Monday, February 25, 2013

Look Before You Leap, No Matter the Path

by R.C. Lewis

Whether you're going to pursue self-publishing or the traditional route, one thing is consistent.

You need to do your homework first.

I see people failing to do that on both sides, particularly by peeking around at queries up for critique on sites like AgentQuery Connect. People who've sent out dozens of queries already but reveal they don't know the most basic facts about agents, querying, and traditional publishing. People who get requests for partials or fulls, and then ask if anyone knows whether the agent is reputable. And especially lately, people who self-publish and within weeks are getting ready to query.

The message we send when we do these things isn't a good one. Above all, it makes us look like we don't take ourselves seriously as professionals. Traditional or self, we are professionals and need to act like it.

If you're at the point of, "I wrote a novel. Now what?" here are some general steps I'd recommend.

Research All Avenues You have a lot of options, especially these days. You can query agents and pursue publication with a major publishing house. You can submit to some publishers without an agent. Or you can do it yourself and self-publish. Dig way into each and figure out which is right for you and your goals.

Take the Long View Now that you've gotten your hands on all the info possible on the various routes to publishing, don't assume it has to be one or the other. When figuring out what will be best for you, keep yourself open to different routes for different needs. Also keep Plan B options in mind.

Pick a Path and Do the Work Going traditional? Learn how to write an awesome query. Research agents and only query ones you know are reputable. (This is assuming you've already gone through and revised, edited, and polished your manuscript.) Doing it on your own? Your manuscript should be even more polished than a querying author's—consider hiring an editor. Get a killer cover. Form a clear business plan.

I'm not saying there aren't reasons to change our minds. (Remember what I said about having a Plan B?) However, if we do all the requisite work beforehand, there should be little chance of "Whoops! Just kidding. Let's have a do-over."

Decide what to do, and do it with conviction.

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Buzz vs Word-of-Mouth: What Hollywood Could Learn From Publishing

by R. S. Mellette

I moderated a conference of film industry professors a while back, and when one of them said that Hollywood relies heavily on word-of-mouth marketing, I laughed.

I couldn't help myself. Here is an industry that considers a 20% or 30% drop in sales a success! That's not word-of-mouth. Or if it is, good words are not being spoken.

Interestingly, the Hollywood insiders on the panel thought I was the crazy one for doing a spit-take with the Koolaid they were serving. But of course, none of them had theatre or publishing experience.

In those disciplines, word-of-mouth marketing means sales INCREASE with time, not drop. A play that is worth the time, money and effort of going to see will build an audience. A book worth the read will see an increase in sales.

In Hollywood, my filmmaking brothers and sisters have forgotten the difference between Buzz and Word-of-Mouth. So let's take a look at them side-by-side.

Buzz: "I want to see that movie," says one friend to another before it premieres. "Yes," says the friend, "I've heard it's good."

Word-Of-Mouth: "I saw the best movie this weekend, you should see it."

In writing, we call that passive vs. active voice. In court, it's called a firsthand account vs. hearsay.

Marketing generates buzz. The product itself creates word-of-mouth.

Why is that a distinction worth discussing? Because buzz owes only a passing fealty to the quality of the product. Producers in Hollywood will actually judge a script on "trailer beats," meaning juicy stuff they can put in the preview to create buzz. A script that tells a good story but has no trailer beats will be passed over in favor of another script that is more easily marketable.

Compare this to the world of self-publishing today. Sure, sure, there is a sub-culture of writers trying to get good reviews—or spam their competition with bad ones—in an effort to increase buzz. There is nothing wrong with an honest pursuit of good buzz, but the runaway hits in the self-publishing world come almost exclusively from word-of-mouth marketing.

And word-of-mouth marketing is entirely dependent on the quality of the work. It is first-person, active, marketing. One friend telling another, "I enjoyed that, and I think you'll like it, too."

What does this product-oriented marketing technique look like on the sales charts, graphs, and tables? That's easy. No drop off. Sales go up the longer the product is available. And when the same people create a new product, their sales start higher because they have become a trusted brand. As long as they keep up the quality, then their work will generate its own buzz.

And the opposite is also true. How many of us have been fooled so many times by a great preview for a lousy film that we no longer trust the studios? Like so much of the rest of American Industry, studios have lost sight of long term success in favor of instant gratification. They have confused buzz with word-of-mouth.

So the work suffers. We, as consumers, suffer. And worst of all, we artists who must try to make a living in this environment suffer.

R.S. Mellette is an experienced screenwriter, actor, director, and novelist. You can find him at the Dances With Films festival blog, and on Twitter, or read him in the Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales of the Apocalypse anthologies.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

You Are Uncomparable

by MarcyKate Connolly

It’s easy to feel down in the dumps when you see others drafting like speed demons or revising with glee. Especially when each word of a first draft feels like pulling teeth or revising gives you an ulcer.

Sometimes it can feel like it's not even worth striving towards the next step because everyone else already got there first. That their way of writing is best and since you can't do it their way, you'll never make it.

I think all of us feel like this at some point or another. And no, it doesn't necessarily go away when you finish that draft/get an agent/sign a contract. How can we help comparing ourselves to other writers? It's a tricky, steep path at every stage of the game; naturally we look to others to gauge our progress.

But here's the thing: you are uncomparable.

That's right. There's no one else like you. No one who writes the way you do. No one who will have the same path as you.

This isn't a race; it's a marathon. What matters is crossing the finish line - at your pace and in whatever way is yours, be that running, skipping, cartwheeling, or crawling.

So if you start getting down because you fear you're not measuring up, take a moment to remember that this journey is yours. Own it. Treasure every misstep and stumble, and most importantly learn from them.

MarcyKate Connolly writes middle grade and young adult fiction and becomes a superhero when sufficiently caffeinated. When earthbound, she blogs at her website and spends far too much time babbling on Twitter. Her debut upper MG fantasy novel, MONSTROUS, will be out from HarperCollins Children's Books in Summer 2014.

Monday, February 18, 2013


by S. L. Duncan

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read enough articles about the publishing industry to teach a writing studies course at your local community college. And no doubt, you’ve probably read somewhere that a big part of making it, of getting published, falls into the hands of pure, dumb luck.

This is not one of those articles.

Look. There are a hundred different ingredients in the recipe of becoming a good writer, and luck is absolutely one of them. With enough time and hard work, you’re going to pull something out of the oven one day that ain't half bad. If the stars align, maybe the world will get a taste.

So be patient. In the meantime, stop and take stock of just how lucky you already are at this moment.

I’ve suffered through a few identity crises. Probably having one right now. I think most authors do. Hell, I think most humans do. Nobody’s ever been born knowing what they’re going to be passionate about in life. No doctor ever popped a kid out of his mother, spanked him and announced, “He’ll make a fine plumber.” A lot of folks stumble through their years, bouncing off of failed efforts and lost interests, seeking something that sparks them to wake up to their own lives. It’s one of the biggest obstacles of growing up: discovering yourself through your passions. And who the hell knows what they're passionate about until they've tried it? How many would-be Speilbergs never held a camera? How many would-be Ronoldos never kicked a football?

It happens though - people luck into something they love. They discover a talent they want to grow and nurture. They figure out a small part of who they are in the world, and let me tell you, that is nothing short of extraordinary. But if you look hard enough you can spot them, these lucky souls. That actor that lets the role consume her. That artist that expands the notion of creativity. The teacher that opens up the universe to young minds. The janitor that beams with pride at the shine on the linoleum.

And then there’s you.

You found a pen and paper and spilled a few words onto a page and in doing so, you found joy. How lucky is that? How lucky is it that you’ve found something you love? Maybe you can make a career out of it and maybe you can’t. Who cares, though? You’ve found this and it’s yours.

With all the distractions and pressures of life, it’s easy to linger in your day-to-day existence, consumed by work, by reality television, by whatever, carrying on just to satisfy that power bill. But even if that still sounds like your life, you’ve got your writing. It’s that little corner of light in your life that you can run to and just let loose your passion and somehow, everything else becomes clearer. You become clearer.

If only everyone were fortunate enough to find their passion.

Lucky you.

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Author Photos Step-By-Step:The Comprehensive Guide

by Charlee Vale

Warning, this is going to be a long post. But hopefully at the end, you'll be informed and ready when it comes to taking author photos.

As writers, a lot of us are camera shy, and with the new age of Internet we almost never have to see anyone face to face anymore. But there will come a time when that publisher, that blogger, that publicist will ask for a photo of you, and you’ll be left scrambling to find a good one, or trying to take one yourself. Don’t scramble, think ahead! When the time comes and your book sells, and that lovely advance check comes in (or if you are self-publishing, set aside some marketing money), save some of the advance to get professional photos taken.

There’s a trend that I see happening a lot lately, and as a photographer it makes me want to cringe. There are a lot of people now who think that having a nice camera equals being a photographer. That isn’t the case. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people having nice cameras—heck, I’ll nerd out about cameras with you all day!—but having one doesn’t substitute the time, practice, and skill it takes to be a professional photographer.

A lot of people think getting photos is simple, quick, and easy. But there are many factors to think about, and you really should consider all of them if you want good photos. That's why I'm here.


A photographer who is skilled in taking individual portraits. Is fair, reasonable, and friendly. Has a working knowledge of professional editing software. Who hasn't been doing this for two days. If you see A.) Bad lighting B.) Bad composition C.) No editing D.) Bad reviews based on solid evidence, then that's probably not someone you want to hire.


I know that photography is expensive, but I promise you it is worth it. As an author, your author picture is your introduction to the world. It goes on every book, every interview, every brochure. This single picture is how the world will know your face. No pressure, right? So do yourself a favor, and start with step 1.

1. Research.
Don’t have your friend’s mom take your photos because she’ll do it for free. Do your research. Any photographer worth their salt will have a website that displays their work, and many of them have great photo packages you can take advantage of.  Plus, I bet there are more photographers in your area than you are aware of! (And I'm not talking about Sears and Wal-mart.)

2. Hair
It’s a general rule that you don’t want to get your hair cut or drastically colored the day before a photo shoot. Allow 1-2 weeks if you’re making a drastic change so that A.) You are comfortable with in B.) the harsh newness of cut/color fades a little.

3. Skin
The same rule applies to skin that applies to hair. Don’t start a drastically new skin regimen to ‘clean up your face’ a couple days before you go shooting. You don’t know how your skin will react, and you may end up making your skin look worse. If you are really concerned about your skin in photos, talk to your photographer about specifically retouching your skin. (And yes, they can do that.)

4. Clothes
You know when you wear an outfit that makes you look stunning and everybody complements it? That is, of course, how you want to look in your photo. So I have a quick list of rules to help when selecting your photo-shoot clothing. (Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, but do try to stick to the rules.)

  • NO All-black clothing. Yes, black can be slimming, but wearing all black in a photo also has the tendency to make you look like a floating bobble-head.

  • NO All-white clothing. Wearing completely white is generally a bad idea as it washes out skin tone. (On some people pastel colors have the same effect.)

  • Keep the patterns to a minimum. Wearing a lot of very loud, very busy prints and patterns confuses the picture and draws the eye away from the face. We want people to look at YOU!

  • Color! Color is good! Stick to the color families that make you look good, but when wearing color, don’t be afraid to go bright and bold!

  • Shape. Most author-shots are head or bust shots. You probably won’t see more of the author than their head and chest. So pick clothing that has interesting details and necklines to create some visual interest and shape in the picture.

  • Everything in moderation. Of course you can break these rules a little, For example, some people look great in white! These are things I’ve learned based personal experience shooting portraits.

5. Make-Up
When getting ready for your shoot, most people do their own make-up. (There are some photographers who collaborate with make-up artists, or do make-up themselves.) This is very important. DO NOT use any more make-up than you would use on a normal day. Many people think that MORE = BETTER when it comes to photos. I am of the opposite opinion. I think that a portrait should show who you are, not a face you paint on. And a truly skilled portrait photographer can make you look good no matter how much make-up you have on.

6. Jewelry
Jewelry is fun, but keep it tasteful and to a minimum. You don't want your bling outshining you and drawing focus.

Just a little while ago, I did a photo shoot with FTWA's very own R.C. Lewis. She's given me permission to debut one of her new author shots as a good example of what one should be! Isn't she pretty? (Also notice that it follows ALL the rules.)


Every profession has its own set of spoken and unspoken rules. So I’m going to let you in on a few things etiquette-wise that will make your shoot a much better experience. (AKA, you won’t become a client from hell.)

1. Bring friends! But ask first.
I know that it’s a lot of fun to bring friends along on a photo shoot. Sometimes it’s for comfort’s sake, and sometimes it’s just for fun. But ask the photographer first. If your photographer owns a small studio space, then he might say no based on the face that it gets crowded quickly. But if you’re shooting in Central Park, it could be no problem. So if you’re planning on bringing an entourage, just run it by them. (NOTE: This does not apply to instances when the person being photographed is under 18, in which case a parent or legal guardian should ALWAYS be present.)

2. Camera talk–not as sexy as pillow talk
If you want to ask about the photographer’s camera out of curiosity, go for it. But please (and I am begging you here) don't say anything along the lines of ‘Wow. Nice camera. No wonder you take good photos!’ ‘I think I have the same camera.’ Or ‘If I had a camera like that, could I charge as much as you do?’ Comments like this bug photographers because the tools of the trade don’t define talent. Think of it as complimenting a chef on what kind of stove they used to cook the meal.

3. Trust your photographer!
The reason you hired the photographer is so they can do what they do best—make you look good. Remember, they do this for a living. This may be your first photo shoot. If you have a couple of specific ideas you want to try, FIRE AWAY, seriously, we love collaborating. But dictating every pose exactly the way you want it is pretty much a guaranteed disaster. If you have doubt about how the photos are looking, ask to see some of them on the camera. This goes for your entourage as well—too many cooks in the kitchen make for bad pie.


Phew! Your photos are taken! But the work isn’t over yet!

1. The Release
The photographer is going to have you sign a photography release. This is necessary because of copyright law, and the weirdness of it. GET READY: You own your likeness, but the photographer owns the images. So he can’t use the photos of you without permission, and you can’t use or print the photos of you without permission. So a release is necessary. Basically—a release is a legal document stating what you and the photographer are each allowed to do with the photos. READ IT CAREFULLY, and if you are not happy with it, request that it be changed. But you MUST sign it. It isn’t hard to tell a professional photograph, and you won’t be allowed to print the pictures at any independent location without a signed release. If you have any questions about whether or not what you want to do with the photos is okay, contact the photographer! PLEASE BE CAREFUL. THIS IS WHERE LAWSUITS HAPPEN.

2. The Editing
Every photographer is different, but most include a specific number of edited photos with whichever package you choose, and then have a fee for editing more than that. This isn’t because we are money-grabbing. Editing WELL really does take a lot of time and meticulousness. If we were to do that with every photo we took of you, we’d be old and gray and only be making ten cents per hour. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ask the photographer ‘Can you just send me the pictures? You don’t even have to edit them!’ You think you’re doing us a favor, but you’re not. If you use photos that are unedited by us, (and by extension not approved by us) then there’s the potential our business could look bad and we’ll lose clientele. Trust me, we’d rather edit them.

3. Picking your photos
I know that looking at 200 copies of yourself can be daunting. But you must do it. This is where friends and the photographer can help you in choosing your final photos. Try to be objective. Just because you’re squeamish about looking at yourself doesn’t mean all the photos are bad. Buck up, get over it.

4. Deadlines
Some photographers have stated on their website how long it will take for them to get either proofs or finals back to you, others base it on your needs or their schedule. Both of these things are great, but once you set a date for getting the photos back, don’t expect to change it unless there is an ABSOLUTE emergency. I just recently had a client who told me she needed her photos a MONTH AFTER she actually needed them, and then proceeded to text and call me several times per day until I sent them. This is the fastest way to make a photographer hate you. We’ll honor our deadlines; just make sure the deadline is accurate beforehand.

I just threw a LOT of information at you. I understand that it's probably overwhelming. If you have any other questions, feel free to shoot them at me in the comments, and I'll be happy to answer.

Now a funny video that is too close to reality for its own good. Hopefully after reading this post it will make you laugh too.

Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Attending to Those You Love

By Matt Sinclair

How do you show your affections for those you love? How do you know when it’s enough?

I mean, it’s so easy to take for granted those we care about the most. A peck on the lips before bed just isn’t enough to say I love you. No matter how many bedtime stories I read, memory games I play, or tickles I dispense, the girls keep coming back for more. So do the cats, no matter how long I pet them. Are they starving for my attention as well as for their wet food?

What about the writers you love?

To me, when it comes to showering them with affection there’s the obvious and there’s the much more subtle. The obvious is buying their books. That’s kind of a no-brainer. From my perspective, I don’t care whether it’s an ebook or a print version, if I love a writer, I want a copy of their latest. There are some writers I follow on Facebook and on Twitter. I’ve even found myself smiling widely when an author responded to something I said on their Facebook page or thanked me for a comment on Twitter.

But I don’t think of these writers as starving for my attention. Well, perhaps it’s not my attention specifically, but attention? Stephen King aside, I suspect most of them would like a whole lot more.

Remember, I’m not saying they necessarily want specifically your or my attention per se (so put away the pup tent you were planning to stake into their front yard), but all of us – writers, readers, non-hermits – enjoy being appreciated. And if our appreciation and attention is enough to inspire others to check out a new writer’s work, they’ll appreciate us even more.

With that in mind, here’s a few writers whose work I currently love. Some you may have heard of, others might be less familiar. (And it should go without question that I love the work of my colleagues here at From the Write Angle.)

Christopher Moore. He's got a bunch of books out and is a New York Times bestselling author, but I just never get enough of his sense of humor. He’s one of those writers I’d love to interview.
John Connolly. His thrillers are intelligent and vivid, and his YA stuff is funny and often exquisitely written.
Robb Grindstaff. His debut novel Hannah’s Voice just came out a couple weeks ago. Brilliant, funny, and provocative are just a few of the words that come to mind. I’m looking forward to reading his next novel, scheduled to be released later this year. (To be clear, he’s also had a couple stories published by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. But I’d love his writing even if he never responded to my emails.)
Josh Braff. I’m not Jewish, but I find his tales of Jewish families very understandable and relatable. Maybe it’s the New Jersey settings and characters. I follow him on Facebook and he’s also a very talented photographer.
N.M. Kelby: To be honest, I’ve not read a lot of her work, but everything I’ve read I’ve loved. I need to read more. She draws interesting characters and makes Florida look like a lot of fun.

Care to show your favorites a little love? Please share in the comments.

And from all of us at From the Write Angle, Happy Valentine’s Day. We truly love and appreciate our readers.

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published its latest anthology, The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, which is available via Amazon and Smashwords. Earlier in 2012, EBP published its initial anthology, Spring Fevers, which is available through SmashwordsAmazon, and in print via CreateSpace. Both anthologies include stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette; R.C. Lewis and Jean Oram also have stories in The Fall. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68

Monday, February 11, 2013

Do or Diorama: Visualizing Your Novel

by Cat Woods

I love museums. As a kid, I would sit for hours in front of the dioramas, wishing glass didn't separate me from the world in miniature. I had a special affinity for Native American scenes and those depicting the pioneer days. Often, I would fantasize about slipping into those worlds and getting lost in another place and time.

I suspect that's why many people read novels today. While reading, we can slip away from homework, dirty dishes and nagging family into a world where teens spin the tapestry of life.

But only if the author does a stellar job of painting that new reality, as Gennifer Albin did in Crewel.

Over the past week, my Middle Son was assigned a science project. He had to create a diorama of the coral reef. This is the fruit of his labors.

His fifth grade translation is enough for us to picture this underwater world with some degree of accuracy.

  • Sand? Check.
  • Giant clam? Check. (Double check for the pearl found inside.)
  • Coral? Straight from the Dominican Republic.
  • Sea anemone? Not one, but two.
  • Seaweed, algae, jelly fish? Check, check and check.
In a similar way, my favorite novels can be seen as dioramas.

  • The Hunger Games would have milk carton shacks with dryer lint covering everything like a fine coating of coal. On the back wall, a fence would separate the dreary gray from the vivid forest beyond. Like her or not, nobody can dispute the amazing storytelling capabilities of Suzanne Collins.
  • A.G. Howard's Splintered would utilize flamboyant colors interspersed with dark shadows. Wonderland in all its splendid--and contrasting--glory. And bugs. Lots o' bugs.
  • Unwind by Neil Schusterman becomes a graveyard of broken planes, while Sarah Darer Littman's Want to go Private? is a blank computer screen. Deep, dark and terrifying.
A good novel will have a distinct setting. While this doesn't mean unique-made-up-100%-from-scratch, it does call for enough detail to let readers visualize exactly where they are and what the world looks like.

Even a contemporary novel told within the confines of a school should have defining characteristics. A little extra something to set it apart from every other school in the world. Think Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. His school has 30 floors--one floor per classroom. Simple, yet effective.

However, without a connection to scene, readers can feel ungrounded. As if the story isn't quite real because it has no place to live. A poorly developed setting would be a bit like finding a giant clam on the Oregon Trail--too unreliable to trust.

All this got me thinking: what about my own novels? What would my dioramas look like?

What about yours? How much diorama potential does your novel have?

As a mother of four and an ex-preschool teacher, Cat Woods can turn the simplest objects into creative works of art--a trait she obviously passed down to her children. When she's not helping with homework or visualizing her newest writing project, she blogs at Words from the Woods. Her short stories can be found Spring Fevers and The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Things I Learned About Writing From Actors

by Brighton Luke

In addition to this whole novel thing, I also write screenplays, and was in New York this past summer directing a film I wrote, American Dreamsicle. One of the things that struck me was in talking with the actors about their characters, I realized a few things I could take back to my writing.

One of the actors who originally had been considered for Troy, the lead male character, asked if he could be considered for a supporting character, Mercer. At first I was surprised, because I myself am not an actor and I had wrongly assumed that when given the chance people would always go for the lead. He told me that he preferred the Mercer role because the character was really interesting and more of a challenge.

Looking back on it, I did a better job writing Mercer than I did Troy. He was more complex and thought-out, he was driving the plot even when he wasn’t on screen. He may even actually be the main character despite his far fewer minutes on screen. (I know, super embarrassing when you get who your main character is wrong.) As a writer for the screen it is obvious to say: write characters that actors will get excited to play, characters they will fight over to get cast as. I think it’s also an interesting way to think about writing characters in a novel as well, even if no actor will ever portray them. Think of a really kick-ass actor or actress you like and think: would they sign on to play this character? Because if it’s not a role that an actor would get excited about portraying, then chances are a reader isn’t going to find them all that compelling either.

Another thing I learned from the actors about character was about choices. It is so easy while writing to focus only on the big choices, the ones that really drive the plot. Will this character call the cops and report their friend, or will they help them cover up the crime? Big choice. And also a choice already made by the time the actor gets to it. For them the choices they get to make are smaller, choices about how they move, and subtleties in their interactions with others. They add up to a lot, and are something that when writing a novel you as the writer need to be making. I’ve had instances where it’s easy to get pulled into making choices for the character to serve the plot without thinking of what about that character’s personality would actually drive that choice.

The actors were always concerned with what their character’s motivation was, for freaking everything! (Which near the end of a 12-hour day I was tempted to say: because the script tells you to.) I remember one afternoon we were shooting on the pier at Coney Island. While waiting for a problem with the audio to be resolved, I was talking to the actors about the scene we were shooting, where these two characters who are best friends are having their last poignant moment before all hell breaks lose, and it was really important to establish the powerful brother/sister nature of their friendship.

In the script it simply has them walking back down the pier after their conversation, but Sarah Jean, the actress in the scene, suggested that right before they turn to leave they do this little finger touch thing, which is just this one second gesture, that could be so easily left out and not thought of, but it completely pulls the whole scene together and establishes their relationship so much better than any dialogue could. She arrived at that choice by looking back into her character and really thinking what would she do in this moment, not just doing what is convenient. The plot didn't need that action, but is enhanced by it. It’s those little details that enrich the story and make the characters more authentic, because it arises out of who they are.

So going back into novel writing those are some things I’ve taken with me. Write actor-bait characters, and try to look at choices from your character’s point-of-view, not just from a plotting standpoint.

Brighton Luke is a novelist, filmmaker, and purveyor of all things awesome. You can find Brighton (being forced to be much more concise) on Twitter @BrightonAwesome, and at

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tips for Going Clubbing—Book Clubbing That Is

by Sophie Perinot

The first book club I visited.
You never forget your first.
As an author you will have the opportunity to do a number of types of speaking engagements. In the eleven months since the launch of my debut novel, I’ve done book talks, author panels at book festivals, and even a college lecture. All of these were fun and every one of them was a promotional opportunity. But when it comes to sheer bookselling power the grand champion of the author speaking engagement is almost certainly the book club visit.

Once you publish a book you will begin to dream about book clubs. No, literally. Ask my husband—I dream about book clubs. Not stress dreams. Not standing up at a lectern and realizing you’ve forgotten your pants dreams. Nope, book club dreams are the kind of dreams you wake up from feeling warm and fuzzy. I mean do the math—every book club is a chance to make ten, maybe even twenty sales upfront. Make a positive impression during your visit with club members and that dozen copies is just the tip of the book sales iceberg because enthusiastic readers talk. They tell their friends about your book, they pass a promotional postcard for your novel along to someone at work who they know is a member of a different book club and tell her, “This author does Skype visits and she is fantastic.”

So what are the secrets to being a good book club invitee? In searching for a summary of my personal approach to book club visits a quote from Shakespeare in Love popped into my head. In that movie Lord Wessex (boo), instructing Lady Viola with respect to her upcoming audience with Queen Elizabeth, says:

"Be submissive, modest, grateful and brief"

Exactly! I would just add the Boy Scout motto on to the end of that—“be prepared.”

Be submissive—in the “amenable” sense of the word. Being amenable means being, “ready or willing to answer, act, agree, or yield; open to influence.” Attending a book club is different than standing at the front of a room and giving a speech. As a book club guest you are part of a dialogue. You need to be willing to answer questions. You need to LISTEN not just talk. Be open to the comments of members; yield the floor. Let what you are hearing from the readers affect the presentation you’ve planned. A person who feels truly listened to feels valued. And that is precisely how you want readers to feel.

Be modest. Yes you are an honored guest and even—and let me tell you it is SO weird to experience this—a minor celebrity when you show up for a book club meeting (or pop up on the host’s computer screen). At the most spectacular club I’ve attended thus far the hostess had the event catered and made little hand tied bouquets of lavender for all the attendees to commemorate the fact that my heroines come from Provence. But if you let your status as guest-of-honor go to your head and start to act like a “C”elebrity then you risk losing points and readers. You want to be remembered as the author club members connected with on a personal level. Personal connections—in addition to being tremendously fulfilling, and I think talking to readers is absolutely the single best part of this writing gig—sell books. It’s called word-of-mouth, folks, and it is the most powerful book-selling tool on earth.

Be grateful. Look out at the club members. In a market absolutely swamped with product, every single soul present (well, except for the couple who borrowed library copies) bought your book. They read it. They are the audience you’ve pined for since first you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Thank them. Thank them for reading your novel. Thank them for sharing their thoughts about it. Thank them, in advance (and while gently nudging), for reviewing it on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank your hostess for arranging things. If you are attending the club in person, say something nice about the food. But be sincere or don’t bother. Obsequiousness is a real turn off. Be a genuine and polite guest, not an ingratiating flatterer.

Be brief, because to quote the real Shakespeare, “brevity is the soul of wit.” You should be prepared to make some sort of presentation (see my next point) but keep it short because the real heart and soul of a book club meeting is the discussion of the book. Yes, the club invited you because they want to hear you speak, but better to leave them wanting more than to render them drowsy and eager to make an escape.

Be prepared. In spite of everything I’ve said above about being a listener you were, in fact, invited to speak. Book clubs invite authors because an author visit offers value added. The club members are perfectly capable of discussing your book without you. They want you in the room for the thrill of getting inside information. You need to give them something the average reader doesn’t get. You get to decide what that something is. Start by thinking about what you’d want to know about a favorite author or a favorite book. Or perhaps by thinking in terms of what “enhanced features” might be included if your book were a DVD.

Here are some suggestions for adding value to your visit: Go biographical, offering up facts about your past or present. For example, in the Metro DC area where I live many women have transitioned from high-powered careers to being at home and back again, so I often speak about my own struggles with those adjustments. Offer a peek into your creative process. I like to tell readers about the scene in my novel that I wrote first, sharing the story of where I was when the voices came to me. Flesh out the meat of your story. This is particularly interesting to readers if, like me, you write historical fiction. I often talk about the history behind my story, particularly about common misconceptions about historical women. For those who write other genres, consider sharing a scene that ended up on the editing room floor.

Those are my personal clubbing tips. Do you have any you’d like to share in return?

Sophie Perinot is the author of THE SISTER QUEENS, the story of a pair of 13th century sisters who became the queens of England and France. Currently she is holed up in the 16th century working on a novel set in Valois France. You can learn more about Sophie and her work here. And YES she would love to visit with your book club!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Opera Disease

by Jemi Fraser

My dad was a straight-shooter. If you did something he was proud of, you knew it. If you ticked him off, you knew that too. He didn't pull a lot of punches - ever.

One day he grumbled about someone having the Opera Disease. When I asked him what it was, he asked me if I'd ever heard an opera singer warm up. Um. No.

He said when they warm up they sing, "Mi, Mi, Mi, MI!"

It took me a few seconds - come on, I was a kid! - before I realized what he meant. Me, Me, Me, ME!

In the Twitterverse lately, I've come across a few folks inflicted with this hideous disease. You know the ones:
  • every tweet screams Buy My Book! Look at Me!
  • they never talk about anyone else
  • they don't have real conversations
  • they tweet their own links continuously
  • they unfollow you a week or two after they follow you so they look important ... at least to themselves
Thankfully the Opera Disease isn't contagious and, if you take sensible precautions, you won't be infected.

Have you seen any breakouts of this terrifying disease in your Twitter travels?

Jemi Fraser is an aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets (responsibly) while searching for those HEAs.