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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Feeling validated

Well, whoop-de-do! My latest book, “Riverbend,” got a 5-star review in the September issue of Ind’Tale magazine. Naturally, I want to exploit this in the nicest way possible, which is to say putting it on Facebook.

But Facebook reaches only so many people. I’m sure that you (if you are a serious author) are always seeking ways to promote your book because frankly, we are the only ones who will.

I wanted the world (or those who don’t subscribe to Ind’Tale, which is a great on-line magazine, by the way) or follow me on Facebook to see the good news. But how?

I have often wondered how authors get those glowing editorial reviews on their Amazon book pages. Did the magazines and newspapers submit them? Common sense told me the New York Times has better things to do.

So like all curious people the world over, I Googled my question. And duh, you can do it yourself. Go to Author Central, click on the book page you want the review to appear on, and lo, there is a form you can fill out.  Look on the left side where it says “editorial” and click on “add.” You have to do it for both Kindle and print editions.

I didn’t copy-past the entire review as it was too long, and the rules say if you are copying another’s words, you should limit it to two sentences. So I picked the most glowing.

If you are not on Author Central at Amazon, why on Earth are you not? It’s another tool in your kit. Maybe not everybody visiting your book page will click on your link, but those who do get to see every book you’ve written, links to your bio, blogs, videos, or anything else you want to add.

I promised long ago to share any insights I have into the writing game, and sadly to say, promotion is a big part of it. Some of us are not good at self-promotion as we think it is tantamount to the bragging or parents scolded us for. We need to get over that notion.

You wrote a book. Now get out there and sell it.

 

 

Reviews…and how to write them

I just finished writing reviews for two books I recently read. I don’t bother writing reviews for best-sellers or established authors, but I do for friends and acquaintances if I’ve read and enjoyed their stories. I hope they help.

I know writers, myself among them, who have asked, begged, and bribed friends and relations to write a review. Some say they will and never do. Some do, God love them. And some say, “I don’t know how.”

My response is, “Just write one sentence: I liked the book. Or hated it. Whatever.”

I know it’s hard if the only thing you’ve written lately without relying on emoticons is a thank-you to Grandma on a pretty note-card because she doesn’t have a computer and still uses a land-line phone. I concentrate on what it is about the book that makes me keep reading. What do you enjoy most in a book? It might be the plot, or it might be the characters. Maybe it’s the quirky humor. There has to be something noteworthy about the book or you wouldn’t have read it in the first place. So start with, “I enjoyed this book because…” and fill in the blanks.

Do people read reviews? I do. I realize not everyone is going to  like every book written, but I try to find a middle ground between gushing praise (written by the author’s mother, perhaps?) and crushing criticism (which may well have been penned by an envious fellow writer). I read a few five- and four-star reviews and then one or two one-stars before making up my mind to purchase the book.

Okay, in a stab at honesty, to download the free or 99-cent book.

Do reviews help the author? I think they do help people make up their minds to click the “Buy” button, but no one is going to read them unless they’re at least curious enough about the book that they’ve visited the site, be it Amazon or another distributor, the publisher, or the author’s web page. How do they find out about the book in the first place? Ah, that’s a subject for another blog. And when I find out the answer, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, if you’ve complimented a writer you know and she asks, boldly or hesitantly, that you repeat your kind words in a review, please do it. It isn’t all that difficult, honest. Just say what you said aloud to them.

And if you don’t know the writer personally, but liked their work enough to recommend it to a friend, you might do the same. Writers love it if you buy their book, but they love it even more when you tell them–and the world– how much you enjoyed it.

 

 

the not-so-fun part of writing

I finally finished my WIP.

I can’t write that with a straight face. I keep tweaking my stories until I send off the final galley proofs. I never feel it’s done as well as it could be. But we all have to call quits at some point and get one with it.

Now comes the part I hate: writing the synopsis and query letter.Image result for finished meme

I wrote a synopsis and my critique partner told me gently it needed work and then lowered the boom: “I love the novel, but, sad to say, I would not have read it if I had to depend on this synopsis to learn what the story is about.”

Maybe I wasn’t sure what the story was about. I had to re-read it to see where it was going. So I spent several days re-writing the synopsis.

Then I started the query, and believe me, it has taken a LOT of time to come up with three paragraphs that set the hook, tell a little about the plot, and leave the reader panting for more. I honestly think I could write a whole new book in the time it’s taken me to write those paragraphs. And I’m still not satisfied.

Once I am, though, the next step is to start sending said query and synopsis to agents/editors/publishers (I’m not choosy). I decided not to self-publish this one, although Riverbend is doing better than I thought it would on Amazon. I checked today and there are two new 5-star reviews and one is not from a friend or relative, but a perfect stranger. I want to hug her.

And, I forgot to mention, it took me days to come with a title. I had a working title, but it didn’t work. I created a list of titles and then sat down and looked them up on Amazon. Some were taken, several times over. I know titles are copyrighted, but I didn’t want to duplicate another book. For example, there are several Riverbends out there, and quite a few Angels Unaware. I wanted one that no one else had taken. If you are are curious, the title is To Love a Liar.

So it’s going to be a busy summer as I try to find this book a home.

 

 

 

 

 

The best-laid plans…

I decided that while the weather was a little cooler I would paint the front deck and ramp.  I should have realized that if it took four

My son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons busy painting the deck and ramp. I had the trim on the house painted last year, so now I’m painting the deck to match.

people a full day to paint it, it might take me a little longer. So I painted for three days and then today I ran out of paint. So I’m taking a break and writing this.

You may think painting has nothing to do with writing, which is what this blog is about unless I digress (as I did last week), but it really does.

 

Painting, mowing the yard, ironing clothes … that’s when I do my writing because that’s when my mind is free to imagine.

I promised a few weeks ago I would let you know how my Amazon advertising campaign went. The truth is, it never started. I signed up for their marketing plan in which they put an ad for your book on other sites so that when people are searching for something they see your ad and think, “Hmm, maybe I’ll click on this.” Then they go to your page, fall in love with your book description, and buy it. The idea is that you pay so much for each click.

 

I am not out a dime. No one clicked. Not even me when I saw the ad for “Riverbend” while searching for summer sandals.

Maybe it was the cover. Maybe it didn’t appeal, or get anyone’s attention. Maybe people looking for shoes don’t get sidetracked and think, “Oh look! a book!”

 

 

Who knows why it didn’t work?

I did submit the book for a review in InD’tale magazine and a review was recently published in Uncaged magazine. Reviews help but it does take a long time to get them.

So as far as marketing, I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. Sometimes something works and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I said, I”m not looking to spend a heap of money because I don’t have heaps of money lying around. So I have to do the free stuff, like annoy all my friends with posts on Facebook and Twitter.

And the second best thing, which is write another book. Each time I put a book out there, I think this is the one that will get noticed and then people will look at my others books and then I will be a NYT’s Best Seller and…

Pop! See that daydream vanish in mid air?

 

Seriously, I do have a small coterie of fans and they are already asking when the next book will be ready. So maybe I should be content to be a big (well, middling-sized) frog in a very little pool.

It’s not a bad place to be.

 

 

We’ve come a long way, baby

Among a box of goodies I received for Mother’s Day was a book: The McGraw Hill Author’s Book, copyright 1955.  I think it was intended as a curiosity from my daughter-in-law, who is an antique/collectibles dealer and who comes across curious items in her search for treasures at flea markets, yard and garage sales, and estate sales.

Just reading the “Foreword to the Author,” I realized how far we’ve come since the mid-2oth century. We are all familiar with galley proofs and making changes. To us, this is minor. Back then, revisions were (and I quote) something “we devoutly hope to avoid, for after-thought is time-consuming and very costly.” Evidently it took the work of 4-5 “highly skilled and commensurately paid” printers to make changes, even small ones.

I guess all those printers are retired, or as the British say, redundant, now. I hope they got commensurate retirement benefits.

The book was written so the hopeful writers submitting their work to McGraw-Hill would know exactly what was expected of them. Clean copy is not a new thing, every publisher hopes to see it. But back then it was more of a necessity than a courtesy.

The first chapter, Preparing the Manuscript, tells us that the submitted copy will be handled by as many as 25-30 people, and so must be printed on good quality paper, and a black noneradciable ribbon should be used on the typewriter–a ribbon that should be replaced often to ensure a good impression.

This brought me back to the days when I had to write term papers and that stricken moment when I realized I’d made a mistake, and the work had to be painstakingly re-typed on a fresh sheet of paper.

Then Betty Nesmith Graham invented a typewriter correction fluid she first called “Mistake Out” in 1956. The name was later changed to Liquid Paper. I know I am not the only one who kept a bottle handy on my desk…and said a daily prayer of thanks to our benefactor.

The chapter goes on to admonish the writer not to use mimeographed, ditto, or photostatic copy “which cannot be corrected with ink.”

I haven’t seen a mimeograph machine in ages. We had one in the school office and I recall running off copies of  worksheets for my elementary age students. Purple goo that got all over your clothes and hands…ugh.  And ink? Can you even buy ink in a bottle any more? I still have–somewhere–a pen with a refillable cartridge, but I’m pretty sure it’s an antique.

Then the writer is advised to be sure and make a carbon copy of her work. Oh yes, I remember trying to line up the carbon paper with my white typing paper, only to have to it go awry when I rolled it in the cartridge. And again, the purple ink on my fingers, ink I had to be sure not to smudge on the paper. Carbon paper, like the typewriter ribbon, had to be replaced often. I suppose someone somewhere still uses it.  I simply hit hit “copy” and “save” on my computer. No mess, no waste.

I’m eager to continue my walk down memory lane, reading this book chock-full of antiquated advice. It makes me realize how much easier we have it today. I’m sure some of the  advice still holds. Some things never change.

But thank goodness the mechanics have.

 

 

 

Curiosity and all that…

When you were a child, did you ever sneak a peek at the Christmas gifts hidden in the hall closet or under your parent’s bed?

I think almost all of us did this at one time or another. Curiosity gets the better of our conscience. 

I’m experiencing the same curiosity regarding Riverbend. I know I should let it go, but I can’t resist checking the sales figures. I look at the graphs on the KDP page and then check Author Central for sales ranking. Then I go to the book and see if anyone has left a review.  (Check it out!)

I know I shouldn’t do it. The book will sell or it won’t, and all my “peeking” won’t bring the elusive goal any closer.

“They” say word of mouth is the best advertising, so all I can do is hope the readers who bought the book like it and recommend it to their friends. And there is nothing I can to do make that process go any faster.

There are a few avenues I can pursue to promote the book aside from social media that won’t cost more than the modest royalties I’m seeing. It’s always a toss-up. I know writers who hire publicists to get their book in the public eye, which is, to my thinking, a really big leap of faith. You’d have to sell millions of books to afford that, but unless you do you won’t sell millions of books.

Is it the cart or the horse?

As I said earlier, I”ll let you know how it goes. So far, it’s slow. So instead of checking the graphs daily, I’d be better off concentrating on my next book. And the one after that.

I write because I need to get the stories out of my head, not because I want to be a best-selling author. (Although that would be nice.) I just want the people, as many or as few as they be, who buy my books to enjoy them and feel they got their money’s worth.

But I’m not saying curiosity won’t get the better of me in a few days time and I won’t be able to resist signing in to my account and checking the sales figures.

It’s that curious kid all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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