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

 

Sharpening your creative edge

Sharpening your creative edge

Gwynn Scheltema

This weekend, Ruth and I spent a few hours with a motivated and talented group of writers in St. Catharines. Some were beginners, some seasoned professionals, but all of them dived in and challenged themselves and took creative risks. It was thoroughly energizing.

boots on rail lineWriting is, for the most part, a solitary act. Sometimes lonely, sometimes blissfully peaceful. But I find that too much alone time as a writer is not always good. Yes, I might get more written, but it can also sometimes skew my writing perspective.

I can get rooted in bad writing habits, forgetting to use fundamental writing skills I have used before. My writing challenges can start to feel insurmountable. Or I can relax into my writing comfort zone and stop taking risks…dulling my creative edge.

Being with other writers this weekend, feeling that energy that emerges when writers get together, reminded me that I need to build that into my writing life. I also need to hone my creative edge by deliberately taking regular creative risks.

So how can you take regular creative risks and re-energize?

Give voice to non-POV characterseyes-141363_640

Write a scene from a non-POV character‘s perspective. This reminds you that each character has their own motivations. You don’t have to use the piece you write, but in the act of writing it, that character may give you insights about your regular POV character or about the events in the scene. Perhaps there are even connections to other characters you were missing.

Approach description differently

addict-84430_640Challenge yourself to use visual description sparingly, and increase the use of the other senses instead. Try also to limit scene description to just two or three details. (And make sure that the details are ones that the characters would naturally notice and not just things the author wants the reader to notice.)

 

Use prompts

Using prompts forces you to come at things from different entry points. They stimulate memories and experiences that can be adapted to fiction and can be a springboard to new ideas. Here are three links to get you started.

Freefall writestamp-895380_640

Freefall writing is one of the best and most satisfying ways I know to stay ahead of your internal editor and left analytical brain and give your right creative brain and your subconscious a chance to surface. By writing without stopping for a set time, and having no expectations of what will be written is extremely freeing, and time and time again I’ve seen wonderful writing emerge from the practice.

Get together with other writers
Dining at Turning Leaves
Dining at Turning Leaves

Even if you have a wonderful writing space at home, getting together with other writers to write is a different and energizing experience. I live next to a lake, but look forward to going on retreat whenever I can. It allows me to “leave the world behind” for a short while and concentrate on being creative. Being with a group of people who understand the writing world is invaluable and seeing others around me writing motivates me to write too. Try it. Join Ruth and me at our annual fall retreat Turning Leaves 2016 this November.

 

 

 

 

Prenatal care for your book baby

Prenatal care for your book baby

Last fall, Orca Books published my debut novel Betting Game. I had nine months between signing a contract and delivering my book baby. It seemed like plenty of time. It wasn’t.

Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.

Start earlyPregnant woman with a journal

Next time I’m expecting a new book baby, I’ll sit down right away and make a plan of action.

What do I need to do, and when? How much time will it all take? What are my priorities?

Get organized

scrivener logo

Keep everything. Edits. Images. Ideas. Promo materials. Information from your marketing team. You will use, reuse, rework and re-purpose these files again and again, so find a logical way to organize them for easy retrieval.

Scrivener worked for me. I stored all the flotsam and jetsam in one project, using labels and keywords to make the project super-simple to view and search. Of course, you can also store everything traditionally in folders and subfolders. Just be sure to file and label wisely.

Sure, it takes a little longer to be meticulous, but it saves you time every time you need to find something. And bonus! The next time you publish, you have a ready-made road map instead of starting from square one.

Gather the building blocks

wooden block towerThe first items my publisher asked for were basic promo items: an author bioback-cover blurb and a professional author photo (more on author pics in a future post.)

I tucked these items in my Scrivener project, and as time went on, I added more elements:

I also collected a variety of links and bits of code:

Raise your profile

My memberships came in handy. I belong to national writers’ organizations like CANSCAIP, SCBWI, The Writers’ Union of Canada and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and locally, to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. They offer a variety of promotional opportunities.

  • book and event pages
  • school visit and speaker pages
  • member profiles

You can also create author pages on GoodReads and Amazon.com, as well as social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Prepare these pages and profiles well in advance. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as uploading the same bio and photo to each site. But they all start with the same basic building blocks.

Don’t forget to update them along the way. I kept the most recent version of each profile in Scrivener. It was easier than viewing each website one by one. (Aren’t you glad you started Scrivener project or folder system now?)

Ways to work smarter

Front-end-load the tasks. For example:

  • write newsletter announcements and media releases early so they’re ready to go
  • prepare your website, blog and social media platforms so you can trickle out your good news

Make a book trailer

One of my best investments was Rich Helms’s Book Trailers 101. This 5-week workshop taught me the elements of a successful trailer, as well as the specialized knowledge to make one. Basic tech like how to use Animoto and Movie Maker. A bit of Audacity. Where to find reasonably priced voice talent, music and images. Tricks for uploading the final product to YouTube.

Step by step, my book trailer grew from concept to finished video. The weekly group critique helped me figure out what worked and what didn’t. I came out with more than a video. I also came up with strong tag lines and blurb text. Which, of course, I tucked away in my promo folder.

Book a launch dateBetting Game book launch

Book your launch as soon as you get a publication date. I launched Betting Game at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. They’re one of Canada’s best independent booksellers. As a result, they get booked up quickly.

Like many indies, Shelley Macbeth and her staff really care about promoting Canadian books and authors. They gave me great advice and support. But that’s a post of its own!

Got any prenatal advice of your own for authors expecting their first book baby? Please share it below!

First Impressions Matter

First Impressions Matter

Ruth E. Walker. I’m on LinkedIn which, in short, is a business-oriented networking site, a bit like Facebook for affirmations-441457_640professionals. You post your resume, awards and announcements. And people you are connected with (think “friends”) can endorse you on a wide range of skills and expertise. A while ago, I got endorsed for: creative writing, proofreading, writing, blogging and editing.

Yes. I do all those things. And I think that I do them pretty well. So what is the problem with being endorsed for them?

I don’t know the writer who endorsed me. I’ve never done any work for him. Not one edit. Not one single instance of proofreading. He’s not been to any workshop I’ve offered. Nor is he a member of any writing organization to which I belong.

So, I have to ask. What value are all those endorsements on my LinkedIn site if random new connections can merrily come along and endorse me? And even more important, what do I think about a total stranger giving me his unwarranted endorsements? I was not impressed. Not one bit.

horse-1006579_640Stop looking a gift horse in the mouth, you say? I say, that’s a real cliché. That’s the editor in me. Avoid cliché like the plague. And avoid giving electronic high-fives if you have no idea if the high-fives are warranted.

On the other hand, if I have endorsements from professional writers and editors, that sends a strong message to anyone visiting my LinkedIn site. And fortunately, I do have those great endorsements.

abstract-1233873_640Stop looking at social media as a true representation of who you are, you say? I say, I have standards. That’s the professional writer in me. By its fluid and ever-evolving nature, social media is not meant to be “the complete me.”  It’s more like a snapshot here and a glimpse of something interesting over there.

I don’t believe everything I read in social media. I bet you don’t either. But I can confirm that when I am posting things on social media, I don’t make things up unless I’m writing fiction.

LinkedIn is a networking vehicle and sometimes people find interesting ways to connect, you say? I say there are other ways to network in the industry that don’t involve making things up. If you want to connect with other writers, don’t post things on their site hoping they’ll notice. Join a writer’s group. Take workshops in the field. Read Heather O’Connor’s post on How to attend a book convention. Other than a workshop with a creative writing exercise or two, none of these options involve making things up. Nor should it.

The thing about being professional is that it is more than just saying “I’m a professional.” It shows in your behaviour. It is modelled for others through your choices. And it invites others to be professional with you.

handshake-733239_640I was professional in how I followed up with the stranger who endorsed me on LinkedIn. I sent him a private message, thanking him for his positive reinforcement but asking how he knew me and my skills. It turns out I was right. He didn’t know me.

We had a brief exchange where I suggested he should only endorse people with whom he was familiar. He appreciated my comments and I felt better when I understood why he made the mistake in the first place. He was new to writing and new to LinkedIn and wasn’t yet familiar with the process. He thought this was a good way to network with other writers.

Look, I’m not saying don’t get out there and use social media to make connections. Quite the opposite — I’ve made some worthwhile and amazing connections via social media. But I am suggesting that you need to think about the impression you are leaving when you do so. Don’t let the computer screen change you into someone you wouldn’t want to associate with. Be yourself but be professional.

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

A Newbie’s Guide to Book Conferences

Heather M. O’Connor. My publisher Orca Books recently invited me to sign copies of Betting Game at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference.

“Me? Sign books at the OLA? Sure!” It’s the largest library conference and trade show in Canada.

A day or two before the big day, I felt like a preteen going to her first boy-girl party. What should I wear and bring? What are the signings like? What do I say?

I’ve gathered some super tips for preparing for and attending the OLA Super Conference. You can also use this advice to get the most out of other major book events, trade shows and conferences.

Be prepared

Check out the event website. You never know what you’ll find. (The OLA provided a cool photo frame for my pics.) Identify and use the conference hashtag, and add the conference app to your phone.

Read the program, even if you’re not attending the panels. Who is signing? Who is speaking? Maybe you’ll “bump into” that editor you want to meet.

Shout out on social media that you’re going, and ask who else is attending. If you’re signing books, announce the time and your publisher’s booth. Share news about other signings and events. If the conference has a Facebook group or event, join it.

What to wear

The default attire is business casual.

However, some authors add a little cosplay flair to their signings. Lena Coakley donned a prim Brontë-style bonnet to sign Worlds of Ink and Shadow at the OLA. Kari-Lynn Winters signed Bad Pirate in ARRR-some pirate gear at Reading for the Love of It, a big Toronto teachers’ conference.

Skip the high heels and opt for comfortable shoes. You’ll be on your feet for hours.

What to bring

A phone for taking and posting pics, following the program and connecting with friends. A watch. Business cards. A strong bag for carrying all the book loot.

Two reliable pens or Sharpie markers for signing, if you’re picky about your writing implements. (What writer isn’t?) Book swag, like bookmarks or buttons. My time slot was at the end of the day, so I offered a free draw to entice people to stick around.

Coffee for your publishing team—they can’t always get a break.

Meet the people

Conferences are the perfect place to network, do market research, and connect with writers and book-lovers. Strike up a conversation with your neighbour. Browse for books. Share a lunch table.

Librarians and teachers:

  • find out what their kids like to read and what they ask for
  • mention you do classroom visits, book clubs and programs
  • tell them about funding for author visits (more about that in a future post)
  • swap book recommendations

Publishers:

  • study the books they showcase at the booth–what are they selling?
  • find out which books they’re excited about and why
  • identify trends and ask market-related questions (when they’re not busy)
  • pick up catalogues and take advantage of a live peek at their books

Authors:

  • hang out with other writers and expand your tribe
  • observe experienced writers in action and ask their advice
  • promote other authors and their events–what goes around comes around
  • check out the event before you’re published so you come prepared
Schmooze dos and don’ts

DO take lots of pictures. Selfies. Signings. Capture the excitement, then share your pics on social media and your blog.

DON’T accept book giveaways or enter the free draws at conferences for librarians or teachers, no matter how tempting they look. You’ll take those resources away from classrooms and libraries.

Book signing tips

Check in with your publisher when you arrive, and return to the booth 10-15 minutes before your signing. It gives you time to stow your bag, straighten your clothes and thoughts, and think about what you want to write. Ask someone to take pictures.

Librarians and teachers are book people. They’re your fans. When they ask you to sign their book “For the students of XXX School,” you feel like a million bucks. I add a personal line, like “Always count on your team” or “Keep kicking!”

Make small talk. Find connections—a student who likes soccer books, a familiar school. If they seem interested, share interesting facts and valuable resources for your book, like extras on your website or an online teachers’ guide. Or mention you do school and library visits.

You feel like a rock star while you’re signing, but it’s over before you know it. Enjoy!

What are your tips for getting the most out of a big book event like the OLA Super Conference? Share them below.

Get the Word Out: Social Media for Writers and Artists

Get the Word Out: Social Media for Writers and Artists

with Heather M. O’Connor and Anne MacLachlan

Fee: $125 [$110 for writing association members-WCDR, WCSC, WCYR, SOH etc.]

Social media: the online cocktail party where writers, agents, publishers and readers mingle, connect, share advice and resources, do business. Are you ready to join the party?

Get the answers you need at this 5-week workshop:

  • Two skilled facilitators 
  • Lots of hands-on help in class 
  • Online support between classes

Who should attend?

  • Intermediate users hoping to develop a writer-specific audience and applications
  • Social media novices needing lots of support
man with social media icons finger picking social media icons social media cubes in a gift box Facebook button Twitter buttons with birds YouTube logo Social media icons on a phone

What’s getting covered?

  • Facebook, Twitter, blogging, YouTube, Pinterest and more 
  • Why writers use these platforms and HOW
  • Ways to develop your craft, connect with the writing community and to promote your writing

For example:

  • Open and customize a Twitter account
  • Learn how, when and what to tweet
  • Find out where to find writers, agents and publishers
  • Attract Twitter and blog followers

What else?

  • Discover social media settings, tools, resources and apps that measure your progress and help you work faster, safer and more efficiently

Learn how to meet, who to greet and how to make a killer impression in the writers’ world of social media. By the time you’re done, you’ll have the foundation for your social media platform. You’ll also have the resources and tools to continue building your social media presence in the arts community.