Spotlight on… Mitch Sommers

Uncategorized

Cross-posted on Beth Fish Reads

Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight on . . . Mitch Sommers. Today’s feature offers a double treat: not only do you get to learn something about how a lawyer can use his professional insight to create fiction but you are also introduced to a local literary magazine, Philadelphia Stories, and its newest anthology of featured authors.

So let’s see how Mitch’s story “Bando” came into being.

Using Fiction to Tell the Truth

It is the most basic of writer’s commandments: Write what you know. And what I know, and know all too well being a bankruptcy lawyer in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is debt.

The short story “Bando”, which is part of the anthology The Best of Philadelphia Stories 2, was my attempt to tell the story–or at least one of the stories–of the recession. By now lots of people heard of terms such as “subprime lending,” “liars’ loans,” and the like. And it’s not as if there’s no human face to the hard times–with unemployment at 8.8% in Pennsylvania as I write this, most of us know someone who is in financial distress right now. But even with that, there are things I wanted to say about this recession that can’t be said just by throwing around statistics. Sometimes fiction is the only way to get inside, to tell, if you will, at least one part of a recession’s tale.

I’ve got a law degree and an MFA. I don’t claim any special training in economics. But what I do gives me a grunt’s eye view of what the lending practices of the last 10 years have done, even in Lancaster County, which has always been considered to be, if not recession proof, at least more resistant to the worst of bad times than other places in Pennsylvania. And what I saw developing over the last few years was not just unsophisticated borrowers victimized by predatory lending practices (though I’ve seen, and still see, plenty of that), but intelligent people also buying into the premise that you could borrow anything, for any amount, and it didn’t matter what the terms were, it didn’t matter because housing values always went up and nobody would ever really call the bill due.

My protagonist in “Bando” is himself a commercial loan officer. He knows what he’s doing, and he does it anyway. Here’s the segment I think best shows that.

I could have had a conversation with her back then. I could have pointed out that we’d purchased a whole lot of house. That we needed her money to afford it. That what she wanted to do didn’t make sense unless we sold the house, took the equity we had, and put a really big down payment on a smaller place. It’s what the lending officer in me would have done. Here’s the thing, though. The socially unacceptable secret. There aren’t many ways to randomly display testosterone when you’re a middle-aged loan officer with bad knees and a receding hairline. But they do exist. In my case, those ways involved home equity loans. And credit cards. And refinances. And credit cards again. Debt was great. Debt was wonderful. Debt allowed me to be both stoic and supportive.

Debt rocked.

The actual scenario in “Bando”–namely squatters moving into abandoned, foreclosed-on homes–hasn’t happened much in Pennsylvania, but in other, harder hit places like southern California, Las Vegas, and south Florida, those things have started happening. And it was the idea of that, the squatter as a symbol of the crumbling of middle-class existence, that intrigued me and led me to write this short story.

I am enormously grateful to Christine Weiser, Carla Spataro, Marc Schuster, and Philadelphia Stories for publishing my story, both in the magazine itself and in the anthology. It is an amazing book, and they are all amazing, talented people.

_______

Thanks so much, Mitch. I find it fascinating to see how an author can turn to fiction to reveal the larger truth behind the statistics. It’s always interesting to see the story from an insider’s perspective.

More information about Philadelphia Stories, Volume 2, can be found in an article by Christine Weiser and on the literary journal’s website. The magazine Philadelphia Stories is published quarterly and features “Fiction/Art/Poetry of the Delaware Valley.” The magazine also has a blog, which features reviews, advice for authors, industry news, and more. You can even follow them on Twitter!

If you are a reader interested in a diverse range of literature or are an author looking for community, Philadelphia Stories is a great place to start.

Here’s a video of Mitch reading from his story “Bando.”

Mitchell Sommers is an attorney in Ephrata and Lancaster, practicing in the fields of bankruptcy and debtor/creditor rights. He received his law degree from Penn State Dickinson and his MFA from University of New Orleans. He is currently co-editor of Tatanacho and on the editorial board of Philadelphia Stories. His short story, “Bando,” is currently in the anthology The Best of Philadelphia Stories 2.

These 3 links lead to affiliate programs.

 

EDIT: Mitch Sommers was recently interviewed and spotlighted on Lancaster Online. Be sure to check out the article.

For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project. If you are an author, publisher, or publicist interested in the Pennsylvania edition of the Literary Road Trip, feel free to contact me.

Advertisements

Marketing Outside of the Box by Guest Blogger Marie Lamba

Uncategorized

Cross-posted at Marie Lamba’s blog

I recently gave a presentation to the Bucks County Romance Writers group about “Marketing Outside of the Box: Bringing your Book to Life and Keeping it Alive,” and it stirred up some common misconceptions about just what an author can and can’t do to promote her book. Mainly, there is a pervasive belief that promotion is entirely up to the publisher, and the actions of the author can make no difference one way or the other in the success of a novel.

Okay, I think that used to be true to some extent. But these days a few things have changed. First of all, all publishers are doing less and less for their authors. They tend to put their marketing muscle and dollars behind that huge book at their house that got the big advance…mainly because they don’t want to lose their shirts on it. And for the rest of the books? Well…. You get in their catalog. Advanced Reader Copies get sent out for reviews. Um, and? Well, good luck to you!

I equate it to throwing spaghetti onto the wall and seeing which bits stick. If a book gets a starred review and happens to win a major award, then cool. Otherwise, push it aside for the next batch a mere 3 months later. But if a book is beautiful enough for a company to accept it and to spend a year editing and producing it, isn’t it worth putting a bit more effort into? And if an author has poured her heart and soul into that work, isn’t it worth the author’s time to do whatever she can to be sure that the book doesn’t go quietly into the night?

Publishers are now banking on just that. Why waste their precious resources on things like booking signings and sending out press, when the author could do that herself? Clever, right? Now this isn’t exactly a spoken policy, and authors don’t all do this, but I think if you have a book out, or coming out, you need the whole eyes wide open approach, and you need to get busy.

You will have to work with your publisher to let them know what you’re doing. At the outset, you should have a frank talk with your publicist at your publishing house about what you would like to handle, and how to do it without stepping on toes, or repeating what they do. You might find at first some resistance to having you handle some things, but since they aren’t handling them, what the heck? I think they are afraid that some authors may represent themselves badly, but once you show that you are professional and courteous, and once they have moved on to the next season’s lists, you’ll probably see that they are glad of what you are doing, and will be happy to get occasional “keep you in the loop” emails about what’s going on.

There’s a notion out there that you should take a good part or at least some of your advance and hire a publicist with it to get the word out. Nice. But what if you actually need the money for like, say, living? And what can you really get with that money that you can’t provide yourself?

photo by Pat Achilles cropped

photo by Pat Achilles

I decided I could promote WHAT I MEANT… on my own, and I have done this quite successfully at almost zero cost. Yeah, it takes tons of time, but I’d already spent tons of time writing the thing, right? And I have two things that a publicist does not: 1. Absolute passion for my book. Remember, no one (not even your mother) will love your book the way that you do, and be driven to promote it the way you will; and 2. I have unlimited access to the author! I can quote her in releases and features, book her at appearances, and connect her with readers in a positive way.

Just a few years ago, having passion and author access wasn’t enough. You needed contacts. You needed a huge budget to print up ad materials, posters, bookmarks. You needed to go out on tour. You needed to cozy up to book reviewers. Today, contacts in the media are readily found online. Okay, I’m not talking Oprah, I’m talking newspaper folk, radio folk, bloggers, book reviewers, etc. Easy to find. Easy to send a personal note to, or a feature story to about an upcoming signing (with images of yourself and your book cover attached, of course).

And these days, it’s also easy to book signings yourself. I’ve done SO many signings over the past few years, and I’ve booked every single one myself. Forget the cold call. Personally go to every bookstore within driving range, and introduce yourself, drop off info on your book (which you have printed up beautifully on your computer), and chat with the manager, asking if they would like to do a signing with you. I’m sure if you were willing to travel, you could email stores in different areas and book a string of signings that way, and ta-da! You’re on tour. This will cost you in terms of travel expenses, of course. Remember that independent bookstores will be your most ardent supporters, so be sure to build your relationships with them (and shop at indies, and include a link to indiebound.org on your website so folks can buy your book through them!).

I tell booksellers that I will send out press to area media about the event, and wow, are they happy to hear that. A few weeks before any signing, I create a nice feature story about the event and my novel, and send it out with pix. I ALWAYS get coverage. So if you don’t know how to format and write a press release, a public service announcement and a feature story, learn. Now. The library has books that will show you how.

With color printers, you can make your own publicity info. Printing bookmarks through a company is pretty cheap to do, but I haven’t done this. Personally, I’ve never bought a book because I’ve gotten a bookmark… I’ve created great signs on my computer and brought the file to Staples, and had them create large posters, mounted on foam core, that I display on an easel at my events. This is all nickle and dime stuff, folks.

As you market, you need to think of who your audience is, what is your book’s angle, and how do you reach your audience in an unorthodox way? You don’t want to be a spammer, or to spend a fortune creating junk mail that ends up in the circular file. My approach is to be the anti-spammer, meaning that I make an effort to contact people personally. And I use their name in my note. It takes a lot of time, but I don’t care. I’m asking for their time when they read a note from me, aren’t I? It’s old school, and that makes it retro and charming.

Author J. A. Konrath is a gifted promoter with a personal touch. His website (which he’s changed since I first found it) is loaded with advice on how to personally make a difference in the life of your book, especially if you follow the link to his tips page. Start with Self Promotion for Authors Tip 6 by clicking here, and read on from there, going to more tips at the bottom of this page. His ideas are wise and witty and absolutely on target.

Aside from making personal contacts, another “outside of the box” way I found to reach my audience of teen readers is through workshops that I offer them to help teen scouts earn badges they need for important awards like the gold award. It’s been unbelievably successful, and I’m in reprint again! Because they were unusual, my workshops were also featured in Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf and at shelfawareness.com, so remember that a quirky promotion can be news in itself.

Since my book features a biracial character who is half Indian, I contacted the international publication of India Abroad, and they ran a huge cover story about it. I also contacted lots of great people who write about the mixed race experience, and they were really responsive. I was featured at AsiansofMixedRace.com, did a podcast with Mixed Chicks Chat, and in the UK, WHAT I MEANT… was a featured book on the site Intermix.com.uk. I also contacted librarians via email who were in areas with high concentrations of Indian populations. The best part of all this has been the personal relationships that I’ve built with all of these talented and wonderful people and their organizations. In the end it’s not just about selling a product, it’s about becoming a part of a community. You are building a future in the book-reading world.

So, what angles are in your book? What organizations out there would be interested? Can you write for their newsletter or blog, relating your personal experiences that tie into your book? Can you create a great presentation for their chapter meetings? Give an inspiring speech at their conventions? Give an honest piece of yourself to your readership, and they will respond to you.

This post would be woefully remiss if I didn’t mention a bunch of on-line stuff. First of all, your website. You have to have one. That’s all there is to it. But you can do what I’ve done and easily make your blog your website. It does all I want it to do, plus I can control it myself, plus it’s FREE! Then if you purchase your domain from a site like bluehost.com, they have a free redirect service. In my case, everyone who types http://www.marielamba.com arrives here. Can’t get any cheaper and easier than that, folks.

You have to get onto facebook.com. The best feature on this is the event invite. Create invites for all of your signings and appearances, and invite folks. Pimp up your invite with added pix, links, and remember that once someone rsvp’s, they can then invite all their friends to the event too. This has worked out amazingly, especially when I tell bookstores with facebook pages to do this. My last event was able to send out over 500 invites! A few days before the actual event, you can go to the invite page and message all invited with a cheerful reminder note.

Twitter.com can work in tandem with your invites, and press, etc. Build up your follow list with librarians, booksellers, publishers, editors, reviewers, readers. Then post on twitter links to your facebook events, or any online press you get. Keep it short. If you leave at least 40 characters remaining, folks can easily retweet it to their buds. And you can shorten your links by going here.

Don’t be a shmo. Also use these sites to promote other writers, other events, to praise books that you’ve read. Balance is key, and you are part of a wide-spread community, so share the love.

Reader-oriented sites offer a great way to connect with your audience. Create an author page. Friend folks who have read your book. Friend folks who have read a competitor’s book and suggest they check yours out! Here are the sites I spend time on: librarything.com, shelfari.com, goodreads.com. Librarything and goodreads also let you post your events. Also, join indiebound.org and friend all your fav bookstores.

Booktour.com is an amazing site. Create an author page, and type in all of your appearances. They will automatically send out your appearances to a huge number of online sites. And, I also suggest you go onto your book’s page at amazon.com and click on your author page. You can now add a picture, a bio, and link your blog posts here. PLUS booktour.com will make sure that your appearances appear there as well.

Linkedin.com is a more professional site, meaning you can’t just friend, or connect, with everyone. But join some groups, like one for bookstores or libraries or publishing, and then you can use that connection when you invite someone to connect to you. Create a beautiful profile, and link your blog to it so that the content is always interesting and changing. They give you a really simple way to do this.

Now, back to the human side of things… Involve your friends and family everywhere to help you in your promotion. Like I said before, I’ve never bought a book because I’ve gotten a bookmark, but I have bought a book because someone recommended it to me. I think J.A. Konrath wisely pointed this out on his site, and it really stuck with me. So do encourage folks to write reviews for barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com, and on goodreads and shelfari. Enlist this army of supporters to request your book be purchased at their libraries (most library sites allow this on their online sites, and require a library card number). Have them visit their local bookstores and put your book face out, instead of just spine out. Hem, hem. This comment may get some flak from the industry that actually pays to have a title face out on a shelf so it’ll get noticed faster, but if Aunt Minny quietly goes into a bookstore and does this, no harm, no foul I say.

Liars club25One more thing. There is definitely power in numbers. If you can create a group of writers who will blog together, or do panels and talks together, you can turn any event into something noticeable and special. I’m a proud member of the Philly Liars Club, and it has been an incredible journey. We support each other, and we are able to support independent bookstores through our special truth tour events. Are there other debut novelists that you can link up with? Other authors you know in your genre who could do a panel with you at the next huge convention? Power in numbers, baby!

So you can see there is a lot that you can do, most of it while sitting at home in your jammies in front of your laptop. After I gave this talk about marketing (not in my jammies), the members of the Bucks County Romance Writers group all wanted to know when I actually found time to write. I told them that in the last two years I’d done all this promotion, AND written two additional novels. I encouraged them to get to work.

I’m pretty sure they will.

Michelle Wittle on Working Symbolism into a Novel

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

My first introduction to symbolism in a novel was as a ninth grader in English class. We were reading Lord of the Flies and my teacher kept pointing out all the symbols in the novel. I thought it was so clever of the author to leave little clues like that throughout the book. To me, it seemed that symbols were just individual clues that helped the reader understand something about the character or theme of the book. Although I knew symbols were parts of the whole story, I just never saw them as things that should be woven throughout the story.

All that changed when I met David Wroblewski.

I was very lucky to be invited to Rosemont College this past Tuesday to meet and discuss writing with the writer of the novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Most times when attending a writer’s book discussion, the writer will share a bit of the novel and then answer questions. After that it’s on to the signing of the books. However, at Rosemont, we all sat in a circle with Wroblewski and we just talked about his book, writing the first novel, and his views on writing in general.

Many things the group discussed I found to be very helpful. I took three pages of notes and the talk was only for an hour and a half. However, the biggest light bulb that found its clichéd way to the top of my head was the discussion on symbols and how to incorporate them into a novel.

Wroblewski looks at writing symbols as if he were creating a braid. At first the writer introduces everything to the reader. In a sense, the writer overwhelms the reader with information so it is difficult for the reader to pick out what is important at that time. No one likes solving the murder mystery on page three of a three hundred page book. That isn’t good writing and it bothers the reader. So, take lots of information and introduce it. Because the writer will be bringing it up later on in the novel, there is no need to explain why this is happening here at that point in the novel. Then, as the novel progresses, start bringing your symbols back into the fore front and also let them fall back to the background. The reader will start to pick up that this thing that keeps appearing and disappearing is important.  There will come a time when the reader finally figures out what the symbol was doing in the story and the reader will have that, “ah-ha” moment. It is like that basic writing mantra: “show, don’t tell.”

I will give you an example from Wroblewski’s book to explain this point further.

The book opens with a prologue. It is there the reader learns someone buys a bottle of poison from an alchemist in South Korea. The reader doesn’t know who the person buying the poison is or what they need it for. As the book progressed, Edgar’s uncle comes to visit and abruptly leaves. A few days later, someone dies of a brain clot. The book continues and Edgar finds a needle with some crystals in it. He falls asleep and after he wakes up, Edgar sees the needle is broken and the grass around the needle is now white. Towards the end of the novel, the bottle of poison is rediscovered and more deaths occur.

So, this bottle and poison keep weaving in and out of the story. By the third time the bottle and poison are mentioned, the reader starts really picking up the fact that this is important.

It is so sad that I have been an English teacher for many years and a writer for even longer; yet, it is now I understand the impact of writing a good symbol. I always thought they were just individual little clues. However, now I see that while they can be individual, they need to be placed time and time again in the writing to make them more powerful.

Getting started with Twitter

Uncategorized

By guest blogger Don Lafferty

Twitter isn’t just for geeks and early adopters. Early adopters have been on Twitter for a couple of years now figuring out the best ways to use this tool, and while Twitter continues to evolve, its value to a writer is unquestionable.

Those of you who know me know I’ve been there from the beginning, watching, learning, experimenting, and making a ton of mistakes along the way.

Now I actually make a living advising people – mostly authors and publishers – on the effective use of Web-based tools like Twitter for marketing. So here’s some easy advice from the trenches:

Sign up for a free Twitter account: http://twitter.com

Use a picture of your face as your profile pic and be sure to include a link to your website, blog or Facebook page in the bio section.

Sign up for a free bit.ly account: http://bit.ly/ Bit.ly is a URL shortening tool; very important in an environment that only allows you to write in 140 character bursts.

Download and sign up for a free TweetDeck application: http://tweetdeck.com

Link your Twitter and bit.ly accounts to your TweetDeck.

Google “twitter Directories” and follow the people who represent the readers, contemporaries or connectors in your genre or area of expertise. Here’s a link to an article I wrote some time ago that’ll get you started: http://bit.ly/1uFhku

When you find somebody on Twitter in your sweet spot, look at their “lists”. These are lists other Twitter users have put together based on THEIR personal interests and objectives.

Once you have this all set up, just listen for a while. A week. A month. Whatever it takes for you to get a feel for the way this community works.

Find the authors on Twitter who you aspire to and watch them. See the way they engage their communities by providing useful links, commenting on the stuff others in their communities say, and every now and then, mentioning their own stuff.

Watch the way people use the @ reply to direct a comment at a particular person; to get their attention.

Once you feel comfortable with the dynamics of the community, start tweeting yourself. For a while don’t tweet ANYTHING about yourself. Provide value to your community by tweeting interesting links to the kind of things you know they’ll like.

How will you know?

Because you chose the people in your network based on the definition of YOUR target reader, the other authors and experts in your genre or space, and the connectors – media and bloggers – whose job is to talk about people like you.

I know it sound like a lot, but the checklist I gave you should take 10-15 minutes tops.

Getting to know your way around Twitter will take some time, but if you listen and learn, you’ll build a community of like-minded people who will actually care about you, the stuff you say AND, the stuff you write.

Still confused? Drop Don a tweet: http://twitter.com/donlafferty

A Journey Through Literary America – Review by Marc Schuster

Reviews

Journey-CoverI’ll start this review by admitting that I’m not the easiest guy in the world to shop for, and I really do feel bad for all of the people in my life who have to buy me gifts whenever my birthday or Christmas rolls around. The problem, if you can call it that, is that I’m just not into things. I am, however, a book lover, but this also raises a number of issues in the gift-giving arena–the biggest of which is that nobody (including myself half the time) knows which books I own or have read, and so nobody knows which books to give me. And, yes, there are always gift cards to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but these gifts, heartfelt and sincere though they may be, smack slightly of defeat. They say, “I wanted to get you something, but I didn’t know what, so I’ll let you figure it out for yourself.”

I say all of this because I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who’s hard to buy for. And I further suspect that all of these people who are, like me, hard to buy for have people who love them and who want to buy them something out of the ordinary whenever gift-giving season rolls around. But they (the people who love the people who are hard to buy for) can never find the right gift and will–at the last moment, when all hope is lost–always settle for giving yet another gift card each holiday season even though they’d much prefer to buy a gift from the heart that say, “Hey! I care about you, and I know you well enough to get you this wonderful gift!” To put it bluntly, I’m saying all of this because I know how hard it is to shop for book lovers. But no more–for A Journey Through Literary America by Thomas R. Hummel and Tamra L. Dempsey is, I daresay, the perfect gift for book lovers.

First, the book is, objectively speaking, aesthetically beautiful. Illustrated with page after glossy page of vibrant photographs, it explores the settings that inspired many of America’s most loved authors–from Washington Irving’s Castkills to Robinson Jeffers’ Big Sur and back to Toni Morrison’s Lorain, Ohio (and many, many other places in between). Yet the book is more than just a collection of pretty (or, more accurately, stunning) pictures. And it’s even more than just an examination of the specific places that had a profound effect on the literary output of certain authors. Rather, it’s a meditation on relationship between place and author, or, even more broadly, upon place and self, place and identity. This is no small feat, for it takes the authors we admire in the abstract and places them squarely in the real world. Seeing their homes, seeing their towns, seeing the streets they walked and the rolling vistas that inspired them makes the 26 authors examined in A Journey all the more real to me, all the more human.

Needless to say, this volume is both a treat and treasure. Informative as it is beautiful, it will make a wonderful addition to any library. And, if you’re looking for the perfect gift for the book lover in your life, look no further than A Journey Through Literary America.

Marc Schuster is the author of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl and the Associate Fiction Editor of Philadelphia Stories.