Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What to write next? What is your passion?

When I’m underground, taking a subway between New Jersey and New York, I often find myself passing the time not by reading but with a puzzle. Usually it’s a crossword or a Sudoku. Ten minutes or so is often just enough time, to solve a puzzle or two but not quite enough to delve too deeply into a book.

If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to work on a crossword than a Sudoku, however. I was just working on a hard Sudoku a moment ago and discovered late in the game that I’d made a mistake somewhere. I suppose I could have spent the time to find my mistake and correct it and eventually complete the puzzle. I’d fix a crossword, but it’s just not as satisfying for me on a Sudoku. It's not my passion.

Satisfaction in the work and knowing it’s worth doing are important motivators to finishing a piece, whether it’s a short story, novel, poem, song lyric, magazine article, or anything on your writing docket. For me, a crossword puzzle is simply more entertaining than a Sudoku, even though I enjoy both. With fiction or nonfiction, it helps immensely that I care about the characters or the subject of what I’m writing or editing.

In the same light, when it comes to selecting what to write next, I find that passion for the subject tends to be the deciding factor. Having the knowledge about and experience in a subject certainly matter, and knowing how and where to do the research does too. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll get more done when I have a passion for the story, a passion for the characters.

It helps the reader, too. That passion comes through in the writing. Write with passion (and well), and your readers will feel the life in your characters, smell what they smell, discover what they discover. It will affect your readers’ experience of the story.

Like me with a Sudoku, a story that doesn’t quite have the same passion is still enjoyable and worth reading. It might make you think. But I can tell you stories about favorite crossword puzzles; I couldn’t do the same for a Sudoku. And I can tell you about my favorite authors and the passion that comes through in their stories; then there are stories that are…fine.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Buzz vs Word-of-Mouth: What Hollywood Could Learn From Publishing

This post appeared originally on From the Write Angle in February, 2013. Gaining at least a basic understanding of marketing will help you identify and target work to your audience. In this post, R.S. Mellette offers a snapshot of his experience with buzz and word of mouth from the film industry. Shared with permission of the author, whose two novels, Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand (2014) and Billy Bobble and the Witch Hunt (2016) were published by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press.
by R.S. Mellette

I moderated a conference of film industry professors a while back, and when one of them said that Hollywood relies heavily on word-of-mouth marketing, I laughed.

I couldn't help myself. Here is an industry that considers a 20% or 30% drop in sales a success! That's not word-of-mouth. Or if it is, good words are not being spoken.

Interestingly, the Hollywood insiders on the panel thought I was the crazy one for doing a spit-take with the Kool Aid they were serving. But of course, none of them had theatre or publishing experience.

In those disciplines, word-of-mouth marketing means sales INCREASE with time, not drop. A play that is worth the time, money, and effort of going to see will build an audience. A book worth the read will see an increase in sales.

In Hollywood, my filmmaking brothers and sisters have forgotten the difference between Buzz and Word-of-Mouth. So, let's take a look at them side-by-side.

Buzz: "I want to see that movie," says one friend to another before it premieres. "Yes," says the friend, "I've heard it's good."

Word-Of-Mouth: "I saw the best movie this weekend, you should see it."

In writing, we call that passive vs. active voice. In court, it's called a firsthand account vs. hearsay.

Marketing generates buzz. The product itself creates word-of-mouth.

Why is that a distinction worth discussing? Because buzz owes only a passing fealty to the quality of the product. Producers in Hollywood will actually judge a script on "trailer beats," meaning juicy stuff they can put in the preview to create buzz. A script that tells a good story but has no trailer beats will be passed over in favor of another script that is more easily marketable.

Compare this to the world of self-publishing today. Sure, sure, there is a sub-culture of writers trying to get good reviews—or spam their competition with bad ones—to increase buzz. There is nothing wrong with an honest pursuit of good buzz, but the runaway hits in the self-publishing world come almost exclusively from word-of-mouth marketing.

And word-of-mouth marketing is entirely dependent on the quality of the work. It is first-person, active, marketing. One friend telling another, "I enjoyed that, and I think you'll like it, too."

What does this product-oriented marketing technique look like on the sales charts, graphs, and tables? That's easy. No drop off. Sales go up the longer the product is available. And when the same people create a new product, their sales start higher because they have become a trusted brand. As long as they keep up the quality, then their work will generate its own buzz.

The opposite is also true. How many of us have been fooled so many times by a great preview for a lousy film that we no longer trust the studios? Like so much of the rest of American Industry, studios have lost sight of long term success in favor of instant gratification. They have confused buzz with word-of-mouth.

So the work suffers. We, as consumers, suffer. And worst of all, we artists who must try to make a living in this environment suffer.

R.S. Mellette is an author and filmmaker. Prior to the Billy Bobble series of novels, Mellette had Sci-Fi short stories published by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press in the anthologies: The Fall: Tales from the ApocalypseSpring Fevers and Summer’s Edge. Mellette is an Associate Director of Dances With Films (one of MovieMaker Magazine’s top 25 coolest film festivals in the world). He wrote and directed the multi-festival winner, Jacks or Better. He also wrote the first web-to-television intellectual property, “The Xena Scrolls,” for Universal Studio’s Xena: Warrior Princess. On Blue Crush and Nutty Professor II he served as script coordinator. He’s acted in Looney Tunes: Back In ActionStar Trek: EnterpriseDays of Our LivesToo Young The Hero, and countless stage productions across the U.S.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The business of being a writer

Not long after I’d graduated from college, I had a phone conversation with a longtime friend. He was heading to med school and was on a path that would lead to his becoming a prominent surgeon. Ever since we were kids, he talked about how he intended to become a doctor. Even as he earned an engineering degree in college, he knew his destiny lay in medicine, and he really believed he would become a surgeon. It’s what he always wanted to do.

I was also certain I wanted to become a writer, and I really believed I would be a novelist. My friend was amazed at my goals of becoming an author. To him, it would be more sensible for me to pursue a career that would be more lucrative and enable me to write on the side. And sometimes when I look at my bank statements and bills, I wonder if perhaps he was right. But that night, after he asked how long it would take to write a novel, I said, “Well, if I just write a page a day, by the end of the year, I’d have a novel.”

The logic of the statement -- which was just off the top of my head -- surprised me then, and to a degree it still does. The answer encapsulated much of what would lead me to become the writer I am today; it’s my job. I write most every day. You can say it’s a discipline, but I just look at it as what I do. And when I’m not physically writing or typing, I’m often thinking about characters and story arcs.

Frankly, it took me a long time to finish my first novel, which I trunked years ago (though trunks can be opened…) In the years out of college, I spent most of my writing time on short stories, and the novels I began quickly died on the vine. Back then, I spent more time writing songs than novels.
I’m not working on a novel at the moment, either. And if I’m honest with myself, I would say I haven’t worked on one of my own seriously since I created Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. I have only so much time away from work, and I spend what I can with my wife and children. Anyone who’s seen me on the train heading home knows I’m always on my laptop. That’s where the bulk of EBP takes shape: reading stories, editing novels, putting together media packages, recording and analyzing data, and all the other administrative responsibilities I need to address to maintain and build my little publishing house.

To me, being a professional writer starts with those two things: dedicating yourself to your craft – writing every day – and taking a business approach to your craft. It’s your job, after all.
Over the years, I’ve also learned the power of planning. I’m a believer in setting goals – even New Year’s resolutions – and reviewing the progress I make regularly. It may seem like a simple thing, but I’d be lost without a calendar. Yet, even though I write my plans down and review them, I’m still shocked when the fourth quarter of the year begins and I’m still scrambling to finish things that are weeks behind.

Recently, my friend Mindy McGinnis posted a blog about her schedule and all the work that goes into a typical day in her writing career. And this is someone who has a half-dozen novels published, including the recently released This Darkness Mine. It just goes to show that, no matter how much “success” we experience in our writing careers, life is still packed with a lot of unexciting but necessary busy work.

Now that we’re in the home stretch of 2017, what are you doing to prepare your writing business for 2018? Have you found any answers or solutions to the problems that have plagued you this year? What do you need in the new year to accomplish your goals? Maybe we can find a way to help each other. One of my goals in 2018 is to share more. (A goal my daughters have suggested.) I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A few minutes with Jean Oram, author of The Wedding Plan

One of the many wonderful writers I have met at AgentQuery Connect is Jean Oram, who is described as the “super moderator” of that writers’ community. In the fiction realm, she tends to write romance, and in the nonfiction area, she focuses on child’s play, with sites like It’s All Kid’s Play.

Jean’s latest new release, The Wedding Plan, is about a secret marriage between ex-lovers. But with their past and being stuck in a cabin out in the small, nosy little town of Blueberry Springs you can be sure their secrets will be difficult to keep! The Wedding Plan is from her new Veils and Vows series and can be found on all major online bookstores.

She also has been an important supporter of Elephant’s Bookshelf Press since its beginning and served as copy editor of our best-selling anthology, The Fall. For this interview, we talked about marketing and her approach to building her audience.

Do you have a mailing list and newsletter?

I sure do!

How often do you send anything to your mailing list?

It depends on a lot of different things, but typically I try to reach out to my subscribers every 4-6 weeks so they don’t forget who I am. ;) It has to be meaningful though—I never want to annoy my subscribers.

Do you have a blog?


How often do you post on your blog?

That, like my newsletter, depends on what’s going on. My blog is a place for my readers to find updated news, items of interest, giveaway entry forms, and the like. Sometimes there will be four posts in a week, sometimes nothing for 6-8 weeks.

What else do you do to market yourself as an author?

I try everything and an answer to this question could fill an entire book.

Basically, you never know what’s going to work for you, so you’ve got to experiment. Some things that haven’t worked for others work for me. Some things that work for others don’t work for me. Things that worked two years ago no longer have the same effect now. For example, doing a basic signed paperback giveaway used to create avid fans—like a 90 percent conversion rate. Now it’s more like 25 percent which makes it less financially feasible to use those kinds of giveaways in that manner. So, now I use few signed paperback giveaways and use them for different purposes. Why has it changed? Who knows, but if you’re going to keep selling your books, you have to stay hungry, stay smart ,and keep rolling with the punches.

Do you offer services like editing, query review, etc.?

I do not.

What do you consider success for your marketing efforts?

It really depends on what the purpose/goal on a particular marketing effort was. Recently, I wanted to increase the number of people in my reader group (on Facebook), and so I gave it a push from several different angles and met my numerical goal for new members. My next goal is to get them active, make friends with those members. After that will be to find rewarding ways for them to help me share the word about my books—that’s going to be a more difficult thing to measure. Because what are my goals? Visibility? Then having a few members share a post can help. If it’s getting sales directly from posts being shared…well, that’s more difficult to measure directly.

Thanks, Jean!

Jean Oram is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance author who loves making opposites attract in tear-jerking, laugh-out-loud romances set in small towns. She grew up in a town of 100 (cats and dogs not included) and owns one pair of high heels, which she has worn approximately three times in the past twenty years. 

Her life contains an ongoing school theme, having grown up in an old school house, then becoming a ski instructor in the Canadian Rockies, then going on to marry a teacher and becoming a high school librarian. She now runs a fundraising committee for her daughter's school.

Jean lives in Canada with her husband and two kids. She can often be found outdoors hiking up mountains, playing with kids on the soccer field, racing her dog on her bicycle--sometimes the dog lets her win--or inside writing her next novel. 

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