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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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

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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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

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.