There is a terrific article in the current issue of The New York Review of Books. The article is by Sue Halpern and is called “The iPad Revolution“. It is a very good comparison of iPad and Kindle and the relative differences in the approaches of Apple and Amazon. Bottom line is that neither of them are perfect. (We already know that). But it is the best thing I have read on this issue so far.
Archive for May, 2010
Linda Watanabe McFerrin is an author and teacher of creative writing. Her new novel, Dead Love , is being published this Fall by Stone Bridge Press . Dead Love is an incredible Zombie story that takes place in Tokyo, Haiti, Malaysia, and Netherlands. For those of you who have, how shall we say, somewhat exotic taste in the sexual, you will be turned on by the slightly green, slightly clammy, slightly putrescent sex scene. You can find out more about it on Linda’s Dead Love blog and her website . Linda will be attending the Book Expo America Convention in New York this month and will be signing copies of Dead Love there on Thursday, May 27.
Linda understands that the hard work of the writer really begins after the book is written. Book publishing, has become focused on the mass audience. They concentrate their resources on the few big blockbuster books and frequently give short shrift to everything else. That is why it is essential for the writer to promote her own book. Linda is going to talk to us today about social media for writers.
Andy: Linda, welcome to Ask the Agent. Tell us why it is so important for authors to understand the new social media and how to use it to promote books.
Linda: Well, Andy, though my undergraduate degree is in English and Comparative Literature and my Masters is in Creative Writing, I also have a background in sales and marketing. Even though I spent years doing sales and marketing in the apparel industry and knew how important marketing is, I had trouble applying what I’d learned to my own projects. Artists and writers sometimes recoil from this part of the process, but if you are getting your work published, it means you want to share it. Visibility is critical to achieving that end. We expect our publisher to provide this, but sadly, it’s often what’s missing. What’s really exciting … or, I should say “revolutionary,” is the way the Internet has made new and volatile communication channels available to everyman and everywoman. Writers can now reach the potential audience online directly and without the costs and restrictions that used to be associated with that kind of outreach.
Andy: So let’s break this down to the major venues: Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. Can you go through each of these and tell us their strengths and weaknesses?
Linda: Sure. Let’s walk through the fundamentals and let’s do it in bullets. That’s easiest.
- Website : This is the foundation of any online presence. It defines the artist and the artist’s product. My first website went up in 1998 and it has served me well and saved loads of time. It certainly eliminated the need to mail out lots of author bios and portraits and it allowed people I hadn’t yet met to become more familiar with my work.
- Blog: Many websites today are no more than this. Blogs are the new journalism and one of the key sources of information and interaction on the web.
- Twitter: The fastest moving, most mobile method of interaction is the phone or the hand-held device. Twitter is a micro blog designed for short, immediate, and constant updates.
- E-mail: This is still the most widely accepted method of online communication. In 2009 ninety trillion emails were sent. The average number of emails a day is 247 billion. Clearly, this is where contact lists are key.
- Facebook and other online social media networks like Myspace: There are so many of these. They are a super way to expand a platform and reach out to those with similar tastes. Each network has a distinct identity. Best to know what it is and whether it meets your specific needs before sinking time into development.
- Google and other search engines: These tie it all together. We feed search engines with content and we use them to find content relevant to our objectives.
I use all of these on a daily basis and could devote hours and pages to further defining each and every one of the areas. The Internet is massive, fast moving and, once you overcome certain insecurities, it’s also fun. For a totally shocking real-time update on statistics, you can go to http://www.peterlang.us/index.php?s=statistics and read and scroll to the “Social media statistics in real time” section.
Andy: Ok. It sounds like it is essential to develop an Internet marketing and promotion plan and to take control quickly. We can assume that your publisher is too busy to labor in the Internet trenches. What are the elements of a good plan?
Linda: A good plan begins with a well-crafted Mission Statement. To be really clear on something, you need to know what you want to achieve. I want, for instance, to use the Internet to reach out to readers who would enjoy but might not know about my work. It’s actually a lot like the writer’s task of selecting a protagonist and defining his/her inner and outer story goals, which is—as any writer knows—key to developing a plot.
Andy: Describe how you are implementing the plan for Dead Love.
Linda: I have four websites: www.lwmcferrin.com, the oldest (1998); www.leftcoastwriters.com, www.hotflashessexystories.com, and the newest: www.deadlovebook.com. For Dead Love, the most active is the www.deadlovebook.com site. Everything about the book finds its way onto the site and is mirrored variously in other Internet locations. www.deadlovebook.com is the hub where the bulk of my content in support of the novel is captured. It has a fairly high ranking with search engines. Erin, the near-zombie Dead Love protagonist posts daily on the site in a blog called “The Daily Slice.” It’s a little bit of the dark side, often but not always zombie-related. I share the link with social media networks on an ongoing basis. To me this is the new journalism. Erin reports on Dead Love related topics—literary, pop culture, current events—every day. The novel is also serialized on the site in bite-sized, easily digested segments once a week.
Andy: Penguin Books has a spiffy little .pdf pamphlet on Internet marketing for writers that lays out the fundamentals of Internet marketing. But you are saying that the author needs to be an expert in this. What resources do you recommend to help the authors improve their expertise and develop strategies.
Linda: Things are moving so quickly in the social media area that it’s difficult to keep up. I’ve had a number of marvelous advisers every step of the way and I was truly resistant at first! Bradley Charbonneau www.likoma.com got me started with my new site models. Laurie MacAndish King www.laurieking.com also helped tremendously. I deeply respect the knowledge and advice of Cheryl McLaughlin www.cherylmclaughlin.typepad.com ; she created my first YouTube video. Then there’s social media guru, Peter Lang www.peterlang.us, my current key mentor. Peter’s recommendations follow. These are online resources and tools that are available to everyone:
http://www.google.com/reader/ (Follow top industry sites in order to keep up with this ever changing online world)
http://Mashable.com (a favorite!)
Andy: Do you do any consulting on this?
Linda: I do, but with a “total marketing” focus. I work on brand establishment and communication for writers. I have a new program that allows for a full year of training and consulting. I meet with selected writers every month to discuss platform and marketing and tailor outreach programs that work in today’s fast-paced, hyper-creative environment. The program features guest speakers in major marketing areas online and in print. It’s intense and exhilarating, and if anyone’s interested, they should send me a note via Facebook, which is one of my favorite Internet playgrounds.
Andy: And what about traditional media? Advertising is expensive, but is there any way an author can exploit it to promote their work?
Linda: Certainly. I’ve used postcard mailings to drive web traffic, and when we go to the BEA (book) Convention later this month, I’ll be signing advance readers copies of Dead Love. There’ll also be Dead Love T-shirts and buttons. I used to direct art for a major T-shirt line and I love T-shirts; they are wearable art. Also if a writer has expertise in an area, that writer should be publishing stories that demonstrate that expertise both in print and online. I think the key thing is to produce interesting and enlightening content. That’s what writers are supposed to do. The problem has been, in the past, that there was no sure outlet for all that creativity. There is now with the Internet. Finally, we have a way to share it.
Today we are going to have a conversation with Wendy Nelson Tokunaga on literary beginnings. Wendy is a novelist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her debut novel, Midori by Moonlight is available in paperback from St. Martins Press. Her new novel, Love in Translation was released last November and is also in paperback from St. Martin’s.
Wendy is giving a class at Book Passage called: Strong Beginnings: A Workshop for Novelists on Saturday, May 8 from 10 AM -4 PM.
Andy: Wendy, last week I did a blog entry having some snarky fun with literary first lines. But all the writers I know take the first lines very seriously. Why so?
Wendy: I enjoyed your fun take on literary first lines, but I have to say that I don’t obsess about them. If you can write a grab-worthy first line that everyone will quote from years to come, that’s great, but I don’t think it’s mandatory. What is mandatory is writing a compelling opening to your novel. As I’m sure you can attest, agents and editors will find any reason to toss a manuscript into the rejection pile as quickly as possible. So it’s crucial to make a good impression in a novel’s first five pages.
Andy: Is there any general advice you can give about how to manage the opening? Is there a single objective that needs to be met? Do you want to set the scene? Is it all about foreshadowing? Do you just want to grab the reader’s attention with something unexpected? Or is it more je ne sais quoi ?
Wendy: Well, there’s a lot of je ne sais quoi that goes into writing a novel, that’s for sure. But I think that the one thing the opening must have is “profluence.” This is a term used by John Gardner in “The Art of Fiction,” which basically means to move forward. There has to be a forward momentum, an emotional energy and feeling of “getting somewhere” that will compel a reader to want to continue reading. Another important factor is a strong “voice.” This includes the words the writer chooses (diction), how she arranges and groups the words (syntax), the order in how she presents events (structure) and the attitude toward the characters, subject and events of the book (tone).
Andy: What are the big mistakes with literary beginnings that you see repeatedly by other writers, both experienced and newbies?
Wendy: Common mistakes I’ve seen include starting the story in the wrong place (e.g starting at the very beginning of the story is not necessarily the best strategy); opening with a scene that is too mundane and thereby lacking tension (e.g. the character wakes up, has a cup of coffee and ponders the start of his day); loading the opening with too much backstory and extraneous details; and using an action scene that serves no purpose other than the mistaken assumption that any “exciting incident” will draw in the reader.
Andy: Your class at Book Passage looks fascinating. What do you want the participants to get from it?
Wendy: We’ll be doing “close readings” of the openings of some recently published novels by analyzing the craft techniques these authors use to pull it all together and get us to keep reading. By looking at a variety of different styles and genres of novels I hope that students will come to see the value of learning from observing an author’s craft techniques without worrying about whether the book is one they would personally choose to read. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to “like” a book in order to learn things from the way it’s crafted that will help you improve your own writing. And, of course, the techniques we’ll discuss can be applied to the writing of the entire novel.
We’ll also analyze the first five pages of students’ novels to see what works and what needs improvement. Students whose work is not discussed in class will receive feedback from me via email if they wish.
The class is designed especially for students who have finished their novels and are considering querying agents or those who are searching for answers as to why their manuscripts have been rejected. Writers who have yet to finish their novels are also most welcome.
Andy: Wendy. One last thing. Can you describe some of your all time favorite literary beginnings?
Wendy: Here are some that I like from an eclectic selection of books:
Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864)
“I am a sick man. . .I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts. However, I don’t know a fig about my sickness, and am not sure what it is that hurts me.”
The Stranger – Albert Camus (1942)
“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: “Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.”
Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion (1970)
“What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.”
Story of My Life – Jay McInerney (1988)
“I’m like, I don’t believe this shit.”