Steve, other than hiring a publicist, what’s the most important thing a writer of the West can do to promote a book?
The first thing would be to make sure the ring of electronic communication is setup: Web site, Facebook, Twitter, blog if desired, and learn how to use them to their greatest advantage. A publicist can help with this and well worth the money if the author struggles to understand it. And on all those platforms, keep the information short, simple, and easy to locate and navigate. I think one big hang-up I see on several author sites is that they have too much information and in this time of fast-paced life and shorter attention spans, the site visitors will give up. Secondly, set up book tours. This can be expensive, but well worth the money if you target the right demographics and booksellers. Book stores in general are not a good venue. High traffic areas, like grocery stores, discount stores, book fairs and arts and craft shows, tend to be more successful. I know quite a few authors that rent vendor spaces at trade shows and do very well (which can be shared with other authors to split the expenses). Even if they break even they still succeed in getting their name out there in the reading public. At my very own ReadWest “meet the authors” conference, we are providing vendor tables at a very affordable rate. They can even rent half a table if that better suits their needs.
How do you find time to write with all your travel appearances?
It’s pretty much a matter of discipline, focus, and good time management. I fly to most of my engagements or events, and the time on the plane is truly one of my most productive times. At this very moment I’m completing this interview on a flight home, and on the previous flight I wrote 2,000 words of a short story I’m working on. In these times, flying is much cheaper than driving to distant locations, and, of course, if I drive I can’t work. The mornings and nights in the hotel rooms are also valuable times. I make it a point to do my important reading and writing in the morning when my mind is clear and I can focus. And in the evenings, or whenever I happen to have some down time in my room, I review, edit, or write if need be.
What can we do to increase public awareness of our genre? Do you think there has been a resurgence of interest in the Western genre?
We, as authors and publishers, have to work together. This has been something I have monitored and taken to heart for the past 15 years, and anyone who knows me will agree that it is a passion of mine. Not all ideas are good ones, but we should listen to them, share our brains and make them better. Some will lead down different roads and create positive moments for the genre. The ReadWest Foundation, unlike writing organizations, focuses on growing readership. We join forces with fellow authors and roundup various authors/titles of fiction and nonfiction that are spread out over the publishing world and bring them under one spotlight. And we focus on the well-knowns, like Stephen Harrigan, Thomas Cobb, Hampton Sides, H. W. Brands, and crowd around them. We want the reading public to know that this is no longer our grandpa’s Western. Our stories are universally attractive and our audience is diverse.
As for a resurgence, there certainly has not been in the publishing world, but data will show that the audience is there, they were just difficult to reach in the past and present business models of the publishing world.The Western genre has to be published and distributed differently than any other for it to survive or even grow. At Goldminds Publishing, which I am a cofounder, we have started a business plan that will focus entirely on the Western genre. I have joined forces with Pat LoBrutto, who has become our editorial director, and he has thirty years experience in the commercial publishing industry. He was Westerns editor for Bantam Doubleday and M. Evans, and others, worked with the Louis L’Amour estate, and knows the genre as well as any other. He also shares our belief that the system of distribution has to change, and we have developed a business model to take that on. Who would have thought, Western fiction a primary focus? Hardcover originals in a time where big publishers are even dropping the mass market paperback? We believe that the bailout in New York will leave behind a viable customer base for a small publisher to capitalize on, and it’s already off to a great start.
Advice to fledgling writers.
Write and read as much as you can in the subject(s) you are interested in. You can never do too much of either one, but you can do too little.
Network with other aspiring writers, in local writers groups or clubs. Form your own if you have to. Share your work and get constructive criticism. Listen to what they have to say even if you don’t agree with it, and don’t try to defend yourself. You’re still the master of your work and you only have to use what you think will help you. Useless debates are a waste of time.
Attend writing conferences, especially in your genre, where you can learn the craft from the best in the business. This will also help you make contact with other successful writers who can mentor you, and also meet potential agents and publishers.
Understand the book markets. Know who is successful in your field, and who is publishing your subject matter. Through anomalies happen, they are still anomalies. Write from your heart but don’t expect the unexpected. If you like action Westerns, understand that it is one of the fastest shrinking markets in the business. Consider other genres, like mystery, romance, horror thrillers, and include the ethos of the West there, if that helps.
Learn how to write a good synopsis. A synopsis is a condensed version of your story, which can be from 1 to 20 pages (about 5-10 is best), and written in present tense. This is where you “tell” your story, rather than “show” it. It follows the full plot, from the inciting moment, through the central conflict, to the climax and resolution. In the synopsis you MUST tell how your story ends.
Be able to tell what your story is about in 25 words or less. For example, when I wrote The True Father and was pitching it to editors, I would say, “It’s about a college graduate looking for his identity, and he finds it in rural Oklahoma.” That is exactly what it’s about, and it gives the editor a sense of place. A good way to practice this is by taking some of your favorite books or movies and doing them in the same way. This will help you find the story in your own story, so to speak.
Query agents and editors. Find their submission guidelines and get your work out there. This will also help you experience and learn how to accept rejection. It will only make you stronger. The more you send out, the better your chances of getting your manuscript read. Remember, at first a successful query is not one that gets your manuscript bought, it’s one that gets it read. There are many agents that allow online submissions through an online form. Before submitting, type the info into a word processor, making sure it’s free of errors and that it makes good sense, then copy and paste the info into the form.
Make sure you’re set up with email and familiar with attaching documents. Editors and agents today do not want a printed manuscript. They read them on electronic readers, like the Kindle or Nook, and will want it sent by email attachment. Nearly all my communication today, comes in the form of email with an occasional phone call.
Network with professional writers, agents, editors, or anyone in the business. You can do this online but typically at annual conferences. Get to know them so they know who you are year after year. And don’t worry too much about pitching your work at first. I call this “posturing.” Be a genuine, interesting person, so much to the point that they end up asking you about your work rather than you trying desperately to make them interested.
Never, never, give up!
Thanks, Steve. You can visit Steve at his web site: www.stevenlaw.comFacebook: www.facebook.com/authorstevenlaw