Dec 242012
 
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It’s been a pretty productive year so far.

Have you made any of your goals?  I have learned a new level of patience thanks to both my agents.  DragonCON, Frolicon, teaching Male POV LIVE, hanging with writer friends, getting out new releases and re-covering old ones…it’s been a long year but a prosperous one.

Hopefully we’ll get more of the last few months worth of posts put up in audio once I revamp the blog a little.  There will be some changes but only beneficial ones as we practice the art of Kai Zen–continuous self improvement, in the desire to bring you the best content we can.

Fr0m all of us at WriteSEX, we wish you a happy and joyous season followed by a prosperous new year.

We’ll be on hiatus from December 17th-Jan 10th.  We’ll be back strong with my first post of the year, followed by M. Christian, Jean Marie Stine, Thomas Roche, then finishing up with Deborah Riley Magnus before starting all over again.

 

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Dec 152012
 
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As I write this, I’m in the process of answering questions for an interview with me due to appear on FearNet.com. If you’re lucky, maybe someday you can be as famous as me, and have the pleasure of giving your own interviews.

Since emoticons are generally frowned on in prose, let me clarify: That’s my sarcastic voice with the comment about me being famous (which I’m not), but not about interviews being a pleasure. They’re lots of fun to do. It’s gratifying to have someone read your work and propose questions based on it, or based on your life, or on your experiences searching for Bigfoot in Antarctica or whatever. youIt gives you a chance to reflect on your work and What it All Means.

Best of all, most writer interviews are now conducted by email, so you can give them in your underwear.

Hell, you can give them in your underwear even if you wear a kind of underwear considered outré for your particular century, gender or social class. You can give interviews with a butt-plug in nowadays, for all anyone cares.

Don’t get me wrong — you could give interviews in your underwear back when they used to do them by phone. But I always had this creepy sense that the person on the other end knew you were in your underwear. Assuming that, unlike me, such situations don’t cause you to be seized by the urge to scream, “I’m in my underwear,” it seems unlikely that the other person has a clue…but it just feels weird. Now it doesn’t even feel weird.

I don’t make this point just for LOLZ. There is a very real danger in giving interviews in your underwear, metaphorically speaking — that is, when you’re not mentally (or informationally) prepared for it. In order to maximize the purpose of giving interviews, you need to have a consistent message about your work.

Not to be too much of a bastard about it, that message needs to be part of a unified marketing message. Without seeming to be part of a unified marketing message, catch my drift?

You don’t want your interviews to seem too cynically marketing-focused because that’s not what an interview is for…or, to put it more accurately, it’s not what an interview does best. The best interviews are an opportunity for you to reflect on themes in your work, guided by someone who is both interested in and passionate about your work (whether they love it or hate it). Even if the interviewer is indifferent toward your work, you’ve still got the floor — so, with some practice, you can take an interview where you want it to go, especially if it’s by email.

I’m not just an enthusiastic interviewee; I’ve written up several hundred interviews over the years, in my tenure at the both-defunct Eros-Zine.com and 13thStreet.com. I’ve also done them as part of my public relations work. I know how deceptively easy they can seem, which camouflages the fact that giving good interviews is damned difficult.

That’s because the purpose of interviews is to make you, the writer, into a “real” person, in a way very different than prose can ever do. For most of literary history, the interview has been one of two primary ways that authors reach their readers (the other being their work). As such, interviews make you a “real” person by putting you in the role of instructor or authority — however personable you are, there remains a little bit of an authoritarian distance between you and your readers.

So how do you make yourself “real”? The thing is, social media now does that far more effectively than interviews ever have. Seeing an hourly Tweet or Facebook status from Tad Williams, Peter Straub, Laura Antoniou or whoever makes them into “real” people more or less on the same level that your distant cousin or housemate from ten years ago is a “real” person.

For that reason, interviews now occupy an interesting shadow-land where, in giving them, you’re not quite an authority but you’re not quite a peer. That’s why, to me, the things I say in good interviews are slightly formalized versions of the same sort of thing I might say on my blog in social media. I think the best way to approach interviews nowadays is as a starting point for a discussion with your fans, or — better yet! — people who have never heard of you before. In this age of social connectedness, the fact that you’re “real” should be a central part of your marketing message. (Unless, of course, you’re not. In which case you probably shouldn’t be giving interviews without the OK of your alien overlords.)

That said, though, the slightly formalized nature of interviews is what the format has going for it. Keep in mind that by agreeing to an interview, you’ve placed yourself in the position of being an authority. You’ve claimed to whatever journalist emailed you the request, “Why, yes, yes, I do know what I’m talking about.” Endeavor to make good on that claim. Don’t use interviews to bash other people, whether they’re Lady Gaga or your landlord. If you’re a fiction writer giving an interview, you’re there to bring something positive to the discussion of fiction — something that couldn’t be brought by a blog post, Facebook status or lengthy speech on a soapbox in the town square.

To assist in creating that sense of “realness” alongside a sense of authority, be sure to have a decent-looking photograph of yourself. And for God’s sake, please don’t go to J.C. Penney wearing an off-salmon jacket so you can look like somebody’s overgrown prom date. This is not a school portrait for your mother to hang on the refrigerator. You are not a realtor. (Unless you are, in which case you should use a different photo for your realty ads and your writing.)

If you don’t know a reasonably artistic professional photographer, then go down to the local boho café and meet one…or point a camera at yourself looking ominously into the lens at a famous local landmark, or just shoot thousands of pictures of yourself until you get one you can live with. Taking your own author photos isn’t ideal, but it has the benefit of letting you take a lot of them, fer-cheap, so you can eventually get one that works.

As a fiction writer, it’s better to look like a war correspondent than a Homecoming also-ran, so take a lot of pictures in order to get one where you look, you know, like, charming and romantic and evocative or something.

Don’t shoot them in the bathroom, incidentally. Yes, I know there’s a lot of light in the bathroom. Every fifteen-year-old girl in America knows there’s a lot of light in the bathroom. Resist the urge to shoot your author photo there.

And most importantly, do not ever make duck face in your author photos.

One last note about format: As I mentioned above, most writer interviews for blogs and smaller publications are conducted by email nowadays. The author will email you a set of questions; you will respond and email them back. Yes, since you mentioned it, this looks a lot like writing. In fact, it looks and feels a lot like writing a blog post. But in the same way that I suggest you should try to act like an authority when giving interviews, I must also suggest that you resist the temptation to treat interviews like the opportunity to deliver a manifesto. Get your “realness” out there early and often, and give your readers a sense of what your work is about. Remember that most casual readers quit reading after about 700 words…and since this blog post is well beyond that point, I’ll leave it at that.

Happy interviewing!

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Dec 062012
 
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It would be impossible to over emphasize the importance of the blurb for your book in its success, or the importance of certain key elements and ways of thinking to the success of the blurb.

When it comes to selling a book to the 87 readers out of 100 who rarely visit book review sites, are not compulsive blog readers, and who will learn of a book only when they visit, for example, Amazon, go to their favorite category, and encounter a thumbnail of the book cover and the blurb for the first time. To this group the cover and the blurb are almost the publisher’s only marketing tools.

The cover’s purpose, really its only purpose, is not to illustrate a scene from the book (scenes often make poor covers from the eye-arresting and sales perspective, and a reader can only know it is a scene after something else makes them want read the book). The cover’s purpose is to rivet the reader’s attention and make them want to read the blurb (if they don’t do that, they are a lost potential sale).  In that sense, covers are not only a marketing tool, but perhaps the book’s most important single marketing tool, and must be designed with marketing as their purpose and goal.

The first thing I had drilled into me about blurbs is that a blurb should open with “hook” that grabs the reader’s interest immediately and simultaneously encapsulates the book’s theme. It should not open with just a description of the character: “Mary was a single mother who worked in advertising where she was a success.” – kind of thing. But a provocative, curiosity stirring, attention getting statement or question. One technique is the challenging question. “Did he plan to to marry her – or murder her.” Another technique is a tantalizing summary of the book’s core situation: “A competition spirals into a tantalizing game of bondage and seduction…” “When a California dyke meets a lesbian from India, sparks fly!” Another very effective technique, which attracts perhaps the largest number of people to look at a book, is to cite a bestselling book, author, movie or tv show with a wide audience which is looking for more of the same: “Fans of Terry Goodkind will love this new urban fantasy novel.” “People who loved Star Trek, DS9 will thrill to this new saga of an almost forgotten space station caught on the crossfire of two warring empires.” etc.

Then for the body of the blurb. It was drilled into me (and from the blurbs i found on the backs of recent paperback bestsellers I have read this is still the practice) that the blurb should be as personalized as possible and tell the story from the pov of the protagonist in such a way as to create sympathy for and identification with or curiosity about the protagonist/s, while making their situation compelling; and that and each sentence of the blurb should deepen the specifics of that story, focusing on the situation and feelings of that character (or when multiple characters, maybe a sentence or two for each character and the essence of their story). In short it should make the book sound so appetizing that the reader’s mental mouth waters to read it and they can’t resist clicking the Buy button.

The following are examples from the first two paperbacks I pulled off my shelf, there are hundreds more like them on my office shelf.

Blurb for Harlequin’s Montana Legend: “Happily ever after wasn’t too much to wish for! Young widow Sarah Redding swore that if Providence sent her another man to love, he would definitely have to love her back. Then into her life rode Gage Gatlin, a rugged jewel of a man who could offer her everything—except his heart! Gage knew Love was a fairy tale. But devotion and desire—those were things he knew he could build a life around. One he could share with Sarah Redding, a woman practical yet passionate, caring to both of their daughters, a; woman he wanted forever. If only she didn’t want love.”

From Kathy Reichs’ Deja Dead: “Her life is devoted to justice—for those she never even knew. In the year since Temperance Brennan left behind a shaky marriage in North Carolina, work has often preempted her weekend plans to explore Quebec. When a female corpse is discovered meticulously dismembered and stashed in trash bags, Temperance detects an alarming pattern—and  she plunges into a harrowing search for a killer. But her investigation is about to place those closest to her—her best friend and her own daughter—in mortal danger….”

Now let’s construct a blurb with these guidelines in mind.

Don’t start with the character’s history, and then get to the story. Start with the emotion or conflict. Don’t write: Jo was a widow with a farm. Frank worked for a land development company seeking to build luxury townhouses. When they met sparks flew.” Instead, start this way: “Sparks flew when Jo a widow with a farm finds herself up against Frank, a land developer who wants her farm for a luxury development.”

Keep the focus on the characters. “Jo wouldn’t admit to herself that she was attracted to Frank until she found herself in bed with him for a night of amazing sex.”

Stay with her, keep the focus on the protagonist (hero or heroine). “She fled the next morning and refused to see him or answer his calls or email.”

Take us to a turning point for drama: “But as he lay in a coma in a hospital, victim of a vicious attack by thugs hired by a rival development company, Jo realized she truly loved him.”

Then conclude on a cliff-hanging note of suspense: “Yet she knew that if Frank recovered, his job would still be to destroy everything she loved.”

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