Write to Market

I belong to a wonderfully supportive writer’s group where, over the years, we have struck a balance between supporting each other and offering constructive criticism to help each other improve our craft and our manuscripts. It is a multi-genre group, primarily fiction, but with poets and non-fiction.

phd091411s.gif

This week, John Putnam, one of our most successful authors, who has written several historical Western novels about the Gold Rush, explained how having taken our prior comments into account, is keeping a specific action scene. He had given it some thought and decided that it aligns with his target audience. None of us generally read Western novels and I admire how he has stuck to his guns (probably Colt 45’s or a trusty Winchester!) and, while considering our advice, has stayed focused on what his readers want and expect.

At the same meeting, a wonderful colleague mentioned how she thought some of my female characters in Kingfisher: Slave to Honor were too dark for her taste. It is a fair point and I am wondering about balancing her feedback with the fact that this manuscript is meant for a Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy audience (think Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, George R.R. Martin). 

The concept of Write-to-Market is to know who your target audience – your readers – are and what they expect. Your mother might not like it even though she still claims you’re the greatest author ever, but then she does not buy other novels in your genre.

I listen to many podcasts, read marketing books and articles, hopefully by successful authors as I try to fathom my way through the ever-changing tools available to market the Wycaan Master series. A commonality among these authors is the need to write for those who read your books. It sounds simple, but I’ve lost count of writers who have assured me that everyone would love their novel – and I ran a writer’s marketing group for years for the California Writers Club and spoken to various forums on the topic.

It is incumbent to understand who are reading your genre, where they hang out, and what they want. How do we find that out? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Goodreads – the Facebook of bibliophiles has groups dedicated to genres. Hang out there and don’t just sell your books, ask good questions to mine for data you really want.
  2. Follow Successful Authors – choose 3-5 authors who are several rungs ahead of you and follow them. Check out their website, subscribe to their newsletters, follow them on twitter and, read their books (buy them – they rely on royalties just like you).
  3. Kindle Boards – I feel a bit hypocritical here because I only go there when I want an answer to something. But I am always so impressed by the enthusiasm and honesty of those who hang out there.
  4. Survey – solicit your contact list for advice. I did this years ago when The First Decree was published and learned a lot about who was reading my novel and how popular the Young Adult epic fantasy is with adults.

Trilogy - 1 

I hope this blog post has inspired you to focus on your target audience and take the time to research before you invest time and money in certain marketing tactics. It has helped me. I am planning a survey of Grimdark / adult Medieval Fantasy readers. If you’re a member of the tribe, I hope you’ll participate.

Good Writing,

Alon / elfwriter 

—————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books.

More on the author can be found at his website and you can sign up for his quarterly eNewsletter here.

Advertisements

Rise of the Short Novel

I am a fast writer. I can have a 100k manuscript written in 100 days, but it is, to quote Anne Lamott, ‘a shitty first draft’. I then go through a three-month editing process before seeing to my editor. She then takes two months process with a professional editor, another month or two of rewrites based on her feedback, a final round with the editor, and then a beta reader or two.

A high quality novel takes time. It takes a huge amount of effort and creativity. The process needs to be respected.

The novel now shares the shelf with the novella, the short story and flash fiction. Numerous writers have explained to me the lure and skill in writing any of these shorter forms. There is a need for succinctness in descriptions, plot, and the need to hook the reader immediately. I get it. Not my cup of tea, but I understand that there are other aspects to the craft that appeal to people.

images-7

But there is also the Churn Mill. It is becoming common to meet writers who proudly announce they are writing a novel a month…or week, and that this is an integral part of their business model. The plan is basically to have a long backlist of books: 20, 50, 100… and hope to hook a reader to one book that will infuse them with desire to buy the other 99.

My issue is not with them having a business plan. There is no shame in writing for money. But I am uncomfortable with the way they are treating their readers. It should never be all about the numbers, not if we are considering ourselves artists, and not if ever want to betray our readers.

I wrote about how Terry Brooks appreciates his audience. I saw this week, after Daniel Arenson posted some news on his Facebook page, how he took the trouble to answer his readers’ questions and to thank them. These are authors who, I am sure, know they must bind their readers to them for business reasons, but who genuinely enjoy engaging with the people who invest money and time in their books.

terrybrooks

Terry Brooks

My readers know I love writing full-length novels. The first draft can be up to 120,000 words long and after my editor has worked her magic, the word count hovers just under the 100,00 word mark.

A novel allows the reader to travel to another world, to get to know characters intimately, see how they develop, and build a friendship with them. It allows the reader to escape and live for a while in a fantasy world.

There is something rich and emotionally investing in reading a full-length novel and a series. I can define periods of my life as I traveled through Shannara, Alagaesia, and Middle Earth. They are milestones that illuminate certain times.

I will forever be grateful to Christopher Paolini who wrote his Eragon books at the perfect time for me to share with my sons, a bond we will always have, and that laid the foundation for their companionship through the Wycaan Master series. Whenever we are on the road together and see a beautiful vista, one of us murmurs Alagaesia, and we all nod.

Summer 2015 Reading Book 6

Reading Book 6 in the summer of 2015. End of an era.

Enough said.

Finally, thank you to everyone who participated in the April sale. I appreciate your support and hope you will enjoy the entire series. Please: take a few minutes and leave reviews for the books you read on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are critical for the author and I thank you in advance for helping.

Have a good week, everyone.

Alon

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

 

 

Putting the THANKS in Thanksgiving

Last week Amazon held a KDP 3-Day Promotion of At The Walls Of Galbrieth. I put a lot of work into this and hoped you enjoyed the blog posts, the tweets, and the messages .  I received a lot of requests to share results, especially from the amazing friends, many of whom I have never met, but who sent out emails, retweets, +1’s (Google+), and spread the word on Facebook.

I wish to thank over 4,300 people who downloaded At The Walls Of Galbrieth – surely it couldn’t all have been my mother? My author rank broke into the top 10,000 and, for a short while, I held the top rank in three fantasy categories.

photo (17)

If you have enjoyed the read, please check out The First Decree and Ashbar. Also take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon. I am learning how important it is to have many reviews ands how it impacts Amazon’s decision who to promote.

While this has been a virtual effort, we will celebrate a year when the second and third books came out and the first won a national award. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, please join me at the super-cool Games of Berkeley on December 15 – details here.

Have a great Thanksgiving,

Alon

==========================================================

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

T is one tough 7th Grader – Tim O’Mara

Elfwriter’s Introduction:

Tim O’Mara is a hero. He is a public school teacher and a man (rare to have male role models in our schools). Like most of these dedicated, hard-working, under-rewarded, and under-recognized teachers, he cares about his students. I am very inspired by him and very grateful as a father and a citizen to all public school teachers.

But Tim is not just an  NYC public middle-school teacher. He is an author. He wrote an adult mystery series about a public schoolteacher who used to be a cop. O’Mara never was a cop, but his brother is. Raymond Donne Book 1, Sacrifice Fly (2012 Minotaur Books), was nominated by Deadly Pleasures Magazine for the 2013 Best First Novel Barry Award.

O’Mara teaches math and special education in a tony area of Manhattan now, but started his career in 1987 in a disadvantaged section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the setting for the series. The dichotomy of these two worlds is highlighted in Raymond Donne Book 2, Crooked Numbers, released this past week. More at www.timomara.net and on Facebook (TimOMaraAuthor) and Twitter (@TimOMaraAuthor).

Support a teacher – and read a good mystery book.

mail.google

Tim’s Post:

You know the type: hard to reach, easy to annoy, always knows more than the teacher. In this case, me. The kid’s got a wall around him that would make the Chinese envious. But on those rare occasions when he lets me glimpse over that wall, the view is astounding. He can be funny, insightful and a joy to teach.

He mentioned to me last week that he knew I’d written a book, Crooked Numbers. I had given a copy to a friend of his—another of my tougher students—to celebrate a successful session at camp and the birth of his foster mom’s first child. That was pretty much all T said. He knew I wrote a book.

For most of last year, there was a bit of a buzz around school that Mr. O’Mara had published a book and that it was in bookstores and it was even available online and their parents had bought it and liked it. Some kids actually brought copies to school to have me sign, and even though I wrote it with an adult audience in mind, it seemed to strike a chord with many of my middle school students.

If T was impressed, he kept it to himself.

Just last week, T stepped into it again. He earned himself a one-day suspension for creative use of a belt and ended up spending the day in the principal’s office. Shortly after school ended that day, my boss came to me in the Teacher Center. It turns out that during a conversation with the principal, it came out that T was somewhat impressed with my accomplishment and he was even thinking about going to the reading and signing event for my second book this week.

“Maybe you can work with that,” my boss suggested.

Maybe.

The next day, I brought in a personally inscribed copy of the book. I referenced a conversation I had had with him the day of his suspension:

To T,

This story has a lot to do with the choices people make—including the author.

I gave him the book immediately after a particularly positive period with him of one-on-one guidance through a quiz on integers. (Yes, pun intended.) He looked at the inscription and nodded. He didn’t say anything. I said, “You’re welcome,” and went off to do lunch duty.

When I go back to school tomorrow, it will be the first encounter with T since I gave him the book. My fantasy is that he stayed up all weekend reading the book, relating to the characters, and realizing the error of his ways. The reality is the gift of a book—my book—will more than likely not change much of anything. It has taken T thirteen years to build that wall and one present from a teacher is not going to tear it down.

What I’m hoping for is just one little crack.

mail.google-1

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

10 Takeaways From George RR Martin

Isabel Berwick had lunch with Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, and wrote this great article for the Financial Times. This post is not meant to replace it, but here are a few takeaways that stood out to me, for those of us who love and write epic fantasy. Please do read her article. It is very interesting, but be warned – it will make you hungry!

George RR Martin

1) During their lunch,  George RR Martin sees a map in Ms. Berwick’s “giant slab of breaded chicken.” He points to different parts and explains: “There are various little inlets where cities could be.”

I have seen elves in coffee shops and magical tunnels in my local park. These magical worlds are not hidden from us, they are right in front of our eyes.

2) Having famous fans of your works helps. Apparently, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg held a Game of Thrones-themed barbecue which made the news.

3) Martin didn’t have much as a child as his family struggled to keep financially afloat, but the seeds were sown – he was “the kid with his nose in a book.” Stephen King speaks of the need to be constantly reading – in your genre and outside.

 4) There are explicit sexual scenes in Game of Thrones (though I don’t remember much from the book apart from one scene – I have only read the first so far). This caught my attention because I use sex in my social-justice themed novels. Both A Gardener’s Tale and The Accidental Activist has vivid sex scenes. I believe these can reveal so much about a character, but I suspect HBO saw the fact that people like sex on their screens was reason enough.

5) It is okay to fail with a few books. Martin expected his breakthrough would come with his fourth book, Armageddon Rag, about a rock band. He concedes that: “it was the worst-selling of all my novels and essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.” The most important lesson from this is DON’T GIVE UP!

6). When asked about his world-building, Martin, despite his success, is quick to give credit to J.R.R. Tolkien: “There were thousands of years of fantasy before Tolkien but the way it is shaped as a modern commercial publishing genre and the fantasy books that have been written in the past half century have all been influenced by Tolkien. So it still sort of defines the playing field.”

Martin has shown us that Tolkien’s legacy continues. People want to immerse into a rich world and are ready to read deep and vivid descriptions. 

7) Leave your own mark. Martin feels that his strong women, just as politically contriving and sexually adept, send a strong message that the female character needs to be as strong and vivid as the males.

I also think the way he perceives a hero is unique. John Smith and Tyrion Lannister are as close as I got to a hero (Edard Stark cuts a more typical Man For All Seasons-type hero). But they are clearly flawed and tainted enough to only just stand out from the rest. I admire this aspect of Martin – I am not aware who else succeeds in doing this.

8) Martin believes that maps are very important. I have talked about them in this blog before, but he confirms the necessity. It was important enough, he notes, to be at the beginning of each HBO episode. 

 9) The reader is willing to cope with many characters. This means the writer needs to stay extremely organized. Martin has over 1,000 characters in his series and his plots are both complex and spread over years. 

There are many ways to keep track of plots and characters. I think methodology is a very individual choice and will touch on this in a later blog. What is certain is that the passionate reader will remember what happened several years ago and not forgive you the error.

10) Martin, the successful author is traveling around the world.  I am sure it is very interesting and gratifying, but you can tell a writer when he says: “These trips are fun but they do interfere with my writing.”

Write. Write. Write. This is a busy period for me at the work which puts the food on the table. Anticipating this, I am mainly editing and blogging. The next book will wait for a quieter part of the year. But man, am I cranky!  

Finally, I just loved this quote. It requires no comment.

“When I am writing best, I really am lost in my world. I lose track of the outside world. I have a difficult time balancing between my real world and the artificial world. When the writing is going really well, whole days and weeks go by and I suddenly realise I have all these unpaid bills and, my God, I haven’t unpacked, and the suitcase has been sitting there for three weeks.” 

If you’ve been there you know it. If you haven’t, I hope you soon discover it. Terry Brooks says that this is when the magic happens. Here’s to those magical moments: and many more books from the world of Westoros.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written three epic fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Who is Reading Epic Fantasy?

I’m reading a series of books about marketing my novels. They each prioritize a central marketing principle: Know Your Target Audience.

I realize, being relatively new to the epic fantasy scene that I don’t know who these people are. I have never frequented conventions or even chat groups online. When I go to social occasions, I often ask people what are you reading right now, because sports and politics can only go so far – and real men don’t discuss work or family (as a new immigrant to the US that’s what I was told).

But when I ask the question, people rarely say epic fantasy. During the days of Harry Potter, the Inheritance series, and now The Hunger Games, a man could come out of the library closet because his children were reading them and he was showing himself to be an in-touch father.

So here is my request. If you read epic fantasy, please answer as many of the following questions as you have patience for.

1. How old are you?

2. Are you male or female?

3. Where do you live?

4. Did you finish High School / Bachelors Degree / Masters Degree?

5. What is your profession?

6. Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, read and comment on blogs?

7. What do you look for in an epic fantasy book?

8. Do you read books on an eReader or as a hardcover/paperback? (if both, please assign a ratio).

9. How many books do you read a month?

10. Who is your favorite epic fantasy author? Why?

One last favor if I may. Please pass this on to friends and family who you think might read epic fantasy and ask them to mention your name as referral. I would like to offer the first 20 people who refer 3 responders to the survey an eBook of either:

The Accidental Activist  or

A Gardener’s Tale

Thank you for your help. I will publish the results if I can get 50 responses.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Advise For Writers From The Hunger Games

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip this week’s blog post.

I actually posted this on Left Coast Voices but wanted to share this with elfwriter followers as well. There have been a number of articles gleaning lessons from the Hunger Games for their preferred audience. Apparently, everyone is getting protective about having the original idea and the others not giving credit to them. So let’s get that behind us: I had the idea for this post after reading David Berkowitz‘s article for a fundraising magazineThank you, David.

For those of you from another planet, “The Hunger Games,” is an amazing high-concept story about a post-apocalyptic society that annually sacrifices twenty-three teenagers as a way of reminding everyone who is in power.

1) Define Your Goals: Set A Few Simple Tasks: It took Katniss (the heroine) a while to decide what she needed to do in order to win (kill the others). Her mentor gave her clear first steps – get away from the Cornucopia, find water and shelter – which in turn gave her confidence and momentum. 

2) Know What You Are Writing: Heroine Katniss is the archer. Her cohort Peeta could pin Hulk Hogan. Figure out what your strengths are and play to them.

 3) Know Your Target Audience And Find Them:  Cinna, is a one of the most enjoyable characters in both book and movie. He is Katniss’ and Peeta’s stylist, responsible for ensuring that the crowd sit up and notice them. Together with Haymitch, their district’s adviser, they come up with a strategy to earn not only the support of the people, but also the all-important sponsors (media outlet or publishers for authors). What is important is that they stick to the strategy and maintain a consistent message.

4) Find Your Own Platform, And Get Comfortable With It: Katniss soon learned that the forest was her friend, using the stealth methods she had honed hunting. Likewise, she was both good and familiar with the bow as her weapon.

As authors, we often join every social media and adopt every tactic, essentially not doing much in any category. Choose a platform – blog, Facebook, etc. and consistently work through it. If you decide to go via bookstores, be consistent and follow up with every bookstore before, during and after an event.

5) Be Generous – There Is Something To Karma: Katniss had endured a tough childhood and carried the obvious scars. She was stubborn, a rebel, and uncooperative with her advisor and most everyone else. But she cared about others and this eventually paid off. Three other tributes saved her life because of this.

We are not competing with other authors. People aren’t choosing between their books and ours. Help others, share your experience, be generous with your time. People remember who stood by them and supported them. They will be there for you.

6) The Rules Change: The organizers freely change the rules in the Huger Games to suit their own goals. There is nothing fair or just, they simply want to achieve their own goals. Be ready to change tactics. If you are only selling books out the back of your car (still works for me!), and not on the Internet, you haven’t been paying attention.

7) Choose and Trust a Mentor: Haymitch, the advisor to Katniss and Peeta, was the only other citizen from their district to survive and win the Hunger Games. As a rude, obnoxious recluse who is also an alcoholic, he doesn’t really inspire.  But he made it and knows his stuff. Find a mentor and stick with them.

 

8) The Odds Are Never In Your Favor: so get over it. There is no guarantees for success.  It is not quite as bad as the Hunger Games where there are no second or third chances. Read a lot. Learn from others’ mistakes, learn from yours, and okay: may the odds be ever in your favor.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).