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It wasn’t until the book came out that I searched for it in online stores and discovered there was a Jayne Ann Krentz novel by the same name.
That’s when I learned my first rule: Try to make the title unique.
Even having a similar title can be a problem. I was aware that Wendelin von Draanen had written Flipped (Knopf, 2001) before I called a novel of mine Flip. (I couldn’t resist. The title fit the story so well.) I didn’t think it would be a problem.
I also didn’t think we’d ever be on the same panel at a conference. To this day, I still run into people who confuse the two books.
I didn’t have that problem with Dunk, which was about a boy who wants to work as a clown in a dunk tank. I checked. There wasn’t a previous book with that title. But the title presented another problem. I’ve met people who never picked up the book because they thought it was about basketball.
I guess there might have been people who picked it up for that very reason. Inevitably, some of them would be disappointed. My second rule: Avoid confusing potential readers.
A title has to work with a broad population. My novel, "Flux Sucks," was renamed at the last minute, out of fear that “sucks” might keep it off the shelves in some communities. The hastily created new title seems to be a good one. Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie works well, I believe, because it is intriguing, and it can have multiple meanings.
I think the same holds true for Character, Driven. My main character, Cliff, is both driven to succeed in life and love, and driven by his friends because he lacks a car of his own.
The title also hints at the metafictional nature of the narrative.
I think my most successful title, in terms of marketability, caused a different sort of problem for me. The story collection, In the Land of the Lawn Weenies and Other Warped and Creepy Tales (Starscape, 2003)(excerpt), inspired such brilliant cover art from illustrator Bill Mayer that I decided the next collection also needed a Weenie title story. It was a smart move.
There are now seven Weenies collections, with an eighth coming in September. But it is a mixed blessing. Some people don’t take the books seriously, for that very reason. I’ve seen them referred to as “garbage books” by one blogger, who I suspect never looked beyond the cover, and a friend told of hearing a parent tell a child who’d snatched up a copy at a book fair to “pick a real book.”
Happily, the millions of copies in print remind me that, all in all, it was a good decision to run with the Weenies. (Not to mention the endless jokes I get to make when authors gather.)
I have a chapter book about a boy who is cursed to speak in puns. The title, Punished!, actually came to me first, inspiring the book. (I also wrote a sequel, Numbed!, where the same characters lose their math skills. That, too, began with the title.)
I never tire of saying to kids who select that book at a school signing, “I’m glad you got Punished!”
I feel it’s an excellent title. But I made a mistake when I went for emphasis. Some online book sellers aren’t set up to search for an exclamation point. So neither Punished! nor Punished will produce that book.
If you search for the keywords Punished and Lubar, you’ll find the book, and some alarming bondage photos (just kidding), but the truth is that people are often better at remembering titles than authors. So a title should be both memorable and searchable.
I hope I chose wisely this time. As a title, Character, Driven is memorable (I hope), searchable (I tested the comma, and found no problems), and confusing only in a fun and ironic sort of way.
Is it a good title? I think so. But that’s really a question for the marketplace to decide. And that would be you. So let me know what you think. Or just smile and nod knowingly if we ever cross paths.
Hi all! Stacey here with Lizzy Mason, Director of Publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. This is the first of a two-part series on what our publicists do, and how to maximize our relationships with them. Today, Lizzy will be sharing with us a typical publicist’s timeline. Lizzy, take it away.
Whenever I meet an author and I tell them what I do, they always ask me the same question: “When is it okay to reach out to my publicist?” And I always think, Oh my! These poor neglected authors! But when I’m at my desk in the office, reading email, and I get a question about a book that’s more than six months away, I often think Oh, no, I’m not ready for you yet.
It’s not that I’m not excited about those books that are further away, often times I’m dying for them to come out already so I can talk about them, but there’s a reason why we publicists have a reputation for being tough to nail down: we’re working on A LOT of books and we need to focus on them at specific times.
Please bear in mind as you read this, though, that every situation is different. Some books are lead titles, others are school & library focused, and others we have basic plans for. But no matter what plans your publisher has, it’s good to start thinking early about what YOU can do to supplement them. The onus is not just on your publisher to promote your book. You need to do your part.
Here’s a general timeline for how I start a campaign:
18 months to 2 years before on-sale: I hear about the book for the first time, either at acquisitions or pre-launch.
9 months to 18 months before on-sale: I hear about the book a half dozen more times at launch, marketing preview, sales conference, target meetings, etc. (Mind you, these meetings are often called different names at different houses.) This is when the mysterious “plans” for books start getting discussed.
9 months before on-sale: By now, a marketing and publicity plan for your book should exist. Ask your agent to ask your editor to share the marketing plan when it’s ready. (I know that sounds crazy and indirect, but it’s best if things are funneled through your editor at this point. And we’ll take it more seriously in-house if the request comes from your agent.) Once your agent explains what it all means, you can start thinking of how you can assist with or supplement what the publisher is doing.
This is also when I start seriously considering when I have to put these plans in place. Did I say I’d send an author to a trade show, conference, or festival? Now is when I have to start doing those pitches. If you’re accepted for one of these, you might hear from me asking if you’re available to do it.
6 months before on-sale: This is around the time that I recommend setting up a call with publicity and marketing if you’ve got questions or want to tell them what you’re going to be doing. At Bloomsbury, we work very closely with marketing, so sometimes it’s confusing to figure which of us does what (and, of course, it’s a little bit different at every house). So I find it helpful to have both departments on the call.
5 to 6 months before on-sale: Things are picking up steam. I’m sending ARCs or F&Gs out to reviewers, I’ve been meeting with media and pitching your book, I’m starting to plan tours and events. Lots of things are at the beginning stages.
3 months before on-sale: I’m confirming long lead media (magazines, generally), trying to nail down interviews, features and reviews. I might also still be confirming events. If I’m doing a blog tour, this is when I’m planning who I’ll be asking to be a part of it.
1 to 2 months before on-sale: By now, most events that are happening near the on-sale date should be confirmed. (Though you probably won’t see a complete tour schedule for a while. Just the basics.) Travel is getting booked. The blog tour is getting confirmed. The details are coming together. This is also when we get finished books and begin sending them to media.
At on-sale: This is, of course, the key moment. By now, I’ve been following up with media to confirm reviews and interviews and should know what’s coming. Sometimes reviews will run a few weeks before on-sale, sometimes a few weeks after. (Or occasionally months later, that happens too, but not if we can help it.) But we try to plan for as much to happen right at on-sale, from reviews, to social media posts, to bookstore events. Now is the time to make sure people are talking about the book.
Next month, Lizzy will share her thoughts on swag, bloggers, event planning, and freelance publicists. Got a question about publicists? Leave it in the comments.
LIZZY MASON is the Director of Publicity at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. She previously worked in publicity at Disney, Macmillan Children’s, and Simon & Schuster, and graduated from Manhattan College (which is in the Bronx) with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. Lizzy dedicates whatever spare time she can to reading and writing YA fiction. She lives with her husband (and his comic collection) and their cat Moxie (who was named after a cat in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials) in Queens, NY. Follow her @LizzyMason21.
People don’t understand love. If they did, they’d get why dance prodigy Karma Clark just can’t say goodbye to her boyfriend, Danny.
No matter what he says or does or how he hurts her, she can’t stay angry with him . . . and can’t stop loving him. But there’s a reason why Karma is helpless to break things off: she’s been shot with a love arrow. Aaryn, son of Cupid, was supposed to shoot both Karma and Danny but found out too late that the other arrow in his pack was useless.
And with that, Karma’s life changed forever. One pregnancy confirmed. One ballet scholarship lost. And dream after dream tossed to the wind. A clueless Karma doesn’t know that her toxic relationship is Aaryn’s fault . . . but he’s going to get a chance to make things right. He’s here to convince Danny to man up and be there for Karma. But what if this god from Mount Olympus finds himself falling in love with a beautiful dancer from Wisconsin who can never love him in return?
Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?
Revising post-contract is a lot different than pre-contract.
The best part about post-contract revision is you have a clear path set by someone you (hopefully) trust. Your editor!
When my edit letters come in, I like to allow the feedback sit for a day or two before diving into the changes. That feels long enough to let any emotions attached to what she is telling me disappear.
I wouldn’t recommend writing from a place of feeling wounded or defensive. You need to be open.
Once I’m open to the critique, I go through her letter and write a list of all the problems in my manuscript.
After that, I brainstorm possible solutions, making sure my favorites work on a big picture level. The process breaks down to finding solutions within all of my story elements—plot, setting, character, theme—and then onto chapter/scene/sentence level from there.
One thing to remember when revising post-contract is that your book will actually be out in the world someday. While this seems obvious, it’s easy to forget when you’re focused on the work at hand. Mainly, you want your editor to continue liking your book, right? Do not forget that now, in revision, you should also fix the things that don’t ring true to who you are.
Because people are (for reals) going to be reading your book in the near future! Make sure you feel proud and certain about the changes you are making.
Pre-contract is much harder, especially if you don’t have a critique partner you trust. The key is to find at least one.
Trade samples of each other’s work, and see if you like what the other person is saying to help make your story better. See if they work on the same turnaround as you. See if you feel comfortable being yourself when you email back and forth.
My second piece of advice is to trust your story and your gut. Long ago, a valued beta reader of mine suggested that I consider taking the teen pregnancy aspect out of my YA novel Arrows. I decided not to, and that ended up helping my book sell to Delacorte. In fact, my book was pitched as “MTVs 'Teen Mom' meets Greek mythology.”
I’m not saying the beta reader was wrong. Maybe my book would sell a million more copies without the teen pregnancy plotline. Who knows. I’m just saying you don’t have to revise according to every comment, especially pre-contract.
Before sending your manuscript to beta readers, I suggest doing at least a couple revisions on your own. One of my favorite revising methods is a modified version of Susan Dennard’s revision method (just scroll down). Take her ideas and adapt them to fit your style.
For me, a simplified approach works best. My plan always starts with printing my manuscript and reading it in one sitting. I might make notes in the margins, or I might not. Then, like Dennard, I paperclip my chapters together and figure out what is or isn’t working with the plot, characters and setting.
This takes time! And this isn’t the place for line edits! Because believe me, for those first revision passes, your deleted scenes file may end up as long as your manuscript. That is okay.
How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?
Promoting my debut has been both exhausting and interesting. I’m still a few weeks from publication date (I’m writing this on 1/4/16), but I truly feel I’ve done all I can leading up to this point.
I try to remember that promoting a book is a slow burn, kind of like the publishing process as a whole. It doesn’t happen all at once.
The things I’m doing pre-publication are the things I’ll be doing all of next year.
Promotion starts by figuring out two things:
1. How much time you can devote to promotion.
2. How much money you can/want to spend.
I think every author should plan to spend some time and some money on their promotion, but no one really knows the magic combo. Personally, I devote half of my work day to promotion, as well as some nights and weekends, which I started doing when my book was about four months from publication.
Up to that point, I was working on promotion as things came up. There wasn’t a set schedule or plan. So I guess you could say that about four months to publication, I panicked, created a master spreadsheet and worked really hard to meet my goals.
As far as money, my guess is that I’ll have spent about $1,500 to $3,000 on promotion by the end of 2016. This estimate includes postage (budget more than you think you need), thank you cards, thank you gifts, bookmarks, buttons, postcards, my book trailer, conferences and my launch party. All of this is tax deductible.
I have no idea if this is high or low as far as a marketing investment, but as a debut, when deciding where to spend money, it made sense to go “all in.”
I’m curious how I’ll feel at the end of 2016. My advice is do what feels right for you.
If you’re wondering where to start with promotion, I’d highly recommend joining a debut author group. I’m a member of the Sweet Sixteens and the Class of 2k16.
Being able to ask fellow debuts questions has saved so much time in random Google searches/panicking. Plus it’s a safe place to share failures and successes, and well, meet people who “get it.” My author family is a whole new awesome kind of family.
Another thing you can do is study what successful authors are doing. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Add your personality and style to their ideas. For instance, if they are on Goodreads, you probably want to be there, too. If they are doing giveaways on Twitter, why not try one?
For your own sanity, stay organized. Write all of your ideas on a spreadsheet and add deadline dates so that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed.
Work on your promotion in bite-sized pieces. One blog post at a time. One bookmark order at a time. One Tweet at a time.
In my opinion, being a debut is a good time to say “yes”. Try all the blog articles you can. Answer every interview you can.
Yes, you want to make a book trailer? Figure out how to do that. Yes, create a professional website and blog, Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. Yes, send a monthly newsletter (I use MailChimp).
Today I received a copy of my book Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar in its final Spanish/ English dual language paperback version, published by Bab’l Books, Boston. I am excited to see this book in print again! I love the idea of reaching out to bilingual kids. And, its hidden message is environmental – that we […]
Every Wednesday, I talk about comics with Brandon Montclare, writer of the hit Image series Rocket Girl and co-writer of Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur series. We gab about what we’re reading now, what books we consider classics (Brandon loves Dark Knight Strikes Again…), and the hottest gossip of the industry. Occasionally, the inimitable artist Amy Reeder (Rocket Girl, Batwoman) stops by. Check out our full […]
Becca and I love you guys. We want to see you break barriers, build careers, and enjoy success after writing success. Supporting you is what we’re about and what we do. We enjoy helping however possible, encouraging each of you to grow and be awesome as only you can.
To do this well, sometimes we have to nudge. Push a little, even. But our hearts are in the right place, because there’s no point candy coating the work it takes to be a successful writer. It will require every drop of strength and persistence you have to keep moving forward in the face of obstacles, rejection and doubt. You will have to grow thick skin, thicker than you ever thought possible. You will have to wear the hat of a learner, because you will never know it all or reach a point of ‘good enough’ when it comes to writing. There will always be more craft to absorb, more skills to hone, more marketing and business challenges to overcome, more work needed to expand your career, year after year.
So in our tough-love yet encouraging fashion, Becca and I are starting the year with a challenge for you: steer your own ship. Make a plan. Treat your writing like the business it is.
And this isn’t hot air, I promise–we live what we preach. Since organizing ourselves and adopting a yearly business plan in 2012, we have accelerated our careers. Not only have we built multiple businesses, published books in 5 languages, created a one-of-a-kind writing library and grown Writers Helping Writers into a learning hub with a loyal following, we teach and speak professionally as writing coaches. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen easily, but it happened.
And guess what? Neither one of us is special. We don’t have a magic 8-ball, or pet hamsters that shoot lasers out of their eyes while predicting the future. We’re just Angela and Becca, two writers who met in an online critique group.
What’s I’m saying is…if we can do this, you can too. So let’s get started.
Organize The Chaos
Most say writers write, but I think writers actually juggle. Yes, they do write, edit, and learn. But they also research the industry and their audience, build a brand, create a platform, handle marketing, promote, and run a business. And that, my friend, is juggling.
Trying to master all these aspects of a writing career is chaotic. There are countless books and articles to read on various subjects of writing, publishing and marketing, experts to heed, social media platforms to navigate, people to connect to and opportunities to take advantage of. And often what happens is the writer is pulled into so many directions at once, no real headway is made on bigger goals. Instead writing time is spent on a million mini tasks that seem valid at the time, but may not be.
In 2012, Becca and I found our time was being eaten by all the little things that come with running a larger site like Writers Helping Writers. Our days were spent neck deep in email, social networking, blog comments, and guest posting. And guess what wasn’t getting done? Writing. And well, that’s sort of the point, wouldn’t you say?
We knew we needed to organize ourselves and prioritize better. We wanted a way to measure each opportunity that came our way and make better decisions with our time. Luckily, my husband is a business management consultant, and he led us through the process of creating a business plan. The start was to assess where we were at, and define where we still needed to grow.
Ask Yourself The Tough Questions
In the business world, assessments are common. People are brought in to examine departments and processes, do risk assessments, and conduct 360° reviews on employees. A company needs to be efficient and functional to prosper, and a writer’s career is no different. So take a step back and look at where you are at. What areas did you focus on this past year, and what was your progress toward big goals? If you could do it all over, would you do it the same way, or organize your time differently?
Taking stock of where you are, and where you want to go is a great way to hone in on what to focus on in the coming year. If you can be honest about areas you are weaker in and what you must strengthen to position yourself better, you’ll save yourself heartache. For example, if your writing is really strong, you have a book you feel is marketable but you have no online presence whatsoever, spending more energy honing your craft isn’t the best use of your time. Instead, you might want to make getting yourself online, learning how to network and find ways to build relationships with your potential audience a primary focus. Yes, this might seem scary, but pushing out of your comfort zone will help you grow.
Likewise, if you are a Social Media queen but your writing skills are less-than-adequate, start boning up on your writing craft. Read, take classes and practice technique. A great platform will not sell a poorly written book.
Be a Planner, Not a Pantser
Lots of writers like to “pants” it. A little, a lot, maybe the whole book is written on the fly, a joy ride from start to finish. What will the main character do? Where will he go? How will the book end? Who knows—that’s all part of the fun.
And pantsing might work great…in fiction. But in business, pantsing will hurt you, or perhaps better said, will hurt your potential. Because while you’re flying along, researching weather patterns for a new story idea you have here, increasing your twitter following there, and flirting with a group promotion or two when invites roll in…you are missing the forest for the trees. Rather than take confident strides toward achieving specific goals to help you leap forward, you’re taking half-steps in too many directions and hardly getting anywhere.
Like Becca and I did, you might need some structure. A road map, a way to determine what areas are the most important to work on, what goals should be the focus, and the timeline needed for each. You won’t believe how well this will help keep you on track, and just how much more you’ll get done in a year.
I realize for many, the words, “business plan” probably sounds intimidating, but it really is so simple—7 steps will get you there. In fact, I wrote a post about the process at Jane Friedman’s blog, so please, check it out. Everything you need is there—the steps, a template, and even an example of one of our old business plans. (Take advantage of some free professional business consulting!)
You love what you do, and you work hard every day, I know it. You are capable of so much, so challenge yourself! Make 2016 your year.