Thursday, November 24, 2011

10 Last Minute Holiday Book Marketing Tips

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We have a few more weeks before Christmas, Kwanzaa, Watch Night and New Year's. Bookstores have geared up for holiday shoppers and blacked-out in-store events for marquis authors, so there are fewer available spots for in-store events for authors to grab at the last minute. Public libraries have geared up for holiday events, so again, the newer authors will have trouble finding readings to participate in. So what do you do? Hold off selling your books until 2012? Or are there ways for you to take advantage of Holiday Cheer? I say take advantage. Here are 10 ways to promote your writing through the holidays.

1. Host a free children’s book drive at your local library.

It’s not too late to book a meeting room or space at your local library or smaller bookstore for a free children’s book drive. If you plan it now, you have time to get a local reporter and local blogger to the event. Invite the public to drop off new books at the library to give away or donate to the library’s children’s section. On your event day have holiday punch and cookies and invite the public to pick up a free children’s book.

2. Give your book to local coffeehouses to include in holiday gift baskets.

Four years ago I met with a popular local coffee house in my town by request of the owner. He loved authors and great books. We created gift baskets with my client’s books inside. We also introduced a new Winter Reading Series.

3. Host an Under the Dryer Book Signing at a Beauty Salon.

Have you ever been in a beauty salon? The long wait, the old reading material. What if someone was selling a book to read while sitting under the dryer? Bingo!! A client of mine sold out one weekend doing this event. You can also create holiday spa gift baskets that include your book for the salon event.

4. Write a Christmas story and have it published in your local community paper or regional magazine.

I wrote a story for Precious Times Magazine a few years back titled “Kissmas Time.” From that one story, I received many invitations to write articles for other magazines. I have a mailing list of people interested in my book (when it comes out). And I have had speaking engagement requests also as a result of that story.

5. Sponsor your local Girl Scout or Boy Scout Christmas Parade Float.

I just participated in my town’s annual Christmas parade. Loads of fun. I saw many familiar faces and made a friend of the mayor. Yippee. Being out and about in the community is a great way to build your author name. Sponsoring a float, making a banner, providing costumes, or just chaperoning kids in the parade will help make you a presence. People will become familiar with you. If you are an author, have kids pass out bookmarks with candy attached to them, or take your little Christmas story, package it up, and give it out to those on the parade route.

6. Read Christmas Stories at your local elementary school media center.

If you write for a young adult market, or even a soccer mom market, then get yourself to your local school and read your cool book to kids. Host a Santa letter party.

7. Host an Online Book Giveaway--but not of your book. Instead give away:

Promote the giveaway and the winner by sending a press release to the winner’s local paper.Put the book in a gift basket from your local coffeehouse. Hey, it works for the Avon lady.

8. Host a Holiday Book Party at a local restaurant

Publisher and author Dwan Abrams hosted a party this weekend in downtown Atlanta to celebrate her birthday, the holidays, and the release of her fourth novel Married Strangers. The event was free to attend. It is also a book drive for a Women’s Prison Literacy Project. She’s got local celebrities, book reviewers, and bookstore managers popping through. The event has been promoted on local gospel radio stations, online mags, local papers, and to anyone within two paces of her.You do know that now is the time to throw a party?

9. Build a tip sheet

Center the sheet around your book’s theme and the holidays, then submit the tip list as filler for major local magazines and online magazines your readers read.

10. Be a front door vendor at your local bookstore.

Ask your local bookstore if you can set up a table on the weekend to sell your books. Ask for two tables. One to sell your book and another to gift wrap books as a free service to the bookstore. All bookstore chains allow authors to do this. (However, some bookstores will only talk to publicists or publishers.)

Bonus: contact your bookstore every week to see if any big authors had last minute cancellations for their Holiday In Store Events. But be prepared to get books to the store on short notice.

If you put all this together, you will see that the lesson here is to become a part of your community. The holidays are the best and most opportune times to do this. There’s just something about holiday cheer. And it only comes once a year--take advantage of it.

What other Guerilla Marketing Holiday Tips can you share?

And what are you most thankful for as a writer this year?

deestewartMiranda Parker is the author of A Good Excuse to Be Bad (Kensington), the first in the Angel Crawford Bounty Hunter Series. Parker has been featured at NBCC and The Decatur Book Festival, and featured in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, RT Book Reviews, and Publishers Weekly. She is also the Social Media/Marketing Person for the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Program and a contributing editor to The Big Thrill. A sequel, Someone Bad & Something Blue, will be released in July 2012. Visit her at www.mirandaparker.com

photo credit: macinate

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thriller subgenres: is it SciFi, or SciThri?

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Thriller subgenres: is it SciFi, or SciThri?

By Amy Rogers

When authors pitch a novel to agents or editors, they’re expected to cite which category or genre applies to their work. “Where would this book be shelved at Barnes & Noble?” is the question.

Some thriller writers struggle to neatly package their novel in a single category. Mystery versus thriller is a distinction blurred in some books. Thrillers may have strong horror elements, or plenty of romance, begging to be shelved with those genres.

For me, the problematic genre distinction is science thriller (SciThri) versus science fiction (SciFi). I write thrillers. My books meet the expected conventions of the genre in terms of page-turning tension, action, high stakes, and a ticking-clock climax. Yet some reviewers have referred to my debut novel Petroplague as “science fiction.”

Why? Well, I wrote a work of fiction that has a lot of science in it.

Unlike legal thrillers, medical thrillers, espionage thrillers, historical thrillers, and so on, science-themed thrillers are uniquely vulnerable to this kind of mislabeling. There is no shelf at B&N marked “Legal Fiction” or “Spy Fiction,” but there is that big section of “Science Fiction”. How tempting it is to take a novel with a science-driven plot and just toss it in the fiction category that has “science” in the title.

Does it matter if a science-themed thriller gets shelved as SciFi? I think it does. A reader picking up a SciFi novel will have different expectations than a reader picking up a thriller with a scientist as protagonist. SciThri may appeal to SciFi fans, but the science thriller audience is different and potentially bigger—consider all the Michael Crichton fans in the world!

So what’s the difference between SciFi and SciThri? I’ll admit it’s not always clear-cut. But based on the scores of reviews I’ve done for ScienceThrillers.com, here are the general characteristics I believe define these two categories of stories.

Science thrillers:

  • Usually fiction but can also be nonfiction (e.g. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston)
  • Set in the real world or something recognizably similar to it
  • Plot occurs in the present time
  • Science is crucial to the plot and typically a scientist is a main character
  • Technology alone does not make a science thriller (e.g. military technothrillers such as Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October don’t qualify)
  • Story must be plot-driven, page-turning, with some (or a lot of) action
  • The science should be largely grounded in scientific reality. If a scientific plot element is technically impossible, it must be plausible to an average reader.

Science fiction:

  • Always fiction
  • May be set in any world, real or imagined, earth-bound or outer-space
  • Plot events may occur at any time (past, present, future, or an indeterminate “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”). History can be rewritten at will.
  • Science or technology may be important to the plot, or it may be little more than mood-setting wallpaper in the background of the story
  • SciFi can be plot-driven and action-packed, or it can be quite literary
  • Scientific plot elements don’t have to be realistic. Time travel, warp speed, and mind-reading are all okay.

Many ITW members (Paul McEuen, James Rollins, and Karen Dionne, to name a few) write books that qualify as science thrillers. I wonder if they have seen their books categorized as SciFi? Granted, some of them—such as Rollins—stretch the science in their stories beyond plausibility into the SciFi realm. Others, such as Paul McEuen in his brilliantly technical debut Spiral, keep their stories largely rooted in scientific reality or near-possibility.

Ultimately, I think the distinction between SciThri and SciFi is believability. In science fiction, the reader allows the author to manufacture entire universes and civilizations from scratch; as long as the author keeps internally-consistent rules, anything goes. By contrast, in a science thriller the reader should be plagued by the feeling that this could really happen. This feeling lurks in the heart of the tension of most great thrillers, science or otherwise.

Do you know a thriller that in your opinion has been wrongly categorized by some readers or industry professionals?

More questions: How do you categorize your novels? Have you experienced mislabeling because you write hybrid thrillers?

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Dr. Amy Rogers writes thrilling science-themed novels that pose frightening “what if?” questions. Compelling characters and fictionalized science—not science fiction—make her books page-turners that seamlessly blend reality with imagination. She is a member of International Thriller Writers Debut Class (2011-2012). In her novel Petroplague, oil-eating bacteria contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city. Learn more at AmyRogers.com and ScienceThrillers.com. You can also follow Amy on twitter (@ScienceThriller) and on her Facebook fan page.

Related Thrill Begins Posts:

More about ITW Debut Author’s Program":am

The International Thriller Writers membership includes some of the world’s best-selling authors: David Morrell, Gayle Lynds, Lee Child, Sandra Brown, Clive Cussler, Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, James Patterson and many, many more.

The ITW Debut Author Program, under the aegis of the International Thriller Writers main organization, seeks to support our first-book members through the publication process by providing a friendly, interactive community for the purposes of networking, mentoring, promotion, and camaraderie.

Membership in the Debut Authors program is for Active-status ITW members only. Before you can apply to the Debut Authors program, you must first apply for ITW membership. More information about ITW membership here

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

CREATING A WORTHY ANTAGONIST

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"Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph." Roger Ebert

Welcome to Thriller Thursday!

This week we have a treat for you. Jodie Renner shares advice that is paramount to writing a great thriller. The Villain. As the Roger Ebert quote states above, having a worthy antagonist does more than just give your hero someone to defeat. The villain gives your reader a reason to join your hero’s journey, to connect emotionally with the hero, and to understand what’s at stake, if the hero does not succeed.

The villain deserves a great deal of attention from the writer. Wouldn’t you agree? Renner shares terrific villain character development tips and also opens up this week’s discussion. How evil should a modern villain be?

Thank you for this great post, Jodie.

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CREATING A WORTHY ANTAGONIST

by Jodie Renner

You’ve outlined a plot and created an appealing, complex protagonist for your thriller or other crime/action fiction — great start! But what about your antagonist? According to James N. Frey, “the villain is your best friend, because the villain creates the plot behind the plot — the plot that has to be foiled by the hero.”

The hero or heroine of your suspense novel needs a worthy opponent who is standing in his/her way and threatening other innocent people. As James Scott Bell says, “Without a strong opponent, most novels lack that crucial emotional experience for the reader: worry. If it seems the hero can take care of his problems easily, why bother to read on?”

And thrillers and other crime fiction need a downright nasty bad guy — but not a “mwoo-ha-ha” caricature or stereotype. If your villain is just a wicked cardboard caricature of what he could be, your readers will quickly lose interest. As Hallie Ephron says, “Characters who are simply monstrously evil can come off as old-fashioned clich├ęs.”

To create a believable, complex, chilling villain, make him clever and determined, but also someone who feels justified in his actions. Ask yourself what the bad guy wants, how he thinks the protagonist is standing in his way, and how he explains his own motivations to himself.

How does your villain rationalize his actions? He may feel that he is justified because of early childhood abuse or neglect, a grudge against society, a goal thwarted by the protagonist, a desire for revenge against a perceived wrong, or a need for power or status — or money to fund his escape. Whatever his reasons, have them clear in your own mind, and at least hint at them in your novel. Like the protagonist, the antagonist needs motivations for his actions.

To give yourself the tools to create a realistic, believable antagonist, try writing a mini-biography of your villain: his upbringing and family life, early influences, and harrowing experiences or criminal activities so far. As Hallie Ephron advises us, “Think about what happened to make that villain the way he is. Was he born bad, or did he sour as a result of some traumatic event? If your villain has a grudge against society, why? If he can’t tolerate being jilted, why? You may never share your villain’s life story with your reader, but to make a complex, interesting villain, you need to know what drives him to do what he does.” Creating a backstory for your antagonist will help you develop a multidimensional, convincing bad guy.

Many writing gurus advise us to even make the antagonist a bit sympathetic. James Scott Bell says, “The great temptation in creating bad guys is to make them evil through and through. You might think this will make your audience root harder for your hero. More likely, you’re just going to give your book a melodramatic feel. To avoid this, get to know all sides of your bad guy, including the positives.”

Bell suggests that, after we create a physical impression of our antagonist, we find out what her objective is, dig into her motivation, and create background for her that generates some sympathy — a major turning point from childhood or a powerful secret that can emerge later in the book.

Not everyone agrees with that approach, however. James Frey, on the other hand, says “in some cases, it is neither necessary nor perhaps even desirable to create the villain as a fully fleshed-out, well-rounded multidimensional character.” Many readers just want to a bad guy they can despise, and are not interested in finding out about his inner motives or his deprived childhood. That would dilute our satisfaction in finally seeing him getting his just deserts.

Frey does feel it’s extremely important to create a convincing, truly nasty villain, one who is “ruthless, relentless, and clever and resourceful, as well as being a moral and ethical wack job,” and one who is “willing to crush anyone who gets in his way,” but doesn’t feel it’s necessary to give us a great deal of information on the villain.

As kids, we loved to see good prevail over evil, and the nastier the villain, the harder they fell — and the greater our satisfaction. Perhaps Frey’s “damn good villain” hearkens back to those times, and his ultimate demise evokes greater reader satisfaction. Forget analyzing the bad guy — just build him up, then take him out!

On the other hand, many readers today are more sophisticated and want to get away from the caricatures of our popular literary heritage… hence, advice from writers like Ephron and Bell to develop more multidimensional antagonists with a backstory and clear motivations.

I’d say there’s room for both approaches in modern fiction, and probably the thriller genre favors the “just plain mean and nasty” villain. Never mind the psychological analysis of the bad guy—we just want to see Jack Reacher, Joe Pike or [fill in your favorite thriller hero or heroine] kick butt!

What do you think? Make the villain nasty, evil and cruel through and through, or give him some redeeming qualities to make him more realistic? Show some of his background and motivations, or just stick with his current story goals and plans?

Resources:
Hallie Ephron, The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel
James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Thriller
James Scott Bell, Revision and Self-Editing

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction manuscript editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, and mysteries. Her services range from developmental editing to light final copyediting, as well as manuscript critiques. Check out Jodie’s website at www.JodieRennerEditing.com and her blog athttp://JodieRennerEditing.blogspot.com.

Jodie is a member of International Thriller Writers (associate), Sisters in Crime (SinC), Backspace: The Writers Place, The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA), and The Editors Association of Canada (EAC).

Jodie has traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. In fact, Jodie loves traveling so much, she’s thinking of changing her tagline from “Let’s work together to enhance and empower your writing” to “Have laptop, will travel.”

Copyright © Jodie Renner, October 2011

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is a Small Thriller?

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By Steven Rigolosi

At some point in our writing careers, most of us wrestle with the definitions of genres and subgenres. What exactly is a mystery? How does it differ (if at all) from a crime novel? Is it all right if characters use profanity in my cozy? What is suspense and how do I create it? Or, more importantly, how does the reader define and experience suspense? And of course for the debut author, are my perceptions and definitions in line with what agents and editors want?

We hope we can answer these questions by the time the book is published. In my internal dialogue, I think I have written a caper/cozy (Who Gets the Apartment?), a novel of psychological suspense (Circle of Assassins), and an urban satire (Androgynous Murder House Party).

Never in any of my outlining, plotting, or positioning self-discussions did I consider that I might be writing THRILLERS.

Why? Because to me a thriller is a Big Book with Big Players. Perhaps the protagonist is John or Jane Q. Public, but John or Jane inevitably comes up against Major Forces: the government, a renegade faction of the FBI, an international spy or terrorist network filled with moles and triple agents, or a global corporation with unlimited money, resources, and power. Or Bioengineers doing unsavory things with the human genome for profit. High-speed chases through Zurich, Abu Dhabi, Prague, Johannesburg, and Taiwan…Big Things. At stake is the fate of the Human Race, not to mention Morality, Country, Liberty, and Family.

But, after taking a second look at my work, I ask myself: Must a thriller be Big?

Most of us, whether readers or writers, have a fairly small sphere of influence. We work, we spend time with family and friends, we take a couple of weeks’ vacation each year. If our worlds are small in comparison to those of international jet-setters, perhaps we can have “smaller” thrillers where various microworlds interact, where life-changing events happen to everyday people who are not engaged in ferreting out Al Qaeda cells.

If I think in these terms, then maybe Circle of Assassins might be called a “small thriller.” It tells the intersecting stories of five unnamed people who make a pact to exchange murderous favors. Their tales (and identities) unfold as they tell their stories, describe why their victims deserve to meet their fate at the hands of an assassin, and live with the aftermath of the killings.

One character, who grew up impoverished, is willing to fight to the death to preserve the tiny Cape Cod home she purchased with her life savings. Another is a traditional Italian-American whose father has installed Old-World ways into him – traditions that clash with modern expectations regarding family and gender roles. A third is an academic who sees her department chair as the living embodiment of white privilege.

Each of these people sets events in motion that have ripple effects among smaller communities: an extended family, a college campus, a suburban neighborhood. The drama that unfolds is personal and intense - definitely not as world-changing as pharmaceutical companies manipulating national governments, but, I am hoping, more immediate and more at the level at which the average person lives his or her life, encountering smaller-scale villains who are just as greedy, manipulative, or power-hungry as those CEOs and Directors of Government Agencies.

Still, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any novels subtitled “A Small Thriller” any time soon.

But if you wanted to give it a try…StevenRigolosi

Here are Three Things Your “Small Thriller” Needs:

1. Character development.

A lot of “big thrillers” are criticized for stereotypical or undeveloped characters. A small thriller offers an opportunity to combine a thrilling plot with intense character study.

2. A tight page count.

The big thrillers often come in at about 400 pages. A small thriller covers much less of the world (and has much less, perhaps even zero, jet-setting), so it might be able to tell its story in a tight, taut 300 pages.

3. Plot twists and a memorable ending.

Regardless of its size, a thriller has to thrill. This means a good story with plenty of surprises, turnabouts, betrayals, unexpected twists, and – my favorite – a surprise ending.

Question: Do you think you’ve written a small thriller? How has it worked for you?

Steven Rigolosi is the author of the Tales from the Back Page series. The most recent installment is Androgynous Murder House Party. He lives in Northern New Jersey and is at work on the next book.Visit him on Goodreads.

If you are a debut suspense or thriller [even small thriller like me] author whose book will release within the next year, we invite you to join International Thriller Writers (ITW) Debut Author Program. Click this link to learn how. thrillerwriters.org/join-itw/debut-authors

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photo credit: Miranda Parker

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