Thursday, October 30, 2008

Writing Blurbs or How To Make Your Head Explode

So my editor and I were working on the front flap copy for my upcoming new book (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist) and we spent the day struggling with something that I realized might be relevant for SVP readers.

Whether writing catalog copy, front flap copy, or a query letter, it is vital that we learn to be able to write a short blurb-y description about our books that will hook readers (book buyers, browsing bookstore customers, editors and agents.) But it’s also one of the hardest things to write. What do you emphasize? Which essence do you choose to distill down to? How few details can you use to establish character?

One of the things my editor and I were struggling with was whether to emphasize the micro/personal struggles that emphasize character, or the larger, plot focused struggles, which felt more hook-y.

There are a few essential elements that a hook/query pitch/cover copy have to include:
Period/Mood (I don’t think you need both, but probably one.)
The Inciting Incident
The Struggle

One thing that can be helpful as you're brainstorming is to state your character’s internal goal, this can act as a great character hook in a blurb.

Another idea is to list all the elements of your book that make good hooks; what are the most evocative elements, the ones that would hook a reader?

Next, can you identify the Inciting Incident? What gets the external plot really rolling?

And then what is the conflict the protagonist struggles with throughout the bulk of the book?

If you can some up with a strong, evocative sentence (or two) for each of those four things, you will be well on your way to having a great blurb.

From some books off my shelf.

THE MAGIC THIEF by Sarah Prineas (Great book, btw).

Character and Period/Mood are combined in the first sentence: (Although actually, more of Conn’s character is revealed in the Inciting Incident sentence as well)

In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure.

The Inciting Incident:

Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and touched the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not.

The Ongoing Struggle/Conflict

Nevery finds that interesting, and he takes Conn as his apprentice on the provision that the boy find a locus stone of his own within a month. But with his wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who—or what—is stealing the city of Wellmet's magic, time is running out for Conn to find his stone.

A second example is a much more character driven book, A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR, by Newberry Medal Winner, Laura Amy Schultz (who apparently doesn't have a website as far as I can see) Is it legal to have back to back parenthesis? Not sure, but here goes....(Also a terrific book. LOVED the main character of this one.)

Note that you don’t have to have these elements in any particular order, as long as you get them all in there:

The Character – look how short and sweet that it, and yet so compelling!

Maud Flynn is “plain, clever, and bad,"

then this next bit sounds like an inciting incident, but it happens right away in the story so is actually more set up:

…so it comes as a surprise when she’s plucked from the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans and adopted by the elderly Hawthorne sisters. Maude eagerly hopes to be pampered and cherished by the sisters, and life seems perfect—

Here's the true Inciting Incident:

...until Maud learns of the role she has to play in the high stakes “family business.”

And now they hit the reader with the Period/Mood and the Ongoing Struggle/Conflict, which is a very internally set struggle:

Set in the early twentieth century, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair takes readers into the shadowy world of spiritualism as Maud must decide just how much she is willing to do for the sake of being loved.

Anybody want to try it? Have a blurb their struggling with and want some direction? I'm game if you are. Or if you're feeling shy about it (SO unlikely on an introvert's blog!) you can email it to me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Cool Introverts in Literature: Annie Proulx

Congratulations to our reader Yat-Yee, for correctly identifying which very cool introvert author made the statement below:

"I've often thought that if you could have an unlimited library, if they would bring you any book you wanted when you asked, it would be all right to be in prison."

Annie Proulx (pronounced "Proo") is the Pullitzer Prize winning author of what have been called "vividly imagined and boldly idiosyncratic works of fiction" including Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988), Postcards (1992), The Shipping News (1993),  Acordian Crimes (1996), Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999), That Old Ace in the Whole (2002), and Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004).  Her newest work just out is Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3.  She is widely known for her famous short story "Brokeback Mountain," which was made into an award-winning and controversial major motion picture.   She was the first woman to win the prestigious PEN/Faulkner book award, for her debut novel Postcards.  Her list of literary awards is nearly endless.

Annie Proulx, now 73, lives alone in Wyoming on 640 acres (sound of introverts sighing in envy) with a mile of riverfront, five miles outside of Saratoga. To get there you head up past Laramie through the Snowy Mountains and Medicine Bow National Forest.  She is surrounded by Black Angus cattle, limestone cliffs and yellow aspen. To do the writing that she does, she needs time and isolation.  Toward the end of a project, she works up to sixteen hours a day.  

She says that she doesn't mind that writing is a solitary pursuit, and that she likes to be alone. "The downside of the writing life is that you are a constant observer of other people's lives.  I was always the one at parties standing against the wall."  

Her first book was published when she was 53 years old (sound of older introverts sighing happily).  "For me, the story falls out of a place, its geology and climate, the flora, fauna, prevailing winds, the weather.  I am not people-centric, and I'm appalled at what human beings have done to the planet . . . "

Annie Proulx is not a major fan of the media and has worked hard to keep her world private and real. She generally refuses interviews.  Winning the Pulitzer Prize brought a great deal of attention to her door.  "It's not good for one's view of human nature, that's for sure. You begin to see, when invitations are coming from festivals and colleges to come read (for an hour for a hefty sum of money), that the institutions are head-hunting for trophy writers. Most don't particularly care about your writing or what you're trying to say. You're there as a human object, one that has won a prize. It gives you a very odd, meat-rack kind of sensation."

She next plans to spend this coming winter in a little apartment in Albuquerque doing research at the University of Mexico.  Her excitement at the prospect of that is "palpable." And she is looking forward to the change in her landscape.  

The Shrinking Violets are very pleased to induct Ms. Annie Proulx into our Coolest Introverts in Literature Hall of Fame.  Gosh, just wait 'til she hears this!   Pulitzer- Schmulitzer, we're talking SVP Hall of Fame, people!

Yat-Yee is the winner of Lynn Biederman and Michelle Baldini's debut YA novel, Unraveling.  (Which occasionally appears conjoined with my Ten Lucky Things... middle grade novel.)   Yat-Yee, if you'll email me your address I'll get this marvelous book off to you.

Later, friends--
Mary Hershey

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Marketing Strategy for Introverts You May Never Have Considered!

This genius promotional strategy is hot off the press and you heard it here first! Debut novelist, Lynn Biederman is happily signing copies of her new YA Novel Unraveling at an event the other night, when she is unable to locate her title page in the book she just picked up to autograph. Puzzled, she thumbs through the front pages but is still not finding it. She looks at the first chapter and realizes she doesn't recognize it at all!  Lynn pulls off the dust cover thinking there's been a switcheroo, but it clearly is the hardcover for her book.  Hoping to waking up from surreality soon, she finally realizes that all the inside book matter is a middle grade novel by some chick named Mary Hershey.  And it has a yard-long title . . . Ten Lucky Things That Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit By Lighting.

I cannot claim credit for this fabulous marketing strategy for my book!  Wow.  I owe somebody in Production at XXXX Publishing Company big.  They managed to find another author who had a book being released the same exact day as mine, and that was the same exact 230 pages long.  Strong work, guys!

This totally expands my readership from the middle grade market to YA as well.  Not only that, Lynn and her co-author, Michelle Baldini have garnered a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and got a slick review from Kirkus.  They've also been nominated for Best Books Young Adults 2009.  This translates to many more readers for my book.  Best yet?  They do all the leg work on this for me.  Sweet, huh?  I just sit home and collect the royalties.  Uh, Lynn, Michelle, we will need to talk about my split. Since you are doing a lot promotion for me, I'm willing to go 40/30/30.  Not giving up those film rights, though, no sirreee!

All tongue in cheekiness aside, I do feel horrible about this-- especially since this is Lynn and Michelle's first book, and that is such a thrilling and scary time.  Editors at our shared publishing house have been put on high alert-- CODE READ.  It his hoped that there are scant few copies of the conjoined copies.  Unless Lynn and Michelle agree to the 40/30/30 royalty split above, then I hope there are several kabillion copies out there. Kidding, girls, kidding!

In an attempt to mitigate a bit of this, I am offering you a chance to win a copy of their most excellent book. And if you get a conjoined copy sent to you, Lynn and I will both sign it, and then maybe you could sell it on ebay.  I'll bid on it!  And to everyone else out there, go buy this book!  And if your budget won't allow it, go to your local bookstore and/or library and ask for a copy of this book in your loudest voice, okay?  (Yes, you can use your loud introvert voice. We get that!)

Here is what you have to do to win one.  On Monday, we will be running a new Coolest Introverts in Literature post and I will be profiling the writer that said this:  

"I've often thought that if you could have an unlimited library, if they would bring you any book you wanted when you asked, it would be all right to be in prison." 

First person to guess who said this recently wins!  No Googling until Sunday, please.  After that, if no one has guessed, Google away.

Have a stellar weekend, friends--
Mary Hershey

Monday, October 20, 2008

Following the Cyber Trail

You know you need some kind of a marketing plan or in introvert-speak, a way to cultivate your field of future readers, but how in the world do you even know where to start?

They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. They also say there are no new ideas, just re-packaged and re-envisioned one. So with this in mind, here’s a suggestion: Pick a recently published, successful book that is similar to yours in tone and genre and (most important) potential audience. Then, using the miracle that is google, follow the book’s cyber trail to try and piece together some of the places it was marketed successfully. If the book is truly similar to yours in some way, then chances are good that a number of the successful story angles, contacts, and approaches may work for your book as well.

So for example you could pay close attention to the newspaper coverage the book received, what angle did those stories take? Which newspapers seems to embrace it? What were the reporters who reviewed them or wrote the stories? Consider creating a list of newspaper contacts based on those results and play with similar-but-new-and-right-for-your-book approaches for press releases or cover letters.

Also pay attention to which blogs the book got good reviews on. High traffic reader and writer blogs are a fabulous way to get the word out about your book, and many bloggers are very open to receiving review copies. Also look for online magazines that may have written up something about the book or featured it in some way. These names should also go on your possible media contact list. (Of course, it goes without saying that you will only approach these contacts with a highly professional cover letter and media kit with the appropriate type of media pitch, whether for articles, features, or reviews.)

It used to be that you needed to pay a clipping service a goodly amount of money to keep track of all the media mentions of a product, but now in the Age of Google, most print versions have an on-line version of their publication as well, so you're just a google search away seeing what marketing paths books before yours have embarked on, where they were successful, and if there are any practical lessons you can learn from their approach.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


My apologies for being away for the last two weeks and HUGE thank you’s to Mary for holding down the Violet patch all by her lonesome. (What IS introverts equivalent of fort, anyway?) The sad truth is, my back gave up the ghost and simply refused to function. Very hard to meet a deadline that way, let me tell you. Or do any cyber-surfing or blogging or, geez, lots of things.

However, when one is laying flat on ones' back, staring at the ceiling and wondering if an ice pack can actually give a person frostbite, one is apt to have epiphanies—just as one is apt to do anytime one is forced to be still for a little while and listen and observe as opposed to go-go-go and rush-rush-rush.

So my first epiphany was, Wow, I need to think about the plot of my next book A LOT before I finish writing it, so I got a lot of plot pondering done. I don’t know about you guys, but even after writing for over ten years I still have these annoying old tapes playing in my head: You must write every day, and You’re not a writer if you’re not writing, even though I KNOW better. But deadlines make me very aware of productivity, and productivity makes me want to produce. Pages. Words. And lots of them, so I can watch that word count grow and grow.

But since I couldn’t sit for more than about twenty minutes at a time, I was forced to positively wallow in my thoughts, and didn’t that turn out to be a terrific thing? I got so many twists and turns and additional threads figured out that all that “lost” time ended up being hugely productive. And I share this with you because I wonder sometimes, if we don’t actively seek what we as introverts crave--quiet time and lots of it for exploring our inner landscape--out body is forced to do it for us. It was such a perfect excuse to not seek people out, not read on the web, nothing to do but go inward, which I needed to do anyway. Funny how that works out some times, no?

Which segues into my second epiphany: the stillness and quiet to be found in unplugging. From the Internet. Yep, this very one you’re reading this blog on. Don’t get me wrong; the Internet is an introvert’s best friend, absolutely. But there can be too much of a good thing.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for allowing us to keep up with what’s happening in the industry, who’s selling what to whom, and how it is being promoted. We can also read about what our favorite authors are up to, stay tuned in to the writing community at large, and all sorts of good things. But cyber-chatter is still chatter and it does eat up the white space in our head. Sometimes it can be amazingly beneficial to just step away from the keyboard for awhile.

Because there is so very much information out there about publishing, it can leave us feeling breathless with all the things we need to stay current on. At times, it can add a too much of an underlying sense of franticness to the already tenuous business of being a writer. A franticness to finish the book, or find the perfect agent, or the perfect editor, or ANY editor, or what hot trends are getting the big deals.

Unplugging is a great exercise in quieting the mind, stepping away from all of that for a day or two. Or a week. Now I’m not suggesting a permanent break up, but maybe reconsider when and how frequently you plug in. More importantly, are the places on the web where you spend your time really FEEDING you as an introvert? Are they helping your writing? Or are they just the internet equivalent of a cocktail party you've stumbled into, a cyber-room full of voices, hammering at you and nibbling away at your carefully hoarded quiet time?

Just something to think about....

Monday, October 13, 2008

Our Progress to Date!

Thanks for all your excellent suggestions, everyone! Here is our updated version, and I'm posting it for a final round-up of ideas.

Last call! I've omitted a few that were redundant or less universal. Then, Robin and I will get our heads together and do the final editing. Thoughts, comments, additions?


1. Introverts have the right to claim a sacred space of their own for recharging, rebalancing or simply enjoying a single, solitary activity.

2. Introverts have the right to leave social events "early" as needed. Or not attend at all.

3. Introverts have the right to explore and choose the marketing and promotional activities that feel best suited to their unique style and preferences.

4. Introverts have the right to abstain from any marketing (or life) activities that result in boils, a resting heart rate > 120, and/or loss of any bodily function.

5. Introverts have the right to marry other introverts and bear children

6. Introverts have the right to retire to their hotel rooms for quiet and recharging time during conferences!

7. Introverts have the right to not say anything for upwards of three hours and still be considered "cool."

8. Introverts have the right not to have to explain why they need down time or alone time.

9. Introverts have the right to use email instead of the telephone.

10. Introverts have the right to wear iPods/MP3 players in ostensibly social contexts, thereby demonstrating not their introversion but their thoughtfulness.

11. Introverts have the right to not engage in conversation unless they so choose.

12. Introverts have the right to believe wallflower is not a dirty word.

13. Introverts have the right to recharge with video and/or computer games without being regarded as childish.

14. Introverts have the right to screen phone calls or cut short exhausting phone conversations as needed.

15. Introverts have the right to take walks in the middle of the day to clear their heads and recharge.

16. Introverts have the right to listen for long periods of time.

17. Introverts have the right to submit email interviews in lieu of over the phone or in-person.

18. Introverts have the right to choose the size of the crowd they participate in.

19. Introverts don't have to raise their hand in class.

20. Introverts have the right to ride conveyances of all types unmolested, and may use any ploy at their disposal to discourage small talk.

21. Introverts have the right to attend a social function and say absolutely nothing.

22. Introverts have the right not to speak up in meetings until they're damn well good and ready, without being thought of as dull-witted.

23. Introverts are allowed to (and actually like to) eat dinner at restaurants or go to movies alone.

24. Introverts don't have to be quiet all the time.

25. An introvert has the right to create a paradoxical public image, one that claims to reveal as little about themselves as humanly possible while doing the exact opposite.

26. An introvert has the right to spend time with other introverts in complete silence and not be mocked for it.

27. Introverts have the right to say no to potential house guests, without being thought of as being rude.

28. Introverts have the right not to throw parties, and still be thought of as normal human beings.

29. Introverts have the right to shut off the phone, close the curtains, lock the doors and hide at explanations required.

30. Introverts have the right to read the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog and not leave a comment. :-)

<><><><><><> OPPORTUNITY <><><><><><><><><>
I am looking for someone with some graphics skills to help me with our Cafe Press Shop set-up so that we can provide some fun products for our readers. It should be fairly simple for someone that is not ... uh, ME! We have text and photos, and just need to put them on the products. I have now officially spent more time head banging over this than I can possibly afford. S.O.S. In return, I am offering personal coaching, or ms. critique, an ovary, perhaps? If you are interested, please send me an email by clicking here. Grazie!

Mary Hershey

Thursday, October 9, 2008

An Introvert's Bill of Rights

Despite the irony, coming up with a Bill of Rights for Introverts will be a collaborative project here at Shrinking Violets. As in all of you out there-- we need your input! I've been thinking about this for some time. Many of us have such a hard time telling the extraverts in our lives, those that we friend/date/love/marry/cohabit, what we need to stay balanced and living high in the Valley of Well-Being. The needs of extraverts sounds so much more reasonable, don't they? Why wouldn't you go have dinner with friends on Friday night after a long week at work? That's what grown-ups do. They don't hunker down with a book or iPod or ferret and flip on their internal mute button.

But W-E do, for god's sake! We absolutely must at times and it makes sense. Why does it have to look and seem so mental? Like there is something wrong or something went amuck. As in--Whoops! I didn't divy up my energy diligently enough this week and I came up short on Friday night. Mea culpa! It won't happen again.

Have you ever considered that the extraverts all want to go out on Friday night because they used up all their e-juice and want to plug in? They NEED to go out. Just as much as you may NEED to be alone. Everyone really should feel free to do what works best for them when batteries are low.

So, I'm going to get this started, and then Robin and I want to hear from you!



~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
1. Introverts have the right to claim a sacred space of their own for recharging, rebalancing or simply enjoying a single, solitary activity.

2. Introverts have the right to leave social events "early" as needed.

3. Introverts have the right to explore and choose the marketing and promotional activities that feel best suited to their unique style and preferences.

4. Introverts have the right to abstain from any marketing (or life) activities that result in boils, a resting heart rate > 120, and/or loss of any bodily function.

5. Introverts have the right to marry other introverts and bear children.

All right, your turn now. Let's hear some more! I'd love to get a list of ten and we'll post them in our sidebar.

Before I close this, if you've got time, I want to share a terrific essay on introverts by Hunter Nuttall that I read earlier today entitled The Introverts Strike Back. And, it your name starts with B and ends with E-T-H, this one's for you, girlfriend! :->

Later, friends! Robin should be back with us next week. Yipeeee!

Mary Hershey

Monday, October 6, 2008

Our First Shrinking Violet Softlight: Lisa Chellman, Librarian

Dear Friends,

We are debuting a *New* Shrinking Violet feature today, and the lovely Lisa Chellman is here to kick it off. A "Softlight" is what extraverts might call a "Spotlight"-- the mere sound of which of might send many of us introverts into a near catatonic state. And, I love that Lisa's pup, Carly, with her truly remarkable ears is buddying up with her for the photo op. ;-)

Lisa Chellman is a youth services librarian in the Chicago area, as well as a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction. She looks forward to the happy day when someone buys her first novel. We do, too!

Lisa just wrote a fabulous blog entry the other day entitled "Meeting Your Librarians: A How-Not-to-Do-It Guide for Authors" She has generously consented to let us feature it here.

* * * * * * * *
Even though I'm not yet a published author, I love reading marketing advice on Shrinking Violet Promotions ("Marketing for Introverts"), mailing lists, and author blogs. It's great knowing that when the time comes, I'll have plenty of wisdom to take advantage of. That's why I'd like to share some advice of my own, for all the writers out there. I'm always encouraging writers to introduce themselves to their local librarians (heck, I'm always encouraging everyone to do that), and I have, happily, met several highly personable authors in my time as a librarian. But I never knew how... um... special an experience it could be, until today.

Without further ado, here's my advice for authors on how to impress their librarians in all the wrong ways:

Stride into the department and demand (of the librarians) to talk to the librarians. You were, after all, informed that there were two librarians working today.

When informed by the bemused librarians that they are, in fact, librarians, immediately ignore the younger of the two. Obviously she knows nothing.

Admit that you haven't come into the library in the two years since your book was published.

Inform the librarians that you have donated your book to the library—your book which has, you brag, sold over 200,000 copies (yet is, strangely, owned by only four libraries in the consortium).

Don't pitch your book. Instead, launch into a lecture about a peripheral topic, e.g., the importance of a good night's sleep.

Never let the librarians get a word in edgewise.

Offer to do a program at the library, but, when informed that you will need to talk to the person who actually coordinates such programs, say (as dismissively as possible) that you already have that person's name.

Talk repeatedly about the "literally, thousands" of promotional posters the publisher gave you, and how the library could hang them up and give them away (i.e., advertise for you).

I wish I were making this up. I can think of three things that author did right: introduced herself, donated her book when she found we didn't own it, and expressed interest in doing a program at the library. Everything else—her disrespect, her pushiness, her unwillingness to listen—was wrong from beginning to end.

And, in the words of my husband, "Authors who never visit their library are not to be trusted."

* * * * * * * *

Lisa, thanks for sharing your experience with us. All of us pinky swear to you that we will never behave that way, because here at SVP we believe that that librarians are all Divine Book Goddesses!

Now I want everyone to hop on over to Lisa's blog and give her a high-five for being our first Softlight. Thanks, Lisa!

Back on Thursday--
Mary Hershey

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Message that Bears Repeating

A number of months ago I posted an entry about the bestselling author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, and how she managed to sell over a million books. If you are new to us, please take a look at that post, but here are the cliff notes. Liz Gilbert had no behemoth, strategic marketing plan-- she wanted to write a book for her friend Darcy that was going through a hard time. She wanted to reach one reader, and write the best book she could for her. Instead, she has touched the lives of millions of people through her work. And, um, made some serious dough-re-mi.

I've been reading Eckhart Tolle's book The Power of NOW, that has sold in excess of two million copies. It has been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List. His first print run in 1997 was three thousand copies. Hear that? Just three measly thousand. The book was published by Namaste Publishing in Vancouver, which is NOT an imprint of Random House. Just fyi. During its first year of publication, the book found readers primarily through word of mouth. Don't believe the man had rack cards, posters, glittery pencils, or a blog, but I could be wrong.

What he did was personally deliver a few copies every week to some small bookstores in Vancouver. That was the marketing plan. Gee, what a concept! Start in your own neighborhood. Meet your booksellers. I believe we may have suggested that once or twice here. :-) Then, his friends got on board and started placing copies in spiritual bookstores further out from Vancouver-- Calgary, Seattle, California, London. By the second year, The Power of Now had become an underground bestseller. It started getting favorable reviews in a number of journals and magazines. Its growth continued to climb until Midas, I mean, Oprah got her mitts on it. The book exploded after that.

Eckhart's strategic marketing plan? To get the book into the hands of some readers with the hope that it might transform their lives. He had two passions-- one, to live fully in the Now, and two, to share that concept with others.

Liz Gilbert's and Eckhart Tolle's story of success with their books are extraordinary, and this is not going to happen to every book that is published. However, it can happen and I challenge you each to open yourself up to that possibility. And to take the wisdom from their experience. Write for the reader that you want to reach. Put your heart and soul and expertise into that

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, another book that has exploded in the marketplace said that the best marketing advice she ever got was from an editor at Playboy magazine. He told her never to write to the "common reader," but instead to write to the reader that you aspire to capture. Don't write down. Don't write to the market. Write to your best reader.

Here at SVP, we will continue our shared mission with you to navigate the rapids of marketing for introverts, but now and then we want to stop to remind you of the wisdom of inspirational speaker Stephen Covey-- First things first.

Go write to your readers, friends-- and trust that it is the very most important thing you can do.

Grace and peace,
Mary Hershey