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Sunday, March 29, 2015

When Your Editor Slaps You Upside the Head

Whoo, doggie! What a wild ride.

Getting book blurbs for The Troubles has been challenging. I've reached out to authors I admire and who inspire me with their accomplishments. It has been anxiety provoking because I'm forcing myself to reach beyond my comfort zone. I'm human. Maybe it's an author thing, a creative-person-angst-thing or a woman thing. Or maybe I'm triple cursed by feeling all three, but I'm keenly aware of all of that isn't perfect.

I was at a reading for an author who expressed the same sentiment. Myfanwy Collins read from her beautiful novel, The Book of Laney. Afterwards, she commented she couldn't bear reading the whole work again now that it's published because of the changes she would want to make. Her reading left audience members in tears and she still felt she could edit more. I know she would agree that at a certain point in time, you just have to declare your work done and get it out there.

Feedback from writing groups or beta readers is one thing. Feedback from authors you greatly admire is another. So, when I received feedback on my book from an award winning author, I really took the message to heart. Candidly, the author was critical of my first paragraph. Egads! If a reader doesn't like your first paragraph, what is going to make them want to read more? It's the Big Kahuna. First sentence leads to first paragraph that leads to first chapter that leads to let's-buy-this-book-and-read-the-whole-thing. Simply put, screw up early and you're screwed.

I yelped and sent the message to my editor. As a senior editor at a major publisher, she knows her stuff. I trust her. Getting barked at by the author made me question if I was doing enough. Maybe I should work the manuscript more. Maybe I've missed something.

The only thing I was missing was a good slap upside my head. In clipped and precise phrases that only an experienced editor can utter, she told me that I've done the heavy lifting, the homework, and the revisions. I've gone the extra mile to make sure my work was as perfect as I could humanly make it. Then I let the work cool.

I sent it out and I listened. I didn't just sit quietly and let the reviewers speak. I heard what was being said. She reminded me that no one person or one piece of work is going to be all things to all people. Filtering the criticism and taking from it what works for me, my genre, my readers, and my instincts is what will make it my work, not something watered down by committee.

My first paragraph does what it was intended to do. Set the tone. Set the scene. By using seventy-five words to establish time, place, and action, the rest of that chapter crackles with tension. Sure I could fret and revise, but if I did, I'd be losing something in the totality. The author read two paragraphs and dashed off an email. Perhaps those were actions of someone not invested in giving me the time to begin with.

She said the following:  "You wrote an exciting, unusual story that your readers are going to devour. The writing is strong. Characters and plot are strong. Backstories are strong. Action, pacing, transitions, and flow are strong." She reminded me how many times I've had that paragraph critiqued. Author panels. Agent panels. Peer groups. No one stopped at the first paragraph.

Since receiving that one comment from that one author, I've received other comments along the lines of "amazing." 

I've worked in the "men's world" law, banking, and finance. Times are changing, but I feel I had to be better than my peers to succeed. The same is true for being an indie in a "traditional" world. My book has to be that much better for it to succeed.

I'm human. I get rattled. Having the confidence of my editor behind me will make my skin a wee bit tougher to manage in the big bad world. She slapped me upside the head. She had me assess the comment through the prisms of the author and my vision and take from it the validity, not the criticism. 

This is why I love my editor. I've done my homework and worked within the process and gone the extra miles. I need to be confident that I've written another kick-ass book.

Will everyone love me? Nope. But that's okay.

More on Author to Reader Marketing (A2RMarketing) can be found here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Blurbs and Marketing: Putting on Your Big Girl Pants (A2R Marketing)

There comes a time in your book writing life that you have to put on your big girl pants and get out into the world.

There are many stages to getting a book in front of the public. When a launch looms, palms begin to sweat and the second guessing kicks in. A writer must trust that she has made every effort to create the best work possible. Then it comes time to say, "Publish."

While the final draft is readied for public consumption, an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) or other uncorrected proof is distributed for - gulp - blurbs. Early reviews and cover blurbs are an essential step in a successful launch. This is where the rubber hits the road.

A blurb is a one or two sentence endorsement of your work that graces the cover or first pages of your book. The best are from a person with a voice, a name, and an audience. Maybe it's another author in your genre or a professional in an industry your book touches. What horror author would not want a "Gotta read this book!" from Stephen King or a "Love It!" from Blake Shelton if your romance novel touches on life as a country singer.

I am a firm believer in soliciting feedback on a work in progress at many points during the writing stages. Writers groups and beta readers are critical components of creating a good work and the more harsh the criticism the better you will learn. Having your manuscript buffed by a professional editor is essential.

Lots of advice exists for asking for a blurb. There is even advice for writing your own blurb. But, there is very little advice in getting up the nerve to ask for a blurb. This is where big girl pants help.

If you're traditionally published, many publishers have a stable of folks they routinely ask to blurb for a new book. It can be a give-to-get: I'll give your books blurbs if you give my book a blurb. It's the way business works. But what if you don't have that kind of support from your publisher or you're an indie. Then what?

Then you have to do it yourself.
  1. Read. Read. Read. Note the authors that resonate with you. Write down their names. Figure out how to contact them. Meet them if you can.
  2. Make sure you have the best damned book you can create. Don't skimp on the process. Workshop it. Beta it. Have it professionally edited. 
  3. Aspire. Reach. Target peers but also target someone who is beyond where you are now and is where you hope to be. 
  4. Know the answer to this question: Why should I blurb for you? 
  5. Craft the best possible query letter you can. Then shorten it.
This process starts six to eight weeks before your launch date. Potential blurb writers will need at least three to four weeks to read your ARC. Hope for them to say "Yes." Don't fault them or you if they say "no." Some authors like to blurb only within their genre. That's fine. I believe readers are interested in reading outside of a genre's silo, so I like to solicit authors who write suspense as well as genres my books touch, like women's fiction or political thrillers. 

So remember:

Be gracious. Be appreciative. Do your homework.

...then put on your big girl pants, write that request for a blurb, and press "send."

More on A2R (Author to Reader) Marketing can be found here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Help for Local Stable

To everyone at Flying High Stables,

I was devastated to learn of the toll this winter took on your farm. People in the horse community look out for one another and the outpouring of support to your stable was heartwarming. To help the farm and to acknowledge the community that supports Flying High, I'd like to dedicate proceeds of signed copies of my book to the farm. 

My book, "The Charity," captures the perseverance and grit that are hallmarks of the equestrian world. Anyone who would love to read a good book and support your farm can go to my blog and purchase a copy by using the click through in the upper right corner. Please have your supporters state "Flying High" in the memo line. 

I wish all the best for Flying High.

Connie Johnson Hambley

Amazon Reviews may be read here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Poughkeepsie Journal Article on the Heinchon Dairy Arson

Thanks go to the Poughkeepsie Journal for helping to mark the fiftieth anniversary of my family's barn fire.

The anniversary allowed us to reach back to that day and reflect on the changes one event had on our family. Cobwebs and dust on old memories were swept away and deep appreciation for what we have in our lives - rather than what was taken from it - emerged.

Heinchon Dairy is no longer in business, but Eastern Hay and Heinchon's Old Farmhouse Ice Cream are thriving.

More pictures may be found on my Facebook page here.

The above picture is what the barn and surrounding neighborhood. Pawling folks will recognize the John Kane house on the right, Dutcher Golf course in the foreground and Route 22. The barn, silos, dairy and my home are in the center.