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Posts Tagged ‘Writers’

Okay, I’m finally getting it.  You want to be an author?  So you sit down and compose a masterpiece.  You find an enthusiastic publisher to get you out there, and then you sit back and collect the royalties.  Nope.  You’ve only done half your work.  Now the real work begins.  Whatever your publisher might do marketing your book – that is just not enough these days.  All the old models of selling books no longer apply.  What you really need to do is market yourself.  It is up to you, the author, to get out there and create a following.  Marketing can no longer be left to just the publisher.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is finally coming home to me after I had a long two-hour conversation with my publisher this weekend about what I am expected to do as my part of the marketing program.  Wow.  Pant pant.  I won’t go into all the details but there are basically three parts to the operation.  1.  Internet and social media  2.  Personal contacts  And 3.  Author book sales

I may decide to describe these various programs as I explore each one, but let me just comment on one of the first projects I am going to do.  A YouTube video.  I have a friend who has a video legacy business.  She makes videos of family history.  Her website is www.heartfeltvideolegacies.com.  She is going to help me construct a nice professional looking video about 5 minutes long.  Since I have no money to do this, I am counting on help from friends.  I will have a short filming session, then serve lunch to all the helpers, and give them copies of my book, Divas Never Flinch.  While this may be small compensation, at least it will be something, and I hope will make for an enjoyable experience for everyone.

And I have sooooo much to learn about the other aspects of social media.  I am the original Luddite, but I will get my head around all this new stuff, and work my butt off to get the word out and make the kind of connections necessary to do my part of the marketing scheme.

One thing my publisher impressed upon me was how important it is to see myself as an already successful writer.  Just to be published is a major accomplishment.  She stressed that people are attracted to success, and it is very important not to be seen as marketing my book, but to be seen as a successful writer wanting to give back to the community by offering to teach writing courses, to give interviews, offering books to charity auctions etc.  There are many ways to participate in the community that will get you noticed.

I know I’ve only touched on the many, many avenues that I need to explore, but rather than lay them all out now I think it would be best to report on them as I move forward, trying each one and seeing how well they work.

And lastly I want to report that the print version of Divas will be available either later this week or next.  The book has been submitted to the distributer, but they need to work their magic, and then it will be officially available.  Will keep you all posted.

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My, how the world of publishing is changing!  The print version of my novel Divas Never Flinch is about to come out.  I don’t know about you, but I envisioned huge presses running at astronomical speeds slapping out a book, to then be bound, and the cover added.  I asked my publisher how many copies would be in the first run. I expected the publisher to have a warehouse filled with printed books to be sent out to bookstores all over the country when they were ordered.    I had to be set straight, and was given a crash course in publishing in the world today.

First, the publisher has no inventory of books.  My publisher works through a distributer who also actually prints the books.  But do they have a warehouse full of printed books?  Again no.  It seems the world of books today is print on demand.  Say Amazon wants to have 100 books.  They contact the distributer and order 100 books.  The distributer goes to their print department and orders 100 books which are printed out on demand and sent to Amazon.

Bookstores used to order books for their shelves, and after a period of time would return any that were unsold.  About 40% of the books returned were damaged and unable to be sold again.  Wasteful and unprofitable for the publisher.   So now my publisher no longer accepts return of books.

And of the 250,000 books in print a bookstore might carry only about 60,000.  Hardly a lucrative outlet for most books.  Today most books  – ebooks or printed books – are sold online – Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, and Smashwords being the major players.

Now here’s what’s interesting.  The printing of the books on demand has a new tool.  There is a machine called the Espresso printer.  This printer has access to all the ISBN books and when a book is ordered the number is entered and the book begins to print.  The printing, the binding, the cover, the lamination all done in about 7 minutes, from start to finish.  Here is a link to a YouTube video.  It is really interesting and well worth watching.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec2BZA50EaY

I’m sure this is not an exhaustive look at what is going on in publishing today, but it sure opened my eyes.  I know I have a lot more to learn, but I wanted to share this as I find it most enlightening.

 

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As I near the end of a writing project – in this case a novel – I begin the process of writing the query letter I will send out to agents.  I spend a lot of time on this as it is very important to put forward your work as succinctly and dramatically as possible to snag the interest of an agent who must get 200 queries a day.

I worked a long time to get my latest letter together.  This novel was the most involved work I have done – a lot of characters that had to be juggled and developed over the scope of the work.  I wanted to present the story as fully as I could, and I ended up with a query letter that had to be reduced in font size to get all the elements on one page.

I gave it to a friend to read to make sure it was comprehensible.  She came back with the question – What are you trying to accomplish with this?  I explained I wanted to get the story across as completely as I could.  But her question nagged at me, and I went back to look again at the letter.  It was clear that I was trying to convey way too much information.  Instead of engaging the reader I was overwhelming the reader.   I was trying to get the whole novel into a couple of paragraphs.  And I had doubts that a busy agent would read all that.

So I decided to go back and rework the letter.   I went again to Agentquery.com and reread their advice on creating a successful query letter.  That was a good move on my part, because I realized I had written way too much.  I needed to connect with the reader with no more than 250 to 300 words.  My goal had to be to excite the reader to want to see more.  There was no way I could convey the whole novel in just a few paragraphs.  Much better to entice them to want to see more.

So I went back and completely reworked the middle of the letter and got the heart of the letter into 286 words.  The first part of the letter is the opening with title, a one sentence tag line about the book, and the number of words in the work.  And the last section is a very brief biography.  That’s all.  I cut out every single word that did not add directly to my goal of getting the agent to request to see more of the work.

It was really very constructive for me to realize I was trying to do too much with my first query letter, and it led me to go back and rework my other query letters as well.

I highly recommend anyone working on a query letter take a look at the Agent Query website.  Under the heading for writers there is a link to How to Write a Query.  Take a look at what they have to say, and be sure and check out the sample query letters of successful queries.  It will serve you well.

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Before my novel, Divas Never Flinch, was published, I spent a productive period writing a series of short stories.  I was still feeling my way with my writing and wanted feed-back.  I did an internet search on writer’s website communities.  I was looking for a place where I could submit my stories, and read other people’s stories, and hopefully get mutual feedback.  There are a number of them out there and I joined two.

The first was Writing.Com.  It was a free site, but they encourage you to join as a paying member.  I submitted a number of stories and did get feed-back.  I also read a number of stories and I gave feed-back.   However, I did not find the quality of writing to be very high.  And the comments were cursory.  Not much depth and there were a lot of extraneous requests and diversions that finally convinced me to abandon that site.

The second site was WritersCafe.org.  Not only is it a very clean and attractive site, but I also found the quality of writing and feedback to be at a higher level.  They have a number of specialized groups that one can join for special interest writing.  However, I did not find them to be very active, and was disappointed when groups that I thought would be interesting, showed postings that were months old, not very interesting, and not worth the time.  They also held a number of contests within the site.  I did enter a number of those, quite successfully and won several times.  I continued to participate for a number of months before I found that most people were wanting their own writing looked at, but were not all that interested in reading other people’s writing.  And by then I began working on longer works of fiction and my interested became diverted.

I have not checked recently to see if there are any new sites, and I didn’t explore all the ones I initially found.  I do feel they serve a purpose, and I would recommend trying out a couple of sites if that interests you.  But I think that we writers are basically a solitary group and not so prone to spending a lot of time with each other’s work.  But I might be wrong.  Maybe it’s just me, being the recluse that I am.  And because of that, I would suggest that you check this out for yourself.  And if anyone comes across a really great site, let me know.  Would be happy to give it another go.

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Because I have been unemployed for the past several weeks I have been able to write every day.  Great joy.  And as a result I just finished the first draft of my latest novel.

Now, since I do not write with a predetermined outline, but rather let my characters drive the story, I really don’t know what I have until I have finished and do my first read through.  It’s both exciting and scary.  But it seems to work for me.  I did the same with my first published novel, Divas Never Flinch.  I was surprised at how well it works for me.  My characters seem to know their way and have a knack for finishing up at the end just where they should be.  A miracle that never ceases to amaze me.  In the first novel, since it was my first, I found rewriting was dealing with really careful examination of each sentence and paragraph to make sure there were no extraneous words, and the meaning was clear.  I would come across a passage that was awkward or unclear and I would work it until it was clean and clear.

With this book, my fifth, I find that the writing is a lot clearer with less work to do on the individual paragraphs.  However, this book is a political thriller with more diverse characters, and I had to keep them all in mind as I wrote, and had to make sure all the story threads were wrapped up and completed appropriately.  So my first read through was to see if I had any loose threads sticking out – story lines where information was introduced but not picked up again later.  It was like a weaving.  I had to go back and tuck in all the loose threads.  And that was my first job on this manuscript.

Now, after doing that, I am going through for a second general read.  I pick up a sentance or paragraph that needs work and will fix what I can, but I am still really trying to get a sense of the whole.  When I am satisfied with that, then I will go to the next stage.

And that is the fine tuning and polishing stage.  Here, I go through over and over each paragraph to make sure it is as polished and clean and clear as I can make it.

Of course, the real test is to have someone else read the work.  Unfortunately, unless someone is really skilled at reading and vetting a manuscript, what I usually get is, “Oh that’s nice,” with not much useful information I can use for rewriting.

Another technique I use that is helpful is to let the manuscript sit for a while without looking at it. Then go back to it later with fresh eyes.  That can be very useful.

Again, I say that rewriting is very subjective, but this is what works for me.  I’m sure everyone has their own way of working, and it can vary drastically from person to person.

I know some writers overwrite and have to edit like crazy.  While other writers under write and have to add and fill out.  I am closer to the later.  I like really clean and simple writing.

I know this is not an exhaustive look at the subject of rewriting, but there are many fine books out there on the subject.  I have read several, but like all books covering a general subject, some of the issues addressed are helpful, and some are not.  One just has to pick out what is useful to you and disregard the rest.

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I feel certain sex is the number one interest in most writing, but close behind must be food.  I know it plays a big part in my writing.  The very first sentence in my first novel reads: Sonora Livingston-Bundt examined in minute detail the delicate moist jewels of caviar, nestled in folds of creamy goat cheese, cradled by leaves of crispy endive.  I just can’t help myself, I am always writing about food in one form or another.  Sprinkled all through the rest of the novel are references to dinners, parties, snacks, shopping for food, coffee, tea, drinks, pies – a whole subplot involves opening a pie shop.  And I am sure there are many other references I can’t remember.

With obesity such a prominent subject these days I decided to write a children’s book – middle grade I believe it’s called – for kids 10-15.  It is set as a treasure hunt adventure.  Three very bright kids need to search for their parents who have not returned from a trip abroad.  In trying to find out where they might have gone they discover two books.  The father’s journal, and their mother’s journal of recipes.  She is a cookbook writer.  The father’s journal is a coded map to where the parent’s might be.  The kids must follow clues and go to various countries in various times using their father’s invention of a time machine.  The clues are coordinated with the mother’s journal of recipes.  The clues are in the recipes.

The purpose of the book was to introduce kids to healthy eating by exploring food from around the world.  Healthy international recipes that are simple to make and that the readers can do themselves.

That book was a lot of fun to write and of course was radically foodcentric.

I have always been intrigued by the idea of incorporating complete recipes right into the story itself.  I did that in a short story about a group of friends getting together for an Easter feast.  Just to give an example here is a sample of using the preparation of a dish within the story.  Hopefully one can enjoy the unfolding storyline while also getting a complete recipe as well.  Here’s a portion of the story.

George lived in a fantasy house on a cliff right above the ocean.  His house looked like a French half-timber manor with a Norman tower that descended to the beach via a spiral staircase.  George had been a Hollywood cinematographer for many years but escaped from the rat race to retire to his retreat where he puttered, and lovingly restored his dream house over several years. 

George had a houseguest this weekend.  Samantha was a British lady of some years (she would never reveal her true age) who resided in York City and would visit for several weeks at a time.  They had met many years ago on the beaches of Mexico, and had kept up a scintillating friendship ever since. 

George was adept at salads and simple breakfasts involving smoked salmon but had absolutely no idea how to approach a Moroccan feast.  On this Saturday morning he was plowing through a Mediterranean cookbook someone had given him one Christmas because “the pictures were so nice.”  He was mumbling and cursing and swatting at pages looking for something suitable.  Samantha came to the rescue.

 “I can’t believe you have no idea how to cook at your advanced age,” She taunted as she pulled the book from him and turned smartly to the index.  She studied the entries under Morocco and pointed.  “Here, just the thing,” she pronounced as she selected a Tagine Batata Hloowa, pointing to the entry like she was instructing a toddler in calculus.

George stared at her as though she had just given birth to a calf.  “I have no idea what that is.”

“Of course not, you’re an infidel.”  She pointed to the top of a kitchen cabinet where he had a fancy array of culinary pottery displayed – all for decoration; probably covered in dust; and, without a doubt, never used.  “And what do you suppose that is?” she asked in a very superior mode, pointing to a rough-looking dish with a tall conical lid.

“A dish,” he replied, not about to let her snippy attitude cow him.

“A tagine,” she smirked.  “A Moroccan baking dish.”

“Well goodie.  Looks like it will hold a dandy salad.”

“Oh…” She brushed him aside and started rummaging through his cupboards and refrigerator.  “Get it down.”

“Please?” he taunted.

“Yes.  Please.”  She looked at it as he brought it down.  “And clean it up while you’re at it.”

As he was washing the tagine she pulled out several cans of pearl onions left over from some Christmas long ago – some yams, some carrots and a bag of somewhat dried out pitted prunes.  “Do you have any sesame seeds?” she asked fishing through a cupboard of spices and pulling out what else she would need to season the dish.

“What are they?”

“Useless, useless,” she mumbled, finally finding a small packet at the back of the shelf.  “Good, this will work out nicely.”

“Need any help?” he asked,  indeed, beginning to feel useless.

She looked around at what she had gathered.  “Yes, can you peel the yams?  You do have a peeler somewhere, yes?”

He rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a splendid peeler, presenting it to her like he had just brought home the Heiseman Trophy.

“Excellent.” 

He continued to hold it up, quite unaware what to do with it.

“So peel the potatoes,” she nudged.

“Oh, yeah.”  He turned to the sink and began to peel the yams.

Samantha sautéed the pearl onions in a pan with some butter.  She took out half and placed them aside.  George had finished peeling the yams. 

“Here peel and slice these,” she directed, giving George several carrots.  She cubed the yams and placed them in the sauté pan with the remaining onions and added the carrots when George was done, cooking them till they were slightly browned.  She added two cups of vegetable broth, a quarter cup of honey, some cinnamon, ground ginger, a cup of the pitted and chopped prunes and some salt and pepper.  She placed the entire mixture into the bottom of the tagine, covered it with the lid and put it into a 400º oven and baked it till the vegetables were tender.  When she lifted off the tagine lid the most delicate and intoxicating aromas filled the kitchen.  Samantha added the reserved onions and cooked the tagine for five minutes more.  She had toasted the sesame seeds and kept them aside to sprinkle over the tagine just before serving.

George commented as she took the tagine out of the oven for the last time.  “Wow that smells pretty damn good.”

Samantha nodded and acknowledged the obvious.  “Of course.”

There, hope you enjoyed that.  As you are aware food plays a major part in our lives and, speaking for myself, also in my writing.

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I know this is hardly an exhaustive examination of this subject, but I wanted to say a few words about an element that I find most helpful in my writing.

A subtle pleasure in reading (and writing) are the effects of rhythm and pacing, whether it is in the line, the paragraph or the chapter.  One can think of this in musical terms.  Rhythm is the regularly repeated beat within a given structure.  In music you have notes.  In writing you have words.  Just like in music, the properly repeated beats of words, phrases or sentences can have their own intrinsic pleasure, independent of the meaning.

For me, one way to accomplish this is with what I call the rule of three.  There is something inherently satisfying in the repetition of elements in sets of three.

For example – which do you find most satisfying?  The man laughed. (or)  The man laughed and ran.  (or)  The man laughed, ran, and jumped for joy.  My guess is you would choose the third example.  Not only because of the repetition of three elements in the sentence, but also because of the three elements in the last phrase as well.

Another example would be the repetition of the same word three times in a sentence.  For example: The kid was black, the kid was kind, and the kid could hold his own in any situation.  Here we have the repetition of the word “kid” three times, and it lends a rhythm that emphasizes the subject of the sentence as well as satisfying on a purely rhythmic level.

This is not unlike the famous opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. 

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I think it is very easy to see the use of rhythm and repetition here.  I will let this fragment speak for itself.

Pacing is a slight variation on Rhythm.  For example if one were to describe a lazy river countryside one might use long flowing sentences, using the writing to help convey the feeling and meaning of the sentence itself.  Long languid sentences matching the nature of the lazy river.  The boughs of the willows graced the silent, silver surface of the flowing river.  Wild flowers graced the banks, and sparkled like stars in the vast firmament of the fallow fields, lending a sweet brillance to the majesty of the royal, flowing water way.

If one were to describe a car chase one might use short choppy sentences to match the feeling and nature of the chase itself.  For example, the chase might read: The car careened around the corner, hit the curb, and dashed through the intersection. The wheels screeched.  The pedestrians jumped from the street. The roar of the engine pierced the silence of the sleepy street.

I know this but touches on a subject that can be more fully explored, but I wanted to introduce you to these thoughts.  I hope it was not too pedantic and that you might find it useful.

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