Back when my kids were little (and before I was published) we created stories together. I just came across this short video gem–a heartwarming Christmas tale about my character Little Billy Bragon and his Dragon Wagon.
At the time, I was working as an attorney in the criminal division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and writing fantasy stories at night trying to get published. Now our boys are 16 and 20, and I’ve published 13 novels, the next one due out next year with Random House in Germany.
Authors everywhere please take note. If you want to make writing a career, you might need to pay for it, and not just in blood, sweat and tears. My friends, you are going to need to set aside some cold hard cash to support your book sales, because while it is an honor to be published, it’s even better to be read.
My amazing author-husband (or husband-author), Royce, and I have come to this conclusion after 12 years of watching his books win awards, become bestsellers, get movie deals…or not. We also recently readan informative articleabout Author James Patterson’s brand-building method.
Writing books is a business, and part of running a business includes effective marketing and promotional efforts–hopefully with backing from the publisher. Reality check: the vast majority of the time (unless written by a celebrity or an author who is already a top seller) publishers don’t put a lot of money or effort into book promos. Support depends on the publisher. It might include a minimal amount of PR and, if you’re lucky, some point-of-sale items for book stores to use. If your book is lucky enough to be a lead title of a new imprint, you will definitely get more support.
I can say this with confidence, because some of Royce’s work has received fantastic support and–surprise, surprise–hit best seller lists, while others were released with little fanfare, resulting in fewer sales. Because of this reality, in one case we hired a PR firm to do a print/radio media and blog campaign to support his book, The Dead Boys. It was effective. Stay tuned for a blog entry with the clearly positive results of that self-funded campaign.
There are all sorts of articles advising authors on marketing strategies and tactics, with a range of costs associated with them. Understandably, in most cases authors take a DIY approach and opt for low to no-cost options. Here are some of the most popular suggestions:
Do a book store reading/signing
Send press releases to local media
Create a website
Get on social media – you must devote all your waking hours Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, etc. etc….
Do school visits
Attend writing conferences
Present at writing conferences
These are all great, but the ROI on them individually is small. And collectively…don’t get me started. They take a TON of time to do and do well. How are you supposed to get any writing done? Let alone raise kids, have a day job, golf, garden, shower, etc. Additionally, some of them require networking and connections to which authors just don’t have access. Let’s face it, you are an author because you want to tell stories, not take random pot-shots at promotional efforts that might or might not move the needle on sales. And sales is what anyone in the industry cares about when you start pitching your second, third, and fourth books for a deal…if you get to book two.
So here is what Royce and I wish we had done years ago and have committed to as we move forward. We are creating a marketing fund with advances and royalties to consistently build audience and sales. This is essentially a dividend reinvestment model. Our efforts will be targeted and involve partnerships with industry professionals to create effective and coordinated campaigns that get his stories the exposure they need to sell.
Have you had a marketing revelation for your books? We’d love to hear them. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next blog exploring the possibilities of partering with your publisher.
Royce Buckingham has done it again. He’s penned the amazing new medieval fantasy, Die Klinge Des Waldes (Verlagsgruppe Random House – Blanvalet, Germany) due out this fall. Royce took a few minutes to talk about writing fantasy, his newest project, and how it’s connected to his best-selling Mapper Series (Penhaligon/Blanvalet).
Q: Why do you write? A: Because I have so many stories in my head. If I don’t get them out, they’ll drive me crazy!
Q: What’s your favorite genre? A: Medieval Fantasy. I used to like horror stories best. Then I had kids, and horror movies lost their luster. Teens getting killed in the woods doesn’t intrigue me now that I’m not a teen and I have a couple of them. I do still love a good monster story.
Q: What is it about Medieval Fantasy? A: I like the idea of chivalry that is associated with the (loosely interpreted) time period. I’m not sure if people actually were chivalrous, but the concept makes for good character motivation, hypocrisy, and internal conflict. The other fun I have toying with the medieval genre goes back to Dungeons & Dragons, where I learned to imagine medieval scenarios. I have a strong vision of what fantasy medieval worlds can look like.
I also like the low-tech setting. In my new novel, Die Klinge Des Waldes (BLADE to my US fans), I have an inventor who designs and builds things that I get to dream up. They seem fantastical, but possible. It’s hard for me to write sci-fi these days. With the advances in the technology of our time, it’s difficult to imagine innovation beyond what innovators are actually doing. We’ve been wowed to death by amazing tech. It’s easier for me (and fun) to imagine what might be astound people in medieval times.
Q: What’s an example of that? A: A mechanical elephant in a medieval world would be fascinating. In our modern world it would be an internet sensation for maybe a day. So when I create my mechanical elephant with flames coming out of its trunk and crossbow bolts shooting from its tusks my characters (and audience) say “how can that be?” or “that’s amazing!” instead of “huh, cool, what else is on youtube?”
Q: Where do your stories come from? A: A couple of places. One is the drama of real life–problems anybody might have like, “oh no! I’m going to get killed and I don’t want to….” That’s a real problem now and in medieval times. In fact, it was likely extra-challenging to live and survive back then. Other everyday drama can include things like “I don’t love you” and “you’re fired.”
I also ask myself, “what if?” The answer is then the story. For Die Klinge Des Waldes, I thought “What if you took a Disney princess and had awful things happen to her? How would she handle that?” The answer in my world is: not very well initially.
The ways people deal with conflict is what makes for a good story. The more challenging, the better. The struggles of a fallen princess are especially awesome.
Q: Die Klinge Des Waldes (Blade) features a strong female protagonist. In your dozen or so previous books you’ve used primarily male protagonists. Did writing a female change your approach to this story? A: The Mapper Series had a female protagonist in one book, and I enjoyed working with a female lead. Building on that experience, this character is even more well-developed. She should appeal to both men and women. Her struggles are very human and mostly genderless (such as “I don’t want to get killed”), but she lives in a world where being female has its own unique challenges.
Q: What drives your stories first–character, plot, world-building? A: It used to be the plot, but now I am more character-focused. Readers like characters. If readers love the character, they want to see what that character will do, even if the conflict is as simple as, “what’s for dinner?” For this work, I focused more on our princess’s evolution than the events around her. But of course a zebra can’t change its stripes. There are still some big plot twists!
Q: How else has your writing evolved? A: My world-building has gotten better. When you read Die Klinge Des Waldes, you experience a complete and detailed world. Having environments that are really developed is fun for readers. It’s very much like Game of Thrones, in which the world is extensive and has many distinctive characters and locations. The city I’ve created in Die Klinges Des Waldes has 35-districts, each with its own personality. It’s almost like Munich, Barcelona, Lagos, Seattle, Tokyo, and Rio all pushed together beside each other to form one big city, only its medieval.
Q: What is your favorite district? A: The Carnival District! And it’s the favorite of the city’s citizens as well–parties, performances, politics, and a crazy/brilliant Duke who runs the show. I’m pretty sure it’s also the favorite of my editors who created a blow-up of the carnival castle and circus tent on one of two beautifully illustrated maps for the novel.
Q: Yes. Tell us about the maps! They seem to be an important part of your medieval fantasy books. Can you talk about that? A: It started with my second best seller in Germany, Die Karte Der Welt (The Map of the World). My publisher, Blanvelet, asked me to sketch a map. I scribbled out an amateur diagram so they knew where the landmarks were, and they hired professional cartographer, Andreas Hancock, Bielefeld) to create a real map for the entire Map of the World series. Super cool. In my new novel, the world is so extensively developed that, even though the story subject wasn’t maps, my editors wrote and said, “I know you’re busy, but can you sketch up another amateur map of your world so a professional can draw it?”
Q: Was that a fun process for you? A: Oh yeah. Yes! I have to admit I really dig making maps. In fact, I got a little obsessive and spent a week re-reading my entire 600 page novel to get every location right. Then I sketched it like a kindergartener…or at least a kindergartener with Photoshop. I also wrote three pages of detailed notes about the map. Random House hired a professional who translated all of the materials I provided into beautiful maps for the interior of the novel. It was awesome!
I don’t think every author gets that much creative input with their novels’ artwork. My publisher did, however, reject my cover idea. They said my concept was too polarizing, and then they sent me the beautiful cover they had already created.
Q: What do you love about Die Klinge Des Waldes? A: I love Flora. She’s a complex person. She starts simple and becomes very complicated. It’s like watching her grow up, only there are wars and swordplay and mechanical elephants that shoot flame from their trunks.
Q: Why should other people love the story? A: It’s big and cinematic and intimate at the same time. We get to know a lot about Flora, and then we get to see her on a huge stage trying to deal with disasters, triumphs, and everyday problems, like the overthrow of entire kingdoms and spats with her older sister.
Q: What’s different about this story from others that you have written? A: This is an adult story, and so it is different than my bestseller Damliche Damonen (Demonkeeper) in the same way that Game of Thrones is different from Lord of the Rings.
Q: What’s next for you? Any new projects on the horizon? A: Yes. I am always thankful that my editors believe in my work. I am currently writing another medieval fantasy with Blanvalet. It’s due at the end of the year, and I expect will be released some time in 2019.
Q: Is Die Klinge Des Waldes going to be available for U.S. fans to read? A: I certainly hope so. I will be taking it to US publishers soon. But that’s a new blog entry entirely…. Stay tuned!
My 16 year old son just earned 1st Place for his composition in the Washington State Young Composer’s Project. While I understand that this news is most exciting to my immediate family, it reminds me of how important contests were in building my writing resume and ultimately leading to my first deal.
I started by submitting short stories to contests, wrote and submitted my first novel (which is still in my desk drawer, by the way), and then moved on to screenplays. First, I chose regional contests and then expanded to national opportunities. With each new honorable mention, second place, and outright win, I gained the confidence and inspiration to continue developing my craft.
Eventually, my entry into theAcademy Nicholl Fellowships earned a semifinal finish, which led to my first book sale and a movie deal with 20th Century Fox.
Here are the things I looked for when choosing which contests to enter:
Price:Most budding authors don’t have a ton of money to throw around. Make sure the cost is in line with the size and reputation of the contest.
Is the contest reputable?Find out how long its been around. Check out past winners. Research what others have said about it. Review the list of judges.
Exposure:Make sure success in the contest will get people to take you seriously at the next level. Also, what type(s) of promotion does the contest offer, and is there a solid web and social media presence?
Feedback: You need to hear what others think about your work. Contests that include critiques by judges are extremely valuable to improve your storytelling and evaluate whether to continue developing and marketing the story you submitted or chalk it up to experience and move on to new material.
I’ve been writing query letters for a while now, so you’d think I have it down. Yet its important to adjust to changes in personnel, technology and industry expectations, I foundthis columnby Gus Sambchino helpful. Check it out!
Top 10 lists are all a matter of the opinion. What speaks to one person might not to another. I find them helpful, however, to see where my experiences align with others and to gain new perspective. In this list, for instance, #s 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 resonate the most for me and are similar to my thought process and practice of writing. What speaks to you?
1. Don’t write linearly: Don’t set out to write something from beginning to end. A story is meant to be read from front to back, but not necessarily created that way. If you have an idea for writing the sixth chapter first, then start there. The epilogue can even be the first thing you put down on paper, then work your way back. Scattered chapters will eventually be filled in, and it will force you to look at the story from different angles, which may present different ideas or new approaches. You’d be surprised how well this works when a whole book starts coming together. It’s also great for getting around writer’s block.
2. Have two or more projects on the go: Speaking of writer’s block, having more than one project on the go is never a bad idea. Although focus and dedication are paramount to completing a work, sometimes you inevitably get stuck. It’s good to be able to move on to something else instead of feeling frustrated and stagnant. You don’t have to have a few big projects happening either … maybe you’re penning a novel, but also some short stories and an article or two.
3. Be your own editor: There are days where I have difficulty writing altogether, so I’ll switch to editing my stories rather than trying to create them. Never assume it is someone else’s job to fix your mistakes. Find all the errors first, and deal with them yourself. The more polished and refined your work is, the more favorably it will be received when you’re finally ready to present it.
4. Ask for (and take lots of) punishment: It is well worth finding yourself a professional writer or editor and asking/paying them to look at your work. Tell them to give you highly critical feedback with no sugarcoating. Let them go so far as to be cruel too, just so you really get the point. There is a lot of rejection and criticism involved in the publishing industry. Getting accustomed to it sooner than later is advantageous. If you want to be serious about your writing, then you’ll need to know everything wrong with your writing. Accepting and understanding the harsh realities of your shortcomings is a most important step to getting better.
5. Disconnect: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, the Internet in general … we know how invasive social media and technology is in our lives these days. We also know that it can be good for promotion, building a brand, and having an online presence. But you know what else social media and technology is really good for? Procrastination, distraction, and countless wasted hours. Being able to unplug for long periods of time is more important than you may think. All those tweets you’ve posted might have added up the word-count of half a novel by now…
6. Learn what good writing is: Honestly, there’s so much terrific writing out there, but there is also considerably more garbage as well. I’m constantly surprised by how many people don’t know the difference between the good and the bad. Art is subjective, true, but it isn’t that subjective when you remove ignorance and replace it with education. Duke Ellington said it best: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind”. The same applies to writing.
7. Have your own workspace: It’s trendy nowadays to take your laptop to coffee shop or bar and write in public. I even advocate a change of environment/atmosphere when writing feels stifled. But I believe it’s more important to have and maintain your own private workspace, a spot you can call your own with a desk and preferably a door you can close when you need to shut out the world in order to create your own.
8. Dedicate to the craft: Serious writing is not something you merely do if or when you can find the time. It’s not just for Sunday afternoons, or the occasional evening, or a few hours a week when you can give it some attention. Make the time, and make lots of it. Tackle the craft daily and dedicate a generous portion of your existence to honing your skills. You’re only going to get out of it what you put into it, and serious writing requires a lot of investment.
9. Time management: When it comes to the hours or days you’ve reserved for writing, make sure you stick to your guns. Consider it sacred. To most other people, your ‘writing time’ is merely ‘flexible time’. They will invariably think that you can cancel, minimize or postpone working when it suits you (or them). Tell these people that your personal work time is not negotiable; much like theirs isn’t at their day jobs. You don’t need a regimented schedule, but you do need to clock in the hours.
10. Remember the Three “P’s”: I’ll admit there’s still a hell of a lot more to say on the topic of writing tips, but what it all comes down to in the end are three things I believe writers need to remember above all else: Patience, Perseverance, and maintaining your sense of Purpose.
Here’s the link to the Messum’s column in Writer’s Digest.
Column byJ. Kent Messum, author of 2015 novel HUSK (July 2015, Penguin UK). HUSK was optioned for an international TV show by Warp Films in the UK. Messum is an author who always bets on the underdog. He lives in Toronto with his wife, dog, and trio of cats. His first novel BAIT won the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for ‘Best First Novel.’
I have recently gotten the rights back to some of my books and also have books that are successful in Germany but have not yet found a home with a publishing house here in the U.S. Hence, I have entered the ranks of thehybrid author, a phrase I first heard coined by NY Times international bestselling author Bob Mayer. This presents an interesting new challenge in marketing. Here’s a helpful article from BookLife ongetting customer reviews. Hope you find it as helpful as I did.
When I returned from the SCBWI’s Weekend on the Water writer’s retreat in Dumas, WA last month, I dove back into the hustle and bustle of my day job, sports carpools, parenting, and an onrushing deadline for my latest 500 page project for Random House-Germany, Princess Assassin. It’s due Dec 1st. Am I panicking? The answer is “absolutely.”
Despite all this life happening to me, I have a moment to share some great stats and insight I learned from Chelsea Eberley at the retreat. Chelsea is an editor for Random House Books for Young Readers, which is a big reason I decided to attend the retreat. Coincidentally, I write books for young readers, and I have more stories for young readers to tell. I appreciate Chelsea’s time and insight and want to share some of it with you.
If you ever wondered….here are the Page Counts/Word Counts for different types of children’s books:
Board Book: 100 words; 1-2 words per page.
Picture Book: 400-800 words; 24, 32, 40 pages.
Beginning Readers: 32 pages or 48 pages.
Chapter Books: 8,000-11,000 words; 100 pages.
Middle Grade: 30,000-50,000 words; Protag 10-13 years old – kids want to read their age or a little older.
Young Adult: 60,000 – 80,000 words; Protag 14+ years old.
New Adult: 60,000-80,000 words; Protag 18+ – early 20s and in college.
Avoid “Manufactured (artificial) Urgency”
*Avoid an unnecessary prologue (*I star this one, because this was Chelsea’s comment on my piece).
Avoid opening with dialogue. Who’s that talking???
Avoid jumping in with a fight scene. We don’t care who wins yet!
Climactic scenes should (at least) have logic and the main character.
Take a moment to describe the setting.
Wounded characters need time to heal. Duh.
Climactic scenes should be tightly edited to convey urgency.
Here’s a Good Exercise to Try: Pretend the scene is being used as a cover quote, and read it aloud.
And finally, some parting words and advice from Chelsea…
“I don’t expect perfection, just forward momentum.”
How to respond to editorial letters: “Thanks for your notes. I understand them. I’ll think about them and get back to you by _____.”
If you disagree with the editor, say: “I feel strongly that…” “My priority is…”
Avoid these responses to an editor: “No!” “I’m the writer.” “Who in the world gave you a fine arts degree?”
While it is hard to take the time out to attend conferences and events, the connections made are excellent. The information that I have shared above is uber-useful (like a reasonably priced ride on the path to publishing) and, as important, not copyrighted.
Additionally, the opportunity to talk personally with an editor who is in tune with current trends and willing to take the time to discuss my very own current story pitches is invaluable.
A big thanks to Western Washington’s Chapter of SCBWI and Chelsea!