Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who Are You Like?

This week I was asked to provide an agent with a list of books that I thought my novel was comparable to. That's when I realized I didn't know who I am like. Not who I want to be like, but who I am actually like. If you've done this before, you'll realize it really isn't that tricky of a task, but if you are a first-timer, as I was, you may have to do a bit of research first.

Let me start here by saying, the following is what I did and may not be appropriate for you. Hopefully it is helpful to a least one newbie author.

Suggestion: Go to the bookstore.

Not the library, not your bookshelf, not your list of favorite authors. The bookstore. An agent or publisher wants to see what your book compares to that is current. If your book is comparable that sold well in 1987, that just isn't useful information today. Go to the bookstore and find section that has your genre. I went to the children's section because my novel is for middle grade readers.

Then I read. And read. And read.

I picked up book after book after book and scanned the first pages. I didn't look at any books that were classics from my childhood, I was after CURRENT, like the last 5 years. It took a long time, I won't lie. Here's what I looked for:
  1. Plot that was similar to mine. Of course. My story is about a child spy who befriends a princess and does spy stuff. Adventure/friendship. I looked for any books that had female spies and jotted them down in my notebook. Then I looked for stories with a mystery in them and jotted notes about them in my notebook. Then I looked for adventure stories that focused on an interpersonal relationship and wrote down notes about them.
  2. POV. Books written in similar point of view as my novel. This may seem irrelevant, but when I was a kid, I remember that I absolutely hated reading books in first person present tense and I avoided them at all costs. POV is enough to attract or detract your audience. My current book is actually written in first person present tense, isn't that irony for you?
  3. Voice. Not all middle grade books have similar voices. I looked for books with voices that were like mine. My main character is smart and sassy and my writing isn't as simple as some MG novels so I looked for similar stories and wrote these down.
  4. Length. The reader of Magic Tree House novels is not going to be your Harry Potter reader, simply because Harry Potter is so much longer. I have an 8 year old that will only read books that have more than 200 pages. Any less that that isn't worth her time. My 6 year old will only read books under 110 pages. Anything more than that she feels takes too much commitment.
  5. Style. I am more of a dialogue and narrative girl than description so I looked for books that had these similar styles. Some books have more of a contemporary style, some are more traditional. Find books that are like your style.
  6. Character. Not to be confused with voice, this is more about the actual characteristics of your main character. Sure your main character may talk the same as the Princess Diaries heroine, Mia, but if your MC is also ugly, mean, and a math-lover, she will likely have a different reader base. No offense to math-lovers, but princesses have a totally different draw. Just sayin.
With all the info I gathered, I found the three to five books that had the most similarities to my book and I included them in my proposal.

Of course, I didn't just say, "here's five books like mine", because if there's that many books like yours, why do we need yours? No, the key is to explain why these books are like yours and then say why yours is different/better.

For example: If you wrote a book about a wizard in the first person that is 25,000 words you could say - Harry Potter is like mine because it's about a boy wizard at school fighting evil, but my book is told in the first person which is often times more personal to readers. Also my book is shorter and therefore geared to a slightly younger audience.

You want the agent/publisher to see that people buy books like yours, but there isn't already something exactly like yours in the market place.

Do you know who you're like? Can you name 3 to 5 novels right now as comparables and include reasons why? Do you look for something different when you are writing your competitive proposal? Tell us!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stay Connected

In addition to what I said yesterday...

Suggestion: Connect your media.

Put your blog address on Facebook. Put your Twitter handle on your blog. Add automatic updates so every time your blog updates, your Twitter and FB fans are notified. Put all your info in the signature of your emails.

Do it!!

Where's another place you stay connected? Share some other media connections in the comments.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Learn to Share

Ugh. Do you know what's tricky for me? Sharing what I've created.


I'd rather write my songs and my stories and my blog posts (because I enjoy all of that) and not tell anyone I know. Strangers are ok, but people I know? What if what I say is completely stupid? Or wrong?? Or unpopular???

Get over it. That's what I tell other people and what I am now telling myself.

Suggestion: Tell people.

Tell people you have a blog. Tell people you have a Facebook page. Tell people you're on Twitter. Tell everyone.

This week I will: tell people on Facebook and people on the QueryTracker forum that I belong to about this blog. And if it's stupid, then who cares. You got to do it!

How about you? Do you have a problem sharing? Or are you all about telling everyone? Tell us in your comments!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Have a Conversation

So now we have a blog, a Twitter account, and a Facebook account. The single most difficult thing to convince clients to do once they have these accounts is to turn the comments ON.

I know: it's scary. People might say things you don't want to hear. They might complain.

But they might not.

Interaction on your blog and on Facebook is important. Getting people talking is what gets people coming back.

Suggestion: turn the comments on.

My comments have always been on, by the way. So I am ready for the next part of having a conversation.

Suggestion: invite people to comment.

It's not enough to merely let people respond to you. You need to ask them to respond to you. Some people have opinions they are happy to share no matter what, but others need to feel invited.

What's your personal opinion on comments? Do you leave them for other people? Do you tend to respond more when they ask you to? Are you afraid of what people will say? Please share!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Facebook Friday: Embrace the Face

Here it is: the First Facebook Friday!!

Suggestion: Start a Facebook page

If you already do, great. If you don't, I'm telling you to embrace Facebook. 80% of all adults are on the internet. 86% of people ages 18-29 use Facebook. 61% of ages 30-49 are on Facebook. Even more kids are on even though the minimum age requirement for FB is 13.

If you aren't on Facebook, you are missing your audience.

Don't wait until you get an agent to open an FB account. I currently have 407 FB friends. That's 407 people I can immediately market to when I need to. I know someone who wrote an amazing manuscript, had agents fighting over her, and then started her FB account. When her book got accepted for publication, she had less than 50 friends to share the news with. Sure, she's still building up her friends and has tons of time before book release, but so do I. I have a huge headstart.

If there's any social media marketing advice you take, please, be on Facebook. (I know I'm probably preaching to the choir, but just in case there's any hold-outs reading this, this post is for them.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Building Suspense

You didn't miss a beat: I missed Wednesday. Sigh.

Would you buy that I was building suspense??

Ok, I'll try harder. I'll get there.

But today's post isn't about that; it's about Facebook Friday! But I need to get some housekeeping out of the way:

I am removing the Step 1, etc. from each post because some of these things could happen in any order. Instead I will have "Suggestions".

Now, today's Suggestion: Build suspense.

When you are going to announce anything, even a silly change in your routine like making a day a certain topic, it is good to build suspense. Look at JK Rowling's announcement of Pottermore today. It began with a little tease last week to tune in for her announcement today. Today's announcement says come back in a month. In one day, she got 120,000 followers on Twitter.

I built suspense by telling you Monday to tune in Wednesday to find out more about Faceboook Friday. Notice I didn't leave the announcement for the day the thing actually is. My announcement (so utterly lame compared to Pottermore) may attract enough interest from one reader to hit subscribe so they get my next post. It could happen!

What exactly is Facebook Friday, you ask? Every Friday my blog post will be about using Facebook to market yourself. Little tidbits that I will use to build myself, and some that I will just share as ideas for others.

Doesn't it sound AWESOME??

It will be. Come back tomorrow and see.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Creating a Routine

It's true. We are slaves to routine. Take advantage. This is sort of a follow-up to Step 2 (blog consistently), but if you have a hard time with knowing what you are going to say and when, it's a good idea to

Step 5: Create a routine.

I'm not just talking about a routine where you blog first thing in the morning or after you shower sort of thing, though those kind of routines are also very useful. I'm talking about creating a routine for your readers. Tell them when you are going to blog, and then so they know when to come and read. Perhaps you are a weekly blogger. Then you should blog on the same day every week and tell your readers. If you are a few times a week blogger, choose your days and tell your readers. People will return to you more often if you become part of their routine.

Right now I'm a Monday, Wednesday, Friday type of blogger. I will probably eventually become a Monday through Friday blogger, but right now I have one follower (hi, Joe!) and I already talk to him nearly everyday (via G-mail chat, but that counts).

Another way to create a routine is to designate topics for certain days of your blog. Like maybe Wednesday is Work-In-Progress Wednesday. Or every Friday is Review a New Book Friday. This tactic sometimes comes off as just cutesy, but more often than not it works. Particularly this is helpful for the writer who doesn't know always know what to say. Having a topic can really inspire you.

For now, my only cute routine is going to be Facebook Friday. But pretend I didn't say that because Wednesday's blog is going to announce Facebook Fridays. Wait, didn't you just announce it? you ask. Well, come back Wednesday and you'll see what I'm getting at.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Get Twitter-pated

First off I have to say Twitter isn't for everyone. Seriously. Less than 20% of adult online users tweet. So if you don't think you're a tweeter, than don't feel bad, neither are the majority of internet users.

If you are a tweeter definitely use Twitter. Especially if your target market is between the ages of 18 and 49. Twitter can be amazing for marketing. It is the best real-time social media tool out there. There are some markets that twitter works especially well in, and the literary word is one of them. Probably because writers think they always have something to say :)

If you aren't sure about Twitter, then check it out first. There are tricks to using Twitter successfully. You really need to have a smartphone. And be willing to be on it whenever you get a tweet. I, personally, have used Twitter with clients - I know how it works. But for myself, I'm not quite ready to commit. And I don't know a lot about tweeting as an up-and-coming author yet. I have to learn the market. So, since I have the time because I don't have a book to promote yet (or even an agent!) I am easing into Twitterdom with...

Step 4: Stalking

In other words, I have created a Twitter account (laabwriter). I am searching out who I want to follow (mostly other writers, agents, and publishers). I am not following friends - well a couple. I am not following anyone who is not in the market or business I am in. I haven't tweeted at all (except for a greeting to a friend) and before I tweet a single word, I am stalking all these others who know what they are doing. I'm not kidding. You learn by watching and carefully observing. Watching other writers use Twitter effectively to market themselves is excellent information. I am stalking and learning. Once I feel that I have a sense of what seems to be successful for writers, I will use Twitter more fully. But for now, beware - I'm watching you!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

To Share or Not to Share

While you're trying to build yourself, market your material, spread your message, no matter what it is or who you are, life happens. Life happens and sometimes you don't feel like being out there and exposed. You want to curl up in a ball or go to bed for, like, ever.

But just like I mentioned in the don't disappear step, you have to keep yourself available. Even when your personal life is maybe overwhelming.

Now you and every public figure has to decide (and nowadays you're a public figure if you have a facebook account) how public you want to be. Do you want to share with the world that you're going through a divorce? That you're sick as a dog? That you're moving? That you're gay? That your child has been diagnosed with autism?

Some marketers will say that you should keep it all professional and leave out all the personal. Others will try to give you exact guidelines. If you become well-known, you're private info will be shared whether you want it to be or not. But for now, you're in control. You decide what to divulge and what not to, what level you want to expose yourself at. So decide.

If you decide to share, decide what level to share at and be consistent. If you want to slip in some personal touches, do it more than just once every 6 months because otherwise it becomes jarring. This refers more to little comments like tweets about your dog puking on your shoes or about wrecking your car. For big issues, think carefully before you broadcast and then be prepared to be judged and questioned and interrogated and supported and advised.

If you decide not to share, you have to keep your marketing presence alive even if you aren't feeling up to par. Keep up appearances, as they say. If grandma died and you don't want to tell the world, you can't disappear. Market on.

It may not seem like this is an actual step in building your image, but it really and truly is. Decide early and think it through carefully. This is not the kind of decision you should make on a whim. Decide before the big life happenings occur. It will make it easier to already have your choice made.

Step 3: Decide how personal your image is.

So how personal is my image going to be? Well, semi-personal. I'm planning to tell you when I have a bad day and when my kids are driving me crazy. (Tonight, for example,I'm super grumpy - I have a massive headache and my baby won't go to bed.) But I'm not going to share the deeply personal stuff. My reasoning is two-fold: First, I work to escape my personal stuff. Second, I'm saving those stories for my books :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Don't Disappear

I would tell any of my clients that consistency is key to building your image. Yet, here I am with spotty blogging.

So Step 2: blog consistently.

Daily is best. If not daily, at least a couple of times a week. At the very least, once a week. Internet followers have short memories. If you disappear from your blog, you disappear from their thoughts. Set up a reminder on your calendar to remind you to blog consistently. Give yourself incentive.

Does it need to be a full-blown article each time? No. In fact, better if not, because people don't have time to read each and every full-blown article.

But don't post stupid. By "stupid" I mean without substance. Even your shortest blog post should say something.

This one says blog consistently.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I'm a Writer, Not a Self-Publicist

I've been a writer since I could write. As a child, I loved nothing more than a pen and a new notebook. I had a fetish for notebooks, in fact. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Diaries, stories, songs. Tons of songs. And as I grew and discovered other things I loved, writing never went away, always a constant companion. Music and writing. Acting and writing. Life and writing. I had children, and began writing for them. Well, for me, but inspired by them. First one picture book. Then another. Then five. Finally after all the dabbling and the collecting of words, I began a pursuit that moves writing from the sidelines where I've been pushing it, to the spotlight where it (maybe) belongs: I wrote a novel. And I've decided to try to go professional with it.

But this isn't about the novel I wrote. Or about how long it took me to write it initially (6 weeks) or how many drafts it's gone through (3 complete revisions and countless minor adjustments) or about the query process for getting an agent (maddening!) though all of these things may be mentioned along the way. Actually this is about my inability to self-promote.

 What does that have to do with writing? Apparently a whole freakin' lot. Today's writer's have to market themselves, create a following, promote their material. There may be publicists to help, but mostly, it's up to the writer. It's something I've never been good at, self-promotion. I've wanted to be good at it, but I'm always awkward at praise. Which is odd because I've been an actress and performer and often stood in front of people with my accomplishments. I just somehow cower at the precise moment that I should be standing straight and tall, soaking it in. And then I have a horrible time telling others about whatever it is I did or am doing or am going to do. So how am I supposed to be a successful author with this skill limitation?

Guess what. I don't know the answer. But I have been working in marketing for the last five years (I can promote other people just fine). And I'm almost done with my MBA in marketing. I think, with this experience, I just might be able to pull it off. Anyway, that's what this blog is. It's about whether or not I pull it off. And how. Ok, I don't have anything to promote yet, but marketing campaigns can take a long time. You can never start too early in your promotion strategy. Well, at least that's the way I'm playing it. So now that promotion strategy begins.

Step 1: Start a blog.
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