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.

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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.

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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 

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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.

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Final Day of Tolkien Week

Day 7 of Tolkien Week – it has been quiet a celebration. Hope you enjoyed getting close to the Old Professor. I did, but now it’s time for a shower. 

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This post remains one of my personal favorites and most popular. The Gods of Fantasy is a tribute to a very special writers group. I facilitate one such group at a local cafe. We have met over 500 times and I love the support of my fellow writers. Who knows? Maybe one day someone will write about the legendary authors of the Berkeley Writers Group. Maybe one day. But for now, enjoy this post

Happy Tolkien Week!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and four other novels all released by Tourmaline Books and currently all ebooks are at 99 cents each to celebrate his latest, the sixth in the series, which will be released on October 15, 2016.

More about the author at alonshalev.com.

The Facts of (Publishing) Life.

I really should not be surprised. My publisher has done this to me before. They have taken my award-winning At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the opening book of the Wycaan Master series and, in celebration of the impending release of Book 5, are offering the ebook version for 99 cents.

Book 5 Cover FINAL

Let me rephrase this: the novel I toiled over for two years (twice as long as any other might I add), the novel that I sweated over as I read it to a disbelieving writer’s group (I was already known for three published social-justice themed novels which distinctly lacked any elves or dwarves), and it bears repeating, that novel that won the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award.

I would like to rant that my novel is being sold for the price of a cup of coffee, but I defy you to go find a decent cuppa joe less than three times that amount. It takes a few minutes to create the perfect latte, but a novel…

Now I think my publishers like (more likely tolerate) me because I am not a prima donna. I roll with the punches, the change in book title, cover design, date of publication, and book price … eh usually.

They explained patiently that the excitement generated around a book release that is deep into a series is a great time to get people who have been thinking of starting a new fantasy series to take the first step. It is a strategic marketing tactic they say.

Now I know they are totally right, way smarter than me about such things, but that really doesn’t help. All I see is a book I poured my heart into, a novel that made me cry and cheer, and want to learn archery and swordplay. It is a novel of a young elf, written with the thought how the sons I wrote this for might react. As such, the protagonist, Seanchai, became another son. And so I shared in his fears, frustrations, exhilarations, and his first love.

Now you can share that too…all for the price of, well: help me out Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – It was 99 cents!

But if I could have it my way, it won’t be for long! Have a great week,

Elfwriter – Alon Shalev.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and three more novels in the Wycaan Master Series: The First Decree, Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, and Sacrificial Flame – all released by Tourmaline Books. From Ashes They Rose, the fifth in the series, will be released in September 2015. The story continues.

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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

The Sappy (Male) Hero

As I mentioned last week, I am work-shopping a magical realism novel to my fearless writer’s group. I was worried how they would react to the more graphic violence and the explicit sex that is a far cry from the YA epic fantasy novels I have shared over the past few years.

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Song of Battlefield by Norry at Epilogue

But this week, a couple of the participants surprised me. They suggested that perhaps my protagonist is too in touch with his feelings, that he is too sappy in his budding relationship with the sassy, but attractive Brynn.

The protagonist, the Kingfisher, has experienced many traumas, including the destruction of his country and family, for which he feels responsible. This looming sense of failure follows him as he begins to tread a similar path in Cassia, while searching for his sons, who have been sold into slavery.

“How is it,” one of my readers asked, “that one minute he can be ruthless and violent with his enemies, and then so tender with those close to him?”

“How can he,” another asks, “be so traumatized, yet so self-aware?”

I am puzzled by this, not least because if the Kingfisher was female, I suspect we would not be asking such questions. It feels (on a totally different level of awareness, I know) similar to hearing political pundits wonder whether Hillary Clinton can function both as President of the United States and as a grandmother. No one asks this of her male predecessors. Apparently one can be a President and grandfather, though judging by some of their performances, I am left wondering…

I work hard to present my characters as multi-dimensional. This summer, I began the indoctrination of my family (not the protesting youngest) with Game of Thrones. Mrs. Bloggs (she should actually be addressed now as Dr. Bloggs) pointed out that there is only one (royal) character in George R.R. Martin’s thousand-character cast, who it is easy to thoroughly hate. No spoilers, however!

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I have written previously of my admiration of Martin’s ability to make us care for his characters while blatantly exposing us to their flaws.

Most people in real life are both good and bad. It is the endless struggle wherein we strive to make ourselves better human beings (or not), and we are, by and large, inconsistent. There are days when we are heroes and others we are embarrassed about.

Fantasy is all about showing the reality of human behavior in a different concept, fiction allowing us to bend the story to suit our plot. Nonetheless, fantasy (and most genres of fiction) stand and fall on the reader’s ability to connect: with the plot, characters, and conflict.

I lived for two decades in a country where all eighteen year olds are conscripted and many serve in combat units and see real action. It never ceased to surprise me to discover that a gentle father was an officer in an elite unit, or that a mild-mannered man was a sniper, holding life and death between his sights. I see it in other people’s expressions when I talk of my own experiences.

Perhaps the issue that my readers are experiencing with the Kingfisher, is that we are hearing him speak and think in the first person. We are literally inside his head and this might be why so many feel his introspection is so jarring. We feel his pain, his rage, his love, and his conflict.

Most men can hide their fears in the privacy of their bedrooms, their cars, or their empty bottles. We don’t need, or are expected, to express our inner emotions and vulnerabilities, in public. And if we do, perhaps we are scorned for being sappy and in touch with ourselves.

Perhaps this is why we need fiction: to show the human side of half the world’s population, when the world is not ready to see it in reality.

Sacrificial Flame – Update on Book Launch

The review copy arrived this week. Unfortunately there was an error of placement of the book cover and there is at least another week’s delay. I understand why Tourmaline Books we so vague with their: out this summer. I just hope they aren’t aware that in Berkeley our summers can go on until the end of October! 

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

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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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

Is The Grass Always Greener?

Between you and me, I’ve always been jealous and somewhat in awe of a dear friend who has a book contract with a major publisher and is a terrific writer. I never resented her achievements because I knew she worked hard to achieve her success, garnering attention through winning writing contests, traveling far and wide to speaker engagements, and generally being the lovely collaborative person that any publisher or agent would love to work with.

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So I was a bit shocked when I met up with her for coffee the other day and she told me how frustrated she was with the route she had taken. I have heard many doom-and-gloom writers who are disdainful of the conventional publishing route, but to be honest, I always thought they were bitter because their books hadn’t sold as much as they had dreamed, or they were frustrated at having their considerable talents spurned by agents or publishers.

Hearing about her feeling of inertia and entrapment (my words, not hers) made me appreciate the support and belief that my small-press publishers, (Three Clover Press for the Social Justice novels, and Tourmaline Books for the epic fantasy) despite their limited resources.

But I would be lying if, when I see the beautiful hardcover books of Terry Brooks or R.A Salvatore adorning the shelves of a bookstore, I do not dream of seeing my novels displayed next to theirs, or wonder which actor Peter Jackson will cast to play Seanchai or Ilana.

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 I am currently editing a magical realism manuscript with my writers’ group and have been wondering whether to try and find an agent or offer it to one of the small-presses that already support me. Every time I watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Legend of the Seeker, I decide that I will go that route.

But yesterday’s conversation had me reevaluating. I am not entirely free to initiate a particular marketing strategy and should check in with my publishers. But I always receive their blessings and usually some wise words that help me improve my idea. Most importantly perhaps, when I call, someone answers the phone. They know who I am and personally care about my writing career, not just their bottom line.

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How have you chosen such paths in your writing or career decisions? Would love to hear.

And yes, even though I have been saying for the past month and a half that it is only two weeks until the release of Sacrificial Flame, Wycaan Master Book 4…I wish to leave you with the breaking news… Only two wee– Okay. I have no idea, but I’m holding out for July. When it happens, I will let you (and the whole world) know! Promise!

 

Sacrificial Flame Cover Hi Res

Good Writing.

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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 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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

My Secret

Friday night, a Creative Writing Major asked me what was my ‘secret’. I like this question because I can respond that if I tell them, then it is no longer a secret. The truth is, it is not secret, and neither do I have any claim to originality. You will find these ideas in a dozen books and blogs.

What is important here is that they work for me. We are all different and live in different life circumstances. But I have three recommendations that I believe could resonate with others:

1) Write every day – writing is like working out. Go to the gym or wherever you work out every day and teach your body to expect it. Likewise, when you write every day, your brain settles into a groove and the process (like those bench presses) become more natural.

It helps me to set goals. I do this monthly and they are typed up and next to my desk. Keep them real and attainable.

What do you do when you finish your first novel? Begin to write your second. Have a glass of wine first to celebrate, by all means, but then get back into it.

 

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

Hit the gym and the keyboards every day.

2) Put yourself out there as a writer – if you don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will. Go to a writer’s group, a lecture circuit, conference, workshops, wherever there are writers. Become a member of the community. Start to think, act and behave like a writer (I’ll leave the details to you). Last night, at my non-profit’s annual fundraiser, I put my trilogy in the silent auction. Though I never hide my ‘other’ life, it was surprising how many students and donors came up to me and said: “I never knew…”

3) Learn the Craft – I know I have mentioned these books before, but I read annually. One is Stephen King’s On Writing, and the other is Sometimes The Magic Works by Terry Brooks. I believe that anyone who wants to write should read the former, and anyone who wants to be a fantasy writer (or a mensch) should read the second.

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There is more to this point than just reading a How-To. Take an author who you admire and learn their work. Read their books first to enjoy a good story, but then read them again to understand their plot arc, character development, world-building, etc. Analyze what they do well and emulate. I do not mean copy. Take their techniques and blend with your imagination.

You might do well to apply this to how they sell their books. But here I would suggest a word of caution. Do not try to learn marketing from an A-list author. Choose someone who is five years ahead of you and follow them. Don’t come to me if you get a restraining order, I mean follow their online platform and certainly, if they are in town for a book reading or writer’s conference, then go.

A man I have my eye on (and I am referring to his success as an up-and-coming fantasy author) is Daniel Arenson, He has just released a new book – Requiem’s Song – congratulations sir. My youngest has just begun the first Requiem having heard my eldest and myself enthuse about it. He has hardly lifted his head from the book all weekend. 

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If my ‘secret’ doesn’t work for you, find someone else’s. I won’t be offended, I promise. While we are on the topic: Authors – What is your secret” Please share in the responses or consider a guest post here.

Have a great week everyone.

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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). Hang out with Alon on Google+

When Authors Reach For Immortality

Recently, I listened to an interview with the famous Israeli author, Amos Oz, a literary icon I grew up admiring. Now, well into his 70’s, he is as vibrant and inspirational as ever. There was something he said in the interview that resonated with me. He claimed to have made up a number of words that he used throughout his books. He was stoked one day when, while in conversation with a cab driver who did not recognize his passenger, the man used one of Amos Oz’s words. Oz suggested that his modest contribution to the Israeli language was his own brush with immortality.

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If this is so, I am quite proud of my own. When reading the manuscript of my first YA epic fantasy novel, At The Walls of Galbrieth, which won the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA, to the Berkeley Writer’s Group, the female members of the group took exception to the term she-elf to delineate my female elves from males.

And so, after much discussion and debate, she-elves asserted themselves as elfes, and even saw the former term as an insult throughout the Wycaan Master series. Fast forward three years, and a newer member of the group while presenting his YA epic fantasy novel, used the same word, believing it part of the genre. I was, and remain, chuffed every time he uses the word.

images-6A friend from your writer’s group, is certainly a far cry from a random taxi driver (though no Israeli cabbie is ever random – you have to take a cab in Israel to appreciate them) of course. But I am hardly comparable to Amos Oz, an author widely expected to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

And so I offer elfe to the epic fantasy world, along with calhei (elf children) and ahdahr (elf father). Last week, I mentioned that, while I have sent the manuscript of Book 4 to the editor, I am struggling with a title. The protagonist is a female, so I guess at least I have one word worked out!

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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). Hang out with Alon on Google+