Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

Get People Talking About Your Book

from The SFWA Bulletin #177, Spring 2008

Creating Discussion Guides for Book Clubs

    Book clubs may have been Oprahsized, but millions of readers prefer to avoid the long lines and find great little books for themselves. Book clubs, sometimes called reading clubs, exist for every type of fiction (and nonfiction) and can be found in bookstores, in members' homes, and online. In any form, they're great sales devices, usually getting a dozen or so copies into the hands of devoted readers who, best of all, are willing to talk about the product of your months of creative effort.

    Margaret Cole, in the March 2008 InSinC, wrote that the secret of getting your book picked by a book club is to have a discussion guide that they can work with to direct the conversation. She said that her book club experience is so overwhelmingly guide-oriented that the odds that a group will pick a book with a guide over one that doesn't are 99 to 1.

    What goes into a good discussion guide?

      One or two paragraphs that tell what the novel is about and make the reader want to read it, followed by a list of 10 to 12 discussion topics.

    Cole likes to write her guides as soon as she finishes writing the book, with the characters and plots fresh in her mind. Themes in the book also coalesce for her when she can go back and look at her creation as a whole.

    For older books she finished before she started routinely writing guides she asks friends to read the novel and make suggestions for discussions, getting a fresh perspective and questions she wouldn't have thought of.

    Guides are critical promotion fodder, so making them easily and widely available is key.

      When you have your guides ready, make them available on your website. Make sure there is a Readers' Guides button on the opening page so that they can be easily accessed. If you are willing to speak to book clubs by phone, add that information…

      Send your guides to your editor and request that they be placed on the publisher's website. … Advertise your guides, along with the website address, on your promotional materials – post cards, bookmarks, flyers – and state that the guides can be found on your website. Let every bookstore and library you visit know about your guides and leave one of your promotional items with the information.

    Cole noted that discussion guides are among the easiest and cheapest means of promotion yet help open an enormous potential market.

Western Writers Retool Marketing

    The western genre, once possibly bigger, more popular, and better selling than f&sf, started a period of decline before the current crisis hit our genre. Nor was this confined to America. Westerns were once a worldwide phenomena, but writers who saw international sales and multiple translations as recently as twenty years ago no longer have any books in print in foreign markets.

    Not every aspect of the field is as dreary as fiction sales. A small renaissance in movies was highly visible at the Academy Awards and western history is rising as part of the general boom in nonfiction Americana.

    The Western Writers of America (WWA) recognized the changes in the genre years ago, beginning the slow and often difficult transition from a genre fiction group to a broader organization representing all aspects of western history. As part of that change, the WWA has moved to actively promote the west, the history and characters that people so love to see and read about, and the writers who make them come to life.

    WWA President Cotton Smith details many of the marketing programs that the WWA is undertaking or associated with in the February 2008 Roundup Magazine.

    In 2007, WWA had a presence at the Wyoming Book Festival, South Dakota Book Festival, Mountains and Plains States Independent Booksellers Trade Show, Western History Association Convention, Southeastern Booksellers Convention, and the Festival of the West, draped under a banner that reads “Literature of the West for the World.” At each of the shows they distributed a catalog of western literature published in 2007 that also included all their Spur Award winners since 1953.

    The WWA will also participate at The National Cowboy Symposium Celebration and is working with the Western Writer’s Hall of Fame in the McCracken Research Library of the Buffalo Bill Museum for a permanent display honoring their Hall of Fame members.

    Levy Home Entertainment has managed to persuade Kensington, Tor/Forge, and HarperCollins to put an ad for the WWA conference in the back of every western they publish. Levy has also been working with publishers to update the look of their westerns to appeal to a broader audience.

    A news release promoted a list of the Top Ten Western Characters, as voted on by WWA members. A Top Ten Western Movies list is in preparation.

    Perhaps most media-centric is a WWA television show, which will appear on cable on the RFD Channel.

Get Rights for Those Glitzy Gadgets

    In her "Legally Speaking" column in the January/February SCBWI Bulletin, Sara Rutenberg warned writers that the old rights' phrase "all media, whether known now or hereinafter devised" needs to bounced heavily from all contracts.

      Your ultimate goal would be to reserve all those rights and, instead, just grant specific rights, e.g., publishing, audio books, etc. The next step would be to negotiate a royalty for each of the new media. For example, Amazon has just announced a new ebook reader called Kindle. … Right now publishers are including this right to ebook publishing under the broad term of "publishing.' However, since it is really a separate media, you should receive a separate royalty, most likely based on each time a book is loaded for the device.

      Ipods pose the same issue – it is a separate devise, therefore you should negotiate separate royalties.

    I'm concerned that Rutenberg doesn't realize how many different platforms and devices already exist that books can be downloaded onto, with more appearing on the market every week. Still, her general advice to try to negotiate rights for new media is sound. With each increase in number of devices, numbers of downloads will also increase. You deserve a fair share of each payment.

RWA Anti-Piracy Campaign

    The RWA posted a general announcement on its current news page on its website to aid its writers when confronted by Internet Piracy. Links to a sample takedown request letter as well as a listing of URLs for links to Procedures/Contact Information for Take-Down Requests at a number of file sharing sites can be found at www.rwanational.org/cs/internet_piracy.

      Romance Writers of America (RWA), a professional association representing 9,800 romance writers, is committing its resources to providing information on how to protect copyrighted works and help fight the growing problem of Internet piracy. As theft of intellectual property affects all creators, RWA hopes to raise awareness of this issue and assist authors with the knowledge to demand take down of unauthorized copies of their works by establishing a clearing house for authors of all genres.

      RWA recently published a list of websites that contain unauthorized downloads or other copies of copyrighted romance novels. The list includes contact information for the website administrators and links to each website’s takedown procedures. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires online service providers to promptly block access to infringing material (or remove such material from their systems) when they receive notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder. The information provided by RWA includes instructions for sending notice to these websites as well as a sample takedown letter.

      The database containing the list of these websites and other related information can be found under “RWA News” at the association’s website, www.rwanational.org. Due to the nature of piracy and the fact that this service was originally intended for RWA members, the list is by no means complete; writers are encouraged to report similar, additional sites by sending information to reportpiracy@rwanational.org.

      Change can only happen through the combined efforts of everyone affected. Agents, publishing professionals, and writers are urged to utilize and contribute to the database maintained by RWA. Permission to forward this release is granted and strongly encouraged. For more information or questions regarding RWA’s list of Internet piracy sites, contact Carol Ritter, Professional Relations Manager, at (832) 717-5200 ext. 127.

Markets Outside the Box

    The Market Update in the March 2008 RWR quotes publishers who have changed requirements for paranormal/sci-fi romance and allied genres.

    Medallion Press:

      Due to an overwhelming amount of quality romance submissions, we will be temporarily closing submissions for historical romance, contemporary romance, paranormal/sci-fi romance, and romantic suspense. …

      Submissions will remain open for mainstream fiction, historical fiction, paranormal/horror, mystery/thriller/suspense, and sci-fi/fantasy.


    Samhain Publishing

      Samhain is refocusing its efforts to concentrate on all genres of romance and erotica, as well as urban fantasy/science fiction with romantic elements.

      I’m very pleased to announce an open call for submissions for a new anthology. I’m looking for contemporary paranormal romances with a strong humorous voice. I’m open to any paranormal creature, but it has to be funny, and it has to be romantic.

      The anthology will include novellas from 18,000 to 20,000 words in length and will be released individually as ebooks in February 2009 and packaged for a print release the following year.

      Laurie M. Rauch, Editor, laurie@samhainpublishing.com

    ERA, the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, maintains a Call for Submissions & Publishers Guidelines page on their website at www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/G/Call_For_Submissions.htm. At the time of writing, the page included a large number of open anthologies in our genre including such titles as Vampire Erotica and Androids 2.

Softcopy, What Newsletters from Yonder InBox Issue?

    Both Sister in Crime and Novelists Inc. have issued pleas to their members to voluntarily stop delivery of their hardcopy issues of their newsletters, InSinC, and NINK, and move over entirely to softcopy. The Mystery Writers of America has long since dropped hardcopy on TTD entirely and issues a full-color version electronically. Rising paper, printing, and mailing costs triggered these drastic steps. Novelists Inc. president (and SFWA member) Laura Resnick noted that the organization's entire dues revenue does not meet the cost of producing 12 issues of NINK.

    Needless to say, both the Bulletin and the Forum have similarly been affected by ever-increasing costs. I have a truly marvelous solution to this problem which, alas, these margins are too narrow to contain.

Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree (TTD), 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org

Novelists, Inc., NINK, P. O. Box 2037, Manhattan KS, 66505, www.ninc.com

14615 Benfer Rd., Houston, TX 77069 [new address], www.rwanational.org

Sisters in Crime, InSinC, P.O. Box 442124, Lawrence, KS 66044-8933, www.sistersincrime.org

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Bulletin, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, www.scbwi.org

Western Writers of America, Roundup Magazine, MSCO6, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM, 87131, www.westernwriters.org

Copyright 2008 by Steve Carper

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