Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Around the Word

Konrath the Contrarian: We see a lot of articles offering marketing tips for writers, but few are as informed by experience and of true utility as this post from thriller author Joe Konrath's blog sharing the lessons he has learned about e-book selling through trial and error. While acknowledging up front that many factors outside an author's control affect sales, Konrath points out a few ways that writers can boost their odds. The obvious place to start: by exploiting all available sales platforms (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Overdrive in particular). He also pooh-poohs some of the traditional marketing avenues -- paid advertising, making public appearances, and putting out spam. "I fully believe that the ultimate reason I am selling so many e-books is because I got lucky."

Nice guys finish. . . . seventh? If you've ever played the game Telephone as a child, then you know first hand how easily words can be misunderstood, misrepresented, and ultimately mangled beyond their original meaning. The New Republic this week offers a fun little reminder that great figures in history are every bit as vulnerable to this phenomenon -- a digital slideshow of legendary misquotes from prominent public figures like George Washington, Voltaire, and that favorite American quipster, Patrick Henry. Indeed, if you've been repeating Henry's most famous exaltation, "Give me liberty or give me death!" you probably ought to thank his biographer, William Wirth, for penning the quote.   

For future reference: While Ronald Reagan may have had a slew of superb speechwriters at his disposal, none of them ever took the place of what our friend John Barnes refers to as his "future file." USA Today reports that the Gipper famously kept a stack of note cards where he jotted down lines from poems, meaningful quotes, and hoary jokes to hold for future reference. Recently rediscovered in a cardboard box at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, these cards have been edited into a book by historian Douglas Brinkley, The Notes: Ronald Reagan's Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom, that's set to hit shelves today. Do any of you keep your own "future file" to incorporate into later speeches? How often do you draw from it? 

Piggy-bank publishing: Financially-strapped writers take note -- author Mindy Klasky is currently testing a novel twist on literary fundraising that bears watching. According to GalleyCat, Klasky's new book, Fright Court, will be published by chapters online. At the end of each post readers are encouraged to send donations through PayPal. Donors will receive a myriad of small gifts including magnets and personalized, signed posters for their support. Klasky has opted to try this approach -- dubbed the "Reader-Supported Serialized Novel" -- after already putting out several books through traditional publishing channels with limited success. 

Short is sweet: Researchers at the Poynter Institute have found that the key predictor of what keeps peoples' attention when they read online is paragraph length. "The bottom line," according to Ragan, "is that stories with shorter paragraphs got more than twice as many overall eye fixations as those with longer paragraphs." If you feel that your writing falls on the lengthy side of the spectrum, Ragan provides a few tips on how to tighten it up. For example, simply hitting the "return" key more often and using bullets to break up a series of three or more items can instantly clear up clutter.

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