Thursday, June 11, 2015

What Would You Do?

Here's a simple message to meditate upon today. What would you do?

Have a Thoughtful Thursday.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Everything Has Already Been Invented: A Refute

“Everything that can be invented, has been invented." --Charles Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Patent Office, 1899

At one of my writing groups, a fellow writer said off-handedly (during a discussion about creating mythical beasts in fantasy writing) that, “pretty much everything has been written, so you shouldn’t worry about reusing or recycling known tropes, like unicorns or dragons. Around the room, people nodded and no one refuted him. The conversation moved on to whether or not your fictional creatures should have some sort of cosmology and the topic of inventing new storylines and monsters was dropped.

I moved on as well, but something about that statement bothered me. It seemed so fatalistic, so glass-half-empty. And I wondered if it was true. Has everything already been written in one form or another? Are we just revamping tired stories with new characters, settings, and technologies? Are we resigned to creating yet another Terminator sequel instead of coming up with a fresh plot?


I firmly disagree that everything has already been created, that every story has been told.

When Charles Duell said the above quote in 1899, he truly thought that nothing new could be invented. They had it all, right? Sophisticated transportation (horse and buggy), modes of communication (telegraph), and incredible home technology (the gas-lit lamp). Nothing new to invent, right?

Today, his statement is laughable. We’ve seen millions of new technologies and improvements since 1899.

Here’s the crux of what I’m getting at: Just because Duell couldn’t envision new technologies at the time, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t happen. His lack of vision didn’t stop Ford from inventing the model-T, Orville and Wilbur from taking the first flight, and Al Gore from inventing the internet (kidding, kidding).

In the same vein, I’m certain not every story has been told. Just because you can’t think of anything new, doesn’t mean there is nothing new.

In short, don’t impose your limitations on me.

Thousands of people write novels every year. Sure, many of them might recycle plot lines or character themes, but some of them are truly fresh and innovative.

So, keep writing. Keep imagining. And don't impose others' narrow-mindedness on yourself.

Kate Bitters is the author of Ten Thousand Lines and Elmer Left.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am a fan of Marquez, and magic realism in general, but this one didn't have the same pull as some of his other works. I loved the first bit; I love the ending, but the middle was kind of...meh. I got the sense that Marquez had to write SOMETHING to keep the plot going, but it all seemed more like a vehicle to get to the (amazing) ending.

[Some spoilers ahead]

The thing I liked best about the first couple chapters was the "ah-ha" moment when you realize the book is not about Dr. Urbino Juvenal. Marquez makes a masterful twist at the end of chapter one when our supposed protagonist dies and the story wildly changes perspectives. He had me there; he lost me shortly after that.

The reason? It's tedious to describe what someone does with their life for 50 years, no matter how artful the writing. In this case, Marquez describes two lives--that of the illustrious Fermina Daza and that of the hopelessly romantic FLorentino Ariza. In their youth, they had something like a romance (although it mostly involved writing an excessive number of love letters to one another), but Ms. Daza eventually rejected Ariza and made a sensible marriage to Dr. Urbino Juvenal. What follows, is a tedious catalogue of both Daza's life and Ariza's--their tiny adventures, his multiple lovers (they all blend together for me), her little trips to Europe. By the time the book caught up to Dr. Urbino's death, the only thing I could think was, "Finally! Now we can move forward with the plot).

The ending is the big pay-off of this book. If you stick with it, it's worth it (or you could just read the first 50 pages and the last). The ending beautifully and tragically describes elderly love--the smells, the feel, the objections from younger generations, the realization that one's body doesn't behave like it once did. It's a moving portrayal of two young souls in elderly bodies. THIS is the story to me. THIS is where Marquez' writing comes alive. If only it hadn't taken 300 pages to get there.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Double Book Release Challenge #3: Book Release Party

Last Sunday, I released both my novel (Ten Thousand Lines) and my children's book (¿Cómo se Llama tu Llama?) into the world. It's a scary thing--letting others' eyes see your work, letting your naked heart beat outside your body. You open yourself up to critique and criticism, boredom and indifference. But you also open yourself up to the possibility that your words will resonant with some people, that you will cause them to pause and think about the world in a different way.

Kate Leibfried Como Se Llama Tu Llama
My favorite part about this photo collage is Pat Benatar looking over my shoulder...

So, how to give your words the pomp and circumstance they deserve? Throw a party.

A book release party is not only essential for garnering interest and making sales, it can also be fun and amazingly gratifying. Last week, I was truly humbled as nearly 100 of my friends and acquaintances showed up to support my work. At times, the sheer volume of people was overwhelming and my hand cramped up from signing my books so many times.

How can YOU make your book release party a success? Here are a few tips:

Your network is of utmost importance here and you shouldn't leave anyone out. Invite your friends, Facebook acquaintances, co-workers, members of your writing groups. I even invited my hair stylist because, hey, why not?
Create an event on Facebook and one on GoodReads and invite your entire contact list. You just never know who is going to show up.
I also created little flyers (4 to a standard sheet of paper) and passed them out to my network.

How do you get such a fabulous network in the first place? It doesn't happen overnight. Join a few writing or community action groups (but don't do this disingenuously. If you're not interested in what you're doing, people can tell) and be an active member in them. But the true key to gaining support for your work is to SUPPORT OTHERS! Buy others' books, attend friends' concerts, help co-workers move. In sum: Be a good person and a reliable friend, and others will come through for you. This is how the world goes round.

Choose a great venue
Chatterbox Kate Bitters Book release
Your guests will want some food, beverages, and entertainment. They'll want a space to relax and enjoy others' company. I chose the Chatterbox Pub in S. Minneapolis. They have a wonderful back room (which they were willing to reserve for the party), a great menu, beer and wine, and board games. Plus, their staff was endlessly enthusiastic and supportive. Win!

Create a take-away
I think of a "take-away" as not just a party favor, but something meaningful that your guests can take home with them. I created a bookmark with my book on one side and a list of "10 Ways to Help an Author" on the other. It's a fun memento that also provides a little insight into what actions best help indie authors.
You could also give out personalized pens, magnets, or copies of poems you've written. Keep it simple and don't spend too much.

Do some readings
Readings help connect the audience with your story and provide some conversation fodder. Aim for a 2-3 minute segment that is A) interesting and intriguing and B) doesn't give away major plot points. During a four hour stretch, I did three readings and that seemed about right. When you do your readings, don't forget to say THANK YOU to everyone who showed up.

Station yourself in one spot
It's just easier. If you flit around, you'll tire yourself out and you might accidentally skip over someone. If someone wants to talk to you, let them approach you. And (of course) keep a stack of books by your side.

Other Tips
Here are some tidbits I've learned:
-Wednesdays and Sundays are the best days for book launch parties (Not sure why, but that's what I've read.)
-Background music helps (I have a friend who plays acoustic guitar and she added to the nice, relaxed ambiance).
-Enlist the help of a friend or significant other to help with payments (It's hard to sign a book, keep up a conversation, and take a payment at the same time. My wonderful partner, Eric, ran credit cards as I chatted with friends).
-Use Square (about 50% of sales were by credit card. Square is essential).
-Say thank you. Let everyone know how much they mean to you
-Take a deep breath! Your book launch party will fly by; make sure you take the time to enjoy it.

Good luck, have fun, and keep writing.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Double Book Release CHALLENGE #2: Websites & Profiles

I have a lot of websites.

I have one for my pen name (under which I write novels), one for my actual name (for freelance work and children's books), one for my novel Elmer Left, and one for my novel Ten Thousand Lines. On top of that, I have various profiles associated with my writing:
If you felt exhausted just reading that list, imagine keeping up with it all! But the thing is, you don't have much of a choice. Given the demand for up-to-date, of-the-moment information (just think about how often Wikipedia pages are updated), people expect your social media platforms and websites to be current.

I've slogged through it on my own--updating things at random whenever they popped into my mind--but, there's a better way. Make a list [once] and refer back to it whenever you have any major changes you'd like to advertise across world wide web channels.

I've already done the heavy lifting and I'm here to help you with that list...

First, gather these materials:

  • Thumbnail of book cover
  • Larger image of book cover
  • Updated bio (with new info about your latest work)
  • Updated photograph (it's always good to refresh your photo every couple of years)
  • Link to your personal website
  • Link to the marketplace (site where someone can purchase a book)

Then, add to/enhance these sites*:
  • Personal website: Home Page** (May want to include an Amazon widget for selling book)
  • Personal website: About Page**
  • GoodReads: Author Page Profile** (If you don't have one, apply! It's easy)
  • GoodReads: Personal Profile
  • GoodReads: Add your book to GoodReads
  • Amazon: Author Central Profile
  • Twitter: Bio
  • Facebook: Personal bio
  • Facebook: Author Page bio**
  • LinkedIn: Bio**
  • Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, etc: Bio
  • Blog: Bio and add images of your new book**

*This probably goes without saying, but you should always include a link to your book's "for sale" page in each bio you write.
**Include links to both your paper copy and your eBook

Other things to think about:

  • Updating your email signature to include something about your new book
  • Creating a book release party event through Facebook and GoodReads
  • Letting your writing groups know you're launching a new book
  • Updating your event page to include your book launch party
Are you exhausted yet? Good thing you have this handy checklist, eh? Best of luck with updating all your infrastructure. It will all be worth it in the end!

Happy writing,

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Double Book Release Challenge #1: Social Media

Recently, I announced the release of two books on the same day. One is a novel, written under my pen name. The other, a children's book, written under my actual name. I anticipated some challenges, but several things caught me off guard. For instance, the sheer amount of time I would devote to social media.

Now, I'm NOT a novice when it comes to social media. In addition to freelance writing, I also do a fair bit of social media marketing for my clients, across several different platforms, using all the handy social media scheduling tools and best practices I've learned from hours of research. Great. However, it's a totally different ball game when you're self promoting.

When I tweet or post something for a client, I usually toss it into the interwebs and see what sticks. I sometimes reply to others' comments or questions, but mostly leave that duty in the capable hands of my clients (we want some authentic interaction, right?). However, when I began promoting my own stuff this past week, I felt obligated to reply to (or at least "Like") every comment someone left about my books. Not only that, I was so overwhelmed with the giddy joy that people were coming out of the woodwork to support my accomplishment, that I spent hours checking my Facebook page, seeing if I had any new Likes or comments. I couldn't help it. My post reached the levels of "I just had a baby" status and I swelled with pride.

But, I was distracted. I wasted time checking on the progress of one particular post, when I should have been updating my GoodReads profile, scheduling tweets, and working on book launch party preparations. So yes, it was fun to be the star of my social media network for a while, but I wallowed a little too much in my own success. Time to move on, Kate! You've got shit to do.

Of course, social media marketing is essential for the modern writer to reach any kind of audience outside of his/her friends and family. With that in mind, my main piece of advice is this: remember your audience. Think about them before you think about yourself. There are only so many times you can say, "Hey, my novel is done!" before it gets as stale as the cereal that falls between the bag and the box (for some reason I always think it's a good idea to try those trapped cereal flakes when the box is empty. Maybe that's the whole lesson, isn't it? Ignore the stale flakes and focus on the fresh stuff!)

In short, it's been a challenge for me to:
 A) Keep up with social media demands (I currently use 7 platforms...just typing that makes me feel exhausted)
B) Remember my social media best practices (I'm dwelling too much on certain posts and completely neglecting other platforms)
C) Simultaneously promote two books at the same time

The next challenge? Updating 3 websites and the various profiles I have on GoodReads, Amazon Author Central, etc. In my next post, I'll include a checklist to help you update your website and profiles when a major change (like a newly published book) occurs.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

One Week, Two Books

It's been an insanely busy couple of months for me and, sadly, I've been neglecting my blog. At least I have a good excuse for my absence: I released not one, but TWO books this week. Whew! It's been a ride. Book One is the dystopian novel I've been working on for about four years now, entitled Ten Thousand Lines.  Book Two is a children's book written in Spanish, entitled ¿Cómo se Llama Tu Llama? (What is the name of your llama).

Over the next few weeks, I intend to write about what it's like to finish two books simultaneously (this is actually the second time I've done this, in a way. In spring 2013, I finished writing Ten Thousand Lines in the same month I finished ghost writing a book for a client). I'll also share some insight on marketing, important links to put on your website, and planning a great book release party. If you have any questions about my publishing choices or how on earth I pulled off finishing two books at the same time (in addition to working multiple freelance writing jobs), just ask!

Stay tuned and check out my websites for Ten Thousand Lines and ¿Cómo se Llama Tu Llama?

Happy writing!