Tag: Midwest Writing Center

December "Books that made me Love Reading” Challenge part 1

I’m a bit behind on this.  I actually read these books in September and October, but then I took a temp job and just never got around to writing this post.  So, I’m going to cram five posts into the next few days, to get in all twelve entries for the year.

Up first: Beverly Hennen Van Hook’s Supergranny series.

Supergranny is a crime-fighting old lady, assisted by three neighbor children.  In the seven-book series, she starts out combating property theft (shrunken heads stolen from a local museum, pigs from a local farm and a riverboat), then moves on to kidnapping and extortion.  The stakes aren’t super high or violent (pointed guns and getting tied up, mostly), making it perfect for elementary-aged kids.

Each book is about 100 pages, also great for the target demographic.  The writing is clear, the characters are quirky, and the plots are just absurd enough to be fun and plausible.  Although the technology is dated (the first book was written in 1985), the stories are still enjoyable today.

What I like most about these books is that the author is from my hometown.  When I was in third grade, my teacher took me to the David R. Collins Children’s Literature Festival, a day-long conference with workshops and talks by local authors and artists.  Beverly Hennen Van Hook was one of the speakers.

While I enjoyed her books and hearing her speak, the lasting thing I took from the conference was that she was a real live writer, a flesh-and-blood person who was able to attain her writing goals while living in the same town as me.  I’d already decided at that age I wanted to be a writer, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I didn’t know anyone who wrote; it was an elusive, mysterious profession where ideas became books on library shelves.

But after meeting Ms. Van Hook, the writing profession became that much more tangible to me.

Publishing Part 4: DIY Publishing

I’m continuing with my notes from the writing workshop I attended last weekend.

Part 1: The Fifth Dimension – Marketing
Part 2: Dipping Your Toe Into the ‘E’ Pool; E-Books 101
Part 3: Get Into The House (Finding an agent)
Part 4 (today): DIY Publishing – Is It For You?
Part 5: My own insights into marketing: social networking and blogging

DIY Publishing – Is It For You?

This session was hosted – okay, it doesn’t matter who hosted it.  The answer is a resounding NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Why am I so vehement about this?  Because DIY publishing often takes the form of vanity publishing.  Basically, you’re paying someone to publish your book.  And that’s a huge mistake – the publisher should NEVER require money from you.  The guy running this session paid $4000 to publish his book.  All he has to do is sell 400 copies, and he’ll get his money back!

Not to be picking on this guy, but:

  1. Most self-published/POD books sell less than 200 copies – and most of those sales come from family and friends, especially if you don’t have a marketing platform.
  2. His 35k-word book is selling on Amazon for $24.  That’s a lot for a book by an unknown author.  Hell, that’s a lot for a full-length novel by a well-known author.
  3. Even if the publisher divides the author’s investment in two lump payments, that’s a lot of money to have to pony up (and yes, I realize self-published authors have to front the costs for editing, cover design, printing, etc., but at least they keep control of it all).

Statistically, he’s not going to see a return on his investment – his publisher is.

On the positive side, we had a nice discussion about the value of sites like Preditors and Editors, which reviews publishers.  And using Google to research a company before going with them.

It all comes down to common sense – does it seem too good to be true? Are there a lot of caveats in the deal? If so, RUN!

What are you experiences with vanity/DIY publishing? Any horror or success stories to share?

Publishing Part 3: Get into the house

I’m continuing with my notes from the writing workshop I attended over the weekend.

Part 1: The Fifth Dimension – Marketing
Part 2: Dipping Your Toe Into the ‘E’ Pool; E-Books 101
Part 3 (today): Get Into The House (Finding an agent)
Part 4: DIY Publishing – Is It For You?
Part 5: My own insights into marketing: social networking and blogging

Get Into The House (Finding an agent)

This session was led by Jon Ripslinger, author of half a dozen traditionally-published YA books:  Triangle, Harcourt Brace, 1994; How I Fell in Love & Learned to Shoot Free Throws, Roaring Brook Press, 2003; Derailed, Llewellyn World Wide, 2006; and Last Kiss, Llewellyn World Wide, 2007; The Hustle, Ampichellis Ebooks, 2010; and Missing Pieces, (ebook and paperback) Ampichellis Ebooks, 2011.   He’s been agented in the past, but is currently on the hunt again.

According to Jon (and most other sources I’ve seen), there are several steps to getting an agent.

1.  Write a premise – one sentence that sums up your book.  Also known as a logline or elevator pitch.

  • Harry Potter: A boy discovers he has magical powers and attends a school for wizards.
  • A Christmas Carol: When three ghosts visit a stingy old man, he regains the spirit of Christmas.

We then wrote the premise for our own stories.  Here’s mine, for my NIP The Lone Wolf: A PTSD-stricken police officer, haunted by his role in the death of his stillborn son, seeks redemption through his relationship with a women struggling with the aftermath of her husband’s affair.

It’s wordy, but Jon said as a writer of women’s fiction (he writes for Women’s Day, I think), he’d definitely read my novel.  Yay!

2.  Write a brief synopsis –  a short paragraph that summarizes your novel without giving away the ending, making it as enticing as possible.  This will be your query.

3.  Polish your first 50 pages.  Most agents will ask for the first 10, or the first chapter or three, so you want them to be as pretty as possible.  That’s not to say it’s fine for the rest of your novel to suck, because it’s not.  But you want to make a good a first impression as possible.

4.  Find an agent, and send them what they want.  Agent Query and Query Tracker are great places to look.

5.  Finally, get ready for rejection.  Most will be form, something like this:

Dear Author,

Thank you so much for writing me about your project.  I read and consider each query carefully and, while yours is not exactly what I am looking for, I would certainly encourage you to keep trying.  I know your work is important to you and I am grateful that you wrote to me.

All the best,

If you’ve gotten an agent, did you follow these steps?  If you’re looking for an agent, are you doing something different than these steps?  Please, share your experiences!

Publishing Part 2: E-books

I’m continuing with my notes from the writing workshop I attended over the weekend.

Part 1: The Fifth Dimension – Marketing
Part 2 (today): Dipping Your Toe Into the ‘E’ Pool; E-Books 101
Part 3: Get Into The House (Finding an agent)
Part 4: DIY Publishing – Is It For You?
Part 5: My own insights into marketing: social networking and blogging

Dipping Your Toe Into the ‘E’ Pool; E-Books 101

This session’s presenter was retired reporter Joanne Wiklund, author of An Angel For Duane & Gladys

She self-published her NaNoWriMo novel through Book Baby.  My e-book publishing experience is through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, so it was nice to have a different perspective.

Book Baby is similar to Smashwords and Lulu, I think, and Amazon as well.  Basically, you upload your polished, formatted manuscript and it becomes an ebook that people can download. 

Book Baby charges you $99 up front, then $19 per year; you get all the royalties.  On the other hand, it’s free to upload to Amazon, but they take a percentage of every book you sell (you get $.35/sale if the price is less than $2.99; 70% if it’s above).  Obviously if you’re going to sell a ton of copies Book Baby is the way to go, but I think I’ve read that most self-published authors sell on average 5 copies, so it’d be hard to recoup those fees through Book Baby.

Another difference is where your book goes.  Joanne told us that Book Baby hits all the channels – Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, as well as Amazon’s many global locations – whereas Amazon, obviously, just distributes through its own sites.

Either way, however, there are certain things that fall to the author:

  • Editing – If you want to publish a crappy book full of misspellings and plot holes, go right ahead.  There’s no gatekeeper to guarantee content.  That’s why I strongly suggest finding an editor or a crit group (I use Scribophile).
  • Cover – If you look at a lot of the self-published books out there, you can tell who published them right away.  The covers are amateurish – bad fonts, bad layouts, pixelated graphics, etc. People do judge books by their covers, so make sure you spend time on yours.
  • Formatting – Again, there’s no one to oversee this but you.  Make sure you follow the guidelines exactly, or your book will look horrible on an e-reader.  There are tons of forums and guides on the web for advice, or you can use a program like Bookspry (I’ve played around with this and if I self-publish a novel, I’ll definitely use that).
  • Royalties – There’s no chance of an advance, and in fact, you’ll probably end up paying out of pocket for editing, cover design, marketing materials, etc.  On the plus side, you don’t have to share your money with an agent or publishing house.
  • Promotion and marketing – This applies to all self-published books, whether electronic or print.  People won’t magically know to read your book; you have to get the word out, yourself.  This includes attending events, building a platform, and other bragging events that introverted writers hate.

If you’ve published your own e-book, what service did you use?  Were you satisfied?  Tell us about your experiences.

Publishing Part 1: Marketing

Over the weekend I attended a writing workshop at the local writing center.  The day’s four sessions focused on various aspects of publishing.  I thought I’d share what I learned here, as well as my own experiences.

Part 1 (today): The Fifth Dimension – Marketing
Part 2: Dipping Your Toe Into the ‘E’ Pool; E-Books 101
Part 3: Get Into The House (Finding an agent)
Part 4: DIY Publishing – Is It For You?
Part 5: My own insights into marketing: social networking and blogging

The Fifth Dimension – Marketing

This session was hosted by two local self-published writers: Jane VanVooren Rogers, editor and author of a poetry chapbook entitled How to Avoid Being and Other Paths to Triumph, and Jane Reinhardt-Martin, self-published author of several books including Flax Your Way to Better Health.

Jane Reinhardt-Martin’s books fit a very specific niche market, so she’s been able to sell over 50,000 copies in the last ten years.  Jane VanVooren Rogers, on the other hand, has a small poetry chapbook from a local publisher, so she has a lot of different challenges than the first Jane. 

Here are the useful points I learned:

  • Get your book listed in Bowker’s Books In Print; if your title won’t scan at a register, bigger places won’t be willing to sell it (according to a Barnes and Noble manager).
  • Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble prefer to work through a distributor, not through the author herself.  While this could potentially be a good sales avenue, distributors typically require you to give them thousands of copies upfront.  And if your books are damaged or discontinued, you’re stuck with all the unsold copies.
  • If you want your book sold in local bookstores, go to the really local ones; Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble aren’t big on self-published locals taking up shelf space or doing book signings.  Independent small business owners, however, can be receptive to your works.  One bookstore owner in town offered to split both the overhead and profits from books he sold by local authors, and another store – a fair trade craft-type place – lets authors not only sell books, but have book signing parties at the store.  At the very least, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • When deciding on the price of your book, consider the cut others may take.  Yes, it’s your book, but in the example Jane Reinhardt-Martin gave us, her book cost $2 to produce (she went with a local printshop after negotiating with several in the area).  A bookstore she approached would buy it from her for $4, then sell it for the list price of $10.  That left her with a profit of $2 – not the 100% most people would expect.  Jane VanVooren Rogers sells her books herself through Amazon, so she has to factor in their cut.
  • Attend trade shows, conferences, book signings – anything you can where potential RELEVANT readers might be.  For example, Jane Reinhardt-Martin attends flax seed trade shows, and some of her biggest customers are flax sales people, because everyone wants to know about the product.  Jane VanVooren Rogers attended a regional writing conference and split a booth with several other local writers.  At one point, she walked around and traded books with other authors; while it didn’t increase sales, it helped get her name out there.
  • Consider what your purpose is with your book:  money, getting your story read, or a mixture.  Jane VanVooren Rogers bought some ad space on Facebook for a month, targeting people in the Midwest who like the arts.  While she gained over 100 likes on her Facebook page, it didn’t translate into sales.  Same with trading her book with other authors.
  • Get something tangible to promote your book: postcard, bookmark, even just a business card.  That way people will remember who you are and what you wrote.
  • And finally, consider your audience’s access to computers.  Jane Reinhardt-Martin sticks an ordering form in the back of her books, so that people can easily send a check or money order to get more copies.  A lot of people prefer snail mail (or stores) to Amazon.  Make sure the book is easily available.
  • Jane Reinhardt-Martin recommends checking out some advice by Brian Jud on CreateSpace.  She gave us handouts of his “Marketing Plan for Non-Fiction Titles,” but he has guidelines for fiction as well.

Unfortunately, the session didn’t focus on online marketing except in brief passing – social networks like Twitter and Facebook, blogs, Goodreads, Amazon reviews, etc.  I’ll focus on those in part 5.

Is this advice helpful?  Does it mesh with your own experiences?  Do you have anything you can add to the list?

Writing Retreat

Writing is a solitary activity.  Yes, we solicit feedback (and I’m fortunate to have a wonderful online writing community for that), and perhaps we have a handful of people off of which to bounce ideas.  But for most of us, we sit alone at home, or alone at a library or coffee shop, to hone our craft.

Despite this, there are times when writers crave physical contact with other writers.  Supposedly.  I’ve attended NaNoWriMo write-ins, where everyone sits in a room and pretends to write while discussing our novels.

I live in a fairly large metropolitan area with a vibrant writing community, at least according to the local writing center’s website.  I’ve considered attending their conferences, but the timing has never worked out.  So when I saw that they were hosting a day-long writing retreat for a decent price, I decided to bite the bullet and attend.  If nothing else, they were offering snacks all day.

I arrived just in time for the opening remarks by a couple local authors.  The dozen or so attendees were instructed to channel our muse, find our “sacred spot,” and create.  The goal was to have something to share for the group reading at the end of the day.  One of the local authors would be at a nearby coffee shop to offer advice and discuss the writing process, if we felt so inclined to sign up for a mini session with her.

I promptly loaded up on orange juice and bite-size cinnamon rolls, found an empty room, and did exactly what I was supposed to – I wrote.  In one hour, I’d written another of the Nik Kershaw stories I’m slowly creating.

At that point, it was time for my session with the local author, Robin Throne, who heads up her own publishing company, 918 Studio.  We had a lovely chat about the problems with writing and publishing literary fiction, especially short stories, compared to genre fiction or poetry.  We also discussed how the writing process worked for each of us, from the idea stage, to finding time to write the damn things, to feedback and publishing.  Although I frequently discuss these ideas with others online, it was nice to do it face-to-face.

At that point it was lunch time.  I had some nice conversations with other writers, about their processes and ideas, and about what they write and why.

And then it was back to writing for the afternoon.  I worked on the ending to a story I’ve been slowly writing and tweaking for almost a year; I think I almost have it figured out but not quite.  I made the mistake of finding a new spot to write, right next to the snack table, and so I was a bit distracted and couldn’t focus as well as I did in the morning.  Also, I needed to access Dropbox to get that story, and as everyone knows, productivity decreases with access to the internet.

Finally it was sharing time.  There were some good things and some not so good things.  Most made mention of God, so I decided it was best not to read my story which has some rough language in it.  Then there were closing remarks, and we were set free.

All in all, it was a good experience.  While it was nice to get some writing done, the most helpful parts of the day were the conversations with other writers, all of whom came at writing from different perspectives and backgrounds (I was probably the youngest participant by about 10 years; the average age was probably about 55).

Now that I know what’s out there, and the benefits of a local writing community, I’ve gotten a membership to the writing center and plan on attending more of their workshops and retreats.  Just not all of them; I’m still not a people person.

What’s your experience with local writing groups?  What benefits and drawbacks do you find compared to online groups?  Do you regularly attend workshops or retreats?

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