Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What to Do with Your Book Rights

“Say you keep the electronic rights,” my publisher said. “What are you going to do with them?
I had no idea.
The year was 2004, and while the buzz among authors was that you should try to hold onto your e-rights if you could, I was among those—the majority, I suspect—who had not a clue as to what that really meant.
Flash forward ten years. While I’d signed away those particular e-rights, I recovered all rights for two other books that had gone out of print (back when such a thing was still possible) and have brought them back into print on my own, as e-books and with print-on-demand (POD) print editions.
Now I’m a hybrid author, publishing both traditionally and independently. And I even have a hybrid book, one for which the rights are divvied up between a traditional publisher and me. The publisher has English language print rights. With their reputation and distribution network, the softcover of my latest novel, Cold Spell, is showing up all over, especially after reviews came in from places that would have punted it right out the door had the book been entirely self-published: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Foreword Reviews (though the latter does feature indie books, Cold Spell was a selected rather than paid review)
As for the rest of the rights—digital, audio, foreign—I’m working those in ways the print publisher can’t; they simply don’t have the resources. For the e-book, I run giveaways and specials. The audiobook is in production with a well-known radio host. Worldwide, a go-getter agent is representing the translation rights on my behalf.
Like so much else in publishing these days, the hybrid book is an experiment, one that works with the right combination of publisher, author, and book. Publishers want authors to sign over all rights; that’s how they do business. If you want to propose a different arrangement, you need to bring something special to the table—ideally, a book that the publisher couldn’t otherwise get. With large crossover potential—it's literary, and it's women's fiction, with book club appeal—I knew a well-marketed digital edition of Cold Spell would find its way to readers who might never consider picking up the softcover from the university press that holds the English language print rights. More readers mean more buzz, which means more sales in both digital and print, a win-win for the publisher and me.
There’s no way a Big Five Publisher would negotiate a hybrid arrangement with a small-time author. But in a changing market, small presses have the advantage of being nimble and forward-thinking. Some will understand this and use it to their advantage—those are the publishers you want to approach if you think you and your book are right for a hybrid deal. It also helps to have a previous working relationship; in my case, I’d done two prior books with the press.
And this time, when asked what I’d do with the rights I wanted to keep, I had a long and detailed answer. I had proof that I knew what I was doing, and I shared particulars about how I’d promote the non-print editions—and how that would mean a greater return for the publisher on the print edition, to offset the potential revenue lost from sales of the e-book.
If you propose a hybrid deal, keep in mind the publisher’s investment in bringing your book to market. Your book will benefit from the efforts of professional editors, proofreaders, and designers. Expect to generate your own digital files. Discuss contract language to ensure that the content of the book is the same in all editions. Decide whether cover files will be shared.
Sales figures will tell the full story, but so far, everyone’s benefiting from the hybrid arrangement for Cold Spell. The book is getting far more exposure that it would have under a traditional arrangement, and readers are enjoying access to the book (at competitive prices) in editions that wouldn’t otherwise have been made.
After thirteen previous books in print, I’ve finally got an answer: yes, I know what to do with those rights.
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored more than a dozen books. Her most recent is 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. This post first ran at the blog of ALLI, the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The 20% Book Marketing Plan

No matter how you publish, promotion and the obsessive behaviors that come with it (tracking sales, worrying over social media numbers, comparing with other authors, etc.) can suck a whole lot of your time, energy, and even cash. Don’t let that happen. You’ve got a life, and you may even have other books to write.

You’ve perhaps heard of the 80/20 rule: that in any given market, it’s the top 20 percent of the players doing 80 percent of the business. I’ve seen that applied to book marketing in a way that pushes all my buttons—“experts” who say that to sell books, an author needs to spend 80 percent of her time on promotion and 20 percent actually making the books.

Call me contrary, but I’m in this because I love writing and telling a good story, and I’m convinced the best way for me to enjoy the creative life and build a readership is by doing exactly the opposite—80 percent of my time spent creating books that leave readers begging for more, and 20 percent of my time building my fan base. So I devote the best and largest portion of my writing time to actually writing—not emails, not Facebook posts, not tweets, but my next book.

With those proportions in mind, I make a promotional plan for each book. Components vary, depending on whether I’m partnering with a traditional publisher and/or publicist (you can hire your own publicist, and lots of authors do, even if they’re working with traditional publishers who also have publicists, but expect to pay big bucks for their services—as in thousands of dollars). When you formulate your plan, don’t try to do everything. Be flexible, adjusting as you discover what works for you and your book. Budget your time and money in proportion to what you can realistically expect to net from sales of your book, and don’t be afraid to innovate.

Think of promotion as happening in phrases: pre-launch, launch, post-launch and ongoing. Ongoing promotion includes efforts like your e-newsletter and social networking; these build relationships and keep you visible while (hopefully) growing your fan base. The other phases are associated with each title as it meets the world. The pre-launch phase revolves primarily around ARCs—advance reading copies provided to reviewers, including authors and other high-profile people who will endorse (or blurb) your book; there may also be some pre-launch buzz, if the book warrants it. If you're self-publishing or with a small publisher, the pre-launch phase also includes a soft launch period in which books are available but not heavily promoted, allowing for online reviews to be posted as social proof for the launch.

The launch is a brief period (a few weeks, normally) in which you (and your publisher) celebrate the official release of the book—much anticipated, in the case of big-name authors. In traditional publishing, the launch is a lot like fireworks set off to draw attention to the book: boom, boom, boom, and then nothing, unless the book has gotten enough traction in the marketplace to warrant the publisher’s continuing investment. When you’re traditionally published, the success of your book and, in large part, your future in publishing, boils down to how each book received at the launch, though much of that depends on how much effort and cash the publisher and the author have expended to build buzz and generate pre-orders in advance of the launch. 

A huge source of frustration for authors is that with traditional publishers, it’s hard to know how a book does at launch. Royalty statements reflecting pre-orders won’t come in for six months at best, maybe a year. You’ll (sometimes) get copies of reviews, but unless your book hits a big, bonafide bestseller list, expect a quiet lull when you most want to know how your book’s doing.

A few weeks after launch, and you may feel as if your traditional publisher has lost interest. That’s not exactly true—of course they hope your book keeps on selling, so they can recoup their investment—but if it’s not gotten off to a stellar start, don’t expect them to expend much in the way of effort or money to change that. Traditional publishing is launch-centric. If a book doesn’t prove up in pre-orders and launch-related buzz, your publisher is going to move on to promoting the next author’s title. There are things you as an author can do in the post-launch period to help more readers discover your book, but expect to feel a bit like the lone ranger as you pursue them.

When you publish independently, you can take a more long-tailed approach to promoting your book. The launch itself is a nice opportunity to let the world know that a great new title’s available, but your future as an author isn’t going to hinge on how many copies were pre-ordered by bookstores or whether sales projections indicate that you’ll earn out your advance. You can be the tortoise to the hare that is traditional publishing: slow and steady can win the race, if your book is worthy and you’re committed to reaching readers. 

To see what happens when a publisher and author work together on marketing a book, check out Cold Spell, a novel recently released in a joint effort between the University of Alaska Press and my own Running Fox Books (They've got the English language softcover rights; I've got the rest.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Options in Publishing: What's Best for You and Your Book?

Quite a lot is written (by the minute, it seems) on publishing. What's tough is sorting through all of it, to compare and contrast and decide what will work best for you. 
While there are numerous variations, you've got basically three viable options for getting your book into print. Having done all three, I'm positioned to give you the low-down on each. You can take it from there, deciding which way to publish is best for you and your book. 
Let's start with traditional (legacy) publishing, which involves placing the book, usually with the help of an agent, through a publisher that restricts acquisitions based on quality and their best guess at sales potential. The exchange of money is strictly from publisher to author (via the agent, assuming there’s one involved), generally in the form of royalties (though some projects are contracted on a flat-fee basis), including (usually) an advance on royalties. Royalties vary, but in general you might expect between 5 and 10 percent of the retail price (the best arrangement) or net (after the publisher subtracts expenses). The agent’s share of the author’s share is generally 15 percent.
The publisher typically prefers to acquire all rights (print, digital, foreign, audio, film, etc.), though if the agent has the wherewithal to place some of those rights, she may negotiate to keep some of those and attempt to place them on the author’s behalf. In all cases, rights may revert to the author if a title goes out of print, but with the advent of digital publishing, books need never go out of print, so rights may in fact remain indefinitely with the publisher.
The benefits of traditional publishing are many. You get the confidence that comes with passing through an increasingly narrow gate—agents typically receive hundreds of queries per day; of those, an individual might take on two or three new clients a year. If your agent places your book with a traditional publisher, you generally get money up front. Your book benefits from professional (those not always top-notch) editing, design, production, marketing, and distribution. It’s more likely (though not guaranteed) to get noticed in the traditional ways—through reviews and other industry “buzz.” The publisher’s sales team will work to get it into bookstores and libraries, though shelf space is limited, so again, there are no guarantees.
But there are downsides, too, beginning with that narrow gate. In all but the rarest of cases (my first book was a happy exception), expect much waiting and disappointment as you work to acquire an agent and then as the agent works to place your book and then again as it gets queued up in the publishing cycle, which in most cases is at least a year or two out. And while your publisher cares about all its books, some books and authors are pre-selected each season to get a lot more attention than others; statistically speaking, odds are that your book will get less rather than more. 
This can be especially frustrating once you realize that if your book doesn’t make a big splash before it enters the market, in the form of pre-orders, you’ll be relegated to the dreaded category of “midlist,” meaning that your book wasn’t a bestseller; thereafter, you’ll find it harder to publish the next book and the next, because those average (or less than average) sales figures will hurt your prospects. In general, publishers are a lot more excited about discovering a brand new author with bestseller potential than continuing to publish an author whose sales record is mediocre. 
Except in those rare cases of instant success, you’ll find a fair amount of disappointment among published authors: they expected more marketing, more books in bookstores, a longer attention span from their publishers, larger royalty checks, more accurate sales data (because of the traditional system of returns, publishers themselves can’t really tell for a year or two whether the pre-orders actually resulted in sales).
Another option is independent, or self-publishing, done with or without the assistance of an author services company. In any case, the author generally keeps all rights, but she also bears the responsibility (and cost) for all editing, design, production, marketing, and distribution of the book. Editing, design, marketing, and some aspects of production (such as generating validated e-book files or professional recordings for audiobooks) are generally handled on a fee-for-hire basis, either through the author services company or through independent contractors.
 In exchange for certain aspects of production (physical printing, for instance) and distribution, authors split royalties with distribution companies like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Lightning Source, with the author’s share generally in the 60 to 70 percent range for e-books, depending on cover price. For print books, independent publishing can be accomplished either through print-on-demand, in which books are printed as they’re ordered, or through offset printing, in which the author orders and warehouses a large number of books. Print on demand arrangements involve a set fee for printing and distribution (the cost varies greatly depending on the physical format of the book) that’s generally paid on a book-by-book basis (though there’s also a set-up fee). In an offset arrangement, the per-book printing price will be cheaper, but keep in mind that there’s no distribution, and to get the best prices, you’ll need to order thousands of copies up front. In either case, if you’re able to get bookstores to carry your books, they’ll expect a 40 to 55 percent discount off the cover price.
By publishing independently, you'll receives more revenue per book sold, and you'll retain control of the entire process, bypassing many of the frustrations of the traditionally published author. Your rights are always yours, to place as you like—if you can generate interest. But independent publishing also has its drawbacks. There’s no money up front; in fact, unless you’re doing the barest of bare-bones efforts, or you’re amazingly talented in every aspect of publishing, you’re going to have to pay - sometimes handsomely - for professional editing, design, production, marketing, and distribution. 
Unless you already have a large and devoted following, you’re going to have to work (and work and work) to get your book noticed among the 3000 or so books that enter the market each day. You'll have no professional sales team to encourage booksellers and librarians to order your book. You’ll get reader reviews, but good luck getting traditional reviews, because there’s still a stigma to self-publishing, a stigma that won’t go away completely until the truly fine books released every day outnumber the bad ones. Figuratively speaking, your book is swimming in an ocean of crap. And unless readers reward you with glowing reviews (no, your momma’s review doesn’t count) and you get the sales figures to match, your confidence starts to feel false.
The third way to publish is less common and harder to pull off: the hybrid arrangement, where some rights are handled independently and some are placed through traditional avenues. My novel Cold Spell is one example. Without an agent, I sold the print English language rights to a traditional publisher. I contracted with an agent to represent the foreign rights. I produced and marketed the e-book through my own press, independent author cooperative Running Fox Books. For the audiobook, I contracted a royalty split with a producer.
A cautionary note: when it comes to publishing, there's a lot of choosing up sides - authors who advocate strongly for the avenue they've chosen. While it's natural to defend one's position, the noise isn't all that helpful when you're trying to make up your mind. Shut it out, study the pros and cons, and choose what's best for you and your book. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What Authors Should Know: Copyright, Piracy, and Digital Rights Management

You've worked hard on your book. Is someone going to steal it?

Even before they’ve published, new authors tend to be concerned (sometimes overly so) about copyright, to the point where some are reluctant to share anything about their book projects out of fear someone will “steal” their ideas. In general, such concerns are the mark of a novice; experienced, professional authors may choose not to talk a lot about a work-in-progress out of concern for mucking up their creative process, but they aren’t worried about theft at that point; they know that what makes a book successful isn’t so much the idea as how it’s rendered on the page, using all the talent, energy, and skill an author can muster. They also understand that as soon as their original work is “fixed” in “tangible” form, it’s covered under US copyright law, so something as simple as an email stored in a digital file is protected by copyright—there’s no registration or notice required.

You may hear of other ways to “copyright” your work, such as mailing your manuscript to yourself or showing it to friends. These were pre-digital safeguards for proving that you were the author and attaching a date to your work. If you save your files in your computer, the author and date are electronically attached automatically. Of course, if you want to pay to have your work registered with the US Copyright Office (the fee is $140), you can do so at any time, pre- or post-publication. The primary advantage to registering pre-publication is that should you need to bring a lawsuit against someone for copyright infringement, preregistered copyright entitles you to seek compensation for statutory as opposed to actual damages as well as reimbursement of legal costs. And in any event, before you can take legal action in the United States against someone for copyright infringement, you’ll need to register your copyright, but you can do this at any point during the life of your book, which for US copyright purposes (covering books published after 1978) is the life of the author plus seventy years.

Before you plunk down your money for copyright registration, consult an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and/or educate yourself on the details of copyright using an authoritative guide like The Chicago Manual of Style, a reference widely used by publishers not only for detailed explanations on matters of copyright and fair use, but also for matters of usage, grammar, punctuation, and style. There you’ll find specifics on copyright notice, which is no longer required under US law (if you’re publishing elsewhere, the laws are different) but is strongly advised as a deterrent against infringement. Copyright notice is printed on the copyright page—on the flip side of the title page in print editions, and more commonly at the end of an ebook.

Sadly, copyright protection has done little to combat the problem of piracy, which plagued the music and video industries before spreading to books. As the Google books project proved, little effort or expense is required to scan and upload a book. (For the record, Google attempted to include in their project only books for which they believed the copyright was expired or “in question"; much legal wrangling ensued with authors). 

As a deterrent to piracy, some publishers embed DRM (digital rights management) into their ebooks. If you're uploading your own ebooks with individual vendors, each will ask if you’d like to enable DRM. I don’t use DRM, because from what I understand, pirates can more or less instantly break through the DRM barrier, while DRM restricts readers to a single device for reading a book.

The truth is that pirates focus on “hot” titles, the ones from which they’re most likely to make a profit. If your book is one of those, use a service like Muso, which for a modest monthly fee will scour the internet daily for pirated versions of your books and, at your request, remove illegal files from hosting services—and you can try Muso first, for thirty days, free of charge, to see if your books are being pirated. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Author's Publishing Success: An Interview with Autumn Dawn

Author Autumn Dawn, a former student from North Pole High School.
Like many writers, I was a teacher first. Following a news article on my latest novel, I received an inspiring email from a former student, now a fellow author who writes under the name Autumn Dawn.

I wanted to thank you again for teaching my North Pole High School class,” she said. “I’ve made good use of it. It makes me emotional thinking about what I would have done without teachers like you. So many stories would have gone untold, and I have over twenty works published now. Two were published in NY, two are with Amazon’s publishing arm and the rest are self-published.”

As teachers all over the country prepare to start a new year, I hope they’ll find encouragement in this example of what a difference they’ll make in the lives of their students. Not every one of them will find the success Autumn has, or take the time to acknowledge how you’ve helped them along the way, but your creative efforts in the classroom do have an impact.

After reconnecting, Autumn and I thought it would be fun to swap interviews; you’ll find her interview with me on her blog.

You pointed out that the two of us had something in common: school counselors/academic advisers told us that we’d never make a living as writers. How did you get past that?

I’m stubborn and competitive, and I like a challenge. Writing made me happy, and the stories didn’t stop just because someone disapproved. For the record, I was almost forty before my parents saw any sense in it. My father admitted he thought I was wasting my time with writing, which I knew, but at least he didn’t say it out loud.

Also, my husband and high school sweetheart, John, is extremely supportive. We’ve been married since 1994 and every day is a blessing.

You’ve not only made a living as a writing, you’ve also earned a six-figure annual income from your books. Tell us a little about that journey, and what the money does and doesn’t mean to you as a creative individual.

It was a huge validation, of course. Someone wanted to read my books! We’d just moved to Washington and I hoped to make some money to help with groceries, and suddenly my sales numbers shot up! We watched in amazement, and all the guys at John’s work were cheering like it was a sports event as John shared the latest stats. I could say “HA!” to all all the doubters.

As for the money, I had to find a good accountant to help with that. We did our best to be practical, opened a Roth, bought our first new car ever and paid it off quickly. I also got some professional book covers and editing, which were a huge part of my success. It paid for plane tickets to see family in Alaska, things like that. I’m a practical girl, and did my best to bring value to our lives. 

You’ve managed to write twenty books while raising three active children. What advice do you have for other moms who write?

A book is a good place to hide when the toddlers are running rampant. Invest in a set of headphones and place the computer so you can see the kids but not the TV. Also, I’m not a soccer mom. We keep things simple and relaxed here without a lot of running around. I simply don’t have the temperament for it. Sports are fine and every kid should learn to swim, but there should be balance. We eat dinner together every night and the house is clean. We talk about our day and if one of the kids is having a problem, I notice and we talk about it. I can’t do that if everyone is running full tilt at all times, and I can’t write if I’m stressed.

Honestly, housekeeping, cooking and dealing with teens is a big job, so I have to stay organized if I want to write. And sometimes, John cooks.

You said, “I didn’t know until I was an adult that I was a gifted person, but writing was always an outlet for a kid that wasn’t quite in sync with the others.” What encouragement do you have for other kids who aren’t “quite in sync” with the rest?

Skip childhood. Kidding! Best case scenario, I’d love to see gifted kids discovered in school and given the help they need. To my school’s credit, I believe they tried. I actually needed counseling as an adult, and once I suspected I was gifted, I devoured books on it and haunted websites. I read things and think, what? That’s unusual? I could do that, why didn’t someone tell me? My mother said I was a weird kid, and she hated to see me “waste all my time reading”. Little did she know I was preparing for my future job.

If your kid gets a 99% verbal on the PSAT, she’s probably gifted. It won’t matter if she doesn’t know how to sew. You should discuss college or a good tech school, however.

I didn’t realize it was odd to carry books from the library stacked to my chin. I finally learned to drive at seventeen so I could spend time in the bookstore. I didn’t know how to talk to kids my age, and later Mom told me that they wanted to skip me ahead a grade. She refused that and the gifted program because she didn’t want me to feel “pressured.” ARRRGH! I wondered what happened to my friends; they seemed to all disappear from my classes in middle school, and now I know they were in the gifted program.

I saw some of them again in the AP and honor classes, but by then I hated school. High school was a prison sentence and I wanted out. Being an adult was much better.

I don’t regret not attending college. If I want to learn something, I pick up a book and read. While you can’t learn to dance that way, it’s great for teaching yourself website design, Photoshop, computer stuff and gourmet baking. We tell our kids that apprenticeships, tech school and the military are excellent ways to get an education that won’t put you in debt for years, but never stop learning, and never give up. You were custom made for a job, and if it doesn’t exist yet, create it! 

You’re incredibly imaginative and prolific. How have readers discovered you and your books? After twenty books, do you find you still have to work to promote your new titles, or do your fans find them?

Thank you. I’ve always enjoyed creating worlds no one else has dreamed of, and I’m very careful not to repeat myself. I like to keep things fresh, and my readers appreciate that.

I post new books on my site, blog and Facebook. That’s it. I should have a mailing list, but I don’t. I find that frequent releases are the best way to generate sales, and I usually have at least one ebook free. I think happy readers are the best word of mouth.

Autumn Dawn

Autumn is a professional writer and stay at home mom with three kids, a dog and an active imagination. She’s married to her high school sweetheart, John, who is known to bring her flowers "just because.” After 34 years in Alaska, she moved to Washington with her family to enjoy a state with actual seasons. She started self-publishing in 2010 after a string of rejections that read, “We love your writing, but we’re not sure how to market it.” She published on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, which lead to a number of bestsellers. After The Charmer hit #1 on Barnes & Noble for fantasy romance, she threw herself into editing and uploading her backlist.

Her income for 2011 was $100,000, far exceeding her best year with traditional publishing. In 2012, Amazon acquired Dorchester Books, which had picked up two of her books, and Autumn gave Amazon the rights to publish When Sparks Fly and No Words Alone (from the Sparks Series), believing that diversification is good business. While Autumn is grateful for the opportunities traditional publishing provided, she remains passionate about self-publishing. Keep an eye on her blog for news about upcoming books!

Iron & Hemlock

Life can change in the blink of an eye.

It was just an ordinary day when lightning struck and sent Jordan spinning back in time. Trapped in Victorian England, practical Jordan will have to abandon her disbelief in magic. Pursued by a sexy golden griffin and a dark fae who wants her blood, she just might rediscover the thrill of falling in love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Writing Exercises: Are They Worthwhile?

From the Writing Picture Prompts Pinterest board

Isn’t it wonderful, being a writer? The joy! The freedom!  Anywhere, anytime, inspiration may strike.  And we’re ready, with our notepads and laptops and smart phones, ready to spin our ideas in whichever direction they want to go.  That snippet of dialogue, that flash of insight, that exquisite image – from any of these, an entire poem or essay or novel can grow.  We just have to run with it.

But run where? There are so many possibilities. So many directions. Freedom, it seems, is also a curse. What is a novel, after all, but what author David Stevenson once described as a million ways to go wrong?

If brain research is any indicator, poets have the right idea when they work within forms.  While the rest of us run freely, poets quietly and mindfully hold the writer’s equivalent of a yoga pose, enjoying the broader creative perspective that paradoxically comes from constraint.
“We break out of the box by stepping into shackles,” Jonah Lehrer says, citing a study led by Janina Marguc at the University of Amsterdam which shows that obstacles of form force us to think in a broader, more interesting ways. Want to broaden your perception? Open up new ways of thinking? Find the connections between ideas that seem unrelated?  Find a roadblock, or as poets call it, a form.
Calling the brain “a neural tangle of near infinite possibility,” Lehrer explains that without constraints, our brains zero in on what not to notice, and as a result creativity suffers.  “The artificial requirements of the sonnet are just another cognitive obstacle,” he says, “a hurdle that compels the mind to think in a more holistic fashion. Unless poets are stumped by their art, unless they are forced to look beyond the obvious associations, they’ll never invent an original line. They’ll be stuck with clichés and banalities, with predictable adjectives and boring verbs. And this helps explain the stubborn endurance of poetic forms: because poets need to find a rhyming word with exactly three syllables, or an adjective that fits the iambic scheme, they end up uncovering all sorts of unexpected associations.”
This is why writing exercises can be so effective, even for experienced writers.  Cognitive push-ups, mindful poses – these actually nudge us toward originality, not away from it.  Plus the stakes are low, and that never hurts.
Blocked? In a rut? Stuck in the forever-middle?  Indulge in an exercise, ten or fifteen minutes of writing push-ups and poses, and see what creative ways of thinking you unleash. Then as O’Connor suggests, start looking for the limitations imposed by your work as it unfolds.

Not sure where to start? You'll find writing exercises at The Self-Made Writer, at Poets & Writers, and at the Warren-Wilson website. Pinterest even has a board of Writing Picture Prompts.

This post also runs at www.49writers.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blurbs for Your Book

There’s a lot of confusion out there about book blurbs: what they are, what makes a good one, how many you should have, and how to get them.

In theory, the term “blurb” has two meanings: a commendatory assessment of a book written by its publisher (aka jacket copy, flap copy, back cover copy), and a commendatory assessment of a book written by someone else (aka endorsement). In traditional publishing, “blurb” generally means the latter—an endorsement by someone else—with the other terms (jacket copy, flap copy, back cover copy) used to describe promotional material written by the publisher. Especially when they come from respected authors, blurbs (endorsements) are a means of discovery for readers, and they offer social proof.

If you publish traditionally, your publisher (and sometimes your agent) may contact respected authors with blurb requests, following up with Advance Reading Copies (arcs). But your publisher will also ask you to suggest authors who might blurb your book, and of course if you’re publishing your own work, the entire task will rest on your shoulders.

How to get blurbs for your book? Here, a few tips:

·         Readers are important, but reader reviews aren’t blurbs. A blurb should be an endorsement from a respected author of a similar book or, if the book is nonfiction, someone highly respected in the field.
·         Quality matters more than quantity. Years ago, I received a copy of a novel that had 27 blurbs, including endorsements by bookstores (no names given), pastors, institute directors, authors of nonfiction, and professors. Lost in the shuffle were a five-star review by Midwest Book Reviews and an endorsement by a well-known author. The overall effect of all these blurbs was that the author was reaching too hard to impress. The best blurbs come from respected authors of books that are similar to yours, authors with which you hope to share cross-readership, along with snippets of reviews from respected publications (well-known newspapers, Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Foreword Reviews).
·         When deciding whom to approach, think first about which books are most like yours. Then narrow the list to authors with whom you have meaningful relationships, either in real time (through conferences, workshops, writing groups) or online. There should be a good chance that these authors will like your book, and that your work is similar enough that they might benefit from crossover readership with your readers.  
·         Your request should be simple, straightforward, and personal. Say a little about the book, how and when the arc will be delivered, and how and when the blurb should be returned (generally, by email, to either the author or the publisher). If you sense hesitation, don’t press it. We’re all busy, and some authors have a no-blurb policy.
·         Use blurbs on your back cover (one or two), on the first page (“Praise for . . .), and on your website (I use my favorite excerpts on my home page and provide the full text on a separate “Praise”page.) Blurbs that don’t make the print deadline can always be added to the digital edition.
·         From a friend who writes mysteries, I learned that some authors in some genres don’t read the books they blurb; the blurbs are done as favors within the industry, with wording provided by the publishers. It’s different in literary fiction, which I write: authors read the books they blurb. One who blurbed my novel Cold Spell even took time to write after the fact, “Listen, I know there's a lot of tit for tat in the book world, but I just want to say that my admiration for your book is sincere and profound. I'm still thinking about it. It was such a delight--to open it and see your talent pooling all over each page.”
·         Besides helping readers find books, blurbs can be a wonderful “feel-good” for the author—plus they help us see our work in new ways. About my novel Cold Spell, author David Vann (whose work I hugely admire) wrote, Cold Spell is Greek tragedy.  From the very first pages, these lives are out of control.  You’ll care for Sylvie, and also her mother Ruth, and you’ll want them not to hurt each other, but of course they will.” I hadn’t thought of the story in quite that way, but he’s absolutely right. In her blurb, author Cindy Dyson spoke of the “tenderized realism” in Cold Spell, applied to both setting and characters. I like that term—along with other observations by blurbers, it helps refine my vision of my work.