Tips for authors: On reading aloud

While this post touches on some of the points from Tips for authors: Giving good readings, I wanted to devote a little extra time to the art of reading aloud, especially given the wonderful tips I received last fall from Jack Straw Productions and Elizabeth Austen.

As part of the preparation for our joint book tour, Wendy Call and I visited Seattle’s Jack Straw Productions, the Northwest’s only non-profit multidisciplinary audio arts center, to record excerpts from our books.

Producer Moe Provencher had wonderful advice for me as I stumbled through a practice reading — an excerpt I’d never rehearsed until that afternoon — and I found her tips  as relevant and useful for live readings as they are for audio recordings:

  • Mark up the text from which you’re reading so that you’ll know when to pause, what to emphasize, etc.
  • Develop a facial expression that reflects a character’s voice and/or mood; when you use your face to express something, this mood and tone will come through in your voice.
  • Read far more slowly than you think you need to — to the point at which you feel ridiculous — and this will likely be the perfect pace.
  • Practice. Aloud. Many times.
  • Breathe.

The good news for those of you who are Seattle-area writers is that Jack Straw offers a Writers Program (Wendy, pictured above, was a 2008 Jack Straw Writer) in which writers spend several months developing a project while learning tips for readings, doing interviews, and more.

I learned a few more invaluable tips when I attended Elizabeth Austen‘s workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference: “Beyond the Page: Poems Aloud, Poems Alive” (excellent for prose writers as well). Elizabeth, with her background in theater, has a gift for the spoken word, and she reminded us first and foremost that language is physical, that we need to remember this when we read aloud, and that we need to feel every word. She offered a few examples — words such as awe, hiss, tip, trapeze — and in speaking them we could hear and appreciate their pitch and length, their sharpness or languidness. (Give it a try, right now. It’s pretty cool.) Elizabeth gave us tips on everything from rehearsing (avoid mirrors or recordings; ask a friend to listen and offer feedback instead) to what to wear to a reading (whatever makes you feel comfortable and confident; also, avoid high heels, and rehearse in the shoes you’ll be wearing at the event).

Among Elizabeth’s wisest tips was this: “The performance requires you, but it’s not about you.” As readers, she explains, we are conduits for getting the words out into the room and to the audience. I love this eye-opening tip, not only because it takes the edge off the self-consciousness most of us feel when we read, but because it reminds us that our words need to speak for themselves — that, now that we’ve written them, it’s time to let them shine on their own.

 

Raising awareness of a plant-based life, one book at a time

 

Every year, the Farm Animal Rights Movement sponsors a Meatout day to, well, urge people to give up meat.

At least for a day.

Or, better yet, one day a week, a very popular trend known as “Meatout Mondays.”

There is ample evidence that cutting back on meat will improve your health.

As readers of this blog well know, our focus at Ashland Creek Press has been to publish books that raise awareness of animals and the environment.

We are proud to have published three novels so far that include strong vegan characters:

And we have more on the way.

What’s important to us about these books is that they’re character-driven stories, with characters that happen to be vegan. It’s time that veganism no longer be viewed as a fringe lifestyle but a normal lifestyle — and it’s time that our literature reflects this growing trend.

Which is a large part of why we’re here today.

PS: If you’re a writer that is working on an “ecolit” novel, we welcome submissions.

Addressing the mysteries of e-publishing

Ashland Creek Press was delighted to be a part of a workshop on e-publishing last weekend at the Ashland Public Library, where authors, editors, and publishers gathered to talk about the ins and outs of e-publishing, from editorial to production to marketing.

Author Tim Wohlforth began with a State of Mystery (also a State of Publishing) address, which highlighted the fact that e-books are rapidly gaining momentum (the triple-digit percentage increases in sales have only recently begun to level off), as well as the fact that mysteries remain a bestselling genre, second only to romance. After his remarks on all the recent trends in publishing, Tim concluded with a great bit of advice for writers: Don’t get caught up in what the latest trend in mystery is. “Write what you want to write,” he advised.

We heard next from LJ Sellers, an award-winning journalist who is now a full-time author. She talked about her experiences getting her books out into the world and how she spent $12,000 on self-publishing her first novel, The Sex Club; now, thanks to user-friendly strides in digital and self-publishing, she spends an average of $600 on each. And she’s living every writer’s dream: making a living off her books. As this Mail Tribune article notes, last year, LJ’s e-books were on the Amazon Kindle bestseller crime fiction list for three months, and she estimates she has sold about 150,000 e-books in the last two years. LJ pointed out something that is important for all author-entrepreneurs to know: that she is as much businesswoman as she is author. She pointed out that she views her books as “products, not children,” and noted that this means she doesn’t hesitate to fix what may need fixing if a book isn’t selling well, whether it’s the cover copy or the keywords or even the title. Her parting advice: “Be flexible, be a risk taker, be social [as in social media], and be thick-skinned.” (By the way, I just began reading her novel The Sex Club — loving it so far!)

Author Michael Niemann gave an insightful presentation on the mechanics of creating e-books on the two most common formats, ePub and Mobi — a great overview for any author or small publisher interested in e-publishing.  Then Ken Lewis, of Krill Press, and I talked about marketing and promotion. I chatted a lot about social media and virtual book tours, and we got a great tip later from writer and photographer Liza Kendall Christian on how writers can use Pinterest in a fun way: As well as  a cover image, post a few of the best lines from your book.

Ken and I both pointed out that, ultimately, the most important thing about promotion is to have an excellent book. I especially enjoyed what Ken had to say about the importance of titles: Authors need to have titles that stand out among the rest, and cover art to match. He told the story of one of Krill Press’s popular mystery titles, formerly Full Circle, now titled Absinthe Of Malice (A Penny Mackenzie Mystery), and how good titles, matched with engaging covers, have made all the difference in selling mysteries.

After the presentations, we broke out into smaller sessions in which we got to chat with authors, answer questions, and learn more about the state of mystery — a lovely afternoon. A million thanks the event’s sponsors: the Ashland Mystery Readers GroupFriends of the Ashland Public LibraryStanding Stone Brewing Company, and Bookwagon New and Used Books.

Jane Friedman defines “author platform”

I couldn’t possibly define “author platform” any better than Jane Friedman does in this blog post, so I won’t even try. This is truly a post that anyone who wants to publish a book should read — even better, prospective authors should read this long before publication is on the horizon.

Whether fiction or nonfiction, books usually take a while to write — years, in most cases. Yet somehow, many authors seem to be rapidly approaching their publication dates before realizing they have to build a platform (a few years ago, this was me). And as Jane so accurately points out, building a platform does not happen overnight: In fact, a solid platform takes years to build (especially if you want to avoid all that she tell us a platform is not, such as “hard selling” and “annoying people,” which no author wants to do).

I have to admit that I began writing and publishing stories even before a “platform” was the first thing an editor or agent asked about. I didn’t know (or care) about having one — but fortunately for me, by the time I had a book contract, I discovered that I sort of did have one. I was a teacher who was developing a mailing list and writing a blog; I’d published stories in dozens of magazines and journals. Today, I work to keep up with all these things, including writing nonfiction articles, and even a book, on the creative process. I’m on Facebook and Twitter (a little reluctantly sometimes) and even though all this takes time away from writing, it’s all so important as it can still be a challenge for an author to find her audience.

For all of you out there who are still working on your books, know that it’s never to early to think about your platform. So many authors think that marketing isn’t their job, that it’s only about the writing — yet this couldn’t be further from reality (again, it’s not unusual for an agent or editor to consider platform even before writing). This isn’t to say that a platform should come first, only that it’s something that needs to be developed along with your creative project so that when your book is ready for the world, so are you as a writer. After all, what’s the good in writing that book when you’re not in a good position to find all the readers you possibly can?

As Jane tells us, “It’ll be a long journey.” Start now, and you’ll be able to take your time and even have a little fun.

On Seattle Wrote: DOs and DON’Ts for writing queries

Welcome to the third and final installment of our guest post series on the fabulous Seattle Wrote blog, where Norelle Done has graciously hosted us over the last few weeks as we’ve offered info and tips for authors about publishing. This last post is a list of DOs and DON’Ts for authors writing query letters to agents and editors … it’s not necessarily a comprehensive list, but it contains some of the most common errors I’ve seen over the many years I’ve been an editor, whether reading short stories for literary magazines or reading submissions here at Ashland Creek Press.

If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, let us know. We’ll post your Q and our A in an upcoming Ask the Editor post.

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.