Some Thoughts on Writing and Publishing

by Janis Patterson

It is the best of times to be a self-published author.

We can put our own books out without having to deal with the ‘writing by committee’ mentality that infects the world of traditional publishing. We can reach directly to the reader without having to bow to the whims, prejudices and rules of the traditional publishing gatekeepers. And, as an added benefit, the reader can choose from a vast array of books instead of being held down to the narrow pigeonholes of traditional publishing. Plus, as a self-published author, you get the largest slice of the monetary pie, as opposed to  the minuscule percentages offered by traditional publishing.

It is the worst of times to be a self-published author.

We not only have to handle the necessary quality controls of creating good books – great writing, good editing, great covers, proofing and printing standards – but we also have to deal with publicity, marketing techniques and legal issues. Some writers make enough money to hire all these things done – most don’t, and every minute spent on publishing/publicizing/whatever is a minute not spent on writing.

Moving beyond the personal, there is also the wider world of self-publishing that seems to become more surreal every day. There are always pirates who take books and them put them up for free on the internet without the author’s consent. Their rallying cries are “If it’s on the internet it should be free!” (Wrong!) and “Writers should just be happy that their words are being read!” (Even wronger! Try that twisted logic with your doctor or plumber or just about any professional…) Other pirates take your book and sell it, but without the author’s consent – and without ever sending the author any of the proceeds.

Then there are what I call the literary pirates – the singularly untalented ones who want to be thought of as an author so badly that they take someone else’s book, change the title, the main characters’ names, probably the name of the town and maybe even the occupations, and then publish it as an original book under their own name. Sadly, this criminality is hard to detect, as most of the retailers simply accept books and don’t run any sort of comparison software to make sure it is an original work. Most examples of it are never caught, and the few that have been were brought to the author’s attention by dedicated fans who saw the similarity to one of the author’s books.

Even worse, there is a growing corruption in the self-publishing world. Book stuffing is a big problem at the moment in Amazon’s KU. Some Book Stuffers have used book stuffing to game the system for fantastic amounts of money and driving legitimate authors off bestseller lists, all the while delivering little more than a badly written short story and lots of garbage. Lots of them also use clickfarms to up their pages read count into the realm of KU bonuses, which is what gets them most of the page reads – and the money. What’s sad is that Amazon doesn’t seem to care. They’re getting the money customers pay for these bloated nothings. Although – I have heard that they are meeting with some concerned authors and writers’ organizations – and I hope that is true – so maybe something positive and good for real writers is being done.

Another thing is that even if a book meets the criteria for a real book (actually written by the person claiming it, page count not inflated by rubbish and repeated short stories) it’s really just a bad book. The internet is simply swamped with ‘books’ that are terribly written, worse plotted and which have never seen either an editor or even spellcheck. Some people are so stupid – or who want to be ‘an author’ so badly – that that they think merely stringing X number of words together with a rough semblance of a storyline equates a book. They buy a cheap cover (I don’t care how much it costs, most of them are definitely cheap), stick up the resultant product and wait impatiently for fame and fortune to come flooding in.

Add to that that the market is waaaay down now. Sales are bad. My sales are so low at the moment that if they get any worse I’ll have to start paying people to not read my books!

So perhaps the pertinent question should be, under these conditions, why would anyone become a writer?

The answer is simple – because we can’t do anything else. If we never sell another book, we will still write. If the publishing world turns upside down, we will still write. No matter what happens, we will still write. We’re writers.

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Posted in Janis Patterson | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Writing a Mystery is like Baking a Cake by Paty Jager

I had a post written, went back in to add a little more, and lost the whole thing! Man, I hate when that happens!

I am finishing up a historical western romance book and getting ready to start on the next Shandra Higheagle book. It will be book 11 in the series and take place partly on the Colville reservation.  It will be the wedding book…or will it?  LOL That’s for readers to find out!

Shandra will go to the reservation to learn and practice a Nez Perce dance she wishes to incorporate into her wedding to Ryan. Having found her family and heritage at the same time as finding Ryan, she wishes to combine her two cultures in the wedding.  which means someone will get killed and she will want to help discover who did it and why with the help of her deceased grandmother.

All the research–Shandra’s heritage, how someone could be killed and what the forensics would say, the legal information I need to know, and keeping it all plausible is what makes writing a murder mystery so much fun! It makes me think, piece things together, and then try and keep the reader from figuring out who did it while also dropping some clues in the mix.

In a way writing a mystery is a lot like baking a cake. You have to read the recipe, which in this case decides the who, what, and why. Gather your ingredients — in my case gather my suspects.  Then mix together the ingredients or in the case of the book put together plausible scenes that show and deceive at the same time. Add a little something special that makes the cake or the story interesting and enjoyable, all the while holding out on what the “secret sauce” or killer is.  Then ice the cake with something delicious and come up with an ending that surprises the reader, yet was there all along.

I must have used the correct recipe on Haunting Corpse, book 9 in the Shandra Higheagle Series because it is a finalist in the paranormal category of the Daphne du Maurier contest. I’m honored that my book did so well in such a prestigious contest.

Another fun thing about my Shandra Higheagle Series, Books 1-6 are now available in audio!

 

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Judging a book …

Hey, y’all.

What’s new with you? Hope everything is good down your way. Read any good books lately? (Here’s a cyber cookie if you said you’d read mine and you thought they were “good”. I appreciate it, yo!)

If you didn’t say mine (not cool, bro) then how did you choose the book? Was it recommended to you by a friend? (I used to know a guy #douche who would get really offended when I didn’t rush out and buy whatever book he recommended. Like, sulk-for-a-whole-day offended. He used to think he had the best taste in books so he could never accept why I didn’t read what he suggested. I did mention he was a douche, right?)

Anyway, to get back on topic, how did you find your latest book? Recommendation from a non-douchey friend? Email from a promotions company? Did the cover catch your eye while you were browsing the digital Amazon/iBooks/Nook/Kobo shelves?

 

Beyond Dead

Old Bridget Sway cover

I ask because I recently changed all of my book covers. #nightmare Well, it’s wasn’t really a #nightmare as such but it was a LOT of work. Originally I hired a professional cover designer to do them, and I was super pleased with the result. I loved the cover for the first Bridget Sway book. It had been my idea (I wanted her hair to take up the cover and for you to not be able to see her face) and the designer ran with it. I remember I was ridiculously pleased with it at the time. It was my first ever cover! And then I got the second one done. And the third. And the fourth. And the shine completely wore off. 

 

The colour scheme was a bit limiting. (Straight up, I’m not really a black/red/grey/white type of girl. I do like those colours … but I’m more of a rainbow person.) And I was a bit fed up with how her face just moved around the cover. And I can’t tell you how many people asked me if they were horror books.

 

Beyond Dead - FINAL COVER-2

New Bridget Sway cover

So, I redid them. Yes, I did them myself. I didn’t know how much you know about that, but that is a huge no-no for independently published authors. It’s like an unspoken rule. But I did. And I LOVE them. I LOVE them so much. To me, the really express the tone of the stories the way the other covers didn’t. But you might not like the newer version, and that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks, yo. 

 

The biggest thing I took away from this is that you have to trust your gut when making these decisions. You have to trust your own instincts. Writing is a business, but it’s a personal one. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your covers or a comment that your editor makes. You have to trust that you have a story to tell and only you can tell it your way. 

 

Now, I believe you were about to tell me how awesome my covers were! Yeah, thought so!

 

Until next time …

Jordaina

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An ‘ideal’ article

By Sally Carpenter

 Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Jeffrey Scott, the most prolific writer of TV animation, with over 600 produced scripts to his credit, and all-around nice person.

 In his book, “How to Write for Animation,” which has good advice for any writer, he talks about ideas.

 “There are an infinitive of ideas,” he writes. “All of us are inherently creative.”

 Scott makes a good point that we tend to over think creativity, which is often presented as some mystical, awesome force that only affects a few highly gifted individuals.

Or else we try to analyze creativity as science by probing the workings of the brain or studying the effects of environment or family life to determine the elements that lead to artistry, as if recreating Michelangelo’s studio will produce another Sistine Chapel painting.

Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way” books, agrees that everyone is born with creativity, only we get “blocked” by criticism, discouragement and rejection. Cameron’s books present exercises that help the reader to “unblock” and let the creativity flow.

While I’m not as prolific of a writer as Scott, from my experience I agree with his observation that the best way to break though a “block” is to write: “Good, bad or indifferent,” he says.

Some writers try to “summon the muse” through complicated rituals before they start working: brew a certain type of coffee, do yoga, take a walk, do writing prompts, meditate, wait until inspiration hits (which could be a very long holding pattern). But sometimes these rituals instead lead to writer’s procrastination, simply postponing time spent writing.

In my day job at a community newspaper, some of my tasks are writing headlines and photo captions. I can’t sit and wait for inspiration to hit. The paper is on deadline and the boss won’t pay for overtime. So I learned how to work quick and dirty, coming up with ideas on the fly.

 I’m not sure where I heard this, but the best way to reach the muse is to “show up at the page” (or the keyboard). In other words, start writing. An author can’t edit or polish a story until words are on the page.

When I was a kid, I had tons of story ideas. Unfortunately, at that age I lacked the discipline to write it all down; I just daydreamed. Even though the stories were childish, a writer must start somewhere. A runner can’t finish a marathon unless she first masters those first wobbly steps as an infant.

 Cameron suggests that artists begin each day with “morning pages,” three pages of free-form longhand (not typing or texting), just writing whatever comes to mind. The concept is to keep the pen moving even if the words are gibberish, to clear out the mental “junk” that blocks an artist, and to activate the richness of the subconscious. Soon gems will appear among the scribbling.

 I recently started writing a short story that I planned to include in the reprint edition of my first book. I wrote some pages, and then had to leave it for other projects. In the meantime, another story idea occurred and I decided to move ahead the second idea.

Did I waste my time with the first story? Of course not. I may use the first idea in a later book. Even if I never finish the story, it’s possible I might not have been open to receiving the second idea had my mind not been “primed” with the first.

For me, a good way to prime the pump is research, no doubt a holdover from grad school. I love to read and learn new things. For my new short story, I got some great ideas by reading a book on the subject.

Writers get ideas from the news, movies, TV, trips, family and friends, and their own experiences. My book “The Sinister Sitcom Caper” was inspired by my work at Paramount Studios.

Scott suggests that one way to general ideas is to pick an object in the room—such as a table, phone, bookcase—and generate stories from it. I see my record albums. I can use a record disc as a Frisbee, float it down a river, use it as a serving tray, hear secret messages if I play it backward, roll it like a hoop, wear it on my head, use it as a shield, hide behind it and peer though the hole—the possibilities are endless.

 If you write it, the ideas will come.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Tis the Season for Book Events

Hap and Flags

(This is Memorial Day when we all should be thinking about and thanking those who sacrificed their lives for us and our freedom in many wars. Photo is of hubby, a Vietnam Vet.)

Many authors are off on tours, visiting various book stores in their general area or some of the big names are heading around the country.  I’ve never done that, nor will I in the future. Two reasons, I only visit some favorite book stores for signings, and I don’t travel as far as I once did.

My first book event this spring was giving a talk to the nearest chapter of Sister in Crime that I belong to about where I got the ideas for some of my books. It was great fun and well received.

(A tip about book talks–if you can make your audience laugh, you’ll sell books.)

Next was participating on a panel at a one day writing conference put on by the Central Coast chapter of Sisters in Crime—the panel topic, Finding Time to Write. I love going to the coast and seeing my friends over there, so it was a good time.

(Authors are usually readers too. )

I was asked to give a short talk about my books at a local women’s club. A small group but they were a great audience.

(Yes, I made them laugh, and they did buy books. )

Two events are scheduled for June. The first, I’m going to give a talk about the importance of editing to the Tulare-Kings writers group, and I am heading back to the coast to participate in the Cambria Book Fair. This will be my second book fair this year. I love them.

(With talks to writers, give them something they need to hear. Believe it or not, there are some self-pubbed authors out there who aren’t getting their books edited.)

In July, I’ll be Las Vegas for the Public Safety Writers Conference—which is my favorite. In some ways it’s like a big family reunion, except the family consists of mystery writers, people in all sorts of law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs and other public safety professions.

I’ll be speaking to the Nightwriters in San Luis Obispo in August and I’m going to give the presentation about where I got my ideas for my books.

In October it’s the Great Valley Bookfest in Manteca and in November, a boutique in Yosemite in Coarsegold.

(Tip about any kind of book or craft fair. You can’t just sit behind your table and expect people to rush up an buy your books. You need to get on your feet, smile at folks, and engage them in conversation.)

That’s it so far, but I’m sure other events will trickle in.

Do I sell a lot of books at these events? It depends, and you never know. But I always love meeting people and talking about my books with them.

Fellow authors, what are you favorite type of events?

Readers, do you attend many of these kind of events, and if so which ones do you enjoy?

Marilyn

Posted in mystery | 4 Comments

Working with Law Enforcement Agencies

In our area of upstate New York, county sheriffs’ offices, local police departments, and our state police work tirelessly to protect our citizens. They also do a whole lot more.

Shughart,Karen-0016_ADJ_5x7 (1)

Last fall, our sheriff’s office invited citizens to participate in a comprehensive, eight-week course about their programs and services. If interested, all we had to do was complete a simple application form and pass a background check. I was delighted to be among those chosen.

Each session lasted about three hours, and then we were treated to lunch and a Q&A. One week, after touring the jail and observing inmates working with staff to help them, once released, take their places as productive members of society, we ate exactly what the inmates ate! Another beautiful, sunny, autumn day, we stood outside to observe officers working with the German Shepherds that comprise the K-9 crew.

But that wasn’t all. We also learned about the drug task force; how officers issue warrants and make arrests; handle domestic violence, hostage, and terrorist situations; do criminal investigations; work in tandem with other law enforcement agencies; and provide a myriad of broad-based community outreach programs to families, schools and senior citizens.

I gained a huge amount of knowledge that helped make Ed DeCleryk’s criminal investigation in Murder in the Museum: An Edmund DeCleryk Mystery https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Museum-Edmund-DeCleryk-Mystery/dp/1946063509/ more authentic, but I also had specific questions that were not addressed in class.

The sheriff, deputy, one of his undersheriffs and I met for almost two hours a couple weeks after the course ended to address those questions, much to my pleasure and satisfaction. To a person, I found these folks professional, approachable and warm.

It was for me, in the final stages of writing my mystery, an invaluable experience.   The women and men who work at our sheriff’s department, as well as those from other state and local law enforcement agencies, commit to serving their communities and sacrificing their own lives, if necessary, to protect the citizens they serve.

Our communities offer many resources to those of us who write mysteries, among them criminal justice agencies, medical personnel, historical societies, district attorneys and prosecutors. For our readers, having access to these professionals and organizations helps add a level of authenticity to our stories.

Posted in Karen Shughart, mystery | Tagged | 2 Comments

Lessons from a Flawed-io-book

I seldom finish a book I don’t like, but I recently got all the way to the end of a romantic suspense audiobook that I almost gave up on.  Since I was usually exercising or doing housework while I listened, my tolerance for the book’s shortcomings was greater than if I’d been sitting and reading, and I had two reasons to endure the whole thing:

One: To find out how it would end.

Two: To learn from the author’s mistakes.

Obviously, reason number one says she did something right. Even close to the end, I had no idea who committed the murders. She laid the clues well, along with effective red herrings. I thought I knew “who done it,” but then I realized I was wrong. It came as a big surprise. I didn’t like the main characters, though, and the writing was noticeably flawed. As I said above, the flaws were educational. Each time I noticed one, I thought: I’d better not do that. Here are some examples.

  • Overused words. Characters in this book don’t turn their heads, shift in their seats, or look around; they twist. “I twisted my neck” occurs particularly often. Between reading aloud and getting input from critique partners, I catch more and more of my habitual words, but I’m afraid I acquire new ones as I cure myself of the old.
  • The descriptions of settings and actions are excessive. Detail has its place, of course. It’s useful that she gives the layout of the male lead’s house, because it’s an important setting as well as an unusual structure. But she also describes the complete décor of a rental cabin we’ll never see again, right down to the color scheme of the braided rug. A man doesn’t simply open a package, he takes a pen knife from his pocket, unfolds the knife, slices the paper diagonally, etc. Sex scenes are so long and so much alike, I could have skipped them and picked up the story again without having missed a thing (and half-way through the book, that’s what I started doing.)  Sometimes it’s okay to tell, not show. Or at least to show a lot less.
  • Not only is the food described in excess detail, far too many scenes take place in kitchens and in bars and restaurants. Yes, we all eat three meals a day, but in fiction, conversations can have more varied settings. Sameness gets stale.
  • Secondary characters keep popping in uninvited, showing up on the street, or in those bars and restaurants, in order to deliver plot points. Some even fly in from another country to have an argument face to face rather than on the phone. Their presence feels contrived. I need to make the main characters’ choices and actions drive the plot,  instead of using too many convenient intrusions.
  • The main characters are stunningly attractive, and yet they eat huge unhealthy meals (always with  dessert), drink a good amount of beer, and they never seem to exercise. How does he have that amazing rock-hard muscular body? How does she have a figure that makes everyone stare at her and desire her? They ought to look ordinary, not above average. I can be unrealistic and not notice—one of many reasons to keep getting multiple critiques. I do plenty of research, but beta readers have still caught things I overlooked.
  • Every single person in the whole book is white. I’ve never lived anywhere so homogeneous, and since I use real towns and cities as settings, my characters reflect the diversity of those places. But do I fall into some other kind of unconscious pattern with my characters? I’ll have to look for it.
  • The book is padded with conversations that could have been summed up in a sentence or eliminated altogether. I suspect the author was so fascinated by her characters and by exploring their relationships that she couldn’t bring herself to kill these long, dull darlings. My pantsing first drafts are full of material like this.  I discover a lot by writing it—but it needs to take place offstage.
  • Characters echo each other’s words. “I saw him.” “You saw him?” “Yes, I saw him.” Even if people occasionally talk this way in real life, it slows down the story. I should start dialogue where it counts, not with the warm-ups.
  • The revelation of who committed the murders comes through a spate of expository dialogue in which the two conspirators tell each other what they already know, having an argument full of “That was our plan” statements. The protagonist is a witness to this, but she’s tied up, and until that moment she never had a clue what either of them was up to. The police show up after she’s heard it all and is in mid-escape. I can’t let the mystery be solved solely by accident and chance. And if I want to reveal a secret or backstory through dialogue, I need to set it up with conflicts, questions, and challenges to bring out the information in a believable way.

I picked up some valuable reminders from this audiobook, and most have to do with cutting and revision. I need to know more than my readers do, and then choose what to tell them and how.

 

 

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