Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Crumbling Under Pressure

I’ve been struggling to write the articles that my British publicist wants for the various “women’s magazines” she’s talked to. My problem is actually kind of simple, though I think there’s a deep psychological component as well. The initial, simple problem is this: I don’t write non-fiction. I always struggled to write this kind of stuff in high school, and I’m always much, much happier when I can just make s**t up.

The deeper psychological component is also simple. I’m totally freaked. The amount of pressure I feel to make these books sell well o’er there is akin to deep sea diving in the Marianas Trench.

The good news is that I’ve started them. The problem is that I also keep wanting them to be “about” something, and so keep veering into subjects that are really much to complicated for this audience. I started one about talking to your kids about the higher power and why I think that’s important no matter what your bent (even if the answer is none at all). But when I sent this snippit…

My parents don’t know I’m a Witch. This is not the confession of a teenager. I’ve been practicing Wicca for nearly twenty years. I’m – ahem – well over thirty, own a home, and have a three and a half year old son.

In fact, I’m expecting my son to spill the beans. He’s at that age before the concept of “private stuff” and “public stuff” really makes sense and the Goddess has been on his mind because we started introducing him to the idea at Yule, our Christmas. In the car the other day he asked, “What is the Goddess like? Why can’t I see Her?” I, of course, explained that he could. All he had to do was look around. The Goddess is the seed that transforms into a plant. She is the metamorphosis of caterpillar into butterfly. She is compost – decay that becomes nutrients for new life. Of course, after all my poetic language, my son gave me one of those why-can’t-parents-speak-plain-English sighs and asked again, “Yeah, but what does She LOOK like? Is She big?” At which point I had to revert to the Socratic method and ask him what he thought the Goddess looked like, but that didn’t satisfy him much either. I’m surprised he hasn’t started asking random strangers in the Mall.

I’m sure he’ll quiz the grandparents.

I’m nervous about that moment, but not for the reasons you might think.

… to my publicist, the answer was, yeah, your instincts are correct. This is too dense for this particular audience.

This is surprisingly hard. The good news is that she rather liked the one that starts:

No one can tell I’m a Witch. I don’t wear black (well, at least not exclusively). There are no tattoos or piercings or jewelry on my body of Ankhs or pentacles or vampire bats. I may be over thirty, but I’m not quite a hag yet, thank you very much. You’re more likely to find me at my son’s playgroup with a backpack full of Cheerios and diapers than skulking around a graveyard after midnight.


Don’t be. I still dance naked at the full moon. I still cast spells and throw hexes. I could give you the evil eye – well, that is, if I believed in such a thing.

Gah. Must get to work on these...

Self-Promotion: Things To Waste Your Money On… Without Even Trying

Despite the title of this article, I actually do many of these things I’m about to list. I’m not at all convinced of their efficacy, however. Also, by listing these ideas, I am not suggesting that any of these are right for you or work particularly well (in fact, I have no idea what REALLY nets sales; if I did, I’d be having a much more lucrative career in advertising.)

The reason I do a lot of these things is because I can’t stand the idea of not doing anything. I would much rather throw money away to keep myself busy, rather than pace a hole in the rug wondering how my sales figures are doing. This is a personal choice, however. And I do them with the full knowledge that they probably aren’t getting me anything in terms of a return on investment. I’m okay with that. Like I said, for me it’s about wasting my time and money versus tearing my hair out by the roots.

Okay, after all that disclaimer-ing, let’s get to the list:

1. Advertise. When I go to conventions (which I listed as something I feel is a good bet for your bucks), I often run an advertisement in their souvenir booklet. This typically costs me $200 a pop (and I do all the art design myself with Publisher, which came as part of my computer package). I have no idea if this works or not, but I kind of like the karmic aspect of supporting a convention, as the money they get from advertising goes to publishing the booklet. These days I also like to run group advertisements to help mitigate the costs. $200 can become more manageable when split four or even five ways.

I have looked into advertising in glossy magazines such as Romantic Times, Locus, SF Bulletin and the like. I've found, however, that those magazines are often beyond the stretch of my pocketbook. I _do_ think that people are affected by ads they see -- I know I've bought books because I noticed a cool cover (or author's name on a new book) that I've seen in ads, but I might be weird that way. Anyway, I haven't done it, so I can't speak of whether or not I really think it's worthwhile.

2. Purchase Professionally Produced Postcards. There’s a really great e-printer called 48hourpress which has, IMHO, very cheap rates and extremely professional products. This costs in the range of $200 - $400, depending on how many you decide to have printed. I tend to order 1,000 at a time, because I have a ton of uses for these things.

Because I’m a member of RWA and MFW (previously covered), I get notices regarding romance conventions that are on the look out for “goodie bag” stuffers. Romance readers, unlike SF folks expect gifts when they go to a conference or a workshop. They typically get a shopping bad FULL of postcards, magnets, pens, post-it notes, bookmarks, and doo-dads of all variety as well as copies of out-of-print/backlist books. Postcards and bookmarks go there on a regular basis. Does this work? Yes, I’ve gotten responses from people who said they bought my book because they saw a postcard for it in their goodie bag. Given how many I’ve sent out do I think that the money is well spent? Probably not.

A side note: I actually spend a LOT of postage (although book rate is surprisingly cheap, given the pounds these boxes weigh) sending out boxes of my science fiction backlist to romance conventions/conferences/workshops. But, if I didn’t, I’d have a million boxes of my own books collecting dust in my office. It’s very depressing to be writing a novel staring at six cartons of remaindered books. For a while, I called my office the “room of doom.”

I also “re-use” my postcards to send out book signing/event notices to my friends. I simply use my laser printer to print out labels containing the pertinent info and then stick them over the part of my postcard which normally has the book blurb on it.

I bring them to SF/F conventions to leave on the freebee tables.

I also send them out to book buyers. Now here’s a big expense we can all argue about…. I have bought (the list cost another couple hundred dollars) a list of book sellers from one the many places you can buy such things. I print out labels and send out thousands or postcards to independent and chain box bookstores. Does this do me any good? I highly doubt it, as this is really one of those things – talking up your book to book buyers – that your publisher should be doing for you. Why do I do it? Because I like thinking that maybe my cover is just eye catching enough that I made a tiny bit of an extra impression on a book buyer who then decides to purchase a copy of my book.

3. Group postcards/calanders/give-aways As a member of MFW and Vampire Vixens, I regularly throw my money away towards group postcards which are sent to book buyers listing all the romance titles from our organization and their pub date. MFW writers is putting together their annual postcard right now. Plus, the Vampire Vixens usually has a strong presence at the big romance conference put on by Romantic Times/Book Club and this year they’re producing a calendar with all the pertinent book release dates on the various months which I’m paying to be part of. Worth it? I have no idea, but again, I like to do this stuff because in a lot of ways it seems stupid for me not to join in, particularly when someone else is going to do all the hard work. I should say, this is the cheapest of my ventures costing ($60 a pop, but as I do two of them at least a year, it costs me over a $100 annually.)

I'll write more as I think of it, but this is all for today.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Astro Alert: Mercury Retrograde!


It's time to perfect your backstroke as Mercury turns retrograde in the sign of the Fish just in time for Valentine's Day! Since Pisces is the most sensitive sign of the zodiac, you are likely to feel a bit thin-skinned recollecting recent agreements, ideas and conversations -- especially those pertaining to matters of the heart. Bear in mind that, because of the psychic nature of this water sign, anything left unsaid may emerge as much more important than feelings that have been put into words. However, don't overthink every nuance of your emotions, silent or otherwise. Strive to maintain control over your mood, and don't jump to conclusions until you have a handle on all the facts!

When Mercury reenters airy Aquarius on February 26, your more logical mind will return -- somewhat. Mercury will still be retrograde, but the movement away from emotional Pisces into detached Aquarius will provide some clarity. Mercury retrograde phases are like an extended conversation, allowing you to repeatedly review and reinterpret the finer points of each moment. Take your time! With Mercury in this innovative air sign, you have the opportunity to develop your ideas more thoroughly and to return to trains of thought with those who can help. Additionally, if you know which house -- or houses -- Mercury is traveling through in your natal chart, you can use that knowledge to further utilize and appreciate all aspects of the current retrograde. And, of course, hold off on any major decision-making until after Mercury turns direct on March 7: Mercury retrograde periods are infamous for wreaking havoc on otherwise perfectly well-informed plans!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Self Promtion that Costs Some Bling

Cross-posted from the Wyrdsmiths' Blog.

For the purposes of this second installment I’ll talk about things you can spend promotional money on that are under a hundred dollars, though I’m not going to be rigorous about this division. However, I will try to note when I think there may be hidden costs (like postage, etc.) that may put it over.

First, let’s pretend that you’ve done the (IMHO) scary part and called up your local, independent bookstore and begged them for a signing. Maybe you’ve gone in with another new author friend (or established one) and booked a signing together or in conjunction with a book club meeting, etc. You’ve written a spiffy press release and emailed, faxed, or snail mailed it to all your local newspapers. Sometimes, if you do this right, it will net you some honest-to-goodness FREE publicity in the form of an interview or article or notice in the paper. I’m not terribly convinced that people READ the newspaper, but this is the sort of thing you can save for your media kit in the future.

1. Tell Everyone You Know. There are a few cheap ways to advertise your up-coming event. You can send out an email to everyone (or select everyones) in your address book. I recommend this, regardless, because even if those people can’t make your event they’re at least aware that your book is coming out and may take that moment to pre/order it on or wherever.

I also like to send out some kind of paper reminder to everyone whose snail mail addresses I have. I’ve been collecting addresses for years – from classes, signings, and holiday cards. You can make pretty cheap postcards with some index cards and a printer. If you have a printer that will feed envelops, most times they will also take index cards. This is a ridiculously time consuming process especially given the “advertising percent rate” that you have to keep in mind: 10% return, which is to say that if you send out a hundred postcards, expect ten people. I usually try to send out two hundred postcards a month in advance.

Remember: this will cost you postcard stamps and (very likely) a toner cartridge.

Make sure you have all the important info on the card: day of the week, date and time of the signing, the book you’re going to sign, the name and address and phone number of the place you’ll be at and, well, your name (and, in my case, both my real name and my pseudonym).

Also, if I have more than one signing in a month, I try to put information about both of them on one postcard so that if people can’t make one, maybe they can make the next one. There is some question about how many signings in a local area you should try to do for any given book. I have never figured this out, but my sense is that two bookstores in the same month is more than enough. I’ve had some success having several signings spread out over the course of a year, but the further away from your publishing date you are, the less enthused both your readers and the bookstore manager often are.

Okay, other things to do to make sure you have a good book signing is to show up early (at least fifteen minutes, but best a half an hour, IMHO) to help the store manager set up and dress professionally.

Also, and this is probably going to sound like strange advice, but always keep a dozen copies of your book in the car (this might include “backlist” if you’re promoting a second book). Most book store managers don’t expect to sell that many copies of your book. Even though you probably will only have a dozen or so people show up, it’s an unmitigated disaster if fifty show and you sell out of books before you run out of people who want them. This rarely happens, but, just in case, I always have copies in my trunk. Having extra copies on hand can save face for all involved. Happily, I can say I did this once and it made the book store manager very, very happy.

Okay, before your book signing (and after) you can also:

2. Attend Conventions. The nice thing about being an SF/F/H/Speculative fiction writer is that there are a million conventions happening almost every weekend. Check out the listings on Locus and you’re sure to find a convention near you. We’re extremely fortunate in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that there are no less than a half-dozen local conventions every year.

This is not free. It will cost you the price of admission (depending on how early you register, $30 - $100+) and, if you don’t live nearby, the cost of hotel (and transportation costs – possibly plane ride). However, this is an investment that I have always found worthwhile.

Most convention planners are desperate for programming volunteers. Ideally, you can get in early on the planning and suggest panel ideas that are especially germane to your work. (For instance I was always on the “Religion in SF” panel when the AngeLINK books were still in print). Kelly always has a list of “offerings” to send to conventions, which I think is very clever. I’m not usually this organized. If not, look for panel topics that interest you. I’ve made friends and influenced people (buyers!) by being on media panels about “Firefly,” etc. Media fans are often grateful to be taken seriously by the “literati” so there’s no reason to hide your inner fan grrl/boy. IMHO. However, I always plan to be on one writing related panel since people who attend those are very likely your target audience.

But, Tate, what if I’m shy??

Here’s my advice about that. Volunteer anyway. Find a topic that you’re interested in and do some research. Come prepared with questions. If you don’t like being put on the spot, be the one who asks the questions. (If you’re signed up as the moderator, you should do this anyway,) but most decent moderators on panels are open to a panel member who is genuinely prepared with interesting questions. Also, if your nervous about what to say during the introduction period, write something up ahead of time and practice. And, the best advice, is to just tell people you’re nervous and it’s your first (or one of your first) ever panels. Most of us SF/F/H-type geeks GET that and will warm to you.

Some conventions also have readings. See if you can get one. My advice for that is to pick something length appropriate and practice, practice, practice. Find a scene in your novel or short story that you don’t have to explain, in which something happens, and which ends on a cliff hanger. Remember: you want people to leave the room wanting more! I also print up a reading copy and edit it for reading – that is to say, if I discover a huge chunk of world building that was important to the story, but which is kind of long and boring when I read it out loud I cut it (or edit it down to something much shorter.) I also make sure to add any dialogue tags that might be necessary for a hearer (but which aren’t in the text the line break is clear to the reader). I also make sure to have someone time me. No one likes a reader who goes overtime.

What if I’m just not famous enough to score a reading?

Well, here’s where being a joiner can help you. If you’re a member of BroadUniverse (which costs about $30 to join), you can take part in their rapid-fire readings. Unfortunately, to be a reader with them you have to be a woman.

Speaking of that:

3. Memberships that cost money, but which have been worth the dough for me:

RWA and my local chapter Midwest Fiction Writers. If you write anything at all romantic, Romance Writers of America is the organization for you. They’re open to writers who aren’t published, who publish small press, and, of course, the big press/big name folks. My local chapter organizes signings, gets me into book seller trade shows, and does group advertising. RWA costs big money, however ($90?) and my local adds another ($30).

BroadUniverse. See above.

When I first started out and simply needed to connect to other writers, I also found the National Writers Union to be helpful.

I could go on, but this is getting lengthy, so I’ll stop for now.