There is a lot of information on the Internet about book marketing. If you have your credit card paid off, in a matter of hours, you can charge thousands of dollars on paid marketing services and other stuff that you really-truly [don't] have to have.
In general, book marketing companies do much better with non-fiction than with fiction. Depending on the topic, the non-fiction audience can be quite large and sometimes long-term.
Since Cactus Rain Publishing is only interested in fiction, I'll focus on fiction.
Anyone looking into marketing ideas for fiction, especially those who self-publish their own work, really needs to put a sticky on their monitor with the question "How does this apply to fiction?"
As best as you can, do a cost effectiveness study; how many books would have to sell to recoup that money? Can you do something less expensive and smaller that would be more likely to recoup the expense (quicker)? Does this marketing plan fit your personality (Are you really going to follow through with this idea?)?
Over the past 10 years, I've realized that the best marketing tool is an enthusiastic author.
Number One on my list, and this is simply my list, is to arrange reading/book signing events. It is not uncommon for book stores to charge hundreds of dollars for a one hour slot to sign books in their store. And there is a lot more to it than simply showing up in your limo with a supply of good pens. However, there are plenty of venues that are free for readings and book signings.
Practice on your friends and family. Put together a gift basket for the hostess, have her get her friends and family together and away you go... Oh, and take books with you to sell and sign on the spot.
Libraries will sometimes host author events.
It is more effort to find them, but reading/book clubs sometimes host author events.
If you live in a setting that has a clubhouse or a newsletter. Talk to the person in charge and see how you can utilize these resources.
Get business cards with the book cover and your contact info on them. I like them to be in vertical (portrait) format. Keep the contact info simple.
Give out at least three business cards at a time saying, "One for you and a couple for your friends." Don't be annoying, but get those cards out there.
Use the business cards as bookmarks. That saves buying two items -- business cards and bookmarks.
Check into opportunities to be featured in a local newspaper or television show. That item might not sell many books, but it can lead to other opportunities, such as speaking to writers groups, clubs, and who knows what else.
Attend local or web marketing seminars. Watch the cost of these, though.
Basically be creative and stay alert to inexpensive opportunities to market, read, sign your book.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): (When you think of techy people, I'd better not be the top of your list or you are in big trouble.) There are rumors that lit agent and publishing house interns spend the day on the Internet looking for the next bestseller to take to their boss. Probably not.
I'm a fan of having a website. I've been fortunate to have a great web designer for 8 years. I've learned a lot from her, such as spiders (the things that crawl through website looking for content for the search engines such as Google, Yahoo, you name it...) only read text, not images. I learned about sitemaps on webistes and I have some hidden content on one of my websites that I access with the sitemap. She stays on top of things, such as changing the copyright date after the first of the year. Anyway, a good web designer is worth their weight in gold. I love this website, which was also done by my web designer: (see below)
If you have a website, give a great deal of thought to your domain name or consult a web designer before you select and purchase the domain name.
Blogging is free and gets you on the map. Take some time and think about the topic and the name of the blog; make sure you are attracting people who might have an interest in your book as well as your fabulous blog.
Twitter and facebook are linked together in my mind. They are two things to consider to attract a crowd. I find them time consuming and don't do either, but about once a year there is a story about a writer who skyrocketed their book by using social media. If you can commit to building a web presence and stay focus on that when you are on social media, then go for it.
I liked this article on SEO, but there are lots of others. (see next line below)
I've written several times about what I look for in an ms. This time I thought I'd write about what I don't like.
Before we get to the manuscript, let's have a serious conversation about calling me, "Dear SIR" in the query letter. Please do the slightest research. It has never been a secret that I'm a woman. In this digital age, when you cut and paste the query letter into 1,001 websites, at least change the greeting to fit the circumstances.
Again, more research -- follow the query guidelines on the websites where you submit. For goodness sakes, you're right there finding the "contact us" or "submit here" link. Try reading the page and seeing what the guidelines are.
Here is a little insight into my thinking when I open a submission that doesn't follow the guidelines: 1) this person is as dumb as a rock (sorry to all the rocks out there) and can't follow instructions; 2) this person thinks that rules apply to everyone except them. The song is Hello Dolly, not hello diva. Delete. Delete. Delete.
It really doesn't impress me to be told in a query that we are lucky to get to publish said ms. If it is that good, go get a lit agent. Or spend YOUR own money and publish it. The way that I deal with divas is to delete the email without looking at the ms sample, if they bothered to sent it.
Next is the synopsis. There are specific elements to a synopsis. I've blogged about it and it is all over the internet and in every writing course, but the basics are: One page, two, tops; single space lines; written in third person; tells the story, the whole story, of the main character and possibly the secondary character. By whole story, I mean from the beginning of the book to the end. Yes, tell the end. This is not the place to be coy. How can I judge the story if it is a secret?
If I get as far as reading the sample chapters, let me make this clear -- start the story in the first line. Here is the logic of that statement: 1) people who buy books always read the first paragraph -- hook them!; 2) after the book is published, even if you DIY the book, when you do a public reading, you start at the beginning. That means, you don't say a few words about the beginning and start reading Chapter 3. If Chapter 3 is where the story really starts, delete chapters one and two, and make Chapter 3 become Chapter 1.
Personally, I am not a prologue fan. I understand its function. I just don't like them. If this information is important, then put it in the story. That is not to say there are not prologues in Cactus Rain Publishing books, there are. I just don't like them in general.
Next comes the request for the full ms. Whether Judith or I read the ms first depends on our workload at the time. I should have asked Judith what are her no-pass items, I didn't. I'm into this post now, so here are mine: I don't like rants, especially religious rants. There are tons of religious books on the market. Someone seeking spiritual answers is going to go to one or more of those books. I get the same creepy feeling reading political rants.
Skip the rants.
Vulgarity. I understand that the majority of adults cuss, at least a little. Writing peppered with cuss words, especially those that start with "f" is almost always a sign of a weak writer. You can bet if I love everything else about the ms, the f-words will disappear, before CRP publishes it. Any cuss words in the ms better be needed to advance the story. "Shock factor" isn't good writing.
Senseless violence. The first clue is the word "senseless." Every single word, scene, character has to advance the story. I have no use for violence and considering the number of times I read an ms throughout the publishing process, you can bet I don't want to read junk. I don't want to read (even one time) about violence toward women, children, or anyone handicapped. Why is rape in the news so often? We have not said often enough to our children that it is not okay. RAPE-IS-NOT-OKAY.
Sex. I've never read erotica, so can't commit on it. But sex is like every other element in the story. It has to be well written and advance the story. I'm 100% not interested in reading about adultery. Thank you - no!
We have nothing against non-fiction, but we don't have the resources to fact check it. Don't submit it to us.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could purchase the things we want at cost (below
wholesale). Just imagine paying only the cost of the materials for a new house. However, the reality is we
pay for the craftsmanship, the general expenses for the business to build said
house, in addition to the lumber, the location, and we rarely think twice.
But my goodness, expect to be paid for the craft of writing an engaging
story or the research and knowledge to publish a credible non-fiction, that is
simply absurd. After all, books cost little to produce and ebooks even less, and we shouldn't expect to pay for the expertise to make a manuscript into a
publish-worthy book, nor should we expect writers to be paid for their craft after all the hours they put into the manuscript.
An ebook is simply a digital file, so why should it cost more than a few pennies?
For one thing, the format is not the same as the manuscript or the print book, so there is time and expertise to format the book. The line editor has to look through it. The publisher has the expenses of running a business, or there is no business to publish the ebook. Besides, the author should get paid for writing the story -- every time that it sells.
The host site, such as Amazon Kindle should get some money -- maintaining their website isn't free (neither is maintaining my website free; domain name, hosting, web designer.) Some of the publishing expenses, besides the staff time to format it, include the cost of the ISBN, copyrights, graphic artists, computers and other business machines, space rent, plus the business licenses to put the "officalness" on the work, and more. You get the picture.
We expect to pay when we attend the theatre, cinema, concert, ballet, museum, and so much more that we have nothing tangible when we leave. Or do we? I still remember books that I read as a child and that was a very long time ago. I don't remember all of them, of course, but the ones that resonated are remembered. One of my co-workers and I quote lines from moves in our verbal interactions. Surely, we did take something away from the experience.
Nonetheless, I still get asked about Cactus Rain Publishing's position on the pricing of ebooks. Go figure.
Every publishing house has its own personality. With enough exposure to a publishing house's books a writer can get a feel for what type of writing will be accepted by them.
I've been asked how we select manuscripts. I think I've written about this before, but here we go!
First, follow the submission guidelines. I think that is a firm rule for just about any publisher. Why would I want to work with someone who is unable to follow rules, or worst yet, think the rules don't apply to them? There are only so many waking hours in a day, why in the world would anyone waste them on someone who's impossible when the next person in line is a gem?
Please don't query an unfinished work. This is fiction. A proposal is fine, in some cases, for non-fiction. We ONLY publish fiction. The manuscript must be complete. No one in their right mind is going to let a contract on an unfinished novel.
(Just to throw in a teaching moment here, novels are fiction. Please, don't refer to your ms as a "fiction novel." That is a huge red flag that you are clueless about writing.)
Of course, a proper query letter is required and it has to pique my curiosity to read the first three chapters. If it gets that far then Judith takes over and reads the full ms that has been requested.
If we both LOVE the manuscript, then it is a go and we contact the author about a publishing contract. If one of us loves it and the other is a bit "not-in-love" then we talk about its strengths and weaknesses. If the strengths are in important areas (basics of writing) and the weaknesses are in grammar, then it isn't too much of a worry.
Judith and I both do content editing, so we don't worry too much if there is fixing needed. The main thing is the author has to be open to content editing. Yes, that means that someone is messing with their work.
We can get geeky about the content editing. We look for things out of place: 1) people's names changing halfway through -- that one is just weird; 2) things happening out of sequence -- for example, someone discussing something as if it has happened, and it hasn't happened yet; 3) basic continuity issues...
Our secret silver bullet is Anita, a certified proofreader. She does the grammar fixes.
Maybe this post isn't turning out to be about what we look for in an ms, but I'll make a quick list and I know there are more specific posts about it somewhere on this blog.
Story -- does it matter? Does it entertain? (Am I willing to read it about 20 times to get this ms published?)
Character development -- believable, interesting, someone we can care about
Setting -- is setting part of the story? Is it believable?
Pacing -- look it up.
No shock features -- violence, sex, cuss words for the sake of shock that doesn't lend any value to the story. This is cheap writing and I'm not impressed. Also, you can count on the f-word being removed nearly 100% of the time. Yes, I know people say it. Yes, I know it really-truly fit when you were writing that scene. I do not care -- take it out. It limits your audience.
It is the little things, the details that make a story believable. And just as easily, make it unbelievable.
Fiction is all about making up stuff and getting other people to believe it is real enough to keep reading. Even better, if they tell their reading friends that they HAVE to read your book.
Some of the detail errors are sloppy self-editing. There is a group of people in the room. Character A leaves. A conversation, or dialogue ensues. Character A leaves the room.
Now, either the writer forgot to put them back in the room or they left twice.
I think that stems from not paying attention to the story when writing; stopping in the middle of a scene or going back to add something without noting what was already written.
Another deadly detail is not putting in correct details when writing about a real place. For example if someone wrote about Phoenix in the summer and stated that Character A was parched and went to the hose for a cool drink, the natives would know that isn't possible.
In the summer, warm water comes out of the hose. When it is 110 F outside, there is no cold or even cool water unless refrigerated. When doing laundry there is no such thing as the cold setting in the summer. The cold water comes out warm.
Every real location has distinct characteristics; things that anyone who had been there would notice. At the ocean, the air is moist and there is a distinct pattern to the breeze depending on the difference in the ocean and land temperatures.
If it is a fictious location, then the characteristics have to be consistant, and if not, the writer has to note the significance of the difference.
In high school we had a writing assignment, fiction, I suppose. The student questioned why the teacher had marked off points for the character's name when the student had made up the name. The teacher said, "Yes, but you spelled it three different ways for no reason."
Our readers deserve a well written story. Try not to self-edit with the telly on. Make notes to refer to when you make up something, like a name, a holiday, or land mass. Pay attention to the details. Anything about a walk along the beach that doesn't mention the damp breeze will get my attention. That makes believability take a hit. Enough hits, and the book doesn't get read all the way through.
I like to look for fonts for book covers. It is half finding what is imagined and half imagining the look of the fonts found. Be sure to buy the licence, if you're using someone else's font. You wouldn't take kindly to them using your book without buying it, right?
To the right is a book cover that was proposed. The book was/is set in India and the author is Indian. When I saw the font, I knew it was the one to use. I did the ink drawing of the tree. I don't know if it will show very well in this picture.
In the end the book was published by another publisher, so this cover isn't on the copy of the book you can buy on Amazon.
The book cover above is for a story set in England and the author is English. It is the best selling book for Cactus Rain Publishing.
Very clearly, the font for the title is not Old English. It doesn't look like lace. However, I liked the look of the way the letters were drawn in contrast to the ink/line drawing. Notice the linen paper look beneath the yellow wash? Rich.
It is a beautiful pen and ink drawing. There are sites where art and the license to use it can be purchased.
As I look at these covers I notice that unwittingly, I've developed a signature for my cover designs. Made me smile at the realization of it. Can you see it?
This cover above is the latest addition to Cactus Rain Publishing.
It is set in Kiev by a Ukrainian author. The book debutes on June 1, 2014.
For this cover, I wanted a font/typeface that gave the impression that it was Russian. None of the fonts that I tested gave the look I wanted for the cover. (Most of the font sites I use allow a space to type in the text and see how it will look.)
The drawing was done by the author's friend, artist Laura Mitchell.
A wonderful way to lose track of time is to go to a website of fonts. The comment sections are full of information about font creation.
Book designers have their favorite typeface (fonts) and if you know to look, you can spot their signature style in the interior of the book.
Most of the literature regarding book design indicates that it is best to use fonts with serifs. Serifs are the little hooks on the ends of font strokes. It seems that the idea is that these hook or connect the letters together, so the reader can easily move from word to word.
Being dyslexic, the serifs are a curse for me to read. Being "wired different" the cute little hooks add too much information to process quickly. I default to using Tahoma, a non-serifs font that is on most computers. While it is non-traditional, why would I spend the money to publish books that I can't read without my eyes tiring?
Check it out for yourself. Type something and see how it looks in other fonts on your computer. Or even better, go play at one of the font sites online.
I have several [paper] book about fonts and typeface, and design. Font books are another great way to lose track of time. Head over to your local bookstore and check them out!
Cussing is an art, of sorts. It really doesn't have much shock value to pepper a story with cussing. Actually, it slows the story and is quite boring after a while.
A few years ago, a writer argued with me about the amount of the F-word in their manuscript. The point that I was supposed to get was that it was the 70's [in the story] and that made it correct. I was around in the 70's and people didn't really talk like he wrote in his story. Actually, today's vernacular is more vulgar than in the 70's.
Cussing has to fit the character and the situation.
Besides the fact that too much of a good thing ain't so good, it gets boring rather quickly. This is true of any word or phrase that is over used, and especially true of cussing. Most writers have a pet phrase or word that they over use, which is a good reason to have someone who knows what they're doing point that out to you before you submit your ms to a publisher or literary agent.
Excessive cussing simply isn't good writing. If the character's main contribution to the story is to spew cuss words like a drunken sailor every chance they get, that character either needs a bar of soap to his fictious mouth or to be cut out of the story completely.
Even if the point is to show a drastic conversion of character, it is a pretty flat character who is defined largely by their potty-mouth. Write like a pro and give the poor fellow more dimension to make him interesting.
The other point of this is that the cussing needs to fit the situation. Like everything else about fiction writing, the cussing needs to be believable. It needs to occur, if at all, in a situation that is logical to the reader.
Write better, use your vocabulary (or get one), and minimise the cussing. Raise the bar. Write right, damnit. (Just had to do that to make my point.)
To me, writer's block is laughable. Writers write. Period. That's what we do.
Can you imagine going in for an operation and the doctor says that he isn't in the mood to remove your gallbladder today, so he did a few surgery exercises like practicing stitches, and now you have a nice scar or two on your knee? Sorry, I don't buy writer's block.
I don't buy mindless writing exercises and writing prompts. I don't buy that any writing is writing and these things are meant to prime your creative pump. Writers write. Quit acting like this is a hobby, unless it is. Turn off the telly, put your bum in the chair, and get to work; that's what professional writers do.
In addition to writing, spend time every week learning about the craft. Set aside time to learn about the industry. And, learn about your audience. Who are these people?
Getting published isn't an entitlement. If you want someone else to put their money into publishing your project, then you need to put on the professional mindset and get to work.
I know someone who has been working on a novel since 2001. True story. I know they're busy, but I can't believe there is much committment to being a writer. When we were kids, being a writer is all she talked about. (I was going to grow up to be a nurse, like my mother.)
I guess neither one of us grew up to be what we thought, but I don't join "Nurse groups" who meet monthly and talk about nursing. I don't tell people that I'm working on being a nurse and have a nurse kit on my desk. (I don't know what a nurse kit is, but I don't have one.)
The point is, being a writer is a profession like anything else. Writer's block is a myth. Writers write. Go write something wonderful.
For the millionth time, I don’t
agree with the idea of reading fiction to become a good writer. Basically, that
results in mimicking the masters with little understanding of what made their
writing great. (Driving a car doesn’t make me a mechanic.)
To become successfully published
a writer needs to have a knack for storytelling; interesting stories. For the
most part, that doesn’t include therapeutic writing to get over something in
one’s past. Put that in a journal and don’t subject the rest of us to it.
Armed with a natural storytelling
ability, which includes an awareness of the audience, the best thing an
aspiring writer can do is study writing. Take accredited courses at a local
college or university. Read books about writing, about character development,
about plot, and so on. Put some effort in learning to write well. Join writing
groups. If one is interested in a specific genre, then join writing organizations
and [professional] associations that are specific to that genre. Become a
Learn about the industry. It is
complex. There are support people like literary agents and specialists for
hire, such as editors. Keep in mind that not all are created equally. Make sure
the Lit agent has a track record in selling the genre you write. Check to see
if they are members of their professional association. It doesn’t mean they are
a fraud if they aren’t members, but aim to start with accredited people. Learn
the ins and outs of the industry. You don’t need a lit agent to query a small
publisher. You shouldn’t pay them anything, they work on commission. Postage is
a business expense. If they can’t afford postage, then need to find something
else to do.
The industry is quite
interesting, learn about how it works inside the large publishing houses; what
are editorial meetings, what happens to an ms from query to published book.
Finally, if your mom, girlfriend,
or high school English teacher says that your ms is the next Great American
Novel, but all your query letters are getting rejections, then go back to
basics and learn to write better. Hiring a book doctor, editor, proofreader or
whatever else you find on the internet is not the solution. If you want a
publisher to spend money on your book, then make it worth their investment. And
please, don’t write “fiction novel” in your query letter. Novels, by definition,
You get one shot at a good first impression. I've written about query letters and there are several awesome websites and blogs that have more details about writing a good query.
I've written about the format and content of the synopsis. Again, there are awesome websites and blogs with information about writing a killer synopsis.
I've written in general terms about the format of a manuscript. Besides the obvious of great writting, let me say that neatness counts.
It is very off putting to get a sloppy ms. Writing is a lot like vomiting -- hard to stop once it starts. Nonetheless, take a few minutes before you start the next Great American Novel, or before you send it out with the perfect query letter, and clean it up a bit.
Of course, I can't say what others want to see, but if my dreams would come true, I would want the following: (strong hint -- do this before submitting to Cactus Rain Publishing and you'll earn points.)
Use MS Word, not something else converted into Word. The conversion rarely works as well as the real deal. I will notice when it comes to formatting an ms into a book.
"Select all" and get rid of the widow/orphan command. I'd rather see widows and orphans in the ms than bother to remove the command. This might not be true of other small publishers.
Use the page break command between chapters. Yes, I will know if you use a ton of "enter" key strokes.
You really, really don't need to use ellipsis in fiction. It is probably being misused. Stop it...
In literature, there is only ONE space between sentences and NONE after the last sentence in a paragraph. None. Fix that.
The first line of every chapter is flush with the margin.
I like the tab set at three character spaces. Do not EVER use the space bar in place of a tab command.
Quote marks are NOT just for sissies. Use them and indent (tab set for 3 spaces, please) every time someone talks.
Please don't use dialogue to have the main character set off on a boring and long rant on religion.
Not every noun needs two over-the-top, out-of-this-world adjectives. (Get it?)
You are allowed only two exclamation marks in the entire ms and they better not be next to each other!! (You win points with me if you use zero exclamation marks.)
You know that slick trick of having a blank line between paragraphs automatically appear and every paragraph flush with the margin? Don't do that in mss submitted to Cactus Rain Publishing. I hate it. That means when I turn it off, I have to put in the tabs for each paragraph. The reason for this post is that I just spend the better part of a day inserting tabs for each paragraph in a very long ms.
It is a BIG deal to add tabs to paragraphs when there are 2241 paragraphs in the ms that I'm working on at the moment. This really annoys me and it better be the world's best ever story...
I'm glad we had this little chat. Carry on with writing the next Great American Novel.
a manuscript (ms) is being considered for acquisition, the reading is focused.
It is nothing like reading for pleasure. A matrix of evaluation questions are
processing while the sample chapters are read, and on the odd occasion,
when the full ms has been requested.
this intensely focused reading, it is a jolt when someone's name changes
three-quarters into the book. The same thing happens with weather,
holidays, and people's age. It can be spring one minute and two pages later
the season or weather involves leaves turning or walking
through new fallen snow when the storyline has only progressed a few days.
is very important that details that are added to create depth to the story do
not detract from the reader’s enjoyment. The writer has to take the reader with
them as they progress through the story, rather than jerk them around with gaps.
The best thing to do is to write straight through, beginning to end because
that is how the reader will approach the story. After the first draft is
completed, then go back and do rewrites. The first draft provides the framework
on which to build.
I write, I do not allow myself to think about the story, unless I'm at the
keyboard. It is too easy to let the story advance in one's mind and leave the
reader out of the process. It creates jumps. Jumping around in the timeline is
just plain sloppy writing. Yet quite a few people do it.
writing flows better than working off of a strictly detailed outline. We will
simply pass on the acquisition if the writing is mechanical, stiff, or weak. Write your best story. Submit your best draft.
I have been nearly worthless since just before Thanksgiving through the Christmas and New Year holidays having a grand time with my kids.
I said "nearly" not totally worthless. I did write a blog post, check email, and the odd book order or two from the printer.
With a dose of Catholic school gilt (yes, Sister, it still works after all of these years), I decided to ease into the week by reading a few query letters this evening. Considering the abandonment and fun-having, my brain was in a bit of a lull.
I've said it a million and one times, if you want your ms sample chapters read, write a great query letter.
So this guy writes a query letter. It starts with a remark that seems benign, but at the same time has a bit of intellectual tongue-in-cheek humor. I don't recommend this if it doesn't come naturally. But the guy had me. I read the letter and I'm not sure I would be otherwise interested in the ms if his query letter hadn't been so well written. It was professional. It was to the point. It was slightly relaxed, too. It made me like him. And most importantly, it did its job. It made me read his sample chapters when I wasn't really-truly going to work since it is Sunday evening.
The point is that it is important to put effort into learning how to write a killer query letter. How else are you going to get someone to read that fantastic manuscript that you wrote?
Search the Internet for query letter samples or search this blog for what I've said about them in the past. It is worth your time and effort to bang out a great query letter.