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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, May 27, 2012

How Writers Can Learn to Cope: 6 No-Fail Strategies for Achieving Mental Toughness

Thanks to all of you who voted for our blog in the Association of American Publishers and Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards. We made it to the Finalist list for Best Publishing Industry Blog. 10,000 people voted in a field of over 800 nominees. The winner in that category is the uber-awesome Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware, so we're in some pretty impressive company. Congratulations to Victoria! 

Also: Ruth has some HOT new covers for her books. Check them out in the sidebar.

Writers don’t tend to be tough people—but unfortunately, we’re in a tough business. We’re by nature a sensitive lot.  We’re more tuned-in than most people—a necessary quality for our craft.  But being open to stimuli also means we’re more open to hurt. How do we cope?

It’s a lot like learning to play guitar. You’ve got to build up some callouses in order to play in the band. The callouses are as important as learning to play the right notes. And you have to build them slowly--there are no shortcuts. That’s one of the reasons a first time writer shouldn’t immediately jump into the publishing fray. 

It’s not just about learning to write well. It’s about learning to fail well. (See my post on “Three Questions to Ask Before You Jump on the Indie Publishing Bandwagon”.)


By Ruth Harris

These are a few of the everyday, predictable set-backs that each and every writer is guaranteed to face:
  • You ARE going to get terrible reviews.
  • You WILL be rejected by the editor who “loves” you and your work.
  • Agents WILL diss you.
  • The book of your heart—the one you worked on for ten years—won’t find any takers.
  • Not even if you buy it a gorgeous cover, get lavish praise from famous writers and celebrities, self-pub it and give it away free.
  • No one wants it, no one “gets” it, no one—except you—gives a damn.
  • Yes, it can be lonely out there. Not to mention miserable. And depressing.

Unfortunately, it’s part of the job. Comes with the territory. Better get used to it and better figure out How To Snap Back.

That’s where mental toughness comes in. Not tough like Clint Eastwood packing heat and snarling, “You feeling lucky, punk?”

But tough like the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, the best reliever in baseball.

The New York Times explained:

“If a thick skin is the most important attribute a baseball closer can have, then Rivera is made out of leather. He holds the record for most career saves, has won five World Series titles and is thought by many to be among the most mentally tough athletes in baseball history. Nothing sticks to Rivera. Poor pitches are forgotten immediately, crushing losses go out with that day’s sweaty jersey. Rivera, long the Yankees’ safety net, is a master — the master — at moving on.”

The mental toughness that makes Rivera “the best” is a necessary quality for relievers—and for writers. If you get blocked or stymied at rejection, if you melt into a tearful/incoherent puddle at every bump and bruise, you need to develop a much tougher attitude.
The qualities I’m talking about include:

whatever the it is: your editor leaves & your book is stranded/orphaned, your agent fires you, your publisher goes bankrupt and everything you looked forward to—the ads, the TV appearances, the reviews, the copies in stores—ain’t gonna happen. No way Jose.

Solution: Think like Mariano. You blew the save? You gave up the game-winning home run? You walked in the winning run? In Game Seven of the World Series?

Remember the old Bud ad: Let it go, Louie.

One way or another, you need to regain your focus and move on: write the next book, think of a new ending for the old book, revise, rewrite, redouble your efforts.

2)  TENACITY & FLEXIBILITY. Call it stubbornness or stick-to-itiveness but, if you think you’ve got a good idea, don’t give up. If your book doesn’t work as a mystery, maybe it will if you write it as a comedy. If your screen play doesn’t find a home in the movies or tv, maybe you should turn it into a novel—which is exactly what Lee Goldberg did. (He's the creator of the great TV series Monk--A)

In his essay about the writing of KING CITY, recently published by Thomas & Mercer, Lee, details the long, obstacle-strewn path that led—finally—to success:

“KING CITY began as a TV series pitch that I took all over Hollywood four or five years ago. It generated some interest but ultimately didn't lead to anything.  So I put it in a drawer and moved on.”

But the idea nagged at him and Lee didn’t give up. He rewrote, revised, cut, expanded, outlined—and then he did it all over again. You can read his detailed account of the process here.

3)  FOCUS.  Mental toughness also means the ability to concentrate and to lay down rules.  Mariano Rivera did not allow himself to be distracted by crowd noise, an umpire’s bad call, shouted advice from leather-lunged fans or all the woulda’s-coulda’s-shoulda’s. Laser-like, he concentrated on the next pitch, the third strike and the last out.

Nora Roberts takes a similar approach: She was quoted as saying that her family knows that when she’s working, there are only two reasons to interrupt her: “blood or fire.” She’s one of the world’s best-selling writers, the author of 200 books and someone who obviously has a few good ideas about productive working conditions!

4)  MISTAKES, BAD DECISIONS & TUITION. Not someone else’s screw-up but your own. 
  • The terrible contract you signed. 
  • The agent-who-couldn’t-sell-Gone-With-The-Wind you chose to represent you. 
  • The undercapitalized small publisher who disappeared in the dead of night. 
If the cost of your own poor judgment is financial, think of the price as tuition.

You’ve certainly learned something, most of all about yourself and also about the sharks and incompetents to beware of. The cost of that expensive knowledge is financial loss. It’s the tuition you paid to learn a valuable lesson.

5)  HUMOR. Sometimes all you can do is laugh it off. Definitely a sign of mental strength. As a friend of mine—she’s a bestselling writer—once said when a guy she wasn’t even that crazy about dumped her: “Sometimes you can’t even get what you don’t even want.”

Black humor works wonders so don’t forget that looking through a noir lens can be a jolting brace of reality-adjustment (aka mental toughness).

Analyze the problem rationally and figure out coping strategies. You’ll feel much better.

Cozy mystery author Elizabeth S. Craig explains: “I’ve gone a step farther, too. Besides looking for data from reader emails, I’ve sought out and read my stinky reviews online…and analyzed them for a common thread. When I saw something mentioned repeatedly, I made a note of it. It’s not too hard to get past any hurt feelings when you’re being analytical—easier than it might seem, actually.”

Bottom line: Don’t wallow. Analyze!

Winston Churchill, who led England to victory in World War II, knew something about mental toughness: “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Also from the Brits: Keep calm and carry on.

You’re tougher, more resilient and flexible, more able to laugh at yourself and the world around you than you might think. After all, as Carlos Castaneda said,
 “We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”

What about you, scriveners? Have you been able to develop mental toughness? Do you have any tricks to share with your fellow writers who might not have been around long enough to build those callouses on their souls? 

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Who Are the Big Six? What Does “Indie” Really Mean? Answers to Not-So-Dumb Questions You Were Afraid to Ask

There’s much talk on the Interwebz about “Big Six, “small presses” and “indie publishing.”  But a lot of newer writers aren’t quite sure what these terms really mean.
None of us wants to sound dumb, so we usually don’t ask.
So I’ll pretend you did. (And thanks, Yumi, for asking about the word “indie” in the comments last week.)
Here’s a quick guide:
The Big Six

These are the six multi-national corporations that control most of the Western world’s publishing.
1.     Simon and Schuster
2.     HarperCollins
3.     Random House
4.     Macmillan
5.     The Penguin Group
6.     Hachette 
Two are American: Simon and Schuster and HarperCollins, (although Harper is a division of Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, so it’s pretty international.)
Two are German: Random House is owned by Bertelsmann and Macmillan is owned by Holzbrinck.
One (Penguin) is British
One (Hachette) is French.
Some people include the Canadian Romance giant Harlequin when they’re talking about “big publishing” (which I guess would make them the “Big Seven.”)
Most books you see in stores come from the Big Six/Seven. They have hundreds of imprints with familiar names like Little Brown, Knopf, Viking, NAL, Pocket, Scribner, St. Martins, Dutton, Avon, William Morrow, Crown, Tor, Zondervan, Grand Central, Dell, etc. but they’re all owned by one of those six corporations.
In almost all cases, you need an agent to query the Big Six. There are a few exceptions, like Tor/Forge/Tom Doherty—which is a division of MacMillan—and some children’s divisions of the big houses.
Five of the Big Six—all but Random House—have recently run afoul of the US Department of Justice because of their attempts to keep the price of ebooks artificially high. A lot of people think this means the Big Six are doomed.
I’m not so sure about that. Multinational conglomerates tend to be rather good at hanging onto their trousers in a crisis.
But there’s no doubt the ebook revolution is changing the face of publishing. Most of the changes the Big Six has come up with recently have NOT been author-friendly, but maybe they’ll learn from their mistakes. (We can hope.)

Mid-Sized publishers (sometimes called “small” just to confuse you)

This covers a lot of territory, from university presses to big international operations like Canada’s Harlequin (see above) and the UK’s Bloomsbury (which has branches in London, New York, Berlin, and Sydney.)  
When mid-sizers are successful, they tend to be bought up by the Big Six. (Thomas Nelson, the largest independent Christian publisher, was bought by HarperCollins in 2011.)
There are many dozens of mid-sized houses. They often address particular niche markets. Here’s a sample list—by no means comprehensive
  • Kensington: Most genres except sci-fi and fantasy 
  • Llewellyn: New Age nonfiction and mysteries (under their Midnight Ink imprint)
  • Chronicle Books: Art, food, pop culture (and some illustrated fiction like Griffin and Sabine.)
  • Perseus Books: Travel and other nonfiction genres. 
  • Workman Publishing: Tends toward the literary. Imprints are Algonquin, Black Dog & Leventhal, Storey Publishing, Timber Press, Artisan Books, HighBridge Audio, Fearless Critic.
  • Sourcebooks: Formerly a publisher of financial guidebooks, it’s grown to include fiction in all genres in the last decade. 
  • Sunset: Gardening, cookbooks and how-to
  • Poisoned Pen: (Maybe on the cusp of small and mid-sized.) One of the largest mystery publishers.
  • F + W Media/Writer’s Digest Books: How-to 
  • Dorchester: Genre fiction. Now in bankruptcy. It was the premier mid-sized independent publisher of mass market paperbacks until 2010, when it suspended most paper operations and went to ebooks only (see below.) Its financial difficulties have given it a “not recommended” stamp from most writers’ organization. 
  • Titan Books: UK publisher of movie and TV tie-ins as well as graphic novels. Took on Dorchester’s crime fiction imprint, Hard Case Crime
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Textbook publishers (merged with the Irish company Riverdeep in 2008)
Most mid-sized publishers want agented submissions, but not all. Kensington still accepts unagented queries for all their lines (snail mail only.) Check websites for submission guidelines. Midnight Ink no longer accepts unagented queries, but some Harlequin lines do. Right now, they include Harlequin HeartwarmingKimani PressHarlequin Historical Undone, and Nocturne Cravings .
Here’s a database of midsized and small publishers compiled by Canadian thriller author Jack King .
NOTE: Mid-sizers tend to pay smaller advances and lower royalties (that includes Harlequin.) They also tend to be the most financially precarious. So expect some of these to go the way of Dorchester if they don’t keep up with the times.


Amazon is a bookstore that has become a book publisher. It has a number of lines in different genres:
·       Amazon Encore: Reprints of self-published and out of print books
·       Amazon Crossing: Books in translation
·       Thomas and Mercer:  Thrillers
·       Montlake: Romance
·       47 North: SciFi
·       New Harvest: General Fiction—which will be published in conjunction with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (see how convoluted this all gets?)

You need great sales as a self-pubber to be approached by Amazon’s publishing wing, but agents are also selling directly to Amazon.
Amazon has some of the most author-friendly deals around, BUT other bookstores are reluctant to carry their products because of the obvious conflict of interest.
Other online retailers like iTunes/Apple may follow suit.
Brick and mortar bookstores are also producing their own books. This isn’t new. City Lights in San Francisco has had its own publishing wing since 1955, but with POD technology, this may become a trend that will help bookstores stay alive.

Independent Ebook Publishers

These are new publishers like Ellora’s Cave and Samhain Press (with more start-ups all the time.) They publish primarily ebooks and usually appeal to a particular niche.
Expect to see more and more of these.
Because ebooks have low overhead, they can be more author friendly and often provide some marketing help for their authors. (Samhain is branching into print, although the bulk of their titles are ebooks.)
These generally do not require an agent for submissions. But because this is a new industry, check them out thoroughly and try to get referrals from satisfied clients.

Small Presses

These are sometimes called “indie presses.” (Ten years ago, this is what people meant by “indie” publishing, but now self-pubbers have kind of taken over the word.)
There are thousands of them. It’s hard to find useful listings because the number is never stable. They spring up and get knocked down like a literary version of Whac-A-Mole.
Some, like Beacon Press, GrayWolf, and Copper Canyon Press are prestigious and have been around for decades.
Some are regional and publish books specific to one area--like guidebooks and local history.
Others address niche genres, like Canada’s SciFi publisher Edge , and noir mystery publisher BleakHouseBooks, or New England Cozy specialist Mainly Murder Press.
They tend to focus on poetry and literary fiction, so if you're a literary writer, you may find your home here. Poets and Writers has a great database of literary small pressesFor more general list of small publishers, check the Writer's Resource Directory, curated by author (& friend of this blog) T.K. Richardson. It's a great resource for publishing info in general. 
Small presses are usually labors of love and nobody gets rich, but they’re often a good way to break in to print and lots of authors are very happy to stay with a small press where there is a more personal interaction with editors.
Authors are responsible for their own marketing and there’s generally no advance, but higher royalties.
These publishers generally don’t want to deal with agents—writers should query the editors directly. (Remember to check for submission guidelines on their websites.)
But beware: Check them out thoroughly with sites like Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors and if they’re not well-established, contact other clients before you sign. And always have a lawyer or publishing professional look at the contract before you sign.


These are a tiny version of the small press—usually one or two-person operations, generally oriented toward the literary. They often publish chapbooks of poetry. They operate on a shoestring, and are usually run as a hobby.
Often these are run by authors who are essentially self-publishers who also take on a few colleagues and friends. A micropress can be a friendly, supportive place for a writer to start out. But beware: they can also be clueless and unprofessional. There’s a horror story at Writer Beware this week about a writer who had her book rewritten without her permission by a “publisher” of this type.
Some of these can be a great first step into publishing, but look for red flags. Grandiosity, unrealistic promises, negativity about the industry, and bad spelling/grammar on the website are tell-tale signs.

Vanity Presses

These are publishers who make their money from services to authors rather from sales of books.
Before ebooks and POD (print on demand) technology, vanity presses were mostly pricey self-indulgences—although every so often a vanity-published book like 1990s phenomenon The Celestine Prophecy made it to mainstream readers.
Two of the best known of the traditional vanity presses are Vantage and Dorrance.
But as prices came down and self-publishing took off, the line between real publishers, printing services, and vanity presses has blurred. A lot of authors are taken in by vanity publishers posing as real publishers.
But others successfully use vanity presses as printers for self-publishing and--with a lot of promotion--make the bestseller lists with books like The Christmas Box and Legally Blonde. 
               The problem is, most vanity publishers overcharge for services so their books are too pricey to be profitable for the author. And there can be other problems. For instance, PublishAmerica ties up the author’s copyright for seven years. 
              But vanity publishers are not all scammers, and they can be useful for books that aren't produced to be profitable, like family histories and recipes, memoirs and poetry collections.
Here are some of the best known vanity publishers
·       PublishAmerica (aka Independence Books)
·       Tate Publishing
·       AuthorHouse (which has many imprints)
·       XLibris
·       iUniverse
·       Ivy House
·       Trafford Publishing
·       Poetry.com

Indie Publishing

True DIY publishing. You do everything yourself or hire somebody to do it for you. You can do this several ways:
·       Get help from a publishing facilitator like Smashwords or BookBaby, who for a flat fee will code your ebook and upload to different retail platforms and keep track of royalties. They also offer inexpensive cover design and other services.
·       Get shepherded through the process by an agent. A number of agents are actually helping authors become indie publishers these days—usually existing clients. Some industry purists consider this a conflict of interest, but the agented authors I know who have published through their agents have nothing but good things to say about this.
·       Hire your own private editor, cover designer, and coder and keep complete control.
NOTE: “Complete control” does not extend to Amazon. Author-friendly as it is, the ’Zon has glitches that can’t be controlled by anybody, apparently. Ruth Harris has been trying to get Amazon to post the correct book cover art on her Amazon author page for six months now, to no avail, and Saffina Desforges had her bestselling thriller Sugar and Spice disappear from Amazon.co.uk for over a month with no explanation—when you’re selling an average of 10,000 books a month, that’s a hefty price for some glitch.
If you’re an indie publisher who wants your books printed in hard copy as well as electronic form, you’ll need the services of—

P.O. D. Publishing Service Providers

These are printer/distributors who use print on demand technology. This means that instead of having a huge print run for your book that has to be stored in a warehouse, the book is only printed when it is ordered.
Most small presses use these providers, too.
The primary POD providers are:

  • CreateSpace: Owned by Amazon. Printing with them gets you on Amazon, which owns a huge share of the book market
  • LightningSource: Owned by Ingram, the biggest book distributor in the US. Ingram supplies bookstores, so if you want to see your book in your local bookstore window, LS has the advantage.
  • Lulu.com: The only printer I know of that doesn’t charge upfront fees. So even though they keep 20%, I’m putting them in the service provider category rather than with vanity presses. They'll sell your books on their own site (not terribly customer-friendly) and post them to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online retailers worldwide.
For a great comparison between Lightning Source and CreateSpace, small press owner Robin Sullivan has a great analysis on her blog Write to Publish
The ebook revolution is rapidly shifting the old publishing paradigm, and nobody’s quite sure what’s coming next. Much of what I’ve written here will probably be obsolete by next year.
But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the old guard. They may have life in them yet.I think educating yourself about the industry as it is now will help you make decisions about what path might work best for you in the future. One of the best ways to learn about the industry is to subscribe to Publishers Lunch, a free newsletter from Publishers Marketplace.
Yes, publishing companies do seem to merge and change partners like square dancers on speed, but they’re still very much with us. And they're learning to adapt with the changing times. (Some are learning faster than others, and I have no doubt some will fall to the e-revolution.)
As I said last week, learn everything you can and don’t let anybody bully you into making a choice you’re not comfortable with. 
We live in an age when authors have more choices than ever before, and if you don’t like the choices you’re being offered right now, wait a few weeks and something new is bound to pop up!

What about you, scriveners? Did you know the names of the Big Six? How many mid-sized publishers can you name? (Let’s add some to my list. I hardly scratched the surface here.) And if you know of a great small publisher or ebook publisher, do leave that name, as well. If you’ve had experience with them, good or bad, we'd like to hear about it. Any additions, subtractions or caveats welcome. 

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Indie or Traditional Publishing? Don’t Take Sides: Take Your Time

For a new writer, this can seem like a terrifying time to be launching a career. Everything in the publishing industry is in upheaval. Bookstores are closing all around us. Publishers and online retailers are conducting high-profile battles in the legal system as well as the court of public opinion. (If you want a quick, sensible overview of the challenges in the publishing industry today, Nathan Bransford has a great post this week on the new era of publishing.) 

The rules keep changing. Experts don’t agree on anything. The us/them, either/or arguments of "indie" self-publishers vs. “legacy” traditional publishers can be toxic.

If you regularly make the rounds of publishing blogs and writers’ forums, you may be feeling more and more confused—even bullied.

A whole lot of experts will tell you that if you’re not going indie, you’re a moron, and every minute your manuscript is sitting there unpublished, you’re throwing away potential zillions. They will tell you anybody who has an agent or publishes with the Big Six is a miserable slave who is contributing to the corporate takeover of the world: agents and publishers are all crooks, idiots, and meanies who are going to beat you up and eat your lunch.

A whole lot of other experts will tell you that if you’re publishing anywhere but the Big Six, you’re a moron who's contributing to the downfall of civilization and destroying the World as We Know It: self-publishers are all clueless, uneducated louts who have unleashed a tsunami of crap that is killing our bookstores, libraries and brain cells.

So what's a new writer to do?  

Don't let anybody call you a moron, for one thing. The Internet age is also the age of irresponsible, anonymous snark and bullying.

My advice is shut out the noise, refuse to take sides, educate yourself, and take your time.

The ebook revolution isn’t about battles between warring "sides". It’s about the freedom to choose how we publish and what we read. Relish that freedom.

Change can be very scary. It’s like trying to go about normal business in the middle of an earthquake. There’s nothing solid to hang onto.

But you know what’s scarier than change?

No change.

Before the ebook, publishing was a calcifying industry. New writers were finding it tougher and tougher to break in. Successful career authors were dropped if they couldn’t produce annual blockbusters in spite of no marketing budget. The antiquated system of returns—in which every bookstore is a consignment shop—means publishers have been wasting a huge amount of money shipping books back and forth to warehouses and eventually pulping them.

The ebook is changing everything. Ditto social media.

Even if you’re a traditionalist, you don’t have to be afraid of the electronic revolution. It’s not killing literature. The truth is more people are reading now than ever before. They’re reading voraciously—on their laptops, tablets and phones—and yes, on dead treeware. In fact, nearly 70% of books sold are still made of paper. (And: Newsflash! Not everything published the old-fashioned way was great art. For grins, Google Amanda McKittrick Ros sometime.) 

I love this joke Kristen Lamb posted on her blog this week: 

“Great, thanks to that Gutenberg jerk, everyone can be published.”...Kristen Lamb

Just as Johannes Gutenberg took power from the ruling priestly caste and gave it to the people—who could then read the Bible and find out for themselves what it said—ebooks are taking power from the ruling publishing caste and letting the people find out for themselves what they want to read.

This means more power is now in the hands of readers and writers than any time in history. Thanks to ebooks and social media marketing, writers can now go directly to readers with fresh, innovative ideas and stories.

If and when we want to.

Here’s the thing: the electronic revolution doesn’t mean everybody has to self-publish. But the fact of the self-publishing option changes the playing field for everybody.

Your life is being changed for the better right now—
  • Even if you’ve never touched a Kindle—and you don’t intend to until they pry the world’s last moldering paperback from your cold, dead hands. 
  • Even if you’d rather endure waterboarding during a tax audit than try to make sense of a Twitter stream.
  • Even if you stopped keeping up with technology when your last VCR went to that Great Techno-dump in the Sky. (Which probably means you’re reading this on a hard copy your granddaughter printed out for you—and that’s fine too.)
But you now have choices that never existed before. And more choices are opening up all the time as the industry processes new ideas (Yes, some are slower to process than others, and may get trampled on the way to the tar pits of history, but I don’t think anybody should underestimate the survival skills of multinational corporations.)
  • If you try traditional publishing and get offered a rotten contract—you can walk away. 
  • If you self-publish and St. Martin’s comes calling with a seven figure deal—you can jump on it. 
  • If you publish with a small press and do well, you can still work at getting an agent who might make you an author-friendly deal with one of the new Amazon imprints. 
Plus a whole lot more things are sure to be possible in the near future. The next Jeff Bezos may be dreaming it up as you read this.

You can choose to self-publish. Or not.

You can choose to blog/Tweet/Facebook/Pinterest. Or not.

But you know what you can't choose? To edit a book that's already on somebody's Kindle.

Don’t let anybody rush you or push you onto one path or the other.

Everybody has a different tolerance for technology. You can mix and match as you wish. I’ve read that Twitter god Neil Gaiman writes his first drafts with a #2 pencil. I know successful Kindle authors who swear by their manual typewriters. Try things out and make the choices that work for you.

Remember it’s people who are most insecure in their own choices who will seek to control yours.

Besides, you may never have to choose.

Many successful authors are using self-publishing alongside of legacy publishing. We’ve had a number of guests on our blog who are doing both: Lawrence Block, Jeff Carlson, Catherine Ryan Hyde, and Kim Wright are all successful Big Six authors who are also self-publishing.

But there IS one thing you can do—no matter what path you take:

Use your freedom responsibly.

The truth is there is indeed something of a "tsunami of crap" hitting the online retailers--rough drafts are inundating the marketplace--manuscripts that might have been good books one day if the authors had taken the time to perfect their skills. 

What's wrong with that?

For readers? Nothing. 

Nobody can force us to read a bad book. (And there is that nice "peek inside" feature on most retail sites.) 

Readers can find good books the same way we find good blogs. Without agents, marketers, or unpaid interns from Brown, we somehow find the blogs we want to read amongst the millions.  

But when it's YOUR book--do you really want it to be part of the crap? Do you want to end your career before it starts by neglecting to make your book as good as it can be? 

Even the best editor can't turn an amateur's first draft into a bestseller. And no newbie writer has any idea how bad his first draft is. Believe me, I queried a first novel that was appalling, but I was quite proud of it at the time. If you want to learn a bit from my mistakes, read my post on 12 Signs Your Novel isn't Ready to Publish. 

So remember you also have the freedom to WAIT. Rachelle Gardner and Roz Morris  both blogged brilliantly about the subject this week. And here’s a great quote  from a surprising source:

“The biggest challenge [to authors today] is self-restraint. Publishing tools, like Smashwords make it fast, free and easy for any writer anywhere in the world to publish. But we don’t make it easy to write a great book. Many writers, intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish, will often release their book before it’s ready.”

…Mark Coker—Founder of Smashwords

(Thanks to Porter Anderson  for that quote.)

Yeah. Mr. Smashwords is telling you NOT to use his service--not until you learn to be the most excellent writer you can be. You can’t buy excellence, no matter how much you pay an editor. (Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware gives a great run-down on how and when to use an editing service. And I’ve got a post on hiring an editor here.) Remember an amateur writer + an amateur editor = an amateur book & money wasted.

"I don't want to look at it any more" is not a good reason to publish a manuscript. It's a good reason to set it aside to edit in three-to-six months. Your fresh eyes may be as good as any editor's, and a whole lot cheaper. 

This is a great time to be a writer. A year from now may be even greater. Don’t let anybody pressure you to do anything but put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours, and become the best, most professional writer you can be.

When you’re really ready to publish, the publishing world may be a very different place from what anybody envisions, especially the battling bullies.

What about you scriveners? Have you felt bullied by people who have created two “sides” in the e-book revolution? Do you feel pressured to publish? Do you read self-published books? Do you think they are all crap? Do you have trouble figuring out who to believe? Any hints to give your fellow writers on how to shut out the noise?

My big news this week is that I'm going to be honored at the Central Coast Writers Conference next September with the "Success Story" Award. Thanks to Judy Salamacha and all the good people at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo who make this conference the "best value writers' conference in California" according to Sunset Magazine. Join agent Laurie McLean, book blogger Danielle Smith, and a whole lot of other great presenters at the conference September 21-22. 

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Blog VI: 15 Tips for Guest Bloggers

by Anne R. Allen

Guest posting on blogs is a great marketing tool. The frenzy for blog tours seems to have quieted down a bit  recently, but whether you’re launching a new title, promoting an editorial service, or simply building platform, providing content for other people's blogs is still an effective way to reach potential new readers or customers in a personal, interactive way--and hey, it's free!

For writers who aren't comfortable with keeping a blog of your own, it's also a fantastic way to get yourself known in the blogosphere.  

If you’re currently marketing a book, you've probably been urged to line up some guest blogging gigs. If you’re with a big publisher, you may have a publicist who will book a blog tour for you.

Guest blogging can be a lot of fun. You can meet fascinating new people and reach out to readers. I’m so grateful to the wonderful bloggers who have hosted me. I didn’t know all the ropes at first myself, so have to admit I’ve learned some of this stuff the embarrassing way.

Unfortunately, a lot of the information on the Interwebz about guest posting isn’t specific to publishing/ writing blogs. You may hear that you should search for blogs that contain certain keywords and mass query them—or only approach bloggers with a high traffic ranking. This advice can end up wasting your time.

And, um, make you look like a doofus.

You wouldn’t believe how many emails I get like this: “Hello Blogger: I see your blog, ANNE R. ALLEN’S BLOG has an Alexa rating under 150,000, and you once wrote a post on topic X on ANNE R. ALLEN’S BLOG so I (or “my client”) would like to guest blog on ANNE R. ALLEN’S BLOG next week. We’re offering this content free of charge, Blogger.”

Do I really have to explain why that gets our hackles up? The assumption is that we don’t have enough good content of our own, we don't plan ahead, and we’ll take any old content out of the blue, sight unseen. And—try a little Golden Rule stuff here, publicists—who do you know who likes to be addressed as a generic nobody by some robot?

We want posts from people who are familiar with our blog and have something valuable to offer you, our readers—not something to throw on Blogger so Ruth and I don’t have to write a post this week.  And because we only post four times a month, every piece has to be fresh, hooky, and content-rich enough to keep our audience coming back. We also book our guests way in advance so we can drum up interest in the visit.

Here are some tips on how to avoid annoying the bloggers and get the most out of blog touring and guest-posting:

1)     Don’t judge a blog by Alexa rating alone. 

You’ll only get a small piece of the picture.

Alexa is a Web analytics company that rates websites globally according to traffic. (You can download your own rating icon by going to Alexa.com.) Google rates a 1. Amazon has an 11. Ours hovers around 125K. Most author sites are in the millions.

But if you’re an author with a southern vampire saga, a blog with a small readership of Sookie Stackhouse fans can reach more actual readers than a major blog that focuses on something like Action-SciFi or Christian romance. I learned that on my own blog tour: the guest post that generated the most sales was for the blog with the “worst” stats. But the readers were in exactly the right demographic for my romantic comedy/thriller  Food of Love.

On the other hand, if your own blog has an Alexa rating of 12 million, it’s not a good idea to approach somebody with a much better rating—especially a stranger—and expect them to welcome you with open arms. If you don’t have a blog following of your own to bring to the table, you’ve got to have some spectacular content to offer. 

2)     Don’t expect a blogger to be impressed with “free.” 

That isn’t going to impress a blogger any more than it would impress the staff of the New Yorker. Most successful blogs have a very specific style and audience and not everybody is going to be a good fit. Most author blogs are not monetized, so we’re ALL working for free.

3)     Don’t offer “content” that’s just an advertisement

Offer something of real value to the reader. This is the #1 thing we run across in guest blog offers. If we monetized, a small ad on a site like this would easily cost $25 or more per day. Professional publicists know that, so when they breezily ask for what is basically a free, week-long, full-page advertisement, it’s insulting.

4)     Make a strong pitch.

Show that your content is up to the expectations of this audience. Our blog is getting up to 80,000 hits per month, but one mediocre post can permanently lose some of that audience for us. You’re asking us to take a risk. Convince us you’re worth it.

5)     Address the blogger by name. 

And, um, if the blog is called “Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris” this shouldn’t strain anybody’s brain cells. 

6)     Make requests by email, not Tweet or FB DM. 

Those get lost and people can’t find you again. A quick pitch in the blog comments is OK with me—as long as it’s on-topic—but be careful because not all bloggers feel the same way. To me it shows you read the blog and engage with other readers, so a dynamite (short) comment pitch might get a request for more info.

7)     Um, VISIT THE BLOG! 

Read a few posts and comment. This should be no-brainer, but most of the people who query us don’t seem to have a clue what the blog is about.

It helps a lot if you’ve commented a few times, too.

NOTE: Commenting on blogs may actually be an even more effective tool than guest posting—and it sure is easier. Social Media guru Bob Mayer  said on his blog last week:

 “One of the best networking tools is to go to people’s blogs and leave cogent comments.  People tend to read the comments on their own blogs.  If you make sense, you will get noticed.”

8)     Conform to the blog’s tone. 

This blog is lighthearted and fun. Doom and gloom and a “boot camp” mentality will totally annoy our readership. So will posts that tell them to spend a lot of money on services they don’t need.

9)     Don’t offer off-topic content. 

Just because I once made a joke about airport security doesn’t mean we want to run a blogpost on the evils of the TSA. The blog header says “Writing about writing. Mostly.”  If you don’t have content for writers, you’re wasting your time.

10) Always follow the blogger’s guidelines

Some bloggers are very kind and post them. Alex J. Cavanaugh has a great set of guidelines here. We don’t post ours, because with four posts a month, we take very few guests and we don’t want to be swamped with offers we have to turn down. Make sure you find out how soon they need the material (I like a long lead time, so I can pimp the post.) Also find out what the word count needs to be. (This varies widely, so always ask.)

11) Include pictures, bio and links and send your copy as an attachment

Don't make the blogger look up your buy pages, or go to your website for your publicity package. Your copy should contain live links, and you should attach a .jpg of your book cover and your author photo. You can also include a short blurb for your book, if you’re promoting one, but make it short and sweet. The blogger may not use your blurb, but it’s worth sending one along. NOTE: It's best to send your copy in a Word.doc (Word 2003) not a .docx, since .docx files can be incompatible with a lot of programs. 

12)  Offer a giveaway of your book.

Not every blog does give-aways (we don't do them often) but it's common practice, so be prepared to offer one.

13) Plan to be available to respond to comments 

And check in for several days after.

14) Promote the guest post on social media

Tweet, FB, and link from your own blog. You want people to read it, right?

15) Remember to thank the blogger

Either in the comment thread or a follow-up email. They are giving you free advertising, so a little gratitude is in order.

The rules for queries are actually pretty much the same whether you’re querying an agent, a reviewer, a blogger or a potential boss: find out who the person is before you take up their time— then take up as little of it as possible.

Personally, who am I most likely to invite to guest post? Somebody who comments regularly and has interesting ideas, not just a product to sell.

Ruth and I love our guest bloggers and we’ve had some of the best: The legendary Lawrence Block , Golden Globe winner Terence Stamp, Amazon #1 seller Catherine Ryan Hyde , uberblogger Nathan Bransford, Molly Greene, Jami Gold, Nina BadzinSamuel Park , Janice HardyJeff Carlson , Elizabeth S. Craig , Roni Loren , Kim Wright , Michael Brandman , Michelle Davidson Argyle , agents Danielle Smith, Laurie McLean and Pamela Van Hylckama Vlieg, publisher Mark Williams—and of course NYT million-seller Ruth Harris (who was such a popular guest I wouldn’t let her leave) –thank you all!

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