Friday, April 20, 2018

Writing: "Selling" Your Work

Writers talk about the "good old days," when all an author needed to do was sit down and write a "great American novel," then turn it over to others to sell it. But has that ever happened, or is it just a longed-for circumstance that never really existed? I can't speak to older times, since I got into this writing life a bit more than a decade ago, but I'm told that an author has always had to be involved in the marketing of his/her work. I do know that writing is only a part of the job of an author nowadays. Someone has to get the word out, and as has been said before, no one is as interested in your book getting into the hands of others as you are.

When a book has been written (and there's a lot that goes into that), the fun has just begun. The author must "sell" it to an agent, who in turn "sells" it to a publisher. If the author decides to indie-publish it, they can skip these steps, but then assume the responsibility for all the activity that follows.

Assuming that the book is ready to print, someone (either the author or the marketing department of their publisher) sends advance copies out to various critics for review. The book is also sent to people who'll help publicize the book--call them a "street team" or "influencers" or whatever.  Copies should go to libraries (both church and public). Book store managers need to know about the book, including copies where appropriate, hoping they'll recommend it to their customers. There's the matter of appearances on various social media sites (often with a giveaway of the book). And the list goes on.

How about a formal launch? When my first novel came out, I arranged with an independent bookstore to hold a book launch there, complete with a cake and a reading from my work. I was disappointed at the turn-out, but heard later that a well-known public figure had done a book reading at that same site with an even smaller crowd in attendance. In retrospect, perhaps if I'd worked harder at inviting people, the number present would have been larger, but I'm still not certain it would have made a lot of difference.

Selling the book is important, and it can be influenced by lots of things, but I remain convinced that the best publicity is word-of-mouth. That comes from writing a great book, followed by one person telling another they like it. Like ripples in a stream, this type of publicity spreads. That's what I want to "sell" my book.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Faulkner's resignation: "Every scoundrel... (with) two cents for a stamp"

William Faulker is one of the most-recognized authors in American history. But, like many of that group, he wasn't always a writer. He was at one time a postmaster (although he allegedly was away at times to go hunting or golfing). But finally, he'd had enough. His resignation letter is a classic among those who are fed up with their jobs (or with the system).
"...As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be d***ed if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.
"This, sir, is my resignation."
I imagine that many of us have had that same feeling. Before writing this blog post, I had occasion to look someone up on Wikipedia, and found that the post had been edited to replace the name of the President who nominated a certain person with the word "Hitler," and his party with the word "fascist." There was a time when we would have gone to the library to look up the background on a person. That was a pain, but it also delivered us from someone who has access to a computer. Sometimes I think that's a trade-off I'd be willing to make.

Some of the posts I see on social media make me want to join Faulkner in chucking it all. Are we willing to trade the convenience of the Internet for the associated right to its use by people who insist on espousing their position (which is legitimate), but sometimes do it with troll-like actions (which I don't like)?

How about you? Do you hesitate to post things on the Internet that may be criticized by others? Are there other situations where you're afraid to voice an opinion. Have you ever, like Faulkner, wanted to resign? From what--the Internet, or from interactions with other humans? Let me know? I'd be interested in whether I'm the only one out here who sometimes wants to resign.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Writing: What's In A Name?

Ever wonder how a novelist chooses a name for characters? There are several theories (and I've probably tried them all). This is the way one author approaches it. And here are my own suggestions.

Some people try to choose a name that identifies the character. Maybe it refers to his personality (remember Scrooge?) or his physical appearance (such as "Stark" or "Linda"). That works, but I find it should be reserved for major characters. You can't spend days coming up with descriptive names for people who come and go throughout the narrative.

Speaking of that--and getting a bit off the subject--I find that having too many characters is confusing. Moreover--and back to what this blog post is about--try not to have people whose first or last name is too similar to that of others. Having a "Matty" and a "Mary" might work, but it's better if the names are "Alice" and "Mary."

I once tried using a name from my high school graduating class, but this backfired. I used the name "Frank Perrin" for a deputy sheriff in one of my novels, and when it was over you weren't sure if he wore a black or white hat. Then I got a note from a woman who wanted me to be the honored guest speaker at our class's 50th reunion. She was--you guessed it--the wife of my friend, Frank Perrin. Well, he thought it was funny, but I put that character in a follow-up novel, and you can be sure there was no doubt at the end that he was the good guy.

Some authors use a list of most popular names for any given birth year. Others choose names from the "spam" emails they get. Still others give little thought to naming their characters. It seems that plot trumps everything in writing and in the end, (as Shakespeare said), "What's in a name?"

Leave your comments for me. I'd love to hear whether you like posts like this. (If you don't, I suppose you can leave those comments as well, but I may sulk awhile after reading them).

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

" 'Tis A Puzzlement."

"The life of a writer must be so easy." I hear these words just often enough to make me re-think this second career into which God has led me. For those unfamiliar with my story, I was looking at retirement, not the life of an author. I practiced medicine for almost four decades, including ten years as a professor at a prestigious medical center. Retirement was going to include golf, travel, and leisure. But when my first wife passed away (just before my planned retirement), I journaled to express my feelings.Then I wanted to turn my journaling into a book, but had no idea how to do it.

Although I was so discouraged after one day at the writing retreat I attended that I wanted to go home, I persevered and eventually started on my road to writing. The Tender Scar, the book that was eventually published after that, has over the past decade ministered to thousands of people suffering the loss of a loved one. But I also was challenged at that same retreat to "try my hand at fiction."

After four years, four books, and four rejections, I quit. But I eventually tried once more, and shortly thereafter (long story) I got my first fiction contract. Now I've had fifteen novels and novellas published, and (God willing) will add to that number before the end of the year. But along the way I've discovered that being a published author doesn't automatically mean a full and peaceful life.

What there is to see beyond the name on a book cover might surprise you. I just communicated with a writer friend who spends hours each week driving her son for significant therapy, time that can't be spent writing...or marketing...or doing many other things. And this isn't an isolated instance. Yet she continues to write books that are excellent examples of inspirational fiction. I know offhand of numerous other writers whose personal lives aren't the perfect ones readers imagine. So why do we keep doing it? Because we're called to that activity, just as surely as ministers are called. We write because we can't not write. We don't do it for the glory (and we certainly don't do it for the money). But we do it.

I don't know why my first wife died suddenly, nor why God blessed me yet again with the love of another wonderful woman. I'm still not sure exactly how and why I got into writing. But it's a vocation I continue to pursue...although, as a retirement activity, it's not "so easy" at all.

Have I told you some things you didn't know about the life of a writer? Let me know.

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Writing: Rules and Suggestions

Writers, especially "newbies," are given some rules that are looked on as basic for producing good--i.e., readable--fiction. Keep point of view constant. Avoid the passive voice. Start where the action is. Try not to do an information "dump," but rather work the situation and back-story in as you go. All these are valid suggestions, and I--like many others--learned them as we cut our teeth writing fiction.

Let me talk a bit about one of these rules--the point of view. The best way I know to describe point of view is to imagine a TV camera and microphone perched on the shoulder of the POV character. What he (and the camera) sees, the reader sees. What he (and the microphone) hears, the reader hears. None of this "little did he/she know..." that was popular at one time. Such an interjections goes with the "omniscient" point of view, which imagines that the story is being told by a narrator, often one who not only sees all aspects of the story but is something of a gossip, not hesitating to share his secrets with the reader.

When can we switch POVs? In my writing, I identify the point of view character at the start of the scene, and try to keep the POV constant through that scene. Some authors have one POV character through the whole chapter, sometimes the whole book. Others (and there are a few like me) change  the POV character when they change the scene. However, I like to keep the number of points of view small--three or four at most--in order to simplify things for the reader.

That's enough about POV. I'll close by quoting one of the best rules for writers ever laid down. Elmore Leonard once gave an interview that contained a number of suggestions for writers, but the one I like best is this: "I try to leave out the parts the reader tends to skip." Do that, and you'll keep your reader turning pages, which is, after all, what we try to do.

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