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When You Want to Write a Book

 If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, "I'd like to write"...I'd have a lot of nickels. To help those people out a little, I thought I'd do a series of posts on the topic, similar to a presentation I used to do in live settings called WRITE, EDIT, PUBLISH.  WRITING If you want to write a book, you have to find the time, energy, and perseverance to keep at it until the story is done. When you type "The End" (We actually don't do that, but the image is nice), it won't be perfect, but--at least in the world of fiction--a story needs to be finished before you can consider the next steps. Mostly, this means the BITCH principle is in effect: Butt In The Chair, Honey . Your method doesn't matter. I know authors who hand-write their first drafts, some who keyboard, some who dictate, and even one who uses some antique half-computer half-typewriting device she claims works best for her thought process. Whatever, just get your story on pa

Choosing Your Next Book

    Whether you open a website or walk into a bookstore, there's nothing like the feeling of choosing what you're going to read next. Sadly, I've been disappointed more often than thrilled this year, and at lunch with a friend the other day, she said the same. "Maybe we read too much," she told me. "We've heard it all and seen it all as far as stories go." While that might be true, I can still get pulled into a book if it's done well, as I have been with my current read, WE BEGIN AT THE END by Chris Whitaker. It's not an easy book, but when I find myself thinking, even worrying, about the characters when I'm not reading, I know it's because of good writing. Of course, reading is as individual as writing. I can't tell you the book will affect you the same way. I can only give you my reaction. Choosing a new book is both easy and hard in our time. There are tons of books and tons of places to find them. Still, I've noticed tha

In Praise of Quiet Authors

I'm going to share something authors talk about among themselves but are wary of speaking openly about. While most authors are great at public events, there are some who shout the rest of us down, claiming what they offer is "the best book you'll ever read!" Examples: A guy who stationed his wife at the door so she could lead people to his table (past four other authors). The one who hollered at each new customer, "Come on over here and let me tell you about my book!" as they came into the room. The woman who practically moved into my space so she could tell my customers about her books. These people ignore differences in readers' expectations and the variety of tastes concerning plot, character, writing styles, etc. Their book fits all, and the other authors present are chopped liver. The saddest part is that it sometimes works. Every other author in the room is offended, but readers are nice people, and once these loudmouths have them cornered, the

The Skinny on Author Appearances

Muskegon Book Festival 7/17 Some might have a mistaken idea of how author appearances go. I know I did way back when. I thought I'd sit at a table at the front of the bookstore and people would come in, see me, and say, "Oh, my, what have you written?" I'd tell them a little about it (it's called a pitch, and you practice it) and they'd say, "Sounds lovely. I'll take one--no, make that two. My sister likes mysteries too." As the girl says in A Chorus Line , "That ain't it, kid." Some ask you where the bathroom is. Some ask if you can recommend a good children's book for their granddaughter. Some ask if you carry the Wall Street Journal. Some walk in a half-mile circle to avoid passing close enough for you to speak to them. Some tell you about the book they're going to write when they get time. Some tell you about their second cousin, who wrote a book about her near-death experience and her talk with Jesus, wh

Oh, Those Publishing Snobs!

I read a very snarky article yesterday about how self-published authors just don't "get it right." The author explained that as a book reviewer she felt it was her duty (yes, she really did use that word) to point out the failings of those who have the nerve to go out on their own. I'll say at the outset that self-publishing availability does allow writers to publish work that simply isn't ready. A reader can figure out who those people are by perusing sample chapters on Amazon (or the book descriptions, written by the author in most cases). I have to admit from listening to readers and writers for years, there seem to be readers for every book, good or bad. I object to someone who sets herself up as a judge of good books based on what the industry says and does. For example, the writer of this article claimed self-published books use the wrong fonts and improper layouts. Her wholesale condemnation and her contention that big booksellers always get it right

How Much Is Enough?

Thanks, George Michael! My version of that question doesn't apply to "Star People" but rather to series books. How many books can a series contain before it gets stale? I guess it depends on the writer, and to some extent on readers. Some series characters I have stuck with for a long time, like Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, Dean Koontz' Odd Thomas, and Michael Connelly 's Harry Bosch. Some books are more memorable than others, but in the end it's the main character that brings me back when the next book is released. I will admit in at least one case above I recently reached my limit. I'm tired of the character and have no curiosity about what the next adventure is. Some series characters grow and change, and some don't. Harry Bosch moves through time, falling in love, gaining a daughter, rejecting change, and recently retiring from the police force. Grafton takes a different a

People Ask Cool Questions #2

My first release, now in audio: Macbeth's Niece This month I'm answering questions I often get at personal appearances. Today's question is "How long does it take to write a book?" That's a little like "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" It's part practical, part philosophical, and mostly unanswerable. We all know authors who take years to write a book. Some of them are quite self-righteous about it, copping a "you can't rush genius" attitude. I'm no genius, so I can't say if that's true. I've noticed, however, that the rest of us are writing as fast as we can, and while it used to take two years minimum to get a new book out, most publishers are fine these days with more than one a year. That can lead to some loss of quality, and readers with an editor's eye bemoan the modern tendency to rush to get a book out. Still those same readers go on Facebook or Goodreads and wonder when Author X is

An Author's Bucket List

Panel at Printers' Row 6-16  In the preface to Iberia, James Michener explained that he'd conceived the idea for the book decades before, made a bunch of notes about it, and then put it on a shelf because he had too many other things going. I think many authors have the same experience: too many ideas, not enough time . I always tell people I'll die with ideas for more books in my head. It takes time to make an idea into a book, which is why, though we all might have "a book inside us," we don't all write it down. It's a daunting task, and even if/when you do write it down, it needs editing and reworking, over and over. Even books that seem light, like cozies, require multiple draft s. (I know there are authors who claim to write it down only once. A: I don't believe them and B: if it IS true, I'm guessing they work it over many, many times in their heads before they make that one draft. The rest of us can't keep all that stuff inside

What's a Printers' Row?

A long time ago, there was an area in Chicago where book publishers tended to locate. They started a book festival, and the rest is history. Though the book publishers are mostly gone, every year in June they take to the streets, closing them down to traffic so tents can be set up for blocks and blocks representing book sellers, book publishers, and everyone associated with that. This year it was mid-90s all festival weekend, but since it was Chicago, there was a breeze off the lake that saved us all. I gathered with a group in a tent wrapped in crime scene tape: Midwest Mystery Writers of America and Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore. With me were well-known authors like Sara Paretsky and Marcia Clark as well as lots of writers like me, not so well known but just as hard-working. It's always fun to get together with authors I've known for years and meet authors I've never met. Some I know online and others I've never heard of before. I confess to a desire to read

The Bitter End

Not me. My hero, Dorothy Parker I posted on Facebook the other day that each book I write comes to the point where I'd like to tell the reader, "I've brought you this far, now you finish it!" I was surprised to read in the responses I got that it's been done. Can't imagine reading a whole book and being left in the lurch like that. As one respondent pointed out, "As the author, you know the characters better than anyone else. You have to tell us what happens to them." Yes, it's the author's responsibility to sort out the mess she's created. Still: 1) I'm tired of them at that point. Like one's children, an author loves her characters, but there are times when she'd like to love them from a galaxy far, far away. 2) Some readers won't be satisfied. I've heard from some who wanted more romance (okay, sex) between the characters to end the book. One reader complained that a certain character would never have given

Plain Talk for Writers: It Takes Longer than You Think

What takes longer, you ask? Everything. It takes longer to sell a book than you'd like. It takes longer to produce a book than you estimate. It takes longer to become a familiar name to readers than you expected. It takes longer to to keep up with promotion than you ever imagined. Let's look at those one by one. Sell the book . Five years is the estimated average time it takes a writer to find a publisher. If you're hoping for a big publisher, it could be even more. Yes, I know you read about an author who hit it big with her first book. Hooray for her, but most of us don't have that experience. We just don't talk about it because the average reader thinks if a book is "good enough," it's going to get published. Yeah, right. Produce the book . Once your book is accepted by a publisher, you're on their timeline. You can tell all your friends about it, but they're likely to have to wait more than a year to see the book in print. My

Plain Talk for Writers: It's Work

Some things you need to accept: 1. You're not as good as you think you are. Other people have ideas as good as yours. In fact, it's hard to be truly creative with all the stories that are out there. Others write as well as you do too. Admit it, and you'll be easier to be around. 2. You're going to work harder than you expect to be successful. There is no Book Fairy who sprinkles shiny stuff on your work and gets everyone to notice it. There's no way to get readers to pay attention if they don't want to. There are things you can do that actually turn readers off, like constantly telling what a great book you've written. 3. Nobody knows what works. If there were a formula--well, there isn't. Badly written books get to be Best Sellers and really good books get rejected by publishers or lie languishing if they do get published. 4. Writing well isn't easy. Note the qualifier. A monkey can sit down at a computer and produce something. An author kn

Saturday, Sept. 26: Alpena Book Festival

Welcome to the Alpena Book Festival! All visitors who register for the ABF will receive a free Passport. At each panel or participating business they visit, they’ll get a stamp on their Passport. A completed Passport (10 stamps) enters the visitor into a drawing for baskets of prizes donated by authors, publishers, and Downtown businesses. Visitors who donate to READ* ($10.00 suggested donation) receive a tote bag filled with books and other freebies. Tickets found in the tote bags can be used to enter drawings for additional prize baskets. Tickets can be purchased separately, but the tote bags are a great deal. Sessions listed below are open to all, but space might be limited. All sessions run 50 minutes, leaving 10 minutes to get to the next one. Authors will return to the bookstore that has their books after their sessions to meet readers and sign. 10:00 Panel discussion: Stories That Inspire-Olivet Book & Gift Panelists: Christine Johnson/ Zachary Bartels/D