In this recent article from the UK, one in five parents has scrapped traditional fairy tales in favor of kinder, gentler versions. While we've long been used to Little Red Riding Hood hiding from the wolf with her grandmother in the closet (rather than being eaten and then cut out of the wolf's stomach by the woodsman who rescued them), parents are now seeing less-obvious dangers lurking in classic stories: Rumblestiltskin has themes of kidnapping and execution, Goldilocks and the Three Bears condones stealing, and Cinderella sends the outdated message that young women should stay home and clean house. While you may roll your eyes and wonder just how far this generation of parents will go to sanitize their children's world, remember that this is your audience if you're writing fairy tale type books. Don't necessarily change your approach (unless you agree that bedtime stories should be soothing and safe, which can be a reasonable view), but do know that you'll be targeting your marketing and tone of the text to fit either parents who protect, or those who still rejoice at things that go bump in the night.
We all know that it's now mandatory that writers do the lion's share of their marketing, regardless of how they get published. We also know that social networking is one of the easiest, and cheapest, ways to get the word out. But how much time do we really need to spend on blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.? The Skinny on Social Networking, a terrific article by Rob Eagar, the founder of WildFire Marketing, offers blogging do's and don'ts, tips on the frequency and content of your posts, and tells when you should use Facebook and Twitter. It's a great blueprint for a busy author.
"Networking" is the key phrase in publishing today. Network with other writers to find a critique group, attend conferences, learn the market. Network with agents and editors at those conferences to get your manuscript read. Social networking on Facebook, via Twitter, blogs, and other avenues builds your fan base. If you're a hermit, you're going to have a tough time getting your book out there. Author Robin Mellom tells how networking landed her an agent for her first young adult novel, Ditched, a Love Story, published in January by Disney/Hyperion. Early contact with an agent came because of her blog, which just goes to show that if you put yourself out there in every way you can, something's bound to pay off.
Many authors leap into the blogosphere with enthusiasm, build their blog for a couple of months, then lose momentum. But nothing ever disappears from cyberspace — your blog's still out there, and if it's neglected it sends a message to readers that maybe your writing is growing stale as well. What's the solution? Author Lisa Dale offers these 6 Tips to Resuscitate a Dying Blog. She's got some fun ideas for how to involve your readers and get your blog back on its feet. Then you'll be in a good place to promote your next book as soon as it's published.
The publishing world's latest snub-fest raised the stakes this month with two developments:
* Barnes & Noble announced that it will not carry any Amazon-published titles in its stores. This includes Amazon books published and distributed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under the publisher's New Harvest imprint. Originally, B&N had vowed to only exclude Amazon eBooks from its stores, but now it's included hardcopy books as well from the online retailer's publishing programs. Some independent bookstores have taken the same position. (A similar reaction happened when Amazon announced its purchase of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books in 2011).
* As of February 10, Penguin has yanked all its eBooks from OverDrive, the public library digital lending system. Penguin had only offered backlist titles digitally to libraries, but now even those won't be available. My guess is this is in part prompted by OverDrive partnering with Amazon to allow library patrons to borrow eBooks via wireless download to their Kindle devices. The article did go on to say that "Penguin is in talks with other vendors in hopes of restoring eBook lending." (By the way, Penguin is not the only big publisher to restrict eBook lending.)
Okay, I get it. Everyone hates Amazon. And I understand that the retail giant's strong-armed pricing policies have raised the hackles of competitors. But can we step back for a moment and look at the irony of this situation? Since Barnes & Noble purchased Sterling Publishing in 2003, it hasn't made any of its eBooks available in Kindle format, though Amazon does carry the hardcovers. I've always been able to read OverDrive books on my Nook, a Barnes & Noble device. And when did B&N cease to become the bully that put hundreds of independent bookstores out of business?
Publishers are continuing to side with B&N (a huge purchaser of their books, at a discount publishers can control), and against Amazon (a huge seller of their books, though at its own terms). Amazon and B&N are pitted against each other, as you'd expect from direct competitors. And independent stores are fighting for their lives, trying to side with no one.
Who's left out of this equation? Authors, illustrators and consumers. The people who create the products, and those who buy them. The very lifeblood of the industry.
Authors who happen to be published by Marshall Cavendish or New Harvest now can't find their books in many stores. Readers who are cash-strapped, have trouble seeing the small print in physical books, or who physically can't get to the library are now having some publishers dictate which books they'll be granted access to. And consumers who desperately want to buy the next book by their favorite author are being told they don't truly love books if they only purchase them at the best price they can find.
Capitalism is messy, and doesn't always play nice. But it's the system we've got. It's time for big publishers and retailers to figure out how to co-exist. Maybe it will come down to Amazon and Barnes & Noble having exclusives on the books they carry, so consumers know which retailer they'll go to for each title (like going to Sears if you want a Lands' End jacket because JC Penney doesn't carry that brand). Maybe all will agree on price points that everyone can live with. Perhaps authors and readers will put enough pressure on publishers that more eBooks will be available at the library. And certainly publishers should list on their websites where their books are available, so authors can know if the sales outlets are extensive enough to even warrant a manuscript submission.
But ultimately publishers and retailers have to figure this out. Because in capitalism, the creator and consumer are king, and the middleman can always be replaced.
You know it's essential these days that authors market their books, and social media is often the most cost-effective way of doing that. Now, Pay with a Tweet lets you utilize the value of your readers' social networks to spread the word about your new books. You create a button for your website or blog that leads to a free download (say, the first chapter of your new book) that readers get after they Tweet about you or mention you on their Facebook page. So instead of hoping your giveaways create a buzz, now it's guaranteed!
Those of you who are Fightin' Bookworms (members of our CBI Clubhouse online community) know that in the two years since we've launched the site, we've amassed a huge amount of information on writing and publishing children's books. So much information, in fact, that it was getting unwieldy.
So Jon's spent the last two months (days, evenings, weekends, even in his sleep) completely redesigning and improving the site. And as of this week….
The *NEW* CBI Clubhouse is now live at http://cbiclubhouse.com !
The CBI 1-2-3 System is up and running, bringing you exactly the information you need, exactly when you need it. No more hunting around through a massive library of information — it's all right there for you.
And, wow, wait until you meet our new Expert Guides! A Newbery Honoree…multi-million selling authors…a magazine writer with more than 1600 credits….the most famous names in self publishing and book marketing…and on and on. When we say All-Star, we're not kidding!
And this is just the beginning. Private critique groups are coming soon. So are advanced and professional levels. And webinars. And… well, we can't give away all our surprises now can we?
OK, then – go check it out: http://cbiclubhouse.com
And please let us know what you think. Your feedback helps us make the Clubhouse even better!
Normally, I just link to useful articles. But this post is from February 2010, and I didn't want the link to disappear before you could read it. Thanks to Donna Gambale and Frankie Diane Mallis, critique partners who blog at www.FirstNovelsClub.com, for distilling uber-agent Janet Reid's talk at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group. Anything Janet says or writes is worth paying attention to. Just check out her blog if you don't believe me.
Here you go: How to Trim Your Query to 250 Words (or Fewer)
Your ability to write a query that does your novel justice can make or break your chances of landing an agent. Reid recommends spending two months perfecting this 250-word marvel.
Your query encompasses three sections:
1. 100 words answering the question “What is the book about?”
2. A brief summary of your writing credits, if you have them.
3. Miscellaneous information on how you found the agent or why you chose him/her.
THINGS TO CUT FROM EACH SECTION
1. Back story.
2. World building.
3. Character roll call.
5. A synopsis.
1. Academia – classes, teachers, degrees, dissertations.
2. Conferences you’ve attended.
3. Self-published novels, or traditionally published novels with poor sales.
4. Personal information.
1. Begging, flattery.
2. Arrogance or self-deprecation.
3. Offer of an exclusive.
4. Your marketing plan.
5. Quotes from rejection letters, paid editors, critique groups, your mom.
TWO THINGS TO KEEP
1. Title, genre, word count.
2. The essentials of your novel. (Every time you think you know, ask yourself “So what? And then?” until you’re left with your main character, conflict, and consequences.)
1. Published short stories or novels.
2. Published magazine or newspaper articles.
1. Why you chose this agent.
2. A connection you have from a conference/workshop.
Start from the bare bones and build from there. Infuse each section with your book’s personality. Consider every word. Don’t forget your contact information. And close with “Thank you for your time and consideration.” Now get trimming!
We're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but that's a bunch of baloney. The cover is our first impression, and it goes a long way toward determining if we're going to open the book and read the first page. Consumers know this, booksellers know this, and presumably publishers know this as well.
Which is why it's so baffling when a book has a terrible cover. I'm thinking in particular of middle grade and young adult novels, where the cover is the only illustration the reader sees. Why are so many of them misleading (looking dark and moody when the book isn't), inaccurate (ever seen a book where the protagonist depicted on the cover looks nothing like the author's description?), or just plain ugly? And to the teens and tweens who grew up in our visually-oriented culture, a bad cover says "This book isn't worth reading."
In her Publishers Weekly blog, bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle offers some cover tips for publishers, and self-publishers should also take note. One great idea: show a pdf of the proposed cover to a few booksellers and get their yes or no before the book is published. It's really a no-brainer: publishers get feedback from the people who see consumers' reactions first-hand, and sellers get books that help sell themselves. If you're self-publishing, you should be building relationships with local bookstore owners anyway, and asking for their quick opinion shows that you respect their expertise. This will only help when the time comes for them to carry your book in their stores.
These days, instead of digging through the slush pile, many editors are turning to the blogosphere for their next big book. And the newest group to catch the eye of the children's book industry is known as Mom Bloggers. A recent article in Publishers Weekly highlighted how Simon & Schuster hosted 29 of the most popular mom bloggers at a luncheon complete with authors and goodie bags. Why all the fuss? Because moms blog about the books they're reading with their kids, and other moms listen.
But publishers don't rely on mom bloggers to simply spread the word about new books. They also look to them to help create future titles. Editors like Kate Jackson of HarperCollins peruse blogs on a regular basis, looking for writing talent and book ideas. These bloggers are also willing to spread the word on self-published books (sometimes their own), that then catch an editor's eye.
There are two lessons here for both aspiring and published authors: One, don't ignore these mom bloggers when sending out review copies or planning your next blog tour. And two, blogging about children's books, and doing it well, clearly gets you on the publishing radar. This might end up being easier (and more fun) than sending out multiple unsolicited submissions and hoping to get noticed.