Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tricky Business

When I became a novel writer, I had no idea how time-consuming the act of creating a book would be. In addition to the uninterrupted blocks of time I needed to do the actual writing, I discovered that a fair amount of thinking time had to happen in order to get the story where I wanted it to go. For every hour spent putting actual words on the page, I found I needed an equal or better amount of time to conjure up the details necessary to create an imaginary world and people it with extraordinary characters. I needed to think about my storyline, to create a suspenseful and believable plot, to develop a sense of movement and structure, and to make sure that there were high stakes involved. I imagined my characters speaking, so I could recognize their voices; I visualized what their pasts might be, so I could construct their future actions.

Sometimes this thinking time was a conscious effort, where I pointedly outlined different scenarios for the story in my head; other times the thoughts cooked in my subconscious, bubbling up to my awareness at random moments to surprise me or, in many instances, provide a feeling of relief.

I learned that the time I spent thinking about my book was almost more consuming than the actual time I spent putting words on the page. And, frankly, this scared me a little, because as a working wife and mother, there are other people in the world who also needed me to be thinking about them.

All writers sacrifice in order to find time for their writing, and our family and friends and businesses bear the brunt of it. Not only are we physically unavailable while we’re holed up in our writing lairs, but we’re mentally absent, as well. Many of us find that when we’re writing, the stories we’re creating consume our consciousness. Though our bodies are present in the real world, our thoughts are somewhere else.

Unfortunately, the outside world doesn’t wait while we’re living in that creative state – our kids grow up, our parents age, our businesses succeed or fail, the world around us spins forward. We sacrifice our presence to our art, and the price can sometimes be steep.

For this reason, it’s important that we writers take the time to step back once in a while and evaluate whether our desire to tell the story inside us is stealing from other equally important aspects of our lives. Call it whatever you will -- a creative time out, perhaps – but every once in a while it behooves us to check in with those who love and need us. This, of course, is not a mandatory exercise and a lot of writers forego it by choice. But if we don’t balance the demands of the real world with our need to create, the things and people who mean so much to us can sometimes slip away.

It’s a tricky business, this writing thing we do.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Response to Questions from an Author with a Backlisted Book

Happy New Year to all! I'm wishing loads of success to all the authors out there hoping to sell their books this year.

I recently heard from an author I met while giving a presentation at an out-of-state writers' conference this summer. He wrote to ask what I thought about his book, which had been published by a small press a couple of years ago. He's had some interest from a film producer and wanted to know what I thought about his chances of promoting the book this year.

I thought I'd share my response to him with those of you who are thinking of marketing a book that has been out for a few years (some details have been changed to protect his privacy). I hope you find this helpful! -P.M.

Hello Friend:

Happy New Year! Hope 2010 is a good one for you and yours.

Congratulations on the interest from a film backer. If the offer is legit, my advice would be to pursue that opportunity. You might need to hire someone to write the screenplay (or write it yourself), but once you have it done, you can shop it around to others if this person doesn't come through.

I did read your book when I returned from the conference this summer. It had a good voice (kind of noirish, I thought) and seemed geared toward male readers.

If I recall, the book was written and published a few years ago -- is that correct? If so, that's a bit of a problem, because backlisted books are hard to promote to booksellers for signings -- they usually want books that are recently released (six-eight months is the typical book tour life cycle for a new release). Also, as you probably already know, the book selling market is really shrinking. Experts are forecasting that over 400 independent bookstores will close this year, and the big brick-and-mortar sellers (Barnes & Noble and Borders) are struggling. I heard that Borders resurrected itself from bankruptcy, but my experience with them this year is that they are still in trouble (slow to pay and unwilling to list new authors I've sent their way).

The e-book market is rapidly expanding, so if your publisher hasn't created a Kindle edition of your book, ask him to do that as soon as possible. Price it reasonably ($4.99 is the maximum price I recommend for a book by an unknown author). Make sure the Amazon listing includes reviews and is linked back to your paperback version. The nice thing about e-books is that they sell themselves -- the market is growing, and new Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, and other mobile ebook device owners are hungry for material to download.

As for promoting the hard cover version, I recommend that you do as much as you can to develop your platform. I'm assuming you're an expert on ________, so you may want to consider a speaking tour on the topic. I imagine there are groups dedicated to your book's topic, and you probably know who and where those are. It would be great if you could develop a talk or presentation that you could give at group meetings (your accountant would know if these trips can be a tax write-off, so keep all your travel receipts).

You also might consider developing a blog on the topic and trying to appear as a guest blogger on other sites (this is a great way to build your platform). Keep it active and try to post as often as possible (once or twice a month at a minimum). Another good way to develop interest in you and your book would be to write articles and submit them to journals, magazines, online sites, etc. Always give a brief one or two-line bio and links back to your website and/or publisher's site at the end of each guest blog post and article.

Once you develop a following from your speaking and blogging/article work, that would be the time to try to book some radio and TV appearances. But you have to build a platform (i.e., develop some notoriety and expertise) first -- otherwise, it's a tough sell to the radio and TV producers.

Hope this info is helpful. Let me know when you plan to be here in San Diego, and we'll get together for lunch.

See you soon! -Paula