Are you in the querying trenches — querying agents with a fiction manuscript? That’s probably one of the hardest phases of the writing life. Being on submission is hard too (when your agent is sending out your manuscript to editors) but somehow querying agents feels to me harder. Here are some survival strategies. More
You’ve written a novel that’s been published — traditional, small press, or indie — HOORAY! And you launched. Now you’re watching the sales numbers and offering to do blog tours and readings. What else? How to build buzz for your debut novel? You look at author websites and see pitches for freebies and long lists of books. You see bestseller list mentions, excruciatingly gorgeous blurbs from famous authors, and you might feel a little perplexed as to how to promote your single, debut novel lacking those supports.
Build Buzz? A Catch-22
It can be a Catch-22 for debut authors. You can’t get on Bookbub unless your book is already selling well. You can’t get on a bestseller list as an unknown without a major publisher swinging some weight behind your debut. You’ve heard that the first few months of a book’s debut can make or break its success, but you’re counting on a slow build. So what’s a debut author to do?
- I have a two-word answer: LITERARY FRIENDS. Make literary friends. Make lots of them. Join groups. There’s power in groups! Become part of the writing community and contribute to the conversation, however you best can. It’s fine to be a newbie and simply be in a group and appreciate others’ wisdom. I’ve joined quite a number of authors and writer groups, and I love being part of them, but especially these:
Women’s Fiction Writers Association
Authors18 – Novelists with Debut books publishing in 2018
National Novel Writing Month
Build Buzz Through Groups
In my Authors18 group, we support each other’s book launches, promotional posts, book tours, events, and reviews. It’s a group of dedicated, supportive, and fun writers who are all excited and suffering over their first novels being published. This is not a journey to take alone! If you’re going to have a debut novel published in 2019, a group is already forming. And look for more groups of this kind. The social media book buzz alone is worth it!
My Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association is a true tribe. We write on similar themes, range from writers seeking publication of a first novel to novelists with many books to their credit. And that makes the conversation fascinating and diverse. We have several Facebook WFWA member groups, some focused on craft, some on publishing, and some on writing every day. Like NaNoWroMo, it can give you the experience of being surrounded by fellow writers who are friends and fans, who will see you through the dark days, help build your buzz, and cheer you on.
Build Buzz Through Promotions
Basics of Building an Author Platform
More on paid promotions in another post. For now, build your book buzz in good company of other writers, book reviewers, and readers! And let me know if you have tips on this. I’m still learning!
I’m past the midway point of National Novel Writing Month, and wouldn’t be here without my community of writers. In my fortunate case, it’s fellow members of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and the subset of those who are doing the wild writing marathon of #NaNoWriMo, wherein you write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days. Crazy, huh? Yet more than 300,000 people every year are now participating. How many get to the end with 50K words? I’m willing to bet a large percentage are writers working in some kind of community. For mutual support and encoureagement along the lonely writing path, there’s nothing like a #NaNoWriMo group.
Joining a writing group means opening up about your process, and for introverted writer types, that can be scary. My impression was that writers were all competing with each other, so when I first joined WFWA, saying anything on any topic felt fraught with the risk of humiliating myself. I felt these were all such accomplished, published novelists (at the time I wasn’t published), and how dare I comment or even broach a subject.
For the decades that I’ve been writing, I’ve often wondered why writers wait so much. We wait for inspiration, we wait for writing time, and excruciatingly, we wait for responses from publishers and agents. Sometimes I’ve waited months for a reply to an agent query or a literary journal. Is it just me and my writing? What makes them hesitate and delay? Or is the publishing industry so clogged with writers pitching their writing that editors and agents must read on their phones while commuting, just to keep up?
Waiting for responses has at times torn me apart. The worst was when an agent I wanted work with was reading my full manuscript. Worst-of-the-worst was when I resubmitted the novel to an agent after a year-long, exclusive revise-and-resubmit. That waiting was capped with a most painful rejection.
Cover Reveal Day
Today I’m doing the happier waiting. This waiting is for an event to publicize my forthcoming novel, The Renaissance Club (January 2018). Tomorrow will be my novel’s “cover reveal day”. Sponsored by the publisher, a number of book review blogs will unveil the new cover, along with a short synopsis, an excerpt, an author bio, and perhaps a giveaway.
Actually, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, except that tomorrow, I’m free to use my book cover in any way I want! So I will post it here, and add a giveaway contest.
What Writers Do While Waiting
/also, writers wait so much because we want our book to be the best book it can be, the perfect book. We want it promoted in the best way. Waiting often involves editing. Yes, even if agents and editors are already reading, I continue to edit a book. Or I edit the publicity materials, my blog posts, and social media plan. If I can see something to fix, I’m going to fix it.
Now I’ve passed the anxious waiting and reached the excited waiting! Still, I’ll follow the Golden Writer’s Rule: While Waiting, Write! My goal this week is to finish expanding a chapter of my work-in-progress novel, The Romantics. While writing, I forget everything — even that I’m waiting.
By Writing Holiday, I of course mean Writing ON a Holiday. Holidays are better known as Writer’s Retreats, for all writers truly addicted to their art seize on the first amount of free time to face the blank page. Or the written page that desperately needs revising.
Novel writing occurs over an extended period of a year or more. Long form story writing requires you to visit your work as often as possible — that’s my main writing tip to novelists! Novelists are like that Beach Blanket Babylon lady who carries the whole city of San Francisco on her hat. We carry our long, complicated stories around in our brains months and even years. More
I finally figured out where my book fits on Amazon, and I can’t say I’m happy. But I’m going to be in:
When I was going after agents, I was all, like “Upmarket commercial or women’s fiction with a magical realism twist.” This was advised by my editor, who has served as a literary agent for one of New York’s top firms. I figured she should know.
The Renaissance Club, (forthcoming in January 2018 from Fiery Seas Publishing) will be categorized under Fiction in different ways on different platforms. I’m with other fantasy authors, mainly, some romance, though all the romance publishers said my love story didn’t fit the formula! Another fox I couldn’t squeeze into.
I went back to the drawing board, only to find the drawing board looks like Einstein’s chalk board on one of his more frustrated days.
So what is the difference between these ever-evolving categories on bookstore shelves and Amazon’s categories. Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker ignited a public debate with his article in 2012
Lev Grossman, author of the best-selling Magician’s Trilogy, jumped into the discussion.What’s wrong with genre? It seems we’re all heading into one or another.
On Amazon you have to drill down from Books –> Literature –> Literary Fiction –> Women’s Fiction or Fantasy. The road seriously branches here, but I’ve been going on the assumption that because there are more books in this category than in Fantasy, it might be a fruitful avenue to pursue. But my novel appears too literary for this category. So back to the fork in the road. Under Fantasy (with less than half the titles as Women’s Fiction), you have no more sub-genres to choose from. Which leads me to conclude that a) my story doesn’t fit well into this category, whose emphasis is on other worlds, and b) magical realism is not a sub-genre on Amazon, nor in most bookstores, so back to just plain Commercial or Mainstream Fiction as a category. Try standing out in that Amazon crowd.
Which boxes can you squeeze into as an author? And do you also find it frustrating, after the freedom of writing an entire novel, to have to perform this exercise? My sympathies!
This is La Spezia — one of the locations in my work-in-progress novel, The Romantics, the story of two half-sisters, their dispute over an inherited cottage in Italy, inhabited by the ghost of the poet Shelley.
This is where I wish I was living, even imaginatively. But I’m stuck dealing with the hassles of publishing my last novel, The Renaissance Club. This is the fate of the Indie author — the self-published or micro-press published novelist. Nothing is easy, and everything takes up the precious time we need for the slow, slow, but deliciously slow creative process.
So I’m turning to one of my favorite gurus on the subject of publishing to help you navigate, if you’re trying ot decide whether to be an India author. Here’s Jane Friedman on a new twist in self-publishing: getting an agent AFTER you self-publish. And if you’re still trying to decide if you have the right stuff to be a self-publisher, here’s Jane on how to make the decision. She’s so practical, and that really helps with a highly emotional decision!
As for me, I’m an Indie at heart. I like conceiving of book covers (even if I ‘m not an artist), and I like the whole idea of marketing my stuff. I love playing on social media and establishing myself as an author this way. Blogging is what I do to relax, ditto Twitter and Facebook.
I’ll see how things go, but I may publish The Romantics on my own. There are so many good reasons to go Indie — a big one being the luxurious feeling of control. I really miss it. But the cure, of course, is writing something new.
It’s a marathon: 50,000 words of prose, the majority of words for an 80,000-word standard mainstream novel. I’m at a little over 24,000 words this morning.
Why am I doing this? Because writing is bliss and marketing a book is hell. Undergoing the process of trying to get a literary agent, who then tries to get your book a publisher, who then takes more than a year to publish it — that’s anyone’s definition of hell. It would fit Hieronymous Bosch’s picture of hell. And I’ve been in it for more than two years with a completed novel I’m marketing. It involves extravagant amounts of waiting, laced with copious rejection. It takes persistence and faith beyond what you think you have.
But working on a new story is heaven. It makes hope, inspiration, and excitement surge. Every act of storytelling is a new adventure. It unfolds one day at a time, in the company of people I’m gradually getting to feel are boon companions, my characters. Like the Fellowship of the Ring, we have a purpose. We have a story to tell. We must sustain hope above all. It’s exhilarating, like climbing to an impossibly high peak and standing there to survey all the lands of the earth.
Also, running my marathon has been a way to write myself through the dark woods of grief over my brother’s death a little more than a month ago. I would adapt the cliché and say that when things get tough, the tough writer gets writing. I know so many poets and writers who write their way forward, especially in difficulty. It’s how we learned to cope with our fatal flaws and the curveballs life throws, such as death, poverty, illness, divorce. I’m telling a new story involving all those.
Here’s an excerpt from my spirit guide, Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius:
“Only by knowing your protagonist’s defining misbelief can you craft a story that will test it to the max, opening his eyes along the way.” Those are the best stories, the inward adventures that may be occasioned by outward ones, but always lead to new levels of understanding yourself, other people, and the world.
I’m really happy that one of my most recently published poems was “Wings Clipped” and appeared in Issue 4 of a journal called Panoply. Several reasons: 1) I’ve had a panoply of acceptances this season — far more than my usual batting average! 2) “Wings Clipped” is the lead poem in my new manuscript, Arabesque (available to an interested publisher) and 3) the poem brings together the two art forms I’ve devoted myself to: dance and poetry.
The journal One from Jacar Press also published one of my poems — “Elegance” — that brought together those two arts. Even though this lovely art form broke my back, I would do it all over again. I suppose that might be a form of courage. And publishing that poem helped me have the courage to focus the opening section of my book around the way these arts and injuries shaped me.
This year I’ve had 16 poems accepted so far, which is much more than ever in any 9-month period. They’re all from this manuscript, which makes me feel it’s strong. I campaigned the poems to support publishing the book, but I never expected so much so quickly.
To be part of new literary ventures is also an exciting privilege I’ve had this season. The new and beautiful Peacock Journal recently published four of mine.
And they did me the kindness of pairing the work with a beautiful image that means a lot to me, as it’s involved in my new novel, The Renaissance Club (also available). Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa figures in my story, and when I met this sculpture in Rome, its power is partly why I wanted to write the novel.
The other new journal I was happy to participate in is Mockingheart Review. They took three of my favorites from Arabesque, including my favorite dream poem, “Giraffes.”
Gingerbread House published one of the poems that surprised me the most to write — a poem about a dead-drunk superhero called “Transparency” — and they paired it with original art that was just perfect. Thanks to the editors for that pairing!
I have a poem forthcoming from Prairie Schooner, and I’m waiting to hear on a few more. But all in all, 2016 has been a bonanza for this poet. And in other ways, a most interesting series of literary adventures. Some of which I will have to wait to tell. Thanks for listening to my surprised delight.
Author platform: what is it, do I need it for fiction, and other brain-freezing topics. There’s so much written about this ugly word (I keep thinking of those awful shoes you can literally fall off and break your ankle), that my research has frozen my mind on the topic.
So here’s my hopefully refreshing take on Platform for Novelists. You don’t need one. No, you just need to be your most authentic writer-self, and in public, without asking people to do things for you. No sales pitching, no bragging (or only subtle and elegant bragging), and stuff to offer to help and amuse your fellow writers and readers. Assume you have readers and you’re all sitting around in one of those gatherings that used to be for workshopping, and how has become the circle of your favorite people to hang with and discuss life and books. Those people are your (platform) audience.
See? It’s not hard at all. It’s pleasant. It does have to be done regularly, but it can take any form that satisfies you and amuses you. I like coming up with pithy poetic fragments and coupling them with nice photos I’ve taken, usually of plants and landscapes and yes, my adorable dog. Of course, I refuse to aggressively hawk my books (except once in awhile to offer discounts but mostly through email), but I do like to talk about my three books and my WIP, a novel involving time travel and the great Italian Renaissance/Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini.
And I also like finding and sharing writing resources for my hard-working writer colleagues. That’s why you can go to https://racheldacus.net and find under Resources a long listing of literary journals and presses that accept submissions without charging contest fees.
You can scroll down here at Rocket Kids and find links to all sorts of my favorite literary and publishing resources. And here’s the soothing picture: