Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Writing and Publishing: Strategies for Success in 2014

Reflection time. As year-in-review lists come flying at us, I hope you’re doing your own, aimed specifically at your journey as a writer.

I love looking back at the planning I do at the start of each year as a writer. Inevitably there are things I’d hoped to accomplish but didn’t. No worries: Those roll onto next year’s list, unless I’ve decided they’re not of interest any longer. I’m usually pleased to discover that I also got done a few things I hadn’t meant to.

I’ve been at this awhile. My first book came out through a Penguin/Putnam imprint in 1997, predating by fifteen years the Random Penguin merger. With books thirteen and fourteen coming out in 2014, I hope I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. The fun part? I’m still learning.

As you look ahead to a new year of inspired writing and publication, here are a few strategies worth considering: 
  • Apply the 80/20 rule to your writing life. Spend 80% of your writing time on creative efforts, and limit your production and promotion to 20%. When you engage with your fellow writers and potential readers, let 80% of what you say be about others, with no more than 20% about yourself. 
  • Quit putting off the writing you’d like to do. The busiest people tend to accomplish the most. Whatever time you have to write is enough to get started. If you have only ten minutes a day to write, write ten minutes a day. 
  • Set goals. Decide what success looks like to you. Don’t measure yourself against others, and don’t set your goals in terms you can’t control, like which agent will take you on or how much your advance will be for your book. Your goals should reflect a healthy balance in your life. In addition to the writing goals I set for myself last year, I included goals like these: listen better; be attentive; cultivate a generous spirit; show daily gratitude; enjoy poetry daily; study aspirational writers; wait. 
  • Keep it simple. Fancy apps and leather-bound journals and expensive pens and mahogany desks are nice, but they won’t make you a writer. I work each year from a set of college-ruled, spiral notebooks that I buy for ten cents each at back-to-school sales in August. They’ve served me beautifully. 
  • Keep your focus on craft. Who’ll buy and read your work is in many ways beyond your control. What you can control is the quality of your work, and your overt efforts to continually improve at your craft. Maybe you can’t afford workshops or conferences, but the masters are all free for the borrowing at your local library.
          Cross-posted at www.49writers.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ten Ways of Giving, and Why They Matter for Writers

In the mad rush of the holidays, it’s easy for writers to forget all they’ve been given. Imagination. The versatility of language. A world of ideas. The joy of discovery.

Now, about giving back.

It’s been proven time and again that those who have the least give the most. And really, what’s not to like about giving? It even makes you healthy.

“People whose happiness comes primarily from doing good for others, rather than from hedonistic self-satisfaction, show a much more favorable gene profile, with less inflammation and better antibody and antiviral activity,” says Steven W. Cold, professor of medicine in UCLA, in a recent issue of AARP The Magazine.

In the spirit of generosity (and maybe even to reel in a year-end tax deduction), here are ten ways to give of your time, talent, and cash to support writers: 

  •  Recommend books you love. Every author appreciates sincere word-of-mouth praise.
  •  Mentor an emerging writer. Read, critique, coach.
  •   Donate of your time, talents, and cash to a literary nonprofit. Two of my favorites: 49 Writers and http://www.squawvalleywriters.org/.
  •  Take an active role in a literary community (or two, or three, or more). Make your writer’s group a priority, whether it’s in town or online. Attend readings, signings, and other literary events.
  •  Support the innovative efforts of writers. Check out literary projects on crowdsourcing sites. Subscribe to your favorite literary journals (mine include Alaska Quarterly Review and Cirque) or an up-and-coming periodical like Scratch.
  •  Donate to writers who share their work and charge nothing. If every reader gave only a few dollars, it would sustain bloggers like Kris Rusch and crowdsourced platforms like Wikipedia.
  •  Buy books. Digital, print—doesn’t matter. Buy them for your family, for your friends, for yourself.
  •  Review what you read. When you finish a book, take two minutes to leave your thoughts at online sites like Goodreads and Amazon. You’ll be giving writers social proof and discoverability, and you’ll be helping readers find books they’ll enjoy.
  •  Like, comment, and share the best of what you read online. It makes all the difference to those who took the time to write, most often without compensation.
  •  Email writers to let them know you enjoyed their books. The few minutes you take to write your email will multiply into days (if not weeks) of encouragement. 
To all of you who’ve given me these gifts throughout the year, thank you a thousand times over. In this season of love and light, may you find peace, inspiration, and joy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get Your Book Reviewed: Where and how to get reviews:

Last week, I gave some pointers on ethics and etiquette for book reviews. Some great discussion followed, especially on the point of whether it's a good idea for writers who know one another to provide honest reviews of each other's books. Traditional reviewers tend to follow the journalistic rule of not writing on topics in which you have a vested interest, like your bff's latest book. But even among traditional reviewers, this rule is sometimes bent by author/reviewers, who often are acquainted in one way or another with the authors of at least some of the books they review. Then there's the question of whether the reading public expects customer reviews to follow journalistic standards.

Mike Spinak makes a case for writers not reviewing one another's books. "There's potential incentive for favorable bias/mutual backscratching," he points out. "It brings all of your reviews into question of being partial/fake if people become aware of the reciprocal reviewing." For his book that came out last year, he contacted several hundred reviewers and got 75 reviews, most from strangers. "There have been several cases when people have asked me to review their books, when I told them I couldn't since they reviewed mine. In a few cases, I've requested people remove (5 star) reviews of my book, because I had already reviewed theirs."

How to find and approach potential reviewers? Spinak shares his experiences here. On approaching Amazon reviewers in particular, check out this advice from Laura Pepper Wu on The Creative Penn.

Other tips on where and how to get your book reviewed:
  • The Writer Cube database will point you to reviewers in traditional publications and in blogs. For each, read the submission guidelines carefully. Most traditional publications only review print books. They generally want two advance reading copies (ARCs) at least two months, preferably four months, in advance of publication, with a press release and cover letter included in each. (That’s why my mail-out last week took so long to prepare.) Some won’t take books that are independently published. Some receive upwards of 60,000 submissions a year, so the odds that your book will get reviewed are slim.
  •  Publishers Weekly and Kirkus both have programs that allow independent publishers to commission reviews of their books, though again there’s no guarantee that these reviews will get published. If you belong to the Independent Book Publishers Associaton (IBPA), you can get substantial discounts.
  • Through Net Galley, you can make your digital ARCs available to tens of thousands of potential reviewers, in theory at least. The ARCs are secure and the reviewers are vetted. I’m not sure about discoverability on Net Galley, though, which is why I’m considering Story Cartel as a substitute in my launch plans. IBPA members also get discounts on Net Galley.
  • Story Cartel sets up a free download of your book for three weeks. There’s no charge, but you have to offer an incentive for reviewers—either free print copies of your book, or Amazon gift cards. Reviewers have an extra week beyond the download period to post their reviews, which enters them in the giveaway. Email addresses of the potential reviewers are shared with the authors. A similar service with a different angle is Rooster Cube. For $67 (none of which goes to reviewers) they share free electronic copies of your book with a cadre of reviewers interested in your genre until the book has ten reviews.
  • On Goodreads and Facebook are review groups where you can announce that your book is available for review.
  •  Book reviews can be part of your blog tour. Use Writer Cube and Google to find bloggers to approach.  
  • If a vendor doesn’t allow pre-orders, consider a soft digital launch of your book (up to a month in advance of your hard launch) to allow time for reviewers to post their reviews.
  • Your beta readers can be your best reviewers. Email them at launch with more profuse thanks and a gentle request, with links and a copy of their most quotable comments to make posting easy.
  • Consider review alternatives like author interviews. Don’t forget about specialty groups. Example: 49 Writers, which offers a “Spotlight on Alaska Books” feature free of charge to writers with an Alaska connection.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Get Your Book Reviewed: Ethics and Etiquette

Whatever your opinion about the online giant Amazon, it’s hard to dispute this recent statement by founder Jeff Bezos:

“Amazon is not happening to book selling. The future is happening to book selling.”

As the future happens, discoverability and social proof are two words you hear a lot. These concepts have always been part of the book industry, but they’re evolving with the digital revolution, and that includes the good old-fashioned book review.

Reviews have been around pretty much since the first cave person drew on a rock and the next cave person pointed it out to his buddy. These days, discoverability and social proof in reviews is split between established industry insiders and regular readers in what amounts to a large-scale democratization of the process that raises a whole lot of interesting questions.

Last week, I mailed out the first round of review copies of my next new release, No Returns, to four traditional reviewers. The process took a lot longer than I expected, which is why I like hybrid projects where I can work with traditional publishers on print editions. I’m also trying Story Cartel to encourage more honest, genuine reviews of my first novel, A Distant Enemy, a digital reprint which has suffered from a case of stale-reviewitis.

This week, my pointers on ethics and etiquette for book reviews. Next week: where and how to get your book reviewed. Note that here I’m talking only about actual reviews, not author blurbs (sometimes called endorsements) or beta reader responses.
  • DON'T buy phony reviews. Never. Ever. I don’t care how many you can purchase on Fiverr or who else is doing it. It’s slimy and wrong. Incentives for real, honest reviews? That’s a different story. Publishers do it all the time. They send free books to traditional reviewers. They invite reviewers to fancy parties they throw at conventions. They probably do other schmoozing that I don’t know about. That’s why I don’t feel bad about offering giveaways for reviewers who take the time to read my books and share their honest opinions with the world.
  • DON'T ask (beg, plead with) strangers to review your work unless they’ve identified themselves as reviewers who are open to such queries. When you approached the proclaimed reviewers, do so in a sincere and professional manner, and pay close attention to the reviewer’s submission guidelines. The response might surprise you. My friend Don Rearden landed a review of his book (Penguin, 2013) in the Washington Post this way, and it’s now made the Post’s 50 Best Books of the Year list.
  • DO keep your friends and fans appraised of your book news, and let them know that you welcome reviews.
  •  DON'T pester people. Never. Ever. Repetition is acceptable on social media (to a point—no more than four times is the rule I try to follow when I’m announcing something new), but that should be information, not pleading or demands for reviews. One follow-up to people who requested your book for review is my personal limit. We’re all busy, and we can’t always follow through on our good intentions. And believe it or not, there are some lovely people­, maybe even members of your own family or your close friends, who simply don’t want to review your book, no matter how much they love you. (Not to mention that Amazon tries hard to filter out reviews by your nearest and dearest.)
  • DO exchange reciprocal reviews (honest! genuine!) with your closest author friends. At first, I wasn’t sure this was good practice. When Amazon first came on the scene, a friend who writes for young readers asked if I’d post a review of her book on Amazon to help counter a bad review that appeared to have been written as a school assignment. I did the review, but it felt a little weird. Then I started getting school assignment reviews of my books, like this one written in 2000: “I usually read science-fiction books so I really don't know how to compare this book to others very well.” Now I understand that one of the best ways to help a writer’s book get discovered is to post an honest review, or even to write one for your local paper, as my one of my favorite authors Bill Streever did recently. (Bill’s an accomplished reviewer, by the way. See his post on how to write reviews for major publications.)
  • DO thank reviewers when you have a personal relationship with them. You might even want to thank all reviewers, regardless of whether you know them. I have friends who do this, although I think it’s best done privately, if possible.
  • DO make a practice of reviewing the books you enjoy on Goodreads and Amazon, whether you know the author or not. 
  • DO consider sending out no-strings-attached copies of your book to people you appreciate. I received a book this way from one of my favorite authors, David Vann, with a nice note saying he simply wanted me to have a copy. Of course, I reviewed it.
      For more on the book review process, see the helpful articles offered by the Midwest Book Review.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Deb: Wild Dominion

Years ago, I woke with a vivid image in my head: a large black wolf. I have no idea how that wolf got into my dreams. I didn’t even know at the time that wolves might be black.

Fast forward several years. I opened the newspaper to a photo of my dream-wolf, a black one named Romeo. He lived in Juneau, at Mendenhall Glacier, and he was famous not only in Alaska but all over the world.

That wolf of my dreams inspired a book. Earlier this year, the University of Alaska Press released Black Wolf of the Glacier: Alaska’s Romeo. Several months later, Marybeth Holleman’s Among Wolves came out, also from the Press. We traded books and discovered what each had to say about the social lives of wolves and their interactions with humans.

Then Sherry Simpson’s Dominion of Bears was released, adding fresh perspectives on wildlife here in Alaska, where we share natural, urban, and cultural landscapes with amazing and complex creatures.

How do these animals shape our ideas about wilderness and identity? In what ways do the creatures that inhabit our imaginations differ from the ones that inhabit our lives? What can we learn from the passion and wonder of those who dedicate themselves to the study of wildlife? In our work, each of us ponder these questions.

You'll find all three books autographed and on sale (20% off) through Sunday at the Anchorage Museum Shop, one of only a few independent booksellers in Anchorage...and they do mail orders, too! 

Deb Vanasse is the author of several books for children and adults, including the Junior Literary Guild selection A Distant Enemy and Battle Books Totem Tale and Lucy’s Dance. Her twelfth book, Black Wolf of the Glacier, is a 2013 release by the University of Alaska Press.

Marybeth Holleman is author of The Heart of the Sound, co-author of Among Wolves, and co-editor of Crosscurrents North. Her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, and anthologies.

Sherry Simpson is the author of Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska and two collections of essays, The Accidental Explorer and The Way Winter Comes, which won the inaugural Chinook Literary Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies.