San Francisco Writers Conference: Day 2 (Part One)

I was up very late last night (long after I published the previous article) at a “pitchathon” wherein Michael Larsen and Katherine Sands worked to help authors refine their book pitches. I didn’t pitch, but hearing all the feedback on everyone else’s pitches helped me whittle mine down a bit. I was very, very lucky when I ran into Mr. Larsen this morning and he remembered me (maybe there IS something to that adage about success being 90% showing up) and invited me to sit at his table for breakfast and try out my pitch for The K-Pro on him. Aside from it being a bit long, it was pretty solid, and I’ve used it a couple times today to pretty good effect. The consensus seems to be that it’s a unique premise for a book, and there’s probably a market for it, though whether it’s fantasy or paranormal women’s fiction remains in question. It could go either way.

My first session this morning was about blog tours. Stephanie Chandler (who’s just fantastic, really knows her stuff), Tara Gonzalez, and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg were the panelists, and the key thing they pointed out was: How do you choose what you read? More often than not: recommendations. And besides getting them from friends and family, you find those recommendations on blogs, review sites and the like. So the goal really becomes getting bloggers and reviewers to recommend your book.

Ideally, these bloggers will have regular readers and credibility when it comes to their suggestions. Meanwhile, you can use Google or Technorati to search for bloggers who cover your topic or genre. Don’t only aim for the highest hits because they’ll also be the most difficult to get to read or review your work; so long as a site looks legit, you should query them too, so you have a better chance at wider coverage.

And querying these bloggers is similar to querying an agent: be polite, etc. It helps if they already know you as someone who comments on their site or follows and retweets them on Twitter. However, never put them on the spot by requesting a review in a public forum; always send a private, personal e-mail. And while it’s okay to ask that they post about your book within a particular period (“the next two weeks”), you should never say it has to be a specific day.

This all seems like common sense, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it. The keynote address by Guy Kawasaki was next, but I’ll go over that in a separate post because he did a great top 10 list.

I then went to a panel about e-books. Mark Coker from Smashwords, Brian Felsen from BookBaby, and Randy Kuckuck from PublishNext were there. (As an aside, I’m so over intra-capitals in brand names.) These guys posited that the stigma of self-publishing is evaporating, though e-books are sometimes still seen as a “lesser” product because they are not tangible, are harder to lend, and are so comparatively easy to create—they cost little to nothing if someone is keen enough to do it themselves.

I think it’s interesting to pause here and consider independent media as a whole. It happened with music: the artists got sick of the way labels were treating them, of how little of the money they felt they were getting, of the gatekeepers holding them back, and now indie music is huge (Grammy award winning) business. And film: once again the studios stood in the way, but as technology made it easier and less expensive, people began making their own movies. So why not publishing too?

Buying something on a Kindle or iPad or computer is easy, it’s fast, it stimulates that sense of instant gratification. BUT. In order for an author to be successful, he or she still needs to get that book in front of people. If not in physical bookstores than virtual ones.

Best ways to monetize an e-book? Well, as with any book, the content needs to be good. Write a great book. But also put an amazing cover on it. Remember, the cover is your key marketing piece. And price it low. A study Smashwords ran showed that books priced at $2.99 sold 6.2 times more copies than those priced $10 or more. And if one price isn’t working for you, don’t feel bad about changing it to see what does work.

These were the two pre-lunch sessions. Post-lunch sessions will come in a later post.

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M

Writer/Screenwriter

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