Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In Love with a Book? Ten Ways to Show It!

Adoring reader from the UK, dressed up as the black wolf from one of my books

At a conference, I picked up a list of 20 Ways to Help an Author, distributed by Wise Ink. I like the concept, but not how it’s framed—while I love my readers, I don’t believe they owe me anything.

Shift the focus from author to book and I’m all in. Here, a list of twelve ways to show your love for a book. These take little time, effort, or money, but the payoff is huge - helping a book you love enjoy a long, happy “shelf life”:

·         Buy the book!
·         Gift the book!
·         Ask for the book when you’re browsing a book shop.
·         Review the book online: Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.
·         Post about the book on social media. (Include a photo)
·         Ask for the book at the library.
·         Email a “book love note” to the author.
·         Suggest your book club read it.
·         Blog about the book (send the author a link!)
·         Nominate the book for your community’s reading program
·         To celebrate International Book Day, dress up as a favorite character from the book (see photo above)
·         Design a wedding cake based on the book (see photo below)

What have you done today to show your love for a book? These ideas are only a start. With so much clamoring for readers’ attention, every expression of book love makes a difference…and as a bonus, you’ll be encouraging your favorite authors to continue writing books you love.

Wedding cake themed to a novella by David Marusek

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Successful Author: Back to School

My current reading/research/study stack

 Long lines at the hair salon, store shelves stacked with notebooks, bus drivers practicing their routes—you can’t miss the signs that the back-to-school season is upon us. After twenty years as a college and high school teacher, I still enjoy that fevered pitch of a new school year about to get underway.

Even if you’re not headed back to a classroom, now is a great time to turn a bit of your energy toward your continuing education as an author. In lieu of school—or to supplement it—try these:

·         Subscribe to a magazine that centers on writing or books: Poets and Writers, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Publishers Weekly, Bookforum, The New York Review of Books
·         Read like a writer, in your genre. Make a reading list and set tangible goals for working through it. (For more on reading like a writer, see Write Your Best Book.)
·         Start or reinvigorate your journal. Journals aren’t just for musing. Use yours to spin ideas, play with plot, develop your characters, note“best practice” models of style and structure, even build vocabulary (words are the tools of your trade!)
·         Make plans to attend a writer’s retreat or conference.
·         Apply for a writing residency.
·         Start or reinvigorate a writers group aimed with critique and support components
·         Sign up for a creative writing class at your local writing center or online.

Don’t miss out on one of the best things about being an author—you’re always learning! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Low-Cost (or no-cost) Book Promotion

Image source: www.successfulstartup101.com

Spend a little time around published authors and you’re certain to hear this common lament: Regardless of how you publish, it’s tough to get your book noticed. Once the launch window passes—generally within three months (or less) of the book’s release, reader and publisher interest wanes.

Authors are a tenacious bunch, committed to seeing a project through to its finish, drafting and revising and revising again. So it’s no surprise that we don’t give up on our books once they’ve launched, no matter how tough the going gets. We want a shelf life of more than three months for our books. There are readers out there who’d love to connect with our work—if only they could find it amid all the noise of new releases and celebrity titles.

In a desperate effort to get their books noticed, far too many authors throw good money after bad: Self-funded author tours in second-rate venues where only a handful of people show up for signings; expensive ads to the wrong demographic; for-hire social media campaigns that amount to little more than shouting into the wind.

It doesn’t have to be that way. During a delightful weekend with Susan McBeth of Adventures by the Book, we chatted about the many ways that published authors can promote their books long past the launch. Here, a few ideas that won’t break the bank:

Ticketed Book Events: Team with an event planner for a ticketed event designed a target audience eager to hear about you and your work. If your work is of real merit and you’re a lively speaker, the event planner will be able to set ticket prices in a way that covers her efforts. The benefit to you: book sales at such events are typically much higher than at plain-Jane bookstore signings.

Fundraisers: If your book is themed toward a cause that matters deeply to you, connect with a nonprofit devoted to the cause. If your book is of merit and you’ve got an engaging program, team up for a fundraising event in which you provide the program and donate a percentage of the book sales. (Click here to see what author Marivi Soliven did.

Annual Event: In 2010, I launched a simple plan through 49 Writers, a nonprofit I co-founded to support the artistic efforts of Alaska authors. We designated the first week in October (conveniently timed to coincide with Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend deposits) as Alaska Book Week, to remind readers everywhere about the incredible books written by Alaskans and about Alaska. That year and every year since, the Governor has issued a formal proclamation designating the first week in October as Alaska Book Week. And each year, authors are invited to complete a simple participation form in which they can express their interest in addressing audiences about their books. To complete this form costs nothing but a minute or two of the author’s time. The payoff: the author joins forces with other Alaska authors in a weeklong celebration of their books. Why not join forces with other authors to create an annual event to celebrate books like yours?

Collaborative Blog: Blog tours for your book can be tedious to organize and carry out, and most bloggers are only interested in your books when they’re brand new. As for your own blog—well, it takes time to build a strong readership, and in the meantime you may feel as though you’re shouting into the wind. But if you join forces with other authors and offer them opportunities to showcase their good work, everyone benefits from the increased readership. Through the well-read 49 Writers blog, we offer a Spotlight on Alaska Books feature, where Alaska authors can share their books, old and new. We also offer Alaska Shorts, a venue for authors to publish their creative work (or an excerpt from a longer project). And of course, we’re always interested in guest posts that are relevant to our readership. A collaborative online presence expands everyone’s reach and shows readers that you’re actively engaged with the literary community.

Before you utter another complaint about how hard it is to get your work noticed, make sure you’ve considered these opportunities to engage with readers. The only cost is your time - and not much of that!

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Successful Author: The Heart of Your Book

What’s at the heart of a successful book? A multitude of answers could be offered up: an intriguing premise, engaging characters, a strong voice, a plot that twists and surprises.

Before you get caught up in a debate about which of these book elements matters most, consider this: At the heart of a book is, quite simply, its heart. As in the human body, it muscles ceaselessly, behind the scenes. Without it, you have the shell of a thing, but no life. The means to finding the heart of a book—the stethoscope, if you will—comes through posing a simple question of yourself as its author: What’s this book really about?

A book’s heart isn’t the same as its topic or its sales pitch or its premise, though articulating each of those can be helpful to your overall understanding of your project. The heart is the book’s life source, the reason you’re compelled to write it, no matter the cost in time and energy and frustration.

The heart of a book isn’t likely apparent until you’ve begun writing. It shows itself in the parts that please you most, in the places where you find yourself lingering, in the areas where the language soars. It’s what excites you about the project, what keeps you going back to it day after day. If you have multiple books in you, the heart of one will often form itself in another, whether you intend it or not. That’s because the heart is what matters to you—and to your readers.

In school, we don’t learn to search for the heart of a book; we learn look for its topic and themes, which are far more cerebral. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? It’s about a raft trip down the Mississippi: that’s the topic answer. It’s about innocence and experience, freedom, coming of age, friendship: those are theme answers, intuited after the fact, Big Ideas to be outlined and proven.

The beat of the book’s heart can’t be dissected, only felt: the lure of a wide, muddy river; the banter of boys; the fool’s play of pretension.

Did Twain know the heart of his book? Perhaps not. Halfway through, he stopped writing, and when he picked up again, the second half was noticeably less heartfelt than the first.

What’s your book about? It’s a question worth asking. The answers can lead you all the way to its heart.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Sell That Book!

Image source: wikihow.com

Do you dream of selling your book to a big New York publisher? 

I’ve done that, but the market is ever-changing, and so it’s always nice to get an update on what counts most in today’s acquisition decisions.

Here, a few items of note from a recent session on the subject with literary agent Jeff Kleinman:
  • A manuscript must deliver. That means an agent or editor can’t put it down. It’s gush-worthy.
  • Want to impress a big publisher with your social media presence? You’ll need at least 25,000 followers—and that’s just in one spot, not combined across platforms.
  • Publishers want big books, the ones that will generate big sales.
  • If you write fiction, agents and publishers most want your first novel.
  • If you write fiction or memoir, your manuscript must have narrative urgency.
  • If an agent or editor tells you that she didn’t fall in love with your manuscript, that generally means the characters aren’t strong enough.
  • Your log line, or sales handle, is crucial. It should represent your core understanding of your book. Drill it down. It has to travel, meaning that it’s pithy and repeatable.
  • You should know exactly where your book would be shelved in a bookstore.
  • You should know the audience for your book, not in general (i.e. middle-aged women) but in terms of clearly delineated groups.
  • When your book goes before a publisher’s sales team, it’s good to have two noteworthy authors lined up endorse it—not at the meeting, but in cover blurbs if the book is accepted.
  • A huge problem: authors send out their work before it’s ready.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A regular contributor to the IBPA Independent, her views here are her own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Writing Zone

Every now and then, my husband catches me staring off into the distance, paying no attention at all to what’s going on around me. The Vanasse Zone, he calls it.

Actually, it’s the Writing Zone, where we writers yield to the creative happenings inside our heads. When you’re a writer, the Writing Zone is the place you most want to be. Ideally, it happens while you’re at the keyboard, putting words on the page. Ways you’ll know you’re in the Zone:

·         Words flow so quickly your fingers have a hard time catching up. You don’t second guess every line. You simply write
·         As you go with the flow, you’re excited about the discoveries that are unfolding in your work. But you don’t stop to laud them. You keep writing.
·         Unintended inspiration shows itself. Snippets of what you’ve read and experienced make their way into your project without any sort of planning.
·         After your writing session has ended, the ideas keep coming. You run back again and again to your notebook to jot them down.
·         When you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, you’re wearing a goofy grin. You’re in the Zone. What could be better?

Our best work happens in the Zone. How to get there? It’s not all that hard:

·         A short opening ritual helps. Prolific novelist Alexander McCall Smith plays background music of a different type for each of the series he writes. You can read about my ritual here.
·         Quit trying to sound writerly or brilliant or important. Let the authentic voice for your project lead the way.
·         Nix the perfectionist. There will be time later to assess and revise. For now, just write.
·         Ditch your linear expectations. If you get stuck in the middle, jump ahead and write a scene or section. Write a few. Then go back and connect them.
·         Once you reach altitude, find your cruising speed and stick with it. It’s all about the words on the page—in the end, that’s the only way to get and keep momentum.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Writing Advice to Ignore

Many years ago, I went bowling with a big group, all of us related in one way or another. I love to recreate as much as the next person, but in general, bowling isn’t my idea of a good time, and this particular outing became especially fraught as one by one, nearly everyone in our group—fortified by beer—tried to turn me into a bowling superstar with his or her advice.

Hold the ball this way. No, that way. Pivot here. No, like this. Slide. Don’t slide. Swing back more. Swing back less.

Not a fun night.

Advice is lovely, as long as it’s measured and proven and consistent. But in our eagerness to help, we often fail to consider how contradictory and even potentially damaging a bit of oversimplified advice may be.

Here, some common writing advice worth ignoring (or at least thinking through):

§  Focus on the main character: While it’s true that readers will want to empathize with your protagonist, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your secondary characters. Even minor characters should be memorable.

§  If your work is literary, emphasize character; if you write genre fiction, emphasize plot: Character and plot are too deeply intertwined to be separated. No matter what the genre, readers expect engaging characters and riveting stories.

§  Show, don’t tell: A common beginner’s mistake is to substitute exposition for scenes that show rather than tell. But don’t overcorrect. If you eliminate all telling, you’re missing out on opportunities for reflection, emotional depth, and narrative distance.

§  Reveal what you know: In some ways, good writing is like a comedy act—it’s all in the timing. Knowing when and where to withhold is essential to creating narrative tension.

§  You’re either a pantser or a plotter: These are fun, handy terms for describing a writer’s process. A pantser writes by the seat of her pants; as words spill onto the page, she watches her work find its shape. A plotter plans out her book, then writes to the plan. But while some of us may lean in one direction or the other, our best writing often comes from a combination of pantsing and plotting.