The writing life: Should we risk offending people, or not?

Last month, an article in the Romance Writers of America newsletter Romance Writers Report by Jennifer Fusco caused quite a bit of controversy by recommending that authors avoid controversy. It gave specific examples in telling authors what to avoid comment on: “…religion. Gay marriage. The ruling in Ferguson, Missouri. Politics.”

Screen cap from Sean Munger: https://seanmunger.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/rwr-advice.jpg

Screen cap from Sean Munger: https://seanmunger.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/rwr-advice.jpg

And thus, ironically, Fusco did exactly what she was advising authors not to do.

The response apparently began with Racheline Maltese, who writes LGBTQ romances and was understandably offended by the idea that she should shut up about a matter of basic civil rights.

Sean Munger took it a step further, noting that the kind of author who would avoid any comment on matters like this is just plain boring. I think it’s a brilliant analysis.

Then again, it’s convenient for me to think that, because I find I just can’t shut up about this stuff. I did try. One of the first things I did before starting out into social media was read M.J. Rose and Randy Susan Meyer’s What to Do Before Your Book Launch (which is quite useful, yet oddly costs at minimum $115 new at Amazon right now — and, I’m sorry, but it’s not THAT useful — the first link up above is the ebook for Nook at $5.99). It essentially offered the same advice, without the specifics to rile people up.

It was advice that resonated for me at that point, because at the time I had just taken my son’s computer for fixing to a local guy whose shop turned out to be full of rabidly anti-Obama stuff. While this was still arguably better than going to get some high school kid to work on it at the national chain where I’d bought the machine, I swore that I was never going back to that guy again. (Incidentally, his web site gave me no clue of what I was getting into.)

It’s not that I boycott businesses owned by Republicans — I have a number of Republican friends. I occasionally even vote Republican in local elections. But I felt practically assaulted by all the vitriol in his shop — and I couldn’t help but conclude that anyone THAT rudely in-my-face about his politics didn’t really deserve my business.

And in social media there’s often no mediating personal relationship. I may not know that you are at heart a kindly fellow who will go out of his way to help the poor at the local food pantry. I only know that you are spreading what I consider racist propaganda. CLICK! You’re unfollowed.

This works both ways, of course. I notice that if I get specifically down on, say, the GOP’s attitude towards what they call “entitlement” programs, I immediately lose some Twitter followers.

Of course, it doesn’t pay to be too fast in our judgments, especially in an age of irony. Is this guy joking or is he serious?

The thing is that while I do indeed try to employ what Mary Maddox describes as “a benign detachment that leaves room for readers to draw their own conclusions,” anyone who reads my books with a keen eye may notice a strong point of view about feeding the hungry and marriage equality (and other aspects of inclusiveness in the Episcopal Church) in The Awful Mess, and about women’s rights and justice issues surrounding rape in The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire.

So if I’m going to anger people who disagree with me on those issues anyway, why should I hold back before they buy the book? Is it my job to try to fool people into thinking they’re going to read something else?

Of course, after teaching college English for some years, I have also noticed that people will read pretty much whatever they want to believe into any given book. Seriously. So … yeah, if I didn’t want to chase away any potential readers, I suppose I could keep my views hidden and they might never even notice that I disagree with them.

But I still can’t do it. These views matter, or I wouldn’t have written in the books in the first place! I didn’t write the books to be able to say, “Hey, look, I wrote some books! Aren’t they shiny?” I wrote them to say something. It’s all working towards the same end. It’s all living out loud.

So I’m just going to be as obnoxiously opinionated as I feel called to be by my concept of the truth. Yours may well vary from mine. We can still respect each other’s right to speak. You never know, the world might even benefit from our discussion.

The old standbys — books I will recommend to anyone

Choosing books for people can be a lot like choosing art for people. It’s fairly hit-or-miss trying to find something that is exactly to their taste.

But I get asked for book recommendations fairly often, and I have a few standbys that I’ll mention to just about anyone because I am almost certain they will be enjoyed.

I’m sure you have some, too, including some I’ll miss here, so feel free to share them in a comment! (For example, I still haven’t yet read Lonesome Dove or Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Both are on my shelf, waiting in my loooooong queue of Books Not Read Yet.)

But the books I have read — and recommend even to people I don’t know well — are these:

Cover of I Capture the CastleI Capture the Castle 

Young Cassandra wants to be a writer and thus can see the romance of living in a derelict castle because her father’s writing block is impoverishing them all. Then new neighbors move in, and life gets even more romantically interesting.

The summary may not sound like much, but this is simply one of the most charming books I’ve ever read. It will make you smile and it will make you laugh, and you will just hate to get to the end of it and have to let these characters go.


GuernseyCoverThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The only problem with always wanting to recommend this book is that I can never remember the title correctly. It’s an epistolary novel (i.e. told in letters) that gives us a peek at a close-knit community on the island of Guernsey (off the coast of the UK) during German occupation in World War II.

There’s slow-building romance, hunger, danger, comedy, and lots and lots of charm. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy this book.


Cover of The Monk DownstairsThe Monk Downstairs

Okay, I’ll admit that this one may annoy people who are committed atheists OR people who are really piously Christian, but most others should enjoy the slow romance of tired single mom Rebecca, working hard to keep her life together, and runaway monk Michael, who’s flipping burgers at a McDonalds and living in her downstairs apartment.

I include it because if you’re here I assume you found some enjoyment in The Awful Mess, and because I just love this combination of romance, theology, and comedy.


And that’s it for this week. It’s actually harder to pick out books I’d expect everyone to love than I thought. Of course, there are many others I might recommend to someone who enjoys romance and can cope with science fiction elements (The Time Traveler’s Wife) or can handle a sad ending (Little Bee) or doesn’t mind literary prose (Housekeeping), or is already familiar enough with British classics to appreciate a spoof (Cold Comfort Farm).

In fact, as I wrote this, I kept coming up with subcategories:

  • Books for people who love Jane Austen
  • Books for Episcopalians, or at least progressive Christians
  • Books for people who appreciate literary prose
  • Books for people who appreciate a tragic ending
  • Wonderful memoirs
  • Books about writers and writing
  • Books for people who enjoy British comedy
  • Books for people who enjoy American comedy
  • Books that will introduce you to Southern literature

So, I have plenty to write about in the future, if I go in that direction. Feel free to let me know what categories you’d be most interested in. (And if nobody’s interested, I guess that’s good to know, too. Ha!)

I’m also opening this spot to occasional guest posts from other writers who would like to write a “Showing some love to ____________” blog post about a favorite (preferably not already incredibly popular) writer’s work, or something else you love that would be of interest to the kind of readers and writers who are likely to be found here. (And yes, of course, you can plug your own book at the same time.) So if you’d like to take part in that, just let me know through the contact form or below.

Happy reading!

P.S. I’d still love your vote for The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire for 2015 Readers’ Choice Award in contemporary/literary/general fiction at BigAl’s Books and Pals. Voting closes March 28, US Mountain Time. While you’re there, check out the fine nominated indie fiction and nonfiction across a whole bunch of categories.

 

 

 

 

 

A fun interview, a BigAl review, and a shameless bribe

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.

Currently in Kindle Select, with a promotion coming later this month.

This week I was fortunate enough to enjoy two big events in the life of The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire, my second novel.

First, BigAl of BigAl and Pals reviewed it very positively. Of course, like most reviewers he also notes that it may force you to ponder things you never wanted to. That may make this book harder to sell than The Awful Mess, which is easier sailing once you get past that pesky committing-adultery-with-a-married-priest thing.

Later in the week I had an interview on The Indie View, which asked some great questions. I enjoyed answering them — though it was something I did a while ago, so it was a little funny to see that some of my ideas (for example, about how to market the book) have already changed.

They decided to highlight the one bit of name dropping I did, so I’m going to assume that was clever somehow, and keep going. Yes, I used to sit in Marilynne Robinson’s living room while her husband Fred Miller Robinson, then a professor at UMass/Amherst, taught the undergraduate creative writing workshop I was taking. I remember being impressed that they were so hospitable with a bunch of scraggly undergrads. (I was of course even more impressed later, when I read her first novel, Housekeeping. Amazing book for those of you who appreciate beautifully-crafted literary fiction.)

That shameless bribe I mentioned

I’m trying to grow my subscriber list, so in order to entice you to join it, I offer the following:

  • As I’ve noted before, this year I’m going to award a $20 online bookstore gift certificate (Amazon or whatever you prefer) to a random person drawn from the subscriber list each quarter. So at the end of March, somebody’s getting one. The list is still pretty small, so your odds are way higher here than they are in other lotteries. (Sorry, family members, you are disqualified.)
  • cover for Motivated Sellers

    “Motivated Sellers” – a prequel to The Awful Mess

    I’ve finished the short prequel to The Awful Mess that began with “After that Slap.” (Those of you already on the list may remember this.) It’s in production at the moment. It’s now called “Motivated Sellers” and I will soon make it available free to all members of my reading list. You get to spend some time with Winslow and Bert and watch Mary’s real estate agent dodge that issue of how the house smells. And then I’d love it if you’d let me know whether you think I should make it available to the general public or not.

Those of you already on the list know I don’t send a lot of email. Right now if you want blog posts, that’s a separate subscription. I may combine the two lists, just so the update people don’t forget who I am. Blog posts only come every two weeks unless something exciting is going on. (I tried doing it weekly again recently and while I enjoy it, I find it takes a major amount of time that really ought to be going to fiction writing.)

And yes, spring WILL come

forced blossoms and primroses

Some flowers to help us survive winter!

I want to end on a cheery note for those of us suffering through the worst winter in decades in the American Northeast (as I write this, it is snowing AGAIN.) I forced these branches from a sick tree in front of the house into blossom this week. It’s a reminder that those buds out there really will swell and break into flower and leaf someday.

Want to try it yourself? Cut some branches, put them in water — maybe with a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide to discourage bacteria — and be patient. It took about three weeks, and I had just been about to dump it all as a failed experiment when I noticed the buds swelling. Forsythia and willows are the easiest to do this with, if you have those. But fruit trees can work. I used to do it with ninebark, too. If you hammer the ends of the branches flat that is supposed to help them take up water, but I didn’t bother with that.

Those are primroses underneath the branches. I picked them up at the grocery store on sale this week. (They are often on sale about now.) If I keep the spent blossoms pinched and keep them moist, they should continue to bloom for quite some time.

Stay warm and think spring thoughts!

 

Goodbye, ABNA. Hello, Kindle Scout. (For some.)

As I wrote last year after my own experience with it, I thought Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award was a brilliant way for them to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers.

But last year, it turns out, was the final year for ABNA. This January Amazon announced that it has essentially replaced it with Kindle Scout, an ongoing submission process in which authors can put up their books in pursuit of a contract with Kindle Publishing.

How it works

Kindle Scout How It Works -- Amazon illustration

Illustration from Amazon’s Kindle Scout “How It Works” page

Authors upload a copyedited Word manuscript, a short blurb, a description, a cover, and a bio plus author photo, and try to get readers to nominate their book for publication.Those who generate enough buzz to get noticed and meet Kindle Publishing’s editorial requirements might just be accepted for publication with a small advance and what I would consider reasonable contract terms for authors who don’t mind being exclusive to Kindle.

Kindle Scout appears to be a similar to ABNA in that it forces authors to pursue social engagement. It’s also much faster than ABNA — in thirty days, a work has either made it or not (though it may take a little longer to get the final word, and then it goes into production). Certainly, it’s a route to publication that is much faster than a search for an agent and traditional publication.

There’s also an incentive for readers to check those books out — they get the book free if a book they nominated is accepted for publication.

Those are all good things.

But I’ve also seen ABNA fans complaining about some big changes:

  • Books cannot have been published at all before, not even self-pubbed, except in avenues where no money is being earned. ABNA was awash in already self-published books (including mine and the one that beat mine and the three other semifinalists in General Fiction last year).
  • The only genres welcome are romance, mystery/thriller/suspense, and science fiction/fantasy. (Edit in May of 2015: Amazon has added “literature and fiction,” which includes contemporary fiction, action and adventure, and historical fiction)
  • Authors must have US social security numbers or tax ID numbers. So most foreign writers need not apply. (Edit: But I’m told there are ways to work around this.)
  • There’s no formal set of feedback on the excerpt for those who make the first cut, and no Publishers Weekly review of the whole manuscript for quarter finalists (not that this was ever quite as exciting as it sounded).
  • There’s no official social component for contestants who want to discuss the process with each other, though I’m sure authors will find other ways to discuss and collaborate.
  • It’s not obvious how any given book is doing, unless it makes it to the “hot and trending” list. There’s a definite limit to how much you can flog a book to your friends and family, so authors with an existing readership are at a distinct advantage — surely a benefit to Amazon.
  • Authors take on all the cost and risk of cover design, while Amazon gets to sit back and see what works. Most submissions I see appear to have professionally designed covers, so people are obviously investing in this. (Of course, that means  they’ll also be all set to publish whether they win a contract or not.)
  • Quite a few authors say they will miss the motivation of the yearly deadline for ABNA. Kindle Scout is a rolling process you can begin at any time.

I suppose there may also be some ineffable damage done to an author’s relationship with her local bookstore or potential future agent or editor if she were to be published exclusively by Amazon, but ABNA and Kindle Select are just the same in that. (I also suspect all parties concerned would quickly get past that if they thought there was money to be made.)

I left Kindle Select with the first novel last spring and haven’t regretted it. While I haven’t exactly burned down the town at the other retailers, my last 99-cent promotion did bring in some very nice extra crash from Nook and iTunes (especially Nook), making the advertising investments that much more profitable (especially since BookBub and Fussy Librarian carry all the links, not just Kindle). And I feel a bit less vulnerable to sudden changes like the advent of Kindle Unlimited, which has impacted the income of many indie authors.

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.

Currently in Kindle Select, with a promotion coming later this month.

I do still have the second novel in Kindle Select to begin with because I still think it’s the best tool to get this book discovered and reviewed. I’ll be able to judge whether I was correct about that by next month (assuming it’s a title that can gain any momentum at all), but in the meantime I’m just working on another book. As most successful authors will say, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and money on promotion until you have enough titles out that they can cross-sell each other.

If you have other wisdom or opinions on ABNA or Kindle Scout, feel free to comment!

Which reminds me: A fellow author I respect recently told me I’m making a big mistake associating myself so clearly with self-publishing when my stuff could pass as professionally published. I told him I would miss the interaction with other self-published authors far too much to try to pretend I wasn’t indie. (Also, I told him I just can’t keep my big mouth shut. I fear this may be the one big thing I have in common with all my heroines so far.)

Happy publishing, however you get it done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art or gimmickry or pornography?

This post is potentially NSFW, which means Not Safe For Work, non-internet-savvy readers. (Hey, my parents read this blog!)

Molly’s mother in The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire is the kind of artist whose work would make any teenage girl cringe. Multiply that by ten if you happen to be her daughter in a small town where everybody knows about it.

Of course, Cassandra was great fun to write, because she allowed me to tap my inner terrible feminist artist. I love art, and I didn’t decide that I wasn’t going to pursue it as a career until I got to UMass and couldn’t get into any of the studio classes my freshman year. (I declared an English major that year, and that was that.)

But writing will never be as in-your-face as the visual arts can be. And while I admire certain artists for making the unspeakable a topic of discussion, I have also always wondered what it would be like to actually, say, be their kids, or their husbands, or wives.

One work, in particular, inspired such thoughts: The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago. It premiered in 1979, toured to great controversy, and is now housed in the Brooklyn Museum. It’s a triangular arrangement of dinner settings that purports to represent important women from three historical eras. (Yes, Virginia Woolf is there.) What made it shocking (at the time) was that the plates were painted to represent stylized vaginas.

As Wikipedia says, it provoked a range of opinion. Some loved it.

Feminist critic Lucy Lippard stated, “My own initial experience was strongly emotional… The longer I spent with the piece, the more I became addicted to its intricate detail and hidden meanings,” …. These reactions are echoed by other critics, and the work was glorified by many.

Many others hated it.

Hilton Kramer, for example, argued, “The Dinner Party reiterates its theme with an insistence and vulgarity more appropriate, perhaps, to an advertising campaign than to a work of art.”[9] He called the work not only a kitsch object but also “crass and solemn and singleminded,” “very bad art,… failed art,… art so mired in the pieties of a cause that it quite fails to acquire any independent artistic life of its own.”[9]
Maureen Mullarkey also criticized the work, calling it preachy and untrue to the women it claims to represent.[9]

(Go to Wikipedia for the full article, plus references.)

Personally, I am as guilty as the next Philistine of thinking of some contemporary art as a vulgar gimmickry (although I will also grant you that sometimes vulgar gimmicks are what it takes to get a conversation going). One generation’s shameless art may well become another generation’s fine art, and vice versa. Also, there’s clearly a lot more artistic attention to detail in The Dinner Party than there is in Cassandra’s work.

Of course, Cassandra’s art is not the only art in the book. Towards the end of Ribs, David takes Molly to The Clark Institute, one of my favorite museums in the world, where he is freaked out by two paintings on display in the first room. If you click on the link for the Clark above and let the photographs at the top of the home page run through their animation, you’ll see just how striking William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyrs painting is as you walk in. It’s not subtle, either, David tells Molly, when she shares that  criticism of her mother’s work. But she forgives Bouguereau’s piece for not being subtle because it’s beautiful.

Another painting still on view at the Clark (which recently renovated) is Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Slave Market (below). As the Clark’s web site points out, “This disturbing scene is set in a courtyard market intended to suggest the Near East. The vague, distant location allowed nineteenth-century French viewers to censure the practice of slavery, which was outlawed in Europe, while enjoying a look at the female body” (Lees, Sarah, ed.).

And as I look at this painting with fascination — and I have visited and done so many times — I always feel uncomfortably voyeuristic. There’s inherent drama in this painting. There’s arguably a point being made about a brutal and unfair balance of power (possibly a racist and anti-Islamic one). There’s also that icky feeling of wondering if I’m essentially just looking at pornography in a very public place.

The thing is, I know that I can’t explore the topic of sex in my books without asking myself if what I’m writing strays into that territory. And, in fact, David asks Cassandra that question about her art.

But I feel compelled to write about it anyway, because sex is part of our existence, and so is the risk of becoming a victim, not just of the rapist, but of the bully, the murderer, the thief, the car driven by the drunk, the awful storm, the disease, the plane crash.

Of course, we prefer not to think about this, even to shift blame to the victim, as if somehow if that person had just prayed harder, gone only to the right places, eaten only healthy food, had the good sense to be born in the United States, been a good enough person, then God would have protected her, or him. Or, if we don’t expect God to protect us from all harm, then perhaps we assume that excellent judgment will provide its own shield from disaster.

And surely it does help, but not enough, not all the time.

And perhaps, if we could empathize a little better with people caught in that reality, and sympathize with those who have gone through it, we will be better able to lend a helping hand. Maybe we’ll try a little harder to prevent some of the trauma and carnage in the first place, instead of just turning away, or condemning the victim.

That’s my hope, anyway. If you’re not a kind person, and your reaction to Slave Market ends with “Woo hoo! Look at them titties!” here’s where I humbly suggest that there are a whole lot of Tumblr sites that would be a much better match for you.

So you’re thinking of indie publishing? (Updated 1-31-15)

Do your homework first and check out some of this information on the state of the art.

I originally pulled this information together because I was presenting about self-publishing at the Troy NY Public Library with traditional authors Jenny Milchman and Diane Cameron. That session filled quickly and ended up with a long waiting list, so there’s clearly a need for this information. (We may well do more sessions in the future — in fact, I am already working on one for March — so join my mailing list if you want to hear about them.)

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.It was a handy review for me, too, as I decided just how much to undertake in the marketing of my second novel The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire — which came out last month and is just not selling itself no matter how much I wish it would. (Yes, that’s one of the things you need to know about indie publishing.)

I’m just going to assume that you’ve written a good book, gotten plenty of feedback from people other than your mom, and gotten it properly edited and proofread and formatted. I’m also assuming that you can handle a bad review without melting down. (If you can’t, stop now, because you’re not ready to publish.)

Indies Unlimited
This is a great site to explore because it offers tons of good information shared by knowledgeable and experienced indie authors. There are also opportunities to promote, but that’s mostly going to fellow authors, so don’t get too excited about it. Start here, since it’s a guide to the whole site:
http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/12/29/how-indies-unlimited-works-2/#more-61154

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on “Business Musings: Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014”
This is a post that pretty much sums up the state of the business at the end of 2014. Among other things, Rusch points out that “writing is hard,” “publishing is hard,” and “the gold rush is over.” In short, this article provides a useful reality check about indie publishing. But it’s not completely hopeless! So if you can read this and still feel willing to buckle in, consider giving it a try. (You should also read her year-end take on traditional publishing if you are contemplating that as an option.)
http://kriswrites.com/2014/12/23/business-musings-things-indie-writers-learned-in-2014/comment-page-1/#comment-131576

Hugh Howey on “Where do we go from here?”
Howey, probably the most famous indie author success story, is more upbeat than Rusch here, though he reminds us that no entertainer can expect to succeed forever.
http://www.hughhowey.com/where-do-we-go-from-here/

Anne R. Allen on “Why the Self-Published Ebook is No Longer the ‘New Query’”
This post by Anne R. Allen provides a useful counter to Howey, in case he encourages you a little too much. I think it applies best to people who are hoping going indie will transition them into a successful traditional career selling literary fiction. I would honestly recommend trying traditional first if that is your goal. But if you hit a brick wall or don’t sell well enough in your debut, even though people unrelated to you are quick to say your stuff is good, indie publishing is the other way to start finding your readers.
http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2015/01/why-self-published-ebook-is-no-longer.html

Lindsay Buroker’s marketing advice for 2015
Good stuff here from a successful and personable indie author, including the perennial discussion of whether to be in Kindle Select or not. Her blog is worth mining for lots of good information, especially if you write historical mysteries or series.
http://www.lindsayburoker.com/e-publishing/ebook-marketing-strategies-for-2015-what-will-work/

Build your author platform
Instead of giving you a blog link, I’m giving you a book link, because I think this is a really good guide at a reasonable price (though you could also just track down the author’s blog posts on the subject):
http://www.amazon.com/The-Extroverted-Writer-Marketing-Building-ebook/dp/B00BT5SW78

Network with fellow authors
Jenny and Diane and I were doing this when we got together to put on a presentation. Writers often benefit from working together, perhaps especially if they share a genre. Or maybe you’re neighbors, or one of you started as a fan of the other, or you met and bonded while surviving a crazy writer’s workshop (that’s Jenny and me). Anything goes. Be supportive of other authors to the extent you can without lowering your own standards or turning off your own audience.

Having said that…

  • Don’t ask authors for favors when you haven’t even bought their books, or reviewed them, or written to them, or helped them get the word out, or in some way established a relationship that isn’t just asking them to do something for you.
  • Unless people are already your friends — and volunteer to do it — assume that you will need to pay them for editorial services. Nobody edits or gives feedback for the sheer joy of it.
  • Don’t “trade” reviews. It puts you in an unpleasant ethical bind.
  • Don’t write nasty reviews. Reviewing fellow authors is fine, but if you didn’t like their books, it’s better not to review at all. Even a middling review could get you in trouble.
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My first (homemade) cover

TheAwfulMess 396 x 612 pixels

Designed by Damonza.com

Get the right cover
Whether you think you have the skills yourself (it’s possible), or plan to hire someone, the cover is a big decision. (Though it need not be a final one – as an indie, you CAN change covers much more easily than a traditional author can.) Joel Friedlander, AKA The Book Designer runs a monthly cover contest, and reading his honest commentary can be really educational as well as entertaining. He’s particularly geared towards e-book covers, which have slightly different requirements than bookstore covers – they have to be something you can get an impression from even when they are really, really tiny. (It’s worth noting that my friends still argue over which cover is better, but to my mind there is no contest.)
http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/08/monthly-e-book-cover-design-awards/

Get the right copy (book blurb)
This is a useful exercise whether you are traditionally or indie published, or are unpublished and setting up your author platform. (It’s also very helpful as you query agents.) I especially like this post from Ruth Harris because it not only offers good advice, it gives you links to lots more good advice:
http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2014/03/8-tips-for-writing-that-killer-blurb.html

Avoid being taken for a ride
During the California gold rush, the people who made the most money were the people who sold stuff to miners … and the people who stole stuff from them. That’s true of the indie publishing phenomenon, too. Heck, people who are trying to be traditionally published often fall victim to scams, too. Before you do business with anyone who claims to be in publishing, check that person or business at Preditors and Editors. You might also want to check with Indies Unlimited, the Writer’s Café at the KBoards, and anyone you know who’s already out there. Go beyond the first pages of Google (which can be manipulated by savvy operators) in doing your due diligence, and include in your searches terms like “reviews” or “complaints” as well as the business name.
Preditors and Editors: http://pred-ed.com/

Finally, two rules you really need to understand before you publish:

Rule #1: DON’T SPEND ANYTHING YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO LOSE. Even legitimate expenses don’t always pay off in this business. No provider can guarantee you financial success, and you should be deeply suspicious of anyone who makes that kind of claim. (On the other hand, you should also be prepared to invest in your business.) The obvious companion to this: Don’t quit your day job (unless you really can afford to).

Rule #2: SUCCESS AS A WRITER IS A LONG GAME. If you hope to make a living at this, or a decent supplemental income, or a measure of fame, one book will not do it. Most people who do well already have four or five or six books out and have been slogging away without great reward for years. So if you just want to publish your memoir or your Great American Novel and be done with it, realize that you are essentially just making it conveniently available for friends and family rather than trying to build a career as an author-publisher. And if that’s the case, you really don’t need to learn your way around — just find a handy vanity publisher or formatting service and get it done.

Feel free to add info below — we can all benefit from your knowledge!

One writer’s resolutions for 2015

  1. Keep a drafting-new-work schedule, with no clicking out to “research” or just peek at social media. I had resolved to do this last semester and failed miserably. We’ll see how I do this time. I’m going to set up timers and documentation I can see on the bulletin board. Maybe I’ll give myself a gold star each day I get it done.
  2. In the time allowed for it (and no more!), get a much better handle on my social marketing and content marketing, including figuring out just what the hell those things really are. I need to get serious about this blog and make it worth the time involved.
  3. Get the audio books done. Some people just read their books that way.
  4. Read more. Just chip away at the to-read pile. Because it’s horrifying, and because writers must read.
  5. Find a way to help out fellow writers that doesn’t require me to have actually read and liked their work yet (see #4). Maybe on my web site, which might hit two resolutions at once.
  6. Get rid of more stuff. The move helped a lot, but when I went downstairs to organize the basement this weekend I realized how much more crap needs to go. I want to sit down with at least one file folder or drawer or cabinet a night and WEED. Once that’s done, I can take another look at organizing what’s left. This includes my computer files. Hopefully I will spend less time looking for stuff and more time moving ahead.
  7. Make fitness a priority – Writing is bad for you, physically. You’re mostly sitting on your butt, hunching in some cases. In the last three years I’ve been coping with Achilles tendonitis from a disastrous flirtation with barefoot shoes and a frozen shoulder that probably started with some minor injury and then blew up from all that hunching. I happily took the excuse to avoid weight work, but it’s time to get back to it. (Well, almost – I’m still holding off on shoulder work until I get an all-clear.) I tried Zumba for the first time a couple of weeks ago (fun!), and I plan to stop being a yoga virgin this year, too. And I’d like to do more country and contra dancing. And then, of course, there’s walking. I live on a hill, so I get a little workout just going around the block.

    Set up for weights and meditation. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.

    Set up for weights and meditation. It ain’t pretty, but it gets the job done. (Making it pretty can be next year’s resolution.)

  8. Meditate. I’ve known how to do this since college, but do I make time for it? Hardly ever. I have no idea if it will help with writing, but I suspect it might prime the mind for creativity a little less wastefully than standing in a hot shower for too long (which is what I do now – and since my shoulder IS still a bit stiff and my husband has retired to Puerto Rico, I’ve had to start applying lotion to my back with a rubber spatula – so dignified!).
  9. Have more real life contact with real people. Facebook is nice but it’s no substitute for knowing what’s really going on in the lives of the people you love. This has nothing to do with writing per se, but writing is rather isolating, and even introverts need friends.
  10. Practice gratitude. The picture below is a gift I got myself this Christmas. The space for each entry is short, so I’m going to challenge myself to also tweet something I’m grateful for each day in 2015. I was invited to do a shorter version of this on Facebook this year, and I found it helpful.
A Christmas present for myself

A Christmas present for myself

The evidence of 54 years on the planet suggests that I’m not going to actually accomplish all of these, of course.

But hey – any forward progress counts. Add it up day by day and that is the trick to getting anything done.

What are your resolutions for the New Year?

More excerpts from The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.(Which is still coming out December 9 and can be pre-ordered here. Outside the US, try this. I’m still waiting for a link to the paperback edition.)

Foul language warning on this one!

Her shelves were filling up again with other books, like those John Jakes Bicentennial paperbacks in which people experienced all the important events of American history between simultaneous orgasms. There was also Anne Frank’s diary and a bunch of depressing Holocaust novels. Sometimes she wondered if she liked to read those because no matter how difficult her life got, she could always think well, at least I’m not in a concentration camp.


The crash was still his downfall. As he’d explained to his psychiatrist, if the plane was a black box in which he might or might not have done all that he could to save his family, all those realities had existed at the same time until the moment someone found him lying unconscious in a field of shade tobacco. He had to live with the version of reality in which they were dead and, at the very least, he was the one who’d put them in that box to begin with. Schrodinger had designed his experiment specifically to either kill the cat or not, and luckily for him it wasn’t a real cat, because if it had been, he’d probably be the most notorious man in the history of physics. But David’s family had been real.

“I’m sorry, what?” the doctor had said. “I’m not following you at all.”

“It’s theoretical physics,” David had said. “Schrodinger’s cat? Very basic stuff I’d expect any college graduate to know. But never mind.”

“Is this level of arrogance normal for you?” the doctor had asked. “If so, I believe you may really be improving.”


“What I don’t understand about this holiday is the football part of it. Not that what you lot play is what I would consider football.”

Colin had already said some variation on this to him at least once a week since he’d met him. “Are you watching the game?” he asked hopefully. He had no actual interest in the day’s games, but having a television on would reduce the pressure to have conversation.

“Good Lord, no,” Colin said. “I did watch some of that parade, though. A bizarre tribal custom if I ever saw one. Huge inflated totems, dizzying drumbeats, virgins displayed like offerings to appease the gods!”

“So where’s Molly?” he asked Cassandra, who looked as if she’d had just about enough of Colin.


MOLLY WISHED Farrah Fawcett would stop smiling. She was clearly out of touch with what was going on in this room. Or maybe she wasn’t – her smile had a kind of gritting-her-teeth quality to it, as if the actress was just possibly being forced to hold that smile under the threat of death. It reminded Molly of the huge, helpless grin on the skeleton in her biology class; she could practically see the white, bleached skull waiting to be revealed under all that perfect hair and skin. But she didn’t want to think about that, anymore than she wanted to be where she was.


If she really insisted on going through with this, it was going to be like making love to a pill bug. One touch in the wrong spot, and she’d curl up into a little ball. Hell, he might, too. How did two pill bugs ever mate? He guessed they had to possess a basic level of pill bug trust, or just be too fucking horny to care.


I think that’s it for free excerpts, except that I might do a couple of future posts with locations and paintings that show up in the book. If you’re on my mailing list, you already got Chapter 3, and you’ll get Chapter 4 and then 5 soon. Also, you’ll get a prequel chapter from The Awful Mess sometime early next month. If you tried to join and didn’t get anything, try again and remember to confirm your subscription.


The Awful Mess ebook will be on sale Oct. 28 – Nov. 4. It’s that title’s first time out through BookBub with the newer cover, and also the first time promoting to multiple retailers rather than just Amazon. I’m very curious to see how it does …  and hopeful it might goose pre-orders on this one.

 

ABNA was nice while it lasted, but…

…not, in retrospect, quite as nice as I’d expected.

Amazon Publishing’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award is a brilliant idea to acquire new authors of quality work, usually without the fuss of agents, while building engagement among its self-published authors and readers. Kudos to them for coming up with it.

I wasn’t at all sure about entering. The Awful Mess is women’s fiction, and it would be up against the entire general fiction category. My book verges on romance, and it has progressive religious elements. I didn’t think either aspect was going to help it. My book also has two sex scenes and some bad language. This didn’t seem to fit the guidelines for the contest. Finally, I suspected that this whole process would be a bit of a distraction from my game plan. And it was.

On the plus side, getting to the quarter finals would include a free Publishers Weekly review. And a couple of fellow authors, including one who’d made it to the quarter-finals before, urged me to jump in. I did my research and noticed generally strong marketing by Amazon for the previous winners. So, ultimately, I did jump in, with a version in which the two explicit sex scenes were jumped over.

And, as it turns out, the book made it to the quarter-finals and then into the semi-finals — which is to say, it was one of five semi-finalists for the general fiction category.

I'm in there with the ABNA semi-finalists -- I'm not just making it up!

Yes, I really was in there with the ABNA semi-finalists — I’m not just making it up!

Personally, I would not be shocked if Amazon was behind the scenes somewhere guiding this result, since they might have noticed that this book was doing pretty well for an indie debut (in its first year it sold over 1,200 copies, and had over 50,000 free downloads). If I were an acquisitions editor in their publishing division, I might think this looks like an author with potential. (The book that won the general fiction category was already self-published, too, and doing even better.)

I especially wondered this after I got my sought-after review — which, it turned out, was not really a Publishers Weekly review, in the sense of being a review actually written for and published in Publishers Weekly. It was uniformly positive, for which I was very thankful, but it seemed a little off, as if the person who wrote it hadn’t really read the entire book. It suggests that my heroine fends men off (she tries, but she’s not very good at it), and references the “rowdy bars” of the small New England town. I suppose there is one kerfuffle in one bar, but it’s hardly a major plot element. It also uses the phrase “small New England town” twice in six sentences. While I’m very grateful that it is so positive, it’s not something I can easily use for marketing, especially since I have to explain that it’s from the ABNA contest and the book was not exactly the same. So I consider this aspect a bit of a bust.

I decided that I would not attempt to enlist my friends or mount a social media campaign to gain reviews for the ABNA excerpt. I already had 170+ real reviews on the full novel, so it seemed kind of silly. Also, I was moving house and had no time to even send out a press release. This may or may not have played a part in the reality that I didn’t win my category.

Part of the reason I didn’t fight for it may be that I was feeling ambivalent about becoming an Amazon Publishing author. That it would be financially advantageous, I have little doubt. I notice that Amazon promotes its own books quite effectively, and I considered the contract all semi-finalists sign eminently fair (I once worked as an acquisitions editor, so I am more familiar with publishing contracts than most folks). But whether Amazon was likely to be a happy partner with me as I moved ahead on later books — books with even more sexual themes, plus some controversial content in the second — I wasn’t sure.

I noticed they had a truly huge list of authors in their various publishing imprints, so I had no idea what kind of attention I would get (not that I have any complaints about communication from them during this process — it was always prompt and courteous). And while Kindle Select was a great place to launch The Awful Mess, staying exclusive to Amazon would mean no branching out into Kobo, Nook, the iStore, or bookstores going forward. It might get me even less access to local bookstores than I already have as an indie. I’m not sure what it would mean for libraries, but I doubt it would help much.

Finally, my sales dipped pretty precipitously during this process. Most of this, I’m sure, is because I haven’t been promoting. After signing that contract, I wasn’t sure how much I could promote. When I finally asked, initially I was told I could do anything as a self-publisher, but then when I double-checked before confirming a BookBub promotion, and the product manager also double-checked, the lawyers said that during final voting that kind of promotion would be a no-no. Part of the sales dip may also be that I let my Kindle Select status expire because I was planning to branch out into the other retailers once I had safely lost. (Does Kindle Select status provide a measurable sales advantage on Amazon? I don’t know. I do miss the income from loans, though.) Part of it may also be confusion between the ABNA excerpt and the full book, though I doubt it.

At any rate, at this point I’m so close to launching the second book that I’m going to go ahead and get those ducks lined up before I do any serious promoting. I’m now aiming to get that published this fall. (If you’d like to be notified when it’s out, make sure you sign up for my mailing list, and then make sure you also opt in when you get the confirming email.)

So, fellow writers, if you’ve participated in ABNA at any point, did you feel it was productive for you? Would you recommend it to others? Would you do it again?