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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

STILL FLYING!! by Cj Fosdick


    Thirty years ago I attended my first Writer’s Conference in Rochester, MN. It was a weekend mecca for birds of a feather--hopeful writers flocking together to learn from two famous Minnesota authors.
     Frederick Manfred and Jon Hassler are both deceased now, but their writing was alive in 1986, and they actually read and evaluated the excerpts that were turned in. Mine was one of them. I had already won a short story contest and been published in a few magazines and anthologies, but I was a novel novice. I was also a novice coffee drinker, nervous and trembling enough to slosh over my agenda.
     Tall and formidable, the 6 ft. 9 in.Manfred pulled my excerpt first and read his comments in the margin. “Condense…use simple liquid words…polysyllabics diffuse meaning.” My wings were clipped.  Jon Hassler’s critique restored flight. The college professor/novelist announced one graphic piece reminded him of Giants in the Earth, an acclaimed novel by Minnesota’s most famous Norwegian immigrant, Ole Rolvaag. “Powerful stuff,” Hassler announced, “from C.J. Fosdick.” When I introduced myself to him later, he confirmed his view with that golden word, “publishable.”
     Sadly, that first novel was rejected, however, and its thin-skinned author banished it to a garage freezer. Iced for decades!  Life, meanwhile, continued with occasional freelance work sandwiched in time slots between four children and thirty animals, including 20 horses. Horse shows, training and rescuing animals filled the family agenda.
     In 2012, I visited a friend in Las Vegas and attended another Writer Conference while there. WC’s had drastically changed in 26 years, along with the Publishing Industry. Only 5% of published manuscripts were first novels in 1986. With the internet and eBooks, new novelists in 2012 were storming the castle gates of traditional publishing. Pitching a novel at Conferences was a new substitute for query letters that used to end up in slush piles. Like speed dating, a writer was given 5-10 minutes to convince an agent or publisher they were "traditionally publishable.” (Self-publishing was still Cinderella’s ugly stepsister five years ago.) Today, new self-published authors are flooding the market with a wide range of manuscripts—widely critiqued.
     I had to test the climate. I joined three National Writing Groups and in the last five years, attended 10 Writer Conferences all over the U.S. and one in London. Sometimes I pitched the freezer novel with positive results, though one agent suggested it was far too long and another suggested I write a novella first, then market the freezer saga.
     It was at a Kansas City Conference with Women Writing the West that I won a Laura award for a short story in 2013. The judge suggested it begged to become a novel. I didn’t pitch at that WC, but managed to dine beside the publisher of an acclaimed small press “Send me the ms. once it becomes a novel,” Rhonda Penders suggested. Motivated fingers flew over my laptop keyboard, and a year later my first published novel was released by The Wild Rose Press. 
     I’m still flying high. With an empty nest…and barn… I’m working on my third novel in the Accidental Series, with two more stories published and occasional freelance articles surfacing in our newspaper or a Woman’s magazine. The freezer novel Jon Hassler deemed “publishable” is still in the hanger, but my award-winning debut novel is still flying high, the eBook on sale in August for just .99 at the buy links below

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 Amazon      WildRose Press         B&N          iTunes      Kobo



















          Amazon      WildRose Press         B&N          iTunes      Kobo

Saturday, July 15, 2017

REVIEW RATINGS-- RISK or REWARD?


            Every writer knows that word of mouth and reviews can propel a new book into success. (At least six reviews are recommended for debut day.) So you enlist your best friends, beta readers, critique partners, and family members to review your baby. Pretty safe odds love rolls in for the “newborn!” LOW RISK only to biased honesty.
            No time to bask in the lovelight. You create a media kit, blog, tweet, guest post on social media, organize a street team, host a launch party, do book signings, readings, advertise… everything it takes to announce and promote that book in the frenetic search for READERS. Competition is always huge when supply exceeds demand for books. A supply created, in part, by a flood of eBooks and the rise of Indie authors in the last few years. Does Amazon really have millions of books in their online catalog? Add review magazines and online review sites to the mix, and REVIEWERS are also in demand. It’s a Catch 22 when good books need to be discovered but discovery…and sales…often depend on reviews.
            When the organic reviews are slow coming in, you DO have options to jumpstart. With no strings attached, paid reviewers will insure an honest review, but it’s a marketing expense that can burn a hole in your pocket. Kirkus and Chanticleer charge hundreds of dollars for a review—with no guarantee to even recommend the book. Still, you do have the option to post…or not if the review burns a hole in your heart. HIGH RISK for the expense.
            “Nagging” is another option. A kinder word is “trolling.” If I know someone who has purchased a copy from me, I might ask for a review weeks or months later. Posting on FB, Goodreads, in your newsletters and emails, even on business cards you can gently “nudge” with links directed to your book sites. In the stash of prints I keep on hand to sell, I insert a little card in each book with my site links, along with a friendly review request. Readers who know you will not want to comply if they didn’t like your book, but even readers who loved it may feel unqualified to post a review, or unable to understand the process if they don’t navigate social media. MODERATE RISK to pride/friendship.
            Networking with the brotherhood is another option. You’ve been inspired by other writers, followed their blogs, rubbed shoulders with other Indies or authors published in your Press. You share and commiserate with them. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “the only way to have a friend is to be one.” Can that be twisted into “the sure way to get a review is to write one?” Doesn’t every author swap reviews on occasion, particularly if they value an elevated review count that Amazon is sure to notice! If you swap with a writer in your genre, chances are good you already like their subject. And even if the book does not meet your rating standards, you can always find something nice to say after a short synopsis—minus any spoilers. Only another writer can appreciate the fact that writing a book is an accomplishment in itself. VARIABLE RISK to time consumed…and qualms about trading equal star ratings.
            Whoever said “Reward never comes without risk” had to be a writer...or a cliff diver. Same thing, sometimes. (Diving into my newsletter and books is no risk. Promise!)

http://eepurl.com/bxt3Kv  Newsletter
http://amazon.com/author/cjfosdick  Amazon
https://www.facebook.com/  FB

           


Saturday, March 25, 2017

From Minnesota With Love: Surviving My Ice Age

                                                       
      History was my favorite subject in school. Westerns were my favorite TV shows.  My favorite books ranged from mystery to historical romance. Every movie on my favorite list is a historical. So when I began my first novel, guess what?  It was a 19th century historical romance epic that took years of research, spanning several states I personally had to visit.
     Birthweight was more than a ream of paper. And when I was told by agents or publishers that it was too long, or “sorry, try again,” I wrapped it in cellophane and boxed it up in the garage freezer. For years. Thirty to be exact. Thin-skinned over rejection? Hubby eventually scanned all 700 pages into his computer and then onto a thumb drive that is now in our safe deposit box. But I still have that initial freezer baby—lingering now in a warm file cabinet—waiting to be edited into two, maybe three books.  
     Fast forward to present. I’ve attended a dozen writer conferences in the last four years, and even pitched the freezer book at a few of the early ones. Still too long. But the advice I was given paid off. Write a shorter book first, build a platform and presence. Then bring out the big one…or divide it into a series.  Meanwhile, I had been writing shorter stuff: stories and articles for the local paper, national anthologies and magazines. I entered contests…and placed or won. Good sign. Skin thickened. 
     When I received an award at a Women Writing the West Conference in Kansas City for a short story, Publisher Rhonda Penders was in the audience. We connected over dinner and she told me to contact her if I expanded the story to novel length as the judge had suggested. A year later, The Accidental Wife was in galley at Wild Rose Press. 
     My inspiration for the time-travel romance was Diana Gabaldon, whom I met at two of the HNS Writer Conferences. (The only author I know who can get away with creating thousand page books, though each one takes her three years to write.) The Accidental Wife was a Golden Quill finalist—ironically for best FIRST book.  The Accidental Stranger was released two months ago and I’m researching now for book three in my “Accidental Series.”

     So what about that real first book—put on ice?  It could be a good prequel to the present series. But living in Minnesota, I’ve grown accustomed to ice…and skating into opportunities when they arise. I’m on a roll now with thicker skin and a series agenda.  My ice age is history.

CJ Fosdick

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TOUGH TRUTHS ABOUT REVIEWS by Cj Fosdick


      Reviews are to books what “Consumer Reports” is to electronics.  A book can live or die by review buzz—whether written or by word of mouth.  Reviews are important for new releases, especially important for debut authors. Authors understand this; readers not so much.
     With my debut novel, The Accidental Wife, I didn’t know about marketing early for pre-orders or even that an ARC was an “Advanced Review Copy.”  Blogging, tweeting, street teams and book tours were foreign terms and interviews were something you did only when asked—after your success was validated. Trolling for reviews and endorsements was something extroverts did, and swapping reviews was almost as uncomfortable as paying for them. It took a year of discovery and networking with other authors to learn the truth.
     For my earliest reviews, I trusted my most important beta readers—both of whom were experienced writers and editors.  I was married to one, but had lost touch with the other —a colleague who co-produced a Minnesota anthology with me thirty years ago. After reading my finished manuscript, both betas gave me the equivalent of five star reviews.  
     Could I trust them to be impartial?  Hubby—not so much. More to lose there, according to his POV (point of view).  Also, his left brain talent at IBM had him editing technical manuals; He never even read a time-travel historical romance, though he does love history and suspense and epic storylines in movies.  Plus, he is great at editing grammatical errors and relentlessly honest in the larger picture.
    My old colleague labeled me a “helluva writer” and admitted she laughed and cried while reading The Accidental Wife. Known for her encyclopedic mind and creative fantasy, she had poems and two published books of her own: Minnesota Trivia and Growing Wings. It had been years since we touched base after she moved to another state, but I trusted Laurel Winter and loved the review she offered.
     I warmed up to inviting others to read and review IF they liked the book, but I hesitated to ask other family members to even read it.  Particularly my 80 year old stepmom and my daughters, as I worried about their reaction to the sex scenes WildRose Press rated “spicy.” All were fine with the sex, but my stepmom said she did not believe in time travel. Still, she got a print copy accepted in her local library in Wisconsin. Nepotism has a silver lining!
     Though my short stories and articles were published for decades, many people knew me only as a horse trainer. Discovery and Acceptance precede sales which precede reviews. Fishing for reviews for a novel was going to be hard for a new “minnow” suddenly swimming in an ocean of writers all hoping to hook readers. Harder still for a technophobe inept at posting in Facebook and new to Twitter, Goodreads, and other social media apps and opportunities.

     I celebrated my debut by ordering “Novel CJ”—a vanity license plate for my car, then spent months of self-education, embellishing my website, writing a newsletter titled “Accidental Connections,” even distributing  business cards and stocking up on print copies to sell. At a Historic Home Ec Club appearance, I laughed when an elderly member asked if I thought sex sold more books. (I side-tracked her with my cookies.) Both Accidental books have scenes involving historic cookie recipes. Armed with recipe cards and baked samples, the cookies were a hit even at subsequent Book Club appearances. I also donated a dozen copies to my local library for their book club program, reasoning “discovery” is more important than sales, then followed through by giving away as many debut books as I sold.
     Whichever way a copy found a new reader, I couldn’t count on an instant review.  Busy people took longer to read and when I ginned up the courage to ASK for a review, I sometimes got an intimidated deer in the headlights response: “You want ME to write a review?”  Some readers felt unqualified to write one, some didn’t know where to post or how to navigate online.  Eventually, I plugged little cards into all the print copies I sold, explaining the importance of reviews and listing the link sites. I even sent a “click list” to one reader who told me her grandchildren might be able to show her how to add a review on Amazon.
     There are three other review sources, aside from betas, family and friends:
     1. Unsolicited reviews, also termed “organic.”
     2. Paid Reviews.
     3. Swapped Reviews.
     Every writer is happy to collect unsolicited reviews, especially if they are three to five stars. Paid reviews vary in cost and value, along with results. The WildRose Press publisher warns against them.
     If time is money, swapping reviews also has a cost factor beyond the fact that Amazon and other sites frown on them. I thought swapping was an inexpensive way to add reviews, even though I read as deliberately as I write. My editing eye zeroes in on errors, and faulty research. Knowing first-hand how much work the writer invests, however, I always find something affirming, and try to suppress the niggling dishonesty that gives four or five stars to a review that merits less. Isn’t it tacitly understood that getting five stars means giving the same in a swap? Wouldn’t it be less of a head game if we gave a STARLESS critique?  It might increase the number of reviews with no risk to writer or reviewer, especially if they share a connection!
     Recently, I was asked by a fan to endorse her friend’s fiction Indie book for her cover. This helps to sell the book if the endorsement normally comes from a successful writer or celebrity. I was flattered into reluctantly agreeing, telling myself this was only to save a fan. It turned out the Indie’s first 67 pages were an info dump. Dialog was stilted, with hundreds of he said/she said dialog tags, even with two people  conversing. Supporting characters were more sympathetic than the main characters, and the ending drifted. I affirmed that she had an editor, and asked her if she truly wanted MY honest opinion. Her editor also worked with Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and since Watergate, Bob has written eighteen non-fiction books. Okaaay. I emailed my notes anyway-- probably with too many suggestions. For three days of work, I received NO RESPONSE back. File that under "valuable lessons learned"--on many levels.
     Endorsements and good reviews aside, ultimate best sellers—even those by well-known beloved writers seldom hit the mark with everyone. If you are counting reviews, even bad ones can be a plus. Think about the Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James, which hauled in more than 60,000 reviews over the last six years  Over 30% of them earmed 1 to 3 stars, with even the five star reviews holding some objection. Lower ratings usually indicate disregard for subject matter or writing skill. But Fifty Shades got people talking, saved a publishing house and planted erotic books firmly into the mainstream. True then, some best sellers are the gift of public curiosityniche readers who take a chance on a book outside their favorite genre because it has an intriguing hook and a lot of buzz?  Refute the idea that only good reviews pay off. Mixed reviews mean a broader reader base penning  those cherished unsolicited reviews.
     With The Accidental Stranger—the new sequel to my debut book—I’m working the review game smarter, investing more marketing time...and money while still conceding that reviews come easier to veteran writers with devoted fans and a broad base that may take years to cultivate. Unless, of course, I come up with a novel hook that flutters through demographics like a contagious flu.
     My favorite series author, Diana Gabaldon, has sold 26 million books in more than 40 countries. Outlander, her first book published in 1991, has accumulated over 22,000 Amazon reviews, with only 7% of them pulling one or two stars. I met Diana twice at HNS Writer Conferences. She has said in interviews that she won fans “ten at a time,” until she caught on. Inarguably, she may have the largest fan base of any popular author today. She is my social proof and inspiration. We both love character-driven time-travel with multi-genres in the mix. My dearest fantasy is asking for her... endorsement.

 Another fantasy is accumulating even 1,000 reviews!