Monthly Archives: February 2013

Creating Authentic Book Marketing

Posted by February 27th, 2013

When it comes to promoting your book, invest your resources in what brings you joy.

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During Author (R)evolution Day at this year’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference, journalist Porter Anderson interviewed Grub Street founder Eve Bridburg on finding “The Author Blueprint for Success.”

She explained that, upon publication, the typical author strategy has been: build community through a platform and use social media to support your sales. But, with so many different options, which ones should you choose?

Grub Street studied this and came up with a three-part logic model of success. (It sounds more intimidating than it is.)

First: Determine your mission and intent. Like a company that uses a mission statement to guide it, create a statement that focuses on what you want to accomplish, why you’re producing books, and to whom and what you want to offer.

Then: Define success. This is easier said than done. Eve qualifies that success is bigger than sales. Ask yourself: What are your goals for the book? What brings you energy and joy? How do you want to spend your time? How will you know you’re successful?

The final part: Create an authentic campaign. Examine your strengths and weaknesses. What do you like doing? What feels good to you? Identify the activities that line up with your mission and definition of success.

This becomes your map. You can commit to investing your time and money because you know what path you’re headed down. It feels less scattered because you’re not trying to conquer everything without a plan. You’ve found the things you’re good at, the things that are unique to your voice, and the things you enjoy doing. That’s how you create an authentic marketing and promotion campaign. Go and do them. Then, measure to see how your tactics are lining up with your definition of success.

If you’re in Boston, you should check out Grub Street, or follow them from afar on Twitter. Follow Porter Anderson for publishing industry updates. Full slides of the talk can be found here.

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Meet Writer Jamie Wyman

Posted by February 25th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

jamie_wyman_author_sm1“I love that moment when lightning strikes and an idea just gels into perfection.” –Jamie Wyman

Jamie Wyman is a fantasy and horror writer from Phoenix who’s been with Book Country since the very beginning. Two weeks ago, she broke the news that her debut urban fantasy Technical Difficulties, which she workshopped on the site, was picked up by Entangled Publishing. We got in touch with Jamie to congratulate her and find out how she’s been doing since the announcement. (I highly recommend Jamie’s post about the book deal to all aspiring authors; it’s both heart-warming and informative.)

Jamie is known by many names. Here, she asked we call her “The Omnipotent Despot to All Things Peachy.”

Nevena: Congratulations on the acquisition, Jamie! What has your life been like since the big news became public?

Jamie: Thanks! Life has been mostly normal but with a lot more squeeing. There have been a few surreal moments, including my first piece of “fan mail.” Another editor who read the book on submission didn’t get it to her acquisitions board in time, but she emailed me to let me know how much she enjoyed the book. That made my morning! And I’ve been talking with publicists. Seriously? I have publicists. Totally surreal.

Nevena: It does sound surreal. Congrats again. Now, tell us more aboutTechnical Difficulties. What transformations has it gone through since the first draft? Did you have to kill any “darlings”?

JamieTechnical Difficulties is an urban fantasy following Catherine Sharp, an IT professional with a personal debt to the Greek Goddess of Discord, Eris. When Cat discovers that her soul is a chip in Eris’s poker game, she has to turn the tables on four trickster gods who are vying for her soul.

There have been more than ten revision passes on it at this point, eight of which I did before querying agents. The opening scene and the structure at the end are the only major changes from the rough draft, and those were based on feedback from my agent—the stellar Jennie Goloboy at Red Sofa Literary agency. She and my beta readers gave me spectacular critiques.

And yes, I had to kill darlings, but the book is better this way.

Nevena: What do you wish you’d been told about getting acquired and working with an editor?

Jamie: “No, seriously, Jamie. When I say you need patience, I’m talking epic amounts.” Patience does not come naturally to me. The past four years of working toward publication have helped with that, but sometimes it’s still not enough.

Nevena: Well, your efforts have paid off! What draws you to the urban fantasy genre? What cliché would you most like to see erased from it?

Jamie: If fantasy is all about escapism, urban fantasy is a staycation. It takes these old fairy tales and plunks them down into the middle of reality. This leads to all sorts of questions. How do wizards interact with technology? What happens when a satyr lands in Las Vegas with a trickster god? It’s such a fertile playground!

As to clichés, I think the one that bothers me the most is the “rape as initiation” trope. Male leads jump through all sorts of hoops to earn their stripes in the supernatural world, but it seems that women are—more often than not—tested with rape.  It’s ubiquitous and most times not integral to the plot.

Nevena: This is one cliché I’d like to see banished from the genre as well! Tell me, when did you start writing?

Jamie: I’ve been telling stories since I was in single digits. My grandma used to record me telling them. Later I filled notebooks with short stories, scripts, poetry…a lot of them terrible. I didn’t write my first novel, though, until 2008. It was crap. I got better, though.

Nevena: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Jamie: I love that moment when lightning strikes and an idea just gels into perfection. Sometimes this comes in the brainstorming/plotting/pre-visualization part. Sometimes during drafting. Other times editing. Usually it’s in the shower.

Nevena: Why did you join Book Country? How has it helped you grow as a writer?

Jamie: I needed someone to look at my work with a craft perspective. When Colleen put out the call for betas when Book Country launched, I couldn’t volunteer fast enough.

Book Country helped me learn to trust my voice and my instincts. Many times the comments on the site would confirm what I thought was wrong (or right) with a piece. While it helped me develop a thicker skin, it also taught me how to take a compliment. Seriously, you don’t think about that, but I’m a very self-deprecating person. That’s what my whole sense of humor is based on. So when I started getting positive feedback, I had to learn to accept it rather than bat it away with the negative.

Nevena: Sounds awesome. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Jamie: What writer Neil Gaiman said once on an episode of Arthur: “Don’t judge your story; you’ve just started writing it. Trust your story. Tell it because you’re the only one who can.”

Nevena: What’s next? When will your novel “hit the shelves”?

JamieTechnical Difficulties will hit a digital device near you. (It’s early stages, so the release date hasn’t been set yet.) I’ve also just learned that one of my short stories will be appearing in an anthology later this year. But I can’t give details about that project yet. Stay tuned!

Nevena: So secretive! Get us the details when you are at liberty to say more. Is there anything else you want the community to know about you?

Jamie: I’m still not sure what the hell I’m doing. I make this up as I go along.

Connect with Jamie on Book Country, and catch up with news about her upcoming novel at her blog. Follow her on Twitter @beegirlblue

Image © Eric Fiallos

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On Killing Darlings: The Downton Abbey Way

Posted by February 22nd, 2013

What writers can learn about storytelling from the British TV drama.

downton-abbey_image_sm1The season three finale of Downton Abbey left me devastated.

(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.)

On Sunday, right before the final credits rolled, Lady Mary’s husband Matthew died in a tragic car accident that took him away from his newborn son and from millions of fans on both sides of the Atlantic. The reason for this horrific turn of events is no other than that Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew, decided to leave the show. GASP!

Honest, gentle Matthew is gone forever.

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As heartbroken as I was by Matthew’s demise—after following the show for three seasons I had hoped Matthew and Lady Mary’s tortured love story would finally get its happy ending—I know that come next season, I’ll be back for a helping of Britain’s hottest period drama.

That’s because Julian Fellowes, the mastermind behind Downton Abbey, knows how to keep us on our toes. The show’s creator has story-building tricks up his sleeve that can help serial fiction writers.

If you haven’t seen it, Downton Abbey is fueled by the conflict between the blue-blooded Grantham family, “the upstairs,” and their servants, “the downstairs.” Of course, each group enjoys a great deal of friction among its members, but it’s the collision (or collusion!) of servants and masters that has brought us some of the best moments in the show. My favorite: when the jealous lady’s maid Sarah slipped a bar of soap under pregnant Lady Grantham’s feet in the bath, causing her to slip and have a miscarriage. Oh my.

The writers constantly surprise by harming their characters. Season three is no different: they killed off two of our most beloved characters, Lady Sybil and Matthew. On Sunday, Twitter exploded with fans’ outrage.

And that’s okay because a good writer must sometimes kill the darlings to keep the integrity of his or her work.

Fellowes did it because he didn’t want to risk the show running its course and getting boring. Matthew’s exit from the show had to remain true to the character. The writer released a statement to defend the shocking season finale:

Over the last three years, audiences across the world have been captivated by the ups and downs of Mary and Matthew’s relationship, culminating in their wedding. Fans have enjoyed what has become a solid and loving marriage.

It is for this reason that the Producers decided Matthew and Mary could not simply be estranged or parted, resulting in his untimely and tragic death at the end of the series’ finale.

But even if Dan Stevens hadn’t left, was Mary and Matthew’s long-term happiness good for the show’s longevity? Remember how Pam and Jim’s romance ruined The Office? The courtship drew viewers to the screen for a few seasons, but once America’s sweethearts got hitched, their love quickly became old news and just got in the way.

For Downton Abbey to live a long, happy life on TV, Lady Mary needs to suffer the tragedy of loss.

Writers, how have you harmed your characters for the good of the story?

 

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Meet Book Country Member Herb Mallette

Posted by February 19th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

herb_mallette_bookcountry_member_3“No matter how successful you might become as a writer, you need to retain your sense of humor.” –Herb Mallette

You might recognize Herb Mallette as the glasses-wearing cartoon avatar known for his pithy contributions to the Book Country discussion forums and his thoughtful peer reviews. He’s also a lifelong writer from San Antonio, and has been editing professionally for the past twenty-five years. He’s a big science fiction and fantasy fan (some of his favorite writers include Jack Vance, Michael Shea, Iain M. Banks, and Edgar Rice Burroughs), and has a wicked sense of humor. Last week I chatted with Herb about his writing life, his love of science fiction and fantasy, and his soft spot for Pixar movies. 

Nevena: How and why did you start writing?

Herb: As a child, I loved to read, write, and draw. I wrote my first story at age five on a page in Dr. Seuss’s My Book about Me. I started drawing comic books around seven, and by the end of middle school, I was determined to be either a writer or a comic book artist. Because I had the fortune or misfortune to be good friends with a kid whose artistic talents vastly exceeded mine, I mistakenly concluded that I wasn’t cut out to be an artist. So in the tenth grade, when my chemistry teacher re-ran a particularly boring filmstrip, instead of watching it I started my first novel. By the time I graduated, I’d finished two books and become addicted to it.

Nevena: You write fantasy. What draws you to it?

Herb: Fantasy and science fiction inundated my childhood with realms so colorful and exciting that I had no choice but to pursue them. I used to write in both genres. Nowadays I find fantasy more liberating because it allows me to make up all the rules.

Nevena: Is there a cliché that you’d like to see erased from the genre?

Herb: The dour, gruff dwarf is probably my least favorite fantasy cliché, but I don’t know that I’d eliminate it—to each his own.

Nevena: Could you tell us more about your own fiction? What are you currently working on?

Herb: Right now I’m writing a prequel to my four-book Delvonian series. The existing books start with The Last Tragedy and wrap up with a trilogy, The Aveliad. The prequel features four characters from The Aveliad on their first adventure together, when they’re just forming the relationships we see unfold in the trilogy.

In my work, I aim for a high level of adventure sprinkled with human commentary. It’s very important to me to be entertaining, and only slightly less important to provoke thought in readers who want to be so provoked.

Nevena: Wow, that’s poetic! Why should Book Country members read and review The Last Tragedy, the book you’ve posted to the site?

Herb: People should read The Last Tragedy if they’re looking for clever, engaging characters moving through an unusual world in a beguilingly entertaining plot. The good guys are witty and resourceful; the villain exquisitely malicious. As for reviewing it, people should do that if the excerpt on Book Country makes them want to say something.

Nevena: Sounds good! What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your writing? How did you overcome it?

Herb: Real life. I have a day job and a family in a world that, if you watch the news, is often quite depressing. Writing is a way that I can raise a light against the gloom, both for myself and, hopefully, for others. But it’s sometimes hard to find the time, energy, and spirit to stay brave in the things I am trying to express. As for overcoming… Well, the world needs heroes, and when I was a kid, many of mine were writers, so I push onward.

Nevena: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Herb: Surprising myself, especially at the end of a book. I love getting to an outlined event, realizing it doesn’t do what it needs to do, and then hitting on a solution that whoops the pants off the original plan.

Nevena: Why did you join Book Country? How has it helped you in your growth as a writer?

Herb: Writing about writing helps remind me (or, if you prefer, helps me delude myself into thinking) that I do kind of know what I’m doing. Reading about writing helps me learn from the perspectives of others.

Nevena: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Herb: At a book signing, I told sci-fi/fantasy writer Michael Moorcock that he was indirectly responsible for my writing several bad fantasy novels in high school. Without batting an eye, he replied, “As it happens, I’ve been directly responsible for several myself.” That wasn’t exactly advice, but it showed me that no matter how successful you might become as a writer, you need to retain your sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously.

Nevena: Is there anything you want the community to know about you?

Herb: I am ridiculously susceptible to the emotional effects of certain movies. I have cried buckets at almost all of the last several Pixar films, for instance, as well as the recent return of The Muppets to the big screen. When filmmakers manage to put real human beauty onto the screen—especially through elements of the fantastic—something just turns a switch of joy in me until I am a quivering wreck. My favorite movie scene of all time is the asteroid field sequence from The Empire Strikes Back. Just listening to the soundtrack for that scene makes me stream tears, and there have been times when I’ve gotten the accompanying music stuck in my head at work and literally had difficulty concentrating on my job. Please don’t tell my boss.

Nevena: Pinky promise! Thanks for sharing, Herb, and for being such a spirited voice in the community.

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Love Is in Our Writing

Posted by February 14th, 2013

Brandi shares her Valentine’s Day challenge.

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Happy Valentine’s Day. The day when couples stock up on flowers and candy and wine and candles and teddy bears and hearts and cards and lingerie and things that are pink and red.

And romance. Lots and lots of romance.

My wedding anniversary is at the end of February, so my husband and I have never felt the need to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We joke that every day is Valentine’s Day, just another opportunity to dedicate ourselves to each other. Even when I was dating, it wasn’t that big of a deal for me; I always thought I was more Noir than Regency Romance.

Then I read a Regency Romance, the excellent Ravishing in Red by Madeline Hunter. Holy moly. Sexiest proposal ever. (Hint: it involves the placement of an emerald necklace under the protagonist’s skirts.) A sweet, romantic and sexy scene of the couple looking at the stars. The moment when he saw her in that breathtaking dress.

And it inspired me.

How could I bring this level of intensity and passion found in the best romances to my own work? How could I strengthen my characters’ intentions and connections to one another?

I have a scene that I’ve written that I know is missing something. I’m going to borrow from Ravishing in Red and see what happens if I add a moment when the characters really look at one another. What will seeing each other cross the room do to them? What will they say when they peer into one another’s eyes? I don’t know, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I’d like to challenge you, too. Find one thing from romances that can help in your own work. Write a scene with it, and let us know what you discover.

©iStockphoto.com/Joe Biafore

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Meet Brandi Larsen!

Posted by February 11th, 2013

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We’ve added a new member to the Book Country team! Meet Brandi Larsen, the new Director of Book Country.

Brandi will be driving the business side of Book Country, as well as helping to shape the vision for the future of the community. (She’s also a cat person and has an affinity for werewolves over zombies, so she gets an immediate thumbs-up from me!) Brandi and I sat down recently and chatted about her goals for Book Country, her background at the Chicago Tribune and her own love of writing.

Colleen: Congratulations on joining the Book Country team. What drew you to this project? What are you most excited about?

Brandi: Thanks, Colleen. I’ve been following Book Country since it started and loved the idea of it. As a writer myself, having an online home that will support me from first drafts to book signings is very appealing. I’m most excited to join the community and help grow it into the best spot for writers on the web.

Colleen: You just moved from Chicago. What made you uproot your family and take the plunge and move to New York City?

Brandi: An insane love of small apartments? (laughs) Seriously, when I saw the description for this role, I knew I had to apply. It’s a dream job. I tell my friends what I’m doing, and they all nod their heads and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect for you.” My favorite writing teacher, author Meg Medina, once asked me to pay it forward—to share what I had learned from her to improve the lives of others. It makes me so happy that it’s now my job to do just that.

Colleen: In your previous role as Content Development Director at the Tribune, you helped newsrooms imagine the future. What does that mean?

Brandi: My role at the Tribune was incredible. I got to work with amazing people to answer questions like: “What should newspapers look like on a tablet? How will people read on a phone? What kind of content do people want from a newspaper?”

Colleen: That sounds very cool! You’ve also worked in television and at an Internet start-up. How do you see Book Country in the context of your experience?

Brandi: My career has been centered around the love of media and technology. Every role I’ve had involves storytelling. Whether I was figuring out how to grow an audience or determining the right content approach, I was solving problems to create the best experience for users. Book Country marries all of that expertise together. I get to build upon the amazing site you, Molly, Nevena and Danielle started. I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level for our current and future members.

Colleen: What changes do you have in store for Book Country?

Brandi: The Publish section re-launched just as I arrived and it’s pretty slick. I look forward to growing that area. We’re also working right now to rebuild the Community section so that the technology really supports the discussions happening on the site.  That’s a big one. I know you and Nevena have wanted us to expand the genre map, and it’s a great idea to embrace more writers. I also want to create more content that’s valuable to writers at all stages of the process. I have a couple more ideas up my sleeve, but I want to meet our members first.

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Colleen: You mentioned above  that you’re also a writer. What’s your process like?

Brandi: Ha, that assumes I have a process. I do, but it’s constantly evolving. I used to be an early bird, getting up before dawn to write. It’s been harder to fit in the time as I take on a new job and a new city. Once I finally get in the chair, I listen back to the moment that has captured my attention the most and try to get as many details down as quickly as possible.  Anne Lamott’s advice about only writing what you can see in a one-inch picture frame has always helped me. I try and take the square and then expand it, asking myself: “What happens next? Then, what happens? Then what?” I allow myself the freedom to write anything. I always edit in a separate session. That’s when I start peeling back the text to the essentials of what I’m trying to convey. Also, I read every single word aloud. Seriously, though, getting my butt in the chair is the most challenging. I was inspired by what Book Country author Kerry Schafer said during your recent Twitter chat. She works a full day, goes to school, and still has time to promote Between and write the rest of her trilogy? Man, after hearing that, there’s no excuse.

Colleen: Now we’re curious! What kinds of things do you write?

Brandi: A lot of short pieces. Mostly relationship-based. I’m working on a novel that doesn’t fit on the current genre map. Once we expand it, I’ll upload it.

Colleen: Do you workshop your writing? Or work with a critique partner?

Brandi: Yes and yes. I’m a huge fan of partnering with other writers. I was really fortunate to attend the Dreyfoos School of the Arts throughout middle and high school for writing and that, along with my training at the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, really prepared me to work with other writers. My husband is also a writer and we left behind an awesome critique group (hello, Recall First!). The value of critique partners isn’t just in getting someone to read my work, though that makes a big difference. I get a lot out of reading to improve someone else’s work—that’s how I really see what can be strengthened in my own. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to join Book Country. There are so many new writers to discover, secrets to share, and accomplishments to celebrate.

Colleen: Wow! Good luck with your writing! Okay, last question—is there anything else you want our members to know about you?

Brandi: Hmm. I collect antique typewriters, love to laugh, and can’t imagine a life without books. Please Connect with me on Book Country—I’d love to read your work! Also, if there are any New York City Book Country members, I’m on the lookout for great writing spots…

Colleen: Thanks for your time, Brandi. We’re thrilled to have you on the team!

One last piece of news: I’m moving into a new position myself! I’ll be the new Associate Director of Marketing, Social Media and Reader Experience at Penguin’s NAL/Berkley Group. Brandi will be helping Nevena with the management of the Book Country community as I make the transition into my new role. Additionally, I’ll be remaining as a strategic advisor to Book Country, and an active moderator/giant nerd/ban-hammer-of-doom on the Book Country discussion forums. I love the community that I helped to build, and don’t plan on disappearing any time soon!

In the meantime, please join me in welcoming Brandi to Book Country!

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What Makes a Great Romance Hero?

Posted by February 4th, 2013

Craft a male character that makes readers swoon.

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It’s unthinkable to write a successful romance novel or romantic story arc of any kind without a stormy, steamy romance hero. The plot may be fascinating and the writing style accomplished, but if the male lead doesn’t give me heart palpitations the book is a flop.

Last week, I urged our Facebook followers to pick the best romance hero in fiction. There were representatives from different genres—urban fantasy (Jericho Barrons), contemporary romance (Gideon Cross and Christian Grey), paranormal romance (Zsadist and Edward Cullen), and even classic literature (Mr. Darcy). The majority of you voted for (who else?) Mr. Darcy. Austen’s legendary hero just turned 200 yearsPride and Prejudice was published on January 28, 1813—so I was surprised when he so unabashedly overtook modern-day heartthrobs like Christian Gray and Edward Cullen.

Why is Mr. Darcy, who we never even see plant a kiss on Elizabeth’s lips, so universally loved? What makes a successful romance hero?

While there are nuances, there are three main characteristics great romance protagonists share with Darcy :

(Warning: Spoilers to Pride and Prejudice ahead.)

The Flaw

A truly great romance hero is not out to please anybody. He tends to be brusque and unpleasant—deeply flawed. Look at Edward Cullen from Twilight or Christian Grey from 50 Shades of Grey. Like Book Country member Danielle Bowers hilariously noted, “Christian Grey has more issues than National Geographic Magazine.”

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