Friday, April 12, 2013

Heed the Warnings and Survive the Storm

Amidst blizzard predictions and admonitions to stay inside, I contemplated the whimsies of springtime in the Rockies and their similarities to the writing profession. Meteorologists warn of pending storms, share survival techniques, and urge us to carry emergency packs if we venture out during dangerous conditions. In like manner, editors, publicists, designers, fellow writers, BRP, and more warn of potential snares along the writing trail, pass on techniques for circumventing those dangers, and urge us to form support networks for emergencies that threaten our writing progress.

All this is great—but it works only if we heed the warnings, prepare for the storms, and have a contingency plan. Are we excuse makers or listeners? Let’s consider some mindsets that send us into inclement writing weather without protection against the elements of failure.

This is my story. Only I can tell it the way it needs to be told. Do you believe your story is one-of-a-kind, a topic that has never been addressed in book? It has been stated on good authority that nothing new exists under the sun. However, the same story can be told in myriad ways. Your presentation, not your story, is unique. Just remember that certain techniques have been shown to keep that presentation consistent and on track, no matter what the weather.

Have you created character sketches? Unless you are blessed with the rare gift of total recall, you may have cousin Matilda skinny and green-eyed in the beginning of the story and fat, bespectacled, and brown-eyed in the climax. Or the single, childless friend of the protagonist may inexplicably show up with a husband and three biological children in chapter thirteen.

Did you make an outline? Every twist and turn need not be detailed on paper—and your story may not follow it in its entirety—but an outline provides a starting point and a path to guide you through the challenging first pages of your book until your characters take over and dictate their story to you. (Of course, you have to keep an eye on them so they don’t go too far afield.) Unexpected digressions may lead you down a cobblestone walkway that didn’t make it into that outline, but don’t let that unnerve you. Keeping your characters true to themselves and the main thread of your story in sight allow for occasional side trips as long as they relate to the story and move it forward.

I don’t want to share my work with anyone until it’s copyrighted. I’m afraid somebody will steal it, so don’t even suggest sending it to an editor. It’s amazing how often I’ve heard a variation of this from writers of poorly executed manuscripts. (Yes, after guaranteeing in writing the safety of their intellectual property, I have edited their books.) Bottom line: professional integrity dictates that an editor never compromises an author’s work in any manner. This is a good reason to ask an unknown editor for references, and check them out. Or ask members of your writing group to recommend someone. Remember that “professional editor” is not synonymous with high school English teacher, college professor, or Aunt Mary—who just loves a great novel.

I was pretty good in art when I was in school. Why should I pay a cover designer to do what I can do myself for free? As an agent of free choice, you just freely undermined your first great marketing tool. Your book cover is your calling card, and you never get a second chance to make that first impression. Cover designers know how to create a relevant cover that will appeal to your target audience. They know what they’re doing. And they know the market. Chances are you know neither.

Why do I need a publicist? With a million plus books published annually, the market is overwhelmed. Most new books are almost as visible as that proverbial needle in a haystack; so, at the very least, consult with a pro who knows how to reach your audience. She can point you in the right direction if you’re determined to do your own marketing.

Do you heed the warnings? Have you tried going it alone and found you needed a team? What advice do you have for newbies who are just dipping their toes into the writing pool? Yes, we’ve touched before on these issues, but they bear repeating. We want all our followers to weather the storms and find success on their writing trails.

Linda Lane is finishing up the last of her editing jobs and chomping at the bit to get back to her works in progress. Soon her new website,, will be completed, and all readers and writers are invited to stop by, stay awhile, ask questions, share stories, and become a part of our new writing community.


  1. I'd like to hear more about publicists: how you find one, vet them, what they can really do for you, and for how much. I've looked into advertising, but it is above my budget.

  2. Linda, your first and fourth points are so closely tied and create a bit of a paradox: "Your" story isn't necessarily unique, and yet due to copyright laws, it's a crime for someone to "steal" it.

    As a matter of fact, putting your own spin on a well-known or even legendary tale has earned many an author publication. Think Gregory Maguire's fairy tale spin-offs, Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes (younger sister to Sherlock) mysteries, or any number of King Arthur stories including Marion Zimmer Bradley's mega-selling Mists of Avalon.

    We don't keep a story ours through fear. We own it by building our writing DNA right into it. The more of "us" we pour into our writing, through voice, detail, and emotional thrust born of experience, the more original it will seem.

  3. Diana, literary publicists seek reviews, media exposure, and appropriate venues for authors they represent, among the many other services they provide. Like agents, they work in specific genres, and they know the outlets and audiences that fit each client's work. They also recommend the most effective ways to use social media to promote book sales.

    Yes, they can be pricey, but an enterprising author on a tight budget can use the creativity that inspired the book and drove it to completion to learn at least some basic skills to become his or her own publicist. How? Go online and look for literary publicists or book publicists. Study the services they offer and choose some that particularly fit your book. Then put together a plan to implement them. While the experience and expertise will likely be lacking, your dedication and passion for your book can go a long way toward creating an effective publicity plan to help you reach your target audience. Trial and error will probably play into your game, but you'll learn.

  4. You're so right, Kathryn. Spinoffs are often the name of the game, and quite successful ones at that. Items 1 and 4 on my list came from comments I've received from new writers who have no clue about our profession or how it really works. They are self-protective to their own detriment and have no idea who they are as writers. The more they learn about who they are, the more their work reflects that uniqueness.

  5. I had a blog book tours class for publicists a few years ago that ended rather suddenly when one of the participants mentioned she charged $20,000 a month. I think we were all rather stunned by that announcement.

  6. Whoa! This is a great reason why it pays to learn how to be a do-it-yourselfer in the publicity department.

  7. I've not seen a lot of what I'd consider "good" publicists. As a blogging author, I get requests from publicists to invite their clients to my blog when it's clear they're clueless about what I do. I had someone ask me to review an economics book. And others failed to deliver. It got to the point where when I get a request from a publicist, I tell them to have their author contact me directly. It's only happened once. And on the Yahoo groups I belong to, I automatically delete any messages from a publicist/promotion company.

    (I do hear you about the weather up here. We've had sunshine and snow off and on all day)

    Terry's Place

  8. There are some good ones out there, Terry, but not everyone who claims to be a publicist qualifies in that category -- just as not everyone who claims to be an editor edits well.

    Realistically, all books need a publicist. Whether that person is a professional in the field or an author who has done the necessary research/homework to market his/her own work, the target audience must be made aware of the book's existence. Otherwise, how will it sell?

    Writers who go the traditional publishing route may have the advantage of an in-house publicist to get the word out. However, these days, most books are self-published. This places the marketing burden at the feet of the writer, who can either hire someone (possibly at a huge expense) or learn to do it himself. Also realistically, many of us can't afford a professional publicist. Therefore, we both self-publish and self-publicize -- changing hats and learning the art of effective marketing. If we don't do that, we miss out on many sales because readers don't know about our book.

  9. Linda,

    All of your points are well taken. I believe it is rare for most new authors to think about what follows the completion of the first draft of their first book. We are fixated on getting the words on paper, and once we are done and “The End” is typed at the bottom of the page, we look up in a daze and wonder what’s next. The ultimate truth of the matter . . . finding a publisher (or deciding to self-publish) editing, rewriting, proofing and copyediting, and the real biggy . . . marketing hit like a bucket of cold water.

    As someone who made the decision to self-publish, I have, over the course of the past several years, worked to develop a team of people who support what I do. There are probably those out there who can do it all, but I am not one of them. Writing is what I love. If I am responsible for all the other things that need to be done to get a book out and recognized, then I’m not writing.

    Luckily, I found a great editor. I have a partner in my business who is computer sauvy, he has marketing experience, and he is a great business manager. His view is that marketing is the most important part of the process (after my excellent book is written, of course). Keeping up with all that is happening in the publishing world, most importantly what’s happening in the dynamic world of e-books, is a full time job. Social media and the internet have revolutionized marketing any product and books are no exception.

    In conclusion . . . if you are in the position where you have to self-promote, do your homework. My partner is clear that his job is to promote me, the author. If he does this well, recognition for my books will follow. After all, they are a large part of who I am.

  10. S. K. Randolph, you make an excellent point about marketing. It is the author, not the book, that must be promoted. All will be lost when the next book comes out if it is the title that's being marketed. However, the author's name remains the same for each book (unless a pseudonym is being used), and that name recognition builds the fan base that sells future novels.

  11. I had a great experience with Helena Brantley at Red Pencil PR - she was publicist for Little Pickle Press for a while.

  12. Obviously, she was in stark contrast to the publicist mentioned earlier who charged $20K per month. Like other freelancers in publishing (and other businesses), some are excellent and others less so. I certainly hope that expensive one really delivered for her clients.

  13. For $20 grand a month, there better be an appearance on Oprah! :D

  14. My kind of outline is a cheat sheet which gives me the names, descriptions of characters and where they live, along with their ages and significant others.

    Other than that, I wing it!

    Morgan Mandel


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