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Writing a Novel Based on True Events... Should You Do It?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Grandmother was in town for the holidays and while at my house - freezing and watching my pathetic attempts to start a fire using my first draft - she asked to read a few pages.

I beat around the bush for as long as she'd let me. "I don't know. This is my first draft and my second draft on the computer is so much better."

"Computer?" Grandma isn't a technology friend. "Just give me a few pages."

So I flipped through what was left and found some relatively good pages - safe page - as what I've written about is taken from my life, and a not so nice part of it. She read through what I handed to her, decided that yes, first drafts do suck, and added then to the fire herself.

"See, Grandma. Told ya so."

However, this brought up something rather important. Something that I think everyone should consider when thinking about writing a novel based on a true story or true life events. Especially real life events that instantly make people you know say, "Hey. I know who you're writing about...That's you!"

If you are thinking of taking your life's experiences and putting them into your book, or making the book all about them, there are questions that I think you really need to sit down with yourself and answer...

Do you really want this story to get out?
Because once it's out, it's out. I do admit, though, that writing is the best form of catharsis available. Talk therapy number two. Throwing a temper tantrum where you get to break something number three. So if you are ready and you don't mind others knowing and you want to write a book about it...go for it. Just make certain you are ready.

Are you okay with EVERYONE knowing? Grandmas included?
When you start writing your book about your own true life experiences, you might have all these lofty ideas that you're going to be fine once it all comes out. Because let's be honest, you're not going to show everyone the book until it gets published. And if it gets published? Who cares! You'll be so excited to even notice anyone's curious glances... HOWEVER, let's shed that daydream for just a second. Everyone you know will want to get a copy of your book...and read it. Are you okay with that? Really? Be honest with yourself... Are you?

Alright...What are you okay with them knowing?
Most fiction work is born directly from the author's life experiences. We write what we know. Otherwise there's no authenticity to it and that's when we loose readers. So it's obvious that we all already write 'based on a true story' to some degree. But what parts of what really happened need to be in your book? Remember, you can always leave out bits and pieces and still make it work for your story. Not everything has to be in there. Especially people's names. In the words of Stephen King (paraphrasing, of course) "Unless you want to be sued, use fake ones."

And lastly...What is your comfort level?
Most importantly, keep in mind that you're comfort level TODAY might not be equal to your comfort level a year from today. So when you're sitting down with yourself - minus your pride, inner sensors, and anything else that gets in the way of you being totally open with yourself - really ask yourself about your level of comfort. Think about what you'll feel like a year from now. Five years. Ten. And so on.

Above all, be honest with yourself. And if you're not sure, test the waters. Give a sample to a close friend and hone in on what you feel the moment those pages leave your hands. Do you want to snatch them back and say, "Forget it! Never mind!" Or are you freely giving over your real life thoughts and feelings to others to read, dwell on, talk about, and share with others, so on and so on...

Writing a novel based on true life events can be fun, therapeutic, and useful, in the sense that you already have some of your story outlined for you. Whether or not you should really do it, and whether it will work in your story is up to you.

...

Debut Author Anxiety.... HELP!

My book is being published in April 2015. I am excited. Or at least I should be. Rather, I'm a ball of nerves that I've forgotten something. Not edited enough. Wrote it in the wrong tense.

Of course this anxiety is all self imagined. My publisher loves it and I have a team of editors working with me to spit, polish and shine… but I'm still freaked out!

Anyone else suffering from debut author anxiety?

How do you deal? Tell your inner demons to shut the hell up?

Did I pick the right genre…
Did I fill all those plot holes….
Does the story make sense?!

I'm flipping out one day and excited the next…

Anyone? Anyone out there? Someone talk me off this ledge!

I think I need a support group.

:/

Why You Can’t Make the Draft Without Making the Time... by guest author Harrison Demchick

Monday, November 10, 2014

Good morning writers! Today we have with us return guest author Harrison Demchick to talk with us about how to make time for writing. Because, as we all know, it's not an easy task. However, it's a necessary one if you want to realize your writing dreams, right? So, without further adieu, here's his words on...


Why You Can’t Make the Draft Without Making the Time
by guest author Harrison Demchick

A couple weeks ago, my friend Jen finished her first draft.

I was there when it happened. Since August of 2013, my friends and I have been meeting every Sunday for what we’ve come to call Write Club. Write Club, as our matching T-shirts indicate—yes, we have matching T-shirts—is a time for writing, and nothing but. It’s a four-hour window during which the only priority is each of us developing our own individual projects. Jen, also the designer of the aforementioned T-shirts, had spent the preceding several months almost finished her first novel. Any Sunday in that span could have been the day, but then there was always something else that had to be written, and logic issues to hurdle, and all of the other things that make finishing a draft so frustrating. The end, somehow, seemed to move further and further away. Until it didn’t.

Jen didn’t have to say anything when she finished her draft. I knew. I could see it in the look on her face as she stared at her laptop screen. I expect I looked much the same early this year when I finished the first draft of my screenplay Ape Canyon. It’s a pretty incredible feeling, the warmth tiptoeing its way across your neck and down your arms, into the fingers that have devoted hours, days, months, years to the completion of that one magical story completely and entirely your own. Your heart pounds, and the tension floats away like misty rain on a summer night. The world becomes a pretty spectacular place to be.

I’d already been working on Ape Canyon for a couple years when we started Write Club. Though actually, working is a strong word. I’d started Ape Canyon, for sure, and I’d written some pages, and by the summer we began Write Club I was trying to devote time every weekend to writing. I’ve always been a disciplined writer, and moreover a writer who works best in solitude, so I was confident I could maintain that routine and, simultaneously, skeptical that the writing group friends had proposed from time to time would be of any use. I didn’t need it, and if I was going to spend time with friends, I wanted to spend it having fun, not working quietly on my own projects.

But the truth is that the day we started Write Club is the day I began to build momentum on Ape Canyon. I completed in five months what I’d been tinkering with on and off for two years. It was amazing, and it felt amazing. And I knew that it would never have happened had I not forced into my schedule at least four hours every week to devote to writing. The existence of a group kept me accountable. It kept us all accountable. It became the highlight of my week, and it’s the reason that I’ve never been more productive as a writer than I am today.

Now if there’s anyone who shouldn’t have the time to devote to writing, it’s Jen. Jen is one of the most absurdly talented and driven people I’ve ever met, but these attributes also make her extraordinarily busy pretty much at all times. She works in publishing during the days. She works on her art around the clock (which you can see for yourself at http://herchenroeder.see.me/). She works in architecture and design when she can. Her obligations have obligations.

And yet she still makes the time nearly every week to come to Write Club and work. This devotion of time and energy is the reason she was able to experience the unmatchable high of completing the first draft of a manuscript on which she’d worked seven years.

Jen has finished any number of amazing projects in the interval. And I wasn’t being idle either while Ape Canyon was in progress. I wrote a couple work-for-hire screenplays. I wrote songs. I was creative. But neither Jen nor I was devoting the time to writing until we started Write Club and made that effort every single week.

Another thing Jen and I have in common is a background in publishing, which means that our expectations are realistic. That is to say, Jen may have completed that first draft, but the next step is editing and revision, and this, too, will take a lot of time and a lot of energy. It was the same for me when I finished the first draft of my novel, The Listeners, and for that matter I don’t imagine that I’m entirely finished with Ape Canyon. The end of the first draft is not the end. In a lot of ways, the end of the first draft is just the beginning.

But it’s a pretty incredible benchmark. It’s a tremendous accomplishment to reach it. It’s the first part of the whole process during which you can sit back and say, I’ve done this. I wrote a book. I’m a writer. 

And writers write. They take the time, and if there isn’t time, they make it. That time doesn’t need to be four hours on Sunday. It can be a half hour every morning or a writing binge at midnight every Thursday. That time doesn’t need to be with a writing group, either. But if it weren’t for attending Write Club and making the time to write, Jen wouldn’t have a completed draft of her novel, and I wouldn’t have Ape Canyon. If you don’t take the time to write, you will never know that feeling Jen experienced on a very important Sunday just a couple weeks ago. It’s worth it.

Harrison Demchick came up in the world of small press publishing, working along the way on more than three dozen published novels and memoirs, several of which have been optioned for film. An expert in manuscripts as diverse as young adult, science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, literary fiction, women's fiction, memoir, and everything in-between, Harrison is known for quite possibly the most detailed and informative editorial letters in the industry—if not the entire universe.

Harrison is also an award-winning, twice-optioned screenwriter, and the author of literary horror novel The Listeners (Bancroft Press, 2012). He's currently accepting new clients in fiction and memoir at Ambitious Enterprises (http://ambitiousenterprises.com). 

WHAT THE LADY WANTS is like GONE WITH THE WIND meets the North... a BB B&B Book Review

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

by Lia Mack

When guest author Renee Rosen sent me her newest novel WHAT THE LADY WANTS as a thank you, I was touched. 

A free book for me? How sweet! 

I wasn't sure when I'd get around to reading it as my own editor is tapping fingers, waiting for me to send back my manuscript, and I already had 4 books in my currently-reading-pile. But when I saw the cover - with it's opulent texture and lovely font - I added it to the pile right away. Then, when I had a free moment, I sat down and opened the book to page one. 

Page one sucked me right in. Renee Rosen's writing voice is vibrant as well as sensual. It draws the reader in in a way that, before you know it, you're elbow deep into the book and you're not sure where the time went. 

WHAT THE LADY WANTS starts off with a hot-as-fire attraction between the main characters amidst the Great Chicago Fire. Being the snob reader I am - and always pressed for time - I wasn't interested in a history lesson and had planned on skipping ahead, but Renee Rosen's historical fiction didn't read as a one. Her characters are so alive on the page, it was like I was there, running with the main character, Delia, trying to find her way through a town ablaze. That, and the scene reminded me so much of Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler trapped in the fiery ball of Atlanta. 

And just like GONE WITH THE WIND, WHAT THE LADY WANTS takes on the task of rebuilding. Only rebuilding to the lavish degree. Gowns, balls, elite gatherings. I kept thinking, "WHAT THE LADY WANTS is like GONE WITH THE WIND meets the North." I half expected Delia to invite Miss Scarlet O'Hara over for tea and the latest town gossip. However, the Great Chicago fire was in 1871, just on the brink of the industrial revolution. 

Only, it was the revolution of shopping - oddly enough - that WHAT THE LADY WANTS is focused on. I'm not a big shopper myself, but now that I have seen the evolution first hand through the eyes of Rosen's characters - Marshall Field specifically - I see how his vision of giving the lady what she wants is quintessentially the very reason we have shops and malls and "experiences" as we do today. No one thought the way he did and no one valued a lady's opinion like he did either. Not back then.  

One reviewer stated that there are contemporary elements to this story that set it apart from other historical fictions, but I disagree that these elements are truly "contemporary." Rather, they are honest. And it is with this honesty that Renee Rosen sets this historical fiction apart from others as she doesn't skip over nor hide these so-called "contemporary" elements that have only been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. I won't spoil it though -- you'll just have to read the book for yourself!

I actually cried toward the end. You  will come to love Renee Rosen's characters so much that you don't want to watch when tragedy strikes. Thankfully you get to cheer along with them when they triumph over all! And the love. Ah, the love... I'm a sucker for Love ;)

Bottom Line: 

WHAT THE LADY WANTS is a grand and magnificent story with characters you'll love to the end.

The fact that I read this book and this book alone until the end makes it 5 stars. I don't usually stay with one book, one voice, one story line unless it's engaging enough to keep me in the mood for more.

So, 5 stars, Renne! 

I'm inspired so much, I think I'll be planning a trip to Chicago some time in the future so I can see all the buildings from the book - especially the Lady's Half Mile. 

Can't wait for your next novel :)

 


Baltimore's Very Own Literary Horror Writer Harrison Demchick, author of THE LISTENERS... Today @ the BB B&B

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Welcome back to Lia Mack's Writing Retreat :)

In honor of Halloween week and all things horrifying and disturbing, I'm excited to have with us again Baltimore's very own literary horror writer Harrison Demchick, author of The Listeners (Bancroft Press, 2012).


The Listeners (Bancroft Press, 2012)
"Harrison Demchick has written a beautiful and disgusting, wonderful and horrifying book with a strong voice and lyrical quality . . ."  —Ageless Pageless Reviews


Harrison Demchick

Lia Mack: I'm glad it's still light outside as I'm already a bit creeped out by your book cover

Can you please start us off by telling a little about yourself:

Harrison Demchick: Most of the time, I'm a developmental editor with editorial boutique Ambitious Enterprises. What this means is that I work with authors of fiction and memoirs on improving all elements of their work, from character arc to logic to story structure and dialogue and everything in-between. It also means I get to read for a living, and to analyze stories for a living, all of which I absolutely love. When I'm not doing that, I spend my time being very odd, frequently in ways that have to do with Spider-Man, but often also in ways that have to do in some respect with writing, whether it's a song or a story or something else entirely.

Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book?

Harrison Demchick: The Listeners is a coming-of-age story in a literary horror context. In a borough quarantined due to an airborne illness that causes deformity, insanity, and death, a 14-year-old boy named Daniel, orphaned by the plague, is caught up with a one-eared gang/cult called the Listeners. But all he really wants is to find his best friend Katie, trapped elsewhere in the quarantine.

Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?

The Listeners has undergone so many transformations that it's difficult to say. In its screenplay form, it wasn't my first--not by a long shot--but it was my first original. My background was in writing short stories, so developing a full-length narrative was a substantial challenge. The biggest turning point in all of that may have come once a film producer became interested. His feedback completely changed the third act of the story, which proved to be fundamental in completing Daniel's character arc.

On the novel side, the greatest challenge was the process of rediscovering my prose voice, and more specifically the appropriate voice for this novel. As formats alone, screenplays and novels operate with a drastically different language, meaning that, although the substance of the story is the same in both formats, the way it's told--and so much of an effective novel is based upon the way it's told--has changed substantially. It took a lot of trial and error to find the style that worked for me, and then quite a bit of revision to rein myself back when that style became overbearing.

Lia Mack: Ultimate question...Why do you write?

Harrison Demchick: Because I can't not. If I didn't write, all these weird ideas and narratives and character interactions would spend all their time bouncing around in my head, in which case there might not be room for anything else. I've been doing it since kindergarten--or at least that's the earliest record that exists, as my parents still have my carefully illustrated story about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Writing is intrinsic to who I am. I can't really imagine my life without it.

Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like? How did you come to be a writer as your career?

Harrison Demchick: Well, writing isn't my career just yet. Writing is rarely an author's career, and if it is, then they've become spectacularly successful at it--which would be great, obviously, and I'm working hard to make it happen in one way or another. But as far as my venture into publishing, or specifically publishing The Listeners, I came at it in an unusual way. I've been working in the publishing industry since my first internship in the summer of 2005, which is coincidentally the same time I began work on The Listeners.

So while I was learning to be an editor, The Listeners was always there, though not necessarily in its present form. At first it was a series of short stories. Then it became a screenplay, which was optioned for film; then, finally, on the eventual publisher's advice, I adapted it into a novel.

But even then, I wasn't sure I was going to pursue publishing--not because I wasn't proud of The Listeners, but because being in the publishing industry is a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, you know the field and know what goes into making a book successful; on the other hand, you know what goes into making a book successful--and that's marketing. Most of the time, it's an incredible effort that yields very little regardless of the quality of the book. I'd been Sisyphus too many times, advocating for terrific novels I'd had the opportunity to edit, like Ron Cooper's Purple Jesus and Elizabeth Leiknes's The Understory. I hated marketing--still do--and didn't want to take on that fight for The Listeners.

Fortunately, I had enough people around me to tell me how stupid that was. I'd written a novel--a really good novel. It should be published. And the publisher that had recommended I write the story as a novel was interested in publishing it. So that's what we did, and I am very glad about it. And the marketing hasn't even been all that horrible.

Lia Mack: If you don't mind me asking, what are you working on now?

Harrison Demchick: I've actually just finished the first draft of my second entirely original screenplay, and a vastly different one at that. It's a cryptozoological dramedy called Ape Canyon, in which a guy in the midst of a quarter-life crisis drags his big sister along on a Bigfoot-hunting expedition. Alongside that, I'm collaborating with a friend on a zombie musical called Brains. I've written a couple recent short stories, and I've been contemplating releasing a short story collection.

Maybe, someday, I'll write another novel, but right now I have no such plans.

Lia Mack: A zombie musical! I'd like to see that ;)

What does your typical writing day look like?

Harrison Demchick: The idea of typical has undergone a pretty radical transformation in the last few months. For me, writing has always been an isolated activity, and I'm generally self-motivated enough that, if I sit down at my computer and decide I'm going to write, I will get something done. So when my friends would suggest that we get together for "writing parties" in which we would all sit down at a table and work on our individual projects, I was skeptical. I didn't think I would or could be productive in that environment.

But I was seriously wrong. Since we started our writing parties, I have been absurdly productive. And when you're absurdly productive, writing carries with it a high like little else. Without these sessions, I would not yet have finished Ape Canyon. I don't even know if I'd be close.

So now, a typical writing day includes me and a friend or three, either in a coffee shop or at my apartment, working for hours on whatever it is we happen to be writing. If any of us is stuck on something, we can ask the writers around us for feedback. If I write a line of dialogue I particularly like, I can get immediate confirmation as to whether or not it works. It's made writing more fun for me than it's been in years.

Lia Mack: Can you share a photo of what your writing space looks like?

Harrison Demchick: I don't know if I can. I don't own a camera. There's a camera in my computer, but it can't take pictures of itself, and the computer is pretty much the most important part. I'll see if I can come up with something.

Lia Mack: Do you read while you write? What are you reading now?

Harrison Demchick: I'm an editor, so I'm always reading--but most of what I'm reading is unpublished. And when reading is your job, as wonderful as that is, it's often not what you find yourself wanting to do with your free time. But I'm in the middle of a book of H. P. Lovecraft short stories, and there's quite a lot on my bookshelf I'm looking to dive into should I ever go on one of those "vacation" things I've heard so much about.

Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?

Harrison Demchick: You know, I honestly don't think I would change anything. Maybe I would clue myself in to the fun of writing with a group, but most likely I'd just leave myself to figure it out on my own.

Besides which, as a dedicated science-fiction and comic book nerd, I know that messing around with the past has terrible repercussions. I go back in time to give myself advice on writing, and the next thing I know, I've never been born and the president is a stegosaurus.

Lia Mack: Thank you so much for being our guest author today. Where can BB readers go online to find you and your work?

Harrison Demchick: Well, they can always check out my poorly maintained website, www.harrisondemchick.com, or my slightly better maintained Facebook page, www.facebook.com/HarrisonDemchick (I don't really have an aptitude for this social media stuff), but if they want to buy the book, they can do that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever books are sold. The paperback just launched this past weekend.

There are NO MUFFIN TOPS in Grunge... Bring Back the 90's.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I recently found out that my blog was nominated for a Mobbie Award

The Mobbie's (pronounced Mob-ee, as in, "The Mob") is The Baltimore Sun's yearly best blog contest. This year, the Mobbie's are celebrating the medium's early days - when blog posts were shared without 'share' buttons - and all else '90s.

So, as a condition of being nominated, we're to post on our respective nominated blogs what ONE THING we'd bring back from the 1990's. As I've been thinking about this very thing for months now, I have an answer primed and ready for just this occasion...

What would I bring back from the 90's? 


GRUNGE!


I am a grunge fan from way back. When grunge came out - the fashion 'loose' as apposed to the fashion 'forward' ways - I was in heaven. Finally! Clothing that felt good, looked good - at least to me - and was, above all, honest

And I object to the description that Grunge was all about showing the world that you "just don't care." To me, it's the total opposite. Grunge says, "I care a lot...about MYSELF." 

I'M comfortable.
I'M dressed in what I want to be dressed in.
I'M comfortable. 

Yes, Grunge is, quintessentially, putting on your comfies and hitting the town, although not in the sweat-pants way, or worse, the lame-ass wearing-my-pajamas-out-in-public way. No. Grunge was jeans, jean shorts, t-shirts, flannel. Lots of flannel. 

For us chicas, it was all about looking good with sass, but not in the sexual/sensual way. Grunge isn't about being 'dressed to kill' , looking 'over the top' or 'showing off your assets' to the world. There's no tight shirts paired with tight, skinny jeans in Grunge. 

There are NO MUFFIN TOPS in Grunge.

Muffin tops are proof that whatever you're wearing doesn't fit, and that you're trying to fit into something that's not meant for you - your size, your shape, your life. With Grunge, everything fits - comfortably - and probably because it's a size too big. But who cares?!

The size you wear is NOT who you are!

I feel Grunge allows people to feel happy about themselves and who they are. There's no pressure to make sure your ass-pants fit perfect. You just wear jeans, and preferably jeans that you've loved and worn long enough that the holes and tatters show it. 

And always pair whatever you're wearing with some flannel...

Don't forget the flannel!

I don't necessarily think Grunge came out of the want/desire/need to be comfortable all the time. It just was comfortable in and of itself. And the flannel really helped keep everything cozy :). Wear it tattered and open, or tie it around your waist. I remember raiding my dad's closet, pinching all his flannel and wearing it to school every day. I dated skater boys and  swapped flannels with them. It was kind of like wearing your boyfriend's ring, but instead you got his flannel...or visa-versa. 

Dude, did you see Lia in So-in-so's flannel??? They must be going out! Lol... those were the days...

So I say, without a doubt, hesitation or what have you... 

BRING BACK GRUNGE!

And RAISE your middle finger to the fashion police.

Say FAREWELL to tight jeans, tight shirts, tight everything.

Scream "F-OFF, LOSER!" to muffin tops. 

And just be comfortable, dude. 

Just be. 





Things I learned from the Baltimore Book Festival... by Guest Author M.L. Doyle

Friday, October 10, 2014

Things I learned from the Baltimore Book Festival
by guest author M. L. Doyle

My writer friends and I have had multiple conversations about book festivals. The bottom line question is, are they worth it? We toss around questions like, can you sell enough books to cover the cost? Is it worth it to invest in banners, posters, cards and other give-aways? Does participation result in readers who look for you later and buy books online?

This is what I learned from participating in the Baltimore Book Festival.

Will I sell enough books to cover the cost?

Most likely, no. The BBF is an expensive one. Even if you share out the cost of your booth with other authors, you’ve got to sell a bunch of books to break even on just the fees for participation. Add the cost of parking ($20 a day depending on where you park) and other expenses (the food trucks sell lemonade at $7 a glass), not to mention whatever you might spend on signage or displays, and you’d have to sell quite a few books to break even. Judging from my sales and the sales of the other authors I knew who participated, none of us broke even.

How many books would I sell at the BBF?

Unfortunately, not many, if any at all. The weekend of the festival this year offered absolutely perfect weather. The new location, at the Baltimore Inner Harbor, meant there were tens of thousands of local visitors as well as thousands of tourists. The event was packed with people. Of those tens of thousands (I heard upward of 50k) who reportedly attended the festival, most are there to browse, listen to author talks and spend an afternoon enjoying the weather, than are there to buy books. There’s a large section devoted to kids and I suppose many parents saw it as a place to keep the little ones entertained for a while. Most people will glance at your wares and keep walking. Far fewer will stop to talk and even fewer will actually pick up a book to page through it. Finally, a minuscule percentage will actually buy something.

I’m not sure if the sales ratios are higher for authors who are featured in an author talk or panel. I don’t know anyone who participated in that way and I don’t even know how one gets invited to do such a thing. I would hope, if you’re one of those lucky ones, that you’d sell far more, but it’s hard to say.

Why do it?

That’s the big question. If you’re likely to end up in the hole financially, why participate at all? Each year, hundreds of booths are manned by indie book store owners, indie published authors, graphic novel artists, book club groups and writer’s groups. There were booths devoted to selling newspaper subscriptions, massage and wellness vendors and one guy selling beautifully crafted, handmade leather journals.  The author readings and panel tents are filled with speakers and panelists, all of which are competitors for your customer’s attention. The crowds are large and it feels as if the potential for customers is right there for the taking. All of that said, I think participation is a personal question and one that goes well beyond anything financial.

I was frankly surprised by how many books I sold and each sale felt particularly special. I spoke to every single person who bought one, I remember their faces and I signed their purchases. That they bought my books out of the thousands on offer, made each sale memorable. Meeting these strangers who would later sit down and read my work is something that can’t be described. I also sold books written by other authors with whom I shared the booth. It felt good to honestly recommend the work of a friend and see the purchase, knowing I helped an author friend and knowing the reader would be rewarded with a great story.

I have seen a couple of new reviews of my books on Amazon but I’m not sure if they were a result of books sold at the festival. And while I handed out a few cards, I didn’t see any spike in sales to indicate that those contacts resulted in sales after the festival.

Would you do it again?

Maybe. It was an exhausting weekend, but it was still a lot of fun. On Saturday of the three-day festival, I thought myself very clever for finding a metered parking spot and saving myself a ton of parking fees. Later, when I discovered the parking ticket on my windshield, I didn’t feel so clever. Evidently, I’d allowed the meter to run out. Boom. $38 to the city of Baltimore.

Also, my feet were killing me. We had chairs but we learned quickly that standing out front and talking to people was the best way to get them to stop and look. We also lured people to our tables by offering a drawing for a stack of books…one from each author. We had hundreds of entries for the drawing. I had the pleasure of delivering the prize to a lucky winner who, turned out to live only a few blocks from me. Small world.

I invested in a four-foot standing banner that I know helped seal at least a couple of sales. The banner (from Vista print) looked professional and very clearly attracted attention. It wasn’t cheap, but I will be using it three times this year alone and if it results in the kind of sales I saw at BBF, it should pay for itself.

The hours of booth watching gave me lots of time to talk to author friends, discuss marketing ideas, to talk about strategies, plans and expectations. Were those discussions enough to justify the money I paid to participate as well as what I invested in signage and the like? Probably not. That said, if asked to participate again, I might. I’m not sure. What I know for sure is that I would never do BBF alone. I would only do it as part of a group and I would know that the best way to sell books is to be there. If you’re absent, you’re unlikely to sell much of anything.

Are all book festivals the same?

Nope, not at all. Last year I participated in the Twin Cities Book Festival in my hometown, and sold enough books to cover the cost and a little extra. I am participating in the same festival again this year, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds. The festival is an excuse to come home to visit family and it’s much cheaper to have a table at the TCBF than at BBF. In comparison however, the TCBF has 3-5k visitors a year. The BBF has that 50k advantage.

That said, the browse/buy ratio for the two festivals is about the same. People want to hear authors speak, check out what is on offer and, occasionally, buy books. Last year, I priced mine right and it resulted in me going home with far fewer books that I had when I arrived. Always a good thing!

All of that said, I would never consider a book festival a place to make money. Since it’s not about making money, I’m not quite sure what it is about. Connecting with readers? Connecting with other authors? The answer to those things is probably up to the individual.

Where else can an Indie author connect with readers?

Believe it or not, I’m told non-book festivals are better places for authors to sell books. I’m participating in the Fort Meade Officer’s Spouses Club Holiday Bazaar this year, November 15-16, at the Fort Meade Pavilion, Fort Meade, MD. I’m sharing a booth with a couple of other authors. Autographed books make great holiday gifts…at least that’s what we’re counting on. I’ll post an AAR (After Action Review for you non-military types) and let you know how it goes.

The Dog and Pony Show of Book Promotion... by Guest Author Yona Zeldis McDonough

Friday, October 3, 2014

Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of TWO OF A KIND kindly came by the B&B today to share her good news. She has a new book coming out next week, October 7th! YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME. Isn't that just the cutest cover ever? 

Yona also left some great information for fellow authors in search of ways to promote and market their books. So, without further adieu, here is...


The Dog and Pony Show of Book Promotion 
by guest author Yona Zeldis McDonough

My new novel, You Were Meant for Me, is about to come out from New American Library on October 7, and as I countdown to pub date, I’m excited, happy and proud. I am also as busy as I can possibly be because now that the book is done and ready to make its debut, I can’t simply bask in the warm sun of pride and satisfaction—far from it.  Instead, I now have to help sell the novel with whatever means and methods are at my disposal.  In the dog-and-pony-show of book promotion, authors today are required to be both dog and pony, and so it is with a woof and whinny that I bravely set forth.

First off, I will tell you what I did not do: hire an outside publicist.  Not because I did not want to, but because I could not afford to.  I have a small budget set aside for promotion but it was not enough to cover the cost of a traditional PR campaign, which typically starts at $5000 and can quickly escalate from there.

But before I even considered how to use the money I did have earmarked for this purpose, I explored all the free options available to me, mostly in the form of social media.  I tried Twitter—twice—and could not seem to get into the swing of it, so I let it slide. Interestingly enough, the senior publicist at my publishing house, New American Library, told me that while she used to encourage authors to use all forms of social media, she now felt such an approach was overwhelming and instead advised them to select the platforms that really appealed to them and focus on those. So I took her advice and have focused on Facebook, creating an author page that I try to refresh often.  I also use Pinterest, creating boards for each new book I publish, and Goodreads, though I need to get up to speed on that.  I find each of these platforms different, engaging and fun.  I like the possibilities for connection they offer, and I like how wide a net they allow me to cast.  From my computer in Brooklyn, I can easily communicate with readers in California, South Carolina and Canada—what a privilege, and what an opportunity.  
  
What else have I done?  The money I did not spend on a publicist I used to sign on with Divalysscious Moms (http://divamoms.com/) that is a site geared to mommies.  Because motherhood is a central them in my book—my protagonist, 35 and single, finds a newborn baby in a subway station and ends up trying to adopt said baby—I thought this targeted approach might work well for me.  I also arranged two readings in my home city—New York—and have approached libraries about their author reading program. Many libraries invite authors to give short talks/readings and these programs may actually be easier to arrange than bookstore signings.  I also assisted the in-house publicist with setting up a blog tour, because that is another way to reach new readers.  And I requested that the publisher make bookmarks showing the cover of the book to use as promotional pieces and giveaways; in fact, I will be happy to send a bookmark to any readers of this blog who would like one!

I know many writers who object to this form of self-promotion, finding it uncomfortable and unseemly, and I understand how they feel.  We writers are often solitary souls, and we spend a lot of time sitting alone in a room—or in a crowded cafĂ©—furiously writing down the stuff that comes into our heads.  So getting out there to beat the drum may feel awkward. 

And yet if we don’t do it, our most precious creations are in danger of being unseen, unread, unloved.  I know this would make me deeply unhappy.  First and foremost, I write for myself, because I need this particular form of expression to organize my inner life and give meaning to my days.  But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t care about being published and read, because I do—very much.  Which brings me back to the dog-and-pony-show. Like it or not, we have to participate; to abstain puts us at a serious disadvantage.  Nor is this really a new phenomenon; Dickens went on reading and speaking tours, as did Dylan Thomas and many other respected and revered writers.  It’s just the conventions that have changed. Instead of book tours, there are more apt to be blog tours.  We reach our readers through electronic means, but they are just as passionate as readers of the past have been.   So it is our job, and even our mandate, to find and connect with them before we can truly touch their hearts.



So many authors, so little time! Networking with fellow writers on the web...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

I have a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

But before I can make my BIG announcement, I had to make a mess of my blog (not on purpose, of course, but that's what happened...I'm fixing it, don't worry...)

The BB B&B Writers Retreat blog used to live on www.LiaMack.com, now it's back to it's original setting of liamack.blogspot.com.  All because I have a BIG announcement! And in being excited about said BIG announcement I didn't realize that most - if not all - of the links on my blog are going to be broken!!!

Ugh...I just like making work for myself, I guess...

So I've been doing some B&B cleaning, like making sure all my guests are informed of the URL change. I don't want anyone's interview or guest blog post to end up as a 404 error. 

Oh, the horror. (no joke)

So I gathered up all my guests in one room (one email, really) and boy oh boy, have I had a lot of guests!

So, before my BIG announcement, I'd like to do a montage of sorts of all my past guests because, ultimately, talking writing with other fellow writers is so much more fun than going it alone.

All My Guests...so far ;)

Sharon Short, author of MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA







Gale Deitch also did a guest blog post on "10 Reasons to Self-Publish."








Okay, that's a lot of guests! And a lot of fun getting to know fellow authors and hear about their inner workings. It's been fun, looking forward to a few more appearances before 2014 closes out.

Ciao!

:)

Guest Blogger Kas Thomas asks... "Are You Using the Wrong Strategy on Twitter?"

Monday, September 29, 2014

Good Monday morning, y'all :)

I know, you've got the Monday morning blues and you don't want to hear any chipper voices just yet. But I'm here to tell you, I've got a treat that you're going to like! So, smile :)

Today, we have guest blogger Kas Thomas of Author-Zone.com. And he's here to help you. A Twitter-Guru, Kas has over 275,000 followers and knows how to . This is the PERFECT post for anyone wanting to build a platform and sell their book. We've all been annoyed via Twitter and other social media outlets with over zealous fellow authors selling their books. Only, do any of us really know how to use social media - mainly Twitter - to the best of our advantage? I mean, really, take a moment and ask yourself...

Are You Using the Wrong Strategy on Twitter?
by guest blogger Kas Thomas

The people who write books and blogs about how to market your indie book all say that Twitter and Facebook are important. But they don't provide much in the way of data to back up those assertions. Citing this or that author's success isn't helpful, because what worked for this or that author may not work for you. And anyway, what is the measured cash value of a tweet? What is the value of yea-many-clicks? Where are the numbers? Where are the data?

Unlike certain social media gurus who dispense advice without numbers to back it up, people who make media purchases for a living study numbers intensively. They study click-through rates, conversion percentages, CPM (cost per thousand impressions), analytics of various kinds; it's a science. It all comes down to hard numbers.

I can tell you how Twitter works from a conventional media-purchase standpoint. An ad spend ultimately gets measured in CPM, which is really cost per thousand impressions. An impression, on Twitter, is a delivered tweet, a tweet that was sent in response to an HTTP request and was therefore probably consumed by someone on some device. It's no secret that the CPM for Twitter averages about $3.50.

If you've played around with the Analytics dashboard available to you on Twitter (under Settings and help > Twitter Ads in the Twitter native UI), you may have been shocked to learn that even though you have 10,000 followers, your tweets are reaching only 300 or so people at a time. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But not all 10,000. Not even close. That's because only two or three percent of your followers are online, actively consuming tweets, at any given moment.

If you tweet something three times and it generates 1,000 impressions, total, in your Twitter Analytics view, congratulations. You achieved the equivalent of a $3.50 ad spend.
So now look in Analytics and see how much engagement you got from those 1,000 impressions. Twitter defines “engagement” as: The total number of times a user has interacted with a tweet. This includes all clicks anywhere in the tweet (including hashtags, links, avatar, username, and tweet expansion), retweets, replies, follows, and favorites.

Odds are, you got from zero to 5% engagement. Anything north of 2% should be considered good. (And by the way, Twitter is known as a high-engagement platform; and yes, 2% is considered high. Click-through rates on Facebook average just 0.12%.)

The way a media buyer would look at all this is something like: Okay, suppose we want to drive potential customers to our web site, where they can buy something (like a book). A Twitter ad spend of $350 will buy around 100K impressions. Out of that, 2% will click through to the web site: that's 2,000 clicks. Those clicks now have to be converted to sales. At a conversion rate of 2%, that's 40 orders. Cost per order: $8.75.

Of course, a media pro would do some testing to validate all of these assumptions. You and I can argue forever about the validity of a 2% conversion rate, but the great thing about marketing is, a test will end every argument. The market will always tell you the answer.

So, but. Is this the type of calculation you should be doing as an indie author?

Yes and no. Yes, if you are using Twitter as a sales channel. No, if you're using it to do something else entirely.

What I've said so far should be enough to put you on guard as to Twitter's actual value as a direct sales vehicle. In all likelihood, you're not going to sell a ton of books with Twitter. Not in a conventional direct marketing sense. Not unless you're delivering hundreds of thousands of impressions a day and can convert walk-ins to paying customers at a high rate. Even then, you might not be able to move the needle. When Guy Kawasaki (a well-known social-media guru) tweeted his free book to his 1.4 million followers in January 2014, it got retweeted a grand total of 13 times. Just 13 times! For a FREE book!

You need to start looking at Twitter a different way; and in fairness, many authors of marketing books do give appropriate advice here. They say to use Twitter as a conversation opener, not a sales channel per se.

That's starting to make sense.

A sale (of a book or anything else) is the end result of a long chain of events. That chain begins with you saying hello to people. Not: "Hello, PLEASE BUY MY BOOK!" Not: "Hello, CAN I SELL YOU SOMETHING?" Just hello.

Walmart hires people who have no job other than to say hello at the front door.

You have a front door, maybe several front doors, with names like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Be there to greet people. Be there to help.

Start with hello.

Kas Thomas has 275,000 followers on Twitter. He operates Author-Zone.com and is writing a novel, B.A.T.T.Y., due out in 2015.
 

Welcome ;)

Welcome ;)
Writers, readers and all, welcome to my Writing Retreat, here at the BB B&B - a quaint respite on the web for all things writing.

I'm your host, Lia Mack, fellow author and starving artist. In addition to guest authors and the occasional book review, I blog about writing and all the joys aches and pains that go with.

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Hope you enjoy my many tangented thoughts ;)

Contact me anytime.

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