Author Spotlight: J. K. Rowling (aka Robert Galbraith)

J. K. Rowling is using a pen-name these days, and wrote the novel THE CUCKOO’S CALLING under the guise of Robert Galbraith. However, the purpose of a pen-name is lost when the author reveals herself later, don’t you think?

Apparently not. In this case, it was an attempt to eliminate any hype and allow reviewers to leave unbiased critiques. Here is a quote from J. K. Rowling’s website: “I hoped to keep this secret a little longer, because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name. The upside of being rumbled is that I can publicly thank my editor David Shelley, who has been a true partner in crime, all those people at Little, Brown who have been working so hard on The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing that I wrote it, and the writers and reviewers, both in the newspapers and online, who have been so generous to the novel.  And to those who have asked for a sequel, Robert fully intends to keep writing the series, although he will probably continue to turn down personal appearances.”

Stephen King did something similar by writing books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He wanted to see if he could write a best-selling novel without having a best-selling author’s name attached to it. Bachman had some success, but not nearly as much as those obviously written by Stephen King. However, many might speculate that J. K. Rowling’s reveal was done on purpose. That perhaps the publisher was in on the author’s identity and had a plan in place to reveal the true identity of the author if it didn’t get X sales by a certain date. The Cuckoo’s Calling only sold 1,500 hardcover copies in approximately 3 months time, even after receiving pretty stellar reviews.

The Chicago Tribune details the events of her reveal as thus:  “The initial tip on Richard Galbraith’s real identity came from an “anonymous tweet” from a since-deleted account to an employee at The Sunday Times in London who had tweeted admiration for the book. On the scent, The Times quickly discovered that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” had the same agent, publisher and editor as Rowling. A computer-aided comparison of the writing to Rowling’s other work spurred Times editor Richard Brooks to confront Rowling with a direct question about her authorship, which was quickly answered in the affirmative.”

To get this book published, she went through all the normal wickets that a new author would, such as submitting her manuscript to publishers as Robert Galbraith – which shows great measures were taken to conceal her identity. However, even after she received tons of critical acclaim for her writing, it didn’t sell well. While this was a great exercise to test the quality of her writing, what does this say about the book industry? That the general public doesn’t like new authors? That book sales are declining? That the standard marketing methods are poor?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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San Diego Comic Con 2013 – Book Promo Ideas

Comic Con is a 4-day event filled with booths, attractions, and more for every sci-fi and fantasy entertainment medium for all ages. Some say it is a celebration of the popular arts, but the industry uses this event as the mecca for promoting all nerd-related activities.

During my visit on Saturday (July 20th), I saw streets filled with people. I passed by screenwriters working on their WIP in a coffee shop, I saw celebrities, I saw numerous people dressed as their favorite characters, and I saw bloggers & reports capturing their experiences in photos and words. To get an idea of how huge this event is, in 2010 they filled the San Diego Convention Center to capacity (130,000) and ever since, they have been expanding the booths and attractions out into the public, taking over streets, occupying vacant business buildings, and taking over and converting restaurants and hotels. It’s a massive event, and when I was approached by 5 girls – all wearing red clothing and red wigs – they handed me the promotional bookmark and button for Pierce Brown’s next science fiction novel: Red Rising (published by Del Rey Books). The back side of the bookmark says it is the most anticipated novel in 2014, and contains a bunch of great reviews. This is a brilliant promotional strategy.

First, everyone at Comic Con is wearing a lanyard; whether it’s a unique one from the booth, or the standard one issued that holds your ticket, the lanyard becomes the location for everyone to show off their “flare”. It gets filled with buttons and pins. Secondly, giving everyone a functional promotional item – like a bookmark – is FAR better than a flier. It stands a much greater chance of actually being used, which creates longevity in the life of the promotion. I was really impressed at the thought that was put behind this simple marketing strategy, but it lacked one critical component…

Someone in a picture-worthy costume to pass out the fliers. Giving out a flier is one thing, but making it into a bunch of people’s photo albums is one of the greatest ways to inject yourself into their memory of their experience at Comic Con. Mark my words, as soon as I have a release date for The Soul Smith, I will hand-build an epic cosplay of Erador (the character on my cover) and walk around while passing out bookmarks and buttons at Comic Con.

Book Review: Dragon Champion

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars. My favorite book of all time!

Overview: This is a fantasy novel by E. E. Knight written entirely from a dragon’s perspective. It is book 1 out of 6 in The Age of Fire series.

Spoiler Free Plot: The book begins with Auron hatching out of his egg. The reader is quickly engrossed in the life and culture of a dragon and his family, learning the stages of their development (breathing fire, sprouting wings, etc). In addition, Auron is a grey dragon, which means he doesn’t have scales like the other colors, but he became the champion of his clutch (hence the title of the novel). Once Auron is out on his own, he encounters a wide variety of unique allies throughout his adventures as he tries to find his place as a dragon in a world where they are becoming increasingly rare.

Review: This instantly became my favorite book ever! Viewing the world from a dragon’s eyes made everything seem foreign and new.  The amount of thought put behind the culture of dragons (how they communicate, the way their name changes as they reach a certain stage of their life, how they get new scales, the unique names for their front and back limbs, etc) was part of why this book captured me as a reader. There was a balance of humor, action, adventure, suspense, and wonder throughout this whole book. It was gripping.

I’d also like to give props to E. E. Knight for not using a single curse word throughout the novel. In addition, I felt that the relationships the Auron formed were real. The vast assortment of characters really come to life; this book was a pleasure to read and is easily my #1 recommended book from here on out. I can’t wait to finish reading the rest of the series.

Author Spotlight – Sylvia Day

This is a new post that is different from my others, and I hope to do more like this down the road, but this is especially unique since the author I am featuring is a Romance author (and I tend to focus around Fantasy, if anything). Sylvia Day is what I would consider a very successful author and regardless of genre, there is something we could all learn from any author’s success and/or failures. Since my wife is a big fan of Sylvia Day, I have come to learn a lot about this author by proxy and since today (6/4/2013) marks the release of her newest book, Entwined With You, I thought it more than appropriate to speculate on the events that occurred.

Sylvia Day’s marketing plan for her newest book was impressive. This is the 3rd book (out of 5) in her Crossfire series. To develop hype for the release of her new novel, she released a “Snapshot” for each of her chapters once a week on her social networking sites, all the way up to the release date of her novel. The snapshot was simply just a picture that was a clue to give readers what that chapter was about. She received hundreds of comments per post from all the fans guessing at what the picture infers about the story. Leveraging her 63,000 Twitter followers and over 89,000 Facebook likes, this was an extraordinarily simple and successful marketing method.

In addition, my wife has informed me that Sylvia Day can finish writing a novel in just 3 months time. Must be nice to be a full time author, right? Well, let’s look at it from this angle. According to my wife, the two main characters, Eva and Gideon, were completely different in this book from the first two. Is this a side effect of the author spreading herself too thin by having too many projects going on at once? I’ll say this, if you are an author (published or not) it is definitely something to be aware of, as spreading yourself too thin degrades the quality of your work. If you are writing multiple novels at once, you might not be as engrossed in your characters as you would be if you focused on one novel at a time.

Watching the release of Entwined With You today (6/4/2013) confirmed that my wife is not alone in her opinion of the book. As evidenced by the NUMEROUS 1 Star reviews on Amazon, Sylvia’s characters and her story took a turn for the worse. Some say that this is because she turned what was originally designed to be a trilogy into a 5-book series. It’s interesting to see the backlash from readers on this when you consider Christopher Paolini and his Inheritance series. He did the same thing and stretched his story from 3 books into 4, but he did not receive the negative criticism that Sylvia Day received all over her Amazon reviews and her Facebook page. This is why planning and outlining your story is so important, and if you must deviate from your plan, ensure that it is handled with care.

UPDATE (6/7/2013): To be fair, I shouldn’t skew my review of the events that occured as her book reviews were not all negative. However, as an author that is learning from the events that transpired, the community backlash was powerful enough that she thought it needed to be addressed. Here are two posts from Sylvia Day’s Facebook. (By the way, in just 3 days since this original post, she gained 4,000 more Facebook likes, now over 93,000 fans). Let’s look at how she has handled this situation:

 

Creating a Believable Hero

Within the massive umbrella of the fiction genre, many authors choose to tell the tale of the adventures of some incredible hero. That hero could be incredible for many various reasons and is also the perfect person to overcome the conflict at hand, but they don’t always exhibit the fundamental qualities of a leader. Is every hero a leader? No. But does every hero lead?

The crux of that question is what I want to explore here. In a vast majority of fiction novels that involve the protagonist as a “hero”, the hero is always thrust into greatness – despite their initial hesitancy. They either already have the power or are given the power to be triumphant and save the day, but despite all that, they are not a leader by any stretch of the word. Sure, they may have followers throughout the novel, but it is not because of their innate leadership skill; it is because of the power they wield. It is the circumstance of great responsibility that they find themselves in which forces them to do what they think is right (usually after being coerced by peer pressure) despite wishing they weren’t involved at all.

Now, while it is an interesting dynamic to show how a hero has matured as a result of the quest/adventure (such as a coming of age story), the character still only holds Legitimate power, when they should have Referent and/or Expert power to be a successful leader. (More on the 5 different types of power Here). In my opinion, this “regular person as a hero” is a paradox that is found over and over again throughout stories that even date back to myth and legend (of which I wrote about here: The Hero with a 1,000 Faces).

What about the hero that forges his own destiny? That grabs life by the horns? That has worked all his/her life for this one moment? Sadly, we don’t see many stories of heroes like that. In fact, don’t those seem like traits usually found in the villains of our novels? Why does our culture craft stories that reward the unprepared and unmotivated hero, yet thwart the dedicated, scheming villain? I’m not saying the villain should win; I’m saying the roles should be reversed. A hero – that is also a leader – should have prepared his/her whole life for the quest that is laid before them. This hero would have a powerful influence over his/her followers and would likely change the entire dynamic of the story. Instead of a one-in-a-million success story, the reader will be on the edge of a potential tragedy, where the heroes’ entire purpose in life might all be for naught if he/she does not succeed.

Every author should, at the very least, do some minimal amount of research when engrossing themselves into the role of their hero/heroin. I am currently reading The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell to understand the characteristics that a true leader should exhibit. To name just a few:

  • Unselfishness
  • Vision
  • Influential
  • Willing to Sacrifice
  • Self-Discipline
  • A Planner
  • Respect
  • Intuition

While my first novel depicts a classic coming-of-age story, my second book is going down this path of depicting a main character that is both a leader and a hero. Now, you might be asking, “Should every hero be a leader?” I think that is something that only you can decide.

The Long Road toward becoming Published

As a fantasy writer, I recently joined the Mythic Scribes forum boards to solicit advice regarding this purgatory state of being in-between having completed a novel and awaiting publication that I currently find myself in. This dead zone, if you will, could cause authors to get confused about what they should be focusing on during this time. For example, while I am waiting to hear word back from literary agencies, I focused a lot of my time toward developing my synopsis – which would be a necessary item for querying more agents/publishers in the future. The advice I received from the community of fantasy writers on the forum board really set me on a path forward that I think will help any authors that are also walking down the long road toward traditional publishing.

Like many others, I usually want closure from all the places that I’ve submitted, so I’ve really exercised my patience when waiting for a response. However, in this industry, literary agents are so overwhelmed that sometimes a non-response is your answer. Unfortunately, that has become a reality in this industry. For this one reason, it is important to not stay stagnate as an author. Just keep writing because you don’t want to misuse the time that you have.

In addition, if an agent/publisher does contact you after a long while, often times they are curious as to what other finished work or work in progress (WIP) you can show them. And if it has been a while since you submitted to them, hopefully you at least have a WIP that you can discuss. But if your answer is, “I’ve rewritten my synopsis three times,” that’s not going to cut it. So the lesson here is: Don’t get caught with your pants down. Having more work prepared is never a bad thing. It proves that you are serious as a writer and that you are ahead of the game.

I still need to rewrite my synopsis, but the community’s words of wisdom have really got me motivated toward writing my sequel. Hopefully, it will do the same for you too.

Awesome Apps for Authors

Technology has been the greatest enabler for authors. It has drastically improved productivity when going from typewriters to the personal PC, and now with Amazon’s CreateSpace plus the advent of e-readers, it has never been easier for an author to publish their work. There is no doubt that technology has made the life of all authors easier, but what about being more organized? Below, I’ve compiled a list of some software and iPad/iPhone apps that can do just that.

  • Name Dice for iPad/iPhone, by Thinkamingo. If your creativity is fleeting, then this free random name generator can help you come up with a character name on the spot.
  • Final Draft Writer by Final Draft, Inc. This is the premier composition software for screenwriters, and the iPad app is available for $49.99. Personally, I don’t know how anyone can be as productive on an iPad as they can on a laptop/PC with a full operating system, but I know Final Draft 8 software is available for $249.95 on PC and Mac as well.
  • iBookWriterLite for iPad, by AgileBoard.com. This free app allows you to compose your story and then instantly publish your work to various self-pub markets once complete.
  • Subscribe to Writing Magazine on the iPad. Filled with useful articles for fiction, short story and poetry topics. $20.99 for 6 month subscription or $39.99 for a 12 month subscription.
  • My Writing for iPad, by 21×20 Media, Inc. This free app helps you keep track of all your published works.
  • Writer’s App for iPad, by Thomas Sillmann. For only $0.99, this app gives you a book composition/organization tool. You can track your synopsis, Premise, Plot, Chapters, Characters (bio, description, etc), Places, and Notes for your novel. I, for one, would have loved a character-tracker app during my first novel!
  • Literary Agents and Publishers Database for iPhone/iPad, by BookCaps. It’s a free app that lists agents and publishers based on Genre. This might be handy for the iPad, but I still prefer queryagent.com for their database and submission tracking system.
  • Manuscript for iPad by Black Mana Studios. This app costs $6.99 and takes you from pitch to a publication-ready document in 4 steps.
  • Total Recall for iPhone/iPad by Zyense. This free app lets you organize your thoughts via mindmapping. It is a great tool for any author that likes to visualize the story or see character relationships and motivations. Great for outlining your novel, as I previously mentioned here.

For those of you that have found other useful apps or software, please feel free to share! Leave a comment below! I personally used Microsoft Skydrive to write my novel. Not only that, with Skydrive, you can edit your documents right in the web browser. I found this extremely useful so that I can work on my book from anywhere, and I prevent the risk of data loss by saving it in the cloud.