Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gift shopping for a writer?

Earlier this month I was thinking about gifts for writers. I did what alot of my students do when they have important questions about life; I turned to
I don’t know anything about the writers at Well, that’s not true anymore because now I know that they have an excellent sense of humor. The gift suggestions are darkly hilarious.

Among them:

A magazine subscription.
Like our desks aren’t *already* piled with words (ours and other people’s) we don’t have time to read.

Books on writing.
What you should actually get.
Don’t writers only turn to those in times of horrible desperation? When they are convinced that they only wrote something decent by accident and they will never, ever, write anything good again? They turn to the how to write books in the hope that they might find a tiny something that will help them fake their way through whatever terrible, terrible manuscript they are currently ruining with their bad, bad writing.  

Tickets to see an admired writer.
One, aren’t these things supposed to be free?
Two, good God, is there anything worse than hearing someone else talk about their huge writing success? Especially when you, the gifted writer, are facing the guilt from the unread stack of magazines and journals and the shame of sneaking into dark corners hoping to discover whatever secret will enable you to keep fooling everyone that you too are a writer to be admired?

Next gift suggestion: A journal filled with blank pages.
Oh yeah. That is exactly what every writer wants. A crap ton of more blank pages to fill.  ‘Nuf said.

Alright, I admit the whole list wasn’t ironically funny. The fifth item: a massage.
This sounds awesome. Especially if the masseuse  doesn’t speak English. That way they won’t ask what you do for a living, and make you remember why you need the massage so badly in the first place.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Social Media, what it should do for authors, writing programs and some #random #thoughts

I don't have any training in social media. I've formed my opinion from what I've heard at conferences, from other authors, and what I've pieced together from articles and stuff. Before I reworked my commercial fiction blog,  I averaged 150 hits a month. Now I average over two thousand and it continues to go up. For me, I think social media ought accomplish to three key things:
  • reinforce brand. 
  • organize the brand.
  • build and maintain buzz.  

Reinforce Brand
By reinforce the brand, I mean provide information on events and topics, whatever things are of interest to the audience. I know "reinforce the brand" sounds kind of markety or contrived, but all I mean is to think about who you are as an author, and provide whatever your audience needs or is interested in. In the case of an author, that will be anything connected to to the author's books and related topics. In the case of a writing program, audience would be prospective and current students, alum, faculty, and friends of the program. Friends of the program would be other writing programs that are in some way connected with the literary community, for example, journals students and faculty submit to and publish in. I've heard that social media should be 80% information, fun notes about successes, relevant chatter, and 20% promotion. If there is too much obvious promotion, the audience will not perceive themselves to be a beneficiary but a target. So they disconnect. I use this philosophy in my own use of social media. 

Organize Brand
Another thing I think is helpful is to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, etc) to drive the audience to the one common source. For me, my one common source is Once they get there, readers will find not only what they are looking for, but other great stuff. The one source place serves as an archive of information and whatever else is relevant and is searchable. It's also designed to provide what the audience seeks. An author can use social media to drive the reader to the one source place (blog or website) by posting the content on the site and putting links to the site out in the media. For example, program press releases could be posted on the program blog or site and the link to the blog could be put on the program Facebook page. That way, the news gets out right away and it is also available later. Also, with student and faculty publications, the same thing. The info could be posted on the site with the link posted on Facebook and twitter. Instant news, but also available later. Another example, covers could be put on Pinterest and the cover would link back to the program site. See? The social media drives the audience to the site so they will see all the awesome stuff right there.

Build and Maintain Buzz
The need to generate buzz for authors is often discussed as though it is impossible and mysterious. There is certainly a luck component to "buzz" but authors can use social media to their advantage by thinking about how different social media accounts function and how the accounts can interconnect and strengthen each other. Name recognition is important for authors and writing programs but for different reasons. Authors need to focus on themselves and their work. Programs must consider the needs of the program as well as the needs of the students. The program needs buzz to attract new students; the current and alumni students need buzz to achieve their individual goals. This can be achieved through the use of social media. For example, featuring student work and news on a writing program site accomplishes both needs because the links to the program site can be easily shared by students, alum and faculty to people outside the program. If a someone in the writing program does a post or has something featured on the site, they can post the link on their own social media outlets and that too will drive people to the program site. This cross promotion generates buzz and enables the program to reach many people. Also, the post could be used later by students. For example, in a query letter or job application, the student could include the link to show off their work. The post on the program site would show off their work but again drive someone new to the site. In that way, it benefits both the student and the program.

Some really random thoughts:
  • I avoid posting anything on my site that will either need updating or that itself becomes out of date. Anything with a deadline, for example. To me those items become stale. I post those items on Facebook and others (twitter, tumblr) only.
  • I use Blogger because I find it easy to use. I know it is more simple and limited than Wordpress, but I get tangled up in WP. Wordpress locks up on me and has eaten more than one after I have written them.
  • I have a tumblr blog where I'm trying to reach a slightly different audience. It doesn't have the ability to have "pages" like Blogger. That's a disadvantage because it would be difficult to organize stuff.
  • My Pinterest is new. I don't love it as much as other people, but it can be a fun task avoidance. I suppose it may turn into something.

Why the Pin-Ups here?

Friday, August 9, 2013

AWP 2014, Seattle

I was excited to receive notice that my proposal for next year's AWP conference has been accepted.
The Irony of the Internet: Reevaluating and Redefining Business and Creativity in the Digital Age

The literary world is experiencing what the music industry has been for years: expanded audience access, revised distribution channels, and pressure from business giants. We all know business is done differently, but the digital age also requires us to think differently. This panel—editors, authors, and an agent—will explore these aspects of the digital age as well as how the internet and electronic media alter attitudes on creativity and the perceived value of artistic endeavors.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dear literary writers...

I recently returned from my second AWP conference. The constant, dense snow provided a fitting back drop for this particular event. I took this picture of the CITGO sign while walking to a reading at a pub near Fenway.

Having arrived in the more literary than commercial world of AWP after spending many years in a more commercial than literary world, I'm still puzzling over some issues. This year, one of the things I spent time thinking about was the difference in being a literary author among other literary authors vs. being a commercial author among other commercial authors. I have a lot to say about that, but not today. Instead, I have this, some stuff somebody should tell you but doesn't.

1. When signing a book for a reader, the moment is about the reader not about you. Consider doing what you can to make the moment memorable for the reader. For example, write something specific and unique. The date? The city where you are? The name of the event? Or better yet, something about the reader. "The guy with the kick ass boots."

2. If another author tags both you and your book title on twitter, they're doing what they can to promote you, the author, and your book. The same applies to other social media. Consider doing the same in return.

3. It's fine to give someone your card. If you don't have a card, you should. Consider getting one and giving it to people.

4.  PublishersMarketplace. If you have a completed manuscript and its ready to go out, subscribe. Keep track of who is buying similar projects and consider sending it to them. You can subscribe before you're done with said manuscript, but it will be easy to become obsessed with all the things being sold by other writers and waste a bunch of time reading the daily reports and day dreaming when you should be writing.

5. Manuscripts sell. Consider ignoring any advice about how to sell a manuscript if the advice doesn't include: 1) writing the whole manuscript and 2) sending it out.

6. It isn't 'nearly impossible' to get an agent. Consider not listening when someone tells you that. Consider instead using PublishersMarketplace to find agents you think might be interested in your work and query them.

7. Writers write. They also hang out in pubs to drink beer and talk about writing. Then they go back to writing.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Thinking about writing for young children? Have questions?

Who doesn't like children's books? As a writer, they seem like the ultimate opportunity--you can write about anything, right? Writing for little kids sounds like fun, but of course, its serious business.

Three of the most common questions new writers of children's books have are:
  • should I pitch my project as part of a series? 
  • should I hire an illustrator for my project?
  • will I make more writing for children than adults?

Multi-published author, Christine Taylor-Butler, shares her insights.  

1. Submit a single text and keep the sequels in your back pocket. The "series" isn't what sells the book. It's the command of the language, the concept, and the execution that sells the book along with market potential.

2. DO NOT hire an illustrator.  If you don't have a name in the industry, publishers sometimes pair you with a known illustrator to boost market potential.  Also, the illustrator has to be well versed in publishing requirements.  You will work with the editor, but the illustrator works with the art director who will have ideas about how the book should be shaped.  I've met several of my illustrators and am fascinated at how many drafts they go through before the Art Director is satisfied. In one case, as many drafts as I had done on the text side.

Also - understand that the illustrator will need to understand crop, bleed, gutter placement, printable color range, etc. to prepare the artwork.  Hopefully your illustrator is professionally trained, but unless it's a really strong project, publishers will assume that the team is already fixed in their vision for the project and it will be more likely to kick out a rejection.

3. The picture book market does not pay as much as the market for novels. It sometimes takes years for the picture book to appear on the shelf, the books are expensive to produce (because of the full color requirements) and the author and illustrator are splitting the royalties. So it's not as lucrative for agents to represent that market. Usually the author has a literary agent, the illustrator has an artist's representative.


Christine Taylor-Butler is the author of more than sixty books for children, and Chair of MIT's Regional Educational Council. She is currently based in Kansas City, Missouri.