A Modern Author’s Marketing Load: More or Simply Heavier?

Kerry Gans speaks to writers as part of the author's marketing loadAt a speech to a writer’s group on Saturday, I got asked the million-dollar question: since today’s authors are expected to shoulder most of the marketing load, wouldn’t self-publishing make the most sense? I answered that it was a matter of personal preference, but the question got me thinking: Are modern authors really expected to shoulder MORE of the marketing load than in the past, or is the burden simply HEAVIER today?

I know we all like to wax nostalgic about the good old days when the publisher would do ALL the marketing and the author would just churn out more books. It’s a wonderful dream, but I’m not sure that was ever the reality, unless you were a top-flight author. Most mid-list and lower authors had to do a lot of the hustling themselves.

So I’m not sure that we’re being asked to do MORE (percentage-wise) of the marketing for our books. I think the real problem is that the percentage of marketing we do is HEAVIER than it was back in the halcyon years.

Visiting libraries is part of the author's marketing loadBack before the internet, marketing took a very specific shape—in-person events, usually at bookstores or libraries or conferences. Sometimes schools if you wrote children’s books. The occasional interview, if you were lucky. These events could be intense, and while they occurred they consumed the entirety of your time. But they were finite. Even a multi-day conference had a defined beginning and end. A writer could look at their calendar and carve out precisely when she would be marketing, and when she could forget about marketing and just write. In other words, there was plenty of “down time” in the marketing schedule.

Now, there is no down time. Not only do we have in-person events, but we are expected to be online—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr… The list seems endless. And we’re asked to blog and maintain a website, too. In other words, we can never put down the marketing load. We are available 24/7 to our readers.

Social Media is part of the modern author's marketing load

So that’s why I think perhaps authors today don’t actually bear MORE of the marketing load—the majority of marketing was always squarely on the author’s shoulders. Today, we have so many more channels to use for marketing that the load has become exponentially HEAVIER than it was. There is no stepping away from it. We are “on” all the time. We weave marketing into our daily lives. There are no long stretches of concentrated writing time where we can put marketing from our minds.

Admittedly, I got published well after social media and the internet became fixtures of our ever-connected society. For those of you who got published back in “the good old days,” what do you think? Are we being asked to lift more of the marketing load—or is there simply more load to lift?

Marketing Bits and Pieces

A while ago I blogged about the next steps in the publication process, now that my edits have been completed. At that time, I was asking for blurbs from fellow writers. I am pleased to say that they came through with some wonderful blurbs for my book! So what now?

We have finalized the title, THE WITCH OF ZAL. It’s a much better title than my working title of OZCILLATION in that it is much clearer as far as genre, market, and content. It’s easy to pronounce and easy to remember. And I get all shivery when I say, “The title of my book is…” It’s still hard to believe!

The cover is still in development (believe me, I will share it with you as soon as I can!), but I have moved along some of my own marketing efforts. Like what, you ask?

I just received a completed Academic Guide from Deb Gonzalez, who did a great job breaking down the book, thinking up class activities, and aligning all of it with the Common Core Standards many schools are using now. The Guide touches on everything I would want kids and teachers to discuss. I am so glad a writer friend recommended Deb to me—I’m very pleased with the results.

I also have put together Book Club Questions for library use. Several writer friends with book club experience helped me polish them up and deepen the focus. Where would I be without my writer friends?

I chose twelve quotes from my book and created visual memes that I can use on Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media to hopefully intrigue people enough to check out the book. I really enjoyed doing these, as it uses my graphic arts skills, which I rarely get to use these days.

I am toying with book trailer ideas. I have two alternate scripts, one which requires a voice over, one which does not. I have some visuals I like to get me started, but I am searching for music to excite me. I have some leads, and will be following up. Since I used to make my living as a video editor (earning two awards for my work), I should be able to put one together once I have the pieces assembled.

Most of the things I have been working on are things I can do on my own and at my own speed. I have the feeling that once things start happening, they will happen at full tilt and leave me breathless, so the more material I already have in my pocket, the better.

These are also marketing avenues I am comfortable with and enjoy. I am hoping that readers will sense the excitement I felt in creating these media and get excited, too.

So that’s how I’m using the current down time. I am keeping busy while waiting for my book cover and my final release date! I’m also, of course, working on other stories, since writers never stop writing.

Stay tuned for future developments!

Good News: My Career Grows

Last year saw my first short story, TO LIGHT AND GUARD, published in Bewildering Stories magazine. That was a big milestone for me: my first official publication.

This year is shaping up even better! I had a poem, THE TOWERS STOOD, published in the World Healing, World Peace 2014 Poetry Anthology, and my short story DYING BREATH sold to Youth Imagination magazine!

In even more exciting news, my middle grade sci-fi retelling of the Wizard of Oz, OZCILLATION, was picked up by Evil Jester Press, and will be released in 2015! I am so excited to work with this group of enthusiastic and creative people, and to be one of their first middle grade novels as they expand.

Right now, my novel is with the editor, so I am waiting on pins and needles to get the feedback from her. I know there will be some hard work ahead to make OZCILLATION all shiny, but I am ready to tackle it. I will be approaching the novel with fresh eyes, as I have not read the book since I started querying agents waaaay back in December of 2012. I have come a long way as a writer since then and will probably see things in the book I want to change as well.

So what am I doing while waiting for my editing notes? I am editing two short stories that I hope will find homes this year. I am doing final preparation on my genealogy book for upload to the self-publishing Print-On-Demand (POD) site, likely by the end of this week. Then I will figure out how to format the genealogy book for ebook, and upload that. I’m sending querying to agents for my YA contemporary fantasy THE ORACLE OF DELPHI, KANSAS. I am also beginning to work on my marketing strategy, as well as optimizing my website and blog and other social media. Oh, and I’m working on another novel.

So, I’m busy.

The list, of course, does not include weekly repetitive tasks like blog posts, watching the 2 TV shows I allow myself to watch, reading, taking care of the business of life, and running around after my most important Work-In-Progress, my preschooler!

As much work as the coming year will be, I am looking forward to the challenge! How about all of you? What new bragging rights do you have? Share!

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Working Vacation

I know that most people return from vacation to a crushing workload of backed up emails, housework, or other work they do. I, on the other hand, have returned from my recent week-long sojourn farther ahead than when I left.

I work from home, with a preschool-age child. So I find that tasks that require prolonged concentration are difficult for me to find time to do. I have the time after she is in bed, but by then my brain is tired and I am prone to stupid mistakes (although this is a good time for creative writing for me). But most business-related tasks require attention to fine detail and often a half an hour or more of blocked time to accomplish competently. For example, I submitted the same short story to 5 magazines recently—and I had to format the story in 3 different ways to follow their guidelines. This is not a complaint—I understand why this is so. This is just to show why I need time to really pay attention to these sorts of details.

As a result, I have had a list of business-related items that I kept saying, “If only I could have a week without distraction, I could get all this done!”

This vacation was that week.

With Preschooler being entertained by Grandma, aunts, cousins, and Daddy, I was able to grab some focused work time. In this week away, I accomplished:

  • Submitting 3 Critique manuscripts to the Philadelphia Writers Conference
  • Submitting 3 Contest manuscripts to the Philadelphia Writers Conference
  • Spending several hours on Duotrope making lists of markets for my various short stories
  • Sent 5 queries out for my short story Dying Breath
  • Sent 5 queries out for my novel The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas
  • Edited 1/3 of my short story Finale
  • Read 2 Newbery-Award-winning novels
  • Critiqued a friend’s short narrative non-fiction piece
  • Wrote a blog post for my personal blog, The Goose’s Quill
  • Wrote the Thursday blog post for our group blog, The Author Chronicles
  • Kept up with social media platforms
  • Slept

I also managed to have fun visiting with relatives and enjoying the beauty of the countryside!

Many people might not consider this much of a vacation, but for me it was ideal. I get so worn out with trying to keep up with everything, and so frustrated pushing things off to the back burner because of time constraints. Getting so much of this done was a great weight off my shoulders, which allowed me to relax.

Do you find yourself working on vacation, or do you really get away from it all?

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Common Themes in My Writing

I read a blog article this week about how finding the common themes in your writing can be a good place to find blog topics that will resonate with your readers. Which got me looking at my writing to find common themes (I’m suggestible like that).

I write middle grade and YA. The age range makes topics aimed specifically for an age group tricky, because things appropriate for one are not for the other, and things interesting to one may not be for the other. But in looking at all my works-in-progress, I have found common themes that will relate to all my readers.

The main theme is that we all have power within us. I’m not talking magic powers (although I wish!), but we all are strong. The trick is finding our strength. In my books, all my protagonists eventually learn that they are strongest when they are true to who they really are and stop trying to be something they are not.

The older I have gotten in my life, the truer I have found this wisdom. It is a waste of time trying to “fit in” by pretending to be what I am not. It is living a lie, which makes life uncomfortable and stressful. Being who I am, while respecting other people’s right to be who they are, has made my life a lot happier. So I will be seeking stories of real-life kids who are doing good, making a difference, or just have some kind of special talent. I will also be looking at topics related to self-esteem, diversity, and bullying.

Another source of topic ideas is in the research. Most of my books have a taste of mythology or paranormal or are outright science fiction or fantasy. One has Egyptian mythology; another has Greek mythology. One has the power of physics, another the power of technology. All of these research avenues open topic possibilities as well.

I have some more thinking to do, and more topics to brainstorm. But I have been wondering what sort of things I can write about to attract my audience as well as my writing friends, so this article really gave me something to think about. Once I have this more firmly in my head, I can incorporate it into a real social media plan, and actively seek out content for my readers.

How do you decide what will appeal to your readers? Or do you not think about it at all?

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The Relationship Between “Time” and “Why”

I’ve been thinking about time a lot recently. It’s been popping up on web posts I’ve read, and a book I’m reading, and in my own life—after all, none of us ever have enough time.

We all try to cram so much into our day, doing things we think we should be doing, how we should be doing them, and yet most of us never ask the important question: “Why?”

Why are we doing the things we are doing? Why are we choosing to spend our time doing A and not B, even though we would like to do B as much as A or even more?

Sometimes, of course, we do A because it must be done. Things like going to work or taking care of your child. But, see, that is a Why answer—and a valid one. I work so I can have food on the table. I take care of my child because I love her. I spend time with my spouse because I love him.

There are some things that have an obvious Why answer.

But then there are other things that I make myself crazy with (and I’m sure you do, too) that maybe we should ask ourselves Why? Social media is the big thing I’m thinking about here, because it can be a huge time suck. As writers, we are encouraged to be on every social media platform known to mankind, and so we plunge in. I am on so many I can’t even list them all, and I do manage to keep a current presence on all of them. But then an article I read by Kimanzi Constable said most writers who do marketing and social media never ask themselves Why? And that got me thinking.

The easy answer is, “I do social media to build a base so when I do have something to sell I have a base.” But that’s too vague a Why. Why am I on THESE social media platforms? Why do I frequent THIS one instead of THAT one? In other words, do I have a PLAN?

And I don’t. I hop from one to the other and sort of poke around and then hop off. Now, I really am on most social networks just to be…social. To build a network of friends and colleagues to help get through this writing life. But I have often felt of late that I may be focusing on the wrong places or the wrong things in my online presence—or that I might be so scattered across the platforms that I’m almost better off not being on them. So sitting back and thinking Why might be a big help. Who am I trying to be social with? Why on this platform and not another? I might be able to make my social network rounds more efficiently yet more effectively if I had a plan, perhaps built around the platform I am most comfortable with and then branching out to others. Making a social media plan is on my To Do list, for sure.

The other major reason I was thinking about how I spend my time is because writing colleague Tiffany Schmidt asked me if the time I spent blogging was worth it. In other words, with writing time so scarce, could the time I spend on the two blogs I write for be better spent on my fiction writing?

I had never asked myself that question: WHY am I spending a couple hours a week writing blog posts? Without knowing that, I couldn’t answer the question of if that time was well-spent.

I finally decided that, yes, my blogging time is worth it. First, honestly, most of my blogging is done in my “fractured time”—those stolen 5-10-15 minutes between chores and child. Anything less than half an hour is pretty useless (for me) for dealing with my fiction—I can’t switch mental gears fast enough. So this fractured time might otherwise go to no use at all in forwarding my writing if I didn’t squeeze in the blogging there.

Second, not only can I write better, faster than before, I feel myself a part of the larger writing community. The blogs I write for are part of the online conversation of writers, and I like contributing to that. Not to mention how much I have learned—and continue to learn—from reading so many other blogger’s posts. I will admit that the name-recognition I have gotten from blogging (particularly at the Author Chronicles) is a plus. To have complete strangers come up to me at a conference and recognize me from the blog is a bit of a thrill (and a little disconcerting). To know that I am helping people and making an impact in the community is a great feeling. For now, my blogging time is totally worth it. When I get a book deal, I may have to reassess if it still makes sense, but for now it’s where I want to be.

So I think I will take some time in the near future and look at a whole list of things and ask: WHY? The answers may make my life simpler—and they may surprise me. But from now on, instead of running around blindly trying to do everything, I think I will stop to ask Why.

How about you? Do you find yourself racing about like a headless chicken without really knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing?

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My Biggest Takeaway: 2013 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference

This year was my third year going to the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I have always enjoyed it, and always been psyched up by the energy of the writing community there. This year, though, there was a vibrancy above the energy levels of the past years.

Perhaps this reflects a change in me, but I don’t think so—others noticed it, too. I can’t say why it felt different—perhaps it was the near-capacity crowd, perhaps the mix of teachers. All I know is that I was even more jazzed than usual.

A common theme seemed to emerge in the workshops I took this year: the theme of how to present yourself to the world as an author. Cecily Kellogg talked about bloggers and their voices. Suzanne Kuhn spoke about presenting yourself professionally and consistently online. Jonathan Maberry and Keith Strunk’s Act Like A Writer was all about the “writer-persona” you need to build to present to the world. Even in Solomon Jones’ Novel: Character workshop, we worked on our writer bio. Why? Because that bio is the first character we create as writers.

How to be a professional writer. How to be engaging online without giving too much information. How to be accessible without becoming vulnerable. How to be a public figure without losing our most private selves.

A common theme—but not my biggest takeaway.

My biggest takeaway goes back to the vibrant energy of this conference. Ever since my daughter was born, I have been in something of a creative funk. I have been writing consistently, blogging, have turned out a handful of short stories, but all my novel-length work has been on projects begun and first-drafted prior to my daughter’s birth. That never-ending rush of ideas that most writers have dried up after she was born, and I have been feeling totally uncreative for more than three years now.

But at the conference something stirred. Something sparked. A fleeting glimpse into a new character, a new plot. A siren song—still far off, but audible. My creativity raised its head and blinked sleepy eyes at the world.

I am by no means back to where I was creatively. But my creativity is not dead, as I had feared. It’s still there.

And it’s waking up.

What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?

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Overload Paralysis

A few years back, when my daughter was still an infant, we lived for a time on the island of Chincoteague, VA. Since I still had commitments back home, I would make the trek up and down the Eastern seaboard twice a month, my car filled to the brim with all the ridiculously large items a tiny baby seems to need.

Almost every time I needed to start packing up, I experienced a strange phenomenon: I couldn’t do anything. I would find myself standing in the middle of the living room, frozen. My mind whirled with the long packing list I had, as well as with all the things I needed to do other than packing—cleaning, bill paying, etc. I had so much to get done that I couldn’t do anything at all. The overload would paralyze me.

I sometimes get that way about writing, too. I end up with so many projects going on at once, that when I do get some free time to work on something, I end up doing something totally unrelated to writing. The overload of work can paralyze my creativity and my motivation. Right now, I am editing 2 novels, polishing up 2 short stories, have 2 blogs due every week, and have to maintain the constant round of social media—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads… Not to mention reading the dozen or so blogs I follow regularly.

It can be overwhelming enough that I want to hide from it all.

There is a way to break the paralysis. The answer is both easy and hard.

Pick something.

Do it.

That’s the big secret. Do something, anything, on your list, and you can advance into productive work. But what to pick? Hardest thing first? Easiest thing first? It depends on your mood and your personality.

If I have a very long list but most of it is little stuff, I will do the easiest first and work up to the hardest. By doing the easy things first, I get the instant gratification of checking things off my list and seeing the list get shorter quickly. If I have a shorter list but the tasks are more complex and time-consuming, I will usually do the hardest one first. That way I know the most difficult (and often the most time-consuming) one is done and the rest will be easier and usually take less time than that first one. So, sometimes I inch my way up to the top of the hill, and sometimes I start at the top and coast down.

Of course, there are always things that are not on your To-Do list that crop up and need to be done. Those you just have to incorporate based on their necessity. I immediately need to take care of my daughter when she falls off the bed and hits her head, but the crayon drawn on her closet door can wait until I have more time. The phone call from my family needs to be answered, but the one from an unknown number can leave a message.

Do you experience overload paralysis? Do you have a different way of busting out of it? Or do you have a method of organization that bypasses this overwhelmed reaction altogether?

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Earthquakes, Hurricanes & Moving, Oh My!

We moved on Saturday. Chaos, of course. Boxes still hide half my stuff from me.

We have no phone or internet at the new house because Verizon was on strike. That makes online life very hard to maintain. Thankfully, we have cell phones, so at least we can make and get calls.

I had (minor) surgery on Tuesday. Told not to lift anything for 48 hours. Two days of unpacking lost. Plus, have you ever tried NOT lifting a toddler who is still in diapers, high chairs, and cribs? Yeah, that worked out well.

Then there was the earthquake. I don’t live near the epicenter in VA, but I was scared enough here in NJ. No way am I ever moving to CA. The whole house shook, everything rattled, I could feel the ground rolling under my feet! The funny thing was, I thought for a moment I had hallucinated it. I had a contractor out back working on my deck, and he didn’t even pause or look up while I was hanging onto the sofa for dear life. As soon as it stopped, I ran to the front door, but no one else was coming out of their houses. I had almost convinced myself I had imagined it, that it was some sort of side effect from the surgery, when I heard the water sloshing in the toilet bowls. I knew then it was real, because I would never have thought to imagine that detail. Besides, my daughter was upstairs in her crib screaming her head off.

So that all explains why the post is a day late.

I felt like I was living in a novel this past week – it seemed like one thing just piled on top of another, each complicating the earlier ones. Which is exactly what we want to do to our characters – pile on the problems so they don’t get a chance to breathe. If you’re at a loss as to how to up the ante, toss in an earthquake—it can happen!

And now Hurricane Irene is set to batter us. An earthquake and a hurricane in one week. Crazy stuff.

I want to know who’s writing this book I’m stuck in—I’d like to tell the author that I quit!

I should have Internet next week, and be back to business as usual. I hope you all weather Irene safely!

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