Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Jun 16, 2021

You Gotta Love Suggestions...or Not



 People love to tell you what you should do. I guess it's part of being human. Many suggestions are horribly wrong, and they can feel almost willfully so. I saw a post on social media recently asking for book recommendations. The poster wanted to read about an era of history, but she specified she wanted a standalone book. She got no less than three recommendations for series that are "really good."

As my writing career lurches along, I get lots of advice on what I should be doing. My first books were historical, but then other ideas came along. I wrote contemporary mysteries and what I call 'vintage' mysteries set in the 1960s. As a result, Peg Herring's books are scattered through various mystery sub-genres, and of course there are fans who would like more of this type or that. "You should write more ---" Maybe some authors can churn out endless books of one type. I can't.

When I decided to try writing a cozy mystery, I invented a pseudonym, not knowing how well I would fare in that sub-genre. I didn't think about the fact that Maggie Pill would need her own social and IRW presence. I had to practice answering to that name at conferences and being careful to sign the right name when a fan hands me a book and a pen.  It's more work than I imagined to keep Maggie going, but she's fun, and she's very popular with readers. 

Last year, with Deceiving Elvera, Peg moved into women's fiction, which is considered more "literary" than genre books like mysteries. It's a story of a lifelong friendship, but social questions are interwoven: refugee relief, immigration, and people smuggling. Not exactly a light novel.

Peg is currently working on another women's fiction book, Sister Saint, Sister Sinner, and here's where we come to the advice thing. Twice now I've mentioned to acquaintances that I'm not sure how readers are reacting to this new, more serious turn in the Peg books. The breezy response in both cases "You should use another pen name."

That sounds simple, but because of Maggie, I understand what it would mean. Invent a third name. Make a Facebook page for that pseudonym. Then make a Twitter account, etc. Create a blog for her. Start building her a newsletter list so she can send out information periodically. Ignore thousands of readers who know Peg Herring's (and Maggie's) work and might buy the new book because they liked a former one. Not to mention the mental effort mentioned above, being three people at public events.

While it's fine to make suggestions, the decider is probably more aware of the situation than an outsider. So when people say, "You should--" I usually thank them for their input and move on.



Feb 5, 2021

How Writing Changes Reading

 Note to audio fans: Deceiving Elvera is in the works for an audio book. The whole industry seems to be slowed by COVID 19, but I'll let you know as soon as I know.

                                                    How Writing Changes Reading

 I have a friend who's a book reviewer, and she and I often talk about how reading changes a person's reading (if that makes sense, you're a reader). When you start as a kid and read for, say, five decades, you bring a lot of background to each new book you pick up. It's hard for an author to surprise you or entrance you, because you've seen it all before. I recall my daughter telling me how wonderful the Harry Potter books were, so I read the first one. My thought was, "Cute, but hasn't anyone read The Once and Future King?

Being an author is likely to make a person even more of a picky reader than a past filled with books. Writers see plot lines developing, because we've done that ourselves. In the book I'm currently reading, a better-than-average mystery, I have figured out that the bad guy has to die at the end, because it's the only way the hero will ever stop him. I'm in a similar place in my current WIP (Work in Progress). I know a certain character has to die. I'm just not sure of the "how" part yet.

Authors see weaknesses that most readers ignore. We think things like, "You needed to set the stage for that surprise a little better." Sometimes we can't swallow an author's ending, characterization, or even her whole premise. For example, I once read a well-reviewed book where the whole ending hinged on the villain pausing before killing the hero because she found a lipstick in her purse and had to try it out. In the jungle. Someone else's lipstick. I remember thinking, "My editor would never have let me get away with that!"

Generally, I don't comment publicly, but some writers get very uppity about pointing out a book's faults. In an author group I'm a member of on Facebook, a poor woman asked a simple question: How many readers would know that in the 1400's (I think), salt was stored in blocks? For a funny scene, she wanted a servant character who was not a deep thinker to mix up salt and sugar. She got lectured, lampooned, and generally berated by people who assumed she was making fun of those who have learning deficits, which she specifically said wasn't the point of the scene. Some said any reader would know that salt came in blocks. (Um, really? I once had a reader tell me she'd visited the spot where Queen Elizabeth I stayed when she came to Canada.) Some said no book should include a scene with a learning disabled servant because...I'm not sure there was a reason, just outrage. One author even told the questioner that she needed to rewrite the whole book.

While I notice things as I read that I would have done differently, I try to give authors credit for knowing their own story, voice, and reason for what they write. Being an author makes us aware of what writing requires, which can lead authors to being more critical than other readers. Hopefully we'll be more understanding as well.

Jan 18, 2021

I Too Lie for a Living

 Her Highness' First Murder (A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery Book 1) by [Peg Herring] 

Novelists are liars. As one of my contemporaries likes to say, "We make shit up."

The bad part of lying is why you do it.

For writers, it's about entertaining readers. Fiction in a story is harmless in most cases, though I get frustrated with historical novelists who twist facts to suit their story. They don't care if readers (who aren't generally historical experts) conclude that so-and-so wasn't really the villain the history books portray but was actually kind of a pussycat. 

Outside of books, lies take on a more treacherous role. We grew up bombarded daily with commercial advertising, and while some of us learned to think through the hype, others buy products they have no need for because they succumb to the tricks liars play. When I taught high school, I asked students to dissect ads looking for two things: what the specific goal is and how the ad makes its appeal. Often advertisers trigger a person's insecurities so they'll buy a product. (Beauty products are great examples.) Other products sell a vision of what people think will be a better life. Generally, the less essential/healthful a product is, the happier the scenery/actors/activity will be in the ad. (Think car companies, beer, and fast food restaurants.)

One would think that after a lifetime of that, modern citizens would easily recognize lies in politics, but recent times indicate exactly the opposite. Just as people run out to buy products that won't make them irresistible or purchase one more self-help app that's sure to fix their lives, large numbers of voters swallow complete untruths without bothering to fact check what's been said.

As I said earlier, lying in a novel is fairly harmless. Lying to sell a political candidate or idea isn't. Since it's hard to police falsehoods, the burden of finding the truth falls mostly on the consumer. When you read my books, I don't expect you to believe that Elizabeth Tudor solved murders with a commoner named Simon. It's an entertaining dive into the idea of "What if...?" 

When you go to the store, you don't have to buy products that claim to make you wiser, cuter, or more popular. You can think it through. You can look it up. (Try typing "Are some eggs better than others?" into the search bar and discover the answer. You might save yourself a few bucks.)

Most of all, you don't have to believe what any politician or analyst tells you. A few minutes on the internet, checking a variety of sites and reading objective analysis is a great way to counteract the lies that have plunged our nation into chaos. (Hint: if an article uses terms like "lying Republicans" or "socialist Democrats," it isn't going to help you find the truth.) Read the actual words a speaker used, not the edited version, not the slanted opinion that some commentator attaches to it. 

It's time to grow up and learn that lies should be tolerated only in fiction.


 

Dec 7, 2020

Which Book Was That?

 It happens to me sometimes. A reader mentions a character or a scene in one of my books, and it takes me a second to find it in my memory. Oh, right, Caroline, the protagonist in Somebody Doesn't Like Sarah Leigh. I remember her--kind of.

https://books2read.com/u/4AgVOq
The thing is, authors move on. We have new ideas. We dream up new people. But there's no way to tell when a reader will find a book, read it, and get excited for more. My first book was published in 2006. I just saw online where someone ordered it. Yay...but how much of Macbeth's Niece do I even remember?
https://books2read.com/u/m0xYdY

My newest book, Deceiving Elvera, released on Friday. There are ads for it everywhere, and the introductory price is a bargain, so readers are talking about it. One beta reader suggested I could make it a series. Um, no. Some books are meant to be stand-alones, and this one is...big-time.

https://books2read.com/u/38RZoB


The other day a fan wrote to say she wished Maggie Pill (that's me) would consider another Sleuth Sisters book. I said I'd think about it, but it's probably not going to happen. 

I remember going to a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert late in their career as a group. They sang songs I'd never heard before, songs they'd written recently, and I left a little disappointed. I'd gone there to hear "If I Had a Hammer" and "Puff, the Magic Dragon," but they were tired of singing those old chestnuts over and over. I get it: creative people want to move on and do something new. Audiences want to recapture the joy they felt the first time they heard/read/saw a creative work. Some authors can make themselves keep adding another episode. I can't.

Then what am I doing? Tweaking the characters for my next mystery, The Cutest Little Killer. I'm thinking this one could be a series, but readers will have a lot to say about that. It's kind of a partnership, at least with independent writers. Authors let readers know what they like to write by putting the books out there. Readers let an author know they want more by buying books, reviewing them, and recommending them to others.

Nov 11, 2020

The Terrors of Publication

Today I sent a newsletter to over two thousand readers, telling them about the book that will release on December 4, DECEIVING ELVERA. I also bought an ad on Facebook, letting readers there know how to pre-order the book.

Terror. I'm gripped with terror, I tell you!

Why? Because it's a little like navigating a minefield, this publishing thing. 

*The print cover looks great on Amazon, but it's wonky on Draft 2 Digital (see spine above), and I haven't yet figured out why.

*I have a FINAL final review copy on the way, so I might find a few leftover errors that will now have to be fixed on several sites before December 4th arrives (actually it's earlier than that, because they need time to get the files changed. More like November 30, then.)

*Over the past week, I've slated ads with a half-dozen sites like Great Books, Great Deals and Kindle Daily Nation, so their readers will see the cover and read a bit about the book. Each one is different, and I dread that I might have made some mistake that will screw things up.

*And, of course, there's the everyday author angst: Will they like it?

Into this madness my husband wades, asking the right questions. 

So what if some people don't like the book? It's not the end of the world, or even the end of my career.

Most mistakes can be corrected, so we'll take them one at a time (He means I will, but I get it.)

I have two full weeks to examine the final-final review copy. That's plenty of time, and fixing any leftover errors isn't a big deal, just time consuming.

And the cover thing probably just needs me to step away for a while and think about it. I get a little stressed with uploading stuff like that if it needs adjustment. Breathe, Peg, breathe!

So I will get through this, and I LOVE the new book. It's been a two-year project, and I've read it at least a zillion times, but it's been worth it.

So take a look at Deceiving Elvera--not a mystery, so don't expect a murder on page two. Think Kristin Hannah, not Janet Evanovitch.



Jun 9, 2020

Looking at Covers-Please Weigh In




The Kidnap Capers is a three-book series starring Robin and her "hoods," who take down crooks by unorthodox, often humorous methods. 
Book 3 will be out on September 1st, so we're trying to settle on a cover. I'd like input from readers on what's eye-catching and gives the sense of a humorous but suspenseful story.
Here are their covers (these are for the audio books because that's what I can find right now):

Keeping the red/black theme, we got these two possibilities. They'll be fine-tuned once we choose a basic idea.



If we skip the idea of coordinating colors, I like this one too:



Please tell me which cover you prefer, or choose elements that work for you that might be incorporated into a new cover (e.g., "I like the lettering in X but the picture in Y.")








May 29, 2020

Series: What I Wish I'd Known Then

I suspect every writer looks back and wishes things done and undone, and I'm no exception. I write what pleases me, not what I think will make tons of money.  Often I don't know as I'm working on a book if it's a stand-alone or if I'll want to revisit the characters at some point in the future and write them a new adventure.
The technology for book publishing has a steep learning curve and requires constant updating. I started my career with a traditional publisher, which meant I didn't have to worry about that end of things. Now that I'm independent, I decide at what point a book releases, how it's presented to the world, and how to make the internet assist. A while back I learned how to make a boxed set of some of my series, so binge readers can get all the books for one price. I think that's a nice bargain for them.

Recently I learned that Amazon will let readers know about all  the books in a series IF the information is presented to them correctly. As I mentioned above, I often don't know with the first book if it's even going to be a series. (The two main considerations are whether readers like Book #1 and whether I like it enough to pound out 70,000 more words about those people.) I often have to go back and add a series title to the Book 1 file later, so Amazon's algorithms will notice and offer readers the other books.
I've learned that a series title needs to be catchy, and it's best if it's unique." A Dead Detective Mystery" has been used as a series title by other authors, so my four dead detective novels are mixed in with books by different authors and labeled incorrectly (one is called "Book 7"). I have to figure out how to correct that, but I know from experience it will take lots of time and energy to get it done.
Publishing is always changing. That can be good, as the geniuses at Amazon or Draft2Digital make it easier to use their services. But it also means authors have to keep up with formatting, cover creation, promotion, end matter, and more.

I'm always picking up tricks to make things easier, but it seems that like as soon as I learn one, some other new thing comes along.

Mar 15, 2020

Writing, My Precious

Image result for cartoon person readingWe sometimes hear writing described as precious, which, according to one definition I found, is some combination of
1. self-absorbed – the author inserting his own personality too much in the narration.
2. autobiographical – the story is about something that changed the author’s life, turned into fiction.
3. trying too hard to make the text sound nice/pretty
4. trying too hard to effect a style

Last night I dumped a book after about 20 pages for reasons I can't pinpoint except to call the writing precious. I felt like the author was standing at my shoulder, asking, "Didn't I describe that character completely? Isn't she stunningly beautiful?" Every character was described in great detail before he/she ever said a word. In addition, they might just as well have worn signs that said, "LIKE ME" or "DON'T LIKE ME." The "good" characters were perfectly beautiful or incredibly handsome, and the "bad" characters had beady eyes or a bald spot. Again I "heard" the author asking, "Don't I do this description thing well?" After only twenty pages, I didn't care enough to keep reading.


I've got another book going that is precious for a different reason. I'll probably finish reading it, though I have to make myself keep going. It's historical, and the author is trying (I think) to copy the style of Victorian writers, which, as anyone who's read Dickens knows, is rather long-winded and roundabout. I like Dickens, but adopting that style for a novel of today falls into the precious category. The author is trying too hard, and as a reader I want to say to him, "Just tell the story!"

As an author I admit that it's hard to walk the line. Writers aren't supposed to insert themselves into a story, but we're also told that one can't write well unless she digs deep into her emotions and reveals herself in some way. Readers expect lovely language, but too much is "flowery" and gets you nominated for the Bulwer-Lytton Award for horrible writing. We're expected to understand style and develop one of our own, but if the writer's hand shows, we're being precious. Even big-name writers reveal their prejudices at times, though it's best to be even handed. (I love the fact that people still argue about what Shakespeare did or didn't believe about race, sex, religion, etc. He was very good at offering both sides and letting the reader decide who was right.)

A writer's job is to write, hopefully so well that the reader forgets there was a writer. When we stop our reading and think, "Oh, there's the author," that's a failure on her part. That's when writing is precious. 


Jul 15, 2019

There's Too Many Kids in this Tub!

That's a poem by Shel Silverstein, but sometimes I feel that way about my books. I was packing for a book signing on Saturday, and I simply can't haul all of my books (and Maggie's) along anymore. I ended up taking a suitcase full, leaving it in the car, and checking with Horizon Books to see which books they already had. That way I only had to bring a few books from the car to the store, since Traverse City is a bit of an obstacle course all summer long. Gawking tourists (and I'm not complaining, since I've been that person many, many times), dogs, kids, cars, and protestors make the streets an adventure. Luckily, Horizon Books carries my work in good quantities, so I was able to navigate the streets with only a small tote bag containing the newest release.

But back to the too many kids thing. I once heard a very famous author comment that it was frustrating for him when people asked questions about his older books. "I forget them as soon as I write them," he said. "There's no sense asking me why Bill A. did something in Book Three. At Book Fifteen I might not even recall who Bill A. was."

I have to admit I find it hard sometimes to remember details of my own work. When someone asks, "Why did Susan say that on page 32?" I have to think, "Susan, Susan. Oh, yes. Simon's adopted daughter. Let's see, that would be Book Four... Now why did she say that?"

Most authors "live" in the book they're currently writing, and most of us don't have time to go back and reread or even think about earlier books. The details become fuzzy. The characters' names and personal details won't come to mind.



  As Shel said, "There's too many kids in this tub."

Apr 19, 2019

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, they often don't know how to get away without buying. I even knew a writer once who advised me to hand customers the book. "Make them take it into their hands," he said. "They won't want to hand it back, so you'll make the sale."

I never want to be that kind of author. I want you to look at my book, at the cover I chose so carefully, at the back copy I sweated over, at the first pages I wrote and rewrote a hundred times. In the end I trust you, the reader. You might buy a book because of pressure from a pushy writer, but you'll only buy one if it isn't as advertised. Still, in a world where half of everybody has written a book, readers often fall for a writer with the confidence (nerve) to say, "I guarantee you'll love this."

I'd like to praise those of us who write as well as we can and then present it to the world, often shyly and with great trepidation. We don't scream that it's the best book ever because we're aware that tastes differ. After all, there are people who hated Gone with the Wind, Great Expectations, and War and Peace, so you might not be thrilled with KIDNAP.org. I won't die from that. We quiet authors hope we'll gain an audience, but we understand that we don't get the whole audience. Instead of making grandiose claims, we let our work speak for itself.

I know there are personalities of each sort in every field. Some athletes brag that they're the greatest. Others just play the game. Some politicians tell you how much they've done for you. Others are too busy working for you to spend a lot of time talking about it.

It's that way with writers, and I can't say one kind is better than the other. But for me, the quiet author is easier to take. If one is screaming how great his book is, I'll walk right by, every single time.

Jul 2, 2018

Picky, Picky, Picky!

As a kid I was known as a picky eater. Basically, if my mother didn't make it, I was suspicious, and my aunts learned to keep a jar of peanut butter around. That I'd always eat.
Today, I'm less picky about food, but as a consumer of entertainment, I'm still picky. I know that sometimes that comes off as sour grapes or the I-could-do-it-better attitude. That might be true.

I need some sort of logic in my comedy. Anything billed as "zany" or "madcap" is liable to go unread/watched. There are ways to do zany well--Mel Brooks comes to mind--but most of the time I get tired of silliness portrayed as comedic genius. I don't like those people. They need to grow up.

I need plot authenticity in my dramas too. A few nights ago we watched a movie (It was too hot to do anything else!) and though I kept my comments to myself, here are a few logical flaws I noticed.
*The millionaire bad guy had dozens of minions willing to obey his every command. So...he calls in a retired crook who doesn't want the job.
*In order to make the retired crook (let's call him RC) cooperate, MBG arranges his financial ruin if he doesn't take the job. Again, thousands of people in the world who'd gladly help him out, but...
*RC then goes out and gets a bunch of other retired crooks to help him, though it turned out the job only required two guys. None of them wanted the job either, but there's money.
*During the job one of the gang, a complete nut case who shouldn't have been trusted to cross the street by himself, goes berserk and kills the guy they were supposed to "warn" to leave a certain woman alone. The other guy, who should have known better, kills the woman, sorta by mistake.
Remember, these are the good guys in this film. We're supposed to feel sorry for them.

*This leads BRG to put out contracts on all of them. RC tells RBG he should only kill him, not the others, but of course they die horribly, one by one.
*In the meantime there's a girl RC really, really likes, so naturally he tells the RBG, "Please don't hurt her." Yeah, that's gonna work.
*There's also a hooker who doesn't seem to have a purpose except that RC goes to bat for her when a john beats her up and beats the crap out of him...by trespassing onto a corporate property and in front of a dozen expensively-clad witnesses. I guess that shows us how honorable he is...?
At that point I went to another room and read a book.
Now I know this was a testosterone flick, concocted to make a certain type of man happy with lots of  blood and the F word sprinkled like salt on French fries. But is it too much to ask that there be a cogent reason for the way anybody in the film acted at any point in time?

So yes, I'm picky. When I watch, when I read, I need to feel that the characters are acting from some point of logic, no matter how screwed up it might be. Others can dismiss bad writing as "just for entertainment." I want better entertainment than that.

Apr 16, 2018

The Point Where a Book Takes Off

As a reader, you feel a point where you're inside the story, at least if you and the story are sympatico. When you get a good book that happens almost immediately. I recently read MERCY DOGS by Tyler Dilts, which was recommended by a friend, and I fell into the story right away. I liked the protagonist. I empathized with his situation and his father's. I was interested in the mysterious disappearance of his renter. I wanted to know how they were all going to end up.
I love it when that happens.
Image result for mercy dogs
For me, writing a book has that same moment. Intellectually I know I'm going to write a story that comes floating into my head, but emotionally, it often doesn't click until I'm in the middle of actually writing it down.
I'm at work on the sequel to KIDNAP.org, which got nice attention from people in the book industry as well as readers. I knew I wanted it to be a three-story arc, and with my editor's suggestion, I figured out what the 2nd and 3rd books would deal with. I started writing, and it went well. Robin and the gang face two threats, a very powerful target and a sneaky man from her past. I got through a rough draft and one edit, and as I went, things got clearer and better.
https://www.amazon.com/KIDNAP-org-Peg-Herring-ebook/dp/B01NC3F8NV

And then I started the second edit. All sorts of things happened in my head, and suddenly the story came alive. I can hear Robin talking. I can see Cam's pained expression when they tell him he has to wear dress shoes for a whole evening. I can feel Tom's panic when he realizes his friends are locked inside a murderer's estate.
It isn't finished--not even close. But that moment has come where I fall into the story headfirst, and I won't be able to rest until it's done...even though I already know how they're all going to end up.

Mar 5, 2018

Authors in Strange Situations


Image result for cartoon convict



Nobody tells you that promoting the books you write requires you to be adaptable and have a sense of humor. We picture authors jetting all over the country, sipping champagne and telling adoring fans about their latest novel, but that's not reality for the vast majority of us. I loved the story one author told about arriving at a bookstore where he had an audience of one. The fan told him he'd really liked the book, though he admitted he might not have chosen to read it except, "It was the only one they had in solitary confinement."

I haven't met any ex-cons who are fans (that I know of), but I have ended up in strange situations. I want to state here for the record that I am EXTREMELY grateful to libraries and bookstores who allow me to come for a Sit & Sign or, even better, a talk. However, it doesn't always go the way one might imagine.

*** There was the library where they'd booked two events at the same time in the same room. The other event was a League of Women Voters meeting (in a Presidential election year), so I ended up in the children's room, with those cute little 2-foot high tables and miniature chairs.
Image result for cartoon images roof collapse***I spoke once in the Library Annex, a building so old I worried about the roof collapsing. And if any of my audience had allergies to mold...








 ***Scheduled for a Meet the Author Sit & Sign, I arrived to find the librarian who'd contacted me had retired, and no one on the job seemed much interested in her program. They'd scheduled another author to give a talk at the same time, so I got to sit and watch people file into the conference room to hear him. (They didn't even have to pass by my table to get there.) I heard every word of his speech from my table in the hallway behind the door. It was very entertaining, and when he was finished I watched people leave with his book, not even aware I was there.

***I once sat in a bookstore promoting my historicals and heard a customer ask at the front desk if they had any historical mysteries. Asked what era, the woman said she liked medieval and Tudor. The clerk led the woman RIGHT PAST ME to a section where she introduced her to a few of her favorites. Ummm, chopped liver here?

***At one library my audience was very small--three people. When I started chatting with them I realized it was the librarian's mother and her two sisters. She'd called them when it became clear no one else was going to show up!
***Recently I stopped at a library where I'm scheduled to speak and found that nobody there knew about it. The librarian had been reassigned, and yes, they'd love to have me come, but could it be Saturday, not Thursday, and in the morning, not evening.* (It's a good thing I don't have a day job!)

Ask any author who's done a book tour and they'll tell you about being asked where the bathroom is, if "you" carry the New York Times, and what books you can recommend for a fourteen-year-old who really doesn't like to read. They'll tell of events where none of the employees knew an author was coming, and a table had to be cleared really quickly for her use. Of librarians who schedule a talk mostly so they can pick the author's brain about how they might get published. And about the homeless people who attend because there are refreshments afterward. And sometimes there's absolutely no one. Time doesn't fly in those cases.
Image result for cartoon bored person

Still, it's fun. I enjoy the exchange with readers and with the people who serve as guides for reading: librarians and book store clerks. It's just that authors, like the rest of the world, have to adjust their expectations once in a while. The world doesn't revolve around us; in fact, the world doesn't ever intend to.

* The event is at the Port Tampa City Library, March 10, 2018, at 11:00 a.m. I'll be speaking on mystery writers who are very good but don't have the big name recognition.


Nov 27, 2017

If You Publish...

...you'll often wish you'd spent more time making it better.
...you'll want to keep your day job.

...you'll be surprised how little your friends and family care.

...you'll find out how many people don't read books like yours--or don't read at all.

...you'll learn that typing THE END is only the beginning.

Oct 9, 2017

Wanna-be Writers: Here's the Scoop

Oooooh, So Serious!
The right way to get published? There isn't one!

That's really all you need to know, but of course I'm not done.

There are wrong ways, which include being in too much of a hurry and believing that your book is somehow different from the 3500 other books released each day. (Yup, I just read that figure, and while I didn't check it on Snopes, I'd say it's close with the current ease of publishing.)

Still, a lot of what's out there as advice for writers is just silly. Statistics about how many words you write per day don't mean diddly. We're all different, so we work differently. Articles that insist you must maintain a blog or dun your friends and acquaintances with emails each and every month are dumb. Ask yourself who's giving the advice: a company that wants to be your email provider? An author who thinks she's the only person who ever wrote a book? A company that wants to make money from your hopes and dreams? They all have an agenda, so take their advice with that proverbial grain of salt.

I'm going to do a workshop on getting published in Gaylord Nov. 18th, and I try not to have any agenda except sharing what I know. I will never tell you my way is best (in fact, I've changed methods over the last five years as publishing changed). In my workshops I share what I've learned in a decade-plus as a published author. A writer needs to do what works for him or her, and the best way to find that out is to ask yourself what you want from your writing. Enjoyment? Recognition? A career? The workshop starts with a quiz (that you don't have to share with anyone) to help you zero in on what you're aiming for. When you know what the target is, chances of hitting it are a lot better!


It's a long, unpaved road
Interested? The workshop, "Write, Edit, Publish," will happen at the Otsego County Library in Gaylord, MI, on November 18th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I'm not sure if you need to reserve a spot, but as far as I know, it's free. (Phone them for more info: ((989) 732-5841

I look forward to talking to wanna-bes about their work, but please understand that I won't read your work and tell you if I think it's publishable. Here's why: My opinion has absolutely no bearing on whether you become rich and famous!


Jul 17, 2017

Here's What I Don't Get

I've been seeing ads on my Facebook feed lately that claim to help you generate plots for your novels. I guess my question would be "If you haven't got a plot, why do you want to write a novel?"

A novel needs a plot, a reason to exist. As a reader I get tired of  some "literary" novels that tell a lot about how a person feels and how he got that way without the person ever doing anything interesting. Many books that are hailed by critics as "stunning" and "evocative" fail to hold my attention because nothing happens.

Even a plot where things happen will disappoint me if those things are unbelievable or disappointing. A main character who kills had better have a reaaaaaalllly good reason for it. And both the murder and the resulting events must be logical.

Here are some examples that disappointed me, despite the author's skill with words. I fully admit I'm in the minority here, because all of these were successful books; some even got awards.

I recently read a book (well, I skipped to the end after a while) in which the murder of a woman was investigated by her husband (a cop) and her brother (an ex-cop). No person in authority in the police department had a problem with that. Yeah, right.

A book that got all kinds of praise from critics (because of that "evocative" writing) had as the murder scenario a situation where the killer could not have been certain his intended victim would be the one to approach the booby-trapped item. There were dozens of people present and any one of them was every bit as likely to be killed. Of course he was lucky and got the right person!

Another book touted as a "wonderful debut novel" had a plot that was great. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through--until the defeat of the villain depended on her decision, deep in the jungle and after days of chasing the protagonist and finally capturing her in a remote village, to put on some makeup. Almost as bad as the North Pole villain who, with the authorities closing in, decided to rape the protag on the open surface of a glacier at twenty degrees F, because "I've got you now, my pretty, and I intend to have my way with you!" (Can you say "Junior high boy's midnight fantasy"?)

Do these people have beta readers? Do the beta readers not say, "Um, you lost me when the guy hung his pants on the icicle"?

Conclusion: I'm pretty much against buying a plot, but then again, there are times when an author might be better off with a purchased plot than that crazy one he spun in his/her head.

Jun 5, 2017

The Strategies of Authoring

I've been at this for a while now, and I've seen the publishing world undergo drastic changes. When I got my first contract with a traditional publisher, that was the way to go, because books published by an author in what was then called "vanity publishing," were expensive to produce and almost certain to fail.

That changed when two things happened: a few brave authors (e.g. Hugh Howey) began working to understand and use the system to their benefit and Amazon made it (fairly) easy and definitely cheap to publish books.

My time with traditional publishers was extremely valuable. I learned about the need for good editing, good cover art, and good resources for promotion. On the downside, I learned I had few options once I signed a contract, and the financial reward for my work was a long time coming and not nearly as much as people imagine when they plop down $26.00 for a hard cover book.

Now that I'm sort of independent (I've stuck with one of my publishers so technically I'm what they call a hybrid author--which sounds kind of science fiction-y but isn't) I'm learning how books sell in the times when hundreds of thousands of books are added to the possibilities readers are offered each year. Some are tossed into the world like a monkey throwing mud at a canvas, with the naive belief that someone will call it art. Others (like mine) are the result of hard work, dozens of revisions, and many people's input, both paid experts and wonderful volunteers.

All that to say this: One of the ways independent authors attract notice for their books is by giving them away. In this time of free books everywhere, it's hard to get a reader to pay for a book if they haven't read an author before or heard good things about her from someone they trust. Authors like me give away the first book in a series in order to entice readers to buy Book Two, Three, etc.

The Dead Detective Agency is now free through all Draft2Digital outlets, including B&N, Kobo, and the like. I've notified Amazon, so they will eventually price match, though I can't predict when that will happen. If you haven't met Seamus (pronounced shay mus) and don't mind a light-hearted mash-up of mystery and the Afterlife, try the e-book for free, then go back for the rest of the series at only $2.99 each.

Seamus Meets the Mackinac Bridge

Seamus Joins a Theater Group

Seamus Investigates His Own Murder


Oh, and what I'm reading now: Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis. Great scenario, but he'd better not disappoint me when I get to the truth!

Oct 17, 2016

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 was both offensive and silly.

Shortly after I finished reading the article, I opened a book released by a major publisher to find close lines, small print, and a spindly, faint font printed on cream-colored paper. Yuk! My first Maggie Pill book was set up according to "industry standards" that someone else chose. People said, "Loved the book--hated how hard it was to read!" After that I followed my own instincts and produced much easier-to-read books.

How many of us have half-ruined our eyes trying to read a big-time publisher's idea of  "proper" formatting? My husband will struggle through a book like that if he's interested, but I've decided life's too short. (If I really want to read it, I buy it for Kindle.) The reading public is aging, and publishers must be aware of that, but their profit comes before all else.

I've also had the "Chapters MUST start on a right-hand page" argument with publishing purists.Why? That wasteful idea should disappear, like the two-spaces-after-a-period we were taught in long-ago typing class that is now taken as a sign of senility.

The article writer went on to disparage self-pub covers, implying that authors try to save a buck by making their own. Most don't, and again, the reader's eye will tell her if the cover is bad. If it is, be suspicious of the rest of it.

The article writer works for an organization that had reviewed self-published books and now has decided not to, for the reasons she listed. That's their prerogative, I guess, and I know the number of books coming out is staggering. Still, the publishing world is changing. By ignoring self-pubbed authors, they'd have missed The Martian, The Wool Trilogy, Still Alice, and 50 Shades of Grey (not a recommendation; just sayin') to name a few.

Publishing purists ignore the fact that some writers get tired of getting pennies for their work and (in my case) a whole year where a publisher announced, "We've gone bankrupt, so all you authors get nothing." Some of us worked hard to learn what to do and figured out that we can do it ourselves. We don't just slap a book together. We want to get it right, and we hire expert help when we need it.

That's the good part of not being a snob.





Oct 10, 2016

Help for Wanna-be Writers



This is an excerpt from my presentation on publishing. It's by no means exhaustive, just a little help to get you started.
 
There’s a book that tells you EVERYthing about the self-publishing process. It’s around $15.00 but worth it. Let’s Get Digital-https://www.amazon.com/Lets-Get-Digital-Self-Publish-Should/dp/1475212607

Before you get too excited about all the money that’s going to roll in, you might want to read this article: “Everything You Wanted to Know about Book Sales but Were Afraid to Ask”-

Site to find free-lance editors, cover artists, etc. Reedsy. You tell them what you need, they match you with someone who can do that. https://reedsy.com/#/freelancers

To make Kindle E-books: Kindle Digital Platform- https://kdp.amazon.com/

To make paperback books through Amazon: CreateSpace- https://www.createspace.com/

To make paperback books through Ingram (It's more expensive, but bookstores can order them without admitting that "awful Amazon" exists.) IngramSpark- http://ingramspark.com/

To publish just about anything to various outlets: Smashwords- http://smashwords.com/   
or Draft2Digital-http://draft2digital.com

Bowker is the only US provider of ISBNs. If you buy from anyone else, they’ve bought from Bowker and are reselling them to you. http://www.bowker.com/

U.S. Copyright office: again, if you get “help” with your copyright, you’re paying someone to fill out the short form the government requires and paying a LOT more for it. www.copyright.gov/

BEWARE sites help authors navigate the dangerous waters of publishing. They rate publishers and agents by complaints received, so I always check before I deal with an unknown entity.

Writers Market lists agents and publishers with lots of info on what they represent and how to contact them. https://www.amazon.com/Writers-Market-2017-Trusted-Published/dp/1440347735

At the Point Where I Can Tell You

 I sent my next book to the copy editor a few days ago, which for me is a major turning point. It's a commitment of sorts; the book that...