websites for writers

historical novel waiting to be written

maybe by you? From the University of Virginia website on runaway slaves.

Virginia Gazette
(Purdie & Dixon), Williamsburg,
April 5, 1770.

Thirteen Pounds Reward. RUN away, on Saturday the 10th instant, from the subscribers, living in Baltimore town, Maryland, the following servants, viz. JOHN CHAMBERS, an English convict servant man, about 21 years of age, 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, of a pale complexion, gray eyes, and bandy legs; had on and took with him sundry suits of clothes, nine ruffled shirts, a brown bush wig, a pair of single channel boots, a blue cloth great coat, and 150 l. cash, which he robbed his masters house of on the night of his elopement. MARGARET GRANT, a mulatto, about 20 years of age, 5 feet 1 or 2 inches high; had on and took with her sundry womens apparel, but has since disguised herself in a suit of mens blue cloth clothes, attending as waiting boy on the above John Chambers. She is an artful hussy, can read and write, has been in Barbados, Antigua, the Grenades, Philadelphia, and says she was born in Carolina. Whoever apprehends the said servants, and secures them and the money, so that their masters may have them again, shall have the above reward, and reasonable charges, if brought home, paid by
MORDECAI GIST. March 14, 1770.

In which I am conflicted about weblog advertising

If you read this weblog regularly you know that I often post about how the industry is changing, and the additional burdens being placed on authors. Publishers have adopted a sink or swim approach: instead of publishing 100 novels and backing up each of them with real marketing and advertising, they publish 1,000 novels, provide little support for any of them, and watch to see what will sink and what will swim.

This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. That is, I know that talking about this is not going to change anything. In fact, my guess would be that things are going to get worse. The whole industry is evolving and will continue to evolve in response to new technologies and the increasing cost of traditional book printing. How that will shake out in the end is anybody’s guess, and authors have no influence on the outcome.

The simple reality is that any midlist author has to take at least some responsibility for marketing, and in many cases, the whole burden falls on the author. This means hiring a publicist, or trying to handle things on your own. Buying advertising space in magazines, for example (very expensive and not very effective); arranging readings; providing online resources for readers. Forums, reading guides, excerpts, etc etc.

And then there is weblog advertising.

It seems a fairly straightforward thing: You can make money by putting ads for other people’s stuff onto your weblog or website, or you can spend money by placing ads for your stuff on other weblogs and websites. Google’s Adsense is probably the biggest and most organized approach to hosting ads to earn money, and Google AdWords is the opposite side of that coin: you go there to buy space on weblogs and websites to advertise what it is you are selling. Another example:

Blogads are ads that appear in blogs and other independent web sites. Each “strip” of Blogads is managed by an independent publisher who sets prices and decides which ads appear.

It seems straightforward, but it isn’t, simply because this is an industry in its infancy and things are volatile. And there is, of course, the issue of ethics. What does it mean to sell advertising space on a weblog? Are you responsible to your advertisers in any way? Does accepting money for ads compromise the content of the weblog in some way?

This is the question that bothers me and still, I do sometimes spend money to place ads on other websites. I don’t do this often, because I’m not convinced that it’s a good use of marketing dollars and also, because marketing dollars are precious. Most of my budget goes into giving away books — I spent close to $700 last year doing just that last year — which seems to me a pretty good way of getting the word out there and keeping readers interested. Certainly $700 in books goes a lot farther than $700 in ads.

If I buy advertising space on other weblogs, then I must be okay with the idea in general, right?

Not exactly. This is why I’m conflicted. I understand that people put time and effort into weblogs and would like some return, but I also am bothered by the way the whole process works. There are author weblogs and review weblogs that accept advertising (Making Light, Bookslut, Filthy Habits, Smart Bitches, and Beatrice are some examples.) Of these, I have
advertised twice, briefly, on Smart Bitches, who have reasonable rates. This seems to me a good place to invest my marketing dollars, because their readership is very, very large and pretty well targeted for my novels. Do they owe me any consideration, given the fact that I advertise with them? Absolutely not. Will other people see it that way? That’s the question.

The Smart Bitches make decisions about advertising based on the needs of their weblog, which is common sense and good business practice. They run ads primarily for new novels, but also for services such as book-rental companies. This strikes me as a conflict, for the simple reason that I’m not nuts about the idea of the ad for my book running next to an ad for a company that exists to take business away from libraries, and royalties away from me. But it’s my choice, in the end: I don’t have to spend the money to place an ad there. I could give away a couple pile o’ books, instead.

I don’t have ads on this weblog, because (1) it’s another layer of complication I don’t need; (2) I’d worry about conflict of interest; (3) it seems tacky. I wish I could come up with another word, but that’s the only one that fits. Unless a person’s sole income is derived from blogging or running a website, I am uneasy. If I go to an author’s website and find a lot of ads, my attention is not on the content of the website, but on the ads, and not in a way the advertiser would hope for. I wonder about connections that probably aren’t there — but I do wonder, and thus I’m not getting what the author was hoping I’d get from the weblog.

Do you notice ads on weblogs? How do you react when you do notice them? Do you have any reservations about ads? And, do you ever buy a book or a service based on such ads? I’m really curious about this, and would like to know what you think.

speaking of chick-lit, media bistro, and the teaching of writing

Media Bistro is a hugely entertaining and useful website with information about the publishing industry. They also have a ‘classes’ section, where authors offer short-term workshops. For example, if you happen to be in Manhattan, Laura Lipton is offering a class on the writing of chick-lit:

Join a small group of fellow writers in your pursuit of a polished complete first draft under the guidance of a published novelist. In this rigorous 8 week workshop, you will read and comment on the writing of your fellow students and also get your own work critiqued. In so doing, you’ll learn the fine points of craft, when to use an outline, when to leave well enough alone, and how to turn your pages into a best-seller. Be prepared to live the life of a working novelist — reading selections and turning out 5-10 pages of your book each week — and then have the opportunity to speak with an agent or editor about how to sell your novel.

The tuition for this course is about $500. Now, this kind of workshop — in person, with a small group of very dedicated participants — is worth a great deal, especially if the teacher is good and knows how to mediate class discussions. I don’t know anything about Lauren Lipton, but for the moment I’ll assume she’s got a knack for teaching this stuff and knows her way around a seminar room.

So my question: do you think you’d do this, if you were in Manhattan and had the free time? Does this look like value for money?

Lipton also teaches a class in how to get an agent. In addition, there are many, many more courses offered, among them: technical skills (how to use InDesign), speech writing, how to break into magazine publishing as a freelancer, copyediting and writing humor. Most meet once a week for eight weeks, but there are some one and two day workshops. Some of them are on-line classes, quite a few are in Manhattan, with a couple scattered over the country (copyediting in Chicago, for example)..

What appeals to you, anything?

PS: do not forget to throw your name into the Friday-post hat. I’ll draw a name this evening

EDITED to add: I’m not planning to offer any on-line workshops or seminars. Somebody pointed out that this post might read that way, but I’m not. Really.