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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

Writing in One Layer

In Photoshop, you can build a complex image using layers.  Layers are images that are stacked on top of each other like cellophane, with individual elements of the design or illustration existing on individual layers.

Background

Here’s a background layer.

BackgroundCircle

Here’s a yellow circle layer on top.

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I am awesome at this.

Images are stacked in this way so that they can be easily separated into manageable segments. This allows an artist to remove or make changes to various pieces of the work without having to recreate the entire thing.  That red squiggle needs to be orange?  Great.  Select the layer with the squiggle, change the color, and everything else can stay as is.  Easy peasy.

The more complex and layered an image, the more segmented it is. That’s great for small changes, but not for big sweeping ones. In order to make holistic changes to the work, the artist has to go in and edit each individual layer.

Hold up.  This is a writing blog, right?  Why am I talking about Photoshop?

A few weeks ago, at LeakyCon, I had the pleasure of being in the room for a Q&A with Kazu Kibuishi, the writer/artist behind the AMULET graphic novel series and the cover illustrator of the 15th-Anniversary editions of the American Harry Potter books.  He is a stellar talent.  While showing us several drafts of his cover illustration for CHAMBER OF SECRETS, he mentioned that he had drafted those images in one layer.

I was surprised.  The images Kazu showed us didn’t even look like drafts.  They were complex, beautiful, detailed paintings – and he had done them all in one layer, with no segmentation.  Why?  Wouldn’t that slow him down, if he needed to make changes?

In fact, he said it does the opposite.  He learned from watching artists Chris Appelhans and Khang Le that when drafting in Photoshop, it’s freeing to do all the initial work in one layer.  It allows him to paint with confidence, make decisions faster, and minimize production choices.  Because drafting isn’t about making production choices.  It’s not about self-censorship.  It’s about getting your ideas down authentically, in service of creating a compelling work of art.

Well, I thought about that.  I chewed on it for days.  Because it’s not just a strategy for working in Photoshop – it’s a philosophy.  Draft with confidence.  Minimize choices.  Don’t make production decisions too early.  Save layers for later, when you know more.  Just paint.

Or in my case, just write.

When I was newer to writing and not yet thinking about publication, I mostly wrote fan fiction – thousands of pages of it. I wrote it very, very fast.  Unless I got really stuck, I didn’t spend time pondering or fussing.  I just followed the bird in flight, chasing the idea as fast as I could and giving myself as much enjoyment as possible in the process.  I didn’t worry whether that page of witty banter was pure stuffing or whether the kiss I was writing drove the plot enough to be worth keeping.  It was fanfic, so I just wrote it to make myself happy, painting words with fast strokes, making the movie in my head come alive in the narrative.

Now I’m writing original fiction, under contract (hooray!), and I find myself slowing down. Thinking ahead. Manipulating the layers before I know what the whole picture looks like.  Editing earlier than necessary.  This wasn’t true with the first book of the series – I wrote that first draft without knowing what the full editorial process would entail, and without second guessing my choices.  With this second book, however, I hovered over myself a little bit as I drafted, questioning things that didn’t need to be questioned yet.

Immediately after Kazu’s Q&A, I sat down for a long chat with my editor, Cheryl Klein, about how to approach the revision of the second book in the series I’m writing.  One of her suggestions was that I should concentrate on the romance more.  I share this because anyone who knows me or my writing well will find it odd that I’d ever need to be given this note; I have a tendency to dive pretty deep into the romance.  I love, love, love to write the romance.  If anything, in the past, I’ve needed to pull back on the romance.  But because I’ve been drafting with too much of my brain focused on technical maneuvering and not enough of it focused on simply following the flow, I lost my romantic guts, a little, in this recent draft.  I pulled back before I’d reached the destination.

So I’ve decided to take Kazu’s Photoshop philosophy and apply it to my revision. One layer. No tinkering. Not yet. In the past week, I’ve blown through almost a hundred pages, including a couple of brand-new scenes that were incredibly fun to write and felt totally self indulgent. And maybe it’ll turn out that they are totally self indulgent and have to be removed.  I don’t care.  The romance is flowing.  The questions are vanishing.  The inner editor is on forced hiatus.

I’m not saying that fast is best (speed is a personal thing for authors – we each have our own process, and pace is part of that).  Rather, if you ever find yourself getting in your own way and picking at your choices too early, try visualizing your draft as something that’s pouring out in one uncensored layer, and see if it sets you free.

 

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES 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, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Editor, Illustrators, Satisfaction, Writing

Permission to Fail: Granted

FailStar

This is a red F, in crayon, that I have awarded a gold star. Yay, failure.

A draft of my second book is due in a few days, but it’s not finished.  The reason it’s not finished is that I don’t want to write the end, and the reasons I don’t want to write the end are these:

1. I want to write a satisfying ending, but there can only be a truly satisfying ending when the structure of the plot is sound enough to usher the story to an equally sound conclusion.

1b. Therefore, if I write the ending and it isn’t fully satisfying, I’ll have proof that the plot isn’t fully cooked;

1c. Which means I’ll have to do rewrites.

2. If I write the ending, the draft will be finished.

2b. As soon as the draft is finished, it’s due to my editor.

2c. My editor really likes my first book.  What if I give her the second one, and she thinks it’s a total letdown?  What if, as an author – which is something I’ve worked very hard for a chance to be – I turn out to be a one-book wonder?

There’s only one thing on that list – #1 – that’s actually based in a desire to write well.

All the other reasons are based in fear.  Specifically, the fear of failure.

I’m not unique.  We all fear failure.  And we know that we have to push through that fear if we’re ever going to achieve our goals.  But the human brain has an amazing talent for knowing something and ignoring it at the very same time.  For example, take 1c, above.  I am certain that there will be rewrites.  I have come to expect many rounds of rewrites.  Why am I pretending that I can somehow escape what is inevitable (and important)?

I don’t know.  But I do know that I have to write an ending.  Like, right now.

Today, I gave myself permission to write pure crap.  And by “gave myself permission” what I really mean is that I forced myself to write words even while knowing that they are not my best. I let every hackneyed phrase stay put, I let the gushy mushies take over, I overused adverbs and got spicy with the dialogue tags, I exercised no restraint, and I told rather than showed (gasp and horror, yeah, yeah).  I reminded myself that my editor is a professional who has seen first drafts before and will not damn me for mine.

(I also reminded myself that I still have a couple of days, so if I finish now, I’ll have a tiny window of time to do a little tweaking before I send it in.)

The result of giving myself this permission is that I’m finally closing in on the end of this draft, which is exactly what I need to be doing right now.  What I’m generating does not thrill me yet, but that’s okay. It doesn’t feel okay, but it actually is okay.  It’s even necessary.  If I want to write something good, then I have to write something.

While I’m on a roll, I think I’ll also give myself permission to fail in writing a decent conclusion to this post, because you know what?  I really want to get back to writing my crappy ending.

 

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 Anxiety, Deadlines, Writing

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

Making Time

I’m here to share a secret with you all.  Gather near.  Lean in.  Shh.

I have a superpower.

No, I can’t fly, become invisible, or see through walls.  My power is far more useful and pragmatic, and it’s also transferrable; after reading this post, you can assume it for yourself.  Are you ready?  Here it is:

I can make 25 hours out of 24. 

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This photo might not fully illustrate my point, but I saved a little time by not caring.

Think of me as an extremely low-level Time Lord.  If I weren’t one, I’d be in big trouble.  I’m a debut author, which means that I don’t have a steady stream of authorial income; instead, I’m a full-time middle-school teacher with three preps, I have a three-year-old son, I just turned in the revision of my first novel, and in five months I have a second manuscript to deliver. Somewhere in there, there’s also a husband who is fighting the good fight with me. I think I glimpsed him at one point yesterday.

I want these demands to be made upon my time.  These are good things.  But to juggle them requires superhuman effort. So for all you new and aspiring authors out there who are trying to make your writing a priority right alongside your job, your family life, and whatever else is competing for your time and attention, I’m here to help you. Just follow these steps, and you too can squeeze an extra hour out of the clock each day.

10 SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT STEPS THAT WILL TURN YOU INTO A SUPER

WritingOnTheFloor

Why bother with a chair? Save an extra minute by writing on the floor.
(Photo by Kristin Brown)

1. Don’t do your hair. Scrape it into a knot on your head and put a headband on to make it look like you tried. There. That’s nice. Gentlemen, you look especially fetching.

2. Don’t turn your clothes right side out until you put them on.  You are too busy for that.  Hanging and folding your laundry is now officially optional. May I suggest draping everything artistically over your bedroom furniture?  Dumping armloads of fresh, warm laundry into a graceful rocking chair and then throwing a blanket over the heap is another option (you’re welcome).

3. Cereal is a dinner food. Toast is also acceptable. Gluten-free options available at your local location that offers gluten-free options.

4.  Let shaving slide. It’s winter, okay?  Also, maybe your husband owes you for the various beard “styles” (lumberjack, Lincoln, Manson) you have loved without judgment (okay, so calling it a Manson beard is kind of a judgment) over the years.

5. Red lights afford the perfect amount of time in which to file your fingernails.

6. Your car is filthy because you are environmentally conscious.  Not for any other reason.

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Coffee’s nutritional value is tremendous. I know, because this beverage is almost singlehandedly keeping me alive.

7. Coffee is a breakfast food. It also makes a lovely snack.

8. It’s totally okay to go on for five months digging at the same obviously finished lipstick tube with the bottom of a pen in order to apply your makeup. This is normal. Also, nobody can see you.

9. Lunch is optional. Keep a supply of stale Halloween candy in a drawer in your office, and shove it in your mouth between completing tasks. You’ll be fine.

10. This is the only serious one: Make a date with your writing, and keep it.  Even if you can only do this once a week, it will add up big time.  I have a standing date with a highly responsible teaching colleague who never cancels, and we keep each other accountable.  We meet every Sunday night at 5pm at a Starbucks that closes at 8.  It has comfy chairs, and I write for three solid hours.  I am rested from the weekend, I can be focused and productive, and I don’t feel guilty about being away from my son, who is at home having some serious Dad time. Without this standing date, I would not have finished my revision on time.  No way.

That’s it.  POW.  You’ve been granted a superpower (and a glimpse into my grimy, nutritionally challenged private life).

How do you scratch out time for your writing?

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 - Helpful or Otherwise, Time Management, Writing and Life

The Call

TheCallSmall

When I got the call, I sent it to voicemail.

This is not because I am made of stone.  It’s because I was in the middle of teaching.  I had left my phone on – which I almost never do, but that day I made an exception – so I heard the call. I knew what it was. The first book in my series had gone to acquisitions that morning. The answer was imminent.

I had been working on the series for a few months shy of a decade.

I went to my phone, saw my agent’s name glowing there, and made what was possibly the most difficult finger-swipe motion of my life.  I put my phone away and turned back to my class.

“Ms. Morrison, are you okay?” asked one of my 7th graders. “You’re all white. Are you sick?”

Later, once the deal was public, I would tell my students what the call had been, and what it had meant.  At that moment, however, I had no idea whether my agent was calling to tell me “Sorry, let’s try again with someone else,” or…

Or something I couldn’t even let myself fully articulate yet.

I was FREAKING OUT.

I finished teaching the class.  How, I don’t know.  I have no memory of it.  Kids might have been swordfighting; I can’t be clear on that.

When class ended, my half-hour lunch period started.  I picked up my phone.  I swallowed.  I called my agent, Joan. She answered.  There were some words – hello, morning, acquisitions, more information later, but –

“Scholastic is making an offer,” Joan said.

I haven’t written about this moment before.  I couldn’t post about it on my blog or share the news anywhere else at the time, because the deal wasn’t official yet.  Now, with several months’ distance, I realize that I barely remember any details. It was system overload.

I choked.  I seized sort of weirdly; I bent over like someone had jumped on my back.  I said, “Really?” in a very weird, high pitched voice.

Then I mostly remember crying, and laughing, and saying to Joan “This must be the best part of your job, breaking this kind of news.” And then the bell rang, and I went back to teaching as though nothing had changed, though everything had changed.  My book series was no longer maybe, one day, I hope.  It was real.  Cheryl Klein, my editor at Scholastic, really wanted it, and it really made it all the way through acquisitions.  A two-book deal.  A summer 2015 publication date.  Honestly, I still don’t believe it.

So that’s how it was when I got the call.  If there’s a lesson in this story, I guess it’s for my students.  Any phone call can wait half an hour, you guys.  Trust me.

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 Introduction, The Call, Writing and Life