Jan 112015
 
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By M.Christian (Guest Blogger)

Currently I’m involved in a very special publishing endeavor – sorry for the tease; I’ll come to it shortly – that has gotten me thinking quite a bit about writing, especially about what it could meant to be a successful writer.

An odd word, that: success.  In some cases it can be a very clear-cut.  Getting from point A to point B?  Success is just making the trip.  Balancing your checkbook?  Success is making it all add up (and, one hopes, remaining in the black).  But for writers … well, it can be rather, shall I say, slippery.

For example: finishing a book or a story.  That can be a form of success – though too often it feels like there’s always more that could have been done.  Selling a book or a story?  That can be successful – though many times there’s the nagging doubt that it could have gone for more money, higher status, etc.

Then there’s the big form of that word.  What does it mean to be a successful author?  Excuse me for evoking my inner Cranky Old Pro, but far too many authors seem to think that being a successful author is not just finishing books and stories, selling books or stories, winning awards, making money – but making sure everyone, everywhere, knows about it.

In other words, the world of professional writing – or creating anything, it seems like – has become about who you are and not what you do.

Okay, that’s a broad statement, but bear with me.  This new endeavor – which I still won’t talk too much about … yet – involves a lot of looking backwards.  I’ve never been a fan of nostalgia … my childhood wasn’t exactly a pleasant one … but it has been a real eye-opener when it comes to reevaluating what, for me at least, success actually means.

Let’s talk about science fiction for a moment – but, rest assured, the message is the pretty much the same not only for every genre but every form of artistic creation as well.  Right now being a science fiction writer is a big deal: one story, one sale, one award, and everyone’s awash in self-congratulatory promotion.

Yes, PR is more important than ever, what with the evolution of ebooks and self-publishing and all. Going from (yeah I know I might be exaggerating) 1,000 books published a month to 10,000 books a day means that getting your name out there is crucial … but there’s a big difference between trying not to vanish, trampled under the hordes of other writers, and losing sight of the what being a writer is all about.

Part of this project I alluded to in the first paragraph is stepping into a wayback machine to look at many early SF authors and their works.  Back in the 1940s and 50s, and up to the 60s or so, was when many of the SF legends began their writing lives.  If you haven’t, you should definitely pick up a few old SF digests or pulps or cruise a few select sites and check them out.

Sure, far too often their covers were beyond pulpy (half-naked women, Green Men from Mars, stalwart heroes firing blasters, Green Men from Mars holding half-naked women high in the air while stalwart heroes fired blasters at them, etc.), but look at who was slowly making their way up the mastheads of those tawdry pages: Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Edmond Hamilton, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, and (later) James Tiptree, Jr.
 (AKA Alice Bradley Sheldon), Octavia Butler, and so many others. 

Oh, sure, it’s worth a giggle or two seeing authors that we now consider to be legendary on these covers – but doing so is what changed the way I, personally, consider a measure of success … and, perhaps, will change the way you think about it, too.

Back into the wayback machine: no internet, damned few bookstores that would carry digests or paperbacks (they were mostly sold on newsstands), almost no reviews (except in other SF magazines), and pretty much zero, nada, zilch in the way of respect.

Being a science fiction writer back then was a low-paying, quasi-shameful, writer’s life.  You were lucky to get your name spelled right on the cover, let alone have that cover depict anything to do with the book you wrote.  Adding insult to injury, how much you got for your next book had everything to do with how much your last book sold: if it didn’t … well, then you took what you could get.

But these authors kept on writing.  They didn’t have even the possibility of attracting anything but scorn from big publishing houses, let alone movie deals.  They didn’t have a way of reaching out to fans – or even fellow authors – other than writing actual letters or attending what few early conventions existed back then.

So … no money, no fame, only a small cadre of fans, humiliated and the source of almost constant derision from authors in other genres … sure, we know them now, after 50+ years, but what kept them going then?

They were writers: they loved – beyond all else – to tell stories.  Sure, for many of them churning out stories and books was a way of making at least some money but, let’s be honest, there were better ways of doing that.

This is what I mean by success.  Now we look back at these authors as being successful because their names – even beyond science fiction fandom – are well known and even respected, and even a few of their properties are valued in the millions.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Yes, that was then and this is now, but they got from where they started to where they are now because they lived to write stories … and managed to keep at it long enough for the rest of the world to finally catch up and take interest in those stories.

No, it’s not a guarantee – those same pulp pages are full of authors who didn’t last long enough – but the point is still pretty much valid: these celebrated authors began their writing lives not because of winning awards, raking in the cash, or the adoration of legions of fans, but because they lived to write.

And that is what I’ve come to consider to be a personal definition of success: to live for the writing, to remain passionate and dedicated … while the rest, as they say, is gravy.

***

About M. Christian
Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement. Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with more than 400 stories, 10 novels (including The Very Bloody Marys, Brushes and The Painted Doll). Nearly a dozen collections of his own work (Technorotica, In Control, Lambda nominee Dirty Words, The Bachelor Machine), more than two dozen anthologies (Best S/M Erotica series, My Love for All That is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica, The Burning Pen, and with Maxim Jakubowksi The Mammoth Book of Tales from the Road).  His work is regularly selected for Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and others. His extensive knowledge of erotica as writer, editor, anthologist and publisher resulted in the bestselling guide How To Write And Sell Erotica.

In addition, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited twenty five anthologies to date. He is also responsible for several non-fiction books, notably How to Write and Sell Erotica.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he’d want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.

He can be found in a number of places online, not least of which is mchristian.com.

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Feb 102014
 
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By Sherry Ziegelmeyer

Now that 2014 is well underway, you’re probably starting to get antsy about what kind of publicity you can generate to increase awareness of your books this year. As I said in my last Write-Sex.com column, used properly, press releases are a viable tool to generate public interest in your books—and in you, as an author.

The unwritten catch in that above paragraph is that first your press release must make it through the vetting process of an editor. …If you’re thinking of the benevolent and helpful copy editor who goes over your manuscripts before they’re published—you’d be wrong. News editors are only interested in a press release that catches their attention, tells them all they need to know within the first paragraph of the text and has enough “meat” to make the story newsworthy, or at least to make their readers stay on the page long enough to see their own advertisers’ sales pitches.

So how do you go about writing a press release that will evoke a positive reaction in an editor? One strong enough to convince them to do something with your press release, beyond deleting it? The following example will probably help you—let’s “deconstruct” a press release!

Since I happen to have a press release that the wonderful M. Christian put together for Sizzler Editions’ website launch a while back, let’s use that as the example…

Formatting for Professionalism

You will need to let the media know when your news is applicable, and that is handled by the release dateline notice (part one—there are actually two parts to the dateline, but we’ll fill in the second part once we get to the body copy), formatted as:

For Immediate Release: [Insert the actual date you are sending out your press release.]

Now you will need to let the media know whom to contact for more information concerning your news, so add this line:

Contact: [Insert your name and direct phone number or email, or those of another designated contact person.]

Within the body of a press release, there will be a couple of additional formatting rules you should keep in mind; however, it would be too confusing to jump ahead, so for now please focus on these two—they are the most important. Editors are a finicky bunch and they have been known to automatically delete press releases that do not follow standard formatting rules at the beginning of the copy they are presented.

Giving Good “Headline”

Now we can start building the actual press release.  We need a headline, which is a title that describes the information contained in your press release. A headline should be brief, yet it also should make the reader (the all-important editor!) interested in what you have to say in the press release that follows that headline.

Sizzler Editions Launches Exciting, New, Erotic eBook Site

Please notice that this headline uses proper grammatical form, and avoids the crime of “shouting” that would be committed if the entire headline were capitalized instead of in Title Case. It also has no exclamation points or other punctuation. All of those effects detract from a good headline, and annoy most editors.

However, what should be capitalized in title case is capitalized. This headline also fits on one line, which is important for most publications—and yet, it still tells you who the company is, and what the company does, so readers will have an idea of the information included in the press release.

Lead Paragraphs

Your lead paragraph should contain at least three of the necessary pieces of information essential for an editor to determine if your submission is worthy of their further attention.  These questions are termed by many editors as “The 5 W’s and the H”, which stand for Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

Leading off the first paragraph of your press release, you’ll want to include the second part of the “dateline” that tells the editor where the news was generated. Sometimes it’s very important for an editor to know if your press release has a local news angle, and sometimes it doesn’t matter—but in either case you will look more professional and interesting to an editor when the location of your news is appreciable at a glance.

(San Francisco, California) Sizzler Editions, the premier publisher of erotic eBooks since 1998, announces a new site for erotic literature junkies to access their catalog of 1500 titles, sizzlereditions.com. [http://sizzlereditions.com]

The lead paragraph of this press release answers three of those journalistic test questions which determine whether a story is actually newsworthy: “Who” (Sizzler Editions), “What” (A publisher of erotic eBooks) and “Why” (they launched a new website with a catalog.)

This type of lead paragraph also gives the editor an idea of what the lead of their own story should focus on, should they choose to rewrite the press release for their publication. Remember this rule and you will make friends with many people in the press. Forget this rule and you will leave people wondering about your level of professionalism.

Guess what? The hard part is done! Now, let’s give our press more information to back up and expand on what we have already said in our lead paragraph. Let’s move to the rest of the body copy:

Built on a new, more flexible, platform with additional layers of subcategories, the new Sizzler Editions site features the ability to see related books by theme and series. Next to each book cover, readers will see convenient tabs featuring the book’s description, direct purchase links and other information. The updated site also incorporates video trailers for featured Sizzler Edition titles, and expanded Author Bio pages.

While the second paragraph is enough to fully cover all the “5 W’s and an H”, you still want to wrap up this story with some more supporting information, and make it more interesting. You can do that with quotations. Breaking up blocks of informational text with quotes also helps keep your press release from reading like an advertisement.

Of the new site, Publisher Jean Marie Stine says, “Perhaps the biggest change is the fact that we no longer host and sell books ourselves. Readers will instead find a link, which takes them directly to a book’s page on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other such sites. At the redesigned Sizzler Editions site, readers can not only easily find the book they like, but they can buy it from their preferred vendor in a new tab—and have it downloaded instantly into their ebook reading device— without ever leaving the Sizzler Editions site.  It’s a win-win for both readers and for us!”

Stine reveals that the site is continuing to add improvements above and beyond the update unveiled April 2, 2013. “The new site is still very much a work in progress. We will add audio interviews with our authors, include even more features to enhance the visitor’s search experience and more titles from new erotic authors are always being added to our catalog!”

Debut releases at the new site include bestselling bondage author Powerone’s new Cold War spy shocker, Slave of the Kremlin, two novellas of paranormal romance by Sarah Bella, author of Bound by Blood, and a first-ever collection of Herotica editor Marcy Sheiner’s stories, Love & Other Illusions. Also scheduled for release in the coming weeks are Love’s Storm by Margie Church and K. B. Cutter, the second installment of their controversial trilogy about polyamory, plus a new collection of erotic science fiction stories, Skin Effect, by M.Christian. Coming soon to Sizzler Editions are the first of three books by sexologist Amy Marsh reporting back on Love’s Outer Limits, and new books by Terri Pray, David Jewell and other bestselling authors.

You’ll notice that the quoted bits of the sample press release are all flush left aligned and use block paragraphs with a single return between them. That’s the proper way to present a press release to an editor.

Calls to Action

Every press release should include a Call to Action at the end of the body copy. Remember though, a press release cannot read like an ad! So always keep your calls to action vague, such as “Bookmark sizzlereditions.com now…”, which is used in the last paragraph of this press release, as you will see next:

Bookmark sizzlereditions.com now, and start exploring the new features rolled out in the first phase of the update, and be sure to come back for the official grand reopening on May 1st, when there will be free eBooks, special prizes and other delights.

Wrapping Up

Let’s sign this thing off with the all-important sign that your story is now finished and let your editors get back to their deadlines, shall we? To give the press the signal that you are finished, use this traditional copy writing convention:

-30-

Please don’t bother yourself with what “-30-” means or where the convention came from; most reporters today are also clueless of its original origins, however they all know it when they see it.

If you still don’t think that you have included enough information for the press to consider your press release newsworthy, let’s add the optional “boilerplate” copy, in its required format (again, both paragraphs should be flush left aligned):

About Sizzler Editions:

Sizzler Editions is one of the leading ebook publishers of erotica on the internet. Sizzler issued their first ebooks in 1998, and since that time have published over 1500 titles. Sizzler Editions prides itself on presenting the finest in erotica for every sexual interest and orientation.

You never thought we’d finish that did you? Well, that’s the entire press release, with all of the formatting in place and enough information to convey to an editor that the news it contains will be of interest to their readers.

The truth is, anyone can write a press release. The problem is that very few people know how to write a good one; let alone one that news editors will find professional and credible. There are many other details (and potential pitfalls) that you should be aware of when writing press releases, from the adverse reaction editors have to “bullet points” in them, to the use of “hype”, to the appropriate length and number of topics that should be included in any single press release, to headlines, “burying leads” and much more.  If you’d like to learn more about these and other common “editor’s grievances”, with examples and explanations gathered directly from news editors, please visit The Press Wire Writing Tips page.

 

Do you have specific questions concerning how to generate publicity for your books? Please email questions and comments to Sherry; answers will appear as future WriteSex blog topics.

Sherry Ziegelmeyer is a professional publicist and public relations representative, who happens to specialize in adult entertainment (in all its various forms). She resides in Chatsworth, California, affectionately known as “ground zero of the adult entertainment industry.” When not working on writing press releases, arranging interviews and putting together review kits for her clients (among dozens of other career related activities), she reads a LOT, loves cooking, appreciates beefcake eye-candy, spending time with friends, family and with her assortment of furred and feathered “kids”.

Get to know Sherry at blackandbluemedia.com or www.facebook.com/sherry.ziegelmeyer.

 

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