Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuckerization in the Third ASHFALL Book!

Would you like to be immortalized in the third and final volume of the ASHFALL trilogy? Bid on this item!

I will put any name you choose (within reason) in the third and final book in the ASHFALL trilogy as a minor character. The title and publication date for this book are not set.

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the libro-traficante effort. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm on Wednesday, March 7th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!

Bid to Win an ARC of ASHEN WINTER!

Would you like to read ASHEN WINTER, the sequel to ASHFALL, 5 months before everyone else gets a chance? Sure you would. Bid in the comments below to win the first advance reading copy (ARC) I get.

I will sign the first ASHEN WINTER ARC that falls into my grubby hands and mail it to you anywhere in the world at my expense. I don't know precisely when this prize will be available--probably April or May, but I do guarantee you'll get the very first copy I mail out.

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the libro-traficante effort. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm on Wednesday, March 7th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!

Signed First Edition of ASHFALL and Poster

Bid in the comments below to win a signed, first edition of ASHFALL and an autographed ASHFALL poster.

The first edition of ASHFALL has been sold out since November and is not available in bookstores, but I have about a dozen copies left. I will autograph and customize a copy any way you like and ship it to you anywhere in the world.

But wait, there's more...

The winning bidder will also receive a signed, limited-edition ASHFALL poster from my personal stash. There are only 15 of these left. Here's a picture of one:

Winning bidders will make donations directly to the libro-traficante effort. The minimum bid is $10 and all bids should be in increments of $1 or more. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if you win. Bidding ends at 9 pm on Wednesday, March 7th. There's a full explanation of the auction and rules here. Good luck!


¡Viva Los Libro-Traficantes!*

So, are you all aware of the libro-traficante effort? Here's a funny video explaining this very serious protest:


Basically, Arizona has banned ethnic studies and in response, school districts have been forced to pull a wide range of books off their shelves. A group of authors, publishers, and organizations is organizing an effort to smuggle banned books back into Arizona and set up underground libraries.

I'm behind the libro-traficantes one hundred percent. Every person has the right and responsibility to learn his or her own heritage, be it Mexican, Irish, African, or what-have-you. If we were going to ban all study of immigrants, we wouldn't be allowed to learn anything but Native American history. But of course Arizona is banning Native American books, too, effectively whitewashing their entire curriculum. This law is stupid, racist, and unconstitutional. (I'm totally shocked Arizona would pass a backward law like this. Not.) So I've sent in my meager donation. (You can donate here.)

Anyway, I want to do more than chip in a little money, so I'm asking you, my fans, to help. I'm holding a mini-auction with three prizes:

1) A signed FIRST edition of ASHFALL plus a signed poster. The first editions are no longer available in stores. There are only 15 of the ASHFALL posters left.  I'll ship the poster and book anywhere in the world at my expense. Bid here.

2) An Advance Reading Copy (ARC) of the forthcoming ASHEN WINTER. As soon as I receive my author ARCs from Tanglewood, I'll rush to the post office and send you an autographed one (probably in April or May.) ASHEN WINTER ARCs won't be widely distributed until July, and the book won't be out until October, so you'll get to read it 5-6 months early! I'll ship the ARC anywhere in the world at my expense. Bid here.

3) Tuckerization in the third and final ASHFALL book (title and release date TBD). I'll include any reasonable name of your choice as a minor character in the third and final ASHFALL book. Bid here.

Rules:

1) All three auctions will be open until 9 pm EST on Wednesday, March 7th.

2) Bid by commenting on the item page with an amount and email address. High bid wins. Minimum bid is $10. Bid in increments of $1 or more, please. All bids should be in U.S. dollars.

3) If bids go high enough, I may award multiple copies of any of these prizes.

4) Winning bidders will be informed by email. Each winning bidder has 48 hours to make the promised donation directly to Libro-traficantes via Paypal and forward the receipt to me via email. ASHFALL first editions and posters will be mailed immediately--the other two prizes will be fulfilled as soon as possible.

If you have questions, comment on this post or email me at mike.mullin.writer at gmail dot com, please. Save the comment sections of the item posts for bids. Thanks for your support and good luck!

*Thank you to Alba Solarzano for supplying the ¡ for the title of this post.

Monday, February 27, 2012

All Dystopian Novels Are Realistic Fiction

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

It occurred to me on Friday that I've been blogging at the League of Extraordinary Writers for two months now and still haven't covered any topic directly related to the blog's theme: young adult dystopian novels. But the only thing I wanted to write about was library lending of ebooks. That topic is probably more comedy than dystopia, though, so I stuck that post on my own blog and turned to Twitter for help.

Luckily @TristinaWright came to my rescue. (Go follow her. She's an interesting tweep. Which should be a species of bird but, fortunately for her, is not.) She suggested the topic, "all dystopia is sci-fi," which I like because I disagree with that statement, and as a novelist I lurve me some conflict.

Yes, most dystopian novels are wrapped in a shiny veneer of future tech. Or a grungy layer of apocalyptic dirt. But the statement that all dystopian novels are sci-fi is wrong both at the level of text and subtext.

For example, dystopian novels can be historical fiction, like Ruta Sepetys' brilliant Shades of Grey. They can be realistic fiction, like Mitali Perkins' Bamboo People. We even have dystopian non-fiction such as Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Kor. All of these depict societies, real or imagined, in which state power has run amok to the extreme detriment of many citizens.

On a subtextual level, even nominally sci-fi dystopias can be read as realistic fiction. As I've mentioned before in this space, I read The Hunger Games as a commentary on income inequality in the United States (it also pokes at reality television, of course.) Julia Karr's work can be read as a chilling imagining of what will follow if those waging the current war on women succeed. All dystopian science fiction is at a deeper level a commentary on the society in which the writer created the work. The dystopian elements of my debut novel, ASHFALL, are firmly grounded in real post-disaster dystopias. (Read A Paradise Built in Hell and Zeitoun if you're interested in the non-fictional inspiration for ASHFALL's dystopian elements.) Therefore, the title to this blog post: All dystopian novels are realistic fiction. (Look for them in that section of your local Barnes & Noble. The staff will love that, trust me.)

What do you think? Am I nuts? (Wait. Don't answer that question. Just let me know if this blog post is nuts.) Let's chat in the comments.

Friday, February 24, 2012

An Idea for Lending Ebooks

Did you see the Annoyed Librarian's post this week? A year ago HarperCollins decided to cap library borrowing for their ebooks at 26 copies. Many librarians were outraged and vowed to boycott HarperCollins ebooks. Now the boycott is breaking down.

Well, here's the Annoyed Author's take on it. I wish the publishing industry would get its crap together. Librarians are great customers, and we should be treating them like royalty.

It shouldn't be that hard. There are three competing interests here:
1) Library patrons want to borrow ebooks for their ereaders. Preferably without having to wait forever.
2) Librarians want to keep their patrons happy and their budgets under control.
3) Publishers and authors want to get paid for their work.


So all we need to do is find a solution that satisfies each of these three groups. Here's one possibility, although I'm sure there are others: rent the ebooks to the libraries instead of selling them.

Ebooks aren't really a tangible good like paper books anyway--they're a license. (If you're curious where I draw the line between tangible and intangible, it's this: anything that's gone after an EMP burst is not tangible. Also, anything that Amazon can gank off your Kindle is not really yours.)

So, let's take a hypothetical book priced at $26 to libraries. Instead of charging $26 up front for each e-copy and only allowing readers to check it out one at a time, HarperCollins would charge the library $1 each time a patron checks out the book. The net effect is the same--the library is buying 26 uses of that book.

Everyone wins. Library patrons can borrow the ebook without waiting for someone else to finish reading it first. The loan of the ebook is still free for patrons, just like borrowing a physical or ebook is now.

Libraries only pay for the books that actually circulate. Offering the books to lend would be free, so every library could offer a massive collection. If demand from patrons is so great that it strains the budget, libraries would handle it the same way they do now--cutting back on purchasing materials, i.e. limiting the circulation of ebooks so that the library stays within budget. If I were running an out-of-money library, I'd put a donation button right there with the ebook checkout button and allow patrons to pay the license fee even if the library can't.

Publishers and authors at a minimum would be no worse off than today. They're getting the same amount per use as they do under the current model. I suspect publishers and authors would actually do much, much better under this model because more of our work would be available for e-checkout. Also, just like with physical books, many patrons will check out the ebooks, not get around to reading them before the check out period is up, and wind up buying them. Or buying them to reread. The bottom line is any model that exposes more books to more people while providing a revenue stream back to the publisher and author will be good for the industry in the long term.

This shouldn't be so hard. It's basic customer satisfaction work. Here's hoping the publishing industry figures it out before someone (like Amazon) does it for them.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mrs. Gick's Library

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

Last week in this space I wrote about two uncomfortable experiences I had while visiting libraries. But I’ve presented in dozens of school and public libraries over the last six months, and the vast majority of those visits have been wonderful. So this week I’d like to talk about the value of libraries. I’ll illustrate my point with a story about a typical library visit.

On December 9th I spent the day with Sherry Gick at Rossville Middle/High School. The library wasn’t the biggest one I’d seen, or the newest, or the fanciest. If anything, it looked a little tired. Until the students came in, that is. I’ve never seen a group of teens more excited about reading, their library, or their librarian.

The book discussions over lunch were non-stop and so varied as to be dizzying. We didn’t just talk about my book, ASHFALL—we covered Cashore, Collins, Shusterman and a host of paranormal romance authors I haven’t read. I finally wolfed my cold slice of pizza during the passing period after lunch.



This is what a great library does: It develops passionate readers. How does Mrs. Gick achieve this? Even in my brief time there, I noticed a few things. First, the library is laid out like a bookstore. Fiction is separated by genre—science fiction, paranormal romance, realistic fiction, etc. Big, inviting signs hang over each section. The books all have their original covers, and some of them are faced out. There are paperbacks available for those who prefer them. And the first thing you see as you walk in isn’t a row of computers; it’s a book display on the counter of the library desk. (The computers are around the corner to your right.)

But even more important than the physical layout of the library is its emotional tone. The first question students hear isn’t, “Do you have a pass?” it’s something more like, “How are you doing today, Todd?” One girl told me she volunteered to work in the library during 7th period because it helped her wind down after a stressful day of classes. That she loved the library because it felt “safe”—her word, not mine. Another student told me about coming to Mrs. Gick for assistance with a disturbing and thorny issue with another teacher, and how Mrs. Gick had helped her resolve it. These teens have so much trust in their library and librarian that they feel comfortable asking anything. During our discussion of ASHFALL, one student wanted to know about my use of the term “spooning”—did that mean Alex and Darla were having sex? As I listened to the question, I expected raucous laughter and teasing. Instead, her question was met with nods and some embarrassed glances. What followed was a thoughtful discussion about the definition of spooning and the role of sex in ASHFALL—why it wouldn’t have been appropriate for Alex and Darla to have sex in the scene under discussion, and whether it was appropriate at all.

By all measures—books circulated, computers used, and classes taught—Mrs. Gick’s library and thousands like it are excelling. But both school and public libraries across the country are facing devastating budget cuts. Between 2000 and 2008, the per-student funding available for school library materials fell 31% in the U.S. It’s not that we lack money for education. Between 2002 and 2008 we increased spending on standardized testing by 160%. Overall education spending increased 21% between 2000 and 2005. Why do we starve libraries while throwing bushel baskets of money at testing companies like McGraw-Hill? The short answer is that McGraw-Hill has better lobbyists than the American Library Association. (Which industry do you think spent more on lobbying in 2011—defense or education? If you guessed defense, you’re wrong.)

Library funding is being cut despite a long and rich history of studies linking school libraries to student achievement. But the most important way libraries matter isn’t measurable in studies. It’s the things librarians like Mrs. Gick do—creating passionate readers and providing students a safe place to reflect and learn. Let’s spend more time and money on what works—reading, libraries, and librarians—and reduce the amount of time and money wasted on standardized tests. Every student deserves a library like Mrs. Gick’s.

p.s. If you’re interested in having a day of presentations at your school or library like the one I did at Mrs. Gick’s school, I’m offering them at no charge in 2012 and for a nominal fee in 2013.  There’s more information here.

Mrs. Gick and me

Monday, February 13, 2012

I Write Dirty Books, and I'm Proud of It

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

Here’s one of the questions I’ve been asked frequently about my debut novel, ASHFALL: “Is it clean?” The first time the question came up, I was taken aback—what did he mean? I examined the stack of books on the table beside me—had I spilled my coffee and not noticed? After checking over a couple of the books, I reassured the questioner—yep, they’re clean. 

The librarian standing next to me was shaking her head. “He’s asking about the content,” she whispered. “Oh,” I replied, “it’s about an apocalypse, realistically depicted. It's violent.”

“That’s fine,” said the guy—a pastor—picking up a copy.

The librarian was still shaking her head. “There are, um, sexual situations in the book,” she said. The guy’s eyes widened, he set down the book, and marched away.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought, any kind of violence is okay but the mere mention of sex is not? ASHFALL has a scene in which Alex, the hero, knocks a man’s eye out of his skull. That’s better than two teens exploring their mutual attraction in a responsible, loving way? What exactly does that say about our culture? (None of the sex in ASHFALL is explicit, by the way—it all happens “off-screen,” during the chapter breaks. But if it were explicit, so what? It's not an illustrated book.)

I thought the pastor might be an aberration, but sadly, he wasn’t.  At one school I visited, the librarian prepared the students by reading the eye-popping scene out loud but scolded me for including fade-to-black “sex” scenes in the book.

I maintained my sense of indignation for months. Perversely, every time I was asked if ASHFALL was clean, I’d say no, it’s violent. I held out hope that eventually I’d find someone who would turn away from my work because of the violence, not because of a responsible teenage romance—gasp—realistically depicted. But if those people are out there—those who value love more highly than war—they’re awfully quiet.

But this is the world we live in. A video of a father taking a .45 to his daughter’s laptop goes viral, winning the approbation of millions—but one of him punishing her in a reasonable way, then hugging her and reassuring her of his love, despite her ridiculous outburst, would probably have been met with yawns.

For a while I responded by objecting to the question. If any book that mentions sex is dirty, isn’t the hidden assumption that all sex is dirty? Should we be burdening teens with that idea, rather than sharing the more truthful and sane message that sex is special and worth waiting for? (One wag on Twitter suggested that if I thought sex was clean I was doing it wrong. I’ll admit that possibility—I’ve been married for 19 years and in a committed, monogamous relationship for 25, so my experience is limited.)

Now I’ve decided to embrace the question. I still don’t like the implications of ‘dirty’ versus ‘clean,’ but I doubt I can change the way others use those terms. So yes, I write dirty books. Dirty in the sense of rich, fecund, and fertile. Dirty like this:


 Not clean like this:


And we need more dirty books for teens. More books that provide fertile soil for growth.  Dirty books accomplish two things: First, they can give a lifeline to teens who are experiencing, or might experience, difficult issues. Second, dirty books can help redress the precipitous drop in guys’ reading that occurs between middle and high school.

My book, ASHFALL, is intended to entertain. But some dirty books save lives. Cheryl Rainfield’s brilliantly dirty Scars, for example, provides hope for kids experiencing the kind of sexual abuse she survived. A patch of good dirt in which a life can grow. Can even be saved, perhaps.

Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl asks the question, “What happens after you make a mistake—have sex too early and with the wrong person?” It’s an important story—relevant to something on the order of half of all U.S.teenagers. How could that story even be told, if we limited ourselves to reading and  writing “clean” books? If that were all we stocked in our schools and libraries? It’s a story that has to be dirty, and is appropriately dirty, in that it ends in growth, life, and hope.

This is part of the reason I’ve decided to embrace the dirty label, instead of continuing to struggle against it. Dirt makes our children stronger, in a literal as well as a figurative sense. I’m a writer now only because my parents had the foresight to take me out of a sterile, antiseptically clean school in fifth grade and move me to a chaotic, dirty school in sixth where I was—gasp—expected to read and write every day.

The noisy push for “clean” books is not only misguided, it’s actively harmful to kids—particularly teenage guys. 97% of teenagers play video games (shocking, I know). 50% of teenage boys play games rated Mature or Adults Only, while only 14% of girls play games with those ratings. Why? Many guys like violence and sex (again, shocking, I know).  Does anyone seriously believe that reading a book—almost any book—would be worse for a typical teenage guy than playing
Grand Theft Auto?

Part of the cause of the dramatic drop-off in reading among teenage guys is because the publishing industry does not, by and large, produce young adult material that’s competitive with other forms of entertainment available to teens. Why doesn’t the publishing industry produce more “dirty” material for the YA market? Because teens are not generally buying the books they read for fun. Adults are—primarily women. The books kids read for fun predominantly come from: 1) a school library, 2) a public library, or 3) a parent’s purchase (Mom's, 70% of the time). And publishers—wisely, from a bottom line perspective—focus on producing books that the gatekeepers will buy.

There are two kinds of censorship. The good type is the noisy, public, Mr. Scroggins-style book challenge. This form of censorship is excellent because it gets people talking about books—often people who wouldn’t otherwise engage with a book. I learned about and read Sarah Ockler’s outstanding Twenty Boy Summer due to this type of challenge. (Thanks, Mr. Scroggins!) By the way, if anyone reading this is interested in starting a loud campaign to ban my novel ASHFALL, please contact me at mike.mullin.writer at gmail dot com—I’d like to help! I can write scathing press releases, stuff envelopes with protest mail, or even march with a picket sign if you like.

The second type is the bad kind—the censorship arising from selection policies. The quiet censorship of the library that only puts “clean” books on the shelves. Of the school that only chooses to invite authors of “clean” books to visit. If your library has nothing but “clean” books, how are you going to convince the half of your teenage guys who are playing adult games at home to pick up a book occasionally? The answer, of course, is that you aren’t. The themes that guys are interested in as middle graders—heroism, friendship, school stories, etc.—are amply addressed in middle grade literature. But as guys grow up, their literature doesn’t, so teen guys mostly either quit reading altogether or transition directly to adult books. (There are other reasons many teen guys don’t read, of course. For a more thorough discussion of that topic, check out this post.)

We need dirt. We need dirty books. No seedling ever sprouted on a hospital floor. Minds grow when engaged and challenged. And that’s why I’m not going to dodge the question “Are your books clean?” anymore. I’m going to say, no, I write dirty books. And I’m proud of it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Parenting by .45

I assume most of you have seen this video by now? It's shows a dad reacting to his daughter's ridiculous and profane Facebook rant about her parents by executing her laptop. Literally. With nine .45 caliber hollow-points. Two things I want to say in reaction:

1) I've observed that kids rarely do what their parents tell them to. However, they nearly always imitate their parents' behavior. So this fellow just taught his daughter that the appropriate way to deal with a problem is to aim a pistol at it and pull the trigger nine times. Yeah, I can't imagine ANY way that lesson could backfire. Can you?

2) If this dad had punished his daughter in some reasonable way and given her a hug, reassuring her that he loves her despite her behavior, would that video have gone viral? I doubt it.

Am I wrong? I hope so. Convince me I'm wrong in the comments, please.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Miscellaneous Book Marketing Tips

1) You need a website. I'm not technically inclined, but I built my own for free with Google Sites. It should have the basic stuff: your contact info, where to buy your book, an author bio, info about foreign and film rights and downloadable cover art and author photos.

2) You don't have to have a blog, but it's helpful to have a place to post stuff that's too long to fit on Twitter or Facebook.

3) Make sure you've filled out profiles and uploaded pictures on Amazon, Google+, Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari. Some of these allow you to link your blog and Twitter feeds as well. Do that.

4) Create a simple email signature with a link to your website, or purchase links for your books.

5) When you get fan mail, send a personalized response. Ask your fans to help you out by posting reviews and ratings on Amazon, B&N, and/or Goodreads. This will help keep your average ratings up--people who write to you will mostly be the ones who really liked your book.

6) Lots of bloggers run book tours for free. {Teen} Book Scene did mine, and they were awesome! You can also put together your own book tour if you wish, but it's a lot of work.

7) If you have a publisher, keep them in the loop about what you're doing. You don't need to bombard them daily, but a once-a-week email summary is appropriate and professional. I'm convinced that publishers work harder for authors who are already doing a lot of promotion, but they won't know unless you tell them.

Anything I missed? Do you have other tips? Let me know in the comments, please.

Facebook and Google+

Some random thoughts on Facebook and book marketing:

1) Advertising books on Facebook doesn't work. No, I haven't tried it, but this guy has, and his data are convincing to me.

2) 'Like' pages on Facebook are worthless. I've had several writer friends nuke their personal Facebook page and switch to a 'like' page. And that was the last I saw of them on Facebook. I've 'liked' hundreds of pages, but let's see how long it takes to get to a post from one of them in my feed. I'll go count now.... Sixty! You have to go down 60 places in my feed to get the first story from a 'like' page. I almost never read my feed that deeply, so I never see any 'like' pages. And that's not even one of the writer-type 'like' pages. It's the volcano one, which is large and very active. It used to be that you needed 'like' pages due to the 5,000 friend limit on Facebook, but now anyone can subscribe to your personal page updates, circumventing the limit. There's no reason to build a 'like' page anymore. Just clean out any personal stuff on your own page (you shouldn't post anything personal on Facebook anyway, it's not secure) and use that for keeping in touch with your fans.

3) When Facebook suggests friends for you, here's how I figure out if people are open to connecting. I look at their profile--if it's set completely open, it's probably someone like me who is using Facebook to network, so I send them a friend request. If most of their information is hidden, I figure they're using Facebook for some other purpose, and I don't send a request. Once you get above 500-600 friends, you'll start getting plenty of requests and your account will grow without you having to do much. I generally friend everyone, and promptly unfriend anyone who posts obnoxious stuff on my wall.

4) Make sure your profile is set to be open and searchable. You want people to find you, right? If there's anything on there you don't want everyone to see, delete it.

5) I block all games and most apps. That keeps my feed clean. Most of the games seem to reward you if you invite others to play, but I'm not on Facebook to make money for Zynga--I'm there to stay connected with fans, librarians and fellow writers.

6) Google+ is a strange hybrid of Facebook and Twitter. Honestly, I've had a tough time getting people very engaged there, so I'm not the best one to talk about what works. You should probably create a profile, particularly since your Google+ profile will often be the first thing in search results for you. Beyond that, if you like it, great, but I'm not fully sold.

Hope that's helpful. What did I miss? Let me know in the comments and I'll edit this post or add another. Thanks!

Principles for Internet Book Marketing


1) Follow the Golden Rule

Do onto others before they can do onto you. Wait, that's wrong, that's the leaden rule. The one we want is do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Let me give you a couple of practical examples. When you're trying to decide what to post, think of your favorite author. What do you wish she would post about? Got it? Now post that. Here's another example: you know that crazy uncle who's on Facebook, always posting his crackpot political or religious views? You don't care for that, right? So don't do it yourself.

2) If you want it to be private, don't put it on the internet.

As authors, we put ourselves out in public. There's really no avoiding this, at a minimum, just by publishing your book, you've exposed a sliver of your soul. Don't rely on complicated or confusing Facebook privacy settings to keep your information private--they change every week anyway. Instead, just don't post anything you want to be  private. Similarly, don't post anything you wouldn't want published on the front page of tomorrow's newspaper. Or anything wildly objectionable to your primary audience. Controversy is okay, lots of controversial stuff goes viral, but you need to engage in a respectful way, so you're not viewed as a wingnut.

3) Make sure everything you post is clear.

I'm going to pick on my friend Gae Polisner for a moment (sorry Gae!). When we first connected, I noticed she was posting a lot about something called TPoG. I had no idea what that was for months. When I finally found out it was her book, The Pull of Gravity, I bought a copy and read it. (It's awesome! Go buy it now!) Similarly, if you invite me to an event at the Barnes & Noble at the mall, I'm probably not going to come. I need to know which mall in which city. The temptation to abbreviate and leave out information is strong, particularly on Twitter. Resist! Make sure you've answered the key questions: what? when? why? where? and who? before you post.

4) Your followers want to know about your books.

I see lots of posts warning authors against talking about nothing but their books, and we've all seen authors who annoy us with constant links to Amazon. But I think the more common problem is writers talking too little about their books. If someone is following you, it's likely because you're an author. I love knowing more about my favorite authors and books--the trick is to craft posts that are entertaining or useful in addition to reminding followers about your work. Remember that you and maybe your mother are the only people who read all your social media posts. What seems like a lot of promotion to you probably isn't that much to your average follower. The average viewer needs more than 12 exposures to a commercial message before burnout begins.

5) Generosity pays.

Participate in giveaways and charity auctions. It's good for us all, and it gives you a chance to talk about your books in a way that most people won't object to. Bloggers love giveaways too--if a blogger has been particularly supportive, thank her by offering up a free book as a blog giveaway.

6) Be honest with your followers.

Part of your online persona is your integrity--if you maintain it, people will be much more willing to trust and follow you. The common practice of trading reviews, trading likes, etc. destroys both party's credibility. Only recommend another book, author, or Facebook page to your followers if it's something you genuinely like and think they would, too (like Gae Polisner's The Pull of Gravity). I try to follow the golden rule here. If I don't like a book, I usually won't rate or review it anywhere. If I love it, I tell everyone. What I won't do is post a dishonest review. You shouldn't either.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments, please.

And the Winner Is? Goodreads!

A year and a half ago I had a long-dormant Goodreads account. I'd never tried LibraryThing or Shelfari. But with the contract in hand for my debut novel, ASHFALL, I knew I wanted to get more involved in these excellent social media sites for readers. So I revived my Goodreads account and joined LibraryThing and Shelfari. I set up profiles on all three sites and made sure the metadata for my book was correct.

I had a much harder time connecting with people on LibraryThing and Shelfari than on Goodreads. I quickly amassed more than a thousand friends on Goodreads (now, on 2/3/12, I have 2,800), but couldn't make any similar inroads on the other two services. A discussion of post-apocalyptic books on one of Goodreads' forums led to a connection with a couple of Barnes & Noble staffers who've become some of ASHFALL's staunchest supporters.

When the ASHFALL ARCs were released, I decided to try an experiment. I offered a signed ARC as a giveaway on both Goodreads and LibraryThing. (As far as I can tell, there's no giveaway feature on Shelfari.) I used the same description and giveaway time period for both, to make the comparison as valid as possible. The result? 1,357 people requested the Goodreads giveaway; only 188 requested it on LibraryThing. Since then, I've offered giveaways only through Goodreads--they routinely get between 2,000 and 2,500 requests per month.

My conclusion is that Goodreads has won the battle of the readers' social media sites. I recommend that new authors set up a profile on LibraryThing and Shelfari and make sure the data on their books is complete, but other than that you can safely ignore both LibraryThing and Shelfari. I plan to run another giveaway this month on both Goodreads and LibraryThing to retest this conclusion--if I learn anything new, I'll let you know.

The one big drawback to Goodreads? It's buggy and frequently down. I wanted to test targeted advertising on Goodreads, but I can't get it to work. I have some worries about the survival of a site that can't even figure out how to take my money. My guess is that advertising books on Goodreads will be just as ineffective as advertising them on Facebook.

What does work on Goodreads? Giveaways. I can get 2,500 people to click 'I Want It' and read a short description of my book for the price of one hardback plus shipping? Sign me up!

Don't do it the way the big publishers do, though. They throw 30 copies up at once and then never repeat their giveaways. Do lots of short giveaways of one copy. I do one every month. Why? Advertising is all about getting people to engage with your message over and over again, until it sinks in. If you do a giveaway every month, they see your message every month. You'll get a far bigger bang for your buck doing ten one-month giveaways than doing one ten-copy giveaway.

The "rules" for interactions on Goodreads are the same as for all social media:
1) Treat others the way you want to be treated.
2) Don't feed the trolls (ignore anyone who tries to bait you.)
3) The only appropriate response to a review, even a bad one, is thank you. (Even a harassing or personally abusive review should not be responded to. Instead, report it to Goodreads. And yes, sadly, this happens occasionally.)

Hope that helps. If you want to know anything else about readers' social media sites, comment and I'll edit this post or add another. Thanks!

EDIT: There's a much more thorough post by Caleb Ross here that comes to the same conclusion--Goodreads giveaways work.

Edit #2: Now that Amazon has bought Goodreads, I no longer believe it's a good choice for authors. We need diversity in our retailers and book recommendation sites. I now use BookLikes.


The Book Tour Is Dead, Long Live the Book Tour

Industry pundits have been saying for years that the author tour is dead. And yes, most authors, even famous authors, don't draw crowds the way they used to.  But at least for the young adult and children's market, it is still possible to put together an author tour that sells books. How do I know? Here's a list of the top ten markets for my debut novel, ASHFALL, in late November last year as my physical book tour was winding down. The data is from Nielsen Bookscan:

St. Louis, MO*********
Salt Lake City, UT
Cincinnati, OH****
Madison, WI********
Indianapolis. IN***
Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo/Battle Creek, MI*****
Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Dubuque, IA*********
Columbus, OH**
Boston, MA
Chicago, IL**

The asterisks in the list? The number of events I held at schools, libraries, and bookstores within that market last year. I visited about a dozen markets during the fall, and eight of them wound up in the top ten for ASHFALL sales.

This March I'm going on an east coast tour. Already, in January, places like Vermont, New York, Boston, Rochester, and Washington, D.C. are in the top ten for ASHFALL sales. Why? Stores are ordering extra copies of the book and putting up displays. Teachers, students, and libraries are ordering books in anticipation of my visit.

Here's a weird fact--you can have a successful bookstore signing even if no one shows up. How? Stores will order your book and put it on display, leading to impulse sales long before and after you're there. If the store allows you to sign stock, it becomes non-returnable, which is obviously a big plus. If a few of the people who buy your book like it, word of mouth will propel further sales.

But the best audiences for children's and young adult books are captive audiences--schoolchildren. When you're starting out, I suggest offering your presentations for free, provided there are book available for sale. Later, when you're better known and better at presenting, author visits can be a lucrative sideline.

Realize that you've got a dual audience: to satisfy the kids you have to be entertaining, to satisfy the teachers you've got to teach something relevant to their curriculum (and entertain the kids, so there aren't discipline problems).

I learned to be an effective presenter the same way I learned to write--by observing other presenters and practicing. I volunteered in my wife's 4th grade classroom for a year, trying different things and soliciting her feedback. I attend other authors' presentations and signings at every opportunity, and freely borrow what works. I also shadowed a friend and particularly effective presenter for a day.

So, that's my take on book tours. Anything else you want to know about this topic? Let me know in the comments and I'll edit this post or publish a follow-up. Thanks!

Edit 3/11/13: Karen Sandler, author of the fabulous YA novel Tankborn, emailed to ask me how I was able to get so many school visits set up right after ASHFALL came out. So I'll answer her question here, so anyone reading this post can benefit.

1) Even though ASHFALL was my first novel, I've been in the book business for years. My mother owns Kids Ink Children's Bookstore in Indianapolis, and I worked for her for almost a decade. My first school visit and first talk at a library conference were booked because of her. So, I chose the right parents. If you weren't so foresightful in your selection of parents, read on.

2) Tanglewood Publishing has been marvelous to work with. They hired a publicist, Rebecca Grose of Socal Public Relations who solicited many of my early school visits. She sometimes works with authors directly, too. Tanglewood also sent me to ALAN, ALA, and BEA where I met many booksellers, librarians, and teachers who later invited me to speak at their schools.

3) I do a great job at my school visits. They're entertaining enough that I have no trouble holding students' attention, but informative enough that the teachers and administrators appreciate them from a curricular standpoint. After most school visits end, I ask the organizer two questions: What could I do different/better in the future? and Would you be willing to refer me to other schools & teachers you know?. Almost all school visits are set up based on referrals. Teachers want effective speakers, and the best way of knowing if a speaker is any good is to hear them or get a referral.

4) I make my contact info easy to find. My email is and address are right on my website. You don't have to fill out a form or jump through any hoops to contact me. I send my phone numbers out with every school visit contract. My website also has a thorough description of my talks, my prices (I don't do them for free any more), and a bunch of quotes from past schools I've spoken at. here. Check it out here.

5) If you don't have some of the advantages I did, here's what I'd suggest. Write to your local school librarians. Let them know you're offering free school visits. Contact your state school library association (The Indiana Library Federation in Indiana, for example) and ask them to spread the word. Do a bunch of free visits--when you start to get good at it, librarians will help you book more.

Hope that helps! Email me at mike.mullin.writer@gmail.com if you have more questions.

Kick-Butt Book Marketing

A number of authors have written to me over the last few months asking for advice on book marketing. Rather than write a bunch of excessively long emails, I promised to write a series of blog posts on the subject. But of course I haven't. Instead I've been crouched in my revision cave, frantically perfecting ASHEN WINTER, the sequel to my debut novel, ASHFALL.

However, tomorrow I have to present on the topic of Kick-Butt Book Marketing for NiNoCon, so today I'm emerging from my revision cave to capture some thoughts to share with blog readers and conference attendees. I'm going to create a sidebar listing all these marketing posts for reference.

So, if I were one of my readers, the question I'd be asking now is this: Why should I care what Mike Mullin has to say about book marketing? (Actually, the question I'd be asking involves anatomically improbable acts performed while flying, and isn't appropriate for my blog, which is PG-13.) Three reasons:

1) A year and a half ago, I had never used Twitter, had no Facebook account and a dormant Goodreads account. Here's a summary of my social media presence today (2-3-12):

Network    Followers
Facebook              1,866
Goodreads            2,796
Twitter                12,889
Google+                4,128
Blogs                     1,500
Total                    23,179

Who cares, you ask? You're right. None of that matters. So....

2) I hold an MBA from Indiana University and worked in brand management in Procter and Gamble and Spectrum Brands for 5 years.

Big whoop, you say? You're right again. Here's the only thing that matters:

3) My debut novel, ASHFALL, has sold through its first two hardcover printings in less than three months. The ebook has frequently made various Amazon bestseller lists, despite being priced at $8.99. My goal for ASHFALL was to sell well enough that I could continue to write and sell my work, and I've more than met that goal.

Ultimately, the only metric that matters in a marketing campaign is sales. So in this series of blog posts and in the NiNoCon presentation, that's what I'll focus on--what do I think has and has not worked in generating sales for ASHFALL.