How to Get Your Blog Noticed

The best way? Write something that will really stir people up.

One approach is to be super negative.

For instance, Adele’s new album has been breaking sales records and she has zillions of adoring fans. Imagine writing a blog that says 25 is crap, she’s over-rated, and not remotely as good as Lana del Ray or any other singer of your choice.

You’d be sure to get lots of hits and people would RT like crazy in their rage. But then among the crowd would also be lots of people who actually agreed with you–so you’d get those readers, too.

Another approach: Defend a common target of ridicule.

Example? Blog that the Kardashians have been misunderstood. Say they represent the best in family values. Say they stand for everything that makes America great. Given their high profile, one way of another, anything about them is likely to generate hits, and that’s what you’re after: click bait.  A sexy title and photo or two helps.  And some funny gifs.

Now, what do you do in either case about the badly spelled emails from people who think you’re a total moron and should be put down like a rapid dog? And the tweets that vilify you in worse terms? And the comments pointing out the smallest typo and trash everything from your writing skills to your sanity?

Ignore them.

You’re not blogging to start a conversation or prove you’re God’s Gift to Blogging. Your aim is publicity, and the best way to generate that is by posting a controversial blog.  But beware, this can happen even by accident.

So.  Are you tough enough to handle it?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from mystery to memoir.

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Success is Easier When You Start Off Ahead of the Pack

Whether you like Lena Dunham’s TV show Girls or not, she’s inescapable, especially now that she has a sort of memoir out.  She got an advance of several million dollars for it, which is newsworthy in itself, of course, and that’s what publishers count on.  Money talks, or it gets people talking.

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One thing that’s struck me about how she’s been covered in the press is the impression news stories create that she came out of nowhere: she did her second little indie film on a tiny budget, it went to a film festival, and before you know it, boom! she’s writing and starring in a controversial cult hit TV show and being seen and quoted everywhere.

It’s a satisfying American tale that stirs our hearts: we love stories of simple folks with humble origins making it big.  But Dunham’s real story doesn’t fit that classic narrative at all.  Both her parents were well known artists in New York.  Their fabulous Tribeca home where she shot her second movie (funded by her parents) was put on the market recently for 6.25 million dollars.  The family also had a Connecticut summer house when she was growing up.  She went to Oberlin College, where tuition is currently $50,000 a year, and her sister went to Brown.

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We like to believe that talent alone is what gets us recognition in America, but it’s really not true here or anywhere else.  I recently taught in a six week summer program for Michigan State University students studying in London.  One of the courses was a creative writing class where students could work in fiction or creative nonfiction.  We had terrific guests including the international best-selling author Val McDermid who was very honest about her success.  She listed three crucial things: talent, hard work, and luck.  “I know writers just as good as I am who haven’t been as lucky,” she said, surprising the class.

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I’d add something to her triad: connections.  Growing up in New York, plugged into any kind of artistic or media circle the way Lena Dunham was through her parents, is starting off in the best possible way if you’re going to be a writer.  To her credit, Dunham hasn’t blurred the fact that she grew up very privileged, but the media seems to.  It’s a better story the way they tell it, more egalitarian, more “American.”  It plays to the myth that we all start out equal and have the same chance in life to make it.  But that’s nonsense.

Any midlist mystery author struggling to stay afloat in the current publishing climate would be thrilled to have started out in life with the kind of background and connections Dunham has.  An aspiring writer in any genre would love to reach the heights she already has in her mid-twenties, thanks to the boost her Mom and Dad gave her just because of who they were and who they knew.

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It would be as good as starting a mystery series if you were, say, Benedict Cumberpatch’s younger brother, or married to one of the writers of The Walking Dead, or your parents were editors at Knopf.  You’d have an instant platform that agents and publishers would salivate over, and priceless connections.  You’d get profiles in the New York Times–like the son of editor and author Gordon Lish recently did. The way ahead would be more than clear for you: it would be paved with gold.  Your success wouldn’t be guaranteed, but something crucial would be: access and exposure.

Lev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a novel of suspense, and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mash-up. 

You can read about his other books at http://amazon.com/author/levraphael

What’s a Writer’s Time Worth?

Years ago, when I was speaking at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, I met the writer Evelyn Torton Beck, who I found personable, wise, and funny.  She was the first author to talk to me about accurately assessing what my time was worth when I was invited to speak out of town.

It’s not just the day you’re there, she said, if it’s only a day.  Add getting ready the day before, and then at least one day of re-entry into your regular schedule, sometimes more.

I’d never thought of doing a gig that way before, and it was immensely helpful.  Like the time I was invited to speak in San Francisco, and the speaker’s fee was okay (and I was eager to see a favorite city again).  But in this case, the sponsors were stingy.  They weren’t even offering to cover my hotel and meals, just air fare and “home hospitality.”  The latter is extremely iffy.  The one thing I crave on the road is privacy, since I’m constantly on stage.  I really wanted to do the gig, but then I thought of the jet lag I’d be dealing with, and to me that doubled the time involved.  I simply wasn’t being compensated enough for how much I’d have to put into the event, and I was dubious about staying with strangers, so I said no.

Saying no isn’t easy for us writers.  I’ve had many discussions with other authors and this is a subject that comes up again and again.  Part of the problem is that when we start out, we tend to say yes to everything because we crave the exposure, and somehow feel it’ll magically boost our careers.  We want the attention, the recognition, the respect–and hopefully the  sales that might result.  Our hopes can create a habit of saying yes.

Luckily I have a spouse who not only chimed in on what Evelyn Beck said, but added, “Ask yourself if you think you might end up griping about having to do the gig a few weeks before you go.  Ask yourself if you think it’ll be fun or different or challenging.  Ask yourself if the money really will compensate for being ripped out of your writing schedule.”

Other writers may have different questions that help them decide what to do and where.  But these work pretty well for me, and have helped me turn down gigs that I was sure later on I would regret accepting.

Having now done hundreds of readings on three continents, I’m much more selective than ever about where I go and when, and more and more consider my physical comfort.  I’m six feet tall, and I’m very reluctant to fly small planes when that’s the only choice, or sit in window seats ditto, because they can leave me cramped and cranky.

One more note: the late poet Terri Jewell and I used to talk about the writing life a lot, and she taught me an elegant way of saying no to things I didn’t want to do: “Thank you for asking, but I’m booked.”  It gracefully closes the discussion and I’ve used it more than once to good effect.

A version of this blog originally appeared at brevity.wordpress.com.

Nude Authors?

I’ve been publishing books since 1990 and have seen publicity fads come and go (and sometimes come back).

Over the years, publishers have urged me and other authors I know to do postcards, bookmarks, business cards with a book cover on them, and all sorts of doo-dads.  They’ve pushed attending mystery conferences.  Sending out posters to book stores.  Advertising in magazines, newspapers, and mystery conference program books.

But wait, there’s more!  Hiring your own publicist and taking yourself on tour. Starting and constantly updating a web site.  Cultivating reviewers and famous authors. Doing professional trailers for your books.  Having a fan page on Facebook separate from your regular page.

Then there’s blogging.  Guest blogging.  Setting up a blog tour.  Advertising on line.

And that’s not all, folks.  Creating contests and book giveaways. Establishing a presence on Goodreads and carefully pretending to be there for discussion while you slowly mount a campaign to take the site over and crown yourself queen or king.  Tweeting.  Jumping on Tumblr and Instagram so you can be the Beyoncé of the book world.

Plus, if you’re one of those authors getting a book out every year (or more often, even), you need to be supplying your fans with “content” between books to keep them in a buying mode, so you have to be writing short stories and novellas and loading them as e-books.

The pressure can be relentless. Push, push, push.  Sell, sell, sell.

One thing that hasn’t come up yet, at least not widely, is selling yourself.  I mean, your physical self.  While people do have their hair and makeup done for photo shoots, publishers haven’t yet become body bullies.  They don’t push their authors to lose weight or go for spray-on tans.  They don’t suggest fashion makeovers or keeping track of your body fat percentage.   They don’t send links for Spanx.  They don’t raise the subject of cosmetic surgery.  They don’t urge us to take hot yoga, sign up for spinning classes, go running, do Pilates, enter Iron Man contests, train for marathons, and try liposuction when all else fails.

Because otherwise you’d see a  new wave of hokey photos:  authors at their laptops in thongs or Speedos (or nothing at all); authors casually nude or semi-clad as they take notes in a coffee shop or at the Eiffel Tower for their next books; and most obviously, working out at the gym.  There would also be a new  tacky classic, standing around shirtless or topless, perusing your latest opus.  Or the super-obvious reading nude in bed. The publishers would love it: hot author! hot book!  What could be bad?

It Pays to Double Check

In the 80s when I had published only short stories and essays, I kept telling friends, “If I could just publish a book, one little book, with anyone, my problems would be over.”

Yeah, right.

Once I had gotten a book out with a major publisher, I discovered the truth a novelist friend warned me about: “The only thing worse than not being published is being published.”  Things go wrong at publishing houses that you could never imagine happening, for reasons you can never fathom.

Recently a novelist  I had previously reviewed asked if I was interested in seeing a new book of his, and I was happy to say yes.  He’s now twice been assured by his publicist that the book was sent to me.  I haven’t gotten it, so he gave up and ordered me a copy from amazon himself.

He was upset, but I wasn’t surprised at a mail room turning into a black hole.  With one of my books, none of the blurb copies ever reached the intended authors.  They got “lost” in the mail room.  I only discovered this by accident, when the deadline for blurbs was up, none had come in, and we had to go with reviews from a previous book.

That wasn’t a tragedy, but it would have made me feel more confident taking a new book out into the world with fresh, not recycled, words on its back.

Back then, I was too new to realize that everything in publishing demands double-checking when you’re an author.  And I was too shy to ask the authors I was hoping would blurb my book if they’d received their copies.  I’ve had to learn to get over my shyness, because that’s the only way to guarantee that something happens when it’s supposed to.

I’ve also learned that whenever I speak somewhere that isn’t a bookstore, and that’s most of the time, I need to monitor whether they’ve ordered books.  Why?  Because sometimes hosts at a venue get things wrong, are misinformed about a book’s availability, or just plain forget.  I always offer to run interference if they need it, and try to stay cheerful and helpful, no matter how frustrating the process might be in some cases.  If I don’t double check, there’s no guarantee books will be there.

Writing isn’t for sissies, and it’s also not the best career for an introvert.  You have to put yourself out there again and again, but you also have to never assume that things will get done efficiently or on time or at all.  You need to keep track of everything, whether you like it or not, even if it means feeling like a nag.

That doesn’t mean you’re OCD, it just means you’re careful and conscientious.  It’s your career, after all, and if you don’t check, who will?

Book Group Bullying

The publishing industry is always pushing something new as the Holy Grail of promotion.  Right now it’s social media; a few years ago it was being social: speaking to book groups via Skype or in person.

A colleague’s recent bad experience with a book group reminded me of my own a few years ago. I had toured extensively in the U.S. and abroad for many of my books, but hadn’t done book groups based on what people in them told me they disliked: the gossip; naïve and sometimes inane discussions; more focus on food than literature. When I was invited to speak about my novel The German Money  five minutes away from where I live, though, it seemed churlish to say no to spending an hour or two on a Sunday evening talking about a book I loved.

The group of ten women and one man seemed interested to hear about the book’s genesis, but within minutes, the male leader was on the attack, telling me every single thing he thought was wrong with the book.  It was relentless.

The book is partly a love song to northern Michigan, but he didn’t like the descriptions of Michigan because they weren’t specific enough or “artistic” enough for his taste. I pointed out that the first person narrator was not an Annie Dillard type and the descriptions reflected his specific vision and his voice.

The thuggish leader was sourly unconvinced and then bashed the main character as needing to “grow up.” Well, the story’s about a dysfunctional family of children of a Holocaust survivor, and they’re all struggling with their dark inheritance. That cut no ice with him: he didn’t believe having that kind of horror in the heart of one’s family would be at all problematic. I was astonished at his lack of empathy.

Then this shmendrik added he didn’t like the fact that the New York sections of the book were set in several apartments—that felt claustrophobic to him. I reminded him that most Manhattanites live in apartment buildings, not ranch houses, Colonials or split-levels.  But he didn’t care.

There were other snarky comments from the group, but his were the most insulting.  Now, I was a guest, so I never told him how rude his behavior was, or that some of his remarks verged on the sophomoric.  But I did have to wonder why he’d bothered getting his group to read the novel at all since he had such a low opinion of it. Was the whole point to show off to these women how macho he was?

It got worse: The day after I was mugged, this boor emailed me negative comments he claimed the group made about the book after I left. Apparently the people who really disliked the book were too intimidated by my presence to say so—at least that’s what he reported.

I was tempted to tell him that the book was being taught in universities across the country with novels by Toni Morrison and Philip Roth.  Or that The Washington Post and other papers had raved about it. I wanted to smack him down.  But I didn’t bother replying.  At the back of my mind was the warning of a good friend trying to talk her author husband out of writing an angry email to a critic: “Listen, do you want to do good work or do you want to be known as a crazy person?”

This blog is drawn from Book Lust! (Essays for Book Lovers)

Controlling Your Image–Literally

When you start out as an author, it’s thrilling to be interviewed and have your photo in a newspaper.  That is, until you see the photo and you think, “Oh, God!  I don’t look like that, do I?”

Well, you don’t.  Far too often, authors get pressured by photographers into taking corny poses that aren’t flattering, but that the photographers think will work.  You know the ones I mean: chin held in the palm of the author’s hand, or head leaning against an extended finger.  It’s supposed to say  This is an Author.  To most people it says stiff, artificial, dumb.  And: Who sits like that?

I had to learn the hard way to resist bossy photographers.  But first I had to know what worked.  When I’m standing for a photo, I never feel relaxed; I feel the opposite: exposed.  So author photos of me standing anywhere usually come out looking stiff and artificial.

I feel much better facing a photographer if I’m sitting in a comfortable chair.  That makes my whole body relax, and I can smile–if I want to.  I don’t always feel like it, and if I smile against my will, I look fake and uneasy.

Sometimes photographers insist on taking their subjects outdoors.  Why?  Because it supposedly shows that the author isn’t just trapped by books and work.  What’s the point?  Some of my worst professional photos have been taken outside.  Under a tree.  I guess the connection might be trees = pulp = books, but in an e-book age, that seems passé.

So,  before you agree to have a photographer come to your home, do some thinking about photos first .  And don’t be afraid to say “no” to anything you don’t like. Or to postpone a shoot if you’re not feeling well, if you’re tired, or if you haven’t been sleeping and it’ll show.  And wear something that makes you look and feel good.

If worse comes to worst, you can always decline, send the magazine or newspaper a publicity photo.  If they decide not to run it, they might run the cover of your book instead.

In the end, though, it’s better to be interviewed and photographed than not.  And most people don’t notice a bad photo, or at least they mercifully won’t tell you if it’s awful.  They’ll be pleased for you about the coverage.  A recent bad photo in my local newspaper didn’t seem to register at all with the dozens of people who told me they liked the accompanying piece a lot.

After all, they know me and know that I look better than that.  Most of the time.