Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ON BLOG TOURS, Part 2 by D.B. Grady

Thank you to Jessica for opening and closing the Red Planet Noir virtual book tour. (See Part 1 HERE) While there are still three days yet remaining, and a few sites that I missed along the way due to workload, this is as good a time as any to assess the blog tour. Consider it a pre-postmortem, and then shudder in horror at my abuse of Latin. What follows is an accounting of what went right and what went wrong in the blog tour, and might help other authors determine whether it was worth the time and effort.

For my part, the short answer is yes, it was worth the hours invested. The long answer is that it will take some time to determine whether it pays in significant book sales.

What went right:

1. The People.

When I first presented the idea of a blog tour on my website and on Twitter, the proposition was to write for any blog of any sized audience, on any subject requested. The worst-case scenario -- and this is what I've long trained myself to expect -- was no response at all, and an embarrassing backpedaling and eventual abandonment of the project. To my relief, this was not the case, as I was immediately inundated with requests. To describe this as satisfying would be an understatement. This outpouring of support speaks not to my reputation, but to the kindness and generosity of the literary community and blogosphere as a whole. Here again, I submit to all struggling authors the importance of online social networking as a promotional tool.

Everyone posted their items on time (if an article went up late, rest assured that it was my fault entirely. See "What Went Wrong.") and went above and beyond to ensure everything formatted properly, and further worked to nurture comments and draw traffic.

2. Open Topics

Going into the tour, I feared two things: 1) that I'd be asked to write about the same thing repeatedly -- "What's it like to write a book?" -- which I don't mind, but would get boring for readers following the tour, or 2) that I'd be asked to pontificate on hot-button political issues. While I am paid to write about politics, and enjoy it very much, nothing angers prospective readers more than offering the wrong opinion on, say, health care reform. The goal was to have fun and get the name out, but also to sell books. Thankfully, both fears were unfounded. My hosts were both creative and flexible, and during the month of March, had me write everything from William Shatner devotionals to dinner party etiquette in the post-zombie age.

Engaging the blogosphere was far more effective than simply asking for ad space to plug my book. In a sense, I became a partner with my hosts rather than a parasite, and everyone seemed pleased.

3. The Echo Chamber

It was astonishing and humbling to watch people generously promote my appearances on their blogs. For my part, each day, I posted the daily blog on my website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Friends echoed ("retweeted") the announcements, as did friends of friends. Many of my hosts did the same. Sites that ordinarily received dozens of hits a day were suddenly receiving hundreds. And linked on each page was my name, book, and website. It was the best publicity one could ask for, and best of all, it was mutual. Hopefully a few blogs got a few new readers.

What went wrong:

1. Overload

The plan was to write 400 words for each blog, each day. It seems, however, that I am incapable of such brevity, and each day's word count generally spilled into the thousands. By the final day, I expect to have written thirty thousand words on various subjects. That's half a book, nearly. Though I budgeted thirty minutes each day for the blog tour (the original plan was to do each week's worth of posts on the preceding weekend) I generally spent upward of two hours on each post, including research and revisions. Simply put, it was exhausting to produce creative and quality prose of such length every evening, in addition to my regular work. In the future, I would plan to learn brevity, or plan 4-day weeks.

2. Technology

Not everyone is a web guru. And many who received pre-formatted blog posts with embedded HTML links simply had no idea how to properly post to their blogs. This is nobody's fault but my own, and I would have been well-served to write a brief how-to guide for each of the major blog services. (That is, Wordpress, Blogger, and LiveJournal.) This would have saved many headaches for my already generous hosts, and a great deal of time spent explaining and re-explaining things by email. Midway through the project, I was so overwhelmed by the task at hand that I had no time to compose decent instructions. Next time, I'll be ready.

3. Timing

Ideally, I would have been better served launching the blog tour immediately after Red Planet Noir's debut. There is a certain momentum attached to a new release that is difficult to sustain. Waiting until March placed me on the ebb of that tide. If the blog tour results in significant sales, it will be due to the "Long Tail" effect. And that's no guarantee, either. It will be some time before I know whether the time and effort invested pays in negotiable currency.


Will I launch a blog tour for my next release? Without question. I enjoy writing, and I enjoyed meeting new people, however virtual. My name, my book, and my content are now present on quite a few websites that ordinarily would have passed me by. And, as they say, the Internet never forgets. Google will keep that content active and "in the mix" for a very, very long time.

Do I recommend blog tours to other authors? "Yes, But." Yes, but be prepared for more work than you expected. Yes, but don't count on everything going according to plan. Yes, but don't count on finding yourself on the New York Times bestseller list overnight.

I suspect that blog tours are here to stay. With that in mind, all it really takes is a bit of planning, careful scheduling, and a lot of writing. It's the best publicity no money can buy.


D.B. Grady is the author of Red Planet Noir.
He can be found on the web at

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Really Know Your Characters

This is a book sale. I hit it twice this weekend and came home with a lot more books than I needed.
But let's not look at this as a book sale. Let's visualize a character sale.

More than once I heard browsers call the book by the character's name instead of using the title of the book:

"Look, here's a Dave Robicheaux ." A James Lee Burke character.
"I found a Stephanie Plum!" A Janet Evanovich character.
"Here's a Sookie Stackhouse." A Charlaine Harris character.

What is it about these characters that make them so real to so many people? Well, my theory is... it's the little things.

My husband and I haven't read a Dave Robicheaux in years but tonight I asked him what he remembers about Dave. He said: "He poured Dr. Pepper over crushed ice."

I asked daughter to tell me something about Sookie and she answered. "In warm weather, she likes to shave her legs and sunbathe."

Do you see how insignificant these things are? Yet all these little things make up one heck of a character.

So think about the main character of your book and answer these questions:

What pictures hang on his/her wall?
What kind of mail does s/he get? From whom?
Is s/he addicted to chap stick or does s/he drink root beer with barbecue?
Can s/he change a flat, the oil in the car?
Does s/he wash the car or hire it done?
What kind of shampoo does s/he use?

We can't know too much about our characters--whether we use the info or not. The better we know them, the truer they come across in our books. I would love to be at a book sale and hear someone shout, "Wow, I found a Sas Maplewood!"

Yep, that's my series character. I know her well. Maybe one day you will too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


How well do you know your characters before you begin to write? Do you write bios for them, letters from them, fill out a fact sheet about where they were born, what their favorite foods and colors and movies are? Or do you just sit down and start writing and let your knowledge of them evolve?

My husband wanted to look through our 1962 Blue Devil yearbook to refresh his memory about singing in the school choir. Yes, we went to school together; he was a couple of years ahead of me. No, we didn't date or really even know each other until many years later. Maybe I'll tell that story another day. :)

We went to a small country school. In '62 I was in the eighth grade with 41 others. Most of them I'd known since the first grade. As I browsed the last pages of my yearbook to read their end-of-the-year words to me, I was stunned at what they had to say and honestly, how little they had to say.

1) To a sweet and cute girl. I hope we stay friends forever.
2) You are a very sweet and courteous girl.
3) I think you are very pretty and very smart.
4) May we remain friends always!
5) You are a very sweet and cute girl.
6) Good luck always!
7) Best of everything to a nice, pretty girl. You have talents after talents.
8) I've enjoyed going to school with a sweet girl like you.
9) You are sweet, cute, lovable & precious.
10) I hope we will always be friends forever.
11) You are very talented, pretty, sweet and kind.
12) May God bless and keep a deserving girl like you.
13) You're a nice and cute girl.
14) You're very sweet and cute and may you always be popular with all the boys and girls.
15) Best of luck to a nice and kind girl.

Yes, I was a nice, sweet, kind girl because I was too incredibly shy to be otherwise. That, and my mother would have beaten me silly if I'd been mean and hateful. That aside, it sounds like most of my classmates didn't know me at all. Here are two more entries:

17) Fun knowing you. I'm sorry you didn't go out for cheerleader.
18) You are a sweet girl and a wonderful dancer.

See the difference? These two people knew something about my life. They made their comments personal. Read the following quotes from writers who understand characterization:

The characters you create in a novel become as real in your mind as movie stars. ~Norman Mailer

The first thing that makes a reader read a book is the characterization. ~John Gardner

If you are inclined to leave your character solitary for any considerable length of time, better question yourself. Fiction is association, not withdrawal. ~A.B. Guthrie, Jr.

If Jess was a character in your book, would sweet, kind, courteous, cute, deserving, talented paint much of a picture? Not for me. But if Jess considered going out for cheerleader and changed her mind for some reason, and she was a dancer . . . well, that's a more interesting picture.

Let's hear your comments. Tell me how you create characters who are more than sweet and cute.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Saturday with Writers

I love hanging out with writers. Today my pal Christa Allan spoke to our BWG members and I was so proud of my group. They looked wonderful sitting around the tables listening, taking notes, asking questions and participating in the writing exercise. I'm nuts, huh? I feel like an old mother hen. I want "my" BWG group to look good to our speakers , but I also want our speakers to look good to my group.

I feel incredibly stressed when I bring in a speaker who has a book to sell. I want him/her to have a wonderful audience, sell a lot of books, go home motivated and inspired. I also want my BWG members to enjoy the talk, learn something, and feel motivated and inspired. I want it all--for everyone!
After our meetings, we trek off to Piccadilly to eat together and talk more. When we finished lunch, hubby and I went with Christa to her book signing at the Christian Book Center. They had a lovely area all set up for her right at the front door. I stayed there for an hour and a half and she was meeting and greeting the entire time--and signing books.
At our workshop, Christa shared a lot about her writing experience and gave us some useful tips but this is what I brought home with me: When revising, focus on one thing at a time. Small chunks. One day may be devoted to going through your manuscript and revving up your use of the senses. The next day you might devote time to locating all those passive verbs. If you feel overwhelmed by revising 300 pages, then focusing on one thing at a time is do-able.

Great advice. My friend T.C. says, "If I take bigger bites than one or two pages, then I get discouraged about coming back and rewriting." Christa told the group to find what works for each of us.

So tell us: how do you maniupulate 300 pages of passive verbs?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Motivation Monday

I've been MIA the past week. Absolutely too much going on. I'm excited to say I've finally found a new title for my book. I whined to my daughter, "You've read the book-come up with something!" Then I grabbed my phone. "I've saved several titles in my Memo Pad but I don't think any of them work." I read them off to her and guess what: one of them was perfect. "Who put that in my phone? I certainly don't remember doing it." So, there you have it. Memo writing in the phone pays off. I've got notes on novels and NF too. Do you put notes into your cell? Try it.

I'll share my title at another time. I have it entered in some contest and since I'm a very honest, fair person, I don't want my title 'out' there where judges can see it. Oh, yes... that does happen. All you have to do is google a title and you can see every contest that manuscript has placed in, won... sometimes who the author is by their blog posting about it. But, that's another discussion for another time.

On another note, my friend, author D.B. Grady, has blogged over at Bayou Writers' Group blog. Please check it out and leave a comment. He's doing a little experiment with Blog Tours during the month of March. Read what he has to say--very interesting. Leave a comment if you will because it's always nice to know someone is visiting and reading. We're tryiing something new at our BWG blog. We're encouraging our members to actually post! :)
That's it for today. Good writing to you!