Posted in Authors, Monday blogs, Writing

Indie Author Day at the Bellmore Memorial Library

It was my pleasure to attend the Indie Author Day at the Bellmore Memorial Library on Saturday, October 14.  The day consisted of speakers, panelists, and authors who interacted with the local community. There was also publishing workshop videos streaming in the Meeting Room throughout the event.

The morning schedule included presentations by three speakers in the library’s community room outside of which snacks, water, and handouts were provided. The first speaker, Dina Santorelli, author of thriller and suspense novels who earned a degree in Creative Writing from Hofstra University, spoke about her experience as a self-published author and her success with her book, Baby Grand.  Santorelli explained how she made the decision to self-publish after having signed with an agent and attempting to sell her book to a traditional publisher. She chose to go the Indie author route to have more control over the production and marketing of her book. Although she had to invest her own money in cover designers and editors, Santorelli was able to sell 100 copies of her book in the first month after it was released and has currently sold tens of thousands of books. She described some misconceptions about self-publishing and explained how most sales of books today are from Amazon eBooks. She said that social  media, particularly twitter, is of utmost importance to authors for them to be discovered by a world-wide audience.

The second speaker was Ellen Meister, author of Dorothy Parker Drank Here, Farewell Dorothy Parker, and other contemporary works. Meister gave suggestions on how to hook a literary agent. She pointed out the advantages of signing with one and gave an overview of what agents did for authors. She also offered tips on what authors should do before they query an agent including the type of research about the agent they should do and where to find the information. She then described the parts of the query letter and what happens if an agent is interested in an author’s query.

The final speaker of the morning was Jan Kardys, literary agent and founder of the Unicorn Writers Conference whose experience working with a large number of traditional publishing houses allowed her to offer her clients creative and unique opportunities to attract a large publisher. She gave examples of how she helped one of her clients build a platform and a brand for herself. She also stressed the importance of social media especially Facebook and Linkedin. She discussed popular resources for writers to help them locate information about agents and publishers, and she also spoke about the importance of copyrighting one’s work. She recommended meetup groups and networking with other writers.

Following a brief break, the program continued with panels of local authors on topics that included, “Telling Our Stories and Those of Others;” “Writing Fiction,” and “Writing for Children.”

Me with my friend and fellow author, Lisa Diaz Meyer, in Author Alley at the Bellmore Memorial Library

In addition to the speakers and panelists, other authors sold their books at tables on the main floor of the library in “Author’s Alley.” There were also giveaways and raffles, and the community had a chance to speak directly to local authors about their unique experiences whether they self-published, published with a small Indie publisher, or published traditionally with a larger publisher.

Me standing by my poster behind my table at the Indie Author Fair. I enjoyed chatting with readers and other local authors attending the event.

The Reference Librarian who helped organize the Bellmore Library’s first ever Indie Author event was Martha DiVittorio. She did a wonderful job selecting speakers, panelists, and local authors. The event was well attended, informative, and a great success.

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Posted in Monday blogs, Writing

Writing in the Age of Digital Books

Authors have always been challenged by change. Through words, they’ve sought to describe it, defy it, and even design it. The writers of today face a new challenge – gaining the attention of multi-taskers, screen skimmers, and eBook readers most of who are looking for instant fulfillment. If they don’t receive it in the first paragraph, they’re likely to put down their tablet, switch to another window, or close the book. However, there are still people who read traditional print and enjoy savoring a novel or work of literature. How do authors today satisfy both audiences?

As a librarian, as well as an author, I’m keenly aware of the shift in content from print to digital. When I started working at my public library twenty-five years ago, reference questions were answered by consulting thick books, indexes, and manuals. Today, those are replaced by online databases and search engines such as Google. The information profession has changed to meet the needs of those who want their queries met quickly. The writing profession has also had to adapt to this fast-paced quest for knowledge and entertainment.

The way that librarians and information professionals have dealt with this issue has been to offer materials in several formats including eBooks, audiobooks, large type print, and traditional print. Circulation has shown that each of these formats has significant borrowing numbers and that patrons often check out books in more than one. For instance, if a print copy is not available, many patrons will take out the large type or audio edition. In some cases, patrons prefer to borrow a book in two formats such as print and audio to help them get the most out of the material. As a reader myself, I have borrowed eBooks when a print copy was out and then switched back to the print version when it was available. Not every book, however, is published in a variety of formats. Small publishers generally only offer paperback and eBook releases. Some books today are also only published digitally.

Writers face the same challenges as librarians in meeting the changing demands of readers. Both need to address the needs of the public they serve. Authors should evaluate their marketing strategies, whether they promote their works themselves or along with their publisher. Their focus should be as diversified as possible. Even those whose books are only printed in one or two formats should promote their writing to audiences who might enjoy reading material in various ways.

To attract time-strapped readers, authors don’t necessarily have to shorten their writing, but it’s vital that they edit for conciseness without losing important content. Editors and agents usually make publishing decisions based on the first few pages or initial chapter of a manuscript. That’s because readers, crushed for time, need to be hooked by a story’s start or they will abandon the book.

Another technique that traditional, as well as Indie and self-published authors, can use to draw readers is to keep their chapters short and fast-paced. Many popular authors such as James Patterson know this trick.

When the middle of a book tends to drag, adding sub-plots can boost interest. They should enhance but not detract from the main story. Whether an author writes romances, mysteries, general fiction, or another genre, twists are also always appealing to readers. To execute them effectively, a writer should be sure to drop hints or red herrings to foreshadow the later revelations.

Another way that authors can gain the attention of today’s easily distracted reader is to develop relatable, multi-dimensional characters. There’s a current trend toward multiracial, LGBT, disabled and other diverse protagonists. That doesn’t mean a writer can’t feature a white heterosexual man or woman as the main character, but the fellow or lady should have some hobbies or idiosyncrasies. Maybe he’s an FBI agent and an ornithologist who spots a criminal while he’s bird watching or she’s a doctor with a black belt in martial arts who falls in love with her karate instructor. In my recent novella, one of my main characters is a CPA and a jewel thief who also likes cats.

Another factor to consider when trying to hold a reader’s attention is research. Most authors realize its importance even in fiction books. In our information-driven society, research poses no problem for writers. However, as a librarian, I’m aware of the dangers of websites that post unverified data. Writers should be wary, too, because the current plethora of sources allows readers to quickly catch false facts. Research also needs to be incorporated into the text without the use of lengthy or technical jargon. Readers desire to have their curiosities appeased but don’t want to be drowned in unnecessary details. A quick but accurate fix is what they demand. Tell them why specific plants flourish in a certain soil but don’t provide step by step instructions on how to plant the rest of the garden. Explain why a particular poison was used for the murder but don’t classify all the others.

What else can draw easily-bored readers to a book? While it’s true that books aren’t judged by their covers, having an appealing one can help but far from guarantee that it will be chosen from among all those on the shelf, website, or catalog. Having experience in reader’s advisory by selecting books for my library’s homebound patrons and editing and reviewing our monthly staff picks, I’ve found what I believe is a magnet that can attract readers to a certain title regardless of whether they are twenty something or eighty years or older, whether they rush through a book or read every word. I call that magnet, “emotional realism.” A book may be edited excellently. It can contain beautiful prose. Its characters can be unique; its storyline compelling; but if it can’t touch the reader, make them laugh or cry, feel surprise or fear, then that book can’t compete for a reader’s time with television or the movies.

How does a fiction author create emotional realism in their writing? They need to write about a situation that they’ve experienced and fictionalize it. There are many ways to do this. In between writing my novels, I started working on a collection of short stories from different periods in my life. As I composed them, I made subtle changes to the characters, setting, or plot, but I kept the basic experiences intact. I wrote the scenes as fresh and with as much feeling as I had lived them and embellished them to make them even more interesting and impassioned. My memories provided the realism that I hoped would ring true for readers and my imagination took those feelings and strengthened them.

Emotional realism is a strong weapon in the war against apathetic readers. If you write a love story, is it yours or someone else’s? If you can’t visualize the emotions your character is feeling, then neither will the reader. What if you read a love story? Does it help you recall your own romances or are you drawn into the embraces created by the author?

While escapism is often a goal of today’s readers (as are video games, television shows, and other such activities), the best escapism is often into one’s soul. That’s not to say that books can’t take you away to a sun-drenched beach, a 1920’s flapper dance, or even another planet. However, while settings can transport you in space and time, emotional realism provides the most rewarding escape. Once you’ve drawn in readers, emotional realism is what keeps them turning the page, swiping the screen, or listening to the audio. They need to feel involved, part of the action and experiences you’ve created for them. Stun them with incredible revelations. Break their hearts with tender, unrequited love. Keep them guessing and feeling until the end of the story and then make them sorry it’s over.

After writing a book that will appeal to readers on the different levels I mentioned, the final step is to promote it. This may be the most difficult task an author faces. There are so many advertising opportunities that a writer can practically go broke purchasing them. Those promotions that are low-cost or free still require a great deal of time to research, implement, and maintain. Which ones are worth the time, effort, and expense? The key, of course, is to know your book and the best audience for it. If your book would interest eBook readers, marketing it online might be best. You could check out Facebook and Twitter ads. Look for blogs where you could guest post or be interviewed about your book. There are also companies that host blog tours and Facebook groups where readers and writers can interact. I created my own group where the characters in my cozy mysteries take turns hosting each month and answering questions from my readers. Giveaways are also popular and can be part of a contest or for subscribing to your newsletter or blog. These don’t need to be costly. If your book is sold primarily on Amazon, a reader would appreciate an Amazon gift certificate—or you can give away an eBook copy of your own book. Most publishers will give authors a free PDF and/or Mobi (Kindle) file of their works, while print copies usually are only available for a discount.

If, on the other hand, your audience prefers traditional books, your best bet for promoting your writing could be through author appearances at Barnes and Noble stores, local author talks at libraries and community centers, small bookstores, and other venues that welcome speakers. There are groups that also host book signings, and authors can also sell their books and/or speak about them at writer’s conferences.

When creating marketing plans for your books, keep in mind that your focus interest group may overlap between reading platforms as was mentioned earlier. Many eBook enthusiasts also read print books. Audio listeners sometimes also use eReaders or read regular or large type books. The best promotional approach is through trial and error. Keep track of your sales and see what ad or appearance favorably impacts it. You can check your royalty statements and/or online sales through Amazon and sites such as Novel Rank. Timing is also important. Many authors offer holiday promotions for readers who might purchase books as gifts for their friends and family. Just remember that the market will be crowded with these offers at this time. You might try a campaign during the middle of the winter when people are staying indoors and looking for something to read. The summer can also be a good time for paperback beach reads and those who are traveling by car listening to audiobooks. Don’t rule out the spring and fall either. Avid readers seek books all year long.

Facing the changing world of the written word can seem overwhelming to fiction authors, but taking these ten steps can help:

  1. Start off with a bang. Make sure your first paragraph, page, and chapter are compelling.
  2. Write fast-paced chapters. Keep them concise and end with a mini cliffhanger to maintain reader interest.
  3. Add sub-plots and twists for more depth.
  4. Create multi-dimensional characters who jump off the page and into a reader’s heart or nightmares.
  5. Research details accurately.
  6. Touch your readers with scenes packed with emotional realism based on true but fictionally-enhanced experiences.
  7. Set your story in an interesting locale and/or time period.
  8. Determine your audience and design a flexible marketing plan.
  9. Check out online and in-person promotional opportunities.
  10. Evaluate your success by your sales figures.

It’s a brave new world for authors as well as information professionals, but remember that the variety of platforms for books today means more chances to showcase your work in different formats to a wider audience.

Posted in Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Writing

A Call to Fans & Friends

votecountsI’m not a competitive person and that’s why I find it hard to ask people to buy my book or vote for it in competitions. However, my mystery, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, is currently #2 in a contest that ends today (January 14).  So many people have already supported me, and I’m thankful for each person who took the time to vote. For those who may not be aware that my book was running, there’s still time to back it. Being #1 would be a great honor for me but not because I outdid anyone else with votes because I know those competing must also have wonderful books. Instead, being #1 would show me that I have a following of fans and friends who are interested in my writing. It will give me even further incentive to continue writing.

For those friends who are also authors, I’m sure you know the hard work that goes into producing a book. When you are a new author, it is especially difficult because there are few rewards for your efforts. Royalty sales do not offset most of the expenses you incur initially. The main compensation for a new author is the knowledge that people are reading and enjoying their books. Besides buying copies and spreading the word about them, the next best thing fans and friends of authors can do is vote for them in competitions.

betweenarockandahardplacesolsticecoverVote here for my Mystery Novel: Between a Rock and a Hard Place
http://critters.org/predpoll/novelmys.shtml

Don’t forget to confirm each vote with the email you receive after placing it for it to count (if you have more than one email, you are allowed to vote with each one).

Thanks so much for your support. It means a lot to me.

Posted in A Stone's Throw, Cloudy Rainbow, Monday Blog, Writing

Have you been to your High School or College Reunion Recently?

debbiegraduation
I graduated from the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at C.W. Post/Long Island University in 1989 with a Masters in Library and Information Science and a Bachelors in English.

I came up with the idea for this post after I was asked to submit some memories of my time on Long Island University’s C.W. Post College newspaper, the Pioneer, for an article their current advisor, Carolyn Schurr Levin is writing. It was a pleasure to speak to Ms. Levin who is helping arrange a 60th anniversary for the student paper. While collecting my thoughts for this project, I felt it would be helpful to write a blog post about the process of recalling events from over 30 years ago and why some of you might also want to reminisce about your own school days and even plan a reunion with fellow classmates or club members.

I was involved on the Pioneer from 1983 until I graduated C.W. Post in 1989. I came to Post as a slightly “older” student who returned to college after working a year as a secretary. I enrolled part-time as an English major to test the waters before I made the full-time commitment.

Debbiepioneeroffice
I was hired as secretary by Adam Pardonek in 1983 and later became Features Editor.

One of the first things I did was to seek a way to familiarize myself with and participate in campus activities. I remember that September day when I walked down the second-floor corridor of Hillwood Commons to the activity wing where the newspaper office was located. Adam Pardonek, the Editor-in-Chief at that time, spoke to me in his office about my interests in working for the student paper. I explained my situation as a new student who had prior experience as a secretary and also enjoyed writing. He suggested that my skills could be put to good use on the Pioneer. Many of the writers and editors could use help in having their stories typed. There was also an opening for a Features writer on that year’s paper. I accepted both positions.
My part-time job as a secretary was approved by the administration, and I was paid a small wage. The workload sometimes became intense, especially close to deadlines. At that time, I used WordPerfect to input the stories into a computer.

productionroom2editedfinal
Editors in the 1980’s laid out the student paper by hand and then brought it to a printer to be printed. (Left to right: Editor-in-Chief Tim Votapka works with Sports Editor, Mike Gannon, in the Production Room laying out the week’s Pioneer.)
debbiepioneerparty2
The Pioneer staff members were like a family and, besides production night dinners, we celebrated other special occasions and staff member birthdays.

Unlike today’s technology, the paper’s layout was done in-house in a production room and brought to a printer for copying. My memories of Production night dinners on Wednesdays are still clear after all these years. The advertising manager had an agreement with the local Fireside restaurant where the editors could have dinner each week in exchange for advertising copy in the paper. We all looked forward to these meals. Thinking back about eating with the editors as we discussed our stories, I can still taste the fried mozzarella sticks and recall the comradery and some of the jokes that were told. We also celebrated birthdays and special occasions of staff members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lobaughaward
I received the Lawrence C. Lobaugh, Jr. Memorial Award in 1984 for my work as Features Editor on the Pioneer. The award was given in memory of a Pioneer editor who died in his Sophomore year at Post.

I still have my desk plaque that reads “Debbie Smiloff” and fond memories of my time on the Pioneer. I also received a special award for my feature writing my first year on the paper, the Lawrence C. Lobaugh, jr. Memorial Award in Journalism. Along with a plaque that is displayed in the Great Hall, I was given an engraved medal. I was the last Pioneer person to receive this award because the donor passed away that year. The award had been given in memory of his son who had served on the Pioneer and died much too young. It was quite an honor to receive this award, and I have treasured the medal for 32 years.

cloudyrainbow stonesthrowamazon

 

 

 

 

I saw many editor-in-chiefs come and go after Adam who graduated that year. I remained staff secretary but also advanced to Features editor with my own group of writers. Through my interviews for feature articles, I also met professors, students, and school administrators. The experience I gained from working on the paper led me to publish articles in magazines and, after I married, a few books, as well. My first published novel, Cloudy Rainbow, actually features some chapters that take place at the Pioneer. My current book, A Stone’s Throw, includes a librarian, like myself, who is a Post graduate from the Palmer School. One of the book’s settings is Brookville where C.W. Post is located.

debbiemikefestival
Mike Gannon, the Sports Editor I worked with for several years on the Pioneer, surprised me recently by attending one of my local book signings.

Many people say that college is the best years of one’s life. I agree. Even though classes can be tough and there are many additional stresses as one faces impending adulthood, the opportunity for friendships and extracurricular experiences such as those I gained from the Pioneer, can’t be duplicated. I look back on those days and the person I once was and realize how much my participation at the paper made a difference in my life. I am also happy that, as the Internet and social media has developed ways of staying in touch, that I’ve been able to reconnect with some of my fellow Pioneer friends. Over the summer, I did a book signing at the Levittown Library and was pleasantly surprised when Mike Gannon, a previous Sports Editor on the Pioneer, dropped by. He saw my Facebook post about the event and wanted to surprise me. It was the highlight of my day. I hadn’t seen Mike since he attended a Pioneer reunion during Homecoming in 2000, 16 years ago.

debbiescan11
Pioneer alums gathered at Homecoming 2000 during a Pioneer Reunion in the News Office. (Sitting L to R: Mike Gannon, Adam Pardonek). (Standing: L to R: Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, Bob McGee, Tim Votapka, Mela Gerbasi Stevens, Cheryl Turi Coutts, and Debbie Smiloff De Louise)

I believe the bond formed among Pioneer people remains strong despite time and distance because of the special experiences we shared on the paper. Not all the times were happy or fun, but we were all in them together. We worked to create a product that served the entire campus body. We were proud of our individual achievements but also realized it was a team effort. I imagine that those who belonged to other campus clubs, sports teams, or sororities/fraternities feel a similar bond.

As I complete my notes for Ms. Levin, I’ve formed a Facebook group for previous Pioneer staff to keep in touch. I’ve also scanned some old photos from those days. As people grow older, they realize the importance of preserving these memories. There are also more opportunities to locate old friends and schoolmates today.

debbiescan18 (1)I know some people avoid reunions for fear that don’t look as attractive as they did in their twenties or because they’ve put on weight or simply because they are uncomfortable in social situations. However, as people age, they realize that these are not the important things to care about. Since college, I’ve had many changes in my life. I’ve married, had a daughter, lost my father, mother-in-law, and a close friend. No one knows how long he or she will be around, in good health, and with clear memories. My father had Alzheimers and my 89-year old mother has poor short-term memory. While it’s important to consider the future and live in the present, it’s also nice to look back and find your past and the people who were in it. Homecomings, reunions, and social media are great ways to do this.

Posted in A Stone's Throw, Books, Characters, Limitless Publishing, Writing

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Sequel

sequelWhen I first came up with the idea for A STONE’S THROW (November 2015 Limitless Publishing), I did not plan for it to be the first in a series. However, after I finished it, I realized that my characters were asking for at least one more book. How do characters ask this? Well, sometimes an author feels that their characters can be further developed in a sequel or a series. There might be storylines that were not completely tied up in the first, or there might be room for new characters and new storylines. That seemed to be the case for me.

Without giving away any details about the next in what may be one more book or a series of Cobble Cove novels, I would just like to share with readers and other fellow authors some DO’S AND DON’TS  I learned from writing a follow-up to my romantic suspense novel.

dosdontsDO’S

  1. DO feature backstory from the first book in flashbacks sprinkled throughout the second.
  2. DO introduce new characters and show how they interact with the old.
  3. DO continue developing old characters. Remember, they age physically and also mature with their experiences.
  4. DO write in the same point of view as the original.
  5. DO make sure the timeline and dates are accurate from one book to the other.
  6. DO make sure that previous characters continue to have the same habits and mannerisms. Also recheck their appearance. If the time you are writing about from one book to the other is a wide gap, remember to age all characters accordingly.
  7. DO fill in info about occurrences/events that happened between books. i.e. Have any characters died? Gotten married? Moved?
  8. DO leave the ending open for a third book if you intend on continuing the series. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tie up the plot completely, but leave room for the characters to grow and change.
  9. DO inform your readers and fans of the upcoming book. It’s also a nice idea to offer the first one at a discount or for free for those who haven’t yet read it.
  10. DO write in the same genre. If the first book is a mystery, it would be strange to have your characters appear in a science fiction in the second book. Also, try to keep the books approximately the same length if possible.

DON’TS

  1. DON’T write a follow-up book that is too similar to the first. It’s okay to have similarities, but you want something that generates new interest.
  2. DON’T write a follow-up book that is drastically different from the first. The tone, atmosphere, and genre should be the same.
  3. DON’T forget to include any characters. If you have a lot of characters in the first book, make sure you feature the main ones or explain what happened to them between books.
  4. DON’T introduce new characters without giving them a role. Adding new characters for the sake of having more characters won’t sit well with readers. However, if you develop the new characters well and plan to use them in an upcoming book, that could be useful.
  5. DON’T seek out a new publisher. If you published your book traditionally, it only makes sense to try to sell the second book to the first publisher.
  6. DON’T refer to something that happened in the first book without providing a reference to it.
  7. DON’T set the book on a stage that doesn’t suit it. If your first book took place in a small town, don’t move it to the big city (although it’s always possible to have the characters take a trip there).
  8. DON’T change any character drastically unless you explain the change. For instance, if someone loses weight, explain that they were on a diet. If someone’s personality changes, explain what the cause might be.
  9. DON’T sweat the small stuff. You needn’t go into major detail about all the happenings from the first book, but it’s nice to include some of the major stuff when you can work it into the story.
  10. DON’T choose a title that has little significance with the previous book. It’s nice to be able to identify a series by its title. This can be done in various ways. You can keep one word in every title the same or you can use related words or themes. You can bet my follow up title to A STONE’S THROW will have something to do with rocks and, perhaps, a common quote or phrase.

Looking forward to sharing more information about my sequel soon. I hope these tips help other authors. Both readers and authors should feel free to comment any other ideas/thoughts about series writing.

 

Posted in Education, Writing

A Writer Never Stops Learning

galecoursesOne thing I love about being a writer as well as a librarian is that both occupations encourage and actually necessitate continuing education. I remember when I first began writing again and the idea for “A Stone’s Throw” was not even a seed planted in my mind yet. I took some online Gale Courses that my library offered. The instructors and course material covered in each of these classes was beyond my expectations. The best thing about taking these classes, beyond picking up some useful tips and a lot of knowledge, was receiving a certificate of completion. I’ve placed links for all the ones I’ve received on this site under “Writing Certificates.” The reason I was able to create this WordPress blog was because I took “Creating WordPress Websites” with John Agress and Cindi Keller. I followed it up with John’s “Blogging and Podcasting for Beginners” class and learned how to record podcasts some of which are also featured on this blog and that I hope to continue on a monthly basis. John and Cindi have a Facebook page, WordPress with John Agress and Cindi Keller, where they can answer questions from their previous WordPress students.

Another course that was highly helpful was Eva Shaw’s class, “How to Make Money from Your Writing.” Eva’s students created a Facebook group, Eva’s Writerrific Garden, so they could keep in touch with this wonderful instructor. Linda Askomitis, who taught my “Introduction to Internet Writing Markets” also has a Facebook page, “Writing and Publishing on the Web with Linda Askomitis.”

As an author of romantic suspense and mystery novels, I found Steve Alcorn’s “Mystery Writing” class of particular interest as well as Lee Anne Krusemark’s “Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published” and Jacquelyn Landis’ “The Keys to Effective Editing.”

I think these writing classes were a great help to me, and I recommend them and many others offered by Gale Courses. They are six-week classes done in the comfort of your home or wherever you can access the Internet. If your library subscribes to the Gale Courses database, you can access the classes free with a library card.