What's in Store

Meet the Authors, Writers Doing Right, Book Reviews and More!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Diana James and P.R. Me!

DIANA JAMES is a publicist based in Los Angeles who also manages a select list of authors. Through her firm, P.R. Me!, she provides promotional expertise to authors, artists and event coordinators. Diana has worked in publishing for more than 15 years for such firms as United Advertising Publications and the LA Times. At the latter she worked as General Manager and oversaw all functions of the Real Estate Magazine division. She is the past President of Sisters In Crime/LA.

Thank you for being here with us today!

Diana, authors can get an exact list of services by going to P.R. Me!, but could you explain, generally, what your firm, P.R. Me!, does for an author?

Since I work with both new authors as well as those who are established, I help each person with their specific needs. I find that many newer authors are learning their way in the publishing field and are in need of information and guidance. So I find that quite often I am consulting with authors to provide information about the market and the ways in which they can best reach their target readership.

Established authors are dealing with the constraints of time and seek out my services to reach a broader reader base and to tackle the marketing chores for which they don’t have the time or desire to do.

Much of our world now resides on the net, so e-newsletters and viral marketing are a must. I offer e-newsletter design, and distribute them to readers, librarians, and bookstores across the country. As for Facebook and Twitter, I work with those who need training or assistance in learning about, setting up, and/or managing their Facebook page and Twitter accounts.

What do you look for in a client? And what commitments do you, as the publicist, expect from your author clients?

First and foremost, I look for fiction writers in the mystery and thriller genres (I steer away from other genres and non-fiction). Second, I must be able to read and appreciate their work. This limits who I take on, but we are going to be working closely together, so it helps greatly if I love what I sell.

Third, the book must be a traditionally published novel. I’m not a book snob, I read self-published works. But when it comes to business, I must be matter of fact. When arranging signings and events for a self-pub’d work, it takes 4 times the amount of time and effort to get the results of a traditionally pub’d work.

Most importantly, the author must be motivated to work hard right along with me, it’s a partnership, we’re a team. The author has to have a desire to be seen and heard. It’s a much larger challenge to promote someone who does not wish to be out in public or who feels a bit too shy to be interviewed or sit on a panel with fellow authors.

In my fantasy, a publicist would handle every scrap of action related to publicity--from inception to execution to follow up. In reality, the author does bear some responsibility. What is the “division of labor”?

That’s a great question. A publicist is NOT a personal assistant. Anyone who thinks they will never have to respond to emails again because they hired a publicist will be in for a rude awakening.

For me, it is rather straight forward. I talk with a client first to find out their needs. After we’ve had time to chat about what the client's true needs are and what they are willing to pay for, I prepare a quote and general timeline. This way it is clear up front what duties I will perform, and also shows the timeframe of the campaign so that the author has realistic expectations

As for “division of labor”, I look for each author to put their own skills to work for them, as well as their own personal contacts. For instance, an author’s “warm circle” is extremely valuable; a publicist can’t pack your launch party as well as you can.

At what point in her career would an author benefit from a publicist?

From the first-time novelist to the established author, all can benefit. The new author benefits from the experience of a publicist who has contacts and can take initiative immediately so as not to waste a minute of that precious few months that a novel is a new release.

The established author is more concerned about time, the time to write while now dividing his/her time between the demands of marketing, travel, appearances, etc. Its very difficult for an author to do it all, one or more of these endeavors can suffer without adequate support.

If an author has a publicist, do they also need a manager? And what is the difference between a publicist and a manager for those who might not know?

If an author uses a publicist, they do not necessarily need a manager. The author must weigh what is needed for their career, and that need may change over time. A publicist is generally sought out to help an author for a limited period of time, that being for the launch of their book or a specific campaign.

A manager is generally involved with an established author and works closely with them on a year round basis. A manager’s duties are consultative as well as marketing and promotions related. They may also handle their client’s mail, email, website, travel schedule, bill payments, or other such personal tasks. Managers are compensated based on a percentage of the author’s earnings, whereas publicists are paid based upon quoted services and when those services are completed, they move on to the next client.

You also offer collateral materials, such as bookmarks, postcards and promo sheets. What’s the advantage of having a publicist handle this over ordering from, say, Vista Print?

There’s nothing wrong with an author creating his/her own materials and going thru Vista Prints. We are all quite cost-conscious these days. Many writers are quite talented graphically and do a great job. Not all are, however. Then there’s the established author who wants a more refined look or something more tailored to the look and feel of their work. That’s where I come in, when the look and feel of your materials takes on added importance. Does the look of your materials convey who you are now and where you are in your career?

Your publicist will also consult with you about the purpose of your materials. For instance, are you planning a mailing campaign? If so, do you know what the post office’s current size and weight restrictions are for postcards, what about the amount of area that should be kept as white space for postage metering and barcoding? Do you want a message imprinted on the back describing your book? What if you want the message on only half the run so that you can use the other half to imprint as you need …such as to promote an upcoming signing or share the latest review? How would you find the best rate on this split run? What weight of stock do you need? 10 pt, 12 pt, 16pt? What if your layout requires a bleed? Will Vistaprints accept this type of layout? If so, is there an added charge? Would it be of help to you to work with someone who has worked in the printing/publishing field and who also works to regularly find the best rates in marketplace?

Good gad! I had no idea there was so much to consider.

If an author wanted to consider using P.R. Me!, does your firm charge an hourly rate? A flat, annual rate? And are the collateral materials charged for separately?

I offer a set rate for most services and collateral pieces. Authors can contact me for a rate sheet, which lists a la carte pricing. Hourly rates for training, consultation, and graphic design can vary. Feel free to ask questions, contact me at diana@prmeinc.com

“Thank you for allowing me this opportunity. I’ve enjoyed my visit!”

Don't forget to visit Diana at P.R. Me!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Winter Queen" Book Review

I once asked a Russian woman sitting next to me at the manicurist, "Do Russians ever do comedy?"

It was a serious question. I love foreign films, and I've seen several Russian films. The subject matter always seemed so dire. Her response was that what a Russian might find funny, an American might not. Her example was an old lady on a park bench, drunk out of her mind. Point taken.

I think I have a better understanding of Russian humor after reading "The Winter Queen" by Boris Akunin (pen name for author Grigory Chkhartishvili).

The humor that's woven into the story is subtle, wry, and provides more of gentle smile than a tee-hee. The kind of thing that makes you grin and nod and feel that you and the author are sharing a joke between friends.

Erast Petrovich Fanodrin is a young member of the Moscow Police force--clerk and civil servant  fourteenth class to be exact. When an odd suicide comes to his attention, he gets permission from his superior to look into the matter. It's a journey he might wish he had never begun, because it leads to committed idealists and the secret society of Azazel. It leads to heartache, betrayal and, ultimately, death.

Akunin weaves his story in a fluid language that envelopes the reader in 1800's Russia. We are compelled to root for Erast because of his innocence. His youth makes him prone to daydreams that both embarrass and please us as we recognize our younger, dramatic selves. For instance, faced with a plunge into the cold Thames at night, his arms and legs bound, he imagines what his friends and enemies might say after he meets his demise. He's incensed to find that his captors, unaware that he's freed himself and is hiding nearby, don't wax poetic about his valor in the face of death but rather discuss the cold weather and rheumatism!

The conclusion is shocking, though inevitable, and this reader can't wait to delve into the next in the series,  "The Turkish Gamit", to find out how Erast has grown from his experiences. There are currently five Erast Fandorin novels available. Akunin also writes the Sister Pelagia series.

Visit the author on his web site, or better still, read Erast's adventures and discover a character you'll want to spend time with.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Birthday Surprises!

For my birthday this year, I decided to do something for those I love. After you hit a certain age, it stops being about receiving goodies and more about being grateful.

Since the hubby was at work and the parents are in another state, I started with the dog. The hubby will tell you I would have started with the dog anyway, but that's not true. I swear.

Anyone who tells you dogs can't understand people doesn't have a dog. I planned an extra long walk for Buster and me. First I started with his usual route and then, as it started getting warm, I stopped home to change into a tee. I said, "Give me a minute and we'll go back out." Instead of heading to the refrigerator for his post walk apple, he followed me around "talking" to me. (A low, throaty howl.) As soon as the tee was on, he did a happy dance to the door and waited for me to put his leash back on. He was more excited about the second walk than he was about the first.

It's like reading an exceptionally good novel. The normal walk is pleasant and enjoyable, but the surprise twist of a second walk is fabulous and reason for celebration.

I've been reading quite a few great mysteries lately, books that deliver that something special that makes them rise above the usual who-done-it. I've noticed a trend toward "the book within the book", and I find that I like it!

L.C. Tyler's character Ethelred Tressider (yes, I said Ethelred) is a a second rate mystery writer (or, as his agent Elsie concedes, might be third-rate aspiring to second rate), and the author treats us to samples of Ethelred's hysterical prose. Mark Schweizer's protagonist Hayden Konig wants to write like Raymond Chandler, and the included sample chapters take metaphors to a new level--a good thing if you want to laugh out loud.

I haven't yet discovered any more "books within books", so if anybody out there knows of any they can recommend, I'd love to hear from you.

Now I'm off to buy my birthday cake. Some childhood traditions should remain. Oh. And here's what the hubby got me for my birthday. Did I mention he's a swell guy?

The gift
The real thing

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

To Self Publish or Not to Self Publish, That is the Question

As I promised in my newsletter, here is the answer...sort of.

This is an interesting subject because there are so many blogs and articles out there that say The heck with traditional publishers. You can get rich quick by self-publishing your own material! Add the easy availability of Kindle and Nook, eReaders and Ipads, and it seems as if the road to publishing is simple, right? Maybe not.

This weekend, Sisters in Crime hosted a panel of fabulous, talented authors to discuss this dilemma, and boy were there some great opinions. The authors were Sue Ann Jaffarian, Pamela Samuels-Young, and Gay Degani. (See more at the end of the blog.) I moderated, and all four of us had varied experiences with self-publishing to bring to the table.

I took the issue of quality off the table right from the beginning. All three of the panelists are top caliber writers worthy of any traditional publisher. Before you even consider the question of whether you should self-publish or not, your writing has to be that good. Fortunately, you can use writing groups, objective readers, and hire editors to help you reach this level of writing.

Sue Ann self-published her first novel after seeking a traditional publisher. At that time, iUniverse was a good choice for her. She worked her hind end off in marketing, and the buzz created over her books (and the sales) generated enough interest that she was able to place her Odelia Grey series with traditional publisher Midnight Ink.

She warned of the dangers of self-publishing your novel should you intend to seek a traditional career. Many publishers wouldn't look at her series because she had self-published. I mentioned that at a writing conference, Poisoned Pen Press said they wouldn't look at an author who had self-published because they didn't want to be stuck with a potentially unprofessional book on their back list.

Pamela went the traditional route first, but she wasn't happy with her publisher as they focused on romances and she wrote legal thrillers. She left that publisher and had difficulties getting picked up again. A writer friend had advised that authors should have a book per year out in front of their readers, so with her husband's encouragement, Pamela self-published her next novel.

Pamela set up her own Publishing company. She researched her genre of books, noting everything from the color of the paper used, the number of chapters, the word count, etc. She highly recommends outlining novels that you like to see how the writer paces and structures their story.

Then she hired a cover designer, an inside page designer, and all of the people she would need to make her product as professional-looking as any other book on the shelf. She uses a distributor to place her books rather than sell them out of the back of her trunk like some other self-published authors.

Sue Ann pointed out that authors who have had success with self-publishing--Pamela, J.A. Konrath--are authors who already had a reader base when they tried that rout. If you're starting without a fan base, getting recognized will be difficult. Also, without the creds of being traditionally published, many avenues are closed to you--offers to speak at conferences, professional writing groups, etc.

Pamela mentioned that a traditional publisher would have to make her a great offer before she would go back. She is an established author with a growing fan base and her royalties are higher as a self-published author. She also wants a book out approximately every year, something that can be difficult through traditional publishers.

When Gay Degani self-published Pomegranate Stories, she wrote the book and designed the cover herself. She produced the book through Lulu.com, intending it only as a gift for friends. The book, which she had with her and which I have read, is professional-looking and a quality product. She agreed that marketing it to readers is a difficult process, one that she hasn't really tackled.

Gay also made a great point. She noted that everything you do to get your name out there is a step forward. She has a multitude of short stories published in anthologies, magazines, and ezines, and every publication is another step forward, as is blogging, appearing on panels etc. Writers should recognize and be happy that they are moving in the right direction.

The bottom line? Decide if you want a professional career in writing. If you do, you may want to try the traditional route first. Either route you choose is going to require a lot of work. Resist the urge to get the book published and make sure it's the best it can be. Both traditionally published authors and self-published authors are going to have to market hard, and self-published authors will have to work even harder to get recognized and get their product out to the readers. 

Sue Ann Jaffarian is the best-selling author of the award-winning Odelia Grey mystery series, as well as the popular Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series.  Out in bookstores now is Murder In Vein, the first book in Sue Ann’s new vampire mystery series.  In addition to writing, Sue Ann is a full-time paralegal for a Los Angeles law firm, and is sought after as a motivational speaker. Here is her website.

Pamela Samuels Young is a practicing attorney and Essence bestselling author of four legal thrillers.  Her newest release, Buying Time, won the 2010 Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, which called the book “a captivating, suspenseful thriller.” In addition to working as Managing Counsel for Labor and Employment Law at Toyota, the Compton native is the Fiction Writing Expert for BizyMoms.com and is on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.  A desire to see women and people of color depicted as attorneys in today's legal fiction prompted Pamela to start writing despite a busy career as an attorney.  Pamela is a graduate of USC, Northwestern University and UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Here is her website.

Gay Degani has published in journals and anthologies including two The Best of Every Day Fiction editions and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories.  Her stories online can be read at Smokelong Quarterly, The Battered Suitcase, Night Train, 10 Flash, Short Story America, Emprise Review, as well as other publications. Nominated for a Pushcart, she has been a finalist or short listed at Glimmer Train and The Fish Anthology and won a first place at Women on Writing’s Quarterly Flash Fiction contest.  She edits EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles and blogs at Words in Place.  Here is her website.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Girl With the Saggin' Tattoo

Pam Ripling, who also writes as Anne Carter, is a self-proclaimed Lighthouse Nut and the author of Beacon Street Mysteries CAPE SEDUCTION and POINT SURRENDER, in paperback or for your Kindle; also for your nook, iPhone, Sony eReader and other formats at Omnilit. Visit Pam/Anne at Beacon Street Books.

For almost two weeks I've grown hoarse talking about my new romantic mystery, CAPE SEDUCTION, in celebration of its release this month. Blow the horns! Throw the confetti! But here at A Writer's Jumble, I'm going to take a day off and talk about another book.

Sometimes I feel like such a fraud I won't look at myself in the mirror. I mean, I'm an author, right? And authors are supposed to read, a lot. At least I tell other aspiring authors that. Read. It's how you learn, as a writer. You should keep up with what's going on. You hear other voices to find your own. Contemporary fiction, new works by established authors, older offerings by new writers. Read it all.

I flush when people ask me who I like to read. They—the real fans of mystery and suspense—know all the names, all the titles, and they expect me, a mystery writer, to nod feverishly in acknowledgement of that latest bestseller or blockbuster series everyone is talking about.

Well friends, I don't. I'm shamelessly (or shamefully?) letting you in on my dirty little secret. I haven't read Twilight or Mockingjay. John Grisham, Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz have never spent time on my nightstand. Ditto James Patterson and Sandra Brown, Sue Grafton, etc., etc.

Part of the problem is, I'm not a fast reader, and I have little time to read at all. I tend to read more small press authors. Peers, if you will. But I recently broke from tradition after listening to family members extolling the virtues of the late Stieg Larsson. I was intrigued, and bought THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for my nook. I had a lot of trouble getting into the story; too many Swedish names, places, expressions. Too many characters. But I stubbornly stuck to it, and soon (well, a few chapters in) found myself caught up in the story.

The characters are unusual. I felt a motherly instinct over Lisbeth, felt the frustration of those who wanted to help her but couldn't get close. It took me awhile to get Blomqvist's personality, but I ultimately warmed up to him, too. The story kept me guessing until the very end. Although I'd vowed to read something else next, I couldn't stop myself from getting connected to BN.com and within 24 hours of finishing TATTOO I was downloading the one about the girl playing with fire. Already 20 pages in.

And no, Lisbeth's tattoos do not sag, not in the least. I've always sorta wanted a tattoo, but unlike the fictional Ms. Salanger, I fear mine would sag. Maybe I should just stick to living vicariously.

I understand there's a new mystery brewing in Sweden. Seems the late author, who died at age 50 in 2004 after completing three installments in his Millennium series, was well into a fourth. Squabbles over his estate have clouded the whereabouts of the book, whose future will be decided by the outcome of the spat between his long-time partner and his family. Larsson apparently confided in a friend that he had the beginning and ending finished, but needed to complete about 100 pages of the middle. Will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I'm curious to know: do you peruse the top ten, or just rely on word-of-mouth of friends for recommendations?

Reminder: To celebrate the release of CAPE SEDUCTION, I'm holding a contest! All you have to do is read the CAPE SEDUCTION excerpt and leave me a relative comment—you'll be in the drawing for FIVE Echelon Press eBooks of your choice, downloaded onto a really cool 2GB flash drive! (Or a $25 gift card to B&N, your choice.) Drawing will be on my last blog tour stop. See schedule at my website!