Monday, May 22, 2017

Blurb, Blurb, Blurb...

Congratulations! Someone asked you to write a blurb for their novel.

After reading the book, it doesn't feel like an honor anymore, it feels like a trap.

Because you don't like the book.

You don't want to insult the author/friend with an honest "I didn't like it" tag, nor do you want to lie "I loved it!"

Sticky situation, yes, but it doesn't have to be, you're getting yourself worked up for nothing. You don't have to say you loved it, or even liked it. You are not required to mention the love triangle would bore your 90-year-old Puritan grandmother, or the over-description slowed the pace so much a snail was Indy 500 worthy in comparison. Nowhere are there rules for writing blurbs- except one: it has to come from the heart. Seems like a conundrum?



Consider this: "Fashion, witty prose, intrigue, and action- Blonde OPS has it all!" Author/publisher/ friend Shannon Delany wrote this blurb. Does it tell you if she absolutely adored it? No. Couldn't put it down? Nope. Had to create a fan club or she'd die? No way. What Delany does is tell you what the novel has: fashion, witty prose, intrigue, and action (all true). Those key words alone should help the reader decide if they want to read it. Using my own books as illustration (lest there be any misunderstanding about how wonderful everyone else's book is), here is the review for Sirenz Back in Fashion from Booklist: "The experiences of this sartorial odd couple are funny and entertaining... Bennardo and Zaman are bringing the gods into the twenty-first century." What a great review, right?


Well, kind of. Booklist was middle of the road; it liked some aspects, didn't like others. Those ellipses means there are other words in between the quotes. When using a not-starred review, authors, publishers, agents, and publicists put a positive spin on it by kind of hopping over the not-so-nice parts.

That's how you have to think- compartmentalize. List what you liked about the story; it could be that it's sci fi, that it has a dragon, that there is a tender romance. A few choice words are all that is needed. If I was asked to blurb Game of Thrones, which after three years I still haven't finished the first book because it's so dense, here's what I would say: "Rich and vivid description, deadly royal intrigue, and a diverse cast of villainy, Game of Thrones will keep you wondering who's next to die..." All that is true. And really, I constantly wondered who was the next corpse. Nowhere do I say I love it, or that you should spend your money on the books. Readers have to decide that for themselves. Perusing a few pages will tell them if it's something they would like.

So don't fret if someone asks you to do a blurb. You won't commit a mortal sin by helping an author out with a few words, even if you don't like the story. Blurbs are important because it may draw a potential reader in when they glance at the back cover. With so many books out there, decisions have to be made where to spend limited money. Books without a blurb may leave the impression that they aren't 'good' because no one will endorse them. Celebrities and well-known authors have no trouble getting blurbs. For a mid-list or debut author without connections, it's a struggle. I have seven books (soon eight) with my name on them and getting blurbs from the writing community is a nightmare (and I don't know any celebs) because they are afraid to commit.

Blurbs are an important starting point to book success. If you can help bring a reader to a book, it's the author's job to keep them in. Please say yes and gift the author with a few well-chosen words.

Char


Monday, May 8, 2017

Toughen Up, Cupcake!

Being an author is not for the weak, easily offended, or aggressive person. One critique can send you home in a fit of anger--or tears.



And then there are the agent and editor rejections. Nothing will prepare you for this, it's worse than being last one standing on the gym field and the two teams fighting over who has to choose you.

As I go through the latest rounds of submitting queries, hoping to hear, and reading the 'no's', it's time to bite my tongue (oh, sometimes it's so hard...).I thought I'd share a few of those memorable rejections so you know that you're not the only one who scratches your head at a response and thinks, what the hell?

The "Worst Rejection EVER":

On a scrap of paper (it was 2 inches wide. This cheap publishing house got 5 rejection slips on one sheet of standard paper), it read that not only did they not like the submission, but to "never submit anything to us again." Wow. That editor was definitely not a people person. But, they needn't worry; any editor who could send such a nasty rejection is not someone my Sirenz co-author and I would want to work with anyway.

The "Funny in an ironic way" rejection:

We submitted queries for Sirenz to many editors and agents. I ran into one such editor at Book Expo America, and said hello. She expressed interest in Sirenz. It was hard to keep a straight face when I told her she'd had it for two years- and that my co-author and I were at BEA to do a signing for it.

Runner up: a letter of rejection by another editor over two years later. Guess he was cleaning out his in-box and we were on the bottom.

Most rejections are form letters which is fine-as long as it isn't years later. Really, if an agent/editor was queried over six months ago, and I've followed up to ask if they were still interested and they didn't respond, I've written them off- and sent out queries to others.

The "Are you kidding me?" response:

You have to wonder about people in any business who take the time to write and send an insulting letter. A well known editor from a top publishing house wrote that besides not liking my story, she didn't like my writing. She wasted time better spent going through the slush pile looking for a possible bestseller just to write me a nasty letter. Based on that, I know I would not have liked working with her, so it was a win both ways. I still run into her at conferences. I'm cordial, but would never send anything to her again.

Believe it or not, it's nice to receive a personally written rejection. It's rare and special because not only does it mean the person queried took the time to read my manuscript, but to respond with thoughtful insight. Some offered general advice (join the SCBWI) and some suggestions pertinent to improving my story. To me, even though they are not accepting my manuscript, they are encouraging me. For the rare few who take the time to offer advice or suggestions, I thank you.

Most however, don't respond unless they're interested. To keep yourself from hanging around, waiting, waiting, waiting as precious time slips away (you should be working on something anyway), send out more queries. Gone are the days of 'exclusive submission.' Agents and editors can't expect a submitting author to wait for a single response-when it may never come. I can't count how many submissions never got a response. Asking me to send one query out at a time is unrealistic, and, I think, selfish.

The "Oh, that hurts"  rejection:

You get a rejection, and from the response you know they didn't read the query/excerpt/manuscript because they mention things that either don't appear in your story, or it's all wrong. Possibly a simple mix-up, but disheartening because the impression you made was so blah they mixed you up with others in the pile.

It's time to put these rejections in the recycle pile. While it was sometimes funny, it was bittersweet to look through them and wonder if I'd be farther down the road in my publishing dreams. I'm a different writer than I was back then, even a few months ago, when this new search began. And that's the nature of being an author. You take the rejections and suggestions, learn from them and move on.

Char


Monday, April 24, 2017

1, 2, Book 3! Debut!

Here it is - the final cover in my Evolution Revolution series, Book 3, Simple Lessons!



While this is the last book in the series, there's nothing from keeping Jack my genius squirrel from coming back for a visit - maybe for a short story, maybe for one more book, maybe for another series. Stories never really do end, do they?

Cathy Thole-Daniels, the illustrator, exceeded all my expectations. She listened to my suggestions, explained why she chose certain images, textures, and scenes. We didn't have any difficulties working together. I stood back and let her take charge; she's the artistic talent right? I only got involved when Cathy asked my opinion or I felt a change was needed. (They were always small ones.)  I've said before that people have been drawn to the books because of the covers and the illustrations. I can't wait to see what the interior illustrations for Simple Lessons will look like!

While yesterday was World Book Day, celebrate during the week- buy a book from an Indie or less-well known author. We need the book love!

And stay tuned for a sneak peek at an interior illustration!

Char

Monday, April 17, 2017

Who Doesn't Love A Book Festival?

Like many authors, I attend book festivals. I like meeting and talking to people about books, being an author, giving writing tips--and selling my books.

Some book festivals are wonderfully organized, I return year after year, even if I don't sell a lot of books (you never know when you're going to make that one connection that changes everything).

Some are so awful, I don't return. I hear authors complaining about certain aspects of the festivals, so here's small punchlist of things to consider if you're planning a book festival- whether you're a librarian or a bookstore owner, it's going to be huge, or just a few authors. The list isn't all-inclusive as there are many aspects, but it's some of the things I notice most when fellow authors talk about the merits of one festival over another. Not in order of significance they are:

1. Let the authors know well ahead of time if there will be beverages/snacks/food available. If you aren't supplying them, fine, but we need to know so we can plan. It's impossible to do an event that is several hours long and go without food or water. When we travel for several hours, fresh food doesn't always hold up, so be humane let us know if there are shops or delis nearby.

2. With events in libraries and bookstores, sometimes you don't want us to eat at our tables. While this is understandable, we need somewhere to eat. A small room with table, chairs, and waste baskets is all we need.

3.  We all want to make the event successful, and that means getting the word out. Social media is the quickest, least expensive method. We have fans, but more importantly, you have ties to the community that are more lucrative. You can reach out to schools, PTOs, library patrons, bookclubs, and others in a larger area, especially if you are a county library or a city event. If you can publicize, and more than just a notice on your event calendar, please do so. We promise to blurb, tweet, post, and announce the event numerous times.

4. If you have someone in-house who designs event or specialty logos, share those logos with us. We love to showcase libraries or bookstores or whomever is planning the event. It brings you good PR, increases awareness of your organization or business, and maybe increases traffic for you. Plus, on our posts, it looks very professional that the event has its own logo. It means people are invested in promoting the event, they are in earnest.

5.  When authors apply to attend the event, please respond with a yes, you're accepted, or no, we've reached capacity. It's rude not to respond, and by letting us know-in a timely fashion- we can either fill our calendar with another event, or we can prepare properly for yours. We may need to create presentations, make travel arrangements, and order books. With email, there is no reason, even if a large amount of authors apply, for you not to respond (mass email is better than nothing). By not responding, you get a not-so-good reputation...

6. Make sure you have the space! The worst event I attended had authors in between book stacks at a library, and mixed YA and MG in the picture book section. There was almost no traffic-for the entire event. That's a set up for failure.

7. Another problem- putting too many authors at one table. Ideally, 3 feet of space, or, 2 authors to a 6' table, is perfect. Any smaller, and there isn't enough room for each display books, promo materials, sign, and sit. Card tables are a nightmare....

8.  Don't wait until January to plan a March event. Start a year in advance, even if you don't have a firm date. If you've never organized an event, you don't realize all the work that goes into planning. By starting early, you give yourself time to a) pick a good date, b) pick a rain date if applicablen c) get the space reserved if needed, d) start building a list of authors you'd like to contact, e) decide on a budget (do you have to pay for the space? will you offer food/drink to authors? etc.), f) work up a logo or promotional materials and have a PR plan (where will you advertise, getting info to authors for them to publicize, asking friends and colleagues to share, etc.), g) work out a schedule (will there be author panels and/or presentations? Will you have a well-known featured author?), h) recruit volunteers; one person can't do it all, i) make sure there is adequate parking for both authors and attendees. Just one snag and you'll be glad you left extra time to work it out.

9.  Talk to organizers of successful events, like YA Fest, BooksNJ, etc. (Google for a list of other events). Some planners may be too busy to respond, so my advice is to target librarians and smaller event organizers.

10. If you're going to charge the authors a fee to attend and sell their books, tell us up front. Your initial email should include this information, or if we're 'required' to join your organization to appear. Most authors will pass up an event if there is a charge unless it's a proven money maker. We have travel expenses and then to pay for the event is generally not cost effective. It's not fair, or ethical, to spring a fee on us at the last minute; and don't be surprised if authors do back out suddenly, leaving you with fewer appearing.

11. Don't forget to collect author bios, headshots, and book covers, plus book information. Do that at least several months in advance (we will update if a new book debuts). This is good info for your PR, especially if an author has a bestseller, won an award, or has a local/interesting connection.

12. We must know if a bookstore will be handling book ordering and sales, or if we are managing our own. Some authors won't do hand sales; you need to know this, and we need to know if we have to order books and pack them. Also, if a bookstore is handling the sales, we need a contact number in case we want to check that our books are in stock. Nothing angers an author more than going to an event and the bookstore didn't have the courtesy to tell them they couldn't/didn't get the book. So we traveled, and sat there, for hours, with no books to sell. And yes, this happens more than infrequently. Additionally, what are the terms; will the bookstore only order a maximum of X books, unless we buy back the unsold ones? Will they offer us a discount on buybacks since they won't have restocking /shipping fees? What about Indie authors: bookstores generally won't handle their books, so are they free to sell while traditionally pubbed have to take whatever terms the bookstore dictates? Can we opt out of bookstore sales if we think the terms are unreasonable?

13. Talk to Authors. We make the rounds of many events and know which ones are well organized. Maybe we can offer some suggestions, or give you the contact info of someone who might be able to help. You could do a quick email survey asking what they'd like to see, what they don't. While you can't please everyone, our input will give you a clearer idea of some of the issues that need to be addressed when planning these events.

14. If authors are making presentations, what about our tables, loaded with books and our things? Will someone watch them (people have 'thought' the books, left unattended, were 'free.' See the problem?) If a volunteer can't be spared, we may need to pack up our things, leaving a sign that we'll return after our presentation/panel. This is a huge hassle. Sometimes, our fellow authors can cover our tables, but if several of us are on the same panel, the tables are left unattended.

The best book festival I ever attended was PAYA (PA loves YA). And it was organized/run by a high school girl. It had a good number of authors, food, space- and one year, even with a hurricane on its way- the place was packed and I've never sold as many books at one time. She went off to college, and sadly, no one stepped into her place. I miss that festival!

So it can be done. These are only a few of the many things you'll need to consider, but if you're serious about starting a festival, or trying to improve one (very few are greatly successful the first year, so hang in there), you can do it.

We authors are cheering you on!


(This was at PAYA, one of the most successful, and best run book festivals.)

Char

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

You Are What You Write, Aren't You?

I'm trying to be thoughtful and careful with this post. I know some people are going to read it the wrong way, and be offended, but I'm opening this subject up for discussion, because it needs to be heard.

I recently had a publishing professional look at my middle grade manuscript. It's historical fiction, set in 1939-41 Berlin, at the zoo. The main character, Tomas Durr, is a young German boy, fourteen years old. The premise is based on actual events; with the backing of Hermann Goring (second-in-command to Hitler, creator of the Gestapo, and Nazi party leader), the director of the Berlin Zoo, Lutz Heck, and his brother, Heinz Heck, director of the Munich Zoo, embarked on a program to 'resurrect' (by faulty eugenics), extinct animals. Tomas and his family are fictional, but the Heck brothers and Goring, are of course real. Through the novel, Tomas discovers that animals are 'discarded' if they aren't perfect, paralleling the genocide of the Jews. The horrors of war-forcing children to join the Jugend (Nazi Youth) at ten years old, turning in family and/or friends for suspected treason, the increasingly desperate conditions, etc. are other situations that arise. This is not a Holocaust novel; the disappearance of the Jews is mentioned, not delved into. I've researched for historical accuracy to make the character of Tomas Durr acceptable.

Upon sitting for my critique, I was asked, "Are you German or Jewish?"

?

"If you aren't, that's problematic." It is because, in the movement to increase diversity, it seems that some in  the publishing world only consider authors whose ethnicity (or psychology or economics or experience, etc.) matches that of their characters to write the story.

I'm German (and Swedish), but if I wasn't, am I 'unqualified' to write a story which was my 'creation?' Will I have to give up my storylines to others because they 'match' the character and I don't?

I understand the need for diversity and the need for marginalized voices to be heard. But, if no one from that background writes the story or it is the brainchild of someone who is different from the character, should we kill the story? Take the story away from them?

Following this logic, I can only write female, German/Swedish/Christian/middle class stories set in Long Island, Connecticut, or New Jersey. No male point of view. No outer space. No science, crime, foreign shores, or even one of a set of twins story- because that doesn't match me. There goes my middle grade animal adventure story series, Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines/Simple Plans/ Simple Lessons- because I'm not a squirrel. I don't live in the woods. I don't know what it's like to fight off a fox, an owl, or construction machines. What about Blonde OPS? I'm not a hacker. but should I have learned to be, rather than research about it so my voice is 'authentic' enough? Where does one draw the line; at picture books? Unless it's scholarly, biographies might be suspect, and we can go on from there.

Won't this narrow our perspective, further dividing us? Can you imagine if Kathryn Stockett's  The Help was submitted under these guidelines? A white woman writing about the lives of black women. What about Shakespeare? No Romeo and Juliet, because he can't speak for women. Scratch Uncle Tom's Cabin because Harriet Beecher Stowe was not a Southern plantation overseer, nor an enslaved black man. Rudyard Kipling could not have written Kim, a story about young Indian boy- because Kipling was educated, white, upper class English. Think of all the stories that would be swept away if everyone adhered by this rule.

I support diversity and the promotion of marginalized voices, but instead of dismissing those authors who are vastly different from their characters and losing a vital story, if the voice is authentic, I think it should be heard. If I was writing about the Holocaust, I should use due diligence gathering my facts, and have someone who knows about the Holocaust read it for authenticity. During my elementary and middle school years, I lived in Bay Shore, Long Island. I had two best friends; Damari Colon, who was Puerto Rican, and Vicky Johnson, who was black. The schools and neighborhoods were culturally diverse. Does this give me any qualifications to include characters of different ethnicities, religions, economics, etc. in my stories? And if I don't include diverse characters because some would argue I'm not 'qualified,' then my writing becomes exactly like me- and I become guilty of writing with a narrow world view, which then becomes fodder for others to accuse me, rightly so, but from I situation I am forced into, of writing only from a caucasian point of view. How can both sides be accommodated?

What's the solution?

Char


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

There's Always Room For Improvement...

I'm pressed for time this week, so I'm going to admit my 5 biggest flaws; my writing flaws that is.

1.  I hate to revise. I don't mind once, maybe three times, but I hate doing it over and over and over. That's the business though; revise until you, the agent, or the editor are satisfied.

2.  Once I've worked on a novel for about a year, I'm done. I want to move onto something else. Of course I polish and revise and rework, but sometimes I take little breaks in between to work on a new shiny. I'm not one of those people who re-read a certain book every year.

3.  It bothers me when I'm told to cut some aspect of my work-by editor, agent, critique group, etc. that I absolutely love. I rave, rant, clean the house like a crazy person, and procrastinate. Then, I calm down and make the changes. Mostly. Some, I just can't bring myself to do.

4.  I keep writing down new ideas, even though I have so many projects in various states of progress. I have files full of ideas. I want to write them all, but unless I could just write them and let someone else edit them, they won't get written...

5.  If I could, I would just write and sign books at events. I hate doing the PR footwork. A personal assistant would be a dream come true. Would also keep my office clean.

I'm sure I have other faults, but I'm pressed for time. And I don't want to admit to anything else.

Now I have to go back to finishing those hated edits.


Char



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On My "To Do" List

I like lists. They help me feel organized and almost like I have control of my day and life. (Ha.) Here is today's list of Thing To Do (which may run for well over a month before I get them done):



1. Write this blog post (guess I can cross it off my list as soon as I post).

2. Upload 15 pages of manuscript for critique at NJ SCBWI annual conference.

3. Pack up books and supplies for the Pennsylvania State Local Authors book festival (at Hershey, PA. Details on my 'What's Up?' page).

4. Pack up books and supplies for the Barnes and Noble Educator's event at Marlton. (yep, details on my events page).

5. Follow up with agents who requested a partial or full manuscript. Keep fingers crossed.

6. Draft presentation for NJ SCBWI conference (cyber security and hacking).

7.  Drop off NJ SCBWI paperwork on Critique Day in Princeton to our Reg. Adv, Cathy.

8. Get in a swim.

9. Start revisions on MG ms requested by another agent.

10. Continue work on YA thriller.

I've already gone through emails (I have to monitor 3 accounts- family, my old yahoo one, and my author one on gmail), Facebook and Twitter updates, and checked in with my publicist. And, I fed the cats. Twice.

The writer's life- it's not all glorious writing.

I'll let you know how much I got done by next week...

Char