Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blogs - What Are They Good For?

by Mindy McGinnis

And I apologize to everyone who now has Edwin Starr stuck in their heads. I also apologize to Edwin Starr for yet another horrific Edwin Starr ripoff.

But to answer the question - what are blogs good for? Hell, I don't know.

Not only do I post six days a week on my personal blog - Writer, Writer, Pants On Fire - but I also contribute to six group blogs. Yes six. Our own From the Write Angle, as well as Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersThe Lucky 13sClass of 2k13 and The League of Extraordinary Writers. Last fall I had the experience of having an aspiring writer who doesn't blog say to me, "You're using all your time for blogging and not actually writing."

Which is kind of funny, really, since she has absolutely no idea how much time I spend (or don't spend) writing. 

I blog because I like to. I think that's the step that a lot of people are missing. I read a lot about blog burnout (it happens) as well as the burning question of whether blogs are a form of social media that actually help to sell our books.

But here's the thing - even if you could tell me for a fact that blogging will sell ZERO copies of NOT A DROP TO DRINK, I'd probably keep doing it anyway. There are more than enough words rattling around inside my skull to fill up monthly posts on group blogs, daily posts on Writer, Writer, plus a couple of short stories and at least one novel a year. 

People ask me fairly often what my secret is. How do I find the time to do all this blogging?

I don't find the time - I make it. I make it the way anyone with hobbies makes the time to read, scrapbook, knit, or play the piano. My secret is that I actually like to do this.

But I won't mind if you buy my book, either. 

If you're thinking about jumping into the blogging world, or would like to revitalize your blog and / or your love for it, check out some of these articles below.

Do Authors Need A Blog? - Irene Watson
Do Author Blogs Sell Books? - Nathan Bransford
Does Blogging Really Help Sell Books? - Jody Hedlund
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.

Monday, May 27, 2013


by S. L. Duncan

This weekend I got to speak at my first Nerd Con (I say that with affection) in my official capacity as an author. To say that attending the Alabama Phoenix Festival was an amazing, brilliant experience would be understating the sheer awesomeness of the event.

Asked as the only agented and traditionally published author to speak on several panels for the SciFi and Fantasy Literature Track, I had the pleasure to participate in engaging the audience alongside some fantastic independent talents, including M. B. Weston, Teal Haviland, Amy Leigh Stickland, and Christal Mosley.

What I learned from these authors, which I think is applicable to all authors, traditional or indie or self, is what a fantastic resource these conventions can be for expanding your readership.

Since I’m still a year and change out from publication, I didn’t have anything to sell. They did, though. And let me tell you, they sold. More importantly, their readership expanded. Not necessarily because they were able to put books in hands (though it helped, I’m sure), but probably more because they were able to meet and greet actual readers who shared interest in these author’s genres and subjects.

So let’s break down why you, as an author, should check out the next convention in your neck of the woods.

THE BUSINESS – You sell books. I mean, that’s kinda the point of all this, isn’t it?

THE OBVIOUS – You get to meet the people who are interested in reading your stuff. A good book gets word of mouth. But make a good impression on the reader personally when you meet them and they’ll tell everyone that they know just how cool you are. You know what people do for authors they like? See above.

THE NETWORKING – You’ll meet other authors. Get to know them. Don’t be a prick. Following that bit of advice might score you a guest post on those authors’ blogs. Or an interview. Or Tweets about your book. Or facebook posts about you. See what I’m getting at? Audience sharing. They’re not shouting into a void. They’re telling their readers. Besides the back-scratching aspect of networking with other like-minded authors at a convention or conference, it’s just plain fun.

BUY LOCAL – This may not apply to all conventions, depending on where you live, but if you’re attending a con that takes place in your community, your attending neighbors will likely take special interest. Everyone likes it when someone from his or her town/city/hole in the ground does well.

There are all sorts of conventions out there – romance, crime, thriller, SciFi / fantasy, horror – you name it, and it probably exists. If you know of one, reach out. Tell them you’re an author. You might find it to be just as beneficial to your career as it is fun.

Just prepare for complete exhaustion when it’s over.

So. What’s your local con that might be appropriate for your work?

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 and on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Marketing Toolbox: Ebook Cards

by J. Lea López

Whether you're traditionally published by a big house, indie published with a smaller press, or self published, we all have to play the marketing game. So tell me: have you figured out how to hand-sell ebooks yet?

If you're scratching your head, you're probably not alone. I first heard of ebook cards a year or so ago from author Cheri Lasota. Now that I'm embarking on my own self-publishing journey, I've been looking into how this works a little bit more. Lucky you! Here's what I've learned.

The Basics

An ebook card (or ebook gift card) is a plastic card that can vary in size. The design can include things like your cover image, QR codes, a small blurb, your web site, and so on. Each card has a unique PIN for the reader to enter on the distributor's web site in order to access the book. That's really about it. Think about how you can buy a song or a whole album by picking up one of those plastic cards at the store. This is the same thing for ebooks.

Okay, but how does it actually WORK?

A reader buys the ebook card, either from you directly (at a conference or signing, for example) or from a retailer. They take it home, go to the distributor's web site - Cheri's e-publisher partnered with Greenerside Digital, but other such companies include Enthrill and Livrada - and redeem their code. Sometimes this will mean creating an account on the distributor's site, but other times it requires little more than an email and the PIN from the card. Greenerside Digital also offers a secure download widget so customers can redeem their code right from your web site.

With Livrada, the customer will be redirected to Amazon or Barnes & Noble based on the ereader they own. From there they will be able to have their ebook delivered wirelessly to their reader. With other ebook card companies, the customer will have to load the ebook to their reader themselves, through USB connection or email.

Give me one good reason...

Ebook cards have a lot of potential uses and benefits. The most obvious is being able to reach digital customers in a physical retail space. Here are some other scenarios:
  • Instant gratification for fans at a signing or in-person event who want to buy your book, but whose preferred medium is digital rather than print (yes, those people are out there, even if you aren't one of them!)
  • Where you might usually drop a few business cards or bookmarks as a marketing tool, try dropping a handful of ebook cards for curious folks to download a short story or two. It may be a little more expensive than giving away bookmarks, but maybe it will be more effective, too.
  • You can set up ebook cards to hold more than one book/file so you and the customer get maximum bang for your buck.
  • While a small or independent bookstore may be reluctant to stock a book by a relative unknown and unproven talent, they could be more open to selling your ebook cards. A small easel stand near the register takes up less space, and you could offer a no-risk consignment deal.
  • Ebook card companies will also sell batches of PINs, sans cards, for use in online promotions, newsletters, etc.
What's the catch?

Probably the biggest question mark here is cost effectiveness. Prices vary widely. For instance, 500 wallet cards from Livrada will cost you $599. I don't know what, if anything, that includes beyond the printing of the cards themselves and setting up the logistics of your digital files and PINs. On the other hand, Greenerside Digital offers a range of sizes and thicknesses for you to choose from. Cards roughly the same size as Livrada's wallet cards will cost you less than $300 for 500 cards.

Depending how the cost of the cards works out for you, and how much you would sell them for, your profit margin could vary greatly. I think they would be more cost effective for book bundles that have a higher price point, since you could sell your series of six ebooks on one card for a higher retail price, but with the same production cost as ebook cards for a single title.

What do you think? Have you used ebook cards? Would you give them a try? And what do you think are the benefits or limitations of this media?

J. Lea López is a shy, introverted writer with a secret world of snark and naughtiness inside her head. She writes character-driven erotica and contemporary new adult stories. Her first novel will be available soon, and her short story collection, Consenting Adults, is available as a free download now. She'd love to tweet with you.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Don't Underestimate the Power of the Snail: paper submissions are not dead yet

by Cat Woods

While scientists debate the merit of resurrecting woolly mammoths, T-Rexes and Tasmanian tigers, one animal is still thriving: the snail. Or more specifically, snail mail.

Paper submissions are not dead, yet I've heard writers flat out dismiss them as an option when considering which agents/editors to submit to. That's great news for the authors who lovingly send their babies off in a cocoon of envelopes and stamps. It means less competition.

Beyond that, snail submissions have other compelling benefits.
  1. E-queries and copy and pasted sample pages do not have the professional appearance required in a dead tree submission. Writing paper submissions is good practice--especially if an agent/editor requests a full or partial, as these are often sent via the almighty snail. Also, being able to craft a business letter is a life skill. Why not learn it now?
  2. Dude, you're missing out. Seriously, of the twelve publishers I'm looking at for a project, six of them require snail submissions. And these aren't shabby or lazy publishers who refuse to "get with the times" and go digital. They are reputable companies who put out some of the most beloved books on your bookshelves. By ignoring them, you drastically reduce the number of submissions you can send.
  3. No spam. Yeah, you heard me. Snails don't eat spam. When you paste on a stamp and send your baby out the door, it gets to its destination. Not to mention, email did not invent read-receipts. There are these handy little things called postcards that you can send with your dead tree pages. Self address that, stick a stamp in the corner and all the agent/editor has to do is pop it in the mail. Viola. Receipt acknowledged.
  4. No fretting about format. If you italicized something, it will hit the reader italicized. Or bolded or underlined or blue or green. The format you print it in is the same one it will arrive in. The email gremlins will not have the opportunity to mess with your letter and leave odd spaces and unwanted indentations behind.
Yes, it costs money. But I personally find more satisfaction in sending out a crisp, professional package than an untidy looking email. If that makes me old fashioned then so be it. I guess the scientists can clone me someday.
In the meantime, follow these tips for the perfect snail letter.
  • Use a header with your contact info
  • Like all business letters, type the info of the agent/publisher on the left
  • Follow your agent/editor's name with a colon (:) not a comma (,)
  • Date it. Yep, email takes this step out of the equation, but you need to put it back in for paper copies.
  • Complete the body--typo free
  • And do not forget to sign your name. This step is often missed by snail mail virgins because we have such little opportunity to actually sign our names anymore.
How do you feel about snail mail submissions? Have you tried it, or do you refuse to think about it? Some people believe snail submissions receive a lower response rate. If you've got hard data on that to share, we would appreciate it.
Cat writes by day and wrangles snails by night. Her cyber endeavors include blogging here and at Words from the Woods, moderating at AgentQuery Connect and rating books on GoodReads. Most recently, her short stories have been published in Spring Fevers and The Fall, with another one coming out in one of the Summer's Edge anthologies.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Value of Taking Your Time

by Charlee Vale

This post will be short and sweet.

With the age of the internet and the increasing popularity of self-publishing, I often see young or new writers obsessed with speed and 'wanting to get their book out there.' Believe me, I understand the sentiment—but I think a lot of the time, especially in recent months, writers have forgotten about the advantage of being unpublished.

Right now you're probably thinking 'There's an advantage to being unpublished? Is she crazy?' But I'm not crazy; right now, you have all the time in the world. You don't have an agent waiting to see a revision. You don't have an editor waiting for you on deadline. You don't have a date that your agent would like to go on submission by. So why not take the time and freedom you have to get it right?

Whether you choose self-pub or traditional, the time before your words hit the world is the time you have to learn and grow at your own pace. Once you enter into the realm of publishing, you don't hold the reins anymore, so take your time! Take classes, write terrible books, write multiple books, and don't be afraid to mess up—because this is the time when you can.

You have the time right now, to write the best book you possibly can on your terms. Don't waste it. John Green's The Fault in Our Stars essentially took him ten years to write—and I'm so glad that he took his time.


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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Oh, No! Then What Happened?

By Matt Sinclair

The other day, I saw a question from a writer who was asking if it was ok if the tension in his story wasn’t all that intense. I’ve not read his story, so I don’t know if 95 percent of it is an action-packed adventure and he was concerned about that remaining 5 percent. I don’t know if it’s a cerebral thriller that traps readers in mental zigzags of seemingly contradictory paths that turn out to make perfect sense in the end. I don’t know if it’s a tale about a baby kangaroo whose best friend got in trouble and went to bed without any supper.

But one thing I’m fairly certain about: if a reader gets bored, no matter how well you write, you’re at risk of losing a reader. At a certain level, writing is a symbiotic relationship with readers. A writer needs a reader. Without a reader, the writer gets stale and dies, unknown and unremembered. Not forgotten, mind you, because no one ever knew about me…er, the writer… in the first place. The relationship goes both ways: a reader needs a writer. Sure, a voracious reader can probably be sustained by dry technical manuals and watching rabbits eat the grass in the back yard -- at least for a little while -- but most readers need meatier stuff.

We writers sometimes play hard to get. We talk about how we write for ourselves and don’t care if our books sell -- if we ever write a complete book much less get it published. But secretly we all want to have some recognition that our perspective is at least moderately interesting. It’s not about the art of writing, it’s about communication, having a voice, being acknowledged for existing.

Tension in a story isn’t about violence or death, it’s about characters having a skin in the game. If your main character walks away from the central conflict of the story and never returns, then we’re following the wrong character. “But,” you argue, “the central conflict is what’s going on in that character’s mind.” Maybe so. Show me. But, God forbid, don’t bore me.

You see, I only have so many minutes in the day to read, and right now, I’ve got a four-year-old who wants one more rendition of the trouble that ensued when Elmo was delivering a stinkweed plant to Oscar. A barber was caught off guard by Elmo’s sneeze and buzzed a reverse Mohawk along a customer’s scalp. His sneezing caused a monster-built brick wall to collapse; so did the cans Bert was stacking in the store where he works. I think there’s an untold story about circus elephants running amok in avenues near Sesame Street.

Tension. We learn its value at an early age. We remember it and learn from it. Use it copiously.

That reminds me, did you know that only a couple blocks from Mr. Hooper’s store, there’s a blue-skinned guy in a trench coat selling counterfeit ‘O’s?...

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which published The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, which is available via Amazon and Smashwords. Earlier in 2012, EBP published its initial anthology, Spring Fevers, which also is available through Smashwords, and Amazon. 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. Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge will be published in the summer of 2013. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Query to Manuscript: "It's Not Me—It's You"

by R.C. Lewis

I've been reflecting back on the querying trenches lately. Specifically, I've been thinking about the query for my first manuscript. Like most everyone else, my first try at query-writing was accompanied by a lot of hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing. How am I supposed to fit all this in? How will this make sense if I don't explain all the background?

(A word of hope: I actually got to the point where I kind of enjoy writing queries now. I even wrote a fake one for my current WIP before I started just to zone in on things.)

With that first manuscript, I hammered out a decent query over on the AgentQuery Connect forums. More experienced writers gave their nod of approval and said, "Let that bird fly and see what happens."

A lot of nothing happened.

I went back to the drawing board, started from scratch, and wrote an even better query. Punchier, more compelling, with my MC coming through much more clearly. Again, the nods of approval. Again, I sent it out to see what happened.

Lots of requests happened. I think at one point I had seven fulls out at the same time.

All came back as rejections.

A couple of years and several novels later, I've realized something. My query was trying to tell me something that whole time. The biggest problem was always pinning down the conflict in a compelling way, one that made an agent say, "Ooh, gotta read that and see how it plays out." Even with the query that had some success, I think it was due to presenting interesting characters and an interesting premise. The conflict was in a supporting role.

That's how it was in the manuscript, too. Really, the conflict sucked.

Okay, it wasn't super-terrible. It wasn't even something the rejecting agents called me out on. (Rather, it was the victim of lots of "I just didn't love it enough.") But it wasn't strong and decisive and focused. My plot was half-heartedly slapping when it should've been punching through cinderblocks. I couldn't pin down the central conflict in my query because my novel didn't entirely have one.

No query—no matter how brilliant—could save me from the issues in the manuscript.

This won't always be the case. Sometimes you struggle to write a query because it's just a new skill you haven't mastered yet. Sometimes a query fails on its own merits, while the manuscript is stellar. (In which case, retool the query.) Sometimes a manuscript gets rejected for purely subjective reasons that only mean you haven't found the right agent (or the right time) for that project.

But if you're having a hard time writing your query, allow for the possibility that the problem is in the story itself, not the modern torture we term "query-writing." Listen to the feedback you get on your query and ask yourself, "Is that because I handled it poorly here in the query, or because the fundamental root within the story is problematic?"

It's frustrating to think you're done with a novel, ready to embark on querying, only to discover you need to go back into major revisions. Maybe even a total rewrite. But sometimes it has to be done, and we end up with a better story—and better experience—for it.

Has your query ever tried to tell you what's wrong with the manuscript? How were you able to tell the difference between query-problems and novel-problems?

R.C. Lewis teaches math to teenagers—sometimes in sign language, sometimes not—so whether she's a science geek or a bookworm depends on when you look. That may explain why her characters don't like to be pigeonholed. Coincidentally, R.C. enjoys reading about quantum physics and the identity issues of photons. You can find her on Twitter (@RC_Lewis) and at Crossing the Helix.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dream a Little Dreamlet

by Jemi Fraser

If you're reading this, you have a dream. At one point it started out as a little dream - a dreamlet if you will. Cute, cuddly, soft, sweet. But...

Like all other living things, dreams have a growth cycle.

Yours might be in the diaper stage - in constant need of an overwhelming amount of care and attention. As a first time caregiver of a dreamlet, you're unsure of the steps and worry you'll never be good enough. The learning curve is steep but when things go well, there's nothing better in the whole world.

Soon your little dreamlet is taking those first steps and you're creating that incredible first manuscript that will fill you with wonder and joy as those steps combine to create a whole.

After a while, your dream is filled with confidence and joy and making friends of its own. You've found other caregivers (I highly recommend Agent Query Connect for this!) and you are learning how to take care of their dreams as well.

Then your dream hits those unruly adolescent times and starts to rebel. You've learned enough as a caregiver to realize how amazingly little you know. You try to enforce curfews and rules but your dream laughs in your face. Control me? I don't need control! You think you know what I need? Think again.


But don't give up! You're so close to having your little treasure out in the world. You need to learn new strategies, integrate what you've learned with new techniques, polish, shine, trim, tweak, change, rework and rework again while you talk to other dreamers to see how they nudge their dreams out into the world.

I know sometimes those little dreams can be nightmares (mine is currently giving me the same heebie jeebies I got reading my first Stephen King novel), but if you want that dreamlet to achieve its full potential (really deep down want it!), then don't give up. Keep learning. Keep loving it, nurturing it and inching it towards independence.

And when your dream is standing proudly on its own, reaping its own glory, stand back and let the moment fill you with joy. But don't stand for long - another dreamlet is waiting.

So, what stage is your little dreamlet at?

Jemi Fraser is a dream wrangler and aspiring author of contemporary romance. She blogs and tweets while searching for those HEAs and encouraging her dreamlets to mature.