Category Archives: Blog

Literary Serials: Marketing Gold with a Binge-worthy Twist

 

I first met Jolene Harris, a woman who “grew up knowing the real hair color of every woman in town,” in Michele Feltman Strider’s Home series. With witty, troubled characters, Strider dances the line between graceful, women’s fiction and comedic shenanigans. It was Jolene’s shenanigans that drew me to Strider’s new serial Homestyle (digital download available on Amazon). Now, I’m obsessed.

I mean, come on! If you don’t want to read about a woman who steals her boyfriend’s car then grinds the gears for four hours from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home to her mama in Bayou La Batre at 2am because the jerk visited a strip club, well, I have to wonder how much we really have in common. But, I digress as to not give too much away.

But, however much I am loving this serial (now on issue three), my obsession goes beyond my love of a character “raised on a hearty diet of gossip, hearsay, and hairspray,” and the author who created her. I am obsessed with the potential the resurgence of literary serials holds for small press and independent authors.

As authors and writers, why reinvent the wheel of book marketing when we could take a look from the way back seat? Way, way back.

Literary serials were born out of economic need. Dickens and others of his time understood the economic strain of their readers. Rarely, if ever, could the Dickensian Everyman afford to buy a whole novel. However, many could scrounge up a penny to devour the next installment of their favorite saga of the local paper.

The same could be said today of time. The busy reader, the commuter reader, or the read-while-in-the-carpool-line reader will find a work designed to be read in short snippets very appealing.

Marketing a serial builds a public.

Thou shall not fill thy friends’ walls with the same product over and again. Rather than risking the “unfollow,” a writer can promote new material as issues are released. Then, anticipation for the next issue builds, readers begin sharing ideas of the not-yet-released issues, and new readers find you because of the online chatter. More posting, especially of quality products, increases an online platform.

Who doesn’t love a box set?

For the author looking to boost Amazon sales, the best way to do this is to have multiple products to sell. Once all the issues of a literary serial are released, an author can “box” them together, thus creating a new product. From there, discounts for buying the entire set can be given, a paperback version of the collection can be offered (think special edition), and new promotions designed for each product, sale, or combo can be posted.

As we all know from waiting for the next episode of whatever TV serial we are obsessed with, the anticipation of the next, juicy installment is both torture and delight. Literary serials and the accompanying anticipation can create the same excitement. But, this time the excitement could be for your work!

In your future literary serial, who will your main character be? Share your spiciest idea in the comment section below!

If you would like to know more of Michele Feltman Strider and her writing, visit her at https://www.facebook.com/MicheleFeltmanStrider.

Pondering Idiolect and the Word Choices of a Madman

My writer-nerd-out moments occasionally come from unexpected sources.

Recently, while watching my new summer obsession Manhunt: Unabomber, I became gripped by the field of forensic linguistics and the concept of an individual’s idiolect. I watched episode three of the limited series so engrossed that I even stopped scrolling social media and crushing candy, an occurrence that only happens if what’s on the telly is riveting.

As FBI profiler Jim Fitzgerald analyzed every word of Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto, the concept of an individual’s idiolect unfolded, and I began pondering how idiolect, the speech habits peculiar to a particular person, could be applied to creative writing.

In Manhunt: Unabomber, Fitzgerald zeroed in on words in Kaczynski’s writing including broad, chick, and negro as words rarely used in 1995. From these words, he was able to estimate what decade the Unabomber was born in, thus identifying an age range. Fitzgerald was also able to determine an education level and geographic region for the Unabomber due to rare alternative spellings (analyse instead of analyze, wilfully versus willfully, etc.) and phrase choices such as including a “Corrections” page rather than an “Errata” page with his madman dissertation.

With each unique word choice Kaczynski made, he might as well have been leaving his DNA all over the pages.

My first thought was to apply this concept in creating accurate characters in fiction and nonfiction work. Just as Fitzgerald flushed out Kaczynski’s profile of the Unabomber by deciphering specific words used in the notorious letters, I should flush out my own characters by choosing words indicative of the time period, region, and education level, especially when writing dialogue. Then, I realized I already did. Every time we as writers select words for our characters such as yonder, Frigidaire, or say, coolio, we are placing a time stamp on that character.

Upon further thought, I discovered that idiolects would help color the characters in my current work-in-progress, which is set in a fictionalized version of my hometown. Toward the end of episode three of Manhunt, my Paw Paw’s voice came to my mind. I could hear him saying “Purnt” instead of point and “Urnion” instead of onion. I’ve never heard these pronunciations outside of the small fishing villages that line the western coast of Mobile Bay.

Why haven’t I added this flavor into my WIP? Because I had forgotten how much idiolect, the unique words and pronunciations a person uses, matters in creative writing. If what I want to do is create authentic, relatable characters for my readers then I must make sure that every word each character utters is authentically that character.

My nerding-out over forensic linguistics and idiolects is likely to continue for a while longer, at least through five more episodes. If you’d like to join me, Manhunt: Unabomber airs on the Discovery Channel. Don’t ask me when because I DVR it, which will surely become indicative of my age when future generations decide to study the awesomeness of my idiolect through the use of forensic linguistics.

Alabama Writers Conclave Annual Conference: To go or not to go?

I will admit I teetered back and forth considering whether or not to go to the Alabama Writers Conclave Annual Conference. Like that too oft played Clash song, for weeks I debated, “Should I stay or should I go?”

My reasons to not go were plentiful. Baby is still part-baby. His sixteen months are too few for me to leave for a weekend. The conference was four hours away in Birmingham. I didn’t want to drive that far alone. (Sometimes my wussy-ness knows no limits.) And then there was the question of money. Would the sessions offered be worth the financial investment? Hotel costs, food, gas, and conference fees would add up quickly.

Then, T.K. Thorne, Conference Chair, asked if I would volunteer to M.C. the open mic event. That’s when my ego trumped the con list, and I’m so glad it did. The AWC Annual Conference was my fifth literary festival/conference I’ve attended to date. Without a doubt, it turned out to be my favorite, and I will go again next year, without the annoying debate.

Ten reasons I’ll be back:

  1. No faculty member gave me a sales pitch. I have attended workshops and left as hot as my lead-painted steps in the Mobile sun. Once, with the promise of breaking through writer’s block, I was forced to listen to and then pressured to buy the instructor’s latest poetry collection. I left the tome on the table and walked out. Another festival drew me in on a Sunday afternoon with the promise of digital marketing mastery, and then offered a publicity package at the unbelievable price of $4,000. Who thinks a small press author has $4,000 lying around? Don’t mess with my Sundays or my bank account.
  2. I want to be as smart as T.J. Beitelman, Creative Writing Chair for the Alabama School of Fine Arts. My mind was sufficiently blown during his session. Little gems such as “Show and tell,” make protagonists survive rather than perform, and allow mystery into plot lines and characters may change my fiction writing forever.
  3. The food was actually good. Enjoying delicious meals I did not have to prepare was a glorious treat. And let’s face it, typically food cooked in mass quantities can often be compared to wet cardboard. I still want more of the BBQ Turkey from Friday’s dinner. If only I lived in Birmingham. (Imagine the yummy noises for a moment while my taste buds reminisce.)
  4. The participants were outgoing. Writers are often by nature introverts. These may have been so, but the participants seemed to put their natural shyness on hold and seized the opportunity to share and learn from their fellow conference-goers.
  5. The organizers were welcoming. All of them, not just the one with the microphone charged with giving the opening address. Thank you for that!
  6. Smart locations and facilities encouraged learning but also encouraged participants to explore a little bit of Birmingham’s revitalized downtown rather than just the inside of hotel ballrooms.
  7. The hotel was well appointed and well worth the money. Without a good night’s sleep, I am a horrible, awful person, and usually sleep is hard to come by in a hotel. The Tutwiler had a noticeable lack of elevator noise, slamming doors, and screaming neighbors. Of course, the hospitality suite was rocking a bit at times, so the Tut’s other guests may have a different opinion of my peace and quiet.
  8. The organizers encouraged networking. The conference facility naturally forced networking as all participants were funneled to one common area between sessions. So smart.
  9. Participants’ bookstore! That one common area was the conference bookstore where all of us could, for a tiny percentage, offer our books for sale to fellow participants. Score!
  10. Abundant talent. From the knowledgeable faculty to the open mic event to the spirited conversation over tasty morsels (and I’m back to the food), Alabama Writers Conclave gathered so many fabulously talented writers into one location. My brain is overflowing, fried, and properly pickled.

Thank you, AWC. Until next year, happy writing!

 

 

Art or Craft: Does the Process Dictate the Outcome?

Originally published on the SCWW Columbia II blog.

John Hughes wrote The Breakfast Club in two nights. July 4 – 5, 1982, must have been electric, caffeinated, perhaps whiskey-soaked days and nights. I have no basis to believe Hughes was intoxicated during this feat, but I know I would have to have been drunk as a monkey to deliver such a work in such a short time. Fear of the unknown would have sent me to the top shelf or to a fresh notebook yearning for an outline.

So, I pose the question, is art any less artful if carefully crafted?

The planner versus pants-er (writing by the seat of your pants) debate flares up frequently among those who attempt to write and then dare to make that writing public. I am counted among the ranks of planners and have the notecards, plot structure board, and binders full of research to prove it.

My best writer bud is a pants-er. I’ve seen the look of wild abandon in her eyes as she recalls a night when the words rushed from her brain through her fingers until click-by-click she had racked up 5,000 frenetic words in a single session. Her characters came to life, proclaimed their presence, and demanded she write their story right there and right then.

My characters perch gently on my shoulder as I map out chapters, asking questions such as, “Would I really do that?” or “What motivated me to say that?” Sometimes, they become a bit rude, declaring, “There is no way in Hell I would do THAT! Change it, woman!” However, the rude behavior never lasts long. Crisis averted, they settle down for a little nap while I lose hours on the Internet researching squirrel hunting or cholera or medicinal purposes of sage. Then, when I feel I know enough of their world and their lives, I wake them so the writing, the art, may begin.

But, oh to be a pants-er! To never fear the unknown. To write without wondering, “Where the heck is this thing going?” For one or two nights I want to be the cocky one, the love-em-and-leave-em-Joe rather than, “Can we talk? Before we go any further, I need to know where this relationship is going?”

Still, the most important lesson I have learned over the last five years since chucking my cushy salary for a life of writing is I must be true to the type of writer I am. I must develop my style, my process, and my story. I must defend all three and work toward perfection.

Twenty years ago my scenic design professor gave me the advice, “Let the audience see the art. Never let them see the craft.” I share this advice now so that I may follow it again myself. May our readers see our art, the beautiful, tragic, funny, fantastical stories we create, but keep the craft our own. Whether planner, pants-er, or something akin to the brilliance of John Hughes, may we all have the confidence to create and a craft that encourages invention.

What Book Promoters Are Looking For: The Author Press Kit

 

Originally posted on the Columbia Writers’ Workshop website.

My first phone conversation with the Director of Public Relations for my local library system surprised me. I introduced myself, told her the title of my novel, and of my interest in scheduling author events with the local libraries. Instead of asking what my book was about, her first question was, “Do you have a press kit?” “Yes,” I told her, then asked, “Would you like me to email it or bring you a printed copy?” She chose the latter and a face-to-face meeting.

That one phone call brought a critical element of book marketing into the spotlight: In order to sell books, we must sell ourselves. Readers buy into the worlds their favorite authors create, but promoters often use the author’s world to sell books. A press kit does that.

From site to site, author press kits vary, but the best, most interesting ones allow a promoter to see inside the author’s life. Several months ago, after consulting with my agent and scouring my favorite authors’ websites, I created my press kit, which includes:

All current contact information including all social media links. (Duh!)
Media clips and files. This may be a video or audio reading, an interview or author chat, a book trailer, links to online or PDF articles regarding you and your work, and/or any other media that brings you and your work to life.
Photos. Include family photos, current and past project research photos, cover art, and photos that inspire you.
A look behind the curtain. Don’t just cut and paste the same bio you send to every publisher and media outlet in your universe. Include those interesting tidbits that make you unique. On my friend’s Shaun McCoy’s website, I learned that along with being a writer, he is a damn good chess player, a former Mixed Martial Arts fighter, and a professional pianist. Now, there is a complex individual who would surely bring something interesting to the fictitious conference I’m promoting.

Also, don’t forget to:
1. Prominently display your press kit on your website with a button labeled PRESS KIT.
2. Keep your press kit updated. Check contact information, bio, and links to ensure accuracy.
3. Maintain easy access to your website or Webmaster in order to make updates.

So, with my shiny press kit and two copies of my novel, I sat across the table from Ms. Public Relations and began my pitch. The meeting was a success. Events should be scheduled soon and my novel is being added to the library collection.
For most of us, the small press, indie, and self-published authors of the world, this is what success looks like: Selling yourself and your work to one library, one bookstore, one media outlet at a time. A press kit will make the sale easier. And because no author actively promoting herself or her books has time to reinvent the wheel, check out mine at www.jodiecainsmith.com. Use it as a template. Now, go forth and rule the literary world.

Great Fun in Camden, Alabama!

The small town of Camden, Alabama, holds a big treasure – the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center. I visited with their staff, patrons, and book club on Thursday, June 16, for a wonderful lunch (yummy chicken salad is one of my faves), author chat and book discussion, and a book signing. Oh, and I did a little shopping in the fantastic gift shop, too!

The day started with my sisters and I heading out for the two hour trip to Camden. At least fifteen years have passed since we’ve had four hours just to talk, what with work, kids, and husbands. The time in the car was such a blessing! I must spend more time with these beautiful women!

Seeesters!

Seeesters!

After a catered lunch, we settled into the center’s art room for the author chat & book club discussion. Every seat was filled with a few more standing along the walls. I’ve never heard others read my text aloud, and I must confess I loved the sound! What an honor to be in front of such a loving and attentive audience!

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A Full House!

 

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Weird faces & gestures while I speak. I should work on that.

 

A little "Inside the Actors' Studio" in Camden with rapid-fire questions from the wonderful Elaine - my favorite part of the chat.

A little “Inside the Actors’ Studio” in Camden with rapid-fire questions from the wonderful Elaine – my favorite part of the chat.

After the chat, we returned to the Gift Shop and Museum for a book signing complete with a dessert table full of treats made with love by the museum staff and book club members. The line was long – a dream come true for any author!

So many lovely women from the University of Montevallo came to the event. Most of these women I haven’t seen in 15-20 years, but no celebration in central Alabama is complete without U of M represented!

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Montevallo friends!

What’s with the thumbs-up and peace sign gestures, you ask? Well, whenever two or more Montevallo alum and former students are together, one question is asked:  Gold or Purple? This allegiance is as, if not more, important than Auburn or Alabama, the two sides of the Iron Bowl. So, of course, we had to have a little College Night fun. I do believe Gold won the day. If you are completely confused, search Montevallo College Night in Google. The oldest running college tradition in the U.S. is also, in my opinion, the best!

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What’s it gonna be? A GV!

At the end of the day, with well over forty books signed, countless hugs given and received, and treasures purchased, my sisters and I hit the road back to Mobile. To Kristin and the whole team at the Black Belt Treasures Cultural Arts Center, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You were beyond gracious and marvelous!  Let’s do it again someday!

Barnes & Noble B-Fest!

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I can think of few better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than at a book event! Yep, I love sharing my book baby and nerd-ing out with writers and readers of all kinds! The day started with a creative writing workshop, then signing books and chatting with readers at the front of the store, and ended with fabulous news:  The Woods at Barlow Bend will now be available at Barnes & Noble Eastern Shore Center in Spanish Fort, Alabama. I’m on the shelves, baby! Conquering the world one bookstore at a time!

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Lined up to buy a signed copy!

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And, of course, my sweet Bay had to make an appearance.

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Thank you to all who joined me yesterday. I had a great time and loved meeting you, from the young couple tempted to write their first novel together to the gentleman whose family is from Barlow Bend, Alabama! Thanks especially to Melissa from B&N for making the event smooth, fun, and successful!

 

 

 

 

 

Worst. Author Event. Ever

At a recent book signing, attendance was so poor the “public” I encountered for most of my allotted time was made up of the other two authors present. We shared a table so I couldn’t run away, even as some of the dumbest comments on publishing ever flew from their mouths. Nope, I’m not as sweet as I look, but at least my filter works.

Author 1: “I double-spaced my book. It’s been a hit with the senior set.”

My silent response as I thumb through the pages of the “Christian Thriller” in question: I have never read or heard anyone in the publishing industry recommend double-spacing a novel. Large print is an option, but costly, and the line lead varies from book to book and publisher to publisher, but this thing is printed in 16pt font and double-spaced. It’s gigantic! I could render someone unconscious with a book this thick. And what the heck is a “Christian Thriller?” Smile and nod, Jodie. Smile and nod. (If you are unaware as I was, Christian Thriller is an actual sub-genre on Amazon. Thank you, Google.)

Author 2: “Why did you use a traditional publisher? I don’t want to share my money.”

I responded, “Because I wanted to, and I couldn’t afford to hire an editor.” My inner diva begged me to say, “Watch that tone, Lady. And what’s with the snarl? I hope your face sticks that way.”

Author 1, joining in: “Oh, I didn’t use an editor. I wanted to see what I could do by myself. Sure, there are mistakes and quirks, but that’s what makes my book unique.”

My inner monologue: Don’t laugh. Don’t bang my face against the table. Don’t pick up this guy’s “Christian Thriller” and bonk him on the head with it.

Instead I said, simply, “I love editors.” 

Author 2, later: “According to my publishing agreement, I had to buy 1,000 copies of my book, so now I have a good stock of books in my garage. You really should consider self-publishing.”

More smiling. More nodding. More screaming from my inner diva:Are you kidding me? You didn’t self-publish. You vanity published! And who on Earth is going to buy 1,000 copies of your book out of your garage? Good job with that whole not-sharing-your-money thing.

Toward the end of our time together, I asked my tablemates if they are members of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. They both nodded “no.” Then Mr. Double-space proposed the following question:

“I mean, what could a writer’s group actually do for me?”

“My chapter, Columbia II, makes me a better writer,” I told him. “They are my first-line defense against bad writing.”

“That wouldn’t work for me. I don’t need other people judging my stuff,” Author 1 told me while straightening his unsold stack of books.

I smiled. I nodded. Then I turned forward in my seat and stared at my own untouched stack. No more talkie-talkie. Let’s play the quiet game.

 

Originally posted on the SCWW Columbia II Website. For more information on the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop and the Columbia II Chapter, click here.

Sample of The Woods at Barlow Bend

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The Woods at Barlow Bend

Chapter 1

August 8, 1933

Frisco City, Alabama

“I poured it out in the yard. If you want the whiskey so bad, go out back and lap it up like a dog.” Momma stared right into John’s eyes as she said this. Momma wasn’t a teetotaler by any means, but she didn’t like how drunk Uncle John got during these family get-togethers, so she took matters into her own hands. Rather, she took Uncle John’s whiskey into her own hands, and watered the azaleas.

It was the night of my thirteenth birthday. The house was full with friends and family, ready for music and dancing. Meg, my younger sister, played the piano while Momma. Daddy, and the others danced in the living room, but Uncle John became too handsy when drunk. Daddy got irritated when Uncle John got handsy.

“Nothin’s gonna ruin your party, Hattie.” Momma, as usual, fixed the situation to her liking.

Momma stared at Uncle John’s heavy eyelids and scruffy complexion for a moment, probably wondering for the millionth time why her older sister, Audrey, married such a worthless man. Not even really a man, but a pitiful being ready to beg for scraps.

Momma knew how proud Uncle John was of his whiskey. “A family secret passed down from my papa,” Uncle John would proudly announce, as if we all hadn’t heard that statement over a hundred times.

Pouring out the whiskey was a little mean, but I think Momma enjoyed angering Uncle John, and I loved her fearlessness.

“Audrey was pretty before John. She could have done much better for herself,” Momma told me earlier that day when we were making the cake for my party. I loved being in the kitchen with Momma. Even if it was to help make my own birthday cake, an afternoon alone with Momma was a gift. Each story she told was like a secret shared just between us. And Momma had plenty of stories about Uncle John, his whiskey, and the way he treated Aunt Audrey. Momma also thought that a real man would at least attempt to argue with her when insulted or tricked. When John’s only argument manifested as incoherent and pathetic huffing and puffing, she couldn’t help but laugh.

Uncle John stormed out the back door of the kitchen with Aunt Audrey chasing behind him.

“Jesus, Addie, why do have to be so hateful?” Audrey squeaked at Momma as the screen door slapped the frame. “John, Honey, come back to the party!”

I wondered for a second how these two completely different women could be sisters. Aunt Audrey’s face was weathered and splotchy, probably from long hours spent in the fields trying to salvage the meager profit Uncle John had promised during the spring planting. Momma, on the other hand, had a perfect porcelain complexion that would glow a beautiful bronze in the summer, but always returned to a smooth, soft cream by mid-fall. I had also never seen my mother chase after Daddy when he stormed out of a room.

“Hattie, Honey,” Momma said as she turned toward me, “Promise me you’ll never waste your time on a man like that.”

“I promise, Momma,” I said.

“That’s my girl.” Momma kissed my forehead, shook her shiny, wavy hair, trimmed smartly just above her shoulders, and turned to walk down the hallway into the living room with a pitcher of sweet tea and glasses balanced on her favorite serving tray. Daddy stopped her in the doorway and shook his head. He didn’t care for John Howard too much either, but he did like the man’s liquor. It was the smoothest in the county. Momma knew Daddy would be disappointed, but she also knew how to be forgiven: tilted chin, coy laugh, piercing blue eyes staring straight into his.

Addie and Hubbard Andrews were each better looking than the other. Who could say whose blue eyes were more powerful: Daddy’s clear, ice blue, or Momma’s nearly cobalt, like beach glass washed on the shore, smooth and shiny? I was witness to Momma’s subtle, yet mesmerizing ways of winning on several occasions. She knew exactly how to be forgiven for every impulsive action.

“Sorry, Hub, but John’s barely tolerable sober, much less lit up like the Fourth of July.”

Then, Momma made the move that made Daddy forget the whiskey. Momma gently, but intentionally brushed her body against his as she passed him through the kitchen door. Her hair brushed his chin and she her fingertips along his waist. Daddy stared at her, fixated by her every move as she exited the kitchen and disappeared into the parlor without spilling a drop of tea. The room always seemed a little darker after she left.

 

To purchase The Woods at Barlow Bend, paperback or Kindle, click here.

Calling All Book Clubs!

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The wine is chilled, the cheese is stinky, now all you need are questions.  Fret no more.  I have you covered.

Suggested questions for book clubs:

1.  How did you experience Hattie’s story?  Did you find her compelling?  Was her plight worthy of exploration?

2.  What did you take away from Hattie and Hubbard’s relationship?  What effect did that relationship have on Hattie’s future actions?

3.  Do you think Hubbard was guilty?  If so, of what?

4.  Describe your feelings toward Hubbard’s treatment of Millie after the trial.  Do you agree with his actions?

5.  Describe the significance of the inscription on Addie’s headstone:  “Mother.”  What do you think of the lack of the word “wife?”

6.  Do you agree with Hattie’s decision to elope with Gordon?  What do you think of her decision to never date or marry again after losing him at such a young age?  What would you have done in her position?

7.  What parts or passages from the book did you find most appealing?  Least appealing?

8.  Did you find the ending satisfying?

9.  If you could ask me one question about the book, what would that question be?

And remember, I am available to Skype with your book club!  We’ll laugh.  We’ll chat.  Oh, what a time we will have!

Use the comment section below to start an online discussion of Hattie’s story.  Until we meet (virtually) again.  Tootles!