Friday, March 29, 2013

Guest Post: Chris Fox on YouTube

Writers on YouTube

Most of us are familiar with YouTube, where we can consume infinite amounts of cat videosinternet memes, and international music trends. What a lot of people are only just recently realizing is that YouTube is much more than just a way to share silly videos with the world. In actuality, it's a unique social network in its own right. And any smart-minded entrepreneur knows that a social network is ripe as a platform to connect with people. The question then becomes: Is there a space for us writerly types on YouTube?

The answer is unequivocally yes, and building a subscriber base on YouTube is an incredibly rewarding experience. But how we get there is a little trickier, and how we begin cultivating our Youtube pages is going to be decided mostly by what we want to say through our videos, and how we want to say it.

Getting started on YouTube should be pretty easy. All you need is to create a new account for free; since YouTube is owned by Google, you technically already have an account to YouTube just waiting to be claimed if you have a Gmail or Blogger account, and that account can later be linked directly to your Google+ account through your current name. From here, the sky is limit, although there are some caveats.
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Before you toss up a random video onto your profile, think about how you want to present yourself. Like a Facebook or Twitter, a YouTube page is essentially an extension of yourself. Unlike these other sites, however, YouTube is designed to be consumed in large spoonfuls. Videos - whether they're short or long - tend to be packed with a lot of information. As someone making a video, you have to be aware of how you want to package that information, and how to make that packaging look interesting.

For myself, I have a deep desire to teach others about writing. What interests me most are the aesthetics of writing: why writers do the things we do in our stories and our fiction. I see a lot of great content on the internet about the aesthetic of film, or the aesthetic of video games, but for the life of me I could not find any material on the aesthetic of fiction. I sought to rectify that problem by producing videos in my series Writers' Bloc. Along with a companion blog, the idea was to make videos that emulated a creative writing class, except without all the complicated words and stuffy atmosphere of a university classroom.


This means, essentially, I'm creating educational videos. Much like writing an informative article or blog post, I research my topic and write out my findings. From there, I merely record the written script, add some funny pictures that relate to what I'm saying, and presto, I have a video. The ability to present the same material one would normally find in an article with visuals - essentially just a fast paced slideshow - presents a useful lecture format that lets people learn. The snappiness and silly pictures are my way of entertaining my viewers as they learn, because - let's face it - most of the time, learning can be really dry.

Lecture videos, however, can take on any style you want them to be. If you literally want to make a powerpoint and stream it, simply record your voice, and boom, instant lecture-styled video. If you want to go the next step, take a camera (your iPhone will do!), turn it on, and start talking. Ta da, an instantly watchable video, with your pretty face all over it!

Maybe you don't have a lot of prior knowledge, don't like researching, or lectures bore you to tears. If you have some writer friends and a Google+ account, you can all team up to do a live discussion "On Air," which can be posted directly to your YouTube page. These roundtables are very popular, and quite handy. They can be used for nearly anything, including critique, discussion on a topic, or Q&A interviews with other authors.

Maybe what is most important to you is plugging your latest release, and building up hype for an upcoming book. Book teasers/trailers tend to be popular with some. If you have the knowledge on how to edit videos - or know somebody who does - you can craft an intriguing preview of your book. Since video offers is instantly engaging to our senses, a trailer can quickly catch eyes and build up excitement, and readers can share the video around social networks to help you build up that hype.

Maybe you don't want to give lecture, but also don't want to do a roundable discussion, and don't know how to make fancy trailers. As long as you have a camera, you'll be accepted on YouTube. Vlogging - blogging in the form of a video - is a popular way to connect with people. In this method, you can talk about anything you choose, just as you would on your blog. For those of you who are not familiar with John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, among others), he has become an internet celebrity over the past 5+ years by merely vlogging to his viewers (and his brother) about whatever he fancies, including how he plans on writing his next novel while walking on a treadmill (you read that correctly). In your own vlogs, you can talk about the progress you made in your writing, frustrations/successes in your writing career, or merely allow your readers to glimpse into your personal life. The options are limitless.

But all these examples bring us back to our initial point: What do you want to say? Knowing this ahead of time can save you a lot of hardship. Just as with writing, you need to have a gameplan before you launch into constructing your video. Hank Green - the other half of John Green's vlogging channel - gives the best explanation. "The way that I imagine it is that I am on a gigantic stage, and there is one person in the audience. And I am talking to that one person. But I can't just talk to that person like a normal person because I'm on a gigantic stage!" Planning out what you want to say, and how you want to say it, will help you craft more accessible videos that anyone can enjoy.
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The beauty of YouTube is that you can post anything you want, making it anything that you want it to be. So now that you've potentially started thinking about some things you could actually do with YouTube, let's take a quick run down of some basic tips for your first video.

Script It
I get it, you have this great idea for a discussion about dragons. And I'm sure it sounds perfect in your head. But very often, people are not as good at speaking as we think we are. If you try to stream-of-consciousness your vlogs, even when you have a solid topic, you can easily get sidetracked, or babble off-topic, or get bogged down with needless umm's and uhh's. These things make your video seem amateurish, like you didn't really know what you wanted to do, and can turn some viewers off. Remember, your video is one mouse-click away from being closed. Don't waste your viewers' time. While I would recommend scripting most of your videos, DON'T READ FROM YOUR SCRIPT. You will sound silly. Like an actor, read your own script, think about it, and then speak!

Edit if You Can
If you have editing software on your computer (Movie Maker on Windows and iMovie on Apple are both free!), you can go back to your video, and edit them together. This is time consuming, but definitely adds a polish to your video by cutting out less-than-interesting parts of your conversations with your camera. You can also add background music or film multiple times and put them together into a full video, making your videos even more interesting and malleable. Again, this is optional, and takes some practice. But it will improve the quality of your videos.

Silence is Golden
Quiet in a video is your villain. You know those awkward silences at the dinner table when nobody knows what to say, but it feels like something should be said? That's how your viewers will feel if you stay quiet for too long. You can edit these out if you use editing. But even if your method of filming is turning on the camera and talking, having a note card off to the side with one or two words to keep you on track with your mental script can help prevent awkward silences.

Look at the Camera
That little lens on your webcam, your camera, or your phone is not just some glass. That represents your viewers eyes. If you look at the screen in front of you, so you can see your own image, it's the same thing as looking at your viewers feet. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, but it looks quite odd. When speaking, pretend the lens of your camera is your viewers face. Look there. It'll feel weird at first, but will give the right perspective to your viewers, and you'll get used to it with time.

Don't Ramble.
Nobody wants to hear about how you've never filmed a video before, or how you've tried to film this thing 6 times and got it wrong, or what you did at the grocery store. BORING. Instead, say hello, give your viewers a two or three sentence summary of what you're about to talk about, and jump right in.



Making videos for YouTube may not be for everyone. It takes a charismatic and patient personality, or at least someone with a lot of heart. It does take a bit to get good at, and if you don't have the patience or time for the subtleties, you may not get the content that you envision in your head. But the rewards for doing well are fantastic. I've had the joy of connecting with hundreds of people through YouTube, and having almost 40,000 people view my videos. That's 40k people who may want to learn about me as an author. If you have the creativity or ingenuity in you, you can find your own way of creating a space for yourself with some intriguing video content.

Chris Fox is an author of the episodic space opera series, Star Sailor, which is free for download here. He also runs the YouTube video series Writers' Bloc, which teaches writers about the aesthetics and mechanics of fiction writing. You can see all the episodes here

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Standing Out in a Crowded Blogosphere

Today I want to take a pause in the "Writer's guide to" series and talk about something that can apply to any social media medium you decide to use: Standing Out.

I recently read this great post from Firepole Marketing about mistakes even the big players are making. While the article isn't targeted to writers, there is plenty there for us to learn. Several fatal flaws are mentioned, but the biggest one is a failure to share your Value Proposition.

Marketers like to use fancy terms to describe basic things (I can say this because I am one). Basically, a Value Proposition is what you are offering to your readers/viewers that they can't get somewhere else. This Value Proposition is your biggest selling point when it comes to encouraging readers to invest their time (and money) in you.

So how do you determine your Value Proposition? I really like an exercise Christina Katz recommends in her book Get Known Before the Book Deal. She suggests making a list of all the words that describe you. These can be both adjectives (energetic, quiet, reliable) or labels (mom, writer, teacher). Once you have a long list, start combining the descriptions into groupings of two or three. Some are going to be fairly common like "mom and writer". Skip right over these and keep going until you find a few that are unique.

I'll use myself as an example. I'm a writer and an agent. It's not a common combo, but hardly unique. Several others out there have already capitalized on this. But if I take this combo and add in my years of experience in marketing, I have something a little different. Writer, Agent & Marketing Lady.

Now it's your turn. Are you maximizing your Value Proposition?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Query Letter Rejections

Today I'm over on Cowboy's Don't Swim talking about query letter rejections. Stop by and join in the conversation about reasons your query can be perfect and still get rejected. Happy times.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Agency Lessons: The Call

Before I get started on today's post, I want to take a minute to thank you guys again for all your warm fuzzies last week. You sure know how to make a gal feel special. Also, I want to point out that I have added a tab at the top with my submission guidelines. If you are interested in querying me, please check these out. I'll also post an update on where I am with queries and requested manuscripts. That way you can check here obsessively to see when you're up. Because obsessive blog stalking is half the fun of querying.
Now on to today's real blog post, The Call. You guys know the one. The one every writer prays for. As a writer, I've played out the call in my head at least half a dozen times. But even though I've been working at the agency for a while now, I've never practiced the call from the other side.

Let me tell you folks, it is just as nerve wracking. What if the author doesn't like me? What if they don't like my thoughts about their book? To calm my nerves about The Call, I made a checklist of all the things I wanted to talk about. If you are a frequent reader, you know how much I like making lists in my composition books.

I felt pretty good until about 5 minutes before The Call. Then I went into panic mode. My first panic was that I would forget something important like the authors name, the title of the manuscript or their main character's name. So I opened up a ton of documents with all the crucial bits of info. Then I worried that I would forget a part of the contract and the author would ask me a question specific to the part I just forgot. So I opened up another document with a blank copy of the contract.

As I hit the call button, I worried that I would sound like a big goober. Because the truth is, I am a big goober. That may work well when relating to my toddlers, but goobers aren't ultra professional. I wanted to sound professional. But not too professional, because this isn't exactly a jacket and tie kind of profession. Great, I was having an identity crisis while the phone was ringing.

"Hello?"

One gigantic breath later and I was actually making coherent sentences about relevant information. Turns out, being yourself is the right answer.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because before I joined the agency I imagined agents as some sort of mythical creatures like sparkly unicorns. Turns out we're normal people. Who knew?

So when the delightful day of The Call arrives for you (and I'm sending good vibes it will) the most important thing to remember is to be yourself. Because deep down, we're all big goobers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Writer's Guide to: Goodreads

Let me start today's post with a great big ol' "Thank you" and a group hug. Your support and congratulations on Monday's post about becoming an agent absolutely made my day. You guys rock!

Now on to business. Specifically, the business of reading ... on Goodreads!


Michael J. Sullivan had this to say about goodreads in a comment on Reddit: “The most important thing to remember about goodreads is that members of this site REALLY hate self-promotion. Primarily because too many authors come to the site and do drive-by posts and leave. This makes their radar on such matters very sensitive. The key to goodreads is to become a member of the community first…and mention your writing only in context and when appropriate.”

Sounds savvy to me. After all, goodreads is a site for readers. If the authors show up and get all spammy, the readers will leave and authors will be faced with talking to each other. This is what a lot of blog tours have turned in to and should be avoided.

Not to be outdone, Michael's wife, Robin Sullivan, put together an entire series about writer's maximizing goodreads. You can find the full list of her posts on this great Galley Cat article.

One of the most under utilized and probably most complicated aspects of goodreads is their author program. Never fear, the good people of Savvy Book Writers put all the essential steps into one handy post. Like I said, good people. 

In case you're not convinced, check out this great goodreads infographic from the same good people at Savvy Book Writers. It's a by the numbers frying pan to the head that should convince even the most techno-phobic writer that good reads is the place to be.

Still to come in the "Writer's Guide To" series: tips on maximizing your blog and tackling the email list. After that, I'm open to suggestions. Let me know if there are social media sites out there you want to learn more about or parts of the platform that leave you a bit hazy.



Monday, March 18, 2013

Agency Lessons: A shift in perspective

So I've been holding back some exciting news. Partially, because I already had several weeks of "Agency Lesson" posts scheduled, but also because I needed time to let it all soak in on my end.

So what is this big, fun, exciting news?

I'm an agent!

 I am now officially an Apprentice Agent with Corvisiero Literary Agency and I couldn't be more excited.

If you asked me a year ago what I would be doing right now, I can tell you with all honesty that helping writers find happy homes for their books would not have been my answer. This is truly a case of "never even thought to dream that dream". These past several months have been so amazing, I feel a bit like I hit the literary jackpot without even buying a ticket.

So what exactly does this mean?

As an Apprentice Agent I am working closely with Senior Agent, Marisa Corvisiero. We are working together on a few projects with Marisa's clients so I can see first hand the whole process from signing, editing, pitching and (hopefully) contract. Once I've seen the magic, I'll start taking on clients of my own, but still work closely with Marisa as I get my feet wet.

From an author's perspective, it's really the best of both worlds. My client list will be teeny tiny so I have lots of time to dedicate to each client. Plus, I get all the benefit of a Sr. Agent's knowledge and experience. Win, win!

I share all this to let you guys know that I have really enjoyed these weekly posts and intend to continue them in my new position. I can't quantify how valuable having a front row seat to the inner workings of an agency has been in my own writing pursuits. It's my goal to bring as much of that insider look to you guys as I can. 

I hope you enjoy these posts and are learning lessons that can help you on your own quest to publication. While there will always be things that are confidential, if you have specific questions you'd like to see answered, please leave them in the comments section. I'll try my best to cover all of them in future posts.

Till then, thank you for sticking with me, and here's to continuing to grow as writers and member of the amazing writing community we are all a part of.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A 3 Step Guide to a Disasterous Blog Tour

Can we talk for a minute? Like, really. Lay it out on the table and be completely honest?

Great.

A few days ago I read this article on the Huffington Post book page. The title "Planning a blog tour? Think twice." caught my attention. I'm doing a lot of work right now putting guidelines and resources together so our clients can have successful blog tours. If there was a hidden drawback I hadn't heard of, I wanted to know what it was so I could plan against it.

After reading this article, the apparent drawback is not doing your homework and wasting everyone's time.

There, I've said it. You said I could be honest. Your book's success belongs to you. While it is in the best interest of your publisher and agent for your book to do well, no one is gonna love those 350+ pages like you do.

In this article, the author was discouraged by a lack luster tour that did nothing to help his sales. There was a lot going on here that worked against him, so let's take a look at some of the key issues so we don't get knocked on your derriere.

What happens when you aren't prepared for your blog tour...


The author decided to use a website that organizes author tours. Now, I'm sure there are plenty of great companies out there that do this. I'm also certain that they can help an author save a lot of time. Soliciting review and blog space is time consuming and keeping track of all of it is not something you can do on the back of a napkin. But here's the deal folks. Not all blog tour companies are created equal.

The company was able to secure the author 14 tour stops and the organizer was "thrilled by the strong response". What? There are literally hundreds, no thousands, of book bloggers out there. While the process can be time consuming, an author who's been on the social scene and doing all the right stuff (commenting on blogs, making friends, etc.) should be able to get 14 posts if they work at it. A company you are paying, who should have tons of sites clamoring to sign up, should be able to do this as a standard.

If you are going to go with a company like this, make sure you know what you are getting. How many stops does their average tour get? Ask to see links for recent tours showing the stops included. This is not an unreasonable request.

If you're flying solo, start early so you have plenty of time to get all the stops your little heart desires.

Next, the author describes all the work he put into preparing for the tour. At the tour company's request, he prepared "a character interview with my lead; an interview of my own in response to a series of questions; and supplied the book trailer and book cover". I'm not suggesting that authors put together hand-sewn puppet shows complete with an original soundtrack. That said, two original posts (the interviews) along with the material you should already have is not enough for a 14 stop tour.

I'm shocked that this is all the company requested from him. Be sure you are not just getting a head count of tour stops, but also a deep look at the content of each stop. A company that suggests you don't need a variety of information doesn't have a realistic view of how to get readers engaged. You can also assume they are not using the blogs to drive readers to view other posts since it will just be more of the same.

If you're flying solo, ideally, each stop on your tour should be different. There are a ton of different posts you can do (I'll have to do a separate post for that).

The last straw on the camel back for the author in the article was that 5 of the 14 tour stops never posted the material, and of the ones that did, several had serious grammar and spelling issues. To me, this suggests that the company doesn't have a screening process for bloggers who want to sign up for tours. It's a free for all.

If you work with a tour company, ask them how they solicit blogs. Is it from a pre-screened list of bloggers who they know have done quality work in the past and always post the content when they are supposed to? Is it an open sign up list that is then reviewed for quality? Is it a come one, come all, we'll take what we can get kind of situation?

If you're flying solo, don't send an email to every Tom, Dick, or Mary with a review site. You need to look at the reviews on their page. Are they well written with a thought out evaluation of the work? Are they free of most grammar and spelling issues? If not, think twice about asking that person to represent you and your work. There are a ton of great reviewers out there, so there's no reason to ask for a review from someone not up to par.

There are valid reasons why an author might go with a blog tour company to help them spread the word about their work. There are just as many reasons for doing it yourself. Just remember, no matter who does the planning, a successful blog tour is your responsibility. Do your homework, educate yourself and plan for success.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Agency Lessons: The Query Games part 3

This is the third and final installment of the series on how I prep for querying agents. In Part 1 I talked about where to find agents and how to organize their information. In Part 2 I shared my tips for grouping agents into tiers and how I decide who to query when. This week, it's all about what to send and how to keep it organized.

I hear lots of writers complain that every agent wants something different when it comes to querying. They're right. I equate this to HS seniors doing campus visits. Some are interested in a college's course listing. Others absolutely must see the dorms. Some could care less about anything other than the food selection. None of them are wrong. It's just what they need to make a decision. Agents are the same way.

Here's the deal. No matter what an agent wants, give it to them. If you aren't going to follow the submission guidelines you might as well not even send the query. Most agents will simply delete a query that doesn't follow the rules.

I get that this can make you want to pull your hair out, but there are ways to make this easier on yourself.

While everyone will want something slightly different, there are some standards. For example, everyone is going to want a query letter that hooks them on your story, sells the plot and gives a short bio. This is standard. You should only need one query letter that can be easily tailored with personal information about each agent.

When it comes to sample pages, most agents who want them are looking for 5 pages, 10 pages or 3 chapters. I'm sure there are other that want something else, like 17 pages, but they'll need to be dealt with individually. To save yourself time, create a folder for all your sample pages. In this folder, have documents with different quantities of pages so you can easily add this info to your query without the need to go back to your main document each time.

The same theory works with the synopsis. I mostly see requests for 1 page or 2 pages, though there have been a few that give you up to 5 or 10 pages. Go ahead and have several versions saved in a folder for easy access.

Most agents are anti-attachment, and for good reason. Viruses are everywhere and a broken computer is an agent's worst nightmare. This means you'll need to paste any requested material into the body of the email for most of your queries. We all know what a nightmare that can be. In my experience, Gmail is the best server for keeping the format from getting wonky.

If you don't have a Gmail account, it's not a bad idea to open one just for queries. Be sure to use a professional name for your account. PrincessPinkyToes@gmail is unlikely to showcase you as a serious writer.

When you copy all of the info into your email, be sure to send yourself a test email. This way you can make sure the formatting doesn't implode. I would suggest asking friends who use different servers if you can send them a test run. They can let you know if anything goes wrong.

Formatting is the one place you don't want to stand out in a query. Agents won't be impressed with your Helvetica 15 point font and your ability to highlight random words. Keep yourself limited to Times New Roman 12pt in black. One exception to this is labeling the parts of your query. Be sure to use a Bold or underline to label your synopsis and sample pages. It makes it easier for an agent scrolling through the email to make sure you have all the right components.

Last, but not least, don't include anything in your query that an agent has not asked for. This includes, but is not limited to: pictures, reader feedback, your marketing plan (unless your are querying non-fiction), a PDF of your full manuscript, or fan art. You laugh, but I have seen all of these items, and more, in the query box. Seriously, don't do this.

So there you have all my best tips and tricks for a smoother querying process. Did I miss anything? I'd love to hear your best tips for keeping sane while sending your baby out into the world.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Yeah, thanks for that, Facebook!

I normally don't post on Saturday's, but this doesn't really fit into my normal editorial calendar so here it is.

On Wednesday, I posted the Facebook post in my "Writer's Guide To" series. I was pretty excited about it, because I felt like there was a ton of good info there for someone who is just getting started with a fan page.

Clearly I was riding a bit too high on my horse, because the very next day Marky Z. announces to the world that Facebook is changing ... again.



We can complain about it, but this is the nature of social media. Here is a great post on what these changes mean and how we can use them to our advantage. In the meantime, this new change reminds me of two important lessons we need to keep in mind as authors.

First, change is inevitable. Whether it's a revamped newsfeed, a Big 6 merger, or algorithm magikery at Amazon, something is always changing. In order to be successful in this business (and really, in any business) we need to minimize the time spent moaning about said change and maximize time spent adapting and moving on. Sure, take a minute to mourn for the old newsfeed (or dance on its grave, if that's how you feel), then pull up your big girl panties and mosey on down the road.

Second, we don't own social media. When we grow our platform using content owned by someone else, we are at that entities mercy. So while fan pages, twitter accounts and Google circles are wonderful, they can't be the entirety of your platform.

You need to have a home base that isn't controlled by someone else. I'm guilty of this myself, since this blog is hosted by Blogger (and it's parent Google). They could decide tomorrow that they are shutting down and that would be it for me. Make sure you have an online presence that is all yours. And don't forget that your platform includes things that don't exist on the web. Getting out there and (gasp) meeting real people in the flesh is an important part of your platform as well.

Times, they are a changing, folks. 


Friday, March 8, 2013

Guest Post: Brand Gamblin

Today, we are getting back to our guest blogs, and I'm excited to welcome Brand Gamblin to my little slice of the web. Brand is an author and computer programmer. He started out writing video games for Microprose, Acclaim, and Firaxis. He created the cult comedy YouTube video, "Calls For Cthulhu", and has written several novels. He writes short stories and novels from both science fiction and fantasy.
Brand Gamblin
A few days ago I read an article on Anne R. Allen's blog, which starts out as a "Sky is falling" type of post, but ends up saying that indies will be okay. It's titled Indie Publishing in 2013: Why We Can't Party Like It's 2009 (go check it out. I'm not going anywhere).

I think she brought up some good points, but in the end, I think she's wrong. I don't mean that she is gilding the lily. I mean that she doesn't see the party.

She makes the (very valid) point that Amazon courted indies because they wanted to put pressure on the big six. She's right in saying that the legal system paid off for Amazon, forcing the big six to price the way we do, and endangering our little corner of sales. She's right when she points out how Amazon is getting draconian about their dominance of e-books, and they're caring less about the indies.

Honestly, though, I think she's missing a key point. That key point is "dominance".

Right now, yes, Amazon is the 800lb. gorilla. It is the de facto landing site for most e-books. It has branched out to other countries. It has tried to buy exclusivity to starve out competitors. But here's the thing.

It can't grow that way.

The Kindle Fire will stimulate Amazon, and it will see a flush of new sales in both hardware and e-books. But Amazon will not keep its dominance by selling more devices. In a few years, there will be a lighter, faster version, but it won't get them more sales. In fact, I predict that they will stagnate due to the very actions that worry indies right now.

Consider those draconian measures. Think about how you felt when they announced KDP Select, or when they told you that, if you want to sell in India, you either join KDP Select, or you take a 43% cut in royalties. Consider what they told third parties about advertising and free books. Now, rather than worrying about how we'll get by with Amazon's new measures, ask yourself how Amazon will get by without us.

As an analogy, consider Hollywood. Look at the top ten grossing movies from the past year, and ask yourself what they have in common. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games… They are all heavy with visual effects. In an industry that doesn't really care about story, they've learned that visual effects can sell a movie. So you would think that Hollywood would want to support them as much as they could.

Sadly, that is not the case. The Oscar winning team that brought us "Life of Pi" has recently filed for bankruptcy protection. When Ang Lee gave his acceptance speech, he completely failed to acknowledge them. Later, when he talked about them, he only said that he wished it could be cheaper.

When the team tried to talk about the bankruptcy at the Oscars, they were played off with Jaws music, and cutting off their microphone. What followed was a firestorm of protests from VFX teams. This has been coming for a while, but it is bubbling over with people saying, "Do you guys really want a dude in green body paint for the avengers 2?" Apparently, many of the companies have been dealing with problems where the producers make timeline demands, the teams work overtime to hit their deadlines, and then the deadlines are moved up to avoid paying bonuses for on-time work.

Hollywood seems to be treating this like the writer's strike, which is understandable. In both situations, they were faced with a creative group that they underbid until it they protested. However, there is one big difference between writers and VFX groups. That difference is the movie "Skyline".

You probably didn't notice the movie, and that's understandable. It didn't do too well in the box office, and was pretty universally panned. So what makes this movie so important? It was made by a VFX company.

Here's a company that totally bypassed the Hollywood structure. They basically produced a ten-million-dollar commercial for the company. They may have wanted the film to be good, but it wasn't a real necessity. They made a profitable indie movie.

Hollywood may try to play "Chicken" with VFX companies the way they did with the writers, but in reality, they can't win. Hollywood needs them more than they need Hollywood. There are indie options, and as long as they realize that, Hollywood will have to relent.

So let's look at Amazon again. They needed to get the big six to deal with them, so they supported indie publishers as much as possible, hoping to build dominance in this burgeoning sector. Now they have the big six where they want them, and they don't need to be nice to the indies anymore. Now they can demand what they want, slowly incrementing the requirements and decrementing the opportunities. But in this analogy with Hollywood, we are not the writers. We are the VFX companies. As soon as people say, "Wait a minute. I can sell my e-book just as easily on Smashwords, Gumroad, or IBookstore more freely than I can with Amazon", then they will start to lose us.

When people realize that they can reach more foreign readers, and support more devices, on Smashwords, they will decide that KDP Select is too high a price. When they realize that they can update a version on Gumroad in less time than it took to make the edits, they will want to be there. When they see the dedicated audience on Kobo, IBookstore, and Google Play, they will want desperately to avoid being locked into one distributor.

We're talking about a democratization of booksellers. The sellers have always been out there, but Amazon was always the safest bet for indies. Now that it's flexing its muscles, indies will start looking closer into those options.

Because, in all honesty, Amazon needs us more than we need them.

They just don't know it yet.

Thanks, Brand! Be sure to check him out all over the internet at Twitter, Google+, and his Blog.


Buy it Now!
 The crew of the space salvage ship JN3-0518 have crash-landed on a planet that was colonized hundreds of years earlier, and has lapsed into a suspicious and superstitious dark age. With their advanced technical knowledge, the crew makes a living by faking miracles. Kings and clergy hire them to make ancient prophecies come true. But when they are tasked with making a prince ascend into light and power, they find themselves cast as kidnappers and witches.

Discount Miracles is a slipstream story of sci-fi and fantasy that lightly treads the edges of Clarke's Third Law. Hoverbikes and giant monsters come together in a story that is a little comedy, a little romance, and a lot of adventure.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Writer's Guide to: Facebook

Last week we kicked off the writer's guide series with Tumblr. Hopefully I wasn't the only one to learn a thing or two. This week I decided to head back into more known territory and take a closer look at Facebook. Many of us use this social media site to connect with distant family members, friends from high school and (in my case) the local mommies group. But Facebook can also be a great place to connect with readers and reach a new audience.

Here's the best of the web when it comes to maximizing Facebook as a writer.


1. duolit
The ladies at duolit have some great ideas for optimizing your Facebook fan page and encouraging others to "like" you.


2. Writer's Relief  Part 1 and Part 2
If you aren't familiar with the idea of a fan page, here's a great guide to the different between a fan page and profile and why you need both. Part 2 is a post on how to convert your current friends into fans.

3. The Creative Penn
An interview with media strategist Amy Porterfield on creating engagement on facebook and optimizing your page as a writer.

4.All Facebook
 This site isn't writer specific, but does share some great tips on avoiding the number one sin of facebook marketing: being boring.

5. Copy Blogger
This page has links to articles that answer specific questions covering a little bit of everything when it comes to Facebook. It would take a whole day to read them all, but probably a good idea to check them out before setting up your page.

And now it's your turn. Do you have a facebook fan page? Share your link with any tips or tricks on maximizing marketing efforts or gaining fans.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Agency Lessons: The Query Games part 2

So last week, I let you all see my neurotic side with my agent spreadsheet. This week, I'm sharing my tips for deciding who to query when.

Once I have my master list of agents, it's time to prioritize. Based off their personal preferences, online interactions, and interviews, I group agents into levels. Level one is a small group of agents who make up my "dream team". These are the people I would love, love, love to work with. Now, there is a lot of wonderful advice out there about not getting your heart set on a dream agent. And they are right. But that doesn't mean a girl can't hope.

The largest level of agents are the ones I think would be great to work with. They may not be my dream gal or guy, but I would still be tickled pink to work with them.

The last group are agents that I know represent my genre, but I couldn't find much information out there about them. They could be the best thing since sliced bread. I just don't know that yet.

You'll notice I don't have list of ho-hum agents. If they aren't someone I want to work with or if I'm not really sure they would like my particular brand of writing, I'm not going to query them. Other folks might disagree with this tactic, and that's fine, but I don't want to work with someone I'm not jazzed about.

I like to send queries out in small batches or 8-10 agents. It helps me to keep things organized. It's fine to send more if that's your thing. I would recommend not sending your query to everyone on your list all at once. If you find out the query isn't working for you, you've just burned all your bridges in one shot with no chance to revise. I also advise against sending your queries one at a time. It's not unusual for an agent to take 6-8 weeks to respond. At that rate, sending queries one at a time would take years to query a decent number of agents. Not at all practical.

My first round is sent out to a mix of agents from group two and three. I don't send any group one agents for the first round on purpose. You only get one shot to impress an agent. The first few rounds of queries can quickly let you know if your letter is working. If I didn't get any positive responses from that first round I know that I need to revise my query before sending it out again.

Once I've sent a round or two and have some positive feedback, I know it's time to include my top group in the list. This is the most nerve wracking round. :)

While most of the time, the query process runs super slow, there is always the chance that yours won't. At any time, you need to be prepared to send off query letters to all of your top agents and anyone in the other groups that you are really excited about. If you are receiving lots of full requests, you may not have the benefit of spacing out your letters. It can be a big numbers game. You want to make sure that you've had a chance to query your top choices before you get "The Call". If not, you risk your top agent not having time to get to you before a decision needs to be made. Agents will have patience with you, but they won't want to wait a month or two for you to finish sending query letters.

Even if you've decided my fancy spreadsheet isn't for you, it's crucial to keep track of who you are querying, when you sent it and what the response is. Nothing says disorganized like querying an agent twice because you forgot you already sent them your query. You also need to keep track of who has a partial or full. When you get "The Call" it is standard industry etiquette to let agents reviewing your material know that you have an offer. It's up to you to let them know the material is no longer available for representation, or that they have until a certain date to get back to you. Personally, I'm a fan of color coding my spreadsheet for this, but any method that keeps it all up-to-date will work.

If you've been following along, you now have an organized list of agents to query and a game plan for who you are querying when. Next week I'll finish this series with a post on what to send and how to keep it straight.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sinning on Social Media


We're taking a break from guest posts today, but never fear, they will be back next week with a great post about all the options available to authors today.

Since we are digging in to the various social media channels I wanted to share this really great post from Anne R. Allen. If you don't follow her blog, you really should. She has a great mix of writing and marketing advice that is applicable to authors in all kinds of publication channels.

Anne talks about the mistakes that so many authors make (no one that reads this blog, I'm sure). 
We've all seen the ones she's talking about. They signed their publication contract yesterday, so today they are all over the interwebs setting up accounts on every site, inviting everyone they may have ever known to like them, and spamming the Twitterverse with "look at me" tweets.


They are breaking all of the rules, and it makes the rest of us grimace in pain. Anne shares quite a few big no-no's on her blog. I'd love to hear from you guys. What are the behaviors on social media sites that drive you bonkers?

And let's not forget that social media can be a great place to let others know about your work. What are the best ways you've seen authors share their work without becoming Swarmy Spamster?

Share your best sins and praises in the comments.