Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thinking about the days of the week

For those paying attention at home, I’m in the midst of a blog rethink and redesign, at least as far as my writing approach to this blog is concerned. I will reupholster the electronic furniture a bit and possibly hang some new wallpaper, but suffice it to say, I’m aiming to make this a place worth visiting. 

Of course, I already have ideas and I’m putting some things together so I’ll be able to hit the ground running. Here’s one idea that I’ve been mulling.

Folks of a certain age will remember a song from many moons ago known as “I don’t like Mondays.” I want to do something about the whole Monday malaise. Ideally, I’ll make things better for writers rather than contributing to the “blahness” of the first workday of the week. But you never know.

My idea is “Marketing Mondays.” Most fiction writers aren’t any fonder of marketing than the rest of humanity is a fan of Mondays. So a couple Mondays a month, I’ll explore ways we writers can improve our marketing and promotion efforts. Yes, at some point I’ll probably talk at least a bit about email lists and newsletters. Hate them or hate them, if they’re done the right way, they’re highly effective tools for building your platform, which, among other things, help you stand out in a crowd. And few things are as crowded as the book publishing world these days.

So, what’s the right way to do marketing in such a busy field? Well, I’m hoping to get some comments on that type of thing from writers and publishers who can address it better than I can. If you ask me, the answer boils down to how you build an audience for your novels and short stories: Write something entertaining and engaging and write it well.

I’d love to hear some other topics you’d like to read about with regard to where your marketing and audience development efforts might be lagging. Feel free to share in the comments below or send an email to

Soon to come: other days of the week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Back to School

Remember the Staples back-to-school commercial from a few years ago? You know it: the one where the father is dancing through the aisles of the supply store behind his shopping cart while his kids plod along behind him, their heads staring at the floor, all while Johnny Mathis sings "It's the most wonderful time of the year..."

Even before I had kids, that was one of my favorite commercials, and I'm not a big fan of watching ads. And now that I'm a dad, I understand it on another level. It truly feels as though things are falling back into place, the tumblers are landing in the correct slots to unlock the door.

That's how things have felt for me lately. We have just launched Billy Bobble the Witch Hunt, and I'm working on the next novel, Don M. Vail's Lost Wings. Busy, busy, busy!

But in the busy-ness, I have the exciting fretfulness of a student starting a new school year. I worry about the reviews for R.S. Mellette's wonderful book -- will readers think it's as engaging and provocative as I do? Am I doing enough to get the word out about it? (Probably not. None of us, not even Stephen King, ever do. Don't believe me? Without googling it, what were the names of his last two books?)

So I've been boning up again on online tutorials, re-reading articles about marketing and promotion, and trying to put lessons learned into practice. I wish I had one that I could share that has been hands-down better than everything else, but to me they all seem to be about building audience incrementally, reader by reader. Slow going, to say the least. But valuable, nonetheless

What has worked for you? Have you found anything that worked really well for your book? I'd love to conduct an interview with someone who has a great author-promotional effort to share. We can even do some shared marketing, where we'll give away some books -- yours and ours!

Who's game? After all, It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Things my wife keeps explaining

Recently I was talking to my wife about Elephant’s BookshelfPress. Back before she became a mom and a classroom assistant in our daughters’ school, she negotiated deals in the advertising world (he says somewhat cryptically). So I learned a long time ago to trust her marketing instincts. 

We’ve talked about EBP’s Facebook and Twitter presence and blogging schedule and overall approach to promotion. I’ve been a journalist for more than twenty years, so I think I have a clue or two about which marketing approaches work and which don’t. But as is usually the case, my wife was able to demonstrate how I’m not as smart as I sometimes think I am. The conversation went something like this:

“Your last blog post was when?” she asked.

Not looking away from the pasta boiling in the pan. “A few weeks ago.”

“Try July.”

I look up. Obviously, she knew the answer before she asked the question. “Well, that’s a few weeks ago.”


“Ok, I get your point. But I’ve been working on Billy Bobble and the Witch Hunt, the anthology project, and Lost Wings. And I have other projects for 2017 that are on the back burner, so I keep in touch with those writers.”

“Are you keeping in touch with your readers?”

Silence on my part. I may have scuffled my shoes on the linoleum, I don’t quite remember. I should pay more attention to this floor.

“Not as well as I should,” I admitted – to her, to myself. (And ultimately to you.)

“Do your readers know who you are?”

“I think most of them are people I met through AgentQuery Connect, the anthologies, and From the Write Angle.”

“That’s all well and good, but readers like to know who these writers are. And you’re one of the writers.”

“I do interviews with the EBP writers.”

“When was the last one?”

Boy, the linoleum is looking kinda scuffed. … “Yeah, I guess it has been a while.”

“I was looking at your friend Mindy’s blog.” she continued.

“I love her blog.”

“It’s very good. She’s got all sorts of series that she does: interviews, reviews of queries. And makes up funny names to those things. SHIT, for example and SWAG and SNOB.”

“She’s funnier than I am.”

“You’re funny, too, when you talk like yourself.”

I smile. It's nice to be considered funny, even if I'm not very funny. “But we’re writing for different audiences.”

“What is her audience?”

“Well, she writes YA mostly.”

“Is that who reads her blog?”

“Actually, her blog is aimed at other writers. But I’m sure she has attracted the readers of her novels, too.”

“And her short stories. She writes wonderful short stories.”

“Yes, she does.” Her story "Last Kiss" led off EBP's very first anthology, Spring Fevers. (which is still free, by the way.)

“So here’s what I think you should do with your blog. Write blogs. Write them regularly. Have some sort of theme to things. Be yourself. In fact: tell people about yourself. You don’t have to divulge that we keep the Holy Grail in our garage (oops!), but you can be honest without sharing too much information.”

“No blog posts about what I had for lunch.” I poke around at the pasta again. Just about done. 

“Correct, but if you want to say you were cooking dinner for the girls, that seems fine to me. As long as there’s a point to it. Having a series of posts will help you focus.”

“I think I have an idea for my first theme: Things my wife keeps explaining to me.”

“It’s a start. You’ll need to keep thinking, though.”


So I'm thinking... Yeah, some of you who've read my blog over the years have probably seen me talk about doing more, but -- as usual -- my wife makes an important point. I may even talk about myself a bit, though I fear I'm way too boring to attract readers with information about me.

What else would you like to hear about on this blog? Or do you wish I'd simply go away? That's a valid viewpoint, too.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What I learned about writing while failing my first marathon

As a middle-aged guy, I struggle to keep in shape. Ok, to be honest, I’m not in good shape unless paunchy is considered chic these days. I rarely get to exercise much beyond walking 15-20 minutes between my office and the subway station. But there was a time before I became a dad when I actually tried to -- and believed I could -- run a marathon.

Perhaps that is overstating things. In my training to run 26.2 miles, I never got beyond 15. Still, those months of training taught me a lot about writing, especially about writing novels. Here are a few of those lessons.

Lesson 1:
You don’t have to do it every day, but you can’t let it go too long if you want to remain both motivated and in shape to accomplish your goal. When I started training for a marathon, it was summer. On occasion, I had to deal with some heat issues, but mostly I would run early on Saturday or Sunday with the occasional “maintenance run” after I got home from work in the evening. But summer days eventually shorten and when you live in suburban New Jersey, you learn not to trust drivers to see your reflective vest as the sun goes down. So before long I was running almost exclusively on the weekends. The same can be true about writing. Sure, lots of writers aim to write every day, but sometimes there's just not even fifteen minutes to squeeze in between work, commuting, perhaps a doctor's appointment or special dinner or event. Life happens. But if too much of life gets in the way of writing, well, let's just say you start to doubt your ability to complete things.

Lesson 2:
Treadmills are boring, but they help you meet your targets. The analogy here is writing backstory that you’ll need to remove. Some writers will disagree, but not everything you write needs to be golden. I’ve written thousands of words that will never see a reading lamp outside my home. But I needed to put that time in to get to know the characters better, to get a stronger sense of what motivates them or what they aim to accomplish. It gets edited out – at least, it should most of the time. Unknown characters are like relationships that don’t get beyond the physical attraction. Without putting in the time to discover your characters, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to the “injury.” You need to build endurance.

Lesson 3:
Your longest run can still serve as motivation, even years later. I still recall the thrill of running 15 miles. It had been a major milestone for me, because before that run, my longest was about 13 miles – not quite half a marathon. I have “finished” a novel. I’ve had beta readers go through it and give me lots of great advice for ways to improve it, much of which I’ve applied. It was wonderful to complete that first draft and entertain the dreams of seeing it published. But still I know it’s not ready. I eventually trunked it and went to work on other novels, which have also been trunked as a result of my commitment to EBP, but they too will eventually see “The End” written, I have no doubt -- in part, because I've finished one before.

Lesson 4:

It’s ok to change your goals, even to “quit,” as long as you know why you’re doing it. I still run, even though I have not aimed for a marathon in almost ten years. I set new targets for myself. I have annual mileage goals I aspire to these days, and I set monthly goals with the annual goal in mind. In a similar way, I have realized I don’t have the time currently to write a novel. But that’s because I started Elephant’s Bookshelf Press and instead of seeing my own novels published, I aspire to see my company produce at least two books a year, preferably more. It might not sound like much, but it works for me. I also know that I will eventually chisel out the novels that are in my brain. Call me a quitter if you like, but I chose the path I’m jogging along even if my pace isn’t quite what it used to be.