Friday, November 23, 2012

A BLACK FRIDAY Givaway & Author Spotlight: Victoria Strauss on Platforms & Self-Promotion

HAPPY BLACK FRIDAY, everyone!! It's always a thrill to host another young adult author, not to mention one with so much wisdom to share. Don't forget to stay tuned until the end and ENTER to win a copy of this amazing book!!

I am honored to be a part of the PASSION BLUE blog tour, sharing such a wonderful story and a fellow YALitchat member's success. Firstly, let's share a bit about her book.

AUTHOR NAME: Victoria Strauss
PUBLISHER: Amazon Children's Publishing
PUB DATE: November 6, 2012

Be sure you know your true heart’s desire, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive.

This is the warning the Astrologer-Sorcerer gives Giulia when she pays him to create a magical talisman for her. The scorned illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, Giulia is determined to defy the dire fate predicted by her horoscope, and use the talisman to claim what she believes is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs–not likely prospects for a girl about to be packed off to the cloistered world of a convent.

But the convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises. There are strict rules, long hours of work, and spiteful rivalries…but there’s also friendship, and the biggest surprise of all: a workshop of female artists who produce paintings of astonishing beauty, using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion blue. Yet even as Giulia begins to learn the mysteries of the painter’s craft, the magic of the talisman is at work, and a forbidden romance beckons her down a path of uncertainty and danger. She is haunted by the sorcerer’s warning, and by a question: does she really know the true compass of her heart?

Set in Renaissance Italy, this richly imagined novel about a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into a fascinating, exotic world where love, faith, and art inspire passion–of many different hues. Purchase Link.

Thanks for joining us, Victoria! I've been seeing your book all over the blogosphere, lately. What or who inspired you to start writing?
I come from a family of book lovers and authors. My dad was a university professor and the author of several nonfiction books, and my mom published a well-received novel when she was in her 20’s. So writing was in the air when I was growing up. As a kid, I was always writing—stories, poems, even a novella or two. All awful (I know because my mom saved every one).

I never thought of writing as something I might do as a career until my senior year in high school. I had a wonderful English teacher who challenged me to really dig into my writing. With her encouragement, I produced several pretty decent short stories—my first serious writing effort. That led to me writing my first novel during a gap year between high school and college.  

Describe yourself in 5 to 10 words.
Virgo. Smart. Empathetic. Loyal. A bit cynical. Anxious!

What is the biggest challenge writing for today's youth?
There’s so much amazing writing coming out of the YA field these days. Not only do teens have a huge array of books to choose from, the bar for quality is set very high. I think that standing out in such a crowded, competitive marketplace is one of the biggest challenges for any YA writer. 

Share your thoughts about self-promotion, author platforms, and the ever-changing publishing world.
When I published my first novel, the publishing world was very different. Authors didn’t self-promote—not because publishers did so much more marketing (they really didn’t—it’s always been the famous names and the bestsellers that get the most attention) but because there were so many fewer books. It wasn’t nearly so difficult to stand out.

That’s no longer true. The market is incredibly crowded now, and writers have to self-promote if they want to grab readers’ attention. Many authors love the entrepreneurial spirit of self-promotion. Others (including introverts like me) find it very difficult. The key, I think, is to familiarize yourself with what other people are doing (and not doing, so you can avoid making self-promotion mistakes), and then decide what you’re comfortable with—and what you think you will be good at. It’s better to focus on just a few effective promotional strategies, than to try and do everything, or to force yourself to undertake things that you can’t do well.

As for platforms…for writers of fiction who are seeking traditional publication, I don’t agree with those who say that you have to build a platform before you’re published. Having a platform certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s not a requirement; platformless first-timers get picked up all the time. Once you have a contract in hand is plenty soon enough to start building your platform.

For self-publishers, it’s a bit different, because they don’t have the year or more between contract and release that traditionally published author do. Plus, because they don’t have publisher support (and contrary to the popular myth, traditional publishers do support the books they publish), self-promotion is even more vital. I think a self-published author needs to think about audience building much sooner than a traditionally published author does.   

On the publishing world…wow. What incredible changes in just a few years. Technology has changed the way we consume books—maybe even the way we read. Our future as writers is no longer being shaped just by publishers and readers, but by tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon. We face huge challenges, from the erosion of copyright protection to the explosion of schemes and scams. We do live in interesting times!
And yet, as scary as all this change is, it’s also hugely exciting. There’s no longer just one path to publication--writers have an unprecedented array of options now, from traditional publishing to small press publishing to self-publishing. We’re interacting with our readers, and with each other, in ways we were never able to do before.

Through your writing experience, what 3 elements or methods of writing have you found most valuable?
1. Outlining. I used to be a pantser—I’d have an idea for the beginning, an idea for the ending, and some vague notions about the middle. I’d just sit down and write my way through, making the story up as I went. But I wrote myself into so many dead ends and detours that I was constantly having to backtrack and figure out where I’d gone wrong. 

After my third book, I realized that something had to change. So I began outlining—actually, more like a detailed synopsis. I synopsize the entire story from start to finish, with all the major plot points, themes, and character arcs, so I’m sure I can get all the way through without getting stuck. Then I put the synopsis away and don’t look at it again. Because I know where I’m going, I don’t wander down so many dead ends; because I’m not slavishly sticking to a template, there’s room for inspiration. My finished books always deviate from the original outline—sometimes quite substantially.

2. Editing as I go. I say this not because I think it’s how everyone should work, but because so many people say no one should work this way. Powering through a manuscript without looking back definitely works for some, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Trying to hold yourself to a writing method that doesn’t work for you is a recipe for frustration and, possibly, failure.

For me, each chapter is like a brick in a wall. If one brick isn’t firm, the ones on top will be shaky too, and it’s a lot harder to fix a wall once it’s built than to build it right in the first place. I start each day by editing what I wrote the day before (and often the day before that). I do a revision pass over each chapter after I finish it. If I think of something that needs to be changed or added I go back and do it, rather than waiting till the end. It does take me longer to produce a complete manuscript. But because I wind up with something that’s close to a final draft, I don’t usually have to do a heavy revision.

3. Beta readers. Writers need to be able to self-edit—it’s an essential part of the craft. If you’re not self-reliant at the level of line editing, you’re not ready to be submitting, in my opinion.

But writers are also too close to their work to be able to see it clearly. So an outside eye, a second viewpoint, really is essential. That’s where beta readers come in—people who’ll read your work with a critical eye, and give you feedback. Easier said than done, I know! A good beta reader—someone who’s not afraid to criticize, but can do so constructively--is hard to find. Local writers’ groups are one option; many libraries and large chain bookstores host them. There are also many good online critique groups. The Share Your Work forums at the Absolute Write Water Cooler are very helpful, as is Critters, a critique group for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers.  

Graffiti Wall signature question: You may take three items from a grocery store checkout line. What do you see and what will you take? 
Hmmm. I see a tempting array of fresh veggies, ripe fruit, exotic cheeses, fancy cookies and desserts, and crusty breads, beside a rack of glossy magazines and impulse items like individually-wrapped chocolate treats. (What can I say—I shop at Whole Foods. Plus, it’s a mistake to answer a question like this when you’re hungry.)

What I take:
Chobani Greek yogurt, vanilla flavor. I know—boring. But it’s my new addiction.
Ghirardelli Creamy Devotion Milk Chocolate Squares. It’s fashionable to love dark chocolate, but I just don’t. And writers…must…have…chocolate.

The latest issue of US Magazine. Because I can’t live another second without knowing whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant.

It has been a pleasure, Victoria!

Now, Alleywalkers, ENTER TO WIN your very own copy of PASSION BLUE!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway  

Victoria Strauss is the author of eight novels for adults and young adults, including the Stone fantasy duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone), and a historical fantasy for teens, Passion Blue. She has written hundreds of book reviews for magazines and ezines, including SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer's Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.
An active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), she's co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that tracks and warns about literary fraud. She maintains the popular Writer Beware website ( and blog (, for which she was a 2012 winner of an Independent Book Blogger Award. She was honored with the SFWA Service Award in 2009. Visit her at her website:


  1. Not entering to win, just wanted to say congratulations, Victoria. You certainly have a point about there being so many books out now.

  2. Great advice Victoria. Both on the marketing and the editing. I like to edit as I go too.

  3. I used to edit as I went. It took forever to finish that way so I moved to fast drafting. But I know others who work well editing as they go, like you, Victoria! We all really do have to find what works best for us. It doesn't matter how you write, just that you do. Great advice, Victoria.

    1. Absolutely, Kelly. We all have our path to editing. I've also found that I can work more quickly with certain subjects of stories, while others take more looking back, editing while I go.

  4. You're so right about the way authors are interacting with each other and with their fans. It's one of my absolute favorite parts of being an Indie author, but I imagine it's very similar for traditional authors as well.

    1. I love that part of the industry, now. Interacting with those you're trying touch is wonderful, as well as helpful from a creators perspective. So very proud of all my Indie besties!!

  5. My favorite part is how honest Victoria is about all parts of the process - how she shares what works for her, especially about beta readers. It's excellent advice from a real pro!

    Thank you:)

  6. Victoria makes some very good points. Thanks for sharing. :)

  7. I like that you don't shy away from changes when writing your book, even if it differs quite a bit from the orginal outline. Change can be useful and the story may work better because of it :)

  8. I have a secret desire to read the check stand magazines like US Weekly, too.

    It's a tough market out there and hard to stand out without a lot of extra effort on a writer's part to market. Thanks for sharing your tips.

    1. to love those secret desires. lol

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Kayeleen! Have a wonderful weekend.

  9. Very nice interview. Usually, I edit as I go too. It's the English teacher in me I guess. :)

  10. Thanks so much for hosting me, Sheri--and thanks to everyone for the great comments. It's good to know that there are others out there who take the slower road (editing as you go)!

    1. You're welcome, Victoria. It's been my pleasure!!

  11. What a wonderful interview. I agree with outlining - it's invaluable for me!

  12. Sounds like an excellent book. Thanks for all the great info, Victoria. And congratulations!


  13. Hi, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this post. It was
    practical. Keep on posting!


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