Friday, December 27, 2013

No excuses, just reasons

I wish I could say the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season provided a good excuse for not blogging. That’s not the case and to blame my absence on the holiday would be a big fat lie.

Most of my recent efforts have been directed at working on my supplemental income project, selling good quality used books at reasonable prices on Amazon.

I admit the prospect of participating in this came with trepidation but the challenge, along with the prospect of additional cash in pocket, gave courage to the endeavor.

So far, what started as an experiment has turned into a fun part time experience. While I don’t expect to earn enough to buy a new vehicle, sales have been good enough to take care of a dwindling recreational budget.

Now it’s time to get back to serious writing and more frequent blog posts.

P.S. If you get a chance, check out my little book store.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Unusual things found in books: Part Four or Five

Usually, when I write about this topic, (and I don't remember how many times I've done it) I'm referring to odd little bookmarks. This time, however, I thought it would be interesting to include text prepared by the authors and placed on the back side of the title page under the heading Note of Acknowledgement.

The authors (Cadwallader and Nudnick) in their Little BlackBook: A Manual for Bachelors, stated the following:

Because we have spent so much time in hotels, we have numbered the pages starting with 101. We also did this to increase the scope of the manual and to acknowledge that vast bulk of material that goes without saying.

A sense of humor never hurt anyone, especially when the topic is so silly (my opinion).

The authors also dedicated the book with the following words:

Grudgingly dedicated to the two little girls without whose jeers and snide remarks this book would never have been finished.

(Here are the previous posts about this same topic.)
 Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The first 20,000 words: a writer's stumbling block

I remember reading something somewhere that many aspiring writers have no trouble getting the first 20,000 words down on paper but that many cannot seem to move beyond that to a finished product.
I wonder how many really good plots never became novels for this very reason.

Has this happened to you?

I have never experienced the exasperation of being at a loss for written words (although I'm often at a loss for spoken words). I usually start writing and can't stop. Daylight turns to night; night becomes the wee hours of the morning. My eyelids keep drooping and I find myself taking shallow breaths. Only when I start yawning so much that tears obscure the page in front of me do I know it's time to put the puppy to bed.

Very little in my life follows a structure, and that includes my writing. I'm guessing that could be a problem for some writers, a problem that ends at the period after the twenty-thousand word mark. Yes, I know where my plot is going. No, I never know what route it will take. In fact, I have to let it sit for weeks after I hit the final punctuation mark on my keyboard because I know I've probably been repetitious; I have probably changed someone's name midway through; I have probably been too wordy, not wordy enough; too glib; too serious; too something that has to be edited. I do consider my work finished but but not polished.

This method probably doesn't work for everyone, which is why that 20,000 mark can be such a problem. In cases like this, it would probably help to have some kind of structure, an outline, for instance.

Then again, maybe it would help to write the ending first, even before the first chapter.
When I was in graduate school, I was enrolled in three literature courses one summer. Each one required a book a week to be read and analyzed, which was quite a task because I was also working full time. While I'm sure I didn't have an undiscovered solution, I resorted to reading the first chapter and the ending of each book before proceeding. My motivation was to eliminate the concern about what was going to happen so I could concentrate on the more important task at hand -- analyzing each book and preparing for questions and exams.

This worked wonderfully. I found I was able to foresee much of where the author was heading and what his characters were going to do. I found it easier to recognize symbolism and motivation. And, I passed each course with perfect grades.

Now when I think about it, I wonder if that's not how my writing pattern works. I know where I'm going so getting there is just a matter of following one route, checking out shortcuts and detours, to see if they will add conflict, flavor, motivation or if they are merely a diversion that can be eliminated.
It's a long road,
 sometimes a lonely, desolate road, but it's been traveled before. The scenery changes but the destination is always the same.

As Emerson wrote, Life is a journey, not a destination. Once you have a bead on your destination, the journey should take care of itself.

(Here's an interesting look at the 20,000 word problem. I found it when I was searching for related content.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Say hello to Lucy, patron saint of authors

This is Lucy. She floats on the wall above the sofa, opposite the chair where I sit with laptop perched on my knees as I write.

Lucy is named after Lucy of Syracuse, the patron saint of authors.

She isn't the only patron saint of writers; Saints Paul and Francis de Sales get the most hype (Is it okay to refer to religious beliefs as hype?), but it wouldn't be fitting to name my muse Paul or Francis.

Actually, I can't find any substantive explanation as to why Lucy has been signaled out for this honor. Primarily, she is the patron saint of all things to do with eyes. (I won't go into the reason for this; it's kind of gruesome.)

Anyway, that's my Lucy (and thanks to cousin Janine for helping me decide what to name her.) I've grown very fond of her but just in case she's not enough to get my books on the top-ten list on Amazon, I think I'm going to order one of these. these.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The next big step for the eBook

We all know that eBook sales have taken over the world. With the availability of a variety of electronic readers, from cell phones to laptops to kindles and tablets, those of us who read (or publish) eBooks have myriad ways to access any format.

Critics, however, are beginning to wonder if the explosive jump in eBooks into the market is about to taper off, if it hasn’t already shown a slowdown. (I don’t agree, but then again, I’m not an expert in the field of theorizing about the future.) The thesis behind the thought is that eBooks, like other popular items, are a fad of sorts and like all fads, they can grow only so far before the market gets saturated, before fans look for some new stimulus, or before the novelty isn’t novel anymore. (Read this interesting article by Cynthia Boris )

Now, traditional print book publishers would probably like nothing better than to have their monopoly on the book market; but let’s face it – they’re never going to get back to where they were. The old model probably won’t die; but it’s going to need some kind of life support.

Let’s look at an example of one instance that can breathed new life into print book sales with no effort on the part of any publisher.

In 1997, Lee Child’s first novel, The Killing Floor, was a best seller. It was (according to Wikipedia) the Anthony Award winner, the Barry Award winne, a Dilys Award nominee and a Macavity Award nominee. Child (nee Jim Grant) went on to pen a number of successful novels.

Then, in 2012, The Killing Floor was retitled as Reacher (after the name of the main character) and was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise (who many distained because he had absolutely no resemblance the main character). Almost simultaneously, the title was reissued under the name Reacher and the book is once again a best seller. (It is ranked 1,850 in Amazon sales rankings and 606 in Barnes and Noble sales rankings as of this writing. The kindle version is ranked #257)

Now, back to that questionable idea of floundering eBook sales. If this is the case, we should be wondering if there’s some way to reverse the trend. And what better way for publishers and authors alike to experience a new direction for their electronic products but to have eBooks made into movies!

I suppose it’s a bit of a pipe dream at this point but I think authors and publishers should send a message loud and clear, something like WAKE UP, HOLLYWOOD, there’s a new gold mine out there just waiting for you to rush into.

Also, perhaps, as Cynthia Boris noted in her article, (quoting Michael Norris, a Simba Information analyst, “We have found that at any given time about a third of e-book users haven’t bought a single title in the last 12 months…. someone isn’t going to buy any more books until they make a dent in reading the ones they have already acquired.”)

Then there’s the free eBook offers that abound, usually fueled by independent publishers who are looking for ways to stimulate sales. Self-styled gurus point out that this is one of the better ways to increase sales of a book – give it away because it will get reviews (very important) and will stimulate word of mouth recommendations, and, well, let’s not get into the reasoning here. The fact is, my eBook readers (my laptop and cell phone) have their share of free electronic books, of which I’ve read one! Yet I’ve read every one of the books I paid money to download.

So I’m thinking Hollywood is the best option. Any ideas how to make this happen?
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Sunday, June 23, 2013

go ahead, give it away

A few posts back, I gave my opinion on the question of whether or not a writer should give his or her work away. After discussing the article with a few friends, I realized I should have qualified my thoughts.

If you are a serious writer, one who (1) loves to write and (2) wants to make a living as a writer, then it makes no sense to give your words away, except as a promotional tool.

If, however, you (1) love to write and (2) would like to share your thoughts with friends, relatives or the world, then by all means, give your words away.

I can't imagine the more successful best-selling authors giving their work away. Their aim isn't to merely win fans; their aim is to earn a living and they can't do that by being altruistic, at least not until they have made enough to pay the rent.

I have an old friend who likes to write poetry. He doesn't care about making a living with his skill; in fact, he has a very high paying job that has nothing to to with writing. The poetry is his escape and his way of communicating his view of the world to his friends and readers. I can't argue with the fact that he sends it by email, and I wouldn't argue if he put it in eBook form and gave it away on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If it makes him happy, it makes me happy.

As an added note, if I discovered that giving away one of my titles would cause people to buy my other titles, I might consider experimenting with a freebie. I'm just saying ....
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Friday, May 24, 2013

Writers helping writers

In my last post, I talked about giving your work away. To reach that end, I discussed my experiences in the early days of the internet when people didn't have the social networking sites to air their opinions, express their emotions, or keep in touch with friends, relatives and peers.

I'm remembering one particular incident that occurred in an AOL chat room for writers. A young girl, a high school student, asked the group for help. She'd been assigned a writing project for her English class. Her requirement? To write a poem expressing her feelings.

She'd already finished a draft and asked the group if they would help her figure out how to iron out some of the rough edges.

At that time, about two dozen people were typing messages back and forth and to my surprise, the conversations began to get nasty. Overall, the consensus was (in summary): Get lost, kid. Go to the homework chat room.

I was mortified! Here, in a room full of aspiring writers who wanted feedback on their work, participants were refusing to help a budding writer merely because she was working on a school assignment.

While I didn't engage in the one-sided debate, I did offer to help. Having taught high school English for a couple of years, I figured that would be an added plus. (Is that redundant? Added plus?)

 The young lady and I exchanged to "meet" in a private room. Here she sent a copy of her work. It was really very good but it struggled at the end. I made a couple of comments about her choice of words and let her suggest more powerful ones.

The poem was about walking through a cemetery where a friend was buried. For the ending, I encouraged her to put herself in the scene, to visualize the marker on the grave, to mentally talk to her friend, and then reconstruct the last two lines according to how she felt.

She was gone for a while. I thought she'd given up but soon, she sent a final proof that was so improved it moved me to comment that I'd be giving her an A if she were in my class.

The next evening, I received an email from her, full of thanks, the message merely said she'd received an A and was now determined to continue writing.

The memory makes me smile, makes me wonder if that young person might now be on the best-seller list.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Free ebooks revisited

Years ago, (many years ago) when AOL was a fledgling internet service, I subscribed to one or two (actually more) writing and writer's chat rooms, discussion groups and forums more to explore and learn than to socialize. Back then, AOL had numerous places to hang out and exchange ideas.

One evening, I was lurking and looking, entertaining myself as I watched the dialog among several people about whether or not writers should expect to get paid for their work. The camps were not equally divided but a goodly number of the people in the chat room believed writing was an art that should be freely shared and that writers should never write for profit. They should write because they loved to write, period, end of discussion. On the opposing side of the argument, defenders of the big bucks (my tag, not theirs) indignantly argued that if writers should not expect to get paid for their blood, sweat, tears and cost of typewriter ribbons (Yes, Virginia, this was before word processing replaced those clunky machines entirely.), then nobody should expect to get paid for theirs, not doctors, not teachers, not policemen, not movie producers, not, not, not.

Neither group convinced the other to switch sides.

I, being a writer who used my talent to do silly things like pay the rent, put gas in my car, and eat at least once a day, sided with the pro-pay group.

Several years later, I landed a gig with an independent publisher whose philosophy was “Never give away information.” I felt vindicated, sort of. I add the “sort of” because I knew he was in the business of publishing information for which he expected to be compensated through sales. Still, this made sense because when he got paid, his writers got paid and both could pay the rent, put gas in their cars and eat at least once a day.

(This same publisher also believed that if a book gave you one single idea, one tiny shred of enjoyment, no matter how bad the book, it was worth every penny you spend on it, something I did not favor.)

Fast forward to this era when AOL is just another player in the big cyber game where the debate continues, now with the added ingredient called the eBook, the little rascal that invites anyone and everyone to write and publish and sell – and give away – their talent.

Now the question becomes serious because the competition is even more fierce. One book by one author, good, bad, sensational or stinko, isn’t going to get anywhere on the sales charts of the big internet outlets because it is like that proverbial needle in that farmer’s haystack. There’s no big publisher to spend big bucks promoting it; and the independent, self-published author probably doesn’t have the kind of dough it takes to get the job done. The solution? Find every social media site, every forum, every board, and give away that book. Ask, beg even, readers to review it in their blogs, on those same social networking sites, those same forums and boards. (And pray the reviews are as good as you think your book is.) Build yourself a fan base in the hopes that those same readers will pay for your second effort, or your third, or your fourth. But trust me on this, if your book isn’t worth the read, even if there’s one single idea, one tiny shred of enjoyment on the part of the reader, your strategy won’t work.

Even so, I don’t believe writers should give their work away, unless it’s in the form of promotional efforts -- like blogs (where they still can hope to earn a few sheckels from advertising, through click-throughs and affiliate programs) and interviews and signings and such. This is where they can share our love for writing for free.

Of course, this is my opinion. I’m sure I’ll get some disagreement.

And now, it's off to the word processor to write something to pay. The rent's due in a few days.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

I'm back

It's been nearly three months since my last post. (If I had started that with "Bless me father" this would sound like a confession.) But my absence has not been without reason.

After nearly five months of mistakes (not mine), delays (not mine) and doubts (mine), I'm now in my new digs and ready to get back to some kind of life.

The good part of what's happened is that it happened; it's over. Like all of life, it's filed in the past, an event that doesn't actually exist anymore except to be pulled out of its filing cabinet and used as a lesson. Everything, after all, is a lesson, a test of sorts; whether we pass or not depends on how much we pay attention.

Fortunately, nothing interrupted my writing. I've managed to do the final rewrite on my third novel (and add substantial sections to numbers four and five) and have just a few adjustments to make before converting it to ebook format, which, barring any additional arduous lessons, should be ready for publication next months.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Doubts, second thoughts, dissatisfaction

I wonder if other writers have the same problem I have. It seems I’m never satisfied with my finished manuscripts.

I know I write fast, furiously sometimes (often). Then, when I’ve come to the end of a novel, I let it sit for a while, understanding full well that it will need a lot of work.

I’m almost always working on more than one project at a time, so when I get back to the first pass of a work, I spend a lot of time fleshing it out.

Most of the time I’m happy with the results but in the back of my mind, there are always the questions: Is it really good enough? Are my characters fully developed? Did I get too far away from the plot? Will the reader like it?

I just put the last period in Sister Death, my second Andrew Atkins novel and before I start formatting it for ebook, I’m going to do some research to see how other writers feel when they add that last punctuation mark to a work.

Any thoughts?