Marketing Buzzwords

One of the things that drives me crazy about the publishing business is that as writers and editors we strive to be clear, concise, and avoid clichés and hackneyed phrases. Yet, when it comes time to market books, many people including some very talented writers and editors will fall back on some very tired and overused phrases to describe the process. One phrase in particular that sets my teeth on edge every time I hear it is “building buzz.”

The idea here is that when a new book comes out, an author should make a concerted effort to get word out about the book. Because there are only so many people an author can interact with personally, the author wants to encourage others to talk and write about their book. And just to be clear, this is a good thing and authors absolutely need to do this. My problem is with the hackneyed phrase used to describe this activity.

My first problem with the phrase is that it sounds horribly egotistical. It’s like what you’ve written is so totally amazing that everyone is going to drop what they’re doing and talk incessantly about it until it becomes a drone, like the buzzing of bees. Let’s be real, no one has ever written a book that’s set people talking that much before they even read them. The closest I can think of are the Harry Potter novels. Of course, these books were discovered, read, recommended and discussed enough that they became best sellers, then had movies made of them, and remain popular years after they were written.

“Buzz” is earned through engaging writing. It’s not something manipulated and built artificially after the book has gone to press. People talked and wrote about the Harry Potter books because they liked them, not because J.K. Rowling, Scholastic Publishing, or some marketing company told them to talk about them. The buzz happened because the books touched the imagination of the audience.

What’s more, I think clichés like “building buzz” do a disservice to writers and publishers trying to navigate the complicated and ever-changing world of book marketing. It lends credence to the notion that there’s some magical recipe that will make your book so successful that everyone talks about it. If you didn’t successfully “build buzz” with your first attempts, you’ve failed and you should stop trying. As I implied earlier, the hard work of “building buzz” happens when you write the book and create something people want to read. Once the book is out, your job is to find creative ways to tell people about your book without droning on like the buzz of a bee.

When your book comes out, do tell people it exists. Tell them what it’s about in concise, clear words. Find creative ways to get that message out. Talk to other writers and find out what worked for them. Those almost certainly include such things as newsletters, blog posts, sending out free copies to reviewers, book trailers, social networking, bookmarks, and lots more. That said, don’t limit yourself to those things people have told you work. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try new things. This is not a recipe. It’s a process.

Finally, if I ever use the phrase “building buzz” as a shorthand for getting the word out about your books or mine, you’re more than welcome to call me on it!

Hearing My Own Words

Last week, I finally had the chance to hear the audio book edition of my novel Owl Dance. It might surprise you to hear that I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until after it was released, but by contract, my publisher has the right to create an audio edition and there’s nothing in the contract that says I have a right of approval. My approval process wrapped up when the publisher and I agreed the novel was ready for print.

It might sound like I’m complaining about the process, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, a lot of work goes into writing, editing, and promoting my books…not to mention my other full-time job operating telescopes. It was actually kind of nice to let my publisher handle all the logistics behind arranging the production and proofing the final product. I was glad to know another edition of my book was coming out and I didn’t have to add another task to my plate to make it happen.

So, what did I think of the final product? I think narrator Edward Mittelstedt did a fine job. He had a great range of voices and a nice delivery speed that was clear and understandable. His pronunciation of names like “Fatemeh” and “Maravilla” were somewhat different than mine, but they weren’t wrong. In particular, he pronounces “Maravilla” in a kind of a South American accent, which suits the character.

Recently a friend asked if I had a difficult time enjoying the books I read. Her thought was that as a professional writer and editor, I might be so busy critiquing books I read that I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy them. My answer was that I’ve reached a point where I can read books critically, but still enjoy them. The critical part of my brain is sort of like a background task I can access when needed.

That said, I found listening to my own book was much more difficult than listening to books by other authors. Time has passed since I wrote the book and I have gained a new perspective on my words hearing them read by another person. I found myself critiquing my word choices, plot, and character decisions all through the story. Despite that, my overall impression of the book was positive. I felt like I heard the kind of story I like. That said, there were word choices and particularly some repeated phrases I wouldn’t mind revisiting if the chance ever presented itself.

I’ve come to the point where I strongly recommend writers read their work aloud at some point during the edit. It helps you hear phrases you use too often or too close together. I hadn’t quite reached the point where I was doing that regularly when I wrote Owl Dance and I caught a few places where it showed. I’ve taken the lesson to heart and will be applying it as I go forward. Hopefully these issues attracted my attention because I was listening at a more detail-oriented level than most listeners (or readers) will.

If you’d like to travel back in time to an 1877 that wasn’t, but could have been if a sheriff and a healer started wandering the West together while a visitor from the stars encouraged the Russian Empire to unify the world under one leader, you can read a sample chapter and find links to all the books editions at http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html

The Astronomer’s Crypt Available in Paperback

I am pleased to announce that my novel of ghouls, ghosts, and gangsters colliding on a dark and stormy night at an astronomical observatory with only scientists and engineers to stop them is now available in paperback as well as ebook.

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As it turns out, 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. Sony’s Libre e-reader was released four years before that. Since that time, various apps have allowed people to read books on their favorite mobile devices whether phone or tablet. In that time, the media that reports on the publishing industry has regularly reported on the “war” between e-publishing and print publishing.

I’ve always considered this notion of a “war” between the two formats to be ridiculous. E-books are just another way for books to be available to readers. In fact, from my perspective as a reader, I like having both formats available. Which format I buy depends on a number of factors ranging from how unwieldy the print edition is, whether I’ll be reading while traveling, whether I might meet the author and want the book signed, and yes, price can be a factor in my decision as well.

In my experience as an author, publisher, and book vendor, I’ve found having both paperback and ebook editions are critical to a book’s success. In fact, even for those titles where ebooks outsell paper editions, I find displaying paper editions at conventions will encourage sales of the ebook editions. This hardly seems like a war to me, but a strong alliance!

Because of that, I’m pleased that my publisher is able to make the book available in a number of ebook formats as well as paperback, but do remember, in whichever version you buy, my publisher has the following disclaimer:

    If you scare easily, don’t read this book.
    If you dare to read it, you’ve been warned.

    Two years ago on a stormy night, in the dead of winter, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. We won’t tell you what he saw that night on the mountain nor what happened afterward on a dark stretch of highway, because it would haunt you just as it has haunted Mike. But what we will tell you is that Mike is back at Carson Peak. And what he witnessed that night two years ago is about to become a reality…

The paperback edition is available at:

The ebook edition is available at:

TusCon 43

This coming weekend, I’ll be at TusCon, an annual science fiction convention held in Tucson, Arizona from November 11-13 at the Radison Hotel at the Tucson Airport. The writer guest of honor is George R.R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO has adapted in to A Game of Thrones. The artist guest of honor is Peri Charlifu, an award winning artist from Colorado with over 30 years experience in the field. The event is already SOLD OUT and I am told there will be no tickets at the door.

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My schedule at TusCon is as follows:

Friday, November 11

  • 6:00pm – 7:00pm. New hotel, same ol TusCon. Panel Room 1 (Valencia). In this panel, we discuss what’s new and what’s the same at TusCon. We even have a recycled Guest of Honor, although chances are only the panelists know that. On the panel with me: Curt Stubbs, Wendy Trakes, Scott Glener, Earl W. Parrish
  • 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Meet the Guests. Ballroom (Seville). Come rub elbows with the convention guests, enjoy the cash bar, be regaled by Toast Master Ed Bryant.
  • 10:00pm – 11:00pm. Discovering New Worlds. Panel Room 2 (Palo Verde). The Kepler Space Telescope along with many ground based surveys have literally found thousands of planets around other stars. What kinds of worlds are we finding and how do we find them?
  • Midnight – 1:00am. The Astronomer’s Crypt. Panel Room 1 (Valencia). I read from my latest horror novel inspired by my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory. In the novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug cartels and monsters from the beginning of time collide at an observatory on a dark and stormy night.

Saturday, November 12

  • 10:00am – 11:00am. Is serialization making writers forget how to write a good, solid, stand alone story? Panel Room 1 (Valencia). Now that everything successful must get a sequel how much time should be devoted to planting the seeds for the series? How much does that impede telling a satisfying single story? On the panel with me are Janie Franz, Jeffe Kennedy, and Van Aaron Hughes.
  • 11:00am – Noon. Autograph Session. Autographs (Upper Terrace). I’ll be autographing my wares alongside such notable folks as Dr. David Williams, Geoff Notkin, and Thomas Watson.
  • 1:00pm – 2:00pm. The physics of sci-fi space battles. Panel Room 1 (Valencia). Most of sci-fi is filled with space battles between giant carriers, or fighters buzzing every which way, firing lasers and missiles at each other. In reality, space battles will be determined almost completely by orbital dynamics. There is little room for surprise attacks, little opportunity to change trajectory once they’ve begun, and their outcomes are probably easy to forecast well in advance. This will change how war is waged in space, and even hard science fiction authors often fail to address these changes. It might be fun to watch a few classic battles, readdress them with physics, figure out the differences, and see what probably should have been different. On the panel with me are Gautham Narayan and David A. Williams.
  • 9:00pm – 10:00pm. Pitch Perfect – You can get published now! Ballroom (Seville). Bob Nelson of Brick Cave Media, Janie Franz of Museit Up Media, and I will take one-minute pitches for projects we’re editing. In my case, I have a spot reserved in the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. Can you earn one of the last spots in the book. Come along and give it a try, but be sure you read the guidelines first!

Sunday, November 13

  • Noon – 1:00pm. Is conflict overrated? In the age of the antihero, maybe we just need more stories about nice people doing nice things. Ballroom (Seville). Remember when protagonists were… well… protagonists? Why have we left those days behind? On the panel with me are Jill Knowles, Thomas Watson, Earl W. Parrish, and Van Aaron Hughes.

In addition to all these great panels, Hadrosaur Productions will be in the dealer’s room. What’s more, book dealer Marty Massoglia and I will both be celebrating milestone birthdays over the weekend. There will be a celebration at some point. If you’re at TusCon, track us down for details! Hope you have your tickets and we’ll see you there!

Rowing the Galley

This last week, I made a first pass reviewing the so-called galley proofs of my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. I say “so-called” because it’s kind of an old-fashioned term and they’re not really “proofs” yet, since they’re still in a word processing format. This is my publisher’s term. I would call this more a pre-format review. Still, this has allowed me and my editor to make some of those last-minute tweaks, which I hope will make the book just right.

Crypt Galleys

The term “galley proof” goes back to the days of actually setting metal type in trays, which were called galleys. I’m guessing this was because they’re longer than they are wide and have raised edges, so at a glance they resemble flat-bottomed boats. The “galley proof” was the first print done with the type blocks set into the galley so an editor and writer could check that the type was set correctly. Of course, in those days, correcting type wasn’t trivial, so changes were limited to very small scale changes at the galley stage—correcting spelling or simple punctuation—nothing that would significantly affect the flow of the document because otherwise, you’d have to reset all the type on every page after the correction.

As you can see in the photo above, the digital world allows more significant changes at this stage. Things highlighted blue are some of my editor’s most recent changes, while I’m highlighting my changes in yellow.

To add ambience to this week’s activities, I was at work for a few days. This is monsoon season in Southern Arizona, which means storm clouds hug the mountaintop where the observatory I work at is located, preventing us from getting much science done as shown in the photo below.

Mountain Storm

Because of the weather conditions, I was able to get some work done on the galleys while at the observatory. As it turns out, much of the action of The Astronomer’s Crypt is set during a stormy night at an observatory. To make matters worse, my observer at the 4-meter was remote, meaning she wasn’t in the building. I only communicated with her via a Skype connection. So, I was all alone in a large building on a stormy night.

If that weren’t bad enough, there’s been quite a bit of construction going on in the building, so doors are propped open that aren’t normally and there are stacks of supplies and equipment where you wouldn’t normally find them. Sometimes I’d go down the elevator and I’d swear I’d see feet through the bottom of the elevator door as I passed a level, even though I knew I was alone in the building. I’d step out of the elevator and swear I saw a person standing beside me, only to find it was a stack of insulation. It perhaps kept me just a little too much in the spirit of my horror novel!

This week, I’m giving the book one more pass. I’m actually aiming to read a little more quickly to make sure there aren’t any large-scale continuity problems and to look for a couple of things that are nagging me even after I finished the book. After all, I want to make sure this version is just right when I send it back to my editor. Fortunately, I’m at home this week, so all the scares should come from the page alone, and not from the environment where I’m doing the work!

The Future of Steampunk

I was on a panel yesterday at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona, entitled “The Future of Steampunk Literature.” As it turns out, my other panelist didn’t show up and I ended up being the only speaker. Still, it was a good conversation and I think several good points were raised that are relevant to questions about the future of any genre.

First off, I’ve encountered people who have suggested that steampunk has reached its peak in popularity and may even be past it. While I think it’s possible that steampunk has reached a peak in the general public’s consciousness, I see that the genre has a good strong, core following. I think this is helped by the fact that steampunk is not just a literary genre, but is strongly connected with the maker movement and has a vibrant music scene. Even if it didn’t have that strong core, I think it’s easy, especially for new writers, to put too much emphasis on writing to what’s popular and avoiding what’s not popular.

It’s true, the big New York publishers are going to base decisions on what they see in their marketing numbers and if they see steampunk on a rise, will probably buy more steampunk. However, they’re not going to be looking for what you send them in a month or two. They’ll be looking at what they already have in their reading stacks. If they see numbers trending upward, they’ll talk to authors and agents they know and perhaps get a few known authors on board. In short, the publishers are probably way ahead of you in the popularity game and it’s better for a new author to write what they’re passionate about than chase perceived trends. Of course, creating what they’re passionate about is one of the things steampunks do best!

Second, steampunk is a very multi-faceted genre. There’s alternate history, weird westerns, science fictional steampunk, magical steampunk, horror steampunk, post-apocalyptic futuristic steampunk and probably more than I haven’t thought of. Not only that, new authors are putting their own spins on it, punking up the diesel era, the atom age, and even going back to the stone age. Although these many facets can make marketing steampunk a challenge, the fact that so many people are being so creative with the basic idea speaks to the health and the vibrancy of the genre.

I can’t pretend to have any great insight into steampunk’s future, but the strong, evolving core following tells me it’s a healthy fandom and gives me hope that it will be a force in publishing and other areas for many years to come.

Clockwork-Legion

I continue to be on panels for the rest of this weekend at LepreCon, and will be engaging in more steampunkery. When I’m not on panels, I’ll be in the dealer’s room. Local Gamer Guest of Honor, Ben Woerner has graciously given me some space at his table. Be sure to come by the table and check out his cool samurai noir role playing game, World of Dew as well as my books. If you’re not at LepreCon or you managed to miss me, you can check out my steampunk books on Amazon:

The Race is On

This past spring, I signed a contract for my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt about a week before I turned in the third of my Clockwork Legion steampunk novels, The Brazen Shark. Editor Joanna D’Angelo of Lachesis Publishing sent me her edits for The Astronomer’s Crypt on September 15. Editor Irene Radford of Sky Warrior Publishing sent me her edits for The Brazen Shark exactly one week later on September 22. It’s certainly enough to feel like a race!

Despite some coincidental timing, it’s really not a race. Both of my editors have a common goal. They want to help me make the books they’re working on the best they can be. I do have deadlines for both projects—The Brazen Shark is actually due before The Astronomer’s Crypt, but how long after that each book takes to achieve publication will depend on how satisfied my editors are with my work and the production queues at each of the publishing houses. So, even though it’s not a race, it’ll still be fun to see which one comes out first! Either way, these will be novels nine and ten, marking something of a milestone for me.

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The Brazen Shark continues the adventures of Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi from Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. Set in 1877, this third novel tells the story of their honeymoon in the Pacific and how they get caught up in a plot by samurai to steal a Russian airship in order to overthrow the Meiji Emperor. This story steps away from the familiar wild west setting of the first two novels and goes further afield. Of course, while you’re waiting for this novel, you can be sure to read Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves! Those who want even more of Ramon and Fatemeh will be delighted to know that book three of the series will not close it out. I am already contracted to write a fourth book in this series, tentatively titled Owl Riders. I’m still working out plots and I don’t want to give away any spoilers for The Brazen Shark, but I can tell you that you’ll get to see a very steampunked version of New Orleans in the series’ fourth installment!

The Astronomer’s Crypt is intended to be the first of a series called “Wilderness of the Dead” which accounts the spooky happenings of a fictional wilderness area in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico. This wilderness includes Carson Peak Observatory, a ghost town called Toledo with a haunted mine, and a number of caves, which are portals to other dimensions where monsters from ancient history were trapped by Apache warriors. Although this is a new series, you get a taste for my horror by reading my Scarlet Order vampire novels Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. As you can imagine, with a title like The Astronomer’s Crypt, it must be set at the observatory. I can tell you that the second novel is tentatively titled The Miner’s Tomb and we get to know the ghost town near the observatory quite well.

So, with two series in the works, will there be a race between Owl Riders and The Miner’s Tomb? That’s a good question, but at this point, I expect Owl Riders will be written first. It’s the novel that’s actually under contract with a deadline. Lachesis has made a strong verbal commitment to The Miner’s Tomb, but the paper hasn’t yet been signed. Still, who knows what the future may bring!

Finally, I received a lovely review of The Solar Sea from fellow author, Erica Miles. You can read it at Amazon.com.