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This is a phrase I run into a lot, generally with regard to certain kinds of author events: conventions, workshops, festivals and the like. New writers (or ‘new to the writing social scene’ writers, who are not necessarily the same people), new pros and other creative type folks get told a lot of things about visibility, networking, establishing themselves…all of which may or may not have anything whatsoever to do with actually selling work or meeting anyone who can help make your work sellable. And we don’t talk a lot about the subjectivity that goes into that phrase; all careers are not created equal, all access is not equal, and I can have a completely different con than someone else in a different social demographic or fandom.

 

Some of these things are based on personality as well. The cool, zillion person con that is mostly media-based that you adore may not be the place for your quiet, introverted professional editor pal.  You may regard the quiet con where everyone plays games and talks about books as excruciating. Whatever the experience that you’re looking for, deciding just how an event is going to help your career and trying to drive toward that is in your best interests.

 

 That said, I thought I’d try coming up with a checklist for what might make a given event “good for your career” from a writing-related professional perspective. Things that impact what I prioritize: I write in a range of genres and generally go to a couple of literary or at least nonsfnal events each year, so those are factored in. My average year: 2-4 readings (bookstores, libraries, bars, etc.), 4-6 science fiction conventions, 1 convention that is not an sfnal convention, 1-3 podcasts, 2-4 guest blogs, radio, miscellaneous appearances, 1-2 sundry writing-related events. I am an award-winning small press author, editor and publisher (no awards on the publishing yet, but the day is young, as it were) and I have been writing and publishing since the mid-1990s. I am also a middle-aged cis female who is white, mostly able-bodied and loud about being queer (all of which can impact event experiences as well as which kinds of events I attend or get invited to attend). In addition, I am reasonably extroverted and an experienced moderator and panelist.

 

Some basic questions to ask yourself:

·      Why am I going to this event?

·      What do I hope to accomplish there?

·      What am I planning on doing at this event to make those things happen?

·      What do I hope will happen afterwards?

 

 

Why am I going to this event?

·      This is a big one. I often go to things because I’m invited in, rather like a vampire. But I might also be there to see friends, to be on panels, to do readings, to meet with editors or publishers or writers, to see how a conference in a different genre is set up, to teach a workshop and/or to sell books. None of these things cancels out any of the others and I might go to a bigger event in hopes of accomplishing them all.

·      Sometimes, my assessment of why I’m at a given event can change once I’m there. Maybe I have a panel and a reading but can’t get an audience that responds to me. Or I have an option for selling books but no one’s buying. Then I try to regroup and consider the other options. Sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t. There are bad years, bad cons and bad days for pros, as well as good ones. You have to evaluate what you’re dealing with and any options for improving it (this generally gets better with practice). Sometimes, that’s going back to your room for a day and writing. Always keep that in mind as an option.

 

What do I hope to accomplish at this event?

·      Set yourself a small, manageable goal if you’re new to conventions – I want to be on my first panel or do my first reading, I want to attend a writing workshop, I want to meet a specific pro, I want to meet two new people, whatever, but give yourself some options for things to do.

·       If you’re more familiar with the convention scene, set your self some bigger goals or more goals: I want to sell more books, I want to go to all the publishing panels, I want to organize a local writer’s networking event, I would like to meet a professional I admire, etc.

 

What am I planning on doing at this event to make those things happen?

·      If you want to be on convention programming, did you volunteer for panels? Generally speaking, suggesting panel topics at the brainstorming stage is helpful if you want to be on programming. Want to do a reading? Can you organize with a group of writer friends? Again, it makes it easier for most programming committees to accept a group that’s already set up than a complete unknown.

·      Doing a reading series or a bookstore is generally a matter of talking to whoever curates the series or the bookstore owner and seeing what they’re looking for. Hint: it is super, super helpful if they can recognize you as a semi-regular audience member or customer.  Be polite, ask about the venue and the event, buy books – sooner or later, these things make you look more appealing.

·      Want to connect with other pros, including agents, editors and publishers? Being polite is helpful, being knowledgeable and respectfully enthusiastic about their work is very helpful. If they are jerks to you, go do something else with better human beings. Being a jerk back will not help you. Don’t overstay your welcome if people clearly want to socialize with each other at the bar, don’t follow agents around like a puppy, don’t slip your manuscript under the door of the editor’s bathroom stall, etc.

 

What do I hope will happen afterwards?

·      You hope to meet an agent and send them your book at their request, you hope to meet an editor and sent them a story or a manuscript, you hope to be super charming at a room party for a different con and get invited to be a guest, I hope to sell and autograph 5 books, I hope to be a guest on a particular podcast or reading series. Again, set yourself a goal, but be flexible about it. What if the agent gets the flu or the publisher is not the person you thought they were or they’re simply not interested in your work? Have a backup plan for something you want to see happen next.

 

 

Have I been able to make this work for me? Some of it. Not all the time, not at every con. I list interest in chasing agents awhile ago because that’s not a path I picked for myself. There are pros who I’ve encountered enough times that they drive me up a tree. There are fans who do likewise. I generally pick who I want to run around them and schedule with them beforehand. But I still try and drive a goal or two at each event.  A convention that I regard as “good for my career” at this point is generally about a combination of the following: 1. Book sales, 2. Follow up events or something that directly benefits my writing career (an anthology invitation, for example, is my gold standard), 3. Some form of networking that involves meeting some new people or cultivating a closer relationship with people I want to know better, and 4. A good conversation or three. #4 is about my sanity. This stuff has to stay fun or it gets to be too much and you burn out.

 

I recommend reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife for ways to approach all this. I learned a ton from it. 

 

So what’s worked for you so far? How do you define a convention or other event as being “good for your career”?

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From Twitter, because I've got more of an audience there. Start at the bottom for sequence.

diverse and representative genre, we have to look at the books we love that people aren't talking about enough.

  What other titles came out at the same time that are worth promoting and talking about? If we really want a more...

a big publicity push and who doesn't. What voices and books get lost because all the resources went to the "IT" book?

As a field, we as science fiction and fantasy fans, as readers and/or writers should be analyzing who gets a...

Point being that's not an organic and/or magical process by which a given author becomes terribly lucky.

That "little longer" can mean an author gets midlisted on Book 2 or 3, based on initial sales.

those titles that don't get a push may in fact do better than those that do. It happens, but it takes a little longer.

what happens to the books that are released at the same time? They get less...stuff. Fewer ads, fewer reviews, less push...

"Everyone" talking about a given book generally means that it's been seeded - sent out for early, reviews, blurbs, etc.

The publicity push for an "IT" book generally involves ads, status reviews, book blogging tours and media appearances.

Or may have some other thing that makes them or the book stand out from all the other releases in that time frame.

is the single title that is the "IT" book of a given release cycle. The author may be known in other genres or mediums.

again. The book may have won an award or gotten a film option. But more common in SFF, especially from big publishers, is...

More
: more likely, have hired a great publicist. The book may have come to the attention of someone with lots of media clout.

More
given book, particularly a first novel, it is not happening in a vacuum. The author may be a great publicist or have...

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This post brought on by having seen some scary contract clauses from various publishers, of late. Remember that you don't have to sign a book or story contract as is. Many reasonable publishers will negotiate on some points. You lose nothing by asking.

That said, there's a lot of good resources out there for interpreting contract legalese. Best option of all, if you don't have a good agent, is to find an attorney who specializes in literary contracts. If you don't have one handy or can't afford one, there a number of other options.

Here, for example, is a website about interpreting short fiction contracts:
litreactor.com/columns/analyzing-a-short-fiction-publishing-contract
And another on novel contracts:
www.absolutewrite.com/novels/negotiating_book_contract.htm
And still more:
www.thepassivevoice.com/06/2011/how-to-read-a-book-contract-%E2%80%93-non-competition/

But whatever you do, don't sign it without reading it and making sure you understand it and what at least some of the implications are. Some of the things you're looking for:
  • Are you being asked for exclusive rights? For how long? Short fiction should generally be first rights for publication, with perhaps some other caveats on reprints, as a rule. Novels are more complicated.
  • Who retains the copyright?
  • At what point do the rights revert to you? What's considered "out of print"?
  • When and how do you get paid?
  • Do you have the right to see and sign off on any final edits?
  • What happens if you don't agree to the edits?
  • Indemnity clauses and nondisclosure - in the event of a legal judgement related to your work, how much are you liable for? Be very careful with these. You don't want to be held liable if your email gets hacked or something becomes public knowledge through fault of your own.
     
In short, treat contracts like a business transaction, meant to protect both you and the publisher. It's a business relationship, not a favor from the gods. You don't have to agree to anything unreasonable; know what your options are.
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I thought it might be time for a roundup of my various articles, guest posts and so forth which are still available on these here Internets. Most are worksafe but please use common sense.

Writing and Selling Erotic Fiction - Writing-World.com. An oldie but still has some useful info in it.

Historical Research for Fiction Writers - Writing-World.com.

Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction - This very blog, though originally at Scarlet Letters.

A Field Guide to Genre Fiction Writer's Organizations - Writing-world.com.

An In-Person Appearance Primer for Writers - Author Cathy Pegau's blog

Monstrous Females and Female Monsters - SF Signal

Talking to Book Clubs - This very blog, mirror version

Do's and Don'ts of Self-Promotion for Writers - Author/blogger Morgen Bailey's blog

Lesbian Protagonists in Science Fiction and Fantasy - K.T. Grant's blog, Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event 2012

Swordswomen, Bluestockings and Military Maids: Finding Inspiration in History
- K. T Grant's blog, Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event 2013

Mixing Genres and Crossing Boundaries (Not worksafe because of blog designation) - Beyond Romance blog



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This was an article I wrote for The Scarlet Letter earlier this year. Since the site has been taken down due to the publisher's health issues, I'm posting it out here.


“The Highs and Lows of Promoting Lesbian Fiction”

 

If you’re an author these days, whether traditionally or indie published, finding ways to get the word out about your work is critical to the success of your book. Publishers are slashing budgets and staff for promotion, which means that even authors published by large publishers are looking for newer and more creative ways to publicize their books. At the same time, the review and other traditional publicity options for indie published books haven’t caught up with the vast number of new titles.

 

When you’re an author who writes for a smaller niche market, things get even tougher. I write lesbian fiction: science fiction and fantasy, erotica, and some romance. Small press lesbian fiction that isn’t primarily a romance is a challenge to promote, to put it mildly. There are few options for getting your book reviewed: fewer specialized websites, fewer book bloggers.  There can be fewer options for guest blogging or podcasting or doing bookstore readings. There is one major conference (other than publisher-specific gatherings) for lesbian fiction (the annual Golden Crown Literary Conference).

 

It’s considered a truism that as compared to gay fiction, lesbian fiction doesn’t sell that well (someone helpfully pointed this out on my Twitter feed just this morning). This looks particularly overwhelming when sales for m/m (written for a primarily female audience) is rolled in with other forms of gay fiction (written for a primarily male audience).  The larger the target audience, the bigger the sales, at least in theory.

 

That said, harder is not the same as impossible. Genre plays a big part in how easy it is to promote something: romance sells better than other genres, followed by mystery. But even that’s not a stroll in the park: big genre authors needs to find their audiences just as smaller genre or subgenre authors do. Access to more opportunities makes it easier but that’s not necessarily the same as “easy.” 

 

What that leaves is the need to get creative about marketing our books. We have to get our books out there to build an audience, then find ways to consistently maintain and grow that audience. I don’t have any easy answers that will apply to all books and all writers but my initial publicity efforts for my first novel are laid out in this recent guest blog post to give you an idea of some of the things I’ve tried. I’ve been building on my experiences with each of my books and I make a new list of things to try whenever I have a new book coming out.

 

Do they all work, in the sense of selling more books? Alas, no. Nor can I tell you definitively what drove someone to buy one of my books (unless they told me) after any particular promotional push. And, furthermore, I will be honest and say that the most money I’ve ever made from an individual fiction sale was from my only m/m story. But, and this is an important “but,” I’m picking up a larger audience with each book and it’s not limited by genre or sexual orientation.  People who read my novel are also reading some of my short story collections and the anthologies I’ve edited. I also have many more promotional opportunities than I had when my first short fiction collection came out in 2005.

 

Where did those opportunities come from? Some came from practice: I did it once and it worked so I did it again. Some came from accumulated name recognition over the course of several years and books. Some came because I pushed myself to ask and to follow up on them. This last one is important. Don’t assume that a blogger won’t review your book or that you can’t get on a writer panel or that there isn’t an email list out there where you can promote your work. Ask or create your own. Audiences are built over time and lesbian fiction writers have more of any opportunity to build those audiences than ever before.

 

Some tips:

1.     Look at what other writers in your genre and style are doing to promote themselves. Learn from the good and the bad, so you don’t repeat their mistakes as well as their successes.

2.     Think outside the proverbial box. What would you like to do to sell your books that you haven’t done before? What do you need to do to make it happen?

3.     Think past your current book. What’s your next book going to be? How are you planning to promote it?

4.     Build relationships with other authors, book bloggers, reviewers, bookstores and people in your social networks. Networking should involve give and take to keep it stable and make it effective.

5.     Don’t give up on writing what you want to write.

 

Some resources:

Author K.T. Grant, blog post – “Lesbian Fiction/Romance Does Sell Well and Here’s How I Know…”

Author Lori Lake – www.lorilake.com for an example of an author successfully promoting her lesbian fiction

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer (Tachyon Publications, 2009). Excellent resource for strategizing how and why you do publicity for your books.

 



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that being me, in this case.
A totally unscientific survey of my recent book giveaway and what proved most effective in getting the word out:
I got 23 entries in 3 days.
I promoted the giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, LJ, Dreamwidth, Red Room, Goodreads, Googleplus and several lists.
Facebook - 5 responses
LJ - 6 responses
Dreamwidth - 1 response
Twitter - 4 signal boosts but no responses directly on Twitter (may have driven traffic to LJ instead)
Mailing lists - 10 responses
Googleplus, Goodreads, Red Room - nada

Not too surprising. I don't find the blog functions on Googleplus, Goodreads or Red Room to be particularly useful or active. Dreamwidth is also pretty traffic-light for me, which is why I keep LJ around. Twitter seems to do best as a wag to get the word out quickly, while Facebook and lists are much more interactive.
Anyone else have better luck with the other sites than I did?
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I've got a new post about marketing lesbian fiction in Issue #3 of The Scarlet Letter - http://scarlettiebooks.com/thescarletletter/the-highs-and-lows-of-promoting-lesbian-fiction-by-catherine-lundoff/

It is missing a link to this relevant post by author K. T. Grant - http://tinyurl.com/8hd762k

There are also some other pieces I'm looking forward to reading so be sure and check out the entire magazine.
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Some nifty things I am learning from bookstores regarding print on demand titles and the relative difficulty in obtaining same:
1. Ingram distribution which owns Lightning Source, one of the biggest POD publishers, is no longer offering the standard full discount (40%) on backlist titles. Not sure how new this is, but I just started hearing about it this year. What this means from my perspective is that while Silver Moon can be ordered in (until such time as it becomes a "backlist" title - end of 2012?) through Ingram, it's not cost-effective for bookstores to carry my other books unless they order them directly from Lethe Press.
2. Baker and Taylor was the other distribution option but apparently they are now randomly picking and choosing which books they feel like carrying because they're doing their own POD and are disinclined to carry books by competitors.


Needless to say, this is putting a squeeze on both small presses, many of which use POD and indie bookstores, many of which were surviving on backlist titles that were no longer available at B&N and the other chains.
This is also why you'll see some indies suddenly charging more than cover price for titles from the presses which use POD (I'm less than understanding about that practice when they already have the books in stock or when the publisher in question is local to the store and could supply them with books, both of which I've seen within recent memory). 

None of this gives me any idea as to why Amazon.com still has the print edition of Silver Moon listed as "temporarily out of stock" when they are closely linked to Ingram/Lightning Source and the book is available and out on the shelves at Women & Children First Bookstore,
Outwords Books, Giovanni's Room, and A Room of One's Own Bookstore, as well as sitting in a largish box in the trunk of my car and on order from IndieBound. If you were kind enough to preorder the book from Amazon and you haven't heard from them, please feel free to contact them and complain that it's available elsewhere since one of the points of preordering is that you'd get the book when it came out, not after everyone else has it. Grumble, growl.

And none of this impacts the ebook editions, now readily available on Kindle, Nook/Smashwords, Bella Distribution, Wizard's Tower Books, and via download from the Lethe Press website. More to come, I suspect.

Now back to prepping for my reading tomorrow night at Outwords Books.


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In honor of completing my 7th book blurb, I thought I'd do a recap of my blurb-writing adventures thus far.
I've blurbed the following books:

Blurbed to date:
"Stretched" edited by Tinder James (Racy Pages/Rubicund Publishing,  2012)
"A Ride to Remember and Other Erotic Tales" by Sacchi Green (Lethe Press, 2011)
"Promises, Promises" by L-J Baker (Lethe Press, 2011)
"Brushes" by M. Christian (Phaze Books, 2008).
"Hard Road, Easy Riding: Lesbian Biker Erotica" edited by Sacchi  Green and Rakelle Valencia (Lethe Press, 2008)
"Bed: New Lesbian Erotica" edited by Victoria Brownworth (Haworth Press, 2007)
"Sleeping Beauty, Indeed and Other Lesbian Fairytales" edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft (Torquere Press, 2006; re-released from Lethe Press in 2009).

That's 5 erotica books and 2 fantasy books, 5 anthologies/collections and 2 novels, 2 books geared toward a straight audience and 5 lesbian-themed books. 5 blurbs were written at a publisher's request, 1 at the author's and 1 I asked to do.

Things I do when blurbing: 1. I always read the book. I don't want anything out there with my name on it that I'm not happy with. 2. I approach blurbing as akin to writing ad copy - keep it short and sweet, no spoilers. 3. Give the author/editor/publisher a sentence they can use for limited space advertising plus a few more lines to give the prospective reader an idea of what to expect.
And hope that someone has the vaguest idea of who I am, such that they would want to pick up and read a book that I wrote a blurb for.

Questions? Thoughts?
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I'm seeing the question of whether or not writers should or do read reviews of their work on a couple of lists I'm on. To some extent, the question baffles me. Why I wouldn't I want to know what's out there? But I'm a rip the Bandaid off kind of gal. Here's my take on it: if I don't read the reviews, I'm missing the good with the bad. And I've been fortunate enough to get some awesome, thoughtful reviews. I want to be able to thank and acknowledge those reviewers. I also want to be able to say, "Yay! Someone gets my work!" But what about the bad ones, the haters and the clueless or the reviewers who just plain hate my work? Well, I may not be reading those reviews but other people are. I want to know how my books and stories are doing and it's one way to tell. If I only want to see the rainbows and sparkle ponies, I'm not getting the full pictures. Writing is a business for me as well as a necessity and I try hard to treat it as one. I've survived and will survive rejection, I'll survive the occasional bad review. And someday, if I make it big, I'll have my assistant do summaries of my press, the good and the bad. Now there's a goal to shoot for. :-)

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