Publicity Pogo

December 8, 2009

Kristin Nelson had a great post in her blog about keeping the publisher’s publicist – or in the case of a smaller trade house, their editor – informed as to what all authors are doing with respect to promoting their books. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

She’s right, of course. From my perspective, I adore agents and authors who let me know what’s going on because it shows me that they are proactive and eager to enhance their writing careers. The info they send to me goes directly to my distributor where they, in turn, continue to push the book to genre buyers.

It’s exactly what Kristin said, being the squeaky wheel without the squeak. If I know an author is actively out there doing events, even six months later or even several years later, I’ll support them in whatever fashion I can. As Kristin says, it’s never to late, even when it comes to reviving a book.

A case in point is Sean McKee, author of the fabulous book Defeated. His book came out in 2004 to some very nice fanfare. But like most books, they fade into the background after a year or so. But Sean decided to revive his book and saw a perfect opportunity to do this by attending the SF and Star Trek conventions. What better way to hit up your readership? I’ve lost track of the reprints since he started doing this a couple years ago.

Sure, it’s cool to see your book still out there. But doing this also has the added benefit of keeping you in front of the marketplace’s eye. This means that when you get your second book finished (she said to snorts of derision from those who read her first book and don’t believe she’ll ever finish #2), people will happily buy it.

Trust me, you aren’t being a PITA (pain in the arse) or even remotely annoying by letting us know your latest plans. Publicity is key in this crazy business, and the first thing an editor or company publicist will ask is, “how can I help?” If one of my authors is resurrecting their promotion, the first thing I do is alert my distributor so they can alert the genre buyers.

Everything you’re doing out there supports what I’m doing in the background, which normally takes the fashion of bribing genre buyers with a free week with an unreliable secretary who neither files nor answers the phone. Oddly enough, it always works. The beagle gets quite insulted when I offer her services without being consulted, but she’s a lot smaller than I am, and I take great delight in bossing her around. She takes great delight in ignoring me. I think genre buyers would appreciate that, don’t you? But I digress…

“I think I’ve saturated my market, now what?”

Sure, you’ve probably saturated your local area. How many author events can you do in your hometown before people start tossing rotten vegetables in your general direction? Promotion is a multi-layered enterprise.

It’s like the first time I had my first snowball fight. I gathered up my ammo in a nice little pile and when my brother came out of the cabin, I launched a salvo that would have stopped a fully army of brothers. My was ammo gone, and I had nothing left in reserves. So when he recovered from my barrage, he blasted me with his own little pile of ice bullets. Should we have another snowball fight in the future, I’ll have a bigger stockpile and not use them all at once. Oh, who am I kidding? I’d bring an Uzi and be done with it.

My point is that you always have to have a Plan B, Plan C, and so on.

Plan A: Publicity upon book release – the first three months

This could encompass any number of elements because it depends on your book. But this is your big ta-da moment, where you make the biggest splash because the book is brand new. This means that you hit ’em with your pretty face. This is where bookstore/library events, interviews and TV appearances happen. A lot.

You should start planning your events about three months before your book is released. You may be ready at a moment’s notice, but bookstores and libraries aren’t. They are booked up for months, depending on how many events they do.

Plan on doing something nearly every weekend. This reminds me of Nicola Morgan. When Deathwatch came out, she and her designer shoes hit the pavement for what seemed like a 24/7 publicity tour for her book. I’m willing to bet she went through at least five pairs of six-inch heels and three pairs of saucy boots. But the thing is, Nicola was out there pushing publicity for her new book – which is wonderful, btw.

Burnout

Oh yes, this can absolutely happen, and that’s why authors need to keep to a strict schedule. No one can maintain an every-weekend schedule indefinitely. Three months is average. I will say that while doing events is physically challenging, it’s also a thrill like none other to have a reader tell you how much they loved your book event talk while filling their arms with copies of your book to give as gifts. This is the lovely afterglow of your hard efforts, so enjoy the process.

Plan B: Four – six months after release

This begins the slowdown period. The whirlwind events are pretty much over, the book has been in the bookstores, sales may be slowing down. Or in our perfect world, taken off and is in demand by every man, woman, and child – and the odd beagle.

This is where most authors stop. After all, it can’t go on forever, can it? Well, certainly not at the former pace. But sure, publicity can still go on – and it should. It’s just at a lot slower. This is where you may look to writing more magazine articles, scheduling a few events outside your immediate area, or sprucing up the website/blog.

I look at the number of successful authors who have very active blogs. They take on certain issues and gain an online presence. Or their local area events were so successful that it makes for a successful event in another city or state.

Plan B is the time that you need to concern yourself with staying relevant. This isn’t your only book, remember? If you haven’t sold your second book (she said with a coff coff), then you need to think about that book’s viability. I enjoy seeing a manuscript where the author keeps her hand in the publicity machine with her first book because she’s creating a nice transition into the next book – the one sitting in my hands. It tells me she understands the business of writing and the need to stay in front of the public eye.

Plan C: To infinity and beyond

This is the Buzz Lightyear moment where most authors have run out of gas. Those who are going to buy the book have already done so. You may have a large platform, but if it’s that big, your readers have the book.

At this stage, authors have (hopefully) sold their next book and are gearing up for the next round of editing, or they are one-book authors whose careers have flatlined. Which are you?

It’s an important question because one of the first things people ask is, “So what’s in the pipeline?” If your answer consists of clipping your toenails and eating macaroni and cheese, then your Plan C isn’t well thought out. It’s a lot like the little girl who played Cindy Brady on the Brady Bunch. Whatever happened to her? Was the Brady Bunch her only hurrah? Did she ever outgrow that annoying lisp?

I’ll just say that from my perspective I worry when I get a manuscript from an author who had big selling books back in the late 90s. I wonder what they’ve been doing all this time. I’m concerned they have lost their relevancy. Sadly, this is a “so what have you done for me lately?” society, and if you’re out of the public eye for too long, you’re forgotten, yesterday’s news.

Again, that’s why I love Sean McKee. His book is now reaching a captive audience that missed it the first time around. It’s enjoying a resurrection and keeping him relevant. And I find that quite lovely.

The important thing is this: Let your editor know what you’re doing. I promise, she’ll jump on her desk and belt out a rousing rendition of  “Who Let the Dogs Out?” while tossing paper clips at her secretary.

Or is that just me?


Backstory is not for amateurs

May 31, 2009

Hooya, that’s a week of my life I’ll never get back. Not sure I want to, either.  I think the Cosmic Muffin decided he didn’t need the trouble, and the Devil decided he didn’t need the competition. Despite my best efforts, I’m going to live. The beagle assured me she had the office covered while I lay in bed praying for a quick death, but I had my doubts after rolling over in bed numerous times and coming face to face with her muzzle. On. My. Pillow.

Sleeping.

As a result, there are mounds of email and phone calls that went unanswered. I apologize for the delay. I know there are several can’t-wait-hurry-ups in the stack, and I promise I will get to you – after I’m done reprimanding the beagle for sleeping on the job. Her punishment is eating mass produced dog food.

I think the reason I got sick was because my defenses were down from the car accident. Those things really do a head job on you. I’m not one to hang out with the Kleenex crowd, and I wasn’t a sobby whiny-butt mess or anything. But I wasn’t quite me either. The body aches were just a part of it. It’s the mind aches that sap your energy and natural defenses. The lower you are mentally, I believe the more susceptible you are to other crud. I think it just opened me up to those lovely flu germs my daughter so lovingly brought home last week. I’m planning her disappearance as I type.

So in spite of being delayed by a few weeks, I’ll be back to my fighting strength very soon and all my mail and phone calls will be answered.

Ok, so what does this have to do with the title of this post, which is Backstory? Cagey broad that I am, I wanted to show a sample of effective backstory.

Much of what I read in submissions is backstory, and I’ve discovered there are actually two types of backstory; the useless bits of fluff that has zippo to do with the story at hand but is meant to add flavor; and the backstory that took place BEFORE the real story began. Either way, I’m hard on backstory because its presence (or the lack of it) takes a story from five hundred miles an hour to flying off the train tracks into oblivion.

I see your eyebrows reaching the northern confines of your face. “Lack of it?” Yup. As much as backstory can kill a story, backstory, if used in the fingers of professionals, is good. And necessary.

I think Carolyn Jewel nails a couple of points squarely on the head in her guest post about backstory on Kristin Nelson’s blog. She has some real gems:

Backstory: Can’t write with it, can’t write without it.
It’s that and a bag of potato chips. Your characters don’t just materialize straight off the page to create a story. Just because they’re figments of our fertile imaginations doesn’t mean they don’t have a past. And they should. Just as in real life; people who have had rich experiences are often the most interesting people. So it goes to reason with your characters. They have baggage and issues just like we do.

And this is where the tread often fails to meet the road. Writers want us to know their character’s entire backstory. It’s not needed, and it’s a big manuscript killer. Sure, it’s necessary for you to write the backstory because you may discover something really cool or complicated about your character that adds huge dimension to your story – but that entire background won’t make it into the final cut. But a tidbit of it will.

In the example I used at the beginning of this post, which is what I refer to as fluffy backstory, the main thrust is about why I’ve been AWOL for so long. The bit about why I think I got sick in the first place is backstory. It wasn’t necessary, but I added it to show the chain of events that I believed led to my being a dithering loser for a week. It rounds out the story a bit and gives it depth. Now if I had continued down that backstory line and blathered on about how it took me a week before I was brave enough to get behind the wheel of my car, then it’s no longer germane to the topic at hand, and the reader loses interest. Who cares?

Tidbits
Let fluffy backstory out in dribs and drabs; like a balloon that you slowly let the air escape while pinching the neck so you can make that squeaky noise that annoys the hell out of everyone. If you let all the air out at once, your story is all backstory and no meat. The reader loses interest. Reject. Tattoo this on your forehead: It has to be germane to the story in order to hold our interest.

There is another kind of backstory that is comprised of major meat and potatoes. Many of my rejections occur here with the comment, “I feel like you’re trying to tell two stories at once. Choose one and tell it.” What this means is that the author crashed the backstory into the current story and it’s hard to tell who survived. You need to call out a literary tow truck and clean up this mess. And this leads to Carolyn’s second gem:

The problem is that we are not writing a story about the backstory of our novel. We’re writing about what happens BECAUSE of the backstory.
That sentence is so freaking brilliant it makes me want to whack myself for not thinking of it first. Some stories are constructed such that the author wouldn’t have their current story were it not for the events that took place in the backstory. It’s always pivotal.

For example, in my novel, my protag Erik Behler’s young patient died a needless and painful death because his parents believed in using only alternative healing methods. Erik was devastated with the death and became a material witness against the parents in a very public court case  for child endangerment, which they lost and went to jail. From that moment on, he believed anyone who practiced alternative medicine was akin to playing Russian Roulette with a bullet in every chamber. Enter Kim Donovan, the new surgeon on the block who lights up his life. And utilizes alternative healing methods in her practice. Now he’s on a collision course with his professional beliefs and his heart. How can anyone be so insane and lacking in good judgment (let alone a freaking doctor) be the one to open his eyes to a whole new side of life? He’s repelled, yet in love. The two emotions can’t exist in his well-ordered, scientific world, and one of them has to go. Kim and Erik’s story is about what they do because of the backstory.

When do I let the air out of my balloon?
The good author knows how to tell the current story without letting the backstory have too big a voice in that collision. And this moves to when to let that air out of your balloon. Since you have finite amount of air, you want to let out the right amount of air at the right moment. You have to decide what part of the backstory your reader needs to know at any given moment so they understand what’s taking place in the current story.

For my book, I added a short prologue because I wanted to shock the reader with the pain Erik carries with him at all times. But I let small bitsies leak out at various points of the story to give the reader what I felt they needed in order to fully understand the opposite poles that are constantly tugging at Erik. In one scene, Kim has a very persuasive argument with Erik, and I quickly brought in Erik’s dying patient who, while struggling to breathe, looks up at Erik through sad eyes and says, “It didn’t have to be this way, did it?” That backstory had far more emotional impact to that scene than any amount of cerebral verbs and nouns that could have shot out of my fingers.

Avoid the Prologue copout
I’m not always a fan of prologues [yes, I know I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth] because it’s so easy to make them info dumps. They’re invariably boring, and that’s why many readers skip them (even though I think that’s really stupid). When properly used, I also think they’re very powerful tools.

I agree that my prologue was a dicey decision, but I tried taking it out first [which is what every author should do], and it didn’t have near the emotional impact I wanted for the story. The reader HAD to have that information first because it’s Erik’s foundation of who he is. He’s the walking wounded, but he doesn’t realize it until he meets Kim, and she forces him to confront an old wound and consider his biases.

Always remember that your story isn’t your backstory. If it is, go back and write that one first. If it isn’t, let it seep out slowly from your literary balloon, and you’ll find that you have a well-rounded story that’s filled with great dimension and depth.


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