STORY MAGIC

I’ve written on this topic before, but it continues to astound me. Facing the blank white page again this morning, I wondered how I’d ever fill my page quota. My characters had just been captured by the bad guys. They’d been isolated from each other, and I had no idea how they would escape. But when I started writing and entered the Zone, as we writers call it, the story just took over. I went into a trance-like state, where I’m not aware of my surroundings. I visualize the story and the words just come out. Before I know it, my page quota is done.

In today’s section, my heroine is taken to the enemy commander. During their conversation, she learns things important to the plot. She’s dragged away for interrogation. This segment concludes the chapter. The next chapter will switch between her viewpoint and the hero’s. They’ll each gain information, and a new character will be introduced. I don’t have to worry about that today. I finished my pages and can move on to other things, like writing this blog.

I’m also proofreading the eBook version of Moonlight Rhapsody, one of my earlier futuristic romances. Then there are the social networks, listserves, and numerous other promotional activities to keep me busy. Did I mention that I’m meeting a friend for lunch and have errands to do? Thank goodness I finished these pages early because now it’s time for the exercise bike.

This book is taking off already because I know the characters. It’s the second volume in the series, and I laid all the groundwork in book number one. Unlike a mystery with numerous suspects that have to be introduced for the first time, this paranormal romance focuses on the hero and heroine and the various secondary characters they meet during their journey. The hardest thing is remembering the mythology I created, but I have enough notes to help me along.

Whoever said (and I’m not exactly sure if this is correct), “I hate writing, but I love having written,” is right, although it’s the blank page I hate. I love having written once the story magic takes over and words fill the pages.

NEW AGE RESEARCH

Today’s age of global communications allows for more ease of research than in the past. I’m writing a scene that takes place in an Asian fortress. Through a search on the Internet, I found the perfect model for my citadel. I moved it to a Pacific island where my characters have crash landed their airplane. They plan to scout the premises but are captured by the bad guys.

The soldiers march Paz and Jen to the fortress, which I’ve renamed Shirajo Manor. But now what? Thanks to images on the Internet, I can take a virtual tour of my model palace. So I look at them slide by slide, and describe the scene as I go. You can follow the tour here, too: http://www.himeji-castle.gr.jp/index/English/

Isn’t that cool? I can picture this place now, rife with winding paths, maze-like manicured grounds, medieval gates, and stone stairways. I can see the shady trees overhanging the paths. I can go inside and walk down the long corridors lined with heavy wood doors, imagining my injured hero locked inside one of the rooms while the heroine is dragged away to see the evil commandant, General Morar.

This brings up the next problem: How do they escape? Paz and Jen are separated. Our hero gets locked in a dungeon. Jen is given to the general’s wife, a scientist who conducts experiments on humans. How will she escape and find Paz? How will they pass through the successive gates guarded by armed troops, choose the right paths designed to confound invaders, and reach the exit?

Worry about it later, as my heroine in Book One of this paranormal series says. And so I shall, unless YOU give me a clue as to how these characters can escape?

CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

A new writer has in mind one goal: getting published. Often they don’t think beyond that goal post. But once they get The Call, everything changes. I think it’s Fear of Success that keeps some folks from submitting because they don’t want to face what comes next. They will have to get a publicity photo, reserve a domain name, set up a website and blog. They’ll want to think about joining social networks and decide what to do to launch their debut book.

As a newly published author, you’ll also have to determine a reasonable date for your next deadline if book number two isn’t done yet.  Figure out how many pages per day you can write.  How much time do you need to complete the word count? Allow for vacations, sick days, unexpected crises, and additional work on book one. Thought you were finished with that project? Think again. Figure in two weeks for revisions and copy edits and another week for page proofs. Add an extra week if you want to do a final read through. That’s an added month tacked onto your deadline for the next book.  Working on book one will interrupt your train of thought, and you’ll have extra deadlines to meet.

These days authors are often asked to submit marketing plans, art sheets, blurbs, endorsements, and back cover copy. Since when have we been trained in advertising and marketing? Writers not only have to take workshops on writing, but we must learn the principles of promotion. It’s probably hardest to write what the book is about in two paragraphs or less. For the blurb, you have to distill the story essence into a one-liner like a movie teaser. These things also take up your time.

Do you want to schedule a blog tour? You have to research which would be the best sites, garner invitations,  announce the dates on your social networks, and write the blogs or interviews. More time gone out the window. Feeling frantic yet? Oh, and don’t forget printed materials. Once you have your book cover JPEG, you can design bookmarks, brochures, and/or postcards. Having a contest to add readers to your mailing list? Make up the rules, determine the prizes, post announcements, and keep track of entries.

Amidst this flurry of activity, you must stick to your daily writing schedule in order to complete book number two on time. This may necessitate retreating into your writer’s cave for days on end, only emerging to eat and perform other necessary tasks such as paying attention to your loved ones, dealing with household emergencies, and doing the laundry. Did anyone say this job would be easy? And yet it’s what we love to do. Despite the siren call of the Web, it’s still about writing the story, telling the tale that’s in your heart, and spending time with your characters.

Just make sure to allow yourself enough time with reasonable deadlines.

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PUBLISHING TRENDS: ENRICHED E-BOOKS

What is an enriched ebook and how does it differ from an ordinary one? An enriched ebook has bonus features like on a DVD. These can include research material, references, deleted passages, alternate endings, footnotes, audio interview with the author, research photos, interactive maps that follow the action, music to accompany scenes in the story with music, commentary by the author.

As you may have guessed, adding these features means more work, but we do a lot of this anyway. For example, I’ve added a glossary to the ebook edition of Circle of Light, my first book published in 1994 and just now debuting in digital format. Imagine if I’d added these features to my mysteries when they came out in ebook format. I’d have been able to share my research photos, info I gathered at on-site locations, research material that didn’t make it into the story.

Do readers care? When you’re engrossed in a world the author has created, often you don’t want the story to end. I know that when I finished the Harry Potter series, I wanted to read more about the lives of Harry and friends after they left school. The brief epilogue wasn’t enough to satisfy me. So the question is, will readers want to read more about your fictional world and your characters? Do they care to learn about the writing process involved in creating the story? Or would they rather close the page and wait for the sequel? Will this enhance reading experiences or add more burden on the author’s shoulders? Will it draw in young readers who look for multi-media presentations? There’s no doubt the publishing industry is changing. Authors have to embrace these changes or risk getting left behind in the dust.

*This post originally appeared on the Novelists Inc. blog: http://www.ninc.com/blog

PIRACY

Piracy is becoming an increasing concern among published authors. I am not referring to folks like Captain Jack Sparrow here. I mean Internet pirates, shady characters who offer unauthorized downloads of our books for free. Why does this hurt us authors? We’re not paid any royalties, for one thing. Secondly, those downloads don’t count towards our sales figures. When our sales figures stay flat, the publisher is less likely to buy our next book. Your favorite series might be discontinued. Thus no one wins. And it hurts to see a new release, or even a book that hasn’t yet come out in digital format, being offered this way to any Joe who wants a free ride.      

So what’s an author to do? Until publishers start using their clout to oppose these sites, all we can accomplish is to file a protest and request that the book be removed. Most of these sites originate outside the U.S. where they don’t respect our copyright laws. But at least authors are sharing these sites now so we are becoming more aware of them. Here is a yahoo group about the topic: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AuthorsAgainstE-BookTheft/

They offer the following statement to use when requesting your work be removed:

“The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.”

It takes time from our daily writing schedules to police the Internet, looking for illegal copies of our books. What can you, the reader, do to help? Report to us if you see our book listed at an unauthorized site. Don’t be tempted into buying it for a cheap price or downloading it for free. Get the book at the library instead. Think of it this way: Would you want to labor for a year on a project only to see it given away for free? Do you feel authors should be compensated fairly for their work? It’s bad enough when our books are so deeply discounted that we’re lucky to make a dollar per  book. Usually, it’s less. That’s why authors keep their day jobs. Ultimately, readers will pay because there will be fewer choices on the bookshelves for your reading pleasure.

A DREAM COME TRUE

CIRCLE OF LIGHT, my seventh manuscript, became the first novel I sold. It began as a dream, wherein I was at my job as a clinical nurse specialist. The dream unfolded in much the same manner as the excerpt on my website. My dream ended at the same place, but I couldn’t let it go. I had to finish the story! I wrote the whole thing, and that’s my first book that sold. CIRCLE OF LIGHT became number one in a trilogy and went on to win the HOLT Medallion Award in the paranormal category. The story has ancient prophecies, mysterious glowstones, a magical Blood Crystal that foretells the future, and a transcendent healing power inspired by love. It also has villains: the evil Souks, a slaver race; the nasty Horthas with their stun whips; the Twyggs with their grasping branches, a traitor in the central government; and mercenaries who hire their services as assassins. It’s an exciting story. No wonder I felt compelled to finish it.

CIRCLE OF LIGHT, originally published by Dorchester when I was writing as Nancy Cane, is now available in digital and trade paperback formats. And lest you think it’s all purely made up, I used a National Geographic article on volcanoes for the scenes on Taurus, a volcanic planet. I used my Star Wars and Star Trek sourcebooks and technical manuals for inspiration in terms of ships and weaponry. The capital city of Bimordus Two is a biome, a self-contained ecosystem. I cut out articles about these habitats at the time, and they’re probably still in my files. So research took many forms for this futuristic romance. And because it’s at heart a romance novel, woven throughout the exciting adventure is the developing love story of Sarina and Teir.

Attorney Sarina Bretton is kidnapped from Earth to become the legendary Great Healer, thus saving the galaxy from a dreadful plague. To activate her power, she must marry Lord Cam’brii, a stiff politician. Instead, she falls in love with the spaceship captain transporting her to the wedding.

Captain Teir Reylock is drawn to the feisty woman he’s escorting to the capital city, but he must fulfill his duty. He doesn’t count on being assigned as her bodyguard once they arrive. Now not only must he protect Sarina from the Coalition’s enemies, but also he must guard her from his heart.

Digital edition available from Belgrave House

Circle of Light                       Belgrave House

Trade Paperback edition available from iUniverse

Circle of Light

PLANNING A PROMO CAMPAIGN

How soon should you begin publicizing your new release? As soon as you sign the contract. But what if you only have a short lead time? In four months, my new book will launch. Am I prepared to announce it to the world? Not totally. There’s a lot of work to do first.

In this digital age, most of my promotion will be online. But with the choices of what to do being so overwhelming, how can you choose which are the best? Don’t be like me: I take a look at what other authors are doing and hit the panic button. Where will I find the time to do all that? Then I remember the advice from workshops I’ve attended: focus on a few targets and spend your energy there.

Where should you start? Consider breaking down your campaign into manageable parts and tackle one at a time. Decide on a countdown. What’s the most important item to start working on now? Get a calendar and mark out your dates. Here are some items for your list:

BLOG TOUR: Besides keeping up with your own blog, look for popular bloggers with a focus on your genre, inquire about a guest blog opening the month of your release date, and fix a schedule for a visit. Your host may want you to offer a giveaway, so decide upon the book or item you’re donating. An ebook download or bookstore gift card are alternates to a signed print book and will save you postage. Once your tour schedule is arranged, publicize it on all your sites.

BONUS FEATURES: Add bonus features on your website related to your story so readers who like the world you’ve created can read more about the characters, immerse themselves in the world building details, consult a glossary, or get a taste of sequels to come.

BOOK TRAILER: Have you uploaded your trailer to all the possible sites?

CHAT ROOMS: Find the chat rooms for your genre, decide which ones to target, and garner an invite.

CONTESTS: Plan contests leading up to your release date and celebrating the book’s debut. What prize will you offer? Consider a bonus item for people who leave blog comments or for your newsletter subscribers. Publicize on sites beyond your own.

INTERVIEW: Interview yourself about the new book and offer it as a guest blog, post it on your website as a bonus feature, or consider recording it as a podcast.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: If you already have friends on Facebook, should you start a fan page? Are you taking advantage of all these sites have to offer? On Goodreads, for example, you can now offer giveaways. Spend a day at a time on each site to make the most of them. Some examples: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Shelfari, LinkedIn, Filedby, Authors Den, and more. Or pick one day a week and that’s your day to put aside writing and spend it on promotion.

READER FORUMS: Visit discussion groups in your genre and begin participating several months ahead of your release date. Avoid blatant self-promotion unless it’s a group just for that purpose. Look on the social networks for these discussion groups as a way to get started. Your publisher may also have a listserve for this purpose.

VIRTUAL BOOKSIGNINGS: Okay, I’m not quite sure what this is but I’ve read about it. I believe you sign up with a bookstore online, like an indie, and show up for a virtual event. This concept requires more research on my part.

It’s a lot easier to write this list than to do it. As with any overwhelming project, it will be more attainable if you break it down into manageable tasks. This means focusing on one item at a time.

My first goal is to design my contests for the next four months, decide on the prizes, and load up the info onto my sites. Then I’ll send out an email newsletter announcing the contest to my fans along with other news I want to share. But wait…this may bring people to my website. I already hope to gain more readers from eBook followers when Silver Serenade comes out from The Wild Rose Press. Have I updated the books list on my website with the ISBNs and such for my titles which are available in eBook format? Not yet.  Better get cracking.  Onward and upward!

THE ACCIDENTAL READER

In this dawning digital age, when people download books onto ebook readers like the Kindle or Nook, how will an author get noticed? It’s hard enough already with so many books on the shelves, but what happens when your book no longer appears in brick-and-mortar stores? I’ve received many letters from fans saying my book cover caught their eye in the library or my catchy title snagged their attention in the bookstore. Am I going to lose those accidental readers when my books can only be ordered online?

Internet marketing will become even more important in this new age. But participating in guest blogs, chat rooms, review sites, social networks, listserves, and discussion groups can leave no time for anything else…like writing the next book. Commenting on sites of interest, hosting guest bloggers, posting online book reviews, and interviewing other authors are some other ways to gain recognition. Myriads of possibilities exist, limited by time and energy.

As a reader, I like to browse through bookstores. It’s a pleasure we’ve taken for granted. Now you have to read excerpts online or examine the virtual book cover. Will this give you the same thrill as holding a book in your hand? Do you care? How can we, as authors in the digital age, attract new readers without spending hours at the computer after we’ve already spent the day there writing? Because we can’t rely anymore on the accidental reader who spots our book on a shelf made out of real wood.

GETTING AN AGENT

One of the popular questions every author is asked is “How do you get an agent?” Here are some tips to start your journey.

Complete your manuscript in the proper format.

Be prepared to suggest possible markets to an agent. Also have two or three bestselling authors to compare your work to in terms of genre and tone.

Where do you find an agent? Attend writers’ conferences with editor/agent appointments. Study the Guide to Literary Agents by Writer’s Digest Books.  Check out the online resources below. Note the acknowledgments in books by your favorite authors. Or enter writing contests where editors and agents are the final judges. When deciding which agents to query, make sure they represent the genre you write and that they take on new authors. Be sure to check their submission criteria.

http://www.querytracker.net

www.aar-online.org

www.agentresearch.com

www.sfwa.org/Beware

www.writers-free-reference.com/agents

www.anotherealm.com/prededitors

www.absolutewrite.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=22

www.publishersmarketplace.com

www.agentquery.com

 Write a snappy query letter introducing yourself, giving the word count and category for your book, your writing credits, and a few sentences about your story. Include a hot premise or marketing hook that makes your story stand out. This letter should be no longer than one page.
If you hear nothing for months, send a follow-up letter or email to ask if she received your letter. Be courteous and respectful of an agent’s time. If you receive a rejection letter with detailed suggestions for your work, write a thank you note.

Always include an SASE in your correspondence.

Never pay an agent any fees.

Once an agent has read your work and you are seriously considering retaining him if he makes an offer, here are some questions to ask.

How many clients does the agency represent?

How many clients do you handle personally?

How long have you been an agent?

Are you a member of AAR?

What is your particular area of interest?

How many new authors have you sold in the past year?

What is your average response time for reading a proposal? A completed manuscript?

When is the best time to call you? Do you prefer email?

Who answers the phone: you, a receptionist, or a machine?

How long does it take for you to return a phone call?

How do you feel about multiple submissions?

How long do you wait after sending an editor a manuscript before following up?

Do you contact your clients to update them on the status of their projects, or do they have to contact you?

How many rejections would it take on a manuscript before you stop marketing it?

Do you handle foreign sales? Film/TV?

Do you offer a written or verbal contract?

What percentage do you charge? (Most agents charge a standard 15% commission)

What happens if you die or are disabled?

Do you deposit money received into an escrow account for clients?

How soon do you pay clients after receiving a royalty check?

How do you keep track of submissions?

What do you expect from your clients?

Remember, an author-agent relationship is a two-way street. Just as you want to hire the ideal agent, the agent wants to land the ideal client. Be courteous, professional, and savvy about the industry, and hopefully you’ll acquire the agent of your dreams.

PRINTED PROMO MATERIALS

A writer can spend days preparing for a new release in terms of printed promo materials. Should you do bookmarks, postcards, or flyers? Tri-fold brochures, business cards, or posters? As more publicity is gained on the Internet, you’d think we could decrease this expense. However, readers still like bookmarks. Postcards are handy to put on promo tables or in goody bags at conferences. Brochures are useful when you give talks so the audience can learn more about you. Flyers or posters work for libraries and bookstores where you’ve scheduled an event. So where to start?

Here are eight points to consider when making your plans:

WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THE ITEM?

 

Deciding what you want the item for will help you choose what to buy. Do you want something to keep in your purse that you can whip out when you meet someone and they ask what you do? Think business card with book cover on one side and book info on the other. Or a bookmark. Do you want something that will stand out on conference promo tables (other than imprinted cutsie items like letter openers, notepads, pens, etc.)? Think glossy postcards. What about talks where you have the chance to reach a larger audience? You can put your items on each chairs if you are the sole speaker or offer them at the table with your books for sale. Bookmarks and brochures work well for this venue. Or will you snail mail your reading list? Then postcards or tri-fold brochures are a must. Consider ordering return address labels with a preformatted design and your name, book title, and website, or your one liner tag line. These are good for sealing envelopes. Bookmarks and business cards are useful for sticking in envelopes if you still pay bills this way. So decide the function of your item and that will help you make a choice.

WHEN SHOULD I ORDER MY MATERIALS?

 

My book isn’t due out for another six months and yet I already have bookmarks and brochures. Why? Because I have several speaking engagements and a conference coming up, and I want to promote my upcoming title. So it’s never too soon to order your materials as long as you have the prerequisite data.

WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED?

 

Besides the title and author, you’ll want a book cover image usually in jpg format with good resolution, ISBN number, price, format (i.e. mass market, trade paperback, digital edition, etc.), publisher, release date, and how to order. You can restrict ordering to your publisher or say “Available at all retail and online bookstores.” Including your website is essential. Adding other contact info like email address, blog site, Twitter, Facebook, and so on is optional. Usually I offer my website, email, blog, and business address. What else? Depends on the item. Blurb about your book. Back cover copy. Review quotes. Excerpt. Backlist titles. What’s coming next. Short author bio. Recipes or fun tips that apply to your theme. These are optional. Just remember to include the basics.

WILL YOU NEED A DESIGNER?

 

Whether or not you have to hire a designer depends on how talented you are with graphic design and what programs you have on your computer. I use WordPerfect to design my bookmarks in terms of what I want to include on each side, but then I need a designer to add a background that compliments my book cover and to place the text appropriately. I also use WordPerfect to do a tri-fold brochure, and then I have double-sided copies made and folded at one of the office stores. It’s cheaper than hiring a company to do a glossy brochure and works for me just as well. Re postcards, I can put what I want on each side using Word but then I’d need a designer to fit the cover and text into the appropriate template, so I’d have to hire someone for postcards.

WHAT PRINTING SERVICE SHOULD YOU USE?

If you’re handy with templates and following directions, you can use a service like Vistaprint or Printplace.com. You’ll definitely save money. But if you need help, consider companies who are reasonably priced and offer designer services like Earthly Charms and Twig One Stop.

WHAT TYPE OF FINISH DO YOU WANT?

Do you intend to sign the materials or just hand them out? Do you want your items to stand out with a high gloss finish? If you want to sign them, a matte finish is best. Or you can do glossy on one side and matte on the other. Collect a sampling of other authors’ items from your friends or at your next conference and check out what appeals to you. Cardstock is another factor to consider. The heavier the weight, the more solid the item will feel to your readers. If my research is correct, Twig One Stop uses 12 pt cardstock which has worked fine for me in the past with a matte finish. This time my bookmarks from Earthly Charms is 14 pt cardstock with gloss on one side. This means I can only sign the back, and honestly, a nice matte would have worked fine on both sides. Bookmark size is another factor. How much info do you want to include? Again, look at bookmarks you’ve collected and see what size appeals to you.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU BUDGET?

If you plan to print your own materials using Avery templates from the local office store, count in the cost of the labels and ink and compare the number of items (i.e. 1000) to the cost if you ordered from a print service. Obviously, if you have a generous advance, you can go hog wild and order whatever you want. If your budget is limited, order only what you think you’ll need. You can always order a reprint if you need more, and the template then will be done so you won’t need to pay the designer fee again. Don’t forget to add in tax and shipping when comparing prices. Also, if you plan to make copies at the local office store, stop by and ask how much for 100 copies? 1000? Black and White? Color? Double sided? Look in the newspaper for discount coupons on Copy & Print services and then decide which is the best place to get your work done for the best price. I had my brochures copied at Office Depot because I got 25% off and their price was lower anyway than FedEx Office.

HOW MANY SHOULD YOU ORDER?

If you want to send promo items to conferences, you’ll need to think in terms of bundles of 50 to 100 items per conference and thus you’ll need to order a larger amount. Twig One Stop has a Publishers Package for $435. This includes 5000 each bookmarks, postcards, and business cards (with either standard contact info or your book promo info). That cost does not include the services of their designer, which you’ll need, or tax and shipping. Yes, you may have lots of items left over, but it could end up being cheaper than 1000 each bookmarks and 1000 postcards together. For example, ordering those separately at Earthly Charms would total approx. $432 including designer, tax, and shipping. For $435, plus designer fee, tax and shipping, you can get so much more. So think about how many items you need to get started and do your homework.

IT’S EXCITING when your printed materials arrive in the mail or you take them home from the print shop. Now you have something to hand out whenever you meet people on the street, in the store, or at your next conference. Wait until you have the essential data about your book and a cover jpg, research the options, and then don’t be shy about offering your new bookmark or brochure or postcard to whomever you meet.