Category Archives: Writing

Help! I’m a Writer

So often people describe writing as a solitary endeavor. I have never agreed with this. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If a writer’s life is a solitary one, then it is by choice.

By design, writers are surrounded by others who are not only interested in their work, but eager for it. The world is filled with writers who crave support and encouragement. What they do [write] is for the masses. The stories and books are intended to be read and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of readers.

All that said, as writers, we also tend to let our insecurities get the better of us. We make our existence solitary by sequestering ourselves to avoid the shame of rejection. We are, also by design, a neurotic bunch.

In most cases, this does more harm than good. When we shut ourselves off from our peers, we miss out on many opportunities as well as crucial education that can possibly make us better writers and more successful authors.

We constantly hear about the value and importance of critique groups. Of course they have their place, but what about support. This is a whole different can of beans. Support, in my opinion, is far more important than the critique group, because if you don’t feel good about what you do, you probably can’t do it good…well.

Bottom line, before you tuck yourself away in your office, alcove, or other small hidey hole to become the next great American novel, find a few friendly writers you can spend a little time with and get things off your chest. Make sure that you can all talk shop, talk gardening, talk whatever you want, even bitching about the family.

I firmly believe whining is a necessity in life, as long as it has a specific purpose and is done in a specific environment.  😛

The Freedom to Type

Warning: This is a Rant.

So, I belong to numerous Yahoo groups that focus on various things. Some of them are just for fun, others I rely on for networking, industry news, and learning. Recently I have discovered that on a couple of them that claim to be for industry professionals, those professionals don’t seem to be able to stay on topic, focus, or acknowledge that someone other than them could know something. There are four in specific that I will not name.

So the first one is a genre group for readers. However, if you are an author and a reader you are not allowed to mention your books or the books of anyone you know personally as it is considered promoting and that is against the rules on the group. Um…WTF? When you go into a readers group and you talk about the books you are reading, you are pretty much promoting that book…just make sure it isn’t anyone you know or you are gonna get yelled at…every time!

The next one is a group for authors to learn about industry news and writing opportunities. However, if you are a publisher, you are not allowed to mention or promote your own company because it is considered biased and is not productive for the other members.

The third group is supposed to be an industry discussion group on a certain aspect of the industry. However, most of the people on this group lurk, another big portion use the group as a place to market their own work, and another large portion only post when they have something to argue about, which seems to be frequently. Now, this is the group I wanted to be most active on because the topic is very important to me. Problem is, my notes only seem to get through every so often. I recently posted something that could have been very helpful to almost everyone in the group at some point, and it managed to incorporate the actual topic that is supposed to be the focus of the group. Why was I censored? I have no idea.

The fourth group, my personal favorite, is a group that focuses on a specific item. However, you can only discuss that item if you don’t mention your direct connection to that item, the connection of anyone you know to that  item, or your actual opinions on that item. This is NOT a moderated group so all the notes go up, but there are people who are moderators who go through and if they think you have stepped over a line they delete the text of your post. I recently had every single thing I posted censored. When I asked why, I was told that it’s because I was blatantly promoting myself. When I explained that I had not written any of the books I had mentioned, I was told that they knew I had published 3 of the 10 books I posted about. Okay…still not my books. I was then told that I had a personal stake in those three books and I was not allowed to post about anything I had a stake in. Huh?

So my question is, why the hell do people start groups where you aren’t allowed to talk about anything that is of any value or relevance to the topic of the group?

That said, I have opened a new forum for authors, publishers, publicists. It is meant to be a place where authors gan go to brainstorm marketing, network, and give and get ideas and help wit marketing books. It is not a readers group, it is not a device group, it is not a genre group. The only rules are that there is no discussion of religion or politics (not the place and it always ends badly) and no flaming of fellow forum members. Simple enough.

If you fit into one of the three categories, feel free to join us. I would love to actually talk about marketing in an open forum. Marketing Masters:

No, I Won’t Promote Your Site

How sad is that comment? As an author, I spend a fair amount of time searching the web for places to promote my books. I search and search, and search, and I find some. Lately, I have been finding some very cool and clever sites, but I won’t promote them or use them. Why not you ask?

My honest answer is snobbery–theirs, not mine.

There seems to be a rise in the number of promotional sites that will not promote your books unless you have a certain number of 5 star reviews. Really? Personally, I find this ridiculous, unfair, and discriminatory. It’s like saying that beautiful girls who are overweight cannot enter beauty pageants. What about this do I find so wrong? A few things.

1. If a book has 20 5-star reviews, it is already obviously doing pretty good and people are finding it and liking it. Yea, for them. If a book has no reviews, does that mean it is a bad book? Hell no! It could mean that no matter how many hundreds of FREE books the author sent out for review, the people who promised to post reviews have not bothered to back up their lip service to get the free books. And even the reviewers who said they MIGHT review never bothered (despite the fact that they have reviewed every Patterson, Grisham, blah blah blah books–even the reissues!).

2. By promoting only those books that have those reviews, these sites are taking away much-needed opportunities for possibly wonderful authors. The already known authors get the prime space and the other (not good enough) authors have no place to promote their books so they can become well-known and well-read. Kinda like collecting food and giving it to the millionaires who can afford to buy their own food, instead of feeding the less fortunate.

3. For me, this smacks of discrimination. By saying you are only going to promote the “Good” people, you are alienating the “Not good enough” people and systematically playing a crucial role in crushing their efforts to succeed.

Go get reviews and come back, you say? Where the hell do you propose we get those reviews when reviewers only want to review books by well-known authors and authors whose books they see promoted all over the place who already have good reviews?

Give away more free books so we don’t make enough money to actually offer to pay for the ad spots that we will be rejected for because we haven’t sold enough books to get more reviews?

This is really beginning to piss me off. I get so angry when I am referred to some promo site with high praise, only to discover that  I am not “good enough” to PAY THEM to help me promote my book. Really? Guess what, not only will I NOT promote your site to other readers, but I will whine and complain about your cruel and humiliating rejections and discrimination of me and my wonderfully talented and still un-reviewed fellow authors.

Too bad people have forgotten the golden rule. Some day you may need something from me…how will I react? hmmm

When publishing goes wrong…Starring Undead Press

When publishing goes wrong…Starring Undead Press.

This is a cautionary tale that should be seen by all. No publisher is perfect, but this goes beyond the lack of human decency.

Scattergun Promotions (Guest Blog with Bev. Cooke)

…Not the best choice

Everybody tells you to promote – you have to get your name out there, make sure the entire world knows who you are, that you’ve got zillions of followers on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook and a Klout number in the high 80s.

If you’re not careful, you can spend all your time promoting and have nothing to show for it, including new and better writing. What most experts propose is a “scattergun” approach: throw a lot of stuff around all over the place and you’re bound to hit something. But is that the best way to get your name out there? Probably not, especially when you’re writing for kids.

You have to be careful about how and where and what you promote. Targeting carefully, planning ahead and looking to the long term are probably better strategies than simply putting yourself all over the place.

Ask yourself why you write, and why you write for kids. Lots of money and fame? Your books in print for generations? Awards and recognition for your quality? Movie and TV deals? All of those are legitimate goals, but each of them needs a specific marketing strategy. Take some time and define what success means to you. Once you know that, you’re in a much better position to adjust your promotion to fit your writing goals.

For whom do you write? There’s a big difference between writing board books for toddlers, picture books for kindergarteners and novels for young adults. Your readers are the people you promote to. If you write young adults, why aren’t you on teen sites, teen forums and teen places on the net? Do you do volunteer work with teens? Why not? If you’re writing picture books and books for younger kids, then why aren’t you on parenting sites, writing for parenting and grandparenting magazines, hooking up with parenting groups and grandparenting groups? And why aren’t you, whichever group you write for, hooking up with librarians, schools and bookstore owners? Promoting to other writers can help you broaden your audience reach, as they promote you to their readers, but promoting only to other writers is a bad mistake.

A lot of marketing strategies are designed for and by extroverts – people who love people and can talk easily and well with strangers about just about anything. Their twitter posts are always funny, pointed and brilliant. Status updates are layered, elegant and erudite. They stand in front of a room full of kids wearing silly costumes, make a fool out of themselves and love every minute of it. Introverts can’t do that.

One thing that comes through clearly whether you’re in person or on the web is how relaxed and genuine you are when you’re talking to strangers, acting a role you may not be used to or taking risks with your personality type. If you’re not the kind of person who can wear a lamp shade and do the fandango on the dining room table while sober, chances are you’re not going to be able to don a costume, act silly and make a fool out of yourself to promote your book. So don’t try. Find ways that let you be you when you promote your book and yourself. It’s the same on the web. If you have a knack for coming up with pithy phrases, great puns or plays on words and fantastic one liners, then twitter is probably a good venue. If not, don’t go there.

If all you’re doing is following the advice of experts without thinking about who you are, what you want to accomplish with promotion and how long it’s going to take you to reach your writing goals, then you’re not doing yourself any favours, and you may even be doing yourself harm. In all the frenzy of getting your name and your books out there, you’re forgetting why you’re promoting. As a writer friend of mine pointed out: we are writers. If we don’t deliver the content after all the hype, no amount of promotion or marketing is going to sustain us for the long term.

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Meet our guest:

Bev. Cooke is a young adult writer and writing coach whose books appeal to both teens and adults. Her marketing strategies are tailored for her audiences – writers, teens and adults. She’s published “Feral” from Orca Book Publishers, about street life seen through a cat’s eyes, “Royal Monastic” the first book length biography of Princess Ileana of Romania, and Keeper of the Light, an historical fiction for midgrade and young adults about an early Christian saint, both published by Conciliar Press. Bev and her family converted to the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith in 2003, and she’s been active in that writing and religious world ever since. She blogs at Bevnal Abbey Scriptorium and is on Facebook at Bev. Cooke, writer.

When Life Gives You Lemons

You’ve heard the old saying, but reactions come in all shapes and sizes. Lately, my reaction has been…

When life gives you lemons, find the guy who planted the tree and kick his ass.

Many years ago I decided I wanted to be an author. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember knowing how to form words. I love words and stories. I love the way they make me feel. I love the way other people’s words can make me feel. I have written many books and stories, and for the most part, I feel good about them. Sometimes writing is difficult, but I can’t imagine not doing it.

Several years ago, I became a bookstore owner. It was the most glorious day in my life. I remember always wanting to own a bookstore. I love books. I adore books. I think they are among the most blessed things in existence. I loved my bookstore and I loved each and every book in its tiny little space. I did not like the day to day business of it. But I was good at it, for the most part.

Then I became a publisher. The idea of going out and being able to pick the stories that other people got to read, without the stress of having to write them, or sell them enchanted me. Seeing a pattern here? I have been running Echelon Press for more than a decade. Now, like the above activities, being a publisher is quite difficult. The days are long, the stress level is high, and the payoff is very low. But in this case, I cannot imagine not doing it.

Being a publisher is much like being on a roller coaster that dips and curves and rolls upside down, only you don’t get to wear a safety harness. You do get a rope with a loop on the end to hold onto so you can climb back into your seat when the car goes right side up again.

There are those people out there who are asking themselves, “What the hell can be so hard about being a publisher? You get to read books all day.”

Yeah, that”s it. We just read all day. ::snort:: There are so many things involved in being a publisher.

My top five favorite things about being a publisher are:

  1. IRS Audits.
  2. Authors who accuse you of cheating them out of royalties.
  3. Large numbers of bookstores going out of business.
  4. Authors who think their only job is to write, and the rest is up to the publisher.
  5. Retailers who don’t pay for the books they order and sell.

Okay, hopefully you got the sarcasm at the beginning of the list. There are so many other reasons I love publishing. The above list brings to mind the saying I started this post with. But I would be lying if I left it at that. Another saying comes to mind.

Thank God for:

  1. Authors who never stop trying to learn about the industry.
  2. Readers who aren’t afraid to try new authors.
  3. Bookstores that support ALL authors and publishers.
  4. Authors who write the stories from their hearts.
  5. Every person who ever took a chance on something unfamiliar to them.

I meant what I said about the guy who planted the lemon tree, but after you are done kicking his ass, try the lemonade, it’s almost perfect!

Facing the Facts of Social Networking

Hello again. Let’s revisit what we were talking about earlier. I’ve given you my thoughts on GoodReads and Pinterest. You don’t have to agree with everything I say; I do hope that you are at least giving some consideration to my points.

Today I want to talk about Facebook. This is one of those networks that seem to offend the most people with regard to social networking time sucks. Let me start again by saying that it is only a time suck if you allow it to control you. We all make choices and that goes for online activities as well.

As a person, I enjoy the hell out of Facebook. I get up every morning and look forward to turning on my computer. I go straight to Facebook. Have I lost my mind? No, I am just anxious for a few smiles and a friendly word or two. I have a lot of friends on Facebook, and not just people who friend me randomly. I mean real friends. Friends who, despite having never met them face to face, have helped me through some very bad times in my life. I have some others who just make me laugh on a daily basis. The best part of my Facebook account is that I have reconnected with members of my family I had lost touch with, and found others I did not know. It is extraordinary fun.

Now, let’s talk about Facebook for authors. Facebook has one of the largest groups of viewers and a good portion of them are readers. They also have a wonderful advertising venue that isn’t horribly expensive. Just like in any other situation, there are certain rules, unwritten, but important, that should be followed by authors when marketing their books to their Facebook friends.

First and foremost, you must know how important common courtesy is on any social networking site. I encourage you to pay careful attention to the “do unto others” rule. Don’t say or do anything that you don’t want to be remembered for forever.

Pay careful attention to what you post. The Internet is overflowing with religious and political opinions. We all have them, but make certain that if you decide to voice yours on your page that you are prepared for the responses. As an author, you must also carefully consider how your opinions will affect your potential readers. It is not unreasonable to think that you might lose conservative readers when you express liberal views.

This can also work to your advantage. If you take the time to know the people you are friends with (just like in real life), you can use that knowledge to share information with them that they will find useful or amusing. You can use your newfound knowledge to engage fellow knitters, quilters, beaders, singers, hockey fans, dog lovers, etc. Even if these things have nothing to do with your book, it is common ground. It is a way for you to get to know people and make them want to support you. It’s not about manipulating, it is about genuinely communicating with like-minded people.

Facebook is a great place to share the news of your books, your reviews, your Blog tours, etc. The good news is that a lot of people will want to know what you have to say. But be careful how you say it and how often you say it. There are some things you simply do not do.

Do NOT post your promo notes and reviews on other people’s pages or sites. This is kinda like parking your truck in someone else’s front yard.

Do NOT send auto responders with your buy links and web page links to people who ask to be your friend.

And for the love of Pete and Mike, if you set up a Facebook group. Do NOT, I repeat do NOT add people to your group without asking them first. When you set up a group, you will get a link for that group. You can copy that link into a public invite in your feed that will tell people what you want them to know and then let them make their own choice.

One of the most important things to understand about Facebook as it differs from other networking sites is the amount of information that can be shared on it. Twitter has 140 characters, Good Reads is all books, and Pinterest is an image with a link. Facebook can combine all of those things together and so much more. You have more character to use, images, links, and videos. If you abuse these things it will turn around and bit you in the butt.

Social networking is a wonderful thing, and it can be an exceptional marketing tool. Just don’t let it control you and your time. A social networking schedule is not a bad thing.