Sunday, March 28, 2010


So I'm still working on The Book Trailer Project I mentioned in my last post, but it's getting close! I'm very much hoping I can invite you all to test it sometime this week. Watch this space, folks, and I'm sorry it's been so quiet around this blog lately.

Once I finish birthing my monster, I will get back to writing 'cause if I don't, The Koala's gonna kill me.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Question Ate My Brain, Then My Free Time

The prospect of doing a writing-related post this week is pretty low because The Project is making a concerted effort to eat my brain.

The Project, however, is writing-related itself, so guess what! You get to hear about it before I've finished it.

Over on Lynnette Labelle's blog, she recently had an interesting discussion about the question: Do Book Trailers Sell Books?

I said there that what bugs me is no one knows the answer to that question, not even publishing professionals. There's no hard data. And yet making a book trailer is one of the many things new authors are pressured to do.

I've heard it said that if you're a first time author, you should spend your entire advance on marketing and publicity for your new book. You're trying to launch a career, after all; you can defer the prospect of actually making a living off your writing for a bit longer.

Making a book trailer could conceivably eat up a lot of that advance unless you earmark it as a DYI project. And although we are all storytellers, how many of us really know how to tell a story well with images? To sell the interest-factor of that story using images? Sure, we've seen examples of this on television for years, but we've also been reading books for years, and yet it still took most of us a lot of time and effort to learn how to tell an effective story with words.

The point I'm flailing around for is that I don't think it's a good idea to suggest new writers embark on something that will either be very expensive or very labour-intensive (and probably inadequate) just to create something that may give them no return on the investment. We need data.

Which is what The Project is about.

The Book Trailer Project will be a website that allows people to view either a trailer for a book, or an image of that book's cover plus a blurb for it, and will then prompt them a month later to come back and say whether they bought any of the books whose material they viewed.

If I get enough response (and that involves getting published writers to allow me to show their trailers, etc, in the first place, of course), then I can assemble statistics on whether people who have seen a book trailer, as opposed to a traditional advertisement, are more likely to buy that book. The results will be made public from the beginning.

The Project gets those capital letters out of my terrorized respect, because it's proving huge. I've got some free time right now, and have been spending passion-fueled fifteen-hour days for the past week working on this behemoth.

It won't even be a very big or complex site; it's just that I've had to learn PHP and MySQL to do it (not quite from scratch; I know a bit of C++, so PHP's syntax is a snap, and I've created databases using MS Access before, so I at least know what a query is, etc.)

Is this a reasonable use of my time? I think so, if only because I'm learning skills that will help me create a better author website (for cheap) in the future, and I'm also providing a service to writers while learning something I want the answer to as well.

Plus, this is the best way to take a break before I start writing my next novel; I'm getting so fried doing The Project I will be delighted to begin typing the book. Take that, procrastination! Oh, right, The Project is a form of procrastination... Never mind.

When I finally get the site running, I will announce it here, and then begin the process of simpering at people to (a) volunteer to put their book's promotional materials up, and (b) come by and browse for books they might be interested in reading.

And I hope I can count on all of you to spread the word too. *simper, simper; bats eyelashes*

Scratch that! Whether you spread the word depends on what you think of the site itself, and it's presumptuous for me to try to horn-swaggle you into anything.

What I'd really like is for all of you to help me test a beta version of the site, and that could be fun! (I'll make up funny fake books and link to random amusing YouTube videos.) Who's in?


Have you any thoughts about the matter you'd like to share? (Other than I've lost my mind, which I already know.) I would love to hear them, and now is the time to do it! I've still got the opportunity to implement your suggestions.


PS - I was really, really bad about answering comments on the last blog post, but I've done so now. Sorry for neglecting you all!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reading, 'Riting, and Responsibility

Author Bob Mayer had a post recently that got me thinking. I've heard Mr. Mayer speak, and I think he's got some smart, pragmatic and innovative things to say about how to approach writing and publishing; I'm very willing to listen to this guy. That said, I don't agree with everything in his post.

However, he does zero in on something I've felt frustration at also. When agents give advice on what they want to see, it's usually a list of what they don't want to see. And when someone pins them down for what they do, in fact, want to see, the answer tends to be nebulous:

"I'll know it when I see it."

"Just write well."

"I'm looking for voice."

I do rein in my frustration about this matter, however. Who hasn't worked a job where every mistake you make is pointed out to you, but no one notices all the things you do right? Figuring out what's wrong is always easier than figuring out what's right, and agents are human. They have the same trouble all of us do with seeing what works in the face of what clunks. Our brains just naturally fixate on the clunks.

Also, agents are not obligated to help any of us figure out what works. That's our job as writers, and we should take full responsibility for it.

Agents are also not--and this is where I begin to make my point for today's blog--educators by trade.

Sure, they want writers to give them what they're after, and we writers would love to know exactly how to do this, so it seems logical they should want to teach us.

And some do try, but they're not educators. Is it any wonder they aren't necessarily doing an amazing job of it? And given they do it for free, have we any right to complain about that? It's never a good idea to criticize a volunteer.

The real reason Mr. Mayer's post got my attention is because it made me think about why I write this blog--the Meaty Monday posts, at least. I'm trying (and often failing, I admit) to do what we all wish the agents could and would do--explain the nuts and bolts of what works rather than what doesn't.

I think all writers should try to do this. We aren't necessarily educators either, so there's no guarantee we can help one another any more than the agents can help us, but unlike agents, writers have a good incentive to teach.

There is nothing like trying to explain a concept to someone else to force you to get it straight in your own head too. I swear, I got a degree in physics without really understanding a lot of first-year physics; I learned that stuff properly after I graduated, when I had to teach it.

Offering critiques--i.e. trying to teach someone else what you've kinda-sorta figured out yourself--is the thing that will help you completely figure it out. Teaching helps take you from creativity-by-instinct to creativity-by-expertise. It's one of the things that turns you into a professional writer.

Agents try to educate writers out of generosity and, ooh, maybe a wee smidgen of weeping frustration over the contents of their slush piles.

Writers have a much better reason to teach, which is why we should stop complaining and take over the job of educating one another. The advice of agents should just be icing on our own big, rich cake.


What do you think? Should writers try to share their skills with others, or is teaching yet another distraction from our main job--writing? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

She's Got That Glow About Her...

When I was a teen, I considered getting a tattoo. I grew out of that urge, and eventually became glad I never got one, although there've been a few times I've become tempted again.

Never quite so much as I was when I saw this, however. Behold a UV tattoo:

Does this prove I'm still young at heart? Ye-ah...probably only that I'm a geek to the core.

Found on Geekologie.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, March 08, 2010


Phew! The Dread' Koala will be pleased with me this month. I have mailed off my latest manuscript to my agent and am now mercilessly strangling my anxiety celebrating with a bag of Easter candy.

Everyone please wish my big-boned (i.e. 99,000 word) baby luck!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Of Snot and Snark

This week, a cold virus ate my brain and left me a bunch of snot and grumpiness in payment. As a result, this post is a bit of an unfocused ramble and slightly crabby in tone. My apologies! (See, I must be getting better. Two days ago, I wouldn't have apologized--I would have snorted grotesquely and given you the stink-eye before falling asleep in my chair.)

I thought I'd talk a bit about certain kinds of short-sightedness today.

Short-sighted: Hating libraries because they "steal" your book sales.

Why is it short-sighted?
1) Libraries are customers too. They buys huge quantities of books, and they buy in hardcover.

2) Kids can't afford to buy books, but they can 'afford' a library card. And if a kid grows up reading, they will continue reading as an adult--when, y'know, they can afford to shell out some cash for their entertainment. You should support libraries, because they're grooming your next generation of customers.

3) For that matter, they're grooming your current generation of customers. People try out new authors much more easily when it's free. If they don't know your name, and have to pay to find out if you're any good, they might never bother. But if they read your book at the library and LOVE it, they may be the first person in line at the store when your next novel comes out.

Short-sighted: Trying to convince EVERYBODY they will love your book.

Why is it short-sighted?
Say you convince someone to buy your romance novel even though they prefer horror. Sure, you just made a royalty, but you also probably scored some negative word-of-mouth.

No matter how good your novel is, some people won't like it for perfectly valid reasons. And if they didn't like your book, that's all they're likely to say to others about it.

In marketing, it's known that a great advertising campaign will make a weak product fail faster because it speeds up the generation of negative word-of-mouth. You don't want to accidentally recreate that effect. Target your campaigns wisely.

Short-sighted: Putting out novels in quick succession to build name recognition when you can't maintain the quality at that pace.

Why is it short-sighted?
I've said it before: you can't build a career on mediocre books. And the kind of name recognition you build if you're trying to do so won't be the kind you want.

Short-sighted: Trying to write a blog post the evening before it should go up.

Why is it short-sighted?
See above.

PS - I want more lemon and honey tea.


Have you got some suggestions for things that should be added to this list? What sorts of strategies have you seen that you thought were short-sighted?

Do you agree with this list, or do you dispute whether one of these strategies is harmful? Did I really just have to take three stabs at spelling 'strategies' correctly? Is it time for bed yet? Actually, I know the answer to that last one; see y'all on Monday.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sculptires (or Sculptyres, if you're British)

Wow! Check out these amazing sculptures made from rubber tires by Korean artist Ji Yong Ho. If you click on the images below, it will take you a gallery of photos.

Thanks to Dale McGladdery for Twittering about these!

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

Monday, March 01, 2010

Trend-Setting / Trend-Surfing

Okay, here's the Meaty Monday writing post I had intended to have ready by this morning. My apologies for the hockey-related lag!
There's this vampire trend going on in literature. You may have noticed it. Unless you prefer sub-granite abodes, that is--and even then, you've probably caught a glimpse or two of Edward's sparkles.

A lot of people put a great deal of energy into trying to predict the next popular trend, because being ahead the curve is a very lucrative thing.

However, I've been thinking about what creates a trend, rather than what the trend will be, and it seems to me you can't predict the next craze unless you've got insider information on the quality (more than the subject matter) of an upcoming book or movie.

Here's how I figure a trend happens. For the sake of conciseness, I'll assume that books start and propagate the craze.

Stage 1: Inflammation
Someone writes an engaging, entertaining, addictive book based on a relatively fresh idea. Word-of-mouth ensures this book becomes a bestseller.

The universe portrayed in the book is so engaging that it fires the imagination of the readers. They spend time thinking about this world, dreaming themselves into it, and imagining new adventures for its characters.

Because it's a popular book, this happens to a large segment of the public.

And the public includes other novelists.

Stage 2: Pandemic
These other novelists now are also excited by the latest craze, and when you excite an artist, you get art.

A second generation of novelists now writes books that fit in with the trend, and since the public has a new appetite for such books, the publishing industry is happy to put some of them on shelves.

Most of these books will be good enough, but nothing special. Occasionally, however, one of the second generation of books will be as fantastic as the original.

This book will also capture the public's imagination, and the cycle repeats with a third generation of novelists. (To be clear, when I say generation, the time frame I'm talking about is on the order of six months to a year-and-a-half.)

Stage 3: Death
The trend lasts for as long as great books continue being written--books that excite the public's imagination. If the chain of great books breaks, the public moves on to something else and the trend will begin to wither.

Anne Rice (re)started the vampire craze with her character Lestat. The Anita Blake books continued the trend. Then a loooong series of urban fantasy and paranormal romances featuring vampires flooded the market, but nothing really caught on the way Lestat and Anita Blake did. The trend began to die.

Until Stephanie Meyer brought it roaring back to (un)life with the Twilight saga. And the charming Sookie Stackhouse books plugged right into Ms. Meyer's trend and have both propagated and benefited enormously from it.

Alternate Stage 3: Murder
It's worth mentioning that a trend can be killed.

If a new trend starts before the last one has run its course, it can derail the public's enthusiasm. As a non-literary example of this, during the '80s, "Corporate Rock" or "Hair Metal" was a popular genre of music.

Until the band Nirvana (and the rest of the Seattle music scene) arrived.

Corporate rock died instantly in the wake of Kurt Cobain and company. Nirvana's variation on rock was so fresh, so honest, that other music which had, even a year previous, been perfectly targeted for its audience abruptly seemed, to that same audience, false and pandering.

The new craze killed the old one. (Cue JJ beginning to hum Video Killed the Radio Star, knowing full well she won't get that song out of her head for a week.)

So the lesson for writers is that it's dangerous to try to write for a trend. If your book is ready the instant the trend hits, then you may make a quick sale. However, if you start writing when the trend hits--given it can take three years between that point and having your book on the shelf--you need someone else to have a hit novel to propagate the trend for you. If there isn't one, your book may seem stale to audiences by the time it comes out.

Working Strategy: I Am My Own Trend
A better way to work is to always strive to write an engaging, fresh book, regardless of whether it fits in with a trend. If you catch the public's imagination, it doesn't matter whether you're the first or the next; your books will sell well.

Alternate Strategy: Own the Podium Bookshelf
I'll note one last thing: It appears to be possible to be the whole trend unto yourself.

When my dad was a kid, he didn't play cowboys and Indians with his friends; he played pirates.

However, that trend disappeared. There were no hugely-popular books written or movies produced about pirates while I was growing up. Then the Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out, and it started a craze.

But the concept was so unique for its time that no other studio has been able to cash in on the craze. Any attempt to make a pirate movie that isn't part of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is going to be seen by the audience as a blatant rip-off and a pale imitation. Because the pirate idea was so novel (and so well-executed), the original franchise owns the trend.


What do you think? Do you believe this is how trends start and end, or have I got it all wrong? Do you think there are other factors than what I list? And just how much longer do you think the vampire craze will last? (Remember, people have been predicting its death since before Twilight was published!)

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Author website: J. J. DeBenedictis

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