Writing a “Guest” Blog Entry

There are numerous ways to gain publicity for your book on the Internet.  One is to go on a “blog tour” during which you are interviewed by various bloggers concurrent with the release of your book.  Naturally, this takes planning.  You have to contact bloggers to get them on board; they have to send you questions; you have to answer the questions and send your reply back for inclusion in the other person’s blog. 

Another, somewhat similar, way is to offer to makes a “guest appearance” on someone else’s blog by writing a blog entry for them.  Not surprisingly, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach a blogger with a request to pen a quest submission. 

Joan Stewart is a professional publicist who also writes a widely-read, FREE, weekly newsletter of publicity tips called The Publicity Hound (sign up by using the link on the right).  She’s run into the lazy types who want free publicity but expect her to do half the work.  Here’s an excerpt from her latest newsletter in which she explained the right way to do it. 

Somebody emails me, offers to write a guest blog post and then asks, “What would you like me to write about?”

I barely have time to figure out what topics I can write about. The last thing I need is a guest blogger who I have to baby-sit.

Pitch a blogger the same way you’d pitch a journalist. Let them know, without coming right out and saying it, that you’ve read their blog. You know the kinds of topics their audience loves, and you have an idea that’s a perfect fit. Also, explain your area of expertise and why you’re the best person to write about it.

Better yet, pitch two or three ideas. Include a link to your blog, but do not tell the blogger to “visit my blog, take a look around and let me know what you think.”

If you want exposure to my audience, make my job so easy that publishing your post on my blog is a no-brainer.

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Hints for Getting Publicity on TV

Probably a dream of every author is to got on national TV (or even local TV!) in order to publicize his/her book. If you are a self-publisher without the advantage of a publicist paid by a national publisher, you know it will be an uphill battle.  From what I’ve seen, you’re chances are better if yours is a self-help book rather than a novel.  Well, no one promised you a self-publishing rose garden!

Self-help author Mahesh Grossman wanted to increase publicity for his work Write a Book Without Lifting a Finger and his ghostwriting service.  He wrote an article about his experience in meeting this goal, but here is a brief synopsis.

1. Relationships are the name of the media game.
When I made it my goal to get on national TV, I took the plunge and went to the most expensive conference I’ve ever attended: Steve Harrison’s National Publicity Summit, where I got to personally meet producers and reporters from major media outlets like CNN, Fox News, The View, 48 Hours, Live With Regis & Kelly, Oprah magazine and Forbes.

2. You need to be your own publicist.
I don’t care if you’ve hired the best publicist or PR firm in the world — nobody is going to do a better job promoting you than you are simply because no one cares about what you’re promoting as much as you do.

3. Try to tie-in with the news.
Before we had our personal meetings with the producers and reporters at the Summit, their staff trained me to come up with the kind of angles and ideas the media
loves. For example, I learned one of the best strategies is to figure out how to tie-it into what’s happening in the news.

4. Milk your appearance for all it’s worth.
I can now say the Fox News Channel refers to me as “The Ghostwriting Guru.” That’s publicity you simply can’t buy at ANY price. It wasn’t more than a few days after my appearance I started plastering all of my promotional materials with that phrase. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the fact I was on Fox makes it much easier to land segments on other shows.

Again, you can read the entire article here. It’s not long, so invest the time.

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Developing a Cover: Createspace Report Card – Part 4

At some point as I was writing or editing The Blizzard, I began imagining what the cover should look like.  Illustrations of that creative process follow below and were pretty firm by the time I contracted with Createspace to print my book.

Createspace offers four types of cover formatting, all of which include an author’s photo and a bar code).  The quartet of options range in price from $299 (you pick from one of their many “pre-fab”cover formats, one of 30 cover background colors, two choices of type fonts, and provide a cover illustration) up to $1,499 for a cover that includes a custon illustration and up to ten hours of design time and extensive input from a professional designer.

I opted for Column B, the Author’s Advantage.  It comes with a single image selected by a professional book designer and up to five hours of design time from a professional graphic designer.  Well, I already had the image of my choice and Frank Fung had already designed by cover, so Createspace cut me some slack on the price.  I still needed them for the back cover design, the spine, and the bar code.  Final remarks on the Createspace work are in the closing paragraph down below, but first, here’s how my front cover came to reality.

I had been discussing my ideas about a cover with my friend Pete Lampkins.  I don’t think I said much more than wanting a boy and girl in the woods with his dog during a snowstorm.  A few days later he emailed me this image.  Needless to say, I was impressed how close he was to being on the right track.  Of course, Belle, the German Shorthar Pointer, looks like a Chihuahua or a big rat, the couple are hiking together rather than the boy carrying the girl, and they are walking into the woods.  I wanted them walking “out” of the storm so buyers could see their faces.

Coincidentally, and contemporaneously, another friend, who is a professional artist, illustrator, and cartoonist, knocked out a sketch of a cover idea.  In this one, the hero was carrying the girl, but, again, they were walking into the woods.  So, I (not a professional artist!) drew up this sketch.

I scanned this sketch and emailed it Pete, who was collaborating with a graphic artist and designer buddy of his in New York named Frank Fung.  Within days, they sent me a cover that was almost perfect.  I was blown away!  The only trouble was the boy did not have a hood on his coat as in the story, and girl wasn’t wearing gloves or mittens!  He was out in the woods in a blizzard and she had been sledding all day!  Also, it seemed as if the girl had a small smile on her face.

Pete said, “No problem,” or words to that effect.  Well, actually, it might have been more about how picky I was being.  Nevertheless, he arranged for the two models — Christopher and Ellen, two high school students who were friends of his family — to meet him and me at Pete’s house. 

A modeling agency could not have picked two better subjects for the hero and heroine I imagined for the cover.  A point to remember, though.  Whether you are paying your models or not, BE SURE to have them sign a model’s release.  It could save you big legal hassles in the future if someone wanted to get nasty.  Also, in my case, both Christopher and Ellen were minors, so I had to also get their parent’s signature on the model’s relase, as well.

 This is the photo Pete (who is a top notch photographer) took in his backyard.

Nope – it doesn’t look much like a woods or a snowstorm, does it?  We didn’t care about Christopher’s sneakers as they’d be out of the picture.  In the story, though, the heroine’s coat and cap are light blue and I thought Christopher’s red jacket would be too dominant on the cover.  All of that was easy to fix. 

Frank, the Photoshop wizard, changed the colors of both coats, the cap, and her boots and mitten.  He cropped out the green Southern California background and inserted a wintry northern Illinois woods.  Notice, also, how he added falling snow in front of the subjects and accululated snow on top of the boy’s hood and the girl’s lap and legs.  Add the title and author text and, viola, the front cover of The Blizzard was ready!

I sent Frank’s cover design to Createspace.  They already had the text for the back cover as mentioned in Createspace – Part 2.  They offered me two options for the back cover layout.  I passed on including my photo, thinking it a little presumptuous for a first time author to include a mugshot, plus I wanted the space for more important stuff.

I told Createspace all I wanted on the spine was title, author, and the name and imprint of my publishing company.  They did a great job of wrapping the snowy forest from the front cover around the spine and onto the back.  And, as previously mentioned, they me a proof of each step for approval before moving onto the next step.

In Part 2 of my Createspace report card I did not give them a grade, but for cover design (even though Pete, Frank, and I did most the heavy lifting) they still get an A+.

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Boost Your Amazon Sales

New York Times Best Selling Author Peggy McColl has put together an article entitled “Sell More Books by Making the Most out of Amazon” with tips to help maximize your sales on amazon.com (although many of the hints also apply to BN.com).  Here are ten of them and you can see the full article, with graphics, here.

1.  Be sure to have your book cover displayed on Amazon.com. 

2.  Be sure the ranking is being listed under the Product Details section for your book listing. 

3.  Be sure to have the subtitle for your book (if there is one) is also listed with the title of the book. 

4.  Verify the Product Details for your book and be sure it is complete. 

5.  Review other books to get additional exposure for you, your books, and your website.

6.  Create videos to help promote your book. 

7.  Testimonials serve as “social proof” from others to endorse your book. 

8.  Be sure to have a completed, captivating, marketing oriented product description for your book. 

9.  Once the buying activity starts for your book, and continues, Amazon.com willdisplay your book tagged with books that were also bought (when buyers purchased your book). 

10.  Amazon gives you, the author, the opportunity to post more information about yourself on their service called Author Central. 

And here’s one from me:  Get people who like your book to write reviews of it on Amazon.

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Developing Character Profiles

Any novel you write is likely to have multiple characters.  Most will have a name, but what do they look like?  It saves a lot of trouble and time once you’re writing if you plan the descriptions in advance.  Some authors even go though magazines and catalogs to cut out pictures of faces they can describe in their story. 

Does the character have any other skills, education, weaknesses, or fears that will be an important part of the plot?  You should plan those things well in advance, too. 

Remember, those are also traits you need to introduce into the story several chapters before they become important.  For example, you can’t surprise your readers with the hero suddenly speaking French if you haven’t mentioned it earlier.  Likewise, it will seem very contrived if the heroine is cornered in an alley by four bad guys and proceeds to take them all out with her outstanding martial arts or her superb shooting skills if the audience hasn’t been clued into those skills, or the fact she carries a gun, well before the incident.  In The Blizzard, we know the hero has a reason to be in the woods on the fateful day and also possesses some prowess in woodsmanship because those facts were introduced earlier.

An author friend of mine copied the following list from a podcast he watched on creative writing from the University of Warwick.  You may find such an outline helpful.



Relation to other characters:



Speech patterns:



Private life: 

Professional life: 





Where he lives:

With whom he lives:

Family background:

Is he happy:

Why or why not:


Reason for nickname:

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Createspace Report Card: Part 3

Cover Design

Createspace can develop just about any kind of cover you want, but you will pay accordingly.  The package I signed up for included cover design, but that was only a graphic-type of cover, no drawings or photos.  I wanted some kind of picture.  After some back-and-forth with an artist friend and a photographer friend, which I will provide in more detail in a future post, we came up with the front cover layout you see now.

Needless to say, that saved Createspace the time and effort of developing their graphic cover, which was fine with me – I had the front cover I had imagined.

The Spine

It’s not like you’ll forget about the spine of the book because your creative team will remind you, but it is something to think about.  If you are fortunate to get your book on the shelf of a brick-and-mortar book store or a library, you need information on the spine so people can see it.  Keep it clean and simple: the title and author’s name and, if you want, the publisher’s imprint.

Not that I considered it, but have since read it elsewhere, do NOT stack the letters vertically.  As you look at the spine, the top of the letters should be to the right and the bottoms facing left.  When prospective buyers or book borrowers are going through the stacks with their head tilted at a slight angle, you want them to be able to read the spine of your book just like all the others.

The Createspace designers can’t develop the spine until you’ve okayed the interior of your book because they need to know how thick the book is going to be before they know how wide to make the spine.

Back Cover

Not that you really need dozens of choices to pick from, but Createspace only offers two or three back cover layouts, all of which include the UPC bar code.  Anything unique has to be done with the type font, background colors, and whether or not you want an Author’s Photo included.  For example, notice how they wrapped the snow-covered forest from the front cover, across the spine, and onto part of the back cover.

As I said in Part 2, the Promotional Text portion of my package included the back cover copy and author’s bio, so that was ready to be stuck in.  I was also able to obtain a “blurb” (industry lingo for a nice comment) from a prominent talk radio host in San Diego that was included on the back cover.

You will also notice the price is not shown on the cover (it often appears nears the UPC code).  Most marketing experts recommend against printing the price on the cover in case you ever decide to change it.

As with the Promotional Text project, Createspace sends you an email when they have something ready for you to review, telling you to log into your project on their website.  You are then able to download what they have produced, examine it, and either approve it or contact them with corrections or changes.  Remember, every time you change something, it will be a week before you see the next revision.

If I didn’t say it earlier, I give Createspace high marks for the ability to quickly communicate with your design team.  When you log-in and review the latest changes to your project, or have any other question, you can either e-mail them with a 24-hour or less turnaround time, or – the method I always used – just talk to them on the phone. 

On the website, there’s a place for you to enter your phone number.  After you do that and hit Enter, your phone will start to ring.  Yes, that fast!  After you answer it, you’re on Hold for a short while before someone from your design team will pick up and discuss your project.  Note, they are always going to ask you the name of your book and your member ID number.

In Part 4, I will discuss the Interior Design.

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The Blizzard Now on Nook

Well, The Blizzard is finally available on Nook. 

Everything I read on the Internet about the delays with Barnes & Noble’s Nook was confirmed.  I uploaded it back in April or May — several weeks before it came out on Kindle back in early June — but their supposed backlog of authors trying to upload books plus a weak communication line accounted for the delay.

In any event, it’s there now, so tell all your Nook-using friends!  Thanks.

And, take a look at the different kind of cover with a “blurb” common to back covers and a link to the website.

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Naming Your Characters

I was talking to a budding author a few weeks ago and she mentioned the trouble she was having coming up with names for the characters in the mystery she’s writing.

Every author should have a “Good Ideas” folder.  Whenever you think of an interesting scenario, write it on the notepad you should never go anywhere without and, when you get home, stick it in the “Good Ideas” file.  If you sitting in a waiting room or at the airport or anywhere else where people are congregated, pick out someone by their looks, or their clothes, or behavior, and describe them in your notepad.  Another sheet for “Good Ideas.”

The same holds true for names.  If you see one that sounds catchy, or interesting, or unusual, write it down and save it. 

Names are everywhere.  Think about people you’ve worked with, or who were classmates in school.  Go through the phone book or high school annuals.  Watch the credits at the end of movies—not for the stars, but when all the other names roll up, like the key grip, dolly boy, and wrangler.

Unless the name is very common, rarely will you use the name of a real person, but just mix up the first and last names from your ideas list, or change the spelling.  “Gail” to  “Gayle,” or Smith to Smythe.

Here are some other hints.

All your main characters should have different names that don’t rhyme or begin with the same letter, i.e. Jack and Rose, not Jack and Jane; Bill and Mary, not Larry (or Barry, Cary, Harry, Jerry) and Mary.

Don’t be afraid to use less common names, e.g., Stanley and Iris; Franny and Zooey.

If you’re going to use a certain name as a signal to the character’s ethnicity, spell it right, e.g. José, Jesús, Johahn.  Did you mean Seamus (actually Séamus), Gaelic for James, and not Shamus, Yiddish for handyman, or slang for a detective?  In Ireland it’s Brigid, but in France and Germany they use Brigitte.

What is the time period of your novel?  You’ll want to pick first names, at least, consistent with that era.  You can find the top twenty baby names (boys and girls) for the last several decades by doing a Google search.

Finally, remember, that minor characters, those who only appear in one or two “scenes” seldom need names and can be distinguished, instead, by their occupation: the maid, the bus driver, the UPS man, the crossing guard.  If there are several of those workers in minor roles, then an adjective, rather than a name, may suffice, e.g. the burly firefighter and the rookie firefighter.

I had lunch with an author and we discussed one of his books published over a decade earlier, which I had just read.  I was amazed that he could instantly recall the names of all the characters.  Then it dawned on me.  He had created them!  He knew them like he knew his own children.

Names are people’s most personal possession.  They’re as important for your characters.  Think of the books you have read and how many characters’ names you still remember.  Spend some time choosing them .  After the plot, your readers will most likely remember the names of your hero/heroine, love interest, and villain.

UPDATE!  The July 10th issue of PARADE magazine had an interview with author John Grisham.  When describing what it’s like inside the outbuilding he uses as his writing room, he said, “I also got my favorite book.  It has 10,000 baby names.  Every novel’s got 200 or 300 names, so I’m always looking.”   (Well, unless you’re Elio Garcia.  His novel A Song of Ice and Fire has over 1,000 named characters!)   

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Createspace Report Card: Part 2

In Part 1, I mentioned about Createspace setting up an account for the author, but one thing I omitted is the fact you will need to have a title, at least a working title, for your book. You can always change it before you give the final “OK” but the title is how you and Createspace keep track of the project.

You will also be given an account number. Every time you call in you will be asked the title of your book and your number. It will help the people working on your project find your book in their system and also confirm it is you who is calling in.

A creative team will work on each phase of the project which you have hired Createspace to perform. The first project was the promotional text creation. This included the short synopsis for the back cover (obviously, they needed that before they could design the cover) and another, slightly longer, synopsis called the “extended description.” This is what appears on Amazon as the Product Description.

Now, you might ask, Gee, Marty, you wrote the book, couldn’t you come up with that stuff on your own? Yes, I probably could have but having been in the advertising business years ago, I wanted someone who was knowledgeable about writing this kind of what can truly be considered “advertising copy” and also someone who possibly would see the story from a different viewpoint than my own. (They did!)

You will be surprised how often you will be able to use those two synopses. For example, I also used the Extended Description on the back of my postcards (more about that in a future post), in promotion letters, and have likewise used the shorter, back cover text for similar purposes.

When the creative team has finished a draft, they send you an email telling you to log into your Createspace account. From there you can download what they have prepared so far. You examine it, make any corrections you want, and send it back. They’ll incorporate your corrections and changes and the process repeats, as many times as it takes, until you click the “accept” icon.

One word of advice, don’t get in a hurry. This whole process takes time. They say a week for each turnaround but a few times it was faster than that for each of the steps. They’ve got their own way of doing things but being as there are, I assume, separate design teams for each section, I could never understand why, for example, the cover team couldn’t work on the cover as the same time the interior team was working on the interior. But, that’s the system, so live with it.

Still to come on the Createspace Report Card will be the Cover Design and Interior Design processes and, finally, Printing.

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10 Point Press Release Checklist

As mentioned in a previous post, unless you are a best-selling author whose publishing company has budgeted a healthy promotional budget for your latest book, you are going to be doing most of the promotion and publicity work on your own.  Obviously, this is even more true for the author who had self-published.  (I read some somewhere that authors need to understand there’s a difference between writing and the business of writing.  Successful authors are good at both of them.)  Part of doing promotion work is learning how to write good press releases.

Following is a checklist is a ten-point list developed by eReleases Editorial Director Heather Fuller to review before you send.        

1.  Is the topic newsworthy?

2.  Does the headline need a tune-up? Get your free tune-up here:

3.  Is the first paragraph strong, essentially summarizing the release and containing the 5Ws (who, what, when,  where, and why)?

4.  Is the press release too short or too lengthy?

5.  Does the press release follow AP Style and is it grammatically sound?

6.  Does the press release set an appropriate tone, avoiding over-description, exaggeration, editorialization, and ad copy?

7.  Is the press release fact-based and adequately documented?

8.  Is the contact information complete, including a person’s name, telephone number and email address?

9.  Does your message match your target audience?

10.  Is your press release media-friendly (not link-heavy or unorthodox).

 You can sign up to receive Mickie Kennedy’s newsletter via http://www.ereleases.com,
http://www.press-release-writing.com, or Toll Free: 800.990.5545.

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