Encore Performance by Sally Carpenter

Carpenter photo_WEB gifOne of the nice things about publishing is the chance to do it all over again and better.

Five years ago my first book, The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper, went out of print. That publisher has since closed its doors, so the book was destined to go OOP eventually. At the time the second book in the series was finished. I was fortunately to find my current publisher, Cozy Cat Press, who was willing to pick up book two.

I had a new front cover made and self-pubbed Beatlemaniac as an ebook. Various NEW Beatlemaniac_final_webonline bookstores continued to sell used print copies, although I received no royalties on them. I was disappointed at having a book go OOP so quickly, but I moved ahead with other writing projects.

Since then, authors I knew, some who had been with large publishers, began reissuing their backlists with small presses. With new covers, their books were back on the shelves.

Earlier this year a reader said some of her friends were looking for print versions of Beatlemaniac. I had just about run out of print copies to hand sell. I was also getting tired of getting no payment for the used copies changing hands.

And I was not happy with the book. As a neophyte writer, I was in a rush to get published and the text had a number of errors. I hated the cover. The back cover was a dog’s breakfast of too many elements, and the front cover was printed so dark that the great artwork was obscured.

Encouraged by the backlist successes of others, I approached my publisher, Patricia Rockwell, about reissuing the book. Since 2013, I’d written four other books, a short story and a chapter for a group mystery novel for CCP—so I had a good track record.

I’m calling this reissue the “revised second edition.” We’re using cover my designer had made for the Beatlemaniac ebook, so we didn’t need new artwork. I like the “new” cover as it’s colorful—more suitable for a cozy, and it “pops” more on the screen/shelf.

I updated my author bio and revised the introduction and acknowledgements. I wanted to include more about how the book came about, but the book was already longer than most CCP books and I had to save space.

The Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books have been extensively rewritten over the years for new generations. So why not take the opportunity to improve my book?

I carefully read it again. I corrected the misspellings and grammatical errors. I replaced “ands” with periods to alleviate run-on sentences. I toned down the strong language (when I wrote the book, I didn’t even know what a cozy was, let alone the “rules”) and cut a few words from the flashback seduction scene.

I had used the word “towards” a million times. I realized I had overused the phrase “I realized.” The characters also “gestured” frequently. Some gestures I left in, others I changed. After all, real people do “gesture”!

Some of the chapters run long, but making more sections would mean renumbering all the chapters and that can get dicey.

But I didn’t alter the story or the characters. I was surprised that the plot and red herrings worked so well. I have what some editors might consider “info dumps,” but they are interesting details about my character’s life in show biz that most people wouldn’t know and I left them in. It’s also good background on my protagonist that doesn’t show up in the other books.

After writing three other books with my protagonist, it was fun to go back and see where it all started. When book one begins, he isn’t terribly likeable. He’s just hopped on the wagon and is out of sorts. Sandy hates the character he played on his TV show. But by book four he’s comfortable with his sobriety and his alter ego.

BTW, in my book the correct spelling of the East Indian goddess in the Beatles movie Help! is Kaili, not Kali, the real Hindu goddess. Beatles fans would never forgive me if I got that wrong.

A nice offshoot is that I had planned to include a new Sandy Fairfax short story with the second edition, but my publisher said that would make the print book far too long. I have a good finished novelette on hand, so my next project is to write more stories to make a Sandy anthology. Stay tuned . . .

 

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.

What is “Real”?

by Janis Patterson

Writing is a time consuming occupation. Not only do we have to spend time plotting, thinking, and constructing our stories, we spend time putting them into a concrete form and then making them as polished a form as we possibly can. Then – if we want respectable sales – we must spend egregious amounts of time doing publicity and interacting with our readers.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it ain’t.

It wouldn’t be easy even if life didn’t intrude. Writers have families and jobs and lives, to say nothing of accidents and incidents and attacks of the unexpected. There are writing gurus who say you must write every day for a certain amount of time. That’s great, if your life allows and that works for you. I’m certain that somewhere there is someone who does this, but I don’t know any.

So what do we do? My answer is, the best we can. It’s not only a matter of time management, it’s a matter of priorities. When your granddaughter is in a life-threatening accident your focus should not be on writing. When the laundry reaches Matterhorn proportions or your living room needs dusting, that is no excuse not to write. (Of course, The Husband says I take that last dictum much too much to heart, and lately he has started muttering about finding a sharecropper for the parlor.)

The question devolves down to : Are you a writer or a hobbyist? Assuming that there is nothing life-altering going on (dust does not count) you have to decide just how important writing is to you.

In my case, it’s very important. I am a professional novelist, and a few days ago finished my fifth book this year. Because of this job, I miss shopping expeditions and luncheons with girlfriends, theatre trips and even some family gatherings – as tempting as such frivols sound – and have to plan my books around the trips The Husband and I make. (And I have never journeyed anywhere in the last decade that a laptop or tablet did not go with me!)

I also have a life. While I am blessed not to have to have a regular-in-an-office job, there are still lots of things that must be done. Groceries must be bought and eventually cooked. Pets must go to the vet. The car must be attended to. Extended family needs attention. The minutiae of living must go on, whether you work outside the home or not. My family is very important to me, as is my activism for animal welfare and conservative causes. The Husband’s happiness is always paramount in my priorities, and there is no way either he or I will ever give up our interest in and studies of Ancient Egypt and the Civil War. Health issues also raise their ugly heads from time to time.

But I am a writer, and after the really important things – family, beliefs, home – writing comes first, before nearly all social events, before frivols, before self-indulgences. Most self-indulgences. Some of my friends become insulted when I cannot go to lunch or take the afternoon off to go shopping, though they would never have such a reaction if I worked a 9-to-5 in an office. It’s disheartening to think that after all this time so many people still think that if you work from home you don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re a self-employed writer, you still don’t have a ‘real’ job… Or that if you’re self-publishing and don’t have a big contract with a major publisher you really don’t have a ‘real’ job. After all, aren’t all self-published writers just wanna-bes or hobbyists who couldn’t get a ‘real’ publisher?

Yes, I have heard almost those exact words from people who are otherwise intelligent and sophisticated. Some of them I have given up trying to convince that I do have a ‘real’ job. Some truly do equate writing with lounging around, tossing off X number of words in a string, having them published immediately and then sitting back while unbelievable riches roll in.

Don’t we all wish!

Of Concerts and Self-Publishing; Are They So Far Apart?

by Janis Patterson

I went to a concert a couple of nights ago. That’s not unusual – I’ve been in and out of concerts on both sides of the conductor for most of my life. What makes this one different is that it was an amateur orchestra – an organization of people who got together to play magnificent music just because they love it. No remuneration other than applause for a lot of time spent practicing and rehearsing. And the program was ambitious – all challenging works by Beethoven, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart and Dvorak. As the concert was free, the members of the orchestra even paid for the audience’s intermission refreshments out of their own pockets. This is the truest and most shining example of the word amateur – one who does something for the love of it.

Was the concert flawless? No. There were unintended sharps and flats here and there, and one of the second violins definitely needed more practice on his/her fingering, but in spite of the flaws – or perhaps because of them – the evening was most definitely enjoyable. It was not the icily-perfect rendition of a professional world-class orchestra (which I also love), and perhaps was the more charming because of it. The mistakes were not egregious, and the love the performers had for the work shone through every note, even the ‘off’ ones.

Over the years the word amateur has been tarnished to a near-slur, degraded to mean a fumbler, an incompetent, any number of other derogatory terms, but that’s not right. A true amateur is one who does the best he can, one who learns and simply for the love of something

There are exceptions, though, and we can find far too many of them among the plethora of self-published books flooding the world. An amateur musician realizes that at the very least he must learn the basics of music, that he should be able to reach a certain level of knowledge and technical ability before even attempting a concert. It seems that the amateur writer does not.

No one would think of saying “I’ve always wanted to play in an orchestra” then sit down in front of an audience, grab an instrument and start banging away on it without any knowledge, instruction or practice.  That, however, is just what so many wanna-be writers do. Just because they speak English with a modicum of proficiency they think they can write a novel. They string together a fair number of words and, convinced that they are only minutes away from being rich and famous or at the very least being regarded as that magical creature ‘a published author,’ throw the book up on any sales platform they can reach. The words developmental editor, copy editor or even spell-check do not seem to exist in their vocabulary. The resulting messes degrade the entire idea of self-publishing.

Like a lot of currently/formerly traditionally published authors I self-publish. There is a growing number of authors who have never done anything but self-publish who produce wonderful books, books that are often better than the current examples of traditional releases. Despite this, ‘self-published’ is used among the ignorant and the spiteful as a code word for amateurish (in its worst connotation) rubbish, and this hurts us all. If we cannot raise the level of knowledge among the unprofessional writers, we can at least do our best to correct a wide-spread notion among the public that all self-published books are a thing inferior. Even if some of them are.

 

 

Public Speaking, Self-Publishing and Scars

by Janis Patterson

Last weekend I gave a workshop at our local MWA chapter on self-publishing. Not that I’m an expert, or anything like that, but you realize that to be an authority on something you only have to know a little more than everyone else, and I have been self-pubbing since 2013. Besides, I was dragooned into it by my fellow chapter board members!

Normally when I give a workshop or a public speech I write it out, agonizing on the exact nuances of words and the rhythm of sentences. Yes, I am a control freak. Unfortunately, that means I usually read the presentation, making sure each word is exactly as I wrote it – in other words, giving a boring program that would have been better as a magazine article.

I don’t mind public speaking; it’s not my favorite thing to do, but it is easy and not unpleasant. I know there are some who are absolutely terrified to speak in front of people – my own dear mother was one – but I just don’t understand that. Know that such panicky fear exists, and accept it, but don’t understand it. I don’t see any difference between talking to five people or five hundred.

Anyway, due to work and life and other uncontrollable things I didn’t write down my speech – only made notes of topics that had to be covered. And agonized about their order; apparently you can’t turn off the control freak gene. It would be okay, I thought; we’re a small chapter and I know everyone there. Ha!

I was astonished at how quickly the room filled up. We finally ended up with more than double our usual attendance, and there were some people there I had never seen before. Well, it was too late to back out, so I sat down at my improvised speaker’s table, and started to talk. The Husband says there has never been a time I couldn’t talk!

I talked for over an hour, almost an hour and a half. (My father used to say, Wind her up and she talks…) There were some very intelligent questions, and some very elementary questions, but that’s okay, because everyone starts out not knowing everything – or sometimes anything. I stressed that what I was saying was based on my experience, that their mileage or choices might vary, that there were choices to be made that only they could make. That is the essence of self-publishing, I think – self responsibility. The choices you make will affect the results you get but – aside from a few basics – like to sell a book you have to finish it and get it out there – every choice and everything that is done devolves on you. If it gets done, you have to do it.

The workshop went rather well, though I must admit it was a little unsettling to see all these people – friends and strangers alike – scribbling down seemingly every word I said, just like I had maniacally taken notes at the workshops of important people. Yes, it was a bit of a rush – half elation and half sheer terror. And although public speaking doesn’t really faze me, I’m glad it’s over.

Will I do another one? I honestly don’t know. I’m glad I did this one. I hope that everyone there has an easier path to self-publishing because of what I said. I know I owe a lot to those who went before me into this brave new world, but even so I still accumulated my share of scars and mistakes. Perhaps that’s called growth

The Mystery of Romance – or is it the Romance of Mystery?

by Janis Patterson

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be included on the panel at the public library sponsored Romance in Bonham, a nice county seat town a little over an hour away. The ladies of the library hold this event every other February, and it’s great fun. After the panel discussion and the book signing and everything is all over they provide the panelists and the family members they bring along a down-home potluck lunch. Always some of the best ‘lady food’ I’ve ever had! (Wish they’d do a cookbook…)

Although this is a romance-centric event, I brought several of my mysteries and was slightly astonished at the interest they generated. Apparently there is a growing interest for more mystery in romances – or more romance in mysteries. Both of which, I think, are a very good thing. For far too long readers and writers both have been pigeonholed into fairly rigid and unforgiving categories. Mystery was mystery. Romance was romance. Romantic suspense was a step in the right direction, but unfortunately it was soon codified into so much a percentage romance, so much a percentage mystery/adventure by most traditional publishers.

Now, almost in the manner of a superhero, self-publishing has started to break down the artificial barriers between genres, allowing them to become just stories with all kinds of elements. Want a mystery with lots of blood and danger and nary a kiss between characters? It’s out there. Want an exciting mystery where a couple falls in love while evading the bad guys/saving the world/whatever? It’s out there. Want a tender romance where a couple falls in love happily ever after while solving a usually gentle mystery? It’s out there. Want any combination of the above? Or just about anything else, including vampires, shapeshifters talking cats or kung-fu knitters? Even all at once? It’s out there.

I don’t know if the traditional publishers – the kind one finds on the shelves of your local bookstore, if there are many of those left – have twigged to how complete this revolution of thought is, but the virtual aisles of electronic/print on demand publishing are full of proof. You can find almost any permutation of any storyline now. Self and small publishing have opened up the world of stories, and readers/writers are no longer bound to restrict their desires to the small and rigid genres the trad publishers have decreed will make them the most money. True, in the days when traditional publishing reigned supreme and controlled not only content but distribution, print runs were enormous and had to be done ahead of release, then stored in gigantic warehouses. The publishers had to look to what would give the best return on their not-inconsiderable investment. Now, though, in the burgeoning world of electronic and print on demand self-publishing, such considerations are no longer the end-all and be-all of what’s available. Niche markets that were too small to interest the trad publishers are now flourishing and expanding.

And that’s all to the good. Choice is a good thing, and genre-blending is a good way to expand reader interest. If there is a downside, it’s that the freedom of self-publishing has opened the floodgates to an unbelievable amount of pure dreck. There are people who believe that not only putting down X number of words is writing a book, but that doing so will guarantee them fame and fortune. We can only hope that their number dies off quickly, because this wave of badly written, badly conceived and badly formatted messes is reflecting badly on self-published books as a whole. There are self-pubbed books (usually written by veterans – or perhaps we should say survivors – of the trad publishing industry) whose quality is unquestionably equal to or better than anything from the Big 5, but they are shadowed with the prevailing belief that all self-published books are rubbish. That’s a misconception that only time and persistence can alter. But it will, it surely will, and writers and readers the world over will benefit from it.

 

Dying for a Deadline

IMG_1610By JL Simpson

Last year I decided to take on a new role. Not only was I going to be the author of my Daisy Dunlop mystery series, but I was also going to be the publisher. Gone were the days of typing ‘the end’ and then sending it off to someone else to do all the other stuff. Now I needed to sort out an editor, a cover artist, learn to format the finished masterpiece, set up accounts with Ebook retailers and finally to upload and publish the books. The feeling of power when you’re master of your own destiny is amazing. I can give books away, change the price, advertise where I want, and do my own thing with the plots, provided the readers still enjoy the story.

This was all positive stuff. I love power, it’s a heady drug. But with the positive comes a couple of negatives. The first, if my books fail I only have myself to blame, and the biggest negative of all, no one is cracking the whip. I don’t have anyone to set deadlines for me, and that can be a real problem.

From my experience people fall into two categories, those who are self-motivated and 19386145_snormal people. Self-motivated people are the ones who set their own goals and meet them. You seem them out running as the sun’s rising. Meanwhile, normal people are flailing an arm out from under the bed covers in a desperate bid to hit the off switch on the alarm clock whilst mumbling “coffee” into the pillow, hoping their spouse will rise to the challenge and get the much needed caffeine fix they require to jump start their brain.

19117412_sSelf motivated people nibble on a salad, whilst normal people inhale doughnuts swearing they’ll get back to dieting next week. Self motivated people stride down the confectionery aisle at the grocery store without so much as a sideways glance, because chocolate is not on the list. Self motivated people have organised desks, tidy houses, color co-ordinated wardrobes, their whole lives are planned, and everything runs like clockwork. They don’t forget to pay a bill, or realize they are out of milk after the stores are shut for the day. They’re not the ones running around the shopping mall on Christmas Eve looking for gifts.

If you want to be an Indie Author then you need to keep working. I’ve just read a book called, “Write, Publish, Repeat” and it’s brilliant. It says the way to success is to keep getting books out there. The more books you publish the easier it is for readers to find you. So you might think, seeing as I have only two books to my name, I’d be writing up a storm, but you’d be wrong.

I have the curse of being a normal person. My desk is cluttered, as is my mind. My house is clean but untidy, my color co-ordination is hit and miss. I forget my glasses. I lose my keys. I even forgot my son when he was a new born and left him parked at the meat counter in the supermarket until the girl at the checkout asked when my baby was due.

My day job is deadline driven. As a tax accountant their are lodgement dates that need to 36965961_sbe adhered to. Miss one of those and the tax office let you know about it. At work I’m organised and regimented because big brother is watching. With my writing no one is watching. I used to write to publisher’s deadlines. I used to have a critique partner who read along one chapter at a time telling me to hurry up and write the next, but her career took off and I was lost in the madness of it all. Now it’s all down to me.  Time marches on. Days, weeks, months fly by with little progress.

I may never stick to my diet, wear clothes that go together, tidy up my desk, empty my inbox, remember my sister’s birthday, but if I ever want to make something more than an on-again off-again hobby of writing I simply have to get a grip. And the best way to do that is set a deadline. I know that if I’m ever going to focus and finish book 3 in my Daisy Dunlop Series I need to set a publication date and book an editor. Maybe I should set a date for just before Christmas, but that still leaves the question, ‘which Christmas?’

JL Simpson

Where mystery and mayhem collide.

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