Category Archives: A Warrior’s Soul

Is Violence Necessary in Children’s Literature?

Conflict is the essence of story, but does conflict need to include violence and physical aggression in children’s and young-adult literature? I’ve discussed this issue before in a youtube video and take the issue up in print over at Blogging Authors in a guest post published today. My short answer is “yes.”

As much as we may want to purge violence from our lives and our kids lives, the truth is that violence is a part of our reality. The recent shocking videos of bullying ranging from Karen Kleiner bus monitor case in Greece, New York to an ambush of a kid in Chillicothe, Ohio High School are ample evidence of this. But, it’s not just bullying–child soldiers populate rebel armies in Africa, children are being massacred in Syria, the drug trade ravages inner-city neighborhoods in the US as well as abroad. Systematically ignoring this violence when it is part of our every day lives does a disservice to our readers.

I know this might sound self-serving–after all I write young adult novels about pirates, bullies and martial arts–but I also think the forthright way in which my stories grapple with real world violence is one of the reasons why readers (and parents) appreciate them. Indeed, several of the reviews of A Warrior’s Soul have recognized that the main theme is that violence is not the answer.

Dealing with violence is inevitable if authors want to seriously address real issues facing kids (and their families). Our responsibility as authors is to embrace this as fact and deal with it in an ethically and morally responsible way by writing engaging stories with characters that either make the right decisions or face the consequences of making the wrong ones.

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Blogs: What Are They Good For?

My publisher, Wheatmark, recently has a series of on-line discussions as part of their Author’s Academy discussing blogs and their importance for selling books. Blogs and bloggers have become an essential marketing tool for authors. I’ve been blogging for more than ten years. But, it’s important to distinguish between marketing and book sales. Marketing is about raising awareness about yourself, your ideas, and your book. This should translate into sales, but only if your marketing efforts are tied to the explicit goal of selling books.

Alas, my blogging has had little impact on sales of my fiction books, largely because I haven’t engaged the blogging community very effectively on the substance of my young-adult novels. My blogging for my non-fiction books has been more successful because the commentary and posts have been better targeted.

A friend recently asked me about the effectiveness of blogs, so I thought I would repeat my advice in a blog post here. Feel free to comment or react, because everyone will have different experiences.


In general, for new authors in a genre, I believe a blog that merely promotes the content of your book is not likely to be successful in stimulating sales because it presumes you have an existing audience and people care about your book. For writers starting off, I think the key is to invest in a long-term strategy (say 12 months) of slowly building awareness of your work as an author and, by extension, build an audience for your book. A blog and a web site will be the most effective tools you have for building your audience and readership, but they are *long term* investments and labor intensive. The key is to stick with it and not give up.

 

A blog, unlike a web site, is also an interactive tool. Not only do you need to post on your own blog, you need to interact with other bloggers. And some reader communities are more connected in the new media than others. The sci-fi and fantasy reading communities, for example, are very engaged and plugged in on-line, so blogging and commenting on blogs will be easier and more effective than in my fiction genre of young-adult literature. It’s virtually impossible for me to get directly to my readers (young teenagers), so I have to focus on their parents and teachers. I’ve slowly started to crack into these blogs (with the help of readerviews.com and bloggingauthors.com).

 

To date, few fiction book sales can be traced to my blogging efforts. This is largely because, as I mentioned above, I’ve not positioned myself or this blog strategically for this market. My primary blog Adaptation is successful for just starting out (less than a year), and I’ve received a number of hits and site referrals, but it doesn’t really do much to promote A Warrior’s Soul: The is blog about the business of writing. So, most visitors are writers, not readers. Ergo, I don’t sell young-adult novels through this blog.

 

I’ve toyed with establishing a blog for A Warrior’s Soul, but don’t think I really have the time to make that kind of investment. So, I’m using my web site as a poorman’s substitute. Also, complicating my approach is two books that are in the same genre but completely different in tone, characters, and storylines (one is a pirate themed historical romance targeted toward older teens and the other is a contemporary martial arts action story targeted toward young teans). Thus, I am spread way too thin trying to reach too wide of an audience.

 

So, what’s the bottom line? I think the keys to a successful blog that sells books are:




  • Strategic focus for content;


  • A clear target audience that includes readers;


  • Consistent and high quality content, 4-6 posts per week, that mixes promoting your own work (e.g., good news & reviews) as well as content of more general interest to you audience/readers;


  • A long-term, multiyear focus;


  • Interaction with the similar blogs and bloggers.
If these elements are in place, I think blogs are effective marketing tools and can really help sell books; it’s also just good ol’ marketing adapted to the Internet. 

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OMG, i so loved this book!

A Warrior’s Soul has been getting some great press in the blogoshere recently. Here are a few quick links for those interested in taking in some of the recent reviews:




Thank you reviewers!

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What’s in a Log Line?

I recently submitted the manuscript to the second book in the Path of the Warrior Series, Renegade, to a literary competition sponsored by the Florida Writers Association. (Full disclosure: I’m a member.) One of the requirements was submitting a log line.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I really didn’t know what a log line was. It turns out, a log line is a very short, one sentence “pitch” for your book or manuscript. A log line is an even shorter and more pithy “elevator pitch” that effectively assumes the person in the elevator is getting off at the next floor. Log lines are fundamental to selling screen plays, but I hadn’t run across them for novels. That’s a shame; writers should do this with all their work.

The essence of a log line is to distill the fundament conflict and story into one sentence to convey what is interesting about your book. Characters don’t need to be named, but the basic tensions and conflicts should be apparent. A site identifying the top 100 log lines for screen plays can be found here. Norman Hollyn has put together a quick analysis of good and bad log lines as well.

The log line I submitted for Renegade is:


“A 13-year old ‘tough girl’ finds herself in a harrowing struggle for survival when a Latina gang attempts to take over her school.”


Here’s a log line for A Warrior’s Soul:

“A ‘normal’ 13-year old boy is must grapple with his own insecurities when he is faced defending himself and his friends from a bully and his thugs by re-discovering martial-arts skills he considered useless.”

Here’s a log line for The Pirate of Panther Bay:

“A female ex-slave captains a pirate ship in the 18th century Caribbean and falls in love while fighting off mutineers, rival pirates, pirate hunters and a brutal Spanish colonial government.”

While a log line should ultimately be about provoking interest in your book, this is a great exercise because if forces an author to really dig down into their story and also establish for focused marketing efforts for their book.

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How I know I’ve Hit My Target Audience

Oneof the biggest challenges writers face is knowing whether or not they’ve hit the mark with their target audience. One of the most valuable pieces of information book reviews provide is insight into whether you are hitting the right notes for potential readers. In this sense, whether the review is glowing, positive, or negative is less important to me than whether the readers/reviewers picked up on the intended themes or tone.

Two pieces of feedback recently brought this home for me for A Warrior’s Soul. The novel is grounded in martial arts, but I was hoping the story and characters would have broad appeal. As a writer, while I wanted the martial arts to be real, martial arts really served as a vehicle for moving the story; it’s an integral part of the plot and emotional arcs of the characters. But I was concerned that the broader theme of bullying, self-defense, respect, and personal courage might get lost in the fight scenes, action, and pace of the story.

The first tidbit of feedback came from an eighth grade boy. He had been given the book by his teacher. He finished it in 24 hours (a good sign). When the teacher asked him what he liked best about the book, he said: “It just seemed really real to me.” Bingo!

The second piece of recent feedback came from a review posted on the blog LiveTeachCreate maintained by another middle school teacher (in a separate city and state). The reviewer starts her review:

When I first began to read this it was hard for me to get into because I knew nothing about the culture or detail behind any form of martial arts. I quickly got past that and took the book for what it truly was, a story of how a young teenage boy deals with the struggles of bullies that seem to not be noticed.

All I could do was say “YES”!

I then gave a big sigh of relief.

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Does a Writer Have to Sacrifice Story for Action?

One of the more important dilemmas facing a middle-grade writer, particularly one that wants to target boys, is the trade-off between story and action. A good story is crucial to a successful novel as characters and setting are weaved together in a plot to keep forward momentum in the book.

In fact, that’s one of the first rules of writing: Keep the pace of the story moving forward. A good story is almost always moved forward through conflict. (For a great discussion and “how to guide” to using conflict as the basis for crafting story, see the book on screenwriting by Robert McKee titled Story.) But conflict comes in many forms, sometimes focusing on relationships (confict between people), sometimes focused on physical survival (man v. nature), sometimes focused on personal psychological obstacles (e.g., self-doubt or self-esteem).
 
Identifying the nature of the conflict is criticial for writing for boys. I discuss this is a recent video on Youtube (VL-7), but the gist of the issue is this: Boys are more in tune with action and physical sources of conflict. We hear it all the time (and parents know it’s true): Boys are impatient and are “bundles of energy.” They really don’t become engaged with emotional or interpersonal sources of conflict. Their perspective is framed fundamentally by their developmental stage, which, in the teen years, if more driven by physical development. More importantly, their emotional development is tied to this physical development. The twin forces–physical and emotional conflict–frames the way boys handle conflict. Novelists take note!

For writers focused on engaging boys, the trick is to fuse emotional conflict with physical action in order to create a story. In some ways, this requires the novel to be more layered and complex than in more traditional approaches to writing. Sometimes I think (incorrectly) that a novel for a girl could sustain itself solely on the emotional conflict between her and her mother or best friend. (Importantly, girls like action too, but they are also more open, willing, and accepting of emotionally driven stories.)

Writing action sequences is an art in itself. Combining the physicality of action with the emotional conflict that creates complex story lines can be dauntingt, but it’s not impossible. Thus, I don’t think writers have to sacrifice story for action. I think I achieved some of this goal with A Warrior’s Soul (at least if the amazon.com reviews are a meaningful indicator). The action starts with the first sentence, but the emotional content is embedded in the lead character’s response:

Hands trembling, Luke crouched behind the plastic trash can and prayed he’d be okay. The crumbling brick wall should have been enough to hide him. The rattling chains from belts and scattering rocks from scurrying books warned him it might not.

The story really takes off from here, using the action to drive the plot and conflict that ultimately results in Luke making a critical decision in the book’s climax that resolves an essential emotional dilemma (and completes his character arc).

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Content and Production Values Key to Video Effectiveness

As part of my marketing efforts for A Warrior’s Soul, I started a series of video commentaries, called video logs, on Youtube (Channel: SamRStaley). I just ptosted my fifth video log and I thought it might be useful to report on a few “lessons” from my first seven months of experience using videos to promote my fiction.

First, a little context. I am starting with hardly any platform for my fiction writing. So, these Youtube efforts are the first building blocks for a video marketing effort. Second, Youtube is emerging as one of my principle marketing mechanisms for reaching a broad audience beyond “friends and family” (most notably facebook). Thus, the lessons learned here are crucial for building and fleshing out my long-term marketing plan (or Phase II in my Guerilla Marketing program).

I essentially have three video products. Interviews and Q&A with the author to provide background on my books; trailers for the books; and Video Logs (VLs). The VLs are intended to be short commentaries on current issues related to the content of my novels. So far, they’ve mainly covered the topics of bullies, bullying, and martial arts. My first one  (VL-1) focused on bullies, teasing, and gangs and released on 28 May 2011. It runs 5:35 and has recived 85 views to date. Interestingly, this video is two minutes longer than my introductory interview for the book released on 21 May, which now has 182 views.

At first blush, the higher number of views might seem to reflect its shorter length. I’ve been tracking all the videos weekly, however, and I’m finding that content and production values appear to drive viewership more than run time. Also, linking from other sites by independent followers is critical to driving viewership numbers. The high number of views for the interview, for example, is a direct result of the profile given to it when a popular follower of the book posted a link on facebook just two weeks before the release of A Warrior’s Soul.

Here’s the current status of the videos, including run-time, length of time up on Youtube, and number of views:



  • Introductory Interview                        3:26    7 months    183 views

  • VL-1, Bullies, teasing & gangs            5:35    6 months    86 views

  • VL-2, On Martial arts strategy           3:49    6 months     40 views

  • VL-3, Female characters in fiction      4:50    5 months    22 views

  • VL-4, Bullying & martial arts              4:05     5 months    36 views

  • Trailer 1                                             1:04    3 months    52 views

  • Trailer 2                                             1:02    1 month    89 views

  • VL-5, Bruce Lee & peaceful warrior  1:27    1 day    20 views  
Notably, the second trailer is the same length as the first one, but it’s coming close to doubling viewership even though it has been out for just one month. Viewer feedback suggests that the second trailer has higher production values than the first. Similarly, the production values behind the introductory video are higher than for the video logs (although by intent). Content may also be playing a role. The interview, VL-1, and the trailers both emphasize content based on the broader content of bullying.

The progress of the fifth VL, however, may be most telling. Even though it’s been up on Youtube for less than 24 hours, views have come close to eclipsing VL-3 (the least popular to date). It will proabably also eclipse VL-4 and VL-2 quickly based on its current trajectory.

What gives? VL-5 has three distinguishing features:



  1. a shorter experience;

  2. higher production values, including credits and a signature introductory music;

  3. broadly targeted content, using the famous martial artist Bruce Lee as a hook;
Having more content is probably better than a little content, but the success of different videos to date suggests that content and production values matter. All the videos are benefiting from broader expsosure, but the number of views is ticking up at a faster rate for the ones with higher production values.

I’ll keep tracking the video progress and report back on the success and what it means for book marketing (and hopefully sales).

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The Marketing Value of a Second Book

One of the more pleasant surprises from the publication of A Warrior’s Soul has been the increased interest in The Pirate of Panther Bay. Even though Panther Bay was published in 2006, I’ve more than doubled its sales this year as a byproduct of marketing for A Warrior’s Soul. Both are teen novels, and apparently they pair together reasonably well. (The themes and content of a Panther Bay, however, are more mature and best suited for 7th-10th grades).

I’m also finding that the two books compliment each other when I give talks on writing and publishing.

It’s a good example of being open to synergies in marketing to improve the overall prospects of your most recent work. (It also helps that they two books have strong reviews.)

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Reading Rejection

Like most authors, I’ve had more than my share of rejections from agents and publishers. The most frustrating part of the process was trying to figure out if I could glean anything positive from the process. Most of the time, all you get is a post card saying: “Thank you for your submission. We don’t think your manuscript is right for our list at this time. We are confident you will be able to place your book with a suitable publisher.” Yeah, right.

But, the truth is, this little postcard says a lot about the approach many agents and publishers take to accepting or rejecting manuscripts. It’s not a complete blow off. As the publishing market becomes more competitive, agents and publishers can only accept manuscripts they are excited to represent and publish. The margins simply aren’t there to carry a manuscript that they can’t be excited about.

More telling, and helpful, in my view are rejections where the agent or publisher has taken some time to give you feedback. One of my more disappointing rejections from an agent (for A Warrior’s Soul) said: “Alas I am already representing an author whose work is too similar to yours so I am going to pass on reading more.  Best of luck with your body of work.” Of course, I don’t know who that other author is. (There are only two other teen martial arts series I’m aware of and neither one takes the contemporary reality-based approach I do.)

The letter that left me scratching my head was a New York publisher’s rejection of The Pirate of Panther Bay where an editor wrote a very complimentary letter back saying: “The writing and the storyline is tight and well developed…and you have done a wonderful job of weaving historical elements into the story line while keeping them relevant and interesting.”

Okay, great, so why didn’t you publish it?

In truth, the sobering reason is pretty straightforward: As good as the book was, it just wasn’t right for that publisher at that time.

Such is the world in which authors, particularly new and the not-so-famous ones, operate.

What we (authors) should not assume is that our book isn’t any good because it was rejected.
A Warrior’s Soul is “highly recommended” by Midwest Book Review and the reviewer from Readerviewskids.com said he was “inspired.” Former teachers and librarians have recommended it for the classroom. The Pirate of Panther Bay has recieved reviews calling it a “swashbuckling tale of piracy, action and romance,” “A grand high seas adventure any teen would love; many adults as well,” and “masterfully captures a sword fight, building tension it seems hard to believe possible short of seeing it on a huge movie screen.”

So, I’m confident my books are solid contributions to literature and my genre. (I guess I’m just a little ahead of my time.)

Now, on to editing the completed draft of that third novel….

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Guerilla Book Marketing 103: The Long Haul

My third post on Guerilla Book Marketing-“Investing in the Long Haul”-has been graciously posted over at Blogging Authors (October 14, 2011). This one describes Phase 2 of my marketing place for A Warrior’s Soul. The first phase was focused on raising awareness of the book before publication. The second phase is all about sustaining the momentum from the first phase. Phase 2 is also about investing for the long haul: book clubs, articles in targeted publications, book festivals, and more. For details, checkout the blog.

Also, for those interested in the first two posts, here on the links:

*”Guerilla Book Marketing 1: Planning & Implementation” (Sept. 30, 2011);

*”Guerilla Book Marketing 2: Assessing Effectiveness” (Oct. 7, 2011);

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