In keeping with my marketing tips leading up to my four-hour intensive class at the Colorado Gold Conference in September, thinking outside of the box in terms of marketing involves a number of things. Moderating a panel is a great way to rub shoulders with extremely successful authors and get your name to their already established readership.
This was my first year at Denver Pop Culture Con as an author, but not a single person on the panels knew this. Here are some tips to prepare you to moderate your first (or hundredth) author panel like a pro and make a memorable impression on your new audience.
Research the authors on your panel. This is a great opportunity to reach out and connect with the big names on your panel. Consider following them on Twitter and tag them to advertise the panel you will be on together. Chances are, they will follow you back for the same reason: to know who you are before the panel. Read their bios, past interviews, and books if you have the opportunity. (This is not required for panels with multiple authors of various titles. If you are moderating a panel of authors who write in the same series, like Star Trek or Midnight Coven, you might want to be familiar with the books as well.)
Interpret the title and purpose of your panel. At Denver Pop Culture Con, if you didn’t pitch the original concept of the panel, you don’t receive much guidance as to who did and what their intent was. If you have those things available to you, perfect! If not, wait until you’ve researched your panelists before deciding what direction you want to take your questions.
Prepare eight to ten questions per hour (most panels are 45 minutes to two hours).Yes, and write them before the day of the panel if you have as much notice. Ensure these questions are open-ended and allow the authors to relate their work to the question. You can have yes/no questions, but I suggest no more than two and to follow them with “Why or why not?”. An exception is if it’s the last question of the panel and your time is up.
Write down an introduction, but don’t read it. Giving the audience an expectation of what the panel is, who you are, and who is speaking are key components to an introduction. You may ask the audience to wait until requested to ask questions, or encourage them to raise their hands at any time. On panels with multiple authors, it is a regular practice for authors to introduce themselves. If you have one huge-name author (Terry Brooks, OMG), maybe ask them what they prefer and have an intro prepared for each member so as to not make the other authors feel less important. Most of the time, they’ll have no problem introducing themselves.
Prepare contingency phrases. Luckily I never encountered a heckler, a rambler, a crier, a stone-cold answer, a political rant, or anything otherwise inappropriate. But I sure was ready for it! I found the best advice here (scroll down to “author/crisis management”) for what to say when.
Your input on questions is okay. If your topic is within your wheelhouse of expertise, absolutely give some answers to your own questions. Also understand that you should keep these shorter than if you were a panelist instead of the moderator.
Be respectful when calling on audience members. No one likes to be labeled with the wrong pronoun in front of a large room of strangers. Whenever possible, start with “The person with…” and describe their shirt, hair, sparkling eyes, contagious smile, etc. Remember, the panelists are there for the audience, not just to hear themselves talk.
Don’t be late. You are in charge. Keep an eye on the clock or clock person. Know when to wrap things up, and have a plan to do it.
There you have it! All my moderating secrets. I hope this guide helps anyone who might be nervous about moderating a panel.
I once had to come up with a song and sing it on a panel. Talk about being put on the spot! If I can find a video, I’ll post it to the RMFW Facebook page.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve encountered on an author panel, as a speaker or moderator? Let me know in the comments!
As Anne Hillerman describes it, she was shaking in her boots when she first set about writing new mysteries featuring the iconic characters Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn—characters created by her father, Tony Hillerman, and the lead protagonists in 18 award-winning novels.
But Anne Hillerman brought her own approach to the series and, with the release of The Tale Teller this spring, has added five new entries to the series set in and around the Navajo Nation.
On the podcast, Anne, who will be a keynote speaker at the Colorado Gold conference in September, talks about her decision to add female protagonist Bernadette Manuelito to the Chee-Leaphorn mix and about her approach to research and storytelling.
Anne Hillerman grew up in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the eldest of the family’s six children. She received a journalism degree from the University of New Mexico and worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist before becoming a full-time author.
Anne’s debut novel, Spider Woman’s Daughter won the Spur Award from Western Writers of America for the Best First Novel of 2013. Her next three titles – Rock with Wings, Song of the Lion, and Cave of Bones – were all New York Times best sellers. Anne also is the author of the award-winning Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn, created with husband/photographer Don Strel, and honored as the best photo book of the year by the Mountains and Plains Booksellers.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey calls it “sharpening the saw.” In the vernacular of the origin story, “We’re too busy writing to get better at writing.” I think it’s not just the writing that’s the problem, just like it’s not the erstwhile lumberjack’s saw that’s the problem. It’s his perspective.
Covey talks about the four dimensions of saw sharpening, and I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately. Winter – my favorite season – is not the kindest season to me. It’s when the dark outside comes indoors to hang out with me. I’ve been keeping records for the last few years, and it’s clear: Between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, my saw gets pretty dull. We just passed the solstice, and I’ve been reviewing my toolbox.
Physically, I wasn’t doing well. Didn’t get my exercise. Ate too much. Put on weight. Yada, yada, yada. Age-old story with no happy ending. Starting in May, I decided I wasn’t going to go without a fight. I set a goal for myself in June: walk 100 miles in the month. Four miles a day for 25 days. Easy, right? I made 102, and the days I dropped were all early in the month.
Can we talk about sleep for about seven or eight hours? Yeah. Who knew?
And I started making my own non-fat yogurt. Icelandic recipe for “skyr.” Lovely stuff. I get a kick out of making my own, and it’s a treat I can give myself with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of granola. (It also fed the third dimension by giving me something new to learn, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)
That’s the first dimension. Exercise, diet, sleep. Common sense, right? The stuff we all know we should do because it’ll keep us alive and writing. The stuff that goes out the window when time pressures hit, deadlines tie us in knots, and words refuse to appear on the screen on demand.
The second dimension Covey talks about – the spiritual one – falls into some level of woo. I started using a meditation app on my phone a few years ago. Quite a few now, because I had worked up to over 1000 consecutive days of meditation. And then I missed a day. My fault. I was on the road and forgot one night. By the time I got back to it, the counter had reset to 1.
Yeah, I stopped pretty much all meditation after that.
But I got back on the horse in May, and now I’m less concerned about the number of days, only that the number keeps increasing. It’s a lot easier to get back into it than it was to start to begin with. I suspect that’s true of all spiritual practice, whether it’s religion, meditation, martial arts, or just fostering an attitude of gratitude. It’s easier to go back to step one than to start from zero.
The mental dimension is probably the one writers think of first. Hone the craft. Take a class. Try a new form. Read the masters. But there’s also a kind of “fill the well” corollary to this in that part of the mental dimension involves actively seeking inspiration. Maybe it’s a trip. Maybe it’s a concert. Maybe it’s nothing more than giving yourself permission to get up and watch the sunrise.
I’ve been ignoring my mental dimension for a while. Last month’s blog post about looking for underrepresented voices grew out of my search for new inspiration. New ideas. New stories. And I found them.
Last but not least, Covey suggests the social/emotional dimension could be critical to success. Unpacking this can be a struggle. I’m the worst when it comes to social stuff. I love it when it happens, but I seldom get out of my comfort zone. My venues are almost all digital. A few times a year I venture out of my basement. I’ll be at the Colorado Gold conference this year. I’ve been to the Nebulas a couple of times. I enjoy a weekend away at MileHiCon every year.
Emotional stability has always been a challenge for me, but I’ve noticed that as I get my physical ducks quacking in the same direction, my meditation back on track, and my gray matter stimulated, the emotional struggles have all started to seem a lot less struggle-y and maybe even manageable.
But I had to decide that I needed to sharpen my saw. I worked up to it slowly. I gave myself measurable tasks. I kept track in my journal so I would know how it worked over time.
So far, so good.
Now, what about you? Summer’s in full swing. The heat is on – literally, figuratively, and emotionally. We’ve passed the summer solstice, and the days are already noticeably shorter. Everybody I know is busy trying to write the next book, the next story. But what about the saw? What will you do to keep your saw sharpened in all four dimensions?
Marketing. For many authors it’s a dirty word. When I go to RMFW events and talk to aspiring authors, I get the distinct impression that the real reason so many people pitch to agents and chase a traditional contract is because they just don’t want to do the marketing. They want to be pretty writer fairies who sing Disney numbers and have magical books pop up wherever their wand touches the ground. (Do I sound bitter?)
Here is the truth. Unless you have created a great book that agents, editors, and publishing houses all agree will change the world, the safest hands your marketing plan can be in are your own. I’ve spoken with dozens of traditionally published authors who told me their books got little to no push. I’ve spoken to other authors who had minor pushes for a limited amount of time and then suddenly no adds, no campaign, no swag.
But do not fret, true believers. I am here to help. Now, before you roll your eyes at me, let me just say I am not a great marketing genius. I do not know everything about marketing your book. I cannot tell you where to find an audience, or how to convert add clicks into book sales. I’m just a humble guy who likes to write and read. What I do have is a list of books that I’ve read that I think can help you build your author platform.
What is an author platform?
I am glad you asked. The definition I like comes from author, coach, and speaker Jane Friedman. She says an author platform is your ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach. You know what I’m talking about, right? J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman are all authors whose followers are so loyal that they act as if they know the author personally. When these authors publish a new book, people buy them religiously.
Now, no one is claiming any of us will be as big as they are. But you can start, in little ways, to build that platform by doing your research. Here are some great author platform resources I recommend.
Write. Publish. Repeat.
This is an oldie but a goodie. Written and indie published in 2014, this book put me on the path to self-publishing. The three writers share their acerbic wit and dark humor. While some of the information is dated and probably wouldn’t work today, many of the concepts, like a sales pipeline and a marketing funnel, are still spot-on. They talk about their email lists and how they keep readers engaged. You can absolutely disregard their concepts of project management when it comes to producing fiction. I would, however, pay close attention to their ideas on marketing and sales strategy.
Buzz! 2: Your Super Sticky Book Marketing Plan
I met the author, Polly Letofsky, at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference this year. I was so impressed with her seminar that I immediately walked over to the conference bookstore and bought her book. If you are intimidated by the entire idea of marketing your fiction, buy this book first. Polly lays down the steps you need to take, one by one, to plan and successfully launch your next book while building your author platform.
Establishing a Brand
Local independent author Thomas Fowler has had a career in marketing. He knows his way around social media. Once you’ve implemented the ideas in Buzz! 2 and digested the concepts in Write.Publish.Repeat., read Thomas’s book next. He will show you actionable steps to expand your presence in social media, from when to tweet to what to post on Facebook. I highly recommend it.
The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, 9th Edition
If you want to get your feet wet early, read this one after you’ve read Buzz! 2. Have you ever wondered how to get 20, 30, or even 50 reviews of your novel on Amazon without having a massive email list? This book is the secret. The author, David Wogahn, has compiled a list of 200 book review blogs. He gives you their URLs and shows you how to compile a personalized query letter that will introduce you and your upcoming novel. He shows you the person to contact on each website, their email address (if applicable), and what genres they will and will not review. If your novel gets chosen by the group of bloggers you’ve asked, then most of them will not only give you an honest review on their website but also place that review on Amazon once your book is out. I do have to warn you, this book came out in 2017; some of the blog sites are no longer up, and others are now hard to contact. But if you’re serious about your marketing and your author platform, this book is a game changer.
I hope you find this information helpful. Continue to have a great summer, and happy writing!
Some folks are POV purists, preaching that each scene should be from one POV and only one POV. Fine. I’m not going to argue. I’m not a POV purist. Powerful writing pulls the reader in and doesn’t let her up for air. I’ve read many books that shift POV in a scene, sometimes more than once.
GASP!!! MORE THAN ONCE???
Now, I’m going to qualify that by saying that I’ve only seen it go from Character A to Character B and back to Character A. No third character. But, if it’s seamless, I would hardly notice, would I?
By the way, this is one of the problems with putting together a class like this. Sometimes it’s hard to take a seamless piece of fiction and point out the shifts. The shifts in and out of DEEP POV. The shifts back and forth between POVs.
In an article on DEEP POV, Suzanne Brockmann said this:
Early in my career, I wrote category romances, and only used two points of view—the hero’s and the heroine’s—throughout the entire book. I would often start the scene in the hero’s POV, then move directly into the heroine’s POV without a scene break. My goal was always to make this POV switch as seamless and smooth as possible, and I had a method to how I did it. I would start the scene and anchor it solidly into one character’s POV. Then, when the time came to make the POV switch, I would move into a more shallow or even omniscient POV by describing
action only, without any subjective observations, introspection, or opinions. And then I would pass the point of view. I’d establish the new POV by
using some of those anchor words I’ve mentioned and then go deep inside that new character’s head.
That’s how Suz does it—like a perfect handoff in a relay race. But that takes practice, practice, practice. I’ll admit to not having perfect handoffs all the time. Heck, even the Olympians have rough handoffs sometimes—but usually the end result is LOSING THE RACE.
Some of you will be saying, “That’s why I just don’t do it. One POV for each scene is a rule for a reason.” You’re right, I suppose. But what if you could break the rule so beautifully that no one noticed or cared?
The advantage of switching POVs in a scene is that you can get more than one reaction to what’s going on and what’s being said. Try it. You might like it. And your critique group might hate it. Your editor might hate it, too.
Okay, enough debate. Let’s see how the QUEEN does it, shall we? From Frisco’s Kid:
Frisco awoke to the sound of an electronic buzzer. It was loud as hell and it was right in his ear and . . .
He sat up, wide awake.
It was the sound of the booby trap he’d rigged to the front door last night before he went to bed. Tasha was AWOL again, dammit.
This is from Frisco’s POV. His five-year-old niece, Tasha, who’s living with him, leaves the apartment all the time. A bit further on, Tasha and Mia (the heroine, who lives next door) show up at Frisco’s place:
Frisco glared at Tasha. “Where the h—”
Mia cut him off. “Tasha was coming over to visit me,” she told Frisco, “but she remembered that she was supposed to tell you first where she was going.” She looked down at the little girl. “Right, Tash?”
Tasha remembered? Mia remembered was more like it.
Still in Frisco’s POV:
Mia mouthed positive reinforcement over Tasha’s head.
Frisco swallowed his frustration. All right. If Mia thought he could get through to Tasha this way, he’d give it a shot. Somehow he mustered up far more enthusiasm than he felt. “Excellent job remembering,” he told the little girl, opening the screen door and letting both Tasha and Mia inside.
He forced himself to smile, and Tasha visibly brightened. Jeez, maybe there was something to this.
Here, Suz begins to back out of DEEP POV and go into the action.
He scooped the little girl into his arms and awkwardly spun her around until she began to giggle, then collapsed with her onto the couch. “In fact,” he continued, “you are so amazingly excellent, I think you should probably get a medal. Don’t you?”
She nodded, her eyes wide. “What’s a medal?”
“It’s a very special pin that you get for doing something really great—like remembering my rules,” Frisco told her. He dumped her off his lap and onto the soft cushions of the couch. “Wait right here—I’ll get it.”
Mia was standing near the door…
This could still be Frisco’s POV, except for what follows:
…and as she watched, Frisco pushed himself off the couch and headed down the hall to his bedroom.
“Getting a medal is a really big deal.” Frisco raised his voice so they could hear him in the living room. “It requires a very special ceremony.”
Tasha was bouncing up and down on the couch, barely able to contain her excitement. Mia had to smile. It seemed that Frisco understood the concept of positive reinforcement.
“Here we go,” he said, coming back into the living room. He caught Mia’s eye and smiled. He looked like hell this morning. He looked more exhausted than she’d ever seen him. He’d clearly been sound asleep mere moments ago. But somehow he seemed more vibrant, his eyes more clear. And the smile that he’d sent her was remarkably sweet, almost shy.
Mia’s heart was in her throat as she watched him with his little niece.
Presto Chango! The scene started in Frisco’s DEEP POV and ended in Mia’s DEEP POV, with a seamless transition.
Now for your homework. Here are two more scenes, from Prince Joe. Pick out the POV switches if you can. Don’t be tricked.
That’s all for this time, campers! I’d love to hear your thoughts on how Suz did it.
Writers, John Gilstrap thinks you should cut yourself a bit of slack.
Let the story flow. Get comfortable in your own writer’s skin. Stop copying the style of other writers.
Sure, learn the so-called rules, but don’t let them hold you back.
Gilstrap, one of the keynote speakers at the 2019 edition of RMFW’s annual three-day Colorado Gold conference, coming up in September, thinks are writers are “beaten down” by the rules and that they need to kick back and let the joy come through on the page.
On the podcast, John also talks about his very unusual start in the thriller-writing business and about his latest novel, Total Mayhem, released last month.
John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling and Thriller Award-winning author of Final Target, Friendly Fire, Nick of Time, Against All Enemies and many more including, way back when, the rocket-to-stardom title Nathan’s Run.
John has written four screenplays for Hollywood, adapting the works of Nelson DeMille, Norman McLean and Thomas Harris. He will write and co-produce the film adaptation of his book, Six Minutes to Freedom.
A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution. Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, hazardous materials, and fire behavior.
On the day we celebrate our independence from tyranny, I'd like to discuss some books that remind us why, with all her flaws, the United States of America is, in my opinion, the most successful political experiment in the history of mankind. The following books remind us of the lofty and noble ideals upon which our country was founded and which will continue to keep us safe, prosperous, and most of all free!
I knew I was in trouble the second I saw him take a picture.
He wasn’t coming up the hill to greet me. He wasn’t coming up the hill to say "Howdy, partner" or "You must be my new neighbor." No. His climbing posture said it all. He was coming up the hill with a sense of urgency. The look on his face said business, even if the jeans, work shirt, and ball cap said farmer.
I might have said “Good morning” or some such pleasantry. I was maybe 20 feet up the hill, on a pretty steep section of trail. And his response? To take out his phone and snap a photo of me. Two.
"What are you doing here? Who gave you permission to walk on my property? Do you know you’re on my property? Well, then, how come you don’t know?"
This happened two weeks ago. In late May, my wife and I moved to a house, west of Durango, in a town called Mancos. We have 17 acres; our neighbor has 400. And there is tons of BLM (federal) property everywhere. It feels, well, open.
There’s a path from our property that leads up to the west, and I had followed it to a gap in the fence. The gap is big enough to drive a big bulldozer through. There is zero signage. After the fence, a trail leads straight up to the south along the fence to a high spot.
Me? I love high spots.
So my dog Aspen & I had walked up to this spot a few times, no problem. I carry my big Sony RX-10 camera with a zoom lens. The land is completely undeveloped, dominated by scrub oak, sage, and wild grasses. The farmhouses and barns are a few hundred yards away. If I was technically walking on another person’s property, it certainly didn’t seem to me that I was doing any damage. I certainly meant no harm.
"No," he informed me. "Never again."
My fellow trespasser, Aspen.
I apologized profusely. I told him I was new to the area (while also trying to get my dog to understand the importance of looking chagrined.) In case you’re wondering, I did not take a photo of him.
I certainly understood the principle of trespassing, but my neighbor’s anger made me feel it in my bones. I was very glad I didn’t see a six-shooter on his hip.
My heart thumped. He made me wait. He wanted me to stay in the spot where I’d been “caught” until his folks came to read me the riot act—just in case I hadn’t heard it from him. They never showed up; he stormed off through the scrub.
Sure, he could have been much more chill about the situation. Just taking photos? No problem. You want to hike up here once a month or something? Sure, now we’ll know it’s you.
Trespass. Such a fundamental wrong—in life, and in fiction. How many times has one of your characters had to step onto another’s property to accomplish their goals? Whether it’s snooping through a lover’s text history or sneaking into an office at night to dig through files, the trespass trope is almost a given.
My point? Don’t shrug it off. This can and should be a point of genuine tension, whether it's internal wrestling over whether to tread on another's property or getting caught doing so.
Of course, if your main character is a lifelong burglar, that might a whole other story. But otherwise, stepping onto another person’s property, figuratively or literally, will tell us lots about your characters. Whenever I need to write a scene like this, I know precisely what real-life moment I’ll be conjuring up.
For the last 12 months, I worked in a sort of creative fever on my latest novel. When I wasn’t at my day job, I was writing. When I couldn’t be writing, I was brainstorming. When I stopped writing to sleep, I felt like I was still trapped in the fictional world, not really resting but just waiting for my next opportunity to get back to work. It was productive, yes—but also exhausting.
When I finished the novel a few weeks ago, I knew I needed a break from writing. I was drained, and I needed to recharge. I needed a chance to fully exit my fictional world, to get some real sleep, and to let my creative well refill. So I stopped writing…and suddenly, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
We’ve all been here, at this awkward crossroads between projects or drafts. It’s an important step in the writing process, but it’s hard to switch from a full metaphorical plate to an empty one. Your writing rest stop doesn’t have to be unproductive. Here are some things you can do to further your writing career when you aren’t actually writing.
Read. Read widely, both in and out of your genre. Read about writing. Read something completely different. Take in other forms of storytelling, such as movies, TV shows, plays, even video games. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from other storytellers.
Revamp your writing space. Nothing inspires me to get back to writing like a freshly cleaned, organized, or redecorated writing space. If you’re lucky enough to have a writing room, give it a fresh coat of paint or hang some inspirational artwork on the walls. If your writing desk has become choked with clutter, spend a weekend reorganizing. You’ll have a clean slate to go back to when you’re ready to start writing again.
Create something else. If you’re taking a break from a novel, work on short stories, essays, poems, or even blog posts. Get a head start on your query letter, synopsis, or pitch. Journal about your day-to-day life. Or try other creative outlets—painting, woodworking, gardening, competitive ice sculpting, whatever sparks your interest.
Research. Find agents or markets you want to submit to one day. Read up on an interesting setting or occupation you’d like to incorporate into a story. Listen to author interviews (the RMFW podcast is a great place to start).
Network. Attend a conference, find a critique group, or check out one of the many author events at local bookstores. Get involved in the countless writer-centric Twitter chats. Give yourself a dose of camaraderie by hanging out with other creatives.
Teach. You can learn a lot by sharing your skills with other writers. RMFW offers several opportunities to do this, including the Colorado Gold conference, the Online U classes, and the free programs (I’m doing one in July). Shameless plug: You can also teach on paper, by submitting a guest post to the RMFW blog here!
I hope these tips gave you some useful ideas. Now, I’m off to finish painting my writing studio…
I’ve been teaching a night class at the local community college about writing fiction with the intent to someday be published. Not teaching how to write, but exposing new writers to the concepts, lessons, rules, and "secrets" that, if I'd known them 20 years ago, would have saved me hundreds of hours of editing, rewriting, and embarrassment.
As I was going through my carefully curated PowerPoint, one of my students asked if I ever got stuck and couldn’t write any more. That question led to a major digression, which ended up being a good thing.
We talked about walking down our Main Street, which has all kinds of strange and interesting architectural details that we never even notice if we don't intentionally look. And what about the second and third stories of those buildings with the dark windows? What might have happened, or could be happening now, behind that impenetrable glass?
The smells of a BBQ wafting from down the street, along with the joyous (or not so much) cries from children at the party—What is the event, and what are the attendees thinking as they sit and sip their drinks and watch each other?
Driving down a mountain road and spying an old cabin falling apart, and wondering who built it and where they went in life, where their family is now, and what might have taken place within those termite-ridden log walls a century ago?
A fancy party dress at a used-clothing store with the store tag still attached. Who bought it, and why was it never worn?
These seemingly random things can be interpreted, or written, in so many different ways.
I have a huge file of “spare parts” on my computer. The parts are moments in time where I saw, felt, heard, or experienced something that I thought I could use someday in my writing. Several of those things have been the basis for scenes, or short stories, and even for book one of my Bad Carma series.
Do you get stuck writing? What do you do when it happens? Do you squirrel away moments from your life, or others, for use in your writing?