Agent Monday: First Impressions

MP900438811Hey gang!  Happy Agent Monday, once again.  This upcoming weekend I’ll be taking pitches at The Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference. Taking pitches allows the writer to set up the purpose of their book, and for me to ask questions to fill in holes that remain in just what the book is about and why it stands out. This past weekend, however, I was doing something entirely different: critiquing first pages.  It was at a special Writer’s Tea hosted by the Bucks County Romance Writers group at my fab local indie bookstore Doylestown Bookshop. In many ways it was the exact opposite of a pitch: I didn’t know the writer, or the genre, or the overall arc of the story. There were just words on the page. And they pointed out one thing loud and clear: the importance of first impressions!

By looking at the first page alone, the words really had to do the job. Is your first page working for your manuscript? Reading a book is an investment in time, so that first page needed to answer this question: Why do I want to take this long journey with you?

Often, when the writer came to hear the critique (which was delivered one on one), they said to me, “It really gets going on page two,” or “the book takes off in chapter three.” Hm. Now I don’t need to have the full action or plot poured out into the very first page, but what I do want to see is something that makes me think: “Turn the page. I have to see where this is going!” Now that can be a wide range of things from an interesting point of view, or an intriguing voice, or a question I care about that I’d like to see answered.  All sorts of things can draw me in, so don’t feel you need to squeeze in that life changing moment into the first two paragraphs!

Sometimes writers use their first few pages, or even chapters, as a sort of throat-clearing warming up getting into things exercise. I say that’s fine for your draft, but then ask yourself: When do things really begin? And start the final polished draft there!

Here’s why a great start matters: If an agent is not drawn in by your opening pages, they will probably stop reading. If the agent sends a manuscript like this to an editor, the editor may stop reading. Why does this all happen? It’s up to the writer at the get-go to nail the structure and pacing of their novel. Agents and editors see a ton of books by writers who DO get this right, so they must ask themselves: Do I really want to spend time fixing all of this for the writer, or do I move on? Remember, in books that are tightly paced and structurally sound, there is often still plenty of editing that will be needed. It’s WORK and TIME and we folks must ask ourselves where to invest our limited time and resources. It is a business, right?  In the end, we all think about the consumer, the reader of the published novel. Think about it. How do YOU buy books? Don’t you often read the first page or few pages to see if it’s worth purchasing?

But wait wait wait, Marie! (some of you may be thinking right about now)… Don’t agents and editors KNOW that writers sometimes take a while to get started and skip ahead to see if the story picks up? As a writer, I remember hearing that bit of wisdom once upon a time. And maybe it was true once upon a time when an agent or editor actually had a paper manuscript land on their desk. Today? We get things via email. Electronic files we load onto our computers or ereaders. We read from page one on. If I find myself skimming ahead because I’m bored, that’s a serious red flag to me, and zooming ahead 25 or 50 pages? Honestly, I just don’t.  I won’t stick with your book unless YOU make me want to stick around. That’s all about the power of your words.

So back to those first page crits I just did… Some of the things that I saw that didn’t make me anxious to see page two included:

1. A ton of dialogue or first person thoughts that didn’t have a voice to them or point of view. Is this a woman? A kid? Who is talking or thinking and why do I care? Some hint would certainly help!

2. A ton of info. Blocks of prose that gave all sorts of info about the backstory. Do I need backstory when I still don’t know what the story is? Again, what draws me in?

3. Repetition. Saying the same thing in several different ways right on page one hints to me that this is a work that needs tightening, plus it doesn’t move the story along.

What worked in those first pages?

1. Voice! When I had an immediate grasp of the writer’s/character’s voice, and I liked it for some reason, I was willing to continue on the journey (and even forgive some rough spots).

2. Originality! Okay, so maybe that first page wasn’t perfect, but what an interesting situation! Yeah, I’ll turn that page.

3. Elegance! Show me some sign that you are a skilled writer, whether beauty in the prose or sharp wit or something that makes me nod and think, yup, I get that, or wow, the writer’s right about that and I never saw it that way… And I’ll turn that page.

4. Well-targeted writing! If it’s a middle grade novel, I should be able to tell without it being labeled as such. Ditto for women’s fiction, or thriller, or literary. If I’m embarking on a reading journey, I want to feel I’m in capable hands and going on a charted course in the direction the book wants to take me. (I hope that makes sense.)

So you can see that you, as the writer, can actually do a lot with your first page. You can reel me in and pull me deeper into your world. Do that, and I’ll want to read page 2, and page 3 and so on.

Take a hard look at your opening pages. First impressions definitely matter.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

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Can you seriously write a book in a week?

It sounds like a crazy challenge: write a book in a week.  Just crazy enough for me to give it a try!

Here’s how it works: you basically write day and night for one week straight, working on a new book idea.  This isn’t the time to revise and edit something you’ve been tinkering with forever.  It’s the chance to just dump words on paper.  And at the end of the week, you’ll at least have the bones of a book, if not a whole manuscript.

The idea was brought up in my Bucks County Romance Writers group, and a bunch of us decided what the heck? We created a Yahoo group for it where we will be checking in every day with our word count and status updates, and we’ll cheer each other on.

To get ready for this challenge, I had to do a bunch of stuff to check out of everyday life.  Moved meetings around. Set up an away message on my email account.  Told people in my life that I WILL NOT be available.  And, since I’m a mom, I planned the whole week’s worth of meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some of you may do this on a regular basis, but for me it was way more organization than I’m used to.  And yesterday I cranked the tunes, and cooked. I made lasagna and meatloaf and quiche and muffins, and when I was done my family realized that we’re going to be eating way better than we usually do.

Another thing I did to prepare: I cleaned off my desk.  This took me hours, because I had stacks of papers and notes and business cards all over it that needed to be filed or tossed. Now there is a white expanse with a brand new pad of paper and a pen waiting for me next to my laptop. It’s beautiful. Seriously.

One other thing I did to prepare: I allowed myself time to daydream.  During long morning walks with my little yappy dog, I conjured up scenes and bits of dialogue and quirky characters.  A young adult novel.  A friend betrayal. A wacky telephone surveying summer job. A bunch of nerds. A crappy ex boyfriend… But I haven’t written anything. Yet.

That’s for tomorrow.

So tomorrow it all begins.  I’ll try to check in throughout this week to let you all know how it’s going. Not that I’ll be online. Or checking facebook. Or playing spider solitaire.  No!  I’ll be writing.

Have any of you ever tried this type of challenge?  Do you think this will possibly work?  Bets anyone?

Notes from a Plot Party Virgin

I was a Plot Party Virgin, up until last weekend when I attended my very first plotting event sponsored by the Bucks County Romance Writers. Truthfully, I’d never heard of plot parties before, and didn’t have a clue what to expect. All I knew was that it would take 6 hours, that I needed a stack of stickees and a brand new book idea, and that at the end of it I should have an entire novel plotted out. Yeah, it sounds almost too good to be true.

In my last post, The Plot Sickens, I shared how my writer’s crit group, The Rebel Writers, struggles with plotting issues, and included some special resources we’ve been using to help our novels develop and flow.  We’d all been wrestling with plotting issues — all had the GREAT IDEA that petered out, the agonizing middle that tortured us, the unknown ending that baffled us.  And I was personally struggling with finding and fleshing out my next novel idea.

According to my online research, plot parties seem to be fairly common among romance writer’s groups. The BCRW group does a party every year, and many members told me they always come out of it with a completely plotted novel.  Sounds excellent. But since this was a romance group and I’m a mainstream author, would I end up with some bodice ripper plot I’d never set out to write in the first place? And what is it they say about “design by committee?” Isn’t that how a camel was created?

So last Saturday I showed up with some trepidation, my stickees, and my idea. A fairly vague idea at that, involving three sisters, some wonderful Italian recipes, and an unpredictable grandmother who stirs up everyone’s love lives.

There are many ways to run a plot party.  Sometimes the group comes to the party with a previously-issued list of questions about their ideas that they’ve already filled in.  Sometimes the group receives a special list of questions that they work through filling in as the party progresses. Our party, the stickee party, was thought up and led by Judi McCoy, who is author of numerous titles, including her series of Dogwalker Mysteries.  In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly dubbed them “delightful,” and said her books were filled “with humor, quirky characters, and delicious hints of romance.”  We were in good hands.

First she had a few ground rules for us.  We sit in groups with no more than 4 people. We don’t sit with a crit partner we’ve worked with before, since we want the suggestions and ideas to be fresh. If an idea is proposed to an author and that author says, “My character wouldn’t do that,” then they give that idea away and someone else can use it in their own work, otherwise, all ideas belong to the person the group is currently helping to plot.

When we were all seated in our groupings of 4, we chose one person to be the first “plotee” (eventually everyone would get a chance), and one person with good handwriting to be the scribe. The scribe would put the ideas down on stickees, and then face those post-its down on the table, stacking them. When done, the theory was that the plotee would have a stack of notes containing all scenes from her newly plotted novel. And the writer could, of course, rearrange these scenes with ease later, simply by rearranging the stickees if needed.

I, as a virgin, was of course selected to be the first plotee in my group.  I had to give the basic plot line as I knew it, what sort of book it was to be (mainstream, literary, for a particular publishing line, etc.), basics about the hero, basics about the heroine.  And from then on, the group’s job was to ask questions, especially “why?”

I’m happy to say that for me, it totally worked. Seriously. My group (which only had 3 people), posed some interesting questions, which opened my mind to some wonderful twists and turns.  Even when they proposed something that would not work in my plot, it was helpful, because I was clarifying exactly what WAS to be in the plot.  An hour and a half into it, we were done. My modest quarter inch stack of filled-in stickees does not have scene by scene notes, but the framework is there, and I’m ready to roll. Ye-hah!

By now, frankly, we were a little burned out!  Here’s were plot party members tuck in to an impressive spread of food, vital to any successful event. And we all eat a little more than we probably should…Hey, we were working hard!

Then back to work we went. I think the stickee format was especially helpful for me, because I had a strong feel for the sort of book I wanted to do.  My other two group members were in a different position. Kate had written 10 pages of her new novel idea, a paranormal with boundless possibilities. As we worked with her, we asked her many questions, but she was unsure of the answers, so we didn’t actually plot out her novel. She did wind up with a huge stack of things to think of and consider, though.  When it came to Becky’s turn, she didn’t really have a novel idea to start with. So we spent our time asking about what sort of stories interested her most, and her life experiences, and she felt encouraged and that she would start exploring some of the ideas that we’d discussed.

So, in the end, not everyone came away with a fully plotted book, but we all left with work to do, and a feeling that this was a day well spent.  I encourage anyone to pull one of these events together.  You’ll be energized, you’ll get excited bouncing ideas around, and just maybe you’ll leave with your own stack of stickees that will set you on the path to writing your next great novel.

Special thanks to Judi McCoy, to Becky and Kate in my group, and to the BCRW for hosting the plot party.  Gotta go. I’ve got a new novel to write!

The Plot Sickens

Plot. Ugh! We writers need it to make our great ideas flow. Readers crave it…it’s what makes them turn pages, what creates tension, what makes them CARE about a book. But here’s a dirty little secret: many writers have a love-hate relationship with plotting. Mostly hate, really.

The Rebel Writers are (left to right) Damian McNicholl, Russ Allen, C.G. Bauer, Jeanne Denault, John Wirebach, David Jarret and Marie Lamba

I belong to an amazing novel critique group called The Rebel Writers.  (If you want to learn more about this group and our unique methods of critiquing long manuscripts, you can check out my article Plotting a Novel Group in Writer’s Digest Magazine by clicking here.) This month, our meeting was devoted to discussing plot. Our personal struggles with it, how it tends to bite us in the ass mid-way through our novels, how uncomfortable we are with artificially manufacturing it, and what the hell we can do to make sure our novels are tightly written starting right at the first draft. We came up with some interesting thoughts that I’d like to share…

All 6 of us were on hand for this meeting, offering a variety of perspectives. I’m a young adult author; Damian McNicholl is author of the critically acclaimed literary novel A Son Called Gabriel; C.G. (Chris) Bauer is author of the stunning debut horror novel Scars on the Face of God; Jeanne Denault is author of an amazing memoir about raising a son with Aspergers titled Sucking up Yellow Jackets – soon to be published by the UK publisher O Books; David Jarret writes historical novels and hysterical short stories, John Wirebach writes gritty crime and mystery novels, and Russ Allen writes literary novels.

C.G. Bauer's debut horror novel is "hotter than the flames of hell," says horror master Scott Nicholson

One thing we all acknowledged: we are uncomfortable with following plotting formulas and using step-by-step advice to plot novels. Here’s the thing: writing is an art. At least we writers hope so.  Art should flow, should be organic and original. Should be something new and exciting and enlightening.  We authors want to get to that spot of artistic originality in our completed works with every single bit of fiction that we create.

So imagine how a bunch of artists (put your nose in the air when you say that word) feel when they consider planning out their work of art on 3×5 cards or with post-its. When they think about following formulas in designing their novels… It feels so, so…artificial.

And herein lies the problem. Novels ARE artificial. And, as cheesy as it sounds, writers are manipulators. We use technique to create suspense, tricks to make cliff-hangers, melodrama to induce tears…if we are doing it well, then no one will even notice we are pulling the strings. And we need to be aware of these plotting techniques and embrace them on some level, don’t we?

So we Rebel Writers decided to take our noses out of the air and look around.  Pulp fiction writers use formulas. Soap opera writers use formulas. Many romance authors use formulas. So do television script writers. So do film writers. So, in fact, do many novelists. Maybe its time we face the facts: we can learn something from these folks!

Damian McNicholl's celebrated novel was a Book Sense Pick of the Year

Okay, so once we packed away our collective artistic snobbery, the info sharing really began to flow.  It was like a confessional of sorts, with each of us sharing our own secret plotting cheats.

Russ introduced us to a text called Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D., which outlines just over 50 plots, and argues that every story ever told was one of these plots.  We Rebels quickly found our own novels’ plots in the listings.  Humbling. Forget originality, right? All we have to do is pick one of these plots, and write a story…

We discussed our discomfort with this, but soon admitted that, yeah, it would be convenient to know the sort of story we were writing before we embarked on months to years worth of actually writing it and uncovering our direction. And we all reassured ourselves that whatever we wrote would be distinct if we were true to our own voice and our own view of the world.  That’s the clincher, isn’t it?

Many of us swore by Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, which has exercises that ensure your novel has a sound structure, a strong subplot, tension on every page, etc. etc. etc.  John pointed out how focused movie script writers are in plotting, and how most scripts have a climactic moment on a certain page according to an understood formula. He recommended we look at books about treatments, including a book I have on my own shelf: Writing Treatments that Sell by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. Another favorite of the group is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It follows myth and archetypes culled by folklorist Joseph Campbell in his incredible The Power of Myth, and applies the hero’s journey to plotting and structure. It’s phenomenal, and I used parts of this while plotting my newest young adult novel, Drawn. Jeanne shared how she used index cards to decipher the plot of one of her murder mysteries and to reorganize the plotting to fix a problem in its pacing.

I know, right about now you’re thinking: So if everyone has been secretly using all of these plot theories, what’s the big deal? What did the Rebel Writers actually learn here?  Well, every one of us have used these tools AFTER we wrote our novels. First we spent forever writing our monster works, then we sat down with our drafts and thought, hm, the middle is really slow, or huh, the ending just doesn’t do it, and we spent forever dissecting our works and fixing them by applying all of these plotting theories.

Jeanne Denault's stunning memoir about Aspergers

But wouldn’t it be nice to start out with a better sense of the structure and plot at the start? Wouldn’t that cut down on the length of time it would take to write a novel? Imagine how wonderful it would be to be able to create two novels a year vs. one every two years. And wouldn’t we enjoy our writing more if we didn’t have to agonize over our edits, going over the plotting and structure again and again and again? Wouldn’t our final work benefit?

We are all nodding now.  But still scepticism rears its ugly head. Can you really sit down and plan out a novel, plotting its structure, its twists, its climax and conclusion, and still come out with a work of art?  I’m about to find out. See, I’m also a member of the Bucks County Romance Writers, and will soon attend my very first plot party with them. They ask that each member bring a brand new novel idea not worked on yet, a pen, and a stack of stickees. At the end of the 6 (!) hour event, each person is supposed to leave with a completely plotted out novel, and all we’ll have to do is simply write it. Easy, right?

Can this possibly work? Can I come up with something fresh and original, yet plotted, with only stickee notes, my imagination and some strong plotting traditions? Can I then save time writing my novel, with my first draft being close to a final draft? Will I end up writing more novels and being more productive because of this? God, I hope so. Stay tuned…

Marketing Outside of the Box

I recently gave a presentation to the Bucks County Romance Writers group about “Marketing Outside of the Box: Bringing your Book to Life and Keeping it Alive,” and it stirred up some common misconceptions about just what an author can and can’t do to promote her book.  Mainly, there is a pervasive belief that promotion is entirely up to the publisher, and the actions of the author can make no difference one way or the other in the success of a novel.

Okay, I think that used to be true to some extent. But these days a few things have changed.  First of all, all publishers are doing less and less for their authors. They tend to put their marketing muscle and dollars behind that huge book at their house that got the big advance…mainly because they don’t want to lose their shirts on it.  And for the rest of the books? Well….  You get in their catalog. Advanced Reader Copies get sent out for reviews. Um, and? Well, good luck to you!

I equate it to throwing spaghetti onto the wall and seeing which bits stick.  If a book gets a starred review and happens to win a major award, then cool.  Otherwise, push it aside for the next batch a mere 3 months later.  But if a book is beautiful enough for a company to accept it and to spend a year editing and producing it, isn’t it worth putting a bit more effort into? And if an author has poured her heart and soul into that work, isn’t it worth the author’s time to do whatever she can to be sure that the book doesn’t go quietly into the night?

Publishers are now banking on just that.  Why waste their precious resources on things like booking signings and sending out press, when the author could do that herself? Clever, right?  Now this isn’t exactly a spoken policy, and authors don’t all do this, but I think if you have a book out, or coming out, you need the whole eyes wide open approach, and you need to get busy.

You will have to work with your publisher to let them know what you’re doing.  At the outset, you should have a frank talk with your publicist at your publishing house about what you would like to handle, and how to do it without stepping on toes, or repeating what they do. You might find at first some resistance to having you handle some things, but since they aren’t handling them, what the heck? I think they are afraid that some authors may represent themselves badly, but once you show that you are professional and courteous, and once they have moved on to the next season’s lists, you’ll probably see that they are glad of what you are doing, and will be happy to get occasional “keep you in the loop” emails about what’s going on.

There’s a notion out there that you should take a good part or at least some of your advance and hire a publicist with it to get the word out. Nice. But what if you actually need the money for like, say, living? And what can you really get with that money that you can’t provide yourself?

photo by Pat Achilles cropped

photo by Pat Achilles

I decided I could promote WHAT I MEANT… on my own, and I have done this quite successfully at almost zero cost. Yeah, it takes tons of time, but I’d already spent tons of time writing the thing, right? And I have two things that a publicist does not: 1. Absolute passion for my book.  Remember, no one (not even your mother) will love your book the way that you do, and be driven to promote it the way you will; and 2. I have unlimited access to the author!  I can quote her in releases and features, book her at appearances, and connect her with readers in a positive way.

Just a few years ago, having passion and author access wasn’t enough.  You needed contacts. You needed a huge budget to print up ad materials, posters, bookmarks. You needed to go out on tour. You needed to cozy up to book reviewers.  Today, contacts in the media are readily found online. Okay, I’m not talking Oprah, I’m talking newspaper folk, radio folk, bloggers, book reviewers, etc.  Easy to find. Easy to send a personal note to, or a feature story to about an upcoming signing (with images of yourself and your book cover attached, of course).

And these days, it’s also easy to book signings yourself.  I’ve done SO many signings over the past few years, and I’ve booked every single one myself. Forget the cold call. Personally go to every bookstore within driving range, and introduce yourself, drop off info on your book (which you have printed up beautifully on your computer), and chat with the manager, asking if they would like to do a signing with you.   I’m sure if you were willing to travel, you could email stores in different areas and book a string of signings that way, and ta-da! You’re on tour.  This will cost you in terms of travel expenses, of course.  Remember that independent bookstores will be your most ardent supporters, so be sure to build your relationships with them (and shop at indies, and include a link to indiebound.org on your website so folks can buy your book through them!).

I tell booksellers that I will send out press to area media about the event, and wow, are they happy to hear that.  A few weeks before any signing, I create a nice feature story about the event and my novel, and send it out with pix. I ALWAYS get coverage. So if you don’t know how to format and write a press release, a public service announcement and a feature story, learn. Now.  The library has books that will show you how.

With color printers, you can make your own publicity info.  Printing bookmarks through a company is pretty cheap to do, but I haven’t done this.  Personally, I’ve never bought a book because I’ve gotten a bookmark…  I’ve created great signs on my computer and brought the file to Staples, and had them create large posters, mounted on foam core, that I display on an easel at my events.  This is all nickle and dime stuff, folks.

As you market, you need to think of who your audience is, what is your book’s angle, and how do you reach your audience in an unorthodox way?  You don’t want to be a spammer, or to spend a fortune creating junk mail that ends up in the circular file. My approach is to be the anti-spammer, meaning that I make an effort to contact people personally. And I use their name in my note. It takes a lot of time, but I don’t care. I’m asking for their time when they read a note from me, aren’t I? It’s old school, and that makes it retro and charming.

Author J. A. Konrath is a gifted promoter with a personal touch. His website (which he’s changed since I first found it) is loaded with advice on how to personally make a difference in the life of your book, especially if you follow the link to his tips page.  Start with Self Promotion for Authors Tip 6 by clicking here, and read on from there, going to more tips at the bottom of this page. His ideas are wise and witty and absolutely on target.

Aside from making personal contacts, another “outside of the box” way I found to reach my audience of teen readers is through workshops that I offer them to help teen scouts earn badges they need for important awards like the gold award.  It’s been unbelievably successful, and I’m in reprint again!  Because they were unusual, my workshops were also featured in Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf and at shelfawareness.com, so remember that a quirky promotion can be news in itself.

Since my book features a biracial character who is half Indian, I contacted the international publication of India Abroad, and they ran a huge cover story about it.  I also contacted lots of great people who write about the mixed race experience, and they were really responsive. I was featured at AsiansofMixedRace.com, did a podcast with Mixed Chicks Chat, and in the UK, WHAT I MEANT… was a featured book on the site Intermix.com.uk.  I also contacted librarians via email who were in areas with high concentrations of Indian populations. The best part of all this has been the personal relationships that I’ve built with all of these talented and wonderful people and their organizations.  In the end it’s not just about selling a product, it’s about becoming a part of a community. You are building a future in the book-reading world.

So, what angles are in your book? What organizations out there would be interested? Can you write for their newsletter or blog, relating your personal experiences that tie into your book? Can you create a great presentation for their chapter meetings? Give an inspiring speech at their conventions? Give an honest piece of yourself to your readership, and they will respond to you.

This post would be woefully remiss if I didn’t mention a bunch of on-line stuff.  First of all, your website. You have to have one. That’s all there is to it.  But you can do what I’ve done and easily make your blog your website. It does all I want it to do, plus I can control it myself, plus it’s FREE! Then if you purchase your domain from a site like bluehost.com, they have a free redirect service. In my case, everyone who types http://www.marielamba.com arrives here. Can’t get any cheaper and easier than that, folks.

You have to get onto facebook.com.  The best feature on this is the event invite.  Create invites for all of your signings and appearances, and invite folks.  Pimp up your invite with added pix, links, and remember that once someone rsvp’s, they can then invite all their friends to the event too.  This has worked out amazingly, especially when I tell bookstores with facebook pages to do this.  My last event was able to send out over 500 invites!  A few days before the actual event, you can go to the invite page and message all invited with a cheerful reminder note.

Twitter.com can work in tandem with your invites, and press, etc.  Build up your follow list with librarians, booksellers, publishers, editors, reviewers, readers.  Then post on twitter links to your facebook events, or any online press you get.  Keep it short. If you leave at least 40 characters remaining, folks can easily retweet it to their buds.  And you can shorten your links by going here.

Don’t be a shmo. Also use these sites to promote other writers, other events, to praise books that you’ve read.  Balance is key, and you are part of a wide-spread community, so share the love.

Reader-oriented sites offer a great way to connect with your audience. Create an author page. Friend folks who have read your book. Friend folks who have read a competitor’s book and suggest they check yours out!  Here are the sites I spend time on: librarything.com, shelfari.com, goodreads.com.  Librarything and goodreads also let you post your events. Also, join indiebound.org and friend all your fav bookstores.

Booktour.com is an amazing site. Create an author page, and type in all of your appearances. They will automatically send out your appearances to a huge number of online sites.  And, I also suggest you go onto your book’s page at amazon.com and click on your author page. You can now add a picture, a bio, and link your blog posts here.  PLUS booktour.com will make sure that your appearances appear there as well.

Linkedin.com is a more professional site, meaning you can’t just friend, or connect, with everyone.  But join some groups, like one for bookstores or libraries or publishing, and then you can use that connection when you invite someone to connect to you.  Create a beautiful profile, and link your blog to it so that the content is always interesting and changing.  They give you a really simple way to do this.

Now, back to the human side of things… Involve your friends and family everywhere to help you in your promotion.  Like I said before, I’ve never bought a book because I’ve gotten a bookmark, but I have bought a book because someone recommended it to me.  I think J.A. Konrath wisely pointed this out on his site, and it really stuck with me.  So do encourage folks to write reviews for barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and on goodreads and shelfari.  Enlist this army of supporters to request your book be purchased at their libraries (most library sites allow this on their online sites, and require a library card number). Have them visit their local bookstores and put your book face out, instead of just spine out.  Hem, hem.  This comment may get some flak from the industry that actually pays to have a title face out on a shelf so it’ll get noticed faster, but if Aunt Minny quietly goes into a bookstore and does this, no harm, no foul I say.

Liars club25One more thing. There is definitely power in numbers. If you can create a group of writers who will blog together, or do panels and talks together, you can turn any event into something noticeable and special.  I’m a proud member of the Philly Liars Club, and it has been an incredible journey. We support each other, and we are able to support independent bookstores through our special truth tour events. Are there other debut novelists that you can link up with? Other authors you know in your genre who could do a panel with you at the next huge convention? Power in numbers, baby!

So you can see there is a lot that you can do, most of it while sitting at home in your jammies in front of your laptop.  After I gave this talk about marketing (not in my jammies), the members of the Bucks County Romance Writers group all wanted to know when I actually found time to write.  I told them that in the last two years I’d done all this promotion, AND written two additional novels. I encouraged them to get to work.

I’m pretty sure they will.