Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Social Media Brings Me Judy

The greatest thing in the world happened yesterday. I got an email from Judy Blume. If you've never heard of Judy Blume, you were either raised under a rock or you knew all about adolescence before you came out of the womb. Judy Blume is a legend. She's one of those authors who finds herself at the top of a recommended reading list for young people. She's the Statue of Liberty for all young bookworms. Her books, for both young and old, all seem to portray the same message: If you reach a point where you don't know what to do in life, it's okay; neither does anyone else. She shows, through quirky and thoughtful characters, that it's okay to fumble. It's okay to stutter and stammer or be too fat or too thin or flat-chested or big-chested, handicapped, diseased, geeky, unloved, untouched, unhappy or just plain awkward. She says, hey, it's okay to dream. It's normal to wonder. If you're mean, if you laugh at others, or even if you laugh at yourself, that's fine. No matter what you do, you'll learn from it. She taught her readers that it's okay to be yourself, and nine times out of ten, you'll be imperfect.

I discovered through another blog that Mrs. Blume has a website. I stopped by her site and left a message on her guest blog. Anyone who has ever read a Judy Blume book, especially in the 70s and 80s, will understand my note:

C.Amethyst Frost

Dear Judy Blume,

I've read your books since the 70s. Thank you for getting me through an awkward adolescence when there was no one else to explain. Thank you for preparing me for adulthood when I had no idea what to expect. And thank you, especially, for inspiring me -- as early as the age of 10 -- to become a writer. I am me because of you.
Posted May 26, 2012 11:56 am

This is true. I was a heavy reader in my childhood, a trait that expanded exponentially through my adulthood. Back in the 70s and early 80s, no one talked about those sensitive subjects that complicate an adolescent's life. Schools had classes to tell you where babies came from, but the process looked so sterile and unnatural that no one really believed that's how it's done. Most of the time, however, there are questions long before you get to those classes. Most of the time, "things" happen before the classes as well. Parents were useless in these cases. No one taught them anything, so many of them didn't know how to teach their own kids. Not that it mattered. No kid was going to ask their first generation Italian-American/Irish-American/Jewish-American/German-American parents how a specific incident feels. And they didn't have to. Judy Blume did it for them. She taught 9-year-olds that being an older sibling can be frustrating and unfair, but there are rewards for being a mentor. She taught bossy 10-year-old girls that life changes as you grow up, and you may not have all the answers. She taught us that kids can be mean, but you can get through it.

By the time you're 13, you're addicted to Judy Blume's wisdom. Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I won't bridged teenagers into their blossoming years, answering questions they'd never dare ask their parents. Mrs. Blume doesn't even abandon her readers there. Forever and Wifey are her way of saying, yep, even in adulthood, you won't know everything.

It was the intimacy I felt with these books that first sparked the writer in me. Her books were like friends. They talked to me. It only felt right that I talked back. It took decades to finally get here, and I will never be the legend that Judy Blume has become, but just as she took me from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood, so too will she carry me as a writer.

Imagine my delight when I opened my email and found this:

From: Judy Blume <>
Subject: Thanks for your message
Date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012, 12:49 PM

Hi C. Amethyst,

Thanks so much for your warm and thoughtful message.  It means a lot to know how well you remember my books, and that they helped you during difficult times.  I'm trying to write a new one now.  Think it will be older YA, but it will probably take two years to finish it. (Ugh - writing is hard work!)  It's my readers who keep me writing.  Where would I be without you?  You can follow me on twitter @judyblume, though I'm trying not to tweet too often. It's too good a distraction.



P.S. - Watch for news of Tiger Eyes, the movie based on the book, on my website.

How cool is that? Social media is a crazy thing. We're at a time when everyone can communicate with everyone, no matter how famous they are, no matter how poor or rich they are. Those icons in our lives who were once immortal and untouchable are now only a couple of thumb taps away. We can now reach out to actors, politicians, artists, long lost relatives, and even the President of the United States through websites, texts, Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. (Judy Blume tweets! Who'd have thunk?)

When I was 8 years old, hugging a copy of Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing at the counter of the Ocean Township library, only willing to release it long enough to have the librarian flip open the back (where it made that crinkly sound because it was covered in a protective plastic cover) and press a rubber date stamp onto a little card (my name was written on that card at least 10 times by then), I never imagined that I would one day be contacted by the book's creator. It was closure. That link between child and adult has finally clicked.

Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Avoid Indie Authors

I stumbled across an Amazon forum post that hit me pretty hard. The post is titled "How to Avoid Indie Authors." The comments are pretty harsh, talking about how they're tired of Amazon putting Indie titles in their recommendations. They don't want to buy books from Indies -- the books are awful and they're a waste of time and money. You can always tell an Indie book because the cover art will be "abysmal" and it'll cost less than "trad pub" books. They will be full of errors and are written unprofessionally. Amazon should filter out Indies so the customers don't have to sift through them all just to get to the good stuff. Amazon needs to "raise the bar" so that only quality books are sold.

Wow, I mean, it was pretty harsh. As I read through some of the 3,000+ posts, I could practically feel the fire rise up from my feet, burning the wooden post that was strapped to my back.

I wonder if it's time to re-educate the readers. These 8-10 posters judged independent authors as a single entity, based on an archaic belief that indies put no effort or professionalism into their books. Admittedly, I've seen some of awful indies that fit the mold these posters set out. There are a lot of "All About Me" books, where someone visited another country or led a rough life or found some kind of renewed strength. They decide to write down their experiences and share them with the world. But the books are poorly written or unedited or just plain boring. I can understand judging a book like this if proper effort was not put into it. But to lump all Indies together into the same category?

I tried to get inside the heads of these posters to understand their prejudice. First, I decided to think like a reader. I am qualified enough to judge books based on my experience as a reader. I spend (shamelessly) hundreds of dollars a month on books, mostly on and Audible. I've purchased so many books in the past 15 years, I practically own stock in Amazon. Not to mention the hearty business I've thrown Barnes and Noble, Borders, Hastings, and Half Priced books. I have read every day of my life since I was four. That's a lot of reading. I am definitely qualified to judge as a reader. Yet I don't feel the same kind of distaste toward Indie book authors. What did they do to warrant such a hateful gathering of Amazon readers?

As a writer, I also take offense. My books may not be best sellers, but I put a lot of work into them. I have a bachelor's degree in Writing and Linguistics (Georgia Southern University) and have been a professional writer and editor for many, many years. From the lifetime of reading that I mentioned above, I have a pretty good idea of how to tell a story. If I don't have a right to publish my own novels, then who does? What is the criteria to be a book author in these posters' eyes? Is it acceptance by the Big 6? Because if that's the case, they should probably pick up a few more "trad pub" books and investigate a little deeper. Publishers don't put much effort into their books. The past dozen books I've read from traditional publishers had errors. The last three books alone (same author) were so badly written, I had a hard time keeping up. It is a very popular, best selling series, too. What qualified this writer to be a novelist in the absence of experience and education? Luck, I guess. Publishers have to pick someone. I'm sure they have a lot of good material to choose from, but they could only pick one. This was it. It makes me wonder, though. Would these irate anti-indie posters have picked this author if he'd have self-published his book? Would they have read Harry Potter if Rowling had self published?

Times are changing. Authors are taking their art back from the publishers. But the world isn't getting the message. Maybe we need a more visible campaign. TV commercials, bus banners, highway billboards. "Buy Indie!" Remember a few years back when farmers got together and advocated local sales of meat, vegetables, and milk? Perhaps we need something similar.    

Friday, May 18, 2012

Marketing -- A Big Scary World

I think I've made it clear that I'm quite the sociaphobe. Writing books is so comfortable and safe for someone like me. That is, until the book is actually published, after which, the terror begins. I've been running around trying to figure out how to market my book. I'm not exactly the type to stand on a picnic table in a crowded park and yell out "Buy my book!" At first, I did a search for a publicist, someone who specializes in marketing for indie authors. Interestingly enough, I found that most of their marketing outlets were through social networking websites. The services included signing me and my books onto a Facebook author's page and registering for about a dozen book review sites. They wanted a lot of money to do it, too. It seemed kind of silly since the websites were all well-known and free to register. I can do it myself. Another service had to do with sending out press releases to major distributors...except that I'd have to write the press release myself. Again, why would I pay someone for that? If I have to write it, I can send it as well. Then again, my book is being distributed through Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram. You can't get much more distributed than that. None of these paid services had anything unique, no marketing magic or inside connections. The end result is, do it myself.

It's not exactly an easy quest. The first thing I did was to set up an author page on Facebook. I don't have a personal Facebook page because it's not my kind of scene. I'm not interested in knowing every time a former high school classmate takes her kid to soccer practice. I could care less if someone is suddenly married to Jesus or "Likes" the Cats of America Facebook group. But I set the page up as an author, which was a pretty freaky experience. The page was confusing and cluttered. I first had to set up a people account before I could start an author page. Then I had to go through the people account and hide everything -- not exactly for privacy but because there was nothing on the page and I didn't want people to stumble across it and find a page full of blank fields. Once I had the author page set up -- with the most hideous combination of "cover" and "profile" images -- I struggled to figure out how to show off my books. Oddly enough, the author pages were not very author-friendly. I looked up other authors to see how they did it. Smaller authors like myself just sort of went with whatever they had. It looked like they had some trouble too, so that the pages were all a bit awkward. The more established authors -- like J.K. Rowling and D.J. MacHale -- had token pages. In other words, they had the page up but didn't put much effort into it. There were no posts or updates except by fans. I doubt the authors even know their pages exist, let alone visit them regularly.

A positive side of the Facebook experience was that I discovered a number of pages that catered to indie authors. On each one, I shamelessly posted a self-promotional comment and link (everyone was doing it). But after I did that, I would scroll through the page and find very useful information. I found links to various websites where I could display my book, and other sites that offered free book reviews. There were contests and tips and even groups that were willing to do book review exchanges. So while I originally was going to merely throw up my page and run, I've decided to sniff around a little bit more, get to know the authors and all the helpful pages.

So far, I've signed up with The Author's Den, which is kind of like a flea market for authors to show off and hopefully sell their books. I also contacted eBookSwag, which is another site to display your book. (They actually charge 10 bucks to show it off for a day, but every bit helps.)

I used to think that book contests were silly. Back when I was devoted to the Big 6 (despite their 400 rejection letters), I scoffed at the idea, thinking that respectable best-selling authors didn't enter their books in contests. Duh. I guess I'm the silly one. For one thing, winning a contest is yet another method of drawing attention to your book. For another, you can get cash prizes, which is really cool, especially if your royalty checks don't amount to much. The print version of my newest book, Dismal Thoughts, was accepted by Lightning Source and should be available on Amazon and friends very soon. I already ordered a batch for promotional purposes. One of those purposes will be to submit it to the Indie Book Awards. It couldn't hurt. CreateSpace on Amazon also provides a nice list of competitions. I shall enter those as well.

Marketing takes a lot of time, but it's not that difficult. The key, I think, is exposure. I don't have a lot of friends or family who'd want to read my preteen books, so I rarely pass them on to my sparse inner crowd. So I have to depend on the world wide web. It's a big world. But if I can reach just one person for every thousand, it's a good start.