Friday, July 18, 2014

Promoting Short Stories

When I first started writing short stories (yes, back in the days of manual typewriters and carbon paper), once you sold the short story, the magazine or anthology you sold it to took care of all the promotion. Yes, you announced the sale to your friends and maybe there was a writeup about it in the local newspaper and maybe industry newsletters, but that was about all you could contribute. The magazine or anthology promoted the various authors whose stories appeared in the work, depending on the author’s status.

Nowadays, with social media, you aren't as dependent on the publisher or the publisher's or editor’s idea of author status and who gets promoted. You can do your own promotion. You can announce the sale on Facebook and Twitter and Google+, and put a link to where the story appears on your website once the issue or the work is released. Some small press publishers furnish promotion material for their anthologies, like bookmarks, that authors can take with them to conventions for freebie tables or to hand out at signings.

Promotion by bookmark is good if you are traditionally published (where you only have a small window of time in which to promote) and even more so if your publisher is a small press, because with a small press you can continue to promote the anthology for years. Or until the publisher stops furnishing promo material for the anthology.

This is what I've done in the past to promote my short stories published in anthologies. I've also listed the story or anthology in the bios I've been asked to provide for conventions as an author participating on panels. But now I'm moving into new territory. One of my publishers, Amber Quill Press, is now publishing short stories on its website and then releasing the stories on Amazon Kindle. I've got one short story, “The Oracle of Cilens”, available through this program and another (“Search and Rescue”) will be released in August. So I started wondering how one goes about promoting individual short stories.

Searching on the web turned up only the suggestion to blog about your short story, both on your own blog and well as guest posts on other blogs. And of course mentioning the short story on your website. One author I know has had postcards on freebie tables at conventions advertising his free short story, and I liked that idea, but I wasn't sure if that was done for short stories for sale. So I asked some of the writing organizations I belong to, such as Broad Universe on Facebook, figuring I wasn't the first to wonder about this. Kelly Harmon kindly responded with an image of the rack card she uses to promote her six short stories at conventions.

So, with only two short stories so far, I'm going with a bookmark to bring to LonCon 3 (Worldcon in London) followed by Shamrokon in Dublin next month. The front of the bookmark has the two covers and the back has the blurbs for the stories.

Three questions: How do you learn about short stories? What promotions have you seen? What do you use to promote your short stories?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

WHEN OUR CHILDREN LEAVE HOME


From the time they’re born, we feed our children, bathe them, doctor their skinned knees, and love them. We drive them to school, ball practice and games, piano and dance rehearsal and programs. We congratulate them when they make good grades, if they win awards, and when they achieve their goals. We scold them for misbehaving. We encourage them when they have bad days. We listen to their troubles and complaints and offer our advice. They don’t always listen and sometimes go on their own way. We stand by to help them when needed.

As writers we do the same for our make-believe children. We nourish them from page one. We help them discover their good points and also their bad. We go along with them to that first school program and clap and shout “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl.” No doubt embarrassing them, if they were more than just characters on a page, but proud of their accomplishments, even the ones that surprise us. We hold their hands when their first love dumps them. We brush away their tears. We guide them as they grow and discover their place in the confusing world of their story, whether fantasy, science fiction, historical,  contemporary, or other.

It doesn't matter if our children/teens are flesh and blood or characters formed in our imaginations, they are our young ones. We love them. They may not always follow our plans and instead take off in their own direction. We support the choices they make, anyway, and hope they're the right ones. We give them our best advice and follow along on the journey they've chosen. Sometimes they find what they're looking for; other times they have to learn the hard way.

Even when their choices get them in trouble, we’re there, to hug and love them. For no matter what, they are our creations, both living and make believe. We send them out into the world and hope the world will be kind to them, and they’ll find love and happiness.

Our children and teens.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Publishing is like....

Well, last month I was bemoaning the delay on my cover art for A Curse of Ash and Iron.  The week after that post, I got the call that Strange Chemistry, the imprint that was going to publish the book, was being cut. 



My contract was canceled, effective immediately, and my rights were returned to me.

No book. Just like that. It happens.  Things like this always seem to happen to ME, though. I mean, I thought back over my career, and I'm like a walking cliche of every publishing nightmare that can happen. I've had editors who left in the middle of a book. I've had series canceled mid-series because the publisher decided to no longer publish that kind of book (though I was able to find a new publisher for the rest of the books, which was good). I've had my troubles with agents. And now I've had a book orphaned by the publisher closing. And you know what?

I'm okay. I mean, I was upset at first. Really, really upset. Mostly because I had spent some money in order to promote the book last Spring. But that's okay-- I had fun doing it, and it wasn't that much. I had also booked a trip to the MidWest to sign ARCs at a convention, two weeks after the publisher closed. Which ended up being really fun, and a nice vacation for my family too. We made the best of it. I had a ball at that convention, promoted other books, and hopefully made some new fans in a new place. And I got some new ideas for video blogs. I had begun to plan the launch party, but fortunately hadn't solidified those yet.

It could have ended up much worse, in the end. I have a completely edited manuscript that is just waiting for a new publisher. While I was promoting it pre-publication, the book got some following on Goodreads. When the publisher made the announcement, there was an outpouring of support for the authors and their books. When a new publisher comes along, I'll make sure those people know that the book is still alive.

It is what it is, as they say.

Meanwhile, I also had an extremely awesome time at the annual NJ SCBWI conference. I gave two workshops on query letters, which I hope were helpful. I met some new friends, hung out with old ones. I sat in on an excellent workshop by children's author Katie Davis (who is the BOMB) about how to EXPLODE my writing career with video. I already love using video, but it was a great workshop on how I could be using it in different ways, with some cool new resources for me to try. I came home and started playing around with Movie Maker, and I'm going to spend some of my summer playing with these new toys. I even made a new book trailer for A Curse of Ash and Iron to use when we re-sell the book.

And my agent already has it out on submission again, so no worries.

I am making movies and video blogging a lot more. I'm also working on a Welcome video for my website. I even have my own YouTube channel: Christine Norris's YouTube Channel, which I've had for awhile but was only using it as a space to put videos before they went on my blog. Now I need to make a video to get subscribers. I'm having a blast, and working on more books, and in general...Moving On!

Publishing is a weird business, and sometimes you've just got to go with the flow.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reusing Characters


Have you ever had a character you really like in a story that just didn't seem to go anywhere? Ditch the story. Keep the character.

I had a character like that show up in my Ali story. I'd written another story that I liked, but knew it needed a lot of work, and maybe a plot in order to really be something I could get other people to read. But I really liked my main character, Hannah Franklin. The story was that Hannah had grown up on TV along with her brothers and sisters in a family drama, the Flanagans. Her mother played the mother, her father was their base of reality. The show ended when half of her family was killed in a plane crash, effectively ending the show. The thing is that Hannah so identified with being Hannah Flanagan that sometimes it was hard to simply live her life as Hannah Franklin. That was the backstory. The story itself had her going to college and dealing with these things. Like I said, it needed a plot.

Then I was doing a major re-write of my Ali story, changing some of the characters out and freshening it up and realized that Hannah, minus the dead family, could be one of Ali's dormmates at boarding school. The thing is, that a child starting out on TV playing a very small child on a show is most likely to be played by twins. So, Hannah got split into two people, Heather and Lily. They grew up splitting the role of Hannah Flanagan. Heather still wants to be on TV, Lily is done with it. These two characters have added a great dimension to my Ali stories and I'm so glad they didn't just wither away in an unusable story.

What characters from a story stored in a drawer can you bring new life to?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Point of View - Again

This topic was covered expertly by Kathy Sullivan back in June of 2011. But because POV is one of my personal demons, I thought I would take another shot at it. From my point of view, so to speak.

In the series I am writing, I use third person. I think it's more third person close than third person omniscient, but to tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure. Whatever I'm doing, if I get any negative feedback from readers, it certainly has nothing to do with point of view!

Still, now that I'm working on book three, I find myself thinking about varying the points of view I use. The first two books were told from the two main characters' perspectives, one belonging to my heroine, the other to my hero. Now in book three, I have been tempted to start using the outlooks of other characters, but at the same time I keep thinking that it feels wrong to do so. In all of my favorite series, which tend to be murder mysteries or thrillers, the point of view has always been strictly from the protagonist except for occasional dark forays into the mind or minds of the murderer/s. Maybe because of this, I can't help feeling that starting to use any of my other characters' viewpoints seems somehow wrong. As if I should have started doing that in the very first book.

I recently tried writing a scene using someone else other than my two main characters, and even though this particular fellow has been in the series since it started, it felt wrong and awkward. So I guess they have let me know their preference. Never mind that I'm the author! I won't go against my character's wishes: I know better than that.

But I would be curious to know what other writers have done. Do any of you write a series that requires more than two points of view? And if so, did you start that from the first book? Do you find it easier to advance the story that way? Do you think it keeps the flow going a bit better? Have you ever tried limiting POV to just one or two characters or has it always felt better to use more than that? Most of all, do I sound like a crazy person???

Before I started the series, sweating out which point of view I needed was the worst thing about starting a new work. The WORST. When everything was new - the story, the setting, the characters themselves - trying to decide who got to carry the ball, and if he or she would be the only one to do so, was always terrible for me. Now that I have a universe in place and a group of people who return with every new story, I find myself once more in the position of trying to figure out who gets to carry the ball. Or will it always be the same two? I have a feeling it will be. That just seems to be the way I work.

But how do the rest of you do this? I'd love to know. Truly.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Beta Readers

Beta Readers. Some authors count them as valuable as editors. Some never use them, relying instead on the editors provided by publishers. In my opinion, having someone else take a look at your manuscript and just point out where the story ‘got confusing’ or where perhaps a bit more description is needed, is enough to get a stubborn story moving again.

If you ask authors at a panel how they make sure a world or a character is believable, the answer is usually “beta readers”. You’ll see ‘thank you’s to beta readers in acknowledgements or afterwords in books.

How do you find a beta reader?

This was one of the questions asked of me at an author question and answer panel at a recent convention. I had to stop and think about this from a new author point of view since some things have changed since I first started trying to find someone willing to read my stories and give me helpful criticism. And some things haven’t changed.

As a young writer starting off at age 14, my first beta reader was my mother. Not precisely the best choice, as she didn't read science fiction, but I didn't feel confident enough to ask my father, who was the other science fiction reader in my family. But after getting feedback of “it was so sad when she left home” when the story was supposed to be on how happy the character was to leave Earth, I moved on to other beta readers. My English teachers approved of the symbolism in my first book (which surprised me since I hadn't put any in), and that was the last time I asked them. I did find a few friends in high school that read fantasy and science fiction and who could be counted on to give good feedback. Nowadays I have friends I've met at conventions, fellow writers, and people who have read and enjoyed my work (and like getting an early look) who I can ask to beta read.

The person asking the question didn't have any local friends who read the genre he was writing. I've got one friend in my town that I can ask to beta read, but the other friends I can ask, depending on their schedules, are all at a distance. Which is not much of a problem in the days of email. The questioner, however, didn't have any writing friends or friends who read in his genre either local or online that he could ask.

So the next question to him was, was he a member of a writing group or organization? I'm a member of both Broad Universe and EPIC, and I've seen the occasional call out in the email and Facebook groups for those writing organizations for a beta reader on a particular genre or topic. There's usually someone willing to give feedback in return for critical comments on their own stories. He decided to check with some of the fan group tables at the convention.

I've even seen the call out on an author's Facebook page for an occasional beta reader or proof reader.

Of course, what do you do once you've found a potential beta reader? If all you get back is “It was good”, then you need to ask detailed questions (and maybe find another beta reader). Jodie Renner had some excellent suggestions recently in “15 Questions for Your Beta Readers”. (She also has some suggestions for finding YA beta readers.) I tend to ask more vague questions like "Did what the character do make sense?"

Take some time to absorb the comments you get back. Sometimes you can see right away how to revise the story and sometimes you’re not actually ready to accept what you hear.

It also helps to have more than one beta reader. If both readers comment on the same thing, then it definitely needs fixing. You might also have a beta reader who just focuses on the technical details or language rather than the overall story.

How have you found your beta readers? Are you a beta reader for another author?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

REACHING THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

When you’re writing a story do you ever feel like you’re climbing a mountain and you’ll never reach the top. Maybe not, but right now that’s me. In 2009, I started a historical novel set in 1780. For months I read books about the time period. Clothing, food, housing, the Revolutionary War, the Indians, and more. I watched movies of the time, clipped pictures and made a vision board of the people and how they lived. Surrounded by months of research, I started writing the story. About halfway through I decided it wasn’t turning out the way I envisioned in my mind. So I put it aside to think about and come back to later.
 

Other stories took the place of my historical. I even forgot about it. Then one day in 2014, I was digging through ideas for novels I had jotted down and found the typed pages for my story that I had never even given a title. It was a shame to waste all those months and reading so many books. Could I get it right this time? Maybe. Maybe not. I’d never know unless I tried.
 

A change of characters, along with new names, reading through the original draft and deciding what to keep and discard, and I gave the story a second try. It was moving along slowly, so I decided to try something new to speed things up. Fast drafting. That seems to be working. The story is still a long way from being “finished” but fast drafting is letting me write ideas down. There will be revisions, of course, but this time I think I know where I’m going. My characters are cooperating better too.
Little Wolf, one of the new characters, told me she wanted to be in the story. She couldn't believe I left her out of the original. Neither could I.
 

Maybe five years ago was not the time for this particular story. I hope 2014 is the year I reach the top of the mountain. I'm climbing the mountain, one step at a time. The view looks promising. Oh, the story has a title now. OVER THE MOUNTAIN. It just seems right.
 
 

Have you ever put a story aside and come back to it years later? If so, did it work out better the next time?