Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is the Book Tour Dead? Tips for Authors

I have been so lucky to have a couple of dozen different book events. I say 'lucky' because I know just how difficult it is to to get people to take a chance on an unknown and host you at some sort of an event. And this does not only go for indie authors. I know many authors (traditionally published) that say it is just as difficult with their books. Let's face it: if you are not on a famous housewives show or have done some amazing stunt to get yourself on national television, trying to get people to a book signing is ... well, almost impossible. And going after the big chain bookstores is a waste of some valuable time in my personal opinion. But indie bookstores, schools, classes, festivals...the list can go on & on as to places to try! And I'm here to tell you, it can be done. 

Be prepared to work....before, after and during. I came up with a few tips that I hope other authors find helpful.

1) Do you have a platform? (Fiction writers...yes, we have the hardest time with this...but dig deep into those stories and think about themes.) This is huge in getting interest in your book.
2) Can you help with getting people to the event? Is it local? Can you also invite people? Many bookstores want to know you can guarantee a certain amount of people.
3) Don't simply rely on the host to do marketing. As soon as you have dates set, send out press releases, contact bloggers and local press...get the word out.
4) What time of year are you planning to do it? Are people in the mindset to go to book events or on they in vacation mode?
5) If your book is fiction, when is it set? Book about Valentine's Day? Use that time period to your advantage!
6) Think outside the box. It does not have to be a bookstore. Think about your product and gear your events towards your book/story.
7) Are you a shy person? If tours may not be for you. If you are sitting in a bookstore or at a table at festival, you better be ready to speak to people walking by and engage them to get them to hear about your book.
8) When you do it: document it all! Take photos. You'll want those for marketing purposes down the, you want to be able to look back and appreciate all that hard work once it is completed.

I recently returned from driving over 800 miles on a mini-tour to Maine and I know many people thought I was completely crazy. I mean, there is absolutely no way to make back money spent by selling a few books. However, authors should think in terms of more than just book sales. The contacts made. The publicity I got before (and even after with a reporter running a story this week) - all things we should take into account when looking back on what has been gained from a book signing. The tour isn't dead...authors just need to be creative in coming up with new ideas to keep it going.

And after all, aren't we all suppose to be creative types?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest Post: What Is Literary Fiction Really?

I am excited to introduce my readers to an author I met this past year…and I’m so glad I did! I read Benjamin X. Wretlind’s CASTLES: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and was completely blown away. He takes me so far out of my comfort level of what I usually read and I personally feel it’s important for people to do that now and again. And then he asked me to read & blurb his latest Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and I am honored to be a part of his blog tour announcing that book due July 1st! So here is Mr. Wretlind’s guest post on something I’ve always had issues with (even though one of my books was a finalist in the Literary Fiction category). 

Take it away, Benjamin!

Benjamin X. Wretlind
When I first stumbled across Gregory Allen in the Twitterverse, I was impressed by his willingness to help other people out. And after I'd read his 2011 novel Well With My Soul, I was impressed by his writing, too.  The novel remains one of my favorite reads this year.

That fact forces to me ask the question I've asked many times before: "What is Literary Fiction Really?"

When I was wee lad (well, thirty-something), I had this idea I would be the next great horror writer. I did all things horror: wrote short stories, worked on novels, edited a horror magazine, read works by other horror authors, attempted to buy my way into horror conventions, collected horror action figures (they’re not dolls!), etc. I was pretty good at getting involved in the horror scene. I even accepted the massive egos of some well-known horror writers out there.

However, while doing all the above, I found something in my writing: it’s not all horror. Now, this revelation might not be cause for alarm. After all, if a piece of work is fantasy or speculative fiction, there’s no reason to go crying about things to your mom, is there? You can still write.

I didn’t think this way, of course. I didn’t go crying to my mom (of course . . . that would be . . . silly), but I did find myself in a bit of a depression. I was supposed to be the next Stephen King, the next Clive Barker, the next (insert your favorite obnoxious and ego-rific horror author here). I was going to write and write until my fingers bled and when they bled I was going to wear bandages and write more until I had written the penultimate horror novel that was sure to be the first blood-filled slasher to win the Pulitzer prize.

What happened, however, was the complete opposite: I stopped writing altogether. I left one novel in the middle and thought I would never look back.

I spent a few years ruminating about my failure and then a good solid year evaluating what went wrong. I was sure I was meant to write horror. After all, the first story I ever wrote when I was 7 years old was horror. But if that was the case, how come all the story lines I could come up with were not horror-ific? I supposed I could just stick in a big, green monster to eat people, but that wouldn’t make sense.

It was odd. How could I go on?

It wasn’t until I accepted I wasn’t a horror writer but a fiction writer that my life made a drastic 180° turn. That was me: a fiction writer, living outside of one genre and willing to read anything and write anything.

Except romance. But I digress.

Since that revelation (if you could call it that . . . I mean, there weren’t any singing angels or anything), I’ve written a lot. I’ve also published a lot. The first novel to come out was that one novel I abandoned years ago. I asked myself what horror was and decided it wasn’t about big, green monsters eating people (although that’s pretty neat), rather it was about making the reader uncomfortable. CASTLES: A FICTIONAL MEMOIR OF A GIRLWITH SCISSORS is just that: a novel intended to make the reader squirm while debating exactly what the main character’s motivation for her actions were. Is she mad or is there some paranormal type activity going on?

CASTLES is actually the only horror novel I have ever written, and looking at my list of future projects, the only one that will be in my bibliography for a long time. I don’t actually call it horror, though; to me, it’s literary horror or just plain Literary Fiction.

Whoa. Stop. Did I just say I think CASTLES is Literary Fiction?

The first novel I actually wrote (which is being reworked into an epic style and due for release at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013) is not horror. I had one reader comment that the novel actually falls into the magical realism category. Magical realism was not something I had considered in my “horror writing” days. The collection REGARDING DEAD THINGS ON THE SIDE OFTHE ROAD contains several stories that might be considered horror and several more that would fall into the surrealist or magical realist categories.

SKETCHES FROM A SPANISH MUSTANG is comprised of 7 separate character sketches set in and revolving around a fictional casino in the town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. None of those sketches are horror. Rather, they’re spread across a broad spectrum of genres, from that oddly familiar magical realism to the domestic (or family drama) to thriller to tragic romance. (See? I can write a romance!)  In 2013 I should finish a new novel, currently titled DRIVING THE SPIKE. DRIVING THE SPIKE is actually a political thriller/family drama. 

It’s not even remotely related to horror.

Unless I add in a big, green monster to eat people.

And then I wouldn’t like it.

Neither would you.

What I'm saying, though, is this: Literary Fiction, which I would put almost all of my writing and Greg's writing into, is not a genre. Literary Fiction is fiction and if you stay away from it, you'll be missing out on quite a bit. Were it not for that label, applied in the 1960s to things that didn't have a particular place and were meant to be "serious" and "lasting" fiction, we would probably read a bit more. 

I mentioned on Michael K. Rose's blog on Day 1 of the Sketches from the Spanish Mustang Blog Tour that I had asked a few people what they thought of when they heard the term "literary fiction." The responses I received ranged from “Vladimir Nabokov” to “classics, Dickens, Bronte” to “old stuff.” There's a whole book of articles that could be written debunking the notion that Literary Fiction is just plotless words jotted down for the sake of being fancy.

I also proposed my own definition of Literary Fiction: A kaleidoscopic of work that includes elements of romance, thriller, horror, science fiction, mystery, the American Western, etc. Literary Fiction is cross-genre.  Literary Fiction is fiction, and we all need to stop lumping some of the best work out there into this category.

I walked into a Barnes & Noble the other day and discovered there was no "Literary Fiction" shelf.  It's called "Fiction & Literature" and you'll find anything from Nabakov to Dickens to James Rollins to Douglas Preston to Stephen King.

It makes sense, really.

Now we just need to get rid of that "Literary Fiction" shelf on Amazon.

Benjamin X. Wretlind, the author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, has been called "a Pulitzer-caliber writer" with "a unique American voice." Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines throughout the past 10 years.

In Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, a haunting, heart-warming and often brutally direct exploration of the lives of seven people in the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, a woman must come to grips with the failings that cost the lives of her husband and child. Bestselling author Michael K. Rose says: "Mr. Wretlind has penned a tale of such emotional and literary depth it will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned."

With a pencil, a sketchbook and a keen eye for the details of the soul, the woman's lines and smudges, curves and tone reveal the stories behind her subjects. Life emerges on the page — vengeance, salvation, love and death. The artist's subjects fight for survival, only to be saved in the sketches of a woman with a gift . . . and a curse.

International Book Award winner Gregory G. Allen calls the book a "unique journey that rips away the outer layers of people allowing us to stare into their souls where humanity is universal: no matter the genre of writing."

Sketches from the Spanish Mustang will be available at all major online retailers for $14.95 on July 1st, 2012.  It will also be presented in an electronic format (e.g. Kindle, nook) for $5.95.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It Made School Worthwhile

End of school for many and while attending an 8th grade graduation, I started thinking back all those years ago to my own school years. Did you have that one special class/club/organization that you still carry the fondest memories?

For me it was choir.

I was a choir kid as long as I can recall. (Before Glee was on TV making it so popular.) But those were my people and we all made it okay to be standing up and singing songs in multiple part harmonies. I did countless competitions (both as choir and solo/ensemble).  And this 43 year old geek still has every patch they made for each competition (yes…as if we were going to put it on a letter jacket like the football jocks).

1985 Choir Peeps
For me, choir was where I made some of my closest friends. It was the family you had once you entered the halls of the school. I always loved to sing, but there is something about singing in a group like that you can never experience again as an adult. The excitement from nailing a part that the director drilled into your head. The thrill of waiting for results to be posted when you are at competitions. The ‘knowing’ you can look into the eyes of a fellow choir member and they ‘get’ it. We traveled to Corpus Christi and Florida, and I was lucky enough to go to San Antonio when I made the Texas All-State Choir in ’87 which words could not describe. Choir was the reason movies like "Mr. Holland's Opus" grabs me in my gut and puts a catch in my throat as I watch the final scene. 

Many times people think in terms of awards when it comes to choir and ours got many. From Straight Ones & Sweepstakes (choir folks will get that one) at competitions to Grand Champions in Florida … to the Arion Award I received my senior year. (Which yes, I still have the medal and the pin.) But a special memento I own is a simple wooden “1” on a chain that was given to me my sophomore year and I wore around my neck during competitions every single year after that. A good luck of such that had been passed to me by an amazing person that I cherished more than they knew.

Such great memories. Such wonderful directors. Such awesome people.

I’m sending great thoughts to my former choir friends this weekend as Texans of all ages that were in GHS choirs from '75-’85 under the direction of Mr. Bragg gather for a reunion concert. I so wish I could be there as I know it is going to sound amazing as they get to recapture (for one night) that excitement and feeling of being a single unit with many voices.

“Think 1.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Am I Losing My Pride?

Someone may take away my card because I hadn't even realized gay pride weekend was upon us? I've been caught up in blog tours, marketing, work, end of school year, family trips...well LIFE.

But is that such a bad thing? I mean, after all - isn't the point that we can be proud of who we are every day? If anyone followed me around with a video camera, they would see my life was no different from that of my straight counterparts. I wake (in a grumpy mood), shower, have breakfast and go to work. I go through my day the same as anyone else. After work is usually deciding what is for dinner and then sharing how the day went with my partner of 12 years each night. Sitting on the couch and watching TV and no signs saying "look at this gay couple". 

I think the U.S.A. is in the middle of a huge movement and shift of how people feel about gay rights/gay pride. I know we still have a long road ahead of us, but I'm proud of each accomplishment (large and small) that happens. I'm not ashamed of who I am nor do I ask for anything special in life. (I ask for the same rights, but nothing special.) 

So even when I may not have time to join the parades and marches this weekend, I'm still very proud of how far we have come as a society. Of the love and support I get from my family and friends. And of my relationship that has seen its share of ups and downs (like every other couple I know out there.)

So am I losing my pride?

I don't think so. I'm just not saving it up for once a year. I'm simply living my life. Perhaps some might say I'm like the president: my views are simply evolving.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Maine Event

Greg & Donna: Summer stock '89

No...Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neal are not taking to a ring this time, but I'm taking to the road with my friend Donna like the characters in Patchwork and sharing my books with people in vacationland. For those that have followed my blog all through my own journey of chicken boy...they know how that book is based on my godson. Well, Donna is his mom. And the two of us met doing summer stock in Maine in the summer of '89. (She actually picked me up in NYC having never met and the two of us made the 7-8 hour car trip and quickly had to get to know each other.) So I'm really excited she can join me and assist me on this mini-book tour weekend.

I also just love that state and how relaxing it can make you feel in summer. Obviously, we are going to 'work' - but book tours are less about work and more about meeting new people. Patchwork of Me has strong ties to that state as Sara travels from Arizona to Maine to confront her past. And I can't go anywhere now without sharing my children's book on autism awareness. So I'm eager to sign copies of both.

I really want to thank those Maine bloggers and websites (MomInMaine, Drawing Roads, Rocky Coast News, SpinsterJaneChristie's Book Reviews) that have helped spread the word about me and these two award-winning books prior to my arriving there. (Just goes to show how wonderful Mainers can be!)

I'm also so appreciative of Connie at Bath Book Shop, Belinda at the Freeport Library, and Crystal and all those at Tugboat and her sister Inns for hosting me at the start of the 50th Annual Windjammer Days Festival in the town the book is set. 

Can't wait to visit each of those places!

So if you are around the following towns...stop by!

Sat, June 23 Bath Book Shop 11 am-1 pm Bath, ME
Sun, June 24 Tugboat Inn 12-1:30 pm Boothbay Harbor, ME
Mon, June 25 Freeport Community Library 7-8:30 pm Freeport, ME 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Can One Pen Create Multiple Genres?

From the director of X.

From the producers that brought you Y.

The author behind X, Y, & Z.

Those commercials have always made me squirm. As if because I loved Dustin Lance Black’s award-winning Milk, I’m going to enjoy his screenplay to Virginia just as much. Or because James Cameron did such an amazing job with Titanic that I simply MUST love Avatar too. Unless it’s Nicholas Sparks writing the same book/movie over and over or a Stephen King movie (so we know what we’re in for)…those tags on movie commercials don’t really do anything for me.

Perhaps that is my problem. I’m not a genre writer. I can’t sit down and write similar stories following the same private eye or a fantasy trip through a jungle of vampires (not that there is anything wrong with those): they are just not me.

I’ll admit – I get nervous when a reader relates to one of my stories and then turns to read another. They may come to me saying how they were so touched by Proud Pants and the addiction of my brother along with the relationship between him and my mother. But then they decide to read Well with My Soul and I find I want to warn them on the sex and religion between the pages of that book. Or the gay men that related to Soul sees the gay characters pushed to supporting roles in Patchwork of Me. (And we won’t even go into the other books that are written, but not out yet. Those may seriously send someone over the edge asking who is writing these books.)

I recently heard from someone who had loved Well with My Soul immensely and is reading Patchwork now. While he’s enjoying it, he told me it feels like a completely different author. It made me wonder if that’s a bad thing that I can change my voice and style (not to mention the amount of years that passed between writing those two even though they came out closely together) or if it is a good thing that I can be a chameleon when writing. I’m not really sure. Only time will tell.

But I do think it’s part of the reason those commercials have always bothered me touting the director, producer, writer from one project to another. Shouldn’t they be true to the individual project and not simply put their stamp on it so that we know it’s a <FILL IN BLANK OF WELL KNOWN PERSON> behind it?

These are the topics that get in my head at times and gnaw at me.

So naturally, I blog and share.   

Monday, June 11, 2012

Patchwork is Grabbing Attention

I am so happy to report that Patchwork of Me has been named the winner in General Fiction for the 2012 NY Book Festival. I’m so honored to be recognized in this way and wish I could join them at the ceremony on Friday the 22nd (but I’ll be away on a mini book tour of the book).

As I watched the Tony awards, I thought what it must feel like for those people walking up on that stage. It really is an awesome and humbling thing to win or place in a contest and I do not take that lightly at all. It is a sort of validation that all authors (and performers) love to get. But truly for me…the importance is placed on having people read my work. And being part of a contest or festival means other people who may not have seen my work will get that chance to see it.

The first people that always read your work are family and friends and they are so amazingly supportive. That first book comes out and they jump at the chance to support their friend in a new endeavor. Then an author goes through a period of “now what?” Wondering how we can get our work into the hands of strangers….reaching a new audience.

That’s why I’m thankful for each response I get to my work. I’m very proud of my latest book and have taken to a two month blog tour to get myself out in front of others that do not know me. It’s just one more book among the masses. My Orangeberry Book Tour has really assisted in allowing me to guest post other places and talk about the book, the way in which I write, or other topics. And then going to places to sign copies and discuss my work face-to-face. Can’t replace that feeling!

So check out where I’ll be on my blog tour…drop me a note when you read something or better yet – share your review online. Authors love to see a new review pop up on Amazon, BN and Goodreads.

And thanks to those who are enjoying Sara’s road trip of self discovery in Patchwork. I’m very proud of the work and love that I’ve been able to cross into a different genre and find new readers there!