Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of Double Booked for Death, the first in her new Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. The second in that series, A Novel Way to Die, will be on the shelves November 2012, with at least four more books to follow. Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she’s also the author of the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award Silver medal. Additionally, she is the author of several published works of short fiction and five full-length historical romances.
A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Visit her at www.dianestuckart.com or www.alibrandon.com .
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Back in the day.
I never thought those words would pass my lips. That’s what old people say. But over the past couple of years (okay, ever since I turned *mumble mumble* fifty), I’ve found myself spouting that line to various and sundry, particularly when it comes to the writing life. I’m on deadline right now for my next Black Cat Bookshop Mystery but, as timing would have it, my current release is about to hit the shelves almost simultaneously. Which means on top of writing like a madwoman on the WIP, I’m Facebooking (two separate accounts), Tweeting, updating my website, commenting on various writers and readers loops, and doing blog posts like this to promote the new book.
I never had to do any of this back in the day!
That’s not to say that we didn’t work hard to promote our books back then, because we did. It was just a different (dare I say kinder and gentler?) manner of promotion. So, since this subject is currently on my mind, here’s a brief blast from the past to amuse those readers and writers who lived through it, and to amaze all those new folks out there who can’t imagine life before Jobs and Gates.
My first book was published in the early 1990s. Most of us writers had just made the jump from our trusty electric typewriters to those newfangled Macs and PCs. Truly a major household purchase back then, computers required word processing software…otherwise known as a gift from the gods to those of us who grew up doing the literal cut-and-paste. A few keystrokes (this was pre-mouse, my children), and a paragraph from chapter two could be moved to chapter five. And I think that many of us suddenly became much better writers for it. Now, when we needed to add a subplot, or realized halfway through the WIP that our main characters’ names all started with the letter “J”, we could easily go back and fix what needed fixing. Back in the days of typewriters, knowing the physical labor it entailed to do such an overhaul, we might simply have let these things go, with our finished book a somewhat lesser product, as a result.
Back in the day, social networking consisted of stopping in at the local bar with one’s writer friends for a few drinks to catch up on the news. (Okay, in some quarters, it still consists of that today.) That’s where we’d learn the latest scoop on the various publishers, what agent had screwed over whom, and which authors had landed shiny new contracts. Various writers organizations like RWA, MWA, and the other alphabet soup groups also were invaluable sources of this data. Most of us—from the multi-pubbed author to the newbie—religiously attended those organizations’ monthly meetings so that we could be in the know. Now, all of this info and more is readily available online, meaning you really never need to leave your desk to keep up with what’s what in the publishing industry.
Oh, and notifications of contest wins and new book contracts came via that ancient device known as the landline telephone. Legends abounded of authors collapsing in disbelief, receivers clutched in suddenly sweaty hands as they barely managed to croak out a yes, I’d like to sell you my book to the editor on the other end. It was known as getting the call, and was the Holy Grail for aspiring authors. These days, you’re more likely to get the email…still exciting, but not nearly as heart-clutchingly dramatic.
And back in the day, promoting one’s work was done far differently. Mailed promotional pieces were the norm: postcards sent to one’s fan base, bookmarks shipped in bundles to bookstores all over the country, fliers mailed to every writers event. One’s mailing list was gold and shared only on a reciprocal basis with one’s closest writer friends. We also created much of our promotional materials by hand, especially those of us who were romance writers. Business cards and book marks could be printed on colored stock on our very own printers and hand cut to size. (Praise the day when I finally could pony up for a genuine paper cutter!).
Fliers were usually a two-step process: first printing the wording on a piece of slick white stock, and then literally pasting on the camera-ready art that consisted of an author photo—usually a Glamour shot—and fancy borders cut from one of those lovely Dover clipart books. Then, off to the print shop we went. Oh, and the common wisdom was that you never left a blank space. So if the front was a cover photo, the back would list review excerpts and so on. You get the idea.
But for the crafty writer, the box of cover flats from the publisher was the mother lode! Blank on the back, they served as post cards or as signed promo pieces to hand out at autographings. They could even be carefully run through one’s (black ink) printer to add information on upcoming events. But my favorite trick—and one that I still think is rather cool—was to fold the flat almost in half, so that only the cover faced outward. Then, I’d print up an insert with blurbs, a picture of me, and an excerpt from the book in question. Neatly staple or double-stick tape the insert to the inside of the folded flat and, voila, a mini book to hand out at conferences and signings! Today, however, the majority of our promo pieces are emailed newsletters or else come from the online print places that provide all manner of items that look good and are cheap. It’s all faster and far more effective, but not nearly as much fun.
Do I want to go back to those olden days of writing and promotion? Sometimes, yes. There was a certain charm to it all that, in this time of ebooks and Facebook, has faded by the wayside. Am I grateful for today’s cheap computers and 24/7 internet and social networking? Oh, heck, yes! In this business, one must evolve or go extinct, and I darned well want to be part of the evolution. If I can reach 10,000 people where I once might have reached just ten, I’m all for it. There’s no unringing that particular bell, so we might as well sing along with it.
But please don’t hate me if, every so often, I whisper to you about how things were back in the day.
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A Novel Way to Die by Ali Brandon! The winning name will
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