Marketing a Novel Today

Several centuries ago there were no printing presses. Monks and scribes struggled for years to produce books. So, few books and few readers. There was an explosion of books with the invention of the printing press, but not that many readers initially. How things have changed! Today anyone can publish a book that looks great. Bloggers are deluged to review hundreds of books. Everyone seems to be writing books– certainly every celebrity and sports star. I grapple as a novelist with finding readers since I don’t have a big 5 publisher behind me providing marketing help.

Because I have a paranormal thriller coming out later this year (Hello Again), I’ve begun to prepare a very detailed marketing campaign. It’s taken me more hours than I care to admit to put together a list of bloggers who seem to enjoy books similar to mine. I’ve added lists of reviewers of my previous books, as well as friends and former colleagues.

I also have prepared a budget and targeted various marketing companies that specialize in finding reviewers and getting the word out. The problem is that marketing tools and trends are changing faster than I can keep up with. I’m being told now that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are not enough. I need to dive into Instagram, Snapshot, and Periscope.

I’m not going to take that particular leap yet, but I’ll let you know what kind of success I have using a pretty detailed traditional marketing plan.

Finding Your Gift to Give the World

 

The older you get, the more you begin to look back in an effort to make sense of your life and the lives of those around you. I have come to the conclusion that everyone does have a gift, something they can give the world. It is also something that gives them joy every time they give this gift.

So, in effect, finding the meaning to your life does not really require you to visit a guru or climb a mountain to meditate. It does require you to examine what you do well and what that contributes to other people. Someone whose gift is their ability to nurture, for example, might find joy in the teaching or nursing profession. Similarly, an athlete who feels joy whenever he excels might bring that joy to others who experience joy in watching him perform. Michael Jordan is a good example. By all accounts he is not a particularly nice person. His competitive zeal caused him to fight with teammates and coaches. He never found happiness off the court. Still, he confided to reporters that the only time he felt really at peace was when he was playing basketball. His superhuman abilities on the court also brought joy to those who saw him play.

Finding your gift can take much of a lifetime or it can happen very early. My brother, for example, already knew by the age of nine that he wanted to be a journalist. He was never happier as a kid than when he brought home copies of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Arizona Republic and read them cover-to cover. Over the years he worked his way all the way up to Editor, but I never thought he considered what he did as work.

In my case, I loved teaching college students, but left that profession when I became enamored with the computer industry. I spent some time in computer sales. I hated the cold calling, but I enjoyed explaining why the product was worth buying. Later I became a market research executive. Once again, what brought me joy was communicating the value of the research.

So, it’s clear to me that my gift is my ability to explain complex subjects in a way people can understand them. I’ve written several college textbooks and now teach on a volunteer basis. Even when I write fiction, I tend to take on complex issues and try to explain them in the story without being preachy. One mystery, as an example, delves into the complex issue of gender identity and transgender people. A science fiction novel I wrote explores the possible implications of a first contact between humans and extraterrestrials. That’s a subject so interesting to me that I self-published a non-fiction book on that topic.

Maslow came up with the term self-actualization to describe people who reach a level of psychic satisfaction once their basic physiological needs are met. It’s another way of describing people discovering their gift, the unique quality they bring to this world. If you’ve ever wondered what your gift is, then the best way to learn that answer is to start by interviewing yourself and jotting down all the tasks that bring joy to you. The next step is to determine what these tasks have in common. Let’s say you sell insurance all day but live for the valuable time when you’re not working so you can spend time woodworking or carving figurines. Clearly you have a gift for building things with your own hands. Whether that means you should expand your hobby into a small business or find a job that will allow you to spend more of your time doing what you love, you should consider finding ways to spend most of your day doing what you love.

Reinvent Yourself: Advice From a Change Master

My wife tells people she has been married to twelve different men; in reality we’ve been married forty-nine years, but I’ve change careers and reinvented myself over a dozen times. Keep in mind that each radical change meant learning to adapt quickly to new work environments, new responsibilities, a new work culture, and new colleagues who often had different educational backgrounds, different values, and markedly different interests. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine yourself invited to three different parties. One consists of a group of English professors discussing their latest research on Chaucer, Hemingway, and Shakespeare. Another party consists of police officers, mostly with GEDs and no college degrees, comparing notes on the most horrible crimes they’ve investigated. The third party is held by a group of software engineers where almost no one speaks first. Some people attending that party can go an entire evening without saying more than a polite hello. Some but not all of my other transformations include sales manager, hospital lab tech, computer network manager, futurist, software trainer, and market research executive.

In most of these situations I managed to make radical career transformations without taking major salary cuts. The secret to reinventing oneself consists of knowing how to recognize and communicate your transferable skills, know how to learn quickly, and know how to convince a skeptical employer that it makes perfect sense to take the risk of hiring someone with an unconventional background.

Let’s take the art of convincing a skeptical employer to take a chance on someone who wants to reinvent himself or herself. I moved from English professor to software trainer with a major mainframe computer company by identifying the head of training, arranging for us to have lunch together, and then convincing him over that lunch that someone who was an excellent teacher of something radically different could pick up mainframe software programming quickly and then be able to train that company’s customers.

Let’s take futurist as a second example. I convinced my future employer that I was already doing the job of a futurist (in this case a technology analyst who had to forecast future trends for specific industries) even though I was doing it as a hobby rather than as my day job.

Once in a new job, the reinvention part is not complete. You still have to learn the content required for this new job quickly and, this is critical, adjust to a new culture. When I moved from being a college professor to a law enforcement administrator, my educational background could not have been more different from the police officers I worked with every day. I realized I had successfully navigated that change on a Sunday when an officer came over because he had heard I had engine trouble. He took my engine out of my car, had the cylinders reground, and put everything back together without charging me anything but his cost.

So, reinventing oneself means recognizing your potential for completely different types of work by identifying your transferrable skills and convincing others to give you a chance. It also means fitting in a new work environment and quickly identifying the social rules each culture has.

One secret for those of you considering reinventing yourself is to look to new industries where the barriers for entry are not as rigid. When I talked my way into the computer industry, for example, there still weren’t formal computer science degrees offered. Recently I co-authored a book (Paint Your Career Green) that lays out why emerging green industries can be so attractive for people who want to make radical career changes. These new industries do not as yet have formalized educational requirements. Often you can take a few extension courses or earn an extension certificate to validate your knowledge in a new industry such as water purification or solar energy.

Another secret to making radical career changes is to know how to do research. Most people spend far more time researching a new car than they do researching new industries and key contacts. I write at length about this approach in Paint Your Career Green, but the point is that if you can meet a key contact before you apply for a job, you’re way ahead. If you have researched that industry and figured out how you could definitely add value to a particular company, then you’re even further ahead.

So, with the new year approaching, it’s a good time to do some soul-searching and determine if you want to reinvent yourself. In the current economic environment, it is likely it could take an entire year to make the change. Still, you will be a year older whether you make the transformation or not, so why not consider it?

 

Have a Ghostly Holiday Season and Enjoy a Discount

My publisher is currently running a promotion on the electronic edition of A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer. It is available for only .99 cents through December 12th. What makes the book so unusual is that I’ve wedded the traditional police procedure novel replete with a hard-boiled female detective to the paranormal novel that in this case features a sexy and savvy ghost.

So far the reviewers have commented how much they enjoyed another chance to become with the major characters. You’ll find all of them in this Frankie and Josh novel, even though you don’t have to read Silent Partner first. Those of you who enjoy A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer can find the same characters. Enjoy!

 

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Writing a Ghost Novel

I’ve been caught up recently in a novel that features a ghost —not the friendly, sassy spirit I write about in the Frankie and Josh mysteries, but a frightening female spirit that terrorizes the man who dated her before her death.

It’s an interesting exercise for a writer to try to create a frightening landscape, especially in modern times and even more especially if the novel is set in sunny San Diego. Much of the terror the reader feels has to be by his or her inference. I’m in the process of linking social media to the supernatural. It makes for a very exciting story. Two possible working titles interest me at the moment: HELLO AGAIN  or MEET ME IN HELL. I’m leaning toward the latter since the former is found in a movie with Jerry Lewis. Now there is the absolute opposite of scary.

Meanwhile Jane Blond International Spy continues to garner all four and five star reviews. One woman wrote that Jane is the type of girl she would have wanted to have as a friend when she was a teenager. What a nice compliment! Pen-L is readying A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer for its November 15th release and reviewers are currently reading a pre-release copy.

Happy reading!

What Makes a Novel a YA Novel?

Booktrope just published Jane Blond International Spy, a YA novel written by my teen co-author and myself. The book’s publication got me to thinking about what really makes a YA novel “Young Adult”. It sounds like an obvious question, but it’s not since adults now routinely read YA fiction.

I would categorize YA novels as falling into four broad categories: There are contemporary novels set in modern times that deal with contemporary problems. Also there are romance novels –these feature teens who fall in love, lose that love, and then usually regain it. The third category is paranormal –this is where you find all the teen vampire novels. Finally, there are the dystopian novels –the novels set in future times where teens battle for survival.

Jane Blond International Spy is a contemporary novel that features a fourteen year-old girl who faces problems at home (a father in jail and a mother living with her lover), problems at school (a popular girl who is a bully), and a crisis when she realizes she is the only one who could save the President from a terrorist plot.

So, what elements do YA novels generally share. First, of course, they feature teens in lead roles. They are the heroes and, sometimes, the villains. Many younger teen books use first-person to help readers relate to the main character. YA novels generally do not deal with subtle shades of gray when it comes to morality. A good character can do something evil, but most YA novels don’t split a lot of hairs when it comes to complex forces within the hero. After all, that’s why they are called heroes.

Dialog is crucial. My co-author is a teen. She wrote dialog and used expressions I never would have thought of using. Teens have their own expressions and their own language.

Also, adults generally are pictured as unable to provide much help. The teen is forced to take action himself or herself. In our novel, for example, the FBI agents don’t believe Jane. She also knows her mother won’t believe her.

Finally, have you noticed how many teen novels are part of a series? Teen readers like to follow a favorite character through several books. From an author’s perspective, it is a lucrative gravy train since earlier books in a series can often be given away to attract and hook readers who will buy subsequent books at full price.

I should add that Joseph Campbell revealed the deep dark secret of western literature a long time ago by writing about the link between heroes and Jungian symbols and mythology. Heroes generally don’t realize they are special; often they are overlooked and rejected while young. They face danger and risk death; they encounter love, etc. Jane Blond follows this well-worn path.

So, why should you like Jane Blond? She’s bright, courageous, analytical, and a very good friend. She doesn’t think only of herself. She has many of the self-delusions that most people have, but she does grow in the novel and learn to recognize her father’s limitations as well as the special qualities her friends have.

I hope you love the book. Electronic copies are now available online from your favorite ebook dealer. Paperback copies will be available around mid-October.

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Working on a Sequel Requires a Delicate Balance

Pen-L will publish A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer on November 15h. This is my sequel to Silent Partner, the paranormal mystery Pen-L published last year. I’ve already begun kicking around some ideas for a sequel to the sequel. What I have discovered, though, is that writing a sequel is a tricky business. It all has to do with the delicate business of the world you have already created in the first book and the introduction of new readers.

How far should an author go in making each book stand on its own feet? Daniel Silva, in my opinion, has run into a serious problem because he has written so many novels with the same cast of characters. He had to spend countless pages in The English Spy simply reintroducing characters and sketching out their back stories. The problem, of course, is that his legion of dedicated readers found the retelling to be boring and unnecessary. The new readers, on the other hand, I’m sure found the sketchy descriptions of key scenes in earlier novels to be too brief and lacking in details.

As I mentioned earlier, writers engage in world building. Silent Partner created two key characters who had relationships with other people. The effect is much like throwing a pebble into a lake. Every relationship is a part of the character’s world and impacts his or her view. So, how many of these does the author need to mention? In Silent Partner it is critical that readers understand Frankie’s prior relationships and marriage because it made her who she is. Her relationship with a horrible uncle also made her who she currently is. Josh Harrell, likewise, is who he is because of some of his prior failed relationships. How much detail do I need to go into for new readers?

I do think that my favorite ghost in Silent Partner can be appreciated in A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer without the need for the reader to go back and read Silent Partner. My hope, of course, is that new readers of mine who pick up A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer will become so enamored with Andy (short for Andrea) that they will want to go back and read the first book. After all, how often do you find a paranormal mystery that includes the closest thing to lovemaking between a ghost and a human?

I’ve been careful not to make my paranormal mysteries into a series because I think that limits readers’ access to them. They can be read totally as stand-alone books. I intend to make my third volume stand alone as well. I hope some of you are looking forward to A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer. I’m currently distributing early reading copies for reviewers. If anyone reading this blog is interested, please drop me a comment with your email address. Here’s a sneak peak at the cover to set your appetite.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Wonder of a Conditioned Fan Base

I’ve been reading Faye Kellerman’s Murder 101. Shortly before that, I read the latest novels from Michael Connelly and Daniel Silva. I’ve enjoyed reading all three novelists for many years. In fact, I’ve written books about Connelly and Silva. That takes a lot of devotion because it means I read around twenty novels by each of them in order to survey their entire work.

What surprises me is that all three novelists have chosen to age their main characters in real time. The result is a distinct lack of energy. Take Faye Keller’s Peter Decker as an example. Now he’s RETIRED and working in a small-town police department to keep busy. Connelly’s Harry Bosch is out the door into forced retirement and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon is being kicked upstairs to run the Israeli intelligence agency because he is just too old to be playing James Bond.

Yet, readers who have come to love these characters over the years eagerly await the latest new chapter and give effusive praise in their Amazon reviews. I love the characters as well, but you do need to take off your blinders and look at the current book and not be blinded by previously brilliant books. Kellerman’s book DRAGS. It really does. Not only that, but it grows increasingly tiresome to have a young snotty college grad keep calling Peter “Old Man” repeatedly. Silva’s book drags as well. The most interesting character in Silva’s book is not Gabriel Allon but a much younger Christopher Keller, the heir apparent to the violent scenes in the future. I actually believe that Connelly will grow tired of having Bosch help his half brother and will begin to have him help his daughter. I predict she will join the LAPD and turn repeatedly to Dad for help.

To read the over 600 positive reviews on Amazon for Kellerman’s book is enough to have me scratch my head in wonder. Did they read the same book I did? One reader who routinely gives all Kellerman books four to five stars gave it four stars and commented that he really didn’t understand a lot of the art talk. Still, if Kellerman wrote it, the book automatically deserves four to five stars.

I’m reminded of teachers in high school who often start with assumption they are reading an A student’s work when they pick up a paper from one of their favorites. Starting with that perspective caused them to overlook flaws and gloss over lapses. When I taught college English, I sometimes would have the students put numbers rather than names on their papers just to make sure everyone had an even break.

As a relatively unknown writer, I feel that I’m pushing a heavy load uphill in order to garner good reviews. I found one Goodreads reader, for example, who wrote that she automatically assigns one star to every book on her bookshelf. She changes the number of stars if she likes the book. So, damned to start with and only hopeful for a reprieve if you’re a novelist.

I cannot honestly say that the latest work by all three is of the quality of their earlier work, but you’d never know it from the reviews. Meanwhile, I’ve been writing hundreds of bloggers in an effort to find a group that will review my upcoming release of A Bullet for a Ghost Whisperer. If you’re interested in a free copy in exchange for an honest review, let me know and we’ll talk.