Showing posts with label BSP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BSP. Show all posts

09 October 2017

BSP For You & Me

by Steve Liskow

On the heels of Janice's excellent discussion of how to prepare for an interview...

This year has been a good one for short story sales (for me, anyway. Most of the other contributors to this blog sell more in any given month), but it's still stacking up as my first losing season since 2013.

Yes, I have more books available than I did then (so far, twelve novels and a collection of stories), but both my close friends know that the annual sales and royalties from those self-published books won't pay for our cats' prescription diets for a week.

The bulk of my writing income--and "bulk" is a misleading term here--comes from other sources, mostly editing and conducting writing workshops. Over the last two years, the State of Connecticut has been plagued with horrendous budget problems that have been passed on to libraries, where I usually hold those workshops. In 2015, I led sixteen sessions, my all-time high. This year, I did one in April and only had one more scheduled until last week. I know three other writers going through the same straits, and for the first time ever, we're competing with each other for the same few gigs.

How do you get more business without bumping off the competition?

Packaging.

Years ago, comedian Bill Dana, AKA "Jose Jimenez," had a routine in which the interviewer asked him, "How did you get the title 'King of the Surf?'" and he replied, "I had cards printed."


 That's not quite as outrageous now as it was then. We need to figure out the continuum of shrinking violet, effective promotion and obnoxious BSP. It's a fine line, and when you're offering to teach, it gets even finer.

Most people want to drive a car before they buy it. I have yet to buy a guitar online because I need to hear it and touch it first. It's the same with writing. People need to believe that you can help them write better, so you have to show them what's under your hood. Obviously, your own books can help, but some people don't have time to read them before hiring you.

When I began editing, I offered a freebie through Sisters in Crime. I would examine the first twenty-five pages of a manuscript for free to the first three respondents in exchange for a reference letter I could post on my website. The requests arrived in my email so quickly that I ended up reading five samples. Satisfied customers give you more cred than anything else. If you're a writer, nothing tops reviews from happy readers...except maybe blurbs from other writers who have a large following.

Those references are on my website, and I keep a printed copy for when I meet a librarian or--as happened last week--the head of a writer's retreat that plans to open this month.

I also bring blurbs that better-known writers (practically everyone) wrote for me. These are people I met at various conferences. In a few cases they mentored me or led workshops I attended. Reviews written by a real person, especially a legitimate critic or Publishers Weekly or Kenyon Review mean a lot, too. I print out a list of my awards and nominations because they mean that someone who knows the business thinks I won't stink up the joint. Besides, it's great being able to say I lost an award to Karin Slaughter or Dennis Lehane.

Be flexible. I have a printed description of my workshops and can make them last from about sixty to ninety minutes by encouraging more questions or giving people more time to work on the activities I include. I taught high school English for thirty-three years, so I know how to create a decent worksheet.

One of the first rules of grant writing is that you have to show how the public will benefit, and it's the same here. You're working with the library, bookstore or other venue. Remember the new writers retreat I mentioned above? Instead of charging my usual fee for workshops, they will charge the students and we will split the fee. I'll get less money than usual, but the Story Teller's Cottage will get some money in the coffers right away, which means they can grow...and invite me back again. You can spend "less," but try spending "nothing."

I gave the new director some of my business cards (yes, thank you, Bill Dana), which mention my editing. I gave her several bookmarks, too. The front is a head shot with my website and Facebook page. Easy to read, and won't need updating. I can use it forever, especially since I don't plan to age at all. Ever. I assembled the list of books on the back three years ago when I had the titles but they weren't out yet. Planning that far in advance meant I could buy the bookmarks in bulk (lower price) and use them longer. Starving writers go for cheap, OK?

The bookmark serves two purposes First, it shows people that, yes, I did write a book, which suggests what's under the hood. Giving the titles means people can find the books and read them, which does even more of that.

Sure, it's creating an image, but it's also content and credibility. I don't wear a tie when I meet people, but I don't wear cut-offs and a Playboy tee shirt either.

I've learned to ask a few questions, too. These help the venue and me work together and help that professional image again.

Do you have Wi-fi? Most places do, but I'm beginning to sell more books at events by card than by cash, so it's good to know, especially if I post the event on my website or Facebook page. If you take a credit card, it suggests that you're a "real" business, too.

Will you print out my handouts? If the venue takes registration in advance, they know how many copies they need. That means I don't show up with a bunch of extras I'll have to recycle. It also means that if someone decides to attend at the session at the last minute, the venue can print up more copies and I don't have to ask someone to share.

Do you have an easel or dry marker board (I hate power point!)? I can bring one, which shows I have my own equipment, but it's easier if you have to cart less stuff around.

Finally, I encourage librarians and other people to take pictures I can use on my sites for further credibility. But do I really look that funny?

Yes, it's BSP, but it gets your foot in the door. And the best promotion in the world won't hide a lousy workshop.

Does this all work? I picked up three workshops last week. They satisfy my teaching Jones. And since this is a new venue and we're guessing at the best times and days for the sessions, I'm adding an evaluation sheet that asks participants about the format, content, presentation, time and space. It also asks if they'd like to take another workshop. Criticism and suggestions are how you get better.

The Story Tellers Cottage (check their website and Facebook page) held their open house last Saturday, and I made a point of showing up with more bookmarks and to meet more people. They're doing the same thing I am, but they're taking a bigger risk, so they have fewer chances to get it right.

I think they're on the right track.


05 August 2017

Who Put the B in the BSP?


by John M. Floyd



Here's the question of the day, for all you writers out there: How Blatant should Self-Promotion be?

Consider this definition, found at the Oxford Learner's Dictionaries site:
Blatant self-promotion is the activity of making people notice you and your abilities, especially in a way that annoys other people.

Everyone knows what the key word is, in that sentence. And nobody wants to be annoying. The sad thing is, I think many of us are annoying without realizing it--and somehow that's even worse. Most of us grow weary of having people show us their grandchildren's (or their cats' and dogs' ) photos on their cell phones, but we can't imagine how anyone could grow weary of seeing ours. This isn't quite the same as the blinders we wear regarding self-promotion, but it comes close.

These days, it's an unpleasant fact of life that we authors, whether self-published or not, are expected to do a certain amount of marketing, of both ourselves and our product. Otherwise, unless we're famous to begin with, no one except friends and family are going to know who we are or what we've done. I understand that. We're told constantly that we need a "platform," and a plan for spreading the word, whether it's via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, websites, interviews, signings, speaking engagements, or all of the above. But the question is, how much of that can you do before you go overboard, and become an embarrassment to yourself and to friends and family?


How much is too much?

One thing that makes self-promotion appealing, at least to the self-promoter, is that talking or writing about yourself isn't all that hard. You know yourself and your accomplishments, better than anybody else does. Whether you can be objective about it is another matter, but the truth is, something like a blog post about your latest project is pretty darn easy to do--it doesn't require any research or any real work. So, do I do that, now and then? Sure I do. But nobody, including my mother, wants to hear too much about me, or to hear about me all the time. (Well, maybe Mom does, but she's the only one.)

I think the answer--and it seems to be the answer to a lot of life's problems--is moderation. Of course we should try to get our names out there, and put our best foot forward in things like bios, cover letters, press releases, etc. But I think that process has to be grounded in some measure  of common sense. Nobody wants to get emails every day from the same person, asking for five-star reviews and "likes" and visits to author websites and votes for best-novel-cover contests. I mean, Sweet Jumpin' Jiminy.

By the way, I am not innocent of BSP crimes. After all, my post here at SleuthSayers a week ago was a discussion of several of my own stories that appeared in recent publications. I guess all of us do that kind of thing occasionally--some more than others. As Brother Dave Gardner once said, of a traveling preacher who made a whistle stop in Irondale, Alabama, and was addressing the crowd: "He said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,' and BLAP that rock hit him."

Bios and egos

BSP can take many forms. A writer's bio that goes on and on and on can make a reader's stomach cramp and his eyes glaze over, and there's even a school of thought that says the longer the printed bio, the less the writer has actually accomplished--the wannabe author just writes more words about less important things. Even the automatic signature you place at the end of your emails can be too much. Twenty lines of text following your name and listing all your publications and awards and nominations and third-place wins in contests might be overdoing it just a bit. In fact, it might be eighteen or nineteen lines too long.
Same thing goes for booksignings. I'm not saying it's a good idea to sit there at the signing table and stare at prospective buyers like a frog on a log, but it's also not good to call out to passersby like a snake-oil salesman at the county fair or chase them down and pester them with questions. As a customer, I have often strolled over to chat with an author, especially one who smiles and makes eye contact, and I have often (maybe too often) bought his or her book as a result--but I will probably never buy anything from an author who eagerly blurts "Hey, do you like reading mysteries? You'll like this one. Come over here and take a look." Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I like to feel that the buy/no-buy decision is my own to make, without a lot of arm-twisting. Whether it's a book or a pair of shoes or a bag of peanuts.

I do try to post my upcoming booksignings on Facebook, mainly because my publisher (who's much smarter than I am, on these matters) has encouraged me to, and also because I know that it has occasionally steered folks to the bookstore on the day I'm there. I don't think that kind of thing is being too pushy; I think it makes sense. But some of the all-out blitzes people do on social media, especially regarding book launches, can get out of hand. All of you know what I mean. There's a fine line there, between aggressive and excessive, and I'm thinking (and hoping) that most of us know where to draw that line and not to leap over it.

What do you think?

Author and editor Ramona DeFelice Long said, at her blog, that writers should keep Goldilocks in mind and do what feels right.

But what does feel right? Do too little, you're shy or lazy. Do too much, you're obnoxious. You're either a wallflower that nobody knows or an insurance salesman that nobody wants to know.

What's your response to this? How do you, as a writer, try to do what's required without being overwhelming? What are your personal "rules"? Also, what makes you, as a potential buyer of a piece of fiction, uncomfortable or annoyed? When does SP become BSP?

By the way, do you like reading mysteries? Have I got a deal for you . . .

Just kidding.







29 March 2014

Pride and Preachiness


by John M. Floyd



Life isn't always fair. You might be paying close attention, listening hard to every word the teacher's saying, but when Doofus Jones in the desk behind yours decides to smack you in the head with a spitball and you turn to him and make a rude and socially improper gesture, that's the one moment the teacher chooses to look in your direction. We all know that. It's the Night Watchman Syndrome: close your eyes for a two-minute nap and your supervisor always shows up to check on you. I think it was Johnny Carson who said that if life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.

But occasionally all your stars seem to line up, and good things happen.

Ego trip

Last Sunday afternoon I drove into town to a chain bookstore, one that features a vast supply of magazines. As I was standing there at the rack reading a story in an issue of Asimov's, one of the bookstore staff saw me and came over to chat. (Like all writers, I try to meet and get to know the employees in local bookstores. Most of them have the job security of an assistant football coach, but while they're there they can be the best friends a writer can have, both during and between booksignings. They're also a lot of fun. How could you not like someone who chooses to work among all those books every day?)

A quick note: there's something about Blatant Self-Promotion that makes most of us uncomfortable. For an author, some measure of BSP is acceptable and even expected, and I realize that. But it still makes you feel like a combination of telemarketer, TV evangelist, insurance salesman, and Amway representative, so I avoid it whenever I can. Because of that reluctance, it's great to be presented now and then with an opportunity to showcase your writing without bringing it up yourself. It's the feeling a comedian probably gets when he's handed a straight line. The SP without the B.

What happened in my case was that the aforementioned store employee--Andrew--walked up and said to me, "Still writing a lot?"

"Always," I said. "You selling a lot?"

"You write 'em, we'll sell 'em," he said, grinning. He pointed to the magazine in my hand. "Anything of yours in there?"

"Nope. I think you have to be smart to write science fiction."

Another grin. "You've had some stories in Alfred Hitchcock though, right?"

Well, since you asked . . .

"I have one in the current issue," I answered, proudly nodding toward the May 2014 AHMM. "A couple of my writer friends are in there too."

Andrew looked at the cover, saw my name, and his eyes widened. "Awesome," he said. I saw him glance around idly at some of the other mystery magazines.

I kept quiet, hoping he'd notice the one in the next rack.

He didn't, so I helpfully told him that I have a story in the new issue of The Strand Magazine as well. Even more helpfully, I pointed to it.

"Whoa," he said. "You're on the cover there, too."

I smiled (I hope) modestly. What I didn't bother to tell him--just an oversight, of course--was that it was the first time I'd EVER had my name on the covers of two big magazines at the same time. I also didn't tell him that I figured it would never happen again. Some things don't need to be mentioned, right?

"Hey, you're movin' up in the world," he said. He sounded impressed, so I made sure to keep my left side turned away from him; tucked under my left arm were three copies of that February-May 2014 issue of The Strand. Somehow I doubted that a real writer would drive twelve miles to town to buy extra copies of an issue containing his story, to give to his mother and sister.

Andrew and I made smalltalk for a while longer, then said our goodbyes and wished each other well. Afterward, cheapskate that I am, I went back to reading the Asimov's story, which turned out to be excellent. Most of them are.

These sci-fi writers might be smart, I remember thinking, but nobody could feel better than I was feeling at that moment. Everyone likes to be patted on the head, and my confidence had received a pleasant little jump-start. I had managed to brag without preaching, to self-promote without being too selfish, to feel important without acting important. At least I hoped I had.

Excuse me, ma'am--want to buy my book?

A few questions, here. How do you handle the tricky issue of author BSP? Nobody wants the two extremes: one is to sit there like a bullfrog and never contact or say anything to anyone, and the other is to act like the yammering salesman who pesters customers until they want to carve his tongue out with a dull knife. So what do you do? Seek the middle ground? Very few of us are lucky enough to attract fans and potential readers without expending some kind of marketing effort, and even fewer are comfortable crowing about our literary achievements from the rooftops. How little BSP is too little? How much is too much?

Last Sunday, I'm pleased to say, those troublesome questions and doubts didn't come up. In fact I decided to stick around and read another free Asimov's story before paying for my magazines and heading home.

Actually, I was hoping someone else might stop by to say hello . . .


27 November 2012

The Next Big Thing– Dean Version

by David Dean

As John Floyd has so ably explained in his post of the 24th, "The Next Big Thing" is a sort of promotional tag game being played by writers across the country, perhaps the world for all I know.  I guess it can be described as a "grass roots" publicity gambit to which you, dear reader, are now being subjected.  I didn't want to do this to you, but the alternative was breaking the "chain", and I'm sure you all have some idea what can happen when you do that.  You know the urban legends, it's not pretty according to the films– the best you can hope for is to just painlessly disappear; the worst… well, it doesn't bear thinking about.   

However, in order to make a clean getaway I've had to snare others into the scheme.  Again, I didn't want to, but what choice did I have– to be the last in the chain?  No, thank you.  So I lured the redoubtable and deeply talented, Janice Law, as well as the rising literary star, Tara Laskowski, into my web, where they are now stuck fast, desperately trying to line up someone, anyone, to "tag" and be next in the chain.  Sorry, ladies, but surely you can understand the predicament I found myself in.  Blame Barb Goffman if you must; she snared me!  In order to take the sting out I've included links to all of these writing dynamos at the conclusion of my own shameless self-promotion.  Please do go to their sites on the appointed days and read their thoughts on their work.  It will, undoubtedly, be both entertaining and illuminating, as I hope the following on my own is.

First, let me set the scene.  Picture, if you will, a room full of clamoring reporters, and perhaps a scattering of ardent, young literature students, all attempting to gain my attention and ask the following, burning questions:

What is the working title of your new book, Mr. Dean?  "Oh please, just call me David, we're all friends here (there's relieved chuckling; they didn't expect me to be so personable, so accessible).  Well, the working title has come and gone, I'm afraid, as the book, "The Thirteenth Child" was released over a month ago.  The publisher and I are expecting a sale any day now.  The original title was more of a short story– "A Child Twixt Dusk And Dawning", it was called.  My editor questioned the pithiness of my choice and suggested (strongly) I go with his recommendation, which I did in the end.  We are no longer speaking, however."

Where did the idea for the book come from?  "That's an excellent question, young lady, and one which I am anxious to answer.  I was thinking of old legends, and ghost stories, concerning travelers meeting spirits and demons at lonely crossroads, then disappearing, dying, or having misfortune follow them from that moment on.  These tales appear in a number of cultures (European, African,etc...), and sometimes concern the taking of children by these same fairies, trolls, or other supernatural beings.  So, I took it one step further, I thought, what if this creature that waits on lonely paths was not supernatural at all, but very real, and no longer haunting forest and fields, but suburban streets and yards; forced out of its comfort zone by the steady encroachment of civilization?  That was the beginning."

What genre does your book fall under?  "Unquestionably horror, though it has an underpinning of police procedural and even a touch of romance." 

What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  "I'll leave that to the experts, like Mr. Spielberg.  He's done wonderfully well at that sort of thing.  Undoubtedly, when hell freezes over and he decides to do a film version of my book, he'll make the right choices in casting."

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  (I chuckle tolerantly at this) "Obviously, my boy, you have not read my book.  A book, such as mine, containing the depth of character and breadth of thought that it does, cannot be contained in a single sentence.  However, since you've asked, I'll do my best to reduce it down so that everyone can understand it: When children begin to go missing from Wessex Township, disgraced professor, and now town drunk, Preston Howard, encounters something he wishes he hadn't, and soon faces a terrible decision--save the children...or his only daughter.  How's that?"

Is your book self-published, or represented by an agency?  "Neither, old man.  I've somehow managed to get my book published by Genius Book Publishing of Encino, California without representation or payment of a fee."

How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?  "It took about six months for the first draft...and probably another three months in rewrites and edits, followed by several years of anxiety." 

What other books would you compare this to in your genre?  "Phantoms by Dean Koontz, Dracula by Bram Stoker, and the short story, Gabriel Earnest by H.H. Munro.  How's that for reaching for the stars?"

Who or what inspired you to write this book?  "I haven't usually written horror, but the idea behind "The Thirteenth Child" struck me as so original that I felt compelled to give it a go."

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?  "It contains a good deal of history and myth from southern  New Jersey, including some Native American lore from the Lenape peoples of the region."

"Well, that's all the time I have now.  I appreciate you press guys and gals turning out like you did; especially when you could have been covering something actually newsworthy."  (This gets a big laugh, and a lot of shaking of heads– they had no idea how humble I am.)  "Thanks so much for your time.  But, before you go, I just want to throw a little something your way… in fact, I'm gonna give you guys the inside track on the next big thing times three!"  (The scramble for the door ceases and a sudden quiet descends on the room, the pens and pads come back out in the expectant silence.)  "Jot this down, boys and girls, and follow it up--you won't be sorry, let me tell ya; cause the three gals at the end of these links are hot and gettin' hotter in the writing field!  Let me make the introductions:

"First there's my sponsor, Barb Goffman, who writes about her newest story, "Murder a la Mode" on the Women of Mystery blog.

"Next up is Janice Law, whose book, "The Fires Of London" is already garnering some rave reviews and a growing public.  Read about the workings of her formidable talent on Dec. 3rd.

"And last, but never least, and brimming with originality, is Tara Laskowski, who will post about her newest collection of short stories, "Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons" on Dec. 5th.  Don't you love that title?  Well, read her post and, amongst other things, you'll find out how it got conjured up.

"Well that's the scoop– follow my lead on these stories you mugs, and maybe a few of you will be pulling down some Pulitzers.  No… no… no more questions, I'm bushed.  Besides, I've got to get to work.  These books don't just write themselves you know!"  (Big laugh on this one– who woulda thought the ol' man had such a great sense of humor?)