Archive for 'promotion'

Monday, July 30th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Kitty Steals the Show is out Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is book day!  Tomorrow is book day!  Kitty Steals the Show will finally be out!  For those following developments in e-books, I do believe this one is included in Tor’s new policy of releasing all e-books DRM free.  By all reports, this has been a very popular move.

I’m taking part in a blog tour with many interviews and giveaways and such, starting last week and continuing for the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes open for that.  Now for some publishing logistics neepery.

I’m so happy that this book is finally out in the world.  It’s been a long time coming.  Here’s what happened:  Initially I turned this book in December 2010.  That’s right, it’s been pretty much done for a year and a half.  Revisions and copyedits were done about a year ago.  So why did it take so long to get released?  A quirk of scheduling.  The contract for this and the previous two Kitty novels stipulated that I turn them in every six months — December 2009, June 2010, and December 2010.  For whatever reason, Tor decided to release them once a year rather than every six months — summer 2010, 2011, and 2012.  A once a year schedule makes sense, and that’s fine.  But you can imagine how it’s been for me over the last year, every time someone’s asked me, “Why does it take you so long to write the next book?  Why do we have to wait so long for the next book?” or some variation thereof.  All I can say is, “Hey, the book’s finished, this is just how the schedule works.”  To be fair, I think this actually is the longest I’ve gone between book releases since I started publishing novels.  When readers say it feels like it’s been a long time since the last one, I know what they’re talking about.

The happy ending to the story is when I signed the contract for the next four books last summer, I said I wanted ten months to write each book instead of just six, and Tor agreed.  If the books are going to be released on a once-a-year schedule, there’s no reason I shouldn’t have an extra few months to write them, and it’s made a big difference in keeping my life a little less stressful.

And after tomorrow, I’ll only be two books ahead of my readers, instead of three.  Easier to keep from giving away spoilers that way.

I’m currently in Alabama for a family reunion, and I’ll get to celebrate the new book with a signing tomorrow at the Books-a-Million in Oxford.  Maybe someone not from my family will join us…

Monday, July 9th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The Convention-Going Writer

Our theme this week:  What conventions and/or conferences do we attend regularly, and why?

I’m not convinced that attending conventions — genre-related or otherwise — or writing conferences is absolutely necessary for conducting a professional writing career.  It might help, but it’s possible to have a career without leaving your house, and there are writers who do so.  That said. . .

I like going to conventions because they’re fun.  Sure, I learn stuff and do lots of networking, and since I started publishing novels I reach a lot of readers at cons.  But really, it’s all about the fun.  My professional reasons for going and what I get out of them have changed.  When I started in the late nineties, I was trying to break into the field, going to panel discussions and gleaning whatever gems of wisdom I could, meeting other young writers in the same place I was, trying to get a feel for the publishing world.  Later, when I’d started selling stories and was about to sell my novels, I went to hang out with my friends (the ones I’d met at the very same conventions) and network with editors, looking for that secret handshake.  Now, some 14 books into my career, I go for promotional reasons, to woo new readers, to meet with my editors and agent.  And to hang out with my friends.

I go to a few different kinds of cons, with different agendas:

Literary Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions

Since I started out in the science fiction and fantasy reading community, most of the conventions I go to are science fiction and fantasy oriented.  This has worked out great for me, because over the last twelve years or so of regularly attending these conventions I’ve been able to build an audience and reach a lot of new readers by appearing on panels and doing readings.  Conventions are also the place where I’ve met lots of other up-and-coming SF&F writers, people who are now some of my best friends.  Secret advice:  these cons are some of the best places to get serious face time with authors.  George R.R. Martin is well known for encouraging fans to come see him at science fiction conventions, where they’re more likely to be able to actually sit down and have a conversation with him, rather than the thirty seconds of interaction they get at a book signing.

The ones I try to hit every year:

MileHi Con, Denver’s local SF&F convention.

Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s local SF&F convention.

The World Science Fiction Convention, aka Worldcon.  The location changes, and I’ll sometimes go to this one just for an excuse to travel.  I’ve made it most years, lately, and always have an exhausting wonderful time.  This is the convention that awards the Hugo.

The World Fantasy Convention.  I don’t get to this one as often as I would like, but if you write science fiction and fantasy this is, absolutely, the best place you can go for networking opportunities.  Geared toward industry professionals, most of the attendees are, in fact, professionals —  editors, authors, artists, agents, everyone — and in this setting they’re approachable.  (Also, your membership fee gets you a goodie bag full of books. WIN.)  Like Worldcon, the location changes every year.

Media/Pop Culture Conventions

Over the last five or six years I’ve attended one or two media/pop culture oriented conventions a year.  Not only are these great big geek-out parties, they tend to attract a different audience that the more literary SF&F conventions.  More potential readers to reach!  These are the conventions that feature lots of costumes and make the news.

StarFest, Denver’s local media-focused SF&F convention.  I attend this almost exclusively for reader outreach and publicity — and it works.  When my first novel came out, my publisher gave the convention 500 copies to hand out as freebies.  I still get people coming to me telling me how they started reading the series because of that freebie.  I come here, do readings and panels, am accessible to fans, have a grand old time — and thereby sell books.

Denver Comic Con.  This just happened a few weeks ago, for the very first time, and since it had double the expected attendance, I’m sure this will become one of the “must go” cons of the regional promotional circuit.

San Diego Comic Con.  The big one.  The granddaddy and crown jewel of them all.  125,000 (more or less) potential readers.  (And it’s happening this week!  And I’m not there!  Boo!)  My publisher also gave away copies of my first book here, in 2005, and again in 2007, when I was actually there to sign them.  I credit this con with giving my career a big boost.  I don’t attend every year — it’s a drain of energy and resources, dealing with a con of this size.  But boy, it’s like geek Mecca.  Everyone with an interest should make the pilgrimage at least once.  My plan moving forward is to attend every two or three years.

Dragon*Con.  More fan driven than the commercially driven San Diego Comic Con, this is another all-encompassing geek fest that has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve only been once — it often falls on the same weekend as Worldcon — but I’m itching to get back, because I reached a huge and enthusiastic group of readers here that I hadn’t seen anywhere else.  Next time I go, I’m definitely bringing costumes.  This is the only convention I’ve ever been to where I felt out of place not wearing a costume.  At least on Saturday night at the bar.

Writers Conferences

I actually just attended my first dedicated writers conference this past April — the Pikes Peak Writers Conference — as an instructor.  I’ve lived in Colorado since 1995, so it’s kind of hilarious that I’d never attended this one at all, even as a newbie writer.  Why not?  I spent a lot of those years living paycheck to paycheck, and the conference fee is a bit steep.  It just never occurred to me to try find a way to attend.  I was making progress, and getting lots of good writing advice from authors at MileHi Con.  Oh, and it’s usually the same weekend as StarFest.  I’m thinking of working out a plan where I attend PPWC one day and StarFest one day.  Because my life isn’t crazy enough already, obviously!

On top of all these, I’ll go to one or two regional conventions as a one-off, because I’m in the area or I’ve been invited as a guest of the con.  There’s also the World Horror Convention, which I’ve been to a couple of times but not recently, New York Comic Con, and a whole slew of mystery and romance focused conventions that are on my radar that I could conceivably attend.  Not to mention the huge publishing industry conferences like BEA and ALA.  But I’m trying to cut back, travel less, so I can stay home and write more.  But these are all just so much fun, it’s hard to say no.

Monday, May 7th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The Blogging Writer

This week’s topic on Genreality:  writers and blogs.  Too obvious a connection to discuss?  I don’t think so.  There are as many opinions about blogging as there are writers.

Blogging as been such an amazing thing for so many writers.  Some, like John Scalzi, broke in through their blogs, and others, like Catherynne Valente, have built tremendously supportive audiences and communities with their blogs.  I enjoy reading blogs and feeling like I’m part of a larger community.  I mostly read the blogs of other writers.  It’s a way to keep up with the community and convince myself that I’m not alone and crazy and so on.   But I have to watch myself, and resist the urge to compare myself to others, which reading their blogs makes so easy to do.  I also read blogs for research — have a certain kind of character or a profession or topic you want the inside scoop on?  Chances are, someone’s keeping a blog on it.

I started my own blog on June 8, 2007.  As a data point, this was almost two years after my first novel appeared on bookshelves.  So, I’m a firm believer that blogging is not an absolute requirement for professional fiction authors.  Do it if you want to, if you enjoy it.  And most importantly, I think:  do it if you have a plan.

Why didn’t I blog for such a long time?  And why did I change my mind?  I avoided blogging for a long time because I didn’t want my blog to turn into a confessional online journal (that’s what my bedside diary is for).  I didn’t want to spend the time on it.  I knew I didn’t have what it takes to maintain a blog of the caliber of John Scalzi’s Whatever (one of my favorite SF writer blogs) — posting every day, writing intelligently on a variety of topics, presenting a charismatic persona.  So I figured, why do it at all?  Then, for a brief time I wrote for a now-defunct science fiction blog.  The venture as a whole didn’t work out, but I found I enjoyed the outlet, discussing way-out topics, reviewing movies, and so on.  And I discovered I could keep up a schedule of writing several posts a week.

I decided to start my own blog when I figured out how to do it on my own terms, rather than trying to emulate other blogs.  The science fiction blog taught me how to set parameters on what I write about.  I realized I didn’t have to replicate Whatever.  This would be my own outlet, strictly for fun, and maybe my readers would enjoy getting a peek into my world.  And I could avoid very personal topics.  That was ultimately the theme I set for myself:  what’s life like for a full-time writer?  What goes into my writing?  What do I love, and how does that translate into stories?  Hence, my blog’s title:  Filling the Well.  Another of my parameters:  I didn’t want to blog every day.  So you know what?  I don’t.  For a long time, I tried to blog every other day.  Over the last year, I’ve moved to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, giving myself weekends off, and that’s been great.  I like that.  (I wrote about my reasons to start blogging in one of my first posts.)

It was year or so after starting my own blog that Sasha invited me to join Genreality, and I jumped at the chance, because one of the things I avoided on my own blog was writing too much about the mechanics of writing, the how-to, the obstacles, and so on.  This was something I learned from reading other people’s blogs:  if you only write about writing on your blog, it gets real boring real fast.  A big chuck of my target audience out there aren’t writers, and don’t care.  But a group blog with the specific, designated topic of being about the nitty gritty of writing, with lots of different authors contributing their perspective?  That’s where I could write about niggling writing stuff.  And it’s worked!  I now have an outlet for writing topics without turning my own blog into all-writing-all-the-time.  It’s that plan and parameters thing again.

My advice for starting a blog:  have a plan, have parameters.  Study other blogs and make note of what you like and what you don’t.  But my biggest advice of all may be:  if you don’t want to write a blog, then don’t.  That’s okay too.

Monday, September 5th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
What’s in a Pseudonym?

Weekend before last, I was at Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s regional science fiction convention, where I was on a great panel discussion about pen names and the various reasons authors take them on.  I was the token person on the panel who hasn’t written under a pen name.

Interestingly, “to start a new career when the first career flops horribly” never really came up as a reason to write under a pen name.  I’ve seen writers at the bar joking about what their next name is going to be when their current writing name becomes poison to the numbers-obsessed publishing business.  We can all name examples of authors who’ve done this — and authors who haven’t and still manage to maintain fine careers.  But it turns out writers have lots of other, perhaps less mercenary reasons for donning pen names.

Reasons for taking pen names:

  • To protect your identity if your day job is, say, physician or public schoolteacher
  • To write in multiple, very different genres, like fantasy and mystery
  • To create a single author identity for a book written by two or more authors
  • To write in areas that you don’t consider your primary focus

Another interesting facet of pen names in this internet age is that pseudonyms are rarely secret, and most authors are up front about other names they write under.  So what’s the point?  That brought up the issue of branding.  The name you see on the book isn’t necessarily an identity — it’s a brand name.  You buy a Stephen King book because you know what experience you’ll get when you read a Stephen King book.  Will J.K. Rowling ever be able to successfully publish anything other than Harry Potter stories?  Some would argue that Rowling means Harry Potter.

“Branding” of author names essentially divorces the identity of the author from the name you see on the cover.  J.D. Robb means mystery while Nora Roberts means romance, and neither one can said to actually represent the “person” who writes both sets of books.  Is this important?  Should this bother us?  Probably not.  As I said on the panel, the person I am sitting behind the microphone and talking to the audience isn’t the “real” me, either — I’m putting on a public persona.  Pen names are like that, too.

We also touched on the issue of gender, and altering the name printed on the cover of your books to disguise the gender of the person writing it.  For example, I know several male authors of urban fantasy who write female protagonists and publish under their initials.  Their readers often think they’re women because of that, and that’s usually the point.  The same is true for some women writing science fiction or high fantasy, whose readers sometimes think they’re men.  Authors do this on purpose, and once again it’s for marketing reasons, to make sure their books appeal to the right audience.  That readers won’t pass them by because they’ve made assumptions about the author’s identity.  (This really happens, trust me.)

When I branched out from my Kitty series into YA and contemporary fantasy, I chose not to use a pen name.  First, I felt that I wasn’t moving that far from my established genre — I’m still writing contemporary fantasy with young women protagonists.  I wanted to develop the readership I had rather than start over with a new name.  Second, it turns out that being able to put “New York Times Bestselling Author” above the name on the cover is worth more advance money.  So there it is, a mercenary reason for not using a pen name.

I can see very good reasons for wanting to take on a pen name.  I can also see very good reasons for not taking one on.  I think it depends on an author’s situation, attitude, and what she wants her career to look like.

Now to open it up to you all:  Do you write under a pen name?  Have you considered it?  How do you feel when you discover that a favorite author has been writing other books under a different name?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Book Trailers?

I call my book on writing a Toolkit because I don’t think there are any rules to writing.  There are guidelines and suggestions, but if you use the wrong tool, it’s you who are wrong, not the tool.  In fact, in Warrior Writer, I end the book and presentation pointing out that you have to break rules to succeed give and the paradoxical three rules of rule breaking.

Some people swear by book trailers.  These are usually:  people who’ve made one; more so, people who make money making them.

One comment several people made who’d done them was that they were ‘fun’.  That’s fine.  I’m not a Grinch.  But I’m also a professional writer.  I recently posted on the PAN loop of RWA a link to the Harlan Ellison video about Pay The Writer in response to a lot of writers talking about how they never charged speaking fees.  I was surprised at how many people suddenly spoke up after I posted that and said they agreed that we all needed to act more like professionals as writers.   Hmm, interesting, I’m talking about book trailers and linking to a video.  So videos have a place.  Yes, they do.  I teach part-time at the University of Washington.  I try to show a video, usually from YouTube, every class to emphasize a teaching point

But are videos useful for selling books?

Overall:  NO.


It’s a different media.  Check out professional promoters and advertisers.  How many promote across media?  How many book advertisements have you seen over the years on TV?  Very few.  Do you think the publicity departments at the big publishers were stupid?  They’ve tried it.  Rarely does it translate.

Someone sent me links to trailers they thought were well done.  And they were.  Except the number of hits was in the hundreds.  I’ve had over 52,000 hits on my video regarding Special Forces, which is excerpted from my appearance on the Discovery Channel.  I’ve seen zero cross-over from that to either my books or my Who Dares Wins consulting business.

To argue the other side:  you’ve got to do something different to break out.  If I knew what that different thing was, I’d be doing it.  If I had an idea for a really weird and unique video I thought would go viral, I’d do it.  But if we knew the formula to make things go viral, we’d all be doing it and thus it wouldn’t work.

The Wall Street Journal weighed in on trailers and overall, the consensus was a waste of time and money.

Here’s something writers have to realize:  when you read blogs, articles, etc. often you hear about the 1% of people who did something and succeeded.  Rarely do they write articles or do people blog about failure.

I’ve got nothing against making them for fun.  But also consider the time, money and energy you put into them and think what else you could be doing to achieve whatever your strategic writing goal is.

Monday, February 21st, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Promotional Cargo Cults

Cargo cults are a kind of sympathetic magic, particularly associated with the South Pacific during and after World War II, when military forces brought massive amounts of equipment and supplies to remote islands.  The deliveries stopped when the war ended, and in an effort to bring about a return of the deliveries, local people sometimes built fake landing strips, piers, replica ships and airplanes, and so on.  Such structures had brought riches before, why not again?  (This Smithsonian Magazine article discusses cargo cults in general and a particular cult that persists.)

Wikipedia offers this:  “From time to time, the term “cargo cult” is invoked as an English language idiom to mean any group of people who imitate the superficial exterior of a process or system without having any understanding of the underlying substance.”   And this:  “…the term “cargo cult” also is used in business and science to refer to a particular type of fallacy whereby ill-considered effort and ceremony take place but go unrewarded due to flawed models of causation…”

I think this happens in publishing, especially in self-promotion done by authors.  I keep running into authors who do things — make book videos, do blog tours, hand out a million bookmarks, sign stock at every store within a three-state region — because these are the things that you do.  All the lists of things you can do to promote your book say to do these things.  Everybody does them, in the hopes that they will bring forth riches.

And yet, where’s the evidence — the direct, causal evidence — that any of it works?  There isn’t any.  Maybe something worked really well for one person, so everyone else goes through the motions in the hopes that it will work for them, too.  There’s a lot of hope involved in self promotion.

A specific example of a promotional cargo cult is the blog.  Authors like Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, and Neil Gaiman have generated huge readerships through their online journals.  They’ve been blogging for 10+ years, before anyone else was doing it, and have spent a lot of time and experience building communities out of their online presences.  People point to them and say, “Look, blogging will bring you readers, you have to blog!”  Setting up a blog has become something like building a fake runway in the hopes that a magical cargo plane will swoop in for a landing.  However, the simple act of blogging is not going to turn you into the next Neil Gaiman.  That ship has sailed, and it’s way too late to spend ten years developing an online audience that you can use to promote your writing career.  Move on.  Blog if you enjoy it — not because you think it will magically make you a bestseller.

Unfortunately, lots of people buy into the magical thinking, because you have to do something to promote yourself, right?  Blogging works for lots of other people, why not you?  But if you start blogging without a real understanding of how it’s worked for other authors, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Same thing with book trailers, “viral” marketing (which almost by definition can’t be done purposefully), convention appearances, paying for your own publicist, and so on.

I have a test for what promotional strategies are worthwhile:  Has it ever worked on me, as a reader?  Have I ever heard of the author using that strategy, apart from the fact that they’ve used that strategy?  Have I ever actually bought the book advertised on a promotional bookmark?  (The answer is yes, once — because I also heard the author speak and I picked up his bookmark to remind me to buy the book.)  If an author has paid thousands out of their own pocket to hire a publicist, and I’ve never heard of them apart from the fact that they’ve hired a publicist, I would argue that perhaps the publicist isn’t helping.

Too much self-promotion can be a bad thing if instead of getting people interested in your book, you’re annoying the hell out of people with your incessant e-mailing and Facebooking and Tweeting and so on.  It can also be destructive if it keeps you from writing your next book in a timely manner.  The best promotion you can do for your book?  Write the next book.  (YA author Maureen Johnson’s manifesto on the topic of internet promotion is well worth reading.)

True story:  I hate, hate, hate going into a store cold to sign stock, which is one of the things you’re supposed to do to promote yourself.  I only do it when someone drags me, or I’m with another author who’s doing it.  So, I generally don’t do it.  I buy books from the local stores all the time and I’ve never told them they’ve got my own books in stock.  That kind of interaction really stresses me out, so I avoid it.  And I still manage to sell books.  Go figure.

A couple of things I know worked because readers came back to me and said they worked:  my publisher gave away copies of my first book at several conventions and conferences, and dozens of readers have said that freebee hooked them on the series.  The other thing that works:  word of mouth.  All the readers who’ve said they read the book because someone told them to, or said that they’ve given the book to ten other friends to read.  But you can’t buy word of mouth.  That’s the frustrating thing.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to do was throw lots and lots of money into publicity or jump through a certain number of specific hoops to guarantee that tens of thousands of people would love our books?

And doesn’t that just sound wrong?  I would rather people read my books because they like them, and their friends told them to read them, not because I’ve thrown money at the problem, or spent all my time building fake runways.

Monday, November 29th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Author Blurbs

We’ve all seen author blurbs:  those one or two line testimonials by a well known author telling us how great and wonderful this brand-new book by a brand-new author is and why we ought to read it.

This is one of the tools a publisher uses to get attention, especially for new authors.  A great testimonial by someone like Stephen King or Neil Gaiman can really push a new book to the top of the pile, separating it from the hundreds of other new books coming out that month.  Blurbs can give readers a clue about what kind of book it is, based on the kind of authors who’ve read it.

Usually, the publisher (in the person of the editor or a publicist) will solicit established authors for blurbs.  They’ll choose authors whose work is similar to the book in question, who are well known to the audiences they’re trying to target.  (Having military SF author David Weber read a chick lit novel for a potential blurb would be kind of senseless, for example.)  The publisher sends the authors a galley or a manuscript ahead of time so that, assuming they like the book, they can offer their glowing review in time for it to appear on the cover of the finished novel.

I started getting asked to read novels for potential blurbs within about six months of my own first novel coming out.  This was a little shocking to me — another thing about being a working writer I didn’t really expect.  This is also when I realized that my glacially slow reading habits were getting me in trouble.  I wish I could read every single book I get asked to read.  I just can’t.  At least, I can’t and still get my own work done.  Often, I just say no up front.  When I say yes, I make it very clear:  the odds are pretty good I won’t be able to read the book in time.  I hate this, because I see reading books for blurbs as paying it forward.  My first novel received very nice blurbs from the likes of Charlaine Harris and Gene Wolfe.  If a publisher thinks a quote by me will help a book out, then I want to help.

The horrible truth of the matter is that because I’m a slow reader and because I don’t have a lot of time, I’m much more likely to take a look at a book if I know the author.  I’m even more likely if the author is a good friend.  It’s still not a guarantee, but they do jump to the front of the queue, right or wrong.  I try not to feel too guilty about it.  I’m not sure how other authors work this out.  (The other horrible truth is I don’t necessarily like a lot of what I read, and I won’t give a quote to a book I don’t like.  The less said about that the better. . .)

Now, onto some etiquette.  You’ve sold your first novel — one of the first things your editor will ask you is if you know of any authors who you’d like to ask to possibly blurb the book.  Be ambitious — put Neil Gaiman or Stephenie Meyer or whoever on the list.  You never know.

Ideally, your editor or publicist will do all the asking.  It’s part of their job, and they have the authority and contact information readily at hand.  This is how it worked with Kitty and The Midnight Hour.  Even with the authors I knew personally, my editor did the asking.  This removes you from any awkwardness if the author in question says no, or ends up not liking the book.  (This happens.  It’s okay.  It’s subjective, and doesn’t say anything about the book.  It’s like any other review.)  The only time I ever asked another author directly for a blurb was for Discord’s Apple, and the authors in question were friends who knew that the book was coming out and probably would have read it anyway.  Once my books started coming out, the publisher started drawing on published reviews for pull quotes and blurbs, which was a little easier on everyone.

Increasingly, I seem to be hearing directly from authors for requests to read their manuscripts.  Now, some authors will refuse all requests that come directly from authors, because it’s just too awkward.  It’s much easier to say no to a third party than to the person whose baby you’re rejecting.  I haven’t gotten to that point yet, mostly because the authors I hear from are very polite, often people I know personally, and seem to understand when I say I just don’t have time.

I once heard a story of some authors who were told that having a blurb in advance would help sell the book.  As in, they needed to solicit blurbs before the publisher would even buy the manuscript.  This was years ago, and I haven’t heard about this happening recently, so I’m going to chalk it up to a tale in the mists of time.

If you do find yourself approaching an author for a blurb, be professional, as you would in any other aspect of this business.  Remember that you’re asking a huge favor, and the author doesn’t owe you anything.  Don’t panic.  If the author says no, it’s like any other time you hear no:  you move on.

Do blurbs work?  Personally, I don’t pay attention to them.  I read reviews and get recommendations from friends.  But I have heard from readers who said they picked up my book because of a blurb from a favorite author.  I look at it as another one of many marketing tools.  It may help some, but in most cases it’s not going to make or break a book.  A blurb may bring attention to a book, but the book still has to stand on its own.