Click on the image for more information.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Newsletters

One item many authors might consider as a promotional outlet is the newsletter. This has several advantages in that you can compartmentalize news about yourself and your books in one easy to digest venue.

I've edited several newsletters for other writing agencies and publishing companies in the past fifteen years, but my very first newsletter was one I created for myself when I was a freelance graphic artist.

It was a dismal failure but it took me a while to understand why.

It came down to content and audience. I was selling a service, my illustration and design expertise, to small business owners, but I didn't demonstrate how my service would benefit them. I was asking for their business without giving anything in return. --a big no-no.

By the time I figured out what made an appealing and readable newsletter to business owners, I had already moved on and started working for a large corporation. No more freelancing. The newsletter was gone but the experience remained.

In this new age of online presence, newsletters have to be even more fresh, have better content and delivered to an audience that has a smaller attention span than did the audience of my print newsletter.

This is an important thing to remember. Web content, that is, content that appears anywhere on the web as opposed to print must be that much more succinct and fresh. People will not read as long online because there is a lot of other material vying for their attention. Be clever. Be original. And divide your information in small easy to read chunks.

A couple of years ago, in order to immerse myself in the industry and show support, I subscribed to quite a few author newsletters. Within six months, I unsubscribed from most of them.

Many of them were very much like my first venture into newsletter writing. They were all about asking for a sale, but nothing about what they are giving to you, the reader.

Others were dull. It was a catalog of their store appearances, readings and the most recent fabulous review they got.

Let's dissect this a little. If you had a favorite author, chances are s/he would have a blog that you visit regularly. And if they were going to be appearing somewhere within driving distance, they're going to announce it on their blog anyway.

Item 2: Shall we be honest? We're not going to tell our fans we got a hideous review. But on the flip side, fans don't really care about the great review either.

It might seem like I'm sucking all the content out of a typical newsletter, but that's my point. When it's all about you, it ceases being about the reader.

The newsletters that I'm still subscribed to have a couple of things in common. They don't belabor how wonderful they are as authors, and they give me a little treat for reading. Sometimes it's as simple as a new recipe. Other times, I get tips on craft, or a sneak preview of a book that hasn't published yet.

That to me is the secret to a great newsletter. Give your readers something more than your statistics.

Things that have appealed to me as a reader:

• recipes

• crafts

• contests

• insider information about particular characters

• writing tips and tricks
(this can backfire because you want to get non-writers to read you too)

• I LOVE it when writers shares their expertise.
(I have a soft spot for ghost hunters and ancient history buffs.)

• games
(this is especially valuable for YA writers because you want to attract a younger crowd)

• secrets
(don't authors seem more personable and interesting when they share one of their quirks?) You don't have to get weird. Maybe mention what you do to get ready to write. Maybe you eat "lucky" food or wear "lucky" socks. That sort of stuff.

Lastly, it's important not to be a pest. I've unsubscribed from a couple of newsletters because they came every week. No one is that interesting. These particular two were nothing more than sales pitches.

I do not have a newsletter, though I've been in contact with a couple of authors on perhaps doing a group newsletter that would go out quarterly. If and when we do get around to creating this newsletter I can promise you it will be chock full of interesting stuff.


Want to get a whole book with this information for $2.99?

Find it on Amazon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Giveaway

Guess what's coming in December?

Lots and lots of prizes--including two Kindles.

What a way to celebrate!


If you haven't had enough of me, check out my silly interview with Michelle Pillow.

Me, silly?

Monday, November 24, 2008


Let's see if we can start regular programming again. For those of you new to this blog, I generally do writing markets on Monday and I am currently running a series on potential promotional venues on Fridays.

Wednesdays I keep open for other writing related topics. If I blog on any other day of the week, it's usually a fun topic that has no bearing on the human condition.

But today is Monday. Let's do markets.

A UK market:

Catastrophia will be a collection of stories loosely themed around the theme of catastrophes, disasters and post-apocalyptic fiction. I will be looking for original, unpublished stories which deal in a modern manner with these classic SF- and Horror-based tropes.

Rights and other technical details:
I’m looking only for original material - no reprints. I will be buying First British and First North American Rights for your story with a one-year moratorium subsequent to publication. I can offer 3p/6c a word up to a maximum payment of £100 / $200 per story. The book will be published by PS Publishing and the current expected pub date is summer 2010.

The submission period will open on 1st August 2008 and will last until 31st May 2009 or whenever the book is full. Unless specified otherwise, all submissions should be sent as disposable hard copies to:

Allen Ashley
Editor: Catastrophia
110d Marlborough Road
Bounds Green
London, N22 8NN

Please include an email address for reply or a stamped and addressed envelope. Response time will be three months or less.

Stories should ideally be in the range of 2000 to 6000 words although both longer and shorter tales will be considered.

Catastrophe? What catastrophe?

In short, some event that rapidly changes the world social order, threatens the survival of humankind or the Earth, reduces people to a state of mere hand-to-mouth existence, puts the clock of progress back a couple of thousand years almost overnight, takes our attention off the exploits of celebrities, footballers and politicians and instead focuses it on keeping ourselves and our loved ones alive until sundown . . . and so on.

I will be taking a broad view of what constitutes a catastrophe/disaster / apocalypse but authors should note that I am not seeking gratuitous rape and violence fantasies.


Silly Fantasy Anthology

Mosey on up ta the bar and let me tell ya about the darnedest, silliest, most outrageous Western anthology this side of the Mississip'.

Y'all heard right! CyberAliens Press'll be spittin' out another one o' them themed anthos on May 1, 2009.We'll be featuring hilarious stories of the Wild West, some sappy Prairie Romance, and even a little bit o' SteamPunk - as long as it's knock-us-on-our-butt funny! We're also lookin' fer cowboy poetry and limericks, art and comics, and anything else that's sure-as-shootin' silly.

So saddle yer ponies, get them doggies ta market then set yerself down and write us the silliest bunch a words what never come outta that pencil a yers.

In plain language:We are looking for short stories from 500 to 3500 words in length, as well as poems, jokes, puns, limericks, artwork, and general silliness. All submissions must express one of the following themes:+ American Wild West+ Steampunk+ Prairie Romance or some mixture of the above.

Submissions open November 1, 2008 an' close on February 28, 2009. Acceptances and declines will be ongoing through the submission period. No late submissions will be accepted. Put "SUBMISSION: [TITLE]" in the subject line, and address all correspondence to The Editors (there's two of us) and email them to: sillywestern @

¿Comprende? Now saddle up and write.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lucky Breaks

Just goes to prove anything is possible.

Have a great weekend everyone!


Publishing Futures

I've been reading a lot of posts lately urging everyone to buy more paper books in reaction to the major layoffs in bookstores and publishing houses.

That's a little like putting a band aid on a corpse.

People have their hearts in the right place, but they're not thinking this all the way through.

Book publishing is and will continue to change from what we have always known. Trying to induce a buying trend is not only impossible (unless you're Oprah), it's also temporary (even for Oprah).

At best you might stave off the wolf for the season, but the bottom line is, consumers simply aren't buying books the way they used to. And little old you isn't going to change consumer buying habits in scope or permanence.

Books as entertainment cannot compete with movies, music, e-books, audio books and games. But let's take a look at these shanghai trouble makers. What do all these items have in common?

They are all digital technology.

As Steve Busceme's character "Rockhound" said in Armageddon: "Guess what guys, it's time to embrace the horror."

Case in point:
I forget what decade it was but Greg kept nagging me to get a CD player. I was a purist. I believed all music should be played on albums. I probably stood my ground for well over a year. Finally, I gave in. It was getting harder and harder to find albums anymore and I had to admit the quality of digital sound was superior to my cumbersome grooved Frisbees.

Flash forward a few years and CDs have since been replaced by I-pods. I blanch every time I remember how silly I was to resist digital technology. What the hell was I afraid of?

The sound is better. It lasts longer. And it's far more convenient to store and carry.

hmm…sound familiar?

Instead of rousing the troops and looking for ways to save print publishing--which was a loss leader in the best of times--look for ways to support the medium as it evolves.

Buying more print books is not going to be enough to resuscitate a half dead dinosaur. But writing for products that consumers clamor for--like role playing games, video games, graphic novels and short stories not only will keep your name in circulation, it gives you more clout with your agent or publisher because you will establish a following. And let's not forget it's also politically correct (and morally wise) to be green. Another formidable push toward digital that appears to be gaining momentum.

Print books will never go away. Let me repeat that. Print books will NEVER go away. We will always make room for books we love. And we will always have an audience for print. But the days of big advances and hungry agents are long over. Agents and editors have to be pickier. I can't blame them. Their butts are on the line.

I have a friend who's a great writer with a proven track record. She's had an agent for more than three years and still hasn't sold a book to the NY market.

It's not a case of talent, but having the product that publishers think people want to read. Even then, it's a matter of being at the right place at the right time with the right product.

Take for example Twilight. God love Stephenie Meyer. She's probably dancing in her sleep. No way could she or her agent have known her books would storm the market. Is her writing any better than a half dozen other vampire lovin' authors? Nope. But she found that elusive "it" quality that will make her a millionaire.

Like Rowling before her, she found an outlet for idol-worshipping pre-teens.

Think about how many authors you personally know. How many have hit it big? --I mean, quit-your-day-job-forever big?

In the old world when publishers were more willing to take risks, authors like us had a fair chance of getting noticed. Now that pond has dried up into a puddle.

Do you do a death roll in the mud, or dig yourself a new pond?

I say we stop begging for support and start digging. Stop bashing digital technology--or you'll end up looking like me in all my ridiculousness when I finally accepted CDs.

Instead, use the new mediums for all their worth. Tap into resources you haven't tried before. You may discover muscles you didn't know you had.

The pond may have dried up, but that doesn't mean we can't dig into a fresh underground spring.

I'm not going to pin all my hopes and dreams on a system that is rapidly dissolving. But I would love to be there for the birth of a new publishing model. One that works.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Follow the Ball

Greg sent this to me. It is amazing.

Be sure to follow the instructions exactly and then tell me how you did.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Passion, Not Paper

I am beginning to wonder if I'm ever going to get well. It's not like me to be under the weather for this long, but I guess with all the moving and stress it's bound to chip away at my immune system. The real downside is that here I am at home and I'm too sick to do any work. Bummer.

But I can talk a little more about promotion and how to do it without being obnoxious.

Many years ago, I knew a salesman who sold advertising space. You and I both know sales people have a reputation for being ruthless when it comes to making a sale. We dread running into someone who just wants to separate you from your money.

But this particular salesman was different. Yes, he had a product to sell, but his delivery was so smooth, so genial and warm that he regularly reached his sales quota. The secret to his success was that he never tried to ram his message down your throat.

Jesse asked about your family, your interests, and you. He talked to you as a person. Jesse was also a great story teller, intricately weaving whatever topic you and he were discussing and slowly immersing you in the story. He made you feel like you were an integral part of the process.

Perhaps what made him more likable is that he was fallible, and he didn't mind if you knew it. In short, he was just like you.

A few years ago on OWW, I met someone else who was a lot like Jesse. Mike Keyton and I reviewed each other's work from time to time and I began to realize what a keen eye he had for detail. I credit him for really smoothing out my rough edges. (Not that his work is finished yet. lol) When I decided to create a private crit circle he was one of the first people I asked to join.

Since then, I've read quite a few of Mike's stories. But the stories I love most are his true stories from his childhood and post war England. I've never been to the UK and our backgrounds are as different as night and day, but every time I read one of his blog posts he pings a memory of mine. Different people, different worlds, but oh, so similar memories.

It's that tug on my synapses that makes me think Mike is very clever. Not only is he leaving behind a journal of his life for his kids, but he's creating a cache of ideas to mine from.

Mike's doing one more thing. He's building a platform. Read him long enough and you get an inkling of the man and the writer. Although his stories have nothing to do with his posts, he pulls from a wealth of experience: heroic adventures in places as exotic as Marrakesh or as mundane as the local pub. He tells stories about great friendships and old regrets, of learning and leaving and starting over.

Do these themes sound familiar? They should. These are the themes of our books. Mike is talking about life. He's describing universal truths, things we understand and can relate to.

And that's the magic word when it comes to promotion. You have to be able to relate to people. Infuse your audience with excitement for your book. The rest is up to them.

The next time you do an interview or a promo spot, share the passion, not the paper.


This post sparked another thought about the book publishing industry and all the hysteria currently surrounding a 'dying' market. Watch for it on my next post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dog and Pony Show

Sorry for disappearing. I'm still a bit sick. I can't seem to shake off this bug. But my convalescence netted me a new observation.

I don't watch much tv, but lately, I've been watching a lot and I noticed a familiar dance--the promotion dance.

Maybe I've had an overdose of Hollywood, but I couldn't help notice how many actors and other big name celebrities hawk their latest projects with all the finesse of a street vendor. Some of them looked downright uncomfortable. Others hammed it up.

When I started seeing the same people on different stations promoting their latest book, movie or CD, it reminded me how we as authors come across when we blog about our books, hold contests, give interviews or do a book signing.

Some of us feel uncomfortable. We hem and haw, desperately hoping the interview, signing or whatever ends soon. Others play the clown, just as desperate to focus all attention on themselves.

There is a middle ground though. One set of celebrities, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, looked somewhat uncomfortable, perhaps hoping the interviewer didn't ask them any embarrassing questions, yet they did try to make each interview slightly different from the last. They also did one other thing, they concentrated on their product, "Australia" as their selling point.

While the movie sounds fantastic, I'm not sure they as promoters were entirely successful, after all, their only reason for making an appearance was to sell the movie. After hearing the pitch a half dozen times, I was bored of it. But the interview suddenly became more interesting whenever the actors mentioned bits of their experience. Their anecdotes were so compelling, it made me want to watch the movie more.

That became an aha! moment.

What if when we promote our books, we don't just hawk the logline, but give a little of ourselves--an inside peek at what makes us capable of writing that piece of work?

I'll go more into this subject in my next blog post because there's a blog I follow that practices just that--and he doesn't even have a novel out yet.

Watching these big name celebrities made me realize that despite our canyon of revenue divide, we are both in the same boat. We somehow have to make consumers aware that our product is out there and invite them to try us. How we do this without alienating them is the tricky part.

More on this fascinating topic later. Off for another nap.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Real Prince

I've been under the weather for the last few days, so much so, that I've sunk to the point that I'm ready to call a doctor. It's just a sore throat, but my sore throats have a habit into becoming strep. Blech!

The one highlight of my week is that Greg took emergency vacation so he could take care of me. Is that not a prince of a man?

A few weeks ago we were talking to a clerk and she made a remark that we looked so happy. Ironically, we get that comment a lot. We've been married 33 years and we still hold hands and kiss.

Greg mentioned that he's met some people who were jealous of our relationship and he couldn't understand that. Why would you be angry at someone else's happiness? That doesn't even make sense.

Lest I mislead you, we are a normal couple in every sense of the word. We make mistakes. We have fights--at times, doosies since we're both alphas. And sometimes we can even be unkind. But we always want what's best for the other.

I think that pretty much sums up our relationship. Emotions, stress and hardship sometimes muddy the waters, but if your heart is in the right place, you'll rarely go too far wrong.

We always watch each other's back. And when one of us is down, we know the other is there to carry us for a while. It all comes down to trust.

Right now, I'm going to trust him to wake me in time for my doctor's appointment. *g* I'm going back to bed.

Have a great day, everyone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pantry 101

My bum knee is preventing me from doing any actual work. Tragically, even sitting is painful--othewise I'd be novel writing. Keeping my knee bent hurts it more than anything else.

I've been doing menial chores that don't require a lot of walking or knee bending. This week, I concentrated on my pantry. When Greg and I lived together in SE Texas he built me cabinets, floor to ceiling since I was lacking a pantry.

I put a lot of pride in my pantry. Now that I live out in the middle of nowhere it's more important than ever not to run out of things because I sure as heck don't want to drive 20 miles for a cup of flour.

For some reason I am surrounded by people who know how to cook well. Many of my friends are true-life gourmands. My dad, who learned to cook at 5-star restaurants never prepared anything less than epicurean perfection if he chose to cook for the family. My mom usually cooked, but when dad cooked, it was like eating at a royal table.

Sadly, those cooking genes skipped me completely. I call my brand of feeding people, guerrilla cooking. It's simple, it's filling and you never leave my table hungry. But I think you'll find that there isn't a lot of difference between my pantry and one my father would have stocked.

A good pantry has the basics: flour, sugar, salt, and oil. But a true pantry caters to the diet of whoever lives in that house.

Below is my arsenal. Even a small kitchen can afford one cabinet toward all these items.

Flour: all purpose, Bisquick
Sugar: granulated, powdered and brown
Salt: table and coarse sea salt
Oil: olive, canola, and occasionally peanut oil if we decide to fry a turkey

Baking supplies: shortening, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, powdered milk and sweetened condensed milk.

Jellies: apricot, blackberry. Good as fillings for baked goods, including cakes


Spices/Herbs: I go all out here. I experiment a lot with spices so my spice rack is usually bigger than most. Must haves are: garlic, rosemary, peppercorns, thyme, cumin, and dill. Next year I hope to start an herb garden so I can have many of these items fresh.

Condiments: I never let my pantry run out of condiments. Mustard, yellow and dark, light mayonnaise, and horseradish sauce.

Vinegars: This is another area I stock a lot. Plain white vinegar comes in gallon containers, but I also keep red wine, balsamic, and rice vinegars.

Soy sauce. Worcestershire sauce used to be my stock sauce, but soy replaced it years ago.

Pasta: spaghetti and lasagna noodles are stock items. Occasionally I will buy manicotti.

Rice: I love rice. Basmati, long grain, or Jasmine.

Beans: We aren't big bean eaters, but I will stock canned beans for Mexican dishes and chili.

Tuna, salmon, sardines, canned chicken (and spam--only because Greg likes it).

Tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are my base for a lot of my dishes. I buy them whole and crushed. Rotel is another staple in the tomato clan.

Vegetables: Corn, sauerkraut, okra, spinach, squash and potatoes are canned items I store in case I can't get them fresh.

Entertainment supplies: This is my secret stash. Hopefully, I always know when guests are coming so I can prepare, but in case of drop-ins, I always stock these things for impromptu party appetizers.

• olives
• pickles
• nuts
• crackers
• cheese and assorted premade dips
• cookies

Alcohol. A few of my friends don't drink, but they are outnumbered by friends that do. We always try to keep a bar of the usual suspects, rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila and a couple of wines.

For those who don't drink, there is also an endless supply of soft drinks, tea and lemonade.

That's my basic list. Anyone else keep a pantry? What kind of supplies do you like to stock? I'm always on the lookout for items that are quick to prepare for unexpected guests. Any suggestions?

Do tell.

We'll get back to writing related topics next week.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Dream of Africa

Every time I think I have this place figured out, something new changes the equation.

For the last few nights I've been hearing lion noises at sundown. It's an echoing growl that reverberates through the trees. At first, we dismissed it as an overly loud herd of cows bellowing. But one night I woke up from a dream about lions. I couldn't get them out of my mind.

The entire back side of the house is nearly all glass and we have yet to install any blinds. All you can see are woods and shadows. In my dream I woke to find a lioness roaming around the backyard. She pushed through the screened enclosure then pressed her face against the glass of my bedroom.

Yesterday, I ran into one of my neighbors and she confirmed, yes, there are lions and tigers and panthers in Terrell, Texas. There's a woman less than a mile down the road who runs a rescue preserve for big cats.

Nice, kitties. If you decide to roam, the neighbor across the street from me raises alpacas. mmm...alpacas--tastier than dogs.

I live in a very interesting place.

Friday, November 7, 2008

...and she's back!

I've been reconnected with the outside world!
During my excommunication I discovered a couple of things.

#1. I didn't hate being offline as much as I thought I would. I guess it's because I was so busy with other things---like catching scorpions!

#2. I did miss having instant information---like: Are scorpion stings fatal? LOL!

Fortunately, the scorpions indigenious to this area are not life threatening. Their sting is about as painful as a bee sting, but not toxic.
I have missed catching up on people's blogs. Unfortunately, there were so many posts, (my reader stopped counting at 1000) I had to delete most of them.

The house and recuperating from my knee injury are taking up most of my time. I am okay as long as I don't sit, walk, or lay down for more than a few minutes at a time. *g* It stiffens up something awful when I'm resting, and hurts the rest of the time if I move too much.

Nonetheless, I am in good spirits. For the first time in months things are moving forward.

Given that I am still settling in, we might not get back to regular programming until later in the month, but I'll be blogging and visiting other blogs more regularly now.


I will post pictures of this neat house in a month or so after I've painted a couple of rooms.
I will take the time to thank Greg publicly for forcing me to "see" this house.
The listing came out the day after my eye surgery. It had hardly any description and the picture was dark and muddy. Still, he insisted we see this house. He said there was something about it that told him this was the one.

Sure enough, as we walked from room to room even I could tell it had good vibes. (Which at the time was all I had to rely on.) Now that I can see it clearly, I can't believe our good fortune and the tenacity of a hard-headed husband who wasn't going to let me talk him out of seeing this house.

And God bless our realtor, Linda Rudd for not only showing it to us, but guiding us through a tangle of red tape that made our negotiation even harder. She was on top of things the entire time. We love her and we recommend her highly. She is the best!
More later, guys. Lots and lots of email to answer. Remember to contact me at (mariazannini) at gmail dot com. The other email addy is no longer valid.

Talk to you soon!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Checking In

Hello from the boonies! I am typing this from the local Starbucks. Local is a little misleading since the closest bit of civilization is no less than 10 miles away. But that's okay. I LOVE my house.

Everyday we find some cool or unique feature to the house. It needs work in the color scheme department and we have to wall off a doorway they put in between bedrooms, but I could not have asked for a better built house. It is magnificent. It's the kind of house Greg would have built for me.

We learned later that the house was built by a husband and wife team of structural engineers and they spared no expense on amenities. But it's the details that wowed me. As you enter, you step into a room with its very own sun bay. Not just any old sunroom, but a fully tiled and plumbed indoor garden area, complete with a drain.

Everywhere you look there are 10 foot ceilings with more light switches than a power plant. The back patio takes the entire length of the 4000 sq foot house and is completely screened. And the bathroom is jaw-dropping, with vaulted ceilings, a ball and claw tub, and a walk in shower lined with glass blocks. It is so big it has dual shower heads and controls for him and her.

But the room that gets everyone to gasp is the kitchen. It has the most amazing appliances I have ever seen. Whoever designed this house had to have been a chef. Me, who is as culinary challenged as they come adore being in the kitchen. --I never thought I'd say that.

Lest I sound like a complete brag, there is a downside to this house… It needs new paint. Badly.

It looks as if the last owners were trying to freshen up the house with a new color scheme, but it does not work at all. I am going to have to go in and repaint nearly every room. I'm not complaining. It's a terrific house and I'm looking forward to decorating.

My other mini dilemma centers on the scorpions. I've no problem with fire ants, bees, wasps, poisonous spiders and snakes, ferocious mosquitoes and even flying roaches---but Lord help me, I have a real dread of scorpions. The first one was dead, but yesterday Tank found a second one taking a stroll through my bedroom. He's in a jar right now, thinking about where he went wrong.

I will be out of internet range for at least another week. I don't know if anyone is still reading me since I dropped off the face of the Earth--but I'm still here.

It has been a nerve-racking and painful three months, but when I walk outside and see all those stars---I know it was worth it. I am finally home.

Addendum: I've been banned from buying any more paper books. After moving nearly 40 boxes of books, I understand completely. Our backs may never recover.