Weeding and writing

I am trying to write this with one eye covered by a patch. I put a wet tea bag on it  in hopes it would reduce the swelling of poison ivy.

Yep, I did it again. Thought I was pulling out English ivy vines. And yes, I know the difference (after repeated bouts with the poisonous vine) but there were no leaves on them so …here I am again, itching and miserable.

Summer is winding down, though, and soon enough my only yard work will be raking leaves. Time to start on something new. Or maybe something old. I have some manuscripts that are (gasp!) typed on paper. I wrote them before the advent of computers, that is to say very early in my career.

Now, have I learned anything since I wrote those stories? Or am I going to keep making the same mistakes, as I do with pulling vines?

Delia Owens and David Joy at McIntyres Books.

My hope and belief is that I have honed my craft enough so that I will be able to look at these old stories and spot trouble points. I need to be sure there is theme, not just a plot; that my characters are identifiable and relatable; that I balance narrative and dialogue; and most of all, that the story is not boring.

So there is that. And somehow I plan to finish that memoir I started for the grandkids, who are now adults and maybe more interested in their shared history. Our writers’ club is holding a workshop on writing the memoir in November, and  I’m looking forward to learning just how to approach this.  It is a great opportunity, and timely.

Opportunities to learn abound. Last weekend a friend and I drove two hours to hear two novelists (David Joy and Delia Owens) read from their works and talk about writing. Well worth the trip. What I learned: it is okay if your first book is crap. Keep writing.

I hope you all take every chance you get whether it is attending author talks, reading, going to workshops or conferences, or just getting together with other writers to share your dreams.

And if someone out there is trying to deter you ( and there are naysayers whose mission in life is to pull you down) just carefully root them out of your life. They are poison ivy.

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Book fairs — are they worth it?

First, thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for “Riverbend” in the InD’Tale contest. Today is the last day to vote, just sayin’.

But it is time to move on. As I’ve said before, writing isn’t just about putting words on paper–or in Word file nowadays, although I do know some authors who still write with a pen and legal pad. If I did that, I would never be able to decipher my handwriting!

Me at a book fair. I believe the book I was selling then was “The Lunch Club.”

So coming up is a two-day book fair at a local library. Now here is where a writer has to make tough decisions. I’ve attended some book fairs and did very well. I’ve attended others and sold zero to one book. The trouble is, you never can tell. Do people come to browse and enjoy the free coffee or do they come with intent to buy? And how do you entice them to buy? I’ve offered free candy, book marks, half-price deals, pens, and other freebies. In my experience, people with gladly accept anything free and then walk away without making a purchase. Or they will buy more than one book.

So now I have to make an order from Amazon so I will have books to sell. How many? As Hamlet famously said, “That is the question.”

I guess I just have to go by instinct. No one wants to live with a garage filled with unsold books, but on the other hand, you don’t want to tell a prospective customer that you are out of the book she wants to buy.

Putting money matters aside, book fairs are a great way to meet people. Even if they don’t buy that day, if you’ve made a good impression — a connection — they may well buy your book while they next go  online to choose something to read. And, you get to meet fellow authors and exchange tips and advice.  And make connections.

So in my mind, that is almost as important as selling books. If I break even in expenses, I’m happy.

 

 

Here I go again!

“They” say history repeats itself.  I don’t think personal history was included in that remark, but I’m sure I’m not the only one to find myself thinking, “Here I go again!”

In 2015, a 4.5-star review made “A Question of Time” eligible for the prestigious RONE award, given by  InD’tale Magazine. As the title indicates, the award is for independently published fiction. After getting a 4.5 or 5-star review, the book is automatically entered. In the next round, readers vote for their favorite. After that, the finalists are judges by industry professionals.

My book passed the first round of reader judging. I was not able to go to the banquet and ceremony in California because Jim was in rehab at that time for a broken hip. It was just as well I saved my money, because I didn’t win. The judges didn’t find my story captivating. In fact, I didn’t even get an honorable mention. (Sobs)

That was in 2016. Now I am eligible again for “Riverbend.” Do I dare get my hopes up once more or do I tell myself that I’m up against many good writers, I don’t have a big fan base, and other excuses that will help soften the blow of losing?

Well, I’m going to give it all I can. Here are the instructions for voting:

It is extremely important that you let all your readers and fans know!  We would hate to think a superior quality book lost only because people were unaware of the time limit. Also, make sure that they understand they MUST be registered on our website at www.indtale.com in order to vote. Once they register, if they haven’t already, they will be required to click the verification link sent to them via email. If they do not verify their registration with this link, they will be unable to vote. This is very important to help insure that the voting is fair and maintains the high quality standards required for this top-tier award.

Yes, I know it sounds like a lot of trouble. But it really isn’t all that hard. Go to the link, register, click the verification email, and then vote.

Voting  in my category, Historical: Victorian-20th Century, begins April 23 and ends April 29. Just in case you don’t mark it on your calendar, I’ll remind you again.

If you haven’t read the book,  want to read an excerpt,  or go to the buy links, my website is www.sandrazbruney.com

I’d love to be a finalist again. I’d love it even more if I won, but if I don’t (again) it will be a fun ride.

By the way, here’s the review (5 stars!):

“Riverbend” is an emotionally provocative story that transports the reader back to the days of slavery. The story is well composed and well written, with compelling and bewitching characters. Damaris is often left a disadvantage but overcomes her afflictions with grace and perseverance. Zoe tantalizes with her beauty and antagonistic ways. There is a constant push and pull between Zoe and Damaris and the conflict that Zoe presents makes the story riveting. The fact that a slave has as much power as the mistress is unprecedented and provokes any different emotions. “Riverbend” is a truly excellent novel that will stay in the readers mind long after they are finished!

 

 

Finding your people

Many years ago, when I was flush with the success of being a finalist in a state-wide writing contest, I signed up for a week-long writers retreat at Duke University.

I’d never done anything like this before. I took vacation days from work, kissed my husband goodbye, and set off with high hopes and not a little trepidation. I had no idea what to expect and knew no one there.

We were settled in one of the old brick dorms next to the Duke Chapel. That alone would have made me happy, even if I’d stayed in my third-floor room for the duration. But I’d paid to learn, so I conquered my fears and set out for the evening mixer. 

The dorm I stayed in is on the left.

And after that, everything went up hill. I met, ate, sat in class with, and talked to writers from all over the country, beginners and published. I met authors such as the late Reynolds Price and Josephine Humphreys. Ms. Humphreys sat down at  the lunch table I shared with several other neophytes and showed us the souvenir shirts she’d purchased for her two boys.  I remember thinking, she’s a real person! a mom! and famous!

I called my husband and told him I’d found my people. I’m not sure he understood, but I knew I had found kindred spirits. I felt at home.

If you haven’t found your people, I suggest you find the nearest writing group, or failing that, do as I did and start one. The club I founded with a few other like-minded people has been going for almost 30 years now. We’ve done a lot of things — organized writers conferences, held contests, published anthologies, even produced an outdoor drama for 10 years — but mostly we’ve supported each other in our journeys.

I was reminded of that at our last meeting when we took the subject for discussion, how to handle writer’s block, and wandered off topic to describing our work places and sharing what inspired us. Everyone had something to add and I hope everyone brought something helpful away with them. I know I did. Some of us went to dinner after and continued the discussion.

That’s why I belong to a writer’s club and why I urge you to join one, too. You will find that it’s more than a club. You’ll find your tribe, your family, your people.

 

 

Lesson re-learned

When my first two non-fiction books were published, I was elated. A real publisher had accepted my submissions. It was a small, indie press, but to me it was a first step. Never mind that the company went out of business a few years later and I had to re-publish the books on my own. The experience was invaluable in that I realized I was no longer a wannabe, but a professional writer.

The second lesson I learned was during the editing process. Each book (Angels Unaware and The Lunch Club) elicited the same directive from the editor: Lose the first chapter.

It’s good advice. Many writers, including me, think that everything has to be explained in the first pages. We throw in too much back story, we put in too much detail about the characters and their lives, and we never get to the point of the story until chapter two. It’s not until then that the action begins to gain momentum.

I tried to follow that advice with my next books, published by a different small press. I started out with the problem and the story accelerated from there.

But I must have forgotten with my current work in progress. Like the tablecloth I mentioned in my last post, I kept starting and stopping, knowing something was wrong, but just not getting it. The first chapter limped along like a dog with a sand spur in his paw. Aggravating and painful.

Then one evening the answer came to me. The first chapter is boring because it doesn’t state the problem in the first page. It drones on until about mid-chapter, and then we discover the dilemma the protagonist faces. By then, most readers would have yawned and tossed the book aside.

Yep, I needed to lose that first chapter. So I highlighted and deleted the whole thing  and rewrote the second chapter (now first) so that the reader knows immediately what the heroine faces.

The lesson here is that we continue learning, but sometimes we forget what we learned. That’s why it’s so important to keep reading craft books and magazines, to attend workshops, and to work with a critique group.  I submitted that now-gone first chapter to a critique partner who said succinctly that she wasn’t sure if the protagonist was 13 or 30. I re-read it and realized in an effort to make the heroine young, I had essentially made her a teenager. More cuts and revisions.

But now that I’m aware of the red flags that I’d ignored in my blithe assumption that as a published author I knew what I was doing, I am eager to tackle the story again.

And I’m still eager to learn. On October 28, Joseph Bathanti will lead an intensive short story workshop in Wadesboro. I don’t write short stories very often, but I believe that what I  learn from a master writer can be applied to longer works.

If you live in the Charlotte area, check it out at Carolinas Writers Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

The rocky road

No, I’m not talking about ice cream, although I love ice cream as well as anybody I know.  Since this is a blog about writing, you’ve probably guessed I’m talking about the rocky road to publication.

I’ve been fortunate to find a publisher who believed in my work, and disappointed when, due to financial difficulties,  that publisher went out of business. I found another, but they only do e-books. Correction, they will do a print version when your sales reach X number of dollars. Alas, mine have not attained that pinnacle.

So I decided to self-publish my latest book, Riverbend,  in both print and Kindle. I say Kindle and not e-book because I am trying another experiment, and that is listing the e-book version on KDP Select. Some authors say it has worked well for them, and others maybe not so much. We’ll see how that works out and I promise I’ll get back to you with the results.

Like you, I attend workshops and conferences and try to figure out what gives a writer the most exposure, or should I say return on investment? Do  you cajole, threaten and blackmail friends and relations to post reviews so you will be eligible to submit to the giant among e-book promoters, Book Bub? And then pay hundreds of dollars for an ad IF you are accepted?

Do you find sites that post banner ads for a sum of money and pray that someone sees them?  Or do you pursue book reviewers and hope their influence will increase your sales?

I’ve tried all of these (well not, Book Bub because no matter what I do, I can’t get to that magic number of reviews.) I’ve spent money and time, only to be disappointed. People say they like the book, the reviews that are posted are good to excellent, but sales are dismal.

This time I’m trying a new feature introduced by Amazon. For a fee (of course) they will place strategic ads on their pages advertising your book. You can pay as much or as little as you want, and run your campaign for one day or to  infinity. I thought I’d get on board because isn’t it in Amazon’s best interest to sell books?

I’ll let  you know how that works out, also.

Meanwhile, keeping my fingers crossed and working on my next book.

 

 

 

 

That “Oh, no” moment

I got my proof copy of Riverbend from Amazon last week. I started to look through it, and —

Yes, you guessed it. I saw a typo. Then another.

To make matters worse, when I began reading it more carefully, I noticed places where I could have chosen a better word or phrase. Oh, the beauty of hindsight.

When I think about ordering a book online, I read the reviews. If readers complain of poor editing or too many typos, I usually pass.

I do not want that to happen to me!

So one more time, I went through it page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by … You get the idea.

I followed some advice I heard at a workshop and started at the last page and worked my way to the beginning. When sentences are taken out of context, it is much easier to see errors.

And now I see my back cover blurb doesn’t really tell what the story is about, so I need to work on that as well.

At this rate, I’ll never be ready to let go, but I have a firm publication date of May 1.

I remember reading about an author who  wasn’t satisfied with the ending of his book, so every time he was giving a reading or lecture in a new city he’d visit the library and cross out the last paragraphs and write in the new ending.

I don’t intend to go to that extreme. But I am going to make sure this book is as ready as it can be for its debut.

There are people, and I used to be one them, who think writing a book is easy. You just sit down and begin typing.

They don’t  know the whole story.

Pun intended.

 

 

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