Sunday, February 28, 2010

Author Branding -- No Hogtying Necessary

If you’ve been hop scotching around to various writing blogs of late, no doubt you’re reading a lot about building your author “brand” and having an “online platform” from which to launch your work.

What does this mean? Well, without getting into a lot of technical marketing jargon, building your brand means the same thing for writers as it does for, say, the makers of Pine-Sol. People want to be sure that if they buy your book, it will clean their kitchen floor with no chemical residue and leave a fresh pine scent.

OK, actually what I think it means is that when people see your name on a book cover, they should know what to expect, and if you are consistent from one novel to the next, they will keep buying your books even if they don’t have a coupon.

I personally have taken this notion on board, and let me tell you what I’ve done so far in the interest of building my author brand. I don’t mean to make you feel bad – Lord knows that’s not my intention – but I think you should know just how far you’re falling behind in the great marketing race:

• Well, of course I have a completed manuscript, but more to the point, I also have my newest WIP well under way, along with complete outlines for fifteen more novels that are all variations on the same theme;

• I have a huge online presence that not only includes this (clearly awesome) blog but also four different Facebook accounts in seven different languages. And that’s in addition to three distinct websites that feature CGI images of my characters interacting with famous people (dead ones, of course, to avoid copyright infringement issues). I’m also running a software program on my mainframe that generates extremely funny statements of 140 characters or less just so I can post to Twitter every 90 seconds;

• I recently hired a personal assistant who handles my email, babysits, and works out for me so I can focus exclusively on my writing 19 hours a day. Sure, the kids have begun to call her Mom lately, and that stings a bit, but, hey, that’s a small price to pay for a chance to do a book series;

• I have twice crashed White House events because I’ve heard this will help boost my visibility;

• Recently I met a guy who knows a guy who’s going to talk to Steven Soderbergh about directing my first book trailer, so when we get our schedules in sync, we are good to go;

• I’ve already selected the designer dress I’m going to wear to the Academy Awards when my book is made into a movie. Remember that green Versace gown Jennifer Lopez wore at the MTV Music Awards, the one that got her all that attention? Mine’s just like that, except the neckline starts just below my kneecaps.

I know. I am way on top of things, and you are no doubt feeling self-conscious about your own paltry marketing strategy right about now. I don’t mean to pile it on, but unfortunately I’m now going to add something new to your already dizzying authorial to-do list.

Wait, you’re saying there’s more I should be doing?

Oh, yes. There’s more. Not only do you need to write a fabulous book and figure out how to market it effectively, but right now – and I mean RIGHT NOW, before you have signed a contract with either agent or publisher or really, before you’ve even finished writing your book -- you need to start thinking about all the ways you are going to leverage your success.

Wait. What? Leverage my success? What does that even mean?

Let me speak plainly, people: You need to have a plan for how you will be selling out down the road.

Now, I realize that you might be horrified at the thought of selling out, but trust me, rock stars do it all the time. Remember that Led Zeppelin song that Cadillac used for one of its commercials? And you were like, “Has hell just frozen over? Led Zeppelin is shilling for Cadillac now?”

I’m telling you, everybody does it and not only does everybody do it, they don’t even feel bad about it. Just think of all the stuff the Black Eyed Peas sell: antibiotic ointment, car insurance, seed packets for heirloom tomatoes, Plavix. They are actually proud of selling out because this is the new reality. Selling out is the next logical step in your development as a writer and for that reason, you need to plan for it. Besides, it shouldn’t be too hard. I mean, we all write stories with selling out in mind, right? I know I follow the George Lucas model of always inserting a character into my stories that could conceivably be turned into a plushy or an action figure. Better still, I’m thinking internationally already. I’ve got a line of merchandising items in mind that will only be available in parts of Asia because they are somewhat morally questionable, especially for someone who’s supposed to be writing books for young adults. These items include: cigarette lighters, diet pills, and a complete line of energy drinks with near-lethal levels of caffeine.

Horrible to contemplate, isn’t it? Yeah. Well. That’s life as an author, baby. You gotta be one step ahead every minute.

Of course I realize that this sort of strategizing is not for everyone. Some of you are too na├»ve or too full of integrity to ever be successful in the current marketplace. Sadly, it may come to pass that you have to face up to the fact that though you write well and people like your work, you just don’t have the stomach to take it to the next level.

Of course, you won’t know if you don’t try. So get out there and do some market testing. Go out onto the street corners of America and sell, sell, sell. Sell yourself until the vice squad picks you up. And if that does happen, no worries. I offer a complete line of bail bonds at very reasonable rates, designed especially for aspiring writers such as yourself.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The excitement here in the studio has been building to a fevered pitch all week. We’ve already had several episodes of urinary incontinence as a result. What’s this all about then? A clumsy and rather transparent attempt to boost my followership?  It's my MY FIRST EVER CONTEST, of course!


Two Grand Prize winners (that’s Grandes Gonadores de la Grasa for my readers in the Dominican Republic) will receive:

1) a stunningly insightful critique on a full manuscript;

2) my top secret list of YA agents; and

3) consultation and all-purpose cheering up as you embark on that perilous rite of publishing passage: yep, I'm talking about querying. Believe me, I’m who you want to sit next to at the bar when you’re feeling down and out. I am a genial drunk, and I often lose track of how many rounds of drinks I’m buying for other people. Plus, I tell everybody how much I love them (yeah, I’m that guy).

Of course, if you are not a YA writer, I will happily still do the critique. I also write adult literary fiction, so I’m perfectly comfortable with any and all 50 cent words you might choose to utilize. (Obviously the YA agent list will not be applicable, but the offer to be your comrade-in-arms during querying still stands.)***

Now, you may well be wondering, “What in the heck qualifies YOU to do a critique of MY manuscript, woman?” Fair question, fair question. Well, for one thing, my favorite book as a child was The Chicago Manual of Style, so I know my way around a comma pretty well. For another, I’ve got an MFA in writing from a Fancy Pantsy University, for whatever that’s worth. Also, I used to work for a couple well-known national magazines (I’ll be happy to name names if you email me, although you can figure it out pretty easily just by Googling my name). Also, I’ve proudly held several posts for which “Editorial Assistant” was the regal title and have copyedited a bunch of nonfiction books in that capacity.

More to the point, I am currently querying my first YA novel, and I have several partials and fulls out to agents at the moment, so I guess I know my way around well enough to get my manuscript requested. I’m also a proud practitioner of CCC – compassionate constructive criticism. That means you can count on getting honest, helpful feedback nestled on a fluffy bed of Easter grass.

Should you win, my only request is that you send to me what you would conceivably send to an agent. The less drafty your draft is, the more helpful I will be to you as a reader. But, really, I’m willing to help you at whatever stage you’re at. Winners can claim their critique at any time, so if you’re still mid-stroke on your manuscript, that’s all right. Whenever you’re ready to send, just let me know.

HOW TO ENTER: Add yourself as a blog follower AND/OR follow me on Twitter. THEN – here’s the crucial part -- send me an email with “Contest Entry” in the subject line. My email address is kalmdown(atsymbol) The email is necessary so I know who wants to be entered in the contest and who is merely following my blog/tweets because they are keen admirers of my sparkling prose and wit. I promise not to misuse your email address or send you junk mail. Frankly, I’m way too lazy to do anything like that anyway.

I will select the winners using some randomizer technology yet to be determined or maybe by throwing a dart at my computer screen. All entries must be received by Sunday, March 7, at 11:59, EST. I’ll announce the winners the following day. Questions? Please feel free to email me.

***Meghan Ward, you already get your choice of a critique, promotion assistance, or one of my lesser-used vital organs because you were my first ever Twitter follower. Actually, all of you reading this, go and check out Meghan’s blog: She’s writing a memoir with the hilarious title: “Paris on Less Than $10,000 a Day.” Tell her Kristen sent you.

Also, I’m gonna give credit to Elana Johnson for inspiring me to do a contest of my own: you can check out her awesome query advice at:

Well, what are you waiting for? Go on, git. Click their blog links already. And feel free to pass this info on to any and all interested parties.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The New Breed Standard

I have a very good dog. Really. She’s stupendous.

If she were a person, she’d be like, I don’t know, Nelson Mandela or something. She’s that good. I mean, she’d lend you money without asking why you needed it, or, if need be, tell you, “Give me your car keys. You’ve had too much to drink.”

We call her a West Virginia Sheptriever because, not surprisingly, she came from West Virginia – the nation’s leading exporter of unwanted puppies -- and she’s got a bit of Labrador Retriever and also a bit of border collie or Australian shepherd in her. Something like that. Whatever it is, it’s good stuff, and it produces a superior animal with a perky ears and a shaggy, waggy tail. Actually it’s the whole back end of her that wags. She just can’t help it.

Alas, good as she is, she could never compete in a dog show, could never come home with a trophy cup or a big, engraved crystal dish. And why is this? Because she’s a mutt. And the single reason she can’t compete in a dog show is because, as a mutt, there is no standard for her breed. Every mutt is unique, and therefore there is no way to compare one mutt to another. No breed standard means no judging which means no Best in Show and no champion blood lines.

Does that seem right to you? That a creature could be penalized for being unique? I mean, this is America! Unique is what we’re all about. This whole country is lousy with unique.

I’ll admit that it would be difficult to judge a bunch of animals that are all different in physical appearance, but couldn’t there be some other way to compare them? Say, by judging their temperament? Because this is where she would triumph. All I’d need to do is create one those fancy, puffed up AKC descriptions for her, and that is not a problem for me at all. I can do fancy, puffed-upness with the best of them.

So here it is – the breed standard for West Virginia Sheptrievers:

Known for its extreme friendliness and near-constant state of enthusiasm, the West Virginia Sheptriever is a hardy, good-natured dog with an all-encompassing, indiscriminate joie de vivre. An alert and ever agreeable companion, the WVS is loyal, pithy, humble, and always at ease in any social setting, though she never tries to outshine you in front of other people.

Infinitely adaptable, the WVS thrives in almost any climate or circumstance. She likes being indoors or outdoors equally – so equally, in fact, that she wants to go back and forth between the two several dozen times a day because she simply cannot decide which she prefers. Preternaturally gregarious, she falls passionately in love with everyone she meets and wants to play with every dog she encounters and doesn’t understand why the feeling isn’t mutual sometimes, though she suspects that some dogs have just had a rough start in life and so she doesn’t hold it against them when they growl or act aloof, although sometimes they can be kind of scary and mean, which makes her pee a little.

The WVS is a well-balanced, agile dog with a deft, insightful mind that helps you sort out some or your issues and gently points out areas where growth would be advisable if you ever hope to establish long-term, meaningful relationships. She is philosophical by nature, but also pragmatic. She is capable of conducting an energy audit on your home, and could give you pointers on how to save money on your water, gas and electric bills, but she wouldn’t because that would be kind of obnoxious unless, you know, you asked specifically.

But for the lack of a thumb, she’d happily use those sticky hair-removal things to clean her own dog hair off the furniture and could no doubt take exquisitely detailed messages when people called while you’re out. You could give her twenty bucks to run out to the store for beer, and she’d bring you the change. Heck, she’d give you the whole twenty back and say, “Hey, man, it’s on me.”

She doesn’t gossip, takes no pleasure in the failings of others, and stands up for you when people insinuate you can be kind of an ass sometimes.

Additionally she wants you to know that whatever take-out you want to order or whichever restaurant you’re in the mood for, that’s OK by her. Also, she likes your new super short hair cut and doesn't think it was a mistake. In fact, you’re perfect just the way you are and anyone would be lucky to have you.

Do you have a noble mutt? Do please leave an AKC description for him/her in the comments section.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Donner, Party of Five

Not surprisingly, the epic snow storm of the past few days has turned my thoughts to cannibalism.

Would I? Wouldn’t I? If I did, which part would I eat first? No, never that bit. Ew. Leave that for the dog to munch on.

Oh, come on! I’m just kidding, people! Sheesh. You anti-cannibalists have no sense of humor.

Things haven’t gotten to that stage yet, but they just might once the Blizzard of 2010, Part 9, moves through the area tomorrow. The grocery stores are still pretty well stocked. At the moment. I just returned from a snowy hike over to Whole Foods, and I was pleased to find that the organic salsa was still flowing freely, and their selection of goat cheeses were just as plentiful as ever. Thank GOD. But that could change in a heartbeat. That’s where that old saying comes from, after all: “Don’t count your goat cheese before the storm.”

And speaking of food, this morning, me, the hubs, and the kids were returning on foot from our eighth sledding trip of the week when we ran into that guy from the Discovery Health Channel, Nathan Lyon. He’s got his own cooking show. It’s all wholesome and stuff so I don’t watch it that much, even considering my cooking show addiction. I knew his parents lived nearby because one day I passed this house, and there was a huge banner on the porch advertising “A Lyon in the Kitchen.” I figured the guy who lived there was either the biggest fanboy ever or, you know, just a proud dad.

Anyway, the young Mr. Lyon was shoveling his dad’s car out – very nice of him -- and so we asked him for some recipe advice: “So what can I do with three scallions, a cup of snow, and a jar of mustard? ‘Cause that’s all we got in the kitchen at the moment.”

He said maybe he should do a blizzard-themed show on how to cook squirrel with a Bic lighter. Ha. I may have to start watching his show more often. Of course, you have to catch the squirrel first. There’s the tricky part. City folk aren’t as wily as some of the people I knew growing up. Do remind me to tell you the story of my summer job working in a factory and how, during break time, several people sitting around the table were discussing eating squirrel as kids. Yeah. That snapped me right out of my snotty, adolescent mood, I’ll tell you that much.

Seriously though, enough with the snow. We’re up to our bollocks in snow, and I don’t even have any bollocks. I do have Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, however, and I will use it. Some of you may recall some foolishness on my part, about swearing off it because one of its side effects is cellulite. But these are dark times. Dark, snowy times. And dark times call for dark beer. If you quote that, do remember to give me credit. Please. Or else I might eat you.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Voltaire vs. Steve Jobs

So. The iPad has been unveiled at last. It will be on the market in a few months. That is just great.

Soon legions of us will be toting these around. We’ll have portable access to books, magazines, databases, credit scores, great works of literature. Anything you like. You don’t have to miss a thing. EVER.

You know what I miss? I miss the days when no one knew what the hell was going on. These kind of technologies have ruined ignorance and guessing forever.

Already a new category of Know-It-All has arisen: the iPhone-It-All. You know someone like this, I’ll bet. You’re standing around, chatting and conjecturing about this or that. Next thing you know, there’s somebody whipping out the iPhone to look something up, either to make a point or in answer to a rhetorical question that has come up through the normal course of conversation.

The thing is, I truly don’t mind situations fraught with wondering. For example, thinking out loud along these lines, “I wonder if it’s going to be cold next week?” or “If I turn here, I wonder if that will get me to Route 1?” or even “I wonder what’ll happen if I add this entire box of Mentos to this 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke?”

I can wait to find out the answer to a lot of these questions in due time or maybe even through trial and error, but the iPhone-it-all has to ruin such contemplations by using his iPhone to tell you exactly what the barometric pressure will be next Thursday at 4 pm or for the previous forty years if you’re interested (No, really, that’s OK), or that you could cut your travel time by four minutes if you took the highlighted route. Or worse, the iPhone-It-All will explain the science behind the Diet Coke/Mentos fizz explosions instead of focusing on what really matters, which is that Diet Coke mixed with Mentos results in standing around for hours going, “Heh. That’s cool.”

Excess access to information does not make you more interesting. As Voltaire once wisely said, “The surest way to be a bore is to tell everything.” The iPhone is well on its way to making bores of a whole generation of users. Fortunately Voltaire had the good sense to die two hundred years ago. If he hadn't, Steve Jobs would have done him in.

Sadly, knowing everything does not make you more appealing, and that little fact really annoys nerds. They think it should work that way. In their estimation, he who knows the most should win. Maybe even get the girl. Don’t forget, the iPhone was invented by nerds, and nerds love data. They collect it, analyze it, rearrange it, argue about it, and smear it all over their bodies. Of course they think iPhones and iPads are what all of America wants. Who doesn't want to be RIGHT all the time, right? Right makes might, doesn’t it?

Now, I love me some nerds as much as the next gal -- I mean we live in the golden age of nerds after all so I'd better -- but is data exchange really the point of conversation? Of small talk? Of drunken postulations about the nature of our existence? No. It is not. To be human is to err. In other words, to guess and get it wrong and then guess again.

I’m no Luddite, and eventually I may even get one those iPad doo-hickeys, but if I do, I will keep it to myself. I figure if keep quiet about what I know and also keep wondering aloud, eventually I may become the most interesting person on earth. Or at the very least, I’ll become a darling of the iPhone-It-Alls. Who else are they going to show off to?