Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Publishing Process: Marketing Part 2- The Marketing Coordinator

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As mentioned previously, marketing your book is one of the hardest parts of being a successful author. If you choose to self-publish, you do a lot of the work that a major publisher would normally do for you. However, many self-publishers do have a marketing department, and while they will not do the work for you, they are to guide you and help you get a good sense of what to do to get your book out there. But like everything else, you need to be careful and trust the person assigned to you.

What A Coordinator Does

In a traditional publisher, a coordinator would act more like an agent- they work a campaign, set up book signings, publicity events, and other promotional methods (which we will get into in future entries). A marketing coordinator in self-publishing works on a smaller scale- they will require payment, and do not set up events, but educate you in ways to promote yourself. I personally learned about online methods, like Twitter and Facebook to promote my book, and got help in finding different venues to promote my work. And even though my time with the coordinator was temporary, it gave me the tools I needed to continue to market the work without her.

However, this experience came about as a result of my time with a previous coordinator. I bring this up because while there are many coordinators that will work hard to help you develop a campaign and be informative, others will not be as helpful. My only bad experience in my self-publishing came when I was first assigned a coordinator. The person I was assigned outlined three different campaigns, which contained events like a trip to Pitchfest (an event designed to allow writers to pitch ideas to Hollywood), a small team working to promote the book online and various other options that sounded profitable. However, all of the packages quoted to me were well out of my price range, and I was seriously considering working on my own. However, I spoke to my previous editor, who agreed with me on the high prices and looked in this particular coordinator. She learned that he was working outside of the US, and had been instructed to get clients to spend as much money as possible. She instructed me on how to request a change, and specifically how to get an American agent, which allowed me to get similar services at a far better price.

While this story might paint my publisher in a bad light, I tell it to illustrate two points. One, that even the best publisher in the world can have bad people working for them, who simply want to make money and move up. The second, is that no matter how your work gets out, you have to be on the lookout and decide if what you are being offered is truly in the best interest of your book, or is just a scheme. One further point, is one of the earliest lessons I learned about marketing your first book- that it is your first book. Someone established might have a book campaign that takes them all over the country, promoting in different areas and venues, because they have that large fanbase. When you start, you have nothing, and if you self-publish, you need to use your funds wisely. Don’t look to immediately do the biggest, farthest reaching campaign that will exhaust your funds to reach an audience that doesn’t know you (especially with social media allowing you to reach out around the world). In the beginning, work locally and around you, reaching out to institutions that would be glad to have a local author come in. If you can build a strong audience around you, then it can spread out and your next book will already have a receptive audience.

Final Thoughts

Getting someone to help you with marketing is a valuable step, and with the proper precautions can be well worth the money. You need to know what can be done to market the book, and the best process to set up to maximize your avenues. But just like you did with your publisher, get a good feel for your coordinator. Make sure you can really use what they offer and that you can afford to get it. And don’t be afraid to ask for someone else if you aren’t getting it. And above all else, be sure to remember that no one retires off their first book, and throwing money around to promote to foreign audiences is just throwing money around, especially in today’s high tech world. But we’ll get into that more next time.

Heroes and Villians: Optimus Prime and Megatron

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The main thing that drives a story is conflict. Where between two conflicting ideas, or two conflicting characters, that constant friction and question of who or what is superior is what keeps us going as readers. In writing terms, characters that embody conflict are known as the protagonist (the character trying to achieve something) and the antagonist (the person trying to stop the protagonist from achieving his or her goals). In most stories, this is usually defined as ‘heroes’ and ‘villains.’ While these labels can be either protagonists or antagonists, they are still important concepts to understand as you develop characters. Therefore, I will be starting a list of characters that effectively portray heroes and villains and delve into what makes them work. To begin with, I will start with two enemies that were two of the earliest examples of heroes and villains for my generation- from Transformers, Optimus Prime and Megatron.

Background

Alien robotic life forms from the planet Cybertron, Optimus Prime and Megatron are the leaders of the two dominant robot factions, the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons. While both characters have existed in several iterations, the common threads are always that Megatron began the Cybertronian Wars, that Optimus rose to stop him, and that they have both led their factions for countless millennia before coming to Earth. As a result, both characters have a complicated history, and know each either almost as well as they know themselves.

The Traits of Good and Evil

Since Transformers is based on a toyline, it’s easy to pain this rivalry as little more then standard ‘good vs. evil.’ And a large part of what makes Optimus and Megatron effective foes that create great conflict is their differences. Optimus is a wise and compassionate leader, who believes all life is sacred and has often sacrificed himself for the well-being of others, both Autobot and human. Megatron is a megalomaniac, convinced of his superiority and willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to achieve total dominance. Their rise to leader status further confirms this- Megatron rose to power through battle and propaganda, while Optimus was chosen as a Prime due to his compassion and desire to protect all life. Their underlying philosophies make for easy conflict and give both a great amount of determination to succeed, which gives viewers a great deal of interest in the stories.

However, the various iterations of the franchise through TV, film, and comic books, has added a great deal of detail and depth to their relationship. In the beginning, Optimius was actually a follower and friend of Megatron, who spoke of creating a better world. However, Optimus was horrified by Megatron’s methods, which led to his eventual rise as leader of the Autobots. This adds touches of pain and betrayal to their relationship; Prime often regrets the loss of Megatron to darkness, commenting that their desire to better existence still links them, and were it not for their individual philosophies, they might still be allies. Megatron generally ignores this, but a recent portrayal in Transformers Prime, where Optimius is given amnesia and believes Megatron to still be an ally, hints that he may miss their former friendship. And despite their different beliefs, both have proven themselves to be strong leaders that value those under their command. While Megatron does not tolerate failure, he will not allow the total loss of his troops, nor any further damage to Cybertron. As such, he has worked with Optimus when such need arose. The degree of ease at which this happens also speaks to their long forgotten bonds, and deepens both the bitterness and former friendship between them.

The Value for Writers

Toys or not, Megatron and Optimus represent perhaps one of the best examples of the tragic enemies. While it is obvious they will never be able to work together, there is enough history and similarity tying them to together to make each blow they land carry a feeling of tragedy. As such, they echo the best trait of heroes and villains- that one should be an opposing reflection of the other- but also move past the basic nature of good vs. evil. These are two beings that share the dream of improving their world and existence in general, beings that were once friend because of that same desire. It was only their different methods that drove them apart, and it is far more likely they could accomplish more together then they have apart. It makes each blow they take from each other feel that much heavier, and make their rivalry that much more engrossing. A writer that can create this kind of epic and heartfelt rivalry between their characters has all the conflict they need to drive their story.

The Publishing Process: Marketing Part 1- The Cover Design

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At this point in the publishing process, writers have hopefully found a publisher, and been through a lengthy editing process. This leads into perhaps the most challenging part of the professional process- marketing. Knowing just what will get a book into stores and popular is near impossible, which is why the previously mentioned ‘vanity presses’ are so dangerous. And because of the various nuances of the marketing process, this entry in the process will take multiple entries to go through. To begin with. I plan on speaking on the ‘simplest’ part of the process, and the very first one- getting a cover design.

Judging a Book

The expression ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ may be true in reference to looking at other people. But when it comes to actual books, it’s a standard that no one ever meets. The cover is the very first thing we see when we look at a book, and it’s what grabs our attention and hopefully makes us purchase the book. Therefore, whatever your book might be, you need something on that very first look that will grab people. I have seen authors publish book with a simple colored background cover, with the title emblazoned on it. It may be direct, but it doesn’t compete with something like this.

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Therefore, when you are ready to get your book out there, you need to have some sort of plan in mind for the cover. I was inspired by the cover of a Green Lantern graphic novel, so be sure to observed media around you for ideas. If you are lucky, your publisher will help you; iUniverse offered me a chance to work with their graphics department and design a cover when I started working with them. Granted, not every publishing method may offer this, but most major ones will. Remember, a good publisher wants your book to sell, and they will have the materials in place to help you achieve this. But if a writer desires more control, then today’s market does offer many options, including hiring an artist to do your cover independently.

Finding an Artist

With the advent of the internet, it is much easier to find an artist to do your cover. Sites like Deviantart.com offer a multitude of different artists, with varying degrees of style and ability posting their work online. This can be overwhelming, but it is certainly gives plenty of options. Still, you want to make sure you find an artist that not only matches your vision for the cover, but also has the ability and skill to do a full cover, not just a character or background sketch. I was fortunate enough that my artist, Derrick Fish, was not only stylistically qualified, but had experience in doing full covers and created title credits as well as a full cover for Lightrider.

Of course, there are many other things to consider in taking on an independent artist. First, you need to make sure that your publisher will allow you to use an outside artist. Second, you need an artist that you feel you can trust, establish a fair payment with, and that will complete your work on time. Work for a cover can be expensive, and most artists will charge a minimum of $500 for such in-depth work. And you find yourself with an artist that doesn’t live up to expectations while you have a deadline, it can be a serious financial issue. And once all that is worked out, you still have the legal ramifications of using an artist. Publishers will need a written form that gives them the right to use an artist’s work, and without this, you may face copyright issues, so above all else, be sure to get this taken care of, no matter what your publisher may say. In my case, I fortunate that Derrick was very easy to work with in this matter- he considered the work he did for me to be my property upon completion, offerend manys suggestions that improved the overall design of the cover, and filed out the required form with no complaints. For my part, I made sure to give him credit in the book’s liner notes.

Final Notes

Marketing anything is hard, and there are a lot of things you will have to learn. But hopefully, advertisements you’ve seen for film, TV, and books, will have helped instill on you how important having a good central image can be. And with the resources available from either your publisher, or from an independent source, you can create a cover that is not only true to your vision, but also dynamic enough to grab the attention of the public and get your book on their shelves.

Being a Critic, or Never Saying “It’s Good” To A Writer

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Last week, I discussed the editing process, and how to accept criticism of your work. This week, I wanted to flip the tables a bit. I recently spoke to a creative writing class in my old high school, and one subject the teacher mentioned to me was how the students were learning how to critique each other’s work, and be more specific in their thoughts. That reminded me of some of the difficulties I’ve experienced in getting critiques of my work, and therefore, this week I’d like to lay out some thoughts on what good criticism is, and how to give it to an aspiring writer.

Being Truthful and Constructive

Being critical of someone’s work is no easy task. What throws more people then anything else is simply being placed in a position of power. No one wants to take another person’s work and tell them that what they have is terrible. So already, they feel a need to sugarcoat their opinions to spare the author’s feelings. While I am against blind negativity towards a work, sugarcoating is just as bad, if not worse. A writer needs brutal honesty to construct their work, and being giving false platitudes simply gives them false expectations about their ability and their work. It also reflects badly on the ability of the critic, as it makes them look unable to speak their true thoughts. Therefore, the first part of being a good critic is knowing how to be constructive, to give opinions that may be mean, have serious thought and meaning that a good writer will be able to take to heart.

Whether good or bad, criticism should allow a writer to better his or her work, and therefore needs to be constructive. I’ve had people tell me my work was ‘just stupid’ or that a scene ‘was pointless’, but nobody could explain why to me. That was frustrating, but what was always worse to me was when someone liked my work, but all they could say was “it’s good.” I dreaded hearing that more then anything, because it meant I would have to press and dig at the person to get a more detailed opinion on anything in the book that they felt could be improved. It was more work for me and sometimes completely fruitless. Therefore, a good critic needs to know WHY they like something or dislike something. For example, I had a critic who said that one scene I wrote was good, but felt like a retread of an earlier scene. So because I had something to go on, I could compare the two and realize that the second scene was unnecessary and take it out.

Still, it can be difficult to critique someone’s work, a position I understand. I’m often placed in a critical position- I write an online comic, Superroomies (which focuses on DC Comics heroines living together in an apartment), on Deviantart with artist Mike Manley (CatsTuexedo). He and I brainstorm the scripts, but he handles the artwork, and as coauthor, I’m often asked to look over his work. And there have been many times where I have had to say no to his designs. Perhaps the most prominent example was his design for Clark Kent. Mike wanted to get away from the idea of how no one sees past Clark Kent’s glasses to Superman, and create a Kent design that was totally different from Superman. Unfortunately, what he came up with didn’t look like Superman, but was too out there to pass for a regular person. So when I spoke to him, I explained how I respected his idea, but that Clark Kent needed to look normal so that he could blend in, and that his design would stick out just as much, if not more, then Superman would. I suggested using a smaller, but distinguishing feature, like a beard or hairstyle to differentiate. And because I was respectful of his intent, and gave a legitimate reason and suggestion in response, Mike accepted my thoughts and did a redesign of the character.

Being Able to Critique

Beyond the emotional side, the other issue that keeps critics from being constructive and detailed is generally not knowing the details of critiquing a particular field. After all, there are always general thoughts, but if you don’t read a lot, or don’t read a specific field, it’s a lot harder to give your thoughts. This is a lot harder to give tips on, since no one can be expected to be an expert on every genre. For a writer, I can suggest giving your work to someone either familiar with your chosen genre, or to someone who reads a lot in general. But if you want to improve your basic critical skills, my best tip is to simply read, to learn more about basic story structure and what makes it work. And if you aren’t a big reader, there are plenty of other options, like film or TV, to learn from. Regardless of medium, these are still stories being told, and therefore are graded by the same standards. Plot, character, believability, all of those things we look for in books are all brought into film, and if you can explain why a movie or TV show doesn’t work or does work, then you can probably do the same with a book. I can personally attest that the inverse is certainly true- I have watched films like GalaxyQuest, and understood their value because its characters are designed to be satirical and function as both a statement on the Star Trek characters and actors they directly parody, and the fan culture it more subtly touches on with its race of aliens that believe the TV episodes they witnessed were in fact, factual documents. And on the flipside, I watched films like Talladega Nights and was unable to get involved because the central character was portrayed as so unlikeable, his fall from grace was deserved, and I felt little desire to see him regain his former glory.

Final Thoughts

Being critical of someone’s work is certainly difficult, and someone doing so must strike a balance between being honest and constructive. So I implore people to try the methods I’ve described to better their skills, even if they are writers themselves. Being able to critique another will allow you to better critique your own work, and learn how to handle it when you receive it. And if you aren’t writing, but trying to help someone, then doing this has one other benefit- testing to see if the person involved can handle any kind of criticism. Because if they can’t handle well-said, intelligent, constructive criticism, then you step in and stop them before they write another word.