Monday, July 20, 2009

Riven, by Jerry Jenkins

Riven, by Jerry Jenkins, is the most compelling drama I’ve read in a long time.

In two parallel story lines, Jenkins introduces us into the lives of career criminal Brady Darby and the worn-down pastor, Thomas Carey. Their lives converge when Brady and Thomas both are hardened by life’s knocks and bruises, but the bulk of the book presents those knocks and bruises, giving the reader a clear understanding of what makes each man tick.

With the expertise of a seasoned psychologist, Jenkins illustrates the development of a criminal without once allowing the reader an emotion stronger than disappointment. Brady Darby’s life is tough; his choices make it tougher. But everything Darby experiences, from adolescent anger to adult rage, is understandable if not condonable. Even Brady’s most heinous crime, while expected, is perceivable. But instead of revulsion, I felt pity.

Jenkins lets the reader into the private life of a pastor, too, with things I had certainly never considered: church politics, the demand for entertaining sermons, the low income–not to mention the heartache of a family member who falls away from the faith. Add to the mix a wife with a serious disease, and it is easy to see how a preacher like Thomas Carey could feel defeated. When no other church is available for him to pastor, he becomes a chaplain for a prison. Not just any prison–not a penitentiary, where criminals become penitant and eventually return to society. An end-of-the-road supermax correctional facility where those not doomed to execution will never again see the sun. An institution of society’s worst offenders who have no use for God, much less a pastor.

When Thomas and Brady finally meet, things happen that are so miraculous, so improbable, the reader is required to suspend belief and bear with the author. My ambiguity about the conclusion lasted all the way through the tear-jerking climax. I’m still torn between wanting a less incredible finale and an inability to conceive of a more fitting conclusion.

Jenkins’s strength as a writer is without a doubt his characterization. Every character, even the most minor, is fully rounded and believable without once subjecting the reader to long drawn-out descriptions. Bad boy Brady Darby is so sympathetic as to not be a villain at all, nor was he intended to be. In truth, the villain is Brady’s mother, a totally unsympathetic woman whose presence permeates the entire book although her appearances are few. Her opposite extreme is Thomas Carey’s wife, Grace, a woman so perfect as to seem unlikely. Yet, Jenkins dips his brush into the color of stubbornness, and by applying that one simple flaw, adds hues of believability to Grace Carey.

When readers or writers discuss bringing characters to life, this is what they’re talking about.

Riven gets five stars from me! ✯✯✯✯✯
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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Viral Marketing, Pt. 4 of 4: Diversifying

Although all of the networking options in the sites discussed previously in this series are important for extending our web presence, the contacts we make through them will be of little use if we don’t have something to give those contacts. A steady stream of somethings, in fact. As the world careens down the technological highway at a dizzying clip, authors can’t afford to be left behind. Having a “home” on the web is vital. Owning a website, a blog, or, preferably, both is almost a no-brainer these days. But figuring out how to optimize these web presences—and then diversify them—is often missed.

Although subject matter is an important consideration, you probably could blog about just about anything and find some kind of audience in the blogosphere—if you know how to attract their attention. Posting links and forming relationships on the sites we’ve already talked about is a large part of that attraction, but following are a few more important considerations:

  • No blog is an island. Want people to follow your blog? Want them to leave comments? Then get a good grip on the Golden Rule. Bloggers, for the most part, are very reciprocal. If you follow them, they’ll probably follow back. If you comment on their posts, they’ll probably comment on yours. At first, it might seem a bit mercenary—to pay attention to others simply so they’ll return the favor—but it’s a practice that ends up divvying out results all the way around. The important thing to remember is to make sure you keep your interaction meaningful. “Great post! Check out my blog!” does not constitute a meaningful comment. Put some effort into your comments, and you’ll establish mutually beneficial (and enjoyable) relationships with other bloggers.
  • Give your followers a lot of TLC. Don’t write a post, publish it, and then forget about it. Pay attention to the comments and take the time to respond. Even if your readers don’t return to read your replies, they’ll notice your comments to others, and they’ll appreciate your friendliness and approachability.
  • We have contact. In the interest of increasing that approachability, make it easy for your readers to contact you. Spambots are attracted to the “at” sign in email addresses, so it’s not a good idea to post your address in plain view. Either spell it out (myaddress at emailworld dot com), install a spamguard code to differentiate the robots from the humans (you can check out an example of this by clicking the “Contact” button at the bottom of my webpage), or a built-in contact box (such as the one AuthorCulture features in the lower right-hand column). Whichever you choose, make sure it’s in plain view, so readers will be able to access it without any trouble.
  • Button it. Make it easy for viewers to add your blog posts to popular sharing sites such as Digg, Del.ici.ous, and StumbleUpon. You can easily add the code for the individual buttons to your blog, or an all-in-one “Share It” button, such as you’ll find at the bottom of all AuthorCulture posts, which gives readers a myriad of options to choose from. The code for this particular button can be found at AddThis.

  • Kindle a fire… or two. Amazon’s Kindle has recently made it possible for authors to offer their blogs to Kindle readers on a subscription basis. You can sign your blog up here.
  • Two heads are better than one. Don’t think you have to hoe your own row all the time. Sometimes bringing other people in on the job—whether temporarily or permanently—can multiply your audience in the space of a single post. Seek out guest posters who can add quality posts and bring your blog to the attention of their own followers. Or even start up a group blog—like Linda and Lynnette and I did with AuthorCulture.

Once you’ve got a solid blog going for yourself, it’s time to think about diversifying. Expand your horizons to encompass as many different media formats as possible. Only a few months ago, I started offering my personal blog Wordplay in an optional audio format. This not only allows me to provide my followers with a media choice, but I’ve also been able to submit the blog to previously unavailable venues, such as iTunes and Bluberry. I also have plans to start a vlog (or video blog), as a Wordplay subsidy, which will allow me to take advantage of the massive traffic garnered by such video sites as YouTube, Tangle, and Vimeo.

For years, I’ve stood on the edge of the marketing jungle, shifting my weight and grimacing, certain that I’d never be able to make a dent in this foreign world of fast talkers and slick advertising. But the truth I discovered was both sobering and surprising. I think economic expert Robert T. Kiyosaki summed up the sobering part when he pointed out that his book covers don’t tout him as a “best-writing author.” They say “best-selling” author. But, happily, the surprising part of my discovery has led me to the realization that not only is marketing possible for an author like me—it’s even fun!

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Viral Marketing, Pt. 3 of 4: Overlooked Sites and Wastes of Time

In this series’ previous installments, we’ve covered how to maximize exposure on Twitter and on Facebook, arguably the two most important networking sites on the web. Today, I’m going to touch briefly on a handful of sites that we sometimes overlook in our quest for a web presence (and a few it’s probably best to overlook).

The key to viral marketing is being viral. We need to have a presence on as many sites as possible. It’s impossible, of course, to take advantage of every single one. Even full-time marketing firms aren’t capable of managing that many accounts. But it’s vital that we weigh our available time and schedule in as many different options as possible. Those options include, but are certainly not limited to the following:

AuthorNation: Features a large (although not heavily trafficked) forum section, a showcase for writers’ portfolios (I post my Wordplay blog articles there every week), and a nice networking system for exchanging mutual “friendships.” I haven’t gained a huge amount of blog traffic from this site, but I’ve certainly picked up a new reader or two, and therefore I usually only stop by once a week to update my portfolio and check out the new posts in the writers’ forum.

Scribd: A increasingly popular site for sharing written material. Hits ranging in the thousands are not uncommon for skillfully keyworded articles. Although the majority of articles are offered for free (I’ve posted short stories and blog articles), Scribd recently introduced a feature that allows authors to charge for each download.

Library Sites

Library sites are a prime spot for writers to find their key customers: readers. These sites allow members to catalog the books they’re reading and discuss them with fellow readers. Most sites feature extensive forums, where members can easily communicate with others (and subtly promote their work). Myriad library sites exist, with new ones popping up every day, but the two I’ve utilized are:

  • Shelfari: It’s user-friendliness and unlimited library size has converted me to a fan. I use Shelfari almost exclusively now and have enjoyed their huge and friendly forums. Shelfari’s biggest drawback is its tricky sign-up sheet which, unless managed skillfully, ends up spamming everyone in your address book with a request to join the site. It’s a one-time deal, but it can prove annoying and embarrassing for those with large address books, unless they skip the step that accesses their address books.
  • LibraryThing: Although not as attractive or user-friendly as Shelfari, LibraryThing caters to authors with its detailed profile pages and its Featured Authors. Its free membership does, however, feature a limit of 200 books. Having hit that limit some time ago, I rarely upload new books any longer and, instead, concentrate solely on the forums.

Wastes of Time

One of the keys to effective marketing is being able to instantly recognize which sites are a waste of time and eliminate them from your routine. Following are a few sites that have proven disappointing to me:

  • AuthorsDen: Similar in many ways to AuthorNation, AuthorsDen shares LibraryThing’s idea of limiting a free membership. Members are allowed to post articles and stories and book excerpts, but only up to 75 megabytes. After that, you must either delete some of your information or purchase more space. I gave up on AuthorsDen not long after joining, because I disliked the layout and was discouraged by the lack of interaction. However, in “Author’s Den—Free Marketing With a Punch,”a recent Marketing Tips for Authors blog post, Tony Eldridge noted that anything posted on AuthorsDen immediately lands at the top of Google’s search results. Needless to say, I’m rethinking my original assessment of AuthorsDen as a waste of time. Check it out and make your own decision.
  • MySpace: Once the monarch of social sites, MySpace is rapidly being abandoned in favor of more popular alternatives, such as Facebook. I maintained a page on MySpace for a while, but soon decided it wasn’t worth the time, since almost everyone on MySpace was also on Facebook.
  • ShoutLife: Billed as the Christian MySpace, ShoutLife has the makings of a great social site, especially considering its special features for artists, including authors. For the most part, however, it fails for the simple reason that self-promotion has taken precedence over interaction. Most members are too busy touting their own wares to look at anyone else’s.

Part 4: We’ll talk about diversifying your web presence through blogs, podcasts, and vlogs.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Viral Marketing, Pt. 2 of 4: Facebook and Forums

Facebook

Facebook is very possibly the single must-have on any networker’s list. Everybody and their mother’s cousin are on Facebook these days. You can’t afford not to join them. However, because the point of Facebook accounts is to gather friends, and not necessarily potential customers, most people’s friend lists are much more limited on Facebook than on other social sites, such as Twitter. The good news is that, even though your contact list is smaller, it’s probably made up of a more select group of people, who are more likely to be interested in what you have to say than would be some huge, random conglomerate. A few tips:

  • Make good use of your status lines: Don’t advertise incessantly and don’t inundate people. But do try to pique interest. Keep your friends updated on your writing and your publishing successes.
  • Post links: Again, don’t overwhelm your friends, but do take advantage of the opportunity to share links. Every time you post something new on your website or blog, share the link on your wall and get the word out to hundreds of people at once.
  • Post pictures: One of Facebook’s most popular features is its picture-sharing capability. People love pictures, so take advantage of their interest by accompanying your links with eye-grabbing images. Post photos of your book covers, magazine covers, book signings, and anything else that’s worthy of attention.
  • Fan page: With the ever-present threat of hacking and identity theft, many people are nervous about sharing the details of their lives with strangers. As a result, expanding your Facebook presence is often dependent upon how many people you’re able to connect with in person. A much easier and more prolific way of contacting as many people as possible is to start a fan page. If you feel you have a large enough following to warrant a fan page, you can create one in minutes. Post a link on your blog that directs people to your fan page, and you can both protect your privacy and send your updates to a countless number of people.
  • Groups: Facebook users create and maintain thousands of groups, most of which function as mini-forums or chat rooms. Find several groups related to your writing and dive in.

Forums & Groups

Arguably the best way to connect with people online is through forum communities. Finding a forum is as easy as typing a few keywords into a Google search and joining up. It is, however, a fairly time-intensive process, since the most effective forum users are those who spend a recognizable amount of time on a site. People who stop in only for a few posts and a little advertising are viewed as spammers and aren’t likely to generate much interest in their writing.

Helpful links: ChristianWriters: One of the best atmospheres for writers on the web.

Yahoo! Groups: Find a group for just about any subject under the sun.

Part 3: We’ll talk about utilizing often overlooked media sites, such Scribd and Shelfari.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Viral Marketing, Pt. 1 of 4: Twitter

When you think about it, the writing life really isn’t fair. Here you are slaving away over your masterpiece of a Great American Novel, sweating over it for months, years even, until it’s the most perfect piece of literature you can imagine. Then you give yourself copious gray hairs and bite your nails to the quick waiting for your query letters to finally turn up a positive answer. You corral the agent, the agent corrals the editor, until finally—voila!—you’re published. Now the only thing you’ll have to worry about for the rest of your life is writing the Great American Sequel, while your huge publishing company does its job and sells a hundred bazillion copies of your book. Easy-peasy, right?

I have three small words for you: Not so fast.

In the rapidly and sometimes painfully evolving world of book publishing, the reality of success is a long, hard road of learning how to toot our own horns and promote our own books. Another reality is that few authors are natural born marketers. Most of us are much more comfortable hiding behind our keyboards than we are touting our wares under the guise of a marketer. Add to that the fact that both writing and marketing are full-time jobs unto themselves and you’ve got three more words: Life’s not fair. Successful author Judy Winter notes:

…I’ve discovered that the ongoing demands of promotion often leave little time and energy for authors to do what they do best: write. For a creative soul, that can be incredibly frustrating. But if authors want to ensure their works remain alive and viable in the publishing world, wearing the promotion hat cannot be avoided.

Fair or not, writers who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty and learn to market their own works aren’t going to make a success of themselves. But there is a bit of good news in the midst of all this sickening reality, and that is that marketing (art form though it may be) is actually very user friendly. Earlier this year, when I finally got serious about my own marketing, I tackled it head-on and have been delighted to discover that this is something I really can do. And if a grumpy introvert like me can do it, anyone can!

In this post and the ones to follow throughout the month, I’m going to share just a few of the many tricks I’ve learned as I’ve stumbled my way through the wasteland of self-promotion. Please feel free to share your own experiences: what’s worked and what hasn’t. We’re all learning how best to market our work, and it’s important that we pool our experience so that we can each build the best marketing strategy possible.

Twitter

With its seemingly random and chaotic stream of tweets, Twitter can be more than a little bewildering at first. But it’s actually one of the easiest and most far-reaching networking platforms. Since joining Twitter, my blog stats have nearly doubled. A few tips:

  • Download TweetDeck. This is the best manager for Twitter I’ve found, primarily because it allows you to divide your followers into groups, so you can cut down on the static and focus on the people who are worth your time.
  • Make your tweets personal. The biggest secret to successful networking is to keep your interaction focused on the people and not the advertising. Ninety percent of your tweets should be self-promotion free.
  • Make your tweets valuable. Don’t just tweet aimlessly about what you’re having for lunch. Give people what they want, and they will come back for more. Being the schedule-dependent person I am, I’ve come up with a mini tweeting schedule to make sure I’m consistent: 9:00 a.m.: My latest blog link. 12:30 p.m.: “Question of the Day” (these writing-related questions have proven very popular). 2:00 p.m.: Link to a helpful writing-related site. 4:00 p.m.: A “status line” about something I’m doing that day or some observation I’ve made. 6:00 p.m.: Quote about writing. The rest of my tweets are responses to others. I’m always on the lookout for tweeple with whom I can interact, and I’ve established some very enjoyable contacts.

Helpful links: Free Twitter Designer: Design your own professional-looking background. Backgrounds often separate the pros from the rest of the pack.

Twitter Counter: Keep track of your stats.

Tiny URL: Shorten long website addresses so they fit within the 140-character tweet limit.

InRev TwitIn: Manage your follower list at a glance.

TwiTip: Receive daily tips on how to maximize your Twitter experience.




Part 2: We talk about utilizing other social media sites, including Facebook.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Places to Upload Your Book Trailer



Okay, so you've finished your book trailer, right? And now you need places to post that trailer so that people will see it and rush right out to buy your book! :) I hope the following list of places will be of benefit to you. Oh, and I'd still love to see those finished trailers, so don't hesitate to comment with a link to yours.

In my web wanderings recently I've begun to notice that there are new video sites popping up all over the place. And the good news is that some of them are dedicated just to book trailers.

Of course there is YouTube and Tangle (formerly GodTube). These, for now, are probably the two largest/best places to upload your trailer. So if you are limited on time at first, start here, then expand to the list below.

Other places I've found:

* www.video.google.com (Connected to YouTube, so if you upload to YouTube, your video will eventually make it's way here, too.)
* www.viddler.com
* http://bookscreening.com (You have to submit your trailer for review before they will post it. Check out their FAQs page for more info.)
* www.blazingtrailers.com (click 'Services' to upload your trailer.)
* www.trailerspy.com
* www.yourbooktube.com
* www.video.yahoo.com (again, connected to YouTube)
* www.veoh.com
* http://revver.com/

I'm sure there are more, so if you know of a sight I've missed, please respond with the link in a comment. Happy uploading, everyone! :)

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