#6: Advice to New Writers: Run Away Screaming, by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

This is the sixth and final installment of the six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.

Advice to New Writers: Run Away Screaming, by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

So you want to be a writer? You have dreams of hitting the New York Times bestseller list, of being mobbed on book tours, of scoring large amounts of money and fame?

Here’s a hint: run away. Now. Set yourself up with a YouTube channel. Become an Instagram influencer. If money and fame are your priorities, then you really don’t want to talk to me or to a lot of other writers. Money and fame do not necessarily devolve on writers. Most of us labor in private and beg to be recognized. So run away. Find that streaming dream, because the reality is that you are more likely to go viral and make the big bucks doing that than you are as a writer.

Run away if you’re all about fame and profit. You aren’t going to find that here.

Okay. Now that we’ve cleared the room, it’s time to talk. Are you possessed with the desire to tell tales? Burning to tell the stories of characters you daydream about? Good, because that’s who I really want to talk to. Those of us who would die small deaths if we can’t write our stories. Those of us for whom those tales are almost more real than the lives we live.

The first thing you need to realize as a new writer is simply this: writers write. Perhaps you don’t write every single day, but you write several times a week. Whether you write by hand, on an AlphaSmart, a Chromebook, or a computer, you write.

This discipline is especially crucial for you as a new writer. New writers need to keep journals—not to record your daily life, in particular, but to play with words. You need to let yourself speculate. Record incidents, phrases, oddities of life. Spend time observing people and places and write down what sticks with you. Learn to observe the world around you and record those observations. Acquiring and developing this habit gives you resources to add depth to your work. It’s the details of a setting or of a character that breathes life into them and makes your story real to a reader. This is the foundation of your later writing life, when you will use notes like this as a part of your brainstorming processes to create realistic characters, settings, and plot situations (yes, even if you write science fiction and fantasy!).

Next, writers finish what they write and move on to the next story. One of the saddest situations I encounter when talking to a new writer is the degree to which they may cling to a much-loved early work. They often worry the story to death because it’s their darling, their baby, their dream and they don’t dare let it go.

No. You need to finish that work and move on. Writing growth comes from creating new work, not endlessly revising old work. The reality is that as much as you love that early work, it is most likely not going to be the one that sells (yes, yes, I can hear the mutterings about the exceptions to this rule. What you don’t hear about are the discards and the early projects of those exceptions).

Another point. It takes time and consistent, mindful effort to become an accomplished writer. One of my writing mentors, the late Jay Lake, used to say that it takes ten years to become an “overnight success.” Now I don’t know if Jay originated that saying or not, but whatever. It’s true. You have to write a lot of words to develop the craft of writing. Some say it’s over a million words. But a million words without the focus to figure out what does and doesn’t work about your writing, your characters, your plots doesn’t take you anywhere. You need to be mindful about what does and doesn’t work about your writing. You need to wrestle with it.

And then, one day, you’ll realize that you automatically know what should be happening at 30,000 words in the book. 60,000 words. 90,000 words. You can predict the approximate word count of the first draft of the novel you’re writing. When you go back to revise it, you can find the plot holes yourself, or, even better, see them as you work and fix them in process.

Trust me. If you work at your craft, if you keep writing every day and finish what you write, if you ruthlessly analyze what does and doesn’t work in what you’re doing—you will reach this point.

Develop a thick skin about criticism. This piece is absolutely critical to your survival as a writer. Sooner or later you will encounter both tough and toxic criticisms. A good tough critique that points out what is both good and bad about your work is useful, even if it makes you cry (and yes, this will happen). The hallmark of a tough critique as opposed to a toxic one is that it helps you grow as a writer and see your way to fix the problems. A tough critique is the best gift a friend can give you.

A toxic critique, on the other hand, is usually personalized and promotes an agenda aimed at tearing you down, not improving your writing. Perhaps the person feels threatened by you and your writing—that often happens, especially in workshop environments. It’s rarely accompanied by useful suggestions, or if there are suggestions, they’re rewritten in the critiquer’s own voice. There aren’t many if any positives added. Or that person doesn’t care for your choice of story or genre. Whatever. If you’re not certain, check with a trusted mentor or friend.

That said, sometimes even tough, accurate criticism can be wrong. Part of your development as a writer is learning the confidence to disregard critique when you don’t think it works.

A controversial point here. Learn to kill your darlings. That can be a plot twist that doesn’t work, a scene that doesn’t fit, a character, a particular turn of phrase—whatever it is, sometimes it just has to die. For example, in my early book Netwalker Uprising, I wrote a detailed scene where my character Melanie kills a suspected assassin while on a ski expedition. It was a lovely scene. I had worked hard on the choreography of that scene…and it absolutely did not work. I had to throw a whole book out in that series, Netwalking Mars, because the physics were wrong and the characterizations didn’t fit what those characters became when the entire series was not written. But all was not lost, because I did use elements from those scenes and that book in other things I wrote.

A waste of time and effort? No. Because while I made some big characterization bloopers, I also learned from those mistakes. All writing is learning your process, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have…at some point you screw up. Just ask any writer further down the trail than you are.

And finally, be psychotically persistent about your writing. “Psychotic persistence” is another Jay Lake-ism, and it refers to discipline. Write. Write as often as possible, finish your work, write mindfully, and don’t be afraid to discard what doesn’t work. But write. Keep on writing. One word after another. Don’t let others discourage you.

Writers write. They finish what they write. They exert consistent, mindful effort to improve their writing. They learn to discern effective criticism from ineffective. When necessary, they kill their darlings, and above all else, they are psychotically persistent about writing. That’s what it takes.

~~~

Other posts in this series by Joyce Reynolds-Ward (note: each website owner will post at some point during the week listed).

March 29-April 4th—Organizing Your Plot http://www.joycereynoldsward.com

April 5-11—Self-editing, grammar, and beta readers https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/

April 12-18—Genre and cross-genre https://tanstaaflpress.com/news

April 19-25—My Approach to the writing process https://varidapr.com

April 26-May 2—Reading to Impact your writing http://www.conniejjasperson.com

May 3-9—Advice for new writers https://lecatts.wordpress.com

Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer from Enterprise, Oregon. Her short stories include appearances in Well…It’s Your Cow, Children of a Different Sky, Allegory, River, and Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Her agripunk thriller trilogy, The Ruby Project: Origins, The Ruby Project: Ascendant, The Ruby Project: Realization, are due for release in November, 2020. Her books include Shadow Harvest, Choices of Honor, Judgment of Honor, and Klone’s Stronghold. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019). Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, and hiking, and is a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County.

 

Posted in Blogging, Book Talk, Interviews, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

CATS’ EYES FREE 5-DAY KINDLE EVENT

 

What if a retired cat-lady found a stolen sixty-eight carat chunk of trouble in her back yard pond?

It’s been a tough month and a half. Here we are, May 89th, with very little sign the world will be normal any time soon. I, for one, could use some good news. That’s why I have created a 5-day book Giveaway on Amazon.

From Sunday, May 10th to Thursday, May 14th, Cats’ Eyes (Kindle version) is free! Cats’ Eyes is the first of the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series featuring Lynley Cannon, a fifty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble that a cat in catnip.

…an outstanding amateur sleuth mystery that will delight cat lovers and mystery lovers alike. Cats’ Eyes has so many exciting twists and turns; it keeps the reader fascinated until the final thrilling scene. I liked the addition of “cat facts” at the heading of each chapter. I learned a few fascinating tidbits that I didn’t know. —Readers Favorite 5-Star Review

Lynley Cannon is the crazy cat lady, but she’s not quite crazy yet, though a bizarre connection to a bumbled heist and a double homicide has got her wondering.

Lynley usually enjoys her old Portland home with her clowder of rescue cats, but when elderly Fluffs drags in a dusky brown beach agate that turns out to be a priceless chocolate diamond, things change fast. The uncut stone, one of a pair called the Cats’ Eyes, has been stolen from its wealthy owner, but how it ended up a cat toy, even the robbers cannot guess.

Threatened by theft, kidnapping, and murder, Lynley is determined to maintain her serenity, even if it means finding the crooks herself. With the police completely baffled, friends, family, and a hunky humane society investigator come on board to help.

The killer, convinced that Lynley has the diamonds, is prepared to go to any lengths to get them back. Will Lynley live to clean the litter box another day?

Excerpt from Cats’ Eyes:

Chapter 1

My name is Lynley Cannon and I am the crazy cat lady, only I’m not crazy yet. I swear. Everything I say is true, though it may seem like the wildest fiction. It does to me, now that I look back, starting when Fluffs discovered the stone. But I’m getting ahead of myself. How are you to know what led up to that unfortunate find or its dire consequences? Why, at the time I didn’t even know myself and could never have guessed.

I am fifty-eight years of age, and life in the slow lane has been pretty serene. Quietly happy, or happily quiet, whichever you choose. I’d had a good run in my youth—sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll—but I was over it. Too much trouble. Too much drama. I have better things to do.

Which brings me to the cats. I don’t know where I got the reputation of being a crazy cat lady; I only have seven in my care at the moment. And two aren’t even mine but fosters from FOF, Friends of Felines, the shelter where I volunteer. One is named Addison and he’s here to recover from a kitty cold. The other is Fluffs.

Fluffs’ is a sad tale gone good. Originally she came to me for a few precious weeks of hospice before she passed on. It had been so poignant, bringing home the dying cat, the scrawny gray with chronic kidney failure, to give her some last, best moments of TLC. But it soon became apparent that nobody had bothered to tell Fluffs her time was up. That was months ago and she’s still going strong.

Fraulein Fluffs isn’t the name I would have chosen for a cat, but it was the name she came with and at twelve-plus, there was no going back. I accepted her as she was, though I admit to calling her Fluffo when no one else was listening. She allowed the silly pet name as long as it was accompanied by affection and food. I treated Fluffs as the treasure she was. And then one day she found a treasure of her own.

Mondays are always busy. Through a quirk of fate, I’m retired, but I seem to be busier than ever. I’m finally doing all the things I used to think about when I was at work but never did because I was always too tired when I got off. That Monday was no exception. After yoga and a brisk walk around the park with the senior ladies, I spent some time on the computer compiling my Scottish heritage, the Mackey family tree. Got to get it all down before I pop off in case anyone’s interested. My daughter isn’t—Lisa’s too busy in the here-and-now—but maybe someday my granddaughter will take a break from her texting and her iPod and whatever else might be invented for sedentary self-gratification long enough to wonder where she came from. When that time comes, I want to be ready.

I was in the midst of a particularly difficult connection between a great-uncle and a third-cousin-once-removed when I heard a clink and then the clackity-clack of a sharp-sided object rolling across the hardwood floor. It stopped, then started up, then stopped again, creating just enough distraction to turn my attention from the quandary of my ancestors to the question of what was making the noise.

Cat toy, I thought to myself. But which one, and who was playing? Can’t be Red—Big Red was seventeen pounds of muscled tabby dynamite; when he played, he sounded like a dancing elephant. Dirty Harry, the black and white, didn’t play much anymore; he was getting on in years and preferred to sleep in his donut or his cupboard by the TV. And when Harry did sport around, it was with the little female, Little. Though Little, an all-black panther-shadow with daring yellow eyes, was half his size, they boxed and wrangled like tigers. Violet, who got her name from her gray-violet coat, didn’t play at all because she was what veterinarians call morbidly obese, which for us laymen, translates into as wide as she was long. Solo was just that: a singular beauty. White as a ghost, she lived an almost-feral life out of sight of human eyes. Addison, the fourteen-year-old black male I mentioned earlier, was in quarantine. That left only…

“Fluffo?”

I tracked the enigmatic sound, not raucous enough to be the plastic bell-ball but too irregular to be the walnut. Down the stairs, through the hallway, and there she was, batting something small and glittery into a corner.

“What have you got?” I said softly as I crossed the room. When she heard me, she stopped dead in the middle of a serve and looked up with big, guilty eyes. Her paw covered the item, pressing it down with the gentle firmness she might have used on a baby mouse.

I bent over and scooped the object out from under her. Fluffs gave me a look that could have frozen fire and stalked off in the opposite direction.

“Fluffs,” I called apologetically but I knew it was no use. She was miffed, and then she was gone.

Shaking the thing in my hand, I felt the smooth, oily heaviness of stone. Opening my palm, I glimpsed it for the first time.

I’d like to say I had a premonition of fate at that historic moment, a frisson of expectancy, a sense of Things to Come, but I didn’t. My only thoughts on the brown agate with the dark slash through the center were How pretty! and then What’s it doing in my living room? since I didn’t remember having ever seen it before.

A jangle of electronic church bells rose from the direction of the kitchen—my cell phone. The stone still in my hand, I went to answer it. This proved more difficult than expected since it wasn’t where it was supposed to be: on the wooden tray by the real phone. The bell played merrily along, mocking me as I searched through my purse and rifled my coat pockets. Finally I found it under yesterday’s mail just as it clicked over to message mode. With a sigh I waited for the caller’s number to appear. When it did, I saw it was from the shelter.

I shot an alarmed glance at the Kit-Kat clock on the wall. Its switching tail and roving eyes confirmed my sudden fear that time had gotten away from me. My shift was about to start and I wasn’t even dressed yet. My apron was still in the dryer. I hadn’t even cleaned my own cats’ litter boxes, and here it was time to do the forty-plus trays at FOF!

Without another thought, I tossed the errant rock into a catch-all basket on the kitchen table and ran to get ready. Maybe if I had been paying attention, if I were better at multi-tasking, if the phone hadn’t rung right then, things would have turned out differently.

Maybe not.

Cats’ Eyes original cover, 2013.

 

Cats’ Eyes is also available in print ($14.00) and large print ($16.99) versions.

Happy Reading!

 

Posted in Crazy Cat Lady Mysteries & More, Giveaways | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

#5: Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Sales, by Suzanne Hagelin

This is Suzanne Hagelin’s fifth post in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association. NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing, and marketing.

Are there people who love sales? I think so, but I’m not sure how many authors are among them. Most of us are pressed into the wild realm of sales by necessity.

It hasn’t come to me naturally. Whether in person or online, it’s taken time to acquire some practical skills and a healthy sense of detachment. My emotional well-being doesn’t need to depend on making that sale. I don’t beg for sales and I don’t apologize for my books or prices. If my selection doesn’t suit someone, I’m happy to follow Thomas Gondolfi’s advice and direct them to another author.

Once the time has come to organize your approach to sales, remember that you can’t pursue all the options at the same time. I know it’s tempting, but it’s unwise to spread yourself too thin. So, where do you start? Before you can make a plan, you need to do some research.

Gathering Intel

Buy a trench coat, a fedora with the front edge turned down, and pick up some sunglasses. Next time a fog rolls in as dusk is falling, don your gear and head out into the streets, sticking to the shadows, and follow the leads…

No, it’s not that glamorous.

You need to know a few things before planning your sales approach. How are other authors in your genre selling their books? What are readers looking for—and where? Who should you turn to for suggestions? What tactics are doable for you and what investment do they require? Write down your questions as they come to you. Some of them will be really helpful. Others may become obsolete as you investigate and collect information.

Ways to research

  • Search engines
  • Join groups, in person and/or online, where authors talk about sales (FB has many)
  • Read blogs by authors
  • Get on newsletter lists by independent authors in your genre
  • Go to events that carry your genre of books

 

SALES

You can release your book in both print and ebook form at the same time, but you’ll find that the approach to selling them is very different. Make a plan for each and whether you focus on them one at a time or juggle the two, just get started and do your best. There’s no ideal way.

There are no secrets, either, that can bypass the hard work needed to make sales. Some authors have found shortcuts to success, but it wasn’t due to brilliance on their part. They had the right books at the right time offered to the right market. Don’t count on having the same results—and certainly don’t spend money to buy this kind of ‘secret’ and become one of their sources of income.

Printed Books

Selling print copies of your books is a great place to start but it’s a more expensive path. So, why do it? Some people prefer printed books and some like to support local authors. Printed books with quality covers that the authors are willing to stand behind and sell personally are also more likely to be better quality than a lot of the miscellaneous eBooks out there.

This is not to say that good authors who publish only eBooks can’t make a name for themselves, but hard work is what is needed in any medium. They need to establish a reputation as a known author and set themselves apart from the glut of writings that exist.

Research Events

The year I spent going to events, talking to authors and buying books, was valuable. I heard their pitches, looked at their books and table arrangements. I walked through the dealers’ rooms and saw how it all fit together. It was rather overwhelming, but it was a great opportunity for me to get to know each event, its attendees, vendors, and style, and decide whether or not I could do it.

Some advice, if you decide to follow my example and talk to authors at events:

  • Look at their books and see what interests you. Buy one. I buy at least one book from another author at every event I attend. Think of it as market research. I’ve found some real gems that way.
  • Beware of blocking an author’s table and dominating their time with your questions. Be watchful for other customers and considerate of the author’s time.
  • Don’t expect a personal private lesson in sales or publishing or any other aspect of writing. It’s true that many authors will talk to you about these things and some are really helpful, but more often than not, the time you spend at their table is blocking potential customers.
  • Don’t talk to them about your book or work-in-progress unless they ask and then keep it brief.
  • Don’t offer them samples or copies of your writing or ask to put your books on their table.

Selling at Events

I write science fiction, and in my case, events were the ideal place to break into print sales. Science fiction and fantasy conventions have concentrated groups of people who like these genres and some of them are looking for books or new authors. Research led me to some events to try and I began signing up for tables in local events.

Here are some of the costs.

  • Table fees and related event fees
  • Stocking books and table supplies
  • Printing business cards, bookmarks, signs, and such
  • Time investment
  • Personal cost, putting yourself out there (authors aren’t often extroverts)
  • When you’re holding your first book, pitching it to your first potential customer, and facing what could feel like rejection for the first time—that’s when you need to know, not just the how-tos, but the benefits of sales.

When you’re holding your first book, pitching it to your first potential customer, and facing what could feel like rejection for the first time—that’s when you need to know, not just the how-tos, but the benefits of sales.

There are a number of benefits that make it worthwhile.

  • Getting to know real people who like your genre and might like your book.
  • Learning how to pitch your book.
  • Forming realistic expectations about sales and being ok with them.
  • Learning by trial and error is valuable and increases what you’re able to glean from others.
  • Getting to know the market, finding your niche.
  • Getting to know other authors, networking, making friends.

Planning for Events

Do you want to give events a shot? I highly recommend “Working the Table: An Indie Author’s Guide to Conventions”. It has everything you need to know to get started.

Choose two events nearby and submit applications for a table. Depending on how popular the event is, you may not get a spot. That’s fine. Just keep trying till you get one somewhere.

Budget. Make a budget for the event and for now, don’t assume you will make back ANY of it. Tell yourself this is research and worth the investment. I usually include the table fee, gas and parking, food and coffee expenses (if I don’t bring my own), and money to buy one book from another indie author. I have a separate budget for other expenses that cover multiple events such as printing and tablecloths. Restocking books is also something I budgeted separately in the beginning.

Schedule. Planning time for each step of the event is important. Allow for setup and teardown, traveling time, hours working the table, meals, and updating your records at the end. If you need supplies, add shopping time. If you need things printed, schedule it early enough to have them in time.

Setup. The first couple times I had a table, I staged it at home a week ahead so I could think about what I wanted it to look like. Once you get there, you find that there are things to change. This could be for a number of reasons like lighting and the tables on either side of you. Staging at home helps to identify supplies you could be lacking or unrealistic expectations of what you can achieve on your table. Setup is an art that can be learned and improved. Start simple and see what works. If changes need to be made during the event, wait till there are no customers around, before the dealer room opens or after it closes is best, and keep it simple.

Supplies. “Working the Table” has great suggestions on supplies to keep in stock and I can’t improve on it. Make a list of things you think you’ll need and keep them on hand, packed in a plastic container, ready to go. At the end of each event, make sure you have a “resupply” list where you make a note of things you’ve run out of.

Making Sales. Get an app for making sales that has the ability to charge credit cards. You should use it for ALL your sales including cash to simplify tracking. Square is a great, and their software and reporting are excellent. Some people use PayPal Here but I found their reporting cumbersome; in fact, it drove me crazy. I have both, but I much prefer using Square for sales and PP for making business payments.

You’ll need a cash box with some seed cash for making change. The easiest way to do cash sales is to include the sales tax in the price. I have one price on the books, and I tell customers that if they pay cash, I will cover the sales tax. You earn slightly less on your books and it adds a bit more work in calculating your sales but it’s worth it to avoid the hassle of small change.

Records. Square tracks all your transactions, deposits your credit sales money at the end of the day, and tracks your inventory. Keep receipts and record your expenses, and you’ll find it’s easy to keep your records up to date.

Getting Into Bookstores

Check out independent bookstores near you and see if they are open to hosting local authors. Many have information about this on their website. Some will sell your books on consignment and others may be open to scheduling a book signing. This step makes more sense once you have a following because the idea is that you will bring in customers for the bookstore and sell books for them.

If no one knows who you are yet, book signings are not the place to start.

One final word of advice on selling printed copies. Keep your expectations reasonable. If you have never sold books before, don’t expect to cover your costs the first time—or even for some time after that. Writing more books helps, but so does learning how to sell them. Your target should be long-term, establishing a reputation, gaining fans who like what they’ve read, building skills in working the table, and getting to know your market. In the long run, this is what book sales are all about. Again, “Working the Table” is a great resource.

 

EBooks

There are a number of places where you can sell your eBooks online. Most authors choose Amazon, which pretty much created the digital reader world, and it’s certainly an easy way to go. There are a number of other options as well and it’s not hard to try several of them at the same time. This isn’t the place to discuss the pros and cons of each one, and I’m not necessarily the best person to give advice either. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to focus more on eBooks and exploring different ways to distribute them and make sales.

EBooks are closely tied to online marketing and most of the discussion about planning these sales fits better in my next post on Organizing Your Approach to Marketing.

Here are some practical tips using Amazon KDP as an example—but please don’t limit yourself to them without considering all your options. I have tested and am using several different distributors and am very glad I didn’t restrict myself to only one.

Take a small book or novella for a test drive, and do the following:

  • Upload your test ePub to the KDP platform.
  • Add the cover and metadata.
  • Publish the book.
  • Go to the Amazon page and check out how everything looks.
  • Buy a Kindle copy, (the app is free on your phone or computer, so you don’t have to buy a Kindle).
  • Invite a couple of friends or family members to get a copy and read it.
  • Make notes on what you learn about the process and what needs improvement.
  • Check out the KDP Reports section and see how your sales data is handled.

Now check out some other eBook distributors and try the same thing there. I have used Draft2Digital (which has worked well for me) and IngramSpark (which may have good distribution but is impossible to run promotions through). There are a number of other options as well.

Managing Your Own Online Sales

Author Page Online. Authors should have some means of selling books directly to their readers and that requires a website or author page of some kind. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to set up a presence online. What you do need is time and a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.

Here are a few suggestions.

  • Host your own website through a web hosting service that works for you.
  • A FaceBook author page
  • A blogsite such as Word Press

Use your website, FaceBook page, blog, or whichever other platform you prefer to link to your online store and your eBooks. It’s not necessary to pay a lot in order to sell books from your own site.

Online Store. There are some pretty sophisticated packages out there for setting up secure, online stores, but if you’re looking for a free option that blends beautifully with your in-person sales, I highly recommend Square’s online store. It’s easy to use and free, apart from the usual fees all credit card sales charge. It has the added benefit of keeping all your sales transactions and inventory in one place.

eBooks links. You can also set up universal book links through a service like Books2Read.com and that way, you have one link per eBook and from there readers can choose their favorite distributor.

 

Final Thoughts

There are a few classic tidbits of wisdom that never lose their punch.

  • To learn to sell books, keep selling books.
  • To sell more books, write more books.

You may want readers to love you, but they don’t want to love you unless you have more books they can pick up and read.

I’m a reader and I feel the same way.

 

The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”.

You can read the second installment here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Time”, the third here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”, and the fourth here, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Publication Process”.

The sixth post, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Approach to Marketing”, comes out next week on Joyce Reynolds-Ward’s Blog.

Graphic made with photos by NASA Hubble and  Igor Oliyarnik on Unsplash

 

USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium

   

 

Posted in Blogging, Book Talk, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#4: How an Author’s Reading Impacts Their Writing, By Connie J. Jasperson

 

This is the fourth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

How an Author’s Reading Impacts Their Writing,

By Connie J. Jasperson

Every author I know is a book junkie. The works an author gravitates to fires their imagination, inspiring them in subtle ways.

My literary ambitions were fueled by tales about dragons, knights, barbarians, booze, morality, and the Regency, as lived vicariously through the imaginations of the great authors. Running out of books to read gave me permission to write my own stories.

In the 1960s, our TV antenna only reliably got two channels. Thus, reading was a passion in our home. My parents were prolific readers and were members of both Doubleday Book Club and Science Fiction Book Club. They also purchased two to four paperbacks a week at the drugstore and subscribed to Analog and several other magazines.

I was a sneak-thief when it came to reading—anything in my parents’ bedroom was fair game as long as I didn’t get caught.

My earliest literary influences were the crazy mix of testosterone-fueled sci-fi novels my father read, the scandalous romances my mother devoured, the Dr. Seuss books I read to my younger siblings, my “appropriate for a ten-year-old” subscription to the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys book clubs.

I was sent home one day in 5th grade for bringing “lurid and unsuitable” literature to school for the reading hour—Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. My mother took umbrage at that, and the fight was on.

When we children ran out of those books, we had the Encyclopedia Britannica and my parents’ library of The Great Books of the Western World, a series of books originally published in the United States by Encyclopedia Britannica.

There was always something new and wonderful to read around our house. My father insisted we attempt to read everything and discuss what we could.

Some of the Great Books were mostly understandable, such as William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys. At the age of 14, I didn’t comprehend what an awful, arrogant man Pepys was considered to be by his peers, but I read his diary.

While we were bass fishing on a Saturday morning, Dad would talk about the contrasts and similarities of life and morality in Pepys’ London and our existence in suburban America in 1969. His thought was that I should learn about the 17th century and the Great Fire in London from an eyewitness, just as I had learned about the human cost of the war in the Pacific from John F. Kennedy’s autobiographical novel, PT 109.

I read the works of Byron, Shelley, Elizabeth Browning, and all the brilliant 19th-century romantic poets—too numerous to list here. I fell absolutely in love with William Butler Yeats, consuming his work like some demented fangirl.

  1. Scott Fitzgerald educated me about my grandparents’ era, the 1920s.

In Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes gave me permission to write satire and dark comedy.

To this day, I watch very little television. Reading is and always will be the most crucial influence in my writing life.

Reading teaches me how to tell a good story.

The most important book I ever stole off my father’s nightstand was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I was enchanted, swept away by the enormity of the story, and the complexity of the world Bilbo lived in.

Tolkien taught me about world-building.

I was also a confirmed Fritz Lieber fan. My first completed novel, written long ago in a galaxy far, far away, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz might write if he were still alive and had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The work I produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written. However, my friends told me that the bones of a good story lurked within the uneven plot and overblown dialogue.

My friends also told me that I needed to relearn the fundamental rules grammar that I had forgotten, so I bought the Chicago Manual of Style and used it.

Grammar was only part of the problem. I had to learn how to craft a readable story, so I bought books on the subject and studied them.

At that point, I began reading with a more critical eye, and what I learned in that process profoundly influenced my work.

I became a confirmed fan of modern epic fantasy in 1988 when I first read a book written by Tad Williams. The Dragon Bone Chair blew me away.  Each character was deserving of a novel, and the diverse races whose cultures were so clearly shown fascinated me. The arrogance members of each race have, the assumption of innate superiority, illustrated a fundamental truth about the real world.

Give me the Flawed Hero over the Bland Prince any day.

But I’m also a poet, and I love words.

Tad Williams blends complex world-building and compelling characters who aren’t exactly squeaky clean with sharp, beautiful prose. I sense the slightest hint of rebellion in his work, which makes his work a little wild.

Patrick Rothfuss writes brilliant, poetic prose and gets a deep story told in the process. The opening paragraphs of “Name of the Wind” are sheer beauty.

Neil Gaiman’s Stardust is a shining example of a beautiful, poetic fairytale written in modern times.

Looking back, I see that I learned about world-building from Samuel Pepys and Tolkien. I studied how to develop characters and character arcs from Fritz Lieber and Tad Williams. I was taught to craft prose with my own voice by authors like William Butler Yeats, Neil Gaiman, and Patrick Rothfuss.

It is because of the uncountable other authors whose works I have been privileged to read that I was inspired to write, not just poetry and short stories, but novels.

For me, writing has always been as necessary as breathing. In the beginning, my writing was unformed, a reflection of whatever I was reading at the moment. As I matured and gained confidence in writing vignettes and poems for myself and my children, I developed the courage to believe in my own ideas and stories.

Once that happened, I became a writing junkie.

Some days I write well, and others not so much, but every day I write something.

Every day I look for the new book that will rock my universe, a new “drug” to satisfy my craving, even if I struggle to find time to read it.

I’m addicted to dreams and the people who write about them. Reading is my form of mind-expanding inspiration.

Without the authors whose works formed my world, I would never have dared to write. My advice to every author is to read with wonder, and also read critically.

Reading is the elixir of creativity. Never stop reading.

Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy. You can find her books on her Amazon author page: http://bit.ly/CJJASPauthor

Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjjasp

 

 

Posted in Book Talk, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

VEGAN HUMAN-CARNIVOROUS CAT

I am an omnivore. In the past, I’ve been a vegan, a vegetarian, a pescatarian, and a macrobiotic, but at this point in my life, I’ve found it prudent to be flexible. Whether traveling in other countries or visiting people here at home, it’s simplest to eat what is offered. Since my husband eats meat— and cooks it for me— I accept it graciously. When I cook vegetarian meals, he does the same.

I won’t cook meat myself because, yuck! (Also because I ruin it.) And when it comes time to feed the cats, I have a certain amount of yuck factor there as well. This is what started me wondering how true vegetarians and vegans reconciled the conundrum of feeding their cat meat. I reached out to my vegan/vegetarian friends and acquaintances, and I learned a lot.

     

What does it mean to you to be vegan/vegetarian?

First off, I asked my little group of ailurophiles to explain what being vegetarian or vegan meant to them. Why were they moved to limit their lifestyles so drastically? Most answered with variations on the theme of not wanting to take part in animal cruelty and suffering.

Adriana answers neatly, “Being vegan is all about reducing animal suffering.”

“I really just feel like we have no reason to kill animals for food,” says Elisa, “and we especially have no reason to treat them so cruelly before we slaughter them.”

“For me, it’s about doing the least amount of harm in the world as I can…” Leslie replies, going on to add, “…with the understanding that the amount will never be zero no matter how hard I try.”

I found that statement particularly thought-provoking. Much of the ridicule aimed at veg/vegans points to some flaw in their practice. Maybe they own a pair of leather shoes or eat figs. My question is, why should non veg/vegans expect such absolute perfectionism?

 

How do you reconcile your cats’ need for meat with your vegan/vegetarian philosophy?

The people I talked to are serious cat people, and most agreed that since cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they need meat to survive, feeding them a healthy diet is just part of the deal.

 I tend to agree with Leslie when she says, “I can see why some meat-eaters consider it hypocritical for vegans to have cats and feed them meat. But I also think those criticisms come from a place of defensiveness; it’s easier to criticize those of us who are trying to limit our negative impact than it is too seriously look at what harm meat-eaters are causing…. By (their) logic, it makes no sense to even try. If you can’t be perfect, then you might as well just kill as many animals as you want.”

“It is definitely uncomfortable to be vegan and still have that unbreakable link to the slaughterhouse,” she goes on to say. “It’s something I struggle with. There are vegan pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs for those who can’t deal with this, but I love cats.” (Leslie has a magnificent clowder of senior and special needs cats.) “I do what I must to give them the best quality of life for however long they have left despite my discomfort.”

Adriana brought up another point. “Keeping my cats indoors and not letting them hunt is a way (of compromising). By providing them with all the nutrients they need to be healthy reduces animal suffering too, in this case, their suffering.” She also mentions that cat food is often made with meat by-products, so animals are not specifically killed to make it.

Cathy has gone a whole different direction. “I decided to try my cats on a vegan diet…  I learned that although cats require a high protein diet and certain essential nutrients, it is possible to formulate a healthy and tasty diet for them that does not include animal products. Many of our cats have been vegan for more than 10 years and are doing fine.” Cathy does mention that she also has cats who are on prescription non-vegan diets for medical issues.

Before talking with Cathy, I would have insisted the only healthy diet for cats must include meat, but as she explained to me the complex mixture of protein and nutrients supplied in the cat food she makes and buys, I will have to reconsider.

 

What foods do you feed you cat and why?

So the next step was to find out what these veg/vegans did feed their cats.

“A high quality food… the expensive stuff. Wet food mostly,” Elisa says, echoing what many cat people feel is the right diet for their furry cohabitors.

“I have seven (senior) cats and they are on different diets,” Leslie explains. Leslie lovingly tailors meals for each individual cat, depending on their special needs. “Senior cats often don’t eat enough so I’m always looking for ways to get more calories and water into them… One of those cats has chronic kidney disease so I add half a can of water and half a scoop of protein powder to his meals. The seventh cat has inflammatory bowel disease, and she eats a limited ingredient diet.” Leslie tries to choose foods “that do not include problematic ingredients and (are) transparent about what they put into their food.”

Cathy, as she said before, feeds a complex vegan diet, but she adds, “I am excited that a company called Bond Pet Foods is working to make cat and dog food from In-Vitro meat (meat proteins derived from animal cells— no slaughter required) so we can have animal protein without the animal. Hopefully this will be available some day in prescription diets.” Adriana also mentioned In-Virto meat, saying she will use it for her cats when it becomes available.

 

What else would you like to say about veganism and living with a cat?

 Cathy again brings up the issue of progress verses perfection. “I realize that some cats are very finicky eaters, so what my ones are eating might not work for everyone. I’m not trying to impose a vegan diet on anyone’s cats, just wanting to get it out there that it can be possible. Another option is that some cats might be willing to be flexitarians. Every little bit of harm reduction helps.”

 Adriana says, “As a vegan, I feel good my cats are protected and the wild fauna around them as well by keeping them indoors.”

Leslie states, “I love my cats so I feed them the diet that is best for them. I love all other animals as well, and since I can not only survive but improve my life by eating plants instead of eating their dead bodies, that’s what I do for myself.”

 

What other questions should be asked?

Often in an interview, it’s best to let the interviewees ask and answer their own questions. After all, who is more qualified to tell us what we want to know?

The debate on feeding vegan continued with Elise saying, “I guess to make sure that people know that they can harm or kill their cats if they don’t feed them animals,” and Cathy countering, “Perhaps ask if people would be willing to try their cats on vegan cat food.”

To some extent, both are right: Absolutely, without the correct diet, cats will suffer and die, but apparently for some cats, that diet can be attained from sources other than meat. I want to impress that, in my opinion, veganism for cats is neither simple nor inexpensive. Cats must be watched and checked regularly by a vet to make sure they are maintaining their health.

Leslie wanted to leave us with an observation:

“If we treated cats and dogs the way we treat cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc., people would be up in arms. Labeling some animals as “food” does not change the way they experience their lives: they feel pain, grief, despair and fear, just as our pets do. The fact that torturing and killing them is legal while rescuing them from confinement and death is illegal says nothing about what is right or wrong.

The major difference between vegans and others is that we don’t put a box around our compassion and find ways to exclude some living beings from it. The thing that annoys me the most is that we are considered weird, while those who justify torture and killing think of themselves as normal… I am more bothered by the fact that my family members and most of my friends refuse to even consider these points.

Cats are just being cats and they eat what their biology requires. People have the capacity to think and realize what they are doing if they would just open their eyes and stop being defensive about their choices. I wasn’t raised vegan, but I do ascribe to what Maya Angelou said: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Are you a vegan or vegetarian cat guardian? If so, I’d love to hear how you handle the feeding of your cats.

 

Posted in Cat Behavior, Cats, Health, Wellness, Lifestyle, Save the World | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#3: My Approach to the Writing Process, by William Cook

This is the third in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

My Approach to the Writing Process, by William Cook

I understand that a disciplined approach to writing pays off. You work from an outline, so you know where all your crucial plot points fit. You know when it’s time to remind your readers of details that had been disclosed earlier in the story and may now have been forgotten. You can pace the work up to the critical denouement, pulling a literary rabbit-out-of-the-hat at just the right moment. You can maintain logic and consistency throughout, in story and character development.

I know all these things, but I can’t do them. For better or worse, I’m an inveterate “pantser.” Yes, I write by the seat of my pants, but it’s not out of laziness. I think of it rather as letting my stories grow “organically.” When I plant the seed of an idea, I’m never sure exactly what will sprout, if anything, but I know it will be fun. And I know it can’t be forced.

Of course, this does present some difficulties. I was almost halfway through the first draft of my novel, Seal of Secrets, when I realized that the person I thought was the protagonist was not. That led to some rewriting, I can tell you. Three-quarters of the way through my latest endeavor, Dungeness and Dragons, I realized a secondary character had to be introduced to the reader much earlier in the novel to make it work.

Does this make my writing process haphazard? Not really, but it can cause some relationship problems in the real world. I can get so involved in my imaginary world that re-entering regular life can take some time. “Coming out of the zone” isn’t always easy.

The “seed” idea I mentioned earlier is crucial to my process. My writing begins with this “kernel.” Typically, I don’t have a plot in mind, don’t know where the story will go or how it will end, what the conflict will be. Often, I don’t have a clue what new characters will people the tale. (I’m writing a series of mysteries for now, so there is a cast of regulars.) There’s just this germ of a notion that I have to write a few sentences about. And where it comes from can be the most interesting part of the process.

A few years back, I enjoyed the movie, “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” because of the way Dan Stevens portrayed Charles Dickens. His Dickens always carried a notebook. If he heard a name he liked, overheard an interesting conversation, spied a fascinating object or event, he wrote it down for future use in his books—writing fodder. Although I don’t carry a notebook with me everywhere, I try to stay alert, keep my “antennae” up. I imagine myself a “sponge” soaking up things around me. Let me provide you with some examples.

Several years ago, on a junket to San Diego, I was sitting outside at a coffee shop when I heard church bells ring and saw people walking down the street toward a church on the corner. I thought, “Why not?” I followed them into the church and saw a large painting to the left of the altar. It was a Pietà, a depiction of Mary holding the dead Jesus just taken down from the cross. As I looked on, a young woman stepped up to the lectern to begin the service by explaining we were in “ordinary time,” that time in the church’s calendar between major holidays, when nothing special is going on. And I had the seed for my story, “The Pietà in Ordinary Time.” I had no idea it would be a story about a mother contemplating suicide after the overdose death of her son.

While planning for another vacation to California, I went into the Post Office to fill out that card “Authorization to Hold Mail” while I was gone. As I wrote down my name and address, it occurred to me, “What if the Postal Clerk, who knows which residences are empty and for how long, were to pass along that information to a gang of local thieves so they could plan their burglaries?” Thus was born “The Yellow Card.” While on that vacation, we went into a wine-tasting room in Healdsburg and were served by a young woman named Chiara. Chiara is now the Girl Friday in my Driftwood Mysteries.

A game-changer for me, which led to both a short story and a novel, was my participation in Art on the Edge, a weekend in Lincoln City devoted to local artists, who open up their homes and studios so visitors can witness them in action. My wife and I stopped in the studio of an artist who does wildlife watercolors for textbooks and museums. She showed me a picture of a Rough-skinned Newt and asked if I knew anything about the animal. I told her that when my kids were young, they would catch them. They’re a common salamander, dark brown on top and brilliant orange underneath. They move in such slow motion that a sloth is a speed demon compared to them. She responded, “But did you know they’re the most poisonous creature in North America?” I was flabbergasted. Of course, I Googled the little critters as soon as I could. When I did, I learned that their skin and ovaries contain tetrodotoxin, the same neurotoxin made famous by fugu, the delicacy prepared from Japanese Pufferfish. Who knew? I also found a story (that I later learned is apocryphal) about three hunters who were found dead at their Oregon campsite with no evidence of foul play. Investigators discovered that a Rough-skinned Newt had fallen into their coffee pot! And there was the germ of my story “Eye of Newt,” about a biology professor who commits the perfect murder.

That short story was actually a sequel to my novel, Seal of Secrets, and it was written at the request of friends who wanted a little more information about the characters after the rather abrupt ending of that book. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the story would also be the prologue to my next novel, Woman in the Waves, which had its own unusual start.

In January of 2018, I was on the beach in Lincoln City with my daughter’s family. We were gathering agates, most of which seemed to be right where the waves were breaking. We would run down to the water’s edge, grab a handful of stones, and run back up the beach before the next wave caught us. We’d look through what we picked up and keep any agates. It was only after we got home that I realized how dangerous our agate hunting had been. Fall and winter are notorious for “sneaker waves,” a deadly Pacific phenomenon that takes lives every year. I imagined, “What if a beachcomber were to witness a young woman swept out to sea by a sneaker wave? And what if she were wearing a wedding dress?” And believe me, at the time, I had no idea that the murderer in “Eye of Newt” would be the villain in this piece.

My latest novel, Dungeness and Dragons, is no exception. The seed was the tragic loss of the crabbing boat Mary B.II in a terrible storm in January of 2019. Of course, in my story, the loss of the boat Johnny B. Goode is not an act of God but an act of murder.

As I said, I start with an idea and try to follow where it leads. My biggest joy in writing happens when my story reaches “critical mass.” Suddenly, my characters come alive. They start saying and doing things I hadn’t anticipated. I’m sure you could say it’s just my subconscious at work, but the experience is wholly other. I feel at the mercy of my characters, and for me, it’s a thrill ride like no other.

That’s the creative side of my writing process. The not-so-fun side is the editing, and that starts with developmental editing. What works and what doesn’t? Is there a logic to the story? Are there plot holes big enough to drive a truck through? Are the characters internally consistent? Does the dialogue sound real or artificial? Has point of view been properly maintained?

At this point and throughout the process, I find it essential to have a critique group. These are writer-friends I trust to give me honest feedback on my project. We meet monthly, and each of us takes about half an hour to read a portion of our work aloud while the others follow along with the hard copy each has been given. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this aspect of my writing process.

Along with developmental editing comes the more structural kind of editing—copy editing and proofreading. This is where I look for grammatical errors, typos, and the like. Are the verb tenses correct? Have I repeated a particular word or phrase too soon? Have I forgotten an article or word, or doubled another one? Here beta readers shine. Although I understand most beta readers only do developmental issues—the big picture—I am blessed to have some who will spot this nitpicky stuff and tell me about it. Bottom line: other eyes have to look at my work. I give them nothing less than a third draft, so I’ve already gone over the work at least twice.

The final phase for me is proofreading a physical copy of the book. Paper pages are different from digital ones. I see things in the book that I don’t see on the screen. And I have yet to hit the “Publish Now” trigger with only one proof copy under my belt. I’ve always had to correct my manuscript, re-submit it, and then get another paperback proof.

As tedious as this whole process can be, I feel it is absolutely essential for my credibility as an author. Nothing turns off a new reader sooner than initial pages with grammatical or textual errors. Those kinds of mistakes condemn independent writers to being labeled “amateurs.” That’s a handle I would rather do without.

 

Other posts in this series by this author:

https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)”

www.conniejjasperson.com   “Advice for New Writers” April 5-11.

 

Watch for the next post in the series by this author:

www.joycereynoldsward.com/blog    “The Author Community”  April 19-25

William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, is available now for pre-order and will be published on April 24. Find all his books at:

https://authorwilliamcook.com/

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Book Talk, Interviews, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#2: Resources for the Weary Writer, by Thomas Gondolfi

This is the second in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.

Resources for the Weary Writer, by Thomas Gondolfi

So you don’t know how to take the next step in your writing career, whatever it may be. All of us professional authors have a small stack of resources we reach for when the going gets tough. I’m going to share my personal toolbox.

My first tool may seem obvious and even laughable to the vast majority of you – your internet search engine of choice. I only bring this up because I started as a pro writer before the internet raised its infant head. The World Wide Web is a tool beyond price. You can learn more in five minutes on a given topic than the weeks it would take to scour the library, chain book stores, and catalogs for information. I’ve said it before and will say it again, the internet allows you the ability to become at least surface competent on just about any profession in a short time. But this tool has a sharp edge. Be careful because despite claims to the contrary not everything on the internet is true.

I have one resource I go to time and again – my wife.  Now understand this isn’t just a man going to his spouse. My wife is a massive bibliophile (she reads much more than I do) and thus her advice is often spot on! I urge you to find a book worm and lean on her/him for feedback and idea sessions. Along the line above, you can often get good advice from other authors/readers on social media but it is better to have someone you know and trust who is available most times to give you those swift kicks in the arse to get you headed in the right direction.

Critiques are a special problem. As much as you’d like to, you can’t take them from your friends and family – they have too much invested in you as a person to give you frank feedback. Even face to face critique groups can move in this direction. This is why I like the anonymity of online critique groups. There are several to choose from, some “free” and others paying a nominal fee. The primary payment you make, however, is to spend your time critiquing other writer’s work. When you receive feedback, the critic is unknown to you, he/she has no reason to fudge their views of you to keep you happy. I remember putting up the beginning of one of my novels to get a feel if I was moving in the right direction. I was so proud of it. I KNEW I would get nothing but good feedback. /WRONG! It was almost universally trashed, not because the writing was bad, but because it had no beginning of book hook. After pouting, I took the time to objectively look over their viewpoint. They were right. This is the value of critiques, seeing what you are too blinkered to see. I have used www.critiquecircle.com in the past and have been happy with both the quality of the site and reviewers. Note that this particular site is well past its prime and is in the middle of an upgrade that will take quite some time, so be advised.

To self or traditional publish is one of the stones we all must turn over in our mind. The thing that finally helped me make that decision was a book by Peter Bowerman entitled “The Well-Fed Self-Publisher.” I don’t know Mr. B, nor do I get anything for plugging his book. The concepts in his book really stood out to me. It defined the pluses and minuses of each choice (guess which he leans toward). He gives good advice on methodology. The only place I felt this book fell down was on specific vendors he suggested. I tried a couple and they all didn’t meet my expectations. So pay close attention to what and how he says to accomplish things and ignore the who!

Friends and Minions can be a huge help, especially when you are trying to do things that are difficult to impossible for one person. Here I have failed. I truly wish I had one or two really good minions that would come to my show with me, dress in cosplay of characters in the book, help me set-up / take down. But I’ve missed the boat somehow. I suggest you work to cultivate them in your own line.

Last, but certainly not least, professional organizations can be one of your best friends. I’m currently part of a group called Northwest Independent Writer’s Association (https://www.niwawriters.com/). I also recommend Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (http://www.pnba.org/) but let my membership lapse as mostly they meet outside my comfort zone for travel. Both of these organizations (and those local to you) provide education, support, and most importantly a group of authors all trying to be successful. The latter is important because they will have different ideas when it comes to marketing, shows, and vendors. Many have probably already tried the latest idea you had for marketing/sales of your book and have feedback that can save you months, if not years of grief, and many almighty dollars. I also mentioned vendors. If you need a typesetter, or an editor, they can point you in directions of folks that have done them proud in the past and prevent you from pulling the slot machine handle based on a webpage or resume.

I hope these ideas help you with your journey into the wild world of publication.

About Thomas Gondolfi: Founding TANSTAAFL Press in 2012, Thomas Gondolfi is the author (and book parent) of the Toy Wars series, the CorpGov Chronicles, and Wayward School along with numerous other writing and editing credits which can be found on www.tanstaaflpress.com. He is a father of three (real children), consummate gamer, and loving husband. Tom also claims to be a Renaissance man and certified flirt.

Raised as a military brat, he spent twenty years of his life moving to a new place every few years giving him a unique perspective on life and people.

Working as an engineer in high tech for over thirty years, Tom has also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.

 

Posted in Book Talk, Interviews, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#1: MARKETING MY INDIE BOOKS-THE FUN NEVER STOPS

This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.

You wrote your book; you got it edited and formatted for publication; you created a cover; you filled out all the details on KDP and clicked “Publish my Book.” Now what?

Unfortunately in most cases, your book isn’t going to automatically sell itself. It’s up to you and only you to get it out there. Social media, in-person events, and advertising are only a few methods to market your book. After trying just about everything I came across, this is how I do it:

  1. Building interest: Before the book is ever published, I build interest anywhere I can. Here are three ideas:
  • I have a designated Facebook author page and a WordPress Blogsite (both free), from where I launch book news. This includes everything from concepts to completed works. Excerpts, giveaways and contests, plus personal comments about writing (and cats) all build momentum toward that final publish day.
  • I make an especially big deal out of the cover, presenting teasers and then the final cover reveal itself.
  • I write blogposts about topics found in the book, for example, in Cat Café, there was a connection to the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo, so I did a post on them. Some scenes took place in the fifties, and I had fun collecting pictures of vintage fashion which I put on Instagram.
  1. Presales: Setting my book up for Amazon presales is fun. Though the print version will go live when I click publish, I can set a unique publish date for the Kindle version. Once I’ve established the date, I tell everyone I know, everywhere I go, that I’ll have a new book out then. I also announce it on my newsletter— several times!
  1. Blog Tour: A few weeks before the book’s publish date, I organize a blog tour for the new book. This can be anything from a professionally run tour to a group of writer friends whom I solicit to read and review my book. Ideas for promotional blog tour posts include:
  • Interviews with me.
  • Interviews with my characters.
  • Excerpts
  • Features

I always include the book’s blurb, links, and bio to my posts.

4. Postcards: Have you ever thrown a postcard away? Not me— I keep them all, forever! People respond well to visual aids. Bookmarks are the obvious giveaway for an author, but I prefer postcards because they are cheaper to print and can contain more information. I give them to everyone, post them on bulletin boards, leave a few in the doctor’s office. I used to have a new card printed for each book, but now I have one card with all the series covers, which I continue to update. Either way, it gives people something attractive and informational too remind them they want to buy my book.

  1. Launch Day: I try to launch my books at a brick and mortar bookstore with a reading and signing event. I have to say that recently these aren’t garnering the participation I would wish for. I’m thinking of forgoing the personal launch for an online launch party on Facebook.

  1. Keeping up the momentum:

In-person events offer another dimension to promotion, that of meeting the author.

  • Readings: These are usually straightforward introduce myself, read an excerpt, answer questions, sell and sign books. Though bookstores are the most common location for author readings, they can be anywhere, such as assisted living facilities, gatherings, tea shops, and places with tie-ins to the book.
  • Book Faires: Come up with a quick comment (the elevator pitch) to get people’s attention. Mine is, “Crazy Cat Lady cozy mysteries.” (Shoves postcard in their hand.) If they respond in the slightest, I continue with, “Featuring a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble with a cat in catnip.” Keywords there are cat and cozy mystery, and to a lesser extent, sixty-something and trouble. In a few seconds, a potential buyer can tell if they might be interested in my book.
  • Presentations: Presentations offer something to learn, which makes them more interesting for the audience than a reading. Any subject I can tie in with my books in such a way that I promote sales is a possibility. I have two standard presentations: “Changing the World Through Fiction: 7 (plus 1) techniques to effectively promote altruism without using soapbox rhetoric (or putting your reader to sleep)”, and “CAT CONVERSATIONS, with Cat Writer Mollie Hunt, Because cats don’t come with a manual.”
  • Think outside the box: If your book is a certain genre or theme, think of places that reflect that theme. I write cat mysteries so I market at cat venues, cat shows, shelters. Since they are cozy mysteries, assisted living facilities are a good place to present. These often have an activities director looking for things to entertain their residents, and sometimes even a budget to pay.

Online Events:

  • Amazon/Facebook/Fussy: I occasionally run an ad on Amazon or Facebook, but really haven’t had much increased sales by it. I also run ads on Fussy Librarian periodically.
  • Facebook Parties: Same-genre authors get together and have a Facebook party every so often. Keep an eye out for those.
  • Giveaways: There are mixed feelings about giveaways. Rafflecopter offers authors a simple platform to run a giveaway that also gathers followers on various of your author social media sites.
  • Free Books: Needless to say, a free book promotion, such as Amazon’s Free Book Promotion will give out lots of your books, but does it really help you as an author? If you have a series, giving out the first can be very useful, otherwise I think not.
  1. Final advice: I will leave you with one more thought, the most important one of all:

~Write more books! The more books you publish, the more books you sell!~

Watch for my next post, #2: MY WRITING PROCESS – INSIDE A WRITER’S MIND, coming the week of April 5-11 on the Peak Amygdala, Joyce Reynolds-Ward blogsite.

Check out this week’s other participating NIWA blogsites:

 

Posted in Book Talk, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

CALLING ALL WRITERS! NIWA SPRING BLOG TOUR COMING SOON!

Calling all writers! Tired of isolation and yearning for writer information? The Spring Northwest Independent Writers’ Association blog tour starts the week of March 29th and continues for six weeks, through the week of May 3rd. Six experienced NIWA authors, including myself, will be posting blogs about writing once a week, written by themselves and guest writers on writing subjects including the following:

  • Organizing your plot
  • Advice for new writers
  • Author Community
  • Resources you recommend
  • Approach to the writing process
  • and more!

Writers participating in this blog tour include Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Mollie Hunt, Connie Johnson-Jasperson, William Cook, Thomas Gondolfi, and Suzanne Hagelin. Each writer will post on their own blog the first week, then appear as a guest on one of the other writers’ blogs. Blogs can be found here:

Watch for my first post here on April 4th.

Posted in Book Talk, Self-Publishing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

ANOTHER “HOW TO OUTLAST THE C-19 CRISIS” BLOGPOST

I’m blessed! As a recovering alcoholic, I’ve learned patience, tolerance, resistance, and pride. Through my 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, I’ve been given a design for living that has allowed me to deal with my addiction and change my life. Now, that design is helping me stay positive in the face of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic crisis. I want to share a few things I hope might help you too.

Some people will quit reading here, since I have mentioned AA which is a spiritual program. Please don’t. Whether you are religious, agnostic, atheist, or other, these tips apply to all. There is such thing as “Contempt Prior to Investigation” of which we are all guilty at one time or another. But this quick judgement before having the facts blocks us against the bigger picture and keeps us from learning new things.

  1. The Serenity Prayer: It’s not just for alcoholics anymore.

I had this short prayer taped up by my desk at work long before I knew about AA. It made sense then, and it makes sense now. This is how it goes: (You’re welcome to recite it out loud with me.)

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

  1. Step one: Powerlessness

The fist step of AA’s 12 is: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol; that our lives had become unmanageable. We can replace the word, alcohol, with just about anything—drugs, overeating, Covid-19— because the fact is we are pretty much powerless over everything beyond our own attitude and actions. That doesn’t mean we should give up— far from it. Once we accept what we can’t do, it opens a whole new wonderful insight into what we can.

  1. One moment at a time.

One of the most stressful things about the pandemic is that we don’t know how long it’s going to last. When we consider it in terms of weeks and even months, it becomes almost impossible to cope. One of AA’s best-know slogans, One day at a time, reflects the concept that we can do just about anything for twenty-four hours. It suggests we try to live in the present, setting aside the past and future. We can amend the slogan to One hour, One minute, or even One second at a time. We can ask ourselves, In this moment, am I okay? Have I done everything I can for now? The answer is usually yes.

  1. We are not alone.

In AA we learn that, where we once thought we were alone in our problems, we are in fact surrounded by others experiencing similar issues to us. This is also true of the Covid-19 pandemic. All of us are staying home. All of us have had our daily routines upset. Many of us are having financial difficulties. Some of us are sick. All of us are worried. I’ve been amazed at how people have found ways to come together while staying physically apart. Reaching out, sharing with others anything and everything that is on our minds helps us in two ways: Firstly, describing out fears and feelings out loud helps clarify these things in our minds. Secondly, we learn how others in similar situations are dealing with them.

  1. Action: Do the next right thing.

Some may recognize this catchphrase as a song from Disney’s Frozen II, but it’s a whole lot more. There is a point when we need to quit thinking about stuff and start acting. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. We can do the next right thing. But how do we know what that should be? As I look inside my heart, I usually find the answer. (See #6)

  1. Prayer and meditation.

The eleventh step of Alcoholics Anonymous goes as follows: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

This is my favorite step, because it puts into perspective something that baffled me for so long: the meaning of prayer. No more, “Please God, let this happen and don’t let that happen, but if that happens, then please do this.” This one prayer covers it all.

This step also mentions meditation. Some consider prayer as talking to God, where meditation is listening to Him.

  1. Taking care of ourselves.

It’s like when we fly on an airplane and the flight attendant instructs us to put on our own oxygen masks first, because if we run out of oxygen, we’ll be no good to anyone else. The same is true in life: we can’t help others unless we help ourselves. It’s important to listen to the inner voice that lets us know what we need, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Maybe it’s rest or food; maybe companionship or alone-time. Who knows better how to meet those needs than ourselves?

8: Action: Helping others.

Once we have helped ourselves put on our virtual oxygen mask, it’s time to help others. We learn in the program that by helping others, we help ourselves. Oftentimes when I’m anxious, the feeling resolves when I immerse myself in tasks such as making coffee for my meeting. Right now, we can’t do many of the helpful things we used to do because of #stayhome and social distancing, so it’s time to think outside the box. Whether we volunteer to courier donated PPE supplies, foster an animal for a shelter, or send a letter to a shut-in, what we do matters.

  1. We hear what we listen for.

It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of negative information coming our way. We become tuned into the negative, but there are good things happening too. Turn off the TV news, which makes its money by scaring us, and find something positive online, on the radio, or in our own homes.

  1. The destructive “What if?”

How many times lately have I heard people asking, What if? What if I get sick? What if the Post Office closes? What if the store runs out of toilet paper? These are all good questions, but ones that cannot be answered until they come to pass. Until then, energy spent worrying is wasted, because in fact, we won’t know what we’ll do until it happens. Not to say that planning ahead isn’t a good idea, but the point is to try to keep our brains from becoming overwhelmed.

  1. Action: Ask yourself this question:

Today—

What went well?

            What part did I play in its success? 

 

Something I heard: When you fear a thing, learn all you can about it.

How many facts do any of us really know about Covid-19? About pandemics in general? About the resources available at this time and ones in the works? About ways to minimize the threat of infection? About how the virus is spread? About what we’re doing about it, locally, nationally, and internationally? If, like many, everything we know has come from the news media, it may be time to dig deeper into other sources.

Something I know: #stayhome mimics forced retirement.

I retired three years ago, and it has taken me this long to come to terms with what that means. At first, I drove myself crazy trying to do all the things I said I’d do if I ever had the time. I felt I needed to keep up the same pace as while working. I believed my worth was judged by my production. Over the years, I’ve realized the benefit of other things: beauty, quiet; love; time. Today, I don’t push myself. I enjoy the moment and don’t berate myself for what I don’t get done.

The #stayhome order imposed on us by C-19 is a sort of forced retirement for many people, one that nobody anticipated. It may be helpful to look up some information about common changes we go through when we retire.

I hope you found something you can use out of my suggestions. Do you have anything to add? How are you coping with the Covid-19 Pandemic? I welcome your comments and may even write another blogpost to include them.

Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay home. This will pass.

 

 

Posted in Alcoholism & Addiction, Health, Wellness, Lifestyle, Save the World | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments