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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Search Results for: book fair

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

Last time, I brought up a subject I never believed would warrant discussing—cockygate.  I wish this was the first time a writer did something epically misguided to gain advantage. Some drama to sell their ‘story.’ But, I’ve been around too long. Seen too much.

Yes, I was there for the BIG BANG (dot.com implosion). I also witnessed Web 2.0 shoot out of the dying Web 1.0’s ribcage then skitter up into the vents.

Where did it GO? What is it up to? What does it WANT?

Good Question

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

As early as 2004, I projected the digital tsunami that was going to obliterate the world as we knew it.

Why is ‘Age of Aquarius’ suddenly stuck in my head?

Anyway, it began with Napster and Tower Records, then Kodak, blah blah and starting in 2006 I began blogging and predicting the next industry to fall…and the next…and even how and roughly when it would happen. All along I insisted publishing and writers needed to be prepared because we were also in its path.

Over the course my first years as a ‘social media/branding expert’ (an occupation widely regarded as a made-up job like ‘unicorn groomer’) I noted a trend.

Pretty much every year, new and evolved ‘bright idea fairies’ (BIFs) hatched with frightening regularity. This trend continues because shortcuts are tempting. Um…cockygate.

Enough said.

BIFs masquerade as a super cool idea, when in reality they’re total gimmicks that do more harm than good.

***Which is why I dedicated a year of research to write Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

Social platforms change all the time.

Know what never changes? People.

Just read Shakespeare, watch Dateline, or go look up your ex on FB. People don’t change. This is why I wrote Rise of the Machines to be evergreen.

Only now I may need to update because cockygate sucker-punched us all. I feel like Proctor & Gamble now having to warn teenagers not to eat Tide Pods *sighs*.

Story Matters

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

Yes, really.

We writers are wise to remember a few fundamentals. Stories are for the reader. Story is our product. Readers are our customers who pay money for our product. Readers want a good…story. They really want a superlative story.

Far too many authors don’t need better marketing skills, they need better storytelling skills.

This is simple, though simple is rarely easy. Superior stories are more crucial than ever if we take a quick peek at our industry.

See, when Amazon scope-locked on publishing, they knew exactly how to dismantle the establishment. According to the ancient self-help inspirational guru Sun Tzu, there are only two forms of warfare—direct and oblique.

Amazon is all about the oblique.

Who wanted to go head-to-head with The Big Six? Like, be a real publisher who discovers and cultivates awesome books? How derivative *flips hair*.

Nope. Amazon was not about to face off with NYC where legacy publishing had over a century of dominance. Besides, too much work. Instead?

Get rid of gatekeepers. Open the market to anyone who wanted to string a bunch of sentences together and call it a story. In turn, they get to call themselves ‘published authors.’ Win-win!

Not all of it was bad.

Amazon was banking that excellent books had fallen through the traditional model cracks (very true). They also gambled that some authors not only had a good book, but also possessed sound business skills (also true). Then, there were all these hungry, innovative writers eager to be cut loose and try new ideas like the blog-to-book.

The Martian never would have happened under the old regime.

There were also plenty of traditionally published New York Times best-selling authors and USA Today best-selling authors with HUGE backlists…that NY mothballed. #OUCH

Paper was heavy and expensive and the big-box-bookstore only had so much shelf-space. This meant making royalties off only the most recent title (instead of compounded royalties off 10, 20 or 50 titles).

Amazon offered a place to get these already vetted stories back into reader hands.

The only major advantage traditional publishers ever had was distribution. Yet, in a world of 0s and 1s, this advantage disappeared.

Tough truth.

Amazon doesn’t invest in authors or books. They don’t make money off one book selling a million copies. It’s far easier to make money off a hundred thousand ‘writers’ selling ten books. And, Laws of Probability dictate that, out of that hundred thousand writers, a runaway hit will emerge and with that?

A DREAM.

Between mid-list defectors and undiscovered gems, Amazon has reinvented the American Dream for writers. They also reasonably wagered it would only take a few years before legacy publishing would no longer be the first choice for many emerging authors.

The lure of these success stories would be too much to resist.

Problem was, this meant the slush-pile landed square in the readers’ laps.

Story Solutions

Amazon, authors, digital age authors, writing, self-publishing, how to sell more books, Kristen Lamb, how to write better books, story

In this new business model we do have options. We can chase the next ad/promotion/algorithm/writing gimmick like a cat after a red dot. Or we can get back to basics, the ‘stuff’ that’s worked since the beginning of time.

Earlier I mentioned humans don’t change. If we fully grasp this, building a platform becomes far easier. So does writing.

Humans have longed for great stories since the HUGE stick and ‘ability to make fire’ was the most advanced tech available.

Sadly, in the digital age, too many writers rush, either out of newbie enthusiasm or veteran panic. Emerging authors often rush the learning curve (how to actually WRITE a good story). Veteran authors who know how to write, frequently cave to rushing the process.

Faster isn’t always better. It’s like microwaving a turkey. Takes only a fraction of the time, but who wants to eat THAT?

Tips for Better Stories

Ditch the Derivative

Readers want the same but different. Bad copies of stories that are ‘hot’ are simply bad copies. My challenge is for all of us to use that robust imagination for the powers of good. Amateurs retool stories. Artists reimagine them 😉 .

A Thousand Acres—King Lear on an Iowa farm.

Wicked—The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West—There’s always more than one point of view. Let’s hear from the ‘other’ side, shall we?

The Wife Between Us—Fantastic mind-bending story. It’s as if the famous play (movie) Gaslight and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train had a baby. But namely, it’s Gaslight reimagined in the modern world.

There are way too many tired tropes so have fun. Can you change time, setting, perspective or characters and create something fresh and new, but rooted in pedigree? What about a new story that gives the ‘real’ scoop on an old one?

Jack the Ripper as a female, a virtuous wife betrayed. The killings are motivated by a woman scorned and shamed. Could happen 😛 .

Cinderella as a serial killer. Red Riding Hood as an Old West outlaw. The Little Mermaid as a vengeful stalker (Fatal Attraction) *wink wink*. ALL THE FUN!

Y’all get the gist and Cait has a class coming up that can teach y’all how to think in new and perverse…creative ways in her class Once Upon a Plot: Retelling Myths & Fairytales.

Leave the Low-Hanging Fruit

All stories need some amount of description. Yet, I’m challenging ALL OF US to try harder. I see all kinds of samples where the hero/heroine has emerald, jade, amethyst, sapphire, onyx, (pick any precious or semi-precious stone) eyes. Hair color is like a bad drop-down menu—raven, copper, spun gold, etc.

Her eyes were blue as the Western sky.

Never read that before *rolls eyes*.

To an extent we ALL do it. I’ve done it, too. So one judgy finger pointed at y’all and THREE back at me. Yet, here’s the thing.

We are wordsmiths, and wordsmiths should be able to write a better description than any random non-writer challenged to pen a description.

His eyes were like dazzling emeralds.

Wow. Bet that burned some brain cells to come up with.

Dig deeper. Sure, sometimes we want to keep it simple so we don’t wear out a reader being super clever all the time. On the other hand, can we do a better job than penning a description we might give to a police sketch artist?

He had a shaved head, scars, big nose and ears…

Be CREATIVE!

He had the face of a man who loved to pick fights, but wasn’t any good at fighting.

Just leaving that there 😉 .

Throw a Wrench in Everything

Stories are about problems. PERIOD. Three hundred pages of pretty sentences is not a novel. It’s three hundred pages of pretty sentences. Using a crap ton of fancy words only proves we know how to use a thesaurus…and maybe should be banned from owning one.

Description is not story.

Everyone getting along is not story…it’s a sedative.

All stories have ONE core problem that must be resolved. Until that happens? Welcome to hell. No one agrees and nothing comes easily and anything that can go wrong does…twice. The MC must solve the core story problem and the crucible is never curved.

No one respects someone who wins without working for it in life…or fiction 😉 .

***Scroll down to On Demand classes for hardcore storytelling training from MOI!

What Are Your Thoughts?

I love hearing from you!

Do you struggle being a sadist to your characters? Did you do like me and look at your descriptions and go, ‘Wow, I should totally try harder’ *face palm*?

Did I maybe get the brain percolating? Mine is.

I now want to write Hansel & Gretel in the 1920s as Bonnie & Clyde-style gangsters and candy is a metaphor for BOOZE and SEX….

*Cait slaps me hard*

OWWW! *rubs back of head*

Or not.

What do you WIN? For the month of MAY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also NOW OFFERING MORE CLASSES PLUS ON DEMAND…

Retelling Myths & Fairytales

Instructor: USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds
Price: $65 USD Standard (Cool Upgrades Available)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY May 25th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings.

Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible. Get your spot today! HERE.

The Yarn Behind the Book: Backstory

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, June 1, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Behind every good book is an entire story that happens before the reader ever opens to page one. This is the backstory, and done right, it is what sets the stage, provides clues and cues, and rescues you from writer’s block.

A good backstory will help with logic and consistency in the plot, developing complex motivations for characters, and sorting out exactly what needs to happen going forward as you either plot or pants your way to the end.

This class will cover the following topics – and much more:

  • The elements of a backstory;
  • How to take your current plot idea and work backwards into a backstory;
  • Integrating character profiles and the backstory;
  • How the backstory relates to the logline and synopsis;
  • Using the backstory to dig yourself out of corners and shake off writer’s block;
  • Why a backstory is crucial to writing a series.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

On Demand Training!

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. 

Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

Publishing is a business, and—SURPRISE—so is being an author. By definition, anyone who decides to go pro is automatically an author business. ‘Business’ is what separates the hobbyists, dabblers, amateurs and wanna-be’s from true professionals.

I can already hear the great gnashing of teeth. Calm down. *hands paper bag* Breathe. 

One of the main reasons emerging writers fail to see any fruits from all their efforts is a lack of foundational knowledge. What does the author business actually entail?

Not nearly as much as one might be led to believe, which we talked about in my last post What Chef Ramsay Would Say About Writing.

Think LIKE a BUSINESS

When we add the word business to author our thinking shifts. To succeed in business it’s critical to first define it (known as a mission statement). What IS our business, and what does it DO?

Writers need to do the same. What kind of author do we want to be? It matters. As we mentioned last time, Louis L’amore had a very different operational tempo than Michael Crichton. So decide. It isn’t set in stone. We can change our minds, so relax 🙂 .

Suffice to say too many authors (I’m guilty too) get mission drift because we fail to focus and keep this SIMPLE.

These days it’s easy for emerging writers (actually all writers) to become confused and overwhelmed. Why? Digital age authors now have the ability to perform roles that were off-limits before Web 2.0.

Yet, just because we CAN perform these roles doesn’t automatically mean we MUST.

Feel free to learn formatting and cover design. Want to become a mega-marketer/promoter? Go for it. Is this all essential? Nope. All we need are the Three Bs—Books, Brand and Buds. Focus on these THREE first because all that extra stuff is a waste of time and resources without the Trinity of Success.

Fortune Favors the Prepared Not the Perfect

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No matter what business we’re in—including the author business—education is critical. A quick caveat, though. We don’t need to know every single last little bit of everything before acting.

There’s a fine balance between diving head-first into a lake without testing if the water’s only three feet deep versus believing we need to map the world’s oceans before ever learning to swim.

A happy medium is all good.

Be wary of any expert who gives you a panic attack with all the stuff you ‘must know’ or ‘must do’ to succeed.

Any ‘expert’ who tells you (especially as a beginner) that the author business is so vastly labyrinthine we can’t possibly comprehend it has an agenda. Yes, there will come a point where there is far too much for us to manage (complexity)…which is why God created editors, and literary and film agents.

My training company offers classes from top professionals on the finer points of this business, but nothing we teach will work without the BIG THREE B’s—books, brand and buds.

Author Product—Books

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All businesses have a service or a product. As authors, our products are BOOKS. Not spam. Please leave that to Hormel.

Our top priority is to write great stories people want to pay to read. That is all. Start simple. Every mega-author-success started SIMPLE. Begin with a great story and simple goal.

J.K. Rowling

Began with a goal of writing young adult fantasy fiction with a boy as her core protagonist. At the time, this was crazy talk! Boys didn’t read books. Girls did. Yet, Rowling stuck to her core simple goal and look at what Harry Potter eventually evolved into.

She didn’t begin with a detailed plan for merchandising, fan fiction, and sketches for a theme park at Universal Studios. This all evolved from something inherently simple—the saga of a boy who was really a wizard.

Andy Weir

For a more recent example, let’s look at Weir. After a string of failures and meh writing successes playing by the ‘rules’ Weir figured he had nothing to lose being different. His goal? Write a hard science book on his blog about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Then? Crowd-source experts for accuracy.

Every agent would have told him this was a dumb use of time and he’d never get a book deal. No reader would buy a book already posted for free on a blog.

Andy didn’t care and pressed on with a story and idea he was passionate about, and The Martian broke all the rules and the records (the book and the movie).

Author Business—Brand 

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Brand is also super simple and you can do it yourself. In fact, ONLY you CAN do it. We’re in an age of authenticity, so outsource and pay people to ‘be you’ at your own peril. That’s called…cat-fishing.

Which just ticks people off.

Branding is not complicated. A brand is simply what comes to mind (impressions/emotions) at the mention of a name.

When I mention Tiffany’s no one thinks coupons and deep discounts. It evokes a specific color, the iconic Tiffany blue box with a white bow. Luxury, indulgence, special.

What about Walmart? Starbuck’s? Levis? Apple? Porsche? All these businesses and products evoke images and emotions. Celebrities are a brand. Samuel L. Jackson conjures up a very different impression/emotional response than Amy Pohler.

We Are the Brand

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In life, all people have a personal brand—the jock, the tech geek, history buff, gym rat, Pinterest mom, etc. These will also come tethered to emotional impressions which can be good, bad or neutral.

We humans label people based on behavior/impressions. Maybe this is unfair, but fair is a weather condition.

There are people in life and on-line we can count on to make us smile, to laugh, to encourage, inspire, uplift, and generally make our day just a bit better.

Then there are those who are high-maintenance, manipulative, hotheaded, depressing, critical or nonstop complainers. They use the term ‘spreading awareness’ when we all know they’re really spreading poison. We don’t like these people in life OR on-line.

The only difference in a personal brand and an author brand is our name eventually should become a bankable asset driving book sales.

People won’t remember what we said, but WILL remember how we made them feel. Everyone has an off day but what are we consistently putting out there? When someone says our name, do others smile or reach for antacids? What is their experience?

Brand CAN Make or Break Us

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

Businesses are very careful about product and brand. A restaurant can have the most amazing food in the world, but if the experience/impression is a disaster, the restaurant as business is doomed.

In this post from a couple years ago, I relayed my experience at a hot NYC restaurant, owned and operated by a chef who’d won Iron Chef. We were stoked to eat at this place and called ahead for reservations and to make sure they could accommodate my food allergies (which they assured they could).

Problem was, this world-class chef forgot the business of his business. Yes, his food was ‘art’ but ultimately his job was to feed the people who showed up to fork over $300 to eat. He was charging those high prices not only for superlative cuisine…but for an incredible experience.

This chef refused to serve me just a steak with vegetables and kept instructing the waitress to push parsnip soup on me.

Why?

Because removing the potatoes (loaded with dairy I was allergic to) ‘….ruined the aesthetic balance of the plate.’

Actual quote.

It was only after this hungry and highly pissed off Texan threatened to ruin the aesthetic balance of a pretentious chef …that I got my steak (probably dropped on the floor but I didn’t care because I was famished).

A year later when I returned to NYC, that restaurant was gone. The steak? Forgettable. A chef refusing to accommodate severe allergies because it impacted how the plating LOOKED? Killed his restaurant, his brand and his dream.

Takeaway here is that the book business is not about us, and ALWAYS about the reader. Feel free to never get on social media or talk to anyone. But how do you feel about people who never engage with you until they want something? 😉

Also, feel free to rant and rave and spout whatever on-line, but again, that’s placing ego over experience. Thus, if we use our on-line followers as a meat-shield for all that ticks us off…we should not be shocked when patrons ‘dine’ elsewhere 😉 .

Why Social Media?

author success, how to sell more books, how to find readers, book marketing, Kristen Lamb, book promotion, social media for authors, author branding, Kristen Lamb, author business

Books used to be the strongest part of an author brand because there was no social media. Ah, but here’s where it can get sticky. Savvy authors are constantly engaging on-line and in person. Interaction with us ideally becomes a regular part of our fans’ days…which can eventually become a stronger component of our brand than the book.

Marketing and ads (alone) don’t sell books. Never have and never will. Word-of-mouth is what sells books, thus the idea of not engaging on-line is pretty much career suicide.

Readers of today discover who and what they love on-line and they’re far more likely to buy from authors they know and like. And, cumulatively, they’re spending a LOT more time with authors on-line than in the 12-15 hours required to read a novel.

Food for thought 😉 .

Even though I firmly believe the small, independent brick-and-mortar is making a MAJOR comeback, algorithms will be a critical determining factor of which books (authors) grace the shelves.

Bookstores need to SELL books to pay for overhead and make a profit. SHOCKING FACT: Bookstores will order boxes of a mediocre novel with a passionate fan base (and strong on-line sales) over a novel so glorious angels sing…only no one’s ever heard of the book (or the author).

If a book isn’t selling on-line, why would a bookstore risk shelving it? They won’t because it’s bad business.

Author Platform—A.K.A. ‘Buds’

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True, novels are powerful for a brand (which is why we need an excellent product), but times are a changing. The reader of the digital age is far more likely to factor in how they feel about the author as a person before making a purchase. This is why platforms are vital to success.

What is a platform? Buds. Buddies, peeps, followers, fans, devotees, and friends. Real ones. Yes, it takes some time, but true fans/followers/friends are GOLD and worth every minute we invest in them.

True on-line friends are positively evangelical about our blogs and books. I’d take five hundred devotees over five-hundred-thousand purchased followers who don’t give a hoot.

You Be YOU

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You be you…unless you’re a jerk. Then my advice is to fake it until you’re no longer a jerk. I had to, which I relayed in my Confessions of a Recovering Jerk. Social media forced me to learn emotional discipline, discernment, and revealed I was not a very nice person. Over time, my habits changed and with steady practice, eventually I changed.

This said, keep it simple.

The brand is simply YOU (and you’re more than a writer, FYI so talk about something other than writing, please). Social media is social, like a party. Just be present, be fun and be cool.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. Create a relationship. Talk to people. Give, listen, be interested in others. #MindBlown

Humans gravitate to authenticity…just don’t get crazy. It’s okay to have a rough day but followers a) don’t want to be regularly depressed b) dragged into needless drama and c) we aren’t stupid. We can spot manipulation and it ticks us off.

I’m cleaning up my Facebook friends. If you can see this, type in the comments how we met.

I bet no one will give this post even ONE share.

I can’t believe you would say that. You know who you are O_o. Just unfriend me.

The hell? What is this? Sixth grade?

We don’t like Vague-Booking, drama or having to jump through hoops. Authors who are that high-maintenance and we’ve not even MET in PERSON? Buh-bye.

Conversely, don’t feel the need to be super happy all the time. Followers don’t like Pod People fakes either. Folks who are constantly #blessed #blessedlife #keepingitreal #blessedandreal #reallyblessed. We see through it, which is why we are #gone #unfriending #RollingEyes #FeelingGagReflex.

Keeping It Real & Special

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Contrary to what some ‘experts’ might proclaim, it’s unnecessary to be everywhere all the time. We can’t do this and also write excellent books. Social media omnipresence is the sloping road to hell. Being everywhere all the time inevitably requires automation to remain sane and also have time to write BOOKS.

Problem is, who wants to eat spam? I don’t. Why would I shovel that garbage onto my fans? I’m not on Twitter to be blasted with ads. If I want to gorge on unwanted spam I can open my Yahoo mail.

I know some people will defend automation to the death. Fine. Opinions vary. Yet, I find the same people with five Twitter identities barking out the same messages want to take MY time and attention, but rarely give of theirs.

Hmmm, once dated that guy in college. Wasn’t fun then either.

This goes for books, too. Other ‘experts’ claim we need to publish a book a month or a novella and have a newsletter and be on every social site and blog every day and get a book blurb and contests and guest posts and run promotions….

This reminds me of an old Country & Western song: How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go AWAY?

See? SIMPLE

Books, brand and buds. Just because this is simple doesn’t mean it is easy. Writing novels readers want to pay retail for is hard work. Being on-line and engaging regularly requires discipline and robots cannot do it for us.

We can do a little a day, consistently and it all adds up.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Does this help the idea of the author as business seem more doable? For me, three BIG ideas to keep track of help keep me grounded. Trends and fads are exhausting. Great stories, fun and friends are ALWAYS popular. Publishing might change daily but humans don’t. So share those funny memes and cat videos because YES it is great for positive branding 😉 .

I love hearing from you and am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of JANUARY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

CLASSES!

Business of the Writing Business: Ready to ROAR!

Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Thursday, February 15, 2018, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Being a professional author entails much more than simply writing books. Many emerging authors believe all we need is a completed novel and an agent/readers will come.

There’s a lot more that goes into the writing business…but not nearly as much as some might want us to believe. There’s a fine balance between being educated about business and killing ourselves with so much we do everything but WRITE MORE BOOKS.

This class is to prepare you for the reality of Digital Age Publishing and help you build a foundation that can withstand major upheavals. Beyond the ‘final draft’ what then? What should we be doing while writing the novel?

We are in the Wilderness of Publishing and predators abound. Knowledge is power. We don’t get what we work for, we get what we negotiate. This is to prepare you for success, to help you understand a gamble from a grift a deal from a dud. We will discuss:

  • The Product
  • Agents/Editors
  • Types of Publishing
  • Platform and Brand
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Making Money
  • Where Writers REALLY Need to Focus

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

Self-Publishing for Professionals: Amateur Hour is OVER

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $99.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, February 16, 2018, 7:00-10:00 p.m. EST

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Are you going to go KDP Select or wide distribution with Smashwords as a distributor? Are you going to use the KDP/CreateSpace ISBN’s or purchase your own package? What BISAC codes have you chosen? What keywords are you going to use to get into your target categories? Who’s your competition, and how are you positioned against them?

Okay, hold on. Breathe. Slow down. I didn’t mean to induce a panic attack. I’m actually here to help.

Beyond just uploading a book to Amazon, there are a lot of tricks of the trade that can help us build our brand, keep our books on the algorithmic radar, and find the readers who will go the distance with us. If getting our books up on Amazon and CreateSpace is ‘Self-Publishing 101,’ then this class is the ‘Self-Publishing senior seminar’ that will help you turn your books into a business and your writing into a long-term career.

Topics include:

  • Competitive research (because publishing is about as friendly as the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones)
  • Distribution decisions (because there’s actually a choice!)
  • Copyright, ISBN’s, intellectual property, and what it actually all means for writers
  • Algorithm magic: keywords, BISAC codes, and meta descriptions made easy
  • Finding the reader (beyond trusting Amazon to deliver them)
  • Demystifying the USA Today and NYT bestselling author titles
  • How to run yourself like a business even when you hate business and can’t math (I can’t math either, so it’s cool)

Yes, this is going to be a 3-hour class because there is SO much to cover…but, like L’Oréal says, you’re worth it! Also, a recording of this class is also included with purchase.

The class includes a workbook that will guide you through everything we talk about from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution, and much, much more!

Time is MONEY, and your time is valuable so this will help you make every moment count…so you can go back to writing GREAT BOOKS.

DOUBLE-TROUBLE BUSINESS BUNDLE

BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Ah, the book business. So many shifts and changes since the day I set out to become a novelist…and ended up a social media expert, blogger, teacher and self-appointed author crusader. I’ve dedicated millions of words and countless hours of research to guide y’all through the massive changes in the publishing industry.

My goal was (and is) to do everything I could to shelter you (writers) from predators I knew would prey on your fears. Three books and thirteen hundred posts later…

It’s been an honor to serve and shepherd you guys through the largest changes in human history and in publishing. Frankly, without you guys, I might have given up ages ago. Thank you so much for being there for me! We are not alone, right?

After years of upheaval, good news is…I think we’re almost there.

*angels sing*

The Long Road Unknown

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Deep down I knew the little guys would win if we just held our ground. It’s why I’ve gone to the mattresses time after time against predation, fraud, usury, deception, and greed. Why I’ve created strategies that empowered authors in branding, social media, and platform building.

The only side I’ve ever taken has been the writers’.

I think it’s fair to say most of us (writers) have been in a perpetual state of terror (peppered with brief windows of hope) for far too long. If you’re like me, maybe your sparkle’s been dimming.

Would we really ever taste freedom? Was writing even worth it anymore? This ‘new age’ that was supposed to be so wonderful had only managed to crush our childhood dreams.

Don’t know about you, but I dreamed of book signings, launch parties, my novels on pretty displays in an actual store. I imagined a real book signing with devoted fans I’d be able to meet face-to-face. Those were the dreams that kept me going in my darkest hours when it made no sense to keep on writing.

I don’t think a single one of us fantasized about favorable algorithms, a massive mailing list with a solid open rate, or a depressing spot for ten copies of our book on a Costco bargain table. And I sure as hell never dreamed of working like an organ-grinding spider monkey for fractions of KU pennies.

None of us did.

I kept wondering how we could possibly be in a Golden Age for creatives when it FELT like an Ice Age. How was this possible? Now? I believe I know that answer.

It’s because a Publishing Cold War has been raging…and it’s all about to play out.

Clash of the Titans

Since the birth of Web 2.0, two superpowers have been gridlocked in a Publishing Cold War: Amazon vs. Traditional. There have been major upheavals, great wins, and massive casualties. Meanwhile, a lot of writers huddled under our desks doing drills. Here’s how to kiss our @$$es goodbye!

Cheer up!

It’s all on the verge of playing out and it’s an incredibly bright future for writers who can position properly (high-quality books, large vested platform, solid brand). Great news is we writers control all three of these factors ;).

Last time we discussed The Success Paradox, and we’ll continue those lessons. But I can’t help you win a game if I don’t show you the whole board. I think by the end of his post, you’ll see why I believe writers finally have MUCH to celebrate. Bear with me. I’m cramming 20 years of publishing changes into this post so you can fully appreciate the vista we never thought we’d live to see.

I know you’re going to LOVE IT!

Why Listen to Me?

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I’ve called virtually every major market shift in publishing years before said ‘shift’ happened. Among too many other predictions to mention (which came true) I forecasted the contraction of the Big Six and that Amazon would open brick-and-mortar stores on May 2, 2012.

I reiterated this Amazon prediction at the end of 2012 .

Amazon has become a name to be feared when it comes to e-commerce, but there are still limitations to selling on-line. Also, in my opinion, Amazon Publishing is the woman in the red dress who finally wants a ring. She wants to be legit, and the only way to do this is to have a physical presence in a bookstore.

 

Commenters called me crazy. But just because I was crazy didn’t mean I wasn’t also correct. Amazon opened their first brick-and-mortar in Seattle in November of 2015, three and a half years after I blogged this would happen.

*gets cramp patting self on back*

Know the Business of Our BUSINESS

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Now, do I have magical powers or some under-the-table deal with Satan that allows me to see with this kind of accuracy? Nope. My degree trained me as a political analyst then my early career in industrial paper sales taught me to think like a business analyst. I never could have imagined how this job was preparing me for a future I’d never considered.

Back in the day, I had a nine-state territory that also included Northern Mexico, which I drove…in a CAR. On top of that, I had to meet a minimum yearly sales quota of two million dollars. That is a LOT of freaking paper, by the way. A lot of driving, too. I’ve logged more miles than most truckers. Eighty thousand miles in one year.

My job required that I be able to look at the market as a whole then, using countless data points, hazard good guesses. The better my ‘guesses’ the greater my chances of making or exceeding quota. Unless I wanted to waste a lot of time and even more gas, I had to be able to predict where the best business would be that month, in six months and the following year(s).

When It ALL Goes Horribly Wrong

I’d just about hit my stride and figured out my new job when the cost of steel skyrocketed, which shot our largest customers’ operational costs through the roof (the shipping industry). Back then, these companies used our cardboard to protect and stabilize inventory, which they then secured with steel banding.

Super cheap steel banding meant these customers had always been able to purchase regular truckloads of paper. Alas, those big bread-and-butter orders vanished literally overnight.

Dutifully, I redid my forecasting to account for this…setback. I could do it. Keep…pressing….

Then the 9/11 attacks.

*taps out*

I could still forecast, but maybe too well. All my predictions ended with plant closures and me out of a job. With war imminent in the Middle East, it was only a matter of time until the price of gas skyrocketed.

Paper is heavy, meaning it burns a lot of fuel. Didn’t take a genius to see trucking our heavy @$$ product was going to plunge us deep in the red.

This all does a lot to explain the stress illnesses that effectively ended my career in sales.

Blood Lessons

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This experience taught me countless painful but priceless lessons—blood lessons—which I’ve been applying to the book business since 2004. It’s true. Sometimes there are factors we can’t control which will impact our capacity to sell, but that’s no excuse.

To be successful in business, even the book business, it’s critical to do as much as possible to limit the impact of outside forces that control or limit earning ability. I learned this in paper sales and it’s how I could see why and how Amazon eventually was going to take over.

One major reason Amazon has been kicking legacy tail for years is that legacy publishing had/has too many outside forces beyond their control that impact profit. Namely, they’re business model depends heavily on the big-box bookstores.

In the late 90s, Borders and Barnes & Noble, in an act of unrepentant greed, obliterated the small indie bookstores. This move also wiped out the author middle class. The Big Six was all for these giant stores reinventing the book business because literacy and choices and…literacy!

Sure.

Or maybe it had to do with all the 26,000 square foot stores crouched on every corner that required a crap ton of physical inventory. Megastores meant massive preorders and unprecedented control over which authors/books were positioned where. I’m not judging. It was a sweet business move for the time.

Publishing Oligarchy

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Heavy hitter household names obviously garnered premium displays/locations and the largest guaranteed preorders. Didn’t you ever wonder how some mega author’s book could be a #1 New York Times Best Seller when the actual book wasn’t even yet available to READ?

I know I did.

The megastores also made sure to carry these authors’ backlists. Essentially, authors who were already multi-millionaires made even more millions. To be clear, I love it when writers make millions, even if they’re making more millions. My main gripe has always been this ‘success’ came at the expense of those authors who were not yet household names.

And, under this big-box bookstore model, they never would be.

Hell, Tom Clancy DIED in 2013, but ‘Clancy’ is still putting out books as of November 2017.

#NotCreepyAtAll

Let Them Eat Cake

If one happened to be a mid-list author or a new author? Sucked to be you. Mid-list authors who’d been making a good living wage had to get a day job because, in the spirit of a ‘browsing experience,’ most backlists were mothballed (taken out of print).

Readers could get copies but only in secondary markets (used books) where the authors made no royalties. Since the mid-list authors’ backlists were no longer gracing shelves in the primary market (new books), these authors suddenly were struggling to make a decent living.

Also without the market saturation that goes part and parcel with having a robust backlist in circulation, there was little to no chance of ever making mega status the old fashioned way.

The Author Homecoming Court had already been chosen, and apparently even death can’t free up space.

New writers? Spine out on a shelf and pray your last name didn’t start at crotch level or lower. Tragically metaphoric.

Reap What You Sow

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In the 90s, gas was super cheap which contributed to the rise of the big-box store boom. Problem is, what happens when karma catches up?

Was it really necessary for Borders and Barnes & Noble to drive virtually every last mom and pop store and small chain out of business? The answer is NO. No it was not.

Remember, I mentioned paper is heavy? #Irony

Apparently folks in charge forgot Business 101. Markets are not static and operational costs can change in the blink of an eye. Physical books have to be shipped to physical stores. Gas prices go up? Profits plunge.

Then there was this thing board members of Borders and Barnes & Noble probably should’ve paid better attention to in the late 90s: the imminent rise of a user-friendly Internet and the very real threat of viable e-commerce.

While the bookstore moguls might have dismissed these ideas as science fiction Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Bill Gates took it all very seriously.

*has mental image of these guys coming together like those robot lions that form Voltron*

Anyway…

Borders’ death wasn’t a shock to me. It’s hard for me to be anything but frustrated watching Barnes & Noble continue to bleed out. Oh, and trust me, they are. I ran the numbers and from 2008 to 2017 B&N was forced to close an average of 21 stores a year. In 2008, they had 798 stores and as of September 2017 B&N was down to 634 stores, according to Forbes.

The latest CEO in a string of failures has come up at least one answer to what ails them. Barnes & Noble needs…smaller stores.

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Also, the newest plan to save the Barnes & Noble bookstore is to sell mostly everything BUT books (vinyl records, toys, gifts, etc.).

*silently screams*

The Publishing Cold War

Earlier I mentioned one tenet of business success: Do as much as possible to limit the impact of outside forces that control or limit earning ability.

Amazon did this. By mastering e-commerce, they controlled overhead, were highly maneuverable, and outside forces had limited and manageable influence over them. Borders and Barnes & Noble failed to do this, as mentioned earlier.

Another tenet of business success is to never take on your competition in the area where they hold major advantage. 

Amazon also understood this, which is why they waited until 2015 to open their first brick-and-mortar store. Barnes & Noble, however, decided to duke it out with one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies in the very arena Amazon built.

Amazon, legacy publishing, changes in publishing, demise of Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Kristen Lamb, publishing, the book business, Publishing Cold War

Barnes & Noble forgot it was in the book business, and not a tech company. They launched the Nook which has been nothing but a black hole sucking in millions and tanking stocks…a financial hemorrhage that’s been a major factor driving so many store closures.

Barnes & Noble got target fixation and bought Amazon’s feint…hook, line and sinker. Amazon had them (and a lot of other people) wholly convinced most consumers preferred to shop on-line.

Not necessarily…

Consumers are People

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People. Not numbers or data points. Readers are flesh and blood humans. Humans like to browse, touch, hold, feel, etc. We are social and tactile by nature. I knew that, which is why I wagered Amazon had a very different game plan than most folks believed.

All of this is purely conjecture, but I think I make a solid case.

Amazon convincing B&N they had no choice BUT to compete on-line reminds me of Reagan convincing the USSR that America could nuke them from space.

The more money B&N shoveled into e-commerce, the more their physical store presence shrank to cover losses. All of this played right into the Amazon’s long game. From what I can see, I believe Amazon’s objective was to force the competition to cannibalize itself…and vacate the precise market they WANTED.

Brick-and-mortar.

Once the big-boxes were down to a certain number, then Amazon would open their own small bookstores. A lot of them. And they wouldn’t have to cater to the Big Five’s demands or worry about any big-box competition.

***Oh, and they used the time bludgeoning megastores to perfect algorithms to prepare for smart-stocking their future stores.

Humans Never Change

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Why Hubby and I are no longer allowed back at Home Depot….

What Barnes & Noble never realized is that humans generally prefer what’s easiest. If there aren’t any bookstores close to us, then we’ll shop on-line. Again, in 2012, I wrote a post I’d hoped B&N would read and heed, regarding small being the new big.

I pointed out that consumers wanted bookstores that were convenient. We wanted physical bookstores, but we weren’t willing to drive to the next fricking city for a ‘browsing experience.’

Especially since these big guys haven’t been an experience since about 2001. They were Applebee’s…but with books and no french fries. Same look, same books *yawns*. Displays weren’t curated by passionate and autonomous sales clerks. Every inch of real estate was pre-negotiated and mapped out.

Anyway, I’d say Amazon counted on Barnes & Noble’s hubris. The best way B&N could have kicked @$$ years ago was to open up small bookstores in strip malls…just like the ones they’d obliterated.

But, alas, pride comes before the fall.

In the October 21, 2016 article in The New Yorker, What Barnes & Noble Doesn’t Get About Bookstores, Leonard Riggio, the man who bought Barnes & Noble forty-five years ago and turned it into a giant finally conceded this mistake:

The No. 1 consideration of where someone will shop is how close it is to where they are. It has nothing to do with pedigree or branding. If there’s no bookstore close to them, they’re more likely to buy online. If there’s one close, they’re more likely to buy if it’s a block away.

 

Amazon & The Long Game

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Why would I bother trying to help Barnes & Noble time and again despite how they’ve hurt writers? Again, let’s hop in our blog DeLorean and visit—you got it—2012. Something about that year. Mayans maybe? *shakes head*

I wrote a post called Amazon: Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts. Feel free to go read the post in its entirety, but to save you clicking over, I’ve copied the salient parts from a post that is SIX years old.

I really hope New York gets its act together, because, once the competition falls away and Amazon burns New York to the ground? What happens to the writer? What happens when we fall asleep and it is safe for Amazon’s Trojan Horse to unleash the gorilla?

Amazon right now is in the courting phase with writers, and it is using us (writers) as a weapon to kill our former masters. Ah, but if Amazon really gets its way…what then?

When NY is razed and Amazon has no real competition, do they have to keep giving us the same sweet royalty rate? What happens when it’s Amazon’s turn to hold all the keys to the kingdom? Will they use them any differently than those they crushed to gain them?

Still a good question, which is why that platform is so vital. If Amazon goes cray-cray, we have the power to walk away. Yet, for the record, I support legacy publishers and I’m cool with Amazon. I love great books and don’t care how they’re published or by whom. I buy a lot of books from both of them.

It’s monopolies that give me hives.

Back to Book Business

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While the masses screamed Amazon was killing the bookstore, I was betting differently. Frankly Amazon couldn’t kill something that was pretty much already dead.

Borders and B&N had already decimated indie bookstores and small chains. Amazon wasn’t out to kill bookstores, it was out to kill the big-box bookstores…then replace them.

Why writers need to pay attention to this new shift is that Amazon is about to be top dog in e-commerce as well as brick-and-mortar. This means that platform/branding thing becomes a whole lot more important. So does the writing really amazing books 😉 . But, if Amazon is not your beer, I have wonderful news!

You’ve Got Mail (Alternate Ending)

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Who would have guessed the end of You’ve Got Mail wasn’t the end of The Shop Around the Corner?

Nature abhors a vacuum and while Amazon was doing it’s big power play, little guys slipped in and did what entrepreneurs do best. They got creative. Independent bookstores are exploding in popularity and readers are thrilled to have their local bookstores back…only way better.

The Indie Bookstore 2.0 is a very different creature. Some have wine bars, cocktail hours, flower shops, cafes or even microbreweries. The imagination knows no bounds. There are culinary bookstores dedicated to cookbooks that hold cooking classes and have fully stocked kitchens so customers can try out merchandise.

Some stores are architectural works of art, their owners passionately vested in creating spaces humans want to gather and hang out. Hubs for communities to come together and klatsche.

We agree, Kathleen. Whatever anything is, it ought to begin by being personal and enterprising new indie bookstores concur.

Now these entrepreneurs have actually enhanced the bookstore experience. Check out Novel in Memphis, Tennessee, BookBar in Denver, Colorado, and Read It & Eat in Chicago, Illinois.

Shoppers have wanted bookstores all along (and we’d long ago lost our fascination with cheap). Heck, Amazon has a bazillion crappy books we could download free. No, these next-generation indie stores handcraft their selections. Salespeople are well-read experts who love books, who are empowered regarding book placement. In many of these stores, premium spots are non-negotiable and not for sale.

The books readers want and salespeople love grace the best spots. Don’t know about you, but I’m giddy. It’s like the Chess Club finally has a real shot at the Homecoming Court, LOL.

Raise Your Glass!

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Readers and writers win! This new generation indie bookstore is not chained to the Big Five or beholden to Amazon, though very friendly to both. These bookstores don’t care about pedigree, they care about what books readers want to read. The give no figs if authors are published via legacy, traditional, small press, indie or self-pub. Their sole loyalty is to their customers (readers) and to the authors their customers love.

Kind of like the good old days only now we have nibblies, and wine 😀 .

I LOVE Hearing From YOU

What are your thoughts about the changes ahead in the book business? Me? I’m almost giddy! Imagine all the creative types of independent bookstores. Bookstores with only fitness and nutrition, healthy living and wellness books that hold yoga classes and bootcamps in the parking lot. Science fiction and fantasy bookstores that carry gaming and D&D supplies, Cosplay costume classes, or demonstrations on sword fighting. Mystery bookstores that include a Mind Maze experience, too?

Now THIS is a bookstore future I can get fired up about! Vindication! Good books win! A social media platform that is social and focused on people and relationships matters! (Told you guys to ignore all that newsletter algorithmic alchemy crap). This is fantastic news. Unlike the B. Dalton days, we can cultivate passionate fans willing to pay retail ahead of time instead of relying on BLIND LUCK. *does cabbage patch dance*

I love hearing from you and am not above bribery!

What do you WIN? For the month of JANUARY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES!

Master Class: How to Write a Series

Taught by Kristen Lamb AND Cait Reynolds…together…in same room. It’ll be fun! Class is NEXT FRIDAY January 19th, 7-10 PM EST in our W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom. $75 for a three hour class of intensive education and lots of shenanigans.

A free recording is included with class purchase…though we reserve the right to edit out anything that can and will be used against us in a court of law.

Your Life as a Story: How to Write a Memoir

Friday, January 26th 7-9 PM EST in the W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds. Class is $65 and a free recording is provided with purchase.

 

Happy Friday! It’s Cait Reynolds, sitting in for Kristen – who is off GALLIVANTING in New Zealand. We’re not jealous. Or bitter. At. All. Anyway, while the cat’s away, other cats will come in and mark their territory.

Today, I am super excited to bring you Kim Alexander, fantasy writer extraordinaire. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a picky b*tch when it comes to fiction, and there are very few authors that I would go back to the well for, especially when it comes to series. Kim is one of them. Consider this a ‘ground-floor tip’ from me. She’s one to watch.

Kim Alexander and Cait Reynolds at Book Expo America 2017 in New York City. (Also, innocent until proven guilty.)

Encomiums aside, Kim is a master world-builder for fantasy. Today, she is going to talk about something very cool: books within books. This concept is interesting from two perspectives.

The first is the purely commercial aspect of it, (I’m looking at J.K. Rowling and sighing wistfully at the thought of her bank account). Books within books give us a chance to expand a series not just with a ‘back list,’ but with a ‘side list’ of related books.

The second aspect is how it brings the reader deeper into the culture and characters. We read, and we read about characters reading. But to read what they read and understand the impact of that reading…well, that’s a pretty awesome immersion technique. (Bonus points if you unraveled my sentences.)

Before we get to Kim, I need to share a quick programming note: Monday’s blog is going to be the announcement of our September 2017 class schedule. We have new instructors, new classes, and so much more planned!

Now, without further ado…Kim Alexander!

* * *

Traffic, Bilbo Baggins, and espresso (lots of it).

First of all, I have to thank your regularly scheduled squatter Cait who SWORE to me it was okay with Kristen that I take over her page today. Cait, you did tell her, right? RIGHT?

So…hello, friend. I’m Kim Alexander, and I live in DC and write epic fantasy. I used to co-run Sirius XM Book Radio, so I got to interview literally hundreds of authors. When my channel got cancelled, I took everything I learned over those past 5 years and started writing my own books. (I also was an old fashioned radio DJ as a dewy youth, so if you were in South Florida or the Keys you may have heard me kick off another seven song set with Aerosmith coming up after the break. After that I was a traffic reporter for approximately seven thousand years; yes, there was a backup on the beltway; yes, I went up in a helicopter a few times; yes, it was both hard and boring.)

These days, like the rest of us, I mostly start my day in a cold sweat, have a good shower-cry, drink a triple espresso, and do my best to get some work done.

It’s kind of hard to do that last part. Especially when we’re going through a tough time.

I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only one who sometimes needs it all to just stop, just for a few minutes. And there’s no place better to escape than taking solace inside of books.

You know who else is working through some tough times? Almost everyone you’ll meet in those pages. I mean, they wouldn’t be there if things were super, going really well, thanks! If Bilbo just hung around the Shire smoking weed and having parties – no, that’s a bad example, I’d still read that. Okay, if Paul never left Caladan and grew up as a minor noble who never even heard of sandworms, that wouldn’t be much of a story.

So, things go wrong, and then they get wronger. Those stressed, heartsick, lonely, frightened characters – like us – sometimes get away by turning to their favorite imaginary books.

Great books that came from books (and some that didn’t).

I love books within books almost as much as I love footnotes.

Since I’m a weirdo, Lovecraft’s Necronomicon springs to mind as one of my favorites, although I don’t think anyone cracks it open with a cup of tea to relax. I could be wrong – I don’t know your life/allegiance to the Elder Gods.

Harry Potter has dozens of them, of course. Strategically releasing these books not only fed the feeding frenzy of all things Potter, it tided fans over until the release of The Cursed Child and the start of a new movie franchise.

Dune not only has pages of them, but references them liberally throughout the text. I’ve always wanted that thumb sized copy of the Orange Catholic Bible to go along with the ‘I will face my fear’ tattoo I’m going to get one day. Yes, I am way into Dune.

Fictional books have always appealed to me, as much, almost as books of fiction. They are the mystery that can never be solved, they impact our heroes (and villains) without ever showing their faces. It’s up to the author whether or not they want to expose their books-within-books to the light of day. They can be a joke, or a key, or commentary on the action. They add another layer.

They have great power.

I wanted one for myself, or rather, my books.

Not writing a book-within-a-book…then writing it.

In my epic fantasy novel The Sand Prince, my hero, the misfit demon prince Rhuun, finds just such a book – a marvelous story of the adventures of a human man and his friends and enemies on the other side of The Door, the mystical portal separating his own world of Eriis from the human lands of Mistra. The humans are a great mystery to the demons of Eriis, as The Door has been locked in the wake of a disastrous war a generation past. Rhuun is something of a mystery as well, even to himself. He sees something in the human book that resonates with him, and he sees a strange echo of himself in the painting of the human man and woman on the cover of his book. He thinks it’s a documentary, a blueprint to a way of behaving in a world he’s desperate to visit.

He’s mistaken.

Originally, the idea that a lurid, over-the-top, bodice-ripping romance novel would serve as my hero’s guide to the human world was a sort of joke. But then, as things tend to do with us writers, the joke got out of hand and took on a life of its own. I began to seriously consider it.

What if, I asked myself, the only thing Rhuun knows about the human world is what he read in this little book, without context? When he meets Lelet, our relatively modern human heroine, how will she react when he calls her a ‘wench?’ (Pretty much as you’d expect.)

To create my book within a book, I first wrote the epigrams appearing at the beginning of each chapter set in Mistra and taken from the imaginary novel, The Claiming of the Duke. I wanted them to reflect the action in the chapter, and I made the prose of each one more purple than the next.

Then, after The Sand Prince was published, I decided to try and write the whole book.

Since I had one character die twice, several murders, many heaving, creamy, alabaster bosoms, and some fairly ridiculous dialogue, I had a lot of work to do retro-fitting an actual plot with real characters into the twelve or so pages of text I’d already written. It was plotting something that hadn’t even really been pantsed.

I kept almost all (not quite all) of the original epigrams from The Sand Prince. I invented a mysterious dead wife for my Duke, and figured out how to kill off that pesky character who meets his maker twice. I have to confess, I sort of became quite fond of the Duke – to my own surprise – since he’s sort of an alpha-jerk. Only sort of, because even he has hidden and honestly kind of kinky depths.

In fact the most fun I had was sprinkling references to both The Sand Prince and its sequel The Heron Prince into The Claiming of the Duke. We find out why Rhuun picks ‘Moth’ as his name in the human world. If you’ve read those books, you’ll easily find your way through the darkened hallways of the once-great crumbling estate of Gardenhour. If not, welcome to Mistra and I hope you enjoy your introduction to my world within a world inside this book.

Oh! Nearly forgot to mention my inspirations and guiding spirits. Allow me to make your life a better place by introducing you to Leeloo and Onion.

Leeloo, pictured right, is A Lady. Onion, left, is Cattus Gooberus. We like to keep them folded away for neat and easy storage.

Here they are staring in obvious terror at something just above my head. Or an invisible bug. Or air.

So, the cats and I will see you in next month’s classes, and we’ll talk a little more about the ways you can make your fictional fantasy world come to life.

About Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander lives in Washington DC where she writes epic fantasy and paranormal romance.  These days she divides her time between writing, rooftop gardening, and waiting on her cats. ?

Her earlier incarnation co-producing Sirius XM Book Radio gave her a look inside the heads of hundreds of best selling authors, and she’s ready to pass on what she learned.

Kim Alexander Online

 

 

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For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

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OhmygoshitisWednesdayandthatmeansitistimeforMEEEEE!!!!! In other words, it’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, I’m going to talk about the fact that there is nothing new under the sun.

And, by that, I mean that every variation of story has been told before. Every culture from every time period has its version of Cinderella, its Aladdin or Jack, its greedy kings and tricky old witches. No matter how many magical mice, talking mirrors, or transportation-challenged pumpkins dress up the tale, every story has at its heart the most basic, most fundamental truths about the human condition and human relationships.

Denny Basenji doing his imitation of a wise crone. His cryptic advice to the hero/heroine: “Only peanut butter can help you now.”

Myths and fairytales appeal to our innocence, our belief in justice, and our sense of history. The fact that most of them have happy endings doesn’t hurt, either. The past two years have seen a kind of renaissance in retellings and modern interpretations of these classic stories. A handful have been very well done. The rest have been inconsistent efforts that show very little thought and research has been put into understanding the nature of both mythology and fairytales and how to translate them into contemporary settings.

Celebrity Death Match: Myths vs. Fairytales

So, is there a difference between the two?

Absolutely, and it goes beyond their definitions. But, let’s start with definitions for the sake of clarity.

From merriam-webster.com:

Fairytale:

  • a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (such as fairies, wizards, and goblins)
  • a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending

Myth

  • a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
  • parable, allegory
  • a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone

Here are some other differences between fairytales and myths:

  • Myths are not obligated to have a happy ending;
  • Fairytales do not have to have a moral or philosophical agenda;
  • Myths are often closely tied to world creation stories, religion, and attempts to explain natural phenomenon prior to scientific understanding;
  • It is understood that fairytales have never been believed to be real, whereas myths were frequently accepted as fact.

There are more differences and finer distinctions, but I’ll just add in one more. You can always tell it’s a real fairytale because people/animals/magical creatures are cheerful and sing when doing housework.

Research is a Myth…or is it a Fairytale?

Okay, so say we have this great idea retelling ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ We’ve seen the Disney movies, and we are happily humming ‘Be our Guest’ as we open the blank Word document. We know the story cold, and we may or may not have a picture of Luke Evans as Gaston tucked away on Pinterest.

We are ready to start writing. Except, we aren’t.

If all we are doing is using the movie as our guide, we have missed out on the fact that the historical fairytale has variations that include a father who was a merchant, a sudden loss of fortune, two wicked sisters, and a pretty sharp lesson about the costs of indecision and not keeping your word. If we haven’t done any research, we wouldn’t know that the the fairytale actually has origins (at least in Western culture) in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, or that another lesser-known fairytale – ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ – spun out from that myth.

It may seem silly to do research on something that is fundamentally untrue and is by nature fluid and adaptable to time period and culture. Yet, without knowing about the people who wrote the stories, the system of beliefs that the myths came from, and the history of the time when a particular variation was recorded, we are losing out on a chance to delve into subtleties, textures, interpretations, and details that take a retelling from blasé to blazing.

One of the topics I cover in my Once Upon a Plot class is how to go about researching a myth or fairytale, what to pursue, what to set aside, and how to analyze the story in a more complex, contextual way.

World-Building for ‘Then’ and ‘Now’

When we do a retelling, one of the first things we have to decide is the setting. Will it be contemporary? Will it be historical? Will it be futuristic, steampunk, or some medieval-ish time?

This impacts what characters we decide to use, the deeper intricacies and devices of the plot, and the way we represent significant objects from the myth or fairytale (is that a pumpkin or a Porsche?). This is also, sadly, where most writers tend to take short-cuts. They use the generic ‘faux-medieval’ setting that is a haphazard mishmash of culture, technology, and clothing, or they set the tale in today’s world, not really thinking through the implications for characters, decisions, and objects.

A lot of writers use the ‘timeless’ setting in order to avoid doing historical research or any real world-building. Ideas for behavior, costumes, servants, food, castles come from whatever historical drama is on at the time (I’m looking at you, ‘Reign,’ ‘The Tudors,’ ‘The White Queen,’ and ‘The Borgias’). While those medieval-renaissance-ish shows do provide a lot of striking visuals and demonstrate how to make archaic-sounding dialogue accessible to modern listeners/readers, they are NOT to be used for world-building. Ever.

Even for fairytales and myths.

As writers, we are responsible for creating our own worlds, and it is our obligation to the reader to provide a setting that is detailed, well thought-out, and consistent.

Here are just a few of the questions writers should ask when picking a ‘timeless’ setting:

  • What is the level of technology, industry, medicine, and transportation?
  • What is the political structure of the ‘kingdom’?
  • What kind of social mobility or stratification exists within the ‘kingdom’?
  • What is the kingdom’s primary religion? Are there secondary religions? Competing or conflicting faiths? Holidays and celebrations?
  • What is the geography, geology, and climate?
  • What is the overall cultural feel (i.e. generic British, generic Scandinavian, generic Central European, generic Mediterranean?)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for a timeless setting. If we choose a contemporary setting, that brings a whole other set of issues into consideration, including normalizing any magical abilities within a greater social context, secrets vs. open practices, modern equivalents of historical objects or accessories, and how to maintain a character’s original attitude, purpose, and decisions while grounding him or her realistically in the here-and-now.

Bibbity Bobbity BOOYAH

You guessed it. I’m teaching a class on this very topic. All the details below!

Once Upon a Plot: Retelling Myths & Fairytales

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: WEDNESDAY, August 9, 2017, 7:00 p.m. EST – 9:00 p.m. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings. Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible.

Done wrong? A retelling is nothing more than a yawn-worthy yarn full of two-dimensional characters floundering through an unremarkable story with a bland, generic setting.

This class will cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • How to research a myth or fairytale, from origins to variations;
  • How to analyze in order to develop a deeper, richer understanding of the stories;
  • How to pick out the key elements, from characters and attitudes, to objects and settings;
  • Creating contemporary settings for retellings that are accurate, believable, and flexible enough to accommodate ‘magic’;
  • Creating ‘timeless’ settings that are unique, consistent, and immersive.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

GOLD PACKAGE

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story.

PLATINUM PACKAGE

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

REGISTER NOW!

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. 

 

 

****And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! So scroll down and sign up!

For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA Today Best Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

 

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World August 11th $45 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Baby It’s Hot in Here—Writing Erotica & High Heat Sex Scenes August 4th $45 General/ $90 GOLD/$150 Platinum

Classes with MOI!

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Elements of Literary—How to Write Character-Driven Stories August 3rd $40

Beyond Planet X, Monsters & Chainsaws–Mastering Speculative Fiction August 10th $35

Classes with Award-Winning Author Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

Method Acting for Writers—How to Write Deep POV August 1st $85 (two-week intensive class & lifetime access)

Beyond Lipstick & Swords—Writing Strong Female Characters September 9th $40