Friday, August 31, 2012
Now that I've got your attention with my newest best selling book title, I'll be completely upfront. I have no idea how to sell million books or I would have done it and would now be sitting on bags of money on a beautiful and remote island.
These days, it seems like everywhere you turn, someone wants to tell you their brilliant idea for how to sell more books. The people with the most ideas are usually trying to sell you something (like their PR services). So what really works? Facebook? Twitter? Blogging? Guest blogging? Goodreads? Great reviews? Personal appearances?
I'm ashamed to say, since I work in marketing as my day job, that I don't have the magic solution for all authors. But neither do publishers, or PR people, or even best selling authors. They're all trying whatever they can and hoping they'll get great results. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.
But here's what I and everyone else knows for sure sells a lot of books: that elusive word of mouth. People telling other people that they have to read your book. The trouble is, how do you reach those first people who fall in love with your book? If you don't have a heavy-hitting publisher that's invested in your career and is putting you on one of the front tables at Barnes and Noble, and if you aren't able to get reviewed because you're self-published or because newspapers/magazines, etc., are all shrinking their review space, how do you find readers?
Authors and publishers have clearly decided that the way to find readers is through the web. Authors have joined social network sites everywhere and try to push their books on everyone. Some may feel they have success, and others may feel it's a waste of time--but the truth is it's mostly free (except for an author's valuable time and energy). And if done incorrectly, it can really annoy a lot of people.
But here's an inescapable truth about selling lots and lots of books: You have to write a great book that people want to read. If you're off spending 10 hours a day guest blogging, tweeting and Facebooking, you'd better have something to talk about. And all that marketing is bound to eventually interfere with writing your next book. A recipe for author burnout if there ever was one.
So, really now, what's a poor author to do? First, write a great book. Then tell everyone in a way that isn't obnoxious. Then spend a period of time marketing it in ways that you enjoy. Hope your book finds readers who love it. And then go write another book, even better than the last. Repeat.
I know, I know. Easy for me to say. But when you get yourself tied in knots about what you think you should be doing and how little promotion your publisher is doing for you, ask yourself--what will the following (tweet, guest blog, expensive self-funded book tour, etc.) really do for my career? And if the answer is "diddly-squat" or "I'd rather grind glass into my forehead than do x", skip it. Go write your next book instead. And tell them I told you that you could.
Friday, August 24, 2012
I had to think on this week’s question as my first impulse was to have my assistant, some over-qualified, very bright young man or woman with an MFA from some prestigious institution of higher learning, fetch my daily Hoyo de Monterrey or Partagas moduro-style cigar and short dog of whiskey from Jack’s Liquor (which has a walk-in humidor) in nearby Koreatown – for use during happy hour you understand. But that would be a waste of their talents not to mention I vary my selection of cigars more than the two brands just mentioned so that’s a task best left to be completed personally.
|"Does this crown make me look wizened"?|
The way this could work then is my assistant every two hours or so will tweet something wry and sardonic, but good-natured, from me after we’ve had a brief discussion about current book news or some riff on something of a pop culture nature. Given I’m a lefty, it’s probably better I don’t go into rants as some of my fellow scribes left and right have a wont to do on Facebook. That can be a bit much, don’t you think? But leave me not go on about that at this juncture. Figure at least twice a day my assistant will peruse my Facebook stuff and respond with a quip here or observation there.
As the years go on, I will emerge less and less from my sanctum sanctorum. – hitting those keys, sweating phrasing and pacing as I knock out the work, be it a short story or magnum opus novel.
Salinger-like, I become a recluse, only known through those clever, literate social media burst that float out there regularly from my assistant. In a reversal of how poor assistant Tom Courtenay was verbally abused by the odious aging actor played by Albert Finney in The Dresser, my assistant will have subtly stroked my ego such that he or she has convinced me that to build my mystique, I should be seen less and less in public and let my work speak for me. He or she will attend to all these distractions and I should be left to tend the vineyards of my writing, my gifts to the world. Deep down I will know there’s no way I can live up to those artful postings as over time, the assistant writes in their voice.
I become the shell, my assistant the full-bodied personality. Quick I say, bring me my make-up.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Today’s Question: You've hit the big time! Congratulations. What's the first task you assign to your new assistant?
What? I’ve hit the BIG TIME? Oh my! Oh my! (Why didn’t anybody tell me? Strangely, it doesn’t feel a whole lot different than the SMALL TIME, where I’ve been for a while—maybe it’ll take a few days for this wonderful news to hit me).
After my newly-hired assistant and I clean up all the confetti and champagne corks and hundred-dollar bills lying around, I suppose it’ll be time to get my nose back to the grindstone. After all, once you reach the big time, you have to work doubly hard to stay there (at least that’s what I’ve heard).
Where could my assistant be most useful?
I don’t think I’ll need to rely on my assistant’s creativity; I’ve already got plenty of ideas for books. I’ve got spell checker and grammar checker, and the Chicago Manual of Style at my feet, so I’m good there. I’ve got lots of pencils, pens, spiral notebooks, toner cartridges, and erasers, erasers, erasers—no need for a run to Staples.
I’d have my assistant fetch me coffee, except, well, I don’t drink coffee.
Maybe I could ask him or her to touch up my headshot with Photoshop? Answer all my fan letters? Talk to Oprah’s people? Do some research about leasing a (small) private jet? Or buying an island? Work on getting me a seat in Castle’s poker game?
All worthwhile tasks, for sure. But I think what I really need my assistant to do is CLEAN MY FRIGGING OFFICE.
It’s a BIG TIME mess.
(Trust me, this picture doesn’t quite capture the enormity of the task.)
Monday, August 20, 2012
|Jeff with Ray Bradbury - 2 big losses this year|
Friday, August 17, 2012
We live in a country which has too much of almost everything. Giant cars. Huge houses. Binge eating. We rent storage containers to stick all our extra stuff. We clearly don't know how much is too much on almost anything in our lives. So perhaps any advice I could give on "too much" might be pretty useless for most of us. But I'll try.
How do you know when you've got too much sex or violence in your book? I wish I had a formula or a recipe for it. Like mix two parts sex, four parts violence and one part romance and bake at 500 degrees = thriller.
But I don't have a secret formula. The mix definitely depends on the book. An erotic romance certainly would need a lot more sex and probably less violence to satisfy a reader of that genre. A techno thriller would need less sex and more violence to satisfy that audience. And the confusing part is the same person could enjoy both. They just have expectations when they pick up a certain book, and they want to be entertained in a certain way. So...
You know it when you read it.
Sounds so simple. Perhaps it's not.
Here's an example: you pick up a book and it is page after page of non-stop action, with violence oozing from every page. Perhaps you like the pace and get sucked into the plot. Or perhaps you quickly become confused about who is who, and find yourself unable to care when someone is blown sky high. So for one reader it's too much violence (and not enough back story) and for another it's just right.
Genre fiction is perhaps less complicated than literary fiction. You can even read on some publisher's websites how much is too much and what you're allowed to say. I know my limits. Violence that has no purpose in the story is often too much for me. Especially if it requires lots of bone crunching/blood gushing detail. And I don't mind f-bombs dropping all the time--if it fits with the character. But that's just me and my personal tastes. If a story is written well, I usually don't notice one way or another. The book just gels and I reach the last page way too soon.
What do you think?
Monday, August 13, 2012
For thriller writers, mach schau means keeping the reader on a steady IV drip of action, violence and sex. Don’t let the pace relent. And just when things are falling into a rhythm (albeit a fast one), apply the shock paddles with a plot twist.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
What Olympic sport would Channing Hayes excel at?
He’s a stand-up comic, a denizen of the night. Right off the bat, I think we can safely eliminate all outdoor activities.
He performs alone, so we’ll ditch all the team sports.
He doesn’t much like water. No swimming or diving.
He gets motion sickness (a little, from time to time). Out goes indoor cycling.
Channing is not a strong man, and he really only gets physical when his life—or someone else’s life—is in danger. Add to that a low threshold of physical pain, and we can eliminate weightlifting, judo, taekwando, wrestling, boxing, and any other sport where you can get hurt. (He can take heckling, just not broken bones.)
Channing is about as limber as lumber. Gymnastics? Hah! Trampoline? Not hardly (Can you say splat?).
What does that leave? Badminton, fencing, and table tennis. Channing has smarts and quick reflexes, so any of these sports might fit. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Channing doesn’t look good dressed in all white, so there goes fencing. And badminton? Nah, just on principle.
So table tennis it is.
Too bad there isn’t an Olympic Beer Pong team. Channing would be the gold medal favorite.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Friday, August 3, 2012
So we're all talking this week about Clandestine Classics' decision to "sex up" the classics and I've been interested to hear what my fellow criminal minds think of the plan.
I admit to being a total curmudgeon about certain things. It's hard not to think of my own books, 100 years in the future, in the hands of someone who has decided to completely rewrite them and add gratuitous sex. Or aliens. Or take out the murders. No!!!
There was a reason there weren't mind-blowing sex scenes in Jane Austen's books. She was no prude (although she died a virgin, as far as we know), but chose to express love and affection in less graphic terms and in ways befitting the culture and art of the time. Rewriting her books is like rewriting history, in my opinion. And we wonder why kids are confused!
Other things I think should never ever happen to any writer or artist:
1) Get abridged: When I was nine, I was convinced I'd read GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens. What I had read was a version abridged for kids that took out any difficult vocabulary words and seriously cut down the number of pages. I understand why they do this (expose kids to the classics!) but it is not really Dickens and it should not be presented as Dickens. Would it have really hurt me to wait a couple of years and read the real book instead of someone's "interpretation" of Dickens?
BTW, I don't necessarily put comic book classics in the same category. To me that's an artistic interpretation of a classic (like a movie) rather than a rewrite.
2) Colorization: If I recall correctly, Ted Turner thought that people wouldn't watch black and white movies so Ted decided to colorize the ones he owned. There was a major outcry and threats (Don't you dare try it on CITIZEN KANE!) but he did it anyway on movies like Casablanca (even though it looked rather fake and strange). This seems to me to be a giant denial of a time in history when entertainment was seen in black and white, and cinematographers planned their shots around light and shadow.
3) Have someone "take over" their series: I know I'm going to get a lot of grief over this one, but this just seems wrong to me. I know readers love the characters in certain series and want them to keep living on in new books. But guess what? Everything has to end someday. And just because someone wants to make a whole lot of money doesn't mean it's okay to write what you think would be a writer's next book.
So how do I feel about merchandising (plastering Vincent Van Gogh paintings onto mugs and pot holders) or sampling songs from artists without asking their permission? I guess it all depends on how the artists themselves feel. I get angry when we can no longer ask a writer or film maker for their permission to alter their work but we do it anyway. That just seems wrong to me.
What do you think?