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An E-Z guide to publishing

By Alex Beam, Globe Staff  |  January 23, 2009

It's a natural impulse. You want to write a book.

How hard can it be? Rockheaded jocks write books. TV talk show hosts write books. Dogs write books. Why not you?

Ah, the writing life! Bennington-educated publicists clutching designer bags shepherd you from "Oprah" to "The Daily Show," from sold-out book signing to sold-out book signing. Your name appears in boldface on best-seller lists, next to the great writers of our time: Patterson, DeMille, Cussler, and Albom.

The temptations are enormous. But there is one, huge, spectacular disincentive: You have to write the book. Then reviewers have to praise it, readers have to buy it, and you have to promote it. Sound hard? Relax.

1. Writing the book

The watchwords for 21st-century book writing are: Don't touch that pen! There are 86,500 Google entries under "ghost writer for hire," so I'll let you do the legwork. Many of the century's greatest authors aren't even alive. Robert Ludlum, of Jason Bourne fame, has been churning out product with a revolving cast of ghost writers since his death eight years ago.

It is no accident that before former Globe staffer Gregory Mcdonald died, he stipulated that no one could resurrect his best-selling "Fletch" books after his passing. Literary grave-robbing is what passes for creativity these days.

2. Blurbs

Blurbs are brief, upbeat endorsements from famous writers ("A roller coaster ride from beginning to end!" - Tom Clancy) who are generally much too busy to read your book, or even take note of your existence. Fret no more!

Blurbings.com offers you 10 blurbs, for free, plus they promise to plant a tree if you do business with them! Here's my promotional quote they should feel free to use on their site: "Looks fishy, and they don't answer e-mail." - Alex Beam, The Boston Globe.

3. Reviews

Ugh. Can't live with them, can't live without them. You could be sipping tea with Ludlum and Mcdonald at the Borders bookstore in the sky before a serious newspaper or magazine takes notice of your book.

So thanks heavens for websites like reviewyourbook.com or bookreview.com. Debra Gaynor's site, reviewyourbook.com, ("We Read. You Succeed") offers free reviews, and nice ones at that. RYB.com has a five-star rating system. One star means "a waste of paper and ink." Two stars mean "don't waste your money." However, "We only post reviews of books that have a rating of 4 or 5," the site explains. "We do not give bad publicity." Gaynor says she receives about 150 books a month and reads most of them herself. "I love reading, and I don't want to hurt anyone," says the Hawesville, Ky., native.

Zanne Marie Gray, another bibliophile, has been running bookreview.com from Madison, Wis., for more than a decade. "At the beginning, I was just in it for the free books," says Gray, a voracious reader. Now she offers a $125 "express review" service that guarantees a professional review within 15 business days, albeit without the promise of swoony publicity.

BR.com produces about 200 such reviews a month. Gray pays her reviewers $50 a book, sometimes more if a task seems particularly daunting. "If I'm asking someone to read a 600-page, self-published manuscript called 'Life With My Colon,' I'll up the fee," she says.

4. Signings

My, what a burden. Your acolytes line up around the block, demand you spell their name right ("It's not Kristin, it's Kirsten!") and care not a whit when your carpal tunnel syndrome starts acting up. Variance Publishing has a better idea: the virtual book signing.

Tomorrow, Variance author and co-owner Jeremy Robinson will be signing his new science thriller "Kronos" online, using Skype online video. You can download Skype's free video software (you'll need a camera) at variancepublishing.com, and get in line for a virtual face-to-face with Robinson, who lives in Barrington, N.H. For $7.99 plus shipping, you'll get a copy of "Kronos," plus a brief video-conference with the author, who will sign your book while you watch.

"I'll spend about four minutes with each reader, and that's as much or more than you would get at a regular signing," Robinson explains.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Go forth and scribble.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.
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