Agent Monday: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Wednesday: Just Because You Can…

*This post originally appeared on Janice Gable Bashman’s site as part of my Drawn Blog Ghost Tour.

Fiction writers can create a story out of anything, and every character they put down on paper can have their own conflict, their own story line. This is both a blessing and a curse.

When writing my new paranormal novel DRAWN, I knew I was creating what, for me, was a “big book.” Up to that point I’d been writing novels that took place within a tight one month time frame. My plots revolved around my town and were populated by people very familiar to me. “Write what you know,” they say, and I knew the worlds of my first two young adult novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD very well. But DRAWN was a different sort of story.

Time is slippery in this time-travel book, involving a month-long timeframe in the present, but also an eight-month long timeframe in the past. The setting is present day AND 1460 England. I’m a bit familiar with modern England, having lived there for a semester and visited numerous times, but the past? Not so much. Intensive research was required. My characters in this new novel range from Italian-Americans, to British citizens, medieval lords and courtiers and servants. Add into this mix a plot line where the past and the future continues to be altered as our heroine travels back and forth in time and, well, you have a big book indeed.

And I struggled a bit to make sure it didn’t turn into one big mess. Which gets us to the heart of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I can’t tell you how many characters I spun out into entire storylines with their own scenes and character arcs…and some of these characters don’t even appear in the book anymore. You might think the solution is an outline, but even when using an outline it can be hard to tell just how far to go with a character’s story or to know which scenes might be important.

Sometimes the only solution is to write it through and then cut cut cut! Sure, you are doing a ton of character research by writing those extra scenes. But when the character ends up being barely a minor one, it becomes a case of TMI. You don’t need all, or sometimes any of that stuff. And by heading off here and there on wild plot chases, you are wasting time, wasting your energy, and muddying your own clear view of things.

In DRAWN, I’d created this character Guncha, who quickly became one of Michelle’s friends after Michelle moved to England. Guncha was gossipy and romantic-minded, so she was the perfect person to give Michelle the scoop on things, and to nudge her in matters of romance when Michelle finds herself stalked by an unknown guy who also, by the way, mysteriously appears in Michelle’s sketches. But when it came to Guncha, I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, Michelle was visiting Guncha’s house, sleeping over, meeting her family, learning of Guncha’s conflicts with her traditional family. And Guncha was planning an escape with a secret and unsuitable boyfriend, etc. etc. etc. Nearly one hundred pages later, I realized that my story had naturally strayed far from its central focus: Michelle and her encounters with Christopher Newman, the hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.

So, refocus and cut cut cut! In the final book we only see Guncha at school and at a carnival. There is no secret boyfriend. No family to speak of. And Michelle wishes she felt closer to her, but realizes that she just can’t share her own secrets with Guncha. How would Guncha ever understand that Michelle’s budding new relationship just might be with a ghost? As Guncha implores Michelle to tell, but secrets continue to build, the reader is in on the gossip instead of Guncha, which is fun. So in this case, I would have saved a ton of time if I could have decided up front not only that Guncha was going to be a minor character, but also what her true function in the plot would be. This is a biggie, because if I knew this I could have smacked my own hand every time I deviated from this mission.

Sounds good, right? But what if your extra character’s story parallels and weaves into the main plot, adding intrigue and mystery? Why wouldn’t you stray into that storyline?  DRAWN involves an ancient murder, and a chilling curse that still lingers in the town’s castle. In the book, the Wallingford Papers (based on the real Paston Letters…look ‘em up if you’re curious) are a series of preserved family letters dating back to the 1400s. They detail the history of the murder, and the heroism of the Wallingford ancestors. But are all the letters actually in the public record? And are they to be believed? This plot is essential to the book, involving the fate of the ghost and pretty much everyone in the story.

Okay, so doesn’t it seem obvious that a scholar could be at the heart of rooting out this mystery? Since the Wallingford family reputation (and much of their success) hinges on their heroic background, wouldn’t you expect that family to do anything to keep their family name clean? So, is it that crazy that I created a scholar who in the ‘50s uncovered their secrets and was about to go public with it, before an untimely death? Flash forward to the present, and I also created Mr. Llywelyn, a history teacher at Wallingford Academy (Michelle’s new school) who was related to this very scholar and who is also fighting to uncover the truth of the murder, the papers and the death of the scholar, and…

Cut cut CUT!!! Jeesh. Do you see how the fiction writer’s mind can spin and weave and deviate from the main story path, even while she is following that very same path? Yikes, it’s like entrapment I tell you. In the end I had to give a long hard look at the story elements that were most essential. Yes, I wanted a scholar who was silenced, but I decided that this scholar would have absolutely nothing to do with the history teacher. The scholar now has merely a mention, just enough to add to the danger and the gravity of the treacherous ancient secrets being kept. As for Mr. Llywelyn? Well, he’s Michelle’s history teacher, instructing the class about the very era Christopher the ghost inhabits. The teacher’s role is now limited to occasionally adding in a fact about the Wallingford Papers, about the dangers of living at that time, etc., thereby ramping up the tension for Michelle when she realizes what these facts mean to a ghost she’s starting to have spooky good feelings for. I had to focus on Michelle as the hero, as the person who solves the mystery and makes things happen. No way should this be relegated to another character and, since this is a YA title, especially not to an adult.

So again, a supposed major-player was reduced to a few lines. Lines that were necessary and served the plot. And beyond that? Well, this just wasn’t his story.

Sometimes writing a book is a process, sometimes it’s an ordeal, but it’s only successful if we give our draft a hard look and decide if scenes are moving us forward, and if our deviations are truly creating the book we’d set out to write.

As I get further along in my writing career, I’m training myself to create a clearer storyline and to force myself to stick to that path. If the story is complex enough, like DRAWN is, there is no need to deviate and take elaborate side trips into other character paths. It’s enough, while plotting, to stick to the main issues and simply ask myself: And then what? And then? And then?

The answers, surprisingly, can equal a rich and complex novel.

Writer Wednesday: YA Writers Can Learn from “Easy A”

I loved the movie Easy A, not only because it was hysterical, but also because there is a lot YA writers can learn from this movie.  A lot, in fact, that many writers can learn from it.

Here is a flick where they pull from an old classic (The Scarlet Letter), and toy with all sorts of clichés, all while creating something entirely new and fresh. And if there’s something the world of YA needs, it’s new and fresh.

This post kinda ties into my Agent Monday post on originality. From the writer’s point of view, I’m always trying to think original. It’s tough. There’s a ton of stuff that’s been done and overdone.

In the world of contemporary YA, that includes stuff like high school with its hot jocks, snotty cheerleaders, cafeteria tables divided up by cliques, gossip and reputations ruined, distant parents, dead parents, crazy parents, loss of virginity, finding your self-worth, the ditzy best friend, the sweet nerdy guy who comes to your rescue in the end. Etc. etc. etc. (as Yul Brenner would have said).

So what do you do? Ignore it all? For me, it was important to have bits of these elements thread into my novels but to approach the subject of a teen coming into their own in a unique way, in a world that I made real.  In What I Meant… that meant that the Indian-American family dynamic added its own humor, pathos and heart and that it wasn’t the daughter’s virginity that was in question, but the history of an adult’s… In Over My Head, it meant that the snotty girl was a threat, but also was complex. And that a college aged guy brought into question what was mature, what was real love, and when did we truly grow up. In Drawn, it meant pitting a normal teen existence against a backdrop of abnormal and even psychic occurrences, and having my heroine find meaning in a world where nothing makes sense anymore.

So what’s Easy A got to do with it?  Here’s a movie that acknowledges every cliché “in the book” and makes fun of it, even runs with it.  It starts off with the heroine talking about her sad existence and then saying, “Blah, blah, blah. So original.” And you know you are in for some fun. Lots of familiar stuff. You’ve got rumors (that she’s a slut sleeping with all the guys in the school). You’ve got mean girls (the snotty super religious chick who is out to “save” her, but really just wants to take her down). You’ve got the gay student who is being bullied. You’ve got the nerdy guy who helps her save the day in end (Lobster Todd – who wears a stuffed lobster on his head in his restaurant job, and sings the longest birthday song EVER, with lots of hep-hep-heps in it). There are references to cheesy 80’s flicks…and a dance number is included. But it all works.

They even make fun of product placement in movies.  For some bizarre reason, a Quiznos restaurant mascot is in the midst of the zealot anti-slut mob amid all the hateful posters being waved. He yells, “Eat at Quiznos!” Our heroine says with disgust, “Not now, Quiznos Man.” And he shouts back, “You’re a slut!”

Okay, can I just say that every time I walk by a Quiznos, I now mutter, “You’re a slut!”?

See, the heroine isn’t really sleeping with anyone, she just gets roped into lying about it.  First she jokingly says she did to appease her ditzy best friend. Then the mean girl overhears and spreads the word. Our heroine is labeled as a slut and starts being treated differently (she’s reading The Scarlet Letter in English, BTW).  So, what the heck, she starts dressing the part. She’s mad. Then she gets roped in to lying about having sex with a gay friend to protect him from homophobes who have been hassling him, and before you know it, it’s open shop. Every tortured nerd is appealing to her kindness to help their sad images through lying.

It’s poignant. And it’s hysterical too. And the religious group creates a lynch mob, and it all spins out of control… Here’s a flick that uses every cliché, makes fun of them, and also gives us a fresh look too.  At how girls are viewed. At how that overweight kid really feels. At how being kind to someone can actually hurt yourself.

And I appreciate how some clichés are avoided, and how some characters can run deep. Her parents are kooky and original and funny, but they are there and they are supportive and they love our heroine. They don’t pry too deeply, and they tell her, “you’re going to be just fine.” In YA lit, that’s something you don’t see enough of.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that we writers need to know our genre clichés. We need to know how avoid clichés, how to spin them, and even how to make fun of them. It’s about keeping it fresh.

Hep hep hep!

Reinvent Yourself

How many times in your life do you get to reinvent yourself? To leave behind your past and become the person you really want to be?

For some of us, it can happen when we move to a new place or switch schools. Sometimes it’s a goal we set for ourselves, like by the end of this summer you’d like to eat healthier, spend more time with those you love, learn a new skill, be happier. For writers, sometimes we want to create a novel with an entirely different voice, or in a new genre…like I did when I wrote my newest novel Drawn, a paranormal about an artist who channels a hot ghost with a sketchy past.  Pretty different from my earlier contemporary YA novels What I Meant… and Over My Head.  Writing aside, when it comes to do overs in your own life, maybe you simply decide that this is the moment when you will make a BIG change. To alter the course of your future. Yet sometimes that seems impossible. Sometimes your past gets in the way.

In Drawn, Michelle longs to escape her past and have a fresh start. As she says in this early scene from the book:

The two of us have only been in England for a few days, yet I’m already convinced it’s the best place in the universe. Not because of the quaint little shops or everyone’s adorable English accent, or even because of this supposedly grand castle on the edge of town. No. This place is perfect because here no one knows that back in New Jersey my family, the De Freccio’s, are called the De Freak-o’s.

Back in New Jersey, Michelle’s mother was an eccentric psychic who suddenly up and left the family without a trace. And her brother was a diagnosed schizophrenic. And Michelle had been friendless, an outcast. But in England, she hopes for a new life. A normal one.

Honestly, while writing Drawn I could really identify with Michelle’s do over moment. In elementary school a bunch of snotty girls used to push me around during recess, and it crushed my spirit.  So in middle school, where lots of new kids filled the classrooms, it looked like a clear do-over moment to me.

But reputations tend to cling to a person, so it was pretty rocky for me at first.  Those nasty kids still were in my school, even though their power was now diluted. Still I was too self-conscious and too worried about what I said and wore and how people looked at me.

Now looking back I can see the real problem wasn’t those girls, it was what I carried inside myself: the loser image I wanted to ditch, but that on some level I’d bought into.  What if they were right about me?

In the novel, Michelle may have left her past behind, but her insecurities have come along for the ride:

I get that familiar hot burn of humiliation. I always felt it whenever someone back in New Jersey would pull a trick on me, convincing me that I really was invited to a party, or that science class was actually meeting out near the woods on the edge of school grounds. I discovered I was an easy mark. Too trusting, too eager for friends.

I’d promised myself that those days were over. But here, an ocean away from New Jersey, it’s starting all over again. It’s like I’ve got a permanent “KICK ME” note stuck on my back.

Luckily for me, by the end of middle school I did have friends. I was liked. I remember wondering, why? It mystified me. Wasn’t I the same person who was so looked down on earlier?

In the novel, when things start looking up for Michelle, it mystifies her too:

I sigh, realizing I’ve disappointed my friends. I blink a few times, as this all sinks in. I’ve just turned down an “in” with the popular kids. And I actually have friends. It seems that by simply moving to a new place, I’ve somehow climbed out of my social wasteland. I think of all the high school kids in the world who are teased and shunned. They should all have the chance to move and start over—kind of like a witness protection program, but for outcasts.

Actually, I believe there is a sort of relocation program for anyone who needs it. And you don’t need an airline ticket to England to get there. It’s not a place, but a state of mind deep within ourselves. Michelle started to have friends not because she moved but because she had already begun to change inside. To trust others and have more faith in herself. She truly wasn’t that same person anymore.  And that’s what happened to me, too, in a way.  I’d started to genuinely feel good about myself and to open up to people more and that made all the difference.

Of course nothing is simple, and real change doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t just wake up one morning and DING! Everything is all butterflies and happy songs.  It takes time to gain inner strength and for those better choices in what you do and who you hang out with to all gel and reshape your days into the life you truly want.  For me, it was a process of feeling better about myself and discovering what was most important to me. It did take time, but by the end of high school I felt like really strong, really happy.

In the book, not all Michelle’s new friends are good ones. And her life is NOT easy, especially after the appearance of Christopher who is either a delusion or a ghost.  This definitely spells trouble for a girl trying very hard to blend in. And it forces her to wonder about who she really wants to be. And what she should truly believe in.

She comes to learn she can’t control how others feel, only how she feels. And in the end she must choose whether or not to believe in Christopher, a spirit who may or may not be a murderer. Who may or may not love her back. His life, their love, and Michelle’s hope all hang in the balance.

Michelle does a lot of incredibly brave things in the book, but to me, she is most courageous when she owns up to this:

Maybe I am a fool. Maybe Christopher doesn’t love me. But that doesn’t mean I’m not in love with him…

It’s a huge risk, trusting that this is enough. And it propels Michelle into a life threatening struggle where she puts everything on the line. But in the end, trusting her own feelings opens Michelle up to true friendship and to true love.

Taking risks and believing in yourself.  It’s the bravest thing you can ever do, and what do overs are all about. So believe!

150 Ebook Titles All on Sale for 99 Cents at Book Lovers Buffet!

Ready to stock up on your sizzling hot summer reading (including one of my novels) without breaking the bank?  Well here’s your chance!  Now you can choose from 150 Ebook titles all on sale for 99 cents at Book Lovers Buffet!

This is a limited time offer that is only valid from June 8th through June 22nd.  This special promotion includes a huge selection of romance ebooks, including young adult, contemporary, fantasy/sci fi/time travel, erotica, historical, inspirational, mystery/suspense and paranormal. All are discounted just for this sale till June 22nd. So whatever your taste, you’ll find great beach reads at just 99 centsALSO, on the sale site there is a page devoted to contests where you can win tons of gift cards, etc.  You definitely should check it out.

My novel OVER MY HEAD is available on the Book Lovers Buffet’s young adult page and the contemporary page for just 99 cents with links to purchase my novel through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords…  I can tell you that after the sale’s over, the price for OVER MY HEAD will be rising, so now’s your chance to snag it on the cheap.

OVER MY HEAD is the ultimate summertime novel, and a perfect beach read full of romance and longing.  This sun-soaked poolside book is about Sang, a high school senior who falls for Cameron, a gorgeous college-aged lifeguard.  He’s either the love of her life or a player out to stomp on her heart.  Sang teeters with Cameron on the edge of true love.  Will she sink or swim?

Clean Romance Reviews says OVER MY HEAD is “full of fun characters and twists…about a teenager figuring out what love can mean in its many forms.” And Stephanie Su of StephSuReads says,The YA world very clearly needs more books like OVER MY HEAD…Marie Lamba gets numerous kudos for portraying the Jumnal family in such an empathic and rich way…younger readers will most likely find a bit of themselves, their frustrations and their desires, in Sang, and cheer this promising young lady on.”

If you want to snag OVER MY HEAD and a ton of the other 150 titles at Book Lovers Buffet without breaking the bank, you’d better act fast…or these prices, like hot summer nights, will fade away…

Why Writers Win: Take II

In an earlier post titled Why Writers Win: The Age of the Author, I shared some of my thoughts about today’s publishing revolution. This is all from a talk called Claim Your Victory in Today’s Publishing Revolution that I recently presented at The Write Stuff Conference. Yes, there are some confusing and even upsetting things going on, but there are also tons of great changes that are actually helping authors.  That first post set out some of our darkest fears, and then pointed to some truly positive twists for writers.

So here, in Take II, I’d like to explore even more of the positive stuff floating around.  And one of those things is the rise of self-publishing, which shall forevermore be known by its far cooler name: indie publishing.  Think of indie music, and you’ll get the right vibe.

Yeah, self-publishing was painted with a heavy brush stroke of horrible by folks who thought of it as the land of the unaccomplished. But in case you’ve been living in a cave over the past year or so, let me break it to you: things are changing.  Tons of great authors are indie publishing their work, and now writers can put their own work out there in a high quality form at a low cost.  Readers benefit. Writers benefit.

Two years ago I would have been shocked to think that indie publishing would have been GOOD for an author’s career. And today?  Today I’m a traditionally published author (What I Meant…, Random House) with two indie published titles (Over My Head and Drawn), and I’m also an Associate Literary Agent for Jennifer DeChiara Literary in NYC.  If that doesn’t tell you how much this industry is changing, I don’t know what does!

Indie publishing can be a disaster for an author who doesn’t take their own work seriously, though. If someone puts out their first draft, or doesn’t have their work edited, then it’ll definitely hurt that writer. BUT, for the writer who does hold their own work to the very highest of standards, indie publishing equals opportunity. Today, as long as you put out superb work, you are building your reputation, and can garner great reviews from readers and from respected book bloggers too.

Many authors are also using indie publishing to keep their out of print books alive.  In the past, when your publisher declared your book out of print, it was forever lost to readers.  This is heartbreaking to a writer.  Imagine a book you’ve lovingly labored on for over two years, getting its time in the sun for a mere few months before disappearing forever!  But today that writer can get their rights back from their publisher and indie publish their title as a print and/or ebook.  It’ll live forever, new readers can discover this book, and the writer continues to earn money on books sold.  No downside there, folks.

Indie publishing can also be a smart option for areas big publishers usually don’t handle, such as short stories, novellas, anthologies, poetry by unknowns, etc.  It’s also great for a book with a narrow niche focus.  If you know of a small but dedicated audience for your book and you know how to reach them, then this could be the smart way to go.

All in all, indie publishing can be another way for you to build your brand, your reputation and your readership. But let me throw in two caveats. 1. Only publish things that are AS GOOD AS what the big publishers are doing!!! You want your name to be associated with high quality writing.  And 2. If you have an agent and/or editor, keep them in the loop to be sure that whatever you are indie pubbing is not infringing on any existing contracts you may have. Work in partnership with your agent so he or she gets the full picture of your career.

Indie publishing is definitely changing the landscape of the publishing field.  Writers have more options. They are seeing that they can have more control of their careers and more input.  And now that authors do have more options, major publishers are responding to make clear about why writers should go to them!

In the past, publishers were very slow in sharing with authors info about sales figures, about promotion, etc.  But things are changing, folks. In a recent Publisher’s Weekly article, Little Brown exec Michael Pietsch said, “Publisher’s must treat authors as equal partners.” And Random House’s Madeleine MacIntosh said, “If authors are confused about what we do, we need to make it clear.”

Now Simon & Schuster offers to its authors online info about up-to-date sales figures, and just a few weeks ago Random House authors (myself included) received info about their brand new author portal.  The portal gives us sales figures about our own titles, info on rights sold, current news about publishing, and a slew of promotional tools.  This is huge!

In the future, I see we writers having more communication and input with publishers, better partnerships, services, and overall, more control over our careers.

Age of the author, baby!

Are there still challenges for writers today? Absolutely. But now there is so much more we can do to build our audience and expand our careers.   We have opportunities we never had before at low or no cost!  So get excited about this publishing revolution, gang.

In my final Why Writers Win post, I’ll detail the four things I think we writers can be doing right now to take control of our creative future.

Stay tuned!

Blog Tour Tips!: On Planning Your Journey

Running a blog tour to promote a new novel is an amazing way to connect with a wider audience, to get a concentrated bunch of reviews, and to get your name out there!  If you are a subscriber to my blog, you know that I ran my very first blog tour to help launch my new novel Drawn.  It was a great experience, and I’m kicking myself for not doing this sort of thing sooner.

So why didn’t I do a blog tour sooner?  Well, truthfully this is a fairly new thing in the world of book promotion…something that wasn’t around when I was a Book Promotion Manager for a publisher years ago, or even when my first novel What I Meant… came out through Random House.  It felt mysterious, plus I knew authors who paid a ton of money to do a tour where they appeared on just 5 or 6 sites.  Surely I must be missing something here… Surely I didn’t understand the nuances of setting up and running such a tour…

So, of course, I decided to go for it on my own!  On The Drawn Blog Ghost Tour I made 22 stops in 5 weeks.  On tour I did 10 guest posts, 10 interviews, 4 giveaways, and got 9 reviews.  Was it a lot of work? Not more than writing a novel. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. Did I make any missteps? Absolutely.

And so, dear author, here are Marie Lamba’s Blog Tour Tips, which I humbly offer to you in the hopes that you can run your own blog tour, and kick some promo butt of your own…

MAKE CONTACT:

Make up a list of the best book blog review sites for your genre, the authors you have relationships with who can feature you, and send out a request for tour stops on writing-related sites you belong to.  Then start emailing and planning!

And expect decent results… When I was contacting book bloggers this summer about reviewing my YA novel OVER MY HEAD I got spotty results.  Many didn’t respond, others responded but weren’t interested (indie pubbed, right?), and still others DID take it on, giving it a nice review, BUT many of those reviews were slow in coming, some as much as 6 months later.  BUT when I contacted reviewers about a DRAWN blog tour, the response was dramatically different.

MOST bloggers that I got in touch with got back to me immediately (knowing that a deadline was involved), and signed on for the tour! Something about the word “tour” makes them respond very positively. The bloggers were eager to take a spot (I gave them a 2 month lead time) on my month-long tour. As I’ve mentioned, I planned for a mix of  reviews, interviews, guest blogs from me, and a bunch  combined this with book giveaways. I took about a day’s total time to contact everyone and to set up my calendar.

BE ORGANIZED

I kept a folder with a chart so I could track who needed what, what the deadlines were, what the blog stop dates were, and this list included all contact names and emails.

Send out ebook ARC’s and cover images immediately to the ones who want to do reviews.  Also turn around any interview questions  sent to you quickly (I did this within 24 hours of receiving)  just to stay on top of things. And record all actions in your blog chart (you’ll go nuts otherwise wondering what is and isn’t done).

The biggest challenge? Of course those guest posts. You think you’ll have enough to write about but then you find you have to dig deep to do them all and make them high quality.  Be careful you don’t over commit on that part.

I worked hard to make sure no two stops were the same. Original interviews or guest posts on every stop, so if someone were following the entire tour, they’d be rewarded with new stuff. No cut and paste answers! I also tried to create guest posts that would fit with a particular blogger’s audience.  Like a post about ghosts for Jonathan Maberry’s paranormal crowd, or one about medievel romance in history for The Elliot Review, which is run by a librarian, that sort of thing.  The idea is for you to meet that audience on its own terms and make it interesting.  Trying not to repeat yourself can be a challenge!

You can check out my tour stops to get a feel for the sort of varied posts, etc. I did by clicking here.

With each stop, make sure they have a cover image, an author image, and that each interview or post includes your bio and book blurb.

BE NICE!

The most important components involve keeping the good vibe going.  Be courteous to your blog stops.  Thank them.  Buzz them well so they benefit from traffic too.  I created a page on my website dedicated to the tour, with links updated…and also I created blog tour graphics and widgets that every stop can use and sent them that.  I blogged each week about the week’s tour stops, and send out daily updates on my FB and twitter, which were retweeted a bunch. There was a lot to do, but it was all good stuff.  Now here, for you, are…

SOME LESSONS LEARNED

1. DOUBLE CHECK: I ran into some nearly missed tour dates. Why? I sent the material well in advance of the date, and assumed it was received.  Yes, assume. Ass-u-me.  I learned to ask for confirmation that material was sent…and if I didn’t hear back, to email the blogger.  And two days before each post, I learned to “check in” with the blogger just to make sure things were on track and to ask if anything were needed.  People have busy lives, stuff happens, and so a friendly nudge can really help.  *Also, I recommend you don’t have inter-related blog stops where people have to gather clues or anything interconnected like that.  That way if one post doesn’t happen, the world will surely go on.

2. INCLUDE LINKS:  Put the link to your book sales page in whatever you send to folks.  I’d assumed they’d naturally link to the purchase spot and admittedly felt a little obnoxious about typing it into any post I’d sent, but some sites won’t automatically do links for you. Lesson learned!

3. INCLUDE SEARCHABLE MATERIAL:  This is a lesson I learned too late. In your guest posts for the tour, etc., be sure to mention within your post those huge popular authors/books most like your own title…And/or an “if you enjoy (fabulous popular title or author), then you will like (your book)…”  That’s the sort of searchable material you want to have so that folks will find you online.

4. GIVE THE TOUR A LANDING PAGE on your website, which shows ALL the stops and links to those stops. Set this up before the tour starts, so you can send the bloggers on the tour the link to this page, along with your widgets. Update that page as final details trickle in, such as the actual title/subject of your guest post, and on the day of, replace the general blog link with the actual post’s link so future readers will find you there.

5. CREATE A WIDGET that is simple and legible even as a small button (include your book cover), and then put it up on your own website in a post so that other folks can “grab” it and use it on their pages.  I made 3…one banner sized, one half-banner sized, and one button sized.

6.  BUILD EXCITEMENT: Once a week, do a post on your website highlighting that week’s stops to build excitement. To give you an idea of how I tried to keep the energy and interest up, you can read an example of one of these posts here.

7.  BUZZ IT: Take advantage of what’s popping up each day by buzzing it on your facebook and twitter pages… If there’s a particular theme to your post, highlight that…if you’ve gotten a great review, paraphrase it on your FB and in Tweets…  Make those great reviews go the extra mile by either asking the blogger if they will kindly put their review on goodreads/amazon… or if it’s a hot review, put it on your Barnes&Noble.com and Amazon pages under editorial reviews.  I was able to add a bunch to these sites, plus some of my tour bloggers posted on Goodreads…and one beautiful 5 star review was posted as a comment on DRAWN‘s Amazon page.

8.  HIGHLIGHT ON-GOING STUFF: If you have on-going giveaways going on, then continue to buzz them on your FB and twitter so that people will be reminded there is still time to enter.

9. COMMENT! Visit your tour stops to comment back where appropriate to folks who put in replies. The personal touch really makes a difference.

10. DON’T BE A SHMO: Try to somehow balance your tweets and posts with other news and other people’s news so you won’t be a steady stream of book P.R…. I found this to be a little tough because with jam-packed weeks of booktouring there is SO much news coming at me each day…all different, but all about my book!   I made an effort to retweet others in between, and to now and then put up a post on my blog page that wasn’t tour related.  You don’t want to weary people with your news…  Twitter is nice because you can vary your hashtags (#) to reach different people, but also put keywords within your tweet.

11. SAY THANK YOU!  After each stop, take a moment to send a personal note of thanks to your tour stop host. They have used their valuable time to help you, and you want them to know that this matters to you.
Hosting a blog tour is a phenomenal way to build up a quick stable of reviews and buzz about your book.  And you can use these reviews as a stepping stone to even more blogger reviews.  For example, I made a point of contacting bloggers who listed TwilightMoms.com as one of their favorite blogs they follow, and asked if they’d review DRAWN.  Of course I included the rave review from TwilightMoms, and guess what? Those bloggers were eager to give my book a look!

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So is it work? Some. Is it worth it? YES!  You want more readers to find your book, don’t you? Can YOU do this?  You can.

SO GO FOR IT and start mapping out your own book tour.

Marie