Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Contest Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the blog contest last week!! There were so many good ones--apparently a lot of you suffer from seasonal allergies! My non-sniffly heart goes out to you.

Without further ado, the Shortlist (no particular order):

Honorable Mentions go to:

  • Julia @ 2:57

  • Blue @ 3:05

  • Beck @ 4:04

  • Tracey @ 5:42

A specific HM goes to:

  • Alwyn @ 4:04 for best written...but not *exactly* a story.

  • Jeff @ 5:56 for the best MerBear speculation.

  • TPoelle @2:24 for the best flashback inducer.

  • Kaleen @8:28 for the best non-allergy-related use of pollen.

And the winners (also in no particular order)!!

  • Rachel Searles @ 1:13

I splash my face with cold water from the tap and sink to the green tiles. The audition was brutal.

Outside, the sky is darkening with a spring storm. Jeté, pirouette, again, plié, jump!

Tucked in my legwarmer is my secret ingredient, my snowy dynamite. It clings to my fingers like pollen. I lick it off, savoring the bitter taste, electric jolt, and get up to do the dance again.

  • Sprunty @ 9:08

“The pollen is carried to the flower…”

“God Mom, this is embarrassing. No one still uses the birds and the bees.” Her daughter rolled her green eyes to the sky and huffed.

The wide-eyed awe and admiration were long gone. She knew she’d jumped the shark at the Justin Bieber concert when she pretended to like it. It was all downhill from there.

A glass of water pressed against her lips while thinking of a better way. A deep inhale filled her lungs with years of wisdom ready to be released.

“Just don’t do it.”

  • Christina @ 5:42

Dan drew the dingy up. The rain made it hard to tell where the sky started and the water began. It had been that way with him and Jane. Hard to tell where one stopped and the other started.

He coughed as he jumped onto the dock and tied up. Pollen had made Jane cough. Dust and cold weather had too. Mostly two packs a day had made her cough, but at the time it seemed churlish to say so.

He should have been churlish, Dan thought, as he lifted the empty green jar out of the dingy.

Winners, please email me at proseblog[at]gmail[dot]com for prize claiming!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


There's been a lot of talk recently about the New Yorker's "shockingly successful" Facebook "Like" experiment in the last week or so.

The experiment was meant to test audience engagement: how much will your audience go through to get to your content? Because let's face it everything online is low-investment. In an environment where your audience is just casually browsing for perhaps a few minutes at a time, even expecting them to stop long enough to click a link or a Like is asking a lot. It's why people are so skeptical of paywalls like those put up by the Times (which has an awesome ad campaign, by the way).

So the New Yorker put a story written by Jonathan Franzen about David Foster Wallace up on their Facebook fan page (which has about 220,000 fans). It gained about 17,000 "likes" while it was up. Impressive! Very!

Until you consider that's (and I'm rounding up here) 8% of their fans. And these were the big guns. The names are huge, appeal to their audience, and DFW's new novel just came out. This was the perfect storm for "likes."

We say that 10% engagement of one's audience indicates a successful online presence (measured by action taken--"like" clicked, retweets, comments left). And one of the most famous brands in the world got 8%. What does this mean?

I think it means, first and foremost, that 10% is not as attainable a figure as it might at first appear. It also means that any audience engagement is impressive.

Most importantly, it means that you have to be really specific in your goals. What do you want your audience to do? You have literally one shot: the vast majority of The New Yorker's fans would click "like" once (to become a fan) but not twice, no matter the prize.

So get specific about your goals. If it's just to make friends, that's totally OK! That's the building stage. Later, you can mobilize those fans who've grown to trust you for more specific goals.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Spring!

My lovely blog followers, 'tis Spring. I lived in the South my whole life before coming to NYC. We never really got all that excited about Spring, because it was...not that different from any other season.

But here, Spring is a huge deal. HUGE. Let's celebrate. Writing contest.

Write a story using 100 words or fewer. Include the following words in the story:


Winners are eligible for one of the following:

  • A reduced-price ebook conversion ($250)

  • A query critique (

  • First 5 pages "when would I stop reading evaluation" (

Contest closes in 24 hours. Please note, at the end of your entry, which prize you're interested in.

I'm not sure how many winners there'll be. :) It's Spring, after all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

You Got Tha Power

I met tonight with an incredibly bubbly, bright, talented, idea-filled young woman to discuss a couple of projects, both book-related and non (hope to be able to tell you all about her very, very soon!!). At the end of our conversation, she asked "So, hypothetically, what happens if no one (as in publishers) wants this?"


"Well, we do it ourselves," I answered.

The way that content is being produced and consumed is at such an exciting crossroads. This of course doesn't apply only to books--at all. But I actually think that's one of the most exciting parts. Written words, video, still images, drawings...the list goes on. It can all be integrated. The ways you can tell your story are literally limitless.

Don't be scared. Find professionals to collaborate with; blazing a new trail is always about finding the right people to do the right jobs. But don't be scared.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Anatomy of a Fiction Platform

You thought you'd dodged this bullet, didn't you? heh.

Oh, novelists, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news (although I'll remind you not to shoot the messenger), but you should take a look at your platform, just like those nonfiction writers.

Is platform in any way essential to fiction the way it is to non? NO. I'll be clear on that. Fiction is sold on the story and the writing. And the economic viability. :) Platform, for novelists, is a bonus. (Nonfiction writers, see yesterday's post stat).

So if a nonfiction "Platform" means convincing editors and agents 1. why you're the best person to write a book and 2. that there's a large audience already eager to read on the subject, what does platform mean for novelists? Answers would be 1. because I thought of it first and 2. Um...everyone wants this! Of course!

And those answers aren't helpful. Platform, for fiction writers, is more about demonstrating that there are people out there who like you. Who think you're funny, say. Or people who find you engaging. Check out Chuck Wendig and Maureen Johnson on Twitter for examples of people who do this really well. Copy them. (sort of serious)

Fiction queries are 100% focused on the novel: who's the main character, what's the big choice they're facing (See Query Shark if you're at all unclear on what a query should do). You don't have to mention your 2K Twitter or blog followers in your query.

But agents will Google you. They will find your 2K Twitter followers and your popular blog (in email queries, at the bottom where you write your contact info, you can include these links, too). They, and the editors to which they pitch your book, will be impressed that you've gone out there and started talking with what will become your audience.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Anatomy of a Non-Fiction Platform

Platform is central to an agent's and editor's decision to take on a nonfiction project. When you query with nonfiction, it's OK to use up to half of the letter (about 250 words) with discussion of your platform--whereas with fiction we expect about two sentences (20 words) of author background.

The most effective breakdown I've ever seen of nonfiction platform (here) is into its external and internal components. 1. Why you? and 2. Who already cares?

Question one is about you and your past. Your resume. Are you an expert? How long have you been involved in this area? Who has recognized or employed you because of your expertise? Have you taught? Where have you presented or been interviewed? Your local newspaper in Small Town, Indiana is, unfortunately, not a viable element of this section of your self-pitch. The answers to this question have to be immediately recognizable to the reader.

Also evaluated with question 1: Can you write? Your pitch letter (which, as I've said, should include an overview of your platform) has to be compelling. You should convince me you're answering a question I have--even if I didn't know I had it before reading your pitch.

Question two: Who already cares? is about audience. The one you've already got slathering at your heels. It's not enough to assure the agent that you will gain x number of Twitter followers or implement such-and-such plan. Anything that refers to the future, unless it's something you've already been slated to do (I will appear on Good Morning America on this date!!), it doesn't constitute platform. It's too speculative.

If you speak to 50,000 people a year in x number of invited speaking engagements, that's platform. If you have a mailing list of 2,000 (the more the merrier, of course). If your radio show has weekly listeners in the top 5 markets--or, if you're on internet radio, the metrics will be different (by the way, Internet radio is getting big. You should look into it.). Where have your articles been published?

The bottom line: it's numbers.

Twitter is an insanely useful tool for building an audience and connecting with people who will publish or feature you. More than it is a social network, as originally billed, Twitter is an information amplifier. You tweet, someone retweets, an just because of these two actions your link or tidbit could be, theoretically, reaching thousands. Becoming a follower is a low-investment action. All you have to do is be useful once to get someone to follow.

So if you're an expert in an area, start Tweeting about it first. Link to already-established blogs. If you've driven enough traffic to them, perhaps you could apply for a guest-post spot on grounds that you'll bring readers--that you already have done so. is a link shortener that also counts clicks. So you can see, out of the total number of clicks a link got throughout the whole internet, how many came from you. It can be compelling data. It could get you published. It could get you platform.

How have you gone about starting a platform? Anyone succeeded in gaining the numerical swag to start querying a nonfiction project?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


It's that dreaded word. Unfair, limiting, gatekeeping word. We hatessss it, precious.

Well, actually, no we don't. In fact, it's probably safe to say that the only ones who hate platform are the ones who don't have platform. It's high school and the head cheerleader's new perm all over again.

Frustration is easy to understand, though. Platform is harder than ever to acquire with the rise of the Internet and particularly with the rise of blogs. When we set up blog tours for our authors, blogs with one or two hundred followers are considered successful, places that will make good potential blog tour "stops." In the unbelievably noisy Internet age, a couple hundred people professing to listen to your noise is fairly impressive.

But what does that translate to as far as platform?

Platform, as it applies to publishing, is about whom you impress with your numbers. Publishers. And, unfortunately, a couple hundred isn't going to cut it. To get publishers' attention, regardless of whether you're debuting or a self-pubber trying to transition to print, you have to command the attention of thousands.

The definition of "publisher" is not as hard and fast as it once was, though. That affects your platform strategy. We'll finish out the week with a short series, covering the anatomy of a non-fiction and a fiction (no, you novelists haven't escaped this scourge) tomorrow and Friday.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Crazy, Crazy Shit

Yesterday, several blogs/news outlets posted outraged reactions to Equal Opportunity Publications' announcement that they would name KBR, a Houston-based energy company, a top employer for women in 2011. Despite the fact that KBR has 9 pending sexual assault lawsuits against them. One of the most grievous and tragic is detailed here. There are also links back to previous reports so you can trace the full story, should you care to. I recommend you only do so if you have a strong stomach.

You can contact EOP's CEO, John Miller III, at
jmiller [at] eop [dot] com
to protest. I hope you do. But come on, don't be crazy yourself. Cussing him out or threatening him will only undermine us.

You can contact KBR directly here. But it's only a generic form. Again, be smart about how you express yourself. Be eloquent. Be outraged. Don't be violent or profane.

I hope you'll add your voice, and I hope you'll share this.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Packaging >> Positioning

We're getting fancy, guys. We have jargon. Packaging. Positioning.

On Monday, we talked about covers and the effect on readers. Namely, whether readers pick up the book. Covers should communicate content and tone--no easy feat, to be sure.

But picking up the book is not a won battle, friends. We want readers to buy that sucker. Sometimes, for the casual book buyer, an appealing cover induces a capitalistic coma that draws reader, book in hand, to the cash register. Zap.

More often building awareness of a book, branding and positioning it in the marketplace, is the effort that wins the battle.

Positioning means the image/collection of images that pops up in a consumer's mind when your product gets mentioned. So, when you hear a title like GHOST COUNTRY, you think thriller, serious, fast-paced (as opposed to, say, unicorns, happy, and paaarties). Positioning also means how consumers compare your product to others in its category. So how are Patrick Lee's thrillers different than, say, the Jason Bourne books. It's about how the book gets packaged (cover, typeface, copy, etc.). But it's also about how it gets talked about.

Like a cover, the buzz surrounding a book should reflect tone and content in interesting ways. As with any product, marketing (which is a large part of brand-building and positioning) has to break through the noise--and books, regardless of genre, is a noisy market. Especially for you self-pubbers!!

Publishers and authors are getting really creative with the ways they define books in readers minds. Characters are getting Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. Books have trailers like movies.

The Internet means marketing is as flexible as its ever been. You can bring characters to life to talk directly to your audience. If your tone is sassy-with-a-touch-of-ninja-dash-of-literary, you can do that. We're not restricted by a medium anymore, as they were in MadMen (on Netflix, btw!!).

It's sort of cool.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why Isn't This Book Selling?

Folio had a great article about a month ago about "turkeys." That is, magazines that underperform. The article discusses how covers do or do not communicate the content and by so doing compel a reader to pick up the magazine.

The same applies to books. Really, to any product. Packaging is hugely important. If you've made a great product but can't get it off the shelves into consumers' hands, what's the point?

My tastes skew literary. I like quirk, which tends not to get too much screen time in commercial fiction, where formulas are more adhered to. I like commercial fiction, too, and am in fact of some unpopular opinions about how literary and commercial should meld. But that's another post. Covers like this appeal to me:

But, you say, that's...weird. It doesn't tell me anything about what the book's about. True. But, first of all, this is a story collection, so it's not "about" anything. Second, this is effing quirk, people. This is going for it. The cover promises me quirk, which I like to read. As a lover of quirk, you couldn't beat me off this book with a stick.

(Note: the three following books are Janet's)

Not only does this cover have great colors and composition, it immediately tells you the two most important things about the book: it's a mystery (note the shifty eyes) and it's set in ancient Athens. No, put that stick away. It's not going to work.

Sean Ferrell's NUMB:
Who doesn't love a white cover? This book is about a man with amnesia and how he rediscovers himself. And look. This guy on the cover has no head. Coincidence? I think not. This cover promises the unexpected. The book 100% delivers.

Evan Mandery's FIRST CONTACT

This is quite possibly the funniest book ever written. The cover tells you this, and also hints at the circular and slightly chaotic story inside. This is a book for lovers of Vonnegut, and I think the cover screams "DID YOU LOVE HARRISON BERGERON?!"

Unlike products like clothing, where the sum total of the piece can be readily displayed (Those shorts are just shorts. There's no deeper message.), books require an investment. You have to take the time to read some of the book to appreciate what's written. The only way to get someone to make that investment is to convince them that the content will interest them. The only way to do that is with a kickass cover.

Friday, April 1, 2011







holy crap. i'm exhausted.

The Strokes, for your listening pleasure. I am partial to MachuPichu.