Category: For authors


Tips for authors: The non-reading book tour

By Midge Raymond,

When my writing buddy Wendy Call and I began to plan our joint book tour for this past summer and fall, we proposed events from readings to workshops to writing-prompt sessions. And, as this Wall St. Journal article indicates, we are apparently not alone in thinking outside the traditional book tour. In fact, of the nearly dozen events Wendy and I did together, only two of them were straight readings.

We took this approach for several reasons: For one, we are two writers with quite different books that are very similar in theme; our books cover travel, globalization, and characters facing challenges, yet Wendy’s book, No Word for Welcome, is nonfiction, while Forgetting English is a collection of short fiction. So we wanted to bring readers together to offer something for both nonfiction and fiction readers, as well as to give them a chance to participate as an audience.

We also recognized that neither of us is (quite) famous enough to have fans lining up around the block. And when you are an unknown author, it helps to offer a little something beyond the book when you’re meeting your readers, most of whom will be new.

Finally, we planned to visit a variety of venues, from Grub Street  to The Writer’s Center to Boston University, as well as bookstores. And we also recognized that a bookstore event needs to draw crowds and sell books to be a win-win, and it’s up to the author as well as the bookstore to try to make that happen.

We learned a great deal — far more than will fit into a short blog post — but here are a few tips…

Team up. There are so many advantages to doing a joint book tour — and offering a little something different to participants is only one of them. And, as this WSJ article mentions, sometimes a bookseller will interview an author, which is another great idea.

Offer a workshop. Wendy and I taught several different workshops on our tour, all geared toward the themes in our books, from narrative writing to travel writing. Though we each chose sections of our books for the other to read, we also offered examples of work other than our own and included handouts and reading lists. You can also, as Wendy did at several of her solo events, offer slide shows with images that relate to your book; many authors use PowerPoint presentations as well. There are really no rules other than making the presentation engaging and relevant.

Talk about what inspired the book or certain scenes. It’s always fun to learn what’s behind the scenes of an interesting book, and by going this, you offer readers more than what’s between the pages. You’ll want to read enough to give readers a taste of what’s to come — but the idea is that they’ll be buying the book, so you’ll want to offer something they can’t take home with them.

Make time for audience participation, whether you assign a couple of writing prompts or start the Q&A with you asking the Qs. As novelist Jason Skipper says in this interview, on his recent book tour he took several fun approaches to his readings, from singing Wilco songs to inviting the audience to read with him.

Structure the event so that reading time is minimal. While Wendy and I both made time to read brief excerpts from our respective works (you definitely want to give people at least a little taste of your book), we spent only a small percentage of our event time on reading, which allowed for us to get to know our audiences and vice versa. We’d often begin with a brief reading and then conclude with one as well — this is a good way to bookend an event — but for the most part, while we were there on behalf of our books, we talked more than read.

In the end, the most important thing is that you have fun — this is something that readers will remember — and often the most fun and surprising events go well beyond the book itself.

How to write a great query

By Midge Raymond,

Norelle Done of the Seattle Wrote blog has posted the next post in her series about publishing, about how best to query agents, editors, and publishers. We’re thrilled to be part of this series; join us over at Seattle Wrote for Part 2.

And be sure to stay connected to Norelle’s wonderful blog –while oriented toward the Pacific Northwest and Seattle, her posts — from author interviews to book reviews to how-to articles — are great for readers and writers all over.

And stay tuned for more next week!

 

Q&A on publishing with Seattle Wrote

By Midge Raymond,

Norelle Done of the Seattle Wrote blog has posted the first post in a series all about publishing. Her wonderful blog is oriented toward the Pacific Northwest and Seattle, but her posts — from author interviews to book reviews to how-to articles — are great for readers and writers all over.

Part 1 of our series begins today — stop by and learn about how Ashland Creek Press got started and why we do what we do, along with tips for authors on getting published and submitting manuscripts to small presses.

And stay tuned for the next Q&A, coming next week!

Tips for authors: Giving good readings

By Midge Raymond,

You’ve written your book, gotten it published, and now you’re ready to show up at the bookstore, library, museum, cafe, or whichever venue will be your first one along the  book tour.

Reading to an audience is something you learn how to do well over time, through experience and mistakes, as the poet Kelli Russell Agodon says so well in this blog post. One of the most surprising things for me, when I first began doing readings for Forgetting English, was that I found myself wishing I’d read each and every story aloud one more time before seeing it into print — because once I began reading these stories aloud, I realized that I’d have changed certain words here and there so that they’d flow as well off the tongue as they seemed to on the page. So this leads to my first of many tips for having a successful public reading:

Think ahead — way ahead. When you’re in the process of publication, think ahead to how your work will sound when you read it aloud, and make the changes you need to make. That way, when you’re ready to plan what to read, you’ll know that it will sound good, and all you’ll need to do is practice. Which brings me to my next tip…

Practice. You may think you know your work inside and out, but reading is so different from writing. And you’ll also need to choose what to read, often from several hundred pages (see below for how to choose). Practice reading your selection aloud as many times as you need to. Read aloud in front of a few trusted people to get feedback on your pacing, emphasis, and delivery. Some writers use audio or video to gauge how they’re doing — also a great way to practice. And if you live in a city that offers open-mic events, go to them and read — and do this as often as you can. The very best way to get comfortable in front of an audience is to practice in front of an audience. Finally, click here for a few more tips from such professionals as Jack Straw Productions‘ Moe Provencher and poet and performer Elizabeth Austen.

When choosing what to read, less is more. When Forgetting English first came out and I was doing a lot of readings, I experimented: Once, I read an entire story (about 40 minutes of reading); other times, I’d read for ten to twenty minutes from one story; and still other times, I’d read from three different stories for five minutes each. Sometimes the best way to learn what works is to give it a try — and, having done all that, I can definitely recommend reading less and chatting with readers more. While my 40-minute reading was, fortunately, well received (if you do read for that long, be sure you do it in front of a friendly crowd who’ll happily sit through it and not throw things at you, and give them a head’s-up about the duration of the reading so they won’t get restless), I’ve done this sort of long reading only once, and I’m not inspired to read for that long again. For one, it’s easier to read shorter passages; two, it doesn’t risk tiring an audience; and three, it offers more time to chat about the book and to take questions. Remember that readers are there to get a taste of the book, but they’re also there to get what they can’t get from the book itself: a glimpse of who you are as a writer.

Support the venue. If you’re reading in an indie bookstore, support it with a purchase, whether it’s a book or a few greeting cards or a bar of Theo Chocolate. If you’re in a library, ask if you can donate a copy of your book for their collection. Always find a way to give back. And don’t forget to send thank-you notes.

Offer something extra to readers. Bring bookmarks or postcards, buttons or pens — any little something to offer guests at your event. If the venue allows, refreshments such as wine or cookies can offer a nice touch (I have unscientific proof that serving wine does improve book sales). It’s nice to offer little extras as thanks for supporting your book — and even if participants don’t purchase the book but leave with a bookmark, they’ll be reminded of it and might be inspired to buy it later.

Bring everything you might need. From water to reading glasses to tissues to cough drops — whatever you might need, bring it. Keep a list of things, just in case. It’s amazing what you forget … I’ve read without water (challenging) and without reading glasses (doubly challenging), and I once forgot to bring a copy of my own book, so I had to borrow one from the bookstore (embarrassing). There is no such thing as being too well prepared.

Bring extra books. If you’re reading at a venue other than a bookstore, you’ll likely bring your own books; always bring more than you think you’ll need. I bring 5-10 extra copies of Forgetting English along even to a bookstore reading — while this may seem redundant, it’s far better to lug them along than to lose these extra sales and readers if the bookstore runs out. Bookstores often under-order, and having been at bookstores that have sold out and needed my copies, I’m always glad to have them available. Granted, my book is slender and in paperback, so this is easy …  but even if your book is a heavy hardcover, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of extras. If you do find yourself in a situation in which you leave readers without books, get their emails and follow up yourself with a signed copy, which they’ll appreciate.

– Speaking of getting emails…develop a mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet for email updates for anyone who wants to know where you’ll be next or to hear about your next project.

Be ready for anything. I keep my events low-key on purpose — no PowerPoint, nothing even remotely high-tech — so I never worry about the inevitable broken projectors or other possible malfunctions. But if you do need to bring or use equipment other than yourself and your book, always have fallback solutions, just in case.

Talk to readers. Don’t simply read but engage. Open your reading by thanking everyone for being there; say something nice about the city you’re visiting. Tell them what you’re about to read, why you chose it. Then, after your reading, invite questions. If no one asks anything at first (don’t worry — they all have questions; they’re just shy), simply jump right in yourself by saying, “One question I get a lot is…” and answer it. This will open up the dialogue.

Learn from — and celebrate — your experience. On her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, poet Susan Rich writes about the aftermath of the author reading: how to know whether you’ve succeeded, taking a look at what’s important to remember, and what’s important to let go. If you’re a multi-genre writer, you’ll also enjoy her post on reading poetry v. reading prose.

 

Tips for authors: The author photo

By Midge Raymond,

I can still remember the days (long ago) when an author’s photo on a book cover was optional. Sometimes there would be one, often in black-and-white; sometimes not. Now, however, in these days of “mediagenic” authors and digital imagery, the author photo is no longer an option. Which is a little stressful for those of us who have a disproportionate number of bad hair days or who may not love the camera.

But, as Jane Friedman writes in this blog post, every author needs a professional head shot. For one, if you hope to promote yourself and your book, you’ll be asked for one — and, as Friedman points out, a photo can do wonders in terms of giving you credibility or establishing trust … or have the opposite effect.

Jane’s post offers excellent tips for what you’ll want in a photo, and I’ll add a couple more:

Stay within your budget, or you’re sure to be even more stressed about it. There’s nothing worse than spending money you don’t have … but especially on a photo that will remind you of it at every turn. Many wonderful photographers out there know that we writers don’t make a lot of money; find one that you can afford, then relax and enjoy the process.

Invest in a good camera, and find someone who knows how to use it. It’ll pay off in the end — for one, you can take photos on your book tour and at other events, which are always nice to have. Two, you can take a few good shots to offer in addition to your Official Author Photo. And, finally, you may even be able to use it for your Official Author Photo, especially if you don’t like or can’t afford the more formal studio shots. The photo I’m currently using was taken by my husband (who put himself through college in part by working as a photographer), and while it’s not a professional studio shot, I like the more casual feel of it.

Be yourself. Have you ever been to a reading where you couldn’t identify the author because he/she looked so unlike the photo on the book cover? Beware of this. You’ll want to look your best, but don’t go too crazy with hair and makeup; most of all, you’ll want to look like yourself. And, while it’s certainly tempting, avoid using a photo that captures your youthful self but doesn’t at all resemble your current self. In this blog post, author Mary Akers concludes that author photos should be updated every ten years — and this seems just about right; it allows us to put off the trauma of author photos for a good amount of time yet still keep our image somewhat up-to-date.

Interview photographers. This is a great idea no matter what, but especially if you’re going to spend a lot of money. Once you’ve narrowed down your list based on the portfolios you like the best, schedule a meeting or a chat as well. Make sure the photographer knows exactly what you want and can achieve this for you. And make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with, or you won’t be looking very relaxed in your photos.

– Check out this Q&A with photographer Rosanne Olson, below.

I first encountered Rosanne’s work in her beautiful book, This Is Who I Am, a collection of images and essays on women, body image, and compassion that Kate Winslet called “an absolutely wonderful book” and declared, “Every woman needs to see it!” As well as an author, Rosanne is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist who also has more than thirty years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer. She is particularly passionate about telling stories through portraits — of women, families, business professionals…and, yes, authors.

Rosanne generously agreed to chat with me about author photos, offering more important tips for authors to keep in mind. All the photographs below, including author photos of Wendy Call, Susan Rich, and Kelli Russell Agodon, are courtesy of Rosanne. Visit Rosanne’s website for more on her work.

 

What do you think makes a good author photo?

The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.

What advice can you offer to writers who are nervous about having their photos taken?

People come to me with varying degrees of “nervousness” about how they look and how they “photograph” (“No one has ever taken a good photo of me” is a common complaint). This is very natural. My approach to get people to relax is to spend time talking to my clients before I pick up my camera. I also will likely read some of their work prior to the session. I make recommendations about clothing and makeup, and then, as the session proceeds, share some of the digital images with the client. I like to make them feel that they are in competent and compassionate hands with something that is very precious to them. After the session, I get them to sit with me to edit the photos to make sure they get the look they want.

What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?

Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.

What should an author expect to pay for a professional author photo?

Photographers’ fees vary across the country, but most charge somewhere between $150 and $2,500. If you pay the least amount possible for a photo you may get something okay. Or even just fine. But will it work for years to come? I try to work with people and their budgets. It is definitely an important investment.

Do you recommend color or black-and-white for author photos — and why?

Things are shot digitally these days so all images come out in color and it takes an extra step to convert them to black-and-white or sepia. That said, I think color conveys more because it is, well, color.

Do you have any recommendations for authors who are looking for a photographer? What questions should they ask?

An author photo is an important piece of one’s “brand.” If you have a photo you like, you can use it for years. When people see it they will think of you and of your work. I think of some of the famous, famous photos of people like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and how they convey so much at a glance. Pick your photographer by looking at the photographer’s web site and perhaps talking on the phone. Also, ask for references from other artists and authors who have been photographed by that person.