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 matt@elephantsbookshelfpress.com.

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.”

“July.”

“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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Expanding our next anthology

Sometimes being a small press makes it easier to change directions quickly. As the deadline for our latest anthology was approaching, we decided to make an alteration – or edit, if you will: the anthology is no longer limited to urban fantasy now; we are accepting fantasy stories of any setting.

An EBP fantasy anthology has always been in the planning, to tell you the truth, but several of the submissions we’ve received so far have been only barely urban fantasy and more along the lines of fantasy. So this change enables us to open things up a little bit.

With the story focus expansion, I believe it’s only fair to change the deadline as well. The new deadline has been moved to Friday, September 9. As a result, our publication date will need to shift, too. We haven’t quite nailed down the date, as we have other books in process, too. But I suspect we’re looking at early 2017.

Based on the submissions we’ve received so far, I’ve also decided that fantasy stories need a bit more room than other genres, so the word count has been boosted to 5,500 words. There’s no change in where to send the stories: submissions@elephantsbookshelfpress.com

If you’re wondering whether your story has been accepted or not, fear not: unless you’ve already received a rejection, the story is being considered. And if you’ve received a rejection, you can submit another story for consideration.


If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at the same email address listed above.

Friday, March 18, 2016

My latest guest post

Yesterday, I had the honor of appearing on the writing blog of Michelle Hauck. If you don't know about her or her blog, take a look. I think you'll enjoy it. I sure do.

In the meantime, how is your writing going? We're almost a quarter of the way through 2016. What have you created so far? Care to share?




Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book review: Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works

My latest book review. Pardon me if it's a bit too "philanthropy" focused, but I enjoyed this book.

Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works











Changing the world is a lot like writing a novel: many people say they want to, but only a few actually accomplish their goal, and fewer still succeed in creating something that gets noticed.

In Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works, business strategist Roger L. Martin and Sally R. Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, provide an overview of the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship and share the stories of several social entrepreneurs who have changed — and are changing — the world for the better. And, like the entrepreneurs they highlight — nearly all of whom have been recognized by the Skoll Foundation for their efforts — Martin and Osberg mostly succeed in their objectives, providing a definitional framework for the field, explaining the joys and challenges of the work, and finding compelling examples of people who have overcome those challenges.

Martin and Osberg define social entrepreneurship as direct action aimed at transforming, rather than incrementally improving, an existing system; in the process, a new equilibrium is created. Moreover, social entrepreneurs work in "ways that do not fit neatly into the traditional modes of government and business." Whereas businesses are constrained by a need to earn profits, and government-led change efforts are designed to provide services to citizens rather than cultivate new customers, social entrepreneurs are able to "[negotiate] these constraints. The creative combination of elements from both poles...is what enables [them] to build models designed for a particular context."

Through their work at the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll World Forum, Osberg and Martin have observed that transformative change involves four key stages: first, the social entrepreneur must understand the system she is trying to change; then, she must envision a future in which that system has been changed, build a model for achieving the change, and, finally, scale a solution.

It is not enough, for example, to be repulsed by a tradition such as foot binding or female genital cutting that has been standard practice in certain societies for centuries. Rather, the social entrepreneur "sets out to make sense of the problematic equilibrium itself: how did it come to be and why does it persist?" To do that, Martin and Osberg write, the social entrepreneur must "navigate three powerful tensions" with respect to the world they wish to change: abhorrence and appreciation; expertise and apprenticeship; and experimentation and commitment.

Take the case of Molly Melching, the much-honored founder and executive director of Tostan, a nongovernmental organization headquartered in Dakar, Senegal. Melching, who arrived in Senegal in 1974 as a young academic and, after her program was canceled, found work as a translator for various development agencies, soon fell in love with the country and its people and almost immediately "began heading out from the urban familiarity of Dakar, with its French enclaves of cafes and bookstores, into rural villages." There, she saw signs of failed development and ineffective educational initiatives almost everywhere. "There was little appreciation [within the development community] of the reasons indigenous communities operated as they did," write Martin and Osberg, "[or] why the unhappy equilibriums that prevailed in Africa persevered even in the face of new incentives." After a few years, Melching "came to believe that a different approach was necessary if change was to happen sustainably in Senegal." Continuing her travels, she "sought to engage ever more deeply with communities…learn[ing] from and build[ing] relationships with village elders and young people, to explore community networks, and to shape her knowledge of how the society was structured." In the process, she became intimately familiar with the established equilibrium that prevailed in rural communities — and eventually realized she could do something to change it. After learning and helping teach rural children in their native Wolof language, Melching founded Tostan as a vehicle to scale a community empowerment program and start a conversation about human rights and women's health issues.
Of course, some problems defy simple solutions, and what works in one cultural milieu may not work elsewhere. Indeed, it is not uncommon for a social entrepreneur to come up with an innovative solution to a problem only to discover that the particulars of the local context make it impossible to scale beyond the initial group of individuals he had hoped to help. Given that reality, Martin and Osberg seem to suggest that real, lasting social change is largely the result of leadership — the hallmarks of which include humility and the ability to think outside the box.

It was the latter, for example, that enabled Bart Weetjens, founder of APOPO (Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development), a registered Belgian nongovernmental organization, to reduce the costs of detecting and disabling land mines. For much of the second half of the twentieth century, dogs had been used to sniff out mines in post-conflict countries, at a cost of $300 to $1,000 per mine. Meanwhile, training a single mine-sniffing dog can cost upward of $40,000. Weetjens, who kept small rodents like rats and hamsters as pets when he was young, recognized that the animals might be both intelligent enough and small enough to do the job for a fraction of the cost. The result of his epiphany? APOPO's army of rats has cleared nearly seventy thousand mines and more than twenty-five million square meters of land since 2004, and along the way Weetjens learned that they could also be trained to sniff out tuberculosis in human tissue samples.

If the book has a shortcoming, it can be blamed on the relative immaturity of the social entrepreneurship field and the lack of a research base detailing the impact of such endeavors. By the authors' own admission, the book is a step, but only a step, down the long road to a cleaner, safer, more sustainable world. It also raises, for this reader at least, as many questions as it answers. For example, as the first generation of social entrepreneurs passes from the scene, who and what will keep their organizations, many of them founder-led, from fading away? And what of the millennial generation, which seems long on good intentions but lacking in resources and, at times, resolve? Perhaps Martin and Osberg will answer those and other questions in their next book. In the meantime, Getting Beyond Better is both a good read and an excellent illustration of the real potential of social entrepreneurship to change the world. That's something we should all embrace in these uncertain times.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Announcing the Next EBP anthology: Urban Fantasy

As someone who has always read a lot, I am sometimes dumbfounded to learn that there are genres that lay claim to books I enjoy. Perhaps I’m na├»ve, but I tend to separate books between fiction and nonfiction and then add poetry and plays; I read them all. I don’t worry about genres and subgenres when I’m reading. I simply love quality writing.

Still, as I’ve gotten deeper into publishing, I have recognized the value of genres and subgenres. And as a lover of mathematics, I also enjoy the Venn diagram aspect of those genres. A book can be both Young Adult and science fiction, for example. I know a few steampunk writers who happily added romance – or was it vice versa? – to their repertoire.

It is with this spirit of experimentation and love of quality fiction that Elephant’s Bookshelf Press announces its next anthology: Urban fantasy.

To me, it’s a challenging genre to nail down. Of course, the “urban” element is vital. The idea of the city standing as a character in its own right has appealed to me ever since I seriously studied authors and literature. While there may be similarities, I think any native of New York, Philadelphia, Austin, Amarillo, Chicago, or Detroit – to say nothing of London, Dublin, Venice, or wherever – would argue their city is more different than like the others.

I regularly commute into New York City and my mind is often awhirl with ideas about the people and situations I see almost every day. I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. and much of the U.K. and Ireland, and I’m always amazed at how an urban center can vary regardless of the size of its population.

The fantasy aspect is every bit as important to the story as the city in which it takes place. As a reader, I’m intrigued by the ideas of angels and demons walking among us, commuting and communing with “ordinary” humans. But what happens when a gargoyle take flight from its perch atop a building? How might an ancient curse affect the urban denizens? Lately, I’ve been reading so many fairy stories to my girls, and I’ve been curious how I might place some of their favorite pixies into New York. Indeed, the possibilities are endless.

For our anthology, the urban fantasies can be up to 5,000 words long. Still no erotica. The deadline is July 11; there is no payment, but published authors will receive a paperback edition of the completed anthology. We are aiming for publication in late September, though it might end up being October.

You can send your submissions to submissions@elephantsbookshelfpress.com

Our team will review the stories as they come in. If history is a judge, some stories will be obvious decisions, but other decisions might be held until we’ve seen enough submissions. I expect we’ll publish no more than twenty stories and it’ll probably be fewer than that.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

In It to Win It

It's the biggest buzz all over the country: a $1.5 billion payout! And what if there's no winner this time? What would you do if you won?

While I don't generally drop anything into the lottery pool, even I have gotten a ticket (actually, several through an office pool -- more on that in a moment) and spent some idle moments fantasizing about what I'd do if I received some multi-million-dollar cut of the big prize. Who wouldn't?

But such dreams come with downsides. For one thing, I would expect that any large prize would cause problems within the little pool of colleagues -- I think it's about two or three dozen co-workers -- if for no other reason than the fact that many of us live in different states. As a New Jersey resident, do I have a responsibility to pay taxes to New York, where the winning ticket would have been purchased? I'm pretty sure I do, though I don't have any clue what that amount would be. And what would happen to the organization where I work if dozens of people decided they didn't need to work there any longer? Yes, I worry too much.

Needless to say, I haven't ditched my day job and don't expect to anytime soon, but if I were to get a piece of the office pool largess, I know what I wouldn't do: I wouldn't stop writing. If anything, I'd probably write more and might even be asked to write more. It would certainly help my publishing company, though I'd have a lot more expensive bills for folks like lawyers and accountants and probably financial planners.

As writers, we have the potential to win big with every book we complete. Your lottery win might be gaining a top agent or getting a publishing deal. It might be sales numbers that you couldn't imagine a few months ago or newly found celebrity. Personally, I'd be happy with financial security for my family. Again, who wouldn't?

So while I'll be happy if any of my writing and reading friends (or myself) are among the big winners of the billion-dollar lottery, I'm staying focused on creating my own lottery tickets with the books, stories, and articles I write. Good luck, winners!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Having a Day

I'm having an interesting day at work today. So much so that I'm doing my lunch/catch up on social media break about 90 minutes later than usual. What has made it so interesting? I'm, shocked to say, a staff meeting.

We had our first staff meeting of the year, and I actually came out of it feeling excited and eager to tackle some tasks. I don't remember the last time a staff meeting had me feeling that way. To make it more surprising, in part I'm eager to dive into creating an editorial calendar. Not only that, I'm thinking of how I can do the same type of thing on this blog.

I've already committed in my mind to blogging more often and more consistently. But I've been wrestling with the type of thing I suspect most of you struggle with too: what can I say that'll make a difference for other writers?

The truth is, if we writers don't have something to say, then we're probably in the wrong game in the first place. There's lots of things I want to say and do, but whether they'll have an audience is a different -- and at least as important -- thing altogether.

My ideas include conducting and sharing more interviews with authors, maybe editors, maybe agents. They don't have to be people I've published or will publish through Elephant's Bookshelf Press, though this blog is an extension of my company even if the blog came first (and inspired the name of the company.)

But I'd love to hear what you'd like to see here. I know there are at least a couple readers who come here often. Feel free to either share in the comments or send me an email at mwsinclair@gmail.com (or if you have one of my many other email addresses, feel free: communication is what matters) and let me know what else you'd like to see here. I'm aiming to blog at least once every week for the next month or two before making that even more often. But to that end, I'd also like to develop some consistent features, such as interviews or book reviews or posts on what I'm seeing in the publishing world.

So let me know. I'd love to hear from you.