Monday, January 31, 2011

How Writing Careers Are Like Snowflakes

And no, it’s not because they melt away into nothingness two seconds after hitting the ground. Don’t even let such a negative thought taint your mind!

It’s because no two are ever exactly alike. Pretty simple, huh? But one of the hardest concepts for us authors to grasp. Hell, even publishing professionals have a hard time accepting it, although they are aware of it more than the individual author since they have access to data for all their books.

Someone on Twitter last week (and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was—if it was you, let me know so I can properly credit you!) linked to this year old post by Christina Dodd. The whole post is definitely worth reading, a twenty year’s veteran’s look at the biz, but this nugget in particular really struck me:

9. From my vantage point, everyone in publishing is doing better than I am. From everyone else’s vantage point, I’m doing better than they are. The truth is somewhere in between — and an author who’s published is not going to get any sympathy at all from an unpublished author who’s written for ten years, finished three manuscripts and has twenty-five rejection letters. Believe me. I know. I was that author.

The fear of failure nips at our heels no matter what stage of our career we're in. It is so, so easy to sit from the outside looking in and be certain--absolutely certain--that Author A is a raging success and has it all and their books are selling like hotcakes. But the truth is rarely that simple. The really hilarious thing is I’ve had people say that of me, and I can never hold back a snort of wild disbelief. (See previous paragraph.)

A couple of weekends ago I attended ALA. While there I became convinced of two things.

1. Twitter does help buzz books. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people standing in lines for arcs saying, I heard about this book on Twitter. (Which will be the subject of a future post)

2. A big web presence or Twitter following does not guarantee actual book sales. Standing in line for free ARCs is a very different thing from plunking down cold hard cash for the book

I cannot tell you how many people I’ve talked to over the last month or heard talking on blogs, bemoaning their lack of sales, and yet these people DO have really big followings. These are people who are worried about earning out their advances, whose sales are far below expectations, or who are worried about their next contract. Every single one of them has what I consider to be a pretty healthy--if not downright BIG--web presence.

Which proves precisely what I’ve suspected all along: Big blog/Twitter followings propel a teensy percentage of people to publishing success, but no more and perhaps even less than a greatly written book, an award nomination, or the full force of the publisher’s marketing department behind the book.

It is ONE way in a myriad of ways to achieve success.

And the important thing to remember is that no one really, truly understands how one book becomes a success and the other one does not. Sure, there are certain things that must be in place: good storytelling (notice I did not say brilliant writing), publisher support, usually co-op of some kind, but not always. But any given publisher can have two books that should by all intents and purposes appeal to the same audience, and yet the marketing efforts that work so spectacularly on one, fail to have any effect on the other.

Even with Penguin’s big bestsellers, each book had slightly different ways it was marketed to its audience: NIGHTSHADE had an extensive and elaborate interactive Facebook presence and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE had a first chapter sent out through PW. Different approaches for different books.

This is especially important to keep in mind as you keep hearing that the midlist is dead. You’ll hear that on Twitter, in blog posts, at conferences. (Go here for a most excellent description of midlist. Actually take the time to read the whole series. It is the best, most comprehensive explanation I have ever read of the publishing business and the pressures it faces.)

The truth is, a majority of books that become successful do so in their own unique and individual way. This year’s Newberry Awards are a HUGE illustration of that. Most of those books were sleeper books that did not get a significant push from their publisher. Indeed, true midlist books, all.

Some get a surprising number of starred reviews, causing the publisher to take a second look at its vision of the book, some gather huge in-house support and enthusiasm as the book moves through editing and production, and that in-house enthusiasm helps propel the book. Others get state list nominations, or actual award recognition. Or the Junior Library Guild gets behind it. Others build more slowly over time with great word of mouth from teacher to teacher or kid to kid. Sometimes a big chain falls in love with a book and their enthusiasm helps propel the book. Or it gets picked up through the book clubs or book fairs. Or Target takes a buy in.

Or any combination therein.

And a lot of those things don’t even happen the first year out. In fact, looking at my own books, when any of those things have happened to one of them, it happened after it had been out for a year.

And absolutely NONE of them happened because of my online activity.

What has happened from my being online is that I’ve met a lot of great, like-minded people, connected with my readers (although 90% of this has been through the contact page at my author website or the Theodosia blog—not social media.) I have also been tapped for blog tours and guest blogs, book giveaways, and interviews. All of those have helped, but I’d be HUGELY surprised, I mean gobsmacked, if I sold more than 300 books through my online involvement. (Part of this might be because I write middle grade and my end reader is not actually online in a big way. I am going to be really curious to see how this differs—if at all—when my YA comes out.)

So as introverts, we need to really pay attention to the fact that there are SO MANY different paths to success. We need to question the pressure we’re feeling to be online and involved in social media and understand who is pressuring us and why. If it is just because other people are doing it and think you should do it, too, or it’s because Online Guru #43 says you should, then ppfffft. Ignore that. If it’s because your publisher is pressuring you, well that’s a little different. Perhaps a heart to heart conversation with your editor is in order so you can understand precisely what they are hoping your social media presence to achieve, then you can see if there is another way to achieve that.

If you look at the authors who seem to have hugely influenced their sales through their online presence (at least as best as we can tell, although some of them are very open about it) they are most often extraverts. If they ARE introverts, they are very enthusiastic, expressive, gregarious, and energetic introverts.

And maybe you’re not. And you know what? That’s okay because there are lots of different ways your book can find its way to success. Your career is like a snowflake. It will be uniquely yours and have its own sets of ups and downs, highs and lows, discouragement and reward. The best thing you can do for yourself personally, and your career, is find a way to not only accept that, but savor it.

# # #

And now, for the winner of last week's contest! The winning number is 15! Kenda, that's YOU. Please email me and I will get the SIGNED copy of Sarah Stevenson's THE LATTE REBELLION out to you!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taming That To Do List

If you’re like me, you no doubt had lots of plans and goals (not resolutions!) for this year. And if you are like me, you may already be feeling a teensy bit overwhelmed by all that you want to accomplish. My year’s to do list looks something like this:

Write 2nd #medievalFrenchteenassassinbook
Revise 1st #medievalFrenchteenassassinbook
Redesign and relaunch website
Promote 4th Theodosia book (pubs April 2011)
Promote 4th Nathaniel Fludd book (pubs April 2011)
Create Marketing plan for above
Attend agency retreat (Austin, TX, April)
Teach one day session at SB Writer’s Conference (June)
RWA Nationals
SCBWI Nationals?? (August)
Attend first World Fantasy Con in San Diego (October)
Write weekly entry for Shrinking Violets
Write weekly entry for GeekMoms
Write entries for my own blog
Participate in Enchanted Inkpot
Write entries for Theodosia blog
Comment more on other people’s blogs

That doesn’t even count the big personal To Do items like:
Do my taxes
College search for son
Get son settled in said college
De-clutter house of twenty years worth accumulated crap

So where do I even start? If I think of all that I have to do, I immediately feel fragmented and overwhelmed.

As introverts, our energy for this stuff is finite and we have to use it wisely so that we gain maximum benefits without draining our battering to the emergency levels. How do we do that?

And that’s when I realized that my word for the year really does need to be TRUST rather than confidence. Not only do I need to trust in myself a lot more than I do, but I need to trust that I will be able to get to what needs to be done.

Even so, when I look at that To Do list, I have to dig deep to find that trust. Trust that I can get to everything, trust that the things I don’t get to won’t really matter in the end, that if I just keep washing my bowl and washing it the best way I know how, that will be enough.
But trust isn’t much help in prioritizing.

True prioritizing has to come from a deep, centered place and takes more than a cost benefit analysis. We have to understand on the deepest level what our life and career goals are.

At this point in my life, my priorities are:

  1. My family (But they are all very independent and (mostly) on their own now, so require much less of me.)
  2. My health (Which seems so obvious but I am willing to bet I am not the only woman here who has put that on the back burner for far too long.
  3. Writing (Although sometimes, quite honestly, writing comes before health, which I need to work on.)

Looking at those two lists side by side, another word I almost chose for 2011 kept floating around in my head: nourish. I got to thinking about trusting and nourishing almost being a complete directive on their own.

But to reach our dreams, and find the energy to tend to the business side of our dreams, something more was required. Perseverance.

Suddenly I had a To Do List Triage Protocol in place; a veritable Holy Trinity of words to use as my guiding principles as I pursue all that I want to do this year. By asking how the items on my To Do List help me achieve my goals by building trust, nourishing, or helping me persevere when it is required, voila! My priorities suddenly became much clearer. I was able to identify those tasks that are most central to my life/professional goals.

The unpleasant truth is, there are lots of tasks that simply have to be on our To Do list so we may continue to do what we love. And that’s where the word persevere comes in. If you are a published writer, a lot of those To Dos probably pertain to the business side of things. But here’s the kicker: YOU get to decide precisely which business things those entail. It could be blogging, Twitter, compiling a massive mailing list for postcard mailings upon the publication of your next book, putting together kick @ss brochures for school visits, teaching at a conference, whatever you are comfortable with.

Remember that no one can do it all, and no one really expects you to. (And if they do, send them over to see me and we’ll have a heart-to-heart wherein I will set them straight.) You will be the most effective in those promotional or marketing activities you actually enjoy or, barring that, can find a way to hate less. ☺

So now it’s your turn. Can you spend some time developing a To Do List Triage Protocol? I can personally recommend the three word approach. It’s totally freed me up. AND, if you share your ideas with us, I will enter you in the drawing to win a signed copy of THE LATTE REBELLION by our very own Sarah Stevenson! (Not even introverts can resist that offer!)

Monday, January 17, 2011

In the Spotlight: Sarah Stevenson and Lisa Schroder!

This week we're going to shine the light on a couple of fellow violets who've had some pretty big milestones in their promotional lives.

First off, I was lucky enough to meet Miss Sarah Stevenson (whom some of you may know as aquafortis) at ALA Midwinter last week where she was signing her debut novel, THE LATTE REBELLION! Sarah has been a violet since the very beginning, so it was very cool to see her signing books and greeting her adoring fans like an old pro.

(And look at that, both she and Cindy Pon were wearing violet in honor of the occasion--although I will tell you right now, Cindy is NO shrinking violet. She is, however, the perfect person to follow around at big events like this because she very graciously takes all the social heat.)

Sarah even signed a book for you (yes, YOU) and we will be giving it away here as a prize in the next few weeks. Congratulations, Sarah, on the release of your first book!


Lisa Schroeder, author of numerous books for kids and teens, including CHASING BROOKLYN (Simon Pulse, 2010) and IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES (Aladdin, 2010);also experienced a huge promotional milestone--she was on TV! ::shudder:: and has graciously agreed to allow us all to live vicariously through her experience.

An Introvert's Worst Nightmare - the TV interview

I only have myself to blame, really.

You see, when I met someone who worked for a local television station, I jokingly said to her, "Hey, maybe you could pitch a piece about my new novel for kids, It's Raining Cupcakes. Everyone loves cupcakes, right?"

She went to work and did just that, to another producer who works for the show Better Portland. And within a couple of weeks, I had an e-mail asking if I'd be willing to meet up with one of the hosts of the show and do an interview.

I read the e-mail and pretty much started hyperventilating. Me? On television!? Most people would probably be excited. I mean, it's a great promotional opportunity! I don't think excited is the word I would use, however. Terrified is the word I would use.

Still, I went through with it. I knew I'd be crazy to turn down an opportunity like this one.

The day of the interview, it was rainy and windy. Yes, yes, I live in Oregon, but we don't get big rain storms like the one that day very often. Fortunately, I found a parking spot fairly close to Cupcake Jones, the shop where they were conducting the interview, and I ran in, with my styled hair that I took two hours to do mostly intact.

They were making it a two-part piece. First, they'd give viewers an inside-look atthe cupcake shop. Then, the next segment would be me and my book. I watched as they walked around, filming the shop and interviewing one of the owners. I was so impressed with her. She did an amazing job - she sounded natural and not nervous AT all. I kept thinking to myself, how can I do that?

So, here are my tips, in case you are ever in the fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it) position of doing a television interview.

1. Don't be afraid to ask your interviewer to give you an idea of what she's going to ask you before you go on air. The more prepared you can be, the better.

2. Have a short description of your book nailed down. This you can practice up and down and sideways before the big day - and you should! More than likely, this will be one of the questions you're asked, and you should be able to answer with ease.

3. Try to forget about the camera. I know, not easy! But I kept telling myself, just talk to Brooke (my interviewer). I really tried to pretend it was me and her, having a conversation, and that was all.

4. Don't look at the camera. More than likely, you'll be told this before the interview, but it's good to mention here as well. For some reason, I kept looking out the window, and I mentioned it to Brooke afterwards and apologized. I should have kept my eyes on her, but I think when we get nervous, our eyes tend to wander, and mine certainly did.

5. Don't try to tell jokes. This advice came from my publicist. He said it's very hard to pull funny off in front of a camera, and unless you're a professional comedian, you shouldn't attempt it. Warm and sincere is a better way to go.

6. Keep your answers fairly short. The more you go on and on, the more likely you are to say something you don't really want to say. If your interviewer wants you to expand on something, she can do a follow-up question.

7. Don't drink or eat anything before stepping in front of the camera! When the shop's owner offered me a bottle of water, I took it. And proceeded to dribble water down the front of my blouse. ARGH! Fortunately, I had time before my turn was up, and my shirt dried. But seriously - don't risk it!!

8. And finally, bring along a change of clothes just in case. I was kicking myself for not doing this after the water incident, and it's something I'll do the next time (if there ever is a next time) for sure!

If you have any other tips I've forgotten, please do share in the comments!

An interesting side note - watching the show when it aired was almost worse than doing the interview! I kept thinking, what if it's awful? I took solace in the fact that this show is on weekdays at 1:00 in the afternoon. Not a heavy viewing time for sure! I had a few friends and family members recording it, but I knew they'd love me even if it was terrible. Would you like to see it? Here it is:

Wow Lisa. I am SO impressed! You pulled that off really, really well!  I would have been terrified and hiding! Thanks for those great tips, although I'm hoping I'll never need them. :-)

And lastly, the winner for last week's drawing for a Staples Gift Certificate is . . . Caroline! Email me, Caroline, and I will get that right out to you!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Word Of Greeting For 2011

Welcome back, Violets!! I hope you had a lovely holiday, full of peace, joy, and quiet! No? Neither did I. Well the joy part, yes. The peace and quiet not so much. In fact, On Christmas Day as we were headed off for the second big family gathering in 24 hours, we decided that we would designate Dec. 26 as the LaFevers’ Official Cone of Silence Day. It was awesome! We were all at home, engaged in individual pursuits, yet we would connect briefly throughout the day, but without a whole lot of talking. It was a much needed balm to all our introverted souls, and we plan to make it a permanent part of our family tradition.

With my deadline met and the holidays behind me, I have been filled with a white hot rush of all the things I can’t wait to talk about here on Shrinking Violets. I am struck again by how very bi-social I am: an extreme introvert when in my writing cave, but when I come out, almost extrovert-like in my desire to catch up on all the people and connections I’ve missed. Almost like a squirrel storing up nuts for the winter, I immerse myself in these social interactions until it’s time to go back to the writing cave. This year I want to learn to accept that and work with it more rather than fight against it.

With the New Year comes the urge to make new resolutions for the next twelve months. I haven’t made resolutions in a long time as I set goals on a continuing basis, an ever changing and evolving set of challenges I want to meet and things to accomplish.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions, one of the things I like to do is to choose one word for the coming year. That way, I have none of the painful self-loathing if the resolutions fall by the wayside, and just being mindful of that word can act as a touchstone for my growth and focus for the entire year. Some examples of the kind of words I mean:

One of the things I want to focus on in the next year is unmuzzling myself a bit—not letting fear of offending someone or their not liking what I have to say box me in quite so badly. Some words I’ve been considering for this have been:

Courage  Truth  Brave  Risk

But none of those have quite clicked for me. Courage just doesn’t feel right; Truth, well, when I DO speak, I do tell the truth, so that isn’t quite right either. I feel I am brave already in many ways, and Risk, well, that word feels too big and loud for what I want to accomplish.

In my search for the perfect word, I stumbled upon Jessica Spotwood's LJ and fell instantly in love with her word. NOURISH. It is the perfect word. As she points out on her blog:

According to Merriam-Webster, nourish means to:
1. nurture
2. to promote the growth of
3 a: to furnish or sustain with nutriment: feed  b: maintain, support

And I’ve sat with that word for a few days now, thisclose to selecting it as my word. But as I was typing up the list of words for the word cloud to spark your own ideas, when I typed Trust, I had a warm little zing that told me that was the word. Trust is going to be my guiding word for 2011

And actually, now Trust is no longer my word for the year.

While writing a draft of this post, I was talking about words with my twenty one year old son, explaining what I wanted my word to accomplish for me this year. He raised his eyebrow in this delight-if-annoying way he has and said, “Trust is an awful lot like faith.”

And I said, “Yes, and faith is a good thing…”

He said, “True, but for what you want to accomplish, it needs to be something you control. You need to own this, not trust it will happen. Your word should be confidence.”

Yeah, schooled by my own child. And I share this with you so you can see how hard it can be to find the right word, that nuance of how it frames and shapes your focus for the year. And how easy it is to shy away from the work we really need to do.

So what about you, fellow Violets? Can you think of a guiding word for 2011? If you do, please share it in the comments and we will have a drawing! The winner will receive a $20 gift certificate to Staples so they can stock up on organizational supplies for the new year (my version of crack).

If choosing a word is not your thing and you have resolutions or goals you want to share, that would be equally awesome (and yes, that enters you in the drawing as well.)