Thursday, January 29, 2009

Counterweight to Publishing's Chicken Littles

The sky is falling! Just this week we have:
  • major layoffs at Publishers Weekly
  • the demise of Washington Post "Book World" as a stand-alone section
  • "voluntary retirements" at HarperCollins
  • and for good measure, a monster storm in the Northeast
Novelist Jason Pinter provides a welcome tonic for all this on his blog by asking:
What is one thing you would do to change book publishing for the better?
See the (mostly) intelligent responses in The Future of Publishing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ten Cents a Dance Makes ALA Top Ten

Last week, I detailed consulting client & workshop alum Christine Fletcher's outreach efforts to YA bloggers in It's an Honor (and a bunch of work) Just to be Nominated.

When I opened my email this morning, I found this euphoric message from her:
Just had to tell you...Ten Cents a Dance was just named one of the 2009 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults!

TOP freakin' TEN!!

I'm so glad to have events scheduled in Chicago next month!
I'd steered Christine (who'd cleverly set aside her advance so she could spend it on promotion) to publicist Kelly Powers of Obie Joe Media. She posted this comment:
Effort begets awards...especially when the book is as good as Ten Cents a Dance!
And the book is good. Set in Chicago at the outset of WWII, it's about a girl from the stockyards who drops out of high school to become a "taxi dancer" (dime-a-dance girl). I couldn't put it down. A little birdie told me that the Denver teens who met with the ALA BBYA committee last weekend were raving about it. Here's hoping it wins a Cybil Award as well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Circle Game

As ardent fans may remember, I've had three surgeries on my right arm since breaking it--along with 2 ribs, nose, sinus, palate & browbone--when I was thrown off a horse on May Day 2006. The last surgery was in mid-June, when I had the 6" plate removed from the humerus, and carpal tunnel release done on the wrist. (See I've Lost That Magnetic Feeling.)

The surgery went well and my arm soon hurt much less. Things were going great, though I never regained feeling in the numb middle finger. Then on the morning of September 27, I woke up with my right hand horribly asleep. It took a good 10 minutes for the feeling to come back and when it did, my arm was hurting worse than it had in months. On a drive to the mountains with Darling Husband that day, I went nuts trying in vain to find a comfortable position for my right arm on the shotgun seat armrest, and had to put the shoulder strap under my arm because I couldn't bear to have it touch my shoulder.

A few days later, I went to see Dr H, who did the 2nd & 3rd surgeries.
Me: "My arm's killing me. What's going on?"

Dr H: "Well, you'll have good days and bad days."

Me: "Why am I suddenly having bad days after three months of good days?

Dr H: "Hmmm... Maybe you should get psychological counseling."
Nothing makes me crazier than a doctor (and it's always a man) telling me I should see a shrink. I pointed out to Dr H that the pain is in my arm, not my head. Then he basically told me to suck it up and get lost.

So I called Dr A, the orthopedic specialist who removed the lipoma from my right shoulder a year ago. Her assistant told me to see Dr B, a neurosurgeon.

Dr B examined me in early November, but he wasn't sure surgery would be helpful. So he sent me to Dr C, a neurologist/physiatrist at the poetically titled Amputee Services of America. (There's nothing like seeing people missing half a leg--or two--to give one perspective.)

Dr C had me get MRIs of my right arm and shoulder. The one of my arm had him concerned, so last week he sent me to see Dr D, an arm/shoulder specialist at the busiest orthopedic practice ever. My appointment was for 1:00 and I didn't see Dr D till after 2:30. Good thing I brought a thick book.
Dr D: "Hmm... looks like edema on the humerus. Maybe the bone is infected."

Me: "Great. Now what?"

Dr D: "Go for some blood tests, then I want you to see....



...Dr A. She's a specialist in bone infections."
So this afternoon I went back to Dr A. (She always wears the snazziest shoes. Today she had on cowboy boots of some exotic leather. Orthopedic surgery sure must pay.)
Dr A: "There's nothing I can do for you. I told you that last year."

Me: "What about my blood work?"

Dr A: "Looks fine. No infection."

Me: "I figured as much. But now what? My arm's still hurting."

Dr A: "You're never going to get back to the way you were before."

Me: "How about just the way I was on Sept. 26?"

Dr A: "Never happen. Maybe you should see a pain management specialist. Or go see Dr E, the neurosurgeon. He does amazing things with spinal implants that interfere with pain transmission to the brain."

Me: (No f*cking way!) "I have an autoimmune disorder. Implants mess me up."

Dr A: (shrugs) "Then Dr B and Dr C should settle this between them."
On the way to the elevator, I passed by Dr C's office. Amazing fact: HE HAS TIME TO SPEAK TO PATIENTS, EVEN WHEN THEY DON'T HAVE AN APPOINTMENT. So I stopped in and gave him the happy news that now he has to confer with Dr B.

In the meantime, I'll suck it up and get lost.

Monday, January 26, 2009

There Will Be Blood

Call me gullible or impressionable, but I'm actually feeling kind of hopeful this week. It's not just the new year or the inauguration (which I loved most for its goofs and gaffes) or even that—please, please—publishing business firings are coming to an end, at least for a while.
So wrote Publishers Weekly editor-in-chef Sara Nelson in her column last week, entitled "Change I Believe In." Now call her "fired," as she and other PW staffers were let go today when corporate owner Reed Business Information laid off 7 percent of its workforce. (See story in Executive editor Daisy Maryles, who'd been with PW--her sole employer--for 40 years, was laid off as well.

RBI also owns Variety. Bloodbath At Variety: Hammond, Thompson Let Go is one of the lead stories on the opening day of website TheWrap, founded by former NYT & Washington Post entertainment reporter Sharon Waxman.

I won't comment on the irony of niche websites reporting on the demise of the very publications they're supplanting. (Disclosure: I was a PW contributing editor for 14 years and stopped reading it in favor of the more timely and interesting GalleyCat and Publishers Marketplace.)

Media Miss

Media trainer extraodinaire Eileen Winnick, a frequent speaker at my NYC workshops, recently started a blog. Check out her post A Media Miss: Lucy, the Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes for a tale of how not to prepare--and what not to wear--for a TV interview.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How NOT to Seek Fame

Think before you pitch! From the NY Observer:

Cri de coeur

The author quoted in Team? What Team? filled me in some more. Alas, it's a story I've heard far too many times--most recently from participants in the Teleseminar I gave yesterday--and it always makes steam come out of my ears:
I've done everything you suggested, to no avail. At a marketing meeting with my "Acme Publishing" crew before the book was published, I told them what I was planning. They told me nothing of what they intended to do. In hindsight, that should have been my first clue.

My agent told me not to believe anything the Acme publicist promised, but to follow up on everything myself. I thought my agent was exaggerating; it was unbelievable to think that the publisher who had paid thousands of dollars for my work wasn't going to promote it.

But it seems my agent was correct, because all of the interviews, newspaper articles, book signings and speaking events I did were set up by me. Distribution was excellent, but publicity? Zero.

I suspect sales are below my publisher's expectations, and worry that Acme is going to blame me. I feel like a failure, even though I know I did everything I could to promote my book.
"I can imagine your crushing disappointment," I wrote back.

Then I started wondering: How can a business survive by spending oodles of money to bring a product to market, only to ignore it? WTF are publishers thinking???

And how do agents manage to keep doing business with people who always lie? I'm not saying agents shouldn't, else they wouldn't do much business. (Though it sure would be nice if publishers' toes were held to the fire.) How do agents--and authors--keep themselves going amidst such falseness?

Remember, I wrote to the author:
  1. You're not a failure.
  2. You did your best.
  3. The world is filled with wankers.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More Inauguration Theme Songs

Sung by the crowd as the helicopter flew off with ex-president George W. Bush:

The songs echoing in my head today:

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead!

I'm So Glad

Inauguration Theme Song

I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, as I've found escapism great for the soul. Therefore a phrase in Barack Obama's inaugural speech sounded especially familiar: "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again." Perhaps not coincidentally, it echoes a song that was popular during the Depression, sung by Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire in the 1936 movie "Swing Time." Nearly three-quarters of a century later, the lyrics are still fresh and timely.

From "Pick Yourself Up," words by Dorothy Field, music by Jerome Kern:
Nothing's impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again.

Don't lose your confidence if you slip,
Be grateful for a pleasant trip,
And pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
Start all over again.

Work like a soul inspired,
Till the battle of the day is won.
You may be sick and tired,
But you'll be a man, my son!

Will you remember the famous men,
Who had to fall to rise again?
So take a deep breath,
Pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
Start all over again.

The End of an Era

YA author Sally Nemeth sums it all up in this blog post.

January 20 is a doubly big day chez Bella: Not only does Barack Obama become president, but the Boy Wonder (who helped elect him) begins college at Metro State Denver. Darling Husband, who's taking a vacation day to watch the inauguration on TV, is going to send my little boy (6'4") off to school right with homemade waffles.

BW will be wearing a Married to the Sea T-shirt ("No kidding. I hate voting.") to his Intro to Women's Studies class. And on Wednesday, he'll wear The Communist Party T-shirt to Intro to Critical Thinking. I'm so proud I raised a wiseguy!

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's an Honor (and a bunch of work) Just to be Nominated

Book Promotion 101 workshop & consulting client Christine Fletcher recently wrote to let me know that her 2nd YA novel, TEN CENTS A DANCE, had been nominated for a Cybil Award. I quickly went online and learned that the Cybils are the children's & young adult bloggers' literary awards.

I congratulated Christine, then asked how she got nominated: "I'm assuming it's because you reached out to teen bloggers. Please tell me more."

Here's her response. Take notes!
I found out about the Cybils from a YA blogger conference I went to last September. I never would have heard about it otherwise. Initial nominations were made by the public; once the books were nominated, a panel of judges from the YA blogging world chose the finalists. Winner will be announced Feb 14.

One thing I learned at the conference: There are teen YA bloggers, and then there are adult YA bloggers (librarians, many of them, although some just love kidlit). The conference was by and for the adults. Before that, I wasn't aware of them (they don't seek out authors on MySpace and Facebook, like teens do), and I think many weren't aware of me.

At the end of the conference was an authors' hour in which attendees could browse our titles. Many authors sold their books, but I gave mine away because I wanted to get copies into as many hands as I could. There I met one of the bloggers and conference speakers, Jen Robinson. [Check out her EXTENSIVE blog roll.] After we chatted a bit, and I promised I wouldn't hassle her for a review, she took a copy of my first novel, TALLULAH FALLS. A few months later, she posted a lovely review on her blog. I offered to send her the second novel, she accepted, and she gave that a great review, too.

So between meeting people passionate about kidlit, learning about the Cybils, and having the chance to raise awareness of my books, it was a Saturday very well spent.

As far as the teen reviewers, I sent Ten Cents a Dance to five or six, hoping I could get some online buzz going. It did get picked up by others and so far, they've all given the book great reviews. One blogger, Reviewer X, invited me to participate in a week-long celebration of strong heroines on her blog. I wrote a guest post, which went up the same day as Reviewer X's interview with Libba Bray (she of A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy NYT bestsellerdom.) It was fabulous exposure--lots of comments on my guest post, lots of hits on my website, tons of people entering the contest for my book.

Long story short: When it comes to YA, I am a BIG believer in online promotion.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


What you say is important, but so is how you look. Don't believe me? Consider that people are still talking about how the pasty-faced, sweating Richard Nixon lost to the cool, Max Factored JFK in that first televised presidential campaign debate. As a friend of mine once said: "Presentation is everything."

In the Roundtable on today's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," check out Donna Brazile's & Gwen Ifill's elegant and beautifully coordinated clothing, jewelry and makeup. The guys are well put together too: George Will's & host George S's outfits are subtle and tasteful, while EJ Dionne's is snappy and tasteful (love that red tie!). Kudos to the ABC stylists.

And then we have Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has an unfortunate affection for eye-popping trim and clashing accessories, per below. She wore the chain-collared jacket at left today on "Meet the Press" (see closeup at 5:46) with a screaming yellow shirt and gold-bead necklace. EEEEK! Somebody make her stop!

The men looked much better, though David Brooks's pale mauve shirt didn't complement his sallow coloring (his colors work better online than on my TV.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Team? What Team?

At the Backspace forums, where I answer publicity questions every month, an author asked:
I read your blog post [Frame These Words!], and while I certainly agree with an author's viewing their relationship with their inhouse publicist as a partnership in theory, in my experience, the reality was much different.

I asked my publicist how they wanted to work together when they were first assigned to me, and only got a vague answer. I kept them informed of all of the publicity I had lined up; they told me nothing of what they were doing (and aside from their sending out arcs and galleys for review, I saw no evidence of any initiative on their part). At one point, I asked for a copy of the press release they'd been using, and was told that sending out press releases was my responsibility.

It's all well and good to advise authors to try to be a team player, but what's an author to do if there's no team to play with?
My response:
Ugh. This is the sort of story that gives publishers a bad name. How easy would it be for them to sit down with an author--or at least send an email--detailing EXACTLY what they're going to do to publicize the book and what they expect the author to do? But then I'd be out of a job...

You can tell pretty early on if the publisher is unenthusiastic about your book and isn't going to be doing much for it. Vague responses, no marketing/publicity timeline, late (or no) answers to your emails & phone calls are all dead giveaways.

So what to do? To quote publicist extraordinaire Kim-from-LA: "Give them energy, not problems." Act as though you're all on the same team and working together--because you are, even if the other players are deadbeats.

Charge full steam ahead with your own plans, but make sure EVERYONE is in the info loop. Send periodic (weekly or monthly) emails to your agent, editor & publicist with updates of what you're doing & your upcoming events & media. This will lessen the chance for ugly surprises, such as you & the pub pitching the same media; or you doing a radio interview in a big market & there being no books in area stores.

Most important: NO WHINING. And thank your publicist for all her help, even if you think she's done nothing. Thanking her might make her feel guilty, which might get her to do more. If you yell at her she'll feel resentful, even (or especially) if you're right, and she'll do even less. As an author I know said, "Making a publicist--even a bad one--angry at you is shooting yourself in the foot."

Keep in mind that if your publicist isn't doing much for your book, it may be because that's what her boss told her. If your publicist is the boss, well, you're SOL & you know it's all up to you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Frame These Words!

One of my clients ("Jane") had a bad experience with her former publisher ("X"). Now she has a book coming out this summer with a new publisher ("Y"). She's busy writing a marketing plan, putting together an extensive mailing list and lining up promotional events. All good. (If you haven't started doing this for your own forthcoming book, get cracking!)

BUT...Worried that she'll get the same lackluster support from Y as she did from X, Jane wrote a press release for Y to use "as a first pass suggestion." (X hadn't bothered to write one, so Jane wound up doing it for them.) Fortunately, she asked my opinion of it before she sent it off.

I responded, in several emails:
Writing the press release is Y's job; don't step on their toes. Ask--very politely--if they've written one yet, and if so, could you see it. If they haven't, only then say that you took a crack at it yourself, to serve till they do a better one. (Note the flattery.)

You have to walk a very fine line: There's a lot they won't do for your book, but it's insulting to them--and needless additional work for you--to assume they'll do nothing. This is why you have to have a meeting--or at least a conversation--in which you find out exactly what they plan on doing for the book, and what you can do to augment their efforts. [Note augment, not replace.]
Jane said she's going to frame my final words:
Remember: You are business partners, not adversaries; working together, not at cross-purposes. What happened with X is ancient history; you're with Y now and have to make the best of it there.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I accidentally double-booked myself. My next phone-in seminar will be on January 22--not the 21st as originally announced. (I've corrected my website & the post: Phone It In with Bella!)

Larry Flynt Gives Good Headline

From the CNN Political Ticker:
Porn industry seeks federal bailout
Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis said Wednesday they will request that Congress allocate $5 billion for a bailout of the adult entertainment industry....

"People are too depressed to be sexually active," Flynt said in the statement. "This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex."

"With all this economic misery and people losing all that money, sex is the farthest thing from their mind. It's time for congress to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America. The only way they can do this is by supporting the adult industry and doing it quickly."
Here's my slogan for these troubled times:
Porn is Patriotic!

Wouldn't it be funny if it caught on? Though honestly, there's nothing sexier than having enough to eat and a roof over one's head.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What to Tell Your Would-Be Readers

"You can find my book at your favorite bookstore, and if it isn’t there, find a new favorite."

--Joan Rivers, author of MURDER AT THE ACADEMY AWARDS, in Sunday's NY Times (but don't follow her advice on plastic surgery!)

Monday, January 05, 2009

Phone It In with Book Clubs!

MATRIMONY author Joshua Henkin ("the hardest-working guy in the author biz") was recently featured, along with STANDING STILL author Kelly Simmons, in a Philadelphia Inquirer story, Author, your group is calling.

Henkin has spoken by phone or in person to 80+ book groups. Wow! However does he do it?
Oddly, Henkin's latest visit with yet another group of women he had never met - by speaker at the Jersey Shore group - was entirely initiated by . . . Henkin.

Here's what happened.

One member had rated the book on, a social-networking site based on books. Despite the mixed review she gave (3 out of 5), she found herself on the morning of the meeting with an e-mail from the author himself.

"Shelley - Thanks for rating MATRIMONY on Goodreads. I don't know if you're in a book group, but I've been participating in a lot of book-group discussions of MATRIMONY, and I'd be delighted to participate with your book group. Let me know if you'd be interested. Best, Josh."

Wow. Um, OK. Well, Josh, as a matter of fact, it's tonight....

Though most of the visits are initiated by readers, Henkin said he also contacted people through various book blogs that have reviewed Matrimony, that have done Matrimony giveaways, and where he has guest-blogged. Henkin is also on Facebook.
Hardly rocket science, but ferreting out book groups and speaking to them does take quite a bit of time. Not coincidentally, Henkin told me back in March that he was way over deadline on his new book. I wrote him today whether I dared ask him how it's going.

His reply:
The new book? What new book! Actually, it's finally coming along pretty well....
So we have a happy story all around.

Phone It In with Bella!

My next author TeleSeminar will be on January 22, 6-7:30 pm EST. (Date was originally Jan 21.)

The session is limited to 10; includes Q&A. Each participant gets an individual 15-minute follow-up consultation.

To make it more affordable, I've lowered the price from $90 to $65. FULL INFO HERE.

Photo by Robert W. Kelley for LIFE.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Quote of the Day

From the NY Times review of Carrie Fisher's new memoir, WISHFUL DRINKING. She's the daughter of Hollywood stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher ("the Jennifer and Brad of their day"), who left Debbie for Elizabeth Taylor ("Angelina, plusher and without the tattoos").
When the author was 15, Ms. Reynolds gave her a vibrator for Christmas, and also gave one to her own mother, who declined to use it for fear it would short out her pacemaker.