Friday’s Links: book pricing controversies, m-readers, and what we mean when we talk about bad writing

I’m Matt Staggs, Jeff’s publicist and a writer here at BookLifeNow. As this is my first post, I thought I might take this as an opportunity to tell you a little bit more about myself, and what you can expect from me here at the site.

The first thing you should know is that books are my life. I live, eat, breathe and sleep the printed word. I’m utterly and helplessly smitten with books. That, as a matter of fact, led me to my work as a book publicist. See, the simple fact of the matter is that I just can’t stop talking about the things I’ve read and the authors I enjoy, and spreading the word is as much a way of life as it is a vocation. And I want the same for you.

If you’re here, then chances are you’re a writer, or someone that cares as much about books as I do. Like Jeff says, you’ve got a Booklife to nurture and protect, and learning to promote your work in an organic and consistently productive manner is an essential part of that nurturing process. Another part is knowing what is going on in the world of books at large: developing an awareness of the literary ecosphere as a whole and building a place for yourself there.

On every Friday I’ll post 10 links to items of interest in the literary world. Think of it as an intelligence report, if you will. We’ll look at the major trends, occasional controversies and developing issues as they occur; information that you can use to develop your career on every level. You’ll help with this, too, by commenting and asking questions.

Today’s links:

  1. Literary agent Colleen Lindsay is offering a chance for readers to win their own copy of Booklife by submitting their own book publicity tips, secrets and stories. Drop by her blog, The Swivet, today.
  2. The internet and social media offers numerous opportunities for interaction among readers and authors, and the micro-blogging platform Twitter is growing into the medium of choice for many. The High Spot Inc. blog offers a post on ongoing literary chats via Twitter, and how you can join in on the conversation.
  3. In an age where an author can reach out and touch a reader with only a handful of key strokes, the question of whether one may revile a writer yet still love his or her work is more important than ever. The Christian Science Monitor looks to a historical example.
  4. The controversy regarding mega-retailers Walmart, Target and Amazon’s decisions to offer cut-rate prices on bestselling books continues to unfold, as both retailers choosing to limit quantities sold to smaller retailers, according to Publishers Weekly.
  5. Many publishers are turning to mobile devices as a means of distribution for their books. Future Perfect Publishing reports on how this could possibly change the industry.
  6. Meanwhile, authors themselves look to the iPhone to promote their work. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books shows how one author has developed an app for that purpose.
  7. Poets & Writers recently release their list of the top 50 MFA programs.
  8. Editor and consultant Alan Rinzler shares his top five secrets to getting a book deal.
  9. Writer Bill Ward examines some common generalizations about “specialist readers.”
  10. The Blood Red Pencil bloggers asks what we mean when we talk about “bad writing.”

n653213921_1671825_1056996Matt Staggs is a literary publicist and the proprietor of Deep Eight LLC, a boutique publicity agency utilizing the best publicity practices from the worlds of traditional media and evolving social technologies. He has worked in the fields of public relations and journalism for almost a decade. In addition to his work as a publicist, Matt is a book reviewer and writer whose work appears in both print and web publications.

Brad Moon at Wired’s GeekDad on Booklife

If you want a glorious look at a large version of the Booklife cover, check out GeekDad’s post about the book.

Brad Moon’s been tremendously supportive, and it was gratifying to get this blurb from him awhile back for Booklife. When working writers give it a stamp of approval, you know you’re doing okay.

As a part-time writer making the transition to a full-time career, BOOKLIFE has been an invaluable resource. Like many writers, I found myself juggling freelance gigs, while neglecting the bigger picture; essentially running on a writing treadmill with no viable long term plan. Writing is a challenging way to make a living, especially with shifting publication models, advances in technology (and accompanying distractions), a growing emphasis on self-promotion and the potential and pitfalls of burgeoning social media web sites. BOOKLIFE offers advice for dealing with these variables, as well as laying out a strategy for effectively organizing and planning your career. Important issues like health, fitness and maintaining a work/life balance are also addressed. Jeff VanderMeer’s personal anecdotes, real life examples and sense of humor go a long way toward preventing BOOKLIFE from becoming a dry “How-To” manual, while sections on Public Relations, Editors and Agents have helped me to anticipate and prepare for what lies ahead.

The Discovery Process: Improving Your Abilities

(Afraid of bears? Maybe you need to throw yourself in a bear pit…and maybe not. Photo by Jeremy Tolbert.)

A few more thoughts about the discovery process, below. I also firmly believe that establishing goals in the right way–strategically and not tactically–will reduce your stress level as a writer and make it clear which things are important and which are not. I deal with setting goals in my book and in Booklife workshops. This fall, you can catch a full-on Booklife workshop in Seattle, a much shorter version in the San Francisco area, or just discuss these topics with me in Asheville.

How can you work on problem areas without being overwhelmed? Make a list of your strengths, your weaknesses, and those gray areas in between—things you’re not terrible at but not great at, either. Even though you’ve presumably had others help you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to get to this stage, take this list and give it to a couple of friends or colleagues you didn’t include in your original analysis. Ask them if your list is accurate. After you’ve included their feedback, and been totally honest with yourself, do the following:

—Break the Strengths list down into subcategories, rating yourself in each, so you have a better idea of what those strengths mean. Stay aware of your strengths even as you work on your weaknesses and make sure shoring up weaknesses doesn’t negatively affect your strengths.

—Select two items from the Gray Areas list that you think you can easily improve and that would help your writing career. Make sure your short-term and long-term goals include ways to better yourself in these areas.

—Select one item from the Weaknesses list, even if it’s something that also scares you. Add elements to your short-term and long-term goals that give you opportunities to make this weakness a strength, or at least something you’re not bad at anymore.

—Select one item from the Weaknesses list that you don’t want to work on improving. This advice especially applies if something on your list scares you too much. Setting it off to the side is about preserving your mental health. You can always revisit it in the context of success with some other weakness.

Live radio interviews (which now include podcasts) fit into the category of a weakness that scared me to death. The first time I was on, I mumbled and I could hardly breathe. Because I was so nervous, I wound up saying something like “You’re as stupid as I want to be” to the host, which was meant as a joke but came off as insulting and bizarre.

The second time I was on the radio, it went fine. Until the host made a strange comment about whether or not I lived in a cave, which threw me off so much the rest of the interview entered a decaying orbit.

The third time, I got the hiccups from drinking too much coffee. I spent the whole hour making sure the cadence of my speech allowed me to turn from the microphone just as I was about to hiccup. This worked better for the interview portion than for the reading I did afterwards.

What was my particular remedy? I relied on repetition and experimentation. I just kept accepting radio and Internet podcast interview requests. I also experimented with different kinds of preparation. Eventually, the combination of finding the best way to prepare and doing more interviews made me more comfortable with the format. I can’t tell you I’m the best radio interview ever—I still get nervous—but when you hear me on the radio these days you’re
unlikely to say to yourself, “Wow! That guy was horrible.”

As for a gray area that I’ve turned into a strength, public readings fit that category. Unlike radio station show appearances, readings never scared me. However, I didn’t have a good sense of performance so my readings were serviceable but nothing to excite anyone. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to add an element of performance to my readings, along with humorous anecdotes. Part of that growth process meant watching myself
on video giving readings. Another part meant being more careful about my selection of material and how long I read. Now, most people come away from one of my readings entertained, and I generally see comments on blogs afterwards along the lines of “Wow — that guy really put on a good show.”

Not only will you remove stress from your life by confronting some of your weaknesses and gray areas head-on, you’ll also learn a lot in the process. Like anything else in your Public Booklife, you just have to approach it systemically and incrementally.

Book Tour Prep in the Modern Age

If I could only bring three things with me on my book tour, I’d choose pens (you can always find something to write on), a manually winding watch that doesn’t require a battery, and copies of the books I’m touring behind. Note how shiny and new those books are right now, at the beginning of the tour. They won’t stay that way. The Finch copy will get all tattered and torn and marked up from me using it to read from. The Booklife copy I plan on turning into a keepsake by having readers at events sign it. By the end of five weeks it will be full of signatures. It may also be tattered, but I kind of like that idea. It should have some signs of having gotten out into the world.

I’ll discuss some ways in which modern book tours are more like playing three-dimensional chess on November 2, when my tour really begins to kick into high gear, but for now, a few images from my preparations with accompanying explanation. Also check out my post on my personal blog about the organizational principles of a book tour.

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