Friday, April 12, 2013

Notes from Norway: What Impresses Publishers Most

Well hello, everybody!  Or perhaps I should say “hei hei!”

I was pleased to get an e-mail from one of you asking when I was going to post again. It's nice to know some of you care and are interested in my ramblings.  So here's my latest!

I’ve been a bit busy lately with my “day job.” I just spent about a week in Norway and learned good bit about writing in the process.

What does Norway have to do with writing, you may ask.

Well, not Norway, per se, but traveling in general.  Let me explain.

Traveling exposes us to other people, cultures, climates, environments, and so forth.  The little nuggets that you pick up from travelling make our writing appear more real. Let me give an example.

While in Norway, I visited an old fortress. One of the things I noticed about the castle was how the stone stairs were rutted from feet marching up and down them for centuries. 

I put that detail in my writing. It makes my imaginary tower more concrete. Can you see the cracked stone stairs rutted by the invisible feet from people now long since dead?  It adds so much to the scene—visual details, texture, even a sense of what had occurred in that location in the distant past. I wouldn’t have thought about that detail without having experienced it myself. And I wouldn’t have experienced a thousand year old tower in Cleveland.

Also, my story, Riddle in Stone, is set in a northern climate.  Being in Norway gives me ideas as to how people in such climates deal with the cold and so forth. 

So, in addition to the old adage “read a lot and write a lot,” I’d like to add “travel a lot.”  Traveling exposes us to other realities that we can put in our stories.

There was something else I learned about writing on my trip to Norway.

Thanks to the wonderful people at Scandinavian Airlines (United Airlines, sucks by the way), I was bumped up to “Economy Plus.”  Honestly, you haven’t flown until you experienced seats that are actually wide enough to sit in!  I don’t think I’ll ever go back to “coach.”

Anyway, on my trip back to the States, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a professional writer.  AN ACTUAL WRITER WHO MAKES MONEY AND EVERYTHING!!!!  I won’t tell you her name.  Let’s just call her “17B.”
17B and I spent much of the 11 hour flight talking about the craft and something she said really struck me.  She said that most new writers don’t realize what impresses publishers most.

“What?” I asked, literally taking out my notepad out of my backpack to jot down her words of wisdom.

“Marketing plans,” she said. “Most publishers won’t even look at a manuscript if it has a weak marketing plan.”

I found this to be the case when I was pitching my manuscript to publishers.  Many of them asked my agent “how big is his following on twitter?” and “how many hits does he get on his blog each month?” And so forth.

Being an author is no longer just about writing.  We have to market our work.  We have to have blogs and facebook accounts and so forth.  To be really honest, that’s why I write this…to help meet people and promote my work.  Did I mention that I have a book out called Riddle in Stone???

Think about it.  Would you know about Riddle in Stone if you hadn’t read my blog?  Probably not.

Now, I realize that I’m not going to become a best seller because I blog or have a facebook page.  But, at this point in my writing “career,” I’m not worried about becoming a best seller.  I’m worried about selling enough books so that I can get my second manuscript published.  And a few hundred people here and there could tip the scales in my favor.  So, to me as a new writer, marketing plans are HUGELY important.  You might want to think about them if you want to get published.

17B said something else that caught my attention.  She laughed and said that most new writers refuse to think about marketing plans. She said that writers often see themselves as “artists” and that worrying about marketing their work was somehow “beneath them.”

I have to admit, I felt that way at first.  When my agent told me to start blogging and becoming active online, I really grumbled and dragged my feet.  But I have to say, blogging and facebook have helped. 

Riddle in Stone is selling reasonably well for the likes of me.  My publisher wants a sequel to it.  I’ve gotten a bunch of publicity because of my blog.  And, perhaps most importantly, I meet a wonderful group of people who are supportive of me and my work—which is something all new writers need.

So travel and market.  You’ll be glad you did!


  1. Hei Robert

    I guess people living in Norway who have you in their cirles would like to know what places you visited. At least, I do.

    And did you learn more Norwegian phrases? I mean, Norwegian is the languages of charms after all.

    1. Hey John! I'm a Norwegian-American. My family has taught me a little Norwegian. Takk for maten was a popular phrase when I grew up...and I use it a good deal when I'm there.

      I was in Oslo (my family is from Stavanger). I went to a few of the museums, including the resistance museum, which was interesting. But I wished they talked more about Quisling's end.

      It's a beautiful country. I'm hoping your government will have me come back soon!

  2. I wrote half of my first novel in China and the second half in Iceland. I have to admit Iceland influenced the story far more than China did, but then I was writing a medieval-style fantasy.

    You may be right about the marketing, but personally I feel this is part of the death knell of the big publishers. Marketing is the one true strength that they offer to writers, so if they expect to push much of it off on the writers, the need to use them grows less and less over time. I think they should be trying to do MORE on the marketing front for their authors rather than less.

    1. Boy, I can't imagine two countries more different than China and Iceland!! Still, both provide a wealth of material for writers.

      As for marketing, I blame the internet. I understand that publishers want to save as much money as possible...and one way is to make authors foot the time and expense for marketing their work. I just hate the entire process of having to "be out there" promoting the book. Perhaps if I had more confidence in its quality, I wouldn't feel so sleazy going on websites and giving interviews.

      "Buy my book!"

      I need to take a shower after even thinking about it!

  3. Hey dude! Sorry I haven't visited much lately. I freakin' love this post, and I LOVE that your book sales are trucking right along! There is so much doom and gloom out there in the world of publishing, and I can't tell you how encouraging it is to see a brand-new "mere mortal" like you get off to a good start!

    (I know. One of these days, you'll get huge and mega-famous and stop returning my calls. One of these days, I'll start making them.)

    Anyway, I'm gratified to hear 17B's advice, and so glad you have transcribed it for us. When I signed with Red Sofa Literary, my agent had me do a whole giant in-depth book proposal (the marketing section alone was like 12 pages), and everyone I know thinks it's bananas to do a proposal for a fiction book... but I'm so glad I did, because it taught me SO much about what the dollars-and-cents people in publishing have to have in order to make their decisions. It's easy to think they're just mean meanie-heads who don't appreciate our art, and occasionally I too catch myself grumbling about having to keep up with the Tweet Zone and the Face Space... but by gum, if that's what it takes to make it, then that's what we are going to do! Rock on, rock out!

    1. TEX!!!! You know, I could have sworn I replied to this post, but it's not here. So I'll do it again!

      How have you been? And CONGRATS on getting signed by an agent!! Wow! That's terrific news. Good luck with that! Has your agent started submitting your manuscript?

      Yes, Riddle in Stone is selling okay. It's momentum has stalled a bit. Nobody new has posted reviews of it on Goodreads, Amazon, or BarnesandNoble in a long time. So I'm getting a bit worried. But...maybe that's my fault. I really hate this "marketing" stuff. It really does suck.

      I feel like a beggar on the street, holding out a tin can, and saying, "Please buy my book!" Dirty. Dirty. Dirty. That's how I feel. And not in the good way!!

      Keep us posted about your manuscript!!

    2. Hey dude - no worries; you can see I'm not exactly Lightning McQueen on the reply button myself!

      Thanks for the grats - I signed back in August and the MS went out on submission in January. So right now I'm in the "going to die alone and unloved" phase of the emotional publishing journey.

      Or maybe that's basically every phase of the journey, cuz it sounds like you are feeling that exact same vibe. I've been trying a lot to do "platform building" over the last few months, and I totally empathize with the "dirty!" feeling. Like "oh my God, I sound like such a horrible filthy shill, who the hell do I think I am?"

      Right now the only thing keeping me going is the nasty, bullet-biting determination to do all my failing on "couldn't", and none of it on "wouldn't." In other words, I can live with the crushing disappointment of "sorry, just wasn't good enough", but I am going to be SUPER mad at myself if I mess this up because I didn't give it my all.

      Anyway, typing out next manuscript with crossed fingers, as I'm sure you are too. Keep at it! Can't wait to read your book!

  4. Hello Robert.

    I'm still in the process of finishing my book, which will be sold online through Amazon Kindle and Smashwords (with iBook, Nook, etc.) I wonder which of your sales-channels give the most sales.

    I see you get a lot of reviews on GoodReads and Amazon. I wonder if the reviews have come by themselves, or have you done anything to encourage reviewing?

    I agree with your view on marketing, but I find some of the social media activity inspiring. It is a pity it takes so much time. Where would you recommend spending most time?

    1. That's a good question, John. I don't have a clue about that kind of thing. I didn't know about "Goodreads" until my publisher told me about it.

      As far as getting reviews...I've been begging people to write them. I hope that I haven't been a pest, but ... seriously...I've been asking people to write reviews even if they only mildly like the book. In fact, I just published a post basically begging people, "PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS!"

      Hell, I'll BUY people the book if they are willing to put a review up! So if you know of anybody who likes fantasy.... :)

      As for social media... boy, I don't know much about this either. My agent gave me a list of things to do. Starting this blog was one of them. Joining Facebook and Twitter were others. I joined FB, but not Twitter. I just don't have any interest in telling people what I'm doing at any given moment.

      I think the best advice that I've gotten about social media is "do only what you'll do regularly." I joined a bunch of online writing sites and I simply haven't had much time to visit them lately. Maybe you should pick one outlet and just focus on that.

      But then again...what do I know???

      I'm looking forward to reading your book! Keep me posted.