Writing Columns and Branding — Interview with Author Aaron Paul Lazar

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley of upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at http://www.legardemysteries.com/ and http://www.mooremysteries.com/ and watch for newest releases, Mazurka, coming January 2009 and Healey’s Cave, March 2009.

Bertram: Is a having a column valuable for a writer?

Aaron: Columns provide multiple avenues to “spread the word.” Not only are they ideal opportunities for building name recognition and growing ones circle of readers, but they also provide connections with real live people, especially if they’re online and feature a “comments” section.

There’s nothing more satisfying than posting an article on writing advice, or even general “life lessons,” and receiving voluminous responses ranging from “thanks for sharing,” to “you made my day!” I love connecting with readers on every level, whether they are LeGarde Mystery fans or just plain humans with common passions or angst.

Of course, if readers enjoy your columns, they may well enjoy your books. So it’s a natural progression for column readers to ask questions about and then devour the series, one book at a time.

Bertram: What are the drawbacks of having a column?

Aaron: Okay, here’s the rub. Being asked to write a regular column is a coup, right? It’s a validation that a magazine editor or literary journal host believes in your work and thinks readers would come back to you, week after week, or month after month. What an honor! But there is a down side. The pressure can be tough to produce something fresh and new on a regular basis. And of course, it takes away from your pure writing time if you’re a book author.

I write “Seedlings,” a monthly column that started life at Bob Burdick’s “The Back Room,” literary journal, then moved into the Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and the Voice in the Dark Literary journal at mysteryfiction.net. I also host the Gather.com (a social network) “Writing Essentials” group on Saturday mornings. The latter involves reading and approving/declining writing submissions for the day, depending on their quality and consistency within established guidelines. I also post an article each week, addressing group members. Sometimes I appeal to their “writerly” sides, with articles filled with writing advice or even book reviews. At other times I write about my life, or grandchildren, or dog. ;o) But I try to consistently show up (with the exception of vacations, severe illness or catastrophes) and touch base with the group on Saturday mornings. Of course, my weekends are packed with chores – so I have to rise extra early to prepare for this. It’s a big commitment, and one I don’t take lightly.

Bertram: How does a writer go about pitching a column?

Aaron: I’m embarrassed to admit that I never had to pitch a column. They sort of “came” to me. LOL. That said, if I were trying to snag such a job from scratch, I would create my own “column” by branding it with a name, photo, and logo, and posting regularly on social or writers sites, such as http://www.gather.com/ or Murder By 4, a blog that I host with three wonderful writers that appeals to both writers and readers. Becoming a regular contributor to such sites will increase your name recognition and may result in someone else asking you to join their journal or newsletter.

Let me share what I mean by branding. For “Seedlings,” I chose a beautiful photo I’d taken of my tangerine Siberian Wallflowers. Full of color, it epitomized my passion for life, gardens, and all things beautiful. It symbolized “me,” in that I am always either out in my gardens, or dragging my characters around their gardens, or picking bountiful baskets of vegetables and fruit from my gardens. While up to my elbows in soft earth, I’m always happy. You get the idea.

While you’re creating your lovely stable of columns, by creating these bits and pieces that go with it — you are branding yourself.

And as long as your host(s) don’t mind you republishing your work, there’s no reason why one can’t post in multiple sites — social networks, writers groups, your own blog, simultaneously. It can get complicated, though. I have to keep a massive spreadsheet of all my reviews and columns to keep track of what posted where and when!

Be sure to have a collection of pieces you can draw on — if you are pitching a column, you need to “have” a column with multiple articles that you use to showcase your talents. Shoot for somewhere between 800 and 2000 words to start, but naturally you must comply with your host’s submission requirements in all cases.

Bertram: How did you get your column?

Aaron: I started corresponding with Bob Burdick (aka RC Burdick) after reading his wonderful mystery, The Margaret Ellen. (that’s another great topic, how reviews help increase credibility and internet presence) and falling in love with his characters and writing style. We struck up a friendship, and one day he asked me to write a piece about “The Writer’s Life.” I did, and thus was born the “Seedlings” columns. Prior to that I’d thrust all my writing energy into my novels. But it didn’t take long for this form – a bit more casual and folksier than my mysteries – to become addictive. Once established at Bob’s site, I also posted on my blog and other locations. Soon I was asked to do Seedlings for FMAM, and it grew from there.

Bertram: Anything else you’d like to tell us?

Aaron: If your ultimate goal is to promote your books through networking — a worthy endeavor — columns are a wonderful way to enhance the process. But don’t stop there. Be sure to join writers’ groups, read extensively and post reviews, keep your website fresh and exciting, and participate in as many library and book events as possible. I love reading aloud to my fans – and that has brought in new opportunities on radio and live events. Just be careful to balance these efforts so that you still have time to write!

Blog Radio

Aaron Paul Lazar and I are doing a blog exchange today. (I will be at Murder By 4.) The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries, Lazar enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for his upcoming release, MAZURKA, coming in 2008. Lazar says:

Have you noticed a recent explosion in Internet radio shows? Perhaps you’ve heard of Blogtalk Radio, or other venues, in the past year. Basically, folks register as a talk show host and run their show via phones and the web. The guests call in, and listeners can either sign in or call in to join the discussion at the discretion of the host. The podcasts are available to download, feature on websites, or share via articles or email. The venue has become a wonderful marketing tool for writers and professionals in all fields. Over the past year, I’ve been a guest on several shows, ranging anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes. Feel free to listen to some or all of them, if you are so inclined, here.

But in Dr. Niama Willam’s Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes radio show last week (“Dr. Ni” pronounced “nee”), I experienced a completely different type of interview.

It was more like “literary therapy.” Dr. Ni read and loved Tremolo: Cry of the Loon, brought up questions and issues about the characters, how they related to my life and passions, and spotlighted important aspects of the book linked to current day social issues.

She asked some hard questions that stopped me in my tracks.

But it’s not surprising, because the renowned Dr. Ni, literary scholar, author, creative coach, abuse survivor, and natural therapist, has just what it takes to help you dig into your life or novel, explore literary relationships to your life, and return you from the experience feeling enriched and satisfied.

None of it was planned. I didn’t even get the questions until a few minutes before the show. But that made the whole experience more animated, more natural. She surprised me by asking me to read segments of the book I’d never read aloud. I’m working on recording chapters for future audio books, but these chapters were further down the list and I hadn’t practiced. Sure, I made a few flubs, but the discussions we had about these scenes were illuminating.

The Poetry, Prose, and Anything Goes program opens with Dr. Ni’s lyrical and mystical acapella singing, with a welcome that promises to “let your ears become intoxicated.” We laughed a lot, shared common experiences, and dug deep into important subjects.

Following are some of the topics we covered:

– The concept of innocence; how it relates to childhood and shapes a writer.
– How an author’s fears drive suspense and plot elements
– Abuse, and why it’s a recurring theme in the LeGarde series
– The lives of concentration camp survivor’s children
– Grandparenting vs. Parenting
– The “macho man” culture of some African American and Latino men and how it’s okay to be human, to be nurturing, to allow your emotions to show, while also being strong and protective.
– The history and future of Siegfried Marggrander, and where the German segments come from in the series.
– The differences between 50s/60s kids and some children today
– How playing outside and inventing games was/is so good for children
– Materialism and its destruction of the family and quality of some children
– The desensitization of society to violence, gore, sex.
– Nature and the importance of living with and in it, as opposed to living indoor in electronic cocoons.

I wanted to share this with you all for the sake of connecting on important issues, but also to provide some fodder for ideas for those of you who are established or budding writers. Whether you already have a book out there or are about to be published, don’t hesitate to take the plunge with live radio!

At first it’s a bit scary. After all, you are LIVE. But as you become accustomed to thinking on your feet, the fears lessen and it can be truly delightful.

The best way to prepare for radio is to do lots of print interviews first. You’ll collect your thoughts, have files of answers handy, and will be practiced in the art of thinking about your motivations, characters, synopses of books, etc. I must have done 25 to 30 print interviews before I “dared” go live on radio. But they helped immensely. I even practiced answering the most popular questions out loud, so my mouth actually said the things my mind intended.

You also need to be prepared to read “live.” Again, practice makes perfect. Before I record my clips for future audio books, I practice each chapter numerous times, until the sound of the voices and descriptions match what was in my head when I wrote the words. That’s hard to do at first, but after a while it again, becomes second nature.

If you have a laptop in the kitchen, or headphones at work, click on the link to the show above and let me know what you think about our discussion. We can keep it going here if you like.

Remember, dear friends, to take pleasure in the little things. And if you love to write, write like the wind!