Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Lit-Quote with Tom Clancy

Today, April 12th, is the birth anniversary of Tom Clancy.

Tom Clancy was once a Maryland insurance broker with a passion for naval history. Then he wrote The Hunt for Red October, which catapulted onto the New York Times bestseller list after President Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn”. Clancy was known for  weaving realism and intricate plotting into can’t-put-it-down suspense novels.

Photo taken by Gary Wayne Gilbert, 20Nov1989 at Burns Library, Boston College and is used under Creative Commons License..

Have you ever written real life situations that were just too unbelievable to be included in your work?


Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogLit-Quote is provided by, Gabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak. Gabrielle writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.


Pet Peeves of Editors and Agents

What are the “Peevie Jeevies” of Editors and Agents?

Here are the top five, in no particular order, from agents and editors I have spoken with throughout my years of attending PPWC.

  • When I say, “No, it’s not for me,” please don’t argue with me or state your case why I should change my mind.
  • Don’t tell me it’s going to be the next bestseller. Comparing it to a particular book is fine, but a little humility goes a long way.
  • Please don’t stalk me, especially in the restrooms. It’s creepy when I turn around and you’re simply always there.
  • I don’t want to be handed your entire manuscript. If I’m interested in your book, I’ll let you know by giving you information on how/where to contact me or I’ll give you my card.
  • Although it’s flattering, don’t treat me like a god or goddess. I’m human, just like you.

Here are the top five things agents and editors would like you to do.

  • Introduce yourself and give me a brief (keyword brief) logline of your story. I don’t need you to recite the entire book.
  • If I do ask for materials, make sure you follow the submission guidelines carefully.
  • Yes, you can buy me a drink. I’d love a drink. Or two.
  • Mingle. Make some small talk. It could lead to bigger things.
  • Talk to me as you would anyone else you’re meeting for the first time. We enjoy meeting new people. That’s why we’re here.

PPWC 2019 is just around the corner. Get ready to meet with editors and agents, but don’t rile their “Peevie Jeevies”!


Becki Davis

A member of Pikes Peak Writers for over 20 years, Becki Davis has written dozens of lifestyle articles for local publications and has been published in a national women’s magazine. Currently she works as an advertising manager for a local newspaper writing copy and designing ads. She and her husband are graphic designers and have won numerous awards both locally and internationally throughout their long careers

Stuff You Should Know About Writing

Susan Wiggs is one of the keynote speakers at PPWC2019, and she graciously shares this post with us about her writing process.


I have the worst work habits. Sometimes I look at the pile of books I’ve written and I wonder how they got there. One reason this body of work has eked out of me (sorry about that visual) is that I have a friend like Sheila. Writer friends keep me accountable.

The actual process of composing a book is not pretty. The best way to describe it is “word-by-word.” You put down a word. Then you cross it out. Then write a few more. Stare out the window. Wonder if the can opener needs cleaning. Wonder if someone’s having a hissy fit on a social network. Wonder why you thought this was a good idea for a novel in the first place. Call a friend. Call Sheila and disrupt her day.

Sometimes you have to go to Bali to clear your head and get some serious thinking done:

Clear your head in Bali.
My brain works better in Bali.

I write my first draft in longhand. In a Clairefontaine notebook with a fountain pen loaded with peacock blue ink. Not because I’m quirky but because I think in longhand. And I’m left-handed so ordinary pens smear my hand as it drags across the page, but Skrip peacock blue on Clairefontaine paper does not.

The first awful draft.

So now what, you ask? After I bleed blue all over the page, I realize there is no backup copy. If I happen to step out for a while, the house might burn down and the only existing manuscript will go up in flames, like Jo’s novel in Little Women. (I didn’t cry when Beth died. I cried when Amy burned the manuscript.) Sometimes I keep the notebook in the freezer, like Tess does with her notes in The Apple Orchard. I figure that’s the last thing that will burn if the house is reduced to rubble.

Eventually, I fill the notebook with about 100,000 words that loosely resemble a novel. Then I have to type the thing up. I can’t use a typist because I tend to revise as I transcribe. Dragon Naturally Speaking voice dictation software works really well for me, provided the dogs don’t go off on me when someone comes to the door. When that happens, here’s what appears on my screen: hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep.

Oh, and here’s something. I don’t use Word. I know, I’m awful, but my very first writing software was WordPerfect and my brain is stuck with it. I have to have Reveal Codes and anyone who knows WordPerfect knows why. Please, Word, figure out Reveal Codes! F3! Save my sanity!

Then I print the thing out and my writers’ group has a meeting about it. I’ve been in some writing group or other since 1986 and I don’t intend stopping. Magic happens in a writers’ group–critiquing and brainstorming and commiserating and celebrating. My current group consists not only of the fabulous Sheila Roberts, but also Lois Faye DyerAnjali BanerjeeElsa Watson and Kate Breslin. We read and talk about each other’s work and I adore these women and I would pledge them my first born child but she already has a kid of her own.

My group sometimes meets at a quaint waterfront bakery in a small town, or in Sheila’s incredible waterfront condo. Writing tip: Baked goods make the brain work better.

Moving right along…I rewrite the book a couple of times. At various stages, it looks something like this:

Revisions are not pretty.
Revisions are not pretty.

…but you get to buy lots of colorful office supplies, so that’s something.

…and then I send it to my literary agent and editor. We have long deep talks about every aspect of the novel. Sometimes we get together in person and they are smart and kind and supportive and motivating and I thank God they are in my life.

Susan Wiggs at her wedding.
They came to my wedding. We did no work that weekend.

And then I put on the Sweater of Immovable Deadlines and rewrite that sucker again.

And at some point my editor says we’re good to go, and my agent says yippee, let’s send that girl her advance check…


Susan Wiggs is an international #1 New York Times best-selling, award-winning author of more than fifty novels. Her work has been translated into two-dozen languages. She is a three-time winner of the RITA Award, the highest honor given for a work of romantic fiction. Wiggs has been featured in national and international media, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Her most recent novel is Between You and Me (William Morrow). Susan’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound, and in good weather, she commutes to her writers’ group in a 21-foot motorboat.

Her latest releases include: Between You & Me, Family Tree, and Summer at Willow Lake book club edition.

Available for pre-order: Map of the Heart in paperback, and
Between You & Me in hardcover.

Thinking Outside the Publication Box

Write Brain with Debbie Maxwell Allen –

We’re all aware that readers are finding their favorite content in many places besides physical books. With this in mind, Debbie Maxwell Allen’s Write Brain presentation provided a refreshing look at how writers can take advantage of multiple technologies to get themselves and their content in front of readers.

Affordable print-on-demand services make it possible to produce a variety of creative materials such as card decks, board games, and even coloring books. Augmented reality (AR) apps open up the possibility of adding animated artwork and video, viewable by smartphone, to your books and promotional tie-ins.

Of course, no discussion about self-promotion would be complete without mentioning Facebook. Citing the platform’s rising costs for paid advertising, Debbie shared ways to use Facebook in a more organic and conversational way. Rather than boosting posts and buying ads, she suggested leveraging currently free features such as groups and live videos to connect with fans and share content such as story world details, what you’re currently working on, or how you found an idea.

As much as some of us (and by some of us I mean me) would like to imagine it’s not necessary, both traditionally and independently published authors need to find and build their own audience, even before publication. Fortunately, technology makes it easier than ever to get your words and your brand in front of an increasingly global audience.

Debbie Maxwell Allen is an editor, YA author, and Scrivener teacher. She works as a project manager for Good Catch Publishing and writes young adult historical fantasy. Find more of her resources for writers on her blog, Writing While the Rice Boils.


Robin LabordeThis recap from Write Brain is presented by Contributing Editor Robin Laborde. Robin is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.

Why Diversify our Characters?

Diversity. What is it, anyway?

In this case, I mean specific categories: Race, sex and gender, orientations, ethnicity, national origins, religion, and so on. Diversity of ideas we won’t spend much time or energy on but that’s also a thing that exists.

The better we represent people in our writing, the more we can reflect and create a just and equal society.
~Jason Diaz

Why try to write it? Just because it’s Politically Correct (PC) or in demand – or for deeper reasons?

There’s respectful language and careless language. If one is motivated by fear of criticism, that’s a solid reason to add diversity. That’s how society changes: We criticize outmoded ways of doing things. Nothing wrong with responding to that.

I’d like to start with one primary reason to be as inclusive as you can.

Representation matters; The Doll Test

Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Clark are famous for the Doll Test, which they wrote about in three papers between 1939 and 1940. The internet is replete with various versions of this test (for example https://youtu.be/tkpUyB2xgTM). The short version is this:

A 5-year-old black girl is shown two baby dolls. One has black skin, the other white skin. Mamie asks her a series of questions about the dolls. “Which one is pretty?” “Which one is good?” “Which one is ugly?” “Which one is bad?” and so on. The girl points to the white doll for pretty, good, and nice and to the black doll for the opposite answers. Then Mamie drops the bomb: “And which doll are you like?” At this point, the girl looks at the researcher with this hurt expression. Like, “You sonofa… you tricked me.” Because she knows which doll she is like.

This is a segregation-era test, but it wasn’t set in a segregated state and the results persist across time and place. Segregation matters for this thing, but isn’t the only factor. One of the issues must be representation – otherwise, why would brown kids south of our border react in just the same way?

It isn’t just little girls of color. The suicide rate for people on the GLBTQIA+ spectrum always exceeds straight folks. People of disability constantly push back on well-meaning microaggressions. Jews, Sikhs and Muslims in America often experience literal danger, and black trans women, being at the pernicious apex of three disadvantaged groups, are some of the most murdered people in this country.

The better we represent people in our writing, the more we can reflect and create a just and equal society.

Five Diversity Errors

With that, let’s delve into five diversity errors, ranging from worst to best. To get into the plus side, ways of getting this right, come to PPWC and drop in on my talk on this subject.

Exploitation

People will pay to see films and read books/comics that portray them. Sometimes creative products get made that include or focus on minority or underrepresented groups just to pump sales.

The comic book character, Cyborg, was written and produced by white, able-bodied people. Black people had no say and the money they spent didn’t profit them or their communities. The titular character hates himself and his prosthetics—a very able-bodied view of what it might be like to rely on medical devices for empowerment.

Women in film and comics, and yes in literature, are often-usually included for sexual value. There’s a certain trope in horror, for example: A serial killer stalks around the nightclub scene and finds his perfect victim. She’s young and hot and we get to linger on descriptions of her sexuality. The killer gets her home, things get hot and heavy, and then she murders him. She’s not there to empower female readers; she’s there to profit white male writers.

Pandering

A lesser form of exploitation. The character is still there to attract a certain audience and still doesn’t profit the minority community. She doesn’t necessarily conform to a bunch of stereotypes or otherwise outwardly offend, but she’s alone on the screen.

Example: Rogue One. Felicity Jones stars. She has a non-romantic plot, a Hero’s Journey, with tons of screen time. BUT, the male crew, and stars, outnumber females by well over 6:1. Only male characters die on screen.

Mary Sue

Sometimes we’re so afraid to say anything bad about a minority group that we go too far the other way. A Mary Sue is overly idealized and usually has incongruent skills.

The NCIS TV franchise is notorious for MarySue characters: the Goth girl with extraordinary hacker skills (“girl” being a misnomer; Abbie is portrayed as eternally 28 despite being born in 1969). Wheelchair bound Patton Plame (portrayed by Daryl “Chill” Mitchell) is an unrealistic hacker with magical superpowers. Sebastian Lund played by not #ActuallyAutistic actor Rob Kerkovich (as far as I know), starts in forensic medicine, graduates to field agent, also has unrealistic levels of skill and knowledge and ability to “overcome” “autism”.

If you’re doing Mary Sues, you aren’t necessarily doing anything terrible, but you can do better.

Stereotyping

Some writers may not know any people of the minority group and therefore relies on stereotypes to write the characters. Sometimes we get our ideas about people who aren’t like us from movies, TV and books.

Positive stereotypes are still stereotypes. What’s the harm of positive stereotyping? It tends to pigeonhole the group. You can be black and not into rap music or dancing. You can be Asian and have neither talent nor aptitude for math. You can be female and have actual ambitions.

I’m an autistic man. You don’t know me. Everything you think you know about me from watching TV is wrong. I’m not smart because I’m autistic; I’m both smart and autistic. I worked very hard for my academic success.

Positive stereotyping tends to credit our success for attributes rather than effort and dedication and sacrifice.

Othering

So, you’ve decided to include people of color in your novel – congratulations – because people of color exist, and you want to write a realistic world. Racing towards inclusion, in good faith with good intentions, we might make some mistakes. Call them microaggressions.

I’ve read a lot of books lately where, when a character is black, the author mentions it but, when a character is white, they don’t mention it. This sets up black as a category that bears discussion, but white as default mode: nothing to see here.

If you’re going to describe characters as black, then their skin color is in some way noteworthy. Probably you’re right. But the truth is, black is important because white is important. So, I advise also describing white characters as white.

What else? Describing females in terms of their sexuality but not the males. Lingering on black hair but not white hair. Describing a Hispanic person’s accent but not those of Euro people from all over the country.

Now that you have a glimpse into what not to do, sign up for the conference workshop and we’ll primarily spend time on doing this stuff right, with more positive examples.


Jason Diaz

Jason Dias is a doctor of clinical psychology with fifteen years of experience working with developmentally disabled adults, and is the co-founder of the Zhi Mian Institute for International Existential Psychology. His writing credits include web journals and articles for The New Existentialists and A New Domain, two book chapters about existential psychology, a book of poetry and several novels and anthologies. Jason lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and son and keeps mostly to himself.

Let’s Go Camping!

Okay, I know it’s still a little too cold to be camping outside. But this is camping you can do at your computer. I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo.

I know you’ve heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. Camp NaNoWriMo is the same premise, but a little different vibe. It’s like the younger sibling of NaNo. Camp NaNo takes place twice a year, in April and July, during a less stressful time of year. No major holidays to worry about or Christmas shopping to stress over, and little Sally doesn’t eat the cat’s food for lunch. I personally like Camps better than NaNoWriMo in November. I don’t feel as if I’m in a cave the entire month of writing, and it’s less stressful than NaNoWriMo.

Your Cabin Awaits

Cabin in the woods. Photo © Kathie Scrimgeour
Photo © Kathie Scrimgeour

In NaNoWriMo you have writing buddies, whereas in Camp NaNo you’re put into “cabins” with other writers, up to twenty in each cabin. If you have a group of friends you’d like to “bunk” with, you can create and name your cabin with those friends, or you can find a cabin to be a part of. Either way works. The fun part is encouraging each other, making jokes about your cabin (Okay, who left the smelly sock on the floor? Do we have stuff for the S’mores?”), and tracking your progress as well as each other’s.

The Count is up to You

Camp NaNo allows you to choose your goal by selecting either a word, page, line, minute, or hour count (anywhere from 30 to 1,000,000 words). You keep track online the same way as you would during NaNoWriMo, by inputting your words each night. Don’t feel like you’re going to make your goal? You can adjust your goal by editing your profile. If you have to change your goal, it’s okay. Life happens and the main thing is you’ve started writing, so that’s a major win!

Camp with Friends

If you like a more local feel, there are several places which host writing nights, where you can interact with other Wrimos in the area after being in your cabin all day. You can find them on the website by looking for your city. Municipal Liaisons will keep you informed on the whens and wheres, too. Writing sprint prompts, helpful hints, and more will be sent to your inbox once a day.

You’ll probably want some of the same survival items you had for November’s marathon. Tea or coffee, snacks, music if that’s your writing thang, and a notice to family and friends to only bother you if the house in on fire.

If you’re looking for a retreat to do some writing this year and you don’t want to spend a lot of money renting a cabin in the middle of the woods, Camp NaNoWriMo is the place to be, and you don’t have to pack the sunblock and insect repellant to participate. Happy camping!

Note from editor: Although Camp NaNo is a non-PPW event it is a perfect opportunity to write your novel just in time for #PPWC2019’s Query 1 on 1.


photo of margin holmesMargena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 2

Note: This is Part 2 of a two part series. See yesterday’s post for Part 1. We pick up where we left off yesterday….

Your First Comp

To find your first comp book, first find out what you’re selling (genre and subgenre), then look at the bestseller list for that genre.  Don’t pick anything that hasn’t been released yet.  Click on a book, then note the name of the publisher and whether they’re traditional, small press, or indie; the publication date; the number of reviews; and the sales rank.

Finding your first comp is the hardest. Make sure it is the best.
  • If you’re not sure whether the publisher is traditional, small press, or indie, copy the publisher name and search for them in Google.
  • Look for a publication date of 2-3 years at most.  If you’re not sure whether the date is the original publication date or just the date the book was uploaded to Amazon (or whatever site you’re using), look up the same book on Goodreads, which should list the original publication date (“first published XXXX”).
  • The number of reviews should be at least a dozen, although more is better.
  • Indies can select books of any bestselling rank; I would say that for people doing traditional or small press, don’t go above the 2,000 ranking on Amazon.com (the US site)—some agents and editors get a bajillion queries for “the next Harry Potter” and may be turned off by that, where “the next Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris” might be perfect.
  • I would not pick anything under a 50,000 ranking on Amazon.com for a comp.
  • I would not pick any book that is clearly on sale; the sales rank will be temporarily skewed.
  • If you’re struggling, pick a bestselling book that is somewhat close to your own and look at the “also boughts” or “sponsored products” that are related to that book.  Anything that Amazon thinks will sell because you came to the Harry Potter sales page may be a good comp for a book like Harry Potter.  Looking at Goodreads lists with that bestselling book in them can be helpful as well.
  • I would not pick anything related to a media franchise.  The marketing will be skewed toward the movie, TV show, or video game; likewise, the sales rankings will be artificially lifted by fans of the other media checking out the book. 

Subgenres

Some subgenres, especially down in nonfiction book rankings, can have lower sales ranks in general.  If your subgenre’s sales ranks don’t match the numbers I gave, I would say that, roughly, don’t pick anything in the top 10 or under the top 50, if possible.

Finding your first comp is the hardest!  After that, you can leapfrog to other comp books by searching for books like your first comp.  Make sure your first comp is as good as you can get it!

Example Comps

In our domestic suspense example, I skimmed through the bestseller list and checked the following books:

  • Room by Emma Donoghue is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Back Bay Books, which I googled and found was part of the Hachette Book Group (a large traditional publisher).  It has a movie out, and it is more than 3 years old.  The rank is in the 8500s (which is fine).  5000+ reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to movie and age.
  • Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney is a traditionally published book.  The publisher is Flatiron Books, which I googled and found was part of Macmillan Publishers (a large traditional publisher).  A TV series is in production (which makes it multimedia).  It was published in 2018.  The rank is in the 9500s.  722 reviews.  Not on sale.  Cannot use due to TV series.
  • It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell is a traditionally published book, published by a subdivision of Macmillan.  I can’t find any related multimedia. It was originally published in 2017.  The rank is in the 10,000s.  527 reviews.  Not on sale.  We can use this!

Also Bought

Scrolling down to the “also bought” section of the It’s Always the Husband page, I can see several other titles that might work.  With some effort, I picked out:

  • White Lies by Lucy Dawson. (Small press, no multimedia, 14,000s sales rank, not on sale, 253 reviews, published 2018.)
  • The Ex-Wife by Jess Rider. (Small press, no multimedia, 31,000s sales rank, not on sale, 380 reviews, published 2018).
  • Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown. (Trad press, movie options sold but no movie in the works [this is okay for our purposes], 22,000s sales rank, not on sale, 402 reviews, published 2017.)
  • The Liar’s Wife by Samantha Hayes.  (Small press, no multimedia, 9000s sales rank, not on sale, 125 reviews, published 2018.)

Some notes:  The sales ranking between print and ebook will vary.  If you’re aiming for traditional publishing, look for print sales ranks; if you’re aiming for indie, go with ebook.  But, really, if a book hits a decent ranking on either print or ebook, it’s probably fine.

Some websites, Amazon especially, tries to make everything look like it’s on sale when it’s not.  If it’s $3.99 US or over on the ebook, just assume it’s not on sale—although traditional publishers’ ebooks will usually be $9.99 to $12.99 US. 

We now have our five comps!

What to Do with Your Comps

Now that you have comps, you have a wealth of options:

  • Pick out similarities between titles to use when titling your book.
  • Pick out similarities between covers and use them for your book cover, especially when sending instructions to a cover artist/designer.
  • Study their book descriptions for hints and tricks.  (But, beware: book descriptions are often terrible, even on successful books.  Consult The Copywriter’s Handbook for copywriting tips.)
  • See what categories the books are in and use for additional sales categories for your book.
  • Use alternate categories as keywords.
  • Use comps to find ad keywords.
  • Look up the authors online and see how they are marketing themselves via their websites, newsletters, and social media accounts. (Again, caution; sometimes authors are terrible at this.)
  • Find out (on Goodreads, for example) who is reading those books so you can start working out your audience.

And more.

Comps in a Query

In a query letter, you may want to only mention the top one or two comps that you’ve chosen; however, if you are including a book marketing plan for your book (which is beyond the scope of this article), you can include all of your comps as data points.

Marketing is a separate skill from writing an actual book, but it can still play into your writing.  Understanding your audience is never a bad thing. 

But let me stress that you don’t need to start with your marketing before you start writing.  It is perfectly okay to write that one weird book that doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You will find comps.  They won’t be perfect, but they’ll help you get away with writing what you really want to write.

On the other hand, if you’re stuck for ideas, starting with a book you enjoyed is not a bad way to start brainstorming…


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Book Appraisals: Picking Comps – Part 1

Most of us, as writers, are not that skilled at the beginning-to-end process of selling things.  We aren’t trained marketers or promoters; most of us haven’t gone door-to-door selling encyclopedias (although some of us have sold Girl Scout Cookies and other items, back in the day). 

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.

Selling things isn’t just banging on someone’s door with a fundraising form for a band trip.  Someone has to figure out what to sell, who they’re selling it to, and what that thing will do for the customer, then translate that into packaging, ads, marketing text, and even the forms the customer fills out to make their orders.

Books are no different, either for traditionally published or indie authors.  Roughly speaking, here’s the process:

  • You decide to be an author.
  • You write books.
  • You sell, or help sell, those books.
Let’s say you’ve completed a book. 
What next?

You need to figure out what story you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, what that story will do for the reader, and translate all that into covers, ads, book descriptions, newsletters, and so on.

If you are an indie writer, this process is essential; no marketing means no sales! 

If you are a traditionally published writer, this process seems like it’s not your problem, but it really is—you will be expected to help sell your book, once it’s published.  Even before it’s published, you will need to understand what you’re selling in order to write a query letter and synopsis. 

Why are query letters and synopses so hard? 

Because they involved understanding how to market your book.

In other words, whether you’re an indie or are traditionally published, understanding marketing will help you sell books.

Marketing vs. Promotion

Marketing is the invisible process of getting your book ready to sell.  Once your book goes on sale, the efforts that you put toward selling your book are no longer marketing, but promotion.  Marketing = finding your market.  Promotion = making people within that market aware of your book.

Getting your marketing in place before you start selling your books means you can promote very quickly.  You will be able to respond quickly to opportunities as they arise.  Marketing is like having your house in good repair and staged and ready to show for possible buyers, and listed for sale.

Promotion is showing your house, or holding an open house.  That open house may look like what sells your house—but without the hours of repair work, cleaning, and staging, your house isn’t as likely to sell as quickly or for as much, if at all.

First the marketing.  Then the promoting.

(Unless you discover from your promoting that your marketing is flawed.  Then you can switch back to marketing mode.)

Where to Start with Marketing

You’ve decided to do some marketing. 

Now what?

Some people start with the marketing research.  Other people write the book first and then do the marketing research.  I recommend the latter; markets change in popularity but passion gives a project legs (in other words, the ability to build an audience over time).

But, in either case, the first step remains the same:  find out what you’re selling.

How do you find out what you’re selling?

The same way a real estate appraiser finds out the value of a house: they find multiple comps, or comparable examples of houses in your neighborhood that have been sold recently.

To sell a house, find several other houses nearby that sold well.  To sell a book, find more books.

Your story has a genre.  That is the “city” that your story lives in.  Your story has a subgenre.  That is the “neighborhood” that your story lives in.  Your genre and subgenre are where you should start to look.

Finding Your Story’s Neighborhood

Let’s say that your story is a domestic suspense novel.  Your “city” is mystery/crime/suspense; your “neighborhood” is domestic suspense.

As an example, let’s look on the Amazon bestseller lists and find their term for a domestic suspense novel.  (It might not be the same term across distributors, and you might have multiple options.)

Let’s start out with the Amazon Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense list. 

The subcategories (on the left side) are:  Mystery; Thrillers & Suspense; and Writing.  Our domestic suspense example probably “lives” in Thrillers & Suspense rather than Mystery or Writing, so let’s go there.

If we look down the list of subcategories under Thrillers & Suspense, we find one called Domestic.  Let’s click that.  We are now in a good “neighborhood” for a domestic suspense story.

A note for indie publishers:  make sure you’re looking through the Kindle/ebook lists, rather than print (print often has separate lists).  Print skews toward traditional and small-press publishers, and may not give you a full range of good comps.

Finding Your Story’s Comp Books

What makes a good comp book?

This will be affected by whether you’re selling an indie book or are putting together a query letter for a traditionally published project.  Indie books should draw from a mix of indie, small press, and traditional sources; traditionally published projects should go for just traditional sources.  Small press books should lean toward a mix of small-press books and traditionally published books.

In general:

  • Comp books should have been published within the last 2-3 years.
  • Comp books should at least be in the same subgenre.  If they have the same type of plot or setting, even better!
  • Comp books must have the same overall audience:  children’s, middle-grade, YA, adult, etc.  Don’t use a YA domestic suspense title as a comp for an adult domestic suspense book!
  • Comp books should have a reasonable amount of success, but not be flops or bestsellers for traditional and small-press publishers.  Indie publishers can go after the bestsellers as comps, if they like. Agents and editors are often annoyed by a comparison to a really famous book.

A note: don’t worry about name recognition on your comps.  Book pitches should feature books that people recognize easily; comps should be books that sell reasonably well (name recognition not necessary).

Part 2 posts tomorrow.

DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

Happy Birthday Robert Sabuda

Born today in 1965, Robert Sabuda is best known for his enormously successful popup books.  Robert was brought up in rural Michigan with few resources. He followed his passion and taught himself now to create three dimensional books. He reminds us that the most important tool in our craft can’t be bought. Some authors prefer to work the old fashioned way.  Do you find that pen and paper change your creative flow?


Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogGabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak, writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Letter from the Editor – March & April

Dear Readers,

My letter to you this month is coming a few days late. Sorry, but I have a really good reason. Writing from the Peak is jam packed with such an amazing batch of posts that I am having a few problems getting them all scheduled. It is so packed that I am going to skip my letter in April.

KICKING OFF MARCH

We kick off these two months with a two part series from DeAnna Knippling who will guide you through Book Appraisals: Picking Comps. Margena Holmes introduces us to a non-PPW event, Camp NaNo, which takes place during the month of April. Jason Diaz, faculty member for PPWC2019, also has a two part series post on Why diversify our characters? Don’t miss this one.

INTO APRIL

As we go into April, award winning author and keynote speaker Susan Wiggs shares her writing process in Stuff you need to Know about Writing. Next up is Rebecca Davis, a long time attendee of PPWC, who has her top 5 lists of the Peevie Jeevies of editors and agents.

Mid-month, New York Times best selling author John Gilstrap will get you up to speed on Networking at Conference. Be ready to shake some hands and pass around business cards at PPWC2019.

Wrapping up April, Gabrielle Brown will give you the scoop on What to Expect at Conference followed by Margena Holmes who is in the know about Marketing on a Budget.

Never fear…your favorites are still here. Lit-Quotes will celebrate a few birthday anniversaries, and the wrap up from Writers Night will stop by in March and April.

Whew!! That’s a lot! Be sure to BOOKMARK this blog so you don’t miss anything. Come back often to keep up with all the news from Writing from the Peak.

See You at Conference! ~Kathie~

CONFERENCE!

What’s in store for early May? CONFERENCE!!

The Prequel is May 2nd and PPWC2019 gets in full swing on May 3rd. Take a look at the workshops that are scheduled and the Who’s Who of PPWC2019. Hope to see you there!!

REGISTER TODAY!

EARLY REGISTRATION CLOSES APRIL 7TH

Regular registration runs April 8 – April 28


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.