Happy New Year! What’s new in the Garden?

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Happy New Year, Gardeners!  It’s a great time to be in the Writer Zen Garden.

Inside this blog:

  1. Prompt Circles are back – next one is Jan 21st from 2-4 at Open Books
  2. Walking In This World online workshop, Jan 22nd through April 22nd
  3. F.E.A.R.S. Workshop – Finish, Edit, Analyze, Research and Submit, Feb 5th to Mar 4th
  4. Dialog – Who Says What To Whom, March 12th to March 25th
  5. A to Z Blog Challenge is coming in April
  6. Camp NaNoWriMo is coming in April

Check it out:

The Prompt Circles are back!  After a longer than expected hiatus, we’re excited to report that we are ready to start these up again.  Our venue is Open Books, an awesome place centrally located downtown near parking, transit, Metra, and those blue bicycle things.  Not that you’d want to bike in the dead of winter, but hey.  They’re there if you want ’em.  It’s on Saturday, January 21st from 2-4.

We have several online offerings, all of which are free but require a membership on the forum.  How do you get to the forum, you ask?  Visit here!

Did you know that the Writer Zen Garden has a calendar?  If you prefer getting your information visually, click over to Our Calendar and check it out.

On the Artist’s Way track: Walking In This World.  This is a 13-week workshop running from Sunday, Jan 22nd, through Saturday, April 22nd.  You will need a copy of the book by Julia Cameron, Walking In This World, which is available from your favorite bookseller or public library.  This is a participant-led workshop facilitated by A. Catherine Noon; if you’d like to lead a week’s discussion, please let me know.

The workshop will be conducted online through thewww.writerzengarden.com/forums website; you will need a user account to participate. There is no cost to join.

On the Author track: F.E.A.R.S. Online Workshop – Finish, Edit, Analyze, Research, and Submit.  Join author Tina Holland for her popular F.E.A.R.S. workshop, where she will help you Finish your manuscript, Edit it, Analyze it for its best fit in the marketplace, Research homes for it – traditional publishing? digital-first/small press? indie? blog?, and Submit.

It will run for four weeks starting Sunday, February 5th and concluding Saturday, March 4th.

Tina is past President of RWA Online Chapter #136 and author of ten romance novels. She is a sought-after speaker at regional writing conferences and a founding Board Member of Writer Zen Garden. We are super stoked to have her present for us and for her to offer her popular workshop for free to WZG members.

You need to be a member of the Writer Zen Garden online forum.  Membership is free.

For more information about Tina Holland, please visit her website. While you’re there, check out her popular author interview series (and authors, sign up to be interviewed!).

On the Writer track:  Online workshop – Dialog, Who Says What to Whom, March 12th through March 25th.

Join A. Catherine Noon and Tina Holland for a free online two-week workshop on dialog. We will have examples, discuss proper punctuation, (where DOES that pesky comma go? or is it a period?), and have lots and lots of practice exercises. Think of it as the March boot camp to get in shape for April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and the A to Z Blog Challenge.

You will need a free account on the Writer Zen Garden Forum.

April is a busy month in the Garden: We have not one but TWO web-based events for you.

April is the month for the international A to Z Blog Challenge! Find out more, and sign up on the main website.

We’re looking for Writer Zen Gardeners to participate on our blog this year, so if you’re interested, please contact your organizers A. Catherine Noon or Tina Holland.

Also, April is Camp NaNoWriMo!  From the folks that bring you National Novel Writing Month in November comes a fun event called Camp NaNoWriMo. You can set your own word count goal; it doesn’t have to be the full 50,000 like in November. Participants are arranged in cabins for mutual support and encouragement.

Find out more, and sign up, at the website.

If you haven’t joined the discussion on Facebook, you’re missing out.  Click over to the Writer Zen Garden Facebook Group and check it out.

Darla’s Diatribe of the Week

I have a bit of a minor rant against a magazine publisher who shall remain unidentified.  Somehow, they got my mailing address and started sending me one of their weekly publications.  Since I do not wish to pay them for an unwanted subscription, I tried to cancel via their website.

It didn’t happen.

The thing still arrives every week, though they have never pursued payment.  The only correspondence came in the form of a request for my email address.  Believe me when I say that is not going to happen.  I can only imagine that they are happy to inflate subscription numbers for the sake of their advertisers.

It saddens me to see this waste, though the magazine’s content annoys me to the point I have no interest in sharing.  Sigh…  I guess the paper could be used to line cat litter boxes.

Meanwhile, we happily spend a fair chunk of change every year getting “2000 AD” and “The Judge Dredd Megazine” from Great Britain.  Those comics are mailings I do anticipate.

Anything interesting or annoying show up in your mailbox?  I hope it’s the former as opposed to the latter.

Monday with Aunt Noony – and a Fireside Chat with Kimberley Troutte!

My friend, Kimberley Troutte, is up for several awards and I wanted to chat with her about the awards process and how it fits in with the rest of her writing. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with me. Grab a cuppa and join me as I get to talk with Kimberley Troutte!

ACN: Kimberley, you said you received word that your manuscript, Epicenter (also called Her Guardian, His Angel), is a finalist in the RWA contests Launch A Star AND the Melody of Love. You also have a second manuscript, God Whisperer, in the finals of the Hot Prospect contest. First, congratulations! That’s awesome news!

Can you tell me a little more about Epicenter?

KT: I would love to. Epicenter, is the dramatic story of an American philanthropist and a Haitian doctor who are fighting to save lives when the greatest earthquake Haiti has ever known rips their world apart.

ACN: How did they get considered for Launch a Star and Melody of Love? Is that something you had to submit, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: These are writing contests in two different RWA Chapters (Romance Writers of the World). I entered online, paid my fee and kept my fingers crossed. Preliminary judges read all the entries, score them based on predetermined scoresheets, and determine which entries are good enough to move to the final rounds. I was honored and thrilled to hear that I was moving to the finals where agents and editors determine the final standings of the winners.

And the nail biting begins…

ACN: Is there a contest fee?

KT: Yep. Usually around $15-35 USD.

ACN: How about God Whisperer? What is that about?

KT: It’s the story of a mother and her eight-year-old son who are hiding for their lives in a Danish community in the hills of California when the boy becomes famous due to an ear surgery that allows him to hear God.

God Whisperer is near and dear to my heart. I wrote it because my little boy was born without an ear canal or eardrum in his right ear. The outside of the ear looked normal (albeit a little smaller than the left) but he had no hole! Very rare. The amazing surgeons at UCLA recreated his ear, drilling the hole, making an eardrum from his own tissue, and lifting the bones so that they could pick up sounds. It was a miracle when my boy could hear out of both ears for the first time in his life and I wanted to pour that love and miracle into a book.

ACN: How did it get selected for Hot Prospect? Is that something you did on your own, or were you nominated? How does that work?

KT: I entered it in the online RWA writing contest. I was so pleased that it was a finalist in the single-title category that I cried.

ACN: What made you want to be considered for these?

KT: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to win :-), but mostly I entered these contests looking for answers. I had made huge revisions to the beginnings of both manuscripts and wanted to know if the changes worked.

First chapters are hard for me. I tend to revise them several times before the book is ready. I always worry that I might be starting in the wrong place, or in the wrong point of view, or including too much backstory, or…

The questions I hoped that the judges would help me answer were:

  • Would readers be hooked enough to want to invest their precious time to read on?
  • Am I clear—not too much backstory but enough information so that the reader is not confused?
  • Are the character likeable?
  • Is the plot interesting?

I was thrilled to pieces to see that the preliminary judges liked my first chapters, OMG they really did.

ACN: How do you find contests fit into your writing process? Is it something you do out of enjoyment, or is it part of your overall marketing strategy?

KT: Contests give me a chance to see where I am succeeding and falling short so that I can improve my story before other readers and publishing professionals see it. I always keep in mind that judging is subjective but if two judges touch on the same weak point, it probably needs to be changed.

ACN: What advice would you give to a writer wanting to start out competing? Where would a person start and what strategies could you recommend?

KT: I would recommend going to the RWA [Romance Writers of America] website. There are all sorts of contests for the unpublished and published alike and you don’t have to be a member of RWA to enter. Make sure you read the rules carefully and email the contest coordinator if you have any questions. I would choose a contest that offers judges feedback so that you can learn and grow from their advice. And remember that it is a subjective process. All judges, just like readers, are not the same. I have had one judge love the chapter while the other disliked it rather intensely. That’s the way it goes sometimes. If you are willing to put yourself out there and enter with an open mind, determined to use the contest as a tool, you should be able to learn something from it.

ACN: I wish you every success and, regardless of whether you win, you should be proud for having entered. That takes guts and I’m sure proud of you.

KT: Thank you so much. I am in a place of happy shock. I’m so grateful that judges gave up their time to help me become a better writer. It’s such a gift.

Write on!

Kimberley Troutte

Lessons I’ve Learned About Promo

My first book, BURNING BRIGHT, written with coauthor Rachel Wilder, comes out next month. One of the things I’m learning as a new author is how to do promo. In fact, I’ve started talking about it like that – “do promo” like it’s some kind of jargon term, some in-crowd thing that I’m part of.

But it’s sure easy to get overwhelmed. I talk to people in my writing group who are mystified by even the small efforts I do, and I know authors who are so on top of their promo that I despair of ever catching up (Delilah Devlin and Xakara are two examples). So what have I learned? Here are three easy steps that anyone can take to dip a toe into the promotional waters without diving directly into the deep end.

Step One: Start Small

Don’t try to drink from the fire hydrant. Find a small drinking fountain at the park instead. Pick one outlet and play with it for a month or five – a blog, or Facebook page, or a website. Learn how the technology works and practice.

Step Two: Invent a Framework

Instead of staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration, come up with a list of ideas that you can use as a framework. What works for me is this: on a clean sheet of paper, write in a column the days of the week:

Sunday
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
etc.

Then, next to each day, write an idea of a topic. Play with alliteration, (Sunday Silliness), or with some kind of one-through-seven sequence (chakras, musical notes, or subjects). Use those as your theme for the day, if you post daily, or for the week, if you post weekly.

Step Three: Play Well With Others

Join a forum in your genre of choice, or something targeted for writers. Read other writers who work in your genre, and comment on their posts. No one likes talking to themselves in an empty room, so give as good as you get: commenting on others is a good way, and sometimes the only way, to encourage others to comment on your own stuff.

That’s all it takes. Just start with something simple, and build from there. A well-done but simple presence is much more effective than a broad scatter of disconnected blather.

Above all, have fun. After all, that’s why we write, right?

Wiley Wednesday: A Useful Tool

After taking a creative writing class last quarter, I was introduced to an interesting website that I think many people will find helpful.

It’s called Duotrope’s Digest.

It’s free to sign up and you can essentially shop around your story for mainly online publications, I think. It allows you to shop by genre (really specific genres, too). You can also track your submissions, when you submit, where and when you get a reply (you, of course, have to input that all yourself). It also gives you details on the publication, such as when/how often they publish, their acceptance to rejection ratio, what type of stories they accept and average length of stories they publish.

I think it’s very useful for the aspiring writer. And someone could probably just use it to find stories within a specific genre they enjoy using the search tools, as well.

Wiley Wednesday: An Interview with Casey Lynn Marketing and Media Services

For this week’s Wiley Wednesday, we have the opportunity to have a chat with Casey Lynn, of Casey Lynn Marketing & Media Services. Casey helps authors to market themselves and to navigate the new reality of self-promotion. Casey has kindly consented to answer some questions for us.

WR: First off, what IS a marketing/promo plan?

CL: Before we start, let’s lay out some definitions. “Marketing” comprises all the actions you take to connect a product or service (for writers, a book) with an audience. “Advertising” is any paid method of marketing, like buying a Facebook Ad or space in the Romantic Times magazine. “Promotion” is everything you do to promote yourself, your brand, and your product/service, like teaching classes, guest blogging, or being active on social media. Marketing is an umbrella term that includes both advertising and promotion, with neither one being necessarily more effective or better than the other. So, a marketing plan just is a way to formalize your goals and methods of reaching the target audience for your product/service. The most powerful aspect of it a marketing plan is putting it on paper (or on the computer, of course). This makes the plan not only more real, but holds you accountable for defining and reaching those goals. Remember–your goals need to start with your audience. What are their needs? How does your product/service fulfill an unmet need? If you take this approach–giving something they can use rather than foisting something upon them–you are more likely to form connections with your audience. And those connections are what turn the casual reader a dedicated fan, or a client into someone who will passionately refer your services to others.

WR: What should I include in my plan?

CL: Above anything else, give yourself measurable goals with a given time frame. A marketing plan is for accountability and a structured plan of attack, yes, but beyond that it can act as a test of how effectively you are promoting and advertising yourself. For example, if your goal is “I want to increase my twitter followers,” then adding one person could be considered a success. But have you reached your true goals and your audience? Probably not. On the other hand, if your goal is “I want to gain ten new twitter followers a week–not spam bots. On average, five will be follow-backs from relevant new tweeters that I follow, and the other five will be people with whom I interact using hashtags.” That is a measurable goal in two ways: One, you have a quantifiable number (ten) and two, you have a time limit (one week). Therefore, you could set up a spreadsheet to track your progress by week. That way, you can see if there are any positive correlations between promotional actions you take (like participating in a hashtag-based twitter chat) and meeting or exceeding your goals.

Some things to include in your plan: Targeted audiences (as specific as you can make them), Audience needs and desires, ways of reaching audience (where they spend time online, what resources they read and trust, etc), and tangible actions you can take to connect with this audience. Will you do guest posts? Pay for advertising on a certain website? Connect with them via social networking groups? I’d also suggest finding a way to chart out your actions and their results, so you can constantly evaluate your plan to make it more efficient.

WR: Where can I go for more information to do it myself?

CL: Before you run out and buy every book your Barnes & Noble has on marketing, promotions, and social media, check out the internet first. A slew of amazing blogs provide quality content–and it’s free. I have an ever-growing blogroll of places to pick up information, all gathered on my resource page, here. Or you can check out my marketing and social media blogrolls via Google Reader.

When you find a blog that provides information you can use, add it to your RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader. For more information on what RSS is, and how to set up a reader, go here. By doing this, you can aggregate all the new blog posts into one site, like Google Reader, and read all the updated posts in an efficient manner–it’s almost like a customized newspaper.

Finally, experiment with the different marketing techniques you encounter. Eventually, you’ll build up a personalized list of methods and tools that put your product/service in front of the best audience.

WR: Where can I go to get help if I need it?

CL: I’m always happy to answer questions (via e-mail to CaseyLynnMMS AT gmail DOT com or via twitter @CaseyLynnMMS), and on most of those blogs you’ve added to your RSS (because you’ve already done that, right?), you can ask a post-related question in the comments section and a bevy of readers will help you out. I can’t guarantee that all their advice will be equally effective, but they will give you a starting point. Also, because marketing it NOT a science–it is trial and error, for the most part–ask your fellow authors. Many will be able to point you in a good direction. If not the right one, they’ll at least get you closer to the answers you need.

We are grateful to Casey for her time and information. Be sure to check her out at Casey Lynn Marketing & Media Services and remember – your success is in your hands!

Wiley Wednesday: Weaving the Web

One of my favorite writing websites is Writing World, www.writing-world.com (don’t forget the dash or it’ll send you somewhere different). Now edited by Dawn Copeman, it was started by Moira Allen. They publish a free monthly newsletter on the first Thursday of each month. The website has over 825 pages of information covering every genre.

Moira Allen was editor of Cat Fancy magazine for over a decade and has numerous writing credits to her name. I took a class from her, Breaking into Magazine Writing, that I found tremendously informative and useful. She is very business-like in her approach. She doesn’t have fairy-dust in her eyes about how the publishing industry works, but she is very proactive in how she approaches it.

Writing World covers all sorts of material of interest to the beginner and experienced author alike:

Beginner’s World
The Business of Writing
Freelancer’s World
Commercial Corner
International Writing
General Fiction
Romance
Mystery
SF/Fantasy
Children’s Writing
Poetry/Greeting Cards
Creative Nonfiction
Screenwriting
Publishing Your Book
Promoting Your Writing

In addition, Moira Allen has written several books of interest to the freelancer. In particular, she has released an e-book, How to Write for Magazines, which is a synthesis of the class I mentioned earlier. I have it, it’s excellent.

Their Links page is worth the price of admission. It’s enormous; I don’t have room to fit all the topics here. That alone is worth seeing; I highly recommend you check it out. She’s even got a section on Rights and Copyright, which is always an important thing to understand.

Most importantly, they do accept submissions! Since they have nearly 600 articles already, it’s important to double-check their guidelines, but check it out!

What is a Best Seller?

In an effort to increase my market knowledge, I delved into this topic headlong and found it particularly daunting. Here I’ll sum up what I’ve found, and perhaps ‘de-mystify’ it for you some as well.

The question that led me on this journey was ‘what does it mean to have a ‘BEST-SELLING’ book?’ and ‘what does it mean to be a BEST-SELLING author?’

First off, both are relative. Technically, if Author A publishes through small press B which only publishes 10 titles, and theirs sells 20 copies, whereas the other nine sell 2-3, they are a BEST-SELLING author of a BEST-SELLING title. Best selling where, according to whom, and compared to what are the questions one could ask following Author A’s “Best Selling” claim. (The same goes for ‘Award-Winning’ . . . it’s all relative, and it can all be a means of hyping an author or title.) There are plenty of smaller magazines and editorials that make their own lists, specific to genre, etc. And sometimes, those are more realistic. After all, in a small genre, you can’t expect to outsell a widely-appealing summer beach/airport read one could pick up at Walmart – that doesn’t mean it’s not a best seller or a success, when comparing apples to apples.

Quick Disclaimer: From a marketing perspective, let me just say I totally understand the reasons for highlighting what you can when you’re selling your self, your brand, or your product (book). I’m not attempting to ‘de-bunk’ these claims, nor am I de-valuing them. I’m just callin’ it like I see it.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s forget the people who just claim ‘Best-Selling Author A’ without qualifying it, leave out e-books, and focus on the best-known BSLs (Best Sellers Lists): the New York Times, and USA Today. These are two examples of two different types of listings. Also note that there are ‘top list’ and ‘mid list’ rankings, unofficially.

General Note on reading these lists – you’ll see three columns of numbers:

The column in big print on the left is the title’s current position on the list. The blue column is last week’s ranking, and the red column is the number of weeks on this list. In this example, you can see the number 1 slot for fiction debuted this week at number one. Number four has been there, in the number four slot, for four weeks.

The NYT breaks out their best-sellers by categories based on Fiction/Non-Fiction and how the book is bound (trade paperback, hardcover, mass market paperback, etc.).

They supposedly put Children’s books on their own list in 2001, due to the raging success of the Harry Potter books, which they just couldn’t shake off the other lists. The ‘Children’s Books’ listing is now separated into ‘picture books’, ‘chapter books’ and ‘series’ – of which, Harry Potter is on its 191st week on the NYT . Anyhow, children’s books aside, there are 35 slots on each of these lists on any given week. Midlist starts around the #10 slot. (Publisher’s Weekly follows a system close to that of the Times, but only lists 15 titles, as opposed to 35.)

The USA Today list, on the other hand, lists all books, regardless of genre and format. The list has 150 slots reported per week. Midlist starts around the #25 slot.

So, uh . . . what qualifies as a NYT/USA Today bestseller?

*sigh* Relative. Relative. Relative. Book sales fluctuate, just like anything. There are slow times in the book market, just like any other market. And again – are you comparing it to other books in its ‘class’?

The only consistency seems to be that both of these lists rely on sales feedback from the major chain booksellers: B&N, Borders, Powell’s, Costco, etc. And, at a casual glance, they seem fairly consistent, if you consider the differences between the broken-out and non-broken listing.

You want a straight answer you say?

Hmm… it looks to me like a FICTION HARD COVER selling between 5,000-10,000 copies in a week will be on the NYT. Of course, a mass market paperback would have to sell more. A non-fiction title, perhaps less. And it also depends on the week. Say highly awaited series conclusion XYZ comes out in a week where there’s a lull, and the list is simply dominated by books that have been selling steadily in the 5-7K range for weeks, and XYZ sells 25,000 copies. Well, it takes the number one slot. But the same book coming out against ten other highly-anticipated books might fall into the middle of the list somewhere. It’s relative. And . . . truth be told, I don’t think the they really want us to know what determines a USA Today or NYT ranking. What it takes to earn your spot is a secret guarded closer than the recipe for Bush’s baked beans.

It depends on genre too. I remember reading a story about how a particular author’s publisher decided to market her book as romance vs. fantasy. Why? Well, a romance ‘best-seller’ sells through in the 40-50K area, where a fantasy ‘best-seller’ sells through with 10-15K copies.

Okay, what about a NYT/USA Today bestselling AUTHOR?

Heh. Sorry, relative again. Each publisher has their own rules depending on… who knows what … that determines when they will claim one of their authors is a ‘NYT Best Selling Author’. Simply making the list isn’t enough. They might require you stay on it for a minimum number of weeks, or hit a certain slot, etc.

In the end, of course, we also face the question: ‘Just because the masses like it, doesn’t mean it’s good’. Sure. True enough. But in some cases, the numbers don’t lie. (Who doesn’t have Harry Potter on a shelf somewhere?)

Some argue that the NYT and other lists mean nothing. After all, they don’t account for eBooks, or for what is selling in small independent ‘brick and mortar’ bookstores. Those have their own listings, which seldom resemble the Times.

Some other lists to look at which might sing to their own tune:
Amazon – Updated Hourly
Booksense (Independent Booksellers Only)

Long story short – a ‘Best Seller’ might be something to aspire to, but there are several levels of best sellers, and sales status according to limited (and in some cases skewed) surveys doesn’t necessarily indicate quality, or even popularity. Sadly, there are plenty of amazing authors and books who might have a very loyal following, yet never make the list, or never break mid-list simply because of poor timing, poor marketing, or some other crappy unfairness of life. Just because it says ‘bestselling blah blah blah’ on the cover doesn’t mean you’ll love it. I mean, plenty of people think Tide is the best detergent, but it makes me break out in hives.

Personally, I take the ratings with a grain of salt and rely on recommendations from people I trust, or my own gut instinct on an unknown title/author I want to check out.

And now that I know what goes into it – my dreams won’t be shattered if I can’t put those words after my name. They’re just . . . words. There are so many more interesting ones.

… Queen of the Underworld
…….. Chocolate Connaiseuse Extraordinaire
…………… Clive Owen’s Personal Sex Slave