Posted in Conference, Monday blogs

A Librarian and Author’s Day at BookExpo America

It started on a clear Friday morning, the 2nd day of June, as I boarded an early train to Penn Station along with my friend and fellow Long Island author, Lisa Diaz Meyer, and her son and husband who were also on their way to BookExpo in New York City. Lisa was exhibiting her three wonderful dark-fiction collections while I was representing my library. Although, as a librarian and author I’d been to other local library and book-related conferences, this was my first time at BEA.

Lisa Diaz Meyer, my friend and fellow Long Island author, at her booth at BookExpo

Walking through the glass doors of the Javitz Center, I noticed the huge signs of publishers and booksellers such as Simon & Schuster, Ingram, Publisher’s Weekly, etc. People in business attire were walking around with coffee cups and conference schedules, their registration badges hanging around their necks identifying them as librarians, authors, editors, and others involved in the book world. Spanning four floors and including conference rooms, stages, and exhibitor booths, most of the action took place on the main level. That’s where Lisa set up her table with the other Indie authors. She had been exhibiting since Wednesday and planned to remain for BookCon which took over on the weekend.

Meeting Michael Connelly, a fellow member of International Thriller Writers, was the highlight of my day.

When I received my badge for the day, I was interested to see that it advertised Michael Connelly. As a librarian, I was familiar with the appeal of his books to thriller lovers. One of my patrons who once received books at home when she was homebound was a particular fan of his, and I always had a hard time keeping up with her request for his titles. When I learned he would be appearing at a booth that afternoon to sign copies of The Late Show, his latest release, I thought of Mrs. Nelson and knew she would love to receive her own autographed copy of this book. I made a point to attend the signing and, although the line was long, I managed to get the book, meet Michael in person, and even have a photo taken with him. It was the highlight of my day.

During BookExpo, I also attended the library programs that previewed upcoming summer and fall titles. At many of these, I was able to receive advanced reader copies of these popular forthcoming books. Since I order the fiction and mystery titles for my public library, I found these sessions very informative and knew they would help me select the most anticipated novels for my community. In addition, since we are starting an adult summer reading program this year, some of the ARC’s and exhibitor giveaways can be used as door prizes for our closing event.

Besides the signing with Michael Connelly, there were two other pleasantly unexpected events that happened to me at BookExpo. The first was discovering the Librarian’s Lounge, an oasis hidden away in the far corner of the main floor. Sponsored by Publishers Weekly and open only to librarians, this wonderful area featured food and refreshments throughout the day along with authors and book signings. In the morning, there were bagels and spreads with coffee; and, later in the day, a sweet treat of ice cream and cookies for tired librarians in need of a pick-me-up from the long day of walking around the conference center. During this afternoon break, several authors were also present to sign copies of their books.

The second nice surprise was the number of cat items for sale. At a conference for book people, I actually should’ve expected this. I picked up a black cat tote and a shirt as souvenirs and nabbed a free copy of a Grumpy Cat book.

At the close of the conference day, toting twice as many bags as I’d entered with, my friends and I headed to Penn Station for the train back to Long Island. Unfortunately, it was rush hour, no taxis were available, and the conference shuttle was nowhere in sight. We ended up walking, and I was glad I’d taken the advice of my co-workers and director and brought along a rolling suitcase and comfortable shoes. The day was still pleasant, one of the best of the season so far, so the trek to the station was an enjoyable end to a great day.

 

 

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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 Monday blogs

Twelve Ways Authors Can Earn More Money

dollar-163473_640Let’s face it. If you’re a new author or one who has not yet sold a million copies, you are not earning much through royalties. However, there are other ways that you can supplement your income using your writing talent and experience. Below are some suggestions. Once you determine what you’d like to try, you should speak with those already offering these services or research current rates so you can set your pricing. In some cases, such as with writing contests and speaking engagements, the payment is already specified in the rules or contract.
editing1. Editing/Proofreading/formatting Manuscripts – This falls under the category of Author Services. Most authors acquire experience editing and proofreading their own manuscripts. Some take courses and also know how to lay out eBooks. Fees for these services vary depending on whether one offers basic editing for spelling, grammar, punctuation or developmental editing which includes reviewing and revising structures and plots. You can do this as a part-time freelancer and/or seek employment from a publishing company. If you are detail-oriented, enjoy reading books, and have extra time (something most writers especially those with day jobs may not have much of), you might considering earning a few bucks this way. Associations you might consider checking out include the Editorial Freelancer’s Association: http://www.the-efa.org/, American Copy Editor’s Society: http://www.copydesk.org/ and the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors: http://naiwe.com/.
camera-155383_6402. Producing Book Trailers – If you’re knowledgeable about computer video software and have some talent for movie-making and a good visual eye,  you could try creating book trailers for authors.
3. Designing Graphics for bookmarks, business cards, teasers, Book Covers, etc. – If you are artistic and familiar with programs such as PhotoShop, Canva.com, and other graphic programs, you could try your hand at designing promotional material for authors.
4. Writing Queries, Synopsis, and Blurbs. If you have more of a way with words than with art, you might give writing submission material for authors a go.
2016-10-16-15-57-405. Speaking Engagements at libraries, bookstores, community centers – If you are comfortable with public speaking, you could give author talks about your books and/or publishing. I’ve done several talks about my books at nearby libraries.  Although most of these speeches last between an hour or two, preparation time is necessary. As you gain more confidence and stack up more engagements, you can also join a speaker’s bureau to get more work. Payment for talks vary. Some venues will allow you to sell your books but will not pay you for the talk. Others will do the opposite. Some will do both. You need to inquire before you sign the contract. Here’s an article about ways to locate speaking opportunities: http://famousinyourfield.com/17-ways-to-find-speaking-opportunities/
6. Teaching Classes & Webinars – If you are an expert at a subject or are knowledgeable about specific areas of writing, you might want to apply to teach a continuing education class at your local school or college. If you have experience with video conferencing, you might consider putting together a webinar. I am applying to teach a course on Indie Publishing at my local high school this fall.
contests7. Entering Writing Contests for Prize Money – Although there are often fees involved in writing contests that offer prizes, if they are within your budget, you could try entering them. Just make sure they are legitimate. If they consider your work for publication even if you don’t win, more the better.
8. Freelance Writing for Magazines, eZines, Newspapers, blogs, etc. – Don’t limit yourself to novel writing. If you can write short, non-fiction pieces for print or digital publications, you can make some money. It will usually be a flat rate; but if you only sell first rights, you will be able to publish the article again if you want. Along with making a little cash, freelance writing also helps promote your fiction works.
9. Designing Websites – If you are both artistic and technical, you might consider earning some extra money helping authors create attractive and functional websites.
10. Arranging Blog Tours – If you are savvy with social media and have a lot of connections, you could start up a blog tour company.
11. Assisting Authors as PA’s – Authors looking for more time to be able to write often seek personal assistants to aid them in their social media updates and other writing-related tasks.
ghostwriter_212. Ghost Writing – There are doctors and other professionals who would like to write a book but don’t have the time or the talent. They hire people to do it for them and usually pay well. The only drawback is that your name will not be credited on the book. It’s not for everyone, but some authors do well with it.
These are only a few of the opportunities for authors to earn extra income. If you know of any others, please comment on this post.
Posted in A Stone's Throw, Authors, Uncategorized

Public Speaking Tips for Nervous Authors (and other speakers)

publicspeakingI make my debut author talk this Friday, January 22nd, at the library where I work as a librarian. Since I was scheduled to speak, I’ve been a nervous wreck. I realize most authors and first-time speakers experience this fear. Here are some tips I discovered for easing my discomfort and that will hopefully result in a less anxious presentation.

Knowing that it’s best to talk naturally and interact with an audience, I didn’t write an entire speech. Instead, I prepared an outline with flexible discussion points and some simple questions I could ask for feedback from the audience. Since I’ll be talking about the publishing process and then reading excerpts from my book, A STONE’S THROW, after I thank the person introducing me and the people attending for coming to hear me speak, I plan to ask who is there to learn more about publishing. This question can be answered by raising a hand. I will then follow it up by asking who is interested in hearing about my book. Finally, I will attempt to find out if anyone is there for another reason. With these type of questions, I get to feel the audience out and also see where to focus my talk.

When preparing the outline for my presentation, I’ve arranged to display slides to correspond to each point of my talk. I was lucky to have the library’s computer technician’s help in setting up some of my book teaser graphics and Tips for Publishing notecard into Powerpoint slides. The library also recently invested in a wireless microphone, so speakers could walk around the room and not be tied to the podium. This will make it easier to interact with the audience.

2015-11-26 16.08.21My outline is flexible and can be adjusted as I talk. I plan to leave room after each part of the talk for audience questions. Beforehand, I will arrange a table with handouts, a display of my books, and raffle tickets where those attending may enter their names to win an autographed copy of A STONE’S THROW. I will choose a winner at the end of the presentation. I’m also asking those who enter the raffle to include their email addresses if they’d like to be kept up-to-date on my upcoming books and appearance schedule.

Since I’ve put a lot of preparation and thought into how I will present my talk and the way the room will be set up, this will alleviate some of my fears. Another way that I am trying to reduce the stress and jitters of speaking before a group, a fear that I’ve learned is quite common for everyone, is by taking the advice of those who speak regularly. I’m taking an online Gale Courses public speaking course called MASTERING PUBLIC SPEAKING. I will have only taken a few lessons before my talk, but the instructor’s advice has been helpful so far. In addition, I’ve found several books at my library on the topic including the classic Dale Carnegie books on public speaking.

I have to admit that I won’t be totally relaxed on Friday, but they say that’s normal. Nervousness can be channeled into a productive presentation as long as it doesn’t freeze you up and cause stage fright. Nervous energy can actually help your address.  Below are a few tips I’ve picked up in my class, from my readings, and suggestions from others familiar with talking in front of an audience:

  1. There’s nothing wrong in saying it’s your first time speaking. People will understand and sympathize with you if you let them know. Also, don’t be afraid of making a mistake or missing one of the points in your talk because most people will not notice it except you.
  2. As you speak, it’s best to maintain eye contact with one person instead of looking out over the entire group. You can select one person from the left, center, and right side of the audience and direct your talk to each of these people individually as you move through your presentation.
  3. To make your talk more entertaining, you might inject humor into some of the material or your interaction with the audience, but only do this if it comes naturally.
  4. Don’t rush your talk. Speaking fast can cause stuttering and incoherence. It’s best to speak at a moderate pace. Slow down if you find yourself talking too fast.
  5. Do a dry run of your talk in the place you will be speaking as close to the date as possible. It’s very important to be familiar with the acoustics and physical set up of the room. It will also make you more comfortable knowing the layout of the space.

If anyone has any additional speaking tips, please comment on them. Fingers crossed I will break a leg at my first author talk. If anyone is local and would like to come support me, I will be speaking at the Hicksville Public Library at 1 pm on Friday, January 22nd.