We’ve reached the final segment of Ask the Authors, which will bring our series to a close. This has been a fun series and we’ve covered a lot in regards to writing. In this segment, our panel members will answer follow-up questions for each segment and wrap things up, so let’s get started. We’ll skip over the introductory segment, as there are really no follow-up questions as to the panel members identity, but if you missed that one, you really should pop in and check it out. Our panel had a great line up, with DeAnna Knippling, Chris Dibella, Carol Riggs, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Janet Garber, Art Rosch, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili and Jordan Elizabeth.
I want to thank each and every one of our panel members for their participation. This blog is a labor of love for me, which means I can’t pay for guest posts, etc… The time and energy each author took to respond to all of my, sometimes lengthy and open ended questions is greatly appreciated. When asked if they would be up for another round in the fall, many said yes, so it looks like we have another round of Ask the Authors still to look forward to.
Our first segment takes A Look at the Writing Process, where each of our panel members found different things most challenging, from sharing and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to self confidence, to marketing and finding readers, to the actual act of writing. The process is never the same for any two authors. Some prefer to write without distractions, while others like to write with music or other things going on in the background. Many authors like to write in public places, such as coffee shops, while others like Tim Baker find this too cliche or just need their privacy for writing, like Carol Riggs. We approach our writing in different ways, as well. While Janet Garber writes in vigenettes, Cynthia Vespia writes her first drafts by hand, and authors like DeAnna Knippling just let the characters go and see what happens, and most of our panel members are morning writers, like Chris Barili. Most of our panel members claim to lean toward character driven stories, but I’m with Cynthia Vespia in thinking that all stories must be a little of both. Most, like Art Rosch and Chris DiBella say the titles of their books just come to them, usually before actual writing begins, while the book is still in the design stage. Be sure to check it out and see what each of our panel members’ best pieces of advise for upcoming authors.
The follow up question for this segment is: What are your top five writing rules for success?
1. Write what you want, don’t follow the trends
2. Characterization is key
3. Have fun with world building
4. Think outside the box
5. And of course show don’t tell
1. Learn your craft. Whether through college studies, mentorship, reading a lot, whatever. Learn what makes good stories.
2. Learn the business of your craft. All the writing in the world does you no good if you don’t know how to get it sold.
3. Find your writing tribe. A support crew of fellow writers is crucial for keeping you going.
4. Submit. Everywhere. You don’t get published if you’re not submitting.
5. Get your ass in the seat and do the work. Don’t wait for the stupid inspiration fairy or muse to sit on your shoulder and whisper bullshit in your ears. Write. Then write some more.
1. Jot down phrases and ideas when inspiration hits no matter where you are.
2. Work on making the language sing.
3. Submit like crazy
4. Don’t take rejections personally. Just move on.
5. Don’t ever give up!
One, be yourself. Write to please yourself. There is no other way to achieve authenticity other than to make your writing a means of exploring yourself, your humanity and the nature of your life experience.
If you’re writing fiction you need a great villain. Nothing propels a story like a character that you hate, someone whom you want to see brought to justice. I pay special attention to writing my villains.
Write with feeling or your readers will not feel anything. Emotion is the fuel of story. Be a storyteller, engage readers with plots that invoke high stakes. The ultimate investment in a story can be the life or death of the characters, or the survival of a society, or the triumph of a civilization. All the elements of story break down into conflicts of virtue versus destruction. What makes a story interesting, however, is when it’s difficult to tell who is good and who is evil. Things aren’t always simple.
A good book has three attributes. It should be entertaining, informative and inspiring. I can loosely define inspiration as the evocation of insight. Insight feels good and you know when a writer provokes an understanding of the human condition.
That’s not exactly five rules, but it’s an overview of things I put in my writing.
Tim Baker: I really only have one rule…keep writing. If you want to be succesful as a writer you have to keep writing. Not only is it the best way to hone your skills, but the more you write, the more chance you have of being succesful.
Chris DiBella: I don’t have any rules for writing “success” because the term success will vary from person to person. What works for me may not work for other writers, and vice versa. There are a million blogs posting the same 5 to 10 rules for how to be a writer, but none of them seem to be putting out any books themselves, so why take advice from someone who isn’t successful doing what they are trying to tell you to do? There’s no secret magic formula, but you can’t be successful if you don’t write…..so just go write.
1. There ARE no rules.
2. Everyone writes lousy first drafts; get the words down on the page and learn to revise.
3. Always have other people check your work for inconsistencies, grammar, punctuation, etc.
4. If you truly love to write, never give up!
5. Not everyone will love your book; it’s subjective and there’s no way your writing will speak to every single person.
1. Write. Don´t stop.
2. Don´t copy anyone else. Find your own voice.
3. Craft your stories.
4. Be humble. Be proud.
5. Keep it up.
P.S. Just write if you have something to tell, and then forget about it all. I don´t believe so much that we can predict success though we need to do our best for it. I see authors who might be famous, and they might not be the best ones, or even the most influential ones, or the ones that are still going to be recalled a century from now. I would rather quote Jorge Amado and say that writing is like living:
“The world is like that – incomprehensible and full of surprises.” Jorge Amado – Brazilian Author.
- Never give up on your dreams.
- Write what you know. Write a book that you would want to read.
- Don’t write a shocking scene just for the shock value.
- Don’t write in a genre just because its selling; write in that genre because you’re passionate about it.
The second segment was on Character Development. Many of our author panel develop characters from real people and composites of people they know, or at least give them realistic qualities and flaws to make them feel more human, easier to identify with, and most admit to having a little of themselves in their characters. Chris DiBella, Jordan Elizabeth, Janet Garber and Art Rosch even offer up real life examples. None of them openly admited to creating characters from archetypes, but I maintain that all characters fit into archetypes, whether the author does it consciously or not. Chris Barili offers his method of character development using a character triangle to determine what the character’s motivation is, what the character’s fear or flaw is, and what it is the character truly needs. It is clear that for all of our panel members and myself, our characters often come alive and take over what happens on the page, surprising even their creators at times. While Art Rosch and DeAnna Knippling like to take a more psychological approach to character development, authors like Tim Baker use life observation to ‘keep it real’. And I don’t think any of the panel members would disagree with Carol Riggs when she stated, “The more rich development you can give to a character, the more the reader can identify with them.” After all, that is what we’re striving for – characters that readers can relate and identify with.
The follow-up question for this segment: How do you evoke emotion in your readers?
Cynthia Vespia: This is one of the most important parts of storytelling, and one of my favorite parts as well. Developing characters that readers resonate with is what stirs emotion. If they can see part of themselves in the character they will gravitate towards them more and that makes them care what happens to them in the end.
Chris Barili: You do that by creating a character they empathize with, then killing him or her, usually. No, wait. That’s the George Martin approach. Seriously–build a character about whom readers care, then put them in situations where they are threatened.
Janet Garber: This is admittedly not always easy. I concentrate on creating relatable and sympathetic characters.
Art Rosch: If you write with feeling your audience will respond with feeling. Fiction is mostly about overcoming obstacles. You cause your heroes to act bravely and unselfishly and your villains to act with malice and manipulation. If you create a lovable hero, (that is, someone with flaws who intends to do a positive thing) your readers will respond. I don’t know if emotion can be taught. Writing is a very psychological pursuit, and our emotions are unpredictable and all but uncontrollable. So…be a psychologist.
Tim Baker: By giving my characters real emotion and letting the reader see it. Whatever emotion the characters are feeling in a particuklar scene I try to have them think and react the way any of us would (as much as allowable for the story anyway).
Chris DiBella: I just try to make my characters as real as possible and hopefully my readers like them enough to care about what happens to them.
Carol Riggs: I write in first person for (what I think is) the most close, personal experience. I also try to include a lot of sensory images—smell, taste, sounds, and sights to make things more real. With crying and sobbing and sad emotions, often less is more; otherwise it starts feeling melodramatic. And if the character is going through general experiences the reader can relate to (betrayal, loss, anger at a friend or parent) that helps make an emotional connection.
Jordan Elizabeth: I rely on my own experiences when writing. Many of the emotions I write about are ones that I have experienced, so I’m able to write from the heart. If its a funny scene, then I’m laughing out loud. If its a sad scene, I have tears drenching my cheeks.
DeAnna Knippling: One of my pet peeves is when an author is obviously playing for my emotions rather than letting the combination of plot, character, etc., do the work in a more logically consistent fashion. You’ve seen it every time a beloved character gets wiped out and it really doesn’t affect the narrative, other than to “inspire” the rest of the characters to carry on or set the grounds for “anything could happen!!!!!!!”
If I want a reader to cry, I better have already wept bitter tears over the manuscript as I was writing it.
Our third segment was on Action and Dialog. While all authors want dialog that flows smooth and sounds realistic, different authors take different approaches to the task. While most of our panel members agree that listening to people and being able to hear the dialog spoken in your head are great ways to approach this, Carol Riggs offers the really great advice to read your work aloud, and Art Rosch offers the advice that dialog should always serve a purpose, rather than being just a space filler. In true life, we tend to talk just to hear ourselves sometimes. In writing, that sort of thing just takes up space on the page and the only purpose it may serve is to bore the reader, and of course, we don’t want that. Achieving a balance between action and dialog seems to come natural for many of our panel members claim the only trick or secret is to keep the story moving and not let it get too bogged down with details. Tell readers what they need to know, but keep things moving. If you missed this segment, be sure to drop in and check it out, because it features excerpts of dialog scenes from authors Chris Barili, Janet Garber, DeAnna Knippling, Cynthia Vespia, Tim Baker, Art Rosch and Margareth Stewart.
The following is a reader comment left regarding Dialog. While a couple of our panel members replied directly in the comments, DeAnna Knippling’s reply seemed spot on to me and I wanted to include it here.
Reader Ken Hughs said:
Lots of excellent advice there.
I’m always on the lookout for ways to analyze dialogue a bit deeper than that. For instance:
Who talks more? Does she say a lot on her favorite subject (an expert, or just concerned about it) and less on other things, or is she nervous or social enough to chime in a little after everything– or so full of herself she does both?
How organized are his sentences? A longer sentence can mean he has a more complex complete thought, unless it’s a run-on; several short sentences could each mean new thoughts still coming in behind the last ones. Or the most eloquent person might be the one with the simple line that says it all.
Adjectives and adverbs? Someone passionate, or more in tune with their senses, is more likely to pile on the modifiers, while others are plainer-spoken. Similes and metaphors take this even further– if you can keep someone from becoming cliche about using their job or background to compare things too.
DeAnna Knipling: It sounds like the commenter, Ken Hughes, is doing some good things with pacing. Huzzah! Once you get past the point of being able to make dialogue that sounds natural and gets the point across in a scene, the next step is to start working on the pacing of the dialogue–and all the issues Mr. Hughes mentioned are relevant there.
To back up a bit for writers who aren’t quite down in the weeds of studying pacing yet:
- Pacing is the art of connecting content (what you’re writing about) to form (the layout of the little black marks on the page, for writers). When the word lengths and patterns, sentence lengths and patterns, scene lengths and patterns all line up with the meaning of the story somehow, the story is “paced well.” Pacing is about building your story like a woodworker, choosing your material and construction techniques to fit the final purpose of the project. Any element of a story can have pacing.
- Each character’s dialogue will also have its own pacing, just as Mr. Hughes says, and it should depend on the nature of the character.
- The examples that Mr. Hughes gives are excellent examples of what to consider with pacing dialogue.
- I’d like to add that anything that you add between pieces of dialogue also reflects the pacing of the dialogue, so if you have chunks of description between bits of dialogue, the reader will take them as pauses in the conversation, or as the POV character’s mind wandering during the conversation.
Mr. Hughes and DeAnna bring up another issue here, which we haven’t really touched on.
Naturally my follow-up question is:What methods do you find effective in controlling your pacing?
Cynthia Vespia: I don’t. I just write what comes to me.
Chris Barili: I don’t know. I just go with what the characters are feeling, I guess. Their tension tells me how to pace a scene.
Janet Garber: Ah. You must make every scene count. Have it lead readers somewhere, to the destination you intend.
Art Rosch: I’ve watched a thousand Samurai movies. They’re great for offering templates for action sequences. Samurai didn’t waste effort in useless display and they were completely focused on surviving the next duel or battle. Unless you’re writing about super-heroes your characters need to operate within reasonable physical parameters. I act out movements and gestures at my chair in front of my computer. Does this look reasonable? Can my characters do this-and-that?
In my novel Confessions Of An Honest Man, I have a 70 page battle sequence that takes place in Afghanistan. It’s a much admired passage with editors and readers. It has an arc, or several arcs. There’s the build-up to an initial confrontation. A mini-climax occurs early in the scene. But it doesn’t end there. A greater threat appears unexpectedly and my hero must cope with expanded dangers. Each time a resolution seems to occur another and greater threat appears. The point of this sequence is that my hero learns things about himself, learns that he has more courage than he thought. There’s outer action but there’s also my hero’s thoughts and emotions as the scene(s) unfold. This pendulum between action and a character’s inner dialogue offers a means of pacing.
Tim Baker: When writing action I try to write only the action. By this I mean if I’m writing an action packed scene I don’t stray away from the action with anything that will slow the reader down. I want the reader to be able to be in the action.
Chris DiBella: I’ve never thought about trying to control my pacing. When I get to action scenes, I just try to write them in a way where I’m describing enough that it paints a picture for my readers. I don’t have a formula for how many pages an action scene should be. I just write them until I feel it’s time to move on with the story.
Carol Riggs: I try to keep some sort of tension, question, or compelling forward movement on every page, whether internal for the characters or external to them. I use cliffhanger-type chapter endings to keep the reader turning pages. It’s also important not to rush the “big moments”—sometimes the pace needs to be drawn out on powerful scenes to heighten the impact or emotions. In an action scene, short punchy sentences help move the pacing along.
Margareth Stewart: Word count and daily targets; otherwise, it does not flow. Sometimes, I feel like I am a General to myself: “for instance, no chocolate if I don´t finish 2.500 word count today”, and there it goes. Other times, I need to be a little more flexible because things do happen in between word counting, not with the plot or story itself, but in terms of living – ordinary living – bills to pay, a tire to fix, and so on. Another good and productive management is during November Writing. Besides that, I use the same method for editing – this week I have to review 50 pages and by the way I am late, so I will have to do extra work at the weekend. Therefore, I have told my kids, we can only go to the cinema if I can complete the goal before Sunday. By the way, that´s another point about being a writer, we feel quite weird and funny.
Jordan Elizabeth: I tend to just write, write, write. I don’t plan my stories ahead; I just go off a basic plot idea in my mind. Pacing falls naturally into place.
In our third segment, our author panel members discussed Setting, where author Carol Riggs suggests basing fictional worlds on real life places as a good method of world building, and travel for authors is recommended in order to expand on their true life experiences that shine through in their writing, although most of our panel members have written about places they have never been or don’t really exist, like Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA fantasy. DeAnna Knippling loves to write about Victorian England, and all agree that sensory details should be added to make the setting feel more real. This segment also features setting excerpts from Cynthia Vespia, Art Rosch, Chris Barili, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber. (Strangely enough, I just realized I gave no follow-up question for this segment, although we could do a whole series on world building and setting. Wow!)
Our fourth segment covered the topic of Publishing, which many authors opt to do themselves these days. Our panel members were a nice blend of traditional, small press and self-published authors, with three strictly self-published authors: Art Rosch, Chris DiBella, and DeAnna Knippling; one author who is strictly small press: Jordan Elizabeth; and five who have done a hybrid combination of small press and self-publishing in one form or another: Cynthia Vespia, Margareth Stewart, Tim Baker, and three authors who have done a combination of traditional and self-publishing: Janet Garber, Chris Barili, and Carol Riggs. Together, they bring their own experiences to the table to talk about the pros and cons of each publishing venue.
I have two follow-up questions for this segment:
Are your books available in print or digital format, or both? Why?
Cynthia Vespia: Both. Because I like to have my work available in as many formats as possible to appeal to different readers. Next I’ll do audio books.
Chris Barili: Both. And why wouldn’t you do it that way? You’re robbing yourself of readers if you ignore one medium.
Janet Garber: My books are in print and in digital form and the first traditionally purchased book is on audiotape as well.
Art Rosch: I need to emphasize a huge fact with regard to the whole publishing venture. It takes money to market books. I don’t have money, I’m living on a fixed income. I started my enterprise by going to Smashwords.com and e-publishing three of my books. I did the same at Amazon. An author can publish digitally for free. I designed my own book covers, using my stock of personal photography and my skills in Photoshop. Such as they are.
I am now about to turn my novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man into a paperback on Amazon. I have no illusions about getting sales. I just want to have a physical object, MY BOOK, in my hands and have it be available to people in my environment.
Tim Baker: My books are available in print, digital and audio (not all of them are currently available in audio, but the ones that aren’t are in production.) The reason why is simple…give more options to people and increase your chances of being read.
Chris DiBella: Both. There are still people out there (somewhere) who like to read physical copies of books.
Carol Riggs: All my books are available in both print and digital formats. This is important, because some readers prefer print and some prefer digital.
Jordan Elizabeth: Both (except for Kistishi Island. I have to sell 500 ebooks before it will be in print). I like having a combination of formats. Some people prefer print and some prefer ebook. I’ve heard from a lot of readers that they have to use ebooks because of eyesight problems. Print books are great for book signings.
DeAnna Knippling: Yes and yes. See writing rule #5. I really ought to be working on audio as well. Readers should be able to read conveniently.
Which publishing platforms do you use? Which do you recommend? Why?
Cynthia Vespia: I’m focused on Amazon at the moment because that’s where the majority of buyers/readers go. I’ve also used Smashwords and Barnes and Noble for digital.
Chris Barili: Amazon and Smashwords for my self-published stuff. I prefer Smashwords because they distribute to a bunch of other retailers, saving me time.
Janet Garber: I used Lulu.com and was satisfied with their speed and the look of the final product.
Art Rosch: I think Smashwords is great. There’s all the support and information you need. Amazon is, of course, the giant, but as with everything in digital publishing, it’s all automated.
Tim Baker: I use CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing and ACX (for audio). Since those are the ones I use – those would be the ones I recommend.
Chris DiBella: I use Amazon and CreateSpace. It’s easy to set up and get my books out to potential readers from those sites.
Carol Riggs: Three of my books are traditionally published, and the publishers distribute in various ways (Entangled Teen uses Macmillan, for instance). For self-publishing, I use CreateSpace and Amazon KDP; it’s relatively easy to release a book on these platforms.
Jordan Eizabeth: My publishers use Ingram and CreateSpace. I can’t speak to the ease of use.
DeAnna Knippling: It’s not so much which ones, as how you decide which ones to use. I’m starting to look at these things as, “How does this company treat its readers? Are the readers happy with the experience?” Another good set of questions is, “How does this company treat its writers? Does it pay them promptly? Does it have good reporting? Do they have good avenues for books that aren’t bestsellers to reach readers? Is the damn site hard to use?”
Our fifth segment of Ask the Authors covered the topic of Genre Differences. Again, we had a nice mix for this topic. Among our author panel members we had: Jordan Elizabeth, who writes YA Fantasy and Steampunk; Carol Riggs, who writes both Fantasy and Science Fiction; Tim Baker, who writes crime action adventure novels; Cynthia Vespia, who writes speculative fiction for adults and teens; and those who dabble a little in all of them: Janet Garber, Chris Barili and DeAnna Knippling. They discuss the use of tropes when writing in the different genres, and also the differences in the creative process, the different types of research required, and the differences in audience and marketing. No follow-up questinos for this segment.
In the sixth segment, our author panel discusses The Business of Writing. According to Jordan Elizabeth and Carol Riggs, marketing can make or break you in the world of writing, and in today’s digital world, much or all of those duties fall upon the author, requiring us to treat writing not only as a job or a passion, but as a business. Today’s author may be responsible for everything about their book, from writing the book, to editing and cover art, to publishing, to marketing and promotion, and everything in between. While many of these tasks can be hired out, not all authors can afford to do so. I didn’t have any follow-up for this segment, mainly because the next two segments were follow-up to this.
For the seventh segment of Ask the Authors, our author panel discusses the many ways there are to Building an Reader Platform. Most of our panel members prefer face-to-face events, over online activities, but it seems they continue to use the Internet and social media to promote their books, feeling that both are needed. Some panel members come up with some very creative ideas, like Tim Baker, who had a tire cover made for the spare on his Jeep with his logo on it, or Chris DiBella, who had customized tee-shirts made telling the world that he is their next favorite author. Who knows? It might work.
The follow-up question for this segment is: What methods have you found successful for obtaining reviews?
Cynthia Vespia: Asking. I ask other writers, or I seek out bloggers who do reviews.
Janet Garber: Approaching authors who write in a similar humorous fashion; writing reviews myself as a pay-it-forward tactic; bugging people who enjoyed the book.
Art Rosch: I completely suck at this and it’s my own fault. I must have social media halitosis. There are billions of people who don’t know about me. I’ve been hammering at this for many years and haven’t cracked the code yet. I do recommend one author-marketing guru (among the many who haunt my email inbox). That’s Mark Dawson. He refunded my money long after the expiration date for one of his courses and he didn’t have to. He teaches at a good pace and he has much to offer to authors who want to market independently.
Tim Baker: I haven’t found a successful way to get reviews. People generally don’t like to write them. I’ve done everything from blog posts, social media requests and even offered to include people in a book if they wrote enough reviews. It’s the thing I find most discouraging about writing.
Chris DiBella: I don’t like to hound people for reviews. There are some authors who post constantly about it, and I find it annoying. We all want reviews, but it seems some authors will only ask for reviews from people they know will give them a favorable review. I simply do not like that approach. The way I look at it is the reviews will come in time – or maybe not. They’re nice to get, but I don’t stress about it. I also have my own little rule of thumb of not to trust any book with less than 15 reviews of all 5-stars (unless there’s some bad reviews in there too). Anyone can get 15 friends or family members to write a good review. It’s that first bad review I usually trust the most. Same goes for my books. My first bad review was actually pretty spot-on with the critique. She liked the story, but drilled me on editing. No friends or family members would have left a review like that. I pulled the book and re-edited it. Of course it sucks to get bad reviews, but they can be turned into a positive. And for the love of everything you consider holy, please stop arguing with readers who give you a bad review. Let your fans battle it out for you.
Carol Riggs: My publishers used NetGalley for obtaining reviewers from bloggers. A newsletter also works decently for requesting reviews. I try not to ask for reviews too much, however, because it’s off-putting. Either a reader will leave you a review or he/she won’t. No one should be obligated; an author doesn’t get honest reviews that way anyway.
Jordan Elizabeth: Author friends have told me they have good luck when posting free books on Facebook in exchange for reviews. I haven’t had luck that way. I usually reach out to bloggers. Most of the time, they are willing to review.
Just a note: I also see the other side of this issue, as I do honest reviews in exchange for ARCs right here on Writing to be Read. The problem I’ve run into is that since I’m supplied with a free copy, at times Amazon will not aknowledge my reviews because they can’t verify the sale. I imagine those exchanging reviews on Facebook might run into the same type of issues. So, even if you can give away some e-copies in exchange for a review, there is no gaurantee that Amazon will acknowledge it.
DeAnna Knippling: Asking nicely. I was using Instafreebie for a while, but I think that exhausted its readers fairly quickly, because it was mostly a platform for trading newsletter subscribers, not a sustainable model. What new readers was Instafreebie bringing to the table? Not as many as the authors themselves had brought. I did well by it, but I think that was a matter of getting in at the right moment and not “what a great site for reviews!”
I think your best bet is to treat reviews like a pyramid. At the base, write good books and make it easy for readers to read more. Next level, make it easy for your newsletter subscribers to get review copies. I have an ARC list. Up from that, whatever social media sites you’re on, keep an eye out for ways to attract reviews OR newsletter subscribers. At the top of the pile is a review that will be seen widely, a review on a radio show or in a newspaper, things like that. Go for it when you see it. But be more loyal to your base of writing good books and making them easy for readers to read them.
In the last segment, our author panel members discussed many of the issues involved in Book Marketing and Promotion. This is a big topic for many authors, including me, because unlike writing, it does not come natural to us. It is such a big issue that a couple of our panel members, DeAnna Knippling and Janet Garber, bowed out of this segment, rather than express the frustration of not having the answers. But those panel members who did participate had some insightful things to share. They talk about their favorite social media sites for promotion, marketing and giveaway sites, marketing platforms, the effectiveness of author websites and blogs, newletters, press releases and interviews. Be sure and catch this segment, or you’ll never know why Chris DiBella’s mother is his greatest marketing tool.
The follow-up question for this segment is: Many of you said in last week’s segment that you preferred face to face events over Internet and social media marketing and that you found face to face marketing to be more effective. What type of face to face events have you found to be effective?
Cynthia Vespia: The reason conferences don’t work is because there are waaaayyyy too many writers all vying for attention at these things. Also, the majority of the writer conferences only alot 1-2 days for signings and sales that are usually only a few hours long. That is not enough time to make a dent in sales or really do any type of networking with your readers, especially when there are so many other authors there doing the same thing. Some of the more popular ones get all the attention. So imagine you’re a little fish in a sea of whales…how do you get noticed? I’ve run into some very bad etiquette at some of these things before, as well. The guy next to me would skate every sale I tried to make by talking over me and offering a free book. How do you compete with free? You don’t.
So the face-to-face events I prefer are my own individual signings, smaller book fairs, or (and I hate to mention this because it was a well guarded secret before) but I do the comic conventions and they work the best. Plus, they’re alot more fun.
Chris Barili: I’ve found genre cons to be MUCH more effective at selling books and gaining followers than writing conferences, and if you think about it, it makes sense. A genre con is full of fans of whatever genre you like. They’re LOOKING for genre stories. At a writers conference, writers are there looking to SELL stories.
Janet Garber: I find book fairs and readings most enjoyable as I get a chance to speak with the potential readers. Being a guest at a book club meeting is great too because you hear your characters discussed as if they were real people and you learn what readers liked and didn’t like.
Carol Riggs: I personally like/prefer book fairs or festivals over bookstore signings, because they’re more informal. I feel less “on the spot,” and I don’t have to make a microphone presentation. Instead, I can conversationally chat with people who come up to my book table. It feels more like a relationship that way, instead of a “buy my book” spiel. For instance, last summer (as well as this coming summer) I will be participating in the Lane County Fair in Eugene, Oregon, with a book table. Last fall I was also part of the Literacy for Libraries author event in Eugene, and I enjoyed schmoozing with fellow authors and with the crowd who wandered through the building. Sometimes authors can band together and create their own events at libraries and bookstores; it’s less intimidating than going it solo. The purpose of these events aren’t to sell as many books as you can, but rather get to know your readers and get your name out there—that’s an important marketing tip that a seasoned author shared with me.
Jordan Elizabeth: I prefer craft shows and library events. The crowds are manageable, and as I write young adult, many teenagers and children come with their parents. Parents and grandparents are also eager to buy gifts. Because these events are smaller than most conferences, you’re able to have a one-on-one conversation. You get to really understand what types of books these people read and you can gear them toward the book like might like the best.
DeAnna Knippling: Some people are great salespeople. I am not. That’s not some kind of subtle insult or anything. I’m learning. But I’ve always found networking more valuable to me than selling per se. If a sale comes out of it, great. And I’m not like, “Here’s my business card, call me!” To me, a face to face event means that people are far more likely to put their hair down and tell me things. Interesting things. Gossip. Rumors. Scandalous lies! And I love connecting other people and providing a safe place to talk. I have a SF/F/H writer group, the Colorado Tesla Writers, that is basically just a Facebook page and a monthly meal for people to hang out and feel like Real Writers(tm) and let our hair down. That’s it. I’m not sure what it’s effective at, but people tell me that it is, so I keep doing it.
To wrap up this last segment, I want to thank our panel members for the great writing rules. If you create characters who are not only realistic, but who the readers can identify and empathize with, and if you write with emotion which comes from your soul, you can evoke in your readers and make them care about your characters and your story. And while pacing is important and can be controlled with tension, conflict, action and dialog, most of our author panel don’t consciously write with pacing in mind, but rather it seems to come naturally. Also, we may need to pace ourselves to get the story out, as well as controlling the pacing of the story itself.
It does make sense to offer your books in as many formats as possible, because readers aren’t all the same. Amazon and Smashwords appear to be the favorite for digital publishing and CreateSpace was preferred for print publishing, although I believe they have made some changes and now Amazon is also providing print books as an option, so that may change.
Reviews are an author’s calling card these days, and it seems the best way to get them is to ask, whether in a newsletter, in person, or in the book itself, but it’s best not to be pushy. Genre conventions, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and library events are the preferred face to face events to make connections with readers.
Well, it’s time to bring our time with our Ask the Authors panel members to a close. I do hope we’ve provided some helpful information and advice for all you authors out there, and maybe even made you smile once or twice. Thank you all for joining us. Be sure to watch for round two, this fall, where we will have several of these panel members back, as well as inviting other authors to join our panel. The best way to be sure not to miss out on this and all the other great content here on Writing to be Read is to sign up for email notification of follow me on WordPress. I hope you all will drop in frequently.
Next Monday, on Writing to be Read, I’ll be interviewing author Mark Shaw, who has optioned his book, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, for film. Something all authors dream of and some actually get the opportunity to do. How exciting. We’ll also be talking about his new book, Courage in the Face of Evil, which is to be release in June. Don’t miss it!
I want to extend a big thank you to our panel members, Carol Riggs, Tim Baker, Jordan Elizabeth, DeAnna Knippling, Chris DiBella, Art Rosch, Janet Garber, Margareth Stewart, Chris Barili, and Cynthia Vespia. You guys and gals were a great panel and together we created a great Ask the Authors series. I feel it was very successful and I had a lot of fun with it. I hope all of you did, too. Until next time.
Being an author in this day and age means that we do so much more than just write stories. It used to be that a fiction author would write book, then write one or more cover letters and send them out to publishers, (or agents), and if said author was lucky enough to catch a publisher’s eye, a contract would be signed and, (hopefully), a nice big juicy advance would be recieved. (Once the author locks onto an agent, they take over introducing your work to publishers.)The author would then work with the editor assigned by the publisher until the book was honed to perfection, and then the book would be seemingly magically produced and the publisher would launch a marketing campaign. The author might have to make some appearances for the promotion, but other than that, the author’s job would be pretty much done and it would be time to work on the next book. Following the path of traditional publishing has never been easy, but the author did his or her part, writing, and the business end of the endeavor was handled by the publisher.
Today’s authors have it even more difficult, because self-published authors, or even those who hook up with a small independent press, take the business end of writing onto their own shoulders. Modern day authors are expected to run the gammut, writing the book and then getting it edited, formatted, and selling it too. The tools and skills needed to do this are probably not in your writer’s tool box, so we must venture out into the land of marketing and promotion, or hire out these tasks. Either way it is our job as authors to see that these things are done.
Why do you think some authors sell well and others don’t?
Jordan Elizabeth: Of those I know, the ones who sell the best are the ones who put in a lot of money for marketing. They believe in their stories and really get the word out about their books.
Carol Riggs: Some authors are really good at marketing! They have the business brain along with a writer’s brain. Kudos to them; I’m not one of them. But also, some frankly don’t do well because they don’t take the time to make their writing the best it can be with revision and serious editing. They’re in too much of a hurry to be published. The ones who do the best take the time to write a good story and present it in a professional way. Also, if their cover nails their genre and is a strong image, those things go a long way. You can’t always judge a book by its cover, but readers do select books by their covers.
Do you think print books are on the way out? Print or digital? Which do you prefer and what are the advantages or disadvantages of each?
Cynthia Vespia: No. Print books will be here for a long time. Too many people, including myself, prefer holding an actual book in their hands.
Chris Barili: No, in fact, sales of print books have surged lately, though mass market paperbacks are out and trade paperbacks are in. E-book sales have leveled off lately. I think we’ll see both continue to share the market. I know I buy both, and I think other people do too.
Let’s talk about writing organizations such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Western Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Horror writers’ Association, or smaller, local organizations like the one I belong to, Pike’s Peak Writers group, who put on an annual conference each year, or the even more local writing group The Fifth Monday Writers out of Chaffee County. Are these organizations helpful to authors and in what ways?
What benefits do belonging to writing organizations bring? Do they help to bring readers or do their benefits regard craft and promotion? Do you think size matters?
Chris Barili: I think the primary thing we gain from such organizations is a sense of professionalism. Being around others who write keeps you focused, and reminds you that this is a job, first and foremost. That’s easy to lose track of if you’re locked away in your writing cave day after day.
Like it or not, we do judge books by their covers. The cover is the first thing any reader sees, whether in an advertisement or on the book store shelf, or in the Amazon line up on their site. If the cover needs to grab their attention, or your book will just hang out on the shelf, unread. You may have a killer story, but if you can’t interests readers enough to pick up your book, no one will ever know. As mentioned earlier, not all authors are artists or photographers, (although some are), and designing cover art may be outside of their skill set. Let’s Ask the Authors to see how our panel members handle cover art.
If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, or if our panel’s answers have stirred new questions within you, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members.
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I’m excited to tell you about a new series of posts coming to Writing to be Read. Starting next Monday, “Ask the Authors” will pose the questions you want to ask to our panel of authors, and I’ll bring you their answers. The series will cover all aspects of writing, with topics including the writing process and elements of craft, and issues surrounding publishing, and building a platform, marketing and promotion, with members from our panel weighing in on each subject. If you have follow-up questions for the panel or for the individual authors, you can leave them in the comments. I will get them answered and post them in the concluding post, so be sure to catch the whole series.
Our panel consists of eleven members, which I’d like to introduce to you today. All of them, I have worked with here on Writing to be Read, either reviewing their books or interviewing them, or both. Many have participated in either my 2016 Publishing series: “Pros and Cons of Traditionional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing” or my 2017 Book Marketing series: “Book Marketing: What Works?”. They are all outstanding authors and together, they cover a wide variety of genres and publishing routes. Feel free to pose any questions for them of for the panel in general in the comments of any of the posts and I will try to get them answered for you. I hope all my readers will give each of them a warm welcome.
Tim Baker is a Florida author of ten novels, most of which I’ve read more than once. His work is well crafted and entertaining, with memorable characters you can’t help but care about. (See my reviews of Tim’s books: Living the Dream, No Good Deed, Water Works, Backseat to Justice, Unfinished Business, Pump It Up, Eyewitness Blues, Full Circle, 24 Minutes) He started out his writing career with a publisher, but has now moved into the independent publishing arena.
Tim has played almost every sport imaginable throughout his life and currently enjoys S.C.U.B.A. diving, riding his motorcycle, reading and watching movies, (not necessarily in that order). In fact when writing a novel, he approaches it like he’s creating and watching a movie in his head. When asked who he’d like to play the lead character if one of his books were turned into a movie:
“That’s an easy one…in almost all of my books the hero is a guy named Ike. He is a 6’6” ex-Navy SEAL with a tendency to bend (and sometimes break) the rules. He was modelled after the character of Wade Garret, played by Sam Elliot, in Road House – but Sam is getting a bit old to play Ike so the next best thing is an actor named Anson Mount (from the series Hell on Wheels).”
Something his readers might not gues about him: “After reading my books I think most people would be surprised to learn that I am very non-violent. I don’t believe that violence ever solves anything. I also don’t own a gun (but I don’t care if you do), nor do I know much about them. Most of the technical jargon I use about guns in my books I learn from people who know. And I would go out of my way to avoid hostility.”
When asked to describe himself in three words: “Impossible to describe (that’s 3 words!!)”.
Living the Dream was one of the first reviews I did on Writing to be Read back in 2010. I’ve interviewed him for both my 2016 Publishing series and my 2017 Book Marketing series, as well as an author profile back in 2012, and I am pleased to welcome Tim to our Ask the Authors” panel.
You can learn more about Tim and his books at his website: www.blindoggbooks.com.
Jordan Elizabeth is a New York small press author of Young Adult fiction. (See my reviews of Jordan’s books: Escape From Witchwood Hollow, Cogling, Victorian, The Goat Children, Path to Old Talbot, Kistishi Island, Treasure Darkly, Wicked Treasure, Runners & Riders)
One of her secrets for juggling her writing career and family is to set aside one hour a night just for writing. If she’s fortunate enough to set aside two hours, she uses the second hour for marketing. When asked: “What is one thing readers would never guess about you?” She replied: “I am terrified of costumed characters. Think head-to-toe Mickey Mouse. If I see one, I freak out.”
I have reviewed Jordan’s work, both novels and short fiction since 2016, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her for both my 2016 Publishing series and for my 2017 Book Marketing series, and we started off the new year with another interview to talk about her latest book, Secrets of Bennett Hall. In fact, when asked to relate about the most fun interview she’d ever done, she replied, “Anything by you. You always ask unusual questions that really get me thinking.” So thank you for that, Jordan. It pleases me to no end to have you join our “Ask the Authors” panel.
You can learn more about Jordan and her books at JordanElizabethBooks.com.
Margareth Stewart is the pen name for Mônica Mastrantonio, debut author of Open/ Pierre’s Journey After War published by web-e-books.com. She has also compiled and published three international Anthologies featuring global authors: Whitmanthology, Womenthology, The Pain that Unites us All.
She holds a PhD in Social Psychology, and she has been teaching and tutoring students over 22 years. This zen-mother of 3, loves life and her tattoos. She spends her time between Sao Paolo, Miami and writing residencies.
When asked about her favorite form of exercise: “Jogging – that´s kind of an obligation for me. As writers, we tend to sit for long hours, so every single day, I do try to keep that up and go out for a short run of 4 to 5 kilometers. If I have more time, I go round a park nearby and that makes 6 kilometers. I do recommend it – it keeps our mind sharp and our ideas bright.
I only recently met Margareth through my interview with her, but I am happy to have Margareth as a panel member.
You can learn more about Margareth and her book on her Facebook page.
Chris DiBella is currently an independent California author. (See my reviews of Chris’ books: The 5820 Diaries, Whispering Death, Blood Dawn) I say this because Chris has been all over. Originally from New England, he began writing his first novel while living in Hawaii. I reviewed his debut novel, Lost Voyage, back when he was a Colorado author and I was the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner, as well.
I met Chris through another author on this panel, Tim Baker, and it is apparently Tim who gave Chris the best piece of advice he’s ever received:
“I wrote a blog piece about how it’s okay to sometimes alienate your readers…to a point. One of the comments on it was from my friend Tim, who said this:
“If Stephen King or JK Rowling want to piss people off, they can afford it. You and me? We should be a little more careful. Just sayin’.”
And that was the roundabout way of giving me the best piece of advice I could’ve ever received. I immediately got on my laptop, opened up a blank Word document, and typed in big bold letters “BE BIGGER THAN STEPHEN KING & J.K. ROWLING”.
Chris’ words to you readers: “I am however, an open book…..every pun intended….so if there’s anything you would like to know about me or about what makes me tick, please feel free to reach out and ask away. I love interacting with fans and I welcome any questions you may have.”
Soon you can learn more about Chris and his books at his website, which is under construction ans linked to his blog site: www.chrisdibella.com. For now, it might be easier to contact him through his Facebook page.
Janet Garber is the author of both fiction and non-fiction who lives in the U.K. and bases her writing on her experiences as an H.R. manager in New York.
Janet says that if Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager were made into a film, anyone playing her protagonist, Melie Kohl, would have to be believable as a New Yorker, funny and self deprecating, wildly imaginative, more than a little neurotic. She suggest Mary Elizabeth Winstead, star of that great political satire, BrainDead.
When asked what she would do in a life without writing, she says: “I would do what I always do when I’m avoiding my work: knitting, hiking, going to movies, cooking, getting together with friends, travelling, teaching. But . . .I prefer a future with maximum creativity and that means writing.”
I reviewed Janet’s debut novel, Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager, and thought it was one of the quirkiest books I’ve ever read, but it was very entertaining. I hope you will all give her a warm welcome.
If you’d like to learn more about Janet or her books, visit her at:
Her website: http://www.janetgarber.com
On Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Melie5
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/melie5
Art Rosch is an independent novelist and memoirist from sunny California. (See my reviews of The Road Has Eyes and Confessions of an Honest Man. Also see my interview with Art for my 2016 Publishing series here.)
Art says the best piece of advice he was ever given was to ask for help when you need it. If you find yourself bottoming out, don’t hesitate to ask for help. You can’t get out of trouble by yourself. When asked to describe himself in three words: Becoming more alive.
I’ve known Art since 2008, when I administered my own writing site, Writer’s World, and Art was a member. Later, he had his life partner, Fox, who is a pet pyschic, do a reading for me after my son died and we inherited his dog. I am so pleased to welcome him to the “Ask the Authors” panel.
Carol Riggs is a Young Adult fantasy and science fiction author, and dragon collector from Oregon. You will usually find her in her writing cave, surrounded by her dragon collection and the characters in her head.
The most fun part of writing for Carol is “the freedom of drafting a first draft, and being imaginative with my storyline.” The least fun part: “The least fun is marketing, all that necessary left-brained business side of things.”
Carol’s favorite genres to read (and write!) are speculative, which includes fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, magical realism, contemporary fantasy, or anything else with a twist of weird or the imaginative.
When asked what she would do in a future where the was no writing: I would cry. Seriously (after I finished crying), I would return to my artwork, because I have a degree in Studio Arts and that is something I love to do, but haven’t had as much time to do it because I’m so busy writing. In general, I enjoy drawing people more than landscapes. I also like to create miniature fabric art.
You can learn more about Carol or her books at her website: http://www.carolriggs.com/
DeAnna Knippling is another independent Colorado author and one of the a great example of what being a writer is all about. She writes full time as a writer for hire in addition to writing fiction in both short and long forms under her own name. (See my reviews of DeAnna’s books: Clockwork Alice; Something Borrowed, Something Blue; How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys; ) Her stories are always fun and entertaining.
The most unusual or unique thing she’s done in her writing career to date: “I’ve written murder mystery party games for Freeform Games in the UK. SO VERY COOL. So very intense getting them edited…”
When asked about what she would do in a future without writing, she replied: “Be in a coma.” and in one where writing made her rich and famous: “I would buy a house in the mountains and support my husband in the sloth and luxury that he deserves. I have other plans, too, but that’s at the top of the list.”
When asked to describe herself in three words: “I’m right heeeeeeere!”
I had the pleasure of interviewing her twice in 2017. The first time, a profiling interview and then for my 2017 Book Marketing series, and I am thrilled to welcome her to our “Ask the Authors” panel.
You can learn more about Deanna and her books by visiting the following sites:
Cynthia Vespia an award nominated speculative fiction author, cover designer and promotional content developer. She also teaches internet advertising classes and marshal arts workshops. Her speculative fiction encompasses fantasy, the paranormal, and magic realism.
Cynthia was another of Writing to be Read‘s first reveiws and, always willing to jump in where needed, she participated in a profiling interview, my 2017 Book Marketing series. (See my reviews of Cynthia’s books: the Demon Hunter Saga, including The Hero’s Call; Life, Death and Back; Lucky Sevens)
You can learn more about Cynthia and her books at her website: www.cynthiavespia.com/
Chris Barili is a speculative fiction and romance author who was also my cohort in the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program at Western. (See my reviews of Chris’ books: the Hell’s Butcher series and his romance, Smothered (as B.T. Clearwater).)
Besides writing, Chris lifts weights, mountain bikes, practices martial arts and battles Parkinson’s disease. Writing just may be his salvation. When asked about a future where writing left him rich and famous, Chris said he would write more. Regarding a future without writing: “Shrivel up and die. Writing is part of me. Without it, a part of me dies. A crucial part of me. I cannot live without it. I can live without an arm or a leg. I can get by with this Parkinson’s thing. But without writing, I am sunk.”
The best piece of advice he was ever given: “Try genres outside of fantasy.” In addition to my reviews of Chris’s books and short fiction, he was also interviewed for my 2017 Book Marketing series, and I’m happy to have him as a member of our “Ask the Authors” panel.
You can learn more about Chris and his books at his Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Chris-Barili/e/B00NA04S8W/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_4
As you can see, we’ve got a terrific panel of multi-talented authors, both experienced and rising, representing a diversity of genres, covering a wide range of knowledge. The way this series works is I will present a series of posts that will offer answers the panel gives in reponse to my questions.
If you have a question you’ve always wanted answered, but it’s not covered in the post on that topic, pose your query in the comments. Make note if it is directed toward a specific author. Questions will be directed to the general panel unless otherwise specified. Then, in the final post for the series, I will present your questions and the responses I recieved from panel members. I hope you’ll all participate and leave your questions in the comments. I think if we can get enough particiaption it might be really fun.
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The Lying Planet, by Carol Riggs is a grabbing YA science fiction novel. Riggs puts a new twist on the story where all is not as it appears. On the planet Liberty, the future seems bright, but when the truth is finally unveiled, it may be very dark indeed.
On the planet Liberty, kids look forward to turning eighteen and venturing out of the colony they grew up in, away from their families, to live lives of their own. Jay can’t wait to gain his freedom. But what’s a kid to do when he discovers that everything he was ever lead to believe is a lie, the very fabric that he’s built his life on is false? Jay uncovers a secret that will change life on Liberty forever, and once he knows the truth, there’s no turning back.
Riggs brings us action and suspense in a well crafted YA science fiction novel which is filled with surprises. Just when you think you have it all figured out, another twist is added. I give The Lying Planet five quills.
Bottled, by Carol Riggs is a delightfully refreshing tale of a young woman turned genie, who is imprisoned in her bottle for centuries, bound to obey whoever has possession of it. Adeelah longs to find Karim, the man she loved when she was still mortal, but she is running from another, Faruq, who seeks her throughout time. The reader doesn’t know all this right away, of course. Instead, Riggs skillfully unfolds the back story throughout the story, revealing the details in small doses which capture and hold readers interest and keeps the pages turning.
—————————Partial Spoiler Below———————-
After a slew of horrible masters, Adeelah finally finds herself with a truly good master, who allows her to search for her Karim, the love in this magical romance. We learn the full story of how Adeelah’s imprisonment came to be, but all is not as it appears. When Adeelah learns the truth about Karim, she has some tough decisions to make. Can she reunite with Karim after learning the truth about his centuries old deceit and betrayal?
Bottled is a well crafted story, with plenty of tension and just the right amount of intrigue to keep the reader coming back for more. Riggs has created a wonderfully unique and interesting character in Adeelah, with just the right amount of naivity to convince me of her eternal youth, and a perfectly evil villain in Faruq, who only wishes to possess Adeelah’s bottle for his own selfish purposes. The pacing, too is perfect and the story moves along smoothly. The rules of the world are established from the beginning, enabling her to deliver fully the promise of the premise. because even genies have their limitations and the reader knows what they are. And I must compliment Riggs on her choice of cover art. The cover for this book is gorgeous. I love it. I give Bottled five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.