Lengthening Shelf Life Part 2

Last week I wrote about promotional options for older books and factors to think about before launching a promotion, based on an article I’d read in the June 2017 issue of The Writer by Brian Feinblum entitled “Shelf Life: How to Promote an Older Book.” This week, it’s time for me to look at my strategy compared with what Feinblum suggests in his article.

Updating the Book

Feinblum spends a lot of time in his article on this option. Updating means taking the book off sale first, then doing revisions, changing the cover and/or cover copy, changing the price, among other possible changes. If there’s significant revisions to the text, the updated edition could qualify for its own ISBN and its own publication launch. Updating also includes publishing other editions such as an audiobook.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my goal is to publish a paperback edition of Perceval’s Secret. I’ve been considering what I’d need to do to accomplish this goal once I’ve paid off my debt. First, I’d need to format the book for paperback publication. I’d probably return to the people who formatted my manuscript for the e-book. I’d need to return to my cover designer and request a full cover, i.e. front, spine, and back. I’d need to write the back cover copy, including any positive blurbs from existing reviews. I already have an ISBN for a paperback edition. Finally, I’d need to choose where/how to publish the paperback. Right now, CreateSpace is at the top of my list, but I’d want to research other possibilities.

While updating a book or publishing a different edition would provide the opportunity for another launch, there is a cost associated – I have yet to do a cost estimate for each step – as well as a time cost.

 Write a Spin-off Version

This option requires writing another book. While this is a good idea, it has the same costs in time and money that updating the book has. I’ve played around with writing a novel in which Bernie Brown is the protagonist – maybe a prequel type novel – or a novel that explores the relationship between Evan’s father, Randall, and Evan’s mentor, the composer Joseph Caine. For the moment, however, I need to focus on finishing the remaining novels in the Perceval series first. It’s possible that getting the second and third books out into the world will help sell the first.

 Sell Foreign Rights

Actually selling foreign rights, film rights, audio book rights, or any of the other rights I own for Perceval’s Secret could give the book a boost in attention and sales. Feinblum suggests it could be easier to sell in smaller countries or just other countries. If it becomes a bestseller in another country, that could be an effective selling point for the book in America. There is a logistical issue with this option – I don’t have the connections necessary to sell foreign or any other rights. I suppose if I had a literary agent, he or she could assist with this, but I don’t have one at the moment.

 Tie the Book to Current Events

I have been utilizing this option as much as possible, especially at the Perceval Novels Facebook page where I post news stories and then comment on how Perceval’s Secret is related. I’ve also written posts at this blog tying the novel to current events. It’s been kind of spooky at times that political events or trends that I had imagined for my America 2048 have been happening.

Why would a stranger care about this book?

This ultimately is the question every writer needs to be able to answer for marketing and promotion. What is the primary benefit of this “product” for the consumer? For Perceval’s Secret, the reasons for a stranger to care about this book would include an imaginative view of the near future, an interesting and different setting in the world of classical music, suspense, twisty surprises, and a story that will stick to your bones.

 Here are My Resources that offer opportunities for free promotion:

  • Facebook Page
  • Anatomy of Perceval Blog
  • LinkedIn
  • GoodReads: encourage followers
  • Amazon Author Page
  • BookBub Author Page and promotions related to it
  • Publishers Marketplace
  • Book Reviews
  • Gina Hunter’s Blog: Eyes on Life

 My next task is to take my resources and develop a promotions plan using them. Then to implement the plan over the next 2-3 months.  I’ve already signed up for a promotion at BookBub to increase my followers there to get some attention.

It’s been a very helpful exercise to go through Brian Feinblum’s article and ask myself how his ideas and suggestions relate to my promotion efforts for Perceval’s Secret. I hope my exercise has given you thoughts and ideas for your own promotion efforts!




Lengthening Shelf Life Part 1

Brian Feinblum, a book promoter and marketer, asked in the June 2017 issue of The Writer, “What can – or should – you do to market books that are aging in the eyes of bookstores, the media, and readers?”

Lately, I’ve been fretting about my struggle to promote and market Perceval’s Secret which I published as an e-book in March 2014. The novel’s fourth anniversary as a published book fast approaches.  I’d love to give it a boost to get it into the reading public’s consciousness to encourage them to buy and read it.

Feinblum, in his The Writer article “Shelf Life: How to promote an older book,” writes about how a book’s “window of newness” has been shrinking over the years. If it doesn’t make a big splash in the first three months it’s on the market, selling it after that could be a struggle. But fiction usually does not lose its relevance, accuracy or current status for a long time, while nonfiction could become dated faster depending on the subject matter. Fiction should be easier to promote after the magic three-month period, right?

Promotional Options for “Older” Books

It’s important to know what the possibilities for promotion for an older book are just like for a new book launch. Feinblum describes them as follows:

  • Let the book die and hope for a miracle that someone finds it, reads it, and sparks a word-of-mouth campaign that will boost sales. I call this the “wishful thinking” option. However, if a writer has constraints on time, it could be just as viable as fitting in promotional activities in a busy life.
  • Create and execute a social media strategy. This option demands the writer be on more than one social media platform, and that there is daily participation on those platforms to talk about the book. I’m assuming that a writer’s blog falls into this slot, along with online book bloggers who review books.
  • Target promotional efforts using traditional media, like print, radio, TV. Interviews on radio programs that cover books, book review sections of major newspapers and magazines, or doing interviews on morning news programs be they local or national are some of the possibilities here. Some of these activities could be done in conjunction with a book tour or locally. Having a publicist could be extremely helpful for this category; otherwise, the writer will be doing all the press releases, making the calls and connections, and setting up the engagements.
  • Travel for the book, i.e. do a speaking tour, paid or unpaid. Book tours require careful planning, utilizing connections in book stores and libraries, and getting the word out about a writer’s visit via press release. It’s helpful if the writer can also help with promoting locally his or her appearance in the bookstore’s location by doing interviews or helping with advertising the event.
  • Advertise the book. Print advertising, for example, in publications that the novel’s target audience reads. I continue to consider running ads in Playbill for Perceval’s Secret. This option has a huge drawback: it can be quite expensive not only for buying the media space, but also for producing the ads. Writers can also utilize social media for advertising, working with the platform to create the ads. When I launched Perceval’s Secret, I did a postcard mailing to the musicians of eleven major American orchestras, and would consider another one.
  • Cross-promote with other authors. This is especially helpful if you know a writer who is fairly well known and has a readership, and who writes in the same genre and related genre as you. The better known writer can spark initial interest and give the lesser known writer a bit of a boost. I’ve heard of this most commonly done for book tours when two or more authors hit the road to do readings and book signings together.
  • Have a giveaway. Everyone loves free stuff. Do a free giveaway for a couple weeks and promote that giveaway at GoodReads, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, as well as on your blog. Keep it a specific time period to generate urgency. If you have a hard copy version of your book, you can do a giveaway on GoodReads (this site is working on setting up procedures for e-book giveaways but don’t yet offer that option). If you have the money, BookBub also offers effective promotion possibilities.

Before deciding which promotional options will work for your book, it’s important to think about the factors listed below, and this is where I am at the moment with Perceval’s Secret. I’ve looked at all my options and have done some cost estimates – for example, to advertise on Facebook or promote the series’ Facebook page, to do a BookBub promotion – then made a list of where I can heighten my presence to talk about the novel, for example, creating a series of short videos to post at my Amazon author page, on BookBub, at GoodReads, and at my page on Publishers Marketplace. These videos, as I envision them, would be a mix of reading a short excerpt from Perceval’s Secret and just talking about my experience writing the book or why I think someone should read it.

The Factors to Think About

  • What are your needs and desires for promoting the book?
  • How much time and what resources (money) do you have available?
  • How strong is your belief that your book is worth more promotion?
  • Would your time be better served by letting promotion go of this book and focus on writing new books?
  • Have you figured out why your book didn’t sell as well as hoped during launch or why it failed to generate more reviews?

Answers to these questions could steer you in one of two directions. The first is simply to proceed with the new promotional efforts.  The second could be to revise and repackage the book and do a re-launch. This second direction offers the opportunity to make improvements if you decide they are needed or to add promotional items like testimonials from readers, quotes from reviews, or getting blurbs or a writer to actually write an introduction. I know that I want to eventually issue a paperback of Perceval’s Secret once I’ve paid off completely the debt I incurred for the e-book. This might serve as my repackage of the novel with a specific paperback launch. But for now, I’m concerned about promoting the e-book edition.

Next week in Part 2, how my strategy does or doesn’t fit with what Feinblum wrote in his article in the June 2017 The Writer.

Have you ever been faced with promoting an older book? What did you do?  

Ready? Set? Go!

Are Congressional Republicans Patriotic or Not?

When I was creating the future America of 2048 for “Perceval’s Secret,” this was the scenario I envisioned.

“If Congress just OKs a new director — whoever it may be — and moves on, then we are in a new reality: A president can fire anyone who investigates him without any real consequence. That’s never been true in America before, and it would be a big step towards turning us into a Potemkin Republic, like Putin’s Russia, where we maintain all the facades of democracy and the rule of law, but in reality the leader simply does whatever he wants. This goes along with other new realities we’ve seen Congress accept since January 20, like this one: A president no longer bears any responsibility to prove to the public that he is not corrupt, but can openly profit off his presidency — perhaps even taking money directly from foreign governments — while keeping the full extent of that profit secret.”

The Weekly Sift

Trump obstructs justice, and his fellow Republicans still stand behind him. At what point, if ever, will Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell begin defending the Republic?

We’ve already been through a number of explanations for why Jim Comey was fired on Tuesday, beginning with the improbable story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was so incensed by Comey’s unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton (“we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation”) that he wrote a memo that led to Comey’s firing; Trump and Attorney General Sessions took no initiative, they simply rubberstamped Rosenstein’s recommendation.

But by Thursday that narrative had crumbled, and Trump was telling NBC’s Lester Holt he had intended to fire Comey “regardless of recommendation” (making liars out of all his own spokespeople, including Vice President Pence). He went on to describe a very odd and disturbing…

View original post 1,749 more words


Saving or Shredding? The cleaning clutter conundrum

1898 Mark Twain portrait by Ignace Spiridon (image courtesy of Flickr user Terry Ballard)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain.

I love Mark Twain and his pithy opinions. I saw this quote yesterday and knew immediately that it fit in with my thoughts this week, especially about my life as a writer. While Twain encourages to set sail to explore and discover, he doesn’t include that often the explorations lead to dead-ends and perhaps the journey challenges as well as delights.

This past week I’ve been working on two chores that involve cleaning: the actual cleaning of my living space, and the cleaning out of my files. The former is a straightforward physical exertion that involves scrubbing, scrubbing, and more scrubbing, dusting, vacuuming, and rearranging as well as throwing out old and useless items that clutter up the space and I happily toss out without another thought. The latter challenges me to let go. Do I save them or toss them? The files contained the representations of creative ideas, notes, explorations into character, and discoveries concerning story and plot. There was a time when I saved everything because I was convinced that someday I would find a use for it in some piece of writing or another. That has turned out to not be the case at all.

It pains me to write that many of the files for short stories whose ideas had grabbed me in some way I had completely forgotten, and I looked at them this week as if looking at someone else’s files. Those files were easy to discard, of course. But then there were the files of two novels I’d begun long before Evan Quinn informed me that his story involved five novels. Do I save them or toss them?

The first I’d called “my second novel” with a working title of When You See Her. As I read through the notes in the working file, I remembered what had sparked this endeavor originally. The first was a memory of driving in the Adirondack Mountains at night on pitch black roads because they did not have lighting, and those roads curving sharply and doing switchbacks. I remembered the tension in the car and how scary it was to feel that anything could happen and we wouldn’t be able to see it coming. The second spark flared from a comet hitting the planet Jupiter. Two disparate things that came together in a story about a young man learning about responsibility and redemption. At least, I’d thought along those lines according to my notes. I’d done some character creation and development work, but had only gotten to the end of the first act in the story outline. Apparently, I’d gotten stuck there, then something else had grabbed my attention, and I’d not made it back.

The second novel idea was actually the first novel in a mystery series grounded in Buddhism and starring a 20-something woman working for a private investigator. The title of this first novel in the series was going to be either The Laughing Buddha or Monkey Mind. I’d begun character work on the main character and her boss, and I thought I had the murder figured out, but for some unknown reason, it all went into a file, into a drawer, and stayed there untouched until this past week.  I still like this idea, actually, although now I don’t recall how the Buddhism fit into the series and I don’t remember what the story was. I am a different person now, a different writer, than I was back then, and if I were to pursue this idea, I suspect it would be a new and different story.

Laughing Buddha

As Twain encouraged, with these two ideas I had thrown off the bowlines and set sail into unknown territory in my imagination to see if it would be worth exploring further. I think this is true of any story idea. One of the most important things I learned from studying screenwriting is to test the viability of an idea before getting too far into the writing of it. Think of it as sailing a detour up a river to find out if anything worth attention is farther upstream. If not, turn around and return to the starting point to try a different river. What needed to be upriver was an act 2, i.e. conflicts and obstacles that the main character would need to overcome to achieve his or her goal. If there’s a fabulous act 1 but nothing more, the idea isn’t viable. When writing screenplays, I developed a habit of doing some rough outlining as well as asking other characters what they want and what they’d do to get it in order to ferret out the characters that would be in conflict with or obstacles to the main character. The files I found this week were from novels and stories that were tantalizing rivers that led nowhere. They found their rightful place in the garbage dumpster.



Character: Building and Maintaining Relationships

Last week I wrote about creating and sustaining characters through external aspects: the body, speech, and occupation. This morning, a story sparked some ideas about creating and sustaining characters through relationships, i.e. how characters interact with other characters or human behavior through character. This is the part of character creation and development that most writers find the most difficult because it requires knowledge of psychology and human behavior. The more complex the motivations of a character, the more mystery, tension, and interest around that character.

When I’m beginning work on a story, I want to get to know the characters — at least the characters that have appeared to me so far. With Evan Quinn in the Perceval series, I conducted an interview with him to get an idea of how he thought, what was important to him, how he saw himself. The interview was very much like a 60 Minutes interview — a series of questions that I’d written down and used as my guide. This first step led me to digging deeper into his background, his relationships with his father, with Joseph Caine, and with his mother, much like getting to know a good friend. I ended up creating a detailed backstory for him that doesn’t appear at all in any of the series’ novels. It’s like doing research but instead of reading documents online or in libraries and interviewing sources, it’s inviting the information to come forward out of my imagination. I did not write down this backstory in narrative form, but made detailed notes about the most important elements in that backstory that I knew would feed Evan’s motivations during the series. The bonus: this is work that keeps on giving, since the more I work on Evan the character, the more my imagination (and Evan) gives me.

Once I’d done all that work with Evan, I worked on each of the important people in his life: his father, Joseph Caine, his mother, and then the people that he meets in Vienna and who become important to him — Vasia Bartyakov, Klaus Leiner, Bernie Brown, Sofia Karalis, Greta,  Nigel, Woody, and Freda. And there is one character from Evan’s past that makes an appearance, and I needed to do the same with him. Each character was asked: How do you know Evan? What do you want? What will you do to get it? What is your primary emotional vulnerability? What is your biggest fear? The answers to these questions by each character often revealed their importance in the story, and what kind of conflicts or obstacles they would be to Evan. I wrote all the answers down for each character, and keep them in a characters file. For each novel and the new characters that appear in them, I follow much the same process.

Next, it’s time to look at Evan and all these characters in terms of their relationships. What is the relationship? How does it support Evan? How does it challenge Evan? Does Evan want this relationship? If not, why not?  If so, why? Then I turn it around and ask the other characters the same questions to get their perspectives on their relationships with Evan. Sometimes, I have not known the nature of the relationship until I’ve gotten into it (Sofia, for example, or Owen te Kumara), and what I thought it was turned out to be wrong. The relationship then veered off into a direction I had not seen coming.

Meeting people and making friends is relatively easy. Sustaining the relationship presents the challenge. So, even though Evan is drawn to Vasia Bartyakov and sees him as Joseph Caine reincarnated in some way, they often butt heads because they have different beliefs and personalities.  Evan admires and respects Vasia’s musicianship and his talent as a pianist, just as Vasia admires and respects Evan as a musician and conductor. Music is really the glue that holds them together, and they actually become quite close in a short period of time because of it. My challenge in writing this relationship was showing that closeness through their behavior when they’re together as well as how they talk to each other.

Another challenge for me was Sofia Karalis. I had initially thought of her as Evan’s romantic interest until I got to know Evan better. Then I realized that although he may be attracted to her romantically, his background becomes an obstacle to his being able to love her. When this first occurred to me, I was quite disappointed. In fact, Sofia remains in Evan’s life and plays a pivotal role for him on his life journey a couple of times, challenging him to be a better person and man.

Relationships between and among characters offer opportunities not only to reveal character but also to develop character. It’s important to know the characters involved before throwing them together to see what happens.  But then sit back, watch, learn, and enjoy the show!