Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Fussy Librarian

Have you heard about the latest e-reader service The Fussy Librarian?  If you love to read, I  recommend checking out their new website

In the vast bibliosphere that exists online, where millions of e-books reside, they'll help you find books you'll love.  When you sign up, you tell your  personal librarian exactly what you're looking for in a good read (I love this because I can opt out of books containing graphic violence, explicit sex scenes, and unnecessary profanity.) The Fussy Librarian then emails you with the e-books matching your unique interests and content preferences.  The recommended books are available on Amazon Kindle, Android, iPad, Nook, and Smashwords.  The service is free and easy to subscribe to.  Just visit The Fussy Librarian.

And if you're an author, sign up for their free (right now!) author service, and register your book on their bookshelves.  It's a great way to gain new readers and increase sales.  You can list the same title every 30 days and a different title once a week. You can also sign up multiple books in one visit. They'll send you an email letting you know when your book's  scheduled to run. At this time, book sponsorships are free. In exchange, you agree to help spread the word about The Fussy Librarian. It's a new site and they're building a new list of readers. So all they're asking for now is for you to share a link to their site on Facebook and tweet a link on Twitter. As a thank you gift, they’ll give you a free future sponsorship to use after they start charging.

I signed up as a reader and an author.  Happy reading!

Friday, October 25, 2013

NaNoWriMo and a new novel, Swim Season

Have you heard about NaNoWriMo? That's short for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write the first draft of a novel in 30 days.  Yeah, that's right - 30 days.  On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.  Sound impossible?  More than 144,000 writers have signed up to take the challenge, and I'm one of them.  We can't all be crazy.  I tried it a couple of years ago, but because of my repetitive strain injuries I dropped out in the first week.  This time, however, I'm better prepared.  I'm going to do this utilizing many different types of writing methods and not depend solely on my computer. 
I love technology.  Seems all these gadgets were made just for me - the iPhone, especially one with voice recognition that prints what I say into a downloadable document.  Yes, it will be tedious dictating a book in this way, but since I plan to do it line by line, not so much.  When I really need to pound out the pages I can always use Dragon Dictation on my PC.  And on those days when I feel I can bang out a couple of pages on the keyboard I'll put my butt in the chair and do so.  It's probably a unique way to write a book, but in order to fulfill this goal I need to be creative and use every tool I own, even a pad of paper and a pencil to get this story down without crippling myself in the process.  I've been meaning to write it for three or four years, and since the part of my life it represents is now over, I can't waste any more time thinking about it; I need to just do it. 
The story is "Swim Season," and it's about the new girl on the swim team challenging a long-standing school record.  It follows the high school varsity swim season from tryouts through championships and everything in between, including practice, meets, fundraising, team bonding activities, Homecoming, football games, all that good high school stuff.  It's also full of surprises, like a $50,000 scholarship to the swimmer who breaks the thirty-year old record for the 500 freestyle, donated by the title holder herself.  This causes all kinds of drama for this team and our young heroine is smack in the middle of it. 
Writing this book is going to be a lot of fun.  Here's the first few paragraphs from my NaNoWriMo attempt in 2011.  What do you think?
Aunt Mags didn't say a word on the way to the high school, and neither did I.  It was too early for anything more than, "Got everything?", "Uh huh," and, "Let's go."  She'd run out before her first cup of coffee and was still half-asleep.
It was barely dawn, the moon still high in the sky, the sun peeking out over the horizon.  There was a chill in the air, a hint of summer's end.  I wished I'd worn a sweatshirt, although after swim practice, the sun would be shining and we'd be back to summer.
We arrived at the school and a deserted parking lot.  Mags parked the car by the gymnasium entrance. 
"Are you sure it starts at 5:45?"  she asked.  
"Positive," I said, gathering my gear from the back seat.
She yawned.  "Looks like you're the first one here."
"I doubt it."   
Today was the first day of swim season.  Tryouts started at 6 a.m.  The coach had instructed all wannabe swimmers to be on the pool deck no later than 5:45.  My experience as a varsity swimmer told me that anyone with any degree of competitiveness had already arrived.  I had five minutes to spare.
"Want me to walk in with you?"  Mags asked. 
My horror at this suggestion must have been all over my face, because she quickly said, "Sorry, I'm not used to having a teenager.  My girls would beg me to walk them into that big, scary building."  We looked at the three-storied hodgepodge of buildings put together over the years to house the Falmouthport High School.
"I can take it from here," I said, confident I'd remember the meandering route to the pool area from the tour we'd taken when we came in to register for my senior year.
She still looked anxious.  "Sure you're all right?"
"Don't worry," I said.  "I've got this routine down pat."  This would be my third high school.  I played the role of new girl in school so well I deserved an Oscar.
I opened the door and hopped out of the car.  Reaching back in to grab my bag, I said, "Don't hang around waiting for me to call for a ride home.  I don't know when I'll get out, and I don’t want to mess up your day.  I'll walk home."  Aunt Mags nodded and I shut the door.
"Don't forget we're going school shopping later on," she said through the open window. 
"Got it."  I appreciated her taking me out to the mall more than she knew.
"Go get 'em, Aerin."  She gave me a thumbs up.
I shot her a grin, hoisted my bag over my shoulder, and went off to join the swim team.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Adventures in Publishing - Jessica Dall: Working With a Small Press

Today I welcome my first guest blogger, the lovely Jessica Dall, author of  The Bleeding Crowd, Gray Areas, and The Copper Witch, for release in 2014.  Jessica finished her first novel at the age of 15 and hasn’t stopped writing, publishing many short stories in addition to her novels. She is also an editor, book reviewer, and creative writing teacher.  Here she shares her adventures in publishing and working with a small press. 

Up until I got my first internship at a small press in college, I had never heard that it was possible to submit novels to publishers without first going through a literary agent. Working in acquisitions for a press where 99 percent of our submissions came directly from authors was eye opening.

With the idea that I could approach niche publishers with my work, rather than having to either find an agent or self-publish, I began to expand my net just to see what would happen. And while I hardly had publishers falling over themselves to get to me, I managed to find a lot of success with this “new” third option.

While I never published a novel through the press with which I interned (the editor-in-chief understandably wishing to maintain a divide between their staff and their authors) I have worked with a number of small presses at this point—my third book, The Copper Witch, having just recently signed with 5 Prince Publishing for release next year. Combined with picking up editing work as a contractor for another press and having seen many, many publishing contracts at this point from either side of the process, I have developed my own pros and cons list for what to expect when signing with a small press:

- Pro: You don’t have to have an agent. While having a literary agent isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination, agents fall on the business side of publishing. It is their job to find projects they think will sell—and hopefully sell for a lot. If you have written something experimental, or just not the current big thing, it can be simpler to go to a small press that specializes in experimental or off the wall pieces than it would be to find an agent and big publisher. And, without the agent, you don’t have anyone taking 15 percent off the top when you do sell your work.

- Con: You don’t have an agent. On the flip side of that coin, there’s a reason agents get their commissions. They are able to help make good novels better, and then tell you whether or not the contract you’re offered has bad terms/is a scam. Without an agent, you have to be extra careful that you aren’t getting in over your head/selling your work for a song.

- Con: Small, or no, advances. When going through a large press, you’re likely to be given an advance of some kind (money the publisher gives you up front as an advance on future royalties). As most small presses tend to work on smaller operating budgets, you are likely to not see much (if any) money up front as you sign your contract.

- Pro: Higher royalties. Making up for the advances, however, you are also likely to see higher royalties listed in your contract. You won’t have the money upfront, but if your book sells well, you’ll end up with more money off each copy sold.

- Pro: You likely will maintain more creative control. While I’ve yet to have a publisher give me complete veto power over what cover art they chose, I have always been asked what I picture for a cover before they go to their cover designers. I have also always had a very equal relationship with the editors publishers have assigned me. Since the production is smaller, you will often be much more involved with each step that’s happening as your book goes to print.

- Con: You won’t have as many resources behind you. With a smaller production, however, you also don’t have the full power of the [Big Publisher]’s design and marketing team behind you as you go to print. A small press will still help promote your work (they only make money when you do, after all) but you will not see the same reach as you would with a big publisher.

So, obviously, I have decided the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to working with a small publisher (especially now that I’ve gotten pretty good about knowing what’s normal and what’s sketchy in a contract) and I would speak very highly of my experiences with them. It might not be what’s best for every writer, but it has certainly been what’s best for me so far in my career. And so, that’s just one more thanks I have to offer to that college internship.

Happy writing!

Jessica Dall is the author of such novels as The Bleeding Crowd (Melange Books/2012) and Grey Areas (PaperBox Books/2010) along with a number of short stories which have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. Her third novel, The Copper Witch, will be coming out in the spring of 2014 through 5 Prince Publishing. When not writing, she works as an editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @JessicaDall
Amazon page:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Signing 101

Book junkies everywhere know the thrill that comes when a beloved book is signed by its author, especially when the author signs it just for them.  The only thrill sweeter is when you are the author signing the book for a grateful reader.  Even in this world of e-publishing and e-commerce, when readers and authors can develop relationships online without ever meeting, the book signing event is alive and well.  Selling books hand to hand is time-consuming and slow, admittedly, but to interact with a reader face to face is priceless.

I recently published my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, in paperback on September 11.  A week later, I was the featured author at a Harvest Festival at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York.  This venue stands on the site of the original Woodstock concert in 1969, and many consider it hallowed ground.  Thousands of people – locals, leaf peepers, and city folk – attend the Harvest Festivals.  I’d like to share with you what I learned from my first book signing ever.

How did a newbie author with few sales and little following procure such a plum selling spot?  Simple – I asked.  I knew the event, held every Sunday in September, sponsored a local author.  Weeks before, I sent an email to the organizer and told her a little about myself and the book, and next thing I knew I was on their schedule.  They provided me with a space in their craft tent where I worked elbow to elbow with jewelry makers, wood carvers, weavers, candle makers, and other artisans.  They also provided publicity about my book signing.  I saw it on their web site, in my local newspaper, and had people tell me they learned about my book on the radio and on the internet.  The advance notice went way beyond my expectations.  I had posted on my social media – Facebook and Twitter – but their outreach had eclipsed mine, and brought in the crowd.  Lesson 1: Know who puts on such events in your community and ask to be included.  Many venues and events are looking for local authors.  Most will include you in their advertising.

As expected, the festival had a huge attendance and traffic in the craft tent was heavy and steady.  My husband, Lou, had accompanied me for moral support and help setting up my display table.  I had put together an assortment of items to help promote my book.  I framed an 8 x 10 photo of the book cover, bought a lovely framed print that read, “A true love story never ends,” gathered some blue hydrangeas in a Nantucket lightship basket, and, of course, placed a stack of books in the center of it all with a sign that read, “Meet the Author Today.”  I also had, on one end, information about the upcoming Alzheimer’s walk, and, on the other end, information about the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, the recipient of a portion of my book’s profits.  Scattered across the table were Hershey’s Dark Kisses, because experts say dark chocolate may ward off dementia.  It soon became apparent the table was cluttered and confusing, so we began to pare away the items that didn’t help my cause, which was to attract attention and readers for my book.  Lesson 2: Don’t try to accomplish too much.  Although my intentions were worthy, I needed to keep the focus on my book.  Once people realized I was an author with a book for sale they were able to either move on or engage with me, and not waste either of our time.  Of course, the chocolate remained.

Which brings us to Lesson 3: Engage your audience.  I know this is a hard thing for most people, especially authors who often work alone, but this is not a time to be shy.  People will not flock to your book table just because you’re there.  You need to reach out to them and entice them to come see what you have to offer.  I simply said, “Hi, I’m Marianne, the featured author today,” and those who were not readers or didn’t care for books simply smiled and walked by or ignored me.  The book people in the crowd were quick to come over, because book people love other book people and are always looking for something good to read.  This gave me the opportunity to pitch my book and draw them in.  For the first time, I had the opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to my work.

Blue Hydrangeas is an Alzheimer’s love story, the tale of a pair of retired Cape Cod innkeepers struggling with the disease.  Alzheimer’s is a tender subject and touches so many lives.  Some people cried just talking about it, such as the woman who recounted the story of her good friend and the husband who cared for her with love and patience until the last day.  Then there was the woman who lost her dad to Alzheimer’s last year and had to walk away because the pain was still so raw she could not speak of it without choking up.  Others were curious about the book and didn’t hesitate to buy a copy, including the woman who lost her father years ago, yet still reads everything she can about Alzheimer’s to further understand what happened to him and what may happen to her and other family members she loves.  I was not sure if those who currently live with the disease would be interested in my story, but was surprised to sell a few copies to current caregivers.

The majority of my customers were middle-aged women, avid readers, with a personal interest in either the disease or a good love story.  Some bought the book as a gift for someone they knew living with the disease.  I had the good fortune to sell a copy to a local newspaper columnist and his nurse wife, and an English teacher from my daughter’s high school that had lost his mother to Alzheimer’s a few years ago.  Lesson 4:  Don’t prejudge a possible book buyer.  We never know what passions or interests another person carries.  The little old lady with the tight perm might be hot for steamy romances while the jock may have a soft spot for sensitive love stories.  To prejudge is to lose a possible sale.

Finally, Lesson 5, the most uncomfortable to learn: If it’s an outdoor venue, pay attention to and heed the weather report.  This day was cold, cloudy, and blustery, just as the weatherman had predicted, but did we listen?  No, Lou and I were under dressed for the weather, and it was tough to keep smiling.  This in itself became a topic for conversation, an icebreaker of sorts that helped keep us busy talking about the book and making sales.

At the day’s end, we had sold and I had signed fourteen books.  I hear that’s a good amount, but, even if not, I consider the day a success.  I met many people.  I told them about my book.  I perfected my pitch.  I learned what to bring to a book-signing event.  I made my first sale, ever.  Best lesson: I experienced one of the perks of being an author.

Other suggestions for a successful book signing:

  • Make sure the venue offers shelter (a tent, indoors), a table and chairs.  If not, bring your own.
  • Take along a small cooler with snacks, drinks, and a meal.
  • Stay hydrated.  You will talk a lot and your throat will become dry.
  • Keep plenty of singles on hand to make change.  If possible, arrange to take credit cards.
  • If you’re outdoors in sunshine, wear a hat and use sunscreen.
  • Provide cards or bookmarks with information on how to buy your book for those who are not able to purchase that day.
  • Listen to your customers whether they buy or not.  They may remember you cared and buy the book next week.
  • Never get discouraged.  One single sale is more than you had before the event. 

 This post originally appeared on The Jessica Dall Blog.

Friday, October 4, 2013

This Year's Blockbuster Movie

If you're thinking about seeing Gravity 3D, stop thinking and go.  If you're thinking of not seeing it, change your mind.  This movie has everything: thrills, nail-biting, suspense, beauty, hopelessness, hope, chaos, control, power, failure, courage, fear, and God. Sandra Bullock gives the performance of her career in a role that reminded me of Tom Hanks character in Castaway. Undoubtedly another Oscar for Bullock.  What happens to George Clooney is a big surprise.  The only thing this movie doesn't have is sex, foul language, and violence (except from flying debris in space), proving that those elements really aren't necessary in producing a quality movie.  You don't want to miss this one.