Category Archives: Anti-Advice

The Despair-Free Guide to Planning Your Book Launch

So you’ve written a book, and the launch of your darling debut approacheth with increasing speed. Congratulations! And welcome to hell.

If you’re like me, you innocently went searching for helpful self-marketing checklists and guides that might assist you in preparing for the big day. And then you skimmed through those checklists and choked. I’m supposed to do what now? In how long? With whose cash and time and energy? After that, you sent off a panicky, tearful e-mail to your friend and fellow author Laurie Thompson, who herself recently launched her own spectacular debut, and who promptly met you at Panera for a three-hour, no-frills, no-lies marketing session.

I’m going to pass along the fruits of our conversation, because in three hours, Laurie turned me from a hyperventilating asylum candidate into a serene debut author with a reasonable to-do list. And maybe you, like me, are mortal and get tired. Maybe you have another career. Maybe you have kids. Maybe marketing your book cannot be your full-time, or even your part-time job. And maybe the idea of going into the world and promoting yourself makes you want to die a little. So maybe you need a little soothing, a la Laurie. Here it is.

Prepare – But Don’t Despair.

You don’t have to do everything.

You don’t even have to sell your book. To anyone. As an author, your job is to write a book. Once the book is released, your job is to write another one. Your secondary job is to raise visibility, which means letting people know your book exists. You’re probably already doing that in lots and lots of ways.

When you see a list of things you could be doing, think of them as exactly that. Things you could be doing. Not things you should be doing. Pick out the ones that make sense to you and that you feel capable of tackling. Do those.

Laurie and I went through her super-maxi-extreme-ultra checklist of doom, and together we identified some things that I want to keep on my personal, sane-person list, such as:

  • Create the story around your book – your one-or-two-sentence Why – and be ready to share it. This isn’t an elevator pitch; it’s an answer to the question “Why did you write this?” or “What was your inspiration for this book?” or “What does this book mean to you?” It’s the story behind your story, and it will provide your publisher’s publicity department, as well as librarians, teachers, and booksellers, with a handy hook for generating interest in your book.
  • Make postcards and bookmarks, because they’re useful for all sorts of things. Send them to stores and libraries, or drop some off at local places. (Honestly, the mailing-list thing? I dread it. Researching to build the lists and finding the time to write hundreds of notes and print labels and apply postage… That’s all extremely daunting to me, so it’s one of those things that I’m going to do as I can, when I can. A few notes a week. I’ll target the stores I care about, and the libraries within driving distance that I might actually be able to visit.) Remember, once your book is out, it’ll be out for a while. Not everyone has to buy it on the actual launch date.
  • Make some fun swag for giveaways and launch events, if you’re doing those things. People like free stuff. Keep it cheap and thematic. Tap into your circle of talented friends and family. My brother knows how to make chainmail, so he’s creating some really neat giveaway bookmarks for me. People also like food, so cupcakes will make them happy, but swag is nice because it might rattle around in a purse or a coat pocket for a while and remind people of you.
  • Do you have an online presence? Good for you. Social media can be overwhelming, but again, you don’t have to do everything. Pick one or two things and manage them as you will. Maybe a blog and a Twitter feed. Maybe a Facebook page and your web site. Maybe just one of those things. Update at your own speed. Yes, it’s fun to be able to find authors online and see cool new fresh content on their super nifty pages, but you know what? An author’s lack of (or lackluster) media presence has never yet stopped me from buying a book I’ve heard great things about.
  • Shake your trees. Even if they are small trees and seem insignificant and not terribly fruity, go ahead and give them a shake. Your experiences and connections matter. Make a list of anyone in your life, past or present, who might support you (e.g. send a postcard to the current librarian of your old elementary school and tell them Hi, I used to go there, and I would be so thrilled to think of my book sitting on the very same shelves where I used to hide from all the other kids and cry my way through recess… Or maybe don’t do that, because that’s oversharing).
  • Make a little press kit that’s easy to give people. Quick and dirty. Your bio, your book synopsis, your contact info (and your agent’s). Get fancy with it, if you want. Or don’t.
  • Do the things you’re good at, in which you can take pleasure, and in which your genuine joy and excitement about your book will shine through. People don’t like pushy, saccharine nonsense; but they will like you. So do what’s authentic for you. I personally love using iMovie, so I had fun making my book trailer. And I love my students, so my “launch party” will actually be a library event, held within walking distance of my school, so that all my kids (who are middle-schoolers and can’t drive) can be there.

And then, once you’ve figured out the few things that matter most to you, let the rest of it go.

Now, it’s true that most publishers do expect varying amounts of self-promotion from their authors, so certain responsibilities may be handed to you, and as a professional, you’ll have to sort that out. Stuff will come up that you need to do. Stuff will fall into your lap that you ought to try to say yes to, for the sake of visibility. And some stuff – maybe even some really neat-o stuff – will come your way, if your book gets a lick of positive attention from the right source, so have your ducks in a row. All I’m saying is that if you don’t suddenly transform into a highly experienced publicist and throw over the rest of your life in order to haunt Twitter for the next six months, that’s okay.

Because you know what? The bottom line here – and it’s not exactly cheerful, but I think it’s freeing – is this: No matter how hard you throw yourself at self-marketing and promotion, it’s very hard to tell which of the checklist items will actually translate into sales. Even if you do ALL THE THINGS, you should prepare yourself for the fact that, after your launch, there may be very little fanfare. Just do what feels right. Do what you can. And make sure to enjoy it, because this is your baby, and you earned this joy. Don’t let some well-meant but soul-sucking checklist take this moment away from you.

Finally, remember that while the launch date feels enormous, it’s actually only a big deal to you and your loved ones. It’s a big splash followed by a long, leisurely, less attention-getting swim. Books take a long time to grow into their full, true readership, and that part can’t be forced (if it could, then every giant advance that a publisher gambles on would turn out to be a bestseller success). Your authentic audience will build organically over a long period of time as readers pass your book from hand to hand and give it the ultimate praise: “You have to read this.”

And then maybe, just maybe, they’ll search for you on Twitter. And maybe, if you feel like it, you’ll be there waiting.

 

This post was made possible by the gifted and generous Laurie Thompson.

 

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out April 28, 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice, Anti-Advice, Book Promotion, Launch, Panic, Promotion, Time Management

I am not my book… Or am I?

On Monday, Tara wrote a great post stating, “I am not my book.” If you haven’t read it yet, please do! There is so much wisdom in that way of thinking, and I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate it into my life as I move forward in my career as an author. I am certainly going to try. Unfortunately, I think for most of us separating the author from the book is much easier said than done, both as readers and as writers.

As readers, I think we tend to equate the author with the work more often than we might care to admit. We ask ourselves, “Would I like this person?” and we base our answer on whether or not we liked the book and the ideas it contained. When we love a book, we assume we’d love the author if we ever got the opportunity to meet him or her in person. (Sadly, this isn’t always the case!) If we don’t connect with a book, we assume we won’t be able to connect with its author. (Fortunately, this isn’t always the case, either!) Conversely, when we like an author in real life, we expect we will also like his or her books. And if we don’t like the author? Well, we probably won’t even bother reading the books!

As writers, it’s even more difficult to separate ourselves from our work. We pour everything we have into our books, often over the course of many years. But, no matter how long and hard we’ve worked on a project, we still see the flaws in it—flaws we either don’t have time to fix or don’t yet know how to. Or, perhaps worse, flaws we didn’t even know were there that rear their ugly heads and reveal themselves to us after it’s too late to change them. Once published, a book becomes both frozen in time and yet strangely immortal, forever associated with its creator—flaws and all.

I recently came across this quote on the Writing Quotes blog on Tumblr, which really hit home for me and helped me find a way to think about separating the author from the work:

“It’s not getting it perfect. This is taking an infinite project and turning it into a finite project. It’s about realizing it isn’t your absolute best work – because then you’d never let go of it – but it’s something you’d be very proud of.”
—Dave Cullen
(http://writingquotes.tumblr.com/post/84636205686/its-not-getting-it-perfect-this-is-taking-an)

As both readers and as writers, the trick is to remember that a book is the finite product that results from an infinite process. An author has to make all sorts of complicated decisions and compromises to force their myriad ideas into a static form. Then, knowing it will never be perfect, they have to let it go. If the author isn’t able to do any of those things, no one will ever get to read the book.

“The best is oftentimes the enemy of the good; and many a good book has remained unwritten…because there floated before the mind’s eye the ideal of a better or a best.”
—R .C. Trench
(http://writingquotes.tumblr.com/post/84770273004/the-best-is-oftentimes-the-enemy-of-the-good-and)

One thing I know for sure is that I am not willing to wait endlessly for a perfect book that can never be. I would much rather be reading—and writing—good books, right now.

As in other professions, authors too must do the best they can with what they have available at the time and with what time they have available, and that is all they can do. Their works, of course, are influenced by who they are as people. Who they are as people is in turn influenced by the work they have done. They are reflections of each other, but both are imperfect images.

So, am I my book? Are you yours? Yes and no. Partially, but not completely. As much as I want to keep the two separate, they seem to keep getting tangled up with each other again.

Let’s just say… “It’s complicated.”


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House (January 2015), and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anti-Advice, Anxiety, Writing and Life

Pantsing, Planning, and Doing Whatever Works

When I first started writing – really writing, trying to make whole stories hang together so that I could share them with other people – I was what’s now known in the writing community as a pantser, or a novelist who flies by the seat of her pants when writing a novel. I had a vague plan, but I just wanted to dive in and get going.  All that plotting and outlining wasn’t for me – I wanted to write, not think about writing.  So I’d write and write and write, and get it all out.  I completed some novels that way.  They weren’t very good.  They weren’t even salvageable first drafts that might work upon revision.  They were just sort of… puked up.  Some authors swear by pantsing, but it doesn’t work for me.

Neither does planning.  A planner is a novelist who knows in advance exactly what’s going to happen in the novel. As I became more intentional about writing, and especially when I decided to tackle writing a fantasy series, I turned to hardcore planning.  I wrote documents, sometimes fifty or seventy pages in length, describing what was going to happen in a given novel.  And then I’d go to write the actual living novel, and everything would change on me.  Characters who had been docile and compliant in the outlining phase turned mutinous and ran wild, knocking down the rest of my beautifully arranged plot dominoes.

Well, what then?  How should I do this?

The answer is still in development (and probably always will be), but I’ve written the bulk of four drafts of four different novels in the Tyme series in the past year, so I’m starting to get a pretty clear sense of my process.  As it turns out, I’m a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock and roll.  I plan first, laying out the essential outline as I envision it.  Then I pants hard, diving in, writing what wants to be written, ignoring the outline as soon as it becomes a burden and I long to deviate from it (usually around chapter two), allowing characters to crop up and then vanish, letting plotlines meander and crash into each other.  While this is happening, I usually feel like I’m writing something awesome!

Soon enough, though, I realize I’m writing a draft.  Usually this realization comes right before the big climactic event, when it becomes depressingly clear that things are not in their proper places, structurally or emotionally.  That’s when I stop pantsing and go back to planning again.  At that point, however, I tend to plan backwards, starting from my ideal denouement.  What do I want from those final scenes?  Who’s there?  What are they doing?  How do they feel?  How do I want to feel?  What has to happen, during the climactic events of the story, to make that satisfying resolution possible?  What has to happen in the rising action to make that climax possible?  What has to happen in the establishing chapters to kick off that rising action with a bang?  Working backwards helps me to problem solve.

Even after engaging in so much careful backwards plotting and problem solving, I continue to find that drafts want to do what they want to do, and that part of my job is to let that happen.  So I pants some more.  But those rounds of planning get into the DNA of the story, and I find that, as I flip back and forth between the pantsing and the planning, stuff starts to tighten up and work out, without necessarily keeping to the established plan.

This way of going about it is certainly not the only way.  There is no only way.  I’m sure of very few things in this writing profession, but I’m certain of this: Whatever works for me as a writer is okay.  If I read a blog post, or attend a presentation, and the speaker says that their way is the right way, then I’m allowed to ignore that dictate.  I’ll learn what they have to teach, then go out and write however I need to write.

What works best for you?

 

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: A TALE OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice, Anti-Advice, craft~writing, Plotting, Writing

That’s Cool

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

— Ernest Hemingway

You know it, and I know it, but not everybody you come across knows how wonderfully magical a thing it is to write a book. To create characters that are as real as members of your own family. To dream up events that keep readers awake late into the night promising themselves, “Just one more chapter.” To speak truths into the minds and hearts of others that you will never meet.

Not everyone knows what it is like to work for hours, agonizing over the subtleties of word choice. (Is it a secret meeting? A clandestine meeting? Does a stealthy meeting make sense?) How do you describe what it feels like to walk into a new school when you’re in third grade? Does this dialogue sound authentic? And then what happens?

There are actually people who believe that writing a book, especially a children’s book, is easy to do. And THEY WALK AMONG US!!

As a children’s book writer, I have had more people than I’d care to remember say things like, “You write for children? How cute!” “I’ve always wanted to write a picture book!” and “Oh, I should write a children’s book, too!”

            I’m normally a picture book writer, but several years ago I decided to try my hand at a middle grade novel. (Okay, I was dared to write a middle grade novel.) I worked for two years on it, on and off. Finally, I got tired of the “and off” method and decided to give myself a writer’s retreat. I blocked off a week in August to go to our family’s cabin and finally, finally finish the first draft.

            I took the dog, left my husband and daughter at home, and retreated. I worked solidly for a week, knowing that they would be coming to join me on the weekend.

            I finished on Friday afternoon. In fact, I was typing, “The end” as they came up the driveway. My husband, Rollo, opened the door, calling, “How’d it go?”

            “I’M FINISHED WITH THE FIRST DRAFT!” I told him.

            He made the proper amount of commotion about this announcement. (Definition or Proper Amount of Commotion: Not so little I had to wonder if he was impressed. Not so much that he made me think he was astonished I could actually finish a novel.) “Tomorrow I’m taking you out to dinner. We’ll go to Visconti’s. We’ll order a really good bottle of champagne. We’ll splurge and order dessert!”

            The next evening we drove into town. We had champagne with our appetizers. We had a really good bottle of red wine with dinner.

            “Looks like you’re celebrating something special,” our perky young waitress said as she brought out dessert.

            “My wife just finished her book,” Rollo said.

            I tried to look suitably humble.

            “Oh, that’s cool,” the waitress said. She set our desserts down in front of us and turned to me. “What did you read?”

            The humble look fell from my face, ninja-kicked off, I am sure, by an expression of outrage. Did I look like someone who needed a celebratory dinner for reading a whole book by myself??

            “No,” Rollo told her, enunciating clearly. “She wrote a book.”

            “Oh,” the waitress said, refilling our water glasses. “That’s cool, too.”

            They walk among us…

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anti-Advice, Celebrations, craft~writing, Happiness, Helpful or Otherwise, Satisfaction, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing and Life

THE CALL by Rebecca Van Slyke

I waited for a long time to get THE CALL.

You know the one. You’ve written a manuscript for a picture book/poem/article/non-fiction/novel and sent it out. Maybe you’ve written two. Maybe sixty. In any case, you wait. And wait. The weeks turn into months, and maybe– like in my case– years. You do the things you’ve been told to do. Be  patient. Keep writing. Keep sending out. Go to conferences. Join a critique group. Get an MFA in writing for children. Get an agent. Keep writing. Keep waiting.

And after awhile, if you keep doing this, you get– THE CALL.

Your manuscript has been accepted. (!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Now with all the practice that I’ve  had waiting, you’d think I would have prepared something semi-intelligent to say when THE CALL came.

You might think that. But you’d be wrong.

I got THE CALL on a Monday morning in early June, just after school got out. I was enjoying a leisurely morning of not having to go teach second grade. I’d had my tea, checked my email, and I was contemplating taking a shower. The phone rang.

Voice on the phone: Hello, Rebecca? It’s Joan.

Me (thinking): Joan? Joan who? It doesn’t sound like Joan, our retired school librarian…. Stall…

Me (out loud): Hello!

Maybe she’ll say something to clue me in.

Voice on the phone: How are you doing this morning?

No help there. Stall…

Me: Great! How are you?

Voice: I’m very well. I have some good news.

Good news is good. Wait! Maybe she said “Dawn.” It sounds a little like the Dawn I know who is getting married this weekend. She’s probably calling to tell me something about the wedding.

Voice: I got an email from Frances Gilbert.

Frances Gilbert? I don’t know a Frances Gilbert. A member of the wedding party?

Me: Yes?

Voice: She’s made an offer on MOM SCHOOL and DAD SCHOOL.

MOM SCHOOL? DAD SCHOOL? Those sound familiar. Wait. I wrote two picture books called MOM SCHOOL and DAD SCHOOL.

Suddenly all the pieces fell into place like a load of… very heavy things.

MY AGENT’S NAME IS JOAN. SHE HAS AN OFFER ON A BOOK! TWO BOOKS?

So I said… “Oh!”

That’s it. All my years of waiting, condensed into one brilliant syllable: “Oh!”

Little more than a letter, really. “Oh!”

Joan  had more to say, but I didn’t. After every sentence she told me– presumably details about the offer– all I could manage was, “Oh!”

I think I also said, “Thank you.” I hope I said, “Thank you.”

“So I’ll call you back with more details later, then,” Joan finished.

“OK.” Yay. Another letter added. “OK, then.”

We said goodbye. I think I managed a goodbye, too.

My family and I celebrated in secret because nothing was finalized. Champagne corks popped. We packed to go to the wedding, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to say anything to well-meaning friends who were sure to pat my hand and ask, “So how’s your writing going?”

I lamented the fact that all I had said was, “Oh.” I vowed that the next time I got THE CALL I would have something more to say than, “Oh.” Something intelligent. Something charming. Something gracious. I am a writer, after all, and writers are supposed to be good with words.

That very Thursday, before we left for the weekend, Joan called back. She had more details about the offer. I had some marginally intelligent questions to ask, and I even managed to take a few notes. Then Joan said, “Are you sitting down?”

“I could be.” I sat down.

“We’ve had an offer for another one of your picture books.”
Another CALL!! Here was my opportunity to be witty. To be erudite. To say something– anything– besides, “Oh.”

“Oh… my!”

*headdesk

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Anti-Advice, Celebrations, Happiness, Introduction, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, The Call

2+2 Never Equals Five, but Adverbs are Okay

I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. More specifically, in Controls & Dynamics (i.e., Robotics). Given an initial state and a set of variables, you could drive your desired system to a desired state in a predictable, controlled manner.

I think that’s what I most like about Engineering, Math, Physics, etc. Everything’s set in stone (okay, maybe not the theories, but everything else). There’s one correct answer, which you’ll get to if you follow the rules. Don’t follow the rules and $%&^ goes haywire.

Writing’s got rules, too. Don’t start a story w/ somebody waking up  or somebody looking in a mirror. Avoid adverbs like the plague. Avoid similes/metaphors like the plague. Avoid repetition like the plague. Avoid cliched phrases ‘like the plague’ like the… chickenpox. Dialogue tags other than said? Fogheda ‘bout it. Oh, don’t make up words phonetically. Do not boldly go (i.e., no split infinitives). Don’t infodump…

The list goes on and on and on. Can turn your brain to mush. Never mind all that other stuff outside of writing you’re supposed to consider. Blog tours, website evolution, twitter evolution, Facebook evolution, writerly evolution, book promotion, obsessing about book 2, deciding launch party logistics (Cookies!)…. Plus, you know, kids and/or jobs and life. Lots of Brain Jumble Noise.

There’s a list of rules for sequels, too, which is heavy on my mind as I churn through mine. Don’t infodump in the beginning. However, don’t launch in without providing at least some backstory. Don’t introduce another love interest on page one. Maybe not at all. Don’t have your MC seduce somebody and kill him with makeshift razor blades.

Wait, what?

Okay, threw that last one in there just to make sure you were reading along.

Here’s the thing, though, something I often have to remind myself: writing’s not math or science. If you break the rules, #$^& might go haywire, but sometimes haywire’s a damn good thing in books. In fact, there are no rules, only guidelines that others deem important and then the masses adopt (sometimes with a fervor). Lots of writers espouse the brilliance of Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT, a book that outlines the classic 3-act structure seen in books and screenplays (STC’s initial intended audience was screenwriters). I sometimes feel bad that I’m not one of them. I don’t know where my beginning, middle, and end actually begin or end. I don’t have 3 acts. I grew up on epic fantasy and 3 acts doesn’t do it for me.

It’s important to know the ‘rules,’ but don’t let the ‘rules’ defined by others confine your creativity. You’ve got to deal with enough Brain Jumble outside of writing. God only knows that my twitter feed is seriously under-tweeting. 

Hell, successful books start by breaking the rules. Off the very quick top of my head. Waking up: THE HUNGER GAMES/THE ROAD. Mirror looking: DIVERGENT (waking up: INSURGENT). And you want adverbs? Pick up anything written by the late, great David Eddings.

Yes, you’ve gotta be brilliant about it. Don’t wake up and go make eggs. Go to the Reaping. Go with adverbs if you want. Go jauntily and kick some ass!

Note: If you have a strong desire to adhere to rules, become an accountant.

Note 2: I don’t use many adverbs. I loved David Eddings.

Note 3: I stick to ‘said’ ‘say’ most of the time. I have a hidden (not so much anymore) desire to stick in an ‘aver’ every once in awhile.

Note 4:  In my sequel, I’ve got a new love interest on page one. And that razor blade scene? It’s there, too (Editor approval pending :)).

Note 5: I have never used ‘like the plague’ before. I avoid it like the plague.

Note 6: Seriously, what’s with all the notes? Rule breaking, meta style!

Note 7: In true seriousness, I am sickened by Monday’s events in Boston. Still pissed at such hateful nonsense. Yet anger has never been a balm to any wound. So I went and reread Jeannie Mobley’s brilliant post, written only four months ago after the Newtown shootings. If you need a pick me up of any kind, I suggest you read or reread it.

__________________________________________________________________________

JM AP Close_Straight

Joshua McCune is the author of the Talker 25 trilogy (Greenwillow). Dragons, war, romance (though not with dragons – I don’t do bestiality). First one drops in early 2014.

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