of specialized outlets.

AR: What role do you expect an author to play in marketing the book?

JG: Authors are key to marketing. We continue to send our high profile authors on more traditional publicity tours so long as those venues are capable of selling books, and we will continue to advertise in print media. But these days we expect all of our authors to have interesting, lively, up-to-date websites, and to be active in social media. It’s essential that they be our partners in publicity and promotion and make the most of their contacts and expertise.

We want authors to consider self-marketing very seriously since the traditional opportunities for promoting books with in print review media and readings in independent book stores can no longer produce the kind of results they once did.

So our marketing people work closely with authors to discuss blogging, tweeting, making videos for their websites or to post on You Tube. Every author has a unique comfort zone for self-marketing. Some enjoy blogging, others making videos, but some kind of online social networking is definitely an important part of our collaborative effort.

AR: Where do you see self-published books in this new era?

JG: Certain kinds of authors and certain categories seem almost readymade for self-publishing. It’s also an interesting way of testing the market. The success of the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy shows how a self-published series that originally came out from the self-publishing imprint Writer’s Coffee Shop in Australia can be converted to a traditional company like Random House/Vintage.

The three books had sold more than 250K copies and reached the bestseller lists even before Random picked it up and got that story on the front page of the New York Times. Then more millions of copies were sold and the three books are still on top of all the bestseller lists.

AR: How do you acquire new titles? Are any of them self-published?

JG: Most of the books I acquire still come in from agents, but there have been several that were self-published or that the agent has developed from online materials. I haven’t signed any up yet but I’m certainly in favor of this kind of far-reaching source of books.

But I think there’s some self-publishing that is tantamount to vanity publishing. Being able to put words down on paper and having them distributed electronically is no more apt to make you a writer, to paraphrase Donald Hall, than scratching a violin is going to turn you into a musician. Which doesn’t mean that the traditional publishing community always recognizes everything of value.

The history of publishing and literary criticism has some fairly egregious examples of authors whose greatest work was underappreciated in their lifetime, such as Melville, who couldn’t sell 3K copies of Moby Dick.

AR: How do you see the role of agents changing as the industry continues to shake out?

JG: Agents are trying to bolster their businesses in several ways. Some are venturing into YA publishing; others are starting up their own ebook publishing operations; and others are selling directly to Amazon. There are some interesting opportunities for backlist publishing that didn’t exist before ePublishing.

AR: Do you think technology changes what readers are buying?

JG: I think we’re all experiencing frequent and constant shifts in our attention throughout the day. Our time is more fragmented as we listen to thirty-second news bites and write short text messages and emails. We’re moving faster and spending less and less time on our daily writing and reading. I don’t know of any studies that show more readers are looking for shorter books that require less of an attention span, but there may very well be one out there.

I for one find it a huge release and a great pleasure to read a long and serious book for an extended period of time — but then I’m over fifty.

AR: Are you concerned that younger people today will read less as a result of all the changes we’ve been discussing?

JG: No, not at all. Children are still reading all kinds of books in the millions. The difference between them and us older folks is they’re not concerned about whether it’s a hardcover or paperback book in their hands, or a digital representation on their cell phone or tablet e-reader.

But I think this fantastic electronic revolution and digital transition has really influenced how children learn. I have two daughters, 19 and 21, and a son who’s 15. They all began using computers in the fourth grade for almost all of their schoolwork and assignments. But they also began reading physical books and still do.

My son, though totally attached to his iPhone, iPad and Mac, never reads a book electronically. He’d rather have a 600-page Stephen King novel in his hands – yes, the real thing!

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What about you?

Readers, what do you think of all this?  Do you find it reassuring or troubling to look through the window at traditional publishing and observe how people on the inside deal with the sea change that technology is bringing to the industry?  Feel free to weigh in here. We’re all interested in your views.

What should you expect from a developmental editor?

As a longtime developmental editor, I often get questions from authors about the editor-writer relationship.

How exactly do developmental editors work? How can I tell if I’ve found a good one? And will you correct my typos?

I can tell you that virtually all successful writers – from Ernest Hemingway to Kathryn Stockett – have worked with a developmental editor. Often these editors worked for the publisher and had titles like senior editor, executive editor, editor-in-chief.

These days, authors are able to hire their own independent developmental editors.

Constructive collaborators

Developmental editors offer specific suggestions about the core intentions and goals of the book, the underlying premise, the story, character development, use of dialogue and sensory description, the polish, narrative voice, pacing, style, language – the craft and literary art of the book.

What developmental editors don’t do is correct spelling and grammar. That’s the job of a copy-editor, who works much later in the publishing process.

An author can recruit a developmental editor even before starting a book, to brainstorm ideas and make a clear plan. After that, they may call upon the editor at any stage from early drafts to final. For more on this, you might be interested in an earlier post called When do you need an editor?

What agents, publishers and readers want

I’ve been a developmental editor in traditional book publishing since 1962, and have worked one-on-one with private writer clients for many years. You can read more about that in my bio. But there are many developmental editors to choose from these days. That’s good for authors trying to get a book deal with a traditional publisher. Many writers have learned the hard way that agents and acquisition editors at commercial houses don’t want a manuscript that’s not ready for prime time.

Self-publishing authors – whether they intend to stay independent or try to convert their book to a commercial house — can also benefit from professional feedback to compete with the 11,000 new titles every year vying for a reader’s attention.

For my best advice on how to evaluate and select your own private developmental editor, check out  this post  Choosing a freelance editor: What you need to know.

Now, here’s what I believe every writer deserves and should expect when working one-on-one with a developmental editor.

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What to expect from a good developmental editor

Clear, understandable edits

When you get back your manuscript from a developmental editor, it should be filled with tracked changes – a function of Microsoft Word.

You’ll see the edits clearly, right on the page, with the existing words still visible so you can compare your original work with the suggested changes. You’ll see deletions, shifts in words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, sections or chapters, and notes that explain, question or add new suggested writing.

In each case, with the click of a key you can either accept or reject the edits. You always retain full control over the final work.

Specific solutions

Never settle for a vague statement from an editor like “It’s too long.” There’s no one acceptable length for a young adult, paranormal, mystery, romance, biography or memoir. It should be as long as it needs to be, with no fat or excess. The constructive way to approach length is: Do we need this or not? Is it essential to the moment, short term or down the road? If not, put a line through it.

Similarly, it’s not very useful for an editor to say, “This character needs development.” A good editor will make specific suggestions, like adding new backstory or current time elements that demonstrate change, transformation, some major progress from the crisis to the last curtain. These might include specific events, actions, turning points, for example inserting a test of loyalty around a best friend’s dishonesty or going into a character’s mixed feelings in response to the death of a parent.

Creative input

A good editor will enter the author’s universe and come up with new and original ideas wherever needed to spike the story, deepen the personalities, add an unexpected dimension to the accelerating pace of the narrative, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

The editor might suggest for example, changing the heroine’s profession from a paralegal to a partner in the firm, which could add to her personality and create new dimensions in her relationships at home and work.

Writing

A good developmental editor can provide suggested new language for narrative, dialogue, and visual description. This draft language should include an invitation to revise and correct according to the author’s own literary style and taste. But an able editor can take the plunge and offer whole new ideas for the client writer to consider.

Developmental editors are not ordinarily ghostwriters, but they can and should be able to put the right words together as an example of what they want the author to do.

Respect

A good developmental editor may suggest “What about this?” and offer a new idea to solve whatever problem may be in progress. If the editor, however, suggests something you find unacceptable, remember this: You’re the boss. If you disagree, good editors will bury their own egos and totally honor the intentions, style, and underlying theme of a writer client’s work.

If your editor is inflexible, overbearing, or takes a “my way or the highway” tone, it’s time to terminate.

Instruction

A good developmental editor can help an author become a better writer, by including detailed explanations to accompany changes and deletions.

Here’s an example. I worked with an author who made a habit of lacing intrusive commentary and interpretation into every paragraph of action or dialogue. I deleted these as attempts to control the reader’s experience and subjective feelings about what was happening. In each case, I explained why it wasn’t a good idea. His next book had none of this tendency, with no further input from me.

Market sense

A good developmental editor can provide a sense of the market for a given book project. Developmental editors aren’t agents, but they should have a good idea of what the market is looking for and when. For example, publishers schedule special promotions for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s day, beach reading, back-to-school and above all Christmas gift-giving.

Developmental editors often have a good sense of what agents are thinking about commercial trends among the publishers they sell to. They will also understand how a particular demographic of readers will respond to your book. And they stay on top of what is of interest in specific foreign markets like Germany, China, Russia, or Japan, since not all countries are reading the same thing at the same time.

Developmental editors also keep up with breaking news, cultural developments and global trends. This can help them suggest how to correct any gaps or misconceptions if an author incorporates these rapidly changing elements into the manuscript.

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What about you?

If you’ve worked with a developmental editor, hopefully the experience was a good one.  If so, (or if not) please share something about it here in comments, along with any advice for fellow writers.  I’ll watch for any questions.

What writers can learn from Barry Eisler

It’s inspiring when a successful author goes out of his way to help others in the craft of writing. Barry Eisler is one of those good guys.

Though he’d probably rather be known as one baaad dude.

He’s a one-time CIA operative, a judo black belt and an intellectual property attorney, who’s also a bestselling writer of political thrillers in a seven-book series featuring a freelance assassin, the latest one titled The Detachment.

Eisler speaks regularly at writers conferences and offers a treasure trove of resources for writers on his own website. He’s also famous for turning down a $500K advance from his publisher to go with Amazon. This fellow thinks for himself.

I saw him in action at the Grub Street Muse & the Marketplace conference in Boston last month where he spoke at length on how to write better and get published. Eisler’s a charismatic and flamboyant public speaker – charming, funny, articulate. He literally leapt around the room, flinging aside drapes and throwing open all the windows to the frigid air.

“People shut the windows and close the curtains when they want to sleep,” Eisler said, sounding like the exasperated parent of a recalcitrant child.

The message was clear: Wake up!

On learning the craft of writing

There is always craft behind the art, Eisler said. “And craft must be learned if you want to be an artist.”

He thinks one of the best ways to improve your craft is to read like a writer.

“Read first for pleasure, then reread to see why it works so well,” Eisler said. “Discern if something’s good or bad and why. If it’s good, what works so well? If it’s bad, figure out how you would fix it.”

For example, Eisler says, “An opening sentence that just describes the setting is just a still life.”  The opening he describes as “the most masterful” he’s ever come across is from the historical thriller The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett:

“The last camel collapsed at noon.”

In those few words, Eisler says, Follett hints at a dramatic backstory of desperation and high stakes. He immediately makes us want to know the who, what and where of his story. The line gives us necessary information but also raises implicit questions. Camels are able to trudge through the desert for miles without water, so what went wrong? Why has the last one gone down? Who’s the narrator? We sense peril. We’re hooked and hungry to know more.

The difference between art and craft

Eisler believes that the art and craft of writing are on a continuum. The art is what’s unique to you, it’s the work that never would have been written if not by you. But craft is technique. Creating characters, narrative story telling, and plot structure can be learned with diligent practice. From his website, here are some of Eisler’s basic points on craft, followed by my own editorial observations:

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Barry Eisler’s Rules of Craft

Show don’t tell

BE: And don’t interpret! Authors shouldn’t explain how their characters are feeling, as in: “Say that again,” Jim said angrily. Better to write: “Jim’s eyes narrowed and his ears seemed almost to flatten against the sides of his head. “‘Say that again’, he said.” This approach lets readers come to their own conclusions, connect their own dots, which is inherently more satisfying.

AR: I see this happening whenever writers rely on an omniscient narrator who analyzes the character’s motivation to rationalize a not-so-hidden agenda. It’s like hijacking the book in a way that destroys our ability to identify with or resonate to the story. Be sure to avoid the promiscuous use of adverbs — a sure-fire method of reducing this problem.

Point of view

BE: Don’t shift your point of view uncontrollably. A sentence like “High heels be damned, she ran down the street towards number Twenty-Eight” begins with a first-person narrator (it’s the girl who damns the high heels) and then shifts to third (it’s an omniscient narrator who describes her running down the street), which can jar and disorient the reader. Be aware of expectations you’re creating and don’t violate them without a very good reason.

AR: Uncontrollable shifts in point of view can also result in so many perspectives that the reader can’t keep track of who’s talking or what’s going on. My advice is no more than two and with no predictable rotation. Three is risky but possible if it doesn’t become formulaic, like 1-2-3, 1-2-3, over and over.

Details

BE: Every small event, object, character has to advance the story. These details can be a few words of dialogue, a series of moments, small or large physical movement, or just plain objects. Not necessarily in a straight line but “with artfully constructed zigzags that create an inside sense of the characters thoughts and feelings without telling or explaining what they are but instead showing us, painting the actual landscape of their hidden emotions.” And if it doesn’t ultimately count, leave it out.

AR: I’ve found that most writers catch on quickly to this crucial technique, since it’s an opportunity to get into the head of your characters and see the world around them as influenced by the underlying mood and theme you’ve created. Also listen to what everyone is saying, handle the objects, smell the air, savor the tastes.

Engage all the senses

BE: “Don’t just write visually. You want people to feel as well as see. What are the sounds, smells, temperature. Don’t describe the rain, describe how it feels.”

AR: And don’t forget tastes. Not just sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. Have you read any wine labels or gourmet menus lately? How about “earthy, fat, foxy, metallic, smoky, tart, velvety, and woody.” You can evoke flavors that go beyond the taste buds to create complex feelings about people and what they’re doing.

Keep writing

BE: Every day is best, but as much as you can, on a regular schedule. Eisler describes it as similar to learning a language, martial art, or musical instrument.

AR: I describe it as a spiritual practice, or better yet, an obsession. Sure it’s hard on your family and friends, but writing a book often takes over your life for a while as the top priority, pushing aside all else.

Read books on writing

BE: He mentions Stephen King On Writing, David Morrell’s Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, and Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing.

AR: I’d add “The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist” by Orhan Pamuk, and “The Situation and the Story” by Vivian Gornick.

Ask “what if?”

BE: Ask questions like “What if you cloned dinosaurs?” If the what-if question interests you enough, it’ll lead you to other questions, all of the who, what, where, when, why, how variety. “Follow those questions and you’ll start to find your story.”

AR: Or what if two lovers are on opposite sides of the American Civil War?

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Getting editorial guidance

Eisler says he got 50 rejections with his first book before finding an agent and getting published. Now he also recommends workshops, writers groups, anywhere you can get honest feedback from “someone who doesn’t owe you money.” And learn to discern the good from the bad suggestions.

Eisler was adamant about the value of working with a professional editor.

“Of course I need an editor,” Eisler said. “All writers need editors.”

How to get properly published

Eisler is one of the best-known authors to take on the traditional book industry, and is a strategic player in the complex and often devious game of book publishing today. In March of last year, Barry made big news by turning down a $500K advance from St. Martins/Macmillan to instead make a profit-sharing deal with Amazon. His decision was widely reported as a tipping point for a struggling book business flummoxed by the thriving self-publishing movement.

Eisler can get really steamed up on the subject of self-publishing, eBooks vs. paper, the future of traditional publishing, and what he sees as the true phenomenon and impact of Amazon.

At Grub Street in Boston, speaking at a session about Amazon and publishing Eisler said, “The Big 6 Legacy publishers are a cartel – OK, let’s call them a club – that pays royalties in lockstep, and reports them in byzantine statements.” Moreover, Eisler added, the consistent lack of competition resulted in no innovation in the past two or three decades.

What smart writers have learned

Here’s Eisler’s bottom line on getting published, from his website’s section called For Writers :

“All writers think of what they do as an art. Smart writers understand that writing is also a business. Really smart writers see themselves also as entrepreneurs.”

Writing the book is only the first step. “You are now running a company (albeit a sole proprietorship), and your company is responsible not only for creating the product, but also for marketing, branding, and selling it.”

He cites Joe Konrath as the first author to point out that normal book company royalties for e-books are especially unfair and inequitable when you consider that there’s virtually no cost for paper, no shipping charges, no warehousing. Authors, moreover, can make 70 – 100 percent if they publish themselves.

Paper and print books are becoming a niche market for people born before the advent of e-book readers like Kindle, the iPad, and the Nook.

“The question isn’t, will paper disappear? Did firearms eliminate the bow and arrow? No–some enthusiasts still hunt with a bow. Did the automobile eliminate the horse and buggy? No–I can still get a buggy ride around Central Park if I want.”

Publishing houses as we know them today are probably doomed. They’re still selling paper, an increasingly expensive commodity that requires millions of trees, huge warehouses, complex and expensive shipping, storage, returns.

Contrary to popular opinion, Eisler says, Amazon isn’t destroying book publishing. Amazon has made it possible for readers to find all books published by all publishers, a huge boon to backlist sales.

Amazon’s Kindle was the first eBook reader and proved that people would indeed buy and consume digital books. This act of breakthrough innovation could have emerged from traditional book publishing, but it didn’t. In fact it was opposed and resisted by them for years.

Amazon has initiated a broad variety of self-publishing programs for everything from grandma’s recipes to substantial books of quality literature by serious and often previously successful authors, thereby establishing a direct route from writer to reader without the need for gatekeepers or intermediaries.

You can read more on Eisler’s website, from an incendiary conversation with Joe Konrath in a 150 page pdf called Be the Monkey.

What about you?

Whether you agree with everything Eisler says or not, he’s provocative, smart, articulate and enjoying his own choices.

What do you think about all this? Let us know, in comments below.

It’s the details, writers!

An author builds a narrative with thousands of tiny details.

Even before a reader knows what the book is really about, it’s through the gradual accumulation of these crucial moments, objects, movements, sounds, smells and touches that the power and meaning of the story emerges.

As an editor working with authors on novels, memoirs, short stories and narrative non-fiction, I often see early drafts that try to describe how the characters are feeling or explain what the story is about and how the reader is supposed to react to it. This approach creates a filter that clouds and ultimately obliterates the reality of what’s happening.

What I try to help the author do instead, is select the creative details that put the reader at the center of the each moment, so they can see, hear, and smell the landscape of the character’s experience.

Exquisite attention to detail: Two examples

Let’s take a look at a couple of illuminating examples from two stellar authors.

Toni Morrison’s brilliant first novel The Bluest Eye draws us into the world of Claudia MacTee, a nine-year-old black girl living in Lorain, Ohio in 1941. In this scene, her older sister Frieda brings a snack to their new roomer Pecola:

“Frieda brought her four graham crackers on a saucer and some milk in a blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup. She was a long time with the milk, and gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s dimpled face. Frieda and she had a loving conversation about how cu-ute Shirley Temple was. I couldn’t join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and who ought to have been soft-shoeing it and chuckling with me. Instead he was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels.  So I said, “I like Jane Withers.”

They gave me a puzzled look, decided I was incomprehensible, and continued their reminiscing about old squint-eyed Shirley.”

Those concrete little details – the cup, the dimples, the socks, the fond gazing, the squinty eyes – show us Claudia’s deepest feelings. We get it, in a way we never would if Morrison delivered instead a tedious lecture about a child who felt rejected because of her black skin.

In Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins creates a powerful sense of her character Katniss Everdeen’s vigilance and dread as she prepares for her fight to the death on live TV:

“I swing my legs off the bed and slide into my hunting boots. Supple leather that has molded to my feet. I pull on trousers, a shirt, tuck my long dark braid up into a cap, and grab my forage bag. On the table, under a wooden bowl to protect it from hungry rats and cats alike, sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves…I put the cheese carefully in my pocket as I slip outside.

Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to the morning shift at this hour. Men and women with hunched shoulders, swollen knuckles, many who have long since stopped trying to scrub the coal dust out of their broken nails, the lines of their sunken faces. But today the black cinder streets are empty. Shutters on the squat gray houses are closed.”

She reaches “a high chain-link fence topped with barbed-wire loops…flatten out on my belly and slide under… As soon as I’m in the trees I retrieve a bow and sheath of arrows from a hollow log.”

Wow. And that’s just from a few paragraphs of a book that went on to become a huge bestseller and hit movie.

Why details matter

What we love about reading stories is experiencing these kinds of details through the eyes of one of the characters and gradually associating them with the protagonist’s feelings and perceptions. The details can be small physical actions, they can be distinctly observed and utilized objects, or quoted dialogue, or apparent distractions, or can be natural or unnatural intrusions.

The author creates a series of moments, small dots drawn not necessarily on a straight line but often an artfully constructed zigzag that creates an inside sense of the characters thoughts and feelings without telling or explaining what they are but instead showing us, painting the actual landscape of the their hidden emotions.

Creative choices

Here are some techniques for creating effective details when building your narrative, whether you’re writing in first person or third:

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Creating effective details

Look

Imagine your characters moving through each scene from their point of view. See through their eyes. Consider what they might be feeling, given their problems, conflicts, inner emotions. What do they focus on in their immediate landscape, what are the natural or manmade objects they encounter. Study them. Choose only those that reflect their emotions.

Follow

Track your characters in time and space. Now that you know where they are, what do they do? Create actions that demonstrate either directly or obliquely how well they’re able to function. Do they move in a straight line towards a tangible goal? Do they digress, avoid, circle back. How, specifically?

Touch

Get familiar with the objects they encounter or utilize. Find them in your own life. Handle them, buy them if necessary. Go to the place, the physical location you imagine them, if possible. Do what they do, so you can get a sense of the tactile experience, the feel, the smell of the scene.

Listen

What are your characters hearing? What do they say to themselves or others. Say it out loud and hear how it sounds. Remember that no one speaks exactly like someone else. Delineate your characters and have their words reflect their state of mind: in a hurry, avoiding, deflecting? And remember that written dialogue is not actually everything someone may say in real life, but a dramatic distillation.

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Building a convincing world

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature describes the way readers link the details with the emotions of the protagonist in his book The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist: Understanding What Happens When We Write and Read Novels.

“Once we have begun to read a novel and have worked our way into it, we do not see a certain type of landscape; on the contrary, we instinctively try to determine where we are in the vast forest of moments and details.

But when we encounter the individual trees – the discrete moments and sentences that make up the novel – we want to see not only the events, the flow, and the drama, but also the visual correlative of that moment. The novel thus appears in our mind as a real, three-dimensional, convincing world. Then, rather than perceiving divisions between the events and the objects, the drama and the landscape, we sense an overarching unity, just as in life.”

I highly recommend this wonderful book for all writers.

Pamuk recently opened a museum in Istanbul based on his novel The Museum of Innocence. It has 83 display cases, one for every chapter in the book, containing such things as 4,213 cigarette butts, each supposedly touched by Fusun, the object of the narrator’s obsessive love. There’s an earring that has fallen off as the hero is biting his lover’s ear, plus a tricycle, dozens of ceramic dogs, an electric shaver, a can opener, a carving knife, old clocks, film clips, soda bottles and clothing of the era worn by the characters. The author wrote these details in his novel and has now actually assembled them to display as the building blocks of his characters and their story.

What about you?

How do you use details to build character and story? We look forward to hearing your comments and examples.

Launching a successful blog tour

“When I was first starting out, I dreamed of being sent on a book tour.

I’d travel around the world—at my publisher’ expense, of course—and hit the major bookstores, where I’d do readings and signings for standing-room-only audiences,” says Jackie Morse Kessler, the author of a four-book YA series with Houghton/Graphia: Hunger, Rage, Loss and the upcoming Breath.

“Then reality hit. My publisher wasn’t sending me anywhere. If I wanted to do a book tour, it would be out of my own pocket.”

Reinventing the book tour

Out with the glitz and glam, and in with the blog tour. As Kessler describes the new approach, “It’s exactly what it sounds like: a group of bloggers agree to “tour” you, invite you to visit their websites and blogs, which helps promote you and your book — and, of course, you’re helping promote your hosts’ websites and blogs, too. Basically, you schedule a day to do a guest post or Q&A on their blog, and that’s your tour stop for that day.

Kessler just finished a marathon 22 stops for her book Loss, and agreed to talk with me about what goes into planning a successful blog tour.

How does a blog tour compare to a traditional book tour, where an author does signings at bookstores and gives interviews at media outlets?

Getting signings in bookstores isn’t easy. The chains were reluctant at best to host them for me. I’ve had more luck with my local indie bookstores…but not much. One store treats me like a rock star and is a true pleasure to work with; others, less so.

And just because you write it, that doesn’t mean they will come. My signings were hardly a case of me sitting in a comfy chair, sipping an energy drink while my eager fans lined up. I stood for hours, hawking my books, schmoozing with customers, and chatting with the booksellers. On a good day, I sold 12 books. On a bad day? No books at all.

Happily, it’s easier than ever these days to do your own blog tour. Setting it up basically goes like this: You start three months ahead. You research a lot of blogs; you create a top-tier and second-tier list of blogs; you contact the bloggers and pitch yourself/your book/your blog tour; you follow up; you slowly book dates; you come up with a tour giveaway. This last part is very helpful: it’s added incentive for people to read your guest posts and/or interviews, and it can stir up excitement, depending on what you give away. For the blog tour on my first book in this series, Hunger, I created small posters of the cover, which I gave away, along with a signed copy of the book.  For the Loss tour just completed, I included the extra incentive of a grand-prize drawing, the winner of which would be named a character in my next book, Breath.

A number of the bloggers emailed right away for the Loss posters. I think my grand-prize giveaway was pretty cool, if I do say so myself. And the grand-prize winner was extremely happy.

The big thing to remember when you’re setting up your blog tour is you must be professional. It’s so easy to think that just because you’re emailing someone who isn’t a New York Times book reviewer, you can be lazy with your inquiry, or sloppy, or even rude. Bloggers who agree to tour you are doing you a massive favor, one that will cost you only your time and effort, as opposed to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on promotion and advertising. For the love of chocolate, be polite!

Has your publisher helped out? Did they coordinate their publicity and marketing with your blog tour?

I set up my own blog tour for Hunger in 2010, and was fortunate to also be part of the Crossroads Blog Tour (an annual blog tour for authors of paranormal YA books that takes place around Halloween.)

For Rage, the second book, my publisher’s publicist set up a fabulous blog tour for me. My gosh, it was so relaxing! All I had to do was answer the questions/write a guest post to the topic that my publicist sent me! What sweet relief! OK, it was a lot of work. But I didn’t have to query or schedule the reviewers, and I didn’t have to mail out prizes. Whew!

For Loss, my new publicist didn’t set up a tour for me, although she was happy to provide advance review copies. I decided to go ahead and put together a blog tour on my own; it had been almost a year since Rage had hit the shelves, so I wanted to renew interest in the book and the series overall.

How did you select the 22 stops on the Loss tour?  How did you approach them? Did anyone turn you down?

First, I made a list of bloggers who had toured me previously. Next, I researched YA review blogs and made my list of tier 1 and tier 2 candidates. Some of them didn’t do tours but did do reviews; others didn’t do reviews but hosted tours. When I emailed people I didn’t know, the pitch went like this:

My name is Jackie Morse Kessler, and I am a young adult author published by Harcourt/Graphia. Would you be interested in being part of the Loss blog tour in March 2012? The book — third in the Riders of the Apocalypse series, but it can be read as a standalone novel — is about a bullied teenage boy who is tricked into becoming the new Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (A portion of proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.) Loss hits the shelves on March 20, 2012.

For the bloggers with whom I’d worked before, I didn’t have to introduce myself, but I did have to pitch the book.

A number of bloggers either said “too busy,” which could mean exactly that or could be a polite way of saying “I don’t like your books”, and only a few didn’t respond, even after a follow-up message. But for the most part, everyone said yes. Which is why I had 22 tour stops lined up, as well as giveaways on two blogs that I participate in: Deadline Dames and The League of Reluctant Adults.

I did mention that I didn’t sleep much in March, right?

What kinds of things can go wrong on a blog tour?

There were a few late posts, or posts that went up a day or two off schedule. When a blogger missed the scheduled date, I sent an email the next day asking if the post would still be going up, because if not, I’d use the guest blog elsewhere. Everyone got back to me, for which I was grateful.

How did the blog tour work out for “Loss”?

I consider the Loss blog tour a resounding success, based on the comments on the participating blogs. Many mentioned that they hadn’t heard of the series before but now were interested; quite a few commenters responded to the specific guest blog I posted, talking about how they agreed, or that it was helpful, or that they were looking forward to reading Loss. A few mentioned that they loved my books, which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling all day.

Because the tour took place immediately before and during launch week, it’s hard to say whether the tour helped generate sales. But in terms of raising awareness? Yes, the tour worked.

I’m thrilled that Loss is a Junior Library Guild selection for spring 2012, as well as a top pick for RT magazine.

Any last words of advice?

Along with my “be polite” message above, don’t over schedule. In the end, 22 blog tour stops was too much. I’m grateful that the bloggers did so much for me — tweeting/Facebooking the tour and reviews, not just on the tour date but after — but I overdid it. I wrote 17 individual guest blogs, answered four sets of interview questions, did a phone interview, answered questions from commenters all day — all this while writing Breath and finishing my taxes. And working the full-time day job. And taking part in an all-day tae kwon do tournament.

I’m pretty sure that for Breath, and going forward, I will max out a tour at two weeks. Especially when I’m on deadline for another book.

Care to share any other details about your life?

I’m the senior editor and copy chief for a business management journal. My sons are 10 and 8 — and my God, the 10-year-old has his first crush. I may never sleep again! The Precious Little Tax Deductions, my Loving Husband, and I are all testing for our next tae kwon do belt levels in mid-May. Training to be a superhero!

For the record: I write about demons, angels, the hapless humans caught between them, superheroes, the super villains who pound those heroes into pudding, witches, ghosts, and the occasional Horseman of the Apocalypse. And I had a stint in the Buffyverse when I wrote a Tales of the Vampires comic for Dark Horse Comics.

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What about you?

Are you an author who’s tried blog touring?  We’d love to hear about your experience with that and hope you’ll add your own advice for fellow writers here in comments. And if you’re an author whose publisher sent you out there on a traditional old-school book tour, we’d love to hear about that too!  Every last detail.

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Readers, if you liked this post, you might be interested in these:

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Book marketing & publicity: Advice from three experts

A smart marketing consultant can be the secret weapon in an author’s campaign to market and promote a book. That’s according to Adrienne Biggs, one of three experts interviewed for this post.

Since not all authors are experienced or even comfortable selling themselves, professional consultants can help with customized marketing strategies to reach your targeted audience of eager readers.

I surveyed three veteran book marketing pros and here’s what they said about the changing world of promotion and publicity. First, their credentials:

Cindy Ratzlaff describes herself as a brand evangelist, buzz marketer and social media strategist. She’s the author of The Beginner’s Guide to Facebook for Business. Cindy has developed award-winning marketing and publicity campaigns for more than 150 New York Times bestselling books and was named by Forbes magazine as one of the “Top 30 Women Entrepreneurs to Follow on Twitter”.

Stephanie Chandler is CEO of Authority Publishing, a company that specializes in custom publishing and marketing services for authors. She has a broad variety of publisher and author clients, and is the author of Own Your Niche: Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics, and The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform: Leveraging the Internet to Sell More Books.

Adrienne Biggs is former Publicity Manager for Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons. In 2008, she launched Biggs Publicity, and embraced the use of Facebook and Twitter. In 2010, Adrienne was named Board Member and VP of Northern California Book Publicity and Marketing Association and in 2011 she assumed the role of President.

What can a marketing consultant contribute to the success of a book?

Cindy Ratzlaff: A marketing consultant can help a new author navigate all of the metrics that must be in place in order for a book to be successful, including a promotional plan that coordinates the timing of in-person and online advertising and publicity, consumer outreach, and social networking that should all occur simultaneously when point of purchase ebook and print retail distribution is active.

Stephanie Chandler: The right marketing consultant can help you identify your target audience and understand its needs, challenges, and interests. This step is essential in building your marketing plan. Next, a marketing consultant should help you identify marketing tactics to reach that audience and generate broad sales.

Adrienne Biggs: Good marketing consultants are an author’s secret weapon when putting together a successful book campaign. They have the experience, they know the market and how media and book buyers think and can present your book to these outlets effectively. They can work either independently or with an in-house marketing team to insure that all bases are covered and no creative opportunity slips by.

What are the best ways for an author to help with marketing a book?

Cindy Ratzlaff: It’s the author’s job to build a platform and increase his or her visibility. Every author should have five basic social media accounts to maximize their visibility:

1. A Facebook personal profile in their real name, with a photo. I recommend that authors enable the “subscribe” button and live their online life more publicly. As an author, you are or are becoming a “public figure.” Invite people into a relationship with you, the author, in the simplest way…on your Facebook profile.

2. A Facebook Fan Page titled with the name of the author and the word “author.” A fan page can be customized so that fans can check the “Buy the book” page and make a purchase without leaving Facebook. They can also join the author’s mailing list (all authors should be capturing email names of fans), and authors can even have a tab, or app as Facebook is now calling our former tabs, with a list of personal appearances or media events.

3. A Twitter Account. Twitter is the amplification tool. The fast moving stream means that multiple messages about the author’s tour, book, topic of interest, love of books and anything they care passionately about can lead like minded, potential readers to them. Additionally, every Tweet is a unique URL and again, the goal is to create a large digital footprint, filled with keywords that describe the author’s topic, to lead readers back to the author’s home base.

4. A YouTube Account. YouTube is the second largest search engine behind Google. People search “How-to” on Google hundreds of thousands of times every day. Authors should create short video talks about their books and post them to their own YouTube channel, making sure the title of the video includes keywords that would attract the ideal reader. Upload the videos to YouTube and share the links to Facebook and Twitter for added digital clout.

5. A blog. I encourage every author to have a blog and to post 2 times per week with each post containing 300-500 words. The first and the last paragraph should include some important keywords that are integral to the author’s core topic to attract, again, ideal readers.

Stephanie Chandler: I am a big advocate of blogging. This will help attract traffic from Google and give you a way to connect with your audience via comments. Next, share each blog post with your social media networks. This will bring visitors back to your site. Commit to engaging in social media daily. Also, look for groups on Facebook or LinkedIn that reach your target 
audience and get involved. Or, better yet, start your own group and gain 
exposure as a leader. Finally, look for websites that reach your target 
audience and see if you can submit guest articles or blog posts. 
Marketing online is all about consistent action, sharing content, and 
building an audience.

Adrienne Biggs: I recommend that an author take a public speaking course or hire a media coach if you’re not comfortable talking about the subject of your book in public, or with the media. Know your “talking points” so you can feel confident that any media interview he or she schedules for the client will be informative and engaging.

What are the skills of a really good marketing consultant?

Cindy Ratzlaff: A marketing consultant should understand the entire publishing process, the traditional promotional seasons of retail bookselling, current distribution models, and both traditional and online advertising options.

Stephanie Chandler: A great marketing consultant should give you plenty of ideas for locating and connecting with your target audience. And by the way, not 
all marketing tactics work for everyone so a big part of it is testing 
to find what works for you. Your marketing consultant should give you 
plenty of ideas so that you can try out multiple tactics.

Adrienne Biggs: Creativity, tenacity, direct experience, “connectivity”, a great network, and realistic expectations.

Has your role changed with the upheavals in publishing? If so, how?

Cindy Ratzlaff: My role has definitely changed. It used to be that one or two big national hits were a guarantee of bestsellerdom. Now even that “holy grail” of publicity hits doesn’t guarantee books will sell. In the non-fiction genre, the national network programs are using fewer authors than ever before, bringing their own experts into long term contractual relationships and leaving fewer spots for authors.

In marketing, the big advertising campaign in say, the New York Times Book Review, is now reserved for the rare book. Traditional marketing budgets just don’t include major advertising anymore.

With fewer television outlets and smaller advertising budgets, I’ve turned my focus toward teaching authors how to create their own passionate following. The average Facebook user has 130 friends. If an author has 10,000 fans with 130 friends each, you can see how quickly potential influence can spread. Consumers need many more touch points with the author and his or her message before making a decision to purchase the book.

Stephanie Chandler: Yes, I’ve been doing less traditional marketing and publicity and focusing more on helping authors get professional support for self-publishing their books. My Authority Publishing company specializes in custom publishing and content marketing. We consult with the authors individually, reviewing strategies and customizing the best plan for their unique content and goals, including internet marketing, search engine optimization, blogging, promotion on Amazon, internet media outreach, articles, public speaking and more.

Adrienne Biggs: Yes, very much so. I rarely stuff envelopes with printed galleys anymore. These days I spend most of my time creating, managing, and administering online social networks (FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, WhoSay etc) and a smaller part of my efforts on traditional media outlets which have shrunk and sometimes disappeared over the past few years. I’ve been doing most campaigns since 2008 using 65 percent social media and only 35 percent traditional media.

Do you generally work for the author or the publisher, and how 
does that affect what you do?

Cindy Ratzlaff: I most often work for the publisher on behalf of a single author or group of authors. I create a marketing plan, a calendar and recommended messaging and then I model the art of social media brand building to the authors and teach them how to continue to build their tribe.

But if anyone tells you they’ll do it all for you, RUN. If the author is not involved personally, lending his voice and personality to social media, the desired effect will not be achieved. The whole point of social media is to shorten the distance between the passionate reader and the passionate writer. Social media marketing is the new book tour or bookstore reading. The author is the magic.

I do work directly with authors if I feel the author is highly motivated to learn the strategies I teach and willing to work alongside me so that they can eventually take total control of their own social marketing. Because working one on one with authors on a tight budget isn’t always possible,  I’m beginning to produce some self-study video and webinar materials that will give authors the same information but in a DIY format.

Stephanie Chandler: Since Authority Publishing is an active publisher, I generally work with authors directly on customized marketing plans. However, other authors we don’t publish can also take advantage of our services.

Adrienne Biggs: When I started my own marketing agency in 2002, I was typically hired by the publisher. These days, budgets are tighter and publishers may hire an outside publicist for only one part of the campaign, like creating a Facebook presence, or doing radio in one market, or targeting a certain kind of media outlet.

Consequently I’m working now directly with authors who want to supplement the in-house publicist’s work or with self-publishing authors who appreciate my focus on their book and willingness to give it all I’ve got.

What are the newest trends in book marketing? What’s hot?

Cindy Ratzlaff: I’d say that right now, as the Facebook Timeline rolls out to Facebook fan pages, one hot new opportunity for author marketing is creating custom apps so fans can buy books, join mailing lists, enter contests and ask questions all without leaving their favorite. Another hot trend is Twitter parties at a pre-determined hour in which fans and the author gather for a live chat using a #hashtag to help people follow the conversation.

But the coolest thing I’m seeing is adding an online environment to a book. This means putting URL links into a book that lead a reader to an author’s website where they’ll get expanded new content, videos from the author, out takes back story, and live webinar chats with the author. I love the idea of baking “more” into the book as an added bonus. You’re saying to the author “this book is an invitation to a longer, deeper relationship with me.” But, of course, then you must be prepared to deliver.

Stephanie Chandler: Pinterest is the big buzz right now. This is a social network for sharing images — pictures, graphics, clipart, etc. Authors can use this to create “pin boards” with photos from their books, or photos of books in the same genre, or other theme projects. I’m finding this to be a fun and creative way to connect with a new audience.

Adrienne Biggs: The current trends are the use of Google+ to create an author presence/platform/engagement; the use of “social releases” in addition to the traditional multi-page press release, and video book trailer.

7. Do you work with self-published authors and if so, are there any 
special issues?

Cindy Ratzlaff: I offer webinars, video courses and how-to blog posts to help self-published authors find the tools, tactics and strategies they need to be their own marketing and publicity people. The self-published author is often more willing to work on their platform than traditionally published authors who still operate under the illusion that the publishing house will take care of everything.

Stephanie Chandler: Yes, I do work with self-publishing authors through my company Authority Publishing. I tell my clients that any author who cuts corners and skip essentials like editing and professional cover design will not be as successful as those who take the necessary steps to make their books as professional as possible. If you’re going to self-publish, make sure you treat that book like a business and get it done right. I firmly believe that self-published books can be just as successful as traditionally published books if you’re willing to do the work.

Adrienne Biggs: Yes, but I’m very particular about choosing clients who are serious about self-publishing in a professional manner. Services I provide might include: building a platform, training how to build an audience or social network, consulting on how to market the book as a tool to build their business, or informing them of publishing courses, conferences or organizations that can help further their experience as an author.

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What about you?

Are you looking for help in marketing your book? What’s your experience with publicity that works or doesn’t? How have you customized your strategy to fit your target audience? We welcome your comments and any advice for fellow authors.

The Viagra Diaries: A self-publishing mega success story

“Barbara Rose Brooker is fearless. The Viagra Diaries does for single seniors what Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying did for the women’s sexual revolution in the sixties and seventies.”  – Entertainment Tonight

It’s a blurb to die for, and well deserved. I’ve known Barbara for more than 25 years and worked with her on several books, including The Viagra Diaries.

She’s a dynamo, an anatomizing social satirist and commentator with a keen ear and profound empathy for everyone she writes about. She’s been in the news recently for selling Viagra Diaries, which she originally self-published, to Simon & Schuster for a six-figure advance and to HBO for a TV series coming this fall.

We spoke the other day and she agreed to share her story here at The Book Deal.

What’s the book about?

It’s the story of Anny Applebaum, a 65-year-old writer with a weekly newspaper column called “The Viagra Diaries,” about love and sex after 60. She falls for Marv, a 75-year-old diamond dealer and they have a passionate affair — but Anny soon discovers that he’s a serial online dating-service customer, that he can’t face aging, and he’s on the prowl for younger women. So Anny struggles with Marv, with aging, with her own fears of intimacy, and also worries about her 41-year-old unmarried daughter. Anny takes the reader through her funny, insightful account of a woman who ignores the fallacies of age, romantic love, sex, and makes some surprising new choices.

How does an author go from self-publishing to a big book deal?

First you write the book, believe in it, and ignore the agents who reject your project. Then you self-publish the book, do your own marketing and publicity, online social networking, and call bookstores to see if they’ll order your book from Ingram. The rest of it is up to the public. They make a book happen.

Tell us about the HBO TV series, which came before the Simon & Schuster book deal. How did that happen?

The Viagra Diaries had been out for about six months and was selling well. Then I received a call from Wendy Riche at Alan Riche Productions in Hollywood. Wendy said she had read the book and loved the premise. She asked if they could option the novel for a feature film. After I checked them out and saw they were very reputable, I said yes and hired Patti Felker, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles to negotiate the contract.

The Riches had one year to sell the book. They had an almost deal with Universal but then passed: “No one wants old,” they were told. “No one will watch a 70-year old woman having sex,” But my daughter Suzy Unger, a VP for the William Morris Agency said “Mom. It should go to HBO. It should be a television series.” She gave the book to Aaron Kaplan, a well-known producer and a week later he sold the book to HBO. HBO hired Goldie Hawn to play the lead, Darren Star who wrote Sex in the City to write the script, and Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids and The Office to direct. The latest news is that they dropped Goldie Hawn, so they’re recasting now for the pilot in May.

And how did you get the book deal?

Patti Felker, my entertainment lawyer, referred me to David Vigliano, a literary agent in NYC, since she does the legal work on most of his book contracts. He loved the theme of ageism and sex after 60, and sold it right away to Simon & Schuster. I think that the new edition, which will be published in October 2012, is fabulous. And David has sold the book to eight foreign countries so far, along with world wide audio rights.

Tell us about your background as a writer

I’ve wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember. Early on I wrote poetry and short stories. In my 30s, as a single parent with two daughters, I went to graduate school and finished my MFA in creative writing. While there, I wrote my first novel The Rise and Fall of A Jewish American Princess, which my then agent Fred Hill sold, but it got shelved and never came out.

Then I wrote another novel So Long Princess, and worked on it with you, Alan, to get it to the point where Fred sold it to Morrow in 1987. It had great reviews but there were big problems with distribution. After I left Fred Hill, I wrote thirteen other novels and book projects, but I couldn’t get an agent, and couldn’t sell anything. In the nineties, when self publishing was still looked down on, I put out my own book about AIDS in San Francisco called God Doesn’t Make Trash. We had nine film options with Sharon Stone, James Woods and others but it never got made. My new agent is interested in selling So Long, Princess, and other books that no one would read at the time.

How did the The Viagra Diaries get started?

It was 2007 and literary agents were telling me it was “too late” to pitch my projects, because my books were “outdated,” or, “too old…” They told me, “Rest on your laurels and get another husband or something.” This really made me angry. What’s outdated or too old? It seems that unless you write chick lit or you’re 20 and look like one of those reality show housewives with hair extensions and fake boobs, you’re treated as if you’re a throwaway.

I was tired of ageism. So I began writing a column in a local paper called “Suddenly Sixty”, until the new editor wanted me to write about “seniors and goldfish,” so I quit. Now I write “Suddenly Seventy” for the San Francisco Jewish Weekly, and get tons of fan mail. I also write a column for The Huffington Post about dating at 70.

Then I ventured onto a singles Internet site, only to be told not to put my age above 60.

So I decided to write about an aging protagonist who doesn’t believe in age, a boomer hottie, who still pursues her dreams. I decided to take all the stories I had from researching and make them the basis for The Viagra Diaries, the story of Anny Applebaum.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I didn’t want to waste years sending query letters to agents and publishing. When I sent it to agents those few who responded said things like “There isn’t a demographic for over 60” and “No market for seniors.” Self-publishing was becoming more and more respectable so I thought, why not? At least my book will be out there. I’ll have control.

So as you know, I worked with you, Alan, to edit the early version of the book. You were the only one who took The Viagra Diaries seriously at the time.

What did you do to market and publicize the self-published edition?

I wrote a good pitch and sent it to all the San Francisco Bay Area papers, television and radio shows. A few responded with some good press but most of the local media said “We can’t sell age.”

So I asked my daughter for a list of movie stars who might endorse. Some of them were very kind and generous, including Joan Rivers, Ed Asner and the poet Phyllis Koestenbaum, whose blurbs are up with the book on Amazon.

Then Suzy got the name of Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda’s publicist at the Today Show. I sent them a letter along with along with a copy of the book. Kathy Lee and Hoda emailed back quickly and said they “LOVED” the book and were glad someone was at last talking about age, dating, and ageism. Their producer booked me for a fifteen-minute segment.

After the Today Show, I got on Entertainment Tonight, CBS Morning Show, The Talk with Sharon Osbourne, Touch Of Gray Radio, and a few others. It was an important experience. I learned a lot and from 2009-2010 the book sold 10,000 copies.

How did readers react to the book?

Beyond my hopes. Immediately after I self-published, I started getting fan mail from aging boomers around the country, saying, “Thank God someone is writing about this. At last a real character with her real age.” Fans wrote me stories about their fears of aging, the age discrimination they suffered. They want to find new love, too.

What’s it like to have a huge success at this point in your life?

Well, I feel great about getting some recognition for what I believe in at last. I don’t think of my current success as an end but more a process. I am 75 and I want to be a star.

What’s your advice to authors?

Keep writing. Never give up. Don’t get caught up with snobby elitists or prissy cloistered groups of writers, authors, teacher, who label your work bad, good, mid-list, this or that. Don’t listen to anyone who discriminates, who tells you how to write. Break the rules. Find your voice. Learn from those who are there for you, who have real expertise. I learned from you as my editor all those years, and from the higher power and from myself.

Write your books in YOUR VOICE, and don’t worry about what other people might think, or if it will be a bestseller. Write every day, as discipline is talent. See a project through even it if it’s not great or if you’re struggling. Go on to the next project even when you’re down.

Do you recommend self-publishing?

Definitely. I heartily recommend self-publishing to all writers. It’s the way to go. It’s a way to get your book out there–instead of waiting years for an agent to send you a form letter or ignore you. Publishers, I’ve been told, are scouring self-published books, checking out sales, and buying them for conversion to their lists, like Simon & Schuster did with me.

What’s your next project?

I’m currently working on Should I Sleep In His Dead Wife’s Bed, a book of monologues and snippets about boomer-plus love, sex, and dating and there’s already interest in a television sitcom based on it. I haven’t showed it to an agent yet, only to a producer.

It’s exciting being on a new mountain. I wonder if there’s a top?

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What about you?

Does Barbara’s experience with publishing resonate with you?  She struggled with rejections for many years and yet found a way to soldier on.  We’d love to hear your thoughts here in comments, and will watch for any questions.