In honor of the arrival of 2012 I am taking a look back at my very first year of blogging—2011.  Here are the five blog posts—some written for “From the Write Angle” others for my personal blog—that I consider my best work.

The top of my list HAS to be “Voice, It’s Not Just for Manuscripts Anymore” discussing how essential it is for writers to infuse their query letters (the letters they use to try to attract a literary agent) with their unique voice.

I would posit that snagging an agent with a good query is NOT merely about what you say but is equally about HOW you say it. For those of you who have seen “The King’s Speech” (and if you haven’t, forget reading my post and get yourself that DVD) think of the moment at Westminster Abbey when Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) asks Colin Firth’s George VI of England, “Why should I waste my time listening to you?’ The King’s answer. . . “Because I have a voice.” If you want agents to listen to you, to pay attention to the punchy mini-synopsis of your oh-so-clever plot that you spent a gazillion drafts perfecting, then you’d better let the voice that imbues your manuscript sing out from your query letter as well. 

Number two is “Give me A Little Kiss — Sex and the Historical Novelist,” in which I discuss and defend the place of sex in straight historical novels (not just historical romances).

The inclusion of sex in historical novels is neither good nor bad in a vacuum.  It’s not the sexual content that determines whether a particular scene works—it’s whether that scene (sex or otherwise) has a REASON for being in the novel.  Tossing in an orgy (or even a kiss) into your work of historical fiction without a solid reason is a bad idea.  The scene will feel “added on,” and gratuitous sex is no more acceptable in a novel than gratuitous dialogue.

At number three I have selected my reflection on the very act of blogging itself and how it can become a digital distraction from the author’s most important task—writing books:

Blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.

So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?

 Blog number four tackles the question of why our sisters (or more broadly our siblings) are NOT very much like us.

I’ve certainly had moments when I’ve thought how can my sister and I have had such a different experience of the same childhood or how could we have played the same games (together), walked to the same school (together) and heard the same family stories and yet turned out so very differently? If you have a sibling chances are you’ve had such thoughts as well.  At the heart of my questions lay the idea that nurture shapes people, and since my sister and I were raised in the same environment that should have made us similar.

Turns out that’s just dead wrong when it comes to siblings.  Being raised in the same environment helps to make us different.

And finally, sitting at number five, is the first blog I ever wrote—“Not THAT Sophie.”  This one is all about the marketing lessons I learned from a teething toy.  Half-a-year after I wrote it, as I struggle to build my author brand, I still marvel at the power of Sophie the Giraffe.  And yes, she STILL comes up before I do in an Amazon search and she continues to top the ranks of baby items.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings (we will not discuss how far from number one I am on any list presently). She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs $7.00 more than a copy of my novel. Wow (hint to readers, buy the book – I don’t care if you chew on it).

Sophie G is obviously doing something right. Here’s what I think. . .

 Happy New Year all!!!

If cost were no object I would definitely make a book trailer.  It would be just like a big-studio film trailer—atmospheric music, gorgeous settings, first-rate live actors, dramatic editing effects.

But cost is not irrelevant.  Not in my world (if it is irrelevant in yours and you want to bankroll my big budget book trailer just let me know).  So when I got my book contract and started to plan my personal promotional budget I had to look critically at every possible piece of the marketing puzzle.  As part of that process I asked myself what I could reasonably expect to achieve with a book trailer for The Sister Queens, and given that did I want to invest in one?

Never one to make a decision in a vacuum (or to miss an opportunity for goofing off on YouTube when I should be reading an obscure reference work), I looked at dozens of book trailers.  Along the way I realized that writers of historical fiction face special challenges because our trailers must create and populate a rich visual world removed in time and place from the present and transport the viewer there.  Of course we had to do this in our novels as well, BUT we were working with words and that left the visual images up to the fertile brains of our readers.  In a visual medium (a video trailer) we must craft the images ourselves (or pay someone to craft them), and they must be convincing.

Having finished my “tour de trailers” I have pretty much decided that not to do a trailer for The Sister Queens.  But I’ve been known to make the wrong decision (more than once even).  So I am asking you, AS READERS (fellow writers, put your “readers hat” on please) to disabuse me of the following conclusions I drew along my journey.

Lots of book trailers view like educational power point presentations.  They have music, they have art.  Sometimes they manage to have both from the same (and the correct) period.  They might even have well-done voice-overs (don’t get me started on the trailers that just have rolling text like extensive film credits).  But I have to admit a vast majority of book trailers without live action felt educational to me.  This was true even of the trailers that wove a bit of author interview in (this technique reminded me of the “talking heads” used in documentary films).

I am big on education (especially history education), but I thought the purpose of a book trailer was to make me want to BUY THE BOOK.  These fact-heavy trailers full of still images just didn’t sweep me up and leave me all shivery the way good film trailers (and by good I mean trailers that make me come back and plunk down money to see the full product) can.  I guess when a visual medium—video—is employed I want action.  So what about trailers featuring live actors?

Live-action trailers can be more gripping but NOT if they look homemade.  Blame the production values I am used to seeing in costume-drama on PBS, but if I can tell that a live-action trailer for a book set at the Tudor court was made in someone’s dining room or backyard, you’ve lost me.  If the costumes look homemade or, god forbid, halloweeny (if that is not a word I hereby create it), I can’t even watch to the end.  My reaction to such trailers is similar to when I attend a recital at which one performer botches badly and I don’t know where to look because I am just SO embarrassed for him.  I know this is unfair because creating a realistic look for a historical trailer is difficult whereas if you write a contemporary novel you can come up with a convincing setting and wardrobe pretty easily.  But I guess we historical novelists ought to have thought of that before picking a genre because the bottom line is I am not willing to forgive hokey.

And then there are the acting and editing aspects of a live-action trailer.  Have a look at the trailers for The Borgias or The Tudors or Game of Thrones.  Setting aside any historical accuracy issues you may have, have you ever seen a book trailer that looked like them?  I haven’t.  They are pure, pulse-pounding drama.  If these were book trailers I would crawl over broken glass to buy the books.  But I suspect they cost big, BIG money (see paragraph 2 – I do not have big money).

Finally, even if I poured vast sums of money into a trailer (and was subsequently divorced by my spouse and beaten to death by my children whose tuition payments I failed to make as a result of my spendthrift ways) I am not sure how many people would see it.  Yes, I know they are out there on YouTube but that is a huge pond and trailers are little fish.  How can I be certain that potential readers would ever see my trailer?  Many of the trailers I looked at had low “views” numbers.  Of course I could put the trailer on my website as well, but presumably if I have managed to lure some unsuspecting potential reader to my site the blurb for my novel will provide her with the best way of gauging both the content of my book and her interest in it.  There simply needs to be a better and more direct forum for readers to browse trailers before I would consider pouring cash into one.

I will close by admitting I saw some good trailers—trailers that did their authors and the books they represented proud.  Even so, I have no way of knowing whether or not those book trailers were effective in interesting readers and generating sales.  So I am back where I started, no book trailer for me.  Unless one of you wants to point out my errors of reasoning.  Any takers?  The comment section is wide open.  Do you use book trailers to select books?  Has a trailer ever sold you a novel you didn’t already intend to buy anyway?

Share/Save

The discovery that my forthcoming historical novel, The Sister Queens, had appeared on Amazon for pre-order was magic – magic with a little “humbling experience” tacked on for good measure.

I was ecstatic when a friend told me that my book was listed. Here was proof indeed that I had not imagined the whole “book deal thing.” Ha, I thought, let’s see NAL wiggle out of this now. But my enjoyment soon led to a sober realization – you are only as good as your sales and rankings. I may have a book listed on Amazon (and IndiBound and Books a Million. . .) but I am NOT a household name. I am not even close.

What, you may ask, brought this fact home to me? To paraphrase Pixar’s marvelous Toy Story, “a child’s plaything.” You see I am NOT the first “Sophie” Amazon suggests when one goes to the search window and begins to type. Doing this (when I should have been researching my next work of historical fiction) I discovered that when I get to “p” (s-o-p) Amazon kindly suggests another Sophie – obviously a sales-super-star – “Sophie the Giraffe.” I was not familiar with Ms. Giraffe before this, or with her body of work. Sophie the Giraffe is a teether, as in infants gum her with vigor, drop her on the floor and then squeal impatiently until she is returned to their grasp. I have included a picture of Sophie G so you can appreciate her magnificence.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings (we will not discuss how far from number one I am on any list presently). She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs $7.00 more than a copy of my novel. Wow (hint to readers, buy the book – I don’t care if you chew on it).

Sophie G is obviously doing something right. Here’s what I think.

Continue reading »