Jennifer Ciotta, featured in Poets&Writers magazine

Photo by Christy Whitney for Poets&Writers magazine

Photo by Christy Whitney for Poets&Writers magazine

I’m happy to announce that I was co-interviewed along with self-publishing icon Richard Nash and agent Kristin Nelson for a five-page article entitled: “Self-Publishing Perspectives: A Successful Author, Agent, and Publisher Discuss the Revolution in Progress” in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Poets&Writers magazine. Enjoy! Jennifer

Putin & Self-Publishing, Jennifer Ciotta Talks in Boston!

In April 2013 I had the wonderful opportunity to speak at a Literary Traveler magazine sponsored event at The Arts Armory in Somerville, MA, a super artsy part of Boston. I was excited to speak in front of authors and inspiring authors who wanted to know the business inside and out. It’s funny, but every time I do one of these talks, I think to myself, wow, these writers are dedicated to the craft and the business, the latter being so important. Bravo to them!

Amanda Festa, editor at Literary Traveler, attended and wrote a smashing article about the highlights of my talk. I can tell she was listening intently, because everything she said in the article below is exactly what I wanted audience members to remember.

And I pass her article onto you, entitled “Author and Editor Jennifer Ciotta Talks Publishing and Putin.

Happy self-publishing!

~Jennifer

 

 

How Watching Friends Will Help You Become a Great Novelist

Strangely enough, I didn’t watch the NBC television series “Friends” until recently. When the “Friends” craze was going on, I was in college, where we didn’t have television reception in the dorms, and then I moved to Eastern Europe for two years.

I have a good friend who loves the show and encouraged me to start watching it.

When I moved to the country this year, I realized there’s really nothing to do past nine o’clock at night; therefore, I began watching reruns of “Friends” later at night, at eleven o’clock. Of course, going on this new venture, I was like “whatever, ho-hum, another sitcom,” but I quickly realized how good the writing is and why the show was so popular in its heyday and why it continues to be popular. It all comes down to…

The writing.

Yes, the actors are seasoned and play their characters well. Jennifer Aniston’s comedic timing is brilliant and Lisa Kudrow is uber-talented. But the real pull of “Friends” is all on the page, in the writing.

Let’s take a normal sitcom. Usually, there’s predictable dialogue, predictable situations and characters and a very predictable ending that wraps up everything in a neat bow.

Now let’s examine “Friends.” From the reasons listed below, you can learn the crucial basics of how to write a page-turning, compelling novel.

1) You never know what’s going to come out of each character’s mouth. For instance, when Rachel says to Joey that she thinks her boss is trying to buy her baby. That was a surprise. She could’ve easily said something much less funny and strange, hence it would’ve been a predictable storyline. Instead the writers of “Friends” chose to have Rachel say something bizarre that will drive an equally bizarre storyline, since Joey visits her boss and threatens him, and in turn, the boss sits Rachel down with human resources to make sure she understands he is not trying to buy her baby. Also, keep in mind, Rachel saying this odd thing is totally within her character, because she’s not good at lying and she’s flighty at times. Lesson learned for all of us writers: Have our characters say unpredictable and surprising things, but stay within character.

2) You never know what situation will occur. The writers of “Friends” did something absolutely crucial to their success–they weren’t afraid of change. And more importantly, they weren’t afraid to change the dynamic of the relationships of the characters. Ross and Rachel dated and broke up and dated again. They even had a baby. While on vacation in London, in a shocking twist, Monica and Chandler sleep together…and eventually end up getting married. As I watch the show, I know that I can’t predict what will happen and what situations the writers will put the characters in. That is a major pull of each episode, the what-will-happen-next factor. Lesson learned for all of us writers: Write unpredictable and surprising story lines, while embracing change.

3) Each character has a want. In novel writing, it’s imperative that the protagonist has a want, or the story falls flat. Your protagonist must want something to have that pull to keep the reader reading. S/he may want love, power, money. The point is s/he must have a clearly defined, easily recognizable and simply put want. In “Friends,” every character has a want, and the tricky thing is the writers have six protagonists, thus each friend must have a want. That’s complicated, but the writers handled it brilliantly. Ross wants Rachel. Rachel wants a career. Monica wants love. Chandler wants normality. Joey wants to be a successful actor. Phoebe wants to have a family. These wants drive the dialogue and story lines and they kept viewers tuning in week after week. A good example is Monica. She finds love with Chandler, but her dream is to have a baby. When she learns they can’t conceive, she and Chandler set out on a path to have a child. When they finally have twin babies via adoption, that doesn’t occur until one of the final episodes. As the series ends, Monica receives her want, the ultimate love of being a wife and mother. Meanwhile, Chandler receives his want of normality by being a husband and father. In regard to novel writing, that’s how a great book plays out as well. The protagonist may receive her or his want earlier on, but s/he must go through conflict to achieve the final, ultimate want. Lesson learned for all of us writers: The protagonist must have a want and s/he must go after that want the entire story.

I recommend watching “Friends” and seeing what you can discover. Dissect the dialogue, story lines and overall writing and evaluate why viewers still love this sitcom, even years after it has been off the air. See what you can learn from an episode of “Friends.”

10 Things I’ve Learned in My First 6 Months of Being a Self-Published Author

1) It takes time to build an audience. If you want people to read your book, you need to build a loyal audience. I’m not talking about mom and grandpa and your BFF Lindsey, I’m talking hardcore, real fans who will read anything you publish. It takes time to find a fan base, and I’m not talking months, I’m talking years. For John Locke, the first self-published author in the Kindle Million Sales Club, it took him a couple years to get there, and seven books. That’s reality. You will find people who love your book. I have, and they’re already asking me for the sequel.

2) Shortcuts don’t work. I’ve tried every shortcut, and they simply don’t work. What does work is putting in your dues. Every single day I do something toward my book, whether it’s friending readers on Goodreads or pitching for a speaking engagement or radio show. Every single day.

3) You will spend a lot of money. I’ve spent $5000 so far just on I, Putin. Between the process of self-publishing, buying ISBNs, maintaining websites, etc., it adds up over time. Some authors I know have money, and they’re spending $10,000 or up on publicity campaigns. Good for them! As for myself, in my next life, I plan to marry rich at 19, dump the old geezer by 29, receive a ton of alimony and put all that money toward my publicity campaign. Oh, and I also plan on being a supermodel.

4) Be skeptic of where you spend your money. After my first experience with a publicist, who didn’t charge me because the job was inadequate, I’m wary of where to spend money. There’s a lot of “I can make you a bestseller” or “I can make you a bestseller in 30 days!” If I want to spend money, I do my research and then decide if it’s a good fit for my book. I’m now trying to go after a cult following, and if this strategy works, I may spend $650 on a publicity opportunity I’ve been eyeing. But before I do, I’m going to ask for other authors I can contact, who have worked with this company. I’m going to ask a ton of questions. I’m going to make an informed decision.

5) Pricing is key. If you price your book wrong, it’s dead in the water. If James Patterson and Jack Canfield are pricing their new ebooks from $3.99 to $9.99 each, you better be around there or under it. Before I priced my book, I looked around on Amazon and asked publishing professionals. That’s why I, Putin is a mere $2.99.

6) You will receive bad reviews. I have. I have one bad review so far and one average review. Cool. I respect everyone’s opinion, and that’s life. Art is subjective. No, your book is probably not the next great American novel…unless you’ve been reincarnated as J.D. Salinger. To prove my point, take a look at reviews of The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby on Goodreads. They’re not even near five stars. To me, from an editor’s standpoint, Catcher is an absolute perfect novel, but that’s my opinion. Also, when I’m on Amazon and I see a book with let’s say 20 reviews and all five stars, that screams “My friends and family wrote all my reviews.”

7) Etiquette. Have you ever seen people drive in a parking lot? They suddenly lose all their manners. The same thing happens with certain people when they read your book. I would say 95% have been cool. Feedback is fine. But it depends on the intent. I’ve had a few people deliberately try to knock me down or hurt me. One person I do not speak to anymore. With another person the situation went like so: I won a second award and told certain people. Everyone did the right thing and congratulated me, except one person who had to put me down. That day, instead of celebrating and embracing my friends’ support, what stuck with me and ruined my day was the horribly rude comment my friend said to me. A week later, I told him how he made me feel and how hurt and disappointed I was in his lack of support. He apologized profusely and everything is fine now. But, in the end, I gave that person permission to upset me. I should’ve brushed it off my shoulders and basked in the support of all my other friends. Lesson learned. Here’s my take on it, when I read a friend’s book, I concentrate on the good things i.e. the unique voice, great writing, cool metaphors. I focus my energy on supporting my friend. Listen, I’ve read a lot of my friends’ books that are not in my genre and not my thing, but I always find the good and many times the great. Being an editor, I can nitpick a book to death, even my own. Remember, no book is perfect. YOUR book nor MY book is perfect. Unless, my friend specifically asks for criticism, I tell her/him what I loved about the book.

8) Sometimes you have to be tough. I wrote to my alma mater, trying to get publicity for my book. I wanted it to be included in their alumni magazine, because the people who read it are my target audience. I wrote three times and received lackluster responses. Then I wrote a polite but firm letter to the president of the university, explaining my disappointment in the school’s support and listed the book’s accomplishments. Within 24 hours, I received an apologetic note from the magazine’s editor. My book will be featured in the fall edition. I wrote the editor a very nice and enthusiastic response. The point is: Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

9) Go after the big guns…but know this…Your book may be *perfect* for that cooking segment on The Today Show, but let me tell you, it often takes more than that. I have a friend who is an expert in his field. He’s been on television all over the world. He’s handsome, brilliant, funny and great on camera. But, so far, he can’t land the big guns i.e. CNN, MSNBC, Fox, etc. He and I met with a very well-known book publicist, and the publicist said you have to find the right person to break into the “inner circle.” For me, in early September, I’ll be on a political radio show. I’ll be speaking about Putin and Syria for an hour. Sounds tough, right? It is. But I have to step up my game and get these sound bites in order to pitch the big guns. Also, I’ve noticed every publicity opportunity begets an even bigger publicity opportunity. Once you get the ball rolling, keep it rolling. The publicity train should never stop.

10) If you don’t know much about self-publishing, you should…

*Read my new book!*
Available: Early September 2012

- Super Honest Advice based on my experiences self-publishing my debut novel. I tell you where to spend your money, what services to avoid & much more!

- Super Quick Read. Under an hour, tops.

- Super Cheap. Only 99¢ on ebook!

 

For more advice, please sign up for my monthly newsletter and teleseminar series.

Legitimate Book Awards for Self-Published Authors

I entered my first book award competition, and I’m thrilled to report that I had major success. After submitting my novel I, PUTIN to the New York Book Festival, I found out I’d won an Honorable Mention.

This accomplishment was a welcome surprise for me in the several months my book has been on sale. I’ve learned what an author goes through, and that is that selling books is a tough business. The key word being “business.” I love that my author friend refers to it as “his expensive hobby,” which I totally feel like some days. So, as you can imagine, winning the honorable mention was a huge deal to me.

It also inspired me to enter more book award contests, thus I entered another one yesterday. When doing so, I always make sure I read through all the fine print carefully, including the top award. Yes, of course, I probably won’t win the top award, but if I do, would I want it? Some awards I’ve read about have stopped me from entering the contest because I don’t like the award at all, especially when the powers that be want exclusive rights and to use excerpts of my book for free.

I also plan to enter another awards contest in September, so that’s three contests I’ll be putting money toward. Remember, the entry fees are not cheap; usually $50 to $200 a pop. I stick with the lesser amounts, so I can enter more. Personally, the most I’ll probably pay is $75, unless it’s an amazing opportunity my book is absolutely perfect for, then I’ll pay up to $100. In the end, these competitions are a business, but it’s nice to get acknowledged and in a sense, endorsed. I can now add my honorable mention to my paperback and ebook covers, to all my websites, literature, press information, bookmarks and promotional flyers.

In order to find out the legitimate award competitions, in an effort to avoid scams and not waste my money, I researched and found a list of all the legit award competitions. Here is the link:

Book Awards for Self-Published Authors

And best wishes for many award wins for your book!

Amazon Tools for Authors, Useful or Useless?

As stated in my Book Publicity Newsletter, I explored the Amazon tools this week, which I found to be everything I’d always known. I’d heard about the elusive tools, which are supposed to drastically increase sales. Personally, I’m not buying it. I have no idea how an author bibliography will cause a spike in sales.

However, I have used Kindle Direct, and you can read about my experience using Kindle Direct (KD), which I found somewhat successful. The real test with KD will be this upcoming Memorial Day weekend when I run my final two-day free promo of my novel to get the word out. And, by the way, I looked on GoodReads and I’ve received two great reviews from non-friends and several readers have my book in their queue, which I credit to KD.

Now, for the big unveiling. Here are the Amazon tools:

1. Kindle Direct

2. Adding a book cover

3. Book description

4. Customer reviews

5. Editorial reviews

6. Author bibliography

7. Achieving an Amazon bestseller ranking

8. Creating Listmania Lists

9. Creating Guides

10. Participating in customer discussions

11. Search Inside This Book program (automatic w/ CreateSpace)

12. Browse paths

13. Browse categories (Look for similar items by this category)

14. Subject categories (Look for similar subjects by this category)

15. Adding a video interview

16. Adding a book trailer

17. Adding any other type of video (i.e. book signing)

18. Adding an Author Central profile

19. Adding blog feeds to your Author Central profile

20. Adding Twitter feed to your Author Central profile

I invite anyone to write to me who has had success with the Amazon tools in 2012. Since many of the tools are unavailable to authors now, but a year or two ago were available, the success story should be very recent. Thank you!

 

Bad Editing is the Reason Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously, Says Huff Post

Without further ado, we present to you what the Huffington Post says in an article entitled “The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously.”

The *FIRST* reason is bad editing.

“The main complaint about the indie book category is the lack of editing. It’s true that this situation has changed a bit in the past few years, due in part to better and more diligent indie authors and—on the flip side—slack in the editing of traditionally published books.

An anonymous letter sent by a group of successful traditionally published authors on M.J. Rose’s blog, Buzz Balls and Hype, requested the following…” read the rest of this article.

Are You Sabotaging Your Book’s Success? First Teleseminar April 5

Hi Everyone!

I’m truly excited to introduce Pencey X Pages’ first teleseminar. It’s completely free, just the cost of a long distance call, or you can listen in via the web. Here is all the information:

EVENT: Are You Sabotaging Your Book’s Success?
DATE & TIME: Thursday, April 5th at 2:00pm Eastern (30 minutes)
FORMAT: Simulcast! (Attend via Phone or Webcast — it’s your choice)

Call-In #:
Primary dial in number: (206) 402-0100
Secondary dial in number: (617) 449-7724

Passcode: 192956#

To Listen on the Web:

http://InstantTeleseminar.com/?eventid=27843132

Sneak Peek: Are you sabotaging your book’s success? You may think you’re doing everything right. You may think once you get published by a major publishing house, they’ll take over your book completely, right? Learn the TRUTH behind what happens at major publishing houses these days, and how you can set yourself up for success, whether you want to be published by the “big six” or self-publish. Both fiction and nonfiction writers welcome!

Jennifer
Twitter: PenceyX

Kindle Direct Promotions, Will They Translate into Sales?

My new venture while selling on Amazon is joining Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS). It is a program where an author enrolls her/his book to sell on the Kindle exclusively. In other words, no other digital sales are allowed i.e. Nook, iPad, etc. The author must sell only on the Kindle. So, yes, to answer your question, I had to take my book off sale on the Nook.

In return for exclusivity, KDPS promises that authors can reach a whole new audience through the Kindle Lending Library and Amazon Prime—in both mediums, your book is completely free. However, you can earn royalties when the book is lent, a small percentage of the month’s overall lending royalties for all books in the Lending Library. For example, KDPS explains, “if the monthly fund amount is $500,000, the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000, and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500 for that month.”

Authors can also offer promotions of free books. Each title is given five promotion days per a 90-day period. Therefore, let’s say your promotion day is Tuesday, that means all day your book will be free to everyone. You can announce your promotion on social media and see what happens. That’s what I did.

On Sunday March 18th, I offered a Sunday Giveaway, where my novel I, Putin was free all day long. I was curious to see what would happen. Since the book sales have been trickling in, I wanted to see if I could generate interest in my book.

Last night, it was time to check the results. As I signed into my Kindle account, I secretly hoped at least 24 people downloaded my book. I don’t know why I chose 24, but I did. After I clicked on the report, I was speechless.

576 downloads!!!

Holy S%&*# …! I was so happy. People are interested in my book. As my fiancé said, people are offered free things all the time and refuse them, so something had to push them to buy. Whether it was my book cover, synopsis, great Amazon reviews or just a free book, I’ll never know. And to check if 576 downloads is good for a one-day promotion, I went on the Kindle community boards and found out 180 downloads is average for a one-day promotion. So I must’ve done something right.

Some of you are saying, “But you didn’t make any money?!” And you are absolutely right, but what I did get was a lot of free book publicity at no cost to me. Sure I gave away 576 e-books for free, but if that will translate into sales later on, I’m good. And that’s what I’m curious to see, will this free promotion motivate sales? I believe I have to wait to see, probably a few weeks to a month. If my book is good— and I assure you after 12 years of researching and writing it, it’s very good—then readers will tell their friends, family, etc.

I will keep all of you posted as to what happens, so please wish me luck!

How to Write a Synopsis for a Novel

Writing a synopsis for a novel can be a worthwhile experience. For many writers, they approach it with fear and anxiety, but you don’t have to approach it that way. I’ve written/edited/revised synopses for clients, and I can tell you it can be written in a matter of several days, between revising and re-reading and leaving the synopsis alone for a day or two.  I think the reason the synopsis originally received such a bad rap is because the old standard used to be a 12-page synopsis, which would be sent to agents and publishing house editors. Yikes! I’ve written an entire novel and that number makes me squirm.

You can relax because the synopsis is now two pages. People may argue that number, but that is the number I’ve seen most from agents as of 2010. Some writers are more intimidated by the two pages than by the 12 pages, but in fact, it’s much easier to condense the plot and conflict of your novel into two pages. So how do you write that perfect synopsis that will win over agents and editors alike?

Let’s start with format:

  • Font Times New Roman, size 12
  • Double-spaced
  • Header at the top of each page—book name to the left and author’s last name to the right
  • Two pages total

A synopsis is always written in present tense and from the third person point of view.


I’m going to tell you how I write a synopsis. I start by scrolling through the book manuscript and writing down the major plot points. When I say plot points that includes CONFLICT. Agents, editors, readers—everyone loves conflict. Once I have the major plot points down, I start to write.

The opening line of the synopsis must grab the reader’s attention immediately. What is so striking, so unique, so cool about your novel that you can put it in the first line? What will punch the agent or editor in the face? How about the tagline for The Social Network: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Yes, I know, it’s a movie, but I think in these terms when writing an opening hook. (Avoid second person, unless it’s a great hook that can use second person.) I use taglines like this one to inspire me.

Once I’ve decided on the opening line, it’s time to write. I use the major plot points and conflict as my paragraph guides. For me, I don’t follow a structured method because every synopsis is different. But the mindset I have is: I’m writing the best short story I possibly can. Essentially, that’s exactly what you’re doing.  Think of this synopsis as your labor-of-love short story and make it good.  You should write in the tone of your novel, so agents and editors can see your voice. You should also include a bit of sensory details (touch, taste, etc.), so it’s entertaining and a quick read.  Avoid being dry, boring or just summarizing your book.

Tip: You can use one quote from your book in your synopsis, but that’s it. It looks amateurish to agents when they see several quotes.

When you end the synopsis, you should tell the end of the book—agents and editors need to know how the book ends. And just as you began with a punch, end with a softer, memorable slap. What realizations does your protagonist come to? How has s/he changed for the better … or the worse?

Instead of dreading the synopsis process, have fun with it. Relax and be creative and sculpt it like a short story.  Work on it for a few days and then take a day or two off to clear your head. I always take a few days off before reading the final version of the synopsis. That way my head is clear and my eyes are fresh, so I can catch any stray errors or a sentence that doesn’t sound right to me.

If you want to find other resources for writing a synopsis, I urge you to look at the date of the blog post or article. To get the most up-to-date tips (the industry is changing all the time i.e. before you know it, the synopsis standard will be one page—my prediction for the future), find posts, articles and books within a couple years of the current date. Also, I tried very hard to search the web and find some good synopsis samples, but the ones I could find were too outdated to reference.

Last tip: Relax, breathe and have fun!

A Personal Approach to Editing & Author Success

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