Building the Buzz: Pre-Launch

It's here! It's here! I'm finally ready to kick off our May Marketing Challenge!

First things first, you'll notice we have a fancy new name. Kudos to Eliza Tilton. She came up with "Creating the Buzz" which inspired "Building the Buzz". Feel free to grab the button in the side bar for your own blog. Well done, Eliza. You've earned an automatic extra entry into the challenge drawing. 

Would you like to get an extra entry? Good news! If you invite a friend to join you in the challenge, you can earn a bonus entry just like Eliza. Here's how it works, you and a friend (or friends) join the challenge and complete each task. When we're all done, tell me who you brought to the party. If they also completed the challenge, your name gets thrown into the pot again.

Speaking of the drawing, I'm ready to share more details, like prizes. How does this sound? Everyone who finishes the challenge, completing each daily task, is entered. One winner will be drawn at random to receive:





A thirty minute video chat with me to discuss all things marketing and platform related

These are my two favorite marketing/platform books. They lay a great foundation and provide actionable hands-on steps for writers to get their name out there and sell more books. The drawing is open internationally, but non-US residents will receive e-book copies instead of paperback. I hope you guys are as excited as I am. 

One last minute instruction before tomorrow. Most of the challenge tasks will be things that anyone can do, however... If you have a traditional publisher, you may want to check with them before completing some of the items. You should be fine for the first part of the challenge, but as we get into the second half, there may be things that your publisher wants to handle or has already done. You don't want to look unprofessional by sending a second press release to a magazine your publisher already contacted. If this comes up, you can still get credit for completing that day. Just comment that you spoke with your publisher and they are handling that item. 

Okay, I think that's it. Be sure to come back here bright and early tomorrow morning to get started. If you have any questions, shoot them at me in the comments. Let's get started Building the Buzz!

Agency Lessons: An agent does what?

For writers who have yet to work with an agent, I think one of the biggest questions is "What exactly does an agent do for me?" It's also one of the hardest questions since every agent is going to be a little bit different. Hopefully, I can help shed some light on the subject.

Let's start by talking about the contract a bit.  Just like every agent is different, the contract for each agency is going to be slightly different. However, there are some pretty standard items. For example,  the contract outlines what the agent's role is and what that is worth (the commission). The wording will all be different, but your basic contract will describe an agent working to sell your book to a publisher to the best of their ability.

What does this mean? It means, an agent is going to try their darnedest to find a happy home for your book. Don't forget, an agent doesn't get paid until your book sells*. But remember, this is a two way street. If an agent has exhausted their resources and still can't find a publisher, eventually, they will need to set this book aside to work on other projects. And so will you.

So, what's not in a contract? A contract is generally not going to outline any of the pre-submission work that goes on before your masterpiece gets sent out to publishers. This is where it's important to ask a lot of questions during "the call" and even before that, when researching which agents to query. Maybe you don't want an agent who is going to give you editing notes. There's nothing wrong with that unless you're signing on with an agent who likes to have a heavy hand in what goes out on submission.

Also, not in the contract, is any post sale work the agent might do. Generally speaking, once your book sells, an agent's job is done until you're ready with the next manuscript. I think this is the most surprising thing to new writers. Many think it is an agent's job to work on promotion and are surprised to learn that their agent isn't going to submit their book to all the major presses and nominate it for all the awards. 

Once again, this is why those early conversations are so important. Many agencies like to help with promotion. After all, the better your book does, the more money you both make. And every agent wants your book to succeed. However, some agents don't have the time and/or knowledge to be able to help with marketing and promotion. You need to know all this going in.

Keep in mind, there isn't a wrong or a right way to all of this. Some writers want an agent who is going to take their manuscript, untouched, send it to the publishers, finalize the contract and then step back. Other writers want an agent who is going to work through three revisions drafts before submission and then help with a blog tour and press releases. Neither one is better or right, they are just different approaches to doing business and fulfilling a client's needs. 

So don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't assume it is going to insult an agent if you ask for client references. Don't guess that the way one agent does business is going to be the way another one does. Asking questions, getting the answers, and making a decision that is right for you shows an agent that you take your career as a writer seriously. And that's sure to make all agents (and writers) happy.

For those of you readers who have an agent, what was the most surprising thing you've learned about the process so far? For those of you still in the query trenches, what are some questions or concerns that you might still have? 

*If a contract outlines payments due to the agent that are outside of the book selling, run very far away as fast as you can. A solid agent will not charge you a reading fee, editing fee, copying fee, or any other fee that they can think of in the process of selling your work. You should never be the one writing a check to the agent. It should always be the other way around.

Focus on the Goal

One of the biggest problems with a lot of first novels (I mean the unpublished variety) is a lack of overall plot. Sure, lots of stuff happens and we can make a laundry list of "actions". But by the time you get to the end, you aren't really sure what the book was about.

Where's the Plot?

The same thing can often be said of first time marketers. Oh, there's stuff happening. Social media is in effect and there is certainly "action". Usually enough to keep you distracted from writing the next book. But in the end, there isn't a sense of any big picture plan.

Marketing is overwhelming. Authors don't suffer from not having any ideas on how to market. The problem is deciding which of the eleventy billion ideas to pick.

Firepole Marketing wrote this great post recently on how to decide where to focus your marketing efforts.  The article isn't geared toward authors, but much of the ideas can be applied. They suggest a series of steps to pick one tactic to focus on for the next six months. One game plan, one big picture.

I don't agree with the six month time frame for authors. As slow as publishing tends to run, in six months your book can launch and fall into oblivion. But the same principle can be applied to a week. 

I can get behind a single focus. Let's be honest, if you're trying to launch a blog tour, host a live twitter chat, create a trailer and send out press releases all in the same week, a ball is getting dropped somewhere.

Each week in our Marketing Challenge will have a separate focus as well. The idea is to have small, manageable daily tasks that get your closer to the end goal of tons of readers without looking like an ant hill under attack. Sometimes slow and steady does win the race.

May Challenge Preview

Are you guys excited about the May Marketing Challenge (name still in progress)? Yeah! Me, too!

So I thought I'd give you a bit of a preview for what you can expect starting next week, as well as take care of a few housekeeping items.

First off, the challenge really needs a better name than May Marketing Challenge. I've tried to come up with something witty and memorable, but I've got nothing. So, I'm open to options. Post your ideas for a good name in the comments and I'll pick a winner.

What does the winner win? Good question. First, you win the honor of being the creator of the May Challenge name and all the glory that comes with that fine distinction. Second, you'll get an automatic extra entry into the drawing.

Oh, what's the drawing? Another excellent question. You're on a roll. The drawing will take place at the end of the challenge for everyone that makes it all the way to the end. Fabulous prizes are still being finalized, but they are designed to help you further your book marketing efforts, which is, after all, what this is all about.

In order to be entered, you just need to check in each day of the challenge in the comments box and let me know that you've completed that day's task. Sometimes I'll have questions to answer to help keep the momentum going, and other times it can be a simple "I'm done". Everyone who completes the challenge is eligible to win the fabulous (currently unnamed) prizes.

Following this blog is not a requirement to enter the drawing or win the prize, but I would recommend it.* That way, you'll be sure not to miss any of the posts. You don't have to do the challenges on the day they are posted, but most of them will build on themselves so you don't want to get behind.

Are we good? If you have any other questions I haven't answered, just let me know in the comments along with your fabulous name suggestions.

*Of course, I recommend it. It's my blog. Still, you should do it.

Now, on to that promised preview!

Think Local
Have you ever been fishing? You can use worms, crickets, crawdads, all sorts of little bugs as bait. But if you want to catch the really big fish, you use little fish, minnows. You can buy minnows, but they're pretty easy to catch: a modified pop bottle and some bread will do it.

Getting big media works the same way. The big fish pay attention if you've got lots of little fish swimming around. A five minute spot on your small town morning news show probably won't sell a bunch of books. But you aren't planning to fry up and eat the minnows. You use them (I'm talking about the local show here, stick with me) to catch a bigger show, maybe the next biggest city in your county.

Don't overlook your local media outlets because they aren't big enough. They can help you reel in the big fish.

Are you a Writer: an easy quiz

While reading through the slush pile, I see all kinds of tidbits tucked into that little bio paragraph at the end of each query letter.  Most of them are not so good, and I think the reason is people aren't sure if they are a writer or not. To help clear up some of the confusion, I've prepared a short quiz to help you gain clarity on your position as a writer. Jot down your answers and calculate your points at the end.

1.       While sitting in your favorite writing chair, you start coughing. You grab your writing beverage of choice and soothe your throat with a big sip of:
a.       Whiskey
b.      Coffee
c.       Soda/pop
d.      Water

2.       While out with your friends, someone asks for a pen. You:
a.       Do not have a pen.
b.      Offer them their choice of gel glide or ball point without even needing to look in your purse.
c.       Offer to go to your car where you know there are at least a half-dozen pens.
d.      Dig around in your bag and come up with three pens. One is empty, another is missing the cap, and one has been chewed to within an inch of its life.

3.       You are finally ready to send your work out to agents. Your query letter is:
a.       Critiqued to within an inch of its life and after sixteen drafts is finally ready to go.
b.      As good as it’s going to get.
c.       Um…what exactly is a query letter again?
d.      Chock full of everything an agent could ever want to know about you including your t-shirt size in case they want to send you a welcome to the agency present.

4.       It’s the middle of the night and you just had the most amazing idea for a story ever. You:
a.      Jump out of bed and rush to the bathroom to jot it down in the notebook you keep there for exactly this moment.
b.      Roll over and fall back asleep.  
c.       Grab your phone and call your CP bestie to tell her all about it.
d.      Slump out of bed, open your laptop and type out a note you aren’t positive you’ll understand in the morning.

5.       During a review of your calendar you realize that your kid’s band concert is on the same night as your monthly critique meeting. You decide to:
a.       Go to the concert and slide in for the last few minutes of the meeting.
b.      Skip the concert, but make your spouse tape it so you can revel in all the off-key glory later.
c.       Order a singing telegram for the meeting to let your CPs know how much you wish you could be there.
d.      Send off your critique notes and tell everyone you’ll see them next month.

Time for the results!
Tally up your points. I assume you've read Cosmo and know how this works:
1. a(4), b(3), c(2), d(1)
2. a(1), b(4), c(2), d(3)
3. a(3), b(2), c(1), d(4)
4. a(3), b(1), c(4), d(2)
5. a(2), b(1), c(4), d(3)

If you scored:

5-9: Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you’re just writing for fun. Maybe you think the rest of us need to chill way out. You enjoy what you’re doing, but you aren’t willing to let it change your life. Know what? That’s totally okay, you’re still a writer. 

10-14: You love a good coffee shop chapter session as much as the next guy, but writing isn’t all there is to life. When inspiration strikes, just try to keep you away from the keyboard. When summer strikes, it’s another story. You could be the snow bird of writers, but that still makes you a writer.

15-19: Critique partners, beta readers, workshop classes and conference pitch sessions. You’ve got this writing thing down. You might have a few books under your belt or you're still waiting on “the call”. Either way, nothing can keep you from telling the next fifty or so amazing ideas you’ve got brewing around in that magic brain of yours. Publishing credits or not, you’re a writer.

20: You’ve just finished your 876th manuscript and, while it’s hard to believe, it’s even better than the previous 875. Bathing is for losers unless you’ve got a dry erase board hanging in your shower so you can keep writing while you lather, rinse, repeat. When it comes to writing you’ve been there, done that, and have the heinous drinking problem to prove it. Write on writer!

I hope you get the picture. If not, allow me to spell it out. It doesn't matter what your goals are or if you write with a gold plated fountain pen. If you enjoy writing and make the time to do it, You Are a Writer. Now own it.

Your Marketing Voice (Platform Persona)

I'm in total prep mode right now getting ready for the May promotion challenge (better name and more details to come), so I was struggling to come up with a topic. I was procrastinating while attempting to look productive by taking a look at my blog stats. I noticed that the most common search term people use to find me is Voice. Who knew procrastination would actual help?

Because here's the deal. You know that voice is critical in your manuscript. You've also heard that voice in your query/proposal is a great touch (though not as critical). But I rarely hear about the voice of our marketing efforts.

So just in case there's any confusion, let me make it clear. You need to have voice in your marketing efforts. Great, now we're all on the same page. Go about your business.

Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes, I guess I should explain. No seriously, put down the moldy fruit. It's going to be okay.

We all have a voice (call it style if that makes it easier to breathe) whether we know it or not. You might be a down to business kinda person. You could be a joker, the personal life sharer, the mysteriously anonymous, or a strange eclectic mix of them all. Consider it your platform persona (oh, I like it).

Just like with your writing, it's critical that your voice or PP (platform persona, it's the new thing and I'm going to make it happen) needs to match your product and your audience. If you write non-fiction business books, you'll probably want to take on a more formal PP. I say probably, because what if you writer humorous non-fiction business books targeted toward middle managers who are tired of reading business books. If that's the case then you'll probably want to be more irreverent, while maintaining the aura of "I'm an expert".

If you write MG horror then you'll have a completely different PP. No matter how old I get RL Stine will always be a creepy guy to me and that's a good thing. That's who he needs to be. If he ran around posting pictures of rainbow unicorns on his website, people would have a hard time taking him serious as a horror writer.

I'm not suggesting we need to become the genre we write in. I am saying that we need to be aware of our PP and make sure it meets the two C's: Content driven and Consistent. In other words, let what you write be a factor in your persona. Not the only factor, but A factor. And whatever you pick, be consistent in how you present yourself. That's not to say if you have a humorous PP, you can't write a serious blog post. But if you do, you need to acknowledge the shift with your readers and let them know why you're temporarily changing gears.

So let's hear it. What's your PP? How did you decide?

Everything Changes

This week I've had two completely unrelated "ah-ha" moments.

First there was a weekend reunion trip back to the old Alma Mater. It's been over a decade since I set sights on my college. I was simultaneously overwhelmed by the amount of things that had stayed completely the same and by those that were different.

Good old Phi Chapter

 My sorority house (which was celebrating 100 years on campus) was almost untouched at first sight. Same brick building, same bench out front. Even the same screen door with the holes in it. But then I looked closer. We have a wheelchair ramp now, and a big flat screen in the living room. The biggest change was the lack of a phone line. They took the lines out of the rooms. I guess they just assume everyone has a cell phone now.

It was...strange.

Then there was this...
The Twenty Mile Stand in Cincinnati
The Twenty Mile Stand was built in 1804, only a few years after Ohio became a state. It got its name because it was roughly 20 miles from downtown Cincinnati and a perfect spot for a stage coach stop. It has been a tavern, post office, school house and a library. During my lifetime (I grew up just a mile or two down the street) it was a series of restaurants, each of them opening with great fanfare and fizzling out shortly after.

Over the past many years the building has deteriorated and became a liability. This picture was taken yesterday, as the building was being demolished.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because change happens. Sometimes it is welcome and long overdue (like a wheelchair ramp) and other times it is sad and disappointing (like losing a landmark). The thing is, we can't do anything to stop it.

There's an old saying, and I have no idea where it comes from. The basic idea is that the only constant thing is change. So if you aren't moving forward, you're moving backward, because standing still isn't an option.

It used to be a book tour set you apart and earned all the reader exposure an author could hope for. We can cry about the fact that a blog tour isn't as effective as it used to be, but we can't cling to it as the end all be all of book promotion. And I'm not just picking on book tours here. I'm talking about all the wonderful tricks and tips that were highly successful 10, 5, even 1 year ago, that don't pull as much weight today.

It's up to all of us to recognize that change (like Winter) is always coming. We can cling to what once was or might have been, or we can look forward to what is coming next. The challenge is to know what's coming so we can be on the early end of it.

To that point, I'm excited to announce a new series coming to the blog in May. For one month I'll be focusing entirely on ways to promote your book, with a new challenge or action item issued every day of the month. I'm hoping to put a new twist on some old ideas that have fallen out of favor and introduce a few new ideas to jump start your sales.

The month long challenge will be most beneficial to those with a recent release or one that is close, but anyone can participate. There will be prizes as well, but more on that later. For now, I just want to give you a heads up.

We can stick our heads in the sand about the changes in the publishing world, but it won't help us sell more books. Let's work together to embrace the change.

Blog Blitz: Beth Fred

I know that Monday's are usually agency lesson days. There aren't going anywhere, but today I need to do something different. You see, there are wonderful members of this writing community who sometime need deserve our help. Today, that person is Beth Fred. 

Meet Beth Fred! That's me! I'm a full time ELF keeper and part time writer/blogger/writing instructor. I'm represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency. I like my tea hot, my romance sweet, and my guys chivalrous. Real men hold open doors, refer to you as ma'am, make promises they keep, and aren't afraid to profess their undying love. It's not breakfast if there aren't carbs(at least, not in the South). Fajitas, carnitas, and churros are just few of my favorite things. Bet you can't guess where I'm from ;) Wanna know more about me? You can find that here:
Email me: bethfred08(at)
Tweet me: bethfred08

Beth is awesome. In fact, she's so awesome she's using her blog to showcase a different blogger every day in the month of April. If you don't know her, you should. She's totally down to earth, completely approachable and funny as all get out. I'm a big fan.

Know what else makes Beth awesome? She wrote some books. Good ones.

When twenty-four-year-old Tiffany escapes her sister Kammy's too wild Cancun bachelorette party, she finds herself in a bar with the unwanted attention of a gorgeous local named Luke.

Luke may be charming but Tiffany is leaving in two days and doesn't need any complications. But complications are exactly what she gets when the cops show up to raid Kammy's party. When Kammy is arrested, Tiffany agrees to have dinner with Luke, so he'll help her get Kammy out of jail. Kammy's arrest forces her to spend an extra day in Cancun, meaning she'll miss a crucial meeting, and as an accountant in tax season, she is already drowning in work. Not to mention, every second she spends with Luke makes it harder to leave. With Luke, Tiffany can forget about work.

But will the airport be their final goodbye?
Available at:
Amazon & Smashwords
When twenty-four-year-old dance school drop out Kammy Marlowe is evicted by her mother, she goes to her favorite bar. She finds an unlikely friend in the blunt eye candy, Enrique. But Kammy knows there is no way she and Enrique have a shot because he's her brother-in-law’s brother and has been privy to her wild past.

Enrique swears he’s only interested in the person she is today, but their relationship is tested when her ex-husband's drug dealer attacks her, looking for money. With no options and a money hungry drug dealer on her back, Kammy accepts a position as a dancer at a strip club. But when Enrique shows up at the club, their relationship is over. With no reason to stay in Texas anymore, Kammy auditions for the Bolshevik Ballet and gets the opportunity to go to Russia. Only Enrique is determined to stop her.

Will she give up the chance of a lifetime to stay with the man she still loves?
Available at:

Know what's not awesome? People pirating Beth's book before it's even been officially released. Not awesome.

So do me a favor. If you like contemporary romance go check out Beth's books. You can add them on Goodreads, like her FB page or even buy her book. You can also help by spreading the word about Beth's work and reminding people that stealing books is not cool.