Author Anna Schmidt on why she writes

“There is only one reason to write,” says Sarasota author Anna Schmidt. “That is because you can’t not write.”

Anna, known to her friends as Jo, has written for therapy, but for most of her career, she’s written for publication. She is the author of several series of inspiration and romance, including ones set during World War II (All God’s Children), in Sarasota’s Pinecraft Mennonite community (A Sister’s Forgiveness) and in the Southwest (The Lawman).

She shared her experience this week with members of Sarasota Fiction Writers.

Her advice for emerging authors?

  • Build a track record in your genre and develop a following
  • Don’t chase trends (unless your agent and editor tell you to)
  • During dry spells, attend events and conferences outside your area of expertise (for Jo, that’s mystery and suspense)
  • Join book clubs and writers’ groups
  • Read outside your genre.

She ended the program by giving away copies of her latest book. Surprised by her generosity, the moderator asked why. With a sly smile she said, “The publisher sent me forty copies. What else am I going to do with them?”

The social media maven’s apprentice

This is an updated version of an interview I did several years ago with Laurie R. King, whose latest in the bestselling Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, The Murder of Mary Russell, is due in April 2016.

The author of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is buzzing over social media.

With a website, author and character blogs and a presence on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter, Laurie R. King is a champion of social marketing. She posts in the voice of one of her characters, runs writing contests and invites fans to discuss the books among themselves. Her efforts go beyond promoting the work to promoting engagement with readers. That reveals an understanding of the collaborative nature of social media many corporations might envy.

“Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it,” she said in an email exchange. But first, some background on the Californian who has become famous for portraying the life of perhaps the world’s most-famous detective, and the woman who has become, some would say, an equal or better.

LaurieRKingCreating a voice
Ms. King has written 22 novels, including several stand-alone novels and three series, one featuring San Francisco police detective Kate Martinelli and a second with Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Her first book, A Grave Talent (1993), received the 1994 Edgar Award for Best First Novel and a 1995 John Creasey Memorial Award. She followed with the 1996 Nero Award for A Monstrous Regiment of Women and the 2002 Macavity Award for Best Novel for Folly.

Her books about Russell and Holmes have been applauded as “the most successful recreation of the famous inhabitant of 221B Baker Street ever attempted” (Houston Chronicle), “with the power to charm even the most grizzled Baker Street irregular” (New York Daily News). The first in the series, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, appeared in 1994.

She measures the number of copies in print in the millions.

Creating a buzz
A few years ago, to highlight the 20 books she’s written, and the publication of her then-newest novel in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, Ms. King embarked on what she calls “Twenty weeks of buzz.” In addition to the traditional methods of promotion—book tours, radio and TV appearances—Ms. King took to the Internet with a passion usually reserved for her characters.

Her presence on the Internet is considerable. She created a website and a blog about her activities called Mutterings. She also created another blog, this one in Mary Russell’s voice, back when MySpace was the rage. Mary, in character, posts regularly on Twitter (@mary_russell)—a technique used effectively by Helen Klein Ross (@AdBroad) to promote the TV show Mad Men. Ms. King writes as a guest blogger on other sites and runs a Yahoo! Group. She has a page on Facebook. She even posts reader videos on YouTube.

King beekeeper coverTo share her tastes in literature, Ms. King created an account on Goodreads, where millions of members recommend, compare and discuss books.

She also bolstered reader engagement with the creation of twin writing contests. To celebrate the publication of The God of the Hive, she authorized the 2010 Mary Russell Fan Fiction Writing Contest. Contestants were asked to write about a character in one of the Russell novels as a teenager. A second contest, to celebrate National Library Week, invited readers to create their version of the ideal library, complete with drawings.

She even runs contests for artwork about Russell, Holmes, and their world where fans can submit and judge the works.

Her opinion on social-media efforts and their results are insightful for readers and writers alike. Edited highlights of the interview with Ms. King, who goes by LRK online, follow.

Creating a community
I have to say, it’s funny to be considered a “champion of social marketing” since I never feel I know much about what I’m doing! Mostly what I use the social networking sites for is to tie together my readers—I set up a site, or suggest an approach, and then more or less stand back while they play with it. I’m kept in the loop of course, and I’ll drop in regularly, but making use of enthusiastic volunteers means that I don’t have to do all of the day-to-day work, while at the same time letting a group of key readers—”fans” if you will—have the fun of working with a writer they enjoy and making her job just a little bit easier.

Murder of Mary Russell coverI think a number of writers do this in some form or another—Dana Stabenow’s “Danamaniacs” are a powerhouse of networking, for example—and so long as it is kept fairly clear which is the author speaking and which is one of the administrators, I find people are happy.

Mostly I write and post my blog “Mutterings” and stop in once a day on both the personal and fan Facebook pages. I visit regularly on the Virtual Book Club [now the Laurie R. King Virtual Book Club on Goodreads],  reading the discussion and dropping in on some of the other threads, but I don’t tend to post a lot there unless I have something in particular to contribute—the VBC is a place for the readers to freely discuss and get to know each other, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m in charge of what they say. A great side-effect of the VBC is that whenever LRK readers meet at an event or a conference, they often already know each other remarkably well, even if they have never met in person.

As for Twitter and Goodreads, I work with volunteers on answering letters sent to me (or to Russell) through the sites, helping promote things like the recent Twitter Party. (I helped set this up beforehand but, being in a far distant time zone, I had very little to do with it at the time.)

All in all, I probably average an hour a day on this stuff, more when I’m working up to a book launch.

As for results, who can tell?

A book by any other name . . .

Allusion Books logoThe U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has approved the registered mark of my publishing company, Allusion Books. Right now I’m only publishing books that I write, such as Peak Season, Riding with the Blues and a new crime series, Mr. Mayhem, due at the end of November.

The examining attorney for the USPTO did have to amend the identification of goods and services in my application to state that no claim is made to the exclusive right to use the word “books” apart from the mark as shown.  All you folks at the Big 5 publishing houses–Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster–you can breathe now.

Scouting for talent with Kindle

In another effort to challenge traditional publishers, Amazon has announced a program to test and market e-books before they’re published.

Called Kindle Scout, the program allows authors to place their unpublished work before a focus group of readers. If they like your book, Amazon may offer an advance and royalties through a five-year contract.

It’s crowd-sourcing for the unpublished author. And the key word here is unpublished. Only e-books that have not seen publication in any form except blog posts are eligible for Kindle Scout.

Authors thinking about selling their e-books through competing channels such as iBooks and Barnes & Noble’s NOOK should read the fine print. Kindle Press acquires worldwide publication rights for e-book and audio formats in all languages. The e-book is automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

On the plus side, giving away a previously unpublished e-book enrolls the author in Amazon’s marketing program.

Amazon is looking for e-books in these categories: Romance, Mystery & Thriller, Science Fiction & Fantasy, and Literature & Fiction. Action & Adventure, Contemporary Fiction, and Historical Fiction will be accepted within the Literature & Fiction category. To apply for the program, the author must be 18 or older with a valid U.S. bank account and a U.S. Social Security number or tax identification number.

Should you jump in? Only with eyes open. You can review the Kindle Scout guidelines here.

Kindle Scout

For indie authors, publish or perish

There’s a saying in the academic world—publish or perish. It means that if you want a tenured position, you must publish your research, or your dream of advancement will perish.

Writers who want to share their work face the same dilemma.

Years ago, people wrote books and sent them to editors who hired others to read through the pile of manuscripts in the hope of finding the next Updike or Jong. When editors ceded that job to agents, they followed the same procedure, acting as editorial screens to deliver works with literary or commercial potential. It was a respectable system.

Self-publishing wasn’t. People viewed indie authors with the same credibility afforded Donald Trump. Even the name of printers who handled the work, vanity presses, spoke volumes about DIY status. And for good reason. If a professional, an agent or editor, didn’t vet your work, you could bet the writing would look as amateurish as the cover design.

Joanna PennToday, indie publishing—uploading your work to e-book brokers and print-on-demand houses like Smashwords and Amazon—has gained a small measure of respect. Some proponents, Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn among them, count the followers of their blogs and podcasts in the thousands. Some writers like Bob Mayer, the former Green Beret and Area 51 series author, sell tens of thousands of units.

Self-publishing is not that onerous, they say. Gone are the days of loading up the station wagon with cartons of books and flogging them to libraries and stores. POD services print and deliver books as readers order them. Yes, with indie publishing, you won’t get the marketing, distribution or stamp of credibility offered by a traditional publisher. But if you’ve queried hundreds of agents with no takers, you need another option.

swiftwaterbigThrough the end of the eighties, that wasn’t necessary. When I last pitched a novel, I landed a series of agents who did the heavy lifting. A decade later, when I wrote my first non-fiction book, the Spirit of Swiftwater, I took the manuscript directly to the publisher, an academic press that wanted to start a business imprint. For the second book, the publisher called me.

Those were the days.

For Peak Season, my debut crime-fiction novel, I queried seventy-six agents and editors. Nada. For Mr. Mayhem, the first of the Brinker novels, due out this fall, I queried seventy-five. Zip. So I declared independence.

That proved simple but not easy.

Publishing is no longer a question of DIY vs. traditional. Today we choose between sharing our work and giving up. That means authors must not only learn how to write, we need to develop skills in editing, proofing, design, social media, marketing and distribution. Add persistence to the mix and we have the ingredients for a new system that, like the old, offers satisfaction but doesn’t guarantee success.

From a gatekeepers’ perspective, the traditional system makes sense. In this name-brand culture, editors and agents look for a sure thing. Paid on commission, agents don’t need to take a chance on the unknown. New authors present too much risk with too little guarantee of reward.

My advice to emerging writers is to ignore the stigma of indie publishing. If you want someone to take a chance on your work, there’s only one place to look . . . in the mirror.

Monroe libraries to present local book expo

The Associated Libraries of Monroe County will present the second annual Monroe County Book Expo on Saturday, July 23, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Eastern Monroe Public Library in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The event is free and open to the public.

The expo will highlight books written and/or published by residents of Monroe and other Eastern Pennsylvania counties. The day is intended to encourage aspiring writers and support the exchange of ideas about the creative process and the publishing industry. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and visit with local authors, and to purchase copies of their works. Books will be sold by the individual authors at their tables.

Two special programs will be featured during the day. At 11 a.m. there will be a panel discussion entitled “Self-Publishing: Pitfalls and Rewards.” This will be followed by a presentation at 2 p.m. by author Alissa Grosso, whose debut novel for young adults, Popular, was recently published by Flux.

Authors may register to participate online.

For more information, call library Director Barbara Keiser (570) 421-0800, extension 13.

The Monroe County Book Expo is a project of the Associated Libraries of Monroe County, which includes Barrett-Paradise Friendly Library, Clymer Library, Eastern Monroe Public Library, Pocono Mountain Public Library and Western Pocono Community Library.

Writers’ lib, Crusie style

Jennifer Crusie has a new and delightful take on the old saw Publish or Perish: just as you don’t have to get married to validate yourself, you don’t have to publish to validate your talent.

Jennifer Crusie“Just as women had to give up being married as a life goal before they could lead full lives as women, so writers must give up being published as a career goal before we can lead full lives as writers.”

Her suggestion about getting published? Don’t make that your only objective. “When we write the stories we need to write, we take back control of our lives because we’re meeting our own needs, not looking for validation elsewhere.”

To draw a parallel of our own, Crusie sounds a lot like Marsha Sinetar in her book Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow: write what you love and maybe the editors will follow. No guarantees from the management, but at least you’ve liberated yourself.