Friday, February 26, 2010

Contest Announcement: Beyond Small Towns

As I began publishing my novels, the first few were all young adult science fiction adventures that had a common structure; a high school aged protagonist in a real small town, in the current time, takes a step off into the strange and wonderful, using many of the standard science fiction themes.

As I began to think seriously about marketing the novels, I chose the Small Towns, Big Ideas banner line to group them together, even going so far as to compose this banner of typical small town views to mark these books. If you have one of my books, take a look at the back cover, and there you'll find it.

However, Pixie Dust, novel seven is due out in April, and while I already have ARCs sent out (with a few left over in case you're a reviewer *hint*), this novel doesn't fit. For one thing, the protagonist is in her twenties, so the book isn't strictly a YA. For another, the story begins in Austin, Texas, which doesn't quite fit the 'small town' category either.

Now, while my writing style isn't radically different in this tale, I am now facing the need for a different marketing phrase. In fact, I have other stories in the pipeline that also don't quite fit the Small Towns, Big Ideas category. Breaking Anchor starts in Chicago. Follow That Mouse may not be science fiction (it may be a fantasy).

In any case, I have stories to tell that are neither small town YA's nor that belong to the long running Terraforming Project storyline that I've been producing since the '70s.

So, I ask you, do you have any good marketing ideas for me? If you have read my work, and have some ideas about the nature of what I do, you could give me some valuable advice. I need it soon. Email all suggestions to henry.melton@mac.com . The winner wins an autographed copy of every title published under that marketing banner. I'll announce the winner in this blog either in two weeks, or when the perfect solution bowls me over.

Thanks everyone.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Writing Priorities

Since I had to hop up and answer a telemarketing phone call, my writing is interrupted. I might was well take this opportunity to drop this little comment into my blog.

I can't understand how other writers can be bubbly and personable every day on Twitter and Facebook and whatever other social networking fad is trending today, and at the same time, get their writing done. For the past month I've been deep into a new first draft novel, and my social interactions have been suffering. My priorities put the new writing first, and the marketing aspects of the job second. That may be a bad thing.

Recently, when the iPad was announced, I blogged about it here and here, just because it was current and the thoughts were on my mind. Guess what happened. People read them. They were quoted. People argued.

My sales of e-books jumped during the time those blog posts were being read. And now, when I'm being a good writer, hiding away in seclusion and creating new words, the sales have dropped back to normal. Although I can't prove the sales came about because of the blog entries, the numbers do suggest it.

So, marketing suggests that I should spend more time writing blogs. While I'm at it, make them controversial and argumentative. Become a quotable name.

Ha. That's never going to happen.

Half asleep in dreamland, I see myself telling stories in a small room with maybe a dozen people, sharing adventures. That's what appeals to me. And to do that, I'll have to spend the time alone creating those adventures, even if the social media time suffers for it.

Oh, well. That's all the time I have for this entry. Later.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Before the Dealer Room Opens

A friend of mine, Scott Cupp, has been attending science fiction conventions for...a long time, and I've always found him in the dealer room, selling his books and looking for bargains at the other tables. Well, I'm starting to discover the joys of being behind the table myself.

Yes, I enjoy selling my books, giving autographs and all that, but it's also really fun watching the other vendors set up their wares. Some of them are real professionals, with custom shelves and displays. After a certain number of showings, wisdom comes in the forms of the right tools and the right containers and the right hand trolleys for getting their storefront set up and stable, all for just a weekend event.

The problem is that each room is different. Will this wall hold my banner with painter's tape? Will the tables the con provides form a flat enough surface that my displays will be stable. Is there electricity in range? Will I need my own lighting to show off my books?

This is only my second dealer room table. The third I've bought. My first attempt had to be turned over to my daughter and her husband to run when I had to make a run to Memphis for the Darrell Awards. Being here, sitting in the seat for hours at a time is a very comfortable alternative to walking the aisles and jostling elbows with the crowds. As Scott Cupp said, "People know where to find me and there's a place to sit."

I'll be doing it again.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Authorial Voice in 'RL'

Take this as just a casual observation, rather than the result of deep thought:

Today, both my wife and I received requests for money via social network 'conversations'. In my case, Kicks4Kenya casually tweeted about donations for his project, which is donating real soccer equipment to village kids in Kenya. While I've never owned a soccer ball in my life, I had been following this person (I don't know his real name) for about a year now and though his infrequent tweets, I've come to recognize his 'voice' and his enthusiasm. When the request for a donation happened, I went to his website and clicked the donate button with no second thoughts.

At about the same time, Mary Ann was greeted on her Facebook chat by an old friend, with a tale of woe. She'd been mugged in England and lost her money and cell phone. After a couple of exchanges over the chat, something felt wrong. She asked an innocent question about a common friend and when that question was ignored, mental warning bells went off. She opened another window, located the warning about this particular scam and proceeded to alert Facebook and her friends about it.

After the fact, Mary Ann puzzled over various things that 'didn't feel right' about her conversation with the supposed friend. As I heard her talking about it, I realized that this was very much like the 'voice' authors are all supposed to have. It's an elusive combination of wording, knowledge, and emotion that together make up a distinctive identity when you read their words.

Here we had two examples. I had no doubt about the identity of my twitter fund raiser friend, even though all I had to go on were a few short sentences. In my wife's case, a few sentences were enough to flag the originator as a fake.

'RL' is the shortcut for 'real life' and is often used to indicate face to face interactions in contrast to the text only social contact we have over our internet applications, but more and more, these text only contacts are becoming as real as we're ever going to get, meeting up with people we've never met face to face. Our 'authorial voice' in our tweets has become our real life identity to many, and it's pleasing to see that it can be a reliable guard against people trying to defraud us.

Monday, February 01, 2010

E-Book Formatting is Upside Down

When I started writing with an eye to publication, I took my scribbles and typed them in. (Actually, when I first started, I got my wife to type them in.) Standard manuscript format was very plain and rigid, a suitable match for a typewriter. There was no fancy formatting. The best you could hope for was underlining the text to indicate that it should be displayed in italics. Fonts were unheard of, unless you were rich enough to get a Selectric and a collection of different fonts on the type balls.

However, once the editor and publisher got their hands on the process, the layout became very rich, with various fonts, drop-caps, in-line graphics, and mixed-size headings. The publishing industry has spent hundreds of years learning many tricks of the trade to help readers get the most out of the printed word, and the poor writer wasn't supposed to worry his little head about things like that. Layout was the publisher's job.

Then word-processors were invented. I even wrote one. At the beginning, they had little more capability than the typewriter they were replacing. The big advantage was the ability to delete without using white-out. However, that changed. In the software arms race, all the big players struggled to add features to word processors, with Microsoft Word winning the de facto standard. Today, whether with Word or any of its competitors, a writer has nearly as many options at hand as professional layout tools did a few decades ago.

A writer can bring to bear various fonts, a range of italic and bold flavors, dozens of underlining and framing options, and even drop-caps. And that's just for the manuscript. The thing is, because new writers have all this power, they assume that they can use it. The standard manuscript format, instead of being a shining template of order, is viewed as a straight-jacket that chafes. Many people writing their fantasy opus or convoluted mystery use changing fonts like setting a scene. I've heard writers muse about writing a story where every character had their own distinctive font so that they could get away from all the he-said, she-said stage direction.

I sympathize. My novels have plain text, internal thoughts, telepathic thoughts, computer displayed text, and even road-side signs; all deserving of different layout options. In my manuscript, I use italics, courier and other fonts, and blockquote indentation to handle these options. When I layout a novel for publication, I can bring lots of options to the process with InDesign.

Then, when I convert to e-book formats, it all goes away. If I'm lucky, I get to keep italics, but the fonts and fonts size are now user options. Formatting is streamlined down to nothing. Today, manuscripts can often be formatted much richer than the e-book file standards allow. I pity the author who spends days choosing the right gothic fonts for their warlock king to speak in. It all goes away.

E-book formatting is upside down. My advice to any author who isn't a self-publisher is to learn the streamlined and lean manuscript standard format and live by it. It will save endless heartache and frustration.