Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Way... or Another?

It happens to most, if not all, writers at one time or another. That is the realization that writing is, indeed, a long journey. Without a map. Let's, for this blog, forget about the "Dead End" that is commonly referred to a writer's block and focus on a different dilemma: the point in your story where it can go the way you planned....

...or not.

Yes, it's hard to believe, but sometimes one can have too many great (one hopes) ideas. You reach that fork in the road where you could go in any of two or more directions. And there are great (one hopes) possibilities for each one. Along with these possibilities, however, there are also great (one knows) risks. Is it better to stick to the plan, the outline, the original idea where you already had the ending in sight and you knew EXACTLY where you were going to be when you typed "The End"? Or are you tantalized by the thought that maybe, just maybe, this other path, this other idea, might be even better than what you had originally plotted?

Just imagine the possibilities!

Or then again....

Well, it SEEMED like a good idea at the time....

If you're anything like me, this can paralyze you and bring your writing to a screeching halt, which is not a good thing if you have a deadline to meet. Sometimes it helps to think about in which direction your story line is heading in the next book (if, like me, you're writing a series) and where you ultimately want your characters to end up. That may nudge you in the direction that is best. But sometimes it comes down to the flip of a coin. Either idea might work or not. 

I encountered this while writing my fourth Black Horse Campground mystery (as yet untitled) because the story line I was working on hatched a whole new story line... but one that would have made the book twice as long and would require dividing the focus among too many characters. Did I want to continue the original story line, or see what was down the "road not taken"?

I decided to take that road. Book Four might be a little longer in coming, but I'm excited about the direction in which I and the Black Horse Campground gang are heading.

Hope you'll join us! I promise we won't get (too) lost!

*Interesting note: While I can't vouch for the authenticity of the first and third photos in this blog, I can assure you all that the second photo (yes, the one with the UFO!) is a real road sign and there are several in the northern region of New Mexico near Taos!

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to (or NOT to) Influence Publishers and Win a Book Contract

Among the many things I learned in Tucson at the Festival of Books, the most impressive, I feel, was learning just how patient and wonderful my publisher, Billie Johnson, really is.

Sitting in 80 degree weather with 20 mph winds buffeting the authors and books would be enough to ruffle anyone's calm (let alone feathers!) but not only did Billie cheer us on to sell books, she also welcomed several authors who were wandering the festival, searching for a publisher.

Gandalf facing the Balrog couldn't have been braver.

At one time or another, all of us authors have mustered up the courage to approach a publisher or agent with our manuscript in the hopes that they might find it worthy of publication. And there are a few things that we learned along the way that we would like to pass on to prospective authors:

1) Know what you've written. Once Billie had invited an author to talk to her about their book, many of them really didn't know how to describe it. "It's a kind of a romantic, Old West, chick-lit, hero vs. villain type of story set in a distant galaxy. With recipes." That kind of story is hard to classify. And hard to sell. If you can't describe your story in one sentence (preferably twenty words or fewer--no three paragraph long run-on sentences allowed!) you may need to do some serious editing.

Don't be that kind of author.

2) Pitch your book in thirty seconds. Or less. This is known as the "elevator pitch"--imagine you find yourself in an elevator with an agent or publisher and you have thirty seconds while they're trapped with you to tell them about your book. This goes hand-in-hand with knowing what you've written. Condense your story down to what you can tell in thirty seconds. Not only does it tell the publisher or agent that your story has a point and doesn't meander all over the place, you've also had great practice for writing a back cover blurb about it. One prospective author went on and on in great detail about all the research that had gone into writing the book, but Billie couldn't get him to tell her what it was about.

Don't be that kind of author.

3) Make sure the book is finished. I lost count how many times Billie had a prospective author pitch her an intriguing book idea only to add, after she asked them to send her the manuscript, "Well, I haven't finished it yet," or worse, "I haven't started it yet." Or the ultimate worst: "Well, I really have a great story idea, but I just need someone to write it for me. I'm a lousy writer!" There is an urgency among writers who see the dismal number of new books being published every year to try to get a contract before their book is written. Especially if a publisher announces that they are looking for books. The author wants to strike while the proverbial iron is hot, but they don't have anything to strike with. A publisher of fiction rarely will accept an unfinished manuscript. They want to know that the author can wrap up the story effectively. A lousy ending can ruin a good book.

Don't be that kind of author.

4) Be willing to edit and promote your work. So a publisher decided to look at an unknown author's manuscript and found it was a good story, but needed a little editing. Or a lot of editing. Is the author willing to make changes to their manuscript? Is he or she willing to take some constructive criticism? And once the book is published, is the author willing to step up and promote their book in order to help sell it? Most small-press publishers (like Oak Tree Press) do not have the budget to run full-page ads in Publisher's Weekly. Or even in any small-town weekly. If you don't want to step out of your comfort zone and meet the public and talk about your book, you won't get many sales and that may mean that you won't get a contract for another book... and worse, your book won't be read. So if you expect the publisher to accept and print your book as is and then give it the publicity reserved for Suzanne Collins... well, that's a fairy tale in and of itself.

Don't be that kind of author.

The good news is this: publishers ARE looking for new authors and their books... and I'm talking about true, royalty-paying publishers who are interested in high-quality work. But they are looking for professional authors with well-written books who are willing to work hard to make their books the best they can be and reflect positively on both the author and the publisher.

Be that kind of author.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Tucson Festival of Books and What I Learned (This Year!)

Sorry I'm a little late posting the blog for this week, but Oak Tree Press authors (including yours truly!) were busy this weekend at the Tucson Festival of Books, one of the largest book events in the country. We spent two days at the University of Arizona Campus in Tucson among over 100,000 attendees and over 200 authors, publishers, and other book-related presenters, offering our books for sale and talking to potential book buyers about our work and that of our fellow authors who couldn't attend the festival themselves.  And, as usual, I learned a lot of things I'd like to share:

1) Oak Tree Press authors are awesome. I don't mean that simply in regards to our writing abilities, but I mean as human beings and co-workers. While those of us who were present in the 80+ degree Arizona heat for up to eight hours (and fighting 20 mph wind gusts throughout both days) were certainly touting our own books, we also presented those of fellow authors who were not present. And got them some sales. Hey, we're all in this together! My own series might not appeal to some, but OTP authors are a diverse group. Surely we have something to offer just about every reader and it makes a good impression of our publishing house when we cooperate.

2) Our publisher, Billie Johnson, is an absolute treasure. She spent the entire two days of the festival at our booth, not only presenting the authors and doing the clerk work, she also invited several prospective authors to send their manuscripts to her. Not many publishers are willing to literally "pound the pavement" to sell books, but Billie certainly led the charge at Tucson!

3) People really DO read books, and I mean actual, physical books. And they love signed copies! And many people really do love to talk to authors about things other than the books.

4) Children's books, mysteries, romances, historical fiction, memoirs--how does one choose what to read from among hundreds of thousands of books in these genres? It could be as simple as an intriguing title or eye-catching cover, or it could be a brief introduction to a unique character, or it could be a one-sentence blurb of a fascinating situation. But no matter how a book finds a reader, it all begins with promotion. Publishing a book isn't enough; it has to be promoted or it may as well have remained unpublished. A book festival of this size may not garner a huge amount of sales for a small press, but the ripple effect of handing out promotional material may mean that someone, somewhere down the road may decide to follow up on that link on a bookmark or postcard and buy a book... and maybe recommend it to someone else!

5) Positive attitudes really help. It's easy to get discouraged when people walk by the booth without even glancing at the books or making eye contact with the authors. It's even worse when the exchange goes like this:
Me--(holding out one of my promo bookmarks) "Hi, I'm a mystery author and...."
Passerby--(waving a dismissive hand) "I can't stand mysteries!" (They also can't stand memoirs, romances, historical fiction, literary fiction, non-fiction, etc. and you end up wondering what they're doing at a book festival to begin with!)
But you learn to find the positives--you and your books are now known to more people than they were yesterday. You polished your 30-second elevator pitch and maybe got it down to 10 seconds (people walk fast; you have to talk faster!) People smiled at you and a few even stopped to listen and ask questions. And, wonder of wonders, you maybe sold a book. Or two. So what if J. A. Jance had a bigger line at her signing? (er, okay, so what if she HAD a line at her signing and... okay, back to positives!)

The point is, you were at the same event as J. A. Jance, Amy Tan, Dave Barry, fill-in-the-name-of-almost-any-big-name-author, and with the same purpose: to promote and sell your books. And sign copies for the blessed people who pulled out their wallets after reading the cover blurb and deciding it was worth it, out of the hundreds of thousands of books available.

I'll be back again next year, Tucson!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Getting Ready for Tucson!

It seems like just yesterday I was signing up for the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books. It also seems like it was just yesterday that my first book, "End of the Road", was published! Time has flown quickly and now Tucson is just a few days away and I will be presenting my THREE mystery novels!

Last year's festival was a great experience, although my lack of experience was humbling. A two-hour slot shared with ten other authors--some self-published, others from other publishing houses--in the midst of a crowd of over 100,000 people can make one feel terribly small and insignificant. However, I DID sell three books (along with fellow OTP author, J. L. Greger, who sold two books, we outsold the other authors at our booth!) and that was encouraging enough for me to consider going back again!

This year, Oak Tree Press has secured a booth for the two-day festival and rounded up six authors to present their work and the work of other OTP authors:

Virgil Alexander--author of Saints and Sinners, a novel of intrigue and murder along the US/Mexican border

J.L. Greger--author of the Sara Almquist medical mystery/thrillers, Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, Ignore the Pain, and Malignancy, set in the Albuquerque area and abroad

Carolyn Niethammer--author of The Piano Player, historical fiction about a well-bred young woman becoming a piano player at The Bird Cage Theatre in 1882 Tombstone, AZ

D. R. Ransdell--author of the Andy Veracruz mysteries, Mariachi Murder and Island Casualty, featuring a mariachi musician sleuth

Robert Richter--author of the Cotton Waters mystery series, Something in Vallarta, Something Like a Dream, and Something for Nothing, set in Mexico's western Riviera

Amy M. Bennett (that's me!)--author of the Black Horse Campground mysteries, End of the Road, No Lifeguard on Duty, and No Vacancy, set in south-central New Mexico and featuring humor, light romance, and an engaging cast of characters

Leading the charge is our boss, publisher extraordinaire, Billie Johnson, who will be presenting her authors and books for two days! Looking for something to do this weekend? Well, I have a suggestion....

The Tucson Festival of Books will be held this weekend, March 14-15, 2014 on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. For more information about the festival, go to: http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/

For more information about Oak Tree Press, plus a complete list of our authors and books, go to: http://oaktreebooks.com/default.html