Guest Blogger

Guest Post: The Quest for Authenticity

Today’s guest blogger Susan Froetschel writes for YaleGlobal Online and is the author of the novel Fear of Beauty.

stationeryBookstore staff and bloggers often ask, “Did you travel to Afghanistan to research your book?” Most seem disappointed when I suggest that imagination can produce a better tale on literacy, parenting, women’s rights and fear of globalization. As a journalist and mystery writer, I’m a huge fan of the U.S. government and its many resources. But I’m also wary about over-reliance on government-packaged research.

Some stories require extensive research. Others depend on life experiences and larger truths. Novelists who enter into research relationships must recognize that government’s highest levels will resist the stories of the renegades within their ranks. The most thrilling stories, like Argo, are about those who defy orders and follow their consciences. 

This is not to say that writers should ignore government research, but they must use care in selecting details. The CIA World Factbook, with its assessments of national economies, people and trade, is a rich resource, as are the U.S. State Department fact sheets.

Some research assistance goes beyond the statistics. Consider the Entertainment Industry Liaison of the Central Intelligence Agency:  “For years, artists from across the entertainment industry – actors, authors, directors, producers, screenwriters, and others – have been in touch with the CIA to gain a better understanding of our intelligence mission.” The site suggests the liaison is “in a position to give greater authenticity to scripts, stories, and other products in development” and that “To better convey that reality, the CIA is ready for a constructive dialogue with a broad range of creative talents.” The Pentagon simply provides contact info forProducing Motion Pictures, Television Shows, Music Videos.”

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By |2013-04-25T09:29:05-04:00April 25th, 2013|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|3 Comments

Guest Post: Listen Up… This Is Why Audiobooks Rule!

Today, as part of our week-long celebration of the new Baby Grand audiobook, Matthew Burns of audiobooknerds.com guest-blogs and tells us why he may be the audiobook’s biggest fan — and why you should be too.

The world of audiobooks is undergoing massive change. You may even equate where we are right now as a “renaissance” period – while we continue to grow technologically, there seems to be less and less time for the simplicities in life, which means the written world has to keep up with the demands of an ever-busy consumer. This is just a fractional piece of why audiobooks are exploding. Still, as they continue to gain in popularity, one phrase in particular constantly comes up:

“Aren’t audiobooks cheating?”

The number one reason WHY this question might be asked is because of the commitment reading actually takes. Sure you learn to read at a young age and a well-cultivated love makes reading a breeze – but there is still the matter of time. You (generally) need to be in the right frame of mind, a quiet place, and be able to commit the time to actually read more than a page. You can see below one of the many interactions I’ve encountered on the subject.

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Excellent points, yes, but those things can still be applied to an audiobook. When you’re presented with the opportunity to multitask yet STILL gather everything you need to enjoy an amazing story, it logically feels like you’re gaming the system. But that is part of the reason audiobook lovers are so passionate – we can enjoy more novels than most due to the ease with which reading comes.

Our normal, everyday (maybe even mundane) tasks are transformed into opportunities. Countless times I’ve seen “I drove an extra block to keep listening” or “I can’t stop doing laundry otherwise the story will end!”

You get the benefit of a potentially amazing performance. Sure, books are great, but seriously have you heard an award-winning actor bring an audiobook to life? This is where the lazy argument comes back in; I can hear it now (no pun intended) – “But you don’t have to imagine the amazing voice? How dare you!” No matter how amazing your imagination is, a great narrator will change the way you think and experience a book for the better. Certainly most people learn to read at an early age, but even before that comes listening.

There are so many other benefits we won’t get to touch on. What if you’re blind and cannot physically read? What about the ability to learn pronunciation and different accents/dialects from trained professionals? How about the soothing capabilities audiobooks have as part of a nightly routine for sleep? Audiobooks are tools with which you can hone your listening skills, make good use of time already being spent, get an amazing performance – and enjoy doing so in the process. There are hundreds of great benefits to the world of audiobooks and what they can bring to a person’s life. I’m glad Dina is one of the smart authors to realize how important this medium can truly be.

040413_headshotMatthew Burns is just another guy trying to change the world, one blog post at a time. You can find him on audiobooknerds.com where he regularly produces a podcast and blog posts for the inner Audiobook Nerd in us all.

Note: All this week, we will be celebrating the audiobook release of Baby Grand. Tomorrow: Hear Ye, Hear Ye: How to Sell an Audiobook

By |2013-04-04T12:05:37-04:00April 4th, 2013|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|1 Comment

Guest Post: Doing Q&As as Characters

In promoting Baby Grand, I’ve been asked a few times to do a written interview as Jamie Carter or Don Bailino, two of the book’s main characters, and so far I’ve declined. It feels weird to me—bringing those characters out of their worlds to answer questions in this world. But authors do it all the time. Just yesterday, I read a character interview done by my writer-friend Chris Nickson, and I asked if he wouldn’t mind putting together a guest post regarding his thoughts on using character interviews as a promotional tool. He was kind enough to say yes.

012413_At the Dying of the YearOver the last couple of weeks, my blog has featured an interview with Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds in the 1730s. It’s part of a build-up to the At the Dying of the Year, the fifth novel in my series featuring, you guessed, Richard Nottingham.

These kinds of interviews are a good way to introduce people who haven’t read my books to some of my characters, and they also serve as a reminder to those who might have read one or two. It perhaps works best where there’s a whole life built up around the character (there was a real Richard Nottingham and he was in fact Constable of Leeds from 1717 to 1737). It gives me something to draw from, and there’s an entire backstory, a history and family.

Admittedly, it’s strange, having the character address readers directly. It’s even a little jarring; he’s out of his usual context and doesn’t generally speak at such length, most certainly not about himself. That made it a challenge, which is never a bad thing, having to consider the character in a new light. It helps that he’s so familiar by now, an old, trusted friend, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

And it’s fun – that’s the most important. Finding that fine line so that people are intrigued but without going into too much detail (I’m also a music journalist, and over the last 20 years I’ve conducted many interviews, I should probably add) adds to the pleasure. It’s an exercise in writing, after all, and in character, sustaining that person and making him (or her) seem real – just like a book, really.

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By |2013-01-24T11:52:45-04:00January 24th, 2013|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Guest Post: Why I Chose to Self-Publish after Being Published by New York

One of my favorite things is hearing about the publishing experiences of other writers. Today, author Carole Bellacera tells us why she chose to self-publish her novels after having had deals in the past with traditional publishing houses.

I admit it. I was a snob. Back when I finally sold my first novel to a major New York house, I looked down my nose at anyone who’d self-published their books. For thirteen years, I’d struggled to sell a novel, coming close a few times, but always falling short. But even then, after working with three different agents, and suffering years of rejection, I held fast to my belief that if I had to stoop to self-publishing, I wouldn’t be a “real author.”

And now here I am, almost 30 years later, a self-published author. How did that happen? Well, it’s a rather familiar story to many authors. After my fourth book came out by the New York publisher, my editor left for greener pastures, leaving me an unwanted orphan. No one else, apparently, saw in my work what my editor had, and all support dried up. Of course, my sales sucked swamp water, which, I’m sure, accounted for the lack of excitement on Fifth Avenue.

Burned out and discouraged, I took a few years off from the business side to renew my love affair with what was important to me – writing. I wrote two complete novels and then waded back into the quick sands of publishing – only to find that I was starting over from the very beginning. Agent hunting, editor hunting… rejection followed by rejection. Having a track record didn’t seem to make a difference.

That’s when I decided to take back control of my career. I was sick of being told “no, your work is not worthy.” I knew it was worthy. I was the same writer I’d been when I sold four novels which earned raving reviews, if not sales. So I got my rights back from my New York publisher and put my backlist out on Amazon’s Kindle program. But I didn’t stop there. I’m in the process now of reissuing all my backlist in print, too. And then I took the two unsold books I’d been shopping to New York and put them out through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

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Think of Guest Blog Posts as a Collection of Essays

I’m cranking up the marketing machine for the upcoming launch of Baby Grand this month, and I have already been asked to write several guest blog posts as part of my promotional campaign (thank you!).

I take writing guest blog posts very seriously. I treat them as I would any freelance writing assignment. I do find, though, that there’s a tendency among guest bloggers — particularly those who are trying to promote a product or service — to rehash what they’ve already said in other blog posts or to treat that guest post as an advertisement. As a blogger, I know what it’s like to try to write posts regularly, to try to make each one unique and totally stand-alone, and it’s difficult. It’s virtually impossible not to repeat themes or ideas, or even a sentence or two. But I think it’s important to make an effort, to try and provide the blogger you’re writing for with an original and thoughtful post that will be helpful to THEIR READERS as well as your OWN publicity strategy.

I’ve featured many, many debut author interviews and guest bloggers here at Making ‘Baby Grand,’ and it’s very easy for me to tell how much effort went into an interview or post. I do have to say that the vast majority of the authors and writers I’ve featured have gone above and beyond and sincerely shared their stories and insights with my audience, and for that I’m truly grateful. But there have been a few whose efforts seemed as if they were just looking to check me off a list, whose comments felt like I’d heard them before. And I wondered if that was because they were truly tapped out and couldn’t think of anything else to say or if they were just bored and taking the easy way out.

To keep this from happening, my plan, as a guest blogger, is to consider each guest post that I write as if it were featured in a collection of essays — each one fulfilling the overall goal of promoting my work and platform, but also meeting the needs of each individual host blog and finding a new angle with which to convey my message or journey. This way, if viewed all together as one work, there will be a uniqueness — and a cohesiveness — about them.

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Guest Post: Does Free Reign?

Today’s guest post comes from Wendy L. Young, Tuesday’s featured debut author. Wendy mentioned in our chat that offering one of her short stories for free on Amazon has helped sales of her self-published novel, Come the Shadows. I found this to be interesting. Conventional thought used to be — and as my grandmother used to tell me when I hit puberty — nobody wants to pay for a cow when they can get the milk for free. Recently, Akashic Books defied that logic when copies of its parody children’s book, Go the F— to Sleep, went viral before its publication in June. Sales of the book still skyrocketed, and it remains on the New York Times Bestseller List three months later. Many authors offer their books for free intentionally as a way to increase their visibility. Wendy chose to offer a separate, shorter work. I wanted to know more. Today, Wendy gives it to us.

When I embarked on this journey I focused on the writing, telling myself that the marketing would follow — just get it out there and then worry about the rest. The only pause I took in the middle of writing Come the Shadows was to pen a quick short story titled “One Final Night.” From first word to publish I spent one week on it. I put it out there, quickly learned some important self-publishing lessons, and largely left it alone.

Fast forward 3 months and Come the Shadows was published and available for download – and I was standing at an abyss called Marketing. I saw some chatter about freebies and realized that I had something to offer. At this point I had considered UN-publishing my short story and wiping it from the public eye because it was in a different genre. After considering my options, I switched tactics and made it free. That’s not an instant thing — neither Barnes & Noble or Amazon will let a self-published author choose *free* as an option – but after a couple of weeks it finally took effect.

Within 48 hours of the price change almost 2500 people had picked it up off Amazon. 24 hours later the total doubled. In less than a week it peaked at #15 on the freebie list – that’s ALL freebies, for all Kindles. Now, in less than a month, it has been downloaded almost 27000 times on Kindle. I cannot access any B&N numbers for it due to how it is listed there but I would venture it’s 5,000+ there as well. The reviews have been great too — averaging over 4.5 stars across the board.

But, what does that mean for my book?

At this point, not a lot. Were I listing a free novel with a tie-in to a paid book I think I would be running down the road screaming joy as numbers climbed. I am very happy I did it but it has not bought me a trip to the moon, or even over a hop over the Atlantic.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t done any good. It did bump my sales a little when I combined it with dropping the price of Come the Shadows from $2.99 to $0.99. And with such glowing reviews it definitely helps those who research see very positive statements about my writing and the effect my work can have on a reader. That’s something you cannot buy.

Overall I recommend this as a very positive technique for a new writer. Amazon, especially, does an amazing job promoting free works. I mentioned it most days on Twitter but for the most part Amazon did it for me. The downloads have slowed but continue and I have no plans any time soon to return it to a paid price.

I will definitely use free downloads again in the future and on larger works. I have seen multiple stories about how effective it can be and I believe that used well — long-term or just for a week or two — it can pay great dividends in growing an author’s footprint with readers.

Wendy L. Young has been writing for more than twenty years. She now writes and publishes short stories in literary fiction/drama and novels in mystery/suspense. Her first mystery Come the Shadows is out now and the sequel will be published in late fall 2011. Follow her online at http://www.twitter.com/wendyyoung

By |2011-09-15T07:42:02-04:00September 15th, 2011|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Guest Post: 4 Things I Learned Thru #1kaday

Today, we have another guest post from a member of our #1kaday crew. Ellie Soderstrom, one of our group’s biggest supporters, cheerleaders and inspirations, tells what she’s learned during our little 1,000-words-a-day marathon.

1. It takes me about an hour and a half of undisturbed writing time to finish one thousand words. Sometimes the words are as loose as a streetwalker and other days they’re as tight as a puritan. On the days when I have to grind the words out, 1k words feels like a great accomplishment. On the days when the words flow freely, I feel like an artist. Both are excellent feelings.

2. I need a lot of time to think. I must plot out my scenes before I ever get to the computer or I’ll stare at the screen listlessly until I decide to read a blog or get on twitter. Both are bad decisions for finishing word count. However, when my scenes are plotted out I can’t help but run to the computer and my writing time shoots by faster than I’d like.

3. Breaks don’t help. I took a few days off, thinking that it’d be good for me. It’s not. I need to write everyday or it’s hard for me to get into the story world, harder for me to remember what my characters are feeling, and harder for me to get the word count down.

4. Have fun. I found it so encouraging talking with my fellow #1kaday’ers. I felt like every time I finished 1k words I heard their cheering and clapping behind me. It kept me on the straight and narrow. They remind me of my goals. And they’re just plain fun to talk to!

Ellie Soderstrom blogs on Wednesdays at The Gig.

By |2011-05-26T08:26:14-04:00May 26th, 2011|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Guest Post: What #1kaday Means to Me

Today, the lovely Lili Tufel, one of the writers in our #1kaday writing spree, guest blogs about the camaraderie and being a part of our little cheerleading squad and what that has meant to her. (Last Thursday, fellow #1kaday-er Michael Pallante offered his thoughts on word counts.) On Tuesday, look for my Q&A with Lili, who has written her very first novel titled, Sand. You go, girl!

It was April 1, 2011, and I was ready for #1kaday, Tweetdeck column saved and all. By hook or by crook, I would write those thousand words a day and tweet each milestone to my new support group. And so it began, and we all celebrated. In the beginning, I tweeted every milestone and cheered for my new friends as they weighed in their #1kaday.

As the days progressed, my obstacles seemed to increase and I began to feel like a fish swimming upstream. My grandmother was taken into ICU with double pneumonia and while staying in the hospital, she suffered two heart attacks. The house we had been waiting to move to for months was finally ready. Once we moved, there were still some renovations that had to be done and my husband, who is extremely handy, redid our entire closet – and, of course, I was his assistant. Yes, I helped dismantle sheet rock, took a dozen trips to the hardware store, and painted. I had to keep my regular blog posts while wearing a facemask in a dust-filled room. I would steal idle moments to pick up my phone and tweet, which of course annoyed my hubby, but every chance I got I checked my dear #1kaday friends. Even though writing a thousand words a day had become an impossible blur, I still felt a part of the group, and it was comforting. I believe only a writer could understand how valuable a support group like #1kaday really is. I didn’t feel completely out of touch with my writing, because I still had my writer friends.

Now, the cloud of dust has disappeared, and while at my new desk – almost as if jumping into swinging double-dutch jump-ropes – I pop in #1kaday with my word count and people celebrate like I had been there all along, and indeed I had been.

By |2011-05-12T06:32:38-04:00May 12th, 2011|Guest Blogger|0 Comments

Guest Post: Thoughts on #1kaday

This is the first of several guest posts from my #1kaday comrades. As most of you know, a bunch of us have been engaging in a 1,000 words as day, or #1kaday, writing regimen since April 1. I plan on finishing the first draft of my second novel by then, but all of us are working on all kinds of things at all different stages. My first guest blogger is Michael Pallante. better known to us Twitter folk as @M_Pallante.

As a writer, I have a lot of people making demands on my ability to produce words on a schedule. As a journalist, it’s my bread and butter, and my editor demands 300-500 twice a week. As a blogger, it’s my platform, and I demand 300-700 from myself three times a week. As an author, my writing groups don’t demand, but secretly expect 1,000 words every day. All told, that’s well over 7,000 words a week. Of course, in the editing process I know that roughly 2,000 of those words will be axed and about a third will be completely rewritten. And this is all in addition to all my endless emails to editors, experts and the roughly 4,000 words a day I average on twitter.

So what’s with all this number crunching? Is it important? Well, with the exception of journalism where my weekly word count is intrinsic to the medium… No. The #1kaday challenge isn’t about number crunching and word counts. That’s for editors and tax men to worry about.

We’re writers. And sometimes its tough to be a writer. Motivation can sometimes be as hard to come by as rewards. Through #1kaday, we can find a support group to cradle us through the tough times and get down to the business of writing.

The most important thing I’ve learned through #1kaday is that 993 words counts. It does. The point isn’t to hit an arbitrary benchmark– it’s to produce something substantial every day. To flex your muscles. To practice your craft. To, quite simply, write.

By |2011-05-05T06:17:12-04:00May 5th, 2011|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Guest Post: Pitfalls Facing 1st Time Authors

Today’s guest blogger is Gabrielle Lichterman, who is also this week’s featured debut author. Gabrielle shares with us some of the potential pitfalls and misconceptions facing first-time authors, based on her experiences publishing her nonfiction book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential.

Don’t expect your publisher’s publicity department to do much for you. Or to even read your book. Publicists at publishing houses are overwhelmed with books and yours is just a blip on their radar screen. Get out your sneakers and pound the pavement yourself. Now, that said, do not—I repeat—do not anger, annoy, upset or accidentally insult your publisher’s publicist in any way. Treat him or her like gold no matter what he or she does (or doesn’t) do for you and your book. And if you accidentally do any of the aforementioned, suck it up and send him or her the biggest bouquet of roses you can afford with a big, fat apology. And if the publicist actually does snag you an interview, send an even bigger bouquet of roses with a big, fat thank you. The consequences of failing to heed this advice can be dire for the future of your book.

Make sure you’re 100 percent happy with your ms before you send it in to your editor. It’s very likely that your editor will look it over, then pass it along without suggesting any changes, providing any comments or telling you how brilliant or awful it is. Now, you may be lucky enough to get an editor who has the time to actually read every word of your ms and provide feedback. But, many simply don’t. In my magazine writing life, my editors are meticulous, helping me craft the message, get the style right and labor over every word so it’s just right. When I sent my ms in to my book editor, I was stunned to not get any feedback at all. And, frankly, based on questions she asked later in the process about my book’s content, it was pretty obvious she had little knowledge of what was actually in my book. That said, it’s key to also treat your editor like gold because he or she is the one who fell in love with your book idea and fought to have your project bought by the publisher in the first place. I’m just suggesting that you do more of your own homework and lower your expectations if they’re a bit high like mine were. And if you want your book to come out as perfectly as you hope, it’s primarily up to you to get it right.

Don’t believe all the promises. When getting wooed by a publisher, even a small one for a small amount of money, they will promise you all sorts of things to get you to pick them as your publisher—special promotions for your book, multi-colored ink, a pull-out calendar, etc. Unless it’s in writing in a signed contract, don’t expect to see those promises come through.

Pick your agent carefully. Don’t do what I did—I flew right into the arms of the first agent who said she’d rep my book proposal. My excitement took over, and I didn’t even meet her before signing a contract. A wiser choice: Find at least three agents who are interested in repping your proposal, and then interview them carefully. Find out which books they sold in the past six months, for how much and, most importantly, to whom. If an agent seems to have a relationship with only one or two publishers, this could be a red flag that he or she has a special relationship with those publishers (this agent may write for them on the side, get payments for recruiting authors for special projects, etc.). Move on and find an agent who works with a wide number of publishers instead. Also key: While interviewing your agent, find out how friendly or engaging he or she is. Agents are the ones who are talking directly to book editors to pitch your book and if they’re off-putting for any reason, book editors are already aware of this and will push his or her call to voicemail without ever listening to it.

Don’t be overly willing to yield just to get your book published. If there are changes being made that you don’t like, challenge them. I wish I had. For instance, I was never a fan of the title 28 Days because I was afraid readers would think they had to have a 28-day cycle to read my book when women with any length cycle can use it. And, according to reader feedback, my fear was well-founded. If I had a nickel for every email I received that said something like, “I’d read your book because I like the concept, but I don’t have a 28-day cycle….” I’d be a wealthy woman. That one title mistake cost me a lot of potential readers. It also cost me valuable interview time, because I then had to tell audience members that you didn’t need a 28-day cycle to read my book.

Keep your rights. My agent gave away much of the rights to publish my book in other countries to my publisher. But, I didn’t challenge it because I didn’t know better. I did, however, end up keeping the rights to three countries—Korea, Japan and Italy. Guess what? I sold the rights to all three and more than doubled the money I got from my American publisher. So, again, keep your rights. Same goes with movie rights—always keep your movie rights because nowadays anything can be made into a movie. And that’s easily another $100K to $500K right there.

One last bit of advice about rights: About nine or 10 months after my book was published, it got taken out of print. That was mighty fast, especially considering I was doing a major TV media tour with Procter & Gamble around the time and had garnered a ton of publicity. It really came as a shock. But what was most shocking is the way I found out: I asked about my book at a local Barnes & Noble store and was told by the clerk that it had been taken out of print. Neither my agent nor anyone from my publisher’s office bothered to tell me I was busy promoting a book that no one could even purchase. After I calmed down, I decided to ask for the rights to 28 Days to be given back to me. To my surprise, the publisher freely gave them to me. Now I can get the book republished if I wish with another publisher or publish it myself. And I get the benefit of correcting the mistakes I made the first time and hopefully avoid making them again.

Gabrielle Lichterman is a nationally known women’s health journalist and founder of Hormonology, the Hormone Horoscope. Her book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods, and Potential, is the first and only horoscope based solely on women’s hormones. She offers a free daily hormone horoscope at myhormonesmademedoit.com.

By |2011-03-24T04:55:26-04:00March 24th, 2011|Guest Blogger, Uncategorized|0 Comments

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