Monday, November 28, 2016

Sometimes, It *IS* All About YOU

Sometimes I think a lot more people would be happy if they would focus on themselves.

Didn't see that coming, did you?

I know it sounds selfish, but one thing I've observed is that people who are generally unhappy, perennially grouchy, and downright unpleasant to be around are the people who are always watching what other people are doing--or not doing--and how wrong they are doing it. It's no surprise that they are usually blind to the things they, themselves, do wrong or else have a perfectly justifiable reason for what they do or don't do.

A lot of struggling writers fall into this category and I'm not blameless. It can be depressing to see the numbers on amazon when one compares a magnum opus that took a whole year or longer to write, edit, and publish with a traditional publisher with that of a writer who cranks out a new book every two to three months by simply using the search and replace function on their word processing program and changing the title before self-publishing their latest creation. I've succumbed to reading a few that are offered for free and know whereof I speak.

It's not even the money that creates the rumblings of the green-eyed monster (as evidenced by the fact that many of these books are offered for free), but the effusive glowing reviews which number into the triple digits. Where do they find their readers (oh, right... free books) and, more importantly, how do they get them to write reviews?

This is what I've discovered and what's more, it works for every facet of my life, not just the writing part of it.

The answer is this: forget about what "they" do. "They" are not living your life, paying your bills, writing your story. What you are letting "them" do is take your focus off YOUR life and YOUR goals. You are wasting energy, time, and passion worrying about "them" instead of investing your energy, time, and passion in living your life, paying your bills, and writing your story. Learn what you can from them, but then focus on what YOU can do to reach your goals. Realize that not everyone works like you do or wants what you want. Define your own goals; don't let others' successes tell you what you really want. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice one thing to have another, sometimes you may have to take into consideration what is realistic. And sometimes you have to ask yourself if what you're striving for is what is really going to make you happy.

Sometimes, all it takes to be happy is to take the focus off what everyone else is doing and focus on what you are doing.

Monday, November 21, 2016

An Interview with Author John M. Wills about His Latest Novel, "The Storm"

Since I'm still working on NaNoWriMo (supposedly!), I'm turning the Back Deck Blog over to friend and fellow OTP author, John M. Wills, as he tells us about his latest novel, "The Storm"!

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Hi, Amy. I’m pleased you’re hosting me so I can let your readers know about my latest novel, The Storm. First, however, a bit about myself. I’ve been writing professionally since 2004. My credits include more than 150 published articles regarding police officer training and safety; 10 books, both fiction and non-fiction; various poems and short stories; and one technical manual. I also write video scripts for The William McLain Foundation in Atlanta that honors first responders killed in the line of duty. I’m an avid reader and I write book reviews for the New York Journal of Books. I’m also a member of the National Book Critics Circle.


Now a bit about my latest novel, The Storm. Anna’s life in the small town of Heavenly Harbor, Michigan, seems idyllic. Married ten years to her childhood sweetheart, Mark, she wants for nothing, except a baby. Unfortunately, her husband doesn’t share her enthusiasm. Anna has been secretly keeping a journal. She’s recorded her suspicions about Mark’s reluctance to share her dream and his possible infidelity. As she is about to confront him, lightning strikes, literally, causing her to lose her memory. The Storm will not only damage Anna physically, but possibly destroy her marriage as well—and Mark’s secret life is about to implode.

Why write such a story? Well, I was inspired to write this book simply because I’ve had people in my life who’ve suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ve witnessed the steady progression, sometimes developing slowly, other time coming on quickly. Either way, the destruction the malady causes is beyond description. After a while, the victim hardly realizes what is happening. Sadly, however, those close to the patients suffer immeasurably. Their once vibrant loved one disappears before their eyes. In the final stages, it’s not unusual for the victim to be unable to recognize family and friends.
So while I was pondering a story involving memory loss, I thought it would be interesting if it centered around a young person. And rather than Alzheimer’s, I thought an injury-induced case of amnesia would make for a compelling story. Thus, the making of Anna’s story began.

The tale required research with respect to injuries resulting from lightning strikes—how they affect the physical and mental well-being. In addition, I wanted the protagonist to be likeable, believable, and strong. Anna is that person, and her tenacity after her injury makes her character even more powerful. The injury transforms Anna’s character, once a one-dimensional teacher and wife, into a strong determined, complex woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.

Of course, what would a story be without at least one antagonist that readers dislike right from the very beginning? We have such a character in Vicky, a personal trainer at the local health club. Her chicanery and outright lack of morals wreaks havoc upon Anna’s marriage. Add to the mix a shady private investigator, a couple of fantastic cops, and the recipe for a great novel is complete and ready to serve.

Early reviews have been outstanding and I look for more to be posted. Now excuse me as I need to start the wheels turning and come up with an idea for my next book.


Thanks, Amy, for allowing me to introduce my newest novel—The Storm.




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Monday, November 14, 2016

Links

This post was originally written December 17, 2013. Since I'm still trying to work on my NaNoWriMo word count, I'm rerunning it today. Check out my blog next week when fellow Oak Tree Press author, John M. Wills, will be joining me on the Back Deck to talk about his latest book, "The Storm"!

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Most people believe that writing is a completely solitary endeavor.  They picture a writer in a lonely garret, with an oil lamp for companionship, and their lofty thoughts being turned into words by their quill pens on parchment in peaceful silence.

Not even close.

As the years have gone by, I realize that what makes us writers is the way we see the world around us... and that includes the people that inhabit it.  There's only so much you can learn, however, from just sitting on a park bench (or mall bench) and watching people go by... or the less-socially-acceptable eavesdropping on people in restaurants.  That is where having a "real" job comes in handy.  The normally reclusive writer is "forced" to interact with people which, under usual circumstances, the writer wouldn't associate with.

Lest anyone think I'm being insulting, let me elaborate.  Most of the people we meet at work would probably never answer a personal ad to be our friends. They are people who are very different from the people with whom we would choose to associate--different interests, different lifestyles, different ways of thinking.  Even different age groups.  Come on... how many 40+ year olds would normally "hang out" with 20-somethings (that aren't their children?)  And vice versa?

Co-workers add so much to our lives.  Some good, some bad.  To a writer, this helps enormously in creating compelling and believable characters.  Not only can you actually learn how different people act, speak, and think, you also gain the valuable insight on how you--and others--react to their actions, words, and thoughts.  Sometimes you may disagree, in principle, with your co-workers but because you have been interacting with them on a regular basis and know their kids' or siblings' names, their favorite foods and TV shows, the problems they have with their in-laws or best friends, you are able to look beyond their views to the person voicing them and the story behind what makes them view things that way.



These people are our links to the world outside of ourselves and the world we create on paper.  A world inhabited only by people just like ourselves, or worse, a world populated with the people we THINK are out there, is flat and colorless.  When we know who those "other" people really are, our stories become richer... and so do we.  We shouldn't be afraid to get to know people who, at first glance, are not "compatible" with us.  We all feel hurt, pain, betrayal, hope, joy, exultation, contentment, insecurity, satisfaction, and love.  Examining how other people experience those emotions helps us grow as writers and as people.

I am grateful for the co-workers who have touched my life, become friends, become a part of me.  No, I'm not using you for characters, but I am using you to make the characters I create real, characters that I and, hopefully, readers care about. 

Thank you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Changing Face of Publishing

I'm trying to work on Book 6 in the Black Horse Campground series by doing NaNoWriMo this month, so today's post is a re-run from October 14, 2013. Now back to upping my word count....

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Not long ago, I was talking to a friend about how I "had" to get an e-reader... something I once vowed I'd never do.  I contended that I loved the feel, the smell, the sight of paper and ink.  And I still do.  I've used my Kindle (first generation, gently used, no color, no pictures, and I have to push buttons) to read one book and the experience was not horrible, but I still prefer a real book.  However, I have started doing reviews on soon-to-be or recently released novels and the truth is that publishers rarely send out ARCs (advanced reader copies--cheaply bound printed copies of novels) for reviews anymore.  It's faster and much less expensive to make the book available for download on to a computer or reading device.  The reading device is far lighter and easier to use for reading than my laptop, so here I am, the reluctant Kindle owner!

Reading a book is the one thing I never expected to see go electronic.  I should have expected it to be inevitable, given how the way a book is written and published has changed dramatically over the last few years.  If you want an example of the way the publishing business used to be (about 20 years ago or less), read the late Olivia Goldsmith's novel, "The Bestseller".  Drama aside, you read about the business of publishing that most young writers these days can't begin to imagine:  TYPING the manuscript on a TYPEWRITER.  Making copies (several) on a copy machine.  Sending a printed manuscript (all 400 pages!) to a publishing house or agent with an SASE (do I have to explain what that is?)  Waiting 4-6 months for a response (usually a bulky manila envelope with your address written in your own handwriting... that SASE) and not being able to submit to more than one publisher or agent at a time.  Getting an edited manuscript with red ink and notes all over it, changes that have to be made by the deadline.  And let's not even talk about marketing the book.

Nowadays, submitting a manuscript is as easy as hitting the "Send" button.  Editing the work, checking for spelling errors, making corrections and changes is all easier than it's ever been.  And publishing has become a do-it-yourself project.  There isn't even a need to wait for a publishing contract.  You can be published on-line in a matter of minutes.

Sadly, this hasn't exactly resulted in a boom in good books.  Since there is little effort involved in simply getting published, many writers have succumbed to the temptation to put little effort in writing.  The main goal is no longer to write, it's to get published.  Or as I put it, few authors want to write, they want to have written.  Writing, as I've said before, is hard work.  Writing well is a mammoth task.

Even on their best days, the best writers in the world have had to edit their work.  Just getting it on paper isn't enough.  Traditional publishing forced writers to do their very best, to double check, not once or twice, but as many times as it took to get their story and characters to be the best they could be.  Because the opposite of a successful book wasn't just a story floating in cyberspace with no readers--it was piles of unsold books being returned to a publisher, an advance not being earned out, and the possibility of a contract not being renewed.

I know there are hundreds of writers whose work was good enough to be published traditionally, but the deck was stacked against them--publishing houses with small budgets, competition from big name writers, a shrinking market for their genre (or conversely, an exploding market with an equally large number of submissions), and many other obstacles.  So they turned to other publishing options.  But here, too, their work rarely receives the credit it deserves.  Many "publishers" unscrupulously prey on struggling writers and charge exorbitant fees to read or publish their work.  Others will publish anything and gain a not-so-reputable reputation that reflects badly on even their best authors.  And many still get published by print-on-demand or e-book publishers and hit a brick wall when their book receives little marketing and doesn't reach the audience it should.

Things are not going to change back and in some ways, that's good.  Having to retype a 400-page manuscript because of one correction is something I'd never wish on anyone (before you curse your word processing program, think about that for a minute.)  Neither is sending that same manuscript in a double box with return postage (I still have issues of "Writer's Digest" where you could order five such boxes for $19.95!)  But I think it would be well for writers to write as if those nightmares were still true.  There are still small publishing houses and editors and agents who are looking for quality fiction for which THEY are willing to pay.  Even if a writer chooses to go the self-publishing route, it would be well for them to make their writing the best it can possibly be, as if their work were being scrutinized for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Or better yet, write as if they were writing for that one person in the bookstore who stops, picks up their book, and is drawn into the author's world and wants to return again and again.

These authors all did for me.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Who's Your Audience?

One of the first pieces of advice a writer is given is to "know their audience". For whom are you writing? What age group? What genre?

Many times, if you look in the mirror, the answer will literally stare you back in the face.

Author Toni Morrison said, "If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." Another way to look at this is, if you want to write a book, but you're not sure what you want to write, you must look at what you like to read.

Even children's book writers must look at themselves when they were children to see what kind of book they would have enjoyed reading at that age. When I was a child, I loved reading books that were about children just like me (the Little House books, stories by Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume) or in settings with which I could identify, even if some of the animal characters were gentle fantasy (E. B. White's novels, especially "Trumpet of the Swan".) I was never into science fiction or fantasy and I doubt I could have really enjoyed the dystopian fiction that is so popular today (let's not even start with the whole vampire genre), so it stands to reason that, if I wrote young adult or children's fiction, I would probably write books like the ones I enjoyed reading.

I write mysteries that appeal to people who live fairly uneventful lives--some would even call their lives "boring". Work, school, laundry, bills to pay, daily interactions with family, friends, and co-workers make up the fabric of their lives, just like those of the characters who populate my stories. Some of my readers appreciate reading about characters whose lives have more drama than their own--very few people would want to discover a dead body in their own home or business! Others, whose lives are fraught with a lot of tension and drama, enjoy a story that has a sense of peace and order when all is said and done, with love and loyalty being treasured character traits. I see myself in both camps, through different periods in my life, and I write what has always appealed to me.

Perhaps one of my earliest "audience members" was my late sister-in-law, Dawn. Twenty years ago, when we were living all together (her family and mine) in Mt. Kisco, NY, we both had developed a love for Mary Higgins Clark novels. The fact that a new novel was released every year in April, right around Dawn's birthday, made gift-giving easy and we loved the fact that the settings and characters seemed so real. And then we both read "Loves Music, Loves to Dance" and fell in love with the main character's love interest--such a handsome, supportive, loving guy!--only to discover in the end that he was the villain! I'll never forget Dawn's reaction: "I hate it when the author makes you really like a character and then he turns out to be the bad guy!" She was so disappointed that she almost swore off the MHC books. She didn't (and neither did I) but I learned that readers come to trust authors to deliver consistency with their books. Whether she received a slew of complaints or not, I'll never know, but I did notice that never again did Mary Higgins Clark disappoint us with another enormously appealing villain.

So that is one audience member I always wanted to deliver the goods to. I think she was always pleased with my work. In any event, when you write for your audience, you must be true to yourself and what you enjoy reading, That's how you find your true audience.

Thanks, Dawn.


Monday, October 17, 2016

The Best Place to Sell Books (Part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, before I took a much-needed vacation, I had posted about the best places to sell books, having just come off of a very successful weekend with a book signing at a bookstore and having a booth at my parish festival. I know that authors, especially those of us who don't have name recognition or the backing of a huge publishing company, need to be actively promoting their books if they're going to find any readers or make any sales. That brings me to today's blog post.

I received my 47th review on “End of the Road” just the other day... courtesy of a chance encounter in a northern New Mexico winery on July 4th.
My husband, Paul, and I had spent our anniversary weekend working a wine festival in Santa Fe. After two days in a hot, crowded tent with no air conditioning, tons of people, and precious few bathroom breaks, we decided to take an extra day—July 4th—and visit Vivac Winery in the tiny town of Dixon, about an hour north of Santa Fe. When we arrived, the place was starting to get busy. We tasted some wine and managed to snag a table on the patio under the grape arbor. Shortly afterward, a couple arrived and went into the winery. By the time they emerged with their own glasses, the patio had filled up with a large party and no other tables were available, except for two chairs at ours. We waved them over, introduced ourselves, and spent a lovely hour enjoying wine and the company of new friends.
Naturally, my husband—my PR person extraordinaire—mentioned to them that I was a mystery author. The woman, Patty, expressed interest, as she is a travel planner and is always looking for something to read on long flights. Paul promptly went out to our Jeep and grabbed a copy of “End of the Road” (yes, I always carry copies of all of my books... don’t you?) and offered it to her for free. She and her husband were both surprised, but (here’s the important thing) she expressed an interest in my book before we gave it to her. I had already given them bookmarks with all the books listed and she had started looking them up on her phone. We friended each other on facebook and then she messaged me to let me know she had written a review and posted it! Here is her review (did I mention it’s the 47th one???)
“This is a fun read with likable characters, a whodunit plot, and a touch of romance. I took it on a long plane ride and it made the trip whiz by. It would also be a perfect summer read. Now I have to read the next in the series to find out if Corrie and Rick make it past friendship, or if JD returns to give him some competition!”
In addition, we returned to Vivac a week ago to help out with the grape harvest. We had a fun day and spent some time talking to one of the winery owners, who happens to be a friend of the winery owner that I work for. Again, Paul told him that I was a mystery author and we offered him a copy of “End of the Road” and slipped in the fact that my boss carried the books in his winery (probably because the winery is mentioned in the books) and Jesse, one of the Vivac owners, grinned and said, “Any chance your characters might visit Vivac?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
We also met another couple from Missoula, Montana who had traveled down to help with the harvest (they were wine club members and were in the loop) and they agreed to meet up with us at Noisy Water in Ruidoso (where we work) in a few days after we had returned from Colorado. I had given them bookmarks and when they arrived at the winery, not only did they buy a few bottles of wine, they also bought all four of my books!

It goes to show that an author should always be prepared to meet potential readers! If you can’t keep a supply of books in the trunk (I was actually out of “End of the Road” a week ago) at least carry bookmarks, business cards, whatever it is you use to promote your books. And don’t be shy about talking about them (or else, have someone like my husband along!)

I have two more events planned for November--one is a "vendor blender" which is a monthly gathering of home-based businesses in Alamogordo, the town where I work my "real" job (Walmart, that is), and the other is the first book festival hosted by the El Paso Writers' League in El Paso, TX (my hometown). The "vendor blender" will cost me $20 for a three-hour slot and they provide the tables and chairs. I just have to bring my books and the items I need to spruce up my space. The EPWL festival won't cost me anything but my time and my annual dues. Of course, I have to pay for the books I will (I hope) sell at the events. Otherwise, the biggest investment is time and travel. 

None of this means I will suddenly leap to the top of the best-seller lists. It might not even mean that I break even. But if my master plan was to make money, writing is the wrong profession to take up. I write because I love to tell stories and I hope to find readers. The promo and selling is all part of the package and because I have to sell in order to keep being published by a traditional publisher. It's all worth it in the end and I've come to really enjoy it!

This was my table at our church fiesta in September... one of my best day of book sales ever!

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Best Place to Sell Books

This past weekend was one of my busiest (overall) and most successful (as an author) I've had in the last three years!

A couple of months ago, I signed up to do a book signing at one of my favorite bookstores in the world: Treasure House Books & Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque. The owners of this fiercely independent bookstore sell only books set in New Mexico, by New Mexico authors. Based on that criteria, I'm sure many people would be impressed by the number of books they carry. Anyhow, knowing from previous experience that the first book in a series is always the best-seller at a signing, I made it a point to stock up on over a dozen copies of "End of the Road", the first book in my Black Horse Campground mystery series.

Then three weeks ago, our parish church announced they would be holding an apple festival as a fundraiser the day before the book signing in Albuquerque, and they were looking for people to sign up for arts and crafts and other booths. It occurred to me that this might be a great way to help out my parish, encourage some fellowship, and maybe sell a book or two. I already had my book order for my Albuquerque signing, so I figured I could set up a table at the apple fest, eat some great festival food, and chit-chat with the neighbors and other locals. If I sold a book or two, it would all be gravy.

Little did we expect that we would have a lot of impulse festival-goers stopping in on their way to Ruidoso for the Aspencade festival. People from as far away as San Antonio (among other out-of-state places) pulled off the highway to check out our little festival. Not only did we sell out of apple pies and fiesta food, I sold 17 books. I had 40 to start with. And of those books, only six copies of "End of the Road" were going to make it to Albuquerque.

The next day, I arrived in Old Town Albuquerque with five minutes to spare for my event (that included being dropped off on the opposite side of the plaza and hoofing it through the crowds of people who had descended on the Duke City for the annual hot air balloon festival.) I no sooner set foot in the door when a woman pounced on me to say she had been waiting for me and did I have the first book in my series available? Turned out that Jim and John (the father-son duo that runs the bookstore) only had about five copies of my books available and none of them were "End of the Road". The customer graciously agreed to wait until my husband, Paul, had found a parking space (two blocks away) and brought my box of books to the shop.

Over the next two hours, I sold a total of 13 books (including the six copies of "End of the Road".) That's 30 books in a 48-hour period. Not enough, of course, for me to make the New York Times best-seller list, but enough to learn something important: you never know what places will be great for book sales. Honestly, I didn't consider the church fiesta a "real" bookselling venue. I did it more as a courtesy and a way to help out my parish. My cup runneth over, folks! And being able to score a slot at a bookstore on a busy weekend was a huge help, too. In Albuquerque, I met people from Oregon and Washington in town for the balloon fiesta who bought my books.

If there is one thing I learned that I can share about this weekend, it's this: never pass up a chance to sell your books. Readers are everywhere. You can't wait for them to find your book. Sometimes, you have to take your book to them.


Me, at a previous signing at Treasure House (and still wondering how to get people to buy Book 2!)