Articles by Jessica Schein

Author Success Story: The Walk-On by Matt Stewart

Matt Stewart knows what it feels like to be the underdog. As a freshman at Northwestern he walked on to the school’s football field and earned a position as the fifth-string free safety. But that didn’t deter him: through hard work and dedication he rose to second-string his sophomore year and in the process earned a full-ride scholarship. Stewart’s rise to success mirrored the team’s. In 1995, after 20-plus years of losing seasons, Northwestern’s footballers won 10 games as well as the Big Ten, and even played in the Rose Bowl.

Life changing for Stewart and his teammates, the school’s breakthrough season was a story he felt he had to tell, and after years of research based on his coach’s own book, the games Stewart’s mother taped, and the programs he saved, he finally finished. The Walk-On was released in May.

“I wrote this book to inspire others, to let them know that no matter what the odds, no matter what the obstacles, anything is possible as long as you work hard, believe in your abilities and approach your goals with a good attitude.”

From the get-go Stewart knew that publishing the book was only one of his goals. Making sure it got into the hands of the right readers was another—and to date his approach has worked. The Walk-On is sold on Lulu, Amazon, BN.com, the iBookstore and a number of brick-and-mortar stores. He secured indie placement by visiting the stores in person and asking them to consign his book — a deal that gives the retailer 40% of the profits and the author guaranteed shelf placement for at least three months.

The Best Web Resources for Authors (Part 2)

In an earlier blog post we went over some of the Internet’s best sites for the latest on publishing, finding a critique buddy or group, and even writing prompts. But that’s of course not all the Web has to offer. Here are a few others you might want to check out:

Mashable: Think you know social media? Think again. This self-proclaimed “largest independent news source dedicated to covering digital culture, social media and technology” features helpful articles on what’s trending (hint: keep checking to see if there’s a PR opportunity for your book); the latest must-have apps; and the marketing campaigns that have caught their expert’s eyes. If you’re looking to find out who’s showing off their stuff right, visit Mashable and learn from the best.

Seth Godin’s Blog: Seth Godin is a marketer extraordinaire. No, really. Just ask American Way magazine, which called him “America’s Best Marketer.” How did he earn such a title? Well, in addition to publishing 14 books (now available in 30 languages), he’s also founded dozens of companies. Although he admits that some failed, his latest– Squidoo.com, a platform for publishing original, user-crafted lifestyle content on single topic pages–averages 13.1M U.S. visitors per month and 27M worldwide. In short, listen to his thoughts on “the circles of marketing,” taking risks, and, well, anything else.

The Coalition of Independent Authors: Speaking of those risks Mr. Godin talks about, if you’ve published (whether independently or not) you’ve taken the biggest one a creative type can.

Author Success Story: Ruth Anne Kocour

Trek to K2 and Pakistan’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, Kashmir, Tajikistan, and China. See topography that has led to isolation–physical and cultural–of tribes blocked for centuries by natural barriers, lack of infrastructure and communication. Ruth Anne Kocour’s tale of travel and adversity lends a face to today’s news and a glimpse into what we all have in common–our humanity.

When it came time to publish her new book, Walking the War Zones of Pakistan: One Woman’s Journey Into the Shadow of the Taliban, Ruth Anne Kocour planned to bypass traditional publishers because she wanted to “enjoy more control over the final product.”

Despite having had an “excellent” experience working with St. Martin’s Press on her first book, Facing the Extreme, Kocour didn’t want to go through extensive re-writes and wait years to see Walking the War Zones of Pakistan in the hands of readers especially since Kocour believes independent publishing is the future of the industry:

“I believe traditional publishing will focus more on subjects with broad market appeal, sensational subjects, timely events, and/or celebrity-type bios, and I see self-publishing as an excellent option for subjects with niche markets or those of regional interest, that wouldn’t capture the attention of a mainstream publisher.”

So Kocour turned to Lulu who evaluated her manuscript as part of the Editorial Quality Review package. Together they worked on a mechanical edit that improved grammar and punctuation, and which she called “the most technical and comprehensive edit I’ve ever had.” For the cover Kocour provided Lulu with photos she thought would “lend to a good design” and received two mock-ups back, both “top notch.” Overall Kocour is quick to praise Lulu, which she says “exceeded her expectations.” Even the process itself was “fun.”

Having a successful media tour for Facing the Extreme already under her belt, Kocour was at an advantage in terms of marketing. She drew from her network of journalists and bloggers, among others, and was even contacted by new media via her website, through referrals, or from her talks. Additionally the timeliness of her story helped — and now hardly a week goes by when she’s not asked to speak or do a TV interview. Still, she learned a lot about publicity this time around:

“Media loves media.  Once you have a successful track record with the media, you become a known entity–one they can count on. We have several of my TV interviews posted on my website where media people and others can access them.”

Now Kocour is an independent publishing convert, and sees the route as not only viable, but preferable for new and veteran authors. Currently conceptualizing a new story, Kocour plans to once again publish through Lulu. She also intends to bring Facing the Extreme back in print—in hardcover, paperback, and as an eBook. This, too, will be through Lulu.

Her advice to new authors is very simple.

“If you think you have a book in you, and you want to get it out there, then do it! And definitely take advantage of the vast array of services Lulu has to offer, and its great staff who are more than willing to walk you through the process.”

The Scoop on Scrivener

As writers, we’re known to seek comfort in the form of tea, complaining, and well, more complaining. It’s part of the process, which as of late has been somewhat revolutionized with the software writing program, Scrivener.

If you follow authors on social media or have a critique group, you’ve probably already heard of it. Praised by mainstream media like The New York Times and tech publications such as Wired, The Seattle Times even went so far as to say that writers “swear by” Scrivener — which over the years has received awards from MacWorld and MacUser.

A self-proclaimed “content management tool,” the software is designed to help writers “structure and compose” long documents such as dissertations, screenplays, essays and of course the ever-daunting novel. The “binder” section in the left navigational pane helps you find and edit specific portions of your document and hop to and from your research or other notes then back to your writing easily. Don’t like where one scene or paragraph is placed? Drag and drop it into a new location; no need to waste time copying, pasting, and re-formatting your text. Last, but certainly not least, the virtual index card feature was created to help authors determine the best sequence for their work. Explains Allison Martin, who used the software to redraft her YA fantasy novel, plot a contemporary piece, and write a short story:

“Often while writing I’d have an idea for a future event or couldn’t remember what I was leading up to in the scene I was writing. So I’d pop over to the corkboard and check or type a quick note in the side bar so I would remember. Being able to see a point-form version of my novel is extremely helpful for me. Scrivener catches all my tangents and afterthoughts and compiles them into neat and organized homes that I can go back to and actually understand what I meant in my notes.”

Lauren Morrill, author of the upcoming young adult novel from Random House, Meant to Beagrees about Scrivener’s organizational merit.

“I like the way it forces me to think in parts of a novel: scenes, chapters, etc. Word is just one giant, endless blank page, which can be really scary.”

Structure isn’t the only helpful Scrivener provides. The often updated software offers an outlining tool, allows you to switch to scriptwriting mode for screen or stage play formatting, and even exports your document into the format you need for self-publishing.

That said, there are some drawbacks, notably the program’s file exclusivity, meaning that it’s not possible to pull one’s Scrivener files into Word to do a read-through when not at your home computer. Although the company has stated on their website that they’re “hoping to bring a scaled-down version of Scrivener to the iPad (and possibly the iPhone too) eventually,” nothing has been announced just yet.

Those new to the software should heed advice from veteran users. Notes Allison Martin,

“Think of Scrivener as a ‘writing software program’ not as a ‘word processor.’ It’s not like Word or Pages where you just start writing. It’s meant to aid you in the ENTIRE writing process from research to outline to publication.”

Lauren Morrill concurs, and also advises users to “watch YouTube videos” to really understand how it works before diving in. Otherwise you may run the risk of reaping more frustration than reward.

Speaking of one’s experience with Scrivener, have you used it yet? If so, tell us what you think in the comments below.

Author Success Story: Valerie Baadh Garrett

While working as a movement specialist at the San Francisco Waldorf School, Valerie Baadh Garrett decided she wanted to write a book that would “support the movements of a kind of modern ‘circus’ for 200 children.” So she and her husband created a character that readers young and old would love: Uffe the Gnome. Nestled deep in the woods, his tall tales are designed to get kids’ minds and bodies moving in The Adventures of Uffe the Gnome.

Once Valerie landed an illustrator she approached traditional publishers but was rejected. No one was interested in a children’s story about gnomes and fairies in rhythm and rhyme. Valerie was not deterred. As she explains:

“Although that was disappointing, we knew there was an audience for our Uffe stories because we saw it every time I did a class or circus program.  Parents and children would clamor for a copy of the story.”

So she turned to Lulu.com, a decision she is very happy with—calling the company and its services “easy to use.”

“We were thrilled to see our little book look so professional so fast.”

Already the book has sold well. Outside of being sold on Lulu’s site, The Adventures of Uffe the Gnome is available as an iBook, through iTunes, and can be found on the website Valerie and her husband own and manage, The Movement Academy Project.

Recently, Valerie took copies to China on a trip that grew out of her movement work. There to lead a workshop, she knew she’d be working closely with teachers and parents and that Uffe would be a great resource for them. So to better serve that market, she updated her book by adding the title in Mandarin and changing it a bit to The Adventures of Uffe the Earth Fairy since gnomes aren’t part of Chinese culture. Additionally, Valerie included a CD she and her husband created narrating the stories in English so that her overseas customers would find added value in this bilingual package. These efforts paid off: By the end of the trip she’d secured a Chinese publisher for Uffe’s current and future books.

“One of my hosts set up a meeting for me with a local publishing house, and right away they loved Uffe. We are still working out the details, but it looks like they will publish six different books, to start, with six individual stories, bilingual in Mandarin and English, in a larger-scale format so the illustrations can be colored like a coloring book.”

Stateside, Valerie mainly promotes the book by hand and on Twitter, through her account that is tied into her movement work, as well as her website. Outside of her online efforts she ordered postcards offered by Lulu after Uffe was published and sent them to select bookstores. A few ordered copies right away!

Her advice to new authors is simple: “Give Lulu.com a try, but try not to rush.” Valerie admits she made a costly mistake by ordering copies with a typo in the title. Although funny now, it was a frustrating lesson that required a reprint and more money.

There are a lot more adventures on the horizon for Valerie, who has several projects in production.  Lulu.com, she insists, will be “a vital part of the process.”

A Look Into Publishing Lingo

Publishing lingo can be tricky. When you’re making the decision about whether to self-publish your work or pursue a traditional publishing house, you may stumble upon some unfamiliar terms. Below we have outlined some of the most commonly used terms in the traditional publishing world to help.

Advance: This refers to the amount of money you receive up front from a traditional publisher. Depending on your deal it can range from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands, though first time/mid-list authors should expect more modest amounts. The structure of how an advance is paid out varies by house but range from half on signing and half on delivery of the final manuscript to a third on signing, another third on delivery, and the final third on publication. One quick note: it isn’t until your book makes back your advance that you’ll see any royalties whatsoever.

Royalties: Once a traditional publisher has made back the money it advanced you to write the book, you will begin earning royalties. Like an advance, the amount you receive per book sold (to a retailer at the wholesale price) will vary based on many factors, although typically it will be on the smaller side–say 6.5% to 10% for print editions (rates differ for paperbacks versus hardcovers) and 25% for eBooks. Payment schedules will differ based on the publisher, but will typically be doled out on a quarterly or twice-a-year basis.

When you self-publish through Lulu, you keep 80% of the profits on your print books and 90% of the profits on your eBook. To understand revenue vs. royalty vs. profit, we’ve written some brief explanations:

  • Revenue: a general term for any money Lulu pays you for book sales
  • Royalty: a specific type of revenue that comes from retail sales and is subject to United States of America income tax laws
  • Profit: the net income for your work after other expenses have been accounted for, including payment to contributors, pre-production, labor, marketing and overhead costs.
For more information on pricing and profit on Lulu.com, check here: Deciphering Retail Prices.

 

ISBNThis stands for International Standard Book Number. Essentially, it is a 13-digit identifier required if you plan on selling your book in a bookstore or distributing it via a library. It’s often printed on the back cover of a book or the copyright page and every edition (eBook, paperback, hardcover) need its own ISBN. 

Laydown date: Your book’s publication date — as in the day it will go on sale. Large publishers will sometimes enforce a “strict laydown date,” meaning that retailers are not allowed to sell the book before it comes out — and may even be subject to legal action copies be accidentally released beforehand.

Galley or ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy): These are the copies that authors/publicists send to media for review. A galley will include the cover and the book’s text with the caveat that reviewers check with the publisher before printing a quote, but won’t include any special effects on the cover like foil or embossing (raised print). An Advance Reader’s Copy costs more to produce and tends to include snazzier extras. In Lulu terms, this is called a proof copy. 

OOS: Out of stock. This can apply to either a retailer or the publisher — meaning books are flying off the shelves too fast for the printing press to keep up! In Lulu land, the only time this would happen would be if the author took his or her book out of distribution but a retail partner, such as Amazon, hasn’t taken the listing down from their site yet. 

Mass Market: In addition to hardcover and paperback bindings, there’s also what’s known as a “mass market” edition, which is always paperback and of a smaller trim than the dimensions of a “trade paperback.” However, mass market refers to more than just size. Distribution-wise these books are sold outside of bookstores in the aisles of your local big box or grocery stores. This term is specific to traditional publishing.

If there are other terms you’d like to know more about add them to the comments section below and stay tuned for a follow-up post.

Top Web Resources for Writers (Part 1)

There’s a reason why the Internet was called the “information superhighway” in the 1990s. Although the term itself is somewhat out of date, the significance is not. Today’s search engines pull up thousands of web pages in seconds, so which sites should you be visiting and why? Here are some of our suggestions:

Publishers Weekly: Whether you know you’re going to self-publish or not, you should always keep an eye on the pulse of publishing. It’s helpful to know what genres are hot, how authors got their start, and what self-publishing phenoms did to market their titles. Although technically a trade journal, Publishers Weekly presents everything from industry news and deals to author interviews and the latest on the expanding digital market.

Absolute Write: First, check out the blog, which includes helpful articles such as: how to write good web copy and how to handle feelings of frustration. Then head over to the forum, where you can connect with thousands of writers about anything and everything. Engage in discussions on grammar and syntax, specialty genres, e-publishing, and even the freelance market. The site also serves as a place to take, or teach, writing classes.

Critique Circle: If you’re looking for honest feedback on your work then look no further than Critique Circle, which is a forum to help writers connect with one another. This free service allows writers to submit their work to a select few and garner feedback in a private exchange. According to the site, stories receive on average between 7 to 10 critiques each. If that’s not enough there are other handy tools that will help you bring your characters to life (and come up with their names), track your own progress, and write a paragraph a day thanks to the Paragraph-A-Day tool.

How To Market Children’s Books

Marketing is usually pretty cut-and-dry. You have an audience you’re trying to reach, and you do what you can to reach them. But what if you have a whole segment of people whose attention you want but that don’t have any buying power? Well, that’s a whole different ballgame.

Marketing to kids is made more difficult by the fact that you have to appease not one but two people: the child and the parent. Because of this two-pronged approach, marketing kid’s books can be tricky. So here are some handy tips to consider:

Mind the law: The laws around Internet marketing toward children under the age of 13 are very clear and very strict. Make sure you familiarize yourself well with the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) laws before you do any contests, giveaways, or other promotions targeting children online.

Build a Robust Website: All authors could benefit from a good website, and children’s book authors are no exception. Make it easy for parents and educators to know if your book is appropriate for a child by outlining the book’s story and themes, providing your bio, and surfacing any quotes from other authors, teachers, or librarians. Additionally, consider putting up downloadable activities, or a reading group guide, that teachers can use in their classroom. Here is a great example: TraceyJaneSmith.com.

How to Market Mysteries & Thrillers

Knowing who your targeting is half the battle when it comes to marketing. In 2010, a Sisters in Crime survey found that when it comes to mystery and thriller readers, 68% are women, 35% live in the south, 48% are suburban dwellers, and 26% are 65 or older. While this doesn’t mean you should target all of your efforts to 70-year-old women living in the outskirts of Atlanta, there is a point: know where to find your audience. This also means deciding whether your book falls under any of the sub-genre categories, which include: general mysteries, thrillers, police procedurals, and the like. Once you have a sense of who your reader is you should be able to identify the bloggers and publications you’ll want to reach out to.

That said, there are a number of general tips for marketing mysteries. Here are just a few:

Attend a Conference: More so than any other genre, mystery readers and writers have the chance to meet others at various meet-ups. From the large, annual Mystery Writers Conference to the smaller “Love is Murder” convention, find out what’s going on close to you and consider attending, exhibiting, or even applying for a panel. To cut costs, consider getting a group of local writers together to jointly sponsor a table. While there, don’t shy away from others; make connections and friendships that will improve your writing and your ability to promote.

Increase your social media presence: Whether it’s Twitter, Pinterest, blogging, or all of the above, it’s important you have a presence online. Readers want to connect with writers and all of these mediums are an easy (once you get the hang of ‘em) way to do so.

Author Success Story: Timber Hawkeye

A longtime student of world religion, Buddhism, and psychology, Timber Hawkeye yearned for a less complicated depiction of the Buddha’s teachings than what the Tibetan temple had to offer, so when the Lama suggested he try Zen instead, Timber took off his maroon robes and moved to a Zen monastery far from home. While he liked the simpler message, he still felt the teachings were full of the same dogma that sent him running from religion in the first place. Believing that people are more interested in positive inspiration and motivation than in ceremonies and rituals, he conceived of a book that would empower readers to not necessarily be a Buddhist, but a Buddha, through gratitude and the consistent message to “be kind.”

“There are many incredible books out there that cover all aspects of religion, philosophy, psychology, and physics, ” he explains, “but I was looking for something less ‘academic’, so to speak. I was looking for something inspirational that people today would not only have the attention span to read all the way through, but actually understand and also implement in their daily lives.”

Thus, Buddhist Boot Camp came to be.