Pose for the paparazzi. Autograph your books.
Write like a dream, promote like a rock star.
Fame and fortune are yours!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Models can't read?

Writing stars, you've got to check out one of the most subversive sites on the net: Models Can't Read. Tons of photos show models posing with newspapers, magazines and books like Blade Runner and Patti Smith's Just Kids.

One of my favorite photos takes place in a laundromat. Two models, a man and a woman, are posing in front of a row of dryers. The woman is wearing an outfit that would probably fall apart after one go-round in the wash, and the guy is reading a book with his shirt off. I guess he's waiting for it to dry (the shirt, not the book). To be honest, I couldn't decide what to look at: the book or his chest. (For my in-depth critique of this photo, see my post on Pinterest here.)

Now imagine if he were holding your book in his hot hands. Now that would be quite the marketing coup, wouldn't it! Getting any ideas?

I could go on and on about literacy statistics, etc., but I won't go there. 

Just enjoy the eye candy! And who knows, maybe some aren't just posing. Maybe some are actually, gasp, reading!

Donna Marie

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Online resource for beautiful FREE photos

Writing stars, finding just the right image for your website, book, or info product is critical. If content is king, then, well, imagery is queen.

I just wanted to let you know about a site full of eye candy, and get this... the photos are FREE to use. Check out Unsplash for 10 new high-resolution photos every 10 days.

Dive into this peaceful shot.

 Aww, what dreamy eyes.

Don't miss a single photo. Subscribe today! That's free, too!

Donna Marie

Friday, September 27, 2013

Caught reading!

Kids should know these guys read books!

Snoop Dogg

LeBron James

L L Cool J reading to kids


Donna Marie

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Now a word from Mr. Jackson

“Look, I grew up in a society where I could say ‘It ain’t’ or ‘What it be’ to my friends. But when I’m out presenting myself to the world as me, who graduated from college, who had family who cared about me, who has a well-read background, I f**king conjugate.” Samuel L. Jackson

Love it!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The art of team writing

Writing stars, I've always thought of the typical writer as a loner type. It's me and the page against the world – that kind of thing.

While writers do need a certain amount of time alone to dream, plan, and write, too much time alone is not a good thing. Having a social life is good for the soul, and it's good for your writing as well.

Where I've drawn the line in the past, however, is working with others on writing projects. The concept of "team writing" or writing as a social activity is strange and unnerving to me. Disagreements are bound to come up, and I don't like confrontation. I'm all about peace and love. Also, when you write, you must become naked, and who wants to expose their vulnerable selves to the world? Not me. Oh hell no. 

"Teamwork is better than isolation, especially for a columnist." Allan Sloan

Recently, however, I've begun to warm up to the idea of team writing. In a recent corporate job, I worked with an extraordinarily talented and dedicated team of writers, and we often had to support one another on projects. I learned that team writing is not such a bad sport if the members of the team are all committed to the project, have a strong work ethic, are skilled in their areas, and really get what being on a team is all about. 

I will always prefer writing as a solo adventure, but to stretch myself, and to tell the truth, increase my creative output, I've decided to work with others on certain projects.

The team mindset  

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

I only played one team sport in high school, and that was volleyball. Since I'm not naturally a team writer, I've had to learn a few things to make these relationships work.
  1. Choose your writing partners well. Make sure temperaments and skill sets complement one another.
  2. Understand that there will be times when you will disagree. All involved must be able to express ideas openly and honestly without fear of censure or reprisals.
  3. Establish ground rules for respectful communication, e.g., no abusive language, etc.
  4. When brainstorming, allow juices to flow. Don't criticize. All ideas are allowed during brainstorming.
  5. A production plan should emerge out of brainstorming sessions that includes activities, deadlines, and accountabilities – in other words, who's responsible for what and when.
  6. Climb mountains and swim seas to meet deadlines. Keeping deadlines is really important. Communicate if there has been a snag, but keep delays to a minimum.
  7. Communicate as much as possible to prevent misunderstandings.
  8. Understand that listening is as important as talking.
  9. Never, ever let your co-writers down.
At some point, critiquing, a.k.a. editing, must take place. Who will be responsible for editing, and can the other team member(s) accept what can sometimes be a harsh review? This is a really sticky issue that has gotten me into trouble more than once.

Since I'm such a newbie at team writing, I would love to hear from writers who have more experience at this type of working relationship. Can you maintain a friendship while working together on a writing project? I'd also love to hear what didn't work so well and how problems were resolved.

Donna Marie

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Monday, July 8, 2013

My heart symbol

I love seeing the copyright symbol next to my name. Makes me feel all tingly inside. :)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence day for writers!

Writing stars, I found myself this morning watching a couple of old movies from the 1940s about the American Revolution. Although Hollywood's idea of that event, I got the point. You can't accept tyranny in any shape or form. Not if you call yourself American.

Ironically, in the final scene of The Howards of Virginia, Matt (Cary Grant) extolls the virtues of liberty and justice for all as he and wife Jane (Martha Scott) take a stroll... to the slave quarters? What the—!?

Anyway, freedom is in our DNA. That's why slavery ultimately had to be abolished. That's why women's suffrage and civil rights and gay rights had to happen.

I'm thinking more revolutions are needed today, and we writers are in a perfect position to seed a storm:
  • Student loans. The interest rates on some student loans nearly doubled this month because our good-for-nothing Congress couldn't reach a compromise. I told my daughter that this is the civil rights issue of our time, and she and her fellow college students should be protesting like crazy. Where's the Twitter-Facebook outrage?

  • Our military state. 1984 (and beyond) is here. When Edward Snowden's story about the NSA spying on us was revealed in The Guardian, I found myself thinking, "But didn't we know that already?" and "This is old news. What about the FBI's notorious spying on civil rights leaders?" Yes, we suspected, but that doesn't mean we should accept it. Here's my humble contribution to the issue in The Huffington Post.

  • Homelessness and poverty. Before the lay off from my job in May (R.I.P.), I'd walk to and from the train everyday. I never did get used to the fact that on every single block on my walking route, at least one person had a hand out. I don't have an answer, but I do know that it just ain't right.
Those are my revolutions, and I'm sure you have your own. Let's discuss.

Social media is mightier than the bullet.

As writers, we have the responsibility to communicate so that people take action to create a better world. 

Happy Independence Day, and let's make it a meaningful one!

Donna Marie

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Best-selling author reveals budget, 6 self-publishing steps

Writing stars, I love the DIY approach to self-publishing, but as you know, I'm a stickler for quality. To compete with traditionally published books, indie books must meet or exceed the standards the big houses have set, and that's a good thing. From writing, editing, cover art, layout and design, indie books must raise the bar so that the differences between traditionally published and self-published books are barely perceptible.

Today's guest post by Libby Fischer Hellmann, best-selling crime author and self-publishing expert, thoroughly and thoughtfully lays out the process of publishing a high quality book.

"How much does self-publishing cost?" Writers ask this question with not a little fear and trembling. It's true, publishing companies have much deeper pockets than we do, but as Libby's article suggests, you must approach self-publishing like any other business. To put out a good product, you'll have to spend a little, but Libby shows us you don't have to break the bank to do it.

Donna Marie

Six Steps of Self-Publishing (Mostly for Traditional Authors)

I was at Printers Row this past weekend, the annual Book Festival sponsored by the Chicago Tribune, and I was struck by how many people wanted me to tell them about self-publishing. They were mostly traditionally published authors, some of whom have large followings, but they’re dissatisfied with either the pace of traditional publishing, dislike the lack of control, or want to try something that their current publishers don’t.

Those of you who already self-publish probably know these steps, but you may be interested in my process; it’s a little different, and, yes, it costs more money. In fact, I disagree with those who tout that self-publishing is basically free. I believe that if you want to be taken seriously, you need to invest. No short cuts.

Let me put it this way: I was hoping to go to Vienna, Prague and Budapest later this year. Um. That’s not going to happen now. I’m investing in my book instead.

I’m going to describe what I’m doing so far with Havana Lost. As some of you know, it’s coming out in September. And here’s the thing. Except for the actual production of the book, the process isn’t that different from the way traditional publishers approach the task. Btw, it’s now June, and all of the steps below I’ve done, except for the last one. If you’re self-publishing, and you want to pursue print as well as ebook opportunities, give yourself 3-4 months to accomplish all these tasks.


Step One – Editing

There are two types of editing, and you’ll need both.
  • Developmental Editing: Whether you pay a good developmental editor to read your book for continuity, character development, authenticity, and plotting, or whether you’re lucky enough to have discriminating readers or author friends who’ll do the job, you absolutely need another pair of eyes on your manuscript. In traditional publishing, you get it automatically (or at least you used to). But when you self-publish you need to factor it into your plans. And it might cost a bunch of money. I used to work with a developmental editor who charged about $1500. I now rely on authors and friends, but they have to be honest, and they have to be thorough. Believe me, it’s not always pleasant, but it’s critical.
  • Copy editing: This covers all the other stuff; grammar, punctuation, style, consistency and accuracy. If you are like most authors, by the time you approach the end of a book you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees. You will need fresh, expert eyes to add those essential finishing touches, smoothing any rough edges and turning something that is good into something awesome. Don’t sabotage your work by a shoddy presentation. As an editor once said to me, “a good writer deserves a good editor.”

Step Two – The Cover

Expect to pay at least $200 for a cover… and as much as $700. I’m not a fan of pre-designed covers or templates. I prefer a cover that says something worth knowing about my books. Marketers recommend that, too; your cover has a vital role to play in catching readers’ imaginations and compelling them to find out what’s inside. Not to mention creating or sustaining your brand.

So be choosy. If you’re paying, don’t settle for a design you don’t like. Tell the designer to try again. Pay attention to fonts, the arrangement of words versus images, the clarity of the images, and the overall design. Good design is pleasing on the eye, poor design isn’t. It jerks your eyes around, making it difficult to read, or includes illogically placed text that makes the reader work harder than they should.

If you’re doing a print version, which I recommend, the designer will need to do the back cover and spine as well. Here’s what my designers came up with for Havana Lost.

Havana Lost Cover


 Step Three – Preparing Materials

  • Your publishing imprint – I recommend coming up a Publishing Imprint, the trade name under which your book will be published, especially if you create a print version (which I’ll talk about in more depth next week). You’ll need it if you want to establish an account with Lightning Source for print copies, and if you are planning to use Ingram Spark (which seems like an efficient, quick way to print books). My imprint is The Red Herrings Press.
This is NOT to hide the fact that you’re self-published. In fact in my query letters to reviewers, I make sure to tell them I self-publish; an imprint is simply something that makes you look more professional.
  • ISBNs - You’ll need at least 3 different ISBNs per book. One for your ebook, one for print, and one for audio, if you plan to produce one (I am producing an audiobook through ACX.)  Yes, ISBNs are outrageously expensive. But they’re worth it, particularly if you plan to use more than one platform to sell your book. You can split 10 with a friend or even buy ISBNs  in bulk for a lower cost. Head over to Bowker.com, the official US and UK ISBN provider.
  • Jacket copy/Book Description – You need to to craft a couple of paragraphs that describe the novel. Keep it short and punchy. Get some help from other authors or writers whom you know and respect. Research other authors’ books in your genre and see how they do it. The same as your book cover, the aim is to seduce readers to such an extent that they can’t resist finding out more.
Here’s mine:

On the eve of the Cuban Revolution, headstrong 18-year-old Francesca Pacelli flees from her ruthless Mafia-boss father in Havana to the arms of her lover, a rebel fighting with Fidel Castro. Her father, desperate to send her to safety in the US, resorts to torture and blackmail as he searches the island for her.

So begins the first part of a spellbinding saga that spans three generations of the same family. Decades later, the family is lured back to Cuba by the promise of untold riches. But pursuing those riches brings danger as well as opportunity, and ultimately, Francesca’s family must confront the lethal consequences of their choices. From the troubled streets of Havana to the mean streets of Chicago, HAVANA LOST reveals the true cost of chasing power instead of love. 

HAVANA LOST is award-winning author Libby Fischer Hellmann’s tenth novel and third thriller that explores how strife and revolution affect the human spirit. HAVANA LOST is a testament to Hellmann’s gift for authentic historical detail as well as her talent for writing compulsively readable thrillers. 

How will you use it? Your jacket copy will inform the query letter, the sell sheet and all the platforms through which you distribute your work. It will become ubiquitous, so make sure it’s powerful.
  • The sell sheet - This is a single sheet of paper with full details about your book. It should go out to all your reviewers and possible distributors, and it’s handy to have as an at-a-glance reminder. Here’s my Sell Sheet for Havanna Lost
  • The query letter - This is a simple query letter for bloggers and reviewers, politely asking them if they’d like an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) to review. The better you make your book sound, the more people are likely to be interested. It is another small but critical marketing job that can make a difference in how influential people perceive your book and how many of them get around to reading and reviewing it.
  • Interior design for print books - If you are creating a print version, as I recommend, someone needs to design the inside of the book. You can do it yourself, but I choose not to. It’s above my pay grade.


Step Four – Print and Distribute ARCs

  • Bound galleys – Just like traditional publishing, you need some bound galleys to send to reviewers and bloggers. I used CreateSpace, which is fast, efficient, and doesn’t cost a lot. I ordered 35 copies— the rest of my ARCS are pdfs.
  • Assembling a list – Assembling a list means capturing the contact details of professional reviewers, bloggers, and other potential influencers. If people/organizations have reviewed you favorably in the past, approach them first. There are lists all over the Internet, and at KindleBoards to help you find reviewers. It helps if you have an email list because you can canvas your contacts, asking if they’ll review your book in exchange for an ARC.
  • Paying for reviews – If getting the book into bookstores and libraries is important to you, consider paying for a review from PW, Kirkus and/or Foreword Magazine. They still have enormous influence and they are important enough to receive a bound galley.
  • Simplified covers – If your permanent cover isn’t ready yet, you can use a simplified one for the ARC. Here is the cover of my ARC:
Havana Lost ARC


Step Five – Formatting and Uploading

  • Self-formatting – Plenty of writers format their ebooks themselves. I don’t. I’ve found people who will do it for me very reasonably. However you do it, You’ll need an epub, mobi and .pdf file, each with a cover embedded.
  • Forward and end materials – You will need acknowledgements, a dedication, a list of your other books, snippets of reviews, etc, and a call to action at the back; something like “If you liked this book, would you consider leaving a review on Amazon, Goodreads?  Thank you so much.”
  • Multi-platform upload – Upload your book to every available platform, unless you intend to go exclusively with one vendor. This is probably the simplest step of all. Essentially it’s just pushing buttons and filling out forms.


Step Six – Promotion and Marketing

Marketing is the black hole of time and money. You can spend as much or little as you like, but one thing is certain; you need to do some promotion Here are a couple of essential basics.

Solicit blurbs from other authors in advance – You’ll use them on the front and back cover, in descriptions on Amazon and Kobo, within your website pages. 

Promotion Budget - I suggest you prepare to spend at least $1000 on various promotional activities, mostly advertisements on blogs with a broad reach, eg. Book Bub, ENT, and Pixel of Ink. Ads on Facebook can also work well when you get them right. 

Invest time – Time is just as important as money. Figure out how much social media you can get done without going crazy; Twitter, your Facebook fan page, Google Plus, Linked In, etc. This is, of course, above and beyond what you do on your website. But that’s another story. And blog post.

I’ll probably do another marketing post later, because it’s a huge subject all by itself. And, of course, marketing is much more of a journey than a destination.


The green stuff

Before I leave you, I want to give you an idea of my costs. Clearly, not everyone wants or needs to go this route, but here’s my ballpark:
  • $500    Cover
  • $200    Print ARCs
  • $600    Reviews (PW, Kirkus)
  • $450    Interior Design/Ebook Formatting/Print production
  • $500    Copy edit
  • $150     ISBNs
  • $100     Mailings
Total investment $2,500. Give or take.

Check out Libby's site for her next post on the importance of producing a print version of your book.

Libby Fischer Hellmann writes the Ellie Foreman mysteries, the Georgia Davis thrillers, and several stand-alone thrillers. Her Ellie books are a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24”, but the Georgia Davis PI thrillers are more hard-boiled. Her stand-alones include a “trilogy” of thrillers set during the revolutions of Iran, Cuba, and the turbulent late Sixties in Chicago.

Libby's forthcoming book, Havana Lost, will be released August 16. Let's support a fellow indie author and pre-order today on Amazon!

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stretching as a writer

Writing stars, long-term experience is a double-edged sword. On one hand, clients, readers, and employers like it when you have in-depth expertise and years of experience. On the other hand, you can get stuck in a rut.

I've been writing and editing for a LONG time, and yes, over the years, I've gotten stuck in a couple of ruts. This usually happens when I'm in employee mode and have to produce corporate-speak on schedule. During these periods, my writing gets the taste and feel of stale, moldy bread. 

I was a business development writer in my former job, and sure enough, it didn't take long after my start date for my writing to become as gray as my cubicle. 

So for inspiration, I sometimes go to the most unlikely places — MediaTakeout.com for example. The writers at this African American celebrity site use exclamation points and the caps lock button with abandon. They make up words and come up with some of the most brilliantly funny metaphors and similes. They have their bad moments, but they don't seem to care. They are totally uninhibited (a clue to making your writing more fun to read). The reader comments can be just as insane.

Now that I've been laid off (thank you very much), I've thought about this issue of stretching as a writer. I've always wanted to write fiction, but didn't have the confidence to try. I mean, who can be as good as Toni Morrison, or MediaTakeout for that matter?

The Celebrity Editor takes the plunge

A few months ago, Huff/Post 50 (The Huffington Post department for readers 50+) invited writers to submit short stories. I wrote one about a year ago as an exercise, but filed it away with the idea that it would never be seen by human eyes, ever. 

In an irrational act of courage, I gave it a shot. It was now or never. I dusted off my story, closed my eyes, and emailed it. 

To my surprise, and terror, Huff/Post 50 accepted my story, and yesterday, "The Mattress," was published. I've written a lot of fiction that I ultimately filed or deleted, but this is the first time my fiction has seen the light of day. Whew! 

Now for a dose of reality. When I read "The Mattress" in print, I cringed. There were a million things I should have fixed, but hey, it is what it is. 

Writing stars, I would really love it if you would read "The Mattress," post a comment, and let me know what you think. In your opinion, how could my story have been improved?

Here's something else I'm doing to stretch myself. Over the summer I'm taking a comedy writing class at Second City, the famed training camp that spawned such alumni as Stephen Colbert, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, and so many more. I'll definitely blog about it for you.

I fear I'll be the least funny writer in the class, but hey, that's what stretching is all about!

Donna Marie

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Monday, June 17, 2013

One way newbie writers, editors can get practical experience

Writing stars, we had an interesting discussion on a message board recently about how difficult it can be for newbies and recent college graduates to get writing and editing jobs. It's the classic catch-22: if you don't have experience, it's difficult to get a job, and if you can't get a job, how are you going to get experience?

If this is your predicament, read Corey Eridon's article, "How Small Businesses Saved Me From Living in My Parents' Basement" (love the title).

Corey got a job fresh out of college, and instead of having just one role, she ended up juggling a few, including blogging, email marketing, and copywriting and copyediting—all necessary skills for building your online author platform, by the way.

I especially liked what she had to say about her positive attitude and work ethic: 

"When I first started, I figured it was my job to say "yes" to everything. I wanted to prove my value, make myself useful, and above all else -- keep the job. I assumed if someone asked you to do something, you just said you would do it, and figure out the details as you go -- even if it's not in your job description."

Happy National Small Business Week!

June 17 kicks off National Small Business Week, which is sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Association. According to the SBA, 

"More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year."

I launched my editing career at a very small publishing house in Chicago, and I will always be grateful for the expertise I developed there.

So sorry for the cliche, but where there's a will, there's a way!

Donna Marie

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Friday, June 14, 2013

The mercenary use of books: pros and cons

Writing stars, this blog began with the idea that I would share some of the tips and strategies I've used to help public speakers brand themselves and establish their reputations with books. The idea was to leverage books into lucrative speaking gigs. In fact, I believe all entrepreneurs should think about using books as a marketing tool (although I will always have a soft spot in my heart for public speakers.)

Granted, this is a mercenary use of books, and many purists will not have the stomach for it. As much as I love literary books for the sheer joy of reading, I have come to respect the fact that books can serve more commercial purposes—especially given the marriage between self-publishing and entrepreneurism. One company that sells information products even calls books "The Ultimate Business Card." 

So it's in that spirit that I suggest you run, not walk, to FastCompany.com to read, "Why Books Are The Ultimate New Business Card" by Ryan Holiday. Now Ryan likes to exploit his bad boy marketing ways, but he makes a good case for using books as a marketing tool. 

Yes, this is a self-serving, self-promoting use of books.

Yes, this approach bastardizes the original purpose of books, which has been to entertain, to teach, to persuade. 

Where I part company
On the other hand, there's no reason the "books as marketing tool" approach cannot encompass the best of what books have to offer: quality information, a good argument, entertainment, and strategies to make readers' lives better than they were before page 1. 

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurial self-publishers view the writing process as a necessary nuisance, so they seek to outsource this labor for cheap (don't get me started on that one), recycle "private label rights" books, and other schemes. In the rush to upload as many books as possible to Amazon, quality is sacrificed. Readers don't get what they expected, hoped for, and needed. And that's a crime.

So bottom line, I get that we writers need to make money, and as long as I have breath in this middle-aged body I will draw on my own experiences with clients, and I'll scour the net high and low, near and far to inform you. But I will never sign on to schemes that sacrifice quality. In that, at least, I'm a book purist.

Donna Marie

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Friday, June 7, 2013

The antidote for Internet sliminess

Since my recent lay off from the job, I've been spending my mornings, noons, and nights on the Internet, trying to find the best tools, strategies, and opportunities for writers (and myself, truth be told). I've listened to so many webinars (which are really poorly disguised sales pitches for products that come with ridiculously high price tags), that I've lost count. Some are so slimy... I literally got nauseous listening to one pitch and had to turn it off. 

In that spirit, I offer the following video for your TGIF amusement. 


Thanks, Chip Douché (the name is perfection). I needed that!

Have a great weekend, writing stars! 

Donna Marie 

Check out The Celebrity Editor on Pinterest!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hot topic: writer pay

Since I was laid off a few weeks ago, I've been searching the net for freelancing opportunities. This investigation has taken me to the dark side of writing for pay on the net. 

Content drives the Internet, yet writers, the producers of content, don't get no respect from certain sectors, as Rodney Dangerfield would say. And I mean none.

I've listened to webinars where gurus promised zillions from their self-publishing and marketing schemes. They say, "If you can't write, outsource. There are plenty of writers who will write your book fast and cheap." One guy even said, "Any monkey can edit a book." Oh really. 

A whole slew of net-based content development factories have arisen that pay writers mere pennies per word. You'd have to write night and day just to tread water, and still there are few financial guarantees. 

A couple of years ago there was a notorious case of a well-known novelist who paid unknowns to write his books for peanuts and a cloak of invisibility.

Why would any writer subject him/herself to such treatment?

Lately a friend has been talking a lot about how low self-worth can make you accept any old kind of treatment. I understand how desperation can lead to bad decision making, but maybe my friend is right, too. Maybe like Mika Brzezinski would say, we writers don't understand our value, and that's why we make such bad bargains with our talent.

Let's learn from writers like Amanda Hocking who took their writing destinies into their own hands. Despite all the rejections by publishers, she kept writing, and then she self-published her work. Now she has an agent and a great publishing contract with St. Martin's Press! She must have known her worth as a writer to keep going like that.

Writing stars, any and all deals should be open for negotiation. If they aren't, run! The most powerful word in your negotiating vocabulary is "no." The most powerful mindset in this age of digital publishing is "I can do it myself!" 

Donna Marie

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Pinterest board: cover art sells books

The cover for my book "Sensual Celibacy" by Gretchen Achilles perfectly captured the idea that just because you're not having sex, doesn't mean you're not sexy. This was such a radical idea at the time (late '90s) that even Playboy did a tongue-in-cheek review.

When it comes to book sales and, really, overall artistry of your book, nothing beats a fantastic cover. I've been having a lot of fun letting my imagination go wild on my "Book Cover Ideas" Pinterest board. Take a look. You'll see a multitude of artistic styles that could express all types of literary genres, from horror to romance to the surreal, and nonfiction books, too.

When I first got the idea to do this board, something surprising happened. I started noticing my gut reactions to certain pieces of art. Really provocative book covers not only make a beautiful statement, they stir the emotions. Sometimes those emotions are disturbing, sometimes humorous. That means the art is doing its job. It has captured your attention, and a book sale may be in the works.

How often have you bought a book solely based on the cover art? I know I have, only to be disappointed when the content didn't live up to the cover! 

Another surprising thing has happened as I work with this board. I'm finding that I can't help but come up with story ideas, nonfiction titles, characterizations, and dialogue as I let the works of art do their thing. Art is a great way to obliterate writer's block. This is the best thing for writers since God invented red pencils! Try creating your own Pinterest art board, and share your links in the comments section below.

Donna Marie

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How a novelist reclaimed her rights, self-published, sold 120,000+ copies

Writing stars, prepared to be amazed!

I've been busy investigating how to reclaim the publishing rights for my books and have been delighted to discover that many authors have already walked the path and found gold in their backlist titles. Yay! 

When self-publishing began to dominate the publishing landscape, authors who had been neglected by the BPs (Big Pimps/Big Publishers, take your pick) began to take back their rights and self-publish books that had long been out of print or were dying slowly.

One inspiring story comes from now self-published author Donna Fasano. Traditionally published in the romance genre, she decided to take her publishing destiny into her own hands. Donna has just released her latest self-published romance, Reclaim My Heart. As John Kremer would say, please hug an author and buy Donna's book today! In the meantime, read her story and if you're going through a similar experience, post a comment. We'd love to hear about it.

Going Indie: from OOP to self-pub bestseller
by Donna Fasano

I spent nearly 20 years writing for a big name publisher. My 32 published romance novels won awards and sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide. I am forever indebted to the editors who helped hone my craft, and the royalties I earned put both my sons through college, paid for an unforgettable family trip to England, and garnered me some bling. With all of that said, working for a publisher wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Although I signed my contracts with eyes wide open, I had no idea just how paltry those 2-6% royalties were, and I didn’t receive a single raise in all the years I wrote for them.

Let’s jump forward a decade and a half. Four years ago my father was diagnosed with cancer and I became his primary caregiver. Watching a loved one slowly become sicker isn’t conducive to writing happily-ever-after fiction; however, at the same time I desperately needed the diversion of work whenever I could get it. I read about authors who were acquiring the publishing rights to their backlist titles and self-publishing those books, and, even better news, they were finding readers and making money. I immediately became interested in the idea. I requested the reversion of rights (more on that later) to my first 11 books and my publisher complied, so I have spent the past couple of years updating, editing, and expanding those manuscripts, and I’ve succeeded in self-publishing nine of those backlist titles as well as one never-before-published novel. I’ve become an Independent Author—an ‘indie’—and I haven’t looked back!

How has the title Indie Author altered my life? There are good changes and not-so-good ones. Some of the best:

Freedom. I can write whatever I want.

Money. I earn 35-70% royalties (compared to 2-6% that I’d been paid before).

Developing new talents. I’ve taken a self-taught crash course in book formatting, marketing, blogging, and social media; and I’ve discovered that I’ve got quite a knack.

Some of the worst changes:

No deadlines. No boss. I don’t have anyone telling me I can’t go shopping. Self-discipline has become an absolute necessity.

Doing it all. As exciting as being an Indie Author is, doing it all—writing, finding editors and beta readers, overseeing cover design, formatting, marketing and advertising, blogging, seeking out book reviewers, socializing with readers, etc.—is extremely difficult.

I don’t regret my years as a traditionally published author; to the contrary, I feel blessed by my success. But I am having a blast at this stage in my career, and I’m proud to call myself an Indie Author. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I’m a firm believer that the destination is much less important than the journey…and I’m determined to enjoy every second of this wild and amazing adventure.

A Chart About Reversion of Rights
Every publishing contract contains a Reversion of Rights clause, which defines the criteria under which a book is deemed ‘out of print’—in other words, when the licensing term expires and all rights revert to the author. The clause also outlines what actions must be taken in order to have the rights reverted. Years ago, authors rarely requested reversion because the chances of finding a publisher willing to accept a previously published book were slim. However, in this digital age and with the boon of self-publishing growing by the hour, that has drastically changed.

If the contract language is confusing, I recommend hiring an expert to lead you through deciphering the often convoluted terms found in publishing contracts. I hired Literary Attorney David P. Vandagriff and found him extremely knowledgeable. He treated me with honesty and fairness. You might know David from his popular blog, The Passive Voice.

Once you have discovered that one of your books has been deemed Out of Print, immediately follow the terms set forth in the clause. Usually, this means sending your publisher a letter of request. Here’s a sample:
JP Wiseman
Fabulous But Fictitious Publishing
123 Main Street
New York, NY45678-9000
September 23, 2012
Dear Ms Wiseman:
I am writing to request reversion of rights to my book, [Title], which I wrote for FbF Publishing in 1998. I believe this novel is out of print.
Please include the original certificate of copyright for this book when you acknowledge that reversion has been granted.
Thank you for your swift attention to this matter.
[Author's name]
Sending the letter ‘return receipt requested’ will best protect your rights. Hopefully, the publisher will act in a professional manner and you won’t need to use this legal-in-a-court-of-law evidence.

Upon receiving a request, the publisher probably has the right to reissue the book within a certain time frame. If this happens, the reversion clock (be it 5 years, 7 years, etc) will be set to zero, but if your book isn’t reissued, then all rights should revert to you.

Every author should fully understand the Reversion of Rights clause. I urge you to pull out those old contracts and begin charting those out-of-print dates. I can attest that the effort will pay off. You see, I have sold over 120,000 copies of my self-published otherwise “out of print” books – at a royalty rate far beyond my wildest dreams as a traditionally published author – however following this path will be impossible until you successfully reclaim the publishing rights to your work. Get going! The effort in reading the legalese will be worth it.

Donna Fasano sold her first manuscript in 1989, and since then has become a bestselling, award-winning author of over thirty novels and four audio books. She writes under her own name, Donna Fasano, as well as under the pen name Donna Clayton.

In  addition to Donna's newly released Reclaim My Heart, other titles include:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Writers, grip the net

"In this system that I have invented, it is necessary for the machine to get a grip of the earth, otherwise it cannot shake the earth. It has to have a grip... so that the whole of this globe can quiver." 

Promotional illustration for Tesla's "World System"
Around the turn of the 20th century, genius inventor Nikola Tesla proposed to build a global system of wireless communications. I don't know if he thought about something like the Internet, but possibly the Internet is the result of that kind of thinking. As a large community of users of the net, we writers owe a debt of gratitude to the chain of thinking and tinkering that has led to this moment in time when publishing our ideas is so easy and inexpensive to do.

In this spirit, I'd like to take the liberty of tinkering with Tesla's quote.

"In this system, it is necessary for WRITERS to get a grip of the Internet, otherwise we cannot shake the earth. We have to have a grip... so that the whole of this globe can quiver."

The Internet is a showcase of human life, the good and not so good. Underlying it all, making sense of it all, is content. That's where we come in.

Since my first blog in 2007, I have attempted to grip this thing that feels like the wild wild west of new technologies being constantly released. I have no gifts when it comes to creating technology (I wish), but I do know how to use it. Or better put, I know how to learn how to use it. I've learned how to make the technologies serve my writing.

Every day our in-boxes are spammed with some new software or process or system or strategy that promises to help us sell more, be more popular, build our lists, make more money, but we writers should never lose sight of our purpose—to grip the net so that we can shake the earth and make the whole of this globe quiver.

I want to make life for my children and theirs much better than what we're seeing now. Genesis 1 talks about God speaking, with words, the world into existence. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 

Writing stars, that's our power and our responsibility—to be a force for positive creation and good in the world with our words, and to put technology in service to that purpose.

Donna Marie

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dan Brown puts me to shame

Dan Brown's latest book is now out, and he's making the media rounds and talking Dante. I bought the audio version, but what interests me more is this writer's phenomenal work habits. He puts me to shame, which, to be honest, isn't all that hard to do.

"At the keyboard every day by 4 a.m., writing until midday, seven days a week, even on Christmas; throwing away 10 pages for every one he keeps" (Daily Beast).

I've got to do better. Consistency, and unrelenting marketing, are the keys to success in this business. 

Writing stars, are you with me?

Donna Marie

 Check out The Celebrity Editor on Pinterest! here

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shooting with my pen from Violence City

Why do I love being a writer? Here's why: I get to shoot with my pen. Forgive me, writing stars, but today I'm taking a break from the writing biz to shout about one of the most violent cities on earth.

Years ago, The Wall Street Journal called Chicago "Beirut on the Lake" because of our notorious political reputation. Today I'm calling Chicago "Syria on the Lake" because of the relentless violence. This may be an exaggeration, but it's how I'm feeling today.

Reporting the ongoing parade of weekend murders and attempted murders has become a gruesome ritual among local news outlets. If it bleeds it leads? Well, we have enough blood to fill volumes.

The mass murders tend to get all the attention, understandably, but the drip drip drip of a murder here, a few murders there in my city is just as heartbreaking, but it can make you numb.

That is, until it happens to you.

Sunday morning, some teens shot at some other teens on my block. In fact, it happened directly in front of my house. I heard the one shot, but I'm ashamed to say I didn't investigate. I didn't hear sirens so I assumed I didn't hear what I heard.

Turns out, my car got in the way of the bullet, and two of my windows were shattered.

The good news is that my car probably saved the lives of the intended two male teens who are basically decent, just jobless like the perpetrators no doubt are. Warm weather, no school, guns, teen testosterone, and nothing to do is a formula for danger and disaster.

To make a bad situation worse, when I called the police to file the report, I was told that despite the shooting, no one would be investigating. All I'd get was a report to file with insurance, and I'd have to wait two weeks for that. Death is the only way to get the attention of the police in my city. The bullet, that one solitary bullet, is probably in my neighbor's front lawn somewhere, and no one's coming to investigate. Just wow.

Where are the fathers? Who's in charge? Why aren't there any jobs in my community? I could go on and on with the questions, but really, it comes down to me. What can I do?

As I was sweeping up the glass on the street by the car, I was approached by a young woman. I had a funny feeling about her. She said, "I'm really sorry this happened." She did seem sorry.

I looked at her long and hard. Finally I asked, "Did you see what happened?" 

She lowered her eyes, apparently ashamed, and said, "Yeah. I didn't want to say nothing, but they were shooting at guys I know. They wanted them in their gang. My friends didn't want to be in the gang, so..." I knew how this story ended. The windows of my beautiful car, an innocent bystander, were shattered to pieces.

"Well," I said philosophically, "I'd prefer the car get shot than your friends." I meant it, but I was still sorry about my car. When I first got her, a 2001 Volvo S60, I named her Behold!, with an exclamation point. Her purchase had marked a positive turning point in my life. We've had a lot of good times together.

I then asked the young woman, a senior in high school, about her hopes and dreams for the future. She wants to be a doctor.

I pray for our young people, the ones trying to make a good life and the ones who have nothing better to do than shoot. 

This rant is not about gun control, but about the problems in our society that create such a violent mindset.

By the way, my mechanic called a few minutes ago. It's going to cost around $500 $400 to get the windows repaired. 

Donna Marie

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