[Marketing] The Fun Factor

Thursday, May 26, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

I cannot stress how important it is to have fun with your blog.  If blogging is nothing more than a chore to you, something that you have to do because you've been told you need to market your book or platform, it'll be obvious to your readers.  If it's boring to you then it'll be boring to them, and you'll be unhappy with the results of your efforts which fuels the downward spiral.  The more your indifference grows then the less engaging your content will become, and your traffic will putter away to a pittance.

There will be boring posts some days and that's okay.  There is a certain kind of meta information that must get communicated to your audience and certain news just doesn't always lend itself to thrilling blog copy.  Life is kinda like that too and in-between the quieter moments you've got to find an element of fun. 

Doing so is important for both you and the reader. It gives the reader reason to keep reading and to come back often which in turn exposes them to your product and/or brand again on every visit.  It also makes the act of blogging more fun for you and less of a chore.  Keep the fun factor at the forefront of your mind as you sit down to write and it will enliven your blog copy.

If you're struggling with coming up with content for your own blog, the best way to find what is Fun is to turn inward.  Look to your own passions, interests, and habits or those of your characters.  Try to find things that are unique to you and that you enjoy to give your blog more life and variety. The truth is, you never know what will resonate with your readers.  When you do find out, that data is worth gold!  But until you figure it out, you should experiment a little and cast your net in other waters, but waters where you'll have fun doing so.

A quick thing about Fun - when I talk about it, I do not mean to imply anything of of the following nature.  Take a moment to watch this clip from Family Guy. I'm sure that many of you will remember the original bit that spawned this sequel.  This type of Fun is just a gimmick. Gimmicks and cliches are not a sincere way to market or build your brand.  Be careful when you're having fun that you don't turn into a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-balloon-man. Happy, excitable, and crazy can be funny, but not always fun.  You want your audience laughing with you; never at you.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 4: One word: Evil! The Fighter for Hire

Monday, May 23, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Summary:  Yay! Another new character is introduced, Sanousuke Sagara, and an old (and annoying) villain returns, Gohei Hiruma - the false Battousai. Boo.

Angry at the Battousai for humiliating him and disabling his sword hand permanently, Gohei turns to Tokyo's underworld to find a fighter strong enough to defeat Kenshin Himura.  He finds a thug named Zanza aka Sanousuke Sagara, a tall and overly eager brawler who conveniently carries a major grudge against the Imperialist government and hires him to defeat and kill the Battousai.

My Thoughts:  This episode opens with the residents of the Kamiya dojo trying to justify the expense of a fancy beef pot at the Akabekko once again, leaving me hungry as usual and wanting to know just what the hell is in that beef pot!  Opium?!

At the inn the situation gets a little heated when a group of drunk patriots supporting Democracy in Japan start causing trouble, but for once Kenshin doesn't end up resolving it.  After one of the waitresses gets involved in the fight, Sanousuke steps in and takes the men outside.  He defeats the ruffians with ease and a minor assist from Kenshin when one of the men draws a concealed sword.

I did notice some not-so-subtle attitude towards the policies of certain *cough, cough* democratic nations in this episode. Example: "Somehow I always thought that Democracy existed for the weak or is it that the Democracy that you fools preach is the freedom to get drunk and give innocent folks a hard time with your big mouths." ~ Sanousuke.

It does make a lot of sense given what was happening historically.  In 1853 and American fleet lead by Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into a Japanese harbor and negotiated/demanded that Japan open itself up to free trade with the West. Prior to that the Tokugawa Shogunate enforced an isolationist policy that lasted for over 350 years designed to avoid trade with foreigners and keep the Japanese spirit and culture pure from their influence and invasion.  It seems that the Shogunate was right to be afraid of the threat that foreign influence and modern ideals posed to their sovereignty because sure enough, it wasn't long before the flames of revolution ignited after the first Black Ships arrived in Edo Bay. However, the revolution itself caused a lot of problems and heartache for many low-born and high-born families alike.  There was still a lot of resistance to the new world order and those that did not want to see the old, right ways disappear. So it is logical that the attitude towards Democracy and the West was less than favorable among some folks.  Perry and the other new Westerners certainly could be viewed as bullies from a certain perspective.

But enough about government for now, this episode marks a change in the show that becomes the new norm eventually.  We're moving into the episodes where the villains become increasingly more-and-more superhuman in their abilities and endurance.  For instance: Sanousuke takes a DAGGER to his HEAD and remains uninjured. Not only does the dagger fail to cave his head in like a melon, Sanousuke breaks his opponent's arm by STANDING THERE.  I guess it was his thick head and the strength of his fighter's spirit that shattered bone. This kind of thing requires complete suspension of disbelief, but it is somehwat necessary to further the action of the series.  The caliber of Kenshin's enemies until now has been very so we've not gotten to see the rurouni really let loose.  Since Kenshin is one of those superhuman characters himself, Nobuhiro Watsuki - the creator of the series, had to start providing him with enemies that could challenge his abilities and test the strength of his moral code.  Because if Kenshin can defeat every enemy in a single blow, it's just not that interesting is it?

After the fight at the Akabeko, Sanousuke is hired by Gohei who reveals the truth behind Kenshin's identity. The fighter-for-hire arrives at the Kamiya Dojo anxious to fight the strongest fighter of the Imperialist Army in order to fulfill some personal vendetta against the Imperialists; however, the fight is interrupted when they are discovered by Ayane and Suzume - the two adorable children whom hang out at the Dojo and have adopted Kenshin as an uncle.  It is agreed by the fighters that their match will have to wait because the children shouldn't be exposed to such violence. (Aww, isn't that sweet of them, but I wanted to see some fighting, darnit!!!)

This episode ends before anything really get's started, and was over before I even realized that we were coming to the end.

I'm going to save my rant about the Zanbatou for next time.  The what, you ask? Check out the above photo. No, that is not a surf board that Sanousuke is trying to bludgeon Kenshin with.  That is a sword and perhaps the most ridiculous weapon ever created  next to Cloud's busterblade or Squall's gunblade. For now, just have a good long LOL.

[Marketing] The Blog's the thing!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

The Internet enables writers to connect with their audience, promote their books or brand, and network with industry professionals in so many different ways now. So. Many. Different ways. And still, almost everyday some Marketing guru out there is touting the next new exciting digital thing that'll supposedly revolutionize EVERYTHING!  How often have you thought: It's too much!?

Honestly, it is too much especially considering that most writers have a career and/or manage a family, must find time to write between the first two things, and have to invest time and energy in their own marketing and promotion.  So no, you probably won't be able to do it all.  You need to tailor your digital strategy to your life and commitments to truly be efficient and worthwile, but that's a discussion for another day.

However, if you do just one thing, then you must have blog or a website.  I feel a blog is less of a hassle to throw together if you have no experience in web design and allows for a more open and transparent channel of communication between yourself and your audience so my recommendation is to keep a blog over a website if you do only that one thing.  There are so many professional looking free templates out there that it won't be too much trouble finding one that suits your work and personality. Even after all these years, the blog still the most important thing you can do to market yourself. And yet, it amazes me how often writers don't have or keep up with their blogs.  Think of your blog as the foundation stones of your online platform that you will build up from.

Your blog should help aggregate all the information about you, your books, and all the publicity information surrounding them.  Your reader should be able to get a sense of who you are - your personality, humor, and maybe your interests, and feel a connection.  They should be able to read a blurb about your book or excerpt (of edited work with your editor's or agent's approval) or character profiles. Something that will wet their appetite for your product.  And your blog should always link to a wide range of places where the reader can go to get more information or connect with you and other readers in other ways. This might be the publisher's page, Twitter, a Facebook fanpage, Goodreads. It should go without saying that you should promote the events and blog tours that your publicist arranges for, from your blog. And it's courteous to re-promote what others are doing for you elsewhere in the blogosphere to foster goodwill and help support one another within your interest communities.

But a word of warning: you mustn't let the blog be all about selling your books.  You won't build a committed audience if all you do is pitch your book at them. You have to let your personality shine through.  Now if you're uncomfortable with that level of online sharing there are other alternatives.  Build your blog into a resource pertaining to something that will interest your intended audience.  It can make blogging a bit more fun too if you're delving into your own passions and interests.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 3: Swordsman of Sorrow - The Man Who Slays his Past

Monday, May 16, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Brief Summary: While off on an errand Kenshin runs afoul of the Police Swordsmen, an elite and corrupt group of lawmen who are the only people who are legally authorized by the Meiji government to carry a sword in public.  Meanwhile, a squad of city policemen show up at the Kamiya Dojo ready to arrest the Hitokiri Battousai whom they've learned is currently in residence.

My Thoughts:  I can still remember my reaction to this episode on my first watch of the series.  This was the episode where I knew I was hooked. It's the first really satisfying fight of the show. In this fight we see Kenshin's soft exterior slip and get our first glimpse at how the Hitokiri Battousai must have fought.

Kenshin unsheathes the sakabatou and within moments all but the leader of the Police Swordsmen are down while Kenshin stands over the bodies looking very unlike the wide-eyed rurouni we're used to.  The reversed blade sword is nestled in the crook of his arm and his posture is still and relaxed; however, there is no mistaking his demeanor for anything other than deadly and confident.  It's not a defensive stance.  It's not an offensive stance.  It's not even a neutral stance!  Kenshin's stance says that he doesn't respect his opponents swordsmanship enough to take this fight seriously. The police swordsmen are no threat to him. It is definitely a cool moment, but a strange one for a peace-loving rurouni.  Kenshin is baiting his opponent almost like he's toying with him, and it works.  The captain of the Police Swordsmen flies into a rage and attacks with his signature strike to no avail.

At the conclusion of the duel the city police rush in to arrest the Battousai, but an old friend and comrade from Kenshin's revolutionary days, Aritomo Yamagata, steps in to stop them.  (Fun fact: Aritomo Yamagata actually existed; was the leader of the Japanese army during the Meiji Era; and had quite the handsome mustache!)  It was Yamagata that issued the warrant for Kenshin's arrest in hopes of driving him into the open again.  Yamagata had been searching for Kenshin for some time now and wanted to offer him a position in the new government, but Kenshin refuses Yamagata stating that he has no desire to be rewarded for manslaughter. Yamagata calls him out one more time trying to force him to accept the position and takes a stab at the futility of Kenshin's position as a single swordsman trying to find a purpose in the modern age, but Kenshin rejects him again with characteristic politeness. 

The episode strikes home how hard it must be for Kenshin to carry on in the Meiji Era.  We still don't know his reasons for disappearing after the revolution ended or why Kenshin refuses to kill again.  We are are told that Kenshin fought alongside the Imperialists for a better world, but ten years later appears that corruption has replaced corruption. 

A Particularly Ominous Line: "Even if it's only the handful of people that I meet on the street, I can still protect them with just one sword, that I can." ~ Kenshin Himura

You seem pretty confident about that, Kenshin.  Let's test this theory over the next 92 episodes, shall we?

Go Team Kaoru Moment:  Kaoru totally unleashes a can of Judo-whop-ass on the city policemen as she tries to make her escape in order to go warn Kenshin.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 2: Kid Samurai - A Big Ordeal and a New Student

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Brief Summary:  It’s been a little too quiet at the dojo lately so Kaoru thinks to liven things up by having Kenshin take her and Dr. Gensei’s family out for a moderately extravagant lunch -extravagant at least to the penniless wanderer!

While out on the town, they run across a young pick-pocket named Yahiko Myojin. Yahiko has been forced into service for the local Yakuza in order to pay back a debt owed to them for medical expenses incurred by his now deceased mother.  Tender-hearted Kaoru pushes her way into the situation hoping to convince Yahiko to leave the syndicate and gets the both of them in-over-their-heads.

My Thoughts: There really is not a lot to say about this episode.  It is quite basically a vehicle to introduce Yahiko’s character.  Funnily enough, I think Kaoru is more interesting in this episode than Yahiko.   In the RK fandom there are two camps: those that HATE Kaoru and those that absolutely love her.  Kid Samurai illustrates many of the major arguments of these opposing sides.  

We definitely see the worst of Kaoru’s bossy nature as she bullies Kenshin into lunch and literally drags him around Tokyo.  She shows no restraint over her temper and acts according to her whims and wants rather than from any mature calculation of the moment.  And predictably in what will become a trend of the show, she winds up in the hot-pot after barging into the Yakuza headquarters and getting tricked into a game that she cannot win.  

But we also see that her spontaneity comes from her enthusiasm to do good in this world and protect those that need protecting.  That her personal safety could be at risk comes as a secondary consideration.  It’s a pretty typical stance for your standard Anime heroine, but I think it is absolutely necessary for Kenshin to have that around him and is what endears her to him. 

What I liked about this episode is that it does show Kaoru as a warrior and not just a damsel in distress even if she does end-up needing a bit of rescuing at the end.  To her credit, she is not a bad swordswoman.  She successfully fends off a group of eight Yakuza before being disarmed by their leader.  She wasn't even doing badly against said leader until he pulled out a concealed sword and shattered her bamboo blade.  Kaoru was not unqualified as a fighter to stand up for Yahiko, but wooden swords cannot stand up to steel and the Meiji Era is not yet a perfect world where her innocence and idealism can survive. 

[YA] So Pretty It's Art: Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Wow, I love this!  I love this cover so much that I want to hang it on my wall. And best yet, the the story appeals to me too.  It's the kind of dilemma that's not only really relevant to teens today, but it is also one that even adults struggle with.  I'll have to pick this one up when it releases later this month.

About Awaken: Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.

Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking. In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

[RK Rewatch] Episode 1: The Handsome Swordsman of Legend

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

The show opens with a brief (very brief) history lesson of the revolution that lead to the Meiji Era in Japan (1863-1912). It's a pretty typical thing to do in Anime, but I feel like it has gotten less common now and is a characteristic of more dated Anime.  I find it interesting though that the summation is told from the perspective of our modern age which the audience never again returns to (in my memory) in any recap, info dump, or preview.

150 years ago amidst the chaotic times of the Bakumatsu, a revolution that would spell the end of the 350 year reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the (completely fictional) legend of Battousai the Manslayer emerged.  The Hikokiri Battousai (roughly translated in the English dub as 'Battousai the Manslayer') was a swordsman of extreme and legendary skill who helped the Imperialist forces achieve victory over the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to his throne.  With the Emperor leading the country again, the isolationist policies of the Shogunate came to an end and free trade with the West in goods and ideas resumed unfettered by the conservative ideals of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Meanwhile, swordsmen like the Hitokiri Battousai passed on into stories and were never heard from again after the age of the sword came to a close.

The opening sequences show a young Kenshin, kicking ass with cold hard eyes. It's a pretty awesome fight scene set against the backdrop of the city of Kyoto burning to the ground. You're thinking 'Wow!  This is awesome! I can't wait for more of this!' until we flash forward ten years and oh my,...it seems like the Battousai has fallen on some rather rough times.

The audience recognizes this wide-eyed, effeminate swordsman wearing a ratty pink haori as the Battousai of legend and we definitely won't be the last to do so.  Oh and the most feared swordsman of the revolution: yeah, he's taken a vow never to kill again.  His katana is called a sakabatou - a fictional sword that has the sharpened and dull sides of the blade reversed thus preventing Kenshin from delivering fatal wounds to his opponents in combat. Bummer.

In this episode we're introduced to the man that the Battousai has become after he comes to the aid of a local girl in Tokyo named Kaoru Kamiya.  Another man claiming to be the Battousai has been hanging around the city lately and killing unlucky townsfolk in the name of his sword style - Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. This is the style of swordsmanship that had been mastered and passed down through Kaoru's family for generations.  As the last of her line and with her ancestral dojo on the brink of financial ruin, Kaoru is hellbent on restoring the honor of her family's swordsmanship.  Kamiya Kasshin Ryu teaches that the sword is a tool to protect the innocent and that it should never be used to take a life for either revenge or justice.  They fight exclusively with wooden swords which is probably a good thing given that it is illegal to carry a bladed weapon in Meiji Japan. It doesn't really sound like the sword style belonging to aN assassin does it? But the suspicion that these incidents have cast on Kaoru's school is enough to drive away all her students.

Feeling some responsibility for what has happened, Kenshin hangs around in an attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery.  He is forced to reveal his identity as the real Hitokiri Battousai after the fake Battousai, a former student of Kaoru's father, sneaks into the dojo to take his final revenge on Kaoru for the banishment and humiliation that he received at the hands of her father.

After the business with the fake Battousai is wrapped up, Kaoru asks that Kenshin stay on and help her rebuild her school.  Kenshin is hesitant at first fearing that others will come after him and cause trouble for Kaoru, but her insistence that she doesn't care about his past moves him to accept her hospitality with the understanding that there may come a day when he'll have to wander off again.

So conveniently our no-kill samurai has come to stay at a no-kill dojo belonging to a kind and compassionate female lead.  Let the Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story begin!*

Some random thoughts:

Besides being an angsty, ass-kicking, Bishounen warrior, Kenshin cooks, cleans, and is great with children.  It's no wonder the character has such a rabid fangirl following. Kenshin relies on politeness and his good humor to hide amongst the crowd.  It makes him really endearing, but I find it interesting that he rarely takes any pains to hide his physical appearance other than to dress like a ragamuffin.  He could have very easily adopted one of the western hairstyles that you see cropping up in the Meiji era, or better yet -  dyed that mane of red hair as much, as I hate to say it.

Gohei, the fake Battousai and two-bit criminal, is able to match Kenshin pretty easily to a description that he's heard of the real Battousai so Kenshin's reputation is fairly widely known. I often wonder if Kenshin is unable to accept and really understand the fame that his title has earned him.  After all, he doesn't value it or view any of his actions during the war as anything noble.  In his mind he was simply an assassin and murderer.  He believed in the cause, but probably can't see himself as a hero of rumor and legend.  The only adjustments he makes in the post-Tokugawa world are behavioral. He intentionally acts in every way contrary to what he fears might be his true nature.  Kenshin the Wanderer is a quiet-mannered, polite man who does not assert himself (especially not around bossy women). And although he doesn't kill anymore, but it remains to be seen who Kenshin Himura really is.

*The full series title of Rurouni Kenshin is Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story.  Nobuhiro, the original creator, was very clear that this was a Romantic story and not a Love story.  While the romantic elements are very strong in this series it remains an action samurai story that can be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

[Marketing] sell-in vs sell through

Laura Fitzgerald

I'm really bad about forgetting what publishing jargon is either known or not known among my wider circle of acquaintances.  While on vacation visiting my parents last week, they asked for clarification on a pair of terms so it seemed like a good thing to post about today.

There are two phases in the life of a book in terms of marketing and publicity: sell-in, and sell-through.  I sometimes see them bandied about on publishing blogs or dropped into conversation without much by way of explanation or distinction, so here we go.


The ultimate goal is to sell through the available stock in the marketplace with enough reorders to warrant a reprint. But if you've been doing your research into the publishing industry, you should know already that this ultimate goal is the Cinderella story and not the norm for a lot of books. Most books do not achieve this velocity of sale and a lot of stock comes back in the form of returns.

Sell-through is all the marketing, advertising, or publicity begins near the pub date.  It is anything that aims to bring the consumer into a store or to an online retailer in order to the book or e-book.  This is any book or blog tour beginning on or closely linked to the on-sale date.  This is all advertising that runs at around that same time that's been designed and written as a call-to-action encouraging the consumer to purchase the book.  The advertising may also highlight a specific uniqueness about the product or the marketing campaign.

Now obviously the more digitized publishing becomes the less appropriate the term sell-through is.  With an e-book there is no stock to sell through so the word probably ought to be phased out.


Sell-in occurs prior to publication.  The ultimate goal here is to sell in as much stock as possible to retailers be they traditional bookstores such as Barnes & Nobles, Borders, Amazon, Books-A-Million, the independents etc. etc. or secondary sellers such as Walmart, Target, grocery chains and so forth.

At sell-through the title, specs, and covers of the books are already known. At sell-in this may not be the case.  A cover may still be under-development or a title or release date may need to change.  You've all seen the complaint that books these days get almost no marketing for them, but in addition to  a place in the catalog, Advanced Readers Copies or galleys, and several other things that are already the subject of many other blog posts around the web, all books get support from the marketing department at sell-in. At sell-in a publisher's marketing department is talking with the sales reps and getting their feedback on what they think is best for the book in matters such as positioning.  Sales materials such as the catalog are being developed along with any other special sales pieces that might be necessary to pitch special projects to accounts.  And there are meetings, lots and lots of meetings, but that seems to be true of many industries.

There may be advertising, but it'll be targeting booksellers and retailers rather than the consumer since sell-in occurs so long before publication.

The near and post publication plans are being made and presented to sales which can positively affect the buy.  So just a little something to keep in your head: if you are already planning some big, unique marketing campaign on your own for the publication of your book then it would be a good idea to make it known to your publisher in a brief e-mail well in advance so that they can include it in these materials.

[Anime] Rurouni Kenshin Rewatch: Introduction

Sunday, May 1, 2011 Laura Fitzgerald

Okay, I've been wanting to do this for a while now, and because of THIS I feel pretty darn motivated to finally commit to it.

You might want to look away for a moment. I'm going to have a fangirl meltdown for just a minute before getting into a serious explanation of the series. I'm sorry; I can't help myself. After ten long years, the universe has seen fit to give my favorite Anime of all time some small revival.

Fangirl Momment (Watch out!): OMG OMG OMG!!!  *breathes*  OMG OMG!!  

Brief Summary:  Rurouni Kenshin follows a "peaceful" swordsman by the name of Kenshin Himura who has taken a vow never to kill again as he tries to find a life for himself in the Meiji era of Japan.  The brief Meiji era is one of my favorite time periods to study.  It is a period of rapid westernization for Japan, yet many still struggle on to maintain the old ways of life.

It has been over ten years since the television series ended in Japan after a disappointing third season. In the U.S. the Rurouni Kenshin anime was distributed by Media Blasters and the manga by Viz Media.  It was well received in both countries and was briefly run on cable as a part of Cartoon Networks' Toonami line-up.

Realistically, I'm expecting a new straight to DVD film(s), but with the recent treatment that Inuyasha, Full Metal Alchemist, Dragon Ball Z, and Evangelion all received it's hard not to hope for more.  What would make me happy would be to see the Jinchuu ARC done properly.  The Jinchuu ARC was a storyline in the final volumes of the manga that was never animated for the television series, and only briefly recapped in the Seishouen OVA that came later after the television series had ended. What would make me happiest to the point that my heart might explode would be to see the series redone like Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood - newly animated and adhering more closely to the manga.

I will be watching the episodes in English although I imagine this might be irritating to some fans.  I know, I know - I know all about the flaws, but I am incredibly fond of Richard Cansino's voice as Kenshin Himura and several of the other cast members.  I appreciate the original Japanese and I think Mayo Suzukaze does a wonderful job, but this is a rewatch after all and the English dub is how I most often chose to watch the series when I was younger.

It's been almost six years since I last watched all the episodes.  I've been a fan of the series since the first DVD release in 2000. It pains me sometimes to think about how much money I spent collecting that 26 volume series.  At almost $30 dollars a DVD in those early days (including tax), I spent $1,000 dollars on Rurouni Kenshin.  Eeep!  The dumb things we do in high school when we don't have to pay rent, right?  But on the other hand, I think I had a lot of fun waiting on pins and needles all month for the next installment.  Now-a-days, we are able to leap into the fansubs while we wait which isn't quite as thrilling in my opinion.  Some things are worth waiting for.

I only hope that I'll be able to say those same words after the new Rurouni Kenshin project finally airs.