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If “Stan” were nonfiction, it’d still be a travelogue… just drier

Time to stretch a bit. The prompt Day 12 prompt for the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to “think differently” on our subject matter. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 12 writing prompt:

If your book is fiction, how could you change it to make it a nonfiction book? If your book is nonfiction, what could you do to turn it into a story?

I know a guy in his 50s who’s still trying to make it as a musical artist. He had about 27 minutes of fame for his creepy audition on The X Factor, combined with the snarky comment he made to one of the judges. Thing is, he was attempting to be something he’s not, recording funky pop music that tweens and college kids prefer. When I asked him why he’d left his punk rock roots to make music so outside his natural interests, his answer was that pop music is “where the money is.”

But he was immediately spotted and called out as a scammer, because people knew he had no passion for this kind of music. The same, I believe, is true for authors.

Meg Cabot

While I don’t think I deliberately set out to do this, looking back on my novel writing process, it seems inevitable that I would write something I wanted to read. I mean, who doesn’t? Children’s authors, maybe. But don’t you think you’d HAVE to write a book that you, personally, would like? Otherwise, it would feel forced and fraudulent.

Whether it’s a book or a film, I am driven by characters, always. I don’t have to like them, but they have to be fully developed enough that I at least understand them. And I’m also drawn to real stories – things that might actually have happened. One of the best books I ever read was We Need to Talk About Kevin, a fictional account of the relationship between a mother and her teenage school-shooter son. Even as I was mesmerized by the story, I remember thinking that the author must have had some personal involvement or insight into a real school shooting in order to have portrayed it so seemingly accurately.

While my story is not nearly as dramatic, I strive for the same thing in my writing, to make the Jorge and Andydetails as accurate as possible. For instance, in my novel, the main character and his best friend attend a baseball card signing event as kids. This is a fictional episode, but I made sure that the two members of the New York Yankees farm team the boys meet, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, were actual playing with the living, breathing Albany-Colonie Yankees at the time.

So, in many ways, my novel already has many nonfiction elements in it. I think my best description is that this book is part travelogue, part social commentary, and part fiction. If I were to make it entirely nonfiction, I suppose it would be a travel guide for first-time world travelers. Suggestions on where to stay, what to eat, security tips, places to visit off the beaten path. I’ve never personally enjoyed those kinds of books or articles – but they definitely have an important role, or at least they used to, pre-Internet. Since beginning Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World, I have picked up many a travel book at thrift stores, book sales, and used book stores, as even with five books about Athens in front of me, each contains different details.

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will be a commentary on critique groups.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to changing things up every once in a while!

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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Neck deep in travel blogs, books, and pictures

Depending on the topic of your book, you may need to do more or less research. The prompt for day 11 of the 5-Week Author Blog Challenge asks our bloggers to describe how they handled the research for their books. All 35 posts for this Challenge will be focused on writing, publishing, and book marketing. I hope you’ll stick around through all 35 posts. And if you want to take part, come on in – the water is great! You can register here.

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Day 11 writing prompt:

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the Internet play? If you didn’t do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

When I wrote this prompt for the Author Blog Challenge, perhaps subconsciously I remembered interviewing some friends for background on countries my main character visits. It definitely wasn’t an overt thought – I was just ticking off the possible ways for an author to do the research necessary to complete any book.

My main character, Stan, travels to 23 different countries over the course of about 18 months (no, he’s not related to Flat Stanley). I have personally been to five of them, including the USA, which meant that research wasn’t an option, but an absolute necessity.

Stan's path

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, back in 2004 when I began writing this story, the Internet was still young and sites like TripAdvisor.com and LonelyPlanet.com hadn’t yet made their appearance. But there were Lonely Planet, Frommer, and loads of indie travel guides, and I used them heavily in planning Stan’s trip.

My novel began as a submission for the 3-Day Novel Contest, the rules of which prohibited contestants from writing ahead. Participating authors were, however, permitted to construct full outlines before the contest got underway. So I spent the three days prior to the contest at the Phoenix Public Library, ensconced in travel books up to my eyeballs, mapping out Stan’s travels and determining how he would get from one location to the next.

When you read this novel, you’ll notice that Ireland gets a lot of air time, as that’s one of the countries I have actually seen in person. I relied on Google images to help refresh my memory, but I was able to construct many of those details without a whole lot of research.

travel icons

Since I’d never been to most of the other places Stan visits, and subsequently had no first-hand knowledge of them, I made a deliberate decision to keep many of his stops off the main tourist thoroughfare. For instance, he doesn’t go to London, Paris, or Rome – perhaps in a vain attempt to prevent too many “that’s not how it is there” comments from readers who’ve actually been to the places Stan goes. Mapping his journey was lots of fun, and I used second-hand knowledge to do much of it.

  • For instance, my closest friend through high school and college was Korean, having come to the United States at about age 4. Incidentally (yeah, right), Stan has a close friend from South Korea, and makes a lengthy stop in Seoul and Incheon.
  • Another good friend lived for some time in Dubai, so Stan’s Middle East travels take him through Dubai.
  • A friend I knew at Lehman Brothers married a gal from Malaysia – in Malaysia. So naturally, Stan visits Malaysia.

Of course, each of these stops along Stan’s journey still required scads of research, which enabled me to flesh out the story.

Then there were the people still in my life who are originally from a couple of the countries Stan visits. Others have traveled to some of Stan’s stops fairly recently, and I was able to sit down and interview them about the things an American would notice on his first trip abroad. These tiny details add flavor and realism to the story that I might not otherwise have been able to capture.

  • My friend Sunil is from India and told me about the lack of air pollution regulations, and that the exhaust would be an instant and insidious annoyance to an American.
  • Joey was born in the Philippines and still visits fairly regularly. He explained the “Jeepneys” in Manila and some of the more interesting dishes of his homeland.
  • My friend Janet visited Machu Picchu about eight years ago and lent me a jump drive with her amazing photos on it.
  • My friend Tom travels regularly to China for business and has regaled me with some interesting observations about the people.
  • A good friend whose husband is a professor has spent a great deal of time in Turkey and aided me with some of those details.
  • And then my niece visited Egypt about a year-and-a-half ago, and provided a couple of important pieces that allowed me to inject a bit of humor into the story.

Which leaves all of the rest of the countries: Sweden, Belarus, Greece, Sudan, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and El Salvador. Every detail of those places was aided by some combination of travel blogs, travel sites, Google images, travel books, atlases, digital maps – oh, and perhaps most important of all, my imagination.

Guess my next step will have to be planning my own world tour to see how my descriptions hold up to me!

Please be sure to check out my next post, which will talk about how I could make Stan a nonfiction book if I were so inclined.

And for the record, I’d love your feedback on my Author Blog Challenge posts! And, of course, would really love to have you support all of the bloggers in the Challenge. Find their links here.

Here’s to the right investigative reporting for your next book!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________Anatomy of a Book Launch

If you’re getting ready to launch your book and would like help to put together a successful event, download my free special report: Anatomy of a Book Launch. Then CALL me at 602.518.5376 to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation. It’s never too early to begin planning!

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My LIFE was the research for my book

For the next 21 days, we’ll be taking a little detour from the traditional marketing posts you’ve come to know and love on the Marcie Brock blog as I lead by example and follow my own writing prompts for the Author Blog Challenge. There’s still time to register. Join today and qualify for drawings for daily giveaways for every day that you post.

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Day 8 writing prompt:

Describe the research process for your book. Did you interview people? Travel? How prominent a role did the Internet play? If you didn’t do new research, how did you learn what you needed to know to write your book?

My LIFE was the research for my book

OK. That’s admittedly a bit of a smartass response, but it’s also true. When it came to compiling 1,001 real-life questions about being a woman in 21st century America, much of the research came from simply taking notes on the day-to-day occurrences in my life.

But I did not, in fact, experience every situation mentioned in the book. Some of the questions came from incidents that happened to my friends or things I read in … gasp … women’s magazines. That was the first part of the book. Then came the Notes, where the Internet figured heavily into my research.

As mentioned previously, I’m quite aware that this is not the first book of its kind. Besides being a book about being a woman by a woman, the other significant thing that makes my book different is its resource section at the back.

Because the book deals with every issue imaginable facing women today, it felt nothing short of unfair to raise issues, put women potentially in a position to consider dealing with them, perhaps for the first time, and then just leave them hanging. Not every question has an accompanying resource. But the ones raising serious issues (e.g., rape, domestic violence, eating disorders, depression, etc.) do have websites and /or toll-free numbers that might help those who need further guidance around these specific issues.

As the savvy Marcie Brock readers surely know, keeping current tabs on the Web is a thankless job and an often unattainable goal, but I’ve done my best to be sure the resources are and remain current. (I definitely don’t envy the people who put together products like Writers Market, where you can be sure the information is obsolete by the time the book goes to print.)

I cut my teeth as a research librarian at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson. That was back in the days before the Internet when we kept hard copies of news articles in drawer after drawer after drawer after drawer of manila envelopes and called people on the telephone to verify facts. When the Internet came along, I was one of the earliest adopters, and I remain in awe of its perpetually updated cornucopia of information.

Research is an essential skill – especially in the age of the Internet. There’s a lot of really good stuff out there, but there’s also a lot of pure, unadulterated rubbish. Trust but verify, a phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan, is a great rule of thumb for any researcher-cum-author.

So get yourself a good search engine; get thee to the library; and get out there and live a little!

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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In honor of our 1-year anniversary (May 2, 2012), we’re hosting the Author Blog Challenge! It starts June 2 and is open to published authors, authors-in-progress, and would-be authors. Come check us out and register today!

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A well-written media release could be printed AS-IS.

In a recent post, we reviewed tips for writing a news release. Our focus was the traditional use of a news release: getting your information to the media in a succinct, interesting way that will trigger them to follow up with you for a story. In doing some further research, I came across an interesting post by the good folks over at copyblogger. They make an excellent point that I rather neglected: the stronger the writing in the news release, the better a chance it has of going into a blog/publication as-is. No editing; no rewriting.

A great press release is NOT something that prompts a journalist to write an article; rather, a great press release is published AS an article. While that may be an abstraction outside of the most time-strapped of reporters, many times the better your press release, the more of it ends up verbatim in the resulting article.

So stop writing press releases, and start writing news stories.

For good or ill, this is one of the new aspects of modern journalism. Reporters are stretched thin in newsrooms across America, so they’ll sometimes take shortcuts, such as printing a media release verbatim.

I do want to say that this is not always a good thing. A Guardian.co.UK post from 23 February 2011, sheds some light on the above-mentioned practice of printing news releases verbatim, describing it with the unflattering term, “churnalism.”

A new website promises to shine a spotlight on “churnalism” by exposing the extent to which news articles have been directly copied from press releases.

The website, churnalism.com, created by charity the Media Standards Trust, allows readers to paste press releases into a “churn engine”. It then compares the text with a constantly updated database of more than 3m articles. The results, which give articles a “churn rating”, show the percentage of any given article that has been reproduced from publicity material.

[The site] revealed how all media organisations are at times simply republishing, verbatim, material sent to them by marketing companies and campaign groups.

What’s the problem? you ask. It’s in those nine little words: “sent to them by marketing companies and campaign groups.” Think about campaigns, political ones, for example. Do media releases sent on the candidates’ behalves always espouse facts, or does an opinion or two or three sneak into their news releases? Likewise, with a marketing company. Now, I’m on your side – my whole reason for including the post about media releases in the first place was that I believe they are a stellar marketing tool. But I’d be a lot more comfortable knowing the media outlet that was generating an article due to my release was also fact-checking all their third-party information.

That being said, if I were given the choice between having my release run verbatim or not run at all, I’d obviously take the former. So do your homework, fact-check your own material, and write a release you can be proud of. That way, if it does happen that your news release is printed verbatim, as an article, you won’t have any excuses to say, “I was misquoted!”

Happy pitching!

Laura

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Please contact us if you’d like help putting together your media kit, media releases, or book proposal. Free 30-minute consultation when you mention this post ($99 value).

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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The secret to contacting a company may lie in their MEDIA ROOM.

It’s no secret that I love the Internet. I remember the days of searching the World Book Encyclopedia for info or begging my dad to take me to the library so I could do research for my term papers. When I worked at the Arizona Daily Star newspaper library in the pre-Internet days, we used to get queries from the public on all kinds of random topics:

  • How do you spell “Schwarzenegger”?
  • Is Anthony Quinn really Greek?
  • What was Mariel and Margaux Hemingway’s relationship to Ernest?
  • What are the words to “Auld Lang Syne”?
  • What are the names of the seven dwarfs?

Can you even imagine calling a newspaper library – or a library of any kind – to ask a question like that? In 2011, it seems ludicrous, but just 20 short years ago, it was actually a good idea. The #1 reason people use the Internet today is to search for information. All kinds of things, from job listings to the name of artist who wrote that song, to movie times, biographies of artists, both famous and obscure, reviews of smart phones and hundreds of thousands of other products, the number of calories burned during given activities, fast food menus, home remedies for burns, what to do when your cat keeps bringing dead birds into the house … the kinds of information you can find online are just about endless.

One excellent use for the Web is to do research on people or businesses with whom you want to connect. With the myriad social media platforms, people are slightly easier to research. Any smart, reputable company has a decent website with all manner of information about it. However, the one thing you may not be able to find on a company’s website is contact information for a particular individual, such as the PR or media relations person. Quite often, the email address available is one of those infernal info@ addresses that might occasionally be read by an intern and whose likelihood of being answered is unfortunately slim.

Say you’ve compiled an anthology of stories and witticisms from quilters of a bygone era, and you’re trying to make contact with a store like Hobby Lobby or Joanne ETC to pitch book signings and events in your area. How do you get around the gatekeeper or find contact info for a real person?

One idea is to find the company’s media room on their website. Posted there, you’re likely to find media releases the company has issued about its own news and events. And within that media release, you will likely find a nugget of gold: contact info for the company’s media relations person, usually a name, phone number, and e-mail address.

Now before you go contacting this individual, make sure you do your homework.

  • If you will make a phone call, rehearse your pitch ahead of time.
  • Be prepared to leave a message and, in the perhaps unlikely event that the person answers their phone, also be ready to speak to them live.
  • If you will send an e-mail, double check your spelling – especially of the contact person’s name!
  • Be brief and to the point in your pitch/query.
  • Make sure to position your pitch in terms of how hosting your event or working with you will benefit the company.

Realize there are NO guarantees that this person will respond to your first query. Or your follow-up query, for that matter.You might also think about tapping into your social media network, particularly LinkedIn, to attempt to find another real name inside the company to whom you can reach out.

It took Greg Godek, author of 1,001 Ways to Be Romantic, more than 10 tries before he got through to Oprah and eventually became a guest on her show. If he can succeed with the queen of all media, YOU can succeed at getting through to the right person in a national chain of craft supply stores. Be creative, be thoughtful, be direct, and be succinct. Most importantly, be determined.

Happy pitching!

Laura

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Please contact us if you’d like help putting together your media kit, media releases, or book proposal. Free 30-minute consultation when you mention this post ($99 value).

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

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