When Speaking to Book Clubs, Do Like Bestselling Author Erik Larson

Erik Larson is one of my favorite authors. He lives in Seattle (my former home) and he writes narrative nonfiction. Not only have I enjoyed reading his books such as Isaac’s Storm and Devil in the White City, as a writer (and now author), I learned about research and storytelling from them.

Last week I stumbled onto his site and happened to read his policy on book clubs. Maybe all of us should adopt it.

ErikLarsonNote: I do attend book group meetings when circumstances permit, so please ask, especially if you know I’ll be passing through your part of the country. I have a couple of rules: First, I cannot be present during the actual critique of my book(s). I’m too thin-skinned and things might get ugly. Second, I don’t do prepared talks for book clubs, but I’ll answer any and all questions, and we’ll have a nice time. Third, I require that my host or hostess hand me a glass of excellent red wine as soon as I walk through the door.

Sounds like my kind of author and guy.


A Free Service to Help Writers and Their Books

By Dan Smith
Director of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

My old friend and colleague Darrell Laurant, the retired journalist-turned author-turned writing magnate, is starting a free service aimed at authors who are having difficulty getting exposure for their books. This is something Darrell is good at. He was the founder of the late Writers Bridge, which helped get writers of all stripes jobs in their craft.

Did I mention the new service is FREE?

He had to disband WB when he moved to New York after retiring as an award-winning metro columnist (25 years) for the Lynchburg News-Advance. He had previously founded the Sedalia Writers Conference in Bedford County (on which the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is based) and was a regular teacher at RRWC for several years. He’s always been there for writers.

His new venture is “Snowflakes in a Blizzard” (here), a free service for authors, which “arose out of my experiences trying to market [his new novel] The Kudzu Kid,” he wrote me in an e-mail the other day.

Darrell goes on: “As you know, the game has changed. With more than 12 million books (one and a half times the population of New York City) on Amazon, it’s not about getting published any more — given the advances in technology, anyone who really wants to can do that. It’s now about getting noticed.

“Very quickly, I realized that there was absolutely no reason why someone would randomly pick my book up off a shelf, or click on its Amazon page. The vast majority of people in the world have no idea who I am, and our tendency is always to go with what we know when money is involved. I get that.

“A fact that a lot of writers seem to miss (or ignore) is this: Everybody isn’t going to like, or be interested in, their books. .. Trying to market to everybody is a waste of time and a recipe for frustration. … The blog will run twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, I’ll take a single book — I accept both fiction and non-fiction — lift it out of the blizzard of books surrounding it, and give the author some ‘alone’ time with visitors to the blog.

The template we use is extensive, the idea being to allow the authors a chance to convey the background behind the book and about themselves. I send press releases to all the print media in the authors’ area about two weeks out, and e-mail a preview blurb to the blog followers a couple of days before that book appears.”I screen these books, because our collective credibility depends on it. I’m also looking for work that is different — I wouldn’t automatically reject a vampire tale or romance novel or serial killer epic, but I’d want the approach to that subject to be unique. … Every author is asked to send e-mails to friends, relatives, fellow writers, etc., announcing that he or she will be featured, and so each person will theoretically draw a different audience.

“Once we get up to 1,000 or followers, which I truly believe will happen quickly, media outlets will start printing those press releases instead of deleting them. Moreover, I can ask an indy bookstore in that author’s area to carry copies of that book, on consignment, for a month after the author is featured. In return for giving that book something of a prominent place in the store, I will run a brief article about that bookstore on the blog.”

Darrell believes word will spread quickly: “Getting what I call ‘micro-publicity’ for books is good for writers, bookstores and publishers — even Amazon. Meanwhile, other publicists can use it as just another arrow in their quiver.”

If you have a book out there, it’s probably struggling from a sales standpoint, because almost all do. Maybe Darrell can help.

My Author Appearance at Virginia Festival of the Book

VAI will be at the Virginia Festival of the Book on Thursday, March 19 (tomorrow), in Charlottesville. I will be on a panel with three other sports authors, talking about my most recent book, DRAW IN THE DUNES: The 1969 Ryder Cup and the Finish That Shocked the World.

I attended last year and spoke about my first book, THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open. I had a great time.

I have finalized my reading selection. I am going to read a short section that illustrates how team members feel about playing in the Ryder Cup, especially at the opening ceremony and right before they tee off. It will include an anecdote about U.S. foursomes partners Raymond Floyd and Miller Barber, and how Barber, who was supposed to hit first (the opening shot of the 1969 Ryder Cup), couldn’t do it. (Portions of pages 128-131.)

If you are in the area, I hope to see you there.


Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins January 23 at Hollins University

The 2015 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off a week from today at Hollins University. More than two dozen Virginia writers, authors, journalists and publishing professionals will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the eighth edition of the popular writers conference.

This will be my fourth consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. In 2013 I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. Last year I was a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking. This year I will teach a class on researching nonfiction.

Following are the schedule and lineup of classes.

Friday January 23, 2015 from 6 to 10 p.m.:

Reception (Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center)

6 p.m. Networking
7 p.m. Welcome, Hollins President Nancy Oliver Gray
7:10 p.m. Presentation of scholarship award
7:20 p.m. Introduction of teaching staff
7:35 p.m. Greg Trafidlo, A song for our conference
7:45 p.m. Anne Adams: “Truth Is Always Stranger Than Fiction in My Neck of the Woods”
8 p.m. Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell: “The Future of the Book”

Saturday January 24, 2015 from 830 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

Classes (Dana Science Building)

8:30-9:30 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Roundtable Discussion “Getting Into Print” (Dan Smith moderator)

9:45-10:45 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Lindsey Narmour “So I’m Writing a Love Scene: A Look at Sex in Writing”

Room 102, Alice de Sturler “True Crime Reporting: Blog to Business”
Room 114, Betsy Ashton “Writers and Their Communities: A Fusion”
Room 142, Liz Long “Social Media Marketing for Writers”

11 a.m.-Noon
Babcock Auditorium, Sarah Beth Jones “Kicking Fear in the Pants: Clearing the Path to Your Authentic Writing Voice”

Room 114, Anita Firebaugh “The Writers’ Journal: Fleshing Out the Details”
Room 102, Diane Fanning “Interview Techniques for Fact or Fiction”
Room 142, Rod Belcher “Dreaming Big: Avoiding the SF/Fantasy Slush Pile”
Noon, Lunch in Hollins Dining Hall, Moody Center (Remember your lunch ticket)

1-2 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Ed Falco “True Crime Fiction: Isn’t That an Oxymoron?”

Room 102, Brad Kelley “Critical Thinking to Improve Writing”
Room 114, Greg Trafidlo “Breaking Writers Block: Some Effective Techniques”
Room 142, Todd Ristau “An Introduction to Adaptation: How to Turn Your Novel or Poem into a Stage Play”
2:15-3:15 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Saundra Kelly “Storytelling: Using the Story-Arc Format from the Ancient Oral Tradition”

Room 102, Andrea Brunais “Creating Greater Clarity in Your Work” (Students encouraged to bring writing examples to class)
Room 114, Dan Casey “Storytelling on LSD”
Room 142, Carol Alexander “Writing a Query Letter that Sells”

3:30-4:30 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Karen Chase “Building a Publishing Resume and Network”

Room 102, Terri Leidich “The Latest and Greatest Tools for Marketing Your Books”
Room 114, Margo Oxendine “Your Life is a Column—Write It”
Room 142, Keith Ferrell “Being Taken Seriously in a World That Undervalues Writers”

4:45-5:45 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium: Tim Thornton “Getting the Last Word: Writing a Great Obituary for Yourself or Somebody Else”

Room 102, Neil Sagebiel “Researching Nonfiction”
Room 114, Sharon Rappaport “Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting, Copywriting and Other Not-So-Scary Gigs”
Room 142, Dan Radmacher “Opinions Are Like Noses: Everyone Has One; How To Make Yours Count With Solid Research”

Face The Nation (VIDEO): Laura Hillenbrand, the Amazing Stay-at-Home Author

Bob Schieffer, host of “Face The Nation,” recently interviewed author Laura Hillenbrand about her unusual working methods due to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Hillenbrand has written two books, Seabiscuit and Unbroken, both of them bestsellers.

Not only is Hillenbrand talented and dedicated, she is incredibly courageous. She shows us that it’s possible to find, research, write and publish compelling stories from the confines of home.

The Atlantic: Anatomy of Two Bestsellers

In “How to Make a Bestselling Book” at TheAtlantic.com, literary agent Howard Yoon makes a case for traditional publishing and why it’s still relevant. Yoon cites two authors (both are his clients), and how their book projects became New York Times bestsellers.

Yoon provides the blow-by-blow account of the authors and their paths to the bestseller list, explaining how they “needed the skills of an entire team of publishing professionals to help them on their publishing journey.”

An opening excerpt:

As imperfect as our business is, anyone who wants to write a book of lasting value, a book that can change the way people think about the world, a book that can get national and possibly global distribution in real hard copies, knows that the traditional publishing path is still the best path to take.

Yoon introduces clients Dan Schulman and Dana Goldstein and details their projects.

A closing excerpt:

People always seem surprised when I tell them the publishing business is doing just fine. They expect me to share tales of woe and misery—and incompetence. I remain optimistic. For every forgettable snarky Facebook rant, for every counterintuitive, impermanent let-me-explain-the-world-to-you thought piece, for every formulaic superhero movie or sitcom, there grows a place in the hearts of thoughtful readers out there for works by writers like Dan and Dana.

My Author Appearance at National Press Club Book Fair

National Press Club Book Fair.

I’m honored and excited to be an invited author for the 37th Annual National Press Club Book Fair & Authors’ Night next Tuesday (November 18) in Washington, D.C. There are a lot of famous authors on the list. And one much lesser-known one from Floyd, Virginia. Occasionally, the door cracks open and you get to see what it’s like to be on the inside.

Here’s the scoop from The National Press Club:

The Capitol region’s premiere holiday book event is back for the 37th year! The National Press Club Journalism Institute is once again partnering with landmark local book seller Politics & Prose for a night of pols, pundits and prose.

Authors will be on hand to talk to their fans and sign books at this most exciting literary event. Patrons can browse for books at the Club’s headquarters at 529 14th Street NW from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Save time and pre-order your tickets below. Tickets will also be available at the door.

The Book Fair is a fundraiser for The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, which advances journalistic practice by equipping professionals with the skills and competence to innovate, leveraging emerging trends, recognizing leaders and innovators, and mentoring the next generation of journalism and communications professionals. The Book Fair also supports the Club’s beautifully renovated Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library, which provides research and resources for news professionals.