Monday, October 29, 2012

Texas Book Festival - Second Half

With another day at the festival under my belt, for a total of 13 hours in the booth, I can report that except for what John Candy in the movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" called "barking dogs" in referring to his sore feet, the experience was positive and enjoyable. One unexpected benefit turned out to be multiple opportunities for practicing my spiel when someone asks me what the story is about.

Writers are advised to have ready at a moment's notice what is called a "30-second elevator pitch," a term derived from the following scenario at a writers' conference, and which assumes that the writer's goal is to get an offer of representation from a literary agent:

You didn't get a one-on-one consultation with your dream agent, so you've studied a photograph well enough to recognize him or her no matter how out of date the glamour shot happens to be. Throughout the conference, you've been on the stalk, watching, waiting for an opportunity that never seems to come.

You've seen the agent from afar a few times, surrounded by concentric circles of pushy writers all clamoring for the agent's attention. The conference ends in a few hours, and you've all but given up. One last panel discussion you'd like to attend meets on the fourth floor in five minutes, and you're rushing to get there.

The elevator door opens, you step inside without making eye contact with the only other occupant, stab the button labeled "4" and glance at the person beside you to offer a casual greeting and holy Toledo! It's your dream agent come true.

Panic seizes your tongue, sweat instantly covers your brow, and all you can do is stare at the elevator door even though you know that this is it, the one and only time you'll probably have to pitch your novel to the agent you are convinced will love it. And without that pitch ready, forget about it.

Standing in the booth at the festival, however, visitors are coming to you and you have an opportunity to give it your best shot at generating in a complete stranger sufficient interest in your book to result in a sale. By the end of the festival, I had it down pretty well and felt comfortable with how it was being received.

Practice means little, however, when dealing with some folks. Here are some comments:
  • "So, this is a novel?"
  • "Have you read ----- by -----? It has a lot about airplane accident investigation in it."
  • "A friend of mine runs a salvage company specializing in aircraft wreckage. He knows all about aviation accident investigation. I'm sure he'd be glad to help you out, and I'll give you his contact information if you'd like to talk with him."
  • "I read this book that said there are always five pilot mistakes leading up to any accident."
  • "Well, you know, once a pilot gets over about 350 hours of flight time, he usually has enough experience to avoid making mistakes."
Spare me, please. But I didn't say that, of course. I smiled, nodded, played like the little dog in the rear window of a car with my head bobbing in agreement.

Cynthia J. Stone and Lara Reznik of Violet Crown Publishers, Beth Fowler and I talked a lot about the booth layout and came up with a number of ideas for the future. With limited space and four authors hovering about, what the visitors can see to attract their attention and how they approach the booth, enter if they need to, and exit, all have to be carefully considered.

And although we're convinced we can do better, we received evaluations from others noting that the poster display on the free-standing grids at the rear of the booth was extremely effective, and we appeared to have more visitors hanging around and talking than many of the other booths. I have no idea if that's true or not, because as reported in my Texas Book Festival halftime report, I never left the booth to see what other writers/publishers had done. My objective was to promote my books, and I couldn't do that while absent from the scene.

All in all, the festival experience was well worth the time and effort, and we're talking about not waiting for October, 2013 to attend our next one.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (coming soon), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Texas Book Festival - Halftime Report

It's Sunday morning, October 28, 2012, and sitting at my computer with my first cup of coffee, I couldn't resist the temptation to document a few personal observations from my experience in the Violet Crown Publishers booth at the halfway point of the Texas Book Festival weekend.

This being my first time attending in any capacity, I had little advance notion of what to expect. Cynthia Stone, her good friend and fellow author Beth Fowler, and yours truly had spent the previous afternoon and last-minute preparation time that morning hauling all the books, poster display grids, posters, chairs, two tables, and small giveaway promotional materials from my truck into the exhibition tent and trying to make everything fit in a limited space. Lara Reznik, jetlagged and coughing, skillfully avoided the set-up chaos by just having returned from a vacation in Europe with her husband Rudy. I'm joking, of course, and luckily she recovered sufficiently after a night's rest at home to join us before the festival began.

I'm no good at the visualization of how the booth should look, so my role became that of a helper. Which is a good thing, because my compulsion to straighten everything up would have been completely incompatible with the carefully designed look of clutter on the big eight-foot table supplied by the festival. Books, books, and more books. Not like Penguin, USA in the booth close by, of course. They filled about three booths on our side of the tent and one or two across the aisle. But for an itty-bitty indie operation, especially with the poster display designed by Cynthia, we had no reason to hang our heads.

Truth be told, I expected to spend seven hours in the booth twiddling my thumbs while shoppers bought all the other books on the table. My three would be sitting in lonely stacks, forlorn and pitifully indicative of no one's interest. I didn't know where to stand. The booths are small, with narrow spaces on both sides of the display table, and no matter where I decided to park, I didn't want shoppers to feel as if they stepped inside, I'd be on them like a used-car salesman who doesn't understand "Just looking" and becomes a shadow.

At one point early in the first hour, a shopper stops and picks up Lara's The Girl From Long Guyland. Beth makes eye contact with Lara and mouths something like (and I paraphrase with embellishment), Pounce on him and sell your book! Lara and I talked a little about this tactic and agreed that we weren't comfortable doing that.

A little while later someone stops and picks up Pilot Error. My heart climbs into my throat as I get ready for the first of what I expect to be many rejections during the day. But this time, Beth uses a different tactic. Rather than wasting her efforts on me, she steps up to the guy and says, "If you'd like to meet the author, he's standing right here."

That's my cue! I shake hands, we talk a bit, and in a drop-my-jaw move, he asks me how much.

"I have a special for you today, sir. You can purchase the novel and receive my two small non-fiction books on flying and writing in a bundle for only ten bucks. Now that's a deal, don't you think?"

Lo and behold, wonder of wonders, he agrees.

Enter the tag-team approach to greeting visitors to the booth. Here's how it worked:

Someone stops and picks up one of the four novels at the head of the table from a stack of a few lying flat with a copy front cover out on an easel, bookmarks casually lying between each book.

Secret eye-signals pass between the authors. An author who didn't write the book engages the visitor in casual conversation, always with the message that the author who did is close by.

Nine times out of ten, the visitor made eye contact, accepted a handshake, and engaged with us.

I've got one day of the book festival behind me and have no business making any observations of import, but a little knowledge has never stopped me before.

I'm an unknown author with unheard of books, and although visitors can be attracted to a cover, flip the book over and read the back-cover description, open the book and read a little of the first chapter, they still have to get past the natural reticence of never having heard of Tosh McIntosh.

Seven hours of standing in that booth has convinced me that personal contact, beginning with a question or two directed at the visitor rather than an immediate sales spiel, opens the door. I often asked the visitor if he or she might be a pilot and/or a writer, and in every case, the conversation shifted easily to what the book was about. And in retrospect, I believe that the author's passion for the book is the key to generating enough interest for the visitor to take a chance with their money.

My bundling tactic has to be considered as well. I sold three books together for an amount that barely covers my cost to pay for the copies and the shipping. But it's not about the money, and never will be for the vast majority of indie or legacy authors.

A book festival is about promotion. Most if not all of my writer friends might read this and think (or more likely say), "Are you just now figuring this out, Tosh?"

Well, yeah. I'm a slow learner, I guess. But in the final analysis, whether or not any of the buyers recommend my books to their friends and assist with promoting it, this has been (and will be today) an amazing experience.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at

Friday, October 26, 2012

Helping Others Do It Themselves

On Saturday, November 17, 2012, four AIW members will attend the second meeting of the brand new Lake Travis Fiction Writers and present an overview of four distinct paths to becoming an indie author. The segments are:
  • The role of the small press in the digital age--Deanna Roy of Casey Shay Press 
  • Paths to getting published--Cindy Stone and Laura Resnick-Chavez of Violet Crown Publishers
  • Happiness is a legacy publisher in the rearview mirror--Brad Whittington of Wunderfool Press
  • Total independence and doing it all yourself--Tosh McIntosh of No Press At All
Without knowing the order of our presentations or how my colleagues will organize their remarks, I’ve decided to address the factors in the current publishing industry that nudged me to choose the indie option, explain why I elected to tackle each of the production steps myself, and describe the workflow required to publish a novel in print and eBook editions.

One of the issues all the presenters will face is that LTFW is so new, and its members appear to include only a few individuals who have either completed a novel or are currently writing one. I don’t think we want to let that diminish the message, however, nor do we want to liken publishing a novel to climbing Mt. Everest.
Here’s a list of my talking points:

Arrival of the eReader and advancements in print-on-demand technology have driven the publishing industry into a state of flux that shows no signs of abating.

From the author’s perspective, that’s good news because legacy publishers and their gatekeeper literary agents no longer have a monopoly on printing and distribution, and authors now have a viable alternative to legacy.

That said, the road to publication has to begin with a completed novel that represents a writer’s very best effort, worthy of a reader’s hard-earned money and commitment of time to read it.

Before you choose the legacy or the indie path to publication, consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of each option.

Although submitting to agents in the hope of being offered a legacy contract deserves serious consideration by any first-time author, I had enough experience with the process to conclude that driving this road to publication has to be accomplished under a caution flag.

I believe it’s more difficult than ever before, and that the contract provisions currently being offered are much too biased toward the publisher.

Simply put, I saw no benefit in waiting any longer for the remote possibility of an offer, especially when combined with the high probability that I wouldn’t be able to accept it.

My decision to go indie included a commitment to minimize the upfront investment of venture capital, which imposed the requirement to teach myself how to accomplish all the production tasks necessary to publish a book.  

Following a brief description of my nine-step workflow, I’ll emphasize that while I did it all myself, I wasn’t alone because my fellow writers provided invaluable “think tank” advice and offered their expertise to augment areas in which I found myself lacking.

And then I’ll close by suggesting that the Lake Travis Fiction Writers have what it takes to create an atmosphere of writers helping writers in a mutual, collaborative exploration of their craft, dedicated to improving their skills, and assisting each other to think like a publisher.
Tosh is the author of the aviation mystery/thriller Pilot Error, the second-in-series Red Line (Fall 2012), and two non-fiction series: Book One of Wings On My Words, tales from the writer's desk, and Book One of Words On My Wings, tales from the cockpit. Visit him online at

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On crossing 5000 sales

I want to laugh when people ask how I sold my books, because I'm always asking my friends who sell 5000 or more books a MONTH, how do YOU do it? All our paths will be different, but the biggest thing is studying books that are like yours and determining what paths they took to get where they are. It isn't difficult to start Googling a title and see where it was featured and how it got buzz. You may not be able to replicate its success, but you can learn where the big pushes came from.

For me, joining the Kindle Boards was a critical element. There I learned which ads were useless and which ones actually helped. I figured out that blog tours were about reviews, not sales, and that Tweeting to the same 500 followers just made them ignore you.

I found that there is power in numbers, and that group promotions were wonderful, as long as the group was small enough to keep each book visible but large enough to control the costs. (Ideal size is five to ten books.)

I also discovered it was critical to stay ahead of the mob. Once eReader News Today was discovered to have magic in their Book of the Day, they got booked a year in advance. Other sites, realizing they could raise prices due to overwhelming demand, priced themselves right out of author benefit, or put up so many ad opportunities that the exposure quit working.

You figure out that blogs and web sites have little pull, but big Facebook followings and enormous email subscriber lists are definitely effective.

But most of all, you learn how to balance writing and marketing, as you can't get so wrapped up in one that you forget the other.

While I'm pleased and grateful for my 5000 sales this year, I look forward to an escalation of visibility. I have a marketing plan that goes out nine months now, and I never let any book fall into obscurity if I can help it. I'm in this for the long haul.


Deanna Roy is the author of Baby Dust and Stella & Dane, interrelated novels on the difficulties on finding love and family.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Inner and Outer Journey

In most modern novels, the main character undergoes some sort of transformation or enlightenment, which we call the character arc. Huckleberry renounces slavery, for example. There are exceptions. In farcical novels (P.G. Wodehouse, Carl Hiaasen, Christopher Buckley) and series novels (adventure, mystery, thriller) the character is often essentially the same at the end of the book as when it started.

But the majority of novels do employ a character arc, sometimes called the inner journey, as opposed to the outer journey, which the action of the story. Huckleberry escapes down the river with Jim, for example. The outer journey gives narrative momentum to the story to keep people turning pages. The inner journey is what makes it matter, the thing that lifts it above an action story. You can have the outer only and end up with pulp fiction, or the inner only and end up with some kind of literary miasma. Or you can make the inner and outer journeys dependent on each other, thereby reinforcing the significance of both.

Here's an example from Muffin Man to clarify. I dreamed about a sheriff who hears voices from a muffin. Although warned against it by dozens of people, I was certain this brilliant idea was my next novel. But I needed a reason why an otherwise normal guy would begin hearing voices. Over the space of several months I created a history for the sheriff, a bipolar father who abandoned the family and then suddenly makes an unwelcome return 24 years later. As it developed, in my mind this became the main story line--the father/son relationship going both ways from the sheriff, up to his father, down to his son, and his fears that he is actually bipolar as well.

 This is all meaty, visceral stuff, but it's all inner journey. I knew that this part alone wasn't enough to carry a novel for 300 pages. So I created the whole disappearing arsonist case as an outer journey, the story engine, the thing that pulls the reader to the next page to see what happens. How did those guys disappear out of a locked room? Why were they in there? Why did they set it on fire?

And there is the question of what is going on with the muffin (Is it really talking or is it all in John's head?) does pull the reader forward, but I don't think anyone would care enough about that question to stay with me for 300 pages.

So I found ways to bring these three elements together, to create multiple links between the father/son conflict and the arson case and have the muffin sitting in the middle of the whole mess. Without both the outer and inner journey, and the connections between them, the novel would not be as compelling.

In your current work in progress, pay attention to both story lines, the inner and the outer, and find ways to interlace them to strengthen the spine of your story. It could bring a new depth to your work.

Brad Whittington is the author of the Fred trilogy, What Would Jesus Drink? and Muffin Man.