Go Bravely, Pioneer!

Go Bravely, Pioneer!

This week Writescape welcomes A.B. Funkhauser as our guest blogger. We first met her in a Writescape workshop where her unique storytelling voice immediately grabbed our attention. She recently launched her third novel at the Indie Author Day in Pickering, and this successful and self-propelled author lets us in on how she sees marketing in the indie world.

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A.B. Funkhauser

Recently, I had the privilege of participating in Indie Author Day at the Pickering Central Library. Sponsored by the PineRidge Arts Council, its purpose was to bring independent and micro-published authors together under a single roof to share ideas and lamentations about this journey we call writing.

So much more than words

Writing is so much more than words on a page. We chase character, motivation, arc, pacing and a satisfying resolution, each ideally wrapped tight in a prescient, unique voice that distinguishes the work and acts as a fingerprint for the artist behind it. Finding that combination can take years accompanied by scores of rejection letters that keep fourth-place-finishes in writing contests company.

That’s the trip. Those of us stubborn and committed enough to either win a contract or go boldly into self-publishing know that the second part of the journey has begun, and it is on this that I’d like to focus.

Pioneering the next wave

Writing it all down is a great beginning. It’s the foundation for a finished product that will be advanced by a marketing plan anchored to a brand.

Most of the speakers at Indie Author Day touched on the fact that indie books have a hard time finding a home in libraries and book stores large and small. There is a very good reason for this. Curated decisions at macro and micro levels are always informed by history and convention. What worked last year will continue to work in subsequent years until new factors change the conversation.

The Canadian Big Three and US Big Five publishing houses and their star authors rule the day and there is nothing wrong with this. Success models like these did not appear overnight; they started small and they grew over time. And they will continue to do so.

But times are changing and Indie authors in the digital age are in a unique position to pioneer the next wave by reaching where they could not before. Heavy oak doors barred, locked and guarded by agents and executives fall away when the author, published or not, has access to millions of readers via Internet platforms. Promoting  in the safety and comfort of one’s home is the best place to start building the profile that grows the brand.

What is brand?

Think of “brand” in terms of an author resume—for how can authors rightly expect to be taken up without an introduction? Many times we hear about great manuscripts going nowhere because the author (the brand) has little or no Internet presence.

The same happens when authors approach libraries and book stores. “Who are you?” and “What are your credentials?” takes the place of “What is the book about?” These questions are not unreasonable.

Making connections develops “cred”

Like a politician with a constituency, independent authors need followers as a first step to developing “cred” for the words they write. As I explained more than once on Indie Author Day, we can write the best novel, screenplay, short story or poem, but no one will know if we do not get out there and let people know.

Standing in front of our book tables trying to engage a busy parent or indifferent teen on their way to the stacks can be soul depleting. But after a handful of books-oriented events, we do get the hang of connecting on a person-to-person level. Many of us tempt with bowls of candies, free key chains, magnets, bookmarks or short story samples. When a conversation goes well, a book or two may actually be sold.

But it is the connection that is key. For every 50 business cards handed out, only a precious few will be retained; even fewer will be used to access the author’s buy links or website. But that is also okay. We’re not only building a constituency of readers and “cred”, but we’re also building a bridge to that first invitation to guest on a podcast, blog or cable show.

Seven years or five books

Publishing models in the Indie world present many formulas. My publisher says “seven years or five books” before anything happens. Whatever is served up, writers should not be discouraged. Time is an opportunity not just to write, but to build brand and the followers who support and advance it.

The times they are a changin’ opines one of my favorite clichés. For those willing to embrace the change, there is much to be done. I’ve only scratched the surface in a handful of words. The rest is up to you.

Go bravely, Pioneer.

Shine.

 

Toronto born A.B. Funkhauser is a multi-published genre-bending author who loves to market as much as she loves to hash out new material. She credits Writescape with helping her find her way. She publishes through Solstice Publishing.

Twitter https://twitter.com/iamfunkhauser

Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/heuerlostandfound

 

What Genre do You Write?

What Genre do You Write?

Gwynn Scheltema

Seems like a simple question, but increasingly these days it can be confusing. Genres not only have subgenres, but subgenres have sub-subgenres: Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction (or science fantasy) but steampunk itself has sub genres like steamgoth, gaslight romance, clockpunk and dieselpunk.

Then of course, you have the age cross-overs and cross-genres like paranormal romance, crime fantasy, or action comedy.

The mind boggles.

Why does knowing your genre matter?

Initially, it doesn’t matter. When you begin your first draft, story is key and the story will land in the genre it fits best. But once that draft is done, knowing your genre is important. You’ll need to know so you can fine tune your manuscript and pitch it to the right agent or publisher.

It’s a marketing issue. How many places will your book fit? Knowing your genre shows a better understanding of the market, which can only help your submission. If you don’t know where your book fits, you’re saying you don’t know your target audience.

We all like to think that our book is unique, but the reality is, if we can correctly categorize it, readers can access it and agents and publishers will know immediately whether it potentially fits their market.

Genre and editing

And because knowing genre is a marketing issue, it becomes an editing issue, so you can mould your submission to fit publishing needs and reader expectations.

Let’s take the crime/mystery genre as an example and the typical “dead body”. In a cosy mystery, your readers will expect to spend a few chapters meeting the inhabitants of a cosy community and getting to know the protagonist and her friends before the “dead body” is discovered. The actual killing will be off stage. In a police procedural mystery, the “dead body” is there by the end of chapter one. Readers may even witness the murder. It will be important to follow real police investigative and forensic procedures.

Some publishers have well-defined expectations that can help tremendously at this editing stage. Harlequin, the world’s largest publisher of romance, provides clear, detailed guidelines on their website for each of their genre imprints, from the word count to the level of sexual content.

So what is my genre?

Genre definitions are constantly changing and evolving, but you have to start somewhere.

1. Prepare a book jacket blurb

Once the first draft is done, prepare a book jacket blurb (the paragraphs on the back cover that entice readers to buy because they answer the question “What is this book about?”.)  Writing the jacket blurb helps to distill the thrust of the story: the conflict, the stakes and the character arc.

It also helps define what genre it is, because it focuses on the main thread of the story.

2. Define the main genre

With your book jacket blurb in hand, you have your main dominant story thread. Use that main thread to define the main genre. For instance, if your book involves a mystery and a romance, is the dominant story thread a classic “who done it” with a bit of romance thrown in for character growth? (mystery) Or is it really about a relationship blossoming between two people who happen to be solving a mystery together? (romance)

Here’s a list of some of the main genres to get you started:

  • Action/Adventure — epic journeys, lots of conflict/pursuit, high stakes, some violence.
  • Crime/Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder.
  • Fantasy —magic, other worlds, myths and mythological/mystical figures.
  • Historical — fictional characters and events in an historical setting
  • Horror— stories that invoke dread or fear.
  • Thriller/Suspense — harm/danger about to befall a person or group and the attempts to evade the harm/danger, high tension.
  • Romance —love/intimacy/relationships.
  • Sci-fi —impact of technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds, often futuristic
  • Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth

Once you have your main genre, you can explore subgenres. This link on the definition and characteristics of the main genres is worth looking into.

3. Define your reader

Nail down the age group your book is aimed at: children, young adult, new adult or adult. If your manuscript appeals to more than one group, you have an age cross-over. (Think Harry Potter (children/adult) or Hunger Games (YA/adult).)

Imagine your ideal reader. If you were that reader looking for your book, where would you look? Again, focus on the main narrative thread. Is your ideal reader looking for a romance with a bit of mystery thrown in, or are they problem solvers who like mysteries and might like some relationship stuff thrown in?

Ask your beta readers where they would expect to find your book. Ask your critique group. Tell other writers your blurb and then ask them, “What section of a bookstore would you look in to find my book?”

4. Visit a book store

Go to a bricks & mortar bookstore or hop on the Net. Identify half a dozen books similar to yours and find where they are shelved. Go to Goodreads and check the Listopia recommendations for your main genre, like “Best Science Fiction.” That will lead you to the sub-genres like “Best Steampunk Books.” Read the blurbs on the back covers. Does your book jacket blurb follow a similar pitch?

One way to do this is to have two windows open, one on Amazon and the other on Goodreads. Read the blurb on Goodreads and then search the book on Amazon to see its classification.

I always like the section below the “purchase” button with the phrase “People who bought this also bought….” It’s a great way to find other novels that are categorized the same way. Could your book fit here?

Still not sure?

You’re fine as long as you know your main genre and reader age. Agents will be able to spot a crossover even if you haven’t mentioned it. If your query letter has a good hook and good comparables, the sub-genre will be apparent to them.

However, the time you spend on defining your genre will help you make a better connection between your story and your reader. And your well-crafted blurb will be ready for those moments when someone (maybe an agent or publisher) asks “So what are you writing?”

DID YOU KNOW?

Vicki Delany, our guest at this year’s fall retreat, Turning Leaves  2017, writes in several subgenres of the crime/mystery genre. As  Eva Gates she writes the cosy Lighthouse series, and as Vicki Delany she writes a Police Procedural series featuring Constable Molly Smith.

Blogging for Authors: Must We?

Blogging for Authors: Must We?

Guest blogger: Kimberly Moynahan

Back in January, this article came through my Twitter stream: Blogging for Authors: Why You Need a Blog and How to Get Started, posted on the Nonfiction Authors Association website. In that article, e-book author Stephanie Chandler recommends that every author have a blog.

She advises you “contact your webmaster” to add a blog to your site; she talks about “keyword concentration”, how blogs are good for SEO and how content is king; she explains how to choose a blogging platform, why you shouldn’t host on a secondary domain and…well…are your eyes glazing over yet?

Here’s the thing: Starting a blog is like joining a gym. Eighty percent of people who begin will not last three months. Okay, I made that number up. But in fact, the realty for bloggers is probably worse. In 2008, a blog search engine company found that of 133 million blogs only 7.4 million had been updated in the last 120 days.

That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled. — Douglas Quenqua, New York Times, June 5, 2009

So before you jump onto the “every author needs a blog” bandwagon, ask yourself if blogging is really for you. Because frankly, having a sad neglected blog is probably worse than not starting one at all.

Here is what you need to be a blogger—

 

A Bit of Technical Abilitycrow with tools

Even if you have a webmaster, she’s only going to set up your site. You still have to put up your own post, format it, add graphics and tags, and publish the thing. It’s not difficult, but if you are the kind of person who gets faint at the idea of formatting an Excel column, you might want to think twice about blogging.

Lion sleepingTime. Lots of it.

Stephanie, in her article, advises that you blog five times a week. It’s good writing practice she says.

First off, no, it’s not. You know as well as I do, if you are dashing off five quick posts a week, you are not practicing good writing. You’re just adding “content” which is great for attracting search engines bots and random strangers, but not so much for engaging readers and impressing publishers.

Blogging five times a week is a herculean task. Even filler posts – YouTube videos and “Wordless Wednesday” images – take effort to pull together. Recruiting guest bloggers helps, but there is work around that as well. And these stopgaps will only entertain your readers for so long. Your audience wants to hear from you.

How much time does blogging take?

My advice to potential bloggers is this: Write your first five posts before you commit. Time yourself from the moment you start thinking about what you’re going to write, to the moment all five are written, formatted for the web, proofed, have catchy titles, and have legal-to-use images with credits and captions.

Now add an hour a week for site maintenance and improvement, another hour for responding to commenters, and fifteen minutes a day (at the very least) for promoting your blog on social media. Now how’s your week shaping up?

Social Media SavvyBees

Blogs cannot live in a vacuum. It will be up to you to find your audience and make them aware of your blog. Sure search engines will find your blog so people will stumble upon it, but you will have to do the real work of alerting your followers and attracting new readers every time you post. This means mastering and diligently usingTwitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media.

Herd sheepSomething Unique to Say

What are you going to blog about? Here’s a subject that could take up a whole post. But in short, if your blog is to rise above the babble of a million author bloggers all doing the exact same thing, you are going to have to deliver something unique.

Rule #1 is reward the faithful for showing up. Your readers are your most valuable promoters. Feed and nurture them accordingly. Talk to them. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else. What that is depends on your target audience – readers, writers, or both.

Rule #2 is that blogging is not all about you, The Author. If you want to connect with your readers, you must show a bit of you, The Person.  No need to throw your entire personal life onto the screen (please), but talking about your passion for 1940s jazz, your daytime job as a dog trainer or the crazy thing that happened at the grocery store this morning goes a long way towards making your readers feel special and welcome.

Thick Skinwalruses

You’re a writer. You’re used to editors pointing out flaws in your manuscripts. You’re used to rejection. You might even be used to negative book reviews (if one ever gets used to that). So already you are stronger than most.

But how are you when your ideas are attacked? How will you respond when your credibility is challenged? When a reader comments (shouts!) in UPPER CASE that you are not worthy of the pixels you are printed on?

If you blog well, your comment section is going to be more than just people heaping praise and thanks upon you. It can become the lifeblood of your blog, an exciting place where people debate and discuss ideas. It can also become a place where people criticize, even attack you.

For instance, these are actual comments from my blog:

Are you on drugs? You clearly lack journalistic skills on top of empathy for life… 

This article is the biggest piece of SHIT I’ve read so far …

I leave them on my site for my own amusement and also so I have great examples for posts like this.

KittensYou have many choices in how to handle individual commenters and your comment sections as a whole – another topic that could fill a post. But the two choices you don’t have if you want to build a vibrant community on your blog, are turning off the comment sections and screaming back in UPPER CASE. (This never goes well.)

Stephanie Chandler is right. Blogging can help you connect with your readers. It can be a way to increase your following and possibly book sales. But so can meeting with book clubs, starting a newsletter, giving workshops, having a Facebook page, engaging on Twitter, posting on Instagram and doing the most important thing of all – finishing your book.

In the end, the answer to “Should I blog” is, it depends.
But the answer to “Must I blog?” is, no.
Read More:

L.L. Barkett: It’s Time for (Many) Experienced Writers to Stop Blogging

Jane Friedman: Reasons to Keep Blogging

Kidlit.com: Do Unpublished Writers Have to Blog?

Huffington Post: 5 Reasons Authors Should Blog

Joe Bunting: What Fiction Authors Really Need to Know About Their Platform

 

All images CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

BIO

 

Kimberly MoynahanKimberly Moynahan is a freelance science, nature, and interpretive writer. She blogs on the natural sciences, animals, and the writing life on her site Endless Forms Most Beautiful. She has been published in Scientific American’s Best Science Writing Online and WOLVES Magazine. Kim serves on the Leadership Team for Science Borealis, the Canadian science blog network and is a regular blogger for the Canadian Science Writers Association. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.