Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How to Become a Hepkitten in 5 Easy Steps

On Sunday, I had the honor of giving my Hepkitten* presentation as part of the Winter Reading and Arts Festival at Cedar Mill Community Library. A hepkitten what they called a girl who was crazy for dancing, back in the day--like the main character of my novel, Ruby. The Hepkitten talk is a blast to do, and what makes it even more fun is dressing the part.

Now, as anyone who knows me will attest, I am not a girly-girl. Makeup and I are barely acquainted, nail polish and I are strangers, and most days, my hair runs rampant. But after some practice, I've mostly got the process down. So here, for the first time ever, I present to you:

How to Become a Hepkitten in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Gather raw materials: big round brush, rat-tail comb, foam rollers, long & short bobby pins, setting lotion, hair spray, setting lotion, artificial flowers, freshly scrubbed face and a head of frizzy hair. Oh, wait. That last bit might just be me.

Step 2: Make a deep side part (de rigueur for 1940s hairstyles); then gather hank o' hair for first victory roll. Use big round brush and setting lotion to get it all nice and smooth and ready to roll. In theory. Some days, my hair behaves. I love those days. Most of the time, though, the dynamic goes like this:

Me: Okay, hair, remember how we do this? Remember how much fun it is? Whoo-hoo, here we go!

Hair: Oh, yeah. That thing you make me do sometimes. I'm not doing that.

Me: You start behaving right now, or... *threatens hair with hairspray*

Hair: Now you've made me mad. You're gonna be sorry.

*Scene deleted due to graphic violence*

Ah, victory! Big roll on the left: Done.

(Tip: If you're seriously interested in learning vintage hairstyles, search YouTube for tutorials. People have posted instructional videos for everything from finger waves to beehives.** My fave for victory rolls is here.)

Step 3: Roll the right side. This is a smaller roll, and goes much better when you use the setting lotion instead of super-hold category-5-hurricane-proof hair spray, like I accidentally did on Sunday. (Can I help it the bottles are the same color?) Too late to wash my hair and start over, so (mild cursing deleted)...

...I remind myself that this is why God made artificial flowers.

Step 4: For the back: If I have time, I'll set pin curls, let them dry and brush them out into '40s curls. If not, then a little setting lotion, foam rollers, sit 20 minutes, then swirl into one big uproll. Quick and easy.

Another tip: If all else fails, this is why God made snoods. Also 1940s authentic and perfect for almost any hair disaster.

Hmm. Rolled, flowered, made up and mascara'd. Seems like I'm forgetting something, though...

Step 5: Ah, yes...that red, red lipstick. If you ain't got a red lip, you ain't 1940s. Wartime, baby--it was all about the bold.

Add a vintage suit jacket, vintage skirt, seamed stockings and high-heel oxford shoes...

...and voila! You are now a bona-fide hepkitten.

Many thanks to the Cedar Mill Community Library for hosting me, and also to the folks who came to hear me speak on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We had a great time and the audience was fab!

Full title: A Hepkitten's Guide to the War. Oodles of vintage photos, video clips, and stories about what it was like to be a teen in the 1940s, with jitterbugging, taxi dancing, and the upheavals in homefront life brought by WWII.

**Click here to see the horror that is the making of a beehive. If I ever write a historical set in the early '60s, I am NOT doing this. Just watching makes my scalp whimper.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Chicago, Round 2

One of the upsides of writing historical fiction is all the research I get to do. (If this doesn’t sound like an upside, then you are probably not a major geek. Me, on the other hand...)

The downside is, I learn a lot more fascinating stuff than I can possibly shove into the pages of a novel. Not without expanding it to four volumes, complete with footnotes and a fifty-page index, at which, no longer a novel. So…what to do?

Why, create a multimedia presentation called A Hepkitten’s Guide to the War, of course. And then take it on the road.

Back in February, I went to Chicago—the setting for Ten Cents a Dance—to present A Hepkitten’s Guide to a few groups there. I had an absolute blast…which is why, when two of the venues asked me to come back, I enthusiastically said YES!

First up: Chicago Public Library. Like most writers, I adore libraries. I especially adore libraries that have enormous gargoyles. Ain’t nobody going to mess with their books, not with these fierce creatures hovering from the roof!

Robin Willard, Young Adult Specialist and Librarian Extraordinaire, set up a wonderful tour of three CPL branches: Back of the Yards, Beverly, and the Harold Washington Library downtown. Robin, you rock!

This is me in all my 1940s regalia with Migdalia Jimenez, children's librarian at the Back of the Yards branch. She gave us such a warm and wonderful welcome, she made us feel instantly at home.

After the Back of the Yards talk, with some of the students and their teacher. It was a privilege--and a ton of fun--meeting these smart, charming kids and talking with them about their vibrant and unique neighborhood...the same neighborhood my character Ruby lives in, back in the day.

These wonderful women drove two hours to attend the Back of the Yards event. Their book club read Ten Cents a Dance over the summer, and I met with them via speakerphone to discuss the book. Thank you, Lynn and friends--your coming such a long way to meet me in person touched my heart.

Speaking at the brand-new, fabulous YOUMedia space, dedicated exclusively for teens, at the Harold Washington branch downtown (home of the gargoyles). These high school students came from three different schools--Hyde Park Academy, Kenwood Academy, and King College Prep. They were a fabulous audience, not least because they asked some seriously sharp, insightful questions. They kept me on my toes, and as a speaker, I can tell you that makes an event outrageously fun.

No photos of the Beverly branch gig, unfortunately (camera snafu!) But a big shout-out to children's librarian Kimberly, and to the teen book club who came out on a Tuesday night to hang with me and Ruby!

The last presentation of my trip was to the seniors group at the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. What an honor to talk about Chicago, the Back of the Yards, and the homefront during World War II to people who had actually lived it first-hand...truly, an amazing experience. After the talk, this lovely group invited me and my sweetie to stay for dinner. Better even than the food (and oh yeah, it was good) was hearing stories of the real Back of the Yards, back in the day.

At some ungodly hour the next morning, we were back on a plane to Portland. A whirlwind trip, but this one left me more in love with Chicago--and Chicagoans--than before. Sure, yeah, this time it wasn't 20 degrees and blowing snow, like February...but more than the gorgeous fall weather, it's the people. Can I just every Midwesterner nice? Is it something in the water, or what? And can we ship it to, oh, I don't know...L.A.?

One of these days, we're going to plan a trip that gives us enough extra time to really explore the city. Until then, I'll leave you with a picture of world-famous Sue the T. rex, in her abode at the Field Museum:

Roawrrr!!! Thanks, Chicago...see ya next time!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bookstores and Babes

The last evening of my Chicago stay, I had a reading at Women and Children First bookstore. I came straight from the Back of the Yards event and so ended up arriving half an hour early: shucks darn, I thought, guess I just have to browse this adorable bookstore! Good thing I only had half an hour, otherwise I might have bought a dozen books instead of only four. (I think I’ve got this New Year’s resolution thing down…just make resolutions that involve doing something you already love. Like buying books. I’m such a genius!)

It’s a little nervous-making, having a bookstore reading not in your hometown. It’s just too easy to picture nobody showing up…especially on a freezing, snow-blowing night. But people did show up, bless their tough Chicago hearts. And among them came the Babes!

The Babes With Big Books, that is. Almost a year ago, this Chicago-area book club won copies of Ten Cents a Dance through They read the book and then invited me to call in to one of their club meetings. What a blast! These avid readers gave me a warm, open-arms Illinois welcome; it was so much fun to finally meet some of them in person. Thanks, Babes, for helping make the reading a success! Thanks too to my friend Jenny, a friend and fabulous writer whom I met at a writing workshop here in Portland, for coming out in support, and laughing in all the right places.

Here are the Babes and I: That’s Amy, Karen, me, Meredith, and Kimberly. I feel incredibly lucky that these wonderful women won my book—you all are an author’s dream!

A top shot of the victory rolls. (Thank God I didn't write a book set in the early ` WAY I'm EVER doing a beehive!)

Chicago was over, but no time to rest; the next day, I headed to Cincinnati to spend a few days with my brother’s family and do a book signing at a Borders bookstore. A book signing is different from a reading: my role was to sit at a table at the front of the store, greet customers as they came in, and if anyone was interested, talk to them about Ten Cents. Now, most folks see someone in `40s getup at a table piled with books, and they get this kind of spooked-deer don’t make eye contact don’t make eye contact oh look at this incredibly interesting thing way on the opposite side of the store thing going on. Which I don’t blame them for, as I in all my introversion would undoubtedly do the same thing. But I was the author; this was no time to be introverted. I smiled at everyone and offered free bookmarks, and if people stopped to chat, I gladly (and gratefully!) chatted. Marjorie, the store manager, brought me coffee, which helped fend off the cold (twenty degrees outside, and me in front of the big double doors swooshing open and shut constantly; after forty-five minutes, I couldn’t feel my feet). In just over an hour and a half, all the books were sold. Whoo-hoo! Many, many thanks to my brother Matt, Marjorie, and all the staff of the Borders in Mason, OH—you guys rock!

And then it WAS time to rest. Tons of good food (my sister-in-law Janet is an awesome cook), hours of wonderful conversation, intense Scrabble games with my nephews, and my first-ever episode of The Bachelor, which happened to be the finale (Jason, you fickle, fickle man, how could you?)

And then—after a fifteen-hour three-airport two-delayed-flight odyssey—sweet home at last. For now, Chicago, goodbye…but I had an incredible time, and I'll be back--I know it!

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Sunday, March 15, 2009


In the last two years, I’ve done so much research on Chicago I feel like I know the city inside and out. But what I know is a black-and-white 1940s version: photographs and movies, maps and books. Which made leaping into the present-day Windy City, in all its glorious color, such an exciting prospect.

I put together a multimedia presentation, A Hepkitten’s Guide to the War: Taxi Dancing, Chicago, and World War II, based on Ten Cents a Dance. (Do I know how to do a multimedia presentation? Ha! I do now. Let’s just say there was a whole lotta learning curve going on. Thank you Jerrod Allen, computer wizard extraordinaire and tutor magnifique.) I went on the hunt and found the most darling raspberry wool `40s jacket and vintage black hepkitten-ish skirt. My fab publicist, Kelly Powers of ObieJoe Media, worked like crazy coordinating events…and on February 23rd, this show hit the road.

Eighteen degrees in Chicago when I landed. Thank heavens my mother, who grew up in New York, insisted years and years ago that I get a heavy wool topcoat. Nobody wears such a thing here; on the West Coast, we’re all about GoreTex and goosedown. But the streets of Chicago were teeming with wool, and snug in my own (thanks, Mom!) I have a deep new appreciation for sheep. Those suckers are warm.

First event: Norwood Park Historical Society. Their headquarters is the oldest house in Chicago, harking back to 1833 (in comparison, our 1906 Portland home seem positively teenagerish). Giving the Hepkitten presentation in its gorgeous rooms was a treat. Even better was discovering that a few of the attendees had danced to the same hot swing as Ruby, back in the day!

Next, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. The Back of the Yards is the neighborhood where Ruby grows up, and I practically had my nose pressed to the car window, drinking in all the streets I’d only seen before on a map: Damen, 47th, Ashland. That’s where the People’s Theater used to be! That’s where Ruby and Angie would have gotten on the streetcar! In Ruby’s day, the Back of the Yards was home to many ethnicities; today, it’s still one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. The BYNC is an amazingly energetic, vibrant organization buzzing with activities: children, teens, adults, seniors. They welcomed me with open arms, and a I had fabulous time talking Back of the Yards history with the wonderful group of kids who came to see Hepkitten.

What with preparing for events (victory rolls still take me forever to do), getting to events (and I thought L.A. traffic was bad), and doing events, I didn’t have a lot of time to go sightseeing. But I walked the Magnificent Mile, and one bright, bone-chilling-cold afternoon, took the world's fastest elevator up 94 stories to the John Hancock Observatory. Isn’t Chicago gorgeous?

And OK, I can’t resist—I have to show you the kitchenette in my hotel room. It was the tiniest thing, but just adorable. I swear I cooed when I saw it. Bliss to come back from an event, brush out the victory rolls, and heat water in the kettle for a mug of peppermint tea.

More to come about Chicago—including a pic of me in my `40s getup—and my further adventures in Cincinnati. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one of the video clips I use in my Hepkitten presentation. This is from Ten Cents a Dancethe 1931 movie. (That's Barbara Stanwyck, playing the world-weary taxi dancer!)

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where in the World is Christine Fletcher?

Honestly, I haven’t been slacking off. OK, yeah, it’s been three weeks since my last blog post—you got me there. So what have I been doing? Well…

On Febrary 22nd, I had the honor of taking part in the Northwest Author Series, a series of presentations by NW authors to aspiring writers. The NAS is the brainchild of Christina Katz, whose book “Get Known Before the Book Deal” is required reading for any writer looking to publish in today's competitive market.

And my topic for NAS? “Essential Skills for Every Fiction Writer.”

I had ninety minutes, so I distilled my list of essential skills down to three bottom-line, make-it-or-break-it abilities that every novelist or short story writer must master: building characters, building conflict, and building the fictive dream. Attendance was good, and the audience was great. As any of my former students can tell you, I get bored if I’m just up there rattling away; I like participation, and I’m not above randomly pointing at people and firing questions. But I didn’t have to with this bunch; every time I posed a scenario, they called out ideas and answers. Fabulous!

Many, many thanks to all who attended, and especially to Christina Katz for inviting me to speak. I had a great time, not only giving the talk but having the chance to chat with folks afterwards. The talk was filmed, and when I get a copy of the video I’ll post an excerpt or two here—keep your eye out for it!

And then I was done and headed home…only to pack the suitcases for a 6:30 AM flight the next morning. My latest Adventures in Book Promotion had only begun, and the next stop?

The City of Big Shoulders itself: CHICAGO.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's NBBBAGITSNB Month! And I Have Video to Prove It

Carleen Brice, author of Orange Mint and Honey (which has been optioned for a Lifetime movie--way to go, Carleen!), has declared December to be National Buy a Book by a Black Author and Give It to Somebody Not Black Month.

What? you ask.

Watch the video: all will be explained. As for me, I'm starting with Orange Mint and Honey. The book sounds as delicious as its title, and an author who can come up with something as original and hilarious as this video is someone I definitely want to read. (And yes, give to someone else!)


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Kidlit 08, Part II: In Which Our Heroine Imparts an Epiphany

In no particular order, here are some things I absorbed at the Kidlit Bloggers Conference last week. This is far from a comprehensive rundown of All I Witnessed, as I didn't want to go all book-report-y on you…but it’s a pretty good sampling of what the conference was about.

From Mark of Just One More Book on podcasting:
Most people have 3 concerns that keep them from podcasting: content, context, and delivery.

Podcasting is simple and doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment. In fact, Mark and his wife, Andrea, record their podcasts at a local coffee shop.

From Gregory K. of GottaBook on self promotion:
Set yourself up for the happy accident. Meaning, small things can lead to big results—you just don’t know when or how.

When titling your blog posts, use strong words that people might be searching for. For example, Gregory posted a poem about soccer and titled it “Goal: A Soccer Poem.” This post gets 8000 hits a year from people searching for soccer poetry. (Which leads to a whole different set of questions…but I digress).

Above all, add value for others. Offer something without expecting anything in return.

From Pam of MotherReader on kicking your blog up a notch:
Blogging is about being part of a community. In order to foster conversation, bloggers should be reading and actively commenting on other blogs in their community. (In other words, don’t ignore everyone else, then complain about how nobody comments on your blog.)

That said, MotherReader noted that overall, comments are way, way down. Theories abound, but she speculates it’s due to the mushrooming number of blogs out there.

Focus on: “I have something of interest to offer,” not “I’m interesting—look at me!”

Discover your niche. Who are you, and what can you bring to the conversation?

Of all the topics at the conference, this is the one that resonated most for me. I’ve blogged before about the purpose of an author blog, how I got started, why I keep going. But I felt that the blog lacked focus. I’d heard the advice “find your niche," a dozen times, but it hadn’t really clicked. This time—maybe because I was spending the entire day with people who think about this a lot—it did. Who am I…besides veterinarian or writer? Underneath those things— the rock-bottom reason I ended up in both those careers—I love to learn. When I come across something that interests me, I get all fascinated and geeky and start talking really loud and waving my hands, because it doesn’t ever occur to me that everyone else won’t be just as thrilled as I am that dinosaurs turned out to have four-chambered hearts, which is HUGE evidence that they are the ancestors of birds, not reptiles (because reptiles have only three chambers in their hearts. AHA! God, that’s cool.)

I love to share what I learn, too, which is how I ended up teaching part-time at a community college for ten years. And the best thing is, I can think of at least a dozen different ways to take that sharing into the blog, which is good because, while I am easily fascinated, I am also easily bored. (My posts will not all be about dinosaur hearts, I assure you).

We'll see what happens. Don’t be shy about letting me know what you think.

What better way to close out this post than a kidlit fashion video, from Betsy of A Fuse #8 Production? (No, I’m not in it. Maybe, by next year, I’ll have learned something about fashion. Doubtful...but stranger things have happened.)

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wop Bam Boom!

One of my best adventures in book promotion has been getting to know local booksellers. Now, Portland authors are lucky. Most places I’ve lived, there’s one national chain bookstore and (maybe) one used bookstore. Here, in addition to the usual suspects (Barnes & Noble, Borders), there are at least a dozen indies: St. Johns Booksellers, Broadway Books, Annie Bloom’s Books, Looking Glass Bookstore, In Other Words, and A Children's Place, Portland's indie bookstore just for kids. Not to mention we've got bragging rights to the biggest, baddest indie in the whole worldPowell’s Bookstore, which takes up an entire downtown city block in four-story, rambling, book-lovin' grandeur.

Everyone advises new authors to go out and build relationships with booksellers. When Tallulah Falls pubbed, I had no idea how to do this. My idea of shopping for anything--books, clothes, dog food--involves the least amount of interaction with actual people. I’m introverted, shy, and convinced that merely asking the location of something is inexcusably bothersome. In other words, I have a classic author’s temperament. Introduce myself? Couldn’t I just jump off a bridge and save everyone the trouble?

But to my relief—and delight—the booksellers I’ve met have been nothing but kind, encouraging, and supportive. At A Children's Place, Kira loads me up with recommended titles to expand my YA reading education. Roberta at Broadway Books hosted a Tallulah Falls reading for dogs and their owners which was a woofin’ good time. The good folks at Powell’s made both Tallulah Falls and Ten Cents a Dance recommended staff picks. And wonderful Nena and Liz at St. Johns Booksellers not only threw the launch party of my dreams for Ten Cents a Dance, but have continued to handsell the book to success; it’s now the #2 bestselling hardcover in the history of the store, second only to one of the Harry Potters. (Confound you, J.K. Rowling!)

The thing is, very few authors break out on the national scene. Most of us have to work just to become known locally; with luck, more books, and a lot more work, we hope to gain wider recognition and a wider audience. Good relationships with booksellers help. But that relationship is a two-way street, something we authors sometimes forget. Bookstores don’t exist to support our egos. They exist to sell books, bless ‘em, an increasingly difficult endeavor in the age of and videogames. I subscribe to 2 daily newsletters, one on the publishing industry and one on the bookselling business, and almost every week yet another independent bookstore gives notice that it’s closing its doors.

What's the best thing an author can do? Support his local brick-and-mortar store. Buy books there. Attend author events besides her own. Get to know the booksellers. Not just as a means to promote one’s own titles, but because booksellers are some of the coolest, sharpest, most knowledgeable folks you’ll ever meet. And they love books.

Authors and booksellers...we go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong, We're for each other like A wop ba-ba lu-mop and wop bam boom!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wait...I Know It's Around Here Somewhere...

One assumption I think most aspiring authors make is that when their book is published, bookstores will carry it. That’s the whole point, right? Writing the manuscript, landing an agent, signing a contract with a publisher…all milestones on the road that lead to an actual book in an actual bookstore which a real, live, actual reader (or ten thousand) will pick up, fall in love with, and buy.

Fadeout to unicorn puppy heart rainbows.


Reality hits when you, Newly Published Author, walk into your local bookstore (trying to look casual—will the booksellers recognize you from your jacket photo?) and saunter to the shelf where your book will be. You know where your book will be, of course, because you’ve pictured it a thousand times in the months leading up to this day. You scan the titles, and…hm. Scan again, this time looking for your name.

Wait a minute. Where is it? You ask the clerk, who looks it up on her computer. “We’re not carrying it,” she tells you, “but we’ll be happy to order it for you.”

“Um, no, thanks,” you say, and you flee.* And then you email your agent in a panic. “What happened?” you electronically wail.

What happened, O Best Beloved,** is that bookstores can’t carry every book that’s published. They simply don’t have room. Shelf space is limited, and the number of books vying for that space is huge.

Huge? you say. C’mon, now. You’re a novelist. You exaggerate for a living.

OK, smartypants, get this. On the day Ten Cents a Dance was released, thirty-four other young adult titles were also published. Thirty-four. Not in the same month, or even the same week. The same day. And we’re talking only young adult titles. That’s not counting adult mainstream, mystery, romance, sci-fi, or any variation of non-fiction.

You see the problem.

If you’re an aspiring author, know that your publisher’s sales reps and your editor will go to bat for you. But if a big national chain declines to carry your book, what then? Weep copious tears, rend your garments? Gnash teeth? Curse the universe?

Please. Get over it. And get busy. That goes for you, too, Miss My-Book-Is-Being-Carried-In-Every-Bookstore-In-The-Country. You don’t get a pass; in fact, your work may be even harder.

Next post: Authors and Booksellers, or, What Have You Done For Me Lately? (Hint: I’m not talking about the booksellers.)

*Not that this ever happened to me. Well, OK, yes. It did. Pretty much just like that, except I was too embarrassed to ask the clerk, so my sweetie had to do it.

**Apologies to Rudyard Kipling. If you haven’t read the Just So Stories, then do. Kipling plays with the English language like a puppy with a ball, and the result is whimsical, magical fun. But gee, where's the best place to get a copy? If you're an aspiring author, and you can't guess the answer to that one, you most definitely MUST read the next post. There may just be a pop quiz.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

This Public Service Announcement Brought To You By...

Spent a lovely morning being the guest author at a summer creative writing course for middle graders. Creatures after my own heart! I would’ve loved to have taken a class like this when I was that age. Writing might’ve given veterinary medicine a run for its money years earlier…

This was the second presentation I’ve given this month. In August, I’m speaking to a women’s philanthropic organization; in October, at a school librarian conference; and I’ll be reading at Wordstock, Portland’s literary festival, in November. With the help of my publicist, I hope to line up several more gigs in the next year. I'm an inveterate introvert (say that five times fast) but oddly enough, I love talking to groups. Good thing, because public speaking is a great way for authors to raise awareness of their books.

Supposedly, more people are afraid of public speaking than death. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know lots of folks who would rather clean cat litterboxes ad infinitum rather than step behind a podium.

Much of what I learned about speaking in public came from ten years teaching part-time at a local community college. Lectures are, after all, a form of performance art; present them well, and you’ve got your students hooked. (I once briefly considered a career in veterinary epidemiology based solely on one professor’s lectures, which were mostly riveting stories about fighting pestilence the length and breadth of California. He made it sound like modern-day knight-errantry, and I was ready to snatch up the banner…until I found out it would take an additional two years of graduate school. That took the shine off the sword pretty quick). On the other hand, if you present your material poorly, you can actually hurt your cause. So if the thought of public speaking leaves you a-shiver, these tidbits might help:

1. First, foremost and always: Remember that your audience wants to like you. After all, who goes to an event hoping to have a bad time? You have their goodwill from the start; meet them at least halfway, and they’ll be pulling for you to do well.

2. Tailor your talk to your audience. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Earlier this month, I spoke about writing YA to a writers’ organization. In October, I’ll be speaking on the same topic to the school librarians. Two different audiences; two different sets of audience expectations; similar material, but presented two different ways to meet those expectations.

3. Keep eye contact. Don’t just gaze aimlessly in the general direction of the audience, but actually catch and hold individuals’ eyes for a second or two each. Never forget: you’re talking to them, not at them. Eye contact is huge.

4. Which means: you simply can’t read from notes. Practice ahead of time, and then practice some more. This doesn’t mean memorizing, because trying to recite from memory will kill your presentation. But know your main points. Certainly you’ll want to bring notes; I print mine out in 18-point type, one or two paragraphs per page (makes it easy to glance down if I need a memory jog). But be familiar enough with your material that you don’t need to read directly from them. Head up, eyes on your audience, and…

5. Please, for heaven’s sake, don’t speak in a monotone. Are you interested in your own material? I certainly hope so—because if you’re not, nobody else will be. Let your interest show through your voice and expression. Passion is contagious! Don’t be afraid that you might look funny. I’ve had pictures taken of me in which I look practically certifiable—hands thrown in the air, mouth wide open and eyebrows halfway to the moon—but people consistently tell me how much they enjoy my energy.

6. I learned early on with students, and the same holds true now: your audience doesn’t expect you to be perfect. But they do expect you to be genuine.

7. People love stories. Stories are gold. Funny stories (pertaining to your material, of course) are whole big treasure chests. If you’re not sure the story is funny to anyone other than you, though, try it out first on your most honest friend. Better to leave the funny out, rather than have to explain it to a bunch of confused-looking people.

8. When you’re practicing, time yourself. Know to the minute how long your presentation is. Another practice tip: visualize yourself giving the talk. Speak out loud to get used to the sound of your voice; use the inflections and gestures you’ll use during the presentation; practice your breathing. The more prepared you are, the more you’ll be able to…

9. Relax. You’re prepped, passionate, and rehearsed. The audience is on your side. Step up to the podium, take that first deep breath…and take it away.


Friday, July 04, 2008

Get on the Bus, Y'All--It's Adventure Time!

If there’s one thing that new or aspiring authors hear over and over again, it’s that we must actively promote our books.

But wait a minute, many authors say. Promotion is the publisher’s job, not mine.

It’s true that your publisher will put together a publicity and marketing plan for your book, just as it does for every title it produces. But plans vary widely, depending on—among other things—the subject matter of the book and the amount of time and money the publisher has to spend. At a minimum, your book will be included in the publisher’s catalog and sent out for reviews. The in-house publicist might be able to arrange some media coverage, maybe some local events. But if you’re a new author with no audience (yet), don’t start packing your bags. That national tour most likely ain’t happening.

So then what? The answer from most publishing folks these days is: take off the writer’s hat and put on the self-promotion one. Because now that your book is written, rewritten, edited, rewritten again, designed, and on the shelf…it’s time to get to work.

Not everyone is unanimous on this point. Well-known agent Donald Maass, for example, dismisses the notion of authors promoting their books. In his writer’s guide, Writing the Breakout Novel, he contends that the best way for a writer to sell books isn’t by going around tooting her own horn, but by focusing on writing the best damn books she can manage. Write a novel people want to read, he says, and the rest will take care of itself.

Donald Maass notwithstanding (and I love ya, Donald, really I do—yours is a refreshing, soothing voice, and lord I wish I could believe you), most of us grit our teeth and roll up our sleeves, if for no other reason than we believe in our books and we want to give them the best chance possible. The problem is, most writers—myself included—start out having no clue what to do. (If we did, we’d probably be in sales, and making a lot more money). The possibilities seem endless—and endlessly expensive, in either time or money. Should I spend $2000 on a book trailer? Another $1500 on a website? Scrape together thousands for a freelance publicist? Devote hours every week to MySpace and Facebook? Write a blog? An article for the local paper? Comment on other people’s blogs? Drive to every bookstore in a 50-mile radius to sign stock and meet booksellers? Should I bring cookies? Homemade or store-bought? What about milk?

Having now studied these burning questions for two years (and having actually done some of them) I herewith inaugurate another periodic series* on this blog: My Adventures in Book Promotion!

And just to kick the series off right: Watch this hilarious book trailer from author Dennis Cass (hilarious, because it is so painfully true...)

Next week: The One Thing People Fear More Than Death, and How to Deal (without actually dying).

*In case you missed it, the first periodic series was called From Manuscript to Finished Book. Click here for the first post in that series.

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