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Friday, May 1, 2015

interview: Patrick Muir and marketing

Next up on the interview series is Patrick Muir! Patrick and I went to college together and I highly recommend his advice. (I usually find myself asking for it every few months!)

Patrick has his MBA and has worked in marketing for several large corporations around the country. Patrick also spent several years in marketing with Shadow Mountain, a small publishing imprint that launches new authors and gets national distribution. James Dashner, Ally Condie, and Brandon Mull all started their careers with Shadow Mountain before getting picked up by larger publishers.

What was the most effective marketing strategy that a publisher could utilize?

Patrick: In my opinion the most effective strategy (whether at a small or large publishing company) is to gain distribution. The more book stores the product is sold in generally means more books will be sold.

What was the most effective marketing strategy that an AUTHOR could utilize?

Patrick: The most effective marketing strategy an author should focus on driving trial of their product. What I mean by driving trial is that the author should focus on tactics that get potential readers to sample the product.Those tactics should vary depending on the target audience and genre.  

For example, the author of The Happiness Project wrote a blog post everyday for a year about happiness. Readers could read sample her writing by reading her blog which translated into book sales. There are a ton of different tactics to drive trial. 

Is there anything you would tell a publisher or author to NOT do? 


Patrick: I would tell them not to schedule a book tour without investing significant resources into driving trial. A book tour is not a trial driving activity. Instead, it is an activity to connect with existing customers and further the relationship. 

If you were going to give an author fifteen minutes of your professional advice, what would you tell them to do?

Patrick: Ask yourself where in Barnes & Noble would my book sit, specifically? The reason to ask this question is to make sure you are creating a story for a niche audience. Don't try to write a book for everyone. It's easier to sell a book to an agent, publisher, and the end reader if the book fits into an existing customer group perfectly. 

If you have any questions for Patrick, leave them in the comments and I'll make sure he sees them! Thanks!




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

reading lately: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

What is with me and the "ladies in peril" books lately? I dunno, but I definitely recommend this one as well.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins is a psychological mystery set just outside of London. Rachel, a recovering alcoholic and an unreliable narrator if there ever was one, rides the train to London every day. On the ride, she looks for a Victorian house that's not too far from the one she used to share with her ex-husband. Rachel loves the couple who lives there--she has never met them, but she has mentally dubbed them Jason and Jess and has filled in the imaginary details of their lives.

Then one day Rachel sees "Jess" kiss another man on her back porch. And a few days after that, missing posters start going up. And soon Rachel finds herself obsessed with figuring out what happened the night that Jess/Megan disappeared.

Rachel tells the bulk of the story, but there are also flashbacks from Megan's perspective--the woman who Rachel knows as Jess and who will go missing in roughly a year. Interspersed with these two narratives are chapters narrated by Anna, the woman who broke up Rachel's marriage and who now lives down the street from Megan and her suspected-of-murder husband.

I personally guessed the culprit fairly early on in the book, but there are enough twists and turns that I was never completely sure and definitely didn't know how everything had gone down. There were two or three big shockers that I didn't see coming at all. Definitely recommended for mystery lovers.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Interview: How to Utilize Social Media with Kristen Jolley

Hey y'all! Next up on the blog interview series is the lovely Kristen Jolley. Kristen and I have been friends for over ten years (yikes ... feel old yet, Kristen?) and she is the queen of social media. Kristen majored in Communication and has worked for both advertising firms, in-house, and freelance. Right now Kristen is focusing her efforts on marketing The Fix, a brand new business in Utah, via social media.

Q: What do you think is the most effective social media strategy for someone who doesn't have a lot of time?

Answer: Schedule your posts out over a two week period. Then you're not racking your brain and coming up with irrelevant posts. Be original, especially on Instagram. Your feed does not need to look like anyone else's.

Q: What are the benefits of having someone else handle your social media?

A: Chances are if you're asking for help, it's because you're admitting you're not an expert at something, which is okay. That person can make recommendations for advertising campaigns and "spends" so your money is allocated properly and not blindly.

Q: What do you think is an INEFFECTIVE social media strategy?

A: Unoriginal posts, aggressive posts, defensive posts, failing to proofread, and ignoring when your followers reach out to you.

Q: If you could give someone fifteen free minutes of your time, what would you tell them?

Social media has become necessary and integral to all brands.

One of the hardest parts of a social media manager or social media department is that anyone who has a Facebook account thinks they are an expert at social media, and maybe (just maybe) thinks they can do your job better than you. Some argue there is no wrong way to handle social media, whether professionally or personally, and that is drastically far from the truth. If I had to write a list of basic social media tips, they would be:

1. Find your social voice. Are you snarky? Do you use winks and exclamation points? Do you challenge followers to think or use their imaginations? Your posts are an extension of your brand, follow your brand to find your social media voice and then stick to it.

2. Have good manners. Social media provides real-time voice from you to your followers and vice versa. If they have taken the time to ask you a question, congratulate you, complain, or just say hello--acknowledge them! Whether that's a simple "like" or "favorite" or a comment or reply, it will not go unnoticed.

3. Experiment. While I believe there is a wrong way to effectively manage your social media voice, I don't necessarily think there is a right way. Finding out what works for you will take some experimentation, possibly a few failed posts, and slow growth. One thing I have found that works is not linking all your media accounts. For example, if I post something to an Instagram page, it does not automatically post to Twitter or Facebook as well. Rather, post the follow up on a different forum 6-24 hours later, as it serves as a reminder to read a blog post, enter a contest, etc.

4. Don't get too caught up in followers. New followers are great and we all love them, but what's more important is the interaction among the followers that you do have. I'll often come across an Instagram account with 1,500 followers. They will average 75-100 likes per post and a good dozen-two dozen comments. I will find a similar account with 7,000 followers and the exact same interaction. Did that account purchase followers? Maybe.

4B. To follow up on my 4th point, Make posts that encourage interaction. Ask followers to comment with their favorite top from your new spring collection. Ask them what they thought of last night's episode of the show that everyone's watching. Going out of town? Ask for restaurant recommendations. These posts are far more encouraging than, "Go read my new blog post."

5. Proof. Always, always proof your posts! Thankfully Facebook and Instagram now allow edits to posts now, which saves hassle from that little typo that slipped through. But surprisingly, I see bloggers and news sources make more mistakes than any other groups!

Thanks Kristen!

Guys, if you guys have any questions for Kristen, leave them in the comments and I will pass them along!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Interview: CP Sarah Clift

Hey all! I am trying something new with the old blog lately. I am going to be interviewing folks who might have some interesting perspectives on writing, publishing, editing, and all that good stuff. So to start things off, I'd like to introduce you to Sarah Clift, one of my two awesome critique partners!

(For those of you who don't know, a critique partner is a person who reads your work and gives you feedback before you put it out there in the world. They are invaluable for people who want to improve their writing skills. That being said, everyone has to find a style and group that works for them! I suggest swapping 10-15 pages for critique and then deciding how you feel about the other person's style, and vice versa. That is how I found Melanie and Sarah and they are the beeeeeeeeest.)

So here's Sarah!

1. What do you write?
My first novel was what I termed a YA paranormal, but years later, I still can't exactly say what genre it was. After that, I discovered contemporary, and I've written a YA contemporary and MG contemporary. I'll probably stay in MG for a while because I think inside I'm still a 12-year-old girl.

2. Where you're from, how long you've been writing, etc.
I'm in Northern California, and I finished my first novel in May 2012. I guess that's what I call my writer birthday because it was the day I proved to myself I could string together enough words to make a novel.

3. What is your critiquing style when you are reading for others?
It depends on the stage. In a beginning stage, I like to give a manuscript two reads. One time I read straight through, and the second time I go through and make comments on what I like and what's confusing. If a manuscript is closer to a final draft, I like to do some copyediting and make sure it's coherent. Something I've noticed is that sometimes I'll read something that's not my cup of tea. That doesn't mean it's a bad story, but maybe I'm not the intended audience. So I try to channel whatever that audience will be and make suggestions accordingly.

4. What do you like to get out of critiquing when someone is reading for you?
I like a reader to say what she likes and what is confusing to her. Sometimes it all makes sense in my head but doesn't come out that way on the page. I also like suggestions on how to make the plot better paced because that's something I always struggle with.

5. What do you find unhelpful in critiquing?
I don't respond well to people who try to make me feel dumb. I can deal with harsh criticism if it is dealt kindly.

6. How many CPs do you have? How did you find them?
I've had a few in the past, but you've been the only one I've maintained over the years (you're that awesome!). (Ru's Sidenote: Aw, shucks.) 

We met through GUTGAA, right?

(Ru's Sidenote: OH MY GOSH, I had forgotten how we met! Yup, that was how, haha.)

I think we were matched by Robin. Also, my dad is a writer, and we're always trading pages. I've had a good handful of beta readers too, and they're helpful especially at the end stages when you need a fresh set of eyes to make sure everything makes sense.

7. What do you recommend to writers looking for CPs?

I feel that for a successful critique partnership to work, you have to respect the other writer's talent and opinion. It sounds uppity, but if you feel you are further along in your writing education, you might not trust the opinion of the other partner. I feel beta readers are great regardless of how they match up to you in development, but to be able to trade critiques successfully, you have to have mutual trust and respect. That's why it's a good idea to do a test run of trading pages before you commit to a partnership. It's also helpful to have a partner that writes a similar genre that you write.

Follow Sarah on Twitter here!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interview: CP Melanie Stanford

Hey all! I am trying something new with the old blog lately. I am going to be interviewing folks who might have some interesting perspectives on writing, publishing, editing, and all that good stuff. So to start things off, I'd like to introduce you to Melanie Stanford, one of my two awesome critique partners!

(For those of you who don't know, a critique partner is a person who reads your work and gives you feedback before you put it out there in the world. They are invaluable for people who want to improve their writing skills. That being said, everyone has to find a style and group that works for them! I suggest swapping 10-15 pages for critique and then deciding how you feel about the other person's style, and vice versa. That is how I found Melanie and Sarah and they are the beeeeeeeeest.)

Take it away, Melanie!

1. Why do you write?
To shut up the voices in my head. Oh, and because I love it.
 
 
2. Where you're from, how long you've been writing, etc.
I've moved around a lot- Saskatchewan, Ontario, Connecticut, Utah, and currently Alberta. I've been writing since grade two, when I wrote the 100-page masterpiece, Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Bloody Mary.

 
2. What is your critiquing style when you are reading for others?
My comments are whatever I'm thinking in the moment. And I nitpick at sentences, I can't help it. I'm slowly getting better at critiquing big picture, but it's been something I've had to learn. (Still learning.)
 
3.  What do you like to get out of critiquing when someone is reading for you?
Anything and everything. Whatever isn't working, whether it's a sentence, or the entire manuscript. Otherwise, how can it get better?
 
4. What do you find unhelpful in critiquing?
I don't think there's anything unhelpful (unless someone says, you suck, quit writing now). It can definitely be frustrating when you hear, "this isn't working but I don't know why" because I often don't know why either. But stepping back for a bit and brainstorming usually helps. And I love a critiquer who throws out ideas- whether I take them or not it gets my brain going.
 
5. How many CPs do you have? How did you find them?
I have three trusted CPs who are invaluable. One is a sister-in-law who is also an editor for a small press, the other two I found online, I don't even remember how. I've also had different beta readers throughout my many manuscripts.
 
6. What do you recommend to writers looking for CPs?
Put yourself out there online, and most importantly- offer to critique or beta for someone else. Give and you get back, and if you're lucky you'll find people you really connect with. :)

Follow Melanie on Twitter here!

Monday, April 20, 2015

job hunting advice from Ru

If you are an aspiring author, awesome! Go you!

Here's the thing, though. Don't mention it in job interviews.

And if you want to throw it on your resume under "Interests," fantastic!

But no detail. Please, please. No detail.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

unconventional writing tip numero dos: look for the absurdity in life

Yup, that's my next tip. Find the absurdity in the little things.

I've blogged before about how I think writers should go big when they're drafting. This is somewhat related.

Sometimes your story is just chugging along.  Plot Point A led to Twist B led to Revelation C just like you had planned. But even the most tightly plotted story can feel boring if there isn't a little bit of WTF thrown in for good measure.

Take Gone Girl for example. (Spoilers to follow)

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What if Gone Girl had just been a story about a wronged woman who set out to frame her husband for her own murder? What if every scheme had been perfectly executed, and then deliciously foiled, with Amy and Nick cleverly outmaneuvering and remaneuvering (not a word and I'm keeping it) each other at every turn?

Would it still be as compelling?

Maybe ...

The thing is, when you ask people what they remember from Gone Girl, I bet they mention a couple of key elements.

1. The Cool Girl Speech

2. Amy's reference to women "cleaning and bleeding" in commercials, and how she thought about that when she was mopping up her own blood

3. The Amazing Amy books and Amy's deluded, enabling parents

4. The oddball relationship between twins Nick and Margo (her licking the rim of his dirty stein in their bar and saying, "Here you are, my prince" will be forever stuck in my brain)

5. The bonkers ending

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(End of spoilers)

The twists and turns of Gone Girl are what kept people up at night, turning page after page, but it was the weirdness that made it stick.

Personal story time: A few weeks ago, I went to Aspen for a lawyer conference. As part of this conference, there was an optional service project. This is pretty par for the course with these types of conferences -- after all, who doesn't love to give back? Most of us signed up.

We were going to be cleaning a school and on Saturday morning we loaded up into a few vans and took off. A friend of mine, who had been on the committee organizing the conference, confided that when folks had begun researching potential service projects in Aspen, they quickly discovered that Aspen was pretty well set on that front. (Who knew? When you're a crazy expensive resort town, you tend to not have too many needy residents.)

So we drove to a slightly-less-wealthy town and pulled up to this preschool. And it took about five minutes to realize that, no, this was not a school for lower income kids. This was just ... a nice, private preschool. For middle class and wealthy children.

As the parent organizer handed out rakes and brooms, she explained that the parents really appreciated the help as most of them had two jobs and just didn't have the time to volunteer themselves.

So 20-30 young lawyers and their conference guests dug holes (for what reason?), moved rocks (again, why?), washed windows, and raked a Japanese Zen garden into the sandbox while a few kids zipped around on their trikes and their parents genially supervised our work.

And we grumbled about the fact that these parents probably should have just organized a weekend cleaning party themselves. Or hired one maintenance guy and patted themselves on the back for being "job creators."

And we grumbled about the fact that we'd taken vacation time from our jobs helping wealthy people to ... help different wealthy people, but for free.

As Diego and his boyfriend swept the road from the gate up to the playground (they were asked to sweep the road. really.), a woman came by with a water bottle in her hand and said, "Oh thank you! You have no idea what it's like to walk up this dusty road every day."

Even the woman realized what a ridiculous statement that was because after a beat of awkward silence, she turned around and walked away.

And when we were done, we packed our dusty, slightly sweaty selves back into the van and went back to our hotel to listen to an hour-long panel discussion about motion practice in court.

You know what makes this mildly amusing anecdote worth telling, in my opinion?

Its sheer ridiculousness.

It would be kind of funny if a group of teenagers had to rake leaves at a wealthy kids school for a punishment. It's REALLY FUNNY when lawyers do it because they were under the impression that it was a service project.

It would be a little funny to ask someone to sweep dust off a road--it's REALLY FUNNY when a woman in Hoity Toity, Colorado (pop 13,000 and not a real place) thinks walking on a dusty road is a hardship.

It's kind of funny if a service project was so unnecessary that organizers asked volunteers to dig random holes and move random rocks, but it's REALLY FUNNY when the volunteers have enough time to rake a Japanese Zen garden in a sandbox.

Those moments in life when things have gotten so ridiculous, you just want to laugh?

Remember those moments, and then look for places to put them into your story. It's the weirdness that will make it feel real.